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SWP Crisis: Central Committee Motion – Yet More Years for the Locust?

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SWP Central Committee Party Museum.

“The SWP is the paradigm of the worst possible application of democratic centralism and a reductio ad absurdum of Lenin’s politics. The supposedly key role of the revolutionary party has become the whole object of the exercise. The only measure of revolutionary advance is the membership figures – never mind the quality feel the width. Presumably, the workers are assigned the role of foot soldiers in the revolution, the vanguard will be there to lead them in the sweet by and by. In this scheme there is no need to recruit workers now, they might spoil the autocratic anarchy of clique leadership.”

Jim Higgins. More Years for the Locust. 1997.

International Socialism posts this on the SWP Central Committee’s response to the Party’s growing dissent.

That the scandal of its ‘kangaroo Court’  is not going away can be seen in today’s Observer.

Nick Cohen writes,

The SWP’s crisis began when a woman member alleged that a senior figure in the party had raped her. The SWP refused to name this hero of the proletarian vanguard; unlike the “bourgeois courts”, revolutionary socialists hide the identity of alleged rapists. Nor did it call the police. Instead, it sent the man it called “Comrade Delta” to the SWP’s disputes committee. The seven “judges” had no independent evidence – how could they when they were a bunch of Trots rather than a competent court? Nor were they impartial. They knew the “accused”. They valued the “leading role” he had played in the party. And they acquitted him.

Friends of the woman say she feels “completely betrayed“. Party loyalists have increased her despair by whispering that she was a conniving harlot.

That’s the way it is on the far left. The hierarchical party always has the potential to become a rapist’s playground. Consider the predator’s opportunities. The rank and file has to obey the party line without question. The leaders of political cults, like their religious counterparts, increase their power by fostering paranoia. Members can trust no one outside the party, especially the police and judiciary. The SWP says that Comrade Delta’s alleged victim was free to go to the police and chose not to, but party dogma insists that justice is impossible in bourgeois courts. Only when it’s too late do women learn that the alternative disciplinary system of Marxist-Leninists exists to control them and let the leaders do as they please. The parallels with the Catholic church are too obvious for me to labour.

Anna Chen saw the misogyny up close. She stopped working as a comic and poet in the early 2000s to devote every waking hour slaving for the Socialist Alliance, Stop the War and other SWP front organisations. “Because the revolution comes first, human beings are just disposable,” she told me. “I was struck by how sexless and ugly the leading men in the SWP were. But they always had women. If you slept with one of them, they promoted you. It was as basic as that.”

The rest of the article is on the Observer site.

The Socialist Workers Party Central Committee is considering the whole affair today (Sunday).

The  motion it presents to the meeting reads:

Central Committee

1) The SWP stands out on the left by the fact that it has a history of
genuine democratic debate without permanent factionalism. We have
developed democratic and accountable structures from our branches,
elected district committees, the national committee and disputes
committee, central committee, party councils and conference. In the
recent period these structures were re-examined and strengthened by
the work of the SWP democracy commission. We have full confidence in
these structures and the method of democratic centralism.

2) This newly elected National Committee notes that the commission on
“What sort of Party do we need?” that set out the democratic
principles for guiding our current practice was approved by 239 votes
to 91 by annual conference in January 2013.

3) At the core of democratic centralism lies the understanding that we
have full and honest debate among comrades in order to reach decisions
followed by united action to implement and argue for those decisions.

4) We therefore condemn the actions of those members who have
circumvented these principles by campaigning to overturn conference
decisions outside the structures of the party, using blogs and the
bourgeois media. Many of these contributions have been characterised
by the use of slurs, abuse and un-comradely language that seem
designed to stop serious debate and make joint work impossible, as
well as damaging the party’s reputation.

5) This undermining of our democracy should stop forthwith. We
reaffirm the right of the Central Committee to impose disciplinary
measures for violation of our democratic constitution.

