Mark Bergfeld’s Resignation Letter from the SWP Central Committee

FOR SWP MEMBERS ONLY. DO NOT DISTRIBUTE OUTSIDE THE PARTY. DO NOT PUBLISH ONLINE.

On Monday 4 February I resigned from the SWP central committee and from my role as a national student organiser for the party. I would like to outline my reasons for this decision, which was not one I took lightly.

As comrades may be aware, I have disagreed with positions taken by the central committee, and more recently by the national committee, over the handling of the dispute concerning Comrade Delta.

I made no secret of these disagreements at our national conference, and debates at that conference were in my view conducted in a comradely and fraternal manner. Despite misgivings, I agreed to serve on whichever CC slate was elected.

Since conference, however, there have been a number of developments that run against both the spirit and the letter of the decisions taken there. These developments have not just made my position on the CC untenable. They also threaten the integrity of the party. This has left me with no choice but to resign from my positions in order to voice my concerns to the wider party membership.

At conference we decided to “draw a line” under the dispute and move forward in a spirit of unity. Instead the CC has decided to “draw a line” right through the middle of the party. It has misinterpreted the vote over the disputes committee report as an “exoneration” of [Delta] and as an expression of total confidence in the disputes committee process.

The effect of this, consciously or otherwise, has been to exacerbate the tensions that existed inside the party prior to conference. More worryingly, differences over the dispute are now being dressed up and rationalised as political differences. This threatens to severely distort both our perspective and our wider political practice.

What has happened in the student office since conference is a case in point. Up until the days immediately before conference, the CC did not express any concerns with the student office, its work or its political direction. Now the CC warns that students are “pandering to feminism and autonomism” and insists on the need for a sharp “ideological turn”.

This change in direction is based solely upon the CC’s position regarding the dispute. In my view, the charges of “feminism” and “autonomism” are baseless. Their aim, consciously or otherwise, is to split the party. Instead of addressing the widespread concerns over the way in which the dispute was handled, the CC has attempted to shut down discussion and create artificial political divisions over it.

Here’s just one minor example of this. One of our leading student activists was barred from standing again for his position on the NUS national executive committee. The only reason given for this decision was his disagreement over the dispute. This CC decision was sprung on him two days before the nominations deadline. It ignored negotiations with other left forces in the student movement.

We cannot dismiss the widespread and serious disagreements over the dispute, its handling and its fallout somehow amount to a “break with the IS tradition”. Nor can we pretend that these disagreements stem from a rejection of revolutionary socialism or of Leninist democratic centralism.

The new CC is set on a course that will do immense damage to the party and its work. If it pursues this direction further the inevitable result will be an irreparable breakdown in relations within the party and with wider forces on the left. This has already created huge damage among our student groups. It now threatens to spread much further.

I still believe it is not too late to reverse this course. I continue to be an active member of the Socialist Workers Party. I continue to fight for socialism from below and for the revolutionary party as a tool for working class self-emancipation.

In solidarity,
Mark Bergfeld
mxxxxxxxxx@gmail.com
7 February 2013
FOR SWP MEMBERS ONLY. DO NOT DISTRIBUTE OUTSIDE THE PARTY. DO NOT PUBLISH ONLINE

41 comments on “Mark Bergfeld’s Resignation Letter from the SWP Central Committee

  1. Obviously I have chosen to disregard the exhortation that accompanied this letter: “FOR SWP MEMBERS ONLY. DO NOT DISTRIBUTE OUTSIDE THE PARTY. DO NOT PUBLISH ONLINE.”

    I believe that publication is in the public interest, and the inclusion of this demand that it is not published on-line is i) a King Canute defiance of reality; and ii) and attempt to provide a built in mechanism for diverting the debate away from the substantive contents, and instead onto the ethics of my publication of it.

  2. Why bother on said:

    DO NOT DISTRIBUTE OUTSIDE THE PARTY. DO NOT PUBLISH ONLINE

    Hilarious. He could have saved himself the bother of typing this.

  3. John Grimshaw on said:

    #1 Although of course famously it was not King Cnut who was suffering from reality by-pass. He sat on a chair by the sea in order to prove to his CC that it doesn’t matter how powerful you are, you still have to face reality.

  4. brainwash on said:

    “DO NOT DISTRIBUTE OUTSIDE THE PARTY. DO NOT PUBLISH ONLINE”

    Its a bit like the copyright notice on CDs or DVDs – not really going to stop anyone is it?

  5. bill j on said:

    Amusing to note that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the carve up of positions on the NUS exec.

