Britain: sects in a mess - Split in the Socialist Alliance conference

A report of the Socialist Alliance Conference on December 1st which started with words of unity and ended up with the Socialist Party splitting off.

At 4.45 p.m. on Saturday 1st December, the Socialist Party walked out of the Logan Hall in Bloomsbury and out of the Socialist Alliance, the organisation they helped to found a few years ago.

The opening session of the conference had heard a fraternal address from the International organiser of Rifondazione Communista, Gennaro Milliori, who called for "building a movement of anti-capitalist trends around the world". The assembled delegates applauded enthusiastically this call for unity and internationalism, and then proceeded to give the fraternal delegate an excellent lesson on how they were going to build a united movement in Britain - by splitting.

As an opening shot, Socialist Party spokeswoman Hannah Sell, warned that the result of the SA Conference backing certain Constitutional proposals of the SWP, ISG and independents would be the SP's defection from the Alliance. She then went on to explain that this was "not an ultimatum" - which it very clearly was.

The argument of the SP was that the Alliance had to remain a Federal organisation which they claimed would make it more open to activists in the labour movement who were allegedly "breaking from their traditional organisations".

Translated into plain English this means: the SP wants the SA to be as loose as possible to prevent the SWP from controlling it. But since a) the SWP has a big majority, and b) nobody doubts that if the SP were in the majority they would insist upon the most absolute centralism, the delegates did not take this demand very seriously.

The arguments of the SWP and its supporters was that individual members needed to be better represented by having a "one-member one- vote" constitution - just like the Labour Party. John Rees made some pointed comments about the failure of the SP to stand under the SA umbrella in the General Election and said that it could not be allowed to happen in the future if the Alliance was to develop.

Translated into plain English, this means: "We are the majority, and you must do as we say".

The SP presented the SWP's proposals as an attempt to use their weight of numbers to "dominate the Alliance", something the SP would not tolerate.

This means: "If you don't let us play our own game, we will take our ball home".

Having heard 6 different motions on the proposed constitution, and having made sure that the outcome would be satisfactory to the SWP, the conference proceeded to vote for a split. The vote was as follows: -

SWP/ISG et al 345 votes Socialist Party 122 votes Workers Power 29 votes C.P.G.B 42 votes Pete McLaren 97 votes Rev.Dem Group 21 votes

This gave the SWP/ISG/et al motion an absolute majority of 34 votes, meaning that it was carried without a run-off being necessary.

Dave Nellist stayed in the Chair and the bulk of the SP remained to see how the amendments went in the afternoon. In the words of the poet: "hope springs eternal in the human breast". But alas, things were to get no better.

When it became clear that the vote was going against them, comrade Nellist issued a brief statement that the SA was "no longer the organisation he'd helped form" and led an organised walk-out of around 100 SP'ers. Why the SA was "no longer the same" was unclear to everyone. What was perfectly clear is that the Taaffites only believe in democracy as long as they are in the majority.

Those still inside the conference expressed their "regret" at the SP walk out. However, the regret did not last long. John Nicholson of Sheffield SA was swiftly elected as chair in Nellist's place and the conference got on with the serious business of carving up the leading positions.

After the walk-out of the Taaffites, one would have thought that this would have been a simple matter. But such a supposition would be to seriously underestimate the capacity of sectarians for the creation of a chaotic environment wherever and however.

The report of the event continues:

"There was some tension on the question of using the Slate system to elect the NEC, especially amongst ex-CP'ers and the Green Left Network. In the event Slate1 which included 3 SWP'ers, 5 members of the other principal groups, ex Militant members Lesley Mahmood and Margaret Manning and ex Labour NEC member Liz Davies was elected by a large margin."

"Some tension" means there was a row. Having got rid of the main enemy, the remaining participants now had nothing better to do than to start attacking each other. Well, one has to while away the time somehow....

