After a month’s worth of attack on the SWP leadership, including from its own members, Alex Callinicos has taken to the pages of Socialist Review (“Is Leninism Finished?”) to frame the fight in terms of a defense of Leninist orthodoxy. I think this is useful since it helps to crystallize the broader issues facing this fairly important group in Britain and the socialist movement internationally: is the “democratic centralist” model that is the hallmark of aspiring “vanguard” parties appropriate to our tasks today?
Just over 30 years ago the American SWP was going through a profound crisis involving the democratic rights of its membership. The Barnes leadership had decided to dump Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution overboard in a bid to make itself more acceptable to what it saw as an emerging new revolutionary international with Havana functioning as a pole of attraction. When many long-time members, including those who had worked closely with Trotsky, fought to have a debate over this change, Barnes decided to forgo a constitutionally mandated party convention and began expelling members on trumped-up charges.