Monday 11 April 2011

Chris Bambery Resigns from the SWP!

The SWP were always going to get me back into blogging ...

Letter to CC and SWP

10 April

Dear Charlie,

After 32 years membership of the Socialist Workers Party, during which I was National Secretary for 17 of them and editor of the Socialist Worker for five, I am resigning forthwith both from the Central Committee and the Socialist Workers Party.

The relentless factionalism in the organisation, driven by the leading group on the CC, shows no sign of ceasing and is doing enormous damage to the party. It is a cancer eating away at its heart.

At the special CC held on Friday 8 April I was told by Martin Smith I played a 'filthy' and 'disgraceful' role in the party, a 'foul role in Scotland' and despite the CC 'fighting hard' to integrate me I had 'spent the last year and a half organising against the CC.' Such accusations were repeated by Martin's supporters and were not refuted by yourself as National Secretary.

While not recognising the reality of such slanders, I pointed out if you believed them immediate action would be required against any CC member believed to be involved in such behaviour. None followed.

It is simply untenable to sit round a table or work with people who believe, and are spreading, such slanders.

These slanders are not just aimed at me but those who have worked closely with me in building the party and wider initiatives, particularly so in Scotland which I've held responsibility for since 1988 until I was asked to step aside this year to help prevent 'factionalism'. This step was criticised at a Scottish steering committee by some members who argued my role in the significant development of the Scottish districts, particularly amongst younger members, had been important. They too have been subject to similar slanders.

The party has been afflicted by factionalism for four years and grips the leading group on the CC who seem addicted to it.

It has damaged our united front work in all the campaigns - Right to Work most obviously but in all others. Stop the War is now treated with derision by leading CC members.

In recent weeks there has been no lead or drive from the CC in turning the party towards building the growing anti-cuts movement. The current article in Socialist Review and the post 26th party notes on the way forward after 26 March both have virtually nothing to say on anti cuts campaigns.

Martin Smith has attempted to blame me personally for the weaknesses of Right to Work despite the internal arguments which have held it back from its inception and which have brought it near to derailment.

While all of us wanted to see the party grow the stress on party building has increasingly meant 'intervening' from the outside rather than recruiting whilst working alongside those who are building the movement.

Since Friday's CC I have been made aware that a major factional attack was being once more orchestrated against myself.

The SWP prided itself on being free from factionalism and on its record in helping initiating and building strong and genuine united fronts. That has been damaged.

I was one of the only two remaining CC members who had worked with Tony Cliff in a leadership role. Having worked closely with him on a daily basis for many years with, I believe the CC's current approach goes against everything he stood for. His analysis of Lenin's ideas laid great emphasis on taking a firm grip on the 'key link in the chain'. Its been clear for some time that the question of austerity would dominate the political scene, yet we've failed to position ourselves at the heart of the anti-cuts movement and our influence is not what it could of been. This is not the place to go into detail about the party's recent history, but Right To Work was initiated in bizarre circumstances (I learned the news from Party Notes) and the CC as a whole has never applied systematic pressure to push the formal position through the party.

For all of my 32 years as a member I have given everything into building this party, even making serious financial sacrifices including loaning considerable sums of money during the financial crisis which has affected the party in recent years, money I am still owed.

A revolutionary party is an instrument for making a revolution. If it is blunted or broken another must be built. I maintain the firm conviction that a party rooted in working class struggle that fights constantly for Marxist ideas whilst building unity on the basis of action is essential for the battle for socialism. For that reason, to take this road is not an easy decision, but it is one I have been forced to take.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Bambery


Neil said...

"This is not the place to go into detail about the party's recent history, but Right To Work was initiated in bizarre circumstances (I learned the news from Party Notes) and the CC as a whole has never applied systematic pressure to push the formal position through the party."

A major initiative launched by a party without consulting a CC member. Extraordinary. And then to make that person the head of that initiative!

I am literally gobsmacked by the barminess of it all. Just when you think you've heard it all about the SWP...

Alex Dawson said...

Messy stuff indeed.

Reading it through, basically he's being challenged by others in the leadership and he's not been getting the respect he thinks he deserves because he was one of the few to work alongside Cliff and, by the way, they owe him a pile of money.

Not really very good or solid reasons for tearing up your membership after 32 years.

The line on narrow party building versus useful involvement in campaigns is very telling though.

The people that come to struggle through trade unions or anti-cuts groups or community campaigns or whatever are always going to be more driven by what led them to those struggles.

They, particularly the younger unsullied ones, are the ones always targeted, along with any new faces to struggle.

But I would suggest the growth of digital media and information and freedom of debate is severely testing the ability of left sectarian parties in general to operate in a vacuum and keep a lid on things like this. The sort of things that make people question what really goes on at the top of the dem-cent organisations.

