Sunday, 21 June 2009

Socialist Party Replies to SWP on Left Unity

The Socialist Party replies to the Socialist Workers' Party open letter, Left Must Unite to Create an Alternative.

To the Socialist Workers’ Party

Dear comrades,

Your open letter, entitled ‘It’s time to create a socialist alternative’, poses the important question of how a left alternative can be created to contest the general election. The Socialist Party has always been prepared to support genuine left unity, provided it is on open, pluralistic terms. Unfortunately, in the past your organisation has not done so. You have taken a sectarian ‘rule or ruin’ approach – your own party’s narrow organisational dominance has been put before the interests of the workers’ movement. This is not just our experience, but the experience of a host of other organisations and individuals. If this open letter represents recognition of your past mistakes that would be welcome. However, there are a number of points in the letter that give the impression that this is not the case.

The need for such a left alternative in the general election is clear. However, you make no mention in your letter of the attempt to provide such an alternative in the European elections,
No2EU-Yes to Democracy. No2EU was set up precisely in order to provide an alternative to both the three establishment capitalist parties, and to the far-right racist BNP. In the coming weeks the components of No2EU will discuss trying to build on the campaign in order to create a broader challenge for the general election. To put out an ‘appeal for unity’ which writes No2EU out of existence – with no prior formal or even informal approach to its constituent organisations – will not be considered serious by those seeking a way forward.

As you know, No2EU was initiated by the transport workers’ union, the
RMT, and involved ourselves, the Socialist Party, as well as the Communist Party of Britain, the Alliance for Green Socialism, and others. This was the first time in over a century that a trade union stood on a national basis independently of Labour. Its candidates included many of the most militant fighters in the trade union movement today – including Rob Williams, Linamar car plants convenor, the convenors of Basildon and Enfield Visteon plants, and members of the Lindsey construction workers’ strike committee. Yet you make no reference to it in your letter, saying only that, when SWP members were asked who people should vote for, “the lack of a single, united left alternative meant there was no clear answer available”. We find this incredible. As you know we have argued in favour of the development of a new formation to the left of Labour for many years. Whenever attempts have been made in that direction we have called for a vote for them, including for Respect, even though we had criticisms of it. Yet many of your members called for a vote for the Greens rather than No2EU in the European elections.

If, as seems to be the case, you were opposed to No2EU, you should honestly and openly explain why, in order to allow a discussion to take place on what the basis for a new left alternative would be. To try to ignore the existence of an initiative as significant as No2EU undermines your stated aim of opening a discussion on creating an electoral alternative for the general election. Nor is your dismissal of its vote in
Socialist Worker a serious analysis (which, incidentally, was only the second time No2EU has ever been mentioned in Socialist Worker). You state that “despite Labour’s vote collapsing, overall the radical left did not register gains in last Thursday’s elections. Between them the Socialist Labour Party and No2EU gained two percent of the vote nationwide, the latter trailing Arthur Scargill’s party. Five years ago Respect polled 4.84 percent across London, beating the BNP. The combined left vote in London was down this year to 2.1 percent.”

No2EU received 153, 236 votes, 1% of the total cast. Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) gained a marginally higher 173,115 votes, 1.1%. Given that No2EU was founded only weeks before election day, we believe its vote was creditable and, particularly when taken alongside the vote for the SLP, gives an indication of the potential to create a fighting left electoral alternative. In 2004 you struck a very different tone than you have this time, when you declared that: “Respect [which you were then part of] got the best votes the left has seen for many years” (
Socialist Worker 19 June 2004). Yet Respect’s national result was 252,216 or 1.65%, less than the combined vote of the SLP and No2EU this time around.

Unfortunately, we believe that your brushing aside of No2EU is an indication that your methods have not changed. You claim that: “Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity” but as a party you have never been prepared to countenance working together with others in an honest and open fashion unless you hold the reins; hence your wrecking of the Socialist Alliance and your splitting from Respect. Far from playing a positive role, your approach has actually complicated and delayed steps towards a new mass workers’ party in England and Wales.

