The Socialist Alliance can either continue on the road of class struggle working class politics, that is, on the course Solidarity and Workers' Liberty, together with others - not then the Socialist Workers' Party - set for it four years ago.Or it can adopt the cross-class popular frontist politics which the biggest organisation in the SA now, the SWP, advocates.
The signs, unfortunately, are that it will go the way the SWP wants it to go. They have a built-in majority. In the last few months they have used that majority to take control of the Executive and to remove non-SWPers from positions of prominence.
At the last Socialist Alliance conference, on May 3, they imposed a major change in political direction.
This "new turn" involves a shift away from the independent working-class politics with which the SA was founded, towards a "broader" alignment, with such as the Green Party, the Welsh nationalists of Plaid Cymru, the Islamist Muslim Association of Britain (the political front of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest, largest and most politically sophisticated Islamist organisation in existence) and Saddam Hussein's friend George Galloway MP.
In Birmingham the SWP packed a meeting with newly signed-up members in order to remove the entire executive of the local Alliance - including the chair, victimised FBU militant Steve Godward - and replace them with SWP members and fellow travellers.
Why? Because Birmingham is where the SWP leadership hopes to test-drive their new project by way of a "Peace and Justice" candidate, mounted jointly with the leaders of local mosques. The price of this alliance is that the SWP ceases to advocate basic civil and sexual liberties.
Their new project is incompatible with even the most basic tenets of progressive working-class politics.
The SWP leaders know and accept this: at their Marxism 2003 summer school on 6 July, Lindsey German responded to a question asking whether joint candidacies with the mosque could be reconciled with support for women's and gay rights:
"Some Muslims are anti-gay, and this is perfectly true, but it is not a question we pose to Christians who join the Socialist Alliance, is it? Now I'm in favour of defending gay rights, but I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth."
In short, not even such basic democratic principles as secularism and the advocacy and defence of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual equality can be allowed to stand in the way of the SWP leadership's drive to ingratiate itself with the privileged and powerful in the Muslim community!
The SWP has already, by allying itself with sections of the Islamic establishment in Britain, lined up against secularists, lesbians and gays, small l liberals and non-conformist youth in the Muslim communities. Now the logic is working itself through into their general policies.
The closer the SWP/Socialist Alliance becomes with the Islamic Establishment in the Muslim communities, the less will these "Marxists" be willing to defend those that offend the Islamic Establishment.
Clearly, the left needs to combat anti-Muslim racism and the Islamophobic hysteria and scapegoating encouraged by the so-called “war on terror”.
Clearly, we need to work hard at attracting Muslim workers and young people towards the labour movement and socialist politics. That means having a patient, tolerant attitude to people’s religious prejudices.
Socialists will of course stand — as indeed we have stood — shoulder to shoulder with even members of the Muslim Establishment and with reactionary Islamic clerics in such things as the physical defence of Muslim communities against racists and fascists.
But that is quite different from refusing to challenge reactionary ideas, or watering down our basic principles to facilitate alliances with non-working-class organisations and with the priests, bourgeois and petit bourgeois of the Muslim communities.
The issue here is that, minimally, our movement must demand that its representatives, whatever their religious beliefs or background, take a consistently democratic, working-class position on key issues of the day.
Equality for women and for lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people is no more negotiable than support for Muslim and all other workers in struggle with their employer.
Those in Britain now who are most in need of such rights, and most distant from them in their daily lives, are sections of the Islamic communities.
The Socialist Alliance should demand that its candidates, whether they are Muslim, Christian, atheist or devil-worshipping pagans, should stand up for gay rights.
The central problem here is that when the SWP expresses a desire to relate to Muslims, it does not for practical purposes now mean relating to left-leaning, secular or non-religious workers and youth from a Muslim background, but to some of the most conservative forces in the Muslim community.
During the anti-war movement, for instance, the SWP-led Stop the War Coalition sought and won as a co-sponsor for its demonstrations the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the British off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The MAB supports the creation of a religious dictatorship; its place on the political spectrum can be judged from the fact that it thinks Muslims who abandon their faith should either be killed or jailed for treason.
