From Bedfordshire to Zimbabwe and back

Two comrades, Danny Thompson (TGWU) and Jane Clarke (FBU region 10 treasurer), have just received written allegations made against them by three Bedfordshire Socialist Alliance officers, who are seeking to expel them from the SA. Although only one of these officers is a Socialist Workers Party member, it is clear the move for their expulsion is SWP-inspired and SWP-led. The prime movers are Viv Smith, the local SWP full-time organiser, and Ged Peck, a long-standing SWP member. Of the 10 people that voted for expulsion eight were SWP members and the other two their close allies. It is not suggested that the comrades should be expelled for political reasons. It is simply alleged that they misbehaved by shouting at SWP members. Although the SWP claim to be revolutionaries facing all sorts of dangers, we are now told they all feel "intimidated" by the comrades' unfraternal language and are fearful that they might be murdered in their beds at any moment! So it was more in sadness than in anger that the SWP were forced, oh so reluctantly, to seek expulsions. This nearly brings tears to your eyes. Until, that is, you wonder what they will do when the BNP shouts at them. Or you wonder if they have ever been to trade union meetings, where workers are divided and angry about some injustice. It can get quite heated. Or when you realise that the SWP themselves were not entirely innocent and have been involved in a long series of provocations and slanders that have by their very nature caused some angry reactions, not only from the latest victims of this witch-hunt. However, what strikes anybody who reads these allegations is the complete absence of any political analysis. If we asked these SWP comrades what caused World War I, they would presumably tell us that it was the Germans. They had been very nasty and done terrible things. They had invaded Belgium and ate babies. England was simply an innocent bystander, who had no choice but help little Belgium out. Such 'analysis' is of course totally flawed. It is simply black propaganda by one side wanting to conceal what is really going on. As Marxists, we recognise that war is a continuation of definite policies by military or violent means. Rival imperialist policies lead to inevitable clashes and confrontations. It is irrelevant who fired the first shot. In Bedfordshire there has been no warfare. Despite comrades being provoked by some SWP members, there has been no physical violence nor any prospect of any. But what there has been is a definite clash of politics which has split Beds SA into two opposed camps. We need look no further than the firefighters' dispute to see the split. In Luton there have been two street stalls supporting the FBU. At one end of the town there was an SWP stall. At the other end an SA stall organised by the BSA Democratic and Republican Platform. We collected money and organised petitions of support and made the argument that the FBU should break with Labour. We argued that the FBU should take a lead, along with the Socialist Alliance, in campaigning in the labour movement for a new workers' party. The strike has exposed the fact that although the SWP now controls the BSA, they have simply dumped it in order to intervene as the SWP. History is repeating itself. The very first clash we had in the BSA was over the fight around the closure of the Vauxhall factory in Luton. The SWP intervened on its own account and sidelined the SA. This disunited front undermined the Bedfordshire SA candidate and politically weakened our general election campaign. It was the SA, not the SWP, that was intending to take up the factory closure in the election battle against New Labour MP Margaret Moran. If comrades want to find out the real politics at the core of these attempted expulsions, do not waste time reading the SWP-inspired allegations that they were 'physically threatened' by somebody shouting at them. One should read instead Ged Peck's article in the SWP internal Pre-conference Bulletin No2 (autumn 2002). It is instructive because it exposes the real politics behind the attempt to expel comrades Danny and Jane. The purpose of Ged's article is soon revealed. He says: "It is not my intention to do a sectarian deconstruction of RDG politics here, but "¦" The "but" is of course the launch pad for precisely that. Ged Peck has a reputation for being what is known in the trade as an 'SWP hack' or, to be more polite, a super-loyalist. The article is a classic hatchet job on the Revolutionary Democratic Group, designed to 'prove' we are sectarians. Most of what he says is nonsense, inventing ideas he then attributes to the RDG. Despite the fact that there is plenty of official and published RDG material to attack or expose, Ged has a habit of hearing something in a pub or a meeting which he puts down to an unnamed 'supporter'. What provoked Ged into "sectarian deconstruction" was an article published in July in an International Socialist Tendency internal bulletin. It was written by comrade Munyaradzi