The SWP is a Trotskyist party and that means they follow the lead of Leon Trotsky, the Butcher of Kronstadt. The founder of the SWP was the late Tony Cliff. In 1960 Cliff wrote an article, published in the party journal,International Socialism, where he quoted Trotsky’s words from 1924:
It is this viewpoint which forms the basis of membership of the party. Members have to support the party. While factions can be formed pre-conference, according to SWP rules, the factions must be dissolved post conference. At that point in time, all party members must follow the party line. In advance of the SWP conference this weekend, there were two separate factions formed. Conference is now over. Darren Redstarcommented yesterday below the line to the comments section:
I suspect he is right. What else can they do?
The party and party leaders asserting control has been a feature of all totalitarian regimes. Of all totalitarian leaders, I suspect the way Saddam Hussein did it in 1979, was the most effective. (Watch the section 1:30 though 5:00)
Unfortunately for Charlie Kimber, to the best of my knowledge, the SWP Central Committee does not have access to a cache of guns and cannot employ the efficient method of Saddam Hussein to obtain the loyalty and obedience of party members. This means that some members will no doubt continue to operate as a faction and a split must be likely. In the spirit of what I will call capitalist defeatism, I hope that both sides lose.
SWP journalist quits party and urges others to do the same. Says “the party’s destruction [is] inevitable,” and “broken for good.” Wants it “left on the shelf of history alongside the Workers Revolutionary Party.” Tells former comrades: “it is time to go” because “The alternative… is too awful to contemplate.” UPDATE contains information of a financial fraud allegation
The crisis in the Socialist Workers Party continues. Despite the fact the Central Committee of the Party has been telling people to “‘draw a line under” recent events and “move on,” this has clearly not happened. Tom Walker, who was a journalist for Socialist Worker, the organ of the scrofulous party, has resigned his position in the paper, resigned from the party and in a blistering attack, published in the Weekly Worker, urges other to do similar.
He refers to the Disputes Committee that exonerated “Comrade Delta” as a “kangaroo court.” He makes the very valid observation of hypocrisy. He noted that the Party called for Julian Assange to face rape charges in Sweden. The bourgeois courts and the criminal process in Sweden were deemed good enough by the Party to recommend their use. Walker comments, with good reason, “I do not see why what is good enough for Assange is not good enough for the party’s leaders.” In an important section that is a damning indictment on the culture in the Party, he states:
It is stated that the accuser did not want to go to the police, as is her absolute right if that was truly her decision. However, knowing the culture of the SWP, I doubt that was a decision she made entirely free from pressure.
Do not underestimate the pressure the SWP can bring to bear on members by telling them to do or not do things for the ultimate cause of the socialist society the party’s members are all fighting for. [Emphasis added]
The verdicts of the Disputes Committee of not guilty of rape and “not proven” for sexual harassment he believes are “utterly meaningless.” In terms of the composition of the Disputes Committee, he had this to say: “this was not a jury of his peers, but a jury of his mates.” It is “obvious,” he argues, that if the Party investigates itself it “is unlikely to produce damning conclusions.” He poses an analogy that would lead to the question as to whether an internal investigation at Wikileaks would have found Assange guilty of rape.
He informs us that the one dissenting member of the Disputes Committee who thought it likely that Comrade Delta was guilty of sexual harassment “has faced some very real abuse for his position.”
The internal handling of the rape and harassment allegations was disastrous for other reasons too:
[T]his DIY investigation will have corrupted the evidence, as well as traumatised the accuser too far for her to want to pursue the case by other means. I am absolutely convinced this traumatisation is very real, as I cannot believe that the issue would have played out the way it has otherwise. The internet may have read the transcript of what the woman comrade’s friends and allies said, but only those who were in the room will have heard the sheer anger with which the words were spoken. If we believe that she was traumatised, then logic dictates that it is very unlikely that the allegations are of no substance.
I mentioned yesterday, the Party is demanding loyalty oaths from members. Walker notes that Party workers are being told that they must guarantee not to mention the case again at the pain of losing their job. And while all this is going on, Comrade Delta “turned up in Hackney on the evening of Tuesday January 8, representing the party at a Unite Against Fascism meeting as if nothing had happened. Next week he is off to Athens, again as part of the party’s work.” Walker is sickened by it. He laments, “A similar accusation tomorrow would be dealt with in the exact same way.”
To use a term with which Trotskyists will be familiar, the SWP is in its death agonies. Walker thinks it is over for the Party, it is just a matter of time:
I believe that not dealing with the issue ultimately makes the party’s destruction inevitable. I am not its destroyer – it has already destroyed itself. Maybe it will be days, months or years, but it is now a permanent time bomb. I cannot imagine how it will hold on to any recruit who knows how to use Google. Sooner or later the whole thing will be used against the party in the unions.
One of his conclusions is this strong recommendation:
To all comrades, I say: it is a wrench, it really is, but the first step is to admit to yourself that it is time to go. I do not know how it will turn out, but at least that way we have a chance to try to create something better. The alternative – for thousands of committed socialists to sit on their hands and keep quiet, wondering if the person next to them is thinking what they are thinking – is too awful to contemplate.
I strongly believe that if everyone who reads this is able to take courage to follow their heart and their principles, then, instead of members slowly drifting off into the wilderness or being gradually drummed out of the party, the SWP can be left on the shelf of history alongside the Workers Revolutionary Party, and something a thousand times healthier built in its place.
I am relieved that Walker is “not planning some new ‘Workers Socialist Party,’” but I suspect that the crisis in the SWP will continue. We at Harry’s Place will keep you informed.
Andrew Coates brings to my attention a further allegation. This one by Mike Marqusee in a blog post he published against the SWP: that ten years ago party members were involved in a financial fraud. I have no information as to the truth of what Marqusee has said and I copy it below for information only.
After twenty years hard graft in the Labour Party I resigned in 2000 and became active in the Socialist Alliance campaign for the London Assembly. A year later, I was joined in the SA by my partner, Liz Davies, who had been a Labour councillor and an elected member of Labour’s National Executive. Liz was elected chair of the SA national executive in late 2001. As such she was made one of the signatories for the Socialist Alliance’s (meagre) bank account.
In autumn of 2002, we discovered that Liz’s signature was being forged on Socialist Alliance cheques. The forging was being done by people in the SA office, members of the SWP whom we knew to be in daily contact with the SWP leadership. When Liz raised the discovery with the SWP leadership, she was met with hostility. None of this was to be discussed by anybody. That was not acceptable to her. She brought the matter to the SA Executive. In the course of the discussion there it became apparent to Liz that there was a comprehensive refusal to grasp the seriousness of the offence or to take any meaningful measures in response. That was articulated by one SWPer at the meeting who said it would have been wrong not to forge the signature since the money was needed to get placards on a demo. Liz resigned in disgust and I followed soon after.
It shouldn’t be necessary to say but for those with doubts: by forging the signatures, these people were making unauthorised use of the dues paid to the SA by its members. They did it not once but repeatedly, and were only found out by accident.
I suspect other disgruntled former members will come forward with further allegations of how they have been treated. If the SWP was a stock, the recommendation would be a short.
“Deep throat,” only identified as a leading Socialist Alliance activist, but a person whose identity I know and trust, has sent me a note confirming the truth of the Mike Marqusee financial fraud allegation.
Michael Ezra, January 11th 2013, 10:45 am
As has been discussed, an internal investigation carried out by the so-called Disputes Committee of the Socialist Workers Party has exonerated a senior male member of the Party for rape. The Committee also declared that the charge of sexual abuse, assault or harassment against him was “not proven.” A criticism of the SWP for internally investigating this complaint in the way they have has been made effectively by a journalist for the Party newspaper, who resigned in disgust.
While I have no wish to comment on the innocence or guilt of the senior SWP member in question, a question that comes to mind is this an isolated case or is there a culture within the Party that could lead to such behaviour? Anna Chen is a former press officer of the Stop the War Coalition. She blogs under the name Madam Miaow. In a comment toSocialist Unity some 5 years ago, Anna Chen (or someone impersonating her) had this to say:
I spoke to a number of the CC and senior members about the sexism and discrimination I’d experienced for several years in “The Party”, and wrote to several, but none of them would take it further. One senior member laughed when I said I wanted to take it to the Control Commission and he, not unsympathetically, explained to me the practical purpose of that body. That is: to instill discipline for the lower orders, not to see justice done.
I did ask Rees more than once what I’d done to deserve the dehumanising treatment they were meting out. Had I done anything personally or politically to offend anyone? All he could blurt was that my behaviour on all counts was “exemplary”.
Was it because I wasn’t on the “fuck circuit”? Senior members, including one senior woman of long standing who was close to Cliff, seemed to think this was a distinct possibility. They know it happens but they won’t deal with it.
Now, while I do not like vulgar language, what Anna Chen is implying is clear: in order for women to get on in the party they have to have sexual relationships with senior males. She also is emphatic that her complaint against her treatment was not only not taken seriously, it was laughed at. Chen actually goes further than this: she alleges that senior party members are aware of this culture. One wonders whether the so-called Disputes Committee of the SWP investigated Anna Chen’s accusations and, if so, what its findings were.
In my opinion, the SWP is increasingly looking more like a cult than a political party.
It has been brought to my attention by Darren Redstar that at the the time Anna Chen made her allegation, the charge was not thought to be gender specific, and it could have equally applied to young attractive males as well as to young females. Darren’s point is very reasonable and I apologise for making the assumption that her point was specifically about females.
John R, in the comments below, has brought to my attention a comment that Andy Newman of Socialist Unity made last September. No comment is necessary as what he has said speaks for itself. (I copy it below with spelling errors left in place):
The long term editor of Socialist Worker used to have a reputation that “no means yes”, and when he vistied some districts, experienced comrades in the know sought to ensure he was not left alone with young women.
When women who had been assaulted complained, they were diminished and hounded out of the SWP. I know of one occasion when a victim of sexual assault was sat down with a senior woman CC SWP member who told her to keep quiet for the good of “the party”, excusing the behaviour because “capitalism fucks everyone up”, and then warning if she didn’t keep quiet then no-one would believe her, and the SWP would destroy her reputation.
During the 1980s there was a strange phenomenon of several angry young womwn comrades who used to talk about the sexism of this leading comrade, but they had been intimidated out of explaining what had happened, and instead the discusion often focussed on seemingly trivial details, like the fact that he always referred to women socialists by their first names, and male comrades by surnames (lenin and marx, but Rosa and Clara, for example)
To fnd an organisation that systematicaly for decades covered up sexual assault and who intimidated women who complained into silence praised in this was is disgraceful.
Even worse, I know of an IS/SWP district in the 1970s who colluded in silence and looked the other way when a leading industrial militant was raping his own step-daughter: the individual in question had previoulsy been in the IMG, who had also covered it up. When as a young 17 year old I confronted him at a party and asked him loudly if he was still fucking his duaghter, it was me cautioned by the SWP, while the truth of thse allegations was quietly ignored.
Yet another update:
The SWP has some international affiliates. The Serbian Section of the this international body, the International Socialist Tendency (IST), is known as Marks21. The whole section has just resigned from the SWP and the IST.Inter alia, they claim:
The scandal involving allegations of rape and sexual harassment against a member of the party’s Central Committee has shocked and angered us. It has exposed the dangers of the current turn. The fact that a full-time party worker was not allowed to continue in her post for raising similar complaints of sexual harassment against the said CC member speaks volumes, as do the expulsions of comrades who raised their voices against the leadership’s handling of the matter. This is conduct that reflects bourgeois management techniques, not the revolutionary socialist struggle for women’s liberation.
I suspect that we have not heard the end of the resignations.
Michael Ezra, January 12th 2013, 10:10 am
The leadership of the SWP has a serious problem on its hands.Richard Seymour notes that the leadership have told the members that there will be no further discussion of the rape and sexual harassment allegation against the accused senior party member. This might be a sensible ploy if everyone were to stick to the party line, but it was also fanciful that this would be the case. It has now been demonstrated to be a disastrous policy by the devastating resignation letter of Tom Walker and Richard Seymour’s blog post, the latter of which, as Gene notes, should lead to his expulsion for defiance. These will not be the only critiques of the leadership by rebellious members as more surely have to come.
If the leadership, and the members who act as lickspittle running dogs of the leadership, retain their stance of not discussing it further then this means that the abundance of published material will be attacks on the party with no real published defence. Rank and file party members (“ordinary” is not a term suitable for the description of any member of the SWP) including all those who were not at conference will be seeing these attacks on the party. The conclusion to be drawn, irrespective of the guilt of ”Comrade Delta,” is that the leadership will look weak. The only tool that the leadership can use is expulsion, because, as I have previously mentioned, they have no guns to shoot dissenters.
Leaving the party and setting up a new revolutionary party, aimed at violently overthrowing parliamentary democracy, will not be the dissenters ideal for a simple reason: money. Despite being anti capitalist, revolutionary socialist parties need money to print newspapers, placards for demonstrations as well for other things which notably includes the salaries of party full time workers – or at least the for ones who need a salary. The SWP is alleged to have quite a bit of money and hence if the dissenters can win control of the party then they win control of the party assets. The party might also have the benefit of legacies that have been left to it. Expelled members cannot win this control; those who can are dissenters who remain within the party: a secret faction. They have to do this by kicking out the current Central Committee. This can only be done at a conference. While they have only just had a conference, Trot party mechanisms often allow for a recall conference. This is exactly whatRichard Seymour has proposed in a comment to his own blog post.
Tom Walker, explicitly, and Richard Seymour, implicitly, are suggesting that rank and file members unhappy with the leadership contact them. Those who do contact them will be deemed by the SWP leadership guilty of secret factionalism, in itself grounds for expulsion. That is, of course, if the leaders know which members are acting in such a disloyal fashion. (I do not believe the SWP CC has yet installed a torture chamber so that it can force a confession from the contemptible Seymour of the names all members who might contact him.) So the leadership will have a choice: either mass expulsions or being forced to fight once again to retain their leadership. Neither option will be attractive. But the major point I wish to get across is that this will largely be a control for party assets as well as other disputes. For what it is worth, my view on this point is shared byDavid Oslser.
But we should not be under any illusions: the dissenters and the loyalists are all truly odious. After spending more than five minutes with any of them, one feels compelled to go and have a good scrub in the shower.
There is one thing that doesn’t change on the far left, and that is that adherents to far left ideology spend vast proportions of their time arguing against and denouncing others on the far left whose ideological positions are slightly different to their own. A good example is that Andy Newman of Socialist Unity spoke to The Independent about the SWP crisis. They reported:
Mr Newman likened the SWP’s disciplinary hearing to an extrajudicial “sharia” system or the much criticised investigations by the Roman Catholic church into clerical abuse that bypassed reporting allegations to the authorities.
Seymour commented at the end of his blog post:
The Independent….uses the phrase “socialist sharia court”…. I would urge people to think carefully about who wants to use the sort of language deployed in the Independent article. I think the answer is, “racists”.
The implication is clear: Richard Seymour is denouncing Andy Newman as a racist. Let the battles on the far left continue!
Michael Ezra, January 12th 2013, 7:09 pm
The student wing of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is the Socialist Workers Student Society (SWSS). In practice there is not an iota of difference between the policies of the SWP and the policies of SWSS. John R, in the comments section, has brought to my attention a blog post atGrumpy Old Trot. Leeds University SWSS have denounced the party leadership. I copy their statement in full below which originally appeared on Facebook:
Leeds University SWSS Statement:
Leeds University SWSS condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the recent handling of very serious accusations against a leading member of the SWP Central Committee. We are also extremely disappointed that SWP national conference voted to ratify the decision and process of the Disputes Committee responsible for the investigation.
As many people will have seen from the recent leaked transcript of SWP conference, the conduct of the Disputes Committee fell far short of what should be expected in a socialist organisation committed to ending women’s oppression. Questions regarding sexual history and drinking patterns would be rightly condemned as sexist if asked within a bourgeois court of law – it is therefore completely unacceptable that socialists should consider this a reasonable line of questioning. Coupled with the effective sacking from the SWP national office of one of the women that brought forward the accusation, and the expulsions of four comrades for attempting to ensure the issue was dealt with, the whole behaviour of the party’s leading bodies suggest a worrying departure from the best practices and traditions of our movement.
What has also has been deeply worrying is the attitude that has been taken towards younger members and students raising legitimate concerns. It seems an atmosphere of intimidation has been allowed to develop in which young members are viewed with suspicion and treated as such. Accusations of ‘autonomism’ and ‘feminism’ (not that feminist should be an insult!) have done nothing to clarify political positions, instead create a culture where members feel unable to raise disagreements. It seems this paranoid approach has extended to the national office, where full-time workers with disagreements over the Dispute Committee proceedings have been moved department under the pretext of “factionalising” amongst students, or worse removed from their position entirely. This kind of internal culture is opposite of the kind which should exist within a healthy revolutionary organisation.
Leeds University SWSS would like to re-affirm its commitment to fighting sexism within society and its desire to continue to work alongside activists, feminists and militant anti-sexists in that struggle. There is a global movement developing that is challenging the sexist, rape-apologist culture of capitalist society and the economic system that underpins it. We believe revolutionary socialists should be proud to take a leading role in that fight.
They will not be the only ones. The Party leaders have never previously faced such an open rebellion. They do not know what to do. I suspect even among the loyalists, they are looking for people to blame for the complete and utter mess in which they have found themselves.
A problem that the SWP has, which is worth mentioning is their arrogance. They have used their size to take control of left wing organisations and squeeze out others. The supercilious stance and sneering attitude of SWP members to others on the left, has meant they are despised by many. But in a Machiavellian way, they appear to be of the opinion that it is better to be feared than loved. Such an attitude might work when the party is domineering on the far-left, but it comes at a price: the party is now in trouble and they lack friends to whom they can turn. Apart from the Party loyalists, there doesn’t seem to be anything like a swathe of sympathy for the SWP leadership. In fact, the opposite is the case.
The best thing that the Germans might have given the world is the word schadenfreude. This word can be used to describe the feeling of not just myself, but also that of many on the left about the SWP leadership’s current troubles.
Michael Ezra, January 13th 2013, 9:35 am
A comment has appeared on our blog purporting to be from Charlie Kimber, SWP National Secretary. I cannot say for certain whether it is a genuine comment, although I suspect it is because it appears that Richard Seymour has responded to what appear an identical statement that he has received with a blog post of his own. Not long after Kimber’s statement appeared, John R, also in the comments, provided a spoof annotated version of the statement. Readers can determine themselves whether the annotations are reasonable. Given at Harry’s Place comments disappear from view after one week, I thought I would copy Kimber’s statement and the spoof annotated version to a main post for the record. Before doing so I wish to make a make a comment of my own and then highlight something from Seymour’s post.
Kimber’s statement contains the following line: “Our party has a proud tradition of fighting for women’s liberation.” This all depends on your view. The party’s view published in Women’s Voice, which was described as Women’s magazine of the Socialist Workers Party, is that “women’s liberation can only be achieved by linking its struggle to those of the working class and overthrowing the capitalist system.” (Source: Blake Baker, The Far Left: An Exposé of the Extreme Left in Britain, [Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981], p.56). At any rate, the SWP closed down Women’s Voice. I was once told that the reason was that sexism does not happen within the Party and that campaigning separately for women’s liberation was a bourgeois deviation from the class struggle. In fact, this view is why much of the feminist movement is sneered at by Trots: it does not necessarily tie in class struggle to women’s oppression.
In his critique of the statement, Seymour implies that party loyalists, repeatedly trotting out the line, are insane:
Serious members, hard as nails people, long-standing cadres, are being pushed to the point of resigning. I urge people to stay, and to fight. But one hardly blames those who have had enough of the Kafkaesque nightmare, enough of listening to people spout demented gibberish in meetings and aggregates, enough of hearing the same lies repeated, enough of wildly tenuous historical analogies, enough of cheap realpolitik passed off as wisdom. How many times can you hear, “well I was at a paper sale this morning, and no one mentioned it” before you start thinking of having people sectioned?
Seymour also confirms what is widely known, and that is that the Central Committee is already split. For as he says: Kimber’s statement “does not even reflect the views of everyone on the CC.”
There has been a series of attacks on the Socialist Workers Party in the media and by assorted bloggers. They concern the party’s handling of serious allegations against a leading member and the arguments (partly arising from the case) leading up to and during our recent conference.
This was an internal matter and we had promised full confidentiality to all involved. So we strongly condemn the publication of a transcript of a closed session of the conference discussing this case. The transcript was publicised against the wishes of the complainant herself.
The attacks are a travesty of the truth. We live in what remains a profoundly sexist society, as is shown by the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups in mainstream institutions such as the BBC and the police.
However, the SWP is not an institution of capitalist society but fights for the overthrow of the system. Our party has a proud tradition of fighting for women’s liberation, as is shown, for example, by our consistent campaigning over the decades to defend abortion, and by our criticism of George Galloway for his remarks about the Julian Assange rape accusations.
Reflecting this tradition, our internal structures seek to promote women to leading roles and deal rigorously with any action by any member that is harmful or disrespectful of women.
It is in the context of this commitment that we took allegations against a leading member of the party very seriously.
Unlike the BBC or any other establishment body faced with such an allegation an investigation into this complaint immediately was set in place.
The complainant made the choice not to go to the police, who are notorious for their systemic failure to defend women. Instead she asked for her complaint to be heard by the body within the SWP charged with dealing with disciplinary cases, the Disputes Committee. We respected that choice.
