Relaunch the alliance

There is a challenge before the Socialist Alliance this conference. Can it make itself relevant to the broader processes unfolding in the workers' movement or will it degenerate into another sclerotic appendage of the Socialist Workers Party? During the war on Iraq the Socialist Alliance all but disappeared. Conference was postponed. The groups, led by the SWP, prioritised building their own organisations. This was infamously underlined by SWP secretary Chris Bambery's emailed instruction to his members to undertake only the selling of Socialist Worker on the two-million-strong February 15 anti-war demonstration - explicitly at the expense of its 'united fronts', including the Socialist Alliance. The war now over, our still fledgling alliance has made a welcome re-emergence through some better than expected, if patchy, local election results. Michael Lavalette is a councillor in Preston. A small ray of light. I for one was pleasantly surprised we could muster 163 candidates. Though piddling in comparison to what is needed, it is better than the 50 or so I thought we would stand. The electoral 'united front' was turned on. What of conference itself? It is to be a rather pinched affair. While not reduced to the fiasco of 'official' CPGB congresses in the 1980s run by the Marxism Today faction, where 'one-minute democracy' was the order of the day, contributions will be limited to three minutes. Comrades will have to show some considerable discipline. Perhaps it was an error to limit things to one day. The Socialist Alliance conference in Australia, taking place at the same time, is over three days. Conference arrangements committee (CAC) has been quite brutal in the drawing up of the agenda. The CAC report, to be delivered by Martin Thomas (Alliance for Workers' Liberty), will recommend the remitting and withdrawal of a number of motions and amendments. Some have been ruled out of order, while many others have been voluntarily withdrawn or composited. The agenda is in four main sections: (1) the war; (2) future of the SA; (3) anti-fascism and anti-racism; 4) trade unions and the Labour Party. If there is not time for the fourth item, there is a recommendation that this will form the main business for a future national council. Other agenda items are constitutional amendments; financial report; and election of executive, appeals committee and auditors. Before we get to the war there will be some procedural matters: the report from the CAC and introductory remarks by Nick Wrack, the proposed chair for the first session. It is here that any challenges to the CAC report will be taken - and there may well be some. A speaker from the Scottish Socialist Party has been invited to speak for five minutes followed by five minutes from our new councillor, Michael Lavalette. The SSP has not yet confirmed its attendance. Later in the day there will be a guest speaker from the Stop the War Coalition. An RMT executive member, Mark Serwotka and George Galloway have also been invited. Iraq On to the war. There are three motions to be considered and one amendment. The first motion is from the CPGB. It has been made lengthy and a tad unwieldy by our acceptance, to save conference time, of a long amendment from the Revolutionary Democratic Group. Nevertheless, it outlines a clear, anti-imperialist and revolutionary-democratic set of principles on the war and where it fits into the overall plans of US imperialism. Further, it points to the necessity of building a political alternative based on the anti-war movement - it applauds the People's Assembly initiative. Noting that the involvement of the Muslim Association of Britain is merely a tactical question, it calls on socialists to combat all backward and religious ideas. There is a call for the SA to initiate an Iraqi workers solidarity campaign. Added on is the RDG's recipe for a revolutionary democratic approach to post-war Iraq - while it is not how I would write it and is overly prescriptive, it is broadly acceptable. John Rees (SWP) has moved an anodyne motion on the Stop the War Coalition, which is merely a reiteration of existing policy and practice: ie, to support the STWC. He has accepted an amendment from Alan Thornett (International Socialist Group), which calls for an increased profile for the Socialist Alliance in the anti-war movement. All this is eminently supportable. The problem is that it gives no clear political lead. What do we think of the Liberal Democrats, the MAB, People's Assemblies and so on? The political sphere must presumably be kept as the preserve of the SWP. To actually bring your honestly held opinions (which determines what happens in the real world anyway) into the SA is bizarrely branded as a sectarian parade. An amendment to this composited SWP/ISG motion comes from the RDG. It goes further than the Thornett amendment and calls for not just a physical distinction within the movement, through stalls and the like, but a clearer political distinction - differentiating us from pacifists, anarchists, syndicalists. It calls on our movement to be one aimed at getting rid of the Blair government. All pretty uncontroversial, I would have