FYI I found the SWP on the whole a positive group to work with over the last couple of years, particularly around ecology and climate change. However I was interested to see this call for democratisation. comments welcome
Statement of SWP Democratic Opposition
Four comrades have been expelled for forming a ‘secret faction’ during the discussions prior to
SWP conference. The expelled members had been legitimately concerned about the handling of
very serious allegations directed at a CC member and the way that this was being handled by the
organisation and had discussed about what this represented and how comrades could ensure the
matter was dealt with properly.
There had been some discussion about whether to declare a faction or not. Some comrades, out of
concern for how these matters had been dealt with previously, were in favour of doing so - but other
comrades were worried that this might be premature or even disloyal. It is for having this discussion
and sharing these concerns that the comrades have been expelled.
Importantly, the accusation of ‘secret faction’ was made against those concerned about declaring
one whilst those in favour of declaring one have been referred to as ‘honest’ in a number of report
backs from the CC to affected local branches, implying that those expelled were ‘dishonest’. We
unreservedly reject this description as slander against the four excellent and valuable comrades who
have been expelled.
We feel that this incident raises serious questions about democracy in the SWP in general and about
the coming conference in particular. First of all, it cannot be right that a discussion about whether to
form a faction is used as evidence of a ‘secret faction’ when it is in the general discussions of the pre-
conference period. On a basic level, if we cannot have discussions about whether to form a faction or
not, then, in reality, factions are de-facto impossible to organise and the right to form them is purely
Secondly, it is not the case that this is the first, or even the most significant case of comrades
discussing meeting before conference to discuss the possibility of a factional organisation that never
ended up being formed.
In the run-up to the highly contested 2009 conference, a number of unofficial meetings between SWP
members occurred, mainly in pubs and on one occasion after a party council, of members concerned
about the developing crisis following the botched electoral strategy in 2008. The pace of events meant
that these meetings, which were certainly planned in advance, never coalesced into a named faction,
but no members were disciplined for involvement, certainly not the two people who serve on the CC
since who had participated. The unofficial pre-conference meet-ups of 2008 were followed in Summer
2009 by an even more unorthodox grouping: a petition, written and organised entirely in secret and
outside pre-conference season and mainly signed by party staff, to oust the then-editor of Socialist
Worker. Again, no disciplinary procedure was employed – particularly not against the party worker
who organised this factional group, who is now in the CC. These incidents, and doubtless others,
show that any claim that the rules regarding factions are not, and have never been, implemented with
a degree of judgement taking into account prevailing circumstances are wholly false.
There should not be an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the run up to conference. Leninism
requires discipline to confront the class enemy – not to prevent debate amongst our own comrades.
We believe that these malicious expulsions must be revoked immediately and that the CC must
retract its accusations against the four people.
We are also deeply concerned about the impact of all this on our reputation inside the movement. It is
little short of incredible that if the expulsions are not rescinded, comrades are going to be expected to
defend the expulsion of four comrades (including one woman) simply for discussing concerns about
the handling of very serious allegations in their own organisation.
Our feeling is that this is an untenable situation and will have an appalling impact on the morale of
members and our ability to build in today's movement. We think that one of the key lessons of the
democracy commission was that no comrade should be treated as indispensable. We make no
judgement of guilt or innocence of the comrade concerned but note that any other comrade facing
allegations of this type with such frequency would be suspended until such time as the allegations
were resolved. It is disturbing that the comrade concerned did not voluntarily step down when it
became clear that the allegations, whether justified or not, had the potential to seriously damage the
organisation. An attitude which treats individuals as indispensable and sacrifices the interests of the
membership for them has nothing to with Leninism and more closely resembles the self-interested
behaviour of reformist bureaucracies.
Importantly it is not just our reputation at stake here but the health of our own tradition. In response to
the expulsions some comrades have repeated the language of some of Galloway's defenders. There
have been complaints about 'liberal feminism' and even belief-beggaring accusations that some of the
comrades expelled have been MI5 agents, or acting on behalf of Chris Bambery's organisation. Whilst
the CC cannot be held directly responsible for such idiocy it is a warning of the kind of ideological
degeneration possible when administrative coercion replaces the norms of debate in socialist
We are aware that serious concerns have already been expressed by those involved in the disputes
committee case around this matter, as raised at a recent NC meeting, and that space has been set
aside to discuss the way the organisation has mishandled the allegations. This is a positive
development, but we believe that beyond the direct issue of the DC there are now equally serious
questions about the condition of the SWP that makes a faction necessary if we are not to be expelled
for expressing our concerns.
We propose that three things are necessary to prevent further damage to the good name of our Party:
The expelled comrades deserve a full and frank apology from the CC and the expulsions must be
declared null and void.
Conference must re-affirm that comrades have full rights to conduct any and every kind of discussion
in the pre-conference period. This should include raising questions of whether such freedom ought
not to be extended beyond the pre-conference period.
The dispute concerning a member of the CC highlighted above must be re-examined, and the CC
member concerned must be suspended from all Party activity and cannot work full time for the Party
or in the name of the Party until all the allegations against him have been settled satisfactorily.
In addition to these statements, we are asking comrades to support the motions raised on the
question of party democracy at conference. In our view, the conduct of the CC regarding both
the expulsions, and the disputes committee referred to above, come as a result of structures and
perspectives that restrict internal democracy and discussion.
We are aware that some comrades may share our concerns regarding the expulsions and/or this
disputes committee investigation, but reject our conclusions regarding party democracy. We hope to
persuade them of our position on this; but even if we cannot accomplish this, we would still ask you to
vote for the reinstatement of the four comrades who have been expelled.
[Here was the list of declaration signatories.]
If you are an SWP member, you agree with us and would like to join the Democratic Opposition in the run up
to 2013 Party Conference, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Democratic Opposition is a
temporary faction, in line with Party rules, and will dissolve itself after Conference closes.