Following the recent success of the BBC's “Life on Mars” it would be nice to think that a sequel could be made where by a leading member of today’s SWP is sent back to 1973.
Of course, due to the curious structure of the SWP, and its self perpetuating leadership, most of them were members of the International Socialists (IS) in 1973, or very shortly afterwards, so she may have the shock of meeting her younger self.
She would be able to explain to the IS, that the role of Rank and File papers is to develop a cosy relationship with members of the national executive of the union, and fudge clear positions of principle if that relationship is in danger. So last year (2006 not 1972!) Post Worker (PDF) took no position on the vital vote over “Shaping the Future”, which was an attack on working conditions and staffing levels as a prelude to privatisation. Instead of a clear recommendation for a NO vote, Post Worker published a “debate”, with NEC members Norman Candy and John Farnan in favour of acceptance. Our time traveller can explain to the IS that when faced with a make or break vote on a Union NEC, it is not mandatory for your delegate to actually turn up and vote. (SWP member Jane Loftus was absent from the crucial UCW NEC debate and vote on “Shaping the Future” – for reasons not explained.)
Some relationships may be a little strained of course. The time traveller would meet among the IS’s leadership, Roger Rosewell, who later scabbed by informing BL management of the identities of 13 IMG members in Cowley plant, and became a far right adviser to Dame Shirley Porter. Of course all left groups can suffer from former members moving to the right, but Rosewell's flakiness was commented upon at the time, but his factional loyalty to Cliff protected him.
She would also meet the genuine working class hero, Harry Wicks, who had been a founder member of the CPGB, and she would know that within two years the IS would expel Wicks, along with most of the group’s industrial militants.
She would of course have to keep to herself their future knowledge that Provisional Sinn Fein would grovel on their knees to join a coalition government with Ian Paisley, and be prepared to abandon all their political principles for the honour. Saying that in 1973 would probably have been enough to see her certified, but even more bizarre would be the idea that in the very Stormont election where Sinn Fein capitulated over every issue, that Eamonn McCann would write (PDF) that the story of the election was an SWP comrade getting a 2% vote: “Sean’s success in finishing ahead of long established parties like Alliance and the Workers’ Party was widely regarded as the performance of the election.”. Surely no-one in 1973 would believe that Socialist Worker would intervene in a Stormont election without mentioning the role of British imperialism in Ireland.
There may be some embarrassment for our time travelling comrade when she hears IS members criticising the IMG for looking for agencies of revolutionary change other than the working class. She will of course argue that the IS are wrong, and explain that Muslims are an inherently anti-imperialist force. Indeed in 1973 she could even start a platform within the IS to argue this.
(There is by the way no sub-text or inuendo behind the picture., except the Sweeney are so 1970s)