An article from Do or Die Issue 9. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 134-135.
Soon after the global day of action on June 18th 1999, the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) started to take a keen interest in the 'direct action movement' generally and anti-globalisation issues specifically. Obviously pissed off that they'd let 15,000 people smash up the City of London without any of their paper sellers around to tell people about the 'socialist alternative', they targeted the action on November 30th (N30) as the next big thing.
On the day they did their usual thing of saturating the rally with paper sellers and mass-produced placards. Although lots of people tore the Socialist Worker bit off the top of these placards, they are still recognisable and make any event look as dull and uniform as possible. Despite being turned down to speak at the event, they got one of their union hacks to speak as 'just' a rail worker.
After the events in Seattle, London and elsewhere on November 30th, the SWP decided that they were definitely on to something here and featured the 'new' anti-capitalism in both their paper and their journal Socialist Review as well as organising a series of public meetings around the country called 'People and Protest - Seattle: Where Next?' Not obviously SWP events, these talks mixed their party professionals in with speakers from mainstream liberal groups like Jubilee 2000 and Friends of the Earth, allowing them to pose as the radical alternative. What they hoped to achieve with all this was made blatantly clear in Socialist Review, "Mass movements don't get the political representation they deserve unless a minority of activists within the movement seek to create a political leadership, which means a political party that shares their vision of political power from below [sic]. Such a party will be much less than the movement numerically, but much more than the movement ideologically and organisationally".
It's hardly surprising for the SWP to latch on to the next 'issue' to try and take it over and recruit who they can before moving on to the next passing bandwagon, after all, they've been doing it long enough. What's more surprising, and quite worrying, is that they felt they could behave like that with 'us lot'. Seeing a growing anti-capitalist movement, they saw an opportunity to fill the other half of the equation - sure, we're all anti this, that and the other, but what are we for? The SWP's answer to this is that we should be for building a centralised, hierarchical party, making it as big as possible and then hopefully taking over the state in the name of the working class. Once we've done that we can centrally plan the economy (i.e. work) and expand production (i.e. industry). This is so far from the free, equal and ecological community that most of us want to see that it's amazing the SWP felt able to act the way they have. The differences aren't just in the way they organise, but in where they want to go - when they talk about anti-capitalism they mean something fundamentally different to us. It's not just a case of agreeing on the aims but arguing over the best method for getting there - our differences run far deeper than that.
So what can we do about it? Certainly people haven't just left them to it. Thousands of Vampire Alert! leaflets pointing out what's wrong with the SWP were handed out at Euston on N30 and at later events. People who had actually been in Seattle talked at their 'People and Protest' meetings, explaining how this and previous global actions had come about partly by people around the world throwing off the dead weight of authoritarian Marxism. Although this has all had an effect on blocking their influence, the most important thing we can do is to be more upfront about what we're for, and not just uncritically work with whoever says they're against the same things as us. Whatever words we choose, 'our' movement has developed over the years into something that is anarchist (refusing hierarchies, the state and party politics), communist (in the best sense of the word - wanting to overcome a world of wages, work and individualism, wanting a world of genuine community) and ecological (questioning industry, technology and 'progress'). Of course, there's a diversity of opinion, but there are themes that we share or it wouldn't make sense to talk of a 'movement' at all. These themes aren't things we should keep hidden behind vague slogans and only talk about in private. They're at the heart of what we're all about.
PULLOUT: "The problem is not that the free trade of the WTO is not fair, because all trade is about the trading in human misery. The problem is capitalism as a whole, the fact that humanity is divided against itself, politically into separate nation states, economically into separate capitalist enterprises (whether private or state run) and individually into separate atomised workers/consumers competing with each other." - From the leaflet 'World Community not Global Economy' distributed at Euston Station, London on N30.
Of course it's not just the SWP we should be wary of - there's plenty of other dodgy groups around who superficially have something in common with us. Over the years Militant (now The Socialist Party), The Green Party, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE) have all been involved in anti-roads and other struggles. In many ways they're quite different to the SWP and to each other. What they have in common though is their authoritarian way of organising (leaders and followers, group discipline) and their dodgy aims. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth want to reform capitalism, helping it overcome its ecological problems and run more smoothly - while, like the SWP, Militant and The Green Party want to take over and run the state. Any brief examination of history shows us what happens when these organisations accrue power; from the activities of Lenin's Bolshevik party, to parts of the Spanish anarchist movement who foolishly formed a part of a coalition government early last century. More recently we can see how the German Green Party have evolved from a loose network of anti-nuclear activists with vague anarchist tendencies to a powerful political party which played a strong role in NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia and Kosova last year. Of course none of this means that individuals involved in these groups are 'the enemy'. Many of the people reading this have probably been members of one of them at some point, and lots of people get involved with them with the best intentions. But hopefully more and more of them will pack it in and do something useful instead. We should never forget that these organisations are not, and never will be, on our side and like all political rackets they'll sooner or later have to be abolished as part of the fight for a free society..
To find out more about the history of the Socialist Workers' Party read the pamphlet Carry on Recruiting produced by Trotwatch. Available for £2 (including postage) from: Active Distribution, BM Active, London WC1N 3XX, UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For a really good round up of why the SWP and other Leninist/Trotskyist groups are crap, read Class War No.73 - An Open Letter to the Revolutionary Movement available for 50p from: AK Distribution, PO Box 12766. Edinburgh, Scotland, EH8 9YE, UK.
To receive copies of the recently updated Vampire Alert! flyer send an SAE to: Anarchist Teapot, Box B, 21 Little Preston Street, Brighton BN1 2HQ, UK.