The Socialist Unity Network

As always, its the end of the SWP


"Clearly, RESPECT has failed. But where now? What of the SWP? Simply put, the SWP looks like it is trouble. It has failed to capitalise on its prominent organising (and controlling) role in the StWC. It has not recruited as it would like (or predicted) from the anti-war movement. The party leadership has recently decided to sell off its printing press (probably to help manage the heavy debts it incurred during the anti-war marches and election
campaign). Nor has RESPECT drawn in anti-war people."


It's that time of year again. Just after Marxism the rest of the left turns on their SWP comrades and gloats about their immanent demise. Again.

The quote above comes from an anarchist website  but if you trawl the net and the web discussions boards you will find many examples of this kind of thing. I had a quick peek at the archives of the esteemed Weekly Worker and found this interesting article from 1999 describing the 'current' SWP crisis.

Well, apparently it's still happening, in one form or another, just like every other year.

The one thing all these kinds of criticisms seem to miss is the gap between difficulties that all organisations face, pretty much all the time, and fatal crisis which brings about the end of that organisation. The SWP has been going for quite some time now and is likely to exist for some time to come. That's a fact.

But let's look at the critical aspect of this year's proof of crisis. The numbers attending Marxism 2004. They are down. Weekly Worker estimates 50% down and others have similar figures. Anyone who had spoken to SWP members before the event though will have realised that they were expecting attendance to be down and were not, contrary to reports, down hearted at the fact because they felt there were good reasons for this.

Now the SWP's party notes says that attendance was the same this year as last. Although this seems a little unlikely it is not actually impossible. The reason being that most people never attend every day of the event, and in the current climate where comrades have been asked to give up a lot there is less holiday and enthusiasm for spending time away from your loved ones.

It's quite possible that people attended for less of event rather than there being less people - although in all likelihood it was probably a combination of both.

Key to this is that Marxism was taking place at the same time as the crucial Birmingham and Leicester by elections. John Rees in his session Saturday morning asked SWP members "what are you doing here?" and urged everyone to take the buses that had been laid on to go and campaign. The tone's slightly moralistic but it is beyond doubt that this had an effect on people who were moved to do just that.

Others from the areas themselves would probably have been told not to attend Marxism - so on purely practical grounds there is good reason to see that the attendance appeared down. These two factors alone accounted for hundreds of those who would have attended.

But where are the good reasons for believing in a crisis?

None of the SWP members I spoke to had any doubts about the future of the SWP (although unfortunately not all of them are enthusiasts for RESPECT) and the atmosphere was, I thought, more pleasant than last year with less pestering and harassment and a relaxed air (although perhaps this was because we weren't crammed in so tight?)

Of course for a section of the left SWPology is more important than the real fight and if they don't like the comrades in the SWP then they are easily drawn into gloating about problems that the left is having rather than looking at the wider picture and a defeat for any of our friends on the left is a defeat for us all.

In changing times though organisations will undergo changes themselves and things are not simply rosy in the garden (and they never will be, we'll have problems on the barricades, of course) no one should think I'm trying to create my own myth that the SWP is bigger and stronger than it has ever been - that's not true either. But it does have the hard calloused skin required to endure difficult times. 

The current reshuffle in the central committee could also produce some interesting results. It will be interesting to see what Chris Bambury makes of his new role as editor of Socialist Worker and the ISJournal under Chris Harman promises to contain more international debate which sounds like a very welcome development. Martin Smith as the new national secretary may well bring a touch of humanism and political subtlety to Party Notes and possibly the rest of the organisation. All potentially good moves.

Time will tell what happens but in an extremely conservative organisation with a long and proud history it will not pop out of existence just because a period has difficult aspects and the opportunities presenting them- selves have not been fully capitalised on. If you look at the demise of Militant it shows that even a deteriorating organisation can have victories and be involved important struggles - even now the remnants still walk the streets unaware that there crisis was fatal.



July 2004


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism