Sell, sell, sell

Around the left

As Leninists we take an active interest in all political developments and movements. This applies especially to political organisations and parties, whose internal life we need to study and master in order for us to critically engage with them.

This communist scrutiny applies especially to organisations which claim to be revolutionary, Marxist and, in the case of the Socialist Workers Party, happen to be the largest grouping on the left - by far.

The SWP recently held its annual conference. As a comrade wrote in the Weekly Worker,

“What a pity that that Socialist Worker will report it only in the most anodyne and turgid terms. No differences, shades, let alone organised opposition - if there is any - will be made public. Instead of a comprehensive report there will be nothing more than a postage stamp article, along with well honed quotes culled from members expressing the required official optimism. That we can predict with almost absolute certainty” (‘Party notes’, November 6).

Unfortunately the predictions turned out to be correct. True, the actual report on the conference occupied two whole pages of Socialist Worker - instead of the usual one. However, if you remove all the “well honed quotes” - whether from the leadership or ordinary members - you are in reality not left with much more than a postage stamp article.

The report is saturated with the SWP’s almost uniquely depressing mixture of hyper-optimism and uncritical (if not occasionally mindless) activism. Nothing ever goes wrong in the SWP’s world. Or rather, nothing is allowed to go wrong. Instead of a serious analysis, the report just wants us to shout, ‘Three cheers for the leadership!’ and ‘Sell even more copies of Socialist Worker!’

Sounding like he was overdosing on Prozac, Tony Cliff proclaimed at the conference: “I am absolutely convinced that some time in the future there will be a big confrontation with the Labour government” (November 15). Hopefully that will reassure the proto-oppositionists in the SWP who question the wisdom of the SWP’s electoral tactics and strategy.

Keeping up the febrile and up-beat momentum, comrade Chris Bambery

“argued that the situation for socialists was far more favourable than we could have hoped for or expected on May 1. ‘There were 8,000 people who lobbied the Labour Party conference within just five months of the Labour landslide victory,’ he said.”

He continued:

“Student fees was the first general attack by a Labour government. It was the first rupture between feelings for change and the leadership of the Labour Party. It is the beginnings of discontent with Blair, and that discontent will grow ... Everything the Labour government does erupts into a political issue in the working class movement - whether it’s over tobacco advertising or fox-hunting. Every strike becomes political. We saw that with British Airways boss Robert Ayling’s relationship with Blair in the recent BA strike.”

Comrade Bambery also stated:

“Politics is the be all and end all of how socialists build among workers. Our slogan should be politics, politics, politics” (my emphasis).

This is a sentiment the Weekly Worker would definitely applaud. If the SWP were to adopt such a slogan it would indeed be an positive step forward for the organisation. Regrettably though, comrade Bambery’s idea of “politics, politics, politics” seems more akin to ‘sell, sell, sell’. In order to promote “politics” and ensure that the organisation is not “cut off from the workers”, he proposed:

“That each SWP branch systematically doing sales at two key workplaces and systematic work in the colleges. We need a bigger, more rooted SWP for when we face strikes and crises like in 1977, and we need to prepare for that now.”

Comrade Jacqui Freeman also emphasised: “We want to get Socialist Worker Student Society members to sell Socialist Worker and to distribute the weekly SWSS bulletin.” Unsurprisingly comrade Chris Harman, editor of the paper, also agreed:

“That is why we need to have a push on the sales of Socialist Worker. Firstly, we need to generalise the experience of good Saturday sales across the party. Secondly we need to get these buyers into an active connection with us by asking people who read the paper to take one or two copies to sell.”

The paper also informs us:

“A welder said he sold an average of 12 copies of Socialist Worker each week at work. ‘I use articles from the paper to show people why they should be reading it and to prepare for arguments,’ he explained.”

This report exposes the deep political problems fermenting in the subterranean depths of the SWP. One delgate is reported as saying, “‘Tax the rich’ is more than just a slogan. It raises the essence of what socialism is about”. If this is what the rank and file of the SWP really think, it is more than likely that the SWP will fall at the first fence when it comes to a real political crisis - whether internally or in society at large. After all, the Liberal Democrats also believe in ‘taxing the rich’ - so how does the SWP differentiate itself from the liberal bourgeoisie?

 We cannot sell our way to socialism, whatever the SWP might think. Only a revolutionary organisation that is a part of the class, that tolerates and encourages genuine debate, can provide the necessary vanguard.

Don Preston