Monthly Archives: December 2013

Five resolutions for 2014

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1 To run freely, through flooded fields, through winds and rain; to delight in the stamina which is supposed to reciprocate for declining speed.

2 To revert to what I enjoy best, organising – first (I hope), the regroupment of the best of the Cliffite disapora, and then (with luck) contributing to that bolder, braver left of which we can be just a constituent part. A friend used the first line of this quotation recently; here it is in full:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

3 To write, for publications made out of paper rather than for this blog. My last year was dominated by a single story, twenty years in the making. I was able to write about it, from different angles, repeatedly. It’s not an experience I seek to repeat. I have ideas for fresh projects, a novel, a long-promised account of a killing which anti-fascists care about. Both will require time; both will read best in print.

4 To have some victories in court. My favourite case in 2013 involved an anarchist threatened with eviction from his council flat. To retain possession, he had to explain his serial non-compliance with court orders. The Judge accepted that as a libertarian he could be expected to have a defiant, oppositional character making it unrealistic to expect him to comply with court orders. More cases like that please…

5 In face of the propertied, the powerful and those wilfully blind to injustice, to live Tom Mann’s maxim; to grow more dangerous, the more I grow old.

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Toys (Women’s Voice 1981)

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Millions of toys will change hands this Christmas. In money terms they will represent about half the £700 million which it is estimated that the British toys and games market is worth. But this year the Christmas offensive by the toy firms will be more desperate than usual.

The British toy form Lesney has announced that it continues to make a loss, while Japanese toy exports are up 96 per cent.

Radical changes are occurring in the kinds of toys which children (and their parents) buy. Traditional toys are being replaced by space age gadgets and electronic games and this has a devastating effect on the British toy industry. Airfix—the firm that makes Meccano and Great Model Railways—has collapsed, to be taken over by the American firm which makes Action Man and Star Wars. And while Lesneys trebled their losses, the American firm Fisher Price announced that it is to treble its factory size in Britain.

Toy imports from Japan and America have been rising steadily ever since 1975. But there is little mileage to be gained from simply seeing this as yet another area in which outmoded British industry is being over taken by the Americans and the Japanese.

What is interesting is to look at the kinds of new toys that we are buying now and thinking about how that affects children.

Toys have existed in every civilisation. Remarkably, there was little variation in the basic kinds of toys which appeared in different societies in the past. Balls, rattles and even yo-yos turn up in different places, not in sequence but often centuries apart as do dolls.

The first toy industry developed in Germany. Craftsmen began to produce toys for sale, making the newly invented optical toys and mechanical models of the period, as well as traditional dolls’ houses and dolls. Gradually factories for manufacturing toys were built. By the beginning of the twentieth century, toy making was one of Germany’s most important industries. One quarter of the toys were exported to America.

The embargo on imports from Germany during the First World War sparked an independent toy industry outside Germany. In America mothers even destroyed toys with a ‘Made in Germany’ label on them.

After the war, in the 1920s, there was a move away from war toys and tin soldiers. This trend was to be reversed during the 30s when re-armament stimulated the production of toy anti-aircraft guns, searchlights and barrage balloons.

But an important development was taking place at the same time. The work of the educationalist Froebel in the latter half of the nineteenth century and of Maria Montessori in the 1920s stimulated interest in toys and their effects on children’s ideas. Froebel stressed that children learned through discovery. Maria Montessori believed that children wanted to ‘work’ rather than ‘play’. Such ideas led to the production of the first educational toys.

Firms like Fisher Price now flourish producing just these kinds of toys. Fisher Price are famous for their bright coloured and durable toys for nursery age children. The successful formula is no accident. The toys are designed after intensive investigations and observations of children’s play. The company runs a nursery in New York where children are observed playing with Fisher Price toys through a one-way mirror. The observations are interpreted and passed on by a psychologist employed by the company. The result—an immensely successful ‘scientific’ commercial venture.

This scientific approach to toys is worrying. The problem is not the slick high-pressure research and marketing techniques—capitalists use such methods everywhere. What bothers me is that this approach to toys profoundly affects the way our children experience the world. Toys are essential to children’s mental and physical development. Some aspects of this are obvious—learning to manipulate and handle various materials for example. What is less obvious are the ways in which toys enable children to adjust to society.

