Thursday 26 June 2008

Storms and Tea Cups

You didn't need the powers of Nostradamus, Mystic Meg or Ted Grant to predict the resignation of the SWP's remaining Left List councillors this week. This must surely mark the end of the SWP's attempt to substitute themselves for the genuine alliance of (small) forces Respect once represented.

I cannot begin to describe how disappointed, disgusted and incredulous I am with the SWP's behaviour these last 10 months. But for all that, I've not found it in the least bit surprising. What the party has seemingly forgotten is that revolutionary socialist politics is a serious business. In early 21st century Britain our task is incredibly complex and drawn out. There is no more a noble project than building the new society of associated producers. And there is nothing more essential and necessary now capitalism is consuming and destroying the very ecology that makes our civilisation possible. But our class, the only viable vehicle for socialist transformation is weak, fragmented and disorganised. Putting the socialist case in this context demands organisations and activists are serious about our politics and how we put them across. It means long term work in workplaces, communities and on the streets. It requires we draw deep from the experiences of comrades past and present so we can learn and utilise effectively the opportunities events place before us. It puts the left in a position where we have to cooperate with each other and whatever new forces are thrown up by the never-ending struggle. All of this is the bottom line against which the left in Britain should be measured.

For the SWP, as Britain's foremost revolutionary organisation (at least in terms of membership and profile), a unique responsibility devolves to its shoulders. But instead of responding constructively to the difference of opinion in Respect it went completely off the rails. What we have seen this last year is an abject lesson in how not to do socialist politics. There was the ludicrous witch-hunt claims, where Galloway's mild criticisms of the way the SWP leadership ran Respect was read as a systematic attempt to expel them from the organisation. Then the duplicity, lies and gerrymandering over November's ill-fated national conference. The ludicrous statement "against the witch-hunt", which stupidly put a substantial list of SWP members into the public domain. The sectarian attempts to make Galloway a persona non grata in the anti-fascist and anti-war movements. The whole Organising for Fighting Unions cheque fiasco. The sectarian folly of the Left List election campaign. The 'ourselves alone' calling of last week's Love Music Hate Racism march. The defection of Ahmed Hussain, a sitting SWP councillor to *the Tories* in February, and now the departure of Oli Rahman, Rania Khan and Lufta Begum. You've got to ask yourself, is all this indicative of a serious approach to politics?
It reconfirms for all of us who are wary of the SWP that once again its leadership cannot be trusted to work with other socialists in a comradely and cooperative way. Again, it shows its main preoccupation is preserving its organisational, as opposed to political, integrity.
I wrote those words back in October. I could never have dreamed the SWP would show itself up in the fashion it has done. But it did and shows no sign of stopping. The SWP has been tested not by world-shattering events but by proverbial storms in political tea cups. And it has been found wanting.


brother_f said...

well said phil.

Glad I got out of the SWP when I did.

Anonymous said...

It truly is like watching a trainwreck in slow-motion!

I think you hit the nail on the head when you write that the SWP´s "main preoccupation is preserving its organisational, as opposed to political, integrity." We see this pattern of political schizophrenia in other parts of the IS Tendency also, including here in New Zealand where the local IS group leaps from one project to another with no attempt to draw a political balance sheet or provide explanation. With each 180 degree turn they burn through another lot of cadre, but still it is always onwards and upwards to the "next big thing".

I wonder to what extent this is influenced by Cliff's conception of building the revolutionary party (developed in his biography of Lenin) as a primarily organisational/logistical exercise, with revolutionary consciousness left to materialise spontaneously out of the ether. However, even judged on these criteria the SWP doesn´t seem to be doing too well as evidenced by its steadily shrinking membership!

Chris S said...

It seems like the CC is running round looking for anything to keep the membership busy - SWP comrades are building something with no direction.

I wonder how they will sell this to the membership.

Chris S said...

