Friday 11 July 2014

The SWP's Moral Vacuity

Revolutionary politics has long been a fringe pursuit in Britain. The parties and organisations representing this tradition have barely got two activists to rub together. It has next to zero purchase in the media and as for elections, forget it. Yet when it comes to ambition, it's vaulting. Self-described revolutionary socialists seek nothing less than the seizure of power and the building of a new, more democratic society. Therefore in the 15 or so years I saw myself as part of the "movement", I approached questions of theory and practice through this lens. How do we get from the pitiful state revolutionary politics finds itself in to a conscious movement of the immense majority? I never claimed any great insight here. After all, 'what is to be done' is a problem many millions of activists and thinkers have grappled with since at least the First International. Yet one thing, what seems like common sense to me, is that your revolutionary party/network/collective should, at the very least, not endeavour to go out its way to be objectionable and outrageous. After all, if you think the ultimate fate of our species is choosing between socialism or barbarism then yours is a serious, complex business. Making enemies and alienating people for its own sake should be left to rebellious teenagers or the terminally infantile.

Enter stage left the Socialist Workers Party.

The Indy has the details, and the Daily Mail stuck it on their front page. If you haven't the foggiest what I'm on about, see this article from the latest Socialist Worker.

Charming. The SWP's stock can't get much lower, what with their depravity and weird, cult-like sex games but this little statement - almost an aside - shows rehabilitation in front of the labour movement doesn't feature on their horizon of immediate objectives.

Their making light of Horatio Chapple's death, however, is out of character. Socialist Worker fancies itself as a hard left Indy or Graun. Tastelessness is usually the preserve of Class War (the difference being, of course, that Class War was funny). Typically SW's pieces are couched in do-gooding tones. It's bleeding heart stuff, of a well-to-do someone explaining to the hoi polloi why capitalism is nasty and Tories are bad. In at least two cases that is precisely what's happening. Step forward Charlie Kimber, national secretary and alleged banking dynasty scion and Old Etonian. Pairing Charlie is Alexander Theodore Callinicos, great grandson of the 1st Lord Acton and son of the Hon. Aedgyth Bertha Frances Lyon-Dalberg-Acton. Yes, it's cheap to make something of their aristocratic backgrounds. Yet when SW does so over the tragic and quite horrifying death of an apolitical teenager, that's perfectly okay.

The function of a revolutionary newspaper, as Lenin put it, was to act as a scaffolding around which the party is built. Oh, how many times I've heard that metaphor used and abused down the years. Going by the primitive and distinctly Web 1.0 approach of nearly all self-described vanguard websites, the paper remains the preferred party media of choice by members and little Lenins alike - mainly because it keeps activists fruitlessly sprinting on the revolutionary treadmill. The real function of the paper, to which all members are expected to subscribe and read, is about cohering the organisation, of offering a drip feed of analysis and opinion that works both as a currency within the SWP's internal life and inoculation against the views of outsiders. It's also about the creation of necessary fictions, of marking past swappie glories and pretending its depleted ranks are making a difference now. It's right because it's right because it's right.

It's also the primary site of the SWP's revolutionary performance. Anyone who's had some experience with them know about their propensity to be really annoying. Yet, I can't help but read this performance as identity work. Whether its "spontaneously" trying to get through police lines to the EDL or agitating for never-will-happen general strikes, in thought and deed it has to look the piece with as little cost as possible. Revolutionary organisations, after all, are supposed to do revolutionary things. The paper, of course, is the record of its activity, a sort of deferred stage for readers to know what some activists have got up to. In this context then, it's mildly surprising the ra-ra-revolutionism hasn't resulted in more cheap, vacuous but ostensibly radical sneers like the above. Then again, as it's the bourgeois press they've upset they might smugly feel they're doing the right thing. These are supposed to be the people who hate and despise the SWP, and at next to no cost the party has been positioned as anti-establishment oiks to millions of readers more likely to think SWP is a synonym for safe working practices.

Don't be entirely shocked if, after today, the SWP resorts to similar trolling in the future. When they do so, each time recalls them as a toxic party as deficient in moral sense as it is of political nous.


howard fuller said...

Then of course there's comrade delta, the lynch mobs and all.

Delta has his own website now, Dream deferred. Permenantly I bleeding hope!

Phil said...

Aye, I inadvertently linked to it in the last blog round-up.

Anonymous said...

Never mind why an imploding sect penned such an article answer why Ed condemned the public sector strikes on Thursday!

Phil said...

He didn't. The Socialist Party has made that claim up, a fib underlined by the lack of a direct quotation.

Not that I'd expect him to offer public sector strikes full throated support either. Weirdly, it's only the Trots armed with their "superior" understanding of Labour that pretend to have that expectation.

DrDude12472 said...

The Socialist Workers' Party continues its death spiral as the BNP have now completed. Hopefully the whole rotten structure will be gone soon.

I am a democratic socialist with pride and with joy, because I know that concentrating power in a vanguard rather than in the people always leads to repression and death, and revolutions hardly ever happen or help.

Thank goodness we live in a country which would never allow these lunatics near to power.

Ruth said...

Ed said 'These strikes are wrong' - direct quotation. The speech is on youtube under that title, if you want to check.

Ruth said...

Ed said 'These strikes are wrong' - direct quotation. The speech is on youtube under that title if you want to check.

Phil said...

So he didn't condemn them. Thank you for proving the point.

Unknown said...

to declare to be morally wrong or evil 

Ruth said...

Don't be silly!

Anonymous said...

That these strikes are wrong quote is from 3 years ago

Khaled said...

Howard Fuller is an enemy of the left and a propagandist for the state of Israel.

This article leads to the kind of newspeak we hear from someone who calls themselves a democratic socialist and rests in peace that the ConDems are ruling over us! I mean really! Let us make DrDude the enemy and not the SWP for christs sake!!!!!!!!!!!

DrDude12472 said...

I spend my weekends campaigning for a victory against the Coalition government. What do you do to help?

howard fuller said...

Enemy of the far left and anti-anti-Zionist if you don't mind!

Anonymous said...


I was on strike on Thursday and will be at the Gaza demo on Saturday.

I am suspicious of anyone who claims they campaign every weekend against the ConDems and says things like and I quote,

"Thank goodness we live in a country which would never allow these lunatics near to power."

But you are I presume happy to live in a country where a government with no mandate can impose the most extreme attack on the welfare system, possibly in history. And live in a country that can unilaterally attack another using a complicit media.

With friends like you who needs enemies!

Anonymous said...

Don't be entirely shocked if, after today, the SWP resorts to similar trolling in the future.

I think they will bottle it and not indulge in it. I was a member in the mid-80's and they were put in the frame by the media as organisers of the 1985 riots. I remember their senior people crapping themselves over the allegations. They are an incredibly small-c conservative group, despite all the shrill rhetoric. They have a set formula to bring in just enough student recruits (and their teachers) every year and have stuck to it like glue down the decades.