“Leninism” Meets the 21st Century

by Pham Binh on January 14, 2013

Richard Seymour’s decision to break party discipline and speak truth to power about the rape allegation scandal consuming the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) proves that there are honest and upstanding elements in the organization who are doing their best to rectify the litany of outrages committed by its newly re-elected central committee (CC). These elements remain under the illusion that the organization is salvageable, that there is a way out of this self-imposed impasse, that internal reform and open dialogue are possible.

They are in for a rude awakening. Call it the SWP Spring.

Tom Walker, who wrote a powerful and searching resignation letter, is much more advanced in his thinking than the SWP’s critical stalwarts. He notes that the SWP’s indefensible deeds in this scandal are but a Google search away for the prospective recruit and that recreating the SWP in any form will not do. As he put it, “the real problem is that the case ever happened in the first place.”

So how did this case happen in the first place?

Responsibility rests not with the accuser who decided to go to the party rather than the police (such a view would amount to victim-blaming) but with the CC for agreeing to handle the matter internally without involving the police or even an attorney. There are rumors that accuser was told by a party official that going to the police would damage the party and the cause, a claim that corresponds with Walker’s supposition in his resignation letter that she was pressured to not go to the police and that explains why the CC and the Disputes Committee took it upon themselves to create a pseudo-judicial process to investigate and issue a verdict on accusations of criminal behavior.

This CC was re-elected by the SWP’s annual conference and the Disputes Committee’s verdict was accepted by a narrow majority vote. As a result, the whole of the SWP now bears political, moral, and legal responsibility for this travesty.

The CC’s disastrous decisions did not occur in a political or historical vacuum. The lack of transparency is a necessary ingredient for an accountability-free political culture. So much of the SWP’s pseudo-judicial process was kept deliberately opaque. Secret trials, secret evidence, secret procedures, and secret verdicts have proliferated in capitalist states around the world since September 11, 2001, provoking outrage in left and liberal circles, and yet somehow we are supposed to accept that these methods are appropriate for small voluntary political organizations to use on their own members?

A more interesting question is why didn’t the CC simply throw the accused (now former) CC member under the bus as they did John Rees, the convenient scapegoat for the SWP’s mistakes within RESPECT? Surely that would have been the easiest way to preserve peace within the ranks, with the added bonus of being able to posture as “tough on rape,” “taking women’s liberation seriously”? Why go through the trouble of creating an opaque conflict-of-interest-ridden pseudo-judicial process to deliberate and reach a verdict to be presented to the rank and file for a risky up-or-down vote?

The logical (albeit totally speculative) answer is that the accused must have some leverage over the CC that made him impossible to simply toss overboard. Either he has dirt on the CC (perhaps they looked the other way when complaints like this arose in the past – that this was the first time beggars belief) or he holds significant SWP financial assets in his name. Or both.

Either way, “Leninist” groups do not have an open books policy; finances and financial decisions are the purview of top party officials, not the rank-and-file dues payer, book vendor, or paper seller. “Theirs not to reason why,” after all.

Seymour notes what a “sane” leadership would have done in the face of the SWP’s existential crisis but does not examine the materialist foundation of its insane behavior. There is a logic to the madness.

Paid full-time leaders of “Leninist” groups stay in power for many years and decades; they accumulate huge gaps in their resumes and professional development that make returning to the labor market almost impossible; therefore, they have a very personal stake in maintaining their paychecks and livelihoods which are derived from their office. So they institute closed slate systems to make their removal all but impossible; they expel dissidents; they prevent horizontal communication and discussion between branches of the organization; they appoint reliable yes-men and yes-women to positions of power over the membership; and they accuse anyone who objects to any of this of being anti-Leninist and opposed to democratic centralism, as if these practices remotely resemble those of Lenin or the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party!

This is all par for the “Leninist” course and ends up recreating the alienation of capitalism in the name of anti-capitalism, perpetuating ruling cliques in the name of eradicating 1% rule, and fostering male chauvinism internally while championing anti-sexism in the world at large.

Over the months and years, most recruits vote against this regime with their feet, leaving only the zealous and the resigned who have learned to habitually “keep their heads down” and conditioned themselves to accept that the shortcomings they put up with are for the “greater socialist good” (as Walker put it). It is the underlying reason why groups like the SWP failed to grow appreciably in the previous decade even as they mobilized tens of thousands of people to march and vote.

The history of the international far left is littered with unjust purges, needless splits, and ridiculous show trials, but what has taken place in the SWP is qualitatively different than your typical Trot-on-Trot violence. We are talking here about criminal matters, not ideological heresy, about rape, sexual assault, and physical, emotional, and psychological abuse, not reformism, liquidationism, centrism, pro-imperialism, anti-Leninism, or (heaven forbid) feminism.

In other words, we are not talking about politics and ideology but the behaviors and emotions of real, living people, things “Leninist” groups are ill-equipped to handle.

Seymour’s exhortation to SWP members to fight is right in spirit but mistaken strategically. “Leninism” is a rigged game to begin with, and the reality is that the majority of the SWP is behind the leadership, the CC holds all the cards, and the opposition’s power has peaked as demoralization, resignations, and expulsions take their toll.

Only a conceited sectarian could see the SWP’s abysmal fate as synonymous with the fate of the socialist project in the United Kingom. If anything, the ground for that future is being cleared of all the 20th century left’s rotten leftovers. While the SWP played a critical role in getting important initiatives like the Socialist Alliance, RESPECT, and Stop the War Coalition off the ground, it also crippled them with avoidable missteps and sectarian maneuvering. Without this Jeckyll-and-Hyde dualism, future left efforts will be harder to launch but are more likely to endure and grow into something meaningful.

The phonograph was a hot item in Lenin’s day.

“Leninism” has long been the graveyard of revolutionary workers’ parties internationally; nowadays, forbidding horizontal communication, insulating party members from “rival” political currents, and insisting on procedural secrecy in accordance with “Leninist” norms is no longer feasible in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Wikileaks, and YouTube. Lenin and his comrades relied on personal correspondence and newspapers because they did not have telephones and radios, much less television, and even those innovations are rapidly becoming anachronistic as the 21st century marches past those who cling to the past.

A successful radical left organizing project must to a large extent be the change it wants to win. That is, it must be a vehicle for an institutionally powerful, self-conscious, and self-organized rank and file to constantly create and shape (rather than merely implement) a “line,” where egos and power trips are minimized by maximum democracy, where disagreements can be mediated properly and publicly instead of degenerating immediately into circular firing squads, and where all officials are elected leader-guides who are sensitive to the moods of the ranks rather than appointed boss-rulers who threaten, cajole, coerce, and manipulate the members they are supposed to serve.

Its watchwords must be horizontalism, plurality, transparency, and results, not centralism, uniformity, discipline, and vanguardism. It must be experimental, a work in progress, rather than a set of fixed answers and structures.

Such a project should be open and open-minded to all modern progressive oppositional trends, be they anarchist or feminist, seeking to engage them, learn from them, and incorporate their insights and yearnings into a common fight for the common end: liberation.

We are a long way from a left that looks, thinks, and lives like this and where SWP-style scandals are unthinkable. Even so, the human material to create such a left undoubtedly exists among the many thousands of militants who tolerate their existing groups and ex-members who continue the class war from their trenches in their union, community organization, or affinity group.

British comrades in and out of the SWP should email tom.walker.statement [at] gmail.com if they are interested in taking action to help foster the healthy, honest, and effective left that all of us would love to see but no single force can will into being overnight.

  • RedPleb

    I think Richard Seymour has a far better idea of what’s required and whats at stake then Tom Walker. If you read Tom’s piece, he clearly states that he has no plan or idea of what to do now, sort of the mirror of the SWP’s CC. Seymour knows what’s at stake and knows that while there is still a chance to salvage the party, purge the leadership and the whole bureaucratic structure, then that needs to be fought for. If the SWP collapses in chaos, which is the current path, the British Left will be dead for decades. The only other option is an organized split if the struggle to save the SWP and kick out the leadership fails, which might actually happen from what I’m hearing. Anyway, I think this article is utilizing the classic Stalinist caricature of “Leninism” as a strawman then what Leninism actually means, but thats another issue. Also I think the plurality, big-tent of the Left approach seems pretty much a doomed pipe-dream, but thats just me.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Seymour wants to re-recreate the SWP minus the current leadership because he doesn’t recognize that the SWP system created the CC he so abhors. Saying “I don’t know” is more honest and realistic than pretending to have all or most of the answers, nevermind the fact that the SWP “brand” will be permanently and irrevocably tarnished even if the leadership is somehow removed (good luck).

      If this article “is utilizing the classic Stalinist caricature of ‘Leninism'” then I would say that that is a very harsh condemnation of the SWP regime because I was merely describing how it operates in practice.

  • Pingback: “Leninism” Meets the 21st Century « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

  • Charlie Post

    I am afraid I cannot agree with Pham when he argues ” If anything, the ground for that future is being cleared of all the 20th century left’s rotten leftovers. ” This smacks too much of the KPD’s slogan, “After Hitler, our turn!” The renewed/deepening crisis of the SWP will not, in all likelihood, produce a new, larger and healthier revolutionary left in Britain. Instead, it is most likely to produce more demoralization and the loss of scores, if not hundreds, of good militants for the revolutionary left.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      I would prefer it if the SWP could openly and honestly address its shortcomings and mistakes in a healthy and productive manner. That has proven to be impossible time and again on many occasions since at least 2007, if not before.

      Now, we have a situation involving criminal behavior. Any organization that subjects its own members, especially oppressed groups, to abuse and trauma in order to protect higher ups under any political pretext has no semblance of moral authority and does not deserve to exist.

      What will happen now is up in the air. The outcome depends on the political conclusions comrades draw from their experiences, but at least they will have to think for themselves a bit instead of relying on a CC that is on a rule-or-ruin path and can play no progressive role whatsoever in left politics.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        I also think it’s a bit of a stretch to compare the self-destruction of the SWP over a rape allegation to Hitler’s rise to power.

        The continuation of the group in its current form will also not “produce a new, larger and healthier revolutionary left in Britain” given its role in Socialist Alliance, RESPECT, and Stop the War Coalition, none of which was addressed in the “Hitler comment.”

    • http://www.leftgamerreview.org/ Shaun Joseph

      The real irony is that “the ground…is being cleared of all the 20th century left’s rotten leftovers” is not just sort of but EXACTLY the triumphalist mistake that those of us in the International Socialist tradition made in the wake of the collapse of Stalinism. If you want the real “secret” behind the SWP’s astonishing degeneration, look precisely to this POLITICAL mistake, not to abstract dogma against Leninism (or “Leninism”); nor to sub-vulgar-Marxist speculation about financial assets or who’s-got-the-dirt-on-whom.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        Clearing the ground does not guarantee that what grows to replace what has been removed will be any good. That’s reality, not triumphalism.

        You don’t offer any materialist analysis of what lies behind the SWP’s political mistakes. Caps lock is not Marxism, vulgar or otherwise.

  • David Berger

    A year or so ago, in his piece on Occupy and socialist groups, Pham Binh wrote: The most basic and fundamental task facing socialists is to merge with Occupy and lead it from within. Socialist groups that insist on “intervening” in the uprising will be viewed as outsiders with little to contribute in practice to solving Occupy’s actual problems because they will be focused on winning arguments and ideological points rather than actively listening to, joining hands with, and fighting alongside the vanguard of the 99% in overcoming common practical and political.

    In fact, if anything, right now Occupy suffers from a vacuum of leadership, which might have been partially filled, in my opinion as an Occupy activist from the beginning, had the socialist groups “intervened” more consciously, directly and with a purpose and helped to train more new leadership. Their leadership, when it was focused, purposive and clearly presented, was always welcome and often followed.

    Pham Binh now writes: A successful radical left organizing project must to a large extent be the change it wants to win. … Its watchwords must be horizontalism, plurality, transparency, and results, not centralism, uniformity, discipline, and vanguardism. It must be experimental, a work in progress, rather than a set of fixed answers and structures.

    So, now, socialist groups are being urged to basically adopt much of the structural strategy that aided and abetted, when it did cause, the melting away of Occupy Wall Street.

    I hope I’ve made myself clear. Not cool.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      It would be stupidity to copy and paste Occupy’s methods blindly just as it is stupidity to copy and paste a fictional notion of the “1917 model”. I advocate neither.

      • David Berger

        What then, is your alternative. Movements come and go. Or they morph into basically unrecognizable descendants. Where then is the continuity of people, ideas, etc., that is necessary to get over the “hard times.” Fact is that ISO, SA, Solidarity, etc., have played a terrific role in OWS. I have perceived a certain slackening off in recent months, and we are arguing about this.

        What I would like to know is, concretely, given that you have a strategy, what are you doing to implement it? I can’t find the exact quote, but awhile ago, you were trying to put together some kind of organization of anarchists. In posts during the last few weeks, you’ve discussed electoral action, including, I think I detect, some possibility of working within the Democratic Party?

        Again, concretely, what are you proposing now?

        • http://rosswolfe.wordpress.com Ross Wolfe

          They only “played a terrific role in OWS” if you call crude tailism and rearguard actions a “terrific role.”

          • David Berger

            You need to justify that. I have worked with comrades from these groups for over a year, and none if the above happened. What, specifically, are you talking about?

    • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

      It is not possible to speak of Occupy as a unitary enterprise. Accordingly, it has faced different challenges in different locations. Having interviewed a fair number of people associated with Occupy around the country, there were some places that experienced a leadership vacuum, or perhaps, it is more accurately described as a “decisionmaking vacuum” (I am trying to avoid getting enmeshed in the “leaders” versus “no leaders” argument on the left), but there were also places where the problem was quite the opposite, people assuming leadership roles covertly and hence, non-transparently (and, therefore, not that much different from the SWP even if SWP CC members are publicly elected through a flawed process).

      The diversity and disputes within Occupy were not, in my view, ones that would have been significantly resolved through the intervention of socialist groups to train new leadership. Furthermore, there were people of the left, such as those with experience in the Movement for a New Society, who provided assistance in regard to training people on how to participate in a consensus driven movement, as did many with past experience in anti-authoritarian movements. The recent AK Press release, the anthology “We are Many”, includes a number of candid articles about the successes and failures of this effort, an effort that is ongoing.

  • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

    It is worth taking the time to follow the trajectory of the discussion of the SWP’s failings at Lenin’s Tomb. With Seymour’s “Crisis in the SWP” post, it began as an indictment of SWP administrative practice in light of entrenched misogyny within the party. In his subsequent “Reply to the Central Committee” post, and the responses to it, this latter, essential aspect of the crisis has been subordinated to an emphasis upon reformist measures necessary to preserve the party. Sheltering under the umbrella of “we don’t what really happened”, Seymour and those who have commented, many of them past and present SWP members, have apparently decided that reform of the party will implicitly result in successfully confronting internal misogyny as manifested by sexual harassment and violence.

    If this sounds familiar, it should. It is the old patriarchy as a secondary contradiction within capitalist society, one that will be effectively addressed upon its eradication by communism. Along these lines, it is not surprising that female voices on the thread appear to have withered away as the discussion has evolved. Seymour is undoubtedly sincerely motivated, and well aware of the challenges created by integrating radical feminism with Marxism, but something more is going to be required than a dry agenda of internal administrative reform and replacement of leadership within the SWP. My guess is that Seymour will soon understand this, if he doesn’t already, and act upon it. This is the beginning of an “Arab Spring” process within the SWP as you observe.

    In any event, the SWP is going to have to openly address misogyny within its ranks, and demonstrate that it is part of a social movement in which women can participate safely and have their perspectives addressed. The problem with the administrative practices of the SWP is not just that they are undemocratic, but that this lack of democracy facilitates the abuse and political marginalization of women. People like Seymour and allies must therefore strongly link the two in order to reinvigorate the party. If they do, it is likely to lead to a struggle over vanguardist versus the more horizontal political practices that you rightly advocate.

  • Sean Johnston

    this decrepit structure continues to facilitate crimes and in so so doing continues to create untold damage to the marxian left, as it has done for a century now (no no no that’s just stalinism, we’re told, just ignore the material reality which creates stalinism – over-centralization of power, a lack of proper transparency and accountability etc.).

    how much better off we would be now if the blight of leninist organizational structure was never visited upon us.

  • Darren redstar

    “While the SWP played a critical role in getting important initiatives like the Socialist Alliance, RESPECT, and Stop the War Coalition off the ground, it also crippled them with avoidable missteps and sectarian maneuvering.”
    A generous interpretation indeed, Respect was a cynical hitching of the SWP with the opportunist Galloway and a section of British Islamism, a failure long before Galloways rape as bad manners comments. Stop the war failed to do so, and its refusal to even comment on the brutal butchery in Syria, in case this causes problems for those sections of its supporters who champion the dictatorship, devalues any idea of its claim to be an anti war movement. The SWP had not any involvement in the creation of the socialist alliance, joining it only to attempt to take it over and then, when riper electoral prospects beckoned on the coat tails of gorgeous George, forcing the SAs closure and stealing its funds.

  • http://rdwolff.com Deran

    “Leninism”, which to me is in essence the belief in a vanguardist cadre organizational structure that is closed and self-referntial. I admit I am disappointed that such an organizational model is still active in the 21st century. Open source and open access doesn’t mean drum circles and endless “human mic” sessions (relating to the legitimate concerns I and others obviously have with how OWS ended up), but transparency and democracy do not mean the organization is open to take over by the cops or rival orgs, I think openness and democracy are actually more secure than secrecy and authoritarianism of Leninist groups.

    I think the comments that Leninist leadership become eternal and self-perpetuating as a source of making a living is very insightful. In the US our Socialist Workers Party is an excellent example of this sort of thing, as is the Maoist cult the Revolutionary Communist Party. Both have had the asme man as boss since the early-1970s. These groups are mere shells.

    And not having a simple explicit plan all mapped out is not a sign of weakness, it is the actual manner in which humans join together to create new networks and orgs. The need to maintain organizations even after they are nothing more than jobs for their bosses is not how such groups as SYRIZA and other new socialist/anti-capitalist orgs in Europe and elsewhere have been formed.

    All this is not to say that the various Trotskyist groups have no role, obviously many people active in these groups are people who are committed to socialism. But the focus on self-perpetuation doesn’t seem useful to me.

    Were there a broad Left org existing in the US, they could have taken part in OWS and showed a different organizational method from the human mics and endless general assemblies.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    Good to see the SWP’s honest elements beginning to look more thoroughly at “Leninism”:
    http://www.leninology.com/2013/01/guest-post-on-crisis.html

  • Marxist

    The state should never be involved in the Left.

    The fact that people continue to raise the party’s failure to go to the police as a crime merely indicates they lack the most basic critique of the bourgeois state. Why is a judicial system set up by a party any more or less arbitrary than the anti-working class, racist, sexist and fundamentally conservative system set up by the capitalists?

    • redfred

      It is all that women who have been raped have.

    • PhilW

      The argument that the state should never be involved in the left makes a lot of assumptions in this context. It sort of implies that it was the SWP that was being investigated and, in some respects that is certainly how the leadership reacted.

      Well, it wasn’t a complaint against the SWP: it was against a man who happened to be a member of the SWP. The first response of the leadership in this instance should have been to suspend him from membership, – severing their ties with him. Then they should have said to the complainant that they could not competently investigate the case. This was because all they are able to do is listen to the two statements and find the accused not guilty (unless he incriminates himself) on grounds of natural justice. This is what they did, with some gross sexism thrown in.

      By taking on the case, they turned it into a “trial” of the SWP, into which the state might like to poke its dirty little nose.

      They were not competent to carry out any physical or electronic forensic examinations, subpoena witnesses, or provide the parties with experts to help them prepare their cases. As their statement says, the “believed” the accused was innocent, as they couldn’t acquire or consider any actual evidence either way.

    • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

      “Why is a judicial system set up by a party any more or less arbitrary than the anti-working class, racist, sexist and fundamentally conservative system set up by the capitalists?”

      certainly, the state does not encourage women to file rape complaints and successfully prosecute them, as this chart in relation to rape in the US indicates:

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/07/the-saddest-graph-youll-see-today/?tid=pm_pop

      but, unfortunately, the SWP fiasco reveals that, as bad as it is, women are better off going to the police and relying upon the judicial system than expecting their socialist allies to deal with it

      any left organization that fails to give the highest priority to the protection of women from predation by their own members has no future, this is why the crisis facing the SWP is not just one of distorted, purportedly Leninist practice, but also one about the integration of radical feminism within contemporary socialist movements

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      If only George Zimmerman was an SWP member…

  • redfred

    Personally, I am happy that we have the internet, these “Leninist” groups, when they expel, cover-up, etc. the public has a better chance of finding out. They would already be dying off as it is because the younger generations find that these groups are run by the CC, despite the appearance of debates that are just put on for the sake of political theatre. Younger people have no tolerance for such top-down behavior.

    Hopefully these groups can die off and something can take their place.

  • Arthur

    There was a previous thread here on the same topic:

    http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=4522

    In that thread I asked:

    ***
    As Secretary of a Disputes Committee how would you rephrase this draft for your letter to the complainant?

    “Dear Comrade W,

    Thanks you for your complaint informing us that a leading member of our organization raped you 3 or 4 years ago.

    As you haven’t gone to the police there is nothing we propose to do about it.

    Yours fraternally,

    Brian S”

    However you chose to phrase it you would be rightly condemned for OUTRAGEOUS refusal to carry out the obligations of a disputes committee.

    ***

    Hopefully that issue will be responded to in this new thread.

    The implosion of the SWP is long overdue. Any viable organization could easily correct the serious mistake of a Dispute Committee composed largely of people close to the accused failing to delegate to people who were not close to the accused. Instead it looks like the leadership will resort to expulsions to protect itself while various unprincipled factions tear each other apart and much of the membership drifts away.

    The open rumour-mongering approach taken in both these articles is well designed to minimize the political level and maximize the unprincipled personal bitterness.

    Obviously many people who still haven’t seen through the bankrupt political and organizational line of the SWP will be rally around their comrades and leaders when they see expressions of confidence in the police on the one hand and quite peurile personal attacks on people they regard as their comrades and leaders.:

    “A more interesting question is why didn’t the CC simply throw the accused (now former) CC member under the bus as they did John Rees, the convenient scapegoat for the SWP’s mistakes within RESPECT? Surely that would have been the easiest way to preserve peace within the ranks, with the added bonus of being able to posture as “tough on rape,” “taking women’s liberation seriously”? Why go through the trouble of creating an opaque conflict-of-interest-ridden pseudo-judicial process to deliberate and reach a verdict to be presented to the rank and file for a risky up-or-down vote?