BTW i have linked you on my blog

Anonymous said...

hi phil

this is a very decent post, which is measured, and gives a good view of the situation.

The SWP have now obviously decided that the National Shop Stewards network (NSSN) is not 'a front for the SP' and decided to send some of their members to this.
By the way there was no mention from them of OFFU apart from a passing reference to them in their leaflet to the conferece.
What really struck me was the debate on political representation. Dave Nellist from CNWP, Jon Rogers from LRC, and Unjum Mirza from RMT and Left List / SWP.
Dave made the points that you would expect him to, Jon Rogers was his usual jovial, (genuinely) witty self, but didn't outline any case to reclaim Labour, but it was actually surreal listening to Unjum. In his opening contribution he made very general points on world economy, resistance and unity (this was said with no sense of irony), but nothing about political representation. When the debate opened up several shop stewards asked him directly where the Left List is going and what should be done next next. His reply - to ignore the questions altogether! Only (i think) one SWP member came in on the debate (from scotland) who again did not reveal anything about the left list, how the swp sees the way forward.
It is painfully clear the experiences of the last few years (and further if you look at the SWP destruction of the Alliance, with ISG backing) will be whitewashed by the SWP. They will bouce from one front / campaign to the next. Comrades, there are many sound socialists in the SWP. Examine what has happened, ultimately your organisation is where it is because of its politics, take a look at our website If you are not convinced no matter, lets discuss it. Burying heads in sand will not work.

Paul Hunt

Anonymous said...

Who would be in the SWP?

The SWP's bad politics need to be looked at on a British perspective (I know it is uncomfortable but their opportunistic role in the SSP and setting up of Solidarity needs to be explored too)

Gosh I am so glad that in 1991 I walked out of one of their meetings thinking "what a lot of nutters"

Phil said...

Admit it Cat and D, you rue the day you abandoned your brief flirtations with the SWP!

Cheers for the link, Reasonably. There may be hope for you after all ;)

Tim, I don't know. But it is clear that despite all the nonsense we've seen this year is a logical outgrowth of the SWP's way of working. There is no qualitative difference between its deeply sectarian and alienating behaviour pre and post-Cliff. The show must be kept on the road and damn the consequences for the rest of our movement. But what makes me disappointed most of all is there are comrades who join week after week who believe this is the "proper" way to behave. And when it burns them out they leave the movement behind them, probably never to touch us with a barge pole again. That is unforgivable.

Cheers Paul for the quick report on NSSN yesterday. Down at CNWP Scorey gave me the full low down on that meeting. It's bizarre. The thing is if the SWP leave their sectarian bunker (does NSSN participation and attendance at Kent Trades Council meeting on political representation indicate moves in this direction?), who's going to have anything to do with them? And incredibly, the SWP will be full of hurt innocence if and when it is rebuffed!

PS CNWP report to come.

Anonymous said...

Yes, well said, particularly about the serious nature of building a real socialist movement.

The SWP's jumping around is not new however, as most will know. I could give you a long, not a little, list, of this behaviour. This is *one* of the reasons that though I've worked with them in campaigns since my youth (O halycon days!)like many people I've always kept a distance.

Persuading me to leave Labour and join Mike Marquesse argued against my view that Leopards Don't Change Their Spots that I was being 'essentialist' (which shows Mike knows his post-structuralism). Unfortunately I ended up by agreeing.

Acting as an Election Agent for a Socialist Alliance Candidate who was a member of the SWP confirmed neverthless that the spots remained indelible. Nutters Cat? You don't know the half of it!


Adam Marks said...

