To my comrades, of any party or none

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oxswss03

On Sunday evening, after conference had ended, I resigned from the SWP. I will explain why I have left, but before I do that, I first want to explain why for so many years I stayed with the party even while I often criticised it.

I first joined the SWP in 1991; at a meeting in the Sol’s Arms pub near Warren Street. A couple of days before, I had been stopped in the street by a man selling Socialist Worker. After I had bought a paper, the seller, John Walker, invited me to a meeting. “I’m not interested in buying one”, I told him, “I am much more left-wing than you are.” It was not a wise thing to have said. John had come into the SWP after years in the libertarian Marxist group Solidarity and knew his left history far better than I did. After half an hour of standing on the street losing an argument, I agreed to go to the meeting where I eventually filled in a membership form. It was assumed that I would pay by cash and there was a grid on the back of my membership card which could be used to check that I was paying my each month’s subs.

The SWP was the third left-wing party whose meetings I had attended in less than a year. After a few months in Slough Constituency Labour Party, I had resigned in disappointment at Labour’s timid response to the then Iraq War. Before then, I had spent a couple of unhappy months on the edges of the Revolutionary Communist Party (Living Marxism), from whom I had learned habits of ultra-leftism and contrarianism, a combination expressed in my premature, fighting words to John. If it had not been the SWP in 1991 it might have been any one of the left-wing parties.

It was easy to join the SWP, since I already considered myself a socialist, and in fact had done so for more than five years. The real bravery had come much earlier, even before I reached my teens, when I had first begun to identify with the left, a decision which had set me off into a perpetual civil war with my family, my teachers, and almost every one of my contemporaries at my school. My reasons for sticking with the SWP were more significant.

In my first few months, I considered leaving at several stages. I did not have a worked out criticism of the SWP and some of my complaints seem daft to me in retrospect. The group seemed impossibly old to me, with an average age of approximately 27 or 28 (I was just 18). Soon enough, I was selling the paper, but I was genuinely perplexed by the way in my fellow sellers would shout what sounded to me like reformist slogans “stop the war”, “beat the Tories”. Weren’t we supposed to be revolutionaries? I found the meetings dull and the contributions defensive. I tired of the way in which after the speaker had finished, there would be a long pause, and then whoever filled the silence would face 40 minutes of speaker after the speaker from the floor correcting them for some imagined deviation from the party “line”.

Yet one of the things I liked about the SWP was that, despite the branch culture which I have just described, there were also comrades who were self-effacing, articulate and principled. I think of well-known figures such as Duncan Hallas and Paul Foot, but the real strength of the SWP was far below, in the branches, almost every one of which had an autodidact Marxist, a worker who had never gone to university, a person who would quote obscure ideas of Marx or Lenin and use them to relate events happening in the world outside and to the tradition of the workers’ movement.

Over the past 20 years the self-taught workers have almost all left, while the party-liners have multiplied.

I might not have stayed in the group but for a series of events which happened in the course of my third year in the party. I was a student, in a tiny group of just 2-3 people. Through the unusual tactic of going out of our way to book the SWP speakers who would be most likely to interest a wider audience, and booking most of our meetings as debates or in combination with other groups, we were able to pull off weekly meetings of 100+ people. Locally and nationally (this was the time when the SWP was claiming 10,000 members) it seemed possible to envisage a genuinely mass party, something which would be on a scale the British left had not seen in decades.

Our MP John Patten was also the minister responsible for education, and was piloting through Parliament the rapid reduction of the student grant and its replacement with student loans, and had voted against the equalisation of the age of consent. We called demonstrations two or three times a week and found an audience for them. In no time at all the size of our group (its subs-paying membership) increased to 8 and then 25 people. We had an audience large enough so that we could legitimately stand people for office in the University and in the National Union of Students. Then, to coincide with my 21st birthday, the woman who I loved also joined our party. She and I were Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Trotsky and Sedova. Communism was our love story.

