Above: Jerry Hicks
The following article from today’s Times requires little comment from me. I am by no means an uncritical supporter of Len McCluskey, but the developments described in the article (which, like previous pieces in the Murdoch press, has clearly been written with the full co-operation of Hicks) vindicate my assessment that Hicks was not worthy of support in last year’s Unite election and is entirely unfit to lead a trade union. If Hicks had any genuine concerns about the conduct of the election, he could have raised them within the union, which whatever its faults under McCluskey is at least a fairly open and democratic organisation. Those leftists (not just the SWP) who supported Hicks should now be hanging their heads in shame. Incidentally, anyone who knows anything about Unite will know that any “phantom voters” would have been, overwhelmingly, from the ex-Amicus side of the merged union – precisely the constituency that Hicks was appealing to in his campaign. A shameful indictment of a man (Hicks) who can no longer be considered even to be a misguided part of the left:
Union leader faces re-election inquiry after ‘ghost’ vote claim
-Laura Pitel Political Correspondent
The head of Britain’s biggest trade union is to face a formal hearing over claims that his re-election to his post was unfair.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has been accused of a series of irregularities by Jerry Hicks, his sole rival in last year’s contest.
Most serious is the allegation that ballot papers were sent to 160,000 “phantom voters” who should not have been allowed to take part.
Unite is being investigated by the independent trade union watchdog over the claims. The Certification Office has the power to order a re-run of the race if Mr Hick’s concerns are upheld.
This week it announced a formal hearing into the claims, provisionally scheduled for July.
Mr Hicks, a former Rolls-Royce convenor who was backed by the Socialist Workers Party, believes that Unite’s decision to include 158,824 lapsed members in last year’s vote was in breach of the rules. The charge emerged after the discovery that there was a mismatch between the number of people granted a vote and the number of members cited in its annual report.
It has been claimed that some of those who were sent a ballot paper for the election, which took place in April 2013, had not paid their subscriptions for several years and even that some of them were no longer alive. The Times revealed in January that fewer than 10 per cent of the disputed members had renewed their subscriptions.
The hearing will listen to eight complaints, including allegations that Unite resources were used to campaign for Mr McCluskey and that it refused to allow Mr Hicks to make a complaint.
All the charges are rejected by Unite, which says that the rules were adhered to throughout the contest. It argued that it sought legal advice on sending ballot papers to those in arrears with their membership and was informed that excluding those who had fallen behind with their payments would be against the rules.
If the complaint about the disputed voters is upheld, Mr Hicks will have to persuade the watchdog that it could have had a significant impact on the outcome if he is to secure a re-run. Failing that, the ombudsman may instruct the union to take steps to ensure that the breach does not happen again.
The outcome of the vote was that Mr McCluskey won 144,570 votes compared with 79,819 for Mr Hicks.
Mr Hicks said he was “very buoyed up” by the news that he had been granted a hearing. He lamented the low turnout in the race, when only 15 per cent of Unites 1.4 million members voted and said he hoped that his complaints would lead to a more democratic union.
The last time a re-run of a general secretary contest was ordered was in 2011, when Ucatt, the construction union, was found to have sent ballot papers to only half of its 130,000 members.
* the use of alleged “extreme tactics” by trade unions is to become the sole focus of an official inquiry into industrial relations, ministers have revealed (Michael Savage writes).
The investigation, announced last year, was originally ordered to examine bad practices by employers as well as the controversial “leverage campaigns” wages by some unions. However, it will now only focus on the alleged intimidatory tactics used by unions.
Many responses from the left to the Ukraine crisis have ignored, sidestepped, or downplayed the right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people.
Yet Ukraine is one of the longest-oppressed large nations in the world. In an article of 1939 where he raised Ukraine’s right to self-determination as an urgent question, Leon Trotsky wrote: “The Ukrainian question, which many governments and many ‘socialists’ and even ‘communists’ have tried to forget or to relegate to the deep strongbox of history, has once again been placed on the order of the day and this time with redoubled force”.
The same is true today. If the right of nations to self-determination is important anywhere, it is important in Ukraine. If the axiom that peace and harmony between nations is possible only through mutual recognition of rights to self-determination is valid anywhere, it is valid in Ukraine.
Only a few currents on the left side with Putin, and even those a bit shamefacedly: Counterfire and Stop The War, No2EU, the Morning Star.
