We believe that a revolutionary socialist party is indispensable for social transformation. Given the forces ranged against us and the necessity of unity in action, it's reasonable that most of us will, in most circumstances, not allow disagreement with this or that aspect of 'the line' to place us at fundamental odds with the party.
However. If we have no line in the sand, if there were no issues or miscalculations or scandals that would cause us to set ourselves publicly against our leadership, we wouldn't be hardened radicals, or unsentimental and rigorous thinkers, or tough-minded streetfighters, or anything of that sort. If we had no line in the sand, we'd be chumps.
We'd be telling the all-too-human leaders of the SWP that there'd be no error so bad, no line so egregious they could advance, no malfeasance so shocking, that it would make us stand up to them. We'd be declaring ourselves their serfs.
The current crisis in the SWP, out from under which members are attempting to dig, without the help of a CC that seems alternately paralysed, purblind and spiteful, is, for those of us who write on this blog, that line in the sand.
This is why we urge all SWP branches to demand a special conference as quickly as possible, as a last chance to save the party from disgrace.
Of course, there are comrades who, though appropriately appalled by recent events, don't see it that way, and who hesitate to make such a demand. We respectfully but urgently disagree.
Many in the organisation have become convinced that a systematic cover-up of serious allegations has taken place. The party must be given an opportunity to examine the claims. But even those who refuse to believe any such thing could have happened can't deny the succession of subsequent scandals:
The leadership have signed off on and refused to apologise for an utterly inappropriate investigation, which included asking a woman alleging sexual harassment appallingly sexist questions such as: ‘Was it fair to say [she] liked to have a drink?’
The attempted crushing of discussion.
The leadership has expelled (so far) four activists, on trumped-up charges, for the crime of discussing the unfolding situation online.
Lying about members, to members.
The leadership has deliberately misrepresented its internal critics in Party Notes.
The mass outrage of members.
The leadership has by its actions unleashed not only a growing number of resignations from the party, but the mass fury, rage and rebellion of our student comrades.
Appalling political miscalculation.
The leadership tried to close down discussion by fiat, absurdly declaring that the matter was closed, an astounding misreading of the facts on the ground.
Anti-democratic and unconstitutional methods.
The leadership has attempted to short-circuit calls for a special conference to lance this boil by pulling bureaucratic procedure out of the air – announcing, without the slightest constitutional authority, an arbitrary deadline for such demands.
Losing the respect of our IST comrades.
The leadership’s actions have provoked stern criticism from prominent members of our own international tendency, and have resulted in the exit of one organisation.
The loss of our credibility on vital issues.
The leadership has created a situation where our own members and others no longer have faith in us to address issues of gender, sexism and sexual violence.
Our boycotting by non-aligned comrades.
The leadership has created a situation in which, despite the unconvincing ‘Crisis, What Crisis?’ argument in Party Notes, non-aligned comrades and activists who have worked closely with us before, in campaigns and intellectual work, are boycotting us. This situation will only get worse.
Our CC repeatedly insists on its ‘toughness’. The corollary of this must be trenchant self-criticism, the ability to learn frankly from mistakes. Throughout this entire debacle, the CC has refused to acknowledge one scrap of responsibility. This is both astonishing and shameful. They have refused to show any understanding of what they have done, let alone any political humility about it. This is not a moralistic injunction: the arrogance in this refusal represents a colossal failure of politics. How can we trust their political judgments on any issue when they are blind to or in denial about their own catastrophic errors, and remain incapable of dealing with or even acknowledging the continuing political fallout therefrom?
The claim that the situation is Business as Usual is self-evidently absurd: we are tainted by a toxic combination of sexism, unaccountability, anti-democratic manoeuvering and the pathologisation of dissent. We cannot continue without an accounting. It is up to grassroots members to reclaim the integrity of the SWP; our leaders have shown themselves incapable and unworthy. A conference is a vital first step.
Therefore we urge all our comrades to ask themselves the question: given all of the above, have you reached your line in the sand? And if not, where will that line be?
- China Mieville