Crisis in the Socialist Workers Party/International Socialists

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Dartmouth
Crisis in the Socialist Workers Party/International Socialists

The Socialist Workers Party is the largest far-left group in Britain and the parent of various left wing groups around the world including the International Socialists in Canada. Over the past few days a major crisis has emerged in the SWP due to the coverup of rape by the party's former leader. 

New Statesman: What does the SWP's way of dealing with sex assault allegations tell us about the left? by Laurie Penny

This week, it came to light that when allegations of rape and sexual assault were made against a senior party member, the matter was not reported to the police, but dealt with 'internally' before being dismissed. According to a transcript from the party's annual conference earlier this month, not only were friends of the alleged rapist allowed to investigate the complaint, the alleged victims were subject to further harassment. Their drinking habits and former relationships were called into question, and those who stood by them were subject to expulsion and exclusion.

Tom Walker - a party member who walked out this week in disgust - explained that feminism "is used effectively as a swear word by the leadership’s supporters.... it is deployed against anyone who seems ‘too concerned’ about issues of gender."

SWP's Tom Walker: Why I am resigning

The Socialist Workers Party is in deep crisis - as it has been for several months now. The reason is simple: an allegation of rape against Martin Smith, the then central committee member now referred to on some parts of the internet as comrade Delta, and the way it was handled by the party.

This case, as several speakers at conference noted, was in reality the sole reason for the four expulsions in the run-up to conference, the sole reason for the formation of two factions, and the sole reason for the split in the CC which resulted in an alternative slate being put to the conference, removing two CC members who had attempted to challenge the way the case was handled.

After much reflection, I have decided the immediate aftermath also means that I have no option other than to resign not just from the paper, but from the party, and encourage others to do likewise.

...

It may shed some light to learn that ‘feminism’ is used effectively as a swear word by the leadership’s supporters. This seems to be a legacy of a sharp political argument conducted decades ago against radical feminism and its separatist methods of organisation, but unfortunately it is being used today against young, militant anti-sexists coming into the party. In fact it is deployed against anyone who seems ‘too concerned’ about issues of gender. A group of women comrades who raised questions over whether the SWP has a sexism problem last year were quietly condemned by the leadership as “feminists”, and the CC has devoted much energy since to fighting this perceived scourge.

Marxist and feminist theory would surely agree, however, that in a sexist society, sexism is a constant danger in any organisation, no matter what its politics. The only way to deal with this is to not only fight hard against sexism at all times, but to accept that if any woman or group of women are not happy with their treatment, then the organisation has a problem, needs to look hard at it (and that is not “navel-gazing”) and needs to change, not claim that the issue does not exist or that the complainants are motivated by political differences.

This leads to an additional issue, which is that the issues of democracy and sexism are not separate, but inextricably linked - the lack of the first creates space for the second to grow, and makes it all the more difficult to root it out when it does. That is surely why people like Paris Thompson, a campaigner for more democracy in the SWP who had just published his own critique in the internal bulletin, were at the forefront of the fight against an attempted cover-up of the case.

Delegates to conference were handed a partial transcript of the Facebook conversation used as evidence to expel Paris and the other three comrades. The CC says it shows evidence of cross-branch coordination and is therefore “secret faction” activity. Yet what the document shows is not at all a group organising in pursuit of political differences - Paris explicitly says he is fighting over those separately - but people trying to make sure that the way the rape case was handled would be discussed properly at conference, not swept under the carpet.

From coordinating motions to party aggregates about the case, to making sure they were elected as delegates, what the four did was not in pursuit of their own agenda, but the agenda of ensuring these serious concerns were heard. Their reward for this, barring a Damascene conversion on appeal by that same disputes committee, is that they have been cast out of the SWP for life.

...

 

Dartmouth
Maysie Maysie's picture

Welcome to the 1970s, lefty boys.

 

NorthReport

Right on Maysie - this is disgusting

Dartmouth

Has anyone heard anything from the Canadian IS about their position on this?

NorthReport

Now they are pontificating on the Chinese foreign workers in BC and attacking labour unions in Canada.

Sorry boys, but your credibility is now in the toilet!

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onlinediscountanvils
lagatta

I don't know the author of this blogpost, but it looks interesting: http://azvsas.blogspot.ca/2013/01/trade-mark-swp-badge-martin-smith.html

I think we have to be very careful about this, as it can fuel left-bashing. This kind of crap is by no means restricted to left groups. It is certainly found in corporate culture, and in various faith groups; not only the Catholic Church. 

There are definitely many problems with the internal culture of this particular group - it is well-known as a revolving door for activists, and many former members are burnt-out with respect to any activistm, at least for a while. 

onlinediscountanvils

lagatta wrote:
I think we have to be very careful about this, as it can fuel left-bashing. This kind of crap is by no means restricted to left groups. It is certainly found in corporate culture, and in various faith groups; not only the Catholic Church.

Absolutely, the left is not alone here. But isn't it that trepidation that allows this type of stuff to go unchecked?

6079_Smith_W

lagatta wrote:

I think we have to be very careful about this, as it can fuel left-bashing. This kind of crap is by no means restricted to left groups. It is certainly found in corporate culture, and in various faith groups; not only the Catholic Church. 

There are definitely many problems with the internal culture of this particular group - it is well-known as a revolving door for activists, and many former members are burnt-out with respect to any activistm, at least for a while. 

Of course it is less of a brain-squick for those who realize, as you correctly point out, that people can abuse and get sucked into this kind of behaviour (the coverup, I mean) in ANY situation where there is a power structure that they feel they need to defend.

Thing is to remember this when we are applying our analysis to groups that we might not have so much sympathy for.

 

 

lagatta

Here is yet another site linking to the many comments and reactions this sorry story has elicited. http://www.jimjepps.net/?p=273

Thought I'd start with a young SWP comrade's resignation in song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_8ROiFPzms&feature=youtu.be

lagatta

Yet another blog post on this sorry tale, sent by a friend in Britain:

http://marksteelinfo.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/oh-good-lord-what-has-the-...

North Star

Ok so I started a thread in the Feminism folder but I will fold it into here. My main point what do we do about the IS Canada? We've seen some notable members resign recently: http://internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/statement-of-resi...

I personally have no problem with the rest of the left putting a cordon sanitaire around the IS until the publicly denounce the actions of the SWP. I think this nessessary to drive this sort of misogyny and behaviour out of the left.

Left activists in the UK are fighting back: http://athousandflowers.net/2013/03/31/this-is-a-tax-demo-why-dont-you-g...

 

arielc

lagatta wrote:

I think we have to be very careful about this, as it can fuel left-bashing. This kind of crap is by no means restricted to left groups.

Yes, I'm sure that's why they thought it important to cover it up, just as churches, sports teams and other institutions do.

Perhaps this will be a catalyst for what appears to be a necessary review of purpose and principles.

lagatta

I'm glad you cited me, because North Star's post bothers me a bit. I'm not privy to internal debates within either the UK SWP, their co-thinkers in IS, or the precise relations between the two group. I do know that some prominent IS members here have resigned, and I do happen to know one IS member who has not resigned, is extremely disturbed about the alleged cover-up and unfair internal Commission, and wants to stay a member for the time being and try to get to the bottom of this.

IS is most certainly not directly responsible for the misdeeds of their fellow party in Britain, and the idea of a "cordon sanitaire" to "drive this sort of misogyny and behaviour out of the left" strikes me as rather voluntaristic. Misogyny is pervasive in all corners of society, including the left - in this case it has evidently taken the form of outright sexual assault, and enabling aspects of so-called "rape culture". I know this horrible situation is causing not only ex-SWPers but others on the left in Britain and elsewhere to resume taking stock of this behaviour and trying to take action to make sure it is not repeated.

Slumberjack

lagatta wrote:
I think we have to be very careful about this, as it can fuel left-bashing.

It can also fuel the popular sport of white male leftist bashing, case in point the other related thread in the FF.  The only other types of groups made to feel as unwelcome around here as this lot were Palestinian bashing Zionists, neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other trolls of a similar bent.  I find its a constant, worn out refrain that never advances any conversation, but one that admirably performs the same type of role as right wing talking points that seeks to divide communities into the ones that have it and the ones that don't, or shouldn't.

lagatta

I don't get this - you mean you think this board is anti-male?

It is openly feminist - that does not mean that it is anti-male.

North Star

lagatta wrote:

I'm glad you cited me, because North Star's post bothers me a bit. I'm not privy to internal debates within either the UK SWP, their co-thinkers in IS, or the precise relations between the two group. I do know that some prominent IS members here have resigned, and I do happen to know one IS member who has not resigned, is extremely disturbed about the alleged cover-up and unfair internal Commission, and wants to stay a member for the time being and try to get to the bottom of this.

IS is most certainly not directly responsible for the misdeeds of their fellow party in Britain, and the idea of a "cordon sanitaire" to "drive this sort of misogyny and behaviour out of the left" strikes me as rather voluntaristic. Misogyny is pervasive in all corners of society, including the left - in this case it has evidently taken the form of outright sexual assault, and enabling aspects of so-called "rape culture". I know this horrible situation is causing not only ex-SWPers but others on the left in Britain and elsewhere to resume taking stock of this behaviour and trying to take action to make sure it is not repeated.

The internal debates are now all over the internet for all to see. The silence of the IS is very troublesome. Troublesome enough that members would choose to resign over it . This whole fiasco is troublesome enough that the entire Serbian section of the International Socialist Tendency has pulled out. The IST's secretary is Alex "dark side of the internet" Callinicos who has clearly played a role in this coverup. Being accepted as a member of the IST requires a certain agreement on strategy and tactics. Other groups have been expelled before over esoteric Trotskyist squabbles. So I think the continued membership in an international organization led by someone who played a role in the coverup is pretty damn troubling.

I know some people are aghast at all of this and are trying to change things "from the inside." Sorry, I don't have any sympathy for that because it's still pledging fealty to democratic centralism which has clearly outlived its historical usefulness. For a bunch of people who exalt the Bolsheviks they seem to ignore the fact that Bolsheviks engaged in debate among one another in the party's press even during Tsarist autocracy. Trying to maneuver to win majorities during party conferences is not enough to actually deal with this issue.

People are starting to take action over in the UK about this BS: http://athousandflowers.net/2013/03/31/this-is-a-tax-demo-why-dont-you-g...

Sorry but it's time to take action against silence on misogyny and the structures that enable a cover up even if some members are "uncomfortable" about all of this.

lagatta

I absolutely agree with taking a firm stand about misogyny and violence against women. Just don't want this need - in ALL organisations - to become any kind of witchhunt against people not directly involved in the misdeeds decried. Precisely because the misuse of women is far too pervasive to be pointing fingers - except against those specifically involved in this deplorable case.

This crap doesn't only occur in "democratic centralist" organisations. I've seen a lot of this stuff go on in trade unions and other "mass" organisations, and it certainly occurred among the more anarchist-inspired "Occupy" movements. I agree that the hyper-"Leninist" model of the SWP/IS current is outmoded for a variety of reasons, but don't want to use this horrible story to make some kind of political point. The misuse, objectification and all too often violence against women is a far broader issue.

arielc

"misdeeds" ... including the coverup, of course, and the culture that allows it.

Slumberjack

lagatta wrote:
I don't get this - you mean you think this board is anti-male? 

Not entirely no.  I just don't know if reterritorialization is the answer.