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On the SWP and “uniting the Left”

SW front pageI was looking at my watch the other day and I remember thinking “it’s been a while since the Socialist Workers Party issued a ‘unite the left’ call.” And whaddya know, they’d already done it. My lefty trainspotting isn’t what it used to be.*

From time to time the SWP like to go on unity binges. In 2009 when the RMT/Socialist Party/Communist Party electoral vehicle No2EU contested the European elections after the SWP had been specifically excluded from participating, they duly produced an open letter to the left in which they proclaimed “Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity.”

The problem for the SWP, of course, is this not long followed their stupid wrecking of Respect and the embarrassing adventurism of the Left List. And their turn to founding Respect came off the back of dumping the Socialist Alliance – a vehicle that, at least for a time, united the principal organisations of Trotskyism for the first time since the 1940s. Far be it for me to suggest that if you’re going to do the talk, you should also be doing the walk.

And here we are again. Five years on from the last one the new call for unity is, well, a bit thin. As always, workers are straining at the leash – if only more strikes were called, austerity would be stopped in its tracks. All possible on paper, a little harder to pull off in practice. A concerted effort against racism and scapegoating is needed too. Who can disagree? Then comes the thumping conclusion: the non-Labour left “has to get its act together”, it’s “too fragmented and inward-looking” when what is needed is “a stronger left” to focus anger and provide political direction. Fair enough.

The problem is, who’d want anything to do with the SWP? Remember, this is an organisation that covered up rape allegations, then performed a ham-fisted and cack-handed investigation-by-committee stuffed full of the accused’s mates before letting him off. Meanwhile, the survivors who bravely made the complaints were harassed Scientology-style, and reports of a very unhealthy regime provided the necessary cultish background. Surely any leftist allying themselves with such a disgusting shower would find themselves very quickly sharing the unity of the political graveyard.

But the new unity move fits in with the SWP’s record of bandwagon chasing. As reported in the latest Party Notes, their Unite the Resistance front group holds its November conference on the 15th. “The conference could play a serious role in helping to pull together a national network involving some of the best fighters” it concludes. And the interesting but by no means unproblematic politicisation of many hundreds of thousands in Scotland is a movement just begging the benefit of the SWP’s leadership. But, as ever, rather than trying to win new people over politically – an especially tough task now everyone can Google the organisation serenading them – the SWP will go for their tried and tested formula: of being the “best builders“, the most hyper of active advocates. The naive and the gullible might get swooped up and scooped up by the SWP’s unity rhetoric, but it will pass. Sooner or later another bandwagon will roll into town, another opportunity for the remaining members to collectively forget the awful stuff their organisation has done.

Left unity amongst self-described revolutionaries, whether around a political project looking to challenge Labour in elections or knitting together left-dominated campaigns against austerity and closure has proved at times fleeting, at times partial. Partly because the political economy and collective identity formers of the organisations involved necessarily set them at loggerheads. Yet there is already a left unity project that exists. It’s called the labour movement. Building that, recruiting to that is the most fruitful thing any of us could be doing.

*  Yes, I know about the earth-shattering decision of Socialist Appeal to abandon Scottish Labour for the bright lights and big city of a rejuvenated Scottish Socialist Party – more on that soon, maybe.


  1. Rod says:

    The toy-town, ‘revolutionary’ fantasists of the Far Left should be avoided like the plague.

    As long as I can remember – going back to the 1970s – their presence has always been self-serving and destructive.

    In the end any ‘unity’ amounts to nothing more than paper-selling, new member-recruiting degradation.

    And who the f*ck wants to be bossed around by the likes of Kimber, Taaffe and their cronies?

    1. Robert says:

      The far far left can anyone can you tell me who are the far left, it’s hard enough finding the soft left in a labour party full of Progress right wingers.

  2. David Ellis says:

    I can’t decide who I want to disappear off the face of the planet first, the opportunist sectarians of the SWP or the sectarian opportunists of New Labour. Marxism of course has to steer a course between the twin evils of sectarianism and opportunism but not through the simple eclectic combination of the two dichotomous but identical errors but by principled rigorous analysis. If unity is ever to be achieved it will be on the basis of inwardly coherent, objectively necessary principled programme or manifesto not on the orders of these arseholes for whom unity means dropping all principles so that they can cosy up to a few bureaucrats.