thought, but the SWP will vote against just because Steve Freeman - expelled from the SWP in the mists of pre-history - is motivating it. The AWL also has a motion on the war. While much of it is worthwhile, it opposes co-sponsorship of any event with MAB on principle. Further, it says nothing on the preference socialists in Britain should have during the war. The AWL refused to call for the defeat of US/UK imperialism during the war. In fact for them the main enemy appears to have been Saddam Hussein and his regime. CAC is recommending three motions are not taken in this section. One from Workers Power, one from Julian Silverman and one from Martin Ralph. The basis of this is that the Workers Power motion is out of date: it calls on the SA to put forward 'Defend Iraq' as a key slogan. The other two motions do not call on the SA to do anything concrete. Constitution The main business in the section on constitutional amendments is on the method of election of the executive committee. There are further amendments on women's representation within the SA; election and structure of the appeals committee; tied votes; membership of the alliance; and affiliation to the alliance. There are four proposals here, two of which the CAC is asking to be remitted. Tony Reid, no longer an alliance member, moved a method which is based on regional representation on the executive. It is not supportable. The remaining three methods are the single transferable vote system moved by Phil Pope, a proposal from Rob Hoveman (SWP), national secretary, to go with the status quo for this conference, but to instruct the incoming executive to devise a new system for the 2004 conference. Finally, there is a composited proposal from Jim Jepps and the CPGB for an individual-nomination, first-past-the-post system. We are of course recommending support for the Jim Jepps motion, while of course retaining the right to propose this method to the incoming executive should comrade Hoveman's motion prevail. Vote down Margaret Manning's call for automatic, guaranteed 50-50 representation for women on SA bodies. Socialist Alliance future After lunch we move to discuss the future. The CPGB has agreed to withdraw its motion in this section and on the SA paper question in favour of a composite on a campaign for a new workers' party (with the AWL, RDG, James White and a number of other independents, including David Landau). Along with these people (and even Nick Wrack, I believe), we are supporting Cambridge SA's motion on a new paper. These motions are reproduced above. The main alternative resolution from Alan Thornett, backed by the SWP, has the luxury of not having had been composited. Comrade Thornett, in fact, will be the only one who will have the right to present his 'vision' for the SA without having to go through any process of compositing. The CAC, by a vote of four to two, has denied the CPGB, AWL and Workers Power the right to motivate any amendment about the perspectives for the alliance as a whole (the four: Rob Hoveman, Nick Wrack, Will McMahon, Alan Thornett. The two: Marcus Ström, Martin Thomas). Rob Hoveman said in the CAC he did not want to have a parade of the ideas of small organisations. Well, to be frank, what the fuck is Alan Thornett's International Socialist Group? This barely visible organisation is able to tout its perspective because it has the backing of the SWP to do so. While it has been very useful for a number of comrades to have composited motions into a pared back 'campaign for a workers' party' motion, it is undemocratic to have further amendments from those participants effectively barred. We will need to rely on leaflets and our postage-stamp, three-minute speeches from the floor. Comrade Thornett's long motion is generally inoffensive. The CPGB will be voting for it. Indeed, it has even taken on board ideas put forward by this author and this paper: annual conference must be considered a "relaunch of the Socialist Alliance or at least a relaunch of the idea behind the Socialist Alliance". It calls on a new initiative for the greater unity of the left - but what are the concrete initiatives? Why are Alan and his SWP backers so shy? Why can't they say the 'p' word? Of course, the SWP already thinks it is 'the party'. While elements of the SWP have 'gone native' in the Socialist Alliance, it is still a heresy to publicly say that the SWP is not the sole alternative - even though many, if not most, think so. If comrade Thornett wants a party of the working class and the left, why can't he say so? His motion is ambitious and that is good. It aims to have a socialist candidate in every constituency at the next election - except those where there is a Labour left standing. Here is another weakness in the motion - there is no clear analysis of the Labour Party nor an interventionist approach to it. It leaves our attitude passive and hence pretty useless. Eg, who is a Labour left and who in not? I believe the motion supportable, but it also requires the motion for a campaign for a workers' party to be passed to give it a cutting edge. In this section we will also consider the single motion for a Socialist Alliance newspaper. Comrade Thornett's