SWP special conference and the 100 plus page ‘internal bulletin’:

Chris_Harman SWP
Once again, I want to reiterate that I am not a member of the SWP. When I ceased to be a member is not something I am allowed to discover. I am not going to dwell on that just now. What I want to say relates to the crisis in the SWP, the special conference to be held this Saturday and the 100 plus page internal bulletin.

I am not sure what the point is referring to internal bulletins of the SWP when we all now take it for granted that Andy Newman and John Chamberlain will leak every such bulletin within minutes of Richard Seymour getting his grubby little mitts on a copy. That was inevitable. Pat Stack may officially dislike what he knows Richard Seymour is doing, but he willfully turns a blind eye to it. Not good enough, comrade. The SWP needs to discuss this.

Pat Stack and others are talking nonsense about the role of social media and the SWP leadership. No one is denying the right of members to use facebook, twitter nor anything else. How exactly it can be deployed by a mass of enthusiastic cadres should be a proper subject for debate within the party. It was over a century since Lenin described the workers’ paper as the scaffolding around which Marxists build their revolutionary party. Twitter gives hundreds, thousands and more comrades the ability to tap into real time communication by our class to everything that is going on. It would be insane for the SWP to set arbitrary limits on such potentially democratic tools.

However, in a democratic centralist organisation, it is vital that internal discussion remain internal, at least for a time. Richard Seymour disagrees, and Pat Stack doesn’t seem to be all that interested in tackling this serious problem.

If Pat Stack thinks he has the right to have closed faction meetings (of up to five hours), then why can’t the entire SWP be expected to discuss certain things away from our class enemies: the capitalist media and the capitalist state as well as the employers?

Did Lenin and Trotsky open up their central committee meetings to everyone who wanted to listen in? No. The Tsarist state had to hire the likes of Roman Malinovsky to check out what was going on. Richard Seymour may or may not be working for the state, but his methods of distributing confidential material means he is either doing the work of the state for money or free of charge. Does it matter all that much which it is?

Saturday’s meeting will hopefully lance the boil. At any rate I wish it would. I hope that Pat Stack will lead the members of his faction into a belated acceptance of majority votes within the SWP. However, he has done an incredible amount of damage already. He has incited an unruly mob of anarchistic contempt for the norms of democratic debate. I suspect that even if Pat now accepts Saturday’s vote, the polemical nonsense he has deployed in the last few months will have a lot of SWP activists refusing to back down. These people will accuse Pat Stack of having betrayed them. These people will include every single member of Richard Seymour’s faction. What can be done about these people?

Firstly, they have to be expelled. When I read the CC introduction, I am very impressed. I had expected that I might disagree with a fair bit of it, but I don’t. Part of me sees the importance of not appearing to chomp at the bit for a fair number of expulsions. I want this kept to an absolute minimum. I do not want a split involving Pat Stack or most of the members of his group. However those who refuse to take action against the likes of Richard Seymour are playing an utterly disreputable role in the party. The party has not tackled this problem with the seriousness it demands. There ought to be no pussyfooting about when it comes to Seymour himself. Nor for those who have backed him to the hilt on his blog. I see no prospect of any of them making a serious attempt at healing the wounds. They have learnt zero lessons and they have to be gotten rid of. And that creates tension with Pat Stack’s group? Why is this happening? What has gotten into Pat? Does he want to split the SWP over a disciplinary decision? Has he taken leave of his senses?

There are a few contributions from the CC and from their supporters about factionalism that I am not one hundred percent on board with. I completely support the spirit of what they are saying, but not necessarily the letter. I also think that the role of the SWP as a democratic faction within a broader workers party has to be discussed. I think this is going to prove an indispensable step in the progress of the party in Britain. The first past the post electoral system and the division within socialist movements imposes this on the SWP. There is no way round it, and that is why, in my ‘humble’ opinion, some of the discussion around permanent factions is undialectical. That has no bearing on the present discussion, but I felt it needed saying.

I want the CC to stamp its authority on the party at Saturday’s special conference. I want that to be the start of a new dawn. I want the party to come together democratically and united. I think it highly unlikely that this is going to happen without dealing with Richard Seymour’s factionalism. I guess that majority votes may force Pat Stack to finally decide to come to his senses. However….

Some of what I read about the disputes case that is the cause celebre for the factionalists has me a little bit worried. I cannot say who I believe in this dispute because I lack the evidence. But there is something that the CC and their supporters need to be aware of.

Regardless of how conference votes on Saturday, there is zero possibility that the bourgeois media will let this rest. The only question is what they do next, and to what extent they prove able to exploit traitors within the party.

I wish this specific case will go away but that is now entirely in the hands of the members who have made these allegations. I have to say that some of the criticism of some members of the opposition faction does make some sense to me. I do not believe that the CC can put this to bed so long as there is a difference as to what happened between comrades. This is not like Schrodinger’s cat of quantum mechanical philosophy, the one that is simultaneously alive and dead in parallel universes. Someone is clearly telling porkies. The fact is that the opposition and the CC has to accept is that the SWP cannot internally determine who that is. It is not the fault of the CC nor DC that they could not get to the bottom of this. I personally think it was a mistake to try to deal with this internally. I am not sure how many within the CC loyalists take that position. For all I know I may be a lone voice. But regardless of what happens about this particular case, I think many in the opposition are absolutely right in asking for such disputes not to be accepted as the responsibility of the party in the future. These people need to be listened to with respect regardless of whether they make those points from a position of loyalty to the CC position or from that of Pat Stack’s faction. No one has an absolute monopoly of wisdom here.

The SWP simply cannot afford to go through this ever again. No one can seriously dispute that, surely. The CC should accept the anxieties of many within the opposition about the accusations that are being made externally by all the enemies of democratic centralism and the socialist project in its entirety. If someone wants to make accusations in the future and refused to go to the police, insisting that the party investigated it instead, then I am not sure what should be done. I think all members of the party should be asked to discuss how to better catch the guilty and deal with them while not denying the rights of the accused to a fair trial. But the best idea may be for an individual member to go to the police after all. Unless comrades make it absolutely clear that they don’t want to do that, not now and at no time in the future, and prove that no external pressure was put on them to call for an internal investigation as opposed to a police investigation, then the party should refuse to investigate.

This is a really tricky issue and I have no definite answers. Everyone, men and women, gay and straight, the celebate and the promiscuous, the old and the young, CC loyalists and Pat Stack’s faction should all be asked to address this serious issue. I genuinely think that some of the CC’s critics have ended up on the wrong side due to having legitimate anxieties about this. And if debate is not handled properly it is possible that a split could find decent comrades on the wrong side of the split. Many of Richard Seymour’s faction and all his external allies have illusions in the bourgeois state that Leninists simply do not share. They use expressions like, “no one is above the law.” They know nothing about the class nature of the state. Trying to explain the ABC of Marxism to them is a waste of breath. All you get is the abuse of trolls. Even so, while real socialists do try to settle differences using organisations of the exploited and oppressed, sidestepping the bourgeois state if at all possible, sometimes it is not possible. Sometimes we do have to call the police, and get the courts involved. What do we do when the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator of a crime both belong to a socialist organisation and that organisation patently lacks the tools necessary to determine whether or not there has been any crime, and/or whether has been any mitigating factors involved, in such circumstances, it seems like the best thing for the party to do is face up to reality: with all the best will in the world, the party cannot sort out such a problem. To the extent that the CC is unaware of the potential for such a crisis to erupt in the future, the opposition may need to be listened to and have at least part of what they are saying incorporated into an amendment with the support of the CC.

At any rate, that is what I think at the moment. I am of course willing to listen to counterarguments.

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2 Responses to SWP special conference and the 100 plus page ‘internal bulletin’:

  1. Ben Sorin says:

    I’m also an ex-member as it happens and I do find it odd that you argue passionately for internal SWP discipline, including in the realm of social media, and advocate the explusion of large sections of that party as a non-member of that party, on a publically viewable blog. But there you go.

    You make a resonable point that accepting the use of social media does not mean accepting any use of social media but that apart I thought your points here were very tendentious. Even if Richard Seymour is behaving as you claim why is it Pat Stack’s job to police that? You also have to ask why things are being leaked in the first place. Is it simply because Richard Seymour and his crew are nasty people with emerging reformist tendencies whose new life mission is to undermine Lenninism? Or could the leaks possibly reflect a lack of tolerance of debate and questioning, and a culture of closing down discussion, within SWP internal structures? I think you’ll guess which I’d plump for as the more likely root cause.

    Finally, the suggestion that anyone in any organisation has to ‘prove’ that no external presssure was brought on them when pursuing a internal complaint makes me shudder. How exactly do you suggest they go about proving that? Why would this be a reasonable demand of someone who has been raped?

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  2. Pingback: Response to Ben Sorin on SWP special conference and internal bulletin: | WORKERS UNITED

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