A comment on the SWP’s conference resolutions

The bulletins for the SWP’s conference, to be held on 4 -6 of January 2013, have just appeared on-line. Although there are no big surprises there are a number of things worthy of comment, even at this late stage writes Alan ThornettSWP.

The first thing to note is the absence of anything on the environment. The main perspectives text from the Central Committee (CC) does not have a single reference to the environment. In fact the only reference to the environment (in the entire 135 pages of the three bulletins) a very useful piece by Martin Empson on climate jobs which reflects the excellent work he, and a number of other SWP comrades, have long carried out in the Climate Change Trade Union Committee.


The second thing is Greece and the rise of Syriza. In both the CC perspectives and in the international report the decision of the SWP’s Greek sister organisation to reject the call from Syriza in June for the unity of the left anti-austerity parties and for a government of the anti-austerity parties is strongly supported. Its decision, as a part of the Antarsya coalition, to stand against Syriza in the June elections, thus splitting the left vote and opening the door to the current reactionary pro-austerity coalition, is also strongly supported.

The most important thing we have to understand, we are told in the international report, is the “solidly reformist thrust of Syriza’s politics. Syriza is, it is stressed, one of a number of left reformist parties, such as Die Linke in Germany and the Left Party in Holland, which have spring up in Europe and which, although striking a chord with the working class and wining good votes (spectacular in Syriza’s case), will inevitably compromise and therefore represent a threat to the revolutionary process.

Yet Syriza is one of the most left-wing parties in Europe of those which can genuinely be called broad and pluralist. It is also a party which has mass support and is deeply involved in the mass movements. Its election manifesto in June included: a moratorium on debt payments; a radical redistribution of income and wealth; the nationalisation /socialisation of the banks under social and workers’ control; the nationalisation of all public enterprises of strategic importance based on social control and democratic planning and the ecological transformation of the economy including energy, manufacturing, tourism, and agriculture.

It also called for the restoration of the minimum wage and collective agreements, no lay-offs, universal unemployment benefit, a guaranteed minimum wage, the social inclusion of immigrants, the restoration of the pensions and the universal system of social insurance, a free health service and universal, public and free education and an end to tax avoidance and tax havens, disengagement from NATO, the shutdown of the foreign military bases and support for the Palestinians.

It concluded with a declaration that the current economic and social system has failed and must be overthrown: “We are calling for a new model of production and distribution of wealth, one that would include society in its totality. Our strategic aim is socialism with democracy, a system in which all will be entitled to participate in the decision-making process.”

This is not to say that there are no weaknesses in Syriza’s politics, it is not, of course, a revolutionary party. But the idea that the main thing to understand about it is its “solidly reformist thrust” is to loose sight of reality. If Syriza can be lumped together, in this regard, with Die Linke and the Dutch Socialist Party the terminology is rendered meaningless.

This is not to say that Syriza will necessarily stand the test if it forms a government and then comes under heavy attack from the European elites and international capital. But who could guarantee to stand such a test, including the revolutionary organisations? It would be uncharted waters, at least for many years. In any case the best way to ensure that an anti-austerity government (which was and is entirely possible in Greece) survives such a storm and take the working class forward was not (and is not) to denounce it from the side lines and predict its demise but to join it and be a part of shaping its politics and it line of march.


When it comes to the British situation the conference documents also fail the test on the unity of the movement, at least as far as the cuts are concerned. Instead of calling for a united campaign against the cuts the stress is towards building Unite the Resistance. Reasons are found for keeping the other campaigns at arms length. There is no appeal, moreover, for a united campaign against a faltering coalition which is nevertheless forcing through swinging cuts.

On TUSC and election interventions the approach of the documents are a bit more inclusive. It makes a sober assessment of the possibilities of TUSC stressing that the question of working call representation remains far from solved. There is some information as to some of the debates which have taken place in TUSC. The SWP appears to have argued that the priority should be to stand candidates with a record who can get a credible vote rather than standing the maximum number of candidates.

It is also made clear that the SWP is in favour of opening up TUSC to other sections of the left, something which has been shown in practice with their support for Socialist Resistance’s application for membership. On the other hand the perspectives text plays down the electoral work by saying that elections are not at the moment at the centre of the SWP’s work, and no mention is made of the need for a broad pluralist party of the left (or to change TUSC into such a party). It might not be so easy to play down the significance of the electoral field when its gets close to the next general election with the left still having no credible vehicle for a serious intervention.


  1. Also clear from blogs on their pre-conference discussion is that fact that 4 comrades have already been expelled for organising a secret faction and 53 others have signed up to a tendency called the democratic opposition. one of them points out that if factions are allowed in this pre-conference period they have to be organised and signatures collected BEFORE the faction can be announced!! thus in reality you CAN’T form a faction.

  2. I thought this was fascinating “Syriza is, it is stressed, one of a number of left reformist parties, such as Die Linke in Germany and the Left Party in Holland, which have spring up in Europe and which, although striking a chord with the working class and wining good votes (spectacular in Syriza’s case), will inevitably compromise and therefore represent a threat to the revolutionary process.”

