Statement of SWP ‘Democratic Opposition’

December 23, 2012 at 7:41 pm (Jim D, SWP)

Here we go again, for the 94th time:

Four comrades have been expelled for forming a ‘secret faction’ during the discussions prior to SWP conference. The expelled members had been legitimately concerned about the handling of very serious allegations directed at a CC member and the way that this was being handled by the organisation and had discussed about what this represented and how comrades could ensure the matter was dealt with properly.

There had been some discussion about whether to declare a faction or not. Some comrades, out of concern for how these matters had been dealt with previously, were in favour of doing so – but other comrades were worried that this might be premature or even disloyal. It is for having this discussion and sharing these concerns that the comrades have been expelled.

Importantly, the accusation of ‘secret faction’ was made against those concerned about declaring one whilst those in favour of declaring one have been referred to as ‘honest’ in a number of report backs from the CC to affected local branches, implying that those expelled were ‘dishonest’. We unreservedly reject this description as slander against the four excellent and valuable comrades who have been expelled.

We feel that this incident raises serious questions about democracy in the SWP in general and about the coming conference in particular. First of all, it cannot be right that a discussion about whether to form a faction is used as evidence of a ‘secret faction’ when it is in the general discussions of the pre-conference period. On a basic level, if we cannot have discussions about whether to form a faction or not, then, in reality, factions are de-facto impossible to organise and the right to form them is purely notional.

Secondly, it is not the case that this is the first, or even the most significant case of comrades discussing meeting before conference to discuss the possibility of a factional organisation that never ended up being formed.

In the run-up to the highly contested 2009 conference, a number of unofficial meetings between SWP members occurred, mainly in pubs and on one occasion after a party council, of members concerned about the developing crisis following the botched electoral strategy in 2008. The pace of events meant that these meetings, which were certainly planned in advance, never coalesced into a named faction, but no members were disciplined for involvement, certainly not the two people who serve on the CC since who had participated. The unofficial pre-conference meet-ups of 2008 were followed in Summer 2009 by an even more unorthodox grouping: a petition, written and organised entirely in secret and outside pre-conference season and mainly signed by party staff, to oust the then-editor of Socialist Worker. Again, no disciplinary procedure was employed – particularly not against the party worker who organised this factional group, who is now in the CC. These incidents, and doubtless others, show that any claim that the rules regarding factions are not, and have never been, implemented with a degree of judgement taking into account prevailing circumstances are wholly false.

There should not be an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the run up to conference. Leninism requires discipline to confront the class enemy – not to prevent debate amongst our own comrades. We believe that these malicious expulsions must be revoked immediately and that the CC must retract its accusations against the four people.

We are also deeply concerned about the impact of all this on our reputation inside the movement. It is little short of incredible that if the expulsions are not rescinded, comrades are going to be expected to defend the expulsion of four comrades (including one woman) simply for discussing concerns about the handling of very serious allegations in their own organisation.

Our feeling is that this is an untenable situation and will have an appalling impact on the morale of members and our ability to build in today’s movement. We think that one of the key lessons of the democracy commission was that no comrade should be treated as indispensable. We make no judgement of guilt or innocence of the comrade concerned but note that any other comrade facing allegations of this type with such frequency would be suspended until such time as the allegations were resolved. It is disturbing that the comrade concerned did not voluntarily step down when it became clear that the allegations, whether justified or not, had the potential to seriously damage the organisation. An attitude which treats individuals as indispensable and sacrifices the interests of the membership for them has nothing to with Leninism and more closely resembles the self-interested behaviour of reformist bureaucracies.

Importantly it is not just our reputation at stake here but the health of our own tradition. In response to the expulsions some comrades have repeated the language of some of Galloway’s defenders. There have been complaints about ‘liberal feminism’ and even belief-beggaring accusations that some of the comrades expelled have been MI5 agents, or acting on behalf of Chris Bambery’s organisation. Whilst the CC cannot be held directly responsible for such idiocy it is a warning of the kind of ideological degeneration possible when administrative coercion replaces the norms of debate in socialist organisation.

We are aware that serious concerns have already been expressed by those involved in the disputes committee case around this matter, as raised at a recent NC meeting, and that space has been set aside to discuss the way the organisation has mishandled the allegations. This is a positive development, but we believe that beyond the direct issue of the DC there are now equally serious questions about the condition of the SWP that makes a faction necessary if we are not to be expelled for expressing our concerns.

