It takes a lot for me to feel sorry for the Socialist Workers' Party, but I genuinely do over the predicament they've brought upon themselves. What appeared to be another farcical frame-up in a history of farcical frame-ups later twisted into tragedy as it was revealed that the SWP's Disputes Committee had been investigating a rape complaint against a leading activist and Central Committee member. Cue leak. Cue mayhem.
In the first instance, this crisis was precipitated entirely by the SWP's own actions, but from the off they were caught in a bind provided by their own revolutionary conceit. If you're in the business of prosecuting class struggle to the point of the overthrow of capital, and you believe it is your party's destiny to lead the working class in revolt, as far as behaviour, misconduct and crimes committed by party members are concerned the party is the sovereign body for pronouncing on questions of truth and guilt, of sanction and punishment. Within the terms of party morality and the closed-loop universe of the SWP's particular form of revolutionary identity politics, they did the right thing investigating the allegations. And I am sure that other organisations who locate themselves in the Leninist tradition would have done more or less the same thing. In short, the SWP were in a difficult position. They were damned if they had investigated. And damned for covering up a possible crime if they didn't.
However, as is usually the case when something extremely contentious flare ups on the far left, it was handled in the most cack-handed manner possible. Anyone reading the transcript will be struck by how genuine the people sitting on the disputes committee appeared, how scrupulously fair and transparent they tried to be within the form their investigation took. I'd heard of most of them too. All of them have served their party for years, and those I knew of had contributed to the wider labour movement in a number of ways. But it is absolutely incredible that they are all noted hardcore party loyalists and who, as "Candy U" acknowledged, "five of the people hearing the case were either current or former CC members, and that all of the people had worked incredibly closely with Comrade Delta [the accused]". I was around the far left long enough to know this certainly was not consistent with any form of "revolutionary justice" I'm familiar with. They may have been voted in by 2012's conference, but from the outset the glaring conflict of interest ruled it out of order as a body fit to preside over a case involving someone they had close ties to.
There are other problems too. In the transcript, the complaint is made that "Delta" had access to "W's" statement against him, while she and her advocate/support were not afforded the same courtesy regarding his statements. Even in "bourgeois law", that set of privilege-riddled codified prescriptions the SWP seek to positively transcend, the advocates arguing serious charges of sexual assault and rape against a defendant are afforded that right. There is also serious disquiet over the lines of questioning pursued by the disputes committee. Despite what were no doubt earnest and sincere attempts to keep the questions focused directly on the allegations, apparently they meandered into inappropriate lines of questioning around her relationship history.
Candy U's opening statement to conference says "We’re not a law court. We are here to protect the interests of the party, and to make sure that any inappropriate behaviour of any kind by comrades is dealt with, and we do that according to the politics of a revolutionary party.[my emphasis]". But incredibly, the SWP have singly failed to do just that.
As a party supposedly steeped in an understanding of materialist dialectics, it should be aware there is a world outside of it. What it and its members do falls under the jurisdiction of the English and Scottish legal systems, whether they recognise the legitimacy of them or not. And clearly they are aware they operate in a particular legal environment. The SWP's industrial department can provide briefings to its activists on workplace law, and it has certainly given advice on what happens if you're arrested to members participating in demonstrations. If it can attempt to provide this kind of elementary legal advice, why didn't anyone on the disputes committee or the central committee seek a professional opinion before investigating allegations of an extremely serious crime? It's not as if the SWP have no lawyers as members. According to what a former full-timer told me a while ago, there was at one point a small law firm based somewhere in Nottinghamshire staffed by SWP lawyers. As the subsequent discussion on the Socialist Unity thread reveals, their failure to notify the police in any way could in fact invite a police investigation and possible charges over the pursuit and obstruction of justice. Hardly what I would describe as keeping the SWP's best interests at heart.
I can understand the SWP's basic starting point. But it was a massive mistake. Contrary to the ultra-left rantings of some swappybots and other ra-ra-revolutionaries, there is no such rarefied thing as "bourgeois law". Codified and reified it may be. Providing legal justification for the inequitable distribution of property it surely does. However, despite this the attitude of the police and the laws around rape and sexual assault have changed over the last 40 years. Conviction rates are disproportionately low and underreporting is a serious problem, but nevertheless what we have now is a gain won by the harrowing struggle of victims for justice, and their allies in the feminist and labour movement. By the efforts of generations of activists the apparatus the police possess and the counselling system they can call upon is the most appropriate, specially trained and competent means available for making and investigating a complaint.
If the SWP understood this they might have avoided the biggest crisis in the 60 year history of its organisation.