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Hunt for Red October.docx

Hunt for Red October.docx

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Published by Louis Bayman
My piece on the SWP
My piece on the SWP

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Published by: Louis Bayman on Jul 05, 2013
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07/07/2013

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Hunt for Red October
 The disaffected within the SWP are united, we are clear about what we need: clarity. How we getit remains anyone's guess.In one sense, this problem -
that of “um, so what do we do now?”
- is common to the leftinternationally. Austerity continues, political establishments and the financial system discreditthemselves, and explosive struggles occur of a variety of kinds. To think that the past month hasseen a crisis of state power in Egypt, a planned park sell-off lead to tumults in Turkey and a hikein bus fares bring Brazil to a standstill, one would imagine there might be ease in arguing forsocialist leadership. Yet the movements do not naturally fill the ranks of the socialist resistance, and the hold of capitalism even in just its current specific form, neoliberalism, is not in any immediate doubt. This tendency of the initiative to elude our grasp takes a particular form in Britain, given thecontinuing perplexity of the SWP. Taking a bit of a leap down then from issues of world historic importance to those of what youand I and those around us have been up to lately, this article offers, rather than a comprehensiveset of answers, a consideration of how political strategy is formed. It pulls together somecommon comments I have heard from talking to socialists recently, and I have lost sight of  whether any of it is original. This, however, is the point. Any strategy which aims for adequateeffectiveness can only be arrived at through collective engagement, and amidst structures thatenable openness and improvisation. Rather than plunge us into confusion, they offer a way outof it.SWP strategy has for some time been formed by the party's Central Committee tussling amongstthemselves until what they like to call a perspective veers into focus. Any faith this may oncehave conjured in eminences rouges engaged in the art of revolution is now difficult to maintain.In the last six months at least, where the members have been better apprised than usual of thecentre's standard operating procedures, there has been no point at which the actions of theparty's Central Committee haven't served to make the situation worse, even from a perspectiveof its own self-advancement.Perhaps our recent clamorous fiascos can be explained as the result of attacks on the party, from
inside and outside of its ranks, and we can collectively complain, like Don Quixote, that “Truly I
 was born to be an example of misfortune, and a target at which the arrows of adversary are
aimed”. This would however be to reject the materialist view of history, for it ignores that
human actions shape circumstances. The party is increasingly isolated; but the point is that isolation is itself now how we view socialist leadership. The process leading up to
the Special Conference, called “
to reaffirmdecisions already taken
, forced the Central Committee to articulate its role
to “campaignamongst the party”
, the underlying assumption being that the CC represents the party's brain. This philosophy has a fatal flaw, as it fails to ask how the party brain learns, or what to do whenit malfunctions. In this perspective, learning comes, not from struggles and ideas that originateoutside of the party, nor even from the militant experience of the members, but from a curatorial
 
