Oh Good Lord what has the SWP gone and done NOW?

It shouldn’t matter. It really shouldn’t matter, should it, what goes on in the Socialist Workers Party. Their membership is roughly the average home gate at Mansfield Town. By the time I left them, in 2007, the most common comment I heard about them was ‘Oh. Are they still going?’ the way you might refer to Bernard Cribbins.

But somehow they’ve got themselves in such a mess that thousands of people have been gripped by it, as if it’s a real life Trotskyite soap opera, with onlookers settling before the internet with a tub of ice cream for the latest episode and gasping “Oh my God they’ve called the faction leader a disgraceful liberal moralist, I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow.”

Articles, forums and comment sections on their travails have reached beyond the political sections of online-land; at one point Mumsnet was among the sites discussing it. There are probably discussions on winemaking forums, in which someone has written “These allegations against a leading member of the SWP have made me reconsider when to crush this year’s crop of elderberries.”

I’ve wasted whole periods of a day reading this stuff, until feeling the shamed sense of over-indulgence you get after eating an entire Swiss roll in the morning.

Part of my excuse is that I was a member for loads of years, and know many of the people at the centre of this pickle. But also, it does matter, for a whole pile of reasons.

The immediate cause is that in 2012 the party leaders reported a complaint had been made by a teenage woman, who alleged that during an affair she’d been having with one of the most senior members, a man of almost 50, he had raped her.

There had been rumours of ‘an incident’ at the previous year’s conference, but the members weren’t told the details, and after a brief mention of him being involved in ‘difficulties’, a standing ovation was orchestrated for the man concerned.

The woman was somewhat less than satisfied with this outcome, and as more members heard the full story the party decided to refer the ‘complaint’ to their Disputes Committee, to ‘investigate’ the matter. All eight people on this committee had worked with the accused for several years, most were his friends, and would you believe it, they decided the case was ‘Not proven’, so no action was to be taken against him (although the chair of the committee dissented, declaring the accused had behaved inappropriately).

At the party conference in January 2012 the members were asked to approve the Disputes Committee report. During the discussion, it was revealed by a witness to the investigation that in its course the woman had been asked about another relationship she’d been in, and about her drinking habits. It also turned out she had asked to speak at the conference, but was told she wouldn’t be allowed in, and was now in a state of distress, as it’s not hard to imagine.

And it became known that SWP members who knew about the issue, and were uneasy about it, had been expelled from the party for discussing it on Facebook. Members who objected to any of this were told they were guilty of “bourgeois morality” and accused of capitulating to feminism.

The conference voted, narrowly, to accept the report. But someone who was there leaked a transcript of the discussion onto the internet.

The reaction amongst almost anyone who saw this was of bewildered horror, so at this point, and this took guile and dedication, SWP leaders managed to make things even worse.

The leading body, the Central Committee, declared the issue was closed, and no debate or discussion amongst members would be permitted. Presumably at this point, if an SWP member was asked how they could justify dealing with a rape allegation by arranging an investigation run by mates of the accused, they were supposed to change the subject, or to really earn points with the leadership, start playing a harmonica.

Unsurprisingly, the discussions did continue, with hundreds of members professing outrage. So Alex Callinicos, a leading figure in the SWP, wrote an article condemning the critics, humbly titled In Defence of Leninism.

It begins, and this is an article written to defend their medieval handling of a rape allegation, remember, with a series of sentences such as “The theoretical development of Marxism requires above all deepening and updating Marx’s critique of political economy.”

To his credit, no one’s likely to say ‘Ah, that old cliché. That’s always wheeled out in cases of sexual abuse’.

Maybe if a leading SWP member was accused of battering a pensioner to rob her purse, he’d reply “Marx was adamant that the 1848 revolutions in Europe represented a final break between the emergent working class and capitalism. Can I go now?”

In 3,500 words the central incident is barely referred to, except as a “Difficult disciplinary case,” in which “Scandalously, a minority inside the SWP are refusing to accept the democratically reached conference decisions.”

Now trade unionists who had participated in SWP activities wrote a joint letter, to explain they wouldn’t align with them again. Many of the SWP’s international groups declared their fury, and dozens of speakers who had appeared at their events declared they would no longer do so. A website that had been run for years by a prominent SWP member complained that critics of the Central Committee were being subjected to “Bullying, intimidation, and threats of violence.”

To which the SWP’s leaders replied “There is no evidence of damage to the party.” And with a magnificent sense of perspective, Alex Callinicos said that SWP members who opposed the leaders would face “lynch-mobs.” Presumably, if someone tried to drag him away from lynching some poor sod he’d scream “Leave me alone, can’t you see I’m deepening and updating Marx’s critique of political economy.”

Almost the entire student section of the SWP left, or joined the faction against the leaders, to which those leaders declared this was a sign of how SWP students felt demoralised following the introduction of tuition fees. Other people who’ve been accused of sexual abuse must envy how the party gets away with these explanations. Jonathan King must think ‘I should have said people were only upset with me as they were demoralised following an increase in the rate of VAT’.

Most people, who have little awareness of the SWP, may conclude that the leaders and their loyal followers are simply psychotic, and not in a good way. So just stay well away. Others may feel this is all so predictable to not be worth stating, as Trotskyite groups are, by their nature, nuts. So you might as well write an account of the Mafia, gasping “You’ll never guess what, they turned out quite violent.”

There’s certainly a part of me that thinks the SWP has become so adept and successful at demoralising and antagonising everyone in their own party, if they really want to help the cause of socialism they should join the Conservatives.

But they’re not all crazy, and that’s more chilling than if they were. My own initial instincts were that they can’t really be doing this, these people I used to know and drink with, and laughed with and did fund-raising benefits all over the bloody place for. I went to Telford once for the SWP. Surely I wouldn’t have done that if they were mad.

Now many of those I knew from those times are publicly backing this peculiar behaviour. The SWP produced a list of 500 of its members who supported the party’s conduct. I scrolled down this list gingerly edging towards the parts where, alphabetically, names I knew might appear, and I willed the Hs or Ns past in the hope they wouldn’t be there. Some weren’t but several were, people whose settees I’d drunk beer on and whose kids had played with my kids popping up, next to a declaration that proved they’d say or do anything, defend any act no matter how appalling, to protect one of their ‘leaders’, in a manner approaching that of a cult.

Yet the people behaving in this irrational way did start out rational. I recall when it was an education being in the SWP, not in how to be at war with everyone but because you found imaginative ways to engage with the outside world, which was fairly important as this was by some distance bigger than the world inside the SWP.

The names on that list belonged to people who became socialists because they were enraged by war or poverty or racism, or maybe by the way women are treated in society, and they wished to combat those injustices. Many were instrumental in the Anti-Nazi-League, Stop the War and countless local campaigns.

So how could this change have happened? Maybe it started in the 1990s, when the SWP began to shrink, probably due to socialism becoming a harder product to sell. But it refused to acknowledge it was shrinking, preferring to insist it was constantly growing. Then, if anyone pointed out this clearly wasn’t true, they were told sharply that they were mistaken.

Like Basil Fawlty, rather than admit to telling small lies, they decided to protect them, by telling bigger and more ridiculous lies. And once that happens, internal democracy is under threat. Contest the distortions and you have to be denounced as an enemy.