More recently you have almost completely withdrawn from electoral politics, except as an echo of the mainstream capitalist parties appeal to ‘vote against the BNP’. However, you have continued with the same high-handed ‘rule or ruin’ approach in the industrial and trade union fields. Your organisational high-handedness has been combined with a completely mistaken political approach to the significant struggle of the Lindsey construction workers, which you have dismissed as nationalist. We, by contrast, as Mark Serwotka pointed out at
PCS conference, were able to intervene in Lindsey and win the strikers to a clear, class programme.

Your organisational methods were starkly demonstrated at the
Fight for the Right to Work conference (which itself was called in direct competition with the conference of the National Shop Stewards’ Network conference taking place two weeks later, despite the SWP having members on the NSSN steering committee). The NSSN has been established for three years and has national backing from the RMT and POA trade unions. Yet your members voted on bloc at the Right to Work conference to defeat the following motion moved by a Socialist Party member:

“To recognise the important position of the National Shop Stewards’ Network (NSSN) in acting as the central coordinating body for rank and file union members, unorganised workers and the unemployed in the fight against unemployment. The NSSN, open to all workers, in its three years of activity, has brought together militant workers from many political traditions with a recent history of defeating the bosses’ offensives and has national backing from the RMT and POA trade unions. As such, conference resolves to direct its efforts through this body.”

Our approach to working with others is very different to yours. We have worked together with trade unionists from different political backgrounds to build the NSSN. And we enthusiastically took part in No2EU, despite differences between ourselves and other participants on some issues, because we saw it as a serious attempt by a national trade union to try to build a left political alternative. This does not mean we abandoned our own programme. No2EU was an electoral bloc that brought together different organisations around a common programme in order to maximise its electoral impact. The programme of No2EU was inevitably limited as a result, although not, as at least some of your members have suggested, nationalist. On the contrary it called for “international solidarity of working-class people”.

At the same time, the different component organisations had complete freedom to produce their own material. The Socialist Party, for example, was able to produce leaflets putting forward our socialist programme and explaining that our candidates, if elected, would only take a workers’ wage. This is a considerable advance on the position you adopted in the Socialist Alliance, where you opposed such latitude being allowed for constituent organisations. Have you since changed your position on this?

A new electoral alternative will not be created simply by any of the existing socialist organisations declaring their initiative to be ‘the’ alternative for workers, as the mistakes of the previous fifteen years demonstrate. Only the active participation of broader sections of militant workers and young people in any new electoral alternative will mark it as a significant step forward. This was the importance of No2EU, which we believe should now be built on, with a new name, for the general election, with the aim of involving, first and foremost, larger numbers of militant trade unionists and young people. However, as part of such a broad project we would support the right of all socialist organisations, including the SWP, to take part.

The election of two BNP MEPs does add even more urgency to the need to create a genuine mass voice for working class people. The BNP vote in Yorkshire and the North West actually went down, but the collapse of New Labour’s vote allowed them to get MEPs elected. Moreover, the BNP’s vote did increase markedly in some areas, all of which were working class communities which historically were bastions for Labour. As a recent YouGov poll of BNP voters concluded the BNP made gains “because many voters feel insecure and let down by the main parties”.

As we have repeatedly argued against yourselves and others, the BNP will not be undermined just by campaigns denouncing them as Nazis. Alongside the development of mass demonstrations against the BNP by the trade unions and young people, a crucial part of undermining the far-right will be building a political alternative.

If you were serious about creating an electoral bloc for the general election, why did you not approach the Socialist Party or, as stated before, any of the other component parts of No2EU, for a discussion on the way forward? Selected individual Socialist Party members around the country, largely members of our party in prominent positions in the labour movement, have been sent copies of your open letter, yet you did not approach the democratically- elected National Committee of the Socialist Party to discuss your appeal. Nor have you invited the party to debate these issues at
Marxism this year, despite us debating with you at our national event, Socialism 2008 last year, and our request that you reciprocate at your event. This method has elements, albeit on a smaller scale, to the approach of the Communist Parties in the early 1930s, who made declarations for a ‘united front from below’ but who refused to engage in negotiations with the leaderships of other workers’ organisations.

