The Socialist Alliance, the Respect Unity Coalition and the future of the left
On 25 January, short of a political miracle, a tarpaulin will be pulled over much of working-class socialist politics in England. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and a large part of the activist left will sign up the "Respect" coalition as their political vehicle for the coming months.
Its politics: a bland collation of sops for various constituencies (peace, green, Muslim, trade-union). Its figurehead: George "I need £150,000 a year" Galloway.
Marx and Engels called the Communist Manifesto communist, not socialist, because "socialism was... quite respectable, whereas communism was the very opposite". Time now to rally the unrespectable, disrespectful left.
Unless we take our stand for independent working-class politics, against both Galloway and Blair, out to the public energetically enough, the argument will be lost by default - at a time when New Labour is in turmoil over student fees, foundation hospitals, and Iraq, and many young people politicised by the mobilisations against the Iraq war are working out their ideas.
We must organise for working-class self-assertion and self-reliance in the workplaces, in the unions, among radicalised youth, and, so far as we can, in the electoral arena. No-one else will.
* In the unions, we must argue for New Labour's pre-emptive attack against the projected Labour Representation Committee, with its move to expel the rail union RMT, to be met by a counter-offensive.
Launch the Labour Representation Committee now, and rank and file LRCs in every city and every union, to organise for political representatives who will be accountable to the labour movement, support basic union policies, and uphold working-class interests.
It may be that the trade-union revival of the last couple of years has now got far enough to make feasible a concerted effort to revive local Trades Councils (which could sponsor, or be, LRCs). Let us investigate.
Push for every Labour-affiliated union to oppose the expulsion of the RMT. Remove the New Labour leadership which has part-privatised the Tube, refused to renationalise the railways, and kept the Tory anti-union laws - not the rail union!
Every affiliated union should debate the RMT expulsion at its conference this summer, with a speaker from the RMT, and insist that Labour Party conference in September debate it.
* The disrespectful left does not have the financial resources to run in the Euro and Greater London Assembly elections. But we should run as many working-class socialist candidates as we can at grass-roots level, where it matters most, in local council wards.
* Disrespectful local groups of the Socialist Alliance (the existing activist-left coalition, where the SWP has won a vote to sink into "Respect") should continue meeting, plan council candidates, and link up in a LISA (League of Independent Socialist Alliances). (It is hard to see how the respectful ones will continue with any vitality, since according to SA majority/ SWP policy they will have nothing to do except be the best builders of "Respect").
If the SA office refuses to give the endorsement legally required for local SA council candidates, then the LISA should negotiate an alternative registered title for them to stand under.
* The disrespectful left must reach out to new young activists. Local groups should organise regular discussion forums or centres of socialist education where those young activists can find the ideas and debate which "Respect" will be burying under the Galloway tarpaulin.
They should develop systematic public activity - around workplaces, around public services and social provision, and around the workers'-rights initiatives of campaigns like No Sweat (for example, support for the new independent unions in Mexico, Haiti, Iraq, Indonesia).
Solidarity and Workers' Liberty will be active on all these fronts - unions, Socialist Alliances/elections, political education, public agitation. We invite all the disrespectful left to discuss our ideas; submit their own; consider whether they will join forces with us; if not, coordinate their activity with us where we do have disrespectful common ground.
After 25 January, the Socialist Alliance Democratic Platform will have to move on, one way or another. The axis around which it was set up - democracy in the SA - will become obsolete as the national SA machine is sunk into "Respect". Some of the DP's supporters are respectful; they will, naturally, become more concerned with efforts to win democracy inside "Respect".
We will work with the DP as long as it retains some vitality; it could best move on by helping to set up a League of Independent Socialist Alliances.
The tasks of the disrespectful left cannot be leapfrogged by the scheme of uniting it for a "campaign for a workers' party".
"Campaign for a workers' party" is an acronym summarising almost everything we do - but different socialists give it quite different meanings. For example, the monthly paper Resistance argues that "Respect" can quickly become a workers' party on the model of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).
To assemble a variety of groups solemnly to chant in unison the five words "campaign for a workers' party", and then to go off each to do what they variously mean by those words, would achieve nothing.
In the unions we often (as at the 2003 conference of the public services union Unison) end up allying with the SWP and the Labour leftists (because they have more sense of the realities) rather than with the Socialist Party (who have an unworkable scheme, which they don't really believe themselves, of a new workers' party being formed by the unions, one fine day, all deciding to leave the Labour Party without any prior mobilisation within it). Assent to or dissent from the words "campaign for a workers' party" defines nothing within the trade-union left.
To "campaign" to bring together AWL, the Socialist Party, Workers' Power, and miscellaneous disrespectful SAers, round the five words, will not work, and anyway could not produce anything of weight so comparable to the SSP's that it would be a pole to attract assertive unions like the RMT and thus begin to assemble a new workers' party.
We must argue for a new democratic alliance of socialists. It won't happen tomorrow. A new basis for it will be laid by the disrespectful left turning outwards, as unitedly as possible, to organise those young people and trade unions who are as devoid as us of any respect for Blair, Brown, and Galloway, and are willing to work for a working-class alternative.