Goya: ‘Witches Sabbath’ 1797-98

Politics without the personal is non-politics

Censuring the ‘bullying’ Weekly Worker for reporting events in Leeds is not what LU’s executive should be up to, says Micky Coulter

Rather like the ongoing and “toxic” split in Leeds Left Unity (the word of choice in the executive committee’s minute dealing with the issue), claims that the Weekly Worker is engaged in “destructive” attacks upon individuals within Left Unity, whose politics we “misrepresent”, are becoming tiresome.

What is new is that similar claims and even official censure are on this occasion forthcoming from the EC, which has spent time and energy defending the honour of one Matthew Caygill, a leading comrade in the anti-Workers Power branch of Leeds Left Unity, and himself an EC member. Though his own far lengthier emergency motion was not passed, a shorter, sympathetic alternative was. Indeed, it went beyond mere sympathy with the comrade. In effect the EC wants to outlaw honest reportage and robust polemics.

We note quickly that this is part of a persistent trend within Left Unity, which has demanded ‘confidentiality’ for disputes hearings and what happens in our branch meetings, a ‘safe space’, free from ‘bad’ words, silence on the reasons why comrades like Manchester’s Laurie McCauley were unconstitutionally suspended (in his case for 15 months).

Apparently, the coverage in the Weekly Worker of the unresolved problems literally dividing Leeds Left Unity, most recently and most particularly in the article, ‘Sectarian anti-sectarianism’ (July 23), and the criticism of comrade Caygill contained therein, is “destructive”, “personalised” and “bullying” (motion passed by the EC). Strong words indeed - ironically far stronger already than anything that has been said in these pages about comrade Caygill himself. But this is the least of the problems with the approach being taken, and the attitude and culture that it displays on behalf of both comradeCaygill and the EC itself. It amounts to little more than yet another attempt to put a lid on criticism. This in an organisation which has made huge play about “doing politics differently” and being “transparent”, but which in fact continually lapses into exactly the kind of bureaucratic approaches and ‘not in front of the children’ attitude to reporting and polemic which are precisely the hallmarks of the existing left, which many in Left Unity seek to define themselves against.

By contrast, the Weekly Worker always strives to honestly report on the workers’ movement and on the actions taken by its participants, and seeks to polemicise against the real views of others - not engage in fruitless inventions. Needless to say, the views of Caygill and his co-thinkers are not misrepresented in the article in question, and no attempt has been made by the EC to demonstrate otherwise, because no such attempt could be successful.

What shall we make of the accusation that our criticism was “personalised” - that is, to do with a person? The question is, of course, who else is there to criticise other than those responsible for the witch-hunting action in dispute? It is undeniable that comrade Caygill and others formed a second Leeds branch especially designed to keep others out. It is undeniable that comrade Caygill has attempted to create a replica split from afar within Sheffield Left Unity through his various contacts. It is undeniable that comrade Caygill helped draft and put his name to a motion calling for Workers Power to leave Left Unity - to expel themselves in effect. It is undeniable that comrade Caygill blames Marxists for preventing L Ufrom developing into a mass force. It is undeniable that comrade Caygill considers that dual membership should be abolished and also that within Left Unity one should only really put forward ‘broad’, non-revolutionary positions and arguments.

When the comrade gets up in EC meetings, or at LU conference, the view of the EC can only be that the wider membership of the party, and indeed the working class as a whole, does not have the right to know what he says because it is personal. The views of leading members are clearly of interest, yet it seems the party as a whole is not entitled to know about them. And surely what goes for the party also goes for the class. Does the working class really not need to know what those who seek to play a leading role in its movement do and say? This is a paternal and bureaucratic attitude suited to the protection of privilege from criticism, and, contra the EC, is foreign to the best traditions of the workers’ movement.

Indeed, the best traditions of the workers’ movement are filled with “personalised” reporting - even furious and invective-filled polemic. Not polemic for the sake of polemic, but because there are contending views, tactics and strategies in our movement, which we must all - as equal participants - be able to understand, endorse, condemn, and so on. The life and ideas of our movement must of necessity be our common intellectual property.

The only way not to criticise people - not to make politics “personalised” - is not to criticise their views, tactics, strategies and actions. Which in practice means silence - except for the views that come ready-packaged and pre-approved from the ‘legitimate’ judges of such matters: the leadership, which must be protected from “destructive” criticism! In other words, the logic of the EC is the same as that of the Socialist Workers Party central committee.

If branch or regional committee meetings are to be off the record, why not the NC? Why not the EC? Why not even forbid reporting of national conferences? At this level the logic is obviously absurd - you cannot do that (some organisations do, of course) because comrades need to know what is happening within the party, who is saying and doing what, what the arguments are and where people stand. Otherwise the party does not really extend beyond its leadership.

What about “bullying”? In my view, comrades need to get a grip on reality. Nothing in the article can honestly be described in such a way. Is comrade Caygill a child, who must be protected from harsh words? Is he unable to defend himself by pointing, say, to inaccuracies in what we wrote? One wonders what the EC members who voted for this nonsense were thinking. Of course, many an opportunist ‘virtue’ can be signalled by demonstrating one’s opposition to the open reporting, debate and polemic contained in the Weekly Worker - the stronger, the better.

As for “destructive”, it is the insistence on secrecy, safety and silence - as demonstrated by the motion passed by the EC on this occasion - that fits this description.