Socialism 2001: What Future For The Socialist Alliance?

THE SOCIALISM 2001 debate on the future of the Socialist Alliance (SA) was a no-holds-barred contest between the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party in which the different political perspectives, analysis and methods of work were clearly delineated.

OPENING THE debate for the Socialist Party Clive Heemskerk gave plenty of evidence to show that the Labour Party has become a thoroughly capitalist party that doesn’t represent the interests of the working class.

The June general election showed that while Labour won a ‘landslide’ majority of seats it in fact lost two-and-a-half million votes.

Most of these votes were abstentions in Labour’s ‘traditional heartlands’. The SA was only able – at this stage in the development of working-class consciousness – to pick up around 58,000 votes, a fraction of the ‘disenfranchised millions’.

“It will take further, more profound events to put the question of a new mass workers’ party on the agenda”, said Clive. And therefore the SA was at this stage only “an outline of an outline”, he concluded.

But how does this relate to the SA debate on a new constitution? The Socialist Party argues for an Alliance based on a federal structure which would allow different forces – trade unionists, community campaigns, political organisations – to be drawn together by allowing them freedom of action. Whereas, the SWP’s plan to introduce majority rule through ‘one member, one vote’ (OMOV) does not match the current stage of working class political development.

By allowing the numerical majority of the SWP to dominate its structures the SWP will dictate to and constrain other groups and thereby risk jeopardising what has been achieved by the SA to date.

PUTTING THE position of the SWP, Chris Nineham said the SA performance in the general election represented the best results for the far left since 1945. And he listed the support for the SA from 50 ex-Labour councillors and PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.

Although against the idea of the SA becoming a political party at this stage, he argued that OMOV is the best method of internal democracy. He criticised the SP proposals saying they amounted to a “democratic deficit” by allowing small groups to have a veto. Having quotas will put off people joining by “institutionalising the power of minorities”.

He rejected the criticism of SWP domination of the SA and said the SWP wants a mass, broad SA. “That’s why the SWP always takes a minority of positions in the SA structures. We always argue for the SP and other organisations to have representation.”

To answer criticism of electing the SA leading bodies through a ‘slate’ of candidates he countered: “No organisation has an automatic right to representation on the national structures.”

Roger Bannister, a UNISON executive member and SP member. “There is a distrust of the SWP in the Alliance.” He gave the example of the Stop the War Coalition. “Your organisation went ahead and launched the Coalition without attempting to take it through the SA first. On the most important political issue facing us you choose to approach the anti-war coalition outside the Alliance from your own party political standpoint”.

Kevin Pattisson of the Leeds Left Alliance asked: “How do you win over trade union branches, community campaigns to support the SA if the perception is one where these outside bodies must be subservient to the SA?”

The Leeds Left Alliance for example won’t accept OMOV if that means the SWP members having a majority and deciding policy. “That’s led to a split in the city between the two organisations and if you carry through this programme [SWP constitution] you’ll end up with two SAs nationally.”

Judy Beishon, Socialist Party. “The SA should be an alliance of different forces around common aims. At the end of the day this common action will depend upon the degree of political agreement. For example, we profoundly disagree with the SWP’s position on the Middle East. But OMOV means that the political position of the largest organisation will win.

“These differences can’t be swept under the carpet by simply using the majority’s veto in the SA. At this stage, there has to be agreement on how to proceed with the principal Left forces in the Alliance”

Steve Score, Leicester Radical Alliance. “We have to have an eye to the future developments – the mass of workers coming into political activity – but we also must have a sense of reality as to where we are at now.

“If the SA had a mass membership the SP proposals would be different. Our proposals apply for the situation now, which is one of an Alliance of different forces. But as soon as one party imposes itself on others then that Alliance will break down.

“Chris says that he is not proposing a party but OMOV with a slate-elected leadership determined by the majority group in the SA. If that’s not a party then it’s certainly a proto-party”.

Brian Cahill, Lambeth SP, referring to the SWP majority in the SA said: “The important thing for them is to appear not to dominate rather than not to dominate. Therefore you have strategies in the Anti Nazi League (ANL) and Globalise Resistance which promote ‘independents’ whose positions are dependent on the goodwill of the SWP.”

Chris Nineham in reply categorically denied that the ANL and Globalise Resistance were fronts for the SWP. And the SP’s attempts to portray them as such only played into the hands of the right-wing.

He continued: “To draw new forces into the SA to turn it into a mass alternative to Labour means giving new people a voice in the SA and that means OMOV. Having quotas for the leadership and vetoes over policy by institutional measures will be cutting our own throats.”

Clive Heemskerk, summing up, said the SA prospects are linked to political developments. “In the future its possible that trade unions could break from Labour.” And citing the example of the striking Tameside care workers who stood candidates in local elections, he said: “Our constitution would mean that these workers could be drawn in without fear of domination by one political group.”

NATIONAL CHAIR of the Socialist Alliance, Dave Nellist, and SA executive member, Clive Heemskerk, have produced an Open Letter to SA members asking for support for the SP constitutional proposals.

For copies of the letter or to add your name as a supporter of the Socialist Party’s proposed constitution, or for a copy of the Socialist Party draft constitution write to: The Socialist Party, PO Box 24697, London, E11 1YD or e-mail: [email protected]