Passionate Debate

THIS YEAR 'S National Meeting (NM) was very satisfying for a number of reasons. The effort put into organising and promoting the NM amongst the membership clearly paid of, this being one of the best attended RA conferences in a number of years. Of particular significance was the welcome return of some long standing members alongside the newest recruits; plus a smattering of AFA 'vets ' from around the country who have joined RA in the last year. Just as pleasing was the fact that all regions outside of London and the South East were well represented.

The first day of the NM was given over to a full, open, comprehensive debate on how all areas of the organisation 's work is progressing and might be improved, from publications to the internet, from finance to the National Civil Rights Movement, from the state of the Left to the promotion of independent working class initiatives.

The real contentious issues however, emerged with a rash of emergency motions on the second day. The wisdom of allowing these motions onto the agenda, with members having no opportunity for prior viewing or discussion, has to be open to question. It certainly led to one of them being 'pared down ' and all being voted through on the proviso that they remain at an exploratory stage.

However, it did give the accompanying debates a rawness that was lacking when discussing areas where we have been active at length.

It was the debate on 'Developing a response to drug use in working class communities ' that evoked the most emotive and passionate reaction. Whilst the person responsible must be praised for attempting to open up discussion on what is becoming a crucial issue within our communities, he was left in absolutely no doubt as to the powerful reactions this issue provokes.

While I would not even attempt to represent the views of other members, who all argued their positions well, I think it 's fair to say that opinions ranged from those espousing respect for the rights of drug users - all the way through to those who favoured the tactics applied by the likes of 'Direct Action Against Drugs ' in the north of Ireland!
Of course what gives these kind of debates an edge within RA is the knowledge that they are rarely embarked upon as merely an academic exercise. Unlike most groups on the Left, RA members know that at some stage they might well be expected to implement any new policy.

As I outlined earlier, given the last-minute arrival of this and other motions, there was no way the debate was going to be successfully concluded before the clock ran out. It is important then that discussion of these issues are not allowed to come to an abrupt end, that they are not just simply shelved or 'parked until a future date ' as a Mr D. Trimble would say. Organisers must ensure that these debates continue within branch meetings and members can also avail of space in the internal bulletin.

This year 's National Meeting provides a good platform to build on in the coming year. As was highlighted, the on-going and accelerating collapse of the Left, could elevate the role of RA far beyond the actual relatively small membership and meagre resources currently at our disposal. But to do that will require all of us to play a role in ensuring that all areas of work discussed are followed up and pushed home for the maximum gains possible. As the National Organiser suggested in his opening address to the NM, "not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end. Meaning that increasingly what happens in [this room], can shape what happens out there".
Steve Potts
Reproduced from RA Vol 4, Issue 2, Aug/Sept '99