SWP members angry about the Comrade Delta case have contacted SU and asked us to publish this article. It was due to appear in one of the party’s ‘pre-conference bulletins‘, which are documents for members to argue and debate issues before the annual conference.
This year, the party’s leadership has done something highly unusual: They’ve been censoring these contributions. They’re removed paragraphs and, earlier in the year, refused to carry certain articles altogether. This is all related to accusations of rape and sexual harrassment against a former leading member. A large number of party members have left or are likely to leave, because the party leadership (plus an undeclared ‘secret’ faction) seems bent on destroying it rather than accept that they really have let these women down. With another SWP member alleging that she was raped and the same bad method being used to deal with it (as well as the person making the complaint being told not to talk about her experiences) this issue is far from resolved, no matter how many times the SWP’s leaders claim to have drawn a line under it.
The document below appears in full, as it was sent to us. It is a complete narrative of the story, and it shows that the leadership has done everything it can to avoid dealing with the issue – allowing bullying to run unchecked, driving hundreds of people out, and worse than all of that, doing nothing at all to help the women at the centre of these events. When you realise that party members have spent £thousands to help send Comrade Delta to university after he stepped down from his SWP job, you realise just how rotten these people’s politics and morals are. The SWP always appeals to people not to make these documents public, to “protect” people. But what we’ve seen this year is that ‘confidentiality’ and ‘privacy’ have been used not to protect political discussions and people’s jobs, but to make sure that party members don’t have access to information, and that those who want people to know what’s happened to them are forced to keep quiet.
Moving forward means acknowledging mistakes and holding our leadership to account
by Simon F (Birmingham), Viv S & Rita M (Hackney)
This document is a narrative of the events leading up to and following a Disputes Committee (DC) hearing in October 2012 in which Comrade W accused a then CC member (M) of rape. We do not go into the detail of the case here but focus on the mishandling of the situation by the CC and their deliberate campaign of misinformation and intimidation, supported by a layer of leading comrades, once the case became known in the wider party. In producing this narrative we hope to elucidate the issues needing redress before the party can move forward.
Before the hearing
At Marxism 2010 two woman comrades (Sadia J and Donna G) approached former CC member Viv S to discuss a serious allegation regarding sexual harassment involving the then national secretary (M) and a young woman comrade (W). This allegation surrounded incidents that had occurred a year earlier.
The two comrades discussed the incidents with Viv and, on behalf of comrade W, asked if she would approach the CC and ask for their intervention. At this stage comrade W stated that she did not feel emotionally able to take part in a formal dispute hearing.
Viv raised the issue with Charlie K that evening. Charlie was the CC member whose department Viv worked in. He took the matter extremely seriously and said as the CC was about to enter into the post Marxism international meeting that he would meet with Alex C to discuss how to proceed. Viv asked Charlie to confirm what steps were going to be taken to resolve the situation and to keep her informed. She asked Charlie to agree that neither M nor the CC would be told the identity of the women who had come forward on behalf of comrade W. He agreed.
Charlie informed Viv within 24 hours that he and Alex had confronted M on the Tuesday following Marxism and that he had denied any knowledge of comrade W’s claims. In the days that followed Charlie informed Viv that the CC had asked Hannah D to meet comrade W to find out more about her situation and what resolution she was seeking. At the meeting comrade W disclosed a great deal of information including details of text messages from M to her. Sadia attended the meeting at comrade W’s request.
Following this meeting Charlie and Hannah were sent to comrade W’s district by the CC to meet with comrade W to discuss what resolution she wanted. Again Sadia attended the meeting at comrade W’s request. At the meeting Charlie apologised on behalf of M and stated that M’s position would be reviewed. She was told that she could go to the DC at any point should she wish to.
Looking back, we think it was a great burden to put on comrade W. She was making accusations of sexual harassment at the very least. Yet the CC abdicated all responsibility and made her entirely responsible for deciding the political outcome of the situation. She was clearly emotionally distressed and unable to think through how she wanted the situation resolved beyond saying that she needed M to leave her alone and to stop being the national face of the SWP. In retrospect, we recognize it would have been helpful with comrade W’s consent to have approached the DC rather than the CC, especially considering the case was concerning a CC member.