6) Many of these contributions have been fuelled by the outcome of the
Disputes Committee report to conference. This NC affirms its belief in
the integrity of the comrades on the DC and of the investigation they
conducted. We note the DC was re-elected without challenge at the
January 2013 conference. The DC report was approved by conference and
the case concerned must be regarded as closed.

7) This NC notes that immediately following the original DC hearing of
this particular case, information about it was leaked to people, some
hostile, outside the party. This helped fuel rumours and
misinformation about the DC within the party. This NC also notes the
disgraceful covert recording of the DC session at conference and the
appearance of a transcript on a site hostile to the party in addition
to the reports and debates in public blogs and internet forums
regarding these internal party arguments.

8) This has created difficulties for any future DC hearing. Therefore
it is in this light that the NC thinks it sensible to consider these
issues, in particular:

i) how the future confidentiality of DC proceedings can be safeguarded
ii) how future findings of the DC should be reported to the party

These issues should be considered by a body composed of four members
elected from the National Committee today, two from the Disputes
Committee and one by the Central Committee. It will report to a
subsequent meeting of the NC.

9) The NC supports the right of the CC, in consultation with the
Conference Arrangements Committee, to set out a reasonable deadline
for calls for a special conference. We do not believe that it can be
acceptable for such calls to be collected together over a period of
several months. This would institutionalise a practice of constantly
presenting motions to our branch meetings. The NC agrees that the
deadline for the recent calls for a special conference was 1 February.

10) We believe that underlying many of the recent debates in and
around the party lie a series of vital political questions where we
need to seek urgently to assert, develop and win our political
tradition. Some of the key debates include:

a) The changing nature of the working class.

b) Lenin’s conception of the party, and its relevance in the 21st century.

c) Oppression and capitalism.

d) The trade union bureaucracy and the rank and file.

e) The radical left, the united front and the SWP.

11) The CC and NC are strongly committed to leading and facilitating
extensive discussion and debate around such issues in every forum of
the party. This requires a serious, systematic and urgent effort in
all our publications, through branch and district meetings, wider
party events such as Marxism and through educationals and day schools.

Central Committee

As Jim  Higgins wrote,

An organisation like the SWP can continue to exist despite its sectarianism and behaving, outside its own ranks, like a gatecrasher sneering at the hosts but nicking anything that is not screwed down. It will go on so long as a few conditions are met. That its printshop continues to generate sufficient profit from its commercial work to subsidise the party press and contribute toward the full time wage bill. The apparatchiks, in their turn, will organise the subscription return and ensure a reasonable recruitment rate at least equalling the membership attrition. Long ago the SWP established a policy of minimum debate that is now so firmly embedded as to be part of the tradition. Dissent is stamped on and the norms of revolutionary justice ignored.

The Central Committee is uniquely qualified to pronounce on anything and everything, containing as it does that renaissance man, that Marxist Leonardo Da Vinci, Chris Harman. Not long ago he pronounced, ex-cathedra, as it were, on the question of anthropology and now that is the line, although why the SWP should require a line on anthropology is beyond me. The anthropologist member of the SWP – there could even be more than one of them – who accepts the modern academic wisdom on the subject, now contradicted by Harman, is under a vow of silence on his own specialisation.

One recalls Lysenko, who, at Joe Stalin’s command, stood Darwin on his head, inducing genetic changes in plants over a few generations by altering their environment. Thus he claimed he could grow winter wheat and tomatoes north of the Arctic circle. Nobody was ever allowed close enough to actually examine his plants – for all I know they were made of plastic. Eventually he was shuffled off into early retirement, but not before he had ended the careers of a number of more conventional geneticists. The SWP’s cultural climate is strangely reminiscent of those halcyon days when Zhdanov wielded the cultural hatchet for Joe Stalin, a triumphant outing for philistinism.

There’s no Print Shop and no Harman.

But we know that an attempt to create a cultural journal by SWP members not that long ago foundered on the same Zhdanovian reefs.

The money must still be coming from somewhere.

The basic pattern of SWP politics and its operations that  Higgins outlined  remains unchanged (as we know all too well in Ipswich).

