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An Afterword

Bob Pitt

TED CRAWFORD’S desire to see an end to what he believes to be an unnecessary split between the SWP and the ISO is understandable ("The Split in the IS Tendency"). However, on the basis of the above documents, and others I have read, I can’t really share his view that there are "no real political differences" between the two organisations. True, the polemical exchanges do contain their fair share of the sort of squabbling – "You caused a split in the Greek section", "Oh no we didn’t" – which is the small change of intra-sectarian conflicts. But there are also some more important issues in dispute here, and on these it is difficult to disagree with the ISO’s criticisms.

On the question of the "anti-capitalist mood" – a largely vacuous phrase which has been recited like a mantra by the SWP in the recent period – you can only endorse the ISO’s argument that "it says nothing of the balance of class forces, the state of working class consciousness and the level of struggle". In short, that it serves as an excuse to avoid a serious assessment of the political situation.

And, centrally, there is the question of the perspectives adopted by the SWP in the 1990s, at the instigation of Tony Cliff. Perhaps, as the SWP’s late guru approached the end of his life, he suffered a bout of revolutionary impatience, hoping to see some major outbreak of class struggle before he died, and consequently abandoned objective analysis in favour of wishful thinking. At any rate, during that decade the SWP’s politics – calling for a general strike in circumstances where the level of class struggle rendered such a demand meaningless, predicting the imminent collapse of the world capitalist economy, and so on – took on some of the features of the old Healyite WRP, which the IS/SWP had formerly (and correctly) repudiated.

Cliff’s claim that capitalism was in such a deep economic crisis that reforms were no longer possible, and the method of the Transitional Programme was therefore once again directly relevant, lacked any basis in reality. Who can disagree with the ISO when they point this out? Indeed, their position on this question bears a quite startling resemblance to arguments I have put forward myself in this journal (see "The SWP Acquires a Programme", What Next? No.12, 1999) – so much so, that on first reading I suspected the ISO of borrowing them. However, on reflection, the more probable explanation is that these points are so obvious that anyone with a grain of sense could have made them.

How could Callinicos and Co have swallowed Cliff’s ludicrous claims? Perhaps they just didn’t want to hurt the old man’s feelings. But, having saddled themselves with an utterly false analysis (which by the ISO’s account has had a predictably damaging effect on the organisation), the SWP leaders evidently felt that it would undermine their authority if they admitted they were wrong. Rather than learning from their mistakes, they have responded to legitimate criticism from the US comrades by anathematising them and driving them out of the IS Tendency.

There is a wearying familiarity to this. Over and over again, these experiences seem to be repeated, with the leaders of mini-Internationals seeking to impose ideological conformity on their affiliates. Even in a relatively loose organisation like the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, the attempt by the Paris-based leadership to export to Britain a "recomposition" project derived from very different conditions on the Continent has completely disoriented the grouping around Socialist Outlook.

It is impossible to believe that all this is merely accidental, and that it bears no relation to Leninist-Trotskyist methods of organisation, which seem inevitably to produce sect-like formations on both the national and international planes. The main reservation I would have about the ISO’s critique of the SWP is that it stops short of addressing those rather more fundamental questions.