Or maybe it came from such a determination to defend socialist ideas, against all orthodox thinking, that they became impervious to any criticism at all. They became so defensive that any suggestion of doing things differently was met with the phrase that this would “Betray the tradition.” Even the internet was treated with heavy suspicion, with blogs and websites set up or contributed to by members frowned upon or banned.

Whatever the reasons, debate with people outside the party was replaced with vitriol. A trade unionist who usually backed the SWP disagreed with them on an issue, so a story was invented that they’d rigged the vote to get their union position. Often when people left the SWP, it was announced that they’d never been members in the first place.

The organisation which, whatever its faults, had once been a cauldron of exuberance, debate and enthusiasm, was edging towards becoming a cult. And that’s the most alarming aspect of this story, that cults aren’t circles of people who took too much acid and dance naked in the woods, they’re people who took one small decision to forego independence of thought for the defence of their group, and once they started couldn’t stop.

SWP members who have taken a stand on the current issue seem bewildered as to why their leaders behave in this illogical way. But the reason may be that the debate isn’t really about the allegations, or attitudes towards feminism, it’s about accepting that you do as you’re told, that the party is under attack at all times so you defend the leaders no matter what, that if the party’s pronouncement doesn’t match reality, it must be reality that’s wrong. Dissent on an issue and your crime is not to be wrong about the issue, it’s that you dissented at all.

So it does matter, because the end result of this process is that many bright eloquent fighters against bullying have become the bullies, and many potential bright eloquent fighters against bullying may be put off from participating in that fight, if they think it will end with behaviour like this.

And it matters to me, because I can’t claim to be entirely innocent. I was in this party for 28 years. I must have accepted claims that didn’t make sense, and ignored accounts of appalling behaviour, or sighed and hoped the tricky issue I heard about would go away of its own accord. Somehow the critical faculties that led me to join a socialist group deserted me with regard to the group itself.

It matters because anyone considering taking part in the activities of the left is entitled to ask how we can ensure that abuse of women won’t be dismissed as ‘moralism’.

And because there’s now an enduring sense of uneasy rage against the injustices of the free market, which encompasses a brilliant array of diverse characters, and between us we have to work out how to turn that into an effective opposition, without making the same mistakes. Surely we can establish movements and forums in which we can debate our aims and differences, in a spirit that inspires and invigorates all who take part, rather than berating anyone who disagrees.

There’s a mass of disparate individuals, committed to opposing the values of the bankers, the tax exiles and the sneering face of free market authority. Surely we can embrace that enthusiasm and energy, and encourage it rather than demoralise it.

We can’t ensure that no one in our ranks will behave appallingly, but we can ensure that everyone is accountable, so that no one is allowed special protection because they have a place on a committee.

Over the last few weeks I’ve almost dared to be optimistic. Effective characters such as Owen Jones, Salma Yaqoob, Caroline Lucas, Laurie Penny, along with Unite and other unions, and organisers of UK Uncut are launching the People’s Assembly, which could represent the most encouraging attempt for years, to create a movement that can attract the heaps of people appalled by the current order that’s running society.

So we have to follow the same rules as anyone who wants to win the support of a wide layer of people, by creating an atmosphere that attracts rather than repels, in which everyone who contributes feels a sense of accomplishment, where differences are celebrated rather than sneered at, and in which the many inevitable mistakes are part of the glorious chaos of building a genuine movement.

That movement will be the product of all who take part in it, and won’t be an end in itself to be protected no matter how it behaves, but a means to an end, which is a world less cruel, more exhilarating, less bullying and more fun, that it was when we found it.

PS Since writing the start of this I’ve looked up the average home attendance of Mansfield Town, and this season it’s been 2,389, which is much higher than the SWP membership. After all this I’d guess they’ll be close to Braintree, on 624.

101 Replies to “Oh Good Lord what has the SWP gone and done NOW?”

  1. Thank you. An excellent piece. I am so sorry that a place and people who you cared about for so long, have so completely spurned the values you once shared with them. I’ve joined the assembly, I cant offer much, except hope and vocal support, Oh and a kick ass sister who is co-ordinating and supporting bedroom tax protests all over the place (she likes a laugh.) Maybe you can settle an argument Mark – Is the collective noun for a group of bigots a Ringpiece? – asking for a friend. 🙂

    1. I am old enough to remember the scandal caused by Gerry Healey and the subsequent breaking up of the Worker’s Revolutionary Party. What a vile way to behave, this individual sounds as insidious as Julian Assange. The victim should receive support from the disaffected members and go to the cops. SWP-rip.

  2. As one of the ex-members obsessively following this (even on holiday in Argentina such are the wonders of the net) I thought this was hilarious and spot on. But a bit worried about all those TU leaders at people’s assembly. Room for a bit of satire about Dave Prentis don’t you think? Peteg367@gmail.com

  3. Oh dear, Mark, I was so proud of you for staying off this redbaiting bandwagon. I can’t even be bothered to count the factual mistakes, which are the same ones as appeared … in the Daily Mail for God’s sake.

    1. Ad hominem. But then, given what appears to have happened, one wouldn’t expect anything better of those seeking to defend the SWP leadership.

      1. It’s not an ad hominem – that would be arguing that because he’s a Bad Person, his arguments are wrong. Mullen is saying that Mark is wrong about everything, and therefore must be the kind of bad person who reads the Daily Mail, which is the converse argument.

        I used to be active with the (US) Libertarian Party, and until the Tea Party came around, we could always point to the Trotskyites and say “see, we’re not the craziest ideological-infighting party out there, look at the Trots!” (And the Trots would point at the Maoists, but there aren’t really any Maoists around any more, and the Albanian Stalinists seemed to be performance art rather than actual believers.)

        But friends, this is really sad. Bad enough that the event happened, but you’re supposed to be better than the way you’ve dealt with it.

    2. ‘What do we want, to rape women, then lie’. Not quite as catchy as ‘Maggie, Maggie, out out out’. Of course you could be a Mossad plant.

    3. Talk about what my English teacher once told me: not seeing the wood for the trees.So I.”ll spell it out for you John because we had a few interesting chats back in the day. Implying that Mark just picked up some dirt from the Daily Mail is to spectacularly misread what’s happening here. What l liked about Mark.’s piece is precisely that he locates what’s gone wrong back in the 1990s when anyone who said eg that the Hackney full-timer who claimed 30 recruits in one day only got people to sign a form because they wanted to get rid of her, was denounced as a conservative element. As for me I got told by then national organiser Chris Bambery in 1995 “Clinton says three strikes and you’re out. You’ve had three so shut up or …” I left a year later when they wouldn’t even let me speak from the floor at a meeting at Marxism on globalisation and it was the Professor who wants to renew Marxist political economy handling the speakers slips. Last year they let me speak and have been very friendly in truth but this year I’m not going for the first time since it started in 1977. Nor will lots of others I gather although I am still in Argentina.

  4. We are all equal but some are more equal than others! Appalling behaviour, thank you for such a rational and thoughtful blog.
    I forgot your club colours so haven’t knitted that scarf yet. Let me know and i’ll get round to it hopefully before we both die of boredom or old age.

  5. It’s a very nice thoughtful blogpost, Mark. But it seems to me this story reflects what has all too often gone on in the hard left since, oh, the days when you Karl Marx first decided he wouldn’t bother to shave today. It’s precisely the same kind of elevation of the leader and denigration of the underlings, after all, that George Orwell so often deplored about the leftist excesses of his day – and that he slagged off in Animal Farm and 1984.

