March 21, 2013

Socialist Workers Party (UK), 1950-2013 R.I.P.

Unlike some great SWP leaders, I don't pretend that I am not "petit-bourgeois." Maybe that is why I get to also occasionally talk to people who don't breath radical activism, but who, if a left turnaround is to happen, will have to be won over to an agenda which goes beyond wagging a bashful pinky in the general direction of bankers.

Few of them today are sold on the greatness of capitalism. The ideological glue that holds their obedience, and their repeated rallying behind mild, ineffective centrist parties, is primarily the ideological construct known as TINA: There Is No Alternative.

TINA is complex ideological constellation, constructed over decades, that includes attitudes, emotions, knolwedge (economics, history, anthropology, etc.), "common sense" and more. But a key aspect of it is a certain negative caricature of "the left." That caricature is so common that I've even been "complimented" more than once that I "didn't sound like a radical leftist" by people who realized suddenly where I really stand. Like all caricatures, it is not completely false. It includes not only the magnification of every wart in the history of the left, but also true aspects that have been successfully constructed as negative--primarily passion and commitment, which in our historical moment represent an obstacle to the chief post-modern corporate virtue, flexibility, or more accurately, bendability, "going along and getting along."

But it also includes a lot of fairy tales constructed primarily on the basis of the manufactured history of "actually existing socialism." The far-left is, supposedly, authoritarian, anti-democratic, group-thinking, violent, anti-intellectual, yada-yada, and, most importantly, as corrupted in principle, (egoistic, power-hungry,) as the current crop of mainstream politicians. A key object of this caricature is to reinforce the message of the old, "non-ideological" joke that "In capitalism man exploits man and in socialism it is the other way around." If all political rallying cries are just facades of libidinal quests for domination, (and every political meeting a hunting ground for sex predators) it is better, most people think, to stick with the devil one knows.

But even fantasy ideological constructs still need anchors in reality. And so reaction must sing hosannas at the regularity with which a different bunch of leftists assume the role of confirming the worst caricature of themselves. If J. Edgar Hoover wanted to write a Hollywood script about self-deluding radicals, he couldn't have improved on the show that the SWP leadership has been putting on recently. Not wanting to rehearse what has been chewed to death by every newspaper, (see especially here, and here) I pass the right of summation to Richard Seymour:
One is simply astounded by how inadequate, corrupt, stupid, narrow-mindedly bureaucratic and delusional the leadership of the SWP has proven to be. It is not just that having covered up serious sexual allegations, and so disastrously failed at least two female comrades, they can admit no fault. It is not just the absurd, scholastic, apolitical explanations they give for doing so, or the tragic retreat into bunkered dogma that has accompanied this. It is not just that they lie with impunity. It is not just that they ducked a real debate, with their absurd rules limiting faction speakers at aggregates, and their gerrymandering of conference. It is not just that even now many of them are desperate to get the accused back into the leadership as soon as can conveniently be arranged. It is not just that their response to the most recent allegations by a female ex-member was to effectively dismiss her as a liar, without investigating further. It is that, having done a Jonestown, they think they've just triumphed. (
In other words, these caricature statuettes of socialist-realism acted out, like clowns enthused by the jeers of the audience, precisely the role they were assigned in advance by the right-wing media, to serve as a cautionary tale against the terrible things that could befall you, dear reader, if you allow yourself to be seduced by the siren song of socialism.

Nobody who cares about the future of radical politics should cheer such a sad end to over 60 years of left-wing organizing. The SWP has indeed "punched above its weight," and its demise is likely to be experienced for an unknown duration as an even weaker left. But when "punching above one's weight" comes at the price of shooting oneself (and, more importantly, one's commrades) in the foot, one may as well call it reverse-movementism.

Few missed the irony that the college of cardinals, which elected a man probably more worthy of the title Vicar of Judas to be the new Vicar of Christ, has some uncanny similiarities to the SWP CC, both with impermeable, self-important leaderships that practice self-preserving ex-communication against dissidents, both brought low by the cover-up of sexual predation, and both believing their own infallibility. But apart from the Catholic Church having a better democratic process, there is one key difference in which the Vatican at least appears to have the better doctrine. Whereas the cadres of the SWP imagine they are at the vanguard of the revolution, the Pope calls himself servus servorum dei, the servant of the servants of God. If I may humbly suggest, there is a lesson there about successful long-term organizing. And I won't be the only one to point out that this has far less to do with a critique of Bolshevism or Leninism than with the peculiarly self-aggrandizing orthodoxy developed by the SWP.

