The leftovers

The Socialist Green Unity Coalition is in effect an electoral non-aggression pact, writes Tina Becker

The Socialist Green Unity Coalition is in effect an electoral non-aggression pact between some of the organisations that were once part of the Socialist Alliance and have not joined Respect. These are the Socialist Party in England and Wales, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, the Alliance for Green Socialism, the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform and the Walsall Democratic Labour Party.

It is important to stress that the SGUC does not represent an attempt to unite the socialist left on a higher political level. In fact, the SGUC cohered in opposition to an attempt by the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform to bring together those who wanted to move towards a new workers’ party. When the SADP initially called for a conference to that end it received a positive response from the Glasgow Critique supporters’ group and a more cautiously positive response from Workers Power. But the AGS and Socialist Party responded by proposing a new and more limited electoral coalition - a proposal taken up with enthusiasm by the AWL - which then became the Socialist Green Unity Coalition (see Mike Macnair’s article in Weekly Worker April 14 for a more detailed background).
Pete Radcliff: don’t support him, lads

The SADP initiative was, of course, never going to succeed, particularly after the SP and the AWL - not to mention the rest of the left - displayed a singular lack of interest. Back in December 2001, the Socialist Party had walked out of the Socialist Alliance when it was denied a veto over SA initiatives and has since concentrated on narrowly focused ‘party building’. The AWL buckled in the face of a CPGB proposal to initiate a joint SA minority newspaper, which could have launched a serious pro-party focus within the SA. Both organisations put their own sect interests first, in other words.

Also, the absence of the biggest revolutionary organisation in Britain was a crippling weakness. The role of the Socialist Workers Party in bringing together the popular frontist Respect has been a setback. The left is now more fragmented, crisis-wracked and programmatically at sea. The ‘six principal organisations’ that once made up the Socialist Alliance are scattered.

The CPGB has critically supported the SWP-Respect party and thus has at least kept a link with the largest ostensibly revolutionary organisation in today’s Britain (the inert and congenitally tailist International Socialist Group hardly counts). Workers Power has collapsed into a semi-anarchist abstentionism. After the brief honeymoon period of the SA, the SP and the AWL reverted to type, effectively aping the SWP’s crass left economism and sectarianism, but on a lower level.

Thus the SGUC is a snapshot of the growing fragmentation of the British left. It is a product of the squandered opportunity of the SA project, a miserable failure for which all these organisations bear some responsibility, not just the SWP. Little unites it apart hostility to the SWP; its ambitions therefore appear pathetically low.

The organisations involved have mustered 27 candidates between them, with the bulk of those coming from the SP, of course. They do not have a joint election manifesto and they are not even standing under the same banner in the May 5 elections. The low priority given to this new alliance - touted on occasion by the likes of the AWL as a “real step towards left unity and towards reconstructing an alliance of socialists” - is reflected on the Socialist Party’s website, where you will be hard pressed to find a reference to their partners or the SGUC itself.

The SGUC component organisations are:

In February 2005, the SGUC released a ‘joint policy declaration’. However, this is not a common election manifesto and most of the organisations have therefore produced their own platforms. All of these are pretty interchangeable (and are not that dramatically different from Respect’s manifesto, to be frank) and, as is common on the economistic left, concentrate mostly on trade union-type demands. High up the list of demands featured on the joint policy declaration are calls for the nationalisation of the railways, “no to privatisation”, a 35-hour week and the “support for the TUC demand for a minimum wage level of half median male full-time earnings, with no exemptions” - a minimum wage below the levels of subsistence, therefore (www.socialistgreen.org.uk).

This is a routine declaration. For example, it defines socialism as “a thoroughgoing restructuring of the economy and society as a whole, based on common ownership under democratic working class control of the major concentrations of productive wealth”.

Democratic and political demands are pushed down the agenda - and those that do feature underline the restricted, unMarxist vision of the groups involved. They are little more than a hotchpotch and reflect political incoherence and eclecticism rather than an attempt to hammer out some sort of principled platform, however limited. There is “Publicise pollution: Monitor local air, water and other pollution levels and publicise the results.” But actually, the government has been doing this for years. On the subject of drugs, the declaration calls only for the “decriminalisation”, not their legalisation. An important difference. The document also demands “no IMF bullying: Oppose the IMF forcing poor countries to adopt rightwing economic policies like privatisation”. The notion of subordinating the world economy to democratic workers’ control does not feature.

