[Marxism] When Is a Conference Not a Conference?
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
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
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
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
- 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.
Andy, Hackney East
China, Brent and Harrow
Richard, Hornsey and Wood Green
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