The Disputes Committee is a body of experienced members who had been unanimously elected by the previous conference. The attacks on it as a ‘sharia court’ are little short of racism.
After a lengthy and thorough hearing, the Disputes Committee did not uphold the accusations and decided to take no disciplinary action.
Five of the seven members hearing the case were women, and one has experience as a rape counsellor. These included two members of the Central Committee, the elected leadership body of the SWP. Its members (who are always a minority on the DC) work with the DC to ensure the political integrity of the party, and to ensure the concerns and decisions of the DC are fed into the CC’s work.
At all times great efforts were taken to support the complainant.
Had the Disputes Committee believed that the accused person was guilty, it would have expelled him from the SWP immediately.
The case was discussed at length at a session of our conference, which voted to accept the report and overwhelmingly re-elected the Disputes Committee. Far from being a cover up this sort of open discussion shows that our procedures and elected bodies are accountable to our membership.
If this case had been raised within a trade union or any other organisation there would be no question that the matter should be treated with complete confidentiality. This basic principle should also apply in this case.
As far we are concerned, this case is closed. This is not a ‘cover up’. It is a determination to reflect the decision of our conference. We believe that both parties to the case should have their right to confidentiality and their right as members in good standing respected.
C. Kimber, SWP National Secretary.
Spoof annotated version:
Dear comrade (mug)
There has been a series of attacks on the Socialist Workers Party in the media and by assorted bloggers (which have shown us up for the control freaks we are). They concern the party’s handling of serious allegations against a leading member (sex fiend) and the arguments (partly arising from the case) leading up to and during our recent conference.
This was an internal matter (as all our rape cases are) and we had promised full confidentiality to all involved (to cover it up). So we strongly condemn the publication of a transcript of a closed session of the conference discussing this case (next time, we’ll search you all). The transcript was publicised against the wishes of the complainant herself (Alex, please remind her about this).
The attacks are a travesty (or summing-up, Alex, check which word is correct) of the truth. We live in what remains a profoundly sexist society (which does have its good points), as is shown by the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups in mainstream institutions such as the BBC and the police (and we can teach them a few more lessons).
However, the SWP is not an institution of capitalist society but fights for the overthrow of the system (so me and mymates will be in charge). Our party has a proud tradition of fighting for women’s liberation (the CC makes damn sure they’re liberated) especially, as is shown, for example, by our consistent campaigning over the decades to defend abortion (Christ, just as well, we’ve only got so much dosh), and by our criticism of George Galloway for his remarks about the Julian Assange rape accusations (Got you back, George!).
Reflecting this tradition, our internal structures seek to promote women to leading roles (upon payment in kind) and deal rigorously with any action by any member (oh, er missus) that is harmful or disrespectful of women (HA HA HA).
It is in the context of this commitment that we took allegations against a leading member of the party very seriously (HA HA HA HA. Christ Alex, that was the hardest part to write with a straight face).
Unlike the BBC or any other establishment body faced with such an allegation an investigation into this complaint immediately was set in place (yeh, cos Delta and us all were in the pub at the time).
The complainant made the choice not to go to the police (she would not have dared), who are notorious for their systemic failure to defend women (but not as bad as us). Instead she asked (was told) for her complaint to be heard by the body within the SWP charged with dealing with disciplinary cases, the Disputes Committee. We respected that choice (order).
The Disputes Committee is a body of experienced members who had been unanimously elected by the previous conference (no choice, Comrades). The attacks on it as a ‘sharia court’ are little short of racism (thank fuck, a smokescreen).
After a lengthy and thorough hearing, the Disputes Committee did not uphold the accusations and decided to take no disciplinary action (shock, horror!).
Five of the seven members hearing the case were women, and one has experience as a rape counsellor (thank fuck again, a fig leaf). These included two members of the Central Committee, the elected leadership body of the SWP (like North Korea). Its members (who are always a minority on the DC) work with the DC to ensure the political integrity of the party, and to ensure the concerns and decisions of the DC are fed into the CC’s work (of WATCHING AND CONTROLLING WHAT YOU THINK).
At all times great efforts were taken to support (shaft and undermine) the complainant.
Had the Disputes Committee believed that the accused person was guilty (as if), it would have expelled him from the SWP immediately (HA HA HA).
The case was discussed at length at a session of our conference (time for a snooze), which voted to accept the report and overwhelmingly re-elected the Disputes Committee (no choice again as I said) . Far from being a cover up this sort of open discussion shows that our procedures and elected bodies are accountable to our membership (oh dear,dear,dear. At this point I’ll have to stop for a moment or I’ll wet myself).
If this case had been raised within a trade union or any other organisation there would be no question that the matter should be treated with complete confidentiality (after going to the proper authorities). This basic principle should also apply in this case (shut up, you bastards, he’s a mate, he didn’t mean no harm, she’s a slapper).
As far we are concerned, this case is closed (Oi! Once more! Shut up you bastards! Alex tell them to shut up). This is not a ‘cover up’(you bet it is). It is a determination to reflect the decision of our(me and my mates’) conference. We believe that both parties to the case should have their right to confidentiality and their right as members in good standing respected (except that lying slapper).
SWP National Secretary
Michael Ezra, January 13th 2013, 11:21 pm
This is a cross post from Phil of A Very Public Sociologist. (Michael Ezra notes that Phil has substantial knowledge about the history of the SWP. This is not least due to the fact that a decent sized chunk of his PhD thesis was an analysis of the SWP’s activism in Britain. This particular blog post is an essential reading opinion piece for those following the crisis in the SWP.)
Where Now for the SWP?
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but the fate befalling the Socialist Workers’ Party is proving to be the exception to the rule. Coverage in the New Statesman, The Indy, and The Daily Mail is bringing the SWP’s monumentally fatal decision to a wider audience. Surely other media outlets can’t be far behind, even if only as January filler between Celebrity Big Brother and impending snowmageddon.I also couldn’t help but note The Mail disallowed comments on their piece. If the most stupid and reactionary paper in the land can foresee potential legal difficulties, what does that say of the SWP’s Central Committee’s foresight, that flower of the British proletariat?
And yet, in this, what is likely to be the terminal crisis for the SWP, if your sole news outlet was Socialist Worker and the ramblings of its website, you could be forgiven for thinking the organisation doesn’t stand on the precipice of extinction. Yesterday, paper sales went ahead in city centres like they always have done. And the CC, forced to respond to negative press and blogging, has officially come out and said “nothing to see here.”
In the real world large sections of ‘the party’ are in open revolt. Two of its most prominent public faces, China Mieville and Richard Seymour, are now waging anopen political struggle. Off the top of my head, Sheffield and Leeds are pretty much solid oppositionists. The local branch here in Stoke are supportive of the rebellion. And the large (in far left terms) Birmingham organisation is said to be on the verge of decamping en masse. If the SWP were a zombie, we’re not talking about skin flakes or fingers falling off. It’s chunks of flesh and even limbs that are coming loose.
Nevertheless, the open struggle being conducted by Lenny and co. finds them in an extremely strong position. The CC risks inflicting a massive split on the organisation if its “celebrities” are expelled in the customary cavalier fashion. In fact, Mieville’s and Seymour’s open defiance is almost goading the CC into action. But also, the leadership cannot counter opposition politically. It can hide behind conference’s decision to endorse the findings as much as it likes. They cannot defend themselves even within the norms of “proletarian justice“.
The opposition have right on their side, even if their critique of the Central Committee is limited to the party’s petty authoritarianism and the disputes committee balls up rather than address whether it was appropriate for the SWP to investigate a rape allegation. Unfortunately for them and the future viability of their politics, they share the same revolutionary conceit as their erstwhile comrades in the leadership. Whatever the immediate fate of the opposition, fundamentally all that’s on offer is more years on the Leninist merry go-round.
Apart from the politics of the opposition, there are two insurmountable problems. Regardless of whether you think the SWP operates the “right kind” of democratic centralism or not, it is nigh on impossible to constitutionally replace a vanguard party leadership peacefully (i.e. without a split). As has been noted in discussions on Socialist Unity, the legal and financial apparatus of the SWP as an entity is shrouded in mystery. Who controls the monies, who has access to them, who the trustees are for party property, it’s all an extremely shadowy business. With a great deal of money and capital resources at stake, even if the opposition are successful in recalling the central committee there is nothing to stop the incumbent little Lenins marching off into the sunset with what, morally, belongs to the membership. There is as much chance of Kimber, Callinicos et al accepting a majority decision on their collective defenestration than Socialist Worker becoming readable over night. And if any reader who’s a member of another far left group is feeling particularly smug about this, ask yourself. Would your own revolutionary leadership submit to being bumped down to rank-and-file status after an open and democratic political struggle?
The second problem is far more serious. To put it bluntly, the SWP is fucked. Two minutes on an internet search by any new member will quickly turn up the dark heart of their organisation. In the wider labour movement, where it does not become a propaganda gift to those who’d like to see the back of the SWP, ‘normal’ trade unionists, activists, campaigners, all the people the SWP have tried to court over the years will prove far more reticent to associate with them.
The SWP opposition haven’t grasped this either. Even in the best case scenario, if the CC is expunged and replaced by an entirely new cadre of activists AND the culture and practice reformed to something approaching sane politics, the name and brand of the SWP is forever tainted. They are toxic. They are the party that lets an alleged rapist off because a committee of his mates gave him a clean bill of health, and no amount of back-pedalling, no ‘democracy commissions’ or truth-and-reconciliation procedures can change that. It’s game over, comrades.
Where now? The SWP can remain more or less coherent, organisationally, but lose hundreds of activists and dwindle its way to oblivion. Or it can blow apart in all directions in one or several splits. Other organisations will scoop up some of the activists, including Labour, but, as has historically been the case with socialists burned by the SWP, most will retreat from politics and the labour movement altogether. The responsibility for that outcome lies solely at the feet of its central committee and those stupid enough to blindly follow them.
Michael Ezra, January 16th 2013, 9:53 am
I have received an email containing a message published on the Facebook page of someone described as a veteran SWP oppositionist. I copy the message below but have removed names.
I remember when an SWP Central Committee member sexually assaulted one of my friends (this was not a matter of an ‘unproven allegation’, since the person admitted his guilt at great length to me, putting it down to his heavy drinking). The assault involved an attack on a party member in which he tried to tear her clothes from her. She fought back, and eventually stopped him in his tracks with a kick in the balls (she told me that she said “fuck off, you old hippy”). The woman didn’t want to pursue the matter in any way and, not surprisingly, dropped out of the SWP shortly afterwards. As an SWP district organiser I raised this with the CC, asking that the person be disciplined even though there was no complaint as such, but it was explained to me that “this sort of thing happens under capitalism”, and nothing could be done about it. Obviously, not being a moron, I didn’t think that was in any way an adequate response, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do about it. Shortly afterwards I was sacked as an organiser. Then, shortly after that, I was expelled from the SWP ‘for life’ for wanting to produce a cultural magazine (as it happens, I don’t believe they expelled me because of my knowledge of this incident). I perhaps should have done more about this, but at the time – over 20 years ago – I didn’t know what else I could do.
I mention all this only because
1) at least [one] of those on the CC at that time remains in position[A name provided but removed by Michael Ezra]
2) others on the CC at that time remain prominent figures on the left, albeit not in the SWP [Two names provided but removed by Michael Ezra], and…
3) the CC member who told me that such things were inevitable, and justified doing nothing about it, has played a role in recent events, justifying or excusing the actions of Delta using very similar arguments [A name was provided but removed by Michael Ezra.]
I mention all this because it bears on the mistaken belief some members seem to have that, if the CC suspected that anything untoward really *had* happened in the latest case, they would have dealt with it and would not have taken part in a cover-up. Actually they have a vested interest in covering up such things, and they, as a group, have done so in the past.
One wonders how much more of this exists.
Michael Ezra, January 20th 2013, 10:00 pm
Richard Seymour has announced the formation of a new blog:International Socialism, designed for the arguments of the Socialist Workers Party oppositionists.
A post today is headlined: “Comrades need to stop complaining on the internet and bring their concerns to branch meetings…” This is a paraphrased view of the line that is coming to party members from the loyalists, and the view that has independently also been brought to my attention. It can be summed up by the idiom that dirty linen should not be washed in public: keep all the problems in house and do not let the wider world be aware. The problem with the SWP’s dirty laundry is that its dirt is not a normal level that can be contained. The laundry positively reeks. The stench is leaking out of the Central Committee and the the rest of the left as well as those on the right are pointing an accusatory finger at the party and stating loudly and clearly: “You stink!”
The attempt at silencing external comment is, on the one hand not working, and, on the other hand, it is plainly ridiculous that they claim that complaints can be dealt with at branch meetings. The reason why it is ridiculous is because the SWP Central Committee have also stated about the main reason for the current members’ revolt, “As far we are concerned, this case is closed.” If they have stated the case is closed then they clearly have no interest in discussing it further.
What is interesting about this post is the first comment. Someone has used the anonymous name, John Smith, and said the following:
I am being deliberately carved out by my branch. I’m disabled and comrades make a lot of effort to come to me. But since I voiced my opposition to the CC, I was told that I should get off the internet and come to have face to face discussions – except, they are now saying they won’t be able to arrange a group to discuss things at my house, and won’t be able to arrange transport for me to the branch.
It appears that this party with its so-called left wing credentials are not taking into consideration the needs of disabled members if it does not suit them. Another commentator, using the name KibokothePurpleHippo, has also suggested that they have suffered discrimination mentioning “some members were privy to information that was withheld from others. There was clearly a two tier system operating.” This particular member has used a different comment on this new blog to publish his resignation email to the party. Below I copy an extract:
Finally, in the interests of honesty and full disclosure, something which the SWP seem to have lost, I need to disclose that just after I joined the Party, I was raped. My branch never asked about my previous sexual history. When my self esteem was at it’s lowest, they made me feel I was still important and I still had something to offer. I was somewhere safe. I can’t say that is the case now. The irony of the fact that the reason I stayed is now the reason I must leave is not lost on me. It breaks my heart as I’m having to leave an organisation who were to me, the family I didn’t have. And before you accuse me of being biased due to my personal history, I suggest you get your own house in order first. As a rape survivor, I cannot be part of a Party of rape apologists.
It causes me great sadness and pain to have to say this, but I have no choice. I hereby resign from the SWP.
I cannot think of a single redeeming feature of the party. It deserves nothing better than to go to the political graveyard where it can be buried alongside Gerry Healy’s Workers’ Revolutionary Party.
KEYWORDS: The Left
Michael Ezra, January 25th 2013, 7:30 pm
Gareth Dale notes that the Socialist Workers Party has been denounced as the Sexist Workers Party. I feel that is as good a name as any and worthwhile to use.
Judith Orr is the editor of Socialist Worker. She was invited to speak last Thursday at the University of East Anglia Feminist Society on Marxism, Feminism and Women’s Liberation. The invite was issued before the sordid allegations against Comrade Delta were made public. When they were made public, Hattie Grünewald of the UAE Feminist Society had this to say to the members of her society on the society’s Facebook group page:
In the interest of free-speech and lack of censorship, we are not planning to withdraw our invitation; however, we do plan to hold Judith accountable for the actions of her party. We hope you will come along and support us in this; however, if you feel that you would rather not attend, we understand.
The meeting did go ahead. The SWP Party Notes claims that Orr’s talk was “warmly received.” This claim can be compared with the report of the meeting in the university students’ newspaper, Concrete:
After giving her intended talk on women’s liberation at the meeting, Orr opened up the floor to questions. Several audience members expressed concern at the SWP’s handling of such serious allegations.
It was questioned whether it was fair of the SWP to deal with the matter internally instead of going through the court system, and whether an internal body could effectively punish such a serious offence if the party member had been found guilty.
Orr maintained that the SWP were “more accountable than any other organisation,” being entirely intolerant of sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other hateful prejudices within their party.
One can question as to what report is likely to be more reflect the truth: the one from the SWP party notes or the one from the student newspaper.
I think we need to be to told about any relationship between Judith Orr and Comrade Delta. Are they just comrades in the same party acting in a comradely fashion, or is there something more? My sources tell me there is a stronger relationship. If this is true, Judith Orr’s motivation for defending allegations against Delta and the party’s handling of the case may not just be simply a matter of party loyalty. But then again, this is all rumour, and as Charles Dickens’s Gradgrind might have approved being said, “we want nothing but Facts.”
Update January 25, 2013:
UAE staff and SWSS members have written to the SWP Central office!
We are writing to inform you and the Central Committee of an incident that has arisen as a direct result of the crisis raging in the party. We feel that it makes our position in our workplaces, and within trade unions at the University of East Anglia vulnerable. An article has appeared in ‘Concrete’, our Student Union newspaper, in relation to a recent meeting that Judith attended with the UEA Feminist Society. The article argues that Judith defended the ‘Rape controversy’ at the meeting she gave last week. While the article is fair in its criticism, we feel that:
1. This development is at odds with the claim in Party Notes that ‘Socialist Worker editor Judith Orr spoke at a very successful Feminist Society meeting at the University of East Anglia last week and her talk on Marxism and Feminism was warmly received’.
2. This article will have knock on effects for those who are party members and staff or students at UEA, as Concrete is widely read on Campus.
3. Numerous members of UEA Feminist Society have expressed to us their reservations about working with the Party again in the future.
Therefore we would like to ask of the CC why the specifics of the meeting were omitted from Party Notes when they directly affect comrades at UEA? Party Notes is supposed to be a guide for how comrades are to deal with political issues in the coming weeks however we were not informed of a subject that directly affects us. We would like an explanation as to why the CC failed to warn UEA comrades about an issue that we have to face in lectures and in the workplace, as it is impossible for us to respond to questions relating to this meeting if we are kept in the dark as to its details.
Emma Rock, Norwich Branch (UEA Staff and Unison)
Jack Brindelli, UEA SWSS/Norwich Branch
Jacob Porter, UEA SWSS/Norwich Branch
KEYWORDS: The Left
Michael Ezra, February 3rd 2013, 6:00 am
There have been a number of developments in the crisis that has been building in the Socialist Workers Party. This is one whereby the party’s Disputes Committee, which has been backed the Central Committee, exonerated one of their mates from the charge of rape. Numerous SWP student societies (SWSS) have indicated that they are with the opposition and hence opposed to the position of the Central Committee. The suggestion has been made that party members have been intimidated to toe the Central Committee line.
Today the SWP’s National Committee is to debate the crisis. The SWP CC will not be amused that the motions for debate have been published on theSocialist Unity blog. The first motion is from the Central Committee itself. They are clearly desperate for the debate to be dropped and they are threatening disciplinary action against the opposition:
4) We therefore condemn the actions of those members who have circumvented these principles by campaigning to overturn conference decisions outside the structures of the party, using blogs and the bourgeois media. Many of these contributions have been characterised by the use of slurs, abuse and un-comradely language that seem designed to stop serious debate and make joint work impossible, as well as damaging the party’s reputation.
5) This undermining of our democracy should stop forthwith. We reaffirm the right of the Central Committee to impose disciplinary measures for violation of our democratic constitution.
The second motion is from SWP stalwart, Sue Caldwell, doing her best impression of Soviet show trials chief prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky. She encourages the Central Committee to
shoot expel the opposition unless they shut up. The third motion is from the South Yorkshire District Committee who are sucking up to the CC and think it is better to talk about “the protests in Sheffield against austerity cuts,” than an alleged rapist in the party’s own midst whose alleged crime was investigated and exonerated by a jury comprised of his mates. Motion four is a rather tame motion which calls for Delta to stand down from any “paid or representative roles” in the party. The motion also wants no punishment for the opposition members who have kicked up a fuss. It does not argue for the sacking of the current CC for their actions and defence of their actions. The remaining motions are sycophantic to the CC.
Rumours are the opposition will get smashed but this will not be the end of it. One of the commentators below the line to the Socialist Unity post declares all of this to be “ The new longest suicide note in history!” I hope s/he is right.
There has been further comment in the press and on the blogs about the this scandal. Worthwhile reading is former Tribune editor, Paul Anderson. He concludes: “Now the [SWP] is a laughing-stock: no one will even talk to them after all this. I’m not mourning, but it’s worth noting. British Leninism is finished.” I hope he is right. There was a double page spread in yesterday’s Daily Mail slating the party for the handling of the rape allegation. The headline was “A show of hands! That’s how the Socialist Workers Party cleared a comrade of rape.” The article went on to name and shame a number of the members of the Disputes Committee which exonerated Comrade Delta. Finally, Nick Cohen has got his act together and written an article on the subject for the Observer. Cohen interviewed former member Anna Chen. She told him:
“I was struck by how sexless and ugly the leading men in the SWP were. But they always had women. If you slept with one of them, they promoted you. It was as basic as that.”
Many leftwing commentators …. point out that the revolt in the SWP is led by Richard Seymour, a puffed-up political hack, who is just as totalitarian as the apparatchiks he seeks to replace. To their mind, the battle in the party is like a battle in the BNP: no good outcome is possible.
I am personally inclined to be in that camp, but I do believe there is a possible good outcome, one whereby the SWP simply implodes and we hear no more from them. Sadly, I think the party, albeit battered, will survive in some shape or form. But what shouldn’t be forgotten is what Cohen mentions: “The SWP wants to abolish democracy and establish a dictatorship.” This is just as true for Richard Seymour as it is for
Benito Mussolini SWP National secretary, Charlie Kimber.