Friday, 4 April 2008

Branch Meeting: The Politics of the SWP

Brother A began his lead off at last night's branch meeting by observing how bitching about the SWP is almost a bonding exercise among leftists outside its ranks. Perhaps I'm unique because I haven't had what you would call bad experiences with the SWP. At a Derby SWP branch meeting many moons ago I was told contemporary criticisms of the anthropology underlying Engels' Origin of the Family were "bourgeois". Then there was the time they kept on at me to join - it go so bad I did just that to appease my would-be comrades (I resigned 12 hours later, is that the shortest SWP membership in history?) And how can I forget being on a demo last year and getting told by a young activist from Tower Hamlets SWP-Respect that the Socialist Party didn't stand candidates in elections? They aren't too bad. Many comrades can speak of worse (in fact, I get on very well with Stoke SWP, such as it exists). However A said it's not enough to tell each other stories about the SWP. To understand why it does what it does requires a sober analysis of its theoretical approach, its organisation, its strategy and its tactics.

He gave brief outlines and criticisms of the SWP's positions on state capitalism and the national question (extended critiques can be found here and here). But the biggest problem in its politics comes down to a question of programme. It is to the International Socialist tradition's credit that it saw the flaws in Trotsky's Transitional Programme of 1938, but Cliff and co mistakenly threw out the transitional baby along with Trotsky's programmatic water.

To reiterate the basics: the transitional method is about raising demands that relate to the present consciousness of working class people. These act as a bridge to the drawing of socialist conclusions. For example, the reversal of PFI, abolition of internal markets, the taking back of sub-contracted services and the extension of democratic control by patients and staff in the NHS are all demands that are theoretically possible in the here and now. But if workers and patient groups take up these demands would quickly run up against the logics of the system. They become aware through their own experiences of the forces arrayed against them and some may reach socialist conclusions. To get these demands taken up by large numbers of workers in the first place is no mean feat. Socialists have to skilfully and patiently relate them to the uneven consciousness of working class people. If one's demands are too far ahead they want get a decent hearing. If they're too far behind there is the danger socialists could hold back the development of class consciousness.

A programme of transitional demands that is constantly enriched by engagement with our class is vital for any socialist organisation. It keeps our feet on the ground. It tells us what policies, demands and campaigns are likely to gain an echo among our class. Therefore the SWP's rejection of the transitional approach is its major political flaw. Without it the organisation as a whole is dependent on the direction of its leadership to steer it. And with no programmatic strategy to guide them the SWP can find itself all over the place. This is exacerbated by a political culture that stymies debate in the organisation and reduces its capacity to learn from its mistakes. Factions are only permissible in the three month period prior to conference after which they are expected to dissolve. Such measures ensure that if opposition congeals around certain questions it can never act as a serious alternative to the present leadership. Ties of patronage between the London-based apparatus and full timers in the regions mean the latter depend on the former for their livelihoods and will, in the most part, work to undermine opposition where and when it appears. It is no accident none of the comrades critical of the leadership's handling of the Respect crisis were delegated to the last conference.

This culture finds an expression outside its ranks in its relations with other left groups and activists, none of which really need going into. The flip side of this bureaucratic approach to socialist politics is what A termed a light-minded approach. Because the leadership is substituted for the programme what drives its strategy is the need to secure its existence. This means subordinating activity to party building and paper selling. Consistent work by the SWP in certain areas on certain issues are the exception rather than the norm.

To back this up, J, a Burslem postal worker, noted the SWP were not interested in the events at her depot until the campaign around the 12 suspended posties gathered national momentum. They occasionally turned up on picket lines at the beginning of the year and were all over the national demonstration that took place. They haven't been seen since. This compares unfavourably with Stoke SP's behaviour, who have consistently been involved with solidarity work from the very beginning and continue to do so.

P offered an observation about the SWP's commitment to 'socialism from below'. The key conclusion Cliff drew from his state capitalist analysis of the USSR was you cannot have a workers' state without the workers, regardless of how degenerate or deformed it may be. This was because if socialism was anything it was the outcome of conscious self-activity of the workers themselves. By fetishising "proletarian" property forms at the expense of actual social relations of production, adherents of Trotsky's "orthodox" degenerate workers' state position on the Soviet Union lay themselves open to the risk of supporting all kinds of non-working class movements and forces, if there is a chance a deformed workers' state (albeit one without the workers) is set up. It's ironic that the SP and CWI - the majority of whom who hold to Trotsky's classical analysis - pursues a politics far closer to Cliff's vision of socialism from below. While the SP believes hope lies with the proles across the world's geopolitical hotspots the SWP finds itself tailing various 'anti-imperialist' regimes and movements.

