Thursday, 31 January 2013

Can the SWP deal with rape allegations?

There are a small number of arguments being put forward by the CC and loyalists which relate to the specifics of how they dealt with the rape allegation.  I attempt here to set out some of the points that I have used to challenge these arguments.  My first point will always be that the party should never have attempted to conduct a rape investigation and I stand by that. 

However, I also believe it is crucial that we take on some of the arguments that we are facing.  This composition has come about as the result of the input (on this blog and in discussions) of many comrades. I don’t take credit for the ideas here.  They have been developed through debate and discussion – exactly in the way that thought and ideas should develop in our party. Nor do I put these forward as a blue print.  They are intended to help comrades deal with the arguments, and I hope that comrades will comment on and challenge this post so that we can continue to develop our thought.

One of my usual experiences is not so much an argument as an incredulous face pulling exercise that seems to go on whenever I ask “would the DC have investigated a murder?”  The expression on the faces of these opponents says it all “why on earth would you equate rape with murder?”  But I think these faces tell a more complex story “why on earth would you equate this allegation of rape with murder”. 

It is not the case that W went to the DC with her clothes torn, bruises and an experience that fits the mainstream story of a rape victim.  If that had been the case, I believe that the DC would have said “we are in no position to investigate this case”.  The reason that the DC thought it was fit to investigate this case is precisely because it did not recognise rape within relationship, acquaintance rape, date rape or whatever you want to call this woman’s experience as a ‘real’ rape.  Part of their disbelief may have been because they were friends or long standing colleagues of Delta.  Part of their disbelief may be because the party’s position on women’s oppression is flawed, it has not kept up to date with the most current theories in feminism and it has not kept itself at the forefront of the battle against women’s oppression.  Part of their problem was that they are human, they live in this world, in this time and, despite protestations to the contrary, they were not immune to the rape myths that exist in this society. 

I have also faced the argument that the DC has investigated 9 rapes in the past (I’m not clear on how recently these ‘investigations’ were conducted).  I believe this argument is put forward to reassure comrades of the competency of the DC.  I don't find it reassuring in the slightest; in fact I find it terrifying.  But it illustrates my points above.  Our understanding of rape has developed over the years.  Rape within marriage was only recognised in law in the 1990’s (England) / 1980’s (Scotland), date rape (acquaintance rape) is an issue that we are continuingly developing our understanding of and we have the women's movement to thank for the progress made in changing attitudes towards these issues.  If the party, in the past has underestimated the seriousness of rape and has attempted to investigate it, surely it is valid to suggest that that time has now passed and we understand enough about rape to understand that it is not a dispute between two people that can be resolved through a disputes committee?

Although one would hope that the SWP would always be at the forefront of understanding and reacting appropriately to violence against women, if we have failed in the past, we need to stop what we were doing and make sure that our approach changes now.  The approaches we’ve taken in the past and those we will take in the future need to be constantly re-evaluated based on what we currently understand about rape.  We should translate the best of practices into our internal mechanisms.

There is an argument, put forward forcefully in individual conversations at the Scottish aggregate which goes something like “What else could the CC/DC do? W wanted them to investigate, they followed her wishes.”  Those of us who challenge the process are then accused of suggesting that women should be forced to go to police.

I would argue that this inability to put forward anything other than the two options above – police investigation or DC investigation – either indicates a cover up or an appalling lack of problem solving skills and actually, we want neither of these in the leadership of a revolutionary organisation.

When my letter to the CC was posted on Lenin’s Tomb blog and then linked to Richard’s Facebook page within a short time there were over 50 comments on one of these forums and over 40 on the other.  Comrades were discussing what could we have done? What does a revolutionary socialist response look like? Where do the police fit in this type of situation?  This is an example of the kind of creativity, willingness to learn and desire to deal seriously with a dreadful situation that exists in our party. This is what should have happened in the leadership and, if it did happen, then it should be straightforward for the leadership to explain to the party the justification for the process it followed.  The CC could tell us what these justifications were without breaching anyone's confidentiality.  The details of the case are confidential; the party's approach to dealing with rape is not.  In fact, if the leadership could explain the route by which it came to decide on its actions then it could only help its case. They are unable or unwilling to do so, and I can only deduce that these discussions didn't happen.

