Trouble at the top: The SWP’s palace coup

Remember the Left Alternative? Okay, maybe not. The Left Alternative, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is the current incarnation of the post-split Reespect/Left List/Left Party that did so well in the May elections. You remember, when Lindsey German came so close to winning a seat on the GLA? No? Still drawing a blank?

This puts you in the good company of many Socialist Workers Party members, who have been asking themselves “Whatever happened to the Left Alternative?” And so it has come to pass that in the latest Party Notes – made available to us, as so often, via Andy’s good offices – that Martin Smith seeks to enlighten the cadre. Martin sez:

We want to avoid if possible any bruising election contests. We should only decide to stand on a case by case basis.

The Left Alternative should push its supporters into arenas like the Charter, PSNPP and support left candidates in their campaigns.

It should be reduced to minimal, but still existing, role.

This needs to be reviewed regularly because this situation could change very quickly.

So the LA is going to be a parked front, much like Globalise Resistance, kept just about ticking over in case there’s a need to dust it off again. This makes sense. Since the election debacle, practically all the SWP’s allies – who weren’t too numerous to begin with – have flaked off. The four Tower Hamlets councillors have gone, three to New Labour and one to the Tories. Kumar Murshid has gone. The very able Sait Akgul seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. And the SWP itself doesn’t have the membership or the money to keep a halfway serious electoral intervention going under its own steam.

Martin also expatiates a little on changes in the office, the context of which is supplied by a Left Alternative bulletin:

The officers of the Left Alternative are sad to have to inform our members of the resignations of John Rees and Lindsey German from the officers group and National Council. However, they remain members of the Left Alternative.

John and Lindsey have been tireless members of the officers group and National Council since the inception of Respect. As National Secretary, John has provided consistent judgment and direction in the most difficult political circumstances, while Lindsey has been our inspirational Mayoral candidate in the GLA elections in both 2004 and 2008.

The National Council, at its meeting on 6th September, agreed a unanimous vote of thanks to John and Lindsey for everything they have done for our organisation. We are proud to have them as members of the Left Alternative and look forward to continuing to work with them in campaigns from Stop the War to the People before Profit Charter.

Martin continues:

5) Transition
a) Chris B to remain on the steering committee until the October conference.
b) Charlie K and Martin S to go onto the LA steering committee at the conference.
c) In the run up to October conference the CC should discuss who should oversee the LA work after the conference. In the meantime, Chris, Charlie and Martin can both oversee the work and be the CC point of contact.
d) Alex or Chris H will introduce caucus on the Friday before the NC.

What does this mean? Well, the obvious inference is that there has been a coup on the CC at the expense of the Power Couple, and that jazzboy Martin has been the prime mover behind it. And now was as good a time as any, since their power rested, particularly in Rees’ case, in his heading up of the electoral front, a front that’s now moribund. And this palace coup appears to be backed by all the heavy hitters on the CC, including the party’s two theoreticians, Harman and Callinicos.

My first reaction to this is, about fucking time. The period of Rees’ ascendancy has been one long lurch from disaster to disaster, with occasional flashes of potential in between. In this tragic-comic situation, the tragic part is that, in fact, it’s been John and Lindsey who’ve been associated with attempts to break out of the old sectist rut and turn towards some type of united front politics. Unfortunately, they’ve been congenitally unable to make that work. The trouble with united front or coalition politics is that, in the nature of things, you’re going to be working with people to your right, and that creates liquidationist or opportunist pressures. Those pressures are an inevitable overhead, and it’s a matter of taste as to whether you think them a price worth paying for the sake of a possible, but far from inevitable, future as the revolutionary wing of a much bigger movement. Hence the pressures from those who preferred the certainties of the old-style SWP politics, and hence John and Lindsey making openings to other forces, and then ruining it all by the most crass manipulation, or by seeking to square the circle by promising enormous gains right around the corner. You know the phrase, hoist by your own petard? This is a good illustration of what it means.

So that helps explain the SWP’s spotty track record over the last ten years. They went into the Socialist Alliance, then smashed it up for the chance of something bigger and shinier called Respect. They built Respect into something with real potential, then smashed that up for the sake of Rees’ amour propre. They took their members into the Scottish Socialist Party, a hugely positive move, then bore direct culpability for its failure – as there’s no way the Tangerine Man could have got away with doing what he did without the unstinting support of the SWP. You want to know why nobody wants to work with the SWP these days? It’s called experience.

Then, of course, there’s the character of Rees himself. People who have known him for very many years, and at much closer quarters than myself, have told me they never trusted him. Certainly, there have been strong criticisms of his leadership qualities for a long time. In fact, even his elevation to the CC wasn’t unanimously popular. I stick to my position that he’s basically a high-functioning sociopath, and would further point out his tremendous vanity, which explains the explosive reaction when Galloway suggested he could do with someone to work alongside him. His ability to switch from being utterly charming when you’re of use to him, to petulant and spiteful if you get in his way, gives you some clues as to why he’s quite good at putting an alliance together, but a fucking liability if you want to keep one together. So his eventual defenestration shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

So, what now? The first thing you notice is that this has all taken place on the CC level, and if there was any consultation of the membership I’ve missed it. A week ago, any rank-and-file cadre who criticised Rees would have been accused of disloyalty. And so it might be again, once he regains favour. There are, of course, a few things to be tidied up. There is an SWP conference at the turn of the year, which will require a line to be agreed on for the IBs, and a slate for the incoming CC. And John, assuming he stays on the CC, will have to be found a job that will keep him occupied without allowing him to do too much damage. Perhaps he’ll get the SWP’s traditional equivalent of Siberia, being put in charge of the bookstall while he serves out his penance.

If the CC were smart, they would initiate an open discussion amongst the membership as to what’s gone wrong. This is unlikely, as the outcome might be unpredictable. They should also try building bridges to the former allies – and former members – who Rees and German have so royally pissed off over the years. This is also unlikely, as it might involve a loss of face for the infallible leadership.

One thing that’s clear is that the Left Alternative is a dead parrot. Let’s be blunt, a leadership of Martin Smith, Charlie Kimber and Chris Bambery is not designed to be attractive to the punters. What’s most likely is a return to the pre-1997 modus operandi of building a standalone sect through paper sales and agitprop campaigns, with the bulk of recruitment coming through SWSS and adults being recruited in ones and twos from strikes and demos. This is an attractive model to SWP old-timers, and from the apparatchik’s point of view – or, to put it another way, from Martin Smith’s point of view – would be the most sensible way to proceed. There is one big problem, which is that the SWP is about a fifth of the size that it was ten years ago, which would tend to cramp its style a little. But yeah, that’s probably what we’ll see happen.

In the meantime, let us pause a moment and pay tribute to John and Lindsey, who might for a while have considered themselves modern Britain’s answer to Lenin and Krupskaya. It would take a heart of stone not to piss yourself laughing.

60 Comments

  1. andy newman said,

    September 11, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    The intersting thing is how much Rees and German were like second division versions of Cliff.

    Cliff was also both charming and ruthless, but he was much more charming, and also would be prepared to knife you while looking you in the eye and still smiling.

    Tis meant that his behaviour – in retrospect as erratic as Rees’s – did not make him unpopuar.

    And then there is the question of talent … …

  2. ejh said,

    September 11, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Some caveats of various strength:

    1. They built Respect into something with real potential

    This is almost certainly not true. Its potential was for getting Gorgeous elected, which he was: but what was its potential beyond that? Given that the mass radicalisation of the people who were supposed to be radicalised – upon which the whole project was predicated – had not in fact happened?

    2. and would further point out his tremendous vanity, which explains the explosive reaction when Galloway suggested he could do with someone to work alongside him

    This may or may not be true, but the subject of the second clause would serve very well as the subject of the first as well (and indeed of most of the whole paragraph).

    3. the latest Party Notes – made available to us, as so often, via Andy’s good offices

    I have grave objections to Andy Newman’s habit of publishing other people’s confidential documents. I can understand why somebody might wish to do this, and I can easily think of conditions where publishing a confidential document would be a public service. However, it’s absolutely incompatible with any conception of fraternal discussion, which point is not remotely hard to grasp: but put it this way, if someone were to publish Andy Newman’s expressly private correspondence I doubt he would consider them anything other than hostile. Then again, the question “how would I feel if I were on the receiving end?” is not a question some people ask themselves.

    4. In general, I think it’s a discussion about irrelevancies. It’s worth talking about a bit, not least because it involves a lot of people’s pasts, and pasts are interesting to discuss for a variety of reasons including the acquisition of experience. But we’re basically talking about a style and analysis of politics which doesn’t have a lot of purchase in the contemporary world: if the people presently in charge of one such organisation made mess of it, it probably doesn’t follow that there was some way of making a success of it. Indeed, from a longdistance point of view, one reasons why there’s so much thrashing about, changing of lines, creation of new organisations and so on, is that they’re trying to make something work that keeps not working and isn’t going to work. It’s not the two individuals you mention, however many mistakes they may have made: it’s not their party, however ditto: it’s it, the thing, res ipsa. It has its merits and its demerits, both substantial, but what it doesn’t have is anywhere to go.

    One point of agreement (I don’t mean to say I have only one):

    If the CC were smart, they would initiate an open discussion amongst the membership as to what’s gone wrong.

    Well indeed. This discussion would (as I said a few days ago) be easier to have if they didn’t have other people screaming at them – but it would be a useful one if it could be arranged. But of course it shouldn’t need to be arranged, it should happen as a matter of course.

