Socialist Workers Party (swp): Lessons from the Wrp

The former Socialist Worker journalist, Tom Walker, who resigned over the Comrade Delta issue, recently explained the mechanism by which the SWP leadership is insulated from reality:

The party’s inability to deal with its crisis – in fact the CC and loyalists’ denial that it is even happening – is a symptom of the huge disconnect that has opened up between the party and the wider world, and its incredibly insular culture as an organisation. Contrast the response of party members to the response of anyone else on the left who hears about this scandal. It is as if much of the SWP has come to exist on a different plane of reality. In other words, unfortunately, it is not just the leadership who are “totally divorced from the class”.

The CC-supporting members deny what’s in front of their noses. They post up Facebook statuses waffling on about how great their paper sale was, and how everyone was so angry about the Tories and the rest of it. They re-dedicate themselves to aggressively continuing exactly as before. There is no crisis. Loyalty trumps reality.

The party has some fine theories about ‘party and class’, but once it becomes unable to face up to reality, that relationship completely breaks down. Instead there is only a feedback loop of self-delusion. The leaders tell the members that everything is fine. Then the members that the leaders speak to – the ones who follow the twists and turns of the line, and as a consequence aren’t considered ‘conservative’, ‘slow to move’ and the various other epithets the CC like to throw at the rank and file – are asked how things are going. Being loyal line-followers, they feed back that, just as you said wise leader, everything is fine. Like a king taking advice from his courtiers, the leadership takes this not as toadying but as reinforcement, and doubles down on its tactics.

In this way the centralised leadership is not only cut off from the day to day rhythms of the workplace, but in fact from any way of genuinely assessing its tactics. Any report that things aren’t working is dismissed as ‘pessimism’, or worse, the development of the dreaded ‘political differences’. There is no reverse gear, only escalation. This echo chamber has operated since long before the current crisis, reinforcing incorrect perspectives long past the point of absurdity and causing a succession of crises as the leadership’s delusions smash at 100 miles per hour into the brick wall of reality. The long-term cadre are the self-selecting group who decided to stick with the CC through every previous time this happened. A crisis of this magnitude is too much for some, but for most it’s another day ‘defending the party’.

I can already hear the various long term ‘oppositionists’ saying they do not recognise this picture. We’re always disagreeing, they say, and we’re tolerated and even listened to. And yes, you may be tolerated – though not trust.ed – but that is as long as you stay within certain boundaries. The issue is whether you appear to pose a direct challenge to the authority of the CC. If you’re not a threat, then who cares, do what you like, have a debate, write a book, whatever. But if you start to look like a threat, the clampdown won’t be long in coming. This is not openly stated but nevertheless well understood

I remember a very amusing conversation I had with Chris Nineham about ten years ago, he was then a leading SWP fulltimer but is now with the rival Counterfire organisation. He rang me to ask whether I had rung around SWP contacts in Swindon to get them on some utterly pointless demonstration that the SWP had called. I honestly told him that I hadn’t and had no intention of doing so. He had a complete tantrum, in response I replied in a sarcastic tone that I now remembered and had rung them all the previous week. Completely missing the sarcasm, and obvious implausibility,  he clearly believed me and said “that’s better”, in a relieved tone.

I discussed before how understanding the dynamic of small left groups can draw upon research into “New Religious Movements”

Pattison and Ness in their paper “New Religious Movements in Perspective” refer to a useful definition of religion (and correspondingly to secular belief-oriented organizations).

“A religion is to be found where persons take it for granted that their own ethos corresponds to the meaning of the Cosmos” Applying this definition … we recognize three analytical dimensions: 1) the creation of an ethos , 2) a process of cosmization, and 3) the reification of ethos with cosmos.

The relationships between ideology, ethos and belief is complex. Some cults become the mainstream ideology of society, and recast social ethos in so doing. some organized belief systems act as mainstream religion in one part of the world, but act as a sect in other parts of the world (the difference in practice of the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Utah, compared to the practice of the same organisation in the Baptist dominated Southern USA is interesting)

Some taxonomy may help, where a mainstream religion or political movement to an extent posseses the virtue of verdicality (truth correspondence) between the belief groups ethos (their habitual character and behaviour), and their social cosmos ( the society they live in).

The language of sects and cults developed in mediaeval religious discourse, and has been adopted by ethnographers and sociologists, but it unnecessarily pejorative.

A sect may be regarded as a variant of the mainstream politcs or religion; and sect members may live in both the mainstream cosmos, and participate in the ethos of their group, despite the fact that there is tension; and lack of verdicality. For example, someone who believed themselves to be a Bolshevik revolutionary in twenty-first century Britain, could function effectively in most situations, but their political practice is orthogonal to the social and political institutions of our society, which will limit their political effectiveness outside of short term radical campaigns; and there will be a tension between their big ambitions and the groups limited achievements.

In contrast a cult seeks to resolve this lack of verdicality by limiting their interaction with mainstream society. This can be dramatic, such as the migration of the Pilgrim fathers to the Americas. Or it can be undramatic, where cult members simply immerse themselves more and more in the routine and ritual of their religious or political observance.

The SWP presents quite a complex social interaction of an immanent cult within a sect; and it is the tendency towards cultishness from the bureaucracy that creates the bullying culture, and the haughty arrogance of those whose authority is entirely self-referential from within the SWP. Their retreat from reality in face of the Comrade Delta draws upon a dynamic that already exists. Indeed the extraordinary incidents of cult like intimidation of oppositionists now being reported can only have arisen in a context where the bureaucracy are already accustomed to bullying and abusing members

Comrades around the country have been summoned to meetings on their own, or at best with one fellow member to accompany them. In these meetings they have been accused of all manner of attacks on “forty years of British Leninism”, and recantations, confessions and apologies have been demanded, along with suggestions that they leave if they cannot toe ‘the line’.

