Once more on Machiavelli

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To return for a moment to the organisational dynamics of the SWP, I want to explore a few points that may not be obvious to the outside observer without inside experience of the organisation. Peter Manson’s attempted Kremlinology in the latest Weekly World Worker News is a case in point, but there have been plenty of examples in commentary on the Respect crisis.

Firstly, you can only learn a limited amount from comparing the published utterances of leading members. Of course you’ll find differences of emphasis, but rarely out-and-out disagreements, and even then you have to consider that the SWP does not enforce “the line” in a totalitarian manner; the paper is the key outlet for instructing the membership, and comrades often take what they want from what they read.

Let us cast our minds back to the days of the “anti-capitalist” turn. Back then, if memory serves, the Weekly Worker got very excited over the idea that Chris Harman was leading an internal opposition, deriving this idea from comparing what Harman was writing to the pronunciamentos of Prof Callinicos. This failed to take into account that Harman has been in the central leadership for going on forty years and has never once, to my knowledge, gone oppositionist. For decades he was in fact known as the man who would stick his head above the parapet whenever Cliff felt a brainstorm coming on. So what Harman wrote during the post-Seattle frenzy, which in fact was nothing more than a restatement of the SWP’s formal position, really was nothing more than a relatively sober and nuanced perspective, which couldn’t help but contrast with the good professor’s rushes of blood to the head. Actually, it’s likely that many comrades who were dubious about the claims being made for “anti-capitalism” found Harman’s articles in SW comforting, which may well have been their purpose in the first place.

Now, in the present situation, the three people on the CC often singled out as being less enthusiastic about Respect are Harman, Chris Bambery and Martin Smith. Apart from some differences of tone, you can’t find any statement from the three amigos that puts them at odds with John and Lindsey. And as I haven’t been in touch with any of them in recent years, and don’t have the gift of telepathy, I can’t say what they privately think about Respect. In any case, a materialist rather than idealist analysis is called for. What the three amigos have in common is that the positions they hold in the party – editor of the journal, editor of the paper and national secretary – are geared towards the survival and prosperity of the SWP as an organisation. They may for all I know be all for Respect on a subjective level, but there are institutional restraints on them determining just how enthusiastic they can be, especially if Respect seems to be threatening the cohesion of the SWP.

Now we return to our friend Rees. John is, as I’ve said, in an exposed position and he’s in a weak position. This is mainly because he doesn’t hold a definite post in the SWP, but instead has owed his power and prestige over the last several years to being Mr Coalition. That’s worked well for him in the past, but has incurred a few disadvantages. One is that being Mr Coalition puts a premium on certain qualities, like tact, diplomacy and collegiality, that aren’t prized in someone who is climbing the greasy pole of the SWP hierarchy. Another is that, while John can write well, sometimes brilliantly, on politics and Marxist theory, as a practical politician he has serious limitations. Further, offering to stand down from the Respect national secretary position would have spoken well of him, and showed him to be somebody who would put politics before ambition, but the realities of what that would mean for him in terms of the SWP’s internal pecking order mean that he couldn’t move even if he wanted to. Hoist by your own petard, I think is the term.

Right, so what are the basic fault lines? It’s a mistake to see things in terms of an “opposition”, or to speak as Manson does of a “pro-Respect right wing”, even if we accept the idea of the SWP as the left of Respect and the others as the right, which I don’t. And of course it’s unlikely in the extreme that there will be an organised opposition at the upcoming SWP conference, bearing in mind that there hasn’t been a serious oppositional faction for over twenty years, the draconian restrictions on debate even in the pre-conference period, the method of delegate selection and so on. What it boils down to is that there won’t be a factional situation unless the CC splits, and there is no evidence of that as yet.

But that isn’t to say that there aren’t distinct schools of thought. There are those in the party, mostly older cadres, who’ve never really taken to Respect and would be delighted at a CC move to cut their losses, get the hell out and go back to doing pretty much what the SWP used to do in the 1990s, carrying out propagandistic campaigns, selling the paper and recruiting. This is a position I’ve an instinctive sympathy for, but there are problems inherent in it. Possibly it is sectarian, although that in itself isn’t reason enough to rule it out, then there’s the likelihood that a viable Respect would be left behind and present an obstacle for the foreseeable future. There are also those who really are in favour of Respect as such and would like to see it develop, who probably aren’t thrilled at the CC, and Rees in particular, buggering things up.

