Executive wake-up call

The Socialist Alliance executive committee is due to agree a statement as we go into print - on Thursday October 31. When finalised, it will be available on the CPGB website. Suffice to say, it will confirm that the immediate issues provoking the resignation of Liz Davies from the chair of the Socialist Alliance and our executive involved bad practice but no financial or factional gain. Short cuts were made when it came to items of legitimate expenditure and since then the executive had decided to put in place a raft of measures which ought to prevent any recurrence. However, that cannot be the end of the matter. What is going on in the Socialist Alliance is not a tiff over financial irregularities - there is a political crisis. Comrade Davies's resignation on Sunday October 13, which she confirmed on Monday October 21, came as a total surprise to me. Not being part of the Liz Davies-Nick Wrack-Will McMahon-John Rees-Rob Hoveman inner loop, I was not aware of any of the events that led to her bombshell. I felt unable to take any firm position and thought it precipitative for Liz to leave the executive without allowing us time to investigate just what had been going on. It was 'Do as I say now, or I'm gone'. To my mind, comrade Davies wished to resign from the executive no matter what. The incident around financial irregularities was the excuse, but - from what I can see - not the underlying reason for the resignation. The technical details of the financial irregularities in the Socialist Alliance office are secondary, if not irrelevant. What matters is the politics. Comrade Liz Davies's resignation should spur us to make the necessary, thorough-going criticisms of the current state of the Socialist Alliance. Her departure is unfortunate and, I believe, irresponsible. If she thought there had been a breach of agreed procedures around legitimate Socialist Alliance activity, surely, if matters were so serious, she ought to have called on others to resign. In fact I do not think the incident was a matter for anyone's resignation. When asked why she delayed leaving the Labour Party, comrade Davies has previously told critics that she owed it to the people who elected her to the national executive to see her term out. Why was this courtesy not shown to the people who elected her to the Socialist Alliance executive? Were the misdemeanours prior to her resignation from the SA executive greater than the crimes of New Labour? I will leave these questions open, as comrade Davies' personal motivations for her actions are just a symptom and not the cause of the current crisis. The Socialist Alliance is becalmed. Neither moving back to federal paralysis, nor steaming ahead towards a higher unity of the principal forces involved. The biggest (majority) component of the alliance - the SWP - is content to leave the alliance as just one of its plethora of united fronts. Frankly this situation cannot be sustained. Genuine working class militants do not really want to join another united front. People want an organisation with high political ambition. Behind the rhetoric of the SWP - which claims that it wants the alliance to be a home for disillusioned old-Labour types - is the reality of revving up the SA engine come election time and leaving it idling in between. This is the major reason why people are not joining. It has no real, independent political life. On top of this is the perverse 'cult of the independents' in the Socialist Alliance. The flotsam and jetsam lost from one or other of the confessional sects and former Labourites who have quietly flaked away were meant to be the answer. The groups - though tolerated - must not dominate, because by implication they are part of the problem. While no doubt sincere, most of the independents are weak politically and prone to extremes of highs and lows. The real foundations and strength of the Socialist Alliance lie not with the independents. It is the hard factions, the organised groups of the British left coming together around elections and other agreed tasks and around our common political platform People before profit. The SWP has though been able to hide behind the cult of the independents to excuse itself from its political responsibility as the majority of actually galvanising and leading the Socialist Alliance. Similarly, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty ducked the issue of an unofficial paper by pleading lack of support from independents. Factionally non-aligned socialists will undoubtedly make their positive contribution to the Socialist Alliance, but our cutting edge lies with the serious groups uniting at a higher level - positively overcoming our divisions so that we become mere shades of opinion within one party. Under such circumstances non-aligned individuals will surely be enthused - and be joined by thousands of new recruits. The SWP has failed to take a lead in building the Socialist Alliance in a partyist direction. It has not followed the example of Scottish Militant Labour, which gave itself body and soul to a partyist project and reaped rich rewards. It is more than a pity that the SML comrades saw fit to embrace nationalism - something we openly criticise them for. However, in Australia, the Democratic Socialist Party seems to have learned the lessons and is attempting to 'do a Scotland' with the Socialist Alliance down under. This is the only way forward for the alliance in England and Wales. We cannot continue to run the SA like a cruel parody of how the bourgeois parties are widely regarded: 'We only see you at election time.' Given the numerical imbalance between the SWP and the rest, treating the SA as just another united front results in the stunting of political initiative and the absence of any sort of genuine internal political culture. The SWP has Socialist Worker - the Socialist Alliance has Nick Wrack's one-off. The SWP has its Marxist Forums - the Socialist Alliance has pinched monthly business meetings. If the SWP does not actively support SA initiatives they barely get off the ground. Such an impoverished reality lies behind many of the frustrations of independents - Liz Davies included. The recent establishment of firefighters' support groups is a case in point. I know for a fact that phone calls from Socialist Alliance members to SWP activists about establishing such support groups were ignored. They were just set up by the SWP for the benefit of the SWP - with the Socialist Alliance tacked on as an afterthought if you were lucky. We see such an attitude in the SWP's pre-conference discussion bulletins for 2002. The Socialist Alliance barely rates a mention. Where it is named, it is usually as just another item on a list of 'united fronts'. No wonder SWPers cannot focus. Comrade Colin Barker - a leading member from Manchester - writes of the logistical and political difficulties. He says: "There is the problem of 'hats' that arises at different times. On a Saturday morning, should we hold an SWP stall, an anti-war stall, a Socialist Alliance, an ANL stall or what? At the start of the college year, should we put our energies into recruiting to the SWP, Globalise Resistance, to the anti-war movement, to the Socialist Alliance?" Good questions indeed. Comrade Barker points out that they are asked of SWP members by those "for whom the SA or SSP is their only 'political home'" (Pre-conference Bulletin No2). With no political paper to cohere the organisation, with no robust political life in the branches and no leadership from the majority organisation, the Socialist Alliance remains becalmed and is in danger of sinking. Some members of the executive have pointed to the partyist strengths of the SSP (while glossing over its nationalism). In response, John Rees of the SWP has said that no one would want to see 11 or 12 members of the SWP sitting on the Socialist Alliance executive. I beg to differ. I think that the majority should take its responsibilities seriously and exercise its majority - as long as the minority is proportionately represented, and has the right to openly criticise shortcomings and become the majority, that would be a big step forward. Only this way will the Socialist Alliance be able to break out of its current malaise. The resignation of Liz Davies and the crisis this has revealed should act as a wake-up call and allow us to move in that directionl Marcus Ström