On Tuesday I stood outside a meeting of Goldsmiths Student Assembly leafleting on behalf of Workers’ Liberty. A motion was to be discussed which would disband the SWP’s student society on campus.
Our leaflet said, in brief: the SWP are a degenerate sect, who have been responsible for covering up rape allegations inside their organisation, but don’t ban them, argue with them. A few dozen people took my leaflet, politely, and went in. No fuss.
At the meeting, the very little opposition there was to the banning included the AWL; a non-student SWPer turned up to hand out a leaflet. The motion went through with a big majority (although that majority was only a tiny minority of students at the college). The previous week AWL women members had attended a meeting which discussed the issues; again the SWP had failed to show up and defend themselves.
As we said in the Student Assembly we are sympathetic to the movers of the motion. The problem is, however, that this has wider implications for politics and political functioning.
The people that voted to ban the SWP must know this too. After we had left some burned the SWP and AWL leaflets and posted a picture of it on the internet. The AWL were being warned, we may be next.
A serious precedent was made here; this was the first time the SWP as banned on a British campus — a week later Edinburgh University also banned them. These bannings may well have further implications for them, for us, for the rest of the far left and for just for having well-functioning democratic student unions.
As far as I can work out there are 2.5 SWP members at Goldsmiths; I went to a recent meeting (on Palestine, with the spluttering, deranged John Rose) and it seems to me their group is no physical threat to anyone. Besides, even if they were bigger and carnivorous, what’s the problem? Can’t those on the left who want to argue with them, win the arguments?
That time, with John Rose speaking, no one had protested outside their meeting, no one had attempted to expose them for what they are (except me, inside the meeting, and in the corridor outside, afterwards).
That the 2.5 SWP youth at Goldsmiths feel they can’t win an argument in a hostile meeting, and with a lousy case, is no surprise. The fact that the SWP leaders allowed a motion to ban them to go through the meeting without any opposition (except from the AWL, people they regard as their bitter enemies), is contemptible. There was no political campaign to defend their party, no protest outside the Student Assembly, no speeches. How rubbish are the SWP? People who run away from a political fight when their party’s honour and rights are being contested. And if a group runs away from a fight on a posh University of London campus, how effective are they likely to be if the police come for them? Or if the state bans them?
Two nights later at Goldsmiths there was a debate between Marxists and anarchists hosted by the Platypus group.
Platypus should be congratulated — it was an interesting meeting where real debate took place. Next to me on the platform were a couple of anarchists, a guy from Socialist Appeal and the SWP.
None of the leftist supporters of banning the SWP appeared to expose them, or have them driven from campus.
Which left the AWL to take on the SWP (Socialist Appeal were neither at the Student Assembly nor did they mention the SWP in their contributions, obsessed as they are with making desiccated propaganda for a bureaucratic Marxism, plodding away like plodders). Of course the job was made easier because the SWP’s speaker started his contribution with, “I joined the SWP in 1996 because I fancied one of their members.” Honestly, you couldn’t make it up. He went downhill from then on, dismissing the rape allegations as “sniping”.
So to sum up: at the student meeting the AWL was left to make the case for free debate because the SWP are too spineless to turn up and defend themselves; at the anarchist-socialist debate the AWL was left to take on the SWP because those that hate them enough to support banning them, those that might feel able to confront them anyway, were unwilling.
There is an unpleasant symmetry.