You may notice that several people's contributions, including my own, become increasingly bad-tempered in the course of the discussion. Enjoy!
Sue,you really should contact me more about what we are doing re anti-war work. I think it is a mistake to roll-back activity when we have the picket of the Israeli embassy on Jan 26 which you seem to be unaware of. I would like if you would ring me so that we can have a proper discussion. My mobile is [xxxxxxxxx]. Also, this Sunday we are having a marxist forum on Imperialism: globalisation, the state and war with John Rees in Balti No.1, Ladypool Rd starting at 3pm. Atendence is a priority for comrades and you should see if you can bring from the anti-war activity to attend with you.
all the best,
Sorry but I am just too busy with work right now to do very much - piles of marking over the next couple of weeks - and I am not able to attend the Thursday meetings because they clash with union meetings - I am now the convenor of the AUT's Direct Action Committee and heavily involved in trying to fight the redundancies (the management want to sack 100 academic staff plus even more support staff). If we have a demo, or start balloting for strike action, of course I will let you know, as we will want maximum support.
I AM concerned that the anti-war group meetings should not shrink down to a rump of sectarians, and it seemed to be heading that way which is why I suggested suspending meetings for a week or two.
Since I can't get there myself there is not much I can do about it apart from circulate messages to other people. Keith came to the meeting on Thursday so he might be a good person to talk to if he is able to come most weeks. And what about the student comrade Mike? Now that things are moving ahead with setting up a student group at the Guild, perhaps Mike can get a room booked there. I haven't seen him for about a week.
I have only just got your message because I was working at home all Friday - have come into the office on Saturday when I can't be disturbed! I will now forward the info. about the Marxist Forum tomorrow - which I didn't know about.
I WAS aware of the picket of the Israeli embassy but didn't know the date. Now that I know, I will circulate that too.
I could call a meeting for this Thursday to discuss how to build for that picket - could try to get someone from Pal. Solidarity. But as I said I won't be there myself - will be in London at my union's national conference.
By the way do you want the room I have booked for Fridays at 12 pm?
All for now, I'll be out of the office much of this coming week so e-mail is the best way to contact me.
[work address etc.]
From: B'ham Unity Committee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Birm Stop the War Coalition <bhamSTW_announce@yahoogroups.com>,
Subject: [bhamSTW_announce] Unholy and Undemocratic Stop the War Coalition - is might right??
Date: Wed, 6 Feb 2002 12:17:23 +0000 (GMT)
Yesterday at the Coalition meeting we witnessed the kind of undemocratic tactics not too far off from the way Bush and Blair make their decisions - the kind of tactics that make your stomach churn.
...And in order to get their way.... the SWP called on its members acoss the West Midlands to turn up to the Coalition meeting together with the Islamic Group which has been operating...to forge an 'unholy' alliance.... they may have had their numbers but is might right? - I think not!... if it were we wouldn't be supporting Paul Marsden...or other minorities.
Salma's motion was an attempt to bring in a motion through the back door (because she missed the deadline) in order to change the structure of the Coalition... what did her addition have to do with the motion being proposed by Mark Holland? - nothing. At any other meeting including TU meetings this would not have been allowed, but last night democratic practices went out the window because the SWP and Islamic Group packed the meeting to outvote democracy and vote in a committee which is both narrow, undemocratic and frankly oppressive.
The Coalition had previously voted and agreed to open committee meetings, to circulating minutes of meetings and to being transparent. Last night the Chair in securing her position and those that go along with her voted for closed meetings - the committee now decide when the coalition meets, who can attend committee meetings, who can speak, and when they call elections.
If democracy is packing out a meeting to get your way and if might becomes right....then both Bush and Blair would be right....BUT WE KNOW ITS NOT!!!
From having a committee which was split between independents and swp/islamic group we now have a committee which is 80% SWP.
What both the Chair and the local organiser of SWP have objected to is that the independents of the previous committee have challenged undemocratic practices.
It is a fact the Chair was heavily involved in organising both the meeting at the Bordesley Centre and the Rex Centre, but did not see it fit to bring the discussions to the Committee. It is a fact that she was supported in this by the local organiser of the SWP. It is a fact that the Chair filled in an application to join SWP but this was rejected by John Reece on the grounds that the SWP is a secular organisation...
The position of chair does not constitute the coalition and does not give the chair the right to make decisions without consulting the rest of the committee. But what transpires is that a unholy and opportunist aliance has been made between the SWP and Islamic Group (a bit like the allaince btw USA and Pakistan).
On the one hand you have the SWP who see religion as the opium of the masses and on the other hand we have the islamic group who see non-believers as the Kafirs, the infidels. But because of the war, the Islamic group recognises that the SWP because of their white faces can be used to mobilise the white communities and likewise the SWP are using the Islamic group to reach to muslim communities and recruit... I assume come the revolution you will both be killing each other??
And whilst they sit in their ivory towers maybe they need to for one minute cast a thought to the fact that packing out meetings whether they be Coalition meetings or the Bordesley Centre or the Rex Centre does not constitute a good meeting - it is the quality of contribution not the quantity of people attending that matters.