    The logical (albeit totally speculative) answer is that the accused must have some leverage over the CC that made him impossible to simply toss overboard. Either he has dirt on the CC (perhaps they looked the other way when complaints like this arose in the past – that this was the first time beggars belief) or he holds significant SWP financial assets in his name. Or both.”

    That style of argument certainly helps make the case that the bourgeois state handles these matters far better than the author of this article would.

    But it doesn’t make the case that any organization should refuse to investigate a complaint of serious misconduct against one of its leaders. That is precisely the claim that both these articles makes.

    Originally the claim appeared to be just unthinking. But its now being repeated well after it ought to have sunk in that the accuser had chosen not to go to the police and that 3 or 4 years after the event refusing to deal with the complaint unless it was taken to the police simply means refusing to deal with the complaint.

    For all the furious indignation, the attitude towards the accusers rights here is far more patronizing than the SWP’s – and that is saying a lot.

    • Brian S

      @Arthur: I hadn’t seen this post of yours on the previous thread. Since you’ve taken my semi-pseudonym in vain I clearly need to respond to you: but I’ll do it shortly on the original thread, as I don’t want to encourage people to continue rubbing this particular sore in yet another thread.

      • Arthur

        Well, it’s a couple of days later and Brian still hasn’t responded in either thread.

        The way to avoid having sore spots rubbed in is to avoid unprincipled positions that express confidence in the police and attack groups you dislike for not refusing to investigate allegations against their leaders.

        Simply insisting that the Disputes Committee should have delegated to people not close to the accused would have assisted the rebellion within the SWP instead of simply using it as an opportunity for unprincipled attacks.

        Instead of correcting that position it has actually got worse in this thread, with really pathetic smearing that assumes the accused must be guilty and goes on to explain why he is being protected as due to some financial hold etc etc.

        This behaviour is typical of the sects and needs to be firmly rejected. You cannot break wih the sects while behaving the same way.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    Now the SWP is saying the transcript of the Disputes Committee (DC) was published against the will of the accuser: “The transcript was publicised against the wishes of the complainant herself.”

    Yes, and the accuser was barred from attending that rotten farce. She had to sit outside against her wishes while others deliberated on whether or not she got a raw deal from the CC and the DC.

    Here’s another resignation: http://www.socialistunity.com/a-letter-of-resignation-from-the-swp/

    Richard Seymour and his supporters are going to be on the receiving end of some “democratic centralism” sooner rather than later; the only thing holding back the CC is that he’ll be able to play expulsion martyr and take many cadre with him. For whatever reason, hanging onto Martin Smith is apparently worth the cost.

  • http://grumpyoldtrot.wordpress.com/ Jay Blackwood

    Thanks for this article, which is one of the most thought-provoking pieces I’ve seen on this affair, and the discussion is also extremely useful.

    The question of how or if Leninism and Democratic Centralism fits with 21st century needs is one I’m honestly unsure about now. I find myself simply not having the answers. Which – for a know-it-all old Trot like me – is deeply disconcerting. But it’s also, I suspect, rather a good thing. Learning from the movements is what it’s all about, I reckon…

    I’ve written a piece trying to unpack some of what led to this debacle here –

    http://grumpyoldtrot.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/hubris/

  • Doug1943

    You ask:
    “A more interesting question is why didn’t the CC simply throw the accused (now former) CC member under the bus as they did John Rees, the convenient scapegoat for the SWP’s mistakes within RESPECT? Surely that would have been the easiest way to preserve peace within the ranks, with the added bonus of being able to posture as “tough on rape,” “taking women’s liberation seriously”? Why go through the trouble of creating an opaque conflict-of-interest-ridden pseudo-judicial process to deliberate and reach a verdict to be presented to the rank and file for a risky up-or-down vote?

    The logical (albeit totally speculative) answer is that the accused must have some leverage over the CC that made him impossible to simply toss overboard. Either he has dirt on the CC (perhaps they looked the other way when complaints like this arose in the past – that this was the first time beggars belief) or he holds significant SWP financial assets in his name. Or both.”

    I have a simpler reason: perhaps the SWP Disputes Commission genuinely believe he’s completely innocent.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      That might make sense if the Disputes Commission and the Central Committee were the same body.

