Depravity is a strong word, but what else can describe the the latest batch of revelations regarding the SWP/Delta alleged rape case? Going through the document one is confronted with the complete indifference, the arrogance, and the bullying the alleged victim, 'Comrade W', and her supporters faced. There are many unpleasantries, but for me the below set of incidences struck me as especially appalling:
In her district she was simply ignored as if she ceased to exist. When she did see members and tried to talk to them, her experience was one of abuse and bullying. Geoff D informed her “It is not appropriate for me to speak to you”, while Bridget P who confronted her on the street near her home called her “a silly girl” stating that 14 year olds get groomed not 19 year olds. Comrades also accused her of going to the Daily Mail when the story was leaked, despite comrade W’s clear distress at the press coverage and fear of exposure. Some comrades even arranged meetings in the café area at comrade W’s workplace, despite her having asked them not to do so. This caused her great distress and considering the number of cafés in the city was cruel. Charlie, when confronted with this, argued it was not fair to the comrades to ask them to meet elsewhere, despite W’s distress – part of his argument was that it would appear that W’s allegations were true if he intervened. After repeated complaints the CC were forced to intervene and stop the comrades meeting there. There were even reports that she was a member of another political organisation and in league with former members deliberately trying to smash the SWP.Cruelty about sums it up. What was going on in these people's heads? As they sat there ruminating over the next paper sale and working out how to wreck their local anti-austerity campaign group, was their intimidation rationalised as a step toward full communism? Were there any qualms at all? Did they sit rigidly, recalling Trotsky's Their Morals and Ours while whispering "the ends justify the means" under their breath? Or, Winston Smith-style, their unconditional and genuine love for the Central Committee's Big Brother meant their task was carried out with the utmost enthusiasm?
As Andy has pointed out on a number of occasions, as a small organisation with pretensions of being seen as a political party, the SWP can be thought of as many-layered. Whichever view of Lenin's theory of the revolutionary party you subscribe to, the common denominator across all interpretations is that it is an activist collective. In its own way, each group taking after the combat party model seek to intervene in the strategic sectors of struggle it has identified. For the bigger organisations, like the SWP and the Socialist Party it is across a broad range of campaigns. For smaller groups, like the cpgb and the Sparts it's each others' meetings on the 1953 split in the Fourth International, or whether Marx really had a theory of the Asiatic mode of production. The precondition for success, such as it is, is an outward orientation. This explains why the SP and SWP have done relatively well - whatever their faults they recognise there's more to politics than arguing on Facebook about the AWL's Zionism.
In the SWP's case, historically it has positioned itself as the 'best builders' of any campaign going. Theoretically, anyway. They have long been the Trotskyist equivalent of ambulance-chasing lawyers. Wherever there's a campaign, an issue, a strike, a demo the SWP would swoop in, campaign energetically around it for a month or two, badger anyone hapless enough to buy Socialist Worker to join, then move on to the next big issue - usually without warning. And the SWP wonder why they had an appalling reputation before the Delta case came to light. As such, the SWP "breathes" like a shark. So the piscine predator has to force water through its gills by swimming constantly, the SWP have to intervene and gatecrash non-stop to pick up the new members to replace those lost to each twist and turn. This revolving door method of party building is, of course, counter-productive. Their only lasting success is an ever-growing trail of burned out, bitter and disillusioned people who will, quite rightly and understandably, have nothing to do with revolutionary politics ever again.
The typical SWP of old then looked something like this. There was a constantly shifting periphery of new members - mostly youngsters, mostly students, who'd wink in and wink out with startling regularity. Then there were those who stuck the course and managed to stay members for longer than a fortnight. Some of these sought out positions in the trade union movement, and a few of them might have gone on to be representatives on leadership bodies. Another tranche focused primarily on narrow party-building work. Not for them was the regular contact of working people in workplaces, their political lives were the stalls, the paper sales, the demos, the party meetings. These two long-term constituencies were the front-facing representatives of the SWP. The need to be a good union activist, or even a good paper seller demanded that one is, to an extent, disciplined by the political conditions one comes across during the course of their activity. They had to have some kind of relationship with the reality that exists beyond their organisation in order for the SWP to function as a member accumulator. Behind these were a strata of "cadre" who were employed by the party in various capacities. I use the term cadre loosely, as very often the greenest, most unsuited people would be taken on and given leadership responsibilities solely because they ticked loyalty boxes, not because they were competent - let alone schooled in Marxism. Their life is/was the party. They are compelled by the central leadership to hit arbitrary paper sales, books/pamphlets orders, and recruitment targets, not engage in the long-term strategic planning of their district/regional parties which of necessity would demand a proper engagement with politics outside the SWP's bubble (to its credit, this always seemed to be the SP's priority for its regional full-timers, at least in my experience).
Beyond the full-timers is the leadership core of the Central Committee. All of them, with the exception of Alex Callinicos, are there by virtue of having worked their way up the apparatus as party employees. Not one of them are there as a leader of workers, as an exceptional militant. Loyalty, not leadership is the L-word most prized by the self-perpetuating undeclared faction that has always run the SWP.
What this in practice has always meant is that the further up the hierarchy you go, the more insulated from the vicissitudes of the labour movement the SWP's leading figures are. And when you have a leadership recruited almost exclusively from the almost-as-isolated layer of full-timers, you have a problem. As Andy previously argued, you are left with an outer shell of (semi-) normal and sincere socialists. But moving in the rhythms and demands of the cadre and the leaders are governed by the self-recursive universe of the SWP itself. It is this dysfunctional state of affairs that lies behind the SWP's notorious rapid shifts in direction. It is a party-like structure on the outside, and on the inside it's a cult-like set up in which responsibility flows upwards to the sheltered, out-of-touch and unaccountable self-selecting elite.
Herein lies the precipitating cause of the SWP's crisis. Arrogance is the natural bedfellow of unaccountability, so one should not be too surprised - even if it is viscerally shocking - that the SWP took it upon themselves to "investigate" Comrade W's claims, while green-lighting and blind-eyeing the campaign of harassment against her and her comrades.
But there is something else going on too. Class matters. But class has changed. The SWP, formally at least, recognises this. But not in their practice. The old solidarities of post-war industrial capitalism have been broken up, and they're not going to come back. The defeats of the labour movement in the 80s, the fall back of class conscious socialist politics (whether revolution or reform-minded), the changing face of work and the recrudescence of precarious jobs, the shift in culture to peer-to-peer networks via the internet; these don't just constitute unfavourable circumstances for the SWP's Leninist (Zinovievist) project; they are antithetical to how the SWP does politics both in terms of its political strategy (such as it exists without a programme) and how it can reproduce itself as an organisation. The pool it fishes from is drying up, and its modus operandi is severely out of step with the irreverent, horizontal trends that increasingly structure popular culture - youth culture especially. Such a crisis can only exacerbate the isolationist, cultish features that rule the SWP roost. And when a crisis comes along, as was the case with their disgusting treatment of Comrade W, the consequence is a membership that is less telephone box and more shoe box.
Like many on the left, I don't like the SWP. It has an unenviable record of ruining campaigns, screwing folk over and putting many people off labour movement politics for life. They are a wholly malignant influence no amount of dialectical sophistry can soft soap. The left - the unions, the community groups, anti-cuts campaigns, the whole shebang would be a much better place if the SWP was no longer there, waiting to ponce off other people's hard work. The only consolation is that their congenital inability to readjust to the "conjuncture" means the doom of a long irrelevance prior to the final expiration awaits. I hope that for as long as that takes, no one else falls victim to the SWP's depravity.