Gilbert Achcar ga3 at soas.ac.uk
Wed May 8 00:42:11 MDT 2013


Gilbert Achcar

The campaign against the SWP is taking a regrettable turn. It now includes
attempts at intimidating those participating in Marxism 2013, including
myself, into withdrawing from the conference. The SWP is being described as
a “socialist rapist party” and taking part in the conference as an “apology
of rapism”.

Whatever one thinks of the crisis in the SWP and the behaviour of its
leadership, such terms applied to a whole party ­– the largest on the
British radical left – and to the open forum that the party organizes each
year are outrageous. They reveal the regrettable persistence of a certain
mindset on the left, a mindset the origin of which is known all too well
and for which anathemas and excommunication are substitutes for political

I do not recall any such attitude towards innumerable left parties the
leaderships of which are guilty of much worse than what the SWP is accused
of. To give but one example, I have accepted in the past invitations by the
French Communist Party to their annual Fête de l’Humanité, as do regularly
countless intellectual and activists who are deeply critical of that party.
Had I regarded participating in such open forums as an endorsement of the
party’s political, organisational or ethical record, which I deem to be
incomparably worse than that of the SWP in all respects, I would have never
accepted. Instead, I regarded my participation as an opportunity to engage
with the public who attend such events, be they party members or
non-members, and defend my own views, which differ from those of the party.
No one ever blamed me for that.

I do firmly believe that the crisis in the SWP is a worrying symptom of a
deeply-rooted problem pertaining to a vitiated conception and form of
organisation. Regrettably, a few of the SWP’s opponents worldwide are
taking this same vitiated tradition to extremes in the way they practice
SWP-bashing. It is high time for the radical left to get rid entirely of
that tradition if it is ever to regenerate.

8 May 2013


For the record, I am publishing the comment I made in private on a
statement that was sent to me on 26 January by the friends (no SWP members)
who authored it, with a request to sign it. The statement is below,
followed with my own comment.

*The ongoing crisis in the Socialist Workers’ Party – precipitated by the
handling of rape allegations against a senior party member – has raised
fundamental questions about democracy, power and sexism in the
organisations and culture of the left. We believe that the way in which the
central committee of the SWP has handled the situation, and its lack of a
reasonable response to the legitimate protests voiced by many of its own
members, as well as others on the left, point to issues that cannot simply
be swept under the rug.*

*We have all previously participated in events and initiatives promoted by
the SWP, including the annual Marxism festival, or written for its
publications. We continue to value the commitment and work of many SWP
members as trades unionists, activists and comrades. Nonetheless, we can no
longer in good conscience participate in SWP publications and platforms
until the party recognises and seriously addresses the legitimate
criticisms of its handling of this case and the ensuing crisis.*

*My comment on 26 January*

*There are two reasons why I can’t sign. Both are in the second paragraph.*

*I have no problem with the first. With the second, my key reservation is
that I don’t think one should mix Marxism, which is an open forum, with the
SWP line. If one had told me that participating in Marxism meant an
endorsement of the SWP’s line and practices, I would have never taken part
in it. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense in my view to say that because one
disapproves of the way the SWP handled this whole affair, one won’t attend
Marxism any longer. Moreover, one should not appear as taking sides
directly in the crisis itself. What we should be interested in is not
substituting ourselves to a commission of inquiry or a tribunal of the
left, but drawing the general lessons of the crisis. To give an ultimatum
of this kind won’t help in the least; it will only increase the tension. I
don’t think that a break-up of the SWP would be in the interest of the left
in the UK and beyond.*

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