More juice for the mango

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You know, the current debate in the SWP makes me feel a bit like Lisa Simpson.

Allow me to explain. You’ll probably recall the episode where Bart sells his soul to Millhouse for five dollars. It then falls to Lisa to convince Bart that he’s done something wrong, even though she’s not entirely certain that Bart has a soul. Well, I feel a bit like that.

So, in the spirit of goodwill to all men, let us turn to the latest offering from the party’s chief ju-ju man, Professor Callinicos. You will remember that, in his article, the renegade Rees levelled quite a fusillade against the good professor. Now, it be payback time, sucka!

I’ll try to stay on the high ground and concentrate on the main political questions, though I will, from time to time, have to correct various factual assertions and misrepresentations made by John… In the course of this I shall make some comments on Lindsey German’s document, though I think it adds little of substance to the debate.

Miaow! Actually, Alexander manages to stick to the high ground for maybe the first half of his article, where he talks about perspectives about the crisis, and attempts to place the current CC majority as the true inheritors of “Suck it and see!” and “Bend the stick!”, not perhaps Cliff’s most inspiring aphorisms. In the course of this he makes some good points, and a few where I actually agree with him – such as the diminished centrality of Stop the War.

There is a useful argument to be had also in terms of the united front, although I note that Alexander, like Chris Harman, appears to be mired in Dimitrov’s 1935 exposition of the UF. Some reflection on the UF method may be called for. But it is clear that both Callinicos and Harman conceive of “united fronts” primarily as single-issue campaigns initiated and run by the SWP. To this extent, there is a turn back towards the old propagandist methods, and many older party members will welcome that. What the post-Cliff levy, educated in the Rees-German method, will make of it is another question.

There’s also a rather useful discussion of the weakness of Marxism as a pole of attraction in the post-Seattle period, which seems to put a question mark over Alex’s more triumphalist pronouncements back in 2000. And, while Alex doesn’t really do self-criticism, this isn’t the only bit of rowing back in the document:

Then came the era of Seattle. The CC decided that the branches had become an obstacle to the necessary turn outwards and in effect scrapped them. The suspension of branch meetings in London during the GLA elections in 2000 symbolized this shift. I accept my share of this responsibility for this decision, which may indeed have been justified in order sharply to break with the past… Scrapping the branches removed one key agency in recruiting comrades. More important, it meant that if we recruited someone, they had nowhere to go. Unless they were firmly attached to one of the united fronts, the individuals would drift into a shapeless mass of semi-detached members and all too often disappear.

When I read this, the first thing I thought of was this:

The ISO increasingly viewed the world through its own sectarian prism. In an extraordinary speech at the ISO’s convention in December 2000, the group’s National Organizer, Sharon Smith, attacked the idea that the ISO could, by systematically focusing on [the global justice movement], “leapfrog” over the rest of the left, and insisted that methods of party-building forged in the downturn were necessary irrespective of the changing objective conditions. “Branches are now and will always be the measure of the size of the organization,” she said.

Smith here made precisely the mistake against which Trotsky warned – namely that of turning a specific method of building into a matter of principle. The SWP and its sister organizations (including the ISO) developed during the 1980s a routine based on large geographically based branches that met weekly mainly for general political discussion. This fitted a situation where the level of class struggle was low, and it was necessary to concentrate on developing individual members’ understanding of the Marxist tradition in order to survive in a hostile political environment. This structure, however, increasingly became an obstacle to party-building in the 1990s, when the generally slow revival of struggle and much more rapid political radicalization required much smaller, more activist branches that could begin to root themselves in working-class communities. The ISO’s failure to follow the example of, for example, the Socialist Workers Parties in Britain and Greece in making this shift may help to explain its increasingly sectarian trajectory. Sectarian organizational being began to assert itself over Marxist political consciousness.

Physician, heal thyself, etc. I will sidestep Alexander’s tendentious version of the ISO’s politics – I’m sure the ISO have plenty of faults, but they certainly aren’t the sectarian crazies they were made out to be. What is perhaps more to the point is that Prof Callinicos, in his long stewardship of the international tendency, has made rather a habit of exporting organisational shibbolethim from Britain across the world. The regular abolition and resurrection of branch committees, which were alternately a school for cadre or a conservative block depending on which side of the bed Cliff got out of, springs to mind. There was the drive in the 1990s towards tiny branches, which even by Alex’s account brought the Danish group to the point of collapse, and which the Americans (to their credit) resisted. And now, we have the admission that the closing down of the branches by the CC in 2000, Bambery’s Maoist tour of the nation implementing this turn, and the consequent disorganisation of the cadre, was a disaster. Could it be that those crazy Yanks had a point after all?

But the fulcrum of the Callinicos document is an extraordinary character assassination on John Rees. I hasten to add that the fact of a character assassination on this scale is par for the course when someone falls from grace in the SWP, what’s extraordinary is it being put into print. And Alex, while he’s more than a little shifty about his own track record, does manage to put together a fairly devastating charge sheet against John.

There are, however, a couple of problems here. One is that Alex’s account of the defects in John’s personality, his elitism, his arrogance, his irresponsibility etc, would be all too familiar to anyone who’s worked alongside John for even a matter of weeks. And yet, the bugger has been on the Central Committee for fourteen years. For most of that time, the talents that he brought to the party, opaque as they may be to me, were held to outweigh the defects. No, John is being penalised for his recent actions, for the split in Respect and the subsequent Left List debacle – sure, there’s also the dodgy cheque, but that can’t be separated out.

And here’s the problem, because the CC put a huge premium on saving face, and because last year they backed him all the way. As a result, the CC can’t go very far beyond the Mr Tony Blair line of “Let’s draw a line under this and move on.” In fact, all contributors have rehashed the line about how it was correct to “resist Galloway”. Thus Alex:

But that document [the CC’s balance sheet on Respect] makes absolutely clear that political responsibility for the destruction of Respect lies with George Galloway and his allies.

Therefore Lindsey’s claim that John is being made a scapegoat for this disaster is nonsense. The problem was rather that the crisis in Respect exposed certain systematic weaknesses in John’s methods of working – in particular a failure to respect the collective decision-making of the party and, in large part as a result, to make serious mistakes that caused him to lose the confidence of the majority, not just of the leadership, but of the party cadre as well…

Most members of the CC thought it would be unwise to prejudge the results of this meeting [with Galloway on 4 September 2007]. This was a tactical issue with no issue of principle at stake on either side. But most comrades there were taken aback by the vehemence with which John, with the support of Lindsey German (and also with a degree of sympathy from me), insisted on having his way. The tone was ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us’.

It was that argument began the fracture on the CC. What produced the polarization was the assumption on John’s part was that he should define the leadership’s line on Respect. This reflected, more generally, how work on both Respect tended to be reported to the CC. While quite a lot of information would be shared with the CC, it wasn’t on a basis that really invited discussion or dissent.

In retrospect, this represented a breach with how the party has intervened in united fronts. It was always taken for granted comrades involved in leading united fronts would be under particular pressure to adapt to their reformist allies. The role of the Central Committee would be to support these comrades, but also to act as a counter-pressure to any tendency of rightward adaptation.

Quite so. But, and I know I’ve probably bored you all to death on this point, doesn’t the criticism of Rees call into question the correctness of the split? One might argue that the inbuilt tensions in Respect Mark I meant a big bust-up was inevitable in the longer term, and I agree with that. One reason was the fudging of its political basis. Another was the lack of democracy inherent from the start, with the SWP enforcing a three-line whip on even the most minor procedural issues and the real decision-making process being located not at conference or in the NC, but in diplomatic manoeuvres between John and Lindsey on the one hand and George on the other. (The refounded Respect has at least, to its credit, taken steps to address this, by abolishing the slate system and actually having contested elections for the leadership.) But you can agree with all this and still believe that last year’s split was wholly unnecessary.

The contingent reason, of course, was George’s letter criticising Rees for organisational inefficiency and failure to maintain working relationships, and suggesting that another SWP member be appointed to work alongside him. Bearing in mind Rees’ sacking from the CC, and the buckets of shit being poured over him by the CC majority, this all seems rather mild. Actually, the SWP could have massively improved their standing in Respect by admitting that George’s letter identified some real problems, and committing to work constructively with him to deal with these problems. By going nuclear, for what seem to be internal party reasons, this opportunity was thrown away. Worse, there was the ludicrous campaign against the “witch-hunt”, a witch-hunt that had never existed. Worse still was the SWP CC accusing Asian Respect members of “communalism”, the political equivalent of saying poppadum on Big Brother.

Now, Alex and Chris and Martin could win themselves a lot of good will by admitting they made a mistake. They certainly don’t need to shoulder all of the blame, but the sacking of Rees – scapegoating though it may be – provides them with an opportunity to mend fences. Yet they won’t do it. They bemoan having alienated the middle ground in Respect, but can’t concede that this might have anything to do with the SWP’s actions (beyond those for which Rees has already been criticised). And this is the sort of thing that really, really pisses people off. It’s why, for instance, there was a whole layer of Socialist Alliance people who wouldn’t make the jump into Respect. There are plenty of other similar examples, most notably in Scotland, but that would take us too far afield.

Let’s conclude with Alex on the question of improving party democracy:

In fact, my own attitude to Neil’s arguments is very similar to Chris Harman’s, who has been privately been expressing for many years the kind of views stated publicly in his reply to Neil. Like Chris, I think the problem is less one of structure than of ethos. In other words, formally party structures are highly democratic, but the culture of internal debate has been much weaker in recent years, and more broadly the party has been over-reliant on top-down initiatives from the CC.

No shit, Sherlock. You’ve been in the national leadership for thirty years and Chris for over forty – whatever your private concerns may have been, you didn’t exactly bust a gut to do anything about them. And in fact:

But Neil is right that the Central Committee, scarred by the crisis of the late 1970s, has been very cautious about expressing public disagreements, and indeed has become more cautious over about this over time. This tendency has been reinforced by features that become more prominent in the 1990s. Sustaining party activity in a period when, after a series of big, though unconnected mobilizations in 1990-4, was remarkably lacking in serious struggles required increasing doses of voluntarism on the part of the centre. At the centre itself a certain hothouse atmosphere and excessive preoccupation with trivial internal infighting and backbiting developed.

Yes, one of the most remarkable facts about the Callinicos and Harman articles is that, while championing an improved party democracy, there is still an ingrained tendency to see the CC as the source of any serious initiative and the membership as an inert mass. On the other hand, at least you have to give them credit for recognising that there is a problem, while John and Lindsey remain quite frankly elitist (for which John’s peculiar reading of Lukács is the theoretical justification).

My reading of the situation is that, whatever about these articles from the party intellectuals, the key figure in the debate is the emergent maximum leader Martin Smith, and you can explain Martin’s position in terms of his position in the party. As the national secretary, he is the direct representative of the apparat, which predisposes him to be sceptical towards anything that might be construed as liquidating the party. (Martin, like Chris Harman, was known to be a Respect-sceptic, which suggests that he may have had his own opportunistic reasons for backing up Rees last year.) Where Rees complains about the incoherence of the party’s activities, I would say that my impression of Martin, at least from seeing him at work in the past, is that he’s not a great man for big ambitious initiatives, and is at heart a pragmatist who’s willing to take modest and sensible initiatives that stand a good chance of advancing the organisation. This, I believe, is the main factor behind his sudden popularity with a cadre whose heads are spinning from years of “decisive” leadership – well, that and his ouster of the widely despised Rees.

And I think we can locate his sudden transformation into a born-again democrat in pragmatic terms – he wants to re-enthuse the cadre, improve the party’s functioning and head off mounting discontent in the ranks. But at the same time, a democratic revolution with Martin Smith, Chris Harman and Alex Callinicos at the helm is going to be nothing but a self-limiting revolution. Obviously any opening up is most welcome, but what’s really necessary is for people like Neil Davidson and John Molyneux, and their supporters in the ranks, to keep up the pressure on the CC majority, because left to their own devices they won’t agree to anything more than the bare minimum of reform – certainly not to a move like election of district organisers, which would do more than anything else to improve matters. At the very least they would need to insist on a lay majority on both the democracy commission and the control commission. There is, however, one point where I disagree with Neil, and that’s on his idea of postponing the election of the new CC. I do think the CC needs to have its base radically widened, but it’s much more important in the short term to terminate Rees with extreme prejudice.

