Monday, 23 November 2009

Revolutionaries, students and anti-capitalism

Clare Solomon has been expelled from the Socialist Workers Party for alleged 'factionalism'. The student activist at SOAS in central London has been suspended since Friday 9 October; her disciplinary hearing took place a week after my own hearing which led to my expulsion on the basis of factionalism.

The SWP leadership arguably disciplined Clare because of her support for launching the Left Platform faction. Although the faction was formally launched after her suspension, it was evident to the Central Committee by 9 October that it might help to remove her from the pre-conference discussions. The timing is no coincidence.

The CC was also unable to tolerate the 'Money on Trial' event organised under the Mutiny banner on 24 September in east London. SWP members and non-members alike were involved in organising this, but an increasingly paranoid leadership called it a factional operation. In fact it troubled them because it was the kind of anti-capitalist event they now deride as 'nostalgia for the recent past' (an insult they also applied - in advance - to the Signs of Revolt festival which the CC's Alex Callinicos wasn't very happy about). And Mutiny showed - through sheer turnout never mind anything else - that such initiatives are well worth doing.

As recently as September Clare was elected to the SWP's national student committee. At a meeting of nearly 100 students she received the second highest vote. It will be particularly interesting to see how student activists in the party respond to this expulsion. SOAS was the first place in the country to witness an occupation in solidarity with Gaza, with over 30 other universities and colleges following. It was scene of another occupation in the summer term, in solidarity with migrant cleaners persecuted by college authorities.

Clare was centrally involved in organising both occupations. It may be regarded as perverse for the leadership to seemingly scupper one of the party's most influential student groups.


  1. Luna, why am I beginning to feel that somehow your arguments are disingenous? Central to this Left Platform faction is John Rees, Lindsey German and Chris Nineham. Going by my up to date knowledge of John Rees, he is not fit to lead the SWP, hence his removal from the CC is not debatable. Lindsey and Chris Nineham decided to abscond out of choice. I would have given the Left faction the benefit of doubt had Lindsey and Chris remained members of the CC. One may ask, why did these two leave after John was expelled? Could the answer be that theirs is personal politics not party politics? It is unfortunate that comrades are being expelled from the Party because of individuals who could not stand and fight their corner. Why did Lindsey and Chris Nineham resign from the CC? In solidarity with John Rees; that is crap because class struggle is more important than personal relationship. You and I know that the Left faction will just self-combust. The question is; is it worth comrades sacrificing their Party membership for individuals. I am sure you now know that there is no love lost between me and these three individuals because their politics stinks! So, there is no need for you to blame Martin Smith or Alex Callinicos, it just does not wash!

  2. If you think SOAS is one of the countries most influential student groups then you clearly haven't been there. The Left faction never seem to mention Manchester, or Kings, or Sussex, or Essex, or Glasgow, or Strathclyde, or LSE, or Birmingham.... I wonedr why, or is it just that a group is only important if it agrees with you?

  3. Birmingham?! I presume you mean the same Birmingham university where, a fortnight ago, Galloway spoke to 500 students about Palestine and not a single SWP / SWSS member turned up! Tell us what sterling work the SWP is doing around the university there.


  4. Guess it won't be very important now after the expulsions - we'll see the likes of the expelled SWPers slip out of focus. We probably won't hear much of Rees and German once they split from the SWP early in the new year. Not really a bad thing in my opinion.

  5. Of course there are good examples of student activism, including strong SWP student groups, elsewhere - nobody is suggesting otherwise. SOAS certainly has one of the strongest left-wing political and campaigning cultures you'll find anywhere - I really don't think that's in any doubt!

    On the Birmingham example I don't have the facts to comment. It does, however, remind me of a more general point, which is that relating to the larger movement is crucial for a socialist group on campus just as it is for socialists elsewhere. The Galloway talk about Palestine is a very good event of that.

    It is regrettable that both florence's comment and another (anonymous) comment engage with all this purely on the level of personalities. There are questions of political perspective at stake and it's vital everyone reflects on these. It's also a little cheap to scaremonger about what will happen after SWP Conference, as a tactic for de-legitimising what some people have to say.

  6. The personalisation of political differences was the propaganda tool of choice used by the leadership in the Tyneside district. It successfully kept newer members (including me for a time) from seeing the facts and understanding that there is life beyond the current failed strategy.

    Coming into contact with faction members and having REAL political discussion opened my eyes in a way the conservative party hacks could never achieve. I was amazed, actually, at just how much I had missed by unquestioningly swallowing rhetoric of the local and national leadership.

    My philosophical vision has been expanded ten fold; my understanding of capitalism taken down from the dusty old shelf on which it sat stagnant for so long and given a bloody good polish!

    I have not had such a profound awakening since I first discovered the anti-capitalist movement. And I am flabbergasted by the realisation that conservativism penetrates so very deeply into the Marxist movement so as to blind most of its most erudite leaders.

    I thank my lucky stars I found the faction and the courage to make the transition. Joining the Left Platform may not be the easiest route to take - it has resulted in me being persecuted and expelled - but it most definitely is the correct one.

    Onwards and upwards!

