The Socialist 16 July 2014 |
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SWP's Marxism: absence of serious debate and strategy
London Socialist Party members
'Marxism' is the annual 'festival of ideas' hosted by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Unlike Socialism (taking place on 8/9 November), the weekend hosted by the Socialist Party, Marxism does not have a good record for open and democratic discussion.
Despite the size and influence of the Socialist Party we have never been invited to debate at Marxism. Socialism, by contrast, has hosted debates with the SWP.
Nonetheless, this year, as in previous years, Socialist Party members attended Marxism and attempted to raise our views. It was not easy to do so. In a session on the trade unions the Socialist Party's tactics were explicitly criticised and yet, when our member appealed to be able to answer the points, he was still not called.
Some issues of vital importance to the working class were on the agenda and yet no debate or criticism was allowed. In a session on how to fight Ukip, introduced by SWP national secretary Charlie Kimber, Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party, who sits alongside Kimber on the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee, was called in to speak but only for two minutes at the end of the discussion after she'd appealed directly to Kimber.
'Stand up to Ukip'
In his introduction to the session Kimber outlined the SWP's strategy for defeating Ukip via the 'stand up to Ukip' campaign they have initiated. This focused on demonstrating against Ukip and building a 'broad movement'. In particular, the importance of protesting outside Ukip's national conference in Doncaster on 27 September was emphasised.
If the workers' movement in Doncaster can build a significant demonstration - making it clear that they do not support Ukip, which is just one more pro-establishment, pro-big business party - that would play a positive role in the campaign to undercut Ukip.
However, a demonstration will not automatically play a positive role in undermining Ukip. If it is perceived by workers as a demonstration of 'establishment politicians' it could actually be counter-productive. There is a real danger of this.
In his reply Kimber dismissed a criticism Hannah had made, that it is a mistake for 'stand up to Ukip' to organise joint campaigning stalls with Labour and Lib Dem councillors who are implementing huge cuts in public services. Such a campaign will never succeed in winning those workers who are voting for Ukip in order to punish the establishment parties, but will instead allow Ukip to claim that socialists are part of the establishment.
In addition, rather than 'standing up to Ukip' such a campaign can instead end up 'propping up Labour'. Kimber's response to this, however, was to simply restate the importance of a 'broad' campaign against Ukip.
In his introduction Kimber had made no mention of the need to also build a workers' electoral alternative to Ukip, despite the SWP taking part in TUSC along with the transport workers' union (the RMT), the Socialist Party and others. He recognised that some workers are supporting Ukip because they see it as a means to protest against the big three establishment parties, but did not draw any conclusions from this.
He spoke about how class struggle - for example the 10 July strike - would unite workers and undercut Ukip but did not explain who the strikers should vote for - given that Labour had opposed the strikes and has repeatedly said it will continue with austerity. No mention was made of how unpopular a Labour government would become and the danger of a further growth in support for Ukip.
Hannah raised the importance of TUSC and that it is a step towards building a mass workers' party, which is a vital part of undermining Ukip. In his reply Kimber agreed that TUSC was an important part of opposing Ukip and appealed to SWP members to take it seriously. However, there was unfortunately no session dealing with TUSC on the agenda of Marxism.