So while the odds are against a split in the SWP – I’ve seen so many predictions of that that I’ll believe it when I see it – the party is a good deal less cohesive than it’s been for many years. The honchos on the CC have tended to rely in the past on the assumption that the rank and file are basically mugs and, as long as the CC maintains a united face to the membership, they can get a 98% vote for any harebrained perspective. Well, hard as it is to tell what the relative strengths are, we’ll see if that’s the case this time round.

But before the SWP conference will be next month’s Respect conference, and I think a split is very likely. Here are the basic possibilities:

If the SWP win, is it likely that they will launch a reconciliation process, or is it likely that they will try to stamp their authority on Respect? If the latter happens, it’s quite likely that George, Salma, the East End Bengalis and just about all the non-SWP people will walk out and set up an alternative vehicle, and Respect will just be a shell, with nobody in it except the SWP, and no electoral support.

If the SWP lose, is it likely that they will agree to act as a disciplined minority, or is it likely that they will embark on a campaign of sabotage? If you have trouble making up your mind, I direct your attention to Scotland. The end result would be a Respect without the SWP – which might quickly make up what it’s lost in terms of numbers – and a determinedly isolationist SWP retreating ever further to the margins.

The propagandist road, as I say, does have its attractions. But that would require a change in politics, a dumping of Respect populism in favour of a harder Trotskyist profile. There is absolutely no evidence of this taking place and, whatever Seán Matgamna might fondly imagine, there is absolutely no evidence that the SWP CC’s alleged “left turn” in this crisis is anything other than rhetorical. That being so, we’re seeing the SWP absolutely pissing off all their allies and ensuring that nobody will work with them for a long time into the future, and without a hard political justification for this. The possibility is that SWP politics could be discredited in Britain for a generation, and I have enough residual affinity for the tradition to find that profoundly depressing.

42 Comments

  1. Mark P said,

    October 19, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    You make an important point here about the nature of the SWP and its internal dynamics. Look at things in a historical context.

    Once upon a time it was the most split prone organisation on the left. Most of the spectrum of small groups on the British left – WP, AWL, PR, RDG, RCG, RCP, RA and others – can trace their descent to a decade or so of internal SWP convulsions. The transformation of the IS into the SWP saw wholesale expulsions of every political minority. The first few years of the SWP saw continuing but smaller scale organised splits and then, the SWP leadership got better at operating their new set up and all that came to an end.

    The SWP didn’t ever stop shedding members for political reasons. It just got very good at stopping malcontents from organising or spreading their disagreements. This meant shutting down the internal lines of discussion. It meant making the idea of raising serious disagreements difficult and unpleasant. It meant reorganisation of branches, it meant expulsions of the ones and twos before they became dozens.

    The expulsions of Wrack, Ovenden and Hoveman have to be seen against that background. Such expulsions are higher profile than usual because the political difficulties are further reaching than usual, but they don’t represent a dramatic departure from normal procedure. The thinking behind presenting them with an ultimatum was much the same as usual – get rid of the malcontents before, not after, they organise wider problems. A key thing to remember here is that they were expelled a day or two before the opening the SWP’s pre-conference period, the only time at which they could present their views in an internal bulletin or seek to speak to or organise potential sympathisers.

    The SWP has managed to avoid an organised split for what, 25 years now? And yet, every time there is a row the Kremlinologists start gazing into their tea leaves, trying to find evidence that this or that CC member is going to lead a split. Such a thing could of course happen, but there is no evidence to support it available to even the middle cadre of the SWP, let alone the rank and file and certainly not the left’s would be gossip columnists. So they are reduced to picking through old articles, saying that this CC member’s article doesn’t seem quite as hysterical as the last one, so he must oppose the line! Harman is a particular magnet for this, mostly because his style generally involves less screaming hyperbole than that of most of the other SWP leaders. But it is all bullshit.

    It is possible that there will be a formal, organised split in the SWP. But a much more likely scenario is that the SWP loses a significant number of people as disorganised individuals, who drift off to the other side and that a few individual expulsions help the process along the way. That’s the kind of “crisis” we do have evidence for and which fits, in a steroided up way, the practice of previous SWP turns.

  2. ejh said,

    October 19, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    mostly because his style generally involves less screaming hyperbole than that of most of the other SWP leaders.

    That description doesn’t strike you as hyperbole?