We propose that three things are necessary to prevent further damage to the good name of our Party:

– The expelled comrades deserve a full and frank apology from the CC and the expulsions must be declared null and void.
– Conference must re-affirm that comrades have full rights to conduct any and every kind of discussion in the pre-conference period. This should include raising questions of whether such freedom ought not to be extended beyond the pre-conference period.
– The dispute concerning a member of the CC highlighted above must be re-examined, and the CC member concerned must be suspended from all Party activity and cannot work full time for the Party or in the name of the Party until all the allegations against him have been settled satisfactorily.

In addition to these statements, we are asking comrades to support the motions raised on the question of party democracy at conference. In our view, the conduct of the CC regarding both the expulsions, and the disputes committee referred to above, come as a result of structures and perspectives that restrict internal democracy and discussion.

We are aware that some comrades may share our concerns regarding the expulsions and/or this disputes committee investigation, but reject our conclusions regarding party democracy. We hope to persuade them of our position on this; but even if we cannot accomplish this, we would still ask you to vote for the reinstatement of the four comrades who have been expelled.

[Here was the list of declaration signatories.]

If you are an SWP member, you agree with us and would like to join the Democratic Opposition in the run up to 2013 Party Conference, please email democratic.opposition@gmail.com. The Democratic Opposition is a temporary faction, in line with Party rules, and will dissolve itself after Conference closes.

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Christmas songs #6: Count Basie & Jimmy Rushing, Good Morning Blues

December 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm (Christmas, Jim D, music, song)

No tinsel or chestnuts here, but it is a Christmas song of sorts, as Jimmy Rushing pleads with “Sannee Claus” to bring his baby back to him.

This was the Basie Band in 1937, fresh out of Kansas City, still a bit rough around the edges and yet to hit the big-time. They sure could play the blues, though.

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Nooman and “Socialist Unity”: a malignant cult

December 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm (apologists and collaborators, Asshole, AWL, blogging, capitulation, class collaboration, comedy, conspiracy theories, cults, grovelling, Jim D, sectarianism, stalinism, trotskyism)

In his increasingly undignified rightward belly-crawl from the SWP, via Respect, into a sort of incoherent Labourite Stalinism whilst playing the role of tame anti-Trot witch-hunter for unspecified audiences, Andy Nooman at least provides some entertainment this festive season. I was about to say “harmless” entertainment, but his latest ranting on his “Socialist Unity” blog, about the revolutionary left (in this case, the AWL/ Alliance for Workers Liberty) is, by his own  account “a redacted version of something I wrote for another audience.” I wonder who that “other audience” might be?

.

 My first meme !

Above: Stroppybird’s cat

Nooman’s sub-political tirade is avowedly based upon John  Sullivan’s ‘When This Pub Closes’ which is poor stuff  but at least evinces some political grasp of its subject(s). In fact, Nooman, whether he knows it or not, is more in the tradition of the rank Stalinist ignoramous Denver Walker’s student union-level, scummy little tome ‘Quite Right Mr Trotsky.’

Anyway, there is much to be enjoyed in Nooman’s bile against the revolutionary left and his grovelling to the Labour/TU bureaucracy, but sadly he doesn’t let us link to “Socialist Unity,” so you’ll have to use Google, or copy/paste socialistunity.com/the-alliance-for-workers-liberty-the-dynamics-of-a-malignant-cult/

The comments are most entertaining as well, including:

* 23.  How inept do you have to be in order to pen a hatchet job that embarrasses yourself more than anybody else? – Patrick Smith

* 123. EDUCATION? DEMOCRACY? ACTIVITY? What a DISGRACE to the left. A disgrace to socialist countries/union leaders/students.

I’m really glad you’ve outed them about all that sexual impropriety.m Who needs facts when you’ve got pure conjecture? I bet they’re all a bunch of filthy deviants. Oh and yes, I heard that Sheffield was particularly bad too. Need castrating, the lot of them – RHuzzah

* 142. Until this article was posted I’d never heard of the AWL, and from reading all the heated posts about occult meetings sexual impropriety and filthy deviants I only have one question.

Where do I sign up? – CJB

* 161. Ok. John [John Wight, Nooman’s antisemitic sidekick – JD] couldn’t care less about someone writing for this blog or its standing among people who used to advocate for it. Andy completely agrees with him. Egal.

A narrowing of vision accompanied by a growing climate of intolerance, abuse and bullying — I for one have seen this movie a couple of times before And know well the last reel.