    I’m instinctively of the left – but also instinctively distrustful of people’s tendency to tell other people what to do. I was particularly influenced in favour of the freedom part of that equation by the experience of living in Hungary, a former Communist country, and seeing the damage that Communism had done to that country. I was also, incidentally, appalled by the damage Viktor Orban was beginning to do to the country with his fascism-lite.

    You won’t I’m sure draw the same conclusions but I now call myself a left-liberal rather than a Socialist or Social Democrat. That’s because the hardest left efforts to make people equal have so often toppled over into being coercive and anti-democratic in the way the Socialist Workers’ Party seems to have. It happens so consistently that I think the parties’ behaviour and the message are linked.

    I applaud your moral rage about what’s going on in the UK (I’ve just moved for work to the US, where there’s even more to be outraged about). I hope your new vehicle channels it effectively towards making the UK a better place.

  6. FYI – The SWP’s official sub paying membership is around 2500 people, although with ‘paper’ (i.e. non-subscription paying) membership totaled at around 7000.
    Good article btw. Its important to draw distinctions between both the politics of the International Socialist tradition (socialism from below, w-c self emancipation etc…) the committed, intelligent, tireless people in the party, and the leadership that so often lets them down. You describe well a very shit situation.
    Young SWP dissident

  7. Oi, Mark! You could’ve mentioned the faction. Apart from that, it was a relief to actually laugh at the whole sorry debacle for a change.

  8. Not read whole way through yet but couple of errors – conference where transcript was leaked was Jan 2013 not 2012. And most important correction that should be made – it has never been said that the teenage woman was in an ‘affair’ with delta. So far only supporters of the leadership have described it in this way.

  9. This has to be the best summary of this revolting episode I’ve read, both for explaining the flow of events, but mostly for it’s close textual analysis of Callinicos’s bong water.

  10. I am a former member of the SWP myself and have often wondered at its relevance since leaving. Part of the reason I did was because I sensed it was floating away from natural discourse with working class people and that was back in the late 1980s. Let’s face it there was always a tendency towards bullying in the organisation and debate was frequently shut down. But then, paradoxically, branch meetings could sometimes explode into furious discussion. I remember controversies such as the ‘cottaging’ ‘scandal’ at Skegness one year and the proposal to build bridges with Militant being particularly explosive. From what I have heard and read about the Delta rape case, there are few signs of this abating. Mark, myself and others have to think long and hard of what alternatives we can suggest for left wing struggle in the UK. Is Leninism dead?

  11. Mark,
    You’ve got some of your dates wrong. The first complaint was made in 2010 and the standing ovation was at the 2011 conference. The Disputes Committee investigated last year and reported to the 2013 conference, after which all hell broke loose.

  12. You were a member of the SWP for 28 years? Now that’s what I call a dedication to self-deprecating humour.
    I’m busy wondering if I ever laughed at one of your jokes during those years……… must go and take a shower.

      1. Oooooh, rarely since I was a school have I been cut down by such an eloquent riposte. The real infants are the poor deluded cultists who are, or have ever been members of the SWP. What a sick joke! As Bookchin once wrote about the influence of Trotskyite parties, they are “the syphilis of the radical youth movement”.
        I am pleased that Mark Steel has left the SWP; I am happy when anyone leaves behind the childish millenarianism and authoritarian methods of this horrible, narrow-minded obstacle to anti-capitalism.

      2. Rather than being criticised, Mark Steel should be congratulated for writing such an honest piece. He is especially honest where he argues that the SWP is “edging towards becoming a cult” and, in the following quote, where he says:

        “Cults aren’t circles of people who took too much acid and dance naked in the woods, they’re people who took one small decision to forego independence of thought for the defence of their group, and once they started couldn’t stop.

        …. The debate isn’t really about the allegations, or attitudes towards feminism, it’s about accepting that you do as you’re told, that the party is under attack at all times so you defend the leaders no matter what, that if the party’s pronouncement doesn’t match reality, it must be reality that’s wrong.

        … I was in this party for 28 years. I must have accepted claims that didn’t make sense, and ignored accounts of appalling behaviour, or sighed and hoped the tricky issue I heard about would go away of its own accord. Somehow the critical faculties that led me to join a socialist group deserted me with regard to the group itself.”

        Leading members of the SWP opposition have written similar things in their resignation statements.

        Andy Lawson has said: “This is not the behaviour of a revolutionary party, it is the behaviour of a cult. I have no intention of remaining in a cult.”

        Meanwhile, Richard Seymour has compared some SWPers to ‘Scientologists’ and has even compared the recent SWP conference decision to ‘Jonestown’.

        So how do revolutionaries organise without recreating another cult? There are no easy answers to this question. But here are some writings that attempt to learn from the mistakes of previous revolutionary groups: http://libcom.org/history/understanding-left-cults-swp-sp-spiked-wrp-reading-list

        Having said that, I do disagree with Mark when he says that “the debate isn’t really about … feminism”. We do also need to integrate gender issues into organising in a non-cult like way. There are no easy answers to that either. But this article is good starting point: http://libcom.org/history/'feminism-dirty-word'-what-would-marx-engels-think-today-camilla-power-radical-anthropol

        1. In Edinburgh in the early 1970s International Socialists SWP did not know where to categorise non working, non student women so they created a housewives section! That’s when I came out of my short-lived membership. They were desperately recruiting members, but then excluded people like me because I didn’t fit into a category and didn’t have anyone to watch our child, because the father spent all his time going to meetings. He regrets that now!

  13. Great article Mark. One small typo I think here –
    “At the party conference in January 2012 the members were asked to approve the Disputes Committee report. ”
    That should be 2013 surely?

  14. The left is founded on the simplistic 19C notion of two hostile tribes in perpetual conflict. All socialist organisations based on this principle are decaying. Maybe every organisation run by men is simply a mechanism for Alpha males to dominate other men and women?

  15. Reblogged this on paurina and commented:
    “people who took one small decision to forego independence of thought for the defence of their group, and once they started couldn’t stop”

  16. I was reading down the article itching to attack you in the comments for your long membership because this shananagings has been a feature of their approach to discipline and democracy for decades but then I read this:

    “And it matters to me, because I can’t claim to be entirely innocent. I was in this party for 28 years. I must have accepted claims that didn’t make sense, and ignored accounts of appalling behaviour, or sighed and hoped the tricky issue I heard about would go away of its own accord. Somehow the critical faculties that led me to join a socialist group deserted me with regard to the group itself.”

    So kudos for your honesty – we won’t get fooled again

  17. Unfortunately, the left in the Green Party, are driving the Green Party towards a similar fate. In the UK, their is no voter appetite for a far-left political party.

  18. “I’ve wasted whole periods of a day reading this stuff, until feeling the shamed sense of over-indulgence you get after eating an entire Swiss roll in the morning.”
    I’ve had that feeling for about a month now, but it’s articles like this that make we want to get out there, move on, and help create something better. Nice one.

    1. After working in the membership department of the National Office, I can tell you that any figures provided by the SWP will be inaccurate. Anyone signing a membership form purely to get a pushy recruiter off their back, is counted as a member. I said I would rather recruit people to left wing politics who were actually going to be active than just have a handful of forms with the names of people we would never see again. They thought I was mad.

      Of course, those who filled in a form are counted as ‘members’, but I was active in the party for 16 years and I’ve been airbrushed out of history. I’m not the only one by far. My resignation wasn’t even acknowledged, I simply no longer exist.

  19. As someone who remains firmly on the periphery of any organisation or group, I am really glad to have you, Mark, as the portal to the inner world and workings of the SWP. Your perspective and views really do make a lot of sense considering the ideas of what is democracy within groups or organisations. I’ll take a look at the People’s Assembly and see how it evolves, hopefully, into the inclusive and capable group you positively suggst it might become.
    Thanks for the read, Mark. Appreciated.

  20. Small factual point — Callinicos’ article was actually called “Is Leninism Finished?” and ended by even briefly acknowledging the possibility of party collapse.

  21. I started to have serious misgivings about the SWP last September and stopped attending branch meetings. I still considered myself to be a member of the party. Then I started to hear weird rumours about Comrade Delta. He was supposed to be coming to speak at a meeting at my Uni (UEA) and he was replaced at the last minute. Firstly we were told there was an allegation of sexual harassment and then that he’d continued to pester someone after the end of a relationship for longer than was acceptable. Then I found out that the DC had ‘tried’ an allegation of rape and I was absolutely horrified. I used to work with Comrade Delta in the National Office. I couldn’t believe the DC was made up of his friends, one of whom is his ex girlfriend, who may well have been his current girlfriend at the time. Whether or not I’d worked with him I felt that if a trial was good enough for Assange, it was good enough for him.

    I emailed Charlie Kimber (yes, I am going to name and shame him. If he’d responded to at least one of my emails, I wouldn’t need to) and expressed my concerns. I heard nothing back. After hearing one more appalling thing after another and an absolutely agonising weekend in January when I shed a lot of tears, I emailed Charlie and resigned from the party. I asked what on earth made him think they could deal with an allegation of that magnitude. I told him that he and the CC and DC had become Orwell’s pigs walking on their hind legs and I couldn’t be a member of a party of rape apologists. I heard nothing, no acknowledgement after 16 years in the party. I emailed him again, nothing. I’ve been airbrushed out of history.

    Except for a few people I know personally and snide references to those who resigned in their propaganda, I mean party notes. Firstly, those who had left or were in the faction opposed to their behaviour were called ‘creeping feminists’. Since when has feminism been a dirty word to socialists? It was nothing to do with feminism, it was the fact that if Comrade Delta was guilty, then the worst possible punishment would be expulsion from the party, leaving a potentially dangerous rapist on the streets. Then we were called ‘Reformists out to destroy the Party’. I had a huge clash with a member in my branch who was sticking with this line. I asked him how he dared even say that to me, knowing I’m a Revolutionary Socialist. How dare he try and tell me what my politics are! I am still angry as you can tell. I didn’t want to destroy the Party, I wanted them to face up to what they’d done so there might be a chance of saving it. After all the grief this guy gave me, he then joined the opposition faction, the hypocrite. Finally, they called us ‘Red baiters’, which if the previous comment sent me through the roof, this sent me into orbit. How can I be a Red baiter when I’m a Red myself?

    I agree with everything Mark has said in his blog and it was balanced and unbiased. I share his feeling that the sun is shining at midnight. I looked through the list too and saw names on there I really didn’t want to see. The whole thing has been horrible. It must have been even worse for the 17 year old who first made the allegations and Comrade X who said Comrade Delta sexually harassed her. I found out too that this was the SECOND rape case the SWP ‘tried’. In the first case, he was found guilty and expelled from the party. Big Whoopie. It must’ve had rapists everywhere quaking in their boots.

  22. PS. The first email I sent Charlie included me asking what I was supposed to say if I was asked about it as I have no harmonica. No reply. But I was told by a faction member (who resigned last week) that if I was caught talking about it, I would be expelled. I had been talking to my fiance and best friend, two non-members and one of my closest friends, who is an ex-member as I was in bits. I didn’t want to be expelled in shame as I don’t believe I did anything wrong, certainly not on the Comrade Delta scale anyway. I prefered to resign on my terms with my head held high. I’m really glad I did now. Before conference (so before it was even looked at), there was a vote carried by something like 40 votes that everyone in the faction or had disagreed with the party would be expelled. So much for democracy. The conference itself was a complete fiasco anyway.

  23. Hi Mark, it has never actually been asserted that they had been having an ‘affair’ so you might like to reword that. CC supporters have been very keen to frame it in those terms though, for obvious reasons. (one prominent supporter has been frequenting the blogs saying it was an ‘affair that ended’ i.e that the woman was bitter. He elsewhere admits he hasn’t the first clue about what went on). Also, the transcript was leaked from the conference that took place this January (2013) not last January.

  24. When I was my in early 20s, one of Thatcher’s Home Secretaries, Leon Brittan, paid a visit to my local university (then a polytechnic). I decided to join the demonstration along with a handful of anarchist friends. There were probably about 100 protestors present, and we gave Leon a rude rowdy reception. However, about halfway through the demo, my group was approached by the leader of the local SWP student group, who demanded we desist from using “silly slogans” like “Leon Brittan, we hope you get bitten by a kitten.” In the absurd discussion that followed, our comrade went onto describe how her group were only permitted to use “approved slogans” that had been “democratically endorsed” at the “pre-demonstration committee meeting” held the night before. That’s why I’m not, nor ever have been, a member of the SWP.

  25. Excellent post. Surely freedom of thought and freedom of critical expression are two of the most important freedoms which we can have?

    Personally speaking, I’m not a member of any party as I like to do my own thinking, but to attempt to cover up rape is absolutely unacceptable and the party should have had a proper investigation and informed the police of the allegation.

    At a time when the left needs to show an alternative to the greed and feudal attitudes of the Tories, surely the left needs to demonstrate that we don’t tolerate abuse of the kind shown towards the alleged victim of the rape, and the leadership of the SWP seem to be becoming more and more irrelevant with each passing day. With daily attacks on the most vulnerable in society, surely we need real resistance and opposition, not rhetoric?

  26. Excellent article Mark. As usual it’s the actions of a few on the left which ends up dividing the left again. I also found arguing against any of the “leading” members of the SWP almost impossible when I was a member 20 years ago. A real shame it has got this bad.

  27. Apparently my critical comment on your witch hunting bullshit is ‘awaiting moderation’. Do I take it that you don’t agree with Richard Seymour that there are no limits to free debate? Or is it a case of one law for Richard Seymour and you and a very different one for the overwhelming majority of your former SWP comrades now subjected to a disgusting witch hunt? Kinda hypocritical, don’t you think?

  28. oh dear, not another ex-trot wanker fixated with his past. i suppose the tories and the lib dems have bigger memberships, does size matter….

  29. As someone who has recently rejoined the party after 25 odd years I must say all the above has been extremely difficult too deal with,I must admit its totally beyond my remit,at a time like the present,going back to the party seemed a natural choice,only to walk into this nightmare.My loyality to the party is mainly based on my experience of long ago,too see the organization in such turmoil is sad n demoralizing.nevertheless,its those strong memory of when the SWP was in its heyday that make me tenacious about it once again being a leading,inspiring force on the left,.Central committees will come n go,.the lot that are presently dominating the party will one day will come to ruin if they don,t see the obvious,.
    Too me as a rank n filer working around the real issues of fighting back against cutbacks is what matters,I am happy too work with other left groups n individuals who share the same platform,regardless of what any central committee says or does,In my locality us lefties are so thin on the ground that teaming up and propagating socialist alternatives is about as good as it gets ,at present.I think Tony Cliff would be turning in his grave if he could see what was happening,its because of the this i want too stay in the party and work towards rebuilding or reclaiming the party from the bottom up,the local branch is where it matters,and despite the present tragic scenario the socialist worker is still the only left paper that has a high profile on the street with consistent n relevent revolutionairy politics
    .with solidarity n respect.
    Clinton Fraser..