At the moment further comment is unnecessary.

But Socialist Unity has published other motions.

Most seem to be baying for the blood of the opposition.

“Motion two: Sue Caldwell

This National Committee agrees to censure those comrades, including Richard Seymour who have repeatedly and publicly criticised decisions made at Conference 2012. The SWP provides many opportunities for comrades to raise disagreements and discussion in a comradely and constructive way.

We are a democratic centralist organisation which means that having arrived at a decision we carry it out in a united manner. A very small group of comrades are attempting to operate in a way that amounts to a permanent faction by encouraging others to agitate against decisions that have been made. Most members are outraged to see attacks on our Party in the right wing press using ammunition provided by our own comrades, most of which consists of factual inaccuracies. The refusal of these comrades to accept decisions made by Conference is shameful and an insult to the Conference delegates.

Such activity should not be allowed to continue. The attempt to call a recall Conference has not been successful and the vast majority of comrades want to get on with the many challenging tasks that we face in the outside world.This National Committee supports the Central Committee in taking whatever action it sees fit, including expulsion from the Party, against any comrades who continue to act in this fundamentally undemocratic way following a clear warning.

Sue Caldwell

Motion three: South Yorkshire District Committee

South Yorkshire District Committee believes we face many challenges in the coming period. Yet, the 20,000 that demonstrated in Lewisham and the protests in Sheffield against austerity cuts also highlight the opportunities we have in building working class resistance to the Government’s austerity agenda.

Our agreed perspectives arm every party member to intervene effectively and to increase our political influence within movements, workplaces and colleges. That is why we re-affirm the decisions taken by our 2013 national conference.

South Yorkshire District Committee also believes that:

• Democracy is a method by which an organisation takes decisions.
• Democratic centralism is essential, not just as an abstract national principle, but as the germ of party activity in each locality or party unit. Once you accept the need for coordination and centralisation in this way, you also have to accept mechanisms to make it efficacious.
• Those decisions only make sense if they are binding on members of the organisation.
• If they are not binding, there is no point in their being made. If a minority can ignore the will of the majority, why bother about finding out the will of the majority? Why go to all the effort of having elections, counting votes and so on? You cannot have democracy without some means of ensuring compliance to majority decisions.

Yet, since conference, a minority of comrades refuse to abide by those national conference decisions and continue to factionalise in public through blogs and facebook pages.

This District Committee condemns the derogatory, ill-informed and abusive comments that comrades face when challenging this factionalism.

This abuse of our democratic structures seriously obstructs our capacity to build politically, undermines our ability to seize opportunities and move forward. The stakes are too high to miss. Therefore, South Yorkshire District Committee calls on the National Committee, the Conference Arrangements Committee and the Central Committee, leading bodies of the party to:

1. Insist that all members abide by the decisions of our national conference.
2. Affirm that any failure to heed such a call contravenes our constitution and flouts our tradition of democratic centralism.
3. Uphold the right of the Central Committee or Disputes Committee to impose disciplinary measures for any violation of our democratic constitution.

South Yorkshire District Committee

Motion four: Jim Wolfreys

Addressing the Crisis in the SWP

In the weeks since conference a crisis of unprecedented proportions has opened up in the SWP. This cannot be wished away. It is not going to be possible simply to proclaim an end to the debate raging throughout the party and beyond. What is required now is decisive leadership that is able to provide a political response, rather than procedural solutions, to the immediate issues raised by the Disputes Committee session at conference. National Committee should therefore endorse the following measures:

1. An acknowledgment by the Central Committee of the widely held concerns within our organization and internationally in our tendency, and in the wider labour movement, about the handling of the dispute, and an assurance that we are taking steps to learn from this criticism and address problems.
2. A review of Disputes Committee (DC) procedures in relation to cases involving allegations of rape and sexual harassment. Sufficient time should be allocated at the next Party Council to discuss ways in which the DC and its procedures can be strengthened, with space also allowed for votes on proposals brought forward by branches and the leadership.
3. X to stand down from any paid or representative roles in our party or united front work for the foreseeable future.
4. No disciplinary action against those comrades who have publicly expressed concerns over the DC’s conduct and findings.
5. Full support for the comrades who made the complaints. Zero tolerance of any attempt to undermine them and others who have raised criticisms of the DC report. Action to ensure they do not suffer any detriment in the party because of the position they have taken. An end to the punishment of party workers who have expressed concerns over the dispute.

