In defence of the Socialist Alliance

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. "And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionising themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language" (Karl Marx The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon). 1. Negotiations not expulsions 1. The issues here involve the relations between two groups of comrades: what we call the SW platform, comprising Socialist Workers Party members and their independent supporters, and the Bedfordshire SA Democratic and Republican Platform, which includes the Revolutionary Democratic Group (RDG). All individual comrades, including Danny and Jane, should be seen in relation to the two platforms. 2. Our case is that there are real political issues at the root of the conflicts and frictions in the BSA. Instead of dealing with these issues the SWP are victimising and witch-hunting Danny Thompson (RDG) and Jane Clarke (Fire Brigades Union) because of the leading role they have played in the Beds SA, the DR Platform and their association with the RDG. 3. The charges made against comrades Danny and Jane cannot therefore be considered at face value, because of the sectarian ulterior motives of the SWP. Whilst we do not deny there have been arguments and that relationships are poor, the SWP are simply using their current majority to expel our comrades. 4. Danny and Jane refute the allegations. They are a one-sided account of events, aspects of which are factually inaccurate. They misrepresent, exaggerate or simply mislead. On these grounds alone they should be rejected. 5. There has been no physical violence nor any prospect of any. It is important to state this clearly. 6. The motion, which is the only possible authority for expulsions, rests on two separate allegations of misconduct. One of these, which refers to finances, is simply factually wrong and is easily disproved. On these grounds alone the case for expulsion should fall (in effect the motion is 'out of order'). 7. This is the third national intervention in the affairs of the Bedfordshire SA (BSA). There was a national executive inquiry in April 2001, an intervention by chair Liz Davies, over the local constitution and elections in February-April 2002, and now this reference to the appeals committee. The current dispute is related to the previous issues and cannot be understood in isolation from them. 8. Whilst this is a local matter, it has wider implications for the future of the SA. Since the SA appeals committee is elected and accountable to national Socialist Alliance, it must, when considering local issues, take account of the wider interests of the SA membership. 9. It is not in the interests of the Socialist Alliance, nor the SWP, nor the working class and socialist movement, that good committed trade unionists and socialist comrades be unjustly expelled. Indeed if they are expelled, it will have a damaging impact on the SA, already suffering setbacks as a result of the exit of the Socialist Party and the resignation of national chair Liz Davies. 10. Expulsions are not a solution. The answer to the problems within the BSA is to negotiate to find agreed solutions. We have proposed negotiations between representatives of both sides, 'chaired' by a representative of the national executive. How these matters are resolved by expulsion or negotiations will tell us a great deal about the health of SA democracy. 2. A brief history of the struggle in the BSA 2.1. Setting up the BSA The BSA was set up in October 2000 on the initiative of Danny Thompson, Jane Clarke and Eryk Karas. By 2001 the BSA had over 60 members. It adopted its own programme and constitution. The founding comrades considered a programme (or policy statement) and a constitution were essential to establish democratic and political relations between members. The correctness of this approach was confirmed when the SA adopted, on the national level, a new national programme (2000) and new national constitution (2001). 2.2. Programme and constitution The local SWP opposed both programme and local constitution. They considered it a 'strange' way of working, having neither in their own organisation. The SWP, in one of their earlier complaints to the Liaison Committee, tried to claim quite falsely that the RDG had 'imposed' its own programme on the BSA, despite the fact that the BSA programme and constitution were decided democratically by members at the steering committee meetings. The programme adopted by the BSA was virtually identical with the Merseyside SA programme - where there were no such similar complaints from SWP comrades. In fact virtually all the policies of the BSA were included in the subsequent People before profit national programme. 2.3. The Vauxhall dispute The first political dispute arose around the intervention of the BSA and the SWP in the struggle over the closure of the Vauxhall factory in Luton. The BSA independents and the RDG argued that we should intervene through the BSA. But the SWP intervened separately on its own account, leading to conflict between the BSA and the SWP. Since the BSA were planning to stand an SA candidate in Luton South it was vital the BSA made its mark supporting the Vauxhall workers. The SWP undermined our intervention by making their own separate intervention. We were critical of the idea of a political division of labour, in which the SA did electoral work and the SWP did industrial or trade union activity. 2.4. Relations with the SWP The local SWP saw the independent members as their periphery and potential recruits. But the presence of RDG comrades with a clear perspective meant their political hegemony was not assured. In the arguments over policy, constitution and Vauxhall, the independent members were in agreement with RDG comrades. The SWP therefore saw the RDG as a rival (or, in their terms, "sectarian"). They were determined to bring the BSA under their control. The SWP targeted three comrades: Eryk Karas, Danny Thompson and Jane Clarke who they identified (incorrectly) as RDG members (in fact only Danny was an RDG member). The SWP were determined to remove them from officer posts and exclude them if possible. These comrades had done more to build the BSA than virtually anybody else. So the SWP's attempts to remove them was seen by most of the 2001 membership as sectarian. 2.5. The national inquiry In April 2001 the SWP appealed to the SA Liaison Committee for support against the BSA elected officers. A national inquiry was set up to investigate. Three national officers, Dave Church, Marcus Larsen and Greg Tucker carried out the inquiry. The SWP made six demands (appendix 1). The first of these was "removing RDG members/supporters" from key officer positions. The third demand was "that 'motions' and restriction on membership must end to allow the Beds SA to become a more open and welcoming organisation". There were no restrictions on membership, as the inquiry concluded. But we note with irony that one of the first motions passed after the SWP had taken over a year later was to restrict the membership of Danny and Jane via expulsion. The inquiry took evidence and concluded that the BSA was run democratically and had operated correctly. The allegations made by the SWP were shown to be false. The six demands were rejected. But they did encourage us to try again to involve the SWP in the officers' group. Despite the SWP's disruptive behaviour, we invited Viv Smith to be the BSA's Stop the War coordinator, which she declined. We also sought to change the BSA constitution in January 2002 to ensure SWP representation in the officers' group. Despite our attempts to incorporate the SWP into the BSA and their 'undemocratic' six demands being dismissed by the national inquiry team, the SWP have clearly dismissed the inquiry's findings and have pursued exactly the same 'demands' to 'remove' these same three individuals. 2.6. SWP takes over the BSA At the national SA conference in December 2001, the SWP and its allies changed the SA constitution and Socialist Party left in protest. With the exit of the only counterweight to the SWP, it was almost inevitable that the SWP would seek to capture the BSA. The outcome of the December 1 conference emboldened them. However, the BSA annual general meeting took place on December 9 before the SWP had signed up sufficient new members. This was despite the attempted wrecking tactics employed by the SWP: eg, calling for its postponement on December 4-5, by petitioning non-Beds SA members, to allow them time to 'muster their troops'. On January 27 2002 the SWP signed up 27 members, 19 of whom have never been involved in any BSA activity before or since. Many existing BSA members were concerned that this was another attempt to swamp the steering committee meeting to overturn the BSA AGM. As part of their witch-hunt they were intending to propose three candidates to stand against comrades Karas, Thompson and Clarke. But the SWP did not win their anticipated victory outright because the meeting became deadlocked over what constitutional arrangements would govern any new election. The new chair (Sarah Lawlor, independent) refused to hold another election until this was sorted out and appealed to the national executive to help resolve this. New elections would be held at a reconvened meeting, once proper democratic procedures were agreed. The meeting was closed. A few SWP members stayed behind and tried to elect the SWP slate, despite the fact that it contained comrades who had refused to be on their slate. However, the national executive, represented by Liz Davies and Will McMahon decided the matter of a local constitution was too complex to resolve. Neither the national executive nor the rest of the BSA membership recognised the SWP 'election'. The national chair took a neutral position and did not recognise any election. She therefore refused to meet the BSA officers' group, as requested at the end of the January meeting. This was an unfortunate departure from democratic practice. The existing officers at this time were elected in December 2001. These elections were recognised and were approved by all members at the start of the January meeting. To place an actual election on a par with a bogus election was a concession to SWP pressure. In April 2002 Liz Davies in effect took over the BSA and decided to hand it back to whoever had a majority at a meeting she would convene and chair. The question of members' rights was put aside. A new election took place without any democratically agreed constitution. All the officers elected at the December AGM resigned and with some of their supporters protested outside the meeting that the process was unconstitutional. At the meeting, attended only by the SWP and their three 'independent' allies, an SWP slate was elected. Despite the SWP's previous objections to a local constitution or rules, a new constitution was suddenly produced at the meeting. This new constitution was not circulated to, nor seen by, the BSA membership before the meeting. Members had no opportunity to discuss the draft or propose amendments prior to the meeting. It was designed and voted in by the SWP. It contains clauses we consider to be undemocratic, such as now needing a two-thirds majority to replace their officers. 2.7. The Democratic and Republican Platform and the Socialist Worker platform In April 2002 the BSA Democratic and Republican Platform was launched. It was comprised of RDG, Class War and, overwhelmingly, various independents ('indies'). At the same time the SWP slate was elected and in effect became the 'SW platform'. The latter now comprises of SWP members plus comrades Mushtaq Arrain and Christina Beddows. This is not to say that the SWP recognise themselves in this way. They do not. But these platforms are evolving out of the struggle between the two sides. 2.8. The struggle in the BSA summed up We can summarise this brief history as follows. The BSA was founded in October 2000 as an 'indy' SA with an 'indy' programme and constitution. This first stage continued until December 2001. There were about 60 members. The SWP had about six members involved and the RDG two. The BSA split between January and April 2002. As a result of SWP recruitment, and the exit of some independent members a new majority emerged. At the January meeting the SWP had 26 votes and the BSA officers had 23 votes if we count the chair. This led to a constitutional crisis, when one constitution was voted out and a large minority refused to work without a democratic constitution. This split the BSA. In April 2002 the SWP took over the BSA and imposed its own constitution. From April 2002 we began a new stage in the story of the BSA The old 'indy' BSA ended and became in effect two platforms - as the former officers and their supporters formed themselves into the Democratic and Republic Platform and the SWP and their allies became the 'SW platform'. The BSA now has two platforms without any recognised agreement about how we might work together or about minority rights. Ged Peck in his recent SWP internal bulletin article described the takeover by saying: "the sectarians have been defeated". Others think the "sectarians" have taken over. Either way, the answer of the local SWP has been to revert to some of its traditional ways of operating. Exclusions or expulsions are simply a matter of waiting for an excuse, whether real or imagined. 3. BSA divided - underlying political issues It is worthwhile briefly summarising the issues that divide the two platforms. They are republicanism, the party question, sectarianism and the democratic method. These are not abstract matters. They influence our whole way of working and how we should intervene in the working class movement. They have affected our activity around, for example, the Vauxhall dispute, the jubilee, the firefighters' strike and the war against Iraq. 3.1. Campaigning for a new workers' party One fundamental question is, what are the aims or purpose of the SA? A member of the SW platform, Ged Peck, identifies the difference between the two platforms as the "united front of a special kind" versus the "united front party". He says: "the confusion of the SA with a 'proto-type party' will merely lead, under current conditions, to splits and disintegration" (autumn SWP internal bulletin, p13). The Democratic and Republican Platform argues for a new workers' party. We promote the idea that the SA should become a united front party along the lines of the Scottish Socialist Party. We do not think such a party can simply be declared tomorrow. But we can and must adopt the aim of becoming a party. The SA must start to campaign for a new workers' party now. The firefighters' dispute has shown clearly the weakness that workers face if there is no broad-based workers' party which supports them. The difficult situation for the FBU, being attacked politically by the Labour government, shows the FBU needs such a party. Militant