The Socialist Workers Party
is a British Trotskyist
party that has unfortunately come to dominate left-wing activism
in the UK, much to the annoyance of those who share many of its views but disagree strongly on others.
The party was formed by Tony Cliff, inspired by the writings of Lenin, Karl Marx and especially Leon Trotsky. Essentially a revolutionary socialist party, they differed from other organisations prominent in the hard-left in the mid 20th century by claiming (correctly, as most people even then could see) that the USSR was not a socialist paradise at all, but a dictatorship every bit as brutal as any other totalitarian regime. Cliff coined the phrase 'state capitalist' to describe states such as the USSR, The People's Republic Of China and North Korea.
While the SWP claims to be a revolutionary party,it is only so in the very British manner which comes from Britain not having had any major political upheavals for over a century, unlike most European countries where political views have been very much a life-or-death matter at one time or another in the twentieth century. This attitude is best expressed in the joke told by left-wing comedian Mark Thomas:
"I was asked to join the Socialist Workers Party the other day and stand for election, so I said 'what do you stand for?'
They said 'well, we want to bring about a socialist revolution, destroy the bourgeoisie and create a workers' state'
'Great! Do I get to have a gun?'
'Oh, you're just being silly now'"
Rather than bring about a revolution, the SWP seem more determined to act like a pyramid scheme or religious cult, being far more eager to sell their newspaper, Socialist Worker, and recruit new members than to do any serious campaigning. This leads to serious friction with other organisations who will spend months organising say an anti-war protest or a demo against the British National Party, only for SWP members to come out in force at the protest and try to turn it into a recruiting drive. The SWP also seem to have very little understanding of the concept of single issue campaigning, and will try to turn something like a march against the BNP (a Nazi party who have unfortunately gained high levels of support in recent years) into a march for freedom for Palestine, an end to occupation of Iraq, an end to student tuition fees (newly-politicised but still naive students make up about 75% of the party so this is a big issue for them) and a ban on fox-hunting.
The SWP's individual members seem to have their hearts in the right place, and there are many intelligent, insightful people who have joined the party because they genuinely believe in its goals (for example the comedian Mark Steel and the writers Ben Watson and Paul Foot) but all the SWP seems to do is act like the worst kind of caricature of ultra-left wing insanity, making it an easy target and meaning it does most of the causes it fights for more harm than good.
Two separate noders have asked me if the SWP is linked to the Fourth International. It isn't (although parties of the same name in other countries usually are). The UK branch of the Fourth International is known as the International Socialist Group - although both the SWP and ISG are members of the Socialist Alliance in the UK.