Friday, 16 October 2009

Rifts in the SWP... Again

A few years ago I made a comment that all the Socialist Unity blog was about was bashing the Socialist Workers Party (or something along those lines). Whilst Socialist Unity does publish a lot of other stuff, I still find it to be the best place to find gossip on the SWP.

And the news that comes from this recent article (Rift in the SWP Over Student Work?), is several things which could quite possibly be related. Post 151 in the comments gives us them in summary

1/ 2 leading SWP activists at SOAS have been suspended from membership. (Clare S and James M)
2/ That John Rees initiated a motion at last weekends SWP Party Council on anti-fascist work.
3/ That the suspended students supported the motion intiated by Rees.
4/ Further suspensions of Rees supporters may happen in the North East, North West and Birmingham.
5/ That Rees will declare a formal faction tobe called ‘The Left Faction’.

For a party that was supposed to be recomposing itself after the fallout of the split with Respect, it doesn't seem to be going two well when there's a faction fight hitting off after the party has just finished a democracy review. And this is important for a few reasons, most importantly, that as other activists we will have to work with SWP members in campaigns.

Naturally, as a member of a different organisation I believe that the one I am a member of, the Socialist Party, is a better organisation (ie. its perspectives, ideas and how it organises is more useful to workers) - otherwise I'd be in the wrong one. But I do tend to think about what I'd do in the situation that SWP members might be finding themselves in.

After all, the SWP are no small organisation - they are not some CPGB or Workers Power, they certainly have as many (maybe more, but no-one ever seems to know any reliable membership figures for them) momebers that the Socialist Party. Plus also over the last few months I've become quite friendly with an SWP member whom I have a lot of respect for, and has given me hope that there are some very good socialists in the SWP.

And if we look back at history, in my opinion, there are times where socialists who have held a viewpoint that has subsequently been proven correct by events have been in a minority in the organisation that they belong to. Therefore, as socialists, we should all be prepared to be able to think for ourselves and critically assess the policies our organisation adopts.

So what would I do if I were a member of the SWP? Well I'd start by attempting to assess how the SWP is in the mess it is, what did go wrong with Respect. I would read over the documents that the SWP leadership are producing, and those of other groups (although i've heard how difficult it is to get access to these apart from in the 'pre-conference discussion period'). I would also attempt to read over the criticisms that other groups have produced of the organisation, I know that the Socialist Party have produced 2 in the last 10 years or so (btw, if the SWP have ever bothered to reply to these, let me know, I'd be very interested to read it)

Ultimately, what the revolution needs is comrades who can think indepently and organise in their local area as well as playing a role in their national organisation. Part of this comes from not only having a serious debate on issues at national conference/congresses, but in the local branches themselves.

For example, in my Socialist Party branch, when the discussions were going on about taking part in the No2EU coalition - we had several discussions, firstly in the run up to our congress which had a debate to decide the issue, and then when the two of us who went to that congress reported back on the discussions there, as well as further discussions about the campaign as it progressed. Now, I'm not gonna say there was no disagreements, but it revolved entirely around the name No2EU and how we could try and make sure something better was used in the future.


  1. hi mate

    interesting post. i would say the problems in the swp didn't start with respect. the whole idea the is / swp / ist tradition is built on - of state capitalism, is a poor excuse for theory, and theoretical errors manifest themselves sooner or later in practical errors. they are paying that price now


  2. Hi there
    Whilst I certainly do not agree with the state capitalist theory, I'm not convinced that there is a *direct* correlation between- on the one hand the theory and - on the other hand, the issue of strategy and tactics.

    As a member of the SP myself, I believe that the Party correctly re-assessed the fact that entrism was elevated from a tactic to a principle -an error, but certainly not rooted in our understanding of the deformed and degenerated nature of the workers states.

    Of course there are differences on the issue of unitary or federal conceptions of united front activity as well as our overall orientation to tactics inside the unions and our work inside the class, amongst others.

    But I don't think the theoretical differences should prevent our organanisations from working together.

  3. Interesting post.

    It's definitely important to realise that in almost any group there are decent socialists. Whether or not those decent socialists are ever listened to is another matter - and that is the case from the tiniest sect to the Labour Party.

    But it's wrong to see the development of a faction fight as a bad thing. Isn't it time, don't you think, that the differences were aired - and aired publicly, so that both members, other groups and working class supporters can follow what's going on?

    More on this sort of thing at my place, where I recently put up an article on democratic centralism, but right now, sweet mince pies are calling me...

  4. SWP members in the Northeast have been suspended from the party.

    I would agree with Martyn, I don't think there's much of a link between the mistakes, in my opinion, the SWP have been with regards to strategy and tactics in the last few years and the theory of state capitalism.

    For example, one particular area where I have strong disagreements with the SWP is anti-fascism. It's hard to see how a conclusion over the nature of a now vanished state contributes to terrible tactical decisions about how to fight the far right.