David Welch david.welch at
Sat May 20 03:51:57 MDT 2000

On Sat, 20 May 2000, Philip Ferguson wrote:
> >
> >"The success of the LSA poses the question of an electoral challenge
> >to Blair at the next general election. We need to seriously discuss
> >the possibilities of standing."
> >
> >Comment:  They lined up the troops for an all-out participation on
> >the Socialist Alliances around the country. They talked about wiping
> >out the SP and other "hostile" forces. The SWP leadership proposed
> >and was accepted - with very few nominal opponents at the meeting -
> >to launch a national campaign to send all available members inside
> >existent SAs and into organizations such as the SSP (Scotland).  In
> >those places where SAs do not exist, the membership has to launch
> >them.  There is opposition to this plan, but few dared to speak up at
> >the meeting. Some of us that this sudden shift would confuse many of
> >our members and sympathisers.
> >
I don't share the SWP's upbeat perspectives or their enthusiasm for
'anti-capitalist' demonstrators. However the turn away from 'Vote Labour
but...' is a very hopeful sign. This is an article from last week's Weekly
Worker about the changes in the SWP's stance.

Weekly Worker    #335     11/05/00


Beneath its apparent vindication of past perspectives there was
clearly a mood for change from the leadership. While the biggest of
the revolutionary sects, the SWP is still small, and an eagerness to
break from this was evident throughout the proceedings. Crucially, the
way out of this impasse is being framed in the context of the crisis
in Labourism, the LSA and unity with other left forces. While the
rhetoric of the SWP remains that it is "the party", increasingly key
figures indicate a recognition that it does not relate directly to the
class, nor organise the vanguard. And this is where the socialist
alliances are fitting in. Given the drawn out dithering of the SWP
before it pulled out of the LSA's attempt to stand in the 1999
European elections, comrade German's passing remark about Cliff's
successful obstinacy on the central committee was instructive.

The SWP feels that it has taken a real step forward with the London
Socialist Alliance, and so it has. The leadership used Sunday's
meeting to push home the message that the turn to elections was part
of a renewed 'united front' work, as mooted in the latest issue of
Socialist Review (May).

After the more anecdotal contributions about Cliff's life during the
first part of the meeting, the final half contained the political
meat, with John Rees, Paul Foot and Chris Bambery giving speeches. It
was here that the triumvirate underlined the tasks for the SWP in the
current period of crisis in Labourism and the difficulties facing the
Blair government.

>From an outsider's perspective, it appears that Foot is the party
favourite, Rees the leading theoretician, with Bambery the man of

Comrade Rees, who was central in the LSA's campaign, highlighted two
crises for "the system". One was within the electoral and political
process itself. With devolution being a key aspect of Blair's
government, and the London assembly and mayor being a "flagship"
element of this, New Labour could be seen to have failed to engage the
electorate in its programme, he said. It is a pity then that the LSA's
platform did not address itself to such vital constitutional matters.

The other crisis for comrade Rees was the polarisation at the margins,
with the BNP gaining in votes as well as the left. However, given the
Green vote, the polarisation to the left is bigger, according to Rees,
attempting to fit reality to the "1930s in slow motion" thesis. The
losers, said comrade Rees, are the people who say that the centre is
the key in politics.

Comrade Rees hammered home the success of the LSA, saying: "No SWP, no
LSA - not a brag: a fact." While there is a truth here, it does not
get around the fact that the SWP has an untheorised problem. The logic
of the LSA, as leading SWPers on the steering committee admit, takes
it beyond a mere electoral bloc towards the necessity of a mass party.
But there will be sharp differences over this question, particularly
the form any such party would take. Should the revolutionary left
unite as revolutionaries, or should the revolutionary left unite as
left reformists in an attempt to woo left reformists from Labour? As
if left reformists cannot be won to a powerful and vibrant united
revolutionary left.

Chris Bambery, SWP national secretary, touched on this - a theme he
raised in Socialist Review - emphasising the need for "a real left in
this country". And by this he means something beyond the narrow
confines of adding the ones and twos to the SWP. In indomitable SWP
style he said that the mood in this country was to the left.
Encouragingly, he said that the SWP intended to repeat the LSA
experience across the country and would stand against Blair in the
general election. The challenge is there for the SWP: not only will it
stand with others against Blair; it could be instrumental in building
an all-UK Partyist movement - throwing down the gauntlet to the left
nationalist Scottish Socialist Party to unite as one against New

Paul Foot, who was the penultimate speaker before comrade Bambery,
homed in on the need to abandon "past sectarianism". Obviously
encouraged by the LSA's performance, he said that it was mainly
sectarianism that prevented him being elected to the GLA.

It has been clear to us that Foot is on the right of the SWP. This was
confirmed by the comrade himself: ever since he met Cliff, four
monosyllables had stuck with him: "Paul, you are soft." Apparently
this had coloured their "ongoing" debate around parliament and
elections. For Cliff, said Foot, parliament was all about working
class passivity: it "lulled people to sleep".

However, he said that Cliff's wife Chanie recalled that on the very
morning he died Cliff was excited about the possibility that Paul Foot
might be elected to the GLA. The speaker concluded that perhaps it was
Cliff who had been going "soft" at the end of his days.

In fact comrade Foot brought home a truth. The experience of the LSA
showed that a "revolutionary organisation practising elections brings
people out of passivity".

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