Swp: Explaining the Paradox

The SWP has been a small but important part of political life in the UK for some decades; not least in the valuable role they played in launching the Stop the War Coalition. Their present behaviour will strike many as cultish, but this conflicts with the experience that many SWP members are well grounded and capable activists, who have good relationships with others outside their group, and play a constructive role in the labour and other progressive social movements. How can we explain the paradox? The SWP is not a cult, but sometimes behaves like one.

I think part of the problem of discussing cult like behaviour is that the language is so value laden. Some of this has been deliberate, for example, discussion of “thought reform” models in professional psychiatry in the 1950s was partially informed by the idea that unwilling converts could be inducted and converted to Communism. This cold war model unfortunately dominates the sensationalist outlook of “On the Edge, Political Cults Right and Left” by Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth; and can be summarized as a delegitimizing technique to isolate political radicals as “weird people who believe crazy stuff”

That is why professionals, sociologists, social-anthropologits, psychologists and psychiatrists prefer to use the value neutral terminology of New Religious Movements (NRM) with the confusing caveat that some NRMs are not religions!

Nor should we accept any necessary permanence or validity of the current organisation or ideology of mainstream society, just because it is mainstream.

Pattison and Ness in their paper “New Religious Movements in Perspective” refer to a useful definition of religion (and correspondingly to secular belief-oriented organizations).

“A religion is to be found where persons take it for granted that their own ethos corresponds to the meaning of the Cosmos” Applying this definition … we recognize three analytical dimensions: 1) the creation of an ethos , 2) a process of cosmization, and 3) the reification of ethos with cosmos.

The relationships between ideology, ethos and belief is complex. Some cults become the mainstream ideology of society, and recast social ethos in so doing. some organized belief systems act as mainstream religion in one part of the world, but act as a sect in other parts of the world (the difference in practice of the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Utah, compared to the practice of the same organisation in the Baptist dominated Southern USA is interesting)

Some taxonomy may help, where a mainstream religion or political movement to an extent posseses the virtue of verdicality (truth correspondence) between the belief groups ethos (their habitual character and behaviour), and their social cosmos ( the society they live in).

The language of sects and cults developed in mediaeval religious discourse, and has been adopted by ethnographers and sociologists, but it unnecessarily pejorative.

A sect may be regarded as a variant of the mainstream politcs or religion; and sect members may live in both the mainstream cosmos, and participate in the ethos of their group, depsite the fact that there is tension; and lack of verdicality. For example, someone who beleived themselves to be a Bolshevik revolutionary in twenty-first century Britain, could function effectively in most situations, but their political practice is orthogonal to the social and political institutions of our society, which will limit their political effectiveness outside of short term radical campaigns; and there will be a tension between their big ambitions and the groups limited achievements.

A cult seeks to resolve this lack of verdicality by limiting their interaction with mainstream society. This can be dramatic, such as the migration of the Pilgrim fathers to the Americas. Or it can be undramatic, where cult members simply immerse themselves more and more in the routine and ritual of their religious or political observance.

Now let us look at the very interesting testimony in comments on this blog from from Alan Gibbons, and Dave Harker, (and my own experience was very similar),.

Alan Gibbons:

 I joined the SWP in 1974. I left in the mid ninety nineties. I worked on Socialist Worker for a time. I was a member of the National Committee for many years. Most of the experience was positive. I was around at the start of the Right to Work Campaign, the Anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism. I can still look back with pride on those years. I was a shop steward in a factory in the north west when we broke the 10% pay freeze, winning our members a 16% pay rise. I was President of Knowsley NUT. The SWP taught me working class history and fired me with a conviction that women’s liberation, internationalism and anti racism were at the heart of the fight for socialism.

Over time I started to become disenchanted with some elements of the organisation’s practice. On a number of occasions I excused things I thought were inexcusable, but never anything like the alleged events that have emerged recently.

After being harried for some years as a ‘syndicalist’ and becoming the victim of some very underhand, unpleasant and dishonest behaviour I hung on because I subscribed to most of what the SWP was saying. It wasn’t exactly ‘my party right or wrong’, but it wasn’t far off. Eventually that became untenable and I quit. My resignation letter featured two issues: party democracy and unrealistic perspectives.

Like a lot of other exes, I did not stop being a socialist just because I left an organisation. I have a great affection for much of the party’s tradition and am close friends with many SWP members. I find myself looking on aghast at recent developments however. I am now an independent socialist and a prominent library and anti cuts campaigner. I am in a party of one and there are disagreements! I work with SWP members, Socialist Party members, Respect, Counterfire and Labour Party members and others, but mainly with people in no party, trade union and community activists and ordinary members of the public who want to save what is left of the public services.

Dave Harker

I joined IS in summer 1975, and hadn’t a clue what was going on, though I recall overhearing the Manchester full-timer telling some comrades to stop a cheque to Liverpool comrades for their books. (I later discovered that I joined in the middle of a massive faction fight and that Cliff’s faction managed to establish a regime based on a slate for electing a CC which guaranteed a self-perpetuating oligarchy.) I was never ambitious in IS or the SWP, and didn’t take the self-appointed hacks and parrots seriously, but I sold the paper, recruited a few members, tried (but failed) to build a branch at work and where I lived, built for the Right to Work Campaign and other SWP initiatives, organised buses to Anti Nazi League events in London, tried to organise the SWP contingent on Manchester Trades Council and built Miners’ Support Groups at work and in Buxton.

My only brief conversation with Cliff ended by him informing me that an idea I had had about retaining working-class members ‘wasn’t in the Leninist tradition’. In the 1990s I supplied Bookmarks with thousands of secondhand socialist books and I and another Manchester comrade built the biggest-ever SWP district bookstall. However, by 2000 my day job had made me ill, so I had to retire, and the SWP was going nowhere, locally and nationally, so I quietly walked away.

Around 2007 I attended a meeting of Manchester Trades Council. Afterwards, the SWP Secretary invited me to join the SWP District Committee, but I was not a member, had no intention of rejoining and could not take an unelected position. He was substituting for the delegates and SWP members at an Olympic standard, and looked absolutely knackered, so I felt sorry for him, and I suggested that he find a replacement. He chose a younger woman who had recently left the SWP. My union branch elected me as their delegate and she, myself and a few others got stuck in.
I intended going back to live in the NE, so in 2008 I helped to organise the unaligned North East Shop Stewards’ Network. Several NE veterans and I wrote ‘The Flying Pickets’, and the Des Warren Trust and I paid for it to be printed, but we let the SWP bookshop Bookmarks keep all the proceeds.

