Forwarded from Ernie Tate

David Welch david.welch at st-edmund-hall.oxford.ac.uk
Wed May 30 10:10:16 MDT 2001


On Wed, May 30, 2001 at 10:47:17AM -0400, Louis Proyect quoted:
> Platform to be the 'Where We Stand' column on Page 12 of Socialist Worker,
> with the addition of a paragraph, which was also agreed, on the national
> question in Scotland which reads, 'We support the right of self
> determination for the Scottish people and the extension of the powers of
> the Scottish parliament. Scotland remains, however, part of the UK
> imperialist state. Together with English and Welsh workers we face a common
> enemy. Scottish workers remain part of British-wide trade unions. We stand
> for a united fightback by Scottish, English and Welsh workers.'
>
Which is actually quite a significant shift since previously the SWP had
been agnostic on Scottish nationalism but now they are calling for
'economic' (but not political, i.e. party) unity across Britain. Indeed
a recent article in Socialist Worker opposes something similar to the
SSP in England.

The future of the Socialist Alliance

LINDSEY GERMAN, a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party, looks
at the prospects ahead

THE SOCIALIST Alliance is taking off in the run-up to the election.
Candidates are standing in towns as diverse as Blackburn, Lowestoft
and Northampton, as well as in the major cities. Their selection
meetings have been enthusiastic, attracting people on a scale which
has not been seen for years.

Those people include would-be activists completely new to politics,
plus many from the older generations who have survived the defeats of
the past two decades who now sense that something is changing.
Socialist ideas are back on the agenda, and nowhere more so than in
some of the working class towns where left wing organisation has long
been dormant. The prospective election is helping to win support in
the localities from experienced and respected trade unionists, who are
often reluctantly but firmly breaking with the politics and priorities
of New Labour.

There is a new mood around, and the Socialist Alliance election
campaign can help transform the activity of every socialist and forge
a new left. It is attracting a significant minority of former Labour
activists and councillors-people who were absolutely central to
holding Labour's organisation together in the constituencies, and who
lived through the Thatcher and Major years only to find their
erstwhile policies and beliefs abandoned once Labour gained office.

Their break with Labour marks the first significant break with
Labourism certainly since the Second World War. The discussion inside
union branches up and down the country about whether to transfer the
political levy from Labour to the Socialist Alliance only underlines
the fundamental breach which Blair has created between the party and
many of its trade union supporters.

THERE IS a widespread feeling that the alliance should continue to
develop when the election is over. The level of unity and activity
created from what seemed until quite recently a diffuse and
demoralised left is unprecedented, and has left many old socialists
heartened. It has also attracted a very significant layer of
independents and ex Labour members who want to build something which
exists between elections.

If we want a break from Labourism we have to provide a joint socialist
home where we can work together. Many of these people will not have
the same politics or history as those of us in revolutionary socialist
organisations-but they are crucial to the alliance and we want to work
with them on a sustained basis. In addition, one of the attraction
points of the Socialist Alliance is that it is not simply an electoral
machine but a campaigning activist organisation. Many people who
represent something inside the working class movement want to see the
Socialist Alliance building an alternative to Labour.

The Socialist Workers Party has thrown itself into building the
alliance over the past year. What should we be arguing about its
future? There are a number of options. The first is to leave the
alliance pretty much as it was before the election, and to turn
towards other activity once the election is over.

The problem with this option is that it fails to recognise the impact
the alliance has had on the whole left, and its strategic importance
for the future. It would represent an abandonment of a highly
successful movement which we are very important in building.

We would effectively turn our backs on much of the work that we have
done and reduce the movement back down to what the SWP can do. If we
took this approach we would also find ourselves isolated from many of
the people with whom we work most closely in the Socialist Alliance.

THE SECOND option is to argue to turn the Socialist Alliance into a
new mass working class party. This has its attractions. It would
attract hopefully significant forces to a new and more permanent home
than the alliance is able to do. It is a path favoured by some of
those in the existing alliance, such as the Socialist Party and
various others.

In general socialists should be for the maximum unity on the left
where it is possible to reach agreement. But there are two problems
with building what is sometimes termed a "new mass workers' party".
Firstly, despite our very real successes, we are starting from a low
base inside a country which has sustained some of the worst working
class defeats anywhere over the past two decades.

We are also faced with the historic problem of Labourism-which
whatever its growing weaknesses is still there, and still holds the
allegiance of the bulk of the organised working class. So the movement
is still relatively small (we see 5 percent as a good share of the
vote) and can only grow really significantly into a mass party when
linked to much greater levels of struggle than we have seen in Britain
in recent years.

In the absence of a real mass movement, any attempt at creating a
unified party at present would of necessity mean that the SWP would
dominate. This might not seem like a problem to the SWP, but in
practice it would not be a genuinely mass workers' party of the sort
that we would all like to see. The danger is that it could develop
into a party full of factional arguments with relatively few
independent forces on the ground.

The second problem is one of politics-we have built the Socialist
Alliance as an inclusive organisation which does not demand the
adoption of a full revolutionary programme for people to join. But
what about a party which did that? What would happen every time there
was a crisis-not just a war but a controversial strike or a real
racist backlash? The danger is that a party simply built on minimal
demands could fudge or divide down the middle every time it was faced
with a big test-a recipe either for paralysis or for splits.

In certain circumstances socialists might decide it was right to build
a party which encompassed people holding quite disparate views. But
that would most likely come out of a mass movement of struggle
involving much bigger forces than ourselves, including large groups of
workers who had only partially broken with Labourism and reformism.

Then different groups and ideas could fight within a much larger, more
diffuse party in order to win their positions. However, that is a very
different situation from what exists today. The danger with building
such a party prematurely is that it does not have the organic
connection with sufficient numbers of leftward moving workers and so
simply becomes the terrain of argument between different groups. That
could lead to the worst sort of resolution-mongering which
occasionally occurs at Socialist Alliance meetings or conferences. The
result would be a faction-ridden internal regime coupled with a degree
of organisational paralysis which could only damage the organisation.

THE OBVIOUS third way-for want of a better phrase-is to construct a
serious alliance between the various groups and a series of
individuals at a local and national level. That would need a bigger
structure than exists at present, since the tasks of the Socialist
Alliance and the demands on it are much greater than when it was first
established. Now it is run by a handful of officers, none working full
time.

There would need to be an office, full time staff, and a system of
affiliations which would help finance the operation. There should be a
national steering committee which would consist of a reasonable
representation of the groups and individuals (similar to that achieved
by the London Socialist Alliance last year). In addition there should
be delegate meetings perhaps three times a year, plus a conference or
AGM. Local groups would obviously vary in terms of energy and
activity, but as well as maintaining an electoral presence (there are
after all a number of elections coming up in the next two years) it
should campaign. The Socialist Alliance adopted election pledges at
its conference which are the basis for its manifesto and campaign.
These can be the basis of future activity around housing, pensions,
asylum seekers and the other issues on which the Socialist Alliance is
campaigning electorally.

There should be newsletters and other forms of propaganda to raise the
profile of the alliance. This is obviously something short of a full
party, but is considerably more than the alliance has been. It would
be committed to campaigning around elections and the issues which come
up in the working class movement-strike support, campaigns and so on.
It should have a good presence on the Genoa anti-capitalist
demonstration in July, for example.

In this way the alliance can answer some of the needs of working class
activists and socialists without demanding that they declare a unity
of ideas which they might not necessarily share.



More information about the Marxism mailing list