Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers’ Movement

Why Paul Foot Should Be A Socialist
The case against the Socialist Workers’ Party

CONCLUSION: The SWP – where it stands

The sham ’left’ is peopled by a host of competing organisations, and though the SWP are currently being promoted by the bourgeois media as the whizz-kids among them, it is as well to take a look at some of the other main contenders and show how they stand in relation to the SWP, and what real alternative, if any, they offer to it.

To begin with the ’left’ of the Labour Party, there will of course always continue to be quite a bit of ’left’ posturing among some elements of this imperialist party in their jockeying for position. There might even be a possibility that this could one day split it in two (or more), in which case the SWP and their kind could well be expected to get some of the pickings. If the SWP’s style of politics was given a boost of this kind, would the resulting political creation present any real alternative to today’s Labour Party? We hope we have said enough on the SWP’s attitude to such key issues as nationalisation, the trade unions, etc., to show that in general the political line would remain pretty much the same as that of the Labour right on fundamental issues (though of course with more ’left’ trimmings). As for the style of work of SWP MPs, it is likely that their relationship with their constituents would remain that which exists “between social worker and client”, as PF puts it (p.52). (Indeed, the adoption of this style of work – i.e. avoidance of fundamental political issues and concentration on ’do-gooding’ – has already earned the SWP the nickname among some Marxist-Leninists of the ’Social Workers’ Party’.) In general, any such unholy alliance would just be one more chapter in the dismal tale of Trotskyist efforts to ’poach’ on Labour Party contacts to try to compensate for the fact that they do not themselves have their own roots among the working class.

Moving on from the Labour Party to the ’Communist Party of Great Britain’, we find that PF has some biting criticisms to make of this revisionist party: itseeks, he says, “with less and less enthusiasm to make gains in local and national elections. In the trade unions, its eyes are fixed almost exclusively on the offices which it has captured and hopes to capture, whether by election or by appointment and intrigue” (p.74). He fails to establish, of course, that the SWP has made any really decisive break with such methods, and those who have experienced SWP activities in trade unions will realise that such self-righteousness about the CPGB is hypocritical. There are, however, differences between the sham socialism of PF and the SWP and that of the CPGB.

If one examines, for instance, the CPGB’s programme, The British road to socialism, one will find that it does, unlike SWP literature, make a gesture towards providing a class analysis of British society. This analysis, however, is a legacy of the previous period of the party’s history, and has now been doctored to leave a two-class’ analysis, with the middle class more or less defined out of existence, etc. It is thus little more use than the kind of thing one gets from the SWP. But though The British road and other CPGB documents may in a superficial way look more Marxist (by thus including some gesture towards discussing classes, etc.) this only makes the CPGB more pernicious. For the policies of the CPGB are more consistently reactionary than those of the SWP. The SWP, as illustrated by PF’s pamphlet, is a party of petty-bourgeois vacillation – a stance that does not exclude the possibility of sometimes taking the side of (vacillating over towards) the proletariat. The CPGB, by contrast, represents the interests not of the petty-bourgeois, but of monopoly capital, of the imperialist big bourgeoisie.

The CPGB, unlike the SWP, never vacillates over to support for the world’s proletariat, no matter how wavering. It supports one of the two imperialist superpowers (the Soviet Union), and its vaunted ’Eurocommunism’ has made very little difference to this standpoint. It is true that the CPGB offers ’evidence’ of an independent stance vis-a-vis the Soviet Union (e.g. its criticism of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and its calls for more human rights inside the Soviet Union), but this is very little to set against its defence of Soviet aggression and imperialist exploitation in the third world and Eastern Europe. For instance, the CPGB unashamedly supported Soviet involvement in India during the period of the Indira Gandhi dictatorship, and whitewashes Soviet aggression in Africa today.

PF does at least voice a general opposition to the rule of the New Tsars, which he describes as “tyranny and exploitation” (p.67), (though as we have seen he vitiates this standpoint by also including in his condemnation the Soviet Union of the previous era, when it was an anti-imperialist force). Our altitude to such opposition to the New Tsars should be the same as our attitude to all bourgeois liberal opposition to reactionaries. First, we support it as far as it goes. Secondly, we criticise it for not being rigorous enough – by failing to expose the imperialist nature of the Soviet Union, such liberal opposition confines itself to repudiating effects, not the cause.

