Thursday, 30 April 2020

The SWP's Split on Tyneside

A pandemic has circled the globe several times and we see liberal democratic states assume unprecedented powers to stop the spread of contagion. We live in an emergency, and yet the wheels of the mundane continue to turn. People make new connections and fall out with each other. Shopping happens. And murky practices come to light. Unfortunately, we've had our share of that in the labour movement. Mid-month we saw those leaks about senior Labour Party staff, and April's end was graced by the general secretary of a major union resigning amid serious allegations. But unless you were adjacent to the rarefied doings of Britain's far left, you might have missed another tale of miserable woe.

The Socialist Workers Party these days is, deservedly, a shadow of its former self. Having exposed yourself as a disgusting rape cult and failing to capitalise on the fresh interest in socialism off the back of Jeremy Corbyn might do that to a self-identified vanguard of working class politics. Yet despite their reduced circumstances, the SWP have persisted through its usual round of paper sales and front groups, such as Unite Against Fascism and its own(!) front outfit, Stand Up to Racism. They are still a presence on the left, and their hope is now less focus on matters parliamentary means new pools of young activists (students) for whom Sir Keir Starmer doesn't have quite the same sheen. With new opportunities around the corner and their decade of moral collapse behind them, the return of more bullying allegations is, well, about as welcome as reality intruding in a National Committee meeting.

A small group of activists have resigned from the SWP on Tyneside over serious concerns about the branch's internal culture. These include a "bullying, misogynistic and sexist culture", and the whitewashing of complaints made by the former members against the "harassment, slander and institutional racism" they experienced. Read the statement for yourself. It's pretty much what you'd expect. Favoured acolytes of the London apparatus are supported, and critics are steamrollered. On this occasion Amy Leather herself, the SWP's de facto leader, went to Newcastle to sort the complainants out. She didn't give a monkey's about the unhealthy culture inside her organisation, she wanted the dissenters silenced - the only conclusion you can reasonably make looking at the bundles of evidence provided. Now, as seven years ago, the leadership are concerned solely with keeping the show on the road. Bad behaviour and the mistreatment of comrades, that means nothing as long as the papers get sold and the leading cadres have monies enough to indulge their little Lenin complexes.

It is, however, a sign of the times that the SWP feel the need to respond to such a small scale split. And in true SWP style, they choose not to address the substance of the complaint and go for a character assassination of someone who, until recently, was regarded as a loyal pair of hands. The classic guilt-by-association move, in other words. Because Yanus Bakhsh, a well known long-time SWP'er was suspended from the "party" for defending someone with a questionable record (to say the least), just so happens to be among the group of Tyneside dissenters, nothing else matters, there's nothing to see. Quite rightly, the comrades concerned are angry to find their concerns brushed aside and reduced to apolitical sour grapes.

Readers can look at what's happened in Newcastle and judge whether the SWP "is strongly committed to women’s liberation and seeks to combat sexism both within our own ranks and in the broader society." Again, just like what's happened in the Labour Party and what's coming to light in the GMB, on an order of magnitude of less importance, the SWP's lies about bullying on Tyneside goes to show democracy in working class organisations, whether it's a mass party, a trade union, or a two-bit outfit with revolutionary pretensions is not an optional extra. Democracy and accountability for those who run the organisations are the crucial tools by which we organise ourselves as a class with political interests distinct from and at odds with the new consensus Boris Johnson is building. When democracy fails, our organisations and institutions don't just become ineffective, they actively turn against the aspirations that founded them in the first place. Far from vehicles of liberation, they can become factories for maiming activists, vehicles for vices of the abusive kind, and instruments for keeping our people down. In mass organisations, the fight for democracy is continuous because their mass character guarantees it as a latent possibility. But in micro-sects like the SWP, organisations some 30 years out of time if ever their brand of revolutionary politics were ever appropriate, there really isn't any point. Any SWP comrades reading this should follow the Newcastle comrades out of the "party". There is a wider world out there, and it's ours to win.

5 comments:

Shai Masot said...

The SWP are a paragon of virtue compared to the SNP leadership and the TU/Labour right.

Jim Denham said...

Phil: you are much too kind to Bakhsh who has a record of physical violence on the left and also voluntarily defended a sexual predator against the UCU's decision to expel that predator. Bakhsh and his supporters join John Reece and Lindsey German in being ex-SWP'ers who - amzing as it may sem - are actually *worse* than the SWP itself!

asquith said...

It's tough at the top

Anonymous said...

Such dribbles of trivia. I've read through all the tedious evidence you've provided Phil but I can't work out what the real problem is and why this group have decided to leave the SWP. It appears that last year, in a pub during the Durham miners' gala, one individual (who'd already been suspended from the Party) was accused of waving a copy of Socialist Worker around and called another individual a c**t (who incidentally had also been suspended). There is probably a back story but I lost the will to live. Anyway in the real world......

Graham said...

The SWP is best thought of as a ponzi scheme. They have to keep recruiting new members to pay subs to support their disproportionately large full timers.