Sunday 13 January 2013

Where Now for the SWP?

They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but the fate befalling the Socialist Workers' Party is proving to be the exception to the rule. Coverage in the New Statesman, The Indy, and The Daily Mail is bringing the SWP's monumentally fatal decision to a wider audience. Surely other media outlets can't be far behind, even if only as January filler between Celebrity Big Brother and impending snowmageddon. 

I also couldn't help but note The Mail disallowed comments on their piece. If the most stupid and reactionary paper in the land can foresee potential legal difficulties, what does that say of the SWP's Central Committee's foresight, that flower of the British proletariat?

And yet, in this, what is likely to be the terminal crisis for the SWP, if your sole news outlet was Socialist Worker and the ramblings of its website, you could be forgiven for thinking the organisation doesn't stand on the precipice of extinction. Yesterday, paper sales went ahead in city centres like they always have done. And the CC, forced to respond to negative press and blogging, has officially come out and said "nothing to see here."

In the real world large sections of 'the party' are in open revolt. Two of its most prominent public faces, China Mieville and Richard Seymour, are now waging an open political struggle. Off the top of my head, Sheffield and Leeds are pretty much solid oppositionists. The local branch here in Stoke are supportive of the rebellion. And the large (in far left terms) Birmingham organisation is said to be on the verge of decamping en masse. If the SWP were a zombie, we're not talking about skin flakes or fingers falling off. It's chunks of flesh and even limbs that are coming loose.

Nevertheless, the open struggle being conducted by Lenny and co. finds them in an extremely strong position. The CC risks inflicting a massive split on the organisation if its "celebrities" are expelled in the customary cavalier fashion. In fact, Mieville's and Seymour's open defiance is almost goading the CC into action. But also, the leadership cannot counter opposition politically. It can hide behind conference's decision to endorse the findings as much as it likes. They cannot defend themselves even within the norms of "proletarian justice".

The opposition have right on their side, even if their critique of the Central Committee is limited to the party's petty authoritarianism and the disputes committee balls up rather than address whether it was appropriate for the SWP to investigate a rape allegation. Unfortunately for them and the future viability of their politics, they share the same revolutionary conceit as their erstwhile comrades in the leadership. Whatever the immediate fate of the opposition, fundamentally all that's on offer is more years on the Leninist merry go-round.

Apart from the politics of the opposition, there are two insurmountable problems. Regardless of whether you think the SWP operates the "right kind" of democratic centralism or not, it is nigh on impossible to constitutionally replace a vanguard party leadership peacefully (i.e. without a split). As has been noted in discussions on Socialist Unity, the legal and financial apparatus of the SWP as an entity is shrouded in mystery. Who controls the monies, who has access to them, who the trustees are for party property, it's all an extremely shadowy business. With a great deal of money and capital resources at stake, even if the opposition are successful in recalling the central committee there is nothing to stop the incumbent little Lenins marching off into the sunset with what, morally, belongs to the membership. There is as much chance of Kimber, Callinicos et al accepting a majority decision on their collective defenestration than Socialist Worker becoming readable over night. And if any reader who's a member of another far left group is feeling particularly smug about this, ask yourself. Would your own revolutionary leadership submit to being bumped down to rank-and-file status after an open and democratic political struggle?

The second problem is far more serious. To put it bluntly, the SWP is fucked. Two minutes on an internet search by any new member will quickly turn up the dark heart of their organisation. In the wider labour movement, where it does not become a propaganda gift to those who'd like to see the back of the SWP, 'normal' trade unionists, activists, campaigners, all the people the SWP have tried to court over the years will prove far more reticent to associate with them. 

The SWP opposition haven't grasped this either. Even in the best case scenario, if the CC is expunged and replaced by an entirely new cadre of activists AND the culture and practice reformed to something approaching sane politics, the name and brand of the SWP is forever tainted. They are toxic. They are the party that lets an alleged rapist off because a committee of his mates gave him a clean bill of health, and no amount of back-pedalling, no 'democracy commissions' or truth-and-reconciliation procedures can change that. It's game over, comrades.

Where now? The SWP can remain more or less coherent, organisationally, but lose hundreds of activists and dwindle its way to oblivion. Or it can blow apart in all directions in one or several splits. Other organisations will scoop up some of the activists, including Labour, but, as has historically been the case with socialists burned  by the SWP, most will retreat from politics and the labour movement altogether. The responsibility for that outcome lies solely at the feet of its central committee and those stupid enough to blindly follow them.


