Paper thin unity

Marcus Ström responds to the ISG-SSN statement

On the surface of it, there is much to commend the initiative of the International Socialist Group and the Socialist Solidarity Network. The authors of the statement say the intention of their new paper for the left is "to strengthen the fight for inclusive, creative and forward-looking Marxist politics on the British left". Who could argue with that? Further, the authors want to promote "a creative, inclusive and forward-looking Marxism" and even "fight for the Socialist Alliance to become a broad socialist party". The comrades have in mind something akin to the Scottish Socialist Party or Rifondazione Comunista. Who could deny that the formation of a party committed to refounding communist politics in Britain à  la Rifondazione would be a tremendous step forward? (The SSP's national reformism would be much more problematic, of course.) But there is more than meets the eye here. There has been a flurry of discussion on the 'IndieSA' discussion list about this proposal. Much of it has been poor, some of it worthwhile and genuine. The Weekly Worker, with its robustly democratic culture, will also be open to contributions on the question of a paper for the Socialist Alliance movement. There certainly has been a lot of nonsense floating around about this issue. And despite the protestations from some of the sponsors of Resistance - the working title of the ISG-SSN proposed publication - this will be an unofficial paper of the SA movement. From what I can see the new venture will not be much more than the ISG giving Phil Hearse his old job back as Socialist Outlook editor without him having to come under the discipline of Alan Thornett's faction again. Good luck to them. However, it is dressed up as "broad", "inclusive", "creative", "outward-looking", etc. Lots of motherhood and apple pie at its editorial board meetings. We are told that the paper will not be run by a horrible - democratically elected - central committee, but by an enlightened, pleasant and ever so inclusive editorial board. I first heard of this proposal from a Weekly Worker supporter, who asked what our 'line' was. He had been approached to sponsor the project and wanted to know my opinion. He told me it was framed as some sort of unofficial SA paper. At this stage I had not read the ISG-SSN proposal. My interest was aroused and I was intrigued as to why the CPGB - a well known champion of an SA paper and the Socialist Alliance as a whole - had not been invited to join in. After all, we had called on the ISG, as well as the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, in January to come together for an unofficial paper. (The ISG, CPGB and AWL all supported a motion for an SA paper at the December 1 annual conference.) So I approached John Bulaitis - former enforcer for Militant in London, who would brook no dissent to the Taaffe regime, and is now a born-again new leftist of the Socialist Solidarity Network (after a brief period in the über-liquidationist Socialist Democracy Group). Comrade Bulaitis told me that my chance of being allowed to stand for the editorial board of the new journal and/or being elected was "nil". This did not really strike me as broad and inclusive. While I have problems with some of the formulations in the ISG-SSN statement, I could accept its thrust. Why do I have no chance of being on the editorial board? In essence, this is a factional rapprochement between the ISG and SSN - no bad thing in itself, of course. Even so, the comrades are not actually fusing into a single democratic grouping. Why ever not? As the statement itself says, the ISG-SSN have "a distinct political position which, despite differences among us on secondary issues, we share". Why remain organisationally separate over "secondary issues"? But the point is, the paper should not be held up as something it is not. The initiative is also positive because it creates further flux on the revolutionary left. For decades, the sects remained isolated islands, speaking different languages and having no discernable effect on the real world. They were run as feudal fiefdoms. In the environment of the Socialist Alliance movement, this is beginning to break down - albeit frustratingly slowly. And, importantly, the ISG-SSN proposal also brings to the fore once again the need for a Socialist Alliance paper. If even the ISG and the SSN - no offence, comrades - can get together and bash out a factional monthly, why can't all the forces of the SA unite for a broad, partyist weekly - or even daily - paper? The resources are there. The political will needs to be won. And it is that fight the CPGB will continue. Some further points. 1. Unofficial/official Some people are in a twist about official versus unofficial papers of the Socialist Alliance. In fact there are already many, many unofficial Socialist Alliance papers. Local bulletins for one. These are 'unofficial' in the sense that they only represent a part of the organisation, and cannot speak for the whole. Then there are the left journals: Weekly Worker, Socialist Outlook, Socialist Worker, Solidarity, Workers Power, etc. These are - to a lesser (SW, WP) or greater (Weekly Worker, SO, Solidarity) degree - unofficial SA papers in the sense that they report the activities of the SA from various viewpoints. Hardly divisive in and of themselves. Their existence is obviously not an obstacle to the development of the SA, although the politics espoused by some of them (united front, electoral bloc, etc) most certainly is. It is the lack of political will from the largest faction to commit to a process of deeper unity that is also holding us back. I have been fighting for a weekly paper of the Socialist Alliance. If this is blocked by a conservative majority, then the pro-party elements of the SA need to launch an unofficial paper of the SA based on - and seeking to enrich - the politics of our manifesto People before profit. What could be divisive about such an unofficial paper? Our movement's history is full of such examples: the British Socialist Party's The Call, for instance. Iskra began as an unofficial paper. The Communist was the daily paper of the Bolsheviks' leftist wing during 1918. The Sunday Worker was the paper of the Left Wing Movement in the Labour Party in the 1920s. Labour Left Briefing, Tribune, etc, etc, etc. There is nothing to be afraid of, comrades, and a rich heritage from which to learn. 2. Internal/external Here is the rub. The ISG-SSN claim the new publication will not be an unofficial SA paper. This is of course ridiculous. Are not the ISG and SSN supporting organisations of the alliance? Do they not have representatives on the SA national executive? The launch statement itself says: "We think that the development of more comradely relations and collaboration between different viewpoints on the far left in Britain over recent years is a major step forward. However, we also think within this framework, sponsors of Resistance have something distinctive to contribute." Where else but the Socialist Alliance movement have "comradely relations and collaboration between different viewpoints" been developing? Paul Wilcox of the ISG says of the paper: "It must be stressed here, Resistance is not a Socialist Alliance paper. It will be a paper in the Socialist Alliance and the anti-capitalist, anti-war, environmental movements. And it will be aimed at the new young layers that are emerging from these movements. [It will aim] to bring them into the Socialist Alliance, as well as calling for and campaigning for an official paper of the Socialist Alliance" (IndieSA list). Does this mean that the "anti-capitalist, anti-war, environmental movements" are outside the scope of the Socialist Alliance? If they are, then this is a sectional view of the SA akin to the SWP's that the ISG says it opposes. If they are not, then Resistance will be an unofficial SA paper. There is nothing wrong with that, but why are the authors and sponsors at such pains to stress otherwise? 3. For a democratic campaigning SA paper The statement initiated by myself, Dave Church and Martin Thomas calls for a campaign for an official Socialist Alliance paper that is open, democratic and reflects the views of the majority and minority in the SA. It should recruit from the various social movements the SA is involved in, as well as the union movement and the working class at large. It should aim to educate (through propaganda), agitate and organise our members, our supporters and the broad layers of the labour movement and working class the SA comes into contact with. I will be moving such a motion to the next SA annual conference in February. I trust I will receive the backing of the many pro-party and sincere 'independents': the ISG, the pro-party AWLers, the pro-party Workers Power members, and so on. If the majority blocks the move to a democratic, open and campaigning Socialist Alliance weekly paper (well within the reach of the SA as it is currently constituted), then the pro-party, pro-paper minority has an obligation to launch an unofficial SA paper. Not a sectional and narrow factional paper as the ISG-SSN venture seems to be, but one based on - and seeking to enrich - the politics of our common manifesto, People before profit. I urge all comrades to sign our statement.