That spring there was a racist murder, and our local anti-fascist group met the family, supported them, and organised a demonstration in their support, while others on the left stayed aloof. I would not have had the confidence to support them had it not been for the training I had received in the SWP.

Over the next 20 years there were many other good moments of which I am also proud: the Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1994, editing a workplace bulletin with factory workers in Sheffield, organising a student occupation (of sorts) in Oxford in 1997, supporting refugees through hunger strikes in Liverpool in 2000-1, dispersing an emergent anti-immigrant campaign in Brent a year later.

In the most recent years, the best campaigns I have been involved in were ones which the leadership tolerated but did not seek to be part of: a London counterpart to the TUC’s Tolpuddle festival, then last year’s Counter Olympics Network.

I only learned the main details of the party crisis as recently as Christmas 2012. Long-standing comrades who I had known for years and trusted sought to set up a “third” faction, which would campaign within the SWP for the reform of our disputes procedures. I joined them. The leadership banned the faction, refused to publicise our documents or to allow us to speak at conference in January. My initial response to the January conference was to assume that the leadership would be chastened and that would be the end of the matter and spoke optimistically at meetings. But at our North London report back I heard Weyman Bennett promise, in his concluding remarks, “Never again will the SWP allow our student office to take a line independent from the leadership”.

I have been around long enough to have grasped immediately what he meant – that the CC were prepared to restructure the office and tear up the student perspective unanimously agreed at conference just days earlier, and were prepared to sacrifice our students to do so.

In February 2013, outside a meeting of the Defend the Right to Protest campaign, I met the second complainant, the woman who we were being told did not exist (“there is only one complaint”, as Judith Orr had told the Birmingham aggregate). I gathered from the woman that she wished to proceed with her complaint, and I decided to spend some time helping her, in practice by listening to her as we drafted together her statement about what had happened.

My days are given to listening to people in court, asking them questions and listening to their answers, and listening to the questions which other people ask them. I do not believe that someone is telling the truth merely because I want them to succeed at a hearing, or because I am their representative. If I get the opportunity to meet them before a case, I will grill them as intensely as I can. I will look for any flaw in their evidence, test any contradiction no matter how slight. And if they want to run a case which I do not believe, I will tell them my doubts and invite them to reconsider it.

I spent more than 20 hours in the company of the second complainant, read her documents, listened to her intensely. And at the end of our meetings, I was absolutely convinced that in every single thing she said she was telling the truth.

Once it became clear that she was telling the truth, then for me there was no longer any basis on which to doubt the evidence of the first complainant, who the second woman was only corroborating. Both women were describing a similar pattern of repeated unwanted advances by the same man.

I will not go through the details of what happened next; the shoddy attempts of the Disputes Committee (the same committee which of course had already heard the first case) to decline to hear the second complainant, and to put off her case until after January 2014 in the hope that she would leave the party. What I do want to explain is what happened at SWP conference last weekend.

There were approximately 540 delegates at conference; fewer than one in 7 were aged under 40. Of the young people in the room , a large majority were in the faction. The mood was serious, even grim. The conference was conducted throughout with the same degree of procedural propriety as you would expect of the conference of a trade union of about 30-40,000 people. Motions were taken; votes were even on occasion counted. “Delegates” were reminded of the importance of reporting back conference decisions, presumably to the 10 SWP members for whom each delegate is supposed to stand. But here were 500 people, elected from 40 aggregates in many of which there were had been fewer people in the room voting for candidates than there had been places to fill.

A number of the delegates would happily admit to never attending SWP meetings and never selling the paper; they were there solely because they had been asked to stand in order to prevent oppositional members attending. How many members does the SWP really have beyond those who were in the room? If your definition extends to a requirement that a person attend their branch meeting at least once a year, perhaps, at the very most, a further 4-500 people nationally. This is not a mass party; you cannot sustain anything healthy on the basis of the levels of fantasy that could be seen in the room.

