Thursday, 11 February 2010

SWP squabbles and life on the Left

I'm not going to gloat or over-analyze  Lindsey German's   falling-out with Martin Smith and her resignation from the SWP. Or speculate  that a factional split may now be imminent: I don't share the SWP's political  analysis and I find their tactics, and often the behaviour of their members, embarrassing and irritating for the rest of us on the Left. But in the great scheme of things they are not the enemy -  and life is too short.

From the sidelines I find it quite difficult to see exactly what their factional differences are - as AVPS says there doesn't appear to be a clear fault line in terms of deep differences of analysis or a specific tactical decision. Certainly not as there was with ourselves in the Socialist Party in the early 90's. It just seems to amount to a classic clash of personalities and styles - or egos.

Doubtless this will be discussed to death - but not here I'm afraid. However it does give me pause to think in much  more general terms about  just why so many on the Left are often so vicious to their own comrades.

Part of it comes from  a sense that the movement is more important than the destination - in other words that the main motivating factor for some individuals is  living the life of a party activist rather than achieving those political goals that presumably brought  them there in the first place. This seems to be characteristic of, although by no means exclusive to, activists who come to the movement from middle class backgrounds: A sub-species who like to romantically picture themselves as uncompromising Robespierres and then construct a whole little world around this fantasy where every bit of petty  bickering takes on an historic importance and provides an opportunity for martyrdom.

More controversially I think that all of us in the Marxist tradition  sometimes have a fatal attraction for the language and cultural references of 80 years ago that are not only irrelevant but are  positively an encumbrance today. The polemic style of the Bolsheviks may have had its place in a group that often operated in exile and underground and for much of the time didn't have to wash their dirty linen in front of a literate working class with a strong democratic tradition and a media that permitted instant global communication. 

Ironically it is us Marxists who are supposed to be the ones who understand the dynamics of history yet we also tend to be the most conservative in how we run our organisations. Maybe we should all be thinking about what democratic-centralism means in the 21st century.

1 comment:

EddM said...

Good post. I read some of the stuff in the SWP pre-conference bulletins and the language got increasingly bitter, while the political disagreement didn't become any clearer at all. From the outside, it seemed bizarre.

I wasn't so bothered about the rudeness, but the "we expect you to obey the CC's orders no matter what" attitude surely has no place in any organisation.