Que? No SWP?

Apart from the CPGB, the only other participants from Britain were Sarah Colborne from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Socialist Action (the small sect that helped ensure bureaucratic control over the ESF London on behalf of London mayor Ken Livingstone) and John Street from Babels (the volunteer network that helps with translations and interpretation). A number of European comrades asked us why not a single Socialist Workers Party comrade had showed up. Was there an SWP conference on at the same time? Maybe an important anti-war event was taking place? Having played a leading role in keeping a tight grip on the London ESF in October 2004, surely the comrades would want to get involved in developing the ESF further? Well, no. While the absence of SWP comrades was certainly noted by participants from across Europe, many were not exactly surprised and shared much of our assessment. There seem to be two main reasons that explain why the SWP was absent. Firstly, the SWP has no interest in Europe or, for that matter, the unity of the left across Europe. It is interested in the ESF only in so far as it can pose as its revolutionary left wing and win recruits to itself. It was keen to be amongst those in control in London to further this aim. Everybody outside the small circle of the SA-SWP and a section of the British trade union bureaucracy was effectively excluded from the decision-making process. Almost all organisational aspects, as well as the list of speakers from Britain, were agreed in backroom deals. CPGB members were excluded twice from meetings for openly reporting these undemocratic shenanigans. Europe is "boring", says the SWP. This, of course, reflects the deeply economistic outlook the comrades have on such political questions. If you think that Europe is a "non-issue" (as SWP central committee member Chris Nineham put it), then why bother working out a strategy on how to unite the European left? In the view of the SWP, Europe is an issue that belongs to Blair, Berlusconi and Schröder. So there is no need to attempt to build a vision for our own Europe from below. After all, the SWP already has its own international organisation: the International Socialist Tendency. While none of the 'international sections' have any political weight to speak of, the IST has the advantage of being a pretty 'pure' and single-position sect - if a group disagrees with the lines prescribed by London and starts to raise its head above the parapet, it simply gets chopped off by Alex Callinicos, the IST's leading man. Secondly, the comrades seem to be in the middle of performing another of their famous U-turns. Over the last year (ie, in the run-up to the London ESF), the comrades were quite happy to act as bureaucrats: they enforced the ban on political parties and hid behind various fronts. They ensured that not a single rank and file trade unionist was allowed to speak in the big plenary sessions - instead a dozen speakers from the trade union bureaucracy were nominated for the 28 sessions. They used the undemocratic 'consensus' method to block the majority of organisations from opening up the preparations. In short, they played a thoroughly dishonourable role and ended up as loyal foot soldiers for Livingstone. Until the ESF actually took place. In October 2004, just in time for the big event itself, the SWP's book service, Bookmarks, published Anti-capitalism: where now?, a collection of contributions from, amongst others, Alex Callinicos. In his contribution, the comrade (re-)discovers that there are "three parties" in the ESF: the reformist right around Attac; the radical left (Rifondazione, the LCR and the SWP) and the autonomists/anarchists. All of a sudden, the comrade has come out in favour of getting rid of the consensus model, which makes for "long, boring meetings", "manipulation and bargaining among the most powerful players that bypasses open discussion" and allows "a destructive minority to hold the process to ransom" (p112). We should also get rid of the "ridiculous ban on parties" (p115) - says the man who seemed quite happy to hide behind the fig leaf of the phantom 'Project K', an "alliance of Marxist theoretical journals" (try to find a reference to it on the internet). SWP comrades in fact supported Socialist Action hack Redmond O'Neill who insisted that members of the CPGB - as the only ones openly participating as a party - should not be allowed any role in the ESF decion-making process (as it turned out, most people outside the SWP and SA were also excluded). Of course, comrade Callinicos's criticisms are correct - unfortunately, they come about 12 months too late. I presume even this SWP chief felt too embarrassed to openly argue for these new-found positions in front of people who only 10 weeks ago he told exactly the opposite. March 19 demo Clearly SWP comrades were also not interested in a meeting on Friday January 14 in preparation for the international demonstration that will take place on March 19 in Brussels under the rather wordy title, 'Together for another Europe: for a social and egalitarian Europe, for a Europe of solidarity and peace'. Christine Buchholz from the SWP's German section Linksruck was registered to attend, but did not show up. Again, considering how keen the comrades normally are on latching onto these kind of international demos, it might seem strange that they chose to stay away. However, it is really quite simple: Initially, this demo was supposed to take place in Brussels only, with delegations from all over Europe. But during the ESF itself, some comrades - not least from the SWP - pushed for the demo to be 'exported' to other countries. After heated debate, this was accepted - with the recommendation that the theme should be identical, in order to maximise the impact of the protest. Typically, however, the SWP handed over the organisation of the London demo to its franchise, the Stop the War Coalition, which of course dropped all mention of Europe from its publicity: the London demonstration is to be held under the single theme, 'Bring the troops home'. Not that the theme or the call for the Brussels demo is particularly exciting. As you would expect, the involvement of the trade union bureaucracy in events like this produces a move to the right. As we go to press, it is still not clear what the exact role of the European Trades Union Congress is in the demonstration. But certain unions are playing a major part in making sure the demo will not be too leftwing. Comrades from Italy in particular have complained that politically conservative unions had managed to unduly influence the demo's theme - even though the nature of their involvement is still not clear. A case of self-censorship by the comrades from the Belgian Social Forum, it seems. Franco Russo pointed out that the call for the demonstration contained no criticism of the EU constitutional treaty - only of the Bolkenstein directive within it. Also, there was no reference to any kind of vision of a Europe from below, nothing on the increasing privatisation of state-run facilities across Europe and no mention of the need to fight for a European minimum wage (you can find the full text of the call in the ESF section on our website).