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Peter Waterman © 2003


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[This is a reply to Dave Renton's reply to Peter Waterman's article, "Hegemonising Resistance".]

I have to first apologise for this truly horrible title, which reminds me of endless Stalinist/Trotskyist/Leninist polemics entitled 'Once Again of The Errors of Comrade Soandso' which, in the Stalinist case, commonly turned into expulsion from The Party, prison or a death sentence.

Indeed, looking at it again, my title reminds me, for reasons buried in my subconscious, of a long-forgotten Cominform publication, 'For a Lasting Peace! For a People's Democracy'. This was converted, by clearly reformist, pragmatist and labour aristocratic British Communists (who preferred reading Reynolds News, which at least gave the racing results) into 'For-For'.

I have, secondly to express my appreciation to Dave Renton who, despite his being less than half my age, nonetheless reveals to us ignorant outsiders the OFSWP (Other Face of the SWP), i.e., the kind of face that you would be happy to see in a bar, drinking a Newcastle Brown (after the usual discussion about who was best able to afford the first round of this distinctive, local, pre-neo-liberal ale). It is true that since I am 67, his being less than half my age is not only easy and common, but also to be strongly recommended.

I have, thirdly, to tell people that SWP means the Socialist Workers Party (UK), and WSF the World Social Forum (increasingly everywhere).

I only want to raise one or two points in response to Dave's friendly and measured reply, these having to do with the internal or infernal workings of the SWP.

Dave Renton says:

'Even a passing conversation with one actual Socialist Worker activist might have proved edifying. We have an annual conference, policy is decided by vote, and the leadership elected there. Local branches debate and argue and work out campaign priorities for themselves.'

Well, I didn't have such a passing conversation and was therefore dependent on what is available in SWP print publications and on the web. I couldn't find anything revealing a lively internal life, or even official Congress Reports. So how the SWP comes over to me is much like the Communist Party of Great Britain when I was a member - something that would rather give the impression of monolithic unity than of lively debate and variety.

In apparent response to an accusation of mine (elsewhere?) that the SWP, or one of its prominent leaders, was also prominently sexist, Dave refers to Sheila Rowbotham, who was a 'member of the SWP's forerunner, the International Socialists'. Well that was the IS and not the SWP. That was then, when Richard Hyman and many now-independent left intellectuals, were members of IS.

But Sheila, of course, not only left the IS but also wrote the first and most-influential socialist-feminist tract, criticising the British Left more generally, Beyond the Fragments. This is not without significance, in so far as she and her co-authors thus pioneered on a path toward, first, the Women's and other New Social Movements of the 1980s and eventually, I dare say, to the Global Justice and Solidarity Movement of the 2000s.

I should, indeed, have recognised the initiating role the SWP might have played in various recent campaigns, including the amazing international anti-war movement in Britain and elsewhere. And what this implies is that one should go beyond polemic in evaluating the SWP. I'll do my best.

However, as Dave might have noted,

1. I turned to this mode precisely because of the failure of SWP leaders to respond to reasoned critique;

2. This mode seems, with his reply, to have worked - if not with the leaders of the SWP.

Next for that Newcastle Brown.

And the first round is, obviously, on me.

Peter W.




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