• 2013: Letter of Resignation

    Letter sent to the National Secretary of the SWP on 15 December 2013 at the close of the party’s annual conference.


    To the National Secretary,


    Dear Charlie,

    It is with very great sadness that I have decided to resign my membership of the SWP.

    It is over fifty years since I first joined the International Socialists. As Cliff used to say, it takes many streams to make a river, and I have never seen the organisation as more than one stream among many – but for fifty years it was my stream, the context in which I made my small contribution to the socialist cause.

    During those fifty years there has been a great deal to be proud of. Cliff’s theory of state capitalism and the body of ideas deriving from it focussed our politics on the self-activity of the working class and rejected the notion that socialism is defined by state ownership. Our initiation of the Anti-Nazi League played a major role in blocking the rise of the far right in Britain. Our intervention in the miners’ strikes, the campaign against the poll tax, and the Stop The War movement was highly creditable. Equally important has been the role played by many hundreds of SWP members in keeping trade unionism alive in their workplaces and in animating local campaigns in defence of workers’ rights, against cuts, and against racism, sexism and war. The Marxism events and Bookmarks publications have done a very valuable job of disseminating socialist ideas. If I had died last year I should have died happy to have been a party member.

    Unfortunately the events of the last year have changed everything. The monstrously irresponsible and self-indulgent conduct of a former leading member was bad enough. But far worse was the failure of the party leadership to deal flexibly and intelligently with the situation. The Central Committee has been at best obstinate and short-sighted, at worst grossly dishonest. The revolutionary organisation is a means to the end of socialist transformation, but for members of our self-selecting leadership it has become an end in itself.

    As a result we have lost several hundred good activists, our student work has been badly harmed and our relations with our periphery have been seriously damaged. Last year’s Marxism was the smallest for many years. Good comrades have been treated shamefully, apparently with CC approval. In fifty years membership I have not seen a crisis remotely comparable to the one we are now going through. We are urged to be “outward-looking” and to commit ourselves to activity in the “real world”. Most of us would like nothing better, but when the leadership has broken down all relations of trust, effective action becomes impossible.

    The Central Committee bears a heavy responsibility for this situation, and that they should seek re-election  en bloc reveals an arrogance that disqualifies them as a leadership. As senior CC member, Alex Callinicos bears a particularly heavy responsibility. (When a dog bites me I don’t blame the animal; I blame the owner that failed to keep it on a lead.) It is a small personal tragedy that his cowardice and dishonesty over the last year will overshadow forty years’ work as a significant Marxist theoretician.

    I make no apology for “factionalising”.  Without the activities of the opposition faction, the few small improvements made would not have happened. The existence of a vigorous opposition inspired by the best traditions of the SWP has gone some small way to saving the party’s honour. Unfortunately we were not able to achieve more. I fear the damage is now irreversible. But I sincerely hope you can prove me wrong, since the SWP’s descent into irrelevance will weaken the whole left.  I shall observe with interest whether those who have been most vocal in demanding expulsions are equally committed to rebuilding their damaged organisation.

    Given my age and health, I do not intend to join any other organisation. I continue to regard most (sadly I cannot say all) SWP members as my comrades, who share the same socialist goals and Marxist analyses that I believe in. I will, within the limits of my capacities, cooperate with the SWP and with any other genuine revolutionary socialist currents. I know there are many comrades who will remain in the SWP because they are hoping for a change in the party’s democratic culture; they have my solidarity but I do not share their stamina or their faith. I hope that there will eventually be a revolutionary regroupment which draws on the best traditions of the SWP but avoids its weaknesses.

    I have no desire to engage in further public criticism of the SWP, and, having stated the reasons for my resignation, I hope and intend to refrain from further polemics.

    In comradeship,

    Ian Birchall