He also spoke of the SWP's lurch from ultra-leftism to opportunism in the trade union movement. He recalled how the SWP greeted the end of the 2005 pensions dispute between the PCS and the government with shouts of 'sell out!' Contrast this with their stance during the postal workers' national strike last year. CWU president Jane Loftus is a well known member of the SWP and refused to publicly campaign for a no vote to the deal on the table. By the same token the SWP more or less gave the CWU leadership an easy ride in the pages of Socialist Worker. So what was the difference between the two? In the PCS the dominant left trend is the SP. In the CWU it is the SWP. In the former it was about attacking opponents and acquiring factional advantage. The latter was about keeping that advantage. Once again the requirements of the SWP apparatus came before the needs of our class.

F recounted the year he spent within the SWP. They were the first socialists he had come across and was attracted to them on the basis of their anti-BNP stance. But very quickly he became disillusioned. On an anti-fascist mobilisation somewhere in the West Midlands, he remembered "we were screaming 'Nazi scum off our streets!' much to the bemusement of the locals whose streets we were walking through!" He concluded what was needed was a class-based electoral alternative to the BNP, seeing as vote-catching is their priority, for the moment. Militant-sounding slogans combined with alliances with Tories and vicars is not the best way of fighting fascism.

In sum the discussion helped clarify some of the differences between our organisation and the SWP. It was useful because Stoke SP hasn't had to "compete" with a local SWP branch for over a decade. But now our fair city is the site of two key struggles - Burslem and Keele - chances are we'll be bumping up against them again.

40 comments:

Dave Riley said...

I'm not so sure about your conclusions While I agree with some of the criticisms of IST type politics -- Cliffism -- which I in the past (much to the local franchise's annoyance) likened to Anarchism in Marxist garb -- the reality is that there is fuck all difference between the SP's politics and that of the SWP's when it comes down to the why and wherefores of day to day struggle.

While obviously there are tactical differences and differences in political culture these could be contained comfortably in the same org if the desire was there to so proceed.

The tragedy is that since the exit of the Scottish section to form the SSP and the expulsion of the Labor Party Pakistan, the CWI has charted a course which emphasizes its political homogeneity and political patent in its desire to play at toy cominternism and separatism.

And in sync and in step so too do the Cliffites and the Ted Grantites as the Healyites did before them.

While I'm not advocating that anyone pull their critical punches -- it's a mistake to pose politics as a plethora of warring tribes as it inevitably engineers a circle spirit devoid of the ways and means to reach out beyond a prescribed ghetto.

How determined the SP/CWI is to this perspective was affirmed I feel in its role in the split in the Scottish Socialist Party. It is ultimately a very destructive course -- a disease that is rampant across the far left, especially in Great Britain and in effect the same divisions you tolerate there are exported offshore and replicated on other continents.

That's absurd isn't it? Politics by clone. Politics by copyrighting adherents.

Of course the SP does excellent work -- but so too does the SWP. So are your SWP exers simply being asked to judge that the SP does better work more often than the SWP does?

But are we then presuming that one outfit is revolutionary and the other is not? So after a time this becomes a pretty absurd debate over 'differences'.

I'm not knocking the quest for clarity -- but the main game is to pursue that clarity in much broader forum than each of our bunkers. Thats' the main mistake both your outfit and 'theirs' are guilty of.

I think the SP has a lot it can offer the far left -- but the SP via its CWI mesh is insular in its unwillingness to enter the sort of partnerships that are screaming out to be formed.

Roobin said...

Christ on a bike! I saw a branch meeting advertised in the SW on "How red is Red Ken" and thought THAT was introverted and sectarian. I was wrong.

I think it's phenomenally unhealthy when left groups feel compelled to discuss each other. When it comes to theory, there needs to be a constant, general renewing of the Marxist tradition. There simply aren't enough people in one party or another to do that. The counterposing of one tradition to another in such a barren context will never yield fruit.

