SWP abuse: 'Delta' in dock again ... this time it’s comrade X
Reject calls to no-platform SWP over handling of allegations of sexual misconduct, says Peter Manson
The ‘comrade Delta’ case just refuses to go away.
The hurriedly convened July 7 meeting of the Socialist Workers Party’s 50-strong national committee, as well as deciding to suspend four oppositionists, “also heard that the CC had acted to ensure that the disputes committee hold a swift and fair hearing of a current case”, the official report-back distributed by the central committee states.1
Of course, in true SWP style, there is no explanation as to exactly what case the disputes committee (DC) is supposed to be examining. If the SWP membership actually had to rely on the CC for its information, it would be completely in the dark. But, of course, it does not and it is not. Everyone knows that the CC is referring to a second complaint against former SWP top leader Delta. But I suppose the members should be grateful that the CC now feels obliged to give them even this minimal information rather than treating it as its own private property.
And perhaps we should all be grateful that the SWP itself is now placing such information, however, inadequate, in the public domain. It has nowadays recognised that, in the age of the internet, it was a losing battle to treat all such questions as restricted information. Thanks to the Weekly Worker and sites like Socialist Unity, the leadership now feels obliged to publish the internal Party Notes on its website - for decades this weekly bulletin was ‘for members only’.
Anyway, to return to the Delta case that the DC has now been forced to re-open, this time the complainant is a woman employed by the SWP, known as ‘comrade X’, who alleges sexual harassment against the former CC member. In fact comrade X spoke in the debate at the SWP’s annual conference in January on the DC’s handling of the other, more serious allegation - that Delta had raped ‘comrade W’. The DC, consisting of a majority of former or current CC members, had unanimously cleared Delta of this charge and the CC narrowly won approval from delegates for the DC’s handling of the case. It was this that sparked the continued open rebellion, forcing the leadership to convene a special conference in March
Introducing the DC’s report in January, Candy Udwin said: “We would like to stress that we’ve only had one complaint against Delta. But after we concluded the hearing, a woman comrade, who we’ve called X, wanted to give a report to the disputes committee which she believed was relevant to the case. She confirmed to us that she didn’t want to make a formal complaint, and we explained that we’d concluded our case. But we agreed to meet with her and to consider what she had to say …
“She did subsequently contact us, and she said that she wanted to register that she was going to make a formal complaint, and that she didn’t want it dealt with until after this conference. We asked her to make clear what her complaint was, but we have not received that.”2
Speaking from the floor, comrade X herself stated: “I think it’s entirely disingenuous that leading members have denied that there is a second complaint. My evidence was effectively a second complaint, but because of the experience of the first case I’m unwilling to have it heard by the current disputes committee as a separate dispute.”
The experience she was referring to concerns not just the fact that Delta was tried and acquitted by a ‘jury of his mates’, but several other alleged improprieties regarding, for example, the partial withholding of evidence from the complainant, the insensitive questioning of comrade X and so on. In my view, however, while there appears to be much justification in such allegations, the long and short of the matter is that the case should never even have come before the DC. Private bodies such as the SWP are in no position to establish the truth when the allegation is so serious, yet completely denied by the alleged perpetrator.
The only way for comrade W to obtain redress was - as much as we would not usually advocate placing our disputes before the bourgeois courts - to lodge a formal complaint with the police. What is more, instead of trying to stand by their former leader, come what may, the CC should have leant on him, in the interests of the SWP, to resign from the organisation until such a time as he could prove his innocence. It is not a question of ‘guilty until proven innocent’, but when it is not just a matter of these two allegations - there are rumours of others too - the SWP image was without doubt becoming more and more sullied.
