Let’s get some good out of this, comrades

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Just give us some truth!

The comrades who have resigned due to the Socialist Workers’ Party’s handling of claims of rape and sexual harassment against prominent activists acted in accordance with their sense of revolutionary socialist integrity. As some of them say in their statement of resignation:

“The organisation’s tradition of fighting women’s oppression has been seriously undermined by the handling of a number of rape and sexual harassment allegations by the Disputes Committee and the Central Committee and the crisis of democracy and accountability in the party this has laid bare.”

They are to be congratulated for taking their commitment to women’s liberation and intolerance of sexual violence so seriously. It is always difficult for dedicated socialists to walk away from an organisation to which they have devoted large amounts of time and energy. It means breaking friendships and working relationships built up over years of activity in the class struggle but sometimes it is necessary.

It is good that they very quickly announced that they intend to remain as active, organised socialists in the International Socialist Network and that they will be discussing theory and politics as well as organising events. The risk after a traumatising event like this is that people draw very negative conclusions about the possibilities of building healthy, pluralistic and democratic socialist organisations and retreat into inactivity. Offering a new perspective is the way that this can be avoided.

Some comrades, who are deeply unhappy with their leadership’s handling of claims of sexual violence made by young women in the organisation, have decided to continue a struggle inside it. We respect their decision to do so as it is based on a deep knowledge of the SWP and a serious assessment of the possibilities. While we share the concerns expressed by those who opposed the leadership , we accept that those who have supported it have done so because they are satisfied with its handling of the internal enquiries and subsequent decisions. We acknowledge that they are dedicated socialists with whom we will continue to work in many areas of class struggle.

However the reputation of the SWP has been grievously damaged by the perception that senior cadre receive no meaningful sanction when women say that serious wrong has been done to them. This view is shared across the entire radical left outside the SWP, among many trade union activists and the feminist movement. We leave it to those who remain in the organisation to work out how they will address this problem. They must accept that the relationships they have with other forces will now be different and all will be looking for strong signals in public that a meaningful reappraisal of how sexual violence is dealt with has taken place.

Two priorities

Socialist Resistance has argued for a long time that there are two things the radical left has to address and we would very much like those comrades leaving the SWP as individuals, networks or organisations to be part of both processes.

The first is a process of realignment of the revolutionary left. We should be aiming to reduce the number of groups on the far left. To people new to politics and existing activists the shades of difference between many left organisations are difficult to grasp. It is much more important to combine a reassessment of past practice with the development of a new perspective.

The second task is preparing the ground for a left alternative to Labour. Ken Loach is currently agitating fiercely around this issue. Socialist Resistance along with others is taking part in the Left Unity project as we think it is giving socialists who are concerned by the lack of working class political representation an opportunity to work together . Although we are aware that it is a very small step in that direction we think that it is important that a framework is in place and relationships of trust are built. We also collaborating with the Independent Socialist Network and the Anti Capitalist Initiative and we strongly hope that the International Socialist Network chooses to become a factor in unifying the left.

This will necessarily involve a period of discussion and reflection. If the comrades are looking to work with other Marxists to help build a new revolutionary organisation in Britain and to contribute to offering working people an alternative to Labour we will be willing partners in such a project.

Socialist Resistance National Committee

16 March 2013

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11 Comments

  1. jane kelly
    March 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm · Reply

    A good analysis combining support for those leaving the SWP, the need to keep organising and the two, separate but connected projects of revolutionary unity and the need for a new broad left party.

  2. David Coen
    March 16, 2013 at 10:52 pm · Reply

    So, to reduce the number of left groups, we encourage a split in the most significant left group over the past 50 years? The SWP leadership clearly made and continue to make mistakes in relation to the allegations of sexual harassment but I suggest that those who left are in the process of breaking with revolutionary politics (the debate about ‘Leninism’ is interesting here) and sooner or later will re-appear (if they don’t drop out) in whatever version of the Labour Left may be breathed into life by the trade union bureaucracy for the purpose of exerting a bit of pressure on Dave Milliband’s ‘One Nation’ Tories.

  3. Liam
    March 16, 2013 at 11:34 pm · Reply

    The split in the SWP was entirely the responsibility of its leadership and part of the problem is that the leadership felt that it could completely disregard any internal or external criticism. Sooner or later that attitude catches up with you.

