December 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm #81732
In the run up to the annual conference of the Socialist Workers Party, three Pre-conference bulletins have been distributed to SWP members. Comrades may have read the commentary in the current issue of the Weekly Worker, where Peter Manson notes that the final bulletin "has seen a concerted counterattack led by the central committee against comrades calling for greater democracy, openness and honesty within the organisation"
Debates on the left should be fought out openly, for the mutual benefit of all. As a service to those comrades and the whole workers' movement, we publish all three bulletins here.December 18, 2012 at 10:37 am #91219
Wow, the first bulletin contains the mythic SWP constitution. Some snippets:http://www.cpgb.org.uk/assets/files/swpinternalbulletins/PreConf_Bulletin_i_Oct_2012.pdf(Page 25)Quote:Branches and/or districts elect delegates to Conference on a basis proportional to their membership, as determined by the Central Committee.[…](5) Central Committee The CC consists of members elected by the Conference according to the following procedure: The outgoing Central Committee selects and circulates a provisional slatefor the new CC at the beginning of the period for pre-Conference discussion. This is then discussed at the district aggregates where comrades can propose alternative slates.At the Conference the outgoing CC proposes a final slate (which may have changed as a result of the pre-Conference discussion). This slate, along with any other that is supported by a minimum offive delegates, is discussed and voted on by Conference.Between Conferences the CC is entrusted with the political leadership of the organisation and is responsible for the national direction of all political and organisational work, subject to thedecision- making powers of Conference.
Note: there is no specification of the size of the CC, so they can always co-opt oppositionists to the official slate. Also note the CC controls the size of conference, which can make it more manageable.Let's see how they justify this:Quote:The necessity of a revolutionary party flows from the fact that although the working class must collectively emancipate itself, the ideological domination of the ruling class means there is considerable uneveness within the working class in terms of its confidence, organisation and ideas. The role of a revolutionary party is to draw together the militant minority who understand the need for revolution, not to substitute for the class, but to constantly seek ways to act to increase workers’ combativity and confidence and in the process win wider layers of workers to socialist ideas.[…]And the existence of a leadership is a necessity. Uneveness in terms of experience, confidence and clarity of ideas exists not just inside the working class as a whole, but also within the revolutionary party. The more roots the party has inside the working class, the more it is able to intervene in the class struggle, the greater this uneveness will be.
(CC statement in the third bulletin). Note, it assumes that the leadership is the pinacle of this uneven consciousness, and instead of seeking to challenge the "unevenness" seeks to work within it, and in effect justifies a technocratic/theocratic elite dictating to the ignorant, rather than a two way dialogue between revolutionaries and workers. After all, for all we (naturally) assume that we are right, we enter into debate, and have to withstand the possibility that we may be proved wrong.December 18, 2012 at 11:46 am #91220
I see things haven't changed since we published our educational document on the SWP in 1995. Here's an extract on Conference Procedure from section III:Quote:The main item on the agenda is a report by the Central Committee on the political “perspectives” which is usually a document of pamphlet-length. The Central Committee also submits other reports – on work in special areas of activity (industry, students, women), internal organisation, finance – for the Conference to discuss. In the SWP, branches still have the formal right to submit motions, but they are strongly discouraged from doing so. As an explanatory note intended for new members, accompanying documents submitted for the party’s 1983 Conference put it:“Branches can submit resolutions if they wish and these may [sic] be voted on. But in recent years the practice of sending resolutions to conference has virtually ceased” (Socialist Review, September 1983).What this means is that it is the Central Committee – the leadership – which quite literally sets the agenda for the Conference. The branch delegates meet, therefore, to discuss only what is put before them by the Central Committee. Not that the delegates are delegates in the proper sense of the term as instructed representatives of the branches sending them:“Delegates should not be mandated . . . Mandating is a trade union practice, with no place in a revolutionary party”.Since voting on motions submitted by branches is dismissed as a “trade union practice”, another procedure, more open to manipulation by the leadership, is operated:“At the end of each session of conference commissions are elected to draw up a report on the session detailing the points made. In the event of disagreement two or more commissions can be elected by the opposing delegates. The reports are submitted to conference and delegates then vote in favour of one of the