On Saturday the 23rd of March the SWP finally answered the calls for a national student meeting. The students themselves up and down the country have been demanding a national meeting to deal with the unravelling crisis the SWP is undergoing. Many of those that called for the student meeting wanted to develop a strategy to keep student members in the party and active after the demoralisation, intimidation and verbal abuse they’d suffered in the run up to and after the first conference in January 2013. The failure of the Central Committee (CC) to call this meeting earlier in the year has resulted in the loss of several SWSS groups (Leeds, Queen Mary’s, Brighton and Sussex, Hull, Kent) and the collapse of many others into inactivity.
Normally, when a national student meeting is called, we aim to get as many students as possible to it, but not this time. This time we were limited to two delegates per university (presumably so we couldn’t make the CC cry - which has apparently happened at previous student meetings) which meant there were less than 30 students representing SWSS nationally. The day was broken into 3 relatively short sessions; General Perspectives, Marxism Festival and NUS Conference.
The first session was lead off by Charlie Kimber (National Secretary). This was a surprise to a lot of the students present, not only does Charlie rarely come along to student meetings, but he is also not in touch with any of the SWSS groups and has little to do with our student work. Usually a national student organiser would lead off at a National Student Meeting, and one does wonder why one of the three women were not given a platform at this one. The lead off covered everything from Cyprus to the bedroom tax (important issues, no doubt) but failed to even mention students until the final five minutes of a 25 minute speech, which many in the room found quite bemusing. The 5 minutes dedicated to the students actually drew out a number of laughs and sneers from the student delegates, who were justifiably confused by the lack of discussion about student strategy. The strategy was under-developed, detached and vague; carry on as before; relate to local campaigns; build SWSS groups and privatisation is bad!
The discussion was then opened up to the floor, where delegates, and the three other CC members present were asked to keep their contributions under 3 minutes. Unfortunately, it seems the chair may have overestimated the reaction there would be to Charlie’s lead-off, and there was silence. Absolute silence for 5 minutes, broken only by nervous laughter and the shrugging of shoulders. The students had come to talk about how to keep SWSS together nationally, to develop a nuanced strategy in the face of fragmented and localised struggle, and to hold their leadership to account for the bizarre mixed messages SWSS had received for the previous few months. We didn’t know how to respond to this patronising, generalised, detached lead off about the crisis of capitalism and the bedroom tax campaigns. Did Charlie realise 150+ people had already left, that SWSS groups were falling apart and that we’d just come through the biggest faction fight the SWP has ever seen? It seemed not.
Eventually students started to make good contributions raising a number of concerns, and asking questions to the CC. Unfortunately the CC failed to satisfactorily answer most of these questions. For instance, when students asked what the CC were intending to do to prevent students from leaving and SWSS groups from disaffiliating, Charlie Kimber said that he 'regretted it', and gave no clear indication as to what he intended to do to stop this from happening.
Students also asked plenty of questions about how we are meant to relate to the International Socialist Network, and the SWSS groups that have disaffiliated. This question was impressively skirted around; initially the question was ignored. When another comrade asked, during the summation, for an answer, Amy L did her best not to answer the question whilst still making sound. Eventually she managed to acknowledge that it was an ‘interesting question’, but apparently not interesting enough to warrant an actual answer. When pushed about whether the ISN would be invited to debate with the SWP, Amy L did not outright deny it, but did suggest that this would ‘dilute the event’, which seems strange following a discussion about how difficult Marxism will be with very few external speakers.
Jo C didn’t really contribute anything to the meeting. In fact, when an FE student made a contribution, instead of listening intently and trying to answer his question as best she could, she instead chose to heckle him. This was incredibly rude and inappropriate, not least because she’s a middle aged adult and the FE student is one of the youngest members of the organisation. When the same FE comrade asked for advice as to how we build in FE, he was told to “call a meeting” with no explanation as to how and with whom.
It became clear during the meeting that there was, in fact, no proper student strategy, and the students began to make helpful suggestions such as Radical Revision sessions. The idea of these sessions is to keep SWSS groups engaged in the run up to and during exams by taking a more academic, ideological approach to discussion groups in the quieter second term. It was a strategy that was implemented at some London universities this time last year, and that they found generally successful at keeping people engaged politically through the stressful exam period, while continue to develop students theoretically in times of relatively low struggle. The CC welcomed this suggestion, Choonara seemed particularly impressed by the idea, along with re-establishing National Student Committee and Northern Student Caucus. While we acknowledge this is progress, some students think this may be a little overdue, since only 2 northern groups remain.
The final session was for the NUS delegates, and Sheffield SWSS, who planned to help out at the conference stayed behind for this. The student organiser spent this meeting essentially asking students what she was meant to be doing, and the meeting would have probably been much more productive without her there. She did not bring the motions, the list of delegates, or any real plan to the meeting. When asked if a SWSS stall or Marxism stall had been booked she seemed surprised, mumbled that she didn’t know, and attempted to blame Mark Bergfeld. Clearly she hasn’t attempted to contact anyone about this and has instead chosen to divert blame to ex-CC members who have resigned, rather than accept that this is now her role.
We felt it necessary to give an account of the National SWSS Meeting in reaction to yesterday’s ‘SWSS notes’ which allegedly reported back from the meeting but didn’t actually mention any of the concrete proposals that came out of it, including the ‘Radical Revision Sessions’, the National Student Committee and the Northern Student Caucus, along with considering the role of EAN to relate to current struggles like the Sussex Occupation where SWSS has not been able to intervene and very few remain SWP members.
Sheffield Delegates To NSM