Friday, 29 March 2013

What could Julie Sherry have said instead ?

SWP Central Committee Member Julie Sherry offered a response to charges of mishandling rape allegations in the Guardian . This was kind of a step forward, because she actually addressed the issue rather than writing a long essay about Lenin . It was also good that she said  Nor do we accuse those who raise criticisms "of being 'bourgeois media stooges' or, worse, police informants", as I am neither.

But  it was hard to imagine her statement making much difference to the SWP’s ability to build, to recover influence, to recruit new members. A current SWP member asked me  “What should Julie Sherry’s article have said” on Facebook. This was my answer – his version was actually much stronger on admitting faults and offering concrete changes, so this is the soft version of the minimum necessary change :-

"The Socialist Workers Party isn’t a party of the mainstream . Because the mainstream is rotten. When all the “respectable” parties and mainstream commentators said the Iraq and Afghan wars were a great idea, we knew they were lying, and put all our energy into building the anti war movement. When “sensible” political leaders like Ed Miliband say people should ignore demos by the right wing EDL and hope they go away, we know he is wrong, and build counter-demonstrations, so we can beat the far right like we have done before. When Labour talk about the danger of the Coalition cuts, but say they will just make kinder cuts , we don’t just nod and smile: We are for a movement that will overturn the bedroom tax now , not just ‘reform’ it in a few years time. We fought and won battles against “workfare”, but the mainstream Labour leadership  voted against giving  forced workers the back pay they deserve.
When it comes to Women’s rights we are not in the mainstream either, because the mainstream is rotten there as well : We don’t have a “sidebar of shame” like the Mail. We haven’t used our newspapers or hacked ‘phones to harass women about how they look or their private lives. We don’t think abortion rights are a ‘private issue’ for a free vote: They are something we defend on the streets. We’ve marched for abortion rights, were proud too join “Slutwalk” marches, and have fought for better childcare and pay for women for the entire history of our party.
But we all make mistakes. Rape allegations between our members were the most difficult issue. We took them very seriously. We didn’t hide them away , we debated the issue among all our conference delegates – twice, with passionate, concerned arguments. But we made the wrong decision. And because not being in the mainstream means you have to be strong willed – maybe even sometimes a bit pig-headed – it has taken us too long to get to the right answer. It didn’t help having all kinds of hypocrites – the sexist slime of the Mail, the journalists who argued for wars that led to untold bloodshed and vast numbers of assaults on women – jumping on the bandwagon and adding their misinformation to a genuine problem. But we’ve listened to our members. We’ve listened to our friends on the Left. We have thought hard and decided to make a change.
We can’t go back over the past, but we can make things better for the future : the leading member who was accused of rape has agreed to step aside from party roles for a few years while we look at our procedures . It doesn’t mean we think he is guilty, it means he thinks that having the space to look again at this issue is more important than his role. We have invited the women who were involved in any related complaints to talk to us about how we can improve our internal systems, and to offer them an apology if we dropped any of our standards . We are going to have a proper review of our disputes procedures. We are going to invite any member who was so angry about this issue that they felt they had to resign to rejoin right away.The four members who were expelled for the way they discussed this issue will also be reinstated.  If members think our leadership made mistakes, they will be up for re election at the end of the year .
We aren’t a mainstream party, we are a fighting party, and we are proud of our tradition. But sometimes you can pick the wrong fight, and need to make a change. We hope we have started to make that change, and look forward to joining people on the fight against austerity "

Now I am pretty sure that would buy the SWP a lot of breathing space, both internally and externally. It would I suppose weaken the authority of the current Central Committee a bit – but they could either win that authority back, or get replaced at the next conference. It’s so simple that you wonder why the current CC  don’t do it: I can only assume that they value the ability to enforce their  personal authority within the (smaller) SWP than the SWP’s authority in the labour movement.

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