Democrats form platform
Some 30 people - varying over the course of the day - met in Birmingham on Saturday November 8 to form a Democracy platform in the Socialist Alliance. Mike Macnair reports
Numbers present were clearly reduced compared to the previous meeting (September 13), partly by the decision of the International Socialist Group, which in September dipped its toes in the water, to go no further. Neither the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty nor the CPGB mobilised members on a large scale, and the majority of those present were independents. The discussion at the meeting was comradely, in spite of occasionally sharp differences of opinion.
An initial proposal from the AWL that the meeting should first discuss the question of the Socialist Workers Party’s proposed ‘broader coalition’ was voted down, and the meeting proceeded to discuss and vote on a number of motions relating to the political basis of the platform and then elect a national committee. This committee was charged with collating and synthesising the resolutions adopted into a clear political statement, and with raising a number of matters with the Socialist Alliance’s leading bodies. Finally we debated several motions and amendments on the question of ‘broader coalitions’ and the SWP’s new “project”.
The meeting adopted a number of overlapping resolutions proposed by Stockport Socialist Alliance, the Revolutionary Democratic Group, CPGB and AWL. The overall result can be stated broadly as follows. First, the platform upholds the Socialist Alliance’s 2001 election manifesto People before profit and fights for this to be the basis of the alliance’s public campaigning and its approach to broader political initiatives and coalitions. The RDG’s resolution in particular emphasised the demands for democratic reforms contained in People before profit under the section, ‘For real democracy’; comrade Steve Freeman, moving it, noted the disappearance of these demands from Alan Thornett’s recent SA pamphlet, Building a socialist alternative. Comrade Freeman and other speakers emphasised that democracy is not just an internal question for the Socialist Alliance, but a question for the workers’ movement as a whole.
Second, the platform sets as a central goal the struggle for a new workers’ party, and fights for this goal to be adopted by the Socialist Alliance. At a more immediate level, we fight for a new united party of the socialists, recognising the gains which have been made by such a united party in the cases of the Scottish Socialist Party and Rifondazione Comunista.
Third, the platform fights for the existing principles of democracy, inclusiveness, open discussion and representation at all levels of minority trends, as laid down in the SA constitution. Concretely, we oppose bureaucratic operations like those carried out by the SWP in Bedfordshire and in Birmingham. We fight for negotiations with a view to a broader coalition to be carried on openly and properly reported back to Socialist Alliance members, and for our platform to be represented on the alliance’s ‘task group’ engaged in these discussions. Carrying a resolution proposed by Sue Blackwell and Anna Chen, we emphasised that we would fight for the implementation of the alliance’s existing commitments to oppose all forms of racism and sexism, bullying and victimisation within the movement.
In the context of SA democracy, the meeting also adopted a resolution proposed by Pete McLaren, which made two proposals for change in the alliance’s structures. The first calls for a structure which encourages both group affiliation and individual membership, providing representation for affiliates as well as safeguarding the rights of independents. As originally drafted it referred to a “federal” structure, but an amendment from Sue Blackwell, narrowly carried, removed the ‘f’ word. The second point calls for direct election by the membership, preferably by proportional representation, of all “committees and representative bodies”. CPGB comrades opposed this proposal, as potentially setting up multiple conflicting national authorities and thereby actually reducing the democratic accountability of the alliance’s leadership. It was, however, carried.
The meeting debated the name of the platform and decided by exhaustive voting on ‘Democracy platform’, proposed by Pete McLaren, eliminating first ‘Socialist Democracy platform’, proposed by the Stockport comrades, and then ‘Democratic and Republican platform’, proposed by the RDG.
The second session was a little procedurally complex, since the decisive votes were on amendments, but in fact involved a simple debate. The AWL comrades take the view that the character of the broader coalition the SWP is promoting is already settled: it will be a bureaucratic and popular-frontist lash-up which abandons socialism in favour of the left liberalism of the Monbiot-Yaqoob draft; they also regard it as unprincipled to enter any sort of bloc in which George Galloway plays a leading role. CPGB and RDG comrades, Dot Gibson from Workers International and the majority of the independents present agreed that this is the policy the SWP are pursuing, but take the view that there is still scope for fighting for any new initiative to have a democratic and socialist character, and for the Socialist Alliance to have an independent input and activity. In the result, the AWL’s view was defeated in a series of votes (unfortunately CPGB comrade John Pearson elected on this occasion to vote with the AWL).
The Democratic Platform is, then, willing to engage with the new initiative, on the basis of the political ideas we defined as the political basis of the platform: democratic and accountable function, the struggle for the political representation of the working class, and the proposals of People before profit as the right starting point for SA negotiators.
The AWL at the close of the meeting issued a statement indicating that the decisions of the afternoon session meant that the platform was failing to confront the central issue of rejectionism towards the ‘new initiative’ and Galloway. Though their comrade elected to the platform’s committee would take up his post, and they would bloc with platform comrades on issues of Socialist Alliance internal democracy, the AWL comrades would not regard the platform’s work as a priority, but would prioritise fighting for their own rejectionist line.
The AWL’s position has been slightly elaborated in a report of the meeting posted by Martin Thomas on the AWL’s website. The report sees the meeting through the AWL’s peculiar blinkers, as a result of which comrade Thomas regards the votes - recognising the bad politics of the SWP, Galloway, etc, but still willing to engage with the project - as “contradictory”. The CPGB is accused of having a “rosy view of the Galloway bloc”.
Comrade Thomas explains this spurious “contradiction” by asserting that the AWL, unlike the “‘independents’ and micro-groups” (by which he presumably means the CPGB and RDG) “is a vertebrate organisation, which does not need a shell to live in ... we have no difficulties in seeing other options for activity”. At one level this proposition is stupid. The independents are generally engaged in local trade union, campaigning, etc work, and can - all too easily! - retreat into this. CPGB and RDG comrades also have their local work. The CPGB (unlike the AWL) publishes a weekly paper, and has, in the recent past, stood candidates in public elections independently when no electoral alliance is achievable. Behind comrade Thomas’s foolish claim is a real political difference. By calling the AWL a “vertebrate organisation” comrade Thomas is, in fact, asserting that the AWL takes a purely instrumental attitude to the Socialist Alliance and to the unity of socialists generally: they are judged on the basis of whether or not they will help build the AWL. That is to say, the AWL is an SWP on a smaller scale - a sect.
The meeting in Birmingham was small. Both the AWL’s efforts to set the platform on the course of idiot rejectionism and Galloway-phobia, and its decision to take a semi-detached attitude when it lost the votes, are regrettable but unsurprising. Nonetheless, we have set down important political markers for comrades who wish to build on the strengths of the Socialist Alliance and to resist the SWP leadership’s attempts to use a new “project” to liquidate these strengths.