The main weapon of the Central Committee and its loyalists has undoubtedly been straw manning. “You’re renouncing Leninism!” they cry, “You want permanent factions!” they shout. Nobody’s renounced Leninism. Some comrades want permanent factions. Many comrades are criticising their conception of Leninist organisation. Many, many more are specifically criticising their handling of a rape allegation.
But it is the beginning of a frightening process. The next stage after the straw manning is the denunciations: anyone who is dissatisfied with the Disputes Committee being comprised of friends of the accused and the way that the women were treated by the Disputes Committee and Central Committee must be a feminist, an autonomist or a Menshevik.
This has become quite frustrating. Many of the opposition have spent years building the party. The natural progression of the above is to claim that we haven’t, are intent on destroying the party and are responsible for the transcript being leaked to Socialist Unity. Where is your evidence? One comrade said that one of the speakers in the Disputes Committee session threatened to leak this from the podium when she said it would be all over the sectarian blogs. No comrade, that was a warning, an accurate one at that, and one you perhaps should have listened to.
After the straw manning, the denunciations and the slander comes the bullying. This is by no means universal. Many of the Central Committee’s supporters have been clear that they oppose a special conference and want the matter closed, and have debated this strongly in branches and district meetings. Many have been civil. Many have not. The bullying is inevitable – some of the supporters have been wound up by the Central Committee and themselves. They think that years, for some decades, of their lives are going to waste because of the likes of us, and they’re incredibly angry.
Firstly I’d like to make this clear: The Socialist Workers Party is in crisis because it mishandled a rape allegation. It is not in crisis because oppositional comrades said the Socialist Workers Party mishandled a rape allegation. By that logic, it matters not that the SWP did something wrong, but that they got caught. We have seen this logic before with the OFFU cheque affair, a logic rightly denounced by comrades at the time. Like then the blaming of the opposition is delusional and inward looking. Look at the class comrades, they’re appalled by this.
There has been a renewed focus on “confidentiality” with regards to the Disputes Committee proceedings. We have to be clear that confidentiality is always
important. But confidentiality is not the same as secrecy. Confidentiality protects the interests of victims of violence and abuse. Secrecy endangers them. We need to ensure that in these distinctions are understood by members of the Central, National and Disputes Committees. How to ensure confidentiality is going to be explored by members of the Central, National and Disputes Committees. The Disputes Committee deals with issues of an incredibly sensitive nature. There is usually no reason for these matters to become widely known by the party and usually they don’t. However, if something goes terribly wrong as has happened here, if the Committee questions a woman about her previous sexual relationships or her alcohol consumption, then the Committee deserves scrutiny otherwise it becomes an unaccountable, shadowy and sinister panel. At such times the distinction between confidentially and secrecy becomes crucial. The anonymity of individuals must be protected. Failures of process must not be concealed. Secrecy as opposed to confidentiality in regards to a leading member sexually assaulting young female comrades, would frankly be dangerous.
The bullying has to be addressed. Comrades involved in bringing the dispute have been experiencing this for months. Malicious aspersions have been cast on their character and political background and they have been shouted at and intimidated. Little action seems to have been taken.
Comrades across the party have been heckled, shouted down and intimidated at aggregates and branch meetings. When they have complained about this they have been heckled, shouted down and intimidated. Young comrades have received nasty messages from those much older than them. They have been threatened with violence. Why is this happening? Because the leadership is presiding over and at times taking part in the slander of oppositional comrades. There have been disturbing reports of threatening behaviour by leading members. A district organiser has threatened one of the expelled comrades with violence. If the rhetoric and slander does not stop we could be very close to an assault taking place.
Raising, as Alex Callinicos has done, the spectre of 'lynch mobs' of angry members if the debate continues after the special conference - even if this is a metaphor used at a particular moment - is irresponsible. Alex has refused to acknowledge anything wrong in what he said when spoken to by comrades. This kind of inflammatory rhetoric will filter down through the organisation and is likely to encourage the culture of intimidation and bullying we’ve described.
Both sides feel that the other is risking the hard work we have all put into this organisation. But this article should be taken as an appeal as well as an analysis. Take a step back comrades, it is getting out of hand. Stop the bullying.
Gareth DalePenny Schenk