Saturday, January 12, 2013

A reply to the Central Committee.

Just as a rule of thumb: if you are a political leadership and have to say "this is not a 'cover up'", I would venture that you are in a crisis.

Yet it has taken a week of growing crisis in the SWP, which culminated in several unflattering news articles about the party, to have any kind of statement from the Central Committee. Members have been asked about this furore with increasing frequency, and given no lead other than to defend 'the line'. Those who try are making themselves look both idiotic and sinister, destroying their credibility as activists and party militants. They are undermining their own good work. Those maintaining a tactful silence, out of a sense of revolutionary propriety, are effectively locking themselves into a cell with the headbangers. Serious members, hard as nails people, long-standing cadres, are being pushed to the point of resigning. I urge people to stay, and to fight. But one hardly blames those who have had enough of the Kafkaesque nightmare, enough of listening to people spout demented gibberish in meetings and aggregates, enough of hearing the same lies repeated, enough of wildly tenuous historical analogies, enough of cheap realpolitik passed off as wisdom. How many times can you hear, "well I was at a paper sale this morning, and no one mentioned it" before you start thinking of having people sectioned?

A statement is an acknowledgment, to some degree, of a real problem. As such, it is welcome. But it is also a serious disappointment. Far from indicating a course of action, far from giving people a lead they could plausibly follow, it consists solely of a repetition of the main points of a totally discredited line. It is not leadership, but head-in-the-sand denial.

Discussing the various news articles and blog posts about this, it says "the attacks are a travesty of the truth". So what is the truth? "Our party has a proud tradition of fighting for women's liberation". This is a truth. It is not the relevant truth, not the one that stands out in this case. It is, at any rate, a proud tradition that the CC has spent much of the last few years satirising. Proceeding, it says, "we took allegations against a leading member of the party very seriously." That is what has been contested. While their gravity may have been recognised, the procedures that followed do not seem to have treated the allegations seriously enough by a long measure. Having a case investigated by people who knew the accused very well, allowing them to ask sexist and hostile questions of those making the allegations, and then suppressing the real issues involved, is not what most people would consider taking the allegations seriously. It is not what most people would consider the greatest effort to support the complainant.

The most cynical claim in the CC's statement is this:

"The case was discussed at length at a session of our conference, which voted to accept the report and overwhelmingly re-elected the Disputes Committee. Far from being a cover up this sort of open discussion shows that our procedures and elected bodies are accountable to our membership."

The author of this statement knows full well the crude deceit being perpetrated here. The first time members of the party heard anything about any allegations was in a conference two years ago. At this conference, members were given to believe that what was involved was a simple case of an affair that was badly ended, with the accused merely hassling the person long beyond the point of propriety. This did not begin to convey the real nature of the allegations at that time. Members were told that the accused was exonerated, that the verdict had been accepted by the complainant, and that he had been at most a bit foolish. Some members heard that there had been a witch hunt against the poor fellow. And all were reminded of his great achievements as an organiser, which - irrespective of how true or false the allegations are - are considerable. The accused, it has to be said, played up to this. An ovation was orchestrated, with some stamping their feet. I know some of the people who were there, who applauded. They feel sick. They feel furious. As who wouldn't? That was the first part of the cover-up.

The issue returned with force in late 2012, so far as I know. This was the first time that I and many others began to hear what the nature of the allegations really were, and that something had gone very wrong with the disputes committee investigation. But most comrades still had no idea what was happening. It was not permitted to be raised in meetings and aggregates. Full-timers were certainly not allowed to discuss it. CC members who knew the truth were not allowed to discuss it. An attempt, by a group of members directly involved, to set the record straight about a number of false claims being circulated by CC loyalists, was thwarted. The group tried to form a legitimate faction in the preconference period, in order to reach members with this information, and were prevented from doing so by reason of no valid constitutional provision. Most of those who participated in the session at the 2013 party conference dealing with this issue had never heard a word of it until then. And the comrade who made the first allegations was prevented from speaking in the session.

Subsequent to the vote, those reporting back to local branch meetings were instructed not to discuss the goings on in the session. Party Notes said that the matter had been drawn to a close by the vote, and that there was to be no further discussion of the matter. The party's newspaper didn't mention it, and whitewashed the issue of the expulsions. This has been a cover-up from start to finish. This has been, more generally, an attempt to treat members like morons from start to finish. And now, this utterly exploded pack of lies is being wheeled out in a bid to persuade members to willingly look like idiots in front of everyone they're trying to work with.

Let us conclude by noting the disingenuous nature of the appeal to 'confidentiality' in the CC's statement. There have always been issues involved in this case that are absolutely not for widespread discussion. Those criticising the CC within the party have taken the greatest care to avoid breaching any aspect of that confidentiality. This was the case when official factions were formed, and it has been the case since then. What people have discussed, and what the CC does not want discussed - because it has no argument that would not wilt if tested in daylight - is the very real deformities of the process, from start to finish, and the glaring absence of accountability exposed by this case. This is why they are determined to say, "as far as we are concerned, the case is closed." Because they have nothing to say. Because they can offer no lead to members beyond thrusting them out into that 'real world' they are all completely insulated from, and telling them to make bullshitters out of themselves.

This statement, which every informed member knows does not even reflect the views of everyone on the CC, is supposed to be a measure of our decisive, interventionist leadership? This is supposed to put the matter to rest, at last, case closed? This will allow every militant, every student activist, ever long-standing cadre, to look everyone else square in the eye and answer a straight question without embarrassment? No. This isn't leadership. The SWP's leadership, at this point, is not located in the Central Committee. It is located in the sane members trying to fight this disgrace.