Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thoughts On The SWP Expulsions

This has been widely reported on other blogs already, but below is the SWP's explanation for its expulsion of three leading members:

Party discipline

Last weekend 3 SWP members - Rob Hoveman, Kevin Ovenden and Nick Wrack were expelled from the SWP.

Kevin and Rob

Kevin and Rob are SWP members working for George Galloway. However, recently this situation has become increasingly difficult. The party leadership has come to believe that it was impossible to have two comrades working for someone who has openly attacked the SWP in recent months. This was a position several leading members of the SWP articulated at the recent Party Council. Also over the last year there have been a number of meetings between the CC and Rob and Kevin.

At these meetings the CC raised major concerns with the way both these comrades worked in Respect. We believe that they were more concerned with promoting George Galloway's line in Respect than the SWP's position.

More seriously, they have denounced the SWP to individuals and organisations outside the Party.

Two members of the CC met with Kevin and Rob last week, they were asked to resign their posts in George Galloway's office. Kevin and Rob have subsequently written to the CC refusing to stop working for George Galloway despite the party's concerns.


The recent Respect NC voted to create a new position of National Officer. The SWP believed that the post was created to undermine Respect National Secretary John Rees. However, after some changes to the way the post was defined, the SWP agreed to setting up of the post. George Galloway then suggested that Nick did the job. Nick said he would seek various people's opinions.

The SWP made it clear that we didn't think Nick should accept the job because he had publicly disagreed with the line being put by the party about Respect. This would have created confusion in the Respect national office. Nick met with two members of the CC and agreed to accept party discipline and not take the post. Several days later his name was put forward by a member of International Socialist Group for the post. When asked, Nick refused to withdraw his name saying he had changed his mind and now wanted his name to go forward.

Despite a further meeting with two members of the CC and several phone calls, Nick refused to withdraw from standing for the post. There are occasions when the CC may ask a comrade not to take a post, perhaps a full time trade union position, or promotion to a job that puts someone in an untenable position. Nick was therefore expelled because he refused to work under the direction of the SWP leadership and reneged on the agreement he made with the CC.

It is important to make one thing clear, the three comrades have not been expelled because they disagreed with the Central Committee. It is because they failed to accept Party discipline and worked against the nationally agreed SWP line.

Expelling comrades is not something the CC does lightly, but in all three cases we felt we had no choice.

Of course, this is the latest in a long and appalling history of the SWP purging its ranks. It may claim not to do so 'lightly', but the very large number of expelled SWP members could testify otherwise. Even if the SWP insists that these three members were not expelled simply for expressing disagreement, there is certainly a long long line of people who have been chucked out for just that.

The statement is notable for its lack of any description of the process by which the comrades were booted, whether or how they have the right to appeal etc. I was expelled from the Labour Party by letter; I suspect I would not have had any better treatment from an SWP-style regime.

However, I think it would be wrong to present this simply as a matter of SWP Central Committee tyrants oppressing the brave and principled dissenters.

Firstly, I feel an urge to note that although explusion should not be carried out with the frequency and method by which the SWP does it, it is not on principle, in all cases, wrong. No socialist organisation should expel members just for disagreeing, or even for disagreeing in public, but surely no-one would deny a socialist organisation the right to expel someone for, say, crossing a picket line, voting Tory, or physical violence against another comrade. Between these two extremes lie many acts which may or may not warrant discipline.

Secondly, the three expellees have actually done somthing quite gross - shacked up with George Galloway and refused to give up their cosy bag-carrying jobs with His Gorgeousness. Yuck. I wouldn't want someone in my own group (Workers' Liberty) who did that.

But what strikes me most of all about this is that the SWP is swimming around in a cesspit of its own making. Expelling people for schmoozing with Galloway?! That's been your organisation's entire perspective for the last few years!

Surely all Nick, Kev and Rob have done is take the party line too literally. When lots of us said that Galloway was an unprinicipled, fat-cat, egomaniac, bigoted pal of some of the world's worst tyrants, the SWP both defended him and denounced us for saying so. But really, they knew that it was true - and just said what they said to protect their latest opportunist turn in the hope of recruiting from Galloway's orbit. Perhaps the expelled trio believed what their party said and forgot what they should have known to be true.

By the way, my comments may or may not be the Workers' Liberty 'party line', but if they are not, I sure won't be expelled for making them.

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