Anonymous said...

When you say that 'even in the best case scenario...the name and brand of the SWP is forever tainted. " I think that is wrong - it's obviously quite uphill, but if the opposition do win, I think it removes the 'taint': They become a party that can say "when we thought there was a bad response to a rape allegation in our own organisation, we were so angry we kicked out our own leadership" - a weakness becomes a strength. Under the status quo, the SWP has a deep problem with recruitment, periphery, students - but a victory at a recall conference turns that around.

Solomon Hughes

North MANC moderator said...

As Lenin himself put, and I am paraphrasing here.

A position of dual power has opened up, and dual power cannot last indefinitely, one side has move against another..

Having been through the 2007/08 split in Respect against my former organisation, the SWP, its an ugly and unpleasant process. It does take on a life of its own, and there are a number of consequences that flow from this, some not always at first apparent.

The CC may move with expulsions, Its going to be a busy Monday at 'the Centre' but Richard Seymour has a well established blog, with Lenins Tomb, which gives him and others a platform, outside party controk=l ( The SWP still hasn't grasped the internet)

I am impressed with the eloquence and passion of his writing, but he has made a call to battle, and it has to be seen through.

The CC will tell the party will be told to close ranks, as they are now under attack for hostile outside forces.
They will close ranks, like they did for John Rees, only to jettison him a year later, that is maybe one fate that awaits Cde Delta, which might be the least of his worries

Richard S

Phil said...

I guess we'll have to see. I'm thinking of the branding, and of how this is being received not just by the far left but the labour movement as a whole. To think this won't be held against the rump SWP in the future, whichever faction is successful, is wishful thinking.

Phil said...

"I would argue that the Democratic Centralist model is most certainly indicated for the SWP at this present juncture. The party is being attacked through the capitalist media, effectively its right to operate its own complaints procedure is under attack, this really amounts to an attack on left-wing organisation with a nasty racist twist- the comparison with sharia law bringing the Muslim community into the picture. What is therefore needed is a united response by party members- as opposed to a fragmentation that favours our enemy- to most effectively counter an assault by the bourgeois press."

That contribution on Socialist Unity from 'Stuart' *wasn't* satire.

Anonymous said...

I think the different roads - stick with the current plan or recall conference and reverse the bad decisions - lead to very different places. The party's relation with the wider movement is what it is all about, for sure: The party's standard operating procedure includes recruiting radical students (which had a boost after the Millbank protest), launching broad campaigns with wider left wing forces (with friendly Labour MP's, union leaderships and the like joining in some very succesful campaigns) - all these are very challenged indeed by sticking with the current plan, the "no one likes us, we don't care" scheme you quote from Stuart above , circling the wagons around a smaller membership, as is the current leadership's stategy. However, the reverse plan does I think radically change the meaning of the "brand" as you have it - it would allow the SWP to say "all organisations find it hard to deal with these kind of challenges, we've made mistakes but we correct them- by launching a revolt against our own leaders if we have to" -it means the party can actually "sell" itself (if you want it in terms of branding ) as rebellious and passionate about questions of how women are treated, rather than looking shifty and with something to hide. It is , of course quite difficult to make such a big change, but as you say , there is real dissent in the ranks, and the "its all the capitalist media" line is so obviously hard to deliver convincingly. The future for the organisation doesn't depend on predictions by yourself, myself or anyone else - it depends on the choices made by the members: Knuckle under , fight for change or give up. Mind you, I think Socialist Worker is perfectly readable too

Anonymous said...

I hold no brief for the SWP, and the latest debacle is horrendous, but perhaps you want to check your own smug and gloating tone?

'those stupid enough to blindly follow them' writes off hundreds of people who were doing their best to change our oppressive society. You may be infallible but the rest of us are just doing the best we can out here.

Mike said...

The problem is that even if the 'SWP opposition' reconstitute themselves under a new party name, with an ultra-democratic internal regime, the abstract ultra-leftism will likely remain intact.

A politics that revolves around preaching revolution and denouncing anyone on the left that fails to meet your impossibly high standards as a 'sell out' will make little or no impact in the UK at present, or in the foreseeable future.

So, after the dust has settled we might get a better functioning version of the SWP. what?

Anonymous said...

"... they share the same revolutionary conceit as their erstwhile comrades in the leadership. Whatever the immediate fate of the opposition, fundamentally all that's on offer is more years on the Leninist merry go-round."