Simon Pirani recently published a fascinating account of how the self-referential cult world affects the understanding of those within the bubble.  

There was a sense in which the pre-1985 WRP was held together by a [bogus “revolutionary morality”] – the sense that we were a combat organisation, ordained by our ideology to bring certain truths to the working class and replace its treacherous leadership with our own, and that we had to do so on the basis of a set of moral precepts opposite to, and superior to, those of capitalist society. … I can best explain this in terms of my reaction to authoritarian and intimidating behaviour by WRP “leaders”. Like almost all WRP members, I was completely ignorant of Healy’s sexual abuse until the summer of 1985. (When I first heard allegations of it, I tried desperately to put them out of my mind – a complicated reaction I am happy to discuss, but won’t discuss here; once I understood more, I strongly supported bringing the charges against Healy.) But when it came to “leaders” bullying and demeaning militants, I could hardly have remained in the organisation without accepting it and becoming used to it.

I [suppressed] my instinctive uneasiness about hierarchical and bullying behaviour by senior party members. Having joined the WRP as an energetic but impressionable teenager – the best type of recruit for any sect – I soon learned to block off altogether any thoughts at all about authoritarian forms of organisation, … The theoretical trick played by the likes of Corin Redgrave to justify the WRP’s regime was that, as revolutionaries, we based our behaviour on a set of moral considerations “higher” than those of bourgeois society. Reference was made to Lev Trotsky’s pamphlet Their Morals and Ours … although, on a close reading, even there Redgrave’s position is demolished. Trotsky argues that the ends justify the means, but cautions (a) that they do not justify all means, and (b) that the ends themselves have to be justified. Clearly, Healy’s abuses could only be justified in terms of “means” if one considered, as Redgrave did, that the construction of the organisation was not a means, but an end in itself. In the WRP’s case, once the construction of a “revolutionary” organisation, separate from the wider movement, was made the end in itself, it increasingly became the case that, in terms of means, “anything goes”.

In particular, Simon Pirani emphasises the vital point that the heart of the issue is how inappropriate sexual relations based upon unequal power could be tolerated. While the alleged misconduct in the SWP is on a much smaller scale than the WRP’s, it is worth recalling that the WRP scandal occured in the context of a much more sexist and oppressive background. Those were the Jimmy Saville years.

For years after the break-up of the WRP, a few people who participated – and many more who did not – suggested that Healy’s sexual abuse was not “the central issue”, and that his “political degeneration” was more important. As Cliff Slaughter (who, like all the Marxist writers of the pre-1985 WRP, participated in the opposition to Healy) insisted from the start, sexual abuse was the central issue. What could be more important than unravelling and undoing the processes by which a “revolutionary” organisation – in however complicated a manner, and behind most of our backs – turned young women who sought to fight oppression into victims of an abusive “leader”? What process could be more immoral, from any truly revolutionary point of view? What on earth does all the talk about “fighting capitalism” mean, if the forms of alienation that hold capitalism together are reproduced in “revolutionary” organisations? And which of these forms of alienation could be more central than the patriarchy and the distorted relations between men and women, that preceded capitalism but are essential elements of social relations dominated by capital? In my view, these and similar issues are of paramount importance.

There are indeed sensible voices within the SWP today focussing correctly on the issue of sexism and abuse. Linda Rogers exposes the scary fact that the SWP’s disputes committee has investigated rapes on 9 previous occassions!

The reason that the DC thought it was fit to investigate this case is precisely because it did not recognise rape within relationship, acquaintance rape, date rape or whatever you want to call this woman’s experience as a ‘real’ rape. Part of their disbelief may have been because they were friends or long standing colleagues of Delta. Part of their disbelief may be because the party’s position on women’s oppression is flawed, it has not kept up to date with the most current theories in feminism and it has not kept itself at the forefront of the battle against women’s oppression. Part of their problem was that they are human, they live in this world, in this time and, despite protestations to the contrary, they were not immune to the rape myths that exist in this society.

I have also faced the argument that the DC has investigated 9 rapes in the past (I’m not clear on how recently these ‘investigations’ were conducted). I believe this argument is put forward to reassure comrades of the competency of the DC. I don’t find it reassuring in the slightest; in fact I find it terrifying. But it illustrates my points above. Our understanding of rape has developed over the years. Rape within marriage was only recognised in law in the 1990’s (England) / 1980’s (Scotland), date rape (acquaintance rape) is an issue that we are continuingly developing our understanding of and we have the women’s movement to thank for the progress made in changing attitudes towards these issues. If the party, in the past has underestimated the seriousness of rape and has attempted to investigate it, surely it is valid to suggest that that time has now passed and we understand enough about rape to understand that it is not a dispute between two people that can be resolved through a disputes committee?

But much too much of the discusion by the SWP opposition just blethers on about the comfortable leftist hobby horses of “democratic centralism”, and self-congratulatory exhortations about the necessity of saving or reinventing the party, reflecting the same Messianic sense of self importance that Simon Pirani describes. Of course many of the oppositionists are young and inexperienced, and they have been bold and radical in the act of standing up to the SWP leadership, despite the conventionality of their trot-speak language.

But remember that people like China Mieville and Richard Seymour, now standing as bold oppositionists only came out against the SWP leadership AFTER the issue was already in the public domain; and their own critiques have centred upon the incompetance of the SWP leadership, without examining how the cult behaviour arose, or how unequal power relationships provided the perfect culture for patriarchal and oppressive behaviour to flourish.

These leading SWP oppositionists say of their party’s leadership “After the catastrophes of the last five years a measure of humility would also be welcome.”  Indeed, and a measure of humility and self reflection should also be expected from those who now pose as heroic oppositionists, but who failed to speak out when they knew of injustice. Who failed to speak out when they could see abuse of power and bullying right before their eyes. Who failed to speak out after the 2011 SWP conference gave a standing ovation with foot stomping in support of a leading member being forced to step down due to allegations of sexual harrassment.

The leading luminaries in the SWP opposition have learned nothing from this fiasco when they write, in all seriousness:

We agree with Alex that the SWP is the best hope for developing a revolutionary party in in Britain. It has at least two great historic achievements to its credit in the Anti-Nazi League and its successors, and the Stop the War Coalition – movements which actually helped to change aspects of British society for the better, particularly in relation to racism. They are among the reasons why many have remained members in spite of the obstacles which successive leaderships have thrown up to democracy in the party. But if the SWP is ever to achieve its full potential the current situation cannot be allowed to continue.
Alex reiterates that if the SWP did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. We agree – and that for the party to continue to exist, it is necessary to reinvent it. This is not alien to our tradition: perhaps it is best to leave the last word to one of its brightest lights, David Widgery in his review of the third volume
of Cliff’s biography of Lenin:

 “The blossoming-blighting process which Cliff documents froze over Leninism and only mass revolutionary working-class action is able to melt it from its icy limbo. Lenin is therefore trapped in his moment, surrounded by a thicket and awaiting political rescue: ‘An old communist conceives an embryo of longing’. One day, his Modern Prince will come. Until he is woken with the proletarian kiss, the problem is not that Leninism has failed, but that it has not been tried.”

The time for Leninism to be tried is now long overdue.

This is the same conceit of being members of THE indispensible and world-historic party that has acted as self-justification for people keeping silent when they knew of injustice and oppression. Nothing better can be built on that basis

38 comments on “Socialist Workers Party (swp): Lessons from the Wrp

  1. John R on said:

    Re Simon Pirani’s article, he gives a link to Norman Harding’s memoirs where the author writes about his part in investigating Healy. It beggars belief what went on but at least you can see who in the WRP came out good and recognised their own part in this sorry tale and played a part in exposing Healy.

    Corin Redgrave doesn’t come out looking good.

  2. “Contrast the response of party members to the response of anyone else on the left who hears about this scandal.”

    I’m not in the SWP and I think it’s a storm in a teacup…

  3. Dan: I’m not in the SWP and I think it’s a storm in a teacup…

    why do you think that?

    Of course in the big scheme of things it is not important whther or not the SWP survives, but in the world of the far left, this will be a terminal crisis fr them; and probably for the model of “party” they represent

  4. Jellytot on said:

    The “great” man in action:

    Personally, I wouldn’t follow somebody like that to the end of the street but I guess they were different times.

    @4 Linda Rogers exposes the scary fact that the SWP’s disputes committee has investigated rapes on 9 previous occassions!


    And they’re the ones that were just reported.

  5. jack ford on said:

    It’s absolutely clear that the SWP is a dead duck. Very sad there are good people in the SWP and it made a huge contribution to Stop the War. But there’s no way in hell they’re going to recover from this.

  6. Richard on said:

    Open letter to the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers’ Party from union activists

    Posted on January 31, 2013

    We are all union activists who work with SWP members in our union branches, in the various democratic bodies in our unions and in the wider union movement. Some of us have SWP members in our workplaces, some of us participate in SWP led campaigns or vote for SWP members in elections. Many of us, whatever our politics, recognise that our SWP comrades can be relied on to speak up for our class and union members’ interests, to be at the forefront of campaigns, to turn up on picket lines, and to support those of us who are victimised for our union activities.

    For these reasons, we have not been able to ignore the recent crisis in the SWP. We have been concerned, and at times appalled, as we have heard about complaints being swept under the carpet in 2011, disciplinary committees including close friends of the accused, women quizzed about irrelevant details of their behaviour and drinking habits, SWP members instantly dismissed for discussing these matters, while another member who has been the subject of complaints continues to represent SWP campaigns, and the revelation that the word ‘feminist’ is used as an insult within the party.

    No one is saying that other left organisations have an unblemished record when it comes to dealing with sexism, sexual harrassment, or sexual assault, but the SWP Central Committee now appear to be ignoring the many voices both inside and outside their party who are telling them that they have got it badly wrong. Instead, Alex Callinicos wrote an article that avoided all mention of the women involved, and dismissed accusations of harrassment, and worse, as “gossip”. It is clear that the CC are not listening to the significant number of members who are expressing their dismay at recent events.

    While many of us welcome the recent open letter from academics and others who speak at SWP events, our message to you is different. We are not saying we won’t work with SWP members. That isn’t even an option, while we are in the same unions we will of course be working side by side. But, your members are right, it has changed things. We are dismayed, we are appalled, we feel uncomfortable round SWP members unless we know that like many of your members, they are equally appalled.

    If the CC continue to respond by ignoring the issue or closing down debate, as well as losing some great activists, you are going to find your remaining members have a harder time organising, campaigning, and making connections with other union members, through no fault of their own, but through the fault of their Central Committee, who are putting them in an impossible position.

    Fortunately there is still time to reconsider, and we hope that you do.

    All names in a personal capacity.

