Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A well-argued but somewhat doughy review posted by Richard Seymour

The Telegraph has a review of Unhitched that is neither terrible nor worth getting excited about.  It's not malicious, or hot and flustered like the Indy reviewer's attempt at poison penmanship, but it's rather underwhelmed and underwhelming.  The best praise I get is that it's a "well-argued but somewhat doughy book".  Doughy, my hole.

I've also been interviewed for the New Left Project about the book:

What was the experience of writing the book like? How did you find immersing yourself in Hitchens' oeuvre?
Well, I got bloody sick of reading Christopher Hitchens.  He was at his best a very fine writer, and a real pleasure to read.  But he was not always at his best, to put it mildly.  In fact, when you traverse his oeuvre you begin to see how repetitive and predictable he could be, as well as how contradictory.  The same one-liners stop being funny; the inexplicable contradictions start to be frustrating.
Perhaps as interesting as Hitchens's writings was talking to his old comrades, colleagues and friends.  I wanted to speak to a lot more people, but I think I got enough gossip to stop this from being just a politically correct attack: it is a politically correct attack with some real dirt in it.  There was one point in writing this where I thought I would need to do a lot of detective work, to fill in biographical blanks.  But that was distracting me from the purpose, which was a political analysis of Hitchens and his writing.  As a result, I left some promising seams un-mined: there is plenty left for a would-be biographer to do.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is Zinovievism Finished? A reply to Alex Callinicos posted by Richard Seymour

The latest piece on the International Socialism blog, a collective effort by IS writers, replies to Alex Callinicos's article on Leninism and the SWP. 

Alex Callinicos’ article on the crisis in the SWP purports to be a defence of Leninism in the face of a ‘flood of attacks’ – by which Alex means the crisis that has engulfed the party over the mishandled investigation of allegations of rape and sexual harassment against a Central Committee member.

The piece does nothing of the sort, but is rather an encapsulation of the flaws that have brought us to this pass. It is clearly intended as an opening salvo in the CC’s response to the growing opposition within the party. In particular it draws on the long tradition of dealing with dissent over particular issues by means of the absurd implication that that dissent is an attack on the heritage of the October revolution, accompanied by an airy dismissal of the actual facts. This maneouvre assumes the following equivalences: that ‘revolutionary party’ means the model of democratic centralism adopted by the SWP in the 1970s, that this model replicates that of the Bolsheviks in 1917 and the decisions of the current leadership therefore embody the legitimacy of that revolution, which we can expect to be replicated in the conditions of the UK in the 21st century. This is pure substitutionalism – and on its own measure of providing ‘strong interventionist leadership’ is a complete failure.

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The 'quiet revolution' of neoliberalism posted by Richard Seymour

My latest for the Guardian.  Eric Pickles announces the government's quiet revolution in local government:

Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, urges local councils to "man up" and accept the "quiet revolution" the government is implementing. In this process, austerity is bound up with a set of policies ostensibly devolving power to local authorities. Councils can increase taxes if they must – but any rise above 2% must be ratified by a local referendum.
This sly proviso is intended to provide a pseudo-populist basis for austerity in perpetuity. Just as the government is using a thin facade of democratisation, with the election of a single police commissioner, to boost rightwing law-and-order politics, so it is using the language of devolution to further neuter local authorities.
To see how this works, it is necessary to understand the context of Cameronite "localism". Its premises are rooted in what might be called a neoliberal governmentality – the idea that through the correct application of market-based incentives, people can be gradually moulded into neoliberal subjects. People's behaviour, driven by such incentives, would determine how they thought and felt about the world. As the French philosopher Louis Althusser once put it, "Kneel down, move your lips in prayer, and you shall believe."

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

The SWP opposition is growing posted by Richard Seymour

For those who follow the IS blog already, I don't need to point out that this week has seen a lot of activity.  After my own critique of Party Notes, now commonly referred to as 'Pravda' among members, we learned of one of the ways in which the document had lied to members.  We have also had a number of exceptional articles challenging the arguments of Central Committee members and loyalists, above all this incisive piece by Gareth Dale.  

As part of our remit of communicating practical information to assist members, we carried a sample motion for a special conference, and yesterday an update on how many branches have already passed critical motions, and motions demanding a special conference.  This last is essential, because members would otherwise have no way of knowing how far there is to go before achieving that goal.  From now on, we will try to give members as much practical, up-to-date information as possible.

There is also an anonymous letter to the National Secretary, which every party member needs to read and reflect on.  Note the trigger warning.

On Friday, there was an almost ceaseless stream of open statements by local Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) groups, from Kings College to Manchester, condemning the Central Committee and supporting the opposition.  This is hardly surprising given the leadership's willingness to sacrifice SWSS and its successes for the sake of winning its internal battles.

Today, there is an open letter of support from an Irish SWP member, and a further, excellent piece by China Mieville addressed to party members.

For those interested in critical reflections on the longue duree, I would refer you to this intelligent perspective piece by Neil Davidson, which we posted up on Monday.  And also, this thoughtful, acerbic article by our resigned comrade, Tom Walker.

In the week since the IS blog went up, it has had over 170,000 page views.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Necrophilia in the review section. posted by Richard Seymour

A review of Unhitched in the Independent taxes your esteemed author in the following way:

"One can only recoil in disgust from someone who first accuses his subject of always seeking to make his enemies appear "unprincipled... mediocre and physically repulsive mountebanks", and who then, smirking, writes "in fairness, Hitchens might have struggled if those standards were applied to him ... It is no surprise that its author delayed his malediction until his victim was safely out of earshot. ... He ignores the prodigious prodigality of Hitchens's writing ... Nor is any mention made by our prosecutor of Hitchens's courage and daring, his devotion to professional duty as well as his crazy adventurousness. ... Its subject was as eloquent, cultivated, exuberant, unstoppable, sheerly gigantic a journalist as British or American politics has known since George Orwell or Walter Lippmann."

