Nice Guys of the SWP

January 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm (cults, Feminism, Max Dunbar, misogyny, SWP)

Some of us have been banging on about the misogyny of the left for some time. 2012 was the year it became too apparent to ignore. It became clear during the Assange/Galloway furore that a significant part of the left has no time for feminism, sexual freedom or gender equality, which it regards as irrelevant middle class distractions from the glorious struggle against neoliberal imperialism. This is clear in the SWP’s support for far right Islamic fanatics, and it’s long been my contention that many anaemic middle aged leftwing males would rather like a society where women cover up and do as they are told.

Is it a surprise, then, that when rape allegations are made within the party, SWP members rejected the ‘bourgeois court system’ in favour of a hastily convened tribunal consisting of friends of the defendant (but apparently one of them used to volunteer at a rape crisis centre, which makes it okay)? This is a cult. These people do not believe in the rule of law and it shouldn’t raise any eyebrows that they should try to essentially secede from the UK criminal justice system, and treat a serious criminal matter with a bullshit disputes committee process rightly compared to sharia.

Two objections are generally raised at this point. Members have told me that the complainant explicitly stated she didn’t want to go to the police. Maybe so, and that’s her choice. But we also have a duty to listen to people who know the organisation, and have made the choice to walk out. Tom Walker, experienced SWP journalist, has said that:

It is stated that the accuser did not want to go to the police, as is her absolute right if that was truly her decision. However, knowing the culture of the SWP, I doubt that was a decision she made entirely free from pressure.

Do not underestimate the pressure the SWP can bring to bear on members by telling them to do or not do things for the ultimate cause of the socialist society the party’s members are all fighting for.

Objection two is that these are just allegations. The McAlpine rules apply and you can’t convict Comrade Delta in the kangaroo court of public opinion. True again. But there is going to be no due process in this case because the party has decided that there won’t be. Unless the police make an independent decision to investigate, we’ll never know. Even if Comrade Delta is innocent, the whisper of the political village will follow him to the grave.

All this we know. This story ain’t going away and we have not heard the last of this. There have been further rape allegations and so much insight, argument and commentary that it’s almost impossible to keep up with it (although Jim Jepps does his best). I just want to pick up on something Paul Anderson has touched on: that there has been far too much credit and good faith given to the SWP ‘oppositionists’.

The best known SWP writers in the UK are probably the novelist China Miéville and my old friend Richard Seymour. Neither has quit the party as far as I know. Both of them have written long condemnathon posts at Lenin’s Tomb, and Seymour has set up a new blog, International Socialism, featuring posts from the rank and file. Their denounciations of the SWP leadership are welcome. But these guys have been cadre for years. Why has it taken a leaked committee report for them to speak out?

The SWP has a great talent for hyperbole. One post on Seymour’s blog shrieks that ‘The entire working class has an interest in what happens in the SWP… the SWP remains, for all I’ve said, the best thing the British working class has at its disposal.’ During the crisis, it has fallen back on its reputation. ‘Our record on women’s rights is SECOND TO NONE,’ a paper seller bellowed at me in Manchester. (Second to none? ‘YES’.) This is bullshit, of course. Close examination reveals SWP claims as defenders of feminism to be lies. The initial allegation was followed by the worst kind of Unilad slut-shaming. Laurie Penny writes: ‘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.’

Clearly there has been a misogynistic canteen culture within the organisation for decades. And Seymour and Mieville only notice this at the moment the leaked report detonated onto the internet? As Omar says in The Wire: ‘Nigger, please.’

Fact is, the SWP can’t come back from this. It is finished. As the Very Public Sociologist put it:

They are the party that lets an alleged rapist off because a committee of his mates gave him a clean bill of health, and no amount of back-pedalling, no ’democracy commissions’ or truth-and-reconciliation procedures can change that. It’s game over, comrades.

The SWP recruit predominantly from universities and it can’t do that as the SWP after this. The young people coming up now (and by ‘young people’ I don’t mean bloggers in their thirties, I mean people born in 1985-1995) are strongly feminist. Think of a popular young writer or blogger – Laurie Penny,  Helen Lewis, Zoe Stavri, Juliet Jacques, the Vagenda team, Sianushka, the Nat Fantastic – and s/he is likely to come from a passionate feminist position. Big grassroots organisations are increasingly feminist and any far left group simply won’t get the numbers without them. The only remaining power play for a far left activist is to disassociate completely with the SWP and set up as some kind of new party that doesn’t have the SWP’s black past. Maybe I’m being too cynical and Richard Seymour really does have the sisterhood’s best interests at heart. But ask yourself: can you really trust a man who writes that badly?

Penny writes that ‘Many of the UK’s most important thinkers and writers are members, or former members’ of the SWP.’ She could have said that most of them became important writers and thinkers after they left the SWP. Paul Richards nails it, in his indispensable essay on the cult:

They sweep up young, idealistic people, take their idealism and energy, and wring them out like sheets of kitchen towel. They turn people off progressive politics for life. They stand alongside decent-minded people, subvert their campaigns, and drive them into the ground.

The problem with the SWP isn’t that it acts on naive, utopian and impractical politics, it’s that it actively crushes and destroys human creativity, idealism, hopes and dreams.

A very big rock has been lifted up. Whether it’s Savile, Cyril Smith or the WRP, this stuff always comes out eventually. Thank god for the internet. It exposes everything.



  1. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    While I was sceptical that this would kill the SWP as surely as Gerry Healy’s decades of molesting young female comrades killed the WRP now I am not so sure – there does seem to be an element represented by Seymour and Mieville who recognise that their own personal reputations are being sullied by the connection and that they won’t be taken seriously in academic and literary circles as long as they remain attached to such a tainted brand.

    ‘Misogynistic canteen culture’ is way over the top though – while I haven’t been a member of the SWP myself since the late 1970s all the SWPers I have had contact with since are just too fucking middle class to sustain anything even remotely like the sexist sub-cultures you see in old-fashioned male-dominated work environments that actually do have canteens rather than common rooms or refectories or staffrooms.

    Rather this is Assange Mark II – one (or perhaps more than one) male who really can’t understand that no means no can actually apply to them and a bunch of people who have just too much invested in their relationship with the alleged rapist to believe in or act on the accusations.

    And any organisation can fall prey to this.

    • Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce (Much More Bounce) said,

      agree. so Doombar is full of shite. what a liberwull ducksack

  2. Mike Killingworth said,

    And your evidence that the privileged Ms Penny is popular is what, precisely? More generally I second Roger’s last line.

  3. maxdunbar said,

    It could have happened in any organisation, but any other organisation would have involved the proper authorities, immediately.

    I think Penny is popular in the, not exactly lucrative, field of political writing – she writes for mass market outlets, has thousands of Twitter followers, etc

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Well actually a depressing mountain of evidence from a whole range of organisations from the Catholic Church down suggests that the first reaction of any bureaucracy worthy of the name is damage limitation and that many such cases do not get referred to the proper authorities.

  4. Rape and Community Response | Second Council House of Virgo said,

    […] Nice Guys of the SWP […]

  5. Jim Denham said,

    “It’s long been my contention that many anaemic middle aged leftwing males would rather like a society where women cover up and do as they are told.”

    I’m not sure that I’d go quite that far, Max, but I’d agree that you do have a point there. Certainly the willingness of sections of the left (and not just the SWP) to disregard /apologise for the misogyny, sexism and homophobia of various supposedly “anti-imperialist” movements and states (even including the Taliban, who the SWP and Jeremy Corbyn MP are on record apologising for) has contributed to a “left” mileu in which these matters are downplayed and regarded as ‘de facto’ secondary considerations. Think of Lindsey German’s infamous comment about “fetishising” gay rights…

  6. maxdunbar said,

    Roger, good point about the Catholic Church. But that is a faith based organisation. Like the SWP

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Indeed – but you can find many other examples amongst other political organisations: not just the WRP but all three mainstream parties in the UK who have covered up with varying degrees of success dozens of sexual and financial scandals during my lifetime, and for companies, sports teams, charities, social services departments etc etc – culminating of course with the dear old BBC.

      And its no defence of the SWP to point out that it is a corrupt bureaucratic organisation – quite the contrary,

      Depressingly Robert Michels identified the development of literally self-serving bureaucratic elites even (and especially) in organisations of the revolutionary left well before World War I – but here we are yet again shocked – shocked – that such shit happens.

      • Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce (Much More Bounce) said,

        Michels’ iron law proved wrong by example of lenin of course.

  7. SWP crisis: who is saying what « Jim Jepps said,

    […] Max Dunbar on Nice Guys of the SWP […]

  8. andyinswindon said,


    Can you please clarify this.

    “Cyril Smith or the WRP,”

    You are talking about the Liberal MP, and not Cyril Smith the leading WRP member

    As far as I know, there have been no allegations that Cyril the WRP member was ever involved in sexist abuse.


    […] Max Dunbar, is quite good on this: […]

  10. The Best Thing Going? A Feminist Critique of the ISG | Second Council House of Virgo said,

    […] Nice Guys of the SWP […]

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