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Taking a broader perspective…

The first festival of summer….

Simon Childs is a member of the Green Party and as well as writing on his own blog regularly contributes to Newcastle University newspaper, The Courier and the Fresh Politics blog. He also founded and edits the left-wing Newcastle newsletter; The Grey Matter.

The final act has just left the stage to rapturous applause having finished the performance with a run-down of greatest hits, leaving the audience sweaty, inspired, and wanting more. As the audience leave the arena they are bombarded with opportunities to pledge their allegiance by buying merchandise. As they get further from the stage, they are accosted by pedlars of fake merchandise, almost indistinguishable from genuine article, and festival officials encourage people to go for the real thing. Welcome to Marxism 2010- Ideas to change the world.

The ‘artist’ is Judith Orr, a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) central committee, the ‘hits’ are not songs, but rabble rousing slogans such as ‘Tory scum’ and ‘tax the rich’. The ‘merchandise’ is…well…merchandise. “Get yer Marxism 2010 t-shirts! Show yer mates yer lefty credentials!” The ‘fake’ merchandise comes from other left wing parties, all of them claiming to be the only true disciples of Marx.

‘Marxism’, is a five day annual ‘political festival’, hosted by the SWP. For those unfamiliar with the concept, there are less bands, more lectures, and hipsters discussing bands are replaced by revolutionaries discussing the ‘great day’. (At one point I walked past three separate conversations, and the only word I caught from all of them was ‘revolution’.) Oh and there’s no camping.

Marxism is a strange event, as it seems to be somewhere in between a party conference and a genuinely open forum for discussion. The line up is excellent. Gary Young’s ‘Backlash- Obama and the American right’, and Tony Benn’s ‘Democracy- the real revolution’ were particularly interesting, and a speech by a BA striker combined the passion and the arguments to counter Willie Walsh’s lies. The array of speakers and topics addressed is so impressive, in fact, in common with the more conventional music festival, punters are often left frustrated by an annoying clash:

“Oh no, Slavoj Žižek is on at the same time Jeremy Cobyn.”

“I know man, and I dunno if I should go to the Anarchists and the Spanish Civil War or Palestine’s fight for freedom.”

Each speech is followed by a debate during which time any member of the audience is allowed to come to the front and voice an opinion. However, the speakers are mostly SWP members, and what feels like at least half of the audience are SWP members, so debate is almost invariably skewed somewhat towards the party line.

I overheard one person ask what conclusion to the debate which his friend had attended was. “Well, the line was…” answered the friend.

Every wall is adorned with Socialist Worker posters and every time you leave a lecture theatre you’re asked someone in a red t-shirt if you would like to join the SWP. The idea is clearly that having sat through the debate, you have come to realise the infallibility of the SWP line, and will want to be signed up straight away.

For the uninitiated, the SWP line, in common with that of other Trotskyite parties is that, since the revolution is coming, there needs to be a revolutionary party which can channel the revolutionary enthusiasm of the working class. It sounds fairly logical, but my problem with it is that it inevitably has sectarian consequences. Everything is subjugated to ‘building the revolutionary party’. Other lefty organisations, rather than being seen as comrades (I really don’t like that word) in the struggle against capitalism, become competitors in the very niche market of anti-capitalist politics. A great deal of energy is expended fighting other left wingers rather than winning over people to an anti-capitalist point of view. I’m not saying that debates within the left shouldn’t happen, but currently the picture is one of an introverted left so busy squabbling amongst ourselves that we don’t have the time to reach out to the rest of society. Building a revolutionary party can also undermine immediate political goals, such as stopping a war, because while it might be nice to stop a war, it’s more important that we use that movement to gain recruits, right?

This is the attitude of the party as an organisation. Individual members vary from the madly sectarian to completely non-sectarian.

An example of this sectarianism arose during a talk I attended on Marxism and ecology which was somewhat spoiled for me, as a member of the Green Party, when someone claimed that the Green Party had failed to support the Vestas workers because it’s tied to capitalism, a smear which I have also read in an article in The Socialist newspaper, organ of the Socialist Party. The Green Party was, in fact, fully behind the Vestas workers and was in a leading position to support them since Caroline Lucas was then the MEP for the Isle of Wight. I have no problem with debating the pros and cons of the Green Party and by no means see it as a perfect organisation, but lies such as this do nothing to promote a rational, honest debate. If I told somebody that the SWP thought that the USSR was the best thing since sliced bread it wouldn’t contribute to a debate because it isn’t true.

Sectarianism, though, isn’t about rational debate; it’s about getting more people to join your gang than the other gang, and it’s sectarianism that is one of the main weaknesses of the British left.

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2 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jane Watkinson. Jane Watkinson said: RT @Broadleftblog: The first festival of summer….: http://wp.me/pXkBd-1D […]

  2. Derek Wall says:

    I am not an SWP fan but Martin Empson’s Marxism and Ecology booklet is excellent and he in my experience is on the non sectarian side when it comes to Greens.

    I find Marxism to be a bit of a didactic event, although they provide some good events. Latin America is a bit of a weakness for them politically I think.

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