Our experience, and the experience of others on the left, regarding your party’s willingness to engage in serious collaboration, is not encouraging. However, if you have reassessed and changed your methods, and are now willing to work together with others towards the creation of ‘a socialist alternative’ for the general election, we will of course welcome this. Unfortunately, all the indications are that this letter is an attempt to convince your own members, who must have doubts on your previous approach towards working with others, that you stand for ‘unity’, rather than a serious proposal to facilitate a step towards independent political representation for the working class.

Yours fraternally,

Socialist Party Executive Committee


Dan said...

It's understandable to distrust the SWP given its track record, but due to the gravity of the situation - with the collapse of the Labour vote, the Tories moving to the right and heading for government, the growing far-right menace etc. - I hope the SP and the rest of the organised left will give them the benefit of the doubt.

If people believe the Central Committee have simply released the open letter for the benefit of their own members, let's leave aside raking up the past and put it to the test - call a preliminary conference, another convention of the left. Force them to publicly commit to the creation of a united left, to the organisational steps necessary to getting an alternative up and ready for 2010. Either they're in, or not: but either way a left party is vital to stemming the reactionary tide.

Incidentally, the lack of coverage in Socialist Worker of No2EU could simply be the result of resentment - at being quite deliberately excluded from the platform. Childish, but understandable. The important thing is to focus on the future.

Anonymous said...

i think this reply is far too aggressive, and too long.

it would have been better to just reply that you would like to hold discussions. no need to say anymore at this stage???!!

the 'open letter' does not come across well to independents and other sections of the left. many of these are wary / skeptical / hostile to the swp anyway, but equally they will not like this reply for it's tone and arrogance.

the 'open letter' as a reply is a strange tactic, one that the 'left' uses as a code word for an open attack.

the sp should show some humility as well. this kind of arrogance and attacking tone just reafirms negative views of the left, and these views have a basis as well.

you could take up the swp line on anti-fascism or whatever in seperate articles, same as on the nssn. you take them up in a none aggressive tone, and make fraternal criticisms amd positive suggestions. this method is far better and far more constructive.

launching an attack in reply to a pretty straight forward appeal for socialist unity is an own goal.


Anonymous said...

Exactly - the important thing is getting people in the same room. Between their websites and publications the far left could still be discussing who did what in the past by the time the general election happens.

Additionally, the SP should realise that no2eu has also been fairly controversial, especially after the differing views on Lindsey. Revolutionary socialism has a long history and therefore a long history of quarrels. We should accept that what divides us is ultimately less than what unites us: debate can and should continue without perpetuating our divide into separate and competing groups.

Charlie Marks said...

Plus side - good on the SP for responding.

Minus side - a bit too critical for Swp tastes?

Perhaps the test of this committment to left unity - an "I will if you will" agreement to merge into a new anticapitalist party, a la LCR?

Badger said...

Surely this letter more or less writes of any chance of SWP/SP cooperation in a new formation?

I have massive sympathy with the sentiments of the letter. I'm not in any party, but my experience of the SWP would be even more damning than this.

I wish it wasn't so but I really think the SWP is a pathological, parasitic organisation that is ideologically and structurally incapable of cooperating with others.

This is a shame. But insofar as it is 100% true, I don't think the SP's letter prejudices the prospects of "left unity" one bit.

The real question is whether the SWP is capable of changing its modus operandi or whether it can be usurped as the hegemonic bloc on the far-left.

All deeply depressing stuff.

Anonymous said...

However difficult it is for those with bad personal experiences, surely the early stages of any new party will be more easily greased by the involvement and cooperation of the SWP's "hegemonic" membership, and of the wider left who identify with Socialist Worker and the party's approach to UK politics over the last few years?

There is a lot of baggage but I don't understand why people on the left are not prepared to trust each other. We're on the same side of the struggle. I do not honestly believe the SWP or any grouping is motivated by malice or selfish interests - they are doing what they think is best. If that POV has come round to support for greater unity, at least on paper, then let's put it to the test.

ted said...

Comrades, why do you keep making excuses for the SWP? They are more than capable of rewriting history to effect this themselves.

I appreciate that it is extremely disheartening to see forces on the left unable to work alongside one another but the SP is correct to offer this critical but reasoned response.

