The Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Party

Dave Nellist,  Former Chair, 

Network of Socialist Alliances

"I feel strongly that minimum standards of accountability and probity have not been upheld" Socialist Alliance Chair Liz Davies resigns October 2002

Socialist Party Wales withdraws from Alliance October 2002

Socialist Alliance Provides No Alternative: Polls nine votes. June 2002

Socialist Alliance conference setback December 2001

Appeal for socialist unity Nov 2002

Clive Heemskerk

Socialist Party Executive Committee

 

5 February 2005

Socialist Alliance conference agrees by 73 votes to 63 to disband the Socialist Alliance.


7 February 2004

Socialist Alliance Trade Union Convention


October 2002

THE SOCIALIST Party took the decision to leave the Socialist Alliance (SA), England in December 2001 after its conference voted for a constitution which completely changed the nature of the Alliance.

The Alliance was initially formed as an open, inclusive organisation uniting socialist groups and individuals. We explained that the new constitution would destroy what remained of this concept of a genuine Alliance. Instead it would be dominated by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and become little more than an electoral front for their organisation.

Now Liz Davies, one of the most prominent members of the SA has resigned from its executive and from her position as national chair, appearing to confirm our perspectives for the Alliance.

Statement From Liz Davies Resigning From The Socialist Alliance Executive

"As members of the Socialist Alliance executive are aware, I have resigned as national chair of the Socialist Alliance and from the executive. I have done so with deep sadness. 

I feel strongly that minimum standards of accountability and probity have not been upheld by some leading officers and members of the executive. Under the circumstances, it is clear to me that I will not be able to discharge effectively my duties to the members. 

The premise of the Socialist Alliance was that individuals and groups from differing political backgrounds and perspectives could work together on a common political project. 

It was always clear that trust among the elements of the Socialist Alliance, and in particular trust among members of the executive and national officers, was essential to this endeavour. 

As a result of recent events, I feel that trust no longer exists. I remain committed to contributing towards the development of a viable socialist alternative to New Labour. "

Liz Davies October 21 2002

 

 


October 2002

Open letter from Socialist Party Wales to the Welsh Socialist Alliance National Council

Socialist Party Wales has decided unanimously at its all-members meeting on 20th October that we have been left with no choice but to withdraw from the Welsh Socialist Alliance. This decision has not been taken lightly nor does it indicate a change of approach by the Socialist Party on united fronts of the left. Recent events in the Welsh Socialist Alliance have confirmed to our party that the Welsh Socialist Alliance has ceased to provide a vehicle for the left to work together in Wales. Instead it has become an impediment to a united front of socialists in Wales.

In particular the manoeuvres to prevent Socialist Party candidates from standing in the Assembly elections under the banner of the WSA in Swansea, together with similar efforts in Cardiff have convinced us that the only way to stand in future elections is to withdraw from the Welsh Socialist Alliance and stand Socialist Party candidates independently in consultation with all other socialist organisations.

The WSA which was set up partly to enable all socialist trends to stand in elections is now being used by the Socialist Workers Party and its supporters to prevent the Socialist Party from standing in elections. The packing by SWP members of the Swansea WSA branch meeting to decide the Assembly candidates for the Swansea seats and other manoeuvres were aimed not at maximising the impact of the WSA, but purely at driving the Socialist Party out of the electoral field in Swansea.

The Socialist Party has the greatest weight on the left in the Swansea working class and youth and a long and distinguished history in the Swansea labour movement. In previous elections in Swansea, we have achieved some of the best electoral votes of any socialists in Wales. Nevertheless we still bent over backwards to work together with other members of the WSA in Swansea for the Assembly elections. We stood down from our original choice of Swansea West where we stood in the General Election in favour of another candidate and proposed instead standing in Swansea East. The use of dishonest tactics to prevent a Socialist Party candidate from standing under the banner of the WSA, by packing the meeting to ‘win’ the vote and announcing an SWP candidate for Swansea East at the last minute, has given the Socialist Party little choice but to stand independently.

Some may question why the Socialist Party too did not pack the meeting and win the vote at the Swansea WSA meeting. Certainly in the short term it would have been to the advantage of our party to have won the selection for one of the seats. But such tactics are incompatible with the idea of a socialist alliance, in which should exist a spirit of co-operation and compromise. Dishonest and underhand methods are a recipe for turning the WSA into a sectarian battlefield, an alien arena to the working class and to the layers of anti-capitalist youth looking for an alternative.

When the sudden appearance of a third candidate for the two Swansea seats was announced we suggested delaying the decision to allow a discussion between all interested parties to reach an amicable resolution of the problem which was immediately rejected by the SWP.