    Glyn Harries, UNISON Local Govt
    H. Akram, UNISON Health
    H. Smith, GMB
    Harry Stephens, UNISON HE
    Jack Green, UNISON Local Govt
    James Collins, UNISON Health
    Jon Rogers, UNISON Local Govt
    and UNISON National Executive Committee
    Kirstie Paton, NUT
    Louise Lambe, UNISON HE
    Marshajane Thompson, UNISON Local Govt
    and chair of UNISON United Left
    Mille Wild, UCU
    Naomi Bain, UNISON HE
    Phil Dickens, PCS
    Richard Brodie, UCU

    Dan Jeffrey Lambeth UNISON
    Jon Fanning York UCU
    Mark Lancaster PCS
    C. Gent UCU and IWW
    Mark Boothroyd UNISON Health
    Ronnie Williams IWW and USDAW

    If you are a union rep and would like to add your signature, please email

  7. Richard,

    That is a strangely weak list to publish because it reveals the extremely limited influence of the SWP in the unions. I suspect that most trade unionists with any significant weight in the movement will simply want to silently distance themselves from the SWP.

  8. BombasticSpastic on said:

    Andy Newman:

    That is a strangely weak list to publish because it reveals the extremely limited influence of the SWP in the unions. I suspect that most trade unionists with any significant weight in the movement will simply want to silently distance themselves from the SWP.


  9. secret factioneer on said:

    I remember a very amusing conversation I had with Chris Nineham about ten years ago, he was then a leading SWP fulltimer but is now with the rival Counterfire organisation. He rang me to ask whether I had rung around SWP contacts in Swindon to get them on some utterly pointless demonstration that the SWP had called. I honestly told him that I hadn’t and had no intention of doing so. He had a complete tantrum, in response I replied in a sarcastic tone that I now remembered and had rung them all the previous week. Completely missing the sarcasm, and obvious implausibility, he clearly believed me and said “that’s better”, in a relieved tone.

    I’m not a fan, AN, but that did make me giggle.

  10. John Penney on said:

    I’m yet another ancient old IS/SWP member, expelled waaaaay back in 1981 ,on completely trumped up charges, as usual ( nominally :”participating in the “provocative” handing out of anti fascist leaflets on a housing estate bedevilled with NF activity – against Manchester District Committee instructions” !) in yet another of those post tactics-change purges that have always characterised the IS and SWP.

    All the current debates and soul searching across the blogosphere , though often insightful and usually amusing, remind me of some sort of mass awakening by a lot of people from a deep ideological dreamstate. However , as many have mentioned , the “oppositional stance” of many high profile SWP ers, or peripheral supporters is distastefully opportunistic – given their years of servile hackdom – before it became personally career-convenient to be “shocked” by the undemocratic, bullying, cult environment in which the IS/SWP has always existed to one degree or another.

    Now that so many people have woken up to the semi-religious cult like nature of the SWP (and the SLL/WRP, Militant, etc, etc). Maybe the hard core of “high priests” of Trotsky-Leninist belief can just be left walled up at party HQ, repeating their endless mantras, whilst the rest of the Left can seriously try to respond to the ever-growing world and domestic crisis (yep, that one we’ve ALL been predicting every year since 1945 is FINALLY here – praise the lord and pass the theoretical tracts for a wizzo route map !) by finally building some sort of radical large socialist party which is inclusive and open, and at least be determined at this stage to help build mass resistance to the austerity offensive – rather than at this stage beng obsessed with the “1917 reenactment society barricade and seizure of power high theatre ” phase that may or may not eventuate if we collectively obstruct the mass impoverishment strategy of the capitalist ruling classs sufficiently well.

    I propose that in such a outward focussed radical socialist movement the competitive citing of olde sayings by Lenin, Trotsky , Marx, etc, as a guide to appropriate action should be kept to a bare mininum. As a few posters across the blogosphere have preciently said already, if Lenin and Trotsky were so damned brilliant in their own era in their various tactical feints and political analyses we wouldn’t be living in a world where the Soviet Union turned into a totalitarian nightmare, where fascism is still a rising menace, and where we face the greatest capitalist crisis since the 1930’s, with the working class pretty overwhelmingly hostile or indifferent to the very idea of “socialism” as a way forward , and organisationally utterly unprepared for the long struggle ahead.

  11. zinoviev on said:

    “The party has some fine theories about ‘party and class’, but once it becomes unable to face up to reality….”

    This is a restatement of the classic British hostility to political theory.

    It is clear that the crisis in the SWP preceded its conference, and that its internal discussions focused on the (perceived shortcomings) of its perspectives, not its internal functioning.

    A materialist, analysis of the crisis of the SWP would need to answer the question why the crisis has arisen now and examine its historical and political roots.

    This does not minimise the gravity of the allegations currently swirling around the SWP, but seeks to explain why they have so quickly led to a political crisis that has riven the party.

    The SWP pioneered a radical British version of early ‘Third Way’ politics very common amongst European Social Democratic parties and later by Eurocommunists. This was an equidistance between the US and the Soviet Union. The reason why ‘neither Washington nor Moscow but international socialism’ appeared more radical in Britain than elsewhere was because Britain was more closely allied to the US than most continental European countries. But it did lead to contradictions.

    The Viet Namese Communist-led liberation forces received material support from both Russia and China. Squaring support for the Vietnamese revolution and complete opposition to the Soviet Union and China frequently required some contortions.

    This quandary appeared to be resolved with the counter-revolution in Eastern Europe and the overthrow of the Soviet Union. According to the SWP ‘state capitalism’ had merely been replaced with capitalism, so no big deal.

    We are about to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the breaking of the siege of Stalingrad, the beginning of the end of the Nazis and a huge impulse to world revolution (Indian independence, end of British Empire, the Chinese revolution, the overturn of capitalism in eastern Europe, the introduction of the western European welfare state, etc.)

