Consider, if you will, that seminal work “Lost in America” by the great Alice Cooper:
I can’t get a girl cos I ain’t got a car
I can’t get a car cos I ain’t got a job
I can’t get a job cos I ain’t got a car
So I’m lookin’ for a girl with a job and a car
Later on Alice expatiates a bit about how he can’t go to school cos he ain’t got a gun, but you get the drift. The important thing is the method. Alice takes a cold, sober, rational look at his problems and comes up with a realistic solution. And that really is the only way to proceed if you want to get anywhere.
Which brings me to the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party, who really should be taking a cold, sober look at their problems about now, and considering what to do next. It’s been, all things considered, a terrible year for the comrades, topped off by their electoral spanking at the top of the month. One would hope that our scientific Marxists would at least reach the level of rationality set by Alice Cooper.
All right, so from the narrow sectarian viewpoint of building up the SWP’s organisational strength, Respect would have been looking like a bad idea even a year ago. The rationale for it would have been that you have to sacrifice the possibility of recruiting relatively small numbers to the org in the short term, in favour of the possibility of building something bigger and better which will benefit the org big time in the longer term. It’s a compelling argument. But then you look at a situation where a good chunk of the SWP cadre was quietly boycotting Respect, and another good chunk had gone native within Respect, with all that that implies for a loss of cohesion in what used to be a remarkably disciplined group. And that’s before the nuclear button was pressed, and alliances that had taken years to build up were sacrificed on the altar of Rees’ pique.
If I was on the CC, I would be strongly considering the benefits of sending Rees and German on extended gardening leave. It’s probably the case that, were Papa Smurf still alive, Rees would have been busted down to the ranks like shit through a goose. But in the post-Cliff era, even if John and Lindsey are considered irreparably damaged goods in their role as Mr and Mrs Broad Coalition, some face-saving formula will need to be found. The overriding instinct of the CC, honed over many years, is to present a united face in front of the children.
In any case, a breach in CC unity is most unlikely because, well, who would step up to the mark? At this point, more traditionalist Swips will grumble into their beer and hope that the Harmanator will swing into action. They’ve been waiting a long time, and I suspect will go to their graves waiting. As for Lord Callinicos, he’s too busy looking after his super-duper academic career and appearing on The Moral Maze. And even the most hardened cadre might quake at the prospect of a Martin Smith regime. Personally, I’ve never had any problem with Martin, but then I’m not afraid of him.
More to the point will be a discussion about what to do next. Reespect is at the end of the road as a serious venture, although there will, I imagine, be continued electoral interventions on a localised scale. Again, this will be covered by face-saving bluster along “We are the real Respect” lines. But the retreat is unmistakeable. Likewise, although antiwar sentiment still exists on a mass scale, you can’t disguise the fact that STW is in decline. There are few structures or sustained activities for anyone to get involved in, just the big set-piece marches in central London, which themselves are tending to shrink.
There’s been some talk about a turn to industry. This leaves me scratching my head a little, as Britain has little industry left – schoolteachers don’t count – and the organised labour movement is still extremely quiescent. A turn to the unions, perhaps, and that would be a good idea. But it would require targeted long-term work, rather than any expectation that Big Gains will be right around the corner, if only the comrades show sufficient enthusiasm.
What is likely to happen – and there’s evidence of this already – is a big swing towards anti-Nazi activity, particularly with Barnbrook’s election to the GLA. Well worth doing, in principle, although we’ll have to see how it works out in practice. The appeal of this is not only that it gives the comrades something to do in the immediate term, but also because it draws on the SWP’s libertyvalanced version of its own history. According to this, the Swips have unique expertise and authority when it comes to anti-Nazi work. Perhaps more temptingly, the ANL has gone down in this history as the vehicle whereby the SWP built its cadre. This is a bit partial, in that in the mid-70s the IS had a substantial industrial cadre, large layers of whom were expelled by Cliff. It is however true that the ANL was invaluable in building a new, replacement cadre.
More generally, I think we’ll see a general turn back to the colleges and the yoof. There’s been a little of this in Scotland over the past year: since the Scotchie Swips failed to coast into Holyrood on the back of the Tangerine Man’s charisma, they’ve pragmatically (but not formally) turned away from Solidarity and towards their old MO. That means, establishing a regular stream of recruits via SWSS, while recruiting adults in ones and twos from strikes and demos. It’s a familiar approach, and one that will be deeply attractive to disoriented cadre.
There will be pitfalls along the way, of course. For a start, the org is a lot weaker than it was in the nineties. For another, there is stiff competition. No longer are the Yo Brigade the hegemonic force to the left of New Labour. Just to take the colleges, Militant have been growing quite a bit in recent years by recruiting in the colleges, and have done so basically by way of doing the sort of activity the Swips used to do. Having once deprioritised what used to be the major source of warm bodies, it may be difficult for them to reestablish themselves in this ecological niche.
I’m sure, of course, that there will be a lot of chest-beating, pontification about the period, damning of The Traitor Galloway and loud declarations of the membership’s faith in the wisdom of the CC. But the actual choices ahead are limited, and will have to be made on a pragmatic basis.