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 19, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Well, indeed. But I wouldn’t read too much significance into the expulsions being on the eve of the pre-conference period. That’s a formal consideration, but not much more than that. Bear in mind that in the SWP, individual CC members have the power to summarily expel members, and there isn’t much call for charges, votes or control commissions.

    Now, the pre-conference period itself is something interesting. As has been pointed out before, the CC can edit bulletin contributions. Very critical contributions are often held back until the last bulletin, so they get handed to delegates as they arrive and aren’t discussed beforehand. And a critical submission will never get published without a hefty rejoinder from the CC along the lines of “What Dave fails to understand is this…”

    No, I don’t see there being a formal split. But there’s an interesting situation nonetheless. One thing to bear in mind is that SWP members who don’t like Respect have abstained from Respect, or only joined nominally, without leaving the SWP. But if the SWP leaves Respect, that means party members who want to stay in Respect would have to make a choice. And voting with their feet would be less intimidating than it was before. Remember that the lack of splits was not only due to stunted internal debate, but also a general isolationist culture.

  4. chekov said,

    October 19, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    I also wouldn’t rule out the total collapse of Respect. If Galloway loses, I can’t see him sticking around and he has a media career to look forward to and if the SWP win through packing the conference (which appears to be likely at this stage), I can’t see the muslim wing sticking around. The problem with winning things through bureaucratic manouevres is that you expose your own ruthlessness and contempt for democracy to the foot-soldiers of the opposition and very few people are happy to take orders from people who have behaved appallingly towards them.

  5. ejh said,

    October 19, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    The thing is, people don’t necessarily “engage in bureaucratic manouevres” because they have “a contempt for democracy”. Often they do it because they think the other side will do it. A lot of bad political behaviour derives not from an absence of principle per se but from fear of being turned over by one’s rivals.

    without a hefty rejoinder from the CC along the lines of “What Dave fails to understand is this…”

    I have to say I’ve found that less and less attracxtive a line as I’ve got older. Not so much a CC thing, just that being told by someone half your age that you don’t understand something, which you understood inside-out when you were not much older than them, tends to stretch the patience just a little.

  6. Mike said,

    October 19, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    Good post SS and one I generally agree with. But I do see a left-right aspect tothe dispute within Respect for the following reason. If nothing else the SWP remains based on socialist and working class politics even if they are corrupted and distorted for a number of reasons.

    Itfollows for me that those eloements who ‘go native’ in Respect are heading towards the right politically and should be treated accordingly. Right now that means backing the SWP misleadership in expelling these renegades.

    As for the future it looks to me that the SWP faction in Respect will get beaten. Which may very well mean the loss of a few more members for the SWP and a bit of a slip for it in terms of prestige which touches on their ability to win allies in the future.

    One curiousity is whether or not they will be able to retain the councillors they have recruited in London from Respect. Lavallette being solid I assume. And if they do will they seek to launch a substitute for Respect? In which case will those elements who dislike Respect be emboldened?

    The only alternative is, as SS has pointed out, a return to an isolationist propagandism. That perspective has some real problems in that those comrades most likely to go for it as an option are older and less able to put the time in to build such a group. Younger comrades have less knowledge of Marxism and are therefore less suited to such a course.

    Naturally the return to an isolationist propagandism may lead to further shrinkage of the SWP and an increase in its sectism. Moreover, unless the lessons of Respect are learned, it will not prevent another lurch into gross opportunism. But it is the best hope of preserving what remains of the SWP s working class cadre and of them having some chance of learning the lessons of this horrid fiasco.

    Socialists out of Respect Now!

    Expell Rees and German!

    Save the SWP!

  7. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 19, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    I notice, by the way, that the current SW still has nary a word on Respect, and as a result SWP members are having to hit the blogs to find out what’s going on. And unapproved blogs too, since Lenny is maintaining radio silence. Now the budding Kremlinologist can take his pick:

    a) This is just knee-jerk control freakery.
    b) Bambery doesn’t know what he’s doing.
    c) Bambery knows exactly what he’s doing.

  8. Andy Newman said,

    October 19, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    It is the question of institutional constraints that are important.

    remember that all the inner circle of CC members rely upon their position within the SWP for their place in the movement. With the excpetion of the red Prof, if they lost their position on the CC they wouldn’t be jetting off to social forums and appearing on Newsnight.

