News has just broken that long term SWP members Kevin Ovenden and Rob Hoverman, have been expelled from the party, along with Nick Wrack. Nick joined the SWP three years ago and was a former editor of the Militant newspaper, so he is also an experienced, long term socialist.
The expulsions followed an ultimatum to Nick that he should turn down the position of Respect national organiser or resign from the SWP. A similar ultimatum was given to Rob and Kev that they should stop working in George Galloway’s office, or leave the SWP.
These three comrades have been internally critical of the SWP Central Committee’s handling of Respect, but have been very disciplined by not airing that criticism outside the ranks of the SWP. There still remain critics of the CC’s position within the SWP, including some very well known comrades, but the expulsions are obvioulsy a shot over their bows as well.
The strategy towards Respect from the SWP is increasingly bizarre . On the one hand, they have been telling members this a left/right divide, that Galloway and Salma are pandering to communalism, are anti-trade union, etc. On the other hand, they have been desperate to avoid any public exchanges about these same issues.
At the last National Council of Respect the SWP were forced to concede to the feeling of the meeting that in order to rebuild trust in the workings of the National Officer (i.e. John Rees) Respect needed to appoint a national organiser. The suggestion from George Galloway and Victoria Brittain (who is not particularly close to George Galloway) was Nick Wrack. The feeling of the meeting was that Nick was a good compromise candidate as he was an SWP member with a high profile role, he has the necessary abilities, and there was general trust in him on all sides that he would play a constructive role. There was no suggestion in the meeting that John Rees’s position as National Secretary would be lessened in any way.
Most National Council members thought this was a positive way forward.
But the SWP’s response was extraordinary. They give Nick an ultimatum – either he withdraw from accepting the post or resign from SWP. He then refused to do either and was expelled. This was followed by similar moves against Rob and Kev, who have both been extremely loyal long term members of the SWP
It is difficult to see the dynamic driving SWP as being anything other than protecting John Rees’s reputation inside the SWP itself (he can’t be seen to have messed up and even the mildest criticisms are apparently unacceptable.)
As Nick Bird recently reported about the Party Council, the SWP leadership are now involved in scare-mongering to their own membership about a left/right divide, and plots to ‘subordinate’ the SWP inside Respect. For goodness sake, how can this be a left/right battle when the SWP are desperate to prevent one of their own members having the job?
Of course in reality the SWP’s behaviour is increasingly exposing that they are only interested in control, If they really thought this was a left/right battle for Respect then they would be openly arguing that positioon publicly and seeking to win the argument with Respect’s broader membership. But instead they are only arguing it internally within the SWP, and are using organisational rather than political means to try to maintain control.
It also shows that the SWP are not interested in a genuinely broad alliance. A majority of non-SWP members have now signed a letter supporting Nick Wrack (including Glyn Robbins who had earlier expressed interest in standing himself.) The fact that an SWP member of the standing of Jerry Hicks (a former Amicus convenor in Rolls Royce) is backing Nick disproves the argument put by John Rees argument to the SWP’s Party Council that George & Salma are isolated on the National Council.
How can any one take seriously the claim by the SWP that they are interested in Respect being part of a broader left realignment, if John Rees cannot even deal with long standing SWP members like Rob Ovenden, Kevin Ovenden, Nick Wrack and Ger Francis, without using disciplinary measures?
If the SWP cannot even tolerate the minor differences that they have with the most consistently anti-imperialist MP in the country and the most high profile left wing Muslim in country, then how can they work with any other activists who think for themselves?
With regard to Respect, the SWP exaggerates their own importance to the project. They are not indispensable. The organisation has built a genuine electoral base in a few places around the country, and the control culture of the SWP has actually held Respect back from growing, both politically and organisationally.
But there is another important issue. The SWP has now expelled three prominent internal critics in a purge in order to try to maintain the prestige of the Central Committee, and to prevent a real debate within the SWP about whether the CC’s line is correct. For those SWP members inclined to beleive the CC’s position, ask yourself that if Rob, Kev, Ger and Nick can be expelled for tactical differences, then how confident are you that in the future you won’t have tactical differences with the CC? Do you want to be part of an organisation where any questioning of the line is met by expulsions and purges?
The history of left politics is littered with failed projects where all-knowing and infallible leaderships have used bureaucratic means to discipline the members, and tell them what to think. But when debate and dissent is stopped then it allows the organisation to build a self-delusional understanding of the world. This is what happened to the WRP.
Unless the membership of the SWP tales responsibility and starts thinking for itself about the debates within Respect, then there is a real danger that the SWP will become a sect like organisation like the WRP, and may even share its fate.
The current line of the Central Committee is disastrous for Respect, and disastrous for the SWP, and seemingly is more motivated by maintaining the prestige of the CC than moving left politics forward.