The Socialist Party has always supported genuine left unity, on open, pluralistic terms. An effective challenge in the general election is an urgent task facing the workers’ movement and the left, not least in order to combat the far-right British National Party (BNP).Hannah's reply is wrong on only one count. The SWP did not oppose No2EU, but neither did they endorse it. In fact they were almost silent about it, preferring instead to concentrate on anti-fascist propaganda during the lead up to the European elections. And this curious silence has continued afterwards. In my opinion, if you're serious about unity you need to concretely analyse the opportunities, the difficulties, and the lessons that can be drawn from the efforts of other organisations. While I wouldn't expect SWP members (or anyone else for that matter) to agree with the many pieces the SP has produced on the fortunes of the SA, Respect and now No2EU, few can argue the SP hasn't given them due consideration.
To succeed, however, it is vital that, unlike previous attempts, it involves significant sections of the working class and young people, rather than simply being a coming together of existing left organisations.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) did not support the recent attempt by the rail workers’ RMT union, ourselves, the Communist Party of Britain and others to provide a left alternative in the European elections, No2EU – Yes to Democracy.
Yet this was the first time in a century that a national trade union had taken an electoral initiative on an all-Britain scale.
As the recent RMT conference showed, No2EU was supported, not just by the union tops, but the vast majority of its activists too.
No2EU candidates included leaders of the most militant struggles in 2009 to date – Visteon, Lindsey, and Linamar convenor and Socialist Party member Rob Williams.
The RMT is now discussing a trade union list for the general election (obviously not under the name No2EU).
This would be a serious step towards creating a mass political voice for the working class in Britain.
The best way forward would be for all socialist forces, including the SWP, to work to develop this initiative.
The SWP opposed No2EU as “nationalist”. No2EU had a limited programme but was not nationalist.
It called for “international solidarity of working class people” and opposed the bosses’ Lisbon Treaty from a left viewpoint, as the Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins will do in the new Irish referendum.
The SWP also similarly condemned the first Lindsey strikes as nationalist. Yet these were militant strikes against the bosses’ attempt to undermine trade union rights – the BNP were chased off the picket lines.
This is not to deny the inevitable existence of nationalist sentiments.
However, the intervention of the Socialist Party, and other militant workers, ensured that nationalism was combated and the strike fought on a clear class basis, demanding the unionisation of migrant workers.
By June, three Socialist Party members were on the strike committee.
The SWP have made serious errors in 2009, both industrially and politically – seeing reaction where you should have seen important sections of the working class looking for a way to fight back.
This does not mean, however, that we cannot collaborate on an election challenge. One important condition for success though will be the organisational methods adopted. No2EU had a federal, umbrella approach.
The component organisations came together around core policies, but all had complete freedom to produce their own material in support of No2EU.
A similar approach is necessary now. But this is not the position the SWP took in the past, in both the Socialist Alliance and Respect. The Open Letter does not say if you have since changed your approach.
The experience of ourselves and others on the left is not encouraging. But if you have reassessed and changed your methods, and are now willing to openly and seriously collaborate with others in a general election challenge, we welcome this.
We welcome this opportunity to put our views in Socialist Worker, and are happy to reciprocate in the pages of The Socialist.
This is what the SWP have written in reply (here):
The desire for unity on the left is driven by the meltdown in Labour’s support, the lengthening dole queues and the election of two fascist British National Party (BNP) candidates to the European parliament.This is a strange reply for several reasons. Firstly there is the nature of the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute itself. I remember reading a good introductory book by the SWP's very own John Rees on dialectics many years ago. Among the many demonstrations of Marx's method, the comrade highlighted the distinction between essence and appearance. The SWP's analysis of the dispute gave the appearance of BJ4BW placards and Union flags the same undue prominence as the mainstream media. Had this been primarily a nationalist dispute it would not have been won round to traditional trade unionist and internationalist demands. It was not because in essence Lindsey was about Total's attempt to smash up existing collective agreements. Why the SWP - among others - continue to hold on to nationalist fairy tales about Lindsey is beyond me.
If we fail to establish even the most minimal united challenge to Labour at the forthcoming general election we will not only harm ourselves. We will undermine the wider resistance.
Responding to the SWP’s open letter (A federal approach, 18 July), the Socialist Party’s Hannah Sell seems to focus on the issues which divide us rather than those that might unite the left.
The most recent walkouts in construction together with the victories at Visteon and the Vestas occupation show the way forward. But there are those desperate to turn discontent with Gordon Brown against migrants. The way the BNP seized on the “British jobs for British workers” slogan shows the danger.
Hannah is determined, against all evidence, to deny that this slogan was central to the first walkouts in construction at the start of this year. She also holds up the No2EU campaign in the European elections as a success story.
In truth it received 1 percent of the vote, trailed behind the moribund Socialist Labour Party and failed to create the local breakthroughs that Respect achieved in east London and Birmingham in the previous European elections.
We are well aware of the scars left by split in of Respect. We are not rushing to lay down one prescription or to claim we have all the answers – we are committed to talking to everyone who wishes to discuss with us, no matter past disputes.
In that situation Hannah’s determination to push through one “federalist” model seems misplaced.
Second, the SWP completely miss the point Hannah was making about No2EU. Nowhere did she argue it was a "success story" or try and spin its one per cent of the vote (as anyone with a passing acquaintance with SP arguments knows, it has consistently put forward the position that No2EU's significance lay in the RMT's participation and not the vote it was likely to get). What Hannah actually argued was the organisational character of No2EU - where its components united around a basic platform but were free to produce and distribute their own material - is probably a smart way for an electoral coalition of the left to proceed.
For some reason the SWP seem unable to respond to the SP's arguments on federalism. Instead it (willfully?) distorts Hannah's argument about No2EU before accusing her of wanting to foist a federal model on any emerging coalition. The SWP might be agnostic when it comes to such things, but the SP is not prepared to be. Quite clearly when it comes to building unity among the disparate and fractious organisations of the far left how can this be achieved if its affiliates do not have the freedom to produce and distribute their own material?
Going from the arguments put by SWP comrades at last Tuesday's No2EU regional meeting in Birmingham, it seems the leadership and cadre are so convinced of the urgency of the situation that a left unity conference has to be organised sooner rather than later. Fair enough, but as far as I can see the comrades are trying to run before they can walk. Yes, an autumn rally/conference with the right speeches and appearances from the likes of Mark Serwotka will warm the cockles of the party faithful hearts. But such an event founding a new organisation (will the Left List/Left Alternative be resurrected?) is likely to only attract the SWP's periphery and a gaggle of the smaller groups. This might help bolster their negotiating power vis the rest of the far left but will not solve the problem of building a lasting alliance with other significant organisations. You cannot short circuit the process.