Monday, January 15, 2007

Could it have been different?


Cast your mind back to the huge anti-war demonstration of 15th February 2003. Estimates of numbers are debatable, but 2 million is a credible estimate of attendance.

In the lead up to the march there was a discussion between some leading members of the Socialist Alliance (SA) and the SWP, represented by John Rees, about the SA presenting a united face for the demo. As it was the SWP decided to concentrate on boosting the profile of its own organisation, and all the other left groups followed their lead: leaving the Socialist Alliance with a very small profile. According to some comrades who were at the meeting there was a moment when it looked like Rees was going to agree, and then backed off.

Even though it would have been for the overall benefit of the left, it would have required a challenge to those parts of the SWP (for example the National Secretary of the time, Chris Bambury) who opposed participation in the SA.

On the day, there was of course a problem in relating the revolutionary politics of the SWP direct to the consciousness of those protesting against the war, the transitional form of the Socialist Alliance might have bridged that gap. What would have happened if the overwhelming majority of the English left had promoted a single organisation, the Socialist Alliance, with a single voice on the demo, and then stood in the May elections under that same banner?

That is what happened in Scotland. Here is an observation from leading SWP member Mike Gonzalez about the demonstration in Scotland, where the Scottish Socialist Party were very clearly identified with the organising of the protest:

“It was a historic moment—and it was a victory, in our view, that arose directly out of the public perception of the [SSP]’s leading role in the anti-war movement: 100,000 marched through Glasgow on 15 February that year. It is no coincidence that that figure so closely reflected the numbers in the election.”

Interestingly there were two million on the march in London, and the Lib Dems managed to present themselves as THE anti-war party in England, and their vote in May 2003 went up 2 million.


GSIFS said...

An interesting blog. I think I will keep a watch to see what Socialist views are at present.

Liam Mac Uaid said...

It all could have been very different. On that day there were four or five Socialist Resistance supporters handing out SA placards at the end of a row of 30+ SW sellers. A dismal sectarian display it was.

neprimerimye said...

Had all the various socialist sects ben united in a single larger grouping things would have been no different unless they had an orientation on the workplaces and not on electoralism as with the misbegotten Socialist Alliance.

Btw I've posted an excellent anti-war socialist text on my blog only today which some might be interested in. Altough I note Andy has already noticed it.

AN said...

Wha you are saying might be staretegically correct in the long run mike, but the woeful state of workplace organisation means that we wouldn't find uch of an audiecne there.

a very public sociologist said...

It could have been very different. The Lib Dems should not have been put on the podium - they were gifted an issue they didn't deserve, considering they're not anti-war anyway.

Snowball said...

Ok - lets run with Andy's alternative scenario for a bit. If the SWP had simply all handed out SA leaflets/ placards on that day there still would not have been a 'united Left' on the demo - as the Socialist Party had already left. Perhaps a scrappy SA paper could have been put together and printed - but could all 2 million people have got a copy? I doubt we could have got to a tenth of the people there realistically. Perhaps there would have been a few more SA placards there and perhaps a few more people might have joined the SA.

However, the Lib Dems (whether they got a platform on the day or not) would still have been able to present themselves to the media and been presented as 'the anti-war party' as they had 50 MPs to the SAs 0 MPs (and 0 councillors? I can't remember) The problem with the SA was never a question of simply the lack of numbers of people joining - it was the fact that all it represented really was the SWP and some other socialists on the Left. Woo!

The victory of Michael Lavalette in the 2003 council elections came about because he was prepared to reach out and work with anti-war Muslims - something some of the other socialists in the SA could not tolerate ever doing. Even if the SA had picked up a few more members and had a slightly higher profile coming out of the anti-war movement it still would not have been able to seriously challenge the Lib Dems for the mantle of the 'the anti-war party' as was proved in the Brent East byelection. And it would still have been sadly dominated by the SWP alone even if a few more people had joined.

What was needed was a totally new realignment on the Left based on the unity built during the anti-war movement - ideally a Red-Green electoral alliance of some sort (though the Green Party were sadly not interested in such a project) This would have to mean the liquidation of the SA into a broader project - given the SA's very weak standing electorally - something SA purists never accepted as necessary. The SWP however decided to take the first step towards a new alignment based on the anti-war movement by uniting with Muslims interested in a new party (but not unsurprisingly particularly attracted by the SA - basically the SWP + a few others as noted). The rest is history...

AN said...

My argument that the SA could have picked up 2 millin votes is only semi-serious. BUt ...

Do you think the higher than average SA vote in Preston in 2003 was also affected by:
i) the long term work of the SA in the toen, including councillor Terry cartwright
ii)the expose of a leading Prestoon Lib Dem involved in a child sex scandal just before the election?

Please also note that in lrage parts of the country the SA did have a life beyond the SWP plus a few others, attracting a signifincat layer of former labour lefts.

That is certianly not true of respect! One thing I agree though - Respect is history.

Anonymous said...

Neprimerimye your text is not socialist but actually an attempt to give a left veneer to refusing to support the right of the opressed to resist imperialism.

It is actually a break with the IS tradition of critical but unconditional support for the right of the oppressed to resist.
Neprimerimye seeks to draw an equals sign between the Iraqi resistance and the occupation.
While Neprimerimye's comments on workers movements in Iraq is abstractly true, concretely it ignores the political realities of Iraq today. The resistance to imperialism is led mainly by religious forces and the secular left is largely non-existent in Iraq. (The Iraqi CP collaborates, the WCPI is sectarian and mainly based in Kurdistan)

It wasn't a general strike in Vietnam that broke imperialism, but the military resistance of the NLF.

Interestingly, when the leader of the Basra Oil Workers Union spoke in the UK he continually re-iterated his support for the military resistance to imperialism.