has a review of Unhitched
that is neither terrible nor worth getting excited about. It's not malicious, or hot and flustered like the Indy reviewer's attempt at poison penmanship, but it's rather underwhelmed and underwhelming. The best praise I get is that it's a "well-argued but somewhat doughy book". Doughy, my hole.
I've also been interviewed
for the New Left Project about the book:
What was the experience of writing the book like? How did you find immersing yourself in Hitchens' oeuvre?
Well, I got bloody sick of reading Christopher Hitchens. He was at his
best a very fine writer, and a real pleasure to read. But he was not
always at his best, to put it mildly. In fact, when you traverse his
oeuvre you begin to see how repetitive and predictable he could be, as
well as how contradictory. The same one-liners stop being funny; the
inexplicable contradictions start to be frustrating.
Perhaps as interesting as Hitchens's writings was talking to his old
comrades, colleagues and friends. I wanted to speak to a lot more
people, but I think I got enough gossip to stop this from being just a
politically correct attack: it is a politically correct attack with some
real dirt in it. There was one point in writing this where I thought I
would need to do a lot of detective work, to fill in biographical
blanks. But that was distracting me from the purpose, which was a
political analysis of Hitchens and his writing. As a result, I left
some promising seams un-mined: there is plenty left for a would-be
biographer to do.
The latest piece
on the International Socialism blog, a collective effort by IS writers, replies to Alex Callinicos's article
on Leninism and the SWP.
article on the crisis in the SWP purports to be a defence of Leninism in the
face of a ‘flood of attacks’ – by which Alex means the crisis that has engulfed
the party over the mishandled investigation of allegations of rape and sexual
harassment against a Central Committee member.
The piece does
nothing of the sort, but is rather an encapsulation of the flaws that have
brought us to this pass. It is clearly intended as an opening salvo in the CC’s
response to the growing opposition within the party. In particular it draws on
the long tradition of dealing with dissent over particular issues by means of the
absurd implication that that dissent is an attack on the heritage of the October
revolution, accompanied by an airy dismissal of the actual facts. This
maneouvre assumes the following equivalences: that ‘revolutionary party’ means
the model of democratic centralism adopted by the SWP in the 1970s, that this
model replicates that of the Bolsheviks in 1917 and the decisions of the
current leadership therefore embody the legitimacy of that revolution, which we
can expect to be replicated in the conditions of the UK in the 21st
century. This is pure substitutionalism – and on its own measure of providing
‘strong interventionist leadership’ is a complete failure.
My latest for the Guardian
. Eric Pickles announces the government's quiet revolution in local government:
Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, urges local councils to "man up" and accept the "quiet revolution"
the government is implementing. In this process, austerity is bound up
with a set of policies ostensibly devolving power to local authorities.
Councils can increase taxes if they must – but any rise above 2% must be
ratified by a local referendum.
This sly proviso is intended to
provide a pseudo-populist basis for austerity in perpetuity. Just as the
government is using a thin facade of democratisation, with the election
of a single police commissioner, to boost rightwing law-and-order
politics, so it is using the language of devolution to further neuter
To see how this works, it is necessary to
understand the context of Cameronite "localism". Its premises are rooted
in what might be called a neoliberal governmentality – the idea that
through the correct application of market-based incentives, people can
be gradually moulded into neoliberal subjects. People's behaviour,
driven by such incentives, would determine how they thought and felt
about the world. As the French philosopher Louis Althusser once put it,
"Kneel down, move your lips in prayer, and you shall believe."
For those who follow the IS blog already, I don't need to point out that this week has seen a lot of activity. After my own critique of Party Notes
, now commonly referred to as 'Pravda' among members, we learned of one of the ways in which the document had lied
. We have also had a number of exceptional articles challenging the arguments of Central Committee members and loyalists, above all this incisive piece
by Gareth Dale.
As part of our remit of communicating practical information to assist members, we carried a sample motion
for a special conference, and yesterday an update on how many branches have already passed critical motions
, and motions demanding a special conference. This last is essential, because members would otherwise have no way of knowing how far there is to go before achieving that goal. From now on, we will try to give members as much practical, up-to-date information as possible.
On Friday, there was an almost ceaseless stream of open statements by local Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) groups, from Kings College to Manchester, condemning the Central Committee and supporting the opposition. This is hardly surprising given the leadership's willingness to sacrifice SWSS and its successes for the sake of winning its internal battles.
For those interested in critical reflections on the longue duree
, I would refer you to this
intelligent perspective piece by Neil Davidson, which we posted up on Monday. And also, this thoughtful, acerbic article
by our resigned comrade, Tom Walker.
In the week since the IS blog went up, it has had over 170,000 page views.
A review of Unhitched in the Independent taxes your esteemed author in the following way:
"One can only recoil in disgust from someone who first accuses his subject of always seeking to make his enemies appear "unprincipled... mediocre and physically repulsive mountebanks", and who then, smirking, writes "in fairness, Hitchens might have struggled if those standards were applied to him ... It is no surprise that its author delayed his malediction until his victim was safely out of earshot. ... He ignores the prodigious prodigality of Hitchens's writing ... Nor is any mention made by our prosecutor of Hitchens's courage and daring, his devotion to professional duty as well as his crazy adventurousness. ... Its subject was as eloquent, cultivated, exuberant, unstoppable, sheerly gigantic a journalist as British or American politics has known since George Orwell or Walter Lippmann."
Well, as Hitchens once said (plagiarising someone else, I think), anyone who can suck like that need never dine alone.
Thank god for Hitchens's sycophants.
An excerpt from Unhitched
has just been published at Truthdig
“Watching the towers fall in New York,” Hitchens told David Horowitz’s
Frontpage magazine in 2003, “with civilians incinerated on the planes
and in the buildings, I felt something that I couldn’t analyze at first
and didn’t fully grasp.… I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that
this was a feeling of exhilaration. Here we are then, I was thinking,
in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate.
Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the
time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for
that.” As he later affirmed, “a whole new terrain of struggle had just
opened up in front of me.” Recalling “the title of that Orwell essay
from 1940 … ‘My Country Right or Left,’” he thought about the USA: “My country after all.”
So, “shall I take out the papers of citizenship?” Hitchens asked, heart
taking wing like a passenger jet. “Wrong question. In every essential
way, I already have.”...
There is also this rather nice review
I have to hand it to Seymour – this book was a cathartic read. No one uses words like “yawp”,
let alone carefully modulated jazz-like prose, end a subsection with a
cacophony of righteous snark, veer over to an allegory, and then back to
yawping. No one that is, but Richard “Lenin’s Tomb” Seymour.
Gareth Dale writes on the argument that SWP members should "respect the authority of conference"
In the debate that is currently blazing within
the SWP this is the most potent argument in the Central Committee’s arsenal.
For we all agree that the annual conference is the highest institution of our
democracy. The report at the centre of the row, the Disputes Committee report,
was accepted by conference, with 231 votes in favour, 209 against, and 18
recorded abstentions. Nobody, to my knowledge, has disputed the accuracy of the
count. “For the sake of democracy and unity,” the CC argues, “all members must
accept the vote. Just look at the numbers, and read the constitution!”
This argument simply won’t do. Some would say
its flaws go back to the pre-conference discussion period and the management of
conference itself. There were aggregates at which comrades who sought to raise
the issue of the DC report were denied the floor; important information was
withheld from the party prior to conference; comrades were expelled for pre-conference
discussion; a properly formed faction was suppressed; and the factions which
the CC did allow were not given proper factional rights. These are real
concerns. But even if the conduct of pre-conference debate and the organisation
of conference itself had been impeccable, the argument would still be
International Socialism, the new blog set up by SWP members, gained 15,000 page views in its first eight hours of existence. Since going up, it has had three new posts. First, this on moralistic moaning about the internet; then this, in reply to the latest Party Notes; finally, this, important information for all party members.
Speaking of PR flackery, I am grateful to Doug Enaa Greene for this review
what are we to make of Hitchens? Seymour offers this as a closing argument:
He found, as he might
have suspected, that being on the right side of history in this sense was to
gain more influence and pecuniary advantage than ever before. He succumbed to
almost every craven, supine, and bigoted impulse he possessed and, while
despatching the false gods of other believers, adopted a devotional attitude
towards his adopted land. He became “a living and ignominious satire on himself” (p. 110).
sat through the prosecution’s case, one can merely mutter of Christopher
Hitchens, “the guilty bastard”.
The title of the review is a perfect summary, I feel.
SWP members have set up a blog to continue
this debate. Partly this is to extricate the discussion from the
constant PR flackery at Lenin's Tomb, where I'm plugging Unhitched all
the time. It is also to have all the posts and arguments in
one place. Another reason is to emphasise that it is a collective and
not an individual effort, and to remove the hierarchy implied by the
label 'guest post'.
It isn't, as yet, a beautiful blog. It
needs work. I will, of course, continue to post my own contributions
on Lenin's Tomb as well. But you should go to International Socialism
for updates, perspectives and argument on these issues.
We restless and unhappy members of the Socialist Workers' Party are so often cautioned to re-focus our energies on 'the real world'. So it happens to be a problem that in 'the real world', because of a failure of both principle and strategy, we are rapidly becoming toxic for many whom we have built up working relationships with. The latest example: Essex socialist students being isolated and shunned.
I simply ask members this. If you are experiencing this sort of problem directly, what do you think can be done to repair the damage? And do you see any sign of it being done? Has anyone in the leadership offered you any productive advice on what to do? Other than, get your head down and hopefully it will all blow over? If not, how can this be? Isn't it because they, who pride themselves on defending a decisive, 'interventionist' form of leadership, are actually in a bunker composed of their own self-serving rationalisations right now? Isn't it because they have no idea what to tell you, because they refuse to concede that there is a real problem? Isn't it because they are in a state of profound denial about the crisis that befalls us? And what are you going to do about that?
My advice is, for what it's worth, is to pass motions in your branches calling for an emergency conference to address this crisis. That is the first and most important step. Since the matter falls to you to resolve, the least that you can ask for is the means to resolve it.
Sussex & Brighton University SWSS condemns in the strongest possible terms the Disputes Committee’s (DC) recent handling of serious allegations against a leading member of the organisation, the vote which ratified their report at conference, and the subsequent failure of the central committee to address the current crisis.
We note the failure of the DC in this case to carry out their investigative process in an entirely impartial way due to their composition, and the implications this has for any outcome they could have reached. We also reject aspects of the line of questioning of the two female comrades that came forward with the allegations as sexist, and at odds with the principles of our tradition. We recognize that the DC was faced with a difficult situation, with lack of precedent to enable them to handle this effectively. For this we fault the CC’s conduct with respect to W and the concerns she raised over the past few years. We also fault them for their failure to intervene and correct for failings in the DC’s procedure when they were so glaringly obvious, and for what many will see as their intentional misleading of the membership around the issue in past conferences.
To the CC, we say: not only have you failed W, X and every other comrade that might once have trusted in our disputes procedures. You have failed this entire organization, as well as the tradition in which it stands, by absurdly insisting on the shambolic series of fuckups and blunders that have constituted your “political response.” The list of these includes a process of misinformation in the lead-up to this conference and previous ones; banning the faction that tried to use our democratic processes so that comrades could make an informed decision on the DC report’s process; the removal or reshuffling of those CC members and full-timers that aired critical concerns regarding the matter; the moves to suppress debate in the organisation by asking comrades to “draw a line under it”; the expulsion of four comrades for an alleged “Facebook faction” (in practice a Facebook conversation) that is likely no different in content to those serious debates in which comrades are engaged today, in their branches and through other mediums of communication; the political slurs directed at comrades who have openly aired their views, including the unhelpful brandishing of “feminism” as an apparent insult, as well as the wholly disingenuous implication that the problem at hand is a “generational disconnect”; and the concomitant new CC appointment to the Student Office.
