SWP beyond reform?

Mark Fischer spoke to Andy Wilson of the recent split from the Socialist Workers Party, the International Socialist Group. The ISG has links with SWP breakaway groups in South Africa and Germany and has recently published a pamphlet which we reviewed in the Weekly Worker (December 15 1994)

Where now for the ISG as an organisation?

We have agreed that we want to take the critique we have developed of the International Socialist tradition back to SWP members. The annual ‘Marxism’ event brings thousands of SWP members and supporters together, for example. If you can make an intervention at an event like that, then the leadership finds it hard to isolate you.

The unfortunate point is that we know of many people in the branches around the country who have been forced out of the party and have gone into the wilderness because they have felt there is no alternative. They haven’t taken their critique back into the party.

Unlike the Revolutionary Democratic Group, we do not want to constitute ourselves as a faction of the SWP. At present we think we must maintain an orientation towards the SWP in a propagandist way, but we do not pretend that we are going to carry on as an IS Group indefinitely. We do not see ourselves as having the nucleus of some new group for the future.

But then won’t the accusation come back that you are simply carrying out a wrecking operation?

I see that danger. But I would say that we simply do not know what comes next. Personally, I would say that it is unlikely that there will be any huge shake-up in the SWP at all. Before Christmas 1994, their perspective seemed to be ‘ever onwards, ever upwards’, more recruitment. But even then we predicted that in the new year the leadership would have to put the brakes on that. Now leading figures are warning against over-expectations of a breakthrough in the near future.

I think they can succeed in dampening down the critical layer which has been emerging. I don’t know if it was ever given any official articulation anyway, because that is more or less impossible.

The last conference documents had more critical contributions in them than any conference documents I have seen. But they do not represent the emergence of real opposition. They are an opportunity to let off steam. Whoever wrote those contributions has no chance of forming any organisational links with anyone else.

But the Central Committee would have been quite alarmed by these developments. For example, a leading cadre of the SWP arguing with someone outside conference said, “Look, we’re recruiting lots of people. That’s why we can’t have internal democracy. Anarchists would take over the SWP”.

The SWP’s tone has become more authoritarian. There have been expulsions, which they justified at the time by saying that they were having to cut a load of dead wood in order to grow.

But they haven’t had the successes that might have justified that. They haven’t grown spectacularly. Talking to activists in many of the branches, they say that although there are more branches, the meetings are smaller.

The perspective that the organisation was about to root itself among the working class for the first time since the 1970s hasn’t happened, obviously. But the ‘tension’ that this outlook produced caused concern among rank and file members.

We do not see the role of our organisation to divine the future, work out the prospects for the SWP and integrate that into our own ‘masterplan’. All we see is the need for members and supporters of the SWP who have criticisms to try to find a way to make those publicly in front of existing members.

If you take any group of SWPers you will find a number who are ultra-loyal to the leadership and will not countenance any criticisms. Among the rest there is a small proportion who are extremely hostile to the way that the party is being run, but who would never express that openly. They would justify their continued membership through things like the Anti-Nazi League.

I think that it is very important that we - even in a small way - show that you can criticise from within the IS tradition.

I don’t think the SWP in its current state is reformable. But what becomes of it depends a lot on what is happening in the wider world.