The SWP Spring is over, and it has gone the way of Prague instead of Tahrir. The SWP’s opposition demanded the downfall of the regime; they fought vainly and valiantly, and now over 70 members, including the party’s future brain trust, Richard Seymour and China Miéville, have issued a collective resignation statement after the opposition’s defeat at a rigged special conference.
The house that Tony Cliff built (on faulty foundations) has cracked irreparably. The husk that remains is destined to endure in a state of permanent decay only because no one cares enough to front the money for the bulldozing it deserves for systematically covering up rapes and sexual assaults by its higher-ups for many years.
The American SWP’s present is the British SWP’s future.
And what of the opposition? Freed from “Leninist” party discipline, the International Socialist Network (ISN) will use their blog, a new email list, and other 21st century methods to publicly debate, discuss, theorize, and organize supporters of the Cliff tradition in a recapitulation of the SWP’s predecessor, the International Socialists (IS).
It seems that the apple never falls far from the tree.
The opposition’s fundamental criticism of the SWP is that they were doing it wrong (it being “Leninism”). “A healthy International Socialist tradition in Britain” in the spirit of the best of the old IS would fearlessly debate questions like why a workers’ party dedicated to overthrowing British capitalism or a network aiming to form such a party needs Cliff’s line on a non-existent USSR at all instead of accepting the IS’s 50-year-old shibboleths — state capitalism, the permanent arms economy, and deflected permanent revolution — as givens. Tony Cliff Thought and his little Lenin book are not a proper starting point for drawing political boundaries in the era of Chavismo, the Arab Spring, and SYRIZA.
The formation of networks of dissidents and ex-members is another commonality between the self-destruction of the British and American SWPs. However, the political basis of the ISN today and the former American SWP leader Peter Camejo’s North Star Network (NSN) couldn’t be more different. NSN explicitly came to grips with and aggressively rejected the political baggage (or “tradition,” if you prefer the polite term) of its founders, teaching, in Dayne Goodwin’s words:
We needed to avoid left jargon and reach out to people with clear language and reference to our own U.S. working class history and culture.
We needed to break from the fetishistic and philosophically idealist perspective that we were inheritors of “the correct” program; political program is developed, tested and affirmed in mass struggle.
There is no such thing as “the nucleus” of a revolutionary party because a revolutionary party is only created in the process of actual leadership of mass struggles of millions of people.
One of the worst manifestations of philosophically idealist sectarianism is the idea that if there is a political disagreement among revolutionary socialists then one view must be petit-bourgeois, because there can only be one truly proletarian, correct revolutionary working class view.
On this basis NSN members immersed themselves in Central American solidarity work while Camejo joined the Rainbow Coalition. Unfortunately, NSN did not develop into something greater since it was “primarily a deprogramming center for victims of the SWP cult” as Camejo put it, and at the end of the 1980s, he dissolved NSN.
“Leninists” might fault Camejo for failing to leave behind a revolving door of recruits peddling an awful party-line newspaper written by an expulsion-happy central committee, but that was a success, not a failure. In the absence of a mass-based radical party with a left dominated by the sect form, networks are the way to go.