I'd personally rather have new and young members who were ignorant of the finer details of other groups' politics. They may well have to learn, but for now no.

Plus, the report is a highly bowdlerised version of SWP politics. I'm particularly galled by the idea we tail various 'anti-imperialist' regimes and movements.

(1) That simply isn't true and
(2) Why the inverted commas?

Roobin said...

"By the same token the SWP more or less gave the CWU leadership an easy ride in the pages of Socialist Worker."

Post: vote to reject the deal (Nov 2007):
http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=13556

Citizen Steve said...

I think the reference is to SW and the rank and file paper having a piece by Billy Hayes as he was about to sell out the workers. Jane Loftus position after she refused to campaign for the no-vote felt like a slap in the face to some of the CWU members I spoke to.

I think the politics of the SWP were highlighted during the recent split in Respect and the appalling role they played in it. You are right to draw attention to the rule about factions which basically consolidates the role of the leadership and exposes the lack of democratic structures within the SWP.

It would have been interesting to hear a little about their bureaucratic centralist approach v democratic centralism.

Saying that, I am not convinced of the virtues of holding branch meetings on the politics of another left group. I thought that was the territory of the AWL!

Roobin said...

Not at all. The SWs coverage of the dispute was fine, especially picking up on the Do Your Job Properly campaign, which was a fantastic invention of class struggle, making the strike stick even as the union tried to demobilised. SWP members and supporters were in the thick of things, both on the outside and the inside of the dispute.

What isn't interesting is the dynamics of how an effective rank and file movement is built. What we really want to hear about is how the SWP is to blame for every defeat and calamity in the class struggle.

As I said, this is an pointless course of investigation where the result is decided at the point of departure.

complexsystemofpipes said...

So... Socialists have to relate to the working class through fighting for demands which have meaning to them already. Okay. But isn't that what the SWP does? Since I joined the party we've taken part in campaign for Karen Reissman, for a Free Education, and against the attack on abortion rights, as well as for a broader list of demands through Respect/Left List.

Then there's Stop The War. Opposition to the war has caught the public's imagination like nothing else in my generation and - for that reason as well as the many horrible consequences of the war itself - we have to put resistance to the imperialist project at the centre of our strategy. Or would that be "tailing (presumably pseudo-) anti-imperialist regimes"?

I didn't find your April Fool's particularly funny either, tbh. No wonder people have difficulty engaging with the left; one group doing a meeting on another is just so much pointless sectarian introspection that acheives little and gives out all the wrong messages.

complexsystemofpipes said...

*"introspection" should read "introversion". "navel-gazing", basically, is what I meant to say.

ajohnstone said...

Although a bit dated (1995), the Socialist Party of Great Britain has a history and analysis of the SWP .
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/education/SWPpaper.html

An even older article , a report of a debate with the SWP when they were the International Socialists

http://socialist-courier.blogspot.com/2006/12/from-archives-debate-with-is.html

And here Harman and rival trotskyist Mandel squabble and expose one anothers hypocrisies

http://socialist-courier.blogspot.com/2007/01/inside-bolshevik-cul-de-sac.html

I know many of you won't be interested in a Non-Leninist critique of the SWP but some may find it a useful over-view .

Mark P said...

I find some of the complaints from SWP members that for another left group to discuss their politics is "introspective" or "sectarian" little short of hilarious. I realise that many SWPers don't have much of a grasp of their own politics and certainly none at all of the politics of the other major trends on the left but treating that kind of ignorance as a virtue is almost beyond belief.

There are a couple of sizeable Trotskyist tendencies on the left. There is also a less organised and less coherent but occasionally quite visible anarchist movement and of course there is the rump of the Labour left. Understanding the basic politics of each of these strands of the left is very useful and I'm genuinely astonished to see people argue that it is "sectarian" to try to do so.

In this particular case, the local Socialist Party in Stoke has for a long time only coexisted with what remains of the local Labour left. If the SWP have taken to parachuting in paper sellers and the like because of ongoing local struggles, it's well worth understanding the politics of these people, the methods of their organisation and where we agree and disagree with them.

