Views in brief

February 7, 2013

Last week, published a statement of the ISO Steering Committee about the crisis wracking the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain--the result of the mishandling of allegations of sexual harassment and rape made against a leading member and the attempt by the SWP leadership to squelch disagreement within the party on the matter. We received responses from SWP members Nick Grant and Jeffrey Hurford, which we publish here, along with a reply from ISO member Alan Maass.

From Nick Grant, London, UK
I recall seeing an ISO delegate or two at the January SWP conference in London.

I wonder what they made of the session debating issues relating to women, which included a comradely exchange of views, but no talk of crisis or allegations of internal sexism?

I wonder what they made of the sessions debating our industrial work, united front work, student work, international work and so on, where unity and clarity were evident?

I wonder what they made of the debate about building the organization, which again reached sensible consensus around the tasks ahead, with no demands for re-elections to the Central Committee or another conference or commission?

I wonder what the ISO delegates made of the uncontested re-election of a Disputes Committee, which in post-conference twittering has been accused of heinous collusion in scandalous covering-up of sexual violence?

I wonder what ISO delegates, or indeed members, make of an organization which encourages factions to articulate positions in the three-month run-in to each annual conference, but where this time, two factions declared their hand over the Xmas break when the opening day was January 4?

I wonder what information actually informs the basis of the position now outlined by the ISO?

Do ISO members see a pattern in the dissenting online statements of figures such as Richard Seymour, China Miéville and Dan Mayer...such as political disagreement with conference decisions (e.g., overwhelmingly against permanent internal factions), a disenchantment with working-class agency in revolutionary strategy, a very partial assessment--because they earn a living from it--of the value of online "debate" and its organizational importance?

Do ISO members not question the fact that the ex-Socialist Worker journalist Tom Walker raised not a murmur of discontent prior to the conference, though fully aware of the issues that he subsequently claimed horror at?

Do ISO members not question the motives of non-SWP commentators--e.g., in the UK, Owen Jones, Laurie Pennie--whose default abhorrence of Bolshevism is being fed by a small minority of malcontents?

I wonder?

From Jeffrey Hurford, UK
IN VIEW of your warning to ISO members to act responsibly on the Internet, you should know that I read this article posted on Facebook by those now trawling the net looking for statements to help them in their attack on the SWP.

You repeat a number of allegations, often followed by the phrase "if true." But in your first sentence, you blame our leadership as solely responsible for the crisis. Which are you doing: taking a "concerned" interest or joining in the attack?

This is not a crisis caused by the result of our disputes procedure. It was caused by a faction deciding to exploit the issue as part of their attempt to radically change the internal democracy of the SWP. Changes which I believe would have destroyed us. The transcript of their discussion of this on Facebook, before conference, is clear and led to the expulsion of four people. All of the proposed changes promoted by this faction were overwhelmingly defeated at conference.

I don't know if you have permanent factions within ISO--my experience of the movement is that they are a disaster. I assume you have a constitution, rules for members to abide by and a disciplinary procedure to deal with those who deliberately flout them. So do we, and surely you respect our right to act accordingly.

From Alan Maass, Chicago
As someone who has enormously respected the Socialist Workers Party-Britain since I became a socialist, I find the above responses of two SWP members--sadly similar to others around the Internet that support the party's leadership--to be shameful. They represent the corruption of genuine discussion and debate necessary to a revolutionary organization that seeks to abide by democratic centralism, and not just centralism.

There is no point in answering Nick Grant's inane rhetorical questions about the "unity and clarity," "sensible consensus" and "uncontested re-elections" at the SWP conference in January that ignited the most severe crisis of its over 50-year history. Suffice it to say that the one (not two) ISO observer didn't see it that way--nor, self-evidently, did numerous SWP members.

Nick goes on to claim that the SWP "encourages factions to articulate positions in the three-month run-in [sic] to each annual conference." But surely he is not wholly ignorant of the contentions of other SWP members that: 1) the rules on factions were used before the conference as an excuse for summary expulsions; 2) that the restrictions on factions when they were allowed unacceptably narrowed the opportunity to raise critical disagreements within the rules; and 3) that the requirement that factions disband after the conference has been used as an all-purpose justification for silencing dissent since then.

Rather than answer real objections, Nick and Jeffrey resort to a sleight of hand: They pretend that anyone who questions the rules on factions must support "permanent factions" that would inevitably divide the SWP into warring camps and incapacitate it. It's a dishonest response to genuine concerns.

But what I find most stomach-turning is how easily Nick and Jeffrey--like the leadership of the SWP--slander longstanding members who have raised legitimate questions during a difficult dispute. We learn from Nick that "Richard Seymour, China Miéville and Dan Meyer" are part of "a small minority of malcontents" who have not only committed the crime of "political disagreement with conference decisions," but exhibit a "disenchantment with working-class agency in revolutionary strategy."

Really? So anyone who criticizes the actions of the SWP leadership and disagrees with the decisions of the conference has given up on working class self-emancipation?

These smears have no place in a serious discussion about what needs to be done about the crisis in the SWP, which has obvious ramifications for the British left and beyond. The SWP is indeed under attack from both the right-wing media and left-wing sectarians who would like to see it weakened or destroyed. But that's no excuse for claiming that the not-so-small number of party members who have grave concerns and genuine criticisms are in league with wreckers--and betraying the principles of revolutionary socialism when they speak up.

E-mail alerts

Further Reading

Latest Stories

From the archives