Banning the SWP isn’t an answer

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.


  1. Socialist Resistance’s defence of the SWP misses the point and is open to misuse. The University of Edinburgh student association is a voluntary student organisation, but is not a revolutionary party. The student association is not organising a no-platform policy against the SWP: that would mean, for example, counter-mobilising against the SWP when it organises meetings in university venues. It simply saying that the SWP is not welcome in student association venues. That is similar to the policy that ULU adopted. Presenting the students’ decision as a no-platform strategy against counter-revolutionary opponents does not help us to understand it.

  2. Liam states regarding the SWP at the end of the penultimate paragraph.

    “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.”

    The point though is that generally speaking these “hundreds of members” Liam refers to are the ones that left the SWP, not the ones who remained members. And those still in the SWP are unlikely to remain members for very long.

  3. I still don’t see how we can support the Edinburgh university student union position. Has it adopted a similar not welcome position to the Labour party or the other organisations Liam refers to? As far as I remember serious Trotskyist or other anti-stalinist groups never ever called for a no platform or even a not welcome policy in those long years when the stalinists were a dominant force on the left of the movement and would use anti-democratica and physical intimidation against us. Ian Birchall has written recently against the line that the SWP and sits membership are rape apologists. I think that there are members of the SWP who have drawn some lessons from the whole affair. Obviously the role of their core leadership is different. The logic of some comrades of the rape apologist line is that we cannot work alongside the SWP in unions, movements or campaigns. This does not mean we should be soft on the issues raised by the Delta affair. Any regroupment with the SWP (not an immediate prospect obvioiusly) would have to put it on the agenda.

    • Participants in this discussion won’t be taken seriously unless they engage with the reality of it, rather than a straw doll. I’ve already pointed out that the university of Edinburgh student association does not have a “no platform” policy against the SWP: that would involve counter-mobilisation wherever the SWP organised, rather than not allowing them to meet in student association place and requesting (rather hopelessly) that the university should not allow the SWP to use its facilities.

      It makes no sense to propose that a student association should function according to the norms of the Trotskyist movement. Nor can we move forward by debate a “logic” that is a straw doll in now way defended by the vast majority of the people with whom we are debating. It’s obvious why the Labour party is welcome in the student union: its cadres are not defending a cover-up of a teenager’s rape by a party leader after a crisis in which half the party’s cadres voted with their feet to leave.

  4. Judith’s quote suggest that the eusa is implementing a “no platform” policy. I understand Prianikoff’s point that there is a selective indignation that suggests that the actual impact of this policy will be to strengthen the right but the issue is wider than that. Of course the way the SWP dealt with the Delta affair was and remains disgraceful. The left is not, nor will ever be, a Commonweal of Saints; the point is to deal with behaviour that transgresses socialist norms firmly and openly. The SWP should be challenged on that and their organisational democracy. But the “no platform” tactic should be only applied to fascists and their fellow travellers. Sadly sections of the anarchists are using the tactic against others on the left. It was not just the against the SWP in Sussex where there stall was turned over and their literature destroyed; not too long ago in Nottingham a May Day rally was totally disrupted when anarchists “no platformed” a Labour MP. This intention was written on the banners they carried and was no rush of blood to the head. The FI’s “Theses on Socialist Democracy” need dusting off and publicising.

    • Because the EUSA policy is not a “no platform’ counter-mobilisation strategy, it is simply a distraction to amalgamate a democratically-agreed policy adopted by very large and politically-mainstream student association with violent acts by unaccountable individuals. Prianikoff should note that the Catholic church at the university, unlike the SWP, has not been effectively refounded on the basis of denying a rape. Also unlike the SWP, it has its own building.

  5. I can see this one ‘running-and-running’. Some of us remember when the former IMG had a ‘love-in’ with the SWP. It didn’t work out; aren’t modern relationships complicated? For better or worse, even in a relatively large city such as Leicester, the SWP are not much of a headache. Nonetheless, I think Liam is right to describe their ‘brand’ as toxic and let’s not forget that more ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist organisations have, in the past, not exactly had an unblemished record on the issues at hand. What do others on the revolutionary left do? For want of a better term I think they need to be more assertive; we’re not “feminist’ on paper — we have to be feminist in practice.

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