Ian Birchall resigns from SWP: Central Committee has “heavy responsibly” for damage.
A Greatly Respected Comrade.
Ian is one of the best writers and activists on the British left.
Recently his work on the review, Revolutionary History, notably European revolutionaries and Algerian independence 1954-1962 Revolutionary History Vol 16, No4: Ian Birchall (guest editor), has made a great contribution to the study of the movement. The related, Third World and After New Left Review 80, March-April 2013 is another illustration of his exemplary intellectual activity, informed by his deep knowledge of the French and European left in particular.
I have not read his biography of Tony Cliff but it was well received even by those critical of the founder of the SWP.
Before putting his heartfelt explanation for this decision I would like to add a personal note to illustrate Ian’s role on the left.
About ten years ago Ian and I had a lengthy polemic in the pages of What Next? on Islamism after the publication of my In Defence in Militant Secularism. Ian wrote, So What is Secularism? and this was followed by my A rely to Ian Birchall.
Unlike many on the left, and particularly many in the SWP, Ian was prepared to argue – properly – his views out with opponents.
Ian Birchall’s resignation is therefore something of great significance for the left.
It is perhaps a sign of the respect in which Ian is held that his critics, like myself, feel that we have to make our appreciation of him clear,
The events of the last year have changed everything. The monstrously irresponsible and self-indulgent conduct of a former leading member was bad enough. But far worse was the failure of the party leadership to deal flexibly and intelligently with the situation. The Central Committee has been at best obstinate and short-sighted, at worst grossly dishonest. The revolutionary organisation is a means to the end of socialist transformation, but for members of our self-selecting leadership it has become an end in itself.
As a result we have lost several hundred good activists, our student work has been badly harmed and our relations with our periphery have been seriously damaged. Last year’s Marxism was the smallest for many years. Good comrades have been treated shamefully, apparently with CC approval. In fifty years membership I have not seen a crisis remotely comparable to the one we are now going through. We are urged to be “outward-looking” and to commit ourselves to activity in the “real world”. Most of us would like nothing better, but when the leadership has broken down all relations of trust, effective action becomes impossible.
The Central Committee bears a heavy responsibility for this situation, and that they should seek re-election en bloc reveals an arrogance that disqualifies them as a leadership. As senior CC member, Alex Callinicos bears a particularly heavy responsibility. (When a dog bites me I don’t blame the animal; I blame the owner that failed to keep it on a lead.) It is a small personal tragedy that his cowardice and dishonesty over the last year will overshadow forty years’ work as a significant Marxist theoretician.
It is important to read the full letter.