Democratic centralist organisations are not rape cults waiting to happen. A response to Nick Cohen’s opportunistic red baiting.

This post was written by Reuben on February 3, 2013
Posted Under: Uncategorized

I am not a member of the SWP. Nor do I have any interest in defending the leadership over its handling of issues surrounding the recently highlighted rape allegation. However, Nick Cohen’s flabby  attempt, in today’s Observer, to smear the entirety of the far left – his claim that the far left’s political culture is perculiarly conducive to abuse and cover ups - demands a response.

“The far left cannot face up to rape” writes Cohen. Moreover, the way in which far left parties are structured means that they “always” have “the potential to become a rapist’s playground”. It is his right make such assertions. Yet what is striking is the shabby basis upon which he substantiates such claims. In particular he quotes left wing activist Anna Chen as telling him:

“I was struck by how sexless and ugly the leading men in the SWP were. But they always had women. If you slept with one of them, they promoted you. It was as basic as that.”

In other words: These men had girlfriends, but they didn’t meet my beauty standards, therefore they were probably abusing their position to get laid.  This, I am afraid, is low grade speculation masquerading as whistle blowing. “How did HE get with HER?!” is a sentiment that is more appropriate to the secondary school canteen, than it is to serious political journalism. It is also a sentiment that bears little relationship to socialism and feminism.

No reasonable person would deny that the far left has problems with sexism and mysoginy. After all, our organisations do not exist on some immaterial plain, but recruit from, and are embedded within, a sexist, patriarchal society. And these social facts are not simply negated by people reading the works of Karl Marx and Alexandra Kollontai.  Yet there is a paucity of evidence to support Cohen’s claim that the far left, as a whole, is perculiarly oriented towards covering up rape. Along with the current controversy in the SWP, the other example he is able to offer us is that of the WRP – whose leader Gerry Healey was shamefully allowed to get away with raping female members. This of course, was a controversy that blew up nearly three decades ago. I say this, not to negate the seriousness of what happened, but simply to draw attention to the fact over the many preceedings decades, there has never been any suggestion or accusation of such cover ups in the vast majority of far left organisations.

This is not to suggest that we on the far left do not need to take a long hard look at ourselves, or that we should be in any way content with the idea that we are no worse than society at large. However we do need to stand up against the pernicious idea that women who make serious political commitments to disciplined political organisations are half way up the road to victimhood – or that organisations organised on the basis of democratic centralism are, by definition, potential rape cults. Yes some organisations are more authoritarian than others. Yet unlike, say, the bosses of private firms – a social institution that the likes of Cohen readily supports – the leaders of left wing parties do not generally possess the capacity to strip lower ranking members of the ability to keep a roof over their head.

Of course we need to engage in a long and self-critical conversation. But tabloidesque red baiters like Nick Cohen have nothing to offer either the men or women in those organisations that are fighting for a socialist society.

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To contact Reuben email reuben@thethirdestate.net

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Reader Comments

modernity's ghost

“This is not to suggest that we on the far left do not need to take a long hard look at ourselves,”
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Since when did that, ever, happen?
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Could you give me, say, 3-5 instances in 25 years when there was a major fuck up and the non-existent ability to have “a long hard look” ever came into play?
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As for the source of Anna Chen’s information. I understand she was a member. Knew the leadership and commented on it at Socialist Unity, at length, but she has a blog. You could ask her directly, if you wish.
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“there has never been any suggestion or accusation of such cover ups in the vast majority of far left organisations.”
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Lack of evidence is not evidence itself. Rape/abuse is under reported in general in society so why should political cults/groupings be any different?
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Reuben, This is all very Panglossian, not the critical eye I’d come to expect.
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You might have asked some better questions: what it is about men with power that means they abuse their position? And how is that best avoided in Left organisations?

#1 
Written By modernity's ghost on February 3rd, 2013 @ 3:21 pm
a woman

Secondly, there is something that needs to be addressed across society in the ways that abuse by people who are in some way respected or loved, within families or institutions is never recognised by those close to them (Freudian denial mechanisms maybe?) The SWP has found it is not somehow immune to the pressures that stem from the structural inequality of women or from the desire to pretend nothing happened and get mad with those within the organisation consistently applying the principles.