    As for the idea that the people who have left because they are revolted by the abuse piled on a woman who said she was raped, it’s not obvious how it follows that they are therefore on a path towards Labour. Maybe they just thought the woman should have been believed.

    • David Coen
      March 18, 2013 at 10:44 pm · Reply

      Clearly the SWP were never in any position to decide on the rape allegation: that was and remains an issue for the courts. What they could have decided but chose not to, was whether such behaviour towards women was compatible with membership of a revolutionary socialist organization. That is something which, it has long been recognised, the whole left and not just the SWP needs to deal with. My point was that many of those jumping on the bandwagon to denounce the SWP are too often the very same people who for years never had a good word to say about them anyway and this is just one more (albeit more serious) stick to beat them with. As to the point about moving to the right, I have no doubt that those who have left are genuinely concerned about the alleged rape and the way it was handled, but things are rarely that simple.

  4. Penny
    March 17, 2013 at 8:23 am · Reply

    A discussion with these comrades on the “SWP’s tradition of fighting women’s oppression” is an important issue. It is not in fact my impression that they do have such a great tradition on this question. I think this article makes some pertinent points:
    http://victortoils.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/the-swp-and-womens-oppression-a-brief-history-of-failure/

    • terry conway
      March 17, 2013 at 10:43 am · Reply

      Thanks for this link Penny. I think this article indeed makes some pertinent points and the North Star article it links to is also fascinating. I dont agree with everything either piece says by any means but they are definitely worth reading

  5. Andrew
    March 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm · Reply

    “Offering a new perspective is the way that can be avoided”. I was having difficulty understanding this sentence – I presume that a ‘this’ needs inserting after ‘that’?

  6. Duncan
    March 20, 2013 at 7:36 am · Reply

    Some of those who leave the SWP might break with Leninism, but the SWP has also broken with Leninist: its unique notion of Leninism inverts a whole series of organisational norms.

  7. Des Derwin
    March 21, 2013 at 6:56 pm · Reply

    Agree about the balance of this statement and about “the two, separate but connected projects of revolutionary unity and the need for a new broad left party” (Jane Kelly). But the main statement itself needs some clarification on this I think. The projects are separate but how separate? The statement says, “build a new revolutionary organisation in Britain and to contribute to offering working people an alternative to Labour” Surely no one here is rowing back and suggestng that these parallel projects are organisationally separate? The formulation “new revolutionary organisation” is strange coming from the side of the debate on strategy – ‘revolutionary organisation or broad party’ which opts for the latter.

    The best formulation (now ten years old!) remains IMHO that of Murray Smith:

    “I am convinced that the role of revolutionary Marxists today is to build broad socialist parties while defending their own Marxist positions within them, with the aim, not of building a revolutionary faction with an ‘entrist’ perspective, but of taking forward the whole party and solving together with the whole party the problems that arise, as they arise.”

    http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj2/2003/isj2-100/smith.htm

    The estimable Pham Binh has inclined to dismiss the bulk of the SWP breakoff and internal opposition as aiming for a better revolutinary organisation, a better ‘Leninism’, a better SWP rather than going on to the broader formation he and – I think – the present site supports. I think this might be too hasty. (And maybe just a little unfair, as the ISN – another ISN! – founders have said they are not setting up another small party.)

    It is ironic when, effectively and even consciously, the Old IS tradition is at long last being rediscovered or re-formed, it has been so long that it has been superceded, though not at all contradicted, by the needs of a changed situation. As Soviet Goon Boy says, the world Duncan Hallis was writing for in 1971 is no longer there. The road is ‘back to the future’ by recognising that ‘the IS tradition’, its critical and unorthodox roots, its realism, now meets the need in 2013 for new organisational forms. Organisations which combine the revolutionary independence of some with the policial ‘unification’ of all those who want to fight the system and with the recognition of the need to rebuild a movement – class and political – at a low ebb.

  8. Andrew
    March 22, 2013 at 1:27 pm · Reply

    As an SR member, I don’t see the two tasks (rev org, broad party) as necessarily involving organisational separation, and so I agree that Murray Smith’s formulation is a very good one which has corresponded to our practice in eg Portugal, Denmark, Greece (with Kokkino), Italy (up to what I think was a necessary split from Rifondazione) and Britain. If you watch the videos from the Broad Parties event we held last year, you’ll see eg the Danish Red-Green Alliance speaker and FI member explaining how they have tried to put this into practice.

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