[Marxism] John Rees statement on divisions in British SWP

Paul Flewers rfls12802 at blueyonder.co.uk
Sun Dec 14 14:20:30 MST 2008

My pal Arthur Trusscott wrote this last April about the British SWP. Looking
at what's been happening over the last couple of months, what he wrote here
is not a bad prediction. I somehow feel that the SWP will not discuss the
Respect fiasco to any depth, fearing that a deep debate could lead to a big
split, but how it will avoid problems in the longer run should it fail to
discuss Respect, I don't know.

Also worth looking at is <
http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/748/motherofall.html >, from the British
left's best gossip-sheet.

Paul F


The Socialist Workers Party is now the biggest group on the British left -
indeed it's now the only big group on the left - but its future as a going
concern has been put into question by the death of its founder and leader
Tony Cliff in 2002 and the attempts of its current leadership to proceed in
his absence. Cliff was an almost chemically pure example of a political
leader, a ganzer macher par excellence, as he more or less single-handedly
elaborated the group's theories, strategies and tactics, and kept it
together through its various twists and turns and ups and downs.

The SWP's biggest campaign since Cliff's passing, the Respect Unity
Coalition, does not augur well for the party's future. This venture, an
electoral alliance that assembled George Galloway, a few left-wing union
leaders (personal capacity), some of the smaller left-wing groups and sundry
Muslim organisations whose politics remain a mystery, a programme that a
Green Party leader called a pale imitation of his own organisation's
platform, and where socialism was relegated to one letter of a tortured
acronym, came as a shock even to seasoned left-wingers long accustomed to
the vagaries of left-wing politics. 

The prediction made by many that Respect was a disaster-in-waiting was borne
out in full late last year when Galloway, the Muslim groups and the
socialist small fry told the SWP that they were fed up with its incessant
bossiness, and told it in no uncertain terms where to get off. (Such an
accusation is singularly unjustified; considering that the SWP set up
Respect in the first place, it surely had the right to run its subsidiary
precisely as it wished.) They went off in a huff to form Respect Renewal,
leaving the SWP on its own and without any perceptible gains for all its
hard work. In the cold light of day and having become a laughing stock when
a Respect councillor with an SWP party card defected directly to the Tories,
a somewhat chastened SWP can now be found condemning Galloway as a shyster,
and recognising that extending one's hands to small businessmen claiming to
represent communities leaves one's doors open to dubious pork-barrellers
with no commitment to working-class politics. However, this recognition is a
bit reminiscent of Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in 1956: like him,
the SWP lacks the good grace to acknowledge that its discovery was merely
its catching up with what most of us were saying when Respect first arrived
on the scene.
Has the SWP leadership done what Cliff would have done in similar
circumstances; namely, sack a few scapegoats, and find a new wheeze to keep
the troops busy? At first glance, yes. A handful of SWPers who 'went native'
in Respect have been given the boot, and the party is standing Lindsey
German in the London Mayoral election. Yet such is the scale of the disaster
that, putting aside the fact that there's nobody in the leadership with
anything like the authority of Cliff to turn the ship properly around and
announce a new direction, one might expect a thoroughgoing discussion of why
such a disastrous course was adopted in the first place. But this could lead
to a right royal barney within both the leadership and the rank-and-file; it
just can't be risked. There's an unspoken consensus not to rock the boat,
but this leaves unresolved various fundamental questions which could and
probably will burst unexpectedly into the open at some future juncture.

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