The day after M was confronted, Sadia and Donna began to receive telephone calls from Weyman B who left messages demanding that they return his calls. When Donna answered, Weyman told her he knew that they were the two comrades who had come forward and he was angry with them for doing so. He declared, “nothing is hermetically sealed” and “I know all about your plans and your little meeting with Viv”. Weyman met her and accused her of being a traitor and told her she was wrong to approach Viv and should have spoken to him instead. Sadia spoke to Viv and Hannah and asked why their names had been exposed. Hannah confirmed that the CC had not discussed who had come forward to report the case and immediately reported the situation to Alex C asking for an explanation as to the leak and that Weyman be confronted. Additionally, Viv reported Weyman to Charlie who said he would raise the matter. We have as yet still not received any information regarding how the information was disclosed, and Weyman has not apologised for his behaviour.
Following this Weyman led a sustained campaign of bullying against Donna, who was working for UAF at the time. She was later sacked from her role in UAF which she felt was a result of coming forward to raise comrade W’s case. Donna took Weyman to the Disputes Committee the following year – a case she lost and which led her to leave the SWP.
Unfortunately, comrade W pulled further and further away from the party and during the pre-conference period and in autumn 2010 she resigned because, although M would no longer be national secretary, he would remain on the CC. She felt she could not continue to be a member while M was on the leadership. She described her distress at receiving bulk party emails signed by him, or being invited to events he was due to speak at.
In the run up to the 2011 conference it became clear that some comrades were already organising to defend M and had been informed about the case, even though the case was confidential. They set about undermining comrades W, Sadia and her partner Simon F who was the district organiser in W’s district at the time. Pete J, a member in comrade W’s district, went as far as to question why Sadia and Simon were still in communication with comrade W.
The conference in 2011 was one of the lowest points in our party’s history. Alex C introduced the CC slate. When it came to the question of M’s position he used the words “sexual harassment” to describe the complaint raised against M. However, Alex started his introduction by referring to the postings on Socialist Unity, thus posing the situation as a matter of party loyalty and unity against a scurrilous attack by sectarians. For many people this is what initially registered, not the question of “sexual harassment”. Alex also fudged the issue of whether M had been moved from his post as national secretary because of the sexual harassment charge, claiming that while the CC had promised to look in to M’s role, M was tired of being national secretary and wanted to return to the industrial department – implying it was his choice.
M was allowed to stand up and make a grandstanding speech, under the disguise of responding to sectarian attacks by Socialist Unity, while comrades clapped and stamped their feet. The issue of women’s oppression was dismissed and undermined. Instead of a serious discussion of M’s role, the session degenerated in to a cheerleading session in which a leading member, who conference had been told was accused of sexual harassment, made himself out to be a victim and received a standing ovation by people who claim to stand against women’s oppression. Comrade W had no voice and no chance to correct this one sided account of events.
We had no idea that this would take place and were shocked and unsure of how to respond. Sadia spoke to stop the question of W being swept aside. She did so in a careful and considered way yet she was attacked by many leading members for doing so. A leading comrade told her partner Simon that she should be shot for making the contribution. Helen S climbed over chairs to confront her stating “how dare you make a contribution like that without giving anyone the chance to come back on it” – despite herself having made a contribution in defence of M in the same discussion. She was later forced to apologise by a member of the CC although she still told the comrade she thought her contribution was wrong.
A number of members contacted Alex C and Pat S that evening to ask for clarity and demanding that the situation be addressed at the conference the following day. A statement was made which, while attempting to address the problems caused the previous day, was unable to address the damage done by M being allowed to grandstand at the conference.
In Autumn 2011 comrade W re-joined the party because, as she told the DC later, she did not believe that there was anywhere else a revolutionary socialist could turn if they wanted to be active. In the interim, Sadia and Simon had kept in touch with her. She had been through a course of counselling to deal with what had happened to her. In the months that followed comrade W was given further confidence by the party’s brilliant handling of the political discussion surrounding the Assange case. As a result she felt more strongly than ever that she wanted to come forward and resolve her case and felt she could trust the party’s structures to handle it seriously.
