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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.