Monday 18 March 2013

Sexism and Abuse of Power in the SWP

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 Phil

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.


She then adds subsequently:
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.


Anonymous said...

Yet another disturbing tale from within the SWP. Thanks for printing it.

One question I'd ask is about the person called "S"-

"I was told by S I had to go to another branch"

How high up was S - Branch, District or even Central Committee?

John R

Phil said...

I'm unsure of S's official position in the party. But thanks to family connections he has always been regarded as a senior full-timer.

Gary Elsby said...

Phil, over the years I've heard some real corkers when it comes to men and women in politics.

Councillors and Officers in the bushes in the local park of a 'fact finding mission' (in a City somewhere I forget).

Then I heard about the man who wore a chain, in full dress and the Nazi waitress (apparently, the photo exists).

Then there was the MP and.....oh, dear.

What about the man who was willing to share his wife with XXXXX on a saturday and sunday....but not on mondays to fridays?

Believe me, it's all true and they mostly appear on TV and radio shouting the odds (one a few days ago R2. Screaming and shouting, she was at Jeremy Vine).
Opposing wives knock each other out on repective doorsteps!

Nothing is new in the world of men and women whose guard is lowered.

Little girls grow up and some actually go to the police decades later.

The message is simple, get on with it.

If someone abuses you in a political setting, then complain to the Chair.
If it is of a sexual nature, then inform the police of the assualt, who will in turn, tell you if you have been, or not.

The law is the law, Phil and everyoe is innocent. That is everyone's right.

Have a look at how the Liberals are doing it.
Fair, square and proper.

Phil said...

Apart from being gratuitously insensitive to the point of being offensive, I don't know what your contributions to this and the women in the labour movement discussion are trying to achieve.

Gary Elsby said...

Women in the Labour movement are no different than any women anywhere, inside a political party or not.

I'm not confused on this issue.

If there is a lack of progress of ambition by a preditory male upon a female within a politcal party, by all means, expose that male (and that party).
In other words, take a leaf out of the Liberals.

If it's a sex attack.
Call the police.
You will remain anonymous.

A sex crime does not exist until a jury of one's peers says so.
(Law UK).
Anything other, is tittle tattle by litle girls and boys.

Phil (not Phil) said...

What a truly disgusting story (on many levels - I regret reading it while I was eating!). Whether knowingly or not, it strikes me that the group holding those parties was engaging in real cult-building behaviour - using taboo-breaking to bind the new recruits in (you couldn't tell anyone outside the group, they wouldn't understand and they'd make you feel ashamed...) And if that didn't work they still got to cop off with teenagers, so it's a win-win.

But I think the really damning statement is "you're only a student". Put yourself in S's shoes (I'm not going to speculate as to his identity, only his mindset). You're a revolutionary socialist, so you don't respect bourgeois morality: what goes on between two people behind closed doors is entirely up to them (two or more people, perhaps I should say). Also, as a revolutionary socialist, you're sceptical about feminism: women are oppressed first and foremost as members of the working class, the real struggle for women's liberation is the struggle for socialist revolution... or words to that effect. Now, where does that leave you when you hear a complaint like P's? "He broke his vows to his wife" - bourgeois morality, doesn't matter; might even be a good thing, maybe he's just more liberated than his partner. "He's lying about me the way men have always lied about women to save their skins" - sounds a bit feminist, comrade; can you give us any other reasons to believe what you're saying, other than this power which you seem to believe the comrade has by virtue of his biological gender? All you're left with is his word against hers, and the choice of penalising either one comrade or the other - so inevitably you end up asking who is the bigger asset to the party.

I suspect something similar played out on a larger scale in the Delta case.

Phil said...

Gary, you are just offensive. I don't know if you're deliberately that dim or you're trolling.

Phil, after the W and Sheffield stories I've found P's testimony the most uncomfortable and sickening account I've read. An organisation that throws up criminal and deeply unethical behaviour time and again deserves oblivion.

Gary Elsby said...

Phil, I'm not a 'Revolutionary Socialist'(whatever that is)and I therfore have no alternatives but to respect the law of this land.

Can you tell me if any laws have been broken here?
I can't see any, so what conclusions can I come to?

I'd be a troll if I didn't make the suggestion that all alleged crimes should be investigated by those we ask to investigate them.

There's no crime if none is reported.

Anonymous said...

The witness account doesn't proffer that the author was subjected to an unlawful crime, P merely makes a recommendation to a person who might be the victim of rape that such should be reported to the relevant authorities. It is disappointing that by using personal experience to urge an appropriate report Gary subjects that individual to sarcasm and ridicule. Particularly perplexing given Gary's admission he does not know what a revolutionary socialist is and consequently totally ignorant about the sect under discussion. It's funny how on the internet people like Gary get called trolls, in real life folk like Gary are commonly known as twats.

EFComrade said...

As a general rule i have not commented the current swp saga. This though just made me physically sick.

Gary Elsby said...

If I am a twat, then take this story into the wider media public domain and see what happens.

The very thought that the 'left' (revolutionary or not) harbours predatory males (or females), that 'rape' unsuspecting and vulnerable 'lefties' is so far absurd, that I can only reiterate the only course of action.

Go to the police.
If you won't do it, I will.
Give me all the names (victims and assailaints) and I'll show you how to take front page headlines.

Call me a twat all you want to.

It is me who protects women, not you or your absurd kind.

Phil said...

Gary mate, get a clue. The world is far from cut and dried. The labour movement, like every other movement, reflects the society of which it is part. It's not remarkable or surprising that, unfortunately, it has men in its ranks that have and/or will attack women.

What I hope is different about the labour movement is that its values means there is zero tolerance for such behaviour when it comes about. Sadly, the SWP case - full of ever-so enlightened revolutionaries, remember - the Assange case, the Sheridan case, all have these have shown that powerful men can and do get a free pass from some sections of the left. In so doing, it makes the labour movement a less friendly and safe place for women. It contributes to a culture that dismisses women's complaints against the behaviour of male activists, when problems do arise. Instead, we should have a situation where women a) shouldn't have to worry about being attacked by "comrades" b) that the rest of the movement would support them, the survivor, and not cover for the perpetrator, and c) do everything it can to encourage women in this position to make a police complaint.

I'm sure you mean well, Gary. But I don't think your stance which, to be blunt, is quite insensitive; is particularly helpful. It also goes some way to explain that despite four or five posts on the topic and coverage elsewhere, I'm pretty certain you still don't understand why so many people are outraged by the SWP's behaviour.

Anonymous said...

1st notice how some sites defend Sheridan to the last. I remember the abuse one young girl posting as Lyndsy got from the Sheridan supporters. Oh and how the SWP supported the Bourgeois courts when they traipsed through the witness block swearing Tommy was innocent. Disturbing read here about Sheffield.

Gary Elsby said...

How come all you 'outraged' people have not been able to persuade one woman to call the police?

You appear to be doing what MI5 has been perfecting for donkeys years, the complete undermining of anything not considered Conservative enough (CIA in the Assange case)(note the accusation that one female complainant ias accused of CIA links).

You appear to be blaming a political party for housing sex attackers.

The hard facts are simple:
1 man
1 woman.

Tell he to go to the police and stop this nonsensical feminist rallying call against men.
It's very 1980's.

If you want to go down the path of suggesting the Labour Party does nothing to protect women, then I think you are quite reckless.

Just for the record Phil, Labour scores 100% on womens issues across the board. The bit that has caused real outrage is that predatory men (and predatory women) within the Labour movement to use womens issues (rights) to discriminate against men.

That goes on within Labour now and is proven in Stoke.

Phil said...

Gary, why do you think the overwhelming majority of women who are raped don't go to the police?

Gary Elsby said...

You won't like my answers Phil, so I think you should inform us of your views.

If the case you present above is suggested as a rape case, then I think the CPS (not the police) would not consider it a case at all.

It was the Conservatives who introduced the simple term of 'no' into sex complaints and removed a mans 'right' to sex within marriage.

We have to get beyond that 'no' and look deeper into violent sex crime for further reasons you seek answers for.

It is just plain wrong that women are not taken seriously by any of the investigating authorities and this is why I suggest to you that the particular case you present is pure grandstanding.

Anonymous said...

'Do let me know if you hear anymore,as you can imagine I'm keen to hear of the organisation's demise.'

That's the spirit!

Btw, are union organisers in the UK elected by the members or are they part of the bureaucracy?

Gary Elsby said...

Phil, I'm still waiting, as we all are, as to what you consider the prime reason of women, not reporting a sexual assault?

BTW, 'Rape' would be determined by others, of which we all agree upon.

Phil said...

Gary, no one is saying a crime was committed here. But it is deeply unethical and cult-like behaviour for senior members of an organisation to prey on younger people in this way. It's wrong wherever you find it, be it the church, the Labour Party, or whatever.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason you are convinced that there is no need for vigilance against unacceptable and criminal sexual behaviour in the labour movement - a movement that, I note, you no longer have any connection with beyond incoherent ranting on blogs. Thankfully most of the people active in it disagree.

As for rape/sexual assault reporting, I am very aware of the reasons why most women don't report them. Perceived lack of evidence, fear of coming forward, reliving trauma, so-called slut shaming, an improving but not great police track record, etc. I'm sure you would agree, which makes your bizarre stance on the 'women in the labour movement' statement and bullshit about MI5 and the SWP all the more stupid and insensitive.

Gary Elsby said...

I've constantly asked for evidence of 'male violence against women within the Labour movement'.

The quote is:
'We the undersigned labour movement activists stand in solidarity with all women opposing all forms of male violence against women.'

I knew this was a bullshit excercise from the start and I note that it is about demonising the SWP (of which I have little time, but there you go).

For the record Phil, and to all other numpties out there, the Labour movement has been solid and united against all forms of abuse, domestic abuse and abuses from men upon women and women upon men.

The bullshit excercise is from a fringe group who are grandstanding as though they are teaching something new.

We are against all male violence on women(as if hands will go up against!)
Well I'll go to our house (as we say in stoke-on-Trent).

It's called the loony left Phil.
Name these men who are committing violence on women in the Labour movement.
We are all ears, but we anticipate no names.

Anonymous said...

So says Gary must have the last cretinous word Elsby. I await the next self-righteous instalment from Mr E, every woman’s hero…Go on Gary see if you can stop yourself hahaha!!!

Phil said...

It's Gary has to have the last word, it's that he doesn't understand very simple concepts. Because the labour movement and its organisations are formally committed to respect and equality, there's no need to worry about those issues any more. Formal equality = substantive equality in Gary's head.

Anonymous said...

"Phil, after the W and Sheffield stories I've found P's testimony the most uncomfortable and sickening account I've read. An organisation that throws up criminal and deeply unethical behaviour time and again deserves oblivion."

Two points:
a) the poster notes that when the SWP senior people were aware of some of these "games" they intervened to stop them
b) given the choice between getting an experienced activist moved to another branch of a relatively new person its not surprising that the SWP chose the latter. The relationship was consensual, with affection on both sides (apparent even after it had been ended).

Given these facts, its just over the top to talk about "criminal and unethical behaviour over and over again".

Deltas behaviour was despicable (regardless of whether a criminal offence was also involved), but this example (other than the "games" part which seems to have been dealt with by the CC correctly) is quite different.