  • tori brach

    Pham Binh writes: “Such a project should be open and open-minded to all modern progressive oppositional trends, be they anarchist or feminist, seeking to engage them, learn from them, and incorporate their insights and yearnings into a common fight for the common end: liberation”

    I am deeply offended by this sectarian, vanguardist, exclusivist argument. Why should this project be open to “modern progressive oppositional trends” but not also centrist and right wing ones as well? Are these groups somehow “ahead of” or “more worthy” than right wing and centrist groups such as the NRA or the Tea Party or Blue Dog Democrats? That smacks of typical vanguardist elitism and sectarianism. How dare he argue for such a narrow organizing model that excludes so many important groups? Who is he to decide what’s in and what’s outside the big tent? We need true openness and inclusion, not more sectarianism and exclusion.

    I propose, instead, a genuinely inclusivist project that avoids the sectarian mistakes of Pham Binh’s proposal. What we need is a truly multi-tendency approach to organizing that doesn’t exclude people on the right and center and includes those tendencies as well. I don’t agree with Pham’s single-tendency approach. We need to be open-minded about bringing on board ALL groups—whatever their politics: right, left or center—so we can build genuine multi-tendency organizations.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Why should this project be open to “modern progressive oppositional trends” but not also centrist and right wing ones as well?

      Because they are not progressive.

      Look, if you’re so deeply offended, you’re welcome to join the British SWP. I hear they’re hurting for members. And if you don’t live in the United Kingdom, set up an International Socialist Tendency group where you live! Someone has to replace the Serbian section.

      If all you can do to defend “Leninism” is make sarcastic, politically vacuous comments then the “Leninist” left is in bigger trouble than I thought.

    • redfred

      You’re joking, right?

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        This is what passes for humor in “Leninist” circles.

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  • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

    This is sad commentary on the SWP:

    http://www.leninology.com/2013/01/swp-and-womens-liberation.html

    “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. . . ”

    Note that this is just describing a disengagement from the SWP from feminists in academia, the situation with working class women is probably even worse.

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  • James Robertson

    A petty bourgeois analysis from a semi-anarchist — “self-organize” indeed!

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Lenin was called a semi-anarchist in 1917 for calling for a Commune-type state by the Mensheviks. It’s nice to see someone keeping that tradition alive in the 21st century.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    The SWP opposition garnered 9 out of 50 votes at this past weekend’s National Committee meeting, a far cry from the support they were able to muster at their party conference:
    http://socialistunity.com/swp-leadership-fracturing-under-the-pressure/

    As I said here, their power peaked.

    • Louis Proyect

      I have a feeling that their purpose in submitting motions to the NC is not to become a majority there but to maintain a kind of record. The real action is taking place on the outside of the SWP, through the Internet that is driving the hacks nuts. I suspect that if the purge takes place, it will hollow out the student base of the SWP. The big question then becomes what they do next. I strongly suspect that they will not try a Socialist Action type effort to rebuild a “good” SWP. Maybe I am overly optimistic but I think that they are ready to dump the “Leninism” stuff even though they pay lip-service to it.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        The basic problem is that they think the SWP CC is deviating from “democratic centralism” when in reality this is “democratic centralism” in action; “let’s try Leninism instead of Zinovievism,” as it were.

        • Louis Proyect

          You are right but I take heart in this:

          http://internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/is-zinovievism-finished-reply-to-alex.html
          “The Bolshevik leadership of 1917 was elected individually. There was no ban on factions. On the eve of the October Revolution, Zinoviev and Kamenev publicly opposed the insurrection in Maxim Gorky’s newspaper (the ‘dark side’ of the printing press, perhaps) and resigned from the Bolshevik Central Committee. They were not expelled from the Party.”

          This marks real progress. In any case, people don’t abandon beliefs they have held for over a decade overnight. It is a process. In politics, I try to apply the rule that when people are moving toward you, you try to find common ground. When you sense they are moving away, then it becomes necessary to highlight the differences.

          • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

            I agree, it is a process, and yes, common ground is the way to go.

            However, quite a few oppositions within the American SWP came and went with zero impact on the left before the mid 1980s because they remained stuck in their inherited framework. When you and Camejo broke with “Leninism” you had the Sandanistas proving that the model was bankrupt. The folks who haven’t resigned yet are not moving farther from or closer to questioning the fundamentals of their model, although they are trying to justify their actions using select excerpts from the history of Russian social democracy (as if anyone who goes along with Stalinicos’ balderdash will give a damn about historical precedent).

            The opposition is trying to portray the CC as deviating from the norms of “democratic centralism” when in reality the CC is abiding by it, much as Trotsky spent a decade plus trying to convince party stalwarts that Stalin was the real Menshevik while he was really a Bolshevik all along. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.