The leadership has also claimed that the DC to investigating Delta was not a problem despite the fact that they knew him well and some were friends of his.  The crux of this argument seems to be they were all long standing and well respected party members and because the party is against women's oppression the DC would somehow automatically investigate the allegations fairly and objectively. 

This is a circular argument. Both W and Delta are also SWP  members. By this logic Delta could not possibly commit rape (presumably if by virtue of being in the party we are immune to sexist ideas we must also by extension be incapable of sexist acts); but then would it not also mean by extension that W would be incapable of experiencing rape at the hands of a party member?  How can that recursive logic resolve itself?  Do all of our relationships with other party members exist without the trappings of historic oppression?

Also concerning (given the difference in age and length of time in the party between the individuals involved) is the linking of the DC members’ length of service in the SWP as evidence of their inability to be anything other than objective in the matter.  What does that tell us about the attitude towards W's age and shorter length of time as a member of the Party?  Is she therefore deemed to be less immune to sexist ideas? 

The leadership also questions what else they could have done?  The DC is the body elected to investigate there was no-one else they could ask to investigate.  I would again argue that this inability to develop alternative ways of dealing with difficult situations looks and smells at worst like a cover up or at the very least a complete lack of the type skills one would want to see in a revolutionary leadership.
Comrades have asked for an example of what an alternative approach might look like.  This is only one way in which the situation could have been dealt with, there are others but for starters:

1.     Acknowledge that the woman came to the internal process because she trusted the Party – that is an honour and a responsibility it deserves to be treated as such. 

2.     Reassure her that the allegation is taken seriously, and that the organisation wants to provide support but be honest, the SWP is not in a position to investigate a rape.  We are not criminal investigators, there may be other victims and an internal investigation could compromise a criminal investigation. 
3.     Explore the complainant’s expectations and what she envisages happening.  It is fine to limit people's expectations; it helps no-one if someone who feels they have been badly treated has unrealistic expectations that are dashed at some point during the process designed to deal with their complaint.
4.     Explain that the DC's remit is to investigate if someone has behaved in a way that is not in line with the SWP's purpose, aims and values.  So the DC cannot investigate a rape and neither can they find someone “innocent” or “guilty” or “not proven” or “exonerate” them.  The limits of their findings are to matters of conduct and whether allegations are founded or unfounded.  

5.     Because the allegation is so serious the person against whom the complaint is made should be placed on immediate suspension without prejudice.  

6.     The party will need to investigate if his behaviour at any time was at odds with the party's purpose, aims, and values and if so to what extent and what sanctions are appropriate.  If the complainant decides to go to the police (and she should be encouraged and supported to in making her own decision about whether to do so) a police investigation will take precedence.  The party’s investigation into conduct would not be able to begin until any police investigation is finished.  If the complainant decides at any time during any proceeding to go to the police, the internal investigation will be halted until the police investigation is complete.  The member whom the complaint is against will remain on suspension until the whole process is completed.   The complainant should be reassured that this is a normal process and should not be made in any way to feel awkward or guilty about making her complaint, or about the steps the organisation takes as a result of receiving her complaint.  She should be reassured that she did the right thing by coming forward.

7.     The people dealing with the allegation need to be sure that the woman understands the differences between a criminal investigation and an internal one and the limitations of the latter.  The woman should be supported to go to Rape Crisis or another sexual abuse agency so that she can have support; including an independent supporter to help her come to a decision about what she wants to do. 
8.     Outline the process in writing (including limitations, what the hearing will look like, what might be asked, who gets to see what; AND setting out the process for the selection of an independent panel to hear the complaint) and encourage the woman to discuss this with her support agency, take time, come back and ask questions etc.  Discuss timings, find out when the woman would like an investigation to take place, perhaps encourage her to take a couple of weeks to think about her options with support but put reasonable limits on it – the organisation needs to deal with the situation.
9.     The party should be happy to co-operate with the woman’s choice of support agency and should offer someone from the party to be an internal support for the woman.  The woman should have a say in deciding who this might be.  

