We are members of Birmingham SWP and write to inform you that after very careful consideration, we are resigning from the party. We believe our reasons for this grave decision go to the heart of issues relating to party democracy and debate, the party's role in united fronts, and the role of party organisers. We briefly summarise our reasons for this decision, but have full documentation of relevant correspondence and materials.
In brief, we have been very concerned by the fall-out from the General Meeting of Birmingham Stop the War Coalition (BSTWC) on 5th February 2002. At this meeting a highly inflammatory amendment to a motion was put forward by the Chair of the coalition (Salma Yaqoob) and seconded by a party member (Lynne Hubbard). We are, however, aware that the real driving force for this amendment was our organiser, Ger Francis. The amendment did away with the hitherto democratic and open structures of BSTWC with elections every three months, committeee meetings open to all, and regular general meetings. Only the BSTWC committee now decides when a general meeting takes place, when elections take place, and who is invited to attend committee meetings. Though the reason for the amendment was to break out of the sectarian in-fighting in Coalition meetings, nonetheless, this amendment was a serious error in that it brought in significant rule changes that amendments are, in democratic forums, precluded from doing. Moreover, not only was the amendment not circulated in advance to Coalition members, there was no party meeting or caucus to discuss it (we believe only three party members knew about it, though after repeated requests, the organiser has refused to answer this question). Had there been such a caucus, we would have argued against it, as it was bound to bring the party into disrepute and damage the anti-war movement in Birmingham. Though the amendment was passed (but being opposed by all our allies in the Socialist Alliance) it would not have been, if there had been a free vote, as several of our members would have voted against it. The ultimate result of this folly is that there is now open hostility to, and suspicion of, the SWP (and not just from the so-called 'sectarians') and, recently, another anti-war group has been formed in Birmingham.
In the days after 5th February, a number of emails were sent on the BSTWC email discussion list highly critical of the party's manoeuvrings at the general meeting. One of us (RH, who is on the BSTWC committee), concerned by this, therefore sent a short email to various members asking for a special party meeting to discuss the fall-out and conduct a damage-limitation exercise. Though several members wished for such a meeting to take place, this was not taken up (at least, not until the 25th March). At the 11th February members meeting, some comrades raised concerns about the fall-out. However the Coalition was put to the bottom of the agenda, leaving very limited time for discussion of it. Ger and others argued that the amendment was justified. Yet, damage was already being done to local anti-war groups, especially the Birmingham University group. The Stirchley SWP group - concerned about serious conflicts within the Stirchley anti-war group following 5th February - put forward a proposal in early March calling in effect for the party to undo the damaging effects of the amendment. This proposal has never been properly discussed or voted on (and not at the district meeting of 11th March where the organiser again put discussion of the BSTWC at the bottom of the agenda). Furthermore, Ger has strongly objected to comrades discussing the issues by email.
Finally, Ger informed some members of a special meeting to specifically discuss the Coalition with Chris Bambery of the CC on 25th March. Though we were pleased at the convening of such a meeting, we were also concerned by the presence of a CC member as we had wished for a frank discussion amongst Birmingham district members only. Still, we hoped that Chris would play a constructive role and seriously take note of, and address, our arguments. Alas, this did not happen. What happened in effect was a white wash. Chris's introduction of about 20 minutes was fine, setting out the general political situation, and focusing on the importance of united fronts. Everyone who wanted to speak was allowed to but our overwhelming impression was that Ger, and members supporting him, completely failed to address our key concerns. Astonishingly, during the discussion, certain comrades blatantly lied about a caucus/meeting having taken place before the 5th February meeting, whilst two, shockingly, denigrated the idea of democratic structures and debate. One of us (SB) pointed out that comrades seemed to be 'in denial' as to what had happened, and we still adhere to this view.
We had hoped that at least Chris Bambery would have directly addressed our concerns. Shockingly, he did not. His concluding remarks were full of non-sequiturs and irrelevancies (at one point, he rudely commented on one of us making notes - in effect, telling him to stop writing). Unmistakeably, he was completely supportive of Ger and those comrades supporting his actions. Real problems arising from the fall-out following the Coalition general meeting, of issues concerning party democracy, discussion, and debate, and how party members should work in united fronts via democratic structures, did not concern him. It almost seemed to us as if Chris had drafted the damaging amendment with Ger (though we have no evidence as to whether this was actually the case or not).
We have long been committed and active party members and are absolutely appalled at this turn of events. When a party organiser (whom we did not elect, have no control over his actions, nor mechanisms for removing him) systematically lies, acts in a unilateral manner (with complete disregard for the basic norms of democratic centralism) whose results are highly damaging to the movement and party, and attempts to stifle debate, but is given full backing by a CC member, we feel there is no principled course of action but to resign. Our personal integrity as socialists prevents us from continuing as members. As you can imagine, this is a very sad moment for us, but we remain resolutely committed to the cause of revolutionary socialism. We shall, however, continue to operate in the anti-war movement, in the Socialist Alliance, and other united fronts.
One of us (SB) has attached a longer personal statement.
Sue Blackwell (joined 1983)
Rehan Hafeez (joined 1986)
* Rehan Hafeez is a pseudonym: I have replaced his real name at his own request.
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