You've nailed it here and in your previous comment. This incident is a logical outcome of the Leninist organizational structure. The CC acted entirely correctly within that logic to put the interests of the Party (and thus the class, the nation, the global proletariat, etc.) first. It was also entirely correct within the logic of Leninism to expect the alleged victims to subordinate themselves to what the CC decided was in the best interests of the Party.

Trying to get away from abusive authoritarianism without doing away with Leninist leadership structures reminds me of Gandhi's desire to get away from the inequalities of caste without doing away with the caste system.

The fact that this is all going on in a stable, comparatively affluent liberal capitalist society makes it all the more extraordinary. This is partly why, whatever spin was put on the term by the DM, the analogy with shari'a (and the Catholic church's handling of abuse complaints) was entirely justified.

Anonymous said...

The SWP is now the international 'Jimmy Savile' of Trot politics. The parallels are striking. Both Savile and the SWP were anachronisiic, facile, but ostensibly harmless. Both were 'British institutions' tolerated as adding a bit of colour to cultural life. Both are now revealed as manipulative, abusive, and fundamentally corrupt.

Anonymous said...

I guess if you write stories that are based more on insinuation than fact then it is to be expected that you get the level of comments above, which are well and truly in the sewer.

The left are becoming very much like the right these days.

Phil said...

First anonymous, there is nothing gloating about telling it how it is. So of there are people who genuinely think the nonsense 'Stuart' spouted (as reproduced above), I'm sorry, but such people are neither use nor ornament where the labour movement is concerned.

Phil said...

Solomon, I think we will have to agree to disagree. Whether they are irredeemably tainted will be tested out over the next few years. But I tell you now, opponents of the left and the right will not cease reminding the so-called best fighters for women's liberation on the left of their tolerance of their leaders conducting sexually abusive relationships, and its cavalier attitude to dealing with them.

Phil said...

Perhaps, my anonymous friend, you would care to put the outpouring of commentary and opposition within the SWP to rights by outlining how "the facts" have been disregarded.

I don't know if the accused is guilty or not. What I have a problem with is how the SWP leadership failed to protect not one but two female party members from an alleged sexual predator *after* they had complained, and that it was arrogant enough to believe it had the jurisdiction to pronounce on a rape allegation.

That's the crux of the issue, and to pretend otherwise is to throw up a pretty thin smoke screen.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if the accused is guilty or not."

I'm the 06:26 anon, just back to point out this is part of the problem with the SWP's rejection of the "bourgeois" justice system, albeit a comparatively small part.

"Comrade Delta" does not have the opportunity to clear his name. He is being talked about openly on the internet as a rapist who got away with it because of a travesty of justice perpetrated by his mates in the CC who then tried to cover the thing up under the guise of "democratic centralism". There is no evidence or credible adjudication of his guilt, however, simply allegation and insinuation compounded by the fact that the SWP's attempt at revolutionary proletarian justice was such a trainwreck. "Comrade Delta" will be a pariah unless and until this matter is adjudicated on by a proper court.

Anonymous said...

I think the left are basically sinking to the level of the right - witch hunts, opportunistic attacks without knowing the facts.

I don't think this is about womens rights but just a chance for easy pickings, and what better way to do that that whip up a bit of hysteria. The hysteria becomes so extreme that the truth doesn't rally matter anyone.

This is a tactic that the tabloids have used since time immemorial.

Incidentally, I am not or never have been a member or supporter of the SWP, i have never attended any of their meetings or talked to any active member. My entire political history was in support of Labour. After New Labour was created I decided to give up on politics full stop.

So I like to think that I am giving a neutral observation, albeit from aleft wing persepectie. And a left wing perspective pre 'let us hang all the evil rapists' tabloid mentality gripped the left.

Anonymous said...

17:48 anonymous, how is it "hysterical" (nice choice of words, too) to suggest that rape should be reported to the police and not simply investigated by a gang of the alleged rapists mates? That is surely the most mild and sensible case of hysteria ever recorded?

Anonymous said...

"The problem is that even if the 'SWP opposition' reconstitute themselves under a new party name, with an ultra-democratic internal regime, the abstract ultra-leftism will likely remain intact."

This is most unlikely: a democratic culture will allow/compel people to deal with reality. The SWP has never done this, from the first they lived in a world dreamed up by Cliff in which the leadership was always right, particularly when it was clearly wrong. To maintain such a situation "Democratic Centralism" of the "there is no time to think, do as you are told" variety is a must.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid China Mieville has himself been outed as a misogynist by this UK mainstream journalist: