the most illuminating reads on the left is the SWP’s internal mailing, “Party
Notes”. Fortunately you don’t need to join the SWP to read it, due
to their lax internal security – presumably (courtesy of Manchester SWP)
even BNP Fuehrer Nick Griffin has been a regular reader!
Tragically, since Chris Bambury left the position of National Secretary
the prose has been a lot less entertaining. Bambury has made a
significant contribution to the Marxist method by synthesising poor
judgement, stream of consciousness and breathless enthusiasm. The new
National Secretary, Martin Smith, unfortunately does not have the same
poetic gift. However there are still some remarkable judgements in Party
Notes. For example only this week he wrote:
Sunday SWP delegates from around the country attended Party Council. I'm
everyone would agree that it was a great success. Delegates described
how we face a historic opportunity in the coming months. … … on the 5
May (the most probable date for the general election) we have a real
chance since 1945 of getting a socialist elected to parliament”
This is a
remarkable claim. It is of course true that in 1945 a large number of
socialist MPs were returned to Westminster. For example the hard left
group of MPs including Tom Braddock, Ronald Chamberlain, Harold Davies,
H.L. Austin, Stephen Swingler and Bessie Braddock (unrelated to Tom),
started collaborating in 1948 with the Trotskyists Gerry Healy and John
Lawrence to produce the paper “Socialist Outlook”, and were instrumental
in setting up in 1949 the Socialist Fellowship, a vibrant grass-roots
socialist organisation within the party. Socialist planning was also at
the centre of the demands made in Keep Left, the manifesto signed
by fifteen MPs led by Richard Crossman, Michael Foot and Ian Mikardo. At
the same time Nye Bevan and the Marxist, Harold Laski were on the NEC;
and indeed Laski was party chairman until his premature death in 1950.
also true that two members of the Communist Party were elected in 1945,
Willie Gallagher and Phil Piratin.
since 1945 there have been dozens of other socialists elected to
Westminster. Not only the Militant MPs, Terry Fields, Dave Nellist and
Pat Wall, but also countless others, such as Ernie Roberts, Eric Heffer,
Bernie Grant, Audrey Wise and Tony Benn. In a situation much more
incendiary than today Bernadette
Devlin MacAliskey, a well known revolutioanry socialist, was elected as
MP for Mid-Ulster in 1969 on a radical civil rights program.
Indeed within months of being elected she was serving 6 months in Armagh
Prison following conviction for incitement to riot!
also point out that even in today’s parliament there are socialist MPs,
such as Alan Simpson, John McDonald, Jeremy Corbyn and Dennis Skinner.
What is more if we consider the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly
we must include the six SSP members and John Marek who sits for Forward
Wales – the Welsh Socialist party.
is happening that the SWP praises as so unique? Presumably they are
referring to the possibility that George Galloway has a chance of
winning a seat in Tower Hamlets for Respect. Will this make him the
first socialist elected since 1945? Well hang on, isn’t George Galloway
already an MP? So when he was elected last time weren’t the constituents
of Glasgow Kelvin voting for a socialist MP, or has Galloway only become
a socialist since then?
Galloway become a socialist MP because he might win as a Respect
candidate? But although Respect presents a left-wing manifesto, it is
surely not a socialist party because it has also selected Yvonne Ridley
as both a parliamentary candidate and onto its national executive. Isn’t
the whole point of Respect that it believes it can reach out to a wider
constituency than was achievable by an explicitly socialist party? (This
is itself a useful comparison with 1945, George Galloway is standing for
Respect, and the word has no obvious left wing connotations, Phil
Piratin won in Stepney in 1945 standing for the rather more up front
fairness, I must concede that Respect may have made remarkable progress
in East London. Socialists who are active in Tower Hamlets, such as Glyn
Robbins who has sound judgement, have described how Respect has genuine
resonance among both working class activists and the immigrant
communities; after all success does breed success. If George Galloway
does win, it will be brilliant.
SWP are clearly making an hysterical comparison with 1945. During the
1940s the Labour party was a mass party, and the Labour government
nationalised the rail, steel, coal and road haulage industries and
introduced the NHS. Even so, Labour Party conferences in the 1940s were
bitterly acrimonious affairs as the membership demanded more. At the
same time the Communist Party claimed a membership in excess of 30000,
and had deep influence in the trade unions. Today the left in England is
marginal, divided and lacking a clear strategy for advance.
however well Respect does in the general election, the triumphalist
rhetoric is unjustified. It is also dangerous because the SWP’s constant
exaggeration of its influence and success breeds a corrosive cynicism.
As one former member explains why he and his group of friends left the
joined when we were really quite young. It was our first taste of
political activity in a radical party. We had no real concept of the
divisions and sectarianism within the left, and since the SWP was the
largest leftist party we saw it as the place to be to make a difference.
When, after a few months, we saw the rather evident democratic deficit
within the party we left. I also objected particularly to the notion
that selling the paper every Saturday, building the party, and turning
up to Marxist forums was going to make a revolution happen tomorrow. The
ever optimistic tone of party notes and the socialist worker clashed
quite blatantly with reality (as did SWP lies over the size of the
anti-war demos, tagging on an extra 100,000 to the StWC estimate, which
pissed me off as much as the police estimates). The result of which left
me quite depressed about the entire situation of leftist politics in
general, and it took a lot of conviction to keep me in the movement at
all after leaving the SWP. I still think we need to work with them, and
I'm committed to staying in Respect, at least to help provide a
counter-balance to SWP hegemony. Not to sound too harsh, but people who
tow the line to the letter remind me daily why I'm never going to be
suckered into joining them again. I'd much rather be an individual with
a voice, than an automaton.”