By Martin thomas
After 12 years as a coalition of the left the Socialist Alliance was shut down at a conference on Saturday 5 February.
It was a close vote: 73 to 63, with two abstentions. The 63 votes against closure were the same number as for the main “left” position at the last SA conference, in March 2004, Lesley Mahmood’s amendment against the SA supporting Respect and for standing SA candidates in the 2004 council elections.
Immediately after the March 2004 SA conference voted to support Respect, the SWP and its friends shut down the SA at national level (in contradiction to the text of the March 2004 motion, which said the SA should continue alongside Respect). The office was closed, the SA’s office worker resigned, no circulars or emails went out, correspondence was not dealt with, cheques sent in were not cashed, and the website was shut down. Now the SWP has delivered the final coup de grace.
The appearance of closeness was deceptive: the decisive voting block at the conference was made up of SWP members, and the SWP could have called in another 10 or 20 or 30 members at will. Nevertheless, it was good that the SWP was not able to push through the shutdown without a fight and an evidently taxing effort to mobilise.
No SWP member spoke on the substantive issue of shutting down the SA, or any but the procedural issues dealt with by Nick Wrack from the Chair and National Secretary Rob Hoveman from the platform; in fact, it took a pause and an appeal from the chair before anyone would come forward to take the second floor speech for the shutdown.
The SWP had its dirty work done for it by people whose idea, as far as could be told from the speeches, was that shutting down the SA — so long as non-SWPers would accept it gracefully — would be less acrimonious than keeping it going.
The blunt pro-shutdown case was left to Liam MacUaid of Socialist Resistance, who said that Respect, the Galloway/SWP electoral coalition, is becoming “the new mass party of the British working class”, and defended it against Declan O’Neill’s complaint that Respect allows no serious internal debate.
Moving the motion to continue the Socialist Alliance, I said that the SA’s 2001 general election campaign in 2001 had been a big step forward, both in presenting independent working-class socialist politics to a broader electorate than for decades, and in achieving more left unity than for decades. The socialist presence will be much weaker in the 2005 general election. We should fight to rebuild. The SA can be rebuilt — to start with, around the Socialist Green Unity Coalition effort for the 2005 election.
Those who no longer want to build a socialist alliance should step aside and let us continue, rather than shutting down what has been achieved so far.
The only other motion debated — for the SA to repay the £3,300 owed to Walsall Democratic Labour Party from a loan made for the 2005 Euro-election campaign — was won by the “SA-ers”, by 65 votes to 57 for the SWP and its friends.
The Socialist Alliance Democratic Platform has called a “unity conference” for 12 March in Birmingham. Some SADP people have ideas about this being the start of “a new workers’ party”, or at least a “campaign” for it. However, the real step towards left unity, and towards reconstructing an alliance of socialists, now available is the Socialist Green Unity Coalition.