Tuesday 29 January 2013

Is Zinovievism finished? A reply to Alex Callinicos

Alex Callinicos’ article on the crisis in the SWP purports to be a defence of Leninism in the face of a ‘flood of attacks’ – by which Alex means the crisis that has engulfed the party over the mishandled investigation of allegations of rape and sexual harassment against a Central Committee member. 

The piece does nothing of the sort, but is rather an encapsulation of the flaws that have brought us to this pass. It is clearly intended as an opening salvo in the CC’s response to the growing opposition within the party. In particular it draws on the long tradition of dealing with dissent over particular issues by means of the absurd implication that that dissent is an attack on the heritage of the October revolution, accompanied by an airy dismissal of the actual facts. This maneouvre assumes the following equivalences: that ‘revolutionary party’ means the model of democratic centralism adopted by the SWP in the 1970s; that this model replicates that of the Bolsheviks in 1917 and the decisions of the current leadership therefore embody the legitimacy of that revolution, which we can expect to be replicated in the conditions of the UK in the 21st century.This is pure substitutionalism – and on its own measure of providing strong interventionist leadership, is a complete failure.

First of all, take note that this is the first public intervention by a CC member, with the exception of the re-posting of an internal Party Notes statement. Alex’s article is clearly similarly aimed at an internal audience: no one could use these arguments in their workplace to defend the SWP, for which the ‘strong interventionist’ leadership is supposed to provide the means.  If members doubt this, they might test it in practice.  When asked about allegations of a rape cover up in the SWP, by a workmate or fellow student or union activist, give Alex Callinicos’s answer: euphemise about a ‘difficult disciplinary case’ and then mention that Owen Jones is a Labour supporter.  See if that works.  See if the Party still has their respect next time it launches an initiative.  Then consider that the CC, having brought about this situation by their decisions, expect you to do what they will not, which is defend it in public.

Of course, it may be possible that your activist or trade unionist comrade has simply been misled by the gossip and half-truths of the ‘dark side of the internet’. Incidentally, this blimpish insult is a disgrace: it implies that comrades concerned about the treatment of an allegation of rape and sexual harassment within the SWP are equivalent to child pornographers and 401 scammers. Alex brushes aside the offline ‘real world’ motions calling for an emergency conference passed (at the time of writing) at 8 SWP branches, the motions critical of the CC passed at a further 8 and the statements of opposition issued by 13 SWSS groups. But what are the internet lies and half-truths? Alex does not tell us, but instead attempts to introduce into circulation an evasive euphemism by referring only to a ‘disciplinary case’. Everyone knows this is an allegation of rape and sexual harassment. What are the ‘lies’ circulating about it? Are they:

1) That a complaint was made in July 2010 against comrade Delta? Alex may rely on the bureaucratic claim that no formal complaint was made to the Disputes Commission: this contradicts basic common sense as well as the introduction given by the DC member who opened the 2013 conference session, who referred to an  ‘informal complaint’ in July 2010 and mentioned ‘how the complaint was handled in 2010.’

2) That the nature of this complaint was obfuscated and the impression given that it was merely a case of unhappiness in a failed relationship? If so, why did the CC use conference time on a personal matter?

3) That the disputes commission into the complaint issued in September 2012 contained 5 close colleagues and associates of comrade Delta, and 2 members of the Central Committee on which he sat?

4) That one member of the DC found that it was likely that Comrade Delta had committed sexual harassment and that the rest found the case ‘not proven’ not  that Delta was exonerated as a ‘member in good standing’? The DC ruled ‘not guilty’ on the charge of rape: they therefore distinguished between ‘not guilty’ and ‘not proven’. This implies that the CC believe that a member whom the DC consider may be a sexual harasser – to a degree significant enough not to be given the protection of a ‘not guilty’ decision - is still ‘in good standing.’

5) That the complainant was denied the right to put her side of the case to conference in 2013?

6) That a second woman, having complained of sexual harassment by Delta, did not have confidence in the DC to deal with her complaint because of the way in which it had dealt with the first case?

7) That the women involved were asked questions about their drinking and relationship habits? They claim to have been: if Alex denies this, he is saying they are liars, not the internet.

Which of these are lies? If they are not lies, how on earth are comrades meant to defend these points to the class? Perhaps we are to rely on the notion that SWP members possess a ‘political morality’ that ensures they adjudicate correctly whether their comrades have raped someone. Try that also –there is no way it would be accepted by anyone outside the SWP, and hopefully not by many within it. Would you accept that argument of any other organization? It cannot withstand scrutiny from our own comrades in the (avowedly Leninist) sister organisations of the International Socialist Tendency, leading members of which are now participating in a boycott of SWP events and publications – let alone the wider layers of the class and its organisations which we formerly called ‘our periphery’ but to which Alex now refers as ‘Owen Jones and his like’.

What has this to do with the defence of Leninism? It is linked, although not in the way that Alex imagines: that because the conference voted for (by a handful of votes andnot a majority of the delegates) the DC report, the matter is now closed.  Alex simply makes a banal statement about majority votes being binding (as they are in Trade Unions, rugby clubs, Parliament, corporate AGMs…) without specifying the actual debate that is currently going on. It is the current model of party organization in the SWP that leads to the disconnection from reality behind the defence of Comrade Delta and the paralytic response to the crisis it has engendered. Alex suggests that this model bears the legitimacy of the October revolution and that those who depart from it have abandoned the project of working-class revolution. Let us state clearly: this claim is false. The Bolshevik leadership of 1917 was elected individually. There was no ban on factions. On the eve of the October Revolution, Zinoviev and Kamenev publicly opposed the insurrection in Maxim Gorky’s newspaper (the ‘dark side’ of the printing press, perhaps) and resigned from the Bolshevik Central Committee. They were not expelled from the Party.

The model operated currently by the SWP is not that of the Bolshevik revolution. It is a version of the Zinovievite model adopted during the period of “Bolshevisation” in the mid-1920s and then honed by ever smaller and more marginal groups. When Alex implies that somehow we have developed a ‘distilled’ version of Bolshevik democratic centralism he is not holding to the tradition of October: it is asking us to choose the model that has led to three of the most serious crises in the SWP’s history in quick succession over the model that actually did lead the October revolution.

Alex concedes in passing that there are different models of democratic centralism, but ends by effectively arguing that there is really only one: the model which currently exists in the SWP. But merely invoking the term “democratic centralism” does not tell you anything about which level of decision get made by which people, how frequently decisions are made or what mechanisms should exist for review, let alone how to elect a Central Committee or of whom it should consist. Two examples will show how our current model is weighted towards centralism at the expense of democracy.

The first is in relation to decision making. According to the theory, conference discusses and decides (democracy) and then comrades, including those who opposed the agreed position, carry out the decisions (centralism). Fine: but what does conference actually decide? It is presented with a series of general perspective documents which are usually so bland and platitudinous that it is virtually impossible to disagree with them: the economic crisis is not going to be resolved, times are hard but there are also opportunities, we must not be complacent over the threat of fascism, and so on. To agree with this kind of statement is not to make a decision over strategy or tactics, or anything specific enough for the CC to be held to account. The real decisions about actual policy – to establish united fronts, to join electoral coalitions – are almost always made by the CC itself between conferences, with conference asked to ratify them after the event. 

The second is in relation to the composition of the CC. The CC self-selects: it has an agreed political perspective; when someone dies or resigns it chooses as replacements comrades who agree – or who are thought to agree – with that perspective; at no point is the chain ever broken by open political debate. And if the perspective is wrong? The problems extend to the membership of the CC. What are the requirements of a potential CC member? There are apparently two: that they should live in or around London and that – with a handful of exceptions – they are full-time employees of the party. So - the comrades who are eligible for membership of the CC are those who until their selection have been paid to carry out the decisions of the previous CC and who, because they tend to have been students beforehand, rarely have any direct experience of the class struggle. How can a leadership this narrow be capable of forming an accurate perspective?

To deal with one diversionary objection: to complain about the composition of the CC is not to demand that ‘federalist’ structure. We do not want a CC in which its members represent trade unionists, or community activists or students – but we do want a CC which embodies the actual experience of these groups. Some roles on the CC can only ever be carried out by full-timers, notably the editor of Socialist Worker and the national Secretary, but the balance should always be towards those for whom the experience of the “real world” is inescapable. 

After the catastrophes of the last five years a measure of humility would also be welcome. Alex is part of the ‘strong, interventionist’ leadership that has presided over this disaster with no effective response, following on from a period of near permanent crisis that began with the failure of the Respect adventure – for which Alex surely also bears some collective responsibility, as a member of the CC at the time. When will this strong, interventionist leadership ever hold itself responsible for what happens on its watch? What do they think has gone wrong? If they can’t manage this, how will they cope in a revolution?

