Stuck in limbo

The fifth annual conference of the Welsh Socialist Alliance took place in Swansea on January 25. With fewer than 30 members turning up - last year around 60 attended - it was a grim confirmation that the alliance project in the principality is in danger. The biggest grouping was the Socialist Workers Party, with 15 members present. Between them the Communist Party of Great Britain, Workers Power and the Alliance for Workers' Liberty had a total of seven supporters. Independents made up the rest. Quite clearly, the SWP's leadership of the WSA has not led to an influx of new members. In fact, quite the opposite. Most disappointingly, the WSA now finds itself in a state of limbo. As reported last week, two motions - one from Leigh Richards of Swansea WSA and one from the CPGB - had been presented in an attempt to end the isolation and decline of the WSA. For Comrade Leigh this meant that the WSA should "affiliate" to the Socialist Alliance and become its Welsh section, whilst the CPGB advocated a straightforward merger. Comrade Leigh's motion won the day with only two votes against, these coming from independents who wanted to maintain the WSA as a completely separate entity (a ruling from the chair meant that the CPGB motion could not be voted on). Ironically, these two comrades need not have worried too much, for the SWP's interpretation of the successful motion was completely unexpected - well, not quite. It became clear during the course of the debate that the SWP had no intention at all of accepting the intended meaning of Leigh's resolution. He had made it clear that adoption of the motion would mean that the WSA would now abide by the constitution of the SA and had spelt out elsewhere that the existing WSA constitution would, therefore, become redundant. Yet, as I pointed out last week, the poor drafting of Leigh's motion meant that it could be interpreted in more than one way (Weekly Worker January 23). It had the effect also of exposing SWP confusion and its tendency to vacillate in the direction of Welsh nationalism. Under the watchful eye of Socialist Alliance national secretary Rob Hoveman, the SWP in Wales wanted to show how they were quite willing to sacrifice almost any principle for the sake of quick popularity - the ruling method. SWP member and WSA secretary Julian Goss led the way. He argued that it had nothing to do with "principles" whether the WSA and SA sought greater unity, but was simply to do with "circumstances". Thus he expressed reservations about the wording of Leigh's motion - he did not like the term "Welsh section of the SA" - going on to argue that in order to attract the widest layer of recruits to the alliance in the principality a separate WSA was actually needed. Yet one must ask, then, why had he, or any other member of the SWP for that matter, not tried to amend Leigh's motion? Even more pertinent, why did the SWPers vote unanimously for it? One can only speculate that, whilst the SWP in Wales wants to reject nationalist fragmentation, the comrades are only too aware that in Scotland they dissolved their public organisation and formally severed links with others in Britain for the sake of entry into the Scottish Socialist Party. Particular SWP spleen was vented on the CPGB motion calling for a merger. One would have thought that the CPGB, in arguing for the closest unity on the basis of the principle of 'one state, one party', was suggesting something quite alien to the Marxist tradition, rather than what ought to be regarded as ABC. The debate reached its low point when Des Mannay, a member of the SWP, accused us of arguing like one of his "psychiatric patients". SWP confusion was spelt out by comrade Jeff Hurford in a subsequent debate. He claimed that agreeing to abide by the SA constitution did not mean the WSA had adopted the constitution of the SA. Thus, in his view, the WSA constitution would still operate and the WSA would still maintain its wholly separate organisation. To put it bluntly, all this will add to the paralysis in the WSA. Are we now a part of the SA or not? Of course, one can look at this ridiculous situation in one of two ways. Firstly - and rightly - one can take the words of Leigh's motion as they stand (the "Welsh section of the SA") and campaign in both the WSA and SA for his motion to be fully adopted. However, the second option - to adopt the neither-the-one-nor-the-other SWP interpretation - will be the most likely outcome. Using bureaucratic methods the SWP will presumably do its utmost to rob the successful motion of its intended meaning. Another controversial debate took place on the euro. With a motion from Swansea WSA arguing for a 'no' position against an active boycott motion from the CPGB, it was always likely that the debate would be highly polarised. However, one did not expect 'no' supporters to make such a poor case for their position. The SWP tried for all its worth to portray the call for an active boycott as divorced from reality. Comrade Goss made the first attempt to trounce this position by arguing that, when faced with a choice between only a 'yes' and 'no' in a ballot, socialists had no choice but to adopt one of these positions. The absurdity of his claim was noted by a member of the CPGB, who pointed out that only a few months before the SWP had itself advocated an active boycott position in the French presidential run-off between Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen. Logically then, comrade Goss ought to have been arguing for a vote for the 'lesser evil' of Chirac on that occasion. Yet this observation was lost on SWP members, who continued to lampoon an active boycott, showing a complete ignorance of Leninist tradition. In fact one of its comrades went as far as to say that in not arguing for a 'no' position on the euro, the active boycottists were, in fact, giving implicit support to militarism and the European rapid reaction force. Pure baloney. The most comic moment of the debate took place when comrade Mannay accused the active boycottists of the charge that they were "pro-Europe" - a charge to which we are more than happy to plead guilty. In a previous debate on the euro the comrade had even gone as far as to chastise the Weekly Worker for putting the price of our paper in euros. Yet, when it came to the vote, the outcome was rather predictable. The active boycott position took about 25% of conference with it, made up mostly of supporters of the CPGB, Workers Power and the AWL. Ultimately, a disappointing conference for the Welsh Socialist Alliance. The wrangling likely to take place over the affiliation motion will only have the effect of the WSA scoring another own goal, on top of many previous ones. Completely self-inflicted, with the SWP squarely to blame. Cameron Richards