The aforementioned cannot be seen as anything but an attempt to “smash” critical studentvoices. These issues, coupled with the poor treatment and lack of support offered to the two female comrades that came forward with such grave allegations, has led to a complete breakdown in the trust we have in your leadership. We express our utmost concern for the fate of this organization and the role we hope we can continue to play, as SWP members, in building a revolutionary organization capable and worthy of leading the struggle against all forms of oppression under capitalist society. It is with this in mind that we write to you today, particularly in lieu of a public statement on SocialistWorker.co.uk that shows a complete disconnect with the political and personal burden your membership has come to bear as result of this fiasco, but more crucially displays an apparent obliviousness to the political reality that comrades are facing in their local unions, campuses and campaigns as a result of this. Recent events have forced us all to take a long look at how we found ourselves to be in this position, faults in our democratic procedures, perhaps a narrowing of space for debate, or a developing culture of political regurgitation and acquiescence and the inevitable lack of accountability that results. It is with the long-term view of how the party got here and what is necessary for us to be able to move forward that Sussex & Brighton University Branch came to an almost unanimous vote of no confidence in the leadership. We will be moving for the current CC’s dismissal from their post at the earliest available party decision-making body and/or conference at which we can do so.
Finally, to our comrades in struggle, to our colleagues and our friends, we would like to express our sincerest apologies for the recent failures of our organisation. We understand the distress and distrust that many of you have expressed as a result of this. We had hoped that the few responses circulated by comrades would offer at least some assurance that members of the SWP are fighting tooth and nail for the principles we share, and this letter should come as confirmation that Sussex & Brighton SWSS are no exception to this. We ask you to bear with us, to give us the opportunity to exhaust this line of enquiry, this line of protest, to allow us to fight for the very relevance (if not existence) of the organization that has equipped us to become the principled revolutionaries that you know us to be. And in turn we assure you that we will continue to uphold the proud tradition we stand in, that we will continue to fight oppression in our society in all its forms and variants and that we shall never dismiss or shy away from the criticisms and concerns of those in the movement and in the class as a whole.
We Call for:
1) An emergency conference, so that this organization may resolve this political crisis in a way that holds accountable those responsible and gives the membership the clarity and confidence needed to implement our political strategy moving forward.
2) An immediate public response that can provide clarity around the failures of the DC’s due process.
3) Delta to be removed from any official or public position within our organization, particularly given disagreement on the DC with respect to the question of Delta’s conduct.
4) The DC to resign their posts. Although we acknowledge the difficult situation the DC was faced with, we argue that their ability to carry out their functions as mandated by conference has been undermined by recent events. It remains the case that many members, including Comrade X, will not feel confident in taking their disputes to the current DC in light of recent events.
The Guardian's Review section carries my latest article about Unhitched. It'll be in the print edition tomorrow:
""To be able," wrote the late Christopher Hitchens, "to bray that 'as a liberal, I say bomb the shit out of them,' is to have achieved that eye-catching, versatile marketability that is so beloved of editors and talk-show hosts. As a life-long socialist, I say don't let's bomb the shit out of them. See what I mean? It lacks the sex appeal, somehow. Predictable as hell." That was in 1985.
In 2002, he took a different view of the matter. As long as the bombs were hitting the bad guys, then "it's pretty good because those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else … They'll be dead, in other words."
Predictable as hell or not, this transfiguration placed Hitchens (pictured in 1978) in a recognisable category: the left-wing defector with a soft-spot for empire..."
In These Times generously reviews Unhitched:
"By the time of his death in December 2011, Christopher Hitchens had built a status perhaps outstripping that of any contemporary intellectual: His passing was considered worthy of the New York Times’ front page, and he was mourned by Tony Blair, Sean Penn, David Frum and Patrick Cockburn, among others. It is from this altitude that he is yanked down by Richard Seymour in the clever, incisive Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens. The slim critique of Hitchen’s ouevre focuses on his engagement with British politics and literature, his work on religion and his double-armed embrace of American imperialism.
Though only 35, Seymour has made a name for himself as a thoughtful political analyst, notably in his book The Liberal Defence of Murder, on how the language of humanitarianism helps camouflage imperialism, and on his blog Lenin’s Tomb, an indispensible source for analysis of neoliberalism, the War on Terror and Islamophobia. Ironically, Seymour’s literary style often evokes that of Hitchens at his best. Some of Seymour’s turns of phrase are positively Hitchensian, such as his opening salvo in the introduction to Unhitched: “This is unabashedly a prosecution. And if it must be conducted with the subject in absentia, as it were, it will not be carried out with less vim as a result.”
And when writing in the prosecutorial mode, Seymour has, like his subject, a gift for reeling off an entire firing squad’s worth of bullets in a single sentence: “Hitchens was a propagandist for the American empire, a defamer of its opponents, and someone who suffered the injury this did to his probity and prose as so much collateral damage.” Seymour is also a Trotskyist, as Hitchens once was. But there the comparisons end, because Seymour is plainly a caliber of intellectual that his subject is not."
I'll take that, thank you.
Guest post by China Mieville:
Members of the SWP must understand what is at stake in the crisis rocking our organization. Not only is there already a steady outflow of members resigning in disgust at this farrago and its handling by the leadership, but now other organizations of the left are becoming hesitant about working with us, and in some cases are openly boycotting and censuring us.
This is a call to members to stay and fight. It is also to urge that we do so without illusions about the nature of the fight that we face.
Many of us have argued strongly that catastrophic errors of principle and process on the part of the leadership have taken us to this. But even those who – I firmly believe wrongly – disagree about this must recognise the situation we are in. This has rapidly also become a catastrophe for us strategically. Our name is becoming toxic. Our credibility as a collective and as individual activists is being grossly compromised, and is on the verge of being permanently tainted. We all know the allegations that any future potential recruit who takes two minutes to research us online will read. The hoary accusations of the loyalists that those of us expressing concerns are looking ‘inward’ to ‘blogland’ and are not in the ‘real world’ have never looked so pitiful as they do now. This is a real world, acute crisis, of the leadership’s making.
As we ‘dissidents’ have repeatedly stressed, the fact that we are on the verge of permanently losing our credibility is irrespective of the truth or otherwise of the allegations of rape and sexual harassment. (These, of course, deserve sensitive and appropriate examination in their own right.) This fact inheres in the grotesque and sexist nature of the questions posed to the accusers; in the ‘wagon-circling’ attitude of the leadership and its loyalists; in the failures and evasions of accountability that meant the processes involved could ever have been thought appropriate; and now in the belief-beggaringly inadequate and arrogant response of the CC to the greatest crisis we have ever faced. These are all political failings of astonishing proportions.
We must not only deal with this but be seen publicly to be dealing with it. A ‘quiet revolution’ will be no revolution at all. There is one chance to save the SWP, and to do so means reclaiming it. We must be the party whose membership saw that there was a catastrophe unfolding, refused to heed our own failed leadership’s injunctions to fall into line, and reclaimed the party and the best elements of our IS tradition. If we fail in this, the SWP is finished as a serious force.
We must understand that these are extraordinary times and require extraordinary measures. Members’ usual – and usually understandable and honourable – instincts to show discretion and to trust their leadership are not only inadequate, they are counterproductive. This leadership does not deserve our trust, and our discretion now only serves them.
We must consolidate our efforts. We need to communicate with each other. It is invaluable to pass motions in branches censuring our CC and above all – this is critical – calling for an extraordinary conference. However, these motions must be publicized to the wider membership. This is not the time for private letters to the CC, for appeals to their wisdom, for concerned words to our district organizers. Such methods are part of the system that got us here. Comrades must go public, and link up with others attempting to salvage the honour of the tradition in which we fight.
Of course taking matters to the branches and discussing them there is vital. However, the allegation often made by loyalists that to also discuss them with the wider membership is somehow inappropriate or disloyal is wrong at any time, and utterly absurd now. The CC itself, in its shameful document ‘For an Interventionist Party’, defending the recent expulsion of four comrades for ‘secret factionalism’, claims that ‘[m]embers of the SWP are of course free to discuss face-to-face or online’. (This, incidentally, is a lie: as recently as the 2009 conference, those arguing for democratic renewal were denounced from the podium by a CC member for discussing our concerns on email.) Even according to the CC’s own ad-hoc positions, in other words, members are free to discuss with all others, including by email, Facebook or whatever, the nature of the crisis facing us, and how we fix it. And discuss we must.
By far the lion’s share of blame for our parlous situation lies squarely with the CC and its loyalists. However, none of us can avoid hard questions. What got us here was not merely the failures of this particular CC, but of our structures. These structures concealed from the members perfectly legitimate debate within the party; pathologised dissent on the CC and among the membership; and at worst legitimated whispering campaigns and bullying against members considered ‘troublemakers’. We could have stopped this train wreck at an earlier stage if the membership had been able and ready to call bullshit on the CC’s bullshit.
To overthrow these problems requires, among other things, a huge shift in internal culture. This, of course, is not possible in isolation from the structures that we have worked under. These have enabled the CC’s top-down and dissent/discussion-phobic style and mistrust of the membership; and among the membership itself have encouraged a damaging culture of deferral to the leadership.
This vicious cycle must be broken. To renew our party, in other words, must mean to trust in the membership, to encourage independent thought and comradely discussion. This in turn will enable the members not only to select the leadership we deserve, but to hold them to account in a way both we and they deserve.
Accordingly, not only is this fight one for the SWP’s survival as an interventionist force, but it is one that can only be won by a root-and-branch rethinking of how we operate. The scale of this catastrophe of their own making is slowly dawning on the leadership. It is inevitable that they will start to offer some kind of carrot-and-stick response, likely designed to minimize changes to the structures to which they have shown themselves wedded. We must be clear on the scale of what is needed. The removal of one or two people from positions of prominence would clearly be inadequate.
Our starting point must be public and immediate calls for an emergency conference. We must urgently mobilize our branches to pass motions making this call. To emerge from this catastrophe with credibility, at this conference we must demand:
• The immediate reinstatement of the four recently expelled comrades.
• The removal of this CC and Disputes Committee. By their stunning miscalculations, they have shown themselves to be inadequate to their tasks. They must go.
• A thoroughgoing reexamination of the structures of party democracy and accountability, to ensure that the culture of mistrust of the membership and closed ranks on the CC that created this situation in the first place cannot happen again.* This must include an expanded CC and one which airs its internal disagreements openly.
• Formal mechanisms for encouraging internal communications among all members, allowing them to air dissent, concern, uncertainty, as well as information, analysis and support.**
Such renovations will address the terrible situation in which we find ourselves. They should also encourage a spirit of comradely discussion and theoretical open-mindedness, allowing us to act as a pole of attraction for all those fighting for emancipation. This does not mean diluting our Marxism: it should mean invigorating it.***
The fight for the soul of the SWP is on now. The only hope of reclaiming a party on the brink of political annihilation is political audacity.
*I have made no secret of my own proposals for this, including, e.g., an at-least temporary end to the slate system. This is argued not on principle, but because that system has in our party become a shibboleth for forces of conservatism and top-down leadership.
**Many comrades see the end on the ban on permanent factions as indispensable for this. Another invaluable way forward, in my opinion, would be a regular internal bulletin.