The component organisations of the SGUC have been scathing in their criticisms of the political equivocation of Respect; yet the SGUC declaration cannot take a principled stand on immigration, which has clearly emerged as one of the controversial questions in a generally pretty bland election. All the comrades have to say is “Defend the right to asylum and asylum-seekers’ rights”. No different in substance to Respect’s “defend the rights of refugees to political asylum” (Respect manifesto Peace, justice, equality p14). And, of course, both statements are of such profound banality that Blair - or even Howard - could sign up to them.

Given the insipid nature of the common platform, it is little wonder that some of the organisations have produced their separate election material. While in these we mostly see the familiar minimalist demands regurgitated, there are some important differences, particularly between the two biggest groups involved. For example, while the Socialist Party can call for the abolition of the IMF, it does not demand open borders. The AWL on the other hand calls for open borders - but its position on Iraq is absolutely horrendous.

What about Iraq?

The question of Iraq remains a defining one in contemporary British politics. Unsurprisingly therefore, the mushy declaration of the SGUC contents itself with platitudes and the common-sense nonsense of the left - “peace, not war for oil”, for example. Again, our revolutionary Marxists manage to agree an ambiguous slogan amongst themselves - “No to the occupation of Iraq” - that skirts over their fundamental differences. This formulation is clearly a sop to the creeping pro-imperialism of the AWL - without stipulating that this is a call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of UK troops, it is more or less politically meaningless.

In fact, the AWL’s Pete Radcliff is the only SGUC candidate who is against an immediate and unconditional withdrawal. He views this basic demand as “an immature way of sloganising opposition to the occupation, allowing an easy misinterpretation as a pro-islamist slogan” (email response to Weekly Worker, April 20).
Andy Newman backs the demand, although his position is clearly open to compromise. He says: “Immediate and unconditional withdrawal - yes. But tactically I wouldn’t want to fetishise any form of words that might impede us from winning wider support for the idea of withdrawal within the unions. So I would be happy to call on the government to immediately set a firm and irrevocable date for withdrawal within, say, six to 12 weeks (which is how long it would take the army to pull out anyway)” (email response to Weekly Worker, April 19).

The Socialist Party and the Alliance for Green Socialism have collectively adopted the position of ‘troops out now’ - though it has to be said that the AGS has a wrong position on the role of the United Nations: it naively states in its election manifesto that “international relations must be based on fairness and international law, not on Bush’s rule of the gun”.

This has prompted the AGS’s Tony Greenstein to assure us that he disagrees. In his opinion “the UN is a den of thieves”. Quite right. The AGS incidentally also demands that the monarchy should be abolished - in favour of “an elected presidency with limited powers, along the lines of the Irish presidency. We will also replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber - not a set of appointed ‘Tony’s cronies’.”

This is truly pathetic - but not untypical for a left that has no inkling of the relationship between the fight for democracy and working class power. The Socialist Party’s manifesto mentions hardly any democratic demands. Andy Newman’s website concerns itself exclusively with demands that focus on the NHS, the railways and “no to the growth of Swindon” - a green-tinged ‘small is beautiful’ piece of nonsense that, if generalised everywhere, could produce some interesting social consequences. The comrades from the DSA/USP seem to have been unable to even produce a statement, let alone a website, for their candidates and have not replied to the Weekly Worker’s questionnaire. So if there are any decent working class politics there, they are not exactly shouting about it. I do know, however, that both comrades Burnham and Filby are for the immediate end to the occupation.

But this is not our only criterion for offering critical support to left candidates in this election: the CPGB members’ aggregate of December 11 2004 urged “support for all anti-occupation, working class candidates”. There is no doubt that all 27 SGUC candidates are politically part of the working class. Clearly, the question of Iraq is of major importance when it comes to who communists should support. Not just because the issue has finally become a key question in the bourgeois media, with Lord Goldsmith’s legal advice to Tony Blair at last having come to light. No, for communists the question is crucial because it reveals the kind of ‘socialism’ that much of Britain’s revolutionaries are claiming to pursue.

If we scrutinise the 27 SGUC candidates according to their position on Iraq, there is only one candidate who clearly does not deserve the vote of working class partisans: the AWL’s Pete Radcliff. His organisation is in effect refusing to fight for the Iraqi people to be allowed to govern themselves. “The right side won in 2003” is a particular enlightening bon mot from the AWL’s Martin Thomas. Quite clearly, the comrades are moving towards the ‘first camp’ - excusing the bloody wars imperialism is pursuing in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’.