The war of Marek's ear

Former Labour Party member and member of the Welsh Assembly, John Marek is being courted by left nationalists and the SWP following his declaration for a Welsh socialist party. Cameron Richards takes a look

It is now clear that John Marek, the independent Welsh assembly member for Wrexham, is about to launch a bid for the leadership of the scattered forces of the left in Wales. Not only has he begun negotiations about cohering a ‘left bloc’ to stand in the elections for the European parliament in 2004; he has gone on the record as stating that he intends to launch a Welsh Socialist Party at some point in the future.

Indeed it could be the case that the WSP itself stands in the European elections, as well as in council seats in 2004. In an article in a recent edition of Red Pepper, comrade Marek stated: “It is still early days, but we hope to come to a definite conclusion by the autumn and have a party before the new year.”

A buzz of excitement can thus be heard within the normally half-asleep ranks of the Welsh left. In his contribution to Red Pepper, comrade Marek also noted that it was his ambition to “involve other socialist groups - still small and disorganised - so as to develop a common platform and agree priorities for Wales and for Europe”.

Clearly, then, the ‘Left alternative’ conference in Wrexham on Saturday August 9, where Marek will share a platform with Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party, is being eagerly awaited. However, it would be folly to look upon these developments without critical comment. Indeed, it now seems appropriate to speculate on the likely direction of the Welsh left in the next 12 months or so. It takes place against the backdrop of the success of the SSP - now clearly the most prominent socialist organisation in Britain.

At first glance, comrade Marek remains an unlikely contender for the job of cohering socialists in Wales. He is someone who has not always been identified with the left of the Labour Party even. A traditional social democrat, during the 80s and early 90s he served Neil Kinnock loyally as a junior front bench spokesperson in the Commons.

Yet the Blair project proved too much for him to swallow and he found that his traditional social democratic politics were considered too dangerous for New labour. Hence he was deselected by the Labour Party shortly before this year’s national assembly elections, winning his Wrexham seat as an independent.

Largely unknown outside the north-east of the principality, he is unlikely to have the charismatic influence - in south Wales, for example - that Tommy Sheridan enjoys in Scotland. Neither can he be said to have much of an organisation behind him. But nature abhors a vacuum, as they say. A space to the left of New Labour clearly exists. Whilst the SSP has partially filled it in Scotland, the left has been unable to do the same in England and Wales. Consequently, all manner of odd realignments are taking place. A Peace and Justice Party would be just one, albeit the weirdest.

The failure of the Welsh Socialist Alliance and the belief within the left (especially the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party) that it cannot itself attempt to openly lead the campaign for a new party, has left it paralysed. Divided into inconsequential sects, the left has been slow to recognise the need for unity and the necessity for a single party - certainly not the all-Britain formation that is required.

One section - the left nationalist Cymru Goch - clearly wishes to emulate the success of the SSP by creating a Welsh Socialist Party, though it does not have quite the same notion of rapprochement as the founders of the SSP did. It wants to keep out the “Brit left sects” (SWP, SP, CPGB, etc), as it puts it - though interestingly this is rather at odds with comrade Marek’s quest for left unity. It hopes to become the ‘brains’ of such a party, content for it to be left reformist (so long as it is left nationalist).

Cymru Goch does not possess an organic working class leader like Tommy Sheridan. In fact it has sometimes given the impression that it hardly functions as a political organisation. Yet it does have close links with Marek, someone whose support gives the idea a certain credibility - even if he does not win the Wrexham constituency next time round, he stands a reasonable chance of getting elected on the PR list.

Another section of the left - the SWP - is green with envy at the success of the SSP. It would like to taste a bit of this itself and is willing to embrace wider forces than those that have made up the Welsh Socialist Alliance (and, for that matter, the SSP). Consequently, it too has now entered into discussions with Marek about a common platform for the European elections, though using the umbrella of the WSA to make its pitch. However, the SWP is unlikely to be interested in the lightweight forces that comrade Marek would be able to muster in a WSP.

