[Marxism] SWP and 'turn to industry'

Philip Ferguson philip.ferguson at canterbury.ac.nz
Sun Feb 26 17:31:08 MST 2006

Lueko writes:

>Joaquin recalled that the SWP had about 1500 members in 1975, and then 
made this turn towards "community work", before making the decisive turn

towards industry, and he also recalled Jack Barnes having said that the 
SWP would lose about half its members. 

>I think in a certain way a loss of that magnitude was unavoidable. I 
think that no "leftist" party of that time has not suffered a similar 
loss of membership. The SWP members had been very very active in the 
Vietnam war movement, which was over with the victory of the Vietnamese 
on May 1, 1975. 

>After that, what to do with this army of political activists? There 
was no other mass movement of that scope where they could have used 
their individual and collective skills. 

>The "community" turn did not provide the national focus that was the 
hallmark of the Anti-Vietnam-War campaign years. I guess that this was 
the main reason for the forced turn to industry, and this turn was 
operated with many errors.

The problem with this it that it suggests the job of a leadership is to
keep the members busy.  One mass movement is over, well, we better find
something else to keep members busy with.  Sadly, this is how a lot of
left groups do actually function.

By contrast, Marx and Engels actually dissolved the Communist League
when the 1848 revolutions were defeated and it seemed (rightly) to them
that there would be a protracted period of reaction in which it made
little sense to simply carry on business as usual.

I'm not suggesting that left groups should have dissolved in the late
70s - although some of them would have done us all a favour if they

But they certainly needed to make a realistic analysis of the new period
by the early 80s, a period of working class defeat and political
downturn, and work out how to deal with that politically.  Instead they
came up with organisational projects to keep people busy and the
apparatus intact.  Indeed, keeping the machine going had become an end
in itself.  And maintaining the machine meant they couldn't actually
make a realistic assessment of social reality, so you had this Barnes
bullshit about the radicalisation of the 70s not ending until the
question of power itself was fought out.  (It's amazing how wrong this
guy has been about practically everything over the past 30 years and
still retains the leadership.)

If there is a Leninist theory of organisation surely it involves the
idea that the organisational forms flow from the concrete social
reality, not some ahistorical template of organisation.  Thus there is
not, in my view, a specifically *Leninist party* form, but there is a
general Leninist theory of organisation which is an entirely different
thing and involves much more fluid organisational forms depending on
time, place, concrete circumstances etc.


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