Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/228/9225
Socialist Alliance Future At Stake
IN JUST four weeks time, on 1 December, the Socialist Alliance will meet in London to decide its future structure.
Clive Heemskerk, Socialist Alliance national executive member
This will be a critical moment, argues national chair, Socialist Party councillor and former Labour MP, Dave Nellist, in an Open Letter to Socialist Alliance members.
The achievements of the Alliance so far, enabling different socialist organisations and individuals to jointly contest 92 seats in June's general election, could be jeopardised if unacceptable proposals are forced through.
The conference agenda will have two main alternative constitutions to debate. The Socialist Party's draft constitution, the Open Letter argues, is the only one "which confronts the central questions in the structure debate": how to guarantee the rights of individual members while, at the same time, guaranteeing the rights of the component organisations and other organisations, groups of trade unionists and community campaigners etc which will emerge in the future and which we will need to involve in the Alliance.
The other main alternative constitution, proposed by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), completely fails to answer such questions.
In debates that have taken place in local Socialist Alliances they have been simply unable to explain how their constitution would guarantee any rights to minorities.
If substantial organisations like the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation, the trade union broad lefts, or even Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, responded to Socialist Alliance appeals to join, what constitutional right would they have to national executive representation under the SWP's proposals?
If similar groups joined locally who wanted to preserve their own identity and cohesion while participating in the Socialist Alliance (or new groups of former Labour Party members like the Leeds Left Alliance, the Preston Independent Labour councillors or the Walsall Democratic Labour Party), what constitutional rights would they have to do so if they were a minority within a local Alliance?
If such groups, or independent individuals, join one of the many local Socialist Alliances where the SWP have a numerical majority, what additional constitutional rights would they have in the local Socialist Alliance which they wouldn't have if they had merely joined the local branch of the SWP?
The SWP have answered these points with general promises to 'respect' minority rights - they will be 'enlightened rulers' of the Socialist Alliance. As the Open Letter states, the Socialist Party "prefers democratic rights for minorities".
In reality, the SWP's proposed constitution enshrines the majority rule of the biggest component of local Alliances and of the Socialist Alliance nationally, i.e. themselves.
Tragically, as the Open Letter argues, "it will produce a 'Socialist Alliance' no different in structure - and therefore function - than other 'organisations' they have established in the past such as the Anti-Nazi League, Globalise Resistance, the Carworker, the Stop the Fees Campaign etc, and now, it seems, the Stop the War Coalition. This would be unacceptable, we believe, to a majority of non-SWP members of the Alliance".
The Open Letter acknowledges that "a balance between the rights of the component organisations and individual members is hard to achieve.
If the Socialist Party has got some details wrong in our proposals we're very keen to hear suggestions on how to improve on them".
But what is most important to save the Alliance, it concludes, "is that a substantial body of opinion be built around some alternative to the SWP's unacceptable constitution, which may compel them to re-think their position.
"To accomplish this we would like as many members of the Socialist Alliance as possible to declare their support for our constitutional proposals prior to the December 1st conference.
"Even if you do not agree with all the details of our constitution we would urge you to consider declaring in favour of the basic framework of our proposals, while at the same time recording any reservations you may wish to make.
"Hopefully, out of this process, a final draft could be presented to the conference which, while not what everyone hopes for, is at least acceptable to most".
For a full copy of the Open Letter by Dave Nellist and Clive Heemskerk, for a copy of the Socialist Party draft constitution or to add your name as a supporter of the Socialist Party's proposed constitution for the Alliance, write to: The Socialist Party, PO Box 24697, London, E11 1YD or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In The Socialist 2 November 2001: