News - January 2002


19th Jan '02

The Socialist Alliance, not so long ago touted as the 'unified' answer to the left's lack of credibility amongst the working class, has ceased to exist. The Socialist Alliance conference on December 5 saw the organisation adopt a constitution sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which effectively makes the alliance a centralised body under the leadership of the SWP, thereby effectively disenfranchising every other organisation or individual within it - should the SWP so wish.

This constitution was adopted, despite the Socialist Party (SP) (the only constituent member of the alliance with councillors) making it clear it would be forced to leave, if the SWP constitution was adopted. It was and they did. When it came to the crunch' the original objective of 'unity' was abandoned to meet the tactical demands of the central committee of the SWP. By its stance the Socialist Alliance made it clear, that it no longer cares about 'unity'.

Given such circumstances, the condemnation of the SP for acting in a 'selfish and sectarian' manner is sanctimonious humbug. For whatever the motives of the SP they could hardly be less dishonourable than the motives of those who effectively expelled them from the 'unity project' that the SP had itself created. In addition, while the SA remains firmly socialist, in, it must be said, the most unreconstructed and dogmatic sense, it meets no objective criteria to justify continuing to call itself an alliance.

The original regional steering committees, which included, as of right, delegates from all affiliate organisations, have been displaced in favour of a national executive, elected by slate at an annual national conference. Now, the only way that an organisation or individual can be represented on the decision making body is if the SWP graciously allow them onto their slate. Current 'poodles' of the SWP include Worker's Power, and the CPGB who are, for the moment, on the SA executive courtesy of the SWP. As the structure is designed to facilitate the SWP, this means the Socialist Alliance is effectively now the SWP's 'Anti-Labour-League,' and takes its place alongside it's other fronts such as 'Stop the War', 'Globalise Resistance' and the 'Anti-Nazi League', all of them mere feeder organisations to the SWP without any internal dynamic of their own. Ditto the Socialist Alliance.

The pernicious potential of the SWP apart, the more pressing problems facing the SA are self-evident: one, it has ditched the ambition to 'unite the left', two it is no longer credibly an alliance, and three, it isn't working. Aside from a handful of 'well known' individual recruits from Labour such as Liz Davies and Mike Marquese, it has practically no individual members. Since the December decision, its chances of attracting new recruits have diminished: previously, highly unlikely, now, non-existent.

For after all, who in their right mind, is going to join an organisation controlled entirely by the SWP, if they could not bring themselves to join the parent organisation to begin with?

Then there are the quite wretched election results. In the Ipswich parliamentary by-election in November, the SA candidate was beaten into 8th place by the Greens, the UKIP, the Christian People's Alliance and the Legalise Cannabis campaign. Of greater significance, on the same day, the Alliance was also humiliated by the British National Party in two head to head council by-elections in Burnley. The BNP took 23% and 19% respectively while the Socialist Alliance limped home with 5% and 3%. Rather than seriously address why this is the case, the executive has decided it will not allow the BNP to "dictate" to it where it should stand in future. Roughly translated? 'While continuing to dismiss the far-right as one reactionary rump we must 'never again' allow this theory to be tested again in practice'.

The setting up of the Socialist Alliance showed to some extent that the left collectively knew that it had a terminal problem, even if they didn't understand or politically acknowledge it. Despite this, for the first time for generations, most of the left stood outside the Labour Party as an independent political force. True, it was a small step, but nonetheless progressive. In order to try and build on that, Red Action joined the London Socialist Alliance in the summer of 2000 in an attempt to influence at least some sections of the alliance and inject some realism, analysis and strategic thinking into it.

From the outset it was recognised that this would be an uphill struggle, because for the SA to become politically viable would have heralded a complete root and branch revision of many cherished 'principles'. At the time of our joining, we stated "the SA currently meets the immediate needs of the left when the real task is to meet the immediate needs of the class. That is the RA objective. Red Action has joined the LSA with honest intentions. It is in short, our intention to revolutionise it from within."

We never joined the SA on a national basis nor did we have any intention of working within the Socialist Alliances on a local basis. The main purpose of being in the London Socialist Alliance was to provide political solutions to the problems posed by the disenfranchisement of the working class from all political arenas, the disengagement of the left from the working class and the consequent threat of the BNP being able to fulfil its potential to become the 'radical alternative'. However it immediately became apparent that the component parts were either far too pleased with themselves, or alternatively so obsessively interested in promoting their own agendas, that no quality time was allowed to discuss in a grown up way, the measures needed to be taken to ensure the political survival of the project in the real world.

It is true that in our eighteen months involvement RA did not do a lot. In truth there was no opportunity to do so. In total our delegates attended eight meetings of the LSA Steering Committee. However from February 2001 to September the same year, democracy within the London region was suspended for the duration of the election campaign and then apart from a brief democratic intrusion in September, internal democracy was rejected as both unsatisfactory and unnecessary in December.

This is not to say that our involvement had no impact. Indeed there was evidence of some RA contributions being handled with rare sensitivity. For example, following an early debate on the negative and dangerous aspects of multiculturalism, it was put to the vote, and the lone RA delegate was the only one to vote in favour. The following week in a letter in Weekly Worker, leading LSA member, Mike Marquese, who had unreservedly condemned the RA motion at the meeting, went on to make many of the observations introduced by RA. 'Encouraged' by this, the following month we followed up with another not dissimilar proposal. While attracting support from the Socialist Party, the CPGB and the RDG, the question of where the influential Mr Marquese really stood was never discovered. Though continuing to play a full part within the LSA, he would never again attend another LSA Steering Committee meeting.

As has already been pointed out, the LSA Steering committee never met between February and September of this year, despite the election ending in June. The post-election discussion, such as it was, took place under the auspices of the SA nationally. In other words, the very individuals who presided over the fiasco handed down judgement on the SA, and therefore their own performance. As RA was not a national affiliate it meant that we never had a chance to place our criticisms of the election campaign on the SA table, either before or after the event.

With the suspension of the LSA not being lifted for four months after the June election, there was to be no serious post mortem on the wretched electoral showing.

The recall meeting in September amply highlighted this studied indifference, where RA was generously allowed two days notice to inform delegates, only to find it cancelled at the last possible moment in order to comply with a 'Stop the War' photo opportunity outside Downing Street. Apart from one other individual, only the RA delegates turned up. When next convened any real debate on 'the way forward' focused on structure and constitution entirely, as if future orientation or strategy were of no importance.

Politically, the Socialist Alliance has never made an impact on the working class, nor, as it has made clear, does it have any plans to do so.

That said the current Socialist Alliance predicament will have raised few eyebrows. As was publicly outlined when London Red Action sought affiliation in June 2000, the objective was from the outset to try and save the left - from itself. Demonstrably we have failed. The SA is now firmly in a camp that is indifferent, when not openly opposed to immediate working class interests.

In the past when the class interest necessitated it, we have been prepared to work in a disciplined fashion with tendencies which we believe history has demonstrated are inherently flawed, and with which we have no political sympathy.

During the 1980's and early 1990's when anti-fascism demanded it, we were happy to work alongside and more to the point, found it possible to design a structure and a decision-making process that proved able to accommodate all shades of progressive political opinion on the issue. From members of the Labour Party to the unaligned, from Anarchists to die-hard Trotskyists and from them to the most trenchant Stalinists, who all worked together from 1989 (up until the 1994 when the BNP abandoned the streets) and, for the most part, in a comradely fashion. They did so because they had to, and they did in what was moreover very often a combat organisation. Tellingly, with for a limited period one exception, Anti-Fascist Action never was 'democratic' or 'happening' enough to attract a single affiliate from those who crowded in behind the SA.

In May, in what promises to be a watershed election, RA will be backing independent working class candidates. In some cases, it is possible we will find ourselves in competition not only with the mainstream parties, but the SA. Had the SA leadership, which is to say the SWP Central Committee, committed itself to out-flanking the BNP with a fraction of the zeal devoted to settling old scores with 'Militant', then in a situation where a conflict of interest was identified, it is highly likely RA would be in favour of making some form of accommodation. There has never been a problem in working alongside the orthodox left in a principled fashion when objective circumstances demanded we do so. After December 5th however, the prospect of cooperation in any form appears to be out of the question. The Socialist Alliance is doomed to fail and deserves to do so. Not only is failure assured, but to accelerate radical change, absolute failure may even be necessary.