How do you think it should have read? "Thanks for the open letter, we've had our differences in the past but what the heck - for the sake of left unity lets have another go!"

They are absolutely incabable of self criticism. This letter is not a complete refusal to work together but is saying that, if we are, we expect honest accounting and an analysis of where things have gone wrong in the past so that the mistakes don't repeat themselves.

Roobin said...

The thing with open letters is they are rarely open, in the sense that there's usually another agenda between the lines, which is why I don't think it's ideal (not terrible, mind you) that people are communicating through such a medium.

None of the criticisms surprise me. I think I could fairly knock each of them back. But I also don't think that's the point. One of the reasons I joined and have stayed with the SWP is people in it are interested in what people have in common, not their differences. I don't see much of that in this letter.

Also, something I like to see more generally, is a discussion about the fundamental weakness of the left, which has dogged all recent attempts at unity.

Yes, there are instants where better handling would have left a better situation. But, there is a general weakness of the left where the process of the 80s and 90s decimated numerous groups on the left, including the Labour Left, leaving some groups small but unnaturally prominent. An example would be trade union branches, where, in the past Labour or CP members would have been central it's now often up to SWP and SP members to keep the show on the road.

There has to be a route from point A, a fragmented left, to point C a flourishing socialist culture, with a point B in between where we stop substituting for a lack of said culture.

Phil Brighton said...

"None of the criticisms surprise me. I think I could fairly knock each of them back. But I also don't think that's the point."

In a lot of ways that is the point. I am sure you are at work/busy and probably don't have the time to write a full reply so I am not having a go at you, but this does seem always to be the SWP outlook.

Saying 'yes we have made mistakes' is not the same as accounting and assessing what has happened in the past.

'We disagree with your critisms but we can't waste time on that we must organise the next meeting/demo etc' does not make for a stable base to work together.

If these critisms were coming from a ultra left group with a handful of members it may well be acceptable to take this attitude, but the SP is not far off the SWP in membership, and has more weight in terms of Councillors/union exec places.

As both our leaderships seem to agree any real re-alingment of the left will see us in the same organisation, it will be very helpful if we (the SP) really know where the SWP stand in comparison to us, so we can avoid these disagreements sprouting up later on and ruining future projects.

Denzil said...

It will be interesting to read what the CPB says, if it responds to the SWP open letter.

Roobin said...

"Saying 'yes we have made mistakes' is not the same as accounting and assessing what has happened in the past."

The thing is, as far as I'm concerned the SWP does lots of accounting and assessment.

This kind of thing goes on in businesses all the time. In business the question is what does the outside audit say? There is no outside audit in politics. If an alliance depends on people agreeing what an 'honest account' is there'll never be an alliance.

The question is what arrangement can each group live with at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Ted: I think that's a bit simplistic. We don't have to forget problems of cooperation in the past, but they shouldn't hang round our necks and weigh down the possibility of new initiatives.

What if this time is different? The SWP say they are prepared to begin working towards something new - the open letter even assents to a conference of all interested groups. Take them up on it! If they are disingenuous or obstructive the process can continue on without them, having benefited from their support in getting the ball rolling. And if not, bygones. Our task is too important to tolerate unnecessary disunity.

Of course there are problems with the SWP approach. The open letter barely mentions no2eu and outright dismisses the Greens' increased (and obviously progressively-minded) vote. But I am prepared to take them at their word, as I am of any group that proposes socialist unity.

Anonymous said...

Hi comrades

a good reply to the swp. a poster above said why is our reply 'open', well because the initial swp letter was an open letter!!

there is one org that is done the most to destroy left unity in the UK, that is the swp. socialist alliance anyone?

don't let yuor very understandable desire for left unity cloud the issues and alibi the swp.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad that the SP has taken time to reply, but I think that some of what they ask for is unrealistic. First, it makes little sense to ask for a detailed appraisal of NO2EU in such a letter. If that had been provided, then an equally detailed appraisal of the SLP, the SSP and who knows what would also be necessary. The basic message would have been completely lost in the detail, and everyone would have just argued about their own piece of the picture.

