Yesterday's news that long-time leading member of the Socialist Workers' Party, Lindsey German has resigned after 37 years of activity has sent shock waves through the far left. That said since the expulsion of Alex and Clare for "factional activity" and the defeat of the Rees/German sponsored Left Platform at the SWP's conference this year, it was inevitable that there would be a parting of the ways somewhere down the line. Whether what's left of the Left Platform will decamp en masse now one of its leading figures has gone remains to be seen.
What triggered the amazing email exchange between Lindsey and SWP national organiser Martin Smith? Why did Martin go all Koba and "request" Lindsey not speak at a Newcastle Stop the War meeting? It all comes down to factional manoeuvrings and central committee paranoia.
Regular readers of Alex Snowdon's excellent Luna17 blog will be aware of ongoing shenanigans in the SWP's North East organisation. Writing about his expulsion last November here, Alex was the first casualty in the CC's move against the Left Platform - how else to interpret his ejection immediately prior to the three month pre-conference period when the SWP allows factions? In the same month the SWP publicly attacked another of its North East comrades. Tony Dowling is chair of the Tyneside branch of the National Shop Stewards' Network and his "crime" was not to send circulate an email on the North East SSN discussion/announcement list. In this he was merely observing the rules of the organisation which barred sending out party political news. Coincidentally Tony is described by Alex as his closest comrade.
The writing was on the wall. Just over a week ago Tony was asked to step down from the NESSN committee in the wake of the SWP's regional retreat from the network. Understandably he refused and resigned, followed by eight more comrades who left in solidarity. In the fevered factional imagination of Martin Smith and the new SWP CC, he obviously saw Lindsey's trip to Newcastle to speak not in terms of her capacity as a leading and relatively well known Stop the War activist, but to get together with Left Platform supporters (probably to plot his downfall or something like that).
And so passes Lindsey German's lengthy SWP career. It seems likely others will follow in a mix of in-solidarity resignations and maybe the odd expulsion.
What does this split mean for the SWP? In one sense it is comparable to the split in Militant between a small minority around its main theoretician and guru, Ted Grant, and the majority behind Peter Taaffe. For Militant it was something of a watershed for the organisation in which a section of the existing leadership left/were expelled (depending on who you believe). The same is true of the SWP. However there are two significant differences, which speaks volumes about the respective health of the organisations. Ultimately, the split in Militant was unavoidable because it was over strategic direction. The minority thought they should stick with Labour. The majority were for open work under their own banner (first Militant Labour and then later as the Socialist Party). However, in the SWP split the difference between the Left Platform and the majority is, on paper at least, nowhere near this level of magnitude. Indeed, apart from stressing the need for imaginative leadership there is very little politically between the majority and minority. Both are agreed on the importance of 'united fronts', both want to turn outwards to fresh layers of workers, and both see participation in the new struggles being thrown up by the recession as key to moving socialist politics forward. That the SWP cannot even accommodate such minor differences of emphasis within its ranks says everything about the kind of regime it operates.
Will the split in the SWP mark a beginning of a period of decline, just as the split with Grant et al. did with Militant? It's difficult to say. But there is one observation worth making about a comparison between the post-split Militant/SP and the SWP. For the former the 1990s were marked by a period of retreat and loss that only begun to be turned around in the mid 00s. It was also a period in which the labour movement really suffered and working class combativity underwent sharp decline. In contrast the SWP prospered, enabling it to establish a hegemonic influence over the far left in England and Wales. Since the split with Respect this has gone into reverse. As the labour movement starts showing signs of recovery and tentative, almost teasing green shoots of working class resistance begin sprouting it is the SP who are building influence and moving forward. Meanwhile the SWP is thrown into crisis.
It might be difficult to describe the split in Militant as a tragedy, but it is entirely reasonable to label the SWP CC's actions as farce.
NB Alex reports on last night's meeting of Newcastle Stop the War with Lindsey here.