Unity: real steps, or “rebranding”?

Submitted by AWL on 25 November, 2014 - 6:43 Author: Colin Foster

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has made another call for left unity (21 November). Sadly, it seems that the SWP aims more to “brand” itself as pro-unity than to get any actual unity.

Exits from the SWP in the last couple of years have taken maybe half its previous active membership and made it seem more of an expert on how to get splits than on unity. However, the new call makes no offer to recent splinters from the SWP — Counterfire, ISG, RS21, ISN — of terms on which they could reunite.

Understandably, the SWP wants to ease the isolation it has faced since its recent splits and scandals. An article in Socialist Worker signalled that the SWP looks to “left reformists” to unite with, rather than the too-scattered revolutionary left.

“The struggle in Greece has made it clear to many workers that Syriza doesn’t have the answers. Anti-capitalists [i.e. the SWP’s Greek sister group, SEK] relate to this audience partly by standing against Syriza in elections. In Britain the balance of forces is very different. So the Socialist Workers Party wants to unite with left reformists and others to form a left alternative” (Socialist Worker, 18 November).

Leave aside the stuff about Greece. Which “left reformists” in Britain does the SWP want to unite with?

The 21 November statement takes the Ukip victory in the Rochester and Strood by-election of 20 November as its jumping-off point. But its focus is more on Scotland.

“Some 3,000 activists meet [on 22 November] at the Radical Independence conference [in Glasgow]. Out of that, and other initiatives such as Hope Over Fear [a vehicle for former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan], activists must develop a united left...”.

There were left reformists at the Glasgow conference. Trouble is, they are sucked into the slipstream of the cock-a-hoop SNP. So are some of the revolutionaries, or at least not-quite-reformists.

Tommy Sheridan has called for an SNP vote in May 2015 (bit.ly./shersnp). Colin Fox, leader of the post-Sheridan Scottish Socialist Party, has called on the SNP to agree a common “independence alliance” slate (bit.ly/sspsnp).

The SNP has said it’s for a “yes alliance” slate which would include some non-SNP members (bit.ly/snpyes). On that level the open issues are whether the SNP allows the SSP or Sheridan a place on their slate, and whether the Greens (also in the Radical Independence campaign) come in with the SNP. Absolutely guaranteed, however, is left self-submergence into the slipstream of the bourgeois SNP.

The Radical Independence alliance has had slogans like “Britain is for the rich, Scotland can be ours”, as if there is no working class in Britain, and the Scottish bourgeoisie is so lightweight that just a bit more loud “yes” campaigning will sweep it away and make Scotland socialist. It is like the idea of second-rank countries being “proletarian nations”, whose competition with higher-rank countries outbids the class struggle within countries, first coined (for Italy) by Enrico Corradini in 1910.

The ISG, a 2011 splinter from the SWP in Scotland connected to Counterfire in England, has proposed “a Scottish Podemos” instead of backing the SNP. The SWP’s call for Scotland is similar to the ISG’s, and seems to be motivated by a wish not to be outdone by the ISG. However, there is no talk of reunification between the SWP and the ISG.

After the Scottish referendum, the SWP argued, rightly, that socialists should move on and seek to unite Yes and No voters on class-struggle issues. The ISG’s line is more “Britain is our main enemy”, “The Yes movement was as progressive as the No camp reactionary”, etc. Now the SWP is deferring to that line: when they write of “activists developing a united left” in Scotland, it is “out of... the Radical Independence conference... and other initiatives such as [Sheridan’s]”, i.e. exclusively from the strident Yes.

The SWP’s unity call for England reads as a perfunctory add-on: it is for “an electoral coalition for the May elections”, including TUSC (the anti-cuts group led by the Socialist Party and RMT union leaders in which SWP quarter-participates) and the small Left Unity group. They seem not to have a constituency of “left reformists” in mind here as they do in Scotland.

The platform (apparently for England only) in the SWP’s unity call is also perfunctory. It includes general “support for socialism”, but otherwise is just opposition to austerity, racism, sexism, imperialism, with no positive policies, even reformist ones, let alone bold calls like “Tax the Rich” or “Expropriate the Banks”.

Its most specific clause is one “against the expansion of NATO and the West’s new war in the Middle East”, code for hinting that Russian imperialism in Ukraine is ok and ISIS conquests and slaughter of the Kurds are nothing to worry about compared with the bad side-effects of the US bombing ISIS.

The left should unite much more. The best way to start would be practical cooperation in supporting strikes and fighting cuts, and practical agreement to run joint socialist forums which will both popularise broad socialist ideas and allow real debate.