Workers Power leaves British Socialist Alliance

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Why we are leaving the Socialist Alliance

Statement to Socialist Alliance National Council of July 2003 from Workers Power, British section of the League for the Fifth International

Workers Power is leaving the Socialist Alliance. The SA is no longer a vehicle for the development of the class struggle and the winning of mass forces to socialism in Britain — indeed, insofar as it continues to exist it is now an obstacle. Therefore we can no longer participate in it.

We joined the SA because the right wing, neo-liberal and imperialist policies of the New Labour government were eroding its mass base. Blair’s alliance with big business made it increasingly obvious to hundreds of thousands of trade unionists and labour voters that the working class needs to establish its political independence by breaking with Blair and the capitalists. The SA, we believed, could be a magnet for Labour Party members, trade unionists, working class voters and newly radicalised anti-capitalist youth who wanted to fight Blair’s government — at the polls, on the streets and in the workplaces. Second, and in our view integrally related to this project, the SA was an opportunity for the left to take a socialist message to the workers and youth, opposing the capitalist Third Way with its only consistent alternative — a revolutionary programme. The SA has failed on both accounts. The leading force in the SA — the Socialist Workers Party — first blocked any possibility of the Alliance advancing consistent working class policies and then most recently opposed it rallying forces for an independent working class party. Now in a new low they are arguing for a cross-class electoral bloc with Islamic clerics. Workers Power rejects this and is campaigning against it. While this policy lasts no further collaboration in an electoral bloc is possible with the SWP. We believes that revolutionaries can only capitalise on the immense opportunities for a revival of working class politics today OUTSIDE of the ranks of the SA and in opposition to the SWP’s strategy.

For a Workers’ Party, not class collaboration

At the last conference of the Socialist Alliance, all delegates observed that the SA had failed to attract significant forces from the labour movement and the youth. We proposed that the SA seek to take advantage of the deep discrediting of Blair revealed in the mass antiwar movement, the firefighters’ dispute and the repeated desire of trade unionists to stop funding New Labour by launching a campaign for the formation of a new Workers’ Party, one that would fight for the interests of the working class just as Blair fights for the capitalists. This call to break with Blair, we suggested, should be addressed to the left leaders as well as the rank and file — to all antiwar and anti-Blair Labour wards and constituencies, to the leaders and members of the trade unions. They should be called on to hold a conference to direct their energies and funds into the formation of a new party and open a democratic debate on its manifesto and policies. This would be a way of presenting an alternative to the current weak and accommodating strategy of the “left” union leaders and MPs — who are tryingto divert the growing discontent with Blair into a “safe” campaign to challenge him within the strict limitations of the Labour Party rulebook at the next party conference, culminating at best in passive support for a challenge from the equally capitalist politicians Brown or Cook. The biggest group in the SA, the Socialist Workers Party, resisted our proposal with a variety of arguments. But their true motivation quickly became clear. Over recent weeks the SWP has been pursuing the creation not of a Workers’ Party but of a new electoral bloc which is to include not only non-socialist but non-working class forces, including Islamic clerics. The political basis for this will no doubt be adapted to make it acceptable to these new and hoped for allies. In this the SWP is not only turning its back on any attempt to influence political developments in the mass working class movement and challenge the diversionary path of the left MPs and union leaders. It is abandoning the principle of working class political independence and actively promoting an alliance with representatives of the propertied classes. Don’t get us wrong: the Stop the War Coalition was absolutely right to strike an agreement for common action with Islamic organisations on the simple basis of opposition to the war on Iraq. This mobilised hundreds of thousands of Asian and Middle Eastern workers and youth. But to strike a political agreement with the Islamic clergy to stand in elections and present to the voters a common programme for the government of Britain is a betrayal of the interests of the working class -not least of the huge numbers of low paid workers, women and youth held back and misled by the bourgeois and middle class Islamic misleaders. The SWP also opposed our proposal to develop the movement into a more permanent fighting unity through the building of local people’s assemblies or social forums that could fight on a number of related issues — against racism and fascism on the estates, combating the effects of capitalist globalisation, against war. This would have created stronger local co-ordinations drawing together antiwar activists with other working class campaigners and struggles. But by establishing potentially powerful democratic organisations from below, it would also have put them on a collision course with the left union leaders and the conservative clerics of the mosques. Instead they want to build a new electoral alliance around the “core values” of “peace and justice”. Hence, the SA must be packed with fly-by-night SWP members and won over to the new cross-class project — or destroyed. The tactics of the Socialist Workers Party over the past couple of months have angered and alienated virtually everyone else in the Alliance. However, far from marking a change of direction on their part, these tactics merely mark a quickening of tempo as they rush headlong into a get-quick-rich scheme. Whatever “programme” these candidates will stand on, it will not include lesbian and gay equality, a woman’s right to choose, secular education, self-defence against racist attack or even the nationalisation of sweatshops. As such, it will not prove a tool for Muslim women and youth to escape from the reactionary ideology of the “respectable” clerics. It will reinforce their hold by providing them with left cover. This is opportunism in the strictest sense of the term — sacrificing fundamental interests of the working class for short-term electoral gain. We are against it — we will do nothing to assist it — we will do all we can to stop it. We call on all organisations of the labour movement to pass resolutions rejecting this opportunist alliance and instead to rally to the call for a new Workers Party.

The programme of the Socialist Alliance

In the absence of mass support, there could only be one other justification for the Socialist Alliance — to advance consistent socialist answers to the crisis and rally workers and youth to a socialist programme. This is the only genuine expression of the interests of the working class, and means explaining to the workers that we will never be free of capitalism until we overthrow the profit system, something that cannot be done through parliament and will necessarily involve force. This view is something that is endorsed — in writing or privately at least — by the overwhelming majority of organisations affiliated to the SA and the majority of its individual members. Yet the SWP — backed in this by the International Socialist Group and the AWL — perversely resist all attempts to get the SA to express this in its programme. Their objection is simple — in both senses of the word. How can we attract mass forces from the reformist labour movement if we adopt a revolutionary policy? Should we not reach a more limited agreement first? This argument, which sounds so “realistic” at first sight, is in fact a council of despair. It assumes that mass forces cannot be won from reformism to a revolutionary policy. It is no accident that in history mass revolutionary parties have only ever been built by rejecting this self-defeating approach. Every attempt to make headway by presenting a halfway house programme to the working class has ended up strengthening reformism. Limited agreements can and must be struck with the mass reformist organisations for action, as in the campaign against the Iraq war. But in elections candidates and parties present policies and programmes for the government of the whole of society. Here any compromise with reformism means misleading the working class. The SWP’s conception of the SA has always been a deeply opportunistic one. Their leadership apparently believes that revolutionary socialist politics are a matter solely for discussion by the far left. They’re fine for formal education at its Marxism seminars once a year but far too “advanced” to present to the millions who are desperate for an alternative to Blair’s New Labour Party. That is why initially the SWP objected to the SA developing a set of socialist policies with which to go to the working class in elections. When it became clear that this was not viable, they did everything they could to ensure that the SA’s programme (People Before Profit) remained at the level of left reformism. They even objected to our proposal to include the demand for the disarming of the racist police until of bitter necessity the Asian youth raised it themselves in the Northern uprisings. During the General Election campaign of 2001, the SWP avoided campaigning even for this programme in favour of five reformist pledges, in an attempt to water down the SA’s policies still further. The SA was a useful cover for them to approach voters as fake reformists, thinking that this would create a large pool of disaffected supporters who could then be recruited into the SWP between elections. Integral to this schema, the SWP effectively closed down local SAs between elections so that their other front organisations could perform a similar role in other arenas of struggle (Globalise Resistance for the anti-capitalist movement, the ANL for the anti- fascist struggle, Stop the War for the anti-imperialist campaigns). This denuded the SA of the chance to engage with workers between elections and prove that socialists did not just turn up every few years to get their votes.

No more fakery — no more sterile manoeuvres

The Scottish Socialist Party is seen by some in the SA as the model we should adopt. But it is marred by fundamentally the same opportunist approach. It presents a reformist programme to the workers, holding out the illusion that socialism can be built through a majority in the Scottish Parliament. Look at Tommy Sheridan’s recent comments on a “socialist” Scotland geared towards “big business” and his reassurances that Tesco and multinational companies will not be nationalised. These were not “mistakes” but of a piece with the assurance that capitalism can be overthrown peacefully and in one country. Now that the SWP has wrecked the possibility for further principled collaboration, the last thing we need is for the remaining small forces in the SA to continue with a bloc that is prepared neither to rally mass forces to a new party nor to advance consistent — revolutionary — socialist policies. Instead Workers Power calls on all affiliates and members of the SA not to waste another minute on sterile manoeuvres and opportunist blocs, but instead to campaign energetically for the mass organisations of the labour movement and the anticapitalist initiatives to unite against Blair in a Workers Party and democratic social forums. Within this we must propose revolutionary policies — not as an ultimatum or a precondition for participation in new mass formations, but as the policy we advocate as the only true expression of the interests of our class. For we can be sure of one thing — if the Marxists do not argue for a revolutionary programme, no-one else will. This campaign will take place alongside the rallying of the European left in the forthcoming European social forum in Paris in November, in which the most determined elements of the working class and anticapitalist movement will be debating the way forward for the movement as a whole. The fight for class independence is not occurring in Britain alone but is an integral part of a political struggle occurring worldwide in response to globalisation — a struggle that can end in one of three ways: the establishment of a new global reformist alliance,a negotiated half-way house that will generalise the weaknesses of the SA on a continental scale, or a new International, a fifth World Party of Social Revolution. We are taking the fight for the latter path into the ranks of the movement in Britain and in Europe. That is why we are leaving the Socialist Alliance. If you want an end to endless cycles of accommodation, manoeuvres and demoralisation, take the same path.


British SWP blocks all attempts to save Socialist Alliance

Workers Power Global, London

In Birmingham, central England, on Saturday 19 July a National Council meeting of the Socialist Alliance took place. The meeting marked the demise of the Socialist Alliance and the establishment of the Socialist Worker Alliance.

It opened the door to the Socialist Workers Party’s Peace and Justice project – a proposal to form a popular front, an electoral bloc between the Socialist Alliance and formal representatives of the Mosques. It also decided to sanction any and every bureaucratic manoeuvre undertaken by the Socialist Workers Party to purge the Socialist Alliance of anyone who dares to question its drive to establish a popular front.

In the light of this Workers Power Britain decided to immediately leave the Socialist Alliance and redouble its efforts to fight for a Workers’ Party.

While the SWP turned up, with their International Socialist Group lap dogs in tow, pretending everything was normal, everybody else at the meeting knew full well that this meeting would determine the entire future of the alliance. There were 63 delegates, over 20 of whom were from the National Executive, the rest from local Socialist Alliances.

The two questions that dominated the meeting were:

  • should the Socialist Alliance enter a cross class election coalition with petit bourgeois or even bourgeois representatives of the Mosques within the British Muslim community?
  • should we tolerate the situation that arose in Birmingham where the SWP packed a meeting in order to oust the entire existing local leadership, including victimised firefighter and local SA chair Steve Godward and a long standing socialist from an Islamic background, Rumy Ashan, on the grounds that they stood in the way of the SWP’s Peace and Justice project?
  • Workers Power put a resolution arguing firmly against a popular front and urging the alliance to launch a left unity initiative on the basis of working class independence and class struggle politics. Inevitably the SWP distorted our position in order to claim that this meant not orienting to the Muslim community. Despite a patient explanation that this was not the case the comrades steadfastly refused to listen, for the simple reason that they did not want to hear the truth.

    Indeed so desperate were the SWP to stop the truth being heard that they voted not to allow Rumy to speak in favour of our resolution – because he wasn’t a delegate. The vote on giving him the right to speak was lost 27 to 28! They then went on to defeat our resolution by 43 votes to 17, with many of the independent founding members of the SA, as well as the CPGB and AWL comrades, voting with us.

    There was another chance to save the alliance – two resolutions dealt with the Birmingham events, one from Erdington and one from Lesley Mahmood and Steve Godward, which was widely supported in the Socialist Alliance. The Erdington resolution condemned the SWP’s coup in Birmingham and called for a return to plurality. Steve and Lesley’s resolution also opposed the packing of the meeting but added, quite rightly, that the Socialist Alliance should only support candidates unequivocal in their support for women’s rights, lesbian and gay rights and socialism.

    This, like our resolution, was designed to block the SWP’s plans for a non-socialist candidate in alliance with the Mosques in Birmingham, a candidate who John Rees of the SWP had suggested might be less than unequivocal in their support for women’s and lesbian and gay rights.

    Very late in the day the SWP put as resolution justifying the downright Stalinist machinations they had engaged in in Birmingham. After a stormy debate in which the SWP once again blocked a key Birmingham dissident, Sue Blackwell, from speaking (she had chaired the AGM) and in which after the debate they tried (and thankfully failed) to take the section in Steve and Lesley’s resolution on supporting socialist candidates separately from the rest of the resolution it came to the vote.

    The ISG were all over the place. Their key leaders, like Alan Thornett, backed the SWP on everything. A leading ISG member in Birmingham who had supported Steve was publicly denounced by his own comrades for exposing John Rees’ opportunism. The SWP were told by all of the independents that if they persisted with their Stalinist methods they would destroy the alliance.

    But, after all of the arguments, the numbers decided. The SWP had a majority and the Erdington resolution was defeated by 33 votes to 29 with 5 abstentions, while Steve and Lesley’s resolution was defeated 34 to 25 with 9 abstentions. With those three votes it became clear to all that the SWP had destroyed the Socialist Alliance.

    Workers Power announced to the meeting there and then that we were walking out there and then. Many others said they sympathised with our stance but wanted one more crack at trying to change things – a perspective that we don’t share though we will of course do all we can to co-operate with the comrades in any future fights.

    The lessons of the experience of the Socialist Alliance, the SWP’s destruction of it and the tasks that face us now in trying to build a working class alternative to New Labour will now need to be discussed if we are going to take the struggle for a new workers’ party forward.

    July 21, 2003

    See also: SWP blocks all attempts to save Socialist Alliance

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