"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
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
The quote above comes from an
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
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
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.