No man can stop me!

Consider, if you will, that seminal work “Lost in America” by the great Alice Cooper:

I can’t get a girl cos I ain’t got a car
I can’t get a car cos I ain’t got a job
I can’t get a job cos I ain’t got a car
So I’m lookin’ for a girl with a job and a car

Later on Alice expatiates a bit about how he can’t go to school cos he ain’t got a gun, but you get the drift. The important thing is the method. Alice takes a cold, sober, rational look at his problems and comes up with a realistic solution. And that really is the only way to proceed if you want to get anywhere.

Which brings me to the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party, who really should be taking a cold, sober look at their problems about now, and considering what to do next. It’s been, all things considered, a terrible year for the comrades, topped off by their electoral spanking at the top of the month. One would hope that our scientific Marxists would at least reach the level of rationality set by Alice Cooper.

All right, so from the narrow sectarian viewpoint of building up the SWP’s organisational strength, Respect would have been looking like a bad idea even a year ago. The rationale for it would have been that you have to sacrifice the possibility of recruiting relatively small numbers to the org in the short term, in favour of the possibility of building something bigger and better which will benefit the org big time in the longer term. It’s a compelling argument. But then you look at a situation where a good chunk of the SWP cadre was quietly boycotting Respect, and another good chunk had gone native within Respect, with all that that implies for a loss of cohesion in what used to be a remarkably disciplined group. And that’s before the nuclear button was pressed, and alliances that had taken years to build up were sacrificed on the altar of Rees’ pique.

If I was on the CC, I would be strongly considering the benefits of sending Rees and German on extended gardening leave. It’s probably the case that, were Papa Smurf still alive, Rees would have been busted down to the ranks like shit through a goose. But in the post-Cliff era, even if John and Lindsey are considered irreparably damaged goods in their role as Mr and Mrs Broad Coalition, some face-saving formula will need to be found. The overriding instinct of the CC, honed over many years, is to present a united face in front of the children.

In any case, a breach in CC unity is most unlikely because, well, who would step up to the mark? At this point, more traditionalist Swips will grumble into their beer and hope that the Harmanator will swing into action. They’ve been waiting a long time, and I suspect will go to their graves waiting. As for Lord Callinicos, he’s too busy looking after his super-duper academic career and appearing on The Moral Maze. And even the most hardened cadre might quake at the prospect of a Martin Smith regime. Personally, I’ve never had any problem with Martin, but then I’m not afraid of him.

More to the point will be a discussion about what to do next. Reespect is at the end of the road as a serious venture, although there will, I imagine, be continued electoral interventions on a localised scale. Again, this will be covered by face-saving bluster along “We are the real Respect” lines. But the retreat is unmistakeable. Likewise, although antiwar sentiment still exists on a mass scale, you can’t disguise the fact that STW is in decline. There are few structures or sustained activities for anyone to get involved in, just the big set-piece marches in central London, which themselves are tending to shrink.

There’s been some talk about a turn to industry. This leaves me scratching my head a little, as Britain has little industry left – schoolteachers don’t count – and the organised labour movement is still extremely quiescent. A turn to the unions, perhaps, and that would be a good idea. But it would require targeted long-term work, rather than any expectation that Big Gains will be right around the corner, if only the comrades show sufficient enthusiasm.

What is likely to happen – and there’s evidence of this already – is a big swing towards anti-Nazi activity, particularly with Barnbrook’s election to the GLA. Well worth doing, in principle, although we’ll have to see how it works out in practice. The appeal of this is not only that it gives the comrades something to do in the immediate term, but also because it draws on the SWP’s libertyvalanced version of its own history. According to this, the Swips have unique expertise and authority when it comes to anti-Nazi work. Perhaps more temptingly, the ANL has gone down in this history as the vehicle whereby the SWP built its cadre. This is a bit partial, in that in the mid-70s the IS had a substantial industrial cadre, large layers of whom were expelled by Cliff. It is however true that the ANL was invaluable in building a new, replacement cadre.

More generally, I think we’ll see a general turn back to the colleges and the yoof. There’s been a little of this in Scotland over the past year: since the Scotchie Swips failed to coast into Holyrood on the back of the Tangerine Man’s charisma, they’ve pragmatically (but not formally) turned away from Solidarity and towards their old MO. That means, establishing a regular stream of recruits via SWSS, while recruiting adults in ones and twos from strikes and demos. It’s a familiar approach, and one that will be deeply attractive to disoriented cadre.

