Blog of the AMM

Time to Fight: The Crisis in the SWP

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Details of allegations of rape and sexual harassment against a leading member of the SWP (Martin Smith, aka ‘Comrade Delta’, until recently the National Secretary of the SWP – basically, in day-to-day charge of the apparatus), and the controversy over the handling of the home-brewed investigation into those allegations by the SWP Disputes Committee (DC) have already been widely documented and discussed.1

This blog was the first to publish news of the emerging controversy, in our post about the SWP Pre-Conference Discussion at the beginning of December. At least we were the first to indicate the scale of the looming crisis. At that point it was becoming clear that the SWP leadership wouldn’t be able to contain the dissent brewing among its rank and file, yet the argument had still to break out in public. Still, from the scale of the opposition that was building – but even more judging by the extent of the anger of those involved in the opposition – it was clear then that something quite unprecedented was stirring in the SWP.

The handling of the complaint by the CC caused fury in the ranks of the SWP and beyond, but also raised the question of party democracy in a way that will not allow it to be put off any longer. The SWP rank and file – if they are to be able to work alongside the rest of the left in future, in order to to ensure justice is done for the women involved, and to undo the otherwise fatal damage that has been inflicted on the SWP’s credibility as ‘tribunes of the oppressed’ – will have to reject the entire process by which these allegations were handled. But in attempting to do that they run straight into the party’s structures, which have evolved over the years to guarantee the unqualified control of the CC.

The handling of the issue by the CC from the very beginning has consisted of nothing but the usual crock of intimidation, misdirection, evasion and lies. To undo the damage means undoing the mechanisms that allow the leadership to get away with inflicting it to start with. Without addressing the lack of accountability that allowed the CC to do this, nothing will have changed, and the party would remain open to the same abuses in future.

The handling of the dispute by the CC has been woeful even from their own point of view, culminating in their current position – a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ stance, in which they provide no leadership at all to those members who are expected to face down the crisis, but throw their energies instead into planning how to undo the opposition . They have resolved, if necessary, to lose a generation of students and a wider layer of the party itself, all in the defense of a single CC member’s position.

To overcome all this will require restoring democracy to the SWP. This cannot be achieved by patiently working through whatever provisions exist in the party constitution, hoping the CC don’t suddenly just expel everyone whose face no longer fits, but only by open revolt. There is a chance that the CC can be brought to heel, and the party reformed, but that chance exists only because of the revolt by members that took off after conference failed to resolve the issue. The CC and their supporters do not have tanks, they have no physical resources that could prevent the membership from seizing control of their own party. The only thing that keeps everything in its place now is decades of routine in which the members have simply become used to bending the knee as required. If the membership throw off all that old muck, they can win.

For party loyalists the fact that the opposition are fighting to overturn the decisions made at conference means that the opposition reject democratic centralism. In reality, it is the opposition who are defending democratic centralism against the abuses of it that produced the fixed conference results. But anyway, the loyalist argument misses the point of democratic centralism. As Richard Seymour has argued against those who say the issue has already been decided, and that there is no going back on it:

I think this sort of response indicates a problem with how people understand democratic centralism. It is not a recipe for deference, or the ruthless crushing of minority opinion. That is not what it is for. The point is that perspectives are voted on, and tested in the real world. This perspective was voted on, narrowly passed without the support of the majority of delegates, on the basis of a seriously gerrymandered conference and a suppressed preconference debate. It has been tested. It has led to catastrophe. It has led to the party being denounced as the Sexist Workers Party and worse. It has led to attacks in the press with bizarre Islamophobic undertones. It has led to activists being furious with us. It has led to members being ready to walk out. Some already have. So, the perspective has failed, very badly, and it has to be revisited. This is what a recall conference is for.

It seems to me that this gets to the heart of what the current dispute is about. On the one hand are those who interpret Leninism, democratic centralism, and the like merely in terms of what serves their organisational or personal advantage. On the other side are those who want to interpret this heritage of socialist theory and practice in order to create a larger and more effective socialist organisation.

Supporters of the AMM were writing about the SWP’s democratic deficit almost twenty years ago, when some of us were part of the IS Group2 (in these documents by Andy Wilson and Ian Land, for example), so it should come as no surprise to anyone that we fully supported the Democratic Opposition in the run-up to conference, and that we support the united opposition that is emerging in the SWP in the wake of conference. The precise platform of this opposition grouping remains to be seen, but at a minimum it will be calling for a recall SWP conference to be held to reject the DC report and review the treatment of the allegations against Smith. Beyond that it will doubtless call for the disciplining and/or removal of some or all of the CC that have led them to into this mess. The AMM supports the following demands;

 

  • immediately remove Martin Smith from all positions of responsibility until further notice
  • overturn the DC report and instigate a full inquiry into the handling of the previous investigation
  • restructure the DC and processes associated with it to reflect best practice in the labour movement
  • censure the entire Central Committee and move to replace them all
  • reinstate those members expelled for opposing the DC report(the ‘Facebook Four’)
  • abolish the slate system for electing the CC
  • institute the elective principle throughout the entire party – all full-timers to be recallable and fully accountable
  • full rights to factions, including the right to publish and to organise
  • full rights for members to communicate directly with one another

 

 

Andy Wilson
2013-i-23


Footnotes

1) The main documents can be found here:

2) That is, the group formed when Andy Wilson was expelled from the SWP, and certainly not that launched more recently by Chris Bambery.

44 Comments

  • Out to Lunch says:

    Yes indeed! And all those good socialists who "fell by the wayside" because what the Bureaucratic Centralist SWP offered didn't work for them (like myself) can now get active again. As Luke Staunton, one of the Democratic Opposition said: "I can't believe the amount of Great Comrades I'm meeting at the moment". I really believe we could turn this "PR disaster&

  • Anonymous says:

    I think the problem here is that the Seymour gang might be worse than the current leadership. Hopefully I'm wrong.

    • What 'Seymour' gang is this? I am not aware of any such thing, other than as an invention of the SWP leadership.

    • Anonymous says:

      I meant no offense, but I was under the impression that Richard Seymour was a leading member of the rebels. I think The Seymour Gang has a quite a ring to it, used informally of course. You should reclaim it from the CC if they are already using it as a pejorative.

  • Out to Lunch says:

    Never trust an Althusserian …

    • Anonymous says:

      Never trust a Guardian writer …

    • Never trust non-combatants

    • Anonymous says:

      How might one be put in a position of needing to trust, a &quot;non-combatant&quot;??? Why do some posters not give any name? Are they to be trusted? Or do they not trust those who publish on this site? <br /><br />signed dc AKA<br /><br />P.S. Why does TGE keep changing his photo? Are all of these rhetorical questions? <br /><br />

    • Out to Lunch says:

      Er, what&#39;s this &quot;why do some posters not give any name?&quot; thing? You are the one called &quot;Anonymous&quot;, Butch.

    • Anonymous says:

      You might have noticed that there are MORE than ONE &#39;Anonymous&#39;, Cassidy. That just means there&#39;s no link to a blog profile of some kind. <br /><br />I give a name in the body of my messages, and you know who I am. <br /><br />SIGNED DC AKA <br />

    • Anonymous says:

      I suppose I should have put, &quot;there IS more&quot;, and called OTL, Sundance. But maybe the thoughtlessness of OTL&#39;s post, sparked an image of David Cassidy, or Neal Cassady, somewhere in my mind. <br /><br />SIGNED DC AKA <br /><br />

  • Anonymous says:

    Is there any prospect of a return of a recent comments list? I gather that this is not specific to this site, and all users of this blog platform are affected. <br /><br />signed dc AKA <br /><br />

  • John B-R says:

    I have a very basic and naive question, which I hope you won&#39;t mind. Remember, I&#39;m 5000 miles away from this particular situation. And I AM really looking for insight.<br /><br />What I don&#39;t understand is why there is continuing faith in Leninist parties, in spite of the track record. It seems that what has happened to the SWP is what happens every single time.<br /><br />If faith

  • Anonymous says:

    I think &#39;faith&#39; is exactly the right word. Although, I think that most of the proponents of &quot;Leninism&quot;, these Bolshe-fetishists, actually imagine &#39;Leninism&#39; not merely &#39;the best of the worst&#39;, but rather just &#39;the best&#39;. One of the necessary components of the &#39;vanguardism&#39; intrinsic to Leninism is the notion that the politics of [insert Lenin

  • Anonymous says:

    *imagine Leninism to be not merely &#39;the best of the worst&#39; …

  • Out to Lunch says:

    Nowt to do with faith. How are YOU going to stop capitalism? On your own, or working with others? How do you work with others once you&#39;ve understood how things are? This question is being worked on NOW by all these people arguing for-and-against the Democratic Opposition&#39;s revolt against the SWP Central Committee. This facile &quot;oh the Leninist model goes wrong&quot; tack – where does

  • Peter Shield says:

    Andy, while not disagreeing with what you have written I do think there is a shortfall in what you are proposing.<br /><br />Yes, the key is to look at what structures, information flows, channels of communications and support would are actually need to re-build the SWP into an effective revolutionary party but the issue is does the SWP have a strong enough Party culture to survive such a change

    • Pete,<br /><br />I agree with your description of the culture in the SWP, but I don&#39;t put it down to some terrible &#39;Leninism&#39; – which seems to me these days to be everyone&#39;s bete noir, without really saying what they mean by such a term. There have always been alternative currents within the SWP, and many of its members still look to the libertarian roots of the organisation as a

    • Out to Lunch says:

      I like the LCR. It gave me and Esther Leslie a boost when, having argued and argued for Walter Benjamin&#39;s ideas on aesthetics against a solid grey block of Lindsey German/Gareth Jenkins/Chris Nineham and never being given a chance to explain our ideas in Socialist Review, the LCR came to speak at Marxism and twice began major-hall talks with quotes from … Walter Benjamin!

  • Did you just tell me to go away because I asked a question? And assumed I was being facile in my questioning? (which I was not) And that I was somehow above it all for asking? (the only place I am above anything is in your fantasy) Not to mention supercilious and clever? (I am certainly not clever, tho as for supercilious that&#39;s not for me to decide, is it?). If you have indeed just asked me

  • Hi JOhn. I thought it was a reasonable question :-)<br />Out to Lunch wrote a reply but claims he is having problem submitting it here, so I am pasting it in for him:<br /><br />&quot;&quot;Leninism&quot;?!? Are you sure what you know what we are arguing about? The Stalinists travestied the real, acting Lenin. They turned &quot;Leninism&quot; into a method floating above history. The AMM is

    • John B-R says:

      Thanks, Grand, Erector, and thanks Out to Lunch. I asked, perhaps unintentionally implying I knew more than I did, and I will admit that my question was filtered thru Luxemburg and Goldman and my own pissed offness at what&#39;s I have read about an organization I don&#39;t perhaps fully comprehend. (I would definitely be actively opposed to the CC etc) What I was trying to do was to get educated

  • Anonymous says:

    Look, those who cling to this dream-vision of Lenin are doing themselves no favours. Much of the theoretical work of Lenin was/is useful, but it was he who made Stalin a possibility – much of what we term as &#39;Stalinism&#39; has its roots in the concrete decisions made in the period in which Lenin was all powerful, whether it was Lenin&#39;s stifling and smashing of free speech, or the

    • John B-R says:

      Well, I&#39;ll be better able to understand your position after I read what Out to Lunch has suggested. What do You suggest I read to understand your position?

    • Andy Wilson says:

      Lenin did not make Stalin a possibility, in the sense that there is no organisational formula on earth that could have prevented Stalin&#39;s rise. You speak of Lenin&#39;s over-repressive use of violence, etc., but this leaves a lot open to question. Did Lenin make grevous mistakes in that period – I believe so. Does that mean that Lenin&#39;s attitude to organisation is therefore irretrievably

    • Anonymous says:

      I&#39;m not talking about Lenin as a precursor of Stalin in a strictly formal and organisational sense. Lenin built the apparatuses of terror and violence – Stalin just utilised them with more efficiency. However, I actually largely agree with what you said – particularly about using parts of his theoretical works to build a better mode of organisation. But the fundamental contradiction

    • John B-R says:

      Than you all. If I were to make a suggestion re: organization, Andy, and please understand that this is only from what I&#39;ve read and been able to understand from 5000 miles away, they would be nothing original, they would be along the lines of what others have already suggested, here and elsewhere: less power to the CC etc, more power to the membership, more room for discussion, i.e. a return

  • Take back Lenin from the Leninists:<br /><br />&#39;The model operated currently by the SWP is not that of the Bolshevik revolution. It is a version of the Zinovievite model adopted during the period of “Bolshevisation” in the mid-1920s and then honed by ever smaller and more marginal groups. When Alex implies that somehow we have developed a ‘distilled’ version of Bolshevik democratic centralism

  • Anonymous says:

    John B-R, I think you can&#39;t go wrong with Luxemburg and Kautsky, with maybe some of f Joel Kovel&#39;s criticisms of Bolshevism thrown in for good measure.

  • Out to Lunch says:

    Sorry, John B-R, my original &quot;Go Away&quot; was more directed at Anonymous than you. As I suspected, Anonymous is actually a liberal, i.e. has illusions in the democratic fairness of naturally-existing capitalism before these horrible Marxists interfere. Andy&#39;s point is crucial. Capitalism gives us no choice: it needs war and instability and repression so its form of exploitation can

    • Anonymous says:

      I&#39;m sorry Out to Lunch, but what you accuse me of would only be accurate if Marxism necessarily equaled Leninism or Bolshevism. But let me ask you a question. So let me just ask you a brief theoretical question: If you were part of a revolutionary party that somehow managed to seize control of the state, would you suspend democracy? Would you ban bourgeois political parties and formations

    • Anonymous says:

      Two points; just to make clear to OtL, whoever that particular &#39;Anonymous&#39; poster is, it is NOT me: Signed DC AKA. <br /><br />To &#39;Anon&#39;, a revolution is not to be carried out by a party. It is carried out by the working class. The party&#39;s role is, to help to unify the various struggles, and assist in the generalisation of class consciousness, towards revolution. <br />The

    • Andy Wilson says:

      The problem doesn&#39;t lie in trying to lead and cohere struggles (aka. trying to be in &#39;the vanguard&#39;); the problem comes when you do this and then the working class slips is annihilated in a civil war. Then you have got an insurmountable problem. But it is a real problem, produced by the historical conjuncture and not the necessary unfolding of the concept of &#39;vanguardism&#39;.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, I agree with all that. Although, I would say that &#39;vanguardism&#39; is merely a name for &#39;substitutionism&#39; in the absence of a revolutionary moment and a revolutionary proletariat. Vanguardism, as pracitced by the Bolsheviks, became substitutionism with a natural ease. <br /><br />

    • Anonymous says:

      Andy Wilson, once again I would agree with what you say, and I have no wish to enter into reductionism, but I would argue that while understanding the so-called &#39;mistakes&#39; of the Bolsheviks through the prism of a particular conjuncture is obviously necessary, it is also necessary to understand that the &#39;mistakes&#39; were hardwired into the logic of Bolshevism.

  • Anonymous says:

    By the way, I just want to say, that one of the reasons that I have decided to remain anonymous is because of the reaction of comrades such as Out to Lunch, who tells people he doesn&#39;t agree with to &#39;go away&#39;. This is all too common on the left, but I expected something different from a founding member of the AMM. Despite his behaviour, I actually share the AMM&#39;s overall ethos

  • David Black says:

    If Anonymous wants to play the holy innocent he should be careful about presenting Kautsky and Luxemburg as the “anti-Leninist” alternative (how many imperialist wars did Rosa support?). In fact on the Left there are no significant historical traditions which don&#39;t have blood on their hands. Lenin is as much our ancestor as Machiavelli, Cromwell and Robespierre. If you want to rule out

    • John B-R says:

      Dear David, as part of my continuing (beginning?) education, can you elaborate a little on your &quot;how many imperialist wars did Rosa support?&quot; I mean, how many, and which ones?

    • Anonymous says:

      David, you are confusing a few things. Like I&#39;ve made clear, I don&#39;t have any problems at all with the violence that was necessary in order to defeat the Tsarist- imperialist counter-revolutionaries (the Whites). However, what I find problematic is the Bolsheviks violence against non-violent non-Bolshevik political and social forces, which were first pursued and implemented by Lenin and

  • John B-R says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • David Black says:

    The question, &quot;how many Imperialist wars did Rosa support?&quot; was rhetorical and was supposed to be ironic. The answer is &quot;none.&quot; Kautsky, on the other hand, much to Luxemburg&#39;s disgust, was celebrating &quot;a century of Prussian glory&quot; at a time when German imperialism was trying to exterminate the Nama and Herero peoples in Namibia. I need hardly add that Kautsky

  • Thanks, David. Because, scratch my head as hard as I could, I couldn&#39;t think of any. To my way of thinking, which is getting more knowledgeable by the day (I hope), we can learn from both Lenin and Luxemburg, and from many others as well.

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