On Saturday morning, Alex Callinicos made a supposed “apology”. The statement he read out was based on a CC motion which had been circulated in advance, and offered no specific regret for any specific action by any named individual but blamed merely “structural flaws in our disputes procedures”. Structures of course have to be carried out by people but there was no acknowledgement that any individual had done anything wrong. The motion, for which the CC apology stood as an abbreviation, blamed the faction for politicising the dispute, when it was Callinicos himself whose article in January’s Socialist Review had begun that process by mixing together the defence of the leadership’s handling of the dispute and the defence of “Leninism”. The motion explained the women’s distress in terms of the publicising of their case on the internet. It spoke for women who the CC does not know, has not asked, and about whom some CC members have been lying for a year.

A leadership supporter R- inadvertently captured the half-hearted nature of the CC’s manoeuvre when she explained to delegates in a later session; “I am prepared to say sorry. I am not going to apologise.”

Many important things were said during the course of conference. Two women who used to be on the SWP Disputes Committee explained how the majority of that committee had tried to prevent the second complaint from ever being heard, and the battle they had had to fight to have it heard, resulting eventually in the appointment of a new panel. The room quietened when they spoke; but afterwards, no-one voted differently.

The panel which heard the second complaint explained why they had found that there was a case to answer, and spelled out that they had heard from her and read her evidence, and spent 2 full days considering her case, as well as a further period debating their reasons. Any fair listener would have grasped that the panellists believed that Smith probably had harassed the second complainant. The comrades listened, and some were troubled. But they continued to vote for the leadership.

A member of the same panel explained that the second complainant also made a complaint that her email had been hacked. It was quite possibly hacked, the panel had accepted, by a member of the SWP. But if so, and this was the sole matter that interested them, the hacker had not been instructed beforehand by the Central Committee to hack her email account, and that meant there was nothing for them to investigate.

In this last episode, you can find expressed the degeneration of an entire party. What we were being told was that the DC accepted that a member of the SWP may well have chosen to hack the email account of a woman who had made a serious, sexual complaint against a leading member of the SWP. In fact while the hacker was there, as a comrade from Manchester had explained, he had not just forwarded emails belonging to the complainant, he had also deleted what he presumably thought were the only copies of emails passing between Smith and the complainant, and which subsequently helped to prove her complaint before the second disputes committee. He was doing what now passes for loyalty in the SWP – behaving in secret, destroying potential evidence, doing everything in his power to protect a man accused of rape.

If the individual who did this was not acting on orders, he was nevertheless doing something which he thought the leadership, or at least a section of it, would welcome. And there is no suggestion that he has ever been sanctioned for what he did. This mindset, of trying to think into the mind of a leadership, and of doing more and more grotesque things in the hope of winning their patronage, is associated with dark moments in history. Yet neither the disputes panel, nor it seems conference, found anything remarkable in it.

There were other bad times at conference; as when M- the outgoing chair of the Disputes Committee – sought to smear the second complainant by insinuating that she had spoken to the Daily Mail and encouraged them to doorstep Smith.

R-, who was of course a member of the SWP Disputes Committee which heard the first case, called the second complainant “obscene” for having supported a faction which had named Smith as being accused of “sexual predation” and insinuated that the second complaint had been made only for factional purposes. It was as if she could blank out of her mind the evidence of her comrades on the second panel who had accepted that Smith probably had sexually harassed a woman. She ended her speech with the words, “Honour and Respect democratic centralism! Honour and Respect confidentiality!”

I will never again use the word “socialist” to describe the middle aged trade unionist from my former branch who went round the edges of conference, confronting the youngest delegate at conference, a woman in her gap year before university who had never met him before, with the hostile greeting, “Martin is innocent”.

Conference voted by a majority of 8 to 1 in favour of a CC slate containing Callinicos and Kimber, with only 69 delegates voting for an alternative leadership (11 others abstained). I vainly shouted “count” when the vote on the apology was taken, not because it was close, but because I thought it the numbers should be a matter of record. The chair moved on, having declared the motion heavily defeated.

