20 Dec 2009
I am not a fan of the Socialist Workers Party to be frank. I tend to agree with those who argue that they recruit students and others who want to engage in socialist politics run them ragged with frantic activity and alienate them. The Party clearly has a control freak tendency. Building the SWP as a Lenninist vanguard is more important than building for wider political change. It used to be that you would organise an anti-cuts meeting, trade union campaign, peace movement and a small number of SWoppers would swop in and take it over. Not good!
The Party has a classic pyramid structure. Although in theory democratic, the Central Committee (or what ever they are called) are elected as a slate, you vote for the entire slate or against, this means those at the top tend to stay in place. Full timers who work for the party owe their modest salaries to the CC and enforce their control. The foot solidiers sell Socialist Worker and march around but don't participate and shape the party they are members of.
Marxism is a powerful body of thought for understanding ecological crisis, the movement of capitalism and much else besides. Marxist political parties have been almost uniformly dreadful, unimaginative, top down and often with a very repressive political culture. To be frank political parties period have not been wonderful and if you look say at New Labour it has a deformed political culture where members have little real say and a rather right wing set of policies.
And when it comes to policies the left has to be green and move beyond central planning to the democratic and creative commons. I have to admit that the Socialist Workers Party has just published an 'Marxism and Ecology' booklet by Martin Empson which is actually quite good.
The commons is not part of their vocabulary. If socialism means being told what to do by a distant and self-proclaimed committee hey count me out.
Anyway war has broken out in the SWP. The latest internal bulletin lovingly stolen and placed on the internet here, reveals that the Central Committee view the 'Left faction' as traitors who need to be expelled.
In the run up to their annual conference the SWP allows temporary factions, permanent factions are expelled. In the war of words the Left faction led by Lindsay German and John Rees is likely to be booted out because it has been deemed permanent.
Already Clare Solomon who is said to be close to John and Lindsey has been expelled, partly for organising what looked like a good cultural and political event at SOAS.
Rees and German were keen on the SWP taking part in George Galloway's Respect Party and have been leading lights in the Stop the War Coalition.
Conflict broke out in the Respect Party between the SWP and others, leading briefly to two different Respect Parties (incidentally I spoke at both their conferences when I was Green Party Principal Speaker, confusing!)
A host of SWP full timers and key activists including Ger Francis (who incidentally I had a quick pint with last wednesday) and Jerry Hicks (who has since become a friend of mine) left the SWP and stuck with Respect mark 1.
This created a crisis in the SWP and Rees/German were marginalised. From being effective leaders they are now out in the cold and don't like being their.
They have mobilised a group of supporters and as far as I can tell are keener to work with other political activists for broad social change than the new leadership
The dominant figures on the current SWP are very much batten down the hatches, sell the paper , recruit the next generation of students and get involved with whatever demos and industrial battles are going on....i.e the same as the last 50 years of SWPism.
Briefly in the 1970s the SWPs forerunner International Socialist, was more grassroots in nature, proclaiming Rosa Luxemburg as their star along with Lenin.
I think they have got stuck in a grove.
They need to participate in a flexible democratic way and rethink. Karl Marx didn't say 'sell the paper build the party' he said 'Doubt everything' i.e have a critical edge.
In Britain there is a General Election coming up, SWP members should go and do leg work for good candidates, leafletting canvassing, etc....doing nothing or trying to take over or constructing a 'just add water instant left party'...are not serious options.
They should build on Martin Empson's excellent booklet 'Marxism and Ecology' and participate in non violent direct action.
Above all they should take a long hard look at their own political practices, even on the left they are unpopular and if you build a narrow sectarian left politics which pisses everyone off you only help the right.
I would love them to say live and let live to the likes of Lindsey and John, to reinstate Clare Solomon and to look at what is good about the progress that left has made in Latin America under Chavez and Morales.
Above all I would love them to support practically all the indigenous struggles for surival and ecology, I have never met an SWP member who has heard of Bagua.
A big christmas SWP gift list for me....hey if they were just a bit less control freaky we might love them a bit more. Doesn't that sound good.
Will they change, I doubt it. That's sad, they have several thousand members and the world is in very severe crisis, thats several thousand people who could be building a sane future.
Posted by Derek Wall at 9:46 am