The Socialist Workers Party in Britain is in a state of crisis so profound that it makes Eamon Gilmore’s troubles following the resignation of Róisín Shorthall and the expulsion from the parliamentary Labour Party of party Chairman, Colm Keaveney, look like a picnic by the river on the warmest Sunday in August. The crisis has been provoked by an allegation of rape and sexual harassment against Martin Smith, the party’s former National Secretary.
The now former Socialist Worker journalist, Tom Walker, explains here why he has resigned from the party. Tom Walker says, among other things that: "The disputes committee [of the Socialist Workers Party in the U.K.] should never have been allowed to investigate and rule on a rape accusation, under any circumstances, period. The case should have been investigated by authorities competent to do so."
“Authorities competent to do so” can only mean, in this case, the police and the courts. The problem here is that the SWP leadership in the U.K. (and it would be no different in Ireland) put themselves above the state, consider themselves to be superior to it. In power this would mean the one party state and everything that goes with that. If the SWP leadership had wanted to be rid of Martin Smith they would be equally capable of using such complaints (even if they were entirely false) as a means of getting rid of him. This of course leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that both the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator are more likely to get more justice (if not by any means always total justice) from the police and the courts than they are from the internal disputes committees of parties such as the SWP and, indeed, the Socialist Party. Both parties are perfectly capable of covering up for a rapist if it was politically convenient for them to do so and both are conversely capable of using false allegations (of rape, embezzling money, you name it) to remove people they want removed. Or to justify their removal after the fact.
When I posted a comment to this effect on Facebook last evening it provoked the following comment from comrade Breege Burke of Galway Socialist Workers Party.
“That's a disgusting and defamatory allegation., Kevin Higgins. You've taken it upon yourself to vilify the SWP and you have a vendetta against some of the members - for reasons I can only begin to fathom. Why would a 'poet' - who loses no opportunity for self-promotion, set himself up as 'the' nemesis of the revolutionary left in Galway? And more importantly, for whose benefit? Who and what benefits when the revolutionary left i.e. the working class, is damaged? The enemies of the working class? Yup. Vultures, predators...capitalists - laughing all the way from the poetry reading. Perfect for an ambitious careerist.”
In a subsequent comment Ms. Burke went on to say: “I'm a revolutionary socialist first and foremost: whatever damages the prospect of a revolution damages the working class. I get 'worked up' when I see enemies of the revolution...jumping on the bandwagon to throw mud at the party that I consider to be as close as it is possible to get to true agents of a genuine, heartfelt, passionate revolutionary force...
I should point out at this stage that my relationship with Galway Socialist Workers Party has degenerated somewhat over the past decade. In June 2005 Dette McLoughlin of Galway SWP was present at mine and Susan’s wedding in Galway Arts Centre. In October of that year I did a poetry reading at an SWP branch meeting which also featured a talk on Shelley by author and SWP member, Paul O’Brien. By 2008, for reasons which I would be happy to discuss with anyone who’s interested, the relationship had entirely degenerated. Though, like most break ups, it was not without its comedy. Read about it here on Harry’s Place and then pause for a moment to think of happier days and listen to this.
Anyway, I responded to Ms Burke thus: “Breege, you always resort to personal attacks. I do think that the system of running their parties which the SWP and SP use is corrupt, yes. This is why this sort of thing happens. It's why the Tommy Sheridan fiasco happened and much more besides. I'd be happy to publicly debate any of these issues with you or any other member of the SWP. You do seem rather exercised by, well, me. In fact you seem to think about me rather more than even I do. And to use language such as "enemies of the revolution" is truly incredible, given all those who've used similar language. These are the same words that would have been used by Madame Mao. Woman up Breege and we'll have a public debate. I reckon we'd gather a crowd.”
I should point out that I have never actually spoken to Breege. Though we have recently been on Galway Pro-Choice demonstrations together, or at least we have been there at the same time. Sadly, based on Ms. Burke’s most recent response, it seems we’re unlikely to talk any time soon: “Anything for publicity, Kevin! I'll hone my debating skills with those who have a serious interest in politics, not with those who have a mere sneering acquaintance. You go and do what you do best, hon; oh, and maybe a bit of poetry while you’re at it”. :-D
Ah well. My invitation, though, to Ms. Burke and her comrades stands.
You can read more about the crisis in the SWP here.
My book Mentioning the War: Essays & Reviews (1999-2011) which, in part, deals with issues like this is available here. It is reviewed in the current issue of The Irish Anarchist Review and was launched in Dublin last June by then Socialist Party T.D. Clare Daly, whose launch speech is available here.