Victim of 'democracy'

SW Kenning comments on SWP paranioa and the witch-hunting of one of their own members

Some odd rumours did the rounds at the recent annual conference of the Socialist Worker Party (January 6-8). A number of the comrades who had attended breathlessly informed us that the meeting had been "infiltrated" by an "anarchist group" of some stripe. As it turns out, the truth is rather less dramatic - but much more disturbing from the point of view of the political health of the revolutionary left.

A young SWP comrade, Matt Kidd of Northampton branch, attended the first day and, that evening, posted some mildly critical reports of the proceedings on a bulletin board of the non-aligned lefty website, Urban 75 (www.ur ban75.com).

One contributor - 'Pilgrim' - had sarcastically observed: ""¦ if SWP security is as good as usual, we should be able to read [a report of the conference] in the Weekly Worker in a couple of days. That said, it could be interesting to have a debate that doesn't descend into a farce of how 'brilliant!', 'wonderful!' and 'historic!' opportunities for the working class are developing before our eyes."

Comrade Kidd, who - judging from his contributions to this lively website - was a loyal SWPer, if a little naive, was actually quite proud of what he had seen that day of his organisation's democratic culture. Critical points were "debated all day today. It was a great conference," he assured 'Pilgrim' and others (posting, January 7).

He gave a thumbnail sketch of some of the meeting's few points of controversy, first informing people of the number of votes leading dissenter John Molyneux attracted in the central committee elections: "57. About 10 abstained. [The CC recommended list] got 208. Many people came up to John Molyneux beforehand saying that they agreed with some of his views, yet didn't think they could vote for him for some reason "¦ Someone tried to start a debate about the religious hatred bill. John Rees claimed this had been 'debated' in the paper and at a caucus. This wasn't voted on, however, yet I got the feeling that many were undecided on this issue.

""¦ the majority voted for the slate the CC put forward, yes. But "¦ after a long debate, in which John Molyneux spoke, and then Callinicos replied. Five speakers then spoke for John (including me and ex-CC member [name deleted; this and other deletions were retrospectively inserted into his postings by Matt Kidd himself - see below]), and five for the CC slate (including John Rees and Lindsey German).

"About 10 contributors throughout the day criticised certain lines of the leadership: for example, John Molyneux claimed that the leadership had a tendency to exaggerate membership figures, exaggerate imminent 'breakthroughs', etc. The main issue that was debated was the fact that John claimed that the CC wasn't honest about the level of class struggle: the fact that the number of strikes is one-tenth of what they were in the 'downturn'. You can read his main arguments in the Weekly Worker.

""¦ myself, [name deleted], [name deleted], John Molyneux and a couple of others put forward this view.

"All throughout the day, in meetings such as 'Leninism in the 21st century', speakers from the CC were giving John Molyneux stick. Chris Harman even went as far as to say that a central committee should be homogenous! (which was criticised in the CC elections debate).

"[Name deleted] said this was the best conference he'd been to in years. This was because there were a minority of members, spurred on by Molyneux's decision to stand, I think, which were confident about standing up to the leadership. The day started off with the usual studenty speakers, telling us how we need to build this and that, but, as the day went on, the speeches got more and more important to the running of the party.

"Although John only got 57 votes, that's the biggest rebellion the party has seen in decades. It was a good result! Hopefully this will encourage the CC to be more honest and the SWP to be more democratic" (January 7).

This is mildly interesting stuff, but hardly political dynamite. Yet for these comments comrade Kidd found himself 'grassed' to the leadership by some SWP toady on the same discussion thread. He was denounced by a central committee member at the conference's morning session the next day (which he missed) for his treacherous breach of the party's security - he had not only revealed conference proceedings, but had also named three comrades whose jobs were thus placed in jeopardy (as, apparently, the Weekly Worker has recently done, it was suggested). The conference then voted - unanimously, we are told - to suspend comrade Kidd and refer the matter to the disputes committee. However, the comrade subsequently resigned from the organisation - a mistake in our view.

If the vote to suspend this comrade was indeed unanimous, then the likes of John Molyneux and those who supported his CC candidacy have certainly revealed the limited nature of their politics.

It is quite clear that this sort of pseudo-'hard' posturing on security has nothing to do with external threats: it is a mode of bureaucratic control over SWPers themselves - a crude policing device.

First, think about the absurdity of the charge that comrade Kidd endangered the livelihoods of three SWPers by naming them in the first versions of his postings. As 'Cockneyrebel' pointed out on the discussion thread, "Matt - the three names you mentioned have all been published in Socialist Worker recently. One of them is an election candidate, for fuck's sake. It's absolute bollox that this could 'cost someone their jobs'. By that rate, they should sack the editor of SW. Check out the search section on the SW paper site and put those names in" (posting, January 9).

The Weekly Worker has found itself on the receiving end of the same sort of idiotic charge. Yet it is obvious that any comrade employed in a politically sensitive bourgeois job would use a cadre name for political work - particularly if they wrote openly in the left press, stood in elections, wrote contributions to 'internal' bulletins that were more often than not widely reported by other publications and attended a policy-making conference along with hundreds of other people.