In 2009, NESSN suffered from an ‘absconding Treasurer’ – an ambitious young SPer – but after our Treasurer exposed this, leading SPers in London launched a vicious campaign against the elected NESSN Committee. We remained stubbornly unaligned, so Tyneside SP and SWP hacks formed a momentary united front and packed an ordinary NESSN meeting. They and several others had no elected union positions, and so no right to vote, and some were not even in the email network; but they all pretended that it was an AGM and tried to vote me out, because the Committee had declined to advertise their front organisations on http://www.nessn.org.uk  – our modestly successful website. However, we were re-elected at the next AGM and there are now almost 300 activists in NESSN. We have been central to organising Workers’ Memorial Day and other events, and we have revived County Durham TUC, along with a few unsectarian SWPers and SPers.

By 2010, several MTUC delegates, including ex-SWPers and SPers, were tired of income deriving from union members’ subs being used as a piggy bank for SWP front organisations, especially after a fellow-traveller asked us to give £100 to ‘Socialist Worker’ because it had ‘nothing to do with the SWP’. At the 2011 AGM, the hard-working ex-SWP woman comrade stood for President, but thirteen non-delegates and a few SWP delegates and fellow travellers among the 30 or so people present voted for the SWP fellow-traveller to carry on. It took the Treasurer – a Labour Party member – several months to find out what had happened, and he was also very concerned at the state of previous accounts. At the 2012 AGM, the SWP Secretary and one fellow-traveller ‘stood down’, and the former Treasurer and two ex-SWPers were elected as officers, but an SWP-led smear campaign against us began immediately. Last summer, when I took responsibility for running the MTUC website – http://www.manchestertuc.org  – I found yet another can of SWP worms, but the site is currently averaging 50,000 hits a month, and the ‘shtraggle’ continues.

Cliff’s mid-1970s books on Lenin virtually ignored the underground party workers who did all the hard work and took all the risks in Russia, and he was silent about the unprincipled methods that a few émigré Bolshevik intellectuals used in faction fights, yet the Bolsheviks’ ‘democratic centralism’ was far more democratic than that of the SWP CC from 1977 to 2013.

There are a number of very well grounded SWP members, who combine the basic politics of the organisation with a fairly active engagement in mainstream trade union and outwards looking campaigning activity. There is also, however, a bureaucratic core to the SWP, of the CC and full time organisers, and there is also a large layer of lay members of the SWP whose politics activity is all “party building” – paper sales, meetings, the contrived hot-house debates about theory, packing meetings of front organisations, etc.

Harker’s testimony suggests the operation of quite a complex social interaction of an immanent cult within a sect; and it is the tendency towards cultishness from the bureaucracy that creates the bullying culture, and the haughty arrogance of those whose authority is entirely self-referential from within the SWP. Richard Seymour, the SWP’s celebrity blogger confirms this insulation from outside society: “[the CC] can offer no lead to members beyond thrusting them out into that ‘real world’ they are all completely insulated from” (emphasis in the original)

Now prior to the Internet, SWP branches were not in contact with one another, and lots of dedicated SWP members (let us put them in the sect category) suspected that something was wrong, but beleived that the problems were local to them, and overall the rest of the party was healthy. Particularly in small towns, SWP branches had limited contact with the bureaucracy, and usually liked it that way; and were more able to develop as a relatively healthy affinity group within the wider labour movement. This was also true of some of the industrial fractions.

What is more, the SWP’s strong point historically was presenting itself as a dissident focus to an actually existing labour movement. In the absence of a strong trade union movement, a CP, and Labour left, the SWP found itself forced into the responsibility of leadership in Stop the War, the Socialist Alliance and then Respect.

This is the point where the sect/cult dynamic became poisonous; where the cultists like Chris Harman, Martin Smith, and Alex Callinicos resisted the moves that could have allowed the SWP to potentially break out of the sect ghetto, and enter more mainstream politics. (Of course this is a vast simplification, and some of those like Rees who did embrace the change had some rather unfortunate personality traits that came from the cultish milieu of the SWP centre)

That is why I do think that the bureaucratic core of the SWP acts as a cult, despite the fact that there are many good things about the SWP, and it has many hundreds of good active members, who themselves are semi-detached and weary of the bureaucracy.

A particular challenge for what I call the “after the horse has bolted” opposition in the SWP, is that many of them have their political life revolved around an axis of routine SWP activity. But that activity is predicated upon the existence of a cult infrastructure that they are now rebelling against; the inner circle of which are unlikely to readily relinquish control of the SWP’s physical and financial assets.

83 comments on “Swp: Explaining the Paradox

  1. Dave Harker on said:

    The last paragraph of the Harker ‘quote’ was not written by me. My last paragraph was as follows:

    ‘So I agree wholeheartedly with Alan. The Hopeless Left organisations have had their day, but let’s hope that the principled members salvage themselves, one way or another. Meanwhile, the Homeless Left is enormous, and it’s high time that we began building at least a temporary shelter.’

    I made one mistake in my original draft: ‘the hard-working ex-SWP woman comrade stood for Secretary’ should be ‘the hard-working ex-SWP woman comrade stood for President, but thirteen non-delegates and a few SWP delegates and fellow travellers among the 30 or so people present voted for the SWP fellow-traveller to carry on.’

  2. Jay Blackwood on said:

    The leadership and the more zealous party members certainly exist in a kind of ‘bubble’, an insular world with its own buzz-words, values and rituals. OTOH I’m not convinced that makes them a cult or a New Religious Movement, per se – nor is it that different to other left groups in this respect. What I do think however is that the insularity can lead to some delusional thinking. I’ve tried to unpack that a bit here -

  3. Jay Blackwood: The leadership and the more zealous party members certainly exist in a kind of ‘bubble’, an insular world with its own buzz-words, values and rituals. OTOH I’m not convinced that makes them a cult or a New Religious Movement, per se

    The point of my article is to try to detoxify the accusation of “cult” to allow us to draw on the research of how self referential groups work, without implying that it makes them bad people, or that the group is therefore useless

  4. Jay Blackwood, why did you delete a request from us on your blog to adopt the normal courtesy of referring back to the origins of something you posted on your site? Don’t you think that’s a bit shit? You really think that if you do that, we’re going to let you use this site to generate mouse clicks for yours?

  5. Tony Collins: Jay Blackwood, why did you delete a request from us on your blog to adopt the normal courtesy of referring back to the origins of something you posted on your site? Don’t you think that’s a bit shit?

    I’ve checked my recent emails and I can’t find anything from you. Before going ballistic it might have been a good idea to check that I’d received it.

  6. My experience of knowing a few SWP members a few years ago was that on the one hand you have the “happy foot soldiers” who just want to “Do something”, then you have the committed “theorists” who actually care about the nuances of position, and then the organisers regional etc.

    A lot of the members 1-2-1 actually sounded more like anarchists, in daily practice, except when staunch defence of the Bolsheviks was called for.