Others propose a “plague on all houses” response. The US Socialist Worker (which used to be linked with the British SWP, but has been estranged from it, for unclear reasons, since 2001) puts it most crisply: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, neither Kiev nor Simferopol, but international socialism”.
For sure socialists side with Ukrainian leftists in their fight against the right-wing government in Kiev. But as between Ukraine being dominated by Moscow, and Ukraine being ruled by a government based in Kiev and among the people of Ukraine, our response should not be “neither… nor”. We support Ukraine’s national rights.
Nations’ right to self-determination does not depend on them having a congenial governments. The governments under which most of Britain’s colonies won independence were authoritarian and corrupt. The socialist who responded with the slogan “Neither London nor New Delhi”, or “Neither London nor Cairo”, or “Neither London nor Dublin”, would be a traitor.
The even-handed “plague on all houses” response also leads to a skewed picture of reality. Thus, the official statement from the SWP’s international network includes no call for Ukrainian self-determination, for Russian troops out, or for cancellation of Ukraine’s debt; but it declares:
“The anti-Russian nationalism that is strongest in western Ukraine has deep roots. Russia has dominated Ukraine since independence in 1991…” And for centuries before that!
“The memory of Russian oppression within the USSR is still vivid and reaches even earlier to the independence struggles of the first half of the 20th [century]”. Stalin’s deliberately-sustained mass famine in eastern Ukraine killed millions in 1932-3. There is a deep historical basis to Ukrainian nationalism in eastern Ukraine, and among Russian-speaking Ukrainians, as well as in the West.
“On the other side, many of the millions of Russian speakers identify with Russia”. And many don’t. On the evidence of the referendum in 1991, where 92% of the people, and at least 84% even in the most easterly regions, voted to separate from Russia, most do not.
“One of the first acts of the new Ukrainian government after the fall of Yanukovych was to strip Russian of its status as an official language. This encouraged mass protests in the east of the country”. The parliament voted to reverse the 2012 law making Russian an official language. That was undemocratic — and stupid. The new president vetoed the measure, and it was dropped. Even if passed, it would not have applied in Crimea. Russian had not been an official language in Ukraine (outside Crimea) between 1991 and 2012. The protests in the east (often violent, but not, by most reports, “mass”) were generated by Russian interference, not by the language question.
The “plague on all houses” response is an addled version of the “Third Camp” attitude which AWL has advocated on many issues; but a very addled version.
Usually the SWP argues for “two camps”. Really to oppose US imperialism and its allies, they say, you must to some degree support the US’s adversaries, whether it be the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Israel-Palestine, Saddam Hussein and then the sectarian Islamist “resistance” in Iraq, or Milosevic in Kosova. To do otherwise is to be “pro-imperialist”. Support for an independent working-class “third force”, against both the US and allies, and their reactionary opponents, is ruled out.
On Ukraine (as also on Syria) they break from that “two camps” approach, but to an approach which is more “no camp” than “third camp”. (The “no camp” stance has precedents in SWP history, in the wars for independence of Croatia and Bosnia, for example).
Our slogans of Russian troops out and cancelling Ukraine’s debt to the West seek to support the Ukrainian people as a “third camp”. We solidarise with the East European leftists who, on the LeftEast website, call for “the third position [opposed to both Yanukovych and the new Kiev regime]… namely a class perspective”, and appeals to Ukraine’s left “to form a third pole, distinct from today’s Tweedledums and Tweedledees… You are the only ones who can give meaning to the deaths and wounds of the [occupied square in Kiev]”.
Our position is defined primarily by its positive support for those “third poles” — the people of Ukraine, as against Putin’s troops or the IMF and Western government imposing neo-liberal measures; the working-class left in Ukraine, as against the oligarchs and the chauvinists. When we use negative “neither, nor” slogans, we use them as consequences, expressions, or summaries of that positive alignment; and they do not stop us assessing the other “poles” in the political situation in their varied realities.
The “no camp” stance, instead, offers only abstract ultimate aims (international socialism) as an evasion.
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/
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 Anne Field
Another Sunday. Another issue of the Sunday Times. Another attack on Unite (on pages 1, 4, 16, 17 and 33).
But this time Jerry Hicks – the founder, leader and mouthpiece of the “Grass Roots Left” in Unite – has given a helping hand. According to the front-page article:
“Hicks said this weekend: ‘Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi? There are serious questions that need to be answered about these tens of thousands of non-members of the union who were sent ballot papers.’”
The reference to “tens of thousands of non-members” receiving ballot papers relates to Hick’s complaint to the Certification Officer , alleging that in the Unite general secretary election held earlier this year 160,000 ballot papers were sent to former members not entitled to vote.
Unite’s response is that the members’ subscriptions had lapsed but they were still entitled to vote. Under rule 4.1 of the union’s rulebook members can be up to 26 weeks in arrears before being removed from the membership lists.
“Hicks says that it is not credible that nearly 160,000 members were in recent arrears of membership,” continues the Sunday Times article. But in a union with 1.4 million members it is entirely credible. Annual membership turnover in a union is 25%.
(See para. 9 of the recent government report: “Amendment to the TULRCA 1992: Trade Unions’ Registers of Members: Impact Assessment”.)
But the issue here is not – yet another – complaint by Hicks to the Certification Officer. It is his statement: “Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?”
The starting point for that statement can only be that Unite committed vote-rigging abuses in recruiting its members to the Labour Party in Falkirk. The sole question for Hicks is whether it was “an aberration or a modus operandi.”
This was no slip of the tongue by Hicks. In an earlier statement about Grangemouth Hicks wrote on his website of Unite’s “infantile, unfunny comic capers of infiltration through recruiting members to the Labour Party.”
Hicks’ line of argument is: Unite engaged in vote-rigging in Falkirk – isn’t it credible, therefore, that it engaged in the same malpractices in this year’s general secretary elections?
In fact, one of the comments on Hicks’ website is much more straightforward and makes explicit was Hicks merely insinuates:
“An investigation should have been launched to establish who in Unite cheated which resulted in McCluskey winning. Another investigation should be launched by the police into data protection issues over the use of Unite membership lists.”
(Clearly, one must assume that Hicks and his supporters were 100% supportive of Labour Party officials handing over the dodgy ‘Falkirk dossier’ to the police.)
Hicks is very proud of the Sunday Times coverage of his complaint to the Certification Officer. On his website he boasts:
“Jerry Hlcks (sic) challenge to validity of Unite General Secretary election makes ‘Sunday Times’ front page. The ‘Sunday Times’ (01/11/13) (sic) front page article ‘Union Boss Len McCluskey Elected by Phantoms’ carries my complaint to the Certification Officer.”
Hicks is either too thick or too callous, to be quite blunt about it, not to recognise that the Sunday Times front page article is nothing but another vicious witch-hunting attack on Unite, drawing parallels between supposed malpractices in Falkirk and supposed malpractices in Len McCluskey’s re-election.
It is also another disgraceful attack on Stevie Deans. The article makes a ‘linkage’ of Stevie-Deans-Unite-convenor (nearly lost everyone their jobs), Stevie-Deans-Falkirk-Labour–chair (vote-rigging) and Stevie-Deans-election-campaigner-for-McCluskey (vote-rigging).
Solidarity with his own union in the face of this witch-hunt? Solidarity with a fellow union member who has been hounded out of his job and his union and Labour Party positions?
Of such solidarity there is not a word in Hicks’ piece. Instead, narcissism trumps solidarity. “The media are responding to our (sic – should read: my) press release of 9th September,” claims Hicks.
No. The Sunday Times was not responding on 10th November to a press release issued by Hicks on 9th September. It was engaged in an ongoing witch-hunt.
And Hicks’ complaint to the Certification Officer, backed up by Hicks’ allegations about Unite’s role in Falkirk Labour Party, was just another ‘peg’ on which to hang the ongoing witch-hunt.
If there is hard evidence of vote-rigging in this year’s Unite general secretary elections, Hicks is perfectly entitled to raise it. Socialists would defend him for doing so, even if the right-wing media were to exploit such a complaint for its own ends.
But that is not the case here.
Hicks is endorsing gutter-level accusations about vote-rigging by Unite in Falkirk Labour Party in order to try to lend some credibility to allegations about vote-rigging in the Unite general secretary elections.
The Sunday Times picks up on these allegations. In three articles on five pages it attacks Unite and its links to the Labour Party. Hicks’ response is not to condemn the witch-hunt but to say: “Hey look, they’re talking about me!”
(Footnote: Hicks makes allegations about Unite’s recruitment practices in Falkirk Labour Party and about non-members of Unite being given a vote in the general secretary elections.
But according to Hicks’ website, the Grass Roots left national conference, held the day before the appearance of the Sunday Times article, was open to “members of Unite the union, their families and friends.”)
Ross Harper adds:
Well, just fancy that!
Enter Jerry Hicks, stage right, furiously backpedalling.
It’s all been a terrible mistake, he now claims in a new post on his website. See: http://www.jerryhicks4gs.org/
He has made no linkage, he says between events in Falkirk and his complaint to the Certification Officer. Good heavens, no!
And brother Hicks piously stresses that he is “opposed to any attempt to use my complaint in any witch hunt against my union.” Good to hear it, Jerry!
Mind you, there’s still a few things that Hicks needs to explain:
1) The article which he posted on his website this morning made NO criticism of the Sunday Times article. So why did he not say this morning what he is saying now? Could it be that he is saying it only now because of the flak he’s received, because of people ‘unfriending’ him, and because of the nasty things that have been written about him?
2) Hicks does not deny having said “Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?” This quote is, in any case, entirely consistent with what he has said elsewhere on his website about Falkirk, i.e. that Unite was engaged in “infiltration” of Falkirk Labour Party.
3) Hicks says that he has made no linkage between events in Falkirk and his complaint to the Certification Officer. Problem, for him, is that he claims that Unite was involved in “infiltration” in Falkirk (which the average person would consider to be vote-rigging) and that people who were not members of Unite received ballot papers during the general secretary election earlier this year, presumably in order to help Len McCluskey win (which the average person would consider to be vote-rigging). So it’s pretty pathetic for Hicks to claim that he is making no linkage between the two.
4) Hicks does not deny having said what the Sunday Times says that he said. Let us be charitable and suppose that the Sunday Times has run two different statements together from Hicks into a single quote. But what did Hicks think the Sunday Times was going to do? And this is someone who wants to be a union general secretary (where you need to know how to deal with the media)!
5) Hicks now writes: “I am opposed to any attempt to use my complaint in any witch hunt against my union.” But what about his allegation of “infiltration” into Falkirk Labour Party (and his rhetorical question about whether it was a one-off or established practice)? How can such allegations be used for anything other than a witch-hunt against Unite?
6) Even now Hicks cannot bring himself to utter a single word of support for Stevie Deans (although I very much doubt that Stevie would welcome support from such a source).
The next time Hicks throws his hat into the ring in another general secretary election, Unite members should remember this scurrilous fiasco.
According to the front page of today’s Sunday Times
“THE boss of Britain’s biggest union, involved in a vote-rigging inquiry in Falkirk, faces investigation over alleged irregularities in his own election.
“The allegations over the election of Len McCluskey as general secretary of the Unite union centre on claims that almost 160,000 of those balloted were not members.
“His rival for the job, Jerry Hicks, has complained that the election was unlawful because people who had left the union were included in the ballot. Hicks said dead former members were among those who were sent voting papers.
“The Certification Office — the union regulator, which has the power to order McCluskey’s election to be rerun — confirmed this weekend that it has launched an investigation. An official complaint is expected to be submitted to Unite in the next few weeks.
“Hicks said this weekend: ‘Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?’ There are serious questions that need to be answered about these tens of thousands of non-members of the union who were sent ballot papers.”
So it appears that the SWP-supported Hicks (who lost the last general secretary election to McCluskey by 80,000 votes earlier this year) has not only reported the union to the Certification Officer, but is now co-operating with the Murdoch press (and so, with the Tories and Blairites) in the witch-hunt against Unite in the wake of Falkirk and Grangemouth.
By the way, I’d put money on the fact that if there were any significant membership irregularities at the time of the general secretary election, they came from the old Amicus side of the merged union – precisely the constituency Hicks was appealing to in his campaign.
But for now, Mr Hicks has some ‘serious questions that need answering’ – like what the hell does he think he’s doing going to the Certification Officer and the Murdoch press instead of raising any legitimate concerns he might have within the union itself? Unite under McCluskey has many faults, but it is a relatively open and democratic organisation, where any such concerns would be taken seriously and investigated. But it would appear that Mr Hicks is more interested in attacking McCluskey, even by means of joining in the right-wing witch-hunt against the union itself.
There’s a name for people who do that. It’s “scab.”
P.S: As Anne Field and Andrew Coates note in BTL comments below, Hicks seems very proud of his coverage in the Murdoch press: http://www.jerryhicks4gs.org/
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 »