Marxism 2014 in review: “There are no new ideas”?

Rob Owen reviews the largest conference of the revolutionary left this year.

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Marxism 2014, the annual political festival organised by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), maintained its place as the largest Marxist conference in the UK. Although at 2600 registrations it was slightly smaller than in 2013 and half the size of previous years. The event may have lost its festival like atmosphere but many sessions, like those on the Middle East, showed the politics of the SWP at their best. There are few events where you can hear speakers like Anne Alexander, Joseph Daher, Ian Birchall as well as strikers from Lambeth College.

If meetings on the International situation including Alex Callinicos on Imperialism, Rob Ferguson on Ukraine and John Rose on Palestine were high points then meetings on areas of recent contention were low points. Courses on ‘Leninism’, ‘Marxism and oppression’, and ‘class struggle in Britain’ showed a defensive engagement in wider debates. Meeting titles often reflected the nature of the discussion: Amy Leather’s ‘Has neoliberalism changed the working class?’ could have been summed up with a simple ‘no’. This left some meetings feeling like they only half dealt with important topics, and left little space for wider discussion.

Organisation and Oppression

The course on Marxism and oppression saw speakers deal fleetingly with current ideas in the movement. On topics like social reproduction theory, privilege theory and intersectionality meetings rarely displayed an understanding of the way ideas are being used by activists today. While most Marxists would use the idea of oppression rather than privilege, we can learn from looking at how the use of the term ‘privilege’ in discussions around oppression has changed. Intersectionality and social reproduction theory are both areas rs21 supporters have begun to develop ideas around. Unfortunately discussion at Marxism has not moved on in recent years. Without reference to the nuances of the current debates it is hard to see how these meetings could win activists to revolutionary ideas.

The meetings on revolutionary organisation displayed the most defensiveness, with some of the most vocal SWP supporters badging themselves as the last defenders of Leninism. Esme Choonara’s meeting ‘What is Leninism’ was introduced by a useful defence of Lenin, with several contributors explaining why reformist commentators want to bury him. However, in discussing the crisis of Leninism today, contributors joked about labelling themselves “Leninists and proud.” The question of whether we should assess how best to organise today was dismissed as moving away from genuine ‘Leninism’, meaning the question ‘what is Leninism?’ was left, at best, half answered.

Rooted activists

Sessions on July 10th strike and ‘where next for the left in Britain?’ showed the organised network of serious militants that remain around the SWP. Contributors to discussion of #J10 showed the range of committed and rooted SWP supporters there are across the public sector. Any activist engaged in the strike would have benefited from listening to the experiences relayed in Michael Bradley’s meeting ‘where next after J10’ – whether or not they agreed with every emphasis.

In the coming month’s the SWP will be focused on the October 18th TUC demonstration, the stand up to UKIP demo in Doncaster, maintaining pressure for future national strikes and their electoral project TUSC.

No more new ideas?

Two things have left a real impression on me from this year’s Marxism. The first is that at 30 I was one of the younger attendees and recognised a large majority of faces from previous Marxism festivals. The second was the phrase “there are no new ideas” with which Alex Callinicos summed up Saturday’s main meeting. “The crisis of the radical left” session saw Alex give a more general introduction than that in his recent article to an audience of around 500 people. He gave a reasonable sketch of the crisis of the European left, but missed the key subjective factor – the political decisions of the main organisations in each country. In stark contrast, Denis Godard of the NPA in France and Panos Garaganos of the Greek SWP both spoke from the floor on the subjective failures of leaders of far left groups in Europe. The question of the crisis of the SWP in Britain was only raised by Dan Swain in response to coded, and not so coded, criticisms of rs21. Alex’s summation was directed at those he saw as adapting to new ideas in the movement, with a call to stay true. Yet his insistence that all ideas are recycled from the past captured something of the atmosphere of Marxism.

The focus of Marxism has shifted dramatically this year: from engaging a radical milieu with revolutionary Marxist ideas, to cohering supporters of the SWP, despite many parts of the conference that contained sharp analysis and interesting theory. If Marxism 2015 is to be larger and younger, the conference organisers need to look outwards to engage with the radical ideas shaping a new generation of activists.

There are 49 comments

  1. Robert Owen

    Tim, thanks for the comment – it is getting at a real point of political discussion.

    On the meetings most but not all contributors were in the SWP. That is true but doesn’t invalidate their experiences. There are significant numbers of members active in their union branches even if not that active in the SWP itself. Marxism (and union conference) is the one time you see some of these people. Perhaps I should have been clearer when I said “around the SWP” that I meant “in and around”. They are still the largest organised left in a large number of unions and get stuff done. For instance even hostile ex-members at Lambeth College talk highly of the central role the SWP played in raising solidarity for the dispute – going as far as to say they were indispensable to it. We need to recognise that neither rs21 nor the ISN can play that role, despite sharing an understanding of the role of solidarity. Our comrades in workplaces also got people in and raised solidarity but not on a comparable scale size wise. It would have been madly sectarian to counterpose that to the SWP efforts.

    Recognising that means thinking through what we do have to offer politically, primarily analysis, while focusing our limited resources on where we can make a difference. It is no coincidence we have focused on the Ritzy: it’s a largely ex-graduate work force so there is a social cross over, the “nice” private company showing its naked capitalist drive draws people in and it is a small enough work force that we can make an impact of the workers confidence. The danger is that we allow the biggest strikes to be pushed to the edge of our through because we can’t deliver activity around them in the old way. Part of correcting that danger is a balanced and realistic appraisal of what others, including the SWP, are doing.

    Your comparison to the CP in the 80’s is fine except that it overlooks the context. The whole union movement and left has hollowed out so much since that relatively the SWP matters more than the rest of the left. I accept this is truer in my own union (the NUT) and not true at all in most private sector unions. The problem is the practice and the politics of the SWP fractions not their relative size. UTR is a flop for two reasons: 1) it is based on an inflated sense of size and influence by the SWP relative to the social weight of the Union leaders. This is linked to the SWP’s failure to really address the impact of neoliberalism on work and collective organisation. 2) The failure of the SWP to recognise the need to think through how we organise at work in a “rank and file spirit” rather than looking up at the execs and trying to lever influence. UTR is far far far too small to have any real impact on organising the 1.4 million rank and file from #J10 to exert influence on the union leaders -but it pretends it does. It is a pointless appendage as any actually important work the SWP does through its own fractions.

