BNP infiltrates SWP
How could it have happened that two young members of the British National Party were promoted to celebrated 'student activists' in the Socialist Workers Party, asks Sam Davies
Two leading members of the Socialist Workers Party’s youth wing in Manchester have revealed themselves to be members of the far-right British National Party, employed to gather information on the British left. Joe Finnon, 21, and Diane Stoker, 19, both originally from the north east, joined the SWP at Manchester University freshers’ fair last September with the sole purpose of supplying misleading information about far-right activists in Burnley and relaying information back to the BNP, it emerged last month.
This, it seems, was not a particularly difficult task. Only a month after making contact with the SWP both were nominated to attend the party’s national conference, apparently pushed forward as ‘leading activists’ in the student movement. In double quick time Stoker found herself on the Stop the War Coalition’s treasury committee, while Finnon was appointed regional treasurer for Respect in the north west - both on the recommendation of their unsuspecting ‘comrades’. The SWP even bureaucratically demoted the Socialist Worker Student Society leadership in Manchester, only to replace them with the two shining, hard-working activists, who had been members of the organisation for well under a year.
It must be said in the SWP’s defence that at any time, in the absence of extensive intelligence, it is difficult to tell whether a new recruit is genuine or not, and of course such fascist ‘moles’ are not commonplace on the British left in this historic low point in the class struggle. Young people often begin to become politically active at university, and recruiting people with no previous political experience at university freshers’ fairs is common. However, we must certainly ask how two new ‘comrades’, obviously without any real leftwing politics of any description (and thus, one would imagine, no capacity to seriously develop or question their ideas), were able to climb so far up the SWP ladder in such a short space of time.
The answer, you may think, could lie in the method by which the SWP carries out its ‘recruiting’. Indeed, anyone and everyone the party encounters is encouraged to become a full member immediately, regardless of their level of political development. Of course, it would be ludicrous to suggest comrades should sit an exam or demonstrate an inside-out knowledge of Lenin’s collected works before they join the revolutionary left, but promoting and rewarding comrades with responsibility on the grounds of activism alone in fact moves the emphasis away from politics. Future leaders of our class will not be judged by workers on how many leaflets they can hand out in an hour, or how many demonstrations they have attended, but by their programmatic outlook and the content of their politics. Emphasis on the former rather than the latter not only makes it easier for our organisations to be infiltrated by agents of the far right (or the state), but actually detracts from the task of creating a political vanguard of the working class.
An even more puzzling aspect of the whole fiasco, however, is what exactly the BNP believes it has achieved from its ‘infiltration’ mission. From scanning over the organisation’s literature online, it seems the two did not uncover any dirty laundry or anything that the SWP had not already placed in the public domain. Even their venture to national conference does not seem to have turned up very much and, according to leading comrades in the SWP, the two fascists were not given access to major contact lists or databases. Indeed, contrary to the BNP’s ludicrous claim, the pair did not actually infiltrate every “most prominent leftwing group in this country” at all, but rather a selection of the SWP’s various fronts, organisations where the real politics of the SWP are concealed behind whatever single issue is in question, and criticism is rarely encouraged or even tolerated. It appears that the main achievement of the BNP has been a propaganda coup.
None of this means that the left must not be on guard against infiltration by the far right or the state. As well as discrediting the fascists at meetings and on the streets, we must make a serious effort to prevent this sort of violation from happening again. Undoubtedly by fostering a healthy revolutionary culture in which difference are discussed openly and debate of high politics becomes a duty, rather than the remit of an elite, we make it more difficult for all but the most determined and dedicated actors to pose as working class leaders.
Despite the SWP’s predicament being something of a misfortune, there are perhaps some lessons to be learnt.