So no song and dance, just ciao — bella – Kevin Ovenden [former Socialist Unity contributor – JD]

P.S: Check out the attacks on Yours Truly: Nooman can’t even get this attempt at “humour” right, and work out whether I’m Father Ted or Father Jack…

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Christmas songs #5: Fats Waller, Swingin’ Them Jingle Bells

December 22, 2012 at 12:53 am (Christmas, Jim D, music, song)

Waller was a master of subversion, taking standard (often very corny) tunes and turning them inside out with his mocking vocals and masterly stride piano. Here Fats and the boys (including Herman ‘Yard Dog’ Autrey on trumpet, Gene Sedric on sax and Al Casey on guitar) are giving ‘Jingle Bells’ the treatment. It was recorded on November 29, 1936 and it sounds like they’d already started celebrating:

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Free hunger striking Iranian trade unionist Reza Shahabi!

December 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm (Civil liberties, class, Iran, islamism, Jim D, solidarity, thuggery, unions)

Iranian imprisonment labour activist Reza Shahabi on 14th day of hunger strike

From the  International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI):

Reza Shahabi, an Iranian labour leader imprisoned since June 2010, went on hunger strike on 17 Dec 2012 to protest against mistreatment by jail guards as well as prevention of his medical treatment by the judicial authorities.

Reza Shahabi’s physical conditions have deteriorated. He has announced that he will refuse taking his medication and eating food until he is allowed to be transferred to a hospital outside prison for complete treatment.

Mr. Reza Shahabi who had gone under major surgery of his neck, and according to doctors’ recommendations was in need of at least “two months rest at home”, and “incapable of withstanding any further punishment,” was sent back to Ward 350 of Evin prison on August 14, 2012. Since then, his health deteriorated significantly. In addition, his jail guards have be very insulting and he has been threatened recently by one of his guards. Reza was taken to hospital on December 15, 2012 but the jail guard accompanying him refused to allow him for proper examination and forced Reza, with threats of beating and assaulting him, to go back to prison.

Reza Shahabi is the Treasurer and Executive Board member of the Syndicate of workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, which belongs to the Municipality of Tehran and has more than seventeen thousand employees. All Executive board members of this union have been persecuted, dismissed and many were jailed since the formation of the Syndicate in 2005. He has recently been sentenced to 6 year imprisonment and five year ban on all union activities as well as 7 million Toman fine; the appeal court seems to have confirmed his sentence for four years imprisonment, five year ban on all union activities and 7 million toman penalty. Reza Shahabi’s health deteriorated significantly after severe beatings and mistreatment following his arrest. The authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran are directly responsible for any consequence resulting from continued imprisonment and mistreatment of Reza Shahabi.

Below: sample protest letter. Reza Shahabi must be immediately released and promptly treated.

I (we) are writing to protest the continued persecution of labour activist and the gross violation of workers’ rights in Iran. We continue to witness many labour activists brutally persecuted and unjustly imprisoned in Iran. In particular, I am seriously concerned about the health and well being of Reza Shahabi. Reza Shahabi, the executive board member and treasurer of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran Bus Workers’ Company, has been incarcerated for more than two and half years. Shahabi was severely beaten during his interrogation in detention. He underwent cervical spine operation on July 24, 2012. Medical doctors have been recom- mending treatment of his back as well. Contrary to doctors’ recommendations, Shahabi was sent back to Ward 350 of Evin prison on August 14, 2012. Since then, his health has been drastically deteriorated. On December 17th, 212, Reza Shahabi went on hunger strike to protest intimidating behaviour of his jail guard as well as the continued lack of proper medical treatment. He has also refused to take any medication.
I (we) strongly condemn the unjust arrest and sentence against Reza Shahabi and other labour activists. I (we) also denounce ongoing persecution and arrests of labour activists in Iran. I (we) demand the immediate and unconditional freedom of Reza Shahabi and all detained labour activists in Iran.

Name:
Organisation:

Please send your protests letters to: info@leader.ir, info@judiciary.ir, dr-ahmadinejad@president.ir; iran@un.int; ijpr@iranjudiciary.org, info@dadiran.ir, office@justice.ir, support@irimlsa.ir; info@humanrights-iran.ir; avaei@Dadgostary- tehran.ir; bia.judi@yahoo.com; info@mlsa.ir; CC: info@workers-iran.org
http://www.workers-iran.org

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Christmas songs #4: Jack Teagarden & Johnny Mercer, Christmas Night In Harlem

December 20, 2012 at 1:04 am (Christmas, Jim D, music, song)

Paul Whiteman’s elephantine orchestra usually contained some good jazz players, even if their role was that of (in Eddie Condon’s phrase), “a jigger of whisky in a pint of milk.”

