Thoughts on the Crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party

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’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.

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About redpleb

I'm a socialist, an activist, a worker and an all around troublemaker here in New Jersey. You can find me on twitter @RedPleb
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24 Responses to Thoughts on the Crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party

  1. Jay Blackwood says:

    Hi, great post, and a brave one too. I’ve uploaded several pieces on my blog about this debacle, including this one from Alan Gibbons (a well known ex-SWP member on this side of the pond and also a prominent children’s author and activist):

    As an ex-party member myself, who left over the lack of internal democracy, I am totally supportive of the current (growing) opposition.

  2. John Mullen says:

    It seems to me to be an absolutely one-sided account. Ex girlfriend of leading comrade accuses him a few years after end of relationship of rape during relationship. She doesn’t want to go to police. Disputes committee elected at previous conference (3 women and two men plus two women from central committee) spend a few days hearing everyone. Conclude he didn’t rape her. Disputes committee report presented at conference and approved by a very close majority (200 voted against). A couple of factions had been set up on questions of “democratic practice” in the three months before conference (as rules allow) but four people expelled for alleged secret factionalizing.
    At conference noone else stands against disputes committee and disputes committee is easily re-elected ( I got some of this info second hand). But severe criticisms continue : from within the party by people who think the disputes committee was not correctly constitued or not to be trusted; outside the party from people who don’t like the party.
    Obviously a crisis. But it is not clear what oppositionists are proposing. Some believe that such accusations are always true, in which case the committee hearing should never have happened. Others think that the five women and two men on the committee were dishonest, macchiavellian or hopelessly sexist. A couple of hundred voted each way at the conference on accepting the report, but as I understand it considerably more voted to re-elect the same disputes committee (but I don’t have the figures) . People have the right of course to distrust the comrades on the disputes committee. But people also have the right to trust them. I do.

    • John Mullen says:

      It has been pointed out to me that the report given to conference did not say that W “was an ex-girlfriend of Delta”. I summarized from memory, and I got that bit wrong.

      • Even if it were true, it would have been an utterly inappropriate observation to make.

        It buys into (at least) five sexist ideas:

        1. If a man has been in a relationship with a woman then he’s less likely to have raped her
        2. Women make rape allegations for purposes of revenge and/or because they wish the relationship had not ended. (Since yep, women don’t choose to end relationships.)
        3. Women always immediately realise they have been raped. (We don’t – we are socialised not to believe men of whom we’re fond can rape us. Also, we are socialised not to understand what rape is.)
        4. Women are always immediately ready to press report rapes after the event, and face no external pressures not to.
        5. Women not wanting to go to the police (assuming this woman did not, of which I have no knowledge) are automatically more suspect.

  3. Pingback: SWP Crisis : Three New Articles « Grumpy Old Trot

  4. Jay Blackwood says:

    John Mullen’s disingenuous comment above is an example of the sort of whitewash being engaged in by supporters of the current CC. Shameful. Btw the transcript of the report-back to conference is widely available on the web, e.g. here (this link is NOT an endoresment of the site’s politics, btw!):

    Read it and weep.

  5. John L Baker says:

    John Mullen by his own admission “does not know the people involved”. (I have a screen grab of this statement if anyone wants to see it). And yet here he is happily regurgitating a story that ends with a young woman (who he ‘does not know’) branded a coniving liar who cried rape after a ‘relationship ended’ (he does not know the people involved remember, and so does not know if there was a ‘relationship’. Let me emphasise once more – he has admitted elsewhere that ‘he does not know the people involved’. Therefore he has specifically chosen which ‘side’ he is most comfortable with, despite every bit of evidence to show what a sham the investigation was. This serves to underline the rotten to the core politics that these people have when it comes to women’s oppression. Never again will they be taken seriously on this issue. Keep digging your political grave ‘comrade’.

  6. “x girlfriend of leading comrade accuses him a few years after end of relationship of rape during relationship.”

    Where did you hear that John?

    You might wish to reflect on the fact that you don’t know the details of what happened between the complainant and the accused, or even the specifics what is alleged. None of us do. You have no right to post such speculations, and it is irresponsible to do so.

    I would point out that one of the criticisms of the DC concerned the manner in which they are said to have attempted to badger the witnesses about whether a relationship had taken place. Neither at conference nor in any document in the public domain is it actually discussed whether or not such a relationship had taken place, because the details of the case were specifically not to be discussed. What you have written is a speculation intended to damage the complainant.

    Nor have you any right to imply that the person you’re describing as “x girlfriend” is a liar. You do not know the truth or otherwise of the allegations. No one does, bar those directly involved. You did not investigate the case. You have not spoken to the woman involved, nor the witnesses. You have not read the testimony. You are in no position to judge this. The debate that is taking place, which you are intervening in, concerns strictly the process of investigation and subsequent handling of debate. You are trying to avoid the main lines of criticism, which you do not address in your spiel, by insinuating allegations of whose veracity you have no knowledge. You are behaving disgracefully. And you have responsibilities here: as a socialist, and as someone close to IS politics.

    I might point out one other thing. It is a red herring to pontificate about whether accusations of rape are “always true”. The fact is that a tiny minority of such cases turn out to be false accusations; another fact is that women have a tremendously difficult time being believed when they make such allegations due to institutional and structural sexism. Confronted with this, socialists attempt to overcome and countervail against the sexist bias against taking rape allegations seriously. We start from the conviction that women do not make such cases lightly. That there is a strong probability of their complaint being well-founded. And that therefore the allegations should be treated with due seriousness. That is what I and other members argue did not happen in this case.

    You’d be better served sticking to that subject.

    • redpleb says:

      I really appreciate your input Richard. Maybe the statement of “always true” is slightly too much, but you here are better expanding on what I was driving at then what I did in this blog post. False accusations are a tiny fraction of total rape accusations and all the made accusations are a tiny fraction of the total amount of rapes that actually occur. It is safe to assume in those conditions to “trust women” as the phrase goes.

  7. Kent says:

    Am I the only one who senses a parallel between the crisis in the SWP and the 1939-1940 fight in the US SWP? The CC and its supporters talk tough, like a bunch of would-be Cannonites, while the oppositionists speak in favor of open debate, tolerance for divergent views, and so on – just like Shachtman’s supporters did during 1939-1940?

  8. DW says:

    Yes you are the only one who senses a parallel with the 1939-1940 fight in the US SWP. Its more like the 1985-1986 fight in the UK WRP.

  9. Jay Blackwood says:

    Richard Seymour: “Confronted with this, socialists attempt to overcome and countervail against the sexist bias against taking rape allegations seriously. We start from the conviction that women do not make such cases lightly. That there is a strong probability of their complaint being well-founded. And that therefore the allegations should be treated with due seriousness. That is what I and other members argue did not happen in this case.”

    Very well put Richard. Fantastic to see a serious fightback in the party over this issue! I’ve just uploaded some of my own thoughts on what’s happened, inc. how it relates to my own time in the SWP:

  10. Dave Riley says:

    Interesting post.

    Of relevance: Prior to these UK events, there was a sharp debate here in Australia over Feminism, rape and misogyny as it relates to Marxism.
    Indication here — LINK .

    In this exchange Sharon Smith’s perspective was promoted.

  11. Malte Brigge says:

    I was once accused of viciously assaulting one of my old party mates and knocking him senseless and causing him serious harm. We was so afraid of reprisals and the habitual pressure we put on him that he did not come forward with a complaint until some time later. Of course, that was not an issue in any case, because the ‘case’ was heard by my friends and allies in the party and I was exonerated. Any ‘bourgios’ talk of a ‘proper’ investigation or the police was brushed off rather easily with the usual ‘class traitor’ phrases and standard political hectoring about loyalty and so on. He was a ‘mate’ of mine and we had been drinking so no real case to answer – right? I hope you are taking this all in John Mullen, because when you get your jaw broken and your ribs caved in by an ‘ex friend’ I am sure you will have the sincerity to be more than happy for this same ex mate and his chums to deal with the matter and conclude that you really fell down the strairs! Ponder thereon!

  12. Pingback: SWP crisis: who is saying what « Jim Jepps

  13. jimboo says:

    SWP representative at the Unite Against Fascism action in Greece this weekend. hypocrites

  14. Kapitano says:

    “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”

    I think they’ll just try to brazen it out. It’s worked in previous scandals.

    It’s the pattern in cults. When there’s a trauma, have to make a decision: are their principles more important than ‘the good of the cause’. A few decide they are, and leave. Most have too much invested, and they stay – which increases their investment.

  15. Jion says:

    The most intriguing issue raised by the SWP crisis is why so many decent revolutionaries end up in cults that reproduce all the worst aspects of capitalist society. There are no easy answers to this question but the following writings help make some sense of the situation:

    Janja Lalich, ‘Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults’ –

    Martha Grace Duncan, ‘Only the Marlboro Man: A Psychological Study of a Political Agitator’, Political Psychology, Vol. 8, No. 2 (1987) –

    Daniel Shaw, ‘Traumatic Abuse in Cults: A Psychoanalytic Perspective’ –
    Simon Pirani, ‘The break-up of the WRP – from the horse’s mouth’ –

    Maurice Brinton, ‘Suicide for socialism?’ –

    Andy Wilson, ‘Imputed consciousness and left organisations’ –

    Dennis Tourish, Tim Wohlforth, ‘On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left’ –

    John Sullivan, ‘As Soon As This Pub Closes’ –

  16. Pingback: The Expulsion of the International Socialist Organization from the International Socialist Tendency in 2001 | The Red Plebeian

  17. IRISH left ex says:

    This all just shows that the left is clueless. Why have I wasted so much of my life???? Economic meltdow, capitalism in crisis, unemployment mounting, etc etc. And what happens?? Look at Clarence Daly in Ireland and swp in England. It’s a joke

  18. I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Very well written!

  19. Pingback: Wither Derrick Jensen: The Transphobia of Deep Green Resistance | The Red Plebeian

  20. Pingback: Down with Brocialism and Manarchism! | The Red Plebeian

  21. Will Shetterly says:

    “when it comes to rape allegations, you always trust the woman making the allegation”

    I believed that too, which was why I supported Tawana Brawley until the truth came out. Now I think the presumption of innocence applies to everyone in every criminal proceeding. Women are just like men: most tell the truth as they understand it, and some lie.

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