This is not a question of marching alongside those you disagree with in a good common cause. By actively promoting the MAB as part of the anti-war movement’s leadership, the SWP has helped expose thousands of young Muslims to its influence.
The SWP responds to criticism such as we make here with a ludicrous outcry against “Islamophobia” and even accuses us of “racism”.
If such criticism is “racist” or “Islamophobic” — “Islamophobic”, as distinct from the hostility which secularist socialists and democrats feel alike for Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc. — ask yourself why socialists from countries such as Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Indonesia — many of whom have to had to fight for their lives against the Muslim Brotherhood and organisations like it — are among the most vehement opponents of Islamism.
Fight for working-class politics
To replace the Socialist Alliance’s orientation to the labour movement with populist, religious, cross-class alliances means abandoning the millions of workers — of all religions, colours and backgrounds — looking for an alternative to Blairism. It means turning away from the beginnings of radicalisation currently taking place across the labour movement. And, as Lindsey German’s comments show, it means blunting the drive for freedom and equality which is at the heart of any socialism worthy of the name.
The mosque leaders with whom the SWP
hopes to organise a “Peace and Justice” election challenge in Birmingham are not MAB-supporters. Nonetheless, like the members of any religious hierarchy, they are organically hostile to working-class politics.
A campaign based on the mosques will necessarily be conservative on issues like secular education, gay rights, abortion and divorce. It will necessarily be based, at least partly, on religious sectarianism, rather than on a socialist appeal to working-class unity and working class political independent action.
The SWP’s grip on the SA is already very strong. It is systematically asserting control at every level. It is importing its own organisational methods into the Alliance.
That is the significance of the episode outside “Marxism” on 11 July 2003, when a sizeable group of SWPers — organised it seems by an SWP leader, Chris Banbury — surrounded two members of the CPGB (Weekly Worker) and tried by snatching leaflets and papers from them, to provoke a fight .
The Weekly Worker people have repeatedly modified their politics in order to keep in with the SWP. They have defended the SWP’s endorsement of George Galloway, the leading apologist in Britain for the fascistic regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
They have joined in the denunciation of Solidarity and Workers Liberty as “Islamophobic” and even let themselves suggest in print that we are motivated by anti-Arab feeling.
When they draw the line at submitting to the SWP’s new position on lesbian and gay rights they are given the rough-house treatment to shut them up.
The SWP cannot tolerate dissent in the SA! Engaged in making controversial opportunist changes in policies it cannot allow more democracy in the SA than there is in its own ranks. They can tolerate no dissent at all.
Incidents like that of 16 July are the result.
Those in the SA who want to stand by class struggle working class politics need to organise. The problem — and it came out clearly at the meeting of dissidents held after the close of the SA conference on 3 May — is that when it comes to positive politics those who oppose the SWP are not in agreement on many key questions.
A viable “old SA” regrouping can not be achieved by mere negativity towards the SWP. Is it possible at all? The evidence of the dissidents meeting on 3 May is not encouraging. On the questions that divide Solidarity and Workers Liberty from the SWP — they are neatly summed up in the attitude to Saddam’s faithful friend George Galloway MP — a majority of those there were entirely with the SWP.
The question is whether people will learn from the unfolding logic of the SWP’s “Islamicising” popular front politics and see that they were wrong to try to accommodate it.
People should not go away from this experience sour and sore and just give up. What can we do? The class struggle fraction of the Socialist Alliance needs to remain organised. We should call an open conference to discuss the lessons of the Socialist Alliance. At a meeting on 25 May Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty, along with a few others made the first steps towards elaborating a platform for discussion and debate. That discussion must be had.
Moreover, the need for independent working class candidates in elections is now as urgent as when we started the SA to satisfy it. There will be opportunities in the future for organising independent socialist and working class candidates, based on the labour movement and working class communities. We cannot afford to miss those opportunities.
• The platform of the Network for Working-Class Representation can be found at: www.independentsocialistalliance.net.