Party notes

Why we need an SA minority paper

In the last issue of Socialist Worker, staff writer Kevin Ovenden reports on recent meetings of the Socialist Workers Party’s Marxist forums. According to the comrade, a repeatedly asked question concerns the need for a paper: “Why do you produce a paper and spend time selling it?” asks the apocryphal fresh-faced youth from the “anti-capitalist and anti-war movements” (May 31).

Comrade Ovenden proceeds to answer. Establishment political parties have ready access to the mass media. Combined they went to great lengths to “corral” the anti-war movement safely into parliamentary channels: “That shows why we need an alternative to the official media.” I agree.

There are “other reasons” too. The anti-war movement saw millions drawn into direct political involvement for the first time. Naturally arguments developed about the way forward. There were those who simply sought to exert “polite pressure” on the “powers that be”. Others wanted a minority to “confront the state” on behalf of “everybody else”. The SWP in contrast thought that the anti-war movement “should encompass all those who opposed the war”. And comrade Ovenden proudly upholds the role played by Socialist Worker in winning “those arguments.”

His paper does not simply provide facts that would otherwise be “buried in the mainstream media”. It “seeks to connect” a whole range of issues. It looks at the “best experience” of activists to try and offer a way forward. It also “draws on the history” of previous struggles. As the comrade rightly points out, it would be the “height of arrogance not to”. The great issues of today are “new takes” on questions thrown up in every social movement in history. Again I agree.

Finally comrade Ovenden notes that Socialist Worker is sold “through networks of people”. That “helps pull” those networks together into an “organised force” that can mobilise wider numbers on every battle the system throws up.

Once more, I cannot but agree with comrade Ovenden. But, as they say, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Put another way, what is good for the SWP is good for the Socialist Alliance.

Besides a national office, election candidates, regional and local structures, a programme and rules, in our opinion the Socialist Alliance requires in addition - as a matter of urgency - something else. A common political paper. Such a paper would send out an inspiring message to our natural constituency amongst the politically advanced section of the working class. At last the fractious left is seriously getting its act together. That alone would produce an influx of hundreds of experienced veterans.

A paper would do more than that though. Far more. Yes, an SA paper must strive to learn from and teach the lessons of history. Not to do so would be “arrogance”. A paper also provides the organisational girding and agitational voice necessary to support and massively extend our political activity and scope. So a paper more than complements the SA’s electoral interventions. It qualitatively enhances them.

Disingenuously it has been suggested that we should learn to walk before running. That the SA lacks the necessary money and resources. Better stick with amateurish and inconsequential local bulletins. Yet, though the SA itself suffers from collective poverty, there is a veritable overabundance of factional papers. Each component of the SA, even the smallest, maintains its own publication. There must be well over two dozen papers and periodicals inhabiting our SA space.

Besides Socialist Worker there is that other widely read weekly, the Weekly Worker. There is one fortnightly, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s Solidarity. The above factions also publish Socialist Review, International Socialism, Red Watch, Postal Worker, Workers’ Liberty and Bolshie as monthlies or quarterlies. Going down the evolutionary ladder, there are the cold-blooded monthlies, Resistance and Workers Power. And at the lowest depths the intrepid explorer will find Republican Worker, Workers International and a host of other equally worthy print or electronic publications whose names do not spring to mind or still remain to be discovered by science.

Yet none of them, neither the Weekly Worker nor Socialist Worker, nor the lot taken together, can lift the Socialist Alliance in terms of education, organisation and rapprochement to the necessary state of readiness and combativity required if we are to do our duty by the class in whose name we all speak.

Factional centres and publications will persist within the Socialist Alliance and for a considerable length of time at that. Expecting anything else is to indulge in simple-minded or bureaucratic utopianism. However, we communists earnestly hope for, and strive towards, a situation where factional differences are, stage by stage, resolved into little more than the differences of shade that are inevitable in any class party. A common SA paper, in which all main strands have an editorial seat and find journalistic expression, would help unite the sum of our parts into a greater whole. Herculean financial, journalistic and logistical efforts undoubtedly go into maintaining our present divisions. Pooling resources and talents is surely guaranteed to produce results way beyond the dreams of any existing circulation department.

Of course, at May’s SA conference a sea of SWP and International Socialist Group/Resistance hands outvoted us. Nevertheless the composite for an SA paper received support from around a third of those present.

This division reflects profoundly opposed approaches. The SWP-Resistance majority envisages no long-term future for the SA. It is to be traded off for a new “broader” coalition with imams and ‘official communists’. Meanwhile it is to remain nothing more than an on-off SWP electoral front. The pro-party minority, on the other hand, seeks a multi-tendency workers’ party. A common political paper is essential for such a project.

Though we lost out to Chris Bambery’s SWP voting fodder, the CPGB proposes a bold interim measure. As the majority is intent on pursuing a course that points directly to the final liquidation of the SA, the pro-party minority must take the initiative. Let us publish a minority paper. Whatever we end up calling ourselves - Campaign for a Workers’ Party is one suggestion - we can build a viable alternative.

I have often argued that such a project would best be advanced through close cooperation between the CPGB and the AWL. Unfortunately that has been rejected out of hand by the AWL’s patriarch, Sean Matgamna. He now insists that two “propaganda groups”, putting out what he calls “radically different propaganda”, cannot unite (Weekly Worker May 29). The AWL is being cohered into a narrow sect. Railing and ranting against George Galloway in the midst of a vicious rightwing witch-hunt lends itself to that well trodden and completely sterile end.

Of course, this hostility to plurality is the exact opposite of what the AWL once preached. Eg, at the SA’s December 2001 conference the comrades presented a motion calling for a “regular Socialist Alliance paper” which would include on its editorial board those who represent our “political diversity” (Pre-conference bulletin 2001 p27). The CPGB had no hesitation in giving support.

So regrettably, advancing in tandem with the AWL is impossible for the time being. But advance we must. Hence we shall seek to develop an ever closer working relationship with the SA’s independents. Recently they have excluded from their ranks the likes of Will McMahon and Nick Wrack who happily serve as tame auxiliaries for the SWP. Ideologically and organisationally a healthy development. Factional splits can strengthen and clarify. The independents are hardening into pro-party independents.

To build trust, foster mutual understanding and as a preliminary measure we make the following offer. Pro-party independents can take one or two pages in our paper for their sole use. They would be free to edit and use this space as they see fit. All that needs to be done is hammering out the practical details.

In our view we should not only strive towards common objectives in the SA but energetically reach out to, and engage with, other forces in the movement - the Labour left, the European Social Forum, anti-war activists, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Party in England and Wales and above all the trade unions. That way the minority can become the majority and thereby lay a foundation stone for a new workers’ party.