Seymour on the SWP rape allegations

January 12, 2013 at 12:55 am (crime, Jim D, misogyny, reblogged, sectarianism, sexism, SWP)

Apologies to those readers who have no interest in this stuff: normal service will be resumed shortly. However, we do seem to be witnessing the implosion of the largest and most influential far-left group in the UK. This piece from Richard “Lenin’s Tomb” Seymour, usually a craven apologist for the SWP’s antics, would appear to be a de facto letter of resignation:

Socialist Workers Party fist logo

Crisis in the SWP  posted by lenin

Laurie Penny writes an article about the crisis in the SWP, following up on Tom Walker’s very finely written resignation statement.  It quotes my long-time friend and comrade China Mieville making some, to my mind, extremely well put observations about the catastrophic nature of this crisis and the roots of it in the party’s deformed democratic structures and lack of accountability.  It is an excellent piece.  And it stands in stark contrast to the shameful whitewash in this week’s Socialist Worker, and ironically does more service to the party.

So, let us recapitulate.  A serious allegation is referred to the Disputes Committee of the Socialist Workers Party, my party, to investigate.  The Disputes Committee is composed largely of individuals who know the accused.  The Disputes Committee asks the person making the allegations a series of completely inappropriate questions that, had they been asked of someone making such allegations in a police station, we would rightly denounce them as sexist.  Another comrade makes a related allegation against the same accused, and submits a statement.  The committee subjects this comrade to similar treatment.  The committee reaches a verdict of ‘not proven’.  The conference of the party is then lied to about the nature of the allegations.  The Central Committee and the Disputes Committee collude in a cover-up.  They suppress it.  This is already a disgrace.

But word does get around.  People begin to hear what has happened, and are outraged.  They begin to hear of senior party members spreading the most disgusting rumours about the two women involved.  Many members, especially young members, begin to kick off about it.  It becomes clear that this will be an issue in the party conference of 2013.  So, there is a preemptive strike against four members for participating in a Facebook thread discussing the case, which is alleged – on the basis of selective excerpts – to be evidence of ‘secret factionalising’, which is prohibited.  The expulsion is enacted immediately, with no due process, no disciplinary hearing.  The four comrades are expelled by email.  This is totally at odds with the party’s usual procedures.  It is a clear bureaucratic manoeuvre to stymy the upsurge.  But it produces a revolt.  A group of comrades form a faction to contest the expulsions, campaign for the rejection of the Dispute Committee’s report on the allegations, and challenge the party’s democracy deficit.  (Naturally I join this faction.)

We organise.  But the members who raise this issue, many of them students, are yelled at in meetings, denounced for ‘creeping feminism’, or for carrying the germ of autonomism into the party.  Old polemics against ‘feminism’ from the 1980s, always somewhat dogmatic, are dusted off and used as a stick to beat dissenters with.  People who try to raise the issue at district aggregates are shouted down.  Wised up hacks turn up at meetings, with their best ‘what, us?’ innocent expression, claiming to be shocked and horrified at the lack of trust in the party, and astonished that some people use terms like ‘hacks’.  They express befuddlement about why the faction even exists.  They accuse dissenters of being ‘inward-looking’.  Nonetheless, the faction grows quickly.  Soon, there are two factions, both opposing the expulsions and criticising the findings of the Disputes Committee.  They have different emphases and different tactics, but similar objectives.  They go to conference, expecting to be in a minority – after all, most comrades still haven’t got the slightest clue what is happening, or have only heard the rumours and lies.  In the history of party conferences, dissenting motions generally haven’t fared well.  But we find, suddenly, that there is a groundswell.  The more members hear, the more they’re throwing up.  And we get to conference, and our delegates face down the most appallingly bureaucratic arguments.  And we are surprised, and disappointed.  The party ratifies the expulsions by two thirds to one third.  The party ratifies the Dispute Committee findings by a slender margin.  But the reality is that despite formal wins for the leadership, this amounts to a serious crisis for them.

