Monday 21 January 2013

Reply to Party Notes

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


  1. They refuse to admit that the question of internal democracy (including bullying and a leadership which treats the rank-and-file as an object rather than a subject) is in itself a political question, and instead are shoving other, tangentially-related political questions into the spotlight. Again, I am reminded of Auden's poem about "The Ogre".

  2. I think one of the worse things about all this is the completely instrumental approach to theory. Problem with comrades who have questions about whether our internal structures are fit for purpose in the present period? Lets have a long discussion about the dangers of autonomism. Comrades concerned about the handling of allegations of sexist behaviour? Lets have a long debate about feminism. If there are comrades asking wider questions about how our theories fit in a changing world so much the better: accuse them of wishing to 'change' our tradition (a charge which just about every significant figure within our tradition at one time or another would be happily guilty of). The dogmatism and absurdity that follows is deeply damaging and a barrier to the kind of debate we clearly need inside the Party.

    1. Mr G:

      "accuse them of wishing to 'change' our tradition (a charge which just about every significant figure within our tradition at one time or another would be happily guilty of). The dogmatism and absurdity that follows is deeply damaging and a barrier to the kind of debate we clearly need inside the Party."

      Except you are quite happy to cling onto a dogmatic, Neo-Platonic and Hermetic theory of change (upside down or the 'right way up').

      Fortunately for you I have demolished it here:

  3. What about the irony of Richard not being prepared to engage the CC in fraternal debate? We want higher standards of open and comradely debate within the SWP. So please let's demonstrate that in the tone we adopt.

    The 'crisis' in the SWP will be a self-fulfilling prophesy if we are only prepared to 'think fast'. Real changes within the SWP will take time to emerge and be sustained. Claims that "if this is lost, then the party is lost" are clearly just further justification for leaving.

    We need to stay and build a more open, fraternal, active and outward looking party for the struggles to come.

    1. Andy, I really have to correct you on most of this.

      It is totally untrue to say that I am not 'prepared to engage the CC in fraternal debate'. While it would be pushing it to call this fraternal, I have met with CC members to discuss this situation. I was not persuaded by their case. But I am happy to debate CC members. I would be most happy to debate them in public, or before party members at least. I rather think they are the ones who have thus far had a problem with debate.

      I am also happy to discuss and debate this situation with other party members, and have done so. Thus far, I haven't found myself screaming in someone's face, or pointing a finger in their chest, or verbally abusing them, as so many of the party's bullies have. So, again, I would maintain that I am quite capable of fraternal debate.

      This post, however, is a response to an edition of Party Notes which involves, not comradely and open debate, but falsehoods about the opposition. It is necessary to rebut these, and to note what they are in aid of. The tone is appropriate to the content. I think it would be unworldly to respond to such obvious, crude propaganda with anything but a satirical critique. It would also be uncomradely in the most obvious way to soften or modify one's critique. Yes I might spare the feelings of CC members, but wouldn't I then be misrepresenting the stakes to party members?

      Nor is it my choice to force people to 'think fast'. It was not I who selected an arbitrary deadline for motions to be submitted to the centre. As it is, all indications are that the NC will be used as a base from which to attack the opposition. That's a problem. And members need to be prepared for it. It would be negligent to pretend otherwise.

      Finally, I stand by my claim as to what is at stake here. I also refute the idea that this is 'just further justification for leaving' - as if I was the one giving people reasons to leave. I have repeatedly argued for people to stay and fight. I have been so persistent in this, both publicly and privately, that it's hard to see what else I could do or say to underline the point. If I wanted out, I'd have been off with Tom Walker or "Donny Mayo".

      But this is a fight, and it is over the future of the party. A party that stands by the cover-up of serious sexual allegations; that defends the shambolic procedures that supposedly 'exonerated' the accused; whose leaders apparently ignored some of the most elementary considerations in the handling of allegations of sexual harassment and rape; that engages in preposterous heresy hunting to protect this state of affairs; and that tolerates jumped up bullies touring the country to shout at young members... that is a party that will slowly die.

      I am not arguing that this fight has to be won in the next two weeks. I am arguing that it really is a question of life and death for the party. Understanding what the fight is about is half the battle.

  4. Party Notes get ever more surreally infuriating. However I'm a little unsure of just how warm Judith Orr's reception was from the UEA feminists, or at least in what way: - “In the interest of free-speech and lack of censorship, we are not planning to withdraw our invitation; however, we do plan to hold Judith accountable for the actions of her party.” unless every single leftish contact I've spoken to recently is a secret rad-fem isolationist just waiting for this moment to reveal themselves, I reckon party notes is being a little casual with the truth on this one....

    The kind of crazed accusations thrown around in defence of party orthodoxies are pretty revealing though, for the surprising level of desperation apparent in the CC. Quite some leadership where guarded exploration of a commonplace left-wing theory elicits furious panic!

    Do any socialists outside the SWP actually have any conceptual problem whatsoever with feminism/patriarchy?!

    1. "Orr maintained that the SWP were “more accountable than any other organisation,” being entirely intolerant of sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other hateful prejudices within their party."

      If that is a fair account of Orr's comment, it suggests a worrying confusion between programmatic commitments and organisational mechanisms: accountability is something you create by building the structures to support it & using them, not by having the correct ideas. The line from the CC is starting to sound like "well, *we* did it - and we're *us*, so it must be OK..."

    2. By the way - I'm not a member or even ex- (though my sister was in SWSS for a while). If you want to keep these comment threads for people with more of a stake in the fightback, that's fine - feel free to delete my comments, & I'll stick to commenting at the Tomb.