Left loses opportunity

Phil Kent reports from a frustrating meeting of Socialist Alliance members who supported the motion for a new workers' party

Supporters of the motion in favour of a workers' party, including the CPGB, Revolutionary Democratic Group and Alliance for Workers' Liberty, got together after the Socialist Alliance conference in a meeting called to discuss what ought to be done next. About 60 comrades met in the back room of a local pub. The mood was sombre: Pete Radcliff of the AWL said to me that several people he knew had not come, because the conference would be just another boring SWP rally - but in fact "it was so appalling, it was almost good".

Tony Greenstein (Brighton) summed up the feelings of many independents when he said that the SA had no future. The conference had rejected the very idea of a party, rejected the concept of an alliance paper and refused to take a realistic view about the SA's health and prospects. The project was now nothing more than an SWP front. However, as David Landau pointed out, comrades should not leave the SA, because there were still opportunities to do work locally and it was wrong to write SWP members off as being all of the same stripe - there are bound to be tensions amongst them. This position was generally accepted - except perhaps by the AWL.

All the AWL speakers sang from the same hymn sheet, and many were called to serenade us by chair Ruth Cashman - an AWL member herself. They all condemned George Galloway and the SA majority for "falling in behind him". It sounds to me like an exit strategy, but as yet they are not threatening to leave the SA.

An hour and 45 minutes into the meeting a situation arose that Hansard would have described as "confused" - a procession of AWLers had been heard, all of whom centred their interventions on Galloway, as if our relationship with the man was the only thing that needed discussing. What we should actually do, in or out of the Socialist Alliance, to fight for a workers' party was not addressed. In the meantime several comrades had to leave for various parts of the country, without having had a chance either to speak themselves or hear any concrete proposals. Sean Matgamna's contribution was difficult to hear, but I was just able to discern that he thought we should look to the trade union movement and the Labour Party as the only possible source from which a workers' party can come. But by now the meeting was equally as bad as the conference had been.

The confusion was compounded after complaints were made by CPGB comrades regarding the chairing of the meeting - there had been no attempt to ensure a genuine exchange of views by alternating speakers - CPGB, AWL, RDG and indies. When Manny Neira (CPGB) asked the chair who was still to speak, comrade Cashman replied: "One from the AWL and 11 others."

Steve Freeman (RDG), on whose initiative the meeting had been convened, was at last able to get in - Martin Thomas of the AWL had taken it upon himself to appoint the chair, ensure he was the first speaker and make the closing remarks (in which he pushed an AWL event). Comrade Freeman called for a further meeting, where firm proposals could be made.

John Bridge of the CPGB expressed the view that a genuine campaign for a workers' party, based on a joint paper, would depend, first and foremost, on the cooperation of the CPGB and AWL. Silence from the AWL - although some of the independents protested that they too had a role to play. Marcus Strom pointed out how the AWL's failure to accept CPGB proposals for a joint SA paper had cost us dear. We had been left without a united campaigning voice that could have pulled hundreds of people from the anti-war protests towards the alliance on the basis of fighting for a new party.

If we had done that, the conference we had just attended would have been very different indeed. An opportunity had been lost.