Socialist Alliance: Take fight to new level

Socialist Alliance exective member Marcus Strom calls for the September 'Indies' meeting to step up the struggle

Now is the time to step up the struggle for principled unity in the Socialist Alliance. Moralistic walkouts by individuals or organisations designed to cohere this or that sect can only damage the fight for a workers’ party. What is needed is for those committed to that fight to stay together. Besides, remaining engaged with significant forces with whom we disagree - not least the Socialist Workers Party - must be beneficial. Nothing clarifies more than political struggle at close quarters.

Where the SA is heading remains an open question. There is no telling whether anyone will actually come to the SWP’s popular frontist party. The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain has already sent its rebuttal. Plans for a ‘radical’ Peace and Justice platform in Birmingham that downplays women’s equality and dismisses gay rights as a mere “shibboleth” are unlikely to have developed much further than the imagination of an increasingly pompous John Rees. It could all come to nothing. Yet in pursuit of the elusive big time, the SWP has taken the whole Socialist Alliance project to the brink of disaster.

The SA has been something of a breakthrough for the left. Not only did we attain the unity in action (albeit limited) of previously hostile groupings, but, with the inclusive approach that we fought to make the bedrock of the project, minorities were not only tolerated, but given space to develop their ideas - albeit in separate factional publications rather than in a single Socialist Alliance paper. Our 2001 general election manifesto People before profit, while flawed, was a considerable achievement - a common programme for a historically divided Marxist marked a real milestone. Yet the SWP seems prepared to sacrifice precious unity for ephemeral and perhaps phantom short-term gains.

After the heavy-handed approach of the SWP in Birmingham to sideline ‘minority voices’ and its arrogant dismissal of critics at the last national council, the project is losing any attraction for the very people the SWP had courted - disillusioned and former Labour Party members supposedly looking for a “home”. Yet the departure of a handful of non-aligned comrades and Workers Power, while predictable, is damaging - not only to the Socialist Alliance as it is, but to the Socialist Alliance as it could be.

Across England and Wales, regional SA meetings are considering the forthcoming European elections. Underpinning these are discussions about the initiative for left unity. In Wales, independent AM John Marek has said he wants to see the establishment of a Welsh socialist party. In London, regional officers of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union and Fire Brigades Union are in informal discussions. We must press for a principled approach towards implementing the annual conference resolution on a broader alliance. No dilution of our socialist principle, but flexibility in our tactics.

There is also the European dimension to keep in mind. The SWP seems to want to adopt a patchwork approach to the European elections - aligning with nationalists in Wales, the mosque in Birmingham, unions in London. If this happens, there may be little case to argue that these disparate campaigns could be considered part of the national campaign of a European-wide ‘party’ alongside Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire in France and so on.

These are issues that need to be discussed openly and transparently. The SA will not survive more backroom discussions where non-SWP elements are treated as mere decoration.

Clearly a change of heart from the International Socialist Group would help, if we are to haul the SA back from the precipice. The ISG has alibied the SWP’s popular front turn and it is now clearly feeling the strain. Leader Alan Thornett is increasingly under pressure as a result of his spineless kowtowing before the SWP’s perspective.

There are certainly tensions within the SWP as well. The pro-party elements in the SA must increase the heat by standing firm on democracy and working class independence. Walking out of the SA does the opposite of what is needed. We need to fight for a return to an inclusive culture and for a principled socialist approach to future electoral alliances. Nevertheless, if this project for left unity fails, another will need to be created.

At the moment, those who favour the Socialist Alliance being at the forefront of a campaign for a workers’ party are in a minority. We must fight to turn this around. To do this we need to deepen our principled stand for partyist unity. The statement from Socialist Alliance executive members Lesley Mahmood, Steve Godward, Margaret Manning, Declan O’Neill and myself is a good start (see Weekly Worker July 24). Since then Matthew Caygill and Martin Thomas (also EC members) have added their names. Many others, including RMT activist Martin Wicks, have lent their support.

However, we must thread together the various strands emerging from the SA crisis. The May 3 committee (which composited the Merseyside pro-party motion for annual conference); comrades like Dave Osler, who has called for another conference of SA independents; all those who oppose the packing of meetings to exclude ‘awkward’ minorities - must join forces in a single campaign alongside the executive signatories of the statement for inclusive democracy.

The aim must surely be a united workers’ party: through the Socialist Alliance if we can, outside it if we have to. All comrades should give support to the September meeting called by the minority executive members to take the fight to a new level.