The Welsh Socialist Alliance was founded nearly five years ago by the Socialist Party, Cymru Goch and other socialists to provide an organisation in which socialists in Wales could work together in an electoral front ensuring that all trends of socialist opinion could stand candidates under one umbrella and could play a role in other campaigning issues. At that time it was envisaged that as the WSA gained the support and credibility of the working class in Wales it would take on real flesh and would evolve into a closer union of socialist forces in Wales.

All socialist organisations were invited into the WSA including the Socialist Workers Party. The SWP however declined because of its principled opposition to standing in elections. Even then we and the rest of the WSA bent over backwards to work with the SWP and other socialists outside the WSA. When the SWP changed its position and decided to stand in the 1999 Assembly elections, but still refused to join the WSA the Socialist Party and the majority of other members in the WSA entered a pact to stand in the elections with the SWP under the banner of the United Socialists.

Since the belated entry of the SWP into the WSA we have attempted to work with them in the WSA, but this has increasingly become difficult as the SWP struggled to gain control of the organisation. An attempt to remove the rule ensuring that no party can gain more than 40% of the leading positions of the WSA at the 2002 conference was thwarted by the wide opposition of WSA members, but other conference decisions have been undermined or distorted by the SWP members in leading positions to ensure that the SWP retains a disproportionate influence over the WSA.

The decision of the conference to produce Welsh Socialist Voice on a monthly basis was sabotaged by the SWP who put insuperable obstacles in its way so that when the editorial board collapsed the SWP’s position, defeated at the conference, of a quarterly journal under the control of the WSA officers was implemented.

Similarly the proposals by the SWP organiser of the WSA day school excluded the Socialist Party and Cymru Goch from having any of the 13 speakers at the day school. It was only the intervention of a Socialist Party member on the organising committee in the face of SWP opposition that enabled each of these organisations to have one speaker each in a four way debate.

With the exit of the Socialist Party most of those who helped found the WSA as a non-sectarian and pluralist socialist alliance have left. There are less branches than at the WSA conference at the beginning of the year and the ones that still meet are (apart from candidate selection meetings) small and irrelevant as the SWP concentrate on its other fronts. Following the disaffiliation of Cymru Goch this means that both the founding organisations of the WSA have felt compelled to leave. To lose one founding organisation could be unfortunate; to lose both can only mark the decline of the WSA as a genuine alliance.

Socialist Party Wales has been forced to leave the WSA with some reluctance, but certainly no pessimism. We look forward optimistically to taking part in the struggles of the working class and leftward-moving youth and also to working with others on the left, including those in the WSA, in the battles that lie ahead, on the electoral front, in the trade unions, in the anti-war campaign and wider community-based campaigns. We will support co-operation by the left and new alliances in fighting for socialist policies in the trade unions, community campaigns and in elections. But this co-operation can only succeed if the left has an open, flexible and democratic approach, where we work together on the issues that unite us whilst respecting the right of all trends to put an independent position.

 

Socialist Party Wales

PO Box 589, Cardiff, CF24 1YG

( 02920 635783

e-mail spw@ntlworld.com

 

 


June 2002

Tower Hamlets by-election:

Socialist Alliance Provides No Alternative

A SOCIALIST ALLIANCE (SA) candidate polled just nine votes in the Blackwall & Cubitt Town council by-election in East London's Tower Hamlets borough on 27 June 2002.

Clive Heemskerk

The Socialist Party left the Socialist Alliance in December, after the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) used their majority to push through an undemocratic constitution, and we take no responsibility for this poor result.

Unfortunately, however, the by-election vote will be used against all socialists, in the trade unions and elsewhere, who are arguing for an alternative to New Labour.

There were some factors peculiar to this by-election that would have made securing a substantial socialist vote a difficult task. A large part of the ward is in the Isle of Dogs, the old Millwall ward where the BNP's Derek Beackon was elected as a councillor in 1993.

The BNP leaflets referred to that victory but also to their more recent successes in Burnley to claim that they had a realistic chance this time. In fact they polled just 87 votes (3.96%) but their presence had some effect in shoring up the Labour vote.

Another factor was the 'Islanders first' independent candidacy of Terry Johns, who polled 252 votes (11.48%), mainly from disgruntled Labour voters.

Terry benefited from the decades-long record of community campaigning of his father, Ted Johns, a former Labour councillor. (In 1970 Ted was elected 'president' of the Island when community groups declared 'UDI'; during the anti-poll tax struggle he spoke alongside the Militant [now Socialist Party] MP Dave Nellist to publicly back the non-payment campaign).

