Holding the line

Marcus Ström reports about the formation of a democracy platform in the Socialist Alliance

It is becoming something of a cliché to talk of British politics being in flux. Yet the timing of the formation of a democracy platform in the Socialist Alliance comes as the future direction of the SA is unclear. Are we being frogmarched into an unprincipled popular front by the Socialist Workers Party, or are we seeing the opening up of tremendous new possibilities around which socialists must unite?

Of course there is no predetermined outcome. The future is open to our influence. The opportunist anti-theory appetites of the SWP could see them going in many directions. For that reason, those in the alliance who agree with campaigning not only for a democratic SA but for a new workers’ party must come together to intervene, not act like carping critics from the sidelines.

This weekend the challenge is set for the pro-party democrats in the Socialist Alliance. Can we unite? The antics of the SWP in the alliance have demoralised many. Riding roughshod over the rights of minorities. Driving out critical voices from leading committees. Behind-the-scenes dealing and manoeuvres. All this brings demoralisation to the ranks of the alliance. Former chair Liz Davies, former treasurer Tess McMahon and former women’s officer Margaret Manning (not to mention former trade union officer Mark Hoskisson, who walked out with Workers Power) have all left their posts in response to the way the SWP has been misleading the Socialist Alliance. Membership is hardly rising dramatically.

While publicly the SWP paints the SA with its usual gloss of official optimism, in private they express rather different views. At last weekend’s SWP conference Chris Bambery told the faithful that the “old Socialist Alliance” was “dead”. The SWP leaders are desperate to jump into a new “project”, leaving “the sectarians” behind. Hence the gains of the Socialist Alliance can easily be lost.

In the SWP’s Pre-conference bulletin, John Rees and SA national secretary Rob Hoveman write that the Socialist Alliance has not as yet been able to present a “credible, democratic, inclusive and socialist alternative to New Labour”, yet they fail to even address the question, why? (No3, p5). Back the next thing that moves and see if that works: that is what the SWP’s eclectic and empirical method amounts to.

Our platform clearly needs to stand for democracy. That much is obvious. Despite the SWP’s hypocritical rhetoric the inclusive and tolerant character that accompanied the founding of the Socialist Alliance is being threatened by the headlong rush to replicate the successes of the Stop the War Coalition at the electoral level. But democracy is not enough. We need to tie in our struggle for consistent democracy in the alliance with a defence of the socialist and democratic principles of People before profit and a fight for the Socialist Alliance to campaign for the formation of a new workers’ party.

All three issues are interlinked. The SWP has had to stifle democracy in order to push through its agenda - which is all about keeping the alliance pliant for its expected role as a component in the new “project”: ie, the electoral coalition with Salma Yaqoob, George Monbiot and George Galloway. Hence the SA cannot become a party or even be allowed to campaign for one. After all, the SWP is already the party, isn’t it? We have already heard that SWP tops such as Lindsey German and John Rees were prepared to junk “shibboleths” like women’s and gay rights for a chance at the big time. Thankfully, the Yaqoob-Monbiot draft manifesto at least puts these issues on the agenda.

Our platform must, of course, take a critical attitude towards the platitudes which makes up most of the Yaqoob-Monbiot draft manifesto. At the same time, we must avoid the sectarian wilderness and the dubious joys of isolated purity. We must campaign for socialism to be the real credible alternative. While pointing out the dangers of political liquidation, we must engage with the left-moving Yaqoob-Monbiot formation, especially as it could involve Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka. Similarly with Galloway. Whatever our criticisms of him, he is right when he says Britain needs a “radical democratic revolution” (Morning Star November 1). It would be crazy to dismiss such a bold call.

Our tasks are clear. Fight for democracy. Put the campaign for a workers’ party at the centre of the SA’s work. Defend the socialist, democratic and republican principles of People before profit. Demand a weekly Socialist Alliance newspaper. And we must organise - locally, regionally and nationally and fight to become the majority, to become the leadership of the Socialist Alliance.

I am pleased to hear that the Revolutionary Democratic Group will be putting a document calling for a “democratic and republican platform” on the table for discussion on November 8. This is based on the RDG’s programme. Our democracy platform certainly needs to discuss programmatic issues and seek clarity, but to found the project around the detailed viewpoint of one particular organisation would not only be an error, but could scupper the project from the outset.

Likewise, the attempt by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty to insist the platform adopt its obsessive position on Galloway is another error. We must fight for unity and not be sidetracked by such sectarian nonsense.