Certain realities to face
Are you in Respect and therefore an SWP
stooge, or are you totally opposed to the whole project and therefore
a hopeless sectarian?
With much debate on the left not moving
much beyond such caricatures it is perhaps time to focus on where the
attempt to build a socialist alternative is at, and what lessons can
be learnt from the successes and failures of the recent past.
A starting point must be recognition that
no existing socialist group has a monopoly of the truth or a blueprint
for the future. The history of splits and sectarianism in the left in
England is not one to be proud of. Far left groups have come and gone,
most leaving little more than scores of burnt out activists. The
attempt by the Socialist Alliance to unite the disparate factions of
the far left with those from the left Labour tradition was
unsuccessful. While some SA members have involved themselves in
Respect, many who were most active in the SA have been disillusioned
and angered by its sudden demise.
If we are to go forward to build a broad
socialist party, certain realities must be faced:
1. Respect is not the only show in town.
Despite some very good election results, including the Millwall
Council by-election in September 2004, to talk of it becoming the
"fourth party" in England is premature to say the least. In much of
the country it has no structure, no branches and no system of
democratic accountability. Crucially, despite the welcome presence of
Mark Serwotka of the PCS on the Respect Executive, there is little
organised trade union involvement in the organisation. Respect has the
potential to become part of the broad movement we need if its founding
conference commits itself to building a party based on democratic
socialist principles. It will fail if it becomes simply yet another
electoral coalition or "united front", no matter how "special".
2. We have to learn from the experiences
of the Socialist Alliance. There was nothing inevitable about the
failure of the SA to reach its potential. Probably against its own
wishes, the SWP was by far the dominant force within the Alliance, and
it never moved beyond viewing it as an electoral coalition, rather
than the nucleus of a new organisation. The decision of the SA 2003
conference to look outwards, to aim to be part of a wider organisation
of the left, that was "open, inclusive, democratic and of course
socialist" was one that had the support of the clear majority of SA
members. The manner of Respect's launch and subsequent development
have convinced many that Respect is far from the fulfilment of that
Socialist Unity is committed to seeing
that conference decision carried out, but recognises that far wider
forces that those currently involved in Respect need to be involved.
There are layers of activists and socialists in organisations such as
Socialist Party (CWI), Communist party (CPB) and the Alliance for
Green Socialism. We also
need to win back the many SA activists who have not joined Respect,
but perhaps most importantly we need an organisation that can relate
to and involve the thousands of socialists and trade union activists
who have had enough of this reactionary government.