Swp: “after Sunday” – New Document from Faction

This is a document that was sent to all SWP members yesterday. I’m publishing it here in full because I think it sums up the best of what people think the SWP could be and should be, and is a clear acknowledgement that it isn’t the party everyone wants it to be. What’s important here is that from the document, you get a glimpse of how an open, democratic, vibrant party could act. Compare it to the utter hackery, bullying, outright lying and complete inability to act like socialists you get from the CC and its more stark loyalists. I’m also publishing this on its own because, with the SWP membership trying to unite itself around what Pat Stack calls ‘filth’ – us – they need to know how wrong they are. One website has just published a series of private communications between faction members, specifically to ratchet up the tension and force expulsions. This site doesn’t do that. You might not agree with everything we publish, but we don’t pretend to want the left to succeed while working for its downfall. Ultimately, I think the faction will fail in its aims because it wasn’t willing to do what was necessary to stop the hackery – in some circumstances, I think you really do have to fight fire with fire.

After Sunday

Megan T and Mike G

As we approach the Special Conference, it is important that we discuss where we go from here. The faction has been tremendously successful: 532 party members have joined – far from the fringe grouping that we are characterised as.

Our concern at the start of this process was that the ‘middle ground’ of worried members would drift out of the party or into passivity if there was not pressure on the CC to address their concerns. The existence of the faction, and the seriousness of its arguments, have kept many comrades in the party and given heart to many more that a significant section of the membership does not agree with the CC’s tactics and responses to the questions raised by the disputes committee report, and has been prepared to stand up and say so.

In our view, we must be very careful not to abandon all that we have gained in recent weeks in the name of party discipline. In some senses, the building of the faction has been a demonstration of how a living organisation should work. It has been a conversation among comrades, horizontally, which has opened new networks and connections and made it possible to argue and debate issues directly, without formulae and slogans, without ‘holding the line’ or defining ourselves in relation to the leadership. What has emerged is not just a deep discontent, but a generalised feeling of disenfranchisement among party members.

The CC is fighting for its life, and for the methods of resolving issues it has used, largely uncontested, for a very long time. It has battered, attacked and ultimately removed people without compunction. That retaliatory spirit is obvious in the treatment of student comrades since conference, in the motion sent to Tottenham branch and in Terry, Donny and Penny’s piece in the IB, which begins and ends with threats of expulsion. The withdrawal of the Tottenham motion, proposed by two leading CC supporters and dismissing the student comrades with a wave of the hand, is an old tactic – create the arguments, spread them wide, and then withdraw the motion but not the position that it reflected. So it has created a point of reference for all those with a leaning towards heresy hunting.

We have argued that the party leadership has used exclusively administrative and procedural justifications and methods to respond to the IDOOP faction. While protesting at the “misuse” of our constitution, every bureaucratic device has been mobilised to block the faction. The manoeuvring to get CC supporters elected to the special conference by whatever means possible has nothing to do with the winning of political arguments that is assumed when we discuss democratic centralism and the unity it can promote.

That unity based on conviction, shared understandings and debate between comrades is the only guarantee that our understandings and methods are appropriate for the times in which we live (the “this-sidedness of thinking” as Marx called it). That is what politics is, not the manipulation of party structures. Or have we abandoned the idea that the centre of our theory is agency, real people intervening to change the world in circumstances not of our own choosing – or to put it another way, to break out of the structures that imprison our thinking?

The standard issue CC introduction to every aggregate gives a general, broad picture of the world and then moves on to attack the faction for narrowing that grand vision to internal matters. But that sweeping and general overview is no substitute for the complex and searching analysis of the society in which we live which has been the greatest strength of the SWP tradition, and which has enabled us to “punch above our weight”. Those ideas have been carried and won by comrades well prepared with arguments that have given them the confidence to work as they have. That confidence is severely damaged when the leaders of our organisation cannot offer a political explanation for their own actions.

The reasons for that are very clear. They were wrong. That was the immediate cause of the current crisis, and the error was then compounded by the refusal to acknowledge it and to respond to widespread disquiet by attempting to close down discussion. Indeed, it is the CC’s response to its mistake that has exposed a deeper weakness and what many of us have seen as a shocking willingness to reach for bureaucratic solutions to a political problem.

In recent years the CC has split time and again. The problem is not the splits in themselves, but the fact that they were concealed from the members of the party until they burst on us like a sudden storm. The gulf between the leadership and the party began to widen, the party apparatus increasingly substituted itself in various forms of activity and successful leadership became increasingly replaced by instructions, commands and moralism, always veiled by a tone of urgency to justify the failure to discuss things with comrades. That process has impaired the relationship between the CC and the party as a whole and withered the democratic reciprocity between sections of the party; this has not only affected individual comrades and distorted the party; it has weakened the leadership.

The DC dispute was the final straw in that imbalanced, frustrating and unequal relationship. At some point the CC began to treat the party with suspicion and outright hostility. And we have seen in the last six weeks how deeply embedded that suspicion is. It is easy to demonise two comrades who are being made responsible for a generalised leak of our internal discussions. Nothing can really be concealed in the age of the internet, and we would do well to understand that. But the faction contains over 500 comrades from every area of the party – why is this never discussed?

There is an alternative to ill-tempered protests about bloggers. It is as if the problem was not the method that came to grief and failed to convince nearly half the party’s conference delegates but the fact that it was discovered! In the age of instant communication our internal conduct and our external actions have to coincide. If we talk about democracy we have to exemplify it.

Part of the role of the CC in a revolutionary organisation is to fight to win over the majority of the membership to ideological positions and the practical activity that flows from an analysis of the current political situation. If the CC is not willing, or able, to do this then it is not leading. It is not the role of revolutionaries to support a weak leadership no matter what, but rather the obligation of party members to conduct an internal argument if they believe that the positions or tactics of the organisation are not matching the potential of prevailing circumstances and resulting in growth – numerical growth, rising levels of theoretical understanding and practical confidence, and in influence beyond our ranks.

How did the insistence on building a revolutionary organisation in which knowledge and experience, theory and practice, met in a “vibrant collaboration” (Lenin’s words) between all its members become transformed into a frozen transmission of pre-digested ideas from the top to the bottom? That’s a process that all of our comrades, and all the people we work and struggle with, will immediately recognise as the way capitalism functions. And we are supposed to be its gravediggers.

The faction has already won its first battle, whatever the outcome of the heavily rigged conference on the 10th. It has burst open the formal and restricted arena of discussion, and created a space of vigorous, honest and horizontal debate about much more than just the DC decision. It has re-established the fundamental socialist principle of accountability by demanding an explanation from the CC. And when it refused to provide one, it began to analyse that response and to connect the specific to the general, the flawed way in which the DC was handled with the general sense among a large chunk of the membership that they had been disenfranchised.

In just a few weeks, the desire to analyse how we got to this point has resulted in many faction members, both longstanding and new cadre, starting the process of attempting to fill some theoretical gaps. This is fantastically encouraging, and a glimpse at how political pride can be rebuilt and how fruitful honest collective discussion is. The very fact of the conference is a victory, but if we accept that silence must follow, then we have not achieved what we set out to achieve.

The CC argues that we are ‘permanent factionalists’. On the contrary, we are fighting to restore political debate and discussion in a democratic atmosphere to the heart of the organisation, for the SWP to rediscover the traditions that won it so much respect beyond its own ranks – in other words, to dissolve back into a party that has reaffirmed its openness to the debate and comradely argument that will make every comrade a leader, and acknowledge what every one of us contributes to our theory.

That means that while the faction will cease to exist – and on that we’re all agreed – the debate can and must continue, in the branches, the colleges, the day schools, the coffee shop discussions, the conversations after a sale or a demonstration; and it needs to continue in all our publications and meetings. There must be no separation between the theorists and the activists and, while we accept party discipline, we can’t accept the reimposition of control under threat of expulsion or sanctions or exclusion from this conference or that party event.

There should be no reprisals of any kind after conference, and a clear instruction from the CC to all their supporters that this is a condition for the party to heal its divisions. Branches and districts must continue to allow free and frank debate while we are united in our activity. That is the political duty of the leadership, and it needs to be explicit and unambiguous.

We want to win back an open democratic party culture that others can look on from the outside and admire, together with a unity of purpose that is sustained by that culture. The comrades who have argued that all this discussion inhibits activity are contradicting themselves. Socialists are active out of conviction, not out of loyalty to structures, procedures, or to this or that leadership. Our loyalty is to a political tradition and to the revolutionary project – the tradition that has kept that flame alive.

21 comments on “Swp: “after Sunday” – New Document from Faction

  1. The CC expressed its horror at the description of the conference as “heavily rigged” and demanded an explanation. The following was then sent to all SWP members by Charlie Kimber:

    Dear comrade,

    The Central Committee strongly objects to the description of our special conference on 10 March as “heavily rigged” in the document “After Sunday” distributed by the IDOOP faction earlier today.

    We have received a clarification from the authors:

    “To avoid possible misunderstandings we want to emphasise that we are not suggesting that the Special Conference is illegitimate, but only that we have concerns about the way in which delegates were selected. We would repeat the Faction’s clear statement that it will dissolve after Conference. We hope that lively political discussion will continue in the party after the 10th on the wider issues raised over recent weeks, but that the Conference will resolve the question of the dispute itself.”

    The Central Committee agrees that there should be no suggestion that the conference is illegitimate. The decisions of the conference will be binding on us all.

    Solidarity,

    Charlie Kimber, SWP national secretary

  2. The mentality is amazing. This is the CC that heavily rigged the Respect conference in 2007 – suddenly getting a large number of people to join who had never been interested before. They also refused to let us have sight of the “student delegations”, a group which for some reason the Respect office had no control over, it being run from the SWP centre. And they tried to pack every local meeting to make sure that dissidents didn’t have a say.

    Oh yeah, they also recorded and released a transcript of one of those meetings, and sent it out to all Respect members.

    Funny old world, innit. As if the CC would ever rig a conference.

    They clearly have a problem with any “suggestion” that the conference this weekend is rigged. How about the suggestion that the CC is actually made up of hacks who have no place leading a socialist movement anywhere, and have proven themselves again and again to be interested only in preserving their own positions, regardless of how many good people they lose. Is that ok, Charlie?

    I don’t particularly “support” the faction, but in the wider context of wanting to see the left strengthened and something resembling “The IS tradition” brought up to date and fit for purpose, it’s obvious which side represents the best chance of that. The faction and the platform haven’t had to lie at every stage, haven’t had to distort the politics of the other side, haven’t had to try to pack meetings, haven’t cancelled room bookings, haven’t brought in people who are never involved in any other party activity. And yeah, they call us filth, so maybe they’re guilty of the same sort of anti-outsider nonsense that the party as a whole suffers from. But at least there is a wide range of people trying to think through the IS’s politics in 2013, not trying to stamp on any sign of impure thought.

  3. stockwellpete on said:

    On my way to and from the supermarket this morning I was just thinking about what the faction should have done, as opposed to what they have done. It seems to me that they are attempting to play a “long game” and are hopeful of continuing the discussion after tomorrow with as many members of their faction still inside the SWP as possible. This, of course, may not be possible if the CC cuts the head off the faction by key expulsions in the next few weeks.

    One type of alternative approach that I can think of (and it would needed to have been debated out properly), which undoubtedly would lead to a major split in the organisation, was for the faction to have booked another hall near the venue of tomorrow’s meeting and called a full mobilisation of their supporters. They could have then picketed the Special Conference demanding that the current CC and Disputes Committee stand down. In the weeks that have just passed they could have still participated in some of the rigged aggregates in order to get credentials to enter the special conference as well.

    This would really be the “nuclear option” and, of course, their intentions would have quickly been discovered by the CC side. I wonder how many, if any, of the IDOOP faction considered embarking on a more radical course?

    What do comrades think the IDOOP faction should have done?