commissions. The advantage of this procedure is that conference does not have to proceed by resolution like a trade union conference”.No branch motions, no mandated delegates, what else? No ballots of the entire membership either. In the first volume of his political biography of Lenin, Cliff records in shocked terms that “in January 1907 Lenin went so far as to argue for the institution of a referendum of all party members on the issues facing the party”, commenting “certainly a suggestion which ran counter to the whole idea of democratic centralism” (Lenin, Building the Party, p. 280)In fact no official of the SWP above branch level is directly elected by a vote of the members. One power that the branches do retain is the right to nominate members for election, by the Conference delegates, to the National Committee, but, as over presenting motions, they are discouraged from nominating people who do not accept the “perspectives” espoused by the Central Committee. So elections do take place to the National Committee but on the basis of personalities rather than politics. However, it is the way that the Central Committee is elected that is really novel: the nominations for election to new central committee are proposed not by branches but . . . by the outgoing central committee! Once again, in theory, branches can present other names but they never do.It is easy to see how this means that the central committee – the supreme leadership of the organisation – is a self-perpetuating body renewal in effect only by co-optation. This is justified on the grounds of continuity and efficiency – it takes time to gain the experience necessary to become a good leader, so that it would be a waste of the experienced gained if some leader were to be voted off by the vagaries of a democratic vote. Choosing the leadership by a competitive vote is evidently something else “with no place in a revolutionary party” any more than in an army.
This, incidentally, is how the Politburo was (s)elected in the USSR which the SWP admits was state-capitalism.December 19, 2012 at 10:45 am #91221
At the risk of slightly de-railing:http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-league/rules_draft.htmThose are the rules of the Communist League (of which Marx & Engels were members). I may have posted them somewhere before. They make for an interesting comparison, since they are dealing with a secret society. Interestingly, they had a membership exam:Quote:These five questions are:a. Are you convinced of the truth of the principles of the community of property? b. Do you think a strong League is necessary for the realisation of these principles as soon as possible, and do you wish to join such a League? c. Do you promise always to work by word and deed for spreading and the practical realisation of the principles of the community of property? d. Do you promise to observe secrecy about the existence and all affairs of the League? e. Do you promise to comply with the decisions of the League?Then give us on this your word of honour as guarantee!
Apart from (d) they could suffice for our membership.What's notable, is that even for a secret society, this is a much more democratic organisation than the SWP's (the 'official' Leninist footnote observes:Quote:It shows the reorganisation work done by the League of the Just leaders as agreed with Marx and Engels, who consented early in 1847 to join the League on the condition that it would he reorganised on a democratic basis and all elements of conspiracy and sectarianism in its structure and activity would be eliminated. Engels, who was present at the Congress, took a direct part in drawing up the Rules. The draft recorded the change in the League’s name, and it is referred to here as the Communist League for the first time. The new motto, “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!” was also used for the first time. The former leading body, the narrow People’s Chamber (Halle), was replaced by the supreme body — the Congress, composed of delegates from local circles; the executive organ was to be the Central Authority. The relations between all the League organisations were based on principles of democratism and centralism. At the same time a number of points in the draft showed that the reorganisation was not yet complete and that former traditions were still alive, namely: Art. 1 formulating the aims of the League; one of the points in Art. 3, making the sectarian stipulation that members were not to belong to any other political organisation; Art. 21, limiting the powers of the Congress by the right of the communities to accept or reject its decisions, etc.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-league/rules.htmSlightly more centralised version of the rules. Still more democratic than the SWP.December 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm #91222
According to comrade Keith Scholey's pamphlet on The Communist Club, there was another condition for joining the Communist League:Quote:… in the summer of 1850, that Wilhelm Liebknecht, the founder of the German Social Democratic Party, met Marx. The latter commented to him that membership of the League depended on a thorough examination by the group's phrenologist (bump reader), Karl Pfaender. (p. 10)
Another piece of information that will help you score in pub quizzes is that Victoria Beckham is said to be a direct descendant of Karl Pfaender:http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/565243/Victoria-Beckham-is-descendant-of-comrade-of-MarxDecember 20, 2012 at 9:24 am #91223
Just another small point: note the way the SWP avoids votes. The CC slate is circulated, and ambitious members who come forward will just be added, there are no votes at conference just summaries of debate. There is no way to quantify dissent (an important tool for anyone seeking to build a new majority).Of course, SWPers condemn nose counting, asking why the vote of one person should determine the outcome; and I've seen in practice a reluctance to just settle arguments with a vote, with the 'leading' member able to drag out debate in order to try and get their way.This could be sold, I suppose, as an attempt to build consensus (indeed, wasn't that how occupy worked as well), but we soon see that without the right to be outvoted, a determined minority can come to dominate discussion.December 20, 2012 at 11:58 am #91224
This discussion of the views expressed and the attitudes displayed in the third SWP pre-Conference document in last week's Weekly Worker shows just how far anti-democratic sentiments and practices are entrenched in the SWP:http://cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/942/internal-bulletins-crazy-contortions-of-swp-central-committeeIn particular, the slate system of electing (in effect co-opting) the "leadership". This was the practice of Communist Parties everywhere, including those in power. As far as I know, it is still practised in China, Cuba and North Korea.The thing is of course that for the SWP this would still continue after "the revolution", a recipe for the sort of state capitalism they rightly criticise in the old USSR. But then they always did support state capitalism in Russia under Lenin and up until Trotsky was exiled in 1928.December 20, 2012 at 3:22 pm #91225
You have to laugh through your tears at the evil genius:http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/943/swp-expelled-before-conference-beginsQuote:The four expelled members are Paris Thompson (Leeds), Tim Nelson (Bristol), Charlotte Bence (London) and Adam Marks (London) – the first two had contributions published in the Internal Bulletins, as the documents are known. Ironically, temporary factions are permitted during the three-month pre-conference period and we are in such a period right now (the 2013 SWP conference will be held in London over the weekend of January 4-6). But the SWP constitution stipulates that the central committee must be notified of their formation in a document signed by “at least 30 members of the party”.
The 30 members for a faction is hilarious: how do you know you have thirty memebrs before you start asking, and if you ask, your factionalising without permission, so you can't get to 30 members.Also, that Paris and Tim have been effectively expelled for contributing to the Internal Bulletin, the lesson goes out that if you challenge the Centre's line, you're out. Also, you have to think that the Centre must have begun invesitigating those memebrs as soon as they chose to cotnribute, evidence will always be found if you really want to expel someone and have no checks and balances on the process.December 23, 2012 at 10:18 pm #91226
Statement of SWP Democratic OppositionFour members of the Socialist Workers’ Party have been expelled in the run up to that organisation’s conference next month, for reasons detailed here. Some of their co-thinkers have responded by forming an oppositional grouping. This is what they have to say for themselves:FOUR comrades have been expelled for forming a ‘secret faction’ during the discussions prior to SWP conference. The expelled members had been legitimately concerned about the handling of very serious allegations directed at a CC member and the way that this was being handled by the organisation and had discussed about what this represented and how comrades could ensure the matter was dealt with properly. …January 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm #91231
6. Open letter from Damon Skinner, Middlesbrough branchDear Comrades,As an active SWP member, I’ve collected my thoughts enough in order to write a statement of sorts regarding the Central Committee’s recent expulsion of 4 long-standing party members and the forming of the Democratic Opposition faction. I’ve registered my support for the faction and urge others to do the same, especially those attending national Conference in a position to affect the outcome of matters.The CC states that four comrades were expelled for forming a “secret faction”. I think this is outrageous for a number of reasons and hope that, for the sake of the health of democracy within our party; the expulsions are repealed at national conference.Expulsion should be reserved for only the most serious misdemeanours. I don’t think party members going about forming a temporary faction (as is their right around the time of conference), however ‘secret’ or clumsily, justifies such a serious punishment. It sends entirely the wrong message to the wider membership and, in practice, means a less accountable central committee if members don’t feel they can challenge things. We don’t need a climate of fear, but free and open discussion.The CC’s response to the whole affair has been, in my opinion, quite ridiculous. Consider the following paragraph from their formal statement on the matter:"…the CC found that at least some of those involved in the FB group organised