The Socialist Unity Network

SWP changes structures

Jackie Milburn

The SWP central committee is instructing a change in the organisation's structures. It argues in the weekly internal document, Party Notes that "Over the coming weeks and months the SWP is going to throw itself into building Respect, the ESF and the Industrial struggles. It is vital that there is a strong and vibrant SWP that strengthens these united fronts and at the same time becomes a home for the best activists. Any talk of branch and district structures is only relevant if it takes place in the context of relating to the movement. You can have the best structures in the world but by themselves they mean absolutely nothing."

The following structures will now be used:

Socialist Worker District Forums: Once a month the SWP will hold a district wide Socialist Worker Forum. This is pitched as a public meeting with a good speaker, and aims to attract the activists from Respect / StWC and trade union militants as well as SWP members who have dropped out of activity. This meeting should be the public face of the SWP and widely advertised with fly posting, phone rounds and adverts in local papers.

Local Socialist Worker Forums: In the weeks between the Respect event and  the SWP District Forum there should be local Socialist Worker Forums. These will include a political talk on a subject like the US elections, Sudan or Lenin followed by a second half discussion on a topical subject. For example this second slot could be turned into a district / area meeting to discuss the SWP's intervention in a campaign.

District Committee: The Central Committee (CC) recognises that SWP comrades work in many different campaigns without much support or reference to the district organisation. This confirms the observation of many outside the SWP that its leading members operate largely autonomously. In order to combat  this fragmentation the CC are arguing that district committees be set up. This body should oversee the work inside the "united fronts" and organise  events like the SWP district forums and industrial sales. However Party  Notes also says: "It should meet once a week. It should not be a talking shop - it should last no more than 1 hour and should be in a business like manner." It is hard to see how a district committee that has this presumption against political discussion will be able to effectively act as a democratic forum for deciding local priorities, or allowing comrades to bring up their own experiences.

Undoubtedly one of the most controversial acts by the SWP in recent years has been its undemocratic behaviour in Birmingham, firstly in the Stop the War Coalition, and later in the Socialist Alliance. This led to the  resignations of long term SWP members Rumy Hassan and Sue Blackwell. Both of  these comrades complain that there was no forum where they could express their disagreements. Hopefully the new local SW Forums can play this role
and allow the SWP to become more open again to internal debate and discussion. However for this to work requires a change of mind-set from the full time organisers. They must stop seeing the party as a top down transmission belt for the wisdom of the central committee, and start allowing the experience of the members to be fed back more into the decision

It should also be observed that the new structures are only feasible in large cities. It has been a complaint for many years by SWP members in smaller towns that the organisation's perspectives are simply impossible to apply. In reality comrades outside the large cities operate independently from the Party structures. It will be a challenge for the SWP to implement district discussions about interventions that include these comrades from small towns, however this is an important task.


September 2004


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