In September 2012 she asked Sadia to speak to Hannah and inform her that she wanted to take out a disputes case against M and that she was accusing him of rape. It took a very long time and a great deal of courage for comrade W to reach this point. Hannah advised her to contact Pat S immediately. Comrade W asked Sadia to be her advocate and to speak to comrades on her behalf. Sadia phoned Pat and Charlie the following day to inform them.
As soon as the calls were made to Pat and Charlie things began to move towards a DC hearing. In the run up to the hearing there were numerous problems:
- 1. Comrade W was not contacted by the CC to be told that M had been suspended pending the hearing, so was anxious that he may come to her district or confront her.
- 2. She was not told that when she sent her statement to the DC it would forwarded to M.
- 3. She was told that she would not have access to M’s statement, which meant that he was able to prepare his defence while she had no knowledge of what he would say against her.
- 4. She was not advised as to who his witnesses were or what their statements contained – yet M had access to her list of witnesses and statements.
Pat tried to make the process as painless for comrade W as possible. She was told beforehand about who would be sitting on the panel and was asked if there was anyone that she did not want involved. She asked that Rose C be removed as she had knowledge of the case and had been approached for advice by Sadia and Simon as a DC member, yet had failed to provide any support or guidance. Comrade W did not know anyone else on the panel – it was starkly clear that this was not a committee of her peers. Pat also phoned comrade W to talk her through the procedures and ask if there was anything that could be done to make her feel comfortable. But none of these actions could make up for the hearing itself and the fallout thereafter.
We were asked to arrive at the venue at 10am that morning in October 2012. We were told that the committee would have a discussion and they would then call comrade W when they were ready. Over 4 hours later, we were still waiting. This took its toll on W. There did not seem to be any regard for the fact that the long wait would be highly stressful for her. She kept pacing the room wondering what was happening.
Esme C read out the legal definition of rape – saying that this would be the DC benchmark. At no point was there any sense that the DC was ill equipped to attempt to make a judgement on a rape allegation.
The initial questions following comrade W’s evidence were agreed between the committee and asked by Pat alone, at comrade W’s request. The questions initially focused on trying to establish the facts and clarify dates.
It was following M’s evidence the questioning become inappropriate and at times reactionary – the questions were asked by individual panel members rather than through Pat.
Comrade W was given no warning about the nature of the questions. She had not seen M’s statement or been able to hear what his witnesses were saying. The questions ranged from a supposed relationship she had had with an older comrade in her district to asking why she had gone for a drink with M and about her previous boyfriends, with specific people named and whether the relationships had been full sexual relationships.
Rita sat through the hearing with comrade W offering support and intervention when she became distressed. Rita confronted the panel over the inappropriate questioning, noting that questions about previous or other sexual or personal relationships were irrelevant to whether M had raped comrade W.
Comrade W was also continuously asked if she had been “in a relationship” with M, and this was asked of her witnesses too. There did not seem to be an understanding that rape can occur within relationships and therefore that this line of questioning was inappropriate and ignorant. She was also asked about an incident with M which she had tried to forget . Comrade W became very upset and left the room in tears saying that they thought she was a “slut who asked for it”. Rita made the point that people who had suffered this kind of trauma did not always remember in a linear manner and that this form of questioning was not helpful.
The hearing took place over two days and comrade W was left waiting for hours on end while the DC deliberated. The verdict was delivered at 10pm on the Sunday night, just before we had to leave the venue. There was no explanation as to how it was reached, no offer of support or guidance, no clarity on how she was meant to handle the outcome. The verdict was simply that the accusation of rape was unproven and a statement would follow in a few days. It took over three weeks.
After the hearing:
1. Another woman comes forward:
Following the hearing a second woman (comrade X) came forward having heard about comrade W’s case. She met initially with Viv having heard about her role in comrade W’s case. Viv suggested that she meet with Pat to raise her allegations.
Comrade X met with Pat to discuss her own complaint against the same comrade, M. She said that she would like to give evidence on behalf of comrade W and herself in a reconvened hearing. M was called on to answer the case.
