Guest Post by Sarah Collins, ISG National Secretary (personal capacity)
I do not usually wish to dredge up the past of ‘the split’ with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). I honestly feel that the International Socialist Group (ISG) has moved past this. Nonetheless, I think that some of the comments made in the post “The Best Thing Going? A Feminist Critique of the ISG” by Laura McKeon on this subject need to be directly addressed. In retrospect, there were other ways in which ‘the split’ could have been handled. It could have been more drawn-out, inclusive and transparent. However, as it turned out, it was done very quickly and almost ad-hoc. I don’t doubt that the reason for this is because there was a slow-burn of members who had become disillusioned with the SWP leadership, strategy and tactics (on a number of issues, sexism being only one) which led to an explosion over one weekend. As I remember this, it was a tense time for all those involved. People were full of hope and could not wait to get started on a new project. This is why an organiser was chosen quickly, and democratically, to begin the task of organising the ISG.
To claim that the male party members involved in this split orchestrated it in order to ‘seize control’ and that systemic sexism in the SWP was of no real consideration is incorrect. All of the members involved in the split needed to break from the sectarian ways of practice and to bring about a modern, vibrant, Marxist group which could go some way to forge Left renewal. The impetus to do this came from the SWP’s conference in 2011 addressed issues of sexism. Everyone was genuinely enthused by the potential this new organisation could bring, not for themselves and the ‘power’ they may have over it, but for the wider political implications.
It is correct to say that it was mostly young people who split at this time. This is symptomatic of the fact that we worked together at university or college in political activity. What we saw was that the workforce was changing into something which could not be organised on the basis of selling a newspaper at the gates once per week. The ISG was not established in order to “cut out the influence of older comrades on the young anti-cuts movement, and form a party with themselves (the organisers) at the centre.” I would encourage anyone who thinks that is the case to speak to others who were involved in the split and to find out what their own experiences were.
The ISG are looking at alternative modes of organisation. The ISG was relatively slow off the mark in organising a better practice to develop feminist theory. However, over the past year this has become an ever-increasing priority, and rightly so. But this takes time and considerable effort. I would urge people to allow this time and to put in this effort. I can also say that the ISG is developing better practices to deal with sexism. I fully agree that sweeping this under the carpet and using the excuse that “we can’t stop sexual assault from happening” is unacceptable. I would hope to be able to say, in less than a year, that the ISG is providing a leading example of how to tackle this issue.
I do welcome the general ethos behind this blog post. But one final disagreement I have, or perhaps it is more about flipping the point on its head, is that what the Left needs most is to ‘ensure against the controlling influence of megalomaniac men’. In my opinion, what the Left needs most is to get out of the gutter, begin acting like professionals, and actually renew peoples’ hopes of a strong left-wing which can act in working class interest. This will only come about if it is women who are leading the way, at the forefront and behind the scenes, of this ‘new Left.’