There will be pitfalls along the way, of course. For a start, the org is a lot weaker than it was in the nineties. For another, there is stiff competition. No longer are the Yo Brigade the hegemonic force to the left of New Labour. Just to take the colleges, Militant have been growing quite a bit in recent years by recruiting in the colleges, and have done so basically by way of doing the sort of activity the Swips used to do. Having once deprioritised what used to be the major source of warm bodies, it may be difficult for them to reestablish themselves in this ecological niche.

I’m sure, of course, that there will be a lot of chest-beating, pontification about the period, damning of The Traitor Galloway and loud declarations of the membership’s faith in the wisdom of the CC. But the actual choices ahead are limited, and will have to be made on a pragmatic basis.

12 Comments

  1. Lobby Ludd said,

    May 24, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    There is so much that can be said about the SWP right now, so to kick things off:

    That’s a fucking stupid beard, isn’t it.

  2. Lobby Ludd said,

    May 24, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    And a ‘slap me’ face.

  3. Lobby Ludd said,

    May 24, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    And magical politics.

  4. Martin Wisse said,

    May 25, 2008 at 9:18 am

    One sallient criticism I heard from a veteran SWPer, some years before the current Respect debacle, was that the SWP’s leaders were stuck in 1973, so to speak. There does seem to have been a lot of chasing after rainbows by the party over the past decade or so, hopping from one big case to another, through anti-capitalism, Stop the War, Socialist Alliance, Respect, etc. with each in its turn supposed to bring the long awaited breakthrough.

  5. anglonoel said,

    May 26, 2008 at 7:02 am

    Retreating to the campuses and their old haunts might be attempted by the SWP. However, the world (and Far Left) moves on. The WRP (Newsline) faction now try and sell their paper on Saturdays where the SWP used to a few years back on Kilburn High Road (and I’ve seen posters for WRP meetings/socials in the area too). The way thngs are going in the political mainstream, surely the front page of “Socialist Worker” the day of the next General Election will be that rave from the grave: “Vote Labour But Build The Fighting Socialist Alternative!”

  6. Duncan Money said,

    May 26, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Unfortunately I think we’re in for another bout of placard waving silliness as well, with lots of shouting, demands for the ‘Nazi BNP’ to be smashed and an absolute refusal to engage with the problems and the political vacuum which has allowed the BNP to grow.

    Possibly this will be combined with some sort of Anti Nazi League Mk III, one local longstanding SWP members told me recently that they still pay subs to the ANL and someone dug out loads of those old ANL lollipops for the short march up to Love Music Hate Racism.

  7. harpymarx said,

    May 26, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Lobby Ludd: “That’s a fucking stupid beard, isn’t it.”

    And sartorially speaking, whatta f*cking awful shirt. Ah, fashion, just as important as politics…

  8. IST-bot said,

    May 26, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    Once the SWP decides on a new organizational routine, this line will very quickly be mimicked by the satellite groups in the IST. It’s quite amazing how vacuous the leadership of the satellite groups are, *always* leaving the thinking up to the mother ship.

  9. Lobby Ludd said,

    May 27, 2008 at 12:03 am

    “And sartorially speaking, whatta f*cking awful shirt.”

    Possibly, I didn’t pay it much attention. To be fair to the guy – a shirt, well it was clean, not his favourite but needs must. Kind of understandable.

    What is inexcusable is the fucking stupid beard. He puts time and effort into it. Offensive on so many counts.

    (It’s a fair few wasted hours of potential paper sales for a start – how does he make up the time?)

  10. WorldbyStorm said,

    May 27, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Have to say on the topic of beards I’m always reminded of the scene in the Tintin story “The Red Sea Sharks” where Captain Haddock is imprisoned in a ships cabin by some human traffickers. As they’re locking him in one of them asks… and I paraphrase…

    “Just before I leave you here is something to think about tonight. Do you sleep with the beard under or out of the covers?”

    Cue a sleepless night for Haddock as he discovers he’s unable to decide which it is…

    Rees, of course, sleeping the sleep of the just would have no such problems…

  11. Culture Vulture said,

    May 29, 2008 at 1:34 am

    Ah yes, the beard. I rather suspect it’s an attempt to emulate a certain VI Lenin, as though looking like a proper revolutionary leader will make up for the fact that he isn’t one. I’m sure he thinks the image it generates makes up for the lost paper selling time.

  12. Shutterbug said,

    June 21, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Shutterbug!!!


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