Tuesday, 17 December 2013

SWP: Kimber reacts to the post-conference period (updated)

Dave Renton gives an account of SWP Conference:

There were approximately 540 delegates at conference; fewer than one in 7 were aged under 40. Of the young people in the room , a large majority were in the faction. The mood was serious, even grim. The conference was conducted throughout with the same degree of procedural propriety as you would expect of the conference of a trade union of about 30-40,000 people. Motions were taken; votes were even on occasion counted. “Delegates” were reminded of the importance of reporting back conference decisions, presumably to the 10 SWP members for whom each delegate is supposed to stand. But here were 500 people, elected from 40 aggregates in many of which there were had been fewer people in the room voting for candidates than there had been places to fill.

A number of the delegates would happily admit to never attending SWP meetings and never selling the paper; they were there solely because they had been asked to stand in order to prevent oppositional members attending. How many members does the SWP really have beyond those who were in the room? If your definition extends to a requirement that a person attend their branch meeting at least once a year, perhaps, at the very most, a further 4-500 people nationally. This is not a mass party; you cannot sustain anything healthy on the basis of the levels of fantasy that could be seen in the room.

On Saturday morning, Alex Callinicos made a supposed “apology”. The statement he read out was based on a CC motion which had been circulated in advance, and offered no specific regret for any specific action by any named individual but blamed merely “structural flaws in our disputes procedures”. Structures of course have to be carried out by people but there was no acknowledgement that any individual had done anything wrong. The motion, for which the CC apology stood as an abbreviation, blamed the faction for politicising the dispute, when it was Callinicos himself whose article in January’s Socialist Review had begun that process by mixing together the defence of the leadership’s handling of the dispute and the defence of “Leninism”. The motion explained the women’s distress in terms of the publicising of their case on the internet. It spoke for women who the CC does not know, has not asked, and about whom some CC members have been lying for a year.

A leadership supporter R- inadvertently captured the half-hearted nature of the CC’s manoeuvre when she explained to delegates in a later session; “I am prepared to say sorry. I am not going to apologise.”

Many important things were said during the course of conference. Two women who used to be on the SWP Disputes Committee explained how the majority of that committee had tried to prevent the second complaint from ever being heard, and the battle they had had to fight to have it heard, resulting eventually in the appointment of a new panel. The room quietened when they spoke; but afterwards, no-one voted differently.

The panel which heard the second complaint explained why they had found that there was a case to answer, and spelled out that they had heard from her and read her evidence, and spent 2 full days considering her case, as well as a further period debating their reasons. Any fair listener would have grasped that the panellists believed that Smith probably had harassed the second complainant. The comrades listened, and some were troubled. But they continued to vote for the leadership.

A member of the same panel explained that the second complainant also made a complaint that her email had been hacked. It was quite possibly hacked, the panel had accepted, by a member of the SWP. But if so, and this was the sole matter that interested them, the hacker had not been instructed beforehand by the Central Committee to hack her email account, and that meant there was nothing for them to investigate.

In this last episode, you can find expressed the degeneration of an entire party. What we were being told was that the DC accepted that a member of the SWP may well have chosen to hack the email account of a woman who had made a serious, sexual complaint against a leading member of the SWP. In fact while the hacker was there, as a comrade from Manchester had explained, he had not just forwarded emails belonging to the complainant, he had also deleted what he presumably thought were the only copies of emails passing between Smith and the complainant, and which subsequently helped to prove her complaint before the second disputes committee. He was doing what now passes for loyalty in the SWP – behaving in secret, destroying potential evidence, doing everything in his power to protect a man accused of rape.

If the individual who did this was not acting on orders, he was nevertheless doing something which he thought the leadership, or at least a section of it, would welcome. And there is no suggestion that he has ever been sanctioned for what he did. This mindset, of trying to think into the mind of a leadership, and of doing more and more grotesque things in the hope of winning their patronage, is associated with dark moments in history. Yet neither the disputes panel, nor it seems conference, found anything remarkable in it.

There were other bad times at conference; as when M- the outgoing chair of the Disputes Committee – sought to smear the second complainant by insinuating that she had spoken to the Daily Mail and encouraged them to doorstep Smith.

R-, who was of course a member of the SWP Disputes Committee which heard the first case, called the second complainant “obscene” for having supported a faction which had named Smith as being accused of “sexual predation” and insinuated that the second complaint had been made only for factional purposes. It was as if she could blank out of her mind the evidence of her comrades on the second panel who had accepted that Smith probably had sexually harassed a woman. She ended her speech with the words, “Honour and Respect democratic centralism! Honour and Respect confidentiality!”

I will never again use the word “socialist” to describe the middle aged trade unionist from my former branch who went round the edges of conference, confronting the youngest delegate at conference, a woman in her gap year before university who had never met him before, with the hostile greeting, “Martin is innocent”.

Conference voted by a majority of 8 to 1 in favour of a CC slate containing Callinicos and Kimber, with only 69 delegates voting for an alternative leadership (11 others abstained). I vainly shouted “count” when the vote on the apology was taken, not because it was close, but because I thought it the numbers should be a matter of record. The chair moved on, having declared the motion heavily defeated.

I believe that about 15 or so more comrades voted for it than for the alternative CC slate; or to put it another way, only 1 in 30 of the non-faction comrades broke from the leadership, even on the modt significant – and straightforward – question of whether there should be a genuine apology.

Against the many shameful things I saw, I must also insist that there were many people at conference sitting there with their heads in their hands, some in tears. You could see this most clearly among a section of the middle ground, who seemed visibly in pain at what they were watching.

As well as them, there were people who spoke out against the party’s degeneration. I think of the longstanding member who spoke twice in the debate about the Central Committee, and stated in the most direct of terms that a Central Committee which is united only to cover up a crime of this sort has no legitimacy, and that a leadership which has driven hundreds of socialists out no longer deserves to lead. It is a difficult and lonely thing to tell hundreds of people that they are wrong. You need to be brave to stand up before a room of several hundred people who are hostile to you, knowing that they will be given many more opportunities to attack you than you will be allowed friends to speak in your defence. I am proud to call that man a comrade.

Why did we lose? I looked at conference and I saw a group of ageing and tired people, who have watched their party at war with itself over the past year. Among the SWP majority, a belief is prevalent that nobody can ever really “know” what happens in the privacy of a relationship between a man and a woman. It follows that in the context of multiple allegations of sexual abuse, the party is the only thing that counts. The working class, which is under attack in an epoch of austerity, is best protected by a revolutionary party which is as strong as possible. The party is everything. Without the party, we as individuals, and the working class, are alike nothing. The protection of the party is based on a committed denial of the reality of what happened, and the self-deception that this small party whose active members count only in the hundreds, is in fact many times larger than we know it to be, and represents the whole of the class, the entirety of the movement. To keep the party you have to protect the leadership; no matter how many mistakes they have made. These members of the SWP made it a point of pride that they hadn’t read unwelcome articles in the Internal Bulletins, had not gone online or spoken to people who might disagree with them, had not tried to think for themselves about what had happened or who they believed. The leadership had spoken and that was enough for them.

Such an argument may satisfy my former comrades. But, unlike them, I have heard one of the complainants directly. Indeed, I have listened to her with more care, and over a longer period of time that anyone in the SWP ever will. And she is telling the truth.

Full post at: http://livesrunning.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/to-my-comrades-of-any-party-or-none/

Meanwhile the official line is that all is well with the SWP: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art/37111/SWP+conference+discusses+the+way+forward+for+the+left. What planet do these people live on?

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