Alliance or party?

Phil Kent reports about the school organised byt the newspaper 'Resistance'

Sixty to 70 comrades gathered in Caxton Hall, London for the Resistance half-day school which began with the reading of a fraternal letter from Salma Yaqoob, regretting her inability to be there, but congratulating Resistance on its non-sectarian attitude to left unity.

Speeches in French and Portuguese, and in English (from the Scottish Socialist Party’s Frances Curran) then followed to set the internationalist agenda before we split into workshops for the rest of the day. I heartily disapprove of this method, It fragments, lowers the quality of debate and means that you are bound to miss most of what goes on. It is certainly no way to develop the quality of cadre.

If the left is serious about itself and its tasks then it ought to deal with issues in depth and over sufficient time. Then comrades, not least leading comrades from different groups and factions, could really debate issues out. That would give the phrase ‘non-sectarian’ an entirely different meaning. Although the workshops were well chaired, they were far too short for anything to be really developed. Frankly, I was also disappointed in the quality of the debate.

I decided to follow the British left unity thread and joined the Socialist Alliance meeting in the upstairs corridor and after that the SSP meeting in the downstairs canteen. I know space is tight and I am sorry to go on about nuts and bolts issues but, although the comrades came across as sincere and well meaning, this venue was not really suitable.

Rob Hoveman spoke for the SA, mostly about the disappointing Brent East result, and argued quite correctly that our vote was squeezed by the five other socialist candidates and the Liberal Democrats getting the anti-war vote. His solution is not to stand in marginal seats. We seem to be going from an on-off electoral bloc to an electoral bloc that does not stand in key elections - and he wonders why we suffer from a low profile.

Frances Curran for the SSP tried to focus minds on strategy: especially building a party. She politely pointed out that many of the problems we face in England and Wales simply are not happening in Scotland - the implication was that this was not because Scotland is a different nation, but because they handle things differently up there. The SSP, she said, was definitely not an “electoral front”. She had been visiting relatives in Hull and one of them is considering voting BNP because they are a party and the left are a disunited bunch of self-obsessed sectarians. In Scotland the SSP was able to tackle the racist threat head-on. Moreover, instead of the SSP being squeezed, it has steadily grown in influence.

A speaker from the floor raised the question of how we speak to youth - they do not like what we say, so what we need is a new language. But in Scotland they can use the language of Marx (albeit devoid of its content all too frequently) and the young understand it perfectly well because it is attached to a plausible project. Words only have meaning when they have context.

Stuart King of Workers Power made the point that, in fighting for communist unity, programme is “everything” and Tommy Sheridan’s Imagine is “reformist crap”. Comrade Curran argued that the programme is taken to the membership and debated out with them at length and is only the programme insofar as it is accepted: it is not 10 tablets of stone that are beyond criticism or change. Incidentally comrade King told me that if WP had a presence in Scotland it would join the SSP. So much for programme being “everything”. However, what was left unspoken was the fact that the SSP’s programme is thoroughly nationalist.

My impression is that Resistance hopes to follow Yaqoob/Monbiot into the hearts of the masses rather than fight in a directly communist manner for the leadership of the working class. I say ‘impression’ because the Yaqoob letter was simply left lying on the table - neither praised, condemned nor criticised.