Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Guest post on the crisis II

A guest post by Ian L of Sussex SWSS:

A crisis is rocking the socialist workers party, one from which it may be impossibly hard to recover if not dealt with openly and in a serious way. The specifics of the problem focus around accusations ranging from sexual harassment to rape made against a prominent member of the organisation. For an organisation that has always taken a hard nosed and principled stance when fighting for womens liberation this is particularly damaging.

I will not bog down this piece with specific details of this case i will simply start from the most compelling personal experience which for me has made the decisions passed at the last conference untenable. I was present at conference when this case was first aired in a ‘set the record straight’ style address by an informed leadership to a largely bemused membership. The entirety of the contributions are not necessary to haul up from memory here, instead I will focus on the contribution which shaped my understanding of the case. A long standing female comrade spoke along the lines of ‘so long as everything is consensual and not abusive we have never and will not pass judgement on peoples personal or sexual relationships’. The image this created in my head was an affair gone awry, an image that was only reinforced by the rest of the session. The response from my inner monologue was essentially ‘why the fuck would I care who people are shagging’. This in itself is for me an attempt to cover up the nature of the case.

The leadership of the organisation has shot the entire party in the foot in what amounts to little more than a cover up to prevent the kind of coverage which the commercial press will no doubt revel in publishing, complete with islamophobic subtexts. More importantly however it has betrayed the trust of the women involved, women who have come to the SWP in the hope of destroying the everyday grind that an exploitative, oppressive, sexist society has forced upon them. This has also discredited the current notions of accountability which we have set ourselves. The question now is can the membership of the organisation hold those responsible to account. The answer to this question, I believe, is for those with a commitment to seeing the party reclaimed from those who would perpetuate such a farce taking an immovable stance against the entire conduct of the case and the fallout from it. The way in which democratic centralism is being used as a stick to beat dissenters with is also incredibly dishonest and will only serve to discredit the concept of democratic centralism itself, we must also remember that democratic centralism means maximum openness in debate and maximum unity in action. The leadership cannot hope to restrict openness in debate yet demand a faux unity which looks to all intents and purposes as if we are sticking our fingers in our ears going lalalalala everything is rosy.

The party can only function on the basis of complete accountability. Notions of party uber alles that the leadership have fallen into or worse embraced are incredibly damaging and will relegate us in the eyes of the movement to the status of an introverted sect.

For those who argue for a long term solution I would say that this is a contradiction in terms firstly because the longer this is left the easier it will be to clamp down on dissent, secondly a hegemonic discourse is developing which says that the leadership of the SWP covered up rape allegations and the membership kept quiet. If this party is to survive in any meaningful sense it will do so by staying true to its principles and being ruthless in our demands for accountability. There can be no bureaucratic solutions to this which see the re running of the disputes committee with the same power dynamics in place.

 It is notable that the praise lavished on historical examples of when party discipline has been broken to serve the greater political good is something which now seems to be solely the remit of leaders of socialist organisations rather than members. Bolshevism requires ruthless self criticism to function and not simply through internal structures but if necessary outside them when existing structures have been proved so woefully inadequate such as in this case.

I write this as an activist committed to the IS tradition and the organisation I have been a member of for around 4 years I am not however committed to a name or a leadership but an idea and this is my primary loyalty. Revolutionary courage is not simply a willingness to risk your job by going on strike or to risk imprisonment for breaking police lines it is a willingness to be self critical even if this may cause you internal turmoil.

For these reasons the only credible course of action for me will be the calling of an emergency conference and I would urge other comrades to make this argument in their branches as I intend to.