Left Platform trounced
Peter Manson reports on an overwhelming victory for Martin Smith and the central committee
As expected, the Left Platform faction of John Rees, Lindsey German and Chris Nineham was trounced at the Socialist Workers Party’s annual conference, held over the weekend of January 8-10.
This was demonstrated most clearly at the end of the session on ‘World in turmoil - the economic crisis, imperialism and resistance’, where the central committee and the LP presented alternative ‘commissions’, outlining their rival perspectives (not that there is much between them). Out of more than 400 delegates, only 17 voted for comrades Rees, German and Nineham, while another nine abstained. There were only eight votes against the CC’s ‘commission’ and six abstentions.
There are two reasons for this overwhelming victory for the leadership. Firstly, the unpopularity of John Rees in particular, whose deposing 18 months ago was widely welcomed in view of the comrade’s perceived high-handed arrogance (by contrast there is a good deal of affection for Lindsey German). A year ago, many members saw the replacement of Rees and the establishment of the ‘democracy commission’ sop as a change for the better - a move towards an open, more tolerant regime. What is more, comrade Rees made the fatal mistake of condemning the democracy commission as going too far in the direction of liberalism!
It is true that the illusions of a section of the membership that the SWP was at last adopting a new, genuinely democratic culture have started to wear thin. Many can see that the new CC majority is merely using the same bureaucratic methods against the ancien régime as Rees and co used to employ against previous minorities. But there is no way they were going to vote him back in.
Secondly, the CC did all in its power to reduce the number of LP delegates to an absolute minimum. At many local aggregates a pro-CC slate was presented and leadership supporters argued against the nomination of any LP comrades at all, irrespective of their experience or proven record of work for the SWP. In one or two instances, aggregates voted to send fewer delegates than their entitlement rather than allow an LP comrade to attend conference.
While, contrary to some assertions, this did not involve a breach of the SWP’s rules, it most certainly contravened the spirit of democracy that working class organisations ought to foster. We should strive to ensure that minorities are represented roughly in proportion to the support they enjoy. It is in our interest to have the arguments out, not seek to suppress them.
Of course, at the conference itself, the leadership made a show of allowing the Left Platform - the main LP leaders were all present - an opportunity to put forward its case. According to the internal Party Notes, “Conference backed the … proposal [from the CC] to give them extended contributions in three sessions … to enable them to put their alternative views across.”
(As an aside, readers may have noticed that the new-look SWP website now carries “a version of” the weekly Party Notes - one considered fit for public consumption - although, as I write, the latest issue, distributed on Monday January 11, has yet to be uploaded.)
Socialist Worker devotes a good deal of space to the conference, but, unlike Party Notes, does not mention the one-hour discussion on the control commission report. During this session the Left Platform moved a motion opposing the expulsion of LP supporter Clare Solomon for ‘factionalism’. The evidence against her was based almost entirely on emails exchanged between LP supporters - although comrade Solomon was also accused of having organised what appears to have been a perfectly harmless ‘Mutiny’ cultural evening for students at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. The entire basis of this allegation seems to be that it was not specifically a pro-SWP event.
Incredibly, although SWP members who have been disciplined are entitled in theory to appeal to conference, comrade Solomon was not permitted to attend - on the grounds that she is no longer a member!
As another expelled LP comrade, Alex Snowdon, has pointed out on comrade Solomon’s blog, “Saying ‘non-members cannot attend conference’ isn’t an adequate response. Every member I know has always naturally assumed that the phrase ‘appealing at conference’ means you can go along and present your case in person. It will be a revelation that it means nothing of the sort! In any case, why not? What are they so scared of? The proposal was merely that Clare attended the relevant one-hour session, not the whole conference.”
He is, of course, quite right. In fact the Left Platform, now it is on the receiving end of SWP control-freakery instead of dishing it out, frequently makes correct criticisms of this bureaucratic method. The fact that we in the CPGB point this out should not be confused for support for the LP’s politics in its factional battle with the CC, as some disingenuous leadership fans claim. In reality the differences between them are those of nuance.
Party Notes says that the motion to overturn comrade Solomon’s expulsion received 33 votes (she herself thinks it was 37, with 22 abstentions). Apparently she won sympathy as well as votes from way beyond the Left Platform - not least because the case against her was so paper-thin. It appears that many delegates regarded her as somewhat naive - Chris Nineham is said to have referred to her during the debate as a bit eccentric (or “wacky”, according to one comrade), whereas, by contrast, the attitude towards comrade Snowdon was, in the view of a CC supporter, “good riddance”.
