Because we just can’t help ourselves, let’s take another brief look at the SWP coup. The Weekly Worker was of course gazumped at the time by the news coming out after it had gone to press, but this week the unmissable organ of the Conrad Party of Great Britain makes up some ground. As expected, chief Kremlinologist Peter Manson is on the case with a lengthy article. This is the Weekly Worker, of course, so all sorts of health warnings apply, but there are some little snippets worth commenting on.
Peter sets the context with:
Martin Smith had been increasingly worried, as the Respect project began to crumble last year.
If so, we are tempted to say that Martin is a disingenuous fucker. Who was it, at the outset of the Respect split, who flagged up the SWP’s intention to “go nuclear” if Galloway criticised Rees? That’s right, it was Martin Smith. Who was it who persuaded his good friend Mark Serwotka to come out publicly against the “witch hunt”? Right again. Martin, I’m afraid, has been playing the old Chris Harman game of publicly supporting Rees to the hilt while discreetly emitting smoke signals to those in the know. Peter continues:
Comrade Smith was supported by Alex Callinicos, secretary of the SWP’s ‘international’, the International Socialist Tendency, who, it seems, was moved to take a firmer position against Rees, following the intensity of IST opposition to the SWP line on broad parties. The Greek, French and German sections in particular were opposed to SWP attempts to locate the collapse of Respect as part of some general European trend.
I’m not sure about this. The French and German sections are currently involved in deep entry projects that have little in common with Respect, and although they might baulk at a turn back to the old ways, I’m sure they could find some way to finesse things. The Greeks are in a broad coalition with themselves, not unlike the Left Alternative. And of course ultra-loyalist sections like the Irish and the Canadians don’t need to be mentioned – one may assume they will follow whatever orders they receive. In any case, I know his lordship and I know how he runs the Colonial Office, and listening to the concerns of the franchises isn’t his strong point. Emailing them detailed instructions based on what he’s read in this morning’s Financial Times, yes. But I suppose he wouldn’t be above using some grumbling in the international tendency to score some domestic points.
I’m sorry, Peter, go on:
Smith was also supported in the move against comrade Rees by another senior leader, Chris Harman, and backed up strongly by Charlie Kimber, who now looks set to move up the SWP pecking order. Also voting against Rees were Colin Smith, Hannah Dee, Judith Orr, Michael Bradley, Viv Smith and Weyman Bennett.
For his part, comrade Rees was backed only by his partner and main collaborator, Lindsey German, along with long-time allies Chris Bambery and Chris Nineham – although it has to be said it is by no means certain that the latter two will not jump ship in the near future, now it is clear that the balance of forces is totally against Rees.
You read this and you wonder what happened to the extraordinarily talented leadership the party used to have. Then you remember that most of them are dead, retired or long since expelled. I for one have never seen the point of Chris Nineham.
The August 27 CC meeting was extremely heated, with comrade German at one point threatening to resign not just from the leadership, but from the SWP itself. Although she herself was not affected by the ‘cabinet reshuffle’ that accompanied Rees’s demotion, she announced that she too would resign from the Left Alternative NC in solidarity with him.
Aw, now that’s nice. Who says there’s no humanity at the top?
It goes without saying that the SWP rank and file has been kept completely in the dark as to the nature of the furious row that has engulfed the whole leadership.
You don’t say!
Think about it. Rees has been ditched because of his disastrous misleadership. The Left List London assembly debacle was too much even for the CC to stomach. In this context it is not just a ‘debate’ about the SWP’s future direction that needs to [be] had. A whole “argument” about the politics that led the organisation into Respect is essential.
Well, yes, this is the key point. And if the CC didn’t have this ingrained pas devant les enfants attitude, which can probably at the heel of the hunt be blamed on Cliff, they would have inaugurated one quite some time ago. You never know, it might be quite fruitful. Anyway, this year’s IBs will make for interesting reading.
Hundreds of SWPers opposed the Respect turn from the start, refusing to abide by the three-line whip to join the ‘unity coalition’. Most of them voted with their feet and drifted into inactivity – a form of passive rebellion. However, another minority were taken with Respect. They went ‘native’, seeing it as a principled and worthwhile formation in itself, a way out of the sectarian ghetto and into the big time – not just another ‘united front’, designed to win sympathisers and recruits for ‘the revolutionary party’.
This is true, and the institutionalised ambiguity is, I’m afraid, what did for John in the end, as he fell between two stools. The only way he could square the circle was if Respect really did help him get rich quick. The more long-term a project it was, the more untenable his position would be. It would almost make you feel sorry for the guy, if he wasn’t the author of his own misfortune.
There is also some stuff about the class contradictions in Respect, including the usual cpgb boilerplate about Asian businessmen. This is something I’ll return to separately. To the conclusion:
However, it is not just the SWP’s new contacts, made through Respect, that have now mostly gone. The organisation has lost a whole swathe of its own members as a result of the Respect disaster. Worse, the SWP has succeeded in alienating ally after ally – to the extent that no serious left figure or group will now contemplate joining forces with it in any new electoral alliance.
Well, fair enough. This won’t be a problem in the way Peter puts it, if the electoral front has effectively been wound down. But since the SWP has theorised (to the extent it ever formally theorises anything) the united front as its strategic orientation, and is operating on a sort of Venn diagram basis of lots and lots of “united fronts” (which, it must be said, bear little resemblance to the Comintern concept), then you do have a problem.
There’s a moral in this story – if you make a habit of fucking your allies over, then sooner or later you won’t have any allies left. Here endeth the lesson.