Friday, 28 November 2008

Socialism 2008 – Review – Socialism and Left Unity by Peter Taaffe (2008)

Whilst this isn’t really a session at Socialism 2008, this book was launched there and is a critique of the ideas and methods of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). It does take up some of the points that were debated in the session at Socialism 2008 on Building a Revolutionary Party (of which there is a video of on the Socialist Party website -

The book begins with some general points about why the Socialist Party (SP) thinks debates on the methods and ideas of organisations are important for serious attempts at left unity. The first section proper discusses the origins of the SWP and the Socialist Party and their ideas in relation to Stalinism – particularly criticising their idea of the USSR and other states as being state capitalism and the problems with this definition. The next chapter begins with focussing on how these ideas led to problems after the collapse of Stalinism in the early 1990’s and their idea of this decade being “the 1930’s in slow motion”.

It then moves on to discuss the approach of the SWP towards the anti-capitalist movement – in particular their use of the slogan – another world is possible - compared to the SPs – a socialist world is possible. It also takes up Trotsky’s transitional programme, what the SP believes to be the misapplication of the idea of transitional demands.

Next up is the attitude of the SWP to the rest of the left – its role in relation to the Socialist Alliances and also the role of its sister organisation in Germany. To this the approach of the SP is contrasted with that of the SWP, particularly how the SP argued for a federal approach in that organisation with the SWPs ‘rule or ruin’ approach. It then deals with the RESPECT saga too. This area is then dealt with again later in the book in a section entitled “United Front Today and the Left in Germany”.

The book then goes discusses a few incidents in the trade unions in the 90’s before taking up disagreements in the PCS and NUT between the SP and the SWP. The section after this discusses the SWP’s anti-fascism work – after discussing the successes of the Anti-Nazi League – it critiques what the SP believes were some of its failures – it’s “Don’t vote Nazi” slogan which leaves open the possibility of voting for other capitalist parties and the lack of democracy within that organisation and then deals with the role of Unite Against Fascism in recent years.

The final section deals with the internal regime of the SWP, in particular the use of top-down bureaucratic methods when dealing with serious disagreements inside the organisation giving examples of the expulsion of their US sister organisation and in relation to break up of RESPECT and then contrasts this with the SP and the CWI.

Although the book is a critique of the SWP and many of the arguments may be familiar to people already, the book touches on many other points which are of interest to anyone on the left in terms of history, theory and various movements. The debate on revolutionary ideas, organisation and methods will become increasingly important and this book is worth reading for anyone who agrees with the necessity of this, especially current members of the SWP.


Sean said...

You should also check out Workers Power's pamphlet from the either late 80s or early 90s on the problems with the SWP.

PDF here:

journeyman said...

The sad thing is that I can pretty much guarantee that the book will be ignored by most SWP members.

This is a result of their cult of the new. In brief; 'what's happened before is irrelevant - we are now entering an exciting new period - Obama and the new new world order'. (Blah blah blah- substitute whatever the slogan is of the day).

As a result they are doomed, like goldfish in a bowl, to continue discovering the same thing again and again.

Personally, years of working alongside working-class Tories has diluted my taste for polemics - and on the other hand I do know some decent people in the SWP... But this is a debate that definitely needs to be had at the present time.