Tuesday, 28 May 2013

On theory

This is a guest post by J. R. Hartley

The recent developments of the SWP and Socialist Worker websites have been mixed blessings for those of us who have long been critical of the party’s online presence,. For years we have argued that we need to up our game in terms of the internet, pushing for more resources, calling for the formation of commissions to make best use of the undoubted and untapped talents of so many comrades. Time and again we have been not only denied but denounced: traduced as cyber utopians who sought to abolish the paper and forgo true revolutionary activity. So three cheers for progress, I guess.

The makeover of the SW site is remarkable for the simple fact that it now appears to be worse than before – no mean feat given how it looked previously. While some neat touches have been added (such as the ‘tag’ and ‘popular’ tabs on the right-hand sidebar) the website looks half-baked, as though a beta version had been launched long before the finished version was ready to launch.

Far more interesting is the newly expanded “Theory” part of the main party website. After years of apparently randomly selected articles being highlighted in a decidedly haphazard fashion – almost as though my nan had wandered onto the site and absent-mindedly left them around with no rhyme or reason – the section finally adopted a systematic and organised approach. Clicking on the tab takes you to links for 246 books, articles and pamphlets, split into 38 categories such as “Economic Theory”, “Religion”, “Culture” and “The Fight Against Fascism”.

In many ways it is a highly useful resource even if it does duplicate links that are available in other places – most notably the monumental labour of love that is the Marxist Internet Archive. Treated as a suggested reading list it will doubtless be of value to anyone stumbling across revolutionary politics for the first time and experienced comrades alike, and collates some of the finest pieces of Marxist writing from the past 150 years or more.

But the “Theory” section, as initially launched, perhaps reveals more about the state of the party than one might expect. Not least it adds to the feeling that the party is old, reliant on the political capital of theories that were once indispensable, but now less relevant. Before I raise these points, however, I feel it’s necessary to state that I see the reading of Lenin, Trotsky, Cliff, Harman et al as being of huge importance. Let me say from the outset: I actively encourage comrades, old and young alike, to read (and re-read) the classics from the Marxist tradition. These are not only works with invaluable analysis and insight – the best examples also show how to effectively communicate the ideas of socialism and revolution to a mass audience. Any list of theoretical resources must carry these works. It is just a sad sign of the times that anyone raising concerns and criticisms feels the need to pre-empt the inevitable, unthinking rebuttals that pass for debate inside the organisation these days.

On social media some have already pointed out some of the notable omissions, for instance the comparative lack of Paul Foot; the complete absence of Widgery and Sedgewick. As S Wells said in this post: “There is no danger of any reader inadvertently being guided to the publications of the party’s more libertarian (and livelier) past.” No doubt some of you have already compiled mental lists of works you feel deserving of inclusion. Comrades, I would suggest, should be contacting the centre with recommendations at every opportunity.

Others might point to the relatively small amount of debate that gets flagged up. Only rarely do we stumble across articles written as replies to other people in the tradition: the debate between Harman and Kidron from the late-1970s, Choonara and Davidson discussing permanent revolution, the three way argument around the question of art and alienation. More links to debates would be most helpful. Surprisingly, given the questions raised recently, the debate from the mid-1980s on the question of whether working class men benefit from the oppression of working class women for instance is missing. Re-reading the theoretical disagreements between Harman, Callinicos and Hallas on the issue of base and superstructure makes you realise how important open debate is to our political tradition. Far from being staid and unchanging it becomes a constantly evolving theory, reacting and developing, growing through constant discussion.

Yet what strikes me most about the new Theory section is how many of the links take you to pieces written before 2000. Of the 246 pieces only 81 – less than a third - were written in the last thirteen years.  Much of these are to be commended (sections on disability, Latin America); some are specific to recent events (austerity, Arab spring). But there is not one single article written since the start of the new millennium listed in the sections on the Labour Party and Reformism, Leninism and the Party, The State, Trotsky(ism), or Alienation. Only one post-2000 article is linked to in the each of the following sections: The Working Class, Trade Unions and Strikes, Revolutionary Lives, Imperialism, or Students.

How can this be? Is there nothing that can be added to our understanding of the Labour Party after the years of Blair and Brown? Or did we fail to produce a piece that was of sufficient quality so as to be included in our section of must-see theoretical articles? However good John Molyneux’s Marxism and the Party may be, are we really to believe that the arguments it contains are beyond re-appraisal? In the context of sustained neo-liberal assaults, how can it be that Chris Harman’s article, Workers of the World, written in 2002 is the most recent piece we link to in the section entitled ‘The Working Class’?

Obviously the recommended pieces within the ‘Theory’ section do not exhaust the contributions made by party members to theoretical debate, historical investigation or revolutionary activity. They are, rather, the select and chosen few. And that they were chosen, while others were left on the shelf, says a lot about our organisation. Looking through that theory section one is left inspired by what the IS legacy represents but also increasingly, painfully aware that the world moved on. Has the living, breathing tradition of the International Socialists really so little to say on these matters since the start of the new millennium, or are we so certain to the point of complacency in our belief that all such questions were resolved long ago, never more to be the subject of enquiry, discussion and, where necessary, revision?

J. R. Hartley

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A response from a “passionate”

This is a guest post by Hebe

The crisis in the SWP has left comrades in an impossible situation. The faction fight polarised the party, split it into two camps and has now driven at least 400 out of the organisation.  For some this has raised fundamental questions about the party very suddenly, for others it has been a much longer process. The situation is not ideal and there is no solution not fraught with difficulties. This article is an attempt to address questions that have been put to those who believe it is not possible to win back the SWP.

What do we want?

Comrades on all sides of the argument in the SWP in theory share one aim – the need for a mass revolutionary party capable of seizing power.  It is perhaps worth setting out what our vision of that party would be. It must be committed to the idea of socialism from below, understand the centrality of the working class and have an uncompromising stand against oppression. It must be explicitly revolutionary socialist and open to discussion about how its ideas can be renewed - in its publications, relationship with those around it and internal life. Importantly it must be able to face up to and analyse the changing world around it. These are prerequisites to being truly democratic centralist in more than name only.

The crisis has posed many questions that different comrades are trying to address and answer. What is the shape of the working class today? What is the role of a revolutionary organisation today? How do we apply democratic centralism today? How do we understand the radical left and united fronts? How can we update our politics on oppression? All of these questions should be debated out as openly as possible in the party, its publications and within the wider left.  This is not about abandoning the IS tradition but applying it to a changing world and synthesizing the best new insights into our view of the world and how to change it.

Can these debates be resolved in the SWP?

A majority of comrades in and around IDOOP shared these questions and a sense that together we could develop answers.  The faction meetings demonstrated a depth of politics and debate and gave many faith the SWP could be renewed.  For those isolated in their localities it was a breath of fresh air and sustained them through a rough time in the party’s recent history.  But we also saw the opposing side of the SWP mobilised around an abstract loyalty to the leadership.

This section of the party aimed to resolve the crisis not through political discussion but through appeals to loyalty. Any criticism was treated as a threat by those that had broken from or did not understand our tradition. Mike Gonzales’ recent article, ‘Who will teach the teachers?’ addresses the resonance this found with a layer of card carrying members who bolstered the most conservative elements of the party.

The question of whether any of these debates could be resolved at this conference should now be clear. We lost the faction fight not simply because of undemocratic manoeuvring but because we did not hold a majority in the organisation. The manner in which the “pro-Comrade Delta” faction asserted its victory sealed that defeat and in doing so closed down any chance of recovery. IDOOP comrades were not drawn back into the party but marginalised. The promised space for debates we hoped to have never materialised, replaced with an attempt to consolidate a distorted version of our tradition. Their side has hardened while ours has been devastated.

At the NC it was reported that at least 350 people had left the party. Contact work suggests the real figure is higher. Those left are largely holding on for lack of an alternative and few seriously believe we would be given a hearing in a future party debate. The consequence is that any process of clarification will not spread beyond those who were supportive of IDOOP, and the few remaining branches we have sway in. A serious analysis must see any faction fight further dividing the organisation on a terrain the opposition can’t hope to win. 

To change the direction of the party in future would require one of three things: 1) An opposition large enough to lead a credible fight. 2) A figure like Cliff or Harman with the personal standing to recognise and argue for a turn. 3) A section of those currently loyal to the CC to respond to events and challenge the leadership.  1 and 2 no longer exist and the third is unlikely for reasons I explore below.

How did were reach this point?

The strongest argument for remaining is that future events could force the party to turn outwards and revive the chance of rebuilding the SWP.  For that to happen the SWP would have to become part of a serious new struggle and win a generation of activists to its ranks. To do so would require a sharp turn away from the practices we are currently institutionalising.

For many in the organisation the crisis did not begin with the revelations of conference. The party’s response to it, while appalling, reflected a deeper malaise.  Comrades were called on to back the CC and disputes verdict not on its own grounds but because to challenge it meant challenging the authority of the leadership.  This flew in the face of good sense, but evasions and half-truths provided enough cover. The comrades mobilised were neither “rape apologists” nor part of a cover up - the rallying call was to defend “our tradition” and “our party” against all challengers.

Those that led the charge (on and off the CC) were in effect a faction lead to defend Comrade Delta but also a particular model of the party – one heavily shaped by the experience of the 1980s. Those in IDOOP were characterised as being soft on the movements by comrades with a model of the Party developed to survive the downturn.  This resonated with a layer of comrades caderised in the 80s who wished to see the party survive but had reduced their day to day relationship with it. Many also had roles in the public sector unions that have been at the centre of our recent perspectives.  This layer was able to pull behind it others with a substitutionist notion of party building and more who simply wished the crisis would blow over.

At the centre of this faction were comrades who had been mobilised to defeat the left platform a few years previously. That had been a faction fight that united them with younger elements in the party. However, they now moved to pressure a weak leadership into moving decisively against a section of the party shaped by the recent crisis of capitalism. This faction now reinforces the most sectarian elements of the leadership and is adjusting the party’s politics to justify a rapid sectarian turn. Their permanent war footing has created a self-fulfilling prophesy that those in IDOOP are on a route out of the party. Elements of the CC that recognised this were either not confident, or unable, to challenge the dynamic or those on the CC who encouraged it.

Some examples of this sectarianism include a one-sided hostile attitude to a revival of the Labour left; a failure to recognise the role revolutionaries could play within the People’s Assembly (in drawing out its real contradictions); a persistence with UtR despite its existence as a front group; a refusal to acknowledge that public sector strikes have not been a central site of struggle since the December sell out; turning necessities – such as the lack of speakers for Marxism – into virtues; a willingness to smash our student work to destroy the faction; a distortion of our politics on women’s liberation – I could go on.

All of this goes unchallenged as the CC and cadre need to keep things going after isolating many of those who have built the party over the past decade. Having reactivated a layer of comrades around a sectarian vision of the party they have now become trapped by it. The scale of the People’s Assembly demonstrates a centrality of politics and broad desire to mobilise that we set in opposition to abstract calls for a general strike. Left Unity demonstrates (in an ephemeral way) a desire for left of labour organisation that we are absent from.  Counterfire steal the best speakers associated with our summer festival and we down scale Marxism. 

Given all this it is unlikely that the majority will be willing to undergo the far more destabilising debate that a re-analysis of the shape of the working class today or the role of the revolutionary left in the current period would entail. The party has entrenched an internal culture of heresy-hunting where such arguments are a means of exposing comrades, not trying to understand changes in the world around us.

None of this is intended to paint a one-sided picture of the SWP. It will remain the largest group on the far left for years and continue to do much good work. To say the SWP is unlikely to be able to relate to new bursts of struggle is not to deny the positive role it will continue to play in many campaigns and unions, or its role in promoting basic socialist ideas and fighting fascism. It is to say that if you are committed to building the revolutionary left this is not enough. A genuinely revolutionary group has to seek to win over the most dynamic elements to the fight for socialism from below. It has to engage in a dialogue that attempts to understand new ideas and relate to them. It has to have a searching analysis of the balance of forces, its own resources and relationship to the struggle. On these three counts the SWP has failed.

The recent fight has accelerated a dynamic that has long existed. In doing so it has calcified distortions left over from the downturn and years of low struggle, as well as severing links with a generation shaped by the biggest crisis of capitalism in living memory. This generation had represented the best chance of renewing our organisation in years.

What now?

Our immediate task has to be to wage an open fight for ideas in the party.  The central question is the role of a revolutionary organisation and an assessment of the period we face.  Many other questions relate to this and comrades thinking and writing should be encouraged to put them into the public domain. The run up to Marxism provides a sense of urgency.  Comrades questioning the role of the party need to be armed with the viewpoints of others to enable a genuine debate to be tested. If we can’t contest the current orthodoxy at the SWP’s most important gathering than starting later will be untenable.

We also need to think whether a new organisation is needed.  Politics does not reward good intentions but ideas, organisation and timing.  To sleep walk into a split is a recipe for being blown to the four winds.  Those who call for political clarity are correct but this call obscures a more fundamental question. This is not a debate about when to break from the party but whether the party can be saved.  A faction fight might be desirable but to fight on the important questions would inevitably see us carved out. The pro-CC faction will not allow us a fair hearing and will divide and isolate the faction – a process which has already begun.  To charge into such a fight without clear aims will mean losing further waves of comrades to inactivity and demoralisation.

Our real debate is over the role of revolutionaries today. Our discussions across the country reveal a greater convergence then comrades might expect.  We are developing a vision of what a revolutionary party should look like based on the insights from the IS tradition and the experience of collective debate. To discuss what the SWP should be throws its degeneration into stark relief.

Comrades in the opposition hold a range of positions on what we should do.  All of them need to be subjected to a deeper analysis. One factor to look at is the current relationship we have with the party. How many oppositionists are still engaged enough with the party to participate in a credible faction fight? If we are to wait for an upturn in struggle where does that leave the majority of our support? Is it credible to think we can divide a weak CC that is trying to hold the party together? Most seriously, what is our assessment of the period and the future prospects of the SWP? 


Gold Dust

Dedicated to a Comrade having a hard time, politically and otherwise – you aren’t the only one.

The SWP has reached an impasse.
Members of the SWP now reject or question the accepted truths and commands.
The sense of forward advance that was once felt has now disappeared.
Hundreds now dissolved away by frustration anger and doubt, yes, more importantly however political differences and principles.

Stranded at a stand still, as the organisation galls down a dark, quite and solemn pace towards erasing the last 8 months of revolutionary despair which will have gripped, with an encompassing and stone cold blitz feeling felt among the many. The new, old, young, and experienced.

The disconnection, unfortunately, is almost now permanent. As the branches sway, panic and scramble onwards.  The busy-like nature of the weekly meeting, things to build, stalls to do, busy like, even more than ever - a quick succession of busy nothings.
And the irremovable glint in each’s eye, of the horrible scaring, of the entire integrity of that soul – politically, physical and mentally.
Withering of the strongest of the strong.
No brave face can mask it.
An open wound which refuses to heal. No matter time’s passing. The concomitant of the feeling remains; how could this have happened?

Searching for the determination; the root. Able to transcend from one to the next generation of fighters – the methods, the training, the thinking, the acting, the relating.

A Virus of Culture

A Virus - all soured, corrupted, mechanical, inadequate, unemotional, inhuman, and systematic.
It is what infects a comrade, the circles, the philosophy, the atmosphere, the living & then the breathing organ in which it paints us with its colours, strengths and vibrancies.
A culture must be constantly nurtured, paid meticulous attention to when sick, fostered, guided. - given the chance to lead – the opportunity to build – the ability to develop and evolve living revolutionary ideas, by looking on those that have come to past, and those who decay to their death.

Time is short, amplifying the most precious questions and prominent crisis which confronts us.
Questions, which are often visited. Chipped away at by the old comrade, who comes up against the metaphorical and physically gigantic concrete wall; too high to climb or destroy, by the efforts of a sole.
Rebounding the cycle of your own efforts, its own echo - no answer, no reply, nothing – despair, frustration, sorrow, confusion, anger, bitterness, isolation.
Death of the idea, and the hope which came with it.
To change something, anything, at this point, the worst point.

Consigned to the graveyard of once living ideas, one in which sorted to amass inspiration and militancy of those here, and yet to come.

A choking culture, selectivity, breeding animosity between those closest.
The questions, why them, not I, not us, not all?
The fostering of new comrades in preparation to join the circles of thought and the warring bands that shuffle, jostle and scuffle for weight, influence – and ultimately power.
It is a deep rooted problem. Engrained & inbuilt, a way of ‘things’ - Greying gold dust

As those pushed to the front, or proped up, often with little total understanding of their use in another’s means to the ends.
A percentile effect; of those of a generation, the many left to fall in between the gaps of the organisation, and the cracks in which spring from its virused culture: Lost revolutionaries, and with them; lost potential, a lost far future, but near. – Lost Gold Dust

The unappreciated, fighting to grow, completing the ‘dogs-work’, acting as the main mechanical cog, buried beneath the shiner, but smaller cogs, that overlap, overplaced and overlay it.
Yet never the time to spare or interest and encouragement given, to develop beyond your practical perfections, you’re fighting, for the sake of fighting strong, time passes and you’ve grown tired, as revolutionary enthusiasm stagnates, from the lack of care placed under you.
The same is no longer the same; it’s lost its meaning, as you repeat, repeat, and repeat, repeat.
The disconnection growing at each stroke of disarray and crisis – Exhausted Gold Dust

The excited, ever charged, with vigour and zeal to build the organ, they truly want and feel to succeed with every fibre, every thought, every feeling.
But bound to wonder for an answer, a sign – nothing.
Left to explore and wonder, search new possibilities, but alone.
As the organ stagnates, reclines, its pulse slowing, its tone fading, its resonance breaking.
If only, you dream. The organ was next to you, engaging, renewing, growing and living- off this new potential.
Instead rusting, squeaking, if not completely silent in all but words and symbols. As if an error, an incompatibility- Frustrated Gold Dust

Constantly fighting to remedy the immediate problems in the organ, to make a dent, but it regrows even thornier.
At what point will one be able to build as where one’s ambitions truly lay or seek?
Not Deviation, Marxism; living and growing
Relating and learning from people, who struggle to survive or live today.
Against replication, skewing and stretching past struggles to apply now.
The past, always important and a part of, but never the same, never inevitable, never guaranteed, never inherent- No blueprints.
Agency evolves, composition composites’ and compresses, relations react, feelings fester, tensions sinuating.

Many gone now, the organ in failure, decaying – now lays still; and will remain still, but still-borne cannot be what is made from its death.
A real culture different to before. Forged in genuine truth, encouragement, development, trust, confidence, freedom and thought, while free from slant, bias, personal benefit, factioneering and manoeuvre.
A real want for a culture which is breathing of the class, yet instead compromising for a simple plinth listings the organs norms, constructs, its policy – The extent of relations with the Gold Dust.
This must be and can only be created through the process of fighting through real democracy.
To free the embryonic potential inside of each and every separate particle of Gold Dust – Actualised Gold Dust

This culture must be fostered and encouraged through and for a maximum living Marxism. A culture of permanent inclusivity, flexibility and depthful discussion and debate and so much more – as to achieve a real vision, an organ that intertwines with class struggle, in practise, and further to liberate the successes and failures of prospects in which it is engaged in, openly and honestly.

As is an essential of vanguard’s memory. A memory of not purely words, but of reality – The class cannot be fooled, we can only fool ourselves. 
The memory learns from the experiences of all. Managing, filtering and disrupting this process forms cracks, gaps and seizures in this memory.

The infection grows.

Angel Jackson - FL Editor

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Impact of their Actions

This is a guest post by AB, PB, H, S and BJ

The Central Committee are in denial, willingly ignoring an exodus of 200-300 members, deluding themselves eternally with membership figures of 6000 whilst refusing to acknowledge a crisis tearing our party apart. Julie Sherry’s article in the Guardian blissfully pronounces the party’s excellence in handling the now infamous disputes case. In reality the opposite is true.  The CC’s dogmatism in its success has led to a spiralling crisis of their own making, meaning the SWP is rapidly degenerating at a crucial moment in the reinvigoration of the fight back against austerity.

The advent of the Bedroom Tax has sparked widespread anger against the Tory government, demonstrations have spread the length of the country and the campaign continues to grow. The Bedroom Tax could potentially be the catalyst for a wider movement to topple Cameron. Alongside this, the occupation of Sussex University against privatization on campus lasted over a month and included a demonstration of over 1,000 students and workers. Our intervention in both campaigns is now marred; on a Bedroom Tax demo in Glasgow a member of the party was heckled with chants of “rape apologists” from demonstrators when speaking. These women were visibly seen to be pushed by members of SWP stewarding the demo. At Sussex the SWSS group, historically the biggest in the country, was the first to disband. This news was met with loud cheers from inside the occupation. The CC remains oblivious, pretending their actions have no repercussions in the class.

The CC is failing to offer any leadership to its members, leaving its loyal supporters pedalling the line of the downturn, battening down the hatches and defending the party at all costs - this line bears no relation to the upturn we see in the outside world. The Left is also realigning itself; Ken Loach’s call for Left Unity has seen thousands sign up to the appeal, The International Socialist Network has begun opening a wide scoping debate on the direction of the revolutionary left. Again, the CC will not present answers as to how we relate to this changing milieu of the left and a continued sectarianism to all but “our comrades” (including those responsible for building the organisation who have now left).

The farcical National Student Meeting offered another insight to the party’s lack of direction, offering no coherent strategy in how to move forward as an organisation and no way of operating at the National Union of Students conference which was to take place within a month. SWSS's record of operating in NUS had been something we prided ourselves in, particularly in  2012 winning the most number of block votes in both higher and further education, winning votes for a national demo and a national FE walkout.

This year was, sadly, very different. Our relationships on the National Executive Committee had become strained in the light of the revelations regarding comrade delta meaning the Labour (NOLS) lackies, who have for so long run the NUS, were more hostile than they had been the year before. As well as this our opposition around the no platforming of George Galloway was now being used against us. Our relationships with other left groups, namely National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and Student Broad Left, had also changed; while SBL were very much on side with the opposition and supported our candidate, (even for the sake of comradeship supporting the party’s apologist to an extent) some members of NCAFC chose to make it clear they disagreed with oppositionist members decisions to stay. As well as a lack of support within the mechanics itself, the membership of NUS voted fairly resoundingly against of delegation to conference to the extent that our delegation was a third of its size compared to 2012 and were all known oppositionists. Adding to this the CC’s decision to withdraw a comrade who may very well have won the position due to their opinion of - and position in - the faction fight made an almost indefensible position completely so.

It was to no surprise the NUS’s opinion of the loyalists and opposition was reflected in their share of votes; the loyalists received 0.02% of the vote, the oppositionists 26%. More remarkably was the way in which the NOLS used the crisis to attack the left. Overtly, they organised a walkout during the loyalist’s speech which resulted in around 200 people walking out. Covertly, they moved on a divided and weak left to push through one of the most right-wing executives and policies seen for years. 

Comrades, we must be clear that when we are weak, the left is. We did not ‘punch above our weight’ because the CC said so, but because we were respected as activists and as principled individuals who would never surrender in argument.  NUS conference showed that when we lack conviction in the line, we lose that.

Perhaps one of the saddest things to come out of the SWP’s self-immolation is the fate of Marxism. The jewel in the party’s previously bright crown is not condemned to be the SWP talking to the SWP in a slightly bigger room. Such a travesty must not be accepted. Marxism’s establishment as the left’s biggest festival has meant a sustained respect, even outside the Marxist left, for the SWP.  With incidents like John McDonnell’s refusal to even acknowledge the party, instead opting to announce his withdrawal from the festival through Twitter, it shows the contempt with which the party is now treated with.

If we are to drag ourselves out of this crisis the decisive action must be taken now, waiting until January is not an option and if we continue to do so we will win only a shadow of our former organisation. Now is the time for people to openly dissent against the CC. They are destroying our organization. If you are not willing to take the fight now then it is time for us to leave as soon as possible, letting the party become the sect it will inevitably will be, if they carry on the current course.

Of course, if the position we outline here is incorrect and the leadership's actions are completely defensible to the class, pulling people towards our ideas, then it is the CC’s job to prove it. If comrade delta is an exonerated member of the party, then surely the comrade should be doing regular meetings and should certainly be down to do a meeting at Marxism (they are after all a talented orator). Yet the CC shies away from this, a blatant contradiction between their words and their actions, showing their critics that they are not confident in defending their actions

The SWP will continue deteriorating as long as the leadership’s arrogant ignorance persists.

Annoyed Badger, Proletarian Bagel, Howard, Steerpike and Bleeding Jug.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Losing the aura of competence

This is a guest post by S Wells

Since special conference, the sense has grown that the present leadership would be incapable of organising a demonstration, a union meeting, a t-shirt stall... if it did not have the notes left to it by others who had done the job  better over the past 60 years.  An obvious starting point is the publicity for this year’s Marxism festival, with the prominence it gives to such “highlights” as talks by Suzanne Jeffery, Joseph Choonara and Jane Hardy. The website takes what has been for years one of the best events on the left, and makes it feel old and unexciting.

The party now has a “theory” section on its website for which the primary criterion appears to have been the length of time the author has spent on the CC. There are 24 books and articles by Cliff, and 12 by Callinicos but a mere 2 by Paul Foot, 2 by Michael Kidron and 1 by Nigel Harris. There is no danger of any reader inadvertently being guided to the publications of the party’s more libertarian (and livelier) past. 

Then we have the troubles at  Socialist Worker;  beginning with an article in December calling for a vote for Labour against Respect’s Lee Jasper, and culminating in May’s attack on Owen Jones for supporting a referendum on the EU (a referendum which, as recently as this March, SW too had publicly supported). 

The paper has not always been especially lively; Chris Harman in particular was criminally ill-used as its editor, only blossoming again when he was allowed to edit the ISJ. But one thing Chris knew as a certainty was the importance of checking your articles, and only running a piece if you were sure.

Owen Jones has been an important ally of the SWP in recent years. When he speaks on platforms of UAF, UtR, anti-cuts groups, etc, he boosts the size of a meeting that would otherwise bring just 50 people, to three times that number or more. He is the shared megaphone of the left. In politics, it is perfectly legitimate to antagonise your former allies (Marx in particular spent decades doing it). But if you’re going to annoy them, do so for a reason, to get some benefit. What has the party gained? We have been made to look like a collective of cross toddlers, still irking at Jones’ snubbing of Marxism. Our pettiness has won us no friends at all. 

When you look at the rump party’s present leadership; the question that recurs is “why was he, or she, promoted?” I doubt there are many people outside our ranks who grasp quite how weak we now are. To put it as bluntly as I can; the second longest serving member of our central committee is Michael Bradley, our industrial organiser. Really, what seasoned union activist, finding themselves suddenly in a hard-spot, would phone Bradley for his advice?

At Tony Cliff’s 80th birthday celebration, Paul Foot imagined out loud the conversation that might have taken place between Cliff and the immigration officer who would have met him off the boat from Palestine. 
“You see officer, in fifty years’ time, I will have my own organisation, with about 100 people working for me, and something like 10,000 members.” (Imagine Foot’s parody of Cliff’s heavy, Jewish accent)
“An organisation, you say?” (Foot, in Blimp-mode)
“Yes, a left-wing political party.” 
“Ah, but we’ve got one of those already, the Labour Party.” 
“No officer, to the left of Labour.”
Here, Foot paused, acting out the officer racking his brain. “I think I’ve heard of them, the C-C-Comm-unists?” 
“No officer, because I say Russia is…”, the room was in guffaws long before Foot got to his “state capitalist” punchline.

We laughed, because the joke played to the party’s sense that we were the largest force on the far-left in Britain, and growing quickly. It was all of a piece with Chris Bambery, explaining to the party conference three years earlier, a phone call he had made to the Labour Party asking how well they were recruiting. “Not as fast as the bloody Trots”, he claimed to have been told. Or Charlie Kimber boasting in print of the “incredible statistic” that the Labour Party’s average age had ascended to the shocking figure of 48. The implied comparison was of course with ourselves; an organisation large often to threaten the Labour Party’s dominance, but with an average age (then) about 20 years lower. The future belonged to us, didn’t it?

Fast forward 20 years and it is a painful exercise to ask how much of Kimber’s polemic now applies to us: “Nor is the party just older. Its class base has shifted. A party which was once composed largely of workers is now dominated by wellintentioned members of the new middle class. They are committed to Labour ideas, but they are not in the main rooted in the workplaces and housing where most working class people, and most Labour voters, spend their time. Just one in four members are manual workers. Only 17 percent live in council houses compared with 25 percent of the whole population and 39 percent of Labour voters. There are as many Labour members in the lecturers’ union NATFHE (membership 70,000) as 
there are members in the public employees’ NUPE section of the UNISON union (membership 580,000)…” (http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj2/1993/isj2-061/kimber.htm)

The SWP is not merely older than it was; it is also smaller. For those of us in the faction this was perhaps the most shocking of our recent experiences. When finally we managed to get hold of the membership lists (which once were issued, routinely, to all branch activists), we learned what a very long tail of non-members the party is carrying. In 1995, if a person had not paid subs within 2 years, they were removed from the membership lists. In 2013, a large majority of the party’s claimed membership had not paid anything for more than 2 years. We found entry after entry reading something like, “last subs: August 2001 £5.”  A party with a paper membership of around 7,000 turned out to have had just 2,300 subs paying members (and this was before the 350 resignations this March alone).

