We have deliberately refrained from commenting on this most serious matter until now, mainly because of lack of first-hand information and a reluctance (unlike, for instance, Socialist Unity) to engage in tittle-tattle. However, journalist Laurie Penny, on the New Statesman website, has now placed the matter very much in the public domain. By republishing her article we do not mean to endorse everything she (or ‘celebrity member’ China Mieville) say/write: here’s what she’s written:
What does the SWP’s way of dealing with sex assault allegations tell us about the left?
When it comes to sexual violence, why should progressive organisations be held to different standards?
How do we deal with sexual violence on the left? Here’s a case study.
The Socialist Workers’ Party, for those who aren’t familiar with it already, is a political organisation of several thousand members which has been a prominent force on the British left for more than 30 years. They are at the forefront of the fight against street fascism in Britain, were a large organising presence in the student and trade union movement over the past several years, and are affiliated with large, active parties in other countries, like Germany’s Die Linke. Many of the UK’s most important thinkers and writers are members, or former members.
Like many others on the left in Britain, I’ve had my disagreements with the SWP, but I’ve also spoken at their conferences, drunk their tea, and have a lot of respect for the work they do. They are not a fringe group: they matter. And it matters that right now, the party is exploding in messy shards because of a debate about sexism, sexual violence and wider issues of accountability.
This week, it came to light that when allegations of rape and sexual assault were made against a senior party member, the matter was not reported to the police, but dealt with ‘internally’ before being dismissed. According to a transcript from the party’s annual conference earlier this month, not only were friends of the alleged rapist allowed to investigate the complaint, the alleged victims were subject to further harassment. Their drinking habits and former relationships were called into question, and those who stood by them were subject to expulsion and exclusion.
Tom Walker – a party member who walked out this week in disgust – explained that feminism “is used effectively as a swear word by the leadership’s supporters…. it is deployed against anyone who seems ‘too concerned’ about issues of gender.”
In a brave and principled resignation statement published yesterday, Walker said that:
“. . . there is clearly a question mark over the sexual politics of many men in powerful positions on the left. I believe the root of this is that, whether through reputation, lack of internal democracy or both, these are often positions that are effectively unchallengeable. Not for nothing have recent sex abuse allegations in the wider world focused on the idea of a ‘culture of impunity’. Socialist Worker has pointed to the way that institutions close up to protect powerful people within them. What is not acknowledged is that the SWP is itself an institution in this sense, with its instinct for self-protection to survive. As previously mentioned, its belief in its own world-historic importance gives a motive for an attempted cover-up, making abusers feel protected.”
Members are now leaving the organisation, or being expelled, in large numbers after the case came to light at the party’s conference and transcripts of the discussions were leaked online.
The writer China Mieville, a longstanding member of the SWP, told me that, like many members, he is “aghast”:
“The way such allegations were dealt with – complete with questions about accusers’ past relationships and drinking habits that we would instantly, rightly denounce as sexist in any other context – was appalling. It’s a terrible problem of democracy, accountability and internal culture that such a situation can occur, as is the fact that those arguing against the official line in a fashion deemed unacceptable to those in charge could be expelled for ‘secret factionalism.”
Mieville explained that in his party, as in so many other organisations, the power hierarchies which have facilitated problems such as this have been controversial for a long time.
“Many of us have for years been openly fighting for a change in the culture and structures of the organisation to address exactly this kind of democratic deficit, the disproportionate power of the Central Committee and their loyalists, their heavy-handed policing of so-called ‘dissent’, and their refusal to admit mistakes ,” he told me. “Like the current situation, a disaster catastrophically mishandled by the leadership. All of us in the party should have the humility to admit such issues. It’s up to members of the SWP to fight for the best of our tradition, not put up with the worst, and to make our organisation what it could be, and unfortunately is not yet.”
The British Socialist Worker’s Party is hardly atypical among political parties, among left-wing groups, among organisations of committed people or, indeed, among groups of friends and colleagues in having structures in place that might allow sexual abuse and misogyny by men in positions of power to continue unchecked. One could point, in the past 12 months alone, to the BBC’s handling of the Jimmy Savile case, or to those Wikileaks supporters who believe that Julian Assange should not be compelled to answer allegations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden.
