Sensible contribution likely to fall on deaf ears


Of course there are serious issues involved, but I’m happy to admit that, for the outside observer, there is a good bit of perverse entertainment to be had in the Respect split. I know Bambery and Rees are bumming and blowing about McCarthyism at the moment, but for me what leaps to mind is ITV wrestling. You can almost hear Kent Walton: “Iiiiiiin the red corner, Gorgeous George!! Aaaand iiiiiiin the blue corner, the Sheriff of Nottingham!!!!

But I want to consider for a moment the international aspect. A few days ago I had a bit of a dig at Swiss Toni and chums for sending the Brits a pre-emptive blank cheque, but that is just standard behaviour for the Irish franchise. They did the same over the excommunication of the Yanks, and likewise without bothering to have a discussion. In fact, when the PC did deign to address the membership at conference – several months after the fact – they told the members a pack of lies.

It’s this sort of carry-on that often leads me to think of Kieran as if he were the premier of a Soviet satellite state – Bulgaria, perhaps. Or a closer analogy may be with the South African Communist Party in 1968, famously endorsing the invasion of Czechoslovakia several days before it happened. For sheer slavish loyalty to the mothership the Irish give even the Canadians – or, as an American ISO comrade once described them to me, “those fucking asslickers in Toronto” – a run for their money. The peculiar workings of the SWP’s Pomintern are too convoluted to go into here, although no doubt I’ll come back to this subject in the near future, but Swiss clearly knows on which side his bread is buttered.

On the other hand, more cheerful news comes from a far-flung part of the IS Tendency, with this letter from the Kiwi SWO. If you haven’t read it, please do. I don’t entirely agree with it, but it’s really a very good contribution to the discussion, drawing on the mutual destruction of the two factions in the NZ Alliance five or six years back. From the point of view of SWP politics, it’s almost unarguable, and points a clear way forward – if the SWP CC were interested in resolving this issue in a serious way.

Unfortunately, this looks less and less likely. After weeks of relative radio silence, SWP loyalists – and some particularly boorish sectarians among them – have been turning out in force on the blogs – see the Socialist Unity discussion for a good sample. The CC is continuing to play silly buggers, with the sudden defection of the Tower Hamlets Four a particularly shameless example. (Oliur Rahman, who is far from stupid, states that he has no political differences with Galloway, but pointedly refuses to rule out standing against him. The four councillors – two SWP members, an SWP member’s daughter, and a bloke who applied to join the SWP – claim the SWP didn’t tell them what to do. The national secretary of Respect just happens to wander into the press conference and endorse the defection.) The latest pronunciamento from Rees could be put in any dictionary as a definition of “disingenuous bullshit”.

Plus, you have the CC going on a Great Loyalty Oath Crusade that would have Catch-22’s Captain Black looking to his laurels. Apart from the novel tactic of putting the SWP’s membership list on the web, this is obviously designed to enforce uniformity in the ranks prior to the mooted Respect conference. Given that an SWP majority at the conference can’t be confidently predicted, and that 20% of last year’s SWP conference voted for John Molyneux’s platform of party democracy (which would call into question how monolithic an SWP delegation would be) this may make sense to the CC, but doesn’t exactly bode well for a sensible discussion. In fact, all indications are that the CC is attempting to whip the members up into a frenzy of party chauvinism.

So it’s nice to see the New Zealanders considering this in a sober and sensible way, and coming out with a sober and sensible contribution. They are to be commended for approaching the crisis in a sensible way and thinking it through, rather than just offering knee-jerk support to the Poms. But, if I were in their position, I’d be watching my back. Alex has reined himself in a bit after the Americans’ expulsion into exterior darkness went down badly with people he was trying to make friends with, but he still isn’t known for his tolerance of uppity colonials.


  1. WorldbyStorm said,

    November 1, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    I thought much as you splintered. It was a rational, calm and constructive addition to what is no longer much of a debate but a fairly unpleasant slanging match between the camps. Have to say I think the SWP list is the most bizarre tactic and one which doesn’t seem to have been thought through very clearly. Thing is that there is time for people to stand back… if they want to. But for my money once I heard the term ‘communalism’ change from stick to beat Respect and the SWP with to stick used by certain groups I thought – uh oh.

