Friday, 29 March 2013

The Social Project Strategy

Guest post by Kieran C

I am making this post to try and kick off a discussion about something I have become interested in, but am not sure if it is a good or bad idea.  Even if it is a bad idea, as a friend said to me, we ought to at least be clear why we don't agree with it.

I attended one of the early Left Unity meetings called by Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson in Central London in February and was interested by the mix of people who'd come.  It is not true that it was all people who had been around the Left for over a decade and had been through the experience of RESPECT or previous attempts at Left realignment.  There was a layer of younger people, some of whom were yet to be convinced that elections are the way to fight capitalism and it was from some of these people that I started thinking about what I will call, for shorthand, the Social Project Strategy.

One guy expressed frustration about something I hadn't previously considered: involvement in a food bank.  Food banks were, of course, a rare thing in Britain until the ConDems came to power and the explosion in their numbers is one of the most damning facts about what sort of government they are.  The young man lives in South London and the one most local to him is run by evangelical Christians.  Not being a Christian, he felt that this was something he could not easily join, but he also questioned whether or not there was something in the fact that people who go to the food bank – inevitably – end up in a discussion about God (note: no-one is suggesting that these Christians were refusing to help anyone who was not of their religion).  He put a question – if we, as socialists/communists/anarchists/whatever believe that the solution to the problems of working class people today lie in transforming society and not the great hereafter, do we not want these people to hear about that instead?

I spoke to a few people about this notion and was told that there has been engagement in this in South London. I have since found out that the very interesting People Before Profit group has been looking at instituting food banks in Lewisham and Greenwich were they are contesting elections with some success. The idea comes from a slightly romantic view of the Black Panther Party and its celebrated “Survival Programmes” - things like free breakfast for school kids, volunteer medical programmes, addiction support and so on. I  The Panthers picked up these strategies partially as result of their interest in Maoism, and they weren't the only ones.  Maoism may now be quite rare in Europe, but two Maoist-derived parties that have both survived the twentieth century and remain influential are the Belgian Workers' Party (WPB) and the Dutch Socialist Party (SPN), both of which managed to outgrow the 'official' Communist Parties in their states with strategies that involved providing “proletarian services” - a range of provisions that ended up including medical, educational and advise centres.  In the case of the SPN, the party has grown to become a viable electoral party that is a significant player in parliament – the Dutch equivalent of SYRIZA or Die Linke.

Now, in the Trotskyist-derived Left, particularly in Britain, we haven't previously had much experience or consideration for this sort of activity.  There are perfectly sensible historical reasons for this – the far Left in this part of the world after World War Two did not grow and develop by organising primarily among oppressed and marginalised workers like black Americans, it became rooted in student radicalism and organised workers and in any case the welfare state had become much more progressive and effective.  The thing is, this post-1945 settlement has been done away with and this has massively changed the structure and shape of working class life.  It is only logical that would change the way that revolutionary socialists would attempt to organise the class.

The SWP has maintained a number of organisational traditions carried over from the pre-neoliberal era that are of questionable relevance today.  Consider the words “Educator, agitator, organiser.”, every SWP member can recite the phrase that is used to explain the role of the paper.  But what evidence do we have that it fills any of those roles?  The party was famously reluctant to gather any proper data on the success and effectiveness of its activities, but I think that if I claim that Lenin's Tomb is more read than the paper, that weekly paper sales are sporadic events at which people you never see again are abstractly propagandised to and that sales figures of the paper outside and inside work places have likely not left double figures in a very long time, it would not be controversial.   Personally, I have always been treated as very odd for trying to sell a paper to workmates, it has become a bizarre thing to do!  I don't think Socialist Worker has really been an effective organising tool since the early 2000s.  If a revolutionary paper isn't the scaffolding of the party, what could we use instead?

I think one possibility is that we could try launching “Social Projects” with a view to growing our membership and organisation.

What would this mean and how would it help?

Here's a thing I bet you have never done – go on the website of the BNP, download the .PDF of their “activists' manual” and see what the very first thing it instructs BNP members to do is.  I'm sure most of you have better things to do, so I'll tell you what I'm talking about: it advises members that the first thing to do in an area where the BNP is targeting is to organise days out and about litter-picking, trimming hedges and helping old people get around.  This is scarcely the first thing we associate with the BNP, but that's the point isn't it?  In his book Bloody Nasty People, Daniel Trilling has identified this innovation by the fascists as something they successfully imported from the Front National and other French “New Right” “thinkers” partly inspired by a reading of, of all the things, Gramsci's theories of seeking cultural hegemony before trying for power.  New Rightists have sought, with considerable success in many countries, to enable fascism to reorganise and gain new respectability by presenting themselves as socially useful and relevant – Greek Golden Dawn are currently doing an extreme version of this, taking on many of the social provisions that have been left undone by the crumbling welfare state.  It is coming to something if the fascists are not only stealing from communists not just our symbols and rhetoric, but our theories as well!

Obviously the way that fascists seek to organise and relate to people is not the same as ours – they are seeking the most isolated and bitter people, ideally not from the working class in their view.  But the gaps in social provision that the fascists have exploited could be filled in other ways.  That's not say, by the way, that people might not think that organising litter-picking and recycling would be such an awful thing to do.

The food bank issue is one example – suppose food banks could be organised not as charity, but solidarity.  Could we initiate the self-organisation of working class people in their own interest, to make them into an expression of the victims of austerity taking control of their destinies, rather than being hostage to generosity?  Could, and this would be making a real leap, we provide an immediate solution to the problem of hunger in such a way as to show people that the problem of people lacking food is not linked to shortages, but to the logic of a market that puts the profitability of food ahead of ensuring that people can eat?

In the past few months I have a read of a number of other developments that are also interesting and do recall some of the things that the WPB and SPN did successfully in the Low Countries.  SolFed supporters experimented with trying to set up unemployed advice centres in Liverpool, Unite Community have collaborated with the National Union of Mineworkers on a more serious (but presumably less radical) project in Yorkshire.  If the Left could be seen as a source of, often vital, advice on how to cope with life under the crisis, this could be used a means to move away from abstract propaganda into real relevance.  Whether these service could, or should, be extended into the field of medical services (surely, we should be fighting to preserve our hither-to world-class NHS!) I am not qualified to say.

One idea that was put into my mind by the ever-inventive Roobin was to take 'cultural hegemony' a little more literally: working class kids have nothing like the access to art and culture they had in previous generations.  The SWP paid a load of money to some jazz musicians to play on stage, more or less forced us all to watch them in the style of commercial gig and called it 'Cultures of Resistance'.   Imagine turning that on its head: getting people to participate in making the music – creating culture as resistance.  One might get some decent art out of it, if nothing else.

These sort of activities could enable socialists to talk to, influence and ultimately organise potentially large numbers of working class people and reach beyond the circles we have previously been trapped in.  Yes, it is all work and requires commitment, but it might be a lot more rewarding, even fun, then the declining practises of just turning up to places to do the increasingly anachronistic task of selling a newspaper.

Why might we not do this?

As I began to write this, two horrible words jumped out and hit me in the face: “Big Society”.  In many ways I've described is precisely the idea of using voluntary labour as salve for Call Me Dave stealing away the rights and entitlements of the working classes.  An example of this pitfall being very effectively averted that I know of close to home (literally for me) is that of the Frien Barnet Library occupation.  When the Ultra-Tory council in Barnet shut the library about a year ago, the initial response was a group of activists setting up a novel form of protest: the pop-up library, a form education-as-direct action that saw the grounds of the building used as the centre of volunteer organised library-in-a-tent that was directly linked to the wider and ongoing to campaign against neoliberal policies in the borough.  The people driving this had a very healthy attitude towards this: that they were doing it to show that a library was both wanted and needed in the area and not that they were happy with voluntary labour would fill that gap.  Things went a stage further when a group of activists who had been enthusiastic for Occupy London squatted the library premises: the building reopened as the People's Library, and despite bitter moaning from the Tories, has been restored to use.  It's nice to have a both a positive example and victory, but also important that if occupiers had been less politically aware and had not been directly linked to the Barnet Alliance for Public Services which links the issue of public sector jobs to the provision of services (and perhaps, if Barnet Tories were not so thuggish and Neanderthal), one can see how this could have been co-opted into the opposite of what it wanted to be.

