Wednesday, 29 July 2009

SWP and SP Debate Left Unity

It's good to see the SWP has printed a short reply to its open letter on left unity in the pages of Socialist Worker from Hannah Sell of the Socialist Party. She writes:
The Socialist Party has always supported genuine left unity, on open, pluralistic terms. An effective challenge in the general election is an urgent task facing the workers’ movement and the left, not least in order to combat the far-right British National Party (BNP).

To succeed, however, it is vital that, unlike previous attempts, it involves significant sections of the working class and young people, rather than simply being a coming together of existing left organisations.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) did not support the recent attempt by the rail workers’
RMT union, ourselves, the Communist Party of Britain and others to provide a left alternative in the European elections, No2EU – Yes to Democracy.

Yet this was the first time in a century that a national trade union had taken an electoral initiative on an all-Britain scale.

As the recent RMT conference showed, No2EU was supported, not just by the union tops, but the vast majority of its activists too.

No2EU candidates included leaders of the most militant struggles in 2009 to date – Visteon, Lindsey, and Linamar convenor and Socialist Party member Rob Williams.

The RMT is now discussing a trade union list for the general election (obviously not under the name No2EU).

This would be a serious step towards creating a mass political voice for the working class in Britain.

The best way forward would be for all socialist forces, including the SWP, to work to develop this initiative.

The SWP opposed No2EU as “nationalist”. No2EU had a limited programme but was not nationalist.

It called for “international solidarity of working class people” and opposed the bosses’ Lisbon Treaty from a left viewpoint, as the Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins will do in the new Irish referendum.

The SWP also similarly condemned the first Lindsey strikes as nationalist. Yet these were militant strikes against the bosses’ attempt to undermine trade union rights – the BNP were chased off the picket lines.

This is not to deny the inevitable existence of nationalist sentiments.

However, the intervention of the Socialist Party, and other militant workers, ensured that nationalism was combated and the strike fought on a clear class basis, demanding the unionisation of migrant workers.

By June, three Socialist Party members were on the strike committee.

The SWP have made serious errors in 2009, both industrially and politically – seeing reaction where you should have seen important sections of the working class looking for a way to fight back.

This does not mean, however, that we cannot collaborate on an election challenge. One important condition for success though will be the organisational methods adopted. No2EU had a federal, umbrella approach.

The component organisations came together around core policies, but all had complete freedom to produce their own material in support of No2EU.

A similar approach is necessary now. But this is not the position the SWP took in the past, in both the Socialist Alliance and
Respect. The Open Letter does not say if you have since changed your approach.

The experience of ourselves and others on the left is not encouraging. But if you have reassessed and changed your methods, and are now willing to openly and seriously collaborate with others in a general election challenge, we welcome this.

We welcome this opportunity to put our views in
Socialist Worker, and are happy to reciprocate in the pages of The Socialist.
Hannah's reply is wrong on only one count. The SWP did not oppose No2EU, but neither did they endorse it. In fact they were almost silent about it, preferring instead to concentrate on anti-fascist propaganda during the lead up to the European elections. And this curious silence has continued afterwards. In my opinion, if you're serious about unity you need to concretely analyse the opportunities, the difficulties, and the lessons that can be drawn from the efforts of other organisations. While I wouldn't expect SWP members (or anyone else for that matter) to agree with the many pieces the SP has produced on the fortunes of the SA, Respect and now No2EU, few can argue the SP hasn't given them due consideration.

This is what the SWP have written in reply (
The desire for unity on the left is driven by the meltdown in Labour’s support, the lengthening dole queues and the election of two fascist British National Party (BNP) candidates to the European parliament.

If we fail to establish even the most minimal united challenge to Labour at the forthcoming general election we will not only harm ourselves. We will undermine the wider resistance.

Responding to the SWP’s open letter (A federal approach, 18 July), the Socialist Party’s Hannah Sell seems to focus on the issues which divide us rather than those that might unite the left.