secret meetings to discuss internal party matters and had encouraged comrades to keep their views quiet in order to boost their chances of becoming conference delegates. Some were prepared to involve non-members in their discussions."Now, to be even handed, the comrades involved in factional discussions probably deserve some criticism here. Ideally, factions should be established in an open (not secret) way. But that is all they deserve – criticism, not expulsion. I must stress the use of the word “ideally”, because no situation is ever ideal, and perhaps the comrades were afraid to speak openly about what they were doing, at least initially. Certainly their fears have now being confirmed by the draconian punishment meted out by the CC.The last sentence from the above CC quote is quite frankly ridiculous. "Some were prepared to involve non-members in their discussions." It reads like this was the final straw for them; that perhaps if non-members weren’t privy to some of the conversations, there might still have been hope left for the comrades! Evidently not, though, as involving non-members in party related discussion is a heinous crime. Or is it? Is the CC really that paranoid that it believes everybody outside of party ranks secretly want to undermine it and bring it down? If we’re going to be honest, let us call a spade a spade. This is sectarian and cultist nonsense of the highest order. I can’t think of any other way to describe this. Why couldn’t a non-member – a comrade from a different organisation on the left – contribute something useful to the debate? If any leadership in any organisation insisted that discussion should be held exclusively within its own ranks and that members should be distrustful of outsiders, we would in my mind label it a cult.We – rank-and-file SWP members – have the right to form temporary factions. We should militantly defend this right, and also remind the CC that they exist to serve us, not the other way round. I’m no hardened party theorist, but in my mind the leadership within a democratic centralist organisation must surely exist to a) enforce the principles of democratic centralism and b) be responsive to its membership. Factions are necessary to ensure the "freedom of debate" aspect of that fundamental principle "freedom of debate; unity in action", and when the CC bans people from the organisation for attempting to exercise their democratic right, democracy within the party is undermined.Factions can be treated in two ways – as a dangerous distraction to be repressed, or a legitimate process to work through. I’ve seen too much of the former within our party and feel we do a disservice to the ideal of democratic centralism when we suffocate dissent in such a way as the CC has just done.This is a statement in support of the Democratic Opposition faction. Re-instate the expelled comrades, and let us discuss what democracy and role of the CC within our party should look like.Yours comradely,Damon Skinner – Middlesbrough branch.http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/online-only/socialist-workers-party-faction-declaredJanuary 9, 2013 at 11:55 am #91227
Podcast: SWP conference special reportJanuary 10, 2013 at 1:51 pm #91228
http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/944/swp-why-i-am-resigningThis eye witness account suggests why the events were worse(!) than they sounded in the transcript.TBH, this is a really horrible story, full of tragedy all round, no matter which way you turn…January 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm #91229
I'm not sure we can or should use this particular stick to beat the SWP (there are plenty of others). There may (or may not) have been errors in their own procedures, but their basic error was to have a procedure to judge and censure their members' personal behaviour. It is this that has led to them having to judge a case of alleged rape. That should never have happened. Such allegations are not matters to be discussed and decided on at a conference. It's my personal view that the person who first published the transcript on the internet acted in a despicable way, recklessly exposing an individual to a serious accusation just to score a political point against the SWP.January 10, 2013 at 2:22 pm #91230ALB wrote:I'm not sure we can or should use this particular stick to beat the SWP (there are plenty of others).
Indeed, however, I'm not sure they will ever live this down, and there will be plenty willing to bring it up at every single turn.January 12, 2013 at 8:24 pm #91232imposs1904Participant
I think this post from Richard Seymour on his popular blog, Lenin's Tomb:http://www.leninology.com/2013/01/crisis-in-swp.htmland China Mielville's quotes in Laurie Penny's New Statesman article about the events in the SWP:http://www.newstatesman.com/laurie-penny/2013/01/what-does-swps-way-dealing-sex-assault-allegations-tell-us-about-left is pretty much a game changer for the SWP. I'd be genuinely surprised if this time next year the SWP resembles the organisation it currently is, the organisation it has been for the last forty plus years. It's the most serious schism in the IS/SWP tradition since the IS Opposition split in the mid-seventies. I don't think it was this recent sad chain of events that prompted some members of the SWP to look at its democratic deficit. It took the internet. It wouldn't have happened otherwise.
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