Smoke and mirrors

Discussions regarding the proposed ‘unity coalition’ dominated the meeting of the Socialist Alliance executive committee, held in London on November 22.

Discussions regarding the proposed ‘unity coalition’ dominated the meeting of the Socialist Alliance executive committee, held in London on November 22.

In the absence of any recommendation from Nick Wrack, SA chair, following his report on negotiations around the coalition proposals, I moved the following motion: “The Socialist Alliance welcomes moves towards a left unity coalition to contest the European Union elections. The Socialist Alliance will engage with this process and fight for it to adopt a working class and socialist platform in an open, democratic and transparent process.” It was passed with only Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty voting against.

Much of what we know about the proposed coalition is obscured and distorted by smoke and mirrors. It is clear that leading members of the Socialist Workers Party have been in discussions with George Galloway MP, as well as Salma Yaqoob, George Monbiot and others. However, John Rees of the SWP is unwilling to disclose the content of these conversations.

There is undoubtedly a connection between this opaque methodology and the political programme being pursued. Opportunism loathes the exposure that comes with the broad light of day. Even so, to cut ourselves off from a process that involves not only George Galloway, expelled from the Labour Party for his anti-war activity and the highest-profile leader of the mass anti-war movement, but also Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail union, and Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCSU civil servants’ union, would be sectarian madness.

The SA executive resolution does not commit the alliance to the coalition. What it does commit us to is a fight within the coalition for it to adopt a working class and socialist platform. Time is tight. But we should fight and then see where we end up. It will be up to democrats and partyists in the SA to push this forward against the opportunism of the SWP dominated leadership. Just how “open, democratic and transparent” this process is will largely be down to what concessions to openness we can win.

SA chair Nick Wrack, who is politically close to the SWP, was given authority to sign a declaration for the mooted January unity convention. He is to do this in consultation with the executive’s task group and the executive itself. Comrade Wrack suggested that there may be an interim organising committee comprising himself, John Rees, George Galloway, Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, Salma Yaqoob, George Monbiot and Ken Loach.

George Galloway’s www.blairout.com website was mentioned at the meeting. We already know from what the site contains what Galloway’s preferred campaigning options are: “To withdraw troops from Iraq and to let the people of Iraq decide their own future; halting the privatisation of essential public services; defeating the euro and the proposed European constitution; protecting and enhancing our environment; the restoration of trade union rights; for equality, tolerance and a multicultural society.” There is a membership form on the website as well.

Hardly offensive stuff. But it is not any kind of socialist programme and what is clearly missing is the call for a new workers’ party. Galloway seems intent on following Livingstone’s rebellious route out of and back into the Labour Party. At a ‘Britain at the crossroads’ meeting in Leicester, he reportedly said to the audience: “You can vote for our coalition this time, and Keith Vaz the time after.”

Why would voters take seriously a formation with such an implicitly short shelf life? Further, if what we achieve is merely the election of George Galloway to the European parliament, what is to stop him turning around with a polite ‘thank you’, and then carrying on with his own agenda?

Clearly, our intervention must be focused on arguing for a disciplined workers’ party, defending and enriching the Socialist Alliance’s People before profit manifesto.

There are dangers of recreating another Scargill scenario - but without the partyist perspective of the Socialist Labour Party. At least Scargill made a semblance of an effort to involve members in developing the policies of the SLP… so long as they didn’t go against what he wanted.

According to both Nick Wrack and John Rees, the Monbiot-Yaqoob proposals and the campaigning points of George Galloway are merely their contributions to a fluid process to which the Socialist Alliance will bring People before profit. It was suggested by some that Galloway is seeking ‘members’ of his project to reduce his reliance on the SWP.

In this debate, Glynn Robbins of the SWP suggested we should raise the workers’ wage issue in discussions for a new coalition: not as a precondition, but as a way to assess the politics of the various actors within the process. I agreed. Jeannie Robinson of the SWP also favoured an engagement with the process whereby the SA fights for socialist politics.

John Rees stated that we could find points of difference with others involved. Bob Crow is an advocate of the death penalty, for instance. Mark Serwotka supports the euro. Those arguing for a workers’ wage to be an unbreakable principle have only very recently arrived at such a position. The AWL was quite happy to vote for and advocate a New Labour government in 1997 - none of whose MPs took a workers’ wage. As far as I know, the AWL advocates a vote for Labour candidates where there are no socialist standing. Does it put forward this demand on them?

The outcome is uncertain. There are tensions between all the main actors involved. Negotiations could go wrong. Does the SWP really want to put George Galloway into the EU parliament with no democratic controls over him? Will George Monbiot’s Proudhonist ‘nice small capitalism’ sit comfortably with the politics of Bob Crow, who once called for the nationalisation of every fish and chip shop? Differences are bound to surface - they would certainly be brought to light by media probing at election time.

