The rape scandal which has engulfed the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the UK appears to have left its local franchise Solidarity relatively untouched. Back in February, the party released the following statement in solidarity with the SWP. It describes the process by which the rape allegation was investigated by the party as scrupulously fair and entirely consistent with the understanding of and record of fighting sexism which revolutionary socialists and the SWP itself embody.
This does not exactly recommend Solidarity to anyone interested in fighting against sexism or for revolutionary socialism I reckon.
For those interested, Jim Jepps has compiled a massive series of links to and about the rape scandal, while dissident/expelled SWP members have published a blog titled International Socialism.
A number of reports have been circulated on the internet, some of which have been posted to this list, about the British SWP’s handling of a serious allegation of rape against a member of the party’s leadership body, the Central Committee (CC).
The National Committee has discussed the issue and wanted to set the record straight as we believe that there is a huge amount of misinformation circulating, as well as entirely opportunistic and unsubstantiated attempts to present the SWP as somehow sexist or sectarian towards feminism.
Against the wishes of the woman who brought the complaint, and the SWP itself, a long transcript of the debate about this issue at the SWP’s recent party conference was posted on the internet. While its posting is unfortunate, it does clarify that the process through which the allegation was investigated was scrupulously fair and entirely consistent with the understanding of and record of fighting sexism which revolutionary socialists and the SWP itself embody.
The SWP has released a statement on this issue (pasted below) which points out that, “Our party has a proud tradition of fighting for women’s liberation, as is shown, for example, by our consistent campaigning over the decades to defend abortion, and by our criticism of George Galloway for his remarks about the Julian Assange rape accusations.
“Reflecting this tradition, our internal structures seek to promote women to leading roles and deal rigorously with any action by any member that is harmful or disrespectful of women. It is in the context of this commitment that we took allegations against a leading member of the party very seriously.”
The decision to deal with this complaint internally through the party’s Disputes Committee was entirely appropriate. The courts and the police have a terrible record in handling issues of rape and sexual assault. The only people we can have confidence in to deal with these issues are those with a clear political understanding of the way sexism is constructed under capitalism, how it affects men and women and how it must be fought. This means it is only experienced and trusted comrades who are capable of defending revolutionary principles and properly dealing with such sensitive issues.
For exactly this purpose, the SWP has a standing Disputes Committee that is designed to deal with complaints about personal behaviour by party members. It is elected annually by the party conference and reports only to the conference, the highest democratic forum in the group and the one most representative of the wider party membership. The Disputes Committee is composed of up to 10 members elected by conference plus two representatives from the CC, and operates entirely independently of the CC and other leading bodies in the party.
In this case the woman who brought the complaint against the CC member chose to have it handled by the Disputes Committee rather than going to the police.
The claim that the Disputes Committee was composed of friends of the accused and therefore could not be impartial is wrong. While everyone on the Disputes Committee knew the CC member accused, it would have been impossible to find experienced comrades in the party who were not in this situation given his long-term role in the group. The mandate of the Disputes Committee, set out in the SWP constitution, is specifically to investigate complaints against CC members where necessary.
The accusation that the Disputes Committee asked inappropriate or sexist questions of the woman who brought the rape complaint has not been substantiated and was specifically refuted by the Disputes Committee at the party conference.
Unfortunately the Disputes Committee issue appears to have been conflated by some SWP members with pre-existing grievances about party democracy that were raised by factions formed before the recent party conference.
Nonetheless, the SWP conference, which heard first hand reports from the Disputes Committee members and debated the issue, voted by a narrow majority to accept the Disputes Committee’s report and then re-elected unopposed the same Disputes Committee. Far from revealing any democratic failing, the National Committee believes that the democratic structures and decision-making of the SWP provided the best possible way to handle this issue.
There has also been considerable social network fascination with the expulsion of four SWP members for undeclared factionalising on Facebook. We are in no position to draw clear conclusions about all the issues at such a distance. But we reject the idea that the expulsions necessarily indicate any issue with the democratic functioning of the SWP. Expulsions are unfortunate and difficult decisions in any organisation and we note that the expulsions were ratified by conference by a margin of 3-1.