Indignation and hot air

Democracy Platform walkout

After the task group resolution on local elections was passed unamended, the SA Democracy Platform issued a leaflet indicating that they were walking out of the Socialist Alliance conference to attend an alternative meeting. This decision had been previously notified to the standing orders committee in a letter from Pete McLaren, Democracy Platform convenor.

The leaflet comments: “Conference has just decided to end the right of local Socialist Alliances to take democratic decisions about standing candidates as Socialist Alliance candidates ... SA candidates could have stood along with Respect candidates in different elections. This decision raises huge questions about the future of the Socialist Alliance. Respect is not the broad-based, socialist coalition that the SA was established to be.

“The dominant groups within the SA have used their majority to ensure approval of this divisive policy. Such packing of meetings cuts across the whole notion of an alliance. The SA is an alliance, not a political party which can dictate to local groups.”

Between 50 and 60 people attended the alternative meeting. Some CPGB comrades went as observers: while we are no longer affiliated to the Democracy Platform, the meeting was open to SA members generally.

Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty circulated a leaflet containing his suggested statement, which read: “We believe that the decisions passed this morning point towards the winding down of the Socialist Alliance. We want to defend, maintain and build on the positive steps towards socialist unity and the creation of a working class electoral alternative represented by the Socialist Alliance. We will therefore be working in our areas to maintain the Socialist Alliance as a force active both non-electorally and electorally, and seeking to coordinate those efforts nationally, with a long-term view to rebuilding a lively, democratic and broad alliance of socialists.”

On practical tasks, comrade Thomas put forward a series of proposals whose aim was to keep going those local Socialist Alliances which were not controlled by the Socialist Workers Party-International Socialist Group bloc; to support and encourage local groups of activists who want to continue on the basis of the “broad founding ideas of the SA”, even if their local Socialist Alliance has been closed down by the majority bloc; and to construct a “federation of independent socialist alliances”. This in turn would have the aims of - a working class, socialist presence in elections; non-electoral campaigning on this basis; cooperation with other socialist groups; involvement in the trade unions and with initiatives towards a new workers’ party; and working towards a new democratic alliance of socialists.

Chris Jones (Revolutionary Democratic Group) made the point that this gathering was not a competent decision-making meeting for the Democracy Platform. Decisions about the future would be made at the regular platform meeting called for April 3 in Birmingham. This was generally agreed, and comrade Thomas accepted that he was not pressing for a vote on his proposals.

The meeting nonetheless agreed to two concrete proposals. The first came from Dot Gibson of Workers International: that the Democracy Platform should have a banner and organise a contingent on Saturday’s anti-war demonstration. The second came from Lesley Mahmood: that Pete McLaren should composite the texts of the leaflet, and of Martin Thomas’ draft statement, and issue the result as an interim statement and press release.

Though nothing was to be decided, there was a lively discussion on the future perspectives of the Democracy Platform and of opposition to the SWP-ISG bloc in general. The main tone of the contributions was one of anger at the conduct of the SWP and their allies. Dave Church (Walsall) made a point which was echoed in a number of later contributions when he said that he was not a pacifist. He was willing to go along to conferences and take a kicking for a while, but there came a point when you had to kick back. The Democracy Platform needed to “put itself on a level” with the SWP; this meant having its own committee, etc, and meetings which were not reported by the Weekly Worker.

If Dave’s point was repeatedly echoed, there were some clear divisions in the perspectives of those who contributed. One line was that the SA had now been destroyed: it was time to move on and do something different. This was most clearly expressed by Tony Greenstein (Brighton), who said that he had decided to join the Alliance for Green Socialism. In this context, several speakers pointed to the initiative for a new workers’ party announced by the Liverpool dockers with the support of the Socialist Party. Another line, most clearly expressed by Dave Landau (London) and an International Socialist League comrade from Merseyside, was that the opposition was the continuity of the Socialist Alliance: the task was to carry on as the Socialist Alliance and force the SWP-led majority to take the organisational measures of a split.

At an early stage of the discussion the suggestion was made that, since the task group resolution was clearly unconstitutional and legally void, it might be appropriate for opponents to consult lawyers. The majority of speakers who addressed the issue were opposed to this, whether on principle (lawyers should not be brought into disputes in the workers’ movement) or on practical grounds (leave it to the SWP, if they want to stop Socialist Alliance candidates standing in the local elections, to take legal action against local groups who stand on their constitutional rights).

Both Steve Freeman (RDG) and comrade Landau made the point that the Democracy Platform is united by opposition to the SWP’s determination to convert the Socialist Alliance into a front organisation which it can turn on and off at will. However, comrades are divided by other issues - in particular on attitudes to Respect. This makes it problematic for the platform to strike out on its own.

It can be added that there are several different grounds for possible opposition to Respect. For some opponents the lack of clear socialist identification, or of clear class politics, is critical; for others the top-down national centralism of Respect is the key problem. The AWL has in the past participated in organisations with equally bad politics, bureaucratic structures and dodgy public leaders: for them it is Galloway as an individual who is the sticking point - a peculiar position which must be explained by the AWL’s pro-Zionism.

The underlying problem is simple. British left politics is largely composed of competing sects: the SWP is only the largest of these, but not in a different league. This poses the question of how to fight for unity. The Socialist Alliance had explicitly democratic and unitarian commitments and a limited, but largely sound programme, as far as it went. It was the best attempt yet at a practical step towards unity. This the SWP has largely destroyed.

But if the Democracy Platform elects either to assert that it ‘is the Socialist Alliance’, or to strike out on its own towards fresh fields and pastures new, one of two things will happen to it. The first possibility is that it will break up and collapse, because there is not enough agreement among its members to support an independent organisation. The second is that it will become ... yet another sect. Dave Church’s comments about getting together in a secret committee point in this direction. There is no reason to suppose that this would represent any kind of gain for the British workers’ movement.