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Socialist Workers Party (UK)
A weekly newspaper Socialist Worker, a monthly magazine, Socialist Review, and a quarterly theoretical journal, International Socialism. In addition they publish an international bulletin and an internal bulletin Party Notes, various pamphlets and books often through their publishing house Bookmarks and a number of rank and file news papers for specific industries such as Post Worker.
The SWP is a revolutionary socialist party that stands in the tradition of Leon Trotsky. Its supporters often refer to their beliefs as 'socialism from below', which term can be attributed to Hal Draper originally. They see this as distinguishing themselves from other socialist groups, particulay both from reformist parties, such as (the Labour Party) and from various forms of Stalinism usually associated with the former Soviet Bloc and the old Communist Parties. These are seen as advocating socialism from above, a socialism that they see as running counter to - in the words of Karl Marx, the 'self emancipation of the proletariat'.
The SWP also seeks to differentiate itself from other Trotskyist tendencies. In common with them it defends the body of ideas codified by the first four Congresses of the Communist International and the founding Congress of the Fourth international of Leon Trotsky in 1938. However it disagrees with the development of the Fourth International after the Second World War having many differences with those Trotskyist tendencies that accept these developments. It also differs in many regards with one important tendency, that of Lutte Ouvriere, whose forerunners also dissent from what may be termed Trotskyist orthodoxy.
The SWP maintains an opposition to, what it terms, substitutionist strategies. This is the idea that social forces other than the proletariat, which is for Marxists the potentially social revolutionary class due to its 'radical chains', may substitute for the proletariat in the struggle for a socialist society. This idea led the founder of the SWP, Tony Cliff, to reject the idea that the USSR was a degenerated workers' state, the position held by other Trotskyists and derived from Leon Trotsky's analysis in the 1930's. Cliff was to argue that in fact the USSR was a form of capitalism which he referred to as bureaucratic state capitalist and also argued was the case in Eastern Europe and later in other countries ruled by Stalinist parties such as China, Vietnam and Cuba.
Other IS/SWP theoreticians such as Nigel Harris and Chris Harman would later extend and develop a distinct body of state capitalist analysis based on Cliff's initial work. This theory was summed up in the slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism". The slogan originally comes from Max Shachtman's group, The International Socialist League, in their paper 'Labor Action' and was only borrowed by the IS/SWP at a later date. This is ironic because one of Cliff's concerns when first developing his idea of state capitalism was to differentiate his ideas from the idea of bureaucratic collectivism associated with Shachtman. Cliff's version of state capitalism must also be differentiated from those associated with figures such as CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya.
As a Trotskyist tendency the SRG/IS was faced with developing an explanation as to why and how a number of countries in the former colonial world had succeeded in throwing off their previous subjection to various imperial powers and forming states characterised by the SRG/IS as being bureaucratic state capitalist. In part such an explanation was needed to understand why such colonial revolutions had not developed into uninterupted or Permanent Revolutions as predicted by Leon Trotsky in his theory of the same name. Taking Trotsky's theory as his starting point Tony Cliff developed his own theory of deflected permanent revolution which argued that, where a revolutionary working class did not exist, the intelligentsia could, in certain limited circumstances, take the leadership of the nation and lead a successful revolution in the direction of a state capitalist solution. The outcome of such a revolution would be deflected from the goal of a social revolution as envisaged in Trotsky's original work.
Cliff's essay Permanent Revolution was first published in International Socialism Journal, No. 12 Spring 1963, in response to the Cuban Revolution and largely took it and the earlier Chinese Revolution as its subject. However the general concept of a deflected permanent revolution would be much exercised as a key analytical tool by IS theoreticians in the coming years. Most notable in this respect is the work of Nigel Harris in relation to India and later of Mike Gonzalez on Cuba and Nicaragua. Most recently the theory has been given a central place in Cem Uzun's work Making the Turkish Revolution.
State capitalism and deflected permanent revolution came to be seen as central to a distinct IS politics by the mid-1960's along with the theory of the permanent arms economy (PAE). In fact the three theories taken together are often seen as being the hallmarks of the IS tradition although this is contested by some former leaders of the IS, including Nigel Harris and Mike Kidron both of whom worked on the PAE and now repudiate it, and by some other Trotskyists outside the IS Tradition. The PAE, the most contested of the three theories, is also the only one that did not originate with Tony Cliff.
The PAE originated with a member of Max Shachtman's Workers' Party/International Socialist League named Ed Sard in 1944. Sard, writing as Walter J Oakes, argued in Politics that the PAE was to be understood as allowing capitalism to achieve a level of stability by preventing the rate of profit from falling as spending on arms was unproductive and would not lead to the increase of the organic composition of capital. Later in 1951 in New International, this time writing as T N Vance, Sard argued that the PAE operated through its abilty to apply J M Keynes multiplier effect. Although briefly mentioned by Duncan Hallas in a Socialist Review of 1952 the theory was only introduced to the IS by Cliff in 1957.
In his May 1957 article The Permanent War Economy, Cliff offered the PAE to readers in a version derived from Sard's earlier essays but without reference to Keynes and using a Marxist theoretical framework. This was the only attempt to develop the idea, which it is suggested explains the long post war boom, until the publication of Mike Kidron's Western Capitalism Since the War in 1968. Kidron would further develop the theory in his Capitalism and Theory. Additional work was also contributed by Nigel Harris and later by Chris Harman. However it should also be noted that Mike Kidron was to repudiate the theory as early as the mid-1970s in his Two Insights Don't make a Theory in International Socialism No 100. This was followed by a rejoinder from Chris Harman since which time the theory has assumed less importance for IS theory as a whole as the long boom it is asserted as an explanation of recedes into history.
The SWP's origins lie in the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which Tony Cliff joined on his arrrival from Palestine where he had been the central leader of that countries small section of the Fourth International (FI). Given his international reputation Cliff was co-opted onto the leadership body of the RCP although his impact was small at the time given his limited command of English. Indeed his idiosyncratic use of the English lanuage was to be a subject of jest by both Cliff and his supporters in later years.
In the RCP Cliff was a supporter of the majority tendency of that party around Jock Haston and Ted Grant. Therefore he supported the perspectives of the RCP at the end of the Second World War which placed the small party in opposition to the new leadership of the Fourth International around Ernest Mandel, then known as Germain, and Michel Raptis, better known as Pablo, which was backed by the American Socialist Workers' Party. In this capacity he wrote 'All That Glitters is not Gold' in which he showed that contrary to the International Secretariat of the FI there was not going to be a major slump.
Cliff also backed Haston when he disputed the growing sympathies of the FI for Tito's Yugoslavia. But by this time Haston was growing demoralised and would soon drop out of revolutionary politics entirely. Cliff however was beginning to develop the idea that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a bureaucratic state capitalist society, prompted in part by earlier arguments pointing in this direction from Haston. Much later Cliff in his autobiography would acknowledge the debt he felt to Haston. There is an irony in thisas it has been suggested that Cliff had been briefed by the leadership of the FI, while passing through France, to oppose Haston on just this question although no proof of this has been made public.
More importantly at the time Haston's collapse and the hostility of the FI to the RCP meant that the party was forced to join the Labour Party. Once inside the Labour Party its members were instructed to work under the direction of Gerry Healy in his entrist group The Club. This led to many former members of the RCP leaving politics in reaction to Healy's brutal regime and in turn Healy embarked on a campaign of expulsions against anyone who opposed his authority. One consequence of this was that a number of comrades who supported Cliff's state capitalist position began to act as a faction. Cliff himself was unable to participate in this work having been deported to Dublin from which he was not to return permanently until 1952.
With the Korean War passions in The Club became more aroused and after a vote on Birmingham Trades Council in which Cliffs supporters, including Percy Downey, voted for a neutral position they were expelled en masse from The Club. Cliff himself being a member of the, almost non-existent Irish section of the FI, could not be expelled. The final result of these events was the foundation of the Socialist Review Group organised around the magazine of the same name.
Socialist Review Group (1950-1962)
The Socialist Review Group (SRG) was founded at the end of September 1950 at a conference in Camden Town in London. 33 members were claimed of whom 21 were present on the day. Asides from Tony Cliff among the more notable members can be listed Bill Ainsworth, Geoff Carlsson, Ray Challinor, Percy Downey, Duncan Hallas, Peter Morgan, Anil Munisighe, Jean Tait and Ken Tarbuck. It was in essence a fragment of the RCP of which party all its members had been adherents of. It was in the milieu of former members of the RCP that the new SRG saw its audience too.
The new group adopted the magazine Socialist Review as its central organ and it was to run from 1950 to 1962. Asserting their political continuity with Trotskyism they argued that they stood on the ideas of Leon Trotsky and Bolshevik Leninism except in so far as they differed as to their analysis of the states dominated by Stalinist parties. To this end they adopted three documents as summarising their viewpoint; The Nature of Stalin's Russia (the first edition of Cliff's famous State Capitalism in Russia), The Class nature of the People's Democracies and Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism. In closing their first conference the group sent greetings to Natalya Sedova Trotsky, the widow of Leon Trotsky, who like them held state capitalist convictions.
In regard to its international connections the new group contacted various dissident currents coming out of the disintegrating Fourth International among whom can be enumberated Raya Dunayevskaja in the USA, Chaulieu in France, Mangano in Italy and Jungclas in Germany. The named individuals and their tendencies came from both the right and left of the Fourth International and unsurprisingly nothing came of these contacts. Of more importance was a loose liaison with the International Socialist League in the USA and the journal of that group, New International, was distributed by the SRG until it ceased publication in 1958. Moreover Socialist Review would reprint material from its pages, for example from Chinese and Ukrainian revolutionaries, and Cliff would contribute to New International in his turn.
Early editions of Socialist Review closely mirror the concerns of the SRG in its first years as they sought to recruit from former RCPers and in the Labour Party. A great deal of the material in the magazine concerns Stalinism and world politics in general terms. One particular example would be the attempt to provide the Socialist fellowship, a grouping of left wing Labour Party members stongly influenced by Gerry Healy's Club, with an alternativer statement of policy. This may be taken as a first general statement of programme by the SRG given its all encompasing nature and, apart from its position on Stalinism, is informed by a conception of transitional politics that is characteristic of Trotskyism. Meanwhile entrist work in the Birmingham Labour Party led to the expulsion of SRG members from the Labour Party.
The SRG also had its internal controversies of which the first was the expulsion of Ellis Hillman, later a London councillor, who argued that the Stalinist parties were embryonic state capitalist societies. In this he was echoing the positions of the Johnson-Forrest tendency, CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya, and directly challenging Cliff's analysis of state capitalism. He also argued, in a spectacularly eclectic fashion, for what he called the organic unity of the SRG and Ted Grant's group of fellow ex-RCPers. He was replied to with regard to the Stalinist parties by Duncan Hallas whose article was later reprinted in the collection The Origins of the International Socialists. In the event he was expelled and groups politics as a Trotskyist tendency differing only in its analysis of Stalinism was confirmed.
Although it began by asserting its fidelity to Trotskyism the SRG would move way from the 'orthodox' Trotskyism which they took from their origins in the RCP. Prior to this development but setting the scene for it the group experienced something of a change over of leading figures from 1952 to 1954. Most importantly of all Tony Cliff was permitted to return to London from his exile in Dublin and for the first itime was able to function as an active leader of the group rather through others or during visits to his family. Cliff's centrality to the group cannot be overemphasized in these years as his wife, Chanie Rosenberg, was also an active member and in September 1952 Mike Kidron, Cliff's brother in law, travelled to Britain from Israel. Kidron would later recruit Seymour Papert, later to become an important pioneer in the field of computers, who would also play a considerable role in the SRG. Others joining at this time were Stan Newens, later a labour MP, and Bernard Dix, later prominent in the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE). Significantly as the group was renewed by such new recruits it lost some of its earlier character as figures like Bill Ainsworth, Ken Tarbuck, later to pass through a number of left groups, and Duncan Hallas left. Duncan Hallas would return 14 years later and again play a leading role in what was by then the International Socialists.
International Socialists (1962-1977)
In 1962 the Socialist Review Group became the International Socialists (IS) taking the name of their new journal International Socialism. The journal had briefly appeared in 1958 as a cyclostyled magazine and a second issue, publishing Cliffs pathbreaking essay on Rosa Luxemburg had appeared in 1959, but began regular publication in 1960. They also began publishing a paper called Industrial Worker in 1961 which was renamed Labour Worker in 1962. This was the forerunner of Socialist Worker which was launched in 1968 with Roger Protz as editor.
