SWP – Chris Harman’s response to Neil Davidson

Some comments on Neil Davidson’s document

Neil Davidson’s document for IB3 has provoked considerable discussion in the party, circulating among a considerable number of members in digital form even before appearing in print. Such discussion is good thing. There has been a sense of malaise among wide sections of party activists over the outcome of the Respect crisis of a year ago—the malaise that was summed up in the Sheffield document in IB2. It is not that people think we took a wrong decision in resisting Galloway. Even most of the minority who disagreed at the time now feel we had no choice. But there are worries about tactical moves that led to us losing most of the centre ground to Galloway and over what has happened since. And this had led to questions about how we came to make such mistakes.

NeIl rightly notes the positive moves the party has been able to make. “Most recently, we have shown our ability to respond directly to a dramatic change in economic conditions. When the financial collapse occurred in September the SWP was certainly not the only organisation on the left to explain what had happened in other than Keynesian terms, but it was the only one able to raise slogans which went beyond abstract denunciations of capitalism and propose concrete demands around which to mobilise, and it was alone in fielding a body of activists large and capable enough to carry both our explanations and demands into the streets, workplaces and universities.” He could have added by noting our work in the run up the joint PCS-NUT strike in April, around the Scottish local government workers action, the bus strikes in London and the best successes among students for many years. But again, rightly, patting ourselves on the back is never good enough, particularly now. If we do not deal with the causes of the feeling of malaise in the party, we will be unable to rise to the challenge of the new phase of capitalist crisis that opened up since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid September. And we cannot come to terms with the problems without widespread discussion.

Underlying the discontent is a clear sense that the CC failed to prevent some of its members making mistakes in the building of Respect, in dealing with Galloway’s decisions to smash it if it did not suit his own purposes, and then in coping with the aftermath of the split. But that raises the additional question as to why the wider party membership were not able to call the CC to account for its omissions through the party conferences, the National Committee and the Party Councils

It is clear that we need to find ways of modifying our structures so that accountability applies to the CC as much as to anyone else in the party. Neil is quite right to say we need to find a way to open up discussions over strategic turns to wider sections of the party. Only in this way can we do our utmost to avoid mistakes (although it would be short-sighted to imagine there will not be further mistakes); and only in this way can we give the wider membership of the party the experience in making strategic and tactical decisions which they need if indeed every member is to be a leader. In my view it would have been much better had there, for instance, been a wider discussion in the party at the time of the launch of Respect, wider discussions about how to react as Galloway began to orient to Muslim notables and right wing Islamists at the time of the General Election in 2005, and wider discussion on our running in the London mayoral election (even though on this I think we had no choice.)

That is why the CC is proposing that that the conference elects a commission to make recommendations on strengthening party democracy and accountability.

Neil is right to say this is not the first time we have made mistakes. He reaches back to the mistaken position we took over the Poll Tax struggle in Scotland to generalise the argument about the inadequacy of the way the party leadership works. Others see the inadequacy expressed in the way we moved from talking about a “revolution in the branches” in the 1990s to the abortive attempt to replace them by cells in 2000, leaving us with very weak local organisation. The feeling is that on such occasions our structures –or as it is sometime put, “the atmosphere in the party”–allowed mistakes by the CC to go unrectified.

The picture as regards the Poll Tax in Scotland is not quite as simple as Neil presents its. The abstract approach we took to the Poll Tax struggle in Scotland was not just a question of mistakes by the CC in London but also of comrades on the ground in Scotland (on the paper on more than one occasion we had to tone down material we got from Scotland as putting too crude a line). And we did, as Neil recognises, learn the lessons when it came to the introduction of the Poll Tax in England and Wales. Most members of the current CC would probably recognise that the CC of eight years ago made mistakes over the branches at the time—mistakes we are still suffering from in some areas. But the mistakes were in response to the real problem that many party branches were becoming stultified and routinist (with members beginning not to attend out of boredom). It is easy to forget that a good many members felt a sense of relief at the decision taken by the CC. We chose the wrong solution, but there was a problem. The real point is that simply announcing a change without a thorough discussion at National Committees or Party Councils—with people presenting alternative views—was not the way to arrive at an answer to the problem.

So in principle I agree with Neil on the need to re-examine or decision making and accountability structures. I think the CC’s suggestion that conference elects a commission to report on the working of the party’s democratic structures provides a way to do this which can lead to a structured debate in the party about the matter.

However, I cannot follow Neil in many of the particular points he makes to justify his case.

First, it is simply not true that party members have fewer rights than members of unions. We do not have the mass purges and intimidation of dissidents that characterises UNISON at the moment. Any comrade or group of comrades can raise matters directly at party councils.—a far more direct route than in any union. We actually have a disputes committee whose reports most years are characterised by the fact that they involve no expulsions—and the committee is chaired by a comrade who was outspoken in defending certain positions opposed to the CC just three years ago. There has never been any restriction on what people write for the preconference bulletins. There has often been vigorous discussion at union fraction meetings—for instance over the discussions on how to relate to the rest of lefts in the PCS, NUT and UNISON, or in the arguments of how to campaign over Palestine in the UCU—and in districts. Some important national decisions have involved intense debate at the National Committee level—for instance, the decisions to join the SSP in Scotland and to break with the ISO in the US. There were very vigorous arguments when John Molyneux and a good number of other members (including at least one former member of the CC) challenged the leadership at a Party Council and then the conference three years ago, but there was no suppression of their right to do so. And there were three months of intense discussion right through the organisation when the split in Respect occurred in the last three months of 2007, with the small minority who opposed the CC decision to resist what Galloway was doing, putting their positions forcefully and without hindrance. You certainly did not need to access the blogosphere to hear the arguments (although you could read title tattle, such as a claim that I must have opposed the CC line because I had not signed a petition the party put out– I was in Barcelona on party business that weekend!!)

Nevertheless, there has been and remains a real problem. It is not that comrades lack democratic rights in the abstract. As Neil recognises, conference is free to replace or change the composition of the CC every year, it chooses a new National Committee each year, and the National Committee can censure the CC if it the majority of its members want to. On top of this there are national delegate meetings at least twice a year. I don’t know of any union with such formally democratic structures, while the LCR only has a congress every two or three years without ceasing to be democratic. The problem is that our structures have not in practice encouraged people to participate actively in decision making. There has been a tendency for comrades to rely on the CC to make decisions, even if this is in part because on very important decisions, such as the attitude to the anti-capitalist movement and the initiative to launch Stop the War, they could see that the CC was correct. The result is precisely the vicious circle of people leaving decisions to the CC and CC members falling into the easy trap of assuming that only they have the capacity to make the decisions. This is what we have to deal with. We need a national leadership which is wider than just the full time members of the CC.

There will be no easy magic remedy. In periods when the working class is on the defensive, it is difficult for people who work fulltime (particularly if they also have children) to commit themselves to serious involvement in the national decision making structures of the party. One long standing problem with the National Committee has been that people who stand for it at conference then often find it difficult to attend its meetings, let alone prepare themselves in advance for arguments. The very responsibilities in the wider working class movement that make their presence important often make it difficult to for them attend. A greater culture of debate at the national level in the party would hopefully make them see the importance of trying to deal with the problems they face when it comes to this. But it would be a mistake to assume they will always find it easy. Much the same applies to people who have to travel long distances to attend national leadership meetings. There can be great willingness to do so when the issue are contentious (as at the time of the Respect split a year ago), but there is a danger of people ordering their priorities differently when things seem to be going well for the party. Our experience of having a nationally based rather than a London based central leadership in the early 1970s was that people felt very frustrated coming all the way to London to discuss the humdrum issues that are often the stuff of politics for weeks or even months at a time.

We have to try to work out some structures better than the present ones. But that means confronting the practical difficulties as well as any attitudinal approaches that have developed in recent years. That is why it seems to me that a conference-elected commission to make recommendations is a better way forward than three months of discussion in internal bulletins. Hopefully such a commission could look at other experiences from the history of the movement and internationally, talk through the issues with long established lay members of the party, and suggest clear proposals (or alternative proposals) to be voted on.

I should add that I think it would be disastrous not to choose a new CC at conference. We need a elected by the conference if we are to respond a situation that is changing so rapidly as the global economic crisis unfolds so quickly that much of what was written in the first conference document (not just by the CC, but also in critical pieces like that of Unujm etc) already needs updating and will need further updating at the conference itself in six weeks time.

I suspect that whatever new structures we adopt may well need to be further reshaped in the light of practical experience. Neil points to the structures of the German Communist Party in 1922. He will be aware that it is a far from perfect example for us. The party had only the year before lost up to half its members and expelled one of its leading figures, Paul Levi. And it was plagued by a fight between two factions, one led by Heinrich Brandler, with years of exemplary practical experience, rooted in a strong working class district; the other led by the young intellectuals with ultra left tendencies, Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow. When Germany entered a new phase of very intense economic, social and political crisis in 1923, neither grouping was able to provide the leadership needed. The ultra lefts saw a revolutionary situation where none existed in the first months of the year, while Brandler did not have the confidence to follow his own instincts and fight for a decisive shift to the left required when the situation changed in June. The result was a party which certainly was not “considerably more flexible and open” than us, as Neil seems to believe.

The problem is not formal democracy (which exists as much in the SWP today as in the German CP in 1922-3), but the creation of structures that permit the party to have a leadership that can make sharp strategic and tactical turns and fight to get the party as a whole to undertake them without at the same time cutting itself off from the experience, advice and, ultimately, control of the party at large. Neil objects to the phrase “organised distrust by the leadership of the rank and file”, and I do not see it as one of the finest quotations from Cliff. But what it tries to express is the idea that when the leadership decides on a certain course of action it has to struggle vigorously for it in the party, rather than just waiting on the membership to take action – even at the same time as being responsible to the membership when it becomes clear the course of action does not fit. That is the essence of Leninism, in whichever organisational form it takes, which distinguishes it as fighting party from a merely propagandist organisation or from parties of the Second International sort. My fear is that some of Neil’s formulations involve throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There may be occasions in which a party leadership jumps too quickly, not taking advantage of the time which exists to consult with the party at large; but equally there are many occasions in which the leadership has no choice but to make an immediate response. We could not, for instance, wait in the party as whole to carry through the discussion before making our decisions on how to react to the outbreak of the Falkland War in 1982 or the events of 9/11. I was editing the paper on those occasions, and we had to decide headlines that committed the party at short notice and with no possibility of organising any sort of national meeting first. What matters in such instances is that the structures and political understanding exists in the party to bring us to account if we get things wrong (and, as Neil must recognise they did exist on both occasions, but were not used because comrades recognised we got things right).

Neil harks back to the argument put forward by Peter Sedgwick about calling ourselves a party in 1977, and suggests that it was a mistake to do so once the class struggle has entered into the downturn and that led us to develop inappropriate structures. But it was not simply a change of name that led us to ensure we had structures that could provide some degree of leadership in struggles. It was that by the late 1970s, precisely because of the downturn in struggle, we were faced with responsibilities we had not faced in the past. The exemplary case was our role in organising the mass action against the National Front demonstrations at Wood Green and Lewisham, and then initiating the Anti-Nazi League. We could not have done such things without behaving like a miniparty, whatever we called ourselves. The same applied to building the Right to Work campaign (the only organised national movement against unemployment so long as the Labour government was in office), the Falklands War, the miners’ strike, the first Iraq war, the poll tax riot in London, the pit closures crisis, the revival of the ANL after Beackon got elected in the Isle of Dogs, the Liverpool dockworkers strike, the outbreak of the “war on terror”, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon two years ago,

Unfortunately, Neil’s account of our past abstracts from all these things. Looking at this record, it is facile in the extreme for Neil to claim that “Sedgwick was right to highlight the dangers of establishing an unchanging leadership incapable of recognising, or at least admitting to its own errors.” I am sorry, but most of what the leadership did through the two and a half decades after Peter made this comments was correct, as Neil himself would admit. At least part of the reason why the experienced members who have served on the score or more of national committees since have not been as critical of the CC in the past as many of them have been over recent months is that they thought the decisions the CC took were generally correct. And if Neil looked more closely at the various documents he consulted in writing his document, he would see that it is a mistake to refer to an “unchanging leadership”. Me and Alex are the only members of the CC from 1977, and Chris Bambery and Lindsey German the only ones who were on it alongside us at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first Iraq war and the Poll tax riot. Those who have joined the CC in recent years include a former nationally known militant in the Civil Service, a long time activist in South Africa under apartheid, someone who was thrown out of the TUC programme for union recruiters for encouraging strikes, a comrade who led our student work in its most successful year for more than a decade, and a former teacher union activist with a record of successfully defusing an attempt by the Nazis to win over white working class youth. Hardly a bunch of tame apparatchiks!!

More seriously, in my view, Neil abstracts from the wider situation of the left nationally and internationally when it comes to the problems we have faced with growth. He implies these have been caused by Tony Cliff’s version of Leninism. He recognises there were problem beyond our control in the early period of downturn, but downgrades their importance in the years after that. The period after the mid 1970s itself was not just one of industrial downturn in Britain. It was one that was dire for the left as a whole nationally and internationally. In countries like the US, Germany, Italy and Spain organisations with tens of thousands of activists simply disappeared; in Latin America outside Brazil they disintegrated into small, quarrelling sects cut off from wider struggles for most of the 1980s and 1990s. It was not only the far left that disappeared; figures who had once been part of the reformist or Eurocommunist left ended up backing the third way, and embracing neoliberal ideas. The exciting left wing cultural fruits of the 1960s withered. The wave of academic Marxism of the early 1970s gave way to post structuralism and postmodernism.

If things were not so bad in Britain it was to an important extent due to the role of the SWP (just as the LCR and Lutte Ouvriere were, for all their faults, were able to play a somewhat similar role in France). Nevertheless, this country witnessed the collapse of the old International Marxist Group, the disintegration of a Communist Party that still had about 30,000 members at the time we adopted the name SWP and the complete disappearance of the Bennite left in the Labour Party; the social movements of the 1970s gave way to one issue campaigns centred on identity politics in the 1990s, a once flourishing quasi Marxist intellectual milieu to the dominance of post modernism in one form or another. These were the years in which half the jobs in manufacturing industries disappeared (a higher proportion than anywhere else in the advanced industrial world), and the most militant sections of workers in the 1970s, the dockers, the printers and the miners suffered devastating defeats (much greater than in France or Germany, for instance). A whole swathe of militants from the early 1970s lost their jobs through victimisation and redundancy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We had militant electricians who had to go to Saudi Arabia to find work, car worker militants who ended up in teaching jobs, working in local government or driving taxis. Neil must know a few in Scotland who ended up as university lecturers. In such a situation people could be won to the idea of workers power as the alternative to capitalism in their “ones and twos”, as Cliff insisted in the early 1980s, but it could come to seem a very distant goal, not worth putting in the effort week after week year after year. Our work within and around the miners strike of 1984-5 enabled us to win a whole new layer of comrades to the organisation—and it was these who held it together, selling the paper, building the branches, maintaining a base for us in some unions in two decades after. But they had to do so in an environment which was in some ways more difficult than that previously. The defeat of the miners spelt the final end of the swing to the left which the Labour Party had experienced at the beginning of 1980s—and down with the Labour Left also went the Militant (now the Socialist Party), with its former base in Liverpool turning into a wasteland for the left. Union leaderships were still using the miners’ defeat 15 years afterward to argue than strikes could not win, and allowed themselves to be constrained by the anti-unions laws in a way still unimaginable in the early 1980s. To this must be added the impact on the wider left internationally of the collapse of the USSR. It did not affect our membership, and we were left as the only substantial left force intact as the rest of the left declined in one way or another. But it did affect the wider milieu in which we operated, adding to the common sense argument that “socialism cannot work”. The result was that revolutionary socialists found ourselves swimming against the tide, even when our role in things like the First Iraq war, the poll tax riot, the pit closure revolt, the ANL, the Timex strike and the CJB provided us with a visibility.

For about four or five months at the time of the pit closure revolt there was a real feel of revival of the workers movement and we picked up enormously. But we did not have the weight in the working class to counter the do-nothing approach of the union leaderships (with Scargill opposing our efforts to get pit occupations) and the feeling soon dissipated. We were honestly able to claim a membership of up to 10,000 (a careful audit of our membership in the late 1990s showed it as 8,500). But in retrospect it is clear that many who signed membership forms to join the party did so not because they wanted to be active but because they liked what we were doing without intending to do it themselves. The sort of mass class struggle needed to provide concrete reality to the struggle for workers’ power still seemed very distant. And then the visceral anger within the working class against Thatcherism transmuted into a belief that New Labour was the answer (the Labour Party put on about 200,000 new members in the run up to the 1997 election).

All of us older members know people who dropped out in that period. They felt that transitory successes for the party could not overcome a more general feeling that we were banging our heads against a brick wall and would never break through. Most still valued the SWP but did not have the energy to remain active members. We lost by attrition what we gained by recruitment. Some remained nominal members (an important chunk of the “unregistered member” category Neil picks up on); others simply drifted away. I cannot honestly think the “regime” in the party had much, if anything, to do with that—except that the structures of the party, for all their possible faults, did keep pressure on comrades to be active.

What about the nine years since Seattle? We were quite rightly excited by the rise of the anticapitalist movement and then the anti war movement. We were no longer isolated as we had been in the 1990s and were quite right to make a turn to the new movements. But we recognised (in for instance the article I wrote in ISJ in 2000, “The Theory and Practice of Anticapitalism,”) that the ideas that predominated within the new movement were pre-Marxist rather than Marxist, and that it would take time and fraternal discussion for us to shift this. We had to go backward, in a certain sense, in order to go forward.

The leadership we played in the anti-war movement gained the party great credit. But in the course of the movement it also became clear that opposition to war was not automatically the same as anti-imperialism, and that anti-imperialism was not automatically the same as anticapitalism (I remember student meetings where young people opposed to the war would defend the market, “enterprise” etc). As I put it in my article “Anticapitalism five years after Seattle” in IS 104 (Autumn 2004) autonomists and reformist ideas were still very dominant in the movement: “The revolutionary left was small at the time of Seattle and it is not surprising that the many thousands who took part in the great mobilisations rarely identified with its arguments”. Or as Sheila MacGregor summed it up at a party council about four years ago. “We had a bigger mass movement than in Britain in 1968, but we did not have anything like the French May events.”

I felt at the time, and I still do, that were a bit slow in putting more effort in building the party. I made the point in the Journal that a measure of the party’s success in broader party fronts was winning people to its full set of ideas. Of the experience internationally I wrote, “The omission of the far left has been its failure to build links with at least a proportion of those who have voted for it, finding ways to involve them in non-electoral struggles and winning them to readership of its press.” It was such feelings that led me to I turn a series of articles I had written into Socialist Worker into the little book, Revolution in the 21st Century (although at least one other member of the CC indicated to me that they thought this was not what the party needed at the time, and it took two years to appear in print). It was only when Martin Smith moved from the industrial department to become national organiser that real effort was put into party building effort, although even then there were people in the party (including in the CC) who in practice behaved as if it was a diversion from what we were doing in the united fronts.

Be that as it may, the objective situation has changed in our favour since then, even if not as quickly as I had hoped. The last two or three years have seen a revival of interest in Marxism internationally in a way in which was not the case in the early 2000s (if nothing else, the attendance at the Historical Materialism annual events, which have quadrupled in size in four years shows that), and it the interest is increasing by the day as a result of the ideological crisis since the bank collapses and nationalisations We have to seize the opportunities before us. We cannot do so without coming to terms at the conference with past mistakes. But we also have to ensure this does not absorb our time and energy when we have chance of moving forward.

Neil refers, quite correctly, to the hopeful sight of the LCR building the New Anticapitalist Party in France, But until five years ago the LCR’s record of growth was even more dismal than ours. It had shrunk from perhaps 6000 “militants” in 1982 when Mitterrand was elected for the first time to about 2000. Its growth since and the prospects for the new party are very much a product of the successive waves of workers and students struggles in France since 1995. We have maintained ourselves and gained a certain, if limited, influence on British politics in the absence of struggles on anything like that scale. It is no mean achievement. But now we have to seize the opportunities to build on it—even if they are not as great as in countries like France and Greece where we have already seen mass struggles.

In this respect, there are, however, two things on which Neal’s document that confuse rather than enlighten.

The first concerns electoral interventions and the united front. Its strikes me that there is danger of an almost metaphysical discussion in the party at the moment as to what is a united front and what is not. The concept was developed by Lenin and Trotsky in 1920 and 1921 to deal with situations where revolutionaries had not won the majority of workers to their revolutionary views, but were able to work with them for limited objectives. Because such workers were still under the influence of reformist politicians and trade union bureaucrats, it was often necessary to formally call upon these to engage in united struggle with the revolutionary organisation around specific demands which they claimed to accept. If they are agreed, it would make it easier for revolutionaries to engage in united action with reformist workers and win them to revolutionary ideas—and win victories for the class which would strengthen its confidence. If the leaders refused it would expose them in the eyes of their supporters. This became known as “the united front from above.” There were also situations in which it was possible to win reformist workers to united action even without their leaders. This became known as the “united front from below”—not in itself necessarily a bad thing, but unlikely to have the impact of the united front from above and in important instances (like Germany in 1930-33) an ultraleft substitute for it. In either sort of united front there were opportunities as well as dangers. The revolutionaries could pull the reformists towards them, but the reformists could also exercise pressure on the revolutionaries. Which way things went depended on the tempo of struggle, but also the clarity and tactical skill of the revolutionaries.

The particular demands which would make a united front possible depended on the concrete situation. It could be about one demand, it could be about ten. The United Front could start from above, as a result of a formal agreement with union or reformist leaders; it could start from below –for instance by drawing rank and file reformist workers with us into common action (some of the most effective rank and file movements of the early 1970s, like that around the Dockworker paper, started on a basis similar to this). So there is no reason in principle why a petition should not form the basis for a united front. Any argument must be over what is the best basis at a particular point in time. What does matter is that the demands are concrete and specific enough to put the reformist leaders to the test of practice in front of their supporters. General propaganda calls would not do this. Reformists have often been willing to make apparently far reaching calls for change at some point in the future while ducking struggle in the here and now. A united front around such calls, far from drawing their followers into action, only serves to provide a left cover for the leaders’ inaction.

It also has to be remembered, at every moment, that the leaders will seize every opportunity to back off from their commitment even to the minimal points of agreement with us. For this reason no united front will last forever. Neil is therefore overstating the case when he writes that the “cases where revolutionaries simply have to stand alone on a point of principle…should be the exceptions, at least in the current period.” We have to assume in any united front that a breaking point will come. Our responsibility is to build links with those influenced by reformism so that when the break comes, we do not break alone.

By these criteria Respect was an attempt at a united front –and so, for that matter, is the New Anticapitalist Party in France, since it unites people around the quite correct demand of “no coalition with the Socialist Party”, but does not raise the question of the overthrow of the state and workers power. Neil thinks we were right to launch Respect and agrees it necessarily involved us working with people who were not revolutionaries. But he then writes that it could not have been a united front because “Respect was a political party which, by definition, must seek to intervene across the entire range of political, social and economic issues facing the workers and oppressed groups it wants to influence, from abortion to zero-tolerance policing.” I feel like echoing Engels and writing, “dialectics, gentlemen, dialectics.” The left across Europe today is faced with a contradictory situation. People who have not broken with reformism are breaking with existing reformist parties and want to vote against them from the left. We can work alongside them in political formations around demands of a limited nature that do not have the total programme one would normally expect from a political party. That is a united front with them. Where Neil is right is that such a united front presents particular problems, in the case of Respect “because the agreement did not exist over many of the fundamental issues with which Respect was faced”. He is also right to say that the result would predictably be “unstable and divisive” and that therefore we should have done more to win Respect supporters to revolutionary politics.

It is a pity that in is eagerness to score a point at Alex’s expense in his piece that Neil did not take up more seriously the question of Trotsky and the Labor Party in the US. There was a real problem, similar in some ways to that which revolutionary socialists face in Europe today, and one we could learn from. The socialist movement was weak in the US in the 1920s and the Communist Party even weaker, with much of its influence restricted to the “foreign language” federations of recent immigrants. A move began to establish a Labor Party in the Chicago region, which has seen two great, but defeated, strikes in 1919-20 (in the stockyards and in steel). Centrally involved was one of the key leaders of those strike, John Fitzpatrick (portrayed in the film The killing floor). Another of the key strike leaders, William Z Foster, had joined the Communist Party, and it seemed that the party could gain in influence by taking part in the Labor Party initiative. At first things went well, but then the hierarchy of the US trade union movement put pressure on Fitzpatrick and he turned against the Communists, destroying the movement for a Labor Party and damaging the Communists. Up to this point, the incident shows incredible similarities with our experience with Galloway in Respect. When I read Theodor Draper’s account of the events earlier this year, I felt as if I was reading a script acted out by us and Galloway). The fact that the American CP, under the influence of the Zinovievite Comintern delegate Pepper, then went off into cloud cuckoo land is beside the point. The issue raised by the incident had been a real issue. It re-emerged in the 1930s, among Trotsky’s supporters in the US. Trotsky’s advice to them at first was that they should oppose agitation for a Labor Party as a diversion from winning workers to revolutionary socialism. But after the great strike wave of the mid 1930s he gave new thought to the question in long discussions with revolutionaries from the US. His conclusion was that revolutionaries should support such agitation insofar as it struck a response among the militant workers, but at the same time be aware that there would be struggle with reformist influences, which would grow if the workers’ movement suffered set backs.

As Daniel Bensaid summarised his arguments a few years ago:

“To the revolutionary militants who asked him why they were going to take part in the founding of a reformist party, he replied that what was necessary was not the founding of a reformist party, but a party of the class independent of the bourgeoisie. What happens after that is an open question. What becomes of the party depends on the class struggle, the balance of forces, the experiences, and the intervention of revolutionaries within it. To those who said it was necessary to create a workers’ party with revolutionary references, he replied that was abstract and formal. In the context of the time, of 500 workers at a public meeting who were ready to understand the need for an independent workers party, perhaps only five, not more, would be ready to understand that it was necessary to destroy the state and fight Stalinism. The five could be recruited to the section of the Fourth International and the 500 to the workers’ party. Each would respond according to their level of consciousness.”

The mistake the young American Communist Party made in the early 1920s was not to be prepared for its reformist allies to turn against it, and then to avoid drawing an honest balance sheet when they did. We made the first mistake in Respect, and we have avoid making the second one if we are going to be able to respond correctly if, as is possible, forces bigger than us try to build a formation to the left of Labour in future. Denying that what is involved is some form of united front– one which creates special difficulties– is not helpful. Nor is it helpful now for us to try to delineate in detail in advance, long before the conditions for a new formation exists, how we would respond. On this point I think Neil’s call for us now “to start thinking now about the nature of such a party, in terms of its composition, possible process of formation, and our relationship to it as a revolutionary component” is pie in the sky, since we have no ideas of under what circumstances and with what forces we would be working. He says the alternative is “yet more improvisations, dignified with the spurious theoretical rationale of the united front.” It is not. The alternative is one aspect of Leninism which I am sure Neil wants to keep, “the concrete analysis of concrete situations.” What is true is that we can get lessons on how to do that from the experiences taking place at present in France, Greece, Germany and elsewhere, and from the record of Respect,the SSP and Rifondazione. In my view, I think we would have been better prepared for what happened in Respect if instead of seeing it as something new we had looked at how people like Trotsky related to previous similar attempts, with the balance sheet of their outcome. This is not, as Neil implies, treating the classic writings of Marxism as scriptural texts—or as Alasdair Macintyre and Brian Behan put it before abandoning revolutionary Marxism, “waving the dead bones of Trotsky”. It is not snide comments about past revolutionary experiences we need, but learning from them in an effort to change the future.

It is also worth adding that one problem we faced—and might well face again—is that so far the willingness of a minority of people to vote to the left of the social democratic parties has not in general been matched by a corresponding level of activism. This has been true in France, and is so even now. Ten thousand members of the New Anticapitalist Party is magnificent. But it is less than one percent of the people prepared to vote for Besancenot. In Britain the proportions were probably worse with both with the SSP and Respect. In Hackney, where I live we got between 5 and 10 per cent of the vote (a very good vote by European standards–except in Europe proportional representation means the far left win seats with such figures). Yet there were only a handful of activists in Respect who were not SWP members, and despite all our efforts Respect public meetings were no bigger than those of the SWP (a very different state of affairs to that with Stop the War). The number of activists we could potentially have won from Respect to our wider politics was not very great. My impression is that the low level of non party participation in Respect was fairly general, except in a handful of predominantly Muslim localities, a few other places and among students. One problem with our Respect work was that we never discussed the implications of this at a national level.

The other point on which I think Neil is very confusing is in his references to the state of the working class organisation. He objects to the formula of “bureaucracy on the one hand, lack of confidence on the other.” I don’t agree. In my view that is precisely the lesson that flows from the union leaderships’ ignoring the votes for action in the PCS and NUT, and the union membership then accepting the leaderships decisions. Trade unionists in the public sector and important parts of the private sector are quite prepared to vote in their majority for strike action when they are given some sort of lead; but they do not have the confidence to take action without an official lead. This does not seem to me to imply some radical transformation in the consciousness of the class as a result of neoliberalism—and I feel that in holding this position Neil is too influenced by an orthodoxy that unites third way social democrats like Anthony Giddens and Manuel Castells with autonomists. In my view it is a complete exaggeration to write about “normalisation of market relations in areas where they were unknown even a hundred years ago”. Does Neil really mean that things are now worse in this respect that before the Lloyd George budget of 1909 and the National Insurance Act of 1911?

Our publications have contained analyses and reanalyses of the restructuring of the working class over the last three decades – the articles by me and Alex in the mid-1980s that were turned into a little book, the debate between Martin Smith and Gregor Gall in ISJ two years ago, my article “Theorising neoliberalism”, Paul Blackledge’s review of Bill Dunn’s book Global Restructuring and the Power of Labour, and so on. It is not good enough to say we have not provided “explanation.” Neil may not agree with the explanation, and I would certainly welcome it if he was write a serious article for the Journal outlining a different approach. But it is really silly in a serious and important contribution to the problems facing the party to typify working class consciousness with a typical Observer quotation from a steward justifying not fighting back against the attacks on his members conditions. Our activists in the unions face that stuff everyday (it was, after all the excuse for the lay officials in the NUT and PCS ignoring a majority vote of their members to take action). Let us have serious discussions on these issues in publications, not second hand anecdotes in internal documents.

This leads me to my last couple of points. First, there is clearly going to be more internal discussion. But many of the points Neil and other comrades want to take up can and should appear in the open publications, and not be confined to Internal Bulletins. SW and SR both print in virtually every issue letters questioning what they have argued. The journal has carried important debates over the last four years—over the character of imperialism today, over the character of the present crisis, over the state of the class struggle. Let’s have more from comrades who think the positions we express on particular issues are wrong or simplistic. I personally was bit disappointed when I wrote what I thought was a provocative article on neoliberalism and no one responded to it.

Finally, in my view there is a there is a right and a wrong way to deal with the important issues that Neil’s document raises. We need to open up discussion over the real questions as to how we respond to a rapidly changing global economic and political situation. We need the conference to take these issues seriously. And we need it to elect a commission (including experienced non-full time members) to make suggestions how we change our structures. So I agree with the sentiments in Neil’s document about opening up and leadership accountability. I cannot, however, accept the present CC remains intact, without conference choosing a leadership for next year. It is clear from articles in the bulletin and from the preconference aggregates that there enormous feeling in the party that the important issues have been fudged over the last year because of divisions within the CC. It would be a serious mistake for conference to agree to this state of affairs continuing. We need a unified CC, capable of acting decisively. That is the only way the party can respond to sudden changes in the objective circumstances as the crisis develops—and it is the only way the party as a whole can judge whether the leadership is responding correctly.

232 comments on “SWP – Chris Harman’s response to Neil Davidson

  1. As Neil recognises, conference is free to replace or change the composition of the CC every year, it chooses a new National Committee each year, and the National Committee can censure the CC if it the majority of its members want to. On top of this there are national delegate meetings at least twice a year. I don’t know of any union with such formally democratic structures, while the LCR only has a congress every two or three years without ceasing to be democratic.

    As a UNISON member, I get to vote directly on the composition of the national executive, I don’t leave it in the hands of Conference delegates, I also get to vote for the general Secretary and other national officers. I think I’m up already. Conference only gets to vote up or down on a slate or rival slates, so it is tough to remove individual members or to shape the precise composition of the slates. As we’ve seen, Rees has been removed not by a vote of members, but by a CC removing him from its proposed slate., etc. etc.

  2. Nick Wright on said:

    Harman “…When the financial collapse occurred in September the SWP was certainly not the only organisation on the left to explain what had happened in other than Keynesian terms, but it was the only one able to raise slogans which went beyond abstract denunciations of capitalism and propose concrete demands around which to mobilise…”

    The Politics of Britain’s economic crisis
    When the ruling class is no longer capable of ruling in the old way.

    by John Foster, published by the Economic Committee of the Communist Party.

    This pamphlet argues that the crisis of Britain’s productive economy threatens all sections of society: workers, professionals, the small business sector, pensioners and above all the next generation of workers. It aims to expose the scale of the crisis and to demonstrate that it results from the way Britain has been ruled over the past and details the alternative economic and political policies required to resolve the crisis.

  3. Continuing the line of questioning from the last thread Andy.
    Are respect national council meetings minuted?
    If so, will you publish those minutes on SU?
    If not, why not?

  4. Boy In Crowd on said:

    I guess Harman’s reply to the suggestion that individual CC members should be directly elected by the membership would be that a united leadership is required and a slate system stands a better chance of producing this. I can see his point. Electing members to the CC for the purpose of ‘balance’ would just entrench division.

    Having read this reply to Davidson I would like to read something from Harman in reply to Rees. Has he published anything?

  5. Harman is absolutely correct. Any electoral system can be manipulated however and the slate system is by no means perfect. But it is better than a mere popularity contest which is what would take place should the membership of the SWP vote individually. Such a vote would also undermine any possibility of developing internal democracy within the SWP as it remove any meaning from the local and national leadership bodies. in any case the concept of membership in the SWP seems open to question from reading the current debate and can as easily be manipulated as any slate system.

    Sould the SWP proceed, as it has done, with the election of a slate for its incoming CC then it should adopt the Bolshevik approach towards the representation of minorities. In other words the CC minority should recieive seats in proportion to its support in the organisation. I suspect that such an approach would mean the removal of all its supporters and that would be a positive gain. Such an approach might also lead to the seating of Molyneux and Davidson who clearly represent substantial groups within the SWP.

  6. Honest, insightful and trenchant are three words that do not spring to mind when reading this. Self-serving, delusional and mendacious are three that do. A politician’s slippery response once more calling to mind the title of Al Franken’s book: lies and the lying liars who tell them.

    A f’rinstance:
    … it would have been much better had there … been a wider discussion in the party at the time of the launch of Respect … about how to react as Galloway began to orient to Muslim notables and right wing Islamists at the time of the General Election in 2005 …

    What is this selective memory? Oh, I geddit. The Party’s Great Theoretician is in fact software that’s been put through a truth filter and this is what comes out the other end.

    Whatever my criticisms of Galloway (and I have plenty), this is exactly what Rees was setting up in Birmingham at least two years prior to this date. This was his decision. All debate was stifled even though the move was a major one, sounding the death-knell of the SA. Not only were plenty of SAers kicking up around this, I flagged up what was happening in a 2003 Tribune article which I’m told they had pinned up at the Centre, so it wasn’t as if they didn’t know.

    Those of us who were warning that they were courting religious and bourgeois forces at the expense of their own politics were regularly flamed. There are some great threads on Urban 75 that took place during Big Brother 2006 that illustrate exactly where we all stood.

    And now Harman rewrites history. If this is your standard, Chris, it makes me wonder about your book. Or do you retain an objective eye only when it comes to other people’s history rather than your own?

    First, it is simply not true that party members have fewer rights than members of unions.

    In my own case there were SA independents who pointed out that had the bullying I personally had to contend with happened in a workplace, the union would have been onto it like a shot. I’m only one of many activists who came into the movement with an open heart, ready to learn and eager to work, only to have our labour appropriated by the little pashas, to be thieved from, and find ourselves fallen under some sort of power droit de seigneur, especially if you were unfortunate to find yourself on Rees’s Gaddafyesque Praetorian Guard of women.

    I never agreed to park my brain at the door, nor abandon my principles and do over fellow leftists as when ordered to by Rees. I never agreed to “my party right or wrong”, or to turn a blind eye when witnessing the trashing of socialists going on around me. That is one dick too many to be expected to suck (metaphorically in my own case) and would have completed the demolition of the soul we undergo under capitalism. Socialists are supposed to challenge this dehumanisation, not add to it.

    Maybe one day there’ll be a study of what the left was actually doing whilst, all around it, capitalism was collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. It won’t provide a flattering picture.

  7. The backdoor Trot on said:

    “When the world’s two great propaganda systems agree on some doctrine, it requires some intellectual effort to escape its shackles. One such doctrine is that the society created by Lenin and Trotsky and molded further by Stalin and his successors has some relation to socialism in some meaningful or historically accurate sense of this concept. In fact, if there is a relation, it is the relation of contradiction.” Noam Chomsky.

    If Harman et.al, ever reach Chomsky’s level of honesty the SWP might stand a chance.

  8. I don’t find that Chomsky quote particularly honest. The idea that Stalin simply molded the `society created by Lenin and Trotsky’ rather than decisively breaking with and betraying it (socialism in one country, peaceful co-existence with imperialism, etc.) has been demonstrated decisively enough for any `honest’ man. Stalin murdered Trotsky. But Chomsky (stealing from Trotsky’s analysis) is right that Stalin’s relationship to socialism was a contradictory one. A bureaucratic machine resting on and feeding off the socialised means of production in a technically backward economy.

  9. “It is not that people think we took a wrong decision in resisting Galloway. Even most of the minority who disagreed at the time now feel we had no choice. But there are worries about tactical moves that led to us losing most of the centre ground to Galloway and over what has happened since.”

    And with these words the great theoretician can move swiftly on without any attempt to analysis why those tactical moves were so inept. The truth is that Harman and the rest of the CC backed Rees’ strategy which was to lie at worst and peddle half-truths at best towards the membership – of both respect and the SWP.

    The SWP lost the centre groud because it treated the centre ground with contempt. Can it genuinely be the case that ‘the minority’ now think The SWP had no choice – they had to rig a conference, lie about a witch-hunt, slander Respect members behind their backs and in print – and all because you wanted to resist Galloway.

    And resist him why? Beacuse he wanted someone else appointed to work alongside John Rees as a National Organiser. John Rees – the man Harman has now voted to sack from his post of National Secretary of the Left Alternative and now from the SWP CC.

    If the results weren’t so tragic it would be laughable.

    Good luck to Neil Davidson – he’ll need it if this is the level of honest debate that the likes of Harman can summon up.

  10. Now that we have four substantial documents on the table- Rees, Davidson, Harman and Molyneux- would someone care to summarise the key arguments and proposals in each in, say, no more than two sentences for each?
    I will accept haiku or limericks too.

  11. Joseph Kisolo on said:

    I’m sick with a nasty cold so not sure I took all of this article in.

    But my few cold stifled points are:

    At first I thought wow … I can’t believe Harman is owning up to the democracy problems he would have denied 6 mounths, 1 mnth, prehaps even a copuple of weeks ago.

    Also I agree with him that where Neil is slight off. In that it is not so much the structures that are the problem rather it is the culture of the party that encourages the stifling of debate.(one place I would disagree is the terrible slate system for cc elections)

    All good stuff.

    But then comes the Respect stuff. Sure I was never going to agree on this. But I find it flabergasting that Galloway’s alleged crimes get bigger, more right wing and further back in the past in each new article. Now we are told to belive that he began to “orient to Muslim notables and right wing Islamists” in 2005.

    Now perhaps up in Manchester I have just missed all this. To take one example; perhaps I am wrong that SWP members worked just as hard to convince “Muslim businessmen” to let us have meeting in their cafes as galloway or those around him did. hmm.

    Perhaps. But if so then the whole bunch of them have been lying to the SWP membership for years. CC member after CC member told us that guff about “Muslim businessmen” was islamophobic bollocks. That the criticisms of the the likes of CPGB nutters were ultra left purism.

    But now, suddenly the critics where right all along? Now that it fits conveniently into the schema where Rees can be ditched but still it can maintained that the SWP had to defend him over the “witch hunt” against his unprofessionalism??????? Come off it.

    And then a defence of “United Fount of the Special Kind” – i.e. a defence of the Revo’ party can stay as it is and we can have a broad party too. Towards the end of this part he seems to me to be suggesting a move back to SWP BUILDING. NOOOOOOOOOO!

    And to top if off by the end of the article he seems to be back peddling on what he admitted in the start i.e. that the SWP needs a good democratic shake up.

    Can anyone answer me this. If the SWP aspires to be a party of leaders, then why should Ress’s purge from the CC result in a smaller cc – where are the new leadership waiting to take up the renewal of the party??????

    If any swp members are taking anything they read on this blog seriously – please please – don’t let them get away just scapegoating Ress.

    By all means get rid of him – but sweep them all away and find a new generation of comrades to lead your party, would that really be so unimaginable?

  12. Karen Elliot on said:

    He says, “We need a unified CC, capable of acting decisively”…. but he supports a slate with Bambery, German and Nineham on it(?)

    “I feel like echoing Engels and writing, ‘dialectics, gentlemen, dialectics.'”

    Whereas I feel like echoing Good Ol’ Charlie Brown and writing, “Good Grief!!”

    The substantial argument seems to be that the party is a model of democracy and the problem is only that the rank and file have been so routinely overawed by the sagacity of the politburo that they have failed in their duty to the party. Did he perhaps filch this from an old copy of Pravda?

    And I wonder how he squares that impression with John Molyneux’s claim that critics in the SWP are made to feel like “they never want to speak at an SWP conference or council again”?

    Regarding his claim that the SWP is at least as democratic as a trade union, I doubt that anyone who’s been summarily expelled from the SWP and then had the benefit of a control commission hearing is likely to agree. More likely they will simply laugh. But then again, those people, by definition, are not part of his sample.

    Some of his historical points about united fronts are good, as you’d expect from Harman, but they are not the main issue.

  13. Jay Woolrich on said:

    #10: I will accept haiku or limericks too.

    Four bald men fighting
    Over non-existent comb
    In empty building

  14. Harman’s piece is the perfect combination of windbaggery, fantasy, self-delusion and bullshit.

    All of this ‘debate’ in the SWP is nothing to do with democracy at all or the interests of the working class. It’s jockeying for position by individuals to make sure (a) they remain on the hitherto largely self-perpetuating bureaucratic clique CC as full-timers and (b) most of the membership remains on board and dutifully pays its subs to ensure (a) and think up ways to tap into an ever-shrinking audience to keep the turnstiles rolling into the party as they haemorrhage members by the back door.

  15. pregethwr on said:

    John Ree’s paper:

    Thirty years of work
    Giving oddballs support structure
    And this is the thanks?

  16. “that critics in the SWP are made to feel like “they never want to speak at an SWP conference or council again”? “

    This is indeed exactly true.

    I remember the last time I went to conference, which must have been fifteen years ago, I swore that there was no point in going ever again. Instead I just concentrated on local activity, and tried to keep contact with the centre to a minimum.

    Although we were in Swindon, we fell in Oxford District; and Ooxford had one of those sraight out of college full-timers, who behaved like a yoof club leader; and desppite the fact that she had been in the SWP foor less than 2 years, expected us to defer to her judgement on everything.

    I had very little coonfidence in her after she tailed some local anarchists and led the local SWP into a utterley stupid late night picket of the local police station that led to one long term member being prosecuted for riot, and was nearly even worse than that (of course under her leadership, there was no defence campaign, and he was very lucky indeed to be acquited) Some otehr memebrs only escaped arrest by jumping into a taxi as they were being chased down the street by riot cops..

    Anyway, the SWP recruited aboout 10 young people from Abingdon, a small town just outside Oxford. And she decided that if they came to the Oxford branch then their enthusiasm would be sapped by the routinism and over theoretical nature of the discussions in the branch.

    So she set up a branch in Abingdon, entirely consistsng of new teenage members, with her to be their guide. She claimed that this was the national perspective.

    I was completely unconvinced, and I criticised the move at conference, in the discussion on how branches should push outwards, pointing out the danger that branches which only had young activists, but no experiecne, and no political ideology would surely fail.

    It was an extraordinary expereince, becasue I was criticising a decision taken by a full timer, the front row of CC members and other great and the good glowered more and more, and were more and more agitated with head shaking; and then bambury stood up and let rip into me – saying that I didn’t like activity, and this sort of passivity would kill the SWP (It was a bit bizarre, becasue the other cntribution I had made earlier the same day was to descibe a very dynamic and victorious anti-deportatioon campaign that i had personally organised and led). There was then an embarrassed mood all day, as other comrades seemed unsure whwther they should acknowledge me.

    Now of course this can all sound petty, but I was of course completley correct – the branch in Abingdon lasted a few weeks, and we lost all those new members. The full timer was a fuck wit.

    I am not a particularly easily intimidated person, but the impression I got was that an argument to conference that contradicted the predominant narrative of the CC’s current perspective would never get a hearing, even if it was factually correct and politically useful. If there is no prospect of yur argument being listened to, then why put yourself through the unpleasnatness.

    the result was I never bothered going to conference again.

  17. Exactly *why* the SWP found that it lacked potential recruits in Respect and that party’s surrounding supporters, or *why* the needs to change its structures – apart from the inevitable ‘objective conditions’ – is no doubt a fascinating area to explore.

    One wonders if this is best done by people who refuse to recognise that the alignment with Galloway and the populist vacuity of Respect was wrong *in the first place*, that the MAB, not to mention the SWP contacts with other Islamists in the East End, are ultra-conservative, that they were completely out of their depth in even the most basic forms of local government politics, and that their constant ‘boosterism’, thinly disguised manipulation, and hysterical, constantly changing campaigning, have made them a repellent laughing-stock on the left. And I mean this in a kind caring kinda way.

    Meanwhile little Emily Thribbs has penned a brief ditty on finding that Correct Line:


  18. #10 “Now that we have four substantial documents on the table- Rees, Davidson, Harman and Molyneux- would someone care to summarise the key arguments”

    A while ago someone taught Derek Wall to truncate any monster posts after a couple of taster paragraphs, followed by a “click here for more”.

    Please could somebody teach Admin the same trick? Because it takes about 5 mins to scroll through these substantial posts to the other stuff I am looking for.

  19. Dustin the Turkey on said:

    Meanwhile, Lenny Tomb ignores this affair (and deletes any comments on his blog referring to it) with the grim determination of an old lady in a tea room ignoring a tramp pissing on a cake stand.

  20. David T on said:

    “Right Wing Islamists”


    Isn’t somebody going to call Chris Harman an Islamophobe FOR POINTING OUT THE OBVIOUS.

  21. ” . . . with the grim determination of an old lady in a tea room ignoring a tramp pissing on a cake stand.”

    Nice image with my morning cup of tea. 😉

  22. Adamski on said:

    Antonio Gramsci once said that it is more difficult to create a good general staff than to create a good army.

  23. WRT #25 – Chris Harman should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for writing that. Selling the pass on the fight to form a common front between Britain’s Muslim minority and the left against racism is one of the most damaging consequences of the SWP leadership’s backing for Rees in splitting Respect. We’ve gone from Lindsey German telling Pink News that more fundamentalist Muslims had gone with Galloway over the split, through Alex Callinicos pontificating about Muslim notables, to Chris Harman talking about *right wing* Islamists. Somebody should tell the Hizbollah, Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood *notables* that Harman now considers their co-thinkers in Britain as right wing.

    We were used to this stuff from the witch-hunters like David T. I hope SWP members, now reflection and discussion are apparently the order of the day, ask themselves how their leadership has ended up echoing exactly the smears it rightly resisted only two years ago. Much of what happens with this crisis in the SWP will not impact at all on British society. Its abandoning the front against the most virulent form of racism in Britain today, unfortunately, will.

  24. Dear Koba on said:

    I love the idea that Seymour has written an article proposing a “culture of discussion”.

    The comments moderation policy at Lenin’s Tomb gives us an idea what this might be like.

  25. Dear Koba on said:

    Chris Harman: “First, it is simply not true that party members have fewer rights than members of unions. ”

    I wonder how Chris would think a trade union should respond if a member of that union accused a sentior officer of serious sexual misconduct, and her claim was corroborated by a local official of the union.

  26. #29 Perhaps the wannabe over at Lenin’s Tomb can produce an online footnote to his book on the pro-war liberals exploring Chris Harman’s pragamatic embrace of their rhetoric for the sake of factional advantage. If Harman – and Davidson and Molyneux, for that matter – is wondering how the sagacious leadership of the SWP managed to lose so much of the “middle ground” in the split in Respect, he should look no further than his own despicable concessions to anti-Muslim stereotyping.

    Perhaps Weyman Bennett, who is nominally responsible for the SWP’s anti-racism work, will tell Harman just how damaging this is.

  27. MoreMediaNonsense on said:

    “Somebody should tell the Hizbollah, Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood *notables* that Harman now considers their co-thinkers in Britain as right wing.”

    Someone should tell you he’s right and telling the truth – at last.

    If you say that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are Left Wing you are either stupid or a dissembling sect leader like Harman.

    But the cats out of the bag re the latter lot now isn’t it ?

  28. I genuinely hope that SWP members, particularly those such as Richard Seymour and John G who regularly do battle with Harry’s Place, look at comments like 25 and 32 on this thread and think about how it came to this: Harman providing cover for the Islamophobes.

  29. MoreMediaNonsense on said:

    Tell me Nas – do you really really in all honestly believe that calling the Muslim Brotherhood Right Wing is “Islamophobic” ?

    If so – why ?

    What exactly is it about the platform of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood that makes them Left Wing (apart from them being “anti-imperialists”) ?

  30. MoreMediaNonsense on said:

    Try again :

    “Harman providing cover for the Islamophobes.”

    Tell me Nas – do you really really in all honestly believe that calling the Muslim Brotherhood Right Wing is “Islamophobic” ?

    If so – why ?

    What exactly is it about the platform of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood that makes them Left Wing (apart from them being “anti-imperialists”) ?

  31. David T on said:


    It is because these policies are right wing policies:

    1. Creating a Caliphate, governed according to religious law.

    2. Executing religious dissenters as “apostates”

    3. Constitutionally entrenching the formal legal inequality of women and non-Muslims

    … and so on.

    NOW, I do appreciate that in this particular corner of the “Left” all of that can be forgiven, because these guys are against “imperialism” and are also for wiping the filth of the ZioNaziNeoConJewPigsandApes off the face of the earth – the most “Left Wing” policy in the world.

    However, it is nice to see that the SWP at least regards promoting SOME aspects of Islamism as, you know, a bit right wing….

  32. Thanks to all lyrical replies.
    What a bunch of clever guys.
    I’m off to start a lefty Blog
    Where all posts and comments must be in dog

  33. BPS – indeed. The concession to the witch-hunters at HP is but the worst aspect. The lumbering sociological guff trying to account for a lack of participation by members is up there (it couldn’t possibly, of course, have anything to do with the fact that they were demoralised by repeated false perspectives).

  34. David T on said:


    Perhaps you are a bit right wing yourself.

    Possibly that’s why you don’t regard substituing theocracy for democracy, or denying basic constitutional rights to women or non-Muslims are a problem.

  35. Oh, and unless I’ve missed it, no-one seems to have mentioned the root of this debacle:
    If I joined the SWP on Saturday outside Woolies and went along to my first branch meeting, stood up and said,’Cliff’s theory of State Capitalism is a load of bollocks’, I’d be thrown out on my ear.

  36. Green Socialist on said:

    Could someone explain how Hamas Hizbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood are in any way left wing or progressive? Help I really don’t want to agree with David T.

  37. David T on said:

    SWPers have always known this.

    They just didn’t want to say. Probably for the following reasons:

    1. They were excited at the prospect of getting lots of recruits and getting SWP cadre elected to local council seats. Didn’t happen.

    2. They think that groups like Hamas/MB and Hezbollah are “fighting imperialism”: as opposed to pushing a rival imperialism of their own.

    3. They realise that, post the collapse of the USSR, socialists are not going to overthrow capitalism and “the West”. However, Islamists just might!

    Nothing else really counted for them.

    Well, off the back of that, you’ve got the likes of Ger Francis, Ian Donovan and Nas: defending the politics of the far right, and calling me a Nazi!

    3. They

  38. Don't look back in anger on said:

    “Hardly a bunch of tame apparatchiks!!”

    I must say that the funniest part of Harman’s unremarkable piece of self-justification is his defence of the current CC. A few judicious ‘facts’ plucked from their CVs is an attempt to deny the general thrust from ND that most of the current CC are former district or student organisers.

    But unfortunately Harman’s distraction technique can’t hide the truth most of the people got promotion because they worked for the party apparatus and no doubt said the right things to those above them. Those that say the wrong things get sacked.

    So let’s have a look a a few on the proposed new slate that the Great Man insists is elected in January.

    Viv – the former ANC members, yes, but also the utterly useless, factional district organiser for Luton and Manchester (where she excelled herself for publicly threatening Colin Barker with disciplinary action for voting the wrong way over the SWP’ preferred Euro-election slate for Respect.) Priceless comedy but now in charge of spending those ever diminishing funds.
    Weyman – former district organiser
    Charlie – journalist on Socialist Worker
    Michael – ex-SW circulation
    Hannah – former district organiser
    Colin – former student organiser
    Judith – worked her way up Socialist Review
    …is there a pattern emerging?

    Surely these could never be a bunch of tame apparatchiks. Heaven forbid. Chris Harman vetted them each personally.

  39. Dustin the Turkey, re your tea rooms analogy. Does this mean that Lindsey and John aren’t on even speaking terms or is this your vision as the ghost of Swappy future? On the subject of Britain’s Rosa and Karl, how can they afford to live in London? CC full timers pay must be a pretty penny – can any readers in the know enlighten us?

  40. Anti-capitalista – I do hope you’re not leaping to the defence of Rees and German. I would have thought the Greek position would be to smash him.

  41. skidmarx on said:

    The theft of the pieces by Newman,
    And the kudos he hopes to gain through them,
    Means I might have some views,
    About Molyneux,
    But here I’m not willing to share them.

  42. We’ll just have to soldier on without your wisdom then, skidders. Best you don’t put anything down in permanent form, though. You’ll only have to change it when the kaleidoscope pieces settle.

  43. skidmarx on said:

    #50 I don’t think I’ll worry about that too much when you and your frineds misquote and wholly invent quotes all the time.

  44. Karen Elliot on said:

    Rees: What about MEEEEEE?
    Chorus: What about us?
    Molyneux (aside): Yes – indeed. And – no. What?
    Harman (peers up from tome): what are you all on about?
    Chorus: whhaaaat?!

  45. anti-cap – It must be obvious, surely, that the Greek organisation, which was berated so publicly here by John Rees for not joining Synaspismos, would like nothing better than to see him buried.

    The CC majority seem to be hoping that this can be some kind of Walter Ulbricht moment, when the sins of the SED leadership and the discontents in the GDR were interred with the hapless general secretary. One worry must be, however, that what came after Ulbricht was the rule of Honnecker and Milke. If I were Smith or Callinicos, I wouldn’t find the parallel too flaterring.

  46. “Dustin the Turkey, re your tea rooms analogy. Does this mean that Lindsey and John aren’t on even speaking terms or is this your vision as the ghost of Swappy future? On the subject of Britain’s Rosa and Karl, how can they afford to live in London? CC full timers pay must be a pretty penny – can any readers in the know enlighten us?

    Comment by Doug”

    Not as much as Galloway though lol £300,000 a year and counting lol.
    Oh I forgot he is not allowed to be criticised is he!!

  47. Rees: What about MEEEEEE?
    Chorus: What about us?
    Molyneux (aside): Yes – indeed. And – no. What?
    Harman (peers up from tome): what are you all on about?
    Chorus: whhaaaat?!

    Comment by Karen Elliot

    what? Karen, I think Pinter will sleep easily don’t you

  48. prianikoff on said:

    Too long and aimless to choose a particular point, but a good starting point would be this comment by Harman:-

    “If we do not deal with the causes of the feeling of malaise in the party, we will be unable to rise to the challenge of the new phase of capitalist crisis that opened up since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid September. And we cannot come to terms with the problems without widespread discussion.”

    The trouble is, that “widespread discussion” can lead to ZERO political conclusions and therefore INACTION. Which is one of the NEGATIVE features of the Internet and Blogging (they’re certainly not all positive!)

    The problem being that the SWP lacks any individual or group of individuals that have the political credibility to stop the rot and lead the organisation forward.
    That can only come from a long period in which their ideas have been tested against reality and found to be mainly correct.

    The machinations of the largely ex-student leadership against the membership and branches have a long history in the SWP-IS, going back to the early to mid 70’s.
    It’s just that now, the autonomy of branches has been largely destroyed and the norms of internal democracy of the leadership are less – e.g. Are full minutes of leadership meetings with attendance and voting records being supplied to branches?
    What is the status of industrial fractions? What monitoring is there of the social composition of the organisation etc.. All of these existed pre- the formation of the SWP.

    The reason for there being so many negative stories about full-timers and branches is because the leadership uses the full time apparatchiks to police the branches and membership and enforce its own priorities. Discussion can be tolerated, but not structured discussions that lead to motions, resolutions and alternative leadership slates. This is not a sign of “Leninism”, but more typical of a (petty) bureaucracy.

    I’d by no means entirely downplay the role of the SWP since its formation.
    It’s been more sucessful than any other left organisation in Britain at creating mass movements. The formation and growth of the ANL and StWC were major achievements.
    But it hasn’t succeeded in taking them forward.
    That requires a party that has stronger Marxist politics at the core of the united front.
    Which is where the SWP has continually failed to deliver.

    Comment by prianikoff — 18 December, 2008 @ 6:07 pm

  49. anticapitalista on said:

    #55 You say that the Greek SEK was publically berated for not joining SYRIZA (not Synaspismos, completely different BTW). Where? When?

    From what I have heard, it is not only JR on the CC that recons we should be in SYRIZA. I guess you think we should eh?

  50. Halshall on said:

    Still sticking to the ‘it was Gallowy that done it guv’ line Chris ?

    Well I suppose if you tell the big lie you have to stick to it no matter what.
    However there was an agreement made between the SWP and the opposing GG factions in Respect, witnessed by an independent chair, the day before that was blown out of the water by Rees at the SWP NC, presumably with cc backing.

  51. “the result was I never bothered going to conference again”
    Andy Newman

    Well Andy at least something positive came out of it for the SWP. The idea of you in the SWP arguing for sacking social workers,giving nnazi’s a free platform, opposing PCS strikes when their was a majority vote for one, banging on about how stalinism was ok… thanks but no thanks lol
    Best go ahead keep pushing rightward. By the way how is Swindon Respect doing?.. in fact is it doing anything may be a better way of proceeding. Can you let us know what big debates took part at the Repsect conference you didn’t want to have. Was their a debate about backing new labour in scotland against the left? What about Galloways support for Darling and Brown, did anyone challenge Mark France on his sack local govt workers line? Was any debate regarding calling a breakaway of 100 against the anti fascist carnival heard? Indeed was their any debate at all?

  52. Don't look back in anger on said:

    John G has no need to haunt the ether any more. He’s in the thick of it – being one of the signatories to Neil Davidson’s motion to conference.

  53. Don't look back in anger on said:

    I love the way ‘Alf’ posts the same comments as he does when he is being ‘ll’ and then posts the same again as ‘untruth’ and then back to the beginning. It must be hard to have so many alter-egos with all of them being so completely stupid.

  54. Rustigjongens on said:

    Did someone steal someone else’s ball?, the partisan comments being posted are so immature. Get a grip, and stop acting like a group of brats.

  55. I love the idea that Seymour has written an article proposing a “culture of discussion”.

    Seymour’s a true democratic centralist. He’s raised the demand for open discussion through the proper channels: the time for open discussion to take place will be when that demand is agreed by the proper structures.

  56. Mark Anthony France on said:

    #63 Alf…. you are being silly Andy Newperson never ever argued for the sacking of any social worker anywhere ever.
    I did.
    All that Andy did is try to point out that some people where being personally nasty to me. [perhaps they were social workers in which case nothing new there]
    Andy committed the best part of 15 years of his life to building the SWP and as far as i understand an rather good record of consistent activity promoting the self organisation of the oppressed and several year providing a safe european home for predominantly middle aged male marxists who have no friends and no life.
    Rather than being critical of Andy and his record in regard to the SWP …. why not spare a thought to that hopeful group of young people in Abingdon 15 years ago… who however briefly were sufficiently inspired by the prospect of worldwide social revolution to committ to membership of the SWP.
    Andy…. rather than the ‘petit bourgeois’ bossy control freak full timer …. had both the best interests of the Revolution and the young people at heart.
    The SWP CC should not have made Andy feel ‘small’… ‘wrong’… they should not have bullied him.
    They should have listened to him.
    In Abingdon today….. there are some people in their mid 30’s who have probably been permanently innoculated against any form of political engagement as a result of the completely shit model of ‘party building’ that the SWP has persued since 1976.

    In Abingdon today if you could gather together the group of ex SWP members and ask them to ‘choose’ between the political approach of Andy Newman, Chris Harman, John Rees…… or Boris Johnson….
    Which direction do you think they would go in?????

  57. I don’t see any problem with publishing internal party documents, but one should be consistent. Thus I put once again:
    Are respect national council meetings minuted?
    If so, will you publish those minutes on SU?
    If not, why not?

  58. “Isn’t somebody going to call Chris Harman an Islamophobe”

    Yes, he’s evolving into an Islamophobe. It’s the only way he can defend the SWP’s bureaucratic regime and its smashing up of Respect, by shitting on the positive contributions of SWP members in the earlier period who did actually believe in the anti-imperialist principles he and Rees claimed to stand for and may even at some rarified level have actually believed (at least for while they didn’t threaten their sinecures).

    Hey comrades, if Harman’s new anti-Muslim, semi-Matgamnaite political line represents a left-development from Respect, how come he has bigoted Zionist bastards like David Toube cheering him on? What’s next, plaudits from Christopher Hitchens?

  59. Dear Koba on said:


    I agree with consistency too.

    This blog has never published minutes of any meetings, of any organisation. So why call for Respect’s minutes to be published (I am sure they are very boring by the way) – no one has ever publsied the minutes of any SWP meeting here.

    This blog has published political discussion documents. In Respect, like in most political organisations such political debate is published openly.

  60. Harman, Molyneux, Davidson – great to see some debate. The SWP will survive in some shape no matter what. However, the majority of left organisations have failed because they are based on a heavy democratic centralist model. Top down control freakery and an obsession with trying to be like the bolsheviks but this is 2008 not 1917.

    The recession and global financial implosion will be the biggest nightmare we have seen. Mass unemployment in the UK. Trade unions in big disarray. The working class is going to get shafted. Now more than ever we need a left coherent response. We need to raise the red banner. Present state of the left in the UK is pitiful.

  61. Thats fine, but I hope Andy will therefore withdraw his previous comments that Respect has no unpublished documents when it clearly does. If Andy considers those relevant, interesting or comparable does not change the facts that there are such documents, and I would *hope* they contain some political elements (as it is surely the main forum for political and strategic decisions).

    I would also question if having the minutes of a parties top body unavailable is a good thing in terms of openness and accountability, but obviously thats an internal matter for the groups concerned. I will note I have no love for the SWP before someone throws that they are much worse at me.

  62. Lord of the Rings on said:

    #73 I’m not so sure that the SWP will survive in one form or another. All of the leaders are tainted and none of them has the mad monk charisma of a matgamna that some weird middle class people don’t seem to be able to get enough of. It’s a bureaucratic sect more than a cult and unlikely to avoid an explosion. Plus, if you are going to be an anti-political or politically indifferent anarchist that can’t stand the thought of the prospect of a workers state why compromise by pretending to be socialist in this post-Cold War world? Join some other grouping.

    As for the economic crisis: it is being predicted in some government quarters that 500,000 will be thrown out of work within the first three months of 2009 as the superstores fail to reorder or restock from manufacturers and suppliers. Either those who can afford what they are selling have already got it or what they are selling cannot be produced any more cheaply at a profit for those who haven’t got what they are selling to afford it. Secondly they are hoarding their cash either to pay off their enormous debts to banks and other creditors or in order to wait for competitors to fail so they can pick them up cheap and strip them.

  63. “Rees: What about MEEEEEE?
    Chorus: What about us?
    Molyneux (aside): Yes – indeed. And – no. What?
    Harman (peers up from tome): what are you all on about?
    Chorus: whhaaaat?!”

    I can understand Karen why no one at party headquarters returns your calls. You mistake puerile behaviour for political debate. No wonder no one took you seriously in the SWP. Now that you’ve aligned yourself with the rag bag sectarians on this site it confirms your lack of political principles and makes a mockery of your claim that you support the democratic process. Self promotion is not the same as having a voice in the party. That’s why people switch off, Karen.

  64. “53. Oh fsck! stop, I’m at work – nearly fell off me stool!”

    Get a spine and stop sucking up to dreary Karen. Your modus operandi of sucking up to Lenin at the Tomb and then ranting on about the SWP here is exposing your chameleon nature. It’s wearing rather thin, BPS.

  65. “I love the way ‘Alf’ posts the same comments as he does when he is being ‘ll’ and then posts the same again as ‘untruth’ and then back to the beginning. It must be hard to have so many alter-egos with all of them being so completely stupid.”

    At least s/he makes political points unlike your contribution. Perhaps you would address those points if you felt able?

  66. “alf” lol or “ll” lol, makes political points, Ray?
    Fuck the SWP has really degenerated if thats the general level of your members. lol.

  67. Futurecast on said:

    I think this is a very interesing response.

    I am pleased by much of what he says. I would say that I support Harman’s response almost as much as Davidson’s however I strongly think elections should be postponed.

    Internal personalities and leadership accountability should not tie in to ‘the way forward’ and the ‘structure for the way forwade’. They should be given breathing space so as to reduce petty-factionalism and he/she saids. I very much hope comrades will argue for this post-ponement. This is probably the most important SWP conf in a long time so we want to get it right.

  68. Andy:

    “I am not a particularly easily intimidated person, but the impression I got was that an argument to conference that contradicted the predominant narrative of the CC’s current perspective would never get a hearing, even if it was factually correct and politically useful. If there is no prospect of yur argument being listened to, then why put yourself through the unpleasnatness.”

    And, of course, that never happens here, does it? 😉

  69. End of an era on said:

    Harman really does need to get to grips with his own role and that of the CC in the whole Respect debacle. It should be remembered that the CC supported the document from John Rees and Elaine Graham-Leigh entitled The Future for Respect published in response to George Galloway’s letter. In George’s letter he stated. “Activities are not properly budgeted and even where budgets are set they are not adhered to. Take, for example, the Fighting Unions Conference, which was full to the rafters but still managed to lose £5000.”

    Rees and Graham-Leigh responded with the following. “Respect did not ‘lose £5,000’ on the Fighting Unions Conference. The cost of the conference was exclusively carried by Organising For Fighting Unions from its own funds raised through conference fees, trade union and other donations. In fact Respect made £168 from the sale of merchandise at the conference.”

    Now we all know that this was not entirely true. The OFFU conference had been held in November 2006 and at this point the Dodgy Dubai cheque [AKA ‘other donations’] was all in the future. Graham-Leigh knew this – that’s why she reported the loss to the National Council.

    Now by the following September, with the cash from Dubai safely banked and no one the wiser, Rees and Graham-Leigh were able to claim that there was no loss at the OFFU Conference. This was simply a lie. The conference had made a loss – but that was then covered with a donation from Dubai kept secret from the Respect National Council. In the end the cheque, which was an illegal payment, had to be repaid and so Respect did indeed lose £5000.

    Now Harman may be able to distance himself from the Rees-EGL document but not perhaps from the CC document passed by the SWP National Council in September 2007 – the day after a compromise had been reached at the Respect NC. The CC document stated “George’s document makes considerable criticism of the Organising for Fighting Unions initiative, although this was decided upon by Respect’s highest bodies.”

    Just to be clear, in addition to the quote above GGs letter also stated “It is a moot point whether the turn to building Fighting Unions which occupied the National Office for four months was the correct prioritisation of slender resources, following our breakthroughs at the local elections last year. What is not moot is that mismanagement turned an event which ought to have been a money-spinner into a money-loser.”

    Perhaps Harman considers four sentences to be considerable. Others will have to decide for themselves. But what the CC document failed to admit was that the issue of finance was at the heart of the Galloway’s ‘considerable criticism’ of OFFU. Rees knew this, Callinicos knew this: it can only be assumed that other members of the CC knew it as well. But they chose to ignore the fact that Rees had taken cash from Dubai to cover the actual losses from the OFFU conference – and that was done months after the event had taken place. And we are surely at liberty to suggest that had Rees and EGL asked “Respect’s highest bodies” about the probity of accepting an overseas donation, it would not have been solicited for OFFU in the first place.

    But the sad fact remains that only when the truth came under public scrutiny did this OFFU cheque business become an issue for the SWP CC ‘majority’ and only more recently has it become a stick to beat Rees with. So, at best, the CC were complicit in this distortion/lie and at worst they did nothing to uncover it and explain the truth to the members.

  70. BarryKade on said:

    Gonna pour me heart out on this blog comments box then…

    Main Lesson = these debates (and more) should have happened inside the SWP way before all this! The party should have been guided by these sorts of debates as it first experimentally shifted out into the S.A, the S.S.P. and Respect. Then possibly, with clearer theory and deeper consensus the whole experience could have been handled better. But now these debates happen in retrospect – after a damaging disaster. Drawing lessons now around how to build and work within a broad left formation / united front of a special type has been rendered slightly academic. Any new left of labour formation that arises is likely to be very suspicious of the SWP, after witnessing the recent behaviour in Respect split. At the height of the frenzy this time last year, it was obvious that sometime the SWP would have to wake up with a collective hangover and realise the damage done. Well here we are.

    In these contributions by Harman, Molyneux and Davidson, we see an interesting shifting of emphasis between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ factors used to explain the difficulties the SWP has faced over the decades.

    Harman is heavy on the objective factors – and he deploys these convincingly. Indeed, since the mid 1970’s we have seen workers strongholds smashed and the economic landscape restructured globally. Associated with this restructuring are many cultural and political shifts away from collective class action. Thus indeed it has often been hard for a socialist organisation to survive, let alone grow. And yet we did have some successes.

    But at the time – especially since the early 1990’s – the CC continually emphasised the subjective – the positive opportunities for growth, which seemed only limited by our own subjective limits – ‘conservatism’, large branches, etc. I remember the private guilt and demoralisation I felt when many people I helped recruit in a drive for growth would remain passive or drop out. It was hard when these bitter experiences seemed contradicted by the perpetually confident and shrill boosterism found in each weeks party notes. In our geographically isolated branch, we actually thought the rest of the party was doing as well as ‘party notes’ suggested!

    Now at last we hear Harman and others on the CC acknowledge how hard those times were / are. However, this is post hoc rationalisation, which is different from theory emerging as part of and to guide action. At the time anyone talking like Harman now would have been marginalised within the party and characterised as an old, conservative, pessimistic member. The message was that they should be pushed aside by new members who would have some magical answers, authenticity or ability. It was almost as if the CC sometimes despised anyone who had been in the party a few years, as if they would inevitably be corrupted by the parties own accumulated culture! Instead, the CC appeared to fetishise the new recruit as unpolluted by their own baleful influence!

    I was one of those who joined as a youth in the aftermath of the 84-85 miners strike and who built the party over the following decades around the ambulance workers strikes, the anti-poll tax revolt, anti-Desert Storm, pit closures, the ANL, the criminal justice bill, etc – up to the 1997 election and after. I was champing at the bit at first, eager to hear the proclamation of end of this miserable ‘downturn’ period, eager to hear of ‘new moods’ of resistance and push outwards. In our small city we built a large, successful and youthful branch rooted in the anti-poll tax uprising. Like a healthy and boisterous infant we grew, apparently immunised by the theory of state capitalism to the virus that was demolishing the rest of the left after the fall of the Soviet Union. But as the 1990’s wore on we shrunk. Sure, each new wave of struggle, – be it the ANL, the CJB or later Blair’s assault on tuition fees and student loans – each wave would yield some new recruits. But these were like waves within an ebb tide, each somehow reaching a lower mark. We got no real leadership to help us build. All we got were ever more ridiculous directives – for example Bambery’s one-time obsession with us bringing accurate maps of SW readers and contacts in our districts to conference!.

    Now when I remember the alleged ‘perspectives’ of the time – the ‘1990’s being the 1930’s in slow motion’ I can realise the CC had and have no more clue than I do about the nature of the period or the tasks of the moment. I might not have all the answers – but neither do they. Many hundreds of ‘ordinary’ members have just as much insight into the period of struggle and tasks of the moment as the CC. Maybe the current command and control structure can also inhibit the party – as well as sometimes help to organise and direct it?

    The image Harman presents is of a Central Committee as the source of initiative which overcomes the inertia of the party membership to orient and motivate it outwards towards the struggle. Moreover, as these shifts must often occur suddenly we need a model where a CC alone makes up a new line overnight which the membership then accepts and implements. But he admits they also make important mistakes – often in key moments – the miners strike, the poll tax, etc.

    My experience of the two really massive upsurges of my political lifetime so far – of the Anti-Poll Tax and Stop the War – contradicts Harmans argument in significant ways.

    In our small city in North West England we launched our anti-poll tax union (APTU) in 1989, before much of the rest of the SWP in England and Wales. How this started and then unfolded is illustrative. This started ‘by accident’ after a local rate-payers association (a grouping of councillors) had called a public meeting at the Town Hall on the ‘Community Charge’. It was well attended, but not a meeting to oppose the poll tax, merely rename the ratepayers association! When the platform advised payment of the tax an angry working class woman got up, shouted at them and walked out! In an instant we in the SWP made the decision to follow her – and then so did about 80% of the crowd. We almost instinctively turned this walk-out into a sit-down in the town hall foyer, where we launched the APTU and gathered a long list of names.

    The rest is history – from early mass local demo’s and packed out meetings through loads of coaches down for Trafalgar sq and then mass pickets of the local courts and ‘bailiff busting’ on the estates to sustain mass non-payment. From 1989, our little group of four or five new and young SWP members suddenly doubled in number, and then more again. A bunch of anarchists and other ‘up for it’ youth – our circle of friends – immediately joined the anti-poll tax union, and then the SWP. We used a ‘pick and mix’ attitude to developing our guiding ideas and tactics from everywhere – militant, the SWP, class war, other local APTU’s! We went to Scotland often in 1989, as it is nearer than London, where the mass-non payment campaign of the Scottish APTU’s was in full swing. So this experience provided a live model.

    So our SWP led APTU went for mass non-payment right from the start – we did not wait for the centre to bumble around realising its mistake! We used our initiative to improvise what would work on the ground. Of course we understood the centres argument about non-collection via the unions. Theoretically this would be much stronger based in the workplaces, rather than in individual homes. We also understood how Militant with their community turn were avoiding an important propaganda political battle in the labour movement. We tried to push for non-collection as well, raising it with the many NUPE members from the council who would participate in APTU events. We tried other ways to engage the collective power of the unions. The woman who led the initial walkout back in 1989 brought her husband along, who was a bus driver. She helped us convince him to raise support for non-paying workers in his union. But all this was hard work – people even came back from union branches demoralised. The cutting edge for us was on the streets and housing estates.

    The other great mass movement of our lifetimes has been the anti-war mobilisations. Harman goes on about how 9/11 was a sudden event where only the CC could respond with the correct line and then spread its wisdom. In my experience, thousands of activists sprang into action on the issue from all sorts of places. In the south east town I was in around 2001 we started our anti-war group on 9/11! This was as we returned from the anti-arms trade event popular that year with the emerging anti-capitalist movement. None of us in this initial group were SWP members, but within weeks we had a packed out hall, full of people signing up for coaches for the first ever stop the war demo. Eco-activists, labourites, quakers, Muslims, socialist alliance members – all knew we had to take to the streets against war. We did not need the arcane genius of the SWP’s CC! OK – the SWP did help make it one movement – fighting to keep the slogan simply ‘stop the war’ and blocking the ‘secularism-fetishising’ left from imposing an objectively Islamophobic line that would mean a separate anti-war movement for Muslims. That was well done by the SWP. And at times I joined them in arguing against premature direct action in favour of more mass demonstrations, as the way to engage the majority. But it is hardly a great act of Marxist genius to say ‘keep on marching’ – and then develop no other tactic to reverse the long years of decline of the anti-war movement even as the slaughter grinds on.
    While the Climate Camp sometimes causes society wide-ripples by bringing thousands of young people into confrontation with the system, the StWC offers no such boldness or elan. So moribund is the leadership that they seem unable to even think along those lines.

    I think we need to examine some of those old assumptions Harman and his comrades on the CC imposed on the movement in their ‘decisive’ leadership post 9/11. It is said that old generals always only develop strategy to fight the last war – not the current one. This is the same with our anti-war generals of the SWP CC, whose minds seem fixed by a paradigm formed around the anti-Vietnam war movement of their youth. It was at one time a mantra- how the anti-Vietnam war movement was tiny in 1964 when the war started –but it grew massively in 1968 when the US war machine sank into a quagmire with no possible victory. ‘Oh, and look how big we are now, before this war has even started’! – we learned to say . Did we expect the movement to grow after the invasion? Did we even actually then wait without a national focus between Feb 15th and that invasion in Mid March? – We waited while society went into ferment around the parliamentary vote! Yes – the direct action the day the war started was marvellous. Yes, it was good to carry on marching. But if we had known that the SWP CC would be without a post-invasion strategy for the anti-war movement, we would have worked harder to come up with one from the grassroots. I remember the build up to the murderous destruction of Fallujah – we had months of notice – yet the StWC only ever mobilised a small protest with a weeks notice around this emergency! They had taken their eyes off the StWC ball for a while to build Respect. But in this they had involved only a minority of SWP activists. Later, admittedly the SWP has rebuilt a StWC routine, and has stuck with it – but with less and less imagination. The point is that while they have some positive effects in making a cohesive movement, this hardly shows the need for an authoritarian and panoptical model of party leadership. Organised socialists could achieve these things without fetishing an all powerful central apparatus.

    This is already too long. But have plenty other tactical criticisms, including:

    Launching a UK Social Forum (SF) movement from the platform of Feb 15th (say for a mid-summer Social Forum / Glastonbury scale main festival ) could have generalised and deepened anti-war movement. This deepening of the radicalisation – going from anti-invasion to anti-imperialism and anti-system would have helped sustain a mass anti-war movement. The ESF in Florence seemed to be such an integral part of mobilising for Feb 15th. SF’s could have united all the radical left of new-labour activist forces we couldn’t unite in an electoral formation – including the greens, autonomist types, labour supporting trades unions, NGO supporters etc. Would have strengthened the movement. Thought Callinicos in an IB was bonkers for saying SF’s were a plot to weaken the anti-war movement.

    I think the move from the Socialist Alliance to Respect was botched. Loads of good activists did not move from the S.A into Respect. In the three or four towns I am familiar with (in the South East, the Midlands and the North West) the S.A’s were successful in an important sense: I have noticed in each of these towns there is a core group of a few dozen activists who have been in most of the united fronts the SWP has pushed. They would also be active in their unions, the local trades council etc In the miners strike they were in the Labour Party, supporting its Bennite left.. In the 1990’s they left the Labour Party. While they would buy and read SW, they would not join the SWP. By 2001 in each of these provincial towns and cities this milieu of left activists had moved into the Socialist Alliance. For the first time in my memory, all the left activists in each of these towns were united in the same organisation, alongside the SWP! Often they were signed up to the local alliance, but not the national organisation (some even remaining in labour as well as the local S.A). This seemed a great step forward. I even knew anarchists taking up local membership of the S.A, as well as ex-labour lefts. We often had sitting labour councillors defecting to the S.A. I am also well aware of the faults and limitations of the S.A.

    We lost all of this when the S.A was moved into Respect and then shut down. S.A groups up and down the country were not convinced to follow this move, and there was a marked lack of general participation and debate around this. It appeared as move by small elite of prominent movement figures around Rees, Galloway et al. Maybe the S.A. did not need to be closed down at all – it could have continued to develop unity amongst the many thousands of isolated socialists beyond the ranks of the SWP? Now I think Respect was a great idea as a vehicle for left moving voters in the countries poorest and most Muslim areas of east London, Birmingham, Preston, and we hoped Bradford. Maybe Respect could have been kept as a pilot project in these stronghold areas, and affiliated to the S.A, gaining its electoral support in these key focal areas? But as Respect was always going to be a focused ‘bridgehead’ operation, then we could have kept other unity building projects going elsewhere – S.A’s and beyond that S.F’s.

    Better shut up now…But to sum up: the SWP CC does not necessarily know best. We all have some useful ideas, and the struggle for socialism would be strengthened if they could be shared in debate and action.

  71. The question for SWP members keen to reorganise the party and to restore its vitality is whether to consider Harman part of the problem or not?
    Pragmatically, I’m sure that JM and ND will grasp the hand on offer. At the political core of the document is the following message to the ‘deposition faction’: we will give you the head of JR and a committee on party democracy on which you will have genuine if minority representation. The cost? Giving the returned CC time to ride out the current discontent without an even deeper reshuffle.
    While there is a lot of validity to the point – such as that made by Karen about the expulsion system – that Harman shares collective responsibility for the top-down culture inside the SWP and the kind of psychological bullying described by Andy N’s experience of conference, are you really demanding that all the current CC should go?
    Of all the documents I think Harman’s is the only one with a sense of the exciting possibilities that are opening up for the left. It seems to me – despite recently hearing him give a very lackluster talk – that Harman is alert to the possibility of a Greek type explosion in the UK, or even better a wave of workplace occupations as in the US type experience of the 30s.
    Even if the deposition faction had the chance to wipe the slate clean, they’d probably not want to dispense with Harman or AC either for that matter, for all their complicity in the creation of a very ugly party machine.
    And of course we are talking about the CC members with the least skill in building a personal following. Perhaps I’m being overly generous here but I imagine CH and AC seething at some of the shenanigans over Respect but until now lacking the roots in the apparatus to do anything about it. Mind you, the Historical Materialism reference in the document was significant, that’s where insofar as they exist, the Harmanites are to be found.
    If I was leading the deposition faction I’d meet with CH, AC and look for a majority of non-full timers on the committee to democratise the party; a majority on the control commission; a third of the CC (and the removal of anyone associated with physical bullying from the CC); a reduction by half in the number of full timers; an invitation to ex-members to rejoin (with specific letters of reinvitation to those expelled for life such as Karen acknowledging that the concerns they were raising were valid and inviting them to rejoin and help revitalise the party); a new openness to debate not only in meetings and publications but also forums such as these.
    I wonder what their response would be? Six months ago they’d laugh. But if they do appreciate that a revolutionary party in the current era urgently needs enthusiastic, creative, members and a close ear to the ground, they’d make some greater concessions in this direction.
    In any case, I guess this is wishful thinking. The current deposition faction aren’t clear enough about how deep the rot goes or spirited enough to win much more than what’s on offer.
    It’s still progress though.

  72. Harman’s document is summed up in this one sentence;

    “We need a unified CC, capable of acting decisively.”

    In other words all of the stuff about democracy, opening up the group, changing the culture is so much cobblers, fluff to fool the unwary. The CC will be in the hands of Harman and his selected crew. Game over.

  73. Mark Anthony France on said:

    #85…horza…. To be honest…. I think the SWP should ‘disband’…. Why? Because they are crap.
    Look between 1976 and 1978 I was viewed as ‘fresh meat’ by all the revolutionary marxist sects……. and they feted me. Eventually, much to my subsequent regret I ‘joined’ the IMG.
    If I could enter Louise Whittles’s TARDIS I would not have joined any ‘left’ organisation.
    Just one example of the shit…. Young revolutionary youth some of whom gravitated towards the SWP and some of whom gravitated towards the IMG via the activity of Rebel ad Revolution Youth groups. In Birmingham we had a combined membership of over 50 active young people in 1978 [by active I mean every fucking day! in more ways than the average ‘leftie’ today can imagine]
    We attempted to ‘combine’ our forces…. naturally, organicially, and painlessly.
    In Birmingham both the IMG and SWP ‘leaderships’ interviened to prevent this incipient and nature process of unification…. and the tactics they used where intimidatory and bureaucratic….
    and really really stupid.
    In terms of spirit, soul, heart, instinct, emotion ….. it was not possible to put a razor blade between the young revolutionaries of rebel and revolution …. but bigger boy [and girls] did and then they run away to get cushie jobs in the public sector.
    The SWP should just stop. FULL STOP!

  74. I’d like to preface the following comment with the fact that I’ve never been a member of a Leninist organisation.

    As I read through these documents and the criticisms, I keep getting the feeling that one of the difficulties all left of Labour groupings have is how to deal with mistakes. If I think back over the rhetoric of left journals and mags that I’ve been reading for nearly fifty years, vast amounts of it are dealing with a) the perceived mistakes of ‘the other lot’ (whoever that might be) and b)struggling, mostly in secret, with the possible mistakes that ‘we’ made yesterday. In a sense there is a fearful atmosphere around left groups that ‘we’ might make a mistake, that the leadership has made a mistake, that x made a mistake in 1911 or 1930 or 1956 and this or that mistake was absolutely crucial/fundamental etc etc, otherwise the whole course of history might have been different etc etc.

    When I read Trotsky on Germany (and France?), ‘Whither Germany’, I was very struck by the fact that the whole document turned on the fact that the KPD made this mistake or that mistake at this particular month and then did what they should have done two months earlier but now it was too late etc etc.

    I see something similar going on with many of the post-demo analyses of the Stop the War march whether they’re by SWP-ers or others.

    I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with all this. I’m not sure history does work in this knife-edge, could-have-gone-one-way-but-went-the-other-because-we-put-out-the-wrong-leaflet kind of a way. For one thing, it underestimates the power of the powerful (!). Be realistic, how big a demo, how much social unrest would have stopped Nulab from invading? And when you or me or us comes up with a sense of what this is, how near were we to reaching that? This is not to underestimate what we did achieve.

    Then, once the war started, let’s not forget that a whole other dynamic set in. (and I suggest that the powerful know that and knew it then). I quite honestly don’t believe for a moment that what John Rees did, or George Galloway did, or Lindsay German did, or any of the other names that people here seem so keen to rubbish and shit all over, could have done anything much different that would have or indeed could have increased the momentum that we reached on the day of the big demo. I don’t think it’s a matter of x’s mistake or y’s error. The nature of militarised capitalism tooled with the instruments of the mass media were at that moment (not always or forever – I’m not a defeatist), too great for us.

    What follows from that, I believe, is that the splits and recriminations that fill this blog and indeed within the SWP and, for all I know, within any of the other left organisations, are born of the lack of success. However, I think it’s a mistake (there’s me identifying mistakes now!) to go on and on trying to pinpoint the exact moment or personality responsible for the key mistake. I think that whole process is wrong and ultimately irrelevant.

    I think that one of the major problems we face is that most younger politicised left-minded people are deeply suspicious about joining organisations that aim to cover all the bases. They seem to prefer single issue campaigning. If I think of nearly all the people I know under, say, 40, who get ‘involved’, they get involved in campaigns one by one – or – they join in with something that is highly focused on just one area of activism. Talking to such people doesn’t of itself reveal very much ((I’ve found), and of course this isn’t just a subjective matter of why such people ‘feel’ this way. There must (if I’m right) be some objective, determining reason to explain what’s going on. (I’m not talking here about the non-involved, non-campaigners). Is it to be found in the way in which our economic and emotional lives are managed by capitalism? It seems to me that capitalism has been very successful in creating ideas such as a) that what we do in life is express ‘choice’ ie when we buy a blue shirt instead of a green one, we are making some kind of fundamental decision about ourselves. (Multiply that through every purchase and consumerist act we make). b) that these ‘choices’ are made by us as ‘individuals’ and that our whole lives are best seen as individual journeys, individual paths to success, failure, struggles with ‘difficulties’ – and indeed this process is hammered into us both through the mass media but, now, and increasingly so, through education. c) with the erosion of the welfare state and trade unionism, the co-operative movement and local democracy, the apparatus of collectivity has been seriously defeated/demolished. You could possibly add in here the erosion of the dissenting and christian socialist end of church going. d) the betrayal and disaster of stalinism (and indeed other so-called Marxist regimes – Pol Pot,Mugabe etc) has deeply damaged the struggle for democratic socialism. We all know that many, many times we have engaged in discussion and organisation for socialist objectives and we have met many forms of the argument that it’s been tried and it failed. (as if capitalism is succeeding! but i’m not engaging with that argument here!)

    There may well be other aspects of where we are now that could be added to this list, that might help us in understanding why and how people can be ‘political’ ‘sympathetic’, ‘support the campaign’ etc etc but will not join something that tries to connect up those campaigns and issues into a coherent whole that is working towards, yes, a total change in society. I think we’d be better at this stage in where we are all at, investigating the four points I made and thinking what kinds of organisations we need, given that status quo.

