It may seem strange to spend so much time criticising the extreme Left (e.g., the SWP-UAF) when everyone knows that it's dead. I’m not sure if that’s really the case. Take the SWP. It has little power or influence as the SWP.But it does have power in that it infiltrates and/or takes over many pressure groups and whatnot. (For example, Rock Again Racism, Stop the War, Respect, and, as I’ve recently found out, even those pressure groups against ‘global’ things which I thought were, if anything, anarchist or green.)
In the old days the SWP took over teachers' unions and actors' unions (even then, not as the SWP, as such). Now, of course, it's trying to take over (or infiltrate, or influence) various Islamist groups. Again, not as the SWP or even as socialists.
This is similar to Continental philosophy and philosophers. Of course not many people read Derrida, Foucault, etc. Not even many (English) academics read anything by these philosophers. What does happen is that their work trickles down to less capable and original minds. That is, to lecturers, students and even to the man on the street. What they end up getting is third-hand stuff. But it still has a strong influence. They didn’t even read the second-class derivative stuff from the ‘philosophers’ at Neasden Polytechnic. However, their ideas were most definitely passed onto them when they were at university. Such philosophers were in the air at the time.
This is what the SWP is doing – or at least trying to do. Nick Cohen is right. The SWP is dead, as the SWP. Even the SWP knows that it's dead. Thus it's all the more important to do as much infiltrating and taking-over as possible. In these respects, the SWP is far from dead. TIt's not dead, in the Islamist case, because when I hear Salma Yaqoob, and even Hamas and other Islamists, I hear the words, phrases and ideas, and even the timbre and tone, of Trotskyists/communists.
So, in these senses, Cohen and the rest are wrong about the ‘death’ of the extreme Left.
Let’s get to the core as to why the SWP, and all other extremist political parties (including Islamist ones) are utterly obnoxious entities. This is a quote from the SWP’s Master and Lord, Trotsky:
"Comrades, none of us wishes or is able to be right against the party. The party in the last analysis is always right, because the party is the sole historical instrument given to the proletariat for the solution of its basic problems. I know one cannot be right against the party. It is only possible to be right with the party and through the party, for history has not created other ways for the realisation of what is right."
That passage is frightening stuff. Indeed, even if what it says is, or was, true, it would still be frightening and dangerous stuff. That absolute confidence that one has the truth. This isn't just a case of the Communist Party - a reified and metaphysical entity by any account -having the Truth: it's also one of an individual, Trotsky, having the Truth – the truth that the Party has the Truth.
And all that Hegelian metaphysical nonsense about ‘history’ (or History) too. That’s why Trotskyism and Marxism are, in fact, so old-fashioned – that Hegelian and Platonic bent for reification (e.g., the Party, the Truth, the Proletariat, the Jews, Zionists, the Media/Press).
In the end, even if Counterfire's John Rees or Lindsey German (or even Bin Laden) admits to being wrong on certain (probably ‘inconsequential’) issues, it will still be the case that his Party can't be wrong on any issues – or at least not on the big issues (e.g. that capitalism is bad in every way).
I mentioned Platonic metaphysics. This Trotskyite stuff (as well as the passage itself) is also religious in nature. The claims for the infallibility of the Party and so on. No wonder Marxism and Trotskyism fell out of fashion - even with the intellectuals - from the 1960s onwards (though certainly not all intellectuals!). This is such old-fashioned metaphysical and – perhaps, more interestingly – religious stuff.
There are basically only two types of people who still support the SWP: middle-class students and those older people who actually run the SWP. Thus even though the SWP is insignificant as the SWP, its leaders still have power and many of them still earn a decent living from books, articles, lectures (to students), etc. by selling the idea of revolutionary socialism.
Finally, just as we can see Trotsky explaining how the Party cannot be wrong and that it's the embodiment of the "consciousness of the working class", it's surely just one small step to go as far as Gerry Healy (of the Workers Revolutionary Party), did when he proclaimed: 'I am the Party!'