On January 30, this blog posted a statement by the Workers' International Network (WIN) on the crisis in the British SWP. The publishers of this blog believe that this is a balanced assessment, and remains as relevant in light of the recent public resignations from the SWP as it was when it was released six weeks ago.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
If you would like to join this discussion, please contact us.
Workers’ International Network
- AFSCME Local 444 negotiations assesment 1997
- Preparing for Revolution: A discussion document
- The Internal lives of Revolutionary Organizations
- Socialist Alternative members: Questions and Answers
- Sanders: Our Alternative
- The Nature of the New European Left
- University of California workers and Unions
- An Invitation to Our Readers
- Facts For Working People Weekly Phone Conferences and Discussions
- Help open The AFL-CIO AIFLD Archives