STATEMENT ON RELATIONS BETWEEN SWP (GB) AND ISO (US)
On 5 March 2001 the Socialist Workers Party (Britain) broke off relations with the International Socialist Organization, hitherto its sister group in the United States. This was a major step, given that the two organizations had worked together closely as supporters of the International Socialist Tendency since the late 1970s. However, big issues were at stake. Sometimes organizational divisions are a consequence of large-scale political shifts.
This split can be traced back to the great demonstrations at the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle at the end of November 1999. ‘Seattle was a fork in the road,’ as Ralph Nader put it. It represented the emergence of a new political movement to challenge global capitalism. Since then we have seen further evidence of this anti-capitalist mood – the demonstrations in Washington, Millau, Melbourne, Prague, Seoul, Nice, Davos, and Cancun, and the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre. The international capitalist institutions have been thrown onto the defensive as a new left is born. Nader’s presidential campaign was an electoral expression of this great political sea-change,
This new anti-capitalist movement has polarized reactions on the revolutionary left. Some have denied its significance or even condemned it as reactionary. Others have responded more positively. The SWP and the vast majority of its sister organizations in the IS Tendency have welcomed the anti-capitalist movement, and mobilized on a Europe-wide basis for the demonstrations at Prague and Nice.
Responding to the anti-capitalist movement has required a significant change in our methods of working. The movement brings together diverse currents and organizations in a broad coalition against global capitalism. It is essential that it continues to develop on the basis of this unity. It is in this spirit that the SWP was involved in the recent Globalize Resistance conferences, which brought speakers such as Kevin Danaher and George Monbiot to mass audiences throughout Britain. Similarly our Greek sister organization, the Sosialistiko Ergatiko Komma (Socialist Workers Party, SEK), played a leading role in the ‘Prague Initiative’ that was responsible for the very impressive Greek contingent on S26, and other IS Tendency groups are active in building ATTAC in France and Scandinavia.
The ISO has been the exception to this pattern. It failed to mobilize significant numbers to Seattle, pleading the excuse of distance (though networks of activists from right across North America took people to Seattle). The real reasons for this failure were political – a dismissal of the labour mobilization in Seattle as protectionist and the belief that the ISO could make bigger organizational gains by participating in a much less important demonstration elsewhere.
Rather than acknowledge and learn from their mistake, the ISO Steering Committee have refused to recognize the significance of Seattle. They deny that anti-capitalism is a political phenomenon of any note in the US and treat what they insist on calling the ‘anti-globalization movement’ (a description that has been rejected by leading critics of neo-liberalism such as Pierre Bourdieu and Susan George) as merely one movement among many. They dismissed the demonstrations in Washington and Prague as failures. Even when the ISO has involved itself in the anti-capitalist movement, it has sought to do so on its own terms. The most notable example of this is Nader’s presidential campaign, which the ISO leadership saw as something to raid and recruit from rather than a movement that they should help to build as part of a united left. As soon as the presidential election was over, the ISO dropped the Nader campaign, preferring to orient instead on liberal Democrats angered by George W. Bush’s stolen victory.
The ISO’s refusal to recognize the way the world was changing brought it into increasing conflict with the rest of the IS Tendency. The differences were thoroughly debated at two Tendency meetings in May and November 2000, at both of which the ISO’s position was overwhelmingly rejected. The ISO leadership responded in February 2001 by expelling six members for agreeing with the rest of the Tendency. This suppression of internal debate within the ISO was followed by the Steering Committee’s involvement in encouraging a split in the Greek SEK. This was initiated by a minority that had opposed the mobilization for Prague and denied the existence of the anti-capitalist movement. A leading member of the ISO, Ahmed Shawki, spoke publicly at the founding conference of the breakaway group in Athens on 3 March 2001. It was this open acknowledgement of the role played by the ISO in splitting one of their sister organizations that led the SWP and SEK to break with it.
This division illustrates the challenge facing the entire left in responding to the movement produced by Seattle. Revolutionary socialists can either hang onto established routines developed to cope with the right-wing ascendancy of the 1980s and early 1990s or change themselves radically in order to help build a much broader movement within which they can act as a Marxist pole of attraction. It is because we believe that the second option is essential that we have been prepared politically to fight the increasingly destructive sectarianism of the ISO. We regret the loss of what was once our American sister organization, but supporters of the IS Tendency will be playing an active part in the anti-capitalist movement in the US. The SWP, SEK, and our other sister organizations are busy preparing for the demonstrations at the European Union summit in Gothenburg (14-16 June) and the G-8 meeting in Genoa (20-22 July). We look forward to working with others on the anti-capitalist movement in order together to seize the best opportunity for the left since the 1960s.
SWP Central Committee 12 March 2001