  30. So how could this change have happened? “An awful lot of fantasy falls into the mistake of assuming that a good man will be a good king, that all that is necessary is to be a decent human being and when you’re king everything will go swimmingly – Aragorn is king now and the land will prosper and the crops will be good and the enemies will all be defeated.”

  31. If they’re thinking of organizing People’s Assemblies, they should be in touch with Project South (esp Stephanie Guilloud) in the US, which has developed very fruitful People’s Movement Assembly processes.

  32. All hierarchies contain humans, all humans become corrupted by the intense personal experience of POWER. Power corrupts, so organize with this in mind or be an authoritarian socialist joke.

  33. Well done Mark. This is written so well that even I could follow, understand, laugh at and also be disgusted by it’s content…
    P.s. please come to Menwith Hill again (Yes, I know it’s your birthday)
    p.p.s. I was one of theose middle aged women up there mentioned in your book- 34 ?!? hmmmm

  34. So sad to read this – once vibrant and inspiring party reduced to mirroring the behaviour of the institutions it despises: abuse of power, reliance on dogma, closed systems of thought – will their next leader be signalled by some white smoke?

  35. I’ve been recently reading John Sweeney’s excellent book on scientology “The Church of Fear”.

    To be honest, reading this, I see an awful lot of surface similarities in some ways with what ex-Scientologists say about leaving behind reason at times.

    The idea that once you are in a group you tend to accept things that really shouldn’t be accepted because the group and group leadership says so appears to be a common trait in a number of walks of life.

  36. Great article. I’ve always had problems with organisations like the SWP. Although I agree with their principles in theory, I find groups can become very dogmatic. This may be because they perceive opposition (or ‘enemies’) as holding dogmatic views, and develop their own as a defence mechanism. This could explain the problems with the SWP that you’ve outlined. Pragmatism and collective beliefs seem to be incompatible. Schisms and factions make organisations look weak, when in fact it shows a diversity of opinion and intelligent debate.

  37. Membership of a sect, especially a “democratic centralist” sect”, guarantees insulation from reality. Leaders of the sect feel poised to become leaders a mass movement because, as the crisis deepens, the masses will surely turn to those who have shown a Correct Understanding and thereby proved that they, unlike the certified traitors of the Second international, will never betray. A result such as Eastleigh gives them no pause. They are the future officers of the proletarian army and, like any officer corps, need at tight code based on the power of courts martial

    I and my friends were all student Trotskyist, and some residual loyalty still makes it impossible for my to say “Trotskyite.” My friends moved to the right and became New Labour. I moved to the left and became a democrat. Ultra-left sects still contain fine and dedicated activists, which is more than I can say of myself, and in their journals one can still find some very useful homework. But like Marx himself, they do not have a Correct Understanding of how a revolutionary mass consciousness might develop. Nobody does.

  38. i agree with john mullen above, i think it’s riddled with factual inaccuracies and says more about mark steels’s bitterness with swp than anything else. those of us supporting the party’s position have not disposed of our critical faculties, the fact is the disputes ctee was an exhaustive 4 day hearing and it came to the decision it did based on the evidence it heard,not on any basis of cover up or being friends of the accused

    1. oh ok, thats alright then.

      no… hold on ? “you” try people for Sexual Assault?? is this some kind of Sharia Law then?

      1. What’s alright! If any party member has been found to have committed sexual assault they would be expelled and have been, regardless of their position in the party.

        1. No, that’s not good enough. He was ‘tried’ by his mates, who were far from impartial and his worst punishment would be expulsion from the party, leaving someone the SWP beleived was a rapist on the streets, and free to do it again. Furthermore, it has now come out that two years ago, a district organiser was also ‘tried’ for rape and sexual harrassment. He was suspended for two years and told to go away and read a book. A book?? FFS!!! Is that the most severe punishment a rapist can expect? He has just been welcomed back into the party and his victim has been warned not to talk about it. Has a line been drawn under this too? She has every right to discuss her own past with whomever she chooses. I was a member of the SWP for 16 years and resigned over the Comrade Delta fiasco. Had I known about the other case, I would’ve resigned then. Since my resignation I’ve also found out that one of the reasons the Socialist Alliance collapsed is because members of the SWP were forging signatures on cheques on the grounds they ‘needed to get things done’. We were all told that SWP members were all equal, but apparently some are more equal than others. Mark is also right about gerrymandering and people who haven’t been active in the party for years hauled in to make up numbers for the CC. What I know and Mark doesn’t, is the fact that Party Notes are now pure propaganda in support the CC. At the most recent conference, CC members were allowed to talk for 45 minutes with a right of reply, faction members were allowed 6 minutes with no right of reply. How is that fair? How is any of it fair? I feel sick to my stomach that I gave Comrade Delta a standing ovation in 2011 as we were manipulated into a Comrade Delta love-fest. I would never have done that had I known. He wasn’t just old and ‘becoming a bit forgetful’ as he put it. He was nearly 50 and the girl in question was 17. SEVENTEEN!! What’s wrong with you that you are so blinded by loyalty that you can’t see how wrong all of this is? I was completely loyal to what I thought was the SWP. It turns out it was my perception that was incorrect based on the facts I was given. But once I discovered the truth, I was able to think for myself, which those still supporting the SWP seem unable to do. Mark is not behaving in a bitter manner. He seems as shocked as the rest of us and he is RIGHT.

    2. Your comment leads me to believe that the essence of Mark’s blog is correct, even if some of the dates aren’t right – you’ve completely missed the point that such an accusation (rape) isn’t one to be debated by a disciplinary committee of any sort. It’s a case for the police and the courts (and it’s hard enough to deal with then).

  39. Good post, sums up the whole mess nicely. It’s odd watching the whole thing unfold from Sweden where it appears to be much more acceptable to be a feminist and a leftist and nobody accuses you of selling your class out for feminist politics.

    I left the SWP at around a similar time as Mark, this was mostly due the disaster of the Scottish Socialist Party in which I was an active member and was lead to the sad conclusion the SWP, Militant et al were all deeply sectarian organisations who could never hope to build a broad left wing alternative to labour.

    Following discovering the list of people who support the C.Cs position it has come to my horror that a few people I knew and worked closely with are on that list. I am now wondering if I should be deleting them from my facebook contacts as I am not sure I can have those who support rape allegation cover-ups as “friends”.

    The whole affair has made me think back to my time in the SWP and realise that at the time there were a few distinctly unhealthy relationships between very young female comrades and much older male comrades. We turned a blind eye to it, and that is why I think none of us have much of a moral high ground in this matter. Often these organisations can attract some rather vulnerable people to them and as is the case this will also attract those who are willing to exploit them.

    In saying that there are many good members of the SWP, Counterfire, the CWI and the Socialist party who genuinely want to make life better for the majority in society – however this cannot excuse the bankruptacy of these organisations whose own methods are based on highly undemocratic systems established by the Bolshevik party. That needs to change and it is hoped all those principled individuals who have left the SWP in recent weeks will come to realise that the old models are hopelessly outdated and something new, transperant and much more democratic is required – and also something which is much more proactive in stamping out unhealthy sexual relationships and not trivalising allegations of rape.

    No doubt many of the SWP’s long term enemies on the far left will use this as a political point scoring against the organisation. But this is a disaster for the whole radical left and the only victors will be the Nick Cohen’s of this world who will use this to justify their own abhorrent arguments as being right all along.

    Lets try and not blind ourselves to the reality – the old models are a failure and something new must be found if the radical left is to survive.

    1. What’s even worse is that as women in the SWP, we were actively encouraged to disregard normal personal rules for our own safety as men in the SWP were deemed to be SAFE. Have a drink with someone you’ve only just met? It’s ok, he’s ‘one of us’. Let a man come round to your house at 11.30pm when you’re on your own to drop off papers? He’s ‘one of us’, so it’s fine. Then when it all goes horribly wrong, they say “Why did you go for a drink with him?” Because YOU told us it was safe to do so!

  40. Mark Steel’s observations on the present crisis in the SWP are very perceptive and add a welcome element of humour to the discussion of a matter that is far from funny. Much of the discussion of this issue on the left has moved away from the allegation of rape against a leading member of the organization and the way it has been dealt with. It has focused instead on the decision-making processes, the relationship between the leadership and membership and the operation of inner-party democracy in a supposedly democratic-centralist party. In the current crisis the handling of the rape allegation has thrown the spotlight on the operation of democratic-centralist decision-making, with what seems to be a well-founded accusation by a large minority of the membership that the leadership has degenerated into a bureaucratic-centralist, authoritarian clique, prone to solve difficult issues by manipulative procedural measures. Nothing I have read, including the long defence of the central committee’s handling of the issue, (presented in the form of a ‘defence of Leninism’) by Alex Callinicos in Socialist Review, has persuaded me to the contrary. Here, there is room for only a few observations on the rape allegations (about which little information has been revealed) and the state of inner-party democracy in the SWP.

    The leading member who is accused of rape (or attempted rape) is apparently about 50 years old. The young party-member who has accused him is apparently in her teens. It seems reasonable to ask why such a relationship was considered acceptable. It goes without saying that any woman who claims to have been raped should be listened to and treated seriously. It beggars belief that in a supposedly revolutionary socialist party, a member so accused should be interrogated about her sex-life and drinking habits. But it is also astonishing that the leading party member accused of rape, whether guilty or not, should have seen fit to become intimately involved with a teenager, or a very young woman more than thirty years his junior. This in itself is an abuse of power. If his comrades on the central committee were aware of this did they not have an obligation to warn him that such a relationship was exploitative and unacceptable anywhere, particularly in a revolutionary socialist organization? Essentially it is no different from a middle-aged, male school-teacher or college lecturer becoming sexually involved with an A level student. What would clearly be unacceptable elsewhere does not become acceptable because it occurs in a revolutionary socialist organization. If the reports about the way this case was handled by the disputes committee are true, then it was a travesty of democracy. It is not surprising that this has led to perhaps the most serious crisis the SWP has ever faced.

    My own experience of the operation of democratic centralism goes back to the 1960’s when several fairly prominent members of the CPGB, including Reg Birch, a member of the General Council of the TUC, were expelled from the party, accused of ultra-leftist deviationism. I was expelled from the YCL. We were in breach of discipline for publishing a journal critical of the party line. We became non-persons as far as the party was concerned; anathematized. A large part of our argument had been that democratic centralism, on which both the CP’s and the YCL’s internal procedures were based as Leninist organizations, had ossified into top-down, bureaucratic centralism. Elections for the Executive Committee of the Party were conducted on the basis of a slate-system – a ‘recommended list’ – which effectively meant that any candidate who was not on the list stood virtually no chance of getting elected. Thus, the leadership was pretty much self-perpetuating. I have never joined a political party since, despite strenuous, and very persuasive efforts by Tony Cliff (for whom I had a great respect) to recruit me to the IS.

    I remain a Marxist-Leninist without a party; a Marxist-Leninist in the sense that I still think that Lenin’s ‘What is to be Done’ was spot-on for the revolutionary tasks facing the Russian proletariat in 1904 and that without the Bolshevik party and Lenin’s leadership, the October Revolution would never have been won. But, whether one hundred years later in the here and now of this greatest crisis of global capitalism, a party organized on such lines (even if it avoids the bureaucratic degeneration that seems to have afflicted the SWP) is the agency for the overthrow of capitalism, I am far from sure.

  41. As I see it the problem with the SWP lies in the idea of the vangaurd, leadership. Leaders are very special humans and have equally special requirements, they need privileged information, and above all, followers! Followers, it must be noted, are remarkable for not knowing where they are going. Bearing in mind that the law of social responsibility states that the only responsible way to deal with social responsibilty is to share it, anything else is irresponsible. So what we find with political leadership is the blind leading the blinkered, the barmey leading the bewildered.

    1. I agree with what you’re saying to a point. The SWP was all about us being equals. When I worked in the National Office, we were all paid the same and we all had the same level of authority e.g. when a photocopier salesperson called, we were all allowed to tell them where to go and didn’t have to refer to ‘a manager’. Now I’ve discovered that the CC are paid more than the rank and file in the office for doing essentially the same job. Half the time when I joined we didn’t know who was on the CC and who wasn’t, and we didn’t care.

      Over the past few years, there has been a cult of celebrity status of those on the CC gradually creeping in. This has filtered to branch level to a degree with some people privy to information that others are not. The reason that they didn’t want this information to leak is that while they hope we were blinkered and bewildered, they couldn’t rely on that entirely. Once the information came out, there was absolute uproar from many rank and file members. I have always said the SWP was not a cult, but then it started to behave like one. We were told to bring our concerns to our branches (where they hoped we would be brainwashed into backing down) and anyone discussing it outside the Party would be expelled.

      I was in absolute bits over it and I had to explain to my fiance why I was crying. I don’t have any secrets from him and the SWP are wrong to suggest that I should. I discussed it with him and my best friend (non-members) and my closest male friend, who is an ex member. They all told me to do what I felt was right, even though they were as shocked and disgusted as I was with the SWP. It was a huge betrayal by the CC and DC of the rank and file. Even though the discussions took place either in my home or car and not online, I still broke the rules. I decided to resign on my terms, with my head high as I still feel I did nothing wrong, rather than be expelled in disgrace. Maybe the fact that so many of us are not blinkered or bewildered is what this is fundamentally all about. Expelling people left right and centre, or threatening it, is not the way to deal with dissent. In a Party of people who are all supposedly equal, you can’t have a small minority say ‘our way, or the highway’ over something so devisive.

      1. Michele you have been betrayed in some ways….I’m sory I saw this years ago and left
        I might not always come over as a strong personality…but I hate being told what to think
        I hate to say this but it smells of stalinism…I don’t like isms……But from what you said… its hardrly a way to conduct a party that is suppose to be based on equality….I read the minutes from that conference…..It seems a dedicated member had to speak out what does that tell you…..don’t beat yourself up learn from it and move on…..life is full of experiences…..if we can take something from them that is positive that helps, right

  42. Well said George Brennan and to all here, including Mark himself, members of the ‘faction’ and other former members of the party like Michele, and others, who have all identified the problem; “democratic centralism” is authoritarian and leads to cultishness and abuses of power.

    Leninism is, thankfully, dead. This doesn’t mean that we should instead put our stock in other authoritarian and antidemocratic formations like the TUC, Labour or NGOs. The challenge is to build a grassroots movement that is strong because it is democratically accountable, pluralistic, and horizontally organised. Like the Zapatistas say “from below, and from the left”.

  43. Most of the wimmin I have seen selling the Socialist Worker would be too ugly to rape. Gotta laugh about Bob Crow’s mate at the RMt as well.

      1. Paddy he is not worth your breath mate!!!..and obviously needs filling in….If my blog gets approved i suggest he reads it…and learns and grows up…..thats you John Wood out there!!!!

    1. I sense that you are not such a big hit with the “wimmin” yourself mate. Very brave to make jokes about rape from the safety of your keyboard on a bb board which does not disclose email addresses. I challenge you to reveal who you really are? Maybe then we can refer you for the help you so obviously need

  44. Them moderator is right to let john woods post stand. It reminds us that swamp life exists.

  45. Good piece Mark! If only you knew as much about football, as you do about the SWP! My wife & I, both ‘lefty sympathisers’ agree with everything you wrote……

  46. John Mullen can’t be bothered to go over the ‘factual mistakes’ because he knows of none. He is the sexist old man that has been frequenting the blogs to say that the teenage SWP woman was involved in an affair that ended and nothing more, whilst on facebook admitted to not knowing what went on. In other words, he is calling her liar. He has been the most notorious of the CC’s supporters – saying the most revolting things in his defence of the indefensible.

    If this had been his own daughter there is no way he would be speading malicious lies and behaving in a delusional, sociopathic manner – and yet an unknown teenager is fair game to him. He has been blaming this on the ‘Daily Mail’ even though we have all read the leaked transcript for ourselves and read the words of comrade W’s supporters, and also those of comrade X – detailing the hideous way the women were treated. It is actually quite a stroke of luck for the leadership that the Daily Mail doesn’t do their research very thoroughly. They don’t highlight the fact that ‘delta’ was a leading member who abused his position, that the woman reporting rape was a teenager at the time, that the leadership thought it appropriate to ban her from speaking at conference and so many other things that make this whole story so grotesque and the people defending it so despicable.

    I think John Mullen and the rest of them must be on some level hoping that this party crashes and burns, because how else can you explain their sickening rhetoric and behaviour? Perhaps they are done with politics and have burned themselves out over several decades. They have decided to go out with a bang and turn themselves into pariahs amongst the left. Whether or not they have done this intentionally, this is the reality. They are done – finished for good. The party is over.

    P.S As mentioned, the only inaccuracies in this blog are Mark’s description of ‘an affair’. No one has ever claimed what went on was an affair. Certainly not her supporters in the leaked transcript. And Mark has his chronology, as Critical Reading has noted, a bit skewed too.

    P.P.S John Woods – there is nothing to be proud of in hating women. It just means you are a seriously damaged man that needs urgent help. I hope you get it soon, for your sake and the sake of all women who you pose a serious danger to.

  47. Well this is not a great surprise ..very sad ! many things…shout out to me here….as an ex member from mmmm over ten years ago…my husband was a dedicated one we met through the S.W.P>…..had many heated discusions became friends..etc,,still going strong!ha ha…We are both upset as I say I was not surprised…I tried on several occasionals to put across that I felt power and human nature are very much a link…I was concerned about a cc. commitee that appeared to hardly ever change may be it did I never noticed it appeared carved in stone!!! I witnessed people being silenced…at one stage I even wondered with a fellow member if a branch organiser was a infiltrator!!!…has any one given this any thought…they are renowed for getting to the top…and destroying an organisation…As I feel this is what happened to a branch I was in …to protect identities will not mention it….would any one of listened to us!!!…I admire the guy who has recently become a member to fight the real causes within you have guts…I am sory for the distress that has been caused to many women and men (i’m sure there are those that are upset by this).. I say to those who are angry and in tears don’t waste it on those below contempt….and there kangaroo court….Its all been said..I’m counting to ten here!!!!…….I would just like to say and I say this to support all women who find themselves in this distress…..as an ex rape victim of over well nearly 30 years ago now….Do you know how hard it is to come forward and say ‘I have been raped!!! to anyone ..let alone the police, incidently…not many rape victims go to the police…many don’t want to go through the ordeal again..I had my reasons..suffice to say evan though the man in question appauled me I still felt he needed justice not a beating …which the police were favouring to certain members of society….If any one was going to kill him it would be me!!!….but thank god that feeling did not last long……and it took a good ten years to get over anger distress etc etc I want bore you here…..But being asked about your sexual history…for gods sake…..some one ought to tell them in case they did not realise ‘ Ladies of the night’can be raped…it is now recognised in law that a partner can rape you!! sory I dont like the word prostitute!!!…..Think I;ll shut up now……I wish to say to the women in question…how sory I am. take each day as a it comes congratulate yourselve as you achieve each mile stone !!!…I survived you will too! I promise!!!…there are organistions out there they will help you turn to them please.!!….you are brave courageoues and I believe in you!!!!! Take care

  48. I apologise for repeating myself, but my original comment was awaiting moderation for such a long time, I thought it had been rejected. It was only after reading Shane’s comment (thank you so much for that, by the way), that I went back and found it. So apologies to everyone who has read my views and/or my story twice.

  49. Response to Michelle above. With regard to the issue of the committee investigating……… You are 100% right. How can the committee ever justify their involvement. Didn’t they have any recognition it could be said they were helping to cover up, FFS, a crime?
    They had no right to do this. and now you say they did it BEFORE!?? Who. Ever. thinks. they. have. the.right. to.deal. with. this. inhouse…….. IS TOTALLY OUT OF THEIR MINDS.!!!

    1. We had no idea and only found out ourselves in the last month when the woman concerned came forward. I would’ve resigned at the time had I known. None of them are trained or qualified to deal with this and their claim that it’s because they felt the women concerned wouldn’t get justice in a bourgeoise court is simply laughable considering their line of questioning. The real reason is that they tried to keep it inhouse to avoid the negative publicity of the National Secretary of the SWP being charged with rape. They did it for him, not for her. I’m disgusted with all of them.

      1. Michelle: Speaking as a politically Left wing, centre feminist who already felt disenfranchised in my country, My thanks to you, Mark and to the others who voted with their feet.

        For me, The SWP have marginalized themselves further. (How was that possible!!) There’s no defense for the actions outlined in this post and note the paucity of defense offered…… (ooohh Mark got the date wrong, how can I ever trust anything he says again!!!) and I hope this gets more publicity than they could ever have dreamed.

        Sometimes bleach isnt enough to clean. The right response is disgust and shunning. I hate authoritarians of any persuasion and this stinks of it. But, oh lord – at this time, in this country we needed a Left of integrity. I hope that people like you get to play a role in rebuilding a community of real value. What I can add to the coalition I will. Hope one day to meet you there:)

  50. It Does Matter:
    Anyone on the left who is taking pleasure at the sight of the haemorrhaging of the SWP (and I am certainly not suggesting that Mark is doing that here) is almost as deluded at the leadership of the SWP, whose complete disconnection from reality is now commonly acknowledged by all but a tiny handful of people. It does matter that this organisation, which was once one of the most influential organisations on the revolutionary left, is now lurching from one appalling crisis to the next and in the process is dragging the values of socialism and the idea of socialist organisation through the dirt, at a time when it has never been more obvious that we need socialist values and organisation. It matters, because dirt sticks. It sticks to everyone one of us who claim to be socialists and who want to build socialist organisations of whatever organisational make-up and character. It is not the case that we can simply laugh it off and say ‘ah, well, that’s them – this is us – we are different’. Those who have a vested interest in characterising the entire left as a bunch of loony cultists have been handed all of the necessary evidence on a platter – of course, not by the leakers, tweeters and bloggers, but by the unconscionable acts of the SWP leadership and the absence of democracy from which it flows. And that matters because what has happened in the SWP will only make it all the harder for any socialist to argue that socialism is inherently democratic (otherwise it’s not socialism) not naturally undemocratic and it will be harder to persuade people that socialism is a possible alternative to the world we now face. This is a situation made by the SWP leadership, but it is not a happy situation, not one to enjoy.
    Like thousands of people, I joined the SWP as a young woman and remained a member for 25 years, not because I was an automaton who swallowed the party line. I think it is worth stressing that the most important thing that I learned in my early days in the SWP was to ask questions. I was encouraged to read about the world and to learn about the history of struggles of people for a better life – and I was encouraged to ask questions about what I learnt. I gained an education about history from below that no university could have provided. I was inspired to challenge the status quo and to imagine other possible futures. I learned much from the SWP that I will carry through my life – most significantly, I learnt how to ask questions about the world. My experience of the party cannot be unique. I remember, at the age of 19, sitting in a room with a couple of hundred other young socialists and listening with rapt attention and moved to tears by Paul Foot talking about the poet Shelley. And at that age, I can assure you, poetry was not what was playing on my Sony Walkman. What Paul Foot was really telling us all that day was ‘think for yourselves’. Like hundreds of others, a whole world of meaning was opened up for me, helping to shape the activist I was becoming, and I will never regret the influence that the ideas of this organisation have had on me. I would go so far as to say I am grateful. And so it was with utter sadness when I left the SWP four years ago because I was faced with the reality that my organisation no longer required its members to question or to think – indeed, the opposite was compulsory. After several years of growing unease (and growing inactivity as a result), I awoke one day feeling relieved that the SWP did not have any real political power. I knew then that this was the end of the road for me and the SWP. What happened to the SWP is a much longer discussion that needs to be had. It is not a navel gazing inward looking deviation, but essential to shaping future organisations. However, the demise of the SWP hasn’t erased the inspiration, education and desire for change that it shaped in me. What I have written here is beginning to sound like an obituary to someone who was once a friend and has recently died. It is impossible to tell whether the haemorrhaging of the SWP will prove fatal. A large part of me wonders if perhaps it would be best now for the SWP to die, rather than limp on, besmirching the image of socialism for the next generation. But whether or not that happens, what those many of us ex-members must try to keep alive is a commitment to an alternative, and the fight for a better world. So, for a start, I will be joining Mark at the People’s Assembly.

  51. I can’t believe I’m surprised, particularly after witnessing the expulsions in the mid-90s (now there’s a story….) but, as Mark says, seeing those names on that list… These are people I would have said were among the best I knew. The shock is total. I left as I got completely burnt out (plus, the Cliff-worshiping always enraged me) but always stayed in touch with those who stuck in there; part of me even wondered if I’d got it right, as, like I said, these were good, committed, dedicated socialists for the most part. After Cliff died I kind of assumed everyone would slowly come to their senses but I suppose one should never underestimate the desperate need for certainty in such a buggered-up world.

  52. Adding humour to this would be for Mark to tell a joke. Something he is good at. Example of – at the recent SWP Special conference the only thing they could agree on was at close of conference to sing “Always look on brightside of life” instead of the “Internationale”.

    Personally, I think this goes beyond sexual allegations. From Sherridian to the current crisis inside SWP sexual allegations sexual allegations have become convenient way to cover up real issues. In the process the truth is ripped up and any victim in this is kicked around like a football.

    Sadly we will never know the truth. Laurie Penny made an important point in her recent Guardian article about how the issue of rape has impacted on neaerly every movement from Wikileaks to Egyptian Revolution. I was involved in Occupy Movement in Glasgow. A woman was raped on site and my phone was used to report this incident to the police. About 10 months latter the police used my willingness to assit a rape vicitm as means to recruit me as a police spy.

    We should have no illusions that reporting this to the police was the answer. If the police was involved I believe we would be having a totally different debate relating to the police inovlement. And still we would be without answers to what happened.

    The core of Mark criticism and the threads above are not directed at the current SWP. They are directed at John Ree’s, Chris Bambery, and Lindsey German. They ducked out the SWP when the membership rightfully questioned their failed leadership inside the party from the mid-1990s up to the the Stop War movement.

    Several weeks back Nick Cohen put the knife in by quoting a blog article by Anna Chen. She was having a dig at the historic conduct the SWP’s leadership. Sadly a bad culture developed inside the SWP for a long time.

    This week is 10 years since Iraq war started. I would rather be on the Internet reading threads about how did we go from having 2 million people on the streets of London to watching the total destruction of Baghdad in a matter weeks?

    The SWP and it’s CC at that time played a core role in this movement. What failure of leadership did these people have to us and the wider movement at this time? The current crisis of the SWP is convienant truth for Ree’s, Bambery, and German because it means questions relating to there historic political failure are totally avoided.

    The only people that win from this crisis are the Tories. I have no time for internal splits, haven’t since about the same time Mark Steel left the party. Anybody who has time for splits in this political period must be in a privileged position. Privileged enough not be facing the impact of the worse economic crisis and ruling cuts in living memory. For me political splits should always be politics. Allegations and slurs like this are the political equivalent self harming on the left.

    I have left the SWP. Not because of the sexual allegations, but because of the permanent culture of internal splits. The future is uncertain and with this uncertainty is where will the future battle calls from? Like when we face a situation of the rise of the Nazis, like in mid-1970s or 1990s, how will the ANL be formed? The SWP as an organisation may be dying, this does not mean the politics and ideas of International Socialist Tradition are dead. In comradeship!!!

  53. As a hopeless reactionary and capitalist lackey (not really) can I point out the origin of this behaviour? It was Lenin`s belief that the establishment of communism was s important that ordinary morality need not apply.My father went through 3 years from 10-12 1917-20 of this and saw the moral standards of the original revolutionaries be completely destroyed. I humbly (not very) suggest that this explains why most people with socialist sympathies became alienated from Leninist,Stalinist, Troskyist and Maoist. My father, who was a friend of Trotsky`s boys at school put it like this: “Lenin never apparently considered the implications of creating social democracy by anti-social & anti-democratic means.” That applies to the SWP leaders so well described in the article. So if you cover up the rape of one woman or the Women`s Batallion in the Winter Palace in October,1917, or deny the obscene tortures inflicted on 1000,`s in Russia, mostly for no good reason and no useful result, by that much each time to prevent the chances of your ever succeeding in your aim of making a better society. Although I don`t see why that means you should stop trying. Just realize who`s been barking up the wrong tree. At the moment the barks have it. Fcuking splitters.

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