Some Thoughts on the Crisis in the British SWP

I’ve been following the discussions on the crisis in the Socialist Workers Party of Britain on the threads at Lenin’s Tomb and at The North Star. I’m reminded of the fact that this not the first time that a “democratic centralist” organization has imploded. In the 1980’s, this happened to both the American SWP and the British WRP. These implosions happened for different reasons, which suggests to me that these types of organizations are inherently fragile. Building up a layer of cadre who are financially dependent on the organization perhaps creates a structure that does not stand up to internal stress. There is also a problem, I think, in trying to build and maintain an organization with revolutionary politics during a non-revolutionary period. The promise of revolution underlies the group’s activities, but when year after year goes by without the promise being fulfilled, it can be dispiriting for some people and can perhaps create an inward-looking mentality among others. I am curious as to what other people think about this.

2 Responses to “Some Thoughts on the Crisis in the British SWP”

  1. Andrew Coates Says:

    I don;t know how far SWP members seriously believe in a ‘revolution’ or have much idea of what that means. There are some that do of course, and they stick out like sore thumbs anywhere outside the largest cities.

    I’d say the main problem is that many of them have an extremely introverted political culture and that includes leading figures who have in a sense never “grown up” politically and can relate to the broader labour movement.

    In the UK there is a labour movement, with a left, and most of the various lefts – new or not – of the 1960s-1970s-1980s that is still active is part of this.

    The leadership of the SWP is part of these generations of the left but has never really got to terms with working in unions, as part of the movement (not ‘leading’ it). Obviously they are not in the Labour Party LRC (the main left grouping) but they equally find it hard to work with them seriously, as adults and not potential recruits.

    There’s also the SWP ‘cycle’: one campaign dominates everything (ANL, now Unite the resistance, there’s a long list), until,….the next one. Again they don;t have a serious strategy of co-operation with others, social movements etc.

    Being hectored is not normally liked.

    As a result they have a lot of enemies, as you may know.

    I could go on….

    • The Spanish Prisoner Says:

      I was a member of the American ISO at the time of its split with the British SWP. I remember the SWP didn’t seem very interested in having any kind of serious dialogue with us. They actually seemed indignant that we didn’t click our heels and do whatever they told us to do. So I’m not surprised to learn that other groups have had problems with them.

      I wonder, is there something about the “democratic centralist” approach that leads to this kind of behavior?

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