Gwisai, a leading member of the Zimbabwean International Socialist Organisation (sister organisation of the SWP and IST affiliate) and MP for the Highfield district of Harare. In this the MP "comments approvingly [on] the Revolutionary Democratic Group's 'united front party' formula". As Ged knows, even if he does not care to admit it, the party question goes to the heart of the theory and practice of the Socialist Alliance. It underpins the different perspectives, which are the root of the arguments in the BSA. On one side is the SWP's "united front of a special kind" and on the other is the RDG's "united front party". In a "united front of a special kind" the SWP is 'the party' and everybody else is its periphery. The periphery is then divided into those the SWP hopes to recruit and those who are there on sufferance ('the nasty sectarians'). This is the essence of the problem in Luton. The SWP has never wanted to work with us. The RDG is not the soft periphery of the SWP it wants to recruit. In fact they see us a hindrance in building a conveyor belt for taking SA members into the SWP. Most of our comrades are ex-SWP. Some have been expelled from the SWP by undemocratic methods. We know what the "special kind" of united front means. It is an electoral front in which the SWP and its periphery turn up at election time. In the two major industrial disputes in Bedfordshire, the closure of the Vauxhall car plant and the firefighters' strike, the SWP operated in its own name and not under the banner of the SA. Had it not been for the Democratic and Republican Platform, the SA would simply have disappeared off the radar screen. We of course have openly criticised them for this, which has made them pretty mad. We have consistently criticised the politics of the SWP over a number of years. For example, in the early 1990s we argued that the SWP should work in a united front with the rest of the left and stand candidates against Labour on a clear programme. Some SWP members branded us as "sectarians" for making such arguments. In the last two or three years reality has dawned on the SWP and they began to adopt the very policies the "sectarian" RDG had advocated. Despite this, hell would freeze over before the SWP invite us to join. If the SA becomes simply a periphery or support organisation for the SWP, then there is obviously no place for us in the SA. By contrast the united front party means that the SA is the prime organisation through which we intervene in all issues facing the working class. The Scottish Socialist Party operates in this way. It intervenes in industrial disputes as the SSP. It stands candidates as the SSP. Such a party can have a very democratic culture, which encourages the freedom of expression for a variety of different socialist and communist views. In a united front party the SWP becomes a platform committed to the project. Ged does not ask himself the obvious question. Why did comrade Gwisai give support to the arguments put forward by a tiny group nobody has ever heard of? The answer is surely that the ISO had already been participating successfully in a united front party in Zimbabwe - the Movement for Democratic Change. Unlike the SA, the MDC made the issue of political democracy central to its activity. The ISO and the MDC are fighting for their lives against the dictatorship of Mugabe. The ISO achieved a significant step forward when comrade Gwisai was elected MP for the Highfield seat. In contrast the SA is not interested in democratic political questions. It is opposed to any united front party. The consequences should be obvious. The working class will not trust an SA that only turns up at election time. In Luton the SA's SWP candidate won 18 votes in the local election last June. In Zimbabwe the ISO is able to win mass support and the election of a revolutionary MP. The conclusion is surely obvious. The entire English and Welsh SWP should be exported to Zimbabwe for retraining on the issues of democracy and the united front party. Only after their re-education is completed should they be invited back. We can make an exception for the Socialist Worker platform in Scotland, because they are already operating in a united front party - otherwise known as the Scottish Socialist Party. Of course comrade Gwisai does not come to the same radical conclusion. He merely "talks encouragingly" about the political line advocated by the RDG. He has 'naturally' or 'spontaneously' sided with the RDG, because our theoretical arguments confirm his own experience. Our theory follows the best lessons of the ISO. Indeed the difficulties that the ISO is experiencing is a testament to the success that the communist wing of the MDC has had in connecting with the masses. All this passes Ged by. He sharpens his pencil for the "sectarian deconstruction" of the RDG. So, instead of understanding the lessons and experience of building a mass united front party that comrade Gwisai has to offer, Ged has turned this upside down. He only perceives ignorance on the part of the Zimbabwean comrade, who