TRIGGER WARNING: this post deals with issues of sexual assault and rape culture.
Last weekend (9th-10th March 2013) saw the Socialist Workers Party hold an emergency conference to address the party crisis. That the conference took place at all is a small miracle given the intensive effort by the SWP central committee to prevent it. Shortly before the conference news surfaced that another central committee member has been accused of raping a party member – and the party has been accused of covering it up (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/09/socialist-workers-party-rape-kangaroo-court).
The following blog post gives some interesting reflections on the conference, the crisis as a whole and possibilities for the future. https://sovietgoonboy.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/order-prevails-in-vauxhall/
Put briefly: the decisions made at the original conference have been upheld; the expulsions which followed have been upheld; Martin Smith is still in the party.
Nothing has changed.
The central committee meanwhile have, predictably, pointed the blame at everyone but themselves – the internet (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=12210), “feminists” (use of the term as an insult being disturbing in itself), “autonomists”, the media and a host of other scapegoats. The SWP’s pet jazz musician and notorious racist Gilad Atzmon, on the other hand, decided to go the whole hog and pin it on the global Jewish conspiracy (http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/sax-offender-vs-progressive-rapists.html) – something which, to our knowledge, the SWP has not responded to despite having given Atzmon a stage at Marxism and other events for years.
The problems which created this crisis – sexual abuse, the disbelief of survivors, hostility towards feminism and the tendency to close ranks around friends – are not unique to the SWP, nor to the left. And the anarchist movement is not immune either (http://libcom.org/files/Betrayal%20-%20a%20critical%20analysis%20of%20rape%20culture%20in%20anarchist%20subcultures.pdf). They are problems which exist throughout society. Equally, institutional corruption enabling this behaviour exists across the board, from trade unions and socialist groups to churches, schools, political parties and more, and the eagerness of some on the left to score political points throughout this affair has been shameful.
However, while the problems may be universal, the way those problems were addressed – and the resulting fallout – is inextricably linked to the SWP’s party structure and ideology, and the tendency of political cliques to protect their position whatever the cost. Ironically, the CC’s attempts to keep this quiet for the good of the party have likely done more to damage the party than anything else.
We have many friends and allies in the SWP for whom we have the greatest respect, alongside whom we have campaigned for years – against the war, against student fees, pension cuts, benefit attacks and a host of other issues. Some of whom, in fact, have been involved in trying to salvage something from the party and in opposing the antics of “their” central committee. While we respect and support them in their efforts, the result of this weekend’s conference would seem to indicate that such efforts have been largely futile.
A mass statement has been put together by former members of the SWP, several from York, explaining their reasons for leaving: http://internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/fao-central-committee-of-socialist.html
Both comradeship and friendship are, and have to be, built on trust. And that trust has been grossly violated beyond repair.
If you are a member of the SWP and reading this, and if you find the party’s recent actions as repulsive as we do, then you continue to be both our comrade and our friend.
If you do not, however, then with all due respect: do not speak to us again.
Some love, and a lot of rage,
- Open letter to the SWP from union activists: https://openletterswp.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/open-letter-to-the-central-committee-of-the-socialist-workers-party-from-union-activists/
- Our movement must be a safe space for women: https://womeninthelabourmovement.wordpress.com/
- Article by comedian and former SWP member Mark Steel: https://marksteelinfo.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/oh-good-lord-what-has-the-swp-gone-and-done-now/
- Libcom discussion: http://libcom.org/forums/news/swp-poorly-treat-2-young-women-member-victims-sexist-behaviourrape-cc-member-lessons
- Regularly updated links to further information: http://www.jimjepps.net/?p=273