Monday, 11 February 2013

Stop the Bullying!

The main weapon of the Central Committee and its loyalists has undoubtedly been straw manning. “You’re renouncing Leninism!” they cry, “You want permanent factions!” they shout. Nobody’s renounced Leninism. Some comrades want permanent factions. Many comrades are criticising their conception of Leninist organisation. Many, many more are specifically criticising their handling of a rape allegation.

But it is the beginning of a frightening process. The next stage after the straw manning is the denunciations: anyone who is dissatisfied with the Disputes Committee being comprised of friends of the accused and the way that the women were treated by the Disputes Committee and Central Committee must be a feminist, an autonomist or a Menshevik.

This has become quite frustrating. Many of the opposition have spent years building the party. The natural progression of the above is to claim that we haven’t, are intent on destroying the party and are responsible for the transcript being leaked to Socialist Unity. Where is your evidence? One comrade said that one of the speakers in the Disputes Committee session threatened to leak this from the podium when she said it would be all over the sectarian blogs. No comrade, that was a warning, an accurate one at that, and one you perhaps should have listened to.

After the straw manning, the denunciations and the slander comes the bullying. This is by no means universal. Many of the Central Committee’s supporters have been clear that they oppose a special conference and want the matter closed, and have debated this strongly in branches and district meetings. Many have been civil. Many have not. The bullying is inevitable – some of the supporters have been wound up by the Central Committee and themselves. They think that years, for some decades, of their lives are going to waste because of the likes of us, and they’re incredibly angry.
Firstly I’d like to make this clear: The Socialist Workers Party is in crisis because it mishandled a rape allegation. It is not in crisis because oppositional comrades said the Socialist Workers Party mishandled a rape allegation. By that logic, it matters not that the SWP did something wrong, but that they got caught. We have seen this logic before with the OFFU cheque affair, a logic rightly denounced by comrades at the time. Like then the blaming of the opposition is delusional and inward looking. Look at the class comrades, they’re appalled by this.

There has been a renewed focus on “confidentiality” with regards to the Disputes Committee proceedings.  We have to be clear that confidentiality is always

important. But confidentiality is not the same as secrecy. Confidentiality protects the interests of victims of violence and abuse. Secrecy endangers them. We need to ensure that in these distinctions are understood by members of the Central, National and Disputes Committees. How to ensure confidentiality is going to be explored by members of the Central, National and Disputes Committees. The Disputes Committee deals with issues of an incredibly sensitive nature. There is usually no reason for these matters to become widely known by the party and usually they don’t. However, if something goes terribly wrong as has happened here, if the Committee questions a woman about her previous sexual relationships or her alcohol consumption, then the Committee deserves scrutiny otherwise it becomes an unaccountable, shadowy and sinister panel. At such times the distinction between confidentially and secrecy becomes crucial. The anonymity of individuals must be protected. Failures of process must not be concealed. Secrecy as opposed to confidentiality in regards to a leading member sexually assaulting young female comrades, would frankly be dangerous.

The bullying has to be addressed. Comrades involved in bringing the dispute have been experiencing this for months. Malicious aspersions have been cast on their character and political background and they have been shouted at and intimidated. Little action seems to have been taken.

Comrades across the party have been heckled, shouted down and intimidated at aggregates and branch meetings. When they have complained about this they have been heckled, shouted down and intimidated. Young comrades have received nasty messages from those much older than them. They have been threatened with violence. Why is this happening? Because the leadership is presiding over and at times taking part in the slander of oppositional comrades. There have been disturbing reports of threatening behaviour by leading members. A district organiser has threatened one of the expelled comrades with violence. If the rhetoric and slander does not stop we could be very close to an assault taking place.

Raising, as Alex Callinicos has done, the spectre of 'lynch mobs' of angry members if the debate continues after the special conference - even if this is a metaphor used at a particular moment - is irresponsible. Alex has refused to acknowledge anything wrong in what he said when spoken to by comrades. This kind of inflammatory rhetoric will filter down through the organisation and is likely to encourage the culture of intimidation and bullying we’ve described.

Both sides feel that the other is risking the hard work we have all put into this organisation. But this article should be taken as an appeal as well as an analysis. Take a step back comrades, it is getting out of hand. Stop the bullying.

Toni Mayo
Andy Lawson
Alex Anievas
Martin Percival
Will Rolfe
Richard Seymour
Gonzalo Pozo-Martin
Tom Brook
Gareth Dale
Penny Schenk

12 comments:

  1. Frightening? Or frustrating? This is some feat of penmanship.

    Whichever, how can you guys seriously not see past the fact that Leninism is a completely and utterly politically bankrupt strategy by now?

