This letter from Hannah Sell of the Socialist Party Executive Committe was written in response to the SWP’s Open Letter and was published in Socialist Worker on 18 July 2009.
The Socialist Party has always supported genuine left unity, on open, pluralistic terms. An effective challenge in the general election is an urgent task facing the workers’ movement and the left, not least in order to combat the far-right British National Party (BNP).
To succeed, however, it is vital that, unlike previous attempts, it involves significant sections of the working class and young people, rather than simply being a coming together of existing left organisations.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) did not support the recent attempt by the rail workers’ RMT union, ourselves, the Communist Party of Britain and others to provide a left alternative in the European elections, No2EU – Yes to Democracy.
Yet this was the first time in a century that a national trade union had taken an electoral initiative on an all-Britain scale. As the recent RMT conference showed, No2EU was supported, not just by the union tops, but the vast majority of its activists too.
No2EU candidates included leaders of the most militant struggles in 2009 to date – Visteon, Lindsey, and Linamar convenor and Socialist Party member Rob Williams.
The RMT is now discussing a trade union list for the general election (obviously not under the name No2EU).
This would be a serious step towards creating a mass political voice for the working class in Britain. The best way forward would be for all socialist forces, including the SWP, to work to develop this initiative.
The SWP opposed No2EU as “nationalist”. No2EU had a limited programme but was not nationalist.
It called for “international solidarity of working class people” and opposed the bosses’ Lisbon Treaty from a left viewpoint, as the Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins will do in the new Irish referendum.
The SWP also similarly condemned the first Lindsey strikes as nationalist. Yet these were militant strikes against the bosses’ attempt to undermine trade union rights – the BNP were chased off the picket lines.
This is not to deny the inevitable existence of nationalist sentiments. However, the intervention of the Socialist Party, and other militant workers, ensured that nationalism was combated and the strike fought on a clear class basis, demanding the unionisation of migrant workers. By June, three Socialist Party members were on the strike committee.
The SWP have made serious errors in 2009, both industrially and politically – seeing reaction where you should have seen important sections of the working class looking for a way to fight back.
This does not mean, however, that we cannot collaborate on an election challenge. One important condition for success though will be the organisational methods adopted. No2EU had a federal, umbrella approach.
The component organisations came together around core policies, but all had complete freedom to produce their own material in support of No2EU.
A similar approach is necessary now. But this is not the position the SWP took in the past, in both the Socialist Alliance and Respect. The Open Letter does not say if you have since changed your approach.
The experience of ourselves and others on the left is not encouraging. But if you have reassessed and changed your methods, and are now willing to openly and seriously collaborate with others in a general election challenge, we welcome this.
We welcome this opportunity to put our views in Socialist Worker, and are happy to reciprocate in the pages of The Socialist.