According to the Revolutionary Socialism opposition. “The appalling handling of the second complaint … further demonstrate[s] the complete failure of the party leadership to put our politics on women’s oppression into practice. The leadership’s first reaction was to deny that a second woman had come forward. Then they turned to delaying tactics, stringing the complaint out for over four months with a series of contradictory excuses. The disputes committee twice refused to hear the case. Under pressure they have now offered a hearing, subject to certain conditions, and are presenting this as an adequate resolution to the whole issue.”3
But the CC now says that it will make every effort “to form an acceptable panel. There will be no CC representation on the panel that hears the case. We want a fair approach to any such complaints, and an elected review body will soon report on suggested improvements to the process. These will be discussed throughout the party.” There had been rumours that the case was to be delayed until next year, but that would hardly match the promise in the NC report of “a swift and fair hearing”.
Whatever the truth of such claims, we do not go along with the allegations not just of “the complete failure of the party leadership to put our politics on women’s oppression into practice”, but of outright, widespread and institutionalised sexism within the SWP. The CC has dealt with this matter as it deals with all such questions - bureaucratically, clandestinely. The problem is not sexism, but the absence of democracy. It is this that produces unacceptable power relationships between, say, a CC member and a full-time worker. The latter are not elected, but appointed by the leadership, and expected not only to implement all CC decisions, but to publicly affirm their approval of them. Their limited rights as SWP members are negated by their role as employees.
Nor do we concur with the ludicrous calls to no-platform the SWP because of its alleged sexism. The SWP opposition is clearly gaining moral ground, while an increasingly desperate CC is clinging hopelessly to its worthless version of democratic (in reality bureaucratic) centralism - the ban on permanent factions and any form of opposition, public or internal, outside the three-month pre-conference period. In these circumstances all those who believe in the need for a single, united Marxist party must do all in their power to aid the rebellion in the name of democracy. Far from boycotting SWP events, we should attempt to participate in them in order to do what we can to strengthen that rebellion.
Marxism is being held partially within the University of London Union in Malet Street, SW1. Somewhat late in the day (the SWP’s plans for Marxism have been published for months), ULU has issued a statement which strongly implies that the event should have been denied permission to meet on student union property.
The ULU statement, issued on July 9, declares: “The SWP booked its rooms at full commercial rate (around £17,000) through the ULU conferencing department, over which we have no direct oversight. We are now putting in place measures to ensure that democratically elected officers have powers over ULU conference bookings in future.”4
The ULU president, Michael Chessum, is a co-thinker of the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, while his vice-president, Dan Cooper, is an AWL member. It is most certainly AWL style to merely hint at what it thinks ought to have happened rather than openly stating that the SWP should have been banned from the student union. It really comes to something when it is not sections of the ruling class, but elements within the so-called ‘Marxist left’, that are making plain their desire to implement bans and proscriptions against working class groups.
And the reason for wanting “powers” to stop such bookings? “Given the actions of the SWP in the past year, we feel that it is necessary to make our position clear that as elected officers - like many others in the student movement - [we] see the SWP’s handling of recent rape allegations against a senior member as a despicable act of denial, nepotism and sexism.”
It continues: “During the recent dispute, the SWP leadership has responded to criticism on an issue of women’s rights by calling its critics ‘feminists’, as if that was something bad.” It also comes to something when so-called Marxists appear to believe that feminism is a totally progressive rather than a cross-class ideology. The working class movement for women’s emancipation and various feminist groups and currents will doubtless cooperate over all manner of issues, but there is a different world view when it comes to many fundamental questions.
Having, it seems, been unable to stop Marxism from being held on its property, ULU now, somewhat contradictorily, wants its members to attend the event: “We recognise that not everyone in the SWP agrees with the behaviour of its leadership. However, given that the SWP is an organisation in which there is little scope for organised internal dissent, allowing the event to continue with no public intervention would be tantamount to complicity in the situation … We think that student activists should actively confront the SWP over these issues at Marxism 2013.”
At least we can agree on that conclusion - although I suspect Weekly Worker readers will be putting forward a rather different viewpoint from that of the AWL.
2. Unofficial transcript of the session: www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/online-only/report-of-swps-disputes-committee-and-conference-debate.