- Category: SWP Crisis
- Published on Saturday, 29 November 2014
- Written by Tony A, Steven E, Alison L and Kris S
Occasional disclaimer: Sometimes people get the wrong idea about us, so just to be clear this is an article written by some members of the IS Network in response to this piece by other IS Network comrades. Any further discussion on this subject will take place in our discussion bulletin, which will be available to download from this website. The IS Network is a diverse group that welcomes debate and discussion and not all members will agree with everything that is said in any article as we all have minds of our own.
Last year the IS Network published on our website the testimony of a comrade who had experienced rape within the SWP, describing the disgusting way the SWP treated her. In it she wrote: “the SWP is counter-revolutionary and is against the socialist tradition”. We believe this to be true. This is not solely because of the crimes of the SWP - though these are many, with two of the latest examples being:
- Threatening police reprisal against black activists organising a demo of solidarity with a black victim of police violence
- Threatening a student union with libel action
As well as understanding the appalling nature of the SWP's behaviour, it's important also to remember that it is an organisation which demands of its members, publicly at least, complete acceptance of its actions. And over the past several years that has included actions which are misogynist and rape apologist. Other organisations have committed greater crimes, but they are not small, tightly-knit, democratic-centralist groups that insist upon all members publicly supporting every action, every crime. And none of them has the same capacity to systematically and ruthlessly feed off and weaken the organised left in the way the SWP does.
That's why we believe that any actions to promote the SWP (for example selling Socialist Worker, or attempting to recruit people to that group) lead to an increase in the amount of misogyny that women face from within our movement and are therefore acts of misogyny in and of themselves. That's why we stand alongside those who wish to challenge the SWP and to frustrate attempts to reinvent and rehabilitate it.
In any given situation people will choose different methods to achieving this end, and tactical considerations have to be taken into account. As individuals, where we are involved, we will take part in these discussions. We do not propose, however, to offer general advice on what tactics are appropriate in every situation. Such advice is, in our view, unhelpful - it is impossible to do in the abstract, without taking account of specific circumstances and the relevant context. But as well as being at best ineffective, we think offering general advice could have the effect of directing some of the rightful anger currently aimed towards the SWP towards us instead. This could make it impossible to further engage with those resisting them, as we become identified as either on the wrong side or at best an irrelevant nuisance.
We believe the tactics of an organisation are best decided by people involved in that organisation, be it a student union or any other. There is a need to take into account the amount of emotional energy and time people can put into pursuing the goal of combating the SWP, as well as the many other campaigns and actions that they are involved in. Of course, we hope that we will be part of those struggles and be in a position to be listened to, but regardless we stand with those fighting.
We believe that ridding our spaces of a misogynistic, rape apologist organisation is one of the most important political tasks we have. We recognise that there will be setbacks in this struggle, and perhaps it is ultimately unachievable, but trying and being seen to try is crucial. We support all acts which have this as their goal.
- Category: Reviews
- Published on Thursday, 27 November 2014
- Written by Stuart King
The day before I saw 'Hope', a new play about a council making deep cuts in services, I read a profile piece in the Guardian on the Labour leader of Newcastle Council, Nick Forbes. He talked in the interview about the "impossible" service cuts the council faced because of the government's funding cuts.
He said in just one area, social care, Whitehall grants had been cut by 32% while demand had increased by 40%. Having cut £37 million from the budget last year, Newcastle faces a £38 million cut this year, with a further £90 million cuts in the pipeline over the following three years! Little wonder that Forbes predicts social unrest with many public services becoming “completely untenable” in the years ahead. And Newcastle is not alone, the National Audit Office has recently predicted that more than half the councils in England are at risk of financial failure in the next five years.
Jack Thorne’s play, set in a northern English town, opens with the local Labour council leaders sitting down facing just such a scenario. But as with Nick Forbes it never enters the heads of Hillary, the council leader, or her deputy Mark, that there is any alternative to implementing the cuts. They settle down to picking the areas; libraries, street lighting, the swimming pool, museum, centres for the disabled, which they will cut or close completely.