Secondly, the disagreements about how to oppose the BNP are not exactlly irrelevant, but can, for now, be put to one side. A recognition that simple anti-bnp campaigning is insufficient is at the heart of the Open Letter, but if we are going to demand agreement about how anti-bnp stuff should be conducted, along with every other detailed campaign, then what hope of ever agreeing is there?

On the other hand, I do think that they've got a point about Marxism. The SP should be invited imo.

This needs to be a process, I'd be happy if people just don't tread on each others toes in the GE, and if we can aim for a united left formation for the next Euros and GLA's that would be something!

'Anyone but England'

Anonymous said...

I really have doubts whether the SWP, as an organisation, is worth working with. There are some good people in the SWP, but fundamentally they are the far left wing of middle class politics.

Dave Riley said...

Two questions:

(1) Is the SWP unity memo a serious attempt at unity or simply an exercise in feeding the chickens?

(2)Is the SP's reply a serious attempt at exploring unity or simply an exercise in feeding the chickens?

The other complication is that if the SP wants to adopt the high ground by referencing No2EU as 'unity in action' how much democratic flex has that project got such it could become a viable unity vehicle?

It seems to me that if the SWP is guilty of one form of obscurantism, the SP is guilty of another.

To put it frankly comrades, the real audience in all this, isn't so much the amorphous "left" but Joe and Mary average SP and SWP member.

That stands out a proverbial mile.

Charlie Marks said...

To follow on from what Dave says, I hope that both SP and SWP will hold meetings to encourage socialists of all parties and none to work together.

Phil said...

as far as I'm concerned the SWP does lots of accounting and assessment ... In business the question is what does the outside audit say? There is no outside audit in politics.

But that's precisely the point - what the SWP's got in the way of an "outside audit" is the sum of the feedback the party gets from outside. I gather that there's been a fair amount of "accounting and assessment" within the SWP since John Rees and friends decided to go nuclear on RESPECT; to take a more recent example, there's probably been a bit of rethinking of the SWP's initial reaction to the Lindsey walkout. But has anyone from the current SWP leadership approached the individuals who got the sharp end of the party's approach over the RESPECT split* and apologised for the tactics that were used? Has anyone contacted the SP about Lindsey and said "you know what, you lot called this one right and we initially got it wrong"?

I somehow doubt that anything like this has happened - but that would be when you'd get the outside audit. Accounting and assessment within the party just enables the party to project all its problems onto mistakes that may have been made in the past - and in exceptional cases onto a scapegoat like Rees.

*Obviously I'm not going into individual cases here - hopefully we can agree that there were such cases and leave it at that.

Roobin said...

You see, whenever I have someone ask me about the politics of the SP for a while now I've told them to speak to an SP member, go see what they actually do. There's no way I'm going to give a fair, informed account of the Socialist Party. In one sense why should I, it's not my job.

When it comes to the points in the letter I don't think they are particularly correct or even fair. Like I said, I think I can knock them back. I doubt if you'd be happy with the answers though.

On the matters you raise directly I'd summarise my response as; Respect - right analysis, drastically wrong tactics; Lindsey - absolutely no complaints, it was right and still is right to raise the wider implications of BJ4BW. But that's not what you want to hear.

So, if I was representing the SWP and you the SP, the question is how do we achieve unity, and what kind of unity? Especially as we both agree, in the abstract, that we should. We both have things about each other that we don't like (and, let's face it, aren't really going to change). What's the solution? Well, in this letter it's for the SWP to agree with what's been said and say soweeee. T'aint gon hapn.

I am personally wondering about the wisdom of putting the appeal in the form of a letter now. Perhaps top-level meetings followed by branch-level discussion might have been a better idea.

Anonymous said...

On the wisdom of an open letter:

You're right, Roobin, for a number of reasons.

1) An open letter usually comes across as an aggressive tactic.
2) Serious moves to unity and collaboration require private meetings in advance with any public statement coming from much more than the leadership of one organization.
3) No organization in Britain has the authority to pull everyone around its vision; there has to be much more give and take than any of them have been used to.
4) The open letter has induced a defensive reaction all round. Paradoxically, it risks closing down discussion about such matters as Respect, electoral interventions and the Lindsey dispute.
5) It has been responded to in kind by the SP. I must say I found that response depressing - and the further justification of relative sizes and weights of each organization even more so. Here was a chance for the SP to approach the SWP privately and seek a much more serious process.
6) I find it inexplicable that the SWP did not reciprocate the SP's invitation to attend its event. It suggests to my mind not so much bad faith, as really bad coalitional politics.

Phil said...

But that's not what you want to hear

You've missed the point. (I'm not speaking on behalf of the SP, incidentally, not least because I'm not a member. The same goes for Respect.) I'm not saying what conclusions the SWP leadership ought to arrive at about their past interventions - I'm saying they should talk to those people directly affected, and form their conclusions after listening to what those people say. You could call it an "outside audit".

You said yourself that in politics there's no outside audit. I'm saying that this doesn't have to be the case - there are plenty of sources for this kind of feedback. But if you pre-emptively rule out listening to them - and ridicule the idea of paying any attention to them (agree with what's been said and say soweeee) - then I guess it must seem like there's nobody here but you.

Anonymous said...

What this comment thread highlights is the long and troubled history of the existing left.

But if the main socialist organisations cannot overcome this history, than independent socialists across Britain, most likely the majority given the shrinking of the left and its activity, should disregard these groupings and move onwards without them. No group - SWP, SP or any other - should be able to hold the rest of us to ransom.

Anonymous said...

'independent socialists across Britain, most likely the majority given the shrinking of the left and its activity, should disregard these groupings and move onwards without them'

But what does that mean in parcatice? If the independent socialists get organised, then they're no longer independent. If they don't, then how on earth can they have any impact? I can understand people staying independent cos they don't like the options on offer (its a coherent position, even if i don't agree with the judgements being made) but independents seem doomed to give some kind of support to some kind of organised initiative by someone, or they will remain marginal, however many there may be.

I certainly think that there are a fair few, from the 57,000 who voted SA in 2001, to the 300,000 who voted SLP or NO2EU (although some of those last ones might not be explicitly socialist). Whichever way you cut it, there are still probably 10, 20 30 times as many willing to vote Socialist as are in the organised Left. But atomised disorganised socialists cannot have an impact imo.

'anyone but England'

Roobin said...

"You've missed the point."

The point is this is a polemic against the SWP. That would be fine, except that it it's called a reponse to Left Must Unite to Create an Alternative, which discusses possible future left unity. If it is a bit of BOTH then the only possible conclusion I can come to these are conditions to future unity.

I must tell you there is a strong current of feeling amongst comrades I know which I will sum up as "unite with who?" I don't think that's right, but the fact is people feel that way. Raise the Socialist Alliance and you'll get a near universal groan. People do not want to go back to a situation where, every fortnight, they meet for a round of fruitless argument and denounciation. This letter will confirm that opinion.

Like I said there are lots of things I can raise about all sorts of people and groups. It would not get us one step further to unity. Where is the common ground?

chjh said...

As an SWP member I can't say I'm surprised, either by the content or the tone. And I'm not surprised by some of the comments either - if you think that the SWP is the problem, then you'll agree with the SP's approach here.

The point about the 'outside audit' is that in business, outside audits are done by disinterested bodies who are simply checking whether a particular set of rules have been followed. In that sense, there can be no outside audit in politics (I don't see the SP disagreeing with that.

That's quite different from saying that the SWP doesn't listen to anyone outside our ranks. There are people whose judgements I trust who sometimes agree with us and sometimes don't; there are other people whose judgements I don't trust, who sometimes agree with the SWP. We listen to other people, but we then make our own minds up - that's true of any organisation. If anything, I'd argue we're more open to influence than the SP in that respect.

Phil said...

Where is the common ground?

The common ground between the SWP and SP (and others) is that

a) alone, they're all screwed
b) they all get some things right - and those things need to be built on, collectively
c) they all get some things wrong - and those things need to be dealt with, collectively

I think what I'm calling for here is a general willingness to admit that all organisations screw up, including one's own - and, above all, to admit that those screw-ups have real consequences, including leaving other people lastingly and justifiably pissed-off. It's the difference between treating your mistakes as a learning opportunity for you personally, and treating them as actions with effects that need to be put right.

