Russell Brand v Jeremy Paxman on “revolution” plus bureaucratic centralism of the SWP (but not the Socialist Party)

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The following is a letter I am sending to the Weekly Worker, the newspaper of the CPGB (PCC). Although they have edited my letters, generally quite considerably, sometimes to fit their own agenda rather than for reasons of space or clarity, they have never distorted the meaning of them. This one is much longer than my usual letters, however, partly because there are important tangential points to make and because it’s also intended for this blog, so I certainly don’t mind them editing it quite severely!

The CPGB’s Mark Fischer and I went to the session on “What is the role and relevance of a revolutionary party today?” at Socialism 2013, an educational event organised by the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SP), on Saturday. I thought the title quite remarkable for an organisation that has generally shied away from the word “revolution”, but times have changed – if even the middle class comedian Russell Brand can talk about it in the pages of the New Statesman and on Newsnight where he brilliantly and wittily outwitted Jeremy Paxman, then obviously the Socialist Party has to too. Indeed, the current issue of their newspaper The Socialist at the event had a review of the Brand-Paxman debate (which now has nearly 9 million views on YouTube). It was particularly positive that the person speaking on the subject was the editor of The Socialist, Sarah Sachs-Eldridge.

Mark said some positive things about the SP, but accused it of operating on the basis of “bureaucratic centralism” rather than “democratic centralism” (which is how the SP claims it operates – a lot of democracy making decisions with a central leadership providing direction and the party intervening “as one” in campaigns/other organisations). I agree with many of the points made in various articles made in the pages of the Weekly Worker over the years about a large democratic deficit in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), entailing much more centralism than democracy, the bureaucracy on their central committee having too much power, and restricted rights for individual members and factions – and consequently “bureaucratic centralism” is a fair term for that organisation. This is a major reason, on top of the terrible handling of the allegations of rape by their former national secretary Martin Smith (Comrade Delta), for a split earlier in the year (to form the International Socialist Network) and the probable expulsion of another faction (Rebuilding the Party) after the SWP’s next conference in December. The first split is already involved in Left Unity (LU) and it seems to me, as a rank-and-file LU member, to be almost inevitable that the new faction will join LU too after its expulsion from the SWP.

I must disagree with Mark’s assertion that the SP operates in much the same way, based on my experience in that party (and its forerunners, the Militant Tendency and Militant Labour) from 1990-98.

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