A party which cannot administer its own records is, by definition, a party on the verge of its demise. Because if you can’t say (even in private) what the real income is and what the real expenditure is, how on earth can you decide whether the party has too many journalists, organisers or (dare I ask) too many … managers?

S Wells

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A reply to Mike Gonzalez

This is a guest post by Comrade Layla

[This is a reply to 'Who Will Teach The Teachers?' by Mike Gonzalez.  We did approach the author to reproduce the piece on this blog but we did not receive final confirmation.  It has been shared in the public domain and can be found HERE - The Fault Lines editors]

The piece should be welcomed by comrades inside and outside of the party.

My thoughts are the following:

The issue of unevenness in class consciousness is an important issue. We have to come to terms with it. If you re-read Molyneux’s book he actually holds a very conservative line which amounts to the following: The unevenness inside of the class is replicated inside of the revolutionary party at a higher level. John’s recent piece on party and class illuminates that he reduces everything to the question of the party. No mention of class whatsoever.

Gonzales points toward something quite unique. So-called unevenness in class consciousness is solely based on informational discrepancies. In other words, CC member X knows a left bureaucrat, CC member Y knew Cliff personally, MG knows about Latin America. Several hundred members do not have access to this information. This is a bureaucratic way of seeing ‘class consciousness’. Instead it should be based on the concrete experiences of struggle. The lack thereof creates a situation in which information substitutes for real revolutionary experiences.

In my opinion, this added to such a rapid breakdown of trust inside of the organisation. If you build a leadership on providing activists with superior information (but no strategy) and suddenly don’t feed these activists with the information about what’s happening inside of their own party you will pay a price for it. Political weakness will never be forgiven!

The issue of class consciousness is also important in regard to the question of students and youth. Of course, students will carry all kinds of ideas into the party. Of course, they will be a far more volatile group given their relationship to the labour process and their dependency on the institutions of social reproduction. However, they are also the only group of people in British society today who have engaged in a month-long battle involving street battles, occupations, smashing up the leading party’s headquarters. This is the exception to a norm of one-day bureaucratically staged strikes. What does this mean for class consciousness in Britain?

Another interesting aspect that MG illuminates is the fact that the party has replaced ‘class’ with ‘party’, and ‘party’ with ‘leadership’. This is not the result of some reading of Lukacs or Lenin as some comrades outside/inside the party have started to argue. Its material roots can be traced back to the low level of class struggle, a neoliberal offensive and a party cadre which sees the party as ‘theirs’ and ‘their’ party as a revolving door rather than a home for the revolutionary left.

I have come to the conclusions that a revolutionary party such as the SWP can no longer base itself on the mantra of state capitalism (as important as it is to me). Even when we have people who agree with us on state capitalism (Rees, German etc) we split with them. So it burns down to a question of perspectives, revolutionary trust and the tenet of socialism from below. That said, we will have some fluxions ahead with splits, re-alignments and mergers.  

As MG rightly points out the CC’s insists on defining itself by difference. In doing so, it has made the fatal mistake already Marx warned about in the Manifesto. “They [The Communists] have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.”

Comrade Layla

The Fault Lines - Update

This should be read alongside our original statement.

Since this blog went up a few days ago we have generated interest, questions and criticism.  Here we would like to explain a little more about the blog and touch on a few topics raised.  Before that though, we would like to thank all those who have sent and posted messages of solidarity and support to the blog.  It was not an easy decision for us to make but we feel it was the correct decision.

This has thrown open accusations that we are stooges.  For the record, the editors of this blog are members of the SWP and one comrade who left the party after the recent special conference.  Until we post under our names you will have to give us benefit of the doubt.

The editors of this blog have decided for the moment to remain anonymous; the likelihood of immediate expulsion hangs over us if we weren’t.  Ideally we would like this not to be the case, we hope to be able to use our names in the near future.  It is unfortunate that this is the case but represents the current state of a party that emphasises discipline over debate.

Our motive is not to sabotage the SWP, to get people to leave or to try and form a faction around The Fault Lines blog. 

There are disagreements within the organisation around many issues, including the leadership, the political culture and the general direction of the party.  So if there is a difference of opinion, how do we hear it?  How do comrades go about telling people they are unhappy without being frozen out of their branches? What happens if they’re isolated in a branch away from any locale of ‘opposition’, who do they talk to?  Are we expected to keep quiet until October and then, like a jack-in-a-box, spring up with fully formed arguments and perspectives?

We want to open up debate and arguments to the wider membership of the party.  After special conference 2013 we were promised to have a space to discuss and debate the differences of opinion within the party.  This has failed to happen in any workable sense.  The ISJ has been ‘opened up’ to have the arguments but the timeframe and nature of this debate deems them unfit for this purpose.  We need to openly have these discussions now.

This is why we created the blog.  There are questions being raised within the SWP. The Fault Lines is a place where everyone can hear and participate in the debates.

