A reaction to Socialist Worker on ISIS: “among the most odious pieces I have come across in over 30 years of reading the far left press”

August 27, 2014 at 7:57 pm (Andrew Coates, fascism, iraq, islamism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, spain, SWP, Syria)

The media have tried to whip up panic about British Muslims

Above: SW says it’s combatting a media campaign to whip up anti-Muslim panic

There’s a fascinating debate going on at Facebook, sparked by this evasive and historically ignorant Socialist Worker article, and Comrade Coatesy’s reaction (republished in full below). Dave Osler initiated the discussion, thus:

‘Parallels have been drawn between young British Muslims who volunteer for ISIS and socialist/communist young men who joined the International Brigades that fought in Spain in the 1930s. Is the analogy valid?’

Later, Dave (a non-aligned socialist not prone to hyperbole) posted the following comment:

David Osler: ‘Actually, Andrew Coates puts his finger on what is wrong with that Socialist Worker article. It doesn’t just ‘blur the distinction’ between ISIS and the International Brigades, it effectively equates them. This ranks it among the most odious pieces I have come across in over 30 years of reading the far left press. Disgusting is the only word for it.

Tendance Coatesy’s coverage:

*************************************************************************************************

The UN has just made this announcement,

The Syrian government and Islamic State insurgents are both committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in their war against each other, U.N. investigators said on Wednesday.

Islamic State forces in northern Syria are waging a campaign to instill fear, including amputations, public executions and whippings, they said.

Reuters

This follows a story in the Guardian on Monday,

Isis accused of ethnic cleansing as story of Shia prison massacre emerges

As many as 670 prisoners thought killed in Mosul with other abuses reported in Iraq amounting to ‘crimes against humanity’

A few days ago, in what can only be called one of the vilest exercises in whataboutery Socialist Worker published this week this apology for the racist genociders of ISIS/Islamic State:

There is resistance to this frenzy of Islamophobia by Hassan Mahamdallie, co-director of the Muslim Institute.

Mahamdallie begins by making a string of unsavoury comparisons.

The beheading of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State, formerly known as Isis, was horrific. But is the Nigerian military slitting the throats of 16 young men and boys any less horrific?

Or last week’s Israeli air strike that blew to smithereens the wife and seven month old son of Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif? Surely that was horrific and disturbing too?

One atrocity was carried out by a murderer who calls himself Muslim. The second was sanctioned by a head of state who calls himself Christian. And the last was executed by an entity that defines itself as an exclusively Jewish state.

That is to ignore the widespread revulsion at the religious and ethnic cleansing by the genociders of ISIS/Islamic State.

That is, the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Yazidis, Christians, Kurds and Turkomans massacred, tortured and driven from their homes in Iraq. The same gang is carrying out these actions in Syria.

One might imagine a few words on this topic.

But the eminently self-righteous Mahamdallie remains fixed to the Foley murder.

He comments that,

Yet only one triggered convulsions of outrage, with calls from the establishment in Britain and the US to take action. Madness descended yet again.

Continuing in this vein he comments on the condemnation of the Foley decapitation (though he is too polite to use this word) made by former Labour foreign minister Kim Howells and makes this observation that he should look into his own past and see how people are motivated to fight in wars. That is, one fight in particular, the defence of the Spanish Republic against the Franco-Led armies.

In the 1930s radicalised young men from the same mining communities illegally made their way into Spain to take up arms against general Franco’s fascist army.

He then takes time, a long long time,  to pass smug comments ridiculing British Muslims who have denounced the genociders – for a variety of reasons. Apparently Muslims should not be asked their opinion on Muslim groups and Muslim religious authorities should not have to speak about those  who declare themselves the only true Muslims.

The (present/former?) Senior Officer, Diversity, Arts Council England  concludes that he prefers this response from the leader of the Lewisham Mosque,

The press asked him to condemn a tweet from a woman “Jihadi” in Syria who might have once attended the mosque.

He retorted, “The young woman’s desire to travel to Syria has nothing to do with the Centre. Unfortunately, the Muslim community are being subjected to a burden of proof based on a ‘guilty by association’ standard”.

Not a word of condemnation for the religious and ethnic cleansing.