That's not the only danger, some of the things I've discussed are really complicated and take serious organising.  There is a real danger that a socialist organisation that tries to go down this route might become completely bogged down in the administration and logistics of making its operations look professional.  I've been a Team Member at many Marxisms and volunteer for the Workers' Beer Company every summer, so I have a very clear idea of how quickly the ostensibly simple activities of having lots of meetings in a university or selling beer in a field rapidly become challenging if you want to do them properly and do it on the same scale as a commercial operation.  There is also the issue of responsibility – if you giving people help, aid or advice, you have an ethical duty to do it properly and safely and this requires expertise and training.

Something to Think About

The implosion of the SWP has had a significant effect on the whole of the rest of the Left.  A landscape that had previously been extremely fixed and stagnant has suddenly been severely stirred up.  It's easy to point out that the Ken Loach led Left Unity declaration does not say anything amazingly new, but the scale of its resonance (over 3,000 signatures) is in itself significant.  What the Left Unity project could potentially create is still highly debatable.  There is a serious argument to be had about many aspects of this and a lot so far has been said about electoral possibilities – and I do think that we need to debate when, where and how to stand in elections, but what I've tried to do with this is open up a different front in discussion.

Anyone who knows me will know that I've been critical of the SWP's overarching strategies for some time, while I was still a confirmed member.  We need a thorough debate on how we can build up working class organisation in this new landscape that is the product of a generation of neoliberalism, and if we can't find it inside the unions as they currently exist, we need to think about where we can find it.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Resignations from Sheffield SWP

SWP Central Committee,

We are hereby resigning our memberships of the SWP. We’re sure you've read enough of these by now to realise that we're all going for similar reasons, but we’re going to explain once more in the hope that at some point you'll realise what you're doing to this organisation and do something to rectify it.

Some of us have been in the SWP for many years, others have been members since the student movement of 2010. This may not seem long to those of you who have been in for decades, and perhaps you will think you can just recruit new students when they arrive on campus, but once upon a time we believe the line was that every member was 'gold dust'. It's a shame that this no longer seems to be the case.

We are resigning because we cannot defend the catastrophe you have created. We considered waiting until next conference and proposing a slate with none of you on it, but we have come to realise that this would make no difference. You have killed a once brilliant organisation. The SWP’s reputation is in tatters, no credible anti-sexist will touch us with a barge pole, and the degeneration in the conduct of debate over the few weeks has been soul-destroying. You ought to write a thank you letter to the original 30 comrades who formed the IDOOP faction, for they are responsible for at least 540 members remaining in the organisation since National Committee. Those 540 were the most inspirational, principled, determined, brilliant comrades you will ever have the pleasure of working alongside, and you should be fighting with every core of your being to ensure that any who remain stay inside the organisation. You could learn a lot from them.

The response of the CC to the concerns raised by a huge layer of membership has been staggeringly inept. We won't be able to list all of the mistakes, but these are the ones that spring to mind. In each case we have added a suggestion for what we think should have been the alternative course of action; we sincerely hope you will take this on board:
  • Refusing to arrange a commission to investigate and review our disputes processes as this is 'going against conference decisions' (followed by the addition into the CC motion of the review of disputes processes)
    you should have: not refused, but set up the commission at national conference, avoiding this entire fucking mess
  • Accusing the factions of being apolitical because they failed to mention UtR/UAF/crisis of capitalism in an argument about the handing and fallout from a disputes case 
    you should have: not done this and attempted to win the argument about the issue at hand - the handling and fallout from a disputes case
  • Passing around of the Facebook conversation which was the excuse for the expulsions of the 'Facebook four' around select individuals in our district 
    you should have: not passed it around attempted to win the argument about the issue at hand - the handling and fallout from a disputes case
  • Allowing the women (yes, there were two women, unless you're a bureaucrat who needs an official box ticking to recognise a complaint) to be smeared as police spies, liars, trojan horses, politically suspect. Allowing their districts to ostracise, bully, intimidate, exclude and insult them by denying all knowledge of it.
    you should have: maintained regular contact with both women to ensure they were being supported through a very traumatic experience, visited their districts regularly and in no uncertain terms condemned the above behaviour with promise of disciplinary action for anyone who continued in this manner, on the grounds that this is extremely reactionary, sexist behaviour which should not be tolerated in any organisation that prides its record on fighting sexism. 
  • Attempting to convince our organiser to overrule a vote in order to stop one of us, an ex-faction member, getting elected onto district committee
    you should have: not done this and attempted to win the argument about the issue at hand - the handling and fallout from a disputes case
  • Denying that our work outside of the party has been severely affected (generally by citing numbers of papers sold) and that our reputation is in tatters among the wider left
    you should have: not denied this, but thought about what this meant, and considered a constructive approach to repairing damaged relationships - note, you should still do this
  • Deliberately misrepresenting the IDOOP faction, (suggesting that comrades such as Ian Birchall, Mike Gonzalez, Pete Gillard etc have waited decades to reveal that they are in favour of permanent factions) 
    you should have: not done this and attempted to win the argument about the issue at hand - the handling and fallout from a disputes case 
  • Creating the bogeymen, Richard Seymour and China Mieville, in order to obscure the argument 
    you should have: not done this and attempted to win the argument about the issue at hand - the handling and fallout from a disputes case
  • Asking comrades to sign a loyalty statements to the CC (before realising you had less support than the faction and conveniently never mentioning it again) 
    you should have: not done this, and attempted to win the argument about the issue at hand - the handling and fallout from a disputes case
  • Passing around of our organiser’s resignation letter to the CC to select individuals in our district 
    you should have: not passed it around and instead attempted to win the argument about the issue at hand - the handling and fallout from a disputes case
  • Suggesting that for the faction to call for Comrade Delta to cease to represent the party for the foreseeable future is 'going against conference decisions' (followed by the 'political decision' for Comrade Delta to cease to represent the party for the foreseeable future)
    you should have: not suggested this, and accepted that we were correct, admitted a mistake and gone ahead with ceasing his representative and paid roles
  • Blaming party members for the fact that a list of academics and trade unionists have raised concerns 
    you should have: not blamed party members (it is patronising to those who signed to say they did not make that decision themselves, whoever organised it) but thought about what this meant, and considered a constructive approach to repairing damaged relationships - note, you should still do this
  • Allowing members of the IDOOP faction to be treated with utter contempt, suspicion and hostility
    you should have: not allowed this, it is the primary reason that many members have left. This is unforgivable  It is your responsibility as the leadership to ensure that comrades are treated with respect, are not shouted down, are not ostracised, bullied, ignored, smeared and excluded.  You should have followed up every complaint, and ensured that comrades knew that their behaviour was unacceptable and would not be tolerated. Conduct in this debate has been despicable, and you have done nothing.
  • Using phrases like "You were defeated!" and "Show some humility!" when talking on the phone to ex-IDOOP members when they tell you they are thinking of leaving the organisation
    you should have: remembered that every member is gold dust, and attempted to engage in a constructive discussion of concerns
  • Removing party employees from their positions based on their involvement in the disputes case/their votes at conference/their involvement in the factions
    you should have: not done this. Always to remember to think about what you are doing and how it might look to the membership and the outside world.
  • Using the phrase "This is not a cover-up" when issuing public statements
    you should have: not done this. If you are being accused of a cover up, you must patiently explain why it is not a cover up, with credible justifications, not empty phrases.
  • Finally, when a union is putting out a statement regarding safety of oppressed groups in the labour movement suggesting amendments that state that we 'do not presume innocence or guilt'*, 
    you should have: not done this, and instead congratulated the union for it's progressive stance on supporting survivors of sexual violence

  • We hope you find this list helpful. We noticed that you seemed to be having difficulty recognising and admitting mistakes, and thinking of alternative courses of action, so we hope this alleviates that issue.


    Rosie Warren (Sheffield North Branch, South Yorkshire District Committee, University of Sheffield SWSS, University of Sheffield Palestine Society Committee, NUS)

    Tom Maguire-Wright (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS President, NUS)

    Alison Worsley (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS, NUS)

    Patrick McNeill (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS, NUS)

    Isra Jawdat (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS, University of Sheffield Palestine Society Treasurer, NUS)

    Neill Grant (Sheffield North Branch, Sheffield North Branch Committee, University of Sheffield SWSS, NUS)

    Ben Wadsworth (Sheffield North Branch, Unite)

    Christian Hill (Sheffield South Branch, Sheffield South Branch Committee/Paper Organiser, Unite Community)

    Kieran Boden (Sheffield South Branch, Hallam University SWSS, NUS)

    Jenny Evans (Sheffield South Branch, University of Birmingham SWSS, NUS)

    The following people have already resigned individually for similar reasons but would also like to add their names to this statement:

    Matt Hale (Sheffield South Branch, Unite Community, Sheffield Trades Council)

    Andrew Gallacher (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS, NUS)

    Aidan Barlow (Sheffield North Branch, University of Sheffield SWSS, NUS)

    Matt Bond (Sheffield South Branch)

    Jackson Baines (Sheffield South Branch)

    Gina Elby (Doncaster Branch, Unite Community)

    Rhys Lloyd (Doncaster Branch)

    Martin (Sheffield South, NUT)

    *The final point, for those who are unaware, is in reference to the Unison women’s statement
    The CC were informed about the statement published, and about several comrades being approached to sign it. In response, the CC proposed the following amendments (highlighted in bold):

    “We recognise the enormous challenges faced by women victims of male violence, and the pressures which women face, including from abusive men, not to complain about violence and abuse. We therefore believe that, when women complain of male violence within our movement, our trade unions and political organisations should start from a position of believing women but without making presumptions about guilt or innocence."

    "We believe that all women who complain of male violence have the right to be listened to and supported, and to have their complaints properly and sympathetically investigated through due process .”  

    The amendments were immediately rejected with comments attacking the Party.

    The CC position then became that no comrade should sign the statement.

    Wednesday, 27 March 2013

    A Response To SWSS Notes: The National Student Meeting

    On Saturday the 23rd of March the SWP finally answered the calls for a national student meeting. The students themselves up and down the country have been demanding a national meeting to deal with the unravelling crisis the SWP is undergoing. Many of those that called for the student meeting wanted to develop a strategy to keep student members in the party and active after the demoralisation, intimidation and verbal abuse they’d suffered in the run up to and after the first conference in January 2013. The failure of the Central Committee (CC) to call this meeting earlier in the year has resulted in the loss of several SWSS groups (Leeds, Queen Mary’s, Brighton and Sussex, Hull, Kent) and the collapse of many others into inactivity.

    Normally, when a national student meeting is called, we aim to get as many students as possible to it, but not this time. This time we were limited to two delegates per university (presumably so we couldn’t make the CC cry - which has apparently happened at previous student meetings) which meant there were less than 30 students representing SWSS nationally. The day was broken into 3 relatively short sessions; General Perspectives, Marxism Festival and NUS Conference.

    The first session was lead off by Charlie Kimber (National Secretary). This was a surprise to a lot of the students present, not only does Charlie rarely come along to student meetings, but he is also not in touch with any of the SWSS groups and has little to do with our student work. Usually a national student organiser would lead off at a National Student Meeting, and one does wonder why one of the three women were not given a platform at this one. The lead off covered everything from Cyprus to the bedroom tax (important issues, no doubt) but failed to even mention students until the final five minutes of a 25 minute speech, which many in the room found quite bemusing. The 5 minutes dedicated to the students actually drew out a number of laughs and sneers from the student delegates, who were justifiably confused by the lack of discussion about student strategy. The strategy was under-developed, detached and vague; carry on as before; relate to local campaigns; build SWSS groups and privatisation is bad!

    The discussion was then opened up to the floor, where delegates, and the three other CC members present were asked to keep their contributions under 3 minutes. Unfortunately, it seems the chair may have overestimated the reaction there would be to Charlie’s lead-off, and there was silence. Absolute silence for 5 minutes, broken only by nervous laughter and the shrugging of shoulders. The students had come to talk about how to keep SWSS together nationally, to develop a nuanced strategy in the face of fragmented and localised struggle, and to hold their leadership to account for the bizarre mixed messages SWSS had received for the previous few months. We didn’t know how to respond to this patronising, generalised, detached lead off about the crisis of capitalism and the bedroom tax campaigns. Did Charlie realise 150+ people had already left, that SWSS groups were falling apart and that we’d just come through the biggest faction fight the SWP has ever seen? It seemed not.

    Eventually students started to make good contributions raising a number of concerns, and asking questions to the CC. Unfortunately the CC failed to satisfactorily answer most of these questions. For instance, when students asked what the CC were intending to do to prevent students from leaving and SWSS groups from disaffiliating, Charlie Kimber said that he 'regretted it', and gave no clear indication as to what he intended to do to stop this from happening.

    Students also asked plenty of questions about how we are meant to relate to the International Socialist Network, and the SWSS groups that have disaffiliated. This question was impressively skirted around; initially the question was ignored. When another comrade asked, during the summation, for an answer, Amy L did her best not to answer the question whilst still making sound. Eventually she managed to acknowledge that it was an ‘interesting question’, but apparently not interesting enough to warrant an actual answer. When pushed about whether the ISN would be invited to debate with the SWP, Amy L did not outright deny it, but did suggest that this would ‘dilute the event’, which seems strange following a discussion about how difficult Marxism will be with very few external speakers.

    Jo C didn’t really contribute anything to the meeting. In fact, when an FE student made a contribution, instead of listening intently and trying to answer his question as best she could, she instead chose to heckle him. This was incredibly rude and inappropriate, not least because she’s a middle aged adult and the FE student is one of the youngest members of the organisation. When the same FE comrade asked for advice as to how we build in FE, he was told to “call a meeting” with no explanation as to how and with whom.

    It became clear during the meeting that there was, in fact, no proper student strategy, and the students began to make helpful suggestions such as Radical Revision sessions. The idea of these sessions is to keep SWSS groups engaged in the run up to and during exams by taking a more academic, ideological approach to discussion groups in the quieter second term. It was a strategy that was implemented at some London universities this time last year, and that they found generally successful at keeping people engaged politically through the stressful exam period, while continue to develop students theoretically in times of relatively low struggle. The CC welcomed this suggestion, Choonara seemed particularly impressed by the idea, along with re-establishing National Student Committee and Northern Student Caucus. While we acknowledge this is progress, some students think this may be a little overdue, since only 2 northern groups remain.

    The final session was for the NUS delegates, and Sheffield SWSS, who planned to help out at the conference stayed behind for this. The student organiser spent this meeting essentially asking students what she was meant to be doing, and the meeting would have probably been much more productive without her there. She did not bring the motions, the list of delegates, or any real plan to the meeting. When asked if a SWSS stall or Marxism stall had been booked she seemed surprised, mumbled that she didn’t know, and attempted to blame Mark Bergfeld. Clearly she hasn’t attempted to contact anyone about this and has instead chosen to divert blame to ex-CC members who have resigned, rather than accept that this is now her role.

    We felt it necessary to give an account of the National SWSS Meeting in reaction to yesterday’s ‘SWSS notes’ which allegedly reported back from the meeting but didn’t actually mention any of the concrete proposals that came out of it, including the ‘Radical Revision Sessions’, the National Student Committee and the Northern Student Caucus, along with considering the role of EAN to relate to current struggles like the Sussex Occupation where SWSS has not been able to intervene and very few remain SWP members.

    Sheffield Delegates To NSM

    Tuesday, 26 March 2013

    Violence against women

    Guest post by Toni M

    At the beginning of the 21st century, British women have had the vote for almost 100 years. We’ve got access to contraception and abortion, have equal pay legislation and maternity pay, and can even stand as MPs. We have seen the rise of the women’s movement and the gay liberation movement which won demands for oppressed groups to be treated with more respect and fairness. As a result of these we have won rights like legal freedom from sexual harassment and abortion. It is not entirely stigmatised to be single, childless, a single parent or lesbian. Women’s role within family life has altered and women are told that they have choice. Women can now “have it all”. They can be mothers, workers, or even strippers, and all of these things can be an interpretation of “womanhood”.