London Red Action


10th Jan '02

The following is the full text of the IRA's annual New Year message, which appears in this week's edition of An Phoblacht.

The leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann sends New Year greetings to our Volunteers, imprisoned comrades and supporter at home and abroad.

At this time our thoughts are with the families of our dead comrades and we extend solidarity to them.

The IRA leadership thanks them all for their continued support.

We remain committed to our republican objectives and to the creation of an Irish Republic based on justice and equality.

The reunification of Ireland and the unity of its people are the cornerstones on which a durable peace will be established.

Since 1994, the IRA leadership has taken a number of initiatives to enhance the potential of the peace process.

2001 has been a difficult year. Those within sections of unionism and the British establishment who are opposed to change brought the peace process to the point of collapse.

On August 6 the IRA leadership agreed a scheme with the IICD. On October 23 we implemented it. We took this unprecedented step to save the peace process.

While our initiative undoubtedly saved the peace process, we understand and appreciate the great anxiety it has caused to Volunteers and our support base. Over the years we have faced many difficult challenges together, but through our commitment to republican objectives we have remained united and have grown in strength.

Making peace is a collective responsibility. At all times, the IRA leadership has acted in good faith. We have honoured any commitments that we have entered into. For our part, the leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann remains committed to the continuing search for a durable peace in Ireland. Others must do likewise.

A genuine peace process must deal with the causes of conflict and must be based on justice and equality for everyone.

The past year has seen the remilitarisation of nationalist and republican areas. There has also been a sustained pogrom against nationalist areas in the Six Counties and especially in North Belfast. The refusal of the British government to confront this loyalist violence, their refusal to bring about a new beginning to policing and their unwillingness to fulfil obligations entered into are the stark reminders of the tasks ahead.

These issues must be faced by the British government. It also must take the necessary steps to deliver real and meaningful change."

P O'Neill
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin


8th Jan '02

Recently, while leader Ian Duncan-Smith ruminated over the possibility of a name change, the Tory Party's own auditor's PriceWaterhouseCooper suggested that unless there was a huge influx of cash, then the party could struggle to maintain itself as "a going concern" in the New Year. If, as a result, the leadership sees the need to dramatically change tack with a violent move back to the political centre many of the activists who voted in such large numbers for Ian Duncan Smith in order to prevent exactly that possibility will undoubtedly feel betrayed. At the grassroots resignations may prove the order of the day. No prizes for guessing the likely beneficaries.

"There is nothing alarmist, nothing panicky and nothing remotely unrealistic about Francis Maude's warning that the Tories are in grave danger of collapsing to the status of third party", Peter Osborne political correspondent for the Spectator wrote on August 21st. If he seemed unduly pessimistic then it was remember prior to the uproar that surrounded the unmasking of Edgar Griffin as someone who, in the eyes of the Daily Telegraph, takes a highly indulgent view of the British National Party. Apart from raising the spectre of the Monday Club and so on, what the Griffin affair really revealed is how organizationaly chaotic the Tory party is behind the scenes.

Large comparisons have been made between the political meltdown suffered by Labour in 1983, and the current predicament of the party of opposition. But there is "one crucial difference" Osborne observes between the problems of the Tories today and those of Labour nearly two decades ago. A difference "which has not yet, as far as I am aware been noted by either political commentators or political scientists. That is organization." His point being that, unlike Labour which had the unions, who even while in his opinion, may have made Labour unelectable, were even at the darkest moments still providing a solid organizational base, a ready source of finance, and most of all "some kind of purpose in life". All too obviously the Tories are operating without such safety net.

In addition, retaining some kind of purpose in life may figure unduly on the thoughts of many a Tory activist, particularly as the average age of the membership must now surely be greater than the 65 it was estimated to be when an article in Red Action in early 1997 first 'noted' the problem Osborne maintains commentators have continued to ignore.

