By David Broder
"Shutting down free discussion in order to allow carefully stage-managed “debates” where all of the contributors from the floor simply parrot the line of the top-table “expert” speaker..."
Featuring dozens of sessions on each of its five days, the Socialist Workers Party’s “Marxism 2007” event (5-9 July) is somewhat impressive insofar as it attracts large numbers of young people interested in socialist ideas. However, the SWP hardly provide the ideal atmosphere for giving activists a political education, shutting down free discussion in order to allow carefully stage-managed “debates” where all of the contributors from the floor simply parrot the line of the top-table “expert” speaker.
In all of the sessions where AWL comrades filled out speaker slips in order to be allowed to contribute (you had to write what you were going to say on the slip…) we were not called to speak once — in one instance the said speaker slip was ostentatiously trousered by an SWP apparatchik. However, in a meeting on Hezbollah where you only had to raise your hand to be called to the podium, and the chair did not recognise me, I was allowed to speak – to the extent that I spoke nearly 30 seconds before people started interrupting. While avoiding reference to my opinion that Hassan Nasrallah is fascist scum who ought to be shot, and making clear that I support Lebanese — including, of course, Muslim — workers against Hezbollah, I was furiously denounced as a “racist”, “Zionist”, and “imperialist” by the speakers who followed. They “knew what [I] really meant”.
There was the same hostility as we talked to people in the street outside the event. To our surprise (and amusement) SWP student hack Rob Owen interrupted our discussions to scream that we were “Zionist”, or even “racist” for suggesting that “maybe it wouldn’t be so great if Israel were smashed and its people slaughtered by invading clerical fascist armies”, and thus should not be allowed to air our views. Although an admirable minority would at least discuss ideas with us, most SWPers variously refused to talk to us at all, or would bark “anti-imperialist” or plainly nonsensical slogans at us before storming off. Central Committee member Chris Bambery was heard shouting slightly incoherently to a comrade, “Orangemen, you’re bloody Orangemen”. And yet when we mocked a diehard Stalinist paper seller — a fan of North Korea who claimed that “homosexuality is a mental illness spread by the Jews and child molesters” — we were angrily told off by the SWP for not considering his viewpoint seriously!
Clearly this is the mark of an internally undemocratic sect that gives its members no political education, lest they think for themselves and oppose the bureaucratic clique controlling the group. Oppositional ideas must not be heard in case they provoke discussion and independent thinking.
Indeed, one SWP dissident expelled in 2006 (by text message) for “bringing the party into disrepute”, the CPGB’s comrade Simon D, was dragged out of a meeting at this year’s Marxism by SWP national organiser Martin Smith. The CPGB report:
“The SWP’s national organiser angrily demanded comrade Simon’s ticket to the Marxism event and, when he refused, Smith instantly attacked him. Wrestled to the floor, comrade Simon sustained bruising, abrasions and back strain. A second SWPer joined in the attack and together they went through the comrade’s pockets and bag in an attempt to confiscate his ticket.”
Having been banned even from attending the SWP’s public meetings, the comrade was no doubt expelled from the event for fear that he might have “undue influence” among other SWPers and activists at the event by voicing his opinions. The SWP’s paper-thin rationalisations for the attack (varying from John Rees’s claim that Simon threw the first punch through to a total denial that anything happened) do nothing to hide their long-held anti-democratic and sectarian mores. At the “Marxism 1993” our own comrades Mark Sandell and Jason Bonning were assaulted by SWP heavies. Indeed, Martin Smith told me in relation to this year’s incident that “I didn’t lay a fucking finger on the fucking bastard, but now I wish I fucking had”, as he guffawed grotesquely.
The SWP is run by philistines and deprived of serious politics. Many of the arguments we had were simply hitting our heads against a brick wall of ignorance and stupid sloganeering — “I salute Hezbollah’s leadership of the anti-imperialist peoples…”, and claims that Israel should be destroyed “by any means necessary”. But among its activists and sympathisers are many people interested in ideas – interested in socialism – to whom it is possible to relate. Interruptions aside, we were able to run a successful stall, talking to lots of people not aware of the different tendencies on the left, giving out a fair bit of propaganda and acquiring funds to drink away in the Institute of Education bar… such is the joy of “Marxism”.