So I have been blogging about the unfolding crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party on Tumblr for a while now so I thought it was about time that I synthesized a bunch of my thoughts into a proper blog post. Maybe I’m blogging about this too much, maybe there is also the issue that comes with a socialist in one country meddling and passing judgement on socialists in another country, but for those coming from the International Socialist tradition its really a big deal as the SWP enters what’s looking like a death spiral.
For a summary of the situation I think the best people to read are Tom Walker and Richard Seymour. To just say a few short points; a senior male member of the Socialist Workers Party’s Central Committee (I’m not entirely certain whether or not to name the scumbag here, but its pretty easy to find out who he is if you want and even find him on twitter) is accused of rape and sexual harassment by two female party members, an apparent cover-up takes place, the issue is brought toward an internal Disputes Committee that “investigates” the allegations in an incredibly problematic and sexist way by people with close ties to the accused and find the allegations. At the party conference a vote is taken on agreement with the Disputes Committee’s “findings” which barely passes, but word gets out about this scandal, and the whole left is justified uproar. Even though we can’t be certain if the rape allegations are true (my personal judgement is that they are; when it comes to rape allegations, you always trust the woman making the allegation), the whole proceedings of this scandal shows that the SWP’s leadership does not take allegations of sexist abuse seriously and they are unconcerned with keeping its membership informed or involving them in what is happening in the party.
The situation clearly is spiraling out of control for the SWP’s Central Committee just as you’d expect it to have in this political climate. In fact it shows a huge disconnect from reality on the part of the CC who didn’t foresee that in this environment where Rape Culture and Sexism are such big issues, and that there is a practical renaissance in feminism occurring, that shit like this could possibly be brushed under the rug.
But the cat is out of the bag, and mainstream news outlets, have taken up the story, such as the Daily Mail, The Independent and innumerable blogs (my own now being one of them). Now I just want to say unequivocally that the actions and policies of the Socialist Workers Party in handling these rape allegations are a travesty, a crime and a disgrace to all socialists and feminists everywhere. Shame on the Central Committee, the Disputes Committee and the entire Party bureaucracy. But I have nothing but disdain for those in the corporate media or even the left who are characterizing the SWP’s Dispute Committee as a “Sharia Court.” This is grossly racist and islamophobic terminology and it should have no place in the serious discussions that need to take place on this scandal. I just wanted to make that clear before moving on.
This scandal will without a doubt haunt the Socialist Workers Party and all of its members for here on out. The SWP has been thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the British public, the British left and the world left. Wherever members or the party goes, allegations and accusations of the party defending rapists (which are likely accurate) will follow them. The ability for the SWP to work with other groups, activist movements or labor unions will be undermined and become untenable. Forget “red-baiting”, rapist baiting is what SWP members will face forever after as the party becomes more and more isolated.
Speaking more broadly of the structural sources of this scandal, there’s the fact that this whole clusterfuck was a long-time coming. The SWP had been becoming more bureaucratic and sectarian for years, with less and less emphasis being put on the party’s membership base and their role and development, and more energy put into maintaining the insular elite of the now morally bankrupt leadership. These facts were illustrated by the group Marks21 resignation letter from the International Socialist Tendency over this scandal. Also the SWP, despite doing some decent work in the field of anti-sexist activism, has been underplaying the importance of women’s liberation on the theoretical level for far longer. In her talk on women’s liberation and Marxism, my own ISO comrade Sharon Smith points out those deficiencies of the SWP on that question. To quote one of her conclusions at length;
At this point in history, when feminism has been under sustained attack for the last 40 years with no end in sight, the last thing we [socialists] should feel compelled to do is to attack feminism. On the contrary, we need to defend feminism on principle as a defense of women’s liberation. Unfortunately, not all Marxists have always understood the need to defend feminism and to appreciate the enormous accomplishments of the women’s movement.
There is a big problem here. There are far too many “Brosocialists” to go along with the “Manarchists” of the world. Many defend their implicit misogyny on incredibly shaky theoretical basis. I’m actually kind of curious what the WSWS.org’s response to this crisis will be, they put like 90% of their energy into attacking groups like the SWP but they’re also infamous for being anti-feminist and coming to the defense of accused rapists. So who knows what they’ll do.
The point is I feel that if your socialist politics are “non-feminist” they will very likely lead you and your group to become anti-feminist and misogynistic. Socialism and Marxism shouldn’t be thrown out the door because of this travesty, but seen as needing proper and dialectical reinforcement and bolstering by feminist principals and ideas.
I’m still uncertain if the SWP will survive another week. There’s still a (slim) chance that the party can be saved, but its going to require purging out the whole bureaucracy and leadership, a proper cleansing of the Augean Stables of its whole anti-democratic, bureaucratic and sexist culture, and that means a pretty hardcore internal struggle. That’s the main reason I can see in staying in the party for those SWP members with still a conscious and any true socialist principals (at least for the time being), which is why I applaud those who seem to be taking such stances. That’s part of the point that SWPer Richard Seymour has in his most recent blog post, stay and fight. If there’s a chance that the party can be fixed, then it needs to be fought for. But if that all fails, it means a split, and everyone who is still worth a damn should get out of the dead SWP and start something new.
The point is the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party and the whole bureaucracy around it is now not just a barrier, but the greatest threat to the party’s future, the future of the British left, the struggle for women’s liberation and even the cause for socialism as a whole. Not to mention the harm it has done to the comrades who were likely victims of rape. The SWPs action are unforgivable, unjustifiable and a total disgrace. If we are to be true to our principals then a constant struggle most always be carried out against any signs or manifestations of sexism (along with racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc) within side the revolutionary organization. If a socialist party can’t be made a safe space for all women then it has lost its right to continue existing.
Also I should say, as I’ve indicated before, I am not writing in any official capacity of the ISO or on its behalf, merely just an individual.