  7. Sean K on said:

    “Cult” seems a deliberately disparaging term here. The SWP is open that it practises Democratic Centralism therefore ‘centralism’ is a part of the deal, isn’t it? While I don’t recognise the pre-internet dark ages portrayed here where “SWP branches were not in contact with one another”, maybe it is true that modern communication allows more information to be freely available, therefore allowing additional scrutiny, criticism and disagreement. I’m saying all this as someone who left the SWP many, many years ago.

  8. xuichal on said:

    If one looks at the communal life of the full-timers then allegation of cult is not far from reality. The full-timers do not have a life outside the party (CC members have). In between campaigns and struggles SWP is a wonderful milieu for sex, drugs and partying. No moralism against these, but they function as a) compensating the psychological deficit of the gap between party’s claim on “this year finally will be the prophesied year”, the millenarian aspect and the reality of politics in our time and b) making sure the full-timers do not get drifted into even a minimal of non-party life. Having a relationship with a non-member though happens occasionally but it is seen only as a transitory process and the member is generally expected to recruit the partner. My point is that SWP full-timers and cadre are allowed to enjoy all the benefits that capitalist culture offers their generation, given they subsume it under their communal life. There is no outside of the party. Outside is either “sectarian non-swp”, bourgeois state and capitalism, or potential recruitment. From the moment of entering the SWP cosmos it is very very difficult to have 5 minutes on your hand to think outside the box. the totalizing claim on the overall lives of their cadre is what makes them into a cult

  9. Manzil on said:

    Andy Newman: A particular challenge for what I call the “after the horse has bolted” opposition in the SWP, is that many of them have their political life revolved around an axis of routine SWP activity. But that activity is predicated upon the existence of a cult infrastructure that they are now rebelling against; the inner circle of which are unlikely to readily relinquish control of the SWP’s physical and financial assets.

    This struck me as particularly apposite. A good friend of mine is a Labour councillor, and like many such people is currently engaged in some pretty awful things at the behest of the government. What often seems to be the case, when challenged them about this, is whatever the ideological veneer, the crux of their opposition to adopting an explicitly anti-cuts position comes down to some very mundane reasons.

    Will I be expelled from the group/party? Everyone I know is a member/activist of the Labour Party. What happens to my social life is I’m seen to be betraying them?

    Will I be able to get re-elected as an independent? What if I lose my allowance; will I be able to get by without it / do I really want to return to my day job full-time?

    What about me? I’ve spent years of my life, hundreds if not thousands of hours working for the Labour Party, investing time and effort that I can’t get back if I break with them now.

    Etc.

    Tony Collins made the point in one of these threads, on the issue of sexism but I think it applies here, that we have to consciously acknowledge and accept that we are all socialised to a greater or lesser degree by the societies of which we are a part, not the ones we want. That we can succumb to the same influences as other people, that indeed those influences often have a logic to them regardless of ‘our politics’.

    We’re all human. I think Andy’s attempt to destigmatise this idea of ‘cults’ and our susceptibility to cult-like practices is well-intentioned, but even in refuting it, talking about the SWP crisis in these times is in my opinion unhelpful. You cannot reclaim the idea of cult for a neutral, objective discussion. It serves to ‘otherise’ the situation and has an implicit moral judgement at its core.

    This is why I think the idea of ‘bullying’ is in many ways more appropriate. Bullying arises out of character flaws but also out of opportunism; certainly on a systematic level it is the product of institutional and cultural practices. It is something that can be stopped easily and yet often isn’t. It does not delegitimise engagement with people who are regarded as bullies in a way that accusations of cult status does.

    In the case of the far left (and I think most political bodies which suffer from bullying), the essential defect is in the inherently coercive, egotistical element of any political project: that we know what is the ideal situation, and we want to change things according to this ideal. But the articulation of this defect lies in the power inequalities we set up, often for good reasons, and which can easily be labelled as ‘bureaucracy’ – the ossification of social relations, or even the ‘iron law of oligarchy’ for the sociologists among us.

    And the sad fact is these bureaucratic relations tend to reflect all that is best defended by unrepresentative and unresponsive power structures (in other words, the self-interest of the few when it conflicts with the many), however progressive or noble the official justification may be.

    The same can be seen in the dominance of ‘old boy’ networks in the unions. How many of us have seen cases where, because a steward or secretary is particularly autocratic, lazy or cosy with management, he automatically attracts others of a similar mindset and alienates those who would be attracted by a down to earth and bolshy union? Christ, informal bureaucracy is basically a definition of how UNISON works.

    In a broad sense, in terms of disempowerment and privileging the interests of a small clique over the supposedly broad-based agenda of the group, there is nothing about this crisis in the SWP that I have not seen, or seen the potential for, in unions, other socialist groups, the Labour Party etc. etc. It shouldn’t be exceptionalised to revolutionary politics, Leninism, democratic centralism or whatever else. This is a human problem of human relations. It didn’t have to happen here, it doesn’t have to happen again.

  10. I’m not sure the discussion about cults gets us anywhere. Cults are generally closed groups that often present a single face to the outside, like the Scientologists. That is what ‘democratic’ centralism has become.

    What is more important is that when you operate within a closed sphere, a parallel universe can be created, complete with its own definition of ‘logic’. Certain things become truisms – criticism of the leadership means one is ‘anti-party’, an anarchist, middle class individualist etc.

    One thing I always wondered about was how people make the step to becoming a revolutionary and then become conformists within the group of their choice

  11. Manzil on said:

    Andy Newman: Steady on – you are condemning my whole political practice now!

    :D

    No offence intended to the (good) old boys – you know what I meant, I’d have thought.

  12. Tony Greenstein: I’m not sure the discussion about cults gets us anywhere. Cults are generally closed groups that often present a single face to the outside, like the Scientologists. That is what ‘democratic’ centralism has become.

    Not in professional discourse, that is just your prejudice.

    I would refer you in particular to the discussion in “ Cults and New Religious Movements. A report of the American Psychiatric Association” Galanter (ed) 1989.

    Marc Galanter himself is an interesting authority, who did field work with the Moonies, and has advocated a non-perjoratice paradigm for understanding NRMs.

    Anyay, your claim that cults are “closed groups” doesn’t rule out the idea of a closed group acting as a bureaucratic core of a wider sect.

  13. John R on said:

    “A group or movement exhibiting great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethical manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control” – The American Family Foundation (1986, p.119-120)

    “Ideological intransigence, democratic centralism and cultism: a case study from the political left” by Dr. Dennis Tourish.

    http://www.rickross.com/reference/general/general434.html

    As Andy Newman mentioned Dennis Tourish above re political cults, here’s an article I found a while ago. The two groups under discussion are the Democratic Workers Party (USA) and Militant Tendancy (CWI).

    Here’s a flavour of what’s there-

    “…now my work is ‘indispensable’ in the full sense of the word… The collapse of the two Internationals has posed a problem which none of the leaders of these Internationals is at all equipped to solve… There is now no one except me to carry out the mission of arming a new generation with the revolutionary method over the heads of the leaders of the Second and Third International” (Trotsky, 1958, p.54). [1958 – print date, JR]

    This approach leads to the belief that the vanguard party has a level of insight into society’s problem unmatched by anyone else. The grouping under consideration in this paper, the CWI, provides many instances of such a conviction in its publications. An internal document from 1977 averred:

    “What guarantees the superiority of our tendency … from all others inside and outside the labour movement is our understanding of all the myriad factors which determine the attitudes and moods of the workers at each stage. Not only the objective but the subjective ones too.”

    This conviction is combined with contempt for all other organizations on the left. The closer such organizations are to the group’s own ideological lineage the more likely they are to be the targets of abuse. A CWI International Bulletin in 1975 declaims:

    “…we consider that our organizations are alone in upholding the banner of Marxism… we repudiate every sectarian fragment appropriating the name of the Fourth International.”

    One interviewee (David) told me:

    “We were taught to absolutely hate every other political organization that there was. Anybody on the left who wasn’t a Marxist were called left reformists, and we were absolutely convinced that they didn’t have a clue. We looked on them as hopeless people. People outside left politics at all were dismissed as ‘liberals’, but we probably hated them more than extreme right wingers – we used the word liberal as a sort of political swear word. But other Trotskyist groupings were the worst. We just laughed at them in internal meetings. We called them ‘the sects’ and took the view that they were incapable of any development at all. They were good for a laugh at best, but really the attitude towards anybody else claiming to be Trotskyist was that they were the complete enemy of everything we stood for. If we ever had taken power God knows what we would have done to them.”

    Having been a member of Militant in the late 70’s, i can recognise that mindset.

  14. In these discussions comrades need to separate behaviors from objective reality. Saying something behaves like a cult is not the same thing as saying it is a cult.

    For many semi or apolitical working people, getting a knock on the door in the morning and hearing a speech about Jehovah is an identical experience for them as hearing a speech about Lenin/Trotsky. In both cases it’s fervent, committed, and inspired converts trying to win (or sell) new converts on the “good news.” This is why so much discussion on the internet about far left groups involves words like “cult.”

  15. Binh – I dunno whether we’ve spoken before, but I only just discovered your site. I shamelessly nicked your method for putting sharing buttons on posts, so thanks for that :) – and I just wanted to say, I really enjoy reading the site. Good stuff.

  16. Have you thought about making this argument – the cultishness of the swp whilst not quite being a fully fledged cult – at Marxism 2013 Andy? Perhaps you could debate the thesis with Martin Smith. In all probability he’ll hang on as the organisation battons down the hatches – an cult like strategy to avoid reality perhaps?

    All this talk reminds me of one of the few times Kenny Everet made me laugh: ‘I came out of the cinema the other night after watching an obscure French film. I wondered why somebody shouted at me ‘You’re a cult!’.

  17. John R on said:

    Rosa Lichtenstein:
    John R,

    You can find the ensuing debate — regarding Denis Tourish — here:

    http://www.indymedia.ie/newswire.php?story_id=60690&search_text=Tourish

    Damn, I am going to have to spend a few hours reading this. I didn’t realise Tourish was an ex-full timer for Militant.

    The SP guy who said that Ted Grant and co were not expelled from Militant was really having a laugh though. As the SWP have found out you can’t keep stuff hidden for long in the age of the internet.

  18. Pingback: I'LL CRY IF I WANT TO | Socialist Unity

  19. Sam64: Have you thought about making this argument – the cultishness of the swp whilst not quite being a fully fledged cult – at Marxism 2013 Andy?

    Yeah, I think this year, marxism 2013 will be held in the upstairs room at the Lucas Arms.

  20. John R: I am going to have to spend a few hours reading this. I didn’t realise Tourish was an ex-full timer for Militant.

    “On the Edge, Political Cults Right and Left” by Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth is an interesting but deeply deeply flawed book

    Wohlforth was the former boss of the WRP’s North American franchise

  21. ‘Yeah, I think this year, marxism 2013 will be held in the upstairs room at the Lucas Arms.’

    Can’t see Prof Callinicos speaking there – with no doubt, amongst other things, a verbose monologue on democratic centralism in the 21st Century, already being written for ISJ. No dart board.

  22. Redshift on said:

    Manzil,

    I’ve heard a far more convincing reason from Labour councillors – if we pass an illegal budget then Eric Pickles will just come and implement his own one, with no consideration for a lot of the things we bear in mind when implementing even the most difficult budget

  23. jack ford on said:

    Redshift,

    I think that’s a fair point. Liverpool Council in the Eighties showed that councils defying Westminster and acting outwith the law doesn’t work. I think Labour councils should hold public meetings at the Town Hall or another venue and explain this to the public and then discuss the budget strategy. A question and answer session from the public might not make the cuts any less painful but would help the public feel more involved and the feedback might assist the Labour council in making its decision on how to prioritise within the budget to do the minimum amount of harm.

  24. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    Post 26 the Tourish stuff is old hat and has been around, the internet, for years and says nothing new that has not been regurgitated by some drop-out religious or political, of what-ever persuasion, celebrant who have fallen out with their previous ideology and now grasped the adversaries dogma.

    On the question of Ted Grant, he was not expelled that was something that he, Woods, Sewell and the rest of the minority faction put about in 1991/92 when they lost the political argument during the Open Turn debate. I was there, I do not think you were there taking from your previous pessimistic comments I have been reading. If you want to read about the political discussions on the Open Turn and any other debate the Socialist Party/Militant/CWI has had then go onto the CWI website and click on to Marxist.net and you can see the openness of polemic debates that has taken place within the CWI. That is in contrast to the traditions of the SWP who as we have seen over the past few weeks detest open political discussion.

    Finally, John R, I do not know who you are and you say that you were in the Militant in the 70s, I joined in 1980, but you do not say when you left, but today is an entirely different epoch to the 70s within the Socialist Party and CWI. There were certain negative political overhangs to working within the Labour Party for Militant that does not take place today. So what I say is put you pessimism to one side and read all the material with an open mind and in their social and political context.

  25. Someone let me know when all this SWP shit has finished and I will come back. Until then, see ya.

  26. I had a very short time in Militant as a teenager and was in contact with them for several years at university and beyond, and the comments above sum up my experiences of them. They came across as dull, rigid, arrogant and religious. The SWP had more life in them, but to me just came across as a load of middle class anarchists who wanted to give it to ‘the man’. Of course from the miners’ strike on they got worse and worse. In contrast to these groups, and to Newman’s account, SO struck me as being relaxed about debate, open to discussion and difference. My local branch had a couple of postal workers, people leading lg strikes, and we had members on the rail, in the shipyards and so on. We’d been a key part of the Labour left’s revolt in the 70s and 80s: these were people who engaged in politics! All though this time we had cordial relationships with many of the other left groups, and had lives outside politics. Things may have changed, but any kind of account based only of documentary evidence of the kind posted here is really a shoddy job. Cue macho response.

    My years spent in the group, with a couple of exceptions, were the same.

  27. pmg,

    My report on the AWL was not only based upon documentary sources, but also case studies and testimony. However those parts were private and not published.

  28. Manzil on said:

    Redshift:
    I’ve heard a far more convincing reason from Labour councillors – if we pass an illegal budget then Eric Pickles will just come and implement his own one, with no consideration for a lot of the things we bear in mind when implementing even the most difficult budget

    Which is the position of a very, very small minority – the left-wing but objectively pro-cuts councillors. But to think that Labour councillors up and down the country are convinced socialists who just happen to be hog-tied by ‘Pickles’ is ludicrous. In Southampton for instance, nearly half the Labour group running the city council refused only yesterday to use reserves to prevent increased cuts and were prepared to ‘front-load’ the cuts this year in the hopes that people would forget about it by the time of the next elections.

    There is a serious and widespread current in the Labour Party that BELIEVES IN the austerity agenda and should not be apologised for but fought.

    I keep hearing this DCLG argument bandied about – it came up at the LRC conference again and again, without anyone actually citing where this idea came from. It is a fact that Labour councils refuse to take legal advice on what would happen should budget requirements not be kept.

    The ‘if only we could’ school of Labour councillors have completely misrepresented the anti-cuts position, ignoring its emphasis on MASS non-cooperation, and turning it into a question of the legitimacy of the government to impose decisions over the democratically-expressed wishes of the people.

    Obviously a strategy which depended solely on a technical, passive approach would be on the back foot. Whereas Labour councils defying the government en masse would be of an entire different order to the prior use of DCLG of such powers in the case of corruption. It is also a fact that even Labour councils across England were considering, at their conference this month, discussing the possibility for collective disobedience in 2014. It was the refusal of the London councils, prepared to use their increased reserves from the glory days of Ken’s administration, to cooperate in this, which sank these plans.

    So even Labour has quietly been considering how to get out of this.

    Now you can feasibly argue this approach is not currently plausible, precisely because there is such a sizeable machine-politics, bureaucratic wing within Labour local government. But that is different from saying it is flat-out impossible. And certainly the emphasis on legality come what may is disheartening and in the long run completely counter-productive even from the electoral perspective of Labour activists.

    Why will working people vote for a party that didn’t defend them and refuses to promise these horrific measures will even be reversed?

    But that is not even the main point – even if we accepted non-cooperation was impossible, either in terms it being legal, or of getting away with it, the question becomes: what do you do now?

    Labour councils are not making the anti-cuts case because they have the perverse view that it is better to defend their cuts than to explain clearly to the working class why they are being forced to implement them. Their hesitancy and inactivity is simply meaning that the conditions which make resistance so extraordinarily difficult today will NEVER be overcome.

    Finally, if you think that, were it legal (or were conditions such they could contemplate illegality), that Labour councillors would disregard their personal, professional and financial interests I referred to, in the name of political principle, I have some money I would like to rest in your account, and I will be needing your bank details. The naivety of people posing as ‘realists’ never ceases to be amaze me.

    If anything, from personal experience the attitude of many councillors seems to be one of ‘told you so’ and blaming the voters for turfing Labour out to begin with. That’ll help win this fight.

  29. Manzil on said:

    jack ford:
    Redshift,

    I think that’s a fair point. Liverpool Council in the Eighties showed that councils defying Westminster and acting outwith the law doesn’t work. I think Labour councils should hold public meetings at the Town Hall or another venue and explain this to the public and then discuss the budget strategy. A question and answer session from the public might not make the cuts any less painful but would help the public feel more involved and the feedback might assist the Labour council in making its decision on how to prioritise within the budget to do the minimum amount of harm.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if… etc. etc. etc.

    God forbid anyone actually analyse the actual role, nature and behaviour of the Labour Party in all this, and use that analysis to see the blindingly obvious fact that the party will not and probably cannot be used as the vanguard of (even a moderate and long-term-focused) anti-austerity campaign.

  30. Manzil on said:

    pmg: What kind of case studies and testimony? How many? What kind of sample?

    .

    “However those parts were private and not published.”

  31. But it now has the Poindexter seal of approval!

    TBH it’s a WordPress plugin that none of us can claim credit for. Except obviously I tinkered with it to make it special. Now, if an SWP member shares an item on a private Facebook wall, it notifies me and allows me to see their Facebook wall and their sent messages folder.

  32. jack ford on said:

    Manzil,

    I’m well aware of how reactionary and pusillanimous Labour can be. All I’m saying is that there are alternative strategies that the Labour Left could push for at a local level.

    Even in terms of purely cynical PR and increasing the chance of Labour councils being reelected next time (which may be all the right wingers really care about) question and answer sessions with the public would help sell to voters what Labour is doing.

  33. Tony Collins: Now, if an SWP member shares an item on a private Facebook wall, it notifies me and allows me to see their Facebook wall and their sent messages folder.

    Have you thought of sending their list of Freinds straight to Special Branch?

  34. Manzil: Labour councils are not making the anti-cuts case because they have the perverse view that it is better to defend their cuts than to explain clearly to the working class why they are being forced to implement them. Their hesitancy and inactivity is simply meaning that the conditions which make resistance so extraordinarily difficult today will NEVER be overcome.

    I don’t think this is a fair point. If you spend any time campaigning on the doorstep, you will quickly learn that while a minority accept the anti-austerity arguments (enough to provide subjective encouragement for groups not in the electoral game), the majority of people do broadly accept the austerity narrative of the Con-Dems; and it is currently challenging to contemplate an anti-austerity electoral majority.

    It is also true that council powers are very limited, and even councillors who personaly oppose austerity may see little choice other than to play the cards they have been dealt.

  35. Have you thought of sending their list of Freinds straight to Special Branch?

    I just wondered whether anyone would believe me. And sure enough, I did get an email last night telling me what a terrible, terrible person I was for doing such things.

  36. John R on said:

    Jimmy Haddow: On the question of Ted Grant, he was not expelled that was something that he, Woods, Sewell and the rest of the minority faction put about in 1991/92 when they lost the political argument during the Open Turn debate. I was there, I do not think you were there taking from your previous pessimistic comments I have been reading.

    Well, your view is that Ted Grant and Co. were not expelled. What did he and Alan Woods have to say for themselves at the time? –

    “The Opposition has been banned. Opposition leaders expelled. Throughout the country a purge is taking place against Opposition comrades, with branch committees being called as kangaroo courts. Using the methods of McCarthy, comrades are being asked to choose: the Opposition or the Tendency. Opposition branches are being systematically closed down and “reorganised” by Full Timers. This witch-hunt is the culmination of the neo-Stalinist campaign that has been waged against the Opposition since its formation. By these actions the majority faction has engineered a split – despite the protests of the Opposition – and, true to form, immediately publicised it in the pages of the capitalist press, before the ranks had any chance to comment.”

    Against bureaucratic centralism – Grant and Woods.(1991)

    http://www.marxist.com/against-bureaucratic-centralism.htm

    While being “not there” (in the Tendency), I was heavily involved in the Anti-Poll Tax campaign in London at the time and heard both sides of the story. Ironically enough, even though I was in the Labour Party I was more sympathetic to the views of the “Majority” – however, based on past experience I held back from getting involved with them.

    As for who was right and who was wrong re the expulsions – it seems to depend which side you were on within the Tendency. One person’s expulsion is another’s setting up an alternative organisation and departing. But, ultimately, I guess, this type of political divorce is a private matter for all concerned.

    It’s a different matter re the recent SWP battle. Here it is a case of an organisation being accused of putting pressure of women not to pursue allegations of rape and sexual harassment against leading members over a number of years. All in the interests of “the Party”. For obvious reasons, there is a huge public safety interest in this.

    Hopefully, in this case, the full truth will come out re “Delta” and previous accusations. And if that means the intervention, at some point, of the “bourgeois state”, then so be it.

  37. Andy Newman: I don’t think this is a fair point. If you spend any time campaigning on the doorstep, you will quickly learn that while a minority accept the anti-austerity arguments (enough to provide subjective encouragement for groups not in the electoral game), the majority of people do broadly accept the austerity narrative of the Con-Dems; and it is currently challenging to contemplate an anti-austerity electoral majority.

    It is also true that council powers are very limited, and even councillors who personaly oppose austerity may see little choice other than to play the cards they have been dealt.

    I’ve never understood this patronising attitude that interrupting people’s dinner is the only fountain of good, honest political intelligence. But in any case, having done my fair share of banging my head up against people’s front doors for Labour – and indeed, not having cut myself off from actually talking to people just because I’m not in the party any more – a few general points have been confirmed:

    Labour have not simply lost the ‘austerity narrative’ debate, they have not even entered into it. They are indeed complicit in its actualisation. For every Miliband-ism about ‘responsible capitalism’ we’ve had Liam Byrne or Jacqui Smith come out with some filthy, reactionary comment about people on benefits. There will NEVER be an overturn of the Tory argument on the basis of Labour’s present strategy. At the moment they appear to want to sneak into power through being the de facto option of an anti-Tory mood. And some on their right appear to want to present a ‘tough’ image akin to the coalition on social policy.

    Experience shows that, if Labour avoid the fight (the Miliband strategy), it is entirely possible a concerted Tory campaign will be able to break down the ‘soft’ support Labour’s cuddly centrism has won it. And, moreover, that there’ll be no widespread mobilisation against the neoliberal restructuring – meaning that a Labour government wouldn’t actually have any reason or mandate to reverse these changes. (As FDR said: make me do it. But that required him to actually legitimise those policies!)

    If the right-wing strategy is adopted, which we shouldn’t dismiss given the strength of its adherents in parliament, then who gives a shit whether Labour wins? We saw with Blair that outflanking from the right means you have to govern from the right. Cutting people’s benefits isn’t any more progressive because Ed Miliband is the one doing it – in the long term it is even more harmful to the labour movement, because it will demoralise those who are the best agents for progressive change.

    Secondly, people who are generally or previously Labour are solidly so post-2010; they are pissed off at the government and desperate to hurt them. There is a widespread acknowledgement that the burden of austerity is being unequally shoved onto those who can least afford it, and whatever the acceptance of the ‘austerity narrative’ (in terms of it being ‘unavoidable’, and moreover as a result of over-spending rather than the financial crisis) they are not accepting of the fairness of austerity as it is realised.

    The problem is, when you combine these two factors – (confused and unorganised) opposition to the practical consequences of cuts, alongside a profound lack of any conscious argument against why they are being imposed in the first place – the result is that Labour are not pushed in the right direction, that they take the low-turnout local election victories of the past year as proof of their strategy’s success, and that when it comes down to the wire, we will not be in a position to counter the government narrative, and Labour will either lose at the polls or adopt the Tory agenda wholesale.

    Labour’s current strategy is actually less realistic, less hard-headed, than its fans (in the time-honoured role of giving an intellectual veneer to a strategy of wholesale surrender) would like us to believe.

  38. I’m surprised Andy has seen agreement with the austerity policies of the Condems when door-stepping because when I have conversations in the tea-room with my colleagues, many of whom are working-class women, they express nothing but fear and anger over the cuts and the demonising of the poor. Maybe things are different in the South-west,but I sense alot of fighting spirit looking to be channelled.

  39. Manzil: Labour have not simply lost the ‘austerity narrative’ debate, they have not even entered into it. They are indeed complicit in its actualisation. For every Miliband-ism about ‘responsible capitalism’ we’ve had Liam Byrne or Jacqui Smith come out with some filthy, reactionary comment about people on benefits. There will NEVER be an overturn of the Tory argument on the basis of Labour’s present strategy. At the moment they appear to want to sneak into power through being the de facto option of an anti-Tory mood. And some on their right appear to want to present a ‘tough’ image akin to the coalition on social policy.

    I agree with that; and that is partly what explains why we are struggling.

    The question is whether the different narative coming from the unions, and the admittedly weak left (excellent MPs like Miachael Meacher, and Jon Tricket) can gain ground in time.

  40. Omar: I’m surprised Andy has seen agreement with the austerity policies of the Condems when door-stepping because when I have conversations in the tea-room with my colleagues, many of whom are working-class women, they express nothing but fear and anger over the cuts and the demonising of the poor.

    I don’t deny that experience either. However, I don’t think it is an electoral majority.

  41. I’m surprised Andy has seen agreement with the austerity policies of the Condems

    Omar I think that’s a misreading of what Andy said. He said it was an acceptance of the austerity narrative. People hate the cuts but have accepted that there is no alternative.

  42. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    Post 49 John R, while the ‘Open Turn’ debate took place 21/22 years ago it is just not of historical interest that left-wing, trade union and socialist observers should contemplate the theoretical, political, strategic and tactical nuances of the ‘majority’ leadership of the Militant/CWI at the time who were to eventual lead the development of an organisation that believes in the socialist reconstruction of society over the most difficult social terrain as the 90s and the noughts were to prove in building such a socialist organisation.

    I was involved in the actual debates at the time in London and the south-east of England because I lived in Kent. I did not politically, or actually, observe any the ‘events’ that the ‘minority’ around Ted, Alan, et al, alleged to have taken place. The polemic was fierce, as it would be when we talk about a change in political and strategic circumstances, but it was carried out in a comradely fashion which is in my humble opinion the hallmark over any other political party that believes in socialist change.

    What I leave you with is a link to some of the comments you raised called Two Trends: The Political Roots of the Breakaway for you to cogitate.
    http://www.marxist.net/openturn/main/f3-4.html

  43. Challenging the ‘austerity narrative’ is not only necessary, it is increasingly possible both at the practical level and at the theoretical level.
    There has rarely been such uncertainty or lack of confidence among those in ‘command’ of the economies of the capitalist world.
    Christine Lagarde’s whistling in the wind notwithstanding many of the indicators are pretty gloomy.
    One way we can shift the argument in the labour movement and the Labour Party is by putting flesh on an alternative and ending the subservience to Treasury orthodoxy. There is some opening up of opinion in the centre of the Labour Party and we should make the most of it.
    Finding a common language with all those who don’t like austerity but cannot see a viable alternative precisely because Labour merely echoes government policies entails convincing them an alternative is possible.
    Jonathan White makes this argument well, including in his Manifesto Press compilation’Building An Economy For The People: An Alternative Economic And Political Strategy For 21st-Century Britain’
    http://21centurymanifesto.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/why-the-coalition-is-addicted-to-austerity/

  44. on the subject of council cuts my local counci leader who is labour and has a majority did say at last years budget meeting that he would not raise council tax even though this would mean 4million extra cuts in this current year because the government had recommended that he should not do so. in the morning star recently there was a report of a newly elected labour council that was rising the wages of its top employees even as it was laying off its lower payed ones. if labour want to say we are making the best of the cuts maybe the left should call them on it and actualy demand they do so i know that would sound like selling out to some but it might show the labour party up for what they are in the worst case and in the best case it may actually ameliorate the situation slightly.

  45. Nick Wright: There is some opening up of opinion in the centre of the Labour Party and we should make the most of it.

    Also, while that window is currently open, it won’t be open for long, as the 2013 Labour cnference will be the last meaningful one before the general election, as 2014 will be a vacuous election rally

  46. Paul Phillips on said:

    I would not trust Dave Harker’s comment here. He is the most top down bureaucrat I have ever met. When he accuses the SP member of affectively stealing money from the North East Shop Stewards Network this is not the case. He only attacked her because we pushed through a vote on no confidence in him at a meeting and he then spit the dummy out and refused to move. Also when he mentions that he would not promote our front organizations he is meaning Youth Fight for Jobs. He asked me to prove it was backed by the RMT and PCS and I got regional organisers to email him and he still would not accept it. Also he banned Yunus Bakhsh from voting at the meeting as ‘he was no longer a shop steward’. We argued alongside the SWP that we dont let the bosses pick our Shop Stewards, the workers do. Since then the NESSN is just an email list which doesnt involve itself int eh movement or struggles.

  47. Andy Newman: Paul Phillips: We argued alongside the SWP that we dont let the bosses pick our Shop Stewards,

    Does Yunus Bakhsh hold credentials as a lay rep from a union?

    I don’t think that is a fair question, since it is common knowledge, as per an employment tribunal decision, that he was vindictively witch-hunted from his positions in UNISON and UNISON officials even teemed up with the far-right and EDL supporters to do so.

    This NE Shop Stewards Network is presumably not official anyway and has the power to accept Yunus as a bona fide representative. THis is bureaucratism gone mad Andy. DO we accept the decisions of Prentis and fellow McCarthyites to attack fellow socialists? What is it we or you for that matter Andy are fighting for?

    As regards the austerity debate. The problem is this. Most people hate the cuts. Most people hate the bankers who are seen as the visible symbols of what happened but they do not believe that we can dispense with these bankers/traders because we need them to bring in the foreign earnings of the City of London (which is to some extent true, but a legacy of imperialism) and secondly they have lost an overall conception of an alternative to capitalism i.e. socialism.

    The ideas of socialism are dying as the SWP conducts its witch-hunt internally. There are no massed legions of the working class any more, hardened fighters, like the miners, dockers, shipyard workers etc. etc.

    The problem therefore is of a consciousness based on a material reality of being unable, other than by street protests, and even in Greece they’ve been unsuccessful, to mount a fight-back. THat is the problem we face and the reaction to it by many comrades, Andy included, is to move to the right.

  48. Paul Phillips on said:

    Andy Newman: Does Yunus Bakhsh hold credentials as a lay rep from a union?

    He does not but that is not the point. He was elected by his members to be their shop steward and the union and the employer collaborated to get rid of him undemocratically.

  49. Tony Greenstein: I don’t think that is a fair question, since it is common knowledge, as per an employment tribunal decision, that he was vindictively witch-hunted from his positions in UNISON and UNISON officials even teemed up with the far-right and EDL supporters to do so.

    So you confirm he is not in fact a shop steward.

    And it is not the “Bosses” who have decided he is not a shop steward, he is not a shop steward under rule in his own union either.

    Who then does he represent when he seeks to vote at the NESSN?

  50. Paul Phillips: Do you let your boss choose your shop stewards?

    *sigh*

    Let us put this another way. Even in deference to Yunus’s warm and charming personality, and heroic “hero of the revolution” status, we decide that he can honorifically refer to himself as a “shop steward”; he does not in fact hold a lay officer position in the union.

    I assume that the group of workers he used to represent when he was a shop steward have now elected a new one.

    The NESSN presumably exists to network actual shop stewards and branch actvists?

  51. Paul Phillips on said:

    Andy Newman: *sigh*

    Let us put this another way. Even in deference to Yunus’s warm and charming personality, and heroic “hero of the revolution” status, we decide that he can honorifically refer to himself as a “shop steward”; he does not in fact hold a lay officer position in the union.

    I assume that the group of workers he used to represent when he was a shop steward have now elected a new one.

    The NESSN presumably exists to network actual shop stewards and branch actvists?

    I have my criticisms of Yunus as well but there is no need for such an approach. Yunus’s position was agreed by the NSSN at the time.

    NESSN is mainly ran by retired people.

  52. Dave Harker on said:

    NESSN is a network of trade union and community activists, but our democratically-established constitution – http://nessn.org.uk/about/ – permits only those with an elected lay trade union position to decide policy. In addition, ‘NESSN as an organisation does not support or advertise events that promote a single political group or party, including their front organisations’, and Mr P and Yunus Bakhsh fully understood that.

    NESSN tried to be politically inclusive but remain organisationally unaligned, but no SPer and only one or two SWPers ever did any work to build it. NESSN fully supported the principles being attacked in relation to Mr Bakhsh’s case, and we incurred the wrath of the bodies who were attacking those principles for our pains, but many of us could not condone much of Mr B’s personal conduct.

    Late in 2009, when SPers and SWPers couldn’t manipulate the twice-elected NESSN Secretary, and get him to advertise wholly undemocratic sectarian front organisations like YFFJ, they formed a momentary ‘united front’ to try to rule or ruin the organisation be ‘beheading’ it. The SWP full-timer Bakhsh, plus Robert Murdoch, Simon Hall, Susan Abbott and a young man who wasn’t even a member of NESSN, began by smearing an SWPer who had worked to build NESSN. (He joined Counterfire – http://luna17activist.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/united-fronts-and-all-that-is-tyneside.html) The SP part-timer, Elaine Brunskill, Mr B. and several others present, including Mr P, held no elected trade union position, but they all voted against me. (The chair of the meeting, Alan Docherty, allowed the sectarians to pretend that it was an AGM, and he subsequently joined the SP.)

    After the meeting, the SPer Hannah Walter phoned Dave Ayre, the veteran flying picket who was on the elected NESSN Committee, and informed him that she was now the NESSN Secretary. Dave told her that only an AGM could replace anyone on the Committee and Ms W walked away from the Treasurer’s job. However, she did not hand over two cheques to NESSN for a total of over £300, denied holding them herself, and repeatedly refused to tell the Acting Treasurer who did have them.

    The Committee members who stood again were re-elected at the 2010, 2011 and 2012 AGMs. NESSN’s ‘Going on Strike’ – http://nessn.org.uk/going-on-strike/ – was written by Committee member Derek Cattell, and is now in its third edition. NESSN’s email network has almost 300 members and our website – http://www.nessn.org.uk – is well-established as an authoritative source of information about strikes, struggles and labour movement events in the NE. Thanks to the Hopeless Left it has received over 500 hits in the past five days.

    I have found most NW SPers to be serious activists, and I am not going to respond any further to Mr P’s bilious outburst, or to SPer John Malcolm’s playground email, but I hope that Tony Greenstein can review his faith in these NE SPers’ credibility as advocates of democratic accountability and comradely cooperation.

  53. Derek Cattell on said:

    I would like to respond to the comments about the North East Shop Stewards Network (NESSN) posted today by Paul Phillips which commenced at entry 59.Firstly can I say who I am. I’m on the NESSN network. I am not a member of any political party (so have no sectarian axe to grind). I am a secretary to a north east trade union branch. It’s 2,400 members keep me busy for most of the week. I’ve never accessed this web site before but have sought it out after a colleague forwarded me a copy of Paul Phillip’s remarks.Like other members of far left organisations Mr Phillips rubbishes the NESSN. I suspect this is because it is outside their influence.I take exception to his remark that “…the NESSN is just an email list which doesn’t involve itself in the movement or struggles.” The fact is that the NESSN doesn’t delude itself into believing that as an organisation it can take leadership of trade union struggles.We have modest aims which are to rally support for disputes, to act as a forum for ideas and to circulate information and opinions to trade unionists in the north east.Does Paul Phillips accept that within our 300 network subscribers are plenty of people who are involved in the movement and struggles? How dare he dismiss such people.For the record, with limited resources, NESSN has held public meetings, (one of which was addressed by Bob Crowe), granted a page of its web site to my branch, circulated hundreds of pieces of information to activists in the region, organised a Workers Memorial day event complete with procession and brass band,published a handbook for strikers which is in its third edition, held a conference which was dubbed a “School for Strikers” by the local press and NESSN continues to have hundreds of hits on its web site. NESSN has in my experience been very open and continues to maintain an unlined status.
    I would hope that Mr Phillips withdraws his comments or failing that I hope Socialist Unity distances itself from them.

  54. Surely the left could challenge the austerity by saying that if we cracked down on tax evasion/avoidance and ended rip off PFI schemes that enable private contractors to loot the public sector then we wouldn’t need so many cuts. That might resonate.

  55. Derek Cattell: I would like to respond to the comments about the North East Shop Stewards Network (NESSN) posted today by Paul Phillips which commenced at entry 59.Firstly can I say who I am. I’m on the NESSN network. I am not a member of any political party (so have no sectarian axe to grind). I am a secretary to a north east trade union branch. It’s 2,400 members keep me busy for most of the week. I’ve never accessed this web site before but have sought it out after a colleague forwarded me a copy of Paul Phillip’s remarks.Like other members of far left organisations Mr Phillips rubbishes the NESSN. I suspect this is because it is outside their influence.I take exception to his remark that “…the NESSN is just an email list which doesn’t involve itself in the movement or struggles.” The fact is that the NESSN doesn’t delude itself into believing that as an organisation it can take leadership of trade union struggles.We have modest aims which are to rally support for disputes, to act as a forum for ideas and to circulate information and opinions to trade unionists in the north east.Does Paul Phillips accept that within our 300 network subscribers are plenty of people who are involved in the movement and struggles? How dare he dismiss such people.For the record, with limited resources, NESSN has held public meetings, (one of which was addressed by Bob Crowe), granted a page of its web site to my branch, circulated hundreds of pieces of information to activists in the region, organised a Workers Memorial day event complete with procession and brass band,published a handbook for strikers which is in its third edition, held a conference which was dubbed a “School for Strikers” by the local press and NESSN continues to have hundreds of hits on its web site. NESSN has in my experience been very open and continues to maintain an unlined status.
    I would hope that Mr Phillips withdraws his comments or failing that I hope Socialist Unity distances itself from them.

    I don’t think Socialist Unity is an organisation so it can’t distance itself from anything, except perhaps socialism!

    I know nothing of the NESN, unsurprisingly being in Brighton. However from what Derek Cattell says it appears to do fine work. Nor do I know any NE SP supporters or the ins and outs of sectarianism/SWP etc. involvement. I am critical as any of the front organisations groups set up, whether it is the Right to Work campaign (which once did have a resonance) the umpteen cuts conferences (unite the resistance etc.).

    I know nothing of Yunus Baksh other than what I’ve read via Unison Left and in papers. But if a union leadership, in cahoots with the employer, seeks to have someone sacked, they do it with a regional official whose partner is in the EDL and who is supplying the scumbag with information, if democratically elected shop stewards are removed by scabs like Prentice, then if the NESN is up to anything, then it should change its bloody rules to make an exception for victimised militants

    Or is it such a bureaucratic organisation that it is incapable of carrying out a basic act of solidarity such as this or has no political nous when it comes to the sabotage of the pensions campaign by Prentice and Kenny?

    What point is there is a grassroots campaign which has no anti-capitalist consciousness? It is doomed to failure. So the question of whether Yunus is NOW a shop steward is irrelevant given his background. I say this as someone who is bitterly critical of the SWP. It is a question of principle.

  56. jack ford on said:

    I see Camelot is thinking of raising the cost of a National Lottery ticket to £2 rather than £1

    I would abolish the National LOttery. It suckers the poor and desperate into wasting their money and gives them false hope.

    If we are going to have a National Lottery it should be nationalised. Cut the Camelot parasites out the loop so that all revenue raised goes straight to the Treasury.

    If Labour put that in its manifesto it might resonate on the doorstep.