Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/232/9262

From The Socialist newspaper, 30 November 2001

Socialist Alliance Conference: The Issues At Stake

THE SOCIALIST Alliance (SA) meets this weekend for a critical conference to discuss its future structure. SA executive member CLIVE HEEMSKERK answers questions about the Socialist Party's constitutional proposals.

Q. Hasn't the SA reached the limits of its effectiveness as a federal Alliance?

We agree completely that the SA needs to develop its structures but it can do so while still retaining its federal character, its ability to bring together different socialist organisations, individuals, community campaigners and trade unionists, without them having to give up their own independent organisations, activities and views.

There has been a smokescreen put up in the debate, counterposing this federal approach to the idea that the SA should be a 'party'. Yet internationally, organisations with incomparably greater social weight than the SA, such as the Italian Rifondazione Communista, the Portuguese Left Bloc or the Spanish Izquierda Unida, have been able to retain different degrees of 'federalism' in their structures.

The early Labour Party also was a federation - until 1918 individuals had to join via one of the affiliated organisations - yet are people really saying it wasn't a 'party'?

On electoral activity, in fact, the early Labour Party had the approach that the affiliated organisations were to be "left free to select their own candidates without let or hindrance, the one condition being that, when returned to parliament, the candidate should agree to form one of the Labour Group there". We're not proposing that minimalist structure but are going well beyond it in our constitution.

Q. So you don't agree with the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) when they say in their conference submission that the SA's federal approach was revealed as having 'major weaknesses' in the general election campaign?

The SA's relatively modest election performance, confirmed in the Ipswich by-election, was primarily due to objective factors, the level of consciousness at this stage, rather than subjective weaknesses, least of all its federal approach. In fact, its inclusive approach was its 'major strength' - the fact that it could allow different forces to stand under one umbrella, to contest 98 seats in England and Wales.

'Federalism' also worked electorally. The Socialist Party, for example, contributed a higher percentage of SA votes (15.5%) than it did candidates (12%), while other organisations, such as the SWP, contributed a higher share of candidates than votes. Are those who criticise the SA's election campaign really saying that it would have been better if the Socialist Party wasn't on board?

But again, our proposals go beyond what happened in the general election. In fact, our controversial 'consensus rule' for local alliances is an attempt to compel the different parts of the SA, including ourselves, to reach agreement, making principled compromises where necessary to reach an outcome which, if not what everyone wants, is at least acceptable to everyone.

Q. But doesn't the 'consensus rule' deny democratic rights to individual members, who are not members of the component political organisations of the SA, such as the Socialist Party and the SWP?

Our constitution actually enhances the rights of individual members. For example, we are proposing a section on the national executive to be elected by individual members only, so they can choose their own representatives and not have them chosen for them by the political organisations.

Locally the 'consensus rule' that we're proposing is effectively an 'electoral college', where agreement has to be reached between those political organisations with significant support in a locality plus the majority of individual members. That's real power for the individual members over the political organisations.

Q. But under your consensus rule won't six people be able to veto decisions made by an SA of 200 members?

Another smoke-screen. Firstly, let's not exaggerate how many members of the SA there are. There are 1,690 members nationally (with at most an additional 1,000 or so who are local SA members only) organised in 60 or so local SAs - there can't be, and there aren't, that many local SAs with 200 members!

The figure of six (or 10% of the SA membership, whichever is the greater), which a 'Members Platform' needs in a constituency before it can invoke the consensus rule, relates to the minimum membership requirement we're proposing before a constituency or borough Alliance can be formally recognised.

We're proposing that this should be ten, so a Members Platform of six would constitute 60% of its membership! In fact, if today there were SAs up and down the country with memberships of 200, 300 or 400, there currently wouldn't be that many 'Members Platforms' that would be big enough to invoke the consensus rule.

Ultimately though, all constitutions involve a 'veto'. In the existing situation where the SWP have a numerical majority, 'one member, one vote', (OMOV) gives them, the majority, a 'veto' over what minorities can do. That contrasts with our consensus rule where no one organisation can dominate.

Q. But are the SWP really intending to turn the SA into a new Anti Nazi League-type front organisation?

Unfortunately, it appears so - and that's why our constitution has attracted support from many independents, such as Steve Godward, an FBU official and chair of Birmingham SA, the Preston Independent Labour councillors group, and the Leeds Left Alliance.

Of course, there's no easy answer to the central problem the SA faces of how to conciliate the rights of different groups and individual members. We didn't claim that our proposals were the only answer - we looked forward to discussing any alternative proposals that came forward.

Yet, while we've made it completely clear all along that the SWP's 'majority-takes-all' approach, summed up in their constitution, was unacceptable to us, the SWP have made no effort to discuss this with us.

For example, if there had been genuine concerns that the threshold we proposed (before a 'Members Platform' could invoke the consensus rule) was too low - at six members or 10% of the SA membership, whichever is the greater - why couldn't they have proposed another figure? Yet they have said nothing about the rights of the political organisations at local level, promising only a non-binding 'protocol' for national executive elections to ensure a 'balanced' 'leadership slate'.

This is typical of their top-down approach - they actually say in their conference submission that powers to resolve local problems over candidates, boundaries etc "should in the first instance reside with the national executive". But it also seriously misses the point. Their 'protocol' is just another pledge that, with their majority position in the SA, they will use their 'veto' over everybody else 'responsibly'. We don't want 'wise rulers', we want democratic rights.