  3. Liam said,

    September 11, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    There is now a significant choice to be made. The comrades can party like it’s 1998 or they can look at the fact that Respect provided a space in which socialists could work with working class people in some of the poorest parts of England and the fact that it had just started to achieve a critical mass in terms of numbers, elected representatives and a national profile.

    That space still exists.

  4. harpymarx said,

    September 11, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    “Perhaps he’ll get the SWP’s traditional equivalent of Siberia, being put in charge of the bookstall while he serves out his penance.”

    Not Coventry then?

  5. harpymarx said,

    September 11, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    “If the CC were smart, they would initiate an open discussion amongst the membership as to what’s gone wrong. This is unlikely, as the outcome might be unpredictable.”

    Yes, I see the need and the logic for that Splintered. It makes sense but as you the outcome might be unpredictable (pesky members…) But if you want a healthy functioning org. then surely that’s what you would do, initiate discussions, build bridges and so on. And I agree with what you say about the track record such as the desperation in taking over the show then ditching it in favour for something better.
    It is never about building a pluralist, open and transparent org. it is instead based on ye olde top down decision making cult of personality and control freakery along with democratic centralism and party discipline. All a recipe for complete disaster.

  6. Andy newman said,

    September 11, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    ejh

    Party Notes is nominally an “internal” document. It is not any any stretch of the imagination a confidential document.

    It is broadcast by e-mail indiscriminately to a large number of people, some of whom have never been members of the SWP, some of whom have left the SWP, some of whom have even asked to be taken off the SWP’s contact list!

    BUt you do of course have a serious point, that there should be a presumption towards respecting privacy in order to allow people to communicate with fear of being embarrassed

    But of course the SWP do not have a meaningful private debate and over certian issues their critical mass means there activites affect the rest of us and so are of wider interest – so there is a “public interest” in selectively quoting them.

  7. charliemarks said,

    September 12, 2008 at 12:48 am

    Can I do my hippy bit and wish that we can all be cool and can work together and like, cease bitching about each other,cause that’s like really heavy, man….

  8. ejh said,

    September 12, 2008 at 7:05 am

    Critical mass #1:

    over certian issues their critical mass means there (sic) activites affect the rest of us and so are of wider interest – so there is a “public interest” in selectively quoting them.

    Mmmm, but I thought they were down about a fifth of their previous numbers so if their critical mass is of such relative weight, it doesn’t say much for the rest of us. But the point remains that you have to choose between publishing what people wish to be confidential, and remaining on good terms with them. As long as people are aware they’re making that choice, then of course they must do as they see fit.

    Critical mass #2:

    the fact that it had just started to achieve a critical mass in terms of numbers, elected representatives and a national profile

    It’s really hard to see that this is true in any other way than is represented by the assumption that “Respect” means “George Galloway”.

  9. September 12, 2008 at 8:09 am

    good article … can’t wait for the next copy of the Spart’s Workers Vanguard with the headline “Wither Healyism” … ;-)

  10. Phil said,

    September 12, 2008 at 8:10 am

    I don’t think that last comment is justified. RESPECT only had one MP, just like they only had one one Salma Yaqoob, one Mark Steel, one Ken Loach and one Tower Hamlets – but you can’t get from zero to many without going through ‘one’. I’m not taking a view on ‘critical mass’ – what sort of explosion are we talking about? – but I do think progress had been made and has been squandered.

  11. ejh said,

    September 12, 2008 at 8:50 am

    but you can’t get from zero to many without going through ‘one’

    No*, but there’s really not many reasons for thinking they would get to “many”. Galloway’s success in sizeable contradiction to results and events elsewhere. Aforesaid radicalisation failed to happen. Small bubble bursts, not many hurt.

    [Actually "yes", of course, since you might have ten MPs elected at your first General Election rather than nine fewer than that figure. But I suppose we could argue that one of them must count as the first. ]

  12. Mike said,

    September 12, 2008 at 9:48 am

    While I agree with much of Splintys analysis of the coup and his understanding of where the SWP will be going (nowhere) under the leadership of ‘former Labourite’ Martin Smith I disagree with his view of the Socialist Alliance (sic) and Respect. The problems I have with both groupings is that they rerpresent substitutionist attempts to bypass the working class or to reach it via opportunist short cuts. Crime never pays in communist politics!

    Lets face facts the Socialist Alliance was never going to grow into a mass force. A collection of left groups might well have been able to develop a half decent electoral campaign but in the long term it could not locate a base for itself within the working classes. For the good reason that such a potential base did not and does not exist. Moreover should such potential exist the lack of unity on perspectives would always condemn the misbegotten alliance to collapse at the first real test..

    As for the ludicrous concept of the United Front sui generis dreamt up by Callinicos to justify the Socialist Alliance it has been retired. Damage has however been done to the SWP’s understanding of this crucial tactic as can be seen in Joseph Choonaras deeply misconcieved article on the United Front that turns what has always been seen as a tactical conception of working with forces to the right of the revolutionary tendency into a ‘strategy’. In other words a method of working is erected into a ‘strategy’ that must overshadow all other tactics in the building of a revolutionary tendency.

    As for Respect the populist, if not so popular, Coalition it was never going to find a hearing amongst the mass of the working classes. Surely it was always an obvious fact that the mass of the working classes cannot be reached through an electoral base amongst one of the most oppressed groups within the working classes as a whole, the Sylhetis of East Lonndon, but must be reached through the long term development of roots withiin the most combative and organised sections of the class? Obviously not for the master strategists of the SWP or for those fools who persist in claiming that an electoral party to the left of Labour can be built prior to a qualitiative rise in the level of struggle of wide layers of the working classes.

    But then has it not always been a Marxian conception of the need for a New Mass Workers Party that is missing on the part of the existing left groups? Lack of such a conception leading inevitably to substitutionist adventures such as Respect or dead end propaganda fronts such as the CNWP. Far better to concentrate on sininking roots within the class and educating a cadre in scientific socialism. But for the SWP such a turn would entail the drawing up of a balance sheet that would indict not just Rees-German but also ‘ former Labourite’ Martin Smith as well as Chris Bambery, etc.

  13. HarrodsisBurning said,

    September 12, 2008 at 10:02 am

    “Respect provided a space in which socialists could work with working class people in some of the poorest parts of England and the fact that it had just started to achieve a critical mass in terms of numbers, elected representatives and a national profile”

    Liam – it’s perfectly fine to reinvent other people’s history; what’s annoying is when you reinvent your own. If Respect was going so brilliantly until a year ago, then why had membership halved, why was the sainted Andy Newman opposed to it? And, more to the point, why did you go to the trouble of posting so publicly that you had left and had no intention to rejoin?

    Respect’s moment of glory was Galloway’s Senate speech. Depressingly, it was pretty well downhill all the way from there. That’s why you left. It’s why Galloway was prepared to risk a split with the SWP, and why the SWP were prepare to play tightrop walker with him. Both knew that unless something radical changed, Respect was already dying.

    I’m sure it’s possible to invent a vision of Respect in which a group of independent leftists who had entered Respect from the Socialist Alliance would have got on with Galloway and young and radical Muslims would have continued to co-exist in a party with people like Abjol Miah – but the fact that these tensions were unbridgeable is amply demonstrated by the disappearance of Respect Renewal in which all these groups are supposedly present (without the SWP to destablise them).

    The SWP has shrunk in the same time from being a small mass party to being not much bigger than the biggest of the sects. Renewal, judging by the local activities breathlessly reported on its website, doesn’t exist at all.

  14. ejh said,

    September 12, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Crime never pays in communist politics!

    I can think of a few examples that might argue to the contrary…

  15. September 12, 2008 at 10:38 am

    [...] Trouble at the top: The SWP’s palace coup auf Splintered [...]

  16. Darren said,

    September 12, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Mike,

    ” ‘ former Labourite’ Martin Smith”

    You wrote that twice in your comment. Are you going to just dangle that titbit in front of us, or are we going to sample the main course?

  17. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 12, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Following on from Mike, I am reminded of the late John Sullivan’s take on the coup against Healy in the WRP. Which was that all these charges against Healy might be true, but what had he done to annoy Mike Banda?

    What you’ve got here is a leadership as a whole that’s deeply implicated in what’s gone before. Martin Smith was happy enough to act as Rees’ hatchet man. Ditto Chris Bambery. Even the Harmanator, who managed to stay at arms’ length from Respect, was still pushed into writing that idiotic ISJ article where it was painfully obvious he didn’t know what he was talking about.

    I’m afraid that this Ides of March has more to do with internal power relations than any rethinking of strategy. And power in the small world of the SWP may not be much, but it’s not nothing. I remember Alex Callinicos’ ancestor Lord Acton had a good quip on the subject.

    By the way, as Mike has pointed out on SU, in making it known that they resigned under duress Rees and German are in clear breach of party discipline. Will they fight their corner, will the CC majority take action, or will the considerations of the leadership clique hanging together win out?

  18. John Palmer said,

    September 12, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Most – if not all – of the comments above are a fair and accurate summation of the crisis in the SWP. I take exception, however, with the read over from the Socialist Alliance and Respect into the SSP. Frankly, as between Tommy Sheridan and Rupert Murdoch, I have not doubt where I stand or any principlled socialist should stand. But the fact that the SSP, Resepct, the SA etc etc have all blown up is telling us something very important. Actually it is telling us quite a lot. One of those things the utter incompatability between efforts to operate under the model of 1917 Bolshevik democratic centralism with the goal of building a broad, “catholic” left which might appeal to a wide range of constituencies marginalised by the Blairisation of social democracy. There is an even deeper problem, I fear, which is the massive transformation of class consciousness (“a class for itself”) which has occured in my lifetime. It raises problems of agency for any project aimed at social transformation which needs a lot of very focussed attention for the left which it is not getting at present.