Amusingly, John Rees engaged in some scaremongering about the scaremongers. He pointed to the furore around Lindsay German’s notorious remarks at Marxism 2003 that women’s and gay rights should not be regarded as “shibboleths”. It was “irresponsible”, he said, for there to have been unsubstantiated allegations in “certain publications”. He said this had caused considerable difficulties. He then went on to deny he even read the Weekly Worker - so how he knows what we said on this question is beyond me. The point is, though, it is a bit rich for comrade Rees to blame the messenger. It was not the CPGB that made those comments. Motes and beams come to mind.

Martin Thomas of the AWL moved a motion calling on the SA to have nothing to do with any George Galloway initiative. It received only his own vote. To dismiss the new coalition as a popular front when its platform has not even been drawn up and where it involves two high-profile members of the trade union ‘awkward squad’ is, as comrade Nick Wrack said, “the politics of the salon and not the politics of the street”.

There was bad news about negotiations to form a European Party of the Anti-Capitalist Left. This project, sponsored by the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, has run aground with the news that Rifondazione Comunista is to join forces with the ‘official’ communist parties. That leaves the Scottish Socialist Party, Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, Left Bloc Portugal and the Socialist Party in Ireland without enough allies to secure EU funding as a European party. However, I urged that a united manifesto of those still interested in the project should be pursued, whether or not EU funding would be available. This was agreed.

Alan Thornett gave a brief report on preparations for the SA-sponsored ‘Convention of the trade union left’. It looks likely to be a success in terms of attendance, but so far not much has been achieved in the way of securing the participation of leading advocates of the ‘reclaim Labour’ camp.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, has written to the Socialist Alliance declaring that the trade union convention is “in direct conflict with Unison policy and political fund rules” and requesting removal of any branch or region of Unison sponsoring the event from our publicity material. This is pretty desperate stuff from the Unison leaders. How could a conference which merely debates the relationship between the unions and Labour be in conflict with Unison rules? Obviously a fight will break out within the union about this. Which can only be good for the Socialist Alliance.

It was agreed to send a message of support to Chris Flood, the Socialist Party candidate in a by-election for the Telegraph Hill ward in Lewisham. Comrade Ian Page is a councillor for this ward as well. It was mentioned that the SP is unlikely to stand in the European Union elections, leaving open their involvement in the unity coalition.

I raised, once again, the need to renegotiate the financial support given to the SA from supporting organisations. The CPGB’s contributory record in terms of hard cash is far greater than any of the other principal supporting organisations and we think contributions should be put on a more equitable basis. However, the executive decided that there should be no collective renegotiation of this funding - leaving it up to the individual organisations to donate as they see fit. The CPGB will, of course, consider its level of funding in the light of this.

Jim Jepps from Colchester suggested yet another possible method for electing the executive. The national council will take a decision on what method it will propose to the annual conference in March. I pointed out that the last conference agreed that any such method should be “proportional”. Alan Thornett’s suggested slate system falls foul of this - unless, of course, as John Rees suggested, that nominated slates are themselves proportional.

Greg Tucker reported from the appeals committee. Comrades Danny Thompson and Jane Clarke of Bedfordshire Socialist Alliance have had the possibility of expulsion hanging over them for more than a year now yet the committee has still not dealt with the case. A speedy resolution is of the essence. Comrade Tucker said that a draft report on this, with recommendations, had been prepared but was not forthcoming, as not all committee members had commented on it so far.

Comrade Nick Wrack said we must remember that “justice delayed is justice denied”. The executive noted that it had never called on the Bedfordshire SA to cease meeting while the appeals committee considered what to do. We called on the BSA to begin meeting once again.

Comrade Tucker, a member of the ISG, also reported back from the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire conference. It was agreed to send a message of congratulations to the LCR and Lutte Ouvrière for agreeing to join forces for the European and French regional elections, wishing them best of luck in the campaign.

It was agreed that the Democracy Platform would have limited access to the SA information list to notify members of its existence, of any website and of any national meeting it was calling. John Rees strongly opposed this, claiming that the SWP could simply declare itself a platform and advertise its “substantial” list of activities. That the comrade inadvertently pointed out that the SWP was so much more active than the SA shell it inhabited said much.

A final point on attendance at the Socialist Alliance executive. Comrade Declan O’Neill commented that, since the executive had been expanded at the last conference, its meetings had actually been smaller. Last weekend there were only 15 of the 39 elected members present.

The next national council is on January 17.