Common sense and Labour left

Our attitude to the Labour Party in general and to the Labour left in particular is critical, if the Socialist Alliance is to develop into a mass alternative to Blairism and New Labour. The overwhelming majority of class-conscious workers continue to vote Labour come election time. While many are disillusioned, that discontent remains atomised and has yet to find expression in the ballot box - although in union elections such workers are likely to vote for anti-Blairites. With the Labour left beginning to show signs of revival - albeit at the top rather than in rank and file organisation - it is crucial for the Socialist Alliance to relate in a correct manner to this constituency. It is with that in mind that the CPGB is urging a thoroughgoing debate within the alliance on our approach to Britain's bourgeois workers' party. Due to lack of time, the motion I tabled on this matter fell off the agenda at the Socialist Alliance national council on September 7 (see Weekly Worker September 12). I will be putting it before the next executive. At the end the NC meeting national chair Liz Davies dismissed my motion as one she could not agree with, but welcomed it being put forward for discussion within the context of her strategy document, Socialist Alliance - the next two years. For comrade Davies all democratic channels within the Labour Party are now cemented over and work within the Labour Party is now a barren field. Best just plant seed in pastures new. Like many others comrade Davies has leapt from unconscionable auto-Labourism to incoherent auto-anti Labourism. For these comrades it seems that Labour was actually envisioned as a potential vehicle for socialist change. For communists, it was never thus. However, this untheorised switch has left the Socialist Alliance with nothing to say to voters about Labour candidates where there is no socialist standing. As far as the public is concerned, there is no distinction between a Tony Blair and a Diane Abbott. The Socialist Alliance stood in neither Sedgfield nor Hackney North in 2001, yet we offered no lead as to how workers should cast their vote in those constituencies. This must change. In the CPGB's view, where we do not stand, in current circumstances we should urge workers to put a raft of minimum demands to Labour or other working class candidates. If Labour candidates cannot support the basic defence of our class then they do not deserve our vote. If, on the other hand, Labour candidates are prepared, for instance, to voice opposition to the 'war on terrorism' and call for the scrapping of all anti-trade union laws, then the SA should not only call for a vote for these Labour lefts, but actively campaign for them as the Socialist Alliance. The Scottish Socialist Party is reviewing its approach to left candidates outside its ranks. This is a welcome move. In his report to the SSP national council, Alan McCombes, editor of Scottish Socialist Voice, said that to stand against left candidates outside the SSP would be "cutting off our nose to spite our face". Comrade McCombes is reported to have suggested that "we should ask them to commit themselves on certain key issues such as opposition to any war. If they agree, then we should not stand against them" (Weekly Worker August 29). Incredibly though, he was referring only to independent socialists and - employing the SSP formula of equidistance between Labourism and nationalism - an SNP candidate, not to Labour Party lefts. Such a tactic of challenging candidates to back a minimum platform of pro-working class demands can be used in relation to groups and individuals belonging to the workers' movement. But its main purpose is to put Labour candidates on the spot. It is not good enough to decide in private who we will and will not stand against. What use is that to the workers who will vote in constituencies that we effectively abandon? It is vital that the Socialist Alliance adopts such a campaigning approach to left candidates of the Labour Party. Through this tactic, we can cut into the working class base of Labour that remains class-conscious. Without it, we will remain an electoral pressure group on mainstream politics. At the moment, comrade Davies may dismiss my motion and this approach. But, as we have seen throughout the development of the SA, what is at first regarded as CPGB 'madness' can often end up as Socialist Alliance common sense. Marcus Ström