Well, as Hitchens once said (plagiarising someone else, I think), anyone who can suck like that need never dine alone.

Thank god for Hitchens's sycophants.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

In every essential way, a jingo posted by Richard Seymour

An excerpt from Unhitched has just been published at Truthdig:

“Watching the towers fall in New York,” Hitchens told David Horowitz’s Frontpage magazine in 2003, “with civilians incinerated on the planes and in the buildings, I felt something that I couldn’t analyze at first and didn’t fully grasp.… I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that this was a feeling of exhilaration. Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.” As he later affirmed, “a whole new terrain of struggle had just opened up in front of me.” Recalling “the title of that Orwell essay from 1940 … ‘My Country Right or Left,’” he thought about the USA: “My country after all.” So, “shall I take out the papers of citizenship?” Hitchens asked, heart taking wing like a passenger jet. “Wrong question. In every essential way, I already have.”...

There is also this rather nice review:

I have to hand it to Seymour – this book was a cathartic read.  No one uses words like “yawp”, let alone carefully modulated jazz-like prose, end a subsection with a cacophony of righteous snark, veer over to an allegory, and then back to yawping.  No one that is, but Richard “Lenin’s Tomb” Seymour.

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Latest on International Socialism posted by Richard Seymour

Gareth Dale writes on the argument that SWP members should "respect the authority of conference":

In the debate that is currently blazing within the SWP this is the most potent argument in the Central Committee’s arsenal. For we all agree that the annual conference is the highest institution of our democracy. The report at the centre of the row, the Disputes Committee report, was accepted by conference, with 231 votes in favour, 209 against, and 18 recorded abstentions. Nobody, to my knowledge, has disputed the accuracy of the count. “For the sake of democracy and unity,” the CC argues, “all members must accept the vote. Just look at the numbers, and read the constitution!”
This argument simply won’t do. Some would say its flaws go back to the pre-conference discussion period and the management of conference itself. There were aggregates at which comrades who sought to raise the issue of the DC report were denied the floor; important information was withheld from the party prior to conference; comrades were expelled for pre-conference discussion; a properly formed faction was suppressed; and the factions which the CC did allow were not given proper factional rights. These are real concerns. But even if the conduct of pre-conference debate and the organisation of conference itself had been impeccable, the argument would still be unsustainable...

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Latest updates on International Socialism posted by Richard Seymour

International Socialism, the new blog set up by SWP members, gained 15,000 page views in its first eight hours of existence. Since going up, it has had three new posts. First, this on moralistic moaning about the internet; then this, in reply to the latest Party Notes; finally, this, important information for all party members.


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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review of Unhitched posted by Richard Seymour

Speaking of PR flackery, I am grateful to Doug Enaa Greene for this review of Unhitched:

So what are we to make of Hitchens? Seymour offers this as a closing argument:
He found, as he might have suspected, that being on the right side of history in this sense was to gain more influence and pecuniary advantage than ever before. He succumbed to almost every craven, supine, and bigoted impulse he possessed and, while despatching the false gods of other believers, adopted a devotional attitude towards his adopted land. He became “a living and ignominious satire on himself” (p. 110).
Having sat through the prosecution’s case, one can merely mutter of Christopher Hitchens, “the guilty bastard”.

The title of the review is a perfect summary, I feel.

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New SWP blog posted by Richard Seymour

SWP members have set up a blog to continue this debate. Partly this is to extricate the discussion from the constant PR flackery at Lenin's Tomb, where I'm plugging Unhitched all the time. It is also to have all the posts and arguments in one place. Another reason is to emphasise that it is a collective and not an individual effort, and to remove the hierarchy implied by the label 'guest post'.

It isn't, as yet, a beautiful blog. It needs work. I will, of course, continue to post my own contributions on Lenin's Tomb as well. But you should go to International Socialism for updates, perspectives and argument on these issues.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

More dispatches from 'the real world' posted by Richard Seymour

We restless and unhappy members of the Socialist Workers' Party are so often cautioned to re-focus our energies on 'the real world'. So it happens to be a problem that in 'the real world', because of a failure of both principle and strategy, we are rapidly becoming toxic for many whom we have built up working relationships with. The latest example: Essex socialist students being isolated and shunned.

I simply ask members this. If you are experiencing this sort of problem directly, what do you think can be done to repair the damage? And do you see any sign of it being done? Has anyone in the leadership offered you any productive advice on what to do? Other than, get your head down and hopefully it will all blow over? If not, how can this be? Isn't it because they, who pride themselves on defending a decisive, 'interventionist' form of leadership, are actually in a bunker composed of their own self-serving rationalisations right now? Isn't it because they have no idea what to tell you, because they refuse to concede that there is a real problem? Isn't it because they are in a state of profound denial about the crisis that befalls us? And what are you going to do about that?

My advice is, for what it's worth, is to pass motions in your branches calling for an emergency conference to address this crisis. That is the first and most important step. Since the matter falls to you to resolve, the least that you can ask for is the means to resolve it.

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Sussex SWSS open letter to the Central Committee posted by Richard Seymour

Sussex & Brighton University SWSS condemns in the strongest possible terms the Disputes Committee’s (DC) recent handling of serious allegations against a leading member of the organisation, the vote which ratified their report at conference, and the subsequent failure of the central committee to address the current crisis.

We note the failure of the DC in this case to carry out their investigative process in an entirely impartial way due to their composition, and the implications this has for any outcome they could have reached. We also reject aspects of the line of questioning of the two female comrades that came forward with the allegations as sexist, and at odds with the principles of our tradition. We recognize that the DC was faced with a difficult situation, with lack of precedent to enable them to handle this effectively. For this we fault the CC’s conduct with respect to W and the concerns she raised over the past few years. We also fault them for their failure to intervene and correct for failings in the DC’s procedure when they were so glaringly obvious, and for what many will see as their intentional misleading of the membership around the issue in past conferences.

To the CC, we say: not only have you failed W, X and every other comrade that might once have trusted in our disputes procedures. You have failed this entire organization, as well as the tradition in which it stands, by absurdly insisting on the shambolic series of fuckups and blunders that have constituted your “political response.” The list of these includes a process of misinformation in the lead-up to this conference and previous ones; banning the faction that tried to use our democratic processes so that comrades could make an informed decision on the DC report’s process; the removal or reshuffling of those CC members and full-timers that aired critical concerns regarding the matter; the moves to suppress debate in the organisation by asking comrades to “draw a line under it”; the expulsion of four comrades for an alleged “Facebook faction” (in practice a Facebook conversation) that is likely no different in content to those serious debates in which comrades are engaged today, in their branches and through other mediums of communication; the political slurs directed at comrades who have openly aired their views, including the unhelpful brandishing of “feminism” as an apparent insult, as well as the wholly disingenuous implication that the problem at hand is a “generational disconnect”; and the concomitant new CC appointment to the Student Office.

The aforementioned cannot be seen as anything but an attempt to “smash” critical studentvoices. These issues, coupled with the poor treatment and lack of support offered to the two female comrades that came forward with such grave allegations, has led to a complete breakdown in the trust we have in your leadership. We express our utmost concern for the fate of this organization and the role we hope we can continue to play, as SWP members, in building a revolutionary organization capable and worthy of leading the struggle against all forms of oppression under capitalist society. It is with this in mind that we write to you today, particularly in lieu of a public statement on that shows a complete disconnect with the political and personal burden your membership has come to bear as result of this fiasco, but more crucially displays an apparent obliviousness to the political reality that comrades are facing in their local unions, campuses and campaigns as a result of this. Recent events have forced us all to take a long look at how we found ourselves to be in this position, faults in our democratic procedures, perhaps a narrowing of space for debate, or a developing culture of political regurgitation and acquiescence and the inevitable lack of accountability that results. It is with the long-term view of how the party got here and what is necessary for us to be able to move forward that Sussex & Brighton University Branch came to an almost unanimous vote of no confidence in the leadership. We will be moving for the current CC’s dismissal from their post at the earliest available party decision-making body and/or conference at which we can do so.

Finally, to our comrades in struggle, to our colleagues and our friends, we would like to express our sincerest apologies for the recent failures of our organisation. We understand the distress and distrust that many of you have expressed as a result of this. We had hoped that the few responses circulated by comrades would offer at least some assurance that members of the SWP are fighting tooth and nail for the principles we share, and this letter should come as confirmation that Sussex & Brighton SWSS are no exception to this. We ask you to bear with us, to give us the opportunity to exhaust this line of enquiry, this line of protest, to allow us to fight for the very relevance (if not existence) of the organization that has equipped us to become the principled revolutionaries that you know us to be. And in turn we assure you that we will continue to uphold the proud tradition we stand in, that we will continue to fight oppression in our society in all its forms and variants and that we shall never dismiss or shy away from the criticisms and concerns of those in the movement and in the class as a whole.

We Call for:

1) An emergency conference, so that this organization may resolve this political crisis in a way that holds accountable those responsible and gives the membership the clarity and confidence needed to implement our political strategy moving forward.

2) An immediate public response that can provide clarity around the failures of the DC’s due process.

3) Delta to be removed from any official or public position within our organization, particularly given disagreement on the DC with respect to the question of Delta’s conduct.

4) The DC to resign their posts. Although we acknowledge the difficult situation the DC was faced with, we argue that their ability to carry out their functions as mandated by conference has been undermined by recent events. It remains the case that many members, including Comrade X, will not feel confident in taking their disputes to the current DC in light of recent events.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Unhitched previewed and reviewed posted by Richard Seymour

The Guardian's Review section carries my latest article about Unhitched. It'll be in the print edition tomorrow:

""To be able," wrote the late Christopher Hitchens, "to bray that 'as a liberal, I say bomb the shit out of them,' is to have achieved that eye-catching, versatile marketability that is so beloved of editors and talk-show hosts. As a life-long socialist, I say don't let's bomb the shit out of them. See what I mean? It lacks the sex appeal, somehow. Predictable as hell." That was in 1985.

In 2002, he took a different view of the matter. As long as the bombs were hitting the bad guys, then "it's pretty good because those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else … They'll be dead, in other words."

Predictable as hell or not, this transfiguration placed Hitchens (pictured in 1978) in a recognisable category: the left-wing defector with a soft-spot for empire..."

In These Times generously reviews Unhitched:

"By the time of his death in December 2011, Christopher Hitchens had built a status perhaps outstripping that of any contemporary intellectual: His passing was considered worthy of the New York Times’ front page, and he was mourned by Tony Blair, Sean Penn, David Frum and Patrick Cockburn, among others. It is from this altitude that he is yanked down by Richard Seymour in the clever, incisive Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens. The slim critique of Hitchen’s ouevre focuses on his engagement with British politics and literature, his work on religion and his double-armed embrace of American imperialism.

Though only 35, Seymour has made a name for himself as a thoughtful political analyst, notably in his book The Liberal Defence of Murder, on how the language of humanitarianism helps camouflage imperialism, and on his blog Lenin’s Tomb, an indispensible source for analysis of neoliberalism, the War on Terror and Islamophobia. Ironically, Seymour’s literary style often evokes that of Hitchens at his best. Some of Seymour’s turns of phrase are positively Hitchensian, such as his opening salvo in the introduction to Unhitched: “This is unabashedly a prosecution. And if it must be conducted with the subject in absentia, as it were, it will not be carried out with less vim as a result.”

And when writing in the prosecutorial mode, Seymour has, like his subject, a gift for reeling off an entire firing squad’s worth of bullets in a single sentence: “Hitchens was a propagandist for the American empire, a defamer of its opponents, and someone who suffered the injury this did to his probity and prose as so much collateral damage.” Seymour is also a Trotskyist, as Hitchens once was. But there the comparisons end, because Seymour is plainly a caliber of intellectual that his subject is not."

I'll take that, thank you.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Stakes posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by China Mieville:

The Stakes. Members of the SWP must understand what is at stake in the crisis rocking our organization. Not only is there already a steady outflow of members resigning in disgust at this farrago and its handling by the leadership, but now other organizations of the left are becoming hesitant about working with us, and in some cases are openly boycotting and censuring us. 

This is a call to members to stay and fight. It is also to urge that we do so without illusions about the nature of the fight that we face. 

 Many of us have argued strongly that catastrophic errors of principle and process on the part of the leadership have taken us to this. But even those who – I firmly believe wrongly – disagree about this must recognise the situation we are in. This has rapidly also become a catastrophe for us strategically. Our name is becoming toxic. Our credibility as a collective and as individual activists is being grossly compromised, and is on the verge of being permanently tainted. We all know the allegations that any future potential recruit who takes two minutes to research us online will read. The hoary accusations of the loyalists that those of us expressing concerns are looking ‘inward’ to ‘blogland’ and are not in the ‘real world’ have never looked so pitiful as they do now. This is a real world, acute crisis, of the leadership’s making. 

As we ‘dissidents’ have repeatedly stressed, the fact that we are on the verge of permanently losing our credibility is irrespective of the truth or otherwise of the allegations of rape and sexual harassment. (These, of course, deserve sensitive and appropriate examination in their own right.) This fact inheres in the grotesque and sexist nature of the questions posed to the accusers; in the ‘wagon-circling’ attitude of the leadership and its loyalists; in the failures and evasions of accountability that meant the processes involved could ever have been thought appropriate; and now in the belief-beggaringly inadequate and arrogant response of the CC to the greatest crisis we have ever faced. These are all political failings of astonishing proportions. 

We must not only deal with this but be seen publicly to be dealing with it. A ‘quiet revolution’ will be no revolution at all. There is one chance to save the SWP, and to do so means reclaiming it. We must be the party whose membership saw that there was a catastrophe unfolding, refused to heed our own failed leadership’s injunctions to fall into line, and reclaimed the party and the best elements of our IS tradition. If we fail in this, the SWP is finished as a serious force. 

We must understand that these are extraordinary times and require extraordinary measures. Members’ usual – and usually understandable and honourable – instincts to show discretion and to trust their leadership are not only inadequate, they are counterproductive. This leadership does not deserve our trust, and our discretion now only serves them. 

We must consolidate our efforts. We need to communicate with each other. It is invaluable to pass motions in branches censuring our CC and above all – this is critical – calling for an extraordinary conference. However, these motions must be publicized to the wider membership. This is not the time for private letters to the CC, for appeals to their wisdom, for concerned words to our district organizers. Such methods are part of the system that got us here. Comrades must go public, and link up with others attempting to salvage the honour of the tradition in which we fight. 

 Of course taking matters to the branches and discussing them there is vital. However, the allegation often made by loyalists that to also discuss them with the wider membership is somehow inappropriate or disloyal is wrong at any time, and utterly absurd now. The CC itself, in its shameful document ‘For an Interventionist Party’, defending the recent expulsion of four comrades for ‘secret factionalism’, claims that ‘[m]embers of the SWP are of course free to discuss face-to-face or online’. (This, incidentally, is a lie: as recently as the 2009 conference, those arguing for democratic renewal were denounced from the podium by a CC member for discussing our concerns on email.) Even according to the CC’s own ad-hoc positions, in other words, members are free to discuss with all others, including by email, Facebook or whatever, the nature of the crisis facing us, and how we fix it. And discuss we must. 

By far the lion’s share of blame for our parlous situation lies squarely with the CC and its loyalists. However, none of us can avoid hard questions. What got us here was not merely the failures of this particular CC, but of our structures. These structures concealed from the members perfectly legitimate debate within the party; pathologised dissent on the CC and among the membership; and at worst legitimated whispering campaigns and bullying against members considered ‘troublemakers’. We could have stopped this train wreck at an earlier stage if the membership had been able and ready to call bullshit on the CC’s bullshit. 

To overthrow these problems requires, among other things, a huge shift in internal culture. This, of course, is not possible in isolation from the structures that we have worked under. These have enabled the CC’s top-down and dissent/discussion-phobic style and mistrust of the membership; and among the membership itself have encouraged a damaging culture of deferral to the leadership. 

This vicious cycle must be broken. To renew our party, in other words, must mean to trust in the membership, to encourage independent thought and comradely discussion. This in turn will enable the members not only to select the leadership we deserve, but to hold them to account in a way both we and they deserve. 

 Accordingly, not only is this fight one for the SWP’s survival as an interventionist force, but it is one that can only be won by a root-and-branch rethinking of how we operate. The scale of this catastrophe of their own making is slowly dawning on the leadership. It is inevitable that they will start to offer some kind of carrot-and-stick response, likely designed to minimize changes to the structures to which they have shown themselves wedded. We must be clear on the scale of what is needed. The removal of one or two people from positions of prominence would clearly be inadequate. 

Our starting point must be public and immediate calls for an emergency conference. We must urgently mobilize our branches to pass motions making this call. To emerge from this catastrophe with credibility, at this conference we must demand: 

 • The immediate reinstatement of the four recently expelled comrades. 

• The removal of this CC and Disputes Committee. By their stunning miscalculations, they have shown themselves to be inadequate to their tasks. They must go. 

 • A thoroughgoing reexamination of the structures of party democracy and accountability, to ensure that the culture of mistrust of the membership and closed ranks on the CC that created this situation in the first place cannot happen again.* This must include an expanded CC and one which airs its internal disagreements openly. 