Both the socials organised by Artists aganist the War drew in a more diverse audience which so far the SWP and Islamic group have failed to do.
It is obvious that the Left and Muslims are going to be against this war - Muslims see this war as a war against Muslims like they do Chechnya, Palestine, Somalia, and the Left see this as imperialist wars. ... so obviously its not going to be too difficult to mobilise these two groups against the war.
But because the SWP and Islamic group can't see beyond the tip of their noses ..they've failed to mobilise the liberals, Indian communities, African communities...etc
The white left need to step back and consider their actions and thinking - from the liberals to the ultras;
This difference is articulated by the position of Revolutionary Assoc of Afghan Women who are opposed to both the war but also fundamentalism....and there are many muslims who fit into this category.....
The liberals (Socialist Action) and the SWP are suggesting that because of Islamaphobia those that are concerned about the rise of islamicist movements should not articulate these differences ... in effect they are saying to feminist muslims like myself "ignore your gender politics because there are more important things going on like the war" ...but I say "yes I am opposed to the war but i am also opposed to women's opporession in muslim countries and to the lack of democratic rights" ...and whilst certain majoirty muslims may wish to supress minority muslims, I say to the left that you canot expect me to choose my muslim identity over my identity as a woman or a black person or as a working class person. I speak as a muslim, a feminist and as a working class black person - it is not for the white left to tell me what identity is more important at this time.
As the SWP and Socialist Action capitulate and patronise the likes of the Islamic group by quashing debate and difference and giving rise to islamic movements within the city - I ask where will you be when the war is over - will you be supporting those within the muslim communities challenging opporession incl. women's oppression... or will you just walk away having pandered to and fed a very dangerous and oppressive beast and wash your hands????
What on earth has been going on with the BSTWC? I think the fall-out from Tuesday's meeting is pretty appalling - unfortunately I couldn't make it - with a real threat of the coalition splitting. It seems to me there needs to be an SWP meeting to discuss the coalition and an attempt made at damage limitation.
What do other cdes think? Please free to circulate this to other party members.
I endorse Rumy's e-mail. The atmosphere at last week's University STW meeting was pure poison: if Keith or I opened our mouths we got accused of parroting the SWP "party line". One of the most offensive things I heard was that the SWP was in league with the government!! (we didn't bother to reply to drivel of that sort of level).
No doubt today's meeting will have been even worse, after the events of Tuesday night.
I agree with Rumy's call for an SWP meeting where we can discuss everything between ourselves, and express differences of opinion, without having to worry about who else is listening!
I am really sorry I have been unable to attend meetings recently - we are facing compulsory redundancies here at the University and as a union officer I am heavily involved in trying to fight them, so I have had continuous union meetings and have been pretty exhausted. But I hope things will be a bit better next week, and I will certainly make every effort to attend a meeting of the sort Rumy describes. We need to sort ourselves out. We seem to be at risk of losing the respect of much of the rest of the left. We shouldn't lose any sleep over the dyed-in-the-wool sectarians, but this seems to be much wider than that, threatening the whole STW coalition.
all for now,
[ work address etc. ]
Comrades,There will be a members meeting on Monday 11 Feb. at 6.30pm, Carrs Lane, City Centre with Chris Bambery. The main item on the agenda will be to discuss a Socialist Worker sales drive in the context of the growing crisis between New Labour and the unions. We will discuss the building the STWC demo on March 2 and there will be plenty of time to discuss the situation in Birmingham.
My view about the Tuesday meeting is as follows:
i was there and i didnt see anything wrong and ive been to enough union mtgs to know if there was
That's not very comradely of you, if I may say so. Could we have a constructive debate please?
This is the first time I have had all these comrades' e-mail addresses, apart from Ger and Rumy: I did a "reply to all" to Rumy's e-mail which had various comrades' e-addresses in it, including yours. As far as I know there is no SWP members' e-mail list that I can subscribe to - or is there? [ this remark was tongue-in-cheek of course - Sue ]
I had subscribed to the Birmingham STW list, and was getting regular postings from it, but for some reason these had stopped so I was not getting any of the debate unless someone forwarded a copy to me. I have now re-subscribed myself so I should be getting them again - don't know how I got un-subscribed in the first place though, I never left the list. [ also tongue-in-cheek- I suspect I had been deliberately removed by the list-owner - Sue ]
Anyway I now see that there is a meeting tonight, so I will try to get to that and hopefully we can have some of this discussion there. But it's not just about Tuesday's meeting, as far as I am concerned: I was the person who first set up the STW group at the University, and for the first term it was pretty good (we picketed Blair and got on national TV, sent 2 coaches down to the national demo, etc.). I don't want to see it all going down the drain, and that is what appears to be happening now. I want to maintain an active STW group and don't want to see it descend into sectarian bickering.
Let's not get into this "I was there and you weren't" mentality. We all do what we can, and we have varying degrees of family, work and other commitments. I gave my apologies in advance to Ger for missing that meeting because of work pressures. Surely comrades should be trusted to report back to each other on meetings that other comrades have missed?