But their plans quickly come unstuck. The proposal to shut the social centre for the disabled, run by Mark’s ex-wife Gina, is leaked and all hell breaks loose. An imaginative campaign to prevent the closure hits the national headlines, thousands sign a petition against it and Miliband is on the phone telling the council they are “polluting Labour’s message” for the election.
So they do what every council does when faced with serious resistance in one area, they retreat on the disabled centre and instead cut two SureStart centres in a predominantly Pakistani and Bangladeshi area of the borough. The resulting row and protests sees clashes between the EDL and the local protesting Asian community. A Pakistani shopkeeper is stabbed to death late at night. “Were the perpetrators white – EDL?” asks Mark. “We don’t know,” replies Sarwan, an Asian councillor, “It was where we had turned the lights off.”
The play follows the characters through both their political and personal crises. Mark, played by The Thick of It actor Paul Higgins, wants to be “a good man” and struggles with his alcoholism, his precociously intelligent son and his sometime partner who is also a councillor and daughter of the ex-leader. The play sometimes feels like a sitcom and makes you wonder why TV hasn’t taken up the challenge of a council-based sitcom; there is plenty of black comedy there for the taking.
The plot takes a dramatic turn when the councillors, pressed by Sarwan, revolt and decide to refuse to set a budget, provoking the government to send in an administrator. Sarwan is convincing when pointing out the class nature of the Tory-Lib Dem cuts “Hart council in Hampshire, the least deprived local authority – net loss of these cuts £28 per person – while in Liverpool district B, the most deprived local authority – net loss £807 per person. How does that make you not want to tear some ones throat out?” Indeed, because this is not just a script but real figures.
While this play is not a political drama of the standard of a David Hare, it certainly is a play of the moment, something the Royal Court Theatre is particularly good at, encouraging young writers and multi-ethnic casts, and pulling in young audiences absent in most West End theatres.
But don’t get your hopes up for a happy ending. These councillors turn out to be as useless in opposition as they were in power. Incapable of mobilising the town and obsessed with returning to “business as normal”. But why should we expect anything different – isn’t this the reality of the Labour Party today?
'Hope' runs at the Royal Court from 26 November to 10 January
- Category: SWP Crisis
- Published on Thursday, 27 November 2014
- Written by Edd B, Kelly R, Tim N, Toni M, Mark B
Occasional disclaimer: Sometimes people get the wrong idea about us, so just to be clear this is an article written by some members of the IS Network. The IS Network is a diverse group and obviously not all members will agree with everything that is said. That applies to all of the articles we produce as our members all have minds of their own and we do not practise democratic centralism.
Feminists on campus are facing new challenges on campus, and are stepping up to meet the challenge. New tactics need to be developed in an attempt to simultaneously contain our opponents and build activist feminist groups.
In very different scenarios, feminists have been forced to consider the role that bans might play in turning back patriarchal power.
The International Socialist Network has been among the most prominent and vocal opponents of the rump-SWP since the rape cover-up. Many of our members were some of the earliest oppositionists inside the party and some of the first to be "pulled by the outside world" and speak openly about what was going on. However, we did not initiate the campaigns for the proposed bans on the SWP. This is an experience without parallel in the last generation of Britain's student, socialist and feminist movements. We are learning from the initiatives taken by feminists on campus. And while we are not convinced that unions banning the SWP can effectively shield students from it, we have some experiences to share and a dedication to standing behind other feminist organisations confronting organised misogyny and rape apologism.
We will not stand with the SWP against feminist campaigns. Socialist feminists must stake out our own turf and avoid collusion with the SWP. Where ban campaigns have momentum, it is important that everyone goes through the experience of understanding the depth of the anger, and explore the options for dealing with what remains of the party. Some SWP members are new recruits who think they are fighting for socialism; they are not hardened cadres. A ban on an entire Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) may not, in most circumstances, be the best option. There are other ways to deal with the SWP - ways that we think are more effective.
Some oppose the bans and no-platform policies proposed against the SWP: they say bans are anti-democratic and they want to protect socialist groups. We think such opposition that relies solely on a moral panic over free speech is mistaken. The SWP is bad for feminism and socialism. Relying on bans and no-platform policies in an institution like a student union is also bad for feminism and socialism. These tactics leave the union leadership as the leading and active element in the struggle against the SWP and its sexism.
After unions make such bans only the bureaucracy will enforce the policy. The risk is that this will kill public political debate on the issue. Grassroots opposition including but not limited to protests at SWP meetings, interventions in SWP meetings, arguing with its remaining activists and providing evidence of their behaviour are more effective. Not only will this be more effective at hastening the eventual demise of the party, but it will be better for feminism. These active grassroots tactics place feminist activists as the active agent in the struggle, not careerist bureaucrats nor the ‘radical bureaucracy’ developing in some parts of the student movement. In public political confrontation with the SWP, feminists will be best placed to recruit and build activist grassroots movements.
Right wing elements in the bureaucracy may attempt to abuse the politics behind the ban and no-platform policies. Here is an example. The NUS brought a safe space concern to the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts as an excuse for dropping out of the 2014 demonstration: the NUS was concerned that the protest would not be a safe space because the SWP would be on the march. The NUS manipulated the policy. That does not mean we oppose safe space politics. However, we should remember that lots of progressive ideas are abused by right wing bureaucrats. They want to wriggle out of events they oppose and shut activists down. The NUS would have dropped out of the demo on another spurious pretext if it couldn't abuse those safe space arguments. The key issue with safer spaces politics is not in the ideology behind safer spaces: it’s the ideology behind those who enforce them. We must keep that in mind, being aware as we struggle for safer spaces. We think safer spaces policies are best enforced by the grassroots, not the bureaucracy. We must be wary of handing weapons to those who may later use them to attack us.
We oppose a moral panic over free speech in student unions: they are member organisations not the state. However, we think we need the highest and most rigorous standards around free speech. Free speech cannot be absolute; it has to be negotiated by our community. We have a duty to provide a secure environment for all. We must have consistent positions on where the limits are, and be very clear and open in the reasons for these limits. We don't think the no-platform policy against the SWP is being applied consistently. A consistent approach could ban most mainstream political parties and the Catholic Church from student unions on the same grounds used for the SWP's ban. A better approach to the SWP and SWSS in student unions is not to shut down the society, nor to ban them. We should support and fight for unions to have decent membership disciplinary policies for misogynistic behaviour. If any SWP or SWSS member in a student union is behaving in a misogynistic way then they should be told to change their behaviour by the union. Failing that, they must be disciplined as a member of the student union, as any normal member would be for misogynistic behaviour.
Alongside challenging individuals, it is also necessary to challenge the SWP as an organisation. We celebrate the wide range of creative and non-violent tactics that have been used to challenge the SWP, to educate people about the rape cover-up and the party’s continued apologism for this tragedy, and to challenge its claims to be a progressive ally of feminism. In learning from these tactics, our experience has been that macho and violent confrontations with the SWP push the party into a dangerously comfortable space that reflects its own culture. Destroying SWP publicity does nothing to educate the key audience for a feminist challenge to the SWP: the people outside the SWP. We have to warn people about the SWP, and to ensure that what happened is never forgotten.
These are the ways we can fight the SWP’s misogyny and help create safer spaces without alienating those who understandably rally to the banner of free speech.
We think many SWSS and SWP activists, especially their new student members, are not aware of, or engaged with, the SWP’s rape apologism; they think they are fighting for socialism, or perhaps have been spun a yarn by the party’s apparatus about destructive sectarians like the IS Network, who tell lies about the party and the awful events of the last few years. Bans could alienate people who are new to the SWP, and bind them more closely together instead of getting them out of the SWP’s orbit. Dealing with individuals, and asking for action against individuals, is a more politically consistent and effective practice in student unions.
There must be spaces where the SWP is not allowed. We would almost certainly not allow the SWP to make interventions into IS Network meetings. However, we think it is a mistake to ban the SWP in student unions and other public institutions.
Many comrades in what remains of SWP can still be debated with. However, the moments of internal opposition have passed. Opposition activists have left; many into rs21 and the IS Network. Bans and no-platform policies will probably further stifle honest discussion in the SWP, and may ultimately be counter-productive as the SWP would use the attempts to ban it to try to regain legitimacy by rallying people around it in a fight for free speech.