The piece below is from the D.i.Y.CULTURE#10 | The Anarchist Revolution – Then And Now edition.
PLEASE NOTE – For the best viewing experience, we recommend that you download the PDF of DiY Culture No.9 from DropBox to your PC/laptop/phone.
By Jaw Knee – If you are new to activism in the UK, please read!
[CW: Mentions of sexual assault, rape]
I think its necessary to offer a wee history of the SWP for new activists who don’t know about this organisation.
I’ll start with trying to name all their ‘front orgs’:
Stop the War Coalition (StWC)
Stand Up To Racism (SUTR)
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) formerly Anti-Nazi League (ANL)
Rock Against Racism (RAR)
Right To Work Campaign (RTW)
The Socialist Worker (newspaper)
Socialist Review (magazine)
Women’s Voice (publication)
Black Lives Matter*
*The SWP has frequently used the name ‘Black Lives Matter’ to organise and advertise their events whether it be the name of their event on Facebook or plastered on their generic looking placards. They are in no way affiliated with the BLM movement.
Previously known as the International Socialism Group (IS), the group aligned with Trotskyism and adopted a “Socialism from below” tactic in building a workers movement. It was heavily involved in the anti-vietnam war movement particularly in student area where it gained a lot of its first wave of members. At this time (late 60s) there was also the question of their position on Ireland. This is a quote from an article in the Socialist Worker:
“The breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but vital. Those who call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops before the men behind the barricades can defend themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at socialists.”
The call from the people of Ireland being “Troops Out!” was rejected by the Party. This stance was deeply unpopular and saw many new activists and organisers become sceptical or leave the party entirely.
This tactic of inserting the Party into the latest movement became a frequent tactic and is still prevalent today. During the miners strike for example the then “IS” membership grew by around 50% through the distribution of its newspapers to striking workers.
The IS changed its name in 1977 to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) this was due to the Party now seeking to stand in elections. This re-branding was also meant to reassure its members and potential members that the Party was moving forward despite being in decline. It was also meant to be the start of a new era where the Party would now attempt to initiate new movements rather than insert itself into existing ones. This would see a tactical change which brought about the formation of many “front” organisations.
In 1977 they launched the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) in reaction to the growing presence of National Front (NF). Around the same time, Rock Against Racism (RAR) was formed, mostly as a result of Eric Claptons public support of Enoch Powell. Women’s Voice was also founded around the same time which was the SWP’s feminist wing and magazines such as Flame, aimed at “ethnic minorities”.
The rise in the far-right saw an increase in membership as more activists were on the street but by 1980, National Front became fragmented and less popular so naturally this saw an end to the need for militant anti-fascism around the country. This also meant less members for the SWP which started to decline in the early 80s and it turned back to its propagandist approach to gaining members. Street stalls and newspapers.
Women’s Voice was shut down in 1982 much to the dismay of many existing members who felt that this was to ignore women’s oppression. Some also criticised WV for simply inserting feminist theory into the party without actively trying to gain more women members.
In the early 90s, the ANL was able to relaunch in opposition to the BNP. After the murder of Stephen Lawrence, who was killed by racists near the BNP headquarters, the SWP were accused of using his name to gain support and members, Stephens mother eventually got so frustrated that she demanded they stop using his name.
In 1997, despite being deeply unpopular with the left, the SWP asked people to vote for Tony Blair’s Labour Party. The party thought that once New Labour was voted in, the public would become disillusioned with their policies and this would allow members to turn to more radical factions, thus an increase in members to the SWP. This tactic would arguably prove successful with the Blair/Bush invasion of Iraq.
In the early 00s the Party attempted to form socialist alliances throughout the UK. The Socialist Alliance (SA) in England and Welsh SA. Whilst its members in Scotland joined the growing Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). The SWP quickly ran these alliances into the ground, being accused of financial impropriety by socialist feminist barrister Liz Davies. In Scotland, the SSP continued to grow but not for long.
After 9/11 the party approached the Communist Party of Britain and the Muslim Association of Great Britain to form the Stop the War Coalition. However it was SWP members who occupied all the most senior positions within the organisation. The Muslim Association was also a very conservative group, whose only shared interest was anti-western sentiment. They endorsed George Galloways uncritical support for Hezbollah whilst Lindsey German, a founding member of the StWC commented that:
“I’m in favour of defending gay rights, but I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth, [created by] people who … won’t defend George Galloway”
This type of reactionary behaviour would prove to be a pattern in defending the white male figureheads of the SWP and its political allies. According to some sceptics, the SWP were not against the war but in favour of Saddam Hussein. John Rees, another officer of Stop the War, commented:
“Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein.”
Whilst this dialogue between centrist journalists and the SWP seems to be more like a point-scoring game between pro-Blair and anti-war, it is clear that the attitude of the left at the time was against the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is more likely that the public had a much more nuanced opinion on their anti-war sentiment than people like George Galloway. It is also a stretch to say that the SWP were not anti-war, it is more realistic to say that their priorities were not in politically nuanced / strategic debate but in gaining membership from the grassroots movement, mostly devoid of party political interest.
In any case, it was unsurprising when another coalition emerged and this time with Galloways Respect Party, called ‘Respect – The Unity Coalition’ which lasted between 2004-07. Though the SWP and Galloway have much in common in how they like to insert themselves at the front and centre of grassroots movements, the inevitable split came due to massive egos on both sides.
The pattern of supporting male-egos would not stop here, when in 2006 the SWP put their energy behind Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity Party after his split from the SSP. Tommy Sheridan, having been accused of adultery, caused a split in the SSP when he refused to admit his mistakes and instead brought the then successful party into oblivion. The Scottish parliamentary left has never recovered from this and to this day, only a handful of leftists sit in parliament across the Greens, SNP and Labour.
In 2004, the SWP allowed jazz musician Gilad Atzmon to play at their events and promoted the artist as a “fearless tirade against Zionism”. Gilad was a right-wing anti-semite and holocaust denier, who once stated:
“I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act”
Gilad was platformed by the SWP for 2 years before the party cut ties with him. Proving again, a pattern of rejecting nuanced opinion in favour of reactionary views that fit their agenda along with hollow slogans. The only goal being of co-opting movements in order to gain members.
In 2011 Chris Bambery resigned from the party arguing, that it was ridden with factionalism, that he had learned about the founding of RTW from Party Notes and that the party has no credible strategy to fight the government’s cuts. Bambery’s resignation was followed by 38 members in Scotland.
This flow of membership in and out of the party continues today, not just from senior committee members but from activists on the ground who tend to be young people brought out onto the street by the latest grassroots movement. The danger the SWP cause to the Left mostly lies here. In their co-optation of events and aggressive recruitment tactics, they often deter enthusiastic activists altogether or take their energy and use it to recruit more new members. As Chris Bambery notes that there is “no real strategy” within the Party against the cuts. Similarly there was no real strategy to the anti-war campaign or indeed the anti-racism campaign before that. The priority lies in recruitment.
CW: Sexual Assault, Rape
In 2013 allegations were brought to the party that the then national secretary Martin Smith (aka Comrade Delta) had sexually assaulted and raped a 19yr old female member. This came after years of allegations and issues with Smith, which were continually ignored or dismissed. Much of the early criticism around the case was aimed at the fact that the police were never involved, in a leaked transcript, one member commented that the party
“had no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice”.
Journalist Laurie Penny noted that the allegations were investigated and dismissed by friends of the accused, adding that the alleged victim and her friends were harassed by other party members. The party’s Central Committee, stated that the issue was an internal matter, insisting that “we strongly condemn” the release of the conference transcript and that “this case is closed”.
The Guardian reported that the woman was asked a number of offensive questions about her sexual past and drinking habits. That instead of actually dealing with the rape allegation, the SWP preferred to talk about its internal organisation, thereby protecting its leadership. Less than a year later further allegations of rape were made internally against another party member. A special conference was held in which the central committee insisted the report about the complaint against Delta (Martin Smith) “that no rape had occurred” be accepted.
One of the members who left as a result of this was replaced by Julie Cherry on the central committee. Incidentally Julie’s father was a member of the disputes committee who found the allegation of misconduct against Delta “not proven”.
By 2014 the SWP lost around 700 members as a result of the allegations and handling of the case. This was the most public scandal around these issues but it has been noted that around the same time there were more people coming forward with allegations of sexual assault within the party that may not have been specifically the same abuser. These are thought to have also been “swept under the carpet”. Thus the Party has rightfully been branded as “rape apologists”.
The SWP continue to insert themselves into the latest movements in hope of gaining more members to their supposed political party but it is hard to see this as anything other than a predatory for-profit business that operates by preying on young and enthusiastic leftists who are unaware of their history. They swamp every demonstration with thousands of placards, with heavily scripted and boring chants and still operates a chronically hierarchical structure, where power is concentrated in the hands of the ‘central committee’.
They continue to be a thorn in the side of every grassroots movement from housing struggles, to welfare, to community action and as seen by their latest co-optation of Black Lives Matter today. They need to be sidelined.