Thursday, July 06, 2006

The rise and rise of the SWP bloggers

Given the almost total absence of SWP members on e-mail discussion lists it is an interesting development that there are a few SWP blogs out there. For example; Lenin’s Tomb, Through the Scary Door, Respect blogspot, Dead Man Left and Adventures in Historical Materialism. (apologies to anyone who feels they have been wrongly included or omitted from the list). They are generally of high quality, Lenin’s Tomb is the best and even seems to have semi-official patronage but Through the Scary Door is …. … well, make your own mind up!

So why is there no SWP discussion list, like the successful ones run by
Green Left Weekly or the Labor Party of Pakistan. Certainly the UK Left network can be a badger-pit, but even there sometimes useful discussion occurs – and the Australian and Pakistani comrades show that it is completely possible to run a civilised discussion list. The SWP doesn’t even run an internal list for debate among members.

Going back to 1995, there was once an
IS list. But the central Committee of the SWP issued a prohibition of SWP members using the list after someone posted onto it a shallow critique of the SWP by disgruntled former members. The reasons given at the time were:

i) “Access to the internet, as to any technology, is highly unequal, and conditioned by the bosses' domination of the economy and the state. …. [Internet discussion is] irresponsible gossip by a self-selected and relatively privileged clique” Whether or not this had any substance in 1995, it is clearly less the case now. The pwer of the Internet as a progressive tool can be seen for example by the first class African web-site,
Pambazuka, that has 60000 weekly subscribers.

ii) “Hostile left organisations can … easily penetrate the list and take part in discussions that do not concern them.” All organisations have a right to private debate, but this does not explain the reluctance of SWP members to participate in an open discussion list like that run by Green Left Weekly. The paradigm of the Healy/Grant/Cliff organisations was to provide a self referential closed world where the only information came from official party organs. The Internet has blown that apart, as shown by this weeks copy of
Weekly Worker where some difficulties of Tower Hamlets’ Respect are reported.

iii) “Internet users are, in general, concentrated in universities and in upper-echelon white-collar jobs. Consequently discussions take place on the IS-List from which most comrades are excluded. Debate [should] take place through the party branches and at national meetings and conferences, where all comrades can participate directly or through their elected delegates.” The question of accountability is of course an interesting one, with many SWP members hiding behind ridiculous aliases on blogs, like Morbo, and Rooben. had this argument been valid in 1995, it would still be valid. Indeed the status of the blogs as publications is interesting, because in years gone by members of the SWP have been expelled for starting publications without the permission of the Central Committee (back in the days of ink and paper).

One of the often heard criticisms of the SWP is that there is no debate. I have
argued before that this is a self-serving and generally inaccurate criticism. The emergence of highly successful SWP blogs is in sharp contrast to the fact that the British “kiss and tell sect” the CPGB, who publish the Weekly Worker, and who continually bang on about the SWP’s lack of democracy and debate, do not themselves go anywhere near the blogosphere, and seem to avoid forums for open debate where they lack editorial control.

And yes it does raise questions of accountability. Is “Lenin’s Tomb” an SWP publication? Do Lenin or Meaders speak for the SWP? For example this week “Lenin” renounced in the
comments of Dave Osler’s blog the fundamental principles of the Marxist method, arguing that the dialectic only operates at the level of ideology:
I'm not totally unsympathetic to the idea that a 'dialectical' method could be applied to political economy and that this is in fact what historical materialism involves, but if this is true it … is one in which history is understood as accessible only through language and the dialectical method is one in which a processual perspective is emphasised, and in which bourgeois categories are deconstructed.”

Now I don’t agree with “Lenin” because this seems to mean we would have to reject Marx’s capital. But it is excellent that SWP members are opening up and being prepared to debate. The next step is for the Party to open a discussion list, and for leading members of the SWP to be prepared to debate with others, and without comrades hiding behind silly aliases.


D.B. said...

Good post, but I'm inclined to disagree about the question of aliases and accountability. I don't think bloggers should necessarily be obliged to declare their identity or their party political interests (if that's what you mean). Maybe it makes for healthier debate and less party-political/sectarian slanging matches. Or maybe they're only free to publish what they want because they're anonymous and therefore aren't running the risk of being shut down or expelled.

I don't know - I'm a relative newcomer to "far-left" politics and I'm only slowly coming to terms with the astonishing amount of petty sectarian squabling. At first it was funny, but the novelty is wearing off. Jesus, I'm not sure I can handle the frustration of it all. (It makes me think I'm better off contributing to single campaigns as an individual activist rather than joining any party.) But what I like about blogs like Lenin's Tomb is the constant availability of analysis. Maybe it's naivety or inexperience on my part, but I honestly don't care which party it's aligned with. I'm just glad the daily Left-wing analysis is there. If only we had a popular press like that...

AN said...

Thanks for the kind words about the post Dave.
I am not sure I am right about the alias thingie, but it sometimes annoys me that people can post opinions on a blog and hide behind the alias, and then say something quite dfferent elsewhere, so there is no traceability.

For example the Scary Door bloggers i find really shrill and self satsfied, and if that is their real personallity, I would feel a bot betrayed if they were tlaiking to me ina friendly way in some other context.

but i dunno, maybe that is just art of the blog culture and I am showing my grumpy old man side.

D.B. said...

Cheers AN. Actually, I think you've certainly got point ... I suppose it can be very annoying when people are two-faced about what they write and later say. But you're probably right about it just being the nature of blog culture ... there are bound to some pitfalls. I suppose we've got to take the rough with the smooth as far as the technology and its possibilities are concerned.

