A word from the Leadership

hoxha7.jpg

Credit where credit’s due, I tip my hat to the Weekly Worker for publishing the relevant section of the SWP’s Party Notes dealing with the mini-purge (thanks for the tip, Cameron). Let the CC speak:

Party discipline
Last weekend 3 SWP members – Rob Hoveman, Kevin Ovenden  and Nick Wrack were expelled from the SWP.

Kevin and Rob
Kevin and Rob are SWP members working for George Galloway.  However, recently this situation has become increasingly difficult. The party leadership has come to believe that it was impossible to have two comrades working for someone who has openly attacked the SWP in recent months. This was a position several leading members of the SWP articulated at the recent Party Council. Also over the last year there have been a number of meetings between the CC and Rob and Kevin.

At these meetings the CC raised major concerns with the way both these comrades worked in Respect. We believe that they were more concerned with promoting George Galloway’s line in Respect than the SWP’s position.

More seriously, they have denounced the SWP to individuals and organisations outside the Party.

Two members of the CC met with Kevin and Rob last week, they were asked to resign their posts in George Galloway’s office. Kevin and Rob have subsequently written to the CC refusing to stop working for George Galloway despite the party’s concerns.

Nick
The recent Respect NC voted to create a new position of National Officer. The SWP believed that the post was created to undermine Respect National Secretary John Rees. However, after some changes to the way the post was defined, the SWP agreed to setting up of the post. George Galloway then suggested that Nick did the job. Nick said he would seek various people’s opinions.

The SWP made it clear that we didn’t think Nick should accept the job because he had publicly disagreed with the line being put by the party about Respect. This would have created confusion in the Respect national office. Nick met with two members of the CC and agreed to accept party discipline and not take the post. Several days later his name was put forward by a member of International Socialist Group for the post. When asked, Nick refused to withdraw his name saying he had changed his mind and now wanted his name to go forward.

Despite a further meeting with two members of the CC and several phone calls, Nick refused to withdraw from standing for the post. There are occasions when the CC may ask a comrade not to take a post, perhaps a full time trade union position, or promotion to a job that puts someone in an untenable position. Nick was therefore expelled because he refused to work under the direction of the SWP leadership and reneged on the agreement he made with the CC.
 
It is important to make one thing clear, the three comrades have not been expelled because they disagreed with the Central Committee. It is because they failed to accept Party discipline and worked against the nationally agreed SWP line.

Expelling comrades is not something the CC does lightly, but in all three cases we felt we had no choice.

Even if we assume this to be the gospel truth (pay your money and take your choice), there are at least four points worth making – firstly, Kevin and Rob were working as aides in Galloway’s office. Evidently the CC felt that no party member could hold such a position. Now, if you were George Galloway, and the SWP ordered your staff to resign their jobs, would you take that as a sign that the SWP leadership intend to act in a constructive way?

Secondly, Nick Wrack. As Andy points out, Nick – a member of the SWP but one who was known to have some sympathy with the Galloway-Yaqoob stance on the way forward for Respect – was an obvious compromise candidate for the position of interim National Organiser, a post that the NC created precisely because of the breakdown in relations between the National Secretary (Rees) and, oh, just about everybody else – and that the SWP delegates to the NC voted in favour of. Now we hear (I await details with baited breath) that the SWP majority on the Respect officers’ group, aware that they would lose an NC vote, have decided that an interim NO is no longer necessary. Does this look like playing silly buggers or not?

Thirdly, the CC write that the expellees “worked against the nationally agreed SWP line“. Agreed by whom?

Finally, I note the admission that the SWP is going out with all guns blazing to defend Rees personally. The line is still being sold that an attack on Rees is an attack on the SWP, despite George making it clear that his problems were with Rees personally. Why wouldn’t the SWP CC agree to replace Rees with another SWP member? Do they not realise that unlike the SWP where you have a permanent leadership whose members get moved around once in a while, if they fail to carry the day at the Respect conference, Rees could be out on his arse? Returning to my previous comments on prestige and pecking order, I think it’s possible that at least one or two Machiavellians would have considered this.

45 Comments

  1. Andy Newman said,

    October 17, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    It seems a bit unfair on Enver Hodxa to link him with this sorry story by using his picture.

    Whatever else happened later, he was in his day a genuinely couragous guerilla leader fighting fascism.

  2. David Broder said,

    October 17, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Fighting fascism in favour of….

