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Socialist Alliance Policy Conference - A guide to the amendments

A briefing for activists

Produced by the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, March 2001 to inform the debate at the Socialist Alliance policy conference

The structure of the debate centres around a previously-circulated text, and amendments submitted by local groups and affiliated organisations. Many of the amendments are recommended for approval without debate. Here is a briefing, and some opinions, on those slated for debate.

Amendment 3: Haringey

Insist that our minimum wage demand be set at 8.57 an hour.

Oppose. The job of socialists is to be the tribunes, not the economic statisticians, of the working class. The best approach on such issues is to seize on the best formulation which has substantial support in the mass working-class movement, and use it as a lever, rather than to pull a figure out of our heads.

Amendment 5: Bristol

Sets figures for our demands on pensions: 150 for a single person and 200 for a married couple.

Oppose (same reasons as amendment 3).

Amendment 14: Socialist Party

Replace "scrap all immigration laws" with "scrap the Asylum and Immigration Act and all other racist laws".

Oppose. Borders should be as open to people as they currently are to capital. "Scrap all immigration laws" may well need too much explanation to be simply stuck on to mass leaflets as an extra "bullet point", but here we're discussing what goes in a fairly long manifesto, not in mass leaflets.

Amendment 16: Greenwich & Lewisham

"For all socialists in Britain to stand under the same banner of socialism against Blair and the New Labour government."

Support. Self-determination for the peoples of Scotland and Wales does not mean that socialists should divide into separate English, Scottish and Welsh organisations.

Amendment 17: CPGB/Camden/RDG

"Voluntary union of England, Scotland and Wales in a federal republic and for a united Ireland."

Support (assuming that there's a misprint in the order paper and the amendment should actually conclude as above, not as printed). The Scottish people have the right to self-determination, but Scotland is not historically an oppressed nation, and for socialists to advocate separation of Scotland does more to divide workers than to advance democracy.

Amendment 18: Workers Power

Disbanding the police in favour of "working class and community self-defence organisations".

Support. In our view this amendment is poorly worded. It seems to imply an anarchist perspective of disbanding the police immediately (how?) in favour of "self-defence organisations" which do not exist on any wide scale and will come into existence on a wide scale not just by being "demanded" but only through major mass struggles. The demands already in the draft ? democratic accountability, disbandment of special police units, disarming, etc. have much more grip on current politics. However, redrafting on the basis of this amendment could produce a subsidiary explanation in the manifesto explaining that the police are part of the capitalist state whatever democratic reforms we are able to win in order to curb and (in conditions of mass struggle) destabilise them.

Amendment 19: Hackney (Majority)

Replace "Disarm the police" with a call to change police policies and make officers "rigorously accountable for any use of any weapon".

Oppose. Too weak. Accountable to whom? Change police policies how?

Amendment 20: Hackney (Minority)

Two amendments on democratic reform of prisons, both of which seem broadly uncontentious among socialists.

Amendment 21: Southampton

Replaces a general call to "legalise cannabis and decriminalise all drugs" with a more limited call to legalise possession and sale to adults of cannabis, and decriminalise the possession of hard drugs.

Amendment 22: Southampton

For state funding for political parties.

Oppose. The cash may be tempting for us. But in the bigger picture, state funding of political parties is part of the Blairite project, to make politics a purely bureaucratic affair, conducted by different sections of the Establishment and the billionaire media, with working-class people as just spectators.

Amendment 23: CPGB

Replace standing army "by the working class developing its own militia".

Support. As with the similar Workers Power amendment 18 on the police, this is badly worded, and straight off reads more like anarchism. But it could make sense to have some subsidiary explanation in the manifesto of how the standing army is a standing threat ? even if its budget is cut.

Amendment 24: RDG/Merseyside/Southwark

Detailed programme "for a democratic federal republic", including many important demands elsewhere mentioned, but also: "Parliaments for England, Scotland and Wales plus a federal parliament for the common affairs of the republic"; "United Ireland. - immediate withdrawal of British troops from Ireland"; "recall of judges at any time by a majority of their electors".

Oppose (reluctantly). A comprehensive democratic programme is indeed vital for socialists, though we would want to see more emphasis on "social" and not just formal democracy. Whether we want to put the specific demand for an English Parliament now, or to commit ourselves to a formula on Ireland which skates over the question of the conflict between the communities within Ireland, or to have no autonomy at all for the judicial process from immediate public opinion, is another matter.