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    1. There is a distinction between Leninism and post 1977 dogmatic, bureaucratic-centralist Cliffism!

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  2. Young comrades have received nasty messages from those much older than them. They have been threatened with violence. ... There have been disturbing reports of threatening behaviour by leading members. A district organiser has threatened one of the expelled comrades with violence.

    These things need to be documented and publicised in detail (anonymised as appropriate). Make shame more shameful by making it public. It won't change everybody's minds: I guarantee that some within the party, faced with a list of complaints of threat and harassment, will shrug and say it's normal practice and the complainants need to toughen up (not only CC loyalists, either). But others will wonder if that's the kind of normality they want to be part of, and the kind of expectation they want to impose on new members. I think the CC's handed the opposition a real opportunity here.

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  3. In a sense, this is a 'natural' reaction from many of your comrades. I have noticed that a growing brittleness is now pervading almost every area of work. I have for the past two years been a close ally of the SWP. I have been working well with party members in united fronts on a weekly basis for this period. But now, your comrades are at best prickly and defensive. We now cooperate robotically, trying to avoid the elephant in the room, like a couple keeping up appearances in a broken relationship, while we try to plan the defense of the local hospital. We are not allowed to talk about it. Its a private matter. But then it errupts. Last week I was on the phone trying to agree on a public meeting on hospital closures with one of your comrades. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he changed the subject, and shouted angrily for me to 'stop saying shit about the SWP on facebook'. I managed to maintain a working relationship, but as an independent trades unionist and socialist, I find this unacceptable. It is bad enough the way critical members inside the SWP are being treated. But the way this is oppressive method is creeping into your relationships with the rest of us outside, beyond your ranks, we who make up the bulk of the trades union and anti-cuts movement, this makes things worse.

    Before this Delta Dissater, I was already worried about how small, old and retro the local SWP appear, compared to my day as a member. Today, I can work with 30 or 40 'new' activists who have emerged, developed politically and gelled together since the fightback against cuts and austerity began at the end of 2010. None have joined the SWP. We all work together. The SWP make up for or five good activists in this larger pool - they are the ones mainly in their fifties and sixties, full of lessons from the past and their 'tradition' which they awkwardly and self consciously - and largely unsuccessfully - attempt to transmit. And this was before the Delta Disaster.


    When the story broke in the press in Jan an inevitable facebook discussion began amongst local anti-cuts activists.I had actually been defending the SWPs record on the 'offending' discussion. But in order to defend the Marxist tradition (including the SWP) on women's liberation I felt I had to also criticise the SWPs more obvious mistakes around Delta and the DC. It was this that brought on the tirade on the phone and the opprobrium of my allies. Local non-party, non swss student activists have also been phoned up by members and told to remove discussions from facebook!

    What the SWP, in behaving like this, forgets is that a new generation of anti-capitalist activists (and mainly of the old) were already critical of Marxism, specially Leninism. Even though the SWP was built on the politics of 'socialism from below' and a rejection of Stalinism and state capitalism, people are suspicious of Leninism and the legacy of the Bolshevik revolution.

    That the party currently appears as if it would happily shoot its internal opponents and censor the internet conversations of non-members and allies is not attractive. Furthermore, it does not help refute the age old slanders about the links between revolution, Marxism and stalinism!

    If this is how the SWP behaves now - what would it be like if it ever got to the stage of a revolutionary seizure of power and was encountering some setbacks? How do you look comrades?

    How the best, most dynamic, most anti-stalinist Marxist current - the IS/SWP ended up with an internal regime not only more rigid than Lenin's pre-revolutionary Bolsheviks and the RSDLP, but more oppressive and less flexible than many twentieth century Stalinist parties is its own story. This story of the price paid by the party in order to survive the downturn, the story of the costs of retreat, which must be told elsewhere.

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    1. What you report is appalling. I find it deeply troubling that a comrade can speak to another in this way. It's as if besides forgetting common decency such a person has forgotten all the good work someone like Anthony Arblaster has done in showing how healthy socialist ideas necessarily draw upon liberal ideas.

      The details are another matter, but socialists need to recognise the virtues of pluralism, rights, duties, & rule-bounded behaviour (such as the central cttee. respecting the constitution). Marx advocated freedom, not repression of the workers & their allies. An unrestrained, arbitrary expectation of how to live one's life, including one's political practice, resulted in Stalinism, not a healthy & efficient democratic centralism.

