As has been discussed, an internal investigation carried out by the so-called Disputes Committee of the Socialist Workers Party has exonerated a senior male member of the Party for rape. The Committee also declared that the charge of sexual abuse, assault or harassment against him was “not proven.” A criticism of the SWP for internally investigating this complaint in the way they have has been made effectively by a journalist for the Party newspaper, who resigned in disgust.
While I have no wish to comment on the innocence or guilt of the senior SWP member in question, a question that comes to mind is this an isolated case or is there a culture within the Party that could lead to such behaviour? Anna Chen is a former press officer of the Stop the War Coalition. She blogs under the name Madam Miaow. In a comment to Socialist Unity some 5 years ago, Anna Chen (or someone impersonating her) had this to say:
I spoke to a number of the CC and senior members about the sexism and discrimination I’d experienced for several years in “The Party”, and wrote to several, but none of them would take it further. One senior member laughed when I said I wanted to take it to the Control Commission and he, not unsympathetically, explained to me the practical purpose of that body. That is: to instill discipline for the lower orders, not to see justice done.
I did ask Rees more than once what I’d done to deserve the dehumanising treatment they were meting out. Had I done anything personally or politically to offend anyone? All he could blurt was that my behaviour on all counts was “exemplary”.
Was it because I wasn’t on the “fuck circuit”? Senior members, including one senior woman of long standing who was close to Cliff, seemed to think this was a distinct possibility. They know it happens but they won’t deal with it.
Now, while I do not like vulgar language, what Anna Chen is implying is clear: in order for women to get on in the party they have to have sexual relationships with senior males. She also is emphatic that her complaint against her treatment was not only not taken seriously, it was laughed at. Chen actually goes further than this: she alleges that senior party members are aware of this culture. One wonders whether the so-called Disputes Committee of the SWP investigated Anna Chen’s accusations and, if so, what its findings were.
In my opinion, the SWP is increasingly looking more like a cult than a political party.
It has been brought to my attention by Darren Redstar that at the the time Anna Chen made her allegation, the charge was not thought to be gender specific, and it could have equally applied to young attractive males as well as to young females. Darren’s point is very reasonable and I apologise for making the assumption that her point was specifically about females.
John R, in the comments below, has brought to my attention a comment that Andy Newman of Socialist Unity made last September. No comment is necessary as what he has said speaks for itself. (I copy it below with spelling errors left in place):
The long term editor of Socialist Worker used to have a reputation that “no means yes”, and when he vistied some districts, experienced comrades in the know sought to ensure he was not left alone with young women.
When women who had been assaulted complained, they were diminished and hounded out of the SWP. I know of one occasion when a victim of sexual assault was sat down with a senior woman CC SWP member who told her to keep quiet for the good of “the party”, excusing the behaviour because “capitalism fucks everyone up”, and then warning if she didn’t keep quiet then no-one would believe her, and the SWP would destroy her reputation.
During the 1980s there was a strange phenomenon of several angry young womwn comrades who used to talk about the sexism of this leading comrade, but they had been intimidated out of explaining what had happened, and instead the discusion often focussed on seemingly trivial details, like the fact that he always referred to women socialists by their first names, and male comrades by surnames (lenin and marx, but Rosa and Clara, for example)
To fnd an organisation that systematicaly for decades covered up sexual assault and who intimidated women who complained into silence praised in this was is disgraceful.
Even worse, I know of an IS/SWP district in the 1970s who colluded in silence and looked the other way when a leading industrial militant was raping his own step-daughter: the individual in question had previoulsy been in the IMG, who had also covered it up. When as a young 17 year old I confronted him at a party and asked him loudly if he was still fucking his duaghter, it was me cautioned by the SWP, while the truth of thse allegations was quietly ignored.
Yet another update:
The SWP has some international affiliates. The Serbian Section of the this international body, the International Socialist Tendency (IST), is known as Marks21. The whole section has just resigned from the SWP and the IST. Inter alia, they claim:
The scandal involving allegations of rape and sexual harassment against a member of the party’s Central Committee has shocked and angered us. It has exposed the dangers of the current turn. The fact that a full-time party worker was not allowed to continue in her post for raising similar complaints of sexual harassment against the said CC member speaks volumes, as do the expulsions of comrades who raised their voices against the leadership’s handling of the matter. This is conduct that reflects bourgeois management techniques, not the revolutionary socialist struggle for women’s liberation.
I suspect that we have not heard the end of the resignations.