Richard Seymour’s contempt for democracy:

Richard Seymour

I want to quote a passage from Trotsky that I have quoted before: It relates to Richard Seymour’s contempt for democracy:

“The discussion in the Socialist Workers Party of the United States was thorough and democratic. The preparations for the convention were carried out with absolute loyalty. The minority participated in the convention, recognizing thereby its legality and authoritativeness. The majority offered the minority all the necessary guarantees permitting it to conduct a struggle for its own views after the convention. The minority demanded a license to appeal to the masses over the head of the party. The majority naturally rejected this monstrous pretension. Meanwhile, behind the back of the party the minority indulged in shady machinations and appropriated the New International which had been published through the efforts of the entire party and of the Fourth International. I should add that the majority had agreed to assign the minority two posts out of the five on the editorial board of this theoretical organ. But how can an intellectual “aristocracy” remain the minority in a workers’ party? To place a professor on equal plane with a worker – after all, that’s “bureaucratic conservatism”!

Richard Seymour will argue that what Trotsky says here doesn’t prove my point. I think it does. For me there are a couple of key points. Firstly, Trotsky was adamant in rejecting the idea that the minority faction had the right to appeal to non-party forces to defend its positions, dismissing this “monstrous pretension”. This should not even be up for discussion for the British SWP today anymore than it was for the American SWP in the 1930s. However, even the best of the IDOOP faction seem to forget the ABC of Leninism. The reason Richard Seymour and James Burnham is and was wrong is because the Leninist party does more than represent the class as a whole as it is during the low-points of the class struggle. On the contrary, the Leninist party is that part of the class that always defends its future interests while fighting as part of the class for those things the majority is ready to fight for today. United fronts are a key lever the party uses to sweep up ever new forces with which to build this class conscious activist component of the class: the party. Nevertheless, such united fronts are no substitute for the party.

Pat Stack needs to get with the programme. There can be no negotiation with non-party members like Penny or Owen on questions such as the innocence or guilt of party members. Richard Seymour’s faction don’t seriously challenge the allegation that they leak like a sieve: to Andy Newman, John Chamberlain, Chris Bambery, Nick Cohen and probably to Cathy Newman, Andrew Neil and to Isobel Oakshott too.

Pat Stack might not do this, but he doesn’t want disciplinary action taken against those who will clearly never stop leaking so long as all they need to do is challenge comrades to prove it was them who did the leaking. Pat Stack must not sanction Richard Seymour’s bid to destroy the SWP by means of dragging in the bourgeois media and the bourgeois state. Pat has to wake up to the fact that Trotsky was one hundred percent right about this.

Point two: by participating in the conference, the opposition accepted its legitimacy and authoritativeness, meaning they had no option but to abide by all decisions no matter how much they thought any or all of them were mistaken. This is another ABC of democratic centralism. Yet, again, we have proof that Richard Seymour demands the right to participate in every democratic forum (conferences, aggregates, national committees, disputes committees) and then repeatedly flout every single majority vote that he does not win:

This is grounds for expulsion, Pat. No ifs, no buts. There is no way that Pat Stack could possibly argue against that. It is simply impossible for any serious member of the IDOOP faction to defend Richard Seymour’s continued right to hold on to his party card.

It is true that in a few respects, there are crumbs of comfort for the IDOOP faction in what Trotsky argues. Trotsky was committed to fighting for a robust regime that did its best to overcome tendencies to fracture. What is wrong with that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Trotsky called for concessions to be made to win the minority to become loyal party members, and Pat Stack will find the same willingness on the part of the CC to offer reassurances that no serious SWP member wants him or any other good comrade to lose their right to fight to improve the democracy of the SWP, to help unite the party, rather than to find some excuse to further divide our class, who would then present to our class an even worse caricature than already exists of the People Front of Judea sectarianism.

There is also a commitment on the part of Trotsky to an extension of debate. Is such debate under threat by the SWP special conference majority? Yes, and no. No, in the sense that there will be continued debate on all manner of issues, including many of those that the minority think are important as against the majority of the party today.

When I was a member of the SWP I never ever agreed with everything that was party policy. No one is ever likely to do that. You win some, you lose some. You don’t surrender your right to persuade your comrades in the future. You do not split because you lose a vote or two. That is what our class enemies want. That is what the British state wants. Do not give them that satisfaction, Pat.

What will not be up for grabs after the special conference?

There can be no scapegoating of any individual just because he is, for whatever reason, unpopular with many party members. The SWP should accept that in such disciplinary cases in the future, the accuser can always go to the police if he/she doesn’t like the verdict of a party that lacks the tools necessary to get at the truth of such claims, it is almost certainly best to leave it to the state to see what it can do. This is really tricky. However, the current mess proves that the alternative way of doing things that has been tried has been found wanting and is almost inevitably going to blow up in everyone’s face.

Comrades from the IDOOP have as much right as CC loyalists to determine how we can deal with similar allegations in the future. However, unless evidence is found, no one should be deemed deserving of any disciplinary action.

Additionally, no member of the party can be subject to disciplinary action for consensual sex with another adult. Age differences are a matter for the individuals who engage in such consensual sex between adults, and no one else.

Additional restrictions may be put in place to deal with members of the party with special roles: full timers, for example. However, there can be no retrospective measures that force comrades to be held to a standard that did not exist in the past. That would be unjust.