I could point, personally, to at least two instances involving respected men that have sundered painfully and forever friendship groups which lacked the courage to acknowledge the incidents. The only difference is that the SWP actually talk openly about the unspoken rules by which this sort of intimidation usually goes on. Other groups are not so brazen as to say that their moral struggles are simply more important than piffling issues of feminism, even if that’s what they really mean, nor to claim that as right-thinking people they and their leaders are above the law. The SWP’s leadership seem to have written it into their rules.
To say that the left has a problem with handling sexual violence is not to imply that everyone else doesn’t. There is, however, a stubborn refusal to accept and deal with rape culture that is unique to the left and to progressives more broadly. It is precisely to do with the idea that, by virtue of being progressive, by virtue of fighting for equality and social justice, by virtue of, well, virtue, we are somehow above being held personally accountable when it comes to issues of race, gender and sexual violence.
That unwillingness to analyse our own behaviour can quickly become dogma. The image is one of petty, nitpicking women attempting to derail the good work of decent men on the left by insisting in their whiny little women’s way that progressive spaces should also be spaces where we don’t expect to get raped and assaulted and slut-shamed and victimised for speaking out, and the emotions are rage and resentment: why should our pure and perfect struggle for class war, for transparency, for freedom from censorship be polluted by – it’s pronounced with a curl of the upper lip over the teeth, as if the very word is distasteful – ‘identity politics’? Why should we be held more accountable than common-or-garden bigots? Why should we be held to higher standards?
Because if we’re not, then we have no business calling ourselves progressive. Because if we don’t acknowledge issues of assault, abuse and gender hierarchy within our own institutions we have no business speaking of justice, much less fighting for it.
“The issues of democracy and sexism are not separate, but inextricably linked,” writes Walker. “Lack of the first creates space for the second to grow, and makes it all the more difficult to root it out when it does.” He’s talking about the SWP, but he could be talking about any part of the left right now, in its struggle to divest itself of generations of misogynist baggage.
Equality isn’t an optional add-on, a side-issue to be dealt with after the revolution’s over. There can be no true democracy, no worthwhile class struggle, without women’s rights. The sooner the left accepts that and starts working the enormous stick of priggishness and prejudice out of its collective backside, the sooner we can get on with the job at hand.
Malala has continued to be a vocal advocate, of education for all, in Pakistan and was the runner up of the International Children’s Peace Prize last year. Her contribution was recognised within Pakistan in December 2011 when she was awarded the National Youth Peace Prize. Malala is an inspiration for people across the world. On October 9th 2012 the Taliban attempted to assassinate her as she travelled home after an exam on the school bus. A national day of prayer has been held for Malala across Pakistan.
Jimmy Savile was clearly a disgusting and degenerate excuse for a human being. Claims from the BBC (notably former DG Mark Thompson) to the effect that no-one there had the slightest idea about Savile’s child abuse, are, quite literally, incredible. Almost as unlikely are the denials from Thompson and Newsnight editor Peter Rippon, that last year’s Newsnight exposé of Saville was pulled because it would have made a sick joke of the three tribute programmes honouring Savile that the BBC had ready to air over Christmas.
Yes, you only had to look at the grotesque figure of Savile and listen to his droning, witless voice, to guess that he was a total creep and sleeze-ball. But Savile’s crimes (now surely proven beyond reasonable doubt or cries of “he’s not here to defend himself”) would appear to be just the tip of the iceberg. Every day seems to bring new revelations that make it clear that Savile’s paedophilia was just one manifestation (albeit an extreme one) of a culture of gross sexism and tolerance of sexual abuse that existed in the BBC Light Entertainment department from the late 1960′s (ie the creation on Radio 1) up until at least the mid-1990′s and the end of the ‘Smashie and Nicey‘ era. And there are those who are suggesting it may not have completely ended then, either.
