Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/162/7837
THE LONDON Socialist Alliance (LSA) is an alliance of different Left organisations with a handful of individual members. It is currently dominated by the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP). On Sunday 11 June around 250 people attended an LSA conference. HANNAH SELL analyses its significance.
Left unity put to the test in London
THE LSA conference was overwhelmingly made up of members of existing Left organisations; the biggest number came from the SWP. Anyone who attended had the right to vote.
The SWP have a reputation as being extremely undemocratic. They are renowned for using 'front' organisations which, whilst they have the token appearance of being politically broad, are actually under the absolute control of the SWP.
They have become involved in the LSA partly to try and overcome this reputation. They keep insisting that they are genuine in their desire to build the LSA as a democratic alliance.
Unfortunately, Sunday's conference showed clearly that the SWP's approach to the LSA is no different to their attitude to any of their previous front organisations.
With the support of some small Left organisations and a few 'Marxist' individuals, the SWP voted to ban parties from selling their paper while canvassing for the LSA. The arguments they put forward were no different to those of the Labour Party right wing when they expelled us (we were then called 'Militant') from the Labour Party.
If the SWP continue down this path the LSA will very quickly suffer the same fate as Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party (SLP). (The SLP is in the process of disintegration because its bureaucratic high-handed approach.)
To be a genuine alliance the LSA would have to be organised on the principle of a united front. This means that it unites the participating forces on a common socialist platform, while allowing organisations, groups and individuals, to uphold their own political positions.
Instead, not only did the conference ban paper selling, it agreed a constitution which virtually obliterates the united front element of the LSA. This will exclude forces that any genuine alliance would aim to involve. For example on the basis of this approach, the LSA will never recruit those socialist young people who are active in the anti-capitalist movement.
The result of the SWP continuing down this road will be that workers and youth moving into struggle completely bypass the LSA.
The rights of organisations
AT THE pre-conference Steering Committee four out of six organisations and parties within the LSA voted to support election guidelines based on Socialist Party proposals. These proposals made it clear that LSA candidates and LSA written material would be based on the "widest possible" consensus in the alliance. Alongside this it also proposed that "all participating parties, organisations and groups have the right to distribute their own material and sell their papers when working under the umbrella of the LSA.
All election candidates standing as part of the LSA have the right to state the name of the organisation they belong to on election material."
The conference opposed these proposals and passed an alternative which stated:
"All participating parties, organisations, groups or individuals have the right to distribute or sell their own material at LSA events, but no such activity will take place while canvassing on behalf of the LSA." (our emphasis)
The conference also agreed that candidates in elections could not state the name of the organisation they belong to on election material. If Socialist Party councillor Ian Page was to stand for the LSA this could result in the ridiculous position that Ian could not say he was a member of the Socialist Party in the leaflet!
The rights of local Borough alliances
THE SUCCESS of an alliance is measured by its ability to involve a wider layer in its activity. This means trade union campaigns, community campaigns and individuals who are drawing socialist conclusions.
This constitution gives no rights to local borough alliances. This means that any new people who get active in the LSA will have no possibility to influence LSA decisions.
The only body that can take decisions between conferences is the Steering Committee, yet borough alliances, including the already active Lewisham and Greenwich alliance, are not allowed representation on that body. The SWP attempted to disguise this by electing 16 'individuals' to the Steering Committee.
We are not opposed to individuals being on the Steering Committee. However, individuals chosen by an SWP-dominated conference are no substitute for the right of local alliances to send democratically elected representatives to the Steering Committee.
An arrogant approach
A GENUINE alliance could play an important role in the development of independent political representation for the working class. That means the creation, in the longer term, of a new mass party of the working class. The SWP do not support the LSA calling for such a party. What is more their approach means that the LSA could become an obstacle to the development of a new workers' party.
An alliance like the LSA can only play a positive role if it does not arrogantly assert it is the only necessary electoral alternative to New Labour. A genuine alliance would be prepared to encourage and support groups of trade unionists and community campaigners who decide to stand in elections even if they are not initially willing to stand under the banner of the alliance.
It is clear from the conference that this is not the approach that the SWP are taking.
The potential for a left alternative to New Labour was demonstrated in the Greater London Assembly elections, which took place at the same time as the mayoral elections: 26% of voters in the top-up ballot voted for non-mainstream parties.
The Greens, backed by Livingstone for the top-up list, won three seats. The Left candidates received a combined vote of 88,515 votes (5.34%) in the top-up poll. This gives a glimpse of the potential for a socialist alternative.
However, the GLA elections also demonstrated the fractured nature of the opposition to New Labour. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the Socialist Party, the Left vote was split between five different organisations and individuals.
The LSA received a marginally higher vote than the others (1.63%), but Peter Tatchell (a gay activist and socialist) and the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation (backed by the regional union council of the London Underground workers) were not far behind with 1.38% and 1.05% respectively.
One of the goals of a genuine socialist alliance should be to try to ensure that socialists don't stand against each other in the general election. It is in all our interests to achieve the maximum possible unity.
Sunday's conference makes it very unlikely that the LSA will achieve this goal.
In The Socialist 16 June 2000: