The SWP leadership’s handling of the rape allegations against a former prominent full-time staff member identified as “Delta” has left the organisation more isolated and numerically as well as politically weaker than it has been in decades writes Liam Mac Uaid. Its most recent pre-conference bulletins strongly suggest that all the people who were willing to challenge the leadership have now left and the message is that it’s back to business as usual as there are great opportunities out there now that the navel gazing has stopped.
That’s not quite how things are seen in the wider socialist and radical movement. For many activists the SWP’s core leaders’ willingness to circle the wagons around one of their own and the behaviour of their most unflinchingly loyal supporters has made the organisation’s name toxic. Some of the most vociferous opponents are people who used to be in the SWP, led a principled fight against the attempts to protect Delta and are now arguing that group is “counter-revolutionary and is against the socialist tradition.” They go still further and say “ridding our spaces of a misogynistic, rape apologist organisation is one of the most important political tasks we have.” Thus, at an historical moment when UKIP may hold the balance of power in the next parliament; most working people are poorer than they were eight years ago and the ruling class has ducked out of taking real action against climate change, an equal or greater priority is smashing up the SWP.
This attitude has practical consequences. Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) Student Council passed a resolution calling for the SWP to be banned from organising in its buildings. SWP stalls have been overturned or blockaded. The National Union of Students refused to take part in a demonstration against fees and cuts citing the presence of the SWP as a reason.
A small protest at the BBC studios in Birmingham in early December was ended when its student organisers asked SWP to leave it and were met with a refusal. The students’ union in Sussex University rejected a proposal to ban the SWP from campus. A similar resolution was discussed at Goldsmiths College.
“Respect my authority”
We don’t agree with this approach. We are opposed to calls to boycott or exclude the SWP from radical and labour movement events. We have argued that the manner in which the Delta case was dealt with was deeply problematical and put more weight on protecting the man than the woman who made the allegation. We agree with those who say that it was wrong and unprincipled for a member of the SWP leadership to use the threat of the police against London Black Revolutionaries and to try to browbeat them in accepting his “authority”. This shows an organisation that has drawn few real lessons from the recent past. However, the SWP remains an integral part of the socialist and radical movement in the British state. Many of its remaining members are respected and active militants in a range of unions and campaigns. To exclude them from labour movement events because of the failure of the SWP leadership in this regard achieves nothing. To lump in them in the camp of counter-revolution along with Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen demonstrates a very flimsy understanding of the label.
Every organisation of any size and longevity in Britain has provided a home to men who have used their position to abuse, sexually exploit or rape women. The BBC sheltered Jimmy Savile for nearly fifty years. The Church of England, the Catholic Church, madrassas and the Boys Scouts have all contained men who have done the most awful things. We can cast the net further. Organisations from the Stalinist and Maoist traditions are the successors of parties which murdered thousands of Trotskyists. The British Labour Party administered an empire and has started as many wars as the Tories.
Only the SWP is singled out for boycotts and exclusion from campuses and demonstrations. This tactic of “no platform” has only previously been applied against the far right and advocating its widespread use against the SWP is an innovation. In a way it echoes the SWP’s own reluctance to deal with dissenting voices and it resolves nothing. Feminists, anarchists, socialists and trade unionists who think the SWP was wrong to handle the Delta case in the way it did cannot just write off every SWP member as a “rape apologist”. There was huge dissatisfaction inside the organisation about the its response and as a result hundreds of members have shifted to a deeper understanding of feminism and the need for a non-sectarian way of working combined with real organisational democracy.
You don’t achieve that sort of political breakthrough with people by forcing them to retreat into the comfort of their existing conceptions or making them feel physically unsafe. You do it by engaging them with your arguments about male entitlement and how women can be enabled to feel safe in organisations, in the family home or at work. There is an ugly history of using intimidation, censorship and force in the workers’ movement and in much the same way that the Delta case has obliged us all to reflect on how organisations deal with sexual violence it also forces us to come up with effective ways of challenging people with whom we disagree sharply.