Socialist Alliance at the crossroads

The next few months will be a testing time for the Socialist Alliance. With class militancy slowly recovering from more than two decades in the doldrums, the SA will face new challenges and its credibility and ability to act will come under increased pressure. Will the Socialist Alliance pass the test? That is an open question. The national council meets on Saturday December 14 to deal with the past and prepare for the future. The continued fallout from the Liz Davies resignation is on the agenda. Comrade Davies's departure and the incidents around it are merely the surface manifestations of underlying political tensions and problems within the alliance. Many of these issues were aired at the recent meeting of SA 'independents', where the 'Liz Davies statement' was first circulated. It is certainly a shame that comrade Davies never saw fit to raise these political criticisms on the executive committee of the Socialist Alliance itself. The firefighters' dispute and other industrial matters are also on the agenda. If we are able to use the period to transform ourselves into a fighting formation, we will be well placed to take good advantage of any opening up of the class struggle. If we remain stagnant - just another 'united front' appendage of the Socialist Workers Party - then we are likely to fail the tests ahead. The partyist logic inherent in the very nature of the SA is being blocked. Even though national secretary Rob Hoveman says in relation to the party-like features of the SA, "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck "¦", there is a massive gulf between the current low-level unity and the Socialist Alliance party we need. As a result the SA remains becalmed. A few SWPers have 'gone native' and are partisans of the project. Others must dread going to SA meetings or even being reminded of its existence. At the bottom of it all is the SWP's cynical sect-building priorities and fear of the alliance's potential. The SWP wrongly believes that it is the revolutionary party and, guided by the same misplaced claim, we see its international sections and clones behaving in a very worrying fashion. Eg, their Socialist Worker platform has fallen foul of the leadership of the Scottish Socialist Party, while their International Socialist Organisation puts a block on the SA in Australia. Against this backdrop who can doubt that as presently constituted the SWP cannot take the Socialist Alliance project forward. Hence we find it doggedly resisting calls from all sides to work towards the SA becoming a real party, rather than one that simply appears once there is an election. The SWP perspective of feeding itself with one, two, many united fronts was emphasised at its recent conference. In essence, the SA "united front of a special kind" exists to trap old Labourites who can in the course of time become recruits to the 'real project'. So at present the SA exists mostly as an SWP electoral united front - but an ineffective one. The SA does not do the comprehensive political and programmatic work needed to build a serious electoral base. Rather than putting the SA at the centre of their work SWP comrades just go through the motions of the monthly meeting and the occasional stall (if you are lucky). But SWP comrades in particular are under tremendous pressure. They are suffering from an excess of frontism. Overly stretched, they seem unable to involve themselves in any long-term strategic thinking. However, it would be foolish to lay all the blame at the door of the SWP. The failure to build successful support groups during the current firefighters' dispute is a symptom of the historical disunity of the left. Yet unilateral action by the SWP to attempt to instigate support groups without consultation with or involvement of the alliance has left a sour taste in the mouth. And it is clear that in many cases the Fire Brigades Union has steered clear of anything smacking of yet another SWP front. So this national council is the beginning of a process of debate. Key for the Socialist Alliance is the struggle for higher unity. This can only take place through the transformation of SA branches into real, living units at the centre of comrades' general political work and, crucially, through the establishment of a regular, democratic political paper. Left Turn might be a sop delivered by the national office, but it could also be used as a beginning. If, on the other hand, the SWP leadership continues to run the SA as one of its many fronts, it will end up killing the project off. Marcus Ström