This translates into youngsters being move savvy and learning about what what has gone on in the parties, which in turn leads to less members and influence, which in turn leads to more desperate attempts at narrow party building.

It must be said though that only the SWP seem to suffer these very high level and high-profile resignations.

Questioning this genuinely, is there some organisational trait of the party that seems to lead to a good number of its former luminaries turning so violently and publicly on the organisation they served for so long?

Unknown said...

Interesting that he didn't know RtW had been set up until he read his Party Notes. Is that how organised revolutionary parties operate? Any idea if he will still play a role in RtW anyone?

Unknown said...

Interesting that he didn't know about RtW until he read his party notes. Isn't he the national Chair? Awesome communication skills. Anyone know if he has also resigned from RtW?

Ms Chief said...

Oh dear!!! In fairness Chris Bamberry did play a scandalous role in Scotland and if what I have been told (by reliable sources) it was Bamberry who urged/instructed the SWP in Scotland to support Sheridan regardless that he was going to the Court of Session with a made up case against he evil Murdoch empire. It was Bamberry who urged the SWP to split with the SSP.

I do not know if Bamberry had any role in the idea to support George Galloway.

Last time I heard him speak it was on Radio Scotland being an arse to Rosie Kane.

Don't think he'll get his money back though!

Phil said...

Loz, I think the nature of the recent faction fight with the ex-left platform explains the high profile nature of this particular spat. Remember, unlike previous splits in the SWP, which were in the main movements of members resigning/getting expelled, Counterfire was born out of a very ugly struggle in the central committee itself. Bambery was associated with Rees-German group (who are, I think, now playing a more constructive role in the anti-cuts and labour movement than they did when they were in the SWP) and so his card was always marked. Tbh I'm surprised he's lasted this long.

Re: Bambery's actions in Scotland. Take it from me, they pale in comparison to the skeletons hiding in his accuser's closet.

Ms Chief said...

really Phil? Martin Smith? I have heard that the Glasgow Uni SWSS have gone with Chris Bamberry - that is a jewel in their crown. I wonder what their position will be on Solidarity and Respect in Scotland?

Phil said...

I imagine they will be supporting CAC (unfortunate initials if there ever were any ...). I'll be interested to see if the Bambery group hooks up with Counterfire.

In the mean time the SWP lurches from crisis to crisis.

Phil said...

Derek's got the SWP's reply here.

I might be moved to write a proper blog soon!

BY said...

I find his claim to authenticity very interesting: "I was one of the only two remaining CC members who had worked with Tony Cliff in a leadership role." We're fast running out of Companions of the Prophet (PBUH), comrades...

Neil said...

"A number of other comrades have also left. In our tradition, if you disagree, you try to win your position in the party and seek to persuade others of your case. It is regrettable that these comrades walked away without doing so."

How are you supposed to "win your position in the party" when the SWP bans factions for nine months of the year?

Mind you Bambery probably expelled enough "oppositionists" in his time for precisely the same crime.

Anonymous said...

I don't have much truck with Bamberry's reasons for leaving, and certainly have no sympathy for his affiliations with Rees/German etc. However what he does raise, and what continues to be a persistent problem for the SWP (and others), is the question of the united front.

The task of building a united front in conditions where the social base of forces that traditionally constitute it have been- through decades of neoliberalism and defeat- severely eroded. The entrenchment of the TU bureaucracy, the weakening of the rank and file, the breakdown of community organisations, the perpetual drift of social democracy to the right and the general disillusion with parliamentary democracy all factor.

Sad that people are still trotting out Cliff's analysis of Lenin and the master key of the 'key link in the chain'- such a notion, elevated beyond a tactic to a staunch principle of party building, helps to explain why the SWP vascillates from pole to pole, haemorraghing members along the way.

The second issue Bamberry raises that blights the SWP is membership- the recruitment, retention and development of members- a question wholly bound up with democracy in the organisation. Even if the claim were true (which it certainly is not) that there are suitable structures to raise opposition through, they are simply rusted sculptures without an open, critical and rigourously democratic culture that puts them to use.

Instead, and Bamberry is right to say, (funny how all the old hands had no problem exercising such control til it comes to them) opposition is quashed in the organisation. A combination of docility, hostility, the difficulty of building 'horizontal links' across the organisation, a layer of trusted 'cadre' and functionaries who in the absence of a real cadre serve to run the organisation thus reproducing that culture, turnover of members etc.

The question remains to what degree is the SWP salvagable in all this? Is it too a victim of the ravages of neoliberalism, an organisation that can be rejuvenated and the deadwood blasted out by a wave of militants radicalised by the fight against austerity. Assuming that fight will take place in any significant way. Or is it a more deep-rooted characteristic of the organisation, stemming back to the shift to becoming a Leninist party in the 70s?