***As for example when we began to address the lacunae in our approach to homosexuality by learning from the best wings of the gay liberation movement. Currently, we must end a situation where, for example, ‘feminism’ is used by some loyalists as a diss.
For the Attention of the SWP Central Committee
am writing to express my condemnation of the process used by the
leadership of the SWP to deal with an allegation of rape. As the shop
steward at Scottish Women's Aid I am horrified that the leadership of
the SWP - of which I have been a member for 18 years - thought that it
was in a position to investigate a serious crime such as rape. Would the
DC have investigated a murder? I would guess not, but then what does
that say about the level of seriousness with which the CC and DC treat
The series of decisions
made by the CC and the DC around the processes for dealing with this
allegation of rape and their inability to either pull back from them
when they started to go wrong, or to respond reasonably to criticism
after the fact (despite access to a very clear analysis of what was
wrong with the decisions made) indicate a real lack of understanding of
rape, its definition and its consequences.
addition to my concerns about the sheer inappropriateness of some of
the lines of questioning -as raised by many others - I have a more
general concern about the lack of specialism in the DC which is required
when dealing with rape victims, and the separate set of specialist
skills required when investigating rape when there is only one word
against another. This allegation is about rape and sustained abuse
within a relationship with a huge power imbalance rather than for
example an isolated incident. My point is not that certain types of rape
are more or less serious others. My point is that the investigators
were not trained in understanding and investigating the different
manifestations of violence against women and the various responses
required depending on the experience of the woman.
do reject the bourgeois system of justice but in this case aspects of
the bourgeois process were used, and having read the available documents
relating to this case it is not convincing that there was a there a
clear analysis and understanding of what aspects of an investigatory and
quasi-judicial process were accepted and which were rejected. Clear
decisions around process needed to be made and then fully explained to
the complainant so that she was aware of what exactly she was getting
into, its limitations and how effective it could possibly be in terms of
her need for a resolution and could make her own choice on that basis.
shambolic playing at investigator, judge and jury held a real risk of
ruining someone's life and it is no thanks to the leadership of the SWP
and only testimony to the woman's strength if it hasn't.
response of the CC following the leaking of documents onto the internet
and the subsequent media publicity has been the shamefully offensive
"Statement by the Central Committee in response to attacks on the
party". This document is only further evidence of the failures of this
"Had the Disputes
Committee believed that the accused person was guilty, it would have
expelled him from the SWP immediately." This statement alone sums up my
point. Really? Do you think this could be an adequate response to rape?
No responsibility to any other woman who might be at risk?
This document also states:
this case had been raised within a trade union or any other
organisation there would be no question that the matter should be
treated with complete confidentiality. This basic principle should also
apply in this case."
confidentiality should apply; however, confidentiality really isn't the
issue here. The decisions you made and the way in which you handled the
investigation are the issues. Focusing on confidentiality is a poor
attempt to obscure the failings of the process and close down the
As anyone who works in
an organisation or operates in a trades union knows full well this
matter would NOT have been dealt with through internal mechanisms. The
procedures for investigating disciplinary matters or disputes between
colleagues are not used by organisations or trades unions to investigate
serious crimes. How could you not know that? Or are you just assuming
that a sheepish membership will accept this untruth?
by your own terms you failed to follow the "basic principles" of a
standard trade union process. I would refer you to ACAS good practice
guidelines in terms of appointing individuals to panels that don't have a
personal connection with the individuals involved in the dispute being
The introductory statement to the document is also untrue:
series of attacks on the party have appeared over the last few days -
many in newspapers which are the sworn enemies of women's liberation and
Most of the
attacks on the actions of the CC and the DC are not in newspapers which
are the 'sworn enemies of women's liberation'. Again, why lie to us? It
does your position no good at all - most of us do have access to the
internet. The issue at hand for the membership is never what the
enemies of women's liberation and workers' rights say about us and to
us, but rather how we can hold our head up and explain our actions and
decisions with integrity to the world outside of the party with which we
come into contact on a day to day basis. Your actions have seriously
damaged the party's integrity and members' ability to operate.
it is false to claim that the party is somehow immune from sexism.
There is no theoretical or evidence basis for making this claim.
have seriously considered my position in the party over the last few
days. I know many others who feel the same way that I do. I have
decided I want to stay a member, however I can only remain as a member
of the SWP on the basis that action is taken to remedy this:
· Conference must be recalled and the entire CC and DC need to resign.
There needs to be an immediate and public apology to both of the women
who made complaints including an acknowledgment of the mishandling of
their complaints, and
· An immediate apology must be made to the membership of the SWP who have been shockingly let down by their leadership.
I would appreciate a sensible and thoughtful response to this letter.
SWP Edinburgh Branch
Shop Steward, Scottish Women's Aid
Unite CYWNfP Edinburgh Branch Committee
Unite CYWNfP Regional Industrial Sector Committee, Scotland.
Guest post by Nora J:
Serious questions have been raised about our party over the
matters of the disputes committee, conference, expulsions and internal
democracy generally, which have also led to wider reflection on our traditions
and theoretical approach. My experience
of conference – during which I was a member of the democratic centralist
faction – was extreme frustration and concern.
In light of other discussions which have been taking place, I decided to
submit some thoughts on the party’s approach to women’s liberation.
Firstly, despite this crisis, the SWP remains the best potential mechanism through which sexism
and oppression of all types can be meaningfully fought in the interests of
everyone. Reading Lindsay German and
learning Marxist tradition are sure fire ways of getting a solid grounding in
how it is that woman’s oppression came to exist, and continues to be
propagated. But trends in feminist
thought have developed in quantity and quality since the development of what continues
to be the party’s ‘line’ on women’s liberation, which seems to have become
frozen at the time Women’s Voice was dismantled. What women understood by the terms ‘feminism’
and ‘patriarchy’ thirty years ago was considerably different to what is understood
by many women engaged in the movement today, and the continual rehashing of an outdated
and reductive account of oppression at every meeting, rally and conference is
serving to alienate good activists from Marxism and broader campaigns.
This is not to suggest that we need to incorporate aspects
of all feminist thought, and it is correct to reject the most bourgeois strains
from Naomi Woolf et al. Trends in
post-modernist thought, and the rejection of class-based narratives over the
last few decades, have arguably led to the fracturing of the movement against
oppression into a competition based on ‘privilege’. These notions are as much a product and
reflection of the divided society in which we live, as the good
homemaker/lover/mother/careerist/sex object constructed by a society in which
many reforms for women have been achieved.
But by rejecting ideas which do not neatly slot into our tradition (as
stated by any number of bashed up old pamphlets to be found on your nearest
paper sale) we are missing a wealth of experience and historical lessons which
should be incorporated into the struggle.
I recently started a degree, and was stunned to discover a
whole new world of intersectionality, gender politics, and critical studies of
which I had been unaware. I felt
unequipped by what I had learnt so far during 8 years of membership to meet
these new analyses head on. Now I feel
like I exist in two discourses; a classical Marxist tradition - and the
language and ideas I have had to develop to be able to continue to apply Marxist
ideas in my studies, in talking and activity with other students, and in making
sense of new understandings of oppression. I do not believe the latter conflicts with the
former, but there is no space to discover how they interrelate within the party
at the moment.
At first this was
very confusing, and I was concerned that I was becoming lost in an abstraction
from working class struggle. But the
more I learn, the more I fear it is our tradition which has become abstracted,
ossified, and increasingly obstructive.
The impact is not just theoretical; if our backwardness impacts our
analysis, it must inevitably affect our activity as well as our ability to
function as a revolutionary party.
Arguments for engaging with new ideas are not evidence of
‘creeping feminism’ – this charming epithet stinks of reactionary fear and a
desperate to clinging on to ideas which come from the top down. Engagement should involve hard polemic defence
of a historical materialist analysis and the recognition of the limits of
reform. But whilst this isn’t happening,
there is a whole world of ideas out there from which the membership is largely
excluded. The aim of our publications
has been to bring forward ideas in an accessible manner so that all members can
engage with and deepen their understanding of what Marxism has to say about
society. The dearth of good writing - both
from and about women - in our publications is shameful. The removal of Hannah Dee from the central
committee – at short notice and with no proper justification – is alarming for
members (especially students) who strongly identified with her work. The recent handling of the disputes case has
not only raised serious concerns, but triggered all sorts of damaging
rumours. Members are pitted against
members and our common goals risk being forgotten due to the party’s failure to
deal with this situation…not due to comrades who express concern or dissent.
The party needs to engage enthusiastically with the ideas
which the broader womens’ liberation movement is developing in order to learn
from them, to keep our party current, and to try to win them to Marxist ideas. The party also needs to look seriously at how
it reaches out to working class women.
Engagement with academic trends is not sufficient, and the difficulties
of the task are no excuse for avoiding genuine consideration of how this can be
The Christian Science Monitor
gives some welcome coverage to my upcoming book, Unhitched
Controversy always seemed to follow Christopher Hitchens.
In its latest iteration, controversy has followed the late polemicist,
now the center of controversy in a new book, to his grave.
In “Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens,” political activist and author Richard Seymour employs a unique technique to shred Hitchens’s political philosophy to pieces: Seymour puts the late writer on trial.
“It is written in the spirit of a trial,” Seymour tells the UK’s Guardian.
“I do attempt to get a sense of the complexity and gifts of the man,
but it is very clearly a prosecution, and you can guess my conclusion.”
Did you get that? Controversy.
That was quick! The Guardian
interviewed me this morning about Unhitched, now here's the article
Christopher Hitchens will go on trial later this month in a "highly critical" new book which interrogates the late polemicist's politics and argues that this celebrated left-wing firebrand became an "amanuensis" of the George W Bush administration in his last years.
activist and author Richard Seymour's Unhitched: The Trial of
Christopher Hitchens is out on 28 January and promises to cast "a cold
eye over the career of the 'Hitch' to uncover an intellectual
trajectory determined by expediency and a fetish for power". "It is
written in the spirit of a trial," said Seymour. "I do attempt to get a
sense of the complexity and gifts of the man, but it is very clearly a
prosecution, and you can guess my conclusion."
will address how Hitchens moved from a "career-minded socialist" to,
post 9/11, a "neoconservative 'Marxist'", said its radical publisher
Verso, and "an advocate of America's invasion of Iraq filled with
passionate intensity". At one point, Seymour describes Hitchens as the
"George W Bush administration's amanuensis", and argues "that not only
was Hitchens a man of the right in his last years, but his predilections
for a certain kind of right-wing radicalism – the most compelling
recent example of which was the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq –
pre-dated his apostasy".
Guest post by Keith Watermelon:
My intention in this article is to give an overview of how this crisis
has developed inside the party, of what I believe to be its roots, and to
hopefully go some way to proposing practical solutions to the very precarious
position in which we now find ourselves.
I first became aware of the very serious nature of the allegations
against Comrade Delta in late Autumn 2012 (not long after they had been made);
as a result of a number of comrades, most of whom I have known for several
years, contacting me to express their understandable grave concern. It immediately became clear to me that the
information comrades had been given at the 2011 SWP Conference – that Comrade
Delta had had an affair which had ended but that he had continued to hassle the
woman (now referred to as Comrade W) afterwards – was quite seriously
inaccurate. It adds insult to injury to
recall that the session in which we were given this misleading information at
the 2011 conference was turned into a kind of Delta love-in, culminating in a
standing ovation for him (even at this stage it was effectively a standing
ovation for having an affair) – but this demonstrates the effect that
stage-managing a conference can have.