Janet Street-Porter, for instance describes in today’s Mail (see previous link) how Jim Moir, Head of (BBC) Light Entertainment in the 1980′s once addressed a committee meeing at which Street-Porter was the only woman present, by announcing “Well chaps, I’m going to put my dick on the table.” It was, of course, merely a figure of speech. But a telling one. Other female broadcasters (notably Liz Kershaw and Sandi Toksvig) who were at the Corporation in the in the 1970′s and 80′s have now come forward with accounts of sexual harassment, while a Sunday Times reporter, Camilla Long, claims she was groped by Dave Lee (“Hairy Cornflake”) Travis after interviewing him in June of this year. The recurring theme of all these stories is that such behaviour was considered normal and acceptable and anyone who complained would be regarded as strange (or worse, a lesbian).
But, of course, there is a qualitative difference between the sexual harassment of adult women (reprehensible as that is) and the crime of paedophilia, isn’t there? Maybe so. Or maybe they’re just different points on a continuum. Either way, there is every reason to assume that paedophilia at the BBC and, indeed, throughout the world of pop music and light entertainment in the 1970′s and 80′s, went well beyond the loathsome working class oik Saville. After all, even that doyen of twee, middle-class naughty-but-nice smugness, John Peel, boasted in newspaper interviews and his Sounds magazine column, of his penchant for under-aged girls. I would submit that the picture below, in its way, is almost as disturbing as what we’re hearing about Savile.*
*Naturally, this has upset Peel’s adoring fans, who rally to his defence here.
NB: it is clearly the case that a lot of the current attacks on the BBC in the wake of the Savile revelations, are coming from sources like the Murdoch press (the Sunday Times, especially) and the Mail, that have their own commercial and ideological reasons for wanting to knock the Beeb. But that doesn’t mean that what they’ve published is untrue, or should be down-played. I’ve made extensive use of material from both these sources in what I’ve written above - JM
Rod Liddle is one of those people, like Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn, about whom I rarely comment, here or anywhere else. Partly because these people are such utter cocks that comment is generally otiose. Also because getting lefties and liberals annoyed is exacly what these people aim for (he only does it to annoy / because he knows it teases) and I don’t want to play into their hands.
(Rod Liddle is associate editor of The Spectator. He writes a weekly column in the magazine, as well as contributing to The Sunday Times and The Sun).
Nevertheless, I feel obliged to draw your attention to a piece in this week’s Specator where Mr Liddle appears not just to excuse the sexual exploitation of pupils by teachers, but to confess (or boast) that had he become a teacher…well, read an excerpt for yourself:
“I never found out [what sort of teacher I'd be] because the one thing stopping me from being a teacher was that I could not remotely conceive of not trying to shag the kids. It seemed to me to be virtually impossible not to, and I was convinced that I’d be right in there, on day one. We’re talking secondry school level here, by the way – and even then I don’t think I’d have dabbled much below year ten, as it is now called. I just thought we ought to clear that up early on. At my old comprehensive school a few teachers were known to be schtupping the pupils: one of them, a female teacher who was extremely foxy in a Pot Noodle scuzzy kind of way — she copped off with some fifth-form lad, and another teacher (a man with a guitar and a faux rebellious attitude) gained the affections of an extremely attractive fourth-form girl. As pupils, we didn’t remotely mind about this and both teachers were very popular. But I knew, when I was considering my career options, that this sort of behaviour was definitely frowned upon by the authorities and that I would not last the week in my new job. Frowned upon, although not much more, I ought to say — certainly not the deranged howling that is kicked up these days, the fury and the righteous anger.”
NB: The Sexual Offences Act, 2003 makes it a criminal offence for a teacher to have any form of sexual contact with any pupil at their school who is below the age of 18, even if the pupil is above the legal age of consent. Such “abuse of a position of trust” also applies to carers and trainers of young people under the age of 18 in any other institution.
Above: the Messiah Julian and his rape-denying disciples, including Benn and Galloway
The expression “hoist with one’s own petard” springs to mind:
(from the ‘Counterfire‘ website):
Leading anti-war campaigner and socialist Tony Benn will be ‘no platformed’ like Tommy Robinson of the racist EDL and Nick Griffin of the fascist BNP if a motion to the National Union of Students gets passed this week. If local student unions follow the national union then Tony Benn may be refused a platform in any student union in the country.
Refusing to allow fascists a platform has long been the policy of the left and the student movement. But in a remarkably ill-thought out move the National Executive of NUS is about to apply the same policy to Tony Benn and Respect MP George Galloway.
The reasons given for this unusual step are comments they made about the charge that Wikileaks whistleblower Julian Assange raped two women in Sweden. The motion states that Galloway ‘referred to a man inserting his penis into a sleeping woman as, “bad sexual etiquette’ and that Tony Benn said of the Assange case, “the charges are that it was a non-consensual relationship. Well that’s very different from rape”.’
Tony Benn has since, at the request of Goldsmith Students Union, of which he is the honoury president, retracted his remarks, apologised and restated his life-long commitment to women’s liberation. But still the NUS is persisting with its resolution.
The comments in both Galloway’s and Benn’s cases are of course wrong. It is wrong to state that non-consensual sex is not rape, and it was wrong to try to defend Assange from extradition by dismissing the claims of the women involved.
But beyond this, there is a fundamental problem by responding to these comments by trying to no platform Benn and Galloway. ‘No platform’ is an exceptional position that the Left has typically campaigned for Unions and other organisations to adopt in the fight against Fascism.
It is an unprecedented departure from the left’s defence of freedom of speech on the grounds that there can be no free speech for those who would deny such freedoms to others. There can be no democracy for those who would use genocide and extermination to end democracy.
These conditions clearly do not apply in this case. It is the exceptional danger posed by Fascism that prompted the tactic of no platform to be applied exclusively to fascists. To apply it indiscriminately to other political views we oppose means fascists cannot be isolated by the no platform policy as an exceptional threat.
Backward ideas about rape are profoundly upsetting and damaging to the fight against women’s oppression. However, the prevalence of these ideas (which the motion acknowledges) points to the fact that they stem from the sexist society in which we live. Therefore it is within society that we have to fight these ideas.
Surely it is much better to have Tony Benn, a figure that many people look up to as an inspiration, apologise and restate his commitment to women’s liberation as he has done, than to let damaging remarks remain unretracted where they can continue to damage and distract our movement. This is a fight we can win – we can change people’s minds, we can challenge sexism in our movement.
Astoundingly, if the writers of the motion genuinely believe these remarks have put Benn and Galloway beyond the pale, then there are a lot of people missing who should be named in this motion.
While the motion makes brief reference to Roger Helmer (UKIP MEP) and Andrew Brons (an MEP for the fascist BNP and a former leader of the fascist National Front), why are the members of the Coalition government who are overseeing massive cuts to rape crisis and domestic violence services not in this motion?
Why not the whole of the Cambridge Union Society who invited Dominique Strauss-Kahn to speak there earlier this year? Why not those government ministers whose refusal to demand that Assange will not be extradited from Sweden to the US is effectively prolonging the injustice to the women involved? All these people have gone far further than to make an offensive remark.
What’s more, the NUS would not dream of no platforming war criminal Tony Blair. And the NUS quite regularly opens its platforms to Zionists. In this context the attempt to no platform Tony Benn and Galloway looks absurd.
And why is the NUS, which has let its members down so badly over the fight against fees and cuts, not organising against the closure of rape crisis centres? Where are the leaflets, the posters, the protests, the pickets and the demos?
Tony Benn was a wholehearted supporter of the student movement of 2010. Which is more than the NUS executive can claim. It would be better if the NUS spent less time either censuring or no platforming Tony Benn and George Galloway and more time actually defending its members.
A response from AWL students, here.
“I cannot in all conscience, stand as candidate for a party whose only MP has made unacceptable and un-retracted statements about the nature of rape. To continue as Respect Party candidate in this situation, no matter how much I object to and oppose his statements personally, would be in effect to condone what he has said. That is something I am not prepared to do” - Kate Hudson.
Kate Hudson, prospective ‘Respect’ candidate for Manchester Central, has put out the following statement:
It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to stand down as Respect Party candidate for the Manchester Central by-election. This has been a difficult decision to make because I am in no doubt that the Respect Party has the right policies to meet the challenges facing Britain today, and that its redistributive anti-austerity and pro-investment platform is exactly what is needed to turn around Britain’s failing economy and meet the needs of Britain’s population. Political events across Europe demonstrate that Respect is not alone in working to fill the political space vacated by Labour and its sister social democrat parties as they have moved to the right and embraced neo-liberalism, from Greece to France and now Holland.
However, I cannot in all conscience, stand as candidate for a party whose only MP has made unacceptable and un-retracted statements about the nature of rape. To continue as Respect Party candidate in this situation, no matter how much I object to and oppose his statements personally, would be in effect to condone what he has said. That is something I am not prepared to do.
I stand by the position taken by Respect Party leader Salma Yaqoob, who has stated:
“Let me be clear, as a politician and as a woman. Rape occurs when a woman has not consented to sex. George Galloway’s comments on what constitutes rape are deeply disappointing and wrong.
There are many political issues entwined in the case of Julian Assange. These issues cannot be used to diminish in any way the seriousness of any allegations against him. Any individual accused of a crime, sexual or otherwise, is innocent until proven guilty. By the same token, any individual who believes themselves to be a victim has a right to have their grievances heard in a fair manner and not have their allegations belittled or dismissed. This is the cornerstone of justice.”
Unfortunately George Galloway’s subsequent clarification of his remarks was totally inadequate.
To continue to represent the Respect Party in this context does not accord with my political principles, which include the continuing struggle for justice and respect for women, as well as fighting against austerity, war and racism. I will continue to work within the Respect Party to ensure that our values and principles with regard to women’s rights match up to the Party’s – and George Galloway’s – outstanding record in these other areas.
I would like to thank our members and supporters in Manchester and across the country for the strong support extended to the Manchester Central campaign. The struggle for a left politics based on justice and equality, where society is organised to meet the needs of the many, will continue.
Twitter Feminists are doing a very good job of dismantling the anti-woman rhetoric written by Women Against Rape in the Guardian today. The article is a pile of victim-blaming, rape excusing twaddle from two women who should know better: Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff. Any woman who writes this is victim-blaming:
“It seems even clearer now, that the allegations against him are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction.”
They are calling the two women liars. It doesn’t matter how much want to pretend they aren’t, suggesting the charges are a “smokescreen” is calling to victims of sexualised violence liars. That is the territory of MRAs and their handmaidens. Not Feminists. Yeah, they try to minimise the impact by saying this without a trace of irony:
“… the names of the women have been circulated on the internet; they have been trashed, accused of setting a “honey trap”, and seen their allegations dismissed as “not real rape”.”
WAR are also calling the two women liars. They are suggesting it wasn’t real rape. By buying into Assange’s paranoid fantasies, they have effectively silenced two rape victims and trashed the reputation of their organisation. They are arguing precisely the same thing as MRAs. All for what, to line up to defend a whiny little tosser because they think he’s The Second Coming? Well, he isn’t. I know her and she’d kick the shit out of Assange.
The whole article is a pile of paranoia and misinformation. WAR have just ensured that I won’t ever use them for support or refer friends to them. Anyone who writes that Wikileaks is more important than the bodily integrity of two women is no feminist. Wikileaks is more than one man and, frankly, it’s not like Assange’s reputation in Wikileaks is all that brilliant what with the whole dumping an Iranian leak into the shit without a backward glance.
Below: the Messiah and his Chosen Ones:
[The remarks occur 21:40 into the video]
Of course, Galloway is not a rape-apologist…any more than he’s an antisemite
Galloway: “I mean not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you’re already in the sex game with them.
“It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, “do you mind if I do it again?”.
“It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.
“I don’t believe either of those women, I don’t believe either of these stories.”
Galloway later defended his remarks on Twitter, claiming that what constitutes a sexual offence in Sweden would not be considered such a crime in the UK:
Former Monty Python star Terry Jones has also taken to Twitter to defend Assange:
A spokesman for Rape Crisis said: “It is clear from George Galloway’s comments that his legal understanding of rape is factually incorrect.
“Having had consensual sex with someone once does not mean a woman has forever forfeited her right to withdraw or refuse her consent to further sex with that person.
“Sex without consent is rape. Mr. Galloway’s description of sexual violence as ‘really bad manners’, as well as his apparent ignorance of the law, is offensive and deeply concerning.”
Extracted from Huffington Post