I believe that about 15 or so more comrades voted for it than for the alternative CC slate; or to put it another way, only 1 in 30 of the non-faction comrades broke from the leadership, even on the most significant – and straightforward – question of whether there should be a genuine apology.

Against the many shameful things I saw, I must also insist that there were many people at conference sitting there with their heads in their hands, some in tears. You could see this most clearly among a section of the middle ground, who seemed visibly in pain at what they were watching.

As well as them, there were people who spoke out against the party’s degeneration. I think of the longstanding member who spoke twice in the debate about the Central Committee, and stated in the most direct of terms that a Central Committee which is united only to cover up a crime of this sort has no legitimacy, and that a leadership which has driven hundreds of socialists out no longer deserves to lead. It is a difficult and lonely thing to tell hundreds of people that they are wrong. You need to be brave to stand up before a room of several hundred people who are hostile to you, knowing that they will be given many more opportunities to attack you than you will be allowed friends to speak in your defence. I am proud to call that man a comrade.

Why did we lose? I looked at conference and I saw a group of ageing and tired people, who have watched their party at war with itself over the past year. Among the SWP majority, a belief is prevalent that nobody can ever really “know” what happens in the privacy of a relationship between a man and a woman. It follows that in the context of multiple allegations of sexual abuse, the party is the only thing that counts. The working class, which is under attack in an epoch of austerity, is best protected by a revolutionary party which is as strong as possible. The party is everything. Without the party, we as individuals, and the working class, are alike nothing. The protection of the party is based on a committed denial of the reality of what happened, and the self-deception that this small party whose active members count only in the hundreds, is in fact many times larger than we know it to be, and represents the whole of the class, the entirety of the movement. To keep the party you have to protect the leadership; no matter how many mistakes they have made. These members of the SWP made it a point of pride that they hadn’t read unwelcome articles in the Internal Bulletins, had not gone online or spoken to people who might disagree with them, had not tried to think for themselves about what had happened or who they believed. The leadership had spoken and that was enough for them.

Such an argument may satisfy my former comrades. But, unlike them, I have heard one of the complainants directly. Indeed, I have listened to her with more care, and over a longer period of time that anyone in the SWP ever will. And she is telling the truth.

The history of socialism is the story of a shifting border between principle and expediency. Edward Bernstein sought to put the former on a coherent basis when he argued that for him the socialist movement (i.e. the SPD, the party) was everything. To which Rosa Luxemburg famously responded that to her the movement was not everything, only the goal, the liberation of all humanity, counted for everything. Too many of my former comrades repeat Bernstein’s error in convincing themselves that the party of their (and my) youth still exists, or that they make themselves “revolutionaries” by giving cover to a leadership which has disgraced the left.

That in short is why I left, because I am a Marxist and revolutionary, because I believe in women’s liberation and will not cover up sexual abuse, and – above all – because I am loyal to the socialists of my youth and the principles they taught me. The decision, in the end, has not anguished me, and I am not in need of anyone’s sympathy. I do convey my best wishes on leaving, my love and my solidarity greetings, to the principled few who remain.

All of my adult life has been spent either as a member of or a close supporter of the SWP. Few of my closest friends are people who I met anywhere but in the SWP. I am not sad though to leave, if anything I am relieved, and the prospect of being part of a new left inspires me.

 oxswss04

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26 responses »

  1. On Sunday evening, after conference had ended, I resigned from the SWP.

    I don’t know you, Dave (although I’m sure our paths will have crossed some time in my activist period) but I’ll raise a glass to this statement: in commiseration but also in celebration. There is a world elsewhere. Now the real work begins – for you and (happily) many others.

    (Not me, though. I’m knackered.)

  2. It may be entirely unrepresentative, but I remember hanging about the fringes of the SWSO group at university in the late 1970s. They were fun people, throwing parties, cooking endless curry, happily taking non-members like me up to demos in London on buses, and compared very favourably indeed to the completely humourless and rather threatening pedants of the (then) Revolutionary Communist Tendency and the lonely old git who used to tour the university’s bars attempting to sell the WRP’s newspaper.