We agree with Alex that the SWP is the best hope for developing a revolutionary party in in Britain. It has at least two great historic achievements to its credit in the Anti-Nazi League and its successors, and the Stop the War Coalition – movements which actually helped to change aspects of British society for the better, particularly in relation to racism. They are among the reasons why many have remained members in spite of the obstacles which successive leaderships have thrown up to democracy in the party. But if the SWP is ever to achieve its full potential the current situation cannot be allowed to continue. 

Alex reiterates that if the SWP did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. We agree – and that for the party to continue to exist, it is necessary to reinvent it. This is not alien to our tradition: perhaps it is best to leave the last word to one of its brightest lights, David Widgery in his review of the third volume
of Cliff’s biography of Lenin:

The blossoming-blighting process which Cliff documents froze over Leninism and only mass revolutionary working-class action is able to melt it from its icy limbo. Lenin is therefore trapped in his moment, surrounded by a thicket and awaiting political rescue: ‘An old communist conceives an embryo of longing’. One day, his Modern Prince will come. Until he is woken with the proletarian kiss, the problem is not that Leninism has failed, but that it has not been tried.”

The time for Leninism to be tried is now long overdue.

Jamie Allinson
Neil Davidson
Gareth Dale
China Miéville
Richard Seymour
John Game
Alex Anievas
Gonzalo Pozo
Hannah Elsisi
Kris Stewart
Jamie Pitman
Ciara Squires
Keith Paterson
Nathan Akehurst
Toni Mayo
Linda Rodgers
Andy Lawson


  1. Re: the questions asked of the women by the DC. Now, I'm going to assume that Candy Udwin isn't a horrible sexist, which given her decades of work seems fair. The official line seems to be that the only questions asked relating to sexual history were those arising from the statements the women gave themselves. Now, should they not have been questioned on the contents of their own statements?

    As far as everything else is concerned, I'm at a loss as to why you still want to be a member of a party which has never been what you seem to want it to be. I've gone from disgust over what the CC did to disappointment at the sheer volume of people lining up to stick the boot into the SWP. I think there's quite a lot of posts on here from people who just don't agree with the SWP and wouldn't no matter what they did.

    Genuinely worried comrades, go to meetings and talk to people. Professional contrarians, it's nice you have a new platform to knock the party you've been knocking for years. Read back some of these posts and see how many criticisms have zero to do with what happened with the DC.

    Last question: what if the DC were right? I don't think nearly enough of you have considered that.

    1. Hello Famous Mortimer,

      To take your points in turn:

      1) It doesn't matter whether Candy Udwin is a sexist or not. Any institution, group, culture or individual is capable of reproducing sexism, particularly if they have anything to do with the real world of capitalism. It is not a matter for psychological speculation; statements are sexist if they happen to belong to that category of statements that uphold, justify and maintain sexist oppression. The questioning of rape survivors along these lines has a long sexist pedigree. Every cop, if asked to justify such a line of questioning, would cite the same criterion of relevance. But it would remain sexist for all that, since it assumes that rape, or the allegation of rape, is in some sense related to the woman's sex life. By now, people on the Left, and particularly revolutionary socialists, should have had enough experience and learning to know why this is wrong.

      2) Every single post on here is written by one or several members of the SWP. Every single post is motivated by the desire to rescue the SWP from an oblivion of which its leadership is oblivious. The claim that these serious, long-standing activists "just don't agree with the SWP" is ludicrous, and indicative of the low quality of debate being encouraged by some in the party.

      3) We have always said, and continue to say, that people should go to their branch meetings and discuss these issues with comrades. Those of us who have been able to have done so. Again, the condescending assumption to the contrary is indicative of a serious degeneration in the culture of debate at this moment.