Cohen has no concern for the victim in all of this, for her as a person, for her politics or choices about how to deal with her situation. He uses her simply as a means to attack the SWP who he hates for attacking him over his support for the war on Iraq and for accusing him of Islamophobia. In using the victim in this way, he is a creep and his talk of feminism is no less hypocritical than it was when he was using sexism as an excuse to call down the b52s on the heads of women in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those of us fighting over sexual harassment and rape seek no help from the likes of him

#2 
Written By a woman on February 3rd, 2013 @ 6:33 pm
a woman

opps the beginning of the post above went missing…. two things: There is something about corruption of principles that is awful in what has occured in this case as the SWP has a long and consistent tradition of fighting for women’s equality and of challenging sexist behaviour, disciplining and kicking out men who are abusive. Generally the left has a more women centred understanding of rape and harassment than Cohen and that is one reason why women have reported abuse within the organisation. All of that is what makes this case so disgusting to everyone on the left–it is betrayal of the left’s position.

Secondly, there is something that needs to be addressed across society in the ways that abuse by people who are in some way respected or loved, within families or institutions is never recognised by those close to them (Freudian denial mechanisms maybe?) The SWP has found it is not somehow immune to the pressures that stem from the structural inequality of women or from the desire to pretend nothing happened and get mad with those within the organisation consistently applying the principles.

Cohen has no concern for the victim in all of this, for her as a person, for her politics or choices about how to deal with her situation. He uses her simply as a means to attack the SWP who he hates for attacking him over his support for the war on Iraq and for accusing him of Islamophobia. In using the victim in this way, he is a creep and his talk of feminism is no less hypocritical than it was when he was using sexism as an excuse to call down the b52s on the heads of women in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those of us fighting over sexual harassment and rape seek no help from the likes of him

#3 
Written By a woman on February 3rd, 2013 @ 6:35 pm
modernity ghost

The SWP has a long history of sexual antics, apparently nine cases were brought in front of the dispute committee over the years.
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We know that such instances are dramatically underreported, so it’s probably a bigger problem. Men with power exercising their feelings of entitlement (anyone remember Dominique Strauss Kahn?)?
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But also there is a need to differentiate between external utterances and what actually goes on inside an organisation. For that we need look no further than the Catholic Church, which makes pronouncements on caring for children at great length. On how victims of abuse should be treated well, yet protects those men within its own organisation who conducted abuse.
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So there is a dynamic there.
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And bear in mind it is the SWP’s fault that there in this situation, they can blame no one else but themselves.
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To suppose that they can deal with allegations of rape internally is preposterous, as the very worst they could have done was to expel the member.
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Thus, someone commits an assault and they get kicked out of an organisation, not exactly fitting punishment for sexual assault.

#4 
Written By modernity ghost on February 4th, 2013 @ 12:57 pm
Bena

I agree with what you say, Rueben, but one could simply say that Nick Cohen has resorted to one of the most dishonest devices of propaganda. He picks up on several dissimilar issues (WRP in the 1970s, SWP 2010s, George Galloway, Julian Assange), takes isolated facts or misconceptions from these cases and then links them together as evidence to build a propaganda point. But what is his propaganda point?

I suppose it is this: Assange, Galloway, WRP and SWP are bad, totalitarian, delusional and sexist; British state, good, open, clear-minded and gender-aware.

This is just rot and it is a disgrace that The Guardian lets such shallow articles pass.

#5 
Written By Bena on February 4th, 2013 @ 3:17 pm
modernity's ghost

The problem is, this is not isolated.
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I do wish Reuben and have done some decent research not dismiss Anna Chen’s chance remark.
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Had comrades here used Google for 5 minutes they would see that Anna Chen has commented on how terribly the SWP treated her.
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She worked tirelessly for the in the Socialist Alliance, unpaid, unappreciated and was aware of the undercurrents of what went on, and the internal sexism.
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So I would suggest that comrades or anyone genuinely interesting sexism make an effort to inform themselves of the issues, Anna Chen covered them for years, SU blog also had various contributions which touched on this.
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There is history here and to ignore it, is either intellectually lazy, wilful ignorance or a Luddite’s appreciation of Google!

#6 
Written By modernity's ghost on February 4th, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

Yet there is a paucity of evidence to support Cohen’s claim that the far left, as a whole, is perculiarly oriented towards covering up rape.

http://socialistunity.com/how-the-revolutionary-left-has-systematicaly-failed-to-prevent-sexual-abuse/
Gerry Healy

Mark Curtis – where the SWP(US) launched a fantastical hoax to defend a convicted and guilty rapist who attacked a 15 year old Afro-American girl in her own home.

Cover up, the US ISO advise women who have been raped not to go to police:

“the police investigating such allegations within a revolutionary organization would care not a bit about justice for the woman making the charges. Instead, they would seize the opportunity to harass and persecute the left … [A] revolutionary socialist organization should have the capacity–and indeed the responsibility–to establish the means to handle such allegations … … in a way that is impartial and respects the rights of any person raising such charges. We believe that a socialist organization built around principles of democracy must be capable of this… to uphold the principles of revolutionary socialism.”