Don't know who you copied your message to. I don't use BCC myself as a matter of principle. I'm copying this message to Rumy and Ger, as you can see. Feel free to copy it to anyone you like.
see you tonight.
[ work address etc, ]
Dear Comrades,Unfortunately I shan't be able to make Monday night's members' meeting, but I wish the following comments regarding BSTWC to be discussed:
PS Please feel free to pass this on to members not on email.
The question is did our intervention overstep the mark? I was there, and was not happy with what I saw. The fact is the amendment to the initial motion went way too far. We have changed the consititution using an amendment without giving any notice. I don't care how we treat some of these sectarians - they deserve it, but there are plenty of dedicated STW activists who don't. Sorry Ger, my union wouldn't accept such an amendment without notice.
We got most of the sectarians off the committee. Surely, the right to bar troublesome observers from the Steering Committee would have gone a long way to solving the rest of the problem? As I read the amendment, it seems the Committee can call another open Coalition meeting when it wants. If that isn't what was meant, then it was very unclear. The danger is of a break down of trust which is unnecessary.
I am afraid it was only party discipline which prevented me from arguing/voting against the second part of the amendment. Perhaps if the tactics for the meeting had been more widely discussed, our intervention would have been more effective.The two comrades who rang me and asked me to come to the meeting spoke of elections, but did not mention any motion or amendment.
[ phone number and e-mail address ]
Comrades quite rightly should discuss and debate our intervention in any part of the struggle. E-lists, however, are an inappropriate forum for this kind of discussion. The next members meeting on March 11 is. It is a shame that Mary did not avail of either the last one on Feb. 11 or the forum before the last STW meeting to have a proper discussion about our intervention. With the demo in little over a week I would strongly suggest that comrades concentrate about building it and worry about whom are they taking with them. Mary, Steve and anybody else who wants to conduct an argument about the issues in the Coalition should marshal their arguments and come along to the meeting and we'll debate the issues again in front of the district so that all comrades can have an input.
I attach the text of an email written by Mark Holland and John Kelsey. An edited version appeared on the BSTWC elist and it very accurately sums up the issues at stake. The issue is simple; ultra left and Islamaphobic hostility and suspicion of Muslim involvement in the Coalition. All this guff about democracy was a front for a different agenda. The reality was that the structures of the Coalition were being abused to further this agenda as anybody who had the misfortune to attend the open meetings or ctte meetings could see for themselves. The changes to those structures were in line with the guidelines laid down with by the ctte to oversee the elections. The amendment was introduced at the last moment not as a slight of hand but because it became clear that that the original motion did not demarcate the issues enough. It certainly became clear to me, both before the meeting and afterwards, that a small number of SWP members at best, did not fully understand the issues or, at worst, were pandering to the arguments of the sectarians.
The boil had to be lanced. If the situation in the Coalition prior to the elections were to continue the Muslim involvement in it would have disappeared and the Coalition would have degenerated into a sectarian rump. Of this, I have absolutely no doubts nor indeed have any of the other comrades who have led our intervention in the Coalition from the start. That is the real issue in all of this but Mary makes no mention of it.
I repeat. If comrades want to discuss this issue they have an opportunity on March 11 at the members meeting. They should contact me beforehand, by phone, in order that the District Ctte can decide what weight to give this item when drawing up the agenda.
[ mobile phone number ]
I'm not sure why you mention me (Email of 23rd of Feb) in ref to Mary's emailing of the 17th Feb except as perhaps an invitation for me to also respond.
The vote on the amendment at the city Stop the War meeting of 5th Feb certainly gave the Stirchley Stop the War group problems. Three non-party members said they didn't want to belong to the Stirchley StW group because of the changes in the city structure brought about by the amendment ... (when meetings and elections take place etc.) One of the leading activists at one point was organising a separate coach for the demonstration on the 2nd of March (In fact a ludicrous situation developed of some of our contacts being phoned about two different coaches) and there were arguments about a proposal to the group to 'disaffiliate from the Stop the War' (Which we aren't in any case affiliated to).
For the record I have been to every City Coalition general meeting. On all votes I voted with the party (Including the one in which we were wrong to vote against a motion that deplored violence).
However, I abstained on the amendment at the 5th of Feb meeting (That evening was the first I knew about it) because I would have liked to have spoken against it and voted against it. It was wrong. You don't get rid of the irritating voices of dissent by simply closing down City forums of discussion and retreating to the bunker. It just shifts it off to somewhere else and generates all kinds of problems around issues of accountability/democracy . So if the City Coalition represents everyone then where is the forum for accountability? At our local meeting this week (Attended by 11 people including three party members and none of the recent defecting dissenters) two proposals for City initiatives cropped up. I suppose I could phone Salma and have a cosy chat about them ... But what I couldn't do is raise them with people generally in the Coalition because there is no forum. In the party we think the odd City general meeting of the party is useful to collectivise our experience and our activity... Surely a vibrant anti-war coalition should be able to have the same. Let's reverse the mistake of the 5th of Feb.
