Marxism 2003: Physical attack on opponents

A personal statement from Mark Fischer and James Bull of the Communist Party of Great Britain, July 11 2003

Comrades and friends,

We were physically attacked outside the morning plenary session of 'Marxism' by up to seven members of the Socialist Workers Party. The attack was preceded by orchestrated haranguing of us because of the content of a leaflet we have distributed at this year's conference, 'The SWP's Clause 4 moment? No compromise on sexism and homophobia'.

The actual attack was pretty limp and unserious. As far as either one of us are aware, the SWPers did not actually manage to get a blow in on us, even if that had been their intention. Instead, were attacked from various angles by SWP comrades intent on tearing leaflets out of our hands, ripping up our papers etc. While this led to some pretty comical-looking wrestling, only people's dignity really took any sort of knock.

We believe the incident is serious for other reasons, however:

1. We suspect it was an attack effectively sanctioned by leading members of the SWP. As we were getting papers and leaflets out of bags, comrade Chris Bambery approached and told us that he would "take no responsibility for what my members do to you today" because of their supposed outrage at "the shite" in our leaflet. This is unacceptable, of course. We think it is a requirement of the leadership of this organisation to condemn physical attacks on political opponents in the movement - including ones undertaken by their own membership. Unless this is forthcoming, the movement is justified in the presumption that the SWP actually support the resolution of political differences with fists and boots. The group did have a reputation for this sort of thuggery in the 1980s and 1990s, but its culture seemed to have to moved on since its involvement in the Socialist Alliance.

2. It seems to us that the attack had all the hallmarks of an organised provocation, not the spontaneous explosion of outrage comrade Bambery darkly warned us of. The initial attack was led by women members, with a tight ring of their male comrades around them. Both of us heard warnings from the men - as we were being attacked! - along the lines of "Don't you touch her!" So, the plan was - women attack the two men, in the course of the struggle to defend themselves the men do something against a woman that then 'justifies' the blokes wading in.

3. Some SWPers actually took our leaflets, some bought papers. The snarlers (not all of whom took part in the attack) were essentially middle cadre SWPers, people who were not interested in what we had said in our leaflet, what our arguments actually were. Instead, we had their faces - purple with hyped-up rage in some cases - pushed into ours, their fingers jabbing our chests and variations on two key accusations repeated at ear-splitting volume: -

  • You call the SWP sexists and homophobes: The leaflet actually warns that the SWP leadership is in danger of a "compromise on sexism and homophobia" due to their pursuit of an opportunist electoral alliance with a section of the mosque, not that the SWP is a sexist or homophobic organisation. The leaflet states clearly that "SWP comrades have a passionate commitment to the rights of women, gays and lesbians - are these simply 'shibboleths' to be downplayed for electoral expediency?"
  • You are racists. You don't want Muslims in the movement: The leaflet actually underlines that "to march alongside those mobilised by the mosque against the US-UK warmongering is good politics. What we object to is not unity in action with non-working class forces, but the watering down or abandoning of our *principles* for temporary advantage".

Of course, what we had actually said or believed was irrelevant. A layer of SWP hacks had been mobilised (by elements in the leadership?) to try to prevent critics of their organisation's dangerous new turn having any sort of hearing.

4. This has dangerous implications for the Socialist Alliance project. Already, we have seen the SWP 'clean sweep' in Birmingham and a partially successful attempt to remove dissenters from positions of authority on the SA executive. Are we now to expect that anyone who raises criticisms of the SWP's new orientation to be physically assaulted and removed from positions of authority or perhaps from the alliance altogether? After all, apart from indies such as Steve Godward, groups like Workers Power and the Alliance for Workers Liberty also have their criticisms of the SWP's new orientation - are they next for the rough stuff?

5. The last thing we would like to emphasise is that the SWP's violent hysteria flows from a profound political weakness. If the organisation was actually confident about its politics and the alliance with the mosques, why react in such a brittle way to criticisms? The SWP leadership is aware that in terms of Marxist principle and the history of our movement, it is skating on very thin ice. That is why it is trying to paint any criticism, any dissent as an act of "racism", something that must be met with physical attacks and censorship.

As far as we are concerned, that can never work of course. We have the Weekly Worker, we have our website, etc. The leaders of the SWP can never shut us up. The people who ought to be really worried are SWPers themselves. Is this the sort of reaction you comrades can expect when you develop different ideas, when - horror! - you actually have temerity to voice those criticisms? Be warned. Once you allow censorship against others, it is only a matter of time before you feel the gag yourself.

  • For open debate!
  • Against violence and intimidation in the workers' movement!