The further proceedings of the conference are of no interest to anyone. Even what we have reported thus far is only of interest as a horrible example of how not to build an anti-capitalist movement in Britain or anywhere else.

How to destroy the movement

Ten years ago, when the supporters of Peter Taaffe destroyed the old Militant, they argued that the workers had seen through the Labour Party, before Labour won sweeping landslide election victories. They argued that they could grow "by leaps and bounds" once they broke with Labour and "raised the banner high", especially in Scotland. But all they succeeded in doing was to wreck the most successful Trotskyist organisation ever seen since the days of the Left Opposition.

At the time of the split the Taaffites publicly claimed 5,000 members. They rapidly lost the overwhelming majority of these. The youth which they never educated in the ideas of Marxism soon got tired and dropped out. A large layer of the older cadres soon followed suit. And the thousands of new recruits they claimed would be queuing up to join as soon as they left the Labour party never materialised. Once they realised they were out in the cold, the decline in membership was swift. At present they probably do not have more than a few hundred active members in Britain.

They have lost everything in Scotland and Merseyside - the two main areas of the old Militant, which Taaffe personally controlled. They have lost many members and cadres. Very few of the old leadership are still active in politics. They were forced to sell their centre in Hepscott Road, which had been bought as a result of the collective efforts of all the comrades over decades. Now their "strategy" of the Socialist Alliance is also in ruins.

They cannot explain this disaster in terms of the Labour Party, since they have had ten years to prove their point and to "grow by leaps and bounds". Instead they have collapsed by leaps and bounds. So they blame it on the objective situation. This will not wash. The plain fact is that their perspectives have been shown to be completely false. They entertained big ideas about replacing the Labour party (hence the "Socialist Party"). Tommy Sheridan in Scotland talked about "replacing the Labour Party" and Dave Cotterill comically called his group "the real Labour Party" in Liverpool. This showed the way they were thinking. They actually asserted that the Labour Party was going to "wither on the vine". However, what has withered over the past ten years is only their ridiculous illusions and pretentions.

The sectarian groups have no chance of building anything serious because they have no understanding of how the working class moves. All history demonstrates the truth of the law that when the class moves, it first expresses itself through the existing mass organisations. In Britain that means the trade unions and the Labour Party. This was shown by the events around the Livingstone episode. That was only an anticipation of how things will develop in the future, when the crisis of capitalism begins to find an expression inside the unions and the Labour Party.

The sects drew all the wrong conclusions from the Livingstone affair. They imagined that they were going to build an alternative to the Labour Party. They got their answer at the last general election, when Scargill's party and the SA got derisory results and the Labour Party, despite all the crimes of Blair, received a massive vote from the working class. Although many also abstained, they did not for a moment consider the sects as a serious alternative. This result threw the latter into disarray, but the reason for it is not hard to see. The workers continue to vote Labour, not because they like Tony Blair, but because they see no alternative. Is it so difficult to understand this?

The crisis in the SA is the result of the fact that the workers are not "breaking with their traditional organisations" in order to join the SWP, the SP or any other small group. In fact, they do not even notice the existence of such groups. Insofar as some workers drop out of the Labour Party in disgust at Blair' policies, they do not go to the sects, as the latter thought they would. They merely go home, falling into temporary inactivity. But this cannot last. The fresh winds of the class struggle will begin to blow again. And when this happens, the movement will once again be expressed through the unions and the Labour Party.

While the sects are fiddling and fussing on the fringes of the Labour Movement, the real process passes them by unnoticed. It is maturing in society, in the factories, in the unions, in the shop stewards committees - a process which tomorrow will inevitably be reflected in a growing polarisation to the right and left inside the Labour Party. This elementary truth - which Lenin and Trotsky explained long ago - is a book sealed with seven seals to the sects, who are busy constructing phantom revolutionary armies in the clouds.

We will wish them bon voyage, and get on with the serious work of building the forces of real Marxism in Britain and internationally, which can only done through patient and painstaking work in the working class and its mass organisations.