Which brings me to Lindsey German’s document. My view of the erstwhile Power Couple has been that they can claim in their favour that at least they had the imagination to push outwards and go for the bigger prize, in Stop the War or Respect. But this is negated by their practice, which is extremely elitist even by SWP standards, only magnified as it’s been transposed into the outside world. I have to say, though, that while I do have some sympathy for Rees’ claim that he’s been scapegoated for things the entire leadership agreed to, I’m not more kindly disposed towards him by Lyndzee’s long complaint about how poor ‘ickle John is being victimised. Nor does her assertion that she was always right, even when she was wrong, cut much ice with me.

Well, here are a few gems anyway:

Over Big Brother for example, we had to steer a position between those who wanted to break with George completely, to severely criticise him, and those who were totally uncritical. I think we took the right position (although I sometimes feel that life would have been easier subsequently if we had broken with Galloway).

This is disingenuous at best. I don’t know of anyone who wanted to actually drum Galloway out of Respect over Big Brother. I do know that Salma Yaqoob, Ken Loach and Alan Thornett wanted to formally rap him over the knuckles, and the SWP blocked any such move. I also vividly remember the national secretary of Respect, one J Rees, appearing on Newsnight and opining that the whole fiasco had been worthwhile because he, Rees, had been invited onto Newsnight.

Here’s Lyndz on the Left List electoral run:

[Had we not stood] we would have been totally marginalised, there would have been no left candidate standing against an increasingly right moving Livingstone, and we would have left the field open for Galloway – and, in particular, his argument that we should go soft on some New Labour figures [i.e. Ken Livingstone]. Had Galloway won a London assembly seat (unlikely as this now appears), we would have been in a substantially weaker position to argue the case for an independent Left.

It’s nice to get an admission that this was a spoiler candidacy, but this may not go down terribly well with SWP comrades who were spun along with claims that Lyndz, the great mass leader, was going to do really well, and were left in the end with, well, a big green balloon of a special type.

But this is the real nugget:

If white socialists had been elected in 2006 in Newham and Tower Hamlets (as they very nearly were) then the balance of forces and level of politics in those areas would have been raised.

You know, I can see what she’s getting at, as nearly all the white candidates in Tower Hamlets and Newham were SWP members. If she’d claimed it was necessary to have SWP members on the councils to provide the non-SWP councillors with the correct politics and keep them honest, it would have been elitist bullshit (and note that the SWP’s trophy recruits like Ahmed Hussain didn’t turn out too well) but it would at least be consistent with her established politics. But to phrase it like this, in a context where the racial dynamic of Respect was very delicate, where leading SWP members have been accusing their antagonists of practising “Bangladeshi village politics”… can she not see how bad this looks, or does she just not care? Shit, even the AWL would hesitate before using that language.

Anyway, there’s one thing that’s absolutely clear, and that is that German must be removed from her leadership position along with Rees. (Bambery, like the slippery weasel he is, will no doubt find a way to save his job; I don’t care about Nineham.) Remember that she was the one who sponsored his rise up the greasy pole of the SWP’s fulltime apparat. Remember that he was brought onto the CC on her recognisance (and over the objections of Chris Harman, amongst others). It was she who groomed him as the successor to Cliff. And there isn’t a howler he’s committed that doesn’t have her fingerprints on it. I can understand, from a bureaucratic point of view, why the CC majority want to keep her in the tent pissing out – she knows where the bodies are buried, and could potentially be extremely destructive. But as to how her continued presence on the CC can be justified politically – well, I await an explanation from the great dialecticians Harman and Callinicos.

61 Comments

  1. Mark P said,

    December 22, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    I think that some ex-members of the SWP – like yourself and “Karen Elliot” over on Socialist Unity – are getting a bit carried away with glee at the prospect of an SWP leader or two getting a political kicking and are therefore missing out on the tactical considerations that might be in play were you still SWP members.

    I have no horse in this race. It doesn’t make much difference to me who is on the SWP’s leading bodies. But if I was an SWP activist who wanted to see some actual democracy develop in that party, I think I’d be very slow to back the current Central Committee majority in their desire to ditch Rees as soon as possible. Once Rees has been successfully scapegoated for the errors of the recent past (and regardless of whether or not that scapegoating is extended to his allies in the leadership) to a very large extent the difficulties at the top will be over and many of the opportunities those difficulties have created will disappear again.

    The likes of Harman and Callinicos are extremely unlikely to have had a sudden change of heart about internal democracy, jettisoning four and three decades of previous practice respectively. It is equally unlikely that the apparatchiks around Martin Smith are clamouring for a more democratic organisation with the weakening of the weight of the apparatus that implies. (Callinicos makes an interesting remark about the composition of the CC majority when he says: “One of the most important initiatives that Martin Smith took after he took over as National Secretary in the summer of 2004 was to give priority to methodically rebuilding party organization. This has involved developed a team of comrades around Martin at the National Office, some of whom have joined the Central Committee”.)

    The leadership’s proposals are essentially to pin all blame on Rees, which will have the effect of both undermining whatever remains of the CC minority and, when combined with a “democracy commission”, of punting the whining from various rank and filers about democracy into touch. Time to draw a line under this whole affair, Comrades…

    Davidson’s proposal is to keep the debate running, extending the ludicrously limited “pre-conference” period, put a second conference on the agenda and stop the leadership from majority from doing this. It makes absolutely no difference whether a now thoroughly isolated Rees or German gets to be outvoted 10-4 or 11-3 on the CC for another three months or not. Going along with the CC majority’s proposals on the other hand seems rather counterproductive – risking the whole debate being closed prematurely for the benefit of, well, what exactly?

  2. Mike said,

    December 22, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    On the contrary the importance of liquidating the liquidator cannot be over stressed. Rees and his allies are the central supporters of the idiotic Respect tactic and more than anyonelse support a top down approach within the SWP. They are a drag on any reforming project within the SWP whether it be the limited project of Cdes AC and CH or the more thorough going proposals of JM and ND.

    Now it is true that other elements within the leadership may not be happy about democratising the group but they are willing to go some of the way needed. Should Rees remain on the CC he will have the time and opportunity to rally the remnants of the populist right within the SWP and the faction fight with them will ramble on for months to come. And the CC majority will be ever less inclined to further democratise the group as they will be call on the supporters of JM and ND to rally to them in order to defeat the liquidationsit right.

    In such circumstances the left around JM and ND would be inhibited to break with the CC Majority. Remember they are not an oppositional faction but loyal comrades who differ on a limited number of points. Rees on the other hand represents a factional grouping on the CC that would junk not just the IS tradition but Marxism itself if it suited them.

  3. Pepper said,

    December 23, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Ahhhh – thanks, Mike. I’ve got it now. It’s a left-right divide, isn’t it? I wonder if in the red corner there’s someone who’ll back flip into the blue corner in a couple of months time.

    The imposition of a left-right divide on this is as unhelpful as it was over the Respect split.

  4. skidmarx said,

    December 23, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    I think Milhouse has only got one l, the other shows you just can’t spell.[I don’t mean that , but the temptation is irresistable]

    Callinicos actually calls Sharon Smith’s speech extraordinary and a mistake rather than calling her and the ISO “crazies”. The rest of what you say seems a mixture of rumour and innuendo, well written but still that.

  5. Doug said,

    December 23, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Whatever happens, the SWP will continue its inexorable sldie into WRPworld. Their political practice over the last decade – the trashing of the SA, the shameless opportunism of the Respect fiasco and the apolitical approach of UAF poking its nose into local anti-fascist work uninvited – means that the only united fronts it’ll be having will be in the mirror.

  6. Liam said,

    December 23, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    I’m with Mark P on this one. The tendency represented by JR and LG is one that expresses the SWP’s work over the last six or seven years. Booting them off the leadership may allow the organisation to move on but it does not help it come to an understanding of what went well or badly.

    I had a chance to watch the SW’s work up close and it was often very impressive. It coincided with a still current need in Britain to build a left of Labour party and my impression was that some comrades clearly understood this. The big weakness was that ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING had to be micromanaged by the SWP. This was often taken to ridiculous levels. During one election campaign Chris Nineham, who had been seen before, suddenly rolled up and took over the running of the campaign. There were several local SWP members who could have done the same job just as competently. Weird!

    If what emerges is an organisation in which dissent is not a dirty word (and that attitude is no longer brought into external activity) plus some appreciation of how they have squandered a lot of political capital that will be positive. One stepping stone is a leadership which truly represents the strands of the organisation.

  7. Doug said,

    December 23, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    A left of Labour party is clearly needed. What is also clear is that, barring possibly a few individual members, the rest of the Left won’t touch the SWP with a bargepole.

  8. Mike said,

    December 23, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Post #3 “The imposition of a left-right divide on this is as unhelpful as it was over the Respect split.”

    Yes it is but, as ever, its not quite that simple. The crisis in the SWP does represent a left-right divide but with the caveat that there are elements in the CC majority camp who are propagandist and reject, in deed if not in theory, the concept of the United Front.

    That many in both camps over personalise events is regretable but hardly surprising given the distance the SWP must travel to understand the sheer stupidty of taking part in the rotten bloc of Respect the populist alliance in the first place.

    At least dumping Rees opens the door to the much needed rethinking. A rethinking that some elements to the left of the CC majority have already begun to their credit.

  9. Andy Newman said,

    December 24, 2008 at 12:05 am

    But there is a problem Mike in talking in the abstract terms you do about Left and Right.

    A faux leftism that doesn’t effectivley engage with the actual political fault lines in the organised workers movement is actually a form of abstentionism that aids the right.

    Wheras i would argue that a principled steer to the right, that connected the SWP with the day to day realities of working class life would do them a power of good, and would actually be more effectivley “left wing”.

    they need to start measuring thei influence not in terms of numbers on demos, but how many shop stewards do they have, how many of those are in manual unions, how many union brnach secretaries. How many cc memebrs are actually experienced trad eunion militants.

    It woudl have been ABC for the IS to think like that.

  10. Ger Francis said,

    December 24, 2008 at 12:16 am

    The divide inside the SWP has nothing to do with a left/right split. None of the figures involved are describing it in such terms.

    Alex Callinicos identifies the source of the problems very clearly: “It was the crisis in Respect that has fractured the Central Committee.” And that crisis has its origins not in whether it was right to have an electoralist orientation, rather it is specific to how Rees handled himself before, during and after the RESPECT split. In particular, his handling of the OFFU cheque and his style of leadership.

    These same issues, in essence, were behind George Galloway’s much milder complaint in August last year when the same Alex Callinicos vehemently denied there was any legitimacy to such concerns.

  11. Mike said,

    December 24, 2008 at 10:37 am

    On an historical note very few members of the leading committees of IS were experienced trade union militants. The only one of note being Jim Higgins.

    But I simply do not see how eliminating Rees helps you and even more right wing elements in the workers movement Andy. Yes it might lead to a sectarian retreat into propagandism but that is unlikely given that no one in the internal debate rejects the united front. What is disputed is what it means when the only mass workers organisations are the largely demobilsed trade unions.

    As for Grrr, as an enemy of autonomous workers organisation, he simply cannot see how superfical it is to see the dispute within the SWP as being centred on the personal actions of John Rees his fellow liquidationist. Certainly that is how it appears but make no mistake there is more at play if one reads the articles by the left within the SWP. Or for that matter some remarks coming from the CC Majority.

  12. Ken MacLeod said,

    December 24, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Andy – now that you’ve closed the comment thread on your latest posting of an SWP internal document and the same commenters have instantly shifted to an earlier but still open thread, like a pub brawl pushed out into the street … are you perhaps willing to reconsider the tactics and ethics of posting internal documents online?

    It’s one thing to argue that such debates should be had openly, and quite another to post selected contributions to picked over by the rabble of sectarians, trolls, right-wingers, and blockheads who infest the SU comment threads. (Not that there aren’t worthwhile contributions in the SU comments, mind.)

    For one thing, leaking documents is quite likely to inhibit no-holds-barred discussion inside the SWP itself – not because people are ‘intimidated’ or personally inhibited but because they know that criticism of the leadership (or whatever) will be used to attack the party.

  13. Ulbricht said,

    December 24, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Majority, minority, left, right, liquidationist, propagandist – and here was I thinking we were in 2008, when all along we were cought in a temporal loop between 1903 and 1912, and in a different country at that.

  14. Andy newman said,

    December 24, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Mike

    I have expressed no view on whether or not Rees should continue of the cc.

  15. Mike said,

    December 24, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Should I invent new words to describe concepts that remain as valid today as they were in the past? Can’t see the point of that other than from the point of view of traitors who would dump, for example, the dictatorship of the proletariat because it is not ‘easily understood’.

  16. Andy newman said,

    December 24, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Ken

    What you have to appreciate is that the official channels within the SWP have broken down to a degree.

    The cc refused to produce a fourth pre-conference IB. So both JOhn Rees and John MOlyneux produced documents that they distributed widely, and both of them distributed them way beyond the membership of the SWP.

    These were in no sense internal documents of the SWP, because they were actually distributed by their authors in contrvenion of the SWP’s own constitution.

    Their subsequent publication is one of the factors that pressured the SWP cc to relent and produce a 4th IB.

    At the same time, a group of members have put forward a motion to SWP conference without declaring themselves a faction; which is also outwith the SWP constitution; and delegates have been elected from Sheffiled distict mandated to support a postition critical of the eladership; again outwith the SWP’s own constitution.

    Without revealling my sources (and there are multiple sources!) I have reason to believe that some at least of the authors consent to my publishing.

    With regard to inhibiting discussion, the contributions I have published are from leading members of the SWP who have nothing to fear.

    I published them in full without abrdigment or interpretation, and I have published documents from all sides in the dispute.

    Had I not done so, we woudl not have benefitted from the intelligent commentary from a number of very experienced former members of the SWP with first hand knowledge of the vents in quetioon, and other long term former members who have worked as full timers or at the centre; and have valuable insights.

    Of course we have also had unpleasant sniping and trolling – welcome to the internet.

  17. Ulbricht said,

    December 24, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    #15

    Thanks, Mike. Traitors. That was it. I knew I was missing a critical term into which to mangel reality and force some false correspondence. It was on the tip of my tongue, but it kept coming out as Thermidorean (ain’t that always the way?).

    Now, all we need to do is start with ‘comrades’, throw in a couple of ‘philistines’, crescendo to a ‘renegade’ (possibly even qualified by ‘world historic’ or itself qualifying ‘wanker’, or ‘Wichser’ – German being so much more insulting to a Russian audience, even when we are talking English) and, hey presto, we’ve got the outlineof a contribution to scientific socialist thought to rival Lenin’s shopping list at the the Clerkenwell branch of Sainsbury’s.

  18. Mike said,

    December 24, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    A person who would liquidate, both politically and organisationally, a revolutionary group into a populist body is indeed a traitor to the concept of socialism from below. If the cap fits then Grr and Rees must share it.

  19. Ken MacLeod said,

    December 24, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Andy, these are fair points, but I’m still doubtful that having the documents put online is likely feed back into the debate in any very constructive way. It’s a judgement call, to be sure, and time will tell. Meanwhile, peace and good will and all that, man.

  20. lenin said,

    December 24, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    The cc refused to produce a fourth pre-conference IB… etc

    No, this isn’t right. There wasn’t ever going to be a 4th IB, and the CC didn’t ‘relent’ and produce one. It simply gathered together some docs that were being distributed by an address-book-ocracy (and, yes, eventually on SUN, which seems to be angling to become the Harry’s Place of the far left), and sent them out. It was not an IB, nothing so formal as that, but a reasonable ad hoc adaptation to the fact that the debate was sprawling and developing in all sorts of directions. Delegates to the conference will need to have read these arguments.

    While it is the case that some of the documents were not produced for internal bulletins, a number of those produced on SUN were. So it is disingenuous for Andy to claim that he was merely acting as a conduit for discussion. In addition, he has claimed that Rees’ document was distributed to him with the instruction that it was not just for SWP members. As a recipient of the document, I know that it came with the instruction to distribute widely, but only to SWP members. Therefore, either Andy’s source misled him, or he misled his readers.

    In general, it does not sit well to pretend that republishing these documents on SUN is a service to SWP discussion and democracy. Clearly, SUN is hostile to the SWP, and to some extent it is still fighting the battle inside Respect. But if the aim is to provide ballast for those who are still fighting the Galloway wars; the effect is to supply ballast for much more right-wing forces who have nothing but contempt for socialists.

    I realise that a certain class of people, for some bizarre reason, find gossip and news about SWP internal life endlessly fascinating. The buzz of intrigue, salacity and outrage in the SUN comments boxes every time one of these documents appears, is palpable. And it does allow the proprietor of this blog to write sarcy, pugilistic essays about his former comrades, with title references that I don’t follow. However, as an SWP member, I like to think our internal arguments should be as free and open and combative as possible. This can’t be the case when documents are routinely published by hostile sources. Inevitably, the effect is to discourage people from saying anything that people outside the party might misunderstand or use to attack us.

    On account of all this, I find Andy’s excuses and hand-waving wholly unimpressive.

  21. David Ellis said,

    December 25, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Only a sect would insist on keeping its differences secret. There is nothing operational of any import in these documents so Andy has done the left a favour as I think we’d all like to know what the SWP are plotting for us. See what you do effects us so there is nothing morbid or sinister about the interest shown. Respect is still trying to recover from the SWP’s last foray into politics.

    As for the Harry’s Place jibe I thnk it is the SWP who has descended somewhat into that territory recently. On the other hand keep up the rather excellent work on Gaza, Zionism and the Iraq and Afghan wars on your blog.