    How times have changed.

    You did the right thing. The SWP seems to have completely self-destructed.

  3. I really want to thank you for all you have written and achieved over the last year, Dave. This is a wonderful piece, and your lack of rancour is admirable. It brought tears to my eyes to read your account of the conference of the party to which I also once belonged, and in which I know there were sitting people I know and love who will have listened to what you describe being said and yet still would have still voted with the leadership. I always hoped that they went along with the leadership through lack of knowledge of the facts, through a misguided trust in the leadership. Now I know there is something more than that, and it is painful to hear it described and to try to understand how and why it has happened. I still can’t get really get my head around how things turned to so much of their opposite, even though I have been grappling with it for the last 12 months. I have had mixed feelings over the last couple of days, as a new wave of people have resigned their membership – I was happy people were leaving once it was clear they wouldn’t win, but I also feel huge huge sadness for what has been lost with the degeneration of the organisation, and for the political and personal ramifications for myself and so many others. I am pleased you feel full of hope for the future – although it may take you a little longer than you think to ‘move on’, and to stop thinking of the SWP. Certainly it has me – although perhaps it has taken me longer because I did not feel able to battle it out to the end. Whatever happens next I certainly hope to be working alongside you in some capacity, and do believe we can create something better

  4. I hope that Comrades in Left Unity are very careful in dealing with refugees from this toxic organisation. I’m not in LU, but wish them well. All new members should be welcomed as individuals, but I hope that any arrogant vanguardist carpet baggers don’t get very far. Anyone who has left it till now to leave has a question mark over their head.

  5. “I will never again use the word “socialist” to describe the middle aged trade unionist from my former branch who went round the edges of conference, confronting the youngest delegate at conference, a woman in her gap year before university who had never met him before, with the hostile greeting, “Martin is innocent”. ”

    I love this. That guy was shoveling some shit.

  6. Excellent post. I do know you, Dave from your time in Nottingham (you might remember me infuriating you with my misguided insistence on the credentials of the faked moon-landing conspiracy!), and I’ll raise a glass to you also, for the same reasons as Phil. I’m only surprised you stomached it for so long, and with hindsight, I predict you will be too. I left 12 yrs ago, disheartened with, amongst other things, what I perceived to be the somewhat paradoxical discouragement of members thinking for themselves. Wishing you good luck as an ex-member.

  7. May I add my utmost respect and not a little admiration for your actions and those of all International Socialists over the last year.

    In comradeship, for Communism.

  8. I was for over 20 years a full time member of the CWI and for part of that time a member of its IS. . I developed differences with the majority of the leadership of this organization in the 1990’s. These included the need for the CWI to stop pretending it was always right on everything and I fought to have discussions on our mistakes. The majority of the leadership, Taaffe and Walsh, (Grant and Woods had already split to have their own small pond in which they could be the big fish,) Taaffe and Walsh and their subordinates set about lying and slandering myself and four other Comrades. Then they expelled us. Then they would not allow us our democratic right to appeal our expulsions. We stood outside conference after conference demanding our right to get in and appeal but with no success. The revolutionary left must look at the incorrect and mostly corrupt internal lives that they have developed. I work now with the Workers International Network trying to learn the lessons of the past. I can say that refusing to bootlick the leadership of the CWI and being expelled was the best thing that ever happened me. I have been able to consider my past mistakes, my revolutionary spirit and intellect has been freed. Good luck to the Comrades who have refused to along with the corrupt methods of the majority leadership of the SWP. I hope we will have similar Comrades come forward in the CWI and other groups.

  9. Thank you for this article. It explained a few things. I am still learning the politics in activism and the left, since ending up in the OccupyLSX camp on the first day and staying on with OccupyLondon ever since. I did not understand the mistrust towards the SWP.

    They have given Socialism a bad name and thought themselves above the law. Tragedy.