"If, as seems likely, they lose the next election [a reference to the 1997 general election] they can expect to be out of power for a generation. If you can't attract recruits when in power what hope is there when in opposition? The only way to attract youth is with a more radical agenda. As the Tories are already the most right wing government since the war, such a development would herald a split either from the left or from the right." (Red Action issue 74 Spring 1997)

Breaking from left or right is precisely where we are at now. But should such a split happen, while of extreme political significance which we will go into later, it does not of itself address the fact that 'Old Tory' is in Osbornes opinion already "moribund and literally dying on its feet." And though ballot papers were dispatched to an estimated 305,000 party members, "no more than 15,000 of these can be regarded as activists, or an average of about 25 per constituency. Moreover, he goes on, in a disturbingly large number of northern or inner-city constituencies only two or three at most are available to...get the vote out on Election Day.

"All too obviously it is a condition of stagnancy that makes the Tory Party extremely vulnerable to jackals like the UKIP and the BNP sniffing ever closer to the once great beast. The truth is that the fringes - such as the BNP and the UKIP - openly want to see a victory for the Europhile Mr Clarke, They believe they would benefit greatly from the subsequent Tory splits." (Daily Telegraph 25,8,01). While the Telegraph reading of the situation is hardly inaccurate, what it didn't address is what could happen if its preferred candidate Duncan Smith became the choice of the Tory faithful? What indeed the political significance if, entirely for tactical reasons, he too was the preferred choice of the BNP?

"For several weeks now BNP press spokesmen have been telling journalists that - except on the issue of Europe a Tory party led by IDS will lurch even further to the left than it would under Ken Clarke...Add to that the future loss of activists upset by Duncan Smith's coming betrayal of traditional Tory values and it becomes clear that an IDS party will face organizational meltdown." (BNP News 2.9.01)

Even if IDS performs a volte-face as predicted by the BNP, his election as leader may initially at least, provoke, if not an outright split, elements from the left of the party to cross-over to Labour or the Lib Dems in increasingly large numbers. The resulting political imbalance of any small to medium desertion of activists in particular, would almost automatically, whether IDS wanted it or not, see the Tory party heart competing for the ground already occupied by the far-right.

Given the seemingly intractable organizational problems of 'two or three at most activists in most working class constituencies' the mopping up of BNP votes in such areas, that Searchlight might possibly have hoped for in other circumstances, is now far from a foregone conclusion. Though hard to imagine as little as five years ago it may well be the BNP who in certain cases do all the mopping.

Even in advance of the inevitable bloodletting "many, many Conservatives I believe are letting their subscriptions lapse and joining the BNP." This comment from Edgar Griffin he attributed to "a little bit of pillow talk from my lady wife." While it would be foolish to ignore the spite involved in such a personal statement, only days later on August 28 the BNP made the claims official.

"As the Conservative party begins to fragment we are now starting to get serious enquiries from disillusioned Tories (including an ex-MP). We are finding that many of these people are in positions within the Tory hierarchy that enables them to influence several other people within their local Conservative Association. Moreover these potential new members have good levels of organizational skills and experience in middle management".

For the few who take ANL pronouncements on BNP policy literally, (sterilize the disabled, smash the NHS, etc) the idea that the Tory party and the BNP might have anything in common might seem absurd, However when the Guardian conducted it's own compare and contrast study, following Edgar Griffins comment that the Tory party was possibly the more 'extreme' of the two, it found that, as Edgar Griffin himself had predicted, they 'could hardly tell the difference'. Indeed while the BNP is naturally eager to "welcome any genuine and well meaning Conservative seeking" as it puts it "political asylum", it is it stresses on the understanding that the new recruits "share our commitment to social justice and our opposition to free trade economics".

In other words the political asylum offered is conditional, carrying with it the acceptance that in regard to strategy requirements working class concerns must be allowed primacy. This was unlikely to change whether Smith of Clarke won.

For Smith too the obstacle of an arthritic organization ,whatever the strategy, remains to the foreground. In Bexley, South-east London last year, the BNP beat the Tories into second place in a council by-election. Nick Griffin himself was within a whisker of doing the same in the general election in Oldham.

Back in the 1970's the NF ran the Liberals close for the status of third party. Francis Maude believes the contest is now between the Liberals and Tories for second spot. He may be right. But what up to now has not, as far as I am aware, been mentioned by political commentators, is that Old Tory may in its fight for survival find itself in the tricky position of fending off, only in certain urban areas to begin with admittedly, not just the Lib Dems but more ominously - the BNP.
And there is nothing alarmist, panicky or remotely unrealistic about saying so.