If you think about it the limitations of the world imposed by rigid models like dolls’ houses or toy hospitals are infinitely greater than those imposed by balls or tops which leave children a great deal of scope for learning about the world through experiencing it, rather than seeing its values in miniature in their toys. That’s not being anti-toy. But the more complex the toy, the more rigid the set of ideas it imposes upon a child. And the trend as shown by the profit figures, does seem to be toward more complex toys.

Feminists have long pointed to the way that ‘dolls for girls’ forces sexual stereotypes onto young women. The solution to that is not simply ‘dolls for boys’. All the toys we give our children reflect the values of the society we live in. When buying toys for children we should bear that in mind. Kids need room to think as well as being in touch with the latest developments. Complicated educational toys could stifle rather than help our children precisely because they are so exactly researched.

Anna Paczuska

‘Wreckers in Coventry: No Christmas money for the kids’ (Women’s Voice, 1975)

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CHRISTMAS IS coming and the goose is getting fat… Not in my house it isn’t – nor I’m sure in the houses of a few thousand other women, whose husbands work in Chrysler, Coventry. They’re being laid off because there’s no work – or so they’re told.

This week my husband who works at the Stoke engine plant is off for one whole week. After that it’ll probably be one week in, one week out till God knows when. At the moment he receives lay-off pay of 70 per cent of the basic wage. To some people that may seem fair enough – but when you get used to a certain amount each week, it’s difficult to accept a cut. And the lay-off pay soon runs out – they’re only allowed so many hours. Then they’ll join the one million or so unemployed on the dole.

For me these lay-offs mean I’ve had to go out and get a job – cleaning, which I loathe. The money I earn isn’t for the little extras I wanted to buy for my kids’ Christmas, but to supplement the loss of the old man’s wage.

Everyone in Coventry seems to be in the same boat. A couple of months ago, I used to go and browse through second-hand shops to pass a bit of time. Now I find myself queuing up outside to see if I can get something for my kids. My situation is bad but I know friends who are worse off than me. One of them has a mortgage of £80 a month. And believe me, she doesn’t live in a mansion. Rates are £12 plus gas and electricity. She has a six month old baby, and is now having to think about going out to work. The sort of job she’ll get is one where she already knows someone to get her in. At the moment the only thing open to her is auxiliary nursing working nights.

I could go on writing about situations like this all day, but the more I think about it the more worried and depressed I get. I know the situation is the same everywhere. Nothing will have changed in the households of the gaffers. I bet they’ll still have their fat turkeys and full Christmas stockings – got by stealing from the workers.

I hope they spare a thought for the hundreds of kids who through them, their ignorance and greed, will be facing the most dismal Christmas for a long time.

Women’s Voice – November 1975 (paper edition) No 23

By Maureen Enever

How to write, creche, meet

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As a last post before I go away for Xmas, I’m sharing pages from the “DIY” column of Women’s Voice magazine (you can click on them to enlarge). One on how to write, one how to run a creche, one on how to a street meeting, and one for nostalgists on how to use a manual duplicator. 

Here’s hoping that the best of the left can relearn this practical, “DIY”, culture  in 2014

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To my comrades, of any party or none

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On Sunday evening, after conference had ended, I resigned from the SWP. I will explain why I have left, but before I do that, I first want to explain why for so many years I stayed with the party even while I often criticised it.

I first joined the SWP in 1991; at a meeting in the Sol’s Arms pub near Warren Street. A couple of days before, I had been stopped in the street by a man selling Socialist Worker. After I had bought a paper, the seller, John Walker, invited me to a meeting. “I’m not interested in buying one”, I told him, “I am much more left-wing than you are.” It was not a wise thing to have said. John had come into the SWP after years in the libertarian Marxist group Solidarity and knew his left history far better than I did. After half an hour of standing on the street losing an argument, I agreed to go to the meeting where I eventually filled in a membership form. It was assumed that I would pay by cash and there was a grid on the back of my membership card which could be used to check that I was paying my each month’s subs.