The most recent walkouts in construction together with the victories at Visteon and the Vestas occupation show the way forward. But there are those desperate to turn discontent with Gordon Brown against migrants. The way the BNP seized on the “British jobs for British workers” slogan shows the danger.

Hannah is determined, against all evidence, to deny that this slogan was central to the first walkouts in construction at the start of this year. She also holds up the No2EU campaign in the European elections as a success story.

In truth it received 1 percent of the vote, trailed behind the moribund Socialist Labour Party and failed to create the local breakthroughs that Respect achieved in east London and Birmingham in the previous European elections.

We are well aware of the scars left by split in of Respect. We are not rushing to lay down one prescription or to claim we have all the answers – we are committed to talking to everyone who wishes to discuss with us, no matter past disputes.

In that situation Hannah’s determination to push through one “federalist” model seems misplaced.
This is a strange reply for several reasons. Firstly there is the nature of the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute itself. I remember reading a good introductory book by the SWP's very own John Rees on dialectics many years ago. Among the many demonstrations of Marx's method, the comrade highlighted the distinction between essence and appearance. The SWP's analysis of the dispute gave the appearance of BJ4BW placards and Union flags the same undue prominence as the mainstream media. Had this been primarily a nationalist dispute it would not have been won round to traditional trade unionist and internationalist demands. It was not because in essence Lindsey was about Total's attempt to smash up existing collective agreements. Why the SWP - among others - continue to hold on to nationalist fairy tales about Lindsey is beyond me.

Second, the SWP completely miss the point Hannah was making about No2EU. Nowhere did she argue it was a "success story" or try and spin its one per cent of the vote (as anyone with a passing acquaintance with SP arguments knows, it has consistently put forward the position that No2EU's significance lay in the RMT's participation and not the vote it was likely to get). What Hannah actually argued was the organisational character of No2EU - where its components united around a basic platform but were free to produce and distribute their own material - is probably a smart way for an electoral coalition of the left to proceed.

For some reason the SWP seem unable to respond to the SP's arguments on federalism. Instead it (willfully?) distorts Hannah's argument about No2EU before accusing her of wanting to foist a federal model on any emerging coalition. The SWP might be agnostic when it comes to such things, but the SP is not prepared to be. Quite clearly when it comes to building unity among the disparate and fractious organisations of the far left how can this be achieved if its affiliates do not have the freedom to produce and distribute their own material?

Going from the arguments put by SWP comrades at last Tuesday's No2EU
regional meeting in Birmingham, it seems the leadership and cadre are so convinced of the urgency of the situation that a left unity conference has to be organised sooner rather than later. Fair enough, but as far as I can see the comrades are trying to run before they can walk. Yes, an autumn rally/conference with the right speeches and appearances from the likes of Mark Serwotka will warm the cockles of the party faithful hearts. But such an event founding a new organisation (will the Left List/Left Alternative be resurrected?) is likely to only attract the SWP's periphery and a gaggle of the smaller groups. This might help bolster their negotiating power vis the rest of the far left but will not solve the problem of building a lasting alliance with other significant organisations. You cannot short circuit the process.


Mark P said...

The SWP are being quite cryptic about what kind of unity organisation they want. They seem to have a problem with a federal organisation, but they aren't putting forward clear arguments about what structure they prefer and why.

On the one hand they seem to be talking a whole range of organisations, from the Socialist Party to Respect about the way forward. On the other hand they seem to be moving towards holding some kind of conference and arguing for a united non-federal organisation of non-specified structure. I don't think those two elements of their approach are compatible, as they must surely know that only their immediate periphery and some Spartoids will sign up for a non-federal party.

Charlie Marks said...

SWP comrades have been through the Respect split - no wonder there's a little organisational inertia on unity.

In recent years, the SP hasn't been through this and so it's not surprising that SP comrades are more upbeat than SWP comrades.

Good to see the debate is proceeding in a comradely manner.

Riversider said...

The difference in style is clear here.

