Trotskyist Faction statement on Communist financial norms, democratic accountability, security and membership standards.
This item was originally published on Socialist Fight website (socialistfight.com) on 30 Jan. It was taken down bureaucratically on 10 Feb, in defiance of the constitution of SF which guarantees the right of factions to publish their views in the organisations publications, including of course the website.
It was up for 11 days and hundreds have read it. So its disappearance is almost as embarrassing as its appearance and obviously an act of incompetent, bureaucratic censorship after the horse has bolted. Gerry Downing cannot refute the corruption spelt out in detail in this document and the signatories of the Trotskyist Platform of Socialist Fight – almost 50% of the committed full members of the organisation excluding a few who have not endorsed either faction – are still members of SF and more importantly its international tendency, the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International. The bureaucratic faction do not have the votes to expel us, but they are trying to deprive us of the means to argue by whatever means available to them, which is not much. Its a tragi-comic impasse, but not of our doing, as this document spells out.
This statement was already written when we discovered that on 30 Jan 2020 Gerry Downing fraudulently put out his statement denouncing Gilad Atzmon and some of his associated and co-thinkers, in the name of Socialist Fight, 13 days after a 17th January vote was taken in which he failed to get a majority. He now claims that one member who had clearly lapsed, JC, whose case is addressed below, was a full member all along, and that gave him a majority after all. This question was raised at the 17th January meeting and various arguments were made to the effect that JC should be treated as a member. This was never agreed and ratified in an endorsed set of minutes in any case.
Objections had been raised by comrade Donovan in the meeting on the grounds that JC had made not paid subs, only made sporadic donations and had not been to any meetings for well over a year. The draft minutes mistakenly recorded that it was agreed that he was a member, after a hue and cry from Gerry and his ‘candidate members’ whose presence was itself contentious, and unwanted as the meeting in which it took place had originally been booked and planned by the decision of full members as a private meeting for those full members only.
These draft minutes had not been agreed, and the objection that JC was lapsed was made again by email during the following week. Comrade Downing claims that the statement in the draft minutes is gospel even though those minutes had not been ratified by a subsequent meeting. In any case, since JC was not at the meeting on 17 Jan, and did not vote before the deadline despite being notified, it is clear that he was not acting as a member. It is now clear that comrade Downing chased him down in the 10 days or so after the vote, persuaded him to pretend to be a member, and then retrospectively changed the vote. But the fact is that at the deadline, the vote was tied and so the statement fell. The original statement this faction put out on 18th January after the vote was tied did not include JC’s name.
There is no agreement that JC is a member and the ‘Socialist Fight statement’ comrade Downing has put out is doubly fraudulent. JC had lapsed long ago, having not attended any meetings for over a year nor paid regular subscriptions. No meeting had the power to rewrite that history in any case. Anyone with such a record would be deemed to have lapsed from membership in a variety of organisations.
Socialist Fight has always aspired to the Bolshevik tradition, including by endorsing Lenin’s position in 1903 that a party member is someone engaged in “participation in one of the Party organizations”. The split of Lenin’s ‘hards’ from Martov’s ‘softs’ (the Mensheviks) was in counterposition to their definition that a member is someone who “renders it regular personal assistance under the direction of one of its organizations”. However even the latter involves paying regular subs; JC’s membership would have lapsed from the Mensheviks, or even from today’s Labour Party.
Thus comrade Downing has not only betrayed the consistent anti-Zionist positions he used to uphold, he has flagrantly betrayed the democracy of his own organisation by fraudulently and retrospectively rewriting the history of a vote he didn’t win; he has fraudulently declared an ex-member to be a full member in order to claim to have ‘won’ a vote he failed to win, and he has in the process totally betrayed the Bolshevik tradition on the party question.
All this indicates, as the statement below shows, a complete decay of communist consciousness and the embrace of opportunism.
We have looked at the letter and cheque that comrade Gerry Downing sent to Ian, the Treasurer, supposedly constituting membership fees for GM and CW.
We are of the opinion that all dealings regarding membership and membership subs within a communist organisation must be strictly above board, and must at the very least meet the standards expected by the labour and socialist movement generally. In fact we must be better.
For instance Clause 4 of Chapter III of the Labour Party rulebook includes the following:
“A. It is an abuse of Party rules for one individual or faction to ‘buy’ Party membership for other individuals or groups of individuals who would otherwise be unwilling to pay their own subscriptions.
“F. Party officers and members should be aware that involvement in such abuses shall be considered as behaviour likely to bring the Party into disrepute and prima facie evidence of such behaviour may lead to disciplinary action leading to expulsion under the constitutional rules of the Party.”
Such considerations must be maintained in a communist organisation more even than a mere reformist party.
It does appear that comrade Downing has paid the membership fees, for these two supposed new candidate members, for six months in advance. Not only is this contrary to the rules of financial probity even of the Labour Party – see clauses above – but it also has a brazen cynicism about it in another way. Because even if it were conceded that these people are legitimately candidate members of the organisation – and we do not concede this – it is completely wrong that candidate members should have their membership fees paid in advance for the whole of their six month period of candidacy – thereby short-circuiting their candidacy and rendering it a corrupt process.
This amounts to a corrupt payment for membership in a double sense – not only are their dues paid by someone else, but the process of candidacy in a communist organisation – which is supposed to be a process where a new member proves their commitment in practice over a period of sustained political activity, including by paying the appropriate sub month-by-month as part of that commitment, is substituted by a single payment by the leader of an unprincipled faction just bribing the organisation to give them full membership in a few months, thus displaying complete contempt for all notions of commitment to a communist organisation.
This can only reflect a complete collapse of the entire concept of commitment to a communist organisation, replacing that with a squalid vote-buying process so comrade Downing can by himself some extra votes for his faction in a few months’ time. This can only signify a complete collapse of communist political consciousness by the person paying this cash for votes.
This is particularly obvious with CW, an amiable enough long-time friend of the organisation, but who had not sought membership over the last five years. He is retired, with little money and health problems. Comrade Downing repeatedly complained he never paid us anything over all that period. At least he is broadly speaking a political supporter. But paying his membership subs six months in advance still amounts to buying his vote.
Then there is GM. He clearly is hostile to the established politics of the group, so hostile in fact, that he has made outrageous and indeed criminally libellous allegations against leading members, lies so serious that he is in our view unfit for membership. More on that later. Comrade Downing claims that he is a candidate member of the organisation, and indeed he has been inveigled into two meetings this year already on the basis of that claim.
Yet no agenda was circulated in advance for the meeting, on 9th January, where he … and ED … were said to have joined SF. ED’s joining was also contentious, and the proposal for her joining should have been circulated and the decision taken by a vote at a properly constituted meeting. The branch members were not informed in advance of any proposal for them to join at that meeting.
This happened at a meeting that should not have taken place, because half of the London branch informed comrade Downing in advance that they either could not attend through illness, or would be most unlikely to be able to attend because of a medical problem involving a child in their family. One other full member attends meetings only occasionally because of disability, but there are five full members of the branch, four of which attend most meetings, and all of these members have the right to a say on membership, particularly of anyone contentious. This is a basic democratic right of members of a communist organisation. The meeting should have been rearranged and a proper discussion and vote taken on their membership with the existing full members informed in advance of the proposal.
The lack of proper warning of this; the known-in-advance and unavoidable non-attendance of the majority of the branch on 9th January, plus the lack of minutes at that meeting means that that was not a valid meeting of the London branch, and it was not in its power to take on new members. The existing full members of the branch have the right to a vote on the accession to even candidate membership of anyone proposed to join, and certainly to know in advance of the proposal. Therefore their membership is null and void, and we in the Trotskyist faction do not regard them as members of SF. Bringing them in without proper democratic procedure is an abuse.
And regarding CW and GM, it is clear that buying their membership six months in advance is a corrupt practice. Even to bank the cheque would make the treasurer complicit in what amounts to a corruption of communist norms, and therefore our faction has advised the treasurer that he should not bank this tainted cheque, but keep it and the letter accompanying it as evidence of malpractice, to be presented to the international movement.