    The focus of rs21 has very much been at the level of the workplace. In particular how we rebuild collective organisation around current workplace issues. This focus leads to our analysis pieces on performance management and fear and hope in the work place. At the moment we are focusing on supporting each other becoming active as revolutionaries at work. When this is your focus it shows quickly that who you relate to has very little bearing on who is in the lefts in the union. It also gives you a “bottom up” approach that reframes your relationship with the Union structure and national initiatives. It would be worth speaking to Ian A about some of the ideas comrades are developing in this area.

    That said we also have to intervene in the Unions as well. Especially in the arguments around escalation and that means having some relationship with what the SWP is doing. In the NUT it would be sectarian idiocy not to talk to the STA, LANAC and Paul McGarr to get a sense of what is going on. Similarly in a number of other unions there will be SWP members and fractions it is sensible to talk to. In other words for much of our work the SWP is irrelevant but given its history it is useful to know when we can work together and when we can’t.
    A side issue: I’m aware that I deliberately didn’t raise explicitly the “elephant in the room” at Marxism – especially in talking about Alex’s meeting. This was to try and move the debate on to looking at how it has politically degenerated the culture in the SWP further when discussing questions with an immediate relevance to its own organisation.

  2. Robert Owen

    I should perhaps add that in practice “relating to ” the SWP means little more then not being automatically sectarian. At NUT conference they isolated themselves via a bizarre sectarian manoeuvre that saw the Socialist Party’s Martin Powell Davies head up the opposition to the executive. Most of my activity is at a school level and I get most of my information about the Union from non SWP members of the Socialist Teachers Alliance. Talking to Paul McGarr at Marxism did however let me know some things I hadn’t thought through about what the NUT will do next that impacts on what I’ll do at school.

  3. Ray B

    We must have been to different Marxism’s. Firstly, there were many activists there who were under 30. Secondly, I attended the meeting on Social Reproduction that addressed many of those so-called “nuances” the reviewer claims were absent. It’s very easy to dismiss disagreements about how oppression works with such unspecific clichés. Perhaps at that meeting someone from RS21 should have got up and shared all those nuances that were supposedly missing but I think the women comrades who got up and, along with the speaker, critiqued many of the key arguments made by intersectionalists and marxist-feminists such as privilege theory, wages for housework and the demotion of class to just another oppression offered a far better explanation of these ideas than I’ve ever read here. Be careful when you set yourselves up as experts because you will be judged on your arguments not those of anyone else.

  4. billy

    This review of Marxism is a tad bitter to say the least. I really enjoyed the event and found the meetings on the Middle East both moving and also very honest about the problems facing revolutionaries in the face of a counter revolution. I also thought the meetings on the economy by Michael Roberts was outstanding as well as J Choonara meeting on recession. Callinicos on Imperialism was a fantastic wide ranging survey with a good discussion and looking forward to his book on Capital following his meeting on the subject. The discussions regarding South Africa were brilliant.The interventions by rs21 with the exception I would say of Charlie Hore who added value were I felt muted and replaying last years tunes. So we were told by them that the problem with the SWP is we don’t get involved in the new movements..of course no examples were given..we apparently were guilty of not getting into new ideas..but of course the RS21 speaker did not say which new ideas..its just hyperbole and if you say it enough then it must be true. Perhaps the new idea is that the left apart from RS21 are big supporters of Rolf Harris which is what this organisation claims!!!! The fact that the RS21 weekend got only 120 people tells us that the claim that it is really easy to build a revolutionary organisation and if only the SWP had done this or done that then we would be 20,000 or 30,000 as Neil Davidson argued is complete folly.
    As for Nelson’s points, well what can you say about the ISN..they are no1 in the hit parade for the weirdest left group in the UK. Suffice to say Nelson and his organisation played no part what so ever in a mass strike on July 10th..In my area of course no one from RS21 or ISN bothered to come on the very large demo. Perhaps sitting at home thinking of some new ideas rather than old hat strikes and demonstrations..The SWP is far from perfect but to be honest looking at what’s happened to former comrades suggests that the grass was and is not greener on that side of the fence.

  5. billy

    Didn’t say everyone outside the SWP are inactive. Just noted that in my area no one from ISN were present on the large demo. Many people were active in building the strike, picketing and protesting and in the process arguing for escalation etc. Its just a fact that it wasn’t deemed very important for ISN and I think in terms of any coverage prior to the strike for the RS21 either, rather run an article claiming the rest of the left were supporting Rolf Harris!!. RS21 were not present on my local demo on July 10th but then quite a few are hostile to public sector workers so not surprised. Bat how many came to your weekend event..120. Do you think this is a success and given your members were expecting 250- 300 perhaps there are some lessons to be learnt.

  6. Rob Owen

    Interesting that this has generated comments, admittedly fairly crude ones, by SWP supporters.
    Ray M, the comment on the Social reproduction meeting is rather odd as it seems to confuse several meetings on quite distinct subjects suggesting you are neither that familiar (nor care to be) with the subject matter itself. If you troubled yourself with the links in the article above you could see that your response is a very crude caricature of the ideas you state you disagree with. The problem you face is that this is a careless (and fairly rude) dismissal of ideas many new activists have engaged with.

    Billy, firstly a small aside on our political weekend: Organised in a few weeks with no fulltimers and no ring rounds etc by an organisation two months old it was never intended to be a “Marxism style event.” It was perhaps closer to the ISJ schools the SWP organises with far greater resource on a similar scale. No one said that rebuilding was easy but that on the question of oppression the SWP as an organisation had crossed a line of principle. To aim for something bigger was I think correct but we said from the outset that 100-150 would be deemed a success.

    On the substance the links in the article suggest some of the new ideas rs21 supporters raised. As do a number of articles on this website. It was very careful not to be a bitter review. Perhaps to careful in not mentioning the obvious reason Marxism felt flat and sparsely populated: The atomisation of most of your younger cadre around handling questions of sexual assault and rape. On the figures, I can give you the actual numbers of people in key sessions (with the rough equivalents from previous years). More importantly the capacity for most timeslots and the rough numbers in rooms for some of them. This paints a much greater falling away from the festival then I was expecting or that the headline drop of 5000+, 3000, 2600 show. If you wanted a harsh view of how Marxism showed the depth of the damage to the SWP then this was not it. Personally I have no real interest in continuing to kick the SWP though I do think the damage to Marxism as an annual event is a real shame. Given the demographic at Marxism the trajectory of the festival itself looks set on becoming older, smaller and politically more and more narrow.

    Sorry for the more negative comment but a more thoughtful comment would have generated a more thoughtful response. It’s impossible to engage with comments like “no one from rs21 / ISN was in the demo in my area. Where was this? Were people at work in non-striking jobs? What do you think the reasons why were? Vague causal sideswipe are neither clarifying, comradely nor particularly helpful to anyone (yourself included). If you want to discuss actual politics (and seeing as you’ve commented on a political website you’d hope this to be the case) then maybe respond to one of the 200 plus articles that aren’t on the SWP rather then getting riled up by the one that is?

  7. billy

    Tim.. the review discussed numbers.. but you didn’t object to that.
    The RS21 members I had a few brief conversations with at Marxism were frankly embarrassed by the Rolf Harris article and agreed that Renton was a complete liability. Bat of course could comment on his views regarding his comrade’s assertion that many on the left were supporting Rolf Harris..
    I don’t think that being in an organisation smaller than another one makes it incorrect. I simply note that neither RS21 or ISN who make great play out of use of the internet etc showed little interest in the build up to the July 10th Strike. Again direct experience is total absence from the picket lines and demo..So the charge that the SWP don’t relate to movements with no examples is seen as fine but if its pointed out that on a workers demo your organisations were absent and then this is cited as a sectarian response…Therefore best make criticisms with no evidence at all seems to be the your method.

  8. Rob Owen

    Billy, the review just quoted your own figures. It didn’t delve into them which having helped organise Marxism for years I could have easily done. It actually tried to give a balanced account of the event – something you seem loath to contemplate.
    No rs21 supporter (and we all meet up regularly through Marxism) would describe another rs21 supporter as a liability. It’s completely uncomradely and as one of the relatively few members there I know it to be a dishonest thing to assert. I’d say openly that I think a throwaway line in the article (as it was) read badly and was needless. I do think that the arguments that would be used to defend RH have a real similarity to the ones that were deployed to defend MS – the point that was I assume being alluded to. I imagine this is why SWP publications were uncharacteristically silent on the case with just one line in an article on child abuse covering a story that ran for weeks in the mainstream press.
    Also as a local NUT officer, school rep and part of our NUT caucus we did as much around the strike as we could, including producing a leaflet and extensive report. We got stuck in where we are and tried to build in our workplaces. For instance we had a decent picket at our school – something I know very few SWP teachers do. This sort of focus is what we mean by thinking through how you organise at work (see Ian A on fear and hope on this site). We organised in the unions we had members and got people who could out on the pickets and demos. As a percentage of our membership involved (with no fulltimers to substitute or paid journalists to generate copy) I suspect we did better than the SWP.

  9. James

    I hadn’t read the Rolf Harris article until I saw this exchange. It’s not a question of reading badly it is a terrible statement by the author. The idea that the left were supporting Rolf Harris is surreal. Where is the authors evidence or is it simply to attack the rest of the left? Any organisation that makes sectarian remarks like that to attack the rest of the left is not one I would be involved in. Some of the other articles are ok and some good but that one really casts the site in a bad light. Also note that Mr Owen hasn’t been on the comments section to put his view that the author is wrong..

  10. Ray B

    Billy is right, you’re making claims that you can’t substantiate such as few people under 30 at Marxism and then when these daft claims are challenged you demand numbers or accuse critics of “crude” generalisations. So you don’t have to back up these generalisations and assumptions with anything concrete but anyone challenging you must take them seriously – don’t waste my time please. These kind of unspecified generalisations run through the review which does not do RS21 any favours if it wants to be taken seriously politically.

    Was it Dan who made the comment at Callinicos’s meeting on the state of the left that 500 students had left the SWP? Well if this is so then where are they? Obviously ISN and RS21 haven’t attracted them. Billy makes a good point that for all the RS21 bluster of squandering new recruits and utopian visions of the onward and upward growth of the rev left the reality is entirely different. Which is what Callinicos tried to address at that meeting.

    My intervention here is to correct some generalisations and inaccuracies in the review. Characterise that as blind SWP loyalty if you like but if you seriously want a debate about such things as social reproduction then have that debate don’t hide behind clichés and generalisations. RS21 is judged on its interpretation of the theory and practice not the interpretation of the SWP or any other group or individual on the left.

    I wish RS21 every success, the larger the rev left the better for all of us, but please develop your own theory and practice because after all the misrepresentation of the SWP is stripped away so far it looks like the emperors new clothes. If you want to make a virtue over differences back this up with something politically concrete.

  11. Rob Owen

    Ray, I appreciate the change in tone. However it is hard to take your call to engage with the theoretical argument seriously given your previous contribution. To be specific that would be attacking the “nuance’ of social reproduction theory by attacking three ideas arising from three different theories.

    That this is raised as an example of how the SWP’s main meeting on the theory was dealt with it is painful.

    There is very obvious reason hundreds of students were lost to the revolutionary left in waves after the conferences last year. Horror at how the SWP attempted to deal with the allegations of rape and sexual harressment. Winning people back to the revolutionary socialist project is not a matter of simply planting a flag and hoping people rally to it. But winning back a credible principled standing on these issues is impossible to do from within the swp.

  12. Ray B

    Having listened back to my personal recording of Judith Orrs meeting on social reproduction it strikes me that if this issue is such a bone of contention between RS21 and the SWP then why didn’t a comrade from RS21 get up and challenge Orr’s interpretation and, more importantly, offer an alternative analysis? My conclusion is that many of the points Orr made members of RS21 would find agreement with and that the parts that they disagree with they can’t offer a coherent alternative analysis to critique them.
    So the only way to attack Orr/SWP is to write reviews espousing some shiny new but never specified, under 30’s theory about these issues embodied by RS21. The fact that most of the RS21 members are long in the tooth is quietly glossed over. Nor do they mention that most of these “new” theories are hardly new but emerged in the 80’s and were highly contested then. So this double fantasy of “new” theory and “new” members serves as a smoke screen for an incoherent mish mash of ideas on these issues which is the contradiction at the heart of this organisation.

  13. Ray B

    Rob Owen my “tone” is no different. If you want to attack the SWP over specific issues then offer a coherent political alternative. Considering many of your members are older than Methuselah or were kicking around when punk was new it’s unwise to use age as a stick to beat the rest of the left with. Sorry to disappoint if I didn’t leave a full account of social reproduction theory in a post on a thread reviewing Marxism but if your reviewer will make generalisations and false claims then invariably they will be challenged. As I’ve stated, perhaps a good time to have launched RS21’s position of social reproduction theory was by engaging in that debate with the comrades you are most critical of at Marxism?

