In January the city of Glasgow took to the streets, in solidarity with millions across the world, to stand up to Donald Trump’s ban on immigration from seven countries. Demonstrations in George Square and Buchanan Street attracted crowds of hundreds. To all but the most ardent lefties, the separate demo’s seemed like nothing more than an organisational mix up. However, for those in the know, the issue ran deeper. The protest at the Donald Dewar statue was run by Stand up to Racism, an organisation whose activity on the ground is largely run by members of the Socialist Workers Party. Many activists refuse to work with the SWP. Although this is often dismissed as leftie infighting, the truth is far more sinister.
In 2013, the Socialist Workers Party faced a crisis that led to outrage and the resignation of hundreds of dedicated members. A 17-year-old party member was raped by a member of the party’s central committee, commonly referred to as Comrade Delta. The victim chose not to go to the police, as she was warned by a fellow party member that this could result in her expulsion from the party. Instead, the matter was handled internally. The survivor was put in front of a disputes committee made up of her rapist’s peers. She was questioned over her sexual history and how much alcohol she had had to drink on the night she was raped. Her rapist had even been provided with a copy of her testimony before the meeting of the disputes committee, a courtesy not afforded to the survivor. Ultimately, the allegations were dismissed and the perpetrator Martin Smith received a temporary suspension and was encouraged to “read up on women’s liberation”. The survivor was urged to remain silent on the matter, and eventually pushed out of the party for refusing to do so. In light of this incident, further allegations were made, and it became clear that the party had a systemic problem with sexual abuse and assault. A problem they had no desire to deal with.
The SWP have a reputation for piggy backing on other movements. They use these events to promote the party, selling copies of their paper the Socialist Worker and handing out party literature. For those who do not feel comfortable or safe in their presence, they are impossible to ignore. Consequently, many activists made a conscious decision to attend the George Square event in order to avoid them. However, the SWP are not an organisation willing to miss an opportunity to spread their message due to small issues like the safety and comfort of women. They marched down en-masse, holding their banners high and shouting through megaphones. Not only did they attend an event where they knew their presence would upset many, they revelled in it.
In a moment of pure fury, I made the decision to use the plain side of my banner to send them a message. Obviously my homemade cardboard sign could never compete with their professional materials, but the message obviously got through. Over the course of the night as I held my message “SWP fuck off, rape apologists” up high, I was approached by three SWP women. All of them were aggressive towards me and others, and all of them denied that the SWP has an institutional problem with sexual abuse and called my accusation of rape apology “fucking outrageous”. But it was the claim by one, that I was splitting the movement, that really angered me.
The rise of fascism and the far right in current politics is terrifying. Political activism has never felt more important. I can see why some people might think it’s worth standing with people we don’t like in order to fight against an incredibly dangerous political climate. However, the fact is that standing with the SWP is not unity. The SWP have proven that their party is not a safe space for women, particularly young women. Not only did they cover up a culture of rape in their party, they continue to stand by their actions. Many of those involved in the disputes committee still sit on the central committee. How can we claim that working with them is an act of unity when their presence excludes women?
When we stand with the SWP, we are telling survivors that they don’t matter. This is the crux of the matter. Standing up to racism doesn’t need to be at the expense of the fight against rape culture. Indeed, intersectionality is even more important in the face of an American President who is both a racist and accused of multiple counts of sexual assault. As I reflected on the events of that night, something struck me. The older female SWP members who challenged me are likely to be the first people young women who had experienced sexual abuse in the party would approach. Women who do not believe that the events of the last few years represent a culture of rape apology. This party must not be given a platform to regain their profile or recruit young freshly enthused activists.
There are plenty of ways to fight against Trump and the far right without associating with rape apologists. For every SWP or SUTR event, there will be an alternative organised by intersectional groups such as Free Pride. Groups such as Stop Trump UK are also refusing to work with the SWP and providing a safe space for activists. We need to stand up to the SWP. Don’t go to their demo’s, don’t take their placards and don’t let your friends take their placards. It is imperative to the safety of women on the left that we do not allow the SWP a platform. Stand up to racism, and stand up to rape apology.