Left unity for general election?

Submitted by AWL on 11 September, 2004 - 12:00

The Socialist Party, which of all the socialist groupings in England has the largest electoral profile, has added its support to the call for an alliance of socialists at the next General Election.

In a letter of 20 September it says: "an 'electoral alliance of autonomous socialist organisations and individuals' would be an important achievement and, we believe, one that is not necessarily easy to accomplish. We have clear political differences with the Alliance for Workers' Liberty (AWL) for example, such as that over our support for trade union disaffiliation from the Labour Party, which has significant implications for how a campaign for union political representation could be conducted.

"Nevertheless, we believe it should be possible to reach agreement about the forthcoming election as well as seriously discuss what possibilities there may be for longer term cooperation, and it is in this light that we would add our support to the proposal for a late October meeting".

The proposal for a meeting originated in an approach to the Alliance for Green Socialism (AGS) by the AWL, and went broadcast with a letter from the AGS to the Socialist Party, the AWL, and the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform.

The Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform had already voted (16 to 7, with 3 abstentions, at a meeting in Birmingham on 11 September) to say yes to the AGS proposal; and the AWL, of course, had already said yes.

Of course that the extent of the collaboration remains to be discussed. It could range from a common front at the General Election roughly comparable to the Socialist Alliance's in 2001, with all the various groups organising together in every area where one of them has a candidate, and that unity spilling over into united activity on non-electoral fronts, down to not much more than negotiations to avoid standing against each other.

Equally, the groups involved, and their pulling power on unaffiliated activists, are less than that of the SA of 2001, and realistically any election effort will be fairly small.

Nevertheless, this is a real, positive, and workable step forward for left unity in action, the first for a while, and an even halfway good outcome from the talks will greatly increase every participating group's ability to give some profile to independent working-class politics at the General Election.

The SADP's participation can play a special role by acting as a link through which other ex-Socialist Alliance activists, now scattered, can be brought back into contact and activity.

The SADP meeting also voted by 21 votes to 2, with the four AWL members present abstaining, to reaffirm an SADP motion passed in July for a "socialist unity conference" of "those organisations and groupings which have declared their support for the creation of a new working-class socialist party", to be called by the SADP soon.

This was unrealistic. No group other than the little one round the magazine Critique is likely to back this call, and so the SADP will end up having a "unity conference" with... itself.

There is absolutely no reason to think that the SADP has found, or can find, a magic formula whereby a small group like itself, which is moreover a loose coalition with very little collective activity, can simply by general appeals for "a new workers' party" gather the forces for that party and bypass the need for day-to-day party-building work.

An even more unrealistic motion from Workers' Power, for the SADP to convene an open conference for a new workers' party, and summon the FBU, RMT, etc. to co-organise it, was lost with 6 votes for, 14 against, and 4 abstentions.

The Socialist Party, from its own angle, has also warned against thinking that appeals, conferences, or reshufflings of left groups, can quickly substitute for the grassroots struggle in the labour movement and the workplaces necessary to generate a workers' party.

What the "new-workers'-party-now" advocates mostly have in mind is a version in England and Wales of what the Scottish Socialist Party and Rifondazione comunista (Italy) are in their respective countries. As the SP points out, the political conditions which enabled the SSP and Rifondazione to develop would not be replicated in England and Wales "even if our four organisations [SP, AGS, AWL, and SADP] and others were to declare in favour of an 'SSP/RC-type party'."

Comments

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 21/09/2004 - 17:16

20th September 2004

To: Alliance for Green Socialism

Alliance for Workers Liberty

Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform

Dear comrades,

I am writing on behalf of the Socialist Party executive committee in response to the various communications we have received on the possibilities for united action between our organisations and others around the likely 2005 general election and more generally.

After considering the proposals presented to us we believe that the best way to proceed is that outlined by the Alliance for Green Socialism (AGS) in their letter of September 4th, namely, for a joint delegate meeting sponsored by our four organisations for a date sometime in late October, with a calling notice along the lines drafted by the AGS.

In accepting this proposal, however, we would like to briefly restate our position not just on the possibilities but also the limits to collaboration between our organisation and others at this stage of political developments in England and Wales.

This is particularly so given the common argument amongst some on the left, which is repeated in the September 1st letter from the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform (SADP), that “an electoral alliance of autonomous socialist organisations and individuals does not measure up to the needs of the situation” and that what should be formed “in order to advance the interests of the working class” is a party organisation “exemplified by the Scottish Socialist Party and Rifondazione Comunista in Italy”. We do not agree with this approach and, moreover, believe that it was the insistence on moving beyond the initial ‘federal’ approach of the Socialist Alliance, combined with the undemocratic approach of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which was responsible for the ultimate failure of the original Socialist Alliance project.

Of course, the existence in England and Wales of a party with a comparable level of parliamentary representation, media profile etc to the SSP or RC would, if it could be achieved, be an important step forward in the current situation – although, as we have explained elsewhere in our material, we do not uncritically endorse the programme of either of these parties, in particular their failure to link a generally fighting stance with a programme for the socialist transformation of society. But there were particular historical and political factors that enabled the SSP and the RC to develop the positions that they have achieved – the national question (Scotland), the previous existence of a mass Communist Party (Italy), more favourable electoral systems etc – which would not be replicated in England and Wales even if our four organisations and others were to declare in favour of an ‘SSP/RC-type party’.

We are sure that conditions will develop in the future for the development of a new mass workers party. At this stage, however, although a vacuum to the left of the Labour Party undoubtedly exists and is growing, the still small forces of the socialist left can do no more than partially fill it, by consistent campaigning for the trade unions to move onto the electoral plane, by a preparedness to engage in community struggles, the anti-war movement, environmental campaigns etc as well as by targeted electoral activity.

In this situation, an ‘electoral alliance of autonomous socialist organisations and individuals’ would be an important achievement and, we believe, one that is not necessarily easy to accomplish. We have clear political differences with the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) for example, such as that over our support for trade union disaffiliation from the Labour Party, which has significant implications for how a campaign for union political representation could be conducted.

Nevertheless, we believe it should be possible to reach agreement about the forthcoming election as well as seriously discuss what possibilities there may be for longer term cooperation, and it is in this light that we would add our support to the proposal for a late October meeting.

Yours comradely,

Clive Heemskerk,

on behalf of the Socialist Party executive committee

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