Stop thuggery in workers' movement

This year's Marxism was marred by a disgraceful physical assault by SWP national organiser Martin Smith. Mark Fischer demands the setting up of a workers' commission to investigate

On July 7, the second full day of Marxism, Socialist Workers Party national organiser Martin Smith physically assaulted comrade Simon, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Tower Hamlets branch of Respect.

The attack occurred while the comrade was waiting for the session on 'Organising for fighting unions' to begin. He was not, as has later been alleged, "heckling and shouting".

Comrade Simon was a member of the SWP for three years up to 2006, when he was suddenly expelled (by phone!). His offence? "Bringing the party into disrepute" - the catch-all charge loved by bureaucrats everywhere. In fact, all he was 'guilty' of was raising some mild criticisms and daring to question publicly; that and reporting on his blog - verbatim - the words of leading SWPers at a Respect meeting in Tower Hamlets.

Surely all this is normal behaviour in the workers' movement. In fact our Marxist tradition thrives on honest reporting, considered criticism and open polemic. Not the SWP.

At the comrade's appeal - which he had to insist upon - Martin Smith presented his 'evidence' for the first time. In fact, he came out with no specific examples of alleged breaches of SWP codes or the SWP constitution. Comrade Smith simply demanded that the expulsion be confirmed. And that is what he got. Of course. To his eternal shame, the chair of the SWP's appeals committee, Pat Stack, without fuss or bother, rubber-stamped the expulsion.

Clearly, what he chairs is not a body designed to defend the rights of SWP members. His is a kangaroo court, there to do the bidding of the SWP apparatus - specifically the John Rees-Lindsey German duumvirate.

A few weeks after his expulsion comrade Simon attended a Camden SWP public meeting on Respect. Incredibly, the next day Martin Smith left a message on the comrade's phone telling him that he was henceforth "not allowed to go to any SWP events". Smith also said he had written to the party organiser in comrade Simon's area to let them know about this order. Comrade Simon texted back pointing out that it was advertised as an SWP public meeting and surely, as a member of the public, he was entitled to go. The response came back: "When you are expelled from the [SWP], that means you are not allowed to attend any SWP event, public meeting, Marxism, period."

To make this crass, thoroughly anti-democratic exclusion order official, Smith sent through a letter some days later that put it in black and white: "An expelled member of the SWP cannot attend SWP public events (that includes Marxism/rallies/public meetings)" (Weekly Worker June 8 2006). Such bans should have no place in our movement. They smack of Labour Party control-freakery and have the whiff of Stalinism about them.

And the fact is that comrade Simon has attended SWP meetings - despite the ridiculous banning order. Indeed, many, many people on the left have either split or been expelled from the SWP. Applied consistently, Smith's banning order would see the exclusion of hundreds of comrades in the workers' movement who have fallen foul of what the SWP calls democratic centralism - in reality bureaucratic centralism.

One can only suppose that Smith now feels enraged by the mere sight of comrade Simon because the whole ugly business of his expulsion and subsequent kangaroo court appeal was exposed by the Weekly Worker. This clearly rankles and is probably what caused Smith to aggressively round on comrade Simon when he saw him at Marxism.

The SWP's national organiser angrily demanded comrade Simon's ticket to the Marxism event and, when he refused, Smith instantly attacked him. Wrestled to the floor, comrade Simon sustained bruising, abrasions and back strain. A second SWPer joined in the attack and together they went through the comrade's pockets and bag in an attempt to confiscate his ticket.

This is a completely disproportionate and quite frankly cowardly way of behaving. An unwarranted expulsion has been compounded by an unwarranted physical assault. And all this demeans and brings further damage to our already demeaned and badly damaged movement. The Stalinite spirit is still alive and flourishing in our ranks. It reveals that the secret policeman's morbid fear of criticism and the undemocratic and uncivilised way of handling differences have not been banished as they ought to have been.

No wonder people say they do not trust the left. Nor, unfortunately, are they wrong.

Means and ends are connected. Means determine ends and ends determine means. Those who expel critics for merely being critical, those who unleash violence against those with whom they disagree, merely because they disagree, those who ban, bully and beat can hardly be expected to usher in a world of general freedom.

But, sadly, thuggery makes sense. At least for the SWP's higher-ups. It is their way of closing off thought and engendering fear. If you fall out with the central committee that is what happens to you. Violence directed against ex-SWPers is therefore another form of control directed against current SWPers.

The response to our leaflet exposing the assault on comrade Simon was highly variegated at Marxism. A sizable minority were genuinely worried - some expressed shame, others profound concern. However, showing how the bureaucratic cancer in the SWP has grown over the years, there were those who were either intent on blaming the victim or even suggesting the incident was fabricated.

Eg, a few comrades shouted at us: "None of it happened." One young comrade from Wales crassly argued that the whole thing was "very suspicious" because the CPGB had a leaflet out on the same day of the attack. "It certainly looks like it had been planned. I'm not saying you did plan it, but it looks like it." Another SWPer said we make her laugh: "You just make up something new every year." Here credulity leads the comrades into becoming naive accomplices.

Then there those who are just plain dishonest. John Rees did not deny the incident. But he swore blind that it was comrade Simon who "threw the first punch". A slightly lower-level SWP official said she saw the whole thing and comrade Simon was disrupting the meeting and shouting down speakers (even though the meeting had not started). She made no claim about comrade Simon punching anyone.

Perhaps even more disturbing than the self-deception and the bald lies were those SWPers who said that comrade Simon deserved what he got. One SWP functionary simply said that comrade Simon was not allowed into SWP meetings and that was enough reason to attack him and throw him out. No mention of disruptive behaviour or the first punch. "Somebody should beat you lot up properly," said another. Or, as one SWPer put it after looking at the photo we took of comrade Simon's injured arm, "I can show him what a real bruise is."

The whole of this ought to be of grave concern to Respect, not least its elected national council. After all, here we have one member of Respect assaulting another. Here we have members of Respect threatening to unleash further assaults on fellow members.

The CPGB's Provisional Central Committee will be writing to Respect's national council asking for it to investigate the matter and help to see to it that no such further incidents occur. At the very least Martin Smith should be suspended from Respect for initiating the assault on comrade Simon. Without that Respect would be showing that it is not serious about its claims to be democratic and wanting to protect the rights of the vulnerable and weak.

We shall also be writing to the SWP's central committee. We will propose that a commission be established, made up of non-CPGB or SWP members/sympathisers. We want comrades who have standing in, and are trusted by, the left and labour movement as a whole. Such a commission should be empowered to call witnesses, evaluate the evidence and pass judgement.

If comrade Simon had been stealing SWP funds, if he had frustratedly battered one of Respect's more hysterical critics, if he was charging around Marxism looking for a fight with Martin Smith, then we would be demanding, and indeed we would be taking, appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion.

But all comrade Simon is actually guilty of is thinking differently. And in the immortal words of Rosa Luxemburg: "Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently."

In their sect, SWP leaders are used to wielding unaccountable power. They treat their 'party' and the wider movement almost as their own property. Disgustingly, when Simon was expelled, Pat Stack told him: "You're now not going to have any life on the left - your activist days are over." Who the hell do these people think they are? Since when have they been in charge of our movement? Since when has it been their prerogative to decide who is a working class partisan and who is not?

However, this Stack comment and the attack on comrade Simon reveal the anti-Marxist mindset of people who treat their own members as little more than paper-selling and leaflet-distributing tools.

So ordinary SWPers are those who should be particularly disturbed by the physical assault at this year's Marxism. After all, the likes of Martin Smith cannot shut up comrade Simon or - even more infuriatingly for him - the Weekly Worker itself.

We have and do exercise our freedom, in this case the freedom to expose Martin Smith as an anti-democratic goon, not only to the workers' movement in Britain, but the world over. We can hit back against Martin Smith using our chosen weapons of publicity and the truth. SWPers, however, have no such freedom.

Comrades of the SWP, if you allow the despicable culture of thuggery to continue, what happens when you, inevitably, develop differences? What happens when you want to criticise and hold your leaders to account?

An injury to one is an injury to all. That is why SWP comrades have every interest in taking sides. Against the actions of Martin Smith and in defence of comrade Simon.