Renewal, truth and reconciliation


Further teasing out the implications of the Renewal project, I just want to ponder briefly on a question Andy had raised a little while back: that of truth and reconciliation.

This becomes quite important because, as Andy points out, some of those sharply criticising the current practice of the SWP had themselves been involved in these practices previously. Indeed, Dave Renton, someone I respect a great deal, has given this as one of his major reasons for taking the SWP side in the dispute.

Without wanting to rake over old disputes unnecessarily, I don’t think it’s a tenable proposition to say that we should, in Mr Tony Blair’s phrase, draw a line under the past and move on. There are too many bad memories, too many grudges – many of them quite justified – poisoning relations between people who could work together. I think this places a responsibility on people involved in Renewal, who are trying to build something better.

The point is that people can and do change. My mind goes back to 1985 and the collapse of the WRP. There was a genuine transformation on the part of many – of course not all – Healyites as they came to look at the shipwreck of their movement, and ponder what they had done. Even someone like Mike Banda – the thug’s thug, Gerry’s enforcer for thirty years – could do quite a searching self-criticism. And a lot of these guys were never the same again.

Now I’m not remotely suggesting that Renewal should institute a Maoist-style regime of “speaking bitterness” and compulsory self-flagellation. Far from it: it’s just a question of demonstrating practically that the bad old habits are being outgrown.

I think that in the first instance the victims of today should be thinking about building bridges with the victims of yesterday. I think of Steve Godward, a fine trade unionist who got fucked over by the machine for being too independent-minded and too popular for his own good. There are people – they know who they are – who owe Steve an apology. I think of Anna Chen, one of the best press officers the British left has had, getting fucked over by Rees for being too good at her job. An apology from the Rees camarilla is probably out of the question, but there are people out there who Anna helped and who didn’t stand by her when she could have done with the support. In these and many other cases, it’s my humble opinion that some modest gestures – and maybe private gestures would be more meaningful than public ones – would go an awful long way to building trust.

So much for reconciliation, where does truth come in? Simply that it’s important to realise that the behaviour of the SWP leadership is not just a question of them getting things badly wrong over Respect, on a whole number of levels. Rather, we are talking about a process of gradual degeneration going back thirty or so years. If the SWP is doing what Duncan Hallas warned against in the 1970s and becoming a kind of state capitalist WRP, that’s just the end of a long road.

What is needed here is to show that people can reflect on their experiences and draw meaningful lessons from them. This could actually be a valuable learning experience for a lot of people. I would love to see a serious article on the decline of the SWP from someone like Rob Hoveman – not that I’m particularly singling out Rob, but he just comes to mind as someone with the intelligence, insider experience and ability to produce something really good and insightful.

Truth and reconciliation? If handled correctly, yes, it could improve matters no end.


  1. November 22, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    A good post Splinters, and I wholeheartedly endorse what you say. Truth and reconciliation is possible, it’s just very sad that comrades like the Bandas or more recently Ger Francis have only been able to reflect on their behaviour after they’ve left their respective organisations. Any truth-telling processes have to be part and parcel of a root and branch critique of how the left organises, how it churns out obnoxious and alienating personalities, and what it can do about remedying the situation.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 22, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Quite so. I’m a lot more interested in reflection than repentance, but even reflection is in pretty short supply.

  3. Andy Newman said,

    November 22, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    But surely Phil, if there had been no prior process of reflection, then some of these people would still be in the SWP?

    The fact that it has not been publicly acknowledged doens’t mean ti hasn’t happened.

    But any such process of breaking from the group-think is going to lead to people taking or being shown the door, as it cannot be tolerated within the SWP.

  4. johng said,

    November 22, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    Perhaps in order to demonstrate a genuine break with such nefarious practices one might have a discussion about the means of holding the political leadership accountable to the membership in Respect Renewal. That would be interesting to see. I have of course spent the last month or so rediscovering my inner political thug, long in hibernation.

  5. Andy Newman said,

    November 22, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Not only will that be interesting to see john, but that discussion will actualy happen.

    i look forward to a parallel process in the SWP.

  6. Doug said,

    November 22, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    I think the attitude of most Swappies on these blogs in recent weeks tells us that very little has changed or serious lessons been learnt by the SWP. Reasoned, rational argument has been largely futile – it has usually been met with a mixture of lies, half-truths, evasions, intellectual somersaults and absurd counter-accusations, the WRP writ large. We really shouldn’t be surprised at this – for many of us their political practice has long since made them unworkable with. Any formal acknowledgement by any of them of errors of any kind won’t be believed – their cynicism and insincerity has gone on too long. It’s not as if they’re revolutionaries grounded in some sort of Marxism – two experiences over the last few years. First, I challenged a Bristol SWP member a couple of years ago about Galloway, his salary and two homes. She really didn’t understand the point I was making, and clearly assumed I was a Blairite of some description. She said it was alright Galloway had another home in Portugal because it had a 100% mortgage on it and, anyway, it was a cottage, not a house – unbelievable! More recently, in a discussion with a Devon SWP member about how to combat the BNP, he told me ‘Let’s get rid of the Nazis first, then we’ll do the politics’. Marxists? You’ve got to be joking.

  7. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 22, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    I refer johng to Duncan’s original remark in its original context of the mid-70s arguments in IS. Ian Birchall could help you out there. And of course there was more than just thuggery to the Healy movement – I am currently transcribing something that readers may find contains much of interest. I hope to have it posted soon, but the bastard document is very lengthy.

  8. Jack Ray said,

    November 23, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    remember a friend of mine was a youngster in Birmingham Socialist Alliance, must have been about 18 at the time. Him and his Dad were in it, enthusiastically building the organisation in the Erdington part of the city. After the Steve Godward fiasco both left, the younger, although still a socialist, hasn’t been part of anything since, and the older went back to the Labour Party. Both good, independent socialists, that the experience of the SA killed off politically… They’re the kind of people this shit loses and the kind that any meaningful left alternative desperately needs.

  9. johng said,

    November 23, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Doug so an SWP member defends Galloway in the middle of a huge witch hunt of him (I always remember how perposterous it seemed that Galloway was being singled out for having a second home by people who one assumes don’t usually find such things terribly offensive, and then an SWP member gets a bit impatient with your argument and suggests that ‘lets discuss this after we smash the BNP’, and this is evidence that SWP members are not Marxists?

    Bit hasty isn’t it? Its also setting the bar a little high. Not many of us don’t sometimes get a bit impatient.

    I would not be too hasty with the WRP parrallels. It seems to me that a number of people have got a bit carried away on the blogs. We’ll see.

  10. Doug said,

    November 23, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Johng, Your response to my points merely illustrates them further.

  11. johng said,

    November 23, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    I am of course simply beyond help. Its well known.

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