Although the Socialist Alliance candidate was a local community centre worker, she did not have the same profile.

Nevertheless, how the SA campaign was conducted must have had some impact on the result achieved. Although the candidate is not a member of the SWP, the bulk of the SA campaigners were.

Sixty promised votes were picked up from canvassing and extensive leafleting but the inescapable conclusion is that the SA were unable to convince those 'identified supporters' to come out and vote for them. The turnout overall was only 24.6%

Socialist Party vindicated

THE SA's recent electoral performance further affirms the decision of the Socialist Party not to participate in the Socialist Alliance as it is now constituted.

The Tower Hamlets result follows another by-election in Luton on 13 June where, in the safe Labour ward of Challney, the Socialist Alliance polled just 18 votes (0.85%), compared to 814 for the winning Labour candidate.

The Socialist Party, however, has shown that it is possible to win electoral support for socialist ideas. In May's local elections, our candidates averaged 296 votes per candidate (11.48%), with two councillors elected.

Before December's SA conference, the Alliance had a 'federal' structure which allowed supporting organisations such as the Socialist Party, within a common framework, to run election contests with their own campaigning methods and political ideas.

Yet at the conference SWP speakers made it clear that this arrangement would end. Using their numerical majority they would dictate to candidates from other organisations within the SA the politics and campaigning methods.

This was unacceptable to the Socialist Party, a more successful electoral organisation, and the recent results once again show why.

Of course, electoral success is never guaranteed, even with the right policies and approach. The early pioneers of the labour movement, such as Keir Hardie and James Connolly, in their own time suffered electoral debacles.

But if nothing else, such experiences should at least puncture the conception of the SWP that the SA under their domination is the only alternative to New Labour, which all other groups and organisations should defer to.

 

 

The Socialist 5 July 2002 

 

 

 


December 2001

Socialist Alliance conference setback

THE SOCIALIST Alliance (SA) conference on 1 December was a setback for socialist unity. With a narrow overall majority, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and a handful of allies pushed through a new constitution. This will effectively transform the SA from a federal, inclusive organisation into another Anti-Nazi League-type SWP ‘front’, which the Socialist Party can no longer participate in.

Potentially, the SA could have played an important role in bringing together different socialist organisations, trade unionists and community campaigners. As workers respond to the deepening crisis that Blair’s second-term government faces – on public spending, growing job losses, the aftermath of the war on Afghanistan etc – a democratic and inclusive SA could have helped speed up the development of a mass alternative, a new workers party, to represent workers’ interests.

Now however, far from being able to fulfil that role, the SA could, like Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) before it, become another complicating factor on the road to an independent working class political voice.

A sense of proportion

WHILE THE outcome of the conference was a setback, there is, however, a need for a sense of proportion. The SA, with just 1,690 members nationally, has not established itself as an authoritative force. 

In fact, the forces initially attracted to the SLP in 1995-96, including the figure of Scargill himself, were of greater social weight than the SWP and their allies who have succeeded in changing the character of the Socialist Alliance.

The early electoral successes of the SLP (Hemsworth, February 1996 – 1,193 votes, 5.4%; Barnsley East, December 1996 – 949 votes, 5.3%) compare favourably with the recent performances of the SA. Certainly, its electoral standing will not be enhanced by forcing out the Socialist Party, the most successful electoral component of the Alliance.

The Socialist Party, then Militant Labour, was also represented in discussions with Scargill on how the new party that he was proposing would be organised. Then we also argued for a federal structure, similar to the proposals the Socialist Party presented before the Socialist Alliance conference. 

Our proposals were not accepted by Scargill, however, and consequently the Socialist Party declined to participate in the new party, warning that Scargill’s approach would repel a new generation moving into political action, as proved to be the case.

Scargill’s refusal to adopt an inclusive approach was a setback for the prospects of building a broad, socialist alternative to New Labour, as is the refusal of the SWP to build a broad SA.

But in reality, the debate over the future of the SA is largely a dress rehearsal for the tumultuous events that lie ahead in Britain and internationally, that will put a new workers’ party on the agenda. 

The Socialist Party will push for electoral unity and, at same time, will work in any new networks that may emerge as the reality of life in the new SWP-‘Socialist Alliance Party’ becomes clear. And while striving for socialist unity, the Socialist Party will re-double its efforts in the trade unions, in community and social struggles, and on the electoral plane, to build the forces of socialism and support all steps towards a new mass vehicle for working class political representation.

What happened at the conference?