Jim Wolfreys

Motion five: Penny Gower/Sally Kincaid

‘This National Committee, a body elected by the delegates to SWP Annual Conference, has every confidence in the procedures, practices and personnel of the previous and current Disputes Committee, a body elected democratically by delegates to our SWP Annual Conference.’

Penny Gower/Sally Kincaid

Further information on Socialist Unity site.

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Written by Andrew Coates

February 3, 2013 at 12:23 pm

4 Responses

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  1. The most intriguing issue raised by the SWP crisis is why so many decent revolutionaries end up in cults that reproduce all the worst aspects of capitalist society. There are no easy answers to this question but the following writings help make some sense of the situation:

    Janja Lalich, ‘Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults’ – http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=D1Ayf63SfnwC&printsec=frontcover&source=#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Martha Grace Duncan, ‘Only the Marlboro Man: A Psychological Study of a Political Agitator’, Political Psychology, Vol. 8, No. 2 (1987) – http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3791298?uid=3737968&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21101623096391

    Daniel Shaw, ‘Traumatic Abuse in Cults: A Psychoanalytic Perspective’ – http://www.danielshawlcsw.com/traumabusecults.pdf

    Simon Pirani, ‘The break-up of the WRP – from the horse’s mouth’ – http://piraniarchive.wordpress.com/home/investigations-campaigns-and-other-stuff/the-break-up-of-the-wrp-from-the-horses-mouth/

    Maurice Brinton, ‘Suicide for socialism?’ – http://libcom.org/library/suicide-for-socialism-jonestown-brinton

    Andy Wilson, ‘Imputed consciousness and left organisations’ – http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/884/imputed-consciousness-and-left-organisations

    Dennis Tourish, Tim Wohlforth, ‘On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left’ – http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=xXcsNRUuHEUC&printsec=frontcover&source=#v=onepage&q&f=false

    John Sullivan, ‘As Soon As This Pub Closes’ – http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/critiques/sullivan/pub-index.html

    Jion

    February 3, 2013 at 4:20 pm

  2. Higgins is great – not least the perfectly chosen bibilical title – I wish there were more memoirs like that from his generation.

    Re the money presumably they still have the 10% of income contribution guideline which taking account of how many members must be either students or pensioners now should still produce at least a couple of £100k p.a. assuming they still have 2,000-ish.

    Plus there’s appeals, a few members who can’t be short of a bob or two and may give more generously and they must be reaching the point where several members a year may die of old age and leave them something in their wills.

    But while other Trots may dream of an annual income in six figures their full-timers and offices and publications (Clearly Socialist Worker does not pay for itself) can’t cost them less than several £100k p.a.

    So I doubt there’s anything like the Moscow Gold and property portfolio that the CPGB amassed and which funded the various think tanky groups which provided their apparatchiks with lucrative new careers after they liquidated it.

    Incidentally the SWP doesn’t seem to be registered with the Electoral Commission even as a third party organisation – although the AWL is.

  3. Disgraceful your lining up with the wretched Cohen against the SWP; that the SWP have been wretched themselves, and especially so recently, is no excuse. You should be ashamed of yourself, Andrew.

    Ed George

    February 4, 2013 at 12:59 am

  4. Ed, as a democratic Marxist, I do not agree with large parts of Cohen’s article.

    I do agree with what comrade Anna Chen said.

    That quote is pretty restrained: as many of us know in some detail, she went through a lot of abuse from the SWP.

    Andrew Coates

    February 4, 2013 at 10:40 am


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