Lining up with the establishment

Around the left

As mentioned in last week’s Weekly Worker (June 17), the SWP is - with extreme reluctance - backing the ‘yes, yes’ campaign in Scotland. To this end it is ‘active’ in the Scotland Forward group (see this week’s ‘Party notes’, page 2). Even though the boss-hating, revolution-loving SWP hates to be in the same room with assorted Scottish businessmen, dignitaries and nationalists, it is compelled by its own opportunist logic to be in the same campaign as them.  This is causing tensions, quite understandably, within the organisation.

We are not surprised by the fact that the SWP is twisting and turning in such an unstable fashion. As the SWP does not have the courage of its own anarcho-leftist convictions (‘elections change nothing’, strident denunciations of all forms of ‘electoralism’, etc), it therefore flips over into rightist gradualism instead. It has long been observed that leftist phrasemongery and rightist ‘pragmatism’ make easy bedfellows.

In this schizophrenic spirit, Socialist Worker tells us that it “will be calling for a ‘yes, yes’ vote in the referendum. To do anything else is to line up with the British nationalists and the Tories” (June 14). At a stroke, the SWP abandons the struggle for democracy and working class independence. It is quite prepared to accept Blair’s sop parliament, itself specifically designed to defuse the militant mood in Scotland and hold together the monarchical UK state. The SWP is apparently quite happy to “line up” with the monarchy - but so long as they are being ‘anti-Tory’, that is OK. 

On the other hand, by its involvement in Scotland Forward and the double ‘yes’ campaign, the SWP is quite prepared to “line up” with Scottish nationalists (some of whom have of course Tory sentiments) whose goal is an independent Scotland and those Tories - not to mention major sections of the establishment - who support devolution on the grounds that it is in the best long-term interests of the UK state.

You also get the impression that the SWP has forgotten who won the general election. Still, it cannot be easy to change the habits of a lifetime overnight. Hence, the conclusion to the article is that the “double ‘yes’ campaign needs to dump the bosses and the Tories and start taking up working class arguments”.

Of course, the latter remark about “working class arguments” gives the game away. It reveals what is truly offensive about the SWP’s world view - its debilitating and fundamentally patronising economism. It believes that the workers should not concern themselves with political questions. They should remain on their ‘natural’ terrain and concern themselves solely with economic struggles - ie, so-called ‘bread and butter’ issues.

In an attempt to salvage its militant reputation, Socialist Worker tries to reassure its readership: “But calling for a double ‘yes’ vote is only a small part of the argument. The real issue is whether proposals will begin to meet the demand for real change which came from Scotland in the election.” What is this “demand for real change”? Perhaps SW is referring to the Scottish masses’ hostility to the monarchy, as reflected in the Carlton TV poll? Or the desire for self-determination? Or the general struggle to remedy the democratic deficit?

No, of course not - don’t be silly. “Scottish workers want the same things as those south of the border - decent schools and hospitals, union rights, job security,” states Socialist Worker. Translated: workers should not bother themselves with democratic questions or the nature of the state - leave that to the “bosses and the Tories” (ie, bourgeois politicians). ‘Please don’t talk about such things, please remain a slave-class - we prefer it that way,’ the SWP pleads to Scottish workers.

It is also worthwhile to note that this issue very discreetly - if not embarrassedly - mentions the fact that the SWP stood candidates in the Irish general election. Its treatment of the election campaign is uncharacteristically self-effacing. No mention of its platform, manifesto, election material, etc - the ‘invisible campaign’. Perhaps Socialist Worker is reluctant to let its British readers know that the SWP has actually stood in an election.

We can see the first cracks emerging in the SWP monolith. Is a cultural revolution about to sweep through the organisation? Is the ‘anti-electoralist’ SWP going to take the plunge at long last and meet its destiny with the masses?

More crucially - if it becomes ‘electoralist’ - will it openly explain in the pages of Socialist Worker and elsewhere the reasons for its dramatic line change? More worryingly, will it replicate Scargillite sectarianism and refuse to enter into electoral pacts and alliances with other left groups?

Given the SWP’s past record of arrogant and inveterate sectarianism, the omens are not good. But we live in hope.

Don Preston