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Monday, December 22 2014 @ 02:38 PM CST

The SWP and rape: why I care about this Marxist-Leninist implosion

Left

Sexism on the left is the punch you weren't expecting. This week the Socialist Workers party, Britain's largest far-left organisation, is on the brink of collapse after a rape scandal. The scandal is not just that a senior party member was accused of raping a young female activist, but that the party responded by convening its own court, comprised chiefly of the alleged attacker's friends, to decide whether rape had occurred. They decided that it hadn't. At a special conference this weekend its members voted for the second time to uphold that decision.

The SWP and rape: why I care about this Marxist-Leninist implosion

Laurie Penny
The Guardian, Monday 11 March 2013

Sexism on the left is the punch you weren't expecting. This week the Socialist Workers party, Britain's largest far-left organisation, is on the brink of collapse after a rape scandal. The scandal is not just that a senior party member was accused of raping a young female activist, but that the party responded by convening its own court, comprised chiefly of the alleged attacker's friends, to decide whether rape had occurred. They decided that it hadn't. At a special conference this weekend its members voted for the second time to uphold that decision.

So far, so throat-closingly vile – but why should we care about the implosion of a Marxist-Leninist party with a few thousand members? Here's why. The SWP is small, but it has been a significant organising force on the British left for more than 30 years, taking a leading role in coalitions like Stop the War, Unite Against Fascism and, recently, the fight against austerity in the nation's poorest communities. Its affiliate parties in Europe and the Middle East, like Germany's Die Linke, also punch above their weight in terms of influence. Lots of writers, thinkers and journalists have been members of the party; some still are. I've never been a member, but it matters that it is disintegrating because its leadership cannot confront its own misogyny.

Here's another reason to care. The SWP isn't the first prominent leftwing movement to have its reputation destroyed by its own inability to deal properly with allegations of violence against women, and it may not be the last. From WikiLeaks to the Egyptian revolution to individual anarchist networks, the past years have been dispiriting for anyone who believes that feminism should be at the heart of any struggle against oppression. For some men on the left, it seems, feminism is just a petty bourgeois distraction from the real fight.

Alex Callinicos, a well-known British Marxist and international secretary of the SWP, dismissed the SWP's "rape court" as no more than a "difficult disciplinary case" in a recent article for Socialist Review. Callinicos is by no means the first leftwing chap to mistake a plea for some basic respect for women's sexual autonomy as an attempt to undermine the revolution from within. In fact, what is undermining left and liberal movements right now, not just in one chilly conference hall in west London but across the world, is a terminal refusal to confront our own internalised sexism.

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