firefighters are open to the case for a new party. Simply calling for democratising the political fund, full stop, is not enough and does not meet the needs of the class struggle. The SWP formula of a "united front of a special kind" means SWP members tend to see themselves as the party and everybody else as their periphery. The periphery is then divided into those the SWP wants to recruit and those who they accept in the SA on sufferance ('the sectarians'). This is the essence of the problem in Luton. They see the Democratic and Republican Platform as a hindrance in building a conveyor belt of taking SA members into the SWP and therefore want to dismantle it by attacking what they see as the leaders. It should be noted that throughout the current firefighters dispute it has been only the DR Platform that has been raising the profile of the SA, and collecting financial support in the name of the SA. Comrades in the SWP (assisted by comrade Arrain) have held only SWP stalls. There has been only one 'SA campaign', the ill-fated Challney by-election. Even this was beset with problems: there was no selection meeting (the candidate, Tony Purdue, revealed later that he was 'selected' by Viv Smith in a telephone call!) and apart from the SWP platform no other BSA members were invited to take part in this campaign. Since they took stewardship in April 2002, and apart from the by-election in the Challney ward there has been no 'official' BSA public profile whatsoever that has been 'organised' by the current officers. At best we have 'monthly' meetings. 3.2. Sectarianism and the united front Both sides claim that sectarianism comes from their opponents. How can any neutral and honest observer weigh up the claims and counter-claims? The Democratic and Republican platform are in favour of the SA working in a united front way. This means unity in action and full freedom of criticism between our allies. Wherever possible, agreed activity must be coordinated through the BSA. (The RDG's record of seeking to include the SWP is clear. The RDG supported an SWP member for chair of the BSA. The RDG nominated Vivienne Smith, SWP organiser, for Stop the War coordinator. The RDG proposed a constitution, when the SWP were in a minority, that would have guaranteed their representation on the officers' group. When some indies wanted to expel the SWP for disruptive behaviour in 2001, the RDG opposed this). The SW platform does not seek to work in a united front way. Luton SWP's Ged Peck wrote in the SWP internal bulletin defining the RDG as a sectarian group because it openly makes political criticism of the SWP. Whether criticisms of the SWP are valid or not does not come into it. It is criticism as such. The evidence for this is also in the SWP submission to the national inquiry. Such an attitude to criticism violates the norms of the united front and is fundamentally anti-Marxist and anti-working class. The SWP's hostility to open criticism leads them to define the RDG as a sect. Or perhaps defining the RDG as a sect leads them to be hostile and defensive to any criticism. Either way, it leads them inexorably towards excluding, banning or expelling those it believes to be members. This takes them away from politics and towards covert criticism and personalised attacks. The atmosphere in Bedfordshire reflects this sectarian method and leads to witch-hunting and smearing individuals. When we clear away all the smoke and mirrors, the situation in Bedfordshire is the result of important political differences about the aim and direction of the SA, which are blighted by sectarian methods, seeking to prevent open criticism and debate by means of bans and expulsions. 4. A witch-hunt against Danny and Jane 4.1. Victimisations and witch-hunts Trade unionists and political activists are sometimes subjected to victimisation and witch-hunts. They may be targeted because of their views or what they represent. The victim is, however, likely to be sacked or expelled for some other reason which serves as an excuse or cover story. Witch-hunting involves demonising and denigrating the targets and making them the objects of fear and moral panic. 4.2. The prime movers behind the move for expulsions There are three prime movers behind these expulsions - Viv Smith (local SWP full-time organiser); Ged Peck, long-standing Luton SWP member; and Keith Woods, SWP secretary of the BSA. Ged Peck provides the ideological rationale. Naturally the SWP have sought to play down their role in this affair and tried to create the impression that the prime movers are independents. The SA national secretary, Rob Hoveman, responding to a query from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty's Martin Thomas, assures him that "the motion [of expulsion] "¦ is not primarily moved by SWP members but whose movers include two independents who are at the end of their tether". The BSA had just four officers, elected on the SWP slate. Formally the motion of expulsion was submitted by three out of the four BSA officers: Keith Woods (SWP), Mushtaq Arrain (treasurer) and Christina Beddows (chair). One other officer elected on their slate, Vince Charles, refused to support the call for expulsion and had, prior to the November meeting, resigned as an officer. Mushtaq Arrain is a friend and former workplace colleague of Ged Peck. Tina Beddows has hardly attended any BSA meetings since her election in April 2002, and has not chaired any BSA meetings. She was not present at the October 5 meeting where the disagreements took place. Yet revealingly she signed the expulsion motion, which begins: "Officers of the BSA having witnessed the appalling ... behaviour at the previous members' meeting." Her credibility is stretched further if we examine her role. The chair of a trade union branch, on being told about alleged misbehaviour by members, would have contacted the accused and asked them for their side of the story. The chair is meant to represent the whole membership, not just one faction. Christina Beddows did not do that. She did not discharge her duties as chair and by her actions has shown herself available to be used by the SWP to front their plans. Two members (Eryk Karas and Sarah Lawlor) wrote to her to complain about her bias. As both Eryk Karas and Sarah Lawlor were unable to attend the meeting, they requested that the letters be circulated at the meeting. This request was not acted upon. A second request was made that the letters be circulated with the minutes and agenda for the next meeting. Again this was not actioned. This failure to act upon members' requests is evidence of bias. 4.3. Ged Peck's article in the SWP internal bulletin In the autumn 2002 pre-conference SWP internal bulletin, Luton SWP's Ged Peck wrote an article called 'The united front, sectarianism and London smog'. This was for the internal consumption of SWP members. It provides much useful information as to the real game the SWP is playing. He explains how the local SWP sees the situation. The central problem in the BSA is the RDG, which is, according to Ged, a very sectarian organisation. He makes this point on a number of occasions. The purpose of this ignorant nonsense is to create an image of the RDG as the 'Spartacists' of the SA. Second, he implies that it is virtually impossible for the SWP to work with such a sectarian group. The SWP has had to put up with the RDG. But "if it were just a case of an isolated SA having to suffer them, then it would simply be up to the SA collectively, to