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(en) UK, Marxism 2004: The beginning of the end for the SWP?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 11 Jul 2004 16:33:53 +0200 (CEST)

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July 10th saw the first day of Marxism 2004, the annual week
long conference of the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
The SWP is the biggest party in what passes for a revolutionary
movement in the UK which, sadly, is still dominated by Leninism.
Given the visibility of the SWP in the country, it is fair to say
that it is the party most would-be radicals come across when they
first get involved in politics. This is aided by the SWP's policy
of creating front organisations to dominate and control any protest
movements that develop in the hope of gaining new members for the

In the last few years, they created "Globalise Resistance" as a conduit
into the anti-capitalist movement and, more successfully, set up the
"Stop the War Coalition" (StWC) to protest against the invasion of Iraq.
Out this they have created their latest front, "RESPECT -- The Unity Coalition."

RESPECT is an electoral front, undoubtedly a product of the one election
success of the Socialist Alliance (SA). The SA was a grouping of various
Leninist revolutionary parties which the SWP joined and took over by weight of
Their one election success occurred when their candidate to a local
council was backed by the local Mosque. During the anti-Iraq war protests,
the StWC worked closely with Muslim Association of Britain.

On February 15th, over one million people marched in London and tens of
thousands protested in Glasgow. Thinking themselves head of a mass movement, the
SWP tried to exploit their position as the main body behind StWC and use the
anti-war movement to get themselves elected. RESPECT was formed earlier this year
in a hope to gain the votes of the thousands who took to the streets against
the war. The SA was jettisoned, as were basic socialist principles. In order to get
the Muslim organisations on board such things as homosexual and women's rights were
downplayed. The idea of a "workers wage" for any elected members was voted
down at the founding convention, undoubtedly to keep recently expelled Labour
MP George Galloway happy. Galloway, who was kicked out the Labour Party for
his opposition to the Iraq war, is habitually called the RESPECT MP but, of course,
no one voted for him on the RESPECT ticket. This did not stop a min-cult of personality
surfacing during the RESPECT election campaign. His picture was on every
leaflet and the ballot papers said "Respect -- the Unity Coalition (George
Galloway)." In this, it should be noted, RESPECT is not alone. In Scotland,
the Scottish Socialist Party does likewise with Tommy Sheridan.

And as in their anti-war speeches, the SWP leaders did not use their media
opportunities during the election to raise clear anti-capitalist or anti-
imperialist politics. They even argued that RESPECT would be a fighter for
Muslims, refusing to point out that the Muslim community is as class ridden
and hierarchical as any other. Class politics were rejected in
favour of crass opportunism on a massive scale. Given that Leninists tend to
justify standing in elections as a means of raising socialist politics, the
RESPECT campaign can only be judged a failure. Its popular front, cross-class
collaboration simply raised vague populist, anti-corporate ideas, suitable
for the wettest concerned liberal.

All of which is a striking confirmation of anarchist arguments against
Usually, socialist parties need to get elected before they move to the
right. The SWP, however, moved to the right in a feeble attempt to get
into office. With their glorification of Galloway, they put the emphasis
on a few leaders and not on the ability of the mass of the population to
change things by their own efforts. The focus for social change was
moved away from collective class struggle in the community and workplace
to the acts of isolated individuals at the ballot box.

Unsurprisingly, the actual election results of the
new party did not meet rhetoric (particularly
given how the SWP and other Leninists simply could
not understand the nature of the February 15th protests).
Before the 10th of June election results, leading members of
RESPECT (and the SWP) predicted a million votes and members elected to
the London Assembly and the European Parliament. This did not happen, but this did
not stop the SWP leadership proclaiming a "breakthrough" when they achieved a mere
1.65% of the vote across England and Wales (which is only a quarter of the predicted
votes). They did do well a few areas with large ethnic minorities, so confirming the
initial opportunistic reason for the SWP's change in tactic.

While they uncritically accepted the election results, the SWP
leadership were much more critical of their membership.
Pointing to the few good results, they complained (like all
good bosses) that comrades elsewhere simply were not working hard
enough. Yet this simply does not explain the failure. While the
leadership argued that RESPECT election results reflected the fact
that it had only existed since January, the fact is that the SWP itself
can be traced back 50 years. Clearly its influence is less than it could
be, given its prominence in left-wing circles for the last few decades.

Clearly, RESPECT has failed. But where now? What of the SWP? Simply put,
the SWP looks
like it is trouble. It has failed to capitalise on its prominent
organising (and controlling) role in
the StWC. It has not recruited as it would like (or predicted) from the
anti-war movement. The
party leadership has recently decided to sell off its printing press
(probably to help manage the
heavy debts it incurred during the anti-war marches and election
campaign). Nor has RESPECT
drawn in anti-war people.

This can be seen from Marxism 2004. As usual, anarchists took the
opportunity to leaflet the
event (the leaflet, a general introduction to anarchism, is available at
http://anarchism.ws/writers/anarcho.html). Having done so twice before
(in 2001 and
2003 -- both leaflets can be found on the same webpage), I noticed a
significant change in both
numbers and attitude of those present. While before the typical SWP
member ignored those
outside, refusing leaflets and discussion, it was the case that new
people drawn in by struggles
and campaigns would take literature and even come to meetings. At
Marxism 2003, for
example, anarchists held a well attended meeting after Marxism finished
on the Saturday.

Numbers in 2003 did seem down from 2001. This year was more noticeable.
The lack
of numbers was commented on by members of every political group I talked
to --
anarchist, Marxist and Leninist. While the SWP leadership could explain
the lack of
numbers in terms of the by-election campaign in Leicester RESPECT was
running, it
seems unlikely it would send it most inexperienced members (and
potential recruits)
away from its most prestigious annual event. Given that as recently as
2000 the SWP
boasted of having 9000 members, the fact that RESPECT claims a mere 3000
is significant. In spite of its turn to the Asian community, the number
of non-white faces
was the lowest I have seen. Given this, I doubt I will attend Marxism
2005. It would be
pointless if only Leninist hacks are attending it.

Marxism 2004 seems to confirm that the SWP has over stretched itself.
Moreover, it is
doubtful that many within its membership can be happy with their party's
swing to the
right. The opportunistic rejection of basic principles in order to gain
votes cannot have
sat well with any committed socialist in its ranks. For the less
principled member, it cannot
bode well that this violation of principle achieved so little and did
not discourage the
leadership in the slightest. Ironically, given the SWP's personalised
approach to politics
and their consequent demonising of Blair, the parallels to the Labour
Party under Blair
seem all too clear.

The other sects on the Leninist left also seem to sense that the SWP are
in a bad way. The
(frankly loony) Spartacus League were there in numbers and every other
party had leaflets urging SWP members to think about what their party is
doing. Sadly,
their solution (namely build a new mass workers party) is simply
repeating the mistakes
of the past. If Marxism 2004 does represent the beginning of the end for
the SWP, it is
doubtful that the other smaller Leninist parties will gain members from
the implosion.
Hopefully, if the SWP does go then it will have the same effect as the
collapse of the
USSR and drive another nail in the coffin of Leninism in the UK.

Anarchists have an interest in making sure that happens. We have an
alternative to the
dead end Leninism has forced the revolutionary movement into for the
last eight decades.
One which sees the importance of learning from history rather than repeating it. The
question is, of course, will the British anarchist movement be organised
enough to present a viable alternative to those who want to change the world
rather than just the bosses?

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