But is the platform republican?
The Socialist Alliance minority that gathered for Saturday's meeting is by no means as united as the debates and votes appeared to show. Steve Freeman was there
Differences emerged from the very first item on the agenda - the order of business - and continued to the end. On one side were the AWL and Stockport SA, who wanted to make the priority issue opposition to the Galloway-Monbiot-Yaqoob ‘popular coalition’. Opposed to this was a majority of the May 3 Committee, supported by the Revolutionary Democratic Group and CPGB, arguing that the starting point for any platform was the question of the SA programme and constitution.
Underlying this was a different understanding of the role of the working class as the potential leader of other popular or non-ruling classes. The AWL and Stockport SA seemed to consider that the working class must stand alone. Rejection of a ‘popular coalition’ was a matter of principle. For us it was matter of tactics and there is no point discussing tactics except in relation to the fight for a definite programme. The first vote on the order of the agenda was whether we should deal with programme first and therefore implicitly consider the popular coalition as a matter of tactics.
So the first vote decided the direction the meeting would take. The May 3 Committee motion won the argument by 18 votes to 10. The meeting refused to be drawn into a sectarian cul de sac and disaster was avoided. But from the AWL perspective it was a disaster about to unfold - it was this decision that prevented a split.
The second major question was whether the platform would be confined to matters of internal democracy, as reflected in the SA constitution, or whether it would take a position on programme. Pete McLaren’s view was that we should be focused purely on internal democracy. This narrow and inward-looking perspective partly explains why Pete drafted the original agenda along the lines suggested by the AWL and Stockport SA, rather than that proposed by the May 3 Committee.
The motion on People before profit, moved by the RDG, settled that question. It made clear that the platform would stand on the full republican socialist programme and not the old Labour platform of social reforms put forward by the SWP and International Socialist Group. The RDG motion - “For the full version of People before profit” - was carried unanimously. It read: “This meeting notes that the SA programme People before profit has been reduced to a set of social reforms. We note that these exclude all SA democratic republican demands. The extension of democracy, whether in the UK or the Socialist Alliance, is neither an optional extra nor a lower priority for the working class or the membership of the SA in the struggle for socialism. We resolve to campaign for democracy as set out in People before profit and the SA constitution. We condemn any attempt, whether by accident or by political intent, to ignore or relegate the importance of democracy in the building of a Socialist Alliance movement.”
This motion settled the argument between a narrow internal democracy platform and the broader ‘democratic and republican’ platform in favour of the latter. However, when we came to consider the official name of the platform, the softer, liberal line prevailed. Pete McLaren proposed the name of ‘Democracy platform’, which secured 13 votes. The name ‘Democratic and Republican platform’ received nine votes and ‘Socialist Democracy’ got six. The alignments here were of some interest. The term ‘democracy’ was common to all three (as indeed was the word ‘socialist’, because, as one comrade pointed out, our full name would include the words ‘platform of the Socialist Alliance’). So it was no surprise to find that the controversial word, as usual, was ‘republican’.
The CPGB shamefully lined up with Pete McLaren to the right against a platform name that openly proclaimed its republicanism. Meanwhile the AWL lined up for ‘Socialist Democracy’ against republicanism in pursuit of its alliance with Stockport SA. The name ‘Socialist Democracy’ was a dishonest attempt to play at soviets. We did get one republican vote from AWL’s Pete Radcliff, who accepted our arguments against pandering to ultra-leftism and should be praised for taking a principled stand. But of course he swung back into line with the rest of his comrades on the second vote. Our vote went down to eight, as AWL votes swung behind the CPGB.
This is of course a microcosm of the weakness of the left. Despite the ongoing crisis of the social monarchy, the vast majority of the left have been unable to embrace militant republicanism and remain wedded to Labourism. The ultra-lefts are simply a mirror image of anti-republican liberal Labourites. Whilst the AWL talks about independent working class politics, it has not yet understood that this means breaking from the constitutional monarchist state, the forces of the crown and her majesty’s government and loyalist Labour Party.
After voting through the name, we moved on to the first issue the platform had to face. Should the SA intervene in the attempt to extend the forces mobilised by the Stop the War Coalition into a ‘popular coalition’? The anti-war movement has been the biggest political event for many years. If the SA was right to intervene in the former, then there is no reason to rule out intervention in the latter. For us this is a tactical matter, not a matter of principle.
It is about fighting for the working class programme and a question of what, if any, real popular forces are involved. We know that the STWC had mass support, including hundreds of thousands of workers. Whether the same forces can be mobilised by a ‘popular coalition’ remains to be seen. Its programme is yet to be fixed. There are both opportunities and dangers here. But running away, before the battle even starts in earnest, is a mistake.
The line-up of the AWL and Stockport SA had some sympathy from Birmingham SA comrades, because of their own experiences of the undemocratic practices of Salma Yaqoob, at the behest of the SWP. But, rather than outright opposition, the meeting decided to adopt a position of reconnaissance and clarification, as expressed in the motions of the RDG and Dot Gibson and the amendments moved by the CPGB.
The RDG motion said:
“1. In the fight for People before profit we do not rule out, in advance, alliances, whether temporary or strategic, with petty bourgeois democrats. Any proposals must be considered concretely and judged in respect of the struggle to advance our programme.
2. In any such united front alliances, we must defend the independence of the SA and engage in open struggle against the politics of these allies. In the event of the leadership of the SA failing to engage in such a struggle and hence compromising the independence of the SA, this platform will conduct such a struggle against the leadership of the SA.
3. We do rule out alliances with bourgeois parties (ie, popular fronts) on the grounds that the bourgeoisie is under all circumstances the enemy of the working class.
4. We call for representatives of this platform to be included in the SA ‘task force’ negotiating group and to report back to all members of this platform”.
The AWL was not happy about the outcome of these votes, but decided quite rightly not to walk away from the new platform. Instead it issued a statement making its position clear. Fair enough. This debate will surely continue, but at least for now we are united in a Democracy platform around a common republican socialist programme.