  6. Andy Newman: and ii) and attempt to provide a built in mechanism for diverting the debate away from the substantive contents, and instead onto the ethics of my publication of it.

    Andy, I doubt he wants to divert the debate away from the issues in the letter, else why write it. A more parsimonious explanation for the screaming CAPS is that they his defence against using the publicity around his letter as a pretext for expulsion.

  7. ‘FOR SWP MEMBERS ONLY. DO NOT DISTRIBUTE OUTSIDE THE PARTY. DO NOT PUBLISH ONLINE.’

    Comrade Bergfeld will be shocked to see his letter appearing on line.

    Shocked to the very core of his being.

  8. Matt: Andy, I doubt he wants to divert the debate away from the issues in the letter, else why write it. A more parsimonious explanation for the screaming CAPS is that they his defence against using the publicity around his letter as a pretext for expulsion.

    No, I think it is clear that Andy’s role in revealing the ongoing crisis within the organisation is causing them a great deal of damage and consternation.

    They are clearly desperately attempting to plug the leaks and tighten up their comms as a matter of urgency. It is understandable they would do so, but nonetheless futile.

    It’s yet another example of the incompatibility of DC with an open and transparent political culture.

  9. Matt,

    I agree. I doubt very much that Cde Bergfeld thought for one moment that the letter would remain private but he has to be seen to be making the attempt.

  10. John Grimshaw on said:

    :) I have noticed faint blue boxes around certain contributions. Is this evidence of hierarchy on SU?

  11. John Grimshaw: I have noticed faint blue boxes around certain contributions. Is this evidence of hierarchy on SU?

    We just think it’s about time you showed us the proper respect. And in the absence of that, we’ve got blue boxes.

  12. bill j: Amusing to note that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the carve up of positions on the NUS exec.

    :D

    Brilliant, Socialist Unity, urban75, and now Comment is free.

    So that’s my afternoon of productive work ruined basically.

  13. Ross Bradshaw on said:

    I thought people might be interested in a happier, more innocent time, when enthusiastic young people could try and fail to sell Socialist Worker without having to worry about what their mates at college were saying. The vid (bear with it) also has a rare filmic appearance of someone trying and failing to sell Red Weekly (yougsters – ask your grannie what that was). The Neil Young music is pretty nice too.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytsag7UYJE4

  14. 14#. I was at the paper sale 5 mins later with Alan freeman- who is selling the Red weekly ( IMG ) paper. We sold the paper between 4.30 and 5.30.When i arrived he told me you have just missed Neil Young busking. It was a Thursday in 1975 or 1976 I think. Out side central station. We often sold 20 or 30 papers. no one sells left papers there now

    sandy

  15. Fun fact: if you Google ‘red weekly’ (#14. unfortunately my grannie was a Tory and rests in the big Con Club in the sky), it takes you to the Wellred Weekly: Journal of the Library of Spanking Fiction. ;)

  16. Ross Bradshaw on said:

    #15. Sorry, I was making cheap shots. I had no idea whether the paper sold or not. I’m glad to be corrected to encourage me to be less dismissive. But it is still a nice vid.

  17. Ross Bradshaw on said:

    ~16 As Victoria Walter sang “Beat me on the bottom with the Women’s Weekly”. God, another cheap shot coming… surely on this website it should be “Beat me on the bottom with a Workers Weekly”. Sorry, sorry. Must get back to work.

  18. Ian Birchall on said:

    Manzil: f you Google ‘red weekly’ (#14. unfortunately my grannie was a Tory and rests in the big Con Club in the sky), it takes you to the Wellred Weekly: Journal of the Library of Spanking Fiction

    And if you google Red Mole you get an article on cancer symptoms.

  19. Lewisham Left Lawyer on said:

    Does this resignation mean that the SWP CC now co-opts a new member?

    If they actually follow the procedures of democratic centralism they will co-opt a member of the opposition, asking the opposition to nominate that comrade.

    Or will they follow “whatever-serves-the-CC-majority’s-factional-advantage” centralism?

    Don’t hold your breath.

  20. John Grimshaw on said:

    Tony Collins: We just think it’s about time you showed us the proper respect. And in the absence of that, we’ve got blue boxes.

    Pale sky blue Manchester City boxes. :)

  21. Jellytot on said:

    @11CIF just started discussion on SWP rape allegation and Leninism

    Well, it had to happen sooner or later. I’m surprised they took so long.

    @21Does this resignation mean that the SWP CC now co-opts a new member?

    Martin Smith?