    So there is immense institutional pressure on them not to exhibit any major disagreement from the CC. But at the same time – provided they don’t rock the collective boat – they can think, write and do what they want. For a long time I have conceived the SWP as a franchise operation, John Rees has been the SWP franchise holder for coalition work, and has relative autonomy within that field of work, as long as it doesn’t jeopardise the overall standing of the CC. Similarly the Prof runs the Pomintern – autonomously as long as it doesn’t impact on the main operation.

    But these institional limits are importnat. I remember speaking to a highly placed comrade in the Socialist Alliance (SA) who was in the negotiations with the SWP about how the intervention in thr massive Feb 15th demo was going to be run. The SA wanted the SWP (and if they did the other minnows would follow) to prioritise the SA, not the SWP. After a long while Comrade X thought he saw in Rees’s eyes that he had been convined – just for a second, and then he seemed to realise it was impossible. And the result was the infamous Chris Bambury instruction that the only job SWP members could do on the day was sell SW. So some of the differences of emphasis are not just Kremlinology (I am pretty sure for example that bambury for example was actually not a member of the SA)

    There is absolutely no question of there devleoping a split within the SWP CC, unless it was over an issue that involved the continuing integrity of the SWP as an organisatioon – and I cannot conceive of anything that would do that.

    I actually give a little more credence to the idea that the expulsions were engineered to be before the pre-conference period, as I have shall we say a reasonable hunch that one or more of the expelled individuals were intending to use the IB, and given the publicity of their challenge, members would have expected to see those submissions in the first IB. And yes yes it has been a long time since there has been an intrnal platform in the SWP, and Sunrise is correct that without a split in the CC it would be hard to see one ever occuring. But Rob and Kev are probably well liked enough, and well connected enough, to have pulled one off – they are almost the only comrades I can think of who could have.

    Anyway – whither Respect. The SWP were turned over on Thursday night and make no mistake about it. They had elected their slate with a majority SWP component on Tuesday night, in circumstances where even one of their Bengali councillor memebrs, Hussain Ahmed has agreed were wrong. (http://www.socialistunity.com/?page_id=860) On Thusrday night that decsion was overturned by the branch commitee and a new delegation will be agreed by a members meeting – which will probably be held in Shadwell.

    There is no prospect what so ever of the SWP winning the vote in that meeting.

    What is more Rees’s resction has been incandescent rage, sending out an angry e-mail under the subject headline: “off you go – fuck off, fuck off the lot of you”

  9. ejh said,

    October 20, 2007 at 8:22 am

    Was that a private email?

  10. Andy Newman said,

    October 20, 2007 at 8:42 am

    Well it wasn’t that private given that everyone in the SWP seems to have had it, and it was published on Harry’s place, and Liam’s blog.

  11. Andy Newman said,

    October 20, 2007 at 8:42 am

    I understand it was originally addressed to all Respect National Committee members, and sent to all SW members.

  12. ejh said,

    October 20, 2007 at 8:45 am

    it was published on Harry’s place

    Mmm. Not really an example one would wish to follow, perhaps.

    I think private or restricted emails should normally remain private/restricted. There really is, whether you can see it or not, an element to all this which is not entirely healthy.

  13. ejh said,

    October 20, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Incidentally, was that subject heading something Rees was saying himself or might he have been quoting somebody else? If the latter, would not your description above given entirely the wrong impression?

  14. Andy Newman said,

    October 20, 2007 at 9:07 am

    not in front of the children?

  15. the pilge said,

    October 20, 2007 at 9:08 am

    “What is more Rees’s resction has been incandescent rage, sending out an angry e-mail under the subject headline: “off you go – fuck off, fuck off the lot of you””

    That being a transcribed quotation from George Galloway.

  16. Andy Newman said,

    October 20, 2007 at 9:11 am

    ejh – can you explain why this e-mail from JOhn Rees included a transcript of aleged bad language and bad behaviour from galloway, but the equally bad language and bad behaviour of Rees’s mini-me Shaun Doherty at the same meeting was ommotted entrirely.

    If an utterly one sided and distorted factional account is circulating purporting to be a neutral account, then how else can it be countered except by publishing it?

  17. Andy Newman said,

    October 20, 2007 at 9:11 am

    omitted

  18. Andy Newman said,

    October 20, 2007 at 9:15 am

    And rage is perhaps a reasonable response to an attempt by the SWP to use procedural objections to prevent the bengali membership of TH Resepct electing a slate of delegates – ruliing their slate out on utterly bogus “constitutional” arguments.