THE CONSTITUTION debate was organised into two distinct sessions. The first, immediately after the opening rally, was a debate on six alternative ‘stem’ constitutions, one of which was to go forward into session two for detailed amendments to be moved.

This was the most critical debate in the conference. The Socialist Party never insisted that only our proposed constitution could strike a balance between the rights of component political organisations of the SA and individual members.

There were many amendments which, if our ‘stem constitution’ had been passed, could have substantially modified the details of our ‘improved federalism’ approach but which would still have enabled us to remain in the SA.

Moreover, while voting, obviously, for our constitution first preference, the Socialist Party explicitly recommended a second preference vote for a modified version of the existing constitution which was being moved by independent SA member, Pete McLaren. While insufficient, in our opinion, to properly protect the rights of both component organisations and individual members, it had kept the Alliance on the road up to this point and was the bottom line for us.

Our willingness to compromise, however, made no impact on the SWP or their allies. Their proposed constitution, based on one member one vote (OMOV), in reality, takes away all rights from individual members and minority organisations because the SWP are currently able to mobilise enough people to outvote all other forces in the SA. But they were determined to push it through.

What was implicit in the constitution, was spelt out clearly in the contributions. The new executive of the SA, under the SWP constitution, will now be able to "disaffiliate local Socialist Alliances and remove individual membership or refuse to ratify candidate selection".

John Rees, SWP central committee member, made it clear that this power would be used to prevent Socialist Party members running as SA candidates while retaining control over their own propaganda and campaign. In a bizarre inversion of reality, electoral campaigns which have won the most votes were deemed ‘narrow and unsuccessful’ while those with less votes were ‘broad and inclusive’.

One speaker even demanded that there should be ‘no more Lewishams’ – i.e. a council which has two elected Socialist Party councillors!

All amendments with even a hint of ‘federalism’, however ineffective, were defeated. Even the modest proposal to limit the number of NEC positions held by members of any one political organisation to 40% was voted down as ‘institutionalising divisions’.

A new organisation

THE CONFERENCE itself was proof of what ‘one member, one vote’ really means in the SA as it exists today. In the run-up to the conference 23 local meetings had been organised to discuss the SA constitution, attended by, at most, 380 SA members. (This in itself shows the limited base of the SA).

While there was not a majority for our proposals in many of these meetings, neither was there a majority for the SWP’s constitution. The overwhelming mood was that the SWP, as numerically the largest organisation, had the responsibility to ensure that the SA held together.

This sentiment also explained the high vote (97 votes, 14.7%) for Pete McLaren’s constitution at Saturday’s conference which, together with the vote for the Socialist Party’s proposals (122 votes, 18.5%), amounted to a third of the conference.

But with 345 votes (52%) the SWP won a narrow overall majority of 34 and pushed through their proposals almost completely unamended.

As the final constitution was approved and, in effect, the AGM of a new organisation was about to begin, Dave Nellist in the chair announced a recess.

The Socialist Alliance, he argued, was now a different organisation to the one that the Socialist Party had helped to found nine years ago, and the Socialist Party couldn’t participate in the business of an organisation they were no longer members of.

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Appeal for socialist unity

Letter from the Socialist Party to the Socialist Alliance national executive

"THE SOCIALIST Party deeply regrets the decision of the 1 December Socialist Alliance conference to adopt the constitution sponsored by the SWP and others.

As we made clear in the run-up to the conference, we believe that enshrining a ‘majority-takes-all’ approach into the SA constitution would seriously curb the freedom of action, including electoral activity, of organisations participating in the SA, and others who might have joined in the future.

On this basis, as we made clear on Saturday, we felt we could not, with any honesty or integrity, work under the confines of the constitution you adopted.

However, as we also made clear, this decision does not mean that we will not work for socialist unity where that is possible.

We note that the Socialist Alliance has, as recently as this June, approached both the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) and the Greens to see if an electoral arrangement could be reached – if not to mutually sponsor candidates, at least to avoid electoral clashes.

In Hackney also, although the details are still a matter of contention, the local Socialist Alliance has discussed with the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), the publishers of the Morning Star, the idea of SA-sponsored CPB candidates in next year’s local elections.

In this light we urge you at the earliest opportunity to discuss with us the possibilities for establishing a committee for socialist electoral unity. In this way we may achieve, with any other socialist or trade union organisation that we can together involve, the greatest possible socialist unity in the May 2002 local elections and in any future by-elections.

Yours comradely,

Clive Heemskerk,

on behalf of the Socialist Party executive committee

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Sheffield Socialist Alliance

THE SHEFFIELD Socialist Alliance met on the Monday after the conference (3 December 2001).

