[Marxism] Notes on the SWP crisis

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jan 14 16:26:28 MST 2013


Notes on the SWP crisis
by Ian Llewellyn on Monday, January 14, 2013 at 6:14pm ·

A crisis is rocking the socialist workers party, one from which it may 
be impossibly hard to recover if not dealt with openly and in a serious 
way. The specifics of the problem focus around accusations ranging from 
sexual harassment to rape made against a prominent member of the 
organisation. For an organisation that has always taken a hard nosed and 
principled stance when fighting for womens liberation this is 
particularly damaging.

I will not bog down this piece with specific details of this case i will 
simply start from the most compelling personal experience which for me 
has made the decisions passed at the last conference untenable. I was 
present at conference when this case was first aired in a ‘set the 
record straight’ style address by an informed leadership to a largely 
bemused membership. The entirety of the contributions are not necessary 
to haul up from memory here, instead I will focus on the contribution 
which shaped my understanding of the case. A long standing female 
comrade spoke along the lines of ‘so long as everything is consensual 
and not abusive we have never and will not pass judgement on peoples 
personal or sexual relationships’. The image this created in my head was 
an affair gone awry, an image that was only reinforced by the rest of 
the session. The response from my inner monologue was essentially ‘why 
the fuck would I care who people are shagging’. This in itself is for me 
an attempt to cover up the nature of the case.

The leadership of the organisation has shot the entire party in the foot 
in what amounts to little more than a cover up to prevent the kind of 
coverage which the commercial press will no doubt revel in publishing, 
complete with islamophobic subtexts. More importantly however it has 
betrayed the trust of the women involved, women who have come to the SWP 
in the hope of destroying the everyday grind that an exploitative, 
oppressive, sexist society has forced upon them. This has also 
discredited the current notions of accountability which we have set 
ourselves. The question now is can the membership of the organisation 
hold those responsible to account. The answer to this question, I 
believe, is for those with a commitment to seeing the party reclaimed 
from those who would perpetuate such a farce taking an immovable stance 
against the entire conduct of the case and the fallout from it. The way 
in which democratic centralism is being used as a stick to beat 
dissenters with is also incredibly dishonest and will only serve to 
discredit the concept of democratic centralism itself, we must also 
remember that democratic centralism means maximum openness in debate and 
maximum unity in action. The leadership cannot hope to restrict openness 
in debate yet demand a faux unity which looks to all intents and 
purposes as if we are sticking our fingers in our ears going lalalalala 
everything is rosy.

The party can only function on the basis of complete accountability. 
Notions of party uber alles that the leadership have fallen into or 
worse embraced are incredibly damaging and will relegate us in the eyes 
of the movement to the status of an introverted sect.

For those who argue for a long term solution I would say that this is a 
contradiction in terms firstly because the longer this is left the 
easier it will be to clamp down on dissent, secondly a hegemonic 
discourse is developing which says that the leadership of the SWP 
covered up rape allegations and the membership kept quiet. If this party 
is to survive in any meaningful sense it will do so by staying true to 
its principles and being ruthless in our demands for accountability. 
There can be no bureaucratic solutions to this which see the re running 
of the disputes committee with the same power dynamics in place.

It is notable that the praise lavished on historical examples of when 
party discipline has been broken to serve the greater political good is 
something which now seems to be solely the remit of leaders of socialist 
organisations rather than members. Bolshevism requires ruthless self 
criticism to function and not simply through internal structures but if 
necessary outside them when existing structures have been proved so 
woefully inadequate such as in this case.

I write this as an activist committed to the IS tradition and the 
organisation I have been a member of for around 4 years I am not however 
committed to a name or a leadership but an idea and this is my primary 
loyalty. Revolutionary courage is not simply a willingness to risk your 
job by going on strike or to risk imprisonment for breaking police lines 
it is a willingness to be self critical even if this may cause you 
internal turmoil.

For these reasons the only credible course of action for me will be the 
calling of an emergency conference and I would urge other comrades to 
make this argument in their branches as I intend to.

Ian Llewellyn

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