Statement from the Central Committee 20 December 2013
A number of comrades have in recent days decided to leave the Socialist Workers Party. We are sorry to see them go. We hope, even at this late stage, some of them will reconsider their decision and, regardless of that, we intend to continue to work alongside all those who seek to build resistance to the attacks faced by working class people.
We need a stronger and less fragmented left in Britain. Living standards for most are still falling despite the talk of recovery, trade unions are under attack, racist politicians are whipping up hatred against immigrants, and the Tories are handing vast swathes of the NHS to profiteers. Poverty and despair are growing.
Socialists have to work tirelessly to support any resistance that takes place and to focus the anger that people feel. We need to offer the hope of a socialist alternative to capitalist crisis, poverty and war. It is not a time for splits and division and we do not believe there is a principled basis for one.
Those leaving the SWP cite a number of different reasons, but most originate in the handling of two cases where very serious allegations were directed against a former leading member of our organisation. The Central Committee (CC) of the SWP disagrees strongly with the accounts of the crisis that are currently circulating online. Whatever mistakes were made, they were not because the party or its leadership are sexist or trampled on the politics of women’s liberation or covered up injustice.
This view goes much wider than the leadership. A statement circulated before our conference whose signatories included members of an opposition faction inside the party said, “We believe any charge that the party is morally corrupt, is a sexist organisation, or has abandoned its tradition of fighting women’s oppression has no basis.”
Uniting the Party
In any case, there have been developments which we believe can unite the party.
First, we have acknowledged that there were problems with the structures of our disputes process and we have sought to address these. On the basis of a proposal from the CC at the March 2013 special conference, a body was set up to review the procedures of the party’s disputes committee. It took suggestions from a very wide range of SWP members as well as consulting procedures used by other organisations.
The review body produced a report to the September meeting of the National Committee. This has been widely debated in the party and was then discussed at our recent national conference. After the discussion of amendments and a serious debate, the final review was passed with around 500 delegates voting for it, none against and two abstentions. The review is on our website so those in the wider movement can read it for themselves. Members of the opposition faction themselves voted almost unanimously to accept this review as a way forward.
We have now had three national conferences, a thoroughgoing review whose recommendations have been implemented and extensive discussion in our publications and our members’ bulletins about the issues raised by the disputes committee. This is as far away from a cover-up as it is possible to imagine.
Second, at the party’s annual conference in December the CC made a statement that many people have suffered real distress as a result of taking part in or giving evidence to the disputes committee, or due to slurs on the internet and we are sorry to all of them for that. And specifically we said that the two women who brought very serious allegations suffered real distress. We are sorry for the suffering caused to them by the structural flaws in our disputes procedures, the way in which the two cases became a subject of political conflict within the party and slurs on the internet.
Third, we made clear that we welcomed the decision of members of the opposition who intended to stay in the SWP on the basis of the votes taken at conference, and that we would insist on their right to participate fully in the life of the organisation if they followed our democracy. The entrenched factionalism in the party over the past year has done enormous damage to the party. Overcoming this requires that we move forwards together to engage in the various struggles ahead of us, while continuing to debate the wider political questions we face at our events and in our publications.
The sticking point for some who have left seems to be the CC that was elected at our conference. But this quarrel is not just with the leadership but with the overwhelming majority of the party. The group of candidates proposed by the outgoing CC won 449 votes. An alternative group of candidates proposed by the faction received 69 votes. That is a very decisive result - and SWP members are not “sheep”.
Responding to the Claims
The CC rejects many of the specific claims that have been made by those leaving. There are too many lurid allegations now circulating for us to rebut each one individually, but we must respond to some lest they become the common sense on the left.
David R has written an extremely lengthy account. He claims, for instance, regarding the second complaint of harassment, “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 two 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 M[name deleted] probably had harassed the second complainant. The comrades listened, and some were troubled. But they continued to vote for the leadership.”
In fact, most comrades accepted what the panel actually said: that there was a case to answer but that this certainly did not mean “probably guilty”. The panel added that the accused, who left the SWP before the hearing, would have to answer the allegations if he ever sought to rejoin. To claim that the majority of members, class fighters who argue with those around them each day, acquiesce without question to the “leadership” is an extraordinary insult. The notion that David, a lawyer, would pronounce on any accusation without hearing a response from the accused is bizarre.
Another of those leaving, Ian A, writes: “The SWP chose not to conduct a proper investigation into comrade X’s [the second complainant] hacking complaint… After I opposed the panel’s report at the party conference, a member of the panel accepted that there might have been hacking. The panel chose not to investigate further because they felt confident that hacking had not been carried out by the Central Committee or on its behalf (which was never the allegation).”
As was reported to conference, there is no way that a lay panel of members can determine whether an email account has been hacked. Ian seems to have expected that the panel should have been able to judge with certainty whether or not someone’s email account had been hacked over the last year by anybody at any time. Of course the panel could not deliver such a finding. Instead the panel did what it was asked to do – look at the specific claim that was made. This was that emails (about the organisation of a faction outside the party’s rules, not a disputes case) that ended up in the hands of the CC were obtained by hacking the second complainant’s email.
The panel heard evidence from the CC, which showed that the emails in question were sent to people other than their immediate recipients and that the national secretary of the party received them from one of those on the distribution list. The panel was able to say with total confidence that the CC had not acted in the way that was alleged. This is not a matter that requires specialist technical knowledge. If there was evidence of specific comrades hacking other members’ emails or forging evidence there would have been disciplinary action against them.
Finally, we take seriously any claims of harassment or intimidation in the party, whoever they are directed against. At no point, contrary to claims online, has the CC said that either of the complainants are “police spies” or “MI5 agents”. Anyone making such claims would be utterly absurd. Nor do we toss around claims that people are “drifting into bourgeois feminism or autonomism” as a substitute for substantive argument. We are, however, committed to continue the important debates about the nature of the contemporary working class, the tasks of Leninists in the 21st century, the new currents of feminism, and so on.
We have, over the past year, sometimes been reluctant to respond to specific claims circulating about the SWP, primarily because of our concerns about confidentiality. But we are always happy to answer the concerns and listen to the advice of those we work with in the movement on these matters.
In their resignation letters to the party, some comrades have put forward their hopes for the future. One wrote that they “look forward to working with SWP members and other socialists in the struggles, campaigns and movements to come”.
We entirely concur with such views. We are for clear revolutionary socialist organisation. We think that there is no alternative to building a revolutionary socialist party at the centre of all the struggles against exploitation and oppression that take place. But we are not for standing apart from any battle, or rejecting opportunities to unite in action with as wide a group of people as possible.