Thursday 10 April 2014

A Defence of the SWP

Another day, another SWP table gets turned over by self-described autonomist avengers. As the SWP are slowly starting to learn, actions have consequences. You can't expect your activists to behave in the most disgusting way possible towards survivors of alleged sexual abuse and shrug it off.

Believe me, I was tempted to frame these actions in terms of the 'SWP had it coming'. As much as anyone else, I followed the SWP's implosion with a mixture of amazement and revulsion. But there are limits, and our trot-troubling "comrades" have trampled over them. It's time to be blunt. The spate of violent acts by self-appointed vigilantes toward the SWP are ridiculous, stupid and narcissistic.

First things first, violence inside the labour movement is not on. You can dispute whether the SWP are a part of the movement or not, but I think it's quite clear they are. They organise in the trade unions, contribute to a variety of causes, and propagandise their idea of socialism. They are annoying, destructive and fast-becoming even more irrelevant, but part of our movement they remain. The labour movement isn't a sect with a set of principles one must sign up to upon joining - it's a movement of working people who collectively come together to prosecute their shared interests. As it reflects working people in general, it has all kinds in its ranks - including some who are far worse than the SWP. Yes, the SWP have repeatedly crossed a red line, and quite rightly are getting shunned by student organisations and other trade union activists.

So what exactly does attacking the SWP achieve? Are they going to get the message? Or, as is more likely, will it reinforce their siege mentality, compressing the bonds between SWP members even tighter, helping ensure that future abuse allegations are repressed in the name of party unity? And how is this "direct action" perceived by the wider world? How do you think SWP stalls getting set upon at labour movement events will be viewed by "outsiders"? Might it elicit some sympathy?

Ultimately, quite apart from this violence within the labour movement is a no because it depends on collectivism, of pulling together despite our differences. The actions of our vigilante mobs care nothing for this, of the fact that sometimes "normal" trade unionists have to collaborate with SWP activists in workplace activity, branch organisation and collective action. It's a self-indulgent attitude.

One shouldn't be surprised. I've talked about revolutionary identity politics and narcissism before. Because all variants of anarchism fetishise the individual (hence why their organisations break apart when but buffeted by a political breeze), they are especially susceptible to cults of indulgent hyper-activism, radical verbiage, show-boaty risk-taking, and putting performance before efficacy. Just like the SWP at its most ultra-left, in fact. Of course, not all anarchists so sin, but our Liverpudlian class warriors and their Sussex comrades certainly fell out of that mold.

They claim to be kicking against rape apologism, and object to the "trigger" potential the SWP's presence has on their campuses. Two quick things. Firstly, in the real world very few people have heard of the SWP nor their disgraceful behaviour. Secondly, balancing all probabilities out, witnessing violent confrontation is more likely to be a trigger than a few Trots shaking a can. Just stop and think. For someone who's survived abuse of some kind, are a succession of violent assaults on SWP stalls going to make them feel safer on campus? No, of course they bloody won't.

It's that sheer lack of thought that exposes our vigilantes as idiots full of their own indulgence. Yet what does this matter when you set it against the exhilaration of being mildly transgressive, of a simulacrum of the anarchist violence they've read about in Class War's Decade of Disorder. They display their trophies of a successful action on Facebook pages and blogs knowing there will never be any comeback, that the SWP will never call the police on them. It is radical identity work at play, a contrived and limited action in which there are no costs incurred for revolution points gained.

Our anarchist chums might be sincerely motivated by a vision of an alternative society, but attacking the SWP is a substitute for the hard graft of fighting for one.


Anna said...

You're right, violence inside the labour movement isn't on and rape is one of the most violent things you can do, to apologise for it is fucking dangerous and we must deal with and drive out those who think it's ok.

Gary Elsby said...

Go to the police.

Nobody will believe you otherwise.

Becky said...