  19. ejh said,

    September 12, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    And power in the small world of the SWP may not be much, but it’s not nothing. I remember Alex Callinicos’ ancestor Lord Acton had a good quip on the subject.

    Hmm, but we’re a bit short of “absolute” here, though, aren’t we?

    There is an even deeper problem, I fear, which is the massive transformation of class consciousness (“a class for itself”) which has occurred in my lifetime.

    Now this is the point and it is a point which no amount of correct lines or even healthy organisational forms will help us overcome, though they might at least help us see it more clearly.

    By the way that probably should have been ipsum above, shouldn’t it?

  20. Andy newman said,

    September 12, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Jhn Palmer

    “Actually it is telling us quite a lot. One of those things the utter incompatability between efforts to operate under the model of 1917 Bolshevik democratic centralism with the goal of building a broad, “catholic” left which might appeal to a wide range of constituencies marginalised by the Blairisation of social democracy. There is an even deeper problem, I fear, which is the massive transformation of class consciousness (”a class for itself”) which has occured in my lifetime. It raises problems of agency for any project aimed at social transformation which needs a lot of very focussed attention for the left which it is not getting at present.”

    Well said that man!

  21. skidmarx said,

    September 12, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    “Respect’s moment of glory was Galloway’s Senate speech”
    Even that wasn’t so glorious. The senators seemed more bemused by Galloway rather than befuddled by his brilliance in eluding their plan to get him. He had one fairly good pre-prepared quote about meeting Saddam as often as Rumsfeld, and one amusing bitch at a recumbent Christopher Hitchens.
    “Even the Harmanator, was still pushed into writing that idiotic ISJ article”
    This means little more than that you disagreed with it.
    ” I am reminded of the late John Sullivan’s take on the coup against Healy in the WRP.
    Get some perspective. Rob Hoveman told me once that when Alan Thornett was about to leave the WRP to form the Weasels, he was called in to see Healy, who was sat behind a desk with a thug on either side. He asked Alan if it was true that he was supporting an opposition faction in the WRP. Thornett denied it. That’s good, said Healy, “if you ever want to see your wife and kids again”, to Thornett, who had been working as a security guard on the WRP printworks as well as working at the Cowley car plant.
    ” in making it known that they resigned under duress Rees and German are in clear breach of party discipline.”
    Haven’t you got anything better to worry about?

  22. ejh said,

    September 12, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    If we’re doing Hoveman/Thornett related trivia, I once saw the latter strike the former outside a meeting. But this was many, many years ago, before most of us were born.

  23. Richard Searle said,

    September 12, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    #13. “Renewal, judging by the local activities breathlessly reported on its website, doesn’t exist at all.”

    You must know something we don’t. Thanks for pointing out that I and the other 43 members of the Manchester Respect don’t exist. This has obviously come as shock to me. We shall have to send something to members around on our google group to that effect.

    Prehaps Cde Harrods you could illuminate us with your record of actually exisiting success.

    Cde Splinty, you’re invited to the Convention of the Left in Manchester. Your observations would be insightful

  24. Andy Newman said,

    September 12, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    in Oxford?

  25. ejh said,

    September 12, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    On Echo Beach.

  26. Mike said,

    September 12, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    John Palmer wrote “There is an even deeper problem, I fear, which is the massive transformation of class consciousness (”a class for itself”) which has occured in my lifetime. It raises problems of agency for any project aimed at social transformation which needs a lot of very focussed attention for the left which it is not getting at present.”

    A fairly common observation in my experience but one that needs to be said more often. For me however despite the changed composition of the working classes in this country the class as a whole remains the only agency able to transoform this society. In whicvh case a return to the basic ideas of building a socialist group within the working classes and in the workplaces is a neccesity.

    The idea I mention above is one that I very much doubt that ‘former Labourite’ Martin Smith has ever subsricbed to. At least not if his pamphlet on the so called Awkward Squad and his actions as Industrial Organiser of the SWP are anything to judge by.

    And unless and until we can regain some footholds in the workplaces as opposed to the union execs where many Trots now reside well until then electoral adventures and silly populist unity projects will continue to fall on their rather ugly faces.

  27. Ondine said,

    September 13, 2008 at 12:36 am

    Yeah, but Mike, the problem with “educating a cadre in scientific socialism”, is that if you do that outside of the actually existing class struggle and struggle of other oppressed groups, you will create nothing but useless dogmatists who have no idea how to operate outside petty-bourgeois sectariana. To give an example, Socialist Alternative in Australia is trying to do as you suggest, and they have built themselves into a rather large sect, but have absolutely zero impact outside the tiny minority of over-educated under-employed whose major social outlet is going on demos.

