SWP's strange amnesia

t is good to know that even in these times of political fluidity we can still rely on our comrades in the Socialist Workers Party to amaze us: be it with their frequent 180-degree about-turns, their enthusiasm for the utterly bankrupt Make Poverty History campaign or their crawling before London mayor Ken Livingstone. And sometimes they give us a laugh too. As was the case when I read the musings of leading SWP members Alex Callinicos and Chris Nineham on the fifth World Social Forum in Brazil, which came to a close on February 1. In their WSF report, published on the ESF email discussion list, the comrades make a feeble attempt to present themselves as the radical left wing of the so-called 'social forum movement' - no doubt in the hope that people will forget about the disgusting rightwing role they played in the organisation of the London ESF in October 2004. By acting as virtually uncritical foot soldiers for Livingstone (and his Marxist-trained cadres in Socialist Action), they helped ensure that the London ESF was run as the exclusive property of a small clique. Now, with the London ESF safely out of the way, the comrades are miraculously rediscovering their 'radical' side. They criticise the "famous 'Porto Alegre charter'", which "is much invoked in controversies within the movement because it bans 'party representations' from participating and forbids social forums to take decisions. The prominence of the parties of the radical left at the European Social Forums in Florence and London was strongly criticised for violating the charter." Comrade Callinicos and his sidekick Nineham now think the issue of the participation of political parties is "a question of principle. In our view it was a mistake to impose a ban on parties, since political organisations are inextricably intermingled with social movements and articulate different strategies and visions that are a legitimate contribution to the debates that take place in the social forums. It would surely be more honest to amend or scrap this tattered ban." Wow. Of course, the comrades are right. I just wish they had argued for these things when they actually had a chance of doing something about it - ie, when they were in control of putting on the ESF in Britain. Unfortunately, the comrades did nothing of the sort. Comrade Callinicos and the rest of the SWP actively argued against allowing political parties to participate in the London ESF. They said that the presence of CPGB representatives was "violating the charter". They did not speak up at all when our right to be present in ESF meetings was challenged more than once. Perhaps it was pure coincidence, but when the ESF programme was printed we were the only sponsoring organisation that was 'overlooked' in the list of affiliated groups - although we were literally the first organisation to pay the £250 affiliation fee. In fact, the CPGB had to pay using a Weekly Worker cheque, as the comrades (along with their friends in Socialist Action) did not allow us to affiliate under our own name. Nevertheless, we always made clear that we are members of the CPGB. Not so our SWP comrades: instead of fighting for the right of parties to openly participate, they conveniently hid behind their various fronts: Globalise Resistance, Stop the War Coalition, Unite, and my favourite: 'Project K', comrade Callinicos's mysterious 'organisation'. So excuse me if I am a little cynical about the comrades' "question of principle". Their blatant opportunism in the face of big shots like Livingstone becomes particular obvious if one considers that, prior to London 2004, they actually did argue for the participation of parties - but that was in 2002 and 2003, before the ESF came to Britain. But it gets even better. Callinicos is deeply upset by the fact that Brazil's president, Lula, was allowed to speak at the WSF: "Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva addressed what was notionally a seminar, but was really a mass rally of the ruling Workers Party (PT), within the WSF. Lula is not only leader of the PT, but president of the Republic of Brazil. His participation in the forum doesn't seem very 'horizontal'." Lula speaking at a single seminar is for Callinicos "as if the village mayor, followed by his retinue, thrust his way through the beggars in the square to proclaim his love of the poor". Whenever I read this sentence, my eyes well up. The comrades have a tremendous sense of humour - you have to give them that. After all, it was the SWP that last year handed not just a seminar, but the whole ESF, to London's "village mayor", Ken Livingstone! Thanks to the SWP-SA, Livingstone was allowed to control every single detail of the forum: Against massive opposition, he decided that the speakers from Britain were to be chosen from amongst his circle of political friends and allies (which led to the ludicrous situation that there were 12 speakers from the trade union bureaucracy on ESF platforms, but not a single rank and file militant). Deborah Dickey, an employee of the Greater London Assembly who was directly appointed by Livingstone, made all the financial decisions. This so-called 'office manager' did not even feel the need to attend a single meeting of ESF committees. Organisational decisions were taken mainly on Thursday afternoons - after the official meeting of the ESF coordinating committee in the morning. Naturally, this smaller, 'real' meeting was strictly by invitation only. It was in these backroom meetings that Livingstone insisted that he must speak at the key plenary session on anti-racism - he also demanded that his GLA should organise an official ESF opening event. And his loyal transport adviser (and SA member) Redmond O'Neill made clear that no interference from anybody was permitted: "You can consult with us if you want, but it will be up to the GLA to decide the content of the meeting," he told the ESF coordinating committee on September 2. Comrade Nineham, who now seems so upset about Lula's speech at a single WSF meeting, supported the handing over of the ESF opening event to Livingstone: "You cannot encapsulate the ESF in a 90-minute meeting anyway," he said. "I am very happy for the GLA to host it. It means we have one thing less on our mind" (Weekly Worker September 9 2004). The SWP's political amnesia is nothing new and has of course been well documented, and their zig-zagging over the ESF would be a most enjoyable spectacle if it were not the democracy of our movement they were playing with. Concluding their assessment, the comrades state: "The challenge that [the WSF] posed is not simply to denounce and to expose the falsity of the 'rescue' of the global poor promised by Blair and Lula. Anyone can do that. What we have to do is to build a movement capable of showing that it has a better alternative". Good stuff - unfortunately, SWP comrades have been a little quiet of late when it comes to putting forward radical political alternatives: they want to 'rescue the poor' by supporting the utterly pathetic Make Poverty History campaign alongside Cherie Blair and a range of NGOs, liberals and big-name do-gooders. Just like much of the rest of the left that is still struggling to come to terms with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the SWP is part of the problem more than it is part of the solution. Rather than honestly addressing the huge mistakes of the 20th century, the comrades can only wrap themselves in constantly changing sets of clothes: as Labourites, social forum activists, anarchistic anti-capitalists, anti-war demonstrators - but never Marxist revolutionaries. Quite clearly, the comrades have learnt nothing from the disastrous 'popular fronts' of the communist parties in the last century: if you pretend long enough to be a reformist, eventually you are bound to end up as one. Tina Becker Click here to for the full article from comrades Callinicos and Nineham