Chewing off your own foot

Well, we were waiting for the San Andreas Fault to give and here it comes.

Ructions within the British far left over the Galloway “Respect” bodge-up are so catastrophic that the Socialist Workers Party is now chewing off its own foot and expelling three players in the inner circle.

Two of them, Nick Wrack and Rob Hoveman (the SWP National Secretary’s Mini-Me) have been proactive in this mess from the start when they facilitated the destruction of the Socialist Alliance, the first time the left had worked together in an era, so few will be shedding any tears. The fact that Hoveman, who was extremely personally close to the Cardinal Richelieu leadership, has been purged illustrates just how deeply damaging their policies have been.

The axis running the SWP have screwed over everyone around them in ever-decreasing circles until there’s only them left. Well done, comrades. I hope you feel great standing in the rubble. Admire your handiwork – it’s all yours.

Madam Miaow says … visit Anna Chen’s website here:


Anna’s food blog here:

49 thoughts on “Chewing off your own foot”

  1. Sounds like Madam just has a personal grudge against Rees and Hoveman.

    What's your political issues with them? Why did you fall out with them?

    It's all personality and no politics, all we get is little anecdotes and richelieu quips.

    All very fine and dandy

  2. Charlie: "About the last days of the SA, what I remember is a meeting where kids I'd never seen before popped up, to denounce those who allegedly wanted to keep a small movement whereas they wanted to build Respect. "

    Yeah, I remember that and this young woman (dunno if she was a very new SWPer) who spoke was all bright eyed and bushy tailed in building Respect and that was the way forward. Tactics from the SWP pushing the line from very new members as opposed to the usual suspects…I wonder if that young woman is still a member of either…

    Reich? yeah, probably (though he had some bizarre things to say about orgasms…)and maybe Marcuse (maybe not?). I dunno, been re-reading Kollontai and she is still kinda under rated on the Left.

  3. Taken in isolation, Charlie, the principle of officers leaving positions when their organisation has recalled them seems right.

    But, again, we get back to the question of democracy. If it's on the whim of increasingly capricious masters who are now whistling them in because they may be falling for the charms of another, then I understand why they might locate their cajones and make a stand at long last.

    Say what you like about the politics, underlying this there's a lot of primitive stuff about love and rejection being played out. It's all very Adlerian and bit too much "Will To Power" for me.

  4. I realise that it is hard to associate the SWP with anything like principles, and their motivation here seems the dubious one of defending John Rees, and their own status in Respect, which is not a cause that interests me.
    But on a principle, if Wrack and Hovemann were members of the SWP, they should not accept positions without their organisation's agreement. It might have been stupid and short-sighted of the SWP not to let them stand, but the reason I am raising this principle is that if you let leading members do their own thing, or get carried away and pursue their own careers you end up either being led by the nose by opportunists (bit like Respect) or unable to mount any concerted fight – as witness the Labour Campaign group which could not make up its mind wether to support John McDonnel.
    It might be difficult to uphold or even see any principle in the tangle of the SWP in Respect, I agree, amid unseemly manouvres between individuals where any substantial politics is hidden from sight lest the ordinary punters want a say.
    About the last days of the SA, what I remember is a meeting where kids I'd never seen before popped up, to denounce those who allegedly wanted to keep a small movement whereas they wanted to build Respect. The SWP 'cadres' who had briefed them remained at the back. People were obviously dispirited by then feeling it was a foregone conclusion. But I agree the CPGB lacked a principled stand – they were ready to jump ship. Besides,some of the groups had already shown they were just as bad as the SWP but smaller.

  5. AN,

    As so many people have pointed out the problems today are part political, part personalities, part psychology and part class makeup.

    On the latter point. people don't like to admit, but they never apply a Marxist analysis to their own organisations, otherwise they would see why they are invariably dominated by stroppy middle-class cranks

    British left organisations have never achieved critical mass (as compared to Europe) thus the membership essentially dominated by, surprise, surprise, the middle classes. They bring along a certain psychological profile, which you can see if you look at how the middle classes function in wider society: assertive, pushy, manipulative, etc and although there are many excellent middle-class activists their work is often dragged down by the cranks, opportunists and power hungry.

    Many of the splits are not really over politics but over power, that is one of the major contributions that feminist analysis has given us in the last hundred years.

    Power relationships often govern how organisations function, that holds true for small socialist groupings, community organisations, social organisations or even businesses, and we would do well to remember that.

    Politics sometimes comes down to a difference on tactical issues which is often exacerbated by the above. There seems to be little long-term thought as to how to successfully grow Left of Labour groupings and what is required: democratic structures, pluralism, political education, technical education, etc

    Taken together these help explain why groups have failed and probably will, until they shake off their messianic (we can do no wrong) attitudes and make an effort to interconnect with a wider earthier audience, without doing it on the basis of lowest common denominator, as happens today.

