Thursday, 11 February 2010

With the greatest regret...

This is Lindsey German's letter of resignation:

Dear Martin,

It is clear from your reply that your request is in fact an instruction not to speak in Newcastle tonight at the Stop the War meeting.

I regard such a course of action as damaging both to the party and STW. The meeting is properly constituted as evidenced by two sets of minutes of steering committee. There is no good reason for me to withdraw and none that I could possibly justify to STW members locally or nationally.

I have always tried to prevent internal disputes from damaging the movement. I feel that you have brought these disputes into STW and that is unacceptable.

It is therefore with the greatest regret that I am resigning from the SWP. This is a very hard decision for me. I joined more than 37 years ago and have always been committed to building it, which in my view meant relating to the wider movement.

I was on the CC for 30 years, edited the Review for 20 and played a major role in the movement and party building. My respect and affection for many party members remains, and my commitment to socialism as ever. I hope to continue working with them in the wider movement.

Lindsey German

A Very Public Sociologist has the full exchange between Lindsey and SWP National Secretary Martin Smith.

EXTRA: Martin Smith, in his email to Lindsey German, claims the Tyneside Stop the War meeting was 'disputed'. This is not supported by the facts. He is referring to the fact that Tyneside SWP members mischievously informed him that the meeting was somehow not legitimate, a claim he then chose to support.

I've just retrieved the minutes of Tyneside Stop the War's monthly organising meeting on 4 January. This was, despite forbidding weather conditions, attended by 13 people (plus there were apologies from 3 others). The turnout included 5 SWP members, 3 of whom were Left Platform supporters and left the SWP last week. But that still leaves 2 supporters of the leadership who remain in the SWP and presumably reported back to party members.

The meeting was chaired by the group's elected convenor, who is neither a current or former SWP member. The minutes were taken by the group's elected Secretary, who is also neither a current or ex member of the SWP. The minutes were circulated, on 8 January, to the full email list which has hundreds of contacts on (including many SWP members locally).

Here is the paragraph from the minutes that refers to the public meeting plans. I've blanked out 2 names - these are the 2 SWP members at the meeting who have not since left the party. The national demo reference is because there was speculation at the time about a protest in March.

'Public meeting: it was agreed that we should try to set up a public meeting in Newcastle or Northumbria University on 10th, 11th or 12th February, to build for the demonstration in London in March. ---- and ---- to investigate rooms at their universities, Tony to ask about possibility of a National Stop the War speaker, and to ask Mahmoud Kurdi, who will be back from the participation in the Viva Palestina convoy (see national website for its progress). The anniversary of the first day of last year’s bombardment of Gaza was December 27th.'

By the time of the next organising meeting (1 Feb), a room had been booked at Newcastle University for 10 February. Lindsey German had agreed to speak on behalf of Stop the War, alongside Mahmoud and Peter Brierly (Military Families campaigner whose son Shaun died in Iraq). Unfortunately, Peter had to withdraw from the meeting on Tuesday of this week. Martin Smith was aware Peter had cancelled when he instructed Lindsey not to attend, so he knew her absence would scupper the meeting. A leaflet had been produced and circulated (with names of speakers) by the time of the 1 Feb meeting.

Despite these developments, a number of SWP members turned up at the 1 Feb meeting and argued the meeting should be cancelled or postponed. 'Independents' at the meeting rejected this, and left the meeting deeply concerned by what seemed to be an attempt to undermine the group's efforts by people who have no active involvement in Stop the War whatsoever (one party member who attended hasn't been to an organising meeting since 2003).

Tyneside SWP then failed to adhere to the way forward democratically agreed at that meeting. It instead boycotted the public meeting. Two members (including a paid organiser) turned up to sell Socialist Workers outside the meeting beforehand, but didn't stay (I should say 'tried to sell', as I don't think they had any success). The regular SWP branch meeting went ahead as usual. Tyneside SWP had of course done nothing whatsoever to publicise the Stop the War meeting, despite having student members who could have helped deliver a student turnout (a university room had been agreed on precisely this basis). There was still a turnout, however, of 35 people.


  1. What do you think the SWP should have done during the G20 demonstrations... Continue to live in the past and prioritise the Gaza demos or attempt to respond to the anti bank, neoliberal vibe at the BOE demos.. just asking like cos you are well up for like 'out there' political events. Surely a person who would think that Mutiny would be the way forward would have argued that the way forward for the SWP would have been down at the BOE not doing their own STWC demo.

  2. Last spring I drafted an article on precisely this issue. I wasn't able to do anything with it - due to such things being restricted to the pre-conference period. I would have revised the piece and submitted it to a pre-conference bulletin, but I was suspended (and later expelled) and therefore prevented from doing so.