    That’s not to say that these rights aren’t under attack. Tory ministers are lining up to argue that abortion should be limited to much earlier in pregnancy and women still earn 20% less than men. But the freedom of women and girls to live safely, without fear of physical and sexual violence, has never been won. In fact, far from it: conservative estimates suggest that over 1,300 women are raped every week. A woman rings the police every single minute to report domestic violence and two women die every week at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.

    As we’ve seen in recent years, there are always people ready to cover up for perpetrators and blame victims instead. The BBC has been revealed to have been covering up for a predatory sex offender who targeted young girls. Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is avoiding trial for rape, the Socialist Workers Party has imploded in a rape scandal and the RMT union has been criticised for its handling of a case of domestic violence.

    These problems aren’t new, but there’s a developing battlefield about consent and freedom from violence which is forcing these issues into the media. It exploded in January 2011 when a Toronto police officer giving a talk to a group of students said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”. This led to a worldwide movement as women and men took to the streets in protest to reclaim the term “slut” and declare that women were not to blame for rape. Not long after, Kenneth Clarke, the Conservative justice secretary at the time, went on radio and distinguished between “serious rape” and “date rape”. The interviewer asked Clarke about the lowering of rape sentences, which then averaged 5 years. Clarke replied: “serious rape where, you know, violence and an unwilling woman, the tariff, i.e. the sentence, is much longer than that”. When the interviewer responded by saying “rape is rape”, Clarke argued, saying, “no it’s not ... they include date rapes which can sometimes be very confusing”. The use of the word “unwilling”, implying that some women are raped willingly, caused a fierce reaction, but these views are disturbingly common.

    These are not just conservative views. Last year George Galloway argued that if Julian Assange is guilty of anything it was “bad sexual etiquette” because it is not necessary to ask permission before each “insertion”. Julian Assange is accused of raping two women. They were already in the “sex game”, according to Galloway, because they had gone out to dinner the night before, had sex and slept in the same bed. Does Galloway believe that permanent consent is even possible? What does that mean for women who are raped within marriage? In an attempt to dismiss rape, the women who came forward were even accused of being CIA agents. This was the same week as a US republican Todd Akin argued that abortion should never be an option. He said that when it’s a “legitimate” rape, women’s bodies have a way of shutting down and preventing pregnancy.


    As shocked as many of us are when prominent figures, especially on the left, say things like this, it reflects how rape is seen within society and how victims are blamed. It is only in regards to violence against women, especially rape, that there is such acceptance that the victim may be to blame. But there is a movement building against this. Trade and student unions have passed motions “no platforming” rape apologists. This may not be the chosen tactic of revolutionary socialists, who would wish to reserve such a sanction for fascists, but it is reassuring that there are those in the labour movement taking this seriously.

    The societal view that women should take responsibility for rape is widespread. It is reinforced by the courts and the media. Many people believe that victims can be blamed for all sorts of reasons. A 2010 research report by Havens, “Wake Up To Rape”, found that 56% of those who participated in a London-based survey thought that in some circumstances the victim must accept some responsibility. Out of those 56%:

    • 73% thought that the victim was responsible if they’d performed another sexual act on their attacker
    • 66% thought that the victim was responsible if they’d gone to bed with them
    • 64% thought that the victim was responsible if they’d drunk to excess or “blacked out”
    • 29% thought that the victim was responsible if they’d gone to their attacker’s home for a drink
    • 28% thought that the victim was responsible if they’d dressed provocatively
    • 22% thought that the victim was responsible if they’d danced in a sexy way with a man at a nightclub or bar
    • 21% thought that the victim was responsible if they’d acted flirtatiously
    • 14% thought that the victim was responsible if they’d kissed their attacker
    • 13% thought that the victim was responsible if they’d accepted a drink and engaged in a conversation at a bar
    It’s hardly surprising that rape within marriage wasn’t criminalised until 1991 – 28% of people thought that non-consensual sex within a relationship either wasn’t rape or they weren’t sure.

    The recent scandal involving Jimmy Savile demonstrates how those in power are protected by those around them. Jimmy Savile was a BBC celebrity. He was knighted by the queen and was close friends with Margaret Thatcher. This meant he was protected despite being a sexual predator of children. After his death in 2011 journalists at Newsnight tried to air an expose of his crimes. It was blocked by those in charge and instead the BBC broadcast a tribute to him. Savile knew he was untouchable, even boasting in his 1978 autobiography “Love Is an Uphill Thing” of how an underage girl who had run away from a remand home stayed overnight with him before he handed her over at a police station the next morning. No action was taken, he wrote, “for it was well known that were I to go I would probably take half the station with me”.

    This year, when a group of Asian men were convicted of years of sex crimes in Rochdale, the tabloids claimed investigations were blocked because of supposed “sensitivities” about race. Muslim men were told to take responsibility, and it was argued that Islam and its attitudes towards sex and women led these men to prey on young, white girls. The real reason that the cases were not investigated was because the girls who made complaints were not taken seriously and blamed for their predicament. The problem wasn’t race or religion, but society’s attitudes to young, vulnerable girls. The newspapers that feign shock and despair are the same newspapers that treat women as sexual commodities every day. A recent Facebook campaign has attacked the Sun for its page 3 and protests were held at the Sun’s offices over its treatment of women.

    Fighting abuse

    Savile was a particularly predatory example of a child sexual abuser and a rapist to boot – but this is the thin end of the wedge. It was not uncommon for male celebrities to abuse their position and have sex with underage fans. That’s why the media’s reaction is so unpalatable. This was widespread. Savile was one of the most shocking examples, but not one of the only ones. Because Savile was part of the establishment and had friends in the media and police he was never brought to justice as a serial child abuser.

    The Socialist Workers Party has recently found itself unable to operate following the revelation that it had attempted to hold its own investigation into an alleged rape by a leading member, and been found wanting. The quasi-judicial panel was made up of the accused’s long-standing friends and colleagues, asked the two women about their sexual history and drinking habits, and returned with a verdict of “not proven”. The women involved, along with many who were opposed to this blatant sexism, found themselves slandered and bullied, as the leadership gerrymandered a ratification of these awful mistakes and wittered on about Lenin. Not long after, another woman came forward and reported that she had been treated with blame and disbelief by the disputes committee when she reported rape and domestic violence. Shocking behaviour like this may plague the media and the ruling class establishment, but revolutionary socialists should refuse to accept their leadership behaving like this. Many did. Many left.

    It is not just in the UK that the fight for women to be free from violence is taking place. In 2011 a young woman lost her case in the US Supreme Court after she took her school to court for suspending her from the cheerleading squad. Her offence? To refuse to cheer somebody who had raped her. He had been charged with sexual assault, but pleaded guilty to “misdemeanor assault”, meaning he could return to school and wasn’t imprisoned. Not only was this condoned by the Supreme Court but she was ordered to pay the equivalent of approximately £27,000 damages for bringing the “frivolous” case.

    The brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi and her subsequent death led to mass protests on the streets across India as demonstrators demanded that the police and courts take violence against women more seriously. In Steubenville, USA, two young men were convicted of raping an unconscious young woman – and the media coverage was appalling. Bemoaning that these young men’s lives and football careers were ruined, the major US news channels failed to mention the impact on the young woman who’d been thrown around like a doll whilst unconscious and repeatedly raped. The societal view, compounded by the media coverage, was that compared to these successful football star/grade A students this young woman didn’t matter. She’s been vilified and received death threats. In reference to the case, one moron posted “if you’re drunk/slutty at a party and embarrassed later, just say you got raped!” This is despite the pictures of the victim being posted all over the internet clearly demonstrating that she was unconscious.

    Domestic violence and privilege

    Domestic violence and rape are crimes that often take place in private, behind closed doors. To be told that someone has done something horrendous and abusive, especially if that someone is famous, is difficult – if they’re known to us personally, it’s even harder. People try to find ways of explaining it away. This is easier with sexual harassment. Those dismissing and minimising it may claim that a woman misunderstood, or it was a joke that was taken the wrong way.

