Church quits exec

Dave Church of the Walsall Democratic Labour Party has resigned from the Socialist Alliance executive committee. Marcus Ström asked him where he thinks the project is headed

What were the reasons for your resignation and was there a specific catalyst for your decision? As you know, I hadn't been happy with the constitutional set-up of the Socialist Alliance ever since the December 1 conference. I thought we should have remained in a more federal structure because of the state of play for the left in this country at the moment. I think that such a framework would have been the best we could have hoped for. Most people on the active and organised left are already members of organisations and for the foreseeable future we are going to see those organisations - including the Communist Party of Great Britain - remain the primary focus of those activists. That not only applies to national organisations such as the Socialist Workers Party, CPGB and the Socialist Party, but also, to some extent, to a lot of activists operating at a local level. I think we should have built a structure which recognises that. Given the current set-up of the left, we need to overthrow the status quo, to move into a situation that is new and different. We need to build a structure that recognises that we will continue to have differences. I don't want to use the '80-20' label, but the majority of the time we can work together. We need to build in a way that recognises our differences. If we try to ignore them, they'll just keep coming back to haunt us. I agree that we need to recognise our differences - at all levels of the alliance. That is one reason why I was disappointed that you resigned from the executive. Without your distinctive voice, I think the executive is weakened. How does your position tally with the experience of the Scottish Socialist Party? In many ways the SSP is more centralised than the SA, yet it contains all the major left trends. I don't think that a party structure now is the answer. We should have either remained as a looser federal organisation or moved over to a single party structure that recognises and welcomes its factions. While we didn't go over to a full party structure on December 1, we did move to a more centralised structure with a constitution that does recognise the right to form factions. Well I don't think it really does. It may be written in the constitution, but that is not the full reality. It is always presumed that taking a 'middle line' or compromising on issues of controversy is the best way forward, but it often doesn't turn out to be so. On December 1 we effectively fell between two positions. We've not stopped at the level that I wanted - that's to say a recognised federal set-up - and yet we have not moved over to a party structure. We've got the worst of both worlds in my view. I had thought that this would just be an academic problem. But it has practical implications. I don't want to come across as just bashing the SWP, because they have undoubtedly made a tremendous contribution to the Socialist Alliance, but we have left ourselves in a situation where the alliance owes the SWP a substantial amount of money, and, as far as I can see, as long as we see our separate organisations as our primary focus - whether the SWP, CPGB or even the Walsall DLP - then that is where our money will go. We'll never be in a situation to pay off our debts. On a completely different scale, it's almost like governments that say, 'We need to liberalise the economy - it's the only way to go.' Now these governments may well be democratically elected, but it's only afterwards that you find out that the only way they would get a loan from the International Monetary Fund is if they push forward the liberalisation of the economy. It's more a feeling that anything else. But I think that this situation is a direct result of the very structure we've got. I agree to a certain extent. For instance, the CPGB retains the right to print the Weekly Worker, the right to openly criticise positions of the Socialist Alliance or any of its supporting organisations. We organise our own activities. In fact the problem you point to seems to be one of not enough centralisation - a continuing allegiance to the separate groups, rather than to the project as a whole. Yes, I agree the alliance isn't fully centralised, and that's why I wanted to give it a try on the executive, to see how it would operate. But there were other niggling concerns I had. For instance, the slate system of electing the executive. I can't get it out of my mind that the only reason I was there was because the SWP said I could be. My worry is the SWP's on-off approach to the Socialist Alliance as one of its many united fronts. Yet I think we need patience and persistence, given the state of the left at the moment. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not resigning from the Socialist Alliance. I was asked by someone, "Why not take the next logical step?" and resign from the organisation. But I will remain a member. I have come off the executive because I don't feel comfortable being there. But I recognise that the Socialist Alliance is the way ahead, if only for the fact that it's the only bloody game in town for the left at the moment. We've concentrated on many weaknesses, but you obviously still see strengths in the project. Exactly. There are many strengths. I think that the SWP is in a bind. Some SWPers are saying to me that the only way they can sell the Socialist Alliance to a chunk of their own membership is by calling it a 'united front'. They've almost had to sell it to them as another project in the same way that they organise in the Anti-Nazi League or in Defend Council Housing and so on. These SWPers are saying that isn't their personal view of the Socialist Alliance - they see it as something more. But unfortunately I get the feeling that a good number of people in the SWP probably do see the Socialist Alliance as no more than just another front organisation similar to ones they already have. So that's why it gets turned on and off. When elections are over, they have the culture of saying, 'Right, now let's go and boost the Stop the War Coalition.' But there is also a substantial commitment from the SWP. And the Socialist Alliance is having undeniable impact. Look at the fiasco around the anti-Serwotka coup in the PCSU. Reamsbottom blames the Socialist Alliance for all his problems on live radio. Number 10 worries about it. I still believe that, one way or another, we need to have an ever closer unity of the left in this country. Even if we were all united, we are a minority in society at the moment. We've got an establishment which must be one of the hardest in the world to take on. When we say we want to change this society to another one in Britain, we have an incredible uphill struggle in front of us and anything that brings us together is positive. That's why it was a real blow when the Socialist Party left the alliance. The left has a terrible record when it comes to dealing with differences. Historically, if you disagreed with 'the line' you were considered a heretic and an outcast. The Socialist Alliance isn't quite like that, but there are still strong remnants of that culture we need to overcome. We haven't overcome that culture yet, but I'm hopeful - if only for the very fact that we are still here. But I'm frustrated by the fact that we could have been much further forward. I don't know if other people feel this, but we could have developed the alliance much more than we have. The people that I am worried about losing are the former Labour Party people. In their local groups they call themselves Socialist Alliance, but in many circumstances still see themselves as separate. It's quite an irony because the SWP said that it was pursuing the structure and the politics for the Socialist Alliance precisely in order to attract and keep on board ex-Labour types. You're right. Maybe because of our background in the Labour Party we have a strong suspicion of being manipulated. Which is exactly what was happening in the Labour Party. None of us want to belong to somebody else's project. Now the SWP need to find a way of stopping people getting that kind of feeling in the Socialist Alliance. It must be frustrating for them - and perhaps that's part of the reason they go off and do things half-cocked, in the belief that they are doing the right thing and the knowledge that ultimately they've got the clout. Yet they have to resist that. You are one of the three initial signatories on the current statement calling for a Socialist Alliance paper. How would that help overcome some of the shortfalls you see in the alliance? The reason I support us having a paper is that it is another indication that this is the group into which people are putting their primary energies and organisation. If there was a Socialist Alliance newspaper as a replacement for the other left papers, it would display to people that we have moved on, that the Socialist Alliance has become the primary focus for all our activity. It would be an indication that we are joining closer together. From a tactical point of view, I was doubtful about the sort of newspaper you were proposing because I thought it was too ambitious. But then I saw it as an important tactic to bring home to the SWP and others the feelings of people like myself. It would be a great demonstration of unity, wouldn't it? If the SWP came to the stage where they accepted a vote at a Socialist Alliance conference and went along with it and supported us all having one paper, then it would demonstrate that the Socialist Alliance was more than just their project, that it was no longer just another front.