Expulsions, exclusions, and “punishments”

Submitted by Matthew on 5 March, 2014 - 12:46

Some union branches which previously nominated SWP members as left candidates in union elections have not done so this year.

The motive is to register a protest against the SWP’s 18 months or so of crass mishandling of charges of sexual harassment and then rape against a leading organiser.

Some of those refusing to nominate explain that in the actual vote between an SWPer and a right-winger, they will vote for the SWPer. The refusal to nominate is intended as a gesture of reprimand.

It’s not clear if any significant number of left-wing union activists actually intend to vote for the right-wingers, or abstain, when an SWPer is the left candidate in a union run-off.

Such a vote or abstention would be foolish. It would help the right wing, which is surely no better than the SWP on sexism, and worse on direct class-struggle issues. It would probably consolidate people in or close to the SWP in their closeness if it looks to them as if the main critics are people who don’t care about helping notorious sell-out operators in the unions.

The “refusal to nominate” is on a different level, but doesn’t seem very productive. If a union branch nominates an SWPer who is the only left candidate in a union contest, but links that with sending him or her a letter saying it has nominated despite concerns, and asks for a response to those concerns, that will help more.

The flat “refusal to nominate” will be noticed by most union members only in the right-wing candidate’s list of nominations comparing a bit better with the left candidate's.

The preferable and the fundamental answer is to create left-wing forces in the unions better than the SWP (and win over current SWP members to them).

Short of that, sometimes we have better left candidates and back them against SWPers; sometimes we back a candidate against an SWPer who, while having a basic class-struggle allegiance, is in formal terms to the “right” of the SWPer but is more reliable, less capricious.

Those things are true now as they have always been. If the row in the SWP spurs more union leftists to pull forward better left candidates, that’s good.

But in the cases, still numerous enough, where an SWPer is in fact the left candidate, and the alternative is in fact a clear right-winger, it should also be true now as ever that we vote with the left.

We will change the left only by participating in it, not by excluding ourselves; by pressing for unity in action where there is common ground, and honest debate on differences.

ISO excludes minority

In mid-February the International Socialist Organization (ISO) of the USA first excluded its small "Renewal Faction" from its convention and then expelled it.

The conflict between the faction and the majority apparently reached a peak over charges of sexual assault by one ISO member on another.

According to the RF, the ISO leadership was guilty of "year-long inaction" and "acted in a negligent and effectively sexist way". The ISO retorts that "the accused was suspended from the ISO, pending an investigation; resigned before the investigation was completed; and was formally expelled".

A US leftist blogger says the RF "was started by a brocialist [socialist with a 'bro' manner, thinking he's so cool he can't possibly be sexist] asshole who got upset that people were asking him to stop treating the women in the branch like shit and then left, only to come back... the Faction got tainted by this spirit of spite from the get-go..."

We can make no judgement from this distance on the rights and wrongs. Revolutionary socialist organisations must uphold their members' rights, including against abuse by other members; but they have to be realistic about their limited ability to run counselling and investigatory systems, and that may mean slippages and delays even in the best organisation.

More generally, the RF claims that the ISO is in an "organisational crisis", rooted in exaggerated expectations of radicalisation ("a transitional period"), and calls for more discussion and more democracy in the ISO. The ISO says that the RF was excluded because it refused to stop making confidential ISO material public.

Nothing that we have seen from the RF questions or proposes alternatives on the ISO's substantive political positions.

The ISO used to be the US satellite of the SWP. There was a distinct IS organisation in the USA in the 1960s, descended from Hal Draper's splinter from the old Workers' Party/ ISL. It grew closer to the British IS-SWP in the early 1970s. Draper quit in 1971.
In 1976-7, a more pushy attitude by the IS-SWP triggered an explosion in the IS. It broke up into six or seven splinters. Two eventually merged with others in what is now Solidarity; some expired; the ISO was the IS-SWP-loyalist group, and has prospered best.

In 2001, however, it was expelled from the SWP's international network. The SWP accused the ISO of sectarianism towards the "new anti-capitalist" protests, though when we read the documents the differences seemed no more than nuances. Since then the ISO has developed its own international network, including Socialist Alternative in Australia and DEA in Greece. It also has observer status with the "Mandelite" Fourth International.

Myself, I thought the ISO might "clean up" in Britain with the SWP's current crisis. I was wrong. It certainly has links with some of those who have quit the SWP; but no close relationship has developed between the ISO and either of the two recent SWP splinters, the ISN and RS21.

SP suspends dissidents

On 12 February the Socialist Party's Scottish section suspended Bruce Wallace from membership.

Wallace has for a while been the main dissident in the SP's international network, the CWI, whose internal life is usually very quiet.

He argues that the CWI neglects Marx's theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and (consequently, so he says) its agitation on economic issues is minimalist, going not much beyond appeals to stop the cuts.

Even the notoriously tightly-controlled SWP has allowed public debate on similar issues at times. As far as I can make out Wallace has had no hearing or right of appeal. He just got a letter saying he was suspended because of his “continued public campaign of attack against the party through elements of social media” (a reference to a Facebook page).

Wallace's suspension has been followed by at least one other, of Steve Dobbs from West London SP. Dobbs was suspended on an emergency motion in his branch, on grounds of "his public attacks and accusations against the branch secretary, the branch, the leadership of the party, the CWI..."

According to Dobbs, the SP constitution allows only the Executive and National Committee, not branches, to suspend members.

Myself I think Wallace is wrong on the “tendency to fall”, and right about his criticism of the CWI's economic agitation. Whether he is right or wrong, a living Marxist organisation has to have enough breadth to allow debates on such issues.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.