Socialist Workers Party: For "reliable comrades" only
We reprint two confidential emails from second-ranking SWP hack Rob Hoveman which spell out his organisation's intentions towards the Socialist Alliance
Strategically the Socialist Workers Party leadership have made a complete hash of the Socialist Alliance. Initially they held out the imminent prospect of a huge influx of old Labourites disillusioned with Blairism.
To achieve that the SA was firmly kept as a ‘united front of a special type’ and within the safe territory of left reformism. Marxism and a multi-tendency party would not be attractive. The result - abject failure. A few left Labourites did join but they quickly turned against the SWP.
Then came the ‘Peace and Justice’ turn. Women’s and gay rights were not “shibboleths” and presumably could be sacrificed in order to achieve a socialist-imam bloc. However, negotiations ran into the sand. Now in a manner eerily reminiscent of Stalinism the SWP leadership are busily rewriting history. When non-SWP comrades in the SA demanded to know what the SWP’s intentions were in regard to the proposed coalition with Birmingham’s central mosque, they were told the discussions were “confidential”. Now that whole episode is being erased from the SWP’s collective memory. Talk of a ‘Peace and Justice’ formation is dismissed as “absurd speculation” and “hot air”. Nevertheless it is quite clear that the attempt to purchase a slice of the muslim community’s vote ended in a costly fiasco. The mullahs are more firmly attached to their principles than the SWP.
Even the Morning Star’s Communist Party rejected SWP overtures. Though they had the support of Andrew Murray - Stop the War Coalition chair and an ultra-Stalinite - the CPB’s executive committee voted against an electoral bloc with the SWP by a margin of four to one. John Rees refused to provide any information concerning his negotiations to the SA executive; the truth came out, however, with a report in the Morning Star. So no Labourites, no mullahs, no ‘official communists’.
Where now? Below we publish two documents, written by Rob Hoveman, a second-rank SWP official and SA national secretary. Evidently the SWP has now decided to take hold of the SA from top to bottom. In the eyes of the SWP leadership the main problem is those whom they dub the “sectarians” - anyone on the left apart from themselves and their fellow travellers. So, despite talk of a “democratic, inclusive and socialist” formation, those who raise objections to the SWP’s crass manoeuvring are attacked and vilified. This explains the removal of Steve Godward as national vice-chair, the attempt to replace Marcus Ström as nominations officer and the packing of the Birmingham AGM to ensure the election of SWP members and allies to all posts.
Whereas previously only a minority of active SWPers had been directed to alliance work - as opposed to those whose “particular responsibility” was for the organisation’s other fronts, such as Globalise Resistance, the Stop the War Coalition or Anti-Nazi League - now “all SWP members” are instructed to join the SA as “fully paid up members”. Even during the 2001 general election campaign only a minority of SWP comrades took out alliance membership.
In addition comrade Hoveman urges his cadre to “ensure there is a Socialist Alliance presence in everything that moves” - at all campaigning meetings there must be “people speaking from the platform or the floor saying they are from the Socialist Alliance”. This, of course, is in marked contrast to SWP instructions during the recent anti-war upsurge, when members were told not to do SA work, and of course SWP comrades on STWC platforms such as John Rees never wore their alliance hats. In fact the SA was effectively shut down during the height of the anti-war struggle.
So does all this represent a belated recognition that the SA must be built as a step towards the creation of a united revolutionary socialist party? If only that were so. Just three months ago the SWP used its majority at the SA annual conference - with the International Socialist Group fronting for them - to vote down a motion that aimed for a new workers’ party. The reason is simple: the SWP believes that it is the party - or at least the core of it. The SA, in SWP eyes, remains just one of many ‘united fronts’, which are meant to act as recruitment conduits towards the SWP itself.
The SWP’s actions at the conference and since have demonstrated that the transformation of the alliance into an SWP adjunct has been speeded up. Comrade Hoveman does not attempt to disguise his certainty that the SA will follow the path laid out for it by the SWP - when he talks about what “we” should do, he means the SWP and the SA, and takes it for granted that the policy of the two will be identical.
It is the approach of the 2004 European Union and Greater London Authority elections that has forced the SWP to send its whole membership into the Socialist Alliance. It has effectively given up hope of winning new forces.
Communists, of course, welcome the opportunity to work alongside more SWP members. We shall continue to argue for what our class needs - an all-Britain party based on democratic centralism and a revolutionary programme.
July 24 2003
This is an important circular relating to the Socialist Alliance. It will be the first of many, I hope, which I’ll be sending out to my new SA SWP email list. It is for SWP members only, but please pass it on to comrades who have not received it direct and for whom it may be useful. The campaign to build a credible and broad socialist alternative to Blair is a campaign for all SWP members and not just those who take particular responsibility for Socialist Alliance work. However, given the propensity for sectarians to quote out of context and to use anything that comes to hand to embarrass and attack the SWP, please ensure that if you do distribute it further it will be to reliable comrades who will not be indiscreet ….
Blair’s crisis is deepening. The Kelly affair threatens to force more resignations from the government. The fact that no WMD has been found and that the US has given up what was never a very serious search is haunting both Bush and Blair. And despite the alleged deaths of Saddam’s two sons, US soldiers continue to die and US troops generally are in very low morale. Amnesty has concluded US troops are torturing and killing Iraqi prisoners, Iraq is in chaos and a very large part of the population regards the coalition forces as a force of occupation, not liberation.
On top of this there is the growing and very important campaign against SATs, opposition to foundation hospitals and tuition fees, and the leader in waiting, Gordon Brown, has announced to the cabinet that the good times are over and general belt-tightening is the order of the day.
Credible left alternative
There are literally millions of people who voted Labour at the last election who will not do so at the next and who want a viable left alternative. This is our opportunity. However, the window of opportunity will not necessarily remain open for long. It was evident in the local elections that the Lib Dems were the major beneficiaries of the anti-war, anti-New Labour feeling. Although they loyally supported the war and, when given the chance in local government, privatise and cut just like New Labour, of the major parties they seem most sceptical of the war and make mildly leftish noises from time to time.
In addition, the election of Derek Simpson, Kevin Curran and Tony Woodley, together with Dave Prentis, as leftish general secretaries, combined with a closer relationship between them and the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, may foster the illusion that it is worth staying in the Labour Party to try to reclaim it. And we cannot claim, despite our very successes in the past, including the election of our first councillor in Preston, to be yet a viable and credible alternative to tap the potential welter of support for a socialist alternative.
We therefore need to take a number of urgent measure to try to establish a much more viable and credible alliance.
Profile and presence
We need to ensure there is a Socialist Alliance presence in everything that moves, whether it’s Defend Council Housing, Campaign to Defend Asylum-Seekers, SATs, foundation hospitals meetings, Stop the War Coalition meetings, etc. This means having general or particular leaflets for distribution, people speaking from the platform or the floor saying they are from the Socialist Alliance. And above all it means getting into serious but comradely discussion with those we are working with to discuss how we can establish that left alternative, seeking all the time to persuade them to join the Socialist Alliance.
We also need to ensure that all SWP members are fully paid up members of the Socialist Alliance for three reasons. We need to be seen to be putting on weight and a growing formal membership is one way we can help the forward momentum. Secondly, the SA needs the money, Thirdly, it is because some comrades in Birmingham had not made sure they had renewed their membership or taken their membership out in the first place, even though in most cases they had either stood as candidates or had been actively supporting the SA without attending meetings, that sectarians were able to accuse us of signing up people just before the recent controversial AGM. Fourthly, we want all comrades to be thinking about who they could talk to about joining the SA, and getting comrades signed up to the SA is a first step in encouraging them to do so.
