Michael Rosen on the SWP crisis

July 27, 2013 at 7:56 pm (blogging, celebrity, ex-SWP, Jim D, misogyny, SWP)

For many years the writer Michael Rosen has been a fairly uncritical fellow-traveller of the  SWP. Now, he’s broken with them over the ‘Comrade Delta’ affair, and has had this exchange with SWP loyalist John Rose and others:

Michael Rosen (above) writes

My old friend John Rose has asked me to put this letter up on my blog. Here it is:

.
Mike,
You and I have been good friends for years – more or less since that great year of ’68. You have not only been a trusted friend – but a trusted comrade as well, even if your disagreement with our ‘Leninist’ model of organising inhibited you from joining us. Your close and critical reading of all of the chapters before publication for my book The Myths of Zionism helped guarantee its success.We recently spoke together at the Bookmarks Holocaust Day event at Bookmarks, the Socialist Bookshop on the subject of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Bookmarks tell me that you have kindly offered to help promote the new 70th anniversary edition The Ghetto Fights by Marek Edelman which I/we launched at our Marxism Festival last week. Over the last few months you and I have had furious e mail and text exchanges about the swp’s internal developments. More recently in the light of important changes that are now underway in the organisation which address all the issues that you raise, I offered to meet you and discuss them. I pointed out to you that only a face to face discussion can clarify matters in a way that is simply not possible by relying on e mail and text exchanges, given the proper necessity of respecting principles of confidentiality. For reasons best known to yourself, you have felt unable to do so, but I be obliged if you would let readers of your blog know that that my offer remains open. Many thanks John

****
My reply: Hi John
Thanks for this.
The problem here is that I’ve become the story. I’m not the story. The story is a) the mishandling of a dispute b) the mishandling of the mishandling c) the lack of an open approach to your friends and allies in what we call the ‘movement’.
As you’ve asked for this letter to be made public, I can only think that you feel that some part of it makes a point to the outside world. I’m guessing that this is the part where you ask me, in effect, why I haven’t discussed this matter whilst ‘respecting principles of confidentiality’.  Aha – surely this shows that Rosen has not been totally honest in his open letters…he could have heard the whole truth…he would then have not needed to go public about all this…etc etc.
I can explain. It is precisely because you wanted to have a ‘confidential’ talk about this that I found myself resisting your suggestion.  I’ll be blunt, I don’t want to be the recipient or owner of any confidences in this matter.  That’s the last thing in the world I want.  The dispute has been played out in various kinds of public forums. The consequence is that many of us who’ve been involved in eg Marxism, LMHR, UAF, Respect, ANL, Stop the War etc etc feel that we are entitled to be told what’s going on  – but not in terms of confidences – only in terms of why a proper procedure wasn’t followed, why the SWP couldn’t have admitted that it should have followed a proper procedure, why it couldn’t have admitted that its committees were the inappropriate means by which this dispute was heard, why it hasn’t hurried to put a proper procedure in place and why the person we call Delta went on being involved in LMHR and UAF long after the dispute was underway. And, I hasten to add, this is not because I am prejudging him as guilty. I repeat: I am not prejudging him as guilty. It is because this would have been the right way to proceed – for the benefit of all parties: the accusers, the accused, the SWP and the rest of us on the outside. I repeat, the SWP has set out its stall in relation to sexual oppression, liberation and equality. It can hardly complain if people on the outside ask how this dispute matches the principles and analysis that the SWP has put before us.
You mention ‘The Ghetto Fights’.  In fact, my offer was more than the one you mention. I said to Bookmarks that if they wrote an appeal I would kick off some crowd-funding with a contribution.

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My Reply to “SWP Party Loyalist”