Please note:  the information above about the precedence of a police investigation is absolutely standard practice if there is an allegation of a crime having been committed in a workplace or by a worker whose employer also wants to deal with it.  Likewise suspension without prejudice is standard practice in serious allegations.  In care settings, suspension without prejudice can easily go on for a year while a police investigation is carried out.

It is also worth noting that a police investigation may be dropped because of lack of evidence, or a case be dropped in court, or a defendant found not guilty but an employer or organisation may still find that conduct was below what should have been expected and discipline the individual(s).

 - Linda Rodgers

Open Letter to SWP CC from trade union activists

We draw the attention of comrades to this letter:

We are all union activists who work with SWP members in our union branches, in the various democratic bodies in our unions and in the wider union movement. Some of us have SWP members in our workplaces, some of us participate in SWP led campaigns or vote for SWP members in elections. Many of us, whatever our politics, recognise that our SWP comrades can be relied on to speak up for our class and union members’ interests, to be at the forefront of campaigns, to turn up on picket lines, and to support those of us who are victimised for our union activities.
For these reasons, we have not been able to ignore the recent crisis in the SWP. We have been concerned, and at times appalled, as we have heard about complaints being swept under the carpet in 2011, disciplinary committees including close friends of the accused, women quizzed about irrelevant details of their behaviour and drinking habits, SWP members instantly dismissed for discussing these matters, while another member who has been the subject of complaints continues to represent SWP campaigns, and the revelation that the word ‘feminist’ is used as an insult within the party.
No one is saying that other left organisations have an unblemished record when it comes to dealing with sexism, sexual harrassment, or sexual assault, but the SWP Central Committee now appear to be ignoring the many voices both inside and outside their party who are telling them that they have got it badly wrong. Instead, Alex Callinicos wrote an article that avoided all mention of the women involved, and dismissed accusations of harrassment, and worse, as “gossip”. It is clear that the CC are not listening to the significant number of members who are expressing their dismay at recent events.
While many of us welcome the recent open letter from academics and others who speak at SWP events, our message to you is different. We are not saying we won’t work with SWP members. That isn’t even an option, while we are in the same unions we will of course be working side by side. But, your members are right, it has changed things. We are dismayed, we are appalled, we feel uncomfortable round SWP members unless we know that like many of your members, they are equally appalled.
If the CC continue to respond by ignoring the issue or closing down debate, as well as losing some great activists, you are going to find your remaining members have a harder time organising, campaigning, and making connections with other union members, through no fault of their own, but through the fault of their Central Committee, who are putting them in an impossible position.
Fortunately there is still time to reconsider, and we hope that you do.
All names in a personal capacity.

Glyn Harries, UNISON Local Govt
H. Akram, UNISON Health
H. Smith, GMB
Harry Stephens, UNISON HE
Jack Green, UNISON Local Govt
James Collins, UNISON Health
Jon Rogers, UNISON Local Govt
and UNISON National Executive Committee
Kirstie Paton, NUT
Louise Lambe, UNISON HE
Marshajane Thompson, UNISON Local Govt
and chair of UNISON United Left
Mille Wild, UCU
Naomi Bain, UNISON HE
Phil Dickens, PCS
Richard Brodie, UCU
If you are a union rep and would like to add your signature, please email

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Advice for comrades feeling the heat from the CC and its full-time organisers

In the face of the unprecedented opposition within our party to the Central Committee, its shocking handling of the rape allegation against a leading member, its attempts to force through a post-conference pretence that all is settled, and its continuing bullish defence of undemocratic methods and ongoing attempts to silence dissent, the Central Committee and its full-time organisers have started to move against those of us demanding an accounting in the party. 

Comrades around the country have been summoned to meetings on their own, or at best with one fellow member to accompany them. In these meetings they have been accused of all manner of attacks on "forty years of British Leninism", and recantations, confessions and apologies have been demanded, along with suggestions that they leave if they cannot toe 'the line'. 

Don't be intimidated. It's our party. You are not alone, much as the CC may wish to make you feel isolated. 

Here are some suggestions for comrades in these situations: 

DON'T go alone to one of these meetings. If "invited", accept, and tell the CC member or organiser the names of three other comrades who will be coming with you. Stick to your guns on this. 