Now unlike Phil, I do have a fair amount of experience of working in the same campaigns as the SWP and, I have to say that this has been a generally, though not uniformly, negative experience. Traditionally the problem with the SWP in broad campaigns has been a high degree of political sectarianism - putting short term recruitment and paper sales ahead of the success of the campaign itself. If Stoke SP last encountered the SWP on a regular basis a decade or more ago then those members who remember that period will generally think of them in those terms. This would be a mistake.

The SWP of 2008 is a very different beast to the SWP of the mid-1990s. They have turned their previous approach almost on its head. In the anti-war movement this has meant sometimes laudable donkey work for the campaign combined with a strong tendency to bury their own political principles. So SWP members do not argue at StW events for a class analysis of the war, nor do they make socialist arguments.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that they are doing something unprincipled in not making socialist politics compulsory for involvement in the anti-war movement. To do so would be deeply sectarian. What I am saying is that alone of the many trends represented in the anti-war movement they expect socialists to gag themselves. So Liberals make liberal arguments from StW platforms, reformists make reformist arguments, Christians make Christian arguments, pacifists make pacifist arguments, Muslims make Muslim arguments and so on, but socialists hide their own socialist arguments. What's more the SWP do everything they can to prevent other socialists from having access to those platforms, socialists who might not apply the same self-limiting ordinance.

When challenged on this, the general SWP response has been to argue that putting a socialist case would frighten off the other participants. This sits rather oddly with another aspect of their anti-war work, the uncritical approach towards allegedly "anti-imperialist" regimes and movements in the Middle East. This comment is already much too long, so I will expand on this point in a later post

Roobin said...

"Understanding the basic politics of each of these strands of the left is very useful and I'm genuinely astonished to see people argue that it is "sectarian" to try to do so."

That's not what's going on here and you know it. You've gathered a bundle of straw arguments to knock down. Seriously, who'd have guessed a Socialist Party meeting would have come to the conclusion that the SWP is an inferior organisation, based on its politics?

Please don't expand any of this in a later post. It's pointless.

D.B. said...

I totally agree with Mark P. As somewhat of an outsider to all this, I think Phil's post (and, by the sound of, the branch lead-off) is highly measured, articulate and constructive in its criticism of the SWP's approach. The knee-jerk defensive outrage it's been met with in some of the above comments show the SWP in a much poorer light than the post itself...

Citizen Steve said...

I hope that I didn't sound like a knee jerk-response and most certainly wouldn't class myself as a defender of the SWP by any stretch of the imagination.

I take on board the points raised here by others and have had direct experience of the SWP's control freakery and destrucion/dominance of local activist groups be it StWC or others.

This conservatism and dominance has pushed many others away and given an entirely different and often unhealthy approach in terms of politics they bring - in that sense it is correct to analyse their politics.

Mark P is right on the money in terms of the StWC. I for one found the last demo disheartening to say the least. Listening to speeches for hours before we set off truding the same route and hearing the same empty rhetoric. A new approach is needed and we shouldn't be afraid of raising socialist ideas in the movement.

The only worry I would have is in echoing the unhealthy obsession of the AWL - which isn't the case here.

In response to complex : many others have also been involved in similar campaigns. The SWP aren't interested in ones they don't initiate or control. One example is talking about 'grassroots students activists', yet keeping Socialist Students off the platform in the Save NUS Democracy fringe meeting because.......they didn't have an NEC member. The mind boggles!

Darren said...

"I resigned 12 hours later, is that the shortest SWP membership in history?"

No Phil, that's one of the longest memberships in recent history.

big_d said...

well I think that this was a very healthy branch meeting. Seeing as we have never had any other socialist groups to contend with in stoke on trent, I think that it is very important that we discuss our political differences without resorting to anecdotes. Especially if someone on the street comes to a stall and asks us, 'so what's the difference between you guys and those blokes on the anti war stall down there?'

Eddie Truman said...

In Scotland the SWP became cheerleaders for a misogynistic, predatory male.
And the CWI, Socialist Party in England and Wales, threw in their lot with them.
Do you and your comrades try and pretend that didn't happen because it doesn't fit your narrative or do you attempt to rationalise it ?
Or do hope that Scotland goes away and doesn't interrupt proceedings ?

