Old Tricks from the
The Socialist Workers Party is
a serious threat to genuine radical politics
25th October 2004
It's Saturday evening, at the midpoint of the European
Social Forum 2004 - an event that is supposed to represent
the coming together of radical Europe in a quest for
a better world. At a meeting where the Mayor of London,
Ken Livingstone, is due to speak, the stage is invaded.
Three hundred activists chant and wave flags. Soon the
stage is packed with people protesting not against capitalism
or war, but against the organisation of the forum itself.
"Never again must a Social Forum be organised like
this!" announces a woman through a commandeered
microphone. "It has been a travesty of democracy."
What went wrong? The answer can be summed up in three
words: Socialist Workers Party. Along with the Greater
London Authority (which, it is estimated, provided £400,000
to fund the event) and a Trotskyist clique of Livingstone
supporters known as Socialist Action, the SWP has been
trying for a year to claim ownership of the forum. The
hard left has been up to its old tricks again. This
time, it nearly caused an international incident.
"The SWP and the GLA had it all in hand from the
start," I was told by a leading British activist
who did not want to be named. "They put together
the initial bid to have the forum in London and would
not let anybody else see it. Since then they've been
trying to turn the whole thing into a giant opportunity
to sell their newspapers and gain new members."
Unfortunately, this is not a conspiracy theory - or
if it is, it's a theory supported by several leading
NGOs. "I've been in plenty of meetings where at
least a third of those present are SWP members, in various
different guises," says Dave Timms, press officer
for the World Development Movement. "They call
themselves Globalise Resistance, Stop the War Coalition,
Project K - but it's always the same people, and they
consistently packed meetings and voted their own people
in as chairs, speakers and organisers."
Timms's criticisms echo those earlier in the year from
ten big NGOs, including Greenpeace and Oxfam. They wrote
of how, at a meeting held to determine who would speak
at the forum, the SWP had "packed the room with
their supporters". "This will do nothing to
help broaden the movement in the UK," they wrote.
The Italian mobilising committee for the forum issued
a public complaint in June about how the SWP and Socialist
Action had behaved at a meeting in Paris: "They
. . . were constantly unwilling to enter into real dialogue,
tried to impose their own way and were often arrogant
or used blackmail, repeatedly refusing to accept decisions
and titles which had already been decided hours before."
Nick Dearden from War on Want, who has been involved
in organising European Social Forums for years, says
he now feels like giving up. "This year's whole
thing has been deeply compromised from the start. Many
of us wanted to open up the organising process and bring
everyone in. The SWP wanted to shut down debate and
run the show themselves. I think it has actually set
radicalism in this country back."
The "global justice movement", as it has
come to be known, is deeply committed to democracy and
enthused with fresh ideas. The SWP, on the other hand,
is an undemocratic, regressive organisation that seeks
to harness the energy of this new movement for its own
purposes. Its input made this year's forum seem at times
more like a backward-looking, hard-left gathering than
a place where a new world would be born.
Let's hope for better luck next time.