    To quote a long time SWP memeber who was at the meeting:

    Rees is clearly so incandescent he has decided to
    > circulate Azmal Hussain’s double indictment of what
    > can only be described as the Healyisation of the
    > SWP. Shaun Doherty, someone who neither lives nor
    > works in Tower Hamlets but who was sent in
    > originally as Rees’s ‘hard man’. was a picture of
    > the sectarian frothing at the mouth with moral
    > indignation that the dominance ofthe SWP might be
    > challenged by these upstart Bangalis who clearly do
    > not understand their position as mere voting fodder.
    > He led the walk out that others SWP members followed
    > with varying degrees of reluctance.
    >
    > The SWP is in profound danger of now appearing as
    > Islamophobic as the ghastly CPGB and AWL. The cant
    > and hypocrisy that the 10 SWP members that the
    > majority kindly put on to the committee at the unity
    > AGM a few months ago were trying to defend the
    > indefensible simply in pursuit of Rees’ attempt to
    > pack the National Conference.
    >
    > Their argument was that the only constitutional
    > list was the one the SWP had drawn up and therefore
    > the alternative list could not have been voted on at
    > the branch meeting on Tuesday. This is total rubbish
    > as even one of the SWP’s two trophy councillors
    > Ahmed Hussain was forced to admit in an extensive
    > email exchange.The two notices sent out by SWP
    > Respect Branch Secretary Jackie Turned gave
    > respectively no deadline for submission of
    > nominations and a deadline of Tuesday but with no
    > time limit. The branch meeting was, of course, on
    > Tuesday. For the SWP to vote through its list at a
    > rump meeting after the chair had closed the meeting
    > was an act of deeply undemocratic hubris.
    >
    > There is another very nasty aspect of this
    > business which is brought out by Rees’s email and
    > which is a return to the approach the SWP took
    > eighteen months ago when they virtually split apart
    > the coalition in Tower Hamlets. Admission to the
    > branch meeting on Tuesday was subject to identity
    > checks which were applied humiliatingly to some of
    > the members of Bangladeshi origins and indeed
    > partially with some mebers being turned away when
    > their membership was found to be out of date and
    > others allowed to renew on the night, which had
    > always been the previous precedent.
    >
    > The attitude of the SWP rump on the committee is
    > what it has been for the last year and a half and
    > showed they had learned nothing from the unity deal
    > at the last AGM. They think they are the real
    > Respect and the vast majority of members of
    > Bangladeshi origin are second class members. For
    > example, John McLoughlin, someone who works but does
    > not live in Tower Hamlets and who does little around
    > Respect, complained that he did not know many of the
    > names on Azmal Hussain’s list. It’s pretty unlikely
    > that many of them know him but so what.
    >
    > Where we go from here is a moot point but the SWP
    > has destroyed its reputation amongst the cast
    > majority of Tower Hamlets Respect members both white
    > and of Bangladeshi origin. It seems to be heading
    > off to being a rather nasty and totally irrelevant
    > sect.

  19. ejh said,

    October 20, 2007 at 9:23 am

    Do you ever feel you don’t post enough about the SWP, Andy?

    Look. Basically you’ve made a claim above that’s the opposite of the truth, because you jumped to conclusions – the conclusions that you wanted to jump to. All right, we all do it. But having done it, wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge it – and to try and avoid the error in the future?

  20. Madam Miaow said,

    October 20, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    Top pic, top post, top thread.

  21. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 20, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Magneto would sort them out!

    This whole thing has really been a gift in some ways, though it can’t be much fun for those on the inside.

  22. Andy Newman said,

    October 20, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    ejh #20

    ” you’ve made a claim above that’s the opposite of the truth, because you jumped to conclusions ”

    No I didn’t. i said “Rees’s resction has been incandescent rage, sending out an angry e-mail under the subject headline: “off you go – fuck off, fuck off the lot of you””

    John Rees did in fact send out an angry e-mail and the subject headline of that e-mail was: “off you go – fuck off, fuck off the lot of you””

    ejh – do you dispute that that was the subjest headline? and did JOJhn rees send it out? then what was the error i made?

