I am writing this because for many years I've been 'fraternal' with the SWP without ever being a member. This goes back to the late 60s and the 'student revolt'. This was a time when the left in this country and all round the world became convulsed with discussion, debate, schism and re-alignment. I was part of that as my parents had been in the Communist Party, left in 1957 but went on working and thinking with socialist and marxist ideas. What emerged out of those times was a continuation of the CP (as it was called) and a bunch of groups, parties and tendencies, one of which was IS, the International Socialists who had the slogan 'Neither Washington or Moscow'. I was attracted to some of these ideas in particular by people I knew, including Christopher Hitchens!
On leaving university I worked with Ewan MacColl, who also came from the tradition of the CP but had taken a strong turn towards Maoism, a set of ideas which didn't interest me at all. I went on talking with people from IS, supported some of the campaigns they were involved with, including the defence of the Shrewsbury Pickets. One of the ways I did this was to make a film with someone who was at the time in the CP. I felt quite strongly that I didn't want to be in a position where I could or could not work with people, even though there were some who said that, say, the Stalinists had blood on their hands because they had justified and collaborated with the Russian regime. The issue was the defence of the Shrewsbury pickets. End of.
Without going into details, the IS turned into the SWP, crucial for them, as it turned them from being a 'group' into a Leninist Party. I knew for certain that I didn't want to belong to this, I didn't then and don't now think that Leninism is appropriate for the present environment. However, I accepted then and now that the organisation they had created enabled them to organise well, and to produce an atmosphere that developed ideas or 'theory' as it gets called or 'the line' as it is also called. I didn't ever think they were the only group capable of doing this, and I was also aware that in the left, there were critiques of the SWP in the way that it behaved in umbrella organisations.
Between then (early 70s) and up to very recently I became involved in writing, performing or campaigning on an issue by issue basis, while trying to read and learn from as wide a range of sources as possible, including of course, work produced by the SWP. So, I have performed and spoken at the annual SWP-organised Marxism events, written for Socialist Worker and Socialist Review many times. In that time I have also written for left or liberal journals which are absolutely nothing to do with the SWP: Red Pepper, Jewish Socialist, New Statesman and more recently, the Morning Star. In terms of meetings, these tend to be those involved with anti-racism, anti-war and education so have involved several of the umbrella groups like Stop the War, the Anti-Nazi League, Palestine Solidarity and trade unions like the NUT and others.. I also stood on the Respect Party ticket in the Greater London Authority elections immediately after the Iraq War demo. I'm happy to talk about the why's and wherefores of that at another time. Let it be said, that I was very optimistic about a federation of left groups.
The first I heard of the present crisis in the SWP was two years ago and what I thought was a malicious rumour put on the Socialist Unity website. I replied with a flip joke, precisely because I thought it was a kind of libellous sneer. I couldn't have been more wrong. Then everything - as far as I knew- went quiet. I have never been privy to internal discussions and debates in the SWP, I don't know about internal party resolutions, who is on which committee and the like. My dealings have always been with individuals on an assignment by assignment or campaign by campaign basis.
The issue at hand has been written about in the mainstream media by Nick Cohen and Laurie Penny whilst some of the left blogs, facebook and twitter have been full of it too. I've followed some but not all of this and have mostly refrained from commenting directly, for the following reasons: 1. I'm not and never have been a member and a good deal of the debate going on was only relevant to members ie who was going to stay, who was going to leave etc. 2. I thought that the SWP would get to see that they could not and should not have set themselves up as any kind of quasi-judicial court.
That last seems to me to be the bottom line (apologies for the cliche). The only proper and decent way for the organisation to have behaved was to offer help to the person who came forwards as a victim, whilst saying that dealing with it in any judgemental way was utterly beyond the remit of the organisation. Or to use the lingo - 'not in its terms of reference'.
So, the position that I'm in now is that I guess it's a matter of waiting (for the time being) for the organisation to declare that a) it got this one completely wrong b) it got it wrong precisely because it acted beyond its terms of reference and c) in the event of anything like this happening again, they would behave in a completely different way and that in society, 'out there', in unions, rape crisis centres and the like, people have worked out better ways of dealing with such things and that the SWP could and should learn from that experience.
In the meantime, some of the people I respect seem to have left the organisation, so again, I wonder what kinds of re-shaping, what kinds of new alliances and organisations will emerge. I'll rephrase that: ever since the 70s people I've respected have left IS or the SWP. Sometimes they have stayed interested in campaigning for peace and justice for all and I'll always work with that...