Sunday, 14 February 2010

That 'disputed' Stop the War meeting: setting the record straight

I do this a little reluctantly - preferring to look outwards and write about the big political issues - but I feel it is necessary to put everything on the record following the SWP leadership's attempt to discredit a number of people, including myself. The focus of the attack was last Wednesday's Tyneside Stop the War public meeting, which Martin Smith (SWP National Secretary) wrongly described as 'disputed' in an email instructing Lindsey German not to attend. She was booked to speak - in her role as elected national convenor of Stop the War - but the SWP leadership imposed 'party discipline' on her and insisted she mustn't speak at the meeting. Lindsey fulfilled her commitment and resigned from the SWP.

There are several things I want to state, in response to either Martin Smith's allegations or ill-infomed claims asserted on a number of blog comments threads - so let's run through them:

1. The only people who 'disputed' anything at all about the meeting were SWP members. Nobody else had any issue with the meeting generally or with the specific issue of Lindsey speaking. It was 100% untrue when Tyneside SWP members told the national leadership that Tony Dowling and I were behind the meeting - and acting in a way that was unaccountable to the StW group. Decisions were taken collectively at StW organising meetings on 4 January and 1 February - these meetings were minuted, and the minutes were circulated afterwards. Every single thing either Tony or I did was fully in line with decisions taken collectively, and we were (and are) entirely accountable.

2. It is claimed that the public meeting was a 'factional initiative'. There were 35 people at the meeting - a good turnout for Newcastle at a time when there aren't big mobilisations happening, and without someone as high profile as, say, Tony Benn or George Galloway speaking - including 5 former SWP Left Platform supporters. This should make it clear that it was a genuine broad-based initiative.

3. It is claimed that Lindsey was booked so that she could 'factionalise' with the (by this time) former SWP members in Tyneside. As Lindsey had to leave the meeting early in order to catch the 8.30pm train home, it is just not credible to suggest we were having secretive discussions with her!

4. It is claimed that Tony and I booked Lindsey to speak, when in fact the meeting was organised (as I've indicated) by the group. There were already two speakers arranged: Peter Brierly, of Military Families Against the War (his son was killed in Iraq), and Mahmoud Kurdi, President of Newcastle's branch of Muslim Association of Britain (he was reporting on his experiences as part of the recent Viva Palestina convoy). For a third speaker to complete the platform we first asked Rose Gentle and Clare Glenton, neither of whom were available, and then asked Lindsey (we could have asked generically for a StW officer, but it was felt there should specifically be a female speaker).

5. Peter Brierly withdrew from the meeting, giving his apologies, on Tuesday morning. I am reliably informed that Martin Smith knew this when he instructed Lindsey to withdraw, i.e. he knew that her cancellation would leave us with one speaker (a local campaigner talking about Palestine). This can only be interpreted as a deliberate act of sabotage. Why would he do this? Presumably as revenge for the resignations by 9 Tyneside SWP members (all ex-Left Platform) the previous week.

6. Martin Smith claims - in his letter circulated by email to all SWP members nationally - that local SWP members DIDN'T raise their 'concerns' about the public meeting in the StW organising meeting, but instead took them to the Central Committee (CC). This was supposedly to avoid taking internal SWP differences into the wider movement. But it is nonsense: at the 1 February organising meeting a number of SWP members DID raise a series of objections, and even proposed that the meeting should be cancelled. This caused deep consternation with non-SWP members at the meeting, who perceived it as deliberately hostile conduct by the SWP.

7. One of the objections raised in the 1 Feb StW organising meeting was that the public meeting would clash with a SWP branch meeting. Now that clearly IS bringing SWP internal matters into the movement! Non-SWP members felt the party should be willing to cancel or rearrange its routine weekly branch meeting, in order to not only attend but hopefully publicise and build the StW meeting.

8. It has even been claimed that Wednesday was chosen precisely BECAUSE it clashed with a branch meeting! The truth is that StW's 4 January meeting decided on the week beginning 8 February. The particular choice of day was influenced by there being a Palestine Solidarity meeting on Monday and a Phillippe Sands public lecture about torture and the war on terror on Thursday (this has since been rearranged).

9. Martin Smith also expressed criticism of Tyneside StW (or Tony in particular) on the grounds that SWP students and also SWP members in the lecturers' UCU union weren't consulted. There are in fact extremely few active SWP student members in Newcastle, but one of those few was at both the 4 January and 1 February meetings (and therefore involved in decision-making).

UCU members in the SWP, meanwhile, have never previously (over a number of years) shown any interest in StW's activities. One of them turned up at the 1 Feb meeting - it was probably his first StW orgainising meeting since 2003. This is therefore an entirely disingenuous and opportunistic argument. Also, it's not as if they were deliberately marginalised - they could have offered to help (leaflet colleagues, raise the event at a union meeting, do a collection, announce it to the students), and that help would have been warmly welcomed.

10. It is depressing that Tyneside SWP chose to boycott the public meeting altogether - and I can't think of any basis on which this can be justified. They sent along two people (both full-timers) to attempt, unsuccessfully, to sell Socialist Worker before the meeting began. That is a caricature of classically sectarian behaviour. I should also note the party didn't even have the decency to inform anyone they would not be attending.

There's (even) more that I could say, but that should do for now. I urge SWP members, who received the National Secretary's letter, to pay attention to the truth about this regrettable farce. We won't build a serious and combative revolutionary left in this country by swallowing everything Martin Smith tells us. It's time to confront reality and think critically. It might also be wise to reflect on the deeper issues that underpin something like this happening.

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