Monday 22 July 2013

Open letter to the SWP

It's no secret that for many years I was personally and politically close to the SWP and its forerunner the International Socialists. This meant that I read and sometimes wrote for your journals, I supported many of the campaigns you supported or initiated and over the years,  I have been personally friendly with several of your prominent members.

It's also no secret that I was appalled by the events that unfolded around "Comrade Delta". This is not because I have assumed that he was guilty of what he was accused of. I will repeat that: I have not assumed that he is guilty of what he was accused of. My disagreement is based entirely on a view of the absurd and inappropriate procedures you followed. Everything that I have read on this matter leads me to believe that you ended up putting the survival of the organisation ahead of the very principles that you advocate.

The moment the accusation was made, all you needed to have done was to have suspended Delta with 'no prejudice' on full pay. The right and proper thing for you to have done was to have interpreted that as suspension from all his activities for the SWP including organisations where the SWP works with others as with Love Music Hate Racism and United Against Fascism. You could and should have offered the accuser/accusers the best possible advice you could find - including legal advice. At that point, you didn't need to have conducted an inquiry or put into practice any kind of disputes procedure. All you needed to have done was wait. By doing these things you would have behaved ethically and entirely in line with how any of your members would behave in a work situation. There is no justification for the proposition that the SWP should behave in any way that is different from the kind of procedures that have been won by trade unions in workplaces in order to safeguard everyone involved in such situations.

Instead of this, those of us on the outside of the organisation have witnessed what looks like a mixture of incompetence and arrogance. I would list these - in no order of importance - like this:

1. Even though your whole direction as an organisation is to face outwards, you have avoided giving honest accounts of what has been going on. If you think this is irrelevant or unnecessary, I would reply to you that this is part of the problem. As you know better than me, you're hardly shy about presenting to the world a view on matters of sexual oppression, liberation and equality. As this case has unfolded, you have failed totally in overcoming the problem that what you say and how you have behaved don't match up. From my perspective - (I don't speak for anyone else) - this strikes me as disastrous.

2. While we on the outside can see that there have been mass resignations, suspensions and the formation and dissolution of factions, the face presented to the outside world is of an organisation soldiering on, sure of itself, sure of its stand on everything, and indeed sure that it is the right kind of organisation. Frankly speaking, this too has looked absurd. You have been in trouble. What is to be gained by pretending that you're not?

3. This leads me to the question of structure. I am quite clear in my mind  - perhaps clearer than I have ever been - that now is not the time for a socialist organisation to take the form that your organisation has. As it happens, when IS became the SWP, I thought at the time that this was a mistake. It seemed to me then that it was, if nothing else, presumptuous. That's to say, it seemed to be a way of trying to create a leadership role ('vanguard', if you like) with the wrong personnel and at the wrong historical moment.

4. Over the years,  I've been keen to co-operate with individuals, journals, events and campaigns, I have worked with Comrade Delta. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of other non-SWP people could say the same. If for no other reason than that this group of people have worked with him, you owe us at the very least an account of what has gone on. By not doing so, you treat us with arrogance and disrespect. So we learn by rumour and internet chat that Comrade Delta has resigned from the SWP. Don't you see that that has an impact on how we view the SWP, LMHR and the UAF? Put another way: if you thought that Delta's intervention and presence in these organisations was significant then surely his sudden non-presence is just as significant? And if so, you need to explain and account for all this. If you don't, how do you think or expect that you can approach the outside world in the future?

5. To be clear, it is not the alleged behaviour of Comrade Delta, it's not the accusers' behaviour, it's not the behaviour of resigners, expellees or factions that has 'infected' your dealings with non-members or affected your standing in the world.  It is solely your handling of an accusation that has caused your problems. In other words, all the time being spent by the SWP in rooting out dissent, giving long lectures on the virtues of leninism, giving detailed accounts of why this or that faction have got it wrong, is utterly misspent. From out here, it all looks like pissing in the wind - or worse - deliberate obfuscation or crap busywork, displacement activity.

6. Unlike some others on the left, I don't think that you are on the verge of imminent collapse. I suspect you will carry on as you've been carrying on. You seem to have boundless energy, producing documents and journals, running meetings and events, 'getting on' with taking part in campaigns. As you haven't dealt with this crucial matter, involving a key member of your organisation in an open and ethical way, I won't be supporting events that are presented as SWP events. Of course, we will bump into each other in campaigns, where of course your comments on eg sexual oppression, liberation and equality will be looked at in a particular light. Actually, now I come to think of it, your claims to be able to handle things with adeptness and insight will be up for scrutiny too. I suspect that plenty of people in the environment of campaigns will also raise an eyebrow about the nature of the organisation that asks for support but was unable to fulfil the basic minimum when it came to an affair like this. You'll hate the term, but this whole matter has raised questions about your 'core values' (!).

7. It's quite simple, once it became clear that the organisation had screwed up, all you needed to have done was say, 'the organisation has screwed up'. Then, you could and should have quickly put into place the procedures that people follow in workplaces and announced that that was what you have done. Then you could and should have set up a discussion process which examined why and how an organisation espousing your views on sexual oppression, liberation and equality could have got it so wrong. Then you could and should have continued that discussion on how to get it right in future.  We all make mistakes. There is absolutely no reason why the SWP shouldn't have made a mistake. That's not the issue. The issue is how you handle a mistake when you make it.

8. I know there's a lot of fear and suspicion around, so just to be clear: what I've written here doesn't come from this or that faction, this or that grouping, or this or that party. It was written partly because I've received notes from SWP members saying that they are saddened that I have taken this position. I can assure you, they are not the only people saddened by what's happened. It depresses me to think that people whose opinions I valued could have walked into this thorn-bush and went on entangling themselves with it in the most ludicrous ways and still can't find a way out of it, even though the key figure in it all has walked away from it.

9. I often used to ask my parents about why they stayed in the Communist Party for so long, why they left, what they considered valuable about having been part of it...and so on. In these long discussions, one aspect that is relevant here, I think, is the point my father made about why he went on defending the CP and the Soviet Union even when he ceased to believe that it was right to do so. He said that that was because he felt that there was only one interest involved in attacking the CP and the Soviet Union: the 'bourgeoisie' or, as he always called it, 'the buggers-are-we'. So, he said, even as he might sometimes have felt that the CP or the Soviet Union was in some way wrong, he couldn't admit it or do anything about it, because to do so would make it easier for the enemy (bourgeoisie, ruling class, the bosses, international capitalism, etc) to survive and win. So, he shamefully admitted, he and our mother supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary because otherwise the enemy would move into Hungary and take over.

I am not going to claim that this is your Hungary moment. The fate of millions of Hungarians - and indeed of the whole eastern bloc (as was) - is very different from a few thousand of us on the left in Britain being worried, concerned or fed up. However, I'm going to draw one analogy, no matter how inappropriate it appears at first. It concerns the state of mind my father described that went on justifying the CP and the Soviet Union even when he knew it was wrong. It seems to me that throughout this whole affair I've seen aspects of this state of mind when reading what SWP loyalists have written. That's to say, 'if we concede that we've got something wrong with this Comrade Delta affair, this will only bring comfort to the even though something's not right, loyalty comes first'. Or put another way: 'if the Daily Mail are saying that we got it wrong, we'll have to say that we're getting it right'.

All  I can say is that there comes a point at which this kind of view - if indeed I've typified it right - is not only unhelpful, it becomes dangerous. No, I'll put it another way: it brings ideas and views that I think are valuable and necessary into disrepute. Yes, I think that international capitalism can only offer inequality and war. It can develop 'production', it can develop 'the economy' but only by enriching tiny minorities, while dividing and impoverishing millions of others. An inevitable part of that is a state of permanent war. Trying to move from this status quo has been a project that has so far failed. No single person, no single organisation, no single country has the solution to this. There is no point in pretending that any group does. To my mind, what follows from this is that it is less necessary to recruit people to this or that organisation and much more important to develop the ideas and actions which enable people to see that this status quo is not necessary or inevitable.  People are entitled to examine us and ask us if we can suggest anything better. If, at the heart of what we're doing, there are things going on that are indefensible or plain wrong, we have to say so, or we go backwards. I think this last year is a good example of going backwards. Am I saddened by that? You bet I am.