The 2014 conference of the Socialist Workers Party is in December. The content of the three conference internal discussion bulletins is a reminder that the SWP is not about to disappear.
It is still capable of organising activities and intervening in struggles on a scale not matched by the rest of the activist left except sometimes the Socialist Party — for instance, in the important workers’ struggles at Care UK in Doncaster and Lambeth College. It still has, in proportion to the left and trade union movement, a significant layer of union activists.
It still has branches across the country and, unless some of the information contained in the bulletins is straightforward lying, some of them are growing. It is far more active than either of the groups which split from it in its recent crises, International Socialist Network and RS21.
Although the SWP has lost the vast majority of its student base, it is very busy trying to rebuild it. It success so far has been limited, but real: for instance at Sussex University, where one bulletin discusses how they have rebuilt a group and defeated the attempt to ban them from the student union. (They are less keen to talk about Goldsmiths, where they did not even turn up to the student union meeting that banned them.) A re-emergence of the SWP on the student scene is certainly not out of the question.
But the documents make clear that, whether or not the SWP recovers from its recent losses, it will not be a gain for socialist politics. Fundamentally, the SWP is still lying not just to others but to itself.
The bulletins are full of lies: from Nick Griffin losing his Euro-seat because of the SWP’s campaigning (rather than because of the BNP’s self-implosion) to their membership and recruitment (they claim to have 5,868 members — but only 36 per cent even make a regular payment to the organisation).
Despite quoting the Marxist classics on the workers’ united front, the SWP’s conception of “united fronts” is very much as it was before — populist lash ups organising showbiz antics, preferably under the tight control of itself. Hence the paeans to “Unite Against Fascism” and trade union front “Unite the Resistance” (and more tentative praise of “Stop the War”, since it’s run by SWP-split Counterfire).
The SWP are currently striking a pose as radical left critics of the trade union leaders, and that is reflected here. But the union they single out for most praise is the National Union of Teachers, where they operate as the marginally more radical allies of the “left” bureaucracy. The contributions ignore actual rank and file/class struggle-oriented initiatives in the unions as in the student movement.
Recently the SWP has made calls for unity on the left: our response to one can be read here. These documents confirm our analysis that what they are concerned about is not greater unity on the revolutionary left across Britain, but unity in Scotland with “left reformists”, for which read left-wing and other nationalists. The bulletins contain not a hint of disagreement with the SWP’s pro-Scottish nationalist line.
This line functions to convince SWP members and those they influence that there is a major opening for social progress coming into being where is none. The political basis is the idea that what matters is not so much the growth of working-class organisation and consciousness, as “resistance” to and “rage against” the status quo and the opportunities this gives the organisation to recruit.
A central purpose of revolutionary organisation is to continuously hammer out a clear and truthful analysis of the world, and fight for it, in order to help workers become conscious of themselves as a class. A socialist organisation which does the opposite is useless and even harmful.
This is one context in which the failure of the SWP to learn anything serious from its crisis in connection with the Martin Smith sexual assault/rape cases should be considered. Where the crisis is mentioned, it is a cursory and dishonest way. Such an approach cannot withstand serious discussion: hence the SWP’s undemocratic internal regime, which the bulletins suggest the leadership is further locking down.
The leadership now claims there is a need to limit debate to make the workings of the SWP accessible. Hence a new word limit on contributions – members can now sign their names, individually or collectively, only to submissions of up to 4,000 words in the first bulletin and 3,000 in the second and third. This year’s bulletins are only 28, 31 and 32 pages long, with quite a lot of organisational filler, as against 91, 104 and 140 last year – this in an organisation which claims 6,000 members. Meanwhile the Central Committee can submit as many contributions as it wants.
The reality is that the CC operates largely independently from any wider control – as described vividly by the only member to make any significant oppositional contribution to the bulletins, “national member” Andy W. “National member” means he has been suspended from branch membership. Andy W is running for the National Committee which supposedly holds the CC to account, but will almost certainly not be elected, though there are only 53 candidates for 50 places.
The SWP has not changed for the better. It is “struggling” in the negative but also in the positive sense of fighting hard to recover its position. It will remain a significant force.
While we will work and argue with individual SWPers, we need to take the short-term opportunity provide by its falling back to build a better revolutionary left and, in the first instance, build Workers’ Liberty.