Charlie Kimber’s dream world
Peter Manson looks back at the SWP conference
According to Socialist Worker,“Revolutionaries debated the political situation and how to shape it at the 2014 Socialist Workers Party conference” (December 15 2014).
This opening sentence in the paper’s report of the SWP’s 2014 annual conference, which was held over the weekend of December 12-14, is typical of the whole article. It implies, first of all, that only its own comrades are “revolutionaries” and, secondly, that the SWP itself can actually “shape” the whole “political situation”. Following the crisis that has enveloped the organisation over the last couple of years, its leadership seems to be living in a dream world. Despite its talk of support for “united fronts” and “broad” movements, it is more insular than ever. The leadership under Charlie Kimber and Alex Callinicos, in a desperate attempt to end the haemorrhaging of its membership, steps up the pretence - for the benefit of those fresh, raw recruits - that the SWP will be central to the coming mass struggles.
The report is headlined: “The main parties’ crisis brings opportunities for the left”, which certainly ought to be the case. But is the left in a position to take advantage of such opportunities? Mark Thomas from the central committee told conference that “the old political order is beginning to crack” - he mentioned the success of the “racist party”, Ukip, and the “collective heart attack in the establishment” that was the Scottish independence referendum, which “nearly broke apart the British state”. The decline of the “mainstream parties”, plus further “big cuts”, creates “the possibility of huge social explosions”.
Leaving aside the hyperbole, will “the left” be able to mount a serious fightback? The SWP constantly tells us that it “must get its act together” (Party Notes December 15 2014), but, when it comes down to specifics, the ‘unity’ it proposes is limited entirely to elections. While, according to comrade Kimber, the organisation’s national secretary, elections are “not the main form of struggle”, he warned of the “great danger” of abstaining. But, again in the words of Party Notes, the SWP’s contribution on May 7 will be restricted to “around 15 parliamentary constituencies and council seats”, where it will stand candidates as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
The Socialist Worker report talks vaguely about two conference amendments, which received respectively 13 and 14 votes. These amendments “reflected debates on whether the SWP is strong enough to stand candidates in some areas”, which implies that it should be standing fewer candidates. Yet “Delegates agreed overwhelmingly about the need to stand candidates in the elections”, which implies that some comrades thought the SWP should be contesting nowhere.
The report ends even more vaguely: “A motion on improving party structures that had grown out of last year’s conference and a number of debates on the national committee was discussed and passed. An amendment from Central London branch was accepted by the conference.”
Why does the leadership not inform Socialist Worker readers in what way “party structures” are to be ‘improved’ or give any hint as to the content of the successful amendment? Presumably it only mentions this because it wants to show how “SWP democracy” is flourishing, but the absence of any detail leads to the opposite conclusion: SWP supporters, like the membership, are treated like children, who will be bored or confused if they are told about contending viewpoints.
The same applies to the SWP’s own crisis. For instance, Amy Leather for the central committee told conference: “There has been some hostility towards [the Socialist Worker Student Society] from a small minority at some universities, following a dispute inside the SWP.” A “dispute inside the SWP”? Now, what could that be referring to? Similarly, “Jan from south London” said “her branch had lost some members due to a recent faction fight in the party”. It is as if Socialist Worker readers know nothing of the “recent faction fight” and it is none of their business anyway.
The rest of the report is full of SWP ‘official optimism’. Everything is taking off. While “millions are desperate for an alternative to the mainstream parties” at elections, in the workplace “There is deep frustration among layers of activists about how the movement is being led. There’s an anger among workers that’s absolutely palpable, and there’s a willingness to take political initiatives.” So says industrial organiser Michael Bradley.
And the SWP’s own “united fronts” are well placed to swing things. Unite the Resistance has helped workers “join the dots” between different struggles, according to one delegate. Meanwhile, according to another CC member, Weyman Bennett, the Unite Against Fascism conference in February will be “important in stopping the fascists from regrouping”.
The SWP will be mobilising for the Stand Up to Racism demonstrations in March - they will be a “scream of rage” from thousands, said our Weyman. And the SWP will also be protesting at the UK Independence Party’s spring conference in February. However, “Two comrades spoke of problems getting unions to back opposition to Ukip, as some activists are unsure about calling it racist.” I wonder why that is?
Everything, says Charlie Kimber, points to “the necessity of revolutionary organisation” - ie, build the SWP. And, as usual, things are looking up in that respect (when aren’t they in the SWP?): “Charlie reported a good level of recruitment nationally”, although he did say it was “too uneven”. But the only indication that the SWP is still losing members more quickly than it is recruiting them came in the contribution from “Sue C” (one of three central committee members whose surnames are not disclosed): she said the SWP “would be launching a re-registration and subs drive in the new year”. In other words, just like in 2014, it will be trying to transform its hundreds of paper ‘members’ into the real thing.
Party Notes pretends that “The SWP conference … set out a clear plan for the crucial period up to the May 7 elections and beyond”.
This “clear plan” consists of:
- Continuing to argue for a united left to offer a more powerful challenge to the mainstream parties …
- Launching a serious election challenge as part of Tusc …
- Building Stand up to Ukip, the February 21 UAF conference and the March 21 anti-racist demonstrations in London, Glasgow and Cardiff.
- Continuing to fight for increased resistance in the workplaces, using Unite the Resistance’s “Ten demands for the election” …
- Continuing to support the fightback against the attacks on benefits and on disabled people, for decent and genuinely affordable housing, and in defence of the NHS and welfare.
- Continuing our work in the universities and colleges, holding regular SWSS meetings wherever possible and being part of fightbacks on the campuses.
- Building the March 7 Time to Act climate change demo.
- Continuing to build the SWP by campaigning alongside broad ranges of people, while arguing for revolutionary politics and organisation …
- Ensuring that we are at the heart of Stop the War in our areas and tuned in to work around solidarity with Palestine.
- Developing our members through activity and education, including the day schools and special national events.
- Building a big Marxism 2015 - July 9-13.
Why bother with a “plan” when, give or take the odd detail, it’s the same every year? So long as we persuade the members they must be active, active, active, some may stay on board. That is the SWP method for you. It reminds you of the final days of the Workers Revolutionary Party, before it imploded in 1985. Characterised by dishonesty, false optimism and downright lying.