Disunity amid a plethora of unity projects

The Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform, meeting in Birmingham on Saturday January 29, debated the demise of the SA, the prospects for left unity and the attitude of socialists to the occupation of Iraq. Nick Rogers reports

he Socialist Alliance is dead; long live the Socialist Alliance? In effect, that was the question more than 30 members of the SA Democracy Platform came together to answer. Barring a monumental cock-up by the Socialist Workers Party or a mass turn-out by outraged former activists, we all know that the Socialist Alliance conference on February 5 will witness the reading of funeral rites. What remains to be determined is whether there is any mileage in the project of left unity and, if so, on what political basis. SA conference Several motions have been submitted for discussion at the conference, including a number by the SADP and by the SADP's Republican Socialist Tendency. Only the SADP has put together a slate of names for the SA executive, raising an intriguing perspective if the SWP has miscalculated its strength on February 5. Indeed the SWP has not submitted a single motion and neither, it would appear, has it bothered to draft an amendment. As reported by Mark Fischer last week, bizarrely, the Socialist Unity Network has got the SWP off the hook by submitting in its own name the motion to kill off the Socialist Alliance (Weekly Worker January 27). Jim Jepps of the SUN has since sent in an amendment to the motion, suggesting ways in which comrades wishing to continue a unity project might proceed. Saturday's meeting deplored the cover provided by the SUN motion for the SWP's running down and dissolution of the SA, urged its withdrawal and declared (after a contested vote) that the SADP would hold the SUN jointly responsible with the SWP for the destruction of the SA. The last sentiment is simply ahistorical and promises a level of retributive hostility the SADP is unlikely to maintain. The contest that will determine the nature of the February 5 conference, will occur in its opening minutes. Will the assembled delegates vote on the SUN motion immediately and be off home within the hour, or will we debate all the options before the SA? The SADP will move a procedural motion on the conference arrangements committee report, arguing that all motions proposing the revitalisation of the SA be moved and debated alongside SUN's before moving to the vote. That would allow a balanced assessment of the way forward. But what are the odds on a balanced approach to the rest of us by the SWP? Iraq The liveliest session of the day saw the SADP debate its position on the war in Iraq. Tony Greenstein moved a resolution correctly calling for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq; the right of the Iraqi people to physically resist the invasion; support for all genuine working class and socialist and communist forces in Iraq, in particular the Worker-communist Party of Iraq and the Federation of Workers Council and Union of Unemployed. Tony's motion also condemned the collaboration of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) and the Iraqi Communist Party, along with the current elections in Iraq. An amendment from the Liverpool-based International Socialist League aimed to strip the motion of all references to working class and socialist/communist forces. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty moved an amendment that opposed the occupation of Iraq and expressed support for Iraqi self-determination and for those working class forces struggling to end the occupation. However, in place of Tony's clear support for unconditional withdrawal of occupation forces the amendment obscurely stated: "Calls for troops out should be consequential to an overall orientation towards working class solidarity." The rest of the AWL amendment was more balanced in its approach to the IFTU than comrade Greenstein's, stating support for obtaining legal recognition from the occupation authorities, but calling for all trade union federations to be recognised and for the Communist Party of Iraq to withdrawal from the government. Crucially the amendment expressed solidarity with the Iraqi labour movement against the islamist and neo-Ba'athist elements of the resistance and condemned the murder of IFTU leader Hadi Salih. Finally the AWL amendment supported the principal of free elections in Iraq and condemned the reactionary disruption of the weekend's poll, while repeating most of Tony's strictures on its failures. Both the printed amendments were defeated, as was an attempt by me to propose from the floor a version of the AWL amendment that contained Tony's unconditional support for imperialist withdrawal (supported by the AWL after the defeat of their amendment). The lack of a printed version of my proposal, plus a typo in the numbering within the AWL amendment meant my intervention cast more confusion than light on the issues at hand. Tony's motion was thus passed without amendment. Also passed was an excellent motion from Gerry Byrne condemning the assassination of Hadi Salih and the reactionary forces within the resistance. The debate raised crucial issues that will need to be discussed further. For instance, in moving his resolution, Tony Greenstein stated that the lack of an economic basis makes "bourgeois democracy" in the third world impossible. Tellingly, his motion failed to support the struggle for democracy in Iraq. The formulation begs a number of questions. Firstly, if there is no economic basis for democracy within 'third world' capitalist societies, there is hardly a basis for socialism either. Are islamic or Ba'athist-style dictatorships the