One writer puts forward a clearly argued position, which it is possible to agree, or disagree with. The other is happy to disagree, but puts forward nothing clear in its' place.

The SWP must learn to learn.

They need to realise that a coalition of the left is like a group of people holding together a huge sheet of fragile ice.

Each has a part to play, and each must hold up their edge of the ice.

The moment one says "The ice must be held from the centre and I must be the one who holds it, gather round me, because I've got it at the balancing point" is the moment that that ice shatters all around.

This has happened several times now, getting more tragic and embarrassing every time.

Unless we can learn, we cannot stop repeating the same repetitive headbanging, when we should be building.

Anonymous said...

What is it with the SP's lecturing, patronising attitude towards the rest of the left.

Phil BC said...

What is it with people leaving critical comments while hiding behind a mask of anonymity?

Anonymous said...

hi comrades

phil excellent analysis mate.

i think one of the posters up above makes a good point. the socialist party always put an honest, clear position - people can agree with it disagree with it engage with it.

you can't do that with the swp because their debates are all about setting up straw men, and muddying the waters rather than clarifying things.

a key part of left unity is surely stating a position clearly so we can have an honest and realistic debate about things and try and take it forward.


paul h

Phil said...

"Why do you insist on imposing a federal structure on all your potential allies?" It's an interesting criticism - almost Zen.

Jim Jay said...

I don't agree with anon who thinks this has a lecturing tone. It's a sensitive subject handled in a straightforward way. Agree or disagree but it doesn't feel to me as patronising or lecturing.

Personally I don't believe the SWP and the SP will ever co-exist peacefully in any organisation, with the emphasis on the word peacefully.

Maybe it's because the politics are too similar, or maybe it's difficult to have two different democratic centralist structures existing side by side. Or maybe the history of enmity is too long and bitter.

It's a real shame because on paper the two groups could quite easily merge, but it would require a looser approach from both (although more so from the swp) and leaving aside decades of mutual distrust and dislike which should be easy for mature organisations but seems to be an insurmountable barrier..

Charlie Marks said...

I think that sp/swp/etc. unity is not only more necessary than ever, it's more likely than ever before.

Dave Riley said...

Jim Jay says that he doesn't believe that "the SWP and the SP will ever co-exist peacefully in any organisation."

That's a bit blunt, Jim!

It would be a great advance for the world revolution if unity could happen nonetheless. The festering divide on the British far left is an international chancre whose ramifications spread the 'British disease' through the vector of a toy Cominternism.

Jim's ruling underscores a significant international tragedy which many would like to see the back of. So any advance is better than none -- because the franchisees always follows suit.

So if " unity is not only more necessary than ever, it's more likely than ever before..." Don't disappoint us.

Jim Jay said...

Charlie - I sympathise with the necessary comment, but unity is not an end in itself and I'd rather see two organisations getting on with their own thing seperately than the two groups locked together like cats in a bag just tearing each other apart because they've entered into a 'unity' agreement that was never going to work.

Dav - Blunt but not rude I hope. I think experience shows us that every time the swp and sp have been in the same organisation they have had great difficulty working together in a useful co-operative spirit.

The one exception to this may be in specific instances of trade union work, but I've never seen it personally.

It's like having two friends you like but who hate each other. Whilst you want them to get on in the end you just arrange to see them separately because it just ain't pretty when you're all in a room together.

skidmarx said...

I still believe the nationalist fairy tales. I think the dispute had contradictory elements, not just the simple essence you suggest. I think more that it's a mracle that it wasn't more divisive given the potential for accusations of racism or scabbing.

On federalism, Hannah Sell seems to say that it worked for No2EU so it should work in the future, whereas the SWP is saying it didn't work that great for No2EU. If there is to be a united left challenge at the next election, how long can it be left before starting? Surely if now is the time, then even if you want to maintain pre-conditions,it's time to start talking about details,rather than finding reasons not to.

Charlie Marks said...

