Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 15, 2013

Callinicos threatens “lynch mobs”

Filed under: British SWP — louisproyect @ 12:46 am


The CPGB has been sent a copy of an explosive account of a recent ISJ meeting

Bureaucratic fury, not righteous anger

CPGB Intro

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.

ISJ Report

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.]


  1. What the Christ! Not since “Dark Shadows” have I endured such a morbidly funky soap opera!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 15, 2013 @ 5:10 am

  2. “The ISO’s behaviour is particularly shocking: relations with them had been improving, but now their behaviour is threatening to ‘destroy’ this.”

    Yeah it’s not the SWP’s abhorrent behavior in regards to a rape accusation, but the ISO for talking about it that is really shocking. Wow. Talk about having lost grip on reality.

    Comment by Clifford Saint Claire the Beloved — February 15, 2013 @ 6:38 am

  3. As your readers probably have worked out, the main problem for the SWP (B) is Callinicos and followers. The allegations of harassment would most like have been dealt with much better if the accused had not been so important to Callinicos. His main pull on comrades to remain loyal to him whatever their disquiet is this “the Party will destroy itself”. This of course reveals the dishonesty of him and his supporters over the years about the health of the Party and their analysis of the outside world. How could a large (in terms of the British far left) organization be destroyed by the blogging of a few malcontents. Of course the CC have grossly exaggerated the active (real) party membership for years, this was not about vanity but to disguise the failure of their build the party tactics over more than a decade. If the opportunities for class struggle were so rosy at the moment comrades would hardly be wasting their time calling for another conference. According to the CC we in Britain according to them have just been through a Hot Autumn of struggle, oh wait they are adjusting that at the moment, so we must be entering another red hot spring, again. Either believes his own bullshit of rising class struggle and fit vibrant Party, in which case from whence does the opposition come from? Or he knows the constant fantasies of general strikes and large militant party membership is a crock of lies.
    So the fall guys become recent student recruits, and here I might have to explain his problem is again truth, the recently declared faction is made up of a wide range of comrades, but many of them were building our tendency when Callinicos was in nappies; they constitute a group who all comrades should know embody the real traditions of our group. Hence Callinicos’ anger yet his failure to address their substantive points.
    I believe that whatever the outcome of conference a split is the best way forward, Callinicos is both the barrier for party justice for the two comrades who made the accusations and for the healthy renewal of our Party, let him go with his hacks and perhaps they can reunite with the Counterfire idiots. I do believe the SWP works best with many differing sets of ideas in it, that was the Party I joined in the late 70s. The small branch I was in contained an orthodox Trot and an anarchist, the other comrades had a wide range of views on most questions; we debated in meetings, we acted in concert in the outside world. However Callinicos and his hacks have abandoned politics for cult like factionalism, hence the demand that Delta must return to the leadership.
    I of course commend the ISO for their restrained interventions, those in the outside world that look aghast at the SWP need to be reminded that it was not out politics that led us to this, but a leadership that abandoned our traditions.

    Comment by Harry Monro — February 15, 2013 @ 10:03 am

  4. “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?”

    Given that very few people know Alex Callinicos, Richard Seymour, not to mention Nikos Poulantzas and Louis Althusser, one contemplates in vain to understand how this has any relevance towards building working class opposition to the capitalist social order. Seymour shouldn’t be participating in protests and other forms of political organization because he like Poulantzas??? Callinicos shouldn’t criticizing anyone ideologically because he praised Althusser??? What possible relevance does this have to anything happening to anyone today?

    This transcript is damning. The SWP is experiencing a 5 alarm fire, and these ISJ members are arguing about petty personal conflicts and obscure intellectual ideological points that make no difference to anyone outside their social milieu. As for the “lynch mobs”, where have they been while Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron have been eviscerating the UK social welfare state?

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 15, 2013 @ 10:54 pm

  5. Some fool has even made the whole thing into a comic book, based on Billy Bunter, but set in the declining private school of Redfriars, under Headmaster Algy Stallinicos http://www.heartfield.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/redfriars/Billy_Delta.htm

    Comment by James Heartfield — February 16, 2013 @ 9:58 am

  6. …. the failure of an organization like the SWP to appreciate the importance of
    feminism programmatically creates a fertile soil for the sort of sexist culture in a
    left party that perpetuates and defends itself just as does any patriarchal and
    bureaucratic institution of capitalism.

    What has happened to the SWP over the last several months shows
    conclusively that a revolutionary party will rise or fall to the degree
    that it addresses the key political issues of its time. In this case,
    the issue is the right of all women to be free of sexual violence and
    harassment. The inability of SWP leaders to deal with this issue
    compassionately, democratically, and with an understanding of the
    corrupting qualities of male privilege is a leadership failure of
    profound proportions.

    to read the whole statement: http://www.socialism.com/drupa
    Doug Barnes, Freedom Socialist Party, US

    Comment by Doug Barnes — March 28, 2013 @ 9:12 pm

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