    The only questiono f interpretation there is when I used the words incandescent rage. The uncontested fact is that the subject headline of the e-mail was “off you go – fuck off, fuck off the lot of you””

    That e-mail was a highly factionalised transcript, that alleged Geroage Galloway used those words. Now in fact this is in dispute from other people at the meeting, who say that galloway said something along the lines of “off you go then”.

    Whatever galloway said. The sending of an e-mail with that headline, and a factionally tilted transcript, was an inflamatory escalation of tension. I can only conclude that someone who would do such a thing must have done it out of anger.

    Do I post enough about the SWP? Well normally I don’t actually – if you read the SU blog, there are far more posts about other issues and i post about the communist party and the labour party probably more often. i think i post more often on question of English national identity than I do about the SWP.

    However, as I am committed to the project of some sort of left realignment in England, then the attitude and politics of the SWP become are very relevant to that project.

    The basic fallacy of your argument ejh is that people are put off left politics because of the way people talk about it – no people are put of left politics becasue of the way the left groups behave.

  23. Andy Newman said,

    October 20, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    incidently ejh I just checked the stats of socialist unity blog

    Out of a total of 602 posts in the socialist unity blog just 43 have mentioned the SWP. These are the most frequent topics. Now I do obviouly have an interest after 20 yeards of membership, and as splintered sunrise posts about the SWP too, i join in the discusion.

    You seem to have a personal problem with me, I suggest you get over it.

    Trade unions 59
    New labour 50
    SWP 43
    Palestine 34
    Respect 34
    Anti war 27
    Anti fascist 22
    Communist party 13
    Movies 18
    England 17

  24. Andy Newman said,

    October 20, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    and 8 of the 43 posts mentioning the SWP have been in the last week on the SU blog, becasue of the current debate in Respect.

    You see ejh, in my experience when people complain about the manner that people are talking, or the frequenncy that they talk about the subject, it is usually code for not liking the content of the discussion, not a dislike of the style or the frequency at all.

  25. Andy Newman said,

    October 21, 2007 at 6:49 am

    Incidently ejh – I note that you never criticise splintered surise for writing about the SWP – yet i get the impression that the proportion of his posts concerning the SWP is higher than mine.

    And in fact you join in the discussions.

    Have you ever tought that if you don’t like people discussing the SWP, you should just not read them?

  26. Andy Newman said,

    October 21, 2007 at 8:58 am

    BTW. Liam Mac Uaid, who was personally in attendance at the TH Committe meeting has described John Rees’s transcript as follows:

    “I’m guessing it’s being pretty widely circulated because I received from someone who isn’t in the SWP and who doesn’t live in London. It’s entitled “George Galloway to the left in Tower Hamlets: ‘off you go’ ‘fuck off, fuck off the lot of you’.” Even the choice of title indicates that the intention behind it is to raise factional temperatures rather than give a political explanation of what is happening and why it’s happening. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the SWP’s leadership is determined to smash up Respect in the next couple of weeks. Even from the perspective of my political background,with its emphasis on the necessity of splits and fusions as part of the process of creating broad parties, it is a barmy road to follow”

    So Liam is making exactly the same point about the use of the title of Rees’s e-mail, and the intent behind it as I was.

    With regard to the transcript, I think the broad outline of events described is truthful, what is factional about it is the way it seeks to portray George in a bad way, while presenting the SWP members there as speaking calmly and reasonably.

  27. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 21, 2007 at 10:57 am

    To my mind the pity here is that while the SWP clearly has enormous potential – and as Splintered notes were it to go, unlikely as that may be, that would be a serious loss for the further left if only because yet another option to organise had been removed – there are things about its structure that should really be examined by its members… perhaps I’m misreading this, but is it true that an *individual* CC member can summarily dismiss another member of the party? That, if correct, – on any reckoning – is ceding far too much power to the centre and while those within the CC may exercise that power entirely sincerely the potential for errors, misinterpretations etc are just too great.

  28. ejh said,

    October 21, 2007 at 11:31 am

    it is usually code for not liking the content of the discussion

    Of course Andy. It is always helpful to decide that people are not saying what they’re actually saying, since it helps avoid what they’re actually saying.

    Hey ho.

  29. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 21, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    is it true that an *individual* CC member can summarily dismiss another member of the party?

    Yes it is. The theory is that the individual is a sort of plenipotentiary of the committee.

