I am not a number!

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I guess regular readers of this blog will be aware that I’m not a puritan. In fact, I tend to be very libertarian on sexual matters, which as often as not rubs up against prevailing attitudes on the left, and is probably to be blamed at the heel of the hunt on my long-term interest in Reichian psychology. Old Wilhelm may have been a bit bonkers, but he did have some most fascinating ideas.

Anyway, we return to the question of sexism on the left. Andy tried this the other day, only to be derailed by an endless stream of commentators shouting “No! Look at this!”, but that’s no reason to have another try.

May I say in advance, therefore, that I’m not objecting to anyone getting their leg over. What I object to is, firstly, abuse of power, or what passes for power on the left (vide G Healy) and, secondly, hypocrisy. A good example of the latter would be Hoxha’s Albania. Uncle Enver’s homosexuality would be neither here nor there had he run a sexually enlightened government, but he didn’t. But if we dig a little further into our contemporary left, we find layers upon layers of hypocrisy.

So we’re going to try a little thought experiment. And, bearing in mind the laws of defamation, let’s stick to hypotheticals.

Imagine, if you will, a far-left organisation that sets great store by its sensitivity to matters of oppression, and is especially gung-ho about its opposition to sexism. Now imagine that this perfectly decent stance is constantly being undermined by aspects of the group’s internal culture.

Let’s say there is a very senior cadre who is notorious for his wandering hands, at least when he’s had one too many. This is an open secret, to the point where, if he visits your branch, comrades crack jokes about locking up the women. Has this ever been the subject of an internal inquiry, even by the notoriously supine control commission? Dream on.

Let’s say that you have been approached by not one but several young female comrades who feel uncomfortable around a longstanding cadre because of his persistent habit of talking to their cleavages. (This, by the way, is something I make a conscious effort to never do. I was brought up to believe that it’s only good manners to look a woman in the eye when you’re talking to her.) Since you take this kind of thing seriously, and are worried about the group’s failure to retain young female recruits, you would love to support them. So imagine how you feel when you have to tell them that nothing can be done, and they would be best advised to stay quiet and try to avoid this comrade.

Let’s say that you are aware of a number of cases where ambitious female comrades have achieved positions in the hierarchy, due not to what talents for the job they may possess but due to who they are fucking. Meanwhile, talented women are passed over when it becomes known they are unavailable.

Let’s say that there are a few men in a number of localities who take pride in shagging any young female recruits to their branches, as much for their status as for any sexual enjoyment. (The anthropological equivalent of monkeys sticking their asses in the air.) This actually damages the group in that these young women rarely stay any length of time. But it is impossible to do anything about this, because these men are in good standing with the leadership, and moreover are more than usually outspoken in their PC puritanism.

Let’s say the group has a culture of institutional bullying, where women are not given more consideration, but generally speaking less.

Let’s say that this group had supporters in the Scottish Socialist Party during the Sheridan trial, who were involved in ugly scenes at SSP meetings where women who failed to support the Dear Leader were abused as “bitches” and “cunts”, amongst other witty epithets. Imagine that, rather than dealing with this abuse, the group’s publications blow smoke about the SSP having succumbed to “feminist puritanism”.

Now let’s say that this group runs periodic anti-sexist campaigns among the rank and file, aimed at browbeating comrades for their supposed thought crimes. This practice closely mirrors the sort of thing that used to go on in the American Maoist movement, where perfectly defensible measures to integrate minorities often degenerated into white comrades being forced to self-criticise their unconscious racism. And it’s about as productive, not to mention allowing some comrades to bury their own dodgy records under a mountain of sound and fury.

Let’s say the group has a number of stentorian über-feminists comfortably ensconced in its permanent leadership. They are well aware of the sort of shit that goes on, and you would think they would take steps to set their house in order. But that might mean jeopardising their comfy berths, so they prefer to spend their time writing tomes on “raunch culture” and ridiculing working-class women for wearing push-up bras.

Let’s say this imaginary group, while turning a blind eye to the practices detailed above, regularly expels rank-and-filers for alleged sexual misconduct. Indeed, it does so in such numbers that, were we to take the disciplinary records at face value, the group would appear to be chock-a-block with sex pests. By an amazing coincidence, the vast bulk of people expelled on these grounds turn out to be political dissidents. It has been alleged that this is a deliberate tactic taught to organisers, who can thus avoid dealing with the political substance of any dissidence while blackening the dissident’s character. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Now let us imagine for the sake of argument that this group is inviting us to spit blood over somewhat sexist comments by Asian councillors in Tower Hamlets, and to join in a great frenzy of synthetic outrage at George Galloway expressing opinions that are utterly typical for a man of his age and background.