  22. Might as well have put, “do not send to Andy Newman” at the top. Some comrades really don’t get the whole internet 2.0, Wikileaks/YouTube/Facebook/Anonymous/Romney 47% video thing, do they?

  23. Tony Collins: We just think it’s about time you showed us the proper respect. And in the absence of that, we’ve got blue boxes.

    Takes me back: Marxism, queuing outside the Friends Meeting House, Euston, on a hot July afternoon to hear Duncan Hallas debate Eric Heffer MP on ‘Is there a parliamentary road to socialism?’. Getting inside the hall and seeing a number of CC members lolling on chairs at the front, asking somebody who I was with how come they got in first and being told ‘Oh, they’re CC’.

    Perhaps that seemingly insignificant privilege set them down the ‘road’ that led to their current abuses of power. Where will the SU eds be in 20 years’ time eh? Today special blue boxes, tomorrow…

  24. Jara Handala on said:

    John Grimshaw,

    #3, 8:36am

    John, on your point about the comrade’s statement saying ‘not for the internet’ & King Cnut, I just got a twitter alert that Professor Dark Side, Philospher King of the SWP, was spotted at Victoria Station stepping into the Brighton train, followed in tight formation by a red & white striped deck-chair carried aloft by the coterie, those otherwise known as his fellow members of the Central Cttee.

    The tweet also noted that it was not surprising that the Philosopher King, the entourage, & the deck-chair were making their way to Brighton, rather than Clacton or Margate. But I must say I’m not sure that I agree with the class & class fraction conclusions drawn by the tweeter; I suspect it may just be the spontaneous expression of a long-standing lifestyle choice.

    I must say, the tweet had a point in saying that the best place for the Philosopher King & his co-thinkers to test their Cnut powers was Gravesend. It would have also saved the party some money for their important activities.

    Makes you wonder how else they’ve been spending the hard-earned dues handed over by the members. Speaking of which, when was the last time the SWP National Conference had a financial report?

    P.S. I just responded on the ‘SWP leadership fracturing under the pressure’ thread to your question as to why Nick Grant may have upset Me Ol’ China & Angry Raging Richard so much. I have found video evidence that casts it all in a new light, a hopeful light.

  25. Memory of the party... on said:

    Re Friends Meeting House at Marxism

    Yes indeed, I remember that Marxism very well. Your post also brings to mind a small but nonetheless to me at the time hugely important and more than symbolic change that signified a distinct culture change in the party in the mid- to late 1980s. Previously CC members might be sprinkled about an audience at a meeting and organisers certainly would be. Then a sort of choreographed hierarchy ‘emerged’ or was ‘encouraged’ or most likely deliberatly brought about. The CC would sit in a row down at the front. It reminded me of the front bench at Westmimster an aping of the bahviours of the bourgeois politicians. Lower apparatchiks would then jockey for position close to the the great and the good. As a full-time organiser I was aware of the shift and hated it. When Bambery later articulated how important it was to stand apart, don’t get too close to the members, you knew there was a problem.

    Soon after at Conferences the CC front bench would frequently bray like the Parliamentary clowns and adopt various contrived poses. Turning round in synchronised fashion as if electrocuted and staring down a hapless comrade who had made off message contribution. And worst of all the fake outrage accompanied by a collective vigorous shaking of heads that followed a particularly deviant speech.

    Fuller confessions of an SWP full-timer may follow.

  26. ‘Professor Dark Side, Philospher King of the SWP, was spotted at Victoria Station stepping into the Brighton train, followed in tight formation by a red & white striped deck-chair carried aloft by the coterie, those otherwise known as his fellow members of the Central Cttee.’

    And I assume when asked by the platform attendant, ‘First class sir?’, the Dark Lord replied ‘Naturally!’ and strode on. Rather doubt he replied as did George Formby when asked the same question: ‘Champion! How are you?’.

  27. K&C Dan on said:

    #28 Jara Handala

    I was at work on the Brighton line this morning and didn’t see his lordship – and also, I live near Margate and was born in Gravesend and they are both wonderful places! :-)

  28. Manzil on said:

    Memory of the party...: Then a sort of choreographed hierarchy ‘emerged’ or was ‘encouraged’ or most likely deliberatly brought about. The CC would sit in a row down at the front. It reminded me of the front bench at Westmimster an aping of the bahviours of the bourgeois politicians.

    If anyone remembers the 1995 BBC documentary The Death of Yugoslavia, there’s fantastic footage in the first episode of the 8th session of the League of Communists central committee, when Milosevic arranges for the removal of Ivan Stambolic as president of Serbia. Stambolic and his supporters are all huddled in the front few rows of the hall. They all turn around to the legions assembled behind him, absolute shocked that their colleagues could so unceremoniously cut short his rule.

    Now, not the most politically flattering analogy for the opposition perhaps, but maybe the Professor will have his own Stambolic moment one day soon.

  29. Political precedents on said:

    Manzil: If anyone remembers the 1995 BBC documentary The Death of Yugoslavia, there’s fantastic footage in the first episode of the 8th session of the League of Communists central committee, when Milosevic arranges for the removal of Ivan Stambolic as president of Serbia. Stambolic and his supporters are all huddled in the front few rows of the hall. They all turn around to the legions assembled behind him, absolute shocked that their colleagues could so unceremoniously cut short his rule.

    Now, not the most politically flattering analogy for the opposition perhaps, but maybe the Professor will have his own Stambolic moment one day soon.

    There is even more dramatically the Saddam Hussein coup in 1979. He forced al-Bakr to hand over power to him and then convened a special assembly of leaders of the Iraqi Ba’ath. He had it filmed as the names of 68 fifth columnists were read out and they were led one by one from the room. The rest were left quivering in the hall as Saddam congratulated them for their loyalty.

  30. Manzil on said:

    So either the opposition can be Milosevic, or Callinicos can be Saddam.

    I feel we’ve defamed both sides, somehow.

    Ian Birchall: And if you google Red Mole you get an article on cancer symptoms.

    And also some sort of self-help thing called “The Sexual Life” at theredmole.com

    What is it with the IMG’s publications overlapping with kinky online stuff. :P

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  32. “NOT TO BE FLYPOSTED”

    Ever put up thousands of those, printed by larkham p&p (or something) but immunised by a disclaimer?

    In the 21st century thats:

    “DO NOT PUBLISH ONLINE”

    yes, yes …

    anyway, now is the time to reforge an organisation that is fitted to lead the revolt that is breaking out.

    Today!

    Sussex students occupy
    http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/students-occupy-sussex-university-in-protest-against-service-selloff-8487055.html

    Manchester residents occupy library
    http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/between-40-and-50-people-refused-1303028

    (Interesting that Sussex SWSS was leading the 13 group strong SWSS rebellion against the CC. And now the SWP’s leading student organiser has resigned from the SWP).

    Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
    But to be young was very heaven!

  33. Jon Fanning on said:

    Sam64,

    When checking tickets at Marxism in the early 90s I stopped a CC member and student organiser from walking in without showing his ticket, he started to say “don’t you know….” before actually getting out his ticket and saying well done comrade. Funny thing is I think he meant it.

  34. I’ve often wondered how the SWP managed to make so many apparently bright people behave so badly. Not having a political programme, not taking political theory and debate seriously, is one thing, but the routine obnoxious personal behaviour that was/is a way of life for so many of these middle class boys and girls always amazed and appalled me.

    BTW Bill J’s point about NUS elections is spot on.

  35. Forever Delayed on said:

    “Now the CC warns that students are “pandering to feminism and autonomism” and insists on the need for a sharp “ideological turn”.

    I used to think that the SWP’s official dismissal of “feminism” despite its supposed commitment to “women’s liberation” was merely a semantic issue; that it was just unfortunately using “feminism” to mean a particular type of feminism, which for want of a better term might be called “bourgeois”. However, it now seems like this is symptomatic of a deeper problem with sexism both in the SWP and on the left more generally, which is finding its focus in the tendency to dismiss accusations of rape if the accused is someone we like or think is important. In that respect, it is very reminiscent of the recent crisis in Respect, on which the SWP’s position was correct but totally hypocritical.

    “I still believe it is not too late to reverse this course.”

    With all due respect to comrade Bergfeld, I suspect it is too late. The party is FUBAR, unless the current CC can be removed, which they can’t as long as they are willing to sacrifice the party to their own interests. Given the internal ‘democratic structures’ the core of the CC can certainly cling on to control of whatever remains of the SWP if they are willing to accept the loss of many of the members (particularly women and young members) and any future prospect of recovery/growth or meaningful contribution to the British left. And in the unlikely event that the opposition faction does succeed in calling an emergency conference and then in electing a new CC, that would still only be a first step. The ‘slate system’ of elections and the ban on ‘permanent factions’ (which apparently means any open and organised disageement with the CC) needs to end. ‘Delta’ needs to be suspended from membership unless he can be proved innocent beyond reasonable doubt (the DC ‘investigation’ is clearly not sufficient). If ‘W’ wishes to go to the police/courts at this stage, the party needs to fully support her in doing that.

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