In this current climate of Brexit and racism, you'd think we should welcome organisations that Stand up to Racism and Unite against Fascism. Indeed, when you look at the officers of Stand up to Racism, at first glance they are impressive from a left wing perspective:
Why is this a problem?
In September, 2012 a female member of the SWP made an allegation of rape against a member of the Central Committee, who throughout the proceedings was know as Comrade Delta. Comrade Delta was asked to stop doing any work on behalf of the party while the allegation was investigated. Instead of involving or encouraging the female member to go to the police, the SWP dealt with it at a Disputes Committee. In a transcript of the SWP Conference 2013 (which the female member was not allowed to attend, even though she wanted to) leaked to the blog, Socialist Unity, Sandy B states:
Comrades, we have to welcome the fact that we have a disputes committee. We have no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice.
The Disputes Committee decided to use the standard legal definition of rape. They also decided to look at sexual assault and whether the relationship between Comrade Delta and the female member was abusive. The rape and other sexual assaults had happened over a period of six months in 2008/2009. The female member had made an informal complaint in 2010 about sexual harassment which didn't reach the Disputes Committee. A resolution was reached about this at the time. However, with confidence over the way the SWP handled the Assange case, she felt that she would get a fair hearing coming forward again in 2012.
In October 2012 the seven members of the Disputes Committee met for four days to hear evidence from Comrade Delta and the female member. Five of the Disputes Committee were either past or present Central Committee members, two were Central Committee members at the time of the hearing. All of the Disputes Panel knew Comrade Delta well and none knew the female member. This is the first indication that the hearing wouldn't be entirely fair.
A second indication was that:
she (the female member) was expected to respond immediately to the evidence that Comrade Delta was able to bring – she never got to see it in advance. He had her statement for weeks before she appeared in front of the panel. Some of the issues that were raised were things she had blocked out, and it was an incredibly traumatic experience for her."
A retrospective sign is the understanding about what the Disputes Committee's role actually is. As was stated at the 2013 SWP Conference:
We’re not a law court. We are here to protect the interests of the party.."
Although acknowledging the difficulties women face in a capitalist society when they make allegations of rape, notably victim blaming, one of the witnesses said that the Disputes Committee asked the female member about previous and subsequent relationships.
She was questioned about why she went for a drink with him, her witnesses were repeatedly asked whether she’d been in a relationship with him, and you know … she was asked about relationships with other comrades including sexual relationships. All this was irrelevant to the case.
It is said that one of the Disputes Committee who had experience in dealing with rape cases had to tell the Committee to stop certain lines of questioning as they weren't appropriate.
The Committee unanimously found Comrade Delta not guilty of rape. There was more disagreement over the sexual assault and harassment allegations. Therefore, the Committee found these were not proven. As such no disciplinary action was taken against him. It is said though, that he left the party in July 2013.
However, during the proceedings a witness for the female member came forward with allegations of her own about sexual harassment by Comrade Delta. She resigned from her job at the party. Charlie Kimber (presently Joint National Secretary, SWP) didn't want to accept her resignation on the basis that she should not be punished for bringing forward a complaint. However, by the time she felt she wanted to return to the job she was told repeatedly that she would "disrupt the harmony of the office".
This isn't the only evidence of bad feeling following allegations. The first female member was shunned after her hearing, as this testimony shows:
Recently the complainant wanted to attend a meeting and tried to talk to a local member. He told her that it wasn’t appropriate for him to speak to her and he walked away. What kind of message does this send out – that if you have a serious allegation to bring against a leading member, don’t bother because you’ll be victimised for doing so?
Since this hearing, the SWP have had others and don't seem to have learned anything about the victim blaming line of questioning and have reportedly been more threatening towards people coming forward with allegations.
Later in 2013 another female member made allegations of rape towards another senior party member. She left the party but was persuaded to go to the Disputes Committee. There she was questioned in a similar way to first female member. This included questions about her sexual past and
[They asked me] had you been drinking? … Are you sure that you said no, and are you sure you didn't consent. Was he drunk? Because it would be different if he was drunk."
During this hearing two other women made allegations of attempted rape and sexual impropriety about the senior member. The senior member was suspended and recommended to read up on women's liberation.
The female member involved in this hearing said to The Guardian:
"They said, if you go around calling him a rapist, you'll be in trouble. If you tell anyone, you'll be in trouble … They didn't elaborate. They're not the kind of people to get on the wrong side of.
Throughout all of these proceedings, which culminated in hundreds leaving the party including senior figures, Weyman Bennett was on the Central Committee and is to this day. All of this has happened with his knowledge. He is complicit in covering up rape and sexual abuse allegations in the name of the party. As co-convener of Stand up to Racism, he organises events and speakers etc. It is no passive role. I should imagine if Tony Cliff, a founding member of the SWP, were alive he would be horrified at the turn the party has taken.
The Left is divided on what to do about this. In 2016 an open letter was sent to all people due to speak at a Stand up to Racism event, to ask them not to attend because they would be sharing a platform with Bennett - a Central Committee member of a party with a rape culture. Jeremy Corbyn even split his supporters by turning up to speak at the last minute, having previously said he would not be going.
On the one hand, we do actually need to stand up to racism, to unite against fascism as a matter of urgency. However, do we need to do it in the company of a man such as Weyman Bennett who has facilitated such a culture within his own party? Just imagine if the boot were on the other foot and the Tories had an organisation where the co-convenor was a member of a right wing faction that were known as rape apologists. The Left would be, rightly, up in arms. As Karl Marx said:
Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex."
Going by this, progress by the SWP is poor indeed.
At the beginning of the article it states that, "it is likely that Sabby Dhalu was a member of the Socialist Workers Party in 2012/2013 at least." The reason for this is that in the transcript of the 2013 SWP Conference on the blog Socialist Unity there is an entry from Sabby.