RA National Meeting 2000

Some of the newcomers to this year’s Red Action National Meeting confessed that the weekend had been a whole new experience for them. Yes, they’d been to party conferences before, but nothing quite compared to this. Back-room manoeuvrings and stitch-ups made way for genuine, passionate, debate. There was little in the way of speeches from those in leadership positions, instead they were expected to argue their positions from the floor like everyone else. The open discussion of differences replaced stage-managed shows of unity. And heated as these discussions became they were carried on into the evening in a spirit of comradeship that eschews the culture of character assassination or the fear of vilification that pervades the internal life of most left parties. This is the Red Action way.

The other thing that most impressed those I had spoken with was the air of reality that dominated proceedings. That doesn’t mean to say that what was being discussed had no theoretical anchorage, far from it. It simply meant that everything debated was done so within the framework of practical application. Certainly in my experience this has the advantage of giving the debate a real edge, when most on the left debate in the abstract.

This year the three issues debated which provoked the most contro­versy was that of drugs and the status of anti-social elements within the working class, the left’s perspective on asylum seekers and on what RA’s orientation should be to the newly formed London Socialist Alliance. Other areas covered included our work within Anti-Fascist Action, our political and electoral involvement in community-based working class initiatives, the Internet, fundraising and Ireland.

Certainly a number of members felt that due to certain key factors the LSA had to be discussed in at least a serious fashion. It was argued that the LSA represents an unprecedented realignment of much of the left in Britain (including the biggest sect - the SWP and the Socialist Party, formerly the ‘big guns’ of Militant), a formation that stands left of Labour, prepared to oppose them at the ballot box, while operating in a largely democratic fashion by giving equal status to even the smallest of organisations.

To say there was considerable unease amongst the membership with any suggestion of a ‘turn to the LSA’, would be an understatement. However, it was also recognised that RA members had nothing to fear from any political engagement with the left. Their jaded theory and practice would hold few revelations for our personnel. Instead, as we have not been the first to recognise, the relative ‘opening-up’ of the SWP means that for the first time their cocooned, passive and largely apolitical membership will be exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking. At the moment confusion reigns amongst the rank and file, characteristically their latest U-turn was completed, in true SWP style, without either consultation or even a New Labour-type focus group, let alone an actual vote (perish the thought). Subsequently it is taking them time to readjust to the idea of getting into bed with those formerly deemed the foe, with those whom only weeks ago the leadership were denying ‘Roswell-style’ actually existed.

Certainly the consensus amongst our membership was that while most harboured serious doubts about the sincerity and ability of those involved in the project to actually engage with the working class (that the left were merely intent on applying a bit of elbow grease, polishing-up the fittings and rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic) we should nonetheless take the opportunity to pitch RA’s politics, to what is for us, a relatively new audience.

Steve Potts

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 7, June/July '00