    Although it says a lot about the hierarchy within the SWP that ‘only’ John Rees is allowed to represent them in the upper echelons of Respect, I don’t think their behaviour in expelling Nick Wrack is undemocratic as such.

    I find this issue troublesome since it’s hard to criticise Wrack for not obeying democratic centralism (there is no democracy inside the SWP) – but if he accepts the “rules of the game”, being a leading SWPer, he can hardly complain if he made a bid for personal power and has ended up out on his arse.

    My hope is that all this nonsense will make people in the SWP more sceptical about Respect want a return to working-class politics.

  3. ejh said,

    October 17, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Most of the Albanian leadership were round my way seventy years ago, as far as I’m aware.

  4. ejh said,

    October 17, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Incidentally, I wonder whether the OP may not be missing the point. If a disciplined political organisation requires members to do X and they do not do X, then to my mind it’s not only well within its rights to expel them, but doesn’t have much choice. The actual question is whether you really want to keep being in that position by virtue of the way you work.

    No Kreminology, no entrail-gazing, just a simple and reasonably straightforward point.

    (Incidentally, I wonder whether Niccolo might actually say that if somebody was denouncing you, you would want not only two people working for him, but as many as possible. But I digress. Oh, and I’d like to deplore the absence of Latin tags in the OP and the use of “baited” rather than “bated”. Standards are slipping.)

  5. Mick Hall said,

    October 17, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    I remember reading a very amusing biog. of Enver Hodxa, I forget who it was by because as is the way I lent it to someone and that was the last I saw of it. Still I digress, there was a chapter in it about how Hodxa dealt with independent minded members of the Albainian parties CC. [which if the minnows on its SWP equivalent ever got any power I am certain they would replicate it.]

    At one of the CC meeting, one of Hodxa’s closest comrades, [they had gone through WW2 and the thirties together] disagreed with him on some trivial matter. Hodxa spoke sharply to the comrade, but he had been through the furnace and stuck to his guns. Hodxa then pulled out a revolver and shot his close and loyal comrade, who was about to become a very dead oppositionist and lackey of those imperialist running dogs the Soviet Union.

  6. babeuf said,

    October 17, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Andy, really! – weren’t you paying attention during Albanian lessons at school? It’s “Hoxha”.

    Splintered – the trouble is, Hoxha just doesn’t look like a bastard (I’m assuming you wanted a bastard at the top of the story).

    ejh – your “simple and reasonably straightforward point” might be thus described in a parallel universe where events took a very different turn from the end of August 2007 onwards, but in this universe, it sounds like complete muti, as an Albanian would say. Të qiftë arusha qorre!

  7. Andy said,

    October 17, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I did in fact know that about Hoxha. but my inability to spell ot type is part of my charm.

    inded, that is why I am always very reluctant to accuse people of hypocrasy – I don’t know how to spell it.

    I blame it on my professaional calling: “last year i couldn’t even spell engineer, now I are one”

  8. Andy said,

    October 17, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    ejh: “If a disciplined political organisation requires members to do X and they do not do X, then to my mind it’s not only well within its rights to expel them, but doesn’t have much choice.”

    becoming more and more an apologist by= the minute :o)

    This means that any such political organisation can create a pretext at any moment by asking a dissenting member to do something unreasonable, and then expel them when they don’t comply.

  9. Andy said,

    October 17, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    “Hoxha just doesn’t look like a bastard ”

    Indeed Enver was probably a close second to Che in general good looks and glamour. If only he had died young in Bolivia.

  10. ejh said,

    October 17, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    This means that any such political organisation can create a pretext at any moment by asking a dissenting member to do something unreasonable

    It could, but I’m assuming goodwill here. otherwise there’s no discussion.

  11. ejh said,

    October 17, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    (Just as a perspective check here, I should point out that Trotskyite Organisation Expels Three People is not much of a news event in either originality or significance. Cat Wants Feeding in Morning would be no less startling and rather more important.)

  12. Madam Miaow said,

    October 17, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    “Hoxha just doesn’t look like a bastard ”

    Try a pic of Cardinal Richelieu. Much more apt: “He made me an MP”.

    Or Dracula, coz even when you stake him he’ll probably return, albeit with fewer Renfields next time. GG as Van Helsing.

    Or a Cylon coz they look like us but, boy, do they hate us really.

    BTW, we had that Enver Hoxha’s tomes in the back of my dad’s bookcase, once.

  13. Mark P said,

    October 17, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    The most interesting thing about the piece is not its justification for expelling the three. The justification for that , as ejh notes, is given fairly straightforwardly: We told them to give up their jobs (or not to put their name forward for a job), they wouldn’t do it, so we booted them out. It’s the rationale for giving them those orders in the first place.

    On that point things suddenly become vague. The members are told that Wrack publically disagreed with the line of the SWP, but they are not told what he said, or to whom, or where, or why. The members are told that Ovenden and Hoveman denounced the SWP to outsiders, but again they are not told what they are supposed to have said, or in what context, or to whom, or why.

    Meanwhile, I see over on Socialist Unity that the packing war has begun. The Galloway side are claiming that the SWP disrupted the Tower Hamlets delegate selection meeting. Apparently, when it became clear that their slate was going to lose, the SWP prevented a vote from being taken. Then, after the meeting had finished, held a meeting of their own side and declared their minority slate passed.

    This is now starting to look like a split is inevitable.

  14. ejh said,

    October 17, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Packing, of course, is a tactic used by a variety of organisations on the left and elsewhere.

  15. Phil said,

    October 17, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    “Të qiftë arusha qorre!”

    Coo. If you translate this I can expand my repertoire of well-known Albanian phrases or sayings by 100%. (#1 being “Proletarë te te gjithë vendëvë, bashkohuni!” which probably doesn’t need translating here. No, I’m not sure about all those ‘ë’s.)

    A friend of mine at school once told me he’d read that Albanian had an ’emphatic’ particle, used to convey “Bloody hell, you won’t believe this!” in one syllable. Thus “He’s shot himself!” would translated as “U pas ka vra!”, whereas “[Hey ho, another day, no news here except that] he’s shot himself” would be plain “U pas vra”. Years later my friend started learning Albanian properly and told me that none of this was in fact true, so I don’t know what his original source was on about. Years after *that* I was best man at his wedding, and I was very tempted to end my speech with “The bride and groom – their very good health! Or as they say in Albania, ‘U pas ka vra!'”. But I thought he might think it was in rather poor taste, so refrained.

  16. Mark P said,

    October 17, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    ejh said: “Packing, of course, is a tactic used by a variety of organisations on the left and elsewhere.”

    I couldn’t agree more. The SWP get a very hard time over it on the left, but we should be clear that everyone on the left is a child at this kind of stuff compared to the hacks in mainstream parties.

  17. ejh said,

    October 17, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Attila the Stockbroker used to amuse himself by exhibiting knowledge of two major dialects of Albanian. And probably still does.

  18. ejh said,

    October 17, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    but we should be clear that everyone on the left is a child at this kind of stuff compared to the hacks in mainstream parties.

    Ah, I was thinking of the Broad Left in CPSA years ago, but never mind. Actually since Phil’s around he’ll recall my recent comments on, I think, D-Squared (or was it Blood and Treasure?) about the takeover of Surrey chess by an evangelical Christian group in Couldson. They couldn’t half pack a meeting.

  19. entdinglichung said,

    October 17, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    … seems, that the leadership of the SWP like the ones of the PPSh of Hoxha from time to time needs to sacrifice some scapegoats to obscure the parties failures … the difference is, that the SWP does not shoot them like the PPSh did it e.g. with Mehmet Shehu, who was accused by Hoxha of being a spy for Yugoslavia, the CIA and the KGB …

  20. Mark P said,

    October 17, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    ejh: “Ah, I was thinking of the Broad Left in CPSA years ago, but never mind.”

    I presume that the alleged packing mentioned above was carried out by Labour Party members, who happened to agree with the politics of a particular newspaper, and thus this fits precisely with my comment about people in the mainstream parties being pretty cynical about things like this!

  21. ejh said,

    October 17, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    I’m not sure. At which point did they cease to be members of said party and the name of the paper change?

  22. babeuf said,

    October 17, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Phil said: “‘Të qiftë arusha qorre!’ Coo. If you translate this I can expand my repertoire of well-known Albanian phrases or sayings by 100%.”

    Don’t let me put you off serious study of Albanian, Phil, but all you need in the present instance is google. I should say that I don’t really wish that fate upon ejh – I just through it in to add an extra splash of colour.

  23. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 17, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    Thing is, I’ve already used the Sheriff of Nottingham for Rees… do I hear Lesley Phillips for Galloway?

    I never got the hang of Albanian, unfortunately. My Serbo-Croat is pretty good, but most of the proverbs I know revolve around bodily functions or barnyard animals. And one can’t really say “jebem ti majku” in polite company.