    I should say here that I know many of the characters engaging with this struggle within the SWP and what’s more I’ve known some of them very well indeed for forty years. (that’s me declaring an interest). I think it’s not useful or productive for people here to say that this or that faction is completely wrong, or that they should all be swept away because there is some kind of pure, perfect organisation or form of struggle that wouldn’t make the same mistakes etc etc. I think such viewpoints are in a sense looking the wrong way. They are blaming the ants for being crushed by the elephant’s foot.

  75. Mark Anthony France on said:

    #88 Michael Rosen…. I love reading what you write…. this entire culture of ‘blame’ and vilification in society needs to be turned around. The ‘left’ of whatever ‘brand’ is well past it’s sell by date, rotten, ransid, and corrupted.
    However, the spirit, the soul, the heart the emotions that can and are generated when individuals are drawn towards the struggle for a better, socialised, democratic, humanistic future … these feelings are powerfull

    When I was a teenager…. those who seemed to be ‘the noble knights of the round table seeking the grail’ were despite all their deformations were the ‘Revolutionary Left’
    Any would be ‘Parsival’….. where do they go now?

  76. Karen Elliot on said:

    #57, 77: Alf, Ray – why must you hurt me so, with your ragging of my mediocre dramatic and social skills? I was just getting to like the two of you; your rugged, manly ways, your inspirational intransigence and the many thoughtful contributions you have made to this blog. On top of it all you then tell me that the SWP don’t like me either. I don’t know what to say… I am in tatters now thanks to the two of you brutes 🙁

  77. Mark Anthony France on said:

    #90…karen Elliot… good sense of humour… appreciation of art hisory… we need people like you in RESPECT unless your scottish or welsh god forbid.

  78. Michael Rosen – that’s thought-provoking. You should have said it a year ago instead of lawyering for the SWP – which for most of that time meant lawyering for John Rees. Sorry to be so brutal, but you’ve not held back in wading in on particular sides. You made a mistake, Michael. Don’t try to turn this into an existential crisis for the rest of us.

  79. Raymond @ 78: Get a spine and stop sucking up to dreary Karen…

    If only you knew the half of it Ray!

    She is my muse, my helmswoman, my alpha, my… (well you get the drift).

    And, there’s nothing wrong with spotting talent either lad! That Richard Seymour, he knows his eggs y’know. I’ve had harsh polemics over there on a range of key issues (Batman, cartoons, industrial perspectives… you name it).

    But it’s really Michael Rosen’s comment that got me thinking.

    One of the ‘contradictory’ aspects of capitalism surely has to be that “we” are given to believe that we have power, we can make choices and that as individuals we should “indulge ourselves,” or rather, gain control over our individual ‘destinies’, you know, “Freedom” and all that.

    The problem, it seems to me, is that the dullard masses tend to take a lot of these “beliefs” fairly seriously. They start wanting ‘rights’ and all sorts. They become “cynical” when looking at the choices politicians and political parties put forward, they see gaps all over the place.

    There are, as we can all see from the postings over the last couple of days, fairly enormous “gaps” between the culture/world on offer in socialist organisations and the toe-raggy reality of life within ’em.

    Which, I suspect, but would love to know for sure, is why you haven’t ever joined one. I think if you’d explain your “choice” in that regard we’d all probably learn a thing or two.

  80. #60 anti-cap – the critique of SEK [then IST group in Greece] by the SWP leadership long predates the formation of Syriza, my dear. Your party was being denounced from 2003 (maybe even 2002) as being sectarian for not joining Synaspismos.

    There was Bambery’s intervention at the Athens meeting of the Party of the European Left for a start. Look – let’s not fight about this. The SWP has spectacularly fucked up: LCR is too right wing, Sinistra Critica is too left wing, Linksruck is out of out control, the Greeks are certainly too left wing, the Turks are… we don’t have anything serious in Turkey and must defer to the Greeks… and on and on.

    Look, anti-cap, the wold has moved on since you left these shores and headed to Hellas. Think for your self, dear boy. Stop trying to justify the malakia here.

  81. BPS – I’m intrigued by your last comment, and by your apparent support for Davidson’s squib. On the latter: I found it so much verbiage. He took the biscuit, imho, by accusing the CC majority of seeking specious historical parallels before, ahem, crow-barring in a litter of marxisant quotations.

    K – surely you recognise that when pseudo-marxist clowns praise this stuff as the best intervention in the SWP’s debate so far then there’s a big problem.

  82. “Fuck the SWP has really degenerated if thats the general level of your members. lol.”

    We have to keep it simple for apolitical folk like you. Pity you still won’t or can’t respond to the points Alf raises.

    “I was just getting to like the two of you; your rugged, manly ways, your inspirational intransigence and the many thoughtful contributions you have made to this blog. On top of it all you then tell me that the SWP don’t like me either. I don’t know what to say… I am in tatters now thanks to the two of you brutes

    Ever the victim, eh Karen? The language you use inclines me to believe you are trying to smear me with the sexism brush because I’ve dared to criticise your attacks on all things SWP. Pretty low move on your part but probably not out of character. Did you use that strategy to try to shut people down in your branch? Didn’t work did it? Don’t worry, I won’t play the homophobia card if you disagree with me.

  83. Nas, what I thought I was doing was questioning the way in which this blog seemed to be saying that they had discovered revolutionary democracy and the SWP had either never had it or forgotten it. I was probing (perhaps tactlessly, but I was put off by the promised-land rhetoric here) just how democratic and revolutionary the new formation was. If you want to interpret that as being a baghandler for the SWP and for John (who, yes, I know well, along with some of the people who seem to be opposed to him now), then feel free. To be clear, I don’t think anyone – not the SWP, not Respect, not Respect Renewal, not any of the other groups and groupings, has found the perfect formula. However, that doesnt’ seem to stop people talking as if they have and everyone else is a craphead. I asked over and over again, as people still ask, just how are decisions reached within RR and how is this so superior to everything else anyone has tried. I don’t regret asking those questions but perhaps I said in them in an unhelpful way.

    I wasn’t suggesting that this is an ‘existential crisis’ for ‘the rest’ of you. I don’t think it’s an existential crisis at all. I think it’s a historical problem. As far as I remember, existentialism pretends that history doesn’t come into it. At least, in its purest form it did…er…I think.

  84. Ray – you have a problem with sexism, don’t you? It’s come up before on different threads. You do the cause of an SWP Refodazione no good at all. Not at all.

  85. Michael – stop playing game. It’s doing no good, least of all for you. You took sides and entered the lists last year. You’ve continued along those lines. You were wrong. No among of hand waving about the imperfections of others will change that.

    Michael, you’re of value to the movement as a whole. Don’t vitiate that by shilling for those who are about to depart our world.

  86. karen Elliot… good sense of humour… appreciation of art hisory… we need people like you in RESPECT unless your scottish or welsh god forbid.

    Comment by Mark Anthony France

    he should have added.. social worker, health worker, single women with child etc etc he hates all of the above and wants many of them sacked!!!

  87. Mark Anthony France on said:

    #100… alf…don’t be silly now. I do not ‘hate’ anyone … although i did find it very amusing when that chap threw both his shoes at president Bush.
    I think the SWP was right to ‘sack’ John Rees
    I think Harringey Council was right to ‘sack’ Sharon Shoesmith
    Why? because both used ‘smoke, mirrors and bullshit’ to hide their own incompetence.
    BTW my friend lyn [26 years at Woolies and in USDAW] had specifically asked me to ask you to visit
    so stop pissing around and ‘do the right thing’

  88. Oh sure I took sides, I didn’t think you were referring to that. I thought at the time that Respect-SWP was less wrong than RespectRenewal-George. I thought I had to make a choice and not piss about hovering, which I did for a few weeks. As I’ve said, I was particularly wary of the promised-land rhetoric coming out of Respect Renewal, and particularly wary of (what it looked like to me at the time) of an organisation trying to build itself around one person. In the end, we’ll all have to work together or there won’t be any movement at all, so who knows what formations may emerge?

  89. Rosen makes a good point. For any extremist fringe party, debating these little mistakes as if they were important makes people feel important, and that is important itself. Think about it, if you’re in a party like the SWP which you know has completely irrational and illogical policies, will never gain power, know should not really ever gain power in your heart of hearts, and will never achieve anything, the debate around party process becomes very important. It’s what you live for, which are why there are these endless debates about it.

    But even with mainstream parties this can be the case. Usually when mainstream parties lose an election they automatically change in some way, because its in the interests of people in nonleadership roles to stand up and say they are the solution to the problem, in order to gain power. It’s like evolution; it’s an unstoppable process.

    In fact evolutionary psychology explains much more about the world than any political party ever can.

  90. then they run away to get cushie jobs in the public sector.
    The SWP should just stop. FULL STOP!
    Mark Anthony France

    The fucking idiot is at it again
    National leading member of Respect is now calling nursing, housing department workers, local govt workers a cushie job… This half wit should write in the SUN newspaper. He is obssessed with the public sector workers being well paid (as if!!) and lazy. He really is a disgrace to RESPECT. If anyone should stop Mark, its your right wing pro market and big buisness bull shit. We are seeing to dismantling of neo liberalism only for you spout some complete toss. Mark you really need to resign from the national exec of RESPECT. I mean you would clearly be opposed to any future strikes in the public sector over pay as you have a rather Tory view that they are overpaid. You feel slighted that a single women got a job ahead of you, you seem incapable of thinking for 1 minute she may have been a more suitable candidate. Mark, its time to stop having that sexist chip on your shoulder, get a life for fucks sake.

  91. Nas, re-reading…’about to depart our world’. Well, that’s just rhetorical crap. The only people who are ‘about to depart our world’ in your sense of the phrase are people who give up the struggle. Are you seriously saying that the whole SWP or the leadership of the SWP are about to give up? If you are it’s unsustainable. If you’re not saying that, then why cloud the issue with hyperbolic stuff like that? I’m assuming you’ve been around long enough to know that if the SWP were to break up,(and it may or may not) it wouldn’t just disappear. There would be groups and/or tendencies. The only groups I’ve known to disappear are the ones that say that they are going to enter the Labour Party.

  92. Karen Elliot on said:

    I’m still upset. Look, ll, would you be nicer to me if I actually offered you a present as a gesture of goodwill? I could send you one of those new Action Man models the adverts are full of in the run up to Xmas. Have you seen them? They are little works of art – new technology means not only that the major body joints are seamless, but they are now so flexible that you can instantly adjust them into any posture at all. They’ve been partially motorised too, so they can now even march a short distance before falling over. Admittedly the little ‘voicebox’ thing is no better than before, with the same limited set of commands, but the detail of the body-work is astonishing – for example, the eyes aren’t simply painted on anymore but are now actually fully independent and can swivel from side to side.

    They are so realistic that, from a short distance, it might be difficult to tell you apart.

  93. An SWP member who reads on said:

    No, it’s not odd, jj/ll/alf/faslehood [sic]/whatever you’ve decided to call yourself today. It’s funny. Karen’s calling you a brainless, swivel eyed automaton who adopts a variety of ridiculous postures and has an extremely limited vocabulary. All of which seems pretty much spot on. For Pete’s sake, shut the fuck up.

  94. optimistic Larry Nugent on said:

    “It is not that people think we took a wrong decision in resisting Galloway. Even most of the minority who disagreed at the time now feel we had no choice. But there are worries about tactical moves that led to us losing most of the centre ground to Galloway and over what has happened since. And this had led to questions about how we came to make such mistakes.

    The selective absent minded historian has attempted to describe the chaos of his and the CC’s collective responsibility, an internal problem with a SWP minority. Not so.

    You can now see on this blog the total scapegoating by leading lights of the SWP CC and we still do not have one grain of transparency or one Iota of common sense since August 2007’s Galloway letter. Of course, the Ree’s malaise was evident for years.

    The hollow left unity call by the sectarian Sheridan, proves he is doing desperate deals with the scottish SWP. Why this call of unity just before the SWP conference? is it because the need to launch some national initiative to give their revolutionaries some fillet or Damascus road. When Harman says minority, he is actually talking about every last one of us. His rant is not helpful to the debate

  95. gobsmacked on said:

    #104 Michael, you really do come out with some rubbish sometimes. Exactly what promised land rhetoric are you referring to? As for building around one person, the SWP decided to blow up the most promising and successful left of Labour electoral project for 60 years because of the ego of one man – John Rees. What were the non-SWP members who believed in the virtues of that project supposed to do – denounce Galloway for his failure to follow the one true path? The SWP got it badly wrong, as everyone with a brain should now be able to see, and set the left back very seriously as a result. You got it badly wrong too. At least you should admit that.

  96. external bulletin on said:

    To be fair, I think Michael is saying he knows he got it wrong.

    But he’s also saying that it doesn’t really matter that much, because who got it right and wrong isn’t the issue he’s discussion – he’s saying that in this historical period, getting it right or wrong has such limited impact, which is why everyone keeps focussing on it.

    As it happens, I think Michael is right, but I also think people *do* need to acknowledge the mess they caused and supported. Those outside the party don’t need to beg and grovel – those inside the party who said nothing and went along with, or played a part in, the wrecking of Respect, have no place in the movement as far as I’m concerned. They didn’t do it because of any historical situation or because of the strength of capitalism: They did it because they are not socialists in any meaningful sense, and do not give a fuck about any movement that they can’t control. This isn’t about those who didn’t “support” the united front – it’s about those who chose to wreck it, to destroy it.

    Every document about this SWP issue starts from the position that it was necessary to wreck Respect. That negates the rest of the good politics as far as I’m concerned. They all claim that there’s a secretive, lying, controlling culture at the top of the SWP – but for some reason, the wrecking of Respect happened outside all of that, so therefore it’s not a point of disagreement for any of them. Somehow, of all the CC’s mistakes, the one that caused all of this isn’t an issue for any of the malcontents.

    That’s more telling than any call for “revitalising” the SWP.

  97. gobsmacked on said:

    #117 I think external bulletin is absolutely correct on all but two points. The minor one is whether Michael has admotted getting it wrong. I don’t see this myself but good if it’s true.

    The second and more important issue is whether wrecking Respect ultimately matters. Here I take a much less deterministic and pessimistic view. The fact is we are now at the early stages of a very serious economic downturn which will cause political turmoil too.

    I do not for a moment predict a sudden upsurge of traditional working class struggle. There is absolutely no evidence for this whatsoever. But it does mean that there could be an audience for left of Labour politics.

    In fact the absence of traditional struggle increases the importance of an electorally credible voice in some respects. Respect could have been in a relatively strong position to be that voice, or one of the important voices. Rees, and the SWP leadership which so loyally supported his madness (not to mention others), destroyed that and left the left much weaker as a consequence.

  98. JimPage on said:

    2 election results from yesterday which may concentrate people’s minds on the need for working class political representation now, and not some time in the future

    Both of these used to be solid Labour wards returning councillors with 60-70% votes

    Cumbria County Council
    Whitehaven Kells & Sandwith Ward

    Labour 434
    BNP 418 ( 40.1%)
    Conservative 190

    North West Leicestershire
    Ibstock & Heather Ward

    Conservative 660
    BNP 645 (30.9%)
    Labour 614
    Lib Dems 174

  99. external bulletin on said:

    “The second and more important issue is whether wrecking Respect ultimately matters. Here I take a much less deterministic and pessimistic view. The fact is we are now at the early stages of a very serious economic downturn which will cause political turmoil too.”

    Sorry, I wasn’t very clear. I think the wrecking of Respect absolutely matters – I was more talking about tactical and political decisions in Respect. Getting them right or wrong has very little real impact.

    Wrecking it has a major impact. Witness the turn to the right by Harman over “right wing Islamists”. That will have an impact on the rest of the left as well as on Muslims becoming politicised.

  100. gobsmacked on said:

    #119 These are appalling results and tell us everything we need to know about the electoral threat from the BNP and the tragic consequences of failing to build on Respect’s remarkable initial achievements.

    #120 Too true. It’s worth remembering just what a remarkable electoral breakthrough Respect had before Rees, Callinicos, Harman, Molyneux, etc wrecked it – 250,000 votes in the 2004 Euro elections, then the election of an MP in 2005 followed by 20 councillors in 2006.

    External bulletin is right that whatever insights may be gleaned from some of the documents from SWP members posted here, there is common ground that Galloway was somehow a major problem who had to be stood up to. Complete crap.

    I am told that the SWP’s grouplet in Italy argued against splitting from Rifondazione despite the fact it had gone into government and voted for troops to go to Afghanistan. I don’t know if this is true but in my view that was the correct position against the ultra-leftism of the FI. Splitting at that point would have weakened and indeed has weakened the left in Italy. But even if you agree with the FI at least this was a serious issue in which it can reasonably be argued a line was crossed.

    To my knowledge, George Galloway did not seek a position in the Labour government nor did he express his support for British troops to be deployed in anyone else’s country. He simply criticised Rees’s stewardship of Respect in terms far milder than the criticisms that are now being levelled against Rees by his fellow SWP members. There will be no serious renewal within the SWP until the stupidity and the enormity of what they have done is clearly acknowledged.

    As for Harman continuing to repeat his ignorant Islamophobic attacks on people of whom he is entirely ignorant, words fail me.

  101. external bulletin on said:

    I think it’s worth at this point people reading George Galloway’s original letter to the Respect National Council.

    I’ve not read it for a long time. It’s astounding just how true it was, and how mild it was.

    Really, really worth reading – especially in light of the fact that everyone’s now criticising the SWP leadership in much harder terms than the ones used by Galloway. And implicit in the criticisms of the SWP leadership is that Galloway was right in what he said.

    Those who didn’t play an active part in wrecking Respect may find themselves despairing when they read the letter: How the fuck did SWP members go along with the line that there was a witch-hunt of “the left”? How did it come to this, where the most left wing parts of the most oppressed ethnic minority group in the UK despise the SWP with a passion, and barely trust the rest of the left?

  102. Michael – in my view John Rees is “about to depart our world” in the sense you elucidate. Now, how about dropping the side issues and returning to the canvas itself.

    You have spent a year tediously taking pot shots at Respect and lawyering for Rees (whose positions were coextensive with the SWP’s on all this issues you engaged in). You gave no impression at the time that this was the blind working out of historical inevitability with you merely as an amanuensis…

    External bulletin and gobsmacked are absolutely right about the limitations on this “new thinking” taking place in the SWP. Callinicos’s latest theoretical piece in the International Socialism apparently takes the Italian FI to task for splitting from Rifondazione. He is for them rejoining. He writes also of the need probably for a long period of electoral and broad interventions in Britain to make a breakthrough for the radical left. But the good professor, along with Harman, justifies smashing up the short lived project they were involved in over… well, they can’t quite say can they, except for blaming it all on Galloway.

  103. Doggerel forsooth! We have found a previously untapped poetic talent on the left that should be cherished.

    Anyway, I was struck by Andy Newman’s comments about the combination of arrogance and incompetence from the SWP cadres (amongst other heart-felt contributions here, which are positive because I think nearly all deal with political reality) important.

    I have often wondered where this kind of behaviour comes from. Certainly in the labour movement and the Labour Party there are plenty of bureaucratic ways of dealing with irritants (that is, leftists). They can get quite heavy as well (as anyone reading Liz Davis’s account of her time on Labour’s NEC can tell, and that’s just the published version). There’s more than a grain of truth (descriptively, that is) in Michel’s account of ‘oligarchy’ in the early 20th Century SPD. But the SWP seem to make quite a speciality of this overweening pride and frank inability to organise anything other than (as people say) public meetings and (to a lesser extent)demos.

    As someone who resigned from the LP to join the Socialist Alliance and who was their election agent for the first by-election in the last Parliament, Ipswich, I confronted this kind of thing in ways not too far off Andy Newman’s experience. That is, they decide on however foolish an initiative, you follow. Bob Hoveman (spelling?) knows this, though he was responsible for restraining some of the ‘dizzy with success’ plans of the candidate (who got a few hundred votes, about 400, in the end).

    In my opinion this is bound up with a failure to become a real political party, of any kind, yet remaining committed to the idea that you are somehow a key revolutionary force in the country.

  104. I’ll try and reply to some of these matters, excuse me if I don’t touch on them all.

    1. Yes of course I talk crap. Just about as much as anyone else on the far left and probably no less.

    2. ‘lawyering for John Rees’ – to tell the truth, I’m not sure I know what this means. Throughout the whole split, I don’t think I spoke to John once, or if I did, it was on a 38 bus and neither he or I mentioned anything. I wasn’t anyone’s advocate. No one asked me to advocate for them. anything i wrote was entirely my responsible as I tried to figure out what was going on. I remember an incredible (and I thought unreasonable) set of attacks on individuals and the SWP as a whole, which I didn’t recognise. For example, the rhetoric that claims that people in the SWP are not committed or they’re wreckers, or that they are just in it for themselves is not something I recognise. Perhaps you’re right, but it’s not what I’ve noticed or observed.

    3. The explanations for the split in Respect keep getting narrower and narrower ie that it’s the fault of this or that person, or that there was a single mistake on such a such a day. Either that, or that it’s just endemic in the SWP and part of their whole problem etc etc. There’s another possibility: the point had been reached where the objectives of all the participants had become irreconcilable. The structure of the organisation could not contain what the various disparate elements wanted. In such situations, if one party makes the first move, then of course they are given the responsibility for having broken the organisation – but in fact that’s the easy or even simplistic way to look at what happened, look at who was in the organisation and what they wanted to achieve and why. I suggest that it worked when the objectives were limited (and largely electoral) at a time when there was localised support for those objectives. When there was neither an agreed process for how to make the next step (!), nor a growing momentum in the wider society, the split was inevitable. How it came or why it came, I don’t think is particularly useful to dwell on and will inevitably come back to discussions of people’s personalities – which is not particularly useful either.

  105. Michael – you’re in good company with the CC majority and minority, and with their critics in the SWP. It was all in the stars. Fated. Historical Inevitability. Hmmmm.

  106. At one point in Midnight in the Century Serge describes the political logic of one of Stalin’s smaller purges; I don’t know how speculative his account is, but it’s very plausible.

    It goes something like this: bad weather has caused crop failure, so the peasants need to be encouraged to bring as much grain to market as possible, as quickly as possible. This means relaxing controls on small-scale private enterprise; politically, this is a move to the Right.

    But how to move Right without either strengthening the Right within the Politburo or giving fuel to the Left? Stalin’s solution, according to Serge, was to

    1) move Left, acknowledging some of the criticisms being raised by the Politburo Left
    2) move sharply Right, bringing in the economic measures while denouncing utopian Leftists; underline this with a purge of the Left
    3) move Left again, denouncing those who elevate necessary tactical measures to the level of principle; underline this with a purge of the Right

    Step 1 is the really clever part, as it means that the leftward move in step 3 won’t strengthen any Left opposition – they’ve already been endorsed and dumped.

