In the past few weeks I’ve taken minor pot-shots at ‘trots’ and the SWP, which annoys the hell out of a contingent of my Twitter followers.
They accuse me of wanting left unity while being sectarian, which sounds plausible in that context, but needs some explanation. There are a few things that annoy me about the SWP and, sometimes, their related factions (don’t ask me to name them all):
1) Going too far, in a tendency to join in an alliance with people who go completely against left-wing values / ideals. The hero-worship of people such George Galloway, who praised the Iranian regime when it was cracking down on student protests, is a prime example. Also in the past, groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir.
2) Being protest parasites. Sure, I get that the SWP lot spend money on banners, but it annoys the hell out of me when they try and brand protests and events organised by others with their own placards.
That isn’t a selfless contribution: that’s like saying if you volunteer in a charity you want it written down and proclaimed loudly. Their people did it at UKuncut protests too (conveniently placing themselves in-front of pictures) – it looks shameless and completely opportunistic.
3) Entryism. Tales of SWP people trying to take over successful left organisations that didn’t follow their line are everywhere. It smacks of opportunistic control-freakery and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be criticised.
4) Ignoring other left movements. People at the SWP and other similar organisations believe that only class politics matters. Sure, class underpins a lot of outcomes but it is not the sole driver of people’s behaviour. By that, I mean that people on the far-left completely ignore (and ridicule) other movements such as feminism, environmentalism, civil liberties etc.
The upshot seems to be that you’re either fighting the class war comrade or you don’t really understand politics and you’re a bourgeois sellout. This simple narrative isn’t just frequently wrong because it fails to understand the intersection of movements, but it really is sectarian and patronising.
Just because I don’t spend half my day ruminating about what Marx said on a particular development doesn’t mean you understand politics better. Really – it is that straightforward. And if you ignore other movements then frankly you don’t understand how broad the left is.
5) Sectarianism aimed at the centre-left. People on the far-left want unity with people with agree with, but not others who might not be as radical as them. The thinking goes: ‘if you’re not as radical as us then you’re part of the problem‘. Their line of thinking is that people within the Labour party are sell-outs while they are the only true defenders of the working class.
People who think there is very little difference between (post Tony Blair) Labour and the Conservatives either know very little about national politics, or stay so far out in the political fringes that everything else looks like a vaguely similar blur. I’m not sure that attitude makes them an effective proponent of ‘left unity’.
I find this as sectarian as people on the centre-left who dismiss those more radical than them.
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That said, I don’t go around saying the SWP aren’t really part of the left and are ‘sell-outs’. They are part of the left even if I don’t regard them as particularly important or effective, despite their past organisational effectiveness.
I just don’t like their way of working, and saying this is no different to saying I don’t like the way the Labour party conducts its internal democracy. Or criticising Phil Woolas, or their take on civil liberties etc.
Unfortunately there are too many childish lefties on Twitter who think any criticism of the SWP is akin to blasphemy and spend hours / days / months call you “part of the problem”. There are plenty of good reasons to call out the SWP, and if their defenders can’t take the criticism they shouldn’t really be in politics.
[PS - post written rather hurriedly as I've got a ton of stuff to do, but as I'm trolling socialists on Twitter, I though it was worth getting out there quick]
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Filed in: Party politics