Members need to start putting their heads above the parapet if they want more than a dithering leadership.

skidmarx said...

Perhaps Bambery's efforts in Right To Work will now be improved by knowing what it's like to be out of a job.

Unknown said...

I think to be fair the main problem for the SWP (other than occasionally barmy perspectives and a fetish for ultra-left reactionism) is as has been highlighted previously, if you specifically ban factions then you do cut off all democratic discussion. It's a ludicrous argument; in any group of three or more people, a "faction" can develop if one group of people opposes another. You can't really build a party if you have to split every time that happens.

Derek Wall said...

latest news is 38 Scottish members of the SWP have resigned and are forming a new political organisation with Chris Bambery

Phil said...

I'm sure it will be a rip-roaring success.

Mark P said...

I never had much time for Chris Bambery. But after reading above that he gave Rosie Kane a hard time on the radio, I had to reconsider. Apparently there's some good in him.

SamG said...

"I'm sure it will be a rip-roaring success."

How's the radicalisation of New Labour coming along?

Funny how New Labour activists manage to remind me of Man Utd fans. Because they happen to be connected to a big organisation they somehow think they have power within that organisation and see fit to laugh at the smaller teams. Sad really.

Phil said...

It's going alright, thanks. Local relationship with the trade union movement is slowly being rebuilt and our activists are on the doors talking *and listening* to people the ancien regime in the party neglected for years. So all in all, the project of reconnecting my local CLP with campaigning traditions of the past as well as the hopes and aspirations of working class people is coming along.

Btw, I'm not critical (but horribly fascinated) with the little sects that passes for British Trotskyism because I'm in the Labour party. I am critical because it's self-evident they will never amount to anything. Nearly 70 years of trying amply demonstrates that.

SamG said...

"It's going alright, thanks."

If believing that helps you get through the day who am I to say anything?

"I am critical because it's self-evident they will never amount to anything. Nearly 70 years of trying amply demonstrates that."

But you were in the socialist party until very recently???

Anonymous said...

"I am critical because it's self-evident they will never amount to anything. Nearly 70 years of trying amply demonstrates that."

last time i checked the labour party hadn't bought about socialism yet either phil, and that's in over 100 years! what does that 'amply demonstrate'?

the trotskyists can say they have fought against stalinism on the one hand and the labour reformists class collaboration and total capitulation on the other, and they have tried to defend marxism and socialist ideas. that's a history to be proud of at least.

true, they've not got anywhere in terms of mass or semi mass parties. the trotskyist movement is not in a great state of health and riven with problems.

but ask the question another way, where have stalinism and reformism got us?

are you still in favour of the socialist transformation of society, and if so, how are we going to achieve this goal?

comradely greetings


Phil said...

Indeed I was, Sam. And I spent an age explaining why I changed my mind in many, many posts.

Phil said...

And I never argued Labour is *the* vehicle for socialist transformation. But owing to the part it occupies in the labour movement it cannot but be an arena for socialists to be active in and one which, at times, delivers significant improvements in the living standards of the working class.

As for reformism not doing much. It's hard to see how you can be so straight faced saying that as you busy yourself defending public services - you know, the fruits of reformism - from the vicious onslaught of the Tories.

Tim Twitterati said...

I just got this on the Twitter, and am sure that everyone else would want to report this too.


Anonymous said...


i wasn't arguing about labour as an arena for socialists, or about its nature, link to the unions, etc. i was simply defending trotskyism from your attack.

are you openly a reformist now then?

i was arguing against reformism as ideas and a trend in the labour movement, not against reforms.

pro-working class reforms, won through struggle and the pressure we can place onto the capitalists and the labour leaders, are achievements to be defended from every attack. but reforms won are limited and are not permanent, they are always under threat.

reforms do not and can never end imperialist wars, mass starvation, mass unemployment, poverty etc. etc. only international democratic socialism could achieve this and liberate all humanity from the horrors of capitalism.

the most far reaching reforms are actually by-products of revolution or the threat of revolution.

reformism leads directly to class collaboration and more often than not total capitulation. the history of the 'great' reformist social democratic and labour parties and leaders illustrates this.

comradely greetings,


Phil said...

What exactly is a 'reformist' in the 2nd decade of the 21st century?

As far as I'm concerned, I a) accept the validity of Marx's analysis and critique of capitalism, b) that capitalism cannot be reformed away (though of course, reforms do have a part to play), and, c) that the 'revolutionism' of the British far left is completely wide of the mark too.

Make of that what you will.

Anonymous said...

Tim twitteratis report is, sadly, true.