  14. Amy Gilligan

    Ray, I was at Judith Orr’s meeting on social reproduction, spoke from the floor, and I’m a member of rs21. I felt that Judith’s meeting failed to actually take many of the key ideas of social reproduction, confusing the discussion by talking about wages for housework (something that people developed social reproduction to counter….). This is unfortunate as it meant that the meeting probably miseducated a room full of people about a topic that, when it comes down to it, I don’t feel is that different to the IS tradition, and frankly I find the hostility towards it puzzling. In rs21, we’ve published on our website and in the first edition of our magazine articles on social reproduction and have held meetings on the subject.

  15. spectropoetics

    The entire reason why the Left is in a shambles is because large numbers of members of the SWP put the interests of Martin Smith ahead of the interests of the party, and therefore this undermined the legitimacy of the International Socialist tradition to speak as if took questions of oppression seriously.

    Any comment, response, snide aside, and bluster offered by defenders of the SWP, who do not and will not account for the fact that “Martin Smith” is the name of that which damaged the SWP should hold their tongue when they try to speak about the *inadequacies* of other Left groups.

    Your hubristic assumption that membership of the SWP acts as a guarantee of *revolutionary credentials* is a thing of the past. Your name now sits in series with the WRP. You are the party of people who defended a rapist. There is no recourse to due process, or assumed innocence or evocation of *past victories* that will overcome this taint. This is what you are, and how you will be seen forever. That is how history will record your existence.

    You need to come to terms with that, understand what it means for the revolutionary Left of the future, and what you can do to facilitate it’s emergence. Because the longer you cling to your outdated fantasies of cutting-edge relevance, the longer it will be before we can all recover and build something viable of collective value.

  16. Ray B

    Having re-read your post Rob if you are referring to the list of contested areas of debate I posted (privilege theory, wages for housework and the demotion of class to just another oppression) then all three are an integral part of the debate about the social reproduction of oppression. The theories about these subjects were discussed in a detailed and comprehensive manner at Orrs meeting and have been addressed in recent articles in the ISJ. Of course, there is always room for more debate and this is welcome (I did not see anyone on the Marxism team slapping gaffer tape over the lips of dissenting contributors!) I would like RS21 to offer a similar level of serious political analysis about these issues but so far that hasn’t happened so it’s very difficult identifying areas of agreement and disagreement.

  17. Ray B

    Amy why didn’t you challenge Judith then? I disagree with your claim that she misrepresented or failed to give a proper account of these ideas. That claim is easy to make but it doesn’t actually address anything she said nor does it offer a political alternative. She doesn’t need to misrepresent these ideas to demonstrate the contradiction implicit in them. Having read some of the articles posted on these issue on RS21 you are not offering a new interpretation. Instead of making vague generalisations in this thread about the failings of Orrs analysis either you or some other RS21 comrade write an analysis that challenges her politically.

  18. Rob Owen

    Ray, you’ve confused not leaving a full account with completely misunderstanding. Name one advocate of social reproduction theory who supports wage for house work? There is not one because it came out of people opposing this very idea. This is the crudeness I was referring to. On social reproduction theory (the issue you picked up on) you can either read and respond to what people are actually saying or make things up to argue against. READ THE ARTICLE LINKED THAT DOES EXACTLY WHAT YOU ASK.

    If you bundle together a host of different ideas on the basis they deal with oppression then you’ll not get to grips with what people are actually saying. It’s not point scoring to point out your criticism is completely factually incorrect. If you got this from the meeting at Marxism then it suggests that we were right to say the meeting misrepresented the idea quite badly. It is an approach to ideas that has nothing in common with marxism.

    Also on the age thing – leading members of the SWP were saying this. It was evident at Marxism as was smaller – something you even say in socialist worker. It only seems to be controversial after the event. Its not even surprising that its true. I don’t understand why you are even questioning this…

  19. Rob Owen

    Sorry “It is an approach to ideas that has nothing in common with marxism.” should read “You’r way of engaging with ideas has nothing in common with marxism.

  20. Ray B

    If you’re referring to Tithi Bhattacharya article it starts off with some dreadful misinformation and misrepresentations! The claim that women revolutionaries (SWP comrades) are told to wait for the revolution and prioritise class at the expense of other aspects of oppression is utter nonsense. These kind of baseless allegations are used to discredit political opponents when in fact they are gross misrepresentations. For former comrades like yourselves to argue that this represent the contemporary rev left and the tradition of the SWP regarding women’s oppression is a disgraceful misrepresentation. Lindsey German, no longer a member of the SWP, has dealt with this revisionist history of the SWP decisively in her response to Abbie Bakan and Sharon Smith.

    Bhattacharya discusses the relevance of unpaid domestic labour. She discusses how the the social reproduction of labour occurs mainly in the family and falls disproportionately on women – no one in the SWP would disagree with this. But it is one thing to claim that this role falls disproportionally on women and quite another to claim that the SWP does not address this issue by not engaging in the wider struggle against cuts to services, reproductive rights and LGBT rights. Based on actual practice this is simply untrue.

    While Bhattacharya doesn’t make the argument for wages for housework the references to the potential productive capacity of domestic labour raises this question which is a real and ongoing debate among the left. Consequently, Orr is right to challenge such ideas in her meeting. The attempt by RS21 to limit the debate about social reproduction theory to what they claim it encompasses is entirely self serving because it conveniently glosses over the political debate about the relevance of domestic labour to the sphere of production that is actually happening among activists. You can’t have it both ways! I can’t help thinking this strategy is a concession to reformism and the hope of forming alliances even if this means dropping these difficult political questions in front of other activists.

  21. Ray B

    I see what you did there bat020 (joining in with the internet colloquial clichés.) Pity you couldn’t post a condescending Wonka meme along with your startlingly original retort – such is your level of debate it seems.

  22. Ray B

    Please disregard my last comment. My apologies, I don’t want to get into trading insults especially as I’m arguing for more debate about political ideas as opposed to that kind of behaviour. I’ve made my comments – no point rehashing them. I hope some of them at least encourage convivial discussion amongst individuals and organisations on the left here and elsewhere.

  23. bat020 (@bat020)

    I’ll raise my level of debate off the floor when you come up with an argument that’s worth rising to, Ray. But rest assured there will be plenty more articles about social reproduction appearing on this site in coming months. Hopefully by that point you’ll have received the professor’s memo re Vogel – and learned how to argue with what your opponents are actually saying, as opposed to whatever random position you fancy attributing to them.