Indeed the letter itself is pretty outrageous and insulting in the assumptions it makes:
“Enclosed membership subscriptions for CW and GM. Both are unemployed (CW is retired) so pay the minimum of £3 a month. The sum of £40, therefore, covers from now to the end of July. ED has set up a standing order from the [bank] for £3 a month as she is also unemployed. So all three will become full members at the end of July, as per the constitution.”
There are examples available of how democratic norms are supposed to operate regarding membership of a communist organisation. Here are some extracts of the organisational rules of the Spartacist League in the United States, which are pretty straightforward in formal democratic terms even though that organisation is not particularly democratic in practice. Its formal rules are still pretty good:
“Individual applicants for membership shall be voted on by the Local Committee [a fully recognised branch] in their locale. In those areas where an Organising Committee (OC) [a new, as yet not fully-recognised branch] exists, applicants shall be voted through by the Political Bureau (PB) with the recommendation of the OC…”
“Action on membership applications should take place in the absence of the applicant”.
What is notable about this is not so much the formal structure, which is obviously more developed than our own, but the basic concept that the organisation has the right to collectively control its recruitment. It is a collective, democratic decision. People should not be able to be sneaked into an organisation without the knowledge of the existing membership. Especially people who, as is the case with GM and ED, are notably hostile to part of the existing full membership and are quite prepared to smear them.
What is also remarkable about the letter from comrade Downing is the assumption that if only he pays in advance for his friends, they will automatically become full members in six months’ time. That is not true; there will have to be a vote on that also. A vote of the full members who have the right to decide whether the candidate members have proven their commitment to the organisation, or not. They have every right to decide, democratically, whether they have passed their candidacy or not. And like the admission to candidate membership, there has to be a free discussion among the existing members, and a vote, on whether they are suitable for full membership or not. Comrade Downing blithely assumes that his recruits will automatically pass their candidacies just because he has stumped up the cash now.
Of course this has never been contentious until now. People have never tried to join with the aim of overruling the existing members before. People who formally joined have either stayed, or left. But in a situation like this, where the integrity of the organisation is under attack from within and without, the formal democratic control of the membership over who is recruited becomes crucial. This is not about imposing political uniformity, it is not about formal political beliefs. But when outrageous smears are made against comrades, proven smears that even those responsible cannot deny, then the existing members have the right to protect themselves and the right to vote on who becomes a new member of the organisation.
Two examples of outrageous smears against full members by two of these “candidate members” are illustrated here. The first comes from GM. He wrote in the public SF Facebook the following accusation against comrade Ian Donovan:
“You are justifying fascist murders by attributing them to some sort of principled retaliation against Israel. You have systematically conflated and defended antisemitism with opposition to Israeli apartheid. You have brushed aside any attempt to draw the distinction.”
When comrade Donovan challenged GM to quote him “justifying fascist murders” anywhere, he failed to do so. Comrade Donovan provided evidence that he had always condemned all terrorist attacks directed against civilians, as a matter of principle, that he written for Socialist Fight articles condemning a particularly bloody terror attach in Paris in 2015, and that he had written articles in SF calling for workers defence guards to militarily crush fascist groups. When challenged to quote comrade Donovan “justifying fascist murders” which is just about as serious a political crime as it is possible for a communist to commit, GM was unable to do so. Yet he has not apologised. In our view this foul lie alone renders GM morally unfit for membership of SF and the LCFI, and his pseudo-‘candidate membership’ should be brought to an end immediately. We do not regard him as a comrade.
Secondly there is the smear, also against comrade Donovan, by ED. After the branch meeting at the Lucas Arms on 17 January, which was booked on the understanding it was supposed to be a private meeting to resolve this issue among full members only, but which Gerry declared Open with a public email on the day, and then GW and ED turned up and Gerry inveigled them in, after that ED made the following accusation against comrade Donovan a week later. She wrote:
“When I interrupted Ian to call out his insane rant about the Rothschilds’ he became outraged, shouted and threw his pen on the table..”
