Friday, March 22, 2013

Obituary for the Socialist Workers Party

When I did my post-graduate work to earn my MA and PhD at SOAS from 2001-2004 the Socialist Workers Party had a constant low level presence around the various University of London campuses. It was a strange Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyite entity with its own cult of personality around Tony Cliff who founded the party.  Every summer they would sponsor a conference called Marxism that would have various speakers, musicians, and a big book sale. I once saw China Mieville give a talk on zombies and Lenin at one of these conferences, I believe it was Marxism 2003. Now I am told as a result of a rape scandal that the party has basically fallen apart and is in its death throes. Of course in terms of having any real effect on British politics the SWP was a complete non-entity. But, it did attract the support of a lot of geeky London undergrads who would probably have become libertarians in the US. Its role in providing an outlet for socially awkward youth seems to have been far greater than its actual intellectual or political influence in the UK. Nonetheless, despite my ideological differences with the communists in the SWP I have fond memories of arguing with their members over issues ranging from Lenin to Palestine to Chechnya. I don't know if the radical left in the UK or anywhere else in the English speaking world will be able to find a replacement for the SWP. It was in almost all aspects a completely anachronistic organization during the years I came in contact with it. After all 2001 was not 1917. So perhaps now the era of organized Marxist-Leninist politics in the English speaking world has finally come to a fitting end.

1 comment:

Walt Richmond said...

I went to a meeting of the "Young Socialist Alliance" in Phoenix when I was in college. There were four or five burnt out hippies sitting around. One introduced himself to me as being "from the 60s," as if it were a place you could visit, like the Ukraine. They voted on a few resolutions that no one would ever hear (or care) about, gave me a boycott Hormel bumper sticker which was so badly designed you couldn't tell if they were calling for a boycott of Hormel or a boycott of the boycott, and then all left to, I assume, go shoot heroin.