A resolution was moved by Socialist Party members calling for early discussions, locally and nationally, between the SA, the Socialist Party, the SLP, and any other serious socialist or working class campaign "to try and achieve electoral agreement".

An SWP full-timer moved that the resolution be referred to the local Socialist Alliance steering committee but the meeting insisted on a vote and the resolution was passed.

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Irish Socialist Alliance dissolved

ON 23 NOVEMBER, the Socialist Alliance in Ireland was formally dissolved, one year after the first discussions to get it established took place.

The Socialist Party in Ireland, which has a TD (MP), Joe Higgins, in the Irish parliament, consistently attempted to establish a broader unity on the left as a step towards the formation of a mass workers’ party.

Joe was elected in 1997 as a Socialist Party candidate but worked in collaboration with other significant forces as part of a ‘Justice in Taxation’ coalition. Those forces, however, including the Tipperary TD Seamus Healy, decided not to participate in a Socialist Alliance at this stage, leaving the Irish SWP and the Socialist Party as the only significant organisations involved in foundation discussions. With no agreement reached, the Socialist Party declined to be formally involved in the Alliance which, however, the SWP and others launched earlier this year.

The experience of what happened next is instructive, particularly for the co-sponsors of the SWP’s constitution at Saturday’s conference – the International Socialist Group (ISG). In the words of some of their former co-thinkers in Ireland, the SWP "behaved as if the Alliance and its activities could be run in the same way as their own organisation. 

"They fought against attempts to draw the Socialist Party into co-operating with the Alliance. This resulted in a situation where the Alliance was seen – rightly – as no more than the ‘SWP plus a handful of others’, and therefore many good socialists refused to get involved" (Report to the European Anti-Capitalist Left Conference, Brussels, December 2001). The inevitable denouement followed.

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Preston lesson for SA

IN NOVEMBER 2000, the SA contested the Preston parliamentary by-election, polling 1,210 votes (5.7%) for its candidate – the Labour Independent councillor, Terry Cartwright.

This result was hailed then by the SWP as evidence that the SA had ‘arrived as a national electoral force’ but in the June general election the SA didn’t contest the Preston seat. Fellow Labour Independent councillor, and Socialist Party member, Paul Malliband, in a statement issued for Saturday’s conference, explains the reality of what has happened in Preston, and the lessons for the SA constitution debate:

"I have considered the proposals put forward by the various organisations in the pre-conference bulletins and have concluded that at this stage of development of the Socialist Alliance the best way forward would be to endorse fully the constitution put forward by the Socialist Party.

"The Labour Independent Group in Preston have consistently argued within the Lancashire SA (LSA) for a federal approach as per the original constitution, steadfastly retaining our own identity. As a group we would not support a move to a party structure at this time. We joined the LSA because it was ‘an alliance’, a forum of Broad Left groups operating through consensus on a united-front basis, with no one group dominating.

"We are only a small group and need protection from the larger organisations like the SWP who, through greater numbers at LSA meetings, have already turned it into what they now propose for the national organisation.

"In November 2000 we fought a parliamentary by-election in Preston. Terry Cartwright was selected by the LSA but then the SWP convenor tried to get the LSA to reverse that decision, even after we had released it to the press. I was appointed as the election agent only to be constantly ignored by the SWP faction during the campaign.

"Whilst they marched and flag-waved, the experienced campaigners got down to the serious business in what we viewed as our strong areas. The outcome was a saved deposit for the LSA.

"That the bulk of this vote came from our established roots was confirmed in the county council elections in June 2001, when the Labour Independent Group alone stood Terry in a county division which basically consisted of two of the 13 electoral wards that made up the Preston parliamentary constituency.

"Once again, as in the November by-election, but this time with the general election on the same day, we polled 1,200 votes. In comparison the LSA were busy in Blackburn yet, with all the resources of the organisation plunged in there and no help offered to us whatsoever, the LSA managed to poll just 532 votes (1.31%), getting beaten by a member of Scargill’s SLP who only announced that he was standing at the close of nominations.

"The Socialist Alliance should work to its strengths and not the pipe dreams of a dominant faction. Experience of the local area should be embraced not shunned. The SWP do not have a mandate for what they propose within the Alliance and they certainly do not have any authority to speak on behalf of the Lancashire SA as they have not even attempted to consult the membership or called any meetings to air their views.

"Should the SWP proposals be adopted, the wider appeal of the Alliance to other groups and individuals will be lost and set back our cause considerably".

 

 


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