When it comes to accusations of sexual harassment, everyone needs to discuss this. IDOOP comrades should be free to make their case, but not to have their views taken as the common sense that many of them believe them to be. Their ideas have to be subject to critique because a lot of what they say is far from being wonderful from the perspective of democracy and justice.

Everyone needs to accept that in the real world people flirt with each other and it is naive to expect both parties to make the first move simultaneously. Very different standards have to be applied to someone who gave it a shot and was shot down in flames and to someone else who does not accept a polite, “I’m sorry, but I am not interested.”

If someone misreads the signs, then that is the time for other comrades to have a word with him (or her), with appropriate warnings about disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion. There is never an excuse for wandering hands or any kind of physical contact without permission. I don’t see much potential for disagreement as to what is and is not acceptable. The problem will arise from knowing when an allegation is legitimate. I personally would have no problem with covert surveillance equipment being set up to catch me doing something inappropriate. Maybe if a comrade is accused of doing this then the party should consider such a thing as the only way to get to the truth. Maybe. Others may feel this is too intrusive. We need a debate as to the pros and cons because both exist.

When it comes to serious allegations of the sort we have been dealing with, we need to accept we are faced with a massive problem, as is society as a whole.

It goes without saying that all socialists want the guilty to be caught and punished, to teach the offender a lesson, and as a warning to the rest of society. That should go without saying. However, the witch hunt against the SWP is because sectarians want to pretend they do not believe that the SWP holds such views. That is because they just hate the SWP and want to believe the worst. They are shameless and the IDOOP need to accept that this is what the party has been dealing with.

Having said that, we cannot deny the right of the accused to natural justice. We cannot know in advance if a specific allegation is legitimate. It may be a fabrication. We cannot simply move from our determination to help legitimate victims to ignoring the reality that innocent people can and do get accused for whatever reason.

In the world of left-wing activism, it is not difficult to attribute motives  to those who make false allegations. Given a lack of knowledge as to what may have happened, we need to fight for justice for both parties to such a dispute. We know that someone must be lying. Someone must be guilty of something. But we cannot know in advance what has gone on, even if we want to believe one thing rather than something else. And that brings me to the existing problem with the current disciplinary dispute….

I have no idea how to get out of the mess the party is in. But the party can surely unite over something: if and when the party is faced with similar allegations in the future, the party cannot ask both parties to such a dispute to carry on as if nothing has happened.

It seems to me like the party will always have a potential police investigation hovering over its head now like a sword of Damocles. While I don’t know how to get rid of that, the party could unite to ensure that one such sword is all the party will ever have to deal with. Both sides at the special conference could, I hope, unite around a position of agreeing that the party cannot afford to go through this again. And the only way to avoid that possibility is to agree that such accusations should from now on be dealt with by the police. That would be far from perfect: it would certainly not guarantee that victims will necessarily get justice; nor will it ensure that innocent people are not falsely accused and possibly found guilty. Nevertheless, it would ensure that the crisis would be a crisis for  individual party members and not for the party as a whole.

I have no idea if this is the right thing to do, but it is what seems like the least worst option to me just now. Both sides at the special conference should debate what the party’s options are, even if they may want to postpone a final decision on what to do in the future to a later date. That debate should not be closed down, but there is no need for factions to play any special role discussing these tricky questions.

What about allowing the participation of senior members of the IDOOP to have leading positions in the party? Does anyone seriously expect all these comrades to be isolated from here on in? I don’t. But no one needs to belong to a faction to guarantee these rights. What makes the factions so democratic anyway?

We were told how popular the faction was. However, Mike Gonzalez couldn’t win a single one of the 28 places in Glasgow for the IDOOP position as a delegate to the special conference. Richard Seymour’s second in command, China Mieville, could muster a mere two votes (including his own) for his right to be a conference delegate!

By all accounts, Seymour’s faction are not quite as popular as their friends at John Chamberlain’s website and Andy Newman’s Capitalist Disunity NarkSquad blog would have us to believe. The same applies to Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics or Islamophobic warmongers at the Guardian and the rest of the bourgeois press.

And who elects these people anyway? I have read documents distributed by the IDOOP faction that had no signatories. Who wrote these bizarre documents? Exactly how representative are their contents of the 500 or so members of this faction? Do Pat Stack and Richard Seymour both agree with the contents of these documents? Or are we dealing with some hybrid documents that no one actually agrees with? And if that is the case, how does anyone know which bits are agreed to by which members?

Why are these documents being sent to all members of the faction if they all already agree with them? Clearly this faction’s statements are being distributed by a rather small self-selecting group who are democratically accountable to no one in particular. Why should members of such factions have additional rights over and above those of the rest of the SWP rank and file?

Such factionalism as is deeply embedded in the DNA of Richard Seymour is not more democratic than what already exists inside the SWP. It is considerably worse. It has to come to an end. Immediately.

Those who have been found guilty of no crime need to be deemed innocent in the eyes of the party as a whole. If the accusers are not content with that verdict, then they remain free to appeal to a higher court if they like, which in this case has to mean the state. However, in such circumstances, it would be transformed by them into a private matter between the two parties, with the SWP as a whole free to get on with its own business, having investigated to the best of its ability. All members of the party have to be expected to defend this when asked by the bourgeois media. Is this not obvious?

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