Tuesday, July 10, 2012

581 Britain's (Trotskyist) Socialist Workers Party splits over Assange rape allegations/extradition

Britain's (Trotskyist) Socialist Workers Party splits over Assange rape

Newsletter published om 14-02-2013

(1) SWP factional war began with support for extradition of Assange to
Sweden over fake Rape claims - wsws Trots
(2) Allegations of rape against a leading member of the SWP trigger
bitter divisions - Red Pepper

(1) SWP factional war began with support for extradition of Assange to
Sweden over fake Rape claims - wsws Trots


Britain’s Socialist Workers Party descends into factional warfare

By Chris Marsden

14 February 2013

However, its defining feature is the absence of any principled political
differences between the SWP leadership and its opponents.

Over the past period, the SWP has, on the basis of appeals to moral
outrage, lined up behind pro-imperialist movements in Libya and now
Syria, paving the way for military intervention in the first instance
and a bloody civil war in the second.

In Egypt, it has entered into counter-revolutionary alliances with
various representatives of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, first the Muslim
Brotherhood and now the liberal and Nasserite parties.

At home, it has lauded various trade union bureaucrats even as they
betrayed one struggle after another, while urging an alliance with
Labour Party councillors in the fight against cuts, preparing once again
to call for the election of a Labour government.

On these issues, there is full agreement between the party leadership
and its critics.

The dispute has focused almost exclusively upon allegations of rape made
against a leading member of the party and the mishandling of the charges
by the SWP’s Disputes Committee. The opposition is led by what are
unashamedly referred to as the party’s “celebrity members”, such as
Richard Seymour, who runs the blog Lenin’s Tomb, and fantasy writer
China Miéville. It draws support from academia and the Socialist Workers
Party Students Societies. Their views are posted widely and internal
documents routinely leaked to hostile publications.

The opposition denounces the supposed misogyny of the SWP and charges
the leadership with underestimating the struggle against “patriarchy.”
This is combined with accusations that the party’s bureaucratic
structures and a rigid internal discipline, which includes a ban on
factions, are a barrier to work with “non-hierarchical” semi-anarchist
Occupy-type movements and, more important still, efforts to replicate
Greece’s SYRIZA (Coalition of The Radical Left) as a new electoral
vehicle in Britain for the opposition’s own social aspirations.

Attempts by the SWP leadership to pose as an orthodox opposition to such
positions are a transparent fraud. The elements involved in the
anti-leadership faction and their politics have been incubated by the
SWP. They draw on positions advocated for years by the party.

The most striking confirmation of this fact is the way opposition
supporters repeatedly cite as their inspiration the SWP’s disgraceful
backing for the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to
Sweden on the basis of trumped-up accusations of rape, and the SWP’s
denunciations of MP George Galloway as a “rape denier” for his statement
that Assange had not, in fact, raped anyone.

According to one Viv S, it was precisely because of the Assange case
that “we felt we had to come forward”. Journalist Tom Watson wrote in a
resignation letter, “The SWP itself called for Julian Assange to face
rape charges in Sweden, in a Socialist Worker article I am proud to have
written. I do not see why what is good enough for Assange is not good
enough for the party’s leaders.”

The complaint levelled against the SWP is that its own adaptation to
feminism and other forms of identity politics is stuck in the 1970s
mould and has not kept pace with the contemporary evolution of such
politics. One member complains that “it wasn’t until 2007 that the T was
added to LGBT on party documents”, while another says that, having
“recently started a degree,” she found that eight years of party
membership had left her unaware of “a whole new world of
intersectionality, gender politics, and critical studies”, and left her
trapped in “a classical Marxist tradition” and unable to make sense “of
new understandings of oppression.”

