"We would have done no favours to women, blacks, gays or lesbians if the party
had liquidated itself into these movements. There are two common ways of
approaching movements or campaigns independent of the organisation. One is to
have nothing to do with them because they do not accept the full revolutionary
programme and the centrality of the working class. The other is to act as cheer
leaders, saying 'Hooray!' to everything they do."
By Sue Blackwell and Rehan Hafeez*
On 4th April 2002, Rehan Hafeez (SWP member of 16 years' standing) and Sue Blackwell (SWP member of 19 years' standing) sent a joint letter of resignation to the Central Committee of the SWP. Our letter was sent by Recorded Delivery and we had expected some sort of response from the CC. Of course we didn't expect them to take all our allegations at face value, but we did hope that they would at least investigate them. However, we never received a reply in any form whatsoever - not even an acknowledgement of our resignations. The only contact from the Centre was a couple of months later when we each received a phone call from the Membership Office enquiring why our subs had stopped! (Sue took great pleasure in answering that at some length to the poor sod at the end of the phone).
We therefore decided to post our letters on the web along with related documents, so that people can judge for themselves whether we made the right decision. Since we posted them in 2003, we have received dozens of supportive e-mails from others who have left the SWP under similar circumstances, and remarkably also from people who are still in the SWP suffering the same kind of abuses but haven't yet plucked up the courage to leave. (I call it "battered comrade syndrome").
In our letter we complained about the packing of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition (BSTWC) meeting on 5th February 2002, where the SWP rode roughshod over the existing democratic procedures in order to kick Steve Godward out of his post as Vice-Chair of BSTWC and to end the practice of open committee meetings and regular elections. This event was exactly mirrored at the Birmingham Socialist Alliance AGM held on 1st July 2003, where - guess what - the SWP packed the meeting in order to kick Steve Godward out of his position as Chair, along with every other committee member who was not in the SWP, including Rehan who was voted out of his post as Press Officer.
One point we would mention: the texts of these letters make repeated reference to Ger Francis, the Birmingham SWP full-timer. Ger was finally sacked by the SWP around the time of the Party Conference in early November 2002, and we are confident that our complaints about him contributed in some measure to that welcome decision. However, it would be wrong to think that the problems began and ended with comrade Francis: he was the symptom, not the cause. After his replacement the SWP in Brum continued to behave in exactly the same sectarian, dishonest and undemocratic manner within the anti-war movement and the Socialist Alliance. The rot, as far as we can see, comes from the head: Ger was repeatedly backed by CC members such as Chris Bambery, Lindsey German and John Rees and those individuals have not changed their positions. We have seen no real improvement in the internal democracy of the SWP.
We also note that no explanation was given to the rank-and-file as to WHY Ger was sacked, and why at THAT PARTICULAR TIME given that complaints against him had been made since the beginning of 2002. Ger carried on behaving in the exactly the same way, still taking a leading role in the BSTW Coalition for instance, but nothing was done to stop this. We considered this to be further evidence of the contempt the leadership had for ordinary members. Eventually Ger was expelled from the party itself as part of the fall-out from the split in Respect in 2007, when he sided with the Salma Yaqoob / George Galloway faction after the SWP had apparently seen the light.
Various other people, active in Birmingham SWP at the time, have been named in these letters. We are sorry if, as we suspect, the CC did not inform them of our allegations until they appeared on the web. They are, of course, welcome to publish their own account of what happened but to our knowledge they have never done so.
Please note: some names have been changed in these pages. There is also a lot more we could have said, but have refrained from publishing at the request of comrades who, for reasons best known to themselves, decided to stay in the SWP and keep their heads down. This in itself speaks volumes; but our quarrel is not with those individuals and we respect their wishes.
Postcript: Sue has still not found any organisation within the UK she
feels able to join, apart from the re-formed Socialist Alliance which remains
tiny. As she spends much of her time in Holland she has now joined the
Dutch Socialist Party (SP), which unlike any
of the sects on the British left is highly successful in electoral terms, having
picked up 25 seats in the Dutch parliament (out of 150, i.e. one-sixth of
the total) in the general election of 2006. She spends most of her political
energies on campaigning for Palestine and on
trade union work within the UCU, having been elected
to the National Executive in its inaugural elections in 2007. Rehan is still
not a member of any political party.
PS:John Rees apparently threatened the Socialist Unity Network with libel action for hosting this statement on its website but I'm glad to see it's still there even years later!
* Rehan Hafeez is a pseudonym: I have replaced his real name at his own request.
You can contact Sue on firstname.lastname@example.orgSerious constructive correspondence only please - sectarian rantings will not be appreciated.
This site is owned and maintained by Sue Blackwell.
It was last updated on 19th August 2008.