Who invited you?

Wednesday, 18th February 2009 at 9:00 UTC 3 comments

York University is going through exciting times at the moment with the establishment of “Disarm”, a group focused on getting arms companies and the military off campus, and now a Palestine Solidarity Society. With Disarm its been heartening to see so many students come to meetings, upto 60 in fact, from so many backgrounds: Socialists, Anarchists, People and Planet and Amnesty members, Labour Students and more. Unfortunately, last weeks meeting was somewhat interrupted by someone trying to fiddle the agenda.The agenda, put simply, is to get the University to divest itself of shares in the arms trade, through implementation of the Ethical Investment Policy that has been lying on a senior administrators desk for some 2 years gathering dust. There is a chance to implement this very shortly, and a week on Friday, there will be a large demonstration on campus. The aim is singular, and the group determined, and I do believe that, if we keep focusing on the goal of getting an ethical investment policy passed, we will succeed.

So what was frankly bloody annoying was to have a student, now in his 4th year of a part-time course, suddenly appear at the meeting, despite almost never showing his face at campus events in the all his time at the University so far. Curious how a member of the SWP only shows up when there’s something to react to, isn’t it? Anyhow, I guess its just reminded me of how much I despise that one particular group and their presence within the British political scene.

Anyhow, it was very interesting how said SWP member (I should point out, a former employee of the party) decided he needed to ask for “some simple demand to be inserted, like getting the DEC appeal for Gaza advertised on the University Website” mid way through a meeting where Gaza/Palestine had barely been mentioned, and in a way that took the entire energy out of the meeting. Admittedly, the meetings are a bit badly organised, though this hasn’t been a problem so far, but to cut into the energy with a personal agenda was a real problem.

But the thing that really struck me wasn’t the bad timing, it was the way many in the room responded to the intervention. It shut down the energy, because it stopped people discussing things they could agree on, and work together on, and brought in something that not everyone was comfortable with. The idea of voting was raised, bringing in a confrontational, majoritarian attitude (and spellchecker thinks majoritarian should be authoritarian. Poignant huh?).

I was reminded by so much of what came to repulse me about this “party”: its obsession with movement building instead of goal-achievement, its total lack of respect for humanity, treating everyone merely as “movement fodder”. The reactionary mindset does nothing to uphold the dignity of the Palestinians. Their inability to listen, or to take on board new ideas for action really pisses people off and devalues the intelligence of people who try and get involved. There can never be a full analysis of how a protest went, because weakness cannot be admitted. In a sense, they are so very anti-human.

The problem is knowing how to handle this without making the whole thing sound like  some kind of  witchhunt or conspiracy theory. How do we ensure that concensus is respected? Maybe I need to swat up on the reasons for using concensus and not voting. Its how to address the difference between radical negativity and radical positivity. I just don’t want to see another campus movement cut short and forced to march behind the banner of the SWP.

Its interesting to learn that the more SWP-related elements of Stop the War held a students meeting last weekend to try and co-opt the movement of university occupations. I think that the 27 occupations so far might well be the last we here of it. The defence: it only takes 50 students to get an occupation started. I’m sorry, if you can only get 50 students, you have no moral force behind you and you need to do more outreach before initiating such an action. Its also far too few students, as you need to rotate people around. These issues are just too important, and the people we serve to desperate, to allow them to be messed up.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Peace, Politics, York.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Christian  |  Tuesday, 24th February 2009 at 14:06 UTC

    As the person mentioned in this post I feel I really ought to make a quick response.

    It is not often that one reads a whole post devoted to an intervention of mine at a meeting. I suppose I should be honoured to have the thoughts of my ‘reactionary mindset’ given such attention.

    The logic of the argument of this post was also quite remarkable. Apparently an SWP member raising the question of humanitarian aid to Gaza reveals the ‘total lack of respect for humanity’ of the SWP. Arguing for a democratic vote is in somehow almost ‘authoritarian’.

    I admit I made a mistake in thinking that the meeting was being held under the auspices of the ‘Student Peace Movement’ at York not Disarm, and so some of your criticism on this particular intervention is perhaps justified to some extent. But in general the question of solidarity with Palestine is linked to the question of university investment in the arms trade because British Aerospace sell arms to the Israeli state.

    Moreover while you disparage ‘movement building’ there is a need to continue to build the antiwar movement at York Uni. And here the role of the SWP with respect to building the Stop the War Coalition nationally – and over the recent student occupations in Britain over Gaza – is unfairly portrayed in your analysis. You seem to think that SWP involvement in any campaign is likely to stifle its creativity and militancy – but in that case why is it that on student campuses in Britain where there are strong SWSS groups and Stop the War groups there have been successful mass occupations that have won demands (eg SOAS, Kings, etc) while at York where SWSS and Stop the War are admittedly weak we have not (yet) had an occupation?

    We need to work together and continue to build a militant active anti-war movement on campus – accusing each other of being reactionary blocks on the movement arguably does not help this process.

    Reply
  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 27th February 2009 at 0:06 UTC

    As I’m more concerned with the demonstration tomorrow than internal bickering, I shall be brief. My post wasn’t entirely perfectly worded, and was probably overly harsh. You are right, we didn’t explain what the meeting was aimed at completely.

    On the occupations: SWSS have a decent presence on Leeds campus, and the occupation lost, whilst Bradford has no SWSS presence, and we won in 21hours, almost a record. I think there’s evidence to support both our cases, but what I am worried about is the extent to which SWSS, over almost every other campaign group on campus, tends to make people who aren’t committed activists feel uneasy, and doesn’t make events as welcoming as they should.

    Recruitment is about far far more than just papers and subscriptions, its about befriending and nurturing, explaining gently when faced with curiosity, rather than assuming a question means a counter argument is being readied.

    It would be great to see more artistic resistance come from SWP/SWSS circles. If Existence = Resistance, but there is no music or colour, its still a pretty poor existence. My memory of forums was that the only musicians ever discussed was John Coltrane, and he’s hardly that up-and-coming!

    As to movement building, I think I failed utterly to make myself clear. Of course, I do believe in movement building, but I find building the party, which is necessarily exclusive (i.e. one normally only joins one party), wholly damaging, creating unnecessarily concrete divisions between people. My concern is that we do build separate movements on separate issues, so those who haven’t connected the dots feel easy in whichever individual campaign they choose to engage with.

    I’m also concerned that we don’t lose perspective, totally ignoring issues because we don’t feel that they are the main issue; people have diverse opinions on what to focus on, and only a shrinking movement should try to merge groups. When we’re on the up, we should, with care not to overextend, create new movements, new issue groups, so that we maintain reasonable sizes, and so that new people can find a role within those groups for themselves. I.e. the more groups we have, the more poster designers are needed. Also, the greater range of posters up on walls, and that tends to equal greater amount of activity in people’s minds.

    Reply
  • 3. Corey  |  Tuesday, 29th September 2009 at 17:12 UTC

    This summed up alot of my frustrations about the SWP, who were my first port-of-call when I started to get truly involved.

    Reply

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