But instead this,  “It was good to see someone refusing to bow to the frenzy, a spark of resistance in a very dark week.”

No doubt Socialist Worker will applaud a  “spark of resistance” to the “frenzy” of the  UN announcement.

Update: Amongst Comments on Facebook about the Socialist Worker article,

“It doesn’t just ‘blur the distinction’ between ISIS and the International Brigades, it effectively equates them. This ranks it among the most odious pieces I have come across in over 30 years of reading the far left press. Disgusting is the only word for it” – David Osler.

 

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The Guardian now recognises the truth of ‘Trojan Horse’! Will the NUT and SWP follow?

July 21, 2014 at 11:47 am (apologists and collaborators, Brum, Champagne Charlie, children, Education, Guardian, Islam, islamism, misogyny, Racism, relativism, religion, secularism, sexism, SWP)

The SWP/NUT/Guardian “line” on Islamist influence on Birmingham schools – that it’s all an “islamophobic” campaign – is no longer tenable.

Even Rick Hatcher of Socialist Resistance, which is broadly sympathetic to the Graun/SWP line, has cast doubt  upon their claim that there are simply no problems in Birmingham schools.

Clearly it's time for Government to have a serious rethink about the role of religion in the education sector. Here's our position:

Just for the record, let me remind you of what the Graun‘s education editor, Richard Adams, had to say about this matter: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”

This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School  (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised  by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP.

Yet now, even the Graun has had to face reality, and last week leaked the conclusions of  the Peter Clarke enquiry (commissioned by the government) and then gave extensive and detailed coverage of the enquiry led by Ian Kershaw, commissioned by Birmingham City Council.

Both reports backed the main thrust of the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that there had been (in the words of  Ian Kershaw, quoted in the Graun), a “determined effort to change schools, often by unacceptable practices, in order to influence educational and religious provision for the students served.”

Kershaw differs with Clarke only in nuance, with the former finding “no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation of schools in East Birmingham”, while the latter found there had been a “sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam.”

Clarke uncovered emails circulated amongst a group of governors and others, calling themselves the ‘Park View Brotherhood’ which he describes thus: “The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports on the murder of [soldier] Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings, and constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.”

Both reports also agree that Birmingham City Council, on grounds of “community cohesion” chose to ignore evidence of headteachers and other staff being bullied and driven out in order to turn what were supposed to be secular schools into de facto Islamic schools. The Council preferred a quiet life and turned a blind eye in the name of “community cohesion.” Council leader Albert Bore has since apologised “for the way the actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the great reputation of our city.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the Gove-commissioned Clarke report makes the obvious, but politically inconvenient, point that the academy status of many of the ‘Trojan Horse’ schools made them especially vulnerable to extremist influence: “In theory academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine. This inquiry has highlighted there are potentially serious problems in some academies”

So we now have a situation in which the two reports commissioned into ‘Trojan Horse’ have both concluded that there was a real issue of organised, ultra-reactionary Islamist influence in some Birmingham schools. The newspaper at the forefront of the campaign of denial that followed the allegations has now relented and faced reality. The leader of Birmingham City Council has acknowledged what happened and apologised. But will those on the left (in particular, but not only, the SWP), who took the Guardian ‘line’ now admit their mistake? More importantly, will the NUT leadership, instead of prevaricating on the issue, now take a clear stand in support of secular education?

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Boycott Israeli academics – but ask for their support on Gaza?

July 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm (academe, Chomsky, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, SWP, tragedy, war)

A wounded Palestinian baby receives treatment at a hospital in the Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014.

Above: wounded Palestinian baby, July 2014; a coherent response is needed

This response to the present horror in Gaza is a little confusing:

BDS (total boycott of all things – and people – Israeli) activist Haim Bresheeth appears to be heavily involved in an appeal, also involving Noam Chomsky, which quite rightly, calls on Israeli academics to speak out against the bombardment and siege of Gaza:

http://haimbresheeth.com/gaza/an-open-letter-to-israel-academics-july-13th-2014/

How does this fit with his and others’ desire for a boycott? The appeal is signed by at least one SWP’er (Mick Cushman, assuming he’s still a member) and also by leading boycotter and Hamas apologist Ilan Pappé.