    This just came to mind when I was thinking about Harman and Rees. Yes, sure, the John-and-George show was cringeworthy and Big Brother was deeply embarrassing (it embarrassed me, and I didn’t even watch it), but surely what Rees really did wrong wasn’t building RESPECT but smashing it. Anyone who wants Rees’s metaphorical head on a platter, for all the reasons John Molyneux set out, should include a paragraph about how useful and constructive Galloway’s letter could have been, and what a twit Rees was to treat it as a declaration of war. Instead we get an endorsement of the Rees myth of the split (its reformist allies … turn[ed] against it), from someone whose view of the united front is so far from Rees’s that he effectively presents it as a recruiting vehicle (Our responsibility is to build links with those influenced by reformism so that when the break comes, we do not break alone.)

    The implication of Harman’s argument is that Rees was probably doing the best he could, in a doomed project with untrustworthy allies – but then why has he got to go? Or if Rees is at fault, what did he fail to achieve that was worth achieving (in Harman’s perspective)? Something doesn’t add up.

    More broadly, how’s it shaping up so far?

    Building RESPECT or something better
    For: Rees, Davidson, Molyneux
    Against: Harman

    Greater democracy within the SWP
    For: Davidson, Molyneux
    Against: Rees, Harman

    Busting John Rees to the ranks with immediate effect
    For: Harman, Molyneux
    Against: Rees, Davidson

    Some interesting alignments. As I said earlier on, the smart move would have been for Rees to endorse Davidson.

  107. Halshall on said:

    Refer you to #61 again about the fact that it was a split contrived quite deliberately last year, after agreement between the SWP and the other (if you like ‘GG’ but Not exclusively) factions.
    Then the very next day at the SWP NC the agreement was wrecked when a pack of lies was told in order to create an irrevocable split.
    Now we have the ‘left’ as a whole discredited and demoralised at a time when a ‘left of Labour’ alternative was never more pressing. see #119

  108. Nas, if you want to reduce what I’m saying to ‘historical inevitability’ that’s fine, but it isn’t what I’m saying. I’m not a determinist, a fatalist or a defeatist. I’m 62 and have been involved in left politics since I was born. If I was any of those things, I’d’ve given up years ago. What I reject are the limited view that this or that geezer caused this event to happen. I’m suggesting (and of course you don’t have to take any notice) is that there are deep and fundamental things going on in society which are of much more importance than what x said to y on december the z th. I can see that you’re already getting your teeth into what’s wrong with me (with allthat rosen lawyering for rees shite), which of course is much much much more exciting and interesting than doing the hard stuff, which is trying to figure out why eg this 35 year old who is passionately involved with eg Palestine or eg a local campaign against ‘regeneration and redevelopment’ but won’t touch a left organisation OF ANY KIND with a barge pole. I tell you it’s not because Rees said bollocks or that George said shite.

  109. gobsmacked on said:

    #129 So Michael, are the SWP Central Committee wrong to be dumping on and dumping Rees because it really isn’t all about who said what to who when but something far deeper and more abstract. And if so, I still don’t understand why you took sides. Citing the mythical cult of George Galloway’s personality and promised land rhetoric, whatever that is, is no explanation at all.

  110. Andy Wilson on said:

    #111: “have you signed up to GG’s dream yet??”

    Thank you for the offer but I shall have to refuse. I’m afraid that it is only in Ray’s mind that I hate “all things SWP.” I voted for the Left List (someone had to) and, in general, I would be on the left of the SWP regarding Respect (JohnG might have me shot as an ultra-left even as Ray was trying to defenestrate me for aligning with sectarian rightist maniacs like yourself.) Having missed the last 15 semesters at the University of the Working Class I remain somewhat stuck in the past. Worse – old age means that my nervous system has become permanently frozen into the posture of an incorrigible rotten element.

  111. 129 – what you’re rejecting, Michael, is any explanation which places weight on the choices made by the leaders of the biggest organised force on the left at the time of a split which has caused its deepest internal crisis for a generation.

    In my view this simply provides Rees with an alibi. This isn’t analysis. It’s an apologia.

  112. 127, very useful summary and the only time in my life when i can see the point of Venn Diagrams…

  113. Andy Wilson / KE on said:

    #127: There are a lot of interesting points in your argument, Phil, but at the end of the day it seems counter-productive to think about the different positions in terms of two unrelated issues of ‘turning outward’ and ‘democracy’. What unites these issues is the general politics of party and class, and it’s implications externally and internally. The real division is between those looking both to turn outwards and democratise the party (the arguments for both form a continuum), and those who want to cling to the old concepts.

    The Rees platform does not represent a confused amalgam of external openness and internal bureaucratism, but an entirely consistent view of how to build the party in which the leadership within the party remain unaccountable, treating the members of the party as pawns, and then adds to this the notion that today the party can only be built by applying the same general approach to forming alliances with other, external pawns. His position actually represents a consistently elitist and bureaucratic world view in which the cosmos can be made to spin entirely around the orbit of his own mighty brain.

    At the other end of the spectrum are those rank and file (and some of them actually not so rank and file) who, having drawn the conclusions of the Respect fiasco, want a thoroughgoing overhaul of party democracy in order to pursue a relationship with the class and the rest of the left that might actually work.

    In other words, as the SWP has attempted an outward turn, the elitist elements of the confused theory of party and class implicit in it’s own structures have now been projected onto the world at large in the way that Rees led the various electoral alliance. That implicit notion of party, class and leadership has been tested in the real world and shown to be fundamentally flawed, and the rank and file are starting to step up and demand at last that it be corrected. My complaints about the best platform to date representing this view (Davidson’s) is only that it is rather mild and half-hearted (even though it is ferocious by SWP standards.)

    Harman has the most confused position because, although he has a better theoretical grasp than any other contender of the likely threats and opportunities ahead, he is rather compromised by his (and Alex’s) leadership of the CC over many decades – they have, after all, been the lipstick on the turkey for some time now – and therefore his instinct is to defend the record of the CC and therefore, necessarily, cover up for the leadership cult that has kept it propped up over the years.

    Therefore, it is not a matter of cobbling together some mix between nicer, more welcoming democratic norms within the party and a desire to reach out to those beyond its borders, but rather a matter of developing a consistently revolutionary attitude to the question of leadership and applying it across the entire spectrum of concerns.

    It is my view that the core IS tradition would be a great place to start if you wanted to develop such a position. The questions is whether the bearers of that tradition, after years of being spoonfed on Cliff’s hallucinatory visions of Lenin and his chaotic stick bending, can still reconnect with that core.

    Ultimately, Rees and democracy cannot be squared off – which is why Molyneux is right to indicate the significance in all this of Rees’s Lukacian theory of party and class, but also why, contrary to what John says, that debate can probably not be put off any longer.

    “Rees to endorse Davidson”

    The reason this could never happen is not unconnected with the kind of logic that makes the joke about Turkey’s voting for Christmas a minor classic.

  114. Adamski on said:

    #85 Barry Kade makes some cogent points about the Socialist Alliance, which was the first ever political party I was a member of.

    In my city, I attended a trades council meeting against the Pay freeze, I couldn’t help thinking at the back of my mind that seven years ago 90% people in that room – SWP, SP other leftwing groups, independent trade unionists and socialists had all been in one organisation which had a far better base in the working class than Respect – I recall hundreds of election leaflets used to be printed by the CWU on the sly due to two postal workers (independent socialists) who were leading members (but didn’t get involved in Respect).

    The problems of the SA: Ego clash between SWP and SP, small left wing groups splitting hairs over the correct position on this rather than looking outwards, were exacerbated by the approach that seemed to be pushed by the SWP leadership – In the existence of the Alliance we barely had any public meetings or events (the very few we did were very succesful – we pulled off a meeting on the Foot & Mouth crisis that made it to the front page of the local paper, we had a well attended dayschool on Socialism etc), in the run-up to the Iraq War, the alliance was suddenly put on the backburner locally (i’m sure leading local SWP members knew what the score was, but never relayed to the members like me lower down the rung).

    I recall a march organised in a very poor area of my city from a Mosque with 200 muslims carrying placards saying “No Votes for New Labour Warlords”, a perfect opportunity for the SA to have intervened, but behind closed doors it had been decided that the SA was no longer to be built.

    I found the behaviour of the local SP in the Alliance sectarian & the organisation pretty much died when they left (a year later in Wales) with most of the local independents dropping out.

    Yet there is a continued rubbishing of the Socialist Alliance experience by SWP cadre.

  115. Just to re-iterate, Eric’s post led to the reigniting of David T’s seatsniffing obsession with me over at Harry’s Place. It is of course simply a lie that I have left the SWP. I would be interested to find out who Eric is. Anyone know?

  116. David T on said:


    Are you upset about the SWP being described by Ian Donovan as having a “anti-Muslim, semi-Matgamnaite political line “?

    I’d be very happy to give you 400 words on Harry’s Place to explain why

    – you are not anti-Muslim, and

    – that the SWP’s opposition to the right wing Islamists in RESPECT is consistent with your support for them in the Middle East.

  117. Trotsky's Witness In Scotland on said:

    On the economic collapse TWINS notes that the SSP predicted almost to a T the unfolding economic crisis in January 2008 in a centre spread “Money Market Madness”, an analysis of the Northen Rock fiasco in February followed by a prediction of the collapse of the housing market in April. Published a pamplet in May bringing all the analyis together with concrete immediate and long-term demands. Has a slot on its website covering the economic crisis. And supports the blog:


    Far from being the first the SWP seems to be among the last to analysise the crisis, and even then from a non-marxist point of view – and realise its implications and the potential ramifications for capitalism and the working class and poor of the world.

  118. Howard Kirk on said:

    I was reading the Weekly Worker article this week about all of this, http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/750/allthat.html and although they are not kind to Andy, I think this quote is a good starting point as to why the SWP has ended up in this mess:

    Comrade Davidson makes a devastating point in IB No3: “We constantly invoke the democratic freedoms of the Bolshevik Party, but actually have fewer democratic rights than its members did under conditions of autocracy, quasi-feudal barbarism and repression.” He goes on: “The impulse is always to restrict the debate, or even to refuse to admit there is a debate, in case the ‘wrong’ decision gets taken – the ‘right’ one having been decided by us in advance” – the “us” being the CC, naturally.QUOTE

    Now, there are many who think democratic centralism is a priori authoritarian anyway, but lets leave that aside. The SWP’s particular brand of undemocratic centralism not only leads to deference towards the CC or ‘leading figures’ but Harman does have a point that many SWPers are quite happy to follow the decisions of the centre. When IU was a member and began to question certain decisions, I expected disagreement but what I noticed was a suspicion and defensiveness when questioning the ‘party line’. It was clear that this kind of debate wasn’t particularly welcome. I recall towards the end of the SA, saying that I didn’t think the SA was going to make a breakthrough and maybe we need something else, and being told by a some others I was negative etc by people who didn’t really want to consider or discuss it. A short time later, the centre decided to drop the SA. It seems these members had a damascene conversion when faced with Party notes.

    Eventually, I left because in the SWP there is no culture of debate, where the membership is not consulted and just told. I think a number of people eventually just leave it to the ‘follow the party line’ enthusiasts for this week’s perspective, and then just leave. The aggregates and conferences remind me of motivational speeches or those staff meetings in businesses where the people are invited to speak openly, but being critical is always negative and doesn’t do you any favours.

    I came to the conclusion that if you do support democratic centralism then permanent or semi-pemanent factions must be accepted, and where the membership can openly discuss matters in journals or online -i.e the original Bolshevik model. I’m not saying this may not create other problems, and it may not be the only way of organising, but take this away and you get whats left of the SWP.

    I remember Mark Thomas’s joke that some of his friends have joined the fastest growing party in Britain – ex-members of the SWP. This hints at an underlying truth. The absence of a culture for open debate whatever the formal structures must be a reason, as are the authoritarian dictats of the centre which many people soon learn to avoid. Are they aware how they look to many people who don’t want to leave their brain at the door when they join them or think about joining them. Sure, they will hang onto a few thousand people but they will have a limited appeal, especially these days where there are plenty of outlets on the web to get info and have open discussion etc.

  119. David T on said:

    Adamski thats cruel. It is not possible to be a bigger fool then David T.

    Come now

    I haven’t devoted my entire adult life to a small and nasty Trotskyite party.

    I didn’t put any energy at all into defending George Galloway, only to have him kick me and my party in the teeth.

    Neither did I spend hour after hour on Left wing websites, attacking as “Islamophobes” anybody who pointed out that the Islamists were “right wing”, and that it was a mistake for even Trots – EVEN you, John – to go into coalition with them.

    Neither did I then end up looking foolish, as the said right wing Islamists did my party over.

    And, finally, I didn’t suffer the indignity of being described by Ian Donovan as being a supporter of “anti-Muslim” politics, merely for pointing out that right wing Islamists were, er, right wing.

    Oh hang on … that last one did happen to me.

  120. Adamski on said:

    You will always find some Eskimos ready to instruct the Congolese on how to cope with heat waves.

  121. hey, David T., but you do try and hound left journos for doing reviews of a book, on the entirely unfounded claim that both the journo and the author are in the same political party, viz., the SWP. Then when you’re told you wrong, you don’t retract the claim, you produce another viz., that the journo is ‘an activist’ for the SWP and this time instead of being unfounded it’s a lie. And again you don’t retract that.

    And you witter on about people being ‘nasty’?! Let’s hear the judges’ scores…and for ‘The Nasty’, David T., has scored 10, 10, 10 and 10. A forty!!!!

  122. Nas, to be absolutely honest, I don’t give an enormous amount of weight to those decisions. No. I think left politics is a much, much, much more imprecise world than many people I regard as my friends and comrades think it is. This isn’t enough of a disagreement to fall out with them. As I’ve said, I think the four points I made about why the young-ish (under forty) ‘active’ people I know don’t join ANY PARTY is much more worth discussing than what John Rees/Chris Harman/Michael Rosen or anyone said and when…at this stage in our development.

    As for what I spent my time talking about last year: I seem to remember there was quite a long discussion about the fact that I think on the left we underestimate to our peril what kinds of sacrifice in time and effort are required to keep an active political ‘left’ life going. The rewards are either nil or tiny. The hours spent are nearly always hours away from love, sex, family, movies, music, dance, art etc. This has its toll. People drop out. They get worn out. Some never get very committed because it’s too hard. I seem to remember writing about that too. But if you want to remember me as John R’s bagman, so be it. I’m sure he’d be very amused. I’ll ask him next time I see him.

  123. Vengence of History on said:


    I think for whatever it is worth , which is not that much, that you do good work and in the grand narrative you are more important than pretty much any of us on this list

    No you are not rees’s bagperson you are a poet

    What we must never forget is that pretty mucg everyone on this blog actually agress with each other

    We have won major batttles in my lifetime – racism, sexism homophobia and many more. Yes generally we have failed on the economic arguments but otherwise we have actually done well. Look at the public statements to Cameron et al they use our language

    So let us start fighting from our strengths not our failures

  124. No false modesty, I’m not ‘more important’. I do somethings in a different way. I think that with politics there are many, many ways to skin a cat. I don’t think any of us has the definitive perfect format, the definitive perfect approach. Politics is about the whole of our existence as social beings and sometimes it’s great to address that in what we think of as a political way, other times in an ‘econonics’ way, other times through what moves us or amuses us, or suprises us takes us to the next level of understanding. Or it might just simply experiencing something away from home, socially with others who are from a variety of backgrounds, of all ages, of wide-ranging abilities. I work mostly but not entirely in all these last areas but I value, nay, treasure, the political and ‘economics’ stuff. Can’t do without it. But I think we’re in an era (not just a year or so) of serious and major difficulties with regard to how the mass of people see themselves. Simply doing what the marxist left has been doing for the last hundred fifty years isn’t enough. The really difficult thing as I see it, is that we have to do most of the things we’ve been doing (organising, agitating, campaigning) and some more…some way of dealing with the passivity, the atomising, and the individualising of people’s imaginations/desires/perceived needs. To take one fundamental example – housing: here is a basic human need, that capitalism has succeeded in convincing/cajoling/compelling people that the route to happiness is through private ownership. And yet, it’s quite clear that private ownership cannot deliver to all and that a whisper of a crisis and people are turfed out of their houses, thrown into deeper and deeper debt. Even the very idea that if you own a mortgage you ‘own’ a house is an absurd contradiction and yet I’ve said that very idiotic phrase for the last thirty years. I ‘own’ a debt, not a house. Meanwhile, most people’s experience of where they live and how they live is that it’s owned and run by people beyond their control – ‘developers’, ‘retail chains’. In fact, one moment you might walk across a field and the next it’s a ‘retail park’, or along a Victorian street and the next it’s full of high rise blocks of buy-to-rent flats. And yet, in all these areas to do with housing and development, we haven’t yet found a good or effective way to help people break from a system that isn’t delivering basic needs to all. And yet, we had the rough outline of it with the council house system. (There were serious structural, non-democratic and economic problems with that in most areas (eg councils in hock to moneylenders who financed the building so that the maintenance was always crap)).

    That would be one example where we know the arguments but we haven’t managed to weaken the grip of invidualistic ideology that dominates this particular area. Haven’t even begun to. We’re probably too weak to, too divided and too preoccupied with other questions. And yet, it’s central to people’s existence, and central (in my mind) to the way in which the ideology of individualism is enacted directly through and into people’s lives. So, I’m not berating anyone for why we haven’t got to grips with this matter. I’m simply saying it’s one example of how we all fail (if we’re marxists) to break the hold of individualism, passivity, and atomism (how we keep ourselves divided off from each other as ‘atoms’).

  125. red mole on said:

    Although the background to this debate is that the SWP has had a rocky couple of years which have damaged their credibility and led to the recent split in the CC, as a somewhat disgruntled member myself I take a lot of encouragement from the debate, and I think the SWP will emerge the stronger from it.

    Among other papers not yet published on this site is one from Alex Callinicos, primarily in response to John Rees, but he also has some interesting things to say in response to Neil Davidson :

    “The culture of internal debate has been much weaker in recent years, and more broadly the party has been over-reliant on top down initiatives from the CC.” The reliance on the CC reached its height, according to AC, in the 90s : “We became deeply unhappy about some of the things that happened then. As strongly as Neil, we want to see party democracy strengthened. What that will involve will need to be discussed in a thorough and open-minded way.”

    The key proposal, whose importance is stressed by both Callinicos and Harman, is that the SWP set up a Commission on Party Democracy next month. This will allow the leadership to fend off calls for any immediate changes to how the party does things, but it would be wrong to view this too cynically. There are a number of reasons why the CC majority are keen for the Commission to be seen to succeed and not to fail. They’re sensitive to the criticisms that have been levelled at the CC over its conduct and lack of accountability in recent months. They’re aware from the district aggregates that there is a layer of support for at least some of the reforms mooted by Neil Davidson. Most importantly, they see a need to strengthen party cadre by making members better informed and more involved in key discussions.

    What we could be seeing here is the beginning of a process. Harman and Callinicos don’t know exactly where it will lead the party, but they’re comfortable with that. It may take months or years before the direction of change becomes clear, but right now I feel confident that there will be changes to come.

  126. Vengence of History on said:


    As I have said before my children love your work so that is a big kick off in value terms

    But and here is a big but you talk sensibly about the colective but yu also describe the destruction of it

    My point is that while that is true, and it is, that there are other factors coming into play. Indeed in my youth it was studily refered to as lifestylism.

    But actaully it is important

    but daughter will be a bridesmaid at a gay wedding next yeae. her best mate has been one at two.

    They both, by talking to them understand about “gay rights” and about the point that in a strange world this was considered bad.

    Or to put it another way we asked me over breakfast what all this stuff about Obama was? Why were pweople talking about him?

    I explain who he was and why. She was bemuseed and then I explained that there had nver been a woman as president of the USA

    Then she thought I was either mad or lying

    She is six

    So let us play to our strengths

  127. Dickie Ticker on said:

    Michael, you’re just far too humane and perceptive for the average, authoritarian, fantasy leninist.
    Unfortunately these sectarians now account for much of the activity on the ‘Labour Left’ (not that anyone’s really paying any attention, but they’re a pain in the arse for organisers).

    Anyway, their opportunistic vanguardism is doomed. The possibility of a group of self styled ‘radical’ intellectuals exploiting popular movements to sieze state power and subsequently using that power to herd people into a society of their choosing is now non-existent

    Popular movements, by definition, are spontaneous, libertarian and decentralised. The entire analytical corpus of the SWP is simply a belated attempt to fuse a discredited narrative with contemporary reality.

    And like all attempts to impose a doctrinal or dogmatic system onto natural complexity, it’s doomed to failure. Hence the constant dynamic of splits, purges, doctrinal reinforcement, etc.

  128. Lord of the Rings on said:

    The SWP has interests that are seperate and opposed to those of the working class movement in general. Somewhere along the line the means became for more important than the ends. David T on the other hand is an absolute enemy of the working class. However superior he feels he is no more than a puppet and a glove one at that.

  129. anticapitalista on said:

    #162 what are you taking about?
    You are the one ‘covering up’ by pretending you know something but at the same time you don’t know.
    So what is it?
    If you know … tell all.
    If you don’t, then cut the gossip.

  130. Karen Elliot on said:

    I’m increasingly convinced that what’s needed in the SWP in the short term is;

    1) a properly constituted democracy commission to make recommendations to a recall conference. This will attempt to develop new structures and initiatives to encourage a culture of debate and accountability which nevertheless preserve the ability of the SWP to act as a combat organisation capable of resolute decision making.
    2) the removal of John Rees not only from the CC but from all positions of responsibility in the party

    and, crucially;

    3) the removal of Lindsey German from the CC

    The latter is necessary to demonstrate that it isn’t merely a matter of placating the rank and file, using Rees’s high-handed behaviour as a pretext to remove him. Rees is as guilty as sin, but his sacrifice alone does won’t do the trick. Of the two of them, German is the senior CC member and she is every bit as implicated in the culture of deference and command which fuelled Rees. I refuse to believe that Rees has done anything without her complete support, and the two of them will continue to act in concert to pursue the utterly mistaken perspective defended publicly by Rees (yet another over-arching, one stop shop united front for the party to rally around fetishistically while he & German lead it.)

    Davidson presumably argued for deferring changes to the CC as an attempt to deny the rest of the CC the opportunity to quickly scapegoat Rees and thereby avoid a degree of scrutiny themselves. That position strikes me as foolish – not only as it would leave the CC less able to act decisively in the interim but because it would reinforce the perception that the leadership are for some reason incapable of acting decisively to address the real problem. Members are demoralised not because the SWP got this or that wrong but because they watched a stram of such mistakes being made, all the time wondering why the CC allowed them to continue without intervening.

    To leave Rees in place would create a CC which was both hamstrung and without credibility, but to remove him without also removing German would leave the membership convinced that the CC were only tinkering rather than cauterising the wound. Anything less than the removal of both from the CC will fail to convince wavering members that the CC are as serious as the situation demands. Essentially, leaving German on board will prove that the CC are not truly ready to break with the past.

  131. Karen: I think your proposals are a little too formal in spirit. If anything is to be saved from the SWP a faction needs to emerge on a political platform which, I would suggest, should include the perspective of repudiating the split with Respect and humbly seeking to rejoin on the basis of carrying out exemplary work within it and for it. It should also profess a commitment to turn towards updating and developing transitional politics and programmes. Only this kind of decisive proposal can demonstrate a genuine determination to break from the anti-political sectarianism of the past and put the organisation on a sound footing.

  132. red mole on said:

    #166 Couldn’t disagree more with Karen Elliott’s ultimatist demands.

    They assume that the differences in the CC can only be resolved through an all out power struggle. Such a power struggle, far from creating a stronger more united leadership, would further weaken the leadership, as there are no great philosophical differences between the two camps, so the CC majority can only prevail by dredging over past history in a self-serving fashion, excusing their own misjudgements and exaggerating the misjudgements of Rees and German.

    No, a line has to be drawn after Rees goes, to show that this is not the start of some purge. If Lindsey German leaves the CC it will be on her own accord and against the wishes of the CC majority. The emphasis will be on agreeing a common perspective around which both the CC and the wider party can unite.

    As for a recall conference, this would be premature. It will take time for a Commission to take soundings from within the party and to discuss and develop its ideas. If the Commission then want to arrange a recall conference, that should be a matter for them. The main point is, not to judge the Commission too soon before they’ve had time and opportunity to act.

  133. The `democracy’ commission will become the new slimmed down CC. The `real’ CC will be starved of resources as they are re-directed to the DC and the bureaucratic downsizing of the apparatus faction will have been achieved. Nothing, of course, will have been learned. Bureaucracies cannot learn.

  134. The protestations from Callinicos and Harman about democracy are just so much eyewash. They are part of a leadership that smeared other socialists as witch-hunters (I wonder if Mark Serwotka still believes that). They said Ken Loach was a confused old fool. They expelled people from their own organisation during the supposedly protected pre-conference period. And they have colluded in the bullying and intimidation of opponents for years.

    If they are going to have a reckoning, they should start with truth before moving on to democracy.

  135. Jenkins – I don’t see much chance of them acknowledging that they did anything wrong in forcing through a split in Respect. They all seem to agree that Rees was absolutely right over that one.

  136. Howard T on said:

    To be honest, I find much of this thread disgraceful and [DELETED BY EDITOR]

    I give no political support to the SWP and would frequently comnment on their political shortcomings, but would much rather engage sensibly with some of the ideas, for example those thrown up by Mike Rosen (#157) referring to how capitalism fails housing – I’d add to his points about how housing as a need has been privatised by Thatcher onwards and how that has made housing for the majority harder and how we have been entrapped by a mortgage system that is now showing how insecure we are.
    However, I also respect the right of the SWP to conduct themselves internally and hopefully democratically. If they are genuinely looking at their functioning, I hope they come out of it a healthier organisation, hopefully one that is less arrogant to the rest of the left.
    We have few resources on the left and the last thing we need is Healy’s WRP Mk II
    Good luck, comrades.

  137. Just in case you don’t pick it up on the other thread. Adrian Mitchell has died. Sad, sad news. Brother and father to hundreds of us. Great poet, great conscience, lovely bloke. Bad day.

  138. skidmarx on said:

    #171 ” Who is EdD?”

    According to Andy Newman,http://liammacuaid.wordpress.com/2008/11/13/a-strategic-vision-for-respect-nick-wrack-video/#comment-12667, he’s a determined supporter of Tony Blair.

    I saw someone suggest a few days ago that you had left the party. Given the red-baiting atmosphere here I’m reluctant to ask you if you are now or have ever been.

    #176 “I don’t see much chance of them acknowledging that they did anything wrong in forcing through a split in Respect. They all seem to agree that Rees was absolutely right over that one.”

    You made the split and now you lie in it.

    #174 Where was the democracy in the bureaucratic coup that won you the use of the name Respect ?

  139. I agree Nas that there is no chance of the leadership acknowledging they did anything wrong in forcing through a split in Respect but there may be some middle ranking and newer recruits who recognise that their narrative has fallen apart and who could form a faction on the basis of a repudiation of those ill deeds and preserve a goodly element of the cadre from demoralisation or further flogging.

  140. “To be honest, I find much of this thread disgraceful and [DELETED BY EDITOR].
    I give no political support to the SWP and would frequently comnment on their political shortcomings, but would much rather engage sensibly with some of the ideas, for example those thrown up by Mike Rosen (#157) referring to how capitalism fails housing..”

    Could not agree more this blog is a absolute disgrace
    The bald facts are that a lot of the people writing here are not socialists and have no interest in socialist or any other kind of unity
    Very depressing no wonder the left is so small and insignificant even the BNP are more active and successful.

    Adrian Mitchell

    When man first flew beyond the sky
    He looked back into the world’s blue eye.
    Man said: What makes your eye so blue?
    Earth said: The tears in the ocean do.
    Why are the seas so full of tears?
    Because I’ve wept so many thousand years.
    Why do you weep as you dance through space?
    Because I am the mother of the human race.

  141. Karen’s proposals far from being ultimatist are way too weak.
    Chris Harman’s document is a defence of the status quo. It unintentionally establishes the limits of any “democracy” commission. It will leave in place; the CC, the party council, the pre-conference limit on tendency/faction rights, the full time apparatus

    in other words the entire bureaucratic structure which ensures the unlimited rule of the Harman and his coterie. It will discuss how “workers” will have to change to develop their participation within this unchanged structure. In other words it blames the victims for the problem.
    Serious change can only be developed through a thoroughgoing political/fractional struggle, building on Molyneux’s and Davidson’s documents, it needs to develop an understanding of globalisation and imperialism in the current period, how the SWPs flawed understanding of this has paved the way to their political mistakes and a complete uprooting of the entire bureaucratic structure, in my view that means losing all full timers and establishing a structure lead from below.

  142. “The bald facts are that a lot of the people writing here are not socialists and have no interest in socialist or any other kind of unity”

    It’s saved Andy’s blog stats for this month and that’s what counts on SU. Note the poor response to virtually every other topic apart from those about the SWP. It just confirms your comment that most of those posting are not socialists and have no intention of unity. This would be depressing if SU in any way represented wider opinion on the left. Fortunately SU is predominately limited to a band of warring brothers on the sectarian left.

  143. Jenkins on said:

    Billj: a decent faction cannot be built on the basis of Molyneux or Davidson’s apolitical apologias and what on earth is `a structure lead from below’ (apart from rhetoric)?

    An organisation may need some machinery but the point is to keep it subordinate to the interests of the organisation.

    The best hope is for a pro-Respect faction amongst `middle-ranking’ and newer members sceptical of the leadership’s tattered split narrative to emerge and either fight for leadership or fight its way out.

  144. @ 183. Sound like a recipe for the tiny and irrelevant organisation you belong to billj. The number of splits you’ve been involved in doesn’t give confidence that building a democratic organisation is your forte. But far be it from me to comment on the internal workings of an organisation that I’m not even a member of and have not contributed to its development.

    Democracy develops through actively engaging in its development not sitting on the outside throwing brickbats. Let’s put your comments in context and not forget your hostility to all things SWP. So it’s unlikely that you, Karen and the other sectarians have our best interests at heart.

  145. skidmarx on said:

    “The best hope is for a pro-Respect faction amongst `middle-ranking’ and newer members sceptical of the leadership’s tattered split narrative to emerge and either fight for leadership or fight its way out.”

    Christ, how far are you going to descend into fantasy? To think that a layer of comrades is going to emerge that think that those who stole the Respect name and have spent the last year or more consistently denigrating the SWP were only trying to do it a favour by releasing from the Rees/German yoke and were right all along is a delusion on a space hopper.

    I was looking today at a thread from the end of last year where Neil Williams said that the Respect Renewal conference was going to attract a much wider layer than the old Respect. I wonder quite when the reality that you’ve shat in your own house and made it unliveable will set in.

  146. I have only just dipped in here, and I see that late last night david Ruane made some strong allegations against a leading member of a left organisation.

    “trial by blog” against individuals is clearly inappropriate, so i have deleted the comments from him.

  147. Jenkins on said:

    I certainly don’t have your best interests at heart. The sooner the SWP disappears off the face of the planet at least in its current form the better. If something can be saved good. I have said how I think it might. Your divide and rule tactics from below are destroying left unity and hindering the emergence of a genuine revolutionary socialist leadership.

  148. “I certainly don’t have your best interests at heart. The sooner the SWP disappears off the face of the planet at least in its current form the better. If something can be saved good. I have said how I think it might. Your divide and rule tactics from below are destroying left unity and hindering the emergence of a genuine revolutionary socialist leadership.”

    That’s right, let’s celebrate pluralism and democracy by eliminating socialists we disagree with instead of working with them to build unity. And you think the SWP is the problem…

    I’m really pleased that you’re not at the helm of any organisation let alone a socialist one. Your sectarian attitude would destroy any chance of unity as did Galloway and RR.

  149. Jenkins on said:

    `That’s right, let’s celebrate pluralism and democracy by eliminating socialists we disagree with instead of working with them to build unity. And you think the SWP is the problem…’

    I prefer to think of it as liberating rather than eliminating. In any case, it’s not me doing the factionalising in the SWP but Rees, Harman, Molyneux, Daveson and co. Indeed, just because I don’t like the SWP doesn’t mean I wouldn’t work with them so I’m not sectarian. What is your opinion of the Labour party for instance? Truly sectarian I’ll wager. You probably wouldn’t even support it beating the Tories in the next general election.

  150. Jenkins your last remark about supporting the Tories needs to be put into context. Lots of working class people supported Thatcher and the Tories. 10 of new Labour, the Iraq war etc means that many will not be putting their x for NL. I certainly will not be supporting NL – I will not be supporting the Tories either.

    I would much rather see NL implode than SWP but the latter are doing a good job themselves. As a previous poster said look at the original GG letter. It was quite tame but Rees et al go nuclear. They were then a sad bunch and it is tragic that the SWP cannot acknowledge that they were largely responsible for the Respect split. Unless they can do this, whatever emerges will be small and ineffective.

  151. “The sooner the SWP disappears off the face of the planet…”

    Yes, very fraternal. Unless socialists do as you say and follow your agenda then they must disappear. That’s the kind of language Stalinist’s use.

    “What is your opinion of the Labour party for instance?”

    But you know so much about the SWP surely you know that we invite Labour left MP’s to our public meetings. Or is it the case you’re spouting off about what you know nothing about?

    “You probably wouldn’t even support it beating the Tories in the next general election.”

    If you mean we should remain silent while Brown tries to privatise the postal service or when Livingstone defends murdering police officers in the deluded hope that after over 10 years of neo-liberal New Labour shitting on workers they will be re-elected then no the SWP won’t be acting as cheerleaders for Browns attacks on workers. Will you comrade?

    Hopefully there will be some kind of meaningful left opposition to Labour come the next election. Some in Labour are working for that goal together with socialists outside Labour and that’s what left unity is all about instead of cow-towing to Brown and Co.

  152. Jenkins on said:

    Yes, the sects are the biggest obstacle to workers unity however that wouldn’t stop me concluding a limited agreement for practical ends with one of them simply to expose their untrustworthiness so I’m not sectarian.

    `If you mean we should remain silent …’

    You are such a dishonest crook in debat Ray. Wonder where you leanred that.

    And this …

    H`opefully there will be some kind of meaningful left opposition to Labour come the next election. Some in Labour are working for that goal together with socialists outside Labour and that’s what left unity is all about instead of cow-towing to Brown and Co.’

    is just downright amusing given the efforts of the SWP to try to wreck Respect.

  153. Further to my deletion of comments that i explained in #186.

    I have also partially deleted the content of a comment by Howard T at #175 and #180 that expressed judgement on the same alegations.

  154. Adrian Mitchell has died. Sad, sad news.

    Amen to that. Probably the most important (as well as the saddest) thing anyone’s said on this thread.

  155. Harrods on said:

    As someone who rejoined the SWP 6 months ago after a long period helping to run a Respect branch in London (and I’m far from the only ex-member to have rejoined in the past 12 months); it’s depressing to see how little the discussion above relates to the experiences I’ve had back in the party since I rejoined.

    My local SWP group has grown a little in the past six months; it’s had some ok meetings and some very good paper sales. A number of the branch members have led or been party of impressive things, but generally outwith the branch structures; so people have tried to lead disputes in their workplaces, and in one case ran a good campaign around charges on their estate – the sorts of bread and butter things that make being a socialist worthwhile and pass below the radar here. On the other hand, growth has been slow; the atmosphere has been friendly rather than electric.

    My sense of why there is suddenly a crisis at the top of the SWP is only very slightly to do with the Respect split. It’s much more to do with the fact that capitalism has gone into a sharp crisis – amongst other things an ideological crisis – and yet the party shows no immediate signs of either (a) developing practical ways to encourage resistance in this changed context, or (b) recruiting a new layer of members.

    (Incidentally, there are new people joining in the colleges – one underacknowledged fact is that the SWP has had two very good years of recruiting in some universities – in contrast to much of the past decade. But crucially, while many of those new members have done good things in the universities, and a number are writing for SWP publications, or have even been lifted into the party leadership – there has been no corresponding drive out in the branches).

    To Jenkins and any others who think that the SWP members can be saved only be renouncing our politics and defecting en masse to Respect Renewal – I find the idea about as attractive as you would find it if I invited you to parade around London with a sandwich board saying “Galloway is a rubbish constituency MP and it’s a shame he doesn’t do anything useful in parliament either” – we could try trading insults back and forward, but it doesn’t get things very far…

    Mike Rosen’s points are interesting and relate to the question Neil Davidson posed at the start of his contribution – why hasn’t the SWP grown faster in the past 30 years? There’s actually a pretty decent stab at an answer in Chris Harman’s piece in the paragraph starting “If things were not so bad”.

    For anyone daft enough to read to the end of this exchange who is not a member or an ex-member of the SWP one of the odd things our tradition adopted with Cliff’s Lenin 1 was a belief that political moments could be divided absolutely into the good and the bad (with nothing in between) – the idea being that almost entirely different organisational models applied to each. Hence when John Rees portrays the present moment as one that is basically a moment of opportunity to socialists, and Chris takes the opposite line – this is quite a clue to some of what the row is about. (And why it is for example that a number of SWP members support John Rees’ document – I disagree with them, but I recognise taht they’re serious about SWP politics, and even Splintered Sunrise has been giving Rees a tentative thumbs up).

    The point about perspectives is also a sign that a democracy commission may well NOT advocate the maintenance of party councils, CCs, NCs, etc – it’s pretty clear to me from Chris’s piece that he accepts that the structures are part of the problem.

    Of the people who’ve posted on all the SU boards, the one I have most sympathy for is Karen, even though I disagreed with her group at the time of the expulsions (I mean I disagreed with them – I don’t mean that I supported the decision to have them excluded). I see this as a split operating along two axes:

    People who want to reduce the important of the full-time structure versus people who want to increase it (imagine a spectrum of positions, running North to South); and

    People who want the SWP to try to conjour up some sort of united front against the recession against people who think it would be impossible to do so (imagine another line running East to West).

    Again, when reading the various pieces, the one line which made me burst out laughing in acknowledgment of a truth was John Molyneux’s remark (I forget his exact words, but expressing scepticism of the idea of a “Stop the War” against the crisis): who are we supposed to be working with in this united front? Right now: who would want to work with us and what would they bring?

    Sorry to end up sounding like some dreadful hack but I’m enjoying being part of a party where these positions are contested, and I hope that after conference, we have a clearer, united organisation, which is better at relating to the 99.99999999999% of humanity that isn’t yet convinced that even Tendency Coatesy has it right. For those of who you who don’t just do politics online, do think of giving the party in your area a visit – it’s quite exciting just now…

  156. Jenkins on said:

    `People who want to reduce the importance of the full-time structure versus people who want to increase it (imagine a spectrum of positions, running North to South);’

    You’ve almost understood what it’s about Harrods. It’s actually about who in the leadership is going to lose out to the downsizing of the CC necessitated by the SWP’s running out of cash and members (your own rejoining excepted of course). And yes, you do sound like a hack.

  157. For a long time the SWP has been utterly dominant on the British left, not only in terms of its numbers but ideologically.
    That is no longer the case.
    The split with Respect Renewal cost it much of its latent support, the people who could be wheeled out when necessary to ensure its victory in any votes. They’ve all gone.
    In addition it lost much of its more dynamic local cadres.
    Its united fronts, STWC, UAF etc. are shadows of their former selves.
    What’s left is the bureaucracy, the officials ensure that their role is protected, who are busy protecting themselves by offering up Rees, German and Nineham as fall guys, and constructing a commission to buy off their opponents until they can be got rid of as well, and an ideology which has failed, based on the theory of state capitalism and capitalist decline. The SWP’s haughty high handed and frankly dishonest manners now mean they are very discredited and isolated on the left.
    If the opposition are to mount a serious fight they need to address all of these points;
    They need to propose a structure which breaks the power of the bureaucracy and Central committee, a minimum for that in my view is the sacking of all full time officials, the right to speak openly about differences inside and outside the organisation, plus guaranteed rights for minorities and so on.
    Secondly they need to address the political reasons for their failings. And these are not principally around the failure, albeit catastrophic, of the Respect tatic, but the underlying ideological weakness which lead to it. That means a wholesale re-examination of their understanding of Stalinism and the impact of the restoration of capitalism in the former centrally planned economies on world capitalism.
    Many of these mistakes are common to the British left as a whole, and form part of the tradition of Trotskyism since World War II. They should open up the whole debate to the left, so we can re-look at the top down, bureaucratic hierarchical structure of the left, and how to abandon it and how we can pool our resources to address these theoretical questions and work together to rebuild class organisations, in the unions and campaigns which is so sorely needed.

  158. Oh and a last point for Ray, splits are part of politics as you’re about to discover. And they are by no means necessarily bad.

  159. Adamski on said:

    But it is ironic that Permanent Revolution split Workers Power on the basis that capitalism was stabilising itself, no?

  160. Well life’s full of irony isn’t it?
    The problem we faced was that the left, based on a theory best described by Robert Brenner, believed that capitalism was stagnant throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
    They asserted that the restoration of capitalism in the former Stalinist centrally planned states had had no effect on the mode of production. And that globalisation was basically a myth.
    We demonstrated that none of this was empirically true and that as a result of capitalist restoration, when combined with the defeats of the working class in the major imperialist nations that profit rates had been restored and that capitalism had been through a period of renewed dynamism.
    Certainly, the scale of the credit crunch was not anticipated by us. In that respect we were no different to the rest of the left, except that as they, and Workers Power are a really good example of this, insisted that capitalism was always stagnant and in crisis. when it actually entered crisis, they appeared more rational than is typically the case.
    That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
    The point is though, is simply insisting that things are always terrible really the Marxist method? Was the boom period of 2003-2007 really exactly the same as the crisis period now? Will the world still be in crisis when it no longer is, whenever that may be?
    Of course if you’re Chris Harman, or Workers Power, or the SP then it will, as that’s the best of way of winning gullibel recruits.
    In my view though, that is not the best way. Its better in fact to change your analysis, so that when there’s a boom, they you can say there’s a boom, when there’s a slowing you can say there’s a slowing and when there’s a recession you can say there’s a recession.
    As indeed we have.
    But what’s more as well as developing an analysis of the economy which actually changes, as it changes, we need to critically rexamine the structures and methods of working of the left, which are common to post war Trotskyism, and bin those bits that get in the way of progress.
    At present given the dominance of bureaucratic, hierarchical groups a priority needs to be reasserting democracy and by that I don’t mean tweaking things to make the centralism a bit more democratic. I mean blowing up the hierarchy and replacing it with something entirely different.

  161. #195 – you’re far from the only lapsed member to have rejoined, are you? German was claiming that at the start of this year. But Rees now says that he can’t be sure of the party’s size because Martin Smith’s apparatus hasn’t won’t say how many people have left.

    On your estimation, KrisS or whoever you are, what’s your guess at the net growth of the SWP over the last year?

  162. yep – Bill J, the SWP have to turn themselves into Permanent Revolution, then they’ll be… er, successful!?

  163. Harrods wrote “Of the people who’ve posted on all the SU boards, the one I have most sympathy for is Karen, even though I disagreed with her group at the time of the expulsions.”

    Sympathy for Karen or the positions and analysis put forward by Karen? I would suggest that to some considerable degree the analysis of the Andy Wilson group was actually taken from the analysis of the IS Opposition that was expelled back in the 1970s. In fact it is wellworth tracking those documents down – no point fighting those factional battles again – as they still have much to say that is relevant to the SWP today. The democratic deficit in the group, as was pointed out to me recently by a leading member of the larger Australian IS group, goes back to that period. Predating, in fact, the expulsion of the ISO.

    Harrods again “Sorry to end up sounding like some dreadful hack but I’m enjoying being part of a party where these positions are contested, and I hope that after conference, we have a clearer, united organisation.”

    You are totally right in wanting to move forward qwith a united leadership on a shared perspective. As long as the moves towards internal democracy are concretised and regular balance sheets are taken in the future. Whih means, I would suggest, that there is still some way to go in reforming the group.

  164. Temporary Evolution on said:

    I always enjoy Billj’s comical accounts to explain that his grouplet, founded on a denial that capitalism was soon to enter crisis and on the claim that everybody else on the left was a catastrophist, was at some profound possibly even dialectical level right even though pesky stubborn facts have had the cheek to disagree with them.

    It’s more enjoyable still when he accompanies this gibberish with calls for “critical reexamination” of various sacred cows of the left groups. Why don’t you run along Billj and get busy with reexamining the nonsense your group has been talking since the first tedious issue of its magazine? Then you can come back, arrogance no doubt still intact, to tell us all why everyone else is wrong and we really need to listen to the startling insights of Permanent Revolution all over again. But this time you might spoil us all by actually providing us with the startling insights rather than the bilge you’ve been spewing for the last couple of years.