    Broadly speaking, my view was that the SWP leadership failed to take the G20 City protests seriously. This had nothing to do with SWP members on the StW officers group (including Lindsey G) - they were no longer on the Central Committee and such decisions were not theirs to make. It was a failure by the CC.

    I still remember the Party Notes (internal weekly SWP bulletin) circulated at the start of that week. It didn't prioritise the City protest - which concerned me deeply as soon as I read it - and revealed a lack of serious tactical thinking about the events coming up on 1 April.

    There are three things specifically. Firstly, the CC should have made a concerted effort to get as many party members as possible on the City demo AS WELL AS the StW protest. On the day itself some individual members did just this, but not thanks to any co-ordinated effort. One of them told me about it afterwards - they were appalled at the lack of organised SWP presence on the protest.

    Secondly, it's not just a matter of what you do on the day. The party should have been more involved in the planning for the City protests and helped build them - rather than treating them as a (very low-level) external intervention. This failure reflects a more general retreat from taking anti-capitalist currents seriously, a shift away from the movements.

    Thirdly, the SWP could have played a defining role in connecting the issues and protests together. A proper organised effort, led by the CC and other SWP activists, to get people from the StW protest to the City (after the StW protest) would have paid dividends. This was not the responsibility of Lindsey G, Chris N and John R - indeed they'd have risked allegations of 'breaking party discipline' or 'lack of accountability' if they'd promoted this without CC approval.

    StW was absolutely correct, however, to hold a demo. It drew around 5000 (the City demo had 7-10,000), so was clearly worth doing. The times meant there wasn't a direct clash anyway. And it would have been bizarre for StW not to mobilise - this was, after all, the new US President's first state visit to this country. The key challenge is linking the issues and the people involved in the different movements. I suspect Lindsey G agrees with the views I've outlined here, but you'd have to ask her.

  3. But the fact is that the Left Faction was leading a charge that the SWP was abandoning STWC activity and I draw the point because what I argued was that the majority should have been tougher and argued firmly against the STWC entrenched minority that political priorities had changed and that it makes no sense to have called a seperate demo when the mood of not only the party but the wider public were with those who were at the BOE.

    It was the Left faction members who I think skewed all arguments in regards to working in united fronts into prioritising the STWC and it was a weakness that the majority on the CC didn't come down harder on this than before, that is to prioritise the new political dynamics rather than being fettered with people with organisational and nostaligic reasons to cling ti the STWC. In this I actualy think the majority has been weak not too lenient, in that too many members of local branches think of themselves as soles STWC activists

  4. While we are on the subject of the G20 protests...

    Tony Dowling, who has just been forced out of the SWP (see my blog post last week), was responsible for almost single-handedly organising the Newcastle coach to the 28 March Put People First demo (which I, unlike the vast majority of local SWP members, attended). He did this (with the party's approval) through North East Shop Stewards Network, whose committee agreed to take the financial risk of funding a coach after the Northern Region TUC failed to organise any transport.

    It was me and Tony who organised a minibus from Newcastle on 1 April (the only organised transport from Tyneside on the day, as far as I know). Despite it being a weekday, and only organising it with 4 days to go, the minibus was filled (17 people, with others in reserve). We organised this through Tyneside Stop the War, against the advice of the then SWP district organiser who argued nobody would be interested (he gave his blessing when we showed him names of people wanting to go). Also, we did this despite neither of us being able to attend weekday protests ourselves.

    As it was a Stop the War bus, the local contingent naturally (and enthusiastically) went to the StW protest, but most of them went on to protests in the City later, even though this meant them getting back to Newcastle after 3am! There were 3 SWP members on the bus (2 who later supported Left Platform and are now ex-members), but other active party members were at their routine branch meeting.

    This story sums up the differences between me, Tony and other Left Platform supporters locally on one side and - on the other side of the arguments - those who support the CC.

  5. In reply to Anon:

    There are extremely good reasons, as I and others have outline elsewhere, why StW should be an important priority for socialists. This has nothing to do with nostalgia. It is rooted in a political understanding of how integral the 'war on terror' is to contemporary capitalism, the seriousness of the Afghan quagmire and the problems it creates for both US and UK political elites, and the widespread public mood of opposition to the occupation. That should be our starting point.

    I've indicated already why I think the decision to have a StW demo was absolutely correct. I might add that it came less than 3 months after a massive 100,000+ demo for Gaza; it was also on the back of a wave of over 30 student occupations in solidarity with the Palestinians. NOT having a protest would have been perverse.

    It simply isn't true to claim Left Platform 'skewed all arguments in regards to working in united fronts into prioritising the STWC'. Quite the opposite. We argued anti-war work should be sustained AND a stronger use of united front methods should be adopted in relation to the crisis. The faction's principal argument was precisely that the spirit of the united front needs to be extended, however imperfectly, into work around the recession.

    Finally, I should note that very few SWP members are active in Stop the War groups. There has been a large-scale retreat from this area of activity. I think this is a serious error.

  6. But the fact is the group prioritised STWC because they didn't want to appear that they were deprioritising STWC. That was due to, what was to become the Left Faction, arguing against any deprioritising of the STWC. I agree that was wrong and all SWP members hsould have gone to the BOE. The fact is the CC should have been stronger and pulled more people off STWC sooner.

  7. Well I dont think the Gaza demo at the G20 was correct. I actually think it only happened because of debates withing the SWP at the time about the weight of STWC. A true 'decisive' leadership which the auhor of this blog supports would have automically swung the party into anti capitalism activity... it is just a shame all the strong and decisive leadership ;) was dedicated to maintaining the STWC.

  8. The BoE protest started at 11:30, the Gaza protest was at 2pm, many people intended to join both and some in fact managed to - a speaker from the BoE protest spoke from the platform at the Stop the War protest and described the ongoing police violence. The supposed conflict between the two only exists in your head because its politically convenient. The SWP leadership failed to respond to the G20 protest not because it was too concerned with the STW demo but because it believed that the anti-capitalist movement was dead, hence it was not involved in any way with building the G20 mobilisations having killed off Globalise Resistance as part of this mistaken belief. The deprioritisation of STW and the anti-capitalist movement are part of the same mistaken strategic perspective - a retreat from effective engagement with those mobilising against the crisis and imperialism via united front work. Blaming the poor resonse to the G20 protests on the Left Platform (which didn't exist then) is just a way of hiding the failure of the SWP leadership to respond adequately to the mobilisations over the crisis.

  9. If you're surprised that the SWP are attacking Tyne STWC bear in mind that Karl Marx successfully killed the First International!
    As Tony correctly explained, the loyalty of good socialists is to the class and not to the party.
    Ian Bone commented: "It’s ironic that German has fallen foul of the Smith/Callinicos clique who have forced her out of the party using exactly the same methods as the German/Rees clique have used to get rid of their opponents over the years. More forced resignations will surely follow."

  10. No AC you are wrong. Many within the SWP went along to the BOE demo because that was the right thing to do. To think that in the build up to the BOE protest and experiences of previous highly contentious demos that people would be able to leave for the Gaza demo is just stupid. The fact is the SWP mobilised people for the Gaza demo which was away from the protests of the anti G20 crowd. I think this was because the CC was not prepared to go all out against the STWC group within the leadership. You have to remember that whilst they may have beeb removed from the SWP leadership LG, JR, CN still held leading roles in STWC. I actually thing that it was the CCs political weakness not to psh forward with a post STWC perspective that was the real issue, which meant a stronger approach to those within the SWP who couldn't reconcile the new political situation with membership of a revolutionary organisation.

  11. No, the Central Committee's weakness was a failure to commit properly to the protests in the City, plus a failure to relate to the milieu of activists involved in those protests in advance (or indeed afterwards). This is borne out by developments since - look at the dismal lack of SWP involvement in the build up to the climate change protests in December, whether it was mobilising people to Copenhagen or building the 50,000-strong London demo.

    The party's participation in advance AND on the day was at a very low level where Copenhagen is concerned. This reflects a move away from working seriously with broader anti-war, anti-capitalist and climate activist currents. Instead the emphasis is increasingly on routines of SW selling and branch meetings, with external operations around anything bigger and broader that is happening.

  12. I remember Party Notes at the time saying that the day of the G20 demos was "likely to be very confusing". "Likely to be very confusing" - some leadership!

    Disturbingly, Party Notes tried to claim subsequently that our intervention was a success - that we had "sold out" of papers in the City. No doubt we did, but that's only because we didn't bring very many. And we certainly didn't shape anything on the day - or even suggest how might do so in future. It was terrible.

  13. Around the G20 protests one key clash that was also occuring was with NUS conference. This meant that 50 or so of the party's leading student members were in blackpool at the time of the conference. These were the people who could have lead good intervention around the protest. I think is was absolutely correct that we were at nus conference instead on the demo. Also quite correctly we did put support for the put people first demo top on list of priorities.

    Also the party did intervene well in subsequent protests around the death of Ian Tomlison and has subsequently been invovled with on going campaign.

  14. There are many of us who have argued for well over 12 months that the party was, despite rhetoric to the contrary, de-prioritising STWC and united front activity & retrenching into the branches & perty-building. The ridiculous decision to instruct Lindsey not to speak at a StWC meeting demonstrates that this view was correct.

  15. I quote Chris Nineham at Marxism 2009, speaking about the G20 demos. 'Anachists can't organise demos'. At that meeting he completely ignored the issue of the G20 demos and instead argued that the Stop the War demo was the main demo.

    I was angry at the CC for the G20 invention, but mainly because they failed to stand up to JR LG etc. If LG and JR were so concerned then why didn't they mobilise stop the war for the city demo? It was afterall about war aswell.

    Truth is that whatever happens you will alway claim to have 'known best' and frankly with attitude like that there is no room for any of you within the party.

    Btw you suggest that the party is only concerned with selling papers, that is rubbish. One thing I do know is that LG et al have not even attempted to sell a paper in years.

  16. The issue of 'selling papers' is more important and political than that throwaway, and personalised, comment (about LG and JR) does justice to. The dominant view inside the SWP is now essentially that broader united front work has gone too far, or should be reduced in status and importance, with a focus instead on the routines of 'party building' like public sales of SW. Some of us, however, want to emphasise sustained participation in broader movements - and building revolutionary socialism in that context.

    This is a major difference of orientation and method. It is why those, mostly outside the SWP, who express bafflement because the differences appear tiny are in fact mistaken. The main reason why the differences often appear very minor is the leadership's rhetorical commitment to what the party is, in reality, moving away from. This blurs the distinctions, which is of course the point.

    In Tyneside it has all been posed much more sharply: the differences have, frankly, been huge - and visible for everyone active on the Left (beyond the SWP) to see. One reason is that local members known for hostility to united front methods have been promoted and given carte blanche by the Central Committee. This has pushed the party locally into open sectarianism, e.g. their approach to last night's public meeting.

  17. I cannot speak for Tyneside, but in my experience a branch with regular meetings and sales far from being sectarian is better organised and is better able to work within united fronts. In my branch by having regular sales, we were better in touch with our own members and when a united front event coicided with our sale we either went to it en masse after the sale or moved the sale to it.

    You talk about sectarianism but you and AC have made no attempt to explain Chris Ninehams position as outlined at marxism, or ACs emailing this email exchange to the military families against the war. Which I think in most comrades opinion is completelky sectarian and disgraceful. Not say damaging to STW as well as the party.

  18. That sounds like a sensible attitude towards the relationship between SW sales and broader campaigning events (and yes, it's more than a little different here nowadays).

    I wasn't at Chris N's meeting but I'd guess he was making the point - uncontroversial in our political circles - that generally socialists are better at organising demonstrations than anarchists. This is because we have different practical orientations: we focus on big and broad protests wherever practical, while anarchists tend to prioritise deliberately small-scale direct action methods. Paul Blackledge has an insightful piece on Marxism and anarchism, in the current ISJ, which clarified for me the political and theoretical basis for these differing approaches. If we abstain from sustained participation in the movement, other political currents' strategies are bound to gain hegemony. Instead we should be getting stuck in and pushing things in the direction we believe is required to be successful.

    Regarding AC's alleged email, all I can say is that it seems to have happened AFTER the exchange had already been published on the blogs. And of course it isn't damaging to STW at all. The extraordinary and sectarian conduct of Tyneside SWP members, however, certainly was.

  19. You talk about sectarianism but you and AC have made no attempt to explain Chris Ninehams position as outlined at marxism, or ACs emailing this email exchange to the military families against the war. Which I think in most comrades opinion is completelky sectarian and disgraceful.

    The irony of Smith loyalists squealing about private emails being leaked is just too, too delicious.

  20. "The irony of Smith loyalists squealing about private emails being leaked is just too delicious"

    just out of interest, is it more, or less, delicious than the irony involved in Left Platform supporters leaking them?

  21. just out of interest, is it more, or less, delicious than the irony involved in Left Platform supporters leaking them?

    Apparently (apparently) being a Leninist means leaking emails every now and then (and sometimes hacking into personal email accounts). Apparently.

    SWP conference agreed as much, so it must be both right and true. Fun times!

  22. What 20 odd years of low level of class struggle does to us!

    Look at the left in Greece and France - what is the left doing in this country apart from tearning it self up - Italy shows what how things can change very rapidly with a inreasing right wing confidence.

  23. There are strengths AND weaknesses with the left in a number of countries - there are problems in Greece and France too. In general the left has a lot to do in rising to current challenges. Greece is a major flashpoint right now, with an acute debt crisis triggering panic on the markets and in financial institutions and governments. There's also some resistance - the question of how the left responds to that resistance (and to the crisis) is of profound importance, potentially for Europe as a whole not just Greece.