Tuesday 23 July 2013

My Reply to "SWP Party Loyalist"

For convenience sake, I'm repeating my reply to Nick Grant (on the end of previous blog) as a separate blog entry

Hello Nick.

You suggest I have been and am still being 'unhelpful'. Excuse me if a picture comes to mind here of you and others driving a coach over a cliff while some people on board and others - me included -  on the road side are shouting, "Stop!" To which, you are shouting, "You're being unhelpful!"

Then, a thought about your tone: you describe some people as: "assorted dishonest opportunists and deadbeats who've made their lives busy yelping at their keyboards for eight months ".  It's a nice phrase but it seems as if you're doing a bit of lumping and clumping here. All sorts of people with a range of views have come to the internet to express themselves on this matter. Some of them may be, as you suggest, being opportunistic about using this case as a means to beat down the SWP. The problem though is that if you shoot yourself in the foot, you can't accuse your enemy of doing it. Some of them have (I think) made the mistake of claiming to know what happened in this case. You imply that I've done that too. I don't think so. I'm not the most consistent of people so forgive me if I'm making a claim I can't substantiate but as far as I know I haven't stated anything about this case or how the SWP has behaved that isn't fully known and agreed.

However, you seem to be saying something else here: that I and others have no right to have spoken about this case in public. I tried to make clear in what I wrote yesterday that the reason why some of us who are not in the SWP feel we have a right is not because of an abstract (though valuable) notion about freedom of speech. The reason why is because throughout most of our adult lives we have been approached, coaxed and appealed to by the SWP to agree with views, actions and campaigns. You are not a private chess club. You are a public political organism staking claims to have a particular expertise in all politics, including this matter of sexual oppression, liberation and equality. Many of us have had direct and frequent dealings with Delta. He's written to us, spoken to us and, I for one, have spoken on platforms with him. The idea that we should not voice our concerns about what has emerged is not sustainable. Again, as far as I know and remember, I have only ever raised it as a matter of what I boringly keep calling 'procedure'. If I strayed from that at some point in a comments thread, I apologise.

As I've seen from the comments thread on facebook following my blog yesterday, no one is going to apologise to me or to anyone else on the left that organisations like Love Music Hate Racism and Unite Against Fascism have been compromised by the continuing presence of someone who the SWP should have "suspended without prejudice".

You and I clearly know of examples of cases analogous to this being handled in work situations. We seem to draw different conclusions from these experiences. The occasions I know of proceeded extremely promptly and though of course some confidentiality was compromised (ie the identity of the suspended person was known), when that person was reinstated it was assumed that it had been shown to all parties concerned that there was no case to be answered. End of. What I find staggering is that though you know of procedures like this a hundred times better than me - and presumably find them in the main the least worst option - you write here of committees and hearings and votes and reports. What? Are these better ways to handle matters like this? Is the SWP so full of right-on folks that they don't need to do things in the trade union way? Does the SWP live in some kind of utopian bubble where there is a 'real' justice that can be meted out which the rest of us can't get access to?

You raise all the old objections about police and an apparent sympathy with the wishes of the accuser that the case be heard by the SWP.  I repeat, in case you haven't read it: the procedure to have followed was
1. Suspend the accused on full pay with no prejudice, ask him to withdraw from all party activity including organisations he was actively involved in like LMHR and UAF.
2. Offer the accuser(s) help. If they wanted it, they could have it. If they didn't want it, they didn't have to have it.
3. You could have said clearly to the accuser that the SWP is not the appropriate forum for considering a matter like this. This is not only or simply because it is defined by the state as 'criminal'. It is actually for humane reasons that the procedures that you could or would put in place to 'hear' this case would be (and were) totally inappropriate. The SWP didn't do better than what people do in workplaces. It did worse.
4. Then the organisation could have waited. It is not possible to know what might have taken place next and I'm not making any presumptions about guilt or innocence, true or false accusations here. What  you and I could do, though, is draw up a flow chart of possible outcomes, all of which seem to me to be better than what has actually taken place! For example, the parties concerned might have chosen to go to mediation - yes - with people known and respected by both parties. Perhaps either or both parties might have chosen to go to people known and respected by both for 'help'. Perhaps either or both would enjoy having a private confidential space in which to say how or why they were in the situation they were in. This may or may not have resolved the issue. I'm not someone who thinks the talking cure  solves everything but who knows, on this occasion it might have helped. What do you think?

Instead, what the SWP has is surely by any account - sympathetic or not - a mess.  There is Delta's resignation without explanation. You don't need reminding but that's fast beginning to look like the rubbing out of Trotsky's face on the famous photograph. Delta has just disappeared. There have been mass resignations - some of whom are presumably the 'deadbeats' you refer to? If so, they were yesterday's 'comrades', weren't they? And there are the many people who are still in the organisation who are dissatisfied with how things have gone on. I suspect that you are going to have much more bother with them than with me. Perhaps your letter to me was intended more for them than for me. Certainly its slightly menacing tone is a bit of damp fart as far as I'm concerned. The last time I was on the receiving end of that kind of apparatchik stare was when I worked with Ewan MacColl in the early 1970s. I don't think you need to do that sort of thing, do you?

At some point, we could have a conversation about 'authority' and 'power'.  Something has happened in this case which leads me to think that in the heart of the left we haven't succeeded in distinguishing between respect for people's ideas and the power we then let them have. What seems to happen is that when we come to respect or admire someone's (or a group's) ideas and experience, we have a tendency to let them or encourage them to have an authority over us.

As for my 'Leninist doubts' - there are several ways of looking at that. Yes, you could represent them for your convenience as weaselly. Another way might be to see that I thought my critique of what you are calling 'Leninism' was a bit abstract. So, to test it, I told myself that I would operate on an issue by issue, campaign by campaign basis. If I could support, I would support. If this support outweighed my doubts then (I thought) I might prove myself wrong. I don't think I ever kept this secret, did I? On various occasions people asked me why I was not a member and I told them. Perhaps you forgot to ask. Funnily enough, no one seemed particularly bothered at the time. Quite the opposite: "Mike, please write this, please speak here, please do a turn at this event..." Now I've become 'transcendental' (that's a good gag by the way) it's become a bother. It's of course a very handy way to deflect what I've got to say. Neat.