In an interesting review of Orwell’s public school memoir Such, Such Were the Joys, in today’s Graun, Francis Wheen is quoted on the subject of the disintegration of the Socialist Workers Party:
“[T]he party’s leader Alex Callinicos, grandson of the 2nd Lord Acton, was educated at a top private school and another senior leader, Charlie Kimber, is the Old Etonian son of a baronet. Also prominent in the brouhaha has been Dave Renton, an Old Etonian barrister related to a former Tory chief whip: ‘It sometimes reads like a conversation between Old Rugbeians and Old Etonians about the main British Trotskyist Party. It’s quite bizarre’.”
This reminded me of the latest cartoon strip from the pen that brought us the fabulous Billy Delta of Red Friars. This follow-up is not, perhaps, quite as hilarious (in part because the main characters are less well-known, and the plot-line more convoluted), but it’s still a good sectarian chuckle…
Above: Class Monitor Tim is showing the new boy Cuthbert Cringe-Renton around the school.
And on a (very) loosely related theme, for anyone with a lot of spare time there are tons of bulletins from the last four conferences of the American ISO (former comrades of the SWP), on this site: http://thecharnelhouse.org/2014/02/07/international-socialist-organization-2014-convention-bulletin/
Above: swift, decisive and resolute action against agent of imperialism Jang Song
The Morning Star (de facto organ of the Communist Party of Britan) took an uncharacteristically critical line on North Korea in its editorial following the Jang Song execution.
Today’s Star letters page carries a swift, decisive and resolute reply from reader Dermot Hudson upbraiding these craven revisionists for (amongst other crimes) failing to mention that the Pyongyang Metro is the cheapest in the world and litre of beer costs just 20p: “What is this if not socialism?” demands the imperious Comrade Hudson, no doubt causing these despicable pro-imperialist running dogs and lackeys to quake in their counter-revolutionary boots.
The Star may have published the letter for its entertainment value, but they should not be allowed to forget that as recently as 2003, a CPB internal report (written by our old sparring-partner Andrew Murray) stated “Our Party has already made its basic position of solidarity with Peoples Korea clear.” So don’t laugh too loudly, comrades…
YOUR editorial Schism in North Korea (M Star December 16) was without a doubt one of the worst articles ever to appear in the Morning Star.
The Star has truly crossed the Rubicon. It has degenerated from being a revisionist newspaper into being openly pro-imperialist, anti-communist and social democratic.
The editorial rehashed the lies of the capitalist press with a few cheap throwaway jibes aimed at currying favour with Trotskyites.
The article reads like a mixture of the Sun newspaper and the Socialist Worker.
The defeat of the counter-revolutionary faction in the DPRK should be a matter for congratulation.
The swift, decisive and resolute action taken by Marshal Kim Jong Un has dealt a blow to the imperialists — as shown by the reactionary Lord Alton’s comments that Jang Song Thaek was “a real hope for reform” in the DPRK.
The class enemy is angry about the elimination of its agent in the DPRK but why should the Star, a “socialist daily newspaper,” join hands with them in attacking the DPRK?
Had the Soviet Union taken similar decisive measures against Gorbachov and Yeltsin socialism would still exist in the USSR today — this is a fact.
All the old lies of the capitalist media about the DPRK are spewed up by the Morning Star.
Rather than living standards declining in the DPRK they are improving as a large number of leisure and cultural facilities have been built in the past 18 months.
Education and health care are free in the DPRK, housing is virtually free and people do not pay tax.
The Pyongyang Metro is the cheapest in the world at only 2.5p per journey and a litre of beer costs just 20p.
What is this if not socialism?
There is no schism in the DPRK – a handful of counter-revolutionary factionalists do not represent anyone.
The people are solidly united around the party and the leader.
DERMOT HUDSON – London SE18
Letter sent to the National Secretary of the SWP on 15 December 2013 at the close of the party’s annual conference.
To the National Secretary, SWP:
It is with very great sadness that I have decided to resign my membership of the SWP.
It is over fifty years since I first joined the International Socialists. As Cliff used to say, it takes many streams to make a river, and I have never seen the organisation as more than one stream among many – but for fifty years it was my stream, the context in which I made my small contribution to the socialist cause.
During those fifty years there has been a great deal to be proud of. Cliff’s theory of state capitalism and the body of ideas deriving from it focussed our politics on the self-activity of the working class and rejected the notion that socialism is defined by state ownership. Our initiation of the Anti-Nazi League played a major role in blocking the rise of the far right in Britain. Our intervention in the miners’ strikes, the campaign against the poll tax, and the Stop The War movement was highly creditable. Equally important has been the role played by many hundreds of SWP members in keeping trade unionism alive in their workplaces and in animating local campaigns in defence of workers’ rights, against cuts, and against racism, sexism and war. The Marxism events and Bookmarks publications have done a very valuable job of disseminating socialist ideas. If I had died last year I should have died happy to have been a party member.
Unfortunately the events of the last year have changed everything. The monstrously irresponsible and self-indulgent conduct of a former leading member was bad enough. But far worse was the failure of the party leadership to deal flexibly and intelligently with the situation. The Central Committee has been at best obstinate and short-sighted, at worst grossly dishonest. The revolutionary organisation is a means to the end of socialist transformation, but for members of our self-selecting leadership it has become an end in itself.
As a result we have lost several hundred good activists, our student work has been badly harmed and our relations with our periphery have been seriously damaged. Last year’s Marxism was the smallest for many years. Good comrades have been treated shamefully, apparently with CC approval. In fifty years membership I have not seen a crisis remotely comparable to the one we are now going through. We are urged to be “outward-looking” and to commit ourselves to activity in the “real world”. Most of us would like nothing better, but when the leadership has broken down all relations of trust, effective action becomes impossible.
The Central Committee bears a heavy responsibility for this situation, and that they should seek re-election en bloc reveals an arrogance that disqualifies them as a leadership. As senior CC member, Alex Callinicos bears a particularly heavy responsibility. (When a dog bites me I don’t blame the animal; I blame the owner that failed to keep it on a lead.) It is a small personal tragedy that his cowardice and dishonesty over the last year will overshadow forty years’ work as a significant Marxist theoretician.
I make no apology for “factionalising”. Without the activities of the opposition faction, the few small improvements made would not have happened. The existence of a vigorous opposition inspired by the best traditions of the SWP has gone some small way to saving the party’s honour. Unfortunately we were not able to achieve more. I fear the damage is now irreversible. But I sincerely hope you can prove me wrong, since the SWP’s descent into irrelevance will weaken the whole left. I shall observe with interest whether those who have been most vocal in demanding expulsions are equally committed to rebuilding their damaged organisation.
Given my age and health, I do not intend to join any other organisation. I continue to regard most (sadly I cannot say all) SWP members as my comrades, who share the same socialist goals and Marxist analyses that I believe in. I will, within the limits of my capacities, cooperate with the SWP and with any other genuine revolutionary socialist currents. I know there are many comrades who will remain in the SWP because they are hoping for a change in the party’s democratic culture; they have my solidarity but I do not share their stamina or their faith. I hope that there will eventually be a revolutionary regroupment which draws on the best traditions of the SWP but avoids its weaknesses.
I have no desire to engage in further public criticism of the SWP, and, having stated the reasons for my resignation, I hope and intend to refrain from further polemics.
This (below) has been posted on Facebook by veteran SWP’er Pete Gillard, and is there for all to see, so I’m not betraying him:
Comrade X would like to continue to remain anonymous. I post her resignation statement from the SWP with permission below. She is happy for the statement to be shared but please avoid names:
There are many reasons I am resigning after the events of the last twelve months, you can read some of them in my Internal Bulletin piece. I will give only one reason here: a member of the DC claimed at the SWP national conference this weekend that my email account might have been hacked but they were confident that the Central Committee was not responsible. How is it possible that this hasn’t generated outrage? When told that the woman who brought a complaint of sexual harassment has had her email account hacked and one of the emails used as evidence in her case deleted, most SWP members seem content that it is OK because the CC did not personally do it.
This typifies the problems of the past 12 months. There has been no political will to resolve any of the issues in a principled way. There is no political will to demand that the person who gave the CC hacked emails should have to conclusively prove how they got the emails or be expelled. Instead at every stage smoke and mirrors have been deployed to manoeuvre to win votes and political positions. In the process I have been sacked, bullied, smeared and marginalised but this has been tolerated to prevent Martin’s supporters from leaving and to avoid the CC accounting for their mistakes.
What of the apology? I do not accept as adequate or sincere an apology fought for and said through gritted teeth. I first found out that the CC regretted my hurt and distress when I read about it in their motion. No-one has met with me to communicate it personally. In tragic fashion I have had to speak to a motion to fight for an apology for myself. For months I was told no apology is necessary. Is it any wonder that I am unconvinced by the apology at conference?
A sincere apology would have political consequences. It would require those who have bullied and smeared to face some sanction. Instead the party leadership continue to argue that there is parity between the slandering and smearing of women who have brought allegations of rape and sexual harassment and people, angry at the handling of a rape allegation, calling Alex Callinicos a “wanker”. A comrade who called someone an “idiot” faced disciplinary sanction, while those who claimed I was a police spy have faced none. That this is now the official party position is reason enough to leave.
The potential for a meaningful renewal of the SWP has dwindled. The last 12 months have polarised and entrenched positions. Debate is now refracted through the prism of a bitter faction fight. Too many people have left and continue to leave. For any organisation to remain dynamic and relevant there needs to be a high level of debate and discussion in order to develop the theory and practice necessary to relate to the real world. This crisis has not caused all the problems in the SWP but it has smothered the possibility that the SWP can develop into a serious revolutionary party.
I am not an MI5 agent, so I am leaving to rebuild the revolutionary left in Britain. This will be a process of years not months but for now I leave proud of my time in the SWP, deeply saddened that this is the endpoint and a little excited at the fresh air I can now breathe.
By Ross Spear (taken from Facebook). It should go without saying that us Shirazers don’t necessarily agree with all of the author’s opinions, and we didn’t seek his permission before publishing this, as it was already in the public domain:
How To Argue
The crisis inside the SWP has long been peppered with calls to conduct the debate in a comradely fashion inside the organisation. What goes unsaid is just how difficult this has been made. It takes two to tango, and the leadership has expended considerable effort destroying any possibility of a reasoned debate on the events of the past year. Its interventions on the subject are more akin to the smear tactics found in tabloid newspapers than the kind of debating you would expect to have amongst comrades. I take here the Charlie Kimber/Alex Callinicos article in the most recent ISJ as an example of this sort of behaviour. I stress that this is only that of an example, for the writings of the SWP leadership on the crisis are riddled from top to bottom with the wilful distortions that characterise their approach to ‘debate’. That this is their modus operandi only goes to show that their aim is not to convince their opponents so much as it is to discredit them. They aim to publicly sow confusion in order that the relevant facts are accorded a degree of ambiguity in the minds of their readers.
For anyone closely involved in the SWP crisis the various diversions, distortions and omissions are always plain to see. For those looking on at a distance this is likely not always so clear, thus why the opposition has been forced in to a rear-guard action so as to publicly set the record straight at every twist and turn. David Renton has already comprehensively dismantled the claims in the first part of the article that refers to the two cases. 65% of the article, however, is not concerned with this but deals with refuting what Callinicos and Kimber believe to be the mistaken politics of the opposition. They seek to take the debate “onto a political terrain where the issues can genuinely be clarified.” What emerges, however, is precisely the opposite.
Their main claim is that the opposition is subject to the deviation of ‘movementism’. That is to say that it, or at least a sizeable component of it, has renounced class politics and, specifically, the primacy of the working class as the agency of socialist change. This is what underpins the current split within the organisation, and is a common thread running through each split since the 2007 Respect crisis. It is through this lens that Kimber and Callinicos understand the opposition.
Argument by diversion
In reality, there is little indication that any drift towards ‘movementism’ is a defining aspect of the opposition. It is certainly not a unifying element of this heterogeneous bloc, which is unified solely in its disagreement with the systematic covering up of rape accusations. The opposition remains unified by this, and probably this alone, in spite of any protestations by Kimber and Callinicos to the contrary. In order to achieve their ideal target of an argument with ‘movementists’ they pursue diversionary tactics, away from what the opposition is talking about and towards what Kimber and Callinicos would like to talk about. They are unable to produce a sustained argument that would vindicate the SWP in its handling of two serious disputes, thus they move us on to something that they are confident talking about: the importance of the working class. The structure of the piece betrays this, for they quickly put forward their (incorrect) version of how the allegations were handled before launching in to a lengthy diatribe about movements, class and the united front.
If this is intended to be read and digested by the opposition then they merely waste paper, for that is not the dispute we are having. But this is not, of course, the purpose of the article. The diversion here is so absurd that one struggles to think that Kimber and Callinicos believe their own fantasy. There is certainly a time and a place for putting the arguments of revolutionary socialists as to the importance of the working class out in public, in order to convince people of our ideas. An article seeking to understand why a large portion of the SWP’s membership is resistant to the endemic sexism present in its handling of rape allegations is not it.
Argument by distortion
This diversion is achieved by way of presenting two pieces of evidence, provided to the reader as if they were telling examples of SWP members gone bad. For the first, they paraphrase the view of Richard Seymour: “Neoliberalism has entered the very soul of the working class, crushing class solidarity and identification, engendering acceptance of market relationships and hollowing out resistance.” According to Kimber and Callinicos the claim put here by Seymour is that neoliberalism “has totally gutted working class power.” It must be left up to Seymour to clarify his own ideas, but based on Kimber and Callinicos’ own summary he has said nothing of the sort. It is a well-known fact of the last thirty years that social attitudes have changed considerably (in what thirty year period do they not?) and that the working class has been on the back foot in the class struggle. Identifying the nature of this is the first step to changing it. Kimber and Callinicos are surely not yet so far fallen from revolutionary socialism that they would deny Marx’s postulate that the ruling ideas are those of the ruling class – and yet this is all Seymour’s claim really amounts to. Thus Seymour is presented as a heretic to revolutionary socialism not by the use of supporting evidence but by asking the reader to make a leap of faith, to trust in Kimber and Callinicos to know what he is really getting at. The authors travel swiftly from what he did say to what they would have liked him to have said, and then they comprehensively rebut that instead.
Their second target is Renton, whose crime is to contend that “’Core’ public sector workers… having final salary pensions arguably have as much in common with MPs and bankers as they do with the nine out of ten workers who rely on private pensions or no pensions save the state pension.” Once more a jump is made by Kimber and Callinicos, who transform this statement – that the minority of workers who have decent pensions have something significant in common with other social strata that do also – in to a moral claim on Renton’s part that these workers are somehow bad because they have attained this level of security. Renton is said to be ‘directing fire’ at groups of workers. Unfortunately for Kimber and Callinicos, the quoted passage does not make the argument that they go on to counter. They are once more left to argue against a target that they have constructed themselves. If I make the observation that those who have been to Russell Group universities and become workers have something in common with lots of non-workers, like MPs, I am not ‘directing fire’ but making a potentially valuable statement about a certain lived experience. That this is a fact does not make those involved any less working class, but may nonetheless be of use in understanding the lived experience of workers if socialists wish to lead them. The ruling class has consciously pursued stratification within the working class, attempting to break down its bonds of solidarity. The least we owe them is to acknowledge this. Read the rest of this entry »
The Socialist Workers Party’s first pre-conference bulletin of 2013 has already been quite widely leaked, which in itself tells you a lot about the state of that organisation. I’ve been dipping into the 88-page document over the last week or so and was particularly struck by the following contribution from Andrew “ozzy” Osborne – not because it’s particularly insightful or sophisticated (it’s not) but because of its obvious sincerity and almost heartbreaking sadness. I was also particularly interested in the comrade’s account of the way the SWP Unite fraction reacted to being overruled / outvoted despite all its leading members disagreeing with the Party leadership’s wish to support Jerry Hicks in the Unite GS election. It should go without saying that I have not spoken to “ozzy” (who I don’t know anyway) about reproducing his piece here, but as it’s already effectively in the public domain I don’t believe that’s an issue. Nor have I had any contact with the ’In Defence Of Our Party’ (IDOOP) faction of which “ozzy” is a member:
ME AND THE PARTY…..A PERSONAL JOURNEY OF 9 MONTHS AT THE END OF THE STRUGGLE.
A funny thing happened to me in January of 2013, I voted against the Central Committee on two issues (once against the entire CC once against the CC Majority group) at the party conference having never done this before; January 2013 was a bit of an eye opener for me.
One issue was a strategic/tactical issue and one was a question of principle.
I voted against the CC regarding the “should we support Jerry Hicks position” myself, Frank W, Gill G, Ian A and Julian V were the 5 members of the SWP unite fraction committee who opposed the CC at the conference.
My position (the position of the 5 members of the SWP unite fraction) was massively defeated. My vote at that conference on the acceptance of the disputes committee report was also defeated by a wafer thin margin as was my vote on the Central Committee.
At a recent meeting at Marxism Alex Callinicos asked a question of a comrade “what do you do if you lose the vote??” I think the actions of the unite fraction leadership provides a useful example of what comrades in the tradition of the International Socialists who understand democratic centralism do when you lose a vote on a question of tactics and strategy, the vote was taken by the highest democratic body of the party and we were obliged to follow it, there was no more discussion, it was not required….We campaigned our collective asses of(f) and secured Jerry Hicks 118 branch and 19 workplace nominations, 9 branch nominations were from my county of Cambridgeshire.
When the election was put to the membership of Unite Jerry received 79,819 votes an absolutely amazing result. During the campaign I coordinated the
activities of the unite fraction and from that the industrial intervention of the party nationally over this important trades union election campaign. It wasn’t just me; Gill secured her branch nomination for Jerry speaking in opposition to Frank W (Unite EC Health sector) who resigned from the party in protest at the parties support for Jerry. Ian A set up Jerry’s website for the campaign, was at most of the face to face meetings with Jerry during the campaign and secured the workplace nominations of 4 Fujitsu sites as well as his his own branch,Julian put the case for Jerrys nomination at his branch which we lost as it’s a bit of a united left (unite broad left – backed Len during the campaign) stronghold but secured his workplace nomination.
Over the period from the SWP conference of January 2013 till the close of the campaign and the result announcement on the 13th of April there were 320 emails all related to the general secretary election campaign on the swp-unite-fraction email group, there were also skype teleconferences and more phone calls than I care to remember. Maps locating major unite workplaces in most regions of the country were produced and used to direct the intervention of the party nationally. The united left and Len McCluskeys campaign actually did shit a brick once they realised the fact that the SWP was incredibly organised and taking the election campaign very seriously. I was sent an email from Steve Turner the unite Executive policy director and Len McCluskeys campaign manager during the election campaign on the 15th of March which was titled “SWP activities in your area – BE AWARE” I almost fell of(f) my chair as I laughed so hard.
During the election Jerry Hicks campaign was attacked on twitter and other social media sites disgracefully by Len and the united left as being “rape apologists” and the question was put why should unites female members vote for a candidate supported by the SWP, these attacks were disgraceful but despite my protestations the SWP did not respond seriously to these allegations. We did get an article written by Julie S from the CC in the guardian as a right of reply to an article by Laurie Penny but without meaning to offend Julie S (who I have a great deal of respect for) this article was not the defence of the party position we needed.
During the campaign (the period from January to April) I had to temporally shut down the SWP unite fraction email list twice due to comrades using it to factionalise, my actions were not one of a comrade trying to damage the party rather that of a comrade trying to build the party organisation in the country’s biggest trades union.
Then we come to the second issue on which I opposed the central committee at the January 2013 conference on the question of the disputes committee, prior to the January 2013 conference I had signed the CC statement and was not involved in any factional issue. My position changed after the January 2013 conference session on the disputes committee, let me be frank, I’m a big bloke with a thick skin but when I walked out of the venue for a fag break on evening of the 6th of January 2013 I was actually in tears and gave serious consideration to keeping on walking, I didn’t walk but resolved then and there to do all I could to fix the problem which evidently had occurred. I was a member of the In Defence Of Our Party faction (IDOOP) prior to the special conference in March and I have signed the statement of intent to form a faction at this year’s conference.
A lot of mud and rubbish is slung around at comrades who oppose the CC around the disputes committee report, some of which is that we don’t want to build the party, sell the paper or that we have moved away from democratic centralism, I would urge comrades to look a mine and the unite fraction leaderships example. We understand democratic centralism and do want to build the socialist workers party but don’t judge us by our words judge us by our actions. Words are cheap actions are solid gold. I have said all I am going to say on this subject unless the CC responds to me directly.
This pre conference period will be tough for many comrades I would urge all comrades in unite and in the wider party to listen to my words and judge me by my actions. Join me in opposing the current leadership. We have had a tough year as a party. We can get through this if we do a couple of things, firstly apologise to the two women who raised issues with a former member of the SWP, and secondly be a tribune of the oppressed.
Andrew “ozzy” Osborne (Cambridge)
Below: from the Guardian‘s MIDDLEEASTLIVE roundup:
Here’s a summary of the main developments today:
• The Syrian border town of Qusair has fallen to Hezbollah forces after a three-week siege that pitched the powerful Lebanese Shia militia against several thousand Sunni rebels in what had been billed as a breakthrough for the Assad regime. Rebel groups released a statement early on Wednesday confirming that they had pulled out of the strategic town in the early hours. Rebel fighters are believed to have taken refuge in hamlets near Syria‘s third city, Homs, around 20 miles (30km) to the north.
• Analysts said the fall of the town marked a significant blow for the rebels, but said it was too early to describe the battle as a turning point. Michael Hanna, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said there were rebel-held areas of Syria that Assad would never reclaim.
• The Red Cross is still being prevented from reaching hundreds of wounded people in Qusair, despite a promise from the Syrian government to grant humanitarian access once the military operation was completed. A spokesman for the ICRC said: “We’re still in dialogue with the Syrian authorities on reaching Qusair, particularly with a view to getting in medical supplies.”
We await with baited breath the Stop The War Coalition’s protest at this destruction by non-Syrian forces of an entire town with mass civilian casualties, and their demand that Assad begins immediate peace negotiations.