Sigh, I suppose I might as well respond. (1) The first paragraph is redundant as EVERYONE knew it was on the cards. Immense pressure is always applied to left-of-labour councillors and MPs, the Left List councillors were prime targets, no longer having an electoral base. (2) The second paragraph is also redundant says (or should, you never know) show don't tell. The multiple application of "serious" to "long-term" doesn't make anything serious or long-term. (3) The so-called mild criticism was the opening shot in a campaign to have SWP members removed from the leadership of the organisation and the SWP sufficiently broken and quieted that its members would back the (what looked likely at the time) Galloway bid for Poplar, rather than Lindsey German's GLA and mayoral campaign. When the SWP stood firm its members active in Respect were told (by email) they had left. (4) If the November conference was gerrymandered (thankyou very much, by extension I am a 'gerrymanderer') then EVERY conference was gerrymandered. Every conference was prepared for in the same way. In which case why was it an issue now. There's one thing to have a faction fight, it's another to change the rules in the middle of the game. (5) The only way standing for mayor and GLA positions could be "sectarian folly" is if you accept the SUN/Socialist Action argument (a right wing argument and key to the direction dispute) that any left-of-labour challenge is sectarian folly. This, as far as I'm concerned is abandoning the electorial field to the right. (6) Let's say the very worst interpretation of the UAF demo is true, it WAS the SWP alone, too bad for sorrows but do the SWP have to ratify their own decisions with outside bodies now? (7) "I could never have dreamed the SWP would show itself up in the fashion it has done". Goody, goody gumdrops! (8) The SWP has been tested not by world-shattering events but by the slow stagnation of politics in Britain over the last 25 years, something which has affected all parties that matter.

Adam Marks said...

above in point 2 should have "every newspaper style book says..."

Leftwing Criminologist said...

@ roobin

clearly you have never understood any of our criticism of the swp which phil's post flows from (and i don't see the point in repeating then once again). thus i'm not going to bother responding to your points apart from point one

"Immense pressure is always applied to left-of-labour councillors and MPs, the Left List councillors were prime targets, no longer having an electoral base."

- phil posted a while ago about the party in stoke's experience with some councillors who joined then left not that long after. It is necessary to learn lessons from experiences - phil discussed how they tried to integrate them into the organisation - all of those councillors had been in respect/left list for a while - why were they not politically integrated or anything (which it seems to me like they were not)

The very fact you say that they no longer had an electoral base as an indictment in itself! Surely that indicates that there was some problems with the base of support used to elect them?

Elected representatives should be there to boost struggles locally as a representative of the party - subordinated to it democratically - if you organise yourseleves probably they shoulodn't just be able to up and leave quite so easily.

I feel like i'm ranting a bit, but the collapse of parties that offer some hope to people is very disappointing. I woulod much rather have seen us work with respect/left list than collapsing the way it is doing.

Adam Marks said...

"... clearly you have never understood any of our criticism of the swp which phil's post flows from..."

I think all too well (I would, wouldn't I): drive a wedge into the next party while the opportunity is open. Who wouldn't, eh?

Of what you do mention, it's kind of like paragraph 2, it's reminds me of eggs and grandmothers (It is necessary to learn lessons from experiences - wot, REALLY?). For a fraction of a moment I'll give you a glimpse into internal SWP discussion. For what it's worth me and the comrades near me in the SWP think the debate over what Respect should become was opened up too late. There were a set of neccessary compromises to get the thing started (workers wage for one), but something more defined had to be hammered out. Too much of the argument was kept within the confines of Tower Hamlets and Birmingham. We ended up getting bitten on the arse.

There you go. That should keep you going.

Adam Marks said...

Actually, I've chewed it over a bad lunch. I'm not sure how we go from.

The SWP gerrymanders conferences...


No it doesn't...


"... clearly you have never understood any of our criticism".

There must be some great subtlety to:

"... duplicity, lies and gerrymandering over November's ill-fated national conference..."

Because, while I'm no genius linguist, I think that's pretty unambiguous.

Phil said...

Good of you to respond, Roobin. In answer to your points;

1) Obviously the first paragraph was needed by way of a short introduction. I know of some (local) comrades who tend not to read Socialist Unity.

