We believe there are serious lessons to learn from recent events in the SWP. These lessons are of common value to all socialists seriously looking for a means to break out of our isolation and connect with the mass movement against capitalism sweeping the world. Nothing could be more futile than to gloat or score cheap debating points about it.
We condemn the process by which an accusation of rape involving an SWP CC member was handled: the judgement of the case by fellow CC members and friends of the accused; the humiliating treatment of the two women involved; harassment of their supporters and the suppression of factions and dissent. However, the revolt against this is a tribute to the membership of your party and their commitment to socialism. It is in light of this principled position and in response to the clear loss of political authority by the SWP leadership that we write to you to share our perspectives with the hope that it might prove useful. And we hope to learn from your experience.
In the past, Marxist organisations have been able to influence the great events of their eras. No socialist groups can claim to have emerged with any great honour or glory from the struggles of the last few years sweeping the world from Egypt, to Greece, to South Africa. What useful lessons may be learned?
The SWP was clearly able to provide socialist ideas and organisation to many of the most militant and talented young people radicalised in the student mobilisations of recent years, amongst others. This has left you in the position of being one of the largest and most serious socialist organisations in the UK. Yet the SWP is sadly a party for whom one tactic after another has collapsed – Stop The War, the Socialist Alliance, and Respect – and whose “united fronts” are often left as simply fronts for the party, excluding serious class politics, as in the UAF. None of these initiatives can be seriously said to have given a lead to the working class in the face of the worst attacks we have seen in more than three generations.
There is not just a lack of confidence in the leadership of the SWP: it affects all the left groups. Why, when the workers are under attack as never before, and when tens of thousands have been demonstrating against capitalism, are the left groups still marginalised and stagnating? Even in those places where left organisations, such as SYRIZA, are finding support in the polls, they lack deep and penetrating roots in the working class. Where is the political expression and self-organisation of the working class in this crisis?
It is our observation that problems of sectarianism are endemic in left organisations of all kinds, to the point that this is almost a truism. All serious socialists will be able to recall situations in which one organisation or another has hindered the serious work of comrades for its own ends. We argue that this trend finds its cause in the messianic leadership complex which has developed within the organisations of the left. Furthermore, this comes from a false assessment of the tasks facing socialists today, and has its own historical roots.
What was correct for Trotsky is not necessarily correct in the world today. For the revolutionaries in whose tradition many of us stand (Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg) the working class could mobilize great battalions against our rulers, and possessed valued traditions of struggle, political parties and unions, of whatever character, in their millions. It could, once, seriously be said that the proletariat existed for-itself, what we needed was the right leaders and the right ideas.
Times have changed. The class lacks in many cases some of the most basic weapons against exploitation; only 15% of our class in the UK’s private sector are in unions, wages are down by 20% as a share of GDP and inequality is unprecedented; no Left party can seriously claim mass membership or even support. Clearly, it can no longer be socialists’ priority to build a “vanguard” party and claim leadership of the working class.
Paradoxically, the class has never had more serious need of a revolutionary cadre to argue for socialism and become, as Lenin put it, “tribunes of the class”. It is necessary to draw together the forces fighting capitalism the world over into a broad anti-capitalist front, to build an international forum in which a new programme, strategy and tactics, but above all solidarity within the working class can be thrashed out democratically, in the traditions of Marx and Engels at the time of the First International.
The proletariat is for the first time a majority of the world population. The centre of the world proletariat has shifted away from Europe and America. For every worker in the old metropolitan countries there are now five more spread across the globe. China has twice as many industrial workers as all the G7 countries combined. In this titanic class, women are represented in unprecedented numbers and the crisis facing women arising from austerity imposed by the ruling class has not been so fierce in 60 years.
That being so, we disagree fundamentally with the SWP's long-time insistence that Marxism and feminism are somehow antithetical and thus condemn their recent denunciation of all references to feminism. At this time, we cannot afford to reject the organic ideas generated by the working class within the feminist movement, nor any other, simply because they do not come ready packaged as ‘Marxist™’.
It is now impossible to escape the public scandal within the active left and women’s organisations in Britain. All activists will in some way or other be forced to take a position on the SWP and rape. Sadly, the public line of the party at large does nothing to assuage anyone’s concerns or criticisms. The pained looks of party faithful on paper sales when faced with questions of a cover up or rape apologise and half-hearted assertions that is “not quite what you think” frankly make the matter worse.
We feel that this is symptomatic of dangerous messianic ideas that we touch on above. We ask why your CC does not trust the class to provide any solutions to this crisis? Your leadership, as with many other left groups, seems to think the only ‘correct’ ideas can come from the SWP down to the class, from whom you have nothing to learn. Their policy of not “arguing in front of the children” does not show a united party capable of leadership, rather they seem out of touch, unable to relate to the real conditions and aping the old Stalinists.
In this vein, we also condemn the attempts by the CC to shut down public dissent. However grave a mistake you leaders are making, the principled commitment by “the opposition” speaks to a clarity of political thought and a more proper relationship to the movement and class.
The leadership is also strategically wrong to disregard the membership and fob them off with bureaucratic Stalinist answers. If the leadership does not listen and react to the positions of oppositionists it will condemn the SWP to irrelevance, something no one looking to build a powerful left wishes to see.
Internal democracy is essential in any organisation trying to learn from the experiences of their members in the struggle and of the experiences of the class in these rapidly changing times; democracy is not a just a moral issue it is an essential tool for the struggle.
We reject the “small mass party” approach and anyone viewing themselves as the future revolutionary party in miniature, already hegemonic over all others. Not only is it simply not true of any existing party, but it leads directly to the mistakes such as those of the SWP Central committee. Now is not the time for a select group to give polemics to a class that is not listening. Instead Marxists should study carefully the tasks we face and work in solidarity, despite the inevitable strife and pain that this will entail, with the rest of the class.
It is urgent that we build a force capable of overthrowing capitalism and saving the world from extinction through war and ecological catastrophe, but for now calls for “unity” are at best abstract. Solidarity is the order of the day. We invite anyone searching for a serious solution as to how to rebuild the socialist traditions of the twentieth century into a force capable of changing the world to contact us, but also one another.
Members of our network are active in different organisations and struggles around the world and we as yet have no pretence to form even the embryo of a new mass organisation. We have tried to draw conclusions from the successes of the class and our common mistakes of the past and have produced documents laying out our position. We meet regularly to develop our ideas and discuss daily online at
If you would like to join this discussion, please contact us.
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