In solidarity, I reprint below the letter of resignation of the 71 who left the SWP a few days ago. From the murmur of the internet, there was already, and it will grow, a certain criticism of those now speaking up for their long silence. After all, the SWP's problems are not from today. Where have all these brave voices been for so long? Why have they enabled this leadership for so long? There is a lot that is facile about this criticism. Let those who have never experienced the "sunk costs fallacy" throw the first stone - especially since whether the costs are really "sunk" is often a question of complex and uncertain evaluation.  It is often only with failure, with 20/20 hindsight, that one can declare that there was no hope.

As Seymour cautions, one shouldn't assume even "that every member who doesn't leave is tainted, agrees with everything that has happened, and so on," and doubly so for those who left after holding on for so long. But those who left and are no longer bound by the principles of omerta owe themselves and the broad left a thorough critique of the SWP's long arc, not just the latest descent. Not that I think they need any encouragement, or perhaps only encouragement to be totally ruthless and selfless in their critique.

As one who, out of habitus and the historical moment that sent me leftwards, never had any personal experience with broad parties, I prefer to wait for the analysis from within and just make here a single additional point. I hear the gloating of anarchists, horizontalists, and recovering sectarians in the background; gloatings I do not share.  Those who have given up on party organizing have not yet come up with an alternative model that works - if by working one means concrete material advances in the degree of freedom of the whole society.

Just because the party model has had recurrent collapses into the most cultish and dumb sectarianism does not automatically prove the superiority of other models of organizing. The unintentionally funniest interjection in this vein came from Louis Proyect, who suggested that internet blogs and Counterpunch are the true heirs of Bolshevism's democratic spirit. That is true only if one includes in the political discussion of the left the rants of Nazi fellow-travellers promoting their personal contribution to rape culture, as Counterpunch did. And Counterpunch, which regularly publishes far-right filth, is among the best of a "radical internet" that is white, male, upper-middle class, and absolutely oblivious to these facts. The internet lowers the cost of communication and it that way does provide a potential force for democratization. But that alone does not make it democratic. While everyone can write on a blog (as I do now), producing a widely read and succesful venture still requires not only something worthy saying, but also various forms of capital, connections, a habitus of self-expression, and a willingness to pander to at least some widely-shared reactionary nostrums.

Interestingly, while the SWP got into a fatal scandal over its internal sexism, none of the brilliant regular contributors to Counterpunch resigned or protested publicly over the publication of red-baiting, anti-immigrant, sexist, or even bizarrely sexist and Czarist material, not to mention just tedious New York Times style mockery of activists, in Counterpunch. Whereas the CC of the SWP had to pretend to be democratic, the editors of Counterpunch don't. Counterpunch, like almost every other radical internet publication, is governed by the rules of private enterprise, in which the commonly accepted model of political authority is monarchical - the owners can do anything they please. To suggest that the internet has replaced Iskra is to confuse democratization with privatization. When an old leftist says that, Margaret Thatcher can die in peace.
The opposite is in fact closer to the truth. as the SWP shed its activists, it remains a skeleton of some private property, a bunch of mostly paper members and the committee of owners of said property. Thus is the SWP now becoming more like Counterpunch. The privatization of the party, which was latent in its organizational structure, has thanks to the scandal, been laid bare. If this tendency is allowed to fully develop, the SWP will become a brilliant, radical newsletter.

Resigning from the Socialist Workers Party

FAO the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party
We, the undersigned, are writing to you to inform you that we can no longer remain in the Socialist Workers Party. The organisation’s tradition of fighting women’s oppression has been seriously undermined by the handling of a number of rape and sexual harassment allegations by the Disputes Committee and the Central Committee and the crisis of democracy and accountability in the party this has laid bare.

The SWP leadership has done everything it can to silence members’ genuine concerns on the matter including:
·         Expelling four comrades for discussing concerns about how the rape allegation was handled
·         Gerrymandering and abusing bureaucratic measures in conference, aggregates and district meetings;
·        Sitting back whilst the Central Committee supporters have bullied the complainants, their supporters, and any member of the opposition.

We are not prepared to accept or abide by the decisions of the special conference. The conference is a bureaucratic victory which will only lead to the demise of the SWP. The reputation of the SWP in the movement is irreparably damaged as a result of the handling of these complaints by the Disputes Committee and the leadership’s determination to protect one member rather than to develop a clear perspective on rape and consent. 

The SWP leadership have utterly failed to uphold the organisation's core principles of women’s liberation. This is corrosive to the party and thus it is not in spite but because of our commitment to the struggle that we feel forced to leave in order that we can remain committed socialists who can build militant activity in our workplaces and communities. We will not put the party before the class, or the organisation before our principles.

We stand in solidarity and comradeship with those who remain in the party and attempt to save it, but we can no longer do so.                        

In solidarity,

Adam F, Brixton
Adam T, Portsmouth
Aidan B, Sheffield North
Alaina B, Sussex & Brighton
Alan R, Edinburgh
Alex A, Oxford
Alex W,  Leeds Central
Alice B, Edinburgh
Alice S, Leeds Central
Alistair H, Sheffield North
Amy N, Cardiff
Amy A, Oxford
Amy W, Portsmouth
Andrew B, Camden/Hackney
Andrew B, York
Andy B, Kent
Andy G, Leicester
Andy L, Hackney East
Ashleigh F, Bristol North
Ayan C, Bristol North
Becca D, Leicester
Becky J, Liverpool
Ben S, Kent
Brian C, Bradford
Bryan S, Camden
China M, Brent and Harrow
Chris B, Sussex & Brighton
Christina R, Portsmouth
Christopher R, Hoddeson
Ciara S, Tower Hamlets
Ciaran O, Lewisham
Damon S, Middlesborough
Danny J, Manchester City Centre
Darren H, Bradfor/Leeds Met UCU
David C, Southend
Dave M, Brixton
David P, Liverpool
Emma R, Norwich
Emma W, Oxford
Frances P, Portsmouth
Gill T, Walthamstow
Gina E, Doncaster
Glenn D, Newcastle
Gonzalo P, Euston
Hannah E, Sussex & Brighton
Hester D, Leeds Central
Holly S, Walthamstow
Ian S, Hastings
Jacob L, Leicester
Jackson B, Sheffield
Jake D, Tottenham
Jake P, Euston
Jamie A, Euston
Jamie, P Tottenham
Jen I, LSE
Jenny M, Hackney East
Jenny R, Leicester
Jessamie F, Sussex & Brighton
Jessica R, Wandsworth & Merton
Jim K, Hull
Joe R, Portsmouth
Joe W, Portsmouth
John B, Euston
John C, Glasgow South
John G, Euston
John R, Portsmouth
Joseph B, Kent
Jules A, Liverpool
Kaity S, Portsmouth
Kat B, Cardiff
Kathryn G, Bristol South
Keith W, Canterbury
Kieran C, Camden
Kris S, Wandsworth and Merton
Kristina I, Sussex and Brighton
Lewis P, Sussex and Brighton
Liam H, Gravesham/Medway Branch
Linda R, Edinburgh
Mariya P, Leicester
Mark H, Hornsey & Wood Green
Martyn C, Sussex & Brighton
Martin P, Sheffield
Matt H, Sheffield South
Matt H, Bristol North
Max B, Sheffield South
Michele S, Norwich
Mike R, Brighton
Miriam J, Manchester
Naomi J, Canterbury
Nathan A, Oxford
Nick F, Liverpool
Nick W , Brighton
Nicole L, Brixton Branch
Paul L, Leicester
Penny S, Oxford
Peter A, Preston
Pippa G, Liverpool
Raoul L, Coventry
Raymond W, Edinburgh Branch
Rebecca D, Bristol North
Richard S, Hornsey & Wood Green
Richard T, Bristol East
Roisin B, Sheffield North
Rosalie K, Hull
Rowan L, Brixton
Ryan H, Liverpool
Ryan P, Brighton
Sam B, Bristol North
Samuel G, Islington
Sarah W, Portsmouth
Sophie S, York
Stacey M, Nottingham/Glasgow
Stephen B, York
Steven S, Liverpool
Tom J, Liverpool
Tom M, Leicester
Toni M, Bristol South
Wendy W, Edinburgh
Will R, Canterbury
Will T, Lancaster
Zoe W, Euston

We realise others have left already since January Conference and many more will leave in the coming days and months. All are welcome to add their names to this statement, please email  


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