Note: for a number of reasons this blog has fallen into disuse for much of the past year. I wont go into those now except to say that they are a mixture of other personal commitments and a change in political perspectives. However, I do intend to use it from time to time to explore issues on which I feel I have something distinctive to say, and the crisis in the SWP is one such issue.
The item below is in response to a letter published on the blog of the SWP’s most famous blogger, and now probably one of their most famous dissidents, Richard Seymour. The letter concerned is by Linda Rodgers, a member of the SWP’s Edinburgh branch. The full letter is here.
Comment on Lenin’s Tomb
“I am writing to express my condemnation of the process used by the leadership of the SWP to deal with an allegation of rape. As the shop steward at Scottish Women’s Aid I am horrified that the leadership of the SWP – of which I have been a member for 18 years – thought that it was in a position to investigate a serious crime such as rape. Would the DC have investigated a murder? I would guess not, but then what does that say about the level of seriousness with which the CC and DC treat rape?”
This is a very appropriate point, and for another very serious reason.
There is a monstrous piece of hypocrisy by the leadership of the SWP over the Julian Assange case in particular.
I would point out, as someone who has commented extensively in defence of Assange on a number of forums, including this one, that those who defend Assange and believe he is being framed up on phoney rape charges have been vilified by the same SWP leadership that has carried out this bizarre attempt to keep a rape accusation under wraps and and deal with it ‘in house’.
Rape is indeed a serious crime, arguably second only to murder (or perhaps third to permanent physical maiming) in the manner of crimes against the person. In many cases these things go together. Those who defend Assange against these allegations are quite aware of the seriousness of a rape allegation. I am also prepared to defend those who are accused and even convicted of murder if I believe they are being framed. For instance Mumia Abu- Jamal, who I have campaigned for extensively in the past (as have SWP members).
What is monstrous is the virulent denunciation of those who have campaigned for Assange’s defence by leading figures in the SWP who it turns out were hiding in their own ranks someone who was themselves subject to an unresolved rape allegation. There is the vilification of George Galloway. And even more bizarrely, there is the vilification of Naomi Wolf, the American women’s rights activist and rape campaigner, for her points in defence of Assange. Judith Orr, the partner of Martin Smith, wrote a review of Naomi Wolf’s book ‘The Vagina: A New Biography’ that is filled with the most incredible misrepresentation and which claims that Wolf ‘reduces women to vaginas’.
This is a laughable allegation. I have read Wolf’s book, and it is an exploration of some of the mechanisms of female sexuality and the role of trauma to the part of the body and nervous system centred around the vagina in female confidence and self-esteem, and the consequences of injury to that in damaging such things. It also contains some very harrowing explorations of the purposes and consequence of mass rape in places like Congo and Sierra Leone. Obviously this is a specialised book on a particular aspect of the human condition, and may well be validly criticised in terms of focus and possibly some may be inclined to argue with the science she uses. Not being an expert, I am probably not qualified to judge all these things.
But the allegation that Wolf ‘reduces women to vaginas’ is simply laughable. As I pointed out elsewhere, that allegation would fit someone with the mindset of the Viz cartoon character ‘Sid the Sexist’. It is a farcical piece of invective. The barbed reference to Wolf’s views on the Assange case gives the game away as to the real motive of the vilification.
What is worse is that it was written by someone who is the partner of someone who is accused of rape, who is a leading member of a committee that decided to keep that allegation under wraps and not involve the state. For such a person to vilify people openly fighting against what they believe are phoney rape allegations that are in the hands of the state is monstrous hypocrisy and indeed staggeringly criminal in its implications.
It is also driven by political opportunism, and an attempt to dishonestly con women who are currently being radicalised (to an extent) by the current attacks on women into joining the SWP. Many such women at the moment, who are angry at attacks on women, do not at this point identify with issues beyond the immediate questions of oppression that confront them and are not prepared, for instance, to take seriously the idea that someone like Assange might be being framed for reasons unrelated to this issue.
The argument that those who defend Assange are ‘rape apologists’ has appeared regularly in Socialist Worker over the last period. It is similar to material that used to appear in the reactionary media in the 1980s when the left was campaigning for Irish victims of frame ups for ‘terrorism’. Headlines like ‘Loony MP supports bombers’ appeared in the Sun, implying that those who believed that the Birmingham 6 were framed supported putting bombs in pubs. Similar arguments about Assange have appeared in SW under Judith Orr’s editorship.
It is scandalous opportunism and dishonesty. Instead of trying to unite the struggle against women’s oppression with the struggle against imperialism, the SWP with Orr as part of its leadership has been trying to play off one sector against another, trying deceitfully to co-opt what is so far only a semi-radicalised layer. This is not what Marxists should be doing, we should be acting as tribunes of the oppressed, reacting to all manifestations of tyranny and oppression, and broadening and generalising the outlook of radicalised and semi-radicalised layers.
We need a new regroupment into an all-inclusive socialist movement where the numerous tactical and strategic problems that have been accumulating for a long time, and the failure to resolve which have crippled the left, can be argued out and resolved. Some of these will be complex and hard to take. But not as hard to take, I think, as this affair. If it blows the lid off the bureaucratic centralist (not democratic centralist) ethos of the SWP, then even this grotesque affair may have a positive outcome.