      4) That you can ask the question, 'what if the DC were right?', is indicative that at some deep level you have failed to comprehend what this debate is about. The DC drew the conclusion that the allegations against Delta were 'not proven'. Asking whether they are 'right' to conclude thus or not is beside the point, since they were not in a position to 'prove' anything. The majority of those on the DC were people who had long known the accused, and related to him as political subordinates. Not just that, but of the two CC members sent to the DC, one was a well-known loyalist of the accused. Leaving aside the sexist and hostile line of questioning, there is no way this panel of mates was equipped to judge this case. Their verdict is meaningless. Moreover, let us suppose the DC had concluded something more definite. Let us suppose, as some CC members claim, that the accused had been 'exonerated' by the verdict. Let us suppose it said he was definitely not guilty of the allegations, and therefore claimed to have proved that the women making the allegations are liars. Suppose all that. The answer to your question would be the same, with added emphasis: such a verdict would be meaningless because the process was nothing like a serious investigation.

      And we don't think, Famous Mortimer, that you can have considered this.

  2. No serious debate can take place whilst entertaining the possibility that a group including a majority of an alleged rapist's friends could possibly be in a position to pronounce him not guilty. That's a basic given.

  3. either you completely misunderstand the quote from widgery at the end of this post, comrade, or you are simply throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. as someone who has signed on to the letter calling on the party to resolve in an open and democratic fashion the legitimate concerns arising from this case, i have to say that i am not impressed with the way richard seymour's blog, and now, it appears, this site, are being handed over to cranks driven by longstanding hostility to the party and to our tradition. the passage above mischaracterizing callinicos's point on the 'dark side of the internet' comes out of either a deliberate misreading or a reach for lurid hyperbole, which seems to be taking over in other places as well. and what is the reference elsewhere on this blog to a 'cliffite-trotskyist terorist bloc', or something along those lines? there are issues to be had out, comrades, but you do yourselves no favors taking us down this particular road.

    1. Hello Brian,

      We appreciate you expressing your concerns of course. But we have to correct your misapprehensions on a few points. None of the people who drafted this reply, and none of the people who have written for Lenin's Tomb, are "cranks driven by longstanding hostility to the party and to our tradition". You are simply and profoundly wrong in this assertion.

      The only other point we would respond to is the reference to Cliffite-Trotskyite terrorism. One of the contributors to this blog indulged in a bit of snark that is not uncharacteristic of the Internet. We believe, however, that he removed this lest it be misunderstood. It would be a mistake to conflate that one aside with the more serious issues raised in this post.

      We leave your other points hanging, and invite others to judge.

  4. If you don’t like our interpretation of democratic centralism surely the best choice is to leave.?

    Are you seriously intending to return to on online faction building every time a National Conference vote goes against your arguments? As Brecht could have said “Would it not be easier...for the Democratic Opposition to dissolve the activists and elect another?” Clearly you are hostile to democratic decision making – seeking to overturn decisions you disagree with. Re Zinoviev :comparisons with, at the time, highly respected activists and inspiring leaders who were elected by the mass membership do you guys no favours Richard. Surely you Seb, China etc should form a new organisation?

    Slate system and the concomitant process of individually elected CC members. What a fabulous idea, we could have had in one corner the Counterfire faction and in the other Seymour and his libertarian chums and the rest of us in the third corner! Look forward to those branch meetings then.

    The complainant had the choice to go to the legal system or the DC. Her choice.. She still can choose the avenue of the police, it’s her choice. She was questioned, of course she was. Why do you accept her claims and not Comrade Delta? The DC had to investigate and ask probing questions. Some may have been clumsy but I wonder what questions they would have asked of Comrade Delta? We will never know. No outside body of investigators would be truly impartial, all would be influenced by some bourgeois ideas. Personally I trust my comrades over the State or another body but maybe I am wrong, but it was HER choice to go down that avenue. To be honest I wish she had gone outside but then you guys would be shrieking that we were marginalising sexual abuse issues.

    You know it was a lose-lose situation for the CC and DC.

    The CC are not mates, don’t be so wilfully naïve. They are comrades, ie they share political principles. They are ruthless in the pursuit of these shared objectives. CC members will often turn and sack another of their ‘mates’ . How many erstwhile mates turned on Rees/German for chrissakes! CC resignations are an euphemism as well you know. But wait a minute, are you claiming that the CC will insist a fellow CC member resign over differences in strategy and tactics but when it comes to the heinous issue of sexual assault they will elect to throw a veil over it? What an obscene thing to imply, scandalous and an affront to common sense. If you seriously think the CC are a bunch of rape apologists why are you still in the SWP?

    After stirring up a hornet’s nest of hostility against the SWP and then losing the vote again in the NC this Sunday what are you going to do?

    We stand on our fine political tradition and record of militant anti sexism. The fact that you have refused to defend us from the vicious slurs and slanders is really a new low… even for you.

    1. Hello Claude,

      We note that there isn't much resembling an argument in what you have said. Your main point is to say we should leave if we don't agree with the prevailing form of democratic centralism. But that is a position entirely at odds with both the IS tradition, and with democratic centralism itself, both of which favour the most vigorous debate.

      You also say that we are hostile to democratic decision-making. The evidence for this is that we oppose the cover-up of sexual allegations, oppose the suppression of legitimate factions, oppose the expulsion of comrades on trumped up charges, and support a special conference to deal with the very serious crisis in which the party now finds itself.

      This is to say nothing of your shocking rationalisations for an indefensible process. Yours is what Freud termed 'broken kettle' logic: 'it's the complainant's fault for not going to the police; anyway, all the DC did was ask probing questions; anyway, I trust them over the police; anyway, it was a lose-lose situation for them; anyway, the CC aren't all mates; and anyway, even if they are, they sack one another all the time; and anyway, how dare you imply that they would cover up for a mate...' etc etc. Broken kettle logic, of course, usually takes the form of a stream of rationalisations, disavowals and non-sequiturs of the sort that come out in psychoanalysis when an analytical interpretation has hit the mark. We invite you to draw the obvious conclusion.

      Perhaps the peak of absurdity is reached when you wax outrage that anyone would suggest that friends and allies of the accused would in anyway 'throw a veil over' serious sexual allegations, up to and including rape. Such a claim is 'obscene', 'scandalous', 'an affront to common sense'. Your anger is pointed in the wrong direction - it is known as 'shooting the messenger'. There in fact was a cover-up. The CC did, in fact, elect to 'throw a veil over' these serious allegations. They did so at the 2011 conference, as a delegate recounts in the post below. They did so by allowing what they knew to be a rigged jury to deliberate on this case, while appointing a well known loyalist of the accused to the DC. They did so by expelling four comrades on trumped up charges because these comrades were discussing the allegations and the terrible manner in which they had been handled. They did so by denying W the right to speak for herself at conference. They did so by telling every member after conference that the matter could no longer be discussed. The fact that they threw a veil over this very serious matter is reason to be angry with them. When you have taken some time and processed what actually happened; when you have moved beyond the phase of denial, we trust you will point your anger in the right direction.

    2. This is becoming rather ridiculous, and dare I say it, laughable Mr Seymour. Might I suggest that you stop using the threadbare and by-now moth-eaten curtain of the royal "we"? I for one am not happy with Alex Callinicos' use of the phrase the 'Dark Side' in relation to the internet for my own good reasons. However, having followed your writings for the last two or three weeks, I thought it might be worthwhile nailing the question of democratic decision-making on the ballpien head: it is I believe based on a 'majority' whether that be a majority of one, one hundred, one thousand or one hundred thousand. It may be rather 'bourgeois' concept, but please, by all means, provide an alternative schematic around which you'd like to base your 'ideally constituted 'New Central Committee' or 'revolutionary party'.

      Now I do find it rather amusing that as a Marxist, you readily drag the quite discredited Freud into your equation - amusing but not surprised. Or maybe your reference to a 'kettle' is more a nod to 'Clement Freud'? In my personal opinion, your above rejoinders appear to be increasingly bordering on the hysterical, nonsensical and indirectly accusational.

      You can do this because of bourgeois law: and we should be entirely clear of precisely the legal mechanism you are availing yourself of here Mr Seymour. You know full well as a blogger, that as the SWP is a political party, you are of course protected by the 'Derbyshire Rule' (Derbyshire County Council V The Times Newspapers Ltd 1993), if the SWP wanted to, it couldn't sue you in defamation because, according to the Derbyshire Rule, they engage in the wider 'bourgeois' and 'democratic' political process. To do so would be inherently anti-democratic within bourgeois society. But let's not pretend it's anything more. Please do not debase yourself by be-shawling the above hysterics as something fundamentally principled. You name no specific individuals, but allude to them. What does this tell us?

      You have a new book. From the guff doing the rounds, it would suggest you've chosen to focus on that thoroughly principled anti-imperialist, and thoroughly principled working class fighter Christopher Hitchen's. Please take time to bask in the glory of 'Hitch' and the new party you will no doubt seek to forge from the ashes of the SWP. I personally believe you'll devote huge amounts of time to the actual mechanics of building and sustaining such a revolutionary organisation prior to writing your next best-seller. Best of luck!

  5. Thanks for this critique of Callinicos' article. There has been a general tendency to mis-interpret the Bolshevik tradition in a Zinovievist direction – and Callinicos, in my opinion, falls into just this trap. You might find this article I wrote a few years ago of some use http://www.socialiststudies.com/index.php/sss/article/view/84/81 -- Paul Kellogg

  6. Comradres,

    I come from a different tradition (albiet sympathetic to your likeable Leninist heterodoxy) but rather than delight in your organisation´s difficulties, I can only applaud your efforts and that of your party to come to terms with its obvious deficits. That said, a word of caution.

    Comrade Callinicos has provocatively oppened up the possibility that

    1. The Party has made a serious error in dealing with an internal matter. (To everyone one outside your Party, we see only certainty where he sees only possibility

    2. This situation can be rectified under existing democratic structures.

    Indeed, Comrade Callinicos, is an exttraordinarily bright fellow, who has challenged you to seperate specific complaint from your generalised view of the both the inadequacies of the existing slate/ faction arrangements system and of the majority Central Committee political perspective.

    Should you succeed in calling a new conference then this only proves Comrade Callinicos´point that the party is a healthy democratic organism capable of self-correction. You have won no political argument, even if the position of key CC members (in particular the Narional Secretary) becomes untenable.

    If you lose then you can march into the distance with another bright alternative project (ignoring Callinicos´ indisputable observations on such new formations) and leave the SWP dead behind you or you could seek a negotiated solution, drawing on tendencies abroad and fomer custodians like Birchall and Molyneaux to rectify your `party´s blatant bureacratric stupidity.

    You decide. How sure can you be that the perspective is the problem (certainly not as sure as you can be that the Disputes Committee acted wrongly)? How can you best change the existing slate system? Are these two issues more important to you than saving a supposedly revolutionary party from imploding on its failures to implement best practice on investigating serious (criminal) internal matters?

    You win, you lose. You lose, you lose (unless of course you really do think you have the all the answers to building a mass revolutionary organisations under current conditions).

    Why not just earn your right to influence the party´s future direction by winning the first most important battle (hold the leadership accountable for the disgraceful handling of a rape allegation) without fighting on further fronts (for the moment.

    In solidarity.

    Derek Durriti

  7. "The CC self-selects: it has an agreed political perspective; when someone dies or resigns it chooses as replacements comrades who agree – or who are thought to agree – with that perspective" This is a failing of all Leninist party's, and why I left the SP (and the SWP before that)
    I wish "International Socialism" the best of luck (and of course Commrad W et. al. have my deepest sympathy), and hope you're new formation can learn from and improve (make more democratic) the system of internal governance all Trotsky parties use.


  8. To the comrades arguing that anyone who disagrees should just leave the SWP and form their own "competing" IS group: This line of thinking is not Leninism; it's bureaucracy. It leads to the mindset of, "If I want to be a part of this activist organization, I have to toe the party line and just follow whatever the leadership says." This puts the leadership ahead of the membership, the cart before the horse. And--once again--it is not in any way, shape, or form how Lenin, Luxemburg, Marx, or any genuine revolutionary worth his or her salt behaved (or behaves).

    We in the IS tradition (I have been in both the ISO(US) and the SWP) used to quite rightly ridicule the orthodox Trotskyist and Maoist groupuscles and microsects with their nigh-identical politics who nonetheless hated each other with a passion. And we did so not because they were small groups, but because we--I think quite rightly--saw their splits as a political failure. When did it change from being an object of ridicule to official policy?

    The comrades are absolutely right to stay. And they are absolutely right to argue their case, given the flawed nature of the debate. To expel them would be a crime (though not a literal one, as covering up a rape is). To argue they should leave--and thus splinter the forces of the left--is to subordinate every genuine revolutionary principle to the vagaries of the current leadership of the organization.

    Callinicos in fact hints that organizational concerns are topmost in his mind. His cautionary tale about the NPA is telling. He lays it all at the feet of "permanent factions" when it is clear that other factors, particularly failures around Islamophobia, were what really drove the splits. He is correct that a certain level of organizational blinkeredness played a role. But is he really saying that the SWP leadership would act in the same blinkered way in the same situation? Shouldn't we hold our leadership to a higher (that is, a more forthright and genuinely revolutionary) standard? He could also have mentioned SYRIZA, which is a blindingly successful counter-example to his "permanent factions inevitably cause splits" line. If Alex really thinks that the SWP is so fragile that allowing something like permanent factions (which is really just the right to debate openly and honestly in the organization without being labelled a malcontent) would destroy it, then the comrades are right to raise concerns. Bureaucratic machinations can substitute for real politics only for so long.

    I wish all comrades the best of luck as they must draw on the best of our tradition to meet the current challenge, slough off the organizational crust that clings to any group over time (and is especially apparent when things begin changing), and emerge in the eyes of the left--and particularly women--as the best fighters against all forms of oppression and exploitation.

    in solidarity,

  9. I've just got round to reading Callinicos's piece and this reply, which I think is excellent. I think the people writing here have basically won the argument, as witness the noisiness of some recent replies. The real problem now is organisational - what happens if you can't get the momentum in the branches for a recall conference? We don't need another Counterfire.

    I wonder if Callinicos genuinely doesn't understand how people outside the party can simultaneously respect & admire the SWP's achievements, dislike the way the party operates, and hope for a renewed party to come out of the current crisis. It seems pretty straightforward to me - you just have to make the distinction between the party itself and the way it's led and managed. But I guess that's a difficult distinction for somebody in his position to grasp.

  10. Thanks for that Phil. Like that formulation.

  11. If I (a former member) posted a long response to this well-argued piece, it would show the respect it deserves.
    Instead, I hope I may be forgiven for simply reposting some darkly satirical words of Trotsky, penned in 1923 while Trotsky was fighting a factional struggle (against Stalin) as part of the Left Opposition:
    "If factions are not wanted, there must not be any permanent groupings; if permanent groupings are not wanted, temporary groupings must be avoided; finally, in order that there be no temporary groupings, there must be no differences of opinion, for wherever there are two opinions, people inevitably group together.”

  12. Frankly, I'm lost, very sad and disillusioned on how to respond to this crisis in the SWP and the IS Tendency that I've devoted half my life to. I was an active member in the Canadian IS for 10 years and have continued to be active in an effort (unsuccessful until now) to build an IS group in Brazil for 12 years. I'm still very active politically, in my union and in the social movements, and am a branch coordinator in the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL, sort of Respect in Brazil, but different). I've written several times for SW and SR in Britain and for SW in Canada. I follow the debates and developments in our Tendency regularly and personally know a number of people centrally involved in the crisis. The dozen or so members of the Tendency in Brazil have been following and debating this question for a week or so.

    I believe there were mistakes made by the leadership of the SWP in the handling of this case that need to be debated openly and honestly. A new, "unbiased" Disputes Committee should have been formed and a debate initiated in the party. I think it was precipitous to expel comrades who were openly debating this before Conference on the Internet.

    But, at the same time, I'm shocked by the disrespectful and sectarian tone of the criticism levelled at the CC and long-standing, genuine revolutionaries. There seems to be a real "conspiracy" type attitude of the Opposition towards the party leadership, the Disputes Committee, and a majority of the membership finding fault and maliciousness in EVERYTHING they've done or said, not just about this case but about everything.

    Here in Brazil we're still undecided about our position on the crisis. But it would be useful if comrades keep on the genuinely political plane, avoid sectarian attacks on our comrades and distance themselves from the million non-IS sectarians and Labor Party-types who are taking advantage of this crisis to further their own objectives and attack our political tradition.

    1. Hello Sean,

      Thanks for your comments.

      We reject the claim that the tone of this piece is 'sectarian'. We would direct you to Duncan Hallas's useful article explaining what sectarianism is - and what it is not. We might accept the accusation that it is 'disrespectful', but that is hardly an accusation. In the real IS tradition, there is no fault in taking a 'disrespectful' attitude to nonsense. And we feel we are on terra firma in describing Alex Callinicos's piece as such.

      We are ourselves, collectively, 'long-standing revolutionaries' with a wealth of diverse experiences between us. We are all members of the SWP who have invested a great deal of time and energy in the party. For that reason, it would be a mistake to caricature us.

      You say there is "a real 'conspiracy' type attitude of the Opposition towards the party leadership, the Disputes Committee, and a majority of the membership finding fault and maliciousness in EVERYTHING they've done or said".