  10. You seem to still be under some serious misapprehensions about the SWP, as if it were shall we say a ‘degenerated’ workers party that lost it’s way. It never was a party that represented the working class. Of the many anti-worker positions the SWP has taken over the years. Many of which occurred during the period the elder comrades you mentioned were in the party. Calling for the suppression of workers in Northern Ireland by British troops in 1967, supporting the Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iran/Iraq war in 1987, advising workers not to strike during the war, up to the present day of calling for Egyptian workers to vote for Mursi. Not to even mention the consistent support for the labour party (without illusions of course). The party did not change! It has always been a despicable party of state capitalism masquerading as a revolutionary one.

    But members leave because two women were possibly or probably raped? This shows where the priorities of the SWP membership are. Not concerned about issues effecting our entire class but with comparably petty occurrences between two members.

    I was recently talking to a worker who had been telling me that the Labour party had been the workers party, harking back to the good old days when ‘real’ socialists were in the party. “You know people like Clement Attlee and the like.” You remind me a bit of that guy. Upset that his party had been lost, however, there was nothing of value to be lost in the first place and very little ever changed.

    Although there are certainly positives in your blog. I wholeheartedly agree with two of your observations.

    “I was genuinely perplexed by the way in my fellow sellers would shout what sounded to me like reformist slogans “stop the war”, “beat the Tories”. Weren’t we supposed to be revolutionaries?”

    Absolutely, the main problem with the SWP is that it has always acted as a reformist party. By all means participate in protests, hold marches, occupations while they hold little chance of having any effect they do at least instill a confidence in people. But always call for “the abolition of the wages system” rather than “a fair days work for a fair days pay” (value,price and profit).

    The second point is leadership and democratic centralism. Socialism is about people taking over the means of production and running society for themselves democratically. How will people ever be able to accomplish that if they are treated like children, reliant on being told what to think and how to act by a tiny minority, exactly the problem we suffer from right now. This is not just true of the SWP but many parties dating back to the Bolsheviks and even others before that. As a comrade of mine says “if you rely on some bugger to lead you to the promised land, some other bugger will lead you straight back out again”

    Both of these failings are part of Lenin and Trotsky’s so called ‘improvements’ upon Marxism. It’s time to get back to the base texts and leave these so called ‘improvements’ to the dustbin of history along with all the other failed attempts. Time to learn from the past mistakes and move on. That’s the only way we’ll all get to where we want to go.

  11. Your post reminded me of a story my dad told me about his experience in the CP. In 1956, as an activist in his local branch he had written in disgust to a national newspaper about the 20 year sentence given to an East German for listening to the BBC World Service. My dad was called up to King Street and admonished by the Party leadership. He was told ‘In Spain we used to shoot people like you’. Over the years I’ve reflected that this isn’t so a much a problem with Stalinism as a problem with Leninism. I’m happy to say I abandoned democratic centralism many years ago. I still regard myself as a socialist, still despair at what Capitalism is doing to the world but will have no truck with people who act in the way you have described. I don’t think the left has the answers right now but those of us who have experienced the devotion and pain of being on the revolutionary left can still sustain and feed a culture that one day will succeed in transforming this precious world into a place fit to live in for all humanity and as responsible guardians of life on this planet. I remain optimistic but deeply cynical of parties. Your time has not been entirely wasted and you will continue to make a contribution to a better world. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  12. As others have observed, Dave. your account of the crisis within the SWP and your departure has been chronicled with principle and sensitivity. This will not be “an end” – but more of a “new beginning.” However being afflicted with old age I must respond to something Carl says above when he (amazingly) claims that the SWP (actually its fore runner the International Socialists) called ” for the suppression of workers in Northern Ireland by British troops in 1967.” This is a total fiction. What Carl may be thinking of is the fact that the Socialist Worker paper did not make – from the safety of London – a call the immediate withdrawal of British forces from the 6 counties a priority at a time when the nationalist communities in Derry, Belfast and elsewhere were under a ferocious armed attacks by far right loyalist militias and troops were sent in to halt the pogram. As Tony Cliff (someone I came to strongly disagree with subsequently ) rightly said at the time “if I am being beaten up by fascists when a copper comes along, I don’t make ‘police out’ my priority slogan.” I was probably more responsible for this decision along with the editor Roger Protz on that occasion than any one else. I still think we were 100 per cent correct. It did not stop the IS mobilising against the British occupation subsequently.

