Socialist Party

'Damaged' by principled criticism As previously reported, long-standing Socialist Party member Harry Paterson lost his appeal against expulsion (see Weekly Worker November 16). The SP's appeals board has finally produced this report of its November 11 hearing

Attendance - Board members: Geoff Jones (convenor), Julia Leonard, Claire Bradley. Appellant: Harry Paterson. Supporter: Mark Skilton. Branch representative: Gary Freeman. Witnesses: Charlie Taylor, Pete Watson.

Geoff Jones clarified that apart from organisational material, no new written material would be received by the board from either side during the hearing. Specifically, the board would not consider papers or reports of actions concerning events after February13 2000 (date of the expulsion).

Harry Paterson raised the point that he had not received written notification of his expulsion. It was clarified and confirmed that he was at the meeting on February13 2000 which voted to expel him.

Gary Freeman reported for the branch on the reasons for the expulsion and on the expulsion process carried out by the branch. He submitted a set of papers of evidence in support of the branch decision, previously made available to the board. He called witnesses, Charlie Taylor and Pete Watson. Questions were asked by the board members, by Harry Paterson and by Mark Skilton.

Harry Paterson presented his own case. He called no witnesses. It was clarified that non-party members would not be allowed by the board to give evidence. He had also called a member of the branch to attend as a witness, but they had declined. Half way through his submission he requested that he be allowed to refer to an article he had written after February13 2000 . With the agreement of the branch representative, the board ruled that he could make this reference. Questions were asked by the board members and by Gary Freeman.

Gary Freeman then summarised his position on behalf of the branch.

Unfortunately Harry Paterson had to leave the hearing early, due to unforeseen personal circumstances. At his suggestion, the board allowed Mark Skilton to reply on his behalf and summarise his position. Mark raised one new point as to whether at the branch meeting of February 13, the branch committee members should have been able to vote on their report.

A recess was held when the board met alone to discuss their findings.

The board found that it could not allow Harry Paterson's appeal.

The board agreed that the mechanics of the process of the investigation and the vote in the Nottingham branch on February13 2000 were acceptable. Branch committee members, as members of the branch, should be able to vote on a report to the branch. It had been confirmed during the appeal that the decision to expel Harry Paterson had been a majority decision of the branch, made according to normal custom and practice.

The board found that although it could not be proven that Harry Paterson had written articles for the Weekly Worker prior to February13 2000, or that he had distributed his document 'For democratic centralism' outside the branch, he did agree and confirm that he had raised criticism of the party in a public meeting in Liverpool and had subsequently written articles for the Weekly Worker in his own name. He also agreed that whilst on a trade union course he did discuss with a non-Socialist Party member the contents of the document he was writing, 'For democratic centralism', which he subsequently published. The board agreed with the branch submission that articles appearing in the Weekly Worker contained wording very close to that of this document. The board agreed that, by his actions, Harry Paterson had damaged the party.

The board heard that Harry Paterson denied that his actions damaged the party. In his submission he had stated that he felt that sharing his criticisms of the party with another party is not disloyal. He also felt that it was a strength that he could go to an open meeting and criticise the party.

Regarding the articles on democratic and bureaucratic centralism he has subsequently written in the Weekly Worker in his own name, he felt that he behaved in the best traditions of the class, stating that Lenin shared his view of open disagreement in front of the class.

The board concluded that the branch had acted correctly in the procedure it had carried out and that the branch was correct and within its rights to conclude that Harry Paterson's concepts of democratic centralism and his concepts of his rights as a member did not coincide with those concepts as generally understood in the party, were damaging to the party and would undermine the party.