Amendment 25: Socialist Party, and 26: AWL/Wandsworth and Merton

On Ireland. The SP submission calls for "a socialist Ireland based on the consent of both communities..."; the AWL one for "a free united Ireland with consistent democracy for both communities and guarantees through regional autonomy for the Protestant (British-Irish) minority"

Support both. The text which both replace calls for troops out and "self-determination for the whole of Ireland". Self-determination is a property of peoples, not of pieces of land. Self-determination for the people of Ireland as a whole is desirable, but the people of Ireland are not yet a single whole, and cannot become one without a democratic settlement between the two communities on the island, the Catholic-nationalist Irish and the Protestant (British-Irish). Unless linked to that democratic settlement, the calls for British troops out amounts to a call to throw the future of the Catholic-nationalist minority in Northern Ireland into the hands of the (mostly Protestant-sectarian) armed forces of the Northern Ireland state, i.e. a call for civil war and repartition. To say this is not to support the British troops, but it is to show where the weight of our positive advocacy should lie. Actually most of the groups in the SA recognise this, because they have not for many years made "troops out" a headline slogan; it is only when drafting summary platforms that they resort to the glib formula. The SP submission dissolves immediate political questions into the great general formula of socialism, but has the merit of implicitly recognising that the Protestant workers of Northern Ireland are more than just a bunch of reactionary hangers-on of the British army, or victims of mistaken identity who don't realise that they are "really" just the same as the Catholic Irish and therefore must have that sameness imposed on them (by whom?) The AWL submission deals with that issue explicitly and in terms of immediate politics.

Amendment 28: Wandsworth and Merton

"We neither advocate the euro nor defend the pound."

Support: see article "Neither euro nor pound, but workers' unity".

Amendment 29: Workers Power

"If the Socialist Alliance were to win a majority in parliament" we should form "a workers' government" which would "break up the bosses' state", etc.

Oppose. Much here is correct. But it is fatally flawed by the concept of the Socialist Alliance alone forming this "workers' government". The task of the Socialist Alliance is to fight for the organised working class ? the labour movement ? to form a workers' government, not to substitute for it.

Amendment 28: East London (Minority)

Insert: "At present, a majority of those united in the Socialist Alliance stands for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism".

Oppose. Why should we be looking over our shoulders at some imaginary censor, and feeling the need to reassure him or her: "Yes, I'm sorry, it is true, we are campaigning for votes, but honest, we're still revolutionaries. Look, we've said so here!" Being a revolutionary is not really about anxiously claiming the label. It is about prosecuting the class struggle ? as it is, i.e. not directly revolutionary now or in the immediate foreseeable future ? with no other criterion than working-class interests and the assertion of working-class political independence.

The Pledges

The AWL is proposing only the following three sentences, to be used as a preamble to whatever "list" of specific policy points the conference prefers. "Our candidates offer a working-class alternative. If elected they will be workers' MPs on a worker's wage. They propose an emergency plan to meet the demands and need of workers and the jobless, and to defend and extend democracy." We ask comrades to vote for our text plus whichever of the "list" submissions you prefer.

We did have our own preferences on the "list" too, but have let those drop in order to focus on the question of whether the Socialist Alliance campaign presents itself around the axis of "working-class representation" or "the socialist alternative" (see article "The key is workers' representation").

Integrating class politics and democratic demands

The following text has been worked out jointly in discussions between the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and the Revolutionary Democratic Group. The constraints of time today do not allow us to put it on the table for debate; but it does, we think, show how class politics and democratic demands can be integrated, without either fetishing formal-democratic demands as "the political" in counterposition to the lowly "economic", or imagining that socialist politics can be built solely from economic demands, leaving aside political-democratic issues.

"The Socialist Alliance will fight for the labour movement to form a workers' government, that is, a government that advances the interests of the working class. Such a government would extend democracy and workers' control through the following policies;
  • For a voluntary federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales
  • A Bill of Rights guaranteeing full civil liberties and social rights for all to affordable housing and free health care, comprehensive education, access to higher education, and public transport. End immigration controls
  • Abolish all anti-union laws and establish full trade union rights.
  • Tax the rich and big business to guarantee social rights, and a decent minimum income and a maximum 35 hour work week for all.
  • For democratic workers? and community control of industry and services
  • For workers' unity across Europe - for a democratic federal Europe".