Jim Jay - by unity i meant working together on common goals, but I see what you are getting at. It is out of necessity that there is collaboration in trade union work and this same necessity should be seen in the electoral arena also.

A left-of-labour challenge at the next election isn't going to come off well. In my view, a better tactic for electoral intervention would be united action to promote the people's charter rather than a hurriedly formed party or coalition

Jim Jay said...

"A left-of-labour challenge at the next election isn't going to come off well."

I agree that some sort of electoral challenge for the sake of it is going to do very little to build anything constructive and may simply help reinforce the idea that socialist ideas are about being an extreme fringe divorced from the everyday lives of the majority.

However, I do think that there are a number of places where the left should be able to poll a respectable vote because of the work already put in. Coventry might be one, Salma Yaqoob in Birmingham another, I suspect the best strategy for the left would be to support those key candidacies rather than focus on a host of hopeless ones.

Obviously I'm going to be working to ensure the Greens get their first ever MPs but I want to see others on the left prosper too so that we can start demonstrating that there are alternatives to the neo-liberal love in at the centre of politics.

Charlie Marks said...

Totally agree. I'd add to the list those Labour MPs who have strong records on environmental and social justice.

Phil BC said...

Ok, I'm guilty for over egging the pudding in this piece Skidders but right from the off this blog argued the need for socialists to get stuck into Lindsey and win the dispute around. The sterling work of on-site SP comrades did just that, having found the depth of nationalist feeling on the picket line was much shallower than the media, the liberal commentariat and assorted leftist bloggers supposed.

On federalism, it's hard to believe the SWP aren't being disingenuous here. Are they seriously arguing No2EU failed because it was a very loose coalition? Having participated in the campaign and extensively written about and analysed the No2EU experience, trust me, the freedom of the SP to print its own No2EU material had absolutely no bearing on the vote.

Perhaps the SWP ought to look at a more successful expression of federalism - such as the Left Bloc in Portugal where Trots and ex-Trots, tankies and Maoists rub along together in coalition. And how have they managed this? By allowing each component organisation the freedom to put its own arguments and materials across.

I fear the SWP's haste in knocking something together will come to naught in the wider scheme of things. As I've said, it might be successful cohering its periphery and smaller left groups around it, but the terms of unity it's implicitly advocating are not acceptable at this stage to the SP, and I expect the same is true of the RMT, CPB, etc.

Phil BC said...

Dave, I don't think the divisions on the far left internationally can be laid at the doors of the SP and SWP not getting together. We may be talking small to insignificant forces when we're talking about the various sections of the CWI and IST, but the reasons that sustain their separate existence lies in the political conditions they work in. Just to give you a micro-example, as much as I like the SWP comrades round here, they are involved in completely different work to my branch, have a strategy poles apart from ours and, when it comes to the nitty gritty of interacting with working class people, have a style of engagement we have very serious criticisms of.

This doesn't necessarily mean unity is impossible, but building unity is a process. We have to work out how far apart we are and how far we need to go before unity can be achieved at a higher organisational level. From experience the SP believes adopting a federal approach to electoral unity to start off with is eminently sensible, whereas it appears the SWP want unity yesterday. If we get together on the SWP's basis it won't work. But if we adopt the SP's approach we might avoid the dispiriting fate of the SA and Respect.

Phil BC said...

Having given this some thought, I am inclined to agree with you Jim. If we want far left unity and we want it to be lasting we should not try and run before we can walk and go for the big splash approach of the SA in 2001. Stick to target areas where we can concentrate our resources and build from there. After all, such an approach hasn't done the BNP any harm!

redbedhead said...

I don't think Bambery's comment about federalism viz. Hannah Sell's article is specifically about NO2EU and how it did or didn't function. It's more likely related to past arguments in the Socialist Alliance.
But it may also be that the SWP leadership are also just trying to get people to hold back on pre-judging the final form of any unity project until there is the maximum discussion. Such formal questions are, after all, secondary. That will be shaped by the size of forces involved, their character, etc. A program for unity and a strategy for winning support are all more important - and ought to determine - the particular form of organization.

chjh said...