For convenience sake, I’m repeating my reply to Nick Grant (on the end of previous blog) as a separate blog entry
Hello Nick.
You suggest I have been and am still being ‘unhelpful’. Excuse me if a picture comes to mind here of you and others driving a coach over a cliff while some people on board and others – me included –  on the road side are shouting, “Stop!” To which, you are shouting, “You’re being unhelpful!”
Then, a thought about your tone: you describe some people as: “assorted dishonest opportunists and deadbeats who’ve made their lives busy yelping at their keyboards for eight months “.  It’s a nice phrase but it seems as if you’re doing a bit of lumping and clumping here. All sorts of people with a range of views have come to the internet to express themselves on this matter. Some of them may be, as you suggest, being opportunistic about using this case as a means to beat down the SWP. The problem though is that if you shoot yourself in the foot, you can’t accuse your enemy of doing it. Some of them have (I think) made the mistake of claiming to know what happened in this case. You imply that I’ve done that too. I don’t think so. I’m not the most consistent of people so forgive me if I’m making a claim I can’t substantiate but as far as I know I haven’t stated anything about this case or how the SWP has behaved that isn’t fully known and agreed.
However, you seem to be saying something else here: that I and others have no right to have spoken about this case in public. I tried to make clear in what I wrote yesterday that the reason why some of us who are not in the SWP feel we have a right is not because of an abstract (though valuable) notion about freedom of speech. The reason why is because throughout most of our adult lives we have been approached, coaxed and appealed to by the SWP to agree with views, actions and campaigns. You are not a private chess club. You are a public political organism staking claims to have a particular expertise in all politics, including this matter of sexual oppression, liberation and equality. Many of us have had direct and frequent dealings with Delta. He’s written to us, spoken to us and, I for one, have spoken on platforms with him. The idea that we should not voice our concerns about what has emerged is not sustainable. Again, as far as I know and remember, I have only ever raised it as a matter of what I boringly keep calling ‘procedure’. If I strayed from that at some point in a comments thread, I apologise.
As I’ve seen from the comments thread on facebook following my blog yesterday, no one is going to apologise to me or to anyone else on the left that organisations like Love Music Hate Racism and Unite Against Fascism have been compromised by the continuing presence of someone who the SWP should have “suspended without prejudice”.
You and I clearly know of examples of cases analogous to this being handled in work situations. We seem to draw different conclusions from these experiences. The occasions I know of proceeded extremely promptly and though of course some confidentiality was compromised (ie the identity of the suspended person was known), when that person was reinstated it was assumed that it had been shown to all parties concerned that there was no case to be answered. End of. What I find staggering is that though you know of procedures like this a hundred times better than me – and presumably find them in the main the least worst option – you write here of committees and hearings and votes and reports. What? Are these better ways to handle matters like this? Is the SWP so full of right-on folks that they don’t need to do things in the trade union way? Does the SWP live in some kind of utopian bubble where there is a ‘real’ justice that can be meted out which the rest of us can’t get access to?