  22. Mike said,

    December 25, 2008 at 10:59 am

    ‘Lenin’ wrote “However, as an SWP member, I like to think our internal arguments should be as free and open and combative as possible. This can’t be the case when documents are routinely published by hostile sources. Inevitably, the effect is to discourage people from saying anything that people outside the party might misunderstand or use to attack us.”

    If that is the case and I would dispute your assertion then why is it that the SWP itself published its pre-conference discussions in Socialist Review at one point in the 1980s? Why were debates open to the radical public to read at that time and why are they not as open today? Was it not the case that by binding the pre-conrefence debate inside the Review that the leadership aimed at discouraging debate? Such is the only conclusion I can draw if we are to tease the logic of your post out.

    Moreover if publishing internal debate in a ‘hostile place’ inhibits debate, a point I have some sympathy for I must say, then why not publish it in bulletins available to the radical public either in a print bulletin or on line?

    Finally if the SWP stands in the tradition of the Bolsheviks, who routinely published internal debates in public fora, why does the SWP not adopt the same open practices of the Bolsheviks? Is Britain in 2008 more repressive than Russia in 1908?

  23. johng said,

    December 25, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    I think Mike Rosen made some excellent points over on SUN (about the only reason to read much of it in fact). As many face victimisation and worse both inside their workplace and outside of it, I think the experiance of the last year means that many associate electoral projects with divisive and pointless squabbling on the one hand, and the political equivilant of fantasy football on the other. Whether its misguided members of my organisation crowing about the electoral defeat of other groups and organisations on the left, or the comrades in Respect Renewal arguing for a move away from the organised working class to keep the electoral project going (I should emphasis that I wholly accept objections to attempts to ascribe this to ‘communalism’).

    In terms of wider political work in the coming years this legacy is going to present us all with problems. Its no secret that in the SWP we’re trying to draw the lessons from this shambles and our part in it at the moment. Its also pretty obvious that a similar process is going on amongst some comrades in Respect Renewal. I think it makes sense to move away from fraticide, and Michael Rosen’s continued entreaties that we look at the wider picture probably represent what most of the best people in the movement secretely feel. Imagine for a moment that you were’nt part of this argument, either directly, or with a historical interest in the internal history of the SWP (that is to say you were part of the vast majority of activists in the country). You’d run a mile.

    Best seasons greetings.

  24. Ger Francis said,

    December 25, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I agree that it helps to move away from fratricide. To that end it would also help if we refrain from distortion and caricature. Who in Respect (and lets call it by its rightful name) is ‘arguing for a move away from the organised working class to keep the electoral project going’? If you are going to make statements like that John, and want to engage in an informative discussion rather than a bruising polemic, it is best served by backing up your claims with some hard facts.

  25. johng said,

    December 25, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Well I think in practice, thats the inevitable result. Certainly AndyN has been making general arguments of this kind. Specifically though, I think some of the arguments around ‘how to do electoral work’ underestimated the extent to which there was a very narrow window of opportunity connected to the success of the mass movement around the war, which sadly we missed (for whatever reason). Then we found ourselves flopping about on the beach as the tide receded.

    In such desperate circumstances I could well understand the development of arguments about the limited utility of anything other then local graft around local issues (before it gets bruising I’m in no way suggesting that thats ALL you did: its about the overall direction of the argument) and arguments about the limited importance of work with trade unions for those purposes. Every organisation has to prioritise. But I have felt sometimes on SUN that virtues were being made out of neccessities and that some of this was politically regressive.

    If you think I’ve got that wrong then there is no need to get bruising. I’m not seeking to ‘expose’ anyone here or justify my differences with you or anything like that. The larger point is that electoral initiatives don’t look too wonderful to many people at the moment and thats likely to be a larger problem for all of us in the future. That was the only point I was trying to make.

    One way in which I’m wasting time over xmas is looking at the wonderful series ‘the wire’. In the first season “D” shoots someone in public. Explaining himself to his boss he explains how the other guy was behaving crazy and he had no choice. His boss responds ‘its not about the other guy its about you’. I’m far from advocating that the Baltimore underworld can give us pointers on how to conduct our affairs, but I do think that there are lessons there for all of us in terms of how we conduct ourselves.

    Its worth remembering that there is a danger in forgetting that most people don’t care who said what. They just look at the larger result.

  26. lenin said,

    December 25, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Mike – Just call me ‘len’ if you can’t stand the moniker. I personally would not object to us publishing our own documents for external consumption. At least, I can see that it would have advantages to them being published via leaks to SUN. However, I do think that should be our decision, and not anyone else’s. The basic point I was making is that Andy tried to give the impression that he was assisting discussion in the SWP, only publishing material that wasn’t intended for internal reading, and that was disingenuous.

    johng – Ten points for the ‘Wire’ reference, but you’re an absolute fibber to pretend that you don’t advocate the methods of ganglang criminality in revolutionary politics. You big up Mike Rosen now (quite rightly) but I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before he ends up in the back of your white van with electrical tape around his wrists.

  27. johng said,

    December 25, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Lenin. A word outside.

  28. lenin said,

    December 25, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Mon da fuck.

  29. Ondine said,

    December 26, 2008 at 12:57 am

    But if the aim is to provide ballast for those who are still fighting the Galloway wars; the effect is to supply ballast for much more right-wing forces who have nothing but contempt for socialists.

    And when Trotsky criticised Stalin in the bourgeois press, he was betraying the revolution, right?

    Seriously, and I apologise if mentioning Stalin is the equivalent of Godwin’s Law among socialists, but we really have to combat this attitude that our host calls “pas devant les enfants”. And it’s accurately named, because it embodies an elitist, quasi-Jacobin idea of the relationship between party and class, or “the left and the broad masses”, whichever terminology you want to use. The idea is that we have a pre-existing crowd of “the enlightened” who must stick together, keep any differences internal, and unite as one to bulldoze the common enemy. The enlightened minority as schoolteachers of the childlike masses, in other words.

    It is no coincidence, comrades, that the attitude expressed in lenin’s post of “the left” against “right-wing forces”, is exactly the same which was expressed by the SWP towards other forces inside Respect – unity was demanded in the “going nuclear”, leading to the expulsions of valuable cadre. Actually, this attitude (by Alex C’s own admission) seems to have been expressed by the SWP CC towards the rank-and-file of the party pretty continuously since the late 70s. You might also recognize similarities to Trotsky’s 1904 comments on substitutionism.

