Members of Britain’s Socialist Workers Party are resigning from the party in droves, says duvinrouge. The impetus comes from a sexual assault allegation against a senior member of the party, & allegations that it wasn’t investigated properly. But unpinning this is the discontent due to the lack of party democracy.
The SWP is a Leninist party & therefore internally organises in a way that is termed democratic-centralism. The basic idea being that the majority decision is decided upon & then there is unity of action led by a central committee. It actual fact it’s a fig-leaf ideology to allow a few to justify their life as professional revolutionaries, dreaming of their place in history, whilst the rank & file members sell the paper to fund this lifestyle. It’s much like parliamentary democracy’s claim to represent the wishes of the people & gives us the illusion of having a say.
Every year at conference the SWP elect the 12 members of the central committee. But they don’t get elected individually. The central committee itself puts forward a ‘slate’ – a list of names, often the same ones – for conference to vote on. Leading up to conference members can opening organise factions which can put forward an alternative slate. Such factions are only allowed to form about 3 months prior to conference. As far as I know the CC slate usually, if not always, wins. The same faces have power year after year, e.g. Alex Callinicos. Unsurprisingly this leads to a ‘them & us’ mentality.
This is not the first time that the SWP has faced such a crisis. A major split occurred in 2010 when John Rees & Lindsey German left the party & set up Counterfire after Rees was blamed for the failure of the Respect electoral coalition. This was soon followed by Chris Bambery’s departure & his setting up of the International Socialist Group (Scotland). Despite efforts to improve party democracy many members have not been satisfied. But what most will not accept is that the root of the problem lies in allowing a group of professional revolutionaries, supported financially by the rank & file, to hold almost all the power & make the decisions. It’s the same problem in the trade unions whereby the union bureaucracy sells out its members.
If revolutionaries want a communist society where everyone has an equal say, why do they organise in a way that creates a group that is ‘more equal’ than others? They need to recognise their egos & limit the amount of time that anyone can have in a role. Obviously this is limited by the number of members, their skills & their willingness to take on responsibility. But for a group the size of the SWP it doesn’t seem unreasonable to limit the time in a role to two or three years, & preferably doing these roles whilst working like other ordinary members. They should then be prevented for holding any role again for at least five years. All roles should also be voted upon by all members. In otherwords, organise a party as you would organise a communist society. Surely, that’s not too much to ask for?