  24. Mark P said,

    October 17, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    ejh:

    They left the Labour Party in the early 1990s. Oddly enough I can’t remember the year off the top of my head – 1992 possibly. The paper changed its name in 1997.

    More seriously, I’m not suggesting for a minute that the SWP are alone on the left in having packed a meeting or two. It’s less common on the left than in mainstream politics, I suspect, but pretty much every group has done it on occasion. I don’t even think that it is always and everywhere illegitimate – there is a very thin line between mobilising your support and packing a meeting. It is however a very clear sign that all trust in the bonafides of your “allies” has broken down (or is about to break down!) and that war has been declared.

    In this squabble, I think that the SWP will find themselves outmobilised in places like Tower Hamlets and Birmingham, but will be the ones in the driving seat in most of the rest of the country.

  25. cameron said,

    October 17, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    An overlooked feature of the expulsions, perhaps, is that the next day in party notes the SWP announced the beginning of the pre-conference period
    when temporary factions are in theory allowed.

    The expulsions thus prevented the three going to the SWP direct.

  26. Mike said,

    October 17, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Well Cameron given your sects call for the expulsion of Rees and German, which I agree with, it is rather hypocritical to decry the denial of democracy to the Respect 3. Good riddance to them and lets hope those members of the SWP with a socialist conscience will criticise the course the SWP has taken these last few years towards populist and electoralist liquidationism.

    I only wish the cpgb would emulate the real CPGB and liquidate. Leaving behind the weekly worker as a valuable gossip resource but of course.

  27. Lobby Ludd said,

    October 17, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    “….the takeover of Surrey chess by an evangelical Christian group in Couldson. They couldn’t half pack a meeting.”

    Ah! So that’s where all those bastard Frenchites went. They were so decrepit when I had dealings with them I just thought they were all dead by now (hard to tell, I know).

    But I can see now that it’s just that they couldn’t tell the difference between Stalinism and chess + evangelism and made the wrong turn.

  28. Mike said,

    October 18, 2007 at 4:46 am

    Ah the Frenchites! I believe Conrad’s little group began as their youth section.

  29. ejh said,

    October 18, 2007 at 6:59 am

    I misread Frenchites for a moment and thought this thread had turned into an episode of Sharpe.

  30. Phil said,

    October 18, 2007 at 7:37 am

    “…That damn’d elusive British Road to Socialism!”

  31. Alex Nichols said,

    October 18, 2007 at 7:54 am

    ” The line is still being sold that an attack on Rees is an attack on the SWP, despite George making it clear that his problems were with Rees personally. Why wouldn’t the SWP CC agree to replace Rees with another SWP member? ”

    Sorry, but that’s naive in the extreme.
    No serious organisation would behave any differently. Rees is a de-facto, central leader of the SWP. If they allow Galloway the right to have “personal differences” and pick and chose who he works with, they’re allowing him the right to undermine the leadership of the SWP and split the party.

    In formal terms, the way they’re behaving is absolutely correct.
    The problem is, their politics aren’t and they have lost control over some of their key leadership figures as a result.

  32. Alex Nichols said,

    October 18, 2007 at 7:55 am

    ” The line is still being sold that an attack on Rees is an attack on the SWP, despite George making it clear that his problems were with Rees personally. Why wouldn’t the SWP CC agree to replace Rees with another SWP member? ”

    Sorry, but that’s naive in the extreme.
    No serious organisation would behave any differently. Rees is a de-facto, central leader of the SWP. If they allow Galloway the right to have “personal differences” and pick and chose who he works with, they’re allowing him the right to undermine the leadership of the SWP and split the party.

    In formal terms, the way they’re behaving is absolutely correct.
    The problem is, their politics aren’t and they have lost control over some of their key leadership figures as a result.

  33. ejh said,

    October 18, 2007 at 8:16 am

    One answer might be that if you’re working with other people you take some account of whom they do and do not get on with.

  34. Alex Nichols said,

    October 18, 2007 at 8:46 am

    I see….and has Galloway ever made the same concessions regarding the deeply questionable Yvonne Ridley?
    To me, that’s a more serious political question than whether you get on with someone.
    Is an agreed programme what defines a political organisation?
    Or is all that matters in the leadership of “Respect” whether you can get 3,000 or 1,000 votes?

  35. ejh said,

    October 18, 2007 at 9:10 am

    and has Galloway ever made the same concessions regarding the deeply questionable Yvonne Ridley?

    I neither know nor care, for the point remains.