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Apologies to florence durrant, but I deleted the comment after realising it contained a serious allegation against a particular named individual. I've allowed comments from a number of people (on this and other threads) that are very hostile to what I've posted, but this is crossing a line. I'm happy for you to contribute to threads, but I'm afraid that comment wasn't appropriate.

  9. I am also pleased that you deleted my comment - it was specifically a response to you criticing me for being personal. I did say in that response that I hate character assassination, but you needed to know why I am personal. That is the truth luna and it is not hostility at all, and I am living with that experience! I will not be commenting on this thread because I said my piece with my first blog.

  10. Its a sad thing but Gary's comment actually made me laugh out loud. Does nobody realise how wierd and cult-like all of this sounds? Or that many comrades believe that what is really going on here is a fury at the idea that people who had been in the leadership for a long time were held accountable by the membership? And that further to the hypocrisy ("Is this what democracy looks like?" in the bulletin) the attempt to present yourselves as representing a process (opening out democratic arguments) that your grouping in the party bitterly opposed involves real cognitive dissonance when it comes to discussions of the spirit of the anti-capitalist movement ("professional leadership" etc). Increasingly it looks to me like a group of people who believe that they are the leadership in waiting, awaiting a kind of second coming, a small group of hyper-leninists whose political origins lie in the belief that all that matters is media appearences. Its why I made the RCP comparison. It looks very, very similar to me. And this represents a real departure from everything that is best about the SWP tradition.

  11. I'd just like to add that the one point Florence made which I think is very important is the one about the hostility to anyone who criticises the CC being bought on to the CC. Its what I mean by dissonance. Add to that the strange use of the word 'rewarded'. It does remind me of previously published documents where complaints were made about 'promises' not being kept in relationship to one individuals position on the CC. As if this was a private matter between individuals as opposed to the question of who was best fitted to lead the Party.

    A lot of this was simply incomprehensible to many comrades, and one reason for the growing feeling that the leadership was out of touch with the membership which led to the great debate about democracy of last year. When I discussed with someone who was later to become a member of left platform, I can remember asking, 'but you can't really think that the whole cadre is wrong can you?'. 'Thats Leninism' he responded. it isn't. Thats bonkers.

    But what lies behind this? I think that many involved DID play leading roles in united front work (STW, Respect etc) in a kind of executive capacity which gave them a glimpse of a larger political world. Nothing wrong with that, that was also the feeling of most comrades. But for some reason this went togeather with a growing sense of the SWP membership as simply a stage army (usually one that was'nt doing enough), which 'failed to understand', many of whom were 'stupid' (its an attitude I've sadly heard a lot) etc. And this came to be confused with 'Leninism' when actually its the opposite. Much of it was actually based on a leadership whose perspective did not fit reality and preferred to blame the membership (who were treated just as 'the membership' and not as a cadre) rather then think about what was going on.

    It also meant that when very serious mistakes were made the damage to 'the project' was felt, but not the damage to the cadre trying to carry arguments on the ground (this related to the strange inability of comrades to understand the significance of the OFFU check business, and again, strangely personalised discussions: Well there has been an APOLOGY for gods sake etc, etc).

    Now none of this was unique to the comrades who make up the Left Platform. What is genuinely odd to me is how closely their arguments and attitudes resemble similarly good comrades who jumped the other way. Think of the way during the Respect crisis the biggest complaint of many of those comrades was that the real problem (aside from the behaviour of a leading member of the SWP) was that SWP members were not committed enough to Respect and didn't do enough. Hence, actually, the demands for liquidation of the Party.

    I think the arguments of Left Platform contain an essentially identical approach to the problems of the party. And that this is related to similar political adaptation, often unwitting. I'll just close by saying that this is why I found Alex's diatribe on Kautsky disengenuous. He ought to read the tradition of criticising Kautsky a little more attentively and be more alive to other possible parrallels.

  12. "Weird and cult-like" is a good way of describing the Tyneside branch of the SWP actually, Johng. It is so "weird and cult-like" in fact that a select group of longstanding, and mostly idle, 'comrades' have dominated throughout the last five years that I've been a member (I'm now expelled by the way).

    There is a real and sickening stench of conservative egotism in that 'club', which discourages new faces immediately upon arrival. The only reason I tolerated it for so long is because I was busily building a separate branch from scratch in Sunderland.

    Sunderland SWP was very different to its stale sister group. Our members were young and full of life, and never fearful of contributing oratorically in meetings - even right at the start of their involvement.

    The atmosphere in our meetings was a world away from the pong of Newcastle. People would smile as well as discuss politics. We would organise with a real enthusiasm, rather than a "oh okay, just tell me where and when" attitude.

    We grew to have eight dedicated members and built successful UAF and STOP the WAR groups. Meanwhile, the hacks in Newcastle struggled to get anybody fresh who wanted to stay for more than five minutes.

    We were so concerned by their recruitment ineptitude, in fact, that we gave them one of our flock. This comrade was the spark they needed - and he was recruited by us lot in Sunderland!

    He eventually became their co-district organiser and is currently helping to make things happen in Newcastle. It's been a long time coming!