How do they respond?  A sane response would be to say, ‘much of the party is still not convinced, we need to debate this further and work out a solution’.  At the very least.  More generally, a sane leadership might think about opening up year round communications so that party members can communicate with one another outside of conference season.  They might think about creating more pluralistic party structures, ending the ban on factions outside of conference season and rethinking the way elections take place.   Instead, they tell everyone in Party Notes that there will be no further discussion of the matter.  CC members tell full-time party employees that the accused was ‘exonerated’ by conference (no such thing), insist that conference voted for an ‘interventionist’ party, rather than a ‘federalist’ party, and begin a purge.  Report backs from conference either don’t discuss the Disputes Committee session in any detail or discuss it in an arrogant, dismissive manner.  A CC member gives a report back that instructs members, “if you can’t argue the line, you should consider your position in the party” – as if the party was the possession of the bureaucracy.  They tell members to get on with focusing on ‘the real world’.  In the real world, this is a scandal.  And we, those who fought on this, told them it would be.  We warned them that it would not just be a few sectarian blogs attacking us.  We warned them that after we had rightly criticised George Galloway over his absurd remarks about rape, and after a year of stories about sexual abuse, and after more than a year of feminist revival, this was a suicidal posture, not just a disgusting, sickening one.  They continued, obliviously, convinced that this was the correct, hard-headed Bolshevik position.  Now members are caught between the choice of having to expend energy on a fight to save the party and its traditions, or burying their heads in the sand, or swallowing the Kool Aid and joining the headbangers.

There isn’t enough bile to conjure up the shame and disgrace of all of this, nor the palpable physical revulsion, nor the visceral contempt building, nor the sense of betrayal and rage, nor the literal physical and emotional shattering of people exposed to the growing madness day in and day out.

This is the thing that all party members need to understand.  Even on cynical grounds, the Central Committee has no strategy for how to deal with this.  A scandal has been concealed, lied about, then dumped on the members in the most arrogant and stupid manner possible.  The leadership is expecting you to cope with this.   This isn’t the first time that such unaccountable practices have left you in the lurch.  You will recall your pleasure on waking up to find out that Respect was collapsing and that it was over fights that had been going on for ages which no one informed you about.  But this is much worse.  They expect you to go to your activist circles, your union, your workplaces, and argue something that is indefensible.  Not only this, but in acting in this way, they have – for their own bureaucratic reasons – broken with a crucial component of the politics of the International Socialist tradition that undergirds the SWP.  The future of the party is at stake, and they are on the wrong side of that fight.  You, as members, have to fight for your political existence.  Don’t simply drift away, don’t simply bury your face in your palms, and don’t simply cling to the delusional belief that the argument was settled at conference.  You must fight now.

***

One last thing.  There is an article in The Independent about this case.  It uses the phrase “socialist sharia court”.  It is miles away, in tone and spirit, from Laurie Penny’s piece.  I would urge people to think carefully about who wants to use the sort of language deployed in the Independent article.  I think the answer is, “racists”.  I would also point out that, as far as I know, the Independent did not speak to any party members.  My advice is to disregard that piece.

9 Comments

  1. Jim Denham, said,

    From the below-the-line comments at Lenin’s Tomb:
    ***********************************************
    Question•3 hours ago

    Richard, may I please seek clarification on one issue – do you accept the following verdict from the Disputes Committee “We didn’t think that Comrade Delta raped W.”

    1△▽

    Reply

    Richard SeymourMod> Question•3 hours ago

    I still stand by my earlier position that I cannot comment on the specificities of the case. I don’t have the right to. I do not know the person making the allegations, I have not heard them in detail, and I am in no position to evaluate them.
    All I do know is that the DC handled the case appallingly, and all that follows from that.

    8△1▽

    Reply

    Question> Richard Seymour•3 hours ago

    I agree you have not investigated the allegation and so you cannot judge. I am not asking you to judge. What I am asking is do you accept the judgment of those elected to investigate.

    1△▽

    Reply

    Richard SeymourMod> Question•3 hours ago−
    Sorry, but you already have my answer.

  2. Scott Reeve said,

    Richard said they have – for their own bureaucratic reasons – broken with a crucial component of the politics of the International Socialist tradition that undergirds the SWP. I am sorry IS done that by holding a deunification conference on December te 4th 1971. The day I left I.S.
    What does he expect from a Bolshevik organisation: Discipline is everything Justice is nothing. Or as Trotsky said “my party right or wrong.”

  3. Robin Carmody said,

    I am strongly socialist and anti-racist, and no great lover of the Independent, but I *still* think “socialist sharia court” is fair comment and hardly cause for Muslims to get beaten up (as if the sort of people who *would* beat Muslims up would ever read the Independent anyway).

    But then I’ve never described Muslims who oppose Islamism as “Uncle Toms”.

    • Andrew Coates said,

      The term has been picked up by the Daily Mail today, which will further inflame matters. Personally the whole idea of a political party dealing with allegations of this nature by is beyond me. As Richard Seymour comments, “The Disputes Committee is composed largely of individuals who know the accused.”

  4. sheffielder said,

    It is not racism to be opposed to sharia law. At least swparia law doesn’t require four witnesses to rape or equates one male witness with two female ones.

  5. Chris said,

    “craven apologist”

    This is what might be referred to as “that language”. The language of fanaticism.

  6. Jim Denham said,

    I honestly fail to understand how the words “craven’ and/or ‘apologist” whether used separately or together, respresent “the lanuage of fanaticism.” Both are easily-understood common-or-garden words, easily understood and far from obscure. Taken together, they also have a nice ring and very accurately describe someone like Seymour.

    What exactly *is* “that language” Chris?

  7. Jim Denham said,

    SWP National Secretary Charlie Kimber has commented as follows:

    There has been a series of attacks on the Socialist Workers Party in the media and by assorted bloggers. They concern the party’s handling of serious allegations against a leading member and the arguments (partly arising from the case) leading up to and during our recent conference.

    This was an internal matter and we had promised full confidentiality to all involved. So we strongly condemn the publication of a transcript of a closed session of the conference discussing this case. The transcript was publicised against the wishes of the complainant herself.

    The attacks are a travesty of the truth. We live in what remains a profoundly sexist society, as is shown by the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups in mainstream institutions such as the BBC and the police.

    However, the SWP is not an institution of capitalist society but fights for the overthrow of the system. Our party has a proud tradition of fighting for women’s liberation, as is shown, for example, by our consistent campaigning over the decades to defend abortion, and by our criticism of George Galloway for his remarks about the Julian Assange rape accusations.

    Reflecting this tradition, our internal structures seek to promote women to leading roles and deal rigorously with any action by any member that is harmful or disrespectful of women.

    It is in the context of this commitment that we took allegations against a leading member of the party very seriously.

    Unlike the BBC or any other establishment body faced with such an allegation an investigation into this complaint immediately was set in place.

    The complainant made the choice not to go to the police, who are notorious for their systemic failure to defend women. Instead she asked for her complaint to be heard by the body within the SWP charged with dealing with disciplinary cases, the Disputes Committee. We respected that choice.

    The Disputes Committee is a body of experienced members who had been unanimously elected by the previous conference. The attacks on it as a ‘sharia court’ are little short of racism.

    After a lengthy and thorough hearing, the Disputes Committee did not uphold the accusations and decided to take no disciplinary action.

    Five of the seven members hearing the case were women, and one has experience as a rape counsellor. These included two members of the Central Committee, the elected leadership body of the SWP. Its members (who are always a minority on the DC) work with the DC to ensure the political integrity of the party, and to ensure the concerns and decisions of the DC are fed into the CC’s work.

    At all times great efforts were taken to support the complainant.

    Had the Disputes Committee believed that the accused person was guilty, it would have expelled him from the SWP immediately.

    The case was discussed at length at a session of our conference, which voted to accept the report and overwhelmingly re-elected the Disputes Committee. Far from being a cover up this sort of open discussion shows that our procedures and elected bodies are accountable to our membership.

    If this case had been raised within a trade union or any other organisation there would be no question that the matter should be treated with complete confidentiality. This basic principle should also apply in this case.

    As far we are concerned, this case is closed. This is not a ‘cover up’. It is a determination to reflect the decision of our conference. We believe that both parties to the case should have their right to confidentiality and their right as members in good standing respected.

    C. Kimber, SWP National Secretary

    Response from Seymour on his blog ‘Lenin’s Tomb':

    http://www.leninology.com/2013/01/a-reply-to-central-committee.html

  8. john cronin said,

    Gerry Healy, Tommy Sheridan, George “insertion” Galloway all these far left groupuscules and their glorious leaders seem to be cut from the same cloth, don’t they? there is ALWAYS sexual or financial or emotional abuse, usually of female staffers.

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