Image: Julian Makey/Rex Features.
In this week’s issue of the New Statesman, Edward Platt reports on the rape accusation which has torn the Socialist Workers Party apart.
He traces the history of the party from Tony Cliff, the revered Trotskyist activist who founded the party in 1977 as “a voluntary organisation of individuals who understand the need to organise collectively to fight for the socialist transformation of society”, to recent accusations against former national secretary “Comrade Delta”. In the piece, Platt tells the story of the party, its achievements and its failures.
The party’s decision to investigate the allegation internally, through its disputes committee, rather than referring it to the police, is the most remarkable aspect of the affair: it has astonished people outside the SWP, and some within it, too. “What right does the party have to organise its very own ‘kangaroo court’ investigation and judgement over such serious allegations against a leading member?” wrote the former Socialist Worker journalist Tom Walker in his resignation letter. “None whatsoever.”
David Renton, who is also a barrister and has dealt with cases of rape and sexual harrassment, believes that it didn’t occur to the disputes committee to suggest that the woman should go to the police – and one of its members later said, the committee had “no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice”.
The alleged sexual harassment and rape of “Comrade W” by “Comrade Delta”, a senior SWP member, was a sign of an undemocratic and exploitative party ethic, according to many who left the party:
[The SWP’s] broader culture was also called into question. “When you treat human beings as disposable objects in the name of la causa, when appropriation of activists’ labour and good will is the norm, when exploitation of your own side goes unchallenged, sexual abuse is one probable outcome,” wrote Anna Chen, who worked unpaid on various SWP press campaigns, including Stop the War. She believed the SWP’s habit of “ripping off their activists for wages, thieving their intellectual efforts and claiming credit for their successes” had initiated a pattern of “diminishing regard for their members”, which had led to the point “where even someone’s body is no longer their own”.