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The mask becomes the face

Socialist Workers Party to Socialist Workers Network

16 March 2018

In February the Irish section of the Socialist Workers Party announced that it was becoming the Socialist Workers Network, a current within the electoral front "People Before Profit."

“It follows logically from the growing success of People Before Profit—a 32 county socialist organisation that Socialist Worker helped found—which has been highly successful in winning adherents all around Ireland.  “
What is the explanation?
“The change in name to Socialist Workers Network reflects a decision to focus on building People Before Profit, and within that to win and educate as many members as possible in revolutionary socialist politics”.
Questioned on the formulation members of the former SWP were quite offhand. They accepted that they had been operating as a party within a party. The situation had now been regularised and there was only one party. The way to build socialism was, apparently, to partly dissolve the strongest socialist component within PBP.


At one level this makes no difference. The new network will not relax its grip on PBP. However the parties are not the same. The Socialist Workers Party was a party that formally declared the necessity for socialist revolution. People Before Profit is socialist to the extent that it is allowed to define socialism: a fairer capitalism, identity politics and "people power."

This is a massive retreat. A party aiming for workers revolution has become an electoral grouping for reform.

 It is also an inevitable consequence of the SWP's relentless opportunism. When you succeed in winning support on the basis tailing behind and endorsing people's existing understanding of society, at a certain point both they and you will dismiss the revolutionary ideas that you never advanced in the first place. The mask becomes the face.

The process was illustrated perfectly by SWP leader James Molyneux in an article in the August 2016 Irish Marxist Review arguing the need for a revolutionary party. Hilariously a local Marxist blog published a full-scale critique of the article, completely missing the context. That context was, of course, that People Before Profit had grown to a point where the new membership were questioning the need for the SWP. It was clear who would win the discussion when Molyneaux made the primary justification for the party that members with training in Marxism were best placed to plot the next opportunist turn for the movement.

Long time coming

In fact this moment has been a long time coming. The RESPECT alliance in Britain saw the main SWP organisation pull out to preserve their membership. Even then they lost leading members. Some split to form the organisation Counterfire and others merged with our sister Fourth international section in Britain to form Socialist Resistance. Interestingly, the founding document of Socialist Resistance denied any need for a revolutionary party - the movement was everything and would spontaneously generate change. A glance at the British left today tells us how that turned out

Many will shrug their shoulders. Once opportunism takes hold the opposite wing to opportunism in the group is not revolution - it is sectism. Who cares is a sect gradually withers away inside the cocoon of its own front organisation? Perhaps the Socialist Party will also wither in its carbon-copy shell Solidarity. A new and more open party could emerge better able to organise activists and oppose capitalism.


The problem here is that reformism is not a halfway house to revolution - it is an opposing tendency. The SWP initially said that the Dail would be a platform for mobilization. Now they are so deeply ensconced inside the Dail that you can barely see their heels. They claim miraculous powers for the Dail to improve the life of workers and exhibit a strange necrophilia towards the Stormont assembly - still seen as an agent for reform even as it lies dead and deserted.

Revolutionary parties are built through presenting a clear class analysis and intervening in struggle on the basis of that analysis. Parliamentary elections are won not by raising the consciousness of workers but by obfuscating about your political position, being all things to all men and women and drifting towards populism.

There are certain things that are never discussed. The semi-colonial nature of the Southern state, the rule of imperialism, the continued British control of the North, the collaboration between union bureaucracies and government in continuing austerity. Yet the fundamental role of revolutionaries is to call for the self-organisation of the working class. Selective blindness about the role of union leaderships means that a challenge inside the unions and the issue of workers organisation is never posed.

It remains possible that the new PBP could turn left, but the unwillingness of the left to confront the leadership of the trade union SIPTU in the housing coalition means that attempts to rehabilitate the Labour party are unopposed and in the long run the survival of Labour as the political expression of trade union collaboration is more likely than the surge of an inchoate organisation based on opportunism.

Revolutionary Party

There will be no rising without mobilisation, but success will be limited without a revolutionary party, a revolutionary programme, and militants trained to use class analysis, to work together in a disciplined way and to apply the method of praxis to learn from struggles and from the working class and to constantly improve understanding and action.

The discussion here must be put in the context of a retreat by socialists across the world. Many have rejected the isolation that follows from advancing a revolutionary perspective and built broad parties aimed towards electoralism. The results of that experiment came in with the Syriza government in Greece turning on the workers and lining up with the Troika.

The dissolution of the Socialist Workers Party must be judged as another step backwards in a long retreat, but as the pace of class struggle intensifies across the world, we are approaching an era of new struggles, of new forms of working class organisation.

As John Molyneux argued in his ISR article

“the party cannot be built outside of the mass movement neither can it be built by just merging with the movement and dropping wider political issues”.

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