In defense of the Socialist Workers Party

Chris_Harman SWP

A few days ago I added, without comment, the SWP central committee’s motion for its special conference on 10 March 2013. I came across this motion on a hostile website. I am not sure if it had been released to non-members on the internet. I couldn’t find it on the party’s website. If I had I would have added a link to it. I suspect the motion was intended to be an internal document, at least for the time being. I decided to post this important motion given that it had already been made public by the enemies of the party, as absolutely everything does via Richard Seymour who is distinguished from other enemies of the party only by his still retaining an SWP party card.

Since I didn’t want SWP loyalists outwith the party such as myself (fellow travelers if you will) to have no option but to increase internet traffic to the websites of the party’s enemies, I decided I may as well offer an alternative place for socialists to go to read this stuff. So I posted the motion without comment. I think I’m ready to add a comment or two now. Here goes…

To begin with, if I was a delegate to the SWP’s special conference, I wouldn’t think twice before voting for it. I agree with almost every word. What about the qualifier ‘almost’? There’s no point denying that I do have one or two misgivings. I am in two minds as to whether I should say too much about this. Let me explain my reluctance to do that before I outline what I might take issue with…

Richard Seymour wants to damage the SWP as much as possible. He and his faction should have been jettisoned long ago. His days in the SWP must be numbered. He knows that as much as I do. But he will try to inflict as much damage as he can between now and then, doing so to protect all the enemies of the party, every agency that defends the capitalist state, including agents of the capitalist class within the trade union movement, and Ed Miliband’s One Nation Party.

Why has the SWP not dealt with Richard Seymour before now? The problem is a substantial group of conciliators who ought to know better: Pat Stack, Ian Birchall and Colin Barker. They, in turn, have rallied to themselves a significant number of party activists of long-standing. The party doesn’t want to write off such comrades without a fight. Nor should they.

I cannot believe that Pat Stack and co will tolerate the behavior of Richard Seymour for very much longer. Then again, I am baffled as to why they have done this thus far. Working on the assumption that Pat Stack and co will come to their senses, washing their hands of the Judases, I do expect that Pat and co will try to win some minor concession to prove that their factional activities were not entirely without merit. I wish they wouldn’t try to bargain for a face saving olive branch, but I expect that is what is likely to happen.

As I have said before, I do not believe that the central committee is beyond criticism. Nor do I believe that the status quo is an option in the long term. To the extent that the central committee’s motion does represents a 100% defense of the status quo, then I have to admit that I do have one or two problems with it. That might bring a sigh of relief to the likes of Richard Seymour, hoping that I am about to outline something he can use to assist him in his treachery. I’m afraid he’s going to be disappointed….

Despite the fact that I would like to see a couple of brief amendments to the central committee’s motion, I would vote for it unamended. And I would do so enthusiastically. I would do that because in the real world (as distinct from the lofty academic tower of ‘Marxism’ inhabited by Richard Seymour), we need to examine the consequences of our actions and inactions, our abstentions as well as everything else.

Anyone with half a brain will realise that the strengths of the CC’s motion far outweigh any deficiencies. That motion deals with an enormous amount of unfinished business that has to be taken care of as a matter of extreme urgency. This has to be done to stop the SWP unraveling as a consequence of Richard Seymour’s disgusting conspiratorial behavior.

Besides, the longer a motion, the more it deals with, the greater the details of an extremely complex problem, the more inevitable that we will end up with a compromise that in its attempt to please everyone has to fudge some points. There is an element of that in the CC’s motion. This means there are things left unsaid, or summarized incorrectly, in my ‘humble’ opinion.

I confess to being in two minds as to whether I should say anymore. I think I will. I think I can risk having my words abused and distorted by Richard Seymour’s cheerleaders for a couple of reasons. Firstly, anyone who refuses to vote for the central committee’s motion out of a failure to have it amended the way I would like to see it amended is a pointless idiot.

Any abstention, nevermind actually voting against the CC’s motion, on the basis of failing to get it ever so slightly improved is pathetic.

Secondly, the special conference cannot bind delegates nor any other SWP member in the future. My personal bones of contention can be dealt with satisfactorily by returning to them at subsequent conferences, possibly taken up by a faction, possibly on behalf of an individual. If I rejoin (if I was allowed to rejoin), I might even propose them myself.

So, what kind of changes would I like to see, if not immediately, then at some point in the future?

There is no reference to the slate system in the CC motion. I personally think it has outlived its usefulness. The rest of democratic centralism can work perfectly well without it, provided all members accept they are bound by collective responsibility once elected to a higher body. I am ready to listen to a defense of the slate system, but I think getting rid of it is likely to prove invaluable in stopping the hemorrhaging of activists who hold minority views, including some of the better members of Pat Stack’s faction.

Whether comrades’ minority views are wrong-headed or not is besides the point: the point is how to incorporate all sections of the party, engaging with everyone democratically, giving everyone an incentive to fight on behalf of an organisation even when they think that on small, or even big, issues the majority has simply got it wrong. That, after all, is a problem every member of a Leninist party will face at some point: Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, Luxemburg and Harman have all surrendered to the majority when they knew the majority was dragging comrades in the wrong direction. They all understood why the majority must rule even when it is making a mistake. But not every comrade can see this so easily. Not every comrade is so immune to the temptation to throw their toys out of the pram and walk off into the wilderness. Young, immature activists need mechanisms to help persuade them to stay. The same, apparently, goes for older burnt-out activists.

The slate system, in my opinion, has to be discussed at some point. Having said that, failure to address this issue in the CC motion is no justification for anyone voting against the motion, nor abstaining. It can be dealt with at a later date, after debate on the pros and cons of this system, and after dealing with the immediate crisis precipitated by Richard Seymour’s treachery.

There is the issue of permanent factions. This is no small bone of contention. The problem is that the issue is extremely complex and the SWP needs to have a debate before taking a stand. I disagree with the letter, but not the spirit of what is in the CC motion. The CC is attacking factionalism in the same way I would, although they are pulling their punches more than I tend to do. I can afford to be less diplomatic since I am not constrained in the same way. Since I’m not a member, I have greater freedom to call a spade a spade, and an agent provocateur an agent provocateur.

My difference on the question of permanent factions is one I think would be broadly welcomed by most supporters of the CC motion if I had time and space to develop it. I might be wrong about that. But I don’t want to explore it in any detail at this point since what I say might be cannibalized by Richard Seymour to undermine the CC’s motion. And that is the very last thing I want. My personal misgivings could be adequately dealt with in any post-conference debate, within the parameters set out in paragraph ten:

10) We believe that underlying many of the recent debates in and around the party lie a series of vital political questions where we need to seek urgently to assert, develop and win our political tradition. Some of the key debates include:

  1. The changing nature of the working class.
  2. Lenin’s conception of the party and its relevance in the 21st century.
  3. Oppression and capitalism.
  4. The trade union bureaucracy and the rank and file.
  5. The radical left, the united front and the SWP.
  6. The role of students and intellectuals in revolutionary struggle.
  7. The value of new electronic media in the ideological and organisational work of a revolutionary party.
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One Response to In defense of the Socialist Workers Party

  1. Pingback: Defend the Socialist Workers Party against Richard Seymour | WORKERS UNITED

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