First off, it’s important to put things in their proper perspective. The SWP is a far left sect that is and has been mired in irrelevancy for a number of years now. From its high water mark, when it played a central role in the antiwar movement during its peak years around 2003-04, until today, it has suffered a steep decline in the quality of its analysis and with it anything resembling influence, traction, or effectiveness. It represents the fag-end of British Trotskyism, the political residue left lying forlorn and decaying on the beach after the tide of the left’s fortunes ran out long before now.
Cheap gestures have increasingly replaced serious politics when it comes to an organisation whose rapidly diminishing ranks reflects its embrace of liberalism. In concrete terms this amounts to positions that are almost indistinguishable from those regularly carried in the pages of the Guardian. A party that once stood resolute in its resistance to the war on Iraq in 2003, a war ultimately justified by the then Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on the premise that Iraq was ruled by a ruthless dictator, Saddam Hussein, who represses his own people, is the party which stood on the side of NATO in its military intervention in Libya in 2011, justified on the basis that Colonel Gaddafi was a ruthless dictator who represses his own people. More recently, the SWP has been a vociferous supporter of the western-backed, Saudi-armed Syrian opposition in a brutal civil war that presages the dying gasp of Arab nationalism.
But this and other political missteps pale in comparison to the following paragraph from a report in the most recent edition of Socialist Worker, the SWP’s weekly newspaper, on the upcoming by-election in Croydon in which Respect are standing the respected and dedicated anti-racist campaigner Lee Jasper.
“Respect’s Lee Jasper has tapped into anger around police racism in the Croydon run-off. But Socialist Worker is not calling for a vote for him, following Respect leader George Galloway’s disgraceful and well-publicised comments on rape. Instead we encourage supporters to vote for Labour in this instance.”
Just think about this for a moment. A revolutionary socialist organisation, presumably proud of its commitment to the interests of the working class at home and its record of opposition to Britain’s wars abroad, has come out and endorsed the candidate of a party of war, privatisation, inequality, and neoliberalism, rather than the candidate of a party that has opposed all of the aforementioned consistently and vigorously since its formation in 2004.
And the reason? George Galloway’s podcast on Julian Assange, during which the MP for Bradford West emphatically and unapologetically asserted that the rape allegations levelled against the founder and editor-in-chief of Wikileaks were concocted with the objective of securing his detention by the Swedish authorities, preparatory to his extradition to the United States over the role of Wikileaks in revealing the high crimes committed by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Even supposing you disagreed with Galloway’s comments, and there were those on the left who did, are we really saying they are enough to invalidate three decades of principled and tireless work championing the plight of the Palestinians, his unwavering anti imperialism and anti racism, his decades spent campaigning for social and economic justice at home, his work as not just ‘a’ but ‘the’ leading voice of the international antiwar movement, earning him the undying enmity of the political establishment and its bag carriers in the liberal media, which surprise surprise has led the witchhunt against him in reaction to the podcast?
If the SWP felt strongly enough not to endorse the Respect candidate in this by-election, it could have refused to endorse any candidate. It could have endorsed the Communist candidate. It could even have endorsed the ‘Nine Eleven Was An Inside Job’ candidate. But, no, it instead chooses to endorse the Labour candidate. And not just any Labour candidate, mind you, but Labour councillor Steve Reed, a man who’s been described as more Blairite than Tony Blair.
On a wider note, the stench of moralism has come to engulf the far left in recent years, illustrative of the yawning gap that has opened up between it and the constituency it claims to represent – the working class. This has manifested in the rise of identity politics and lifestylism as the fulcrum of political activity to the detriment of class. The result has been an inexorable lapse into the kind of political degeneration represented by this endorsement in the pages of the Socialist Worker.
Leon Trotsky, whose political legacy the SWP purports to uphold, was one of the 20th century’s most influential and inspirational thinkers, someone whose personal courage helped inspire a revolution that left the international ruling class trembling in its boots. Many of Trotsky’s works and statements have stood the test of time, none more so than this admonition, which could have been written with today’s Socialist Workers Party in mind.
“The party that leans upon the workers but serves the bourgeoisie, in the period of the greatest sharpening of the class struggle, cannot but sense the smells wafted from the waiting grave.”