By Martin Thomas
About 30 people attended a conference on 12 November aiming to “relaunch the Socialist Alliance”. It showed, I fear, that the erosion and dissipation of the old Socialist Alliance minority is probably irreversible. Several of those at the conference are well-respected activists in various localities and campaigns. We can only sympathise with their wish to find a flexible framework to work together; but it doesn’t look to me as if anything viable has been “relaunched”.
The Socialist Alliance started in the early 1990s as a small formation — some Socialist Party members, and a scattering of local groups including unaffiliated activists. The Scottish Socialist Alliance evolved into the Scottish Socialist Party. The Socialist Alliance in England and Wales was transmuted when the “United Socialists” initiative in London — including AWL, SWP, etc. — merged into it in 2000-1. By the 2001 general election it united most of the currents of the activist left with some hundreds of unaffiliated activists, and could run 98 candidates.
The SWP, which had become the biggest force in the Socialist Alliance, shut it down step-by-step between spring 2003 and February 2005, in favour of their Respect coalition with George Galloway. A minority — around 60 votes at the 2004 and 2005 conferences — resisted.
The minority was never more than an ad hoc alliance of the smaller SA groups and the remaining unaffiliated SA activists. AWL pushed for it to try to continue as a federation of local independent socialist alliances. The unaffiliated SAers did not agree.
The minority — the “Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform” — subsisted as a cluster of “homeless” socialists meeting for discussions which had almost no relation to any collective day-to-day activity, but became all the more dominated by wishful calls for an instant “new mass workers' party” or at least an instant English equivalent of the SSP.
The residue, meeting on 12 November, is in effect yet another “left group”, with the disadvantageous peculiarity that it has a (very elaborate) federal-type constitution but no cohesive policy and no cohesive activity.
In the 12 November meeting we had a few unaffiliated people; several from tiny grouplets (ISL, RDG, TUSP, CPGB/WW, the former Red Party); a few from the Alliance for Green Socialism tentatively putting a finger in the pie; and two of us from AWL having a friendly but sceptical look.
Despite lucid speeches against by Mike Davies and Martin Ralph, a 16-12 vote committed the new group to considering the monarchy “the main barrier” to socialism, and seeing focus on that one aspect as “the only road” and “the immediate political objective”.
Another clause, also passed 16-12, commits the group to “fight to disaffiliate unions from the Labour Party”, even though Mike Perkins, moving the amendment from Southampton Socialist Alliance in which the clause appeared, had said he disagreed with that particular clause, and Dave Landau and John Bridge had cogently argued against it.
Mike Phipps, a fervent supporter of the religious-fascist, Sunni-supremacist "resistance" in Iraq, was invited as a guest speaker at the event (from Iraq Occupation Focus), without any debate being taken on Iraq.
But it is difficult to see what will be done with any of these policies, or with better policies which the group may possibly adopt in future. The group is like, not an emperor with no clothes, but rather an elaborate set of robes, crown, sceptre, etc. without an active body to wear them.