    The theory of state capitalism cannot explain why socialists would fight in the Red Army to defeat Hitler, why the world revolution advanced after it was successful nor why it was such an economic and social disaster when the Soviet Union was overthrown.

    The ‘resolution’ of this problem meant the reported SWP membership actually grew in the aftermath of one of the greatest defeats ever suffered by the world working class, certainly since Hitler’s victory in Germany.

    This required another facet of the SWP’s politics to be foregrounded- the notion that British class struggle is on a par with any in the world. This in turn demands a fiction that the summits of British mass political activity are on a par with insurrections, guerrilla warfare, insurgencies and even successful revolutions elsewhere.

    The latter must also be consequently downplayed. So, despite unambiguous evidence to the contrary, according to the SWP and all followers of Cliff there has been no successful socialist revolution anywhere in world since 1917, not in China, Yugoslavia, Cuba or now Venezuela.

    This is why there is currently a widespread, perhaps even an ‘existential’ crisis in the SWP. As the internal bulletins make clear, there was huge dissatisfaction with the position of the leadership well before the recent conference. This was a crisis of perspective. Essentially, the SWP has increasingly isolated itself from the international class struggle, growing through defeats (1989/91) and dismissive of victories (Cuba, Viet Nam, Venezuela). They are sectarian towards positive developments (Syriza) and have been flirting with the wrong side in Libya and Syria. These are notably worse positions than it took even on Respect or on Iraq.

    In exchange for internationalism, based firstly on an objective l appreciation of what is happening in the international class struggle, the membership was promised a huge upturn in class struggle in Britain (and to a lesser extent western Europe) as a result of the cuts. Large sections of the membership now blame the leadership (and its tactics) because that has not come about. The call for the General Strike only deepened the SWP’s isolation.

    But, since it was in Britain the isolation was impossible to ignore. This is the immediate cause of the political crisis.

    On all sides internally, ignoring the impact of the defeat in 1989/91, in true British sectarian fashion the decisive issue is not international politics but British tactics. (Farcically, Counterfire want to exempt themselves from all this with the spurious claim that they are builders of the movement with the ‘strategy’ of the united front).

    In the 1970s and 1980s, the scale of the current ruling class offensive would have brought forward a huge wave of strikes, occupations, riots, etc. Ted Heath’s government was brought down for far less. The reality is that the ruling class in Britain and elsewhere would not have even attempted it then.

    That they are able to is for the same reason that a new wave of wars and interventions began with the first Gulf War just as the counter-revolution in Eastern Europe was underway. The scale of the ruling class offensive, their boldness, and the current timidity of the British (and European)working class (not just its union leaders) is a direct consequence of the catastrophe in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

    The SWP has not been completely isolated. It has played a very positive role in the anti-fascist movement, much better than many of its critics.

    Its internal convulsions (which have always been a parody of democratic centralism) are a matter of regret if they lead to a diminished SWP, which seems unavoidable.

    There are accusations that the SWP is cult. The fact is that the SWP membership does have a faith -in the need for socialism. But this is combined with a complete inability to identify advances, or retreats towards that goal or to distinguish between them.

    There are countless groupings which arise on a primarily national political basis and who occupy a position in between Marxist politics and imperialism. In countries where the rhythm of the class struggle is much more rapid, they either evolve or are broken up.

    Unlike sects such as the AWL, which are nurtured by defeats, the SWP is being broken on the rock of British working class inertia. But even in Britain, inertia won’t last forever. Meanwhile, it is important to recognise that is errors of theory which are clearly leading down the wrong path, and in all due modesty prepare for an upturn in Britain.

    Ovsei-Gershon Aronovich Radomyslsky Apfelbaum

  12. zinoviev: “The party has some fine theories about ‘party and class’, but once it becomes unable to face up to reality….”
    This is a restatement of the classic British hostility to political theory.


    Is the critique of that hostility to argue that theories don’t need to face up to reality?

  13. Trentski on said:

    >Britbottles in charge of managing controversy
    Continue giving people who left the left for this and many other reasons a laugh gang!

  14. John Penney on said:


    Golly ! Seldom could a commentary from an abject apologist for Stalinist tyranny masquarading as socialist revolution be so blatant. The IS/SWP has for a long, long time been a semi religious cult, but the pathetic worship of the murderous totalitarian stalinist tyrannies of the 20th century exhibitted by this writer simply serves to remind one of the early attraction of the Socialist review Group/International socialist’s early positions on Russia, China, the Eastern Bloc to socialists only too aware of the obscene contradiction between the supposed aims of socialism in general, and the 1917 October Revolution in particular, and the murderous dictatorships that in reality held way in those states claiming to be “communist” .

    Into that good old “dustbin of history” with the claque-ridden, sterile, cults of Trotskyism/Leninism – but let’s also remember that the obscene tyranny of Stalinism (“State Capitalism” in IS/SWP parlance and analysis – one of their better political insights) is already in that historical dustbin – or will be entirely once the bizarre hereditary stalinism of North Korea, and the equally bizarre Stalinist/free enterprise capitalism hybrid that is current China also tumble into that historical black hole of failed alternatives to Bourgeois Capitalism.

    We won’t move forward to an attractive mass-appeal socialism by retreating from a partial critique of Stalinism represented by Trotskyism , to a crazed worship of some of the worst tyrannies in human history, as the stalinist regimes of the USSR and China certainly were, and in China’s case, still is..

  15. John Penney: We won’t move forward to an attractive mass-appeal socialism by retreating from a partial critique of Stalinism represented by Trotskyism , to a crazed worship of some of the worst tyrannies in human history

    John Penney… but on the eve of the 70 anniversary of the great victory against the Nazi’s in Stalingrad we should remember and cherish the lives and struggles of the Soviet People and in particular the likes of
    or was he simply a pawn of an oppressive state capitalist regime…?