  4. sandy on said:

    The democratic opposition within the SWP is politically weak. They do not yet recognize that the CC leadership faction is, in essence, an anti socialist and anti working class current that will act to prevent a real socialist party emerging. The SWP leadership is a barrier to the creation of a real democratic socialist party- one with an adequate program to transcend Capitalism. In terms of socialist politics the SWP has been in decline for 30 years or more. They certainly dont promote the self activity of the working class but rather work on the principle of control or destroy. If the democratic opposition is going to achieve a positive outcome it has to recognize the reality of what the SWP apparatus has become- a machine for demoralizing and maiming potential socialists. Of course the fact that many in the leadership of the IDOP faction have went along with the anti democratic and anti working class SWP “tradition” for the last 30 years or more means that they find it difficult to look reality in the face. That task falls to the younger element. If they dont have the courage and sagacity to see what they are up against and call a spade a spade they will be smashed to pieces by the permanent CC faction and any revolutionary socialist potential that exists within the SWP will be lost.

    sandy

  5. Karl Stewart on said:

    The above article is an excellent one and the decision to post it here is absolutely right.

    This confirms a total of 532 signatories to the IDOP Faction statement, which is a remarkable achievement and very much to their credit.

    If one compares that to the 512 signatories to the CC Faction statement, then it’s a clear fact that IDOP has a slim majority within the SWP as a whole.

    It’s also clear that CC faction claims of “7,000 SWP members” are transparent lies. The true total membership is clearly a little over 1,000.
    There is no way that in a national membership ballot of such significance – widely publicised as the SWP’s “biggest crisis in its history” and lasting for over a month – that voter turnout could possibly be as low as 17 per cent – (that’s 9 per cent lower turnout even than the PCS got for their ballot this week!)

    So let’s hear no more of those fantasy membership lies from the SWP CC faction.

    IDOP has been the most successful opposition faction the SWP has ever had.

    And they’ve achieved their success in opposition to a CC faction that has been in complete control of the party’s whole apparatus, the CC faction has been in control of the SWP’s publications, its website, its leading committees, its regions and districts and all the national membership lists and national contact lists and the whole national network of its own full-timers.

    Using all of these advantages to the fullest extent, the CC faction has mounted a disgusting internal campaign of bullying and intimidation, rigging aggregate after aggregate, bussing its own supporters into meetings and around the meetings, posting its own goons on the doors to decide who may or may not enter and the CC faction have pulled out all the stops to gerrymander tomorrow*s conference.

    But, despite all of this, the IDOP faction has behaved with admirable dignity, honourably and honestly, and courageously, and have continued to patiently and reasonably put their case to SWP members.

    While the CC faction has broken the agreement not to post publicly – the threats on facebook, and the moronic “stuart” postings on here – the IDOP faction has kept strictly to its word and kept to the agreement.

    And, despite all of this, against all the odds, despite every possible disadvantage, IDOP has won a majority of SWP members to its position.

    Yes, it looks likely that the CC faction may well win a Phyrric “victory” at their gerrymandered Hammersmith event tomorrow.

    But every single signatory to the CC faction statement stands exposed as a supporter of lynch mobs, a supporter of spying on private conversations, a supporter of summary and arbitrary expulsions, a supporter of bullying and abuse of members by leaders, and a supporter of employers who deny workers’ rights. Every single one of the signatories to the CC faction statement is an utter disgrace to socialism and to the working-class movement.

    And every single signatory to the IDOP faction statement should stand tall and proud that they have made a courageous stand for real socialist and working-class values and principles.

    I sincerely hope they will continue to stand together against any attempts to divide and victimise any of you.

    Respect and the very best to all IDOP supporters tomorrow and in the future.

  6. jim mclean on said:

    Don’t go in for political science much but to use the technical term the SWP are up shit creek without a paddle. This is not resistance or a palace coupe, its a hissy fit by a bunch of people legitimising their membership of a rather dodgy outfit. They have lost the next generation of students which is their lifeblood.

    “The decisions of the conference will be binding on us all.” – read as Comrade W will be hung out to dry.

  7. Manzil on said:

    “That means that while the faction will cease to exist – and on that we’re all agreed – the debate can and must continue” + “The decisions of the conference will be binding on us all” = Fireworks.

    The lynch mob hasn’t learnt anything. It honestly believes the sort of party atmosphere IDOOP wants equates to ‘permanent factionalism’. It doesn’t want, won’t allow, that to happen.

    It’s a shame that, with each new step, from the Democratic Opposition, to Democratic Centralism, to In Defence of Our Party, the opposition seems to have made broader concessions to the lynch mob and imposed more limitations on its own activity. Hopefully the final step won’t be their turning round and loyally asserting that conference was legitimate and binding, and everything is fine now…

  8. hackneyglyn on said:

    [absolutely ridiculous, nonsensical, absurd rubbish about SWP and war criminals deleted]

  9. What I find most refreshing in Megan T and Mike G’s document posted above are its references to the importance of ‘horizontal’ communication between party members.

    Sometimes, it seems as if the SWP is based on purely ‘vertical’ lines of communication – between the centre and the members. Members can only communicate with each other through the centre. This gives the centre a monopoly on the flow of information. It can also slow down or inhibit the innovation and spread of new tactics.

    On the other hand, we have seen other tendencies (who the SWP like to call ‘autonomists’) who make a fetish out of ‘horizontalism’ imagining they can avoid hierarchy within the movement. Indeed, in the run up to the London hosted ‘European Social Forum’ in 2004, we saw a polarisation between ‘horizontalists’ versus ‘verticalists’ amongst the organising ESF activists (guess who were the ‘verticalists’? yes, the SWP). I was exasperated at the time, as I felt that any effective movement has a who range of lines of communication, a dense network, vertically, horizontally, diagonally, bendy, twisting, straight. Against the ‘horizontalists’ I wanted to argue that a movement needs organizing centres and hierarchies in order to work – especially if that movement is going to take common actions for common policies and demands. However, these hierarchies can still be controlled from below. But in order for this to happen, the movement or organisation also needs a dense network of other communications to work – horizontal, networked, etc.

    As a class struggle militant, and a Marxist, who is involved on a weekly basis in a range of struggles around the NHS, public service cuts, workplace action, community fighbacks, local environmental battles and more – I find the SWP is not an effective organisation to work within. I find we continually have to innovate new tactics and forms of organsing from below. I find searching the internet and communicating with other groups and learning from what they are doing helps me guide my practice more than looking to the SWP. The SWP centre is no use.

    21st century leninists would be experts at maximising the horizontal flow of information and innovative capacities amongst class struggle militants. They would see the internet as far more than simply a threat to their 20th century newspaper-based centralised information-power monopoly.

  10. Karl Stewart on said:

    Karl Stewart: It’s also clear that CC faction claims of “7,000 SWP members” are transparent lies. The true total membership is clearly a little over 1,000.
    There is no way that in a national membership ballot of such significance – widely publicised as the SWP’s “biggest crisis in its history” and lasting for over a month – that voter turnout could possibly be as low as 17 per cent – (that’s 9 per cent lower turnout even than the PCS got for their ballot this week!)
    So let’s hear no more of those fantasy membership lies from the SWP CC faction.

    Pardon my trainspottingness here, but I’ve worked out that, if the SWP CC faction’s membership figure of 7,000 were true, then the actual 1,044 total turnout in this factional vote comes out at 14.9 per cent.

    (Even lower than the public turnout for last year’s police commissioner elections!)

    So the CC faction are seriously asking people to believe that 85 per cent of their total national membership has no interest at all in this factional struggle – that 85 per cent of SWP members just aren’t bothered.

    Or are the CC faction lying about their membership figures?

  11. Phil on said:

    The CC argues that we are ‘permanent factionalists’. On the contrary, we are fighting to restore political debate and discussion in a democratic atmosphere to the heart of the organisation, for the SWP to rediscover the traditions that won it so much respect beyond its own ranks – in other words, to dissolve back into a party that has reaffirmed its openness to the debate and comradely argument that will make every comrade a leader, and acknowledge what every one of us contributes to our theory.

