Peace and Justice proposal buried

Marcus Strom welcomes the SWP's forced retreat from popular frontist politics

The ‘Peace and Justice’ proposal for a joint candidate with sections of the mosque for next year’s European Union elections is a dead letter. That is what a depleted Socialist Alliance executive committee was told on August 15 by comrades Alan Thornett of the International Socialist Group and ‘independent’ Nick Wrack. In fact, both comrades became quite animated in distancing the SA from any suggestion of an electoral campaign that watered down our People before profit principles.

Discussion around the work on the ‘new initiative for left unity’ dominated proceedings. There is some positive work beginning to develop towards further left cooperation. However, the Socialist Workers Party’s ill-considered proposal for the opportunist Peace and Justice turn still hangs over the Socialist Alliance. Without an honest reassessment, not least by the SWP itself, moving forward will be hellishly difficult.

The SWP has been thrashing about trying to find a way to replicate its successes with the Stop the War Coalition in the electoral field. Lindsey German, leading SWPer and convenor of the STWC, has written: “Many of these people [in the anti-war movement] are saying: ‘We’ve built this fantastic coalition. We’d like something like the Stop the War Coalition to represent us politically.’ People understand that the coalition can’t be a new political party because it’s made up of a whole host of different parties - people in the Labour Party, the Greens, Communist Party [of Britain], Socialist Alliance, Liberal Democrats and so on. But they would like to see the various forces involved in a new political challenge to Labour” (Socialist Worker July 12).

It is in this context that suggestions of a ‘Peace and Justice’ electoral campaign emerged. On this issue, the SWP and its top leadership has been acting like a child caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar: ‘It wasn’t me. A big boy did it and ran away’ seems to be the line of defence. John Rees has flatly denied that any proposal for a Peace and Justice campaign has been made to the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. He refused to give details on negotiations between himself and the leadership of the CPB. In internal emails to SWP members, Rob Hoveman has said: “Talk of a Peace and Justice Party is hot air” (July 24). Maybe, Rob, but whose hot air?

The SWP has had to resort to deceit in order to cover its tracks. Reporting the SA national council meeting in Birmingham, Rob Hoveman says: “The council voted to reject various motions that were critical of reaching out to muslims. But the very small Workers Power organisation took the opportunity to declare they were leaving the Socialist Alliance because it was ‘a reformist swamp’” (Socialist Worker July 26). Of course, there were no motions “critical of reaching out to muslims”. This is an invention. Likewise, while I hold no brief for WP’s sectarian decamping, it has nowhere described the SA a “reformist swamp” nor given this as a reason for leaving. Comrade Hoveman is being a little economical with the truth.

Fortunately, the CPB has been more forthcoming than the SWP. In an extensive article in the Morning Star, CPB general secretary Robert Griffiths spells out why his Stalinite rump decided against an electoral alliance with the SWP: “This was the context in which the Socialist Workers Party recently approached the Communist Party with proposals for building a broad ‘peace and justice’ alliance to contest the Greater London Authority and European parliament elections in 2004” (July 18). So either John Rees or Robert Griffiths is lying.

It is true in formal terms that the Peace and Justice idea has never been floated to the Socialist Alliance or been proposed by the SA. This is the main line of argument of those SWP attorneys, comrades Thornett and Wrack. But in some senses, this makes it all the worse. The SWP was actually negotiating behind the backs of the Socialist Alliance - its executive and membership - for a new electoral alliance that presumably would have included the SA. This is an outrage. On top of that, the SWP and its satellites turn the blame on those critical of this secret line of march suggested by the SWP. ‘Sh,’ they say. ‘Stop making a big deal of it. It’s dead and buried.’

There are two reasons why the SWP has been forced to shelve its popular frontist turn. Firstly, it caused great disquiet internally and it could not carry anyone in the SA with it. Privately even some allies of the SWP admit it was a stupid error for comrades German and Rees to “think out loud”. However, this is neither here nor there. The real reason is that the negotiations have come to nought. The CPB has rebuffed the ‘Trots’. And there was no agreement from the Birmingham central mosque. The SWP seems stuck with the Socialist Alliance as it is.

At the executive meeting, comrade Wrack insisted that the ‘new initiative for left unity’ will concentrate on the trade unions. There has been an initial meeting between Nick Wrack, the SA chair, and Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union. Mark Serwotka is being approached. There is to be a meeting with the Socialist Party and Alliance for Green Socialism to discuss electoral cooperation in the European and London elections next year.

Nick Wrack is now on record on The Guardian’s letters page saying he hopes that the Socialist Alliance develops into Britain’s equivalent of Italy’s Rifondazione Comunista. Yet he voted against the defeated motion at annual conference that not only called for the SA to campaign for a new workers’ party but pointed to the success of the PRC. I suppose backing that motion would have meant the end of his career as an SWP fellow traveller and the crumbs in terms of minor celebrity status and the grace and favour positions.

For now it seems the opportunist Thornett/Wrack line has won out over the opportunist German/Rees line. In this sense, pro-party elements in the Socialist Alliance can claim a partial victory. We must not only demand a clear accounting of how we got into our present mess but show the way out - campaigning for a multi-tendency, democratic party of the working class and revolutionary left.