Each week, Party Notes apprises SWP members of news about the party's work, and the perspectives arising from it. It is intended to help members orient themselves in the frontlines they fight on. This is the theory. In practice, it has become a propaganda sheet for the Central Committee in its internal battles, so manifestly fraudulent in its claims that it ceases to be useful to members.
This week's Party Notes consists of two elements. The first is a description of the successes of the party in recent days. How many demonstrated here, how many copies of Socialist Worker were sold; how many attending this steering committee meeting; how 'warmly received' a Central Committee member was at a meeting on Marxism and Feminism. All this might under normal circumstances simply describe the many small actions undertaken by a revolutionary socialist party in a weekend. This would be integrated into a wider perspective about how we can help take the relevant struggles forward. Not this week.
This week, the sole purpose of this list of humble achievements is to wage a fight within the party. The first section of Party Notes concludes, "Such examples above - and there are many others - give the lie to the idea that the party is facing annihilation or isolation." They do nothing of the kind, of course. It is like claiming that a condemned man is liberated because he has a few last meals before him. Crisis - what crisis?
That narrative concluded, Party Notes goes on to allude to "a lot of discussion and argument since conference". Quite what this might concern is left to the reader to deduce, since its substance is not touched on. This is followed by a delphic reference to "some of the material that has appeared on blogs, Facebook, etc." (I think this means us). It goes on: "People are tried of slurs, lies and unsubstantiated allegations." Apparently oblivious of the glaring irony in this, it goes on to unleash a wearisome tirade of slurs, lies and unsubstantiated allegations.
"It is also clear that as part of the discussions some people are raising a wider debate about the direction of the party. This does not mean that everyone who has raised issues about the recent events is attacking our political tradition." We thank the Central Committee for this genuflection to nuance, at least. Not everyone is a festering sore of heresy... "But some are seeking to overturn important parts of what we stand for." Again, I leave the irony to hang - the gallows reference is advised. "There are some people who want to replace a Marxist analysis of women's liberation with one centred on patriarchy theory. Others believe that changes in capitalism have altered the structure of the working class so fundamentally that it is no longer the key element in the battle for socialism."
This represents the first attempt by the Central Committee to engage with the politics of the emerging opposition. It also represents a pack of lies. The first claim probably refers to my blog on 'patriarchy and the capitalist state', where I tentatively suggest that a greatly revised and historically delimited concept of patriarchy might have some use to marxist analysis. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this, it hardly represents an attempt to overturn the "Marxist analysis of women's liberation". The important concepts deployed in that essay are 'gender projects', of which patriarchy could conceivably be one, and 'gender formations'. At any rate, I have expressed and have no interest in changing the party's theoretical approach to this issue based on a single exploratory blog post. And it plays no concrete role in the politics of the opposition. I should not have to spell out this obvious point.
The second claim most likely alludes to a perspective elaborated by Neil Davidson, which argues that the party has failed to grasp at a theoretical level the changes in the structure of the working class in the era of neoliberalism. By no means does this argue that the working class "is no longer the key element in the battle for socialism." What has happened here is that some very ugly internal habits, wherein sections of the leadership crudely polemicise against theorists in the party who displease them, or seem to break some holy tablets of Cliffism, have been instrumentalised in a battle for the CC's position. Not only that. Since previous changes have resulted in Party Notes being published on the SWP website, this petty, mean-spirited, controlling streak has been made public. The only plus side of this as far as the leadership is concerned is that it represents a slight step up on recent standards. Until now, the CC's most distinguished public defender was Gilad Atzmon, who is convinced that they are collateral victims of a Jewish plot to ruin Atzmon's career as a serious political analyst.
Yet this feeble, belated retort to the opposition is notable for one thing above all: it reiterates in warmed up terms the charges of 'creeping feminism' and 'autonomism' dished out to party members in the run to conference. Coming after a conference in which the party was more divided than it has ever been in its history, and in the context of the most serious crisis in the party's history which the Central Committee still refuses to take any responsibility for, this treats members like docile idiots. It is an insult to our intelligence and capacity for serious reflection.
Nor does it end there. Party Notes assures readers that something will be done about the heresy at the National Committee meeting on 3rd February. It also notes that motions for a special conference are being passed in a number of branches and, completely arbitrarily, insists that all such motions "have to be in by 5pm on Friday 1st February. This is to make the NC aware." The leadership has no constitutional authority to set such an arbitrary limit. We admit that the NC must be made aware of motions for a special conference passed by branches. But it can just as well be made aware on 2nd February, or 28th February, or 12th March, or any other date on which a branch chooses to pass such a motion.
The purpose of this is to use the National Committee meeting as the base from which to attack the growing opposition among members, and end the dispute on the CC's terms. Those terms, made clear in Party Notes, are very simple. The Central Committee will stand by its train wreck of a strategy, and insist that the party endorse its indefensible position, even to the point of destroying the party's ability to be the effective, 'interventionist' force that the leadership claims to defend. There isn't even any sign of a minimal gesture, such as removing 'Comrade Delta' from party work - quite the opposite. Clueless and vindictive, they acknowledge no crisis, register none of the damage being done to the party's work, and offer no sensible lead.
Members have to think fast about how they want to respond to this. This is the first sign of a coordinated response to this crisis by the Central Committee, and it is a response that aims to bring the membership to heel. And if this is lost, then the party is lost.
- Richard Seymour