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The Struggle for Socialism Today

A reply to the politics of the Socialist Workers Party

A New Period

The decade of the 1990s has been a difficult period for the genuine forces of Marxism. The collapse of Stalinism, the shift to the right of the former workers’ parties, the decline of strikes, the emptying out of the trade union structures and the general throwback of consciousness as the working class have bent a little under the weight of the ideological offensive by the ruling class — all this has made the task of building Marxist organisations considerably harder.

Revolutionaries base themselves on the working class and are not immune from the pressures which come to bear on the class. It is inevitable that a downturn in struggle and a lowering in class consciousness will take a certain toll on the forces of Marxism. On the other hand, such periods, like the period of reaction in Russia after 1905 in Russia, play their part in sharpening ideas and in hardening revolutionary forces which endure them and in this way assist in the preparation for future battles.

Such periods always tend to produce peculiar ideas and to throw u strange political formations. The SWP hailed the 1990s as a period of advance, ushered in by the "positive" developments in Russia and Eastern Europe. As working class organisations shifted to the right and as the working class generally drew back from struggle, the SWP rounded on left "pessimists" and sounded the call to charge.

Where the working class draw back from struggle, but the ruling class offensive against living standards and working conditions continues, a certain space for ultra-leftism can open up. The SWP, by defying the downward gravitational pull of the class struggle was able to step into the space and grow for a period in the early 1990s. Completely unconnected to the real tempo of the class struggle, the frenzied sectarianism and the reliance on "activism" at the expense of ideas meant it could recruit, especially among students.

A new period is now opening. The economic crisis in Asia, Russia and Brazil will spread to the rest of the capitalist world. The working class and the youth will once again take to the road of struggle. They will do so with the effects of the collapse of Stalinism diminishing, and with the failure of capitalism an everyday reality. Trade union activity will increase and the working class will attempt to rebuild for itself a political voice.

It is characteristic of sectarian groups that they will try to substitute themselves for the real organisations and real movements of the working class by puffing themselves up so as to appear more important than they really are. It is one thing to do this at a time when the class struggle is at a low ebb, when the trade union branches are empty, and when the old mass workers’ parties have crossed the class lines. Even then, the exaggerated profile which the sectarian tries to project presents a ridiculous spectacle.

It is another matter, altogether, to try to do it in the face of real mass movements of the working class. Small sectarian organisations which continue to puff themselves up to try to become visible will simply explode at a certain point. To intervene in the real movements of workers requires a sense of proportion, an acceptance that revolutionary ideas are held only by a minority at the outset and that frantic efforts to make it appear that this is not so will only repel workers. Intervention means an ability to participate in the class struggle alongside workers, to have answers to the most detailed questions of tactics and strategy and not just general prescriptions. It means being able to know when to go forward and when to advise workers to retreat. It means falling in line with the tempo and rhythm of the class struggle, not the tempo set within some sectarian cocoon.

Everything we have described of the work of the SWP shows that this is all a closed book to your party. It is never too late to learn, but the current indications are that the quickening beat of the class struggle and the emergence of real forces on the left will only draw from the SWP an even more frantic "in your face" approach. It is now only possible to defy the laws of political gravity for so long. At some point it will become clear that producing more placards and shouting louder than anyone else is no substitute for reality. The emergence of real struggles of the working class will leave the SWP behind. In all likelihood the failure of the sectarian "sell papers and recruit" strategy will tilt the SWP organisation more fully into the camp of opportunism.

For Marxists, the new period we are entering will provide enormous opportunities. It will become possible to sink real roots, establish a solid base of support among the working class and to grow. On the basis of huge events and of the experience and failure of reformism and left reformism, the most combative sections of the working class can be won to Marxism. In turn, the way can be opened to reach the broader layers of the class.

SWP members need to draw the appropriate conclusions. Either they will succeed in breaking their party from sectarianism and opportunism or else, the energy and effort they are now putting into revolutionary politics will be wasted, even counterproductive.


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