SPEW’s executive committee responds to its suspended Merseyside members (for their statement see Weekly Worker November 12)
A ‘Statement on the expulsion of Merseyside Socialist Party’ has recently been circulated to some comrades in the CWI. The statement is unsigned, but has apparently been produced by ex-members of the Merseyside regional committee who were suspended by the October 1998 national committee of the Socialist Party and by Dave Cotterill, a former NC member who resigned from the SP in July.
This statement gives a completely false picture of the background against which members of the Merseyside regional committee were suspended by the Socialist Party’s NC. The statement claims that RC members were suspended because of “the political and organisational challenge mounted by Merseyside against a national leadership which regards political and organisational differences as a heresy”. The real position, however, is completely different.
Merseyside RC members, like all other SP members, had the right to raise differences and criticisms and took the opportunity to do so on many occasions. Recent extended debates in the SP - for instance on the name change and strategy for Scotland, which involved questions of perspectives, programme and strategy - show that there is plenty of scope within the party for debate and discussion. All important political, organisational and financial issues are fully debated at every level of the organisation, with ample documentation, before decisions are taken.
It has been a different situation with the Merseyside RC. They raised fundamental differences on perspectives, which they had the right to do, but they did not openly and honestly state their views in a way which would have made it possible for the SP to debate the issues and democratically arrive at conclusions on the key issues concerned. At the same time, the Merseyside RC unilaterally organised local work on the basis of their differences and refused to carry out key NC decisions on policy, campaigning, organisation and finance.
It is striking that although the statement refers to the suspensions of Merseyside members being due to their political differences, there is no attempt to explain their position. Let us help them. The executive committee statement on the Merseyside region presented to the October NC summarised their differences:
“Merseyside RC members have raised fundamental and escalating differences in the last few years on perspectives, strategy and organisation. This has put them in increasing opposition to the EC, the NC and the overwhelming majority of the party. Dave Cotterill, when he was regional secretary, over a number of years vehemently opposed the perspectives put forward by the EC that the likely outcome of the 1997 general election would be the election of a Labour Government. Dave, together with Michael Morris and the regional committee, opposed our economic perspectives for world capitalism: that a new recession or slump loomed. They argued that the economic cycle would continue for another two or three years.
“Their arguments reflected within our party the pressure of the overwhelming majority of bourgeois economists and commentators who have been similarly bemused and confronted by the unfolding of the present worldwide economic crisis of capitalism. The leadership of the party and of the CWI, virtually alone, predicted the economic turmoil of world capitalism. This has prepared members and cadres of the party for the present and future situation. The present Merseyside RC have had a completely one-sided attitude towards globalisation. There has been no comment by members of the RC on the world situation in the light of recent developments.
“During the name change debate [in the Socialist Party in Britain], the regional committee held a neutral position right up to the end of the debate. The executive committee of the party had to argue forcefully against this.”
Dave Cotterill and Michael Morris have argued, and continue to argue, a fundamentally false position on the trade unions. We have tried, not over weeks and months, but over a number of years, to convince them that their position is mistaken. Just one example will indicate the implications of their ideas for the party if they were followed. One of the regional committee members, Richard Knights, who is now a teacher, played a role in building Militant and our party in Merseyside in the past. However, in a debate at a Merseyside regional aggregate he discounted the success of our party in having three comrades elected to the national executive committee of the National Union of Teachers. Richard would never have put forward such a position in the past, but has been affected by the vicious role of the right wing of the Transport and General Workers Union in the dockers’ dispute and has drawn false conclusions from this experience.
A more fundamental difference has arisen with these comrades on the old issue of the relationship of Marxists and their own organisation to the organisations of the working class and the need to build a new mass workers’ party. It was not the Merseyside regional committee but the present EC of the Socialist Party that was ahead of the rest of the membership, including Merseyside comrades, on the issue of the Labour Party becoming a bourgeois party. It was the leadership who raised the idea of preparing the basis for a new workers’ party. However, this was never conceived by us as a substitute for building our revolutionary party. We advanced the idea of a dual task: the struggle to rehabilitate the ideas of socialism, linked to the idea of a new mass workers’ party, and, at the same time, building the revolutionary party.
