Book Review from the February 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
Why You Should Join the Socialists. By Paul Foot. Bookmarks. £1.00
Carry on Recruiting! Why the SWP dumped the "downturn" in a "dash for growth". by Trotwatch, AK Distribution, 22 Lutton Place, Edinburgh £2.95.
Whatever else can be said about Paul Foot, he's a good writer. The trouble is that he employs his talent in a bad cause: writing books to recruit people for the SWP, an undemocratic Leninist outfit which goes in for manipulative politics.
The SWP sees the mass of workers as just that - as a mass, capable only of being passive followers. On this analysis, politics becomes a struggle for "the leadership of the working class", between their present leaders - Labour MPs and councillors and trade union bureaucrats - and their would-be leaders, the SWP.
The strategy of the SWP is to discredit the Labour and trade union leaders so that the workers will desert them and follow instead the leaders of the SWP. The tactic is to call on the Labour leaders to "fight" on some issues of concern to workers and, when they don't, to denounce them as weak or bad leaders or as traitors and sell-outs.
All this presupposes that workers do follow the Labour leaders; if they don't, the SWP strategy doesn't make sense. So, at the same time as it denounces the Labour leaders as weaklings and traitors, the SWP calls on workers to follow the, and in fact actively carry out pro-Labour propaganda by blaming the problems of capitalism not on capitalism but on the Tories. In effect, the SWP's position is "follow the Labour leaders until you're ready to follow us".
Paul Foot's book reflects this approach though, to be fair, genuine socialists will find little to quarrel with in the first two chapters: "A World in Chaos" and "The Robbers and the Robbed". In fact, the first in particular is a powerful criticism of capitalism. The tragedy is that, to the extent that Foot's book does attract people who want to get rid of capitalism, it will divert them into the dead-end of Leninist politics.
Foot calls on people to join the SWP but he doesn't tell them what they will find if they do. For this, anyone impressed by his prose should get hold of the Trotwatch pamphlet. This is mainly devoted to describing the SWP's manipulative politics in relation to the anti-Poll Tax campaign and the protest against the recent (now largely achieved) pit closure programme.
However the final chapter "What's Wrong with the SWP" documents the undemocratic internal structure of the organization, where a self-perpetuating leadership dominates with the ordinary members playing the passive role of followers:
The party's line is handed down through the pages of the party's press from the Central Committee via the editors of the different journals. The branch cadre organise and deploy the new troops and orchestrate their activity. The bulk of the work involves simply selling the party's journals . . . A Leninist party simply reproduces and institutionalises existing capitalist power relations inside a supposedly 'revolutionary' organisation: between leaders and led, order givers and order takers; between specialists and acquiescent and largely powerless party workers.