  13. I fondly remember our time in Oxford when you (and our fellow comrades) taught me that effective activism is best carried out intelligently, with solidarity and a sense of fun and excitement. Years later, as the upper echelons of the SWP pressed an increasingly grim-faced authoritarian ethos, I despaired and left while remaining proud of the overwhelmingly positive role that the party had played. I respect the efforts that you and other members have made to salvage the most important force on the left in Britain and hope that something better can arise from your efforts.

    Great photo, good memories (and hi to Shelley in the comments above, after many years).

  14. Thanks to Shelley and Dave who recognised the photographs (and to Martin – although we met about 5 years later).

    One of the nicest things to have happened in the last year was when a colleague and friend said to me that the 20 year old me would have been proud of the decisions I have taken. I believe that’s true, and I owe a big debt to the friends who have shaped me.

    I’d also like to thank Phil and Sean for their best wishes. This is one of those moments on the left which in truth are over familiar – going back to the Socialist League split from the SDF (an existential row, when the far left had been in existence just a couple of years) or 1956.

    Elsewhere on the left another old friend Snowball warns us, with good grace, that it will be difficult. Certainly. But Hazel is right: we can – all – create something better

  15. Excellent piece and you should be very proud of the stand you have made, showing the best tradition of the party we all wanted to be apart of.
    Our paths crossed in Birmingham for a while, all the best for the future, keep on runnin and fightin!

  16. Dave Pinnock . . . . What a treat to see your smiling face at the top of this post, and even better to hear from you in person! I don’t want to turn Dave’s blog into a reunion website, but I’d love to catch up with you sometime. Hopefully Dave will do me the kindness of passing along my email addy to you. . . .

  17. Dave as someone who attended the recent conference I read your report with a great deal of interest.

    Perhaps you could clear up for me the variance between your description of this year’s events leading up to W’s hearing and what I heard at the conference.

    You stated the delays in the hearing being due to the CC trying to block it. The report at conference explained some of the delay being due to W stating her lack of confidence in the then existing DC and then some debate about whether there should be a delay until a new one could be constituted, ie at the next conference, however the minority on the DC called for the CC to set up a special disputes panel asap to meet W’s concerns.

    Subsequently the panel report speakers described what sounded like quite an exhaustive and supportive process in hearing W’s case.

    So were the DC and panel speakers being a bit economical with the truth here?

    • Richard
      As to the actual hearing of the second case neither I, nor the complainant, nor for that matter the faction has had any criticisms. The CC erred in ruling beforehand that the case would be limited to “case to answer”, and this was not a small betrayal of our politics as I’ve explained previously. But once we got to the second panel, the people on it had a difficult job and handled it as well as could have been asked.

      The greater problem was the way in which the original DC originally refused to hear the second complaint. If you were listening carefully to the chronology which M- gave us in introducing the session you will recall that: the complaint was put in before the March special conference and had in any event been known to the DC since the woman had first approached them in the October previously. The woman asked for a new panel, as a part of her complaint was about the discriminatory way in which members of the first DC had treated her in October. This was refused. At the start of May, the complainant removed all conditions.

      Then, on 14 May 2013 the DC, in a letter, informed the complainant that they would not hear her case before the next SWP conference (which at that stage was timetabled for January 2014). This is where M stopped speaking, with vague assurances that they had not meant to delay, and blamed the complainant, referring to the Daily Mail door stepping Smith, etc

      The next contributions by J- and C- explained why they were shocked by the positions the DC majority was taking and saw them as a betrayal of women’s liberation. R- also spoke, you will recall, blaming the complainant and defending the DC majority.

      So, for those listening carefully at conference, the factual position was made tolerably clear: between mid-May and the start of July the SWP’s position was that we would not hear the second complaint

      There was between 14 May and early July, as you may know but was not discussed at conference, a behind the scenes rebellion in the SWP. As a result of it the CC buckled, stopped supporting the DC and decided, in the end, to let the case be heard.

      Other speakers referred to this change of heart – including S- who spoke in the very first session on Saturday morning.

      So, in short: the true narrative was there, if you fit different contributions together, and allow for the code with which M- and R- defended their original, shoddy decisions

  18. Steve Durrant; for myself the reason I’m only leaving the SWP now is leaving after the conference decisions has more political impact than dropping out before it. Carl- there are few things less petty than rape, believe me!

  19. I’ve never been a member of the SWP, the only party I’ve ever been a member of is the Labour Party. However, as a trade unionist and particularly as a long-standing anti-fascist, I’ve known dozens of SWP members and I know how dedicated they are.

    What I will say however is that the reason I never really considered joining the SWP was because for every dedicated SWP member that I could talk comradely about everything from socialism to football to music, there was a dedicated SWP member who was a batty (usually aged) arsehole, who insisted on reducing everything you say to their interpretation of your statement against the SWP’s party line and then dressing it up as marxist theory.

    One of your commentators above says something that really chimes with me in their experience of the 70s and the comparisons of the fun, dynamic SWP with the old, humourless communist party. It was a similar experience that led me to joining the Labour Club at my Uni rather than going in with the SWP. The SWP was ALL about the wider party, whereas the Labour Club at the time was actually actively identifying itself against its wider party (it was a left-wing Labour Club) and emphasised on building a friendly, comradely organisation. We did loads of campaigning, including electoral campaigning with the local Labour Party but the it was an organisation that recognised fun as a vital element.

    PS – the whole selling newspapers thing I’ve never understood as a useful strategy other than telling your own members what to believe, and sure you can best get them on a members newsletter or something. I suggest, with the exception of the Morning Star, the left drops this as a tactic

    • It’s interesting RedShift how your comments chime with something that Jara Handala wrote on another wall a couple of weeks ago about the left as a whole needs to bring back the idea of comradeship. This was a large part of what we used to do: the Socialist Sunday Schools and the Clarion Cycles, or (in the SWP) an event like Skegness, were as much about promoting friendship between comrades as they were about bringing new people in. In fact, this is so deep in our collective DNA that when the Comintern tried to Bolshevise the early British CP in the 1920s, one criticism of the Brits was that they were “A society of great friends”.

      This connects to other things that we have lost – a culture of songs and posters (each of which has been downgraded in favour of text: a subtle legacy of What is to be Done), and of jokes. Somehow we need to relearn that totality of human expression; otherwise as the late, great Dave Widgery one wrote:

      “If socialism is transmitted in a deliberately doleful, pre-electronic idiom, if its emotional appeal is to working-class sacrifice and middle-class guilt and if its dominant medium is the ill-printed word and the drab public procession, it will simply bounce off people who have grown up on this side of the sixties watershed and leave barely a dent behind.”

  20. This is very sad news indeed when such a giant of the working class movement like, Pat Stack, cannot take the lies and deception of the CC any longer. I was witness to a meeting earlier this year when a member of the disputes committee, Maxine, was defending both the conduct and impartiality of this committee whilst casting unambiguous doubt on the veracity of the 2 women complainants. I was further sickened by the supine support given to the DC by members in attendance. Pat Stack is right; this is not about democratic centralism defending the party against attacking interlopers but is about standing shoulder to shoulder with women who have been harassed and abused! My belief in the SWP as the organisation that champions womens liberation as been shattered!

  21. Thanks for this detailed, principled account; it stands out above the rest, not least because it reflects my own experience in the IS and SWP.

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