I love it when a plan comes together


Following on from Andy’s excellent reply to the SWP over Respect, I think there are a couple of points worth making, and I’ll put my Mystic Meg hat on and do some prognostication.

Firstly, to recap – in 2003 the SWP CC realised the Socialist Alliance wasn’t going anywhere, not least because they had buggered it up beyond repair. On the other hand, a significant layer of Muslims had been radicalised by the war, plus you had Galloway’s expulsion from the Labour Party (at which point he was in extremely close contact with the SWP leadership) promising something bigger and shinier. Call me a cynic, but I’ve seen the SWP in this mode many times, and I always think of Homer reassuring Marge, “This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. This is a scheme that will help us get rich, quick.”

So Respect was set up on a bit of a punt. Trouble was, it was organisationally dominated by the SWP from the start. Therefore their Oehlerite insistence on the independence of the revolutionary organisation at all times (without the redeeming feature of Oehler’s consistent ultraleftism) necessitated the “united front of a special type” formula, which meant keeping Respect programmatically minimal, and with its activity more or less limited to elections. This, together with the SWP’s own internal discipline, effectively enshrined the SWP as a privileged caste within Respect along with their peculiar vision for it. This situation was obviously going to cause problems in areas where Respect had some substantive life outside of the SWP, and likely with George, and so it has come to pass.

Do I think the CC wanted things to pan out like this? In some ways, I think they’re the victims of their own unthinking tactics. Having whipped the members up over the “witch-hunt” allegation, attempted to rig the conference and imposed a loyalty oath on their membership, I think they left themselves with no way of retreating. Thus you have the novelty of a left organisation effectively witch-hunting itself.

Right, so now to the new perspective being adumbrated but not yet openly proclaimed, most openly in the CC document in the first conference bulletin, and more cryptically in SW by Prof Callinicos. This postulates that there was a period of upswing dating from the big struggles of the mid-90s (in Britain?!) through Seattle to the antiwar movement that was favourable to the growth of new left parties. But now, this period is winding down and those parties are experiencing electoralist pressures and the emergence of rightist tendencies.

Alex, unfortunately, employs his standard form of argument by anecdote. Rather than demonstrate what the new left parties of Europe have in common, and present an argument as to the viability of the model, he just mutters darkly about something happening in Denmark and something else in Portugal – which may be enough to convince your less sophisticated SWP member who knows little and cares less of Denmark or Portugal. But a sure sign of a disingenuous argument is that the Scottish Socialist Party is introduced to prove Alex’s case, when surely it proves the opposite. There was no left-right split, as the SSP and Solidarity continue to have identical programmes. And if anyone in Scotland succumbed to electoral pressure, it was the SWP. From being amongst the harshest critics of Sheridan, they abruptly did a 180-degree turn and clung like limpets to the Tangerine Man, and they explicitly justified this on the basis of Tommy’s personal popularity on which they hoped they could piggyback.

So what does the future hold for the SWP? For reasons of face, I expect them to continue to try to run “I can’t believe it’s not Respect” for a while yet, maybe six to twelve months, maybe even more, to try to prove it a going concern. Trouble is, it will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the SWP, with virtually nobody in it but the SWP, and thus will be even more prone to the SWP stunting its development, putting it into cold storage between elections etc. On the other hand, should it prove an ignominious failure – and, Preston and Sheffield notwithstanding, it almost certainly will – they have their argument about the new period already prepared, which would justify a return to building a standalone sect. And doing that in an environment where they have few friends, membership at a forty-year low and viable competition from George’s Respect, a somewhat revitalised SP and others.

Their position could be redeemed a bit if they reflect honestly on the situation and draw some sensible political conclusions. But hey, this is the SWP we’re talking about.


  1. chris y said,

    November 14, 2007 at 8:27 am

    he just mutters darkly about something happening in Denmark and something else in Portugal – a new vanguard of mass proportions?

  2. Ray said,

    November 14, 2007 at 9:02 am

    I can’t help but feel the ‘what went wrong with RESPECT’ discussion is being made much more complicated than it needs to be.
    The SWP have a history of setting up front campaigns on particular issues – from anti-war stuff to the ANL. These campaigns would be wheeled out when the issue looked like it could attract some new faces, and then put back into storage. These campaigns would always be run by the SWP, but would include some non-members in figurehead positions. Those non-members were selected for their name recognition value, and for their lack of threat to the SWP’s ownership of the campaign.
    With RESPECT, the SWP tried to do the same thing again – a front campaign for elections. Gorgeous George was the figurehead, and the thinking obviously was that he would do his thing, the SWP would do theirs, and both sides would benefit. Unfortunately for the SWP, RESPECT took on enough of a life of its own that it didn’t like being shoved back in the freezer all the time, and Galloway wanted to do some recruiting of his own from the membership lists. It was fine for Galloway to be a loose cannon – in fact, that was just great, the problem arose when Galloway represented an alternative source of organisational control within RESPECT instead of being a free agent using RESPECT as a flag of convenience.

  3. ejh said,

    November 14, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    They had the A-Team on telly here last night. My eyes nearly popped out.

  4. Madam Miaow said,

    November 14, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    “Firstly, to recap – in 2003 the SWP CC realised the Socialist Alliance wasn’t going anywhere, not least because they had buggered it up beyond repair.”

    Not quite right, Splinty. Following a promising start, Rees was sabotaging the SA at least from the 2000 GLA elections when he started driving out the sole acting press officer, that is, myself after we began registering on the media’s radar for the first time.

    They also manouevred out the SP, whatever the rights and wrongs of whether they should have left or not.

    When Dave Osler and Paul Mason wrote the budget for the SA in about 48 hours, they became targets – talent raises its head, Rees has to swing his axe. Rees also ordered me to screw over Greg Tucker in February 2001, who was gaining public profile, and it was his demented behaviour over this that eventually led to me leaving them although I continued as full-time press officer for the SA. Unpaid.

    They started on Marqusee and Davies which I and others have written plenty about elsewhere. And the whole Steve Godward saga, and Birmingham …

    During the 2001 elections when we were trying to build on the solid ground gained in 2000, they withdrew their troops so we were hamstrung. We had known we weren’t going to add a phenomenal number of votes as we had just arrived on the electoral scene. We all accepted that and were prepared for the long hard slog. But suddenly we were going into a major election, many of us for the first time, without activists. Everything was done to legitimise the SWP claim that the SA was going nowhere. And we still got Lavalette into Preston, before Respect was even a twinkle.

    My contention is that they hadn’t “realised” anything. This was their intention and the signs could be seen early on.

    Re Andy’s well-meaning desire for some sort of truth and reconciliation, one illustration among many of why this is a triumph of hope over experience is the fact that Osler, Mason and Tucker have still not given me any support or even acknowledgment after standing up to Rees in their defence, indicating there is not even the basic material available for this to happen in any meaningful way. Neither have any of those who were aware of events including just about all the SA exec (Andy and Steve G being the notable exceptions) said anything, integrity, comradeship and courage being a bit rare in these here parts.

    Forget it, Jake. This is Swappytown.

  5. Mike said,

    November 14, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Well Mason and Tucker were never going to do anything that might have jeopardised the interests of their own sects. As for Osler…….

    On another note I find it curious that some of the internal criticism within the SWP is coming from Brum and Bristol based comrades. The reason being that these branches have suffered more disruption than most recently and have weak fulltimers. This directly relates to the Godward and Hicks incidents respectively.

  6. Andy Newman said,

    November 14, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    BUt MIke – the other interestng thing is that it is alsways Bristol and Birmingham!

    The Right opposition
    The IS opposition
    Womens’ Voice
    Red Action

    Bristol and Birmingham – I don’t know why

  7. Darren said,

    November 14, 2007 at 5:20 pm


    shit football teams?

    What else have they got to do with their time?

  8. Andy Newman said,

    November 14, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    I beg your pardon!!!!

  9. Binh said,

    November 14, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    The united front of a very special type – the SWP with itself, by itself – will be a very sad and pathetic spectacle to behold. I with Wrack, Ovenden, Hicks, and Andy of SocialistUnity would start a new party out of this wreckage. I have a feeling a lot of rank-and-file SWPers are going to slowly drop out in demoralization, especially if RESPECT Renewal has some success and doesn’t drop the left-wing elements of its program, undermining the CC’s “left-right split” argument.

  10. Mike said,

    November 14, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Sure the SWP version of Respect will be but a bad joke. But the likes of Ovenden, Hoveman, Grrr Francis and their like are in the process of abandoning socialism all together. The same is not true of Andy.

  11. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 15, 2007 at 9:26 am

    Of course Anna is correct re the SA. That experience, Scotland and now Respect surely says something about group DNA.

  12. Andy Newman said,

    November 15, 2007 at 10:57 am

    They played a similarly wrecking role in the Australian Socialist Alliance, but didn’t have the wieght to succeed

    It should be said that the New Zealand, Zimbabwe and German comrades have proven themselves much better able to work in broader parties.

    The SW-NZ comrades are involved in Residents Action Movement, that has 3000 members and got 117000 votes in Aukland last month.

  13. Daphne said,

    November 19, 2007 at 6:47 am

    I think that Alex’s line that the post-Seattle upswing is over and it’s time for a retreat from the broad left strategy is very vital to grasp – because our analysis in New Zealand is virtually the opposite:


    The central important fact as we see it was not post-Seattle militancy, or even the global war on terror, but of the abandonment of reformism by the historical mass parties of the class in favour of neo-liberalism or “neo-liberalism with a human face”. Rebuilding any sort of workers’ political consciousness right now means a new mass workers party of the broad left, and any serious revolutionary party has got to be right at the centre of that – crucially, building strategic alliances with non-revolutionary radical forces. The role of revolutionaries within such a party is not a narrow, sectarian “build the revolutionary group” – we’ve seen where that goes – but to build the broad party, to fight for it to adopt a transitional programme of the kind that Trotsky or Lenin would have recognized, and to fight for Marxist ideas among other comrades within the broad party.

    Personally speaking – back in 2002 I thought the “united front of the special type” idea more convincing than the SSP model. I think history has proved us wrong, although I don’t think the SSP model covered itself with glory either. The model set by Die Linke seems more interesting recently.

  14. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 19, 2007 at 9:46 am

    Actually, I agree – the Germans have been doing very well. Of course, they started at a higher level than most countries…

    I think the key question is, how do we rebuild some kind of class struggle left wing? I don’t think there are any easy answers, and certainly it’s very hard to generalise internationally.

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