Lots of people on the left love to hate the SWP. Before I was even active in politics I had this vague idea that it was acceptable to deride them. I didn't know why then and I'm still not entirely sure now.
There is an idea that the SWP try to take over other campaigns such as Stop the War. To think this is to misunderstand the way the SWP operate within the the united front. In a campaign such as Stop the War, it is in everyones interest that we build the strongest opposition to war. Of course the SWP believes its ideas about the correct tactics and strategy for the movement are the best and argues them strongly within the campaign. If they win the arguments it is because they were good arguments and they managed to sway other people.
Another complaint is that SWP members are all uncritical automatons that carry out the demands of an authoritarian leadership. To think this is to misunderstand the concept of democratic centralism. This idea comes from the Bolshevik Party who understood that to combat and undermine a highly organised state a revolutionary party needed a highly organised and disciplined membership to carry out the revolutionary strategy as one. In practice this means that members discuss ideas democratically but once a decision had been made, party discipline requires adherence to the strategy. So before meetings of a campaign where decisions will be taken or people elected, the SWP caucus their members, decide on a position and all stick to it. In many ways this is little more than common sense. It is not about denying members individuality, but recognising that strength comes from unity.
So much of what is said about the SWP is just simply untrue.
It comes as no surprise that the right-wing tell lies and smear the left. This is a tactic that has been very successful in tarnishing the records of people like Arthur Scargill, George Galloway and to a lesser extent Ken Livingstone. There is a simple reason for this. The ruling class are scared of these people because they tell the truth. They expose the corrupt practices of politicians, CEOs of corporations and the contradictions within capitalism. It is perhaps more surprising however when the reformist, bourgeois or capitalist left uses smear tactics and lies about the revolutionary left, but perhaps it shouldn't be. The SWP and the success it has within the left is perhaps as much of a challenge to the reformists, opportunists and sectarians as the left in general is to the right. For this reason alone I believe it is absolutely right to say this is a left-right split.
And so I want to come on to the charge that the SWP has alienated people within Respect and has reduced the membership of Respect to itself and a small layer around it. It may be the case that a large proportion of the Respect membership are also in the SWP. But this is not due to the SWP 'alienating' people. This has more to do with the SWP both managing to recruit large numbers of people in Respect to the SWP and recruiting people directly to the SWP and therefore indirectly to Respect as well. It is true that the Respect membership is not as big as any of us would like but that is largely to do with the failure of Respect to win large sections of the Labour Party and trade unionists into our ranks. It is this challenge we should be focusing on, not finger-pointing and smear tactics. Indeed it is this challenge that many in Respect, including the SWP have been concentrating on and which Galloway and his supporters have been criticising, namely the Organising for Fighting Unions (OFFU) initiative.
It is surely hypocritical of Galloway et. al. to say that the SWP is a shadowy 'Leninist' party (another smear straight out of the right-wingers 'How To Smear the Left' guide book) that is controlling everything and should be blamed for all Respect's failures but it has absolutely nothing to do with any of Respect's successes.
Too many people are taking every grievance they have ever had about the SWP, conflating them with the current issues and writing them up into a spurious critique of how the SWP 'operates' (as if the SWP makes any secret of it). In many ways, the fact that the majority of the blogs and sectarian websites appear to be siding with Galloway against the SWP should give them some encouragement. For to be on the receiving end of smears and lies means you must be doing something right.
Of course what really matters in politics is not what people on the sidelines say, but what people centre stage do. I am sure that in the real world the SWP will have more people on 'its side' (ie not supporting Galloway and Renewal) than most people would imagine. But, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. In this case, this Saturday's Respect Annual Conference is the pudding; I along with over 300 others at the last count (the most ever at a Respect Annual Conference) will be doing the eating; and the cherry on the top will be an enthusiastic, determined and united Respect focused on the job of getting Lindsey German elected to the GLA next year. I'll let you know if it tastes sweet.