This 1934 recording features vocals by Jack Teagarden and Johnny Mercer, both extolling the joys of Christmas in “that ol’ colored neighborhood.” These are lyrics that would not be used today (and especially not performed by white vocalists), but were clearly well intentioned at the time, and sung by the pair without the slightest hint of condescention.

Interesting to note, as well, that neither Teagarden nor Mercer were first and foremost vocalists: Mr Tea was best known as a trombonist and Mercer was, of course, a song-writer. Anyway, here they are, with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and ‘Christmas Night In Harlem’:

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Looking back at the Paralympics: a very personal story

December 19, 2012 at 9:12 am (Disability, humanism, sport)

Will the Paralympics have a lasting effect? Will 2012 turn out to have been a decisive year in changing perceptions of disabled people?

From behind Murdoch’s paywall: a rather moving  and very honest piece by Matthew Syed from The Times of September 8 2012:

My cousin Zoobi – and a million other human stories

First we saw freaks; then they were just pure athletes

Zoobi, my cousin, is a dwarf. She came to live with us in the summer of 1982 from her home town in Karachi: a brown-skinned, short-limbed 14-year-old in the heart of suburban Reading. Her family wanted her to broaden her horizons, to benefit from a British education. My parents, who have always believed in the extended family, welcomed her with open arms.

I look back on those years with considerable guilt. I was a year younger than Zoobi and I knew my father hoped that I would warm to my cousin. He hoped that she would go out on bike rides and shopping trips with me and my friends. He thought that if I accepted her without inhibition, others would, too. And he hoped that this would do wonders for her self-esteem and self-image.

But I didn’t accept her. I listened to my dad telling me to be kind and friendly, and I nodded dutifully. But it didn’t change anything. She was just too different. I could see people peering at her when she left our house, examining her curiously long body and stumpy limbs. They would point and giggle. When I was with her they stared at me too. I worried that they would think there was something wrong with all of us. The problem wasn’t Zoobi’s character, which was (and is) generous, wise and compassionate. It was that she was — how can I put this? — too different.

Perhaps all forms of human insularity emerge from tnhis sense of otherness. I imagine that my callow feelings of resentment resembled those of British people in the 1940’s, when the first wave of West Indian immigrants arrived on these shores. Black skin was pretty much unprecedented back then and it was common to stare, point and giggle. It was also common to resent. They are just too different. Too unfamiliar.

In the case of disability, this sense of unfamiliarity has been bplstered by a particular and sinister form of ghettoisation. The ghettos have not been geographical, as they often are with race, but institutional and moral. The locking up of the mentally ill in the 19th century was merely one manifestation of a society that for decades attempted to airbrush disability from view. The inaccessibility of transport, pavements, shops and buildings effectively excluded wheelchair users from the public world. The disabled were not merely unfamiliar; they were pretty much invisible.

Things have got better, of course, in recent decades. The disability rights movement may not have the media profile or resonance of, say, the civil rights movement, but it has been quite effective. Anti-discrimination legislation, greater access to public spaces and an extended understanding of equal rights have all changed lives. But progress has been slow. The sense of unfamiliarity, of otherness, remains. A sense that their world is not quite our world.

And it is in that sense that the Paralympics has been a game changer. If we are honest, many of us started watching these Games with a smidgeon of discomfort. Alongside the curiosity was an elevated sense of the grotesque.

The spectacle of athletes dragging themselves along the floor to the edge of the pool, or rolling around on the floor in the volleyball: all these were jarring for a simple reason. We are not used to staring at disabled bodies and their banal-herioc challenges.

Eleven days on and things have changed quite dramatically. We should always resist the temptation to claim more for sport than it deserves. But this time sport has been transformational. The perceptual distortion gradually subsided, then disappeared altogether. We are no longer watching a group of outsiders trying to play an eccentric form of sport.  Rather, we are watching sport. We are no longer watching stereotypes, with embarrassment or condescention, but real people. People with hopes and dreams and moral weaknesses. The sense of otherness has been destroyed by the narrative force of their human journeys.

Ellie Simmonds has had a particular effect on me. Simmonds is a dwarf with a sparkling personality, a megawatt smile and an outstanding ability to swim fast. She has wowed us with her brilliance, but also with her charm, her ambition and her elation at winning gold medals. We have become familiar with her story and, as a result, have come to see her not as a token — not an example of a medical condition — but as a person.

And I suspect that if a dwarf were to move into suburban Reading today the response would be radically different. She would not have to endure the pointing and the insularity. She would not have people shunning her because of her physical shape any more than a black person would be shunned for the colour of her skin.

And she would not have the indignity of a cousin turning his back on her out of distaste and social embarrassment.

Above: Ellie Simmonds

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Christmas songs #3: Charles Brown, Merry Christmas, Baby

December 19, 2012 at 12:10 am (Christmas, Jim D, music, song, The blues)

Smoo-ooth blues for Christmas, baby:

From Charles Brown.

H/t Matt

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John Gray: fifty shades of shite

December 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm (atheism, history, humanism, intellectuals, Jim D, New Statesman, perversity, philosophy, relativism, religion, secularism)

“Again, nothing infuriates the current crop of evangelical atheists more than the suggestion that militant unbelief has many of the attributes of religion. Yet, in asserting  that the rejection of theism could produce a better world, they are denying the clear evidence of history, which shows the pursuit of uniformity in word-view to to be itself the cause of conflict. Whether held by the religious or by enemies of religion, the idea that universal conversion to (or from) any belief system could vastly improve the human ot is an act of faith. Illustrationg Nietzsche’s observations about the tonic properties of false beliefs, these atheists are seeking existential consolation just as much as religious observers” John Gray in the New Statesman, 30/11/12)

Here at Shiraz, we’ve previously had occasion to identify him as probably the most profoundly reactionary writer in respectable, mainstream journalism today. Gray can be difficult to follow precisely because his writing is vague, evasive and often illogical. In the New Statesman article from which the quote at the top of this piece is taken, for instance, it is difficult to discern even what he understands by the word “toleration” (as opposed, for instance, to “indifference”) and why he seems to think that irrational beliefs are a positively good thing. His repeated approving references to Nietzsche do, however, provide a telling clue.

Like Nietzsche, Gray despises humanity in general, and enlightenment humanism in particular. I’m not sure whether Gray would share his hero’s dismissal of democracy (“liberal” / “bourgeois” or otherwise) in favour of the artistocratic ideal of the  Übermensch. Gray certainly seems attracted to Nietzsche’s emphasis (present from the first in in Die Geburt der Tragödie) on the unconscious, voluntaristsic ‘Dionysian’ side of human nature, as opposed to the rational ‘Apollonian’ side. Also, like Nietzsche, Gray is in fact an atheist, but seems to regard this as being entirely unconnected to any rational belief system, and simply a personal judgement that the ignorant masses cannot be expected to understand.

Gray’s contempt for humanism (and humanity) was well expressed in an earlier piece he wrote for the New Statesman:

“The idea that humankind has a special place in the scheme of things persists among secular thinkers. They tell us that human beings emerged by chance and insist that ‘humanity’ can inject purpose into the world. But, in a strictly naturalistic philosophy, the human species has no purpose. There are only human beings, with their conflicting impulses and goals. Using science, human beings are transforming the planet. But ‘humanity’ cannot use its growing knowledge to improve the world, for humanity does not exist.” John Gray, ‘Humanity doesn’t exist’, New Statesman (10/02/11)

I’m not arguing, by the way that Gray’s views shouldn”t be published, or are unworthy of debate. I would question, however, what such an enemy of the Enlightement is doing as lead book reviewer in a publication whose strap-line is “Enlightened Thinking for a change.”

By the way, Nietzsche’s thinking contains an essential contradiction (explained by  Antony Flew, thus): “Of course, Nietzsche goes on to use his views about the essentially ‘falsifying’ nature of language, and therefore of rational thought, to give theoretical backing to his favourite belief in the superior veracity of action and ‘will’. But here the central paradox in Nietzsche’s theory of knowledge emerges: he cannot himself, in all consistency, take that theory too seriously.”

Or as a letter to the New Statesman in response to Gray’s article, put it: “It is amusing to read yet again a rational man, John Gray on this occasion (‘Giant Leaps for mankind’, 30 November), arguing rationally for how very irrational we all are.”

 
..Nietzsche

Ophelia (“Butterflies and Wheels’) Benson on Gray, here

Salman Rushdie deals with another relativist, pseudo-intellectual enemy of Enlightement values, here.

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Christmas songs #2: Nat ‘King’ Cole, The Christmas Song

December 17, 2012 at 12:05 am (Christmas, Jim D, music, song)

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” etc.

Mel Tormé wrote the song, but Nat gave it the definitive treatment. I think this is from his 1950’s TV show, the first on mainstream US TV by a black artist. Sadly, it didn’t last long.

Smooth as single malt :

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