Climate of mistrust

Nick Wrack resigned as editor of Militant shortly before a special conference of Militant Labour voted to change the organisation’s name to ‘Socialist Party’ at the end of last year. His appearance at the June meeting of the SP’s National Committee caused some surprise, as many comrades were under the impression that he had stood down from that body too. His letter of resignation, reproduced here, has been circulating unofficially within the organisation. It demonstrates that the SP still has a long way to go to achieve the openness necessary in a democratic workers’ party

To the NC...

Dear comrades

I have felt it necessary to send this statement to the NC to try to explain my reasons for resigning. This is particularly so, given that the EC majority has attempted to put its own gloss on my departure and is presenting the whole affair in a way I do not accept.

My resignation has been explained as an act of desertion, that I was tired and worn out by work, that I was under severe pressure from the task of bringing out the paper, that I had been in the job too long, that I was under financial pressures ...

It is possible that all of this sounds plausible to many comrades. But nothing could be further from the truth. If it were, I could have gone at any time over the last two years, when the pressures of bringing the paper out were far greater. Only recently had we finally got the department up to its full complement of seven editors.

I have been full-time for 13 years and on the EC for six. Soraya has been full-time for 11 years and worked for the International for nine. Neither of us has ever done anything knowingly or deliberately to hurt the organisation. Why should either of us want to do anything to harm the party we have worked so hard to build?

So why have I resigned? ...  I came to the conclusion that my position on the EC and as editor had become intolerable and untenable. This was due to the attitude adopted towards me by the general secretary and others since my document on the name change was first presented, the climate of mistrust that developeded on the EC, and the general tone of debate, which I believe started badly and has deteriorated throughout.

I have not resigned because I have a difference over the name we should adopt. I have stated my position on this and on perspectives at the EC on a number of occasions. I will work to build the party, whatever name is finally agreed for it by the conference. For me the name never was and is not a fundamental issue.

While faults of tone or behaviour may be attributed to various comrades, I believe that the primary responsibility for the unnecessarily bitter and personal tone that has been manifested at times lies with the EC majority and with the leading comrades on the EC in particular.

It is clear that from the start of this debate the leading comrades on the EC saw any differences over the name as cause to wage a de facto factional struggle in support of the majority position. I, naively as it transpired, entered into the debate on the name to raise what I considered to be valid points for discussion. It should have been possible to have had a comradely debate on the name and, as the discussion developed, on the perspectives as well. Why have these discussions been so soured?

I do not believe that my behaviour in this debate is open to criticism. Until my resignation I had continued to perform my EC duties as editor of the paper and carried out my branch activities (as I am still doing). But from the very beginning I was treated as having acted in a disloyal way. I made my differences on the name proposal clear from the first time it was raised on the EC. I spoke in support of ‘Militant Socialist Party’ at the regional secretaries’ meeting at which Lynn proposed the name, Socialist Party. At that date the EC had not yet adopted a position on a name change. I raised at the EC that I would be writing material in support of ‘Militant Socialist Party’. Despite all this I was subsequently criticised behind my back for having written the document, for its tone and for the way it was circulated to the National Committee ...

Peter’s attitude towards me changed immediately upon my document being distributed, since when he has refused to talk to me except when absolutely necessary. Some months later he justified this to me on the grounds that by not having given him and Lynn the opportunity to read the document before it went out I had in effect acted disloyally, was responsible for all the confusion that has arisen over the name and had opened the door for other criticisms of the majority position.

Every member of the EC knew that I was writing a document. It was minuted on three occasions that it was “not yet ready”. I presented it to the EC on the Tuesday 10 days before the National Committee and the EC took the decision to send it out at the EC meeting on the following Friday. Unfortunately Peter was on holiday at the time and was not present at the meeting. However, MW was in touch with Peter and told him that my document had been received, presumably also informing him of the content.

Not one member of the EC at that meeting objected to the content, tone or procedure. When Mike Waddington proposed sending it out, no-one objected or proposed waiting until Peter returned from holiday. Although Lynn was not at the meeting (his apologies were given for illness) he had been given a copy and, according to Mike Waddington, had read it and commented upon it.

Was it so wrong of me to write a document with a different point of view? Was it wrong that the document went out to the NC? Shouldn’t the organisation thrive on a comradely exchange of views?

What explains the change in attitude more fully was summed up by Lynn and Peter on the day I resigned. Lynn said that my document had implied that the EC majority was in effect abandoning Marxism and Peter said that it was a fundamental attack on the position put by them both. Both believe the tone to have been unacceptable. This is not the attitude of other NC comrades who later told me that they found nothing wrong with the tone and welcomed the fact that I had presented my ideas in writing, even though they did not agree with them.

The change in attitude on the EC was also motivated by the fact that initially another member of the EC, Margaret Creear, expressed support for my document. The majority saw this as something that could not be tolerated and in the week following the distribution of my document, the week before the NC, organised a secret factional caucus of the EC majority, to which neither Margaret nor I were invited. This was before the formal debate had even commenced at the National Committee. One EC member went so far as to lie to me about the meeting taking place.

This attitude from the EC majority explains the breakdown of trust that inevitably followed. Combined with this atmosphere of mistrust and my ostracism by the general secretary, copied by some other comrades, was my increasing unease and unhappiness with the tone of the debate adopted by Peter and reflected to one degree or another by other members of the EC.

This breach of personal relations was mirrored in the International centre by a change of attitude towards Soraya. I believe the response of Tony Saunois to her resignation is sufficient to demonstrate the prevailing attitude. After telling T that she was resigning because of the way she was being treated, his first comment was: “What’s Nick going to do?” Not a single word of regret or thanks. It doesn’t suggest he was sorry to see her leave. His second comment was: “When are you going?” But in justifying the tone of the debate T revealed the attitude of the EC majority. “This is in essence a factional struggle,” he said, “and personal relations are inevitably going to be broken.” So, despite no factions having been declared, there has in effect been an undeclared faction operating in the course of this dispute.

Clare Doyle told Soraya that: “There’s been no problem of tone in the International, but if there are differences you can’t expect to round to the pub for a chit chat.” Comrades should imagine what the effects of this should be if applied to the branches. Any differences between comrades would lead to a breach of normal comradely socialising after branches and paper sales, and the work would inevitably suffer. It is surely incumbent upon the leadership and the majority in a debate to ensure that no comrade feels isolated or ostracised because they have, or are assumed to have, a different position.

Whatever the relative merits of the different political positions involved in this or any other debate, it is necessary for an atmosphere to be created in our organisation in which comrades feel they can raise any ideas. These ideas have to be taken up on their own merits, not on the basis of who is putting them forward or by attributing ulterior motives to their proponents.

This is not the attitude adopted by Peter. From the beginning it was clear that he and others believed that there was a conservative layer in the organisation who had to be brushed aside. Opponents of the EC name proposal were “conservative”, “tired”, “worn out”, or they “had an axe to grind”, they were “anti-EC”. Their mental faculties were questioned, they’d only just come on the NC, they weren’t the “best” comrades who, by definition, were those who supported the EC position. Opponents of the EC majority have all been lumped together and generally characterised as disloyal. The EC majority have gone along with the tone and some have zealously echoed it. The aim of this approach is to try to stifle any criticism or questioning, to create an atmosphere in which some comrades are reluctant to make the points they would like.

Many comrades may dispute it, but there was a sizeable number of comrades at the last NC who wanted to speak but didn’t because of the tone set by Peter. This includes some comrades who are longer in the tooth. Why did some comrades feel like that?

As the debate has proceeded and widened with the production of the PH/JB/JW document, the atmosphere has worsened. I believe this is due primarily to the attitude of the EC majority, which is that the ideas represented are alien to the organisation and must be ruthlessly defeated. Even if this were the case, instead of restricting the debate to the political ideas, this approach has involved the personal vilification and rubbishing of comrades.

I believe that the tone of the EC Reply to ourselves alone was completely out of place. It struck a sharp note with many comrades. I raised objection to the tone at the EC, as did Margaret. When the Scottish executive recently wrote a letter criticising the tone of the EC Reply, a letter was sent out, written by Peter and signed on behalf of the EC, which defended the tone in its entirety. This reply was never discussed at an EC meeting and I had specifically expressed my opposition to it to Mike Waddington. It should at the very least have been brought to an EC meeting for a vote. It became clear that my position as an EC member was considered to be irrelevant.

The EC’s position is that the only reason for moderating the tone of the Reply for circulation in the members’ bulletin is that it was a “tactical concession”.

There have been various incidents which have simply reinforced my feeling of revulsion for the conduct of the EC majority and, together with my own growing feeling of isolation within the EC, I found my position more and more impossible. I could not see any prospect of things changing for the better on the EC. In the end I felt I had no alternative but to leave.

I understand that comrades will feel angry and let down by my resignation. I appreciate that many comrades will be shocked by what I have written. But I trust that comrades will at least give some thought to how debates and how disagreements can be pursued inside the party without acrimony and abuse.

In the next period there will be many occasions on which differences will arise. The situation is so fluid that perspectives, strategy and tactics will give rise to many differences. No doubt there will be sharp exchanges. No one objects to that. But we should remember that whatever the differences we have within the party we are bound together in a common struggle against a common enemy. So long as comrades do not act disloyally against the party, those differences have to be argued out with that in mind. Comrades raise differences because they believe it is for the good of the party. They may change their minds; they may not. In the future I have no doubt that there will be the formal organisation of tendencies and factions on different issues. Is the organisation capable of accommodating that prospect without a repetition of what I believe has happened on this occasion?

Only if the answer is positive will the organisation have the ability to grow and be attractive to the young layer of fighters drawn to revolutionary struggle.