    A real way forward to mass radical working-class politics has to start from open dialogue, from the understanding that revolutionaries must learn from other forces on “the left” and in the class itself. Which is the basis of broad-party Marxism. I disagree with Mike’s attitude, in that the dialectic of development of Marxist ideas may well mean that a weakening of organizational boundaries might go along with a strengthening of ideological coherence – and vice versa.

  30. lenin said,

    December 26, 2008 at 9:05 am

    Ondine – this rambling diatribe makes absolutely no sense in relation to what I wrote, and is grotesquely lacking in any sense of proportion. The SWP, for example, is not really comparable to the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. We have not yet engaged in the physical destruction of millions of peasants, or murdered comrades, or sent assassins abroad to kill anyone on our behalf. We’re a pretty mild bunch, all things considered. Clearly, SUN publishing internal SWP documents isn’t really comparable to Leon Trotsky exposing the depravities of Stalinism. I think you should be blushing rather furiously right about now.

    Much more importantly, however, in arguing against the publication of documents intended solely for internal discussion, I do not imply that any external audience would be children. I merely insist on our right to decide for ourselves what we want to discuss privately – this is not a mad luxury I am demanding. And the argument for our privacy is nowhere near as condescending as you imply. After all, it is surely not uncontroversial that people engaged in a private discussion can afford a certain frankness and sharpness that they might avoid if they had to worry about how other people. infantile or otherwise, might see it. Even so, I went on to add that I wouldn’t really object to our publishing our own documents, if the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. But that’s a judgment call, and it’s ours to make.

    The remainder of your philippic, Ondine, is just not worth engaging with.

  31. Nas said,

    December 26, 2008 at 11:27 am

    #25 JOhng – no hard facts, then. Just how it seems to you. Typical.

  32. johng said,

    December 26, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    “We have not yet engaged in the physical destruction of millions of peasants, or murdered comrades, or sent assassins abroad to kill anyone on our behalf”

    Speak for yourself.

  33. David Ellis said,

    December 26, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    `The SWP, for example, is not really comparable to the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union of the 1930s.’

    Bureaucracy is a general concept and it is permissible to compare and contrast different examples of the phenomenon. But, of course, the truth is always concrete.

    `We have not yet engaged in the physical destruction of millions of peasants, or murdered comrades, or sent assassins abroad to kill anyone on our behalf.’

    Hey, you do what you can.

    `Ondine – this rambling diatribe makes absolutely no sense in relation to what I wrote, and is grotesquely lacking in any sense of proportion.’

    Thank god he didn’t go `nuclear’ or make up some shit about a witch-hunt.

  34. David Ellis said,

    December 26, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    johng: whilst you are out and about in blogland, what is your take on the SWP narrative about them being witch-hunted out of Respect?

  35. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 26, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Folks, I like to moderate with a light touch, but this is just a reminder to mind the temperature and keep things as civil as possible.

    I’m not as entirely unsympathetic to lenin’s position as he might imagine – he’s just a disciplined party member trying to follow the rules, and it’s not his fault the rules are untenable. As for my failure to show proper respect to the Glorious Leaders of the Proletariat, that’s just a character flaw and I can only plead in extenuation that one of the things I liked most about Cliff was his fine sense of self-deprecation.

    I’ll probably come back to this in a considered way, but right now I’m off to watch Battlestar Galactica. Enjoy yourselves.

  36. johng said,

    December 26, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    I’m pretty much down with the witch hunt idea. particularly if bureacratic analogies can be stretched to the extent above.

  37. lenin said,

    December 26, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    As for my failure to show proper respect to the Glorious Leaders of the Proletariat…

    I wasn’t complaining. It’s your show, and you’re entitled to run it how you wish. It’s just that johng knows where you live.

  38. johng said,

    December 26, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Never let anyone outside the family know what your thinking. First year fucking thief coming on here and embarressing me. Go back to your place and discuss Nietzsche. Apologies for the language, he’s young, he speaks sometimes when he should remain silent.

  39. David Ellis said,

    December 26, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    `I’m pretty much down with the witch hunt idea. particularly if bureacratic analogies can be stretched to the extent above.’

    You alway were johng. And I’m not a member of Respect and don’t speak for them but I don’t suppose that inconvenient fact will sway you.

  40. johng said,

    December 26, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Doesn’t make too much difference to me either way to be honest.

  41. Mike said,

    December 27, 2008 at 1:17 am

    With regard to the ‘witch hunt’ of the SWP in Respect it cannot be denied with any plausibility that Galloway and his allies were intending to either drive the SWP out of their rotten bloc or to compel that body to the status of a…

  42. HarrodsisHampered said,

    December 27, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    “As to how [Lindsey German’s] continued presence on the CC can be justified politically – well, I await an explanation from the great dialecticians Harman and Callinicos”

    There might be a simple explanation Splinty – eg that Lindsey is one of the leaders of the Stop the War Coalition, where she has done a decent job. And it would be a hell of a fight replacing her without trashing the Coalition…

    From the humble Harrods (7 postings and all so far blocked by the moderator; will this be the first one to get through?).

  43. Phil said,

    December 27, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    it cannot be denied with any plausibility

    Mike, here’s a comment by Liam, borrowed from his blog:

    At no point whatsoever – and we were discussing this among ourselves on an almost daily basis – did anyone have any intention of driving the SWP out of Respect. This was true for us and was just as true for the other people with whom we were working. The notion was never mentioned until some in the SWP’s leadership used it as a transparently manipulative instrument for circling the wagons. It is such a daft idea that it should be quietly forgotten.

    I’d say that the witch-hunt narrative cannot be sustained with any plausibility – or not unless Liam, Ger Francis and several other people are lying through their teeth.

  44. Mike said,

    December 27, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Frankly Phil I think that the above is nonsense. It was clear as an outsider that Galloway wanted to use the SWP and was prepared to lose their services if they did not tow his line. That he did not plan what happened is besides the point. The viewpoint of Liam was always besides the point. Activists like Liam are used by those less naive and less beguiled by principles.

