After Sunday

The following IDOOP faction document, by Mike G and Megan T, has been circulated to all SWP members. It is being reproduced here as an excellent summation of the situation. Emphases are mine.

As we approach the Special Conference, it is important that we discuss where we go from here. The faction has been tremendously successful: 532 party members have joined – far from the fringe grouping that we are characterised as.

Our concern at the start of this process was that the ‘middle ground’ of worried members would drift out of the party or into passivity if there was not pressure on the CC to address their concerns. The existence of the faction, and the seriousness of its arguments, have kept many comrades in the party and given heart to many more that a significant section of the membership does not agree with the CC’s tactics and responses to the questions raised by the disputes committee report, and has been prepared to stand up and say so.

In our view, we must be very careful not to abandon all that we have gained in recent weeks in the name of party discipline. In some senses, the building of the faction has been a demonstration of how a living organisation should work. It has been a conversation among comrades, horizontally, which has opened new networks and connections and made it possible to argue and debate issues directly, without formulae and slogans, without ‘holding the line’ or defining ourselves in relation to the leadership. What has emerged is not just a deep discontent, but a generalised feeling of disenfranchisement among party members.

The CC is fighting for its life, and for the methods of resolving issues it has used, largely uncontested, for a very long time. It has battered, attacked and ultimately removed people without compunction. That retaliatory spirit is obvious in the treatment of student comrades since conference, in the motion sent to Tottenham branch and in Terry, Donny and Penny’s piece in the IB, which begins and ends with threats of expulsion. The withdrawal of the Tottenham motion, proposed by two leading CC supporters and dismissing the student comrades with a wave of the hand, is an old tactic – create the arguments, spread them wide, and then withdraw the motion but not the position that it reflected. So it has created a point of reference for all those with a leaning towards heresy hunting.

We have argued that the party leadership has used exclusively administrative and procedural justifications and methods to respond to the IDOOP faction. While protesting at the “misuse” of our constitution, every bureaucratic device has been mobilised to block the faction. The manoeuvring to get CC supporters elected to the special conference by whatever means possible has nothing to do with the winning of political arguments that is assumed when we discuss democratic centralism and the unity it can promote.

That unity based on conviction, shared understandings and debate between comrades is the only guarantee that our understandings and methods are appropriate for the times in which we live (the “this-sidedness of thinking” as Marx called it). That is what politics is, not the manipulation of party structures. Or have we abandoned the idea that the centre of our theory is agency, real people intervening to change the world in circumstances not of our own choosing – or to put it another way, to break out of the structures that imprison our thinking?

The standard issue CC introduction to every aggregate gives a general, broad picture of the world and then moves on to attack the faction for narrowing that grand vision to internal matters. But that sweeping and general overview is no substitute for the complex and searching analysis of the society in which we live which has been the greatest strength of the SWP tradition, and which has enabled us to “punch above our weight”. Those ideas have been carried and won by comrades well prepared with arguments that have given them the confidence to work as they have. That confidence is severely damaged when the leaders of our organisation cannot offer a political explanation for their own actions.

The reasons for that are very clear. They were wrong. That was the immediate cause of the current crisis, and the error was then compounded by the refusal to acknowledge it and to respond to widespread disquiet by attempting to close down discussion. Indeed, it is the CC’s response to its mistake that has exposed a deeper weakness and what many of us have seen as a shocking willingness to reach for bureaucratic solutions to a political problem.

In recent years the CC has split time and again. The problem is not the splits in themselves, but the fact that they were concealed from the members of the party until they burst on us like a sudden storm. The gulf between the leadership and the party began to widen, the party apparatus increasingly substituted itself in various forms of activity and successful leadership became increasingly replaced by instructions, commands and moralism, always veiled by a tone of urgency to justify the failure to discuss things with comrades. That process has impaired the relationship between the CC and the party as a whole and withered the democratic reciprocity between sections of the party; this has not only affected individual comrades and distorted the party; it has weakened the leadership.