Roobin said...

Scuse me, I'm going to be crude, but that attitude stinks people's shit. That's nothing to do with common ground, that's collective monomania, that's repent and seek forgiveness. Fucking hell, I've stupid. I've been trolled on someonelse's blog.

Phil BC said...

I meant to come on this a bit earlier.

Re: the seriousness of the SWP's approach to unity and the use of the open letter - I'd agree with previous posters that it owes more to internal consumption and positioning on the left than a genuine overture.


Shortly after Martin Smith spoke at Socialism 2008 the SWP leadership approached the SP with the offer of regular talks. The SP leadership accepted. And since then? Nothing. Not a sausage.

Admittedly this was shortly before the SWP was caught up in the internal ructions around John Rees's removal from the central committee, but they're long since over now and the SP hasn't heard a thing. If the SWP was seriously minded when it came to unity, wouldn't it be sensible to reopen this channel?

Another matter makes me doubtful of the SWP leadership's intentions too. At the last Unite Against Fascism steering committee meeting (or whatever its leading body is called), Weyman Bennett and Martin Smith comprehensively laid into No2EU for letting the BNP in. Leaving aside the refutation of this argument (see here), these are not the sort of vibes leading figures should be sending out if they want a serious alliance. I very much doubt such arguments would have been made had anyone involved with No2EU been in the room.

Phil BC said...

I also wanted to say something about Roobin's idea of there not being an 'outside audit' in politics, but forgot to mention it yesterday.

I'm slightly confused about the meaning. As I understand it for any revolutionary party the outside audit is performed during the course of activity, of its everyday exertions in the class struggle. If its practice has no purchase at all the organisation will wither on the vine after a period of disorientation. I think the SWP has problems on this score and could be facing the kind of decline we went through during the 90s because, going on my standpoint on the outside, it seems unable and/or unwilling to draw the necessary political conclusions from the practice of recent years.

Phil said...

I expect Roobin's not reading this, but I'll say it anyway - I don't understand the vehemence of his reaction. Which statement "stinks people's shit"?

all organisations screw up, including one's own

those screw-ups have real consequences, including leaving other people lastingly and justifiably pissed-off

treating your mistakes [not] as a learning opportunity for you personally [but] as actions with effects that need to be put right.

It all seems pretty sensible to me.

RB said...

The SP's reply is, roughly translated, 'no'.

They expose their own sectarianism.

They have many criticisms of the SWP; some of these criticisms are justified (Respect), some reactionary (the first Lindsey BJ4BW walkout).

But if they were serious about their own slogan of building a new workers' party, why not respond positively to the swp's letter while suggesting a new democratic conference and structure to take us towards a new party?

Like this:,2017,0,0,1,0

Phil BC said...

RB, how would the Lindsey workers have been successful this time if they had lost the winter strike?

But that's beside the point. The SP is not going to initiate a process of left unity with the SWP for the reasons outlined above in the absence of new forces. That's not sectarianism - it's common sense.

There is nothing stopping Workers' Power though. You can always show us how it's done by initiating unity talks with the likes of the cpgb, PR, AWL, IBT, etc.

Charlie Marks said...

I think it was a mistake for SP to respond as above - that is to say with reference to issues on which it and the SWP differ. Why? Because there's danger that it feeds into a vicious circle of sniping.

My worry is that the message to both SP and SWP members from these statements is actually "carry on as before".

Phil BC said...

I understand where you're coming from Charlie. But usually an open letter requires an open response, and what the SP letter does is quite accurately reflect the feelings and suspicions SP members have in general toward the SWP.

If the SWP were to hold some sort of left unity event I'm pretty sure we'd send someone along to state our position and seek clarification on areas where we can cooperate - particularly on the general election. But - and I know how frustrating it can be for independent socialists - where the SP are concerned, we will wait and see if the SWP has changed its spots. Sadly, not following through with regular talks, the comments of leading figures at UAF, their non-attendance at the left coordinating body scant days after publishing the open letter does not bode well.

John said...

Workers Power have produced a reply to the Socialist Party's response:,2046,0,0,1,0