    I see what ejh is saying, that maybe too much attention goes on the SWP and there is a kneejerk tendency to bash it. That can be true, it’s why I often find Indymedia frustrating and it’s a tendency I have to check in myself. The test I try to apply is, am I adding something to the conversation or is this just sticking the boot in for the sake of it? Hard to say sometimes.

  30. ejh said,

    October 21, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    I think there is a valid argument that you have to criticise what people are doing now if you want them done better in the future. For sure. The question is, is that process likely to come to a conclusion? If it is not – and it is not – is it helpful to spend quite so much time on it as is currently the case?

    I do find it odd, to put it mildly, that reams and reams are written about extremely obscure individuals. Now being a chessplayer I might be the last person to call anybody else obsessive, but nevertheless it is somewhat lacking in perspective.

    Doesn’t matter from an individual point of view – people can and will write about what interests them personally. But do we really want to be doing the same thing in twenty years time – which we will, without a wider and better perspective – or do we want to spend that time saying interesting things to interested people?

  31. Dave Osler said,

    October 21, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    There I was, buying into the explanations of bloggers with good SWP connections that all this would blow over with ‘the party’ remaining intact.

    And then, in my normal Friday night peregrinations of East London beer joints two days ago, I ran into an SWP/IS cadre of four decades standing. He’d had as much to drink as I had, and started blabbering.

    If what he told me is true, the divisions are both very real and very deep. In particular, he didn’t discount the possibility of Harman kicking something off.

    All I can add – as a pensioned off Mandelista – is that these things can sometimes take on unexpected dynamics.

  32. Mike said,

    October 21, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    Harman may well dislike Respect and/or that talentless pair Rees/German but his entire history is one of following a stronger personality. I doubt that such an ingrained behaviour will change this late in the game but sincerely hope it does.

    If they were to boot Rees/German out and begin to re-evaluate their course of the last few years – I would prefer a more radical critique – then the SWP would become the group to join. Or re-join in my case.

    What is most important however would be a turn to the class, a reassertion of the rank and file strategy and the abandonment of the bland populist electoralism of recent years.

  33. ejh said,

    October 22, 2007 at 8:23 am

    A Monday morning sort of point.

    In many ways the left (in Europe at any rate, but not just there) resembles people who have found themselves in exile after a coup or revolution. It consists of small groups, feeling defeated and displaced, lacking influence or an audience, inclined to blame one another for the catastrophe, obsessed with one another’s failings.

    Understandably so, I suppose. I can’t be the only person here who became interested in socialist politics in the early Eighties and have since formed the impression that I was getting into the socialism market just as everybody else was getting out. Basic assumptions that I would have taken for granted twenty-five years ago – things like joining a union and not crossing a picket line – are not only ignored by practically everybody, they actually have no meaning whatsoever to people much younger than myself. The whole business of class-related politics has been sidelined – if class is mentioned at all now it’s likely to be just a philistine stick with which to beat students, artists and pacifists.

    Now I don’t know whether that will change, or how, or how swiftly. I tend to assume that as a society becomes more divided by wealth, socialists will continue to have something to say about it that people will want to hear – but it’s not obviously true from recent experience (or long-term American experience) that this is so. Even if it is, it’s going to be a difficult and morale-testing business and one which people are unlikely to be attracted to if it involves a lot of shouting at one another. If socialist discussion is unpleasant, then there will be a lot of shrugging of shoulders and a lot of walking away and there is not, I think, going to be some fresh, enthusiastic, purged new left to take the place of the old and tired.

    I don’t know if this could have been avoided or not. If we’d won the miners’ strike, perhaps, if the Soviet Union had reformed earlier or Yugoslavia had not collapsed….I don’t know and I’m not interested in writing socialist counterfactuals about it. But I do think that what’s happened has been down to long-term social trends and international events rather than the actions of small socialist groups. Nothing the SWP or any other group has done has meaningfully contributed to it and nothing they could have done could have changed it much. No amount of intraleft polemic can alter that or alter the situation in which we find ourselves. We’re left with the God of Small Things and the belief that history, if it lasts, is long and ideas which are tried and fail at one juncture will reappear and succeed at another. It is, perhaps, that situation to which we can most usefully address ourselves.

  34. Dr Paul said,

    October 22, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    What I’d like to know — perhaps it’s something we’d all like to know — is what the SWP has managed to gain from the Respect project. How many members has it recruited? How much influence has it gained through it in the unions and broad radical movement?

