SWP crisis: some analysis, some thoughts

SWP crisis: some analysis, some thoughts

The UK Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is in deep crisis after rape accusations and faction fights have ended in the leadership reimposing some 'order' , and oppositionists leaving the party in droves. Some analysis, and some ideas on what attitude anti-authoritarians might fruitfully take.

The SWP crisis and ongoing implosion is a horrible, yet fascinating, development. It is horrible, for – again – hundreds of serious people will drift out of the party, and many of them will be too demoralized and exhausted to pick up class struggle activity. Those among them that will remain active will not necessarily turn to anti-authoritarian revolutionary theory and practice. Some of them hopefully might. Many of them, however, will drift to social democracy; many of them will remain Trotskyites and will try to find or invent an SWP 2.0, restore the 'original IS1 tradition' in all its glory, in other words: keep on reinventing an wheel on a train on the wrong track. As a former IS member in the Netherlands, I've felt that attraction myself: this form of Leninism does not work, let's try and find an better one...

How did SWP things come to pass like this? A short version . A young woman member of the SWP complains of having been raped by a prominent older member, Martin Smith. An internal organ, the Disputes Committee, containing mostly close comrades of Smith and two CC2 members, looks into the case, says that no rape has been committed, no sexual misdeeds can be proven. Case closed. A leaked report indicates that the young woman has been interrogated in a totally inappropriate way; you like to drink, don't you? Surely, you are known to date loosely? In other words: you did it bring on to yourself. The complainant was not treated as probable victim, but as a suspect herself. Many SWP members were rightly disgusted by a procedure that Tom Walker – SWP journalist that left the party in protest – called a trial, not by a jury of his peers but by a “jury of his mates” (1). But the leadership called the case closed, expelled four members by email for having an critical conversation on Facebook in which they discussed forming an faction but didn't decide to actually form one. “Secret factionalism” was their offense. The horrible rape investigation, combined with the clampdown on dissent, provoked a democratic opposition to be formed in the run-up to a January conference. The opposition lost the vote, the leadership said: that's it, back to work everybody, discussion is over. But discussion was not over, an oppositional blog was set up, oppositionists, among whom Richard Seymour, well known blogger, began a campaign for a recall conference. Then, a much broader opposition, with prominent ex-CC member Pat Stack and other familiar SWP names – Mike Gonzalez, Ian Birchall – among them – appearad. The CC, under pressure, suddenly announced an extra conference, but on such conditions and on such short notice that the leadership could almost stage-manage the affair. Oppositionists were harassed, CC member Alex Callinicos hinted that “lynch mobs” (2) might appear if opposition would not shut up after conference. That the conference could have any other outcome than a CC victory did not seem to have entered Callinicos' mind.

The CC got around 500 names behind a support declaration. The broad opposition got more than 500 people behind their faction. In the preparatory district meetings, so-called 'aggregates', however, the CC used their bureaucratic grip to restrict oppositionists' allotted time to speak; they mobilized all kinds of passive members who had not been to SWP activities in ages, to outvote opposition support and see to it that the conference would have a strong CC majority. The end result was clear: a resounding CC victory. The report in Socialist Worker, the party paper: “77 percent of delegates backed a motion from the party's leading body the central committee. It expressed confidence in the SWP's democratic method of full discussion before making major decisions and then every member implementing them. The conference made clear that this applied to all party members.(...) The motion passed expressed delegates' belief in the integrity of the party members who were involved in handling the disciplinary case and of their investigation.” (3) In other words: decision taken, nothing wrong with the rape investigation, everybody shut up now. A sizable group of SWP members, among whom Richard Seymour, left the party the following day, and set up an International Socialist Network (4) for and by ex-SWP members willing to build around a reinvigorated version of what they keep calling the IS tradition.

That is in short, what happened. But what was the conflict really about? There are several dimensions. There is the callous way in which a rape complaint has been treated – a callousness that seems to be much more than an accident. Another rape accusations has appeared a few days ago, people ask openly whether the SWP is a safe environment for women. The fact that members criticizing the way the rape investigation has been handled were accused of, among other things “creeping feminism” is an indication of how women's oppression is not taken as seriously as should be the case, not in theory and certainly not in practice.. This attitude – soft on rape, hard on criticism that uses anything other than the only recognized analytical framework, a rigid marxism, is connected with an organizational model in which higher-ups control the party from above; relations of power and dependency create an environment in which power is likely to be abused, with young female members at serious risk of such abuse by leading SWP-ers. This is not to say that such abuse could not take place in other, less hierarchical organizations. But the hierarchical structure and functioning of the party did not exactly help to protect vulnerable people. On the contrary. They put people at risk..

That brings us to another dimension. The conflict was about different versions of Leninism, different interpretations of what Leninists call ‘democratic centralism', decision making through majority vote, and then executing the decisions whether you agree with them or not. One version more open-minded, with a better eye to historical practice as well; another, propounded by the leadership, very rigid, exaggeratedly top down, and disregarding the much more flexible approach among the Bolsheviks in Lenin's time. But it was not just a clash of interpretations, of visions. It was a clash of interests, a class struggle in miniature, a revolt against a party regime under threat. We saw Egypt at the Thames, and Mubarak won this round.

The CC consists mainly of paid fulltimers; candidates for the CC are usually taken from the full time apparatus of district organizers and so on – people appointed by the very same CC. (5) The more open, less rigid version of democratic centralism that oppositionists defended, was not just doctrinally wrong in the eyes of the CC; it was a serious threat to their position, and to the party apparatus itself and its paid functionaries. For instance, the way of electing the CC came under fire. In the SWP, this operates through a slates system: you can vote for or against the whole list of candidates for the CC – a list that is assembled by the outgoing CC itself. You cannot vote for and against individual candidates. This, combined with the system of appointment of functionaries in the party apparatus, gives the leadership an almost unchallengeable grip. Ending the slate system – interestingly enough introduced in the Russian party not under Lenin, but under Stalin in 1934 (6) - threatened that grip. Ending the ban on factions outside the pre-conference period – another of the authoritarian absurdities in the SWP – was another demand from oppositionists, at least the more radical ones. This also would augment the pressure on the leadership and weaken their grip. The attacks by CC loyalists on the opposition were attacks on a leadership that heard 'The members demand the end of the CC regime' and did not like the sound. Arab springs are well and good in Tunis and Cairo; Trotskyist springs in London were a different matter entirely, as far as the leadership was concerned.

A question remains, and it is not unimportant. Why didn't the CC spare itself all the hassle, why did it not throw the one accused of rape to the lions, kicked him out of the party in order to pre-emptively prevent further criticism and shore up its reputation on women's liberation as well? Why defend the man so ferociously, throwing the party in deep crisis in the process? Sure, even a leading member is expendable for the Greater Good of the Party? One reason is probably simple miscalculation. They stood up for a close colleague, thought that they could get away with it, underestimated the storm about to break, and were seriously stunned when it did. But then, they stuck to their line. Why?

Here, the role of the prominent SWP member is relevant. His name is Martin Smith, and he has played a quite central organizational role. Here , the SWP trade union strategy is relevant. The party talks of the need of rank and file activism, pressure upon the trade union bureaucracy and so on. But in practice, the party cultivates close relationships with a whole number numer of left wing trade union leaders, who are invited to speak at SWP-dominated events. Influence along these lines apparently is supposed to activate trade union members, so that the rank and file activism comes closer. But the actual organizational connection operates through relations between SWP leadership and leaderships of several unions. The SWP functionary operating this connection? You guessed it: Martin Smith, apparently quite an effective organizer in this respect. It seems plausible that the CC considers him the holder of the key to the much desired trade union influence of the party. That role makes him quite indispensible in the leadership’s eyes. This then took precedence over the rape accusation and the lack of democratic accountability. CC members did not just stand up for their mates; they also stood up for the one through which the party gained some influence and prestige. Power and influence were more important that principles, more important even than guaranteeing a safe environment for women in the organization. Behind the clampdown was not just an authoritarian vision, combined with widespread tolerance for sexist behaviour. Behind the clampdown lies a combination of material interests of the party apparatus, and the operating of a strategy promising some real-world influence and prestige. It 's those interests that help explain the stubborn, rigid attitude of the CC and their loyalists – usually older members, quite often members of trade unions where the party has some influence. (7)

What about the opposition? In the first phase, before it broadened out into the mainstream of the party, oppositional noise was heard amongst students, and amongst members not connected with the apparatus but active outside party structures. Students had often entered the party in the aftermath of the student revolt in Britain of November- December 2010. They saw the SWP as a place to channel their activism and anger, but they took their way of doing things with them. They found it quite natural to operate non-hierarchically, in horizontal network structures; anti-authoritarian attitudes ware prevalent, the use of Facebook and other forms of internet communication almost second nature. These were not people who found the merits of democratic centralism very obvious in practice. That is the rational kernel of the “creeping autonomism”, another of the sins oppositionist were charged with by the CC, alongside the “creeping feminism”. Of course, these students mostly were not consciously autonomists or anarchists. They consider themselves Leninists, and upholders of what is best in the “IS tradition”. But their attitudes – anti-authoritarian, rebellious, insisting on democratic accountability and transparency, disrespectful of bureaucratic limitations of any kinds - were entirely healthy and admirable. They deserve any libertarian communist support that can be given. Part of the crisis in the SWP can be seen as a kind of follow-up student revolt inside that party: Millbank Part Two.

Prominent leaders of the opposition were China Mieville and Richard Seymour. Neither of them had formal leadership positions in the party: the absence of CC and former CC members in the original opposition – calling itself the Democratic Renewal Platform – is significant. Seymour is a former student, a blogger, and a writer of political books and Guardian articles. Mieville writes science fiction novels. These are intellectuals, not trade union functionaries, not members of the SWP apparatus, and surely not your average party hacks. Their lives as writers gives them a professional existence outside the party as well. Of course, their role as intellectual guarantees nothing: it can pull them into a career upwards – and away from radical politics. At the moment, however, their position as professional intellectuals gives them an independence from the stranglehold of the party. It makes their oppositional role possible, quite natural even, in a way.

And they got the Original Sin: they have minds of their own. Reading Lenin's Tomb, Seymour's blog, is an interesting experience for former Trotskyists who have evolved towards anarchism, like I did. Seymour mixes classical Marxist analysis with a whole number of other influences. During the SWP crisis – but before it came out in the open for all to see - , he wrote positive words about patriarchy theory (8), an analysis of women's oppression usually frowned upon in the SWP. He challenged the party line on Greece, where the SWP and her sister organization support a small anticapitalist coalition where Seymour argued for critical support for Syriza during the elections last June (9). The point here is not that Seymour has it right and the SWP had it wrong: I think both positions make no sense from a revolutionary point of view; both are stuck in electoralism and governmental illusions. No, the point is, that Seymour thinks for himself, and - already before the recent crisis broke – came to very different conclusions than the official Party Line. And he did not keep these conclusions to himself. Reading his blog is reading someone doing some independent analyzing; reading Socialist Worker is reading someone repeating formulas. Of course, the analyzing can bring Seymour to conclusions well to the right of his former comrades, but that is not the point here.

The independence of mind, the large student involvement with their anti-authoritarian attitudes and its lack of roots in parts of the SWP apparatus, makes the DRP - and now the IS Network formed now many of them left the party – quite different from earlier split-offs. Counterfire, for instance, was formed when John Rees and Lindsey German lost a faction fight in 2009. Rees and German were former CC members – and every bit as bureaucratic and authoritarian as Alex Callinicos in the current CC. Chris Bambery broke with the party somewhat later, and formed a smaller International Socialist Group. Bambery also was a former CC member, and not widely known for his democratic credentials. Bambery, Rees and German all stood for centralized top-down leaderships. Like Callinicos, they inspired not so much respect as fear among party members, especially when they stepped out of line. Counterfire has a much more dynamic website than the rump of the SWP which does not seem to know the difference between internet and a company message board run by management; Bambery at least can write decent articles, even if I don't agree with the politics of them. But in essence, there is little to choose between the three organizations.

The new IS network, however, smells different. Yes, the positive talk of Leninism and the IS tradition is explicit. That is a limitation, for it is within that Leninist IS tradition that many of the SWP's problems are rooted. The fact that Seymour and his comrades have started challenging at least some of the organizational rigidities that characterize the SWP, combined with the rebellious attitudes of the students involved, may push them to the limits of their Leninism, and beyond. People having just rebelled against the Callinicos dictatorship may think twice of defending the suppression of their Kronstadt predecessors by Callinicos' predecessor in the 1921 Kremlin. Part of the logic of the opposition's struggle, and the arguments that it brought up, leads into an anti-authoritarian, libertarian direction. This is to be watched with sympathetic interest, and it is to be gently encouraged where possible. It would be good if these people encountered anarchists, and autonomists, creeping or otherwise. It would be even better if those anarchists could resist the 'I told you so' temptation and just communicated with these former SWP members on an equal level, critically but friendly.

But another part of the dynamics around the ex-SWP people leads in the direction to entirely different, much less inspiring, possible outcomes. Among oppositionists, there is much concern for the ways the bureaucratic games of the SWP, its sectarianism and now its defence of sexism as well, limits the party's ability to cooperate with wider forces, for instance around anti-austerity activism. Implicit here is the desire for broad left coalitions, only maybe not dominated by one or another Trotskyist group anymore. This can easily combine with broad left electoral initiatives and other unity formations. Electoralism, broad coalition building: this runs counter to a deeper evolvement in revolutionary anti-authoritarian direction. On the contrary, it may easily evolve in a left Social Democratic direction, or the building of an extra-parliamentary activist wing while the Labour Party does the electoral job – the idea of Owen Jones that is in the air these days. Seymour's positive attitude towards Syriza becames relevant here. It is a danger sign. Anti-sectarianism is healthy, but without the kind of ferocious criticism of electoral politics and of the Left Unity illusion so effectively made recently on Libcom (10) as well, it easily brings you to left wing social democracy. That would be a tragic outcome. Still, resistance is better off with ex-members of the SWP going all over the place, including social democracy or soft Leninism, as long as they remaining active – or return to activity after a well-deserved period of rest and recovery - in the defence of jobs, communities etcetera, than with the same people stuck in their SWP straitjacket and basically foot soldiers a of a preposterous leadership.

Nothing, however, is inevitable, and here the role of anarchists/ libertarian communists comes into play. We could say: what the hell, SWP leadership or SWP opposition, CC or dissidents, they are all Leninists, we're not interested, y'all go to hell until you see the anarchist light.. I think that would be a mistake. First, I am on the side of the SWP rebels because they fight for a bit more freedom and dignity, because I don't want rape accusations shoved under the carpet and so on; it is a rebellion against imposed authority, and as such already justified. I am on the side of similar rebels within the Catholic Church as well, so why not in this case? Second, although the rebels mostly frame their politics along Leninist – i.e. still authoritarian, state-oriented - lines, there is more to it: there is a lot of difference between the rigid Leninist formulas of Callinicos on the one side, and the efforts to think for themselves, while stull using the same language and categories as Callinicos. The open-endedness of the rebels' ideas makes them different. That means that anarchists better take a friendly attitude, without hiding their own ideas and criticism, but without the hostility and dismissivness the SWP usually gets, and as a party, fully deserves. Yes, I see a bit of myself in these rebels: I drifted out of the IS in 2008 with similar Leninist ideas as many of the current SWP dissidents; if anarchists in the two years after that would just have haughtily dismissed me as long as I was not one of them, I may never have found my way to the anarchist movement, and would not be writing this on Libcom...

Even if the people leaving the SWP, or being kicked out, do not turn to anti-authoritarian revolutionary politics, they are different that the disciplined party members from before: they stand on their own feet, they are breathing fresh air. Even if they remain Trotskyist out of conviction, or turn into trade unionists/ activists with a left reformist frame of mind, they are out of their straightjacket, and that is progress. The last thing they probably desire is to be treated as potential recruits in yet another potential venture, however revolutionary, anti-patriarchal and anti-authoritarian that venture may be. They have seen, committed and suffered too much recruitment and political operations already. Let's not give these people another rough time while working together and talking to them where it makes sense. These people have been in hell, fought toward the exit, and are bearing the scars.

On sources: many articles and documents on the SWP crisis can be found through “SWP crisis: who is saying what”. http://www.jimjepps.net/?p=273

Notes:
1 Tom Walker, “Why I am resigning”, http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/944/swp-why-i-am-resigning
2 “Callinicos threatens 'lynch mobs'”, http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/online-only/callinicos-threatens-lynch-mobs
3 Charlie Kimber, “Delegates meet and discuss the way forward for the SWP”, http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=30848
4 “A new Network”, http://internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/a-new-network.html
5 Insightful articles on Soviet Goon Boy, a very intersting blog where ut coibncerns SWP matters, have been helpful here. “The SWP crisis: some reflections”, http://sovietgoonboy.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/the-swp-crisis-some-reflections/ gives a good explanation of the workings of the party apparatus and the dynamics that go with it.
6 See Jim Jepps, “The origins of the slate system”, http://www.jimjepps.net/?p=268
7 See another beautiful peiece on Soviet Goon Boy: “Once Tiberius is dead, I, Sejanus, will rule as emperor in Rome”, http://sovietgoonboy.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/once-tiberius-is-dead-i-sejanus-will-rule-as-emperor-in-rome/
8 Richard Seymour, “Patriarchy and the capitalist state”, http://www.leninology.com/2013/01/patriarchy-and-capitalist-state.html
9 For instance, Richard Seymour, “The challenge of Syriza”, http://www.leninology.com/2012/06/challenge-of-syriza.html
10 Phil, “'The real enemy?'Why we should reject left unity as a concept”, http://libcom.org/blog/%E2%80%9C-real-enemy%E2%80%9D-why-we-should-reject-left-unity-concept-17022013

Peter Storm

  • 1. libcom note: International Socialists, the SWP's previous incarnation
  • 2. Central Committee

Comments

Mark E
Mar 13 2013 22:23

really good stuff. but needs proof reading surprised)

rooieravotr
Mar 13 2013 23:25

System failure here. I will check and improve, please bear with me:)
EDIT: got rid of quite a number of errors, I think it's bearable now tongue

JoeMaguire
Mar 14 2013 01:08

Nice.

I think it interesting on why you think the cc stuck by Martin Smith. I think the other added thing was the opposition had several threads to them, which the cc probably had to face down. You have mentioned students, but also the spectre of a more autonomous feminism. This along side the very winners takes all, organisational nature of DC meant with the exception of consessions around the disputes committee they weren't willing to budge an inch.

Devrim
Mar 14 2013 19:18
Quote:
A question remains, and it is not unimportant. Why didn't the CC spare itself all the hassle, why did it not throw the one accused of rape to the lions, kicked him out of the party in order to pre-emptively prevent further criticism and shore up its reputation on women's liberation as well? Why defend the man so ferociuosly, throwing the party in deep crisis in the process? Sure, even a leading member is expendable for the Greater Good of the Party? One reason is probably simple miscalculation. They stood uop for a close clolleague, thought that they cold get away with it, underestimated the storm about to break, and were seriously stunned when it did. But then, they stuck to their line. Why?

I had wondered why Martin Smith hadn't been 'thrown to the wolves' as it were in an effort to save the organisation. Originally viewing this from afar, I thought that he was the leader, but I have since been told that that isn't true. Looking at it from a completely cynical viewpoint, it means that the CC'S political judgement of even events within its own organisation was absolutely awful. Not only were they prepared to defend their mate after he had assaulted a fellow member of their organisation but also they were completely unable to foresee the reaction it would cause in the organisation itself. One would think that SWP members would want the CC removed for defending a perpetrator of a sexual assault, but even if they can stand that surely they would want them removed for just rank incompetence.

A lot of people have been quick to jump onto a criticism of 'democratic centralism', and the internal organisation of the SWP as the causes of this. I don't really think that this is really the point. I'd just like to make it clear that I am not really a defender of either Lenin, or democratic centralism, but the SWP's internal structures don't seem to be based on them. As the above piece notes, the SWP's slate system is more akin to the one introduced by Stalin in the thirties.

I think that a far more relevant point is their conception of the nature of the party. The SWP's conception of the party. Essentially it is a conception inherited from 19th Century Social Democracy. Indeed when I was working in the UK in the 1980s they used to sell a pamphlet describing themselves as 'The Smallest Mass Party in the World'. Esentially the SWP will recruit anybody. It is not a question in any way of agreeing with their politics. If you have a left leg, they will let you in. What then does this mean for the way the party is run? Basically that it is run in a completely undemocratic way because the leadership don't trust the membership because the membership have very little idea of what the organisation's politics are.

This becomes relevant with the 'Disputes Committee'. There has been a lot of talk of how the Disputes Committee was not equipped to carry out this role. I think that this is totally misunderstanding what the role of this sort of committee is. Its role is not to dispense justice, or punishment. It is to decide on whether this person should be excluded from the party. The stories in the mainstream media have talked about 'Kangaroo courts' or 'Sharia courts' replacing the normal function of the legal system. Even if the victim of a rape wanted to take it to court, an organisation would still have to somehow make a decision to expel the perpetrator.

If the fault is not in having a Disputes Committee, where then was it? In my opinion at least part of the problem is inn the make up of this committee. The fact that as was pointed out elsewhere, it wasn't trial by his peers, but trial by his mates, and the reason why it was like this is, at least partial in my opinion, based on the conception of the party held by the SWP. The leadership don't trust the overwhelming majority of their own party, so it ends with parts of this same leadership, i.e. his mates, being on this committee.

Devrim

Entdinglichung
Mar 14 2013 12:03

good piece, rooieravotr!

JoeMaguire
Mar 14 2013 18:52

Devrim, I don't think there is one set interpretation of DC. When I was in the ISG, the CC was drawn from what one would deem minority factions/viewpoints and dissenters. I don't think the ISGs more fluid interpretation of the makeup of the CC is the norm. I therefore don't think this is strictly an issue to do with the slate system. Very few DC organisations have any semblance of factionalism or dissent within them, and I put this down to the internal logic of DC. It facilitates a uniform set of ideas, and stifles activity in my view.

It was interesting going over some of the SWP papers on this, because there are clearly a good number of SWP hacks who believe that allowing permanent factions is cause of weakness and a reason why they have leaped ahead of the other 57 varieties.

Android
Mar 14 2013 20:34
JoeM wrote:
Very few DC organisations have any semblance of factionalism or dissent within them, and I put this down to the internal logic of DC. It facilitates a uniform set of ideas, and stifles activity in my view.

I was reading Cyril Smith's Marx at the Millennium, and in a footnote he cites Don Cuckson's three principles of democratic centralism - 1. Father knows best; 2. Not in front of the children; 3. Keep it in the family.

Devrim
Mar 15 2013 10:49
JoeMaguire wrote:
Devrim, I don't think there is one set interpretation of DC. When I was in the ISG, the CC was drawn from what one would deem minority factions/viewpoints and dissenters. I don't think the ISGs more fluid interpretation of the makeup of the CC is the norm. I therefore don't think this is strictly an issue to do with the slate system. Very few DC organisations have any semblance of factionalism or dissent within them, and I put this down to the internal logic of DC. It facilitates a uniform set of ideas, and stifles activity in my view.

I don't think that there is just one interpretation of the term DC either, Joe. Obviously every organisation has to be able to somehow make these sort of decisions.

How would you suggest they be taken?

I don't think that the slate system is the actual problem, more that it is a response, however bad, to the problem. I think that the problem is that the SWP will take anybody whether they agree with, or even understand, their organisations politics or not. The slate system used in the SWP allows a facade of democracy, but is designed not to let the new recruits have any say in the organisation whatsoever.

On the topic of the slate system, the ICC runs a pretty similar system for electing its 'politburo'. The current 'politburo' puts forward its slate, and everybody approves it. During the time I was in the ICC only one person on it was removed, and that was because he had died. Otherwise, for six years, it remained exactly the same.

JoeMaguire wrote:
It was interesting going over some of the SWP papers on this, because there are clearly a good number of SWP hacks who believe that allowing permanent factions is cause of weakness and a reason why they have leaped ahead of the other 57 varieties.

Yes, I know their line on this. I am not sure if it is true though.

Devrim

Chilli Sauce
Mar 15 2013 11:22

Good article, good analysis. I'd like to give it a re-read, but I just wanted to say that this..

Quote:
We saw Egypt at the Thames, and Mubarak won this round.

...my friend, is poetry. wink

Entdinglichung
Mar 15 2013 11:50

interesting piece from a former member of the SWP's German sister org Linksruck (now one of the more leftwing people on the NEC of DIE LINKE) about the crisis of Linksruck in 2001: http://wildetexte.blogsport.de/2013/01/31/open-letter-from-germany-to-the-opposition-in-the-british-socialist-workers-party/ ... I do not share his positive view of DIE LINKE

Entdinglichung
Mar 15 2013 13:20
JoeMaguire wrote:
Devrim, I don't think there is one set interpretation of DC. When I was in the ISG, the CC was drawn from what one would deem minority factions/viewpoints and dissenters. I don't think the ISGs more fluid interpretation of the makeup of the CC is the norm. I therefore don't think this is strictly an issue to do with the slate system. Very few DC organisations have any semblance of factionalism or dissent within them, and I put this down to the internal logic of DC. It facilitates a uniform set of ideas, and stifles activity in my view.

It was interesting going over some of the SWP papers on this, because there are clearly a good number of SWP hacks who believe that allowing permanent factions is cause of weakness and a reason why they have leaped ahead of the other 57 varieties.

you mean the USec's ISG (which has become Socialist Resistance)? My experience in one of the German groups affiliated to the USec was, thet the "D" was more important than the "C", in fact there was more space for open discussion and influencing the orgs politics than in some of the less structured Autonomen groups I was in, generally, most USec sections today are relatively casual about DC and "Leninism"

Angelus Novus
Mar 15 2013 23:14
Entdinglichung wrote:

My experience in one of the German groups affiliated to the USec was, thet the "D" was more important than the "C", in fact there was more space for open discussion and influencing the orgs politics than in some of the less structured Autonomen groups I was in, generally, most USec sections today are relatively casual about DC and "Leninism"

Agree, though it's either/or. Really, the mainstream of the USec could almost be described as "Post-Leninist." Definitely the most "libertarian" tendency coming out of the Trotskyist tradition, in terms of its internal practices and its non-instrumentalist way of relating to social movements. Still probably far too "statist" from the perspective of most Libcommers (since the USec groups participate in elections or support broad electoral formations), but the internal practices of most of their groups is exactly as you say: democratic to the point of being almost mere discussion circles. They also usually respect the autonomy of social movements to the point of never trying to push a line or even stating their organizational affiliation in movement structures.

On the other hand, you do have some groups like Socialist Action in the US or the RSB in Germany (note to Libcommers. The Usec has two sections here) which are fairly orthodox Trotskyist, and maintain their international affiliations presumably out of some sense of affinity for an organizational continuity stretching back to Trotsky. My experience with the RSB was that they had some really solid, competent people in Munich, but in Berlin they had some utterly humorless Lutte Ouvriere sympathizers with Borg-like personalities and terrible politics (but this was about a decade ago, so this may no longer apply).

Android
Mar 16 2013 01:23
Angelus Novus wrote:
Agree, though it's either/or. Really, the mainstream of the USec could almost be described as "Post-Leninist." Definitely the most "libertarian" tendency coming out of the Trotskyist tradition, in terms of its internal practices and its non-instrumentalist way of relating to social movements.

I remember around the time of D. Bensaid's death the phrase 'libertarian leninist' appeared in various obituaries, etc. Either he identified in such a way or people labelled him that, can't recall which it was.

Gregory A. Butler
Mar 16 2013 18:09

Very good article - and I'm glad you named Martin Smith by name, rather than letting him hide behind "Comrade Delta"

JoeMaguire
Mar 16 2013 22:16
Devrim wrote:
How would you suggest they be taken?

I was in USEC/FI, whom I would characterise as having pretty much abandoned key characteristics of Trotskyism and they seem to be just waiting for an excuse to walk away from it all together. There is a plurality in there approach which is pretty much alien to every other left group. That said, I still had issues with their more 'liberal' interpretation of DC. The politics of DC seem to go hand in hand with nonsense about being advanced and offering groups 'leadership'. The problem is not the lack of leaders, but concrete examples of appropriate action for people to coalesce around.

Organisationally imposing unity is very bad in my experience. I think Barot talks about how communism isn't a line or path, but a series of challenges facing the multitude of people struggling. Don't have the quote to hand, but there are no set pieces or 'one size fits all' strategy.

Devrim wrote:
I don't think that the slate system is the actual problem, more that it is a response, however bad, to the problem. I think that the problem is that the SWP will take anybody whether they agree with, or even understand, their organisations politics or not. The slate system used in the SWP allows a facade of democracy, but is designed not to let the new recruits have any say in the organisation whatsoever.

This is interesting, but there is not a binary between DC and their small mass party. Bad ideas have undoubtedly collated and are inextricapably linked.

JoeMaguire
Mar 16 2013 22:19
Entdinglichung wrote:
JoeMaguire wrote:
Devrim, I don't think there is one set interpretation of DC. When I was in the ISG, the CC was drawn from what one would deem minority factions/viewpoints and dissenters. I don't think the ISGs more fluid interpretation of the makeup of the CC is the norm. I therefore don't think this is strictly an issue to do with the slate system. Very few DC organisations have any semblance of factionalism or dissent within them, and I put this down to the internal logic of DC. It facilitates a uniform set of ideas, and stifles activity in my view.

It was interesting going over some of the SWP papers on this, because there are clearly a good number of SWP hacks who believe that allowing permanent factions is cause of weakness and a reason why they have leaped ahead of the other 57 varieties.

you mean the USec's ISG (which has become Socialist Resistance)? My experience in one of the German groups affiliated to the USec was, thet the "D" was more important than the "C", in fact there was more space for open discussion and influencing the orgs politics than in some of the less structured Autonomen groups I was in, generally, most USec sections today are relatively casual about DC and "Leninism"

This was pretty much my experience. I haven't really looked at the international side of things for USEC in awhile, but I would be surprised if some of the European sections have lurched into social democracy or Eurocommunist election fronts and what not. They stand in stark contrast with the SWP in organisational form.

Devrim
Mar 17 2013 11:30
JoeMaguire wrote:
Devrim wrote:
How would you suggest they be taken?

I was in USEC/FI, whom I would characterise as having pretty much abandoned key characteristics of Trotskyism and they seem to be just waiting for an excuse to walk away from it all together. There is a plurality in there approach which is pretty much alien to every other left group. That said, I still had issues with their more 'liberal' interpretation of DC. The politics of DC seem to go hand in hand with nonsense about being advanced and offering groups 'leadership'. The problem is not the lack of leaders, but concrete examples of appropriate action for people to coalesce around.

I think I have misunderstood you and we have been talking a bit at cross purposes. I thought when you said DC, you meant Disputes Committee. I now realise you meant democratic centralism, sorry. If you look back at what I said in that light it might make more sense.

JoeMaguire wrote:
This is interesting, but there is not a binary between DC and their small mass party. Bad ideas have undoubtedly collated and are inextricapably linked.

The idea of recruiting anybody does meant though that you can't let these people who have just joined and have no idea of the politics run the organisation.Therefore you have to develop a pseudo-democratic structure that actually allows the leaderships votes to be the ones that count.

Their has been a lot of criticism of the 'Leninist model' or authoritarian parties, and a lot of people drawing 'libertarianesque' conclusions from all this. I think that the idea of a 'mass party' is where the 'authoritarian' structure have developed from. It is easy for anarchists, and liberals, such as Laurie Penny and Nick Hornby, to criticise the 'authoritarianism' in this sort of party. I see the roots of this in the mass party idea though. Something that they would be less comfortable with criticising.

Devrim

JoeMaguire
Mar 17 2013 21:16

Yeah, acronyms. I was talking about democratic centralism.

My critique of 'authoritarianism' still stands for the better portion of the Leninist left. It is a bad organisational mechanism. This debate crops up countless times when people critique platformism.

Entdinglichung
Mar 19 2013 10:26
Angelus Novus wrote:
Entdinglichung wrote:

My experience in one of the German groups affiliated to the USec was, thet the "D" was more important than the "C", in fact there was more space for open discussion and influencing the orgs politics than in some of the less structured Autonomen groups I was in, generally, most USec sections today are relatively casual about DC and "Leninism"

On the other hand, you do have some groups like Socialist Action in the US or the RSB in Germany (note to Libcommers. The Usec has two sections here) which are fairly orthodox Trotskyist, and maintain their international affiliations presumably out of some sense of affinity for an organizational continuity stretching back to Trotsky. My experience with the RSB was that they had some really solid, competent people in Munich, but in Berlin they had some utterly humorless Lutte Ouvriere sympathizers with Borg-like personalities and terrible politics (but this was about a decade ago, so this may no longer apply).

my experience was in and with the RSB where I was a member for seven years up in the North ... apart from the former Berlin branch (now their own org called "SAS") and the South Western people in BaWue most were also quite casual, unfortunately many good people left the RSB for several reasons without being able to start anything better. many of the people from the 70ies in other branches of the RSB adhered to the "New Workers Vanguard" theory of 70ies (distinct from the "New Vanguard with mass character" of the majority and the orthodox trotskyist line of the main USec minority (of which Socialist Action/US are today's major leftower)) which shows some electoral affinities towards operaism ... the other part of the USec in Germany, the ISL was around 10 years ago a good example for the "Tyranny of Structurelessness"

Entdinglichung
Mar 19 2013 10:24
Android wrote:
Angelus Novus wrote:
Agree, though it's either/or. Really, the mainstream of the USec could almost be described as "Post-Leninist." Definitely the most "libertarian" tendency coming out of the Trotskyist tradition, in terms of its internal practices and its non-instrumentalist way of relating to social movements.

I remember around the time of D. Bensaid's death the phrase 'libertarian leninist' appeared in various obituaries, etc. Either he identified in such a way or people labelled him that, can't recall which it was.

I think both

Entdinglichung
Mar 20 2013 15:27

another interesting piece: http://sovietgoonboy.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/the-bureaucratic-imperative/

Quote:
Depending on whose membership estimates you believe, somewhere between 3% and 5% of the SWP’s membership is on the party payroll. The party of “socialism from below” has, in practice, developed an organisational structure that even the late Russ Meyer might have found ridiculously top-heavy. Moreover, the task of nurturing the members’ freewheeling rebellious spirit has not been made easier by the apparatchiks’ tendency to see themselves as an officer caste within the party.

There are distinct subsets of these, but perhaps it is worth starting with how they are selected. This is very much a who-you-know world. Contrary to popular myth, screwing a CC member isn’t the only, or even the main, way into the apparat. Being related to a CC member also helps, as does drinking in the same pub as a CC member. Back when Cliff was alive, he used to headhunt promising people from the districts, which wasn’t always successful – Cliff was often an appalling judge of character – but did at least introduce an element of randomness. Since Cliff’s passing, the randomness has largely gone, and the apparat has reproduced itself, creating new apparatchiks in its own image.

The majority of members will have encountered the apparat in the form of their district organiser. These people very often function like feudal barons – indeed, Bambery specifically viewed them as enforcers for the CC in the districts – and, by virtue of their appointment by the leadership, are assumed to speaking with the Voice of God. A good organiser – one who’s sensitive and modest and honest – can be a genuine asset. More often, you’ll get one who bullies the branch comrades while bullshitting the CC about the tremendous successes in his district. If you get one of the latter type, it’s preferable to have a lazy sod who spends his days sitting around in his underwear watching cartoons. An energetic organiser without much real work to do can cause havoc by spending his time hatching grandiose schemes to impress the CC, conspiring against “problem members” (those whom the organiser has taken a dislike to for whatever reason) and generally swaggering about like a pound shop Lenin. The only countervailing force is the branch cadre, but branches are often so clique-ridden as to make this worse than useless.

ocelot
Mar 20 2013 16:45
Devrim wrote:
The idea of recruiting anybody does meant though that you can't let these people who have just joined and have no idea of the politics run the organisation.Therefore you have to develop a pseudo-democratic structure that actually allows the leaderships votes to be the ones that count.

Their has been a lot of criticism of the 'Leninist model' or authoritarian parties, and a lot of people drawing 'libertarianesque' conclusions from all this. I think that the idea of a 'mass party' is where the 'authoritarian' structure have developed from. It is easy for anarchists, and liberals, such as Laurie Penny and Nick Hornby, to criticise the 'authoritarianism' in this sort of party. I see the roots of this in the mass party idea though. Something that they would be less comfortable with criticising.

Devrim

I think the idea that there could ever be a contradiction between inclusivity and democracy, is in fact one that a good number of people seem to have a problem getting to grips with. People seem to associate exclusivity with authoritarianism, whereas in some cases the opposite can be the case.

On the whole, I would agree (cf. Malatesta, etc) that there is a problem with developing a specific political line and being a mass organisation. An organisation can be: i) inclusive or "mass" in including people with a very broad range of differing views with only the barest minimum of common ground (whether tactical or political); ii) it can be politically specific, defending a developed political line and strategy; iii) it can be genuinely internally democratic, horizontal and participatory. You can have a maximum of 2 out of those three. That's the trilemma of political action.

johng
Mar 22 2013 10:55

comrades, very interesting discussion have passed it on. Do you lot have branches and stuff?

johng
Mar 22 2013 10:59

I wrote that piece 'How to be a Leninist' on the International Socialism blog.

Battlescarred
Mar 22 2013 11:29

Johng

There are two national class struggle organisations-The Anarchist Federation (anarchist-communist)
(=of which I'm a member
and the Solidarity Federation (anarcho-syndicalist)

Both have groups with regular meetings

Battlescarred
Mar 22 2013 11:31

Johng

There are two national class struggle organisations-The Anarchist Federation (anarchist-communist)
(=of which I'm a member
and the Solidarity Federation (anarcho-syndicalist)

Both have groups with regular meetings

johng
Mar 23 2013 08:39

Cheers. I'll ask about.

Devrim
Mar 23 2013 10:59
JoeMaguire wrote:
My critique of 'authoritarianism' still stands for the better portion of the Leninist left. It is a bad organisational mechanism. This debate crops up countless times when people critique platformism.

I think that it comes up a lot, but I think that it is essentially meaningless. I can imagine the same structures being described as centralist or federalist depending whether the organisation using them called itself anarchist or Leninist. I think it is just a semantical hangover from the early part of the last century.

Devrim

Devrim
Mar 23 2013 11:02
ocelot wrote:
I think the idea that there could ever be a contradiction between inclusivity and democracy, is in fact one that a good number of people seem to have a problem getting to grips with. People seem to associate exclusivity with authoritarianism, whereas in some cases the opposite can be the case.

On the whole, I would agree (cf. Malatesta, etc) that there is a problem with developing a specific political line and being a mass organisation. An organisation can be: i) inclusive or "mass" in including people with a very broad range of differing views with only the barest minimum of common ground (whether tactical or political); ii) it can be politically specific, defending a developed political line and strategy; iii) it can be genuinely internally democratic, horizontal and participatory. You can have a maximum of 2 out of those three. That's the trilemma of political action.

I agree completely with this even though I have never heard this refereed to as a trilemma (is that a word) before.

I think that it causes some theoretical problems with SolFed's 'economic-politcal' organisation conception.

Devrim

Khawaga
Mar 23 2013 13:53

How can you have 1 and 2 together? Is it really a trilemma then? It's either 1 or 2 in combo with 3.