    I fear, however, that because he's surrounded by such boring and conservative drones in that branch that he'll succumb to their overwhelming influence and end up just like them.

    Believe me, I'm glad to be out of there!

  13. What strikes me about johng's comments is how inward-looking they are. The big issues here are how the left confronts a severe crisis of capitalism together with the continuing imperialist 'war on terror'. These challenges frame everything we discuss and plan.

    The political and strategic differences are about precisely these important issues. They also concern the question of how to build the revolutionary left as part of the wider resistance to the system - what are the best structures, ways of organising, types of meetings etc?

    It is not remotely about personalities, what happened in Respect, whether or not people are democratic, etc. It is a terrible shame and waste that some people are preoccupied with trivia and red herring arguments, when the serious issues sorely need to be discussed.

  14. JohnG has *always* been "inward looking."

    There was a brief period in the mid- to late-1980s when he turned, "outward". I was party to many of the dramatic shifts in both his tactical and strategic outlook. It was a period characterised by verve, dash and unrestrained panache.

    But, partly as a result of the objective decline of class confidence, but more realistically attributed to subjective, pre-existing, dispositions johng promoted a "turn inward" during the early 1990s. This had an impact on the SWP as a whole (I felt).

    The only way many of us could understand these wild twists and turns (we were trying to hold together fragile branches at the eastern end of the metropolis) was after reading John Rees' book on the Dialectic.

    Rees introduced the notion of the "leap" or, more properly, "leaps" at the level of theory and practice. We now had a context, a framework, within which to fit the behaviour (more likely unreasoned prejudice?) of so-called comrades like johng.

    Suddenly, magically, we were able to hold branch meetings in which the youth felt orally confident, springs were put in steps, we grew (mainly personally) while remaining case-hardened bolsheviki.

    Without Rees there can be no counter to the johng's of this world. Whither the SWP?

    Whither Rees?

  15. The last comment is not really serious, I think, but I actually did have an experience like that. Until a few years ago in our branch (in the North West) most of the older comrades were almost entirely asleep politically - like dead people, barely able to do anything but the same old things without any imaginativity or excitement. But then I went to one of John's meetings about dialectics and realised that that was what had been really missing in our branch! When I got back after Marxism I read the book on 'Alegbra and Revolution', which I thought was very good, and realised that what we needed was a big leap in our actions and the way we do things! I think the book is good in explaining how dialectics are what makes revolutionary action more interesting and more revolutionary. I felt better after that and made a lot of suggestions and everything started to improve. Slowly you could see all of the older comrades getting younger in a lot of ways and starting to improve a lot themseelves!

    So, I say John Rees has done a lot for all socialists who want to build better branches that aren't just full of old, grumpy people. I support the Left Platform because it is a very good book and it has made a difference in my branch. Plus the members are happier now and have more oral confidence, as the last speaker said.

  16. Please comrades. Enough satire. I'm almost falling off my chair. Luna. For goodness sake you want a serious discussion. I tried to have one with you. The only result was a member of left platform coming up to me suggesting that I shouldn't contribute on the internet. If your so frightened of political discussion why run a blog?

  17. I'd add that its a bit odd to complain about inward looking attitudes when Luna has been posting a stream of blogs about the existing leadership of the SWP being Kautskyites. This is what was in the end so amusing about the rather peculiar behaviour of the comrade from your platform. Precisely the kind of inward atmosphere we don't want in our organisation anymore. As to discussions of forms of organisation. We need an organisation capable of relating to the range of struggles going on both nationally and locally as we speak. In our district we had a postal strike, an anti-fascist mobilisation, and an anti-war demo all in one week. All of these things required different kinds of activity and organisation. The politic of photo-ops and stunts simply won't do. We need branches with real roots in the working class movement. That requires work of a different kind.

  18. Oh sorry one more add on. I can remember three years ago having to have conversations with leading members of what is now left platform about the winding up of our united fronts around anti-capitalism both at the national and the global level. This was because people that I know and work with from other countries were complaining about our absence from the social forum networks and I was worried about how to respond to them. Things were tricky anyway because many had heard about the Respect business and it was causing us some problems. The comrades told me that basically we'd put that work on hold as in Britain it was winding down whilst in Europe other forms of more political struggle were moving to the fore. So its very odd to me that comrades who were centrally involved in these decisions are now accusing everyone else of 'retreating from anti-capitalist work'. They led the retreat. Now its possible to argue that because of the recession we need to 're-start' it. But its deeply mechanical. After Seattle there was a real political up-turn around anti-capitalism. That is not opinion polls, not a general feeling of people asking questions (thats not a political upturn) but thousands and thousands of people in the street and networks of activists larger then ourselves. Any revolutionary not involving themselves with this would be a sectarian. But its very different to suggest 'what we need is an anti-capitalist movement' when there isn't one, and actually proclaiming yourself as that movement. Because we're not. We're the Socialist Workers Party. Its actually dishonest aside from anything else.

  19. An Alternative to Capitalism (which we need here in the USA)

    The following link takes you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

    John Steinsvold

    Perhaps in time the so-called dark ages will be thought of as including our own.
    --Georg C. Lichtenberg