SWP: fifth wheel of Corbynism?

Author: 

Martin Thomas

There were about 500 at the opening rally of the SWP's "Marxism" summer event in London on 6 July. That's fewer than in some previous years, I think, and an older crowd - about a third grey or white-haired.

Nevertheless, enough not to sneeze at, and the closing rally on 9 July was near 1000.

The worrying thing was more the politics. Most of the opening rally was given over to speakers, some eloquent, from the Parts cleaners' dispute, the LSE cleaners' dispute, a Grenfell Tower campaign, the Scottish further education lecturers' dispute, and the campaign about Edson da Costa's death in custody.

Two speakers had the job of presenting the SWP's political purpose.

Gerry Carroll, a "People before Profit" member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, made a speech most of which could have come from Sinn Fein. The main difference from Sinn Fein was that Carroll denied that the Brexit vote of 23 June 2016 had strengthened the Tories.

Alex Callinicos, the main leader of the SWP, took up the same theme. In fact, he said, Britain has moved "sharply" left, and the right has suffered a "devastating defeat". The vote for Brexit was a product of squeezed real wages and growing class antagonisms.

(Huh? Tories and Ukipers voted for Brexit to show adherence to working-class struggle? So why did the big majority of left-minded people vote against Brexit?)

Callinicos's basis for that claim was the 8 June election result. He ignored the Tories' high poll ratings from July 2016 to May 2017.

Yes, the boost to the right from the Brexit vote was not infinitely durable and powerful. Theresa May's hubristic election campaign, and the vigorous Labour manifesto, undid it, though arguably more by mobilising left-minded people who had previously not voted than by shifting people from right to left.

Callinicos made no criticism of Corbyn's politics. He specifically endorsed Corbyn's current stand on Brexit, and said that the only "valid" reason for worrying about the Brexit vote was the status of EU citizens currently living in Britain. (So free movement for those people's friends, families, and neighbours to come to work or study in Britain - or for British young people to work or study in Europe - doesn't matter?)

He further praised Corbyn's speech on the Manchester bombings, hearing only that Corbyn had blamed the bombings on the UK's support for "the USA's war to dominate the Middle East". In fact Corbyn, rightly, was much further from the simplistic "blowback" theory than that; and in fact, much of Corbyn's speech was an implied call for more spending on the police.

Anyway, Callinicos praised Corbyn on those issues. He saw no need to raise any programmatic difference with Corbyn. Public ownership of the banks? None of that.

Callinicos still thought there was a role for the SWP. A left reformist government will be thwarted by "unelected centres of power" unless there are demonstrations and strikes. And the SWP favours demonstrations and strikes. QED.

The closing rally was more polished. Islamist Moazzam Begg (see here and here) gave a polished liberal speech, getting a standing ovation both before and after. .

Brid Smith from the Irish SWP spoke, and Amy Leather made the final speech. Since 2016 Leather has been joint national secretary of the SWP with Charlie Kimber. At the time of the "Delta" scandal in 2013-4, she was an oppositionist, criticising Kimber and Callinicos for being too "soft" and apologetic in response.

Leather's speech was better crafted than Callinicos's, and she did (though briefly) mention opposition to capitalism, support for socialism, and support for open borders. Her basic argument was the same as Callinicos's: Corbyn is doing what needs to be done in politics, but the SWP has a role in stirring up the strikes and demonstrations required to support him.

In truth there is, if not the great general shift to the left which Callinicos claimed, a new mobilisation of a new left-wing political generation. Socialist should be in among that new generation (which means in the Labour Party and Young Labour, not standing on the sidelines like the SWP).

And our prime duty is to help them organise and also to develop and debate politically to regroup around a socialist programme which goes beyond the redistributive measures in the Labour manifesto and establishes a cooperative commonwealth in an internationalist perspective.

Comments

The usual factionalist crap

The usual factionalist crap from this site - attack the SWP, attack the Communist Party, attack anyone but the real enemy - the tories. Splitters! as documented in 'The Life of Brian'