One, two! One, two! and through and through / The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
I used to have a fantasy that when all my comrades in the SWP eventually grew up, they would be likely a typical Jewish family. They (we!) would spend our Decembers raging against each other with an intensity that outsiders would find incomprehensible. And then, suddenly, and utterly, we would make up. And no-one would be cross with each other any more.
Well, the SWP grew up, or certainly the average age of its members is about double what it used to be. And far from promoting a mature sensibility and tolerance, I find that the teachers are more teacherish, the dogma is more dogmatic, and the supreme authority is nastier and behaves more than ever like an aristocrat who finds himself in a job that was never meant for him.
Over the past twelve months, I have seen my comrades in the faction attacked, spat at by supporters of the CC, and bullied out of the branches where they had been active. I have seen behaviour so unpleasant that if members of the Conservatives or UKIP had been its victims I would be outraged on their behalf.
And because I am not a woman I have been spared the worst of it. I have not been raped nor sexually harassed. Nor have I been told by my supposed comrades that it would be really inconvenient and difficult to chose between my account of what happened to me and a man’s. I have not had to endure the “bourgeois morality” lecture in which it is patiently explained that women should wait their turn and not expect revolutionaries to take rape seriously. Nor have I had to endure Martin Smith’s favourite chat up line, which revolved by a coincidence around the very same phrase: “the only reason you won’t sleep with me is because you are swayed by” (wait for it) “bourgeois morality”.
And yet, even now …
I think of the SWP of Dave Widgery, and of the Anti-Nazi League.
I recall the immense pleasure I got on finding old copies of the (pre-1979) International Socialism Journal, how sharp the writing always was and how precise the politics.
I think back to the SWP which I joined in which men were argued with to take women’s oppression seriously.
I remember the students of my own generation who joined the SWP in large numbers, and fought as SWP members against the abolition of student grants, and against a homophobic minister, and always, always, against injustice.
I think back to the argumentative, iconoclastic spirit of the party in the early 1990s when I joined.
I recall how every branch seemed to have at least a couple of “cadre”, independent-minded comrades, who argued for socialist politics in their branch and were slow to persuade of the merits of the leadership’s get-rich-quick schemes.
I remember when I was invited onto the editorial board of Socialist Review, 15 years ago, and the pride in my step as I literally skipped back home because I was so happy and desperate to tell my partner the good news
I remember Welling, and Prague, the enthusiasm with which the party leadership grasped the breakthrough at Seattle. (I also recall the intense, sectarian stupidity with which they then imposed a split on the ISO, using Seattle as their excuse).
I notice the way in which despite the closing down of Women’s Voice, despite the lack of a decent women’s perspective thereafter, despite the way in which comrades were warned by Cliff and Harman off the divisive subjects of rape and sexual harasssment – despite all of that, so many SWP membes turned out to have the right instincts
I remember the very same comrades who have acted recently as Martin Smith’s personal shield, when they didn’t answer strangers’ commonplace greetings (“How are you?”) with the words, “I am a loyalist” but when they had a democratic notion of what socialism involved, and were kind and supportive to new members of the group
There are so many people now in their 40s who I recall when they were better, bolder, more questioning people. I remember when they were revolutionaries. And in solidarity to the people they once were; I say to them: even now, it is not too late to turn back
I will not be purely nostalgic. Even in the last year I have seen some comrades trying to comprehend where “the other side” is coming from. At every whisper of a hint of a turn, I have been encouraging. And because there is so little time between now and our last conference, I will try to continue in that spirit for a few weeks longer.
When people move, I don’t care what they did before. I will be forgiving – so long as they move.
Indeed, I would invite any wavering readers to do just that. I find that it is simply more pleasant when you can live your politics openly. It is better when you don’t have to make excuses for other people, and when you can live, or at least try to live, what you believe.
I see people who have joined the faction relax, because for the first time in a year they can live the politics they thought they stood for, and I have watched the pressure fall from their shoulders as they are again true to themselves.
And – to my erstwhile comrades among the self-declared “CC Ultras” of Idoom, I say: you should try it too.