Handsome is as handsome does

Dave Osler defends the SA's awkward squad ... and the right to be in a minority

Normally I don’t ‘do’ the heavy-duty quote-mongering style of leftie journalism. But, just for once, let’s consider developments inside the Socialist Alliance by starting and ending on the sayings of two of the greatest women of the 20th century: Rosa Luxemburg and my mum.

Luxemburg once observed that “freedom is - always and absolutely - freedom for the one who thinks differently”. And guess what? The swingin’ Polish communist rock chick was right. That’s exactly why the current efforts to purge ‘minority viewpoints’ from positions inside the Socialist Alliance, the Stop the War Coalition - and even local trades councils nobody could have been arsed even to contest a few years back - are so insidious.

OK, I’m biased. I am one of those difficult customers who sometimes does ‘think differently’. Differently from the Socialist Workers Party, for certain. Differently from the publishers of this newspaper as well. The trouble is that these days departure from leftwing orthodoxy is increasingly deemed reason enough to exclude talented and hard-working comrades from tasks they are ideally suited to undertake.

Not that I’d include myself in the above description, of course. Deep-seated aversion to work of any kind and a low boredom threshold mean that I rarely, if ever, stand for any type of office. If it had been me on the central committee of the Bolsheviks back in 1924, I would probably have backed that Stalin bloke for the top job, if only out of sheer gratitude that somebody was mug enough actually to volunteer to fill out forms in triplicate.

But, having established my utter lack of self-interest on this one, let’s just list some of the first-rate ‘minority viewpoint’ comrades facing attempted or actual exclusion from labour movement posts, in what looks increasingly like a consistent policy led by the SWP, sometimes aided and abetted by their newfound tankie pals.

Steve Godward - everybody’s favourite Brummie firefighter - is a genuine working class militant, not some philosophy grad who leapt straight from student politics into a full-timer’s post in a Trot group. He has earned the base he has built in the class, precisely because he can cut it as a militant in the workplace, and the employers have brutally victimised him for it.

But Steve is suddenly judged unworthy to act either as vice-chair of the alliance, or even to undertake unpaid work for Birmingham trades council. The reason? Well, he’s got a ‘minority viewpoint’ on electoral blocs with muslims. Dangerous man.

Then there’s Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who ‘thinks differently’ on Galloway. That’s his right. Martin is an original and sometimes thought-provoking Marxist writer, and even - how can I put this? - the most theoretically self-assured among us benefit from having preconceptions challenged from time to time.

Come to that, he is one of the leaders of what is numerically probably the third-largest component of the Socialist Alliance, with strong support in the student movement. As such, AWL representation should be automatic. The fortunately unsuccessful attempt to carve Thomas off the executive was as crassly stupid as it was bureaucratically mishandled.

I haven’t got a clue why Phil Pope remains excluded from the exec. But I do know he’s young - a quality at a premium in the Socialist Alliance - and has the full confidence of the Indie SA caucus. Even Blair still permits a handful of token troublemakers to sit on the Labour backbenches. Coopt him now, if only in the name of pluralism.

Lastly, it seems that a Weekly Worker article on George Galloway - penned by someone described last week as “a certain Dave Osler” - means that the Communist Party of Great Britain is forbidden to send an observer to Stop the War Coalition steering committee meetings. Readers may remember that, despite being a coalition affiliate, the CPGB has long been denied representation on that body, simply because of its position on islamic anti-imperialism. In other words, it takes what we in the trade call a ‘minority viewpoint’ on that one.

There is a subtext here. STWC chair Andrew Murray has been on, er, less than comradely terms with “a certain Dave Osler” for about a decade now. This is neither the time nor place to rake over an old spat. But let me put this to Andrew in print. You will know that I have contributed to a wide range of socialist publications. These include the Morning Star and the SWP’s Socialist Review. The ‘minority viewpoints’ expressed were mine alone and not those of the publishers. Surely the same applies to anything I pen for the Weekly Worker?

Worryingly, one recent Murray polemic pointedly damned critics of STWC strategy as “malicious ultra-leftists” who are transparently doing “the work of imperialists”. No naming names. No attempt to debate differences. Simply the ex cathedra edict that even to question decisions taken behind closed doors, by a leadership that has already consciously excluded ‘minority viewpoints’ from its deliberations, is automatically equal to class treachery.

Evidently the forces of ingsoc still feel under threat from thoughtcrime. I guess we bad guys should all try that bit harder to be goodthinkful before we all get dragged off to Room 101.

Yet the SWP, of all organisations, really should know. As erstwhile Luxemburgite Tony Cliff once put it, “Because the working class is far from being monolithic, and because the path to socialism is uncharted, wide differences of strategy and tactics can and should exist in the revolutionary party. The alternative is the bureaucratised party or the sect with its leader … Scientific socialism must live and thrive on controversy.”

If John Rees and Rob Hoveman are reading this … what’s changed, guys? Because, as the late Frieda Osler always used to say, “Handsome is as handsome does”.