  24. Adam DC

    Well, this has now degenerated nicely enough for me to make a comment.
    I went to Marxism on the Saturday, as an rs21 member, I managed to get into one meeting, the headline meeting with The Prof on Saturday night. I found the majority of the international critique fine, but when it came to the question around what’s been going on the the SWP it was tied up with the whole question and critique of the decline of the left over X period!
    Really is that why we all left?
    Then there were a series of what when I was still in the SWP I liked to call “the usual suspects” backing up crassly what the prof had carefully tried to obscure. My fave was “Movements go up like a rocket, but go down like a stick” in reference to the students movement, what the speaker failed to say is that what your meant to do as revolutionaries is grab the rocket and bring people into your loving arms. The SWP managed this brilliantly, what it failed to do was keep hold of them, that’s the SWPs fault not the movement, or the faction as one SWP dogmatist SHOUTED at me when I was talking to a friend about it.
    And funnily enough I’ve been aware of the decline of the left for virtually my entire life, with a few surges around the anti cap movement, and Iraq, but in Alex’s article in the ISJ (which essentially this meeting was a rehash if) he conflates the beginning of stop the war, with Genoa, whilst sidestepping the fact that it was Lindsey G (and others), at the ESF in Florence 2002 who where instrumental to the Feb 15 day if action. I’m no big fan of Lindsey and John theses days, although people’s assembly demo was well worked, but to ignore facts, and essentially misguide people, comrades, about when where etc, because you no longer agree with the main activists is something that Alex is unfortunately becoming quite adept at. Hence after our hackney aggregate last December I told him I can’t believe a word he writes anymore, because it’s tainted with the act of holding together the CC, and his own position, over the ability in some areas, not all, to look objectively at reality — I’d suggest this is a problem for a Marxist.
    Some points:
    1. Marxism was smaller.
    2. It wasn’t exactly young (but it hasn’t been for a few years, when it was it was because of student ‘movement’)
    3. There was a lack of Student activists in comparison to recent years

  25. Rob Owen

    Ray (sorry but you really asked for this),

    I repeat READ the article linked in the article above (which is not by Tithi).

    Also it is beyond disingenuious to argue that TithI is raising the prospect of wages for housework when this is the opposite of what she says. Her main point is that working mothers in this USA tend to work part time because domestic labour tends to fall on women.

    I say again social reproduction theory arose in opposition to the idea of wages for house work. To you/Judith are wrong to say it doesn’t is not a matter of opinion but an uncontested fact. Yiu have simply misunderstood the theory – presumably by not bothering to read what it actually says. I say again name ONE social reproduction theorist that calls for wages for house work. There is not one because you have made it up. THIS IS NOT US “NARROWING THE FIELD” BUT YOU MAKING SOMETHING UP. This is presumably a result of Judith not bothering to actually read up on what she was talking about.

    Also I know you are convinced the workd revolves around the SWP but Tithi was not talking about the SWP in specific she was EXPLICITLY talking about the communist parties (even quoting them). Yet in truth it is also more or less word for word what Sheila M said in Alex’s main meeting on Saturday.

    Again, if you want to discuss the theory – fine but actually read about it first. Secondly if you want to find out what article is linked click the link don’t guess and talk about something else. It is an article on the economic roots of the theory by Estelle Cooch. I’d be genuinely interested in discussing it.

    James happy to be disagreed with but preferably on the basis of actual facts.

  26. Rob Owen

    Also Ray, maybe you should take this up with Alex Callinicios because apparently the “swp have never disagreed with Lise Vogal” [isj.org.uk] ie always agreed with social reporoduction theory. I mean this was new to me as well but there you go.

    Sorry this is all on my phone so grammer was bad. Second sentence of first main para should read ‘to say you/judith are wrong on this is not a question of opinion but a provable fact.

    The para on if Tithi was talking about the SWP was in repsonse to your claims of slurs about waiting for the revolution. The slurs that were quotes from communist party members about their experiences in the communist party.

    Finally just read you closing line about concessions with reformism. This is a bit surreal (ie makes no logical sense). Maybe you think we are drifting right (be interested to ask on what basis) but how does social reproduction theory relate to this? It is a bizarre, random and completely unsubstantiated point.

  27. Janet

    Interesting debate. I watched the meeting by Esme Choonara from this years Marxism on intersectionality and thought both the arguements put by her and the tone of the presentation were very good. Not sure what Owen and Nelson thought about that meeting. I do think however that the tone of Bat 020 comments are a bit patronising and not really helpful in a discussion like this. The fact that there is so little comment on this website to other articles is interesting, the article critical of the SWP seems still to be the one getting RS21 members excited. I think if the organisation has any hope for the future it needs to move on and build itself and not appear to be a group of people defining themselves in opposition to the SWP. I am not sure what the involvement of the organisation was in terms of July 10th but I think the point raised that there was next to no articles in the build up to the strike is evidently true.If this is an indication of the Renton arguements becoming the dominant one in the organisation, I dont know, but if it is then it is a recipe for disaster in my view, perhaps others would disagree. It must be difficult to try and build an organisation from a small base and the temptation to simply oppose everything the SWP does to justify itsself is also something I feel needs to be avoided. I think this has happened in relation to anti fascist work. RS21 may be able to offer insightful views and may be a plus for the movement and I hope it is. At present I think the jury is out and I will await to see how it defines itself. If it goes down the road of the ISN then it has no plus side at all and will be a laughing stock. For all the faults of the SWP it remains the main revolutionary organisation in the UK and seems to me to be getting on with building with others campaigns and resistance and has had a good non sectarian response to the palestine protests for example. So Tim Nelson is wrong in my view by pretending the SWP are history and will simply go away.

  28. bat020 (@bat020)

    @Janet: I make no apologies for patronising the likes of Ray. He’s an idiot and an embarrassment who consistently argues in bad faith. I wouldn’t indulge him in real life and I don’t believe it is “helpful” to indulge that sort of bullshit online either.

    As for your wider points: the rs21 members commenting on this thread are all responding to criticisms of Rob’s article. Where those criticisms have had some political substance to them we’ve responded politely. Trolls and fools, in contrast, have got what they deserved.

    I agree that in retrospect we could have run a few more articles trailing J10. But as others have explained the bulk of the industrial reporting on this site has focused on areas that our activists are directly involved in, eg the Ritzy and Lambeth strikes.

    Have a look at the report on the SOAS fractionals campaign for instance. I’d be interested if you can point to anything remotely as detailed and practical produced by the SWP on any comparable issue. In my time on the paper the struggles of young HE workers were treated with thinly disguised contempt by the party leadership, who treated anything that wasn’t traditional public sector trade unionism as part of the Precariat Heresy.

    I can’t make head or tail of your comment about anti-fascist work, I’m afraid. Are you accusing us of “simply opposing everything the SWP does” on this score? Or are you commending us for *not* doing that? Your formulation is ambiguous and I’d appreciate it if you clarified your comment.