only prospect awaiting the masses who successfully liberate themselves from imperialist subjugation? Is there no end to which working class and socialist forces in the third world should work while they await the victory of socialism in the advanced western societies? Secondly, Tony rather ignores the existence of functioning democracies in some capitalist states within the so-called third world. India, Brazil and South Africa spring to mind, along with, very recently, countries such as Ghana and Kenya. Such democracies are flawed no doubt and unquestionably raise enormous political problems, partly as a result of the economic predicaments in which they find themselves. But governments have been voted out, the press is relatively free, open working class and socialist organisation is possible. Thirdly, the term 'bourgeois democracy' actually conflates two processes: the development of advanced capitalism that favours pluralistic, law-based structures in order to resolve disputes between factions of the capitalist class, and the growth of organisations based on the working class that demand the extension of the suffrage and democratic freedoms. It has always been the role of socialists to point the working class towards the resolution of the key tasks confronting their particular society - above all, tasks relating to the way the ruling class rules and to democracy. Whether it be communal conflict in India, the denial of national rights almost everywhere, the artificial partition of Africa by its former colonial rulers and so on, socialists must begin to pose solutions to these issues, as well as the immediate economic problems facing the working class. And where the domestic or international capitalist class has failed to tackle even the most elemental requirements for social advance it is even more incumbent on socialist and working class forces to take up the challenge. This is the way for the working class to win the leadership of the whole of society and raise the issue of state power. Likewise in Iraq, the occupation must be opposed because it is the most fundamental denial of the democratic and national rights of the Iraqi people. But Iraqi socialists also need to take a stand on the political and constitutional arrangements currently being created. In this task they will face the opposition not just of the occupation forces, but of the reactionary elements within the Iraqi resistance. After all little common ground can be found with those who condemn democracy and elections as un-islamic and characterise polling stations as "centres of atheism". Future of socialist unity Once the Socialist Alliance is no more, can the project of left unity be relaunched? A number of initiatives are being developed, none of which have yet achieved any kind of hegemonic status on the left. Some members of the United Socialist Party were present on Saturday, and two of the other unity processes underway were discussed. The SADP has been participating in talks to launch a Socialist Green Unity Coalition (SGUC) at the general election. A range of socialist groups are involved: principally the AWL, Socialist Party and the Alliance for Green Socialism (these and the SADP are the groups likely to stand election candidates). An election platform of sorts has been agreed at meetings with formal delegates (a couple per group) and with each group exercising a veto. John Pearson protested that the platform excluded crucial policies (eg, the removal of immigration controls was vetoed by the Socialist Party), failed to mention the role of the working class and was markedly inferior to the SA's People before profit programme. SADP convenor Pete McLaren explained that each group would fight the election on its own manifesto - the SGUC platform seeing the light of day only in press releases and at press conferences. One wonders why it was necessary to go to the trouble of drafting a policy statement (that looks very much like a manifesto), when a few paragraphs introducing what is essentially a non-aggression pact would have done as well. Also discussed was the socialist unity conference to take place on March 12 in Birmingham, sponsored so far by the SADP, the Critique group and the Republican Socialist Tendency under the heading, 'Build a democratic socialist alliance; towards a mass workers' party'. A call was made for contributions to a pre-conference discussion bulletin (send to David Broder at david_communist@-yahoo.com). A provisional agenda was agreed. Broader forces than the current SADP will be required if a new alliance or proto-party is to be launched. This is not impossible, even without the involvement of many other left groups. There must be several hundred former Socialist Alliance members who have been left abandoned by the machinations of the SWP, but it is nevertheless a major task that is not made easier by the plethora of unity projects fighting for recognition. The political orientation of any new formation will also prove vital. Steve Freeman and Dave Church introduced a paper from the Republican Socialist Tendency, a faction within the SADP that includes the Revolutionary Democratic Group, the Red Party and a number of individuals. If socialists around the world have a responsibility to raise the key democratic demands facing their societies, we in Britain have an equal responsibility to orientate the working class movement towards issues such as republicanism and a democratic European Union and to oppose moves towards a police state. When the New Labour government proposes to take powers that would enable it to place any of us under house arrest without divulging the accusations against us, our political freedom in a very real sense may depend on it.