Anyway, thanks again. As I've said before, I think Socialist Unity Blog is an excellent resource. Keep up the good work folks!

AN said...

Dave - when you say I have a point, is that referring to me being a grumpy old man?

By the way, I didn't notice you in the later sessions of the Socialist resistace latin America school, did you stay for the whole event?

D.B. said...

Ah, I think you've got the wrong "dave" ... I didn't attend the Socialist resistace latin America school. A case of mistaken identity. I'm new around here and I can't say I know any other bloggers personally. I'm therefore not really qualified to comment on whether you're a grumpy old man, but you don't come across as one on the blog, so I'm sure it's not the case!

AN said...

sorry - wrong person

giving further power to my theory that aliases don't help!

Martin Wisse said...

The SWP is very democratic centralist in its embrace of new technology: "we write, you read" rather than more freewheeling discussion lists.

In my experience, there's also a healthy distrust of too much discussing for the sake of discussing amongst the SWP's cadre. The party wants people doing things, not so much spending time discussing things.

There are also two migating reasons for not having open discussion lists at least:

1) the SWP, as the largest socialist grouping in Britain draws a lot of flack from sectarianists and common trolls in any forum; a SWP run e-mail list could easily bug down in SWP is evil!!1 threads
2) The SWP doesn't really need to advertise themselves through their publications as much as a group like the CPGB, whose only influence is through these sort of discussion groups and freely available publications.

AN said...

Those are good rasons martin.

But as James p cannon said, people usuallly have two types of reasons for what they do.
i) the good reasons, and
ii) the real reasons.

The DSP has excatly the same issues with being the largest group in Oz, and their list is largely free from trolling and stupid "you are crap threads"

It is also refreshsing that their leading members contribute and don't try to create a mystique of alpha male remoteness.

Anonymous said...

The SWP is not democratic, centralist decisons are made in a way that does not involve detabe amoung the regular activists, these are the paper sellers etc. Any dissenting voices are given the cold shoulder, blank stares etc, and eventually leave politcs which is a shame, or stick with it and become non-active memebers who will reluctantly sell you a few papers, and who get involved in non-swp inspired events.
It has to be admitted that there are a few sects out there; the CPGB is not a sect despite what SWP says, the reason for the hostility of the SWP towardsn the CPGB is that the CPGB does the self-introspection that is totally lacking amoung SWP leadersphip. If the SWP looked in a mirror they would see a horrorshow.

AN said...

In what way is the CPGB not a sect?

They often play a very negative and disruptive role.

AN said...

and unlike the SWP, the CPGB really could all gather round one mirror!

Anonymous said...

'and unlike the SWP, the CPGB really could all gather round one mirror!'


Take the current edition of Weekly Worker, ie the 'Chaos in Tower Hamlets' cover. This is the truth of what was said at the meeting, and it cannot be denied.
At the Marxism 2006 conference, the forum on Respect with Rees and Galloway; Sean Doherty stood up to speak and said, 'Now we are in electoral politics, all our moves are open to scrutiny', or something along those lines. The point is that, CPGB in reporting meetings, who said what, where, when etc is exposing the contradictions of SWP.

Only the vain like looking in mirrors, as we get older it becomes more difficult.

AN said...

There is a slightly less melodramatic version on Liam's blog:

but yes I am sure ther WW's report is substantially accurate. However the CPGB's critique of the SWP is shallow and self serving.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link.
First thing to address your 'shallow and self serving', there is no universal meaning of this, it depends on your politics, perspective etc. As Marxists we have to be more scientific in the analysis. What is it that is particularly shallow and self serving, give a few examples and say why.

morbo said...

Great stuff from scary door.

morbo said...

"But it is excellent that SWP members are opening up and being prepared to debate."

Come off it, we want to avoid it at all costs

morbo said...

"and without comrades hiding behind silly aliases."

Duh. Meaders used his real name for ages before changing it because some troll was running about with it, Lenin's name is easily found in his 'about me' section and my name is David Marsh, I don't really consider putting it all over the internet, because... no one really knows who I am. So why bother, huh?

Roobin's concerned about security, so duh.

AN said...

I find it hard to debate with someone so unconfident of their point of veiw that the want to be anonymous, but ...

Why is the CPGB's analysis of the SWP shallow, well perhaps beacsue the CPGB know jack-shit about theworking of the SWP, the politics of the SWP and the mondset of the SWP cadre. my evidence fot this? Well everything the WW writes about the SWP. It is titillating as gossm, but has no substance.

And why would the hungry for members and influence, underacheiving CPGB want to attack their much more succesful rival the SWP? Self serving - go figure.

And Hi David (Morbo). nice to have you move here, I dunno perhaps I am just old, but i find it reassuring to know that you are a real person and not a green monster from outer space.

AN said...

back from pub - ytping worse than usual:
mondset = mindset
fot - for
gossm = gossip

Left Luddite said...

Drink and green monsters..

As for the SWP being successful, how any members do they have for example, acrive,non-active, there are more ex SPW'ers out of it than in.

AN said...


I think they are claiming 7500 now, but i think that is far fethced, and my experience of the SWP's memeber shiop lists is that they are a bit unrelaible.

I would say 1500, perhaps 1000.

morbo said...

We have 283109470237408927432708932740859749328759328475908327589237589327598327589327597329857328957328957 active members

Theft is good said...

There's a new one in twon