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SWP: the struggle must go on

This article was published shortly before the announcement of resignations after conference. Nevertheless the article addresses issues relevant for all comrades committed to building a genuine revolutionary party – whether they are in or out of the SWP. 

The crisis in the SWP will not be resolved by the Special Conference called for 10 March 2013. The conference, called unconstitutionally at four weeks’ notice, has the sole aim of putting an end to the factional struggle, which has polarised the membership for and against the Central Committee.

The crisis erupted when the CC expelled four comrades a month before the party’s annual conference in January, then managed to scrape through conference a vote to acquit a senior party full-timer and former CC member of serious charges of rape and sexual harassment. Since then, hundreds of members have scornfully disregarded norms of discipline, factions have been formed and long-standing activists have left.

This will be the decisive test to whether the CC can “draw a line” under the affair in the only way they know how – by co-opting the moderate wing of the opposition and forcing out those who refuse to submit to this sham of a “democratic process”.

There can be no doubt that while the leadership may be willing to compromise with the “respectable” leaders of the In Defence Of Our Party faction – themselves former CC loyalists – the CC and its supporters are incapable of submitting themselves to an urgent reform of the SWP’s democratic and political composition.

Certainly the CC has no intention of permitting questions of policy or perspective to be raised – the conference intends to deal solely with the opposition to the Dispute Committee handling of the rape accusation.

The shameless trampling of the SWP’s formal democracy shows that this is the case. Just one Pre-Conference Bulletin was published – not the three guaranteed by the constitution. Worse, the Bulletin was circulated only after the majority of Aggregates to elect conference delegates had taken place. In case this wasn’t enough to stifle debate, the “rules for aggregates” effectively silenced opposition, with the intended result: faction members elected as delegates are outnumbered by loyalists out of all proportion to the actual balance of forces.

These rules gave the oppositionists just six minutes to explain and motivate their opposition to the regime. The CC also demanded name of the faction speaker was in advance. The speaker for the CC had no time constraints – and observed none, speaking at length at most aggregates. There was no right to sum up.

This is a brazen disregard for the rights of members, which is unprecedented even by the bureaucratic norms of the SWP. It is also a foretaste of things to come, if the loyalists succeed in defeating attempts to build an organisation, which holds its politics and leaders accountable to its members.

In the words of the infamous US command in Vietnam, the leadership of the SWP intends to “burn the village in order to save it”. The conference will give the CC the authority to launch a witch-hunt aimed at purging the organisation of all dissent. The conference is unconstitutional and its decisions should be rejected as illegitimate.

No doubt many members will leave through disgust or intimidation, but those who remain have a responsibility to maintain the struggle. Members should fight for the right to maintain a faction with full rights and the convening of a new conference with a democratic three-month discussion period.

The role of the student SWSS groups fighting for political autonomy and the International Socialism blog will be crucial factors in maintaining the organisational integrity and forum for political debate which will be the oxygen of the opposition. The aim should be to create the pole of attraction for a strategic response, which alone can stop the SWP’s inexorable slide into a besieged sect or total disintegration.

To create the basis of a genuinely democratic centralist culture, the following organisational forms and democratic rights need to be established and used to undertake a profound discussion of principles and programme. In this way the foundation of a genuine revolutionary party can be laid in Britain and internationally.

1. Membership criteria

The three Bolshevik conditions – agreement to fight for the programme, paying regular subs, personal participation in a party organisation – are the essential foundations for effective common participation in the class struggle by an informed and regularly active membership which can select and de select its own leadership. The membership must be being constantly trained as leaders for the wider mass struggles of the working class, the oppressed, youth, etc.

2. Branches and Districts

By and large, the branch (whether geographical or workplace) should be the normal base unit and should elect its own leadership and, via aggregate meetings, a district leadership. In matters relating to its own sphere of competence it should have a wide degree of autonomy though it is bound by policy decisions of the conference, NC and CC. District fulltimers (where they are necessary) should be controlled/directed by the areas in which they work but in general the leadership at these levels should not consist of fulltimers but elected committee members.

3. Internal Bulletins

IBs should be issued monthly throughout the year and fortnightly for a three-month pre-conference period. Though the CC should be responsible for editing them it should not normally reject contributions and if it does it should state in the bulletin that it has done so, giving (i) whose contribution and (ii) the reason. Members should have an automatic right of appeal to the next NC.

4. Tendencies and Factions

The right to form tendencies and factions shall be restored with no time limit. Only a conference should have the right to order the dissolution of either and then this should be an unusual occurrence. Factions must be accorded representation on the NC in proportion to the votes their principle documents or resolution receives at conference. The same must be true at district aggregates in the election of district committees.

5. Control Commission not Disputes Committee

The Disputes Committee should be abolished since it covers up the responsibility of the leading bodies for discipline. Disciplinary measures are the responsibility of the sovereign body and the leading committees it elects but they must then be able to be appealed against to the superior body to the one enacting the measures up to the conference itself. The CC should have the power only to suspend a member. Expulsions should be the sole prerogative of the NC or the conference itself.

6. Special Investigations

The CC or NC might appoint an investigative body to assist it but (a) it should be selected in a way appropriate to the specific case and (b) it should make a recommendation but not a judgement. The latter must be the responsibility of the leading bodies. Major penalties – suspension or expulsion – shall by default have the right to be appealed against to either a control commission elected by conference, or to conference itself. The control commission (the name refers to the fact that it controls or checks the actions of the executive to ensure they are not violations of the members’ right or motivated by political convenience) should have the power to suspend any disciplinary action until the next conference.

7. Right to Caucus

Members of oppressed groups above all women and the racially oppressed, but also LGBT people, youth (under 18), people with disabilities etc. shall have the right to caucus, i.e. call meetings of all members belonging to the appropriate category to discuss examples of oppressive or discriminatory behaviour or just to encourage greater participation by its members. It must have the right of confidentiality for its discussion though it must make a report of any requests to the appropriate bodies.

8. Programme and Principles

The CC accuses the opposition of feminism and autonomism but without either pointing to formulation in the opposition’s positions, which might prove this and without being able to point to a document or documents, which had been voted for by a national or international conference after a democratic discussion process. In short the SWP does not have a programme, which its members can measure this or that policy against. The result is disasters like the Respect debacle, or the malformed “united fronts of a special type” (UAF, RtW, UtR, EAN, etc. that break all the fundamental principles of the united front laid down by the revolutionary Communist International.

9. A Process of Programmatic Discussion

The SWP needs to open up a year-long discussion of programme – involving commissions of activists from the various areas of struggle, leading to NCs and maybe an interim conference to come up with a draft that can be put to the entire membership. This process will be enormously educational. It is not an alternative to an outward struggle orientation, since what is being discussed are policies for this struggle and the memberships’ practical experience in these struggles.

10. Revolutionary Unity and Internationalism

Nor should such a process take place just internally. It could be part of an initiative by the SWP for left unity – for creating a real party of the militant vanguard. It could be a process, which leads to thousands of new members – and other groups too – joining the party. Last but not least it most certainly should include all the sections of the International Socialist Tendency.

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