by Martin Thomas
The war is a time of ferment on the streets-and also of ferment among left-wing activists. The Labour Party has been thrown into crisis. It is no longer the Blairocracy it was-probably never will be again, even if the war goes "well" for Blair.
Hundreds of disgusted activists are leaving the Labour Party. And, at the same time, opposition within the Labour Party has reached higher levels than for many years.
Outside the Labour Party, the left finds itself bobbing in a flood of new people interested in radical ideas.
What of the Socialist Alliance, the coalition that includes Solidarity and Workers' Liberty along with the SWP and most of the groups of the radical left in England and Wales other than the Socialist Party?
With every group within it racing to get its own literature out, and organise its own meetings, in the anti-war tumult, the Alliance as such has done no more than get out some newsletters and placards.
Work is underway in some areas for the May local government elections, in which the Alliance will stand some hundreds of candidates under the rubric "Socialist Alliance against the war", but, as yet, this is all very second-string.
Partly the problems are inevitable with an alliance as yet loose where different groups have seriously different views on the war. Partly they are a matter of policy.
For the Alliance conference-planned for 15 March, but postponed to 10 May because of the war-the resolution on the war from the biggest group in the Alliance, the SWP, said simply that the Alliance should support the Stop The War Coalition. Full stop. No distinctive socialist policy.
Over a year ago the Alliance Executive agreed-on a Workers' Liberty proposal-to produce a socialist leaflet on the war (war being then only a vague threat). After enormous haggling and to-do, the leaflet was finalised in October. A pdf was circulated by email, no copies were printed centrally, and the pdf isn't even (despite numerous requests) on the Alliance website resources page. (It's on this site!)
Last September the Alliance agreed to oppose Saddam as well as the US war drive, and to organise local meetings with Iraqi socialists speaking. With few local exceptions, the decision has been a dead letter.
Problem: the SWP tends to see the Alliance as its "united front for elections", and therefore as having no real role in areas covered by other "united fronts", like the Stop The War Coalition.
What can be done? Local Socialist Alliances can make themselves forums for socialist debate and discussion about the war-places where people newly mobilised into politics by the war can go to check out what the different strands of the left have to say.
They can join in doorstep campaigning against the war, using Socialist Alliance literature, and, in areas where there are local government elections in May, use this as a pre-campaign to identify new supporters or check out old ones.
The Socialist Alliance needs to go forward in a situation like now, or otherwise it will go backwards. At the conference on 10 May-and at the Alliance executive even before then-plans should be discussed for a "re-launch"-reaching out to new forces, trying to draw back in the Socialist Party (which seceded in December 2001), and opening a dialogue, at least, with the new opposition inside the Labour Party.