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After the fire… January 15, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in The Left.
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There’s not a lot to say about the current plight of the UK SWP that hasn’t been said here and elsewhere more succinctly by others – it’s depressing in the extreme, there seems to be a massive dislocation between what is considered appropriate best practice in the context of such events, at least in the context of what is said to have happened.

Not least the central point that an organisation is invariably not best placed to investigate itself – and on a more mundane level note that even in our far too partial and flawed pseudo social democracy we have structures at employment level which seek to avoid or fix that dynamic within workplaces when that sort of approach is taken.

A range of voices from within the SWP, very public voices too, have been raised in complaint about the process. Notably it has now hit the mainstream media and who knows where this will go.

But this post and thread on Socialist Unity initiated by their Mark P is interesting and useful in the context of discussions that taking place on this side of the Irish Sea about the shape of the further and middle left(s).

By the way, a comment was made the other day here that the CLR is on the unofficial list of websites SWP members in Ireland are told to avoid. Interesting if true, certainly the SWP presence here over the past seven years has been just about minimal. But a more interesting question is what other sites might be on such an ‘unofficial’ list?

ADDENDUM: Just to note the above was in response to a comment. Some members of the Irish SWP have put to rest the idea of a list as incorrect and very welcome to hear that it is too.

ADDENDUM REDUX: Many thanks to the person who sent this in where the SWP actually recommends the CLR.

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Comments»

1. Dick Gregory - January 15, 2013

Not least the central point that an organisation is invariably not best placed to investigate itself
Though people outside are best placed to tell SWP members that this confirmed their own view of what is wrong with the party.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

I haven’t actually made any comment as to what, if anything, is wrong with the SWP – bar the point about investigating itself obviously – so your point isn’t applicable in this instance.

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EamonnCork - January 15, 2013

Presumably DG would also feel that the Catholic Church is best placed to investigate allegations of a child abuse cover-up and should ignore those left-wing outsiders who think these allegations confirm their own view of what is wrong with the Church. After all, who knows better about the wrongdoings of a party than the party itself.

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Dick Gregory - January 15, 2013

Perhaps EC could also inform me of what I feel about a range of other issues? In this instance, the answer is no. Having been a member of both the SWP and the Catholic Church, I don’t find them that similar.

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Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 15, 2013

Well you have an infallible leader, whose position is for life, you represent the one true faith and your job is to win new converts, as members of other faiths are heretics of various descriptions and those who aren’t members have to be saved, problems are dealt with in-house and any criticism is seen as an attack on the
institution itself. So no similarities then.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

Can I ask people to distinguish between the Irish SWP and the UK one?

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2. greengoddess2 - January 15, 2013

Why would they avoid CLR? Or be told to avoid anything?

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The Caretaker - January 15, 2013

They may develop the ability to think for themselves which must be avoided at all costs.

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RosencrantzisDead - January 15, 2013

It is hard to know if the list thing is true. If it is, it is quite troubling.

As to why they would avoid CLR, well, I understand that the phrase ‘Mark P’ invokes fear and trembling in many corners of the internet.

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Mark P - January 15, 2013

I’ll take that as the compliment you no doubt intended, RiD.

I’m a little sceptical of the idea that there’s an “unofficial list of websites to avoid”, because it seems a bit too barmy for them. It is true though that SWP members are extremely low profile online, rarely appearing on discussion forums or blogs at all. About the only places I really encounter them are on facebook or on Lenin’s Tomb. And if you’ve been following the arguments inside the British SWP there are repeated asides about “sectarian blogs”.

Speaking of which, I know that I’ve been known to complain about the approach to moderation here from time to time, but every visit to the appalling bearpit that is Socialist Unity (the politics.ie of the British left) does allow me to sympathise with WorldbyStorm’s point of view a little more.

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RosencrantzisDead - January 15, 2013

It was written with levity, Mark P, and no offence was intended.

Although, there were some people on here – admittedly this was some time ago – who claimed that CLR had a ‘pro Mark P’ bias or something to that effect. They then stated that this is why they did not post here. I cannot recall if they were SWP or some other group.

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ejh - January 15, 2013

I can imagine certain sites that I think any constructive socialist would want to avoid, because they’re basically there for swapping abuse. But in the first place, this ain’t one of them (wouldn’t be here myself if I thought that) and in the second, I really think any socialist organisation is pushing its luck in trying to determine where its members go online. I mean apart from any other considerations, trust your cadre to say and do the right things.

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Starkadder - January 15, 2013

Hmm. Maybe there’s some SWP-related stuff in the Left Archive
they’d prefer their members not to read?

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

ejh, can I just say how appreciated your words are.

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michaelosull - January 15, 2013

As a long time member of the swp this suggestion of being told to avoid online forums is laughable. Neither is it something that is discussed at meetings or conferences that I have attended. Some people here obviously find it difficult to understand that as activists we have better uses with our time and keyboard activism is down the list of priorities. Perhaps there is a culture that has developed of not getting involved in unhealthy sectarian debates online but there is certainly no list of ‘banned’ sites. It is sad that such nonsense gets credence here on the CLR as I enjoy some of the posts here.

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Mark P - January 15, 2013

MIchael,

I’m glad to hear that this rumour is false. As I said above, it seemed a bit too nutty for the SWP.

I don’t think you’ll make yourself very popular around here by contrasting “activism” with engaging in discussion on the internet. You don’t actually know what the contributors and commenters here do or don’t do by way of “activism”, and I’d suggest that it’s rather “unhealthy” to draw the kind of disparaging contrast between discussing ideas and doing something useful that you do above.

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Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 15, 2013

‘Some people here obviously find it difficult to understand that as activists we have better uses with our time and keyboard activism is down the list of priorities.’ Not disputing Michael’s honesty but that argument is used consistently by the SWP for not engaging with discussions on the left- ‘no time for that mate, we’re too busy fighting capitalism.’ Its an excuse for non-engagement and while the horrible case in England had brought this to a head, the initial expulsions there were about democracy in the party more generally.

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Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 16, 2013

Given that the SP are engaged in the same activity as the SWP, and several of their members post on this site, and given that it seems clear SWP DO read posts on the CLR, is it not unusual that they never post? Would that not point to either a level of self-discipline on their part or organizational suspicion of the site?
(The British SWP had a big row about their members using social media about ten years ago btw)

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CMK - January 15, 2013

This point in the discussion triggered a distinct memory I have of reading in the ‘Socialist Worker’ that the Cedar Lounge Revolution was one of the sites to go visit if you want to keep up to speed with the Irish Left. I read it late last year, if I recall correctly.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

Well that’s good to hear CMK. As I said I read the comment and didn’t know what to make of it, but this site would be very welcoming to SWPers as it is to all on the left.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

I’m very glad to hear that Michael. I know and work with SWP members and I have considerable admiration for their energy and enthusiasm.

Just to echo Mark P, I don’t think that keyboard activism should overshadow activism elsewhere hence I’m involved in the CAHWT and local community activism, but online contact is I’d argue well worthwhile as. Means of communication, exchanging ideas and so on.

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michaelosull - January 15, 2013

Point taken about the activism thing and I find this site to be very well run and non sectarian. I just don’t have the time personally to contribute. (Winding a baby at the moment!).

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

That’s very much appreciated too MOS. Been that soldier too re the baby! A great age and great craic they can be at that stage.

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3. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 15, 2013

I normally find the guy who runs this site (Lenin’s Tomb- Richard Seymour) to be insufferably arrogant but he has opened up his blog to all this stuff about the crisis:

http://www.leninology.com/

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4. irishelectionliterature - January 15, 2013

There has been a series of attacks on the Socialist Workers Party in the media and by assorted bloggers. They concern the party’s handling of serious allegations against a leading member and the arguments (partly arising from the case) leading up to and during our recent conference……..

http://www.swp.org.uk/14/01/2013/response-attacks-swp

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ejh - January 15, 2013

You can find that posted as a comment on one of the recent pieces on Leninology. It didn’t particularly impress anybody.

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smiffy - January 15, 2013

“There has been a series of attacks on the Socialist Workers Party in the media and by assorted bloggers” and by some serious, decent members of the SWP itself, let’s not forget.

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5. ejh - January 15, 2013

I mean the idea that you can just say “as far as we are concerned the case is closed” as if other people were going to say “oh, OK then” is quite bizarre

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Phil - January 15, 2013

The people who might say “OK then” are party members – who might also be the people the leadership are really worried about.

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6. Organized Rage - January 15, 2013

On the CLR being on the unofficial list of websites SWP members in Ireland are told to avoid, I have no idea if that is true but it would not surprise me as it was not that long ago when the English SWP leadership advised their members not to bother with the WWW as it was for armchair activists. As if reading a book, debating theory or planning a strike or demo could not be done from an armchair

At the time I thought their attitude displayed the reactionary nature of that leadership. It was as if they thought Lenin and Trotsky led a revolution without the help of the Internet so there is nothing they can learn from it, etc.

Although behind that attitude I sensed a fear of losing control of an argument, etc, as in the early days, the Internet, especially leftwing message boards were a pretty harsh environment and those who attempted to use bullshit and bluster to win an argument were often stripped bare.

