Class politics not electoralism

It looks as though the Socialist Workers Party's hopes for a cross-class 'peace and justice' coalition to contest next year's European and Greater London Authority elections are alive and well after all. Peter Manson reports

On October 13 The Guardian carried a story headed, “Monbiot to found anti-war coalition”, which stated that Salma Yaqoob, chair of Birmingham Stop the War Coalition, together with radical journalist George Monbiot, were looking to “unite socialist parties, anti-globalisation campaigners, peace activists and faith groups, including muslims”, in a new electoral alliance.

The pair were said to be “approaching political and peace activists to set a common manifesto … which Mr Monbiot is drawing up”. However, George Monbiot told me in an email exchange that his involvement was “peripheral” and that the Guardian report was “not entirely accurate and rather premature”.

“Premature”, it seems, in that the story was leaked to the paper, whose journalists then contacted Salma Yaqoob - described as the “driving force” behind the initiative. She is said to want to unite all the various forces that came together in the anti-war movement behind “a clear or comprehensive political programme” and promises “a convention later this year to agree a final manifesto”.

It all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? Ms Yaqoob, as well as being the chair of Birmingham STWC, is associated with the city’s central mosque - one of the main parties with whom the SWP has been in talks over the ‘peace and justice’ proposal (the other was the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain). George Monbiot has also been cooperating with the SWP over the recent period and is among the speakers from England and Wales nominated by the SWP for November’s European Social Forum in Paris.

The SWP has made it abundantly clear that the kind of ‘peace and justice’ manifesto proposed by Yaqoob and Monbiot would not constitute a socialist platform. In fact even such basic demands as women’s rights and gay equality are clearly viewed as expendable. The SWP’s Lindsey German notoriously stated at Marxism 2003 that they should not be treated as “shibboleths”.

After having thrown its efforts into the anti-war movement, provided the hegemonic leadership for the STWC and had speakers like comrade German and John Rees on numerous platforms - not least in Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square, addressing rallies of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands - the SWP was shaken by its failure to recruit from the upsurge. Nevertheless, it still hopes to tap into the mass anti-Blair sentiment by attempting to ‘reproduce’ the movement on the electoral stage.

It is, of course, quite correct to strive to make radicalisation a permanent political feature. But, the job of socialists, then as now, was to attempt to shape and mould the movement, to win hegemony within it for the ideas of working class socialism, not simply hold up a mirror to newly politicising forces and be content to leave them as they are. However, for the SWP it was the numbers mobilised, not the politics around which it was necessary to win them, that was all-important. And it is quite happy to carry over this abandonment of working class principle into the election field too.

At its May 10 annual conference the Socialist Alliance agreed overwhelmingly to a motion, proposed by the International Socialist Group’s Alan Thornett and backed by the SWP, that committed us to try to attain a broader alliance, with the aim of contesting elections as widely as possible. But this new alliance, according to the resolution, was to be democratic, inclusive “and of course socialist”. How is that compatible with joining forces with a section of the mosque - or indeed signing up to some vague, left-liberal coalition?

The Guardian quotes the leader of the Green Party in the north-west, John Whitelegg, as saying of the as yet unpublished Yaqoob-Monbiot proposals: “The parts of the manifesto we’ve seen so far read like summaries of Green Party policy.” In other words, nothing remotely “socialist”.

Of course, it could be that the apparent similarity between the SWP’s ‘peace and justice’ turn and these latest revelations is just coincidence. But, judging by the contribution of Socialist Alliance national secretary and leading SWPer Rob Hoveman, in the SA e-bulletin sent out the day after the Guardian report, the SWP still hopes to lead the SA into exactly such a lash-up.

His short piece, entitled ‘Getting ready for the Euros’, appears under the by-line: “The Socialist Alliance is committed to the biggest socialist presence at the Euro and GLA elections in June 2004.” A “socialist presence” is not the same thing as a socialist platform, of course. And the SA seems the most likely ‘socialist party’ referred to in the Yaqoob-Monbiot draft.

Comrade Hoveman writes: “Our decision at our annual conference was clear. We want to encourage broader forces to come on board the project of which the Socialist Alliance has been a vital part. If the condition for creating a more credible left alternative is that the Socialist Alliance becomes one element of a broader left electoral coalition, that is something Socialist Alliance members will have to consider very seriously if and when the issue arises” (SA e-bulletin, October 14).

The usual SWP obfuscation. What does he mean by “the project of which the Socialist Alliance has been a vital part”? Just how broad (and how “socialist”) is the “broader left electoral coalition” going to be? And why does he say, “if and when the issue arises”? Is he the only SA member who has not seen the Guardian story?

At this weekend’s SA national council meeting in Sheffield, delegates - including many SWPers, I suspect - will be hoping for clear answers. Salma Yaqoob’s idea of a “comprehensive political programme” will be very different, for example, from People before profit. The Socialist Alliance must seek to represent the working class, not further dilute the politics of its allegedly revolutionary components. Marching alongside non-socialist forces to stop a war is totally different from jointly contesting an election with them. Such a platform, of necessity, must skirt around the contentious issues that divide the various forces involved - the gay and women’s rights “shibboleths” being only one.

Delegates must reject any notion of some green-liberal-pacifist coalition that will take the working class movement precisely nowhere. The irony of the Yaqoob-Monbiot-SWP ‘peace and justice’ hogwash is that it is likely to be ignored by voters even more than the Socialist Alliance itself was in last month’s Brent East by-election.