Cliffites want to 'police the police'

nigel_irritable mmcdon at
Sun Jun 17 09:35:55 MDT 2001

> From: Philip Ferguson <plf13 at>
> To: marxism-digest at
> Subject: Cliffites want to 'police the police'
> Date: 17 June 2001 02:46
> The Irish Socialist Workers Party, a colonial clone of the British mother
> ship,  was one of the driving forces in an electoral coalition in the
> of Ireland in the recent british elections.

As an aside, I'm told that the four Socialist Environmental Alliance
candidates got quite encouraging votes. If that is true, and I have no
reason beyond the standard scepticism to doubt the SWPer who informed me of
this yesterday, it comes as something of a surprise. A welcome surprise.

> Unlike Irish revolutionaries, the British SWP seems to recognise the
> partition of Ireland, and so instead of organising an all-Ireland
> Alliance, their position is to go along with separate formations on
> side of the border - a Socialist Alliance in the south and a thing called
> the Socialist Environmental Alliance in the north.

You must remember that the "Socialist Alliance" in the South is not an
alliance between the SWP and anybody else. For all intents and purposes the
SA *is* the SWP. They make up a minimum of 95% of its membership. The
remaining 5% consists of four or five people around the magazine "Red
Banner", themselves mostly expelled ex-SWPers, and a couple of people from
Socialist Democracy, the USFI "group" which without a hint of exaggeration
could hold its conference in a medium sized family car.

The Socialist Alliance fulfills a number of useful functions for the local
SWP. It helps them keep in line with the new turn of their British parent
organisation - an important consideration as the ISO discovered in the USA.
It can provide them with a less tarnished name to use in elections. It
might help them pick up a small number of recruits drawn to their new-found
anti-sectarianism. Perhaps most importantly, they hope it can provide a
mechanism for an alliance with the Socialist Party in the longer run.

Keeping composition and function in mind, it should be reasonably easy to
see why the SWP don't want to establish a 32 County Socialist Alliance.
Socialist Democracy are useful to have on board in the South, where they
can be pushed out front as "proof" that there is somebody else in the
alliance. In the North, where almost all of their handful of members
actually live, their brand of hardline left republicanism might prove to be
an embarassment. Further, given that the SA is in part aimed at enticing
the Socialist Party into an electoral arrangement in the South, the SWPs
own tendency towards a milder left republicanism in the North might be seen
as an obstacle. A quick organisational partition and the Northern problem
disappears. Almost.

It has to be said that the welcome new strategic turn by the SWP towards a
less sectarian approach hasn't really sunk in with some of their more
bitter cadre yet. A march yesterday provides a rather petty case in point.

The SWP holds an annual anti-racist march in Dublin under a front name.
Usually the front used is the ANL but this year it was the
"Anti-Deportations Campaign". The marches tend to be geared towards
attracting liberal anti-racists and therefore possible recruits to the SWP.
Obviously, a city centre march geared towards anti-racists has little
impact on racism beyond providing a show of solidarity with asylum-seekers.
Despite the dubious effectiveness of the strategy, it is important that
once it has been decided to make a gesture of solidarity that the gesture
not be a joke. This year, the march was smaller than in previous years with
under 400 people in attendance, despite predictable SWP claims that there
were up to 700 present.

The platform, as usual, consisted mostly of middle class liberals, charity
activists and trade union bureaucrats. A couple of senior SWPers decided
that neither the Socialist Party nor our new youth wing, Socialist Youth,
were to be allowed speakers. This despite the fact that a lot of the
postering for the march had been done by Socialist Youth, that Socialist
Youth brought a contingent of more than 40 young people to the event on a
feeder march and that a Socialist Party speaker had been advertised on the
posters for the event. There was room for as many liberals, Labour Party
members, Sinn Feiners, union bureaucrats etc as you could shake a stick at
but only the SWP were to be allowed to mention socialism from the platform.
I ascribe these, rather trivial, antics to the hidebound sectarians who
made the decision on the ground rather than to the party line as other
SWPers had approached a Socialist Youth stall earlier in the day seeking to
hold a joint stall in preparation for the march and rank and file SWPers on
the march reacted with a degree of surprise and embarassment when told of
our exclusion.

The above incident was minor. It won't have any particularly serious
ramifications. It is, however, indicative of an organisation being pulled
in a number of directions. It also has the unfortunate side effect of
reinforcing the kind of petty personal animosities you can find in two
similarly sized organisations existing side by side for a number of years.
Certainly it won't have endeared the SWP to the young Socialist Party
members they treated with contempt - and given that the present SWP line
towards the SP is to try and cuddle up to us and steal a kiss that can only
be seen as counterproductive.

Is mise le meas,
Brian Cahill

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