  6. Matt Wrack and Nick Wrack – I often make the same mistake, but fortunatley have never done so in print yet.

  7. Louise: "that was my experience of the meeting and we all can experience things differently.."

    Very true.

    It was a generally unpleasant experience, and I think we were all lucky to get out and have a beer afterwards.

    My perception of it speaking from the floor was that the menace was equally spread from all camps. Indeed when it was apparent that the SWP were simply not going to put up a speaker i was cross about that, it was as if the whole thing was benteath them

  8. "It is also worth saying that much of the acrimony at theat meeting was articficaly whipped up, by people posturing against the closure, but who had no intention of saving the SA."

    I was there and yes, the SWP didn't speak but John Rees stood at the background and watched. Matt Wrack chaired with an iron fist and Hoveman was in the background. So it wasn't conducive for an open debate instead it was stifled and controlled. I don't know about the "whipped acrimony" but many people were angry about what was happening.

    I for one was and there were independents at that meeting. But the SA has been more or less destroyed so what was the point of fighting back. The damage had been done.

    that was my experience of the meeting and we all can experience things differently..

  9. Well I can't beleive that people are still dragging round the old rubbish about us "hero-worshiping" Galloway.

    The man has his strengths and weaknesses, but becasue we accept he has weaknesses doesn't mean that every aspect of him is bad, or that we have to acceot criticsm about him that is ill informmed or wrong.

    With regard to the closing SA conference, you might get a misleading impression about it here. In fact no-one from the SWP spoke at that meeting.

    I moved the motion to disolve the SA, seconded by John Nicholson. We did this to forstall a worse motion from the SWP.

    It is also worth saying that much of the acrimony at theat meeting was articficaly whipped up, by people posturing against the closure, but who had no intention of saving the SA.

    For example, the vote was tight and there were only a handful of AWL and CPGB members there. Both groups claimed to be opposing the close down of the SA, ut if they had just sent a few members along they wouldd have won the day (of course that was the last thing they really wanted)

  10. Yes, Charlie, the women can be just as awful.

    I'd add to your rollcall the former SA chair who, when Steve Godward tried to tackle the issue of bullying, blocked it, declaring that it was "personal issues" between myself and Rees.

    Of course, when the same thing began to happen to her, as I said it would, it was a different matter. And this was only one of her charming stunts. All together, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

  11. What gets me is WHAT power do they think they are fighting over for sha-ma-hoses godamn sake?

    WHAT power?

    How on earth do any of them take themselves so seriously?

    They are going to end their lives as very depressed and bitter people thinking "What was that about then?"

    Student's union politics at my college (a long time ago) looked less babyish than that.

  12. Charlie,

    alpha males (females) or not,

    if you can provide another hypothesis for similar organisational/political problems across a range of organisations I would welcome it

    it seems to me that many of the middle-class manifestations of pushy University types are played out in the British Left (and I accept that there are a few exceptions)

    it seems to me that class makeup of the British Left is reflected in how they operate politically, so in terms of expediency they're not 1,000,000 miles away from Blair in 1997,

    I don't think that it's a total explanation, but it does highlight the class characteristic of the British Left, and their failings

  13. Don't know about alpha males, some of the worst SWP hacks in my experience have been female – admittedly they may have been more active in STWC, but lets not get reductionist.
    Lindsey G. ruling out suggested speakers for Trafalgar Square, and calling in Dave Renton for a telling off because he had agreed with criticism. Candy(?) Unwin demagogically whipping up crowd at STWC conference against resolution which urged support for secular, democratic and labour forces in Iraq (since when we have witnessed how sectarian gangs carve up the country into bite-size chunks for imperialists and eliminate or drive out educated Iraqis to make it the backward victim US wants).
    The SWP never was Trotskyist, it's founder Tony Cliff broke with Trotskyism in the 1950s to avoid siding with Soviet Union and China in the Cold War (hence "Neither Washington nor Moscow" slogan) and it inclined to Menshevik or Libertarian according to its audience, but its one consistent idea became "party-building" to justify every twist and turn and developed a hankering to emulate the worst opportunist and bureaucratic traits of the old Communist Party.
    It's funny Modernity mentioning the EETPU, I'd agree except when I was in the EETPU we did not let the heavy and right-wing leadership stop us discussing in the branch and taking principled stands at work alongside other trade unionists. Another point is that though some of those who turned the old Electrical union right were Catholics, and linked with right-wing Labourites, the real fixers who knew how to operate were well-trained ex-Stalinists. Mind you whsn Frank Chapple needed a hand to catch up with new opponents on the Left he secured a little helper at the Mail -the ex-SWP industrial organiser Roger Rosewell who ended up by Lady Porter's side. Rosewell had been Cliff's blue-eyed boy and even when he had earned his spurs denouncing his former colleagues (notably the Mail witch-hunt on Roger Protz) it took a long time for SWPers to denounce him or admit that he had ever been one of theirs.
    One more thing. I was working with an SWP guy when the WRP expelled Healy and denounced his abuse of young women comrades. The SWP guy who had nevr previously had a good word for Healy of course suddenly was puzzled – of course he had disliked Healy's theories, he siad, but could not understand why anyone should make a fuss over his personal life. This left me wondering -if as fortune might have had it, someone like Healy or behaving like him had turned up in the SWP – or say Respect -would the comrades have stood by him? Of curse it is just a hypothetical question.
    I might as well add that I got to know some local SWPers in te Socialist Alliance, and they seemed decent, dedicated people. Now they have to go around as "Respect", without their old SA friends and with little or nothing to show for it, local people who know them from campaigns are puzzled by it, and the SWPers themselves seem embarassed, if I can credit them with such a feeling. And now on top of that they have to carry the can for their own leadersip's manouvresand opporunism.