      This is an unfortunate statement for several reasons. First, because by invoking 'conspiracy', a term tainted by association with 'conspiracy theory' and all of its connotations, you run the risk of trivialising some extremely serious points that we have made. We don't need to repeat them here. We enumerated them in the post above. The point is that by ignoring them and instead evoking 'conspiracy', you rather tend to 'shoot the messenger'.

      Second, everything that has been written on this blog concerns two central issues: the cover-up of serious sexual allegations and their political implications and consequences; and the wider implications for party democracy and accountability. The block-capped assertion that we find fault in everything is simply not serious, or to the point.

      It is also odd and out of the blue to say that we reprove "a majority of the membership" in this way. We plainly do not. Most comrades are in no way implicated in the specific allegations, their handling, or the wider abuses of party democracy.

      It is likely that part of your difficulty in interpreting this debate is partly shaped by your great distance from it. To that extent, there may be something lost in translation for those based in Brazil. Still, we hope you might do us the favour of supposing that our substantive claims might actually be true.

      Finally, we decline to 'distance' ourselves from the vast majority of people on the Left who are extraneous to the IS tradition and who are horrified by what has happened. We are not scandalised by the fact that Owen Jones is a Labour Party member, or that Laurie Penny is a feminist. We are not surprised at the revulsion of trade unionists, and socialist intellectuals such as Peter Hallward, Nina Power, Robert Brenner or others, who we as a party have always had a constructive relationship with.

      We would be every bit as sectarian as you claim we are if we did 'distance' ourselves in that way - our job is to register the fact that *they* are distancing themselves from *us* as a party, and to see that as a problem, and to address the causes of that problem. If there is a solution it involves turning to the real world, not bunkering ourselves further.

      Thanks again for commenting.

  13. This is missing the Onion headline "Man Embarrasses Himself on Facebook - Wishes Internet Hadn't Been Invented".

    But seriously, I leave the finer points of Leninism to better-read comrades, but surely Lenin would be using the internet to its fullest advantage and factoring it into the Bolsheviks' decision making. By comparison, the possibility that any given verdict on Comrade Delta (including the hypothetical "guilty") would cause a shitstorm to descend on the party as if from nowhere does not seem to have crossed the finest minds of the SWP. Callinicos's article invites me to like it on Facebook, but if I want to comment I need to send an email, which presumably will not be published if it challenges the line. The SWP's attitude to the internet is that it is just a more instantaneous form of a traditional publication with letters to the Editor - of course, the Editor reserves the right etc.

    The CC needs to be cognisant of how its decisions will play to a wider audience than before. The Millwall attitude is not an option. The Party needs open debate about how it relates to the internet, particularly social media. It needs to define factionalising and have a clear Electronic Media Policy as do many organisations. I reject the Counterfire line that the paper is an anachronism - but the online world is not simply a one-way discussion as Callinicos wishes it to be. Let's be real Leninists, not Canutists.

  14. If the SWP CC had some genuine intellectuals then maybe it would be worthy of some respect. Even Callincos is a few tools short of what is required..no one in the SWP can meet German critique (Adorno and his precessors) on the same playing field. When Callincos tried to debate Martin Wolf on the economy a couple of years ago, when the crash exploded, it was absolutely laughable. What a joke.
    The SWP is over. It used to have some welly back in the days when Dave Widgery was playing centre foward, punk, the ANL..the miners...it was all rude health...theoretically it would take some time before we realised that the Owl of Minerva had well and truly gone to roost....now...what have you got in terms of intellectual ideas? Nothing. The party is now outside of the SWP. Wake up. Get the fuck out.

  15. This piece shows that the SWP achieved cult status and analysis is now conducted purely within the theology of the cult. It'd be hilarious on the level of Cleese's "Right to have babies" speech if there weren't a rape accusation at the bottom of it all.

    News just in: They're not The Vanguard of the Revolution or whatever other fantasies they're indulging. They're a bunch of old men doing what old men in cults have always done when there are young women around. Like the Catholic Church, they're more than happy for any investigations to be conducted by an internal "police" force because that provides the simplest way to close it all down. The wonder is that accusers have thus far been gullible enough to go along with it.

    Dressing it up in communist theology won't change any of that. Nor will replacing one bunch of old men with another lot.