(written on my iPhone so I can't see the whole post at the same time-sorry if it's too rambling)
Dear comrades, friends & fellow travellers,
Two months ago myself and James M were suspended from the SWP. James has had his suspension lifted and is able to participate in party debates at conference although is not able to sell the paper, attend branch meetings, central London, Soas or otherwise. It is a great shame that the party has enforced restricted membership on such a dedicated revolutionary.
On Saturday, however, I was expelled. (addition to original post) I was expelled for 1) putting on an event called Mutiny which they claim was autonomist 2) for sending 6 friends a private email and 3) I was accused of 'lying', ie for not accepting that this was a factional email or event.
I have been a member for four turbulent years. My sister and I joined the SWP at Marxism 2005, the year of the London bombings which had me penned in my Brunswick Centre flat in Russell sq, a mere 100yds from the bus bomb.
How glad I am that I was amongst people such as you all at this difficult time and that my distress was channelled into becoming a revolutionary. Through learning from and participating in discussions about how to change the world I was won to the idea of having to do this collectively.
The seed of this was sown in my mind in 2003 when the local Stop the War branch used my restaurant (Char Bar in Cromer St) to hold planning meetings. Coming from a military family background (my dad was in the Military Police!) meeting these people and seeing their desire to fight back against the impending war on Iraq was certainly a life changing experience. My first ever demo was the 2m people one on 15 July 2003. I attended with my own homemade banner with the Gandhi quote 'an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind': my, how I have changed.
After joining the SWP in July 2005 I threw myself into activity at SOAS university, central London, with an unquestioning commitment. I was consequently elected as Co-President of the Students' Union on a Student Respect platform in March 2006 having built up a layer of support through our activity. The people in the SWSS group were extremely dedicated, and we regularly had new people attending the weekly planning meetings and engaging in activity.
And we soon turned the union on it's head. General meetings went from attendence of around 30 people twice yearly to now between 100 and 150 of a student body of only 3,000 on campus every 6 weeks. Election turnouts have become the highest in the country (30-33%) with many candidates standing on highly political manifestos. We did all this not just by handing out tons of leaflets in the rain but by making the links between local issues and national, indeed international, happenings. We also built so successfully by doing a combination of protests, meetings, filmshowings, socials and by getting involved in other societies; by attempting to relate to people on many different levels. This was my first experience of building anything political and this was, I still feel, a very succesful strategy.
Soon after I began my first term I was also elected to the National Council of Respect. Needless to say electoral politics was what I was most familiar with so the transition to revolutionary socialism came about through this process. Although I am not arguing for a 'stageist' approach, it is clear to me that one does not necessarily become a revolutionary overnight: the relationship between activity and theory is continually affected by external influences (and vice versa).
The Respect split of 2007 was very upsetting for me. I remember crying when George left the NC meeting. I had even been on Big Brother's Little Brother as one of his defenders for the upcoming eviction shows. Even as an NC member I was, to be honest, unclear of what had happened in Respect so it is of no suprise to me that many other people have come to lots of different conclusion-it is nigh on impossible to ensure an equal distribution of information. And being remote by either time or space from an event or happening only adds to potential distortions. Luckily the Internet is changing all this, and changing the way we relate to each other. (I am presenting a paper on this topic at HM this weekend-see http://mercury.soas.ac.uk/hm/conference2009.htm for registration details).
Just prior to returning to being a student after my 2 term stint in the SU I was asked to be Central London organiser of the SWP for a month, taking the reigns from the previous person who is well known as being a more-than-fulltime revolutionary! I learnt a hell of a lot in this time. It is an extremely hard job both mentally and physically. I focused on changing the way we did paper sales and we had 11 new people attending branch meetings within 2 weeks. We recruited about 7 or 8 to the party in a space of 3 weeks.
Coming back to Uni I was in the strange and disturbing situation of not having any established comrades from the previous year. Some had left SOAS and those that did return we had not retained. We had a new and very different organiser and a whole new National SWSS office team. The anger at the collapse of the banking sytems helped us rebuild a vibrant swss group; we recruited 8 people and retained 6 of them (which is a very high percentage).
SOAS was the first Uni to go into occupation over Gaza and we were central to a number of other occupations. Whilst on one hand this strengthened our already great relationships with a wide layer of people, on the other it left us behind in our school work and slightly fragmented as a group. None-the-less we learnt a great deal from these actions and are all still dedicated to building the party this year.
The combination of having new organisers, of underlying differences in both the party and on the wider left and of having a wide millieu of anti-capitalists around us proved very diffilcult for me to carry out hard party arguments and turn new students into convinced revolutionaries. The doors were also opened to new activist groups having inspired them into getting active. This has given us even more to contend with.
However 3 more Soas people have joined the party since last year.
In the summer myself and a few friends (including James M), both SWP and others, organised a very successful event called Mutiny-Money on Trial which aimed to play around with culture and politics, blurring the boudaries and looking for new ways to attract young people. As far as we were concerned what we did was exactly what revolutionaries should be doing: we took our cue from the post conference bulletin which encouraged us to take creative initiatives. We spoke to the cc prior to the event and took on board their feedback. As a consequence two people joined the party and Mutiny attendees were central to setting up a new branch. Five people that we know of wanted to get more involved and were only put off from joining once they heard of our suspensions. Just to be clear, far from being told not to be involved, a member of the CC said 'if it goes well come back to the party and we can see how to take it forward'.
And now I have been expelled.
I tell you these things not because I want pity or to win your support but because I think it is important to contextualise my involvement in the movement and hence help understand the trajectory which has landed me where I am today.
Being expelled is upsetting to me not just because of any personal attachment to the party but because I understand the need for a coordinated attack on the ruling class and that this can only come from below. We need a strong organisation to be able to carry this out and we only get a strong organisation through constant debate, discussion, disagreement and, hopefully, democratic decision making. There needs to be debate in a revolutionary party to get clarity. The history of ideas is, afterall, the history of the clash of ideas.
Whilst my case has become the source of a lot of distorted tittle tattle for reasons not always clear to people I am pleased that comrades are at least debating the direction of the party and the effect that this will have on the wider movements.
I have great respect for the SWP and do not wish any internal problems to become problematic for building a strong resistance in what looks set to become a period of increasingly deeper recession. The left faces huge challenges for the future both fighting the BNP and organising working class resistance. We need a united fight back and any problems the SWP have will impact on the possibility of this happening.
I reject ALL the accusations against me and I believe thy have made a mistake in expelling me. What concerns me is that it may mark a change in the kind of party the SWP wants to be.
I do reserve the right to appeal to conference in January and I trust comrades to be fair in their assessment of the situation.
Thank you again and I look forward to having these debates in the open.
Ps. I have obviously been following with great interest the discussions on various blogs and will continue to do so. I would like to thank you all for your lively and lovely contributions (even from you Sacha!) and I welcome any more constructive criticism. Please respect the fact my blog is about building not internal squabling. Some of the analysis you guys have been offering is really rather good-we can all learn so much from each other and these forums have provided a place for us to do this.