Keith Watermelon said...

this really is very poor phil. leaving aside the very dubious assertions in this post, the situation on the ground at present is that public sector unions are about to take joint strike action a week before elections, imperialism is in crisis in iraq and afghanistan, egypt edges ever close to a possible insurrection, zimbabwe may explode at any moment, and the world economy looks like going down the tubes with horrific implications for working people.

faced with this incredibly live situation, stoke socialist party has a meeting on 'the politics of the swp'.

honestly, you couldn't make it up, and to be honest phil, i thought you were a lot better than this.

oh, and jane loftus was the main reason why some of the nec voted against the rotten deal. she would have to resign her position to run a national campaign for a no vote, and that would in reality make her less, not more effective.

like roobin, i'm really not interested in getting into a pointless sectarian debtate over this. but i am disappointed by the turn you've taken recently, as your politics are ususally better than this.

militant said...

'i'm really not interested in getting into a pointless sectarian debtate over this'

Lol, I love it how SWPers all line up to comment saying its 'sectarian' and that they don't want to start a debate.

Tbh, anyone with half a brain can see that the SWP are a weird bunch and about revolutionary as the lib dems within 10 minutes of meeting them.

dksu said...

"Lol, I love it how SWPers all line up to comment saying its 'sectarian' and that they don't want to start a debate."

Wow, this is an impressively self-defeating comment.

Citizen Steve said...

Keith : how did Loftus not resigning make her more effective? It totally defeats the object of revolutionaries holding such positions in the first place.

She did her reputation and her credibility with striking post workers immense damage with this stance.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting discussion, and revealing.
Out of about 50 branch meetings in a year, the Stoke SP decide to have 1 (yes 1) on the politics of another left organisation and all hell breaks loose!
It shows a healthy interest, and also that the best way to learn is through debate and understanding ideas of others on the left.
What is wrong with having an understanding of others on the Left?
Surely the SWp comrades would not object to that.
I think the sort of the thing that the SWP comrades should think about is why in practice, the SWP is so destructive.


A good example. SP comrades and SWP comrades are being witchunted in Unison at the moment.
The SP proposed a joint fringe meeting at Unison health conference. The SWP point blank refuse and organise a separate meeting for Yunus Baksh at the same time! Tremendous display of unity comrades.


all the best
Paul

Roobin said...

It's hardly "all hell". Keith and Mr Pipes speak for themselves, and not too shabbily.

In the long run this whole debate is kind of like chucking a teabag in a pond and calling it a cup of tea. If it's a waste of my time it it's a waste of YOURS.

Anonymous said...

comrade roobin
you have managed to not answer any of the points raised in the post. whilst you are not duty bound to, it does seem typical!

paul
coventry

Roobin said...

"you have managed to not answer any of the points raised in the post."

I didn't realise I was accountable to you, sorry. I did say I thought they were straw man arguments. That do you?

Anonymous said...

to be fair i did say you weren't duty bound to answer!

is this a straw man argument?
'A good example. SP comrades and SWP comrades are being witchunted in Unison at the moment.
The SP proposed a joint fringe meeting at Unison health conference. The SWP point blank refuse and organise a separate meeting for Yunus Baksh at the same time! Tremendous display of unity comrades.'

any thoughts comrade? or is being 'sectarian' making these points?

cheers
Paul Hunt
Coventry

Phil BC said...

Sorry for taking so long to get round to writing a reply to this thread.

Dave, obviously I'm going to disagree with you. If I have the time I'll write a lengthy reply to your comment and stick it up as a post on here sometime during the weekend.

Eddie, what can I say comrade. Us poor socialists in England can't win. One moment you're denouncing us as imperialists for daring to pass comment on Scotland. And now you're demanding we face up to the consequences of the split? You can't have it both ways!

Roobin and Complex, I was going to make the same arguments as brother PH. Having an interest in the experiences and ideas of other socialists is not unhealthy. In fact it is a sign of seriousness, of trying to come to grips with the political environment in which we work. I'm sure there's SWP branches who would do well to learn from the experiences of SP comrades, and vice versa.

As for the critique of the SWP advanced here, well, it's by no means unique. You might think I've advanced straw man arguments but this is how your organisation is perceived by virtually everyone outside its ranks. You can choose to ignore that and believe everything is peachy, or examine why this is the case. If you decide to go down the latter route the left as a whole will benefit from the result.

Roobin said...