As regards the CPGB’s standpoint on domestic issues, it is chiefly distinguished by managing to have a line on the Labour Party that is even more catastrophic than that of PF and the SWP. The latter’s policy is expressed in their self-contradictory slogan of 1974: ’Vote Labour without illusions’. The CPGB’s more blatant posture can only be described as ’Vote Labour with illusions’! (The CPGB’s recent offshoot, the ’New Communist Party’, makes a big fanfare of opposing the more obviously revisionist features of the CPGB’s line on domestic affairs. However, this is merely a cover for its even greater subservience to the Soviet Union.)

Passing on from the Labour Party and the CPGB, we come to a group called the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). At first sight this group would seem a more promising contender for the title of ’socialist party’ according to the criteria we have used. For instance, the CPB (ML) makes mouthings about the need to seize state power, and, its originators having been anti-revisionist critics of the CPGB (which its leader left largely as a result of the Sino-Soviet split), it pays some lip-service to socialist China, Albania, etc. Unfortunately, however, this group never managed to shake itself free from the legacy of ’economism’ which it inherited from the CPGB. It would therefore be hypocritical of us if we criticised the SWP for this erroneous tendency while at the same time allowing it to pass in another group just because it should dub itself ’Marxist-Leninist’.

To put the SWP in its place, the CPB (ML) probably does more to propagate economism among the working class than does the SWP, which is largely based on students and white-collar workers. This is due to the comparatively wide influence of the CPB(ML)’s leader, Reg Birch, among some sections of the working class – he is a veteran figure in the Labour movement, holds high office in the TUC, etc. Like the SWP, the CPB(ML) doggedly propagates the view that “economic struggles are themselves political” (and like the SWP, by “political” it means ’socialist’). Also like the SWP, it holds a ’two-class’ view of British society, with the only difference being that it is more explicit: for instance, students are unashamedly labelled “part of the working class”, and student grants have thus even been described by them as wages paid to apprentice workers! Like the SWP, the CPB(ML) refuses to acknowledge the profound formative influence on British society of imperialism. Once again, however, the difference between the SWP (which seems to be merely ignorant of the question) and the CPB(ML) is that the latter is more explicit and conscious in taking this standpoint – for instance, any reference to the existence, or even the possibility, of a ’labour aristocracy’ tied to imperialism and maintained on the basis of imperialist superprofits (a suggestion that probably wouldn’t strike most SWP members as sufficiently comprehensible or interesting to goad them into words) sends the CPB(Ml.) hopping mad. This elementary and fundamental idea of Leninism is indignantly repudiated by the CPB(ML) as an “insult to the working class”. Like the SWP, the CPB(ML) has a patronising attitude towards third world liberation struggles. It is true that, unlike the SWP, it pays some lip-service to their significance, but this virtue is more than cancelled out by its line that the British working class is the most ’advanced’ in the world because it is the oldest, most “experienced”, etc. – a line which is, as we have seen, pure Trotskyism. Like the SWP, the CPB(ML) praises economic actions by workers to the skies, calling those struggles its leader favours “guerilla struggle” and thus attempting to associate them with the victories of third world liberation movements – a gimmicky formula distinguished from the economism of the SWP only by greater cheek. Like the SWP, the CPB(ML) refuses to debate with those who seek to reason with it, with the difference that the SWP’s tactics in this respect (changing the subject, “despondent silence”, etc.) are a gentlemanly affair compared with the tactics to which the CPB(ML) has been known to resort to suppress criticism. Perhaps the most notable difference in the practice of the two organisations is that whereas many SWP members and associates have been active in anti-racist activities, the CPB(ML) has an exceedingly poor record in this respect, and has in general ignored racism altogether (perhaps it regards discussion of racism as another “insult to the working class”?). A secondary difference between the two is in the style of their pronouncements, for the CPB(ML) has a weird and cryptic language that is all its own. In spite, however, of the apparently better credentials of the CPB(ML), it is clear that on most fundamental issues facing the working class in Britain today, the aggressively ’workerish’ CPB(ML) and the more middle-class and smooth-talking SWP in fact put forward a line that is surprisingly similar.

