In June the Socialist Workers Party packed a meeting of the Birmingham Socialist Alliance with newly signed-up SWP members to remove the entire Executive of the local Alliance-and replace them with SWP members and fellow travellers. The SWP had been promoting the idea of a "Peace and Justice" candidate for next year's Euro-election-mounted jointly with the leaders of the local mosques-that is, an alliance with a religious hierarchy. Comrades in Birmingham, fearing rightly that such an alliance would be a betrayal of independent working-class politics, rejected the SWP policy. Those comrades had to go.
Since June there has been no clear indication whether or not a "Peace and Justice" candidate will go ahead in the West Midlands. However an article in Socialist Worker by John Rees on 2 August defended the principle of such electoral coalitions.
A meeting of SA oppositionists has now been set for 13 September. That meeting has to discuss the following issues.
A "suck it and see" approach to the "relaunching" of the SA is the SWP's method of manipulative control. It is a way of subverting the democracy of the Alliance. Once any "Peace and Justice" candidacy, or any new alliance, is established it will become a fait accompli-and a model for other SA areas to try to follow. Any electoral coalition in which the SA participates should be based on the principles of the SA: working class socialism.
The SWP flout basic principles of democratic collaboration because the SWP's internal regime is undemocratic. Why in the medium or long term would they tolerate more democracy in the SA than there is in the SWP?
The SWP's political approach is still taking shape, but this much we know:
- they are fed up with working with other socialist groups in the SA;
- seeing the Stop the War Coalition as a get-rich-quick success story, they
want to find a way to apply the same recipe on the political-electoral
Part of the SWP's project is to corral the "Muslim vote". Our approach should be quite different. In the first place we should not reduce the "Muslim community"-indeed there is no one, single "Muslim community"-to an electoral bloc, secured by making alliances with their non-working class religious organisations and the priests of that religion.
The Socialist Alliance should campaign alongside any community group or organisation, even if it has a religious base, if it were fighting for a particular working class campaign. And work with a religious organisation for a particular action, such as defending a mosque from racist attack. But a stable, long-term electoral alliance is quite another issue.
A substantial minority in the SA want the SA to develop into a new united socialist party. For that perspective to have any coherence, and for our minority to hold together, we need to be clear about how differences among socialists should be dealt with. What is our model of democratic functioning? Here are some ideas:
- Free expression, democratic procedures, neutrality of the party machine. Groupings of opinion should have the unfettered right to organise inside the organisation.
- A democratic press which gives wide scope for debate while giving priority to majority-decided action.
- Minority representation on the committees of the organisation.
Contrary to myth this model is based on "democratic centralism". And it is as Lenin outlined in 1907: "The principle of democratic centralism and autonomy for local Party organisations implied universal and full freedom to criticise, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action Criticism within the basis of the principles of the party programme must be quite free not only at party meetings but also at public meetings."
Organisations like the SWP have subverted the principles of democratic centralism by adopting a Stalinist model of organisation. Now they are imposing their own regime on the SA: the regime of the single admissible "line".
The rot has to stop before it destroys the SA. And socialists need to start discussing how to regroup if the SWP continue to wreck left unity in the Alliance.