(1) Nowhere, but nowhere has anyone said everything was 'peachy'.
(2)"... but this is how your organisation is perceived by virtually everyone outside its ranks". So, apparently, you need to have a meeting to tell 'everyone' what they already know. By 'everyone' do you mean the entire population of the United Kingdom? No. The planet? Surely not!

Straw man.

Phil BC said...

And that my friend is what you call a reductio ad absurdum.

You know full well that "everyone" in this context refers to the left, be it organised in revolutionary groups, independent, in the Labour party or whatever. Facts are stubborn things and you know just as well as I the SWP has a very serious image problem among this milieu, on account of its current and past behaviour. Ask yourself why it is that, despite the Socialist Party having its fair share of critics, does not evoke anywhere near as much hostility and animus as your organisation does?

Roobin said...

If you were being precise it would be more like inflato ad absurdum. We'll take this 'hostility' as read for a second. How big is the active far left in Britain, let alone the far left excluding the SWP? If I said 20,000 it'd probably be my double vision playing up. I won't quake with fear or come running for your pardon. If that's the limit of your world enjoy Liliput, I'll try not to squash you on my way out.

But I won't take that as read. I don't know what it's like there, in the lofty heights of Stoke, down here in the depths of London I make my own judgements. The fact is the branch of Respect I happen to be active in has provided two ex-Labour party members for candidates; people recruited on the basis of Respect role in local campaigns and its relative success at elections.

That's only the case for the moment. It may not be so in the future, but for now, where I am, my party is having modest successes, and his hardly regarded with universal hostility.

I don't know if this has any bearing on you in particular, but I notice you also contribute to the Socialist Unity blog. In my opinion, the chief proprietor is a man dedicated to smearing the name of the SWP at every opportunity, precisely so no one will work with SWP members. I am personally waiting for the moment his coterie launch a rival anti-war group, and try to split as many people away from StWC as possible by the same methods as the Respect split.

This may be what motivates you. I can't say.

Anonymous said...

comrade

your last post smacks of a bizarre type of paranoia that seems to grip some supporters of the SWP once they find themselves in a debate.

i am glad your respect branch is doing well, leading campaigns etc, that is very good.

we are not smearing the swp, and phil, by writing of the soc unity blog is not colluding with those who want to smear the swp!

whilst there is some rubbish on socialist unity, try and engage in some of the debates, not just write them off as 'smears'

a sense of proportion is necessary. the swp may claim thousnads of members but the recent 'witchunt' petition proved this was nonsense. the socialist party is only marginally smaller than the swp, with a wider influence in the labour movement.

surely we can have a grown up debate about these issues. the differences etc - only with a correct method and programme will be able to get rid of capitalism. this is not sectarian!

paul hunt
coventry

Phil BC said...

Let me echo what comrade Paul says. Only a minority of people are motivated by sectarian spite, even those who are critical of the SWP! To reiterate, instead of writing off critics like Andy Newman (who has around 20 years of SWP membership under his belt) as sectarians, ask why there are so many critics.

Believe me, if the SP got as much adverse internet coverage as your organisation gets most of us would be asking searching questions about ourselves.

Roobin said...

"... your last post smacks of a bizarre type of paranoia that seems to grip some supporters of the SWP once they find themselves in a debate."

It's not in the least bit paranoid (also, the 'debate' as such hasn't even begun). George Galloway is running a spoiler campaign in London to derail a candidate he endorsed 12 months earlier. His faction is on a mission to smash or subdue the SWP. Funnily enough I object to that.

"... a sense of proportion is necessary. the swp may claim thousnads of members but the recent 'witchunt' petition proved this was nonsense. the socialist party is only marginally smaller than the swp, with a wider influence in the labour movement."

That's dickwaving (that's also the internet for you, a point I'll reiterate below). The real point is not who's bigger but what is the frame of reference is. The far left in Britain INCLUDING the SWP, let alone EXCLUDING the SWP, is tiny.

Roobin said...

One other thing -

"... surely we can have a grown up debate about these issues."

That's nice to know. It doesn't chime with "tailing 'anti-imperialist' movements". That's caricature, especially when it's framed in a meeting specifically on the SWP.

Roobin said...

"To reiterate, instead of writing off critics like Andy Newman (who has around 20 years of SWP membership under his belt) as sectarians, ask why there are so many critics."

Are you a sociologist? Should I really have to tell you that far-left blogs are a small, self-selecting community?

