Monday, 10 November 2008

SP and SWP Debate the Revolutionary Party

Around 3.2 million people crammed into the upper hall of ULU on Sunday morning to hear SWP national secretary, Martin Smith (pictured) debate Socialist Party deputy general secretary, Hannah Sell, on building a revolutionary party in the 21st century. That the SWP agreed to send a representative along to Socialism was certainly a welcome development, having been some years since the comrades had sent someone along. It's just a pity Martin came alone - without any of his comrades acting as a counter weight there was always the danger it could have been a one-sided bitchfest. But that didn't happen thanks to skillful chairing and taking speakers from outside the SP's ranks.

In the real world the neoliberal consensus has collapsed, a mass political mobilisation has just defeated the Republicans in the US, and global capital is undergoing its worse crisis in 80 years, so why bother with this debate? Can't the SP and SWP as the largest currents on the far left in Britain just unite? This was the starting point of Hannah's contribution. Her argument was that should a new workers' party emerge over the next few years and many thousands of activists are attracted to socialist politics, the differences between the two will assume greater significance. It is therefore not sectarian to discuss differences, but rather allows for greater clarity about our trajectories and mistakes so we can operate and cooperate more smoothly in the future.

As far as Hannah was concerned, the criticisms the SP has of the SWP boils down to a question of method and perspectives. The SWP has a 'year zero' approach to politics. Whereas the SP constantly discusses its own practice in an attempt to learn from it, the SWP has a tendency to abruptly abandon its previous practice and move on to something new - so it is theoretically possible to meet a new SWP every week.

This is tied in with the SWP's mistaken assessment of the period we've just come out of. The collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and the USSR gave capital a tremendous ideological victory. Grotesque bureaucratic caricatures of socialism they may have been, nevertheless they showed the ruling class that an alternative to capitalism was possible, that their system was not immortal and could be overturned when it is weak. Their passing was marked by an orgy of bourgeois triumphalism and neoliberalism - already the ideological hegemon in most English-speaking countries - rapidly spread beyond the borders of its Anglo-American heartland. Privatisation, outsourcing, increased global capital flows, and intensified exploitation became the order of the day. Labour and social democratic parties the world over elected to swim with the free market stream, and trade unions adapted to the new realities by emphasising boss/worker "partnerships". This was not a precipitous time for socialist ideas, never mind any kind of independent working class politics.

The SWP however felt it was a favourable period. The collapse of Stalinism was a step sideways from state capitalism to market-based capitalism, therefore nothing had fundamentally changed. Tony Cliff had characterised the 1990s as the '1930s in slow motion', implying it was to be a decade of titanic and strategic class battles. It also claimed the 90s was marked by a popular attitudinal adjustment to the left (though Hannah didn't mention this, the SWP's argument that New Labour's election victory in 1997 was a 'class vote', and the fact its membership mushroomed (particularly in the early 90s) could be taken as "support" for this claim). By the end of the decade, the SWP's optimistic perspective saw it hail the emergence of an anti-capitalist/global justice movement as 'the greatest opportunity for the left since the 1960s'. While it was certainly a welcome development from the SP's point of view, its significance should not be overstated. For instance, compared with the mobilisations of the 1980s it was on a much lower level. Nevertheless the SP took part in this movement, as did the SWP, but because of the different methods of building a party, the SWP ended up tailing the movement. Via Globalise Resistance, the SWP uncritically adopted the slogan 'another world is possible' and adopted the strategy of being the movement's most militant and dynamic builders - an approach that would attract the best activists. The SP however sought to implant socialist ideas as deeply as possible, which doesn't at all preclude working to be the most visible and authoritative current.