You raise all the old objections about police and an apparent sympathy with the wishes of the accuser that the case be heard by the SWP.  I repeat, in case you haven’t read it: the procedure to have followed was 1. Suspend the accused on full pay with no prejudice, ask him to withdraw from all party activity including organisations he was actively involved in like LMHR and UAF. 2. Offer the accuser(s) help. If they wanted it, they could have it. If they didn’t want it, they didn’t have to have it. 3. You could have said clearly to the accuser that the SWP is not the appropriate forum for considering a matter like this. This is not only or simply because it is defined by the state as ‘criminal’. It is actually for humane reasons that the procedures that you could or would put in place to ‘hear’ this case would be (and were) totally inappropriate. The SWP didn’t do better than what people do in workplaces. It did worse. 4. Then the organisation could have waited. It is not possible to know what might have taken place next and I’m not making any presumptions about guilt or innocence, true or false accusations here. What  you and I could do, though, is draw up a flow chart of possible outcomes, all of which seem to me to be better than what has actually taken place! For example, the parties concerned might have chosen to go to mediation – yes – with people known and respected by both parties. Perhaps either or both parties might have chosen to go to people known and respected by both for ‘help’. Perhaps either or both would enjoy having a private confidential space in which to say how or why they were in the situation they were in. This may or may not have resolved the issue. I’m not someone who thinks the talking cure  solves everything but who knows, on this occasion it might have helped. What do you think?
Instead, what the SWP has is surely by any account – sympathetic or not – a mess.  There is Delta’s resignation without explanation. You don’t need reminding but that’s fast beginning to look like the rubbing out of Trotsky’s face on the famous photograph. Delta has just disappeared. There have been mass resignations – some of whom are presumably the ‘deadbeats’ you refer to? If so, they were yesterday’s ‘comrades’, weren’t they? And there are the many people who are still in the organisation who are dissatisfied with how things have gone on. I suspect that you are going to have much more bother with them than with me. Perhaps your letter to me was intended more for them than for me. Certainly its slightly menacing tone is a bit of damp fart as far as I’m concerned. The last time I was on the receiving end of that kind of apparatchik stare was when I worked with Ewan MacColl in the early 1970s. I don’t think you need to do that sort of thing, do you?
At some point, we could have a conversation about ‘authority’ and ‘power’.  Something has happened in this case which leads me to think that in the heart of the left we haven’t succeeded in distinguishing between respect for people’s ideas and the power we then let them have. What seems to happen is that when we come to respect or admire someone’s (or a group’s) ideas and experience, we have a tendency to let them or encourage them to have an authority over us.
As for my ‘Leninist doubts’ – there are several ways of looking at that. Yes, you could represent them for your convenience as weaselly. Another way might be to see that I thought my critique of what you are calling ‘Leninism’ was a bit abstract. So, to test it, I told myself that I would operate on an issue by issue, campaign by campaign basis. If I could support, I would support. If this support outweighed my doubts then (I thought) I might prove myself wrong. I don’t think I ever kept this secret, did I? On various occasions people asked me why I was not a member and I told them. Perhaps you forgot to ask. Funnily enough, no one seemed particularly bothered at the time. Quite the opposite: “Mike, please write this, please speak here, please do a turn at this event…” Now I’ve become ‘transcendental’ (that’s a good gag by the way) it’s become a bother. It’s of course a very handy way to deflect what I’ve got to say. Neat.

Trenchant reply from SWP loyalist

In response to what I wrote in the previous blog, I received this on facebook from Nick Grant, someone I’ve known and worked with on and off for many years:
“Can I object to your continuing unhelpful contributions Michael? “It seems to me that throughout this whole affair I’ve seen aspects of this state of mind when reading what SWP loyalists have written. That’s to say, ‘if we concede that we’ve got something wrong with this Comrade Delta affair, this will only bring comfort to the enemy…so even though something’s not right, loyalty comes first’. Or put another way: ‘if the Daily Mail are saying that we got it wrong, we’ll have to say that we’re getting it right’.” Now I presume this is not any kind of direct quote Michael, and if anyone has indeed said such words then they clearly are detached from revolutionary politics or reality in general, but I am sorry that for me you have not “typified it right”. So, for example, my loyalty has indeed been to the honour and confidentiality of the complainant, the accused and the comrades who were given a no-win situation once the comrade insisted on a hearing taking place. One option, which in retrospect I think should have happened, was for the SWP DC to refuse to hear the case. The details were apparently a few years old and if true should have been reported to the police long ago. To do that however may well have opened similar floodgates of abuse. But has it crossed your mind that because I have no truck with the assorted dishonest opportunists and deadbeats who’ve made their lives busy yelping at their keyboards for eight months I do not, and should not, know any of the actual detailsof the infamous case. You seem to know far more “of the facts” than I do as an SWP national committee member, enough seemingly to expound yet again on the matter based on very partial information. I do a lot of work with teachers who are accused of safeguarding issues, including allegations of child abuse and harrassment of colleagues, and the core problem is one of confidentiality in order to allow due process. The cost of confidentiality is gossip, around staffrooms and in pubs, sometimes even on FB or blogs which results in further disciplinary cases! The SWP CC or DC or maybe some individuals could have blurted across the blogosphere some of the issues which lead to a female-dominated, highly-experienced group of comrades arriving at a certain decision. But didn’t because we insisted on maintaining that confidentiality, until the only democratically accountable forum according to democratically elected bodies and rules- the SWP National Conference. And the report there from comrades was the one that I trust. Those comrades were re-elected unopposed and are now reviewing their procedures at the behest of a subsequent conference, which nobody has yet seen but which everyone including you presume will be a continuation of the same old same old. And do you really buy the idea that SWP comrades operate on the trade union but sentimental notion that you offer unconditional support whatever the circumstances to any comrade in trouble as was at the heart of the factionalista mischief making? Hope not. A true comrade will tell another if they have fucked up. A true comrade will not bend any facts or procedures and will tell it like it is. I am sorry to say that your insinuation along with so many others that we have leading women and rank and file sisters who are so beholden to some form of machismo spell that they are no better than a bunch of Stepford Wives, brain-washed into servitude and gross contradiction of core politics by charismatic men is just hogwash. Instead of hovering at a transcendental distance Michael and prolonging the toxicity maybe you could talk to some of them or us. It’s a strange place that I find myself in because for decades I was treated as an Aunt Sally by successive CC members who found me too outspoken and irreverent for their liking, and jumped at the opportunity to contradict some observation or argument that I raised. My ego is not so vital that I needed their permission to continue as a revolutionary when all else – social democracy and Stalinism – was and is a dead-end. But I am still there when they are gone. It’s such a pity you have never been there to do likewise, seemingly keeping schtum on the Leninist doubts you harboured all the time that Marxism or other events gave you a platform. I do not know why MS has resigned or now. But I do not think it was another conspiratorial step by the CC. But the vitriolic treatment he has had would have been as bad or worse had he resigned or been suspended much earlier. Obviously I cherish all the work you have done for the movement especially in education and will do again no doubt, and I do not want to antagonise you but you are not the only one to be sad – about how this recklessness persists and who fans its flames.” Underneath this on facebook 7 people have ‘liked’ this and then there are the following comments:
Char Lotte one option was not to hear the case because time had passed, Nick? Are you being serious? 6 hours ago via mobile · Like · 3
Marie Clare Do not try to bully Michael into silence Nick. Do not even DARE. 6 hours ago · Like · 4
Tim Nelson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fI7zm7RXHs
Magic Roundabout Theme The Magic Roundabout theme tune. Best viewed in HD for best sound quality. 6 hours ago · Like · Remove Preview
Marie Clare “I do a lot of work with teachers who are accused of safeguarding issues, including allegations of child abuse and harrassment of colleagues” – SCARY. Do they know about you? 6 hours ago · Like · 4
Andy Lawson i hope this doesn’t get deleted. people should know what a disgusting misogynist bully nick grant is. and i would fear for any child who reported abuse to him, especially as he would presumably tell them to get fucked if time had elapsed before it was reported (although it is of course worth pointing out that what with being both a line-manager, and having shedloads of facility time means he doesn’t often actually teach a class). 6 hours ago · Edited · Like · 5
Marie Clare ‘keyboard warrior’ Nick Grant enjoys telling women discussing their experiences of rape and sexual abuse to ‘get over it’. He shouldn’t be anywhere near any such cases. He is a disgrace. And I have screenshots if anyone wants them. 6 hours ago · Edited · Like · 2
Tim Nelson Post them here Marie Clare 6 hours ago · Like · 1
Arnie Joahill “I have no truck with the assorted dishonest opportunists and deadbeats who’ve made their lives busy yelping at their keyboards for eight months I do not, and should not, know any of the actual detailsof the infamous case. You seem to know far more “of the facts” than I do as an SWP national committee member, enough seemingly to expound yet again on the matter based on very partial information. “
Thats really strange, because I remember your almost non-existent particpation in Ealing Branch for a long time, despite pleas for you to get involved, come dispute time you pop up with some informed views out of no where, continuing to forward them through the pre-conference aggregate period, YOU said the allegation was ‘NOT RAPE’, a LIE fed by the CC to the old cadre of the organisation and many organisers, including west london who went on to defend that the allegation was not ‘rape’ and hounded anyone who even mentioned or queried the topic… LATER to find out that the CC had lied to you. So don’t play stupid nick
and in january conference you were factionalising and talking to as many fucking people as you could about how great martin was and that there was a “plot” going on.
the only deadbeat is unaccountable bureacratic lieing scum like yourself who need booting out of the party, purging out of the left and left to rot. 6 hours ago · Like · 7
Andy Lawson “It’s a strange place that I find myself in because for decades I was treated as an Aunt Sally by successive CC members who found me too outspoken and irreverent for their liking”
strange indeed – cc members may or may not have thought that; the rest of us just saw you as a rich bureaucrat windbag 6 hours ago · Edited · Like · 1
Jennifer Izaakson Very little of this post makes sense. Isn’t this bloke a teacher? 6 hours ago · Like
Tim Nelson He manages teachers 6 hours ago · Like
Jennifer Izaakson Ah. Makes sense. 6 hours ago · Like · 2
Andy Lawson ” I do not know why MS has resigned or now. “
REALLY? you really can’t think of any reason? come on now, everyone else has worked this one out 6 hours ago · Like · 7
Jennifer Izaakson “I do a lot of work with teachers who are accused of safeguarding issues, including allegations of child abuse and harrassment of colleagues” – And you make sure they’re not heard properly cos they’re probably making it up? Is that an admission? 6 hours ago · Edited · Like
Char Lotte “A true comrade will not bend any facts or procedures”. On this point we agree, Nick. It’s just a pity that your leadership body think facts that are not convenient can be thrown out. It’s also a pity your leadership has lied, dissembles and smeared.
Maybe you’d like to raise your definition of a ‘true comrade’ with them. 6 hours ago via mobile · Like
Jennifer Izaakson For £20 I’ll show Nick how to paragraph. 6 hours ago · Like · 7
Char Lotte Nick, didn’t you kick Adam Marks out your band when he got expelled? 6 hours ago via mobile · Like · 4
Char Lotte Nick, didn’t you say you hoped the person who robbed your house was *obviously* a junkie and should die? 6 hours ago via mobile · Like · 6
Char Lotte Nick, didn’t you call us all opportunists and deadbeats who’ve done nothing but yelp at our keyboards… By using your keyboard? 5 hours ago via mobile · Like · 5
Marie Clare Tim due to privacy of others on screenshot, (particularly the female comrade who his ‘get over it’ was directed at) won’t post up in public right now. 5 hours ago · Like · 2
Alex Snowdon This is wrong from start to finish, but the most troubling bit is when Nick argues that SWP oppositionists should have told the two women complainants that they had ‘fucked up’. He writes: ‘And do you really buy the idea that SWP comrades operate on th…See More 5 hours ago · Like
Luke Stobart The DC shouldn’t have heard a rape case??!! Nobody should go on facebook but you Nick?! Not in my name Nick. An appalled SWP member. 5 hours ago · Like · 2
Nick Jonz I am really pleased that somebody with the stature of Michael Rosen has spoken out. This will influence how people see things and give reassurance to those who have thought like him and raised concerns. Nick Grant doe not have such stature and commands…See More 5 hours ago · Like · 1
Luke Stobart And the two women complainants should have been told they “fucked up”?!… These words are a disgrace to the party. 4 hours ago · Like · 2

Here follow my comments:
Hello Nick.
You suggest I have been and am still being ‘unhelpful’. Excuse me if a picture comes to mind here of you and others driving a coach over a cliff while some people on board and others – me included –  on the road side are shouting, “Stop!” To which, you are shouting, “You’re being unhelpful!”
Then, a thought about your tone: you describe some people as: “assorted dishonest opportunists and deadbeats who’ve made their lives busy yelping at their keyboards for eight months “.  It’s a nice phrase but it seems as if you’re doing a bit of lumping and clumping here. All sorts of people with a range of views have come to the internet to express themselves on this matter. Some of them may be, as you suggest, being opportunistic about using this case as a means to beat down the SWP. The problem though is that if you shoot yourself in the foot, you can’t accuse your enemy of doing it. Some of them have (I think) made the mistake of claiming to know what happened in this case. You imply that I’ve done that too. I don’t think so. I’m not the most consistent of people so forgive me if I’m making a claim I can’t substantiate but as far as I know I haven’t stated anything about this case or how the SWP has behaved that isn’t fully known and agreed.
However, you seem to be saying something else here: that I and others have no right to have spoken about this case in public. I tried to make clear in what I wrote yesterday that the reason why some of us who are not in the SWP feel we have a right is not because of an abstract (though valuable) notion about freedom of speech. The reason why is because throughout most of our adult lives we have been approached, coaxed and appealed to by the SWP to agree with views, actions and campaigns. You are not a private chess club. You are a public political organism staking claims to have a particular expertise in all politics, including this matter of sexual oppression, liberation and equality. Many of us have had direct and frequent dealings with Delta. He’s written to us, spoken to us and, I for one, have spoken on platforms with him. The idea that we should not voice our concerns about what has emerged is not sustainable. Again, as far as I know and remember, I have only ever raised it as a matter of what I boringly keep calling ‘procedure’. If I strayed from that at some point in a comments thread, I apologise.
As I’ve seen from the comments thread on facebook following my blog yesterday, no one is going to apologise to me or to anyone else on the left that organisations like Love Music Hate Racism and Unite Against Fascism have been compromised by the continuing presence of someone who the SWP should have “suspended without prejudice”.
You and I clearly know of examples of cases analogous to this being handled in work situations. We seem to draw different conclusions from these experiences. The occasions I know of proceeded extremely promptly and though of course some confidentiality was compromised (ie the identity of the suspended person was known), when that person was reinstated it was assumed that it had been shown to all parties concerned that there was no case to be answered. End of. What I find staggering is that though you know of procedures like this a hundred times better than me – and presumably find them in the main the least worst option – you write here of committees and hearings and votes and reports. What? Are these better ways to handle matters like this? Is the SWP so full of right-on folks that they don’t need to do things in the trade union way? Does the SWP live in some kind of utopian bubble where there is a ‘real’ justice that can be meted out which the rest of us can’t get access to?
You raise all the old objections about police and an apparent sympathy with the wishes of the accuser that the case be heard by the SWP.  I repeat, in case you haven’t read it: the procedure to have followed was
1. Suspend the accused on full pay with no prejudice, ask him to withdraw from all party activity including organisations he was actively involved in like LMHR and UAF.
2. Offer the accuser(s) help. If they wanted it, they could have it. If they didn’t want it, they didn’t have to have it.
3. You could have said clearly to the accuser that the SWP is not the appropriate forum for considering a matter like this. This is not only or simply because it is defined by the state as ‘criminal’. It is actually for humane reasons that the procedures that you could or would put in place to ‘hear’ this case would be (and were) totally inappropriate. The SWP didn’t do better than what people do in workplaces. It did worse.
4. Then the organisation could have waited. It is not possible to know what might have taken place next and I’m not making any presumptions about guilt or innocence, true or false accusations here. What  you and I could do, though, is draw up a flow chart of possible outcomes, all of which seem to me to be better than what has actually taken place! For example, the parties concerned might have chosen to go to mediation – yes – with people known and respected by both parties. Perhaps either or both parties might have chosen to go to people known and respected by both for ‘help’. Perhaps either or both would enjoy having a private confidential space in which to say how or why they were in the situation they were in. This may or may not have resolved the issue. I’m not someone who thinks the talking cure  solves everything but who knows, on this occasion it might have helped. What do you think?
Instead, what the SWP has is surely by any account – sympathetic or not – a mess.  There is Delta’s resignation without explanation. You don’t need reminding but that’s fast beginning to look like the rubbing out of Trotsky’s face on the famous photograph. Delta has just disappeared. There have been mass resignations – some of whom are presumably the ‘deadbeats’ you refer to? If so, they were yesterday’s ‘comrades’, weren’t they? And there are the many people who are still in the organisation who are dissatisfied with how things have gone on. I suspect that you are going to have much more bother with them than with me. Perhaps your letter to me was intended more for them than for me. Certainly its slightly menacing tone is a bit of damp fart as far as I’m concerned. The last time I was on the receiving end of that kind of apparatchik stare was when I worked with Ewan MacColl in the early 1970s. I don’t think you need to do that sort of thing, do you?
At some point, we could have a conversation about ‘authority’ and ‘power’.  Something has happened in this case which leads me to think that in the heart of the left we haven’t succeeded in distinguishing between respect for people’s ideas and the power we then let them have. What seems to happen is that when we come to respect or admire someone’s (or a group’s) ideas and experience, we have a tendency to let them or encourage them to have an authority over us.
As for my ‘Leninist doubts’ – there are several ways of looking at that. Yes, you could represent them for your convenience as weaselly. Another way might be to see that I thought my critique of what you are calling ‘Leninism’ was a bit abstract. So, to test it, I told myself that I would operate on an issue by issue, campaign by campaign basis. If I could support, I would support. If this support outweighed my doubts then (I thought) I might prove myself wrong. I don’t think I ever kept this secret, did I? On various occasions people asked me why I was not a member and I told them. Perhaps you forgot to ask. Funnily enough, no one seemed particularly bothered at the time. Quite the opposite: “Mike, please write this, please speak here, please do a turn at this event…” Now I’ve become ‘transcendental’ (that’s a good gag by the way) it’s become a bother. It’s of course a very handy way to deflect what I’ve got to say. Neat.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Open letter to the SWP

It’s no secret that for many years I was personally and politically close to the SWP and its forerunner the International Socialists. This meant that I read and sometimes wrote for your journals, I supported many of the campaigns you supported or initiated and over the years,  I have been personally friendly with several of your prominent members.
It’s also no secret that I was appalled by the events that unfolded around “Comrade Delta”. This is not because I have assumed that he was guilty of what he was accused of. I will repeat that: I have not assumed that he is guilty of what he was accused of. My disagreement is based entirely on a view of the absurd and inappropriate procedures you followed. Everything that I have read on this matter leads me to believe that you ended up putting the survival of the organisation ahead of the very principles that  you advocate.
The moment the accusation was made, all you needed to have done was to have suspended Delta with ‘no prejudice’ on full pay. The right and proper thing for you to have done was to have interpreted that as suspension from all his activities for the SWP including organisations where the SWP works with others as with Love Music Hate Racism and United Against Fascism. You could and should have offered the accuser/accusers the best possible advice you could find – including legal advice. At that point, you didn’t need to have conducted an inquiry or put into practice any kind of disputes procedure. All you needed to have done was wait. By doing these things you would have behaved ethically and entirely in line with how any of your members would behave in a work situation. There is no justification for the proposition that the SWP should behave in any way that is different from the kind of procedures that have been won by trade unions in workplaces in order to safeguard everyone involved in such situations.
Instead of this, those of us on the outside of the organisation have witnessed what looks like a mixture of incompetence and arrogance. I would list these – in no order of importance – like this:
1. Even though your whole direction as an organisation is to face outwards, you have avoided giving honest accounts of what has been going on. If you think this is irrelevant or unnecessary, I would reply to you that this is part of the problem. As you know better than me, you’re hardly shy about presenting to the world a view on matters of sexual oppression, liberation and equality. As this case has unfolded, you have failed totally in overcoming the problem that what you say and how you have behaved don’t match up. From my perspective – (I don’t speak for anyone else) – this strikes me as disastrous.
2. While we on the outside can see that there have been mass resignations, suspensions and the formation and dissolution of factions, the face presented to the outside world is of an organisation soldiering on, sure of itself, sure of its stand on everything, and indeed sure that it is the right kind of organisation. Frankly speaking, this too has looked absurd. You have been in trouble. What is to be gained by pretending that you’re not?
3. This leads me to the question of structure. I am quite clear in my mind  – perhaps clearer than I have ever been – that now is not the time for a socialist organisation to take the form that your organisation has. As it happens, when IS became the SWP, I thought at the time that this was a mistake. It seemed to me then that it was, if nothing else, presumptuous . That’s to say, it seemed to be a way of trying to create a leadership role (‘vanguard’, if you like) with the wrong personnel and at the wrong historical moment.
4. Over the years,  I’ve been keen to co-operate with individuals, journals, events and campaigns, I have worked with Comrade Delta. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of other non-SWP people could say the same. If for no other reason than that this group of people have worked with him, you owe us at the very least an account of what has gone on. By not doing so, you treat us with arrogance and disrespect. So we learn by rumour and internet chat that Comrade Delta has resigned from the SWP. Don’t you see that that has an impact on how we view the SWP, LMHR and the UAF? Put another way: if you thought that Delta’s intervention and presence in these organisations was significant then surely his sudden non-presence is just as significant? And if so, you need to explain and account for all this. If you don’t, how do you think or expect that you can approach the outside world in the future?
5. To be clear, it is not the alleged behaviour of Comrade Delta, it’s not the accusers’ behaviour, it’s not the behaviour of resigners, expellees or factions  that has ‘infected’ your dealings with non-members or affected your standing in the world.  It is solely your handling of an accusation that has caused your problems. In other words, all the time being spent by the SWP in rooting out dissent, giving long lectures on the virtues of leninism, giving detailed accounts of why this or that faction have got it wrong, is utterly misspent. From out here, it all looks like pissing in the wind – or worse – deliberate obfuscation or crap busywork, displacement activity.
6. Unlike some others on the left, I don’t think that you are on the verge of imminent collapse. I suspect you will carry on as you’ve been carrying on. You seem to have boundless energy, producing documents and journals, running meetings and events, ‘getting on’ with taking part in campaigns. As you haven’t dealt with this crucial matter, involving a key member of your organisation in an open and ethical way, I won’t be supporting events that are presented as SWP events. Of course, we will bump into each other in campaigns, where of course your comments on eg sexual oppression, liberation and equality will be looked at in a particular light. Actually, now I come to think of it, your claims to be able to handle things with adeptness and insight will be up for scrutiny too. I suspect that plenty of people in the environment of campaigns will also raise an eyebrow about the nature of the organisation that asks for support but was unable to fulfil the basic minimum when it came to an affair like this. You’ll hate the term, but this whole matter has raised questions about your ‘core values’ (!).
7. It’s quite simple, once it became clear that the organisation had screwed up, all you needed to have done was say, ‘the organisation has screwed up’. Then, you could and should have quickly put into place the procedures that people follow in workplaces and announced that that was what you have done. Then you could and should have set up a discussion process which examined why and how an organisation espousing your views on sexual oppression, liberation and equality could have got it so wrong. Then you could and should have continued that discussion on how to get it right in future.  We all make mistakes. There is absolutely no reason why the SWP shouldn’t have made a mistake. That’s not the issue. The issue is how you handle a mistake when you make it.
8. I know there’s a lot of fear and suspicion around, so just to be clear: what I’ve written here doesn’t come from this or that faction, this or that grouping, or this or that party. It was written partly because I’ve received notes from SWP members saying that they are saddened that I have taken this position. I can assure you, they are not the only people saddened by what’s happened. It depresses me to think that people whose opinions I valued could have walked into this thorn-bush and went on entangling themselves with it in the most ludicrous ways and still can’t find a way out of it, even though the key figure in it all has walked away from it.
9. I often used to ask my parents about why they stayed in the Communist Party for so long, why they left, what they considered valuable about having been part of it…and so on. In these long discussions, one aspect that is relevant here, I think, is the point my father made about why he went on defending the CP and the Soviet Union even when he ceased to believe that it was right to do so. He said that that was because he felt that there was only one interest involved in attacking the CP and the Soviet Union: the ‘bourgeoisie’ or, as he always called it, ‘the buggers-are-we’. So, he said, even as he might sometimes have felt that the CP or the Soviet Union was in some way wrong, he couldn’t admit it or do anything about it, because to do so would make it easier for the enemy (bourgeoisie, ruling class, the bosses, international capitalism, etc) to survive and win. So, he shamefully admitted, he and our mother supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary because otherwise the enemy would move into Hungary and take over.
I am not going to claim that this is your Hungary moment. The fate of millions of Hungarians – and indeed of the whole eastern bloc (as was) – is very different from a few thousand of us on the left in Britain being worried, concerned or fed up. However, I’m going to draw one analogy, no matter how inappropriate it appears at first. It concerns the state of mind my father described that went on justifying the CP and the Soviet Union even when he knew it was wrong. It seems to me that throughout this whole affair I’ve seen aspects of this state of mind when reading what SWP loyalists have written. That’s to say, ‘if we concede that we’ve got something wrong with this Comrade Delta affair, this will only bring comfort to the enemy…so even though something’s not right, loyalty comes first’. Or put another way: ‘if the Daily Mail are saying that we got it wrong, we’ll have to say that we’re getting it right’.
All  I can say is that there comes a point at which this kind of view – if indeed I’ve typified it right – is not only unhelpful, it becomes dangerous. No, I’ll put it another way: it brings ideas and views that I think are valuable and necessary into disrepute. Yes, I think that international capitalism can only offer inequality and war. It can develop ‘production’, it can develop ‘the economy’ but only by enriching tiny minorities, while dividing and impoverishing millions of others. An inevitable part of that is a state of permanent war. Trying to move from this status quo has been a project that has so far failed. No single person, no single organisation, no single country has the solution to this. There is no point in pretending that any group does. To my mind, what follows from this is that it is less necessary to recruit people to this or that organisation and much more important to develop the ideas and actions which enable people to see that this status quo is not necessary or inevitable.  People are entitled to examine us and ask us if we can suggest anything better. If, at the heart of what we’re doing, there are things going on that are indefensible or plain wrong, we have to say so, or we go backwards. I think this last year is a good example of going backwards. Am I saddened by that? You bet I am.

2 Comments

  1. Michael Ezra said,

    John Rose has been a revolutionary since at least 1968. That is 45 years ago. One wonders what he and all those who have remained revolutionaries since ’68 have achieved since then.

  2. jimmy glesga said,

    The problem with lefties since and before 1968 is they supported onerous regimes and the likes of fascist Catholic PIRA. Some are now apologists for Islamisit nutters.
    Maybe some real lefties will get back to remembering that the Left is supposed to support the working class and the poor.

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