However for much of the 1960's the most important group publication was Young Guard. Working within the Young Socialists the IS issued a youth magazine called Rebel from 1960 onwards as the YS was, along with similarly youth oriented Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the greatest source of recruits to IS. However within the highly factionalised atmosphere of the YS Rebel soon dissapeared as the IS forged an alliance with the supporters of Ted Grant around the Rally paper. The two tendencies jointly launched Young Guard as their challenge to both Transport House and the Keep Left grouping of Gerry Healys supporters. In fact the editorial content and most contributors to Young Guard were firm backers of IS and Grants supporters played a minor role. After Healys followers in the Socialist Labour League left what was renamed the Labour Party Young Socialists IS was briefly able to take the leadership of that organisation. But by this point much of the life had gone out of the youth movement and Young Guard ceased publication in 1965 being superseded by a new run of Rebel which lasted in its turn until 1967. By this time though IS as a whole was drifting away from entrist work within the Labour Party as the industrial struggle developed.
In 1969, the IS put out an appeal for revolutionry unity, aiming the appeal at the industrial militants aligned with the Communist Party, although it was also at the newly formed International Marxist Group and the libertarian Solidarity group. In the event only the small Workers' Fight group responded favourably and as soon as they became members of the IS they constituted themselves as the Trotskyist Tendency faction. The Trotskyist Tendency left again in 1971, claiming they had been expelled, the IS leadership claiming the much smaller TT had been democratically "defused" at a special conference held in 1971.
Despite such internal controversies the IS grew substantially in the early 1970's gaining a foothold in industry and forming several rank and file groups in the unions. However internal debate did not cease with the departure of the TT and in 1973 there were several expulsions, including those of the Right Opposition, part of which became the Revolutionary Communist Group. A little later the Left Faction, which became Workers Power, was also expelled.
During the 1960s the rise of unofficial strike action led the International Socialists to place emphasis on the building of a rank and file movement within the trade unions in order to combat the bureaucratic leaders of those organisations. This led to the development of a series of rank and file papers including The Collier (Mining), Redder Tape (Civil Service), Rank and File Teacher, etc. These were briefly brought together in a National Rank and File Organising Committee in 1974, the peak of IS influence in the workers movement.
Another aspect of this work was that a number of historians in the IS devoted themselves to a rediscovery of the past history of rank and file movements in the labour movement. A series of articles by Jim Higgins on this topic was published in the groups journal International Socialism. Other related work appeared in book or pamphlet form including books on the Communist Party related Minority Movement of the 1920's and the industrial politics of the CPGB in that period. Work was also done on the pre-World War 1 period with Ray Challinors book on the Socialist Labour Party entitled The First British Bolsheviks.
In the mid-1970s Cliff argued that the older workers leaders, including shop stewards , were corrupted by reformism and therefore IS had to turn to untried young workers - the more cynically minded claimed Cliff wanted the party to turn to them as being more gullible to Cliff's more idiosyncratic flights of fancy. This was part of the reason for the attempt made at this time to popularise Socialist Worker. This turn was unanimously rejected months later, but by then Jim Higgins was removed as National Secretary and Roger Protz from his position as editor of Socialist Worker for opposing these changes. Prompted by Duncan Hallas, they formed an International Socialist Opposition. Ultimately, a large section of the leadership, in particular Jim Higgins, Roger Protz and John Palmer, were expelled or left in solidarity with those expelled in 1975 and formed the Workers League. In 1977 the IS launched the SWP.
Socialist Workers Party (1977 onwards)
The beginning of 1977 saw the launch of the Socialist Workers' Party as the IS renamed itself in expectation of a wave of working class struggles against the Labour Government of the day. Immediately this move was rejected by Peter Sedgewick a long time and much respected member who resigned in protest. Expecting an increase in struggle but with industrial unrest stalled the new SWP used its leadership of the National Rank and File Organising Committee to launch the Right to Work Campaign in protest at the rising level of unemployment. The RTWC was to lead large scale marches, first to the Trades Union Congress annual conference urging it to campaign on the issue, later in protest to the Conservative Party conference, from 1976 to 1981. In the localities however the RTWC had no on going existance other than as a front organisation for local SWP branches. In the meantime the parent National Rank and File Organising Committee disappeared.
Soon after becoming the SWP it launched the Anti Nazi League (ANL) in response to the danger of the National Front. The ANL followed on from the relative success of the Right to Work Campaign which had been launched by the National Rank and File Organising Committee, and had organised a series of marches against unemployment. These marches were annual events between 1976 and 1981. The ANL was far larger than the Right to Work Campaign and was able to call upon support far outside the ranks of the SWP.
In its own terms the ANL was relatively successful holding a series of large demonstrations against the National Front and was to some considerable degree responsible for the marginalisation of that grouping, if for no other reason than it meant taking part in any public NF activities meant running the very real risk of being resisted - the same risk many non-whites faced in areas where NF public activities were being held.
However, the ANL suffered a blow in March 1979 amid claims of financial 'irregularities' (ie. funds being diverted to the SWP), and the violence between ANL and NF members compromising support from celebrity members in the ANL - Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough being the first of many celebrities to renounce his support, whilst despite the success of the Rock Against Racism concerts (an ANL affiliated campaign), many of the punk rock bands that had been outspoken against the NF from the start - such as the Sex Pistols/PiL, Bob Geldof's Boomtown Rats and The Stranglers - refused outright to have anything to do with an organisation they perceived as little more than an SWP front (The Clash did headline the 1978 Carnival however). Tony Cliff told a Guardian reporter during the March 1979 crisis, "The leadership of the ANL is the SWP & we don't give a damn".
In 1981 the ANL was formally wound up as it was felt to be no longer needed and was then dissolved. Some individuals who had been involved in the ANL disagreed with this, & also wanted to show solidarity with the more militant side of the republican movement in Northern Ireland grouping around Provisional Sinn Fein. Expelled, they were to form Red Action.
Recent and current activities
Since then, the SWP has affiliated with groups in various countries which comprise the International Socialist Tendency, and has been involved in a wide range of organisations, including the re-launch of the Anti Nazi League (which has evolved into Unite Against Fascism), and Globalise Resistance which they hoped would allow them to engage with the anti-capitalist movement. They were instrumental in setting up the Stop the War Coalition an anti-war alliance formed first to opposed the invasion of Afghanistan and then the invasion of Iraq. They considered this anti-war movement to the major radicalising force in early 21st Centurary British politics and believe that it is a continuation of the anti-capitalist movement.
In 1999 the SWP joined in the Socialist Alliance but later argued that it never managed to engage in the radicalism of the anti-war movement and presided over its winding up in 2004. They transferred their energies to a new project RESPECT Unity Coalition believing its emergence from the anti-war movement gave it the opportunity to be a much larger movement and break out from the prison of sectarianism.
In Scotland SWP members joined the Scottish Socialist Party as an officially recognised platform in 2001 known as the Socialist Worker Platform. However membership of the SSP does not seem to have increased the influence of the SWP and it has been claimed that the group has declined in numbers since joining. This claim being made by a senior member of the SWP, Gregor Gall, in an article published in an attempt to change the course of the group written in 2004. Failing to do so Gall has since left the SWP and is now seen as a supporter of the leadership of the SSP.
Another major change for the SWP was the selling of its print shop in 2004 as the enterprise was no longer able to win an adequate degree of commercial work to supplement the groups own printing requirements. Built in the early 1970's the print shop had originally been established in 1968 when Socialist Worker first appeared. SWP publications are now printed by commercial printers with the result that their appearance has undergone a great improvement. However it should not be ignored that the print shop had helped to subsidise the SWP's own publications and it has been suggested that the sale of the print shop was the result of a crisis in the groups finances.
The SWP claimed to have 10,000 members in the late 1990s. The 2004 Party Conference reported a membership figure of 7,585 members, although other socialist groups estimate it to now be closer to 3,000. There is debate within the party as to the reason for failure to grow out of the radicalism of the anti-war movement. Most attribute it to the emphasis that has been put on coalition building to the neglect of party building.
SWP members must also be members of any applicable trade union.
- SWP web site
- Socialist Worker online
- Socialist Review online
- More Years of the Locust: The Origins of the SWP Critique of Cliff and the SWP by Jim Higgins, former National Secretary of the International Socialists.
- Resistance MP3s, site with MP3s mainly recorded at the SWP's annual Marxism conference
- The Struggle for Socialism Today: A reply to the politics of the Socialist Workers Party
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