Movement needs openness

Andrew Murray and Lindsay German, who effectively form the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition, put the movement in a bad political light this week when they acted as dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrats determined to stifle openness, accountability and democracy, reports Anne Mc Shane

The CPGB, as one of the affiliated organisations of the coalition, had been informed that we could attend as observers at the April 28 steering committee meeting. We had been told this at the conference in January and had double-checked with the office organiser, Gargy, last week, who gave us the details.

I therefore went along as our representative. I arrived just as the meeting of about 60 was beginning. There was a debate around slogans taking place. I could not help but notice how STWC chair Andrew Murray (a member of the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain) and national convenor Lindsay German (Socialist Workers Party) stared in my direction from the top table and whispered furtively. Then Jane Challice, treasurer, was beckoned over by Lindsay German. She in her turn came to where I was sitting at the back of the room. She demand to know who I was and what I was doing there.

I calmly explained. She left, not looking too happy, and went back to speak to comrades German and Murray. She then returned to tell me that they did not allow observers and I must leave immediately. I refused and said my presence was entirely legitimate and that it should be put to the meeting.

Jane Challice then proceeded to announce that "there is somebody in the meeting who should not be here and she says she is entitled to be here as an observer but we do not allow observers". People appeared a bit flabbergasted and turned to look at me, expecting perhaps to see an MI5 spy or a member of the BNP in their midst. The man beside me complained that meetings should not be held in secret.

Gargy then spoke and said she had told us we could attend and that there were several other observers present whom she had invited. It was clear from her response that there had never been any such attempt at an exclusion before. Even though she held a position of responsibility within the STWC, it seems she was unaware of any ban.

Two other comrades identified themselves as observers, shocked to find themselves suddenly in the firing line of a witch-hunt. Andrew Murray then spoke and said that it was not and never had been the practice to have observers. He then muttered something about it being particularly important, given there were "sensitive issues" to be discussed. I asked to have the decision put to the meeting. I urged the STWC not to set a harmful and undemocratic precedent. I argued that the coalition needed to be open and these meetings should not be held behind the back of the movement. I also defended the presence of the CPGB as an affiliated organisation that had worked hard to build the demonstrations. Moreover we had been informed we could attend. I believe that I had the sympathy of much of the meeting.

Comrade Murray said that he had made a ruling as chair but would put it to a vote anyway. It seemed he was trying to make it appear that a vote against his ruling would be a direct challenge to the chair. As an adept bureaucrat he was clearly trying to undermine any support for me.

The vote was approximately 15 for the exclusion of observers, with five or six against. Murray announced that the vote had been carried with "a few abstentions". But he had not asked for an indication of abstentions and shamefully at least half the meeting had not taken part in the vote. He then demanded that we leave. There were a number who looked very hurt. This was a clear attack on the CPGB which had hit others too. It certainly showed the logic of witch-hunts. Unless stopped everyone suffers.

Nevertheless Murray, German and Challice got what they wanted. Due to their narrow and self-serving sectarianism the movement will be denied a report in the Weekly Worker of how the STWC is thinking. That is a real loss.

Our paper has after all won a deserved reputation for unequalled reporting and analysis of the politics of the left in Britain. This is particularly vital as the present time. Iraq is under occupation and the US is making threatening noises towards Syria and North Korea. There is also the whole issue of George Galloway. Should we defending him against the Blairite purge? (I think we should.) Should we allow The Daily Telegraph to smear the whole anti-war movement by standing up for Galloway uncritically? (I think we should not.)

Instead of the Weekly Worker the movement will have to rely on the usual anodyne STWC press releases and clipped pronouncements made by Andrew Murray and Lindsay German. Naturally in the inner sanctums - certainly on the CPB's executive and the SWP's political committee - something approaching the truth will be told. But that is considered too dangerous, too intoxicating for mere rank and file activists and those outside the charmed circle.

Should we expect anything else from comrade Murray? Not when we consider his origins and political CV. Before the ultra-right Marxism Today faction dissolved the 'official' CPGB in 1991, Murray was a loyal lieutenant of Fergus Nicholson - the éminence grise of the 'broad left' monthly Straight Left and leader of his own carefully CPGB managed opposition faction. To get a flavour of how Nicholson imagined himself in his inner thought-world all one need know is his nom de plume - Harry Steel. Harry comes from the first name of Harry Pollitt, CPGB general secretary from the late 1920s to 1956, when he became chair. Steel is taken from Stalin - the 'man of steel'.

Murray broke with Nicholson in the 1990s, organisationally but not politically. And after being one of the main movers behind the short lived publication Communist Liaison, he and his micro-faction threw in their lot with the Rob Griffiths-John Haylett wing of the CPB. He once wrote regularly in the Morning Star taking particular delight in attacking the "Trotskyites of the Socialist Alliance". Now he works full-time for the traindrivers union Aslef. To sum up, Murray is an unreconstituted Stalinite.

All we need say about comrade German is that, though she and her organisation are retrospectively anti-Stalin and for democracy in the Soviet Union, when it comes to present-day Britain she and Murray make a perfect couple. Different backgrounds, yes, but common bureaucratic methods and instincts. Clearly we must fight to overcome the closed culture being imposed upon the STWC. There is nothing natural about it. After all in the Socialist Alliance any member may attend the national council and even the executive finds the presence of observers and substitutes unproblematic.

Sadly comrade Murray shows disdain not for his bête noire, the Weekly Worker, but for everyone in the STWC he professes to represent. He and comrade German rightly criticised the Westminster parliament for being undemocratic before the Iraq war. Now they behave in a manner akin to those 19th century Tories who refused to allow the press to report the proceedings of parliament. That leading socialists behave in this way in the 21st century brings shame upon our entire movement.

It is not the British state they are afraid of, but honest criticism. Talk of "sensitive issues" is just a foil - one thing you can guarantee is that MI5 will have their plants at the very top of the STWC. The exclusion of affiliates should be roundly condemned by all democrats. This is not about my rights or the rights of the CPGB. This is about the rights of the anti-movement to hear the truth.