Comrade Marek is apparently uneasy about using the word ‘socialism’ in the name of any common platform for the European Union elections - rather odd when he has stated that he wants to create a new socialist party in the principality - and is none too keen on the sort of openly anti-euro line the SWP would want.

Now the SWP in Wales is the largest group on the left, something that it is important not to overlook. Yet it is tiny, even in comparison to what in reality are the meagre forces of the SWP in England, and is something of an embarrassment to its leaders in London - it has almost single-handedly reduced the WSA to a farce. Therefore, peculiarly, Cymru Goch starts at an advantage over the SWP - Marc Jones, a leading member of CG, was essentially comrade Marek’s right-hand man in the assembly elections and has helped him establish contact with the SSP.

The SWP’s weakness in the principality explains why it desperately needs to cosy up to the likes of Marek and Derek Gregory (Unison’s head bureaucrat in Wales, who has recently left the Labour Party). However, it does have one trick up its sleeve. If the leaders of the SWP in London can pull a rabbit out of the hat - eg, George Galloway - this would rather transform the situation. Marek would quickly become a bit-part player and would be likely to gravitate in this direction. Power would move from Wales to London.

For the moment though, comrade Marek is someone to engage with. Almost overnight, a figure from not even the traditional left in the Labour Party could become of major importance. So Marek faces overtures from two groups that are rather antagonistic to one another. CG intensely dislikes the SWP; the latter thinks CG to be a joke. CG will advise Marek to go nowhere near the SWP, whilst the SWP will play the nice guy, saying it is happy to work with anyone.

Therefore, it is just possible that an SWP-Marek bloc might come off for the European elections - indeed it might even be an SWP-CG-Marek bloc. However, whether this could form the basis of a WSP - something that seems close to Marek’s heart at the moment - is another question. Such a bloc would have to win substantially more than five percent if it was to win one of the five Welsh seats in the elections next year. Either it would have to beat the Liberal Democrats into fourth place (most unlikely) or get over half the vote of Labour (even more unlikely). Given that a credible campaign will cost tens of thousands of pounds, it is hard to see the logic of it, especially when the unity programme is likely to be so anodyne that it will be indistinguishable from that of Plaid Cymru or the Green Party. A Welsh Socialist Party campaign would seem more credible from this angle - unless developments in England alter the situation.

What then should be the principled position of communists?

To the extent that any organisation or formation in Wales has a progressive side to it, we will seek to influence it. However, we will campaign for any bloc for the European elections to be based on the politics of genuine working class socialism. We will oppose any attempts by the SWP leadership of the WSA to abandon its programme in an attempt to curry favour with Marek or, much worse, the mosque. Only a manifesto based on radically extending democracy and putting forward a socialist alternative to capitalism would be welcomed by us.

How will we relate to the embryonic Welsh Socialist Party? Our task is to reforge a Communist Party that unites socialists across the British state. No ifs, no buts. This has brought us into conflict many times with those who did not share that view within ‘unity’ projects - Socialist Labour Party, WSA, Socialist Alliance, etc. Moreover, Marek is no Sheridan and Cymru Goch is no Scottish Militant Labour. Therefore, it is quite possible the project will be stillborn. Without the organised left involved, the project will be a non-starter outside of Marek’s local base.

Yet to the extent the new WSP can become an arena for the struggle for a reforged Communist Party we will need to relate to it. Therefore, we would attempt to influence its programme, seeking to ensure that the politics of left nationalism do not poison it. We will fight any attempt to exclude us and others by the likes of Cymru Goch.

Of course, it is also quite possible that the WSP will not be such an arena - it could easily become a formation not much different from a small version of Plaid Cymru - just a little bit more leftwing, perhaps more nationalist, but totally irrelevant. For that reason, one would be wise to remain rather sceptical for the moment.

Left alternative in Wales

Saturday August 9, 11am to 5pm (registration: 10.30am), Miners’ Institute, Grosvenor Road, Wrexham. Speakers: John Marek, Tommy Sheridan. Question and answer session with SSP, workshops.

Followed by social, 8pm to 1am.

To book place email campaign@johnmarek.org