An open letter to members and ex-members of the SWP

Lindsey German

A contribution to the debate about recent events in the SWP, aiming to offer some advice and encouragement to members and ex-members feeling disillusioned by the ongoing internal conflict. By Billy P., a libertarian communist and former SWP member.

For many of us, Leninism, and in particular the version of Leninism promoted by the Socialist Workers Party, is our first encounter with organised revolutionary anti-capitalism. The disgust we feel for an unjust social order, the hope for a better, saner world, and the passion that keeps us going through the bitterness and difficulties of the class struggle - all of this becomes closely identified with the Party. And if our experiences end up leading us to leave that party, it can be tempting to conclude that we have to leave the rest of it behind too, as so many have done before us. When you put your heart and soul into something and then realise you've made a mistake and wasted your efforts, where can you go from there? Is another world really possible, or were we wrong about that as well?

A lot of people will be asking those questions at the moment. Lindsey German, a member of the SWP for close to four decades and a prominent leader for most of that time, has just been driven out of the party, and her resignation has been accompanied by more than 60 others. Inevitably, the ripple effect of this will affect many more. A lot of other people who worked and fought and played alongside them, and who looked to them for guidance and reassurance in those moments when the pressure of the rotten old world we're all fighting gets too heavy, will be feeling confused and disorientated by these events. It's hard to say what conclusions they'll draw, but a lot of them must, understandably, be feeling the temptation to give it all up, to just leave the whole sorry mess behind and concentrate on just making their own lives as tolerable as possible.

To avoid these temptations, we must understand where these problems come from. The splits and expulsions and bitterness aren't inevitable results of trying to change the world; they're products of a specific approach of trying to change the world, an approach embodied in the SWP but also in many other left groups. One crucial flaw of the SWP is the gap between the things it says and the way it behaves - it says again and again that it's committed to fighting for equality, but how much equality is there really in the organisation? Is an ordinary member really equal to someone like Lindsey German or Weyman Bennett or John Rees or Alex Callinicos? Is an ordinary member really equal to their own district organiser? Can you remember being consulted for your opinion on Respect or the Left List or the Right to Work conference or any of the other initiatives before they were set up, or did they just appear as if out of nowhere, completely out of your control? One of the many things that makes life under capitalism so unbearable is the way that the economy - which, after all, is nothing but the result of all our labour, of the things that we do - appears as something alien to us, completely out of our control. But the same process is repeated on a micro-scale when socialists put their efforts into building campaigns and fronts and then the leadership decides that priorities have changed and those groups are dumped in favour of other ones.

Ultimately, a group that seeks to destroy class society must carry within it the seeds of the world we want to bring about, but groups like the SWP still contain their own leaders and followers, rulers and ruled. Of course, there will always be differences in ability and talent and many other factors, but we must organise in ways that seek to minimise any potential hierarchies these create, and make sure that decisions are always taken by everyone affected, not just a few enlightened leaders. If we allow ourselves to be ruled, then we can hardly blame our rulers when they make decisions that benefit them instead of us, as Galloway did when his egomania wrecked Respect (an organisation which, for all its many flaws, had been the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of committed socialists), or as all the SWP's leaders did by bringing about a split which seems to have had virtually nothing to do with politics and everything to do with a power struggle between the Rees/German faction and the rest of the leadership.

The many mistakes and failures of the SWP's tradition are depressing, but to allow them to put us off the revolutionary project altogether would be an even greater mistake. There is another way of organising to challenge capitalism: the proud tradition of libertarian communism, rejecting both the bosses of the old world and those who would seek to become the bosses of the new. So give up on the Revolutionary Party, give up on any group where you feel like you're not in control of what you're doing, but never give up on the struggle. In organisations like the Anarchist Federation, the Solidarity Federation, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Autonomous Students Network, the Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group, London Coalition Against Poverty, No Borders, Queer Mutiny, in a myriad of local groups like Hereford Solidarity League, and many more, people are fighting against capitalism without letting anyone else dictate the terms of their activity, building cultures of resistance and carefully guarding against the kind of tendencies that can lead comrades to fight against each other in useless power struggles.

See you on the streets!
Billy P.

Posted By

Feb 22 2010 17:29


Attached files


Feb 22 2010 17:56
Feb 27 2010 21:20

has there been any responses to this letter?

Yorkie Bar
Feb 28 2010 13:43
weeler wrote:
admin - no flaming in article comments

Good ol' predictable wheelers...

Feb 28 2010 19:03

Text reminded me of Mark Thomas's 'Crap Comrades' he put in the New Statesman. Libcom appears not to have a copy, is it worth posting?

Feb 28 2010 19:14

yeah why not.

Feb 28 2010 19:34

yeah, sure

Feb 28 2010 19:55
Mar 2 2010 12:25
Mar 2 2010 18:12

20 years??? I tolerated the SWP for about three meetings.

Caiman del Barrio
Mar 3 2010 19:20

"Hi my name's Weeler. I mitigate my aching burnout from being a Super Activist by hanging around on an anarchist-dominated web forum all day long in order to tell you how wrong you all are and how 'condescending' you're all being (!!!). Oh, and I get in fights with Oisleep, cos he's roughly doing the same. Except he has some basis to his arguments."

Mar 5 2010 16:43
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
"Hi my name's Weeler. I mitigate my aching burnout from being a Super Activist by hanging around on an anarchist-dominated web forum all day long in order to tell you how wrong you all are and how 'condescending' you're all being (!!!). Oh, and I get in fights with Oisleep, cos he's roughly doing the same. Except he has some basis to his arguments."

I was actually going to quote weeler's post and say I agreed with it until I read this after it

Mar 5 2010 17:40

using matb smileys on libcom?

Mar 5 2010 19:56
weeler wrote:
Beats trying to pick up leftover trots.

There the best anarcho-syndicalists apparently wink

Boris Badenov
Mar 5 2010 20:47

"anarcho-trots" could become a literal reality after all.

Mar 6 2010 14:41
weeler wrote:
Flaming, bah. This article is condescending nonsense! "Hey guys did you ever hear of libertarian politics?" - some of these people were in the SWP for decades. Its not that they're not anarchists because someone hasn't targetted them with a piss poor letter before, explaining how microgroups with no presence are actually better than them, its because anarchist politics have nothing to offer.

this letter clearly isn't aimed at the 60 people who left, but the majority of other rank and file members who aren't committed ideological Trotskyists.