Monday, December 16, 2013

On leaving the SWP

Like many others following the SWP’s Annual Conference, I have now left the SWP. Below, for those are interested, briefly sets out the reasons why and lays out what I think should happen next. While writing this is in itself a useful exercise for clarifying my ideas, it also my attempt an explanation for all of those people, over the last 9 years, that I have recruited, tried to recruit, sold the paper too, argued with and generally harangued about the brilliance of Leninism.

What went wrong? Part 1 – the Disputes Committees
I’m not going to go through the entire story of the way the two complainants were treated here (for a good overview and background, see revolutionary socialism and Dave Renton’s blog). The reality is, however, that the complaint of comrade W about Martin Smith was seriously mishandled. This needn’t have been the case. If the CC had been honest about what was going on rather than stage managing the 2011 Conference, we may have been able, collectively, to correct the mistakes then. That didn’t happen, however, and when the complaint resurfaced in 2012, it was again mishandled.

I think it’s important at this point to point out that the Disputes Committee failed politically to deal with this complaint. There’s a lot of rubbish out there about trusting the political judgement of the DC panel. Well, trust is earned and based on record – I’m afraid the record shows that the comrades on the Disputes Committee made a serious error around this. I’ll leave aside the dodgy questions, the grossly unfair processes because I think the central political question is more important. I can accept that the rape was ‘unproven’ as an outcome (though I think they should have done much more to point out this doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and comrades have subsequently wrote well about why the default should be believing the victim) but it simply beggars belief that the DC did not find Martin Smith guilty of the campaign of sexual harassment he so clearly carried out. This is especially true when comrade X came forward with corroborating evidence and a similar story of abuse and harassment. Just so we’re clear, Martin Smith is 100% guilty of sexual harassment (as the subsequent DC report shows).

All of this would be bad enough but could still have been corrected. Unfortunately, the Central Committee chose to try and cover up the case and use bureaucratic arguments to try and deny the existence of the second complaint. Thus they turned a crisis in one part of the Party into a crisis of their leadership. From that first error, all other subsequent errors followed and their constant strategy of increasing the divide has led now to a serious split at the heart of the SWP’s cadre – turning their leadership crisis into a crisis of the tradition.

What went wrong? Part 2 – the underlying problems
Its fair to say that over the last 9 years in the SWP I have found myself in informal tendencies with a whole lot of comrades over a whole lot of different questions. Most of the time that has been within the framework set out by the Central Committee, meaning in general I have been a loyal comrade (and until this year I have only broken discipline once and that was against Bambery so it doesn’t count). Even where disagreements did exist, such as with the deterioration of the paper or our poor approach to the Pensions Dispute, these disagreements took place within boundaries of what I would consider normal Marxist polemic. Sure, there were problems but again these took place within acceptable limits and did nothing to shake my view that the SWP, imperfect though it was, was the best tool in our class’s toolbox for building a better future for humanity.

Like many comrades, the last year has been a steep learning curve for me. The political decisions made by the leadership and by their supporters point to one unavoidable conclusion – that the politics of the SWP, and of many of its members, has ceased to be the politics of Marx or Lenin or Cliff. The strategy pursued by the CC and its supporters only makes sense if you accept the complete contradiction between their view and actual reality. Nowhere is this more obvious than with question of Conference votes. The ideal of democratic centralism is full discussion, decision then unity in action. When the Bolsheviks clarified this formula (one that finds its roots in real working class struggle) they did so without taking into account the future degeneration of the SWP leadership. As such, the Bolshevik method is predicated on the idea that comrades may put forward many different analyses and strategies and one must be chosen and tested. This works fine when these analyses are based on actual reality – it is a system that can’t cope when a majority of comrades simply ignore reality. Hence, conference votes that the matter was dealt with well, all is resolved, everyone is a comrade in good standing and apparently, through some Leninist magic, this then becomes the new reality. This ignorance of reality, the replacement of real circumstance with wishful thinking reminds me more of Stalinism than Marxism. It is a method that thinks that SWP Conference votes can change the world and it is a method that has no place within the international socialist tradition.

Thus over the last year the leadership’s strategy has demonstrated time and again why it can no longer claim leadership over the most advanced workers. As we travelled further down the rabbit hole, more and more questions were raised about our method and about the level of politics and discipline in the organisation. At every turn, the CC almost seemed to willingly answer these questions in the negative.

The Defeat
As so we reach the December Conference, our third one this year and the last chance for the CC and their supporters to correct their trajectory and to join with those of us wanting to rescue something from the fire. Unfortunately and predictably, the loyalists did not take this opportunity and so I find myself leaving the organisation to which I have dedicated my entire adult life.

It is important to say here that my politics haven’t changed. I am still convinced that Marxism is the best and only method for explaining the world around us and the future that millions hope for. More than this I remain convinced that the organisational form referred to as Leninism is the best way to organise in order to achieve that future. I do think, however, that the SWP no longer remains a useful tool for building that future.

As we move forward, the SWP-rump will still continue to exist, its members will still play a positive role in the working class movement and I will still work alongside them. But in terms of the project to build a revolutionary party, they now have nothing to offer. The class war tests us all of the time and over the last year the SWP majority has failed a fundamental test.

The future
While the result of the last twelve months of battles has been irredeemably negative and sad, it is now over and the concrete question facing those of us who have left or should have left is what we should be doing now. You can’t be a Leninist without an organisation so the first step is to try and form something new. I would imagine this to be fairly lose at first but it should be somewhere for revolutionaries to debate and plan action, to bring new layers of radical workers and crucially to produce some sort of publication. The process of the faction fight over the last year has educated many of our number, myself not least, in some of the bigger political questions we now face. It is now up to us to put that clarity into action and to nurture the new culture we have been developing. This project is a modest one but it should have as its short-term goal the development of Leninist organisation that unites all of those serious revolutionaries who want to carry on activity. That means the best elements of both the SWP Opposition and the ISN, plus their peripheries. In future, it will hopefully mean the best elements of those still left in the SWP as well.

This step is the next crucial one – the ISN contains many lessons, both good and bad, of how to try and build something new. I want us to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water in terms of our politics but equally I think we need to follow the example of making serious and concrete changes to our method in order to change the culture we have inherited from the SWP. I also want to get my own house in order first before I even think about diving into radical reformist projects and realignment initiatives, of which it’s fair to say I have a healthy scepticism.

What this means for everyone else out there is that soon I will be selling you some sort of publication again (and I promise this one will be better than the last!), that I will still be bending your ear about revolutionary potential and I will soon be urging you to join me in building a revolutionary organisation.

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