  3. David Ellis says:

    We should also mention the cluster fuck that is Left Unity. This is a series of sects gathered together for warmth but which absolutely despise each other. They refuse to adopt a programme because it would cramp their style which consists almost exclusively of unprincipled maneouvering and so they emphasise broadness over principles. In other words they are prepared to split the labour vote for no good reason whatsoever. Certainly not to win workers to a militant programme. That is the perfect illustration of how sectarianism and opportunism though they appear opposed are actually identical.

    1. Robert says:

      Well left Unity will live or die on the people it can get to vote for it, if not enough vote or join then it will either join the labour party or will become part of the SWP or fail and fold.

      The problem for labour is today it’s not even pretending to be a left leaning party and is openly Progress. The real question is when will Progress make a move and will the left have a party worth keeping after they have made that move.

  4. Rod says:

    Robert: “when will Progress make a move”

    The Labour Party has already voted to end its link with unions. The process will be complete before the 2020 general election.

    There’ll be no point in the LP retaining the ‘Labour’ part of its name once the unions are gone. So we should expect a Progress coup de grace and name change a year or so before the 2020 election.

    In the meantime the best chance for those who support a socialist LP is for Scotland’s LP to achieve full autonomy and adopt democratic internal procedures. That may serve as an example of what could be done.

    1. Robert says:

      We will see the problem is these days even the left is more right wing then I’ve ever seen before they talk about hard working affordable homes to buy .

      I think my self labour has lost it heart it’s ideology it’s reason for being, and in Scotland even the lefty who is standing cannot help talking about hard working, not the working class, they are to the right and do not even know it.

  5. James Martin says:

    The SWP are not even worth the effort of talking about. However, the wider issue of the ‘Left’ is something that we all should be worried about. There’s not many of us around for starters, either inside or outside the LP, and in fact I would guess that the organised far left outside it is at its smallest in well over a century.

    And that is very worrying. So far we have been reasonably fortunate that the far-right has not grown into a threat here as it is in much of Europe. The BNP has self-destructed, the EDL is split and floundering without leadership (or rather too many wishing to be the fuhrer post Tommy). That may change, and change quickly if there is not enough weight to counter the threat. And actually, where there has been a significant growth in fascism in the shape of the young men and women running off to Syria to join the ISIS death cult, that in itself is an indication that reactionary ideas are finding a home due to the absence of the pull of radical socialist ones that would have otherwise perhaps have pulled significant sections of angry and disaffected muslim youth towards it.

    And looking wider, while unions have stabilised and are holding their own again in terms of membership, the level of activists and reps/shop stewards is still alarmingly low.

    Even in Scotland – a place where certain far-left groups portray as being almost on the verge of revolution – only 9,000 people could turn up in the centre of Glasgow for a STUC march the other week, and that to me is indicative that, actually, for all the rhetoric about the ‘earthquake’ in Scottish politics, the labour movement, the unions and the socialists, are just as weak there as they are anywhere else in the UK.

    We risk the ‘red threads’, that have always existed from the days of the Chartists and earlier and that meant that ideas and knoweldge in the labour movement passes down from generation to generation, being frayed to breaking point.

    So yes, sometimes it is nice to huddle together for a bit of warmth, but the real issue is not uniting what remains of the existing left, but of drawing in again new forces in very large numbers from the workplaces and communities to reinvigorate the unions and socialist groups – and in that task the SWP is utterly impotant.

  6. swatantra says:

    SWP deserve at least a couple of MPs and Cllrs for allthe hard work they put in. If we had PR they’d get them. Where they get their money from God knows; its not by selling acres of ‘Socialist Worker’ for sure.

  7. Chris says:

    “this is an organisation that covered up rape allegations, then performed a ham-fisted and cack-handed investigation-by-committee stuffed full of the accused’s mates before letting him off. ”

    Nope. None of what you claim happened.

    The SWP were 100% right about the whole silly affair, and that’s coming from someone who detests Trotskyism.

  8. David Melvin says:

    The SWP are even more irrelevant than TUSC which takes some! Because of Left Unity’s strange structure which allows members to continue as members of their existing party, it is almost impossible for LU to have clear policies. LU run the risk of being as irrelevant as the SWP and TUSC.

  9. Chris says:

    There are two main problems with the “left of Labour left”:

    1) Trotskyism

    2) Identity politics

    Both of these things are utterly corrosive and poisonous to the socialist movement, as has been shown again and again. It’s a shame more of the old official Communist tradition hasn’t survived, because those people were real socialists, for all their limitations.

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