This week's Socialist Worker has two articles on left unity. The other one is a report by Martin Smith on progress so far: here

It's too long to quote in full, but he says in part:

"After we launched the open letter the SWP held informal meetings with other groups and individuals on the left, including the Socialist Party, Respect, PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka, individuals in the Green Party and independent socialist councillors.

We discussed possible ways for the left to begin to move towards greater electoral cooperation and possible unity. The three areas we discussed were:

* A united organisation
* An electoral non-aggression pact. Across the country there are a small number of councillors who are either in the SWP, Respect or the Socialist Party with significant support in their local area.

A small but significant step forward would be for all the parties concerned to organise a non-aggression pact in those and other areas of the country.

* An umbrella organisation. Another possibility would be for the left to group together under an umbrella’s name, for instance “The United Left”, at the same time maintaining their own political organisation/name.

The question is where do we go from here? The SWP wants to put on record that it is absolutely serious about the need for left electoral unity.

We are going to write to all the key organisations and individuals to suggest that we hold an informal meeting to discuss these suggestions and any others comrades wanted to raise.

There is less than a year to go before a general election. We believe that it is vital to create a united left organisation that can offer an alternative to Labour.

In the meantime we will continue to support and encourage socialists to stand in local elections and by-elections in the run up to the general election." (quote ends)

So we're not at all ruling out the federal approach - we're just saying we don't think it's the best possible model. One of the main reason for that, of course, is that it offers unaligned socialists no real way of participating in decisions.

It strikes me that it's the SP that's being dogmatic here, in saying that the only model they will accept is a federal one.

ModernityBlog said...

The SWP proposal was a ploy.

They've basically fucked things up for the last 6+ years.

Their projects have gone south (Respect, StWc, etc).

They have lost many members (Steel, etc)

So they rather cynically assume that everyone else have lost their memories of the SWP's nasty past tactics and stitch ups (Socialist Alliance, etc.,). They haven't really changed and are just putting a veneer on things.

If they were truly interested in Unity on the Left, then they would pick various areas of common purpose and do it grass roots upwards. But instead they employ their usual approach top-down.

It's just a ploy, to keep the political momentum going, or at least be seen to. The SWP haven't changed one iota and it seems likely that any organizational arrangement with them will suffer from the same problems as they did in the past.

Charlie Marks said...

Spoken with the certainty of someone who can see into the souls of others...

ModernityBlog said...

Nah, written with a sense of history, alternatively read Jim Higgins

and Mark Steel's account

This is informative as well :)

"In particular, the SWP put the Socialist Alliance completely to one side in the lead up to the Iraq war. I was in the SWP at the time, and I was instructed in no uncertain terms that I should prevent the Socialist Alliance having a profile in the local anti-war movement — which I ignored. At the same time, other leading SWP comrades praised the way our local Socialist alliance branch kept its profile high"

Phil BC said...

Chjh - two things.

1) You might think the SP is being dogmatic about favouring a federal approach. But when the political situation is such that it poses sharply the need for revolutionary socialists to get together, how do we do so when there are significant suspicions and in some case animosities between different organisations? By "leaving the baggage at the door" ala Scargill's SLP? By trying to hold some form of unitary organisation together while affiliates fight it out? Neither will work. That is what the lessons of left unity in Britain have taught us these last 15 years.

2) I take your point about independent socialists. But then again, in a one member one vote organisation what voice do they have when one affiliate can swamp the votes of all the rest?

Mark P said...


You shouldn't give chjh an inch on the issue of independent socialists within a federal alliance. There is absolutely no reason why a federal set up cannot give them a voice - much more of a voice than they would have in a unitary organisation dominated by competing democratic centralist groups.

If you look back to the old Socialist Alliance, at the conference where the SWP executed their takeover the federal options on the table (the SP's proposals or the McLaren proposals) both gave non-affiliate members significantly more power to influence than the alliance then they would have under the SWP's proposals.

Then as now arguments about the rights of "independents" put forward by the SWP are entirely disengenuous.

Phil BC said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Mark. I was going to refresh myself on the proposals before answering this but the one place I remember that hosts them - the cpgb's site - has had its online archive wiped out.

I do remember in the old SA there was a 'cult of the indie; assiduously cultivated by the SWP, which basically meant promoting favoured independents to prominent positions while ignoring the rest - a system that was replicated in Respect and then the Left List/Left Alternative.

Going on the SWP's contributions on this thread, it doesn't look as though they've learned a single thing from the SWP's last nine years involvement in various left unity projects. I would like to be proved wrong though.

chjh said...

Phil/Mark - if you have a federal organisation, with no individual membership, how do individual socialists play any part in it? The federal set-ups proposed by various players in the Socialist Alliance assumed individual membership (and enshrined minority vetos, but that's another debate).

If the question is "How do we outvote the SWP, which inconveniently for us has too many members?", then yes, the answer's a federal set-up. And I suspect a federal set-up is immediately what we will end up with, if anything real comes of this. But that'll be because a veto has been deployed, rather than because any arguments have been won.

ModernityBlog said...

"because any arguments have been won."

That would be novel? Trying to win an argument.

Isn't it the usual SWP habit of packing meetings and getting their members to vote on mass?

Mark P said...


There are all kinds of ways to allow people not affiliated to particular groups to take part in a federal structure. These include but aren't limited to, having an open individual membership category. All of these details should be up for discussion and compromise.

And by the way, chjh, I think that situation has changed somewhat from the days of the Socialist Alliances some eight years ago. Back then, in practice, the first and most obvious problem with a non-federal organisation was the relative size of the SWP. Essentially a non-federal organisation meant the SWP having complete control of the alliance. Nobody, either the existing SA affiliates or anyone outside the SA was willing to sign up to simply doing the SWP's bidding - and if the SWP had any sense it would have realised that. I'm not at all sure that would be the immediate practical problem in a formation now. The problem would likely be worse than that.

The SWP may well still be larger than the SP in England, but it is smaller than it was and the SP is larger. SWP dominance would not be assured. Instead in some parts of the country you'd have the SP dominant locally and in others the SWP. And if the way in which decisions are made for the alliance as a whole isn't through negotiations between the involved organisations but is instead by winning votes at unified members meetings, then given that both parties will doubtless insist that their members vote in accordance with party views, every decision will come down to a test of mobilisation. Who can get more members to a meeting and who can woo enough of the non-affiliated. Very quickly relationships within the organisation will come down to trading atrocity stories about "packing" meetings and organisational shenanigans.

A common organisation would have to be very much larger than a new alliance is likely to be (at least in the short term) for the two organisations to coexist successfully in such an environment. The problem is that if an organisation almost instantly becomes essentially a venue for competitive mobilisations then it will never reach that point. People don't sign up for a warzone.

It is much better that trust and a common understanding of goals are developed and many more people and groups involved before we even consider a non-federal arrangement. That's what a federal arrangement allows us to do - cooperate in having an effect on the outside world rather than devolve into inward looking bickering.

chjh said...

Mark - if decisions are just made through negotiations between the involved organisations, then individuals who aren't part of those organisations don't have any input into those decisions - that seems obvious to me.

The argument about competitive mobilisations is a good one, but the problem remains that the SP isn't saying "this is why we think this structure is best", they are saying "the only structure we'll accept is this one". The starting-point enshrines distrust. People don't sign up for that either.

Phil BC said...

It's not about enshrining distrust - the question is how we overcome it. It seems you and your comrades just don't get it. In activist circles outside the SWP and its periphery there is massive distrust and animosity toward the SWP. You cannot wish that away, as the SWP will find out when it goes ahead with its left unity conference in Autumn and finds it filled with members, the periphery and the small left groups looking for a recruitment pool to fish in.

And yes, the SP does distrust the SWP, though perhaps not as much as the other components of No2EU. If you want to work with us electorally, how are you going to win us over? Is this just a short term turn by the SWP or is it committed to carrying on collaboratively after the general election? And what evidence is there you have learned from the experience of the SA and Respect?

skidmarx said...

Part of what the SWP seems to have done in Respect is not insist on a specifically socialist programme. Is that hands-off approach one thing you think it should learn to modify.
Is it a short-term turn - suck it and see.
How are they going to win you over - flowers and chocolate?

ModernityBlog said...

I doubt it was a hands off approach.

Rather the SWP realized that their Islamist partners in Respect, along with Galloway wouldn't stand a political programme that was too strong (a good example is the issue of how LGBT right's was handled, or not in this case).

Anonymous said...

Our problem is not the size of the SWP, it is the approach of the SWP

Look at the Socialist Alliance pre SWP involvement - the Socialist Party were by the a country mile the biggest group, but managed to keep everyone on board, not flood meetings and build up a level of trust and cooperation, which was nurtured over a good many years.

The SWP approach was completely different, the typical 'rule or ruin' approach. IE use weight of numbers to flood meetings to win votes, thats not how to build up trust.

It is worth considering that during the conference in 2001 where we left the alliance, it wasn't a case of 'our way or the highway' we were prepared to compromise with alternative structures, namely that of the leeds left alliance. The SWP weren't prepared to meet halfway so the rest as they say is history.

Nothing I have seen in practive from the SWP has convinced me in the slightest that they have changed their methods.


Paul H

chjh said...

Well, the SWP - and plenty of other activists - also distrust the SP. The winning-over isn't a one-way thing.

And the best way to get a lot more groups and individuals involved isn't necessarily to say that you will only work within one particular framework.

One of the lessons to be learnt from the Socialist Alliance, after all, is that when the SP walked out of the founding conference because they didn't get their constitution, almost no-one followed them.

skidmarx said...

In activist circles outside the SWP and its periphery there is massive distrust and animosity toward the SWP.
Here I'd tend to agree with chjh, the reasons you distrust the SWP aren't necessarily shared outside the SP, and there may be equal distrust of you elsewhere. Clearly those on the SWP's periphery won't agree, those not on its periphery almost by definition have some major disagreement with them.
You cannot wish that away, as the SWP will find out when it goes ahead with its left unity conference in Autumn and finds it filled with members, the periphery and the small left groups looking for a recruitment pool to fish in.
Maybe you're right. Though from what I understand the Socialist Alliance and Respect drew in wider forces than the CNWP ever has, so don't you think you're missing out if you use the obstacles as a reason to ignore this initiative?

Modernity Blog - given that your biggest complaint about the SWP seems to be that it gets in too much of a lather over Gaza, do you really feel you're contributing to a discussion where noone agrees with you?

ModernityBlog said...

"the reasons you distrust the SWP aren't necessarily shared outside the SP "

If that is the case, then the SWP won't have any problem recruiting people to their new 'unity' vehicle, whatever it is called. But you know that won't happen.

The fact is, for us, old ex-Socialist Alliance voters, we remember good SWPers, years back, as individuals, fine people, good trade unionists and then their shit leadership more concerned with its own internal power plays than building anything long lasting.

That's the problem when you concentrate too much power into the hands of a few, it often goes to their heads.

There are many examples of people being sickened by SWP tactics.

Mark Steel is one, and Anna Chen's work, which deserves a wider audience, is another

A Bad Case of the Trots

From 2003 and the SWP hasn't learnt any lessons along the way, 6 years on. Pathetic.

skidmarx said...

I tend to think that linking up with existing groups of socialists may be a more important part of this initiative than reaching out to the unaligned. But I wasn't so sure after I listened to this contribution from Kieran Allen of the Irish SWP at Marxism 2009:

Perhaps the key question is whether your differences with the SWP are more important than what you have in common. If not then you're going to have to learn to get over the distrust you feel, or deal with it.

