Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/330/5591
Respect Unity Coalition - what we think
THE RESPECT unity coalition (RUC) is an initiative from George Galloway MP, the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) and others, centred around standing in the June European and Greater London Authority elections.
On December 17 "test year" the Socialist Party wrote to the signatories of RUC's founding declaration (George Galloway MP, Salma Yaqoob, Lindsey German, John Rees, Linda Smith, Ken Loach, and George Monbiot) asking to discuss the RUC initiative (see below.)
George Monbiot replied, saying that he agreed that the Socialist Party should have been consulted and now John Rees, of the SWP, has replied on behalf of RUC in order to organise a meeting with us.
The Socialist Party welcomes this opportunity to put our point of view. We will support any positive step towards die creation of a new mass socialist alternative to New Labour. However, the programme of RUC is not clearly socialist.
Many of its demands are very good - such as for an end to privatisation and the return of key industries to public ownership, no to tuition fees, and for the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings.
However, they fall short of a socialist programme. Why is this? Is it because George Monbiot or Salma Yaqoob are not socialists? In our view it would be a mistake to dilute the programme of RUC in order to win the support of a few "prominent individuals'.
While George Galloway sounds very confident that RUC will win "the bulk of progressive opinion in the country" (Morning Star 12.01.04) experience shows that 'big talk' is not enough.
In any case 'progressive opinion' is too vague a description of who RUC is aiming to win. What does it mean?
"When George uses it he presumably means something different to Tony Blair when he does!
RUC must aim to win the most thinking sections of the working class and young people politicized by the anti-war movement. As we have consistently argued this requires openness and democracy.
A top-down approach, with genuine discussion and debate, will not succeed in involving wider layers of the working class, in particular rank and file trade unionists, as the previous failures of the Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Alliance have demonstrated.
Unfortunately, RUC appears to be making the same mistake. At this stage there is no evidence of a genuinely open discussion on how to build RUC.
On the contrary, in Coventry, where the Socialist Party has three very prominent councillors (including Dave Nellist who was previously chair of the Socialist Alliance), RUC has called a rally without in any way contacting the Socialist Party, never mind asking us to contribute to the meeting!
Nonetheless, nationally and locally the Socialist Party will engage in any discussions that take place and do our best to argue the point of view outlined in the letter - on programme and on the critical issue of democracy.
17 December 2003
Open Letter To the signatories to the 'Declaration for a left electoral challenge to New Labour':
George Galloway MP, Salma Yaqoob, Lindsey German, John Rees, Linda Smith, Ken Loach, George Monbiot, Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka
The Socialist Party has followed your recent announcements on the formation of the Respect Unity Coalition with interest. We are keen to support any serious attempt to create a left alternative to New Labour. We have long argued that New Labour has ceased to in any sense to represent the interests of the working class and that what is needed is a new genuine workers' party. We have a record of supporting any initiatives towards the formation of such a party.
In the past we enthusiastically welcomed Arthur Scargill's proposal to launch the Socialist Labour Party. Unfortunately the lack of democracy in the SLP prevented us from taking part, and in fact prevented the SLP from seriously taking off. However, we then went on to found the Socialist Alliance in the mid-1990s in an attempt create a democratic federal alliance, which could allow different socialist groups and individuals to work together, whilst at the same time preserving the rights of all those who participated. It was with regret that we were forced to leave the Socialist Alliance in 2001 because we had concluded that, under the effective control of the Socialist Workers' Party, it had become a second cul-de-sac on the road to a new workers' party.
We refer to past attempts to create a left alternative to New Labour because it would be most unfortunate if any of the mistakes of the past were repeated. For that reason we take the programme and structures of RUC seriously, and believe it would have been better had we been consulted during initial discussions. While our achievements are modest in comparison to our tasks, we have nonetheless had the most electoral success on the socialist left, with five councillors, the largest number of any socialist organisation in Britain. We won our second councillor in Lewisham just this month. We also have a significant base in the trade unions, including 17 members of trade union executives.
However, as we have not yet been asked to take part in discussions on the RUC, and it is clear from the written material that a lot of decisions have already been taken, we felt we had no choice but to put our initial comments briefly in writing to you.
Without doubt 2003 led to a growth in the potential for a socialist alternative to New Labour. Millions have rejected Labour and there is a yearning for a left political alternative. Of the millions who took part in the anti-war movement there is a significant minority who, at the height of the movement, would have immediately joined a new radical socialist force, if it had been proposed by one of the prominent leaders of the anti-war movement, such as George Galloway. Today the mood against the occupation of Iraq is growing and intertwining with anger on top-up fees, privatisation and other issues. The potential for a radical socialist alternative undoubtedly still exists.
We are therefore disappointed that the RUC 'declaration' does not put forward a specifically socialist alternative. We think this is a mistake, at least in Britain. Whereas in the US, for example, a left non-socialist alternative, such as Naderism, could mark a significant step forward, in Britain, where the working class has the experience of Labourism, the potential exists to build considerable support for a formation with an explicitly socialist programme. Of course, we do not preclude a new formation deciding, after discussion, to compromise on the socialist content of its programme. For example, this might be justified in order to enable a significant section of the working class, such as a trade union, to join the new formation. And of course, in those circumstances socialists would have a duty to argue for their ideas within the new formation. However, in the current instance we can see no reason for not putting forward at least the general outline of a socialist programme.
We also have other comments on the programme which we will make in future discussions. One issue we would like to discuss is the approach of the RUC to the Labour Party. In our view George's expulsion, despite the support of Tony Benn, Tony Woodley, even Michael Foot - who expelled us in 1983 - and many other leading lefts, reconfirms the nature of the Labour Party today as being a million miles removed from a genuine workers' party, or even a capitalist workers' party. This does not mean that we take a hostile approach to those socialists who remain within the Labour Party. But while we are sympathetic to any attempts to retransform the Labour Party, we do not judge that they are going to succeed. Therefore our priority is to campaign for a new party and we would argue for the RUC to take the same clear approach.
We also have questions on how you intend to organise RUC. The experience of the SLP and the SA confirm, in a negative sense, what we have argued over the last decade - that to succeed any new formation must be open, democratic and welcoming to new forces. We know that you have planned a launch conference on January 25 open to all those who have joined RUC. We understand that this will be where the opportunity will exist to propose amendments to the programme and structures of RUC. However, we do not think it practical or reasonable to expect individuals or organisations who do not yet know the details of your proposal, to have to decide to join RUC in order to have a chance to discuss those details. If you proceed in this way it will exclude many who might otherwise take part. We think it would be far better to delay a launch conference a little bit in order to allow more open and democratic discussion. A launch conference would then be likely to involve more significant forces when it did take place.
We would also like clarification on whether you see RUC simply as a coalition for the European elections, with goal of getting individuals elected, or as a step towards developing a new party of the working class. We consider the latter to be one of the most important tasks facing socialists in this period, and our support for any proposal is largely governed by the degree to which we consider it is a step in that direction. Nonetheless, even if you are only proposing the former, we are, of course, in favour of giving support to any candidates who offer a clear alternative to New Labour. However, even an electoral coalition requires negotiations and the right for all involved to discuss out, and where necessary, criticise the programme of the coalition both within it and in the labour movement.
This letter only outlines our initial comments. We hope it will be possible to meet and discuss the issues further in the near future.
Yours in solidarity,
On behalf of the Socialist Party EC
In The Socialist 17 January 2004:
Socialist Party features
Socialist Party workplace news