[Marxism] The fight in the SWP, part one

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 20 12:28:11 MST 2008

A public faction fight has broken out in the British SWP over the 
crisis that arose in the Respect Party led by George Galloway. (The 
SWP in Great Britain is to be distinguished from the bizarre 
sect-cult in the U.S. also called the SWP. Now that I have made this 
distinction, I will drop the reference to "British" henceforth.) 
Galloway and his supporters, including some SWP members who 
subsequently resigned, split with the SWP over what was seen as 
typical "democratic centralist" heavy-handedness.

This is the second instance of a public faction fight arising out of 
such problems. This year the Australian DSP split when gains from 
participation in the Socialist Alliance did not materialize, at least 
in the view of some long-time members, including John Percy, a 
founder of the group. Eventually Percy and his co-thinkers were 
expelled from the DSP and went on to form a new organization. As so 
often happens in such groups, irreconcilable differences lead to a split.

While the Socialist Alliance was more explicitly socialist than 
Respect, both parties were bold experiments to reach out to broader 
political forces. For groups like the Spartacist League, such 
problems never present themselves since they are so well insulated 
from "petty bourgeois" formations like Respect or the Socialist 
Alliance. They refuse to be tainted by the ordinary mass of humanity 
that has not mastered their cult leader's profound understanding of 
the "Russian questions".

Ironically, the problems of the DSP and the  SWP stem from the fact 
that they are so wedded to "old school" Leninist principles that 
making a clean break with their past is impossible even as they 
acknowledge that something different is needed. The very fact that 
they chose to work in the Socialist Alliance and Respect is proof of that.

All of the relevant SWP documents appear on the Socialist Unity blog, 
a forum that is closer to my own on how to build the revolutionary 
movement, except for what seems to be a certain susceptibility to 
Obama's rather dubious charms. My guess is that the British comrades 
are putting too much confidence in the analysis of the CPUSA, an 
error in judgment to say the least. But as Joe E. Brown said to Jack 
Lemmon in the final scene of "Some Like it Hot": "nobody's perfect."

Although the first SWP article to appear on the Socialist Unity blog 
was written for public consumption by John Rees, I am going to take 
up Neil Davidson's internal contribution to the debate since much of 
Rees's article was in response to Davidson. Parenthetically, I should 
mention that both these men are smart as a whip. Rees's "In Defence 
of October: A Debate on the Russian Revolution" has a nifty critique 
of Samuel Farber's anti-Bolshevik scholarship. Sadly, however, Rees 
and the rest of the SWP fail to apply the same critique to Farber's 
Cuba-bashing inspired by the same idealist methodology. Davidson's 
scholarship on the origins of capitalism is also first-rate and I 
urge anybody interested in the question to check out his debate with 
Robert Brenner here.

Davidson, demonstrating that his tastes in film are as refined as his 
understanding of economic history, starts out with an analogy to 
Frank Capra's "inspirational" movie "It's a Wonderful Life" that an 
old girl friend insisted on watching once too often around this time 
of year. This and the fact that she was screwing an actor behind my 
back led to our break-up (thankfully) 27 years ago. Davidson writes:

"In Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946) a trainee guardian 
angel gives suicidal small Savings and Loans owner George Bailey the 
opportunity to see what life would have been like in the town of 
Bedford Falls if he had never existed

"What would British society be like if the SWP had never existed? 
What would we see if the guardian angel of revolutionary parties 
could show us a United Kingdom where the ship bearing Ygael 
Gluckstein to these shores in 1946 had sunk with all on board? Would 
it be any different?"

Of course, anybody who has been in one of the self-declared vanguard 
organizations has heard something like this before. Perhaps their 
founders heard it first from Leon Trotsky and it has been passed down 
from generation to generation. I got a version from Les Evans, an SWP 
leader who was just one among hundreds given the boot by Jack Barnes, 
when I was a raw recruit back in the 1960s on the occasion of a 
national committee plenum in New York City. During a break, Les told 
me that if the building caught fire and resulted in the death of the 
brilliant people inside (me excluded), humanity would be set back for decades.

full: http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/the-fight-in-the-swp/

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