Socialist Worker

Why we need a bigger Socialist Workers Party

CHRIS BAMBERY, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), writes on why activists should join it

Issue No. 1889

ACROSS THE country socialists have been at the centre of building the Stop the War Coalition. This has reached parts no other movement has ever reached, and mobilised numbers the like of which we have never seen before. But it is not just over the war. Already Respect: The Unity Coalition is building up into a serious challenge to New Labour in the 10 June European and Greater London elections. Unite Against Fascism has brought together people in opposition to the BNP on a welcome and unprecedented scale.

Last autumn's unofficial strike by 30,000 postal workers set the scene for a revival of resistance on the shop floor. On a more local level, socialists in Camden were crucial to achieving victory in the ballot over the hiving off of council homes. The SWP has thrown itself into all of this-and much more. This is partly because we believe action speaks louder than words, and the growth of a mass movement can create a new left which is a player in the big league. It is against this background that the Socialist Workers Party's national committee, an elected body of 100 people, recently voted to launch a recruitment drive to the SWP.

Why are we asking people to join? Surely this cuts across the drive to build the various movements we are all involved in? The SWP is not the sum total of the movement against war and neo-liberalism-far from it. But we have played a crucial part in helping forge that movement. In many ways we have punched well above our weight.

Socialists like Marx and Lenin understood that you cannot build a revolutionary party in opposition to a mass movement or the working class. It is activity on a mass scale which is the prerequisite for building a popular revolutionary movement. Any revolutionary organisation has to learn from the movement. If it does not it will sink into irrelevance.

So any socialist who is not building for the 20 March Stop the War Coalition demonstration and helping launch Respect is failing to connect with their neighbours, workmates or classmates.

But something has changed in recent months. Blair is on the ropes, but it is clear we cannot rely on law lords like Hutton, Labour backbenchers or the majority of our union leaders to put him out of his misery. The post workers' strike last autumn was important. We can all learn from rank and file activists around the paper Post Worker. They helped spread an unofficial and illegal strike until the government told management to back down. After Hutton's whitewash the walkout by BBC staff across the country was vital in turning things round. Since then Blair's grin has turned to tears.

That contrasts with the decision of the left-led executive of the Department for Work and Pensions section of the civil service union to call off their strike in the same week. Luckily the strike has been reinstated, but it was a bad mistake in a week when New Labour was under the greatest strain of its time in office.

It flowed from a pessimism which often affects those on the left who cannot see just how much has changed in so little time. Similarly over the vote on top-up fees, socialists on the National Union of Students executive had moved a resolution for a mass demonstration at parliament on the day of the fees vote. The majority of the left are Labour supporters and voted against.

On the day rank and file students demonstrated, but not in the numbers required to put parliament under siege. It contrasted with the marvellous school strikes a year ago against the Iraq war. SWP members in the colleges built the protest that day, but the simple truth is that we are too weak in the universities to produce the response that was needed. We need to grow.

In the civil service and other unions we need networks like Post Worker which can take the lead when our officials fail us. But it goes further than that. Ideas matter at times like this. Globally, everyone I know is struck by how multiracial the stop the war demonstrations have been.

Against that background it was important socialists here came out in clear opposition to the ban on the hijab in France and said it was a woman's right to choose. As workers begin to resist in growing numbers we need to point out how they have the power to stop the system functioning. The working class in 2004 is increasingly made up of women, increasingly black or Asian, and they work in workplaces like call centres or superstores, as well as car plants.

Above all, while we work with all sorts of people with whom we agree on much, we want to talk about revolution. The decision to go to war and the lies spun since have led many to question the sort of democracy we live in and to ask how we get change. This time last year we marched in numbers never seen before but we failed to stop the war. It wasn't because we lacked another million on the streets, but because we needed to go beyond that to creating walkouts, like the school student strikes, which could have stopped Britain.

People's instinct was to do that. It was outweighed by the constant fear of what might happen when you step out of line and a lack of confidence. There were strikes, occupations and so on, but not enough. It required a network of people to exist in every workplace, community, school and college who were organised and confident enough to do it.

A major part of that comes from building things like the Stop the War Coalition and Post Worker. But a large part comes too from creating networks of people who read a paper like Socialist Worker which argues week in, week out what needs to be done.

It comes from holding Marxist forums and other meetings where people can share experiences and debate ideas. For 20 years we were under the cosh. Now things have been transformed. There is a huge movement on the streets in opposition to Blair and demanding radical change.

But the left is a long way behind. In many towns and many areas of our cities there is no socialist presence. We need to change that now. Lenin once said we want a party of leaders. What he meant by that was not leadership in the Tony Blair sense. He meant people who lead where they live, work or study in building resistance, and the foundations of the better world we are all searching for.

Across the country Socialist Workers Party members are attempting to organise in that way. We just need more of them! And that's why I don't apologise for asking you to join us, and to ask your friends, workmates and classmates.

Join us

'We all have a role in changing the world'

'WHEN I became a tube worker and I got involved in trade union and political activities I understood I had a role in changing the world. SWP members gave me arguments that made sense and backed them up with deeds. A year after joining, I'm making a difference-with anti-war campaigning, support for striking workers, and in building confidence at work to fight bullying bosses.'

TONY, tube worker

'I now have confidence against the system'

'A YEAR ago I was a sixth former watching TV and shouting at Bush and Blair's war. On a huge anti-war demonstration I met some members of the SWP. Not only did they take time to listen, they sought to answer my questions. They encouraged me to be active. I feel much more confident about arguing against the system and offering a socialist alternative.'

HENNA, student

'We need an organised party more than ever'

'THE inequalities people face on a daily basis made me question what was at the root of the problem. With time, I realised it was capitalism. Searching for answers led me to socialist arguments. In the SWP I met like-minded people and discussed relevant and revolutionary ideas. We need an organised revolutionary party more than ever. And the time to build it is now.'

JEMMA, teacher

'I help to make and shape the news'

'I BECAME aware of how capitalism and imperialism are destroying the world, particularly Congo, where my family is from. SWP members on campus were doing something about it. They gave me the tools to fight anything from top-up fees to wars and the rise of the BNP. No longer do I simply watch news-I now help to make and shape it. That's why I want others to join.'

MAKOLA, student

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Article information

Sat 21 Feb 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1889
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