The SWP was the third left-wing party whose meetings I had attended in less than a year. After a few months in Slough Constituency Labour Party, I had resigned in disappointment at Labour’s timid response to the then Iraq War. Before then, I had spent a couple of unhappy months on the edges of the Revolutionary Communist Party (Living Marxism), from whom I had learned habits of ultra-leftism and contrarianism, a combination expressed in my premature, fighting words to John. If it had not been the SWP in 1991 it might have been any one of the left-wing parties.

It was easy to join the SWP, since I already considered myself a socialist, and in fact had done so for more than five years. The real bravery had come much earlier, even before I reached my teens, when I had first begun to identify with the left, a decision which had set me off into a perpetual civil war with my family, my teachers, and almost every one of my contemporaries at my school. My reasons for sticking with the SWP were more significant.

In my first few months, I considered leaving at several stages. I did not have a worked out criticism of the SWP and some of my complaints seem daft to me in retrospect. The group seemed impossibly old to me, with an average age of approximately 27 or 28 (I was just 18). Soon enough, I was selling the paper, but I was genuinely perplexed by the way in my fellow sellers would shout what sounded to me like reformist slogans “stop the war”, “beat the Tories”. Weren’t we supposed to be revolutionaries? I found the meetings dull and the contributions defensive. I tired of the way in which after the speaker had finished, there would be a long pause, and then whoever filled the silence would face 40 minutes of speaker after the speaker from the floor correcting them for some imagined deviation from the party “line”.

Yet one of the things I liked about the SWP was that, despite the branch culture which I have just described, there were also comrades who were self-effacing, articulate and principled. I think of well-known figures such as Duncan Hallas and Paul Foot, but the real strength of the SWP was far below, in the branches, almost every one of which had an autodidact Marxist, a worker who had never gone to university, a person who would quote obscure ideas of Marx or Lenin and use them to relate events happening in the world outside and to the tradition of the workers’ movement.

Over the past 20 years the self-taught workers have almost all left, while the party-liners have multiplied.

I might not have stayed in the group but for a series of events which happened in the course of my third year in the party. I was a student, in a tiny group of just 2-3 people. Through the unusual tactic of going out of our way to book the SWP speakers who would be most likely to interest a wider audience, and booking most of our meetings as debates or in combination with other groups, we were able to pull off weekly meetings of 100+ people. Locally and nationally (this was the time when the SWP was claiming 10,000 members) it seemed possible to envisage a genuinely mass party, something which would be on a scale the British left had not seen in decades.

Our MP John Patten was also the minister responsible for education, and was piloting through Parliament the rapid reduction of the student grant and its replacement with student loans, and had voted against the equalisation of the age of consent. We called demonstrations two or three times a week and found an audience for them. In no time at all the size of our group (its subs-paying membership) increased to 8 and then 25 people. We had an audience large enough so that we could legitimately stand people for office in the University and in the National Union of Students. Then, to coincide with my 21st birthday, the woman who I loved also joined our party. She and I were Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Trotsky and Sedova. Communism was our love story.

That spring there was a racist murder, and our local anti-fascist group met the family, supported them, and organised a demonstration in their support, while others on the left stayed aloof. I would not have had the confidence to support them had it not been for the training I had received in the SWP.

Over the next 20 years there were many other good moments of which I am also proud: the Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1994, editing a workplace bulletin with factory workers in Sheffield, organising a student occupation (of sorts) in Oxford in 1997, supporting refugees through hunger strikes in Liverpool in 2000-1, dispersing an emergent anti-immigrant campaign in Brent a year later.

In the most recent years, the best campaigns I have been involved in were ones which the leadership tolerated but did not seek to be part of: a London counterpart to the TUC’s Tolpuddle festival, then last year’s Counter Olympics Network.

I only learned the main details of the party crisis as recently as Christmas 2012. Long-standing comrades who I had known for years and trusted sought to set up a “third” faction, which would campaign within the SWP for the reform of our disputes procedures. I joined them. The leadership banned the faction, refused to publicise our documents or to allow us to speak at conference in January. My initial response to the January conference was to assume that the leadership would be chastened and that would be the end of the matter and spoke optimistically at meetings. But at our North London report back I heard Weyman Bennett promise, in his concluding remarks, “Never again will the SWP allow our student office to take a line independent from the leadership”.