do something about it". Third, the SWP has been very restrained in dealing with the RDG, because the SWP has wanted to maintain good relations with the wider (non-SWP) membership of the SA. The SWP have had to compromise, but "it is a salutary lessons that in some circumstances this does not and cannot work". We deduce from this that the SWP is going to take a harder line against the RDG. The article is absolutely clear that the real target of the SWP in the Bedfordshire SA is the RDG. Comrades Danny Thompson and Jane Clarke are not referred to once. This is not because individual comrades are not mentioned. Ged reveals, for example, the SWP's intention to exclude Eryk Karas. But allegations of violence, verbal abuse, intimidation, etc are not mentioned. This in itself is quite revealing. In the SWP-sponsored 'Statement to the appeals committee' the central problem is clearly identified, not as the RDG, but as "personal intimidation, attacks and threats of violence" which are "too numerous to list". Apparently these were so numerous and serious that they did not warrant a single mention in Ged Peck's article in the SWP internal bulletin! 4.4. The witch-hunt against Eryk Karas Eryk Karas was an SWP member. In January 2001 he was expelled by two SWP full-timers, one of whom was Vivienne Smith, on a visit to his home. The full text of the expulsion meeting is submitted (appendix 2). Normally an expelled comrade would be cast into the political wilderness. But the growth of the SA meant that Eryk continued his involvement in the BSA. This was an embarrassment for the SWP, who were determined to oust him. The first attempt to remove Eryk from the BSA was when SWP member Steve Coghlan, seconded by Tony Purdue (also SWP), tried to secure a vote of no confidence in him as chair. This failed to win support. We considered this an act of harassment, because there was no criticism of Eryk in his role as chair. The second attempt to witch-hunt Eryk occurred when Lesley Fitzsimmons (SWP), who shares a house with Viv Smith (SWP), made a formal complaint against Eryk that he had 'intimidated and harassed' her. Eryk denied this. The BSA officers were very dubious about this, because they considered it part of another SWP move against Eryk. They decided to set up an independent inquiry to gather all the evidence. Three independent members agreed to investigate. However, when the independent investigators asked Lesley Fitzsimmons to meet and explain her side of the story, she refused. The complaint was withdrawn. But it had placed Eryk under more stress. He was unanimously found not guilty of 'intimidating' Lesley. The third attempt to get Eryk can be found in the SWP submission to the first national inquiry in April 2001. The SWP put a series of demands. Their fifth was: "That Eryk Karas should not continue to be the election agent because of his association with sectarian factionalism within the Beds SA and because he has used his position to constantly raise attacks on the SWP with SA members." Beds SA officers replied saying: "This is not acceptable. EK has been democratically elected to the position of election agent. Why do the SWP comrades not learn the lessons from the past? You [SWP] (disgracefully) have already attempted to remove EK from his position of the Beds SA chairperson (unanimously elected) - and failed - with all non-SWP members (and some of your own members!) voting against you." The BSA officers argued that: "This is slander to say that EK is associated with 'sectarian factionalism'. Indeed we would go further and suggest that the SWP is witch-hunting EK because of its own pursuit of 'sectarian factionalism'. This is why the SWP constantly seeks to remove EK (and others) from any officer position." But it was not going to stop there. After a while another issue arose. As well as being an active and committed socialist and trade unionist, Eryk is the only openly gay comrade within the BSA. Eryk's personal life came under attack. Eryk had constructed a personal website. Some members of the SWP began a vile whispering hate campaign. This included both members and supporters of the BSA being approached by SWP members by phone and in person with such accusations 'pervert', 'misogynist', 'paedophile' and led to an attack from Louise Kemp, an SWP member, on January 27 2002, who screamed: "You're fucking disgusting" (See appendix). The SWP's Ged Peck confirms this smear campaign when he refers to this issue in the SWP's 2002 pre-conference bulletin. He says: "indeed, this is still something that can only be referred to circumspectly. We [the SWP] were extremely concerned about the nature of a website put up by a leading member of the RDG-dominated 'officers' group'. This could have been used to the detriment of the SA by any of the bourgeois press. Far from sweeping it under the carpet, as Dave Craig of the RDG appeared to want to do, we wanted this member excluded." BSA officers and all of the BSA independent comrades were not interested in Eryk's website or indeed any personal website. The BSA officers inquired if the contents of the website included any material of an illegal nature - it did not. Had it been openly suggested otherwise, we would have launched a formal investigation. But the SWP's smear campaign tells us all we need to know about their approach when Ged says, "we wanted this member excluded". We have no hesitation in claiming that the series of attacks on Eryk Karas were a nasty piece of SWP witch-hunting, whose prime motivation was to "exclude" comrade Eryk by any means necessary. Many comrades were deeply concerned that the allegations were homophobic in nature. It was part of the local SWP's methods and game plan. Their tactics generated considerable anger and affected future relations within the BSA. The allegation that Jane Clarke, the former treasurer, was "untrustworthy" has to be seen, not in isolation, but as a continuation of the same methods. 4.5. "Get the bastards bang to rights" At the end of the first national inquiry in April 2001 we received a copy of an email sent by Ged Peck to Rob Hoveman, which Rob mistakenly passed on to the national executive. Once again it indicates the real source of sectarianism that has bedevilled the BSA. Dated Tuesday April 17 2001, it says: "Rob - for your records, I have enclosed the final draft (in Word) as sent to the SA national officers last night. It's pretty much the same as you sent. Thanks for your assistance. Let's hope we get the bastards bang to rights. However, I bet you that they won't accept the recommendations. They'll say, 'We can't override local democracy', etc, etc. It's like dealing with zombies. Will the national officers therefore 'bottle it'? - Ged." 5. Answering their document (The following two sections, 5 and 6, submitted in full to the appeals committee, provided a detailed answer to all the false allegations made in the 'Statement to the appeals committee' by the Beds SA officers and are the subject of the continuing investigation and are therefore not included here. We include here the introduction to section 5 only.) 5.1 Introduction We have examined the document 'Statement to the appeals committee' (from the SWP et al) and will show it is full of contradictions, exaggerations, factual errors or plain lies. It is very emotive, with the frequent use of words which imply violence. But because there was no physical violence whatsoever, the authors seemed to have tried to talk it up. We are told about "intimidating and aggressive behaviour", "personal intimidation", "attacks and threats of violence", "personal confrontation", "violently screamed", the "level of abuse", and "screamed abuse". (It should be noted that only Jane is accused of "screaming". No male comrades were accused of this.) Then there was "violence in meetings", "house may come under attack", "abuse on the doorstep", "threatened and intimidated", "personally abusive and physically threatening behaviour", "yelling abuse", "level of hostility and aggression", "worst behaviour", "personal attacks, some of them physical", "physically aggressive behaviour", "repeatedly screamed abuse", "high level of aggression and physical displays of anger" and "screaming" (Jane again!), "continuously attacking", etc. This language is demagogy or exaggeration. It seeks to create a frightening image of fear and violence. What about the 'fear' that someone's "house may come under attack"? What about the ludicrous allegation, by Mustaq Arrain, but not in this document, that Jane "threatened to kill Vivienne Smith". The SWP comrades will be more frightened reading their own document than anything that actually happened on the ground. Such exaggerated and lurid language is the tool of the witch-hunt. Take the phrase "personal attacks, some of them physical". This clearly implies physical violence or assault. Yet there has been no assault or physical violence. This is a fantasy world in which an argument between comrades is called "an attack" or even a "physical attack". A heated argument between two comrades becomes "extremely aggressive and intimidating behaviour" by one side alone. Despite the claim that there are "countless other examples" which are "too numerous to list", the actual concrete allegations boil down to three incidents. 5.2. The motion for expulsion In January 2002 there were 50 voting members present at the BSA steering committee meeting. In October 2002 this motion for expulsion was passed by 10 votes to two, plus one abstention. Vince Charles, the membership secretary elected on the SWP slate, abstained. Of the 10 supporters of the SW motion eight were SWP members, including somebody, Rob Allen, never seen or known before (minutes, November 5 2002), and their two close allies, Mustaq Arrain and Christina Beddows. So this motion has the 'support' of just 10 BSA members - eight of whom are members of the SWP - and includes the proposer, Tina Beddows, who, despite not being at the meeting where the alleged events took place, and not asking either Jane or Danny for their side of events, still felt able to vote for expulsion! Now in possession of the official minutes of the November 5 2002 meeting, as noted by Keith Woods, we see some revealing evidence. The only "movers" of the motion were Keith Woods (SWP), Ged Peck (SWP) and Viv Smith (SWP). So no "independents who are at the end of their tether"! Also, of much more significance - not only because of the serious allegations made in their 'Statement to the appeals committee' against Jane's 'financial probity' ("possible fraudulent operation", "This is a serious state of affairs", "could constitute theft", etc), but also as another example of them trying to use language to 'frighten' members of the appeals committee (point 3: finances) - we have Keith Woods's own minutes declaring: "KW moved the motion, saying that finance is not the major issue" (our emphasis)! This motion is the only authority for asking the appeals committee to sanction expulsions. Yet the SWP failed to show that a majority of the BSA support expulsion. In order to secure the vote, and of grave concern, not all members of the BSA were invited by the secretary, Keith Woods (SWP), to attend the meeting. It should also be noted that since April 2002 when the new officers took over there is no quorum required for members' meetings, so in theory Vivienne Smith, Keith Woods and Ged Peck could expel who they like. Contrary to the impression that the officers are representing the views of the BSA membership, we submit a petition, which indicates a majority are opposed to the outcome of the motion (see section 7). 7. Testaments in support of Danny and Jane We, undersigned, have known and worked with Jane Clarke (FBU) and Danny Thompson (RDG) as trade union activists and socialists over a number of years. They are good comrades in the best sense of the word, who have shown in practice their commitment to, and solidarity with, the struggles of working people for economic, social and political emancipation. We are outraged that they should be singled out for denigration by a few SWP members, who represent nobody but themselves. We call upon all Socialist Alliance members to oppose the attempt to witch-hunt and expel these comrades from the Socialist Alliance. Signed by: Renarta Ahmed BSA independent, Unison; Dick Allen BSA, independent TGWU; Doug Collett BSA, former member GMB; Mary Collett BSA, former member AEEU/Amicus; Laura Daval BSA independent; Pete Edwards BSA independent; Mark Ferguson BSA independent, Unison; Steve Freeman BSA, RDG, chair SBU Natfhe; Patrick Gavigan BSA independent; Sue Hannah BSA independent; Joe Hearne BSA parliamentary candidate, Luton South; Rosemary Johnson BSA independent; Eryk Karas BSA, TGWU, Unison; Sarah Lawlor BSA (former chair) independent, Unison rep; Ross Marat BSA (former officer), Class War; Bekki May BSA independent; James May BSA, Class War; Kimberly McGuiness BSA independent; Harry Nugent BSA independent, Unison; Derek Osbourne BSA independent, Beds FBU brigade chair; Alan Ridley BSA independent, TGWU convenor; Chris Stagg BSA independent, TGWU shop steward; Marna Stacey BSA independent; Mick Syme BSA independent, Beds FBU brigade secretary; Graham Tranquada BSA independent, Beds FBU regional chair; Steve Turner BSA independent, TGWU; Rob Conway BSA former member, independent; Christos Parry BSA, DR Platform supporter; Sarah Fitzpatrick BSA, DR Platform supporter; Drew Fitzpatrick BSA, DR Platform supporter; Bev Nimmo Luton Firefighters Support Group, NUS; David Nimmo; Michelle Nimmo NUS; Ruth Lawlor; Mike Roberts; Pepe Garcia TGWU 1/1931 branch secretary; James Thompson TGWU IBC Vehicles joint shop steward committee chair; Tina Hollerman Pedersen NUS; Marcus Cavell self-organised; Steve Wyatt self-organised; Lawrence Maxwell Luton Unison; Gerry Rainbow Luton PCS rep; Mick Flanagan; C Cannadine; G Wilson; A Vaughan; J Prirase; John Hodgins; Caron Stanton; Dan Tsiricos; Luton Trades Council, GPMU; Les Carmichael Beds FBU; Ade Feeben Beds FBU; Kev Moores Labour Party, ANL, Beds FBU; Martin Kennedy Labour Party, Beds FBU; Andy Peckham Beds FBU; Marc Scheimann Green Party PPC, Luton South, GMB; Paul Woolsteinholmes FBU; Simon Webb Class War; Paul Marsh Class War; Wendy Ansell Amicus; Ripha Begum Amicus; Rummi Choudrey Amicus; Duncan Jones Amicus; Caroline Rhiney Amicus; Graham Earp Prospect; Joan Ferguson Unison; Ken Howard Unison (fire service); Shanaz Khan Prospect; Chris Lawlor Amicus; James Lawlor Unison; Jessica Brigmon SPFL (USA); Susan Flynn USA; Gil Moreno USA; Dan Gilman CPUSA; Professor Mary Davis CPB, Natfhe; Tina Becker Haringey SA; Phil Kent Hackney SA, CPGB; Janice Fowler Southwark SA, SBU Unison chair (pc); Chris Jones Merseyside SA chair; Tom May Guildford SA secretary; Dean Talent self-organised; Kevin Smith Drogheda SWP branch DRABCAP officer; Bernhard Gallagher DRABCAP community activist; Gerald Mc Evoy Drogheda SIPTU Petition against witch-hunts, bans and expulsions We, undersigned, condemn the attempt, promoted by the SWP, to seek the expulsion of comrades Danny Thompson and Jane Clarke (FBU) from the Socialist Alliance. Signed by: Toby Abse AUT; Kate Aherns Unison; Vincent Brown PCS, secretary Southwark Trade Council; Nicola Bent SA; Clive Bradley AWL; Janine Booth Hackney SA; Peter Burton Edinburgh SA; Geoff Barr AUT; Richard Bean ACTS; Mark Catterall S Manchester SA, NUS; Nick Clarke Scottish Socialist Party; Dave Church GMB; Stuart Crossthwaite; Steve Cooke Teesside SA; Stan Crooke Cambridge SA, AWL; Matthew Caygill Natfhe, Leeds SA; Paul Cooper Natfhe; Jack Conrad CPGB; James Cunningham NUS, SA; Ujitha de Zoysa GMB; Mervyn Davies Colchester SA; J Durrant DLP, SA; Tom Delargy Paisley SSP; Maria Exall CWU executive member; Sara Edwards; Ian Foukes Merseyside FBU; Karl Forman CWU; Mark Fischer Tottenham SA; Tony Greenstein secretary, Brighton TUC Unemployed Workers Centre; Marion Haldane TGWU; Phil Hamilton CPGB; Mick Hall SA; Martyn Hudson Teesside SA; Nick Holden Leicester SA; Bill Hunter Merseyside SA, ISL; Sacha Ismail GMB; Matthew Jones Unison, SSP; Stan Keable Brent SA; Nick Long TGWU convenor, 1/1183; David Landor MSF, Jewish Socialist Society; Terry Liddle ISTC, Greenwich SA; Nicky Mallon Upstate Theatre Project; Ronnie Mejka SSP, Dundee West; Duncan Morrison Lewisham SA; Donnacha McRaghaill Drogheda SWP, DRABCAP; Robin McSporrran SA; Sandy McBurney SSP; Maurice Moore IBRG, CWU; Pete Money Greater Manchester SA, ISL; Pete McLaren Coventry SA, NUT; Tess McMahon SA executive; Mike Macnair Oxford SA; Anne Mc Shane Hackney SA; Kath Owen GMB, NUS; John Pearson South Manchester SA; Dave Parks Exeter SA; Phil Pope SA; Geoff Palmer RMT; Bob Paul SA; Harry Phelan SIPTU Rep Ireland, DRABCAP secretary; Bruce Robinson South Manchester SA; Celia Ralp Merseyside SA, ISL; Heenal Rajani GPMU; Tim Riley Unison; Martin Ralph Merseyside SA, ISL; Lee Rock CPSU, Waltham Forest SA; Dave Stamp TGWU; Dave Spencer Coventry SA; Roger Silverman NUT; Marcus Ström SA executive; Paul Shawcroft Unison; S Sedgwick SA, Prospect; Martin Thomas SA executive; Mary Ward SSP; Pete Weller SA 8. The failure of the BSA as a united front The SWP justifies its current line on the SA as a united front. According to the SWP's own criterion the BSA has failed as a united front. We are a seriously divided front. The SWP's slate of officers, which was designed to create the idea that the SWP had not taken over, has failed. They are neither leading anything, nor uniting anybody. The only activity they organised was the Luton council election in the Challney Ward, where the BSA got 18 votes. The chair does not chair meetings and the treasurer has done next to nothing to raise funds. The fact that only two officers were active (Keith Woods and Vince Charles) indicates the problem. In October comrade Vince Charles, who did not support the move for expulsion, resigned. It has also come to light that Christina Beddows had also resigned in November. As neither of these 'resignations' have been publicised by the secretary, or the other remaining 'independent', we are unable to enlighten further. As far as the BSA membership are aware, there have been no fresh elections. The claim that the accusations come from 'independents' who have come to "the end of their tether" is becoming less and less tenable. It is very disturbing that in the BSA you cannot remove an officer from post during the year without a two-thirds majority, but you can seek the expulsion of whoever you wish to dispose of with a simple majority at meetings which have no quorum. The BSA is neither a party nor a united front because there are no means for it to function as a united front. 9. There is an alternative 9.1. Expulsions Expelling two comrades will not resolve the issues we have outlined here. On the contrary such expulsions will only serve to divide the BSA more severely. Members of the BSA DR Platform will not accept these expulsions as legitimate and will continue to work with our comrades Danny and Jane. We will start to campaign for their reinstatement and against the witch-hunt and seek support of the wider trade union and progressive movements. The likely result of this is that the SWP will need to seek further expulsions. Expulsions are a road that leads nowhere useful and resolves nothing. 9.2. Negotiations There is only one way in which the BSA can move forward and that is through a negotiated settlement of all outstanding matters. The precondition for this is that all threats of expulsion must be lifted either by: (i) the SWP withdrawing its demand for expulsions; or (ii) the appeals committee rejecting the expulsions Negotiations imply an attempt by both sides to reach a settlement or agreement on how we might work together. Such negotiations could involve representatives of the SWP, the BSA DR Platform and a member of the national executive acceptable to both sides. Negotiations do not guarantee agreement, but they are the only method by which agreement might be secured. The BSA DR Platform have always been prepared to negotiate with the SWP and to resolve issues in a fraternal manner. The SWP has not been prepared to reach an agreement with us. We request that the appeals committee make a formal request to both sides to agree to seek a negotiated settlement. This will show clearly what aims the different parties have, and who is pursuing a sectarian agenda. In December 2001 there was a split in the SA when the Socialist Party left. Whilst we do not wish to apportion blame for this, we note that a negotiated settlement was neither sought nor achieved. We should learn from that situation. Finally we would also like to state that there are a number of independent BSA members who will give evidence and corroborate these events if required. 10. Conclusion We began quoting Marx that history repeats itself, etc. This case proves he had a point. This is the third national intervention in the BSA. It highlights the historic problems of the left. In the past the SWP had an easy answer to political differences - "expel the bastards". Luton SWP has had its fair share of unjust, and unjustifiable, expulsions. What goes around comes around. Some of these comrades joined the Socialist Alliance and old comrades were thus reunited. It was not what the SWP anticipated or hoped for. Now we see it is not something they can handle. Predicting the SWP will revert to its traditional ways of dealing with any opposition is not rocket science. It comes naturally. When the SWP deals with ex-members, history is repeating itself. First time it was a tragedy. Now it is a farce. Supplementary information The following letter of support was submitted to the appeals committee by Ross Millar, former Luton SWP member and ex-secretary of the BSA Dear comrades I am quite aware that that this email is unsolicited; I was neither asked by comrades Clarke nor Thompson, nor by anyone else, to write, but, having read the statement, there is no way I could restrain myself for any longer. I had first met comrades Clarke and Thompson 11 years ago, when we were then all members of the SWP; the comrades were long-standing members, and I myself was a raw recruit of 16. The intervening years have revealed to me that the comrades are impassioned, one might say on occasion strident, but never have I witnessed anything that anyone might construe as threatening or intimidating. The Beds SA is often painted as having been an alsatia of sectarianism from day one: this