    The essential question for the left in all parts of the world is whether you are right that it is impossible to build a new mass party of the oppressed prior to a “spontaneous” upsurge in worker militancy. I tend to have the opposite opinion to you on this issue – perhaps because I’m not in Britain where the most recent experiments turned out badly. Where will such an upsurge come from, anyway? Waiting for an “inevitable” upturn strikes me as Messianism, not Marxism.

  28. Darren said,

    September 13, 2008 at 1:19 am

    On Echo Beach? Where was the muffins when this was all kicking off?

  29. David Ellis said,

    September 13, 2008 at 7:18 am

    Nice analysis and `palace coup’ is of course correct. The only certainly legal faction in the SWP is its own bureaucracy small though it be. It acts not in the interest of the working class not even in the interests of the organisation but wholly and exclusively in its own interests. This is the source of its wild zig-zagging. Whilst acting in its own interests it necessarily undermines the organisation as a whole forcing another break neck change of direction. Of course, a change of direction should normally be thoroughly discussed and understood by the whole organisation but the bureaucracy cannot allow that. It looks like the current goings on are a confirmation of their turn to some kind of third periodism but I’m sure they’ll let the membership know in due course.

  30. skidmarx said,

    September 13, 2008 at 9:36 am

    “some kind of third periodism”
    Is there any chance after morning break that you might learn that the SWP is not Stalin’s Comintern?
    “On Echo Beach?” It’s a trifle (untrue?)

  31. David Ellis said,

    September 13, 2008 at 9:47 am

    No, it’s not Stalin’s Comintern it’s just a very pale English version of it.

  32. ejh said,

    September 13, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Trifle?

  33. skidmarx said,

    September 13, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Yes, but it should be uncool

  34. ejh said,

    September 13, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Ah, OK, I was looking for a noun (involving jelly and custard) that wasn’t there. Turns out to be an “adverb of completeness”, would you believe.

  35. Freshly Squeezed Cynic said,

    September 13, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Frankly, as between Tommy Sheridan and Rupert Murdoch, I have not doubt where I stand or any principlled socialist should stand.

    Pissing down on both of them, hopefully.

  36. charliemarks said,

    September 14, 2008 at 3:39 am

    Pissing down on both of them?

    If we are in the realm of erotic fantasy, can I just say I’d be facing towards Tommy. That Murdoch’s an ugly fucker as well as being a rich bastard.

  37. skidmarx said,

    September 15, 2008 at 11:35 am

    I see that Alex Callinicos has a review of Mark Steel’s book in the current Socialist Review. I feel he should have started with Mark Thomas’ joke about Arthur Scargill:” I wanted to meet the author and tell him this Mark Steel sounds like a great bloke, but you’re just a wanker.”

  38. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 15, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Prof Portnoy, unfortunately, is not a funny man. One still shudders at the recollection of him doing a talk on Lakatos.

  39. ejh said,

    September 15, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    That’s a limerick waiting to happen.

  40. Ken MacLeod said,

    September 15, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    In skulls that Cliff fails to penetrate
    Marxism’s decay starts to germinate.
    Its terrible fate’s
    that it isn’t the state,
    but its research programme that’s degenerate.

  41. Lobby Ludd said,

    September 15, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    I think the last line doesn’t scan well.

    And it’s not abusive enough.

  42. charliemarks said,

    September 16, 2008 at 4:14 am

    There was a young man called Artie
    whose political thinking was clarty
    when he did get irate
    at a Marxism debate
    he said “SWP? fuck that party!”

  43. skidmarx said,

    September 16, 2008 at 8:35 am

    “Prof Portnoy, unfortunately, is not a funny man”

    In “The Revolutionary Road To Socialism”(2nd edition, 1986,p21) he bigs up Yes, Minister.In “Against Postmodernism”(1989,p62) he quotes PG Wodehouse:”You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.” Some evidence he has a sense of humour, even if not a comedian.

    “One still shudders at the recollection of him doing a talk on Lakatos.”

    First I found in his “Trotskyism”(1990,p29) a brief summing up of Lakatos:”…suggested that theories are best seen as ‘scientific research programmes’ which develop through the formulation of succesuve refutable auxiliary hypotheses.” Second I think you’ve made a category error: thinking it is worth discussing general philosophy outside of a pub, like discussing sub-atomic physics without some proper drugs inside you. If I have to I’ll tend to defend a bit of naive realism, the mind being the brain, hard determinism being compatible with free will, but only after a couple of pints. And wondering what it is like to be a bat is not where it’s at.

  44. ejh said,

    September 16, 2008 at 8:51 am

    It’s a fact that is very well known:
    And a lesson that history has shown.
    If the radical left
    Is of numbers bereft –
    That’s the fault of all trends but our own.

  45. Chris C said,

    September 16, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    The problem with palace coups is when they do not succeed in decapitation with one swipe. That is what has happened here. Now we can see disintegration setting in politically, strategically and in disciplinary terms. A majority position and minority position on the CC have emerged and are seeking to fight it out amongst the ‘Tendency’. The decision of the glorious two not to go quietly but to defy discipline at the LA National Council and the fact that they remain the CC members on the Stop the War Coalition suggests that a very messy and public split is underway.

    The question is how the numbers shake down. What strategies emerge (true to form in the more recent sectarian incarnations of the party, there is little politics or even strategic debate in the current exchanges) could be of some interest to the wider fragmented left. I suspect a wider shake up of the left may well take place – the Respect split was only the beginning of the process. Its continued existence and initiatives such as the Convention of the Left are producing ripples of pressure.

    My problem is getting my head around how the glorious leaders will manage to reach out beyond the SWP after thoroughly scorching the earth in the last year. The opportunism would be gusty to say the least.

    Prof Calipo’s Lakatosian and scientistic nonsense always amused me, given that it revealed his uncritical faith in ‘scientific method’ and Marxist ‘science’. Then, Lakatos was exposed as a secret KGB friend a few years ago. Althusser to Lakatos, the good lolly could never let go.

  46. johng said,

    September 16, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Lakatos a secret KGB friend? Really?

  47. Richard Searle said,

    September 16, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    I’m inclined to agree with Chris C. It’s hard to see what, if any, principled position is likely to emerge at this stage of proceedings within the Vauxhall Citadel.

    Because the last year, dating from the first rupture in Respect, saw no definable faction come into being, It’s hard see what the split at top can separate into.

    Either its, ‘you messed up big time’ or ‘you knew it was a mess but you went along with it’

    Although the seemingly orderly retreat from Respect meant the loss of members was relatively light during the end of last year (with exceptions of people of significance such as Jerry H and Mark Steel et al. Ah I can remember when members were gold dust).
    When viewed as a whole, its been extremely damaging year, the worst, period!.

    It horrifies me that there exists the possibility that members will be treated to a spectacle of being invited to condemn Rees and German for the all the problems as yesterdays heroes become today’s zeroes.

    My observations from Manchester are that active membership is smaller now, as demoralisation has accelerated further. My concerns are that the current clash at the top offers nothing to members who have sat out or abstained during the split and just on with the job in their area.

    The worst result of all of this bloodletting is a further loss from the sum total of activists, something we can well do without

    I say this as someone who spent over 23 years in the SWP so I consider most of this a tragedy. Though some of the behaviour of what I saw from SWP in the last year still utterly flabbergasts me.

    However, I still believe that the politics of the International Socialism tradition have an important and valid contribution to make to political life and that is what needs rescuing at present and that’s the question that needs addressing.
    and I would add that’s applicable whether your rescuing Allotments from property developers or putting together an anti fascist coaltion in the north Manchester area

    But I can’t help thinking of recent events at the top without hearing Joy Division’s, ‘Love will tear us apart’

  48. skidmarx said,

    September 17, 2008 at 8:22 am

    “the fact that they remain the CC members on the Stop the War Coalition suggests that a very messy and public split is underway.”
    suggests that you know nothing. Maybe the fact that there has been no great breach suggests that they’ve been removed because they weren’t working out.End of story.
    “Although the seemingly orderly retreat from Respect meant the loss of members was relatively light during the end of last year ”
    So maybe when Rehash goes down the pan as an purely electoral organisation (sorry if I ignore the gardening division) with no parliamentary representation, the SWP will survive, it will stay alive, without your love.

  49. ejh said,

    September 17, 2008 at 9:15 am

    He’s a critic of postmodernism:
    His group has a history of schism.
    And I’ve tried, and I’ve failed
    To make head or make tail
    Of his
    Is There A Future For Marxism?

  50. Andy newman said,

    September 17, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Well I can’t see there being a split, or even a serious faction fight.

    Firstly, Rees and German have few personal political allies, as they have not been good at developing a network of co-thinkers.

    Secondly, is the turn is towards more traditional SWP style propaganda routine and recruiting the ones and twos, then the people who would have been most opposed to that were the ones who either stayed with respect, or have dropped out over the last year.

    I has also heard that lakaotos was a KGB agent, but that has little relevance to his philosophy.

  51. Chris C said,

    September 17, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Andy has a point here about the lack of political allies but this does not preclude a split while a faction fight is underway already. The problem is your second point, which claims that anyone worth while has dropped out. This is not my experience at all – indeed there are many very strong activists who have maintained a studied ‘neutrality’ over the last year, aware of the sectarian course of the post-Respect adventures but remaining loyal to their vision of the key role of revolutionary organization.

    While the assault on that adventure may encourage some to remain in the fold, others will conclude that the reputation of the leadership and the organization is in tatters. After all, if the architects of the split have been called to account, why has the party turned its back on the Respect project?

    Richard is right that good people cannot be lost to this demoralization and failed strategies.