Hannah went on to note the SWP took a similar line at the founding conference of Solidarity. The organisation, which split with the SSP in the wake of the Tommy Sheridan affair, is currently sub-titled 'Scotland's Socialist Movement'. The SWP voted against the inclusion of socialism and the setting up of Solidarity as a socialist organisation. She also criticised the top-down culture of the SWP, its behaviour over the Socialist Alliance and Respect, and what she thought was its heavy-handed attitude to the RMT when it tentatively explored the possibility of standing in this year's London Assembly elections. Despite this, Hannah concluded that should a new workers' party emerge, the SP and SWP will both be involved. The question remains if the SWP could act as a positive force or as a block on the process.

Martin Smith then began his reply. He thanked the SP for the invite and prefaced his contribution by saying he doesn't normally attend events like this because he knows the SWP would come under attack. That said, he was here to see what we were saying and hoped to sketch out where our organisations are going, not trade blows.

Martin's starting point were the US elections. He and the SWP have no illusions in Barack Obama, but the outcome cannot be dismissed as another round of Tweedle Dum Tweedle Dee politics. What Obama's victory shows is a (positive) reaction against the reckless policies responsible for the economic crisis, a desire to see withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a projection by millions of their hopes for a better world onto Obama's incoming presidency. But despite this there is no reason why the left will automatically benefit from the crisis - hope can very quickly tip over into despair. For example, there are projections that unemployment could hit two million by Christmas. By this time next year it could have grown to as much as 3.5 million. Over the same period, thanks to falling stocks and the financial crisis the value of pensions could fall by as much as 30 per cent.

Highlighting the difference between the SWP and SP on the Labour party (as a bourgeois workers' party vs an outright party of business), the economic crisis is likely to compound the problem of Labour as a strategic obstacle facing socialists. We have seen the 'Brown bounce' in the polls off the back of his conference performance and apparent competence in handling the crisis, so Martin was not surprised Labour held on in the Glenrothes by-election. Labour does continue to haemorrhage members (which could now be as low as 120,000 members) but people will still be prepared to support it at the polls, particularly large numbers of older workers. Building a left alternative means coming to terms with this.

He then turned to a common criticism made of the SWP - that it is overoptimistic. He admitted this was true, but so were the Bolsheviks. He argued optimism was necessary because it allows socialists to seize the initiative once the weight of history and potential on/in any given situation is understood. It is this kind of optimism that has allowed the SWP and SP to hold our organisations together in, what he conceded, were difficult times. But we do need to learn from each other - we all make mistakes. Those that don't do anything (nodding toward the ultra-left) have the luxury of being correct about everything. For instance, the SWP knew it got the poll tax struggle wrong (initially calling for non-collection by council workers rather than mass non-payment), but it soon realised its errors and got involved in the campaign, with some of its comrades getting imprisoned for not paying.

Returning to the present political period, Martin suggested there were two things going on. A currently low but nevertheless rising curve of working class militancy (which he timed from the election of the so-called awkward squad is about to collide with a section of trade union leaders who are utterly craven vis the government. The task of socialists is to help this process along, which is why the SWP disagree with the decision of the PCS executive to postpone strike action, which would have taken place this Monday. SP members on the executive voted for this decision as well. In fact, Martin was glad his comrades voted against postponement as he believed that when workers vote yes on a strike ballot you are duty bound to go for it. However, he accepted this was a tactical question and not something the SP and SWP should fall out over.

Responding to the earlier points about the anti-capitalist/global justice movement, Martin said 'another world is possible' was not the SWP's slogan, but belonged to Globalise Resistance(!) The SWP were planning to continue in 'united front work' and argued for more unity in action, not less. Singling out the SWP's involvement in Defend Council Housing, Stop the War, and UAF (among others), it is unfair to say the SWP don't "stick the course".

He also rebutted Hannah's comments on the RMT/Respect talks regards the London Assembly elections. Respect did not "demand" the RMT climb on board its electoral ship. Instead it said it was ludicrous for both to stand against each other and instead possibilities for a united slate should be explored. He then touched on Respect and said it wasn't the case George Galloway was blameless and the SWP were the font of all evil. Its biggest problem was only one MP and one trade union leader broke toward it. If more had come on board, including the SP, we wouldn't have had the acrimonious split. But to keep the coalition together until the split, the SWP had to vote down positions it would otherwise have agreed with, such as a mandatory workers' wage for MPs. And it might be prepared to do so again because the party is still committed to a broad left alternative and it will happen at some stage. The struggles ahead will help realign and remake the left, and we will have to work together more often.

