Don't think, act

Mark Fischer reports from the latest Hackney Socialist Alliance meeting.

The Hackney Socialist Alliance ‘Left strikes back’ meeting on September 22 attracted around 70 comrades on a cold and windswept Monday evening to discuss “the left alternative to Blair’s New Labour”.

The publicity for the gathering emphasised that it would be “an essential, lively and inclusive discussion”. By and large, this was true - an encouraging departure from the belligerent and uncomradely behaviour of the Socialist Workers Party that has marred relations between Socialist Alliance allies over the past fraught period. However, the discussion following the presentations of the two main speakers - Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party and Michael Lavalette, the SA’s Preston councillor - emphasised that sharp political tensions remain unresolved. More than that, SWP contributions underlined that the SA’s largest component element has learned few lessons from the recent crisis. Misleadership is our key weakness, not the sanguine diagnosis from some SWP tops that ‘objective conditions’ simply will not allow us to ‘break out’ yet.

Comrade Lavalette’s opening was businesslike, if a little low-key. He set out to “emphasise the positive” in his speech, he told us, underlining the importance of the September 27 demo against the occupation of Iraq as an active agent in the unfolding crisis of Blair. Unfortunately, for many SWPers in the debate, the need to build the march was too often counterposed to an honest appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of our work thus far.

Thus, we saw an SWPer bemoan the contributions from two CPGB comrades who had raised some fairly mild-mannered criticisms of the prominence given to Lib Dems by the Stop the War Coalition, the way the SA was effectively ‘disappeared’ for the duration of the war and the nasty spasm of SWP intolerance of minority views during its ill-fated ‘peace and justice’ adventure.

“There’s a demo on Saturday,” our SWP critic reminded us. “We need to be talking about building that.” Action - or at least talk about action - was what we needed in this meeting, as “there’s things going on out there”, she observed vaguely. The CPGB was just dealing in “recriminations”, apparently.

This comrade’s contribution was a blunter version of most of her fellow SWPers’ - we were told that if the SA was “just about selling papers to each other, then forget it”; that there was a “new audience out there” we needed to engage with; that we had to “move on” from the “bickering” that characterised the last SA conference, and so on.

The vacuous remarks were not directed at the CPGB alone. Rather at anyone who dares to think, anyone who dares to criticise. From a different political angle, Liam Conway of Tower Hamlets SA made some similar points to ours. The SA “missed a trick with the anti-war movement” and the prominence given to the Lib Dems was a mistake. The comrade suggested that “prominent people” in both the SA and STWC (he meant the SWP in both cases) might reflect on how to “bring these two strands of their work together”.

Characteristically, comrade Sheridan’s interesting contribution mixed pointed observations about the state of the left in England with some nationalist nonsense - to the obvious discomfort of many SWPers in the audience. He peppered his speech with comments such as “no group has the monopoly on the truth”, the “despair” he felt when he saw the long list of ‘alternative’ candidates in the Brent East by-election, or that - given the continued success of the fascists - it was long overdue that the left “bring our energies together”. All things we can agree with, of course.

However, Tina Becker (CPGB) reminded him of his comment that the left in England should ‘reclaim’ the flag of St George. As if the left or the workers’ movement had ever had the royal flag of England … or for that matter the royal flag of Scotland. The working class movement is internationalist - and to symbolise that we have one flag. Not the flag of nations, nor the flag of kingdoms, but the red flag.

Comrade Sheridan dug himself further into his nationalist hole. The fascists have “no right” to the flag of St George, he said. The left had “given it up too easily”. The example from “other parts of the world”, where “patriotism and left politics go hand in hand”, should teach us all a lesson for our political practice here, he argued.

“That’s all crap,” commented one SWPer sotto voce at the back of the hall. A pity Socialist Worker does not make some more profound - and audible - criticisms of this brand of nationalist baloney which is spreading fast, particularly in Scotland and Wales.