Cynical? You bet.

47 Comments

  1. Ed Hayes said,

    December 17, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    You’ll be telling us next that this group once expelled a young scouse recruit for having a poster of Wendy James on his bedroom wall (from Tansvision Vamp kids) but has a leading theorist who trys it on with any women with a pulse.

  2. MH said,

    December 17, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Strangely, many of those who leave are later reported to have had mental health or substance abuse problems by their ex comrades.

  3. rob said,

    December 17, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    I’ve been in the SWP long enough to know you’ve made all that stuff up . I’ve not come across those stories and rumours . Why not try backing it up with some proof ?
    Oh , and judging by the photo your illustrating your St. Trinian’s article with your not so non-sexist yourself .

  4. johng said,

    December 17, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    I noticed how buried deep in the article are complaints about ‘uber feminists’ witch hunting men. poor lads. more seriously you make claims about Harman’s article impossible to verify because Andy just cherry picked the bits he wanted to from an as yet unpublished document. The theme one picks out of Harman’s argument from the bits published are to do with the way in which in some places, the radical dynamic of the anti-war movement for which Respect sought to be an electoral expression, was being displaced, in particular round the role of women and in terms of age. This came to a head in Tower Hamlets, where it was alleged that senior members of the coalition informed young women who turned up to a meeting ‘we’ve left our wives at home what are you doing here’, and they were left outside in the rain with their children for some time before Rania Khan managed to overturn this decision. This was thought to reflect the more conservative trends in Respect.

    Below are some of those concerned talking about their experiances. Quite what this has to do with your bitter sweet memories of SWP lore (which I have to say I don’t recognise) is anybodies guess really.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5iyJiRIBt8

    and someone from Manchester

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Well, Rob and John, did I mention any specific group? There is plenty here that will ring bells with anyone who keeps their ear to the ground. And there’s more…

  6. Phil said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    ‘rob’ – long enough to know he’s made all that stuff up?

  7. Darren said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Ed Hayes,

    I remember that story. Wasn’t it in an old Workers International League pamphlet which was devoted to sticking the political boot into the SWP? Whatever happened to JD? (The bloke who was expelled for his shit taste in music posters?)

  8. johng said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    “and there’s more”

    More fascinating whataboutary of presumably the same quality soon to turn up no doubt. These sterling contributions to the quality of left wing debate are deeply appreciated by almost everyone in the movement. incidently it is probably worth stating that being embittered about young women in prominant positions in the party and accusing them of being there simply because of who they’ve had sexual relations with, is not, generally speaking, a completely undodgy discourse.

  9. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Funnily enough, the hypothetical group that Splinty refers to might also have a loyal number of cadre who profess complete ignorance of any of this.

    This is in fact partly plausible. Firstly, there is a culture of anathamisation of people who leave the organistaion, or even of people who stay in the organisation but are seen as off message. A number of people who leave do have rumours about them put about, sexual misconduct, drugs, mental distress, political wreakers, etc, etc.

    secondly, the membership of this organisation is often surprisingly atomised. having realtionships only with other people in their own branch or district, or if they are in one or two lucky unions, their industrial fraction.

    Thirdly, it is hard to establish whether a particular incident is part of a pattern of sexist behaviour unless you see the whole picture. Those who do hear the stories often enough tend to have a personal and institutional vested interest in not rocking the boat.

    But I do regard it as highly unlikely that anyone who has been around this hypothetical organisation for any length of time would fail to recognise any of the features described. But hey self denial works at a number of different levels, and if the people misbehaving are often also adamantly firm in their verbal anti-sexism, it can be confusing. I als know from a nuber of ex-WRPers I have spoken to that given the huge emotional and political investment in THE revolutionary party, it is very hard to believe bad things.

  10. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    I’m not embittered about young women in prominent positions. In fact I think, and have thought for a very long time, that more young women in responsible leadership positions would be a very good thing. Provided that they were competent, it would bring a degree of much needed freshness.

    On the other hand, young women of sometimes hilarious ineptitude getting promotion on the basis of who they’ve slept with… if a capitalist employer did that sort of thing, he’d be spending years in front of industrial tribunals.

  11. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    I would like to put a little though experiment to Rob, an John G.

    How do you account for the fact that both Splintered Sunrse and myself have given very similar accounts, despite never having met, or worked together?

    What was also intersting, on the incredibly fraught and fractious thread that developed when I raisied this question, was that both of the two women who brought up their own experience were flamed, called obnxious, etc (by male SWP supporters by the way), while some other SWP supporters usualy hostile to me agreed with me on this issue. Adam J for example admitted that he totally recognised the picture of institutional sexism from his own time in cardiff SWP.

    Incidently, I approached two people i know who had been expelled for alleged sexual misconduct, asking if they would discuss how they were fitted up. Both declined becasue it was too painful and becasuue mud sticks (of course it is a difficult area because some people have genuinely been sexist)

    f you doubt this patern by the way, there was also the first press release sent out by Oli rahman after the rebel cuncillors resigned from the Respect group, which led to Rania Kahn receiving a solicitors letter about her libel over “inappropriate behaviour towards women”.

    But hey, ,ou are THE party, so there is nothing to worry about.

  12. johng said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    On the other hand Andy some of us don’t really take very seriously a bunch of embittered middle aged men (I’m the latter of course but not the former) going on about their inability to get their leg over as the basis for political critique. I’m referring here to a sadly hilarious old posting on this site which actually laid out rules, which contained equally predictable pleas for more ‘honesty’ (shudders at the thought of repugnant chatup lines, along the lines of Alan Parteridges ‘we were very free and easy’ etc).

    No objection to people indulging in melencholy bitter sweet nostalgia about their faded youth, but its really a bit much when this is counterposed to actual contemporary issues. Reading the above we have references to an individual who is thought to have wandering eyes, uberfeminists holding back the tides of sexual liberation (if it wasn’t for them Splintered would presumably have been able to fulfill his bravely proclaimed hedonist lifestyle), allegations about women of ‘hiliarious incompetance’ etc and now demands for ‘freshness’ (well two can play at the game of misattribution).

    None of which is particularly WRP in any case. I for one am not getting involved in a commitee to determine who women are allowed to sleep with, and in terms of any abuses feel that a culture where such behaviour is stigmatised is probably the way forward (puritanical uberfeminism etc).

    On the other hand we have a story related to the Respect split which no one really wants to talk about, where leading figures are alleged to have told women ‘we left our wives at home what are you doing here’. Not really the same thing as rumours about someone being a bit lechy is it?

  13. johng said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Oh and Andy the phrase “SWP supporter” is a bit disengenuous on your thread. Many are people who were initially drawn to it for a bit of SWP bashing, then got a bit bored and started bashing you lot. I’m not responsible for their bad manners. Rania Khan has clarified that she was referring to the bullying and exclusion of women not their sexual harrasment.Perhaps you’d like to address the things she says at some point.

  14. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 17, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    So there you go. Johng, who knows me not at all, has managed to diagnose that I am motivated by a failure to get my leg over, combined with a jealousy of the love gods who make up the SWP leadership. So that bit of inspired guesswork invalidates the entire argument…

    Let me put to you, just for the sake of argument, something that I witnessed personally. There was an organiser who, while being straight himself, was very outspoken in support of gay rights, dancing at Pride every year etc. Then there was an outbreak of homophobic violence in his area, including a murder. An experienced gay comrade suggested some modest activity in support of the gay community. This was met with the immortal line, “We aren’t interested in lifestyle politics.”

    So a chance to do something really worthwhile was missed because of subjective hostility to the person making the proposal. Sadly, this happens all to often.

    I come back to a very good point made by Mike over on the SU thread. That is, if you are part of an in group sexism and racism won’t actually be condoned, but will be swept under the carpet. Meanwhile, if you’re part of an out group, accusations of sexism and racism will be used as a weapon against you regardless of whether or not you are guilty. That certainly matches my experience.

  15. Louise Whittle said,

    December 17, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Johng: As someone who has never been in the SWP it seems to me that you are picking and choosing what you to confront. As socialists we don’t indulge in that we confront the whole shebang. There has been other cases of sexism in your org yet you choose to concentrate on this. Why?

    That’s why it looks like double-standards and rank opportunism. If you are serious in exposing and challenging sexism and oppression overall (in the SWP and outside) then you have to look at everything and not pick and choose.

    And Rob, why do you assume that people have made these stories up? It is precisely that kind of argument that is used against people in wider society who allege oppressive behaviour (abuse, discrimination, violence and so on and usually they are already in a powerless position (usually kids and women). They are disbelieved and dismissed.

    We aren’t the law we are socialists and when someone tells me they have experienced oppressive behaviour (from the workplace, the home, the Trot group) then I believe them and try to highlight, challenge and makes things a damn sight better for them.

    Crappy bullying oppressive behaviour including violence (sexual and physical) exists and we need to recognise it deal with it seriously and not reduce it to point scoring, and opportunism.

    All of it and not pick/choose, dismiss and ignore, ‘cos if we are the alternative to capitalism then we have to try a damn sight harder!

    Good post Splintered and good luck with the comments!

  16. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    JOhn

    Actually I have no idea what most of you comment was about. There is a certain complacency about your tawdry apologetics. By the way drunken sexual assault is not “someone being a bit lechy” But hey if they are a REVOLUTIONARY, then hey let’s look the other way for the good of THE Party.

    You have even accelerated the TH atrocity story. “leading figures if respect”?? Previoulsy it was people “close to leading figures in respect”, if this acceleration goes on soon it will be GG himslef who said it. the troble is you have so little credibility, if sexism was a problem in TH Respect, then how come the SW never raised it within Respect’s structures until after a factions fight. Either because it wasn’t that bad, or becasue you didn’t previoulsy take it serioulsy.

    I have continually said, in contradiction to your “no one wants to talk about it” rubbish, that Respect Renewal will address any alleged sexism.

    And yes Rania clarified her complaint, but only after she received a solictors letter about libel.

  17. johng said,

    December 17, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Ah Splintered the male ego I sympathise. I simply referred to a post here way back. Andy has now talked about ‘drunken sexual assault’, and attempting to argue that this is something I ‘condone’. I have no idea what he’s talking about, whilst splintered is now raising something else which, again, I know nothing whatsoever about.

    But the fact is that Andy’s response to Rania Khan’s and other womens complaints when Chris Harman had the temerity to mention them, was to try and diminish and trivialize these complaints pursuing his ‘look over there’ methods.

    The discussion of the last few days are good examples of precisely how NOT to talk about these issues (especially not as political footballs in a faction fight degenerating by the minute as it becomes the preserve of sectarians and sundry political lunatics). You should be careful about conflating what people take seriously with whether they take you seriously. The two things are not at all the same….

  18. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    No John, by SWP supporter I am specifically referring to people, some of whom are members of the SWP, and some ex-members of the SWP who support your general line over Respect, but who specifically on the sexism thread said they recognised the problem in the SWP as described.

  19. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    JOhn: You should be careful about conflating what people take seriously with whether they take you seriously.

    Ahh yes, fiding the going getting a bit ough in the face of thinsg being mentioned right out in the open that John prefers not to have heard about, he tries to anathamatise and minimise the credibility of the people raising the points.

    John, you complain I was trying a look over there tactic. But you claim that you have no knowledge of whether the events in Bristol happened, but when I offered to put yu in touch with the women comrades you didn’t get back to me. The offer is still open.

  20. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    “But the fact is that Andy’s response to Rania Khan’s and other womens complaints when Chris Harman had the temerity to mention them, was to try and diminish and trivialize these complaints pursuing his ‘look over there’ methods. ”

    I would have descibed it as chutpah more tham temerity.

  21. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    chutpah = chutzpah

  22. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Anyway I am going to leave this thread. I cannot say any more.

    There should be an investigation, but unless women concerned are prepared to speak out, or some of the leading comrades who have colluded break ranks then this will never be resolved.

  23. Louise said,

    December 17, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Johng: As someone who has never been in the SWP it seems to me that you are picking and choosing what you to confront. As socialists we don’t indulge in that we confront the whole shebang. There has been other cases of sexism in your org yet you choose to concentrate on this. Why?

    That’s why it looks like double-standards and rank opportunism. If you are serious in exposing and challenging sexism and oppression overall (in the SWP and outside) then you have to look at everything and not pick and choose.

    And Rob, why do you assume that people have made these stories up? It is precisely that kind of argument that is used against people in wider society who allege oppressive behaviour (abuse, discrimination, violence and so on and usually they are already in a powerless position (usually kids and women). They are disbelieved and dismissed.

    We aren’t the law we are socialists and when someone tells me they have experienced oppressive behaviour (from the workplace, the home, the Trot group) then I believe them and try to highlight, challenge and makes things a damn sight better for them.
    Crappy bullying oppressive behaviour including violence (sexual and physical) exists and we need to recognise it deal with it seriously and not reduce it to point scoring, and opportunism.

    All of it and not pick/choose, dismiss and ignore, ‘cos if we are the alternative to capitalism then we have to try a damn sight harder!

    Good post Splintered and good luck with the comments!

  24. johng said,

    December 17, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    I don’t think its chutzpah to discuss the more conservative elements in Respect, particularly not when its an issue which has been raised publicly, by prominant members of that organisation. Can you even imagine the response if what was said had been said to Salma? There is no difference between Rania and Salma in this respect. I am all for a proper discussion of sexism but your thread was not it I’m afraid. It was a trivialization of issues in the context of a faction fight. Its not charecteristic of the Andy I used to read occassionally with interest and I would strongly suggest that the muckraking logic you have opened up will not serve a serious discussion of sexism, either within RR or out of it. Splintered’s promise of more exclusive’s notwithstanding.

  25. johng said,

    December 17, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Louise,

    Largely my response is dictated by the fact that Andy was subordinating discussions of sexism to the present faction fight. He was disturbed by the allegations of what had gone on inside of Respect in TH and instead of addressing these things tried to raise other issues which may or may not be legitimate but which had nothing whatsoever to do with the allegation that one reason why things had turned so nasty in TH was a deliberate attempt to malign and marginalise left wing women who had been prominant within Respect. In the faction fight that occured in TH there was a particular blow-up over this issue that was very public, very traumatic and had big political reprucussions, reflecting as it did a build up of tensions. Harman in an unpublished document had referred to these tensions. Andy’s response? To make a post were he attempted to balence one allegation of sexism against the other.

    I think its not surprising that many people did not believe that this was really a discussion about sexism at all, but an attempt to subordinate the question of sexism to the logic of a faction fight.

    In general terms about individual behaviour I think there are all sorts of problems socialists face in dealing with the muck of ages. I think that the development of a cultural atmosphere where sexist behaviour is frowned on and stigmatised is important, and as far as I’m concerned thats the culture of the organisation I am in. Where that culture fails (and I am more then aware that it will do) then action has to be taken. Of course discussion of ‘sexist behaviour’ is complicated by the very broad range of personal and political behaviours that can be included in this, and by the fact that of all the oppressions in capitalist society, its the one most closely woven into our everyday lives (in particular it straddles the personal and the political in ways which most other forms of oppression do not).

    But gossiping about people on blogs is actually not the way to pursue these matters, and I don’t really see how what has gone on in the last few days on Andy’s blog has contributed in any way to a sensible discussion of how to resolve these issues.

    I found it unpleasent (for example) that indirect references were made to women who I actually know, which were actually quite degrading. I don’t think making allegations about the relationship between peoples political activity and who they sleep with is healthy, and I think there is a really unpleasent subtext to a lot of this that has nothing whatsoever to do with fighting sexism.

    But it is in any case impossible to have a proper discussion about these matters in blogdom, particularly not when the whole issue is being misused by some purely for the purposes of political infighting.

    The worst thing about it, as I’ve said to Andy before, is that completely ridiculous issues are mixed up with really quite serious ones, to the detriment not only of the latter but our common political culture on these issues on the left.

    Its depressing.

  26. WorldbyStorm said,

    December 17, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    Wendy James – eh? Where’s the harm? (Actually the first album wasn’t great, and the second was pretty grim… but even so).

    JohnG, I’m not as convinced as you that discussing these matters on a blog is a wrong way to pursue them. You’ll know as well as me that within organisations the honesty that is necessary is often impossible to achieve for the very reasons that you rightly point to in your comment… so perhaps less formal channels can have an educative effect. This incidentally goes for all organisations, political and otherwise…

  27. Danny said,

    December 17, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    I wouldn’t ‘out’ anyone here but I’d absolutely verify what splintered is saying, based on my own experience.

    Perhaps there really are some SWP people unaware of this, I think focussing on not noticing whats wrong with it its a coping strategy for many to be honest. But it doesnt do much, or say much, for your group.

  28. johng said,

    December 17, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    ok, thought experiment. A reference is made here to a comrade in a local district who serially gets off with young female recruits. what should an organisation do about this? should there be a formal panel? (what would the charge be?). Would one expect a few comrades to have an informal word with the comrade concerned (in my experiance with related behaviour this has happened). Or with the potential target (which would be a bit wierd really). Or would one encourage an atmosphere were this was frowned on (in reality in my experiance the norm: hence accusations of ‘moralism’ etc which are confusingly mixed in in the general charge sheet and called hypocrisy). In general an atmosphere were women don’t put up with bullshit of this kind is probably the most important. I would tend to suggest that, whilst to be sure its not perfect, if you looked at your average SWP branch when compared to most gatherings such behaviour would both standout and be jumped on much more quickly then almost anywhere else.

    I would also suggest that formal rules and regulations have to be about explicit behaviours which are ipso facto out of order (getting off with people and being a bit of a sleazeball is out of order generally but can’t exactly have rules and regulations about them). So in general, and most people who have experiance with dealing with these questions whether in political parties or in workplace situations will recognise the distinction, someone whose behaviour is a ‘bit off’, can’t be done just for being a bit ‘off’ but only when they cross a certain line.

    However in Socialist organisations there ought to be a strong culture where its fairly clear to this person that being ‘off’ in this way is disapproved of and does’nt go down well. social pressure in other words. I can remember a comrade who saw himself as a bit Jack the laddy. He was quite upfront about this and there were divisions of opinion about him amongst women comrades I knew quite well. He wasn’t seen as sleazy (he was a bit upfront and had no problem with rejection). He was also quite popular at work and not disliked by most of the women he worked with. But in the end women comrades who’d been around a bit gave him such a pasting that he began to desist with the laddish jokes and behaviour.

    This went togeather with a general politicisation of course. I think many working class males getting involved in politics have that experiance. And thats an experiance which is pretty standard in the SWP I would suggest. To say on the one hand that the organisation makes a big deal about sexism and sexist behaviour but on the other hand that its culture is in contradiction with this, is a bit paradoxical in the end. Because constantly making a deal of something has its effects.

    This is not to say that there can’t be problems. But, in my experiance, comrades have a much more sensitive antenna towards these things then people outside the Party do generally. The incident I refer to above with a particular comrade I can remember debating through with a number of comrades for about three hours. In the course of which long discussions about sexism, how you combat it in different social mileau etc, etc. And in the end the arguments were won and the person concerned today is a very different in this respect.

    If your having discussions like this endlessly (similar things on questions about racism, about Islamophobia etc) it certainly doesn’t guarantee against abuses. But its certainly a resource for dealing with them. And that just IS my experiance of the SWP I’m afraid. I’m sure that more negative things have happened. But the attempt to argue that its impermissable for SWP members to raise questions about what happened in TH (it should be stressed that its Andy who cherry picked references to this from Chris Harman’s article, so no one else was attempting to make this the be all and end all of discussions about TH) on the basis that it is some WRP den of sexual abuse and depravity, I think would be met with disbelief by most comrades, a lot of them not even members of the SWP.

  29. charliemarks said,

    December 17, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Old Enver was gay? First I heard of this…

  30. Peter Regan said,

    December 17, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    This blog makes for great reading – you’re well able to stir them up Splintered Sunrise!

    That pair of husseys in the St Trinian post have skin bearing a remarkably similar hue to that of — Captain Orange and cleavage with more rubber in it than a pair of silverkings.

    But Uncle Enver wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid about them.
    Luckily I have the Albanian Constitution on hand –

    Article 137 put it –

    “Unnatural sexual relations of a man with, a woman or of a woman with a woman do not constitute a criminal offence and are not proscribed”.

    So the women were grand to ‘get it on’ anyway they liked but in typical non-enlightened communist style the Albanians took their political principles not from British television but from old Fred Engels (among others)

    Engels wrote this book one time about the origin of the family, private property and the state. Writing about the Greeks Engels noted –

    “This degradation of the woman was avenged on the men and degraded them also till they fell into the abominable practice of sodomy”.

  31. charliemarks said,

    December 18, 2007 at 2:08 am

    Of course, there’s more to gay sex than sodomy….

  32. Ryan said,

    December 18, 2007 at 2:15 am

    Can we back things up a bit and get a real run-down on this “Enver Hoxha in gay shocker!” thing?

    Obviouslly there was a longstanding tradition in Albania of homosexuality (specifically, pederasty) but it’s the first I’ve heard of Hoxha getting down like that.

  33. Peter Regan said,

    December 18, 2007 at 2:38 am

    Faith, but you’re right Charlie, sure I’m blue in the face from telling the missus the same thing.

  34. charliemarks said,

    December 18, 2007 at 2:50 am

    I’m always right, Charlie – it’s an inevitability. I gather the gay Enver thing is somewhat contentious… Perhaps if he were still alive he’d take legal action against you Splinty…

    And by the way, where’s my picture of Francois Sagat?

  35. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 18, 2007 at 9:05 am

    Enver’s sexuality was a big taboo in Albania, but at certain levels of the nomenklatura it was an open secret. Many years ago there was a controversy between Ismail Kadare and Arshi Pipa on just this point.

    And Francois will be along soon. ;)

  36. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 18, 2007 at 10:30 am

    To come back on johng’s thought experiment at #28, I had two people specifically in mind, both of whom not only serially got off with young female recruits, which may be a bit off but you can’t legislate against, but made sure everybody knew they were doing it. Which to my mind is actually degrading of women comrades for the sake of puffing up their egos.

    Now, say I’m in a position to do something in one of these cases. Because I would prefer to deal with it discreetly, I would have a quiet word with someone in the leadership, suggesting that a quiet word be had with Comrade X. And at that point it would be made clear that Comrade X had the protection of the leadership and I did not, so I wouldn’t want to press this.

    I think you misunderstand me if you think I’m simply arguing that there is a formal position of sexual puritanism, but the internal culture differs from that. My point is that you’ve a whole structure built around cliques, pecking orders, in groups and out groups – a sort of mini caste system. And certain behaviours are if not condoned then tolerated at certain levels, while at lower levels much lesser infractions are used to get rid of inconvenient people.

    And this is much too widespread to be anything less than a serious problem with the culture. Was there sexist behaviour in TH? Undoubtedly. But there’s a serious mote and beam problem to be dealt with before some people get on their high horses.

  37. johng said,

    December 18, 2007 at 11:19 am

    I think in any organisations there will be cliques, there will be in-groups and out-groups and some of the things diagnosed, as much a product of the society we live in as the organisation we’re a part of. The question is what you do about this. I believe the only solution to this is a general level of politics which acts as a barrier to this kind of behaviour togeather, of course, with explicit sanctions for behaviours which cross the line. I don’t think its perfect but I think both a culture and a set of sanctions exist inside the organisation that I am a member of. Having said that I don’t think any organisation can be entirely immune and its a constant struggle. To me clique behaviour is bad politics and I would have utter contempt for someone who behaved in the way you have described (and so would a lot of other people). I have to say I have never come across a situation where something like this was raised and someone said ‘but they’re close to the leadership’ (perhaps your not suggesting this was said literally).

    Briefly on ‘high horses’ I’m not sure who your talking about. As part of a general crisis in Respect Harman mentioned things which many activists in TH (both women and men) had spoken of. Should they not have spoken of these things? Should Harman not talk about the things they said? Again, these are a few paragraphs in a lengthy article and its Andy who set this horse running not anyone in the SWP.

    My objection to this discussion is not that such discussions should not ever happen but because I think the way this discussion has been going on (you began your post by referring to Andy’s) has simply been part of the widening current of bitterness and hostility associated with the current faction fight. This is unhelpful on a whole number of levels for anyone seriously concerned with issues about sexism and socialist organisation. All this stuff about ‘more to come’ and comments on other sites like ‘if you want this to stop come to negotiations’ mean that those people to whom these arguments are presumably addressed are never going to take them seriously.

    They are very likely to see this as simply part of a campaign which is seeking to ensure that the SWP is marginalised and isolated inside the movement. To the extent, for example, that Rania Khan (video above) is marginalised and stigmatised for daring to suggest that there was something pretty rotten about the way she and others were treated, and claims are made that the SWP are not allowed to have even internal discussions about these and related issues because they are such grotesque healy-ite sexists. This extends even to the bitter accusations directed at one of our members also a counciler, who had his windows bricked twice, and was beaten up outside his home. Apparently even mentioning this publicly is ‘Healy-ite’. Under normal circumstances most people in the movement would be deeply concerned and outraged. But a general atmosphere is being created where somehow people don’t notice how bizarre this all this: from discussions of sexism to discussions of general politics to discussions about democracy: the SWP must not comment because they have no rights given their appalling nature.

    Now I don’t really think that this can be successfully done outside the world of blogdom (and I have the impression over the last few weeks that that world is increasingly disconnected from the actual one) but it is nonetheless a bit peculiar if you are on the recieving end of this sort of thing.

    Quite serious questions have been raised. But in this atmosphere its unlikely that any even halfway sane discussion can take place about them. And I would return to my point about how depressing this is in the context of a common culture we all should share. Aside from anything else what it comes to cliques and authoritarian behaviour in the labour movement the SWP are hardly even marginal players. Most people join the SWP as a refuge from that sort of thing. If they end up being disapointed thats a problem for us all, but I don’t think the problem is on the scale that it is being presented here, and, just on the basis of personal experiance, I think this is quite a distorted discussion.

    I’d also stand by my remarks about a possibly unintentional, but nevertheless deeply unpleasent undercurrent to some of the discussion, which anyone concerned about sexism would be a bit reflective about.

  38. Ed Hayes said,

    December 18, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    A long long time ago, an SWM member in Cork claimed that she was sexually harassed to the point of physical assualt at a party. She was a fairly new member. The person she accused was a local cadre. Guess who the oh so PC leadership backed? Comments about ‘these things happen when people are drunk’ were thrown about. If it had been a leading female member and a drunken new memeber than the assaultie would have been out on his ear. The young woman left the SWM , along with a friend. For the doubters, if you investigate this then you can find out the names pretty easily.

  39. johng said,

    December 18, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    If true thats obviously highly condemnable and I would condemn it.

  40. Alex Nichols said,

    December 18, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    A cautionary tale:-

  41. andy newman said,

    December 18, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    John

    when you say:

    All this stuff about ‘more to come’ and comments on other sites like ‘if you want this to stop come to negotiations’ mean that those people to whom these arguments are presumably addressed are never going to take them seriously.

    No one has ever linked the discussion of sexism or other criticisms of the SWP with the question of negotiations. The issues are autonomous. Negotiations would help resolve the outstanding issues between the SWP on the one side, and Respect(R) on the other.

    Naturally when Harman issues a highy controversial document that is designed to exonerate the SWP CC from any criticism, while at the same time seeking to damage the reputation of the comrades in Respect renewal, then it is inevitable that there will be a response, Given that Harman includes in his account a number of falsehoods, this would inevitably rasie the temperature further.

    It is a shame that the SWP CC feel that they cannot argue their political position based upon a factual account of what happened, and they have had to misrepresent the facts. But becasue they have gone down that road it makes it much harder to respond in a purely political way.

    With regard to the sexism in TH Respect allegations. I would be surprised if there was no sexism in Respect, allthough it is highly reprehensible to imply that any one section of the membership is particularly prone to sexism, and we do need to agree a strategy – as do all political organisations – for dealing with sexism.

    Other forms of chauvinism can also be a problem on the left, such as the comment by SWP member Cllr Lutfa Begum – who told the east London GLA selection meeting that she was sick of the number of eastern Europeans coming to Britain.

    But naturally, when the specific example of sexism was used by Chris Harman as an example of right wing influences in Respect, then it is actually a political respsonse to say – in addition to being very clear that there has to be a commitment to overcoming and minimising sexism in Respect- that the SWP has itself quite a poor record of this, which I can say with 100% confidence that Chris Harman definitely knows about even if John G doesn’t. Becasue that casts doubt in whether the alleged sexism in TH Rrespect is actually evidence of right wing influence.

  42. andy newman said,

    December 18, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    opps, mucked up the block quote there.

    should have formatted like this:

    John

    when you say:

    All this stuff about ‘more to come’ and comments on other sites like ‘if you want this to stop come to negotiations’ mean that those people to whom these arguments are presumably addressed are never going to take them seriously.

    No one has ever linked the discussion of sexism or other criticisms of the SWP with the question of negotiations. The issues are autonomous. Negotiations would help resolve the outstanding issues between the SWP on the one side, and Respect(R) on the other.

    Naturally when Harman issues a highy controversial document that is designed to exonerate the SWP CC from any criticism, while at the same time seeking to damage the reputation of the comrades in Respect renewal, then it is inevitable that there will be a response, Given that Harman includes in his account a number of falsehoods, this would inevitably rasie the temperature further.

    It is a shame that the SWP CC feel that they cannot argue their political position based upon a factual account of what happened, and they have had to misrepresent the facts. But becasue they have gone down that road it makes it much harder to respond in a purely political way.

    With regard to the sexism in TH Respect allegations. I would be surprised if there was no sexism in Respect, allthough it is highly reprehensible to imply that any one section of the membership is particularly prone to sexism, and we do need to agree a strategy – as do all political organisations – for dealing with sexism.

    Other forms of chauvinism can also be a problem on the left, such as the comment by SWP member Cllr Lutfa Begum – who told the east London GLA selection meeting that she was sick of the number of eastern Europeans coming to Britain.

    But naturally, when the specific example of sexism was used by Chris Harman as an example of right wing influences in Respect, then it is actually a political respsonse to say – in addition to being very clear that there has to be a commitment to overcoming and minimising sexism in Respect- that the SWP has itself quite a poor record of this, which I can say with 100% confidence that Chris Harman definitely knows about even if John G doesn’t. Becasue that casts doubt in whether the alleged sexism in TH Respect is actually evidence of right wing influence.

  43. johng said,

    December 18, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    But Andy your just dodging the substance of the claims in the article. That there had been a shift to the right reflected in selections and that the polarisation around these questions had involved issues about gender. Simply making counter-claims around these questions won’t do. Its also true that you have nowhere identified any falsehoods in the article (aside from political disagreement) merely made counter-claims. Babeuf suggested that we could expect more of this style of thing if we didn’t come to negotiations. Perhaps he was just commenting on what he saw as the logic of increasingly polarised discussions. I don’t think any of this is improving the quality of discussions about sexism in the movement.

  44. andy newman said,

    December 18, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    I haven’t got around to addressing falsehoods, but there is the old rubbish about Birmingham and Tower hamlets where to be fair to harman he is just repeatinig lies that others have told him.

    it is very tedious to wade through all that stuff again.

  45. johng said,

    December 18, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Well Andy given that you said there were lies and falsehoods to address and this was why you hadn’t addressed any of the arguments, this is just a tiny bit disengenuous of you. I certainly can’t be expected to believe that there are lies and falsehoods just because you say so. And nor I would suggest should other people.

  46. andy newman said,

    December 18, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Well No – but neither have I got around to refuting the counter-factual claims from Harman.

  47. johng said,

    December 18, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Well given that I don’t have access to them, I guess I’ll continue to work with your heroic refutations of lies that none of the rest of us can see.
    :).


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