Steve [ not his real name - Sue ]
We still want to discuss at Monday's members meeting our objection to the amendment that was put to the coalition on Februry 7th. However, following your suggestion we will also focus on a positve proposal that reads:
Proposal for changes to the Birmingham Co-ordinatiing Committee of the Coalition
In the light of the reported US plans to go to war against Iraq in May we believe that it is necessary to:
Rumy,You raise a number of questions about Feb. 5. These gist of these issues were discussed prior to the Feb. 5 meeting, extensively at the last members meeting on Feb. 11 and again last night. As far as I am concerned the issue is closed and it is time to move on. I am more than happy to discuss them individually with comrades if they so wish and if comrades want to raise the issue formally again I suggest they notify me to attend District Ctte and we will discuss the issue there. E-lists are not an appropriate forum however for this or any other kind of party discussion; they are open to abuse, exclusive and encourage discussion and debate turning into polemical factionalism. I strongly suggest therefore that this email should mark an end to the discussion via this forum. If comrades wish to discuss this issue any further they should ring me and we'll take it from there.
In response to the issues you raise:
> A similar amendment,for example, to a motion in a trade union branch
> would certainly not be allowed (I speak as someone who has been in 3
> different unions over the past 18 years... party members should also have
> had an opportunity to see and discuss it in advance - this is basic
> democratic centralism.
I can easily crank out my trade union credentials as well to argue otherwise. It's not the point. The issue is simple: were the monthly meetings helping or hindering the work of the Coalition? Was the Ctte in its then form helping or hindering the work of the Coalition? No they were not. At best they were talking shops at which nothing of any worth got decided. At worst, they were being used as platforms to pursue an ultra-left/Islamaphobic agenda in the process paralysising the work of the Coalition, driving away genuine people who wanted to get involved, and threatening its very future. I find it amazing that in all the commentary from comrades critical of our intervention about this issue no reference, either in email or at either of the members meetings, has been made about the impact the Islamphobes and sectarians were having those Muslims who have been central to the Coalition's success and to its ability to embrace people way beyond the ranks of the hard left. For the comrades (both party and non-party) who had the most intimate involvement with the Coalition at a central organisational level, day in day out, there was no doubt something radical had to be done to stop the rot. I sympathise that for comrades who were not as centrally involved the issues might not have seemed so clear cut although the subsequent emails from Muserat and Denham, the leaflets from James and Arash, and the behaviour of Muktar and Sherin should have resolved any doubts about what the real issues were. We are not anarchists. We do not fetishise organisational forms and procedures. When the structures of the Coalition are being abused to undermine its very future something has to give. What happened with the Birmingham Coalition also happened in the London Coalition with the party taking more or less the same decisions. Our job is to regroup the Coalition on a stronger basis. There will be an open meeting probably in May. In the meantime we have plenty to get on with. If Stirchley or anybody else have proposals re city initiatives which they want to raise I would at least expect the comrades on the ctte, Sakina and I, to be informed about them.
Re rules etc; what happened was in accordance with the rules agreed by all sides and when the motion was moved by Salma it was carried by a good two-thirds majority. The votes got narrower on the issue of vice-chair because Steve managed to keep his gob shut after his disgraceful behaviour at the previous open meeting and benefited from a good deal of confusion as to where he actually stood and reduced numbers.
Re basic norms of democratic centralism; there was an advertised caucus and extensive ring-round explaining the issues. Comrades should have turned up. Comrades knew there was going to be a faction fight and had a responsibility to take an interest in it. One of the basic norms of democratic centralism is that the party acts like a united front within the united front, that when we go into battle we act as one, that we can discuss, debate, argue or whatever prior to or after an intervention but come the time we stick together. That is the abc of Leninism. I respect those comrades who stuck with the party through gritted teeth just as I respect their right now to debate their concerns now.
> There now appears to be a separate city anti-war group attracting
> significant numbers to it. Is this true? If so, what do we do about it?
A meeting took place consisting in the main of the Alliance for Workers Liberty, Socialist Outlook, the Marxist Party and various self-styled anarchists and Maoists. They decided nothing. They have done nothing. I am not in the least bit concerned if these people do set up some other body. If they are not happy working within the Coalition, they should set up something that they are happy working in and let's all get on with the work. Considering that their overall contribution to the Coalition has been a destructive one they would be no loss. That reality was summed up by Naz in her contribution at the Feb. 5 meeting when she contrasted the atmosphere of cooperation and fraternity that existed at the National Steering Ctte meetings which she attended with Salma and others to the atmosphere of suspicion and hostility that she felt when she attended the Birmingham open meetings.
> Sue B has referred to the 'poisonous atmosphere' in the Brum Univ
> anti-war group. I gather they have now passed a highly critical motion regarding
> BSTWC and this has been sent to the Committee. If so, how do we respond?"
The best antidote to sectarians is always to attract real people. The best way to do that is not to pander to their prejudices. Unfortunately, B'ham Uni failed on both counts with the result that the group there has degenerated into a sectarian rump with half-a-dozen or so attending. At the last meeting that I attended a leaflet was circulated by the sectarian buffoon James which both managed to be an Islamaphobic rant (making the most vile personal attacks on Salma) and sing the praises of unnamed SWP member(s) who he claims shared some of his concerns. In fairness to Sue, it was not her that he was referring to.
