Abandon sectarian doctrine

Open letter to members of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty


“A more united left would impact far more forcefully on the working class and its movement, and on the capitalist world around us. It could hope to grow much more quickly than the left does now. It would also be forced by the conditions of its existence to talk about its own political divisions and disputes as a united left, and thus evolve a civilised and democratic party regime.”

I write with a simple aim: to convey my sincere and passionate support of these words, which appeared in the Workers’ Liberty magazine special Unity! in January 1999, and to see them translated into action.

Let us lift our eyes from the squabbles which have occupied so much of our energy over recent months to the events of the world.

The people of Iraq have had a murderous Ba’athist regime, originally sponsored by western imperialism, replaced through a bloody war by direct occupation by those imperialists themselves. US soldiers now fire on their demonstrations, while in Washington plans are laid for the theft of their resources and the imposition of a puppet government.

Palestinians still face the chaos, poverty, fear and death visited on them by the Israeli state, while Israeli workers face both exploitation by domestic capitalism and the hatred of the Arab peoples around them. US-backed imperialism in the region has left neither of these peoples knowing security or freedom.

French workers are striking to prevent their pensions being stolen from them by their government to subsidise the failure of French capitalism. Syria, Iran and Cuba have all received thinly veiled threats from US imperialism. Chinese workers are still being imprisoned for organising workers’ action. The people of Zimbabwe continue to suffer the privations of their nation’s paralysis, as Mugabe’s dictatorship clings to power.

At home, the denial of democracy to the British people has been thrown into sharp relief by Blair’s support of the invasion of Iraq in the teeth of mass opposition. Asylum-seekers are being scapegoated for our economic problems. The BNP continues to gain minor but still significant electoral successes. The firefighters were threatened with action to declare their strike illegal. The collapse in share prices has left millions without adequate pensions. Worsening poverty and debt face millions.

Everywhere we see the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, between the defence of inhuman privilege and the courageous fight for freedom and democracy.

The struggle is often confused. Young people turn to ‘anti-capitalism’ and anarchist ‘direct action’. Millions protest against the war, only to hear platform speakers place their hopes in the United Nations or international law. Betrayed by a Labour Party hijacked by one of the most reactionary leaderships we have ever seen, some place their hopes in syndicalism: ‘left’ leaders are elected in the hope that unions will defend workers’ interests. Militancy and class consciousness are being raised, but where is the political leadership?

We are not anarchists or syndicalists. We believe that a party - not outside but of the working class - must be built if freedom is to be won. And yet, at precisely the moment when real political leadership is most needed, the left remains hopelessly and foolishly divided. As MI5 pores through our periodicals and our email discussions, they must be laughing at us.

Our first step out of this morass is clear: we need a campaign for a workers’ party, and the campaign needs a paper. At the recent Socialist Alliance conference, substantial minorities voted for both of these measures, and I wish to see them made realities. They would not be built around any compromise programme. I would not have the AWL abandon a particle of its politics except through argument. We would publish a multi-faction paper, honestly taking up the debates, but demonstrating unity in action. As the Workers’ Liberty quote I opened this letter with correctly stated, it is precisely through the conditions of existence of such a paper that its supporters would be forced to discuss their political differences and thus begin to lay down the basis of a genuinely democratic centralist party.

I am not going to contribute to the exchange of insults which continues between us. I publicly opposed the description of the AWL as “not liking Arabs”, which appeared in the Weekly Worker. I am similarly saddened by descriptions of the “so-called” CPGB as “fake left” and “crazies”, which have appeared in Solidarity. These are the politics of the nursery. Even with an independent workers’ party built to lead a conscious working class, we will still face the massed arms and intelligence services of the British state. Anyone, CPGB or AWL, who does not experience a moment’s fear when facing this prospect has not understood our historic task, and is playing a mere factional game. If we cannot organise ourselves to achieve even a monthly paper to argue the case for an independent working class party, what hope do we have when the real struggle begins?

At present, the issue of George Galloway is being presented as a fundamental reason why our groups cannot work together. Solidarity recently argued: “Socialists, or even half-decent liberals, who do not feel embarrassed by the things George Galloway admits to … have lost the plot. To call them socialists without some qualifying adjective like ‘fake’ is now an abuse of language.”

