Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Resignation of Chris Bambery and the Bankruptcy of the 'Left'

Bambery played - and lost - the SWP factions game
Chris Bambery's letter of resignation from both the Socialist Workers Party central committee and the party itself is a condemnation of the factionalism and opportunism at the heart of the UK's leading 'left' group. But more than that, it shows up the bankruptcy of the reformist, pseudo-Trotskyist 'left' as a whole.

As he states in the letter, Bambery had been an SWP member for thirty-two years, since leaving the International Marxist Group. A very significant figure within the party, he'd served as a key organiser in Scotland, and editor of the flagship Socialist Worker paper from 2004 until recently. His departure leaves the cash-strapped SWP in chaos, following the recent exits of former central committee members John Rees and Lindsey German, and the 2009 death of Chris Harman. Of the 'big names' associated with the party, only Alex Callinicos now remains.

Bambery's letter describes factional battles which have "afflicted" the party for years, and "grip the leading group". According to Bambery, he was accused of playing "a 'filthy' and 'disgraceful' role in the party". In response to these "slanders", Bambery tendered his resignation.

The SWP is led by its central committee, which decides the policy direction for the party as a whole. In this respect, it is modelled on the theories of Vladimir Lenin, who emphasised the supposed need for such 'democratic centralism' in his 1902 pamphlet What Is To Be Done? Like Lenin, the party argues that this structure allows for rank-and-file concerns to be reflected in the decision-making body. However, since the leadership is elected rather than delegated, and not subject to recall, they are actually insulated from the membership, and the structure is hardly more democratic than that of the Labour Party.

The promotion of pet projects inevitably leads to central committee infighting, but so too does the entirely opportunistic character of the SWP. Instead of starting from core Marxist principles, it seeks to recruit members and Socialist Worker subscribers at any cost to its supposed 'socialism'. The party promotes its front groups as a way of vampirically sucking in members, and channelling their dissent into safe, controllable directions. Bambery's letter mentions Right To Work and Stop The War, but there have been countless others down the years, including the Respect Party and Globalise Resistance. Despite his protestations, Bambery plays this game too. Indeed last October he tried to get anarchists arrested when they turned up at 'his' Right To Work demo with a banner he didn't like.

Furthermore, despite its adoption of Lenin's dictatorial power structure and occasional references to revolution, the SWP is essentially a reformist party, tied to the union bureaucracy in innumerable ways, and refusing to seriously criticise union tops, whilst promoting illusions in the Labour Party at election time. But in this it is no different to the ex-Militant Socialist Party or the Alliance for Workers' Liberty - the other main 'Trotskyist' parties in the UK.

In the face of the ruling class cuts agenda, it is necessary for working people to form their own rank-and-file controlled organisations. Of course, factions would still exist within such organisations, but they'd be based on tactics rather than narrow individual interests. What's more - at a time when the financial aristocrats are refusing to give an inch - they would be inherently revolutionary.
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