You see, Richard, building a revolutionary party is very much like making love to a beautiful woman…

…you always have to make sure it’s you doing the screwing and not getting screwed. I’m guessing that most readers will already have seen the Indymedia story about resignations from the SWP in Belfast. On that thread, Cllr Gino Kenny has confirmed that there have been departures, and I’m told by my own sources that the broad thrust of the story is correct. There has still been no word from the people concerned, however, so that’s a lacuna.

Here are a few thoughts. The first thing to note is that the three individuals named do not have a reputation for questioning the party line. All are longstanding activists and would be regarded as diehard party loyalists. Furthermore, all have a reputation as being very hawkish on the regime question – if they have reinvented themselves as born-again democrats, it’s probably because, when you’re on the receiving end of democratic centralism rather than the dispensing end, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. If the party is losing people who have spent many years defending every political contortion and every disciplinary crackdown emanating from Henrietta Street, something has gone very wrong somewhere.

Despite the proximate issue apparently having been a local tactical one around elections, this does relate to the current faction fight in the British mothership, although in a rather complicated way. To recap, the Rees-German faction accuses the CC of returning to a downturn perspective – this is an obvious exaggeration, but it’s true that there has been a noticeable shift back towards the old view that the branches were the basic building blocks of the party, that you both build the branches to intervene and by intervening. The minority counterpose to this what they view as systematic united front work – it’s not unattractive in the abstract and contains some important elements of truth, but in practice it often leads to what I think johng described elsewhere as a small number of hyperactivists running around being brilliant. That’s the danger at least.

Now then. The Irish burger-flippers have indicated their advance support for whatever the London leadership want to do. This is no surprise, they did the same over the ISO expulsion and the Respect split. But the irony is that the practice of the Irish franchise is about as Reesite as you can get – although this is in an untheorised way, and largely determined by the environment. The organisation of years past may have exaggerated its importance[1], and some of its apparent strength was a matter of smoke and mirrors – so the idea of Belfast as a party “stronghold” a few years ago was largely down to the personal dynamism of Davy Carlin – but there’s no mistaking that it looks much weaker organisationally than it used to, with visible things like paper sales having almost disappeared.

And yet, this weakness coincides with the party leadership being more prominent than they’ve ever been. Ten years ago, the SWP ran election candidates under its own name and got derisory votes; now, under the People Before Profit umbrella, it has several councillors and a modest base it can hope to build on. The Great White Chief himself has gone from being an obscure far-left activist with holes in his jumper to having a super-duper academic career and establishing himself as a bit of a media pundit on trade union issues. Much of this success has come via what the party describes as united front work[2], to the point where you can barely set foot in Dún Laoghaire without seeing a black-and-white poster featuring Richard Boyd Barrett advertising some campaign or other. So, in the absence of a strong organisation, this only strengthens the existing elitist tendencies.

Also to be considered is that the Irish group has always been inordinately keen on one of Cliff’s less attractive ideas, the theory of the “conservative block”. Basically, this posits that people who have been around a while become demoralised, pessimistic and stuck in their ways. They also have a disturbing tendency to develop ideas of their own. You will note, of course, that the visibly ageing politburo is exempt from this conservatising pressure – at least, any member who has the cheek to suggest they might doesn’t stay a member very long. There is some occasional lip service paid to the idea of experience cadre acting as the memory of the class, but in practice there is a strong assumption that the permanent leadership contains all the experience and knowledge that will ever be needed. The revolving door is not a problem – in fact, the younger and rawer the recruits the better. You also have to take into account a deeply subjectivist culture that says that, if the leadership’s latest brainstorm has failed, it’s not because of objective circumstances or (God forbid) that the idea was a stupid one in the first place, but because the conservative elements in the membership failed to be enthusiastic enough.

This all points in one particular direction. It points to a perspective, which may not even be conscious, that you develop prominent personalities and then the movement will be built around the personalities. There have been problems with this sort of perspective, related to Tommy Sheridan or in a somewhat different way George Galloway. You would think these would filter through eventually. After all, Eamonn McCann is the most prominent leftwing personality in Ireland, and a most attractive candidate, but it’s not as if Derry is a hotbed of Trotskyism.

