I met P some years ago when I was around the SWP. A couple of years older than me, she came across as strong, confident, and earnest in the way most of us were when we joined our first revolutionary organisation. I recall her kicking my arse when, after a branch down the pub, I was dumb enough to venture the idea that fascists should have the freedom to speak and to organise too. P was a trusted and well-respected SWP activist who had a militant but wise head on her shoulders. Thinking back there was no inkling whatsoever the SWP had already put her through the wringer. When I fell away from the organisation P and I didn't see each other for 10 years when, coincidentally, we ended up at the same university with an overlapping social circle. By then her SWP days were well behind her but, thankfully, her commitment to the labour movement and the cause of working people remained undimmed. She has since gone on to become a full-time union organiser.
P and I have been corresponding off and on about the SWP's crisis. Nevertheless, despite all that has come to light I was shocked to read the testimony she chose to share with me, which I reproduce here with her permission. P's story has been lightly edited and anonymised, and it demonstrates the sexism, abuses of power, the whisperings, and character assassinations brought into sharp relief by the Delta debacle are not aberrations but find themselves turning up time and again. It's hard to conclude how these could be anything other than the systemic effects of the SWP operating as an unaccountable and socially isolated mini-bureaucracy consumed by its own privileges and sense of self-importance.
Hi PhilShe then adds subsequently:
I've been following the SWP soap opera with interest and see some remarkable similarities to how I was treated in the party. At the time I thought it was an isolated incident motivated by opportunity to discredit me because of political objections I was making at local level against the behaviour of some other party members.
I see the woman at the centre of the Delta allegations was actually a girl of 17.
When I was in ___ SWP aged 18 I foolishy embarked on an affair with a married comrade 10 years my senior. Don't get me wrong the relationship itself wasn't abusive, I still think there was genuine affection there. However, what happened in terms of the Party when his wife found out was just astonishing.
There was a group of so-called comrades in ___ who were very fond of holding SWP fundraising social events in their homes. This invariably involved the hosts and their immediate circle, all being in their late 30s early 40s. The sensible comrades never attended these events, only skint teenagers attracted by the 50p per bottle of beer and free food would go to these things. By the end of the night when all the kids were drunk the adults would then suggest party games, spin the bottle, truth or dare that sort of stuff. I made a complaint to the Party HQ after an event I didn't attend but an old school mate of mine did. He was interested in politics and was considering joining, no chance after what he was subjected to. The comrades, most of them women i'm ashamed to say, got the twister board game out. The conventional rules were not applied, in this version if you fell over you weren't out, you were instructed to remove an item of clothing and nominate another comrade to rub baby oil into that part of your body. I think those older female comrades believed themselves to be sexually liberated by behaving this way.
At a social event I was present at, I inadvertantly stumbled across a particularly revolting game involving the passing of chocolate cake by the mouth from one comrade to another. I didn't know what was happening in the room and walked in oblivious. A 14 yr old boy then ran over to me pushed me up against a wall and spat chocolate cake in my mouth. I ran out to the bathroom and threw up.
To be fair Lindsey German and Chris Bambery took what I said about these 'socials' seriously and bollockings were issued.
However, when my affair came to light these same comrades rallied around the bloke I was knocking off to marginalise me within the district. He basically had me excluded from my local geographical branch, made out I was a stalker, and I did hear accusations levelled against me that I was a mentally disturbed heroin addict who had relentlessly pursued him. I was told by S I had to go to another branch. When I asked why me? It was the man who really was mostly at fault being as I had no broken any vows to anybody? I was told that he was a trade unionist in the civil service and I was just a student. S also indicated his belief that I was basically asking for it, though he didn't use those exact words, he said I had brought it on myself.
Stupidly I still stayed in the party for another four years after this event. My rationale at the time was if I departed under circumstances where allegations about drug use and my mental health had been made, people might conclude I had something to hide if I was seen to run away.
The rationale S used means women in the party can never be treated fairly and young women are especially vulnerable. Society is structured with men in most key positions, if all decisions on conduct are subordinated to the power and influence of the persons comcerned, the so-called revolutionary party is as guilty as the bourgeois state for perpetuating sexism. The SWP is certainly not a safe environment for young women.
I hope the comrade who accused Delta has had the good sense to leave. I hope she changes her mind and goes to the police. I know how I felt when there was rumour at local level about me, I can only imagine what she must be feeling about the CC getting five hundred signatures from party loyalists to affirm the DCs decision that she wasn't raped. Not to mention all the stuff on the internet.
Do let me know if you hear anymore, as you can imagine I'm keen to hear of the organisation's demise.
As you can imagine it [her experiences] wasn't something I wanted to shout about, I've always been a proud person, I felt embarrassed and hurt by what had happened. I convinced myself at the time it was an isolated incident and actually, until all this came to light I still didn't realise how entrenched this sort of behaviour in the SWP was/is. I thought the ___ SWP was just some sort of weird sociological experiment that had gone very wrong! I think now all those who have stories like these need to air them somehow, the more of this stuff gets out there, the less likely it is the SWP will recover.
I also feel a responsibility to W, she should not feel alone. Even the strongest people find it difficult to withstand the internal pressure of party moralising to keep quiet. I thought it was just me that found the pressure overwhelming and maybe it was all in my head? Not anymore. I don't believe W's decision not to go to the police was made free from repeated lectures from her comrades.
Since I've been reading about W I've felt a sense of shame about my own decision to remain in the Party, even though I was vocal in exposing the goings on at the social events. It's clear to me now the SWP is a cult rife with exploitation of young women AND young men. The older women comrades are just as culpable. For all their condemnation of feminism being the expression and vehicle for a particular class of women, SWP women cover up the misogyny of their male counterparts when doing so advances their position and standing within the party. I can imagine how W is being demonised by them. The 500 signature statement is a most serious, public attack on her dignity, I cannot understand how one person could think that is a reasonable thing to do let alone 500. I was gutted to see ___ had signed that statement, he really has been brainwashed.
I read Chris Bambery's resignation letter yesterday and one of the reasons he gives for his departure is the impossibility of working alongside people who had repeatedly slandered him. If only I had realised this in my youth I might have escaped their clutches at 19.