            The only reason any of this is happening is because Andy Newman published the transcript that an SWP member leaked to him. Whoever leaked that monstrosity is the courageous one, not the opposition whose public dissent only began once it became too costly for them personally to be associated with such a tainted brand. It was then and only then that there was a “crisis” that demanded “emergency” measures.
            Similarly opportunist oppositions led by Kamenev and Zinoviev didn’t go anywhere politically either.

            Maybe I’m too hard on them, but that’s how I see it. I’d love to be wrong.

            • Louis Proyect

              The only reason any of this is happening is because Andy Newman published the transcript that an SWP member leaked to him.

              Yes, but Richard Seymour–the leader of this opposition in many ways–wrote a critique of the SWP position on SYRIZA that I am somewhat surprised they published. It takes some gumption to stick your neck out in this fashion. Camejo, for example, never voted against Barnes in a PC meeting. He had to get out from under the cult framework to reach the point where he would challenge the SWP head-on.

              • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                I’m not surprised they published his critique. It allows them to appear open and democratic when they are anything but.

                Dissenting on something going on 1,000 miles away is one thing. Speaking up and doing the right thing when there’s a rape allegation and cover up in your own organization is another. Abiding by “party discipline” and allowing the CC to quietly sweep the scandal under the conference rug is moral and political cowardice.

                • Louis Proyect

                  I am not sure what was behind the decision to publish Richard’s piece on SYRIZA but to my knowledge this was the first such open challenge to the party line in the SWP that I can remember. Furthermore, it is not only a “Coyoacan” type commentary on things happening far away. It goes to the very heart of the false distinction between reform and revolution that underpins everything that comes out of the SWP propaganda machine.

                  In terms of Richard’s failure to speak out on the rape, you can say the same thing about Camejo vis-a-vis the Mark Curtis affair. Being inside a cult tends to make you follow the leader. Breaking free is a process.

                  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                    I thought the Curtis thing happened years after Camejo left?

                    I don’t believe the two are comparable.

                    • Louis Proyect

                      Yes, my mistake. But a better example might be my own reaction to two other incidents involving sexual assault and the American SWP. When I read Said Sayrafiezadeh’s “When Skateboards will be Free”, I took violent exception to his claim that after he had been molested as a child by an SWP member who was babysitting him the party told his mother to forget about the incident. I insisted that such things did not take place in the party I belonged to. This was despite my hatred for the SWP leadership. Around the same time John Cox, who I got to know pretty well through email and who was on the SWP National Committee around the time of the Mark Curtis incident, told of a comrade being raped in his branch and a subsequent cover-up. Again, I refused to believe him even though in most respects I took everything else he said quite seriously. Also, while this does not involve a sexual assault, someone once reported to the SWP mailing list on Yahoo that Tony Thomas, a leading African-American member, punched him in the face when he picked him up at the airport for no reason at all. I said that this sounded like bullshit. I couldn’t believe it.

                      I now question my own initial reaction to these reports, if for no other reason that the degeneration of the SWP has become so advanced that I almost have no choice but to entertain the possibility that they occurred. I still had memories of the SWP I had joined in which this kind of behavior would not be tolerated. Now I think otherwise.

                      In any case, time will tell.

          • Ben Campbell

            “In politics, I try to apply the rule that when people are moving toward you, you try to find common ground. When you sense they are moving away, then it becomes necessary to highlight the differences.”

            This seems like particularly good advice. It occurs to me that this is something I have been doing, rather unconsciously, although I’m sure it could use some fine-tuning.

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  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    The oppositionists are engaging in self-censorship (no more pesky Facebook conversations/blogging) and watering down their aspirations in the face of the rigged game:
    http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/951/letters
    http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/951/swp-crisis-silence-of-the-lambs

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    A good materialist explanation as to why the SWP CC is so keen to keep Martin Smith even at the expense of the party’s self-destruction:
    http://sovietgoonboy.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/once-tiberius-is-dead-i-sejanus-will-rule-as-emperor-in-rome/

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  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    Smith is out, finally. The price of keeping him finally became too high.

    http://sovietgoonboy.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/exit-delta/

    The informal fund-raising campaign on his behalf is the mind-boggling finale of this whole mind-boggling affair. I wonder how this will effect things with ISN and the broader left once the SWP tries to rehabilitate itself.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    A dissident member of the Socialist Party of Ireland grapples with party democracy, slates, and Trotskyist shibboleths all of which fall under the “Leninist” rubric: http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/972/socialist-party-ireland-not-for-the-public-domain

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