The notion that a measure of such elementary security as changing your name would not be taken if one's security might otherwise be jeopardised is just too bizarre to seriously credit.

Second, there is the implication that - until reckless anarcho-saboteurs of the likes of Matt Kidd reveal all - the state's secret services are somehow in the dark about who is actually in the SWP. Comrades, get real ...

The secret state knows the SWP from top to bottom. It runs agents in its ranks. It knows the personal foibles, peccadilloes and eccentricities of its leadership. That is not conjecture - it is certain, like death and taxes. It is, indeed, what we pay our taxes for. If the secret services decided to get vulnerable SWP comrades sacked, they would hardly have to wait for comrade Kidd to casually name-drop a few already well known comrades on a relatively obscure website discussion board.

Third, we have to ask ourselves - given the manifestly farcical nature of the security explanation of this incident - just why do the SWP mandarins insist on fostering this hysterical laager mentality? In previous years we have noted - and mocked - the way the SWP has indulged in (extremely) amateur dramatics over its conference - as if it were an illegal organisation operating underground.

The date, venue and proceedings are supposed to be a closely guarded secret - they never are, of course. Delegates and visitors are warned not to advertise the fact that a gathering of a (legal) party is going on. Conference documents are numbered and have to be handed back to the organisers. People are warned not to display lapel badges. Careless talk costs - if not yet lives - then certainly jobs, people are warned.

All crap, of course. For political parties of the working class operating under conditions of legality - as opposed to besieged opportunist sects intent on posturing as 'Bolsheviks' - publicity is something to be positively welcomed. After all, even the 'official' Communist Party of Great Britain held its two-yearly congresses in the presence of a small media posse. Apart from one special closed session, everything else was open to be reported by the capitalist and leftwing press. Likewise, conferences of the Scottish Socialist Party are open - keynote speeches and controversial debates feature on Scottish TV news, the front page of the Herald and elsewhere.

Of course, the Bolsheviks did hold some of their conferences and congresses abroad due to tsarist oppression. Even so, every effort was made to fully inform the politically conscious public of all debates and decisions. Far from disputes being hidden away - as if such things were a sign of weakness, something to be ashamed of - they were highlighted and carefully and exhaustively explained in the Bolshevik press, where feasible minutes were published to encourage an active understanding of factional arguments and alignments.

Indeed, SWP comrades should recall the second conference of the RSDLP - which actually saw the initial split of the party into its Bolshevik and Menshevik wings. Not only was this seminal gathering analysed in exhaustive detail in Lenin's One step forward, two steps back, but so were near-verbatim minutes of the entire conference, which, with forced changes of venue, lasted over a period of weeks. Lenin recommended that party members "make a broad and independent study of the minutes", as this record was "unique of its kind and unparalleled for its accuracy, completeness, comprehensiveness, richness and authenticity; a picture of views, sentiments and plans drawn by the participants in the movement themselves; a picture of the political shades existing in the party, showing their relative strength, their mutual relations and their struggles". This was not casual advice: Lenin regarded it as the "duty of every party member who wishes to take an intelligent share in the affairs of their party" to undertake this detailed analysis.

And these minutes were published openly - even though Lenin acknowledged that the "opponents" of the party would "gloat and grimace over our disputes". He brushed off these attacks as "pinpricks" that would not divert communists from their "self-criticism and ruthless exposure of their own shortcomings" (www.marxists. com).

Contrast that wonderfully healthy, transparent working class tradition with the narrow, timid and crudely bureaucratic mindset of the SWP central committee member who phoned comrade Matt Kidd on the day after the conference to angrily tell him that not only were his actions wrong, but that SWP members "shouldn't post on" such discussion boards at all (posting, January 9).

There is a tradition of this kind of ban in the SWP, of course. In 1995, we saw the diktat by the SWP leadership attempting to keep members from certain sections of the internet. Justifying this monstrous move, it was suggested that this global means of potentially anonymous debate could lead to the situation where others could "take part in discussions that do not concern them" - whatever they might be (see Weekly Worker July 11 1996).

The ugly truth is that the leadership of the SWP clearly believes its own membership should not be 'concerned' with the direction, political perspectives and operative programme of their own organisation. The rank and file of the party are regarded - and for the most part treated - as paper-selling dolts, purely as 'instruments' to do the donkey work for the latest 'get rich quick' scheme dazzling the leadership.

This explains the deplorable treatment of a young comrade like Matt Kidd, the scandalous lack of democracy and accountability that John Molyneux has pointed to and the contrived 'security' hysteria that surrounds what are political questions. The idea that MI5 do not know in detail the differences of opinion and political nuance that divide the SWP central committee is not an idea that is worthy of serious consideration. The only people therefore that these bureaucrats effectively conspire against are their own members and the wider workers' movement.

In conclusion, we wish comrade Kidd well and urge him to stay in organised revolutionary politics. The comrade writes, rather forlornly, than his actual intention in publishing what he did was "to prove to people on [this list] that the SWP was in fact democratic, and I hoped this would change some ex-members' minds" (January 9).

Clearly, John Rees and co have taught him some rather brutal facts about the reality of SWP 'democracy'.