Monday, 21 January 2013

Behind the Iron Curtain (crisis and the SWP)

Given the ramifications of what is without doubt the largest crisis in the SWP (UK)'s party history, the Irish section of the SWP have remained oddly silent.  Members are remarkably quiet, no statements or articles have been published.  Here I will elaborate on some of the mechanisms at play which lead to this and finish with an appeal to members to publicly support the British opposition. I will also state for the record that while I believe the opposition in Britain will fail, any active member (who isn't set on leaving) should make an effort to instigate change now that a long over-due movement for democratisation has developed.

To summarise, the British SWP is split on the issue of a rape accusation against a member of the party leadership, and a subsequent purge of those who took issue with the corresponding procedure. The British party leadership (to put it bluntly) set up a kangaroo court consisting of 4 of the accused's friends (all members of the leadership), who proceeded to find him innocent. The use of the kangaroo court was defended by the CC loyalists on the basis that the woman chose not to go to the police.  However, this is not the core of the issue, rather it was the process and subsequent purge of dissents that instigated a split. The issue is an absence of democratic structure which produces a culture of abuse on all levels. In the words of Tom Walker (Former SWP journalist) "the issues of democracy and sexism are not separate  but are inextricably linked, lack of the first creates space for the second to grow".

Members who took issue with the process and where organising opposition where then expelled from the party for creating a "secret faction". Information from private Facebook posts was taken as "evidence of their crimes" and used to justify the expulsions. At the proceeding NC around half of the organisation voted against the leaderships decisions (on the procedure of the rape "investigation" and expulsions) but where outvoted by a small margin. The CC then passed motions banning further discussion (on pain of expulsion) and set about threatening the entire party staff with the sack less they pledged to conform.

Individual reports from Britain indicate mass resignation, while a large opposition remains inside the party consolidating around a demand to replace the entire leadership. Leading members have left, publishing condemnations and issuing support for the opposition. The issue has hit the mainstream media, while other left groups gaze on, salivating over a steady of stream of departures. The leadership on the other hand deny the severity of the problem, whilst panicking behind the scenes. What began as an argument over a particular transgression has developed into a full blown revolt against the leadership, and to some extent the entire organisational basis of the party. Innumerable calls are being made to lift the ban on factions for example. Richard Seymour's blog (Lenins Tomb) in particular has become an alternative news source, providing a platform for the opposition.

Meanwhile in Ireland the crisis is seldom mentioned by SWP members. This however, far from an indication of people "coming to terms" with what’s going on, is an effect of a deliberate policy. The leadership implicitly support their British counterparts (for the most part), but have prioritised "closing ranks" in the face of "an attack on the party".  The PC in this case seem to have a position that contradicts the view of a large proportion of the organisation. To this end they will discard open support for their British counterparts, and instead focus on making sure the inclination of the rank and file is kept under control (spreading misinformation, playing down the significance of events, telling people to "stay neutral", etc.). The Irish party from the perspective of the British CC must not become a rallying point for the opposition. Internal opposition is permissible so long as members do not go public, something that can (members are often told) only play into the hands of "sectarians and the bourgeoisie press".

This siege mentality is internalised by many who’s hearts rest with the opposition. The party leadership present the need to project outward unity as a security imperative (as opposed to a prop which atomises a membership with inconvenient sympathies). The fact that the "close ranks" strand of pseudo Leninism is alien to the actual Bolshevik tradition aside, it ensures minority positions taken by the PC can go unchallenged. Given the lack of communication between branches most members come to consider the PC line a de-facto expression of some overall consensus. Regardless of this, the possibility of a rupture is strong. The desire of rank and file members/apparatus to support the opposition exists, what remains to be seen is whether people have the courage to oppose the leadership (in a public capacity).

Objectively, it shouldn't take much courage to make a stand. The political committee would find themselves in more trouble than their British counterparts if they decided to clamp down on any rank and file configuration. Rather their inclination is to stay quiet, hope branches don’t interact and target key individuals who waiver. This strategy, while effective in the long term would prove ineffective in the face of any immediate opposition, one multi-branch meeting would disperse any squeamishness regarding repercussions. The party apparatus should set about this task and get a petition going as evidence of base support as soon as possible.

Finally, I wish to encourage members to stand in solidarity with comrades under threat of expulsion. The notion that your "part of an independent organisation" that has no business "meddling in the affairs of others" is divisive nonsense.  Reject regurgitated sound-bites from the British CC telling you to ignore the plight of your comrades.  Ignore technocratic obscurantism about what "jurisdiction" the Irish party has and set about joining up with the British opposition. Internationalism applies as much to the struggle for democracy within the party as within wider society, and an injury to one is an injury to all.

Making a public statement of solidarity with your comrades will not (as some will argue) "exasperate a split" which "the sectarians and bourgeoisie press" will use against you.  Rather, allowing the party to be seen as complicit in the ongoing farce will give "the sectarians and bourgeoisie press" more ammunition. A split is not something to be avoided, one already exists, now is the time to choose which side your on, and silence is not an option.

Ian Mc Donnell – Former SWP National Youth Organizer

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Is hetronormativity the problem ?

This article is in response to a piece entitled ''can hetronormativity be smashed'' in which the author cites hetronormativity a deserving target for those concerned with ending gender oppression. This is a response to the second part of the article in the main, as that's where the question is addressed. I think this is an important issue as its one of the main propositions of an identity politics prominent within both LGBT & contemporary feminism. The consequence of such notions being accepted typically manifests in misplaced attacks on non problematic societal norms which only serves to isolate the movements in question. The radical subjectivism of identity politics is problematic on many levels, but here il focus on the understanding of hetronormativity as a phenomena that can be directly challenged, as opposed to a perception caused by homophobic ideas and actions.
The author contends hetronormativity to be a target through a semantic slight of hand. ‘’Under heteronormativity, heterosexuality is not merely the sexual preference of the majority of people in society – it’s a privileged identity’’. This could be a case of correlation implying causation. The phenomena of people considering heterosexuality the norm does not cause heterosexuality to become a privileged identity, (although it may inadvertently re-enforce it) rather homophobia diminishes the general value of gay identities in relation to heterosexuality – thus establishing heterosexuality as privileged. This requires clarification as it’s the (activity) of homophobia that’s problematic. The variable is homophobia, not homophobic/sexist attitudes being seen as the norm retrospectively.
Hetronormativity (perceives) heterosexuality as the majority privileged sexuality, it’s an interpretation of an unjust reality, not an attempt to re-enforce injustice. Hetronormativity sees heterosexuality (as) being the norm, it doesn't (as a general tendency) entail the contention that it (should) be the norm. Therein lies the problem with AW’s analysis. Hetronomrativity is less of a value statement (or collective set of statements) about the way things should be, and more of an assessment concerning the way things are. To contend otherwise is to fudge the line between hetronormativity and homophobia, intersecting but separate phenomena. The  ''propagation and continual enforcement of a mutually supporting and re-enforcing set of ideas about sex, sexuality and gender'' that AW refers to isn't hetronormativity, its homophobic/sexist attitudes. 
The cause of the tendency towards hetronomrative perception is homophobia, which should be the target of those concerned with gender equality. The inability to understand this distinction, and the cause of gender/sexual oppression tends to result in misplaced attacks on manifestations of homosociality/heterosexuality (which are assumed oppressive on account of their privileged status within hetronormative society). Those on the left are undoubtedly familiar with isolationist proclamations on the need to smash an ambiguous ‘’lad culture’’ ect. 
Bigotry, be it sexual, racial or whatever doesn't exist in a vacuum, and those sights where it happens to be most explicit shouldn't be confused as sources. Failure to understand this results in a sort of blind aggression which falls prey to essentialist generalizations. Gender discrimination will be eroded through a process of engagement and argumentation. Not standing on the sideline shouting about how ‘’lad culture’’ (a male working class identity) is reactionary and needs to be ‘’destroyed’’. Lad culture, like ‘’football supporters culture’’ isn't inherently homophobic, rather homophobia is a feature, as racism was an explicit feature in the past. Bigotry exists amongst people as a characteristic, it’s not inherent to their condition, something that needs to be understood in order to develop a broad and inclusive movement.