John Rees, the SWP's leading figure from Tony Cliff's death in 2000 to 2007, has resigned from the SWP together with 41 others, with a statement endorsed by 18 other recent ex-SWPers.
Their statement links their resignation with that of Lindsey German, another former SWP leader who resigned in protest at pressure from the SWP Central Committee not to speak at a particular local meeting of the Stop The War Coalition (of which she is the paid convenor).
Like German's resignation letter, the new statement says nothing about what the signatories will do now, politically.
The statement claims that "the events of recent weeks leave us with little choice" but to resign, but does little to substantiate the claim.
It criticises the SWP on the grounds that "the task of building broad, political opposition in every area to the disasters created by neoliberalism and war is now subordinated [by the SWP] to short term party building". In fact the SWP continues a "front"-building, "Munzenbergist" approach pretty similar to that of recent years, and the resigners' complaints here seem to come down to that they wanted more Labour MPs and trade-union leaders on the platform of the recent SWP-organised "Right To Work" conference.
"Valuable recent initiatives, like the Right to Work campaign, have minimised the involvement of Labour MPs, union leaders and others who have the capability to mobilise beyond the traditional left".
The back-story is that John Rees and Lindsey German were central to the SWP's shameful link-up with George Galloway MP in the "Respect" coalition between 2004 and 2007. Martin Smith, Alex Callinicos, and the rest of the SWP Central Committee endorsed and supported that turn, too.
But in 2007 the "Respect" tactic collapsed. Galloway split, leaving the SWP with a rump, and taking a few SWPers with him. Most of the few non-SWPers who stayed with the SWP proved unreliable: for example, four of Respect's councillors in Tower Hamlets, the one place where they had a sizeable council group, stayed on the SWP side, but of those four, one soon went over directly from SWP membership to the Tories, and the other three, a bit later, went over to Labour.
Smith and Callinicos scapegoated Rees for the fiasco.
The back-story to that back-story is that in the 1980s Cliff steered the SWP into a ostentatiously "party-building" mode, spurning "broad front" activity and much of trade-union activity above workplace level. After a period of flux in the early 1990s, Cliff pushed the SWP to readjust. SWP satellite groups in Germany and France were pushed into joining the social-democratic youth movements.
In 1999 the SWP threw itself into building a "broad-front" Stop The War Coalition over the Kosova war. Actually the campaign was to "stop the war" on Milosevic's terms - i.e. to demand NATO allow Milosevic a free hand for "ethnic cleansing" in Serbia. But it was floated on floods of pacifistic and anti-US rhetoric, with an undercurrent of the Stalinoid nostalgia which made some leftists see Serbia as retaining some element of (Stalinist) socialism; and the SWP considered it a great success.
The SWP wheeled out Stop The War again for the Afghan war in 2001 and for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 2003 it managed to get gigantic demonstrations.
Cliff died in 2000, and the SWP then lacked leaders with the confidence and authority to make readjustments. For the last decade it has occupied itself with countless attempted "broad-front" campaigns - sometimes outright alliances with Islamic clerical-fascists - and timid and empirical attempts to recoil and restore a bit of attention to the SWP's ravaged political profile and "party" organisation.
Will the resigners now become just campaign activists, giving up on any effort to build a Marxist organisation as well as the broader campaigns?
Will the SWP now convert the Stop The War Coalition - where German, Rees, and others have significant control through holding paid official posts - into a battlefield, striving to oust German and Rees and get SWPers into the key posts?