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14446Re: Demise of the English Socialist Alliance

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  • nigel_irritable
    Feb 28, 2005
      --- In GreenLeft_discussion@yahoogroups.com, socialist unity
      <swindon_socialists@y...> wrote:
      > What I would say though is that Brian's account is so highly
      > influenced by the mind-set of the Socialist Party that it needs to
      > be treated with caution.

      Equally, I would say that your own account is very much that of
      someone who spent years in the SWP and still takes whatever the SWP
      is up to at any particular as your political starting point.

      > Let us also be clear about the circumstances behind the SP leaving
      > the SA. This was at the height of the organisation's success
      after
      > we had just recruiting leading members of the Labour Left.

      Just to fill Australians in on this, what Andy actually means here
      is that one member of the Labour Party NEC and her partner had
      joined the SA. There had been no influx of Labour leftists beyond
      this, "leading" or otherwise.

      > And also where the opportunity was presenting itself of exploiting
      > differences within the SWP.

      This to me is a perfect example of how you have left the SWP but not
      its orbit. "Exploiting differences within the SWP" is not our
      political task. Nor, were we to decide to orient on that sect would
      we have been succesful in doing so. It is fantasy politics. The SWP
      is not the centre of the world. Even within the Socialist Alliance,
      it was significant only in so far as it had the capacity to wreck
      the project.

      > The SP presented a constitution to conference that hardly any non-?
      > SP members would back, and a speech was given by Hannah Sell that
      > was belligerent and basically said if you don't vote with us we
      > are walking out.

      This is not accurate. The Socialist Party put forward a full federal
      proposal, with safeguards for minorities. That proposal didn't
      attract much support amongst independents, who generally preferred a
      less elaborate federal proposal put forward by an independent called
      Pete McLaren. The SP gave that proposal our second vote and made it
      clear that we would stay in the alliance with any of the proposed
      constitutions which guaranteed rights for minorities.

      The only proposal which was absolutely unacceptable to us - and over
      time to all of the founding components of the alliances - was the
      SWP's proposal. That constitution, unamended, would pass control of
      the alliance to the SWP.

      The SWP and its auxilliaries (a handful of tame independents and the
      ISG) forced through its own proposal and then systematically voted
      down every amendment which would provide any guarantee for
      minorities. At that point the SP left, as we said we would. We
      walked out of the conference because we had no business voting in
      the affairs of a body we would play no further part in.

      During the debates of the time, the SWP massively hyped the success
      of the Socialist Alliances, so Andy's claims about the SA winning
      over leading Labour lefts and enjoying great success make me a
      little nostalgic. I can remember two SWP leaders coming to speak in
      a debate at the Socialist Party's "Socialism 2001" event. They
      argued that the SA had established itself as the conduit through
      which left wing opposition to Blair would flow - a claim so detached
      from the reality of the alliance that it was difficult even to reply
      to.

      The Socialist Party on the other hand was absolutely realistic about
      what the SA represented. It was a body of less than 2,000 people,
      composed almost entirely of members and former members of various
      left groups. Its significance lay not in its then stature but in
      what it could become and what it could contribute to the process of
      creating a new workers party. The problem was that as an SWP front
      it would never become anything and never contribute to anything.

      The kind of independent activist who focuses on the doings of small
      left groups urged us then to "stay and fight", which said more about
      the sectarian world view of some "anti-sectarians" than anything
      else. There wasn't much of an organisation to fight over, only
      potential. And while an SWP front had no potential, neither did the
      kind of sectarian battleground that "staying and fighting" an SWP
      determined to dominate would have created. We probably wouldn't have
      won and if we had our "prize" would have been the shell of a shell
      of an alliance. We have limited resources and better things to be
      using them for.

      At the time this was resented by some of the small groups and
      independents, who felt that we had abandoned them. That's an
      attitude which has largely disappeared, as each of our predictions
      about what exactly would happen to the Socialist Alliance under SWP
      control has been borne out. In fact almost all of the people who
      were involved in the early Socialist Alliances are now involved in
      the Socialist Green initiative.

      > Brian says we must not lose sight of the task of building a mass
      > revolutionary party. But let us look at the track record of the
      > CWI in Britain. 20 years ago they could fill the Albert hall with
      > 8000 people, they had two or three MPs, and controlled Liverpool
      > council.

      One point here does not follow from the next. The ups and downs of
      the membership of various CWI sections is immaterial to the question
      of whether or not it is necessary to build a mass revolutionary
      party.

      In so far as the Socialist Party had a rough time of the 1990s,
      that's hardly in dispute. This was a period which saw a serious
      retreat in class consciousness. It included the destruction of the
      Soviet Union, and for all their barbarity of those regimes their
      collapse severely knocked many worker's confidence that any
      alternative to capitalism was possible. It saw the British trade
      unions fall to crushing defeats (miners, printers, dockers etc) and
      then saw strike days fall the lowest on record. It saw the British
      Labour Party move continuously to the right for 22 years (and
      counting), systematically recreating itself from above as a
      straightforward party of capital. It saw the Labour left go from
      tens of thousands of activists to practically nothing. On a smaller
      scale, the two left organisations with real roots in the working
      class also suffered. The Communist Party disappeared entirely and
      Militant/Socialist Party shrank.

      Why or how you would have expected the Socialist Party to have
      avoided shrinking in those circumstances is a mystery to me. In
      fact, maintaining a significant cadre around a socialist programme
      strikes me as something of an achievement when pretty much every
      organisation rooted in the working class fared much worse. By 2000
      or so, the SP had stopped shrinking, in recent years it began
      growing again although perhaps more slowly than it should be.

      But as I said, the tremenduous growth of Militant in the late 1970s
      and 1980s, its shrinkage in the 1990s and the slower growth of the
      SP in recent years have nothing to do with whether or not there is a
      need to build a mass revolutionary party. We could disappear
      entirely and the need would not go away.

      I am absolutely committed to the creation of a new mass party of the
      working class. Where I seem to disagree with some here is that I see
      the creation of that party as being primarily the result of the
      working class moving into struggle and not primarily the result of
      some regroupment of existing small left groups. The second area of
      disagreement is that I do not for one second support the idea of
      revolutionaries dissolving their own organisation within a broader
      formation. Work to create it, yes. Join it, yes. Do everything we
      can to build it and make it succeed, yes. Dissolve in it? absolutely
      not.

      Brian
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