is not true. The early stages of the Beds SA was one of hope, of warming and cordial relations between the comrades in question and the SWP branch, of which, in the very embryonic stages of the Beds SA's development, I was branch secretary. I state this, and I doubt many could contradict me with a straight face, because it is my firm belief that with honesty discussing our political differences, we can return again to that state of affairs. But not with the nonsense on display here. Danny and Jane are painted not only as 'haters of the SWP', but as unpleasant individuals, period. How then could they command such steadfast loyalty amongst the vast majority of those to whom the Beds SA is their only political home? These independent comrades were not individuals with an axe to grind with the SWP: they leafleted with them, sat with them, drank with them. It is a case of a relationship which was once fruitful turned sour - soured by the actions of a few, who for whatever reason wish to see the back of comrades Clarke and Thompson. For what end I do not know. Certainly not with the growth of the Beds SA in mind. The Beds SA has shrivelled and its growth stunted. The life has been sucked from these open wounds. The expulsion of these comrades will cause nothing but these wounds to fester and turn cancerous. I for one fear for more than just Danny and Jane. I fear for myself. Will an out-of-turn comment I may once have made in the heat of the moment spell my expulsion also? Who will be around to defend me should this be the case? I fear for the Beds SA, for perhaps this could be the last straw for the independents, or I should correctly say those remaining brave and hardened comrades who have handled the pressure with aplomb thus far, but have seen so many comrades up and leave. We have already lost comrade Karas, a man whose energy and commitment made him the lifeblood of the project; we have lost comrade Hearne, who in the FBU dispute would have been invaluable. Let's also not forget comrade Dennis, a veteran of the old CP and a valuable source of experience. There have been many others, for whom the thankless task of trying build our now much maligned organisation, our reputation in tatters and our names a laughing stock, was too much to bear. Above all I fear for the truth. The SWP comrades speak of intimidation; they may, as they are well versed in it. Comrades Smith and Woods entered my home and refused to leave until I visited a website featuring comrade Karas on the grounds that it contained paedophilia. I can state quite clearly, having seen the site in front of these comrades (subsequently telling them to please leave my home), that it contains no such thing. If it had, then why simply tell a few SA members about it? Why not inform the police? Surely if the comrades knew that there was a paedophile in our midst, their first duty would be to protect children and, at the very least, get the website shut down. But no. No official complaint was ever made against comrade Karas - not in the SA, or in the form of an official police investigation. I state categorically that if I knew of a paedophile I would inform the relevant authorities and I believe anyone would. And yet the whole incident vanished into thin air. This makes comrades Woods and Smith either irresponsible and Smith doubly so, as she lives in a house in which a child is present, or simply liars. As I have seen the website in question myself, and saw no evidence of morally or legally questionable material, I can only conclude that Woods and Smith are immature and given to hyperbolic exaggeration at best and capricious liars at worst. Either way, they have damaged their own credibility immeasurably, and have yet to either substantiate their original claim or apologise for it. That suggests capriciousness to me. Despite this, I hope all reading this will note that comrade Karas has been, dare I say, big enough, and strong enough, to take it on the chin and not make any complaint against the originators of these foul rumours. The comrade has made politics, and not personal issues, the key to this incident and the whole stuff of his political life, which makes him a better comrade than most and a man I am proud to know. I move on then to the supposed threats of violence. The only physical contact I have seen between comrade Coghlan and comrade Thompson was at a brief pre-leafleting meeting, a week before polling day, at which, comrade Thompson hugged comrade Coghlan. This good-humoured incident set the tone for the rest of the evening and following weeks and no incident of any note occurred until the AGM. The idea that (good comrades though they may be) comrades West and Lawler could restrain Thompson from hitting Coghlan is - and no offence intended to those comrades - laughable. Comrade West in particular is barely five feet tall and weighs about seven stone at best. In fact, knowing West as well as I do as particularly shy (and rather unconfident, to put it politely, not wishing to belittle the comrade as he is a pleasant individual), the idea that he would even attempt to intervene in a dispute is quite unlikely. In any event, if Thompson was the enraged individual he is purported to be, then one would assume that he would simply force, by any means at hand, his way to comrade Coghlan, and that comrades Lawler and West would also feel the brunt of his wrath. If that were the case it is unlikely that comrade Lawler would be so quick to defend comrade Thompson; in turn it is reasonable to surmise that comrade West would resign from the SA, lest he once more again find his way in the path of 'mad Danny'. I say this, as I know the comrade intimately enough to reason that being assertive enough to make a complaint himself would be beyond comrade West. This of course I state without even considering comrade Coghlan himself, who in the face of such provocation would surely recourse to take such measures to protect himself, at the very least not attend meetings or stalls where he knew Thompson to be present or at the most press charges against Thompson. Between these two courses of actions of course lies the path of Coghlan himself - making an official SA complaint against Thompson at the time, at a local and/or national level. If he did so, he did so very surreptitiously, and again, knowing Coghlan as I do, that would be most out of character. If the event really had occurred, there would be no doubt in my mind that Coghlan would not rest, from the very moment the 'attack' (or threat of one) occurred until the day came that he received some form of justice. In any case, Coghlan, who as a lecturer in law must be well aware of his legal rights, does not strike me as a man foolish enough to tempt fate at the hands of our alleged violent man, Thompson, twice. But none of the logical outcomes of Thompson's alleged behaviour have occurred. Coghlan himself in fact has not made any official complaint, as far as I am aware. How could this be? This was a man who faced a 'battering' from a man nigh on a foot taller than himself, and he would have no reason to believe that such an event would not be repeated. Could it be that this whole incident is in fact a figment of a fevered imagination? I cannot believe that the incident stands up to any scrutiny. In fact the only case of physical threat that I knew of happened against me by Coghlan's brother, Andy Coghlan. The incident occurred at the meeting in which comrade McMahan (my apologies for the