Sectarianism of the small against the sectarianism of the big?

Submitted by AWL on 29 November, 2002 - 9:06

Debate

Peter Burton is going to have to be a lot more accurate about the Socialist Alliance than he was in "Two roads to Nowhere" if he hopes to get beyond sectarian griping (Solidarity 16).
I've got no experience of the SSP so don't want to comment on that part of the article - except to say that what he says about the problems of the SSP party press sounds reasonable and convincing. However on the Socialist Alliance he is all over the place.

There are huge problems with the SA and Peter hits on some of them - especially the lack of a paper. I hope these problems can be fixed and we can move it on. Maybe they can't and it will fail.

Part of the problem is located in all the various groups inside the SA. They all have their own agendas, they all want to build themselves - doesn't the AWL? The crucial difference with the SWP isn't just that it has a political culture of limited democracy and debate, but that it is by far and away the largest group, and those numbers count when it comes to activity and policy-making. Can you really think of a democratic set-up in which numbers don't count, unless you want a loose federation which is even less like the nucleus of a revolutionary party than the SA is now?

When it comes to the details Peter really goes awry. He has mixed up the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with the Campaign for Palestinian Rights. And if the general attitude of the SWP is to keep other political tendencies off the leading committees of their "transmission belts" can I ask what Martin Thomas (and those comrades from Workers Power, CPGB, ISG) is doing on the executive of the Socialist Alliance? If keeping the AWL off the Globalise Resistance steering committee is crucial (which I don't remember, it didn't seem to be an issue at the time!) - what about the Workers Power and ISG comrades who are on that committee.

Now you might have had an argument about the composition of the Stop the War Coalition steering committee - but as the AWL seemed drastically at odds with and vitriolically critical of the approach of STW and seemed to be looking for an opportunity to keep the argument going - I think I'd have to disagree!

Is the reference to the Militant argument a weird timewarp?

The end result is that the good political points that Peter had to make are drowned in inaccuracies that seem shaped by sectarianism. There are principled criticisms of all these bodies, and you could add the ANL as well - but to end up with this seemed tantamount to a call for comrades to leave their organisations and the stupidity of calling them Stalinist (without any real argument for that) is just the sectarianism of the small if not tiny group against the sectarianism of the bigger. Does Peter really think he is going to convince anyone?

Matthew Caygill, Leeds Socialist Alliance

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