  29. Janet

    Firstly I think calling people thick and an idiot gives an impression of arrogance and a bit pompous which I am sure you are not but it comes across badly to me and I would suggest others who may be interested in RS21.
    On the issue of Socialis Worker trade union coverage I am not sure what is meant. I tend to think compared to other weekly socialist newspapers it stands head and shoulders. I thought the coverage of say the Hovis dispute which of course is private sector and against zero hours was very good as well as them giving practical solidarity. Whilst the bakers union is small it was good to see a leading SWP member speaking at the conference and gettng a great reception. I cant imagine that that would have happened if the SWP were just interested in public sector unions.
    I think there has been very good coverage of the SOAS cleaners dispute and I think I am right in saying a key trade unionist in the branch is a long standing SWP member. Also the Ritzy dispute has had very large coverage and practical solidarity , same is true for the Doncaster Care UK strike and the Lambeth college strike. The blacklisting campaign has had very significant coverage over the years which is mainly in the private sector. The sparks dispute had very high profile in the paper and continues to do so, think they produced a pamhplet but I haven’t read it. I also agreed in the main with its coverage of the Grangemouth dispute. So the point that Socialist Worker is just about public sector trade unions seems to be not backed up by any real evidence. It again seems to me that the RS21 wants to knock everything the SWP does regardless of whether its true or not. I think this does the organisation a lot of damage.
    On the issue of anti fascism ,RS21 was very hostile to the recent anti racist march in London and I was very dissapointed to see that and was put off the organisation as a result. None of this is to say I dont think debate within the anti fascist movement is not desireable but I fear a knee jerk response of being against campaigns/marches etc assocaited with the SWP automatically need to be criticised is not a good basis for an organisation to grow. I am being more critical of the RS21 than perhaps I should but I guess its the nature of these exchanges.

  30. bat020 (@bat020)

    Here’s the article I wrote about the 22 March anti-racism demo. People can read it and judge for themselves whether it merits Janet’s description of being “very hostile”, a “knee jerk response” etc: http://goo.gl/6WaTOC

    Re the trade union issues I’ll respond in more detail tomorrow once I’ve had a chance to collate a few links. Again, people will be able to judge for themselves how rs21’s coverage has compared to that of our alma mater.

  31. Ray B

    Wow! Such vitriol! Janet is right that condescension towards people who disagree with you, regardless of what they are saying, will just alienate them and others who read it. Which is why I mentioned the meme. Also, characterising opposing views as “bad faith” is equally pointless because anyone with an enquiring mind will see straight through that accusation for the misdirection that it is.

    Rob, Tithi’s article is called “What is social reproduction theory” and it is published in RS21’s theory section so please don’t tell me I’m raising a red herring by referring to it. It starts off with a generalisation about the left which is false. You try to defend this by arguing about the specifics of her comment after the fact which is particularly disingenuous as Tithi’s generalisations have already done their damage. This is at the heart of my criticisms about the way RS21 conducts its debates. Generalisations are made opening up the possibility of all kinds of false conclusions that serve to obscure and misdirect the debate. Hence my comment about how Tithi’s references to the so-called “productive” value (highly debatable figures by the way) of domestic labour opens up a debate about this subject that you seem determined to dismiss. I made a point of saying she doesn’t advocate wages for housework but nonetheless that debate is part of the historical development of social reproduction theory and continues to persist on the left.

    This brings me to Estelle’s article which starts off with a potted history of social reproduction theory which addresses the very issue I raised about wages for housework which you claim is irrelevant to this debate. I could turn around and use the endlessly regurgitated (by yourselves and others who try to make a virtue out of the new) statement of the obvious that these ideas return in new forms and need to be debated as a justification of Orr’s discussion abut this subject at the meeting. Much of what Estelle writes here has been discussed elsewhere in the ISJ and at Marxism (not to mention by others on the left) so my question to you Rob is what actually distinguishes your theories from those that the SWP has long held? If your argument is that the SWP does not treat so-called “social” struggles seriously then that is utter nonsense. Where ever possible comrades in the SWP and other rev left organisations try to link struggles and develop unity among activists. Of course, it is entirely your right to argue that the SWP is ineffective at doing this but don’t invent a narrative that misrepresents our (and other rev left organisations) strategy while at the same time claiming to have reinvented the wheel. I refer again to Lindsey Germans response to Abbie Bakan and Sharon Smith on this very issue.

    http://links.org.au/node/3452

  32. Janet

    Just one extra point. The link given is a report after the demonstration and my view is that RS21 were hostile prior to it and appear to have been correct in adjusting its position. I thought I had read somewhere by the RS21 that the demo was called to give the SWP something to do when in fact it was called I think by anti racists in Greece. Its that sort of approach which really turns me away from the organisation. Now if I am wrong that that was not said then apologies given.
    Lastly on the issue that reports are towards those disputes RS21 are involved with and example cited is theRitzy strike and Lambeth college. I think Socialist Worker has been good in its coverage and also building practical soliarity particualrly donations and collections and getting strikers to visit other areas and meet up with trade unionists in these two strikes etc. It also tends to say that if a strike happens in a certain part of South London then RS21 will report on it but if its outside the capital forget it. I am wondering why RS21 didnt pay much attention to the JULY 10th strike given we all knew it would involve around 1 million workers and open up a potential for further strikes and add an edge to the TUC demo etc. It tends to suggest that RS21 has a dislike for the public sector workforce or sees it as somehow cushioned against austerity and indeed this was the view of some who are in RS21 when I saw some of the debates last year most notably Dave Renton. I think any organsiation which takes this view which of course dovetails with the right is not an attractive option to me. I would be interested in your views to why this mass strike was ignored and if you think there are any lessons to be learnt from it…guess that was more than one extra point!!

  33. Amy Gilligan

    Janet, if you look at the industrial coverage on the rs21 site (http://rs21.org.uk/category/news-2/industrial/) you’ll see that we’ve covered a range of both public and private disputes from around the country (and internationally). If you look at the first edition of our magazine, you’ll see that ‘Work’ is the leading theme – we have probably the most indepth report of the SOAS fractionals (public sector) dispute that has been published (a dispute that is seeing one of the leading militants involved being victimised), a discussion of bulling in FE (public sector), a letter from a worker in the NHS (public sector), a review of the book on the Chicago Teachers strike (public sector). At the same time we’re also trying to understand how workers across both the public and private sector can fight back. Many of us also work in the public sector and it wrong to suggest that rs21 has a dislike for the public sector workforce. Yes, I agree we probably should have had more coverage in the run up to the July 10th strike – we’re still a relatively new organisation and are still learning about how to do things. However, we did spend significant time pulling together a collectively written leaflet (https://rs21testblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/strike-bullet-10714-hi-res.pdf) to give out on the day and did post a few items in advance of the strike. Everything we’ve done so far as an organsiation is dependent on people voluenteering their time (in most cases on top of working full time) and while this means we can’t necessarily do everything that other organisations can do, I’m very proud of what we’ve managed to do in the last 7 months.

