Wednesday 20 March 2013

Statement of Resignation - IS Canada

Statement of Resignation

1. Opposing violence against the oppressed, including violence against women, is a question of principle for socialists.

2. There has been an allegation of very serious sexual violence involving a leading member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party UK (SWP).

3. The SWP Central Committee has failed to deal with this with the seriousness it deserves. It has persistently rejected efforts by a substantial number of its members and supporters to address this adequately. In fact, members of the SWP have faced disciplinary action for attempting to remedy this situation.

4. The International Socialists (I.S.) in Canada has been for many years, and remains, a member of the International Socialist Tendency (IST), of which the SWP is the largest and leading organization.

5. In January 2013, delegates to the annual convention of the I.S. in Canada voted (14 to 2, with one abstention) to reject a resolution calling on the leadership to write a public a letter of concern over these matters.

6. It is now March. The SWP has held a special conference on this issue. The SWP leadership remains intransigent. The leadership of the I.S. in Canada still remains silent, and therefore continues to be undifferentiated from the SWP in the IST.

7. Silence is not an option. On principle, therefore, we the undersigned can no longer remain as members of the International Socialists. Regretfully, please accept this as our letter of resignation.

Abbie Bakan
Ian Beeching
Brian Donnelly
Jay Gannon
Paul Kellogg
John Riddell
Suzanne Weiss


  1. While anyone with sense should quit the IS/SWP I have to say that Abbie and Paul are being somewhat hypocritical here. Abbie was a leading member, often the leading member, of the IS for 30 years until being sidelined a few years ago and when she and Paul were at the top they were as bureaucratic and authoritarian as anyone in the SWP leadership. This is a regime that often expelled people on specious grounds without so much as a hearing - instead the Steering Committee or branch committee would expel an individual and inform them after the fact. The faction fight between Bakan/Kellogg and McNally was a classic case of bureaucratic and undemocratic maneuvering. Abbie and Paul only discovered the importance of democratic norms, it seems, after they finally ended up on the wrong end of a faction fight and found themselves marginalized. Frankly, their latter day conversion is nothing more than opportunism.

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    2. I don't doubt that comrades involved for several decades in small far left groups like the IS have been involved in and are responsible for unacceptable political maneuvers during factions fights, and at other moments during the life of the organization. There's no question, as publicly-available online documents show, that the IS had serious internal political problems and shitty factional fights through the 80s and 90s. No one is disputing that Abbie and Paul weren't involved in this.

      Those who have signed the above document - this is their new political litmus test, a new standard with which they have publicly declared themselves to uphold.

      Let's not assume we know the actual motives of other committed revolutionaries, otherwise I'd be saying Mavis's claim that this is "nothing more than opportunism" is just sour grapes and bullshit mudslinging. Time to get over it, or put forward an actual political argument.

  2. We do have to answer for our past, but we can only really do so through actions in the present. That includes honest reassessment and critique of that past, which Abbie and Paul, as all of us, are engaged in. If everyone on the left were constantly and eternally faced with all their political errors and sins, without any allowance for change, the left would be... well, it would be the harsh, unchanging, sectarian and bitter place that the tone of this comment suggests it is. I think the actual political argument that led to our collective resignation is sound. I agree with Mavis's anger at authoritarian groups, their expulsions, discipline and politics on command, faction fights between those who refuse to listen, and fetishistic scrabbling over the mantle of true bolshevism. I see the rejection of all this (and more) emerging from many places and processes on the left, including as a result of the last several years of close discussion with Abbie and Paul, and many others.

    1. "honest reassessment and critique of that past, which Abbie and Paul, as all of us, are engaged in."

      As nice as that would be I don't see any genuine self-criticism coming from Paul in the comments he's posted below. Apparently, in Paul and Abbie's 30 years on the Steerting Committee there was never an unwarranted explusion and all expulsions followed democratic norms with hearings and due process. Except we all know that's simply not true. I remember, for example, an incident where Abbie went to New Brunswick and informed a young comrade he was no longer a member after he had shown interest in the Bolshevik Tendency - no disciplinary committee, no hearing, no ability to respond formally to charges, nothing. Nor is there any mea culpa for Abbie and Paul uncritically following every twist and turn taken by the SWP leadership for decades and using organizational and bureaucratic methods to enforce adherence.

  3. I am sure the listed people in this letter would have been expelled already if Abbie had been on the leadership to insist on it. This is hypocritical and really at the end of the day inconsequential. Abbie and Paul were never activists, they were intellectuals who tried to lead from the front of the room and not inside the movements. Thankfully those within the IS who are at the heart of social movements, trade unions, and campus work are still mostly around and not joining the revisionist attempts to mea culpa their behaviour of sectarianism and authoritarian leadership. It's all good to be Callinicos's echo when you are in leadership and then be his nemesis when out, but I smell a position of convenience, not one of principle.

    I am as disgusted as anyone else by how the CC in the SWP handled the situation, but I am actually quite frankly just as disgusted that the signatories here are exploiting what has happened to leave the Canadian IS they wanted to leave anyways. This isn't a heroic abandoning of the organization you built. This is a drifting away from the politics you once had. Don't dress yourselves in anything more significant than that.

  4. Well, perhaps your sense of smell is off? Or just at too great a distance from what is a difficult process. I'm more involved than committed, to be sure, but still sympathetic and trying to find what's needed and what's next. Yes this current situation was for me just the last straw in a long process, and I don't claim to be a hero, but I am all in favour of moving away from the politics you once had, as and when necessary (even if, for some, it's evidence of "convenience" or just simply comes too late). Now, the left needs both activists and intellectuals, of course; problems seem to flow from those who assume authority in one easily transfers to the other. (I try to find and accept my limitations in both, actually.) I just wish there were many more mea culpas from those who still occupy positions of "sectarianism and authoritarian leadership." I'm sure we can agree something more is needed in the left, and the world, as it is.

  5. Everyone is entitled to her/his own opinions. But on the specifics, Mavis is describing a group I don't recognize. The vast majority of the disciplinary measures carried out in the I.S. over the years were triggered by concern for the personal safety of members. Over issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, a punch-up at a pub - people were suspended or removed from membership. A handful of cases over the years, and in my opinion we were right to take action.

    That said - let's take the general point seriously. The I.S. involved itself and played a good role in many social movements over the years. In the struggle for abortion rights, against austerity in the 1990s, against war in every decade – we have a proud record. But – those successes always co-existed with recurring internal problems. Why does a culture develop where people feel the need to self-censor? Why does "leadership" too often take the form of bullying? There is always a tendency to lay these problems at the feet of this or that individual. Is that really an adequate method? Why does the pattern keep repeating itself in group after group? When the same phenomenon recurs repeatedly, it points to a systemic problem.

    The conclusion that myself and many others have come to, is that there are, in fact, systemic problems with key aspects of the framework we tried so hard to apply for many, many years. I think we adopted an overly-centralized model of organization, one of whose effects was to make inter-personal relations toxic. We became "too Russian" (to quote Lenin) in our approach to socialist organizing. Organizational forms made necessary because of Czarist conditions are at best silly, at worst dangerous, when transplanted to contemporary Global North conditions.

    And just for the record –marginalization did not create the conditions for asking these questions, at least in Canada. Unfortunately, it was the other way around – asking questions critical of “our tradition” had the effect of systematically pushing some of us to the margins. However, it was a very productive marginalization. If being isolated is the price for asking necessary questions … that’s just fine. In fact, “marginalization” is relative only to the small left group. All of us discovered that the more “marginal” we became inside the small left, the more engagement we were able to have with the social movements and the emergent new left. The two phenomena existed in a perfectly inverse relationship. In those circumstances, we chose the movements over the small left every time. Turn your back on the small left. Embrace the struggle for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. Embrace solidarity work with Venezuela and Bolivia. Embrace the call from Cochabamba to combine a fight for climate justice with a fight against capitalism. The right decisions, I think.

    1. Well, put Paul: "Turn your back on the small left. Embrace the struggle for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. Embrace solidarity work with Venezuela and Bolivia. Embrace the call from Cochabamba to combine a fight for climate justice with a fight against capitalism. The right decisions, I think."

      What is to be donein a nutshell.

  6. The elephant in the room is of course the 1996 split. There needs to be some reflection on that, although ironically the NSG itself does not appear to exist.I still maintain that all such groups should be in one common non-sectarian organization, ie. there is no credible reason for say Solidarity and the ISO in the US to maintain separate organizations.

  7. In fact, Mystery Guyster (who comes up with these names anyway), that split is being reflected on by many of us. There is no political justification for it, any more than there was for the 2001 expulsion of the ISO. Both were feverish reflections of the problems outlined above – Czarist methods in modern democracies. I look forward to collaboration with folks from the NSG and the ISO and Solidarity in the coming years – and, of course, the IS. We are all doing exactly the same thing. Where there are differences, we need to encourage forums where they can be clarified and crystallized. We need forms of political organization that can accommodate vigorous debate on everything – and which encourage comradely and respectful relations. To learn how to do this, an embrace of feminism will be helpful. (And a note to lexicon above - if you seriously want to be brought up to date on the shape of activism in Canada in the last few years, send me an email. You have mine and I have yours. But your series of charges above can’t be productively dealt with in this space).

    1. i have no desire to engage with you Paul until your resignation letter is re-written to reflect the true reasons you have moved on. To make comments to the effect that the IS is the public face of the SWP in Canada is an insult to those of us who actually are totally critical of what has happened but aren't using the events as a facade to mask the political disagreements you actually have with the IS. That characterization is more a reflection of how you treated the relationship between the groups. You drove the SWP line uncritically into the organization for years. And now that you aren't there, the IS has a lot more independent approaches and sometimes has taken positions that probably angered the SWP (see Galloway tour).

      It is also a total farce to play mea culpa on the NSG split. You and Abbie were the worst in instigating that split, isolating McNally from the leadership after winning the debate. It isn't just a reflection of Czarist methods but also a reflection of your personalities and how you used those organizational structures. I was around long enough to see what kind of behaviours different members of the leadership resorted to, it wasn't homogenous. But instead of realizing that you two were part of the problem you try to lay fault to centralization, with no sense that you two were agents in making those structures less democratic, less fertile to debate.

      I could forgive the organizational habits you two brought to the IS. I am not angry that you have resigned. Your politics changed, your perspectives changed. You no longer believe in the same organizational forms you once did. This happens. I disagree with you on these points but my anger is rooted in how you have chosen to leave. I am angry Paul, not because you left the IS but how you did it. The crisis in the SWP was your out but wasn't the reason. Now it just appears like you are taking advantage of a tragic case of sexual assault to dramatize your exit. That's douchie at best and dishonest at worst.

  8. Im just so sorry many young people were led down the garden path by both sides in these awful parties Proud to be an ex Trot and current Fordista.