ModernityBlog said...

"If not then you're going to have to learn to get over the distrust you feel, or deal with it."

I'm staggered now how low level the discussions are on the Left as opposed to 30-40 years ago.

Then I seem to remember people engaging with their interlocutors points, then I seem to remember a sense of history, a sense of why you do things a certain way, why you don't do certain things another way.

Much of that has been thrown out of the window and we are left with a SWPerisation of Left politics in Britain, where the lowest common denominator is firmly grasped, where slogans have replaced dialogue and where history is often viewed in terms of 3-6 months, or what happened since the last demo.

The fact is that in the past six years, judged by their own standards, the SWP has been a complete failure.

The SWP managed to drive the antiwar movement into the ground and isolate otherwise supportive individuals, from millions down to thousands (see Anna Chen, Mark Steel, etc)

Its recent political incarnations have fallen apart (Respect and Left List).

It has lost longstanding members, others have simply been marginalised.

If it wasn't for Universities and freshers week's then the SWP would barely have any new recruits.

Therefore, judged by their own criteria, of building a party, of expanding their influence, the SWP are a failure.

Most people outside of the SWP know that, but those within the SWP bubble can't even grasp it.

As George Santayana might have said "Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes."

How true of the SWP.

Simon said...

"Here I'd tend to agree with chjh, the reasons you distrust the SWP aren't necessarily shared outside the SP, and there may be equal distrust of you elsewhere"

Believe me, that's not the case. The SP are fine to wor with, the SWP hardly seem interested unless there's something they can get out of it.

I have a friend in the SWP who trusts the SP more than the SWP. . .

skidmarx said...

Then I seem to remember people engaging with their interlocutors points,

Modernity Blog - given that your biggest complaint about the SWP seems to be that it gets in too much of a lather over Gaza, do you really feel you're contributing to a discussion where noone agrees with you?

I'm staggered that you're so inconsistent.(Actually I'm not really).
When I looked at the allegations against the SWP at the time of the split, those from Anna Chen seemed the most forceful, but as time went by I've had more and more reason to doubt her reliabilty.
I read Mark Steel's book, was glad to see he still thought the theory of state capitalism made a lot of sense, thought his account of branch meetings was an unsurprising development after years of less than productive activity from his piss-take in Reasons To Be Cheerful that starts "There wa a fantastically important strike...", I thought his account of the Respect split was patchy, inconsistent and entirely unconvincing. Who are the "etc." you put after their names?

Actually I don't really want to know, as all you are doing is distracting the discussion away from whether two significant groups of socialists that seem to have more in common with each other than they do with you can work together. Why don't you do something a little more constructive than dredge up atrocity stories with very weak foundations?

ModernityBlog said...

"Actually I don't really want to know, as all you are doing is distracting the discussion away from whether two significant groups of socialists"

Well, you wouldn't would you.

The point, which is blindingly obvious to non-SWP partisans, is that the SWP haemorrhages members, loyal, hard-working members, yet the one thing they never do is ask the question: why does that happen?

John Sullivan has covered this, along with Higgins and others.

I think Anna Chen's critique holds true, the quality of the SWP leadership is appalling.

Not because I say so rather because of what they do. They are professional politicos, they do it for a living and yet there not very good at it.

One example is the split with Galloway, it was obviously on the cards and yet he ran rings around them. Their incompetency was further compounded over the issue of the Respect name and clearly not having read the relevant legislation they didn't realise that the returning officer of the party, Linda Smith, held all the cards.

So the point I'm trying to suggest is that the SWP can take any organisation, including a vibrant antiwar movement, and run it into the ground.

The SWP can treat its loyal members like zombies and then act surprised that it never grows. The SWP can ignore all the critiques, from different sources, that have been written over the years, but such an attitude doesn't convince anyone that they are fit to do much.

That's my point.