The S.W.P. and Socialism from Below

Anarchism stands for 'Socialism from below'. This means a future society where ordinary working men and women control all aspects of that society. It also means that struggle for that society must be conducted with that goal in mind. That is, that our organisations must have an internal structure that puts all of the members in direct control of all decisions taken.

The largest non-anarchist organisation that claims to stand for 'Socialism from Below' is the British Socialist Workers Party. What sort of internal life might we expect such an organisation to have if it stands for 'Socialism from below'?

We might expect the following as a (very) bare minimum

"Regular election of all party full-timers, branch and district leadership, conference delegates, etc. with the right of recall...

The right of branches to propose motions to the party conference.

For a regular internal bulletin, open to all members. ...this bulletin should contain a full account of all party activity in every district, with recruitment figures, etc. to the extent that this is compatible with security.

The right for members to communicate horizontally in the party, to produce and distribute their own documents.

For an independent Control Commission to review all disciplinary cases (independent of the leadership bodies that exercise discipline), and the right of any disciplined comrades to appeal directly to party conference."

These points are actually demands taken from a document produced in July 1994 by people who had been expelled from the SWP (the ISG). They described life in the SWP as follows

"The leaderships' control of the party is unchecked by the members. New perspectives are initiated exclusively by the Central Committee (CC) who implement their perspective against all party opposition, implicit or explicit, legitimate or otherwise

"Once a new perspective is declared a new cadre is selected from the top down. The CC select the organisers who select the district and branch committees - any elections that take place are carried out on the basis of 'slates' so that it is virtually impossible for members to vote against the slate proposed by the leadership

"...district committees are appointed rather than elected; the CC monopolise all information concerning the party, so that it is impossible for members to know much about what happens in the party outside their own branch"

"...conferences have no democratic function, but serve only to orientate party activists to carry out perspectives drawn up before the delegates even set out from their branches. At every level of the party, strategy and tactics are presented from the top down, as pre-digested instructions for action"

These criticisms make it clear that the decision making structures of the SWP sharply follow a 'Socialism from above' model. A model is so complete that even discussion is impossible without the leaderships approval.

This group also demanded "The right for members to communicate horizontally in the party, to produce and distribute their own documents." In August of 1995 the SWP leadership in Britain banned SWP members from an email list set up by members of the SWP's international tendencies. They were banned from communicating horizontally with other members of these groups and instead told "...that debate takes place through the party branches and at national meetings and conferences".

In 1991 dissidents in Southampton SWP asked "When was the last time a motion or slate to conference was opposed?" and pointed out

"The CC usually stays the same or changes by one member. None of the CC's numerous decisions made over the preceding year are challenged or brought to account"

"...the framework for discussion is set by the CC. The agendas at national events... are set by the CC or its appointees and are never challenged.."

In an interview in the British 'Socialist Worker' in January 1993 Tony Cliff interpreted the failure of the miners struggle against pit closures not on what ideas were influencing the class, or even the level of militancy but on how many people had joined the SWP in the week before! He asked

"Imagine if we had 15,000 members...and 30,000 supporters...socialists could have taken 40 or 50,000 people to parliament...the Tory MP's wouldn't have dared vote with Michael Heseltine. The government would have collapsed" [my emphasis].

This idea of the size of the party as being the sole measure of success or failure has nothing in common with 'Socialism from below'.

This attitude is why the SWP runs front organisations designed to recruit people into the party The largest of these in recent years has been the ANL, and the way the party leadership related to this was described by the ISG as "...the party has run the ANL purely as a satellite of the SWP. Local ANL work is organised from SWP branches... In the conference discussion period of 1993 comrades were instructed to make sure that the SWP branches alone organise all ANL work."

This is an international pattern, the ANL in Ireland never had meetings where its membership could decide what its priorities or tactics should be. In 1994 a split from the German SAG not only described party conferences as "not exercises in democracy but rallies where the leadership hector the faithful into higher level of activity". But also that the German IS group runs a "tiny anti-fascist alliance consisting of SAG comrades, and treating them like a satellite organisation".

Anyone who has been a member of the Irish SWP for more then a couple of months will be aware of these problems. Many join the SWP every year but only a small minority of the organisation remain members beyond six months, the lack of 'Socialism from below' in all aspects of the Parties activity may be the main reason for this. And many of those who leave do so convinced that 'Socialism from below' is an empty slogan? Few of these people would consider anarchism as in the SWP the only 'education' about anarchism is laughable.

The problem with the SWP's 'Socialism from below' is that it is based on Leninism, a doctrine in theory and practise that is 'Socialism from above'. These four pages can only begin such a discussion, our hope is that people will seek to educate themselves further and in doing so discover the real tradition of 'Socialism from below', and that is anarchism.

This text is also available as a 4 page PDF file for you to print out and distribute

What is Socialism from Below

A four page leaflet explaining What Socialism from Below is and why it is incompatable with Leninism  

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