    There are very few ways to do this with rape or domestic abuse. The most often used is to assert that the woman is lying. The chances of being right if we take that position are minimal - false accusations account for only 5% of all cases reported to the police. 1,300 women are raped each week, and most aren’t reported to the police. Chances are that if somebody tells you they’ve been raped, then they are telling the truth. It is the same with domestic violence. It is thought that less than a quarter of domestic assaults are reported to the police and that there are 13 million separate incidents of domestic physical violence or threats of violence against women every year. Believing women is not only statistically sensible, it is crucial to enable women to recover. Disbelief and blame of victims re-traumatises them.

    Domestic abuse is complex, involving the persistent and sustained control and manipulation of women (and sometimes men) and those around them by their partner. The violence itself is never the whole picture – it includes insults, mind games, bullying and manipulating children. Emotional and psychological abuse will be happily dismissed by witnesses and friends as a “crap relationship”. This is a weak and sorry position which fails to acknowledge the obvious fact – very few women will remain in relationships where they are assaulted if the perpetrator hasn’t first convinced them that they deserve it. It involves facilitating the emotional and physical exhaustion of women, best achieved by taking no part in domestic or childcare tasks, often by prolonged periods of absence from the home, often with no explanation (also causing worry). This is known within domestic violence work as “abuse of male privilege”. It is a factor of domestic abuse that can often take place without other forms of domestic abuse.

    Revolutionary socialism often claims that men do not benefit from women’s oppression. Well in the long term almost certainly not. Women’s oppression including domestic violence and sexual abuse divide our class and prevent us from achieving the solidarity required to overthrow class society. But to say there is no benefit – this is failing to acknowledge the real and tangible experiences of working class women, including the most miserable experiences. If a man rapes somebody or assaults his partner, he benefits from the failure of society, the police and courts in taking that rape seriously. If a man behaves as he wishes, while a woman is at home cooking and cleaning and caring for children, he has less to do and is in control. That is a tangible benefit and a privilege he is not entitled to.

    It is clear that violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, continues to be a weapon used against half of the class. It seems clear that this is detrimental to the class as a whole, including men, undermining the basis of our solidarity. The men who perpetrate these crimes demean themselves. One would hope that at the very least they experience occasional shame. But it is also clear that reducing this to an argument about class solidarity is no longer tenable for revolutionary socialists. In every one of the cases discussed in this article, as is the case in all domestic and sexual abuse, the male perpetrators experienced a tangible benefit. They gained something that they had no right to – either sexual gratification or power or both. In many cases the apologism around these crimes benefitted future perpetrators.

    So what is next for revolutionary socialists who are ready to fight on this issue? Unity with all of those who oppose gender violence is essential. But crucially, that unity means learning from activists who have been at the forefront of the fight for women’s freedom. This time, it is about our freedom from abuse, and we have a great deal to learn about how to fight for it.


    The magic circle

    Guest post by Martin Pravda and Keith
    They are, to put it bluntly, enemies of production. Production makes them uncomfortable. You never know where you are with production; production is the unforeseeable. You never know what’s going to come out. And they themselves don’t want to produce. They want to play the apparatchik and exercise control over other people. Every one of their criticisms contains a threat.
    The largest group of revolutionary socialists in Britain is falling apart. Not because of major shifts in the ‘balance of forces’, nor because of some new ‘turn’ in strategy or tactics but because of its leadership’s appalling response to members coming forward with rape allegations.

    No one could’ve predicted that it would end like this and we can’t ignore the ‘balance of forces’ or the ‘structural’ explanations on offer (oftentimes referred to as ‘history’), but it has been shockingly bleak to watch individuals that we’ve known for years – decades in some cases – retreat behind explanations that start in 1976/89/99… for something so vile and immediate, something right there in front of you, that'll ultimately destroy the party’s reputation.

    So much is thrown into doubt. The chasm between formal commitments and actual behaviour seems unbridgeable and for many it will mean abandoning left politics and political activism for good. For others there are the after-effects of shock and disgust while the work to explain the roots of the crisis continues in order to avoid another.

    The authors of this article are from separate generations in the party’s history, with a 20 year gap between our experiences. The creation of the International Socialist Network has brought together members and former members of the SWP from very different periods, who have witnessed different shapes and turns in the Party’s strategy of the years. There has been much discussion as to where it all went wrong.

    We started with that Brecht quote to home in on an aspect of the causal explanations that we find wanting from much of the recent debate: the “subjective element”. What is it in the character of a certain type of political activist that leads them to inexplicable conclusions (lying women, police spies, agents of the bourgeoisie)? Can you wire up a convincing story that starts with epochal trends and ends with so-and-so’s [insert this week’s most pernicious hack] latest statement?

    One explanation is bureaucratism.

    John Game’s recent contribution challenges rigid conceptions of “Leninism” as practiced by the SWP. He mentions the increasing levels of substitutionism which took precedent over the party’s strategy during the downturn of the 1980s, and which continued to dominate – despite the ever-changing political circumstances the party was operating in – throughout the 1990s to the present day.

    He points out how a bureaucratic leadership emerged, taking ownership of all decision making processes within the party, undermining the principles of “socialism from below” which had first attracted people to it.

    John suggests that the roots of these problems are in the very existence of a well-organised central structure. He argues for an organisation “without a single full-timer”, such positions of formal leadership would inevitably lead an organisation towards bureaucratic substitutionism, so should be avoided.

    However, while in the SWP’s case full time workers have taken up such a role, it is problematic to place all the blame on party structures and to write-off any form of central leadership all together.

    Most members of the SWP were first drawn towards the party because of its organisational prowess. As John accepts in his account, it was the party’s involvement in real campaigns and struggles which made it stand out for his generation - from the Anti Nazi League and Rock against Racism to the support and solidarity campaigns in the Miners’ Strike – the party was centrally involved, and this required a high degree of organisation.

    One of those “stand out” elements was the Party’s reputation for covering every spare wall with its flyposters and stickers and for producing a plethora of campaign-specific pamphlets, papers and magazines. All that took an organisational apparatus to produce, distribute and sustain. It is no exaggeration to say that the Party visually dominated demonstrations, either against the Nazis or during the Miners Strike and on into the anti-Poll Tax campaign. At one point in the late 1980s the BBC phoned the Party’s print shop for sample fly posters to make Albert Square look more authentic!

    The apparatus [Party full time workers] was, if anything, smaller at these peaks of struggle than it is now, but it was an apparatus. Individual members would pay split subs (divided between the local branch and the party nationally), if you were lucky (and no irony here) your district might have a full time organiser, that organiser would report into a national office where campaign or routine functions (paper distribution, industrial department, SW journalists) were organised and where CC members had regional responsibilities as well as particular industrial fractions to look after.

    Local branches had their own micro-apparatus. Members would take responsibility for organising both public and workplace sales of SW, the Review and ISJ. There would be a bookstall organiser and someone responsible for following up with contacts made who’d expressed interest. Someone would organise “educationals” (essentially book clubs with a focus on a pertinent bit of the canon) and someone looked after the money. A healthy SWP branch looked and felt like a mini-party in your town.

    They were shut down in the mid-1990s, but we’ll come back to the lessons for abolishing that particular part of the Party’s structure.

    For today’s generation of SWP members it was again the party’s organisational structures that were able to draw activists together. The wave of anti-cuts and fees protests and University occupations were spontaneous, and the SWP was in no way an initial leading force in this. The party was however able to build quite significantly out of the movement.

    As it was in the 1980s, a political and financial crisis was deepening and social democratic parties continued to offer no answers. Those who were involved in political campaigns saw revolutionary socialism as a very appealing solution. The SWP were able to print pamphlets arguing for socialist ideas, organise meetings and rallies across the country, and put on coaches to other important campaigns such as the Unite against Fascism protests against the EDL.

    While the party failed to gain leadership of the movement, which it misguidedly attempted to do with subsitutionist fronts such as the Education Activist Network, it was able to grow as people saw the need for a radical organisation to pull things together.

    The Party gave this new layer of membership the apparatus to organise and encourage others to be involved. It required organised structures and a leadership of sorts to make this happen. Someone needed to write the pamphlets, someone needed to print them. Someone needed to organise meetings, someone needed to book the rooms for them. Someone needed to advertise the anti-fascist protests, someone needed to get people on the coaches. The number of people who become drawn to socialist politics can quickly become overwhelming when spontaneous movements arise, as was the case with the student protests in 2010. Having full time workers and a body of organisers was crucial in making sure that everything that needed to happen did.

    However, the full time workers and leadership have, over a period of time, assumed an increasingly bureaucratic role within the organisation to the point where party decisions are made almost exclusively by full time members of the Central Committee, and these decisions are wholly unaccountable. It is too simplistic however to simply lay the blame for this on the very existence of a central structure.

    Some blame “the balance of class forces”.

    We were already on the back foot in the 1980s and the decline has continued. Not catastrophically but it has continued. The defeat of the Miners paved the way for wholesale privatisation of key industrial sectors, the rise of the right inside the Labour Party and a new combat model for the ruling class. However, the deliberate isolation of the Miners dispute by the trade union leaderships also limited the negative effects. Key sections of workers in rail and the civil service won disputes during and immediately after the strike. The anti-Poll Tax campaign was a huge success and, after shattering the Tory Party we got Blairism and (by chance) a mini-boom in the economy.

    The non-descript ‘90s was a tough time for the SWP [note: neither author was in the Party during this period, one was “in the wilderness” and the other had just started primary school]. The Party’s ‘official’ perspective was summed up in Cliff’s formulation “the 1930s in slow motion”. It was desperate, Cliff was obviously nearing the end of his tenure, there was an enormous amount of scrabbling around for quick-wins and most of them were quite destructive.

    First came the micro-branches. The canny idea here was that big branches has somehow ossified and needed a shake up, so you took a city branch with 30-40 people meeting in it every week and spread it across the borough or county so that you then had far more branches. They met in people’s front rooms, average attendance 4-6 and lots of staring at each other’s feet.

    Then came branch abolition. The membership were still acting as a ‘conservative bloc’ so now they wouldn’t be allowed to meet at all, save to pick up the paper, read a bullet-point list of ‘to do’s and sell tickets for some London event or other.

    Then Cliff died after leaving the family business, catastrophically, to Rees and German. Had Callinicos blocked with Harman during this phase/period the world would, most certainly, be positively different. But he didn’t and so the Party got ‘The Project’: The break-out strategy combining electoralism and opportunism by various turns and… well, we know the rest.

    Of course, there is nothing in these transformations which is necessarily inherent to all forms of central organisation. It was the self-imposed bureaucratic nature of the SWP’s leadership, the way it positioned itself at the head of the Party, the disengagement it forced onto the membership with the “not in front of the children” approach which forced these shifts. This is not how organised structures within a socialist organisation or even a leadership within it has to work.

    Instead of throwing away the very concept of central structures and losing the important functioning role it can play - simply because the SWP let theirs go rotten - we should instead invent a type of leadership which is both useful and accountable to the membership it serves. Theoretically, paid workers and elected bodies for a socialist organisation should be servant to its membership and if this was put into practice the role it would play could be extremely positive.

    There is always the need for someone to take a lead on a particular task. In our network for example, while we are nowhere near a size that requires any sort of paid full timer, there is still the need for a central leadership.

    On a national level, someone will need to overlook the blog, moderate the forum, keep together contact details, organise childcare and rooms for our meetings, sort out transport and organise places for members to stay overnight etc. There are plenty of day-to-day tasks that need sorting and without real structures or an elected body taking a lead it’s impossible to see how all of this will get done.

    These “leaders” of course would be democratically decided, act transparently and be accountable. With the email lists, blogs and message boards this is actually very easy, if not somewhat inevitable. Oh, and money. The organisation's finances need to be available for review by the membership in whatever level of detail required.

    These are the [Dark Side] mechanisms where regular report backs can be made, where members can raise questions or put forward suggestions instantly. With regular national meetings these bodies can be discussed, debated and fully assessed by all of the membership. This way a leadership of sorts can be both scrutinised and be best placed at task with ideas from around the country to aid their work.

    Such a central body could of course only be a backbone for regional groups, where a similar leadership of sorts is required to cover the local tasks. The key to holding this all together is the nature of the relationship between all these different structures. Local organising bodies should be subservient to local membership and national bodies should be subservient to federal groups.

    These of course are just a few loose suggestions, but the key point is that a national organisation could quite easily function in this way without the need for a “party line” imposed by an unaccountable central committee. We aren’t going there but we do need an organising council/panel/board/committee.

    Revolutionary organisations that have attempted to exist without any central structures or leadership always ultimately fail in their objectives. Even the Anarcho Syndicalist mass organisation the CNT - who completely rejected Leninist ideas - realised the need to have a sophisticated central body with a layer of paid workers.

    There is a real need to collectively decide exactly what being a member or associate of the IS Network actually entails. If we want to keep it simply as a talking group, then it is fine to reject these structures. If however, as John and others have suggested, we want the organisation to play a practical functioning role for activists to help build and organise in class struggle – we must accept that centralisation and an accountable leadership is a must. We feel it is crucial that such an organisation is built. Victor Serge perhaps best put it in a pamphlet reaching out to anarchist groups during the Russian Revolution:

    Instead of being a subjective and utopian doctrine, the possession of tiny sectarian groupings, [Revolutionaries] should embrace the working class and revolutionary movement as a reality and not as a myth.

    Monday, 25 March 2013

    Creeping Sexism

    Guest post by Naomi Jones

    One of the things which has pissed people – and especially women – off about the Socialist Workers Party is the determination to attribute a meaning to the word ‘feminism’ which fits with a simplistic class instrumentalist account of women’s oppression considered suitable for consumption by the membership.

    Let’s take a trip in the mind of Judith Orr, the party’s oracle on what ‘feminism’ is really all about. On 9 March, Socialist Worker ran an article for consumption prior to the special conference, apparently to arm those who may have forgotten what the line is with some crap arguments against anyone who has got ‘confused’. Consider the following:

    “Socialists stand with all those fighting sexism. We help build campaigns for abortion rights, equal pay and against discrimination. But we also argue that, while oppression can’t be reduced to class, it is rooted in the rise of class societies and the family.”
    There are a number of issues with this:
    1. It is a classic specimen of SWP argument which begins “socialists believe” and continues with “we argue that” – a little rhetorical trick to persuade the reader that the opinion you are being asked to hold is an objective truth. It’s like an advert with the voiceover “all mums want nice white sheets… we mums know that Persil is best”. The time for this kind of propaganda has passed. Even if it were a proper way to win an argument rather than sell a product (which it isn’t), the general population has moved on, especially younger people to whom the party aims to appeal.

    2. “We help build campaigns” – really? Of course a lot of members of the SWP are committed activists when it comes to women’s liberation. But a lot of members have faced pressure for their involvement with, for example, feminist societies on campus. When the Slutwalk protests were called, the party was left scrabbling around for a position which could make SWP sense of the use of the word ‘slut’ while being an active part of the campaign – and in some areas, SWP members weren’t that welcome on Slutwalks at all. The purpose of this is not to slate the activity of the SWP, but to point out the circular logic: “we are the best campaigners because we have a proud tradition on womens lib”, and “we have a proud tradition on women’s lib because we are the best campaigners”. The SWP is not the best campaigning force on women’s liberation, and it’s time to admit it.

    3. So the SWP argues that the oppression of women is rooted in the role of the family and the development of class society. Wow! I actually thought the SWP had a monopoly on this novel idea for quite a while. It turns out that the SWP hasn’t copyrighted Engels – but it is one of the few organisations with a clear position on women’s lib which basically stops at Engels. All sorts of other people have an understanding of sexism which is rooted in historical materialism. There are even whole schools of thought called materialist and Marxist feminism. Just fancy!

    The SWP’s attitude to those who raise these questions has made leaving the party a sad but pretty straightforward decision…

    Here is what other women’s lib campaigners are saying:

    This kind of statement would get you sneers and a talking-to in the SWP. It has all the evils in it.

    FEMINIST – means women who think all men are tied into rape culture, and a rejection of historical materialism, right? No, it can just mean:

    A general theme of the SWP’s argument is this: why get all attached to the notion of ‘feminism’ when we have an analysis of why women are oppressed which locates the most meaningful struggles within the working class fightback? No need to waste time navel gazing in a safe space about your experiences with other self-defining feminists, just build Unite the Resistance and it’ll all come out in the wash.

    This kind of rejection of feminism as a movement is offensive when so many women (and men) have risked so much and put so much energy and time into arguing for women’s rights. We should be proud to call ourselves feminists, and to be part of a rich and varied tradition which unites on campaigning for the social, economic and political equality of women. There’s another good reason to not reject feminism:

    PATRIARCHY – this means that you think all men are innately evil, women should live in communes for their own safety and working class organisation won’t change this, right? No. It means you have noticed that men tend to be represented disproportionately over women in various ways, and that this contributes to the perpetuation of the oppression of women.

    It means that is sexism which is ‘creeping’, not feminism. Sexism can seep into all institutions, organisations, friendships – even into the SWP.

    The SWP knows this really, as it tries (in its miserable way) to compensate. But because it has developed such an awful tendency towards bureaucratic organisation and favours unquestioning obedience, it ended up with women on the disputes committee asking the worst kinds of questions of a member complaining of sexual misconduct.

    That they posed those questions does not mean that those women have shit politics, or that they are evil, or that the SWP is a ‘rape cult’. It reflects a structural issue which, for many reasons now coming to the forefront of debate, the SWP has decided to completely deny. It is an institution which has failed to counteract the patriarchal tendencies of capitalist society – easily done, hard to acknowledge.

    Sexism and other forms of oppression creep along on the back of our divided society, driving in further wedges to alienate us from each other and the real forces of oppression. Along the way, sexism gathers its own momentum and has an impact which can be analysed in its own right without abandoning the Marxist tradition. The methodology of intersectionality demonstrates this. Privilege can be understood within a historical materialist framework.

    Patriarchy exists, you can see it in front of your face – we need to discuss the reasons why. Now let’s try and join in with all the others who are already thinking and doing things about this in the real world.

    Left unity and the IS Network

    Another article in our series on the IS Tradition and the way forward for the left. Each piece reflects the views of the author and not an agreed position of the IS Network.

    Guest post by Paris Thompson

    There is currently a debate raging across our movement concerning “Where Next?” for the left. The recent split within the Socialist Workers Party by a number of comrades has resulted in the formation of the IS Network, a group that is currently debating the basis of its own formation, and will hopefully be an important step forward in the realignment of the left in Britain. Below is intended as a contribution to that debate, for both members of the IS Network and other activists within the movement that seek to build a stronger, more unified left.

    The starting point of any analysis should begin with a concrete assessment of the situation facing the working class in Britain. Any honest appraisal of the current situation must lead to the conclusion that working class unity is not only objectively necessary, but should be an integral part of the work done by the socialist movement in Britain. The current attack on the working class both ideologically and materially, by its very nature of being a full frontal assault on ALL sections of the class, objectively requires the maximum amount of unity in resisting, and ultimately defeating, the government. The strikes on the 30th November and the half a million march on March 26th showed quite clearly that where a concerted, unified opposition was organised people were willing to fight. In the many local struggles over services and cuts, we can see that the anger amongst the working class population towards the government's austerity consensus is substantial and growing. 

    The ability the left has to shape this is currently minimal considering its small size and social weight when faced with the union bureaucracy and the influence of Labourism. However, in the two areas where the left could help to shape the fightback, where its forces are concentrated and in places disproportionate, are the two places where the fundamental weakness of the British left, its division and sectarianism, has the potential to destroy any possibility of a serious opposition to austerity.

    Firstly, within the anti-cuts movement. It is incredible that, despite several years of austerity, the development of serious campaigns on a local level around Sure Start, local services, Bedroom Tax etc. there is not as of yet a single, national, federated anti-cuts campaign bringing in each of the different groups. In every town and city there is a local anti-cuts campaign, often encompassing the majority of the labour movement, and often with the backing of the local trades council. Despite their fluctuating sizes, each often involves the active participation or support of most of the left, including many of the activists involved in local anti-cuts work. The fact that the opportunity to bring these groups together on a national level, in an organisation built from the bottom up, has been missed, is a shameful indictment of the state of the movement in Britain. And unfortunately, the blame for this lies a little closer to home than with the Labour leadership or the Union tops - the single biggest block to unity of the anti-cuts groups has been the far left.

    The flourishing of front groupings in competition with one another has now reached the level of farce, with every group on the left seemingly enjoying the domination of some petty fiefdom of its own (I'm sure the readers of this article won't need me to list each of the groups in question). Each front has it own nuances and USP (what front could exist without one?!), but what each does is prevent the effective unity of the anti-cuts movement. While this not only hampers the unity of the movement, it also allows the continuation of bureaucratic manoeuvring and endless top table rallies which prevent the flourishing of a mass, grass roots movement. It also leaves the door open to conservative forces where one of the sects or its fronts has a blind spot (e.g. the NHS, which has been dominated by Labourite, Unison bureaucracy type politics - with the admirable exceptions of places like Lewisham). The anti-cuts movement is a clear example of where the sectarianism of the far left not only damages the Marxist left itself, but has dire consequences for the class as a whole.

    In the short term I think this means having a principled, and critical, approach to the People's Assembly, which attempts to use it to reinvigorate the anti-cuts movement, but built democratically from below in each region. This would mean launching local People's Assemblies which can bring together all the different elements of the movement. While the People's Assembly follows an extremely tired formula (big names, long speeches), the opportunity this provides for the left should not be missed. 

    The second area is in the political arena. Again the sectarianism of the left has prevented a meaningful build up of forces as a challenge to Labourism. Leaving aside the disasters of the Socialist Alliance, Respect or No 2 EU, TUSC is arguably the classic example of the British left recognising the necessity of left organisation, then destroying its potential through sectarian hostility and back room manoeuvring. That the opportunity to turn TUSC into a genuine organiastion, with membership and elected leadership has been turned down in favour of behind the scenes stitch ups and a federated structure with an unaccountable leadership, is symptomatic of the deeply sectarian approach to left organisation that has infected our movement. In Britain there is a huge potential to draw in a lot of activists into any new formation. I don't believe the "anti-partyism" that has developed in parts of Europe, that may be understandable considering the betrayals of Labour, has sufficiently developed in Britain to prevent this formation. On the contrary, from my own experience I believe that many, many activists that are currently non-aligned (and many that are) would be drawn into any new grouping, enticed by the prospect of a serious, united left party. This would not only provide a much needed realignment of the left and facilitate more co-ordinated work within the anti-cuts movement, it would also provide an audience for the ideas of the Marxist left.

    Therefore, I think we should support any call or move towards left unity (for instance the recent proposals put forward by Ken Loach), on the proviso that it is a) not simply another electoral front, but is an activist organisation b) it is a member-led organisation with a democratically elected leadership both locally and nationally c) there is freedom for organisations such as the IS Network to maintain its own press and organisation. On this basis we may be able to build an organisation in this country which can act as a pole of attraction to thousands of working class people who reject the austerity consensus.

    Finally, there is the problem of the Trotskyist sects. There are many objective reasons for the division of the far left that I'm sure could be discussed at length. The reality though, is that the maintenance of several different groupings, who differ on little besides tactical questions or the finer points of Marxist obscurantism, only serves the interests of the petty-bureaucrats that run those organisations. The formation of a revolutionary communist party, which is a shared end goal of almost the entirety of the Marxist left, can only be hampered by the division of the left into innumerable sects and grouplets, each with their own shibboleths to defend. For years, workers and activists that have looked at the state of the far left, and laughed at the madness of the 57 Varieties, have been treated as if they're naive, not sufficiently read up on Marxist theory to understand the complexities and subtleties of the revolutionary movement. The fact is, the class are far ahead of us on this question. When the CPGB was formed in 1921, the sectarianism of the British left was much more rooted, and the divisions within the movement were much more serious (parliamentary question, Labour Party etc.). Yet they were able to come together on a democratic basis on a fairly minimal set of principles (revolution - Dictatorship of the proletariat - workers councils - defend Russia). Unfortunately we don't have Lenin here to bang our heads together, but we do have a revolutionary movement spreading across the Middle East and the most serious crisis in capitalism for 70 odd years. The society we will be left with if the international ruling class is able to complete its assault on the working class hardly bares thinking about. The threat of impoverishment, fascism, war and ecological disaster (all issues around which the revolutionary left agree) pose the alternatives of Socialism or Barbarism much more starkly.

