Paper, plain and simple
Andy Gunton of Streatham SA adds his name to a growing list of those calling for a Socialist Alliance paper and gives his reasons why it is so urgent
US capital has been shaken by scandal. Enron, Xerox and WorldCom have inflated their successes, pumping up their value. A gift. If we are prepared to take it. Prepared and organised. However, the Socialist Alliance suffers a major handicap. Those who would celebrate capitalism or, slightly shamefaced, point to the paucity of alternatives, control the media; what we watch and read. Murdoch and Berlusconi, Time Warner et al enjoy near monopolies. The smaller, 'independent' media-owners share their loyalty to the supremacy of dead labour over living labour, capital over worker. True, the SA can steal itself coverage in the bourgeois press. Indeed, the work of our press committee during our general election campaign was exemplary. But to rely on the bosses' media to promote our message unadulterated would be naive. How then does the SA take our message of socialism and human liberation into the mainstream? To pose the question is to provide the answer. But to create a voice of our own demands a change in the way we think and organise. It demands the subsuming of our separate - and debilitating - sect-building projects to the task of forging a class. Not just in itself, fighting this or that trade union struggle, hospital closure or deportation - important as these are - but for itself. A class that can challenge capitalism politically. This does not mean that we hide our differences. Far from it. It does, however, demand that we take our debates seriously, make them the property of 'ordinary' workers. According to our comrades in the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Alliance exists to contest elections and elections alone. It is a united front of a special type - most definitely not a proto-party, pre-party or other such beast. This turns logic on its head. Socialism will not come about by parliamentary majority. To refuse to contest elections would be criminal. They provide a powerful tool in mobilising workers. However, what is paramount is self-activity. Just as socialism will not come via an enabling bill in parliament, neither will it be the product of a benign, educated, intellectual elite. The Russian Revolution failed because it was isolated, because the Russian working class was a tiny, militant minority in an economically backward and overwhelmingly peasant country. And because the ravages of civil war and foreign intervention all but wiped out the working class as a political force. But to point to objective factors alone is to fatally ignore the role of the subjective in history. Revolution is not a single, isolated incident. It is an unfolding struggle of the new against the old. The victory of bureaucratic reaction in the Soviet Union was not a foregone conclusion, even given the poverty of the material and economic forces bequeathed the fledgling republic. A conscious and politically sophisticated working class should - and would - have struggled against the resurrection of privilege and exploitation. What is required is education. Not learning by rote or mystical incantations about the evils of capitalism. The creation of a class which engages with ideas and learns to think for itself is key. From such material, working class leaders - and self-activating classes - are created. All this must find expression through a common press. Those who condemn the project of an SA paper as a potential Tower of Babel show their own timidity and a distrust of the class. Workers will be confused by opposing ideas, debate and conflict, they opine. Really? It would appear to be a self-evident truth that, if the Socialist Alliance is to mount a serious political challenge to Blair's New Labour, it must draw into its ranks the most conscious and partisan of our class. And every new member will bring with them their own ideas and history. As an organisation we must address what divides us as much as what unites us - publicly. An SA paper, therefore, must be a political paper. Feeding workers a diet of trade unionism pure and simple will disarm them for the struggles that lie ahead. The debates around programme and tactics, and, indeed, the very nature of socialism, are not ours alone. Organisational divisions on the left reflect very real political differences. These will not disappear overnight. To pretend otherwise would be dishonest. However, these differences do not prevent unity around a revolutionary programme, a common project. The history of the Bolshevik Party itself demonstrates that. The reality of the Bolshevik press illustrates the role a putative SA paper can play. A collective organiser, a tool for debating and clarifying ideas. One which serves not to 'confuse' workers, but to educate and organise a class. It also provides us with a 'profile' in society at large. If we are to win the battle of ideas within our class and beyond, we must first put our ideas forward: test them against reality. Challenge perceived and accepted notions of what is 'common sense' and what is possible. At present we lack such a collective medium. What is currently produced by the left is too often one-sided and, frankly, patronising. It also lacks ambition. We should aim to replace - not replicate - the likes of The Mirror as the staple, daily consumption of our class. However, more imperative given our current inadequate level of organisation, we need a collective organiser to give independent life to the Socialist Alliance. We need a collective voice, a common press to provide the skeleton of an active and combative organisation: with official sanction if possible, without it if necessary.