'Socialists' and the lies they tell

NUS LGBT conference: Vicky Thompson (Hopi) and Chris Strafford (Communist Students) report

They never fail to surprise. Every time you think the ‘Socialist’ Workers Party cannot sink any lower into the depths of blatant hypocrisy and opportunism, they somehow manage to dive a little deeper.

Last week, we were treated to the Left List’s London assembly election broadcast, which may even win it a handful of votes, so, realistically speaking, who cares if it neglected a few tiny points, such as capitalism, class and that little thing called socialism? Well, actually, we care … Not because we have much respect for that rag-tag bunch of apologists that the SWP calls its leadership, but because there are more than a few good comrades with their heads still screwed on in the organisation. Sadly, however, such comrades were absent from the NUS annual LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) conference, which took place April 25-27.

Before conference, Student Respect boasted of 19 delegates, making the rest of us query just why so many LGBT students were willing to remain in an organisation with a less than stellar record on sexual liberation. At conference, however, I spotted only six people who could be described as Respect/Left List supporters, of whom only four actually spoke.

The ‘Socialist when it suits them’ Workers Party has always been keen on hiding its politics. At LGBT conference, SWP comrades talked of the Left List a lot, perhaps because it stopped too many people from mentioning the G word (Galloway). However, when someone actually did mention it, in the context of his playing down of gay rights, Adam Lambert (SWP) pointed out that there had been a split in Respect and that George Galloway could not be used as ammunition against Respect-SWP, since he had now gone off with Respect Renewal.

Wes Streeting, New Labour poster boy and NUS president-elect, was applauded. He pointed out, quite rightly, that he did not remember Student Respect criticising Galloway when they were both on the same side. In fact it was the SWP that had bartered away gay rights from Respect’s 2005 general election manifesto (in exchange for retaining “a woman’s right to choose”).

However, Rob Owen of Student Respect, had a rather different take. According to him, the split in Respect was down to Galloway’s “attitude to gay liberation in practice”. Interesting. However, at this point comrade Lambert decided to defend Galloway, arguing that he actually has an impeccable record (let us ignore the small matter of voting against equalising the age of consent here) on LGBT rights, so a few homophobic remarks don’t really amount to much.

He was forced to side with Galloway because the SWP was equally responsible for ‘disappearing’ gay rights. How can they condemn Galloway, without condemning their very own Lindsey German, an apologist for this, for that, and for just about everything in between? In 2003, comrade German said: “I’m in favour of defending gay rights, but I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth, [created by] people who … won’t defend George Galloway.”

The bulletin distributed at conference by Student Respect is a disgrace. Comrade Hanif Leylabi, who signs off a section headed ‘Don’t attack Iran’ as “an Iranian LGBT activist”, wrote: “Military aggression on the country [Iran] would give hard-liners even more room to attack these freedoms, including freedom of assembly, association and the freedom for sex reassignment surgery.”

The radical students’ movement which has protested against war, militarism and the regime has not enjoyed “freedom of assembly”. It has found itself hunted, imprisoned, tortured and in some cases students have been killed by the state. The trade unionists who have been working hard to establish an independent union for bus workers have also been arrested and tortured. So much for “freedom of association”.

The most sickening part of Student Respect’s bulletin is, however, its portrayal of sex-change operations as one of Iran’s “freedoms”. Sex-change operations in Iran are made available because the regime describes homosexuality as an illness to be cured. LGBT people in Iran face the nightmare choice of risking death to be with the one they love, having a sex change or simply living a dangerous lie. Comrades in Student Respect should know this; it is certainly no freedom to be forced into “sex reassignment surgery” as a ‘cure’ for being gay.

Opposing our motion for NUS LGBT to affiliate to Hands Off the People of Iran, comrade Leylabi claimed that Hopi had been denied affiliation to the Stop the War Coalition because it was considered absolutely opposed to the STWC’s aims - which is rather bizarre when one considers Hopi’s absolute opposition to imperialist war (our first and primary standpoint).

I am not exactly sure which part of our support for every STWC-organised demonstration managed to confuse him - then again, it seems to me that the SWP is easily confused when it comes to principled internationalism. Leylabi had also deemed Hopi’s ‘Troops out now’ posters a little bit complex for the average conference-going student, sadly informing one of our supporters that he wasn’t convinced we were anti-war in any case.

This leads us to the most shocking part of Student Respect’s behaviour at the conference. It was not the lies told about Hopi, nor the sickening reference to Iran’s policy of compulsory sex changes as a “freedom”, nor the heckling when we condemned the virulent homophobia and transphobia of Campaign Iran. No, Student Respect managed to surpass all of that. During the vote on affiliation to Hopi, Respect were seen to be forcing people’s hands down.

This was witnessed by many people, including that session’s chair, LGBT officer Scott Cuthbertson. Shame on those who avoid open debate and discussion, in favour of slander and coercing those around them to vote a particular way. Shame on those who give the rest of the left a bad name.

Student Respect managed to ensure the defeat of the Hopi motion by denouncing the campaign for … being socialist. Hanif Leylabi used his speech to attack Hopi for being made up of CPGB supporters and socialists. This was described by Education Not for Sale member Sofie Buckland as “a dog whistle call to the right”.

Comrade Leylabi likes to point out, at every turn, that he is a gay Iranian and therefore must know better than the rest of us (this in spite of his confession that he knows nothing of the Iranian state’s use of sex-change surgery as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality). What Leylabi doesn’t like to mention is that, unlike many of Hopi’s leading members, he has no experience of living in Iran, having been born and raised in Newcastle. Having an Iranian heritage does not make you an undisputed expert on Iran.

Hopi’s first appearance at LGBT conference was something of a bitter-sweet experience. We were the only political organisation to have a stall and made many new contacts and friends. Our motion fell by just six votes and our presence certainly ensured that Student Respect was kept on its toes. Next year we will be back and stronger, next year the lies of the apologist Hanif Leylabi and Student Respect will not be able to keep Hopi’s message of principled anti-imperialism and international solidarity from triumphing.