    Other questions that come to mind are, what have all these non-SWP Respect councillors actually done once they’ve got into office? Have they been promoting ideas that will benefit the working class, and pose a left-wing alternative to Blair-Brownism? Or have they been making back-door deals with other parties (as this often happens in local politics), or (as also happens) been feathering their own nests? Does anyone actually know the political history of the non-SWP councillors and other non-SWP people prominent in Respect? I’ve asked many of my pals, including those who’ve been active in politics for donkeys and those who live in East London, and they don’t know either.

  35. Andy Newman said,

    October 22, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    With regard to ejh’s point in #34.

    I actually strongly agree that changes in society have pulled the ground from under our feet. the failing therefore of the left groups – what has precipitated them into exile as ejh so aptly puts it – has been their inability to relate to the changes in society.

    Somewaht to my own surprise this has led mt to reapprasie the arguments of Marxism Today, was Hobsbawn correct all along?

    In recognition of the fact that people’s experiences only lead a minority to even rudimentary class consciousness, then perhaps we need to relate much more to other progressive political constituencies?

  36. Andy Newman said,

    October 22, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Anyway dave

    Regarding the fate of the SWP. I beleive they are in much more trouble than they have been for a very long time.

    BUt abig weakness at the top is not so much political in the sense of perspectives and theories, but that they have concentrated on collegiate leadership for so long, (originally allowing Cliff to play maestro, but more recently wiith no mastro) that they have excluded from the leadership anyone with the personality, charisma and leadership skills to steer them out of this mess.

    Harman won’t make a move surely, because if he did he would be stuck with having to lead the bloody organisation – at his age and after a lifetime of backroom theorising and disappointment of early promise not realised.

    But who else could there be?

    Cometh the hour, cometh who?

  37. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 22, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Cometh the hour, cometh who?

    Hard to say, isn’t it?

    I have a lot of sympathy for Mike’s position, and it’s probably what I would come up with if I was determined to have a principled position. But there is a chicken and egg question here. I think leaving Respect could be politically justified by a genuine left turn, but what are the odds? In Ireland you’ve got this abomination called People Before Profit, which has all the political weakness of Respect but nobody in it except the SWP. And a sectarian-propagandist SWP with Respect politics would be no use to anybody.

    I’m not dogmatic about this. I didn’t think Respect should have been set up in the first place, and I definitely thought it wasn’t the SWP’s job to set it up. But with the thing existing, and some fluidity there, I think there’s a strong argument for trying to tease out the possibilities.

    But it’s looking to me very much like the SWP leadership are going for a Scottish model, that if they have to go they’ll smash things up first. This means they’ll take next to nobody with them and likely leave a substantial slice of the cadre behind.

  38. Andy Newman said,

    October 22, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Well that the rub of it, they seem to be a trajectory for a crash.

    they have two viable options.

    i) the optioon I favour, which is to steer rightm and become a disciplined Marxist current operating within Respect.
    ii) The option Mike favours, which is to steer left, make an amicable divorce from Respect and become a propaganda group returning to ideas about the centrality of the class – hooking up again with Chicago.

    BUt instead they seem bent on the suicide option, of smashing themselves up in a faction fight in respect, trying to establish organisational control in respect without winning the political arguments – and thus having losing all their allies. And as Respect will continue to exist – it still offers a soft landing for SWP members who have just had enough.

    The differences with Scotland is that Galloway is a much more formidable figure than Sheridan, and the SWP have no allies in Respect – their support doesn’t even extend to all their own members.

  39. Cian said,

    October 22, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    “then perhaps we need to relate much more to other progressive political constituencies”

    As opposed to piss them off, as the SWP tends to. Because that’s what they do isn’t it – infiltrate progressive political constituencies, try to recruit/take them over and leave a wrecked political movement in their wake. Its not just ex-SWP members who have a problem with them.

    I always assumed that the SWP saw Respect as a way to get into parliament. Which it was, for Galloway.

  40. ejh said,

    October 23, 2007 at 6:34 am

    Well it’s possible that it was what they said it was, which was a way of trying to mobilise (or recruit, if you prefer) young Muslims and others radicalised by the war. (You can insert sets of inverted commas in the positions of your choice.) Which is something nobody else seems to have bothered to do. The question I always wanted to ask was “where are you going with this?”. In fact I nearly did ask a full-timer at the Lambeth County Show, but she’s known me for years and doesn’t take me entirely seriously. Probably rightly so.


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