Think of this as the advice of your Marxist Agony Aunt (or some wishful thinking):
1) And now for something completely different? The future for the former ‘Left Platform’ comrades.
I hope the new left group of former prominent members now departing en-bloc from the ranks of the SWP can experiment with some new tactics. They should try something different to the SWP and not compete on the same ground. There is nothing worse than rival left political firms fighting for the same pitch, and therefore exaggerating their differences and the errors of the other. The closer the politics and modus operandi, the more vicious the mutual hostility and bitter and destructive rivalry! So do something different!
The comrades of the new formation are small in number – but they could for instance, have enough members and resources to set up a cracking left daily news and comment website. A few dozen activists, with decent politics, writing skills, talent, cohesion and a little money could create a news source that we need – one that is updated continually. People thirst for a regular supply of ‘new news’ and interactivity – hence the success of some left blogs, which despite being the amateur efforts of one or two individuals, reach a wider audience than the traditional left press. Imagine the impact a larger group with more resources and not trapped by classic blog format? Such an effort could relatively easily become popular with a little imagination. It could use embedded video with mini-documentaries – about the struggles today, about history and ideas – and also use talking head news bulletins and discussion. It could also also employ the powerful new ‘web.20’ social networking facilities to create a community of readers. Such a website is in demand! It could easily become compulsive viewing – and not just in the UK but anywhere on Earth where the English language is understood. I don’t see why with a little effort the left could not approach or match the online operation of a major bourgeois news source, but with socialist ideas. If they did this I might even join and help! A small group could have a big impact this way. It can be the new form of the ‘political scaffolding’ discussed in ‘What is to be done’ – but for for the twenty first century.
But the former left platform et al would also have to grow and change, putting the bad habits of the past behind them. Rees especially has made mistakes – but he can change. Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, when I was still an SWP member, he was OK – he seemed quite reflexive about the organisation and self critical. Later, when I encountered him in the Socialist Alliance and Respect he seemed to have lost it a bit by then, becoming more crazy and arrogant, unrealistically and grandiosely ‘boosterizing’, claiming to have brought down Blair, etc. But on a more personal level he, along with Lindsey were the only CC members who ever actually spoke to me like an equal – in my experience the rest of the CC would mainly blank you in the bars at the annual ‘Marxism’ event and only talk to each other! So he (and others) might need to re-adjust his style, find his grounding again. They need to learn from their own treatment from Smith et al – don’t treat your comrades like shit! Abandon the authoritarian and bullying practices that have given the far left its bad name. It is also always easier for smaller groups to be less hierarchical, which will help to abandon the bad habits acquired by the SWP over the long years of the downturn. In fact, it might be an idea to rediscover the libertarian ‘Luxemburgist’ spirit of the 60’s International Socialists, the light but successful touch that enabled such rapid exponential growth in the late 1960’s and early 70’s before the party was hardened by faction fights and ossified into what Cliff imagined was ‘Leninisation’.
So maybe there there could be some hope, something salvaged.
2) Carry on party building. The SWP.
They have lost some good and talented comrades. But plenty more remain. The new CC is doing what is necessary to maintain the party core – and we need the SWP to survive. We should not pretend that this is not a retreat – we really need a broad new left of labour party – and since the debacle of the Respect split, the SWP have retreated from this. But while we have rehearsed the reasons for the split (and no denying Rees or the rest of the CC all played a very poor role here) what is done is done. And beyond this, with the prospect of a Tory government, much of the organised workers movement will be pushed back towards Labour, thus closing the political space for a new left of labour electoral force that has been there for the past decade for us to try and operate in. The British far left has failed in this task, for both objective and subjective reasons. It’s a shame, (and we should not shy away from the lessons, – like some) but the key question is: What next?
In this situation it is probably best that the SWP sets itself more modest and realistic tasks, rebuilds its branches around its own solid core routine, while organising a series of partial united fronts around todays limited struggles as they emerge, while making socialist propaganda, and getting some new recruits. It’s not what the left or the working class as a whole needs – we need a new, broad political and fighting front. But as we saw with Respect and the SA, the SWP is not the right tool for this job. Trying to fill the vacuum left by the retreat of social democracy risks twisting the SWP out of shape, or breaking it up. So we might as well leave it to get on with what it does best. And we will need and appreciate its capacity to react quickly to events and generalise the struggles that emerge into new fronts and mass campaigns. But it would be nice if the SWP also learned some lessons from recent problems and became less authoritarian and bullying – both in its internal regime and in its behavior in some campaigns. The democracy commission was a good sign, but the situation of German’s departure does not bode well for an improved regime.
More generally, it would be a good start if the two sides here avoid the clichéd response to left splits – of blanking each other, denouncing each other, undermining or competing with each other – this would be a bore for us in the wider movement! Have an amicable separation, explore different paths, but remain polite, keep disagreements clear, political and confined to the proper forums, and work together when and where you can.