Sunday, February 14, 2010

Comrades, comrades...

LINDSEY GERMAN, leaving SWP after best part of lifetime

THOSE who have been confidently predicting the expulsion of Lindsey German and John Rees from the Socialist Workers Party will have been at least partially disappointed this week, with the news that at least one of the duo seems to have forestalled such a move by sending in her resignation instead.

I don't know what the bookies will say. Or whether the SWP leadership could still proceed in the style of my old party boss, Gerry Healy, and the WRP, who rather than be deprived of the satisfaction, would go ahead and expel somebody after they had already left.

Lindsey German is national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, which the SWP working with others could claim as its biggest success, John Rees a co-founder of Stop the War and first national secretary of Respect. At the peak of Stop the War Coalition campaigning they addressed the biggest political rallies seen in Britain since the Second World War. Both of them had served on the SWP Central Committee for thirty years or more, and Rees edited its International Socialism magazine.

It was after the SWP's failure to keep in with George Galloway in Respect that John Rees and Lindsey German fell into disgrace as it were, and were dumped from the Central Committee, forming a "Left Faction" (though what's especially "Left" about it I don't know). Since then several lesser-known SWP activists, ranging from trade unionists on Tyneside to a woman at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London have been expelled for alleged "factional activity", or even "anti-Party" acts, though precisely what they did to merit expulsion appears to be a mystery to them, let alone anyone outside. "First the sentence, then the evidence" -if any - would seem to be the way.

I'd be interested to hear if the expulsions on Tyneside have had any bearing on SWP members' union activity, for instance the defence of one of their own members who was being victimised and felt let down by his union, Unison. They seem to have affected anti-war campaigning. Lindsey German's specific offence seems to be that as a leader of the Stop the War Coalition she accepted an invitation to speak at a Stop the War meeting in Newcastle, which other SWP members had decided for whatever reason should not take place. Hence the exchange of correspondence which is seen below.

Dear Lindsey,

On behalf of the CC, we are repeating our request that you don't speak at the disputed StW meeting in Newcastle tonight [Wednesday 10th February]. We expect you, like all SWP members, to respect our decisions.
We also think that it is imperative that you meet with members of the CC at the earliest possible opportunity. Could you please give us some dates when you are free.

Martin Smith (SWP National Secretary)

Dear Martin,
I asked Judith whether I would be subject to disciplinary action if I went to Newcastle. Your reply is ambiguous on this question. Could you please clarify. The STW meeting is not disputed, as you put it. It was agreed at two Tyneside STW steering committees, despite our comrades raising why I was going to the meeting. I therefore think your request is misplaced.


Dear Lindsey,

We have already made our decision very clear to you. If you ignore our request we reserve the right to respond as we see fit.


Dear Martin,
It is clear from your reply that your request is in fact an instruction not to speak in Newcastle tonight at the Stop the War meeting.
I regard such a course of action as damaging both to the party and STW. The meeting is properly constituted as evidenced by two sets of minutes of steering committee. There is no good reason for me to withdraw and none that I could possibly justify to STW members locally or nationally.
I have always tried to prevent internal disputes from damaging the movement. I feel that you have brought these disputes into STW and that is unacceptable.
It is therefore with the greatest regret that I am resigning from the SWP. This is a very hard decision for me. I joined more than 37 years ago and have always been committed to building it, which in my view meant relating to the wider movement.
I was on the CC for 30 years, edited the Review for 20 and played a major role in the movement and party building. My respect and affection for many party members remains, and my commitment to socialism as ever. I hope to continue working with them in the wider movement.

Lindsey German

I acknowledge receipt of your resignation and have amended our records accordingly.
Please note it is your responsibility to inform your bank to close your Direct Debit/Standing Order.

Martin Smith (SWP National Secretary)

I like that final reply. Nice and business-like. A standard pro-forma type letter to someone who has given the best part of her life to a Party - 37 years, starting when she was 22-years old, and serving so long on the Central Committee as well as being probably the SWP's best-known face to the public outside in recent years.

It may be premature, but at this rate I think comrade Smith could before long need another pro forma saying
"Will the last one to leave please turn out the lights".

I could take a certain ironic satisfaction from seeing Lindsey German going like this. A few years back when the Stop the War Coalition was preparing its main national demonstration on the Saturday that happened to be Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, some STWC supporters proposed that as a gesture it should include a Jewish speaker on the platform. Lindsey German reportedly objected that Jews as a "faith community" were not against the war, and then when it was suggested that the Jewish Socialists' Group (which was a STWC affiliate) could provide a speaker, complained that the JSG was not "representative" of the community.
"Who does she want, on Rosh Hashana, the Chief Rabbi? ", I wondered.

Annoyed as I was by this example of SWP blockheadedness, what really disgusted me was the later refusal by Stop the War to allow a group of Iranian refugees who had marched from Birmingham to London to have a spokesperson on the platform to explain why, though opposed to the Iranian regime, they were also against imperialist war. The Stop the War leadership still refuses to countenance Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI) joining its coalition, even though Lindsey German herself has recently spoken at a meeting in support of the Iranian opposition - albeit, the liberal rather than workers' opposition it seems.

All the same, whatever her political limitations, Lindsey German surely deserved better treatment from her Party?

I don't pretend to know, let alone understand, the substantive differences, if any, between Lindsey German, John Rees and Martin Smith and co. Who does? But I do see a more general issue in this episode. As a leader of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey German was surely bound to honour an invitation to speak at a Stop the War meeting if she could? And as supporters, presumably, of the Coalition, SWP leaders should surely have respected this, rather than preferring to see the Tyneside event flop to suit their factional spite?
What other reason was there?

If a left-wing group wishes to draw kudos from having one of its members head a broader coalition, or hold a trade union position say, then shouldn't it accept that the post carries with it responsibilities to the movement, and the members who have elected you? If, on the other hand, a group insists on its own priorities, even putting a petty factional squabble before the interests of the broader movement, doesn't that disqualify them from giving leadership or deserving trust?

Here is Lindsey German's explanation of why she resigned:

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At 1:46 PM, Blogger white rabbit said...

'Please note it is your responsibility to inform your bank to close your Direct Debit/Standing Order'.


At 5:40 PM, Blogger Snowball said...

Martin Smith did write a subsequent email to Lindsey about her resignation:

Dear Lindsey,

I am responding to your letter of resignation you sent to me earlier today (my earlier acknowledgment was required for legal/banking purposes).

On behalf of the CC I would like to say that we regret very much your decision to leave the SWP. We are very surprised that you regarded this matter as a resignation issue.

As we made clear to you in our correspondence we felt the disagreements could have been resolved at a meeting between you and ourselves.

The question of disciplinary action was brought into the discussion by you, not by us. Your resignation is your personal choice and was not forced on you or demanded by the Central Committee.

I would also like to assure you that we will continue to build the Stop the War Coalition and where possible work with you in a constructive and positive way.

Martin Smith (SWP National Secretary)

The problem with the final piece of your analysis is that the SWP is not just another 'left-wing party' but in fact a revolutionary socialist party that stands in the tradition of classical Marxism. Lindsey German as a member of that party had to abide by 'democratic centralism' - which meant following instructions from the democratically elected central committee - or at least not openly defying their request to meet to discuss her attendance at this Newcastle meeting.

Nonetheless - the bigger issue is that her attendance should not have been a resigning matter - nor her non-attendance an expelling matter. There is much more going on here - not least many of the members of Left Platform's detachment from the SWP's rank and file - who they tend or in Lindsey's case tended to view very much as a 'rank and file' to be ordered around, and their shift towards movement-ism. The really tragic thing about Lindsey's resignation is that for someone who was once such a brilliant revolutionary socialist that not only should she resign from the party in such a whimperish manner -but that her current political trajectory suggests that she appears to have also rather lightly also abandoned the sense of the urgent need to try to build a revolutionary socialist organisation rooted within the working class - something the likes of someone like Tony Cliff would never have done.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Kevin said...

"best part of a lifetime"

Best part?

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous MatthewGraculus said...

The trouble with Snowball's contribution is that it presents the Revolutionary Party as something that trumps all other organisations. This is okay if you are a member of that august Vanguard, but if, say, you are a member of the Stop the War Coalition you have to wonder why the National Convenor of the STWC is more accountable to the party than to the Coalition. Makes having members of so-called Democratic Centralist organisations in leadersjip positions somewhat problematic.

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous MatthewGraculus said...

And what was the timing of that final email from Martin. The thing about a legal requirement looks like silly nonsense and the impression it gives is of someone who knows they are making a public spectacle of themselves trying to recover some ground.


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