The sexual assault(s) by the late SW editor:
http://workersparty.org.nz/2013/01/21/swp-sexism-and-bureaucratic-centralism-on-the-left/

Another former SWP member told The Spark about an incident which happened in the early 1990s:

an SWP Central Committee member sexually assaulted one of my friends (this was not a matter of an ‘unproven allegation’, since the person admitted his guilt at great length to me, putting it down to his heavy drinking). … She fought back, and eventually stopped him in his tracks … The woman didn’t want to pursue the matter in any way and, not surprisingly, dropped out of the SWP shortly afterwards. As an SWP district organiser I raised this with the CC, asking that the person be disciplined even though there was no complaint as such, but it was explained to me that “this sort of thing happens under capitalism”, and nothing could be done about it. (7)

Then we learn the German SWP sister group covered up rape in Hamburg, “bunny partys” in Munich where older male cadre leched over new young women recruits and an atmosphere of daily sexism at their Berlin HQ:
http://socialistunity.com/swps-serbian-section-splits-from-ist/

The alleged sexual assault by a leader, and the ridiculing of the victim are referred to here in the comments below an Indymedia thread about their conference (“aber eine Organisation,die einen Vergewaltiger in ihrer Führung behält und das Opfer über Jahe verhöhnt”), and a comment on this blog article refer not only to an alleged rape “in their own ranks” by the leading Hamburg comrade at the beginning of the 1990s but also to “Bunny-Parties” between “leading cadre” and young, female new recruits in the late 1990s in Munich. (Bekannt ist auch ein Vergewaltigungsfall in den eigenen Reihen Anfang der 1990er in Hamburg, der von der Hamburger Führung gedeckt wurde, sowie die „Bunny-Partys“ führender Kader mit weiblichen Jungmitgliedern in München Mitte/ Ende der 1990er.)

the SWP’s sister group in Austria discuss the 2001 crisis in Linksruck saying that three members were expelled within a fairly short period for “sexism”/sexual assault/etc. (including use of party phones to phone premium rate sex chatlines). They said there was an everyday culture of sexism in the Berlin “centre” which should have been impossible in an IST group, and no solidarity with the victims (Tatsächlich schien es sogar so etwas wie eine sexistische Alltagskultur in der Berliner Zentrale gegeben zu haben. Etwas was in einer IST-Organisation eigentlich unmöglich sein sollte. Man solidarisierte sich nicht prinzipiell mit den Opfern!)

You can chose to see no pattern if you wish

#7 
Written By Andy Newman on February 4th, 2013 @ 9:25 pm
andy newman

sorry wrong URL

http://socialistunity.com/13439/

#8 
Written By andy newman on February 4th, 2013 @ 9:28 pm
modernity's ghost

Reuben,
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I rarely agree with Andy Newman, but SU blog’s coverage has been extensive over the years, and its a pity that people don’t read it.
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The SWP has supplied the very material which is being used against them.
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That’s why, previously, socialists were made aware of their conduct and how it can bring their organisation into disrepute.
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Perhaps you might revise the original post to reflect this new information?
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Or at the very least, acknowledge it

#9 
Written By modernity's ghost on February 5th, 2013 @ 11:16 am
Reuben

Hi thanks to both of you for your responses. Have been reading and indeed thinking. Been very busy and will be for rest of the day but will respond properly tonight.

#10 
Written By Reuben on February 5th, 2013 @ 12:26 pm
modernity's ghost

Its good to think, but don’t wait too long or the General Election might be here!
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Meanwhile, the revolution in SWP thinking moves on, even CiF has picked it up.
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Shocking, how the Guardian takes a more Bolshie line than many here :)

#11 
Written By modernity's ghost on February 8th, 2013 @ 4:15 pm
#12 
Written By modernity's ghost on February 9th, 2013 @ 11:58 pm
Modernity's Ghost

Reuben,
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Its not going away.
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Perhaps time for a re-think?
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You might appreciate this, http://socialistunity.com/and-there-are-more-swp-sexual-abuse-scandals-to-come

#13 
Written By Modernity's Ghost on February 26th, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
Modernity's Ghost

Reuben,

In the ensuing months, with all of the evidence from SWP internal papers, the splits, Comrade X, Comrade W, have you managed to re-think this issue?

#14 
Written By Modernity's Ghost on December 16th, 2013 @ 11:56 pm
Reuben

Yes. I was talking bollocks.

#15 
Written By Reuben on December 17th, 2013 @ 1:00 am

And so the cycle is complete. The pattern confirmed. Reuben writes something. People disagree with him. He thinks about it. And then he admits he was wrong. About everything.

#16 
Written By Salman Shaheen on December 18th, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

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