    For these reasons we should be aiming to draw in as many people as possible into a revolutionary unity project, which can seek to unite the far left on the basis of the many principles upon which we agree. The scale of the international crisis is not only making the possibility of Marxist unification a much more realistic prospect, it is making it an absolute necessity. I believe the IS Network should place itself at the centre of these discussions, and should see its role as bringing about a much needed realignment within the British working class movement.

    Saturday, 23 March 2013

    We Must Embrace Women’s Gains on Responding to Sexual Assault

    On My Resignation from the International Socialists of Canada

    The crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party raises an important issue of principle for socialists throughout the world. A serious accusation of rape was made by a teenage member of the SWP against a Central Committee leading member of the party in his 40s. How socialists respond to allegations of rape is not a tactical question nor is it the internal affair of a single organization. Internal organizational practices are reflections of principles. Although internal organizational mechanisms may vary, when mechanisms to address violations of principle fail, credibility and capacity to participate in movements against oppression are damaged.
    As a nurse working in the emergency department, I regularly have patients who are victims of violence. Furthermore, I have loved ones who were the victims of sexual assault and abuse. I cannot reconcile my fervent wish to build a party for socialism with being associated to a political tendency that has as its most dominant constituent a party that has grossly violated its opposition to the oppression of women. As of March 19, 2013 I have resigned from the Canadian International Socialists for its continued association with the SWP through the International Socialist Tendency.
    Rape is a crime that is equivalent to or worse than violent assault. It is a crime that not only has the potential to cause life threatening physical illness; it leaves many emotionally and psychologically damaged. With 90% of rapes unreported in the UK, any allegation should be investigated as a serious crime. Furthermore, according to one SWP member, at the 2011 SWP national convention, after the accused spoke to the meeting, “There had been an attempt by his allies to rally supporters, resulting in some comrades giving him a standing, foot-stamping ovation.” This reaction to accusations of sexual abuse, regardless of guilt, represents gross misogyny and creates a threatening oppressive atmosphere.
    The capitalist courts have failed many people. Sexism and racism in our society is systematic and police often brutalize the oppressed. In Vancouver,  where I live, the police failed over sixty women murdered or missing since the 1980's. Many of these women were the victims of racism, sexism and other prejudices that grip our society. I have heard personal testimony of police arresting a young woman who had called 911 accusing her father of beating her.
    Historically raped women were often forced into marriage. For hundreds of years it was believed that a pregnant woman could not have been raped because pregnancy required consent. In 1841 the Canadian civil code put the onus on the woman to prove she actively resisted rape. For most of history suspicion was put on the woman and investigation was done into her moral worth and credibility. In Canada, it wasn't until 1983 that spousal immunity to accusations of rape was eliminated. In 1984 a Judge of the Provincial Court of Manitoba said. “Unless you have no worldly experience at all, you'll agree that women occasionally resist at first but later give in to either persuasion or their own instincts”
    In North American history, false rape accusations were a major tool of social control used against blacks and other oppressed minorities. “The accusations against persons lynched, according to the Tuskegee Institute records for the years 1882 to 1951, were: 19.2 per cent for rape, 6.1 per cent for attempted rape”. Men using rape as a tool of racist oppression stripped the legitimate right of women for justice against rape by creating a culture of terror. The civil rights movement mobilized millions in the fight against racism. Alex Callinicos raising the specter of “lynch mobs” of angry members if the debate continued after the special convention of the SWP is a violently sexist statement.
    Injustices happen to this day, however through the struggle of the feminist movements of the sixties and seventies to those of today some of the grossest injustice has been defeated. the police and courts in many instances protect the vulnerable and bring justice to victims of crime. Bourgeois democracy is a system of contradictions. While recognizing the role of police and courts in enforcing hegemony of the ruling class, it also must be recognized that the mechanisms of society, often fought hard for by activists, can protect individuals against acts of violence and crime.
    The reality is, for all the flaws of British law, in 60% of rape cases that go to court the defendant is convicted. This proportion is higher than for some other violent crimes. In many places women have fought hard to change sexist and racist laws and won.  Evidence that consent is absent is no longer defined simply by a statement of “no.” Self-induced intoxication is no longer regarded as consent. In 1991 legislation was passed in Canada in which “complainant's sexual history is rarely relevant to the issues properly to be determined. The focus should be on the event which is the subject matter of the charge.”
    Of course there are real limitations to the court system in contemporary society. That is why it is so important that in many cities feminists have fought for and created rape crisis centers. These centers can advocate for women and help mitigate the negative effects of individual police prejudice and reduce difficulties and feelings of isolation when approaching the legal system. Were I work in an emergency department there are specially trained nurses to deal with sexual assault. These nurses are some of the most caring human beings I have met.
    The mentality fostered by revolutionary groups of extreme hostility to the police and courts, often resulting from historic police harassment of socialist organizations, creates conditions where victims of abuse by party members are alienated from mechanisms society has created, under intense pressure from the women’s movement, to bring a measure of justice. As socialists we must fight to make the mechanisms of society better, not substitute our organizations for society.
    The utopian concept of building organizations that attempt to substitute for society inevitably leads to the formation of cults. I saw this as a member of the Vancouver socialist cult Fire This Time. When those with authority in an organization are only accountable to that organization for criminal behavior, rampant abuse can occur. After a politically motivated assault by one member on another, I witnessed what results when a criminal matter is dealt with as an “internal” issue. At first denial. Next “this is an internal issue” and a refusal to discuss. Then bullying and marginalization of those opposed within the organization. Those outside the organization who expressed criticism of the assault were labeled as slanderers and enemies. Finally an inward turn occurred in which the “line” was parroted so many times it became gospel and critical thought was crushed. The parallels between my brief experience in a cult and the behavior of the SWP leadership are striking.
    The only appropriate response of any organization to an accusation of rape is to fully support the woman in accessing services and professional counsel. Furthermore the SWP should have offered full financial and moral support should the woman take the case to court. It should have been made clear, without a shade of gray, that by going to court for such a serious accusation she was honoring the struggle of justice for women and that it would be in the best interests of the SWP.
    The fact that friends of the accused were allowed to sit on the dispute committee that held the investigation is completely unacceptable. Moralizing about revolutionary credentials is a sad failure on the part of the SWP to recognize biases. Being a revolutionary does not obviate the responsibility to respect impartiality. Furthermore, the Central Committee of the SWP stated that a trade union would deal with rape accusations in a similar manner. This is false. No trade union would conduct a rape trial.
    In recognizing the right for party members to form factions, it is implicit that conversations must be permitted between individuals of similar mind. The SWP central committee's decision to expel four members of the SWP for Facebook conversations is an absurd affront to democracy. Furthermore, the woman making the accusation was refused the right to speak at the 2013 SWP conference.
    It would be hard to imagine the SWP having an internal investigation had one member stabbed another. This fact alone shows the organization’s misogyny.
    The SWP’s decision to handle the rape accusation through an internal investigation has proven disastrous. Not only has the party trial failed the woman making the accusation; it has led to a split in the organization. There have been mass resignations from the SWP over the handling of rape allegations, in one letter alone over seventy people resigned. Many student sections of the SWP have left the organization. Mainstream media is able to discredit socialism in public opinion because of the act of a small number of socialists. Had the case gone to court, a scandal might have brewed in the tabloids, but the party would have remained defensible. 
     - Ian Beeching
    Ian Beeching is a former member of International Socialists–Canada. He lives in Vancouver.