  34. Janet

    Hi Amy
    I guess my point is not how hard rs21 members work but the politics around the July 10th. THe absence of any real discussion of what we all knew was going to be a big strike was to me at least very stark. I wont labour the point and we should agree to disagree which is fine. It just seemed to indicate an ambivulence towards a major section of the working class and possibly based on a view articulated by RS21 member David Renton that public sector workers are priveledged and that socailists shown absain from fighting within its Unions. If that is not a view thats shared by others in the organisation I think it would reasure people like myself who are interested but yet not convinced about the organisation. I am worried that the actual practice of RS21 indicates that the Renton view is in effect the dominant one even if not expressed in such a sharp form. I appreciate that the organisation produced a leaflet but is that enough? Its a bit of a outside propogandist feel to me if the organisation hasnt been part of the movement and debates leading up to the strike. To be fair to Socialist Worker they were covering the build up for many months ahead and putting forward the arguements I felt in a good and concise way.

  35. Janet

    Bat 010 thanks for that . I thought I had read that RS21 had claimed that the SWP called the protest to have something to do and if thats not the case then fair enough.

  36. Rob Owen

    Ray,
    It’s hard to work out if you are “trolling” or just unable to understand the basics of the argument. You argued social reproduction theory raises the argument of wages for house work. Estelle’s article (the one LINKED that you continually referred to as a different article) explains in detail how the opposite of this is in fact true. In other words your entire argument is based on an assumption which is demonstrably false. The argument about wages for house work was a small campaign in the 70’s which all the main figures in now say was wrong – it is a historic argument which has nothing to do with social reproduction theory. Social Reproduction Theory.

    To give a really simple example: Ray is angry that some people in the 70’s said the sky is green. Lise starts to write on a theory (rooted in Marx’s capital) which explains why this is false and develops an account of why the sky turns from blue to red at night. Ray says that by saying this proves the sky is not green she is really raising the prospect of the sky being green again. Estelle and Tithi then start to write on Lise’s ideas seeing if they explain why the sky is darker today. Ray then points to every reference saying that the sky is not green as evidence of his case. He says by taking about the colour of the sky they are making concession to those who (30 years ago) said the sky was green.

    It is bad political training to assert strongly a line of something and then when it is proved to be false to just keep asserting it. It is fine to say “I might be wrong about this I’ll have to go check it out”.

    Similarly on Tithi’s introduction – what she says is clearly true and would be completely uncontroversial in any normal setting. To say the left has an uneven record on women’s oppression is evidenced by a lot of research. It also (despite what you assert) makes no reference to the SWP:
    “Short of actual harassment, women have recounted feeling dismissed, undermined and institutionally written off within organizations. Voices of women activists such as the Indian Communist women involved in the historic Telengana struggle of 1947, British Communists such as Doris Lessing, or Peggy Dennis, a leading member of the U.S. Communist Party, tell a dispiriting story of sexism and disappointment in organizations that such women had seen as their life’s work and source of hope.”
    The truth is you are sensitive over this because you know that the SWP’s own record on questions of women’s oppression is in the mud.

    Janet,
    The fact that this is the only article in over 360 that even mentions in passing the SWP rather undermines your case. As does the fact that rs21 turned out in large numbers to the anti-fascist demo you speak of and launched our print 8 pager for on oppression on it. On July 10th the idea that people outside the SWP dismiss the strikes is a comforting but baseless argument from SWP members. We produced materials, organised where we could and reported widely on the day. In advanced we produced an article explaining why it was important and the dynamics of it. We also produced the graphic that large numbers of SWP members used as their FB profile pictures. Also our extensive coverage of the construction disputes, SOAS fractionals, Ritzy and Lambeth college strikes was more extensive then SW (with the exception of the Lambeth College). If you look through the rs21 NUT 4 pagers you will see that we have discussed the development of J10 for some time. Similarly we are part of the movement in other unions as well, including figures like Sue Bond in PCS in quite important positions.

    Also if you read what Dave Renton actually wrote (in a two sentence comment in a larger article over a year ago) this isn’t even what he as an individual said. One of the things I found most frustrating in my last year in the SWP were the continuing, factually incorrect rumours like this constantly reinforced by leading members at national events. He actually said that poorly paid workers in the private sector wouldn’t automatically identify their position in society as the same as that of a teacher or graduate profession. Again not a hugely controversial statement – one that questioned if the SWP was over generalizing from the experience of university educated public sector workers to explain class experience. I say this as a university educated teacher in an academy. Our focus as rs21 (analysis wise) in this area has been looking at the experience of, resistance to and organisation at work. I’d say the issue with the SWP is that it doesn’t really try to work out what commonalities there are in peoples work place experience today that we could develop collective resistance around. This does in part reflect the SWP cadre’s position as generally more expereinced workers (often with facility time)as Dave suggests. I’d argue more importantly it reflects a resistance to think through what might have changed for fear of destabalising a somewhat fragile organizational coherence in the SWP.

    “Dove tails with the right” is a really crass form of argument. The SWP and UKIP both oppose the EU (for different reasons) – is this the SWP dovetailing with UKIP? How you raise politics to develop ideas and resistance is what matters. I’d argue that our work around the Ritzy, SOAS fractionals, construction disputes and J10 runs exactly counter to those arguing class is irrelevant. The actual issue is why (despite its solidarity work) the SWP is unable to analyze how changes have impacted upon resistance since the downturn.
    As to the rs21 commenters on this post. Everyone is a response to a comment by a nonmember. Seeing as most of those comments are by SWP members the question could be turned around. I’d ask three directly:
    1) Why did Alex feel the need to write his ISJ piece shadow boxing with various ideas we have been engaging with?
    2) Why was this spirit of anonymised shadow boxing continued with the main meeting on the Saturday at Marxism?
    3) Why, if you want to engage in politics, was a review of Marxism the only article that attracted any comments from your members?