  14. I thought I'd add that reading the discussion at SU, you can see how many people there don't even SEE the problem and the hero worship of Gallway is sickening, but one example of how far people will go to be near power

  15. I thought your and Louise's comment at SU blog hit the nail on the head:

    "The fact that someone like Galloway is now seen as the sole hope of the left, along with certain others with their left-bashing history and absence of socalist credentials, illustrates just how degenerated all this has become."

    it is a bit like a revolutionary version of 1997 Blairism: anything for power, drop any principle, stitch up anyone that get's in the way

    the problem is, as shown in the SU blog, Left doesn't realise how repulsive it looks from the outside:

    Alpha males, dodgy politics, organisational shenanigans

    worst than beening in the EEPTU in the 1980s

  16. I just remember sitting there thinking the Left is politically degenerating before my very eyes. John Rees was standing at the back of the conference and didn't speak. Alan Thornett was standing next to him (he didn't speak either). I know it sounds daft, but I was utterly shocked by it all.
    I also kinda angry as debate had been stifled and comrades were given a very limited time to speak. It was so controlled. Very bad.
    At the end I stood outside the room and saw my former comrades from the ISG and I just stared (so blinking angry) at them as I couldn't believe how instrumental they were in doing the SWPs dirty work. It showed their own political desperation.

    I expected better and I lost any respect I had for them at that conference. And they followed the SWP into the next mess called Respect!

  17. Renegade: "You can't join unless you work in basic industry".

    Yeah, they are into that well trodden path of a "turn to industry"… Usually ends in tears…

    I reading on another blog that if you are kicked out of the SWP then you are banned from any of their conferences. To enforce this "rule" violence and thuggery is used. It is so like the WRP. Yes, really attractive way of encouraging recruitment… Not!

    I was at the last SA conference aka "putting the SA out of its misery"… And Wrack chaired (Hoveman in the background) that meeting in an utterly bad tempered and destructive manner. I have been to many conferences in my time but this one has such a nasty atmosphere that I half expected a punch-up to break out. Debate had been stifled.

    It is all about political control and whether the SWP will slide into total degeneration only time will tell.

    If the Left is ever to survive then we do need to overhaul these out moded, and old fashion strategies of organising and controlling the membership. They underpin, in my opinion, what is so rotten about revo groups.

    Listen, comrades, it aint 1917, you are not the Bolshevik Party # 2, no storming of the Winter Palace, the revolution isn't around the corner, so quit the party discipline, top-down education, adherence to the scriptures of Lenin and democratic centralism.

    The firm grip of control and treating the membership with contempt will destroy these groups.

  18. Hi Renegade Eye,

    A major problem is that, in both the US and the UK, there isn't a movement which means all sorts of chancers float to the top.

  19. Not being based in the UK, it's hard to comment on local SWP stands. You are probably right.

    The SWP in the US is very different. They stopped being Trotskyist, and are Fidelista. You can't join unless you work in basic industry.

  20. Hard Marxism, that sounds great. Probably go down well in Old Compton street that.

    Nice to see you getting lyrical Anna, but as your link above says

    What next?

  21. Great article, I particularly liked:

    "Regarding the labour and anti-war movements as its own private property, the SWP has come on like some sort of Bolshevik Re-enactment Society, purging activists according to whim, and hobbling our own side."

    "Too many antiquated attitudes are being swept in under cover of the war, with power relations found under capitalism thriving unchallenged in far Left organisations"

    "The SWP are sufficiently deluded to insist that, in the present political climate, the election of one solitary councillor constitutes some sort of victory. Instead of holding a post-mortem, they scamper for their next get-popular-quick scheme, a clandestine electoral lash-up with the Birmingham mosque, "

    spot on!