The DC dispute was the final straw in that imbalanced, frustrating and unequal relationship. At some point the CC began to treat the party with suspicion and outright hostility. And we have seen in the last six weeks how deeply embedded that suspicion is. It is easy to demonise two comrades who are being made responsible for a generalised leak of our internal discussions. Nothing can really be concealed in the age of the internet, and we would do well to understand that. But the faction contains over 500 comrades from every area of the party – why is this never discussed?

There is an alternative to ill-tempered protests about bloggers. It is as if the problem was not the method that came to grief and failed to convince nearly half the party’s conference delegates but the fact that it was discovered! In the age of instant communication our internal conduct and our external actions have to coincide. If we talk about democracy we have to exemplify it.

Part of the role of the CC in a revolutionary organisation is to fight to win over the majority of the membership to ideological positions and the practical activity that flows from an analysis of the current political situation. If the CC is not willing, or able, to do this then it is not leading. It is not the role of revolutionaries to support a weak leadership no matter what, but rather the obligation of party members to conduct an internal argument if they believe that the positions or tactics of the organisation are not matching the potential of prevailing circumstances and resulting in growth – numerical growth, rising levels of theoretical understanding and practical confidence, and in influence beyond our ranks.

How did the insistence on building a revolutionary organisation in which knowledge and experience, theory and practice, met in a “vibrant collaboration” (Lenin’s words) between all its members become transformed into a frozen transmission of pre-digested ideas from the top to the bottom? That’s a process that all of our comrades, and all the people we work and struggle with, will immediately recognise as the way capitalism functions. And we are supposed to be its gravediggers.

The faction has already won its first battle, whatever the outcome of the heavily rigged conference on the 10th. It has burst open the formal and restricted arena of discussion, and created a space of vigorous, honest and horizontal debate about much more than just the DC decision. It has re-established the fundamental socialist principle of accountability by demanding an explanation from the CC. And when it refused to provide one, it began to analyse that response and to connect the specific to the general, the flawed way in which the DC was handled with the general sense among a large chunk of the membership that they had been disenfranchised.

In just a few weeks, the desire to analyse how we got to this point has resulted in many faction members, both longstanding and new cadre, starting the process of attempting to fill some theoretical gaps. This is fantastically encouraging, and a glimpse at how political pride can be rebuilt and how fruitful honest collective discussion is. The very fact of the conference is a victory, but if we accept that silence must follow, then we have not achieved what we set out to achieve.

The CC argues that we are ‘permanent factionalists’. On the contrary, we are fighting to restore political debate and discussion in a democratic atmosphere to the heart of the organisation, for the SWP to rediscover the traditions that won it so much respect beyond its own ranks – in other words, to dissolve back into a party that has reaffirmed its openness to the debate and comradely argument that will make every comrade a leader, and acknowledge what every one of us contributes to our theory.

That means that while the faction will cease to exist – and on that we’re all agreed – the debate can and must continue, in the branches, the colleges, the day schools, the coffee shop discussions, the conversations after a sale or a demonstration; and it needs to continue in all our publications and meetings. There must be no separation between the theorists and the activists and, while we accept party discipline, we can’t accept the reimposition of control under threat of expulsion or sanctions or exclusion from this conference or that party event.

There should be no reprisals of any kind after conference, and a clear instruction from the CC to all their supporters that this is a condition for the party to heal its divisions. Branches and districts must continue to allow free and frank debate while we are united in our activity. That is the political duty of the leadership, and it needs to be explicit and unambiguous.

We want to win back an open democratic party culture that others can look on from the outside and admire, together with a unity of purpose that is sustained by that culture. The comrades who have argued that all this discussion inhibits activity are contradicting themselves. Socialists are active out of conviction, not out of loyalty to structures, procedures, or to this or that leadership. Our loyalty is to a political tradition and to the revolutionary project – the tradition that has kept that flame alive.

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1 Comment

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One response to “After Sunday

  1. Darren Cahil

    So far, all is quiet. Despite what has been said by the CC faction, there will not be unity.