  16. Manzil on said:

    John Penney: (“State Capitalism” in IS/SWP parlance and analysis – one of their better political insights)

    “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

  17. Richard on said:

    Andy Newman,

    Agreed Andy

    I think there is an element of pity involved in the statement coupled with inevitability about the outcome.

    But if one loyalist argument goes along the lines, such as I’ve heard in Manchester, that the reasons that the SWSS groups have taken up in opposition to the CC is that they’ve suffered defeat in with the Fees issue and now want to knock the leadership for it. No mention of the issue, the catalyst for this, ie the allegations around Delta. Breath taking level of political degeneration.

    So agreed the statement is a bit like telling an alcoholic friend to stop drinking so much knowing full well they’re going to carrying on regardless,

  18. Greenman on said:

    I am an SWP member and am not unsympathetic to some of the crticisms being made of the organisation. But Tom Walker can´t really be taken seriously by anybody, surely. You mean to have us believe that being a member is some kind of living hell, and you´ve only just noticed this!! Until a couple of weeks ago you were happy to be employed as a journalist being paid by members subs, if I´m not mistaken.

  19. John Penney on said:

    Andy Newman,

    Yes I could Andy. Space and the availability of a myriad of easily accessible written and internet sources however prohibits me from undertaking your political education for you here. Abundant evidence is of course available to anyone prepared to look up any academically credible historical work on the death tolls inflicted on their own populations by the stalinist dictatorships of, in particular, the USSR, China, and North Korea, and of course Cambodia. A cumulative death toll which has been estimated by well respected historians to be anything up to 60 million human beings – or possibly many more, as more and more evidence of the extraordinary human costs of the “Great Leap Forward” and “the Cultural Revolution” emerges from Chinese archives/sources.

    Of course the basic death toll figures themselves are only a part of the overall picture of periodic mass terror and more general permanent police state oppression inflicted on most citizens in those gross totalitarian states masquerading as “socialist”. That you seem to think this is all “nonsense” , possibly all made up by Robert Conquest and his ilk (?), simply shows your overwhelming willing self deception. It’s just so easy for comfortable armchair “Marxists” to do isn’t it .. so far from the blood and snot of the stalinist reality. Stalinism , as a bureaucratic-class based dictatorship on a socialised property base, has nothing whatsoever to do with revolutionery socialism and workers power. What existed in the USSR , certainly from the mid 1920’s onwards was a bureaucratic dictatorship travesty of “workers power” and socialism. Deny that, and you not only identify yourself as an an apologist for the worst crimes of Stalinism, but you explain why most working class people, only too aware of the police state nature of the ersatz “socialist” states , will never be attracted to political parties peopled by anti-working class moral pygmies like you.

    Unlike you I find no difficulty in being a revolutionery socialist without having any need to support stalinist tyrannies of the past, in any way. One of the real long term positive legacies of the IS/SWP theoretical tradition, (as against its undemocratic organisational practice), has at least been to inculcate in tens of thousands of socialists over many years a very basic understanding of the bogus nature of the claimed “socialism” of the stalinist state models, through the “state capitalist” theory. Anyone who justifies or excuses or denies the oppression and mass murder carried out by the state capitalist stalinist bureaucracies has no place in a genuine revolutionery, or even radical, socialist organisation. Because quite frankly they are an ideological enemy of the working class.

  20. Howark Kirk on said:

    It’s now reached the the Daily Mail. I came across this via Google. Honest!

    A show of hands! That’s how the Socialist Workers Party cleared a comrade of rape
    Female party member made claims against full-time party activist
    Dispute was heard by party’s ‘disputes committee’, decisions of which need to be ratified at annual conference
    Five of the panel’s members had previously worked alongside the accused
    SWP insists victim herself chose not to involve the police

  21. prianikoff on said:

    Perhaps it might also be instructive to look at the rape case brought against Jacob Zuma, currently President of the ANC and a member of the SACP until 1990.
    Zuma describes himself as a socialist and is generally regarded as a leftist, in favour of the redistribution of wealth.

    In 2005, when he was Deputy President of South Africa, Zuma was accused of rape by a fellow member of the ANC.
    The 31 year-old, a friend of the family who is HiV positive, accused him of raping her without using a condom.
    Zuma accepted that he hadn’t used a condom, but claimed that the sex was consensual.
    He also suggested that by taking a shower after having intercourse, he had reduced the risk of Aids transmission.

    The issue caused serious political divisions.
    The ANC Youth League and YCL were generally supportive of Zuma.
    They tended to regard the trial as part of a conspiracy against the left, orchestrated by business interests and the supporters of Thabo Mbeki.
    Zuma also received strong support from ethnic Zulus.
    However, Aids campaigners and women combatting the high incidence of rape in South Africa were highly critical.
    Zuma is polygamous and has been married six times, leading to at least 20 children.

    On 8 May 2006, the court found the 64 year old Zuma not guilty of rape, agreeing that the act in question was consensual.
    The Judge said the accuser had lied to the court, but also censured Zuma for his recklessness.

    The ANC, in a joint statement with its alliance partners the COSATU union group and the South African Communist Party, said it welcomed and accepted the Zuma verdict .
    “The trial process confirms that our democratic institutions, which we fought for over many years, are on a firm footing.”

    Buti Manamela, National Secretary of the YCL issued a statement saying

    “…the verdict does not only confirm our concern about the potential abuse of women to settle political differences by some men within the liberation movement, and the potential that this has to undermine the struggle against rape and abuse of women. But has also put to end the malicious innuendo against Deputy President regarding the allegation.