We need to ensure there are good Socialist Alliance public meetings for us to attract people to. In a number of SAs, there is a serious sectarian problem which understandably makes comrades reluctant to attract people to those meetings. One way round this is to have informal meetings with people we know and have worked with to discuss activity and the question of building a left alternative. Another is to have well organised, well prepared and well chaired public meetings with good speakers. Wood Green in London recently had Louise Christian speaking to a meeting of 50 on Guantanamo Bay. Birmingham are planning a meeting with John Newsinger on Orwell. But there are a host of other topics too.
In certain circumstances we should think of setting up a public meeting on ‘Is a socialist alternative to Blair possible?’ or some such outside the auspices of the SA with a broad range of speakers, including of course a speaker from the Socialist Alliance and a heavy presence. This was successfully done in Brum recently, when 300 people turned up to hear George Galloway, John Rees for the SA and Salma Yaqoob from the STWC. We should also consider initiating campaign meetings. In Chorlton and North Kent the SA took the initiative to call a meeting on SATs, from which a broader campaign was launched but with SA comrades in the driving seat.
In Hackney comrades have produced a Socialist Alliance tabloid newspaper to distribute widely across the borough. In Lambeth they have similar plans and we will try to produce a tabloid for our election campaign in Brent East. In Lancashire a more broadly based ‘alliance’ newspaper has been launched with an editorial board including both SA and Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star) members. This won’t be feasible for everyone but a newsletter should be.
Reach out and talk
Most important of all is for comrades throughout the party to be drawing up lists of people they know through union activity, campaigns, tenants associations, etc, etc, and systematically contacting them, arranging an informal chat or inviting them to an informal meeting to discuss building a left alternative. This shouldn’t be difficult. At almost every STWC meeting now, moving on to pose a political alternative to Blair is a major topic of discussion and on many people’s minds. We need to be approaching:
- Trade unionists - Fire Brigades Union members are particularly sore about the way they’ve been treated and must be visited, Rail, Maritime, Transport members have elected to democratise their political fund and Bob Crow misses no opportunity to attack Blair and New Labour. But the list of trade unionists pissed off with Labour is endless.
- Community campaigners, including DCH people, people campaigning around asylum-seekers, etc, etc. Again the list is endless.
- Radicalised sections of the muslim community. Ignore the sectarians and those who do very good impersonations of islamophobes: this is a community whose sense of identity as muslims has increased as a result of islamophobia and the Afghan and Iraq wars, but many of whom have also radicalised towards anti-imperialism. Many of our good results in May, and particularly Preston, Middlesbrough and Scunthorpe, came from the fact we had won support for particular Socialist Alliance candidates amongst a wide, radicalised layer of the muslim community through the anti-war movement. These are working class people who used to vote Labour. Again this is a matter of contacting individuals and initially having very serious but informal discussions about supporting the building of a left alternative.
There has been much absurd speculation about new coalitions/alliances/parties. Our position is clear. We want to encourage broader forces to come on board the project of which the Socialist Alliance has been a vital part. If these broader forces do not wish to join the Socialist Alliance then naturally a new name for this broader coalition/alliance becomes pertinent. As we are nowhere near this process yet, no names have seriously been brought to the table for the Socialist Alliance (or the SWP) to consider. Talk of a Peace and Justice Party is hot air.
However, at a minimum we will probably have to come to an arrangement with the Socialist Party in the West Midlands and with the Alliance for Green Socialism in Yorkshire if we want to stand in the Euro elections in these regions, despite the fact that both organisations are deeply sectarian and have no idea of how to try to tap the potential for building a left alternative. This will require us to adopt a name for the Euro elections at least in these regions other than Socialist Alliance. In other words the Socialist Alliance will be a (large) component of a broader electoral coalition.
This would also occur if attempts to put together an ‘Alternative Left Party’ at the European level are successful. There would be both political and particularly financial advantages in such an arrangement but it would have to include both the Scottish Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers’ International (the SP) and would therefore likely involve some name change. That is no matter but the Socialist Alliance is what we’ve got at the moment, and it will most likely remain an important component of anything larger and broader.
Therefore we need to work to establish a more credible Socialist Alliance, at the same time as reaching out to those on the progressive left who nonetheless might not be inclined to join the SA in the short term. Our desire is to ally with much more relevant forces than those of the old sectarian left and this may be done under the name of the SA or something new which is nonetheless “democratic, inclusive and socialist”. We hope that some time in the autumn we may be in a position to relaunch nationally to begin to build up momentum for the June 2004 election ….
July 25 2003
... It is our aim to stand a list for the European elections in as many regions as is feasible. June 2004 is a serious focus for us and it is the catalyst for trying to concentrate the minds of the many people we know who are not yet on board the project of building a left alternative to Blair. The elections would also allow us to reach areas and people we can’t normally reach and give us a much higher profile.
However, we have to recognise that we have to do a lot of preparatory work if we are to get into a position to contest these elections effectively. Although the government may bring down the cost of entering the elections from £5,000, possibly to nothing, there will be a very large cost in producing millions of leaflets for the freepost. For many voters this will be the only contact they have with what the Socialist Alliance, or some broader formation with a slightly different title, represents. It would be a mistake for us to devote huge financial resources to this at the expense of serious campaigns in the local elections. The European elections must complement and not detract from the local and Greater London Authority elections.
Therefore it is very important at the regional meetings that are taking place that we argue and discuss concretely how to build up the alliance project in the areas where we have already stood candidates or have a chance of building the SA or some broader formation. The proposals I outlined in yesterday’s circular seem to me vital in this respect and we want serious discussion at the regional meetings of how to put this into effect locally.
In addition we need to be thinking about candidates now for both the European and local elections. We have many SA members and supporters, not least SWP members, who have played key roles in local campaigns, above all in Stop the War, but also around DCH, CDAS, anti-racist and anti-Nazi work. There will also be such comrades taking leading roles in the anti-SATs campaign, etc. We need to think of candidates on the broadest basis and talking to people now about considering becoming candidates for the local and European elections.
Those we persuade then need to start acting as candidates, even though this is of course on the basis of being subject to whatever selection process becomes appropriate further down the road. That means people using the respect they’ve earned, raising the question of support for a potential challenge with all those with whom they’ve earned that respect through informal discussions. Even if comrades for one reason or another may rule themselves out for the moment as potential candidates, we still need to be cashing in on our united front work. That is how Michael Lavalette got elected. Having earned respect through his work around asylum-seekers, the firefighters’ dispute and, above all, Stop the War, he sat down and engaged with many people about challenging New Labour at the ballot box.
Although the vehicle for the attempt to build the left alternative to Blair is the Socialist Alliance, we need to be careful about how we put the argument to those who want an alternative but are not yet convinced it’s the SA. We need to say that we want the SA (or something based on similar principles of inclusivity, democracy and socialist principles) to become the alternative, but we recognise that we are not there yet. In other words, we are not ditching the Socialist Alliance, but we’re also not SA chauvinists who are simply saying, ‘We’re the business: come and join us’. We need to be saying we want a broad left alternative. We would like this to be the SA but we are open to other ideas.
In terms of us allying with sectarian groups who have in one form or another rejected the SA, we are going to talk to the SP and the Leeds-based Alliance for Green Socialism nationally about whether we can reach agreement not to contest one another in the Euro elections and indeed whether we can agree a common list. However, we need to build up our resources locally in the first instance, so we should be cautious about any formal contact locally with these people for the time being. Nor do we want to be rushing to hard and fast decisions about us definitely standing in your Euro region and formalising selection. We should come back probably in October to review the situation, when very provisional decisions on standing and candidate selection could take place in appropriate circumstances.
We probably won’t know whether we could become part of a European Alternative Left Party, which would bring with it EU funding, until the end of the year, but clearly it is desirable that we are as far down the road with candidates, etc probably by November.