The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, January 14, 2013

Another train-wreck

The biggest left-of-Labour organization in Britain, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), is in crisis over its leadership's handling of a rape allegation raised by a party member against a member of the Central Committee. A redacted transcript of a disaffected delegate's secret recording of the relevant session of the party's recent conference was leaked, and published online, with care taken to protect the identity of the complainant. Its substantial accuracy is not disputed. It leaves the SWP's credibility on the most sensitive questions of women's oppression severely compromised.

The panel that investigated the complaint and exonerated the accused was made up of five women and two men, most of whom had worked closely with the accused and all of whom had known him for years. As is painfully clear from the transcript, they all took their duty to be impartial with the utmost seriousness, despite its manifest impossibility. Why they nevertheless went ahead with the investigation is difficult to explain, at least in terms that make sense to anyone on the outside.

The debacle has now gone mainstream. It turns out that earlier outrage over how the case was being handled lies behind the formation of two declared opposition factions in the run-up to the conference. We learn that China Mieville, the well-known writer and a long-term party member, is aghast. The high-profile SWP blogger and author Richard Seymour is in open revolt. These and others have saved their own honour. Whether they can save that of their party remains to be seen.

The SWP has made plenty of enemies over the years, some of them on the left. I'm not among them, despite my often stated disagreement with much that the party thinks and does. All the more vehemently, then, should I say that this latest development leaves me sick. It was through the SWP's precursor that I made my first acquaintance with Marxism. The organisation's journal from the 60s and 70s shows an engagement with the real world that was, shall we say, not always obvious in some other parts of the left particularly at the time. I soon found my way, for better or worse, to a different tradition (and then another again). When the latter collapsed around me, and the world continued to burn, I joined the SWP for a couple of years in the early 90s. I made my disagreement with some of the party's most cherished verities clear before, during, and after my membership, and these disagreements have only deepened since. Never once did I face anything but argument. Others have had less happy experiences with the SWP. Its internal life and its way of relating to broader movements have left all too many people with lasting grudges. Maybe I was just lucky. Twenty years later, I still know, like, and respect people I met back then. I hope some of them are fighting against the disaster their party's leadership has brought down on their heads. Unless that fight succeeds, the party is done for.


1985-87, me.

I think it's clear that not only do the oppositionists have to succeeed, but if they do, they have to find a substantially different way of going about their politics, especially in the way they handle their internal disagreements.

I think this is the source of much, perhaps most of the evident bitterness we can see in many ex-members (but not me, as it happens) and for that matter much of the very evident political decay we can see in the part of some long-term party members.

A lot of things need to change, or the game's up, permanently.

"As is painfully clear from the transcript, they all took their duty to be impartial with the utmost seriousness, despite its manifest impossibility."

Your reading of the transcript appears to differ significantly from the text:

"Unfortunately, although Candy’s put a very clear picture of the case, it wasn’t her experience that it went well. She’s incredibly traumatised by the hearing, and I think it’s fair to say that the witnesses are incredibly shocked by some of the things that took place."

is rather more in line with Mr. Seymour's. And the repeated phrase we might have to ask them some questions that we wouldn’t ask them if we were just investigating the question of rape" rather lends credence to his interpretation.

Any Committee that needs to re-emphasize how "impartial" and "fair" it is while whining about people knowing it's happening and declaring "well, we hold CC to a higher standard, but not in this case" is just making its corruption clear.

Unless the SWP is the US Republican Party, I can't see how they survive this.

Ken Houghton - I was being a little dry there. I'm not putting forward an alternative interpretation to Richard Seymour's, or commenting on how the panel actually conducted themselves.

I cannot totally avoid the feeling that, since the allegation is of a criminal act, the Party's actions are misplaced. There's a conflict between letting the crime be dealt with, and letting such allegations become a weapon of internal politics.

And this internal hearing could really screw up any judicial process.

But I can't rule out the possibility that criminal charges could be politically motivated. It's a hard problem.

> We learn that China Mieville, the well-known writer and a long-term party member, is aghast.

China Mieville is one of those people with political opinions diametrically opposed to my own who, none-the-less, strikes me as deeply principled and fair.

I count this as one more data point bolstering that opinion.

Hi Ken,
Thought you might like or at least be interested in this:

All the best

Yes, that is a very interesting piece. The WRP's degeneration was on a very different scale from the SWP's though (as Pirani says). Can't imagine you and your pal ever saying 'Well, what's so wrong with what the WRP does?'

Ha ha, very true!

I'm on the inside, though not for long.

This describes the experience at the moment:

That much fun, huh?

I'm sure the CC's supporters would find your analogy a bit ... mechanical, so to speak.

Mechanical form, organic content!

Mechanical form, organic content!

Dalektical, init.

Dalektical, init.

Ugh. Atrocious pun. You've clearly been hanging around with Iain Banks too much...

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