Following a full day hearing, she was simply told that her evidence was not relevant. She was given no advice or support and the allegations she raised were simply ignored. Considering that she was accusing M of sexual harassment, it seems utterly irresponsible for the DC and CC to simply pretend that this information did not matter. If any member brings a charge of sexual harassment against another, especially a full time employee and leading comrade, the leadership should out of political prudence and principle take action to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
X also faced inappropriate questioning by some members of the DC. CC member Amy L asked if she had misconstrued M’s approaches as he was a friendly man who often bought her coffee, while DC elected member Maxine B asked her about her drinking habits.
2. Political undermining, bullying and intimidation of comrades involved in the hearings:
Comrade W’s treatment following the hearing is nothing short of shameful. In her district she was simply ignored as if she ceased to exist. When she did see members and tried to talk to them, her experience was one of abuse and bullying. Geoff D informed her “It is not appropriate for me to speak to you”, while Bridget P who confronted her on the street near her home called her “a silly girl” stating that 14 year olds get groomed not 19 year olds.
Comrades also accused her of going to the Daily Mail when the story was leaked, despite comrade W’s clear distress at the press coverage and fear of exposure. Some comrades even arranged meetings in the café area at comrade W’s workplace, despite her having asked them not to do so. This caused her great distress and considering the number of cafés in the city was cruel. Charlie, when confronted with this, argued it was not fair to the comrades to ask them to meet elsewhere, despite W’s distress – part of his argument was that it would appear that W’s allegations were true if he intervened. After repeated complaints the CC were forced to intervene and stop the comrades meeting there. There were even reports that she was a member of another political organization and in league with former members deliberately trying to smash the SWP.
Each attack on comrade W and her supporters was reported to the CC but there was no intervention to calm the situation down and no consideration of how to support W’s continued political activity. There was no consideration for the fallout in the district – rumour and gossip were allowed rather than political clarity.
At the same time, it became clear that there was a concerted effort to undermine Simon and Sadia for supporting comrade W. Many district members stopped answering their calls and refused to work with them on building the district appeal event which they were organising. It was clear that undermining the credibility of the people supporting comrade W was more important than building the party. The new district organiser also ignored them and they felt undermined at meetings. It was only following repeated complaints by local comrades that the CC was forced to intervene – and again this had no effect to resolve the situation.
In addition, in the weeks that followed the hearing it became clear that a faction had emerged within the CC and the party to defend and exonerate M. Leading members like Weyman B, Amy L, Judith O, Helen S, Doug M, Maxine B, Rhetta M, Mark K, Roddy S, Paul H and Rahul P to name a few led the campaign. Following the first conference in 2013, Anna G even launched a financial appeal for M, sending emails around asking for donations.
The lies spread included accusations that we were in collusion with the state to destroy the party, that W was a women scorned because M broke up with her, that it was just a relationship that ended badly even though W had made clear no relationship had occurred, and politically we were labeled autonomist feminists with a secret agenda to undermine democratic centralism and the Leninist tradition.
We sent numerous emails to the CC asking for the lies and slanders to be acted on. Numerous comrades sent personal emails to the CC following being told these lies personally by CC members and leading comrades or after witnessing bullying in branches and districts first hand. The CC did nothing.
Charlie did however find it appropriate to ring and question Sadia, who had most closely supported W, and to email her threatening her and the rest of W’s witnesses with disciplinary action should we discuss the case with anyone. And while the CC failed to intervene, they allowed M to continue his work and even refused to act when M spoke at a UAF rally in Waltham Forest while suspended.
3. Blocking our democratic rights:
The CC took extraordinary steps to block our democratic right to challenge the DC report and to gain clarity on the outcome of the hearing.
Comrade W supported by the four comrades involved in the DC hearing as her witnesses and support informed the CC of their intention to challenge the hearing outcome. We asked on numerous occasions how we should do so, and sought clarity with both the CC and DC on what information could be raised with comrades within the boundaries of confidentiality. We approached Charlie and the CC on numerous occasions requesting that a solution be sought so that the situation could be resolved. The CC at no point met with any of us to try and resolve it. Viv wrote to the CC as a former CC member asking for intervention – no intervention was forthcoming.
In order to ensure that a full, informed debate took place at conference, we asked the CC to allow us to submit a short motion to conference for the DC session asking for a DC commission to be established and a review of procedures for rape and sexual harassment cases. Charlie and Shaun D from the conference arrangements committee informed us that we would be not be allowed to do so because we had not passed the motion through a relevant party structure. This is despite the fact that we had been told not to discuss the case under threat of discipline which made it impossible to raise in a branch. We asked the CC to reconsider this position and to allow us to put forward a motion. The CC refused to allow us to put forward a motion.
Finally, in desperation and in an attempt to end the rumors going round the party, which were already causing serious political damage, we submitted a statement to IB1 for conference 2013 simply clarifying why we were challenging the DC outcome. In it we made explicit W’s request that she did not want a second hearing or the outcome of the case revisited. Comrade W felt unable to take part in a second hearing following the emotional trauma of the first and because she felt betrayed by the process. At best we hoped we could learn from the mistakes made, and end the culture of bullying and intimidation. In the document put forward to the IB we asked for conference to demand an investigation into the practice of the DC and to set procedures should future cases of a similar nature arise. The CC refused to print it.
As a result, we formed a faction of 30 comrades to ensure our right to put forward the statement. The CC refused to allow us to form a faction. The statement is below at the end of this document.
Throughout the pre-conference period the CC and the M faction organised across districts to stop us being allowed to go to conference. Despite conference being the only place where challenges to the DC can be brought, attempts were made to exclude us. We were all active comrades who had in three of our four cases worked for the party until quite recently and were leading district members who had been to every conference throughout most of our party membership. Yet in our aggregates we were called liars for not discussing the case or the challenge in our districts and this was used as an argument to stop us going to conference. We were accused of having ulterior political motives. The CC members in these aggregates did not defend our rights to go to conference and challenge the DC. The lies about our motives were allowed to continue – that we were driven by a political agenda and wanted to challenge perspectives rather than simply wanting to ensure that mistakes which could
destroy our party’s reputation for fighting women’s oppression were addressed.
We believe comrades should know the position of comrade W: she has been severely damaged by the mishandling of the case and the fallout which followed. She came forward to the CC and DC trusting that her organisation would behave in a principled fashion. She has been hounded, isolated and ostracised. As a result, she has left the SWP and feels she has no choice but to leave the city she lives and studies in because she cannot bear constantly seeing or being afraid of seeing the comrades who have played a role in making her life so difficult.
The aim of producing this narrative is to ensure that comrades are fully informed about the extent of the errors made so that we can learn the lessons we need to in order to move forward. We recognize that errors go hand in hand with being revolutionaries. We demand that our members throw themselves into action, making decisions in the process which could be flawed. However, we also expect that a revolutionary socialist party should thrive by being able to acknowledge mistakes, discussing why and how they occurred, addressing them to ensure as far as possible that they are not repeated and if necessary holding one another to account. An atmosphere should be fostered which encourages debate and deepens our democratic structures to allow this to take place.
The DC Commission report goes some way to recognising the errors made and suggests significant improvements for future cases. This must be implemented. Ironically, most of the suggestions we submitted to the Commission, which comrades were blocked from seeing by the CC, have been belatedly incorporated.
But there are steps still remaining which need to be taken before we can move forward: we need a discussion across the party on how we went so wrong, and we believe that our leadership must be held to account for their actions and errors which have led to hundreds of resignations and an erosion of our politics and standing on women’s oppression.
We also believe that without a public acknowledgement of these mistakes – including an apology to both women for the distress, bullying and delays – the party cannot recover and rebuild.
We have remained members throughout this appalling period because of our commitment to building and broadening the revolutionary socialist tradition – not simply out of blind loyalty to organisation. We have spent decades between us building the SWP, proudly fighting to make it a party that people want to join. As such, we believe it right that we have tried to stay and fight to correct the errors made, which if allowed to continue will turn the organization into an irrelevant sect with a once proud record on women’s oppression left lying in tatters.
