WeeklyWorker

Letters

Red-green

To allege, as does Jack Conrad, that the view that the planet is overpopulated and there are severe limits to the number of people it can support “leads to gas chambers” is plain daft (‘New Greens pose left’, March 11 ).

One could argue that Marxism inevitably leads to Stalinist despotism and the Gulag, but we know this isn’t so. If Jack had bothered to read any Green Party literature, he would know that it opposes coercion and compulsion and seeks to achieve population reduction by voluntary cooperation, education and easy availability of birth control. There is a need for a Marxist critique of Green politics, but inaccurate jibes are not it.

If socialism is off the agenda, if the fact that workers haven’t joined the SWP in droves proves they are too thick to understand it and bourgeois radicalism is the only game in town, then the Green Party is a better bet than Respect, which claims it isn’t a socialist party. Unlike Respect, the Greens have a democratic structure and some of their policies are to the left of Respect. The Green Party is republican, while Respect thinks workers are hopelessly in love with our own dear queen and any mention of republicanism would scare them witless.

I think the CPGB is wrong in trying to function as a loyal opposition in Respect. Sooner or later the SWP will tire of its criticism and expel it as “sectarian”. Whatever happens at the June elections, there remains a need for a broad-based red-green democratic and republican alliance, which is what I thought the Socialist Alliance set out to be. Such an alliance would seek to defend and extend democracy and broaden the concept to include protection of the environment. It would campaign for a workers’ party run by its members, not undemocratic cliques.

The Alliance for Green Socialism, of which I’m a member, is trying in its own small way to build this and includes both Green Party and Socialist Alliance members in its ranks. It remains to be seen if the assorted fragmented and fratricidal groups will help or hinder this task.

Red-green
Red-green

Overlooked

Jack Conrad was right in last week’s ‘Party notes’ to highlight the positive policy points of the Green Party and their leftist-orientated stance, particularly as far as the anti-war movement is concerned. However, there are certain realities with the Green Party that he overlooked.

The reality is that the Green Party has effectively ruined the opportunity to build on this shared ground by putting its electoral-obsessive tendencies first. The Greens leadership are, for want of a better description, motivated purely by the desire to further the ambitions of Darren Johnson’s clique at City Hall. When Spencer Fitz-Gibbon and other leading Greens condemn Respect for being a “Galloway-SWP party” they really mean that they’re threatened by the exciting and realistic green-left alternative that is combined in Respect’s programme and promoted by the coalition’s diverse membership.

The Green Party’s dislike for Respect boils down to a question of votes and the desire by the Green Party to springboard themselves into the political ‘mainstream’ through the GLA and European elections. Nothing more! As soon as George Galloway mentioned contesting these elections under the Respect banner, the Green Party suddenly felt threatened! What the Respect coalition needs to do is to push ahead regardless of the attitude of the Green Party and campaign more decisively to woo Green activists. Elaine Graham-Leigh (one of our superb Respect European candidates in the London region) has shown the way, so let’s build on this!

Overlooked
Overlooked

Respect SE

Around 80 attended the Respect South East region convention in Brighton on Sunday March 14. The European Union constituency is a huge one, but those present represented a rather thin geographical spread. Apart from a handful from Oxford and Crawley, all the others were from the coastal resorts. There was no-one from Reading or Milton Keynes - in fact no-one from Berkshire or Buckinghamshire at all.

And it was a bit of a shambles, but most of those there will have had little experience of democratic procedures, would they? It was an amiable gathering though, with little rancour or even disagreement. Even I (the only speaker who unambiguously urged Respect not to stand against the superb Green MEP for the South East, Caroline Lucas) was politely listened to. (They were not quite so polite when I told Socialist Workers Party luminary Rob Hoveman that, as a London resident, he should not have been at the meeting, much less seeking to influence the ensuing discussion in his role as guest speaker.)

The SWP were mostly on their best behaviour. Incredibly, there were no paper-sellers amongst them! Poor things must have felt half-naked. Whether this was due to command from above or because there was little point, with most of those assembled being SWP members, I do not know. But I do know this: I’ll believe socialism is getting closer when the left sells more papers to the working class than they do to each other!

So, despite the composition of the convention, there was no visible presence of the SWP, and little indication of it from their several Euro-hopefuls. If anyone mentioned the SWP at all it was more by way of an aside, an afterthought even. None proudly proclaimed it as the centrality of their politics.

The candidates? Hardly household names; apart from the Oxford nominees only the name of writer John Molyneux registered with me. Even he, an SWP veteran, neglected to mention his affiliation. The Stop the War Coalition and Socialist Alliance are useful covers, aren’t they?