DO take notes during the meeting and reject any demand that you should not. 

DON'T agree to anything - tell whoever is disciplining you that you will go away, discuss their points with other comrades, and respond later. 

DO tell other comrades before and after the meeting that it will be happening. We have NOTHING to hide from other members and from the class. 

DON'T apologise for standing up to them and for fighting for our party. 

DO tell us, here at the IS blog of any incidents of bullying and / or intimidation. Any threats, any suggestion of disciplinary sanctions - tell the party, the party needs to know what is going on.

Do please consider sharing any concerns or uncertainties arising from such meetings with the sympathetic comrades posting at this blog - feel free to email us

Kris Stewart
Andy Godfrey
Hannah Elsisi
Gareth Dale 
China Mieville 
Andy Lawson
Richard Seymour 
Alex Anievas 
Adam Marks 
Jamie Pitman

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Is Zinovievism finished? A reply to Alex Callinicos

Alex Callinicos’ article on the crisis in the SWP purports to be a defence of Leninism in the face of a ‘flood of attacks’ – by which Alex means the crisis that has engulfed the party over the mishandled investigation of allegations of rape and sexual harassment against a Central Committee member. 

The piece does nothing of the sort, but is rather an encapsulation of the flaws that have brought us to this pass. It is clearly intended as an opening salvo in the CC’s response to the growing opposition within the party. In particular it draws on the long tradition of dealing with dissent over particular issues by means of the absurd implication that that dissent is an attack on the heritage of the October revolution, accompanied by an airy dismissal of the actual facts. This maneouvre assumes the following equivalences: that ‘revolutionary party’ means the model of democratic centralism adopted by the SWP in the 1970s; that this model replicates that of the Bolsheviks in 1917 and the decisions of the current leadership therefore embody the legitimacy of that revolution, which we can expect to be replicated in the conditions of the UK in the 21st century.This is pure substitutionalism – and on its own measure of providing strong interventionist leadership, is a complete failure.

First of all, take note that this is the first public intervention by a CC member, with the exception of the re-posting of an internal Party Notes statement. Alex’s article is clearly similarly aimed at an internal audience: no one could use these arguments in their workplace to defend the SWP, for which the ‘strong interventionist’ leadership is supposed to provide the means.  If members doubt this, they might test it in practice.  When asked about allegations of a rape cover up in the SWP, by a workmate or fellow student or union activist, give Alex Callinicos’s answer: euphemise about a ‘difficult disciplinary case’ and then mention that Owen Jones is a Labour supporter.  See if that works.  See if the Party still has their respect next time it launches an initiative.  Then consider that the CC, having brought about this situation by their decisions, expect you to do what they will not, which is defend it in public.

Of course, it may be possible that your activist or trade unionist comrade has simply been misled by the gossip and half-truths of the ‘dark side of the internet’. Incidentally, this blimpish insult is a disgrace: it implies that comrades concerned about the treatment of an allegation of rape and sexual harassment within the SWP are equivalent to child pornographers and 401 scammers. Alex brushes aside the offline ‘real world’ motions calling for an emergency conference passed (at the time of writing) at 8 SWP branches, the motions critical of the CC passed at a further 8 and the statements of opposition issued by 13 SWSS groups. But what are the internet lies and half-truths? Alex does not tell us, but instead attempts to introduce into circulation an evasive euphemism by referring only to a ‘disciplinary case’. Everyone knows this is an allegation of rape and sexual harassment. What are the ‘lies’ circulating about it? Are they:

1) That a complaint was made in July 2010 against comrade Delta? Alex may rely on the bureaucratic claim that no formal complaint was made to the Disputes Commission: this contradicts basic common sense as well as the introduction given by the DC member who opened the 2013 conference session, who referred to an  ‘informal complaint’ in July 2010 and mentioned ‘how the complaint was handled in 2010.’

2) That the nature of this complaint was obfuscated and the impression given that it was merely a case of unhappiness in a failed relationship? If so, why did the CC use conference time on a personal matter?

3) That the disputes commission into the complaint issued in September 2012 contained 5 close colleagues and associates of comrade Delta, and 2 members of the Central Committee on which he sat?

4) That one member of the DC found that it was likely that Comrade Delta had committed sexual harassment and that the rest found the case ‘not proven’ not  that Delta was exonerated as a ‘member in good standing’? The DC ruled ‘not guilty’ on the charge of rape: they therefore distinguished between ‘not guilty’ and ‘not proven’. This implies that the CC believe that a member whom the DC consider may be a sexual harasser – to a degree significant enough not to be given the protection of a ‘not guilty’ decision - is still ‘in good standing.’

5) That the complainant was denied the right to put her side of the case to conference in 2013?

6) That a second woman, having complained of sexual harassment by Delta, did not have confidence in the DC to deal with her complaint because of the way in which it had dealt with the first case?

7) That the women involved were asked questions about their drinking and relationship habits? They claim to have been: if Alex denies this, he is saying they are liars, not the internet.

Which of these are lies? If they are not lies, how on earth are comrades meant to defend these points to the class? Perhaps we are to rely on the notion that SWP members possess a ‘political morality’ that ensures they adjudicate correctly whether their comrades have raped someone. Try that also –there is no way it would be accepted by anyone outside the SWP, and hopefully not by many within it. Would you accept that argument of any other organization? It cannot withstand scrutiny from our own comrades in the (avowedly Leninist) sister organisations of the International Socialist Tendency, leading members of which are now participating in a boycott of SWP events and publications – let alone the wider layers of the class and its organisations which we formerly called ‘our periphery’ but to which Alex now refers as ‘Owen Jones and his like’.

What has this to do with the defence of Leninism? It is linked, although not in the way that Alex imagines: that because the conference voted for (by a handful of votes andnot a majority of the delegates) the DC report, the matter is now closed.  Alex simply makes a banal statement about majority votes being binding (as they are in Trade Unions, rugby clubs, Parliament, corporate AGMs…) without specifying the actual debate that is currently going on. It is the current model of party organization in the SWP that leads to the disconnection from reality behind the defence of Comrade Delta and the paralytic response to the crisis it has engendered. Alex suggests that this model bears the legitimacy of the October revolution and that those who depart from it have abandoned the project of working-class revolution. Let us state clearly: this claim is false. The Bolshevik leadership of 1917 was elected individually. There was no ban on factions. On the eve of the October Revolution, Zinoviev and Kamenev publicly opposed the insurrection in Maxim Gorky’s newspaper (the ‘dark side’ of the printing press, perhaps) and resigned from the Bolshevik Central Committee. They were not expelled from the Party.

The model operated currently by the SWP is not that of the Bolshevik revolution. It is a version of the Zinovievite model adopted during the period of “Bolshevisation” in the mid-1920s and then honed by ever smaller and more marginal groups. When Alex implies that somehow we have developed a ‘distilled’ version of Bolshevik democratic centralism he is not holding to the tradition of October: it is asking us to choose the model that has led to three of the most serious crises in the SWP’s history in quick succession over the model that actually did lead the October revolution.

Alex concedes in passing that there are different models of democratic centralism, but ends by effectively arguing that there is really only one: the model which currently exists in the SWP. But merely invoking the term “democratic centralism” does not tell you anything about which level of decision get made by which people, how frequently decisions are made or what mechanisms should exist for review, let alone how to elect a Central Committee or of whom it should consist. Two examples will show how our current model is weighted towards centralism at the expense of democracy.

The first is in relation to decision making. According to the theory, conference discusses and decides (democracy) and then comrades, including those who opposed the agreed position, carry out the decisions (centralism). Fine: but what does conference actually decide? It is presented with a series of general perspective documents which are usually so bland and platitudinous that it is virtually impossible to disagree with them: the economic crisis is not going to be resolved, times are hard but there are also opportunities, we must not be complacent over the threat of fascism, and so on. To agree with this kind of statement is not to make a decision over strategy or tactics, or anything specific enough for the CC to be held to account. The real decisions about actual policy – to establish united fronts, to join electoral coalitions – are almost always made by the CC itself between conferences, with conference asked to ratify them after the event. 