Below is the statement regarding the formation of a faction sent to the CC on 2 January 2013. The faction was formed as a last resort following the CC’s refusal to either allow us to put a motion to conference with proposals for reforming DC processes or to circulate a statement clarifying the nature of our challenge. The CC denied us the right to form a faction.
Initial statement sent to CC on 2 January 2013 regarding Dispute Committee challenge at conference
Since six comrades announced their intention to challenge the Disputes Committee (DC) in IB3 their motivations have been subjected to a significant amount of misinformation. Our request to circulate a statement clarifying matters has thus far not been accepted by the Central Committee (CC) and we have been denied the right by the Conference Arrangements Committee to put forward a motion during the DC session at conference. The six complainants have therefore sought the signatures of 30 comrades to circulate this statement in the interests of transparency and clarity.
Should the CC turn down this request, then this statement will form a faction.
This is a reluctant faction. All comrades who are signatories to this statement share an enormous pride in the politics and record of our party; including our party’s commitment to fighting for women’s liberation, and our location of that struggle firmly within our fight for socialism.
Our concerns are specific but significant ones around the handling of complaints of serious sexual misconduct within the party. We ask for:
The DC report to be rejected not with the aim of re-opening one specific case, but to mark the fact that sharp changes need to be made in the way we deal with such cases in the future.
The newly elected DC be tasked with discussing how to improve the handling of allegations of a sexual nature in the future, taking on board the following proposals:
Proposals for improving the working of the Disputes Committee
1. Comrades making an accusation should be made aware of the DC’s procedures, and be kept informed of the progress of the case.
2. Everyone involved in the case must have equal access to information (unless issues of confidentiality require otherwise).
3. The DC should consider what support comrades involved in cases may need.
4. As far as possible the DC members involved in a case must not be closely associated with either party to the complaint, and should this be the case, the DC must use its power to co-opt members.
5. The DC must seek to ensure that witnesses are not placed under unnecessary stress (with recognition of the personal and distressing nature of evidence that may be given).
6. Comrades making a complaint of sexual misconduct should not be asked about other personal relationships or their sexual or social behaviour.
7. The DC must explain to all comrades involved how it has reached its decision, and also explain to comrades what they can say about the case.
8. Comrades involved in a dispute must abide by party discipline.
9. Neither party to a complaint should be the subject of denigration or wilful misinformation.
We disagree with aspects of the DC’s handling of a dispute considered by it in 2012, and also with a number of CC decisions regarding the case. We do not wish to re-open this case, nor to create damaging divisions within the party. There are, however, lessons to be learned. Our objective is solely to improve the handling of similar cases in the future.
The DC formally heard serious allegations of a sexual nature. We believe that the handling of this case and the unsupportive approach taken towards the woman involved call the report into question. A second comrade made allegations (against the same comrade) which were also of a sexual nature. We believe the DC’s decision not to report on the accusation from the second woman to be wrong. Additionally, the manner in which the second accusation has been reported to party meetings and the lack of clarity about why the woman comrade was moved from her party job has allowed comrades to draw misleading conclusions about the allegation, including whether it had even been made.
The handling of the issue by the CC following the DC hearing has compounded many of the problems. The decision to release a statement to the National Committee rather than the report itself opened a discussion on extremely limited information. Entirely misleading information has been circulated by some comrades about the motives or behaviour of the two women who made the original complaints, and about the motives of comrades who are seeking to challenge the DC report. Our concerns include the summary nature of the expulsion of four comrades in the pre-conference period. This approach has been unnecessarily divisive, and has hindered our collective ability to resolve a difficult situation in the best interests of the party.
Within the wider organisation, comrades have been left to draw political conclusions based on partial information at best, and gossip at worst. Neither is helpful. Our view is that mistakes have been made. The solution is for conference to guide the CC in reaching a positive outcome that prevents these mistakes recurring. Adopting the above proposals will help facilitate this process. An honest discussion and a shared way forward is the best route to ensuring a strong and united party.
Finally, for clarity: this challenge to the Disputes Committee report is a specific ‘stand-alone’ issue. Our shared view is that this stands apart from any wider discussions taking place at conference, and must be dealt with separately.