2000s >> 2001 >> no-1161-april-2001

Who are the Socialist Alliance?

Yet another set of dishonest politicians will be after your vote at the general election. However, in this case they are calling themselves ‘socialist’. But they are anything but.

The Socialist Alliance intends to field up to a hundred candidates in the forthcoming election, specifically targeting disaffected Labour voters who feel ‘betrayed’ by Tony Blair and may want a ‘socialist alternative’.

Rag bag
So who are the Socialist Alliance? They are an eclectic rag bag of Trotskyists, former Stalinists, various other groupings and assorted individuals. The main organisations involved include: Socialist Workers Party, Militant (now calling itself Socialist Party of England and Wales, or SPEW), Alliance for Workers Liberty, Communist Party of Great Britain, International Socialist Organisation and Workers Power. The SA are also supporting the 72 (former-Militant) Scottish Socialist Party candidates. Previously, the SA have stood in the 1998 Euro elections and last year’s Greater London Assembly elections, with limited success. The general election will be their most ambitious adventure to date. So, unfortunately, we will undoubtedly be hearing more about them.

In any case, it is interesting to learn how such a disparate collection of former enemies could have come together in the first place. It does not seem so long ago that the AWL were accusing the SWP of ‘violent thuggery’ against some of their own members (see AWL pamphlet Why the SWP Beats Up Its Socialist Critics), and surely the former Stalinists of the CPGB would have balked at the prospect of talking to Trotskyists, let alone organising with them. But whatever particular ism each of these leftist sects subscribe to, they all represent the left-wing of capitalism’s political apparatus, and thus are the enemy of the working class.

Left opens up
But with New Labour’s victory in May 1997 and flirtations with Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party notwithstanding, these leftist group’s orientation to Labourist policies had to be re-evaluated. Many of these groups have been hoisted with their own petard: telling workers to vote Labour only to scream ‘betrayed’ when they discovered Blair and Co were anti working class. We didn’t vote for this! screamed Socialist Worker. Oh yes you did! is our response.

Subsequently, a rightwards shift into the area vacated by Labour has become the order of the day. Just how far this shift should be and, moreover, the very content of the cynical reform package being offered to the working class has tested the very foundations of the alliance and caused much acrimony among the groups themselves. The SA is very much a marriage of convenience.

Leninist duplicity
All Leninist/Trotskyist organisations start from the premise that workers are too stupid to understand or want socialism by their own volition. Therefore, revolutionary ideas have to be introduced from outside the working class by all-knowing ‘professional revolutionaries’ who will lead workers to the promised land. It’s worth pointing out that the Leninists themselves do not want socialism because they do not know what it is. For Leninists and Trotskyists, socialism is what you get when they run the government and nationalise the commanding heights of the economy in a pathetic attempt to centrally plan production. This is not socialism, it is capitalism. Or, more precisely, state capitalism—whether the Leninists consciously realise it or not.

For this end, a minimum—or transitional—programme is adopted. Since workers are unlikely to be turned on to what the Leninists really stand for, a plethora of unworkable reforms is served up for the working class’s edification. For instance, here are some of the SA’s ‘priority pledges’ from their website:

  • Tax the rich to pay for the welfare state
  • Raise the minimum wage to £7 an hour
  • Cancel third world debt
  • For the right to work — 35 hour week now
  • Raise pensions and restore the link with earnings
  • Fully funded comprehensive education and NHS

Commenting upon the SA’s ‘tax the rich and spend’ budget proposals, Dave Nellist, the SA leader, said:

“If you tried to enter our budget into the Treasury computer model of the UK economy, it would reject it. It breaks all the rules.” (SA press release, 4/3/01)

As Nellist admits, the SA’s capitalist reform proposals would not work as capitalism is based upon capital accumulation and production for profit. So, Mr Nellist, why the need to lie?

Within the SA, groups such as the SWP, Militant and the AWL have been ‘out-lefted’ by the likes of the CPGB and WP who argue that the former are ‘economistic’ and ‘centrist’—Leninist speak for lacking revolutionary vision. The others have retorted by accusing the CPGB and WP of ‘ultra-leftist posturing’. According to Weekly Worker, the journal of the CPGB, reporting on the recent National Policy Conference of the SA:

“The SWP consciously and openly argued that in order to make a real impact in the election and attract non-revolutionary workers and Labourites, we must not stand on ‘too radical’ [sic] a platform. The most important thing is to form a pole of attraction one step to the left of New Labour—in effect, the old Labour model is the safest and most viable.”


“Amendments from the CPGB and WP called for opposition to the standing army and police and their replacement by working class militia and ‘community self-defence organisation’ [sic]. The SWP’s Kambiz Boomla strode to the microphone to admonish the left for wanting to ‘put off’ [sic] people such as ‘Sister Christine’, a catholic nun who was on the point of being recruited into the alliance in east London.” (Weekly Worker, 15 March)

Yes, this is real revolutionary politics: do we demand a ‘workers militia’ or will that frighten off the nuns? It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.

Even our Leninist friends have been forced to admit that this charade is based upon a tissue of lies. Here’s one member of the International Socialist Group:

“Do we want a revolutionary programme or a programme that challenges capitalism and can reach out to significant forces to our right? We ‘don’t always have to tell the truth’ [sic] about our revolutionism.” (Weekly Worker, 15 March)

SWP’s about turn
Our old friends in the SWP, which is infamous for changing its line, or ‘bending the stick’, whenever it suits them, have done exactly this in the case of the SA. For years, the SWP has proclaimed itself as the de facto revolutionary party and denigrated the efforts of other left groups that it is now in partnership with. It has always been fiercely against standing in elections, as such activity was considered tantamount to reformism. This, of course, never prevented them from telling workers to vote Labour at every election or from jumping on every reformist bandwagon in town. Indeed, its ‘Where We Stand’ column, printed in every issue of Socialist Worker, clearly states:

“There is no parliamentary road. At most parliamentary activity can be used to make propaganda against the present system. Only the mass action of workers themselves can destroy the system.”


“The present system cannot be patched up or reformed as the established labour and trade union leaders say. It has to be overthrown.”

Rest assured that none of the above will appear in bold print in the SA election manifesto. After all, think of the nuns! It is reasonable to assume that the core of the SWP remains the same although its auto-Labourism has been thrown into confusion since the victory of new Labour. In 1998, the SWP produced an action programme of minimalist reformist demands which signalled a rightwards shift. Despite criticisms from the more left-leaning CPGB and WP that the SWP has become too reformist, this has been the logical political trajectory of all the groups comprising the SA.

In particular, the CPGB and the AWL appear to be interested in taking the SA to its logical conclusion—the formation of a new party. Of course, a prerequisite for such a development would be an SA paper, and, as leading CPGB theoretician Jack Conrad has argued:

“such a political paper represents the starting point, the first step towards creating a genuinely socialist party in Britain . . . is the overriding goal to which everything else should be subordinated.” (Weekly Worker, 25 January)

However, it is unlikely that the largest organisations in the SA—the SWP and Militant—would ever countenance such a development. As things stand, the alliance project has deeply divided Militant, leaving themselves with one foot in and one foot out with a possible split on the cards. Experience tells us that the SWP would only ever be interested in anything they could completely dominate, and such behaviour has already been implicitly noted in the pages of Weekly Worker.

Our analysis of the SA is not based upon some narrow sectarianism—it’s based upon principle. We do not, nor have we ever, supported capitalist parties, especially those that dress up in revolutionary garb in order to hoodwink the workers. The SA is an expression of all the political mistakes made by the working class last century—from the Labour Party to the Soviet Union. We do not doubt that well-meaning individuals get caught up in such chicanery for no other reason than a desire to see a better world. However, sentiment can never be a substitute for the class struggle.


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