Some party members resigned in protest at this time.
Returning to late 2012 – those of us were in contact around this issue
shared serious concerns about, and began to discuss how we could ensure the
party deal with the matter satisfactorily.
Some of those involved in these discussions shared information passed to
them on how the investigation had been conducted. We were also aware that Comrade X had been
removed from her party job following her complaint against Comrade Delta. These discussions took place on Facebook as a
matter of convenience – most of us lived at opposite ends of the country; our
aim was to attempt to ensure there could be no hint of unfairness in the
investigation; we were also acutely aware of the damage that would likely be
done to the party and the wider left if this was not resolved in a fair and
satisfactory way, as we viewed it as inevitable that it would eventually be
leaked beyond the party. Tragically, our
worst predictions now appear to be coming true.
Fast forward to mid-December, and four of the participants in the above
Facebook conversation (who incidentally had never all even met each other
before) received emails from the Central Committee advising them that they had
been summarily expelled from the party for 'organising, and taking part in, a
secret faction' – at the absolute best, this could be characterised a massive
overreaction; in my view it was actually an attempt to stifle dissent over the
handling of the allegations against Comrade Delta. It is also worth noting that two of the
expelled had recently written constructive critiques of party democracy,
structures and organisation within the party's internal bulletins. Elsewhere, comrades who had written critical
articles within these bulletins were blocked from conference through other comrades
making unsubstantiated accusations of 'factionalism' against them at party
pre-conference meetings. To this day, I
have yet to ascertain why I wasn't expelled with them, although the expulsions
of four of the participants in these conversations rather than all or none of
us is suggestive of a bureaucratic calculation rather than a political decision
(I will return to this theme later).
We responded to these expulsions, which happened just a couple of weeks
prior to Xmas and with few branch meetings left between then and conference, by
initiating a petition calling for the reinstatement of the 'Facebook
Four'. This gathered around 160
signatures from party members prior to conference. After a discussion, we also agreed to form an
official faction, to oppose the expulsions, to demand the way the investigation
into Comrade Delta was handled be reviewed, and to support very simple
alterations to the party's democratic structures in the light of these
developments. Around 120 party members
joined the Democratic Opposition, with a similar number joining the Democratic
Centralist Faction, formed a few days later – factions of this size being
unprecedented in the party.
A full review of the faction is a matter for another article. But suffice to say the Central Committee, and
its most loyal supporters inside the party (who some comrades understandably
refer to as 'party hacks'), reacted terribly to this. Comrades joining factions were smeared as
'undemocratic' (I have no idea how joining an official faction is anything
other than an utterly democratic act); and our first meeting saw the spectacle
of 3 members of the CC and the 'hacks' behaving in a deeply undemocratic manner
(namely, by arriving in large numbers, heckling comrades and, rather than listen
to our concerns, to lecture us on why we were, in their eyes, wrong). I was warned by party full-timers (who were
convinced there would be further reprisals against faction members) that I
should 'keep my head down' – an absurd state of affairs within a revolutionary
Without going into all the details of conference, the votes were tight,
despite Democratic Opposition members being given little in the way of speaking
rights (and indeed misled over these – we were promised speaking rights in one
session in particular, but then not called).
This included being denied any right to speak on the expulsions, despite
the faction being formed around these very issues. The Disputes Committee session was of course
the most important session regarding the discussion now taking place both in
and outside the party, and the votes were very tight (239 for, 209 against, 18
abstentions and about 50 delegates not voting at all) despite a dirty tricks
campaign from the central committee which included denying the comrades
involved in the case the right to circulate a statement to party members, even
as an official faction.
The day after conference, the transcript of the Disputes Committee
session was leaked to a sectarian website.
Whoever was responsible has attempted to use this affair, which I view
as a botched rape investigation, for political gain. This is reprehensible (and indeed despite
requests from Comrade W, Andy Newman, who runs said sectarian blog, refused to
remove the transcript from his blog).
This marked what those of us involved in the Facebook conversation had
feared and had worked to avoid – the matter not being dealt with adequately at
conference and then being leaked into the public domain. Four days later, this story started to appear
in the bourgeois press. The first
article, by Laurie Penny in the New Statesman, was in my view comradely in tone
and essentially urged SWP members to sort out the situation. Unsurprisingly, the articles that followed in
the Independent, The Daily Mail and The Sunday Times, were far less
friendly. However, we should be clear
that the fault here lies with the SWP Central Committee, not with some external
force, for creating this situation,
To date, the Central Committee has not given comrades any advice on how
to respond to questions around this which have inevitably arisen in workplaces,
trade unions, colleges, and from families and friends. All we are told is 'the matter is now
closed'. In short, the Central Committee
has failed to provide even a modicum of leadership over the issue. A number of comrades have resigned from the
party – I urge anyone thinking of doing this to reconsider, and to stay and
Meantime, attempts by long-standing party members to smear Comrades X
and W continue. At a recent meeting, one
party worker compared the allegations against Comrade Delta to Lenin being
accused of being a German spy. The
implication of this analogy is horrific – that these two women are liars. This is slut-shaming, and has no place in any
socialist organisation. And Comrade
Delta continues to act as a public face of the SWP. But what is behind us reaching this
situation, which places the very future of the party in question?
The Bureaucracy, The Rank and File and all that
The SWP has a particular understanding of the role of the bureaucracy
within trades unions. We view them as
neither workers nor bosses, but rather as a vacillating force between the
two. The bureaucrat is insulated from
the day-to-day life of the worker – of having the boss breathing down their
neck, and from the collective interest that workers have within
workplaces. They depend for their
continued existence, this insulation, and the level of prestige they hold, on
the continuation of the capitalist system – if there were no longer any
capitalist class to negotiate with, there would no longer be any need for the
bureaucrats. Nothing terrifies a
bureaucrat more than being chucked back into the same world the rest of us, as workers,
inhabit. There is an old story of an RMT
NEC member many years ago (before Bob Crow) who wished to support a strike
ballot that the General Secretary opposed.
The General Secretary advised him that if he did so, he'd be back
working on the tracks within days. The
NEC member withdrew his support for the ballot.
And it is this recognition that the interests of the bureaucracy are
not those of the working class that leads us as revolutionary socialists to
believe the only truly effective way to organise inside trades unions is on a
rank and file basis. We are with the
bureaucrats for as long as they support our demands – we fight without them
when they don't. And we recognise a
bureaucratisation that takes place when workers are removed from the shop floor
– which is why, for example, it is officially only in exceptional circumstances
that SWP members are allowed to take elected trade union positions on 100%
facility time. Because we recognise that
you cannot act in the interests of the working class if you exist separately
from it. I want to illustrate that a
failure to apply this analysis to the SWP itself is at the root of many of the
problems we now face.
While very limited steps have been taken in recent years to address
this, the Central Committee is made up almost entirely of full-time party
workers (and it is notable that of the two CC members removed from the
preferred slate 48 hours before conference, one is a respected trade unionist
and the other is centrally involved in arguably the broadest united front the
party is engaged in). This is a
separation from the outside world, and the experiences of the membership. Worse, the slate system as currently
constituted is designed to prevent any alternative leadership from emerging –
as we are told to correct any error we must replace the CC wholesale; very
difficult if they are also the party workers who run the apparatus. As pretty much the only way to be elected to
the CC is to be nominated by the existing CC, this means CC members owe their
positions to the other CC members, not to the party membership. And this means that, despite the party's
Democracy Commission passing policy in favour of it, disagreements on the CC
are not aired in front of the party membership, but rather are usually dealt
with privately, with the first most members know of it being when a CC member
mysteriously disappears off the slate. I
would argue the loyalty to each other this creates amongst CC members leads to
many situations, such as those around Comrade Delta and the expulsions of the
Facebook Four, being dealt with bureaucratically and behind closed doors and
then presented to the party as a fait accompli.
Party policies and 'turns' are decided in similar fashion, with a
National Committee or Party Council presented with a CC document that is discussed
and then invariably approved, usually without any discussion in the wider
party, let alone the class.
This also has the effect of encouraging sycophancy, Comrades who wish to develop their standing
in the party, be selected for slates in trade union elections, be added to the
CC themselves, or be touted as a public speaker, do so by developing a position
of ultra-loyalty to the CC (these are the party members who some refer to as
'hacks'. Party workers are all appointed
by the CC, not by the membership, and are threatened with the sack if they dare
venture their own political ideas that run contrary to those of the CC. All of this has more in common with the
organisation of Stalinist Parties than with the libertarian roots of the IS
tradition. The party actually starts to
become the caricature painted of it by sectarians and red-baiters.
At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like. A number of CC members are big fans of jazz
music. Under their leadership over the
past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz
gigs as fundraising events. Regardless
of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they
didn't purchase tickets. This elevates
the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political
principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs.
What is to be Done?
“A fish”, as Tony Cliff was fond of saying, “rots from the head
down”. And so rotten is the party
leadership now that it has been unable to offer any leadership or direction to
comrades regarding the Comrade Delta issue.
The role of leadership must therefore be taken up by the membership; who
must sweep aside not just the Central Committee, but also the bureaucratic
structures within the party that give rise to this horrific situation. This means it is incumbent upon the
membership to demand a recall conference (which constitutionally requires the
support of 20% of the branches), with a very open remit; to openly and publicly
admit the very grave error that has been made, and to make all changes
necessary to how the party operates to ensure that this situation cannot be
repeated. The issues surrounding this
(both on women's liberation, and on what kind of party we need) should be
discussed openly in the pages of Socialist Worker, and should include the views
of those outside the SWP. And comrades
should be encouraged to debate these matters within the wider labour movement. We cannot hope to build a party fit to lead
the working class if we decide our policies and courses of action separately
from the working class.
This is why this article has a deliberately provocative title. The entire working class has an interest in
what happens in the SWP, and we should not be scared of the views of other
socialists. This is why I welcome the
articles that have appeared on the internet from members of both the Canadian
International Socialists and the American International Socialist Organisation. No discussion, unless it is specifically
around personal or possibly illegal matters, should be conducted in private and
away from the class or movement. I want
to know what other socialists think.
Clearly, this also means the party needs a certain breadth. Rather than the present CC's approach of slamming
comrades with differing views as 'feminists', 'syndicalists', 'autonomists'
etc; we should value and encourage differing strands of opinion within the
party, as this will aid us in deciding how we should operate. Many of those committed to women's liberation
will at present be justifiably viewing the party, and the wider left, with some
suspicion. In my view, the revolutionary
left should be the natural home of feminism, and it is a great shame that the
prospects for this risk being irreparably damaged if we do not change
course. One of the first steps toward
repairing this damage would also be to reinstate the Facebook Four, and open
the gates of the party to many of those who have been expelled or forced out of
the party by the CC and the various turns the party has made over the past
30-odd years (including a number of comrades who have resigned in the past
couple of years in relation to the Comrade Delta incident). Our tradition is not one based on orthodoxy,
and so those orthodoxies that have developed (such as our response to women's
liberation movements) must be vigorously challenged, and jettisoned if they are
no longer useful to the class struggle as a whole.
Comrades, this is a call to arms.
We have a relatively short window before the fish rots below the neck,
and the party is irreparably damaged.
Even if you haven't been to a branch meeting in some time, speak to
members of your branch, get to your branch meeting; and push for a recall
conference and the steps necessary to save the SWP – we need your input in
order to chart a route out of this crisis.
This is vital – the SWP remains, for all I've said, the best thing the
British working class has at its disposal.