Peter Sedgwick

The SWP Fraud

(December 1976)

Peter Sedgwick (Leeds District), The SWP Fraud, Socialist Workers Party Bulletin, No.1 February 1977.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up byEinde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The decision by the CC, endorsed by a Party Council with the most hasty District discussion and in a period without factional rights, to move towards the launching of a ‘Socialist Workers Party’ jointly with the putting forward of 50-60 candidates in a General Election, is a confirmation of the terrible disorientation which has hit the revolutionary left in the current Right-Wing climate.

To take the question of the candidates first; it is humbug to suggest as the CC does in its resolution, that the number of votes obtained will be irrelevant to the success of failure of the tactic. When we participate under our own party banner in a general election in the bourgeois parliamentary system, we are fighting on the terrain of the enemy and at a time of his choosing. This would be fine if we were strong: but we are, in electoral terms, quite insignificant. On election day all the media will show comparisons constituency by constituency, between the mass electoral support of the Tories, Labour, Liberals, Nationalists, fascists, CP, various freaks and ourselves; we will be on or near the bottom of each list, numbered in hundreds when the bourgeois parties are in thousands. What an advertisement of ourselves for every worker! Better to grit our teeth and admit that this is the class-enemy’s day, one day only.

Moreover the issues in a General Election in the British system (by-elections are a little different) are always posed in terms of a choice between the major bourgeois parties. The fact that IS has led the anti-fascist battles will mean little to an Asian or West Indian voter faced with the choice of a Tory government and a ‘central register’ of black people or a Labour government with the status quo. Of course the Labour traitors have pushed the question even further to the right; but that is how the choice will be posed temporarily. The SPD in Germany is even worse in its record than Callaghan and Healey on civil rights, but the alternative was between them and Franz-Josef Strauss, who is a semi-Nazi!

Those of us who have argued since 1970 for an independent electoral strategy for IS now see choices in this direction being made in a vacuum of industrial militancy, with little feedback from the class to guide us. How easy it is in these circumstances to shoot off-course, trusting to the ‘intuition’ which Comrade Cliff has celebrated in the life of Lenin but which is, at its worst, impressionism mingled with emotion. The number of votes an IS candidate obtains will make a fantastic difference to our own perspectives, as well as to our supporters, supposing for example, that Ken Appleby gets 200 votes in Stechford and Tariq Ali gets 500? If we put a large number of candidates in a general-election field, and are shown up as another fringe group, the chances are that elements of the membership will over-react in despondency with their fingers burnt. Look how demoralised the Italian revolutionary left got when they only obtained ½ million votes compared with their previous total. If you want to make propaganda at general election time, you can (i) stand candidates with a chance of an impressive vote (preferably winning, like Bernadette Devlin); (ii) conduct political propaganda in constituencies without standing candidates or (iii) back left candidates on a broader base than IS, but building our own organisation in the campaign. All of these have drawbacks, but not the one of a deliberate, well-publicised, reverse, at enormous expense.

The case made for the SWP was partly an element in this ‘electoral strategy’. Otherwise there is no particular reason to start an SWP at this moment there is no particular reason, on the other hand, not to start an SWP. Since we cannot, in the present bad political climate, change class reality very much, the conclusion is drawn that we have to perform changes on the name of IS itself, in the delusion that this is some step towards the actual construction of a revolutionary socialist workers’ party. If the CC decided that we should walk around with our bottoms painted bright green, doubtless it would have a electrifying effect on the morale of our membership (for a short time at least). There might even be a case for some such publicity venture; joking apart, we can always do with fresh propaganda on party questions. But what would anyone think of a Party whose Central Committee produced its suggestions for Green Bottoms in a few badly argued paragraphs, circulated, without real District discussion, before a Party Council, got a resounding 99 per cent vote for the proposed face-lift from the Council with virtually no argument on this or the obvious points about the election, and proceed to give us six months to declare ourselves to the world in this new disguise. This is not a party, but a circus. it does not form the basis for a democratic workers party but for a bureaucratic charade, sanctioned by plebiscite without discussion.

What we are short of, comrades, is not new initials but a new phase of class action. When the struggle rises, will it help that we have made ourselves electorally ridiculous and given ourselves a somewhat more inflated name? One cannot often quote the late Chairman Mao with total approval, but what he did say, in a letter to his wife, was ‘When there is no tiger in the mountain, the monkey if king’. The tiger of working-class struggle has retired, only temporarily, from these mountains of ours, meanwhile, we must recognise this monkeying for what it is worth.

From being an industrially based combat organisation in 1969-74, we have now moved to the role of a militant propagandist-action group. Most of IS’s main activities – anti-NF, Right To Work, electoral candidates – now fall within a propaganda perspective. This is at once an extension of our work and a forced retreat. It is no use bemoaning this turn – even though many of our industrial contacts have felt, understandably, that propaganda, making its impact primarily outside the workplace, does not assist their present isolated position. We have to work within the propaganda-politics of industrial weakness and social-democratic confusion, until we can wage battle on new fronts.

However to declare the Party as a propaganda-act, is tantamount to declaring the Fourth (or Twenty-fifth) International. It is a silly fling, which loses us our good name.

International Socialists are not yet a Socialist Workers Party, and will not get one whit nearer to that position in the working class by some fancy rallying and pseudo-inauguration. Forward with the IS!

December 26th 1976


Last updated on 9.11.2004