Open letter to the Socialist Workers Party

Mark Fischer, the CPGB’s national organiser, questions the worth of SWP calls for unity

Comrades, serious working class partisans felt obliged to respond to your open letter to the left calling for a united “socialist alternative” in the 2010 general election (Socialist Worker June 13) - despite the unfortunate history of the various left unity initiatives over the last decade and the Socialist Workers Party’s chequered role in them. Our own organisation responded critically but positively to your proposals and indicated a willingness to “participate in the conference you suggest” to discuss unity.

Not surprisingly, this latest unity call has been greeted by a degree of cynicism. Nevertheless, we certainly welcomed your belated recognition of the need for debate. The only way towards meaningful unity is by “publicly” accounting for the “disastrous mistakes of the past” (Weekly Worker June 11).

This was our public response. We also wrote to you privately proposing direct organisation-to-organisation talks. We followed this up with a series of phone calls to your national office and Martin Smith - your national secretary - to arrange such discussions. Unfortunately, however, we have met with a blank wall. Not SWP bungling. Our approaches have been deliberately ignored.

The CPGB has participated in all the serious unity projects of the left from the mid-90s. In particular, we were the most committed of the six principal organisations involved in the Socialist Alliance - including your own - and devoted significant financial and logistical resources to the initiative.

Our proposals for the Socialist Alliance were the most ambitious and we constantly urged the other groups to recognise its huge potential. For example, the CPGB championed a serious intervention in the 2001 general election, against the initial timidity of others (98 SA candidates eventually stood). We proposed a weekly newspaper for the alliance, even offering to cease publication of the Weekly Worker and the pooling of resources into a common project, providing, of course, that there was space for debate and controversy in its pages. We supported all moves to centralise the SA and overcome amateurism, petty-mindedness and parochialism, not least among the confessional sects.

The CPGB fought for and smoothed the entry of the SWP into the Socialist Alliance - many expressed strong reservations, such was the level of mistrust of the SWP amongst wider sections of the left. We also did our best to encourage and ensure SWP membership of the Scottish Socialist Party. During the initial phase of SWP participation of the SA it has to be said comrades from both organisations cooperated well and despite important political differences managed to establish good relations.

Your irresponsible refusal to even acknowledge our approaches sadly exposes the real worth of your unity call. This has everything to do with the narrow interests of the SWP, nothing to do with genuine unity.

We understand that you have invited two representatives each from the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Party, Respect and the Barrow People’s Party to a meeting on October 31 to discuss the general election. Realistically, you must be aware that this represents the abject failure of your “open letter to the left”.

On Sunday September 28 the CPB’s executive committee voted to have no part in any successor to the ‘No to the EU, Yes to Democracy’ electoral flop - at least partially because of the discomfort felt by sections of its Stalinoid membership over collaboration with the SP. The chances that the CPB will cement any kind of alliance with the SWP - which was explicitly excluded from the No2EU initiative in the first place - are nil.

The SP is left high and dry by the CPB’s withdrawal. The central involvement of Bob Crow and his railworkers’ union, the RMT, provided the essential trade union credibility that allowed the SP’s leadership to sell the campaign to a wary membership as an important political development despite the undisguised British nationalism of No2EU’s platform. But the exit of the CPB will inevitably cool Crow’s enthusiasm for the whole project given his political closeness to this soft Stalinoid group.

The SP will now retreat to limited electoral work under its own banner and to touting its services - in the guise of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party - as uncritical foot soldiers for the next electoral foray from dissident sections of the trade union bureaucracy, when and if it should come.

Which leaves you with Respect (perhaps) and the Barrow People’s Party.

This latest debacle is not surprising. Without a fundamental change in the culture of the left, no progress will be made towards worthwhile, principled and lasting left unity.

The SWP’s latest call was widely perceived as just an expression of rivalry with the SP and CPB and the result of severe internal tensions caused by the miserable failure of Respect and the short-lived Left Alternative. Squalid jockeying for position and overcoming internal divisions, in other words, not a genuine attempt to address the urgent need in our workers’ movement for unity around Marxism.

We remain open to discussions about joint candidates in the 2010 general election. Meanwhile we urge our SWP comrades to break from the short-termist, dishonest and manipulative political practices that have spread so much confusion, disorganisation and despair on the left.

In comradeship
Mark Fischer
CPGB national organiser