      The SWP members you refer to have let down the SWP, & discredited both the work we are all doing today & the outlines we present to others of a more decent society.

      As the DRP10 put it, such comrades need to step back. They are letting down the SWP, discrediting the cause of revolutionary socialism.

      Ruthless criticism of all that exists!
      Let a hundred flowers bloom! Let a hundred schools contend!
      A healthy & efficient democratic centralism needs an active, critical membership!
      True leaders have no fear of an active, critical membership - they positively encourage its creation & re-creation!
      For democratic renewal!

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  4. Come on , what bullying? Evidence please .

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    1. As credible and constructive responses go, that's right up there with "Paranoid? Who told you I was paranoid?"

      But (as I said above) I do think you should give the nice man what he's politely asking for. I imagine his next response will be "bullying? you call that bullying?" - and some people will find this line of reasoning persuasive. More won't, though.

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    2. Well , here we are . Still waiting .

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    3. Charming and persuasive as ever, Rob. Anyone would think you didn't actually want to see the evidence you're asking for.

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  5. Thank you for issuing this appeal & analysis.

    What you describe is horrific & unacceptable. The decency that the labour & socialist movement stands for, let alone the standard of behaviour upheld by the great majority of people, requires that what you say gets the widest hearing. SWP members of all views must reject firmly these outrageous attacks on their fellow comrades. Debate must occur freely, not in an atmosphere of menace - for that is what it is. Rational debate is not possible when people are afraid & intimidated.

    I have circulated your statement to those who I think may publish it.

    Today I had a letter published in 'Weekly Worker' drawing attention to what you are being subjected to. (Although looking at it now I'm annoyed that it has been heavily edited & the many quotes I gave from your statement have been removed. A great pity. Maybe they have a whole article on your statement; I hope so.) www.cpgb.org.uk

    I also made the crucial point that on 9 February the CC members exceeded their powers under the Constitution in calling for a Special Conference without the required 3 months discussion period (article 4). In so doing the CC members have shown by their action that they do not accept the Constitution which is one of the 3 conditions of membership (article 2). It means that by their actions the CC members have invalidated their membership of the SWP, thereby placing themselves outside the Party.

    What makes this announcement especially damning is that in their very own statement the CC draws attention to the 3 months rule (see their point 4). swp.org.uk/party-notes

    The CC members have been egregious in acting contrary to the Constitution, refusing to carry out the duties required of them by the Party within the limits that the members, in the form of the Constitution, have placed upon what they can legitimately do.

    The members confer an honour upon a fellow member when they elect them at Conference to a post such as CC member. A member is privileged in being a CC member: they do not have the right to be a CC member. And holding that post, being in that office, carries great responsibility, it confers duties upon than Party member, & it puts limits on what they can do. Not breaking the Constitution is fundamental. The current CC members seem to have forgetten all this, that they are supposed to be an honoured servant of the membership. They deserve being held to account, to be made accountable to the membership for their actions.

    A duty of each CC member is to protect the Constitution on behalf of the membership, not to violate it, not to treat it as if it's just a piece of paper, for the Constitution is what all members have agreed to hold themselves to: the members are ever-present in the form of the Constitution, & any member can use it to protect the Party from those trying to violate the Constitution, from those trying to violate the membership.

    The CC members have acted egregiously. And in directly referring to the 3 months rule (when they think it suits them) they display their arrogance, their contempt for the membership.

    Any member who believes in the SWP being rational & rule-bounded, can complain to the Disputes Cttee. that the CC decision of 9 February exceeds the power of any CC: no CC meeting is empowered to violate the Constitution.

    The call by a CC for a Conference (Annual or Special) without the 3 months discussion period is invalid, it is voided as it is unconstitutional.

    The CC members agreeing to a 10 March Special Conference need to be held to account for their action. This is fundamental. They have abused their office.

    I also comment at 'Socialist Unity' as Jara Handala coz that is my name. The day the membership takes back their Party I shall turn around, in the same way that my Palestinian comrade will also turn around one day. www.socialistunity.com

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  6. Today I made a lengthy comment at 'Socialist Unity' about the atmosphere of menace, & the consequences for the CC members (& all other members) caused by the calling of the Special Conference.

    www.socialistunity.com/swp-leadership-calls-special-conference
    It is comment 122, 2:04pm, 14 Feb. I also made 2 subsequent comments that day.

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