ISG debates democracy

ANDY WILSON from the International Socialist Group, made up of comrades expelled from the SWP for expressing disagreements, together with a representative of the IS group in Germany, addressed a packed fringe meeting of over 70 people at ‘Marxism 95’. The chair read out a solidarity message from comrades in South Africa.

It is clear that the SWP is not a healthy organisation. One speaker said, “I know more people who were in the SWP than I know in it today”. It is not just that people are leaving. Branches are collapsing in disillusionment because raw recruits are being used as paper-sale robots and not developed politically. The organisation has a revolving door membership that the leadership under Tony Cliff uses demagogically to suppress any dissent expressed by experienced cadre. The SWP’s centralism is bureaucratic, not democratic.

Andy Wilson argued convincingly that the SWP needed democratic centralism if it was to carry out its revolutionary tasks. He was in favour of the right to organise permanent factions and he is not afraid of being in a minority. Comrades from the CPGB compared the regime under the stranglehold of the old ‘official’ leadership to the SWP and describing our struggle against this, emphasised the need for SWP members to remain in the party and fight, not to walk away.

This is the ISG’s project - to develop opposition in the SWP. But the group agrees with Cliff’s analysis of the Soviet Union as state capitalist and wants to use it as a way of organising revolutionaries, rather than as the basis of a sycophantic sect.

However, the problem goes far beyond the SWP. The left as a whole has a history of curtailing revolutionary politics. For the ‘official’ Communist Party it was to accommodate the Soviet bureaucracy, while others wanted to be in the Labour Party. All had their own opportunistic justifications. Theory has not been a battle to discover the truth, but a fig leaf to hide opportunism.

The programmeless SWP has as a result condemned itself to trailing behind the working class, not leading it.

Andy Wilson complained about other left groups’ insistence on programme. But without clear revolutionary perspectives the spontaneous anger of all sections of the working class and oppressed can only be united bureaucratically.

This is the SWP’s fate. It cannot develop revolutionary practice because it will not allow the development of revolutionary theory.

Phil Kent