The Socialist Unity Network
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Let's have two, three, many unity projects!

 


 

I am always a bit suspicious about the word "unity", and to be honest I am not sure that the name "Socialist Unity Network" was a good choice.

In the British context, Socialist Unity has a certain resonance as the banner under which the old International Marxist Group (along with some other groups such as Big Flame) fought elections in the 1970s. The first Socialist Unity candidate was in the Birmingham Stetchford by election (now Hodge Hill) in March 1977. Brian Heron of the IMG won 494 votes (1.4%), while Paul Foot of the SWP won 377 votes (1.0%). Socialist Unity also achieved 534 votes (3.5%) in Birmingham Ladywood in August the same year where the SWP got 152 votes (1.0%); and Hilda Kean of Socialist Unity achieved a second place in a by-election in Spitalfields Ward of Tower Hamlets in October 1977.

Although by the typically dismal standards of far-left election results Socialist Unity did relatively well; the point here is that they were hardly a successful unity project!

In their first election they stood against Paul Foot, and most surreally in the Lambeth Central by-election in April 1978 they were part of a pack of no less than 5 far left candidates! J.A. Chase (Socialist Unity) won 287 votes, (1.4%). Corin Redgrave (Workers' Revolutionary Party) won 271 votes, (1.3%). Alan Bogues (Socialist Workers' Party) won 201 votes, (1.0%). Brian McNeeney (Socialist Party of Great Britain) won 91 votes, (0.4%). S.C. Monro (South London People's Front) won 38 votes, (0.2%).

So as a political project there is no continuity between the IMG's Socialist Unity, and today's Socialist Unity Network. Would it also be fair to say that one of the most prominent names associated with the original Socialist Unity was Brian Heron, and not everyone remembers his more recent involvement with Scargill's Socialist Labour Party with fondness.

Socialist Unity has some similarly unfortunate connotations abroad. Most famously the Socialist Unity Party in Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands) was created in 1946 by the forcible merging of the Social Democratic party (SPD) and Communist party (KPD) in the Russian sector of occupied Germany at the point of a bayonet. Fascinatingly, we now learn from released Kremlin documents that, during his very brief period in charge of the Soviet Union during 1953, Lavrentii Beria sought to dismantle the East German police state in favour of German unification. In a truly tragic irony this was partially thwarted by the workers uprising in the Stalinallee on 16th June, although Beria's arrest and execution by Khrushchev also put a spanner in the works.

Enough history!
Today we have Respect- the Unity Coalition, and Unite Against Fascism. And in the last few days the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) have announced an  appeal for socialist unity"

Much has been written both for and against Respect. The very fact that Respect is so contentious proves that it has failed to promote unity on the left!

Unite against Fascism (UAF) promised more than it delivered perhaps. Admirable work was done campaigning against the BNP by the UAF in some areas but it certainly did not do exactly what it said on the tin. The UAF developed a distinctly different strategy to that being promoted by Searchlight, therefore it did not unite the forces opposing fascism. We read in the September 2004 issue of Searchlight in an article by Paul Maszaros of Bradford TUC: "The 2004 launch of Unite Against Fascism is based upon a national approach and there are several examples of where UAF activity has undermined the strength of local anti-fascist campaigning ... ... In Bradford the misnamed Unite Against Fascism (UAF) refused to work alongside the Trades Council. Instead it masked its electioneering for Respect by involving itself in a campaign in areas where the BNP had no intention of standing". Paul then goes on to use even harsher words about UAF that I would blush to repeat, and we can hope that these problems were local to Bradford. However, the proven achievements of Bradford TUC's campaign means that Paul deserves a hearing on this.

The problem is that the word "Unity" is often used divisively to proclaim "I am the way, the truth and the life" and everyone should unite with me on my terms. Whereas true unity requires acknowledging and working through differences. As Bishop Tutu remarked of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, "You don't need truth and reconciliation for your friends only your enemies". Unity requires building up trusted relationships by cooperation over a long term. It also means identifying and relegating those differences that are of secondary importance.

So what are we to make of the Appeal for Socialist Unity by the AWL. In sweet seductive words Martin Thomas "calls on all working-class socialists to join together in presenting a working-class voice at the general election. We appeal in particular to the Alliance for Green Socialism, the Socialist Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the activists continuing to identify with the Socialist Alliance, and those around the Liverpool-based initiative for a "United Socialist Party", to discuss with us the possibilities of united action at the general election. Debates about how the different activist left factions can be united into a single organisation, let alone about how a new mass working-class party can be built, will not be resolved before the general election. It would be irresponsible for us to let those debates prevent us from acting together where we have agreement and to the extent we have agreement. What is achievable is a working-class socialist electoral alliance for the General Election. It would not be sensible for it to attempt to contest every seat. But it could run enough serious campaigns, for enough candidates, to let voters know that there is an alternative."

Blimey, that sounds sensible! But what is this in the small print? "Can we simply watch on, with hopes for the future but no public initiative in the present, as New Labour panders to the white racist communalism of the BNP, and Respect counter poses... Muslim communalism?"

So hang on. What the AWL are proposing is unity with everyone who agrees with them about Respect? Do they think we are idiots?

And in what stark terms! Does Respect really counter pose "Muslim communalism" to new Labour? Certainly Respect has a good track record of getting votes from Moslems, but to say that Respect is a communalist organisation seems a bit far fetched to say the least. Respect are hardly the Moslem League of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. I look in vain in Respect's programme for any mention at all of Islam, but I do find a broadly progressive platform not dissimilar to the policies of the Socialist Alliance that the AWL supports.


 

 

August 2004

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