An account of the difficulties of getting Israeli signatures (written by a supporter of Pappé) is linked to, but criticised for being “too dismissive of the Israeli reaction.”

The actual statement has so far been signed by about 40 Israeli academics and is a clear call for a negotiated settlement and peace agreement that will end the occupation and settlements. Unless anyone tries to interpret this as a voluntary liquidation of Israel it can only be a call for a two state solution.

It says:

The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people, is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.

So the BDS movement (SWP included) is calling for action, from people they say should not be engaged with in any way, advocating support for two states and laying into Pappé’s supporters for being unduly cynical about it.

Can anyone explain the logic behind this?

H/t: Comrade Pete

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Gove’s out! Another SWP slogan bears fruit!

July 15, 2014 at 11:17 am (Education, posted by JD, SWP, Tory scum)

Teachers hold placards and banners during a march in central London March 26, 2014. (Reuters / Paul Hackett)

Comrade Ruth Cashman (via Facebook) comments on one aspect of the reshuffle:

Hmmm… May be able to tell the strategic political and industrial sense of the slogan “Gove out!” now. I wonder if he’ll be replaced by someone committed to a well funded, public education system…

 

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Just remind me again: where was Alex Callinicos educated?

July 14, 2014 at 7:36 pm (gloating, Guardian, humanism, Jim D, stalinism, SWP)

Thanks to Owen Jones, in today’s Graun, for drawing my attention to a nasty little piece in the present edition of Socialist Worker. SW was once essential (and – believe it or not – entertaining) reading on the left, even for those of us who had little time for the SWP’s politics. But I haven’t bought a copy since September 2001 and so very rarely get to read it.

Above: Prof Callinicos, privately educated scion of the ruling class

For those of you who can’t be arsed to follow the link above, the article is entitled ‘Eton by Bear? The inquest begins,’ a supposedly ‘humorous’ take on the death of Horatio Chapple, mauled to death by a polar bear while on a trip to the Svalbard archipelago of Norway.

What makes the death of Chapple suitable material for SWP chortling is, it seems, the fact that he was a posh boy who went to Eton.

There was a time when I might have joined in with the sniggering, but I well remember being admonished over this by a senior comrade (himself of unimpeachable working class credentials) who told me, “socialism is about doing away with the idea that people’s worth should be judged by an accident of birth – and that applies just as much to workerism on the left as it does to mainstream society’s fawning before the aristocracy.” He was surely right, and I’ve never forgotten it – or the shame I felt at having to have such an elementary point explained to me.

Socialist Worker’s unpleasant sniggering over the death of this young man is all the more bizarre and distasteful when you consider the upper class, public school backgrounds of so many of their leading comrades, past and present – not least head honcho Callinicos, who (according to Wikipedia) “was educated at St George’s College, Salisbury (now Harare) …  [and] … first became involved in revolutionary politics as a student at Balliol College, Oxford, from which he received his BA.”

Even more importantly, SW‘s gloating over this horrible death tells us a lot about the kind of “socialism” that this degenerate organisation now represents. Jones usefully reminds us of the words of Peter Fryer, the Daily Worker (forerunner of the Morning Star) journalist who resigned from the Communist Party of Britain after they suppressed his sympathetic coverage of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Fryer was describing the Stalinist CP, but his words equally well apply to the nominally “Trotskyist” SWP of today:

“Stalinism is Marxism with the heart cut out, de-humanised, dried, frozen, petrified, rigid, barren.”

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Brave Afghans shame (some on) the Western “left”

June 16, 2014 at 6:50 pm (Afghanistan, anti-fascism, Civil liberties, democracy, elections, ex-SWP, Guardian, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, liberation, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, SWP)

The picture below should shame anyone and everyone in Britain (and the rest of the West) who doesn’t bother to vote …

Image: Men show their fingers after the ink-stained part of their fingers were cut off by the Taliban after they took part in the presidential election Men show their fingers after the ink-stained part of their fingers were cut off by the Taliban after they took part in the presidential election, in Herat province June 14, 2014.

…but even more, it should shame those on the so-called “left” who have ever expressed (publicly or privately) any degree of sympathy for the rural fascists of the Taliban. You know who you are (and so do we), you scum.

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Unite: Hicks has crossed class lines

March 29, 2014 at 6:27 pm (apologists and collaborators, Asshole, capitulation, class collaboration, ex-SWP, grovelling, law, Murdoch, posted by JD, SWP, unions, Unite the union)

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.

 

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The left on Ukraine: third camp or no camp?

March 26, 2014 at 9:50 am (AWL, imperialism, internationalism, left, national liberation, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism, Stop The War, SWP)

Above: SW’s “no camp” stance
.
By Martin Thomas (at the Workers Liberty website):

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.

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Posh (pseudo) – trotties of the SWP

February 8, 2014 at 7:22 pm (comedy, ex-SWP, gloating, Jim D, Orwell, satire, sectarianism, SWP, trivia) ()

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/

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Dave Renton (ex-SWP): ‘To my comrades of any party or none’

December 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm (ex-SWP, misogyny, posted by JD, reblogged, sectarianism, socialism, SWP)

Apologies to all those readers who are by now thoroughly bored with the long-running car-crash/soap opera that is the disintegration of the SWP. This will probably be the last post here on the subject for some time; but Dave Renton’s account of his SWP membership and his decison to resign, is exceptionally insightful and at times shocking and moving: well worth a read:

On Sunday evening, after conference had ended, I resigned from the SWP. I will explain why I have left, but before I do that, I first want to explain why for so many years I stayed with the party even while I often criticised it.

I first joined the SWP in 1991; at a meeting in the Sol’s Arms pub near Warren Street. A couple of days before, I had been stopped in the street by a man selling Socialist Worker. After I had bought a paper, the seller, John Walker, invited me to a meeting. “I’m not interested in buying one”, I told him, “I am much more left-wing than you are.” It was not a wise thing to have said. John had come into the SWP after years in the libertarian Marxist group Solidarity and knew his left history far better than I did. After half an hour of standing on the street losing an argument, I agreed to go to the meeting where I eventually filled in a membership form. It was assumed that I would pay by cash and there was a grid on the back of my membership card which could be used to check that I was paying my each month’s subs.

The SWP was the third left-wing party whose meetings I had attended in less than a year. After a few months in Slough Constituency Labour Party, I had resigned in disappointment at Labour’s timid response to the then Iraq War. Before then, I had spent a couple of unhappy months on the edges of the Revolutionary Communist Party (Living Marxism), from whom I had learned habits of ultra-leftism and contrarianism, a combination expressed in my premature, fighting words to John. If it had not been the SWP in 1991 it might have been any one of the left-wing parties.

It was easy to join the SWP, since I already considered myself a socialist, and in fact had done so for more than five years. The real bravery had come much earlier, even before I reached my teens, when I had first begun to identify with the left, a decision which had set me off into a perpetual civil war with my family, my teachers, and almost every one of my contemporaries at my school. My reasons for sticking with the SWP were more significant.

In my first few months, I considered leaving at several stages. I did not have a worked out criticism of the SWP and some of my complaints seem daft to me in retrospect. The group seemed impossibly old to me, with an average age of approximately 27 or 28 (I was just 18). Soon enough, I was selling the paper, but I was genuinely perplexed by the way in my fellow sellers would shout what sounded to me like reformist slogans “stop the war”, “beat the Tories”. Weren’t we supposed to be revolutionaries? I found the meetings dull and the contributions defensive. I tired of the way in which after the speaker had finished, there would be a long pause, and then whoever filled the silence would face 40 minutes of speaker after the speaker from the floor correcting them for some imagined deviation from the party “line”.

Yet one of the things I liked about the SWP was that, despite the branch culture which I have just described, there were also comrades who were self-effacing, articulate and principled. I think of well-known figures such as Duncan Hallas and Paul Foot, but the real strength of the SWP was far below, in the branches, almost every one of which had an autodidact Marxist, a worker who had never gone to university, a person who would quote obscure ideas of Marx or Lenin and use them to relate events happening in the world outside and to the tradition of the workers’ movement.

Over the past 20 years the self-taught workers have almost all left, while the party-liners have multiplied. Read the rest of this entry »

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