guardianship of world socialist tradition to be undertaken by a couple of CC members. This hasproved about as effective as trying to tune a radio by snapping off its antennae. In AncientGreece, an 'idiot' referred to one who did not take part in the collective life of the
 polis 
, someoneisolated from the group creation of daily life. Current official party strategy is, in a quite puresense of the word, idiotic. The party's isolation reduces our ability to judge the outside world,causing further panicked centralisation in the party, giving us even fewer capacities to judgesituations, thereby further reducing... you get the point.It seems odd that the Soviet leader weshould most closely emulate would be Brezhnev, but the insistence from the stagnant breath of the CC that there is no real crisis is perhaps further proof of Trotsky's belief that to the red-hotiron of terminal decay we all respond alike.Our tradition - centralist discipline or unorthodox flexibility - is itself now the subject of debate. Thus, this year's Marxism includes a curious new topic, 'What is the real International Socialisttradition?' I do wonder if it will broach the fact that tradition is invented, and that it isinventedso as to shape what we are today and what we will be tomorrow (and often so as to confer theauthority of dead ages over the very current matter of how to deal with restless natives).One would rather prefer a debate on 'What strategies will actually be of use to socialists today andtomorrow?', but I admit it's a less snappy title.On this however, the speaker in the meeting, John Molyneux, has had little recently to offer, asevidenced in his response to two thoughtful suggestions about left regroupment, available on hisblog. Suffice it to say that, after offering reassurance of his authority on the matter by reminding us of his participation in two failed attempts at left unity, he treats the reader to a brief sketch of apostate reformism in 1920s Germany. It is not only Molyneux who thinks this is an appropriateform of argument. The Socialist Review that will be on sale at Marxism features Callinicos
returning to the fundam
entals of Leninist organization”
, a promise about as specious as any other kind of fundamentalism. These are the politics of sectarianism - of defining yourself interms of your difference with the rest of the world while holding onto cosy reminders of greatthings that other people did in the past.On the other hand, the SWP's relative loss of authority has accompanied a real opening of opportunities on the left. Firstly, a comment on the SWP opposition. In admitting there is aproblem, we are edging towards the point reached by reformed alcoholics, who often claim tohave been struck by what they call the moment of clarity; the point which they realised was rock bottom and that the only remedy to the damaged relationships, the paralysing dysfunction, theengulfing mess, is to kick the habit that masked the pain but worsened the problem. The SWP opposition is not quite at this point, closer to shaky nausea as it tries to remember where it is.But some real strategies are emerging, of varying effectiveness. There has been sometalk of how we bargain with CC members, amidst hopes to detect a softening in their attitudes. This is a disempowering outlook which will trample the grassroots initiatives that currently offerhope. Continuing to fight with one hand behind our backs, playing by ad hoc rules set up by thecentre, reliance upon the chicanery of back room shenanigans, will lead to our further decay. Alternatively, some comrades hold that an upturn in struggle, leading to a multitude oradicalised youth joining, will might shake up the deadening hold of the apparatus. It is always
 
possible that on throwing everything into the air, it may land back down in the position you wantit to. But it isn't probable, and it doesn't amount to a political strategy, particularly not for a party  which proved itself unable to capitalise on its leading role in the anti-war movement, whoseinstinctual reaction to disagreement is to split, and which has just driven out its youth. Massstruggle means chaos, and tends to be the death knell of parties who are not well positioned tobenefit from it - '68 was, in the long term, the end of the Communist Party in this country. Ireally think that some comrades fail to understand just how well a party - even a small one -needs to be rooted, the kind of work it has to do amongst the militants around it, to profit fromapparently spontaneous explosions. Once again, such rootedness flows from and into an ability to have some decent assessment of the mood of the working class. A more practical response has been this blog, which aims to give space to people to thinthrough various important issues. It has the advantage of encouraging a continued process of debate, but could be prone to repeat the same habits that have brought us to the current crisis:deference to an informal hierarchy and more especially, the error of seeking an answer amongstourselves which we then present to the outside world.I would much rather that we draw in and on that outside world during the process of developing socialist strategy, to let go of the belief that ideas are formed principally by going off for a whileand thinking about them. When Alex Callinicos stated that"we have a duty to ensure that, after aperiod of bruising internal debate, the SWP is re-united and turns outwards towards the struggles where we really live", he was aiming to unite the party by decree, rather than conviction.Butprobably unconsciously, he was also betraying a wider conception present in the party, and in theopposition, in which the formation of strategies and ideas is separate from their practical test. This, one more time, is precisely the problem - it ensures mistakes, misjudgments, isolation, andduller political sensibilities. We have to steer clear of any internal, inert, and disengaged solutionto crisis, and rather closer to Antonio Gramsci's notion that it is passionate engagement thatsharpens the intellect. A polar opposite to such small scale, party-based regroupment is the People's Assembly, by farthe most successful event organised by the left recently. It offers evidence that if union heads,campaign leaders, and left-wing celebrities offer it, there is a serious audience for an anti-cutsalliance. The question remains as to how to turn an audience into a campaigning force, and thePA's top table dominance has been much criticised. However it's clearly now the mainorganisation for anti-austerity work. The SWP has not really embarked on a serious discussion of how revolutionaries organise insuch a campaign, preferring to hope simply that our own grouping, UtR, will consequently grow so we can see off our sectarian enemies. A different response has come instead from the ISN, who are far more engaged than the SWP in attempting to confront the world not as we wouldlike it but as it is. They point out that a revolutionary strategy that amounts to standing up in the assembly,shaming the union bureaucrats and demanding they call a general strike, cannot move beyondineffectual posturing. This is because it means mouthing off narkily in place of applying any actual pressure of social force. In his piece outlining this criticism, Tom Walker sees the creation

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