has been naively taken in by the RDG. The RDG is a sectarian organisation because we have heaped "calumnies" upon himself and the SWP through the pages of the Weekly Worker. We of course deny this. We have only told the truth as we see it. But the test of truth is open argument. And the Weekly Worker gave an open invite for replies from Luton SWP members. Their silence says all we need to know. Ged explains the failure to put their side of the truth because of the "unsectarian precepts" of the SA, whereby "all the SWP members in my locality purposely refrained from responding in print to the RDG calumnies that were heaped upon us". There were no "calumnies". The search for the truth is the dialectic of open debate. If we told lies about Ged and Luton SWP it was up to them to show this. The truth is that Ged does not believe in open debate, because he thinks it is sectarian. In Ged's world Stalinist organisations are non-sectarian because they ban open debate. Still Ged has no problem with slagging us off behind our backs in an SWP internal bulletin. Hatchet jobs are much better in dark alleys, not in the open light of day. Ged approvingly quotes from an article in the same IST bulletin, which says of Trotskyists: "In general we seek to hold friendly and solidarity relations with these organisations, excluding the ultra-sectarians." In case you are wondering who these "ultra-sectarians" are, Ged is soon warming to the task of exposing them. He says: "Trickery runs hand in hand with being a sectarian, and the RDG certainly have a near monopoly on it." He states: "I would go so far as to argue that any future regroupment based on [RDG] demands on participants to follow the 'appropriate line' "¦ would spell disaster." You can see where Ged is leading his audience when he says: ""¦ if it were just the case of an isolated SA having to suffer them, then it would simply be up to the SA, collectively, to do something about it." What that "something" is we can leave to your imagination. He is quite clear that "as a political prelude" - "I wish to raise some issues to demonstrate how a perspective such as the RDG has, and the manner in which it is presented, pose serious concerns for fraternal realignment and current work." How does the SWP propose to deal with the RDG? According to Ged, by "rational argument and compromise where agreement could not be reached". Sounds good. But in reality the RDG have proposed a number of compromises and we have not noticed them proposing any. But Ged explains: ""¦ it has to be admitted that the local SWP were a little too acquiescent regarding the need to maintain fraternal relations with the wider SA membership. In other words we bent over backwards too far." So it is with great sadness that he concludes: "It is a salutary lesson that in some circumstances this does not, and cannot, work." He says: "I emphasise that my point is not to take sectarian liberties in this bulletin, but to point out that there are some currents which could prove thoroughly destructive of the entire united front project." No violence or intimidation is mentioned here. It is politics. We have to get rid of the RDG because their politics is 'sectarian' and in contradiction with the Socialist Alliance - or with what the SWP wants to do with the SA. Much of the rest of the document is nonsense - for example, what he alleges are our views on the use of a programme. But he does raise real political differences between the SWP and the RDG over the Gulf War and South Africa, which are well worth answering. Dealing with these outstanding matters is for another time. But the real point is this. When the employers sack militant or revolutionary workers they do not say it is because of your politics. They say it is for some alleged misdemeanour, like Greg Tucker driving his train 2mph too fast. Witch-hunts and victimisations are based on two stories: the official one and the real one. This is why we allege the attempt to expel two comrades in Luton is part of a witch-hunt against the RDG. Officially it is not to do with the RDG, but simply an attempt to expel two comrades for alleged misbehaviour. It does not really matter whether they had driven their trains or fire-engines too fast or whether they had said something they were not supposed to. The fact that the two comrade just happened to be RDG supporters is clearly not a coincidence. But the real story is what is told to SWP members in their internal bulletin. It is about getting rid of the RDG. The real issue, at the root of all this, is that raised and supported by comrade Gwisai, the revolutionary MP - the need for a united front party. The firefighters have shown conclusively that the case for such a new workers' party must be made. The SA is not making it, because SWP politics are holding the SA back. The RDG is going to continue saying that loud and clear. If our two comrades are expelled, we will at least understand the real politics - it is a witch-hunt against the RDG for saying what the SWP do not want to hear. Dave Craig (RDG)