This was a complete pack of lies from start to finish. Another comrade who was there wrote:
“Sorry, E, I do not recall Ian raising his voice and shouting at all”
To which comrade Donovan responded and pointed out that he had challenged Gerry a week earlier about Gerry’s shouting in the meeting:
“Indeed. I note that when I challenged Gerry about shouting, he justified it on political grounds. But he did not say ‘well Ian shouted too’ when criticised for it by [another comrade]. If I had shouted at E he would have condemned me and been angry.
“This alone corroborates that this is untrue”.
And it did. And do E was compelled to admit:
“Hiya folks, maybe I misspoke…“
though she still tried dishonestly to imply all those who remembered differently and never noticed this ‘shouting’ were wrong and she was really right. This kind of lying, fake politics, is no different to the squalid bourgeois politics around at the moment. Boris Johnson, for instance, when caught lying, as he has been many times now, tends to say “Folks, maybe I misspoke” in his plummy voice. It’s no better coming from E. This proven lie, laced with phoney accusations of ‘sexism’ against people who dare to challenge her politically in the manner of Jess Phillips or Hillary Clinton, again renders her unfit for membership of SL and the LCFI.
This ‘candidate member’ lied to smear the existing full members of SF with the aim of derailing SF from its principled anti-Zionist politics in cahoots with the other ‘candidate member’ GM, who is so irrational he comes out with outrageous lies that even the likes of John Mann would consider reckless. We do not recognise her as a member; her fake candidacy is null and void as was the meeting that initiated it. Her conduct since has shown that she is unfit for membership.
So CW, GM and ED are not members. You cannot buy a majority, you cannot sneak people, including blood relatives, into the organisation at illegitimately called meetings that deny the basic democratic rights to a say of the existing full membership, and not be called out on it.
Regarding the membership of JC, a lapsed member who Gerry is trying to manipulate back into SF as a full member to gain him an extra vote, it is worth quoting the formal rules of the Spartacist League/US again. At least formally, they point to correct Communist practice whatever structure of dues the organisation decides on:
“Any member more than one month in arrears in sustaining pledge [membership subs] ceases to be in good standing. Only members in good standing may vote and hold office in [the organisation]. Any member more than three months in arrears … shall be dropped from [the organisation] after notification”.
The cynicism involved in the attempted guilt tripping about the comrade’s personal problems, being blacklisted, which certainly merits sympathy and solidarity, is appalling. Indeed one of our comrades twice made suggestions to simplify our membership subs to help avoid such problems in future. But Gerry’s pleas are not based on sympathy for him, but just the desire to gain an extra captive vote from a sympathiser who for personally tragic reasons, was unable to sustain membership. According to these norms, he would not have been able to vote in any case. Allowing him to do so would be right outside the norms of Bolshevism as laid out in the famous criteria of the 1903 split about the membership rules, that membership involved “personal participation in one of the party’s organisations”, or at the very least regular payments of dues, however low. And someone else paying your dues in advance for a captive vote is an abuse that would get the culprit expelled from the Labour Party. Rightly so in such a case!
So this is about the boundaries of the organisation, maintaining basic membership norms, and not allowing fraudulent membership claims to defraud those who have worked hard to develop the organisation. The aim of these tactics is transparently to create a majority of fake members to purge the real activists who keep the group going. We cannot allow this and will not refrain from challenging such bureaucratic trickery and unprincipled behaviour.
Another, even worse way that these boundaries have been breached is through the deliberate publication of our internal platform without the permission of the signatories, containing identifiable names, designated at ‘full members’. This can only be seen as an outrageous attempt to create the conditions for the victimisation of oppositional comrades. The whole thrust of the recent paralysis of SF has been because of the emergence of an unprincipled faction that has finally begun to fray before the ferocious Zionist-led witchhunt in Labour, and has been at pains to dissociate itself from its hard anti-Zionist left wing: “we are not as bad as these people” Gerry and his new friends are eager to proclaim.
To reassert principled politics, we need to draw those boundaries properly, and to re-establish Socialist Fight on proper Communist organisational norms. These are difficult and reactionary times, and some basic discipline and good security is essential to ensure that we are effective going forward.