Socialist Workers Party

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The SWP are not socialist. Their only powerbase, in the redbrick universities, suggests the term ‘workers’ is a little suspect too. They are dangerously wrong about everything, from the Middle East to gay rights. They could be easily dismissed, like people who think they’re white witches, if not for their capacity to hoodwink young people who genuinely want to change the world, and instead send them out to sell papers outside Tescos.
—Paul Richards[1]

The Socialist Workers Party (nope, no apostrophe) is a far-left British political party. It publishes a newspaper called Socialist Worker, which also has an active website. It has a long history both of opposing the far-right through organisations such as the Anti-Nazi League and of pursuing entryist politics with front organisations and secret plans. It's always been a bit nutty, and in the 2010s the shit hit the fan and its eccentric system of governance was exposed as rife with mistreatment of women, rape apologism, and deeply ingrained sexism.[2]

Much like the old joke about the Holy Roman Empire, one gibe is that the Socialist Workers Party consists of neither socialists nor workers, nor is it a party in any real sense, much as Paul Richards says above.

Their main tactic is a series of fronts - everything from opposing housing developments to pro-Palestinian groups. In some senses, the SWP is parasitic - it will enter any number of other organisations, and parties, and often cause them to implode. In Scotland, within the space of a few years, the SWP was involved in the Scottish Socialist Party, then Solidarity (which split off the SSP after Tommy Sheridan's scandal), and then RESPECT (a defunct George Galloway fan club). They do not stand their own candidates.

Some of their behaviour has led some critics to wonder if there are British government infiltrators in their ranks. While this is hard to prove, they often end up undermining the causes they supposedly espouse.

History and views[edit]

[A] historical reenactment society... whose members like to pretend they’re taking part in a Communist revolution.
—Edmund Standing on the Socialist Workers Party[3]

The party was founded by Tony Cliff (born Yigael Gluckstein) and others in 1950, initially as the Socialist Review Group, based on the realisation that Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union wasn't exactly a socialist utopia.[4] During World War II Cliff wanted the Nazis to win, hoping that an Axis victory would result in a revolution in Britain. He urged Jewish students not to join the war effort, and was interned by the authorities as a result.[5]

Right from the start (when they were thrown out of the Revolutionary Communist Party) they focused on the politics of entryism, aiming to enter the Labour Party and take control of it, as well as working with or through other leftist organisations. It launched its newspaper Industrial Worker[note 1] in 1961, which became the long-running publication Socialist Worker; the party itself went through various name changes, becoming International Socialism Group (IS) in 1962 and Socialist Workers Party in 1977.[4]

The Socialist Worker website published an article by George Galloway praising Hezbollah. "I have no hesitation in saying that Hizbollah is not and has never been a terrorist organisation", says Galloway. "It is the legitimate national resistance movement of Lebanon." [6]

A number of prominent Unite Against Fascism members are part of the SWP and have been criticised for turning that group into an SWP appendage rather than a non-partisan anti-fascist group.[7]

A chap named Martin Smith was once national secretary at the party; according to Andy Newman of Socialist Unity, he was forced to step down after sexually harassing a female SWP member.[8] He was also convicted of assaulting a police officer during an anti-BNP protest.[9]

In June 2013, Socialist Worker ran a piece defending six Islamic extremists who attempted to bomb an English Defence League rally. The author argued that the planned attack was "a reaction to discrimination" and "an act of despair against racist thugs", and is, therefore, more justifiable than right-wing extremism.[10]

Rape accusations[edit]

In January 2013, Socialist Unity posted a transcript of an SWP conference revealing that Martin Smith had been accused of rape and sexual assault, and that the SWP appeared to set up its own makeshift court to try him rather than report him to the police. According to one member, identified in the transcript as Sarah B, the party had "no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice". One woman whose name was removed when the transcript was posted commented that a number of people in the disputes committee had close working relationships or friendships with the accused.[11]

A number of members resigned or were expelled as a result of the scandal.[12][13] Linda Rogers of the SWP's Edinburgh branch was one of those who condemned the party leadership's handling of the affair;[14] "I have also faced the argument that the DC has investigated 9 rapes in the past," she said after writing a letter to the central committee. "I believe this argument is put forward to reassure comrades of the competency of the DC. I don't find it reassuring in the slightest; in fact, I find it terrifying."[15]

SWP members critical of the Central Committee's actions formed a faction named the Democratic Renewal Platform.[16] Meanwhile, 500 others signed a statement supporting the Committee;[17] "I can only imagine what she must be feeling about the CC getting five hundred signatures from party loyalists to affirm the DCs decision that she wasn't raped", said one former SWP member of the victim.[18]

In March 2013 a woman came forward claiming that another senior SWP member had raped her in 2011; after she reported the incident within the party, the alleged rapist was suspended and encouraged to read about women's liberation but was not reported to the police.[19]

More stories came out in due course. One anonymous woman who was in the party at the age of 18 recounted how members of one regional branch, in their thirties and forties, would host parties at their homes. Most of the attendees were teenage SWP members, some as young as 14, attracted by free food and cheap alcohol. There, the partygoers would play bizarre games involving passing chocolate cake from mouth to mouth, or a variation of Twister in which players had to partially disrobe and have themselves rubbed with baby oil every time they made a mistake. At the time she had been seeing a married SWP member who was ten years older than her; when their affair came to light within the party, she found herself slandered as a "mentally disturbed heroin addict who had relentlessly pursued him" and told to relocate to another branch, while the man was let off. "The rationale… means women in the party can never be treated fairly and young women are especially vulnerable", she commented.[18]

2016 and 2017 saw increasing calls for a boycott of the SWP and related organisations.[20][21] In 2017 the National Union of Students voted to cut all links with the SWP and proposed banning it from university campuses over its "rape apologism"; the SWP retaliated by threatening legal action for harassment by the NUS.[22][23]

Front organisations[edit]

The SWP has a history of using front organisations, often campaigning on specific issues, as ways to spread their message beyond those who would be attracted to the concept of socialist workers. Organisations accused of being SWP fronts include:

  • Unite Against Fascism[20]
  • Stand Up To Racism: accused of being a SWP front, including by prominent left-wing journalist Owen Jones[24]; organisers insist that the SWP is a part of the organisation but does not control it.[25]
  • Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League: founded by the SWP in the late 1970s[26]; the ANL was one of the founding organisations of UAF.

"Evolving" views[edit]

The SWP's views have "evolved" over the years, but rather like IngSoc in the book 1984, if you bring this up, they will gaslight you and deny they ever held the previous views.

The SWP has flipflopped around on the Irish and Scottish questions. They opposed Republicanism (physical force/terrorism or otherwise) in Northern Ireland for years, calling it bourgeois nationalism... During the height of the Troubles. Then they reversed that position. Likewise, they were against Scottish independence for years, but later joined the pro-independence Scottish Socialist Party and promptly split it up a few years later. They still occasionally pop up in pro-independence protests, usually flogging Socialist Worker to the bekilted masses.

One thing that never changes about them is that their major meetings always occur in London. Even when they involve issues like Scotland and Northern Ireland.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Not to be confused with the IWW's magazine of the same name.


  2. The SWP and rape: why I care about this Marxist-Leninist implosion, Laurie Penny, The Guardian, 12 Mar 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 [[wp: Socialist Workers Party (UK)|Socialist Workers Party (UK)]]Wikipedia
  18. 18.0 18.1
  20. 20.0 20.1 Why Jeremy Corbyn should support the boycott of the Socialist Workers Party, Abi Wilkinson, i (UK), October 10th 2016
  21. Owen Jones refuses to join Trump Protest because SWP is 'a cult which covered up rape', Independent, Feb 2017
  22. Legal action threatened by Socialist Workers Party over NUS ban, Manc Union, 9 Oct, 2017
  23. SWP threatens legal action after NUS proposes campus ban over ‘rape apologism’, London Student, 2017
  24. Journalist Owen Jones blasts organisers of Saturday's anti-Trump march, Evening Standard, 4 Feb 2017
  25. Yes the SWP were at the Stand Up to Racism rally we organised – but I have spent my life arguing against the hard left, Steve Hart, Labour List, 10 Oct 2016
  26. Blood and glory, Ed Vulliamy, The Guardian, 4 Mar 2007