2) I know you're a James Joyce fan - is this some retro-modernist way of saying you disagree? Everyone else agrees or at least accepts this is what serious leftwing politics should look like.

3) Shock horror! Galloway criticises the SWP. Galloway thinks its leadership should be replaced by more competent comrades! The SWP cries witch hunt!

4) Ah, the issue of Student Respect rides again. Well, as we know a properly constituted conference was not possible as per the constitution. The RR gathering was unconstitutional, and so was the SWP-sponsored jamboree.

5) No, the GLA campaign was sectarian folly because anyone with half a brain could see it was doomed to failure from the beginning. It was sectarian because the Left List ploughed ahead regardless without seeking to draw in other forces or at least come to some form of accomodation.

6) If you're trying to build the widest possible anti-fascist movement under the UAF and LMHR umbrellas (remember, this wasn't an SWP demo, at least formally) then good practice would be to consult with others over the timing ... and perhaps judge whether the time would have been better spent doing a mass leaflet in Barking and Dagenham instead. All the demo managed to achieve was make the opposition to the BNP look small and pitiful.

7) Well Roobin, when we last had a natter about SWP matters you were convinced the SWP had an okay reputation in the labour movement. Does it not bother you that your leaders have made your organisation look like a bunch of jokers?

8) I would agree with that. But there is a difference - the damage inflicted on the SWP this last year was a case of self-harming. A more mature organisation would have responded to Galloway's criticisms in a way that could have carried the Respect project forward. But the SWP acted with wounded pride and put the reputation of its key central committee figures before what's best for the movement.

9) Cheers for the glimpse of internal discussion. If the SWP is going to recover from this disaster, self-reflection AND an honest admission of mistakes is vital.

Adam Marks said...

"Good of you to respond..."

It was ;-)... and I could've pointed out the difficulty of being incredulous and unsurprised at the same time.

Now, if we're going to multiply serious by long-term and so on then a serious look at the past, present and near-future means mostly steering clear of the mechanics of a political split which will, one day, be forgotten in the vastness of time. In 2005 student groups weren't a problem, in 2007 they were. Nothing had changed about the student groups pe se, something else had.

I'm not (I hope) excessively proud of what I write, but I'm quite pleased with Morbid Symptoms on The Tomb, which touched on the decline of meaningful maintstream democracy. This has been going on for quite some time, but has combined with the recently frustrated hopes of left extra-parliamentary politics.

You know, and I know, as a good rule of thumb, being determines consciousness. An oft repeated observation from the high points of 2003-5 was that political and ideological struggle was high but economic struggle (I know these are rough phrases) was relatively low, although not as low as it has been. The first two don't make sense without the third. Good sense is not complete without class consciousness.

THIS is what's happened to the movement generated 5-6 years ago. It has come down. Hanging onto, formalising as much of, that consciousness is the order of the day. Which is why (as well planned or otherwise) the Left List campaign and the UAF demo were vital.

There is very little preventing a rightward shift in society. The Labour Party is caving in on itself. The resulting vortex is warping the unions at a time when they need to line up straight. All the pressure is coming from the right. You can either fight that pressure (and stand a candidate for mayor, for example) or you can go with it.

Anonymous said...

Having watched and worked with the SWP for the past 17 years I have to say is that they are treacherous lying bastards - they can never be trusted. They wreck things they cannot control and take no heed of the movement if they are not in the leadership.

There are individuals in the SWP who work hard and on the whole try to be moral and I take my hat off to each and every one of them and I try to show they the respect they deserve as individuals however as a party I would go as far to say I hate them.

It's not just politics but their behaviour is that of a mob and at best they are rude and at worst they are hooligans. m

Funny though 18 months ago I was a birth partner with a SWP member to a joint friend of ours who is an asylum seeker - you can't show more unity than that, bringing life into the world together.

The world is a funny place but not a better place for the SWP.

I don't think you can ever work with them. Sad but true.