  36. Andy Newman said,

    October 18, 2007 at 11:44 am

    I think ejh is correct here,

    if the SWP genuinely wanted to compromise then they could have moved John Rees aside, and put forward another on-message SWP member to replace him. This would have been a confidence building measure.

    Contrary to what Alex says, this is indeed what mature organisations do, not only recognising personality issues, but also that sometimes disputes can be defused by personnel changes.

    The particular structure of the SWP makes this more diffiecult for two reasons.

    i) Rees’s career and infleunce within the SWP requires that he, and his supporters defend his position in respect. As he has no formal job within the SWP itself. The absense of open political debate within the SWP around organised platforms means that informal networks and unacknowledged causcuses develop instead, and it is therefore if Rees is to stay on the top table within the SWP it cannot be on the basis of a declared and distinct political basis, but must be based upon specious claims to experience and position in the movement. If he loses his position then he is out.

    ii) although there is seeming monolithism of the SWP CC, they actually agree to disagree a lot of the time, those leading members of the SWP who disagree strategically with Rees, (or who might think that in his absence they themselves would be more influential) are actually best served by being intransigent about keeping Rees in position in Respect themselves – either way he will come out damaged, and some of them may be quite happy to see Respect go down the pan.

    I know that Kremlinogy is 50% speculation, ut the difference in emphasis between how Harman and Rees have written ovee the last few years are too obvious to be coincidental.

  37. Alex Nichols said,

    October 18, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    I know very well that there are serious deficiencies in the SWP’s political perspectives and internal workings.
    This was clearly demonstrated by the Socialist Alliance debacle.
    I’m sure the SP split was a provoked quite deliberately, because of comments made by an SWP full-timer, well beforehand.

    But it’s also a question of how you deal with that situation.
    I thought the SP played into their hands by regarding the issue of indivual membership versus a coalition of organisations as a split issue.

    I don’t think they regarded Galloway in the same way from the outset, but were perhaps hoping to win him over.
    However, he’s got bigger ideas and is not someone who is going to relinquish his freedom of manouevre.
    He’s not a political naif, there must have been an element of political calculation when he went for Rees in personal terms

    If the SWP had genuine democratic centralist Leninist politics, they would have have given him short shrift.
    But they lack the politics to challenge his weaknesses.
    The SWP covered up for them when they helped create Respect, so they bear a large share of the responsibility.

    If they split , they will emerge a weaker organisation, because they have no prominent national figures and they won’t take everyone out

    But just relying on good faith that Respect will become a vehicle for Socialist Unity is just plain political irresponsibility.
    People saying this have to put it to the test by forming an open political platform, otherwise they’ll just end up as another tranche of burnt out bag- carriers 3 years down the line.

  38. Mike said,

    October 18, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Andys Kremlinology is fascinating and pretty good stuff as far as it goes. But I have to offer the view that no opposition to Rees can develop from the current leading cadre. the sad truth is that the likes of Chris Harman or Chris Bambery are also mired in this horrid desertion from the principle of class independence from all bourgeois and petty bourgeois fractions. Moreover there is little or no evidence that either man, or others such as second rank leaders like John Molyneux, have the political courage to take the initiative against the SWP right.

  39. ejh said,

    October 18, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    this horrid desertion from the principle of class independence from all bourgeois and petty bourgeois fractions

    This is what we want

  40. Andy said,

    October 18, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    Mike

    Perhaps, No principled opposition to Rees is likely to develop from what you call the left, but I would think are better described as the SWP’s “institutional conservatives”, but a bureaucratic opposition based upon personalities, and behind the scenes manouvres could.

    Remember the wise words of James cannon, people always have two reasons for what they do, the good reason, and the real reason.

  41. Andy said,

    October 18, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    BTW – when i wrote above: “although there is seeming monolithism of the SWP CC, they actually agree to disagree a lot of the time”

    A good example would be Harman and Cliif’s oppositin to Womens’ Voice.

  42. Mike said,

    October 18, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    TrueAndy some of the older comrades may be feeling pissed off because of the idiotic Respect project. But given their past record do they have the guts needed to take on and oust the losers running the group? I doubt it but do hope it happens.

  43. ejh said,

    October 19, 2007 at 6:30 am

    What in the context of Trotskyite politics would constitute not being “a loser”?

    (I don’t like the expression much, myself, we’re pretty much all of us losers, but leave that aside for a mo.)

  44. Phil said,

    October 19, 2007 at 7:10 am

    Sri Lanka?

  45. ejh said,

    October 19, 2007 at 7:23 am

    Didn’t Australia beat them in the final?


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