> The Stirchley anti-war group seems to have been in conflict about the
> February general meeting. How do we prevent a potential split occurring?
SOMETIMES THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO A SPLIT IF IT IS AN ISSUE OF PRINCIPLE. We split with the ISO over the united front and relating to the anti-capitalist movement and were right to do so. I am not for unity at all costs. The best way to build a united front against the war is to ensure it is inoculated against Islamphobia and ultraleftism. That's what this is all about and when ordinary people hear that two public meetings were prohibited from taking place under the banner of the Coalition because of a suspicion of Muslim involvement on the one hand, and a sectarian hostility to George Galloway on the other, it does not take them long to make up their minds the rights and the wrongs about the issue. The best people we will win. Some you will lose. I don't worry about the people we lose as long as the comrades make no concessions about Islamaphobia and ultra-leftism to the people we win. The experience of the anti-war movement in France is that where you do make concessions on these issues you build on sand.
> I gather the Balsall Heath anti-war group contemplated banning SWP
> members. Is this true? - and if so, what is the latest situation?
The Balsall Heath group, in the main a handful of anarchists, set up their group in opposition to the Coalition in the area right back in Oct./Nov. Their hostility is not new. That fact that the supposedly anti-authoritarian anarchists can consider banning party members is a neat illustration of the contradictions inherent in their politics. I'd prefer to rest my case with the ordinary people of Balsall Heath. The latest situation appears to be that they are moving on. If that is the case, all credit to them, but I'll reserve judgement until I see some real proof. Either way, they are not our periphery nor our priority.
> There is open hostility to the party - and not just amongst the
> 'sectarians'. Our name has been trawled through mud in an open discussion list"
The only discussion list I am aware of is the Stop the war one. The vast bulk of the emails in relation to this and critical of us were from Jim Denham and his alter-ego Alan. Denham is singularly obsessed with Islamic fundamentalism, so much so, that he thinks "that at least one good thing came from the war: the destruction of the Taliban. If that cost 2 billion dollars, then it was money well spent". The logic of his politics are pro-war he just lacks the political courage to follow them through. The anti-party hostility comes in the main from political activists who were hostile to us before any of this started anyway. The friends and influence we have won within the Muslim community for our unflinching support in the face of Islamaphobic attacks outweighs a million times the sectarians we have pissed off. I regret that some genuine people may have been pulled by the crap. Unfortunately we just did not have the time to wait around for them to get up to speed with the issues. My experience is that with clear explanation of the issues at hand they can be easily won round.
> I understand that all the non-party members in the Socialist Alliance
> voted against the amendment. This is naturally having/going to have a
> tremendous impact on the Brum SA. How do we build bridges with these people?
The bulk non-party SA members I saw where people aligned in a hotch-potch of political organisations. The SA has been in a mess over the war. Unfortunately Steve Godward ducked the issues at the crucial moment. He refused to raise the issue in the Kingsbury by-election and defends that position today. He also refused to speak on the platform at the Adrian Boult Hall meeting when I argued with him that he should use it to put himself forward as the anti-war candidate and encourage people to canvass for him in Kingsbury. The main reason is that he panders to sectarian arguments that the left should equally condemn imperialism and "Islamic fundamentalism" as if there is some equation between the two. It is not "Islamic fundamentalism" that is drawing up a hit list of seven states to nuke. It is not "Islamic fundamentalism" that poses the biggest threat to humanity. It was on my suggestion, and against Salma's advice who argued he would only play a destructive role, that we included him on the Ctte at the election meeting before last. Unfortunately she was proved right. It would have been unprincipled not to challenge his behaviour for paper unity within the SA. We build bridges by proving in practice how to build united front and pushing the SA outwards. The SA should have been the political beneficiaries of the anti-war movement. It wasn't. We have to make sure it is the political beneficiaries of the Defend Council Housing and RAGE campaigns.
> A number of our own members are extremely unhappy with the events of that
> meeting, including some who attended. How do we prevent a similar
> recurrence in the future?
Get more involved in the life of the district. Ring me or other comrades to find out what's going on. It's as simple as that really.
Dear Ger,Thanks for your lengthy reply. You raise a lot of points that are largely best left for discussion in a meeting - I have numerous concerns and worries about much of what you say. I still feel that given the seriousness of the issue (and every point in my 'fall-out list' has, it seems, proved to be true), we should have such a meeting/caucus soon to sort out the party's relationship with the rest of BSTWC and non-SWP Socialist Alliance members. But just a few points here:
These are just some of the issues that need to be thrashed out in a frank and straightforward manner.
Rumy,we do not conduct political debate via elists at either a national or local level because it is wide open to abuse among other reasons. This is now the third time I have stated this. Again, if comrades wish to discuss this any further, they should contact me via phone.
Most of what you write is stuff that has already been dealt with more than once. Apologies for any repetition. As regards the rest:
> great animosity towards the SWP in some of the city's anti-war groups...