So, to return to Belfast, it is said there was a bust-up over electoral strategy. Seán Mitchell, as it happens, is rather a good catch for the SWP. He’s articulate and energetic, he has lots of contacts, and he’s from a prominent Gaeilgeoir family, which counts for something in west Belfast. I’m sure he will make a good councillor some day, although for which party remains to be seen. But it is plausible that branch members would want to think over whether they had the wherewithal to run an election campaign around Seán; it’s also plausible that the leadership would want to take a punt on him; and, if it came to a disagreement, it’s inevitable that the leadership would detect the presence of conservative elements who needed to be rooted out. The message this might send to the people they are trying to get into a broad left coalition is something I’m confident didn’t even cross their minds.

As a bit of a rud eile, the Indymedia thread notes a small glitch in this electoral strategy. Any Mitchell candidacy would be under the aegis of People Before Profit. The Derry-based Socialist Environmental Alliance has voted, no doubt in a monster mass meeting, to fold itself into PBP, and the SEA is no longer registered as a political party. PBP is, but if you head over to the Electoral Commission website, you’ll notice that the officers are given as: Leader and Nominating Officer, Gordon Hewitt, Treasurer, Mark Hewitt. If the SWP want to run any PBP candidates – including in Derry – they had better seek an amicable arrangement with Gordon and Mark. If Gordon and Mark aren’t minded to play nice, they could always contact Linda Smith to hear about an analogous situation.

[1] This reminds me of one of my favourite examples of sectarian vainglory, when a leading SWM member at the end of the 1980s proclaimed the group to be the leading force on the left, since it now had 150 members and Militant only had 130. This, by the way, was when the Workers Party was at the height of its powers.

[2] I’ll freely admit that it’s been a long time since I read The First Five Years of the Communist International, but I could have sworn the united front perspective governed how substantial communist parties could work with organisations – whether social-democratic parties or national liberation movements – with a mass character. I evidently missed out the bit where every issue of the revolutionary paper has a statement from Kevin Wingfield on behalf of Ballymun Against The War, Ballymun Against The Bin Tax or Ballymun Says Down With This Sort Of Thing.

78 Comments

  1. Phil said,

    November 19, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Prominent personalities, suspicion of the rank and file, revolving-door fresh-meat recruitment and more or less opportunistic united frontage – which redounds to the glory of the prominent personalities but never escapes their control, even at the expense of gains which could have been made & lasting political relationships which could have been built.

    The reason there’s no main verb in that sentence is that I’m not qualified to say that that’s an accurate picture of, well, anyone. But it’s a coherent picture & an interesting one (if rather depressing).

  2. Mark P said,

    November 19, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    It’s been a rough old week for the SWP it seems.

    First and foremost, Chris Harman died which is pretty grim all round.

    Quite unrelated to that they seem to have gone into full on squabble mode both in Ireland and in Britain. The last section of the British IB2 is full of suspension/expulsion/website closing atrocity stories of the usual sort. Their most prominent trade unionist has just left. And over here they seem to have split with their main cadre in Belfast.

    Marxism 2009 (Irish edition) could be interesting if the Belfast bunch show up.

  3. Mark P said,

    November 19, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    By the way, that’s a serious contender for the best headline this blog has ever carried.

    • ejh said,

      November 19, 2009 at 9:26 pm

      Only because the best one ever was suggested by me in a comments box….

      • Mark P said,

        November 19, 2009 at 10:18 pm

        Ok, out with it!

      • ejh said,

        November 21, 2009 at 11:51 am

        It was on the subject of Abi Titmuss…

  4. Mark said,

    November 19, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    I found it fascinating too and look forward to more detail but doubt it’ll be forthcoming. Pity I made such a pigs ear of my first attempt at analising [sicish] the Trot left on Slugger:

    http://sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/local-cliffhanger/

  5. WorldbyStorm said,

    November 19, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Seconded Mark P. And that’s saying something given the competing headlines.

    And that’s a most interesting point about Marxism 2009.

    What’s amazing to me is how chaotic it all seems to be behind the scenes. What on earth is Séamus Healy or his group who in person I’ve always found quite level headed and cautious making of this?

    I’ve heard the observation from a political rival to RBB that the good burghers of Dún Laoghaire are suffering from campaign fatigue. I’m dubious due to the source, but on a larger point you’d wonder if the dynamic you ref re McCann might not swing into operation there. Yet I’d still think they’ve a better than average chance of getting a seat. Quite a coup if it came off.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      November 19, 2009 at 10:09 pm

      The big problem is that Kingstown is going down from five seats to four. And by then the burghers will have had two or three years’ exposure to Councillor Richie. But I’d expect him to be in the mix at least.