If you accept this, I suppose any words written by this particular fake socialist will carry little weight. But I am not embarrassed. The CPGB defends Galloway because he is being attacked for sticking his head over the trenches and daring to shout that the war was wrong and soldiers should have refused their orders. The Daily Telegraph and the traitorous leadership of the Labour Party are not attacking him for accepting the hospitality of a dictator, but for an entirely correct stand against the war. I cannot stand by and see him crucified for this while saying, ‘It doesn’t matter: he’s guilty of other things anyway’.

By all means be critical of those other things, but we must defend him on the grounds on which he is being attacked. Once the passion and rhetoric has been cut away from the AWL’s argument, is it really so different? Could we not still unite around the principle of critical defence?

But if we cannot, it still need not stand in our way. I do not even ask you to agree with this argument - merely to extend the dignity of being ‘wrong’ to me if you disagree, rather than calling me a ‘fake socialist’. Consider: as almost everyone outside the AWL has adopted a similar line, or even lines of uncritical defence, are you really comfortable with the argument that the AWL contains the only genuine socialists left in Britain?

There is a real appetite both within and without the Socialist Alliance to campaign for a workers’ party. The AWL and the CPGB have an opportunity to play a role of importance well beyond that suggested by the tiny memberships of both our groups. We, along with the Revolutionary Democratic Group and the majority of SA independents who are increasingly cohering into a pro-party group, can provide a nucleus for that campaign. On February 15 the left failed, miserably and completely, to provide leadership to the millions who protested. Where were the rows of Socialist Alliance banners? The SA stalls? The recruiters collecting membership applications hand over fist? The candidates scoring win after win around the country, as people made their anger at the democratic deficit clear? We must not fail again.

At the fringe meeting which followed the SA conference, attendance was higher than anyone expected: there was barely room to move. The anger of the indies which greeted some of your speakers was not because they disagreed over Galloway, but because they genuinely wanted to talk about a workers’ party. The CPGB intervened to prevent the outrageous move by the Socialist Workers Party to exclude the AWL from the SA executive, but it seemed that the AWL could not hear even the voices of its friends at this second meeting, which otherwise would have been fiercely united behind a workers’ party campaign.

If you had said simply that you opposed deals based around the politics of supporting Arab dictatorships, as we all suspected the SWP might be seeking with Galloway and the Morning Star group, and moved on to commit the AWL to such a campaign, you would have won our support and, I believe, that of almost all present. Why this determination to present the AWL as the only group supporting independent working class politics?

In case you should think that my aim is to score some partisan point over the AWL, if you have time please read the first letter I ever wrote to Solidarity and the Weekly Worker. I was then an ‘indie’ myself, who recognised the substantial areas of political agreement that the AWL and the CPGB enjoyed and who was bewildered and depressed that a foolish dispute (then over the ‘Leeds’ incident) had interfered with the process of rapprochement between them. The Weekly Worker printed this letter, and it is still available via the CPGB website: http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/467/letters.html. Four months on, and I find myself arguing the same case for unity. Must we repeat our folly?

The doctrine of the ‘fake left’ puts you on an isolationist course which becomes harder to correct with each passing day. Unlike comrade Martyn Hudson in his letter to us, I do not call on you to change your politics, or to leave your organisation for ours: merely to fight with us to build the party which our class needs, the class whose interests we all claim to represent.

Whatever our differences, I remain committed to the cause of real socialist unity: not ignoring the debates between our groups, but recognising comradeship and ultimately applying the principles of democratic centralism, within a single revolutionary party, to resolve them in the tradition of our movement.

If you feel the same, I would ask you to:

  1. Stay in the AWL and fight for principled, socialist unity.
  2. Oppose the withdrawal of the AWL from the SA if it is proposed, unless it is part of a joint strategy with us and others to form something stronger.
  3. Resist the tendency to sectarian polemics which inflate political differences into criteria for abandoning cooperation with your comrades in the CPGB.
  4. Write to Solidarity, the Weekly Worker, and within our email groups in defence of unity and the workers’ party: make yourself heard.
  5. Demand unity with the CPGB, the RDG, and the SA indies behind a campaign for an independent workers’ party, and a paper supporting that campaign.

Workers of the world, unite!

Manny Neira