The editors of this blog are united in their opposition to the way the leadership have handled the crisis and the direction the party is heading.  We also believe that without quick, serious change the SWP will no longer be any vehicle for working class struggle.
However we don’t necessarily agree in totality how we go forwards, or our individual analysis of what went so badly wrong.  We want to replicate this in the submissions to the blog.  

It is important to note that guest posts do not necessarily represent the position of the blog and its editors;  this blog is a space for comrades to submit articles which we feel are important or add to the debate.  We also welcome submissions as replies to posts that have been published.  We encourage comrades to use their names rather than pseudonyms although until we are also open about who we are, we understand the need for anonymity.

We would also like to encourage use of the comments section under each post.  This would be a great place for comrades to discuss articles and bring their own thoughts to the subject.

We hope that The Fault Lines serves a purpose in opening up the debate to all comrades, no matter your location or contacts.  There is no reason to keep quiet.

The Fault Lines editors

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Building in FE – What we did wrong

This is a guest post by Baaria13

*References to location of colleges, universities and names have been redacted so as to protect privacy and a backlash from the leadership*

I hope this blog can be a discussion of political perspectives and wider ideological questions on topics the CC would rather avoid debate on. However organisational matters are important too because it’s become increasingly clear that there were serious flaws in student strategy and general approach to young comrades in the recent period, it’s positive that a discussion is opening up but absent from that has been a reflection of the issues outside HE. Here I’ll be focusing specifically on FE, I’ll be reflecting what the problems of recent party strategy in the SWP have been, focusing largely on the failure to recognise FE as having different conditions to HE and therefore the absence of a separate plan to tackle that, the party’s dismissive attitude to FE is symbolised in the CC IB submission on student work that includes absolutely no mention of FE. This piece is based on my own experiences of organising at my college. Other FE comrades or activists may have had different experiences and different ideas to bring; I hope this piece can open up a discussion amongst all concerned with youth work.  

The HE formula doesn’t work in FE

Party strategy on FE included almost solely of ‘set up a group, have meetings’. The nature of HE is that students all live within a proximity of each other (either on campus or near enough) making holding a meeting much more practically convenient.  Whereas FE students at larger colleges tend to come from far and wide, it’s not unusual that at big colleges only a tiny number of activists live near the centre of the town/college, all others are likely to come from outlying villages, neighbouring towns and estates that require two buses or more buses to reach. Therefore meaning holding a meeting outside school hours is virtually impossible and holding them in school hours is difficult as short lunch breaks are the only time available.

Furthermore, this is just trying to impose the HE formula without looking at the specific nature of FE. Namely that FE is shorter than university (a whole year less) meaning even if a successful branch is built, those at the heart of it have left college just as it gets off the ground, leaving less experienced first years (if there are any in said group) to take full lead. The biggest and most important SWSS groups today (including the ones that have been driven out) are lead by experienced comrades in those universities with high ideological levels and years in the party. The idea that running those groups be left to new recruits from the first year with a still developing level of politics is completely unrealistic, yet this is what was expected at FE. 

No real Strategy for raising the political level specifically in FE 

Universities are naturally more ideologically charged places and new recruits to SWSS are often familiar with much of our ideological positions and in a position to contribute from the off. Whereas in FE, those we’re seeking to reach out to are likely to be newly radicalised and coming to politics for the first time due to the age differentials. For example, at the local HE SWSS group, the recruits from freshers (that I know of) were two comrades that had long been involved in struggles and activism in their respective areas. Both were familiar with Marxism and social movements more generally. Whereas at my college, all the recruits were new to activism and had no grounding in Marxist theory. 

This isn’t a problem so long as there’s a clear discussion about how we can raise the political level of new comrades that acknowledges the lower starting point in comparison to those in HE.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any acknowledgement of this issue by the leadership and it has meant the petering out of SWSS groups in FE.

A flawed strategy of how to reach out to FE i.e. placing the emphasis on branch  

A decision was taken last year to scrap the role of a national FE organiser because of the difficulty of working separate to SWSS more generally, this was largely the right decision but the leaderships alternative has proved disastrous.  The alternative was to place the burden of building in FE on local branches. This has been the wrong approach firstly, because branch comrades that work have little time in their day to reach out to FE students on top of their other political work. Secondly because even if they try then how can they relate to the experiences of 17 year olds? They can try but surely other young people would be better placed to do that? A senior comrade in my local branch thankfully ignored this stupid plan and instead encouraged me to introduce FE students to the local SWSS meetings at the local uni rather than branch meetings in town.

All in all, writing this critique of SWP strategy in FE would’ve been a lot easier had there been a strategy at all, the truth is that our ‘interventionist party’ has no plan whatsoever of how to intervene in FE beyond telling older branch comrades to give out leaflets emailed in party notes outside local colleges (ignoring of course that these people have jobs to go to, or that 17 year olds aren’t likely to jump with revolutionary fervour after being given a flyer by a 50 year old they’ve never met).  For all the rhetoric about ‘punching above our weight’, the reality is that the leadership hasn’t bothered punching at all in FE presumably because they simply don’t care, that’s the main criticism of the SWP view of FE.