The second is in relation to the composition of the CC. The CC self-selects: it has an agreed political perspective; when someone dies or resigns it chooses as replacements comrades who agree – or who are thought to agree – with that perspective; at no point is the chain ever broken by open political debate. And if the perspective is wrong? The problems extend to the membership of the CC. What are the requirements of a potential CC member? There are apparently two: that they should live in or around London and that – with a handful of exceptions – they are full-time employees of the party. So - the comrades who are eligible for membership of the CC are those who until their selection have been paid to carry out the decisions of the previous CC and who, because they tend to have been students beforehand, rarely have any direct experience of the class struggle. How can a leadership this narrow be capable of forming an accurate perspective?

To deal with one diversionary objection: to complain about the composition of the CC is not to demand that ‘federalist’ structure. We do not want a CC in which its members represent trade unionists, or community activists or students – but we do want a CC which embodies the actual experience of these groups. Some roles on the CC can only ever be carried out by full-timers, notably the editor of Socialist Worker and the national Secretary, but the balance should always be towards those for whom the experience of the “real world” is inescapable. 

After the catastrophes of the last five years a measure of humility would also be welcome. Alex is part of the ‘strong, interventionist’ leadership that has presided over this disaster with no effective response, following on from a period of near permanent crisis that began with the failure of the Respect adventure – for which Alex surely also bears some collective responsibility, as a member of the CC at the time. When will this strong, interventionist leadership ever hold itself responsible for what happens on its watch? What do they think has gone wrong? If they can’t manage this, how will they cope in a revolution?

We agree with Alex that the SWP is the best hope for developing a revolutionary party in in Britain. It has at least two great historic achievements to its credit in the Anti-Nazi League and its successors, and the Stop the War Coalition – movements which actually helped to change aspects of British society for the better, particularly in relation to racism. They are among the reasons why many have remained members in spite of the obstacles which successive leaderships have thrown up to democracy in the party. But if the SWP is ever to achieve its full potential the current situation cannot be allowed to continue. 

Alex reiterates that if the SWP did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. We agree – and that for the party to continue to exist, it is necessary to reinvent it. This is not alien to our tradition: perhaps it is best to leave the last word to one of its brightest lights, David Widgery in his review of the third volume
of Cliff’s biography of Lenin:

The blossoming-blighting process which Cliff documents froze over Leninism and only mass revolutionary working-class action is able to melt it from its icy limbo. Lenin is therefore trapped in his moment, surrounded by a thicket and awaiting political rescue: ‘An old communist conceives an embryo of longing’. One day, his Modern Prince will come. Until he is woken with the proletarian kiss, the problem is not that Leninism has failed, but that it has not been tried.”

The time for Leninism to be tried is now long overdue.

Jamie Allinson
Neil Davidson
Gareth Dale
China Miéville
Richard Seymour
John Game
Alex Anievas
Gonzalo Pozo
Hannah Elsisi
Kris Stewart
Jamie Pitman
Ciara Squires
Keith Paterson
Nathan Akehurst
Toni Mayo
Linda Rodgers
Andy Lawson

Reflections on 2011 SWP conference by a delegate

As the crisis engulfing the SWP continues to unfold it seems the significance of the 2011 SWP conference and the ‘special session’ (we call it that for want of a better term) devoted to an informal complaint made by a young female comrade against the leading party member later dubbed Delta, becomes increasingly apparent. Yes you read that right, this issue first arose two years ago in 2011.
It was at this ‘special session’ that the allegations made by a young female comrade (later known as comrade W) first became ‘public’. That is ‘public’ after a fashion because at the time the complaint remained an informal complaint and was therefore not forwarded to the Disputes Committee; and because at the time no one spoke of rape or sexual assault, while the subject of sexual harassment was only coquetted with in the most euphemistic fashion. When the conference ended most party delegates were still in the dark as to the nature of allegation against Delta.

Instead the ‘special session’ initially derived its notoriety from the standing ovation, foot stamping and the chant of “the workers united will never be defeated!” that Delta received from a significant section of the assembled delegates after he was allowed to make a speech in a session supposedly meant to address the fallout of the informal complaint made against him. Two years later comrade W, badly let down by the party’s internal disputes process, would demand a similar opportunity to address an SWP conference but would be denied by the CC. 

This is not to suggest that this is how a formal or informal complaint should have been dealt with but simply to note that such a demand appears to have been a desperate demand to be seen and heard when the flawed Disputes Committee process let comrade W down and compounded the failures of the CC stretching back two years. A serious complaint against a leading party member by a young female comrade was not dealt with on the unflinching principled basis of intransigent opposition to sexism that was a hallmark of the IS tradition. The latter, hard won position which surely owed something to the emergence of radical feminism in the late 1960s and 1970s entailed a comprehension of the roots of women’s oppression in class society but did not imply global immunity from its effects. 

There was another aspect to the notoriety the 2011 SWP conference acquired.  That was the fact that a few party comrades were foolish enough to deny that comrade Delta ever received a standing ovation in the ‘special session’. Some of those comrades claimed to have been present. Perhaps they were. But whether they are repressing their memories or drawing a discreet veil over things, such disavowals can only corrupt. 

Revolutionary socialists cannot afford to play fast and loose with the truth. The oppressed and exploited need the truth, however unpleasant. The militants and cadre of a revolutionary socialist organization must tell the truth, not just to party members, but also those they struggle alongside and seek to win. It is not always easy or expedient to do so.  For example, many in the party would like to pretend that this crisis is all the fault of the bourgeois media.  But we can be grateful to a militant teacher whom I know, who in his letter to the National Secretary excoriated this myth.  He told the truth, that the party leadership was “delusional”, and did us all a small service.

Returning to the ‘special session’ in 2011, this took place just days after rumours had circulated in some circles of the SWP, and finally been leaked to the Socialist Unity blog. Newman (an ex-SWP member, trade unionist and Labour Party member), posted a brief teasing post suggesting that SWP delegates to the forthcoming party conference should be on their mettle. There were questions to be asked about the conduct of a leading SWP member. Newman refused to divulge his source, or offer any more specific information.

So what happened? Well this is the recollection of a single comrade but it has been recalled with a fair degree of accuracy I think and with good reason. I and another comrade discussed the rumours as we travelled to the conference as branch delegates. We were anxious that the issue be dealt with openly, transparently and that comrade Delta be treated no more favourably than any other party member simply because he was a leading member.  We were also concerned about the damage to the party’s reputation if this did not happen. We agreed that I would speak to Charlie Kimber (the National Secretary replacing Delta) about our concerns.

I spoke to Kimber privately on the Saturday of conference shortly before the ‘special session’ took place (I did not know it was scheduled until Kimber told me so). I talked of my concern at the rumours circulating though I did not know the nature of the allegations. Kimber interrupted me and said he could not divulge their exact nature. I said I understood but that I wanted a reassurance that comrade Delta would not receive special treatment because he was a leading party member. Kimber assured me this would not happen and that a ‘special session’ would follow shortly that would address the concerns of comrades. I said OK and shook hands and stepped away. That was it, short and brisk. Five minutes later back inside the conference as delegates returned from a break to retake their seats I saw Delta and Kimber sharing a joke at the side of the conference stage. To say that I and the comrade accompanying were disturbed would be an understatement. Minutes later the ‘special session’ began. I and the comrade with me were so repelled and horrified we were unable to return for the second, final day of conference.

Because of the strictures of ‘confidentiality’, the name, age and branch of the young female comrade who subsequently became known as comrade W was not revealed at conference. But neither was the nature of the allegations, as we will see. A great deal of information was not shared with assembled delegates. When some delegates rose to give comrade Delta a standing ovation they and the rest of us were still largely in the dark.  

During the ‘special session’ only six comrades were actually called to speak. Comrade Delta was the penultimate speaker and in the current argot of ‘Party Notes’ you might say his extemporized speech was “warmly received.” What was the gist of Delta’s address? He argued he was “no angel” and he had never pretended to be one. There was a lachrymose element to what he said also when he talked of his “real friends”; the ones who knew who he really was as a person, comrades from his days in Westminster branch in the late 1980s. There was also a passage many would have regarded as heartfelt where Delta spoke of the stress involved in his role as the very public face of the UAF that made him, his partner and his home a target for the fascists.
As a result of the informal complaint against him, Delta stepped down from, or was removed from, his post as National Secretary.  But he remained on the CC.  Delta informed us all that he was “happy as a pig in shit” to be returning to the Industrial department where he had always been happiest.  Had the class struggle been the tempest we had all hoped it would be when the Con-Dem government was elected in 2010 with their vicious plans for austerity, it might have provided Delta with a suitable distraction.  This performance was followed the rapturous applause and chanting of some of the assembled delegates that left other delegates bewildered in their seats.

Yet Delta’s speech has obscured two other significant contributions that day. Setting aside crass contributions from Sheila McGregor and others, Delta was followed by a brave young Asian female comrade (I cannot recall her name) who invited the delegates to consider if their applause and chanting was really appropriate given the context. 

The other significant contribution – the significant contribution in hindsight, was that of Alex Callinicos, who kicked off the ‘special session’. It was a euphemistic triumph. At no point did Callinicos talk of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Instead Callinicos began by saying that he had something a bit unpleasant to relay but it would only take a moment of time before we returned to the main business of conference. There was a young female comrade who was upset at Delta and his behavior. Without divulging any real detail, Callinicos explained that Delta denied having done anything wrong but acknowledged that the female comrade was upset with him and he was sorry for that. Delta would no longer place himself in the presence of the female comrade. It was all so vague and Callinicos implied that the female comrade no longer wished to give the impression that she reciprocated Delta’s interest. Delta was sorry for any distress caused but he denied he had actually done anything wrong. It was a bit of a misunderstanding and both Delta and the female comrade wished to put it all behind them. 

Almost two years later, during a preconference period, four young comrades were picked out from a number of party members taking part in a closed Facebook chat where misgivings about the CC’s handling of Delta’s case was being discussed, and expelled for ‘secret factionalising.’  The comrades were considering how to raise the issue at the SWP’s forthcoming annual conference. Some linked the question to the party’s democratic deficit and others wondered if a faction should be formed for conference. Shortly before the expulsions, some supporters of Delta considered circulating a petition calling for his reinstatement to the CC during the pre-conference discussion period at the close of 2012. This was before the the delegates had even set out for the conference in January 2013 and when many comrades were still in the dark as to the seriousness of the complaint against Delta.*

The narrow vote “approving” the Disputes Committee report on the case of comrade Delta in January, reflected the process of awakening that had begun when the CC expelled four of our brightest and best, and was continuing. In attempting to put a lid on the scandal, the CC inadvertently brought the growing crisis to a boiling point.

As everyone knows by now, there were 231 votes for and 209 votes against with 18 abstentions. The members of the DC got to vote on their own report too. Such a narrow vote is almost unprecedented in any session of annual conference and even more so for the proceedings of the Disputes Committee where the affirmative vote is traditionally unanimous.    

The CC, our bankrupt leadership, have serious questions to answer about their own conduct in the last two years. It is increasingly hard to avoid the conclusion that our CC embarked on a furtive enterprise to diminish the charge against Delta and limit the fallout as they worked assiduously to rehabilitate Delta. In embarking on such a course they were evidently fortified by the arrogant assumption that they would get their own way, as they often have. They were determined to retain a comrade who was regarded as just too indispensable to lose. Recently in my branch the CC member who was present argued that Delta should be on the current CC slate. Unsurprisingly in the face of the crisis made by the CC, more and more party members are drawing the conclusion not only that Delta is not indispensable but that the scandal raises far wider and deep seated issues about the adequacy of our party structures, of accountability and the extent to which party members democratically control their own party. These issues will simply not go away unless we respond to them with the degree of seriousness and urgency they demand.

-        - Jules Alford
* Originally I claimed mistakenly that this petition - which certainly existed and to which I will return to soon - had circulated in the South Wales pre-conference aggregate before Christmas. This was wrong and I would like to acknowledge my error - openly. I would like to thank comrade Rob again (from South Wales district) for alerting me to this error (see the comments exchange below). I have accordingly removed the passage. I understand that there was a motion put to the aggregate thanking comrade Delta for his role in the UAF which is obviously aomething very different. More horizontal communication between branches and comrades in a revolutionary socialist organisation would of course make verification of such claims far easier.