> the coalition has effectively split
The "opposition" in the "city's anti-war groups" in the main comes from some anarchists and ultra lefts in Balsall Heath and Stirchley and a rump at B'ham uni. i.e 4 people (2 anarchists from Balsall Heath, Mirium from Worker Power and James; a bizarre combination of Stuart Richardson and Jim Denham combined). Add to the pot Muktar, his wife Shirin and sister Muserat (Maoists), Stuart, Deneham, Arash and the Marxist party. That's more or less it. The vast bulk on the hard-left. All of these people hated us beforehand so no change there then.
The Coalition was effectively split from the beginning. From the start we had to deal with a very unprincipled bloc of people, all united around a sectarian hostility to the SWP and anybody who allies themselves with us, and some of whom were obviously pandering to all kinds of right-wing arguments about Islamic fundamentalism, some less so. They factionalised at every meeting, with destructive results, driving away those who came for all the right reasons, and demoralising new people who wanted to build the Coalition. This had its heaviest impact on the Muslims who had got involved and who started to feel like they were being under constant attack and suspicion. The strength of the Coalition rested on our ability to maintain their involvement. We tried at the November meeting to lessen the political tensions by getting Steve, Shirin and Muserat (again) on the ctte and it proved a disaster. They literally did nothing but sabotage both the Bordesley Green meeting with Lousie Christian and the Rex centre meeting with Galloway because of their suspicions of Muslim involvement in the coalition and sectarianism towards the Labour party. After that, the status quo was untenable. Either the sectarians would shape the coalition, in the process driving away people like Salma, or we would. It is a shame that you could not have played a more central role because I suspect if you have been able to attend either the bulk of the ctte meetings or open meetings I don't think we would be having this exchange.
> Put simply, we need stiff rules for meetings (set times etc) and a firm but
> fair rotating chair who complies with these rules. Have the discussions and
> then vote - The principled position is to try and win through force of
> argument and not by shutting down forums.
We did all of these things. We had the discussion, and the vote, and won. You recognise that something had to be done but the only suggestion you make is that we needed better chairing. The issues are not about how to chair and run a meeting, experience of which we and others in the Coalition have in abundance. The reality was that because of the sectarianism the open meetings shrunk as most people have better things to do with there times than to sit through sectarian diatribes. Even our own comrades were only going out of party discipline. That's why people voted, with a very large majority, to change the structures. To suggest that all of this could have been dealt with by better chairing ignores the reality that the open meetings were increasingly a complete waste of time with the people who talked the loudest doing the least work. It is the worst kind of anarchist fetishism to place structures above the movement irrespective of whether those structures either fit or are helping to build the movement.
> On several occasions you use the term 'Islamophobic'...
The central feature of the Coalition in Brum has been the scale of Muslim involvement in terms of attendance at meetings, mobilisations at demos and profile on the ctte. It has raised the question of Islamic fundamentalism in particular and religion in general. Unless you have a dialectical understanding of the contradictory nature of religious ideas you cannot understand why religion can both spur resistance and pacification. Most of the left have an undialectical view of ideology, never mind religion. This resulted in an attitude to Muslim involvement that ranged from at best, ultra left to at worst, Islamphobic, with some people bouncing between the two positions whilst loudly proclaiming their anti-racist credentials. In the Coalition this took the form of people from a Muslim background that have broken from Islam but don't understand the contradictory appeal of Islamic fundamentalism. They have a critique of religion that stands in the tradition of the Enlightenment not Marxsim. They come from political backgrounds that contributed to the growth of Islamic movements because of their political failures to pose an alternative to undermine them. They are ultra left to Muslims who have not broken in the same way from their religion and look down on them for not being as "enlightened" as they are. They equate Muslims in the Coalition with the fundamentalists. The look at the Muslim community through the lenses of Pakistan and Iran and see a powerful movement developing in Birmingham (with Salma at the front) instead of the politically marginalized and fearful community that exists (Muslims of Pakistani background rank bottom in terms of unemployment, worst pay, conditions etc).
The blatant Islamaphobia expresses itself quite obviously in the rantings of Deneham, James, and others. I attach again the document written by Mark and John. When people apply one set of criteria to Muslims and another to Christians i.e. happily supporting CND meetings with Christian speakers but going nuts about Coalition meetings which happen to have Muslim speakers, what is that but Islamaphobia? When they equate women together like Salma with fundamentalists because she is religious what is that but Islamaphobia? I could go on. Whatever label you want to adopt the issue remains very simple: the Coalition cannot afford to be associated with the merest whiff of hostility towards Muslims if it wants the involvement of large sections of that community. That does not mean being uncritical of the Taliban or anybody else. It does mean remembering that we are in a united front against imperialism not religion.
Sorry, Rumy but I don't have any more time for this. The issues around religion and the Coalition we first raised in NOVEMBER in a submission to conference discussion document. The SA is a different discussion although the signs are that things are moving on. Anything unanswered, ring me
Fraternally (and for the last time I hope),
I definitely support the idea of holding a caucus of those involved in the Stop The War campaign because after a conversation I had with Ger outside the Monday members meeting I became worried not only about the damage that is being done to the anti war struggle but I became seriously concerned about issues of accountability and democracy in the party
Essentially I spoke to Ger to (a) check that he had received the Stirchley e-mail (he said that he had, although he said he hadn't read it - but said that he had heard about it from other people.) and (b) to see how he wanted the matter raised in the meeting - i.e. did he want it raised as a formal proposal, whereby there would be a vote or just as points for discussion.
I gave Ger a printed copy of the e-mail which stated the Stirchley members' proposals for a monthly STW general meeting in light of the threat towards Iraq, and that elections should be held every 3 to 6 months. Ger then said to me that members' meetings were not for discussing things like this, and that we didn't put forward proposals etc. He said that e-mail was not the right way to tell members that this was up for discussion and that it was elitist to bring this up at the meeting as not all SWP members who have been involved in the STW coalition would have been informed. I pointed out to Ger that I had contacted about 20 people, and that he of all people should know how difficult it is to contact people before a meeting.
I also asked Ger that if we shouldn't discuss things through e-mail, and a members meeting is not the correct place to discuss such matters then where is? Ger told me that a special meeting would need to be convened (I pointed out that he had rejected this idea when Rumy first suggested it). Ger also said that we couldn't make these sorts of decisions without informing/getting instructions from the central committee ! - I thought he was joking.
At which point Ger announced that it would be bottom of the agenda for the meeting and that we wouldn't be wasting much time on it and then started to talk about why he felt the coalition meetings had failed - islamaphobia and ultra-leftism, which I said would be better saved for the meeting.
I was also very concerned during the meeting when it was constantly iterated that there had been a caucus before the Feb STW meeting to discuss our intervention. Whilst I was aware that this was due to be discussed after the forum on the Sunday, this discussion could only have revolved around voting off the old commitee. Personally my main concern about the STW meeting was the amendent, which there was no opportunity to discuss, as Ger informed me it was written on the Monday night before the Tuesday meeting. Anyway I do think it is time that party members discussed and decided in a caucus what we are doing in the Coalition.
There will be a caucus this Monday, 25 March at 7pm, Carrs Lane Church, City Centre (behind Marks & Spensers) with Chris Bambery to discuss SWP's work within the STWC at both a national and local level.
I repeat again that the SWP does not, at either a national or local level, support members engaging in important party discussions via email because it is both exclusive and wide open to abuse. We conduct polemics and have our political debate face to face and in forums where other comrades can hear what's being said in order that they can hear both sides of the arguments simultaneously and make up their own minds as to what comrades actually say and mean as opposed to receiving second-hand accounts.
The immediate priority however is to ensure both the maximium turnout for both the teach-in this Sat and the CND demo on the 30th. New posters and leaflets have been produced and comrades should RING ME to get them as I don't not always have access to email.
[ mobile phone no. ]
I don't have much to add to the debate that hasn't already been said, but I would question Ger's assertion that e-mail is not the place to have a political debate. Whyever not? I have constant political debates by e-mail with all sorts of people - STW people at the Uni., party members in Brum and elsewhere - and it's a good way of keeping up to date with developments and ideas. No, of course e-mail is never confidential, but there's more risk of my messages being read by the University management than by any of the sectarian idiots who have been mentioned.
Those of you who are among the more "active" comrades in terms of attending meetings might reflect on the fact that some of us don't find it so easy to get to them due to childcare commitments, pressures of work and study, etc. And there may well be comrades who find it easier to articulate their thoughts by e-mail than in a meeting. Newer members may actually feel intimidated in meetings, especially if there is someone from the Centre there and they feel they are going to be criticised for any disagreement they express. E-mail is not a substitute for face-to-face discussion, but for those who CAN'T always get to meetings it's a useful supplement.
At both the last two party meetings where STW was discussed, there were several other important topics for discussion and STW came last on both occasions. I know at the last meeting Raj, for one, had to leave before we got round to the STW item. When we did get round to discussing it the time was limited. Surely e-mail is a good way of airing all the issues we don't get time to debate in the meetings? In the days when we had branch meetings there was a lot more opportunity for all members to make a contribution, and while I don't want to see a return to THAT format I don't think we have yet hit on the right formula to enable all members to feel included in party democracy.
The only comment I would make on what Ger said in his last e-mail, is that I cannot understand why on earth he labels Mukhtar and Shereen as "Maoist". I would say these are people who are keen to be active in STW, NOT members of any organisation apart from STW itself, and NOT inherently hostile to the SWP. In fact, people we should be talking to more and trying to recruit. And by the way, they are not "Islamophobic" - they are not practising Muslims but I know they took their kids out of school for Eid - good excuse to spend the day at Star City!
On a more specific matter - does any of you know how many signatures are needed to force a general meeting of the Guild of Students at Birmingham University? And do you have to have the exact wording of the motions on the petition, or can you leave that until later? I am arguing in the BU STW group that we should try to get a meeting called to discuss Palestine, the war, and the Guild's hostility to any discussion of politics in general, and discussion of Israel in particular.
All for now,
[ work address etc. ]
Good, I'll be there, childcare arrangements permitting. But it would be nice to have the occasional meeting where ordinary members can have an informal discussion of what they are doing and how it's going without having to have a pep-talk from a CC member first.