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7. Mark P - January 15, 2013

As I said on another thread here when this issue was mentioned, while ordinarily a big row in the British SWP would have me reaching for the popcorn, this sort of thing takes all the joy out of playing the sniping petty sectarian. It’s just grim all around.

Before mentioning the process the SWP used to investigate these allegations, a process which seems to have been seriously inadequate in a whole series of ways, it’s worth noting, to be fair to them, that they were in a dreadful situation. You have a member making extremely serious allegations against a party leader, but who does not want to go to the police. In those circumstances, while it seems to me obvious that the complainant should be advised to go to the police and offered every support in doing so (and I don’t think we know whether the SWP did that or not), if she adamantly doesn’t want to do so, the organisation is really left with a very unpleasant choice: force a rape complainant into the criminal justice system against her will or leave an extremely serious allegation unreported. And if it decides not to override the will of the complainant, there is really little choice but to undertake some sort of internal investigation as they can hardly simply leave the person the complaint was made against in place. (As an aside, I don’t know what, if any, mandatory reporting laws there are in England and am assuming a “choice” in the absence of such laws).

The actual investigation they had seems, from the perspective of someone who wasn’t involved but has read descriptions of it, to have been very seriously flawed. Some of that can be explained through inexperience, some of them seem from the outside almost inexplicable. I do not, for instance, understand how anyone thought they could use an investigative panel consisting of people who mostly knew the accused individual well. There are a number of other issues but I’m not going to list them here.

I actually think it speaks well of many members of the British SWP that they’ve gone ballistic about this. Attempts to shut down criticism of the process do not speak well of that party’s leadership however, either in terms of their sense of democracy or, given that the issue is now demonstrably beyond their ability to control discussion of, in terms of their sense of reality.

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Organized Rage - January 15, 2013

Mark

I am not a fan of the SWP’s methodology, ie democratic centralism etc, but I feel it is for members of that party to deal with this issue, if they ‘love’ their organisation and feel there is the democratic space to bring about change that is for them, if not its up to them if they walk. What the English left does not need is yet another micro group.

I see this brouhaha as an inevitable outcome of top down, politics, but I fear the more outsiders interfere the more likely these comrades will circle the wagons until the storm passes.

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Mark P - January 15, 2013

OR,

You addressed that comment to me, but it doesn’t seem to me to be a response to my comment. Am I missing something?

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

I take your point Mark P, but in all honesty it reminds me of the Catholic Church. If someone makes an allegation of child abuse then that has to be referred to statutory authorities, something the Church has takena long time to come to terms with. I can’t see the difference in relation to rape in the context of other organisations. I think mandatory reporting should be a given and I think it’s entirely problematic that the initial member wasn’t pointed in that direction from the off.

BTW, I agree it speaks well of those members who’ve spoken out about this.

I’d also wonder what sanction the member who made the allegation expected to be imposed if the process found the other member guilty. Expulsion? Or what?

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Mark P - January 15, 2013

Just to be clear:

You think that if an adult woman complains to someone that she has been raped but does not wish to go to the police, the appropriate response is always to go to the police against her wishes? Something in me recoils at that.

On the other points you mention:

(1) it isn’t actually clear to me whether or not the SWP advised to her to go the police and offered her support in doing so. It seems to me that they certainly should have done so.

(2) Yes, the problems a verdict of wrongdoing would entail would be extremely seriously. The SWP is not an armed group and so, unlike some Irish organisations, they would be rather unlikely to murder or maim the accused should they decide against him. Their only sanction would be to expel him. But could they really just send him on his way, without warning other people? Or without then going to the police (and again overriding the wishes of the complainant)?

On a semi-related note, I recall that the Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group magazine, RAG, had an article about dealing with abusive sexual behaviour “in our communities” (by which they seem to have meant the loose anarchoid scene) a few years ago which struck me as well meaning but rather wrong-headed.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

In all honesty I too recoil at that but rape is an enormously serious charge, and crime. I think that it is necessary if it [a charge of rape] is made that at the very least one would go to an RCC [Rape Crisis Centre] and not put back on the organisation It is alleged to have happened in.

I agree entirely with your logic in 2. But that logic suggests that the SWP was in no position to sanction anyone, that if they expelled a rapist they would be free to do whatever they liked and ultimately the police would have to be involved.

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Wendy Lyon - January 16, 2013

WBS I have to disagree with you on the mandatory reporting thing. There are all sorts of reasons why women may not want to report abuse, not least of which are the consequences that some women experience when they do so (which can include stigma, further abuse and unwanted police intrusions into their lives, not a minor consideration in some cases). Encouraging her to report it is one thing but ultimately her decision has to be respected. Sure it may complicate the party’s investigative process, but it’s not as though they’re the first organisation in the world that has had to deal with this sort of thing. There’s not really any excuse not to have proper procedures in place to deal with it.

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Wendy Lyon - January 16, 2013

I recall that the Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group magazine, RAG, had an article about dealing with abusive sexual behaviour “in our communities” (by which they seem to have meant the loose anarchoid scene) a few years ago which struck me as well meaning but rather wrong-headed.

In what way? (I didn’t see it.)

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WorldbyStorm - January 16, 2013

As I said to Mark I recoil at it as well, but I do think that the least that should be done is that a party eschew internal processes in this matter and make very effort to suggest the individual concerned go to a Rape Crisis Centre or other similar organisation where s/he can be counselled and given the opportunity to consider a range of options outside of the clearly – even if unconsciously – institutionally biased context of a party (and my undderstanding is that RCC’s don’t force people to report to the police).

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WorldbyStorm - January 16, 2013

The point of course being that if a crime is reported within a specific context – even the effectively less than formal context of a party or other organisation – then that leaves the organisation itself in a serious quandry. The seriousness of it demands action yet there’s no viable process to implement that action if it is decided (and on what basis, it’s not like the SWP or other organisations have a forensic ability) that the charge is correct. A given organisatoin cannot, as Mark noted do anything other than – presumably expulsion. I’m not sure that if one takes all the competing rights into account if that is at all satisfactory – and indeed it’s not satisfactory at all if it is a predatory individual involved here.

That’s why at a minimum the person raising the charge should go to a crisis centre.

The problem being that there’s no real ‘party investigative process’ to be complicated. Any such process is a bit of a sham – and not necessarily deliberately or consciously so – because its effect is utterly limited – and again, say it arrived at the conclusion the person who is charged with rape is guilty – does it then hand that person over to the police, or encourate the initial claimant to go to the police? And what if there’s a refusal to do so?

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Mark P - January 16, 2013

Wendy, I’ll have to dig out that issue of RAG in order to give a fair critique of the article. It’s a long time since I read it. My vague recollection is that there seemed to be a rather utopian view of the possibilities open to “our communities” (the anarchoid scene) when it came to dealing with predatory behaviour without the involvement of outside authorities.

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WorldbyStorm - January 16, 2013

BTW, file this under l’esprit de l’escalier, but I had modified my view on this from mandatory reporting in my first comment to one of going to the RCC in my second comment above in response to Mark P yesterday evening, just to be clear.

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Wendy Lyon - January 16, 2013

I see this brouhaha as an inevitable outcome of top down, politics

Is that all? Really?

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8. sonofstan - January 15, 2013

Pity Splintered Sunrise is dormant.

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ejh - January 15, 2013

Not especially.

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Ken MacLeod - January 15, 2013

I miss his sane and witty posts on the doings of the far left, and the discussions they generated. His turn to arcane debates, incomprehensible to the outsider, about fine points of doctrine and shady organizational shenanigans in the world of Roman Catholic traditionalism – not so much.

My private hope is that Splinty was doing some deep cover work for the remaining revolutionary elements of the former deformed workers state(s) in both instances, but this is probably just a romantic fantasy of mine.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

+1

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sonofstan - January 15, 2013

I used to quite enjoy the Catholic stuff despite not having a clue what he was on about most of the the time.

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9. doctorfive - January 15, 2013

Been somewhat odd watching this and the beeb unfold from the outside and history repeat itself. In that light of what we’ve seen and been through here it doesn’t look good. Not good at all.

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WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2013

+1

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10. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 16, 2013

Some more background to the crisis. I’ll leave it at this.

http://www.leninology.com/2013/01/swp-in-crisis-what-do-socialists-say.html

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11. Jimmy Scutclife - January 16, 2013

“They depend for their continued existence, this insulation, and the level of prestige they hold, on the continuation of the capitalist system…” – this from the above post must also refer to the SWP – with the add on that their continued existence also depends on the failure for any serious left alternative to emerge – a really think we must hope this is the end of the SWP for the good of the left and their membership (which is, apart it would seem from a small minority) good apples stuck in a rotten barrel.

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12. The SWP, Idle No More And The Basque Country | An Sionnach Fionn - January 16, 2013

[...] is more about this unfolding scandal over on the Cedar Lounge Revolution and Lenin’s Tomb, not to mention the personal blog of sci-fi author [...]

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13. Kevin Higgins - January 16, 2013
14. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 17, 2013
15. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 17, 2013

Another….quite powerful given the circumstances

http://www.leninology.com/2013/01/letter-to-central-committee.html

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