      • Mark P said,

        November 19, 2009 at 10:18 pm

        In my view he’s very likely to take a seat. That was a very big vote he got in the locals and Lewis in Ballybrack picked up a substantial vote too. If there was an election tomorrow he’d be in.

        As Splinty says above, the only real problem is that the constituency will be missing a seat. In essence he has to beat Cuffe, the Green, one of the Fianna Failers and the second candidates of both FG and Lab. Or both the Fianna Failers and one of the second candidates of both FG and Lab I suppose. He would pretty much definitely do that right now. He’s only in difficulties if there is either (a) a big recovery in the vote of one or both government parties or (b) a big shift in voter sentiment towards an alternative government, marginalising the smaller opposition parties.

  6. robert said,

    November 19, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    OT but REJOICE!

    Tony the war criminal isn’t going to be EU President

  7. Doug said,

    November 20, 2009 at 10:26 am

    His train should be diverted from Brussels to the Hague – perhaps the Crowman can give his oppos in Europe a call. On the subject of campaigning fatigue, spare a thought for people in Dave Nellist’s area of Coventry – the General Election campaigning started in September. Things might get so bad, they may may prefer to sneak off to the Ricoh Arena when the Beard appears on their doorsteps for the umpteenth time.

  8. decent interval said,

    November 20, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Actually I used to know an Israeli relative of Tony Cliff who informed me that, when he first met Cliff in London in 1969, Tony did say something to him approximately along the lines of this headline (I think it was in relation to “Marxism” rather than “building a revolutionary party”)

  9. skidmarx said,

    November 20, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    So the SWP initiative in Belfast is a good idea, but because some local members are opposed to it it’s a terrible example of the Cliffite tradition.
    I see that Mark P has been jumping on every example of dissent in the SWP on both sides of the Irish Sea. Not exactly a disinterested observer.

    Do you have current membership figures for the SWP and SP?

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      November 20, 2009 at 12:56 pm

      I could tell you, but I’d have to shoot you.

      • skidmarx said,

        November 20, 2009 at 3:53 pm

        Ok then, why don’t you try it.
        My point is that the two organisations have probably had some success since if they’ve both grown. Left is often a shorthand for revolutionary left, so if one doesn’t consider the Workers Party to be such it’s reasonable to only count the SWP and Militant.

        Perhaps those jonesing for a reply to the post might like to go for
        # You can keep your [sectarian] hat on #

    • Mark P said,

      November 20, 2009 at 1:16 pm

      eh?

      What “initiative” of the SWP is a good idea?

      Have I said anything you actually think is wrong?

      • skidmarx said,

        November 20, 2009 at 3:49 pm

        Running an election campaign around Sean Mitchell. I thought that’s what the bust up was about.

        I think this comment on AVPS was wrong:
        Jesus, I hadn’t read Kieran’s obituary until now.
        Those last few paragraphs are pretty openly factional. It portrays the struggle against Rees in terms that make it sound like Harman’s equivalent to Lenin’s last struggle against Stalin.
        [Not the first sentence]

        I saw a comment you made very recently that the 80s open letter from the SWP to Militant wasn’t to be taken seriously because it was an open letter. There’s some truth in that, though I think to be claiming that because the SWP weren’t secretive enough is a good enough excuse not to consider what they say is a bit rich now that the standard attack on their internal culture is to say how much more open the SP is.And still today the SP finds excuses not to take SWP unity offensives seriously. I imagine I could find further things you’ve said that I think are wrong if I obsessively search, though I would prefer that socialists see what they have in common as more important than what divides them.

      • Mark P said,

        November 20, 2009 at 4:50 pm

        So you disagree with things I’ve said on other blogs about other subjects? But with nothing I’ve said in this thread?

        As you know, my remark about the SWP’s “Open Letter to Militant” in the 1980s wasn’t a criticism of them not being secretive enough, but a straightforward argument that it was never at all intended to bring about a fusion between the groups and was instead a classic “unity offensive”. The fact that its centrepiece was an “open letter” and that no direct contact was ever made with Militant seeking unity talks is evidence enough of that.

        I’m not even sure if you disagree with the core of what I was saying as opposed to your imagined disagreement about secretivity.

        As for taking SWP “unity offensives” seriously, well we’ve had the SWP talking about unity and handing out open letters to us here for quite a few years now. But the only two times anyone seriously made a proposal for a unity slate (in 2004 and 2009), it was the Socialist Party and on both occasions the SWP essentially told us to piss off. In the circumstances it does get increasingly difficult to take their waffle about unity seriously.

        There are supposed to be more discussions in the coming weeks, so yet again they have a chance to prove how serious they are. Or otherwise.

      • Neil said,

        November 20, 2009 at 4:51 pm

        Come on now Skidders, you can do better than that.

        The primary reason The Militant ignored the SWP’s unity offensive in the 80′s was because the condition for unifying with the SWP was to leave the Labour Party. This at a time when The Militant had 3 MP’s and more importantly were leading mass struggles of the working class thanks to its position there.

        I am genuinely mystified as to what you mean by “I think to be claiming that because the SWP weren’t secretive enough is a good enough excuse not to consider what they say…”.

        I think you should be careful about using language like that about The Militants entry work in the Labour Party. You are sailing dangerously close to the rhetoric of Kinnock, Kilfoyle, Thatcher and the Murdoch press in the 1980′s not to mention the deranged rantings of ll/jj over at Socialist Unity.

      • ejh said,

        November 21, 2009 at 11:56 am

        the deranged rantings of ll/jj over at Socialist Unity.

        You mean there’s anything else on there?

        You are sailing dangerously close to the rhetoric of Kinnock, Kilfoyle, Thatcher and the Murdoch press in the 1980’s

        Well, not really. The Mili were very secretive back then, to the degree of denying their own existence as an organisation. There were reasons for this but there were also consequences, and among those consequences were that they did unnecessarily piss off an awful lot of Labour Party people.

      • skidmarx said,

        November 21, 2009 at 12:50 pm

        Mark P – What you’ve said on other blogs on the same subject – claiming that both SWPs do nothing but engage in factional warfare (possibly a slight exaggeration, but you must be used to those).I don’t know if “full on squabble mode” is an accurate assessment. They do do other things, you know. I hope the current weeks discussions are productive too. The last time the SP account seemed to be that federalism was the sticking point, which I’ve previously told you I think the SWP should give in on if it is the only sticking point, but there seemed to be more behind it of insisting that the SWP confess its errors before any agreement could be come to, seeming to me an excuse not to come to one. I hope I’m wrong.

        Neil – and obviously the Labour Party turned out to be a dead end. Or do you advocate a return to entryism?
        About your mystification – there have been frequent lectures on internal democracy from SP members whenever SWP members have complained about their internal bulletins being published, saying that everything the SP does is out in the open. I thought it a bit rich to complain about the SWP’s openness back when you were the secret society.
        I would have been careful about my language at the time so as to not allow ammunition for the witch-hunters. But I don’t see why I should need to be careful now.

  10. Harry Monro said,

    November 20, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I know none of these people, but might you being a bit harsh on them S/S, building a revolutionary organization when you are tiny is difficult, with Ireland’s republican tradition its doubly so. Mistakes are made, and personalities loom far too large, and if we have to blame anyone for the ultra loyalty to the centre then I’m afraid its the beloved Cliff who should carry the can.
    On a secondary note could I remind you
    “When you’re in love with a beautiful woman
    You watch your friends
    …you want to trust her…
    Then somebody hangs up when you answer the phone..
    When you’re in love with a beautiful woman
    You watch her eyes
    When you’re in love with a beautiful woman
    You look for lies”
    Love the picture though as good as the one of John Boy

  11. Doug said,

    November 20, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Skidmarx asks about SWP and SP membership figures. Apples and pears. SP membership has a minmum requirement – paying subs (up to date). It seems what constitutes SWP membership seems something of a moveable feast.

    • skidmarx said,

      November 21, 2009 at 1:01 pm

      The Weekly Worker recently had a figure for the British SWP’s subs paying membership of about 2950, so I don’t see why the figures should be impossible to produce. I think it shows something of a factional mentality on your part that I was even making a point about the relative sizes of the two.

      • ejh said,

        November 21, 2009 at 1:09 pm

        Why would anybody believe any figure for any party’s membership, whether produced by the party itself or by its rivals?

      • Duncan said,

        November 21, 2009 at 1:40 pm

        That’s strange, it’s only about 18 months since one of the SWP’s student organisers personally assured me that the SWP were the most important component of the left because they had over 10,000 members. He’d even seen the figures himself.

        Something catastrophic must have happened.

      • skidmarx said,

        November 21, 2009 at 3:22 pm

        Actually the figure mentioned here was produced by the SWP and reprinted by the gossip columnists:
        http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/791/triumvirate.php

        I would have thought that measuring the size of the presumably smaller Irish equivalents would be easier, unless they are at a quantum level where their position and momentum can’t be calculated simultaneously.

        Duncan – they got more realistic? I wouldn’t see that as a catastrophe,quite the opposite.

      • Duncan said,

        November 21, 2009 at 8:57 pm

        skidmarx,

        I was referring to the presumed loss of several thousand members in such a short period of time as catastrophic….

  12. November 21, 2009 at 4:41 am

    The problem with the SWP is that they recruit a load of cadres via their bourgeois united fronts who have little or no real political education and who then just leave again. I remember meeting one girl a very short time before she joined the SWP; I actually had an argument with her about why the ruling class will never just voluntarily give up their wealth and power if you engage them in rational argument about the desirability of a socialist future.

  13. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 21, 2009 at 10:23 am

    There’s another thing worth considering about geography. A campaign in South Belfast around Barbara M would probably centre on anti-racism. A Mitchell campaign in West Belfast would need a different kind of populism. You can’t attack Gerry on racism, because he’s quite good on that; you would have to attack him on a workerist basis. There would also be the need to speak to more specifically nationalist concerns.

    I don’t have a preference for running in either place, if you’ve a clear message. But the geography does influence the priorities.

  14. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 21, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    I remember going to one of my local SWP’s branch meetings years ago (they were semi-public ones – I was not a member) and a man in the audience who was 60-ish attracted my attention because, to my admittedly non-specialist judgement, he had mental health issues. I think he may have mentioned UFOs or something similar.
    The next week I learned he had joined the SWP. I asked whether that was wise, in view of the way he had spoken. The SWP said I clearly “despised the working class”!?
    I put it down to “open recruitment”. Anyway, I don’t think he lasted long.

  15. skidmarx said,

    November 21, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    I’ve seen much crazier people than that join the SWP. No they don’t last long.Or do you mean the mothership arrived to pick him up?

  16. johng said,

    November 21, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    I remember meeting one girl a very short time before she joined the SWP; I actually had an argument with her about why the ruling class will never just voluntarily give up their wealth and power if you engage them in rational argument about the desirability of a socialist future.

    a) sounds like you failed to recruit her b) was she, like, nine years old? (just noticed the use of the term ‘girl’).

  17. November 21, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    “a) sounds like you failed to recruit her b) was she, like, nine years old? (just noticed the use of the term ‘girl’).”

    a) Recruit her to what? She was personally known to me and we were discussing politics, I wasn’t trying to recruit her to anything. The SWP did the recruiting in this case and she left after about a month.

    b) Not sure what age she was, maybe 20/21.

  18. Ratata said,

    November 21, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    just a tad confused here – is the above picture a reference to UCD’s leading Marxist or Mr Cliff. I know the first not the second

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      November 21, 2009 at 3:32 pm

      No, it would be the sage of UCD. The likeness would be better if he still had the Village People moustache.

  19. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 21, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    After about a month, I didn’t see him any more around the SWP. When I asked about him they seemed a little annoyed.
    On one blog (Dave’s Part, I think) Tony Cliff is cited as actually encouraging the recruitment of people with mental health problems, along the lines of “crazy people is what we need”. I am skeptical about the claim but it is a fact that the psychologically challenged do get into left organisations, especially those with open recruitment régimes.
    I remember going to the conference of a left party and one delegate was dressed as Napoleon. Sort of a gift to the bourgeois media, that.
    It’s an interesting question in general – where do you draw the line?

    • Doloras said,

      November 22, 2009 at 8:53 pm

      Are you familiar with Ben Watson, the SWP’s foremost Zappaologist and out-and-proud proponent of Mad Pride? http://www.militantesthetix.co.uk/

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        November 22, 2009 at 9:20 pm

        Oh, I know Ben. Haven’t seen him for years though.

      • Doloras said,

        November 22, 2009 at 9:48 pm

        Yeah, you may be amazed to know that his Zappa book was my big introduction to International Socialist politics (as I think I say in the second post on my blog).

    • Doloras said,

      November 23, 2009 at 12:03 am

      Yeah but seriously, an older comrade of mine said that they used to get all kinds of nutters in the old days, just because back then the CP (as it was) was the only place where people with mental health problems could go and not be judged and outcast. Certainly a Marxist attitude has to be that mental illness is an artefact of capitalist society (to a large extent) and that perhaps political struggle can be excellent therapy. However, this runs up against the fact that nutters can drag down an entire organisation. I say this as a partially-recovered nutter myself.

  20. prianikoff said,

    November 21, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    The November SW pre-conference bulletin states that registered membership of the SWP
    is 6,417 and 9,800 copies of SW are sold per week.

    These are astonishing figures, as they mean an average paper sale of 1.5272 per member.

    So, besides the paper each member buys themselves, they sell less than one each!
    In my day, the circulation of SW was between 24,000-40,000 with a membership of around 3,600.

    I know that the internet has reduced paper sales, but this seems more than a little fishy to me!

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      November 21, 2009 at 10:39 pm

      If one assumes papers are distributed to the couple of thousand unregistered members, it’s more puzzling still. I think we need Johnny Ball to explain it.

      • Dirty Red Bandana said,

        November 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm

        More intriguing is the claim that 51% of members pay regular subs, given that it is a constitutional definition of membership of the Bolsheviki.

        There is also the interesting observations that monthly figures have been falling (LF document) and that the SWP has basically stood still even accepting its own figures.

        Many of the articles talk of the last two months of new recruits suggesting that the new student year has saved the day and kept them above water.

        If we also note that the bulletin claims over 4,000 subscriptions to SW, your ratio gets much lower: 0.903. In other words, SW is not taken by every member let alone non-members.

  21. prianikoff said,

    November 21, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    “I remember going to the conference of a left party and one delegate was dressed as Napoleon.”

    You remember? Or was it false memory syndrome, after waking up with a hangover on Wandsworth Common in a Red Guards outfit?
    Those prolonged Peoples War exercises can be brutal.

  22. Doug said,

    November 21, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Surely ‘Napoleon’ would have been welcomed – don’t we want all revolutionaries to show leadership qualities? Not only that but a Corsican perspective can only add to our knowledge of the international situation. At next year’s Socialism and Marxism events I expect to see a smattering of Joan of Arcs, Boadiceas (or whatever the correct spelling is now) and Hereward the Wakes. Come on comrades! After all there have been deluded fantasists on the far left for years, mostly in the leaderships – and most of them very badly dressed.

  23. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 21, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Oh, I definitely remember. I was quite sober at the time. It was, in fact, the pre-split SSP.
    Looking at subsequent events, he may actually have been one of the sanest people there…

  24. robert said,

    November 21, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I was thinking more on the lines of refounding the Commitee of Public Safety…but who gets the role of Robespierre? Don’t lose your head…

  25. Doug said,

    November 21, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Was it Eddie Truman?

    On that note, the SSP conference last year was on the Isle of Arran. I wonder if Eddie and chums tried to entice Sheridan up there to keep the straw and fire company on the cliff top (RIP Edward Woodward). Mind you, Hyacinth and Richard might have been concerned after they didn’t get his weekly phone call…

  26. Doug said,

    November 21, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    I can see the film now, Marat played by Martin Smith and Lindsey as Charlotte Corday.

  27. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 21, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Sounds like encouragement of individual terrorism to me.

  28. BC said,

    November 23, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    There was no sign of an intervention by the Belfast people at Marxism 2009. SWP members confirmed that a split had happened, denied that the people who left had been threatened with expulsion and expressed rather vague hopes that they could continue to work with their former members on individual issues.

    I got the strong impression that the remaining SWP in Belfast is now very small indeed, the candidate, a couple of others and a fulltimer sent up from Dublin.

    • BC said,

      November 23, 2009 at 6:15 pm

      On a related note, the tone of some of the speeches was a bit hysterical even by SWP standards.

      The biggest meetings were the two rallies (a little under 100 at the opening one and a little over 100 at the closing one), followed by the meeting on the future of the left. The arguments being made were essentially that the time of the radical left is now, this is our big opportunity and if we don’t all get together now we will miss it. Boyd Barrett argued that there would be massive social change in the next two years and it was up to us to decide what kind of change. He also claimed that this was the most important gathering of socialists he’d been at.

      Declan Bree and Paddy Healy spoke at the session on the left. Both Bree and the Tipperary group are still in talks with the PBPA, but neither have yet joined. There were impassioned appeals for them to do so. The CIL people who spoke (I hadn’t realised that the CIL still had an independent existence) said that they saw no reason why the politics of an alliance shouldn’t be socialist. They were also pushing for the PBPA to adopt proper structures, regular branch meetings, produced a publication and the like. The SWP were opposed.

      • Frankly Mr. Shankly said,

        November 23, 2009 at 7:36 pm

        100 at the final rally? There was more in 1991, when there was a downturn. This ain’t looking good.

      • BC said,

        November 24, 2009 at 12:05 am

        To be fair:

        1) I think there were some more people around on the Saturday evening.

        2) I suspect that the location cuts down the passing trade a bit, compared to Trinity.

  29. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 23, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Nope, putting up a monument to Charlotte Corday who stabbed Marat to death in his bath. Since she was a counter-revolutionary who killed a Jacobin, maybe the bourgeoisie’s usual rules don’t apply.

  30. Doug said,

    November 23, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Talking of statues, there’s one in Exeter of Redvers Buller! Of course, come the glorious day (or a majority of council seats, whichever comes first), Exeter SP will be proposing to knock down the old bastard and replace him with Tommy Cooper, who lived in the city for a while. Think of it as a transitional demand – some people in the city want a statue of Henry Cooper, eventually we’d like one of Tommy Sheridan (boom,boom).

  31. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 23, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Does Wolverhampton still have a statue of Enoch Powell?

  32. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 23, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    The trouble with monuments is they can be blown up or knocked down. They are a sign of who is in power, and what the prevailing ideology is. So there are public statues of Field Marshal Haig and “Bomber” Harris in Britain (both of them controversial figures even in bourgeois ideology), but none of Lenin.

    In Brussels, I saw a statue of King Leopold, he of the brutal colonisation of Congo. Again, controversial but his descendants are still monarchs of Belgium, so his statues stay up.

    When the Nazis invaded the USSR, their engineers as a priority blew up the statues of Lenin and Stalin in the territory they overran. With one exception. In the city of Voronezh, they kept a large statue of Lenin, because the statue’s outstretched arm made it a useful gallows to hang Soviet partisans or other undesirables from.

  33. November 23, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Fact: There are far more statues of Confederate officers in the United States than there are of the Union. Some places you travel through you would have thought that the bad guys won. Which I suppose they did in their way.

    • Doloras said,

      November 23, 2009 at 8:42 pm

      Given the current state of US politics, some liberals wish like hell that they had let the Southrons go their own way in 1861.

  34. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 23, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    I once visited the Gettysburg battlefield. There were many statues of officers, usually generals, though I would say the sides were about evenly represented.
    The “lost cause” mythology of the Confederates is an interesting subject.

  35. November 23, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    During the post-Reconstruction/Jim Crow era Confederate veteran’s societies as well as the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” and “Daughters of the Confederacy” set up monuments to the CSA’s dead in just about every county seat and sizeable town in the South. Its an ongoing reminder even now of which side won the peace, a generation after the war ended.

    Brooklyn has Grand Army Plaza, which is the most ostentatious civil war monument I know of, but I doubt if the pattern on local monument building is replicated in the North, for the reason mentioned above: the need to impress upon the subject black population its oppressed status.

    None of these monuments are going to be removed any time soon.

  36. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Not just statues – the Confederate flag has been included in the cantons of state flags of some Southern states. I don’t know if flags have been changed to remove the symbol or not – it is certainly controversial.

    • November 24, 2009 at 4:31 pm

      To prove the point made by Scott above the Confederate battle flag was added to Georgia’s state flag in the 1950s (which finally took it out in 2001) as a white supremacist response to the civil rights movement. Mississippi has had the Confederate emblem in their flag since the 1890s. In 2001 a referendum to change it was soundly defeated. Off the top of my head it’s the only one I can think of that remains, although for many years and maybe still some southern states just flew the old Confederate battle flag everywhere (below the American flag of course) including on all official buildings. The Spartacist League made a great show of tearing one down years ago.

  37. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 24, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I remember seeing a picture years ago of the Spart sympathiser (African-American) climbing up the flagpole and tearing it down. Just to add to the Civil War symbolism, he was wearing a blue Union Army tunic.

  38. CWIer USA said,

    November 25, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Anyone ever seen the giant Lenin statue in Seattle? No joke. A massive Lenin statue. Every time there is a big dispute, a picket sign is placed in Lenin’s hand.

  39. Madam Miaow said,

    November 26, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Regarding membership figures, the SWP didn’t have 10,000 even when Bambery et al were shouting that figure from every platform — so much for not lying to the class.

    In 1998/9, when I was doing the annual party fund-rasing with one other, I was shocked to see the print-outs. Sparse, and with the members logged under different formats meaning four or five entries for the same person. EG, John Smith, Mr J Smith, Joanna Smith, Jay Smythe. These would all turn out to be the same person.The CC I spoke to wouldn’t let me correct the figures.

    Phoning around meant running into a huge swathe who were angry that their names were still on the list when they had already demanded their names be removed. Some claimed they’d been asking for two years and been ignored. Again, the CC wouldn’t allow me to correct the figures.

    I estimated the number of actual paying members at that time to be fewer than 2,000. And that’s at a good time of growth.

    Another indication of size is how many people signed the loyalty letter around the Respect split. Around 1,400? A chunk of those will be fellow travellers. While some members might have been missed, with all the energy put into that drive, did several thousand members really refrain from signing?

    John M and myself laughed at the claim of high membership because another way you can tell is by counting the delegates who turn up for conferences. There was a time that the Camden Town Hall venue would be full with seats all the way to the back of the hall and the balcony in full use. We saw it shrink to about two thirds of the hall and the balcony not opened at all due to no demand.

    The importance of this is, not just about lying to the class, but about how you are supposed to accurately assess if your work is doing any good if you never know the correct numbers. I know that some senior cadre were worried yet nothing was done. All that being open about this point of principle got me was being targeted by certain CC and their hacks.

    BTW, Ben Watson was regarded with open contempt by members at SWP HQ. I remember when Poodle Power came out …

  40. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 26, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    I remember the 10,000 figure being bandied about in the 1990s and being very skeptical indeed. There was an SWP branch where I lived, and I estimated that if they really had 10,000 in the UK, extrapolating that to my local area, there would be 70-100. It was more like 20.

    • Mark P said,

      November 27, 2009 at 3:40 pm

      The 10,000 figure was nonsense.

      However you can’t extrapolate from one locality to a country as a whole. I doubt if any left organisation has ever been even remotely evenly spread across a country – there are strongholds and areas where an organisation is non-existent and various situations in between. You either need reliable observations from a whole bunch of different locations or a different perspective altogether (like Madam Miaow’s central viewpoint for instance).

  41. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 26, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    I think 1,400 is pretty close to the real figure. Some non-members would have signed, but some actual members may have failed to sign despite arm-twisting.
    Incidentally, though I reject its core theories, I am not particularly hostile to the SWP – I have had worse experiences with other groups.

  42. skidmarx said,

    November 27, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    41. Because you have some special insight? If we extrapolate from the 20(which I assume only includes visibly very active members) then 2,500 would be a national membership figure.

  43. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    #42. That was in the 1990s. Probably smaller now?
    I remember seeing about 10 nearly all the time I saw the SWP, five or so more some of the time. I also allow for a few “card index corpses”, a German term I like – “Karteileichen” – for inactive members. Perhaps I should allow for more Karteileichen but the SWP is after all supposed to be a Leninist party with every member steeled cadre or on the way to it.
    My figure is based on my area’s population, its proportion of the UK’s population and my perception of the local SWP’s size. Needless to say, I don’t get anywhere near 10,000 members nationwide.

  44. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 27, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    So we agree – the 10,000 membership figure was absurd.
    I lived in a medium-sized city in southern England. It was often taken as a slice of average Britain, including in marketing samples. Extrapolating from it has its drawbacks but I certainly didn’t live in an unrepresentative area.

    I was involved in anti-poll tax work there c.1990 and discussed the 10,000 claim with a comrade. His attitude was that if the SWP had 10,000 nationwide they would have a lot more members locally and be able to dominate meetings. They didn’t and probably couldn’t anyway – they just did not have the numbers.


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