Mark Ladbrooke, a tireless health campaigner, deservedly got on the list (albeit in 10th place) but the other Oxford nominee, a political novice, got few votes. Only two of the nine Oxford folk present voted for him themselves. A shame my old friend Phil Walden of the Movement for Socialism is not signed up to Respect. A Marxist guru and lecturer, he would have given the list real intellectual credibility. Ditto the equally cerebral Mike Macnair of the CPGB, who is signed up.

Respect SE
Respect SE

Sectarian bilge

The review of Socialist Worker’s miners’ special attacks the SWP for criticising the National Union of Mineworkers local leaderships (‘Good pictures, wrong conclusions’, March 11).

It has just been revealed that the south Wales NUM leaders had secret meetings with the local National Coal Board boss. It was agreed at these meetings that pickets to the steel works would be stopped; little picketing in south Wales would take place and that the south Wales NUM did not want the strike to happen.

Strange that the writer for the Weekly Worker didn’t mention this - or is this because it doesn’t quite fit in with his sectarian bilge about the SWP? Since this is the only paper to be published 20 years after this strike I thought a few words of praise would not go amiss. I am not a member of the SWP, but thought it was a very good read and informative.

Come on, Weekly Worker. Isn’t it about time you stopped acting like the Life of Brian?

Sectarian bilge
Sectarian bilge

Personal

I am surprised that, in response to my political criticisms of the CPGB’s decision to walk out of the Democracy Platform of the Socialist Alliance, Marcus Ström should make personal criticisms of me.

Marcus asks whether I am the same person who, whilst a member of the SA, stood as an independent candidate in last year’s council elections? The answer is that, yes, I did stand as an independent socialist on behalf of Brighton and Hove Unemployed Workers Centre, a body supported by trade unions and the trades council locally. I also stated in my election literature that I was a supporter of the alliance, but, given that the SA had not campaigned or indeed met in the previous year, it would have meant little to the electorate. I also have to be honest when I say that, given the political forces which make up the unemployed centre, including the Socialist Party, I could not have stood for the alliance with its backing.

I also achieved a vote (8%) which was over three times higher than the only SA candidate, a former Labour councillor, for the only other working class ward contested by the SA, and twice the average of the three SA candidates in Brighton and Hove.

Marcus pretends not to remember why I “resigned in a huff” from the SA and then rejoined this year. I resigned because of the decision of the Socialist Workers Party to prevent the SA developing into a party and having its own newspaper. The catalyst was their attempted destruction of Birmingham SA and their attempted alliance with the mosque. I rejoined because comrades I worked with in the Democracy Platform urged me to do so.

There is of course, as Marcus himself has stated, no Socialist Alliance left to resign from now!

Personal
Personal

No longer SWP

In Marcus Ström’s article about the Socialist Alliance special conference, it states that I supported an amendment to the task group motion as a member of the Socialist Workers Party (‘SWP control-freakery’, March 11).

I did support the amendment. However, I am not a member of the SWP.

No longer SWP
No longer SWP

Outer space

I always enjoy reading your postbag, but there’s one thing I would like to see that would be an improvement. People send in emails with no place of origin. They could be out in space for all anyone knows.

Could you ask your readers to consider putting in the town or London district where they are living when they send emails?

Outer space
Outer space

Consistency

I have been following the current debate over the question of an average worker’s wage for workers’ representatives with a distinct feeling of déjà vu. Where did I remember something about this very subject?

At last it came to me. A quick rummage through my (almost) complete collection of International Socialism journals and we find this: “... It was clear also that the electoral success of Terry Fields, MP for Broadgreen constituency in Liverpool, was based on left reformism. The central slogan for Terry Fields’ campaign and the other Militant candidates was for ‘a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage’. A good, populist slogan, but hardly revolutionary” (Sheila McGregor, ‘The history and politics of Militant’, vol 2, no33, p73).

Consistency does not seem to be the strong point in our Socialist Workers Party comrades’ new project.

Consistency
Consistency

George's wage

I do think that George Galloway may have a point in his complaint about the manner some on the left, including ourselves, have dealt with the press coverage of his fundraising activities and the manner he uses his earnings to finance political campaigns (Letters, March 11).

There is a fine line, in my view, between quoting material, to illustrate matters of socialist principle, which originally appeared in the reactionary media for hardly progressive purposes, and appearing to go along with the innuendoes contained in such material. I have some doubts whether our material has always made that distinction clear enough.

As far as I am concerned, the Labour Party is an organisation where bourgeois patronage is utterly endemic - the flip-side of large salaries and patronage from the bosses is attacks on the working class at home, and the initiation of predatory imperialist wars abroad. And I would not condemn a leftwing oppositional MP such as George Galloway using his salary and his ability to raise funds from other sources to fund campaigns and activities that are counterposed to the pro-imperialist, reactionary politics of the Labour leadership. In a sense, though admittedly in a somewhat individualist manner, that is hoisting the bastards on their own petard.

I do think, however, that comrade Galloway is being over-sensitive and somewhat individualistic in his defensive response to this criticism. Surely our ambition is to found a collective working class alternative, which also organises its finances collectively? Now that George is no longer the persecuted and witch-hunted dissident in Labour, but rather one of the leaders of a new political organisation counterposing itself to Labour, I think he should change his outlook and practice on these matters. He should cease acting as a principled maverick and funding activities as a private individual, and think instead about the political gains that Respect would make from all its candidates standing as a workers’ representative on a worker’s wage.

Look at the gains the Scottish Socialist Party has made from its principled stance on this. That political gain would far outweigh any possible financial loss that might result for the movement from adopting such a norm (which in any case may not be a bad as the comrade paints it).

George's wage
George's wage

ESF "┬śconsensus'

As someone who identifies with the ‘horizontals’ mentioned in Tina Becker’s report of the preparatory assembly of the European Social Forum, I feel Tina has rather naughtily misrepresented our views in her vendetta against ‘consensual’ politics (‘Control-freaks criticised’ Weekly Worker March 11).

It is quite strange of you to denigrate us for often only concentrating on “purely technical solutions” like the rotation of chairs and holding meetings in the evening and at weekends, outside of the capital and the Greater London Authority building, when our full participation in the process - and yours incidentally - is dependent on such solutions being adopted. But to stigmatise these issues as “technical” is somewhat beneath you, Tina. Democracy, participation, respect, equality, pluralism are not technical matters - they are the very political essence of the World Social Forum spirit. If the ESF is organised undemocratically by professional bureaucrats with a political agenda as a one-off event, as opposed to a process of movement self-organisation, then it is not the ESF, regardless of how Florence, Paris or Porto Alegre have been organised.

There appears to be a spectre haunting communists: the spectre of consensus decision-making. A process that enshrines pluralism and compromise into the heart of political decision-making is of course a huge danger to those who rule by block vote or the packed meeting. But what is consensus? How does it work? I’m going to lay down a challenge to the Weekly Worker - define in less than 100 words what consensus decision-making is.

Here are some possible alternatives: (1) a process where 100% of people in a room must agree immediately to a proposal suddenly sprung upon them for it to pass; (2) a process where proposals are suddenly sprung on a group of people in a room and they are passed by acclamation (clapping, cheering) and/or fear (heckling dissenting voices, using moral blackmail); (3) a process where proposals from people are put to a meeting but before anyone can respond, the chair rules that there is no consensus and the item is ignored; (4) a process where decisions are ‘constructed’ together, collectively and openly, through dialogue and compromise.

As you know, options 1, 2, and 3 currently form the de facto decision-making process called ‘consensus’ and, as you also know, have nothing to with consensus at all. Option 4, my preferred definition, means that, if some person or group or organisation has a proposal, they circulate it as far as possible in advance before a meeting; that proposal is then discussed by that meeting, and those who have suggestions, qualifications or outright opposition to it are allowed to outline what these are. If these are acceptable to both proposer and meeting, then there is consensus! (with the possibility that the decision or outcome can be changed in the future if problems and objections arise). If not, the chair facilitates a further discussion to see if a compromise is possible - after all, this is not a locus of power: we are not supposed to be ‘winning’ arguments, but moving forward together. If no compromise can be reached at this time, then a working group should be set up to iron out the remaining differences.

Now to Tina this is unpalatable because one person might keep withholding consensus. Yes, they might, but this is deeply unlikely because isolated individuals will have no reason or power to realistically enforce this. More likely is that one party or organisation will keep withholding consensus if things are not going according to the doctrinal plan - voting wouldn’t change this, it would simply make such abuses much easier as one party could pack meetings to ensure a vote was won. This would be neither a representative system, nor a delegate system, and would bring the entire process into disrepute and possible cancellation. Genuine consensus decision-making, facilitated by well-trained individuals in such practices, is the only way to ensure that the process stays together.

ESF "┬śconsensus'
ESF "┬śconsensus'