And now it came to contributions from the floor. One comrade got up and defended the actions of the SP on the PCS exec. She was at pains to emphasise that action had only been suspended. The government had agreed to talk about pay with the union for the first time in 20 years, and it would be a mistake to at least not listen to what it had to say - especially as the union had conceded nothing to get these talks. In Lois Austen's contribution, she argued the SWP had no method for looking at events. Citing an email put out by SWP staffers working for Stop the War, it read the coalition was "delighted" that Obama had won the presidency. This she felt was typical SWP fare, which is basically an emotional response. Andrew Price argued the SWP does not systematically learn from its mistakes and is always in danger of replicating them. Judy Beishon argued that any unity between the SP and SWP needs to be genuine and open, but this has not been the track record of the comrades in numerous campaigns over the years - and cited the SWP's actions in the Socialist Alliance as the example par excellence.

An independent comrade who sits on the steering committee of the CNWP congratulated the SP for its behaviour in the campaign and suggested if we contrast it and the SWP's relationship with external groupings, the SP's record is more favourable. Another indie asked if the SP and SWP could keep the dialogue going after this meeting, and Toby Abse singled out the NSSN as a possible way forward while warning that any left formation without either organisation on board was bound to fail.

James Palmer of the Spartacist League was left to supply the comedic element. The comrade said programme came before unity and tactics, before boldly stating there were two trends in the workers' movement: Marxism and social democracy. In his opinion, the SP and SWP belong to the latter (presumably, and given its hostility toward other left groups, the nine or ten Sparts in Britain is what's left of the Marxist trend). Amid much guffawing, he explained the Sparts were the best Trotskyists because they defended the USSR to the end. He also criticised the SP for daring to support the POA, and condemned our attitude to the police. Did we not know that a worker who dons a policeman's uniform becomes a bourgeois cop? It seems tactical nuance is beyond the simplistic black and white world of our Spart friends.

Time was now short, so it was left to Martin and Hannah to briefly reply to contributions. Martin returned once again to the anti-capitalist movement and said it was a wake up call for the entire left, which may have been caught up in the inertia of the period. Seattle, for example, was basically an alliance between trade unionists and a new generation of young people new to activism. It was pregnant with possibilities, albeit one that miscarried under the impact of September 11th. But the movement did not go away, instead it involved itself in other activities. Some were key sectors mobilised by the anti-war movement, others fed into the movement around Social Forums. The correctness of intervening here, Martin argued, is best shown in the US where the movement was, for the main part, ignored by the Trotskyists but embraced by the Maoists, and it is they who are reaping the long term benefits of recruits and influence today. He also returned to the PCS and the postponed strike. It was not a disgrace that the strike had been delayed, but it was disappointing. He thought that having up to 500,000 workers coming out could have had an electrifying political effect. He also said of the SP that his comrades in the PCS caucus do moan and criticise it for this and that, but he tells them not to get caught up on what the SP does but just get down to business. He ended by saying the SWP and SP need to find ways of talking because regroupment, when it happens, will be on a wider scale this time round, and the more cohesive socialists are, the better.

In her reply to the debate, Hannah hoped that reps from the SP would get a look-in at the SWP's Marxism next year, because conversations between Marxists do matter because we can draw lessons from them. She also said revolutionaries need to be optimistic and scientific. There are no benefits in chasing after something simply because it looks good. And finally she agreed with Martin that a mass party will happen and she looked forward to seeing masses of working class people fresh to politics move into activity.

