Nice Guys of the SWP

Some of us have been banging on about the misogyny of the left for some time. 2012 was the year it became too apparent to ignore. It became clear during the Assange/Galloway furore that a significant part of the left has no time for feminism, sexual freedom or gender equality, which it regards as irrelevant middle class distractions from the glorious struggle against neoliberal imperialism. This is clear in the SWP’s support for far right Islamic fanatics, and it’s long been my contention that many anaemic middle aged leftwing males would rather like a society where women cover up and do as they are told.

Is it a surprise, then, that when rape allegations are made within the party, SWP members rejected the ‘bourgeois court system’ in favour of a hastily convened tribunal consisting of friends of the defendant (but apparently one of them used to volunteer at a rape crisis centre, which makes it okay)? This is a cult. These people do not believe in the rule of law and it shouldn’t raise any eyebrows that they should try to essentially secede from the UK criminal justice system, and treat a serious criminal matter with a bullshit disputes committee process rightly compared to sharia.

Two objections are generally raised at this point. Members have told me that the complainant explicitly stated she didn’t want to go to the police. Maybe so, and that’s her choice. But we also have a duty to listen to people who know the organisation, and have made the choice to walk out. Tom Walker, experienced SWP journalist, has said that:

It is stated that the accuser did not want to go to the police, as is her absolute right if that was truly her decision. However, knowing the culture of the SWP, I doubt that was a decision she made entirely free from pressure.

Do not underestimate the pressure the SWP can bring to bear on members by telling them to do or not do things for the ultimate cause of the socialist society the party’s members are all fighting for.

Objection two is that these are just allegations. The McAlpine rules apply and you can’t convict Comrade Delta in the kangaroo court of public opinion. True again. But there is going to be no due process in this case because the party has decided that there won’t be. Unless the police make an independent decision to investigate, we’ll never know. Even if Comrade Delta is innocent, the whisper of the political village will follow him to the grave.

All this we know. This story ain’t going away and we have not heard the last of this. There have been further rape allegations and so much insight, argument and commentary that it’s almost impossible to keep up with it (although Jim Jepps does his best). I just want to pick up on something Paul Anderson has touched on: that there has been far too much credit and good faith given to the SWP ‘oppositionists’.

The best known SWP writers in the UK are probably the novelist China Miéville and my old friend Richard Seymour. Neither has quit the party as far as I know. Both of them have written long condemnathon posts at Lenin’s Tomb, and Seymour has set up a new blog, International Socialism, featuring posts from the rank and file. Their denounciations of the SWP leadership are welcome. But these guys have been cadre for years. Why has it taken a leaked committee report for them to speak out?

The SWP has a great talent for hyperbole. One post on Seymour’s blog shrieks that ‘The entire working class has an interest in what happens in the SWP… the SWP remains, for all I’ve said, the best thing the British working class has at its disposal.’ During the crisis, it has fallen back on its reputation. ‘Our record on women’s rights is SECOND TO NONE,’ a paper seller bellowed at me in Manchester. (Second to none? ‘YES’.) This is bullshit, of course. Close examination reveals SWP claims as defenders of feminism to be lies. The initial allegation was followed by the worst kind of Unilad slut-shaming. Laurie Penny writes: ‘not only were friends of the alleged rapist allowed to investigate the complaint, the alleged victims were subject to further harassment. Their drinking habits and former relationships were called into question, and those who stood by them were subject to expulsion and exclusion.’

Clearly there has been a misogynistic canteen culture within the organisation for decades. And Seymour and Mieville only notice this at the moment the leaked report detonated onto the internet? As Omar says in The Wire: ‘Nigger, please.’

Fact is, the SWP can’t come back from this. It is finished. As the Very Public Sociologist put it:

They are the party that lets an alleged rapist off because a committee of his mates gave him a clean bill of health, and no amount of back-pedalling, no ‘democracy commissions’ or truth-and-reconciliation procedures can change that. It’s game over, comrades.

The SWP recruit predominantly from universities and it can’t do that as the SWP after this. The young people coming up now (and by ‘young people’ I don’t mean bloggers in their thirties, I mean people born in 1985-1995) are strongly feminist. Think of a popular young writer or blogger – Laurie Penny,  Helen Lewis, Zoe Stavri, Juliet Jacques, the Vagenda team, Sianushka, the Nat Fantastic – and s/he is likely to come from a passionate feminist position. Big grassroots organisations are increasingly feminist and any far left group simply won’t get the numbers without them. The only remaining power play for a far left activist is to disassociate completely with the SWP and set up as some kind of new party that doesn’t have the SWP’s black past. Maybe I’m being too cynical and Richard Seymour really does have the sisterhood’s best interests at heart. But ask yourself: can you really trust a man who writes that badly?

Penny writes that ‘Many of the UK’s most important thinkers and writers are members, or former members’ of the SWP.’ She could have said that most of them became important writers and thinkers after they left the SWP. Paul Richards nails it, in his indispensable essay on the cult:

They sweep up young, idealistic people, take their idealism and energy, and wring them out like sheets of kitchen towel. They turn people off progressive politics for life. They stand alongside decent-minded people, subvert their campaigns, and drive them into the ground.

The problem with the SWP isn’t that it acts on naive, utopian and impractical politics, it’s that it actively crushes and destroys human creativity, idealism, hopes and dreams.

A very big rock has been lifted up. Whether it’s Savile, Cyril Smith or the WRP, this stuff always comes out eventually. Thank god for the internet. It exposes everything.


Update: The brilliant Zarathustra, of Not So Big Society, has made a Nice Guys of SWP Tumblr:



15 Responses to “Nice Guys of the SWP”

  1. Paul Murdoch Says:

    Trouble with the SWP has always been that it’s just way too bourgeois…middle class graduates playing at being radical 🙂

    Only kidding…then again, grown men and women who tend to work in education or in HR down the local council calling each other ‘comrade’ in this day and age….well…hmmm

    Nice piece. Struck me half way through just how many people writing about the SWP lately must have internalised Cohen’s “What’s Left”…rarely quoting…nor any attribution, like it’s some kinda guilty secret…cos y’know…Iraq and all at…and ‘we’re not quite sure what we’re supposed to think about him” etc.

    I’m conflicted over Cohen but I’m starting to feel sorry for the guy. He seems to have done the thinking and analysis for a whole swathe of commenters who have benefitted enormously but can’t say so because..they’re not quite sure if he’s this season’s colour.

    • maxdunbar Says:

      In fact the term ‘comrade’ is not confined to the far left, you see it used in tabloid reports of military battles. But I see what you mean! And would love to see you take on the SWP in a debate…

      What’s Left just gets more relevant with each passing year. A lot of people like Nick because of his attacks on the coalition, bankers, libel tycoons etc but can’t get past his support for the war. Nick is right in the middle of liberal London, that’s his world and I think he was just angry at having these antiwar articles of faith shoved down his throat.

  2. Paul Murdoch Says:

    Yeah, it’s a tricky call for me me on Cohen. Hard to know what posterity will do to him…given its tendency to condescend…enormously. I think we’re already heading through the gates of the fantasy theme park of “what if’ history on Iraq…full of unintended consequence, being right for the wrong reasons, wrong for the right…etc. I spent countless evenings as a kid listening to my grandad and his mates debating the what-ifs of Trotsky rather than Stalin. Highly entertaining and ‘educational’…views tended to range between a utopian global dictatorship of the proletariat and the same number dead, only different names, different places.

    I imagine for you…if I’m being presumptious I apologise…you’ve always got the old “what would Orwell have said?” to rely on and it’s odds odd he’d have sided with Cohen. For me, it’s more like what would Koestler or Victor Serge have said…not such a clear cut decision.

    Orwell seems very much on trend this week. Dunno if you saw the Bea Campbell piece…in the Graun, I think…Campbell of the Marixtist feminism and satanic abuse fame. She ‘puts him right’ on a few things. Tbf, it was much milder than I was expecting but I still came close to putting my fist through the monitor.

    • maxdunbar Says:

      Well the pro war left did massively underestimate the carnage that would happen because of the power vacuum NATO created and our failure to secure the borders. We just didn’t see that coming and some of the more triumphalist pieces from 2003, 2004, ‘Mission Accomplished!’ are just embarrassing in retrospect.

      I think Cohen is one of the best political writers since Orwell. I do like the guy. This is apparently ‘Orwell Week’ – didn’t you know? But I couldn’t bear to read that crap in the Guardian. As Oliver Kamm pointed out, whenever people say ‘What would Orwell think?’ the subtext is ‘He would have agreed with me’

  3. Zarathustra Says:

    Ahhhh, dammit. There was me seeing the link and hoping somebody had set up another spoof Tumblr. 🙂

    On a serious note though, I agree entirely. Bye bye SWP. They won’t be missed.

  4. Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) Says:

    “The best known SWP writers in the UK are probably the novelist China Miéville…”

    Ahahaha. Faint praise indeed.

    • Zarathustra Says:

      They really seem to have gone downhill in terms of their “prominent” members. They used to be able to claim the likes of Mark Steel and the Stone Roses among their ranks. Now, as you say, their most famous supporter is China “Who?” Mieville.

  5. James Heartfield Says:

    Well, ok, but if the person who made the accusation does not go to the police, then that is their choice.

  6. Paul Murdoch Says:

    It’s Orwell week? Why? What’s the significance and who decided? Who is it next week?

    Anyway….think you’re all being a little unfair here…there was a time…especially in the IS days when they had interesting things to say, and Paul Foot was always a mensch.

    By the way, if you do get talking to a Swappie and they manage to engage your interest…maybe on one of the vanishingly few topics which doesn’t reduce to “it’s all about Palestine”, never, on any account, sign a petition; or if you do, use someone else’s name and contact details…someone you don’t like.

    • maxdunbar Says:

      He died on January 21, and this year there has been the first national Orwell Day

      I have a feeling that the petition advice has a story behind it. I will as always bear your wise counsel in mind!

  7. Marcus Battel Says:

    Mieville himself and others unmasked as misogynist by UK critic. Brace yourself, it’s a stinger.

  8. Samuel Simmon Says:

    China Mieville’s victim’s article is here: and there’s another, even more harrowing one here: Why aren’t the police actually questioning him about this? It’s domestic violence, according to the latest expansion of the legal definition of DV.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Questioning him about what? That he charmed and slept with a woman and then let her down? That’s what’s called abuse, now? I guess he is not being questioned because she has more sense than to take this farrago to the police.

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