Welsh Socialist Party: Banning 'Brit left'
Deselected Labour member John Marek caused a flurry of interest by organising a 'summer gathering' to discuss the prospects for Welsh Socialist Party. Mark Fischer was there
There was a flurry of interest in the Welsh press roused by the August 9 “summer gathering” in Wrexham, called by John Marek, the deselected Labour assembly member (AM), who earlier this year won re-election as an independent. Marek had “once again ruffled Labour’s feathers when he floated the idea of a Welsh Socialist Party similar to the Scottish Socialist Party” (Western Mail August 11). To underline the point, Tommy Sheridan addressed the meeting with characteristic energy and eloquence, calling for a socialist challenge to a Labour Party he asserted had been irreversibly transformed into a pro-big business outfit.
Certainly, the Labour Party in Wales felt the need to wheel out erstwhile Trot Jeff Cuthbert, Caerphilly Labour AM and once a member of the Militant Tendency, to attack the very idea of a left alternative to Blair’s party: “About 18 years ago,” he informed readers of the same newspaper, “I accepted that the policies advanced by the Militant Tendency were irrelevant and unachievable … the only viable alternative … was a disciplined and well-organised Labour Party. I made that ‘switch’ and I have not regretted it” (August 9).
The usual tired cynicism, in other words. However, Cuthbert did make one relevant point that perhaps tells us something about the problems of the ‘WSP’ project: “John Marek did not leave the Labour Party on any point of principle,” he correctly notes. “John’s conversion to far-left politics appears to be very recent.” Indeed, the comrade’s declared aim is to create a “centre-left party” to counter the “right-of-centre” Labour Party - not exactly storming the heavens.
The intention of his Wrexham meeting was to “encourage dialogue” around this perspective rather than announce the birth of any new party - but it failed in even this rather modest aim. There are clearly some important lessons that have not been learned from failed unity initiatives in the recent past.
First and foremost, where was the transparency? The meeting brought together around 70-80 political activists, the majority members of existing left groups such as the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and CPGB. Yet at the top of the project squat a handful of individual members of Cymru Goch, a particularly dim, nationalist micro-grouplet on the fringes of Welsh politics that proudly announces its intention to exclude the “Brit left” from any unity project in Wales.
Comrade Marek’s right-hand man - Marc Davies of CG - took the initiative to actually start the purge (with the tacit agreement of comrade Marek, he assured us) by attempting to exclude CPGBers Cameron Richards and Ethan Grech. Both comrades received emails (sent by comrade Davies in the name of John Marek’s secretary) curtly informing them that the organisers where “unable to reserve” places for them at the meeting.
In conversation during the day, comrade Davies was quite unabashed about this disgraceful behaviour. He told me that he had started with the CPGB as he anticipated us being “trouble” from the off, but his project was to ban the entire “Brit left” - the bulk of the meeting.
Of course, our organisation immediately challenged this outrageous exclusion. We spoke directly to comrade Marek, who assured us that we would be welcome. We also made a pointed intervention from the floor just as the meeting started, denouncing Cymru Goch by name and pointing out that party projects that start with bans and proscriptions will get nowhere. As the Western Mail reporter commented, an “inauspicious start” for a new party of the class in Wales (August 11).
The stench of nationalism continues to hang round the project, however. The report of the “summer gathering” on John Marek’s website - clearly penned by comrade Davies or some other bile-filled CGer - is openly antagonistic to the left groups. The report (inaccurately) suggests that “the majority of those present were supporters of the John Marek Independent Party or non-aligned, with a sprinkling of vocal members of the various leftwing groups”. These organisations were simply “desperate to ensure they could jump on board the newest bandwagon in town” (www.johnmarek.org, August 13).
Yet John Marek - both in private conversations and from public platforms - is keen to stress inclusivity. Furthermore, he seems to be no supporter of Cymru Goch-style nationalism - he believes any new party should be agnostic on Wales’s constitutional position in the United Kingdom and should adopt neither a ‘pro’ nor ‘anti’ position on the European Union.
Clearly, CG is attempting to attach itself to this particular “bandwagon” in an attempt to gain some kind of audience. Readers will be reminded of the miserable Fourth International Supporters Caucus and its despicable role as gatekeepers and witch-hunters in Arthur Scargill’s ill-fated Socialist Labour Party - with the caveat that the ‘WSP’ initiative is currently on a much lower level.
The left in Wales is decidedly cool on the project at present. Contributions from the floor either stressed the fact that party-forming was a “process”, not an announcement (SWP), or the need to engage “wider forces” (SP) as a prerequisite of anything serious. If the report on the Marek website that “a party is likely to be established later in the year” is accurate, it seems improbable that it will attract forces beyond Marek’s small base in Wrexham. The presence of leading comrades from the Socialist Alliance in England - Rob Hoveman (SWP) and Nick Wrack - underlines that comrade Marek may have to be included in order to achieve a common slate for the 2004 Euro elections. However, for the time being the ‘WSP’ does not look like a viable unity initiative for the fragmented left in Wales.
Comrade Sheridan’s speech contained much that was positive. He criticised the SWP for “dipping the banner” of the SA during the war, underlining that this made serious organisation impossible. He spoke of the inclusive nature of the SSP, pointing to the existence of differing platforms, but with disciplined “unity in action”.
Yet the negative, nationalist, aspect of the SSP experience was also on show in his criticism of certain SSP platforms as being “run from London” - that is, every platform apart from Sheridan’s own and the ultra-nationalist Scottish Republican Socialist Movement. Also, the comrade strayed into some very dodgy areas with nonsense about “English socialists” setting themselves the same project as the SSP has undertaken - including “reclaiming” the flag of St George.
Reclaiming! When did the working class have the royalist flag of St George as its banner? Our flag is red.