Phil BC said...

1) If we accept your contention Galloway is leading a spoiler campaign against the SWP in London, does that mean it is Respect Renewal who are standing their sitting councillor, Hanif Abdulmuhit, against Michael Gavan in Newham? Is it local SP councillor Chris Flood who is standing against the Left List's Jennifer Jones in Greenwich and Lewisham?

2) It would be great for the left to pull together. So how about putting acting in concert with SP activists in Unison against the witch hunt of our members in London, and your member in Newcastle?

3) 'Tailing anti-imperialist regimes and movements' is fair comment. I have heard one of your local comrades with my own ears seriously argue the anti-war movement should refrain from criticising Iran because "it alienates people". This tallies with the arguments fielded against HOPOI affiliation to Stop the War, and other reports from meetings up and down the country. When was there last an article in Socialist Worker critical of suicide bombing?

4) You are deliberately avoiding the point. So I ask it again: why are there so many critics of the SWP? Why does it evoke so much animosity and hostility on the left when our organisation does not? Are all leftists not in the SWP or at its periphery irredeemable sectarians?

Roobin said...

To begin with, this still being addressed in terms of the Crimes of the SWP. The SWP lives and dies on its decisions and is answerable only to its members. This is still a discussion of which group is better than the other, not what's best for the movement as a whole. Neither the SWP nor the SP can claim a freehold on that idea.

1) Galloway is running a spoiler campaign (which he is entitled to). Let's not pretend that he's (a) going to get elected to the GLA but (b) do any better than he did as an MP. Is he seriously going to do both jobs at the same time? Hanif Abdulmuhit broke away from Respect when he backed Renewal. Respect already had a pre-prepared and agreed plan to stand in every constituency and for mayor in 2008. He shouldn't be shocked someone is standing against him. I'm not personally up on whether there were any negotiations around Lewisham. An SP candidate on the Left List would be fine by me. Given the SP's last result in 2004 (2% was it, something like that) I don't think such an alliance would be good enough.

But this is all off the point. The point is not whether Galloway or anyone else are standing as deliberate spoilers. George was never accountable to me in Respect, let alone outside it. The point is whether there are organised lefties specifically out to break the SWP (for whatever reason) and whether the SWP and its members have a right to stand their ground.

2) Don't ask me about that. Again, it's not up to me. As I understand the generally accepted left platform is United Left, which the SP walked out of. I'm sure the reasons were spotless.

3) Local to me or you? I thought you didn't have a rival SWP branch. Now, I didn't expect you to spend all afternoon researching the officially practiced line of the SWP. One unattributable, anonymous quote with zero context is, ahem... poor.

4) No, you want me to argue a different point. This comes back to my overall point about having to argue at the court of the SP. My point is simple, the 'many' people you speak of are a tiny, self-selecting group of people lurking on the internet. They get TOO MUCH regard in my opinion.

Most people, if you ask what do you think of the SWP, would say who? That or is he Ian Wright's son?

Phil BC said...

You're right Roobin, this is a discussion about what is best for the movement as a whole. Our branch are not a bunch of sectarians. We seek to organise working class people in defence of their own interests, and I think we haven't done a bad job of it here in Stoke. This is due to the approach we have which engages with the consciousness of working class people as it stands, AND because there isn't much of an organised left outside of the SP.

This could change. There have always been a number of your comrades in and around Stoke since the local SWP branch folded in 1994. Occasionally the odd comrade would turn up for a picket or a demo, but that was all. But now stalls have started turning up irregularly in the city centre and meetings of your local comrades have started taking place. An reformed branch has not yet been publicly declared, but it could be in the offing.

Most Stoke SP comrades haven't really encountered SWP activists before. And since having turned up on Burslem picket lines and demos, "ordinary" postal workers have been asking us about the difference between the two organisations. This is why the branch meeting on the politics of the SWP went ahead, so we could examine the political differences between the organisations and the differing ways we work.

Incidentally, you may be surprised to learn the SWP has done this themselves in the past. On my book shelf I have a copy of International Socialism #30. In it is an article on Kinnock and the Labour Left. There's another on the old CPGB. In International Socialism #33 there's an article called 'The History and Politics of Militant'. These pieces were not wastes of space. They helped teach SWP activists about the politics and standpoints of people they were likely to meet in the labour movement. I can assure you none of the articles pulled their punches. And so neither did we.

With this understanding our comrades will be better able to work with SWP comrades because we know where there will likely be clashes over matters of strategy and tactics. By knowing where they're coming from we will avoid misunderstandings and sectarian bun fights. In the long run it will foster cooperation, cordial relations and maybe, after a long period of joint work, a basis for unity at some point.

I've never hidden my desire for left unity. This was why I was involved in the Socialist Alliance before the SWP came on board, set up the UKLN list, had a two year sojourn in the cpgb, welcomed the launch of the CNWP, joined the SP and look forward to the Convention of the Left in September. I was dismayed when the SSP was torn asunder and couldn't believe the unnecessary stupidity of the Respect split. And it is also the reason why I don't bother with point scoring debates with other left groups. Discussion should be for clarity, not for smug self-satisfaction. I welcome any developments on the left that move in this direction, and am disappointed and critical when I see sections of the left move away from it.

And it is this than informs the basis of my criticisms of the SWP, not because I think the SP is "better". I want to see a large, vibrant and rooted SWP doing the business as much as I'd like to see a larger SP doing the same. If you grow big and bring the socialist case to wider swathes of working class people, it will float all our boats, and vice versa. But in my eyes there are fundamental flaws in the SWP that prevent it from fulfilling its full potential. I've rehearsed some of these in this post, and here and here.

One of the biggest problems, and one you seem unable to even acknowledge, is the inability to self-critically reflect on your organisation's behaviour and how others on the left see you. Instead of conceding there is an issue, you pretend that the only critics out there are "a tiny, self-selecting group of people lurking on the internet." If only it were true.

Let's take leftblogland as an example. Outside the smattering of blogs by SWP members on my left blog roll, how many offer favourable comment about the SWP? I suppose you could argue the majority of them say nothing nice to say about the SP either, and that would be true. But nor do we attract the animus your organisation does. Now, ask yourself, why is this the case? Has each and every critic got a sectarian axe to grind, or does their hostility reflect the experiences they've had with the SWP in the past? Now you can dismiss this as you have done up until now, but again, if the SP attracted anywhere near as much hostile coverage as the SWP does from other left and labour movement activists I think a lot of us would be asking what's gone wrong. It would concern me why a long-standing former comrade like Andy Newman or allies like the ISG who, while having criticisms, nevertheless tried to build constructive working relationships have become even more critical.

The first step on the road to dealing with a problem is admitting you have a problem. All SWP comrades need to take a long hard look at their organisation and understand how it can come across to others active in the same struggles. If you can, not only will your organisation reap the benefit, but the movement as a whole will too.

Dave Festive said...

but again, if the SP attracted anywhere near as much hostile coverage as the SWP does from other left and labour movement activists I think a lot of us would be asking what's gone wrong.

the day labourites and left sectarians (it's stretching it to call them activists) make that level of snide remarks about the sp will be the day your organisation becomes relevant.

Phil BC said...

Any chance of answering the points, Dave? Nope, didn't think so. Now run along, there's a good chap. You wouldn't want to dawdle here seeing as trolling is much more profitable elsewhere.

andy newman said...

What Cliff said: http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1960/xx/trotsub.htm

“The party has to be subordinated to the whole. And so the internal regime in the
revolutionary party must be subordinated to the relation between the party and the class.
The managers of factories can discuss their business in secret and then put before the workers a fait accompli. The revolutionary party that seeks to overthrow capitalism cannot accept the notion of a discussion on policies inside the party without the participation of the mass of the workers – policies which are then brought “unanimously” ready-made to the class. Since the revolutionary party cannot have interests apart from the class, all the party’s issues of policy are those of the class, and they should therefore be thrashed out in the open, in its presence. The freedom of discussion which exists in the factory meeting, which aims at unity of action after decisions are taken, should apply to the revolutionary party. This means that all discussions on basic issues of policy should be discussed in the light of day: in the open press. Let the mass of the workers take part in the discussion, put pressure on the party, its apparatus and leadership.”

What “roobin” says:

“The SWP lives and dies on its decisions and is answerable only to its members.”

andy newman said...

Incidently, in the late 1980s all SWP branches had meetings on the politics of the Militant, usually under the title "Are the MIlitant marxists"