    Lakatos – hmm, funny this as it was a national newspaper that exposed it seven years ago. It is recounted in two fascinating books and backed by archives in the UK and Russia (there are also numerous stories related by former friends about his conduct as a communist). As for his philosophy, which was born of Marx, Hegel and Lukacs but develops a series of mechanical concentric circles for core and auxiliary research programmes with engineering terms such as heuristics, this doesn’t sound anything like the long tomes of M-L philosophy in Stalin’s Russia, does it?

  52. Binh said,

    September 17, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    I see that Alex Callinicos has a review of Mark Steel’s book in the current Socialist Review. I feel he should have started with Mark Thomas’ joke about Arthur Scargill:” I wanted to meet the author and tell him this Mark Steel sounds like a great bloke, but you’re just a wanker.”

    If Professor Callinicos wasn’t a wanker himself, he might have.

    I find these posts to be pretty boring, in that it doesn’t really matter who is running the SWP if the party continues to lie to itself, ignore mistakes, and pretend that the inconvenient parts of reality don’t exist. The SWP’s decline is tragic, even depressing, but the personnel changes at the top don’t mean anything anymore, kind of like plugging in one bureaucrat for another on the politburo in the USSR.

  53. Mike said,

    September 17, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    It does matter though. Well a little bit anyhow.

    Truth is that when the SWP leadership undewent a reshuffle a few years ago that was when Rees-German lost. That reshuffle has also enabled the apparatchiks, now grouped around ‘former Labourite’ Martin Smith, to reinvigorate the groups machinery to some degree. With Rees-German now being edged out that reinvigoration will be deepened.

    The problem for the current leadership is that theu cannot return to the course pursued in the 1990s as they have lost many of their more intelligent and energetic cadre. In addition to which they formalised, as far as the SWP ever formalise matters of program, many of the rotten policies they have adopted since the turn was made to electoralism and populism.

  54. Andy newman said,

    September 18, 2008 at 12:35 am

    Chris C

    I didn’t say that anyone who was worthwhile had dropped out.

    I think there is a paradox, that the ground that Rees/German will wish to stand on is the idea of a United Front of a Special Type / left regroupment project. But the layer of comrade sin the SWP most committed to that sort of project – some of whom have stayed in the SWP – will have been polarised away from Rees/German during the last year or two with the crisis in Respect.

    Specifically they have sawn of the branch they were sitting on.

  55. redbedhead said,

    September 18, 2008 at 3:07 am

    The trouble with this whole discussion is you’re drawing battle lines in a fight for which there is no evidence – and here I make a distinction between a debate, which should happen when there are differences, and a fight, which, while sometimes necessary, can paralyze an organization and cleave it deeply.
    What’s more the battle lines themselves are imaginary. There is no textual or other evidence of any difference over an orientation towards “united fronts of a special type” or left regroupment. In fact there has been a consistent position with regards to maintaining the independent existence of revolutionary (and other) groupings within a wider coalition. The acceptance in Scotland, for instance, of the need to dissolve an independent party routine as a condition of joining the SSP was always seen as a tactical concession because of the SWP’s weakness there (similar points could be made about SPEB in France, Marx 21 in Germany, etc.)

  56. End of an era said,

    September 19, 2008 at 7:30 am

    “What’s more the battle lines themselves are imaginary. There is no textual or other evidence of any difference over an orientation towards “united fronts of a special type” or left regroupment.”

    If this is true, then it’s all more pathetic than we thought. they are not fighting over prionciple or politics just because they hate each other with a passion. As for ‘paralizing an organisation’ the reality is that most of the SWP have been in a state of self-imposed paralysis for much of the last year. But no doubt, redbedhaed, from your post across the north Atlantic you may claim to know better.

  57. September 19, 2008 at 9:19 am

    the “poisonous shit sheet” knows more

  58. ejh said,

    September 19, 2008 at 9:27 am

    If I ever read a magazine more interesting than the Weekly Worker it’ll be like stout Cortez, I tell you.

  59. skidmarx said,

    September 20, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    “If Professor Callinicos wasn’t a wanker himself, he might have.”

    Brief,unambiguous, pithy, universal
    Non-superfluous and faultless are the sutras known to the sutra-sages.

  60. Neil said,

    September 22, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    “The acceptance in Scotland, for instance, of the need to dissolve an independent party routine as a condition of joining the SSP was always seen as a tactical concession because of the SWP’s weakness there (similar points could be made about SPEB in France, Marx 21 in Germany, etc.)”

    No such conditions exist in the Left Party. The CWI in Germany, the SAV, works in the Left Party but there is no question of them forming themselves into a ‘network’ or whatever mental gymnastics the IST in Germany are using to justify disolving themselves so they can cosy up to Gysi and the PDS.

    As Groucho Marx used to say; “We’ve got our phoney-balony jobs to protect!” Which can be applied equally to Marx 21 and to the shennanigans of Martin Smith’s palace coup in London.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 92 other followers

%d bloggers like this: