[Marxism] When Is a Conference Not a Conference?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 12 16:35:48 MST 2013


When Is a Conference Not a Conference?

Whatever else one does at it, at a conference, one confers. That's 
definitional. The clue is in the name. One compares views, one consults, 

What kind of animal, then, is the meeting that the CC have called for 10 
March? A sermon? A fingerwag? It pleases them to call it a 'one-day 
special conference', but whatever they intend it to be, a conference is 
not it.

One might expect a CC that have presided over and by their own actions, 
errors and intransigence precipitated the worst crisis ever to face the 
SWP, an unprecedented uprising of anger among previously loyal members, 
to display a modicum of humility or concern. A sense that there are 
lessons to be learned. A willingness to listen. But in a favoured 
formulation of the CC's most withering polemicist, not a bit of it.

We know this is not intended to be a 'conference' in any meaningful 
sense because they have told us. They've been perfectly explicit. The 
meeting's purpose is not to discuss or confer, but to 'draw a line', 'to 
reaffirm the decisions of January's conference and the NC'. As far as 
they are concerned, the outcome of this 'conference' is a given: the 
role, therefore, of attendees is to swallow what they are given to eat. 
  The alternative is that the CC, with pontifical infallibility, already 
know exactly how the discussion will end.  From that point of view, who 
needs a full preconference discussion?  They will be happy to know that 
a vacancy has just opened up in Rome for people with such gifts.  But 
not everyone is as smart as the CC – give the rest of us a chance.

Even from an entirely cynical point of view, one might expect the CC, 
given the catastrophic situation they have wrought, to express a 
willingness at least to listen, even if they had no intention of 
actually doing so. But no. Whatever else they can be accused of, no one 
can say, on this issue at least, that they dissemble. They are 
explicitly clear that they do not intend to engage with any arguments.

This overweening self-righteous arrogance still staggers. SWP members 
deserve leaders who listen to them, as ours have made clear they will not.

The CC assert that they have “not sought to stifle arguments. That 
accusation is laughable after the last four months.”  By implication, 
they claim credit for the fact that there has been and continues to be a 
growing chorus of disapproval of their actions and methods.  In a sense, 
they are correct.  By expelling four comrades before conference and 
suppressing a legitimate faction, they provoked the most raucous debate 
in the party’s history.  True also, by effectively issuing gagging 
orders in conference report-backs and in Party Notes, then leaving 
members hanging out to dry when the controversy went public, they 
incited the vocal dissidence of hundreds of members now organised in a 
faction.  If they want to claim credit for the last four months, they 
are welcome to it.

The CC may attempt to split the opposition. There are, of course, 
differences among us: some comrades may disagree with some of the 
Democracy Renewal Platform’s opinions and approach. We are eager to 
discuss such issues in comradely fashion. But in case the CC attempt to 
instrumentalise any such legitimate debates and try to turn some against 
others, we urge comrades to consider the light in which the CC holds 
*all* of us.

The In Defence Of Our Party Faction is several hundred members strong. 
It includes countless well-known and leading members of, in many cases, 
decades'-long standing. As well as hundreds of 'lay' members, it 
comprises members of the NC, ex-members of the CC, collaborators with 
Cliff, writers for party publications, activists who have been our 
public face for years. This is an unprecedented grouping of loyal and 
well-respected militants.

How does the CC respond?

In defending ‘those involved in the DC case’, they say: ‘We do not 
operate a regime of innuendo and slurs’. They go on to demonstrate this 
by claiming that several hundred party members are 'unpolitical', our 
faction irresponsible. They claim that we wish to 'plunge the party' 
into internal debate. That we manoeuvre 'bureaucratically'. That our 
document has - and by implication we have - 'nothing to say about the 
economic crisis and the fightback', and other important political 
issues.  The CC does not operate a regime of innuendo and slurs, but 
would like it to be known that their opponents are unprincipled 

We will deal with the canard that the opposition is 'unpolitical' 
elsewhere. The CC enjoys pretending that a lack of explicit reference to 
David Cameron or the BNP, say, in a document means that it is 
unconcerned with 'the real world'. This is trivially obviously untrue, 
just as it is true, of course, that the opposition to the formal 
processes here raises crucial political issues of women's liberation, 
democracy, cadreisation, and more.

Here, however, we focus on the attitude of the CC to members. Which is 
an insult.

It is perhaps not wholly surprising - though it is disgraceful - that 
disobedient student members might be so attacked. It is astonishing and 
disgusting that the CC think they can get away with traducing *anyone* 
in the party who disagrees with them, including so many important and 
respected figures, in this manner.

This goes beyond disrespect. It is contempt. For many years, a cliche of 
CC exhortations has been that 'every member is gold dust'. More dust, 
this document would suggest, than gold.

The leadership's position has demonstrably and repeatedly failed the 
test of reality, but they still expect a cowed membership to 
rubber-stamp it. Let us make no mistake about that position. The points 
the CC demands we sign off on include the following:

- That there is no failure of our sexual politics in a process that 
includes asking woman comrades alleging sexual misconduct by a leading 
male comrade about past relationships, and whether it's true that one 
'likes a drink'.

- That the outrage greeting an investigation of rape allegations by a 
committee of friends, acquaintances and colleagues of the accused is 
entirely inappropriate.

- That the CC was and remains correct in their assessment and insistence 
that the matter was 'closed' while it was not only a cause of immense 
anxiety among members, but was being openly discussed in both the left 
and mainstream press.

- That there is nothing untoward about the expelling of four comrades 
discussing the case online on the Kafkaesque grounds that their explicit 
disinclination to factionalise constituted secret factionalising.

- That the gross misrepresentation of the views of critical party 
members in the official Party Notes is unproblematic.

- That to question the views and actions of this CC at this time 
constitutes a breach with Leninism itself.

- That despite the mass rage of our student cadre and the loss of more 
and more members in demoralised despair, there is no crisis facing the SWP.

- That 'the party is not shunned or isolated', despite growing numbers 
of external comrades, left intellectuals and trade unionists explicitly 
refusing to work with us and/or expressing their grave concerns.

- That, despite all the above, the leadership have made not a single 
error during this debacle.

These bizarre and insulting contentions are what the CC peremptorily 
demands members agree to at the 'special conference'. Anyone minded to 
vote with them should be clear that that is what they are getting behind.

The only way the CC can possibly expect to carry the party to such 
absurdities is not by rational comradely argument - they have, recall, 
already stated that they have no intention to engage in any - but by 
relying on uncritical, default, knee-jerk loyalty of sufficient numbers.

We have a higher opinion of the party membership than the CC does. We do 
not believe they will nod any such rubbish through.

We demand a conference worthy of the name, with a proper pre-conference 
discussion period - indeed with discussion at all - at which both the 
immediate issues and the wider problems of democracy, accountability, 
party structures and regime which have given rise to this catastrophe 
are fully aired. We must break the hold of this increasingly delusional 
and sclerotic leadership, so the SWP might renew its culture and 
represent the best of the IS tradition.

Alex, Oxford
Andy, Hackney East
China, Brent and Harrow
Gareth, Camden
Jake, Euston
Jamie, Tottenham
Jules, Liverpool.
Marcos, Euston
Penny, Oxford
Richard, Hornsey and Wood Green
Rowan, Brixton
Sam, Islington
Steffan, Swansea
Steven, Liverpool
Will, Canterbury

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