Socialist Alliance: Route to mass workers' party

John Pearson extends an invitation to join Stockport recently launched SA branch to ex-SLPer George Thorne

I was interested to read George Thorne’s letter a couple of weeks ago (Weekly Worker June 19).

Firstly, it confirmed that comrade Thorne has finally left the Socialist Labour Party, which he says he now regards as “nothing more than an extra branch of the Stalin Society”. George’s view that “the SLP made no effort to become a mass working class party” is an entirely correct one. He had displayed the patience of Job before arriving at and publicly announcing this verdict. This included keeping his head down when the witch-hunts and purges were taking place in 1997-98. After an initial protest, George had settled upon silence when I myself - then secretary of George’s Stockport branch - was ‘voided’ by Scargill.

I bear no grudge over this, because I know that George would only have taken such an approach because he considered that it was in the interests of the working class to stay within the SLP while others were sacrificed. In this, he is not alone. Indeed, he shares the company of many thousands of sincere working class militants, throughout the history of our movement.

George does not elaborate on what he thought went wrong with the SLP project. I would be interested to hear his views on this, but I would invite him to consider that the root of the problem was the phenomenon that has plagued the working class struggle since its earliest days - bureaucratism. The SLP displayed all of the characteristics of this disease in almost pure form. Arthur Scargill in fact carried the same banner as that which headed Jean Kysow’s article in the Weekly Worker, to which George was responding: “Forget SWP, forget Communist Party” (June 12). However, he attempted to resolve the problem of disunity within the class by administrative as opposed to political means, whereas Jean, healthily, has the opposite approach.

The exclusions, the purges, the rulings ‘out of order’ of vast numbers of conference motions, the debarments on factions (always of course with the exception of the leadership’s currently favoured faction - ie, one which had offered its services), the refusal to countenance debate and discussion in the party’s paper, the notorious ‘block votes’ - all of these were manifestations of bureaucratism.

When I read on to find George damning the Socialist Alliance with the pronouncement, “The constant disagreements between the parties that make up the Socialist Alliance have destroyed any chance that grouping may have had of becoming a mass party”, I have to conclude that the comrade has not learned the crucial lesson from the debacle of the SLP. What George is decrying within the SA is the very political process of thrashing out what divides us, that was smothered within the SLP. Yes, it can be a very frustrating process. Yes, it is itself distorted by bureaucratic deviations - and there are many signs that this phenomenon is worsening - but it still lives.

The mass working class party that George so passionately wants to see is not going to be delivered like manna from heaven. We have to struggle to win it. That struggle is particularly intense within the SA at this time, precisely because a majority has not yet been won to the belief that the SA should declare the aim of creating such a party and should prioritise, within all of its work, that objective. I do not think that I need to go into an analysis of why this is so. George is an avid reader of the Weekly Worker’s reports on the SA and he knows full well that what we face is primarily derived from the dominance of the British left’s largest organisation, the Socialist Workers Party. He will also know that the pro-party forces have a substantial minority strength of about 30%.

Just two weeks ago, a Stockport branch of the SA was inaugurated. At its first AGM, it unanimously passed a resolution confirming that it will implement the ‘Charter of members rights’, an annexe to the SA’s national constitution, that is deliberately ignored in many SWP-dominated branches, such as the recently disbanded South Manchester SA. The fight for this charter is the route to winning the SA for partyism. I invite George to join Stockport SA and to help secure it as a bastion of the struggle for a mass workers’ party.

Finally, George ends his letter by playing devil’s advocate. He is no fascist sympathiser and his suggestion that the British National Party has for years been considering “the needs of the British workers, the unemployed and pensioners before all others” is a dark joke. It is no doubt intended as a warning, and a very pertinent one at that. Politics abhors a vacuum. Unless communists, socialists and working class militants do unite to form a mass socialist party of the class, unless we do overcome all of the bureaucratism and sweep aside the petty proprietors and careerists within our movement, then the vacuum will be filled from the right and we will see increasing numbers of workers duped by the likes of the BNP - a road to disaster.

Charter of members’ rights

  1. The right to take part in the selection of candidates for elections at all levels.
  2. The right to put themselves forward as candidates for selection.
  3. The right to take part in the formation of policy at all levels.
  4. The right to hold all officers or representatives to account through democratic mechanisms.
  5. The right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  6. The right to write for, sell or distribute publications.
  7. The right to information about all SA activities and decisions.
  8. The right to establish short-term or long-term political platforms on whatever political basis members see fit.
  9. The Socialist Alliance must be a model of civilised democracy in contrast to the control-freakery of New Labour. We need efficient decision-making on the alliance’s responses to political events; transparency and accountability in decision-making; maximum discussion before all important decisions; decision by consensus wherever possible; and autonomy for groups within the alliance.
  10. All important decisions should be taken through written resolutions of appropriate conferences or committees. All decision-making bodies of the alliance must keep minutes of their proceedings which include the text of all proposals adopted, defeated or remitted and details of those votes.

These minutes must be circulated promptly to all Socialist Alliance members who request them, either free by email or, on payment of an extra subscription sufficient to cover costs, by ordinary mail.