The following letter was sent to Socialist Worker in reply to Alex Callinicos’s article “The Left must Unite to be an Alternative”
It was not published.
Alex Callinicos (SW 14 October) is quite right to deplore “the extreme fragmentation of the radical left, compounded by the mutual hostility that exists among these fragments”. The left is weak, and much weaker because of its divisions.
I was a member of the SWP for fifty years before resigning last year. I am now a member of no organisation, but I remain a revolutionary socialist and would dearly love to see greater unity on the left. But Alex leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
For many years the SWP has been organised on the basis of a version of “democratic centralism” (there are many versions). This form of organisation has many merits and has enabled the SWP to make successful interventions. But it is quite obvious that the various fragments of the left will not agree to unite in such a form. If there is to be a united left wing alternative to neoliberalism, it will need to be a much looser, more federal form of organisation.
From the Anti-Nazi League to Stop The War, from the miners’ strike to the poll tax, the SWP has much to be proud of. But it is also unfortunately true that many on the left, in organisations or not, do not trust the SWP. And building trust takes time and hard work.
Alex is right that the present situation “demands that we change”. But is the SWP prepared to change? Will it start telling the truth about membership figures? Will it abandon the practice whereby the Central Committee complacently renominates itself en bloc once a year, and will it work for a real renewal of the party leadership? Will it develop a democratic culture in which mistakes can be recognised and openly discussed?
Or is Alex’s appeal for unity just rhetoric? I hope not. One small indication would be if Socialist Worker published this letter in full. We need an open debate in the paper. As Alex says, history will judge us if we fail.