Not Waving, RA Vol 4, Issue 7,June/July '00


The recent fallout between the SWP and their fraternal organisation in the USA, the International Socialist Organisation, speaks volumes for the method of analysis employed at a leadership level. S. Harper outlines the implications for the rest of us.

This dispute was, ostensibly, about what the SWP perceived as the failure of the ISO to take account of the new “anti­capitalist mood” (?) sweeping the globe. This ‘failure’ was compounded by the ISO’s inadequate intervention in the “Battle of Seattle” during demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation.

Initially, the SWP’s perception of the American organisation’s inadequacies centred on a numbers game. Not enough importance had been attached to the demo by the ISO and therefore the numbers eventually mobilised by them were insufficient to making a proper political intervention. The arguments between both organisa­tions take on ‘Life Of Brian’ exchanges - but, obviously, without the humour. Together they number crunch until the ISO point out some of the distances involved in mobilising almost their entire membership as the SWP advocated to the Seattle event. “To make the distances clear to comrades, the distance between Seattle and Chicago is greater than the distance between London and Moscow. The Bay Area, referred to in the letter as the ‘closest district’ is almost as far from Seattle as London is from Vienna..:’ This is treated as a mere detail and proof of the ISO’s lack of revolutionary commitment, Unlike the battle-hardened revolutionary shock troops of the SWP.

More important and even more comical are the SWP’s complete misreading and overestimation of the events in Seattle. This is not just a problem that affects the SWP. It is something that runs right through left wing groups internationally. From Stalinists to Trotskyists to Anarchists - they believe that Seattle represents a “turning point” and that the world is now in a “pre-revolutionary situation.” Turning reality on its head - of the working class being in retreat and having no representation internationally; of the rise of the far right throughout Europe; not to mention the crumbling organisations of the revolutionary left - the SWP and others argue that, rather than staring at defeat, we are actually on the point of victory!

To further emphasise the ISO’s misinterpretation of events in Seattle (the ISO are no angels here because there is a cigarette paper-thin ‘gulf’ between them and SWP theoretically) the SWP roll out all of the theoretical big guns like Cliff, Callinicos, Trotsky and ‘Old Baldy’ himself, Lenin, in order to drive home their point that the “anti-capitalist mood” of Seattle represents the first wave of a revolutionary tide. Bizarrely, because they can’t find a quote from the ISO to fit their next devastating use of Leninist theory, Cliff and Alex Callinicos quote the attitude of the French Trotskyist organisation Lutte Ouvrier - who are not affiliated to the SWP’s version of the Fourth International - to Seattle. Having neatly fitted the ISO into the Lutte Ouvrier camp, they end with this revolutionary flourish:

“Lenin attacked precisely this kind of abstract sectarian ‘Marxism’ when he rounded on those revolutionaries who dismissed the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin as a ‘petty bourgeois putsch”

So, there you have it. Seattle represented to the SWP leadership, not just proof of “a growing anti-capitalist mood” to be followed by revolutionary ferment; Seattle was our Easter 1916 as well!

As the ISO point out in their reply to this nonsense, the SWP are not exactly on sound theoretical ground when it comes to their estimation of the new “anti-capitalist mood”: “If we followed the same method, we might ask you why you’ve decided the Green slogan ‘Think globally, act locally’ - which incidentally, you can find plastered as a bumper sticker on thousands of yuppies’ Volvos in places like California and Vermont - is ‘almost Leninist”

The main driving force here appears to be the SWP’s obsession with piggy-backing whatever the revolu­tionary flavour of the month is in order to build their own forces. And recruitment to “the party” is the object of the ‘new turn’, both in Britain and internationally. “The anti-capitalist mood offers our party the prospect of real growth.” And they go on to reveal the true intent of the exercise by stating.” To aid this process, we must use the united front tactic.

In order to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this worldwide clamour for revolutionary politics the SWP offer their own unique interpreta­tion of the Trotskyist ‘united front’ theory. That is; present your ‘front’ organisation publicly as a ‘united front’ - even an “Alliance” in the case of the LSA -and then attempt to hoover up all of those elements of the left who are attracted by the rhetoric by inviting them to Marxism 2000. Cynical? Not nearly as cynical as these chancers.

Reproduced from RA Vol 4, Issue 7,June/July '00