    This is exactly right – I was practically punching the air when I read it. The SWP could be reborn tomorrow. Sadly, it’s very, very unlikely – it’s much more likely that the party will take a giant step down the road to Healyville. But the platform have shaken a lot of people out of their dogmatic slumbers, and I think all concerned can see that as a good result. The next steps will be up to them.

  12. memoryoftheparty on said:

    Has the leopard changed its spots? Has Gonzalez become consistent in his advocacy of demoocracy? I doubt it in both cases. Over a few decades he has had peroidic dalliances with internal democracy and on every occasion he has capitulated to the CC. In the experience of many he is a gobshite who, at times, has acted in the same Stalinist manner as the apprachiks. Ultimately he always craved the acceptance of Cliff, German, Callinicos etc. and in the course of his U-turns was quite prepared to distance himself from, or even do in those who were critical. He has also been party to a witch hunt or two. He is a leader of the opposition? Oh dear Still there are good people in IDOOP who will not be phased or bullied – more power to them, but they should not believe for a minute that the great Gonzo with not concede or capitulate again.

  13. If I were the CC I would loudly pretend that IDOP were some sort of permanent ‘autonomist’ faction. As proof I would offer their promise to “dissolve back into the party” and continue the debate “in the branches, the colleges, the day schools, the coffee shop discussions, the conversations after a sale or a demonstration; in .. our publications and meetings”. Of course, as they are an *AUTONOMIST* faction they don’t need to organise centrally – they just argue what they believe in a decentralised way. Their very incoherence and diversity will be taken as a sign of their autonomism – and secrecy. :0

    Joking aside – regardless of Mike Gs past record – this is the party coming up for air. An important section has realised they are not waving but drowning. If they are to survive – and move beyond survival to actually develop into a new and significant political force out of this crisis, becoming the political expression and organisational base for a new generation of class struggle militants, and lead the great battles that are coming – then they must revolutionise their organisation from within.

  14. Graham on said:

    Barry Kade i would just like to say I think you speak a lot of sense. The articles by Tom Walker the ex Swp journalist and Alan Gibbons on the new left unity site about what kind of organisation we need are expressing the same kinda thoughts.
    Or at least they do to me. Respect.

  15. Yes, I am for patiently laying the basis for a non-sectarian, open socialist organisation which tries to give a voice to those to the left of Labour. We all know how difficult it is, but it is time to learn from the past and eschew the idea that there is some existing leadership which can lead the way. A new organisation would hopefully involve many of the best activists who have been through the various groups on the Left. I think it is time to respond to Ken Loach’s call to create something on the left which can challenge Labour in the way UKIP has challenged the Tories on the right. I have no illusions about how hard this will be. We should respect the efforts made by TUSC and Respect, but I don’t think either will develop into that kind of organisation though they could be part of its development. The attempt to develop such a force on the left will be a test of the ability of socialists to respond to a changing world and not be trapped in the stale mantras and scriptural certainties of the past. Now who is going to be the first to quote Lenin to shoot me down?

  16. Harry Haller on said:

    Mark&Lennys are deeply conflicted about their D/S kink. They want to be told what to do and think, to be corrected, to be in a disciplined relationship. Those on top have the run of the place, and the occasional gesture of submissive consent is–as just demonstrated, once again–a pro forma ritual.

    I do wonder: what would society be like if this lot were actually, through some transmogrification of unimaginable events, to achieve State power? It boggles and beggars the imagination to visualize their practices writ large, implemented as actual policies. We can be grateful that this subculture is not about any such thing, but manifestly intended to perpetuate the kink.

  17. Will Podmore on said:

    “But every single signatory to the CC faction statement stands exposed as a supporter of lynch mobs, a supporter of spying on private conversations, a supporter of summary and arbitrary expulsions, a supporter of bullying and abuse of members by leaders, and a supporter of employers who deny workers’ rights. Every single one of the signatories to the CC faction statement is an utter disgrace to socialism and to the working-class movement.”
    This is what communists have been saying about the SWP for decades – glad you’re catching up!