Coy comrades

SA members attending the independents' meeting in Birmingham were not keen to reveal their identities

Readers will notice something a little odd about comrade Will McMahon's report of the January 19 'SA indy' conference. Generally, it is an interesting account of a productive day. We commissioned comrade McMahon to write this piece as we thought it important a leading independent give a view of this event. Yet - apart from a brief 'thank you' to the conference's two main organisers - comrade McMahon fails to mention a single individual's name. This is not simply some journalistic quirk of his, still less the result of a lost notebook. This reporting restriction was actually proposed by the comrade to the meeting and agreed without a dissenting voice (although I am sure that a number felt uncomfortable). I thought this bizarre and made a brief announcement to the effect that any comrades who were not so ashamed of their own views as to have them associated with their name should approach Will McMahon and he could slip their moniker in. This was not a serious suggestion, of course, and the comrade has written the strangely disembodied report endorsed by the meeting. I really have to comment on this nonsense. First, I note the extreme inconsistency of comrades who object to having themselves named in our pages. Often, the very same comrades will use the Weekly Worker as the (only) source of invaluable information on what leading members of the Socialist Alliance are doing, who is saying what on the SA executive - even what is happening inside their own sect, should they happen to belong to one. Yet, when it comes to their own words being reported, these same comrades will cry foul and accuse our journalists of being congenital and malicious manglers of the truth. I recall a particularly amusing example of these double standards at the December 1 SA conference. A leading Socialist Party member recounted a self-mocking anecdote to myself and another CPGBer. He noted that, having often dismissed Weekly Worker reports on the SP as malign inventions, he found himself in an argument with an SAer from another organisation. He accused this comrade's group of some heinous crime. It was vehemently denied. "Yes, you did," our SPer barked out. "It was in the Weekly ... whoops." Speaking on behalf of the comrades who put together the Weekly Whoops, we actually strive for accuracy. But what appears in this paper is political reporting of meetings in our movement, not deadly dull pages of verbatim minutes. In other words, we do not simply reproduce what a comrade said: we report what we believe they meant, why they are saying it, what it tells us about their politics, the likely consequences of it and perhaps why it is wrong. We strive to report accurately by giving an all-rounded assessment of the publicly stated positions of working class politicians. In truth, it is this attempt to be precise that produces the political haemophilia on display in the 'indy' conference. Martov, a brilliant leader of the Mensheviks, commented that the polemical method of Iskra strove to expose "the very embryo of a reactionary idea hidden behind a revolutionary phrase" (my emphasis, M Liebman Leninism under Lenin London 1985, p29). In other words, the journal did not simply take what people said about their fidelity to Marxism and the cause of the working class as good coin, but actually delved beneath the surface to expose what was true at a deeper level. Would it be too harsh of me to suggest that it is this political precision that many people actually object to, not our 'distortions'? After all, as Liebman notes, "On all sides, Iskra's opponents condemned the polemical methods of this journal, which was accused, to quote Trotsky's testimony of the time, of 'fighting not so much against the autocracy as against the other factions in the revolutionary movement'" (ibid). A depressingly familiar charge levelled incessantly at the Weekly Worker, of course. Let us come back to the 'SA indy' conference. It should be noted that the meeting imposed a ban only on the public naming of names. There were observers present from at least five political organisations, including the SWP, the largest in the SA. I assume all will report back in some detail to their organisations. I will be writing an internal report for Communist Party members that names names. I assume the others will do likewise. So, large sections of the alliance will know who said what in Birmingham anyway, despite the ban. The only difference is that in internal documents, we could slander, lie and distort to our heart's content. Maligned comrade would have no redress - they would not in all likelihood even get to hear about such reports Even more strangely, accounts of the conference which report the interventions of named individuals have started to appear willy-nilly on various SA e-lists. As these are semi-open lists, the information the comrades were so anxious to restrict is starting to seep out anyway. In the conference, a member of the SA executive (who shall, of course, remain nameless) made an odd point about the "misrepresentation" of comrades in publications in which they had "no right of reply". In keeping with the anonymous spirit of the meeting, the comrade declined to name the papers he had in mind, but it is a fair bet the Weekly Worker came high in the list. Of course, there is no automatic right of reply in our press. But this leading comrade is as well aware as anyone else that ours is by far the most open paper on the left. There is a standing invitation for comrades who feel they have been misrepresented in its pages to correct us. What's the problem? The prissy PC nonsense on display from some comrades in Birmingham on this issue marred an otherwise quite lively and businesslike day. It is unworthy of people who regard themselves as working class politicians, by definition a robust and thick-skinned species. Mark Fischer