Richard Seymour has repeatedly argued that the SWP’s Greek co-thinkers
should end their pro-forma criticism of Syriza’s reformist and
pro-European Union agenda. “The point will be to support the mass
movements capable of pressuring a Syriza-led government from the left,”
he argued last June. “No, they are not a revolutionary formation; no,
they won't overthrow capitalism; no, their manifesto is not a communist
manifesto. Yet it is just possible that Syriza won’t betray workers in
the interests of European capital…”

The reply to the opposition by the SWP’s leading theoretician, Alex
Callinicos, makes the grotesque pretence of defending “revolutionary
parties… that draw on the method of organising developed by Lenin and
the Bolsheviks.”

In reality, there is precious little democracy in the SWP and excessive
centralism. Moreover, from the standpoint of essential issues of
programme and perspective, the SWP has nothing revolutionary in it. It
merely exhibits a readiness to employ left rhetoric to justify
increasingly right-wing policies.

From the time it split with the Fourth International in 1951, the SWP’s
forerunner, the International Socialists (IS), dedicated itself to a
sustained attack on Trotskyism. The tendency, then led by Tony Cliff,
repudiated any prospect of social revolution in the post-war period. It
argued that the emergence of what it called a “state capitalist” system
in the Soviet Union was only the most developed expression of a new form
of capitalist exploitation on a world scale, which lent capitalism a new
lease on life.

This new form of capitalism, the IS claimed, included the post-war
welfare reforms and state nationalisations carried out by the 1945
Labour government. The working class was deemed to be reformist in its
nature and non-revolutionary—supplanted by petty-bourgeois intellectuals
and other bourgeois forces that presided over a “deflected permanent
revolution”, consolidating state capitalist formations in one country
after another.

The IS’s declaration that the Soviet Union was equivalent to US
imperialism and its insistence that the reformist parties and trade
union apparatuses represented the interests of the working class enabled
it to secure a niche in a layer of the petty bourgeoisie that relied
upon the welfare state and the trade unions for their own privileges.
This layer combined radical rhetoric and pressure on the labour
bureaucracies to safeguard wages and public-sector jobs and services
with unswerving opposition to any attempt to construct a working class
party independent of the Labour Party.

The IS decided to adopt what Callinicos terms “a Leninist model of
organisation” only in 1968, when revolutionary movements it had spent
almost two decades saying would never emerge erupted across Europe and
internationally. This pose of orthodoxy was considered vital in
combating the danger of workers gravitating to the genuine Trotskyists
of the Socialist Labour League. But the essential line of the SWP, as
the IS became known in 1977, remained its insistence that the reformist
and Stalinist bureaucracies were the natural leaders of a reformist
working class.

This was used to argue for various opportunist alliances (described as
“United Fronts of a special type”) with trade union functionaries and
the like, which Callinicos describes as “a continuous process of
dialogue” with the working class. He lists as examples the Stop the War
Coalition, in which the SWP aligned itself with the Communist Party of
Britain; the Muslim Association of Britain; churches; and even the
Liberal Democrats and Unite Against Fascism, which is funded and
organised by the Trades Union Congress!

Callinicos’ argument is a poorly disguised defence of the SWP’s
substantial apparatus. He defends this apparatus, in part, because many
depend on it for their livelihoods, but more important still because it
provides a power base from which to negotiate alliances with sections of
the Labour and trade union bureaucracy as well as Islamist groups, and
to provide foot soldiers for every new political adventure.

Warning that the “stakes in these debates are very high” if party
discipline is breached, he cites as an example how the “New
anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France imploded in 2011-12, leading to a
very serious breakaway to the Front de Gauche led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.”

What does this mean? As Callinicos sees it, the SWP, as it advances an
explicitly non-revolutionary agenda and jumps in and out of bed with
whoever needs a pseudo-left apologia, requires bureaucratic discipline
to prevent SWP members from simply joining the various bourgeois
tendencies being courted. Hence the danger of a weakening of the
bureaucratic party regime.

Callinicos raises one additional concern—that his opponents are making a
mistake in underestimating the need to maintain the SWP’s revolutionary
pose given the discrediting of the old parties and trade unions. He
agrees that “an insurgent working class” is not “at the centre” of
contemporary radicalised movements, but argues, “It would be ridiculous
to assert that the working class is finished.”

This is an extraordinary thing to have to argue in a supposedly Marxist
party. It is animated by an understanding that to openly ditch the SWP’s
bogus allusions to revolution, Leninism, Trotskyism, etc., would impede
the SWP in carrying out manoeuvres with discredited parties and trade
unions vitally in need of the left cover it provides.

The same considerations animate the SWP Central Committee resolution
meant to be an answer to the opposition, which affirms “the right of the
Central Committee to impose disciplinary measures,” but has not one word
of political criticism. It offers instead a debate on topics such as
“The changing nature of the working class” and “The radical left, the
united front and the SWP.”

Whatever Callinicos might wish, the SWP’s present crisis reveals that
the essential character of the party can no longer be masked behind the
type of pseudo-socialist verbiage in which he specialises. The extreme
polarisation of society has separated a significant section of the
upper-middle class from its former reliance upon the working class and
driven it ever more firmly into an alliance with those at the apex of

The social layers on which the SWP is based now earn double, treble and
more often many multiples the average salary of even a skilled worker.
Some have a stock portfolio, an inheritance from their parents and
grandparents, private medical insurance and the prospect of a
comfortable pension.

They inhabit environs where emphasising sex, sexual preference or colour
often provides a means for their own social advancement. In these
circles, the working class and working class males, in particular, are
routinely disparaged for the “backward”, “racist”, “misogynist” and
“homophobic” attitudes that are ascribed to them by their self-appointed
and self-righteous critics.

The opposition of these layers to the ruling elite, such as it is, is
not based upon socialist principles or animated by the striving for
equality. It is the politics of petty envy and sectional interest. They
want little more than a bigger slice of the cake for themselves and
privileged status for their racial group or those of a similar sexual
orientation. For the same reason, they view the struggle of the working
class against private ownership of the means of production, on which all
such privileges ultimately depend, as a threat.

It is no longer the case that they are merely sceptical of the
revolutionary capacities of the working class. The closer the objective
situation comes to decisive class struggles, the more openly the
petty-bourgeois pseudo-left set themselves consciously against
revolution and in defence of the existing order.

The headlong rush by the pseudo-left tendencies to the right creates the
conditions under which a great ideological weight can be lifted from the
backs of the workers and young people now being driven into struggle
against the profit system and its defenders. There is nothing so
damaging to socialism as its being associated with the rotten politics
of the SWP, the Socialist Party and innumerable similar tendencies.

But their evolution, rooted in a profound social polarisation between
the classes, is bringing to a close an historic period in which
petty-bourgeois leftism could present itself as a counterfeit of
Trotskyism, as represented by the International Committee of the Fourth
International. It helps pave the way for the development of a genuinely
socialist movement of the working class.

(2) Allegations of rape against a leading member of the SWP trigger
bitter divisions - Red Pepper


Facing reality – after the crisis in the SWP

John Palmer looks at some of the roots of the party's problems, and asks
where the left can go from here

John Palmer was a long standing member of Socialist Review (SR) and the
International Socialists (IS), the forerunners of today’s Socialist
Workers Party. He left after a major split in the IS in mid 1970s which
led to the creation of the SWP.

Red Pepper (Trot/Anarchist online paper)

An explosive row over allegations of rape made against a leading member
of the Socialist Workers Party has triggered bitter divisions in the
largest of the far left parties in Britain and speculation about a
potential split. Whatever criticisms others on the left have about the
SWP, its interventions and its organisational methods, no one can take
pleasure in the prospect of further fragmentation of the radical left
when so many yearn for a coherent and effective socialist alternative to
a discredited economic and political establishment.

The issue of sexual violence and how the matter has been handled by the
SWP leadership – serious as it is – has in turn ignited far wider
discontent among party members. What started as a purely internal
dispute has now gone public and viral. It has exposed serious questions
about the internal life of the party; its system of 'democratic
centralism', the unrealistic hype which infuses much of the SWP’s
propaganda, its sectarianism and resentment among many members about
being treated as voiceless and ultimately dispensable foot soldiers.

The problems which beset the SWP are by no means unique on the far left.
The recent story of the 'Leninist' far left, not only in Britain but
internationally, has become too often a sad litany of millenarian
expectations, followed by disillusionment, the exhaustion of activists,
internal splits and political impotence. The largest left political
grouping in Britain is today made up of former members of the SWP and
similar organisations.

That said, some of the finest socialists and militants are still to be
found among members of parties like the SWP and the Socialist Party
(SP). Without them, opposition to the vicious onslaught on the living
standards and rights of working people unleashed as a result of the
present economic crisis would have been even weaker and less effective
than it has been.

The real issue is whether political organisations of the kind which
emerged from the revolutionary currents generated by the Russian
revolution, a century ago, have any future in their present form. We
live in a period when the left has to fight back against the rampant
right wing offensive and at the same time seek to understand the
profound changes which have taken place in society and come to terms
with what they mean for the theory and the practice of the left.

One obvious question is whether the era of proletarian socialism which
began about 150 years ago, generated by the industrial revolution, is
passing. Not only has the organised labour movement shrunk in size and
influence, the Labour Party seems to have become utterly disconnected
from its original base. But the era of the revolutionary socialist
currents, inspired by the Bolshevik tradition, has also passed.

Democratic centralism

A key issue for those in the SWP opposed to the leadership and seeking a
wholesale reform of the party is the leadership’s insistence on an
ultra-centralist form of 'democratic centralism'. This, critics believe,
has reinforced a self-perpetuating clique in control of the SWP
apparatus and increasingly out of touch with the outside world.

Although Lenin’s name is regularly invoked in support of democratic
centralism, it meant many very different things at stages in the history
of the Bolsheviks. Arguably essential to the Bolsheviks very survival in
the run up to the Russian revolution, under Stalin it became the rubric
for dictatorship and the destruction of the party’s revolutionary base.

Democratic centralism has most often been justified as being necessary
to lead the working class to the conquest of state power and/or to
survive in conditions of illegality and repression. Neither of these
conditions remotely applies in this country today and has not done so
for a very long time. Little wonder so many rank and file party SWP
members feel stifled by the curbs on dissent imposed by a self serving

The late Tony Cliff – the charismatic leader of SR, the IS and the SWP –
adopted one of Lenin’s different views on democratic centralism, having
originally advocated the libertarian model favoured by the great German
revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg. He stressed the danger of
'substitutionism' described by Luxemburg: the tendency for the party to
substitute itself for the class, the leadership for the party and
finally an individual for the leadership.

The IS was better able to relate to the social upheavals in the late
1960s and early 1970s precisely because it had earlier dumped a great
deal of the catechism of the so-called ‘orthodox’ Trotskyists and had a
better understanding both of the seeming stability of western capitalism
and the class realities of the ‘actually existing socialism’ of the
Stalinist dictatorships.

The limited but important base that the IS established among militant
workers in the late 1960s and early 1970s also acted as a brake on the
more frenetic ‘stick bending’ (political exaggeration) by over ambitious
IS leaders seeking to short cut the long hard road to mass influence.

This may be why Cliff eventually instigated a purge in the mid-1970s
which saw and expulsion and departure of so many IS shop stewards and
other militants. His task was facilitated by an already centralising
tendency of the system of democratic centralism which had been
introduced into IS during the heightened political atmosphere triggered
by the revolutionary development in France in 1968.

Class consciousness

Of course class still exists. Indeed class inequality, exploitation and
injustice have become more not less grotesque in recent years. But class
consciousness – what Marx described as ‘a class FOR itself not just a
class IN itself’ – has declined dramatically. This has led to the
virtual disappearance of much of the popular collectivist and
co-operative self help culture expressed in a myriad of working class
educational, cultural and other organisations built over 100 years of

The industrial working class is still growing in parts of Asia and Latin
America but it is now a marginal force in the older capitalist economies
in Europe and North America. Of course our trade unions still exist –
mainly in an increasingly besieged public sector – and play a vital role
in resisting the ever more aggressive demands of a deeply reactionary
Tory government. But nonetheless the world has changed dramatically in
the past 40 years and in ways that require new responses from the left.

Perhaps the least significant of these changes has been to render some
of the distinguishing ideas of the original Socialist Review and
International Socialists as no longer relevant. The concept of the
‘Permanent Arms Economy’ (PAE) was not originated in IS but was much
developed by Cliff and Michael Kidron, the Marxist economist and first
editor of International Socialism magazine.

Kidron later said that while the theory contained important ‘insights’
it did not succeed fully in explaining development in post war
capitalism. The theory of State Capitalism – which analysed the dynamic
driving the economies of the Stalinist states – was eventually rendered
obsolete by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite economies.

These ideas initially helped give socialists confidence to resist the
pressure from the Communist Party and some ‘orthodox Trotskyists’ to see
defensible features of a ‘workers’ state’ in the Soviet system –
including, for some, even the Russian H-bomb! The PAE was also an
antidote to the tendency by some on the far left to see capitalist
collapse constantly around the corner.

Doctrinal mummification

The IS had some impressive intellectual resources which could have been
harnessed to develop the organisation’s understanding of the
developments in global capitalism which exploded. But the original
analyses got doctrinally mummified by the SWP as timelessly valid and
this attitude became a break on the development of new ‘revisionist’
ideas of the kind which had initially inspired SR and the early IS.

I have always regretted the collective reluctance of the far left (not
just the SWP) to explore the potential of what in the 1970s were
described as ‘workers’ plans for alternative production’ which were
developed by some rank and file workplace-based militants. They would
not by themselves have defeated the Thatcherite onslaught on the
organised trade union movement and the wholesale destruction of jobs and
communities but they would have helped the labour movement build more
powerful alliances with civil society and community organisations.

These were also years when feminism began to exercise a growing
influence on socialists and the left’s lack of awareness of the specific
problems of patriarchy and gender discrimination. This added to the
internal ferment inside IS and led to the departure of a large number of
the socialist feminist cadres.

It has to be faced that the left has more questions to ask at present
than it has ready made answers to give. But the picture is by no means
uniformly bleak. The economic crisis has undermined the political
self-confidence of the ruling class. The right is fissured by a growing
challenge from the populist far right. Some of the traditional social
distinctions which divided working people (such as between white collar
and blue collar workers) are disappearing. With the dramatic fall in the
living standards of even skilled and professional workers, new forms of
collective class awareness may now be emerging.

New forms of civil society activism are emerging. Many are marked by a
strong, innate, internationalism. New forms of cooperative,
not-for-profit associations and enterprises are emerging. Important
gains for human rights have been codified in law although still widely
ignored by state powers with ambitions for global hegemony. The green
movement has injected the essential concept of sustainability into the
debate about the economy which gives important leverage for those
advocating a change in the capitalist system itself.

There is a remarkable awareness among young people that democracy needs
to take more accountable and tangible forms than mere parliamentarism,
as instanced by the Occupy movement. Interestingly a new YouGov poll
shows a 64 per cent to 35 per cent majority among 18 to 34 year olds for
remaining in the EU and fighting for a trans-national democracy to help
shape global solutions for global problems.

Above all we can also learn from the struggle taking place now in the
teeth of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s about how new,
pluralist forms of democratic organisation are emerging on the radical
left. One obvious example is Syriza in Greece. Whatever the outcome of
the internal struggle in the SWP, there is every reason for trying to
build such a pluralist radical socialist left here.

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