Let's have two, three, many unity projects!
I am always a bit suspicious about the
word "unity", and to be honest I am not sure that the name "Socialist
Unity Network" was a good choice.
In the British context,
has a certain resonance as the banner under which the old International
Marxist Group (along with some other groups such as Big Flame) fought
elections in the 1970s. The first Socialist Unity candidate was in the
Birmingham Stetchford by election (now Hodge Hill) in March 1977. Brian
Heron of the IMG won 494 votes (1.4%), while Paul Foot of the SWP won
377 votes (1.0%). Socialist Unity also achieved 534 votes (3.5%) in
Birmingham Ladywood in August the same year where the SWP got 152 votes
(1.0%); and Hilda Kean of Socialist Unity achieved a second place in a
by-election in Spitalfields Ward of Tower Hamlets in October 1977.
Although by the typically dismal
standards of far-left election results Socialist Unity did relatively
well; the point here is that they were hardly a successful unity
In their first election they stood
against Paul Foot, and most surreally in the Lambeth Central by-election
in April 1978 they were part of a pack of no less than 5 far left
candidates! J.A. Chase (Socialist Unity) won 287 votes, (1.4%). Corin
Redgrave (Workers' Revolutionary Party) won 271 votes, (1.3%). Alan
Bogues (Socialist Workers' Party) won 201 votes, (1.0%). Brian McNeeney
(Socialist Party of Great Britain) won 91 votes, (0.4%). S.C. Monro
(South London People's Front) won 38 votes, (0.2%).
So as a political project there is no
continuity between the IMG's Socialist Unity, and today's Socialist
Unity Network. Would it also be fair to say that one of the most
prominent names associated with the original Socialist Unity was Brian
Heron, and not everyone remembers his more recent involvement with
Scargill's Socialist Labour Party with fondness.
Socialist Unity has some similarly
unfortunate connotations abroad. Most famously the Socialist Unity Party
in Germany (Sozialistische
Einheitspartei Deutschlands) was
created in 1946 by the forcible merging of the Social Democratic party (SPD)
and Communist party (KPD) in the Russian sector of occupied Germany at
the point of a bayonet. Fascinatingly, we now learn from released
Kremlin documents that, during his very brief period in charge of the
Soviet Union during 1953, Lavrentii Beria sought to dismantle the East
German police state in favour of German unification. In a truly tragic
irony this was partially thwarted by the workers uprising in the
Stalinallee on 16th June, although Beria's arrest and
execution by Khrushchev also put a spanner in the works.
Today we have
Respect- the Unity Coalition,
and Unite Against Fascism.
And in the last few days the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) have
announced an appeal for
Much has been written both for and
against Respect. The very fact that Respect is so contentious proves
that it has failed to promote unity on the left!
Unite against Fascism (UAF) promised
more than it delivered perhaps. Admirable work was done campaigning
against the BNP by the UAF in some areas but it certainly did not do
exactly what it said on the tin. The UAF developed a distinctly
different strategy to that being promoted by Searchlight, therefore it
did not unite the forces opposing fascism. We read in the September 2004
issue of Searchlight in an article by Paul Maszaros of Bradford TUC: "The
2004 launch of Unite Against Fascism is based upon a national approach
and there are several examples of where UAF activity has undermined the
strength of local anti-fascist campaigning
... ... In Bradford the misnamed
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) refused to work alongside the Trades
Council. Instead it masked its electioneering for Respect by involving
itself in a campaign in areas where the BNP had no intention of standing".
Paul then goes on to use even harsher words about UAF that I would blush
to repeat, and we can hope that these problems were local to Bradford.
However, the proven achievements of Bradford TUC's campaign means that
Paul deserves a hearing on this.
The problem is that the word "Unity" is
often used divisively to proclaim "I
am the way, the truth and the life"
and everyone should unite with me on my terms. Whereas true unity
requires acknowledging and working through differences. As Bishop Tutu
remarked of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, "You
don't need truth and reconciliation for your friends only your enemies".
Unity requires building up trusted relationships by cooperation over a
long term. It also means identifying and relegating those differences
that are of secondary importance.
So what are we to make of the Appeal for
Socialist Unity by the AWL. In sweet seductive words Martin Thomas "calls
on all working-class socialists to join together in presenting a
working-class voice at the general election. We appeal in particular to
the Alliance for Green Socialism, the Socialist Party, the Scottish
Socialist Party, the activists continuing to identify with the Socialist
Alliance, and those around the Liverpool-based initiative for a "United
Socialist Party", to discuss with us the possibilities of united action
at the general election. Debates about how the different activist left
factions can be united into a single organisation, let alone about how a
new mass working-class party can be built, will not be resolved before
the general election. It would be irresponsible for us to let those
debates prevent us from acting together where we have agreement and to
the extent we have agreement. What is achievable is a working-class
socialist electoral alliance for the General Election. It would not be
sensible for it to attempt to contest every seat. But it could run
enough serious campaigns, for enough candidates, to let voters know that
there is an alternative."
Blimey, that sounds sensible! But what
is this in the small print? "Can
we simply watch on, with hopes for the future but no public initiative
in the present, as New Labour panders to the white racist communalism of
the BNP, and Respect counter poses... Muslim communalism?"
So hang on. What the AWL are proposing
is unity with everyone who agrees with them about Respect? Do they think
we are idiots?
And in what stark terms! Does Respect
really counter pose "Muslim communalism" to new Labour? Certainly
Respect has a good track record of getting votes from Moslems, but to
say that Respect is a communalist organisation seems a bit far fetched
to say the least. Respect are hardly the Moslem League of Mohammed Ali
Jinnah. I look in vain in Respect's programme for any mention at all of
Islam, but I do find a broadly progressive platform not dissimilar to
the policies of the Socialist Alliance that the AWL supports.