• Formal mechanisms for encouraging internal communications among all members, allowing them to air dissent, concern, uncertainty, as well as information, analysis and support.**

 Such renovations will address the terrible situation in which we find ourselves. They should also encourage a spirit of comradely discussion and theoretical open-mindedness, allowing us to act as a pole of attraction for all those fighting for emancipation. This does not mean diluting our Marxism: it should mean invigorating it.*** The fight for the soul of the SWP is on now. The only hope of reclaiming a party on the brink of political annihilation is political audacity. 

*I have made no secret of my own proposals for this, including, e.g., an at-least temporary end to the slate system. This is argued not on principle, but because that system has in our party become a shibboleth for forces of conservatism and top-down leadership. 
**Many comrades see the end on the ban on permanent factions as indispensable for this. Another invaluable way forward, in my opinion, would be a regular internal bulletin. 
***As for example when we began to address the lacunae in our approach to homosexuality by learning from the best wings of the gay liberation movement. Currently, we must end a situation where, for example, ‘feminism’ is used by some loyalists as a diss.

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Letter to the Central Committee posted by Richard Seymour

For the Attention of the SWP Central Committee

I am writing to express my condemnation of the process used by the leadership of the SWP to deal with an allegation of rape.  As the shop steward at Scottish Women's Aid I am horrified that the leadership of the SWP - of which I have been a member for 18 years - thought that it was in a position to investigate a serious crime such as rape. Would the DC have investigated a murder? I would guess not, but then what does that say about the level of seriousness with which the CC and DC treat rape?

The series of decisions made by the CC and the DC around the processes for dealing with this allegation of rape and their inability to either pull back from them when they started to go wrong, or to respond reasonably to criticism after the fact (despite access to a very clear analysis of what was wrong with the decisions made) indicate a real lack of understanding of rape, its definition and its consequences.

In addition to my concerns about the sheer inappropriateness of some of the lines of questioning -as raised by many others - I have a more general concern about the lack of specialism in the DC which is required when dealing with rape victims, and the separate set of specialist skills required when investigating rape when there is only one word against another.  This allegation is about rape and sustained abuse within a relationship with a huge power imbalance rather than for example an isolated incident. My point is not that certain types of rape are more or less serious others. My point is that the investigators were not trained in understanding and investigating the different manifestations of violence against women and the various responses required depending on the experience of the woman.

We do reject the bourgeois system of justice but in this case aspects of the bourgeois process were used, and having read the available documents relating to this case it is not convincing that there was a there a clear analysis and understanding of what aspects of an investigatory and quasi-judicial process were accepted and which were rejected. Clear decisions around process needed to be made and then fully explained to the complainant so that she was aware of what exactly she was getting into, its limitations and how effective it could possibly be in terms of her need for a resolution and could make her own choice on that basis.

This shambolic playing at investigator, judge and jury held a real risk of ruining someone's life and it is no thanks to the leadership of the SWP and only testimony to the woman's strength if it hasn't.

The response of the CC following the leaking of documents onto the internet and the subsequent media publicity has been the shamefully offensive "Statement by the Central Committee in response to attacks on the party". This document is only further evidence of the failures of this process.

"Had the Disputes Committee believed that the accused person was guilty, it would have expelled him from the SWP immediately." This statement alone sums up my point. Really? Do you think this could be an adequate response to rape? No responsibility to any other woman who might be at risk?

This document also states:

"If this case had been raised within a trade union or any other organisation there would be no question that the matter should be treated with complete confidentiality. This basic principle should also apply in this case."

Of course confidentiality should apply; however, confidentiality really isn't the issue here. The decisions you made and the way in which you handled the investigation are the issues. Focusing on confidentiality is a poor attempt to obscure the failings of the process and close down the debate.

As anyone who works in an organisation or operates in a trades union knows full well this matter would NOT have been dealt with through internal mechanisms. The procedures for investigating disciplinary matters or disputes between colleagues are not used by organisations or trades unions to investigate serious crimes. How could you not know that? Or are you just assuming that a sheepish membership will accept this untruth?

Even by your own terms you failed to follow the "basic principles" of a standard trade union process.  I would refer you to ACAS good practice guidelines in terms of appointing individuals to panels that don't have a personal connection with the individuals involved in the dispute being heard.

The introductory statement to the document is also untrue:

"A series of attacks on the party have appeared over the last few days - many in newspapers which are the sworn enemies of women's liberation and workers' rights".

Most of the attacks on the actions of the CC and the DC are not in newspapers which are the 'sworn enemies of women's liberation'. Again, why lie to us? It does your position no good at all - most of us do have access to the internet.  The issue at hand for the membership is never what the enemies of women's liberation and workers' rights say about us and to us, but rather how we can hold our head up and explain our actions and decisions with integrity to the world outside of the party with which we come into contact on a day to day basis. Your actions have seriously damaged the party's integrity and members' ability to operate.

Finally, it is false to claim that the party is somehow immune from sexism. There is no theoretical or evidence basis for making this claim.

I have seriously considered my position in the party over the last few days. I know many others who feel the same way that I do.  I have decided I want to stay a member, however I can only remain as a member of the SWP on the basis that action is taken to remedy this:

· Conference must be recalled and the entire CC and DC need to resign.
· There needs to be an immediate and public apology to both of the women who made complaints including an acknowledgment of the mishandling of their complaints, and
· An immediate apology must be made to the membership of the SWP who have been shockingly let down by their leadership.

I would appreciate a sensible and thoughtful response to this letter.

Lynda Roger
SWP Edinburgh Branch
Shop Steward, Scottish Women's Aid
Unite CYWNfP Edinburgh Branch Committee
Unite CYWNfP Regional Industrial Sector Committee, Scotland.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

SWP and women's liberation posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by Nora J:

Serious questions have been raised about our party over the matters of the disputes committee, conference, expulsions and internal democracy generally, which have also led to wider reflection on our traditions and theoretical approach.  My experience of conference – during which I was a member of the democratic centralist faction – was extreme frustration and concern.  In light of other discussions which have been taking place, I decided to submit some thoughts on the party’s approach to women’s liberation.

Firstly, despite this crisis, the SWP remains the best potential mechanism through which sexism and oppression of all types can be meaningfully fought in the interests of everyone.  Reading Lindsay German and learning Marxist tradition are sure fire ways of getting a solid grounding in how it is that woman’s oppression came to exist, and continues to be propagated.  But trends in feminist thought have developed in quantity and quality since the development of what continues to be the party’s ‘line’ on women’s liberation, which seems to have become frozen at the time Women’s Voice was dismantled.  What women understood by the terms ‘feminism’ and ‘patriarchy’ thirty years ago was considerably different to what is understood by many women engaged in the movement today, and the continual rehashing of an outdated and reductive account of oppression at every meeting, rally and conference is serving to alienate good activists from Marxism and broader campaigns.

This is not to suggest that we need to incorporate aspects of all feminist thought, and it is correct to reject the most bourgeois strains from Naomi Woolf et al.  Trends in post-modernist thought, and the rejection of class-based narratives over the last few decades, have arguably led to the fracturing of the movement against oppression into a competition based on ‘privilege’.  These notions are as much a product and reflection of the divided society in which we live, as the good homemaker/lover/mother/careerist/sex object constructed by a society in which many reforms for women have been achieved.  But by rejecting ideas which do not neatly slot into our tradition (as stated by any number of bashed up old pamphlets to be found on your nearest paper sale) we are missing a wealth of experience and historical lessons which should be incorporated into the struggle.

I recently started a degree, and was stunned to discover a whole new world of intersectionality, gender politics, and critical studies of which I had been unaware.  I felt unequipped by what I had learnt so far during 8 years of membership to meet these new analyses head on.  Now I feel like I exist in two discourses; a classical Marxist tradition - and the language and ideas I have had to develop to be able to continue to apply Marxist ideas in my studies, in talking and activity with other students, and in making sense of new understandings of oppression.  I do not believe the latter conflicts with the former, but there is no space to discover how they interrelate within the party at the moment.

 At first this was very confusing, and I was concerned that I was becoming lost in an abstraction from working class struggle.  But the more I learn, the more I fear it is our tradition which has become abstracted, ossified, and increasingly obstructive.  The impact is not just theoretical; if our backwardness impacts our analysis, it must inevitably affect our activity as well as our ability to function as a revolutionary party.

Arguments for engaging with new ideas are not evidence of ‘creeping feminism’ – this charming epithet stinks of reactionary fear and a desperate to clinging on to ideas which come from the top down.  Engagement should involve hard polemic defence of a historical materialist analysis and the recognition of the limits of reform.  But whilst this isn’t happening, there is a whole world of ideas out there from which the membership is largely excluded.  The aim of our publications has been to bring forward ideas in an accessible manner so that all members can engage with and deepen their understanding of what Marxism has to say about society.  The dearth of good writing - both from and about women - in our publications is shameful.  The removal of Hannah Dee from the central committee – at short notice and with no proper justification – is alarming for members (especially students) who strongly identified with her work.  The recent handling of the disputes case has not only raised serious concerns, but triggered all sorts of damaging rumours.  Members are pitted against members and our common goals risk being forgotten due to the party’s failure to deal with this situation…not due to comrades who express concern or dissent.

The party needs to engage enthusiastically with the ideas which the broader womens’ liberation movement is developing in order to learn from them, to keep our party current, and to try to win them to Marxist ideas.  The party also needs to look seriously at how it reaches out to working class women.  Engagement with academic trends is not sufficient, and the difficulties of the task are no excuse for avoiding genuine consideration of how this can be attempted.

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Christian Science Monitor covers Unhitched posted by Richard Seymour

The Christian Science Monitor gives some welcome coverage to my upcoming book, Unhitched:

Controversy always seemed to follow Christopher Hitchens. In its latest iteration, controversy has followed the late polemicist, now the center of controversy in a new book, to his grave.
In “Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens,” political activist and author Richard Seymour employs a unique technique to shred Hitchens’s political philosophy to pieces: Seymour puts the late writer on trial.
“It is written in the spirit of a trial,” Seymour tells the UK’s Guardian. “I do attempt to get a sense of the complexity and gifts of the man, but it is very clearly a prosecution, and you can guess my conclusion.”

Did you get that? Controversy.

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Interview with the Guardian re Unhitched posted by Richard Seymour

That was quick!  The Guardian interviewed me this morning about Unhitched, now here's the article about it:

Christopher Hitchens will go on trial later this month in a "highly critical" new book which interrogates the late polemicist's politics and argues that this celebrated left-wing firebrand became an "amanuensis" of the George W Bush administration in his last years.
Political activist and author Richard Seymour's Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens is out on 28 January and promises to cast "a cold eye over the career of the 'Hitch' to uncover an intellectual trajectory determined by expediency and a fetish for power". "It is written in the spirit of a trial," said Seymour. "I do attempt to get a sense of the complexity and gifts of the man, but it is very clearly a prosecution, and you can guess my conclusion."
Unhitched will address how Hitchens moved from a "career-minded socialist" to, post 9/11, a "neoconservative 'Marxist'", said its radical publisher Verso, and "an advocate of America's invasion of Iraq filled with passionate intensity". At one point, Seymour describes Hitchens as the "George W Bush administration's amanuensis", and argues "that not only was Hitchens a man of the right in his last years, but his predilections for a certain kind of right-wing radicalism – the most compelling recent example of which was the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq – pre-dated his apostasy".

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SWP in Crisis: What Do Socialists Say? posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by Keith Watermelon:

My intention in this article is to give an overview of how this crisis has developed inside the party, of what I believe to be its roots, and to hopefully go some way to proposing practical solutions to the very precarious position in which we now find ourselves. 

I first became aware of the very serious nature of the allegations against Comrade Delta in late Autumn 2012 (not long after they had been made); as a result of a number of comrades, most of whom I have known for several years, contacting me to express their understandable grave concern.  It immediately became clear to me that the information comrades had been given at the 2011 SWP Conference – that Comrade Delta had had an affair which had ended but that he had continued to hassle the woman (now referred to as Comrade W) afterwards – was quite seriously inaccurate.  It adds insult to injury to recall that the session in which we were given this misleading information at the 2011 conference was turned into a kind of Delta love-in, culminating in a standing ovation for him (even at this stage it was effectively a standing ovation for having an affair) – but this demonstrates the effect that stage-managing a conference can have.  Some party members resigned in protest at this time.

Returning to late 2012 – those of us were in contact around this issue shared serious concerns about, and began to discuss how we could ensure the party deal with the matter satisfactorily.  Some of those involved in these discussions shared information passed to them on how the investigation had been conducted.  We were also aware that Comrade X had been removed from her party job following her complaint against Comrade Delta.  These discussions took place on Facebook as a matter of convenience – most of us lived at opposite ends of the country; our aim was to attempt to ensure there could be no hint of unfairness in the investigation; we were also acutely aware of the damage that would likely be done to the party and the wider left if this was not resolved in a fair and satisfactory way, as we viewed it as inevitable that it would eventually be leaked beyond the party.  Tragically, our worst predictions now appear to be coming true.

Fast forward to mid-December, and four of the participants in the above Facebook conversation (who incidentally had never all even met each other before) received emails from the Central Committee advising them that they had been summarily expelled from the party for 'organising, and taking part in, a secret faction' – at the absolute best, this could be characterised a massive overreaction; in my view it was actually an attempt to stifle dissent over the handling of the allegations against Comrade Delta.  It is also worth noting that two of the expelled had recently written constructive critiques of party democracy, structures and organisation within the party's internal bulletins.  Elsewhere, comrades who had written critical articles within these bulletins were blocked from conference through other comrades making unsubstantiated accusations of 'factionalism' against them at party pre-conference meetings.  To this day, I have yet to ascertain why I wasn't expelled with them, although the expulsions of four of the participants in these conversations rather than all or none of us is suggestive of a bureaucratic calculation rather than a political decision (I will return to this theme later).

We responded to these expulsions, which happened just a couple of weeks prior to Xmas and with few branch meetings left between then and conference, by initiating a petition calling for the reinstatement of the 'Facebook Four'.  This gathered around 160 signatures from party members prior to conference.  After a discussion, we also agreed to form an official faction, to oppose the expulsions, to demand the way the investigation into Comrade Delta was handled be reviewed, and to support very simple alterations to the party's democratic structures in the light of these developments.  Around 120 party members joined the Democratic Opposition, with a similar number joining the Democratic Centralist Faction, formed a few days later – factions of this size being unprecedented in the party.

A full review of the faction is a matter for another article.  But suffice to say the Central Committee, and its most loyal supporters inside the party (who some comrades understandably refer to as 'party hacks'), reacted terribly to this.  Comrades joining factions were smeared as 'undemocratic' (I have no idea how joining an official faction is anything other than an utterly democratic act); and our first meeting saw the spectacle of 3 members of the CC and the 'hacks' behaving in a deeply undemocratic manner (namely, by arriving in large numbers, heckling comrades and, rather than listen to our concerns, to lecture us on why we were, in their eyes, wrong).  I was warned by party full-timers (who were convinced there would be further reprisals against faction members) that I should 'keep my head down' – an absurd state of affairs within a revolutionary socialist party.

Without going into all the details of conference, the votes were tight, despite Democratic Opposition members being given little in the way of speaking rights (and indeed misled over these – we were promised speaking rights in one session in particular, but then not called).  This included being denied any right to speak on the expulsions, despite the faction being formed around these very issues.  The Disputes Committee session was of course the most important session regarding the discussion now taking place both in and outside the party, and the votes were very tight (239 for, 209 against, 18 abstentions and about 50 delegates not voting at all) despite a dirty tricks campaign from the central committee which included denying the comrades involved in the case the right to circulate a statement to party members, even as an official faction.

The day after conference, the transcript of the Disputes Committee session was leaked to a sectarian website.  Whoever was responsible has attempted to use this affair, which I view as a botched rape investigation, for political gain.  This is reprehensible (and indeed despite requests from Comrade W, Andy Newman, who runs said sectarian blog, refused to remove the transcript from his blog).  This marked what those of us involved in the Facebook conversation had feared and had worked to avoid – the matter not being dealt with adequately at conference and then being leaked into the public domain.  Four days later, this story started to appear in the bourgeois press.  The first article, by Laurie Penny in the New Statesman, was in my view comradely in tone and essentially urged SWP members to sort out the situation.  Unsurprisingly, the articles that followed in the Independent, The Daily Mail and The Sunday Times, were far less friendly.  However, we should be clear that the fault here lies with the SWP Central Committee, not with some external force, for creating this situation,

To date, the Central Committee has not given comrades any advice on how to respond to questions around this which have inevitably arisen in workplaces, trade unions, colleges, and from families and friends.  All we are told is 'the matter is now closed'.  In short, the Central Committee has failed to provide even a modicum of leadership over the issue.  A number of comrades have resigned from the party – I urge anyone thinking of doing this to reconsider, and to stay and fight.

Meantime, attempts by long-standing party members to smear Comrades X and W continue.  At a recent meeting, one party worker compared the allegations against Comrade Delta to Lenin being accused of being a German spy.  The implication of this analogy is horrific – that these two women are liars.  This is slut-shaming, and has no place in any socialist organisation.   And Comrade Delta continues to act as a public face of the SWP.  But what is behind us reaching this situation, which places the very future of the party in question?

The Bureaucracy, The Rank and File and all that Jazz

The SWP has a particular understanding of the role of the bureaucracy within trades unions.  We view them as neither workers nor bosses, but rather as a vacillating force between the two.  The bureaucrat is insulated from the day-to-day life of the worker – of having the boss breathing down their neck, and from the collective interest that workers have within workplaces.  They depend for their continued existence, this insulation, and the level of prestige they hold, on the continuation of the capitalist system – if there were no longer any capitalist class to negotiate with, there would no longer be any need for the bureaucrats.   Nothing terrifies a bureaucrat more than being chucked back into the same world the rest of us, as workers, inhabit.  There is an old story of an RMT NEC member many years ago (before Bob Crow) who wished to support a strike ballot that the General Secretary opposed.  The General Secretary advised him that if he did so, he'd be back working on the tracks within days.  The NEC member withdrew his support for the ballot.

And it is this recognition that the interests of the bureaucracy are not those of the working class that leads us as revolutionary socialists to believe the only truly effective way to organise inside trades unions is on a rank and file basis.  We are with the bureaucrats for as long as they support our demands – we fight without them when they don't.  And we recognise a bureaucratisation that takes place when workers are removed from the shop floor – which is why, for example, it is officially only in exceptional circumstances that SWP members are allowed to take elected trade union positions on 100% facility time.  Because we recognise that you cannot act in the interests of the working class if you exist separately from it.  I want to illustrate that a failure to apply this analysis to the SWP itself is at the root of many of the problems we now face.

While very limited steps have been taken in recent years to address this, the Central Committee is made up almost entirely of full-time party workers (and it is notable that of the two CC members removed from the preferred slate 48 hours before conference, one is a respected trade unionist and the other is centrally involved in arguably the broadest united front the party is engaged in).  This is a separation from the outside world, and the experiences of the membership.  Worse, the slate system as currently constituted is designed to prevent any alternative leadership from emerging – as we are told to correct any error we must replace the CC wholesale; very difficult if they are also the party workers who run the apparatus.  As pretty much the only way to be elected to the CC is to be nominated by the existing CC, this means CC members owe their positions to the other CC members, not to the party membership.  And this means that, despite the party's Democracy Commission passing policy in favour of it, disagreements on the CC are not aired in front of the party membership, but rather are usually dealt with privately, with the first most members know of it being when a CC member mysteriously disappears off the slate.  I would argue the loyalty to each other this creates amongst CC members leads to many situations, such as those around Comrade Delta and the expulsions of the Facebook Four, being dealt with bureaucratically and behind closed doors and then presented to the party as a fait accompli.  Party policies and 'turns' are decided in similar fashion, with a National Committee or Party Council presented with a CC document that is discussed and then invariably approved, usually without any discussion in the wider party, let alone the class. 

This also has the effect of encouraging sycophancy,  Comrades who wish to develop their standing in the party, be selected for slates in trade union elections, be added to the CC themselves, or be touted as a public speaker, do so by developing a position of ultra-loyalty to the CC (these are the party members who some refer to as 'hacks'.  Party workers are all appointed by the CC, not by the membership, and are threatened with the sack if they dare venture their own political ideas that run contrary to those of the CC.  All of this has more in common with the organisation of Stalinist Parties than with the libertarian roots of the IS tradition.  The party actually starts to become the caricature painted of it by sectarians and red-baiters.

At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like.  A number of CC members are big fans of jazz music.  Under their leadership over the past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz gigs as fundraising events.  Regardless of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they didn't purchase tickets.  This elevates the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs.

What is to be Done?

“A fish”, as Tony Cliff was fond of saying, “rots from the head down”.  And so rotten is the party leadership now that it has been unable to offer any leadership or direction to comrades regarding the Comrade Delta issue.  The role of leadership must therefore be taken up by the membership; who must sweep aside not just the Central Committee, but also the bureaucratic structures within the party that give rise to this horrific situation.  This means it is incumbent upon the membership to demand a recall conference (which constitutionally requires the support of 20% of the branches), with a very open remit; to openly and publicly admit the very grave error that has been made, and to make all changes necessary to how the party operates to ensure that this situation cannot be repeated.  The issues surrounding this (both on women's liberation, and on what kind of party we need) should be discussed openly in the pages of Socialist Worker, and should include the views of those outside the SWP.  And comrades should be encouraged to debate these matters within the wider labour movement.  We cannot hope to build a party fit to lead the working class if we decide our policies and courses of action separately from the working class.

This is why this article has a deliberately provocative title.  The entire working class has an interest in what happens in the SWP, and we should not be scared of the views of other socialists.  This is why I welcome the articles that have appeared on the internet from members of both the Canadian International Socialists and the American International Socialist Organisation.  No discussion, unless it is specifically around personal or possibly illegal matters, should be conducted in private and away from the class or movement.  I want to know what other socialists think.

Clearly, this also means the party needs a certain breadth.  Rather than the present CC's approach of slamming comrades with differing views as 'feminists', 'syndicalists', 'autonomists' etc; we should value and encourage differing strands of opinion within the party, as this will aid us in deciding how we should operate.  Many of those committed to women's liberation will at present be justifiably viewing the party, and the wider left, with some suspicion.  In my view, the revolutionary left should be the natural home of feminism, and it is a great shame that the prospects for this risk being irreparably damaged if we do not change course.  One of the first steps toward repairing this damage would also be to reinstate the Facebook Four, and open the gates of the party to many of those who have been expelled or forced out of the party by the CC and the various turns the party has made over the past 30-odd years (including a number of comrades who have resigned in the past couple of years in relation to the Comrade Delta incident).  Our tradition is not one based on orthodoxy, and so those orthodoxies that have developed (such as our response to women's liberation movements) must be vigorously challenged, and jettisoned if they are no longer useful to the class struggle as a whole. 

Comrades, this is a call to arms.  We have a relatively short window before the fish rots below the neck, and the party is irreparably damaged.  Even if you haven't been to a branch meeting in some time, speak to members of your branch, get to your branch meeting; and push for a recall conference and the steps necessary to save the SWP – we need your input in order to chart a route out of this crisis.  This is vital – the SWP remains, for all I've said, the best thing the British working class has at its disposal.

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