Saturday, 28 September 2013

New faction formed in the SWP

The crisis in the Socialist Workers Party has taken a new turn with the formation of yet another faction. The in-fighting is getting more intense as they head towards their forthcoming conference.

The "Rebuilding the Party Faction" have issued the following statement:

The SWP is going through the most serious crisis in its history. Comrades across the party now need to unite to ensure its recovery, whatever side they took over recent months. We need to ensure that all the issues surrounding the dispute are fully resolved and that political solutions are found to address the roots of the crisis. The party has already lost over 400 members, including most of our students. If we want to avoid further losses, and the risk of marginalisation and isolation within the wider movement, we can’t simply carry on as we are.

We have been through a period of intense debate in the party. The leadership’s approach to political argument has been largely responsible for the damage caused: they sought to suppress information and debate; comrades have been misled; differences within the leadership have been hidden from the membership; the scale of the crisis has been consistently underestimated. Progress has been made, but only after intense pressure was applied on the leadership.

These flaws are the same ones that characterised the last major crisis faced by the party, around Respect. Although they were widely acknowledged in the party at the time, they were only partially dealt with by the Democracy Commission and many of its recommendations have not been implemented. Alongside resolution of the immediate issues around the disputes, a political reckoning is required if we are to learn lessons from what we have been through. We need a leadership that enables the whole party to learn from mistakes and move on, which means being able to openly and politically explain changes in position.

It is up to all SWP members to ensure that both the immediate issues and the roots of the crisis are addressed within the party. Some basic necessities need to be swiftly dealt with around the dispute. The disputes commission report, whose findings are due to be refined and developed during the pre-conference period, could provide a basis to move forward. Full resolution of the issues arising from the dispute, however, will require some political steps to be taken by the leadership:

1. A public acknowledgment of the specific nature of the mistakes that occurred.

2. An apology to the two complainants for the negative consequences they have suffered as a result of their treatment.

3. Revision of Disputes Procedures to make them “fit for purpose”, as called for by the report on the second case.

We also need to make strenuous efforts to address the failures to apply our principles and regain confidence in our ability to act as a tribune of the oppressed. This should include a period of debate about how we equip the party, in theory and practice, to lead and intervene effectively on questions of women’s oppression.

Some comrades have echoed right-wing sexist arguments, such as that women frequently make false rape allegations or that if a woman doesn’t report a rape immediately this indicates that they are lying. The party needs to assert in practice its commitment to zero tolerance of sexist comments and behaviour.

We need to face up to how we got here and address long term flaws in the party’s internal functioning and its relationship to the wider movement. Otherwise the party will not recover from this latest in a series of crises and splits.

These questions are fundamental to the party’s ability not just to speak to those beyond its ranks, but to listen to them. This interaction allows the party to locate its day-to-day activities within a wider strategic framework, giving members and non-members clear political perspectives. Full participation of comrades in debate, and the involvement of the wider movement, will help strengthen the party's theory and practice, allow us to intervene more effectively, to learn from the movement, help shape it, and attract the best fighters. As part of this process a campaign should be launched to win back those comrades who have left the organisation over the dispute.

We need to address both immediate questions and the accumulated longer term internal problems that have contributed to this latest crisis. The following proposals will not provide a complete solution but they are essential if we are to achieve a wider process of renewal in the organisation:

1. The CC’s role in the crisis needs to be addressed if the party as a whole is to hold it to account. It is impossible for the organisation to make an informed decision about the membership of the CC when serious divisions are withheld from the membership – these divisions must be laid out before the party. The composition of our leading bodies (CC, NC, DC) needs to reflect the fact that the political lessons of the past year have been learnt. This will require electing new ones mainly comprising comrades willing to recognise the mistakes made and work to correct them, and removing those members who have acted to frustrate and obstruct a satisfactory resolution to the disputes processes.

2. The relationship of the membership to the branches, fractions and elected bodies of the party needs to be reviewed. This should include:
- a concerted campaign to rebuild and regenerate the branches
- the strengthening of the party structures to play a meaningful role in developing and debating perspectives and holding the CC to account
- strengthen our fractions for united front, trade union and student work, ensuring consistency, transparency, reporting and accountability to elected bodies of the party

3. Proper and open debate needs to be facilitated on key questions in line with decisions taken at the special conference. The party website should be opened up to contributions on these questions. Decisions of previous conferences need to be implemented, including those providing for debates to be carried in SW and our other publications.

4. Proper accounting of where we are as an organisation, including regular reporting of membership figures (recruitment, resignations and subs base) and publication sales figures to the party.

5. Acknowledging the damage done to our student work and ensuring that the party as a whole acts to repair this damage, working with our remaining students to re-establish the SWP’s political relationships on campus.

6. For these debates to take place there must be a commitment from the CC that faction speaking rights and the election of delegates to conference will maximise debate and reflect the real differences that exist within the party. It must intervene to prevent the ostracism in certain districts and branches of comrades who have been critical of the party’s handling of the dispute.

Such preoccupations are not the preserve of any one grouping within the party. But since it looks unlikely that the CC intends to provide adequate leadership on these issues, it is now up to all comrades who want to find a way out of the crisis and begin to repair the damage to the party, to come together and assert a way forward.

There are currently around 270 members or so who have signed this statement. 

The Party is nearly over for this hateful organisation one can only hope!

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