I thought this was a useful discussion, even if Martin did not answer all the points put to him. It showed the SP is keen to have dialogue with the SWP, and hopefully Martin's acceptance of the speaking invite means they are too. It also served to put on show many of the main criticisms the left outside of the SWP has of its practice. It may well be the case SWP comrades disagree and might, in some cases, find them unfair. But even if that is true, the point is the SWP is perceived in this way. The best way of refuting these criticisms is by examining its practice systematically and learn from it, and hopefully it will do so. One final point, the SP and SWP are probably the most dynamic organisations in British politics. They have the activists and energy to make a real difference to any new left/new workers' formation that comes along. Neither current will ever fully see eye to eye on strategy and tactics, but if more joint work is undertaken, if basic trust and dialogue can be built up, the less chance there is of disputes getting out of hand and alienating workers fresh to revolutionary politics.

35 comments:

Derek Wall said...

looks a bit low on ecosocialism1

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil

that is a very decent report I would say. It would have been helped if the SWP had sent some other people along.

i remain very sceptical that the SWP will learn from its mistakes, it hasn't done in the entire history of its existence, recent events like those in Notts, highlight this.



PH

Phil BC said...

There was a session on environmentalism, Derek, but I didn't go and no one I know did either! Re: the SP and SWP, I don't think there's a big difference between the two, hence the reason why it didn't get discussed.

PH, hope springs eternal from the human breast :)

complexsystemofpipes said...

I think it's very positive that we're talking to each other, at the very least.

Charlie Marks said...

Positive. Hope more will come of it. Perhaps a joint SP-SWP conference would be a good unity move - a sort of *Marxisms*, eh?

Ken said...

Some were key sectors mobilised by the anti-war movement, others fed into the movement around Social Forums. The correctness of intervening here, Martin argued, is best shown in the US where the movement was, for the main part, ignored by the Trotskyists but embraced by the Maoists, and it is they who are reaping the long term benefits of recruits and influence today.

Are you sure that's what Martin said? I know that Callinicos has made that argument about how the US SWP (no relation) missed out on the left wing of the 1960s antiwar movement, while the Maoists recruited thousands.

Is history repeating itself to that extent? As far as I know, the Maoists in the US are still small and divided, not massively bigger than the ISO (which I guess the SWP would regard as 'the Trotskyists' despite their break with the SWP).

Phil BC said...

I don't know about a conference at this stage, Charlie. Even though this debate was a fairly restrained affair, I fear that having a hundred SP'ers and a hundred SWP'ers in a room debating each others politics wouldn't be the most productive of encounters! But I do hope dialogue between the two organisations will continue in some way.

One other thing, I think it would be helpful if we actually knew what the SWP thought of the SP. Sure, we get Spart-esque denunciations from some of their comrades over at Socialist Unity, but generally these apply to Militant's record. Any SWP'er fancy a stab at a rounded out critique?

Phil BC said...

I am pretty sure that's what Martin said, Ken. By Maoists perhaps he was thinking primarily of the WWP (which I suppose you could categorise as Maoist at a push), the Avakian cult, and Freedom Road? Hardly massive organisations true - can any Us comrade shed some sectological light on the matter?

Mark P_ said...

I'm not from the US, but as an amateur sectologist I can confirm that any claim that "Maoists" or even the Workers World Party are "reaping the benefits of recruits and influence" are flat out wrong.

The only Maoist group of any size remaining in the US is the RCP, which is dwindling in size as they turn themselves into a personality cult around their leader Chairman Bob Avakian. They had an impact in the anti-war movement through their fronts Not in Our Name (NION) and World Can't Wait (WCW) but those groups are now moribund or near-moribund and the RCP is smaller than it was when the war started.

The Workers World Party, an ex-Trotskyist group with a vaguely Stalinist bent, had the most influence in the anti-war movement through it's own front group ANSWER. It did not however recruit significantly from that and then it split almost right down the middle. (The other half of the split now owns ANSWER).

The ISO, an ex-IST group, is probably the largest on the far left although it never controlled any significant anti-war coalition. It has been growing slowly. Other Trotskyist groups, like the CWI affiliated Socialist Alternative and the USFI affiliated Socialist Action have been growing more rapidly but from a smaller base.

