Socialist Alliance: Not walking away

Marcus Strom reports on developments in the Socialist Alliance

A chasm exists between, on the one hand, the objective need for a genuine workers’ party in Britain and, on the other, the subjective commitment to build such a party from the left, trade unionists, socialists and communists.

Our current situation arises from defeats, not the confident forward march of the working class. On a global scale the end of the 20th century saw the ideological victory of capitalism over ‘official communism’. In Britain we had the strategic defeat of the miners. Following this came the delabourisation of Labour, the rise of Blair and the eclipse of the Labour left; the failure of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party; the continuing sterile sectarianism of the left groups; the rampant nationalism of the Scottish Socialist Party; and an on-off Socialist Alliance under the domination of the Socialist Workers Party.

All these factors mean we have a huge task ahead of us if we are to build a mass party which unites the leading elements from across the working class around a political programme which can take us to victory, to socialism in Europe and to global communism and general human freedom.

Our perspective is not for a halfway house. Unlike the SWP we do not call for a united front of a special kind - a safe home, or holding pen, for Labour lefts who can then be relayed into the already existing ‘revolutionary party’. We do not envisage a party of recomposition - essentially a left reformist party that tolerates its Marxist minority. The idea of a communist-Labour party amounts to the same centrist recipe. Our call is for a Communist Party.

Such a party unites the most active and class-conscious elements of the working class around a revolutionary programme. Through freedom of criticism and unity in action, we can make that programme a living reality and open up the road towards the conquest of political power by the working class. That is what is needed in Britain. If in pursuit of such a party we are forced to compromise and end up with a transitionary formation (within which we would continue to work towards what is necessary), then so be it. But we should not set out to fail and to be a minority from the outset.

However, a Communist Party cannot be simply declared. It must be won through struggle. It is for this reason that the Socialist Alliance is so important. While the unity of the left groups and some individuals does not a party make, in the absence of a resurgent class movement, left unity is not just a good idea. It can act as a catalyst for a more generalised unity of the class. If the Socialist Alliance, or something like it, did not exist, it would have to be invented - the absence of a viable left alternative to Tony Blair’s Labour Party demands it.

Communists look to the Socialist Alliance movement (including the SSP, which arose out of the Scottish Socialist Alliance) as a concretisation of the ‘party question’ in today’s conditions. Not that we ignore or belittle the essentially parallel developments on the Labour left and in the trade unions. The objective need for the Marxist left to seek unity between its various strands and, more importantly, with the working class, has seen a certain rapprochement take place and in some instances decades-old barriers come crashing down.

Of course, this is too much for some. Integrity of the sect and recruitment to it comes first - the needs of the class a poor second. Nevertheless, seen as a process the Socialist Alliance challenges such sectarianism and contains an inherent partyist logic. Thus the Socialist Alliance is a vital arena of struggle. We have seen highs: the 2001 general election and the agreeing of our programme, People before profit. We have also seen lows: Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party decamped at the 2001 annual conference and after the May 10 conference the SWP launched a purge of dissenting voices in a vain attempt to smooth the way for a ‘Peace and Justice’ lash-up with a section of the mosque. This excused Workers Power’s ill-judged walk-out and deepened disillusionment amongst the looser elements of the SA independents.

However, we shall not abandon the alliance and the struggle for genuine unity on the left. The crisis engineered by the SWP’s opportunist appetite for the big time is not something we can simply ignore, hoping it will go away. The fight for genuine democracy and a struggle for a new workers’ party must continue on this terrain, as well as elsewhere in the movement. The various ‘mini-me’ sects do not challenge the method of the SWP - they merely resent the fact that it is the biggest. All that old crap needs to be put behind us.

The meeting of Socialist Alliance activists in Birmingham on September 13 is then an important occasion. Those of us committed to democracy, transparency and accountability in the workers’ movement must unite to fight back against behind-the-scenes manipulation and the packing of meetings by the SWP.

However, democracy is not enough. Why do we want democracy in the SA? Because an open and democratic culture provides the best conditions for the perspective of building a new workers’ party to win a majority. Through democracy we expose and defeat opportunism. The embarrassed dropping of the ‘Peace and Justice’ initiative by the SWP is a case in point.

There are those openly calling for an abandonment of the Socialist Alliance. Workers Power has left, a handful of non-aligned activists have taken their moralistic bat and ball elsewhere and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty has declared the SA to be “split”, arguing that the “class struggle” elements should unite and form a new Socialist Alliance (around the AWL’s failed ‘platform’, of course).

None of these perspectives are serious. We hope that the September 13 forum in Birmingham will agree a short statement and declare a platform in the Socialist Alliance that is for democracy and a struggle for a new workers’ party. Executive members in support of such a platform could act as convenors until a conference can be organised at a later date.

If such an outcome were to come about, the May 3 Committee - which composited motions for a party and for a paper for the May 10 annual conference - would no longer be necessary. Unity for the pro-party and pro-democracy forces in the Socialist Alliance must be our aim.

Draft platform

For democracy
The Socialist Alliance was founded on the principles of tolerance and representation of minorities throughout the alliance in order to unite the broadest layers of socialist activists and socialist thought. We will campaign for the SA to return to this inclusive and democratic state of affairs. Further, we will campaign for full implementation of the constitution on all matters relating to accountability.

For socialist principle
We seek to defend the principles of the Socialist Alliance as outlined in our manifesto, People before profit.

For a party
The Socialist Alliance should put campaigning for a new workers’ party at the centre of its work.

May 3 Committee statement

Millions of workers feel disenfranchised by New Labour, which governs in the interests of war and big business. The emergence of a mass anti-war movement on a global scale and the development of parties such as the Scottish Socialist Party and Rifondazione Comunista in Italy show that it is necessary and possible to build a workers’ party in today’s conditions.

It is necessary for all trade unionists, socialists and communists in favour of a new workers’ party to combine our efforts in a campaign for a workers’ party.

Such a campaign should function within the Socialist Alliance, make links with the Labour left and operate within the broader workers’ movement to unite with other socialist and trade union organisations and activists who support the founding of a workers’ party.