No-one in the SWP has apologised for rape, throwing the term around because you don't like the politics of a group only blunts the term and does nothing to enable productive discussion on fighting women's oppression.
I don't think much of the SWP either - I think they're ridiculously infantile, shouty and need to grow up.
And clearly the procedures of the organisation were totally incapable of dealing with a serious accusation like rape. Their defence is that they need internal structures to determine whether or not members should be expelled and that the woman in question didn't want to go to the police, because the SWP don't trust the police or "bourgeois courts".
Personally I think they should have referred the case, this would've been far more appropriate than dealing with such a serious allegation under a party disciplinary body. But that doesn't make them rape apologists; more like paranoid and self-important.
And screaming the term at their members, who may very well have experienced rape or sexual violence themselves at some point (1 in 4 women in the UK) or threatening them with physical violence when they may have been victims of domestic violence doesn't make women in our movement any safer. It does the opposite.

Phil said...

I agree with that. I don't think the SWP are rape apologists either.

Chris W said...

I'm afraid I can't feel any simpify for the SWP, if your refused entry on the grounds of what your organisation has done, you don't set up camp outside the door and don't expect trouble.

The SWP are most certainly deprived, I can see that from their supporters, as apparently alleged rape victims no longer seek justice but "revenge" and what is more important is that damage isn't done to 'The Party'!

John Edwards said...

The SWP supporters on these stalls are quite likely to be women or pensioners who had nothing to do with the Smith case. Trots were regularly physically thrown off demonstration by the CPGB up to the 1970s so this use of intimidation within the left is not exactly new.

Melchior-Christoph von Brincken said...

Russia was long hailed by the left as an example of a revolutionary country, no matter how much has gone wrong. Cliff´s "Statecapitalism in Russia" showed that there was a new class of people which profited and exploited the workers in their own interest.
If we take this analogy to the SWP we have a party which is hailed as a socialist party - well what else is there - whether the political leadership has developed into an own bureaucratic head harbouring sexual predators and sociopath or not.
The SWP is in the age of the internet led by dinosaurs, which think they can contain information just because they think so or it is "in the interest of the party".
The SWP is so obcessed with growing, that they are loosing any grip they develope because they are zigzagging to something more shiny.
What we can do is set up independent socialist groups which take the good - as much of the IS literature - and move on.
The support of the fascist coup as a "people uprise" in the Ukraine by the SWP shows that they are perfectly clueless. They are much more examples like their support for the Islamists in Egypt, their positions on Libya and Syria

Ged Peck said...

"They are annoying, destructive and fast-becoming even more irrelevant..." and if this is a "defence" then I'd hate to see an attack!

Some of the commentators have already made the point...there are many genuine socialists in the SWP who don't deserve to be physically attacked. We reserve that sort of thing for fascists.

As for the rest of the main article, whether people like it of not the SWP are likely to be around and probably still be the leading revolutionary organisation in Britain, however weakened by the Delta episode, simply because people continue to realise that parliamentary illusions lead to inevitable defeat. And I am yet to see (and don't expect to) the current competitors for a 'new left party' getting anywhere simply because they can't sort out whether they are revolutionaries or reformists. Sure, fighting for reforms matter, but you've got to clear what the overall solution is.

However, don't get the impression that that I am doing a 'hack job' on behalf of the SWP; I've been accused of that before! I was in the party for thirty years and was equally horrified by the Delta case. It was most certainly badly handled, and I know many party members who feel the same. As to the truth of what happened, there appears to be only two people who know that.

I really want a strong revolutionary left to succeed, and for all the differences I had when I left, I really hope the SWP can overcome this crisis, learn from it, and rebuild.

Chris W said...

Wow the SWP manage to get pensioners! At least around here the majority seem to be a constant turn over (probably going to see a reduction) of students.

To play devil's advocate I notice doing a search on google that some of those fascists happen to be pensioners as well and they probably don't think they deserve to be attacked either? Also it has been pointed out that the SWP support left wing fascists (extremists) although that's not an excuse to attack them either.

I do think that perhaps it would be better if no one attacked anybody and perhaps it would have been prudent if the organisers had politely asked them to leave.