Marxism 2003: What kind of 'new left'?

James Bull attended the 'Revolutionaries and the left' session at Marxism 2003

The most telling session at this year’s Marxism was ‘Revolutionaries and the left: results and prospects’, presented by John Rees. As our extracts illustrate (left), he outlined in pretty blunt terms its plans to junk the Socialist Alliance in its current form for an inherently unstable amalgam with a section of the mosque. This - perhaps along with the Morning Star’s decidedly lukewarm Communist Party of Britain - is what is presented as the “new left”, in contrast to the existing SA’s revolutionary groups: sects that now belong to the “past”.

Breathlessly asserting that conditions today have not been as ripe for the revolutionary left since the 1960s, comrade Rees declared that we “don’t have to choose between being broad and radical” any more - now we can be both.

In fact, the concept of “broad” is a relative one, as evidenced by the recent developments in Birmingham, alluded to with a degree of what seemed like pride by the comrade, where awkward independents and others where all replaced by SWP members or their allies. Unless you are gung-ho for the SWP’s latest turn, you are out - comrade Rees tells us that success follows when you “do not let people who represent very little stand in the way”.

So we have a “broad” alliance which might just about bring in a section of the mosque - a non-working class social formation - and an accompanying minimalist programme which discards “shibboleths” such as defending women’s and gay rights.

There is clearly deep unease amongst many SWPers about this reckless turn. No wonder the leadership tried to stop CPGB comrades handing out a leaflet condemning it (we were called “racists” and SWP cadre were placed in front of us, barking instructions not to read our leaflet).

Comrade Rees says that no person or group must “stand in the way” of the new policy. Neither should little matters like gay, lesbian and women’s rights, it seems. SWPers must be wondering, ‘What’s next’? Where is the organisation going?