The success of our work in Liverpool in the past did not arise from building ‘broad formations’ alone. Our starting point was to build the revolutionary party which was very organised and very disciplined. This was the precondition for us to then intervene in the broad labour movement and to build organisations, such as the Liverpool ‘Broad Left’. Every stripe of opponent complained and opposed us because we were too ‘organised’.
It is not the executive committee of the Socialist Party which has moved away from these methods but the present Merseyside regional committee. It is quite clear that they have abandoned the idea of a clear, distinct revolutionary party, based on the ideas of democratic unity. There is no need to take our word for it: read what the comrades themselves wrote in 1998. In a leaflet advertising a series of SP discussion groups entitled ‘Resistance is the secret of joy’, they wrote the following: “What will these movements achieve? Will they be successful or, under the impact of globalisation are they doomed to failure, as we are all now at the mercy of the market as even ‘Labour’ governments search for further privatisation? Where can these answers be found? We don’t know, but we do know where to start.” They then went on to say:
“We are launching a series of discussions over the summer months aimed at debating all of the major issues of the day and seeing how Marxism applies (if it does at all) to the world situation we live in today.” Well, the Socialist Party and the CWI has many questions, but we also have given answers to these problems confronting the working class, which seem to bemuse the Merseyside regional committee.
One problem in any debate with the regional committee is that the comrades have never written down in a worked out form their positions on any question. Despite this, and despite the differences that exist, we believed that it would still be possible to accommodate the comrades within the framework of our party. No restrictions have been placed on the comrades arguing for their point of view within the party. In fact, they have done this verbally on many issues both during pre-congress discussions and at the national congress itself, for instance, in the name change debate. The ideas they raised were debated and discussed but were rejected by the congress.
The actions that the Socialist Party national committee took had nothing to do with any political differences that the Merseyside regional committee held. The rather pathetic attempt to link the actions of the Socialist Party executive committee with those of Neil Kinnock and Labour’s right wing in carrying through expulsions in Merseyside holds no water at all. The Labour Party expelled us for our ideas. We have acted in relation to the Merseyside regional committee members not because of their ideas, which they have argued for, but because the comrades refused to accept the basic minimum requirements for membership of the party.
We have not taken precipitous action. We have tried over a number of years to arrive at agreement with the Merseyside regional committee. The choice we had was between taking the action we did or face the prospect of the disintegration of our party as a cohesive national organisation. The Merseyside statement incorrectly states that they were “suspended with no right to appeal”. The NC’s resolution made it clear that we would be only too happy to lift the suspensions on any of the comrades who would give an undertaking that they would accept the basic obligations of party membership: carrying out NC decisions and making financial contributions to the national organisation. As with any suspended comrades, they have the right to appeal against the NC’s decision.
Absolutely no mention is made in their statement of the fact that they have refused to carry out the agreed democratic decisions of the Socialist Party nationally on the issue of finance. They have refused to pay subs for a period of five months. They have refused to implement the Week’s Income Campaign which was agreed by the national committee. They have refused to seek a road to the youth through the very successful Save Free Education campaign, which is attempting to organise mass non-payment of tuition fees. Moreover, the Merseyside regional committee have accumulated debts of £60,000, which is the result of loans taken out without any consultation or agreement with the national leadership of the party. The consequence is that some comrades may be liable personally for these debts, which could entail them losing their houses if they are not paid off. This situation arose because of gross financial mismanagement by leading RC members, and particularly by Dave Cotterill.
Dave Cotterill was not one of the regional committee members suspended by the October NC. This was because he had previously resigned in July 1998. This came in response to a request from the Socialist Party EC for Dave, who was an NC member, to provide information about various funded projects which we had heard he was involved in. We also asked for information about the aims and finances of ‘Club Resistance’. Dave wrote back blankly refusing to provide any information and, without any further explanation, stating that he was immediately resigning from the Socialist Party.
The Merseyside statement attempts to give the impression of big opposition to the measures in relation to Merseyside taken by the national committee. There are, it is true, a handful of comrades outside of Merseyside who have expressed major disquiet over the actions taken by the national committee. The majority, however, consider that the Merseyside regional committee have flagrantly violated the basic requirements for membership of the party. The Merseyside statement states, somewhat ambiguously, that “Out of a national committee of 80-plus only 50 participated in the vote for expulsion”. In fact 50 comrades participated in the NC meeting because a number of comrades had to send apologies to the NC because of important meetings, illness, etc. There is no doubt, however, that the majority of the absent NC members would have voted in favour of the action taken by the national committee.
The contention that “on Merseyside itself only a handful of people support the national leadership” is being disproved daily. More and more comrades, as the true picture is revealed, are cancelling payment to the regional committee and are switching to the national party. The statement’s claim that the trade union comrades in the area all support the regional committee is untrue. Leading Merseyside comrades in Unison, NUT, PCS support the national party. A similarly false claim is made that “significantly, not one individual” who played a prominent role in the Liverpool council battles of the 1980s, the poll tax fight, and so on, has come out in support of the Socialist Party leadership. This is contradicted by the fact that Roger Bannister, a long-standing Merseyside comrade who is on the executive committee of Unison, supports the national leadership. Tony Aitman, who was expelled from the Labour Party with him in the 1980s, also supports the NC. Tony Mulhearn, who on a daily basis was largely responsible, together with Peter Taaffe, for the major tactical decisions in the Liverpool council struggle does not support the Merseyside regional committee.
The statement also claims that “the dock shop stewards stand in total solidarity” with the Merseyside regional committee. A number of shop stewards, but by no means all, have indicated they are in “solidarity” with members of the Merseyside regional committee because “they stood by us and we are standing by them”. Unfortunately, it seems that they have taken the stand, on an internal Socialist Party issue, without hearing both sides and purely on the basis of industrial solidarity.
The Merseyside regional committee members, however, were not the only ones to stand shoulder to shoulder with the dockers. Many members of the Socialist Party (who oppose the regional committee and support the national party) organised solidarity tours, accommodated dockers in their homes, organised solidarity action in their workplaces, union branches, and raised money for the dockers.
Internationally organisations of the Committee for a Workers International played an important supportive role in organising solidarity tours, and in helping to organise solidarity action by dockers in many different overseas ports. Socialist Party and CWI comrades will be surprised and disappointed if Liverpool docks stewards are supporting the former Merseyside regional committee comrades without hearing both sides of the argument.
The statement claims: “We are proud to continue to uphold the traditions which began 60 years ago [on Merseyside].” The comrades who pioneered the building of revolutionary Marxism on Merseyside over many decades, however, remain committed to our national organisation and to the CWI. In reality, these comrades are claiming legitimacy from a tradition which they have abandoned.
The Merseyside statement, however, gives the game away. After claiming that they stand on the traditions of 60 years ago, they then declare: “We also recognise that the labels of yesterday do nothing to represent the reality of today.” What these comrades refer to as “labels” - Trotskyism, Stalinism, reformism, centrism - are the historical summing-up of different political trends and ideas. ‘Trotskyism’ is not a “label” but the most modern expression of the ideas of Marxism. In recent discussions in the Merseyside region, Dave Cotterill declared that with the collapse of Stalinism, Trotskyism “was in danger” of becoming irrelevant unless it found new ways to intervene. What this means in practice is the liquidation of the idea of a revolutionary party and its replacement by ‘networking’: They say: “In other words, we are prepared to discuss with and learn from all political tendencies which stand on the basis of fighting for a democratic socialist society”, but it is clear that for them it will be on the basis of abandoning the task of building a politically coherent, well organised revolutionary party.
The statement also tries to justify the suspended comrades’ abandonment of the CWI by conjuring up a false picture of the disintegration of our international organisation. They refer, for instance, to comrades being expelled in Germany. In fact, a small group left the Berlin organisation of our German section. In some other sections, small groups have, like the suspended Merseyside comrades, abandoned Marxist perspectives and the task of building a revolutionary organisation. They have either left our ranks or come out in open opposition to our organisation, obliging us to take action to defend the political integrity of the international. Far from being in a state of disintegration, the ranks of the CWI are overwhelmingly opposed to the kind of liquidationist trend represented by the suspended Merseyside comrades.
These comrades have stepped outside the Socialist Party because of their political evolution, which they are now admitting, bit by bit. They were not forced out, as they allege, by organisational heavy-handedness on the part of the leadership. The devoted core of Merseyside comrades who have remained loyal to the Socialist Party will become the nucleus of the rebuilding of a powerful Marxist force on Merseyside. It is hoped that some of the comrades who have mistakenly followed the lead of Michael Morris and Dave Cotterill will reconsider and rejoin the ranks of the only party which, as in the past, can politically arm the working class on Merseyside for the battles to come.