misspelling) was present, and which the now former officers (I at this time was the newly elected secretary, replacing Thompson in this capacity at the AGM the preceding month) were accused of 'walking out'. (That matter is well documented and I will not pick over the bones here.) Steve's brother, Andy Coghlan, was extremely drunk, had revealed to the meeting himself that he had been primed to vote (his exact words were: "Look, can we get to the vote? I came here to vote") and made not very veiled threats to myself during a short recess. Seeing clearly that the man was more of a danger to himself than anyone else and considering that Andy and I were otherwise close acquaintances, with his behaviour clearly a singular aberration that he himself would duly apologise for, I let the matter go no further. But the responsibility lies with those who had brought him to the meeting in a state where clearly the comrade was not able to make rational judgement, and those people were Steve Coghlan and Viv Smith. As to Jane's supposed comments, I touch upon them lastly not as an afterthought or to devalue the comrade, but because the supposed statement she is alleged to have made is not worth dignifying (this particular fiction makes the fiction against Thompson seem credible by comparison). 'I know where you live' is something straight out of a poor, second-rate British gangster flick and contradicts everything I know of this serious and honest comrade. I don't believe anyone would say such a downright silly thing, least of all a serious Marxist - and Jane is just that. But let me entertain the idea that she did say such a thing. The phrase is ambiguous at best. I know where you live ... and? Then maybe you shall visit me for tea and cakes, or bombard me with leaflets or picket my house ... or what? It's meaningless!! Meaningless, unless of course the person saying it had made prior statements regarding malicious intent, in which case we return to the obvious: why not tell someone about it, to protect oneself from harm? Why not produce proof of intent? Comrade Arrain is alleged to have stated that Jane had intended to kill comrade Smith. Let us be clear: that intent would warrant serious investigation, if comrade Smith believed that harm would befall her at Clarke's hands. To kill someone is slightly more serious than intent to write a nasty polemic in the Weekly Worker, and warrants something a little stronger than a mere motion to expel. I conclude on this matter with two words: it's bullshit. Before my conclusion, I will point out that this whole affair has been utterly incompetently and inconsistently handled. I say 'incompetent' thusly: why no prior official warning at the time these so-called incidents occurred? If relations between the SW and the accused were this fractious, why wait so long to nip it in the bud? Why no minuted complaint prior to the motion? Why no substantive proof given to Beds SA comrades of the charges against the accused comrades prior to the passing of the motion? Why have many comrades, including myself, yet to see the minutes of the meeting in which these incidents were said to have occurred? I say 'inconsistent' because comrade James May did receive an official warning over a complaint made about his behaviour. Comrade May was never given any chance to appeal or state his case, and I have to say the complaint was rather OTT, but at least he was dealt with some fairness in comparison, and I believe no one has had to complain about his behaviour since. Looked at in such a manner, in as logical a fashion as I can muster, I for one can only conclude that the charges against Clarke and Thompson do not stand up to any scrutiny, have little basis in fact and if this were a court of law would never stand. If we have any pretensions to, at the very least, meet with that standard (a legal court), which itself leaves much to be desired, then the charges against Clarke and Thompson must be refuted once and for all, and that all parties should meet, get beyond this bluff and bluster and discuss just how the hell we are going to extricate ourselves from this sad, sorry affair. If this proves not to be the case, then I will have no choice but to assume that kangaroo courts will be the order of the day in the SA and will not renew my membership. I conclude by saying that no one has prompted, suggested or requested me to write or has had any prior knowledge that I would do so, that all statements contained within this email are my own, that I have written on no one's behalf and that I have stated the facts as I see them to the best of my ability, truthfully and without intentional deceit. Yours in comradeship Ross Stuart Miller (Marat) former Beds SA secretary, DR Platform. Where we stand - the BSA Democratic and Republican Platform For the unity of the working class We stand for the unity of the working class in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This aim is inseparable from the struggle for democracy. The demand for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales and an independent united Ireland is central to the struggle for democracy and working class unity. People before profit must be amended to include this demand and make it central to our political work. For the unity of the left The SA must become a broad and inclusive movement of the left throughout the UK. We must build unity with all the existing socialist parties, including the Socialist Party, Socialist Labour Party, Communist Party of Britain, SWP, Scottish Socialist Party and the Welsh Socialist Alliance. We must begin a dialogue with socialist organisations in Northern Ireland. We recognise that the exit of the SP was a setback. We call on the SA to adopt a unity policy aimed at reuniting the SA and the SP. We are for a united front between the SA and the SP where ever possible, including cooperation in the allocation of constituencies and wards during elections. For the independence and unity of the SA We seek to defend and promote the independence and unity of the alliance. We are opposed to the narrowing down of the SA so that it becomes a periphery or support organisation for any one party. To strengthen the independence of the SA, we must: (i) adopt the aim of becoming an independent working class party; (ii) launch a weekly Socialist Alliance paper. To build the unity of the SA we need a democratic, federal constitution to ensure openness of ideas and the inclusion of all political trends. For local constitutions All serious working class organisations have a democratically agreed set of rules which set out the rights and responsibilities of the members and how the leadership is elected, accountable and subject to recall. Such constitutions must be democratically accountable: that is, transparent and open to amendment. Such rules may vary according to local circumstances provided they do not remove rights guaranteed by the national constitution. Members of local alliances have the right to a written statement of the rules and the right to amend such rules. For a new working class party The SA is not a party. It is an organisation of socialist and communist individuals, groups and parties. The SA must campaign openly for a new workers' party to replace Labour within the working class movement. We need a republican socialist party organised across the UK that can unite both the socialist Labour and revolutionary communist traditions, along the lines of the Scottish Socialist Party. January 14 2002