We want to participate in an alliance of equals, with the right to conduct our own activity with our own ideas and methods, while working in common where we can.

We believe that the new forces that will emerge to fill the vacuum created by the crisis of working class political representation - community campaigners, trade unionists fighting privatisation etc - will also wish to preserve their autonomy, while working with others. But that means we need an Alliance, with a federal constitution, and not a structure that allows the domination of any one organisation.

By-Elections Test For Socialist Alliance

THE SOCIALIST Alliance's biggest electoral test since June took place on 22 November in the Ipswich parliamentary by-election and two council by-elections in Burnley.

With turnout in Ipswich down to 40%, Labour's total vote fell by over 8,000 compared to the general election. Yet the Socialist Alliance (SA) candidate, the SWP's Peter Leech, also lost support, polling 152 votes (0.55%) compared to the 522 votes (1.34%) the SA and the Socialist Labour Party together had polled in June (this time the SA was the only socialist option on the ballot paper). The Greens, in their first parliamentary campaign in Ipswich, polled 255 votes and the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, 236.

In the Burnley council by-elections the SA candidates polled 50 votes in Trinity ward and 32 in Lowerhouse. Although Burnley is one of only four councils with a Socialist Alliance councillor (along with Coventry, Lewisham and Preston, where the Socialist Party has SA councillors), the higher than normal profile for the SA didn't stop its vote being squeezed by the call to 'vote Labour to stop the BNP' - the neo-Nazi British National Party who had polled over 4,000 votes in Burnley at the general election. The BNP failed to make a breakthrough, although they came second in Trinity ward with 181 votes (18.9%) and polled 283 votes (23%) in Lowerhouse.

Overall, the by-elections show that a sense of proportion is necessary when discussing the prospects for the Socialist Alliance. There is still no authoritative force yet in existence capable of pulling together those disenchanted with New Labour - trade unionists, public services users, environmental campaigners and young people - into a mass alternative, a new workers' party, to represent their interests.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 30 November 2001:

War... Recession... We Won't Pay The Price!

Fighting For Jobs And Services

Afghanistan 'Endgame': Not The End Of The 'Game'

Western War Coalition: Buying Friends And Influence

World Aids Day: Warning: Drug Giants Can Seriously Damage Your Health

Anti-Privatisation Conference: 'We're Determined To Fight Back And Win'

Israel/Palestine: Imperialism's Bitter Fruit

Socialist Alliance Conference: The Issues At Stake


 

Facebook   Twitter



Home   |   The Socialist 30 November 2001   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Bookshop






Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter



Related links:

Socialist Alliance:

triangleAttitude to the Labour Party and the Left

triangleSocialist Alliance Trade Union Convention

triangleSocialist Alliance conference setback

triangleThe Socialist Party And The Socialist Alliance

Socialist:

triangleScotland's referendum: A working-class revolt

triangleHarrogate Socialist Party: After the Scottish referendum - Where next for the UK?

triangleSocialist Party Scotland calls for new mass workers' party

SWP:

triangleSWP's Marxism: absence of serious debate and strategy

triangleCombating violence against women: A socialist perspective on fighting women's oppression

triangleConclusion

The Socialist:

triangleThe Socialist: a tool for workplace organisers

triangleWest London Socialist Party: How does the Socialist Party organise?

Election:

triangleClacton Tory MP defects to Ukip

Labour:

triangleAfter Scotland revolt: all capitalist parties in crisis

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis

23/9/14

Scotland

Scotland's referendum: A working-class revolt

23/9/14

Working class

After Scotland revolt: all capitalist parties in crisis

19/9/14

Scotland

1.6 million vote Yes in a working class revolt against austerity

17/9/14

NHS

Keep hospital services in the NHS

17/9/14

Minimum wage

10 NOW!

17/9/14

Socialist Students

Students: fight to end austerity and capitalism

17/9/14

Scotland

Step up fight against Tories

17/9/14

Them & Us

Them & Us

16/9/14

Britain

"Britain will never be the same again"

12/9/14

Scotland

Scotland: Defeat Project Terror with socialist policies

10/9/14

Students

Students: Fight debt, poverty and capitalism

10/9/14

Bedroom tax

Bedroom Tax edges toward its doom

10/9/14

Prisons

Government spending cuts deepen prisons' crisis

10/9/14

Them & Us

Them & Us

10/9/14

Nato

British leaders back expansion of Nato war machine

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...

triangle23 Sep Scotland's referendum: A working-class revolt

Scotland Referendum

triangle23 Sep After Scotland revolt: all capitalist parties in crisis

triangle22 Sep UCU joining 14 October strike

Scotland

triangle19 Sep 1.6 million vote Yes in a working class revolt against austerity

triangle18 Sep Scotland Poll: Electric mood among YES supporters

triangle18 Sep The struggle for decent social care - a personal account

Fast Food Rights campaigners in Leeds on 28 August 2014, photo Erika Sykes

triangle17 Sep 10 NOW!

More ...

triangle24 Sep Stoke Socialist Party: Where now after the Scottish referendum?

triangle24 Sep Coventry Socialist Party: Scotland in revolt against austerity

triangle24 Sep Salford Socialist Party: After the Scottish referendum - what now?

triangle25 Sep Southampton Socialist Party: The significance of the Scottish referendum

More ...

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Find us on Facebook

Archive

Categories

1-9 

1-9 


Archives:

September 2014

August 2014

July 2014

June 2014

May 2014

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

January 2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice