Marx damn the SWP

The above is from the scurrilous early 90s Anarchist publication ‘Trotwatch’…

This post is from June 16th 2005. You do not need Nostradamus-like pretensions at predicting the future to know that the SWP’s various cunning plans to make it big in British politics always end in tears. However, I wrote this barely a month after George Galloway won Bethnal Green for Respect, in which the SWP played a major part. The political big time beckoned…

Looking back, it still amazes me how badly the Far Left in Britain has done in the 6 years since I wrote this. I know nothing should surprise me about the Far Left’s ability to screw things up-but still… Just looking at this May’s election results makes me seriously wonder whether there is any serious future for the Far Left in British political life. Ten years back it seemed to stupid here that the Socialist Alliance (before the SWP killed it) was the best hope for a Far Left breakthrough, not least if it modelled itself on the Scottish Socialist Party (a very good dissection of the SSP’s demise can be found here).

Anyhow, back to 2005…

The Socialist Workers Party is a subject I’ve wanted to blog in depth about for a while (for non-British Isles people, the SWP are the British section of the International Socialists, who sell ‘Socialist Worker’- they have lot of overseas sections, but the SWP here is the sun around which its satellites orbit). I could go on forever about how thick the average SWP member is (I once had a semi-conversation with some in Nottingham years ago, who apparently thought the Houses of Parliament were a form of direct democracy!!) but I’ll limit myself to saying something about the SWP’s trajectory over the years. For most of its history the SWP (or as it as known from the 1960s until 1977, the International Socialists) operated outside the Labour Party, but always called for a Labour vote at General Elections (‘Vote Labour But Build A Fighting Socialist Alternative’). As other socialists pointed out, during the 1980s the SWP spent half its time saying how bad a Labour government would be, while spending the rest of the time telling people to vote Labour. This continued until the late 1990s. Tony Blair’s becoming Labour leader and Labour’s adoption of Thatcherite policies was something the SWP (and nearly all the rest of the non-Labour left here) had great problems in coping with. I remember the SWP poster ‘Why Won’t Blair Fight the Tories?’ in the mid-90s. ‘Because he is one!’ seemed the most plausible answer!

At the very end of the 90s the SWP changed tack. There appeared to be a gap in the political market to the Left of Labour. The SWP took over (through sheer numbers- but we are talking the low thousands here) the Socialist Alliance, which was an umbrella body of various left groups outside the Labour Party. I remember going to a couple of meetings, handing over a bit of money and even leafleting for the London Socialist Alliance in early 2000. Ken Livingstone was standing as London Mayor, after leaving the Labour Party, and the Socialist Alliance/SWP were hopeful that they could win a seat on the London Assembly on the back of a Left backlash against New Labour. It didn’t happen. I remember the SWP going on about the need to ‘struggle’, when I think most people don’t want to struggle more than they have to! (‘Socialism will be a right struggle’ is not a great slogan, is it?) Also the answer to any economic problem was to nationalise it, which may help with the railways, but with everything?

Anyway, the SWP/SA announced that the 2000 London campaign had been a great triumph (mind you, every SWP campaign is hailed as a great triumph, and there’ll be another one arriving soon anyway!). The whole project was based on the belief that many traditional Labour voters and party members were chomping at the teeth to join a Socialist alternative to the Labour Party. That was the logic behind the Socialist Alliance campaign at the 2001 General Election. However, the Socialist Alliance only got 5% of the vote in 2 out of around 100 constituencies. The Red Tide it was not.

However, the SWP at this point noticed the ethnic polarisation which was taking place during the spring and summer of 2001 in many northern English urban areas. The BNP was starting to pick up votes (particularly Oldham and Burnley) on a ‘Rights for Whites’ platform, while the SWP, under its Anti-Nazi League front, was able to mobilise many Muslims to go out and confront the BNP (when they turned up). Then we had Sept 11th, which polarised things further. Many Muslims took part in anti-war demos in the Autumn of 2001, and the SWP saw a way of mobilising support (or at least selling copies of ‘Socialist Worker’) to a new audience.

At the end of 2001 the SWP was able to centralise decision making in side the Socialist Alliance. This led to the Socialist Party (the ex-Militant tendency) leaving the SA, and with it virtually all its elected councillors. The SP has many faults, but at least it is able to get itself elected (at local council level) in the sort of working class areas the BNP are found increasingly sniffing around for support. From late 2001 the SA was gradually wound down by the SWP, and there was no SA presence at the large Stop the War demos in 2003. The SWP put the SA out of its misery in early 2005, but by then it was fully engaged in the Respect project, which seems mainly to consist of getting ‘Socialist Worker’ sellers standing outside Mosques telling people to vote for George Galloway (and buy the paper!).

Let’s say if the SWP, George Galloway and the Respect project are the future of socialism in this country, Marx help us!!


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