The Split in the IS Tendency
I HAVE read only a limited number of documents on the split that are in the public domain and have talked with some members of the SWP. In any case, it may be thought that as an outsider I should not be putting my oar in. But here goes.
From my reading of the documents there is no real political disagreement. There is some difference of emphasis and perspective on the forthcoming period. Such a degree of disagreement should be easily contained within a national let alone an international tendency – for there are differences of mood and so forth in different countries. And it is not as if any one of the people concerned on either side is such a political genius – or at least that has to be demonstrated in the future.
As a result of the faction fight there are now serious organisational differences and there is a logic about this which has led to a split. But this is the logic of small-group organisational dynamics – it does not come about through the rhythms of class struggle. This split is frivolous and a disgraceful abdication of responsibility before the class.
What makes this whole thing even more ridiculous is that in Great Britain the SWP is behaving within the Socialist Alliance in the most commendable way in relation to other smaller groups, both in England and in Scotland. Sectarians, whether among the Scottish Stalinists, Scargill or some of the Socialist Party (ex-Militant), have increasingly exposed themselves before a large audience. That is the right way to deal with them. Give them enough rope... So the behaviour in relation to people here, who have much greater differences with the SWP, is far better than towards the ISO, where the differences are smaller, and the political/social environment is rather different. This is political schizophrenia.
It is clear that if half of what is in the documents is true, some people in the SWP have been playing silly buggers and manoeuvring in the worst kind of Fourth International way. The lack of any kind of formal international constitution and so on has made things worse, so that there is no mechanism for taking note and correcting things.
Everyone involved should take note of Trotsky's extreme reluctance to intervene when he did not fully know the circumstances.
From my limited knowledge of things here in the UK I would say that the SWP overestimates the "anti-capitalist" mood, though it may be there – in as yet a mild way. And, to be fair to the SWP, most of the splits from them in the past have evolved into even worse politics – that says something for the SWP leadership. Few of the would-be Lenins were as fly as Cliff.
Now, I have heard plenty of criticisms of the ISO – that they are terribly middle class, much more so than the present SWP, though that may not be their fault. It is also said that they get recruits where they can. That they are a bit opportunist and jump from issue to issue too readily, though in that case they are probably copying their SWP mentors. Finally, that they are a bit triumphalist, though that too was often said of the SWP in the past.
I will end by being harsh and brutally cynical, which is, I hope, unjustified. In the past all the silly little Fourth Internationals have consisted of one big (well, relatively big) group surrounded by little planets in other countries – their subsidiaries and branch offices. (The only exceptions were the Disunited Sectarians, aka United Secretariat, which was two "big" groups each maintaining their separate satellites abroad, and the Healy-Lambert International which was the same. Both were unstable.) As soon as one of the subsidiaries grew up and had a little base of its own there was a split.
History appears to have repeated itself. I note that the SWP may number 1,500 people (my estimate, but I know of SWPers who share it) and the ISO 1,000 – perhaps much newer, more raw and possibly more middle class, but it is growing faster.
If the ISO is the same as all the other little sterile sectarian groups it will try and form another "non-international" International. Already organisations expelled from the SWP in the past – the one in New Zealand, for instance, which seems pretty healthy and claims to be growing – are making overtures to the ISO. The only problem with this is that all the ex-SWP splits internationally have gone on different political trajectories since they had a dust-up, so they can hardly be assembled again but are in Humpty-Dumpty mode. That does not mean someone will not try to create an anti-IST International, wasting time and effort which could be devoted to better causes.
Let us hope that not too much time is wasted but that the two leaderships realise what bloody fools they have been and try to thrash things out. But I remain pessimistic – hope oft deferred maketh the heart sick.