On the crisis in the SWP

My decision to publish a redacted version of a transcript of the part of the SWP’s conference dealing with the report of the disputes committee has proven controverisal, as I knew it would. Before I go any further, let me share with you an email from Charlie Kimber on behalf of the SWP, which I think in the circumstances is civil enough even though I don’t agree with it:

Charlie Kimber To office@socialistunity.com
Dear Andy Newman,

I am shocked and outraged that you have published a transcript of the Disputes Committee session at the recent SWP conference. It is of course fundamentally an attack on the individuals involved and their right to speak openly about these events. They did so in the belief that what they said was for the people in the room only. You – and whoever sent you this information – have betrayed that trust.

Did it occur to you to contact anyone involved in the case, or any of the people who are readily identifiable from this transcript before you published it?

It is also an assault on the SWP, its democracy, and our attempts to deal with this issue fairly.

Organisations that have to deal with personal cases and allegations of this sort deserve the right to privacy about the details of the proceedings. Do you think that trade unions, for example, should publish transcripts of such cases?

I do not believe you are motivated by any considerations apart from a desire to damage the individuals involved, and the SWP, and to achieve tawdry publicity.

You should never have published the transcript and should take it down immediately.

Charlie Kimber , SWP national secretary

Let us start with the political context. The SWP has been the largest far left group in Britain for some time, and played a vital role in the launching and sustained campaigning of the Stop the War Coalition, it has also been one of the driving forces in campaigning against the far right, through its participation in Unite Against Fascism. It also has a relatively high profile, especially on university campuses, and for many people coming across the SWP it will be their first contact with the socialist movement. It also has a limited but not unimportant footprint in some unions.

What is more, whether we agree with their politics or not, it is a characteristic of the British political scene that despite their relatively small size, the outside left is dominated by Marxist groups like the SWP and Socialist Party, and this has an impact on the practicalities of building the left in broader terms.

This year’s SWP conference saw an unusual degree of division, with rival factions, alternative slates for the Central Committee, a clearly fractious rumour mill, and expulsions of dissidents. What is significant is that the divisions have seemed to take on a generational aspect. The vote on whether or not to accept the Disputes Committee report saw the SWP conference split almost exactly down the middle. In an organisation where votes are always unanimous in favour of the status quo, this is effectively a defeat for the current leadership, despite their narrow formal victory.

The interest in this issue is not a prurient one due to the nature of the allegations, but a political one because the Disputes Committee report was challenged and almost rejected.

Now while we would all prefer that this political dispute concerned a wholesome disgreement about an issue like the Syrian revolt, or whether or not to support Len McCluskey, the real world issue that has cleft the SWP is a messy and unpleasant one concerning serious allegations of sexual impropriety, and the preceived mishandling of the complaint by the committee tasked with resolving it. This has spilled over into broader questioning of the democratic deficit in the SWP, and has exposed some of the rather crude bullying that some SWP members feel they have been subjected to.

If the SWP is facing a serious crisis, as seems likely, then that is of significance to the wider left, and the actual nature of the dispute cannot be contained. Let us be clear, there has already been leaking by word of mouth, and the nature of the allegations against a senior SWP CC member has been circulating around left activists and trade union officials for a while. Furthermore it is clear that even within the SWP there is very serious disquiet about the way the allegations were handled. There was no putting this back in the box.

Once I received this transcript in an unsolicited email, I had to decide whether to publish or not. I decided that whether I personally published it or not, then it would find its way onto the Internet. Note that Charlie Kimber does not dispute the accuracy of the transcript. By publishing it first I could at least ensure that the names were redacted. In the Internet age, closed sessions of conferences are unsustainable.

But more generally, I think there is a genuine public interest in publishing, so that the broader left appreciates what the SWP is consuming itself over, and in providing the accurate facts, rather than allowing rumour to poison the well. I believe it is better for the entire transcript to be published than for it to be selectively quoted. The way that the debate was conducted seemed fair, both sides were given a fair hearing, and no inappropriate detail was revealed.

I reject utterly the idea that I have somehow breached a duty of trust to the SWP, I have no such duty to them. With regard to an expectation of privacy, the debate at SWP conference already restricted itself from discussing personal details, and the debate concerned itself with the process of the Disputes Committee investigation and report.

Nor is this website typically focused on dscussing the SWP or other left groups; it is a topical issue for the left, and thereforre that is being reflected on this blog, but it is the opposition within the SWP, not myself, who is driving the agenda here.

23 comments on “On the crisis in the SWP

  1. Jay Blackwood on said:

    It’s indicative of the depth of the malaise inside the party that someone – presumably an elected conference delegate? – has gone to the trouble of secretly recording the session then typing the whole thing up and ‘leaking’ it. Extraordinary.

  2. Had enough of this BS on said:

    “It is also an assault on the SWP, it’s democracy and our attempts to deal with this issue fairly”

    Newsflash Charlie, you have no democracy inside the SWP, because if you had then you would have been able to “deal with this issue fairly” a long time ago.

    Instead there have been two years of lies and slander about women who have made complaints and anyone who dared to support them.

    Comrade Delta got a standing ovation 2 years ago when these allegations were first publicly announced, you’re just pissed off that this time round someone had the nous to record the “debate”.

    Save your rancour for your own CC who put you in this position in the first place, not for a whistleblower who has done the left a service

  3. Rorschach on said:

    “Let us be clear, there has already been leaking by word of mouth, and the nature of the allegations against a senior SWP CC member has been circulating around left activists and trade union officials for a while”.

    “By publishing it first I could at least ensure that the names were redacted. In the Internet age, closed sessions of conferences are unsustainable”.

    Let us be equally clear that SU has actively proliferated those rumours and allegations. As for redacting, you have repeatedly allowed the individual at the centre of the allegations to be smeared and subjected to hate-postings. And, as I commented on the other thread, saying that that ‘it will inevitably appear somewhere else on the web, so it is OK for a socialist blog to publish it’, is a lamentable a-political defense. Moreover do you really think publishing that transcript is necessary for a discussion about the state of the SWP? That is disingenous at best.

    Socialist Unity needs to think about what political standards it seeks to uphold: both in relation to the kind of information that socialist organisations (and individuals) can reasonably expect to be treated as private and what constitutes appropriate material for viewing and discussion. Current practice is woefully inadequate.

  4. disgusted on said:

    Newman you are the lowest of the low. Publshing this is indefensible for anyone who claims to be any kind of socialist. TAKE IT DOWN.

  5. Jellytot on said:

    @4TAKE IT DOWN.

    No, please don’t, Andy.

    Charles Kimber (aka “The Little Lord Fauntleroy” of Revolutionary Politics) can feign mock outrage all he wants but all this is is simply the chickens coming home to roost for his particular group. It all has a certain inevitability about it.

    In the mid 90′s I recall a senior SWP official (it was either Bambery or Harman) expressing grave mistrust and suspicion over the then new and increasingly popular internet; A rare case of prescience?

  6. stuart on said:

    ‘but it is the opposition within the SWP, not myself, who is driving the agenda here.’

    Andy, are you saying that the person who sent you the e-mail represents the opposition? That the opposition would approve of such an act?

  7. stuart: Andy, are you saying that the person who sent you the e-mail represents the opposition? That the opposition would approve of such an act?

    Clearly there is a diversity of opposition to the status quo in the SWP, and someone sent this to me.

    The process that is unravellling in the SWP is belng driven to people inside that organisation.

  8. Jack London had the measure of this:

    “After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

    A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.

    Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.

    When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.”

  9. Jellytot on said:

    @3As for redacting, you have repeatedly allowed the individual at the centre of the allegations to be smeared and subjected to hate-postings.

    Hate postings ?! A tad strong.

    There has been some light mocking of his ” idiosyncratic” dress sense and his penchant for wearing “Harry Worth” spectacles.

    Everything else as been legitimate political criticisms of his role as the the defacto leader of an anti-fascist group and the tactics employed.

    P.S. Smears aren’t really smears if they are true in substance.

  10. stuart on said:

    Andy Newman,

    It is one thing to have misgivings about a report. It is quite another to support the sending of a transcript to an utterly hostile blog. When you talk about ‘driving the agenda’, which particular agenda are you referring to?

  11. The breach of trust here is your duty to a vulnerable young woman who has come forward with the most serious allegations and shown extraordinary bravery in so doing.

    She had a decision whether to make her complaint public within her party. That was her decision to take. She decided to make her complaint there.

    You have never asked her whether to publish it to the world. Doesn’t it occur to you that there is any chance that she may be extremely upset by your decision?

    Please leave her alone and take it down.

  12. stuart: When you talk about ‘driving the agenda’, which particular agenda are you referring to?

    I don’t know what their agenda is, but there clearly is at least one agenda in play, possible more.

  13. Rorschach: both in relation to the kind of information that socialist organisations (and individuals) can reasonably expect to be treated as private and what constitutes appropriate material for viewing and discussion.

    Well clearly conference proceedings of a political organisation with around 500 delegates in the room are not that private.

    What constitutes appropriate subject for discussion is the lack of confidence that so many SWP delegates had for the report by the Disputes Committee.

  14. #9 As someone who has been threatened with disciplinary action for shouting that word on a picket line I would be very interested to know how you think it applies here. I suspect Jack London would be scratching his head.

    #12 A rather unsubtle attempt to obtain certain information there I think. A bit more subtle than Stuart however.

  15. Jellytot on said:

    Rorschach

    The posting:

    http://www.socialistunity.com/swp-conference-transcript-disputes-committee-report/

    includes the sentence

    “In September 2012, a comrade who we’ve called W, a woman, made a complaint of rape against Comrade Delta, a member of the party’s central committee.”

    That is the thing we should all be outraged about and as to whether the SWP is the fit and proper organisation to carry out any investigation into anything approching this gravity and seriousness.

    That sentence alone should be enough to rock any normal organisation to its core.

    I simply cannot see how Andy is the villian in this affair. IMO the attacks on Andy (and the recent criticisms of Galloway from the SWP) have something of a diversionary tactic to them.

  16. The SWP using a diversion? Surely not. Now shut up about internal stuff especially if you’re not a member/hostile/sectarian and lets build the class struggle! People are angry and its always urgent! Join the SWP! Nazis off our streets! Get the Tory scum out! (ahem)

  17. stuart on said:

    Andy Newman: I don’t know what their agenda is.

    But would you accept that if the opposition are SWP members, their agenda cannot possibly have included the sending of transcripts to a hostile blog?

  18. I have given people the opportunity to express their disapproval of me for publishing this, which is why i left comments open for a while.

    I cannot see that there is anyting to be gained in prolonging what could turn quite fractious.

  19. stuart: But would you accept that if the opposition are SWP members, their agenda cannot possibly have included the sending of transcripts to a hostile blog?

    Well the evidence of our own senses is that someone who was a delegate or official observer to SWP conference did record it, and send it to me. becasue that is what actually happened.

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