Believe it or not at this very moment there are hundreds of Trotskyists gathered in one building in central London.
So, what are we going to do about it?
There was a brief time, in my youth, when such an event would have prompted strange fantasies about driving a T-62 tank into the University of London, with the Soviet national anthem blasting from expertly constructed East German loudspeakers and a team of leather-jacketed young comrades would cart the ‘great leader’ Tony Cliff off to the salt mines.
But, needless to say, I grew up.
Reading the list of speakers at the Marxism 2003 event organised by the Socialist Workers Party made me realise that not everyone has moved on though.
I was hugely depressed to see that one of the speakers at the event is a person who I knew well about 15 years ago, an intelligent, likeable, thoughtful and talented person, who sadly – and inexplicably – is still a member of the SWP. This comrade, full of energy and ideas for making the world a better place, could have made a contribution to lots of attempts to do just that.
Instead this individual has spent the best part of two decades selling a crude tabloid newspaper and ‘building the party’. What a waste.
This story is the exception of course. Experience indicates that the bulk of the students at Marxism 2003 will not be members of the SWP for much longer than the length of their degree course. They will leave either worn out by the hyper-activism, fed-up at the absence of democracy in the ‘revolutionary party’ or they will just drive away into apolitical cynicism as the world of work, family, mortages etc, makes the commitment to a Leninist vanguard seem an unnecesary luxury in their middle class lives.
Which is better though? The person who wastes 15 years inside a nihilistic destructive sect which does little but harm to the progressive cause, or the majority who merely laugh with a little embarassment about their ‘Marxist period’ and make no further attempt to contribute to improving society?
Both are a tragic waste but the fault is as much with the rest of us as it is with the manipulative middle-aged cranks who head the SWP cult. Why? Because there is little effort made by the progressive left to try and win the hearts and minds of these idealistic young people.
People join the SWP because they are burning with an often ill-defined radical energy and they see the Trots as the ones who can offer some direction to their enthusiasm. They make the wrong decision of course, but who can really blame them when there is hardly a serious alternative on offer?
Perhaps next year, when there are hundreds of Trotskyists gathered in the same building in central London, there might be an alternative offered to these people? Why don’t the democratic left organise a ‘fringe meeting’ near by, with a series of leading speakers putting the positive case for the reformism which suffers ritual denunciation every year at the SWP’s events?
Why don’t we use their tactics against them? Leaflet the meetings with pro-reformist literature and set up a stall with the great classics of democratic socialist thinking on sale.
In fact, if any of the benefactors of the progressive left wanted to make an impact on a generation of idealistic youth, they could do worse than to invest in a few hundred books and give them out.
I can think of just the book these students need to read – it was written over 30 years ago by Bernard Crick and it has the perfect title for the job In Defence of Politics.
It is a political classic and it is remarkably effective at making the case for the democratic politics that are despised by the SWP. It was a book that convinced me as a 16-year-old idealistic young socialist to reject the overtures from the Militant tendency and to commit myself to the democratic, reforming left.
I am eternally grateful to the octagenerian socialist who gave it me as a birthday present – I think it might have saved me from the black hole of sectarian politics.
There are of course plenty of other books that would work as well. The SWP leaders’ biggest fear is that of their young recruits (whose ‘contributions’ pay their wages of course) reading anything outside of the official Bookmarx reading list, with their ‘notes’ and introductions written by Central Committe hacks. We should give them something to be afraid about.
There was a French writer who once said the solution to Islamic fundamentalist regimes was to bomb them with mini-skirts. Perhaps we should bomb the Trots – with books.