Better in than out
The Socialist Unity Network

The following piece breaks our rules about submission guidelines because it promotes one sectional interest. However, we have included it because it is both well written and open minded. We are publishing to show we welcome the SWP's participation in the debate.

We would however prefer future contributions from supporter's of the SWP to address ongoing debates in the labour movement.

We would particularly welcome a response to the points made by Mike Marqusee last year.
"Formations for the Next Left" By Mike Marqusee accessible under "discussion papers" on:

Better in than out?

Ben Drake

Random thoughts on SWP membership from
someone who took a decade to join:


I grew up in the Labour Party.  Both my parents were active on the CND / trade union left and my Dad was even a one-time CPer. Amazingly enough, rather than rebel and join the Young Conservatives, I actually enjoyed left activism and found Marxism a convincing analysis of power.  But by the time I was old enough to join, Kinnock had gone all Hammer-of-the-Militant and the Labour Party didn’t seem at all like the sort of party I got invited to.

All of which should’ve made me an ideal recruit for the SWP. Except my fascination with left politics led me to seek out and read every bit of intra-left ‘Life of Brian’ polemic I could lay hands on.  A crazy, feverish world of purges and denouncement, but the one thing all agreed on was how simply awful the SWP were.  Between that (and the global context of the 1980s-90s where the whole notion of socialism had taken quite a beating) I was left with an assortment of contradictory ideas, no clear perspective and one unshakeable item of faith: that the SWP must be wrong.

So, like many left-thinking people, I spent years going on protests mobilised largely by SWP members, as part of campaigns organised largely by SWP members, while complaining bitterly about the presence of the SWP.

I’d like to claim I realised the absurdity of this myself.  But like many men I need here to acknowledge the intervention of a superior intelligence i.e. a woman.  My partner came to my rescue, knocking down my intricately-constructed prejudices with judicious use of such unfair questions as ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ and most disarmingly of all ‘what would you do?’

So to cut to the chase, I did finally join, and I haven’t regretted it.  Here in a nutshell is why I did and why I think you should too:

The SWP is far and away the largest organised far left group in the country.  It has branches in towns many Londoners can’t find on a map (sorry, couldn’t resist) and is ubiquitous in protests and campaigns to an extent that patently irritates everyone else.

It has a stable and effective structure, a strong cadre of activists, a healthy stable of publications.  And it has Socialist Worker, the most recognised and read paper on the far left (and the only one that doesn’t talk about the far left!).

Its politics and analysis are essentially sound.  Tony Cliff’s big ideas (Stalinism = state capitalism, modern capitalism sustains itself with permanent arms races, and most importantly there can never be any route to socialism without the working class) stand up better than any alternative I’ve heard of.

Now assuming you've nodded along to all of that, the question is, why not join?  I suspect for some the answer may be more to do with style than substance.  Put simply, SWPers keep pissing you off.

To elaborate: SWP comrades (all of us) sometimes come across in a bad way, best described as impatient, more often as arrogant or high-handed.  Now I should interject in our defence, any period of being on ‘our side’ of the equation shows you why; there’s little more infuriating than working hard for weeks building an action or event only for someone to turn up on the day and tell you you’ve done it all wrong and furthermore you’re a sell-out!

But still, angry or dismissive outbursts don’t come over well, or present the SWP as the mature party I think we actually are.

Question is, is that a good enough reason not to be a member?  To me, it isn’t.  It’s a problem of style, manner, not substantive politics.  The further we grow, away from the old sectarian politics, the more we’ll relax and leave such bad habits behind.

All the plus points of the SWP I listed above are the inheritance of decades of work.  You could possibly build a new organisation with a cuddlier image, and certainly that faced less prejudice, but you couldn’t replace all the SWP have going for us.

So that’s my case.  All of us from time to time have thought we could have a smoother-rolling wheel, but does it really make sense to abandon the one we’ve got only to try to reinvent it?  Why not, instead, do the unthinkable: join the SWP and make it work.



March 2004


Ben asked me to add this post script and I was happy to oblige;

"This piece certainly wasn't intended as sectarian, I hope that's not my style.  It's personal rather than ideological, an account of my generally positive experience of the party I chose to join, written mostly because people rarely write about the SWP while in it!

What I should on reflection have added is that it's far more important that people become involved in campaigning than which (if any) group they join. The Socialist Alliance was, for a while, a refreshing experience of the left pushing outward (onward? upward? dizzy now) together. 

Respect has the potential to be the same on a more massive scale, if we can successfully involve the diversity of forces brought together in the anti-war movement. Another world is possible!"


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