  22. Good article esp. this bit "If the Left wants to grow it has to decide whether it genuinely wants fresh socialist talent in the movement as it claims it does, or whether it stagnates. The choice is clear – use it or lose it. Everything else is just ice-picks at dawn."

    That really does sum up the state of the left and the political choices it needs to make.

  23. By the way, in my comment at 23:00 on 16th Ooctober, I replied to the Troll by saying I found Miaow's anecdotes plausible.

    I suppose this might seem to be minimising the appalling behaviour that Anna experienced, and she has been brave and principled in publically exposing it, while i know from experience it is a lot easier to keep quiet – as too many of us have done for too long.

    I personally trust you Anna as a 100% reliable witness and therefore I completely believe that those things happened, even though I didn't see them myself.

    The point I was trying to make to the troll was that even people who don't know Anna, and therefore have no reason to trust her, should find the accounts of bad behaviour completely believable.

    Also – Anna has a way of describing even awful things is a way that makes me laugh, which is probably why I referred to them as "anecdotes".

  24. Jones: "I'm with Rees on this until convinved otherwise!"

    Is that supposed to be "convinced" or "connived"? Instead of leaving messages on blogs (which you seem unable to run yourself) you'd better join PDQ with John Rees to stop George Galloway kicking you out of Respect. Otherwise you've got a lifetime of standing outside student unions trying to flog "Socialist Worker" to largely uninterested undergrads ahead of you. Now that is bloody "hard Marxism".

  25. "She's just one of those reactionary anti-swp types, can't stand hard marxist politics"

    Well "Jones", so you are reducing the debate to rude name calling… How "hard marxist" of you.

    You see, that is what the old dem cents like yourself get drilled into them, that they have to be "hard marxists" (I dunno, a muscle-bound Arnie of the brain cells…).

    But instead what do you get, so-called marxists like your self Jones who eagerly follow the line and never ever step out of the line.

    You do what you are told, that's isn't "hard marxist" in the least that's an intellectual weakness.

    Come back when you have thought for yourself..might be a liberating experience!

  26. It's incredible, Madam Miaow honestly doesn't have a leg to stand on. Madam still hasn't provided any back up for her snide comments.

    She's just one of those reactionary anti-swp types, can't stand hard marxist politics

  27. Well, I don't know about the personal qualities… the one time I met John Rees, he was very courteous, intelligent and helpful.

    Although I could say the same about Ian Paisley.

  28. "to which she replied that if people under socialism were all like the SWP are now (or then) shje woudl rather chance her arm with barbarism".

    It really shows the desperate straits the Left is in if people just look at the trot groups and think, "F*ck this, I will take my chances with barbarism"…

    Hey sad day, for poor old Rosa L. not what she intended at all…………

    Change of strategies and overhaul the principles that underpin the Left.

  29. Indeed Lousie

    It always stuck in my mind, about 1990 I was tlaking to someone and ineffectually trying to recruit them to the SWP (I never recruited anyone ever), and they were saying that socialism couldn't wiork becasue people are too selfish

    I replied with the old standard about people changing in the course of the struggle, etc.

    to which she replied that if people under socialism were all like the SWP are now (or then) shje woudl rather chance her arm with barbarism.

  30. Mmmmm. "Jones".

    It is interesting that you say "I'm with Rees on this until convinved otherwise!" 'cos how much convincing do you need? How many more concrete examples do you need for the rose tinted specs to fall off you??

    You seem to be biased from the start and have no intention to listen to what Madam Miaow has to say.

    Her descriptions of the SA are spot-in as that's what happened and the SA became a "play thing" for the SWP and to discard with when they had enough.

    Jones, understand that many people like Madam Miaow have bloody appalling experiences at the hands of the very people who 1. should know better and 2. who are supposed to be the alternative to what is shit about this society.

    Socialism is about looking out for each other not screwing us over. But hey, do I expect better? Fat chance!

  31. ahhh – that makes sense now.

    I thought a "richelieu quip" must be some sort of specialised form of sarcasm.

    i was wondering whether I shoud=ld go on a course to learn how to do it.

    BTW I likeed the joke about MAD comic, even if it wound up the easy-to-wind-up Rosa.

  32. "What is a "richelieu quip" anyway?"

    As in Cardinal Richelieu, kingmaker, power behind the throne, etc – see my blogs "Chewing off your own foot" and "All change for the comrades".

  33. It seems that comrades continue with innuendo and slander.

    You don't actually have any concrete criticisms or political points do you?

    I'm with Rees on this until convinved otherwise!

  34. Jones

    Have you ever met Rees and Hoveman?

    the fact that Miaow's anecdotes are utterly plausible to anyone who has worked with them is surely relevant?

  35. "It's all personality and no politics, all we get is little anecdotes and richelieu quips."

    Yup. Sounds like my blog, alright.

    Try paying attention and reading the other threads on this subject.

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