Religious dogma

Jim Blackstock reports from the debate on 'Racism and fascism'

The clearest example of the SWP's sect-like behaviour came, for me, during the debate on 'Racism and fascism'.

The organisation had previously won the Socialist Alliance's national council to a bland position - basically to support the Anti-Nazi League - and so the first motion, presented by the SWP's Weyman Bennett, was in the NC's name. At first his speech seemed pretty run-of-the-mill, but my ears pricked up when I heard him say: "The biggest vote for the Nazis comes from the middle class, where the Tory vote has collapsed. We are not seeing this in working class areas."

I genuinely thought I must have misheard - or perhaps Weyman was throwing a wobbly. I was under the impression that the Conservative Party had just won the biggest share of the vote in England and that the BNP had made most of its gains in such solidly working class towns as Burnley, Oldham and Bradford.

Surely Julie Waterson would put comrade Bennett right? But no: "The BNP are getting their vote from the collapse of the Tory Party," she said. Then comrade Waterson went on to contradict herself: "The Labour vote collapsed in Burnley - they only got 300 more votes than the BNP." So the BNP is taking working class votes from Labour then? Only from the "scum" on working class estates, she remarked.

As if this was not enough, comrade Waterson enthused: "We have marginalised them. Now we need to crush them. There are only 17 [16 actually] BNP councillors because of us!" What world does she live in? Aren't these mainly new councillors, and aren't there scores of other wards where the BNP has increased its support or made an impressive showing? How did the SA vote bear up in comparison?

But there was more. Comrade Dave Landau (independent) moved a very long and extremely detailed motion which, amongst literally dozens of points, mentioned fascism's orientation not only to "sections of society with small privileges that have recently been lost or are threatened", but also to "white working class areas".

This was blasphemy for the SWP's Sean Docherty. "The BNP is not taking votes from the organised working class," he stressed. No, not from the organised working class, comrade. He insisted that the offending clauses be deleted, otherwise the SWP would have no alternative but to vote against.

This was incredible. In a long - indeed overlong - motion such as comrade Landau's, everybody is bound to find something they disagree with - I know I did. The point is, though, are your differences over points of principle or ones of emphasis or interpretation? The SWP was prepared to back every suggestion for action the motion contained, but would not budge on this absurd question of quasi-religious dogma.

The conference chair, Steve Godward, ruled that no fresh amendments could be taken (he had made the same ruling earlier on the question of equal representation for women), and so comrade Landau's motion would have to stand or fall as it was. The SWP announced it would oppose.

A furious Terry Conway strode to the microphone, scarcely able to get her words out. The SWP was seriously asking conference to vote against defending asylum-seekers, she shouted, leaving us with a motion that does nothing much more than back the ANL - another SWP 'united front'.

The fact that this criticism came from a leading member of the ISG - the SWP's usually docile comrades-in-arms - seemed to stun the SWP. The obvious course of action was to challenge the chair's ruling, ensure the objectionable clauses were removed and then vote through comrade Landau's motion, as amended. And that is what they did!

Needless to say, the SWP also voted down a CPGB amendment which read: "The Socialist Alliance will not enter into 'anti-racist' electoral pacts or joint statements with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives or New Labour. Such pacts only serve to give 'anti-establishment' credibility to the fascists and cloak the nationalism and petty xenophobic policies of the mainstream parties".

No SWP speaker directly opposed this motion, but the implication was clear: the comrades actually think it desirable to line up with the bourgeois parties. Again our amendment picked up support from a good third of the conference.