However, the case against the two comrades seems to be based on accusations such as “your [Alex Snowdon’s] sneering tone in the leaked emails” - where he advised comrade Solomon to “delay, delay, delay” until the pre-conference period (when temporary factions are allowed) before appearing before the CC. Only in the SWP is a “sneering tone” considered grounds for expulsion.
Another pro-leadership comrade, ‘battersea’, alleges on comrade Solomon’s blog: “The ‘Mutiny’ event was simply a marker to which (it was calculated) the ‘middle ground’ would flood, thereby proving the dullard, querulous, uncertain qualities of the leadership.” This accusation seems to amount to saying that a successful, stimulating event must be factional, because it inevitably shows up the inadequacy of what the CC lays on.
But, not to worry, two former SWP members have weighed in on the side of the leadership. Andy Wilson writes: “I was expelled many years ago at German and Rees’s insistence. My crime was to try to launch an independent cultural magazine, with members outside of the SWP. As Lindsey explained to me at the time, such independence is not allowed, and all such activity has to have the explicit support of the CC.
“Does anyone see the inconsistency here? It was a summary expulsion, and Lindsey, having initiated it, then chaired the control commission that confirmed it. And naturally I was not given the opportunity to defend myself at conference. Given this, I haven’t the faintest idea why these people think the rules should suddenly be changed once it is their turn to be in the firing line.”
Well, that’s all right then, comrade Wilson. Presumably he now agrees that “to try to launch an independent cultural magazine [or cultural evening] with members outside of the SWP” without “the explicit support of the CC” is indeed an expellable offence. Whatever happened to the need for revolutionary initiative?
Another Andy (Andy Newman, writing on his Socialist Unity blog), while sympathising on a personal level with comrade Solomon, says in an article entitled ‘Sometimes expulsions are justified’ that you have to take into account “the context” of her vile crime: “The members of the SWP who carry forward the good work of the organisation are understandably wary of the idea of an interminable guerrilla war from a former clique in the leadership that might jeopardise the ability of their organisation to function effectively.”
You can’t have members criticising each other now, can you?
Mind you, there is some debate over whether or not the leadership will now call a truce in its campaign to eliminate the Left Platform. On the one hand, there are signs that perhaps an accommodation will be arrived at with Rees and co. For example Socialist Worker goes out of its way to appear to concede one of the LP’s main criticisms, when it reports that national secretary Martin Smith “argued that united front work was central, as did a number of delegates in the discussion”. Then there was the “unanimous vote” on the CC’s motion on imperialism and war (Stop the War Coalition is, of course, the LP’s most favoured “united front” and it is good to hear that the CC and LP are in agreement on this key question).
Socialist Worker also reports that “Left Platform … announced that it would dissolve at the end of conference, as the constitution requires.”
However, on the other hand, Party Notes treads more carefully: “Now that the conference is over and the disagreements have been voted on, the Left Platform must disband. The SWP’s constitution makes clear that permanent and secret factions are not allowed.”
Then there are the dire warnings in the period just before conference that the criticism must cease, not to mention the scarcely veiled threats in Pre-conference Bulletin No3 to move against LP people in Sunderland, for instance. And will comrades Rees, German and co really agree to keep their heads down and work quietly within the SWP like the loyal members they are? It hardly seems likely.
In other decisions, conference re-elected the outgoing CC (with the exception of Viv Smith, who was not proposed for re-election). Its number was once more increased to 12, when Joseph Choonara, Amy Leather and Dan Mayer were added to the slate.
As we report elsewhere in this paper, conference also agreed to stand candidates as part of the new Trade Union and Socialist Coalition. However, it also resolved to “build ‘Don’t vote Nazi’ campaigns” - ie, ‘Vote anyone but BNP’ - and “reaffirmed the SWP’s commitment to ‘no platform for fascists’”.
A motion on Scotland was “overwhelmingly carried”, whereby “in the current situation” the SWP would back a vote for separation in a referendum, even though “we reject the arguments that Scotland is an oppressed nation and that an independent Scotland would be more inclined to socialism”.5
- Party Notes January 11.
- solomonsmindfield.blogspot.com/2010/01/my-expulsion-from-swp-has-been-ratified.html, January 10.
- www.socialistunity.com/?p=5119, January 12.
- Socialist Worker January 16.