> I repeat again that the SWP does not, at either a national or local level,
> support members engaging in important party discussions via email because it
> is both exclusive and wide open to abuse. We conduct polemics and have our
> political debate face to face and in forums where other comrades can hear
> what's being said in order that they can hear both sides of the arguments
> simultaneously and make up their own minds as to what comrades actually say
> and mean as opposed to receiving second-hand accounts.
Oh really Ger, sorry to say this but this is the daftest thing I've seen for a long time! I have been a party member for almost 20 years and I have been using e-mail for even longer than that, and I have NEVER heard anyone suggest that comrades shouldn't conduct political debates by e-mail. Exactly where in the constitution does it say that??
E-mail is NOT exclusive, it can be much more inclusive than the face-to-face debate which you seem to be fetishizing. It is an efficient and cost-free way of getting ideas to a large number of people quickly. It enables people to think a little about what they are going to say before they say it. It also enables people to keep a record of what was said which is likely to be far more accurate than several comrades' recollections of what was said orally in a meeting. E-mail enables people to reply at length if they want to, without the chair cutting them off because of time constraints. It enables them to come back as many times as they want to if the person replying to them has misunderstood what they were arguing.
E-mail is democratic, even subversive. We should use it more.
Over the years I have had e-debates with comrades on every conceivable topic. Recent examples that spring to mind are John Cooper circulating a hilarious piss-take of postmodernism, and a long discussion I had with Martin Empson (former Bham paper organiser) about the precise definition of fascism. And I am starting to use e-mail to organise paper sales. It is much less stressful to deal with a dozen e-mails than a dozen phone calls: I can reply to them in my own time, without feeling harrassed by three or four comrades in a row ringing me up and demanding my immediate attention.
As a matter of principle I intended to copy this to everyone on the list who got the original messages from Jane and Ger, but this list isn't shown on the header of my message. Could one of you copy it to the others please?
All for now, must do some work!
[ work address etc. ]
Sue,it is a fact that the only use the party makes of email at a national level is for announce purposes and distributing information & publicity. We do not conduct any important discussion or debate relating to policy, national meetings,party council or national conference via this forum for the reasons I have already highlighted. We do not use e-lists as a forum for serious party discussion about strategy and tactics either. You may not have noticed this or discussions about uses (and abuses) of email around national conferences in the past but what I am saying is pretty much in line with national party practice. Before we all go off on another debate I suggest you should raise the issue with Bambery on Monday since you seem to suggest I am making this up to stifle debate. I would also suggest that you hold back from stating whether I am saying is "daft" or not until you get that clarification.
Re "it would be nice to have the occasional meeting where ordinary members can have an informal discussion of what they are doing and how it's going without having to have a pep-talk from a CC member first."
Nobody is stopping you from arranging an informal meeting to discuss issues with however you want. Bambery was coming up anyway on Monday to meet with the paper team. Considering the manner and tone in which this issue is continuing to drag on despite the extensive discussion around it, and the complete reluctance to even discuss the issue properly with me never mind engage with any of my substantive points, it seems best to have it out with a CC member present. Rather than look at as a "pep-talk" why not see it as an opportunity to find out what the party's perspectives nationally is for the STWC and judge whether our practice locally, in view of all the debate post Feb. 5, complement that strategy or are at variance with it.
I was not talking about Party Council or in fact any discussion at national level - it would be hard to conduct an e-debate at national level without a national party list with all members on it, and I agree that that would be hard to maintain.
I was talking about debate at a LOCAL level, where members can be sure they are sending their e-mails to known party members only.
There is a forum for democratic debate around national conference / party council, i.e. the printed bulletins, to which any member can submit a letter or article. There is no such forum at local level, and now that branches have been abolished it is easy for members to get out of touch with each other. E-mail can help to fill that gap.
I would hope that the party accepts the need for communication in a bottom-up as well as a top-down direction. If e-mail is only to be used for the Centre to disseminate information to members, what are the channels - between Party Conferences - for ordinary members to have day-to-day discussions and send ideas in the other direction?
By the way, one or two comrades have challenged my claim to have been using e-mail for twenty years on the grounds that it hasn't existed that long. In fact e-mail existed long before personal computers: I took my first computer course in 1979, using punched cards (!), and shortly after that graduated to teletype machines, on which I sent and received my first e-mails around 1980, on the Cambridge University IBM mainframe. You could only send e-mails to people who were using the same computer, but then most universities only had one mainframe so the staff and students WERE all on the same computer. I still have a printout of one of my earliest e-mails, although the ink will have faded ... OK, so e-mail was only available to an elite in those days: I guess I was was part of that elite!
Maybe we should have a meeting at Marxism this year on "Technology, Democracy and Resistance"? It could cover everything from Osama Bin Laden's satellite phone, through Al-Jazeera, to the use of e-mail by Globalise Resistance etc. ...
See you all on Monday if not before.
Sue Blackwell and Rumy Hasan resigned their membership of the Socialist Workers Party by letter to the Central Committee on 4th April 2002.
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