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
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
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
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.