resolution calls for the development of Left Turn, along with the creation of an editorial structure. This is not enough. How Alan can be so ambitious when it comes to the next election but is so mealy-mouthed about the need for a serious, at least weekly, Socialist Alliance newspaper is beyond me. The AWL is moving an amendment on George Galloway to the composited Merseyside motion. It motivates that the SA basically have nothing to do with Galloway. That we do not involve ourselves with any trade union fringe meetings he is attending. I think that, given the current witch-hunt against Galloway and his suspension by the Labour Party, to disassociate ourselves from him in this way is quite treacherous. While we have no truck for Galloway's wheeler-dealing, the present attack on him is essentially an attack on the anti-war movement as a whole. Finance and elections After the debate on the future of the SA Tess McMahon will give the financial report. This is particularly important, given the question mark raised over SA finances last year with the resignation of Liz Davies. There will also be elections to the executive, appeals committee and, if passed, for two internal auditors. Anti-fascism and anti-racism Given the relative success of the BNP in gaining council seats, this agenda item carries some urgency. Its deliberations should be quite straightforward. Motivating the discussion will be the current inadequate SA policy, which is simply pro-Anti-Nazi League. It does not say enough of what we should be doing with regard to the 'anti-racism' of the state. It does not explain what fascism is or where it comes from. It is more a 'Stop the BNP, support the ANL' manifesto. Totally inadequate. The CPGB has an amendment to this which would prevent the SA entering into any 'anti-nazi' electoral pacts or joint statements with Tories, New Labour or Liberal Democrats, while urging anti-fascist alliances with anti-Blairite candidates from the workers' movement. David Landau has a motion in this section which, while it has some good stuff in it, commits the SA to stand down candidates in areas it thinks the BNP has a chance of winning. We must not let the BNP set our agenda. Our main enemy in this context are not the BNP boneheads in Burton suits, but New Labour and the government. Unions and Labour Hopefully conference will have time for this section. There are three motions. The first is from Dave Hayes (SWP), which calls for a renewed effort in the campaign to democratise the political funds of the unions. All well and good. The CPGB resolution calls for an active approach to Labour left candidates in elections. We oppose the back-room approach of comrades such as Alan Thornett, which give this or that anointed Labour candidate a free run. Our approach is to engage with the base support for such Labour lefts, not do left talking careerists favours. The AWL has a motion which is a critique of the 'democratise the funds' approach. Conclusion It will be a very full day. The SWP painfully and barely tolerates the existence of the groups to its left. For the moment it has to. An alliance around the SWP with no dissent? Well, that's just the SWP. We have a chance to relaunch the Socialist Alliance project at this conference. Alan Thornett's motion, voted through alongside a call to campaign for a workers' party and the establishment of a regular Socialist Alliance paper, would be the best outcome. We will have to see if the SA can begin to reach out into the anti-war movement and engage with the very real flux in the working class. We need to establish a space in British politics in order to positively resolve the crisis of working class representation. Have a good conference. Marcus Ström Key motions Working class party Socialist Alliance conference notes the development of parties such as the Scottish Socialist Party and Rifondazione Comunista which have established themselves as serious political forces through a unity of purpose towards making the party the focus of public work and a consistent approach of raising the profile of their parties in working class communities and among young people in particular. The SSP now has six members of the Scottish parliament, consistently polls 7% to 8% support in Scotland and is expanding beyond the traditional areas of strength for the left in the central belt of the country. The Socialist Alliance resolves to play a leading role in the struggle for a new workers' party by taking the following steps. 1. Seek to set up a 'campaign for a new workers' party' jointly with other socialist and trade union organisations and activists committed to that goal and to seek liaison and cooperation with that campaign on elections and other political issues. 2. The Socialist Alliance adopts the aim of a workers' party in its constitution. 3. The Socialist Alliance includes arguments for a new workers' party as part of its campaigning propaganda. SA paper Conference instructs the incoming executive to launch a regular Socialist Alliance newspaper. The role of the paper would be to cover current events and Socialist Alliance activities and to promote political debate amongst Socialist Alliance members.