  37. R Burrett (@RBU81)

    Other people have dealt with social reproduction theory – I’ll add that given Alex C has said Vogel is entirely consistent with Marxism I think Ray needs to check his line (or at least read the book and the articles). This kneejerk reaction means developing our understanding of the world is quite difficult in the SWP.
    I want to return to the question of the July 10 strikes. Once the silly points have been shot down (rs21/ISN are hostile to public sector workers, we think they are privileged, they did not take the strikes seriously) I think there is a serious debate to be had about what can help them win.
    I believe there should have been an extended debate about the nature of the 2012 pension defeats, their impact, and the role relationship between political and economic struggle. What happened to the ‘hot autumn’? Was the defeat of the pensions strike on par with the miners (as some CC members said it was)?
    This debate never happened, or if it did, was refracted and distorted through a faction fight on how well the SWP dealt with rape and sexual harassment allegations. This is why we hear some of the silly things said above – and, to be fair, I have said things on facebook debates and elsewhere that I would not defend.
    I liked SW’s headline on July 10 – “escalate to win!” – but it raised more questions than answers. What are the tools by which we can create escalation? Since 2010, neither the broad lefts in any of the unions or rank and files have *not* being getting noticeably stronger. Neither have the rank and file of unions. When I was in the SWP, I felt like the one days were a labour of sisyphus – up and down the same bloody hill. This is fine, I am prepared to be persistent…but there was no measure or instruction of how, next time, we’d be in a better position to push for escalation.
    I only think escalation in the public sector is going to be possible if strike action is taking place at the same time as much wider political movement against austerity. To escalate, we need people beyond the reach of networks of reps in the left to be arguing basic anti-austerity politics with their workmates and organising. These networks (such as UTR) help deliver yes votes in certain areas, get lefties elected onto NECs…but can not deliver escalation. Its all very well saying struggle creates organisation – but I don’t think this is automatic.
    I think we were badly served by the legacy of the split between the SWP and Counterfire. One side said the key link is public sector workers. One side said it was political struggle (of a kind similar to stop the war). One now looks thoroughly movementist, the other looks thoroughly workerist. I don’t think either answers the questions raised by SW’s headline- how do we escalate action? Under what circumstances is this possible?

  38. Ray B

    Rob, you and other members of RS21 seem to want to characterise any disagreement with your views as “trolling” or offered in “bad faith” but in actual fact I am responding to the claim that Orr was wrong to discuss wages for housework in relation to social reproduction theory. You acknowledge that this was part of a historical discussion but refuse to accept that it is part of a contemporary debate among the left and especially among certain activists who might not even identify as part of the left but who are interested in and influenced by these ideas. I thought the strategy of reaching out to those outside the far left was one that you make a virtue of when criticising the SWP?

    Marxism is an event that attracts activists from various traditions or none at all. It has young and old, new members and non members. So it is entirely correct that a meeting on social reproduction is not aimed at a small coterie of SWP/RS21 members who have pawed over all the often long winded and repetitive academic texts on this subject but aimed at a wider audience some of whom have not heard of or even been involved in these debates before. There are plenty of specialist meetings on this subject at, for example, Historical Materialism. Maybe that is the level of theoretical debate you are seeking in your members but you have still not explained what it is I am supposed to have misunderstood – and that is the point of difference you have with the SWP over social reproduction theory? If Estelle’s article was meant to illuminate me about this then it sadly failed in that capacity interesting though it was.

  39. Another James

    An irony that I enjoy about this discussion is that SWP members are relishing the opportunity to post comments and ‘debate’ (I use the word loosely) on another socialist group’s website. Will we be able to contribute comments to all the important articles on Socialist Worker and Socialist Review soon comrades? I hope so, I for one am chomping at the bit to join in the discussions on important issues such as whether I can print my way to freedom.
    Enjoy the dark-side comrades, very bold of you before Conference has even approved the necessarily protocol for internet conduct. I won’t tell the professor, promise.

  40. R Burrett (@RBU81)

    @tim Cheers for the response. I think the PA is very mixed – atrocious behaviour has undoubtedly been committed in its name. Where I live in Tower Hamlets, last year, Counterfire, Unite and the SWP managed to bring the very very worse out of each other in one meeting, setting the PA back by one whole year.
    Having said that, there is enough in it to be of use between now and the election – and I would contest the your general characterisation as: 1. The better, genuinly functioning and rooted local cuts groups are the ones most associated with it (see Barnet) 2. It has an internal democratic life that contests the whims of unite and CF 3. There has been very little centralised line controlling (if anything, a bit more would have disciplined the bad behaviour I saw in TH).
    What use is it? After the October demo, the Lab party and the TUC are gonna tell Len to wind his neck in. The PA will be useful in not winding down that resistance, and if it fails to do so, will be full of people who want to know why it could not.
    At a broader level, I only think we are going to be able to escalate beyond one dayers if there is a rise in political struggle. I see nothing better than the PA for that ATM. This is hardly a ringing endorsement – I’d prefer a British indignados – but we can only play the hand we are given,
    On a personal level, leafleting for the last demo sharpened me up no end for work after several months of not partaking in street agitation. The country is skint! You are right – I am voting UKIP! It was useful tackling these questions.

  41. Sparky

    The Alex Callinicos meeting “The Crisis of the Revolutionary Left” saw him correctly criticise individuals from the revolutionary left tradition for becoming cheer leaders for union bureaucrats such as McCluskey (UNITE). He expressed shock at this though.
    He should not be surprised, as the SWP no longer takes a clear line on the trade union bureaucracy. If there is not an analysis on their role, then obviously some will come to the conclusion that maybe the way forward is to be completely uncritical of such union officials.
    A new SW pamphlet on the miners strike 84-85 fails to chart the record of Arthur Scargill. Though it mentions Saltley Gates when 20,000 Birmingham engineers struck in solidarity in 1972 to force the closure of the works and the victory of the the miners, it does not mention they were pulled out by Scargill demanding solidarity when he was a rank and file militant. It also fails to mention that while he fought hard as the NUM leader in 84-85 he refused to criticise the role of other trade union leaders and the TUC.
    The reason these standard Tony Cliff arguments are “forgotten” is these facts don’t fit with the current line that the Trade Union Bureaucracy want to fight, but just lack confidence. Throughout the history of the movement in this country the bureaucracy has always, as reformists, been reluctant to fight when Capitalism is in crisis.
    Cliff understood that when trade union leaders do take the struggle forward, they are acting to attempt to keep control of the rank and file of the unions.
    In 1974 the miners brought down the Tory government, the NUM right wing leader at the time was a police spy called Joe Gormley. The most important task is always building the rank and file in the workplace, not winning elections or attempting to act as a ginger group for left union leaders.

  42. rs21

    We have deleted a number of comments after the thread became dominated by personal abuse. While rs21.org.uk is open to comment on all its articles we would ask members of other organisations to refrain from using comments in such a manner.

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