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.