SWP (UK) in terminal decline – impressions from “Marxism” 2013

The IBT flew me over for the weekend to help with their presence at the SWP’s “Marxism”, including at an IBT fringe meeting on the Saturday.

That IBT meeting had a slightly better attendance than previous such meetings that I remember and despite the best efforts of the Spartacist League there was still some substantive discussion on the topic of fighting fascism. The general reception the IBT literature stall received was also good in terms of literature sold and interesting conversations had.

But the biggest changes I noticed was in terms of the SWP and the event overall. Most obvious was the numbers, hard to tell exactly but saying it was, at best, only half as big as ones I had attended 3 or 4 years ago would not be totally out of the ballpark. Next after that was the demographic (thanks to James T. for initially pointing this out to me) with an extremely noticeable lack of youth in comparison to previous years. As was explained to me by the IBT comrades this was to be expected as the SWP has lost the bulk of its student base as a result of the sexual assault allegations and the way those allegations have been handled. The ex-SWP members organised in the ISN had a reasonably sized presence and their literature stall was by far the most lively as far as I could tell.

It became obvious over the weekend that the organisational disintegration of the SWP is continuing at pace. On top of the suspensions  (subsequently withdrawn) of the previous week there is an opposition still within the SWP who were very open and I saw a couple of examples of heated arguments between SWP members about the various issues. The ISN fringe meeting on Saturday evening had two current SWP members among the speakers and a decent proportion of the speakers from the floor also identified themselves as oppositionists who still remained as SWP members.

It seems to me that the SWP leadership have backed themselves into a corner with their completely intransigent position and swift recourse to discipline. On the basis of those overheard arguments it seems that there is an effective loyalty test around not admitting even the slightest hint of wrong-doing either about the substance of the allegations or the process for dealing with them. And further to the internal differences there are increasing pressures on the SWP in its wider milieus. For instance there apparently was a move within the student union to deny the SWP the right to use the facilities. The AWL reported that they had used their influence in the student union to avert this.

All this would seem to be alienating some SWPers who would have been initially loyal and even if the SWP manages to survive as a functioning organisation it will be one with much reduced social weight. Certainly it is hard to see how the paid and semi-paid apparatus will be able to continue in its present form. And once they start to go then the solid hold of the centre becomes even more difficult to maintain. Some people I spoke to were even speculating that this might the last “Marxism” event. I’m not sure I would go that far but I do think that if there is one next year then it will be a significantly less imposing event than people have become used to.

I saw a decent number of Irish SWP members over the weekend and it will be interesting to see if this has any effect on the Irish operation which so far has mostly remained loyal to the UK leadership.


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