The CPGB has been sent a copy of an explosive account of a recent ISJ meeting
Bureaucratic fury, not righteous anger
This report of a recent ‘International Socialism Journal’ meeting gives a taste of the bullying, intimidating atmosphere that is building in the Socialist Workers Party as the beleaguered central committee and its supporters feel the crisis escalating out of control and take out their rage on the opposition and its legitimate concerns.
Certainly, if the comments and general attitude the report attributes to the likes of Alex Callinicos are accurate, it lends credence to the claims from the Democratic Renewal comrades that aggressive, bullying behaviour towards oppositionists is widespread, including in some cases the threat of physical violence. (http://internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/stop-bullying.html).
Such methods – and the people who promote them as a means to resolve political differences between comrades – should have no place in the workers movement.
All comments in brackets etc. are those of the orignal author. The report begins below.
Alex Callinicos led off:
There are two types of group that are trying to change the party by fait accompli. The first group seeks to create external pressures. China, and I suspect Richard, encouraged Laurie Penny to write in the Independent. The letter from Peter Thomas and co, and interventions from ISO members, fit in here. PT and co are in part motivated by legitimate concerns about the case, but also it reflects the political ambitions of the Historical Materialism editorial board: it’s a repeat of ‘NLR syndrome’—Perry Anderson sought to profile himself as self-appointed generalissimo of the class struggle; these HM editors see themselves in a similar light. The ISO’s behaviour is particularly shocking: relations with them had been improving, but now their behaviour is threatening to “destroy” this.
The second group that are trying to change the party by fait accompli is the faction that declared this week.. I’m shocked by this. They have breached the long-standing principle that we do not have permanent factions.
The one-day special conference on 10th March will provide a full opportunity for discussion. It will be an opportunity to reaffirm the decisions taken at the January conference. Whatever comes out of it will have to be accepted by everyone. Anyone who doesn’t accept “will attract the righteous anger of the bulk of party members.”
[At the start of the discussion, incidentally, Alex barked at Amy Gilligan, insisting she stop taking notes. He, however, continued to cheerfully fill his notebook with copious notes throughout the meeting, as well as typing into his Blackberry. Alex tends to justify this sort of double standard with the term ‘political morality.’ Which seems to mean: whoever is trusted by the CC can do as they please, whoever is not, cannot. Are there echoes here of Gerry Healey’s catchphrase, ‘revolutionary morality’?]
The discussion kicked off with some comrades expressing their intense anger.
Sheila Macgregor, for example. Paul Blackledge later on.
But they were not angry either that the SWP has dealt with something as important as sexual harassment with appalling ineptness (not to say a cover up) or with the way the CC attempted to shut down the resulting debate. Rather, they were furious at those of us who’ve been “making a fuss” about such matters.
Sheila is “very angry”. We should not hold a special conference! We just had a conference, at which the issues were “all” fully aired! The present turmoil was started by party members. The SWP’s reputation is not in fact suffering damage in the ‘outside world.’
Paul shared Sheila’s fury and directed some harsh words at the ISO.
Gareth Jenkins made some general and unsubstantiated allegations that members of the faction were spreading lies and half-truths. He then defended the CC’s behaviour over Jamie Woodcock, noting that the CC had merely “suggested” that Jamie’s nomination be rescinded—unaware that to even call this a half-truth would be absurdly generous.
Jane Hardy: Any damage to the party has been the result of “the blogging”. She compared Richard Seymour to UCU leader Sally Hunt: both seek to push debate out of the branches and conference (she offered not a shred of evidence that Richard wishes to do this) and onto “email voting” and internet discussion.
Joseph Choonara: Why are the students in revolt? Because we made a mistake in 2011, when students joined around the Millbank etc movement. We should have made a sharp turn toward SWP theory in the SWSS groups.
Colin Barker: Defended his adherence to the faction, and insisted that we’re an organisation that welcomes heterodoxy, one that has the confidence to show tolerance toward comrades who take positions with which most of us disagree.
There were excellent contributions from Jamie, Simon Behrman and Neil Davidson, repudiating the accusations against our faction. (In Simon’s case though, he also took some swipes at those of in the Renewal grouping.)
Gareth Dale: Disagrees with Sheila’s argument that nothing’s changed in the outside world. First, it has. Generally, to the detriment of the SWP’s reputation, but not simply that. For example, anarchist friends of mine have congratulated us on the seriousness with which we’ve approached the issue, and mentioned that they—who experienced similar difficulties in dealing with sexual harassment—have found our campaign inspiring. But even if the outside world is oblivious, a special conference is still necessary, due to the tumult in the organisation etc.
Agreed with Joseph Choonara who argued that the resolution to this cannot be administrative but must be political and suggested these issues need to be fought out at the conference, but also developed in the pages of our publications over the next year or more.
Callinicos has taken a swipe at Richard over his enthusiasm for Poulantzas, but had not Callinicos himself been similarly enthusiastic for Althusser, in the 1970s? Linked this to a point made by Neil: the party has to be big enough to include the likes of David Widgery as well as Chris Harman. Sheila’s warning—at the last ISJ meeting—that Neil’s recent ‘revisionism’ on permanent revolution is an “attack on the IS tradition” is an example of precisely the wrong approach to drawing boundaries.
Talat: “Richard Seymour is a friend of mine. But he never goes to meetings. He and China think they’re above the rest of the party.” She then went on to express her disgust at those of us who draw comparisons between the SWP’s procedure for dealing with harassment allegations and that of institutions, such as trade unions, “which are part of capitalist society”—the implication being that the SWP is not.
Hannah Dee: Spoke up strongly for ‘the students’. They’ve been particularly attuned to issues of feminism, oppression etc. No wonder it’s they who’ve been at the forefront in recent weeks.
Adrian Budd, to Alex: At the outset, you said that the point of the special conference is “to reaffirm the decisions taken at conference.” That’s surely the wrong way to go about it—to present it as a way of rubberstamping decisions already taken. Surely it should be about airing the points of contention fully. To this, Alex barked a surly “That’s what you think!”
Alex then summed up the session: The crisis has been driven from within the party. Richard Seymour is the principal culprit. He is an eclectic thinker; he grabs ideas from everywhere—including even Bob Jessop!—and throws them into an “incoherent mess.”
Martin Smith must be allowed to fully return to political activity. Hannah’s analysis of the students is wrongheaded.
The students are not some vanguard on issues of oppression, as she implies; rather, they’ve lost their way as a result of our flawed approach in 2011—as Joseph outlined. There’s no way a 3 month discussion period before the special conference will be allowed. It would “destroy” us. If party members refuse to accept the legitimacy of the decisions taken at the special conference, “lynch mobs” (his words) will be formed. [He didn’t say whether or not he’d give a green light to such organisations.]