    We are also aware that what has transpired during the court proceedings is going to be used by those who held a longstanding view that he should not be the president.
    Whilst it is the ANC’s primary duty to decide on its leadership, we would like to caution against any tendency which uses selective morality and undemocratic discriminatory criteria to determine leadership within the liberation movement and society in general.
    The fact that he is not guilty means he is entitled to any position in society.

    We would like to re-iterate our position against all forms of women and child abuse, as well as our position on the prevention HIV-AIDS strategy.
    We call on all women who are abused on daily basis to speak out, and the state institutions should devote the same amount of energy in their defense and protection.
    We will further study the judgment with the view of participating in endeavors aimed at strengthening the current legislation to protect rape complainants and victims.”

    The statement also condemned
    “three cabinet ministers and [a] former minister [who] held [a] meeting with the media… to conspire against the ANC Deputy President, Jacob Zuma

    Some women’s rights groups, held their own small protest outside the Johannesburg court, expressing dismay at the ruling.
    “This is the biggest setback for women’s rights in decades. We’re going to see a drop in the number of women who report rape,” said Miranda Friedmann, director of a group called Women and Men Against Child Abuse.

    The Citizen newspaper remarked:-
    “Jacob Zuma’s predictable acquittal is a setback for women’s rights and for political stability…
    He has brought the party and the country into disrepute.
    His path to the presidency must be blocked firmly and permanently.”

    (Since the end of apartheid in the 1990s the African National Congress (ANC) has dominated South Africa’s politics.
    It is the ruling party in the national legislature and eight of the nine provinces, having received 62.9% of the popular vote in the 2011 municipal election
    At the time of the Zuma rape trial, the director of the National Prosecuing authority was Vusi Pikoli, who as a student had been a member of the ANC’s youth wing and received military training in Angola.)

    Timeline of the trial

  22. Marxist Lenonist on said:

    #27 Whatever the ups and downs of the Zuma case, it does have this pretty stark difference with the Delta one: it wasn’t dealt with in-house by the Party!

  23. prianikoff on said:

    #28 “It wasn’t dealt with in-house by the Party!”

    Do you seriously imagine that the ANC would have gone to the South African courts with this case during the Apartheid era?

  24. Marxist Lenonist on said:

    #29 No. Do you seriously believe the relationship between today’s SWP and the British state is in any way comparable to the ANC’s relationship to the apartheid state in South Africa?!

  25. prianikoff on said:

    Not in terms of the level of repression adopted.
    But, as we know from the recent Mark Kennedy affair, the British State certainly does try to penetrate its left-wing opponents.
    BTW, just who *did* kill Blair Peach?

  26. Karl Stewart on said:

    John Penney,
    The “Zinoviev” contribution posted at (14) is hardly a “crazed worship of some of the worst tyrannies in human history” it simply recognises the positive achievements of the Soviet Union and the former socialist countries and correctly places the advance of neo-liberalism in the context of the demise of socialism.
    There is absolutely no “crazed worship” in her/his contribution at all.

    It’s one thing to argue that the SWP’s internal regime has been hugely undemocratic, dictatorial and needs to change, but it is quite another to go from that position to one of abandoning the struggle against capitalism altogether.

  27. prianikoff on said:

    The Cass Report into the Death of Blair Peach on April 23rd 1979

    “A team of 30 detectives from the Metropolitan Police, headed by Commander John Cass, conducted an internal investigation of Peach’s death. The pathologist’s report indicated that Peach’s broken skull was not the result of being struck by a truncheon, and he suggested Peach may have been struck by a lead weighted rubber cosh or hosepipe filled with lead shot; unauthorised weapons. Cass’ investigation of the Met’s Special Patrol Group (SPG) headquarters unearthed a hoard of unauthorised weapons, including various illegal truncheons and knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3 ft wooden stave, and a lead-weighted leather stick.
    An officer was discovered attempting to dispose of a metal cosh; however, it was proven not to be the weapon that killed Peach.
    Another officer was discovered to be a Nazi supporter. It was also uncovered that one officer present at the riots, who was clean shaven on 23 April, decided to grow a beard, whilst another shaved off his moustache which he had sported on 23 April, the day of Peach’s death.
    Another officer refused to participate in an identity parade, and all the police officers’ uniforms had been dry cleaned before they were to be inspected.
    Cass’ reports were leaked and it was reported that he had narrowed down the suspects to six SPG officers, one of whom he believed to have killed Peach.”


    “…the coroner, Doctor John Burton, dismissed reports that Peach was killed by an officer even before the inquest had finished. He also refused to let any of the details from the Cass Report to be submitted as evidence. Burton then wrote various letters to the Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Attorney General, attacking what he believed to be a well organised fabrication being spread about the death of Peach. The letters accused media organisations such as the BBC for promoting what he called “biased propaganda”.
    He continued by pouring scorn onto the witnesses statements, stating that some were “totally politically committed to the Socialist Workers Party” ..
    [Burton] resisted calls for the inquest to have a jury until he was forced by the court of appeal”

    Internal Police Inquiry

    “The reports into the death of Blair Peach were published on the Metropolitan Police website on 27 April 2010. The conclusion was that Blair Peach was killed by a police officer, but that the other police officers in the same unit had refused to cooperate with the inquiry by lying to investigators,making it impossible to identify the actual killer.”


  28. zinoviev on said:


    I think this may be a genuine misunderstanding.
    My contention is that the SWP doesn’t have fine theories precisely because ‘state capitalism’ doesn’t correspond to reality.

    John Penney

    This expresses an acute and characteristic sense of moral outrage against the crimes of Stalinism, but not Marxism.

    “We won’t move forward to an attractive mass-appeal socialism by retreating from a partial critique of Stalinism represented by Trotskyism”.

    This is the nub of the issue. The SWP feels it has improved on Trotsky’s ‘partial critique’ with the theory of state capitalism.

    Aside from its economic incoherence, this theory could not have offered a guide as to whose side to fight on in the Nazi attempt to enslave the Soviet Union, offered no guide to the Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban or Venezuelan revolutions, offers no guide to the defence of these revolutions now and actually led to the welcoming of one of the greatest defeats ever suffered by the world’s working class, the overthrow of the Soviet Union.

    Trotsky’s formula was very precise and very clear; that the overthrow of the bureaucracy was subordinate to the defence of the Soviet Union, and that the defence of the Soviet Union was subordinate to the world revolution.

    State capitalism ‘improves’ on that by placing the overthrow of the bureaucracy on a par with the defence of the Soviet Union. Practically, in welcoming the actual overthrow of the bureaucracy as a by-product of the entire overthrow of the State, the SWP reversed the priorities.

    All this was done to provide a ‘mass appeal’ to primarily Western liberal opinion. Liberal moralism, even its radical variants, isn’t Marxism.

    Theory has practical consequences. Of course, even if the SWP were a Marxist organization it wouldn’t have affected the outcome in the Soviet Union, nor any of the successful revolutions since 1917 nor their current defence. But the SWP would have been on the right side in each of those struggles.

    And on the right side, an acknowledgement of the magnitude of the defeat represented by the counter-revolution in eastern Europe and the disastrous effects of the reintroduction of capitalism there would have allowed the SWP to face reality, which it is increasingly detached from.

    Currently it would have allowed the SWP to realise why an upsurge in workers struggle against austerity in Britain and elsewhere might be more difficult, after a big global defeat.

    Bad theory dictates bad politics.

  29. Jara Handala on said:

    I haven’t seen it noted here but since Monday on youtube there’s been a wonderful Hitler/’Downfall’ parody of the current SWP crisis:

    It has Hitler (Bruno Ganz) screaming the memorable line, “Who does Richard fucking Seymour think he is?”. And SU gets a mention too.

    Maybe SU can do it as a posting.

    And it makes one wonder how the WRP scene would go, with Healy-as-Hitler. Guess Slaughter would grace a hook in the abattoir, and Banda would be squirming on the floor; Pennington would be condemned as the start of the rot, but nothing compared with Healy-Hitler’s invective towards the Pabloites, the Wohlforthites and all the other -ites. (Why are the baddies always -ites and the goodies always -ists?)

    On a serious note, the 50-strong SWP National Committee meets tomorrow, Sunday.

  30. stuart on said:


    It would help considerably if you could recognise how for many workers the failures of the Soviet Union serve as proof that ‘socialism has failed’, this makes it very hard for present day socialists.

  31. Karl Stewart on said:

    It would help considerably if you could recognise how for many workers the failures of the Soviet Union serve as proof that ‘socialism has failed’, this makes it very hard for present day socialists.

    Stuart, the collapse of the Soviet Union was an enormous defeat for socialism – in the same way that, in a domestic sense, the defeat of the miners’ strike was an enourmous defeat for the UK working class.

    But with respect Stuart, it was the SWP who failed to recognise eitheer the enormity of the defeat that the SU’s collapse signified or indeed that it was a defeat at all .

    With crass stupidity, the SWP presented the collapse of the Soviet Union as a positive development, as something to be “celebrated” and, as “zinoviev” rightly points out above, from this fundamentally flawed position has flowed your fundamentally flawed analysis of the balance of class forces subsequently.

    There is a further irony in the current situation in that your fossilised party leadership is increasingly adopting remarkably similar internal organisational methods – the forced unanimity, the refusal to recognise external reality, the characterisation of all disagreement as disloyalty – to those used by the former Soviet leadership which your party used to be so critical of.

    Your “leninism” is nothing of the sort. As your own party members have reminded you, the party of Lenin that led the October revolution did indeed permit internal factions and public disagreement without expulsion – Two leading Bolshveiks spoke publicly against the October insurrection and were not expelled.

    You, in contrast, shamefully support the expulsion of four non-leading members for having a private discussion in the UK in 2013.
    That’s not “leninism” it’s just plain wierd!

  32. secret factioneer on said:

    “That’s not “leninism” it’s just plain wierd!”

    Someone get that on a t-shirt.

  33. prianikoff on said:

    @33 “Who killed Blair Peach?” continued.

    31 years after he was killed, following the totally biased Inquest cover-up and their own internal police enquiries, the Met Police issued a report into Blair Peach’s on 27 April 2010.

    “The conclusion was that Blair Peach was killed by a police officer, but that the other police officers in the same unit had refused to cooperate with the inquiry by lying to investigators, making it impossible to identify the actual killer.

    Officer E

    The Metropolitan Police report stated that an SPG policeman, identified as Officer E, was “almost certainly” the one whose assault killed Peach.

    Alan Murray, at the time an inspector in charge of SPG Unit One and now a lecturer in Accounting and Corporate Responsibility at Sheffield University, has admitted that he believes himself to be Officer E, but has denied killing Peach.

    Murray was described as “young and forceful” by the report, lied to investigators, and refused to participate in identity parades; to this day he wears the beard which it is suspected he originally grew to impede identification in case he were compelled to do so.”

  34. Karl Stewart on said:

    Prianikoff, the fight for justice and to uncover the truth around the killing of Blair Peach is a massive important subject and I honestly mean no disrespect at all, but don’t you think it’s a subject that deserves a dedicated dicussion of its own, rather than on this perticular thread?