Moving on from the CPB(ML), we come to the host of Trotskyist organisations. Most of the smaller ones are made up only of members of the middle strata of society, particularly students, and are extremely sectarian. To say something about all these groups would take a book twice the length of this one. The two largest, the International Marxist Group and the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, might seem to offer an alternative to the SWP, so we will say a few words about them.

The WRP are certainly among the most obnoxious, most sectarian Trotskyists. They use various gimmicks, such as discos, to recruit young people, whom they then proceed to train by isolating them from opposing views, pumping them full of sectarian rubbish, and keeping them so busy – particularly in flogging their daily rag, News Line – that they don’t have much chance to stop and think about what they have got themselves into. They are generally humourless, extremely intolerant of criticism and have a marked weakness for blaming every set-back for the working class on ’Stalinist betrayal’.

The IMG are a lot less sectarian than the WRP and, at the present time, than the SWP – they have resisted the temptation to which these other organisations have yielded to declare themselves ’the Party’ which all others should follow. Unlike SWP and WRP members, it is quite possible to discuss politics with their members without them falling silent, sulking or flying off the handle, though they often have a weakness for arguing in page references.

Both the WRP and the IMG claim to be Trotskyist (though they each deny the other is) and are British sections of different Fourth Internationals. They stick more or less to the old Trotskyist dogmas about ’permanent revolution’, the ’impossibility’ of beginning to build socialism in one country, the insistence that revolution everywhere must only take place at one leap – straight into socialism, etc. Both have campaigned in support of the Labour Party in previous elections and fostered illusions about it. Both defend the Soviet social-imperialists, saying that the Soviet Union is still a ’workers’ state’, even if it is ruled by a ’Stalinist bureaucracy’, so that in any conflict between the two superpowers, they always defend the social-imperialists, and make out that the Soviet Union is still better than the western imperialists. These are only some of their most obvious counter-revolutionary features, but from these it should be clear that they are not a real alternative to the SWP.

Having made some remarks on these fake socialists, we are obviously going to be asked the question: ’What would we put in their place?’ By way of an answer, we can now point to a small but vigorous Marxist-Leninist movement which, though still divided into various groups, has recently come to grips with a number of questions regarding methods of organisation and is in a much better state than it was, say, two years ago. Unlike the situation among the Trotskyist groups (which generate a couple of new splinter groups every season) the tendency among the various Marxist-Leninist groups is to merge, and the prospects of forming a single, united leading core in the near future are good.

At the current stage of the British revolution, the class-conscious vanguard of the working class has yet to be won over to scientific socialism, and the small revolutionary groups that exist are as yet disunited on various matters of importance. This situation dictates two urgent tasks: bases must be formed among the industrial working class, a task which at this stage must be the central (some would say the only) task of mass work (in contrast to its dissipation by the SWP and other such opportunist groups among students and white-collar workers): and, as the other major task intimately linked with this one, great attention must be paid to ideological struggles so that the Marxist-Leninist groups can work towards unity on a principled basis.

Marxist-Leninists in Britain do not claim to have all the answers; there are still many problems to be solved. But at least the Marxist-Leninists are generally ready to recognise problems of the class struggle in Britain and the world; they are ready to be self-critical and correct errors when they make them; and they are armed politically and ideologically with the rich theory of Marxism-Leninism – scientific socialism – which is the instrument with which they will comprehend the world about them, and, linking theory with practice, work out a correct strategy and tactics for the revolutionary struggle for a socialist Britain.

To conclude, then, the bourgeoisie has invented sham products of every kind, from synthetic caviar to soya-bean ’mincemeat’. Surely socialism of all things is proof against such counterfeit? But no, they have sham socialism in store as well. We hope our analysis of the SWP’s supposedly ’socialist’ recipe will have helped our readers to develop their ability to distinguish the genuine from the sham.