    You might also do us the favour of taking the couple of your sidekicks who post the same interminable rubbish in every post here with you.

  165. #201 – Sorry, no idea why you might think that was me in #195. Just to be clear, it wasn’t. I’m not a lapser – I would call myself an ex-member who has recently (2 weeks ago) re-joined.

  166. Harrods on said:

    Nas, I don’t know whether the SWP as a whole has grown in the last 12 months’, still less would I be willing to give an overall figure.

    But some pointers: I seem to remember people who follow these things closer than I do saying that the membership declared in IB#1 is about 700 lower than the equivalent membership last year.

    In my own branch – and speaking to people in other branches – the sense I have is of a slightly larger and slightly more active organisation. Certainly in my patch, 12 months ago, the SWP was struggling to meet, and to have a regular sale (although it did both occasionally). Both of those problems were solved 6-9 months ago, and there’s now the sort of healthy routine which enables you to grow.

    And it is true that people do sometimes cancel subs to a group without intending to leave. I recently because the treasuer of a professional association open to people working in a given job – I won’t mention the name because it would enable readers to identify me – we thought we had 750 members – but when I checked this against our bank statements – only about 250 (including less than 1/3 of our executive) were actually paying subs. We’ve sent out 500 “pay up letters” and have had a whole lot of apologetic responses back…

    Returning to the SWP, my hunch is that a “paper” decline in membership may actually be a sign that we’re reducing the period during which members are counted as such – eg after they’ve stopped paying subs. I remember in the Labour Party c 1990 it took about 2 years from cancelling the standing order to stop receiving emails and dropping off the membership figures. In the NUJ which I left recently on changing jobs it’s pretty similar. My sense is that in the present day SWP it’s either 12 or 6 months.

    I have a feeling that people at the centre are beginning to realise the importance of accountability in these things – hence the frequent criticisms in all the IB articles that have been posted up here (well, with the possible exception of John Rees’) of the hothouse atmosphere of the late 90s and early 00s, the tendency to find bureaucratic solutions to poltical problems, the tendency to use full-timers in place of branches, etc etc.

    Another small sign of the changing attitude is the fact that we do now publish membership figures and figures for SW annually; I wasn’t a member 3 years ago, but I don’t recall us doing that in the 1990s or early 2000s.

    Meanwhile the IB articles not posted by Andy name a number of areas where branches have been set up for the first time in a while in the last 12 months.

    As for whether other old members have rejoined – there are 2 of us in my own branch, and selling SW during a session at Marxism, I recognised at least another 3 people on my shift in the same position from different SWP branches in London.

    My guess is that the “old members specifically leaving the party because of the Respect split” outnumbered the “old members specifically rejoining because of the Respect split” by about 1.5 or 2 to one (at a real guess I’d say about 50 leavers versus 30 or so joiners across the party as a whole) – so on neither side was it really a very large number of people.

    The overall picture of membership and activity is mixed. John Rees in his IB article suggests that around 600-1000 people attended aggregates to elect people to conference. But I haven’t been to an SWP aggregate for years, and quite a number of other active members are in the same camp.

    It takes me about an hour to get to party aggregates (because we group branches together for them, chances are the aggregate won’t be in ,y particualr areas), plus I have cold memories of a period 10 years ago where if you showed up you were almost guaranteed to get bounced into doing some job – the atmosphere in the branches is changed utterly, but I’m still a bit wary of the aggregates.

    Remember that by and large this year’s all took place before these articles appeared – even the first important one by Neil Davidson. I suspect the turnout would be much higher if a new set of aggregates were held tomorrow. (That I imagine is one reason why one of the demands of Neil and his allies is for an extention of the conference period).

    The point I was making in my original post was to explain why the row is happening now – the immediate prospect in the swp is regroupment and perhaps modest advance – against the scale of the crisis of capitalism, many members don’t find that a very impressive prospect, and we want to be able to report something better.

    Mike – thanks also for yours – I have sympathy for Karen personally and for her analysis of the current row. (But I don’t believe in calling for Lindsey’s removal; Lindsey is our best known member and did a brilliant job in the penultimate London elections, she has also been an inspiration at the head of Stop the War. While John Rees can certainly be criticised for playing a good hand badly at the time of the Respect split – there’s no similar criticism of Lindsey).

    I saw your exchange with her about IS traditions – its interesting to contrast both of your perspectives to John Rees’s fears of an SWP which is a little less Leninist and a little more like the old IS …

  167. What does a socialist organisation need?
    1. It needs many active members
    2. It needs branches sufficiently small so that everyone can participate, sufficiently big so that people feel there is momentum
    3 It needs a structure that hears what the branches have to say
    4. It needs a leadership structure that is made up of people who the branches can withdraw (vote out)easily and within a fairly small time frame (once a year?)
    5. The leadership needs to be able to respond to events very quickly.
    6. It needs people who can think, analyse, plan, write, speak in public.
    7. It needs various kinds of journals to suit different purposes
    8. It needs ways of relating to people not in the organisation but might sympathise with some of its aims.
    9. It needs to find ways of participating in other umbrella organisations of whatever kind.

    When I read here things about how the SWP has got to be smashed, or that the leadership has got to disappear etc etc, I think it’s incumbent on such people to pose their blueprints for the idea/perfect/better organisation than the one(s) that exist. Perhaps democratic centralism is crap? Is it? What’s better? I’d be really interested to read what would do the job better.

  168. Jenkins on said:

    `I have a feeling that people at the centre are beginning to realise the importance of accountability in these things – hence the frequent criticisms in all the IB articles that have been posted up here (well, with the possible exception of John Rees’)…’

    Your little tribute to the new, open SWP falls down here. It is Rees who is about to be expelled or broken to the ranks for carrying out a policy of building and then destroying Respect agreed by the entire CC. If that isn’t bureaucratic then what is? I take it you’ve rejoined just for the pleasure of voting for his expulsion and then you’ll drop out again.

  169. Adamski on said:

    Things fall apart
    the centre cannot hold
    mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
    the best lack all conviction
    while the worst are full of passionate intensity
    surely some revelation is at hand?

  170. Harrods on said:

    Jenkins, the word I used was “accountability”, by which I mean the accountability of the members of the party to each other, and the accountability of the party outside its ranks. I can’t see how removing Rees (if the vote is confirmed by conference, and I do anticipate a large minority voting against) would be anything other than an example of accountability – he handled the row with Galloway badly, losing the party allies that we should never have lost, because we represented something better than George – and it’s only right therefore to demote him.

    One of the people I’ve known for years and trusted most in the party was a CC member who came off in the 1980s. It was horrible for him that that happened, but it’s got to be better that that happens than to have people chosen for life.

    (And just for info, I believe exactly half of the current cc has been on for less than five years – so turnover is built into the system).

    It’s not bureaucratic to have change in your leadership, it’s about challenging an emerging culture of bureacuracy.

    And as for your charge “you’ll drop out again” – I’ve been a member of the SWP at various times over the past 20 years. I once made a list of all the people I’d recruited to the party in that time, and it was certainly over 50 people (3 went on to be full-timers). I’ve also had anguished conversations with about similar numbers of people leaving. Like a number of people who post here (and a number of them are ex-members) the party’s in my blood. That’s one reason why I’ve enjoyed being back.

  171. “You are such a dishonest crook in debat Ray. Wonder where you leanred that.”

    Is that the level of your political debate Jenkins? How about addressing the question I asked about your level of support for New Labour? Where do you stand on this or haven’t you formulated your political approach to New Labour yet?

    Based on his words, Respect (Renewal) under Galloway’s control have a consistent policy of calling for a vote for New Labour where socialists are standing except when RR stands its own candidates. And then ironically claiming that any left opposition to New Labour other than themselves are sectarian. Do you endorse this policy?

    It’s quite clear where I and the SWP stand in relation to the rest of the left. We have made every effort to build unity and continue to do so. Our public meetings where the Labour left among other non-SWPers are invited speak continue in this tradition. The problem is, Jenkins, you really can’t stomach revolutionary socialists who have politics that differ from your own especially if working with them means some form of compromise.

    When it came to whether Respect moved further to the left and orientated itself towards the workplace instead of the electoral arena Galloway became uncomfortable. It wasn’t his sphere of influence. Nor did he want to upset some of his allies who were uncomfortable about funding campaigns that addressed LGBT’s. This is ironic considering LGBT’s make up the largest electoral minority in society and fit into the remit of what R.E.S.P.E.C.T. originally stood for.

    The left as a whole is in the process of trying to build opposition to Browns attacks on wages, job losses and cuts in services. It’s quite obvious that Galloway is out of his depth and has few links with the workplace. Unlike the small but growing intervention of the SWP, SP and others on the left.

    While no one could predict the recession it was absolutely correct for the SWP and others in Respect to try to develop a workplace strategy and build opposition to Brown in the workplace rather than relying on electoralism as Galloway and RR have done. Galloway’s attack on the revolutionary left in Respect who contradicted him led to the split. It’s evident that the over-reliance on electoralism has led to the withering of RR and it’s confusion in how to orientate itself concerning the workplace.

    Regardless of the claims of the few revolutionary socialists still left in RR (who have taken part in the the attack on the SWP) that they are building a pluralistic and democratic Respect without the SWP (which they claim didn’t exist while we were involved.) It’s quite evident that their voices constitute very little in terms of RR’s (I’m being generous here) political strategy which is really manipulated by Galloway. That’s why few in the Labour left take RR seriously and why they are willing to continue to work with the SWP organising public meetings about how the left should tackle Browns attacks.

    So when you claim , Jenkins, that the SWP are a sect and undemocratic perhaps you will explain why the Labour left continue to work with us and ignore you are your mates in RR?

  172. Jenkins on said:

    Imagine having to put up with the kind of mindless hectoring people like Ray dish out every day of your life. Not to mention the whole self-delusion thing he’s got going on there and the way he simply makes things up. Depressing.

  173. Harrods #207 “I saw your exchange with her about IS traditions – its interesting to contrast both of your perspectives to John Rees’s fears of an SWP which is a little less Leninist and a little more like the old IS.”

    It’s worth recalling that the IS circa 1973 had a real toehold in the working class. That is to say it had a small layer of militants who could move events forward in the workplaces something the SWP has never been able to truly claim. None of the other groups ever had such a toehold with the partial exception of the SLL.

    Now the nature of the class has changed considerably since that time and the far left has a greater implantation, for what little its worth, in the union execs. But can they move events in the direction we would want as advocates of socialis from below?

    That is the question the SWP must grapple with once Rees has been removed. And I must say I think some other members of the leadrrship are not in favour of a strategy that would prioritise an orientation to the rank and file. But no names no pack drill as my old Dad said.

    Despite the absurd ideas held by Rees about the old IS I would argue that it was more Leninist than the present day SWP. Especially prior to the foolish banning of so called permanent factions following the expulsion of Matgamnas sect followers. Zinooviev not Lenin is the inspiration for the structural form of the SWP. Its a common deformation amongst so called Leninists. Despite favourable reviews of Lars Lihs book many of the leading elements seem intent on sticking closely to the Zinoviev model.

    Damn I need a drink!

  174. Oh, and lest we forget when the SWP and other socialists in Respect tried to debate with Galloway and address his concerns in keeping with the pluralist and democratic process. His response was to walk out and set up his own conference. So much for him following the democratic process and valuing plurality in Respect.

    The same pattern developed at Respects recent poorly attended conference where, at last, some form of democracy was introduced. Based on the attack on the ISG by Galloway’s mouthpiece, Andy Newman, on Liam Mac Uids blog and the desire of the ISG and other socialists in RR to have their own faction it seems that plurality and democracy aren’t welcomed when this involves revolutionary socialists influencing Respects political strategy. Considering that the socialists left in RR have a history of splitting into smaller and smaller sects and being sectarian towards other revolutionaries and it’s only a matter of time before this boils over into all out war within RR.

    Without the SWP Respect is disintegrating and without the SWP unity on the left will fail to develop. That may stick on your craw, Jenkins, but come to terms with it quickly and drop the sectarian hostility if you really do want left unity.

  175. “Imagine having to put up with the kind of mindless hectoring people like Ray dish out every day of your life. Not to mention the whole self-delusion thing he’s got going on there and the way he simply makes things up. Depressing.”

    A response worthy of someone who appears to have nothing to contribute to the debate about left unity and dismisses anyone who does. And you’re lecturing the SWP on political strategy, plurality and democracy.


  176. I’m not lecturing the SWP on anything. I leave the lecturing to you. But debating you is the height of tedium as you seem to think endless repeating of lies is political engagement.

  177. You’ve made up an entire narrative about me being a New Labour supporter on the basis of the few comments on this thread so why would anybody believe the fantasy you’ve made up about events in Respect?

  178. gobsmacked on said:

    #215 Ray maintains the ignoble tradition of his numpty leadership in repeating the lies they have been pumping out in self-justifcation for the last year. Despite Goebbels, repeating a lie does not, however, make it any more true.

    The SWP leadership, as their numerous documents recently demonstrate, were not interested in a democratic debate. They fantasised they were in a life and death struggle with Wee George and that’s why Rees, backed up 120% by the same SWP leadership who now seek to cut off his legs and head, made sure the conference that Galloway was invited to debate his differences at was packed with SWP supporters, including numerous students who had not paid their Respect subs and were being delegated from phantom branches.

    Ray must think the rest of us have the same collective amnesia that has been so prevalent in the SWP over the past few years. Anyway, the latest “internal” bulletin, now conveniently out in pdf and circulating broadly, has some breath-taking stuff not yet seen on this blog from Lindsey German and Alex Callinicos. IMHO, neither side deserves the smallest amount of sympathy or support.

    Callinicos all but admits that Rees and German ran a dictatorship inside the SWP leadership from the mid-90s onwards. Professor Snotty however was far too pusillanimous to do anything about it. Everyone close to the SWP centre knew that no-one dared cross Rees or German or the ignorant thug Bambery or they would be subject to a whispering campaign and an early departure from any kind of leadership position. Callinicos constantly justifed his abject cowardice on the basis that the CC just could not afford to lose German in any faction fight.

    Meantime German has the barefaced cheek to suggest that she and Rees have lately been victims of gossip and a smear campaign. What a laugh given this is what she and Rees have specialised in over the years.

    I daresay there has been a modest revival of the moribund SWP branches, as Harrods suggests #195, given the intense level of soul-searching now going on amongst SWP members in the face of what all sides oddly seem to be calling the Respect Crisis.

    But there is no hope for the SWP surviving as a serious contributor to the left for as long as the different factions of the leadership continue to lie and lie again about the events of the past three years or so. The SWP will remain broadly discredited and deservedly so, especially with gut-wrenchingly sectarian tossers like Ray and ll making up their “cadre”.

  179. End of an era on said:

    Ray is a fantasist. Sadly he appears to have appointed himself the SWP’s mouthpiece on this blog along with ll/jj/untruth/alf.

    Isn’t about time that some kindly members took them aside and had a quiet word. If you want to think of a reason why the SWP lost the ‘middle ground’ during the Respect split you need look no further than the posts from these two. Back in 2007 they were simply repeating John Rees’ lies – but why they persist in them still is a mystery.

  180. “I’m not lecturing the SWP on anything.”

    Not ‘arf! Never mind the SWP re-writing the Respect split you can’t even remain consistent in this thread.

    “You’ve made up an entire narrative about me being a New Labour supporter on the basis of the few comments on this thread so why would anybody believe the fantasy you’ve made up about events in Respect?”

    But you asked me:

    “What is your opinion of the Labour party for instance? Truly sectarian I’ll wager. You probably wouldn’t even support it beating the Tories in the next general election.”

    In response to your accusation I explained my position on New Labour. I’ve asked you repeatedly to explain yours in the interest of debate which you refuse to engage in.

    # 221 “Despite Goebbels, repeating a lie does not, however, make it any more true.”

    You see, this is the type of nasty metaphor that makes you look silly and why few on the left take you seriously. Alluding to nazi’s while discussing the SWP is a low tactic but not uncharacteristic of some desperate to malign the SWP on this blog.

    “The SWP will remain broadly discredited and deservedly so, especially with gut-wrenchingly sectarian tossers like Ray and ll making up their “cadre”.”

    #222 “Ray is a fantasist. Sadly he appears to have appointed himself the SWP’s mouthpiece on this blog along with ll/jj/untruth/alf.”

    Perhaps it’s the fact that the Labour left are working with the SWP and not RR that make you both so venomous and bitter. It doesn’t really support your hypothesis that the SWP are out in the cold does it? Not to mention the work we are doing with others on the left in the workplace that has involved the occasional healthy political debate over strategy.

    What is Respect Renewal doing concerning unity apart from calling for a vote for New Labour at the expense of socialists standing in elections?

  181. gobsmacked on said:

    #223 Exactly which Labour Lefts are so keen to work with the SWP on which projects? Your CC, Ray, from both factions have made clear the much-vaunted Charter is dead in the water. So what else are you working tohgether on?

    But this is hardly the issue. The issue is lying. Lying to your members. Lying to your allies, former and present (if there are any). Lying to yourselves.

    The latest bulletin is very revealing in this respect. Callinicos reports that Rees, with German’s support and sympathy from Callinicos himself, discussed in late August 2007 and before they met with Galloway and Salma Yaqoob, Galloway’s mild criticisms of the way Respect was being run on the basis that “If you’re not with us (ie Rees and co), you’re against us.” Although Callinicos does not admit it, this was even before they had seen Galloway’s criticisms and probably even before he had written them.

    This was complete madness making a terminal crisis out of a little local disagreement. Callinicos goes on to say that he was “deeply unhappy” about things that happened in the 1990s and wanted democracy in the party strengthened. He does not specify what he was unhappy about and he certainly did not air his concerns to the wider membership, never mind take any steps to “strenghten party democracy”. In fact he was notorious for his own hectoring and bullying approach to dissent, something he used to full effect as he backed up the madness of St John over Galloway’s little squib.

    Callinicos ends by saying that it is scandalous, given the traditions of the SWP, that Rees did not resign long ago and it is entirely right he should be booted off the CC now. But he can say all of this and still repeat the nonsense about how the responsibiliy for the split in Respect was entirely Galloway’s and how Galloway, with his enormous power, brought the SWP to the brink of implosion, thereby requiring Callinicos to devote his full attention to the emergency in order to defend the party from imminent destruction.

    This is quite incredible self-delusion. So Galloway’s mild criticisms had nothing to do with Rees’s stewardship of Respect, his determined factionalism, ignorance and stupidity, culminating in the debacle of the Left List and the four departed councillors, all of which were the logical conclusion of those same traits that Callinicos and the majority are now so oppenly critical of and which were fully exercised over the period from 2005 to the split in 2007.

    Callinicos demonstrates how a supposed Marxist theoretician can maintain entirely contradictory positions in the same article and not blush.

    German’s pathetic attempt at a defence ends up insulting every possible ally as far as I can see. She announces that the SWP CC decided to swing left in 2006. The justification for this is couched in the terms that echo the Weekly Worker on the one hand and Respect’s New Labour’s enemies on the other – we had to counter communalism, etc.

    This again is just crap. There were no attempts, repeat no attempts, to change the policy positions of Respect by anybody from any wing of the party following the elections of May 2006. Not one councillor attempted to water down or alter the agreed positions. On the contrary, the councillors were desperately looking for direction that Rees and German failed to give them as they sought to factionalise and create a side.

    The only serious policy difference that emerged in Tower Hamlets was, as Rob Hoveman pointed out in the pre-conference bulletins last year, right wing objections from SWP member and now Tory councillor Ahmed Hussain to Abol Miah’s criticism of the appointment of a white male as the new chief executve on the council.

    German gives away the real reason for the “steer left” which had nothing to do with any dynamic inside Respect. She failed to get elected in 2004 and Rees in 2006 and therefore without the great helmsmen it followed that the dynamic had to be to go to the right, despite the complete absence of any evidence that it was.

    That “steer left”, which was kept secret from those who were at that time the SWP’s allies in Respect, ie Salma Yaqoob and George Galloway and, as far as I know, were never properly debated in the party, gave Rees and German all the pretext they needed to get a compliant Central Committee to explain Galloway’s exasperation at Rees’s total ineptitude as national secretary as an assault of the “right” on the “left” which culminated in the mythical “witch-hunt”.

    All of this was total fantasy. But it is also sadly a fantasy that seems common ground for all those in the SWP who have now gone into print to criticise Rees and German, which is why their criticisms are incoherent. But of course to admit otherwise would be to acknowledge what a bunch of complete wankers the entire Central Committee has been to have been led up the garden path by Rees and German for so long.

    You have to be a complete sectarian jerk like Ray to go along with this farce. Fortunately the rest of us can now just ignore these tossers. Oh, and take a little pleasure from the fact that Rees at least is now toast.

  182. doomed & gloomed on said:

    Looking at all this bickering, I remeber why I have left the field of ‘activist’ politics and being a ‘revolutionary’ socialist. Do you honestly think that this discussion is helping sharpen debates or pave a way forward for progressive action?
    p.s. I also still don’t understand how left groups seem to spend so much more time attacking each other than they do there opponents.

  183. Andy re : 193. I am glad that you have seen the light on this one. I for one am glad that you have had a change of heart about this kind of pointless gossip and innuendo.

  184. “Fortunately the rest of us can now just ignore these tossers.”

    Really? Your whole perspective is orientated around what is happening in the SWP.

    “Do you honestly think that this discussion is helping sharpen debates or pave a way forward for progressive action?”

    You’re right it isn’t helpful at all. It just feeds into the whole sectarian attitude on this blog. My apologies.

  185. David Toube:

    “Are you upset about the SWP being described by Ian Donovan as having a “anti-Muslim, semi-Matgamnaite political line “?

    Actually, I didn’t say any such thing. I said Chris Harman had such a line, which he evidently does. Chris Harman is just one trend within the SWP, the right-wing, tending to drift slowly away from the anti-imperialist principles and defence of the oppressed that led them to co-create Respect in the first place.

  186. *227

    Like I said I genuinely am glad you have stopped this as a method to attack others. ‘Allegations’ are just what they are, and as such have no place on this kind of forum.

  187. Dickie Ticker on said:

    Michael Rosen, what’s better than the oxymoronic ‘democratic centralism.’ Well, just straight democracy really. What’s wrong with recallable delegates, mandated to carry out policies collectively worked out and agreed upon?

    If the delegates don’t do what they’re told they can be recalled immediately by majority vote, and another representative gets elected.

    This should avoid the problem of a seperate caste of bureaucratic or academic ‘leaders’ developing.