  45. charliemarks said,

    December 28, 2008 at 1:44 am

    It might help the comrades in the SWP if internal discussion between members could take place via t’internet and only be open to members? This would allow open discussion w/in the party w/out worries about damaging the party by having things leaked onto blogs?

  46. Phil said,

    December 28, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Mike 1: Galloway and his allies were intending to … drive the SWP out

    Mike 2: Galloway wanted to use the SWP and was prepared to lose their services if they did not tow his line

    Bit of a difference there.

    That he did not plan what happened is besides the point.

    If what we’re talking about is the mythical witch-hunt, I think it’s precisely the point.

  47. Mike said,

    December 28, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Curious editing of my first comment in order to change the meaning of my remarks. Galloway certainly intended to drive the SWP out of Respect the populist alliance. But only after they had failed to act as his gofers and sought to stick to the original agreement they imagined they had with the shifty charlatan.

  48. Phil said,

    December 28, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Mike – I cut out the word ‘either’ (and marked where I’d cut it out). Besides, it’s hard to see how

    Galloway and his allies were intending to … drive the SWP out

    is a distortion of your views, when you’ve just stated that

    Galloway certainly intended to drive the SWP out of Respect

    I remain mystified by your confidence in making this claim. There’s nothing to support it other than the SWP leadership’s own claims, and plenty of counter-evidence – not least the text of the Galloway letter itself.

  49. skidmarx said,

    December 29, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Phil – I think cutting the “But only..” from Mike’s quote removes the time element and distorts his view.

    My response to Liam’s point is this:

    “Galloway and his direct supporters wanted to reduce the influence of the SWP in Respect, reducing it to a dogsbody role, allowing Galloway more freedom to be the undisputed celebrity voice of the organisation, not allowing the SWP to park it between elections. Maybe. But certainly when the SWP was not amenable and it became clear that the Galloway crowd and the SWP could not continue to co-exist in the same party, the honest and democratic thing for a minority to do in such circumstances is to leave and set up a new organisation with a new name.
    [Before supporters of Respect (tertium quid) start jumping up and down, I am beginning to believe that the initial anti-SWP operation had more limited aims than forcing the SWP out of Respect. But certainly there was no reluctance there once battle was joined]

    To add, I think there has been a focus by supporters of Respect (tertium quid) on the intial state, when the battle wasn’t fully formed, to claim that then there was no determined plan to force things the whole way, and so blame the SWP

  50. Phil said,

    December 29, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Well, I can respect that argument, although not agree with it.

    On the bit about timescale (last paragraph), I think the point’s a lot simpler: it’s that there was no plan to drive the SWP out at the time when it was claimed there was a plan to drive the SWP out.

    I like RESPECT(tq), though.

  51. skidmarx said,

    December 29, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Did you realise the reference was to “a third thing (which shall be nameless)”?
    http://www.bartleby.com/81/16359.html

    I think the point’s a lot simpler: it’s that there was a plan to drive the SWP out from its leading position in Respect at the time when it was claimed there was a plan to drive the SWP out. Placing conditions it found unacceptable on its participation when it was a majority in Respect meant a swift shift to Plan B: seizing control of the organisation by any dodgy undemocratic means necessary.

  52. Phil said,

    December 29, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    There was a plan to renegotiate the SWP’s role, position and prominence within RESPECT at the time when it was claimed there was a plan to drive the SWP out. They’re not the same thing & never were.

  53. Mike said,

    December 29, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    Does it really matter? Respect was always doomed due to the competing appetites of the groups and individuals involved. And yes that does mean that the petty bourgeois elements were always going to object to the presence of avowed Trotskyists in leading positions and given Galloways Stalinoid training…

  54. skidmarx said,

    December 30, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    52. If those with the plan didn’t like it when the SWP said no, why did that minority not form a party of its own rather than launching a coup in Respect?
    Unless they are just a power-hungry undemocratic rabble.

  55. Nas said,

    December 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    skids – You don’t do open questions that well, do you? How about this as an answer: they regarded the SWP’s antics as an attempt to drive them out of Respect. They refused and patiently argued their case, winning the middle ground as is now acknowledged by the SWP’s central committee majority.

    Predictably, rather than cohabit, Rees and German split and formed a new organisation. It lasted about six months. Respect, weakened by the experience, still exists. That’s a good thing.

  56. Schadenfreude said,

    January 11, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Rees, German and Nineham all off the SWP central committee this afternoon.

  57. skidmarx said,

    January 12, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    “skids – You don’t do open questions that well, do you? How about this as an answer: they regarded the SWP’s antics as an attempt to drive them out of Respect. They refused and patiently argued their case, winning the middle ground as is now acknowledged by the SWP’s central committee majority. ”

    Not sure what an “Open” question is. Don’t agree that anyone in the SWP has acknowledged any such thing.

    “Predictably, rather than cohabit, Rees and German split and formed a new organisation. It lasted about six months. Respect, weakened by the experience, still exists. That’s a good thing.

    “Predictably, rather than cohabit, Rees and German split and formed a new organisation. It lasted about six months. Respect, weakened by the experience, still exists. That’s a good thing.”

    Of these four sentences, only the second contains any truth, and that is tainted by the lies implied by sentence 1.

  58. Irish Mark P said,

    January 12, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Is Schadenfreude telling the truth? Will we have to wait for Socialist Unity to cover the latest round of this soap opera?

  59. splinteredsunrise said,

    January 12, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    That’s the talk, but there’s no official word yet. Details will emerge soon enough.

  60. January 12, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Well, hurry up about it, then. A chap can’t sit here all night waiting for you young coves to get your bush telegraph thingy happening when that nice lady over at Madam’s has her sweet little radio show tomorrow about the phwoar Chinese film star. Need to give it the full attention, see?

    I’ve got a nice tumbler of Johnny Walker to hand and by god I know how to use it.

  61. Nas said,

    January 13, 2009 at 12:40 am

    skids: you don’t do logic very well, do you?

    AS for the later comments. Yes – it’s true. The Gang of Three have left the building.


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