Monday, 4 February 2008

Broad parties and narrow visions in Britain

Broad parties and narrow visions: the SWP and Respect By Murray Smith Part 1 ; Part 2 Extract:
In spite of their tradition of political resistance to Stalinism, many Trotskyist groups developed internal regimes based on what can only be called bureaucratic centralism. There are particular reasons in the history of British Marxism for the sectarian and bureaucratic character of many Trotskyist groups. It is not a question of putting the three organisations cited above in the same basket, neither Tony Cliff nor Ted Grant deserves to be compared to Gerry Healy. But they share one thing in common, the inability to accept democratic debate, the confrontation between different platforms, for any length of time. It is not considered normal. This is not however a purely British phenomenon, it is common to, for example, Lutte Ouvriere and the Lambertist PT in France. The Trotskyist movement as a whole, some of its components more than others, has paid a heavy price for decades of persecution and the pervasive influence of Stalinism, even on those who opposed it. It would be more correct to characterise these organisations and the international regroupments around them as factions rather than the parties they usually consider themselves to be.

5 comments:

John Mullen said...

Murray is wrong on this one. The crisis of Respect was due to different political visions. It would have been best avoided, but it was not due to the methods or psychology of SWP comrades. The SWP claimed that the breakaway Respect Renewal was less left wing, less based on struggle, more electoralist. Many said this was untrue. But when we look at the first real test - the mayoral elections in London, we see that the SWP was correct. The vast majority of Respect renewal want to line up behind Livingstone, and not support a radical Left candidate (there's a preferential vote system so you don't help the right wing get in if you vote Radical Left). This is because... well Respect Renewal IS further to the right that Respect was.

UNITY said...

Hold on. So... Respect Renewal are right-wing and electoralist... because they DON'T want to stand a candidate for mayor?

I personally don't have a position myself on whether supporting Red Ken is the right thing for the radical left to do right now, but surely simply standing a candidate for the sake of it is sectarianism.

John Mullen said...

In the specific case, because there is a preferential voting system you can call for a second preference vote for Ken (this keep the right out). For the first preference you get the chance to intervene as radical Left, explain about the struggles Ken didn't and doesn't support, show what it means to be a party based on struggle. This is not a candidate-for-the-sake of it but a candidate for politics. There is such a lot of despair in London, Respect can give a focus for people's anger; it is a mistake to line up completely behind a not-so-red Ken, and, for Respect Renewal, it may be part of a process towards abandoning some more radical ideas and getting closer to soft Left Ken.

UNITY said...

Is the word true about one of the SWP-Respect candidates defecting to the Tories? If so, doesn't that make the idea that the anti-Galloway faction was the "left" ridiculous?

John Mullen said...

I have no idea if it is true. In any case, that would be anecdote, not politics. What is needed is a party as close as possible to the everyday struggles. Respect has had towns where it was very good. I particularly liked the series of public meetings in poor parts of towns, on "Gun Crime - who is to blame", which gave an excellent political response to the campaign of defamation against Black Youth. The meetings were majority Black, something the far Left in GB has rarely been able to pull off. Of course Respect was and is a very small organization, and any good work it did or does is essentially embryonic, but it is important.

I think that the wider party issue (and many of my closest comrades disagree with me here) is affected by the discredit thrown on marxism by decades of stalinism. In the thirties, Revolution was part of the debate. The worst reformists wrote books refuting the revolutionary case (Ramsay macdonald in Britain for example). Today things have changed. We still need a revolution, but revolutionary politics has less credibility, and we need to find a fuller set of ways to work with non-revolutionaries. This includes wider parties. But I am going off onto a general point.