I have been around long enough to have grasped immediately what he meant – that the CC were prepared to restructure the office and tear up the student perspective unanimously agreed at conference just days earlier, and were prepared to sacrifice our students to do so.

In February 2013, outside a meeting of the Defend the Right to Protest campaign, I met the second complainant, the woman who we were being told did not exist (“there is only one complaint”, as Judith Orr had told the Birmingham aggregate). I gathered from the woman that she wished to proceed with her complaint, and I decided to spend some time helping her, in practice by listening to her as we drafted together her statement about what had happened.

My days are given to listening to people in court, asking them questions and listening to their answers, and listening to the questions which other people ask them. I do not believe that someone is telling the truth merely because I want them to succeed at a hearing, or because I am their representative. If I get the opportunity to meet them before a case, I will grill them as intensely as I can. I will look for any flaw in their evidence, test any contradiction no matter how slight. And if they want to run a case which I do not believe, I will tell them my doubts and invite them to reconsider it.

I spent more than 20 hours in the company of the second complainant, read her documents, listened to her intensely. And at the end of our meetings, I was absolutely convinced that in every single thing she said she was telling the truth.

Once it became clear that she was telling the truth, then for me there was no longer any basis on which to doubt the evidence of the first complainant, who the second woman was only corroborating. Both women were describing a similar pattern of repeated unwanted advances by the same man.

I will not go through the details of what happened next; the shoddy attempts of the Disputes Committee (the same committee which of course had already heard the first case) to decline to hear the second complainant, and to put off her case until after January 2014 in the hope that she would leave the party. What I do want to explain is what happened at SWP conference last weekend.

There were approximately 540 delegates at conference; fewer than one in 7 were aged under 40. Of the young people in the room , a large majority were in the faction. The mood was serious, even grim. The conference was conducted throughout with the same degree of procedural propriety as you would expect of the conference of a trade union of about 30-40,000 people. Motions were taken; votes were even on occasion counted. “Delegates” were reminded of the importance of reporting back conference decisions, presumably to the 10 SWP members for whom each delegate is supposed to stand. But here were 500 people, elected from 40 aggregates in many of which there were had been fewer people in the room voting for candidates than there had been places to fill.

A number of the delegates would happily admit to never attending SWP meetings and never selling the paper; they were there solely because they had been asked to stand in order to prevent oppositional members attending. How many members does the SWP really have beyond those who were in the room? If your definition extends to a requirement that a person attend their branch meeting at least once a year, perhaps, at the very most, a further 4-500 people nationally. This is not a mass party; you cannot sustain anything healthy on the basis of the levels of fantasy that could be seen in the room.

On Saturday morning, Alex Callinicos made a supposed “apology”. The statement he read out was based on a CC motion which had been circulated in advance, and offered no specific regret for any specific action by any named individual but blamed merely “structural flaws in our disputes procedures”. Structures of course have to be carried out by people but there was no acknowledgement that any individual had done anything wrong. The motion, for which the CC apology stood as an abbreviation, blamed the faction for politicising the dispute, when it was Callinicos himself whose article in January’s Socialist Review had begun that process by mixing together the defence of the leadership’s handling of the dispute and the defence of “Leninism”. The motion explained the women’s distress in terms of the publicising of their case on the internet. It spoke for women who the CC does not know, has not asked, and about whom some CC members have been lying for a year.

A leadership supporter R- inadvertently captured the half-hearted nature of the CC’s manoeuvre when she explained to delegates in a later session; “I am prepared to say sorry. I am not going to apologise.”

Many important things were said during the course of conference. Two women who used to be on the SWP Disputes Committee explained how the majority of that committee had tried to prevent the second complaint from ever being heard, and the battle they had had to fight to have it heard, resulting eventually in the appointment of a new panel. The room quietened when they spoke; but afterwards, no-one voted differently.

The panel which heard the second complaint explained why they had found that there was a case to answer, and spelled out that they had heard from her and read her evidence, and spent 2 full days considering her case, as well as a further period debating their reasons. Any fair listener would have grasped that the panellists believed that Smith probably had harassed the second complainant. The comrades listened, and some were troubled. But they continued to vote for the leadership.

A member of the same panel explained that the second complainant also made a complaint that her email had been hacked. It was quite possibly hacked, the panel had accepted, by a member of the SWP. But if so, and this was the sole matter that interested them, the hacker had not been instructed beforehand by the Central Committee to hack her email account, and that meant there was nothing for them to investigate.

In this last episode, you can find expressed the degeneration of an entire party. What we were being told was that the DC accepted that a member of the SWP may well have chosen to hack the email account of a woman who had made a serious, sexual complaint against a leading member of the SWP. In fact while the hacker was there, as a comrade from Manchester had explained, he had not just forwarded emails belonging to the complainant, he had also deleted what he presumably thought were the only copies of emails passing between Smith and the complainant, and which subsequently helped to prove her complaint before the second disputes committee. He was doing what now passes for loyalty in the SWP – behaving in secret, destroying potential evidence, doing everything in his power to protect a man accused of rape.

If the individual who did this was not acting on orders, he was nevertheless doing something which he thought the leadership, or at least a section of it, would welcome. And there is no suggestion that he has ever been sanctioned for what he did. This mindset, of trying to think into the mind of a leadership, and of doing more and more grotesque things in the hope of winning their patronage, is associated with dark moments in history. Yet neither the disputes panel, nor it seems conference, found anything remarkable in it.

There were other bad times at conference; as when M- the outgoing chair of the Disputes Committee – sought to smear the second complainant by insinuating that she had spoken to the Daily Mail and encouraged them to doorstep Smith.

R-, who was of course a member of the SWP Disputes Committee which heard the first case, called the second complainant “obscene” for having supported a faction which had named Smith as being accused of “sexual predation” and insinuated that the second complaint had been made only for factional purposes. It was as if she could blank out of her mind the evidence of her comrades on the second panel who had accepted that Smith probably had sexually harassed a woman. She ended her speech with the words, “Honour and Respect democratic centralism! Honour and Respect confidentiality!”

I will never again use the word “socialist” to describe the middle aged trade unionist from my former branch who went round the edges of conference, confronting the youngest delegate at conference, a woman in her gap year before university who had never met him before, with the hostile greeting, “Martin is innocent”.

Conference voted by a majority of 8 to 1 in favour of a CC slate containing Callinicos and Kimber, with only 69 delegates voting for an alternative leadership (11 others abstained). I vainly shouted “count” when the vote on the apology was taken, not because it was close, but because I thought it the numbers should be a matter of record. The chair moved on, having declared the motion heavily defeated.

I believe that about 15 or so more comrades voted for it than for the alternative CC slate; or to put it another way, only 1 in 30 of the non-faction comrades broke from the leadership, even on the most significant – and straightforward – question of whether there should be a genuine apology.

Against the many shameful things I saw, I must also insist that there were many people at conference sitting there with their heads in their hands, some in tears. You could see this most clearly among a section of the middle ground, who seemed visibly in pain at what they were watching.

As well as them, there were people who spoke out against the party’s degeneration. I think of the longstanding member who spoke twice in the debate about the Central Committee, and stated in the most direct of terms that a Central Committee which is united only to cover up a crime of this sort has no legitimacy, and that a leadership which has driven hundreds of socialists out no longer deserves to lead. It is a difficult and lonely thing to tell hundreds of people that they are wrong. You need to be brave to stand up before a room of several hundred people who are hostile to you, knowing that they will be given many more opportunities to attack you than you will be allowed friends to speak in your defence. I am proud to call that man a comrade.

Why did we lose? I looked at conference and I saw a group of ageing and tired people, who have watched their party at war with itself over the past year. Among the SWP majority, a belief is prevalent that nobody can ever really “know” what happens in the privacy of a relationship between a man and a woman. It follows that in the context of multiple allegations of sexual abuse, the party is the only thing that counts. The working class, which is under attack in an epoch of austerity, is best protected by a revolutionary party which is as strong as possible. The party is everything. Without the party, we as individuals, and the working class, are alike nothing. The protection of the party is based on a committed denial of the reality of what happened, and the self-deception that this small party whose active members count only in the hundreds, is in fact many times larger than we know it to be, and represents the whole of the class, the entirety of the movement. To keep the party you have to protect the leadership; no matter how many mistakes they have made. These members of the SWP made it a point of pride that they hadn’t read unwelcome articles in the Internal Bulletins, had not gone online or spoken to people who might disagree with them, had not tried to think for themselves about what had happened or who they believed. The leadership had spoken and that was enough for them.

Such an argument may satisfy my former comrades. But, unlike them, I have heard one of the complainants directly. Indeed, I have listened to her with more care, and over a longer period of time that anyone in the SWP ever will. And she is telling the truth.

The history of socialism is the story of a shifting border between principle and expediency. Edward Bernstein sought to put the former on a coherent basis when he argued that for him the socialist movement (i.e. the SPD, the party) was everything. To which Rosa Luxemburg famously responded that to her the movement was not everything, only the goal, the liberation of all humanity, counted for everything. Too many of my former comrades repeat Bernstein’s error in convincing themselves that the party of their (and my) youth still exists, or that they make themselves “revolutionaries” by giving cover to a leadership which has disgraced the left.

That in short is why I left, because I am a Marxist and revolutionary, because I believe in women’s liberation and will not cover up sexual abuse, and – above all – because I am loyal to the socialists of my youth and the principles they taught me. The decision, in the end, has not anguished me, and I am not in need of anyone’s sympathy. I do convey my best wishes on leaving, my love and my solidarity greetings, to the principled few who remain.

All of my adult life has been spent either as a member of or a close supporter of the SWP. Few of my closest friends are people who I met anywhere but in the SWP. I am not sad though to leave, if anything I am relieved, and the prospect of being part of a new left inspires me.

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A letter to my sisters & brothers

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A guest post by Bolshie Elane

The decisions that the SWP makes this weekend do indeed matter— as the war on terror continues to rage, and the era of Austerity marks the most determined war on our class. Here in the UK the Coalition is dismantling the welfare state, in the process hitting hard women, whose most secure job prospects have been in the public sector, and making war on migrants.

We desperately need a dynamic, open, revolutionary left that can build on the best things the SWP has done in the past; that can take the tradition of socialism from below and carry the flame of historical experiences of our class into current debates on strategy. We need a left that can respond to new challenges and understand the changes in how capital is organising, that can take initiatives, push struggles forward, unite strands of resistance and always, that can fight in solidarity with everyone trying to fight capitalism.

Everyone who has stayed in the SWP in its current crisis-and everyone who has left in disgust and despair, sometimes after decades of membership, agrees on that.

So how can the SWP find its way back from this crisis over the abuse of young women? How can the lost generation-denounced as creeping feminists and driven from the branches be won back?

It cannot be done by pretending that a scandal over rape and sexual harassment in which hundreds have been driven out and the complaints speak of intimidation, bullying and harassment is simply a matter for robust debate and has no impact on the party’s political position on women’s liberation.

In a brief period several women have brought complaints about a CC member who resigned rather than answer the second complaint, while concerns that a jury of his friends and colleagues began with the interests of “the party” and not of the well-being of a young comrade have been widespread. There has also been criticism of another rape allegation against an organiser being dealt with only by time limited suspension and finally yet another rape complainant writes that she was harassed by members of the DC earlier this year and warned off bringing a complaint.

There have been many examples of good politics and good practice over the years that the SWP has organised when it comes to dealing with sexism and harassment. There have been countless little and big examples of challenging sexism, many times when oppressive behavior and especially harassment was driven out by expulsion and the political implications discussed. But to misquote Cliff, “don’t tell me all the good things you have done, you are only as good as your last case”.

Over the years alongside all that good stuff, there have also been times, even before this crisis when sexual harassment and rape have gone by, never even referred to the disputes committee, because it was inconvenient to raise it, admit it, and talk about it. Because the man doing it was important in some way. Or because the woman complaining was not. Because the culture has frowned upon, but not taken seriously, those men who have time and again treated young women around them as if all might be sexual conquests. Because somewhere along the line a debate with a particular brand of “feminism” in the 1970s and 1980s has become an assault on all struggle for reforms for women that address anything other than directly economic issues. Because an idea has grown up that SWP women are strong and confident class fighters and therefore, they just won’t be hurt or bothered, by sexual harassment.

There is no way out of the crisis in the SWP that does not openly state a clear apology to the women who have suffered abuse and then been attacked for complaining. That needs to be a proper apology in which the leadership explain clearly what the women suffered.

A public apology won’t make it okay. But it will mark recognition that what has happened was wrong and a determination to put it right.  There is no way out that does not admit that the party has been tainted by the contradictory attitudes of the 1970s and 80s in regard to sexual harassment and rape and needs to take urgent action to change the culture in which young women complaining of rape and sexual harassment can be accused of “reimagining the experience by viewing it through a feminist prisim”; or of being police spies; or jealous and bitter.

There has to be a reckoning with what has gone so wrong that the party allows men who engage in such crude sexism as to treat their young sisters as sex objects can rise to the top and then mobilise the party machine and cadre to defend them from the young women who don’t accept it.  There needs to be a clear rejection of the rape myths the political confusion that has been spread—for example the argument that the accused CC member (a white middle-aged man accused by young women in subordinate positions) is in the same place as the Scottsboro boys.

The appeal to members to unite and just move on is what Cliff used to call, a fudge. This is a fudge in which those who have been pushing rape myths and bullying members are holding to ransom everyone who feels something very wrong has happened but desperately wants to keep the party they have worked so hard to build together.

The appeal will not work. The party cannot go on expecting its young new women members to accept harassment and abuse and stay quiet because the left in Britain so desperately needs an organised, hardworking party of revolutionaries.  The fudge cannot do because unless what is wrong is understood; then it is going to happen again.  It happened to me.

There can be no real comradeship in which every aspect of the party—its ideas, its rules and disputes procedures, the example set by the leadership—are not mobilised against sexual harassment and abuse of members by the leadership. Appeals for unity without that are nothing more than an appeal to the victims of abuse to let it pass.

The unity of our class does not rest on the oppressed accepting oppression and staying quiet in the face of injustice. It does not wait for socialism—we fight for it every day in our workplaces, in our estates and our society. The only unity possible in a revolutionary socialist organisation is the unity against exploitation and oppression because unity rests on solidarity.  A revolutionary party that cannot offer equality to its women members is on a road away from the traditions of the IST.

It is indeed a few seconds to midnight—and the responsibility to save the party rests with those who have been so busy destroying it. Admit you are wrong, apologise and begin to think seriously about what a commitment to women’s liberation means in the 21st century, to a generation of young women who expect their right to genuine consent to be respected and will not silently tolerate anything less.

A compendium of confusions

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For delegates to conference – a list of the pieces I’ve posted since September with conference in mind:

Why the SWP matters

A history of the International Socialist Tradition in 13 books

Sheila Rowbotham, Women’s Liberation and the International Socialists

How the SWP and its predecessors responded to women’s liberation

Women’s Liberation: What Cliff got right and where he went wrong

Lindsey German, Sheila McGregor and sexual violence: the SWP after Cliff

Women’s Voice in retrospect

How the SWP investigated a rape complaint

Alex Callinicos, Charlie Kimber and the investigation of rape

We need to talk about secrecy

I have a hearing; do I need to attend?

The two women are still owed a proper apology

On DC reform

The first complaint: what the SWP should have done

Martin Smith: a retrospective

Democracy and comradeship

What would a democratic party look like?

The stupidity of being Stalinist

On being, or not being, a finger-wagging Jaberwocky

The trial of Paris Thompson

The view from the top table

Women’s liberation

When did rape begin?

What is wrong with sexual harassment?

Why are some men violent to some women?

Notes on the family under neo-liberalism

Updating a tradition

Reflections on an industrial perspective

If you want to intervene stop being miserable

Cliffism: reopening the age of interpretation

An organisation with integrity