It is false to suggest that any of these Trotskyist groups "ignored" the anti-war movement. And their approach seems to have been rather more successful, at least in narrow party building terms, than that of the WWP or RCP.

The 1960s anti-war movement doesn't really fit the SWP's analysis either. In fact the US SWP (no relation) was the most significant organisational force in the mainstream anti-Vietnam war movement. However, it did everything it could to keep the movement restricted to lowest common denominator politics (much as the UK SWP has done with the Stop the War Coalition).

Just as the UK SWP made no significant organisational gains from that experience, the US SWP saw its recruitment radically outstripped by the Maoists and other "Third World Marxists" who intervened into the movement with their own (admittedly confused) politics.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

For Derek's benefit there's a short report of the environmental session in this weeks Socialist.

I'd agree with Phil that I'd like to know what SWP members actually think of the SP?

Oh, and even though I wasn't able to go see it I'm glad the SWP did turn up to debate with us this year. I think haveing debates like this are really interesting and useful - I just wish some of these groups would bring some of their own supporters along so we can have a bit more of a debate.

Ken said...

The 1960s anti-war movement doesn't really fit the SWP's analysis either. In fact the US SWP (no relation) was the most significant organisational force in the mainstream anti-Vietnam war movement. However, it did everything it could to keep the movement restricted to lowest common denominator politics (much as the UK SWP has done with the Stop the War Coalition).Mark-p, that is the SWP's analysis! (Aside from your final comment, of course :-) Callinicos wasn't saying the US SWP stood aside from the antiwar movement, but from its left wing (i.e. the mainly young people who called for Victory to the NLF, and so on.)

It would have been difficult in any case for Trotskyists to make much headway, given that the entirely understandable impulse of newly-radicalized young people was to identify with the Vietnamese (and by extension the Chinese) Communists.

I'm relieved to hear that I haven't entirely misjudged the current state of the US far left.

Jim Jay said...

I thought this was a very interesting post - thanks!

Peter M. said...

"It would have been difficult in any case for Trotskyists to make much headway, given that the entirely understandable impulse of newly-radicalized young people was to identify with the Vietnamese (and by extension the Chinese) Communists."

That's definitely true, and indeed that's what happened in the 1960s. Looking at 1968-70ish, the claim that US Maoists outstripped US Trotskyists in terms of recruitment (or at least numbers of people following Maoist vs Trotskyist ideas) makes a lot of sense. During that time, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was probably at its highest membership figures, and both the main factions were influenced by Maoist ideas.

However, Maoism didn't really coalesce into one single party in the way that Trotskyism (more or less) did with the SWP. There were numerous splits and combinations that happened throughout the 1970s and 80s, and the Chinese Communist Party didn't grace one of these groups with the status of "official" Chinese party until the mid-late 1970s (it was the CP(ML), I believe). To be sure, the RCP was the largest of these groups (and with the bits and pieces of Maoism around today, that still holds true), but since none of them gained the legitimacy of "official Comintern party" or "American section of the Fourth International," the Maoist movement didn't make a long-term organisational impact. Add to that, many of these Maoist groups disappeared in the 1980s (many went into the Jesse Jackson campaign), whereas even the smallest and angriest of Trotskyist sects still have the temerity to keep themselves together, for better or for worse.

On the whole, I'd say organised US Trotskyism today is larger than organised US Maoism today.

Phil BC said...

I must have misheard Brother Smith, I guess. Perhaps he was referring to the sixties movements.

Any more info on the split in the WWP? Whatever happened to the IST affiliate (Left Turn?) after the ISO parted company with the SWP? And generally, how well do US Trotskyists get on with each other? Is it even worse than Britain?

Anonymous said...

Left Turn, which numbered less than 10, then fell out with the IST, the SWP do not have a sister organisation in the US.

ph

Charlie Marks said...

My suggestion of a Marxisms conference wasn't to discuss past differneces, but on how both parties view the current situation and how to proceed in building the revolutionary party.

Comrades must be conscious of the fact that the squabbling that goes on is offputting to those new to the movement. Mark Steel spoke passionately about this. Derek Wall is to be thanked for his own efforts to reach out to other tendencies.

Honestly, I feel that some of the criticisms that come from comrades in the anarchist tradition are quite useful. Very often we will spend time talking about where others made mistakes in the past - which has the effect of making them feel personally attacked. Certainly, this has been my impression with SWP comrades. Far better to try and act constructively with each other.

Here's my tips for debating with folks from other tendencies:

* Start by politely stating where you disagree and then affirm that you both have some common ground and can work together. This leaves the person you are speaking to with a feeling that you are not confronting them or seeking to start a shouting match.

* Use language that makes clear that you are expressing you opinions and your understanding and that other opinions and understandings exist – this tells the other person that you are willing to enter into a reasoned debate and accept that you may not be right. For example, “In my opinion, _____ is not _____.” – “I believe _____ is a bad idea because I think that _____.” – “I understand that _____.” Be sure to speak in a calm and clear manner and to indicate with your tone of voice and body language that you are interested in hearing the opinions of the other person.

* When listening to what the other person is saying, nod your head to encourage the other person to continue. Be sure to make and maintain eye contact.

* When replying, do not interrupt or convey a dismissive attitude.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this. Interested to see this years swp int.bulletins. surely they are on-line by now!?

Peter M. said...

"Any more info on the split in the WWP? Whatever happened to the IST affiliate (Left Turn?) after the ISO parted company with the SWP? And generally, how well do US Trotskyists get on with each other? Is it even worse than Britain?"

The WWP split actually happened about four years ago, but there wasn't really much polemical fallout in the broader socialist movement, so many spotters and other leftists are somewhat confused as to what actually happened. I think it had to do with one faction not wanting to oppose John Kerry in 2004, but I really could be wrong. The new party, Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) ran a few candidates in the 2008 elections, including a presidential slate. PSL also inherited the ANSWER coalition, which someone else has already mentioned.

In terms of the elections, PSL ran on a fairly revolutionary socialist platform, so I don't have much doubt about their commitment to a revolutionary socialist perspective. However, my guess is that they've inherited at least some of the practises of Workers World, so this could become more of a hindrance than a help in the future.

I don't know that much about Left Turn. Basically, then also left the IST, and are more or less just a magazine now, though they still exist on at least some level. Some Left Turn activists in NYC have been in the orbit of Solidarity, but I doubt that's anything official.

On Trots in the US in general, there was the conference on the legacy of Trotskyism (and as such the Socialist Workers Party) in the US, featuring many former US SWPers, who are now in numerous socialist groups (Solidarity, Socialist Action, Socialist Organizer), or in no socialist group at all. At the conference, though, there were representatives from nearly all the Trotskyist tendencies in the US (even if they were just there to denounce it.) The ISO had a decent contingent (including Ahmed Shawki), both the US sections of the CWI and the IMT were there, etc. On the whole, discussion was fairly comradely. It's possibly interesting to note that the main groups of people from the IMT-US and CWI-US were young, and fairly friendly with each other. Personally, I think that the CWI-IMT split makes little to no sense in the US context, as there isn't a classical "bourgeois/reformist workers party", so both the Workers International League and Socialist Alternative's party-building strategy involves a "Labor Party" of some sort, though the terminology is somewhat different- WIL specifically talks about a "Labor Party," while SocAlt talks more often about a "workers party"- probably due due to the influence from their respective internationals.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the young CWIers in the USA at the Trotsky conference. Hey Moody!

Mark: your knowledge of the US left is a bit scary. At first, I thought you were strange for knowing all that. Then, I realized that my knowledge of the British left is even worse.

A drunk leader of WWP told me that the split with PSL was over the "national question" of a white male (Brian Becker) wanting to be the leader of WWP. The WWP leader told me that they couldn't accept a white leader (remember Sam Marcy?) because of the "national question." Hence, Larry Holmes.

I had thought that the split was over running candidates in the 2004 elections, but then in 2008 PSL ran candidates and WWP didn't (the opposite of the rumored lines of the split).

For US left watchers: the two new Maoist groups on the block (one interesting and one scary) are Kasama Project and Rural People's Party.

Ken said...

I can only hope that the Rural People's Party follows to the end the road of its glorious exemplar, Jim Jones.

Can this group be for real?

ian said...

I think Charlie Marks makes some important points here.
My view for what its worth, is to remind myself of the old sayin "philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it". The far left needs to get together on the basis of common ground and fight together as a unit. The time for "debates" while interesting should be secondary to fighting the employer and their system. That unity has to be acheived on the basis of trust.
Unfortunately, that trust is often broken by left groups having discipline with there own small organisations and not with the principle of unity to acheive common aims.

Lets get on with the "changing the world " bit rather than philosophising over differences.

In solidarity

Ian

Peter M. said...

Yo, salt-water Taffeite!

A drunk leader of WWP told me that the split with PSL was over the "national question" of a white male (Brian Becker) wanting to be the leader of WWP. The WWP leader told me that they couldn't accept a white leader (remember Sam Marcy?) because of the "national question." Hence, Larry Holmes.

Now that you mention it, that does sound vaguely familiar (and makes some sense considering the Becker family's leadership in PSL.) I also agree that the split over electoral politics doesn't make much sense either, but again, the WWP-PSL split didn't produce any sort of public split documents (major sign they're no longer Trots, really :P), so it's hard to figure out what exactly happened with them. But, I suppose that's why we ply people of other tendencies with alcohol...

Re Kasama and the Rural People's Party, it seems that Kasama isn't explicitly labelling itself as Maoist, and primarily just use "communist" to describe themselves. Then again, the RCP does that too, so it makes some sense considering Kasama is coming out of the slow implosion of the RCP into even more of an Avakian cult than it was before. They seem like good people though, and I think should be seriously paid attention to. Maybe before too long there will be a Maoist current in the US that are actually committed revolutionaries without being vaguely cultish ultra-lefts.

I wouldn't consider the RPP to be explicitly Maoist either (though they do come out of the hilarious tradition of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, it seems.) Mainly, I'd describe their political ideology as batshit crazy. Unfortunately, Ken, I think they are for real, though probably not outside the minds of 20 people or so.

Andrew Coates said...

Interesting that there was no reference to Besancenot and the Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste, which is of rather more relevance (like by a thousand times) than the American left, such as it is.

Even the Guardian today cites this.

I have my own thoughts about the NPA. But surely this, though a bit overshadowed by Die Linke, is the central phenomenon

Ken said...

To return to the SWP and SP via US Maoism ...

About ten years ago I was in NYC and visited the RCP's Revolution Books. I picked up an old book called The Soviet Union: Socialist or Social-Imperialist. Raymond Lotta and others put the Maoist case that the SU was capitalist, Al Szymanski and David Leibman (?) countered with a pro-Soviet (though not uncritical) analysis, that the SU was socialist (which for these two didn't mean much more than that the state was a bureaucratic form of workers' power).

Needless to say, this was all very much a 'Stalinist' form of a familiar Trotskyist debate, such as that between the SWP and SP.

And what struck me then is that Marxism is so fucking useless that you can't even use it to distinguish between capitalism and socialism!

Phil BC said...

Now Ken, be careful, you're calling an awful lot of polemical fire down upon your head!

Re: the Rural Peoples' Party - surely they must be rewarded for being the maddest left sect going. Identifying themselves with the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung is bad enough, but the Rev Jim Jones? WTF? You couldn't make 'em up.

Q for the Socialist Alternative/CWI USA comrades, just out of interest how do you get on with other groups aside from the IMT? Do you come across others a lot in your day to day work? In Stoke we occasionally brush up against the v small local SWP presence (primarily in anti-fascist stuff), and we have a comrade from Workers' Power who comes up our stalls on a Saturday to sell us his paper. That's about it!

Anonymous said...

salt water Taaffeite back again (inside joke).

We work very closely with ex-SWPers in the anti-war and immigrant rights movement. The SPUSA endorsed our candidate for City Council in Boston. We work with them in many types of campaigns, although they are quite small here. Same goes for Solidarity who are also quite small here. Moody's in both those groups and is generally reflective of their honest anti-sectarianism (except if someone on Solidarity's right wing comes across an open socialist in the trade union movement).

We treat the ISO like we treat left Democrats: always try to work with them, but NEVER EVER trust them. Dishonesty seems to be built into their bone structure.

We are the biggest left group in Boston by far. In the trade union field, we mainly go it alone. The rest of the organized left doesn't really exist in the unions here besides various Stalinists who we usually avoid like the plague. We recruited the best of the people in the Maoist/Stalinist orbit which totally shocked them all (and is still a source of bragging rights for us).

You're right Moody; I was a bit sloppy in calling those two groups Maoist. I wanna meet these Kasama people and see if they're reasonable face-to-face.

Enough of this for now because Coatesy is right: NPA, PRC, Die Linke, PSoL, PSUV, etc. are much more important than the US left at this stage.

Darren said...

" . . . Raymond Lotta and others put the Maoist case that the SU was capitalist . . . "

Loved him in Goodfellas. Shame he ended up with the Badfellas.

I'll get my coat. Brooklyn autumns can be very chilly.

Cat said...

"Hannah went on to note the SWP took a similar line at the founding conference of Solidarity. The organisation, which split with the SSP in the wake of the Tommy Sheridan affair, is currently sub-titled 'Scotland's Socialist Movement'. The SWP voted against the inclusion of socialism and the setting up of Solidarity as a socialist organisation".

Perhaps the only honest thing the SWP ever done!!

A joint CWI/SWP conference now that's a conference I would pay money NOT to go to.

Bitter? Not me :-)

Phil BC said...

Come now Cat. Should it ever happen I bet I'd find you at the back of the hall in heavy disguise, box of popcorn in hand ;)

Anonymous said...

salt-water Taaffeite back again. Phil: I'm also the only US CWIer that comments here. It would obviously be more exciting if you had lots of US comrades reading your blog. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Just a clarifying point on my comment above. Due to Boston's intellectual and radical heritage, nearly every single left group that exists in the U.S. exists here. Some groups here in Boston only exist here in Boston.

For example, when I say "various Stalinists," I mean seven different varieties with less than ten members each. So, if I were to explain our relations with every group in Boston, it would be way, way, way too long (although not without interesting anecdotes).

Cat said...

Aye Phil,laughing at the daftness of it all - but actually I think it would give me the creeps and I don't like horror films, so I think I would dodge that one!

Peter M. said...

"For example, when I say "various Stalinists," I mean seven different varieties with less than ten members each. So, if I were to explain our relations with every group in Boston, it would be way, way, way too long (although not without interesting anecdotes)."

Though maybe something you should write up at some point.

skidmarx said...

That's an interesting debate. I had just been thinking this morning that perhaps the logical name for a new socialist party would be the "Socialist Party", but that might not be acceptable to those not currently in it.

I wish I could help with your desire to know what the SWP's current critique of the SP is, but I'm ignorant on the matter.

Charlie Marks said...

"I had just been thinking this morning that perhaps the logical name for a new socialist party would be the "Socialist Party", but that might not be acceptable to those not currently in it."

Given the W in SWP and the SP's involvement in the Campaign for a New Workers' Party can I suggest:

the Workers' Party

It's either that or the New Labour Party ;-)

Phil BC said...

Lol!

I've always fancied the Democratic Socialist Party as a name myself, seeing as the Australian DSP/DSM is hardly a household name in these parts. But I'd be more than happy if a new workers' party adopted the SP's monicker, though the miserablists of the SPGB wouldn't be happy!