Marxism 2003: SWP watershed

This year's 'Marxism' has seen the Socialist Workers Party in ebullient mood. Ian Mahoney wonders why they are celebrating

Marxism 2003 - the Socialist Workers Party annual seven-day school - could be a watershed, but you would not know it from either the programme or from the atmosphere surrounding it.

On one level, this is a fairly routine Marxism. Numbers are not significantly up or down on recent years. The audience remains broadly the same, perhaps with a few younger faces. The usual wide spread from ‘What is capitalism?’ to ‘Nazis and Sherpa porters in the Himalayas’. Similarly, the general format has been familiar, with top SWPers lined up to debate with those from left reformist backgrounds on topics where even a vulgarised version of Marxism scores heavily - Chris Nineham of the SWP took on Hilary Wainwright of Red Pepper on ‘Can we reclaim the state?’, for instance.

Yet between last year’s Marxism and this, SWP leaders have found themselves on the Stop the War Coalition platform looking out over two million protesters in Hyde Park. When that mass movement receded, it had not delivered appreciable gains for the revolutionary left, the SWP included. Why? Shouldn’t we be examining the reasons rather than congratulating ourselves on what was and is no more?

Now, in the aftermath of that huge social explosion, the SWP has embarked on an opportunist overture to secure an electoral alliance with a section of the mosque - “shibboleths” such as women’s and gay rights are now regarded as expendable in order to secure such a bloc. In order to facilitate this new turn, the SWP leadership has begun the process of clearing the decks of all those in the Socialist Alliance who do so much as question it.

Does everyone in the ‘party’ - at every level - simply agree? Are there not some rather important questions of theory and principle that need to be rigorously explored? But none of this is up for open discussion at Marxism - not one session was put aside for debate around the SA, for example, and there are no officially designated SA speakers.

Nor does Marxism reflect differing strands of thought within the SWP itself - very little life in fact (as always, it is only the non-SWPers lucky enough to be granted three minutes from the floor who raise the controversial questions). Surely more must be going on beneath the surface?

All of which simply underlines once again what a deeply unhealthy and undemocratic culture the SWP has.

Ian Mahoney