    I thought the SWP’s sister party in Germany was part of Die Linke? Have they been kicked out of the IST or are we simply brushing over they are propping up a “threat to the revolutionary process” in Germany and opposing it in Greece.

  3. Too much of the left’s activity for a good number of years is criticising the SWP, which for all their faults,are the only signifcant and serious force on the left. The core of the criticism seems to be that the SWP don’t allow their pre-conference discussions to be dominated by ‘Weekly Worker’ type intereventions from outside or those who yearn for a return of ‘Old Labour’. Yes the left is weak but the solution is not contant carping about the errors of the SWP.

  4. It is entirely sensible to discuss politics with a critical mind and especially to analyse and discuss in a constructive manner the positions, perceived weaknesses and strengths, contradictions of the SWP and any other section of the Left, when in the face of the capitalist economic crisis and neo liberal imperialist offensive both here and worldwide the situation urgently demands Left Unity and the creation of broad pluralist democratic parties of the Left.

    Granted much that passes for so called critical discussion and informed coment on The Left about The Left is often negative,ignorant,lazy,generalised,bias uninformed opinion which serves no purpose other than to perpetuate sectarian division and simply lessens the chances and possiblities for opening up dialogue and cooperation within different sections of The Left and broadening it’s appeal and support base.Unless this fact is fully grasped by much of the existing weak and divided Left here in Britain, I think we will simply become further marginalised and irrelevant.

    I dont actually see any section of the British Left growing on any substantial level in terms of active members, infact more the reverse.

    Socialist resistance at least provides a healthy space around which activists can open up and develop important issues such as mentioned above eg the vital importance of supporting Syriza in Greece,eg recognising the importance of climate change and the relationship of ongoing capitalist destruction of the global eco-system eg the urgent need to create new viable broad Left pluralist parties.

  5. All I can say about Greece is that when it comes to organise a real anticapitalist Front in the streets, Antarsya (now up in opinion polls apparently) is doing a lot better than Syriza which it seems is a little bit too preoccupied by elections (?) We have this problem with the Front de Gauche in France which is very much part of the electoral system. We find in the NPA, much easier to kick them up for united fights from the outside than drowned inside the cartel as a few hundreds of militants chose to do last july.

  6. Padraic, I think it might be useful to read the article before making a comment like yours. You say that the main criticism of the SWP is not allowing Weekly Worker style interventions, but that’s not a criticism made in the article, nor is it the main criticism made by others of the SWP. If you want to defend the SWP’s leadership, then you have to try a bit harder.

    The real thing is this: members of the SWP spend a lot of time discussing the SWP, and so much socialists on the outside because of the reality of the SWP as a comparatively large revolutionary organisation, and generally positive force, on the British left. Inside and outside of the SWP, we have common problems. The path charted by the SWP leadership impacts all of us, and it’s possible for people to contribute positively to the discussion about how far the SWP can play an even more positive role.

    One point, for example, is that SWP is moving from a worldview that acted on the centrality of climate to world politics. The second is the way in which the SWP leadership has doubled down on the ultra-leftism of its Greek comrades, by extending the same tactical stance to the rest of Europe – where the ground is much less fertile for such a sectarian stance.

    Neither of those are Weekly Worker style attacks. If anything Alan’s article’s pulls its punches by not making a third central point about the need for grass roots pluralism in the SWP. The personal and political tension in the SWP, and inside its central cadre, is way out of proportion to the deep political agrement within it. The easiest way for the SWP to regenerate itself is to politically and culturally renew itself through grass roots pluralism. If it did that, it would not make either of those political errors, and it would have a more effective leadership.

  7. I want to endorse Duncan’s view on this: the current opposition in the SWP is right to concentrate on issues of democracy in the organisation. The attempt to challenge the CC-endorsed slate system for electing a new CC is important. If passed, it could open the way to proper recognition of minority points of view in the SWP.

    Currently, there is no right for a minority to be represented on the SWP CC. At the time that the CC is elected, no minorities exist, these having been dissolved by “reaching a decision on the disputed question” at the conference, as the SWP constitution puts it.

    In answer to Padraig: OK, Weekly Worker has got hold of the SWP bulletins, but the ammunition for the “attacks” that he refers to (fairly restrained commentary, in fact) is provided by the SWP. If the SWP was not so internally undemocratic, a lot of the issues under dispute would simply not come up and those that did would not carry with them the threat of disciplinary action and/or a split every time.

  8. It might be useful to have a considered article on the SR site about the issues under dispute in the SWP, alongside this interesting article on how (not) to build a broad party of the left.

    There is now a second opposition faction in the SWP, which appears to be taking a position of opposition to the apolitical way in which the leadership is dealing with the first opposition’s call for ending the slate system of CC elections. See: http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/online-only/another-faction-forms-in-the-swp

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