History repeats itself, as Marx almost said, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. With the 90th anniversary of the Russian revolution almost upon us, what used to be the tragedy of the left’s propensity for splitting has long since descended into the most predictable of farces.
Hot on the heels of the Tommygate sex libel reducing the Scottish Socialist Party to an embittered laughing stock, the SSP’s southern cousins in Respect are repeating the trick. This time it’s the Socialist Workers Party versus George Galloway (who knows a bit about sex libels himself, if you check the archives) that’s defining the battle lines.
Like all those historical splits on the left, the main parties to the argument will claim that there’s some deep and irreconcilable political principle that’s driving the divisions (the SWP likes to see it as a ‘witch-hunt of socialists’). But it’s difficult from the outside to see it as anything more than the latest example of the terminal failure of a certain category of leftist ever to find sufficient common ground to do anything without the ruthlessness of a Lenin to make it happen.
The left blogosphere is stuffed full with what passes for debate, if you’ve the time to follow it in detail. One of the more illuminating discussions, as is often the case, can be found on the Socialist Unity blog – a name, incidentally, that passes further into the realm of wishful thinking with every new comment that is added. Try Jerry Hicks’ letter of resignation from the SWP, for example, for a cogent explanation of his take on events (which has attracted 200 or so comments, at the time of writing).
Harry’s Place enjoys its usual schadenfraude at the expense of Respect, the SWP, George Galloway and his Muslim allies (killing at least four sitting ducks with one stone there). A hat-tip to Harry, too, for this link to Ray Grange and the late Joe Strummer discussing revolution and the SWP (plus the Clash playing an Anti-Nazi League rally) back in the late 1970s:
The Clash in Rudeboy
Harry’s Place also has what could well be my favourite comment of all offering background to the Respect split. Written by ‘Simon B’, it’s referring to Alan Thornett, a veteran leftist of the revolutionary Trotskyist persuasion who’s lined up with Galloway’s faction – for now:
I'm not an AWL member, but an ex-member, I'm also too young to have first hand experience of Thornett in the same group (the WSL as it then was). But briefly this is the history as I understand it.
Thornett led an opposition in the WRP in the 1970s and when expelled started his own group, the WSL, which went on to merge with the I-CL (led by among others the current leaders of the AWL).
I do know that the split was partly about the Falklands war when Thornett supported the military junta and what is now the AWL opposed both sides, but also that Thornett thought that everyone else should defer to him because he and his mates were the 'proper workers' and the rest were all posh.
Aside from this being untrue - Sean Matganma, for example, was a docker before becoming a full-time activist - it is also a ridiculous way of operating.
There was a pamphlet about the debates and the split with Thornett called 'The Worker Leader Against Marxism' which detailed all this. I've no idea where my copy is and it is sadly not online.
Thornett merged with what was left of the IMG and formed the ISG, which was, and still is, the British section of the USFI. The ISG consists of, I'd generously guess, about 50 people, and until now has been the SWP's good cop in Respect. They are now assuming the role of Galloway's court jesters.
By the way, anyone bemused by all the acronyms I mentioned should just count themselves lucky that they don't know what they mean and get on with their life.