  2. Hibernia said,

    November 1, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    SW NZ- the Irish connection.
    Joe Carolan, ex member of the Irish SWP PC

  3. Ryan said,

    November 1, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Having been on the receiving end of their bullshit many times, it’s nice to find out how the Canadian IS are seen by their overseas comrades. Pathetic!

  4. Daphne said,

    November 1, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks for the kind comments. I should note, though, that we haven’t been called “SWO” since 2003 – it was a very bad acronym! It’s just “SW” now, or “SW-NZ”.

  5. Binh said,

    November 1, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    Nice coverage of the split. From the beginning the whole project was fatally flawed, and now the SWP is paying the price. I’m from the U.S. ISO by the way, so I’ve seen these UK SWP’s hacks first hand. Mostly third and fourth rate fools. Callinicos is also one of the most unconvincing speakers since Bush Jr., judging by his speech at our convention in 2000 (or was it 2001?). While the SWP’s baby is dying, the U.S. ISO is doing quite well for itself. It’s a shame we still aren’t formally part of the same tendency anymore. There is much to discuss.

  6. Philip Ferguson said,

    November 1, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    Add to this the NZ group’s positions on Venezuela and the new Chavez party.

    In fact, the NZ group is politically a lot closer to the Australian DSP than to the British mothership.

    It now seems a matter of when, rather than if, Callinicos will give them the heave or they will leave.

    One of the ironies of the whole Respect pop-front project and the internal relations of the IST is that with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, these Trotskyists have largely moved onto the ground vacated by the old CPs.

    I enjoyed the comment about Kieran Allen as leader of a Soviet satellite, maybe Bulgaria. Very apt.

    Sad, however, to see past militants like Brid Smith going along with the rightwards evolution of the Irish group.

    Philip Ferguson

  7. Mark P said,

    November 2, 2007 at 12:34 am

    The SWO/NZ, as splinteredsunrise no doubt knows but others may not, were always an odd group within the International Socialist Tendency. Very few IST affiliates joined as an established organisation with a history of their own. Nearly all were founded by people who had been involved in the British SWP. The American ISO was one exception before it was unceremoniously turfed out. The SWO/NZ was a stranger exception.

    It had been the main Stalinist organisation in New Zealand, where unusually the majority of Stalinists had been pro-Beijing rather rather than pro-Moscow. The CPNZ turned from Maoism to Hoxhaism and, after, the collapse of the socialist motherland in Albania, eventually to Tony Cliff thought. The small existing group of IST supporters in New Zealand received orders from Britain that they were to merge with the ex-Hoxhaites. Then when they were kicked out of the merged organisation, the British SWP sided with the ex-Hoxhaites, todays SWO.

    They were for a while a kind of “model section” of the IST because they made a turn to broad, alliance style work enthusiastically just as this was becoming the new line from London. More recently they seem to have become a little more restless again and are much closer to the DSP in Australia then to their supposed sister organisation there, the ISO.

    Anyway, while the sectariana might be of interest to a couple of people, the main point to remember is that this article is going to have little or no impact on the SWP. The British SWP membership has a remarkable ignorance of its international sister parties. They simply are not encouraged to take an interest and there are no democratic international structures.

    In recent years, the British SWP had one of its biggest sister parties, the ISO/US booted out. Then its replacement group in America split away. Its other bigger sister groups in Germany and Greece both suffered major splits and all kinds of other difficulties. Various other sister groups have split or been lost entirely. Yet your average British SWP member will know a little about the SWP leadership’s version of the ISO’s expulsion and practically nothing of any of the rest.

    The satellite party leaderships may be called on to write a letter agreeing with whatever the latest the SWP’s latest wheeze is, but they are not allowed to piss around on the SWP’s territory and they have no means to do so. If the ISO couldn’t even convince a noticeable minority of SWP members of its case, despite its size and resources and despite the laughable nature of the charges against it, the tiny SWO has absolutely no chance of influencing the debate.

    That’s sort of a pity because, as splintered sunrise notes, the SWO make a very strong case if you accept the SWP’s own declared approach in recent years as your starting point.

  8. ejh said,

    November 2, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Or a closer analogy may be with the South African Communist Party in 1968, famously endorsing the invasion of Czechoslovakia several days before it happened.

    Is there a source for this? It reminds me a bit of Donald Sutherland’s character in JFK where he talks about a New Zealand newspaper announcing the assassination before it actually happened….

  9. ejh said,

    November 2, 2007 at 9:51 am

    he still isn’t known for his tolerance of uppity colonials.

    I wonder if this comment doesn’t go just a bit beyond the bounds of fraternal criticism…

  10. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 2, 2007 at 10:12 am

    I am indebted to Daphne and Phil for their comments. And yes, I did know something of the old CPNZ, but that’s a while ago now. I’ve known Hoxhaists and, from a distance, the SW-NZ don’t look much like Hoxhaists to me.

  11. Andy Newman said,

    November 2, 2007 at 10:15 am

    The historical origin of the Sw-NZ is of antiquarian interest only, I understand most of their leading members have joined since then

    It certainly seesm that thr SW-NZ have good relations wiith the DSP in Australia, no surprise perahps.

    BUt comrades may be interested that when the leader of the Zimbabwean ISO, former MP for Highfields, Gwisai, visited Australia last year, he did not advise the official IST franchise in advance, and went on tour with the DSP.

    I’m only saying.

  12. entdinglichung said,

    November 2, 2007 at 10:26 am

    “Linksruck”, the German IST-clone dissolved itself formally in September but was resurected immediately after as a new “network” called “Marx21” inside the new party “Die Linke”, which is a product of a merger of the PDS and the WASG … probably, all the affairs in Britain will also cause some changes there …

  13. Idris of Dungiven said,

    November 2, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    I’m glad to hear that the Zim International Socialists are distancing themselves from the London HQ. They have enough trouble down there as it is. . .

    Whatever happened to the South Korean International Socialists?

  14. Daphne said,

    November 3, 2007 at 3:13 am

    What Mark P doesn’t state is that, prior to joining or even having heard of the IST, the old CPNZ in ditching Hoxhaism had come up for itself with a version of the theory of state capitalism. It was only after that that someone else pointed out that there was an organisation called the British SWP which had a similar view of the world. Also: the NZ ISO were not “kicked out”, but quit, taking most (but not all) of their pre-merger members with them.

    I also note that Mark P seems to have ignored the fact – as I stated just a comment or two above – that we have not been called the SWO since 2003, and people who still use that acronym generally just want to piss us off. Also, I wish someone had told me that we were a “model section” – I was always under the impression that we were the black sheep of the family!

    Seriously, It’s a bid saddening to me that the mildly embarrassing Albanian past of the older comrades in our organisation (now a minority in our active membership) is always raised as, not a triumph of sincere working-class activists ditching worn out dogma and thinking for themselves, but of a kind of “once a Stalinist, always a bit suspect” smear.

    One final point: we will all have to wait and see as to who in the SWP listens to or is convinced by my letter, but the London leadership has at least forwarded it around the IST parties.

  15. Mark P said,

    November 3, 2007 at 4:34 am


    Apologies for the use of SWO. I genuinely didn’t notice your earlier post, and while I’d seen your organisation referred to as Socialist Worker a few times, I assumed that was just a shortened version.

    Also, I don’t hold your groups past against you. I detailed it because, well, it’s pretty unusual and not to imply that you are still Hoxhaites (is anyone, anywhere still a Hoxhaite?).

    I notice that you didn’t contradict my statement about the DSP?

  16. Mark P said,

    November 3, 2007 at 4:35 am

    By the way, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that the London leadership sending your letter to the other IST groups implies good things!

  17. Mike said,

    November 3, 2007 at 6:52 am

    Binh could you tell us why you think the Respect project was fatally flawed from the beginning? I agree by the way but would like to understand your reasoning.

  18. Binh said,

    November 5, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Mike: Binh could you tell us why you think the Respect project was fatally flawed from the beginning? I agree by the way but would like to understand your reasoning.

    I never saw much of a political basis, theoretically or practically, for either RESPECT or its ill-fated predecessor, the Socialist Alliance. For whatever reason, the SWP has been excitedly talking about the declining vote for the Labour Party as it moves further and further to the right and trying to harness that decline to the rise of a new left. But one does not necessarily lead to the other. In fact, in every Western country there is a huge gap between anger and action, between the disillusionment of millions at the existing bourgeois parties and the hope that mass (working-class) action can change anything.

    It seems the SWP has tried to fill that gap itself by forming electoral “united fronts” (a theoretical impossibility if you take the politics of the early Comintern seriously). The problem was that there was no real shift in the balance of political forces within the unions that form the base of the LP until very recently, when a few important unions voted to disaffiliate. A broad left/labor party could be formed and revolutionaries can play a role in that, but it has to be based on something other than the whim of revolutionaries. There has to be a change, a new factor, in the balance of forces to form the material basis for the new political formation. That is precisely what was lacking with both the S.A. and RESPECT.

    Furthermore, the SWP papered over the class contradictions involved in making an alliance with Muslim “community leaders” who more often than not were petty-bourgeois or bourgeois business owners. Obviously I’m not saying “no” to defending Muslim businesses when they are under attack by the government or racists. But it’s another thing entirely to hide and downplay class issues in favor of an alliance with an oppressed community’s middle-class or capitalist “leaders.” That’s not the united front, that’s the popular front, last time I checked.

    This treacherous alliance has now come back to bite the SWP in the ass. It seems that Galloway has made an alliance with them and the common enemy is the SWP – for the businessmen, they’ll dispense with the pesky Bolsheviks and Galloway will be able to keep himself in power and not have to deal with the unprincipled shenanigans of the SWP that hampered his vision for RESPECT which seems to be a more professional, more democratic organization than the SWP (or Rees) could live with.

    Now I read that RESPECT has split into two. I wonder how long the SWP will continue to “stay the course” despite the abject failure of its brainchild to live up to much of anything?

  19. Mike said,

    November 6, 2007 at 6:32 am

    Thanks for that Binh I note with considerable pleasure that your analysis agrees with my own in all essentials. notably the rejection of Callinicos’ theoretical innovation the united front sui generis, the class contradictions of the Muslim base of Respect and its populist character.

    I note that involvement with populist formations rarely grows revolutionary tendencies. for exampleI suspect that the ISO has recruited little or nothing despite doing quite a bit of work in the Green Party.

  20. Binh said,

    November 6, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    The ISO’s work with the Green Party has resulted in some recruitment, but not out of the (moribund and problematic) GP, mainly from younger people who are mad as hell at being betrayed by “their” party, the Democrats. The most growth out of that work came in 2000 when the Nader campaign had the anti-globalization movement as wind in its sails; 2004 was hard to do anything at all the ABB sentiment was suffocating.

    One of the other benefits of the work with the GP has been building stronger relations with left Greens like Peter Camejo and Howie Hawkins.

  21. Mike said,

    November 6, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Perhaps those young people might have been recruited through the medium of good old fashioned socialist propagandism in any event? But thats a minor worry on my part really. Good to see the ISO doing OK. Just don’t develop any of the old style SWP type triumphalism right? (Have a look at an old Duncan Hallas article on my blog, and no where else, to see what I mean).

  22. Binh said,

    November 6, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    The ISO has never stopped engaging in propaganda to win recruits. It’s not propaganda or agitation, its both – propaganda through agitation, and agitation through propaganda (where possible). There’s a dynamic interrelation between the two that I think the SWP unhinged from one another to the detriment of both.

    The name of the Hallas piece would be nice since your blog is very hard to navigate and there is no search function. The ISO probably won’t become triumphalist anytime soon because we have democratic debate (I’ve been in the minority on many questions in debates with our leadership) and because the challenges we face are quite large (ending the war in Iraq, etc).

  23. Mike said,

    November 7, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    OK Binh fair enough and best of luck. Could you e mail me and I’ll send the link as threads tend to die?

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