Pete McLaren and Steve
The Socialist Alliance never really went away. It was abandoned by the former executive. It was voted down and closed down. But socialist unity simply refused to die. Having hit rock-bottom, we now seem to have turned the corner. The successful launch of the new SA on Saturday November 12 gives a positive message to every socialist up and down the country. Socialists, take heart and rally to the banner of the new alliance.
Of course, we are not intending to get carried away or mislead anybody about what was achieved. The conference can be described as no more than a moderate success. A hurdle that could have tripped us up was cleared. The new SA has a very small membership. But it is packed with experienced comrades, having between them many years of activity and commitment to the struggle for socialism. Amongst the membership there is a broad spectrum of socialist politics. As well as independent members, there are members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Alliance for Green Socialism, the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Democratic Socialist Alliance, the Republican Communist Network (Scotland), the Revolutionary Democratic Group, the Socialist Unity Network, the United Socialist Party, the Socialist Unity Network and the Walsall Democratic Labour Party.
There was a good turnout of members and the conference was able to get through a packed constitutional agenda without mishap. Given some of the polemics prior to the conference, it turned out to be a surprisingly good-humoured and disciplined event. When it seemed possible that we might not reach the end of the agenda, some comrades even volunteered to withdraw their resolutions. When it nearly went pear-shaped over the election of the new executive by single transferable vote, we sailed smoothly round that minefield as if it was not there.
The conference started bang on the dot. This was a good sign for a left notorious for starting late. At the beginning, the conference recorded its unanimous best wishes for a speedy recovery to Cameron Richards (CPGB) and Janine Booth (AWL). We set out on the right path. After working through the new SA constitution, blow by blow, we ended with two minutes to spare. It was a hard day’s work. At the end we sounded the notes of unity as we all rose to sing The Internationale. Unfortunately it was the worst singing anybody could remember. At least we are now using the same words and singing from the same song sheet. But we are not yet totally in tune. That about sums it up.
Looking at 2005, the story of the SA and the fight for socialist unity begins to look different. Back in February it appeared as if the SA had collapsed and was finally closed down. Now it looks more like a split between the SA and Respect. The majority of the Socialist Alliance led by the SWP left the SA to put all their efforts into Respect. As they walked out, they tried to burn it down. Socialist unity was no use to them. But they did not want anybody else to continue the struggle. The SA minority refused to be pushed around by the SWP. We believed there was still a positive and progressive role for a Socialist Alliance. Therefore 2005 was the year that the old SA gave birth to both Respect and a new SA, which some comrades call ‘Arise’ (Alliance for republicanism, internationalism, socialism and the environment).
The SA minority met in Birmingham in March 2005 and put forward a new perspective. With the backing of the Birmingham conference a provisional organisation was set up to prepare for the relaunch. That plan recognised and defended the fundamentals of the Socialist Alliance. The SA was always about socialist unity. It brought together independents and socialist organisations. It stood on the basis of a common programme (People before profit). It was an alliance, not a party. It was organised with a federal structure. The new SA is founded on the same fundamentals.
Yet the provisional SA identified a new direction. It argued that the new SA should put much more emphasis on campaigning work rather than elections. The new SA should change political direction and become an alliance for republicanism, internationalism, socialism and the environment. Of particular importance is the central question of the need for a new mass working class party which can oust the Labour Party from its dominance over the working class movement. The provisional SA called for a republican socialist party along the lines of the Scottish Socialist Party. Finally the provisional SA argued for a new form of federal structure through a Council of Socialist Organisations. On one side of the new federal structure is the SA membership and their elected executive. On the other side are the affiliated socialist organisations meeting with the executive to coordinate our activities.
At the conference the main alternative proposal came from the DSA group. They proposed the old SA constitution with a different name. They also adopted a more pro-party approach than the old alliance and did not seek affiliations. This straight alternative was clearly rejected as, separately, were attempts to remove all references to republicanism and internationalism. Then came the question relating to the party. The main proposal was to remove reference to the republican socialist party and replace it with a call for a Marxist party. This was also defeated. The section on the aims of the SA was passed with some strengthening on issues such as the environment, racism and discrimination.
The conference therefore decided to support the plan agreed in Birmingham and rejected the alternatives. The new SA stands for an alliance of republican socialists, international socialists and green socialists. These three pillars of the new SA, when combined with the fight for a new workers’ party, give the new organisation considerable, if as yet unrecognised, political strength.
The new SA has not yet succeeded. It is still to prove it can grow and be relevant to the working class movement. But at least we are on the starting blocks ready to rock and roll. Let the struggle now begin.