Socialist Alliance national council: Future at stake

Socialist Alliance executive member Marcus Strom anticipates the battle lines of the July 19 national council meeting

The Socialist Workers Party’s entry made the Socialist Alliance a force that could begin to seriously function at the level of national politics. However, the zenith of our efforts - the 2001 general election - is now but a dim memory of cooperation, solidarity, comradeship and even a degree of trust. All that has changed.

The national council of the Socialist Alliance meets on Saturday July 19. Most of its agenda is fairly anodyne. However, its future direction is at stake and this is reflected in emergency motions on the SWP’s latest turn to an unprincipled alliance with sections of the mosque. A short-term, will-o’-the-wisp is being pursued at the expense of the long-term, patient work of building a working class alternative to New Labour.

Across the board, the SWP is more and more blatantly beginning to treat the alliance as its own property. Doubters, dissenters and waverers in relation to the SWP’s emerging popular front direction are to be sidelined and, if possible, silenced. Steve Godward is beyond the pale for expressing doubts about a lash-up with the mosque and the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain - others who actually think independently of the SWP, be warned. That is the unmistakable message.

As scales continue to fall from people’s eyes concerning the SWP’s method, a mood of anger in some quarters, despondency in others, is growing. Yet the SWP antics have had the result of uniting large parts of the membership - both on the executive and from below - against the trajectory it seems intent on following.

Even such loyal partners as the International Socialist Group are beginning to find something resembling a backbone and are raising their voice. For our part we never had illusions. While the SWP’s involvement with the alliance gave the project a much needed boost, this alone was not going to be enough to transform the alliance into what was really needed - the core of a united, all-Britain workers’ party.

That was always going to require a revolution in the thinking of the SWP leadership, a rebellion in its rank and file or - perhaps the most likely scenario - a mass influx into the alliance of working class recruits who would have nothing to do with the SWP’s fake old Labour programme. Unfortunately, none of these scenarios has happened so far.

Pumped up from its experience of heading the Stop the War Coalition, the SWP has had a taste of the big time. During the huge anti-war demonstrations, the SWP dumped all pretence of operating through its many ‘united fronts’ and attempted to recruit directly to “the party”. Imagining that the days of the Vietnam war era had returned, SWP leaders expected to be able to add a zero to the end of their membership figures. Yet where are the recruits - for the SA or the SWP? In the very hour of the SWP’s triumph, a self-deluding sect culture is leading it to territories and temptations always considered off limits for Marxists - though not for labour traitors and opportunists of the more revolting stripe.

The SWP would not be the first group to have come a cropper in such circumstances. Militant Labour, forerunner of today’s withered Socialist Party, began to unwind almost from the moment of its poll tax triumph. Nationalist breakaway in Scotland and increasingly frenetic pursuit of the next big thing has seen it dwindle to a rump in England and Wales. Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party shattered within months of a triumphant rally of thousands in London’s Alexander Palace in the aftermath of the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85.

The SWP’s heavy-handedness has never been far from the surface throughout its involvement in the SA. Almost its first act in the London Socialist Alliance back in 1999 was to back an unsuccessful attempt to stop open reporting of differences. Rob Hoveman voted  to kick out the CPGB. Then there was ex-SWP member Anna Chen. She was pushed aside unceremoniously after doing sterling effort as press officer during the general election. Later comrades Liz Davies and Mike Marqusee reached a point where they could no longer stand the SWP’s behind-the-scene manipulation - in which they had previously been implicated. The SWP went for dissenters in Bedfordshire SA. Now it wants to show partners in a potential popular front a pliant, safe and homogeneous SA face.

It is unclear whether this ‘Peace and Justice’ approach is only meant for Birmingham or is to be rolled out elsewhere. And therein lies a further problem. John Rees has been less than forthcoming as to the content or conclusion of any of his negotiations. The minutes of the SA task force (which are “not for publication”), dealing with implementing the ‘new left initiative’, say nothing of any interest.

We must glean the direction from other sources. In her interview with Socialist Worker, Lindsey German says: “People understand that the [Stop the War] coalition can’t be a new political party because it’s made up of a whole host of different parties … But they would like to see the various forces involved in a new political challenge to Labour” (July 12).

In order to achieve this, she is quite prepared to dump “shibboleths” such as women’s and gay rights. This unprincipled and non-socialist turn is further confirmed by a letter from ISG member Stuart Richardson to the Birmingham SA annual general meeting (see Weekly Worker July 3). Comrade Richardson reports a conversation with comrade Rees, who told him he had been involved in discussions whose conclusion was that Salma Yaqoob, chair of the Birmingham STWC, should, with the backing of the SA, “stand in the Euro elections on a limited programme - limited in its commitment to women’s rights and there would be no mention of gay rights”. A quite disgusting proposition for any socialist.

Attempts by the SWP to insist that such a betrayal is sanctioned by the resolution passed at the May annual conference are disingenuous. Written by Alan Thornett, the resolution states that any new formation coming out of the ‘initiative’ would “of course be socialist”. Junking mention of gay rights and limiting reference to the rights of women is in no way socialist. Why is comrade Thornett silent?

Even if the SWP is able to successfully implement its opportunist turn at the expense of socialist principle, this is hardly a winning strategy. There are only two million muslims in Britain. Furthermore such a stance on women and gays would put ‘Peace and Justice’ candidates to the right of the government on matters such as section 28. Madness.

What is missing is a long-term strategy aimed at superseding Labourism in the workers’ movement. As the Labour left shows signs of renewed life, as the ‘awkward squad’ in the union bureaucracy consolidates, the revolutionary left must develop a strategy to leave behind Labourism, not reinvent it in a ‘left reformist’ SA. Certainly few, if any, Labour lefts would touch ‘Peace and Justice’ with a barge pole.

Through this crisis of the Socialist Alliance we must fight for the coherence, clarity and unity of the pro-party forces. The motion moved by Lesley Mahmood (below) shows there is a fighting spirit. Within the SWP itself there is the large “wait and see” body of opinion: those waiting to see the fine print on the Peace and Justice platform. Frankly, comrades, that is a feeble excuse. You know what your leadership is prepared to ditch - women’s and gay rights and socialism. Now is the time to rebel.

Socialist Alliance activists and others on the left must get together to seriously debate the way forward. We are for a campaign for a workers’ party. This should include all those in the SA who oppose the SWP leadership’s popular frontism. But we must reach out to other socialist forces and, crucially, into the Labour left and the trade unions.

Unfortunately, some seem intent on walking out of the Socialist Alliance. We urge them to stay and fight. The SWP is no monolith. Other forces are looking and waiting for a lead. Let us aim to win a majority and reconstitute the left in a revolutionary workers’ party.

Emergency motion

This national council of the Socialist Alliance:

1. Regrets the moves of the Socialist Workers Party to politically dominate the committee of Birmingham Socialist Alliance and exclude so-called minority viewpoints from that committee. This stands in stark contrast to the Socialist Alliance constitution which states: “We also recognise the desirability of balance and inclusiveness for political trends within the Socialist Alliance at all levels of the organisation. All local Socialist Alliances as well as individual members attending national conferences are encouraged to take this into account in electing officers, steering committees and selecting candidates.”

2. Further, we note the SA ‘Charter of members’ rights’ in the constitution which, in part, says that all members have “the right to information about all SA activities and decisions”. We further note the ‘Charter of members’ rights’ guarantees “the right to freedom of opinion and expression”. If the SA is to develop, the principle of inclusiveness needs to be put into practice. Members should have the right to question or disagree with tactics and strategy without being removed from positions.

3. Finally, this national council reaffirms the commitment of the Socialist Alliance to support election candidates who are unequivocal in their support for women’s rights, gay/lesbian rights and socialism.

Moved: Lesley Mahmood
Seconded: Steve Godward