The Socialist Workers' Party is the largest far left organisation in Britain and has been for the past two decades or so. The influence of the SWP has extended around the world, including New Zealand.
It is the dominant faction within the International Socialist Tendency, of which Socialist Aotearoa is a part.
But the SWP is now embroiled in a crisis that, depending on who you read or talk to, will either destroy it or severely damage its credibility to the extent it will have little influence beyond the small milieu of supporters who haven't already deserted it
I don't wish to rehearse the whole timeline of events (it is all available on the net if you are interested) but the crisis erupted when it was exposed that the SWP leadership had failed to respond adequately to an allegation of rape against a senior member of the SWP. That member is often referred to as 'Comrade Delta' but it is not hard to find out who he is - especially since his name has been mentioned on various blogs and websites.
The first complaint against him was made in 2010 but it was not until September 2012 that the woman made a formal complaint of rape to the SWP's disputes committee. The panel of seven dismissed the allegations and never referred them to the police
The SWP leadership reportedly saw fit to appoint two individuals to sit on the committee who were both friends of the accused.
And it gets worse. As Richard Seymour of Lenin's Tomb writes:
The accused was allowed access to the complainant's evidence weeks in advance; the complainant has still not seen the accused's evidence. Another woman, a party worker, testified that she had experienced sexual harassment from the accused. The committee knew how to deal with that: "Is it fair to say you like a drink?" they queried. She was effectively sacked for making this complaint.
The hostile and frankly sexist questioning directed at the women during the investigation left the complainant feeling that "they think I'm a slut who asked for it". The "verdict" reached by this body was that the rape complaint was "not proven", with no explanation given as to the reasoning. Central committee members subsequently claimed that it meant the accused had been "exonerated", and thus could return to his role in the party.
A leaked transcript of the SWP's annual conference in January, revealed that senior officials pleaded with hundreds of activists to trust in the committee's verdict and reminded members that the party had "no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice". It was suggested that allegations of sexual violence could be dismissed in the context that they are secondary to the 'wider struggle'.
The leadership of the SWP have acted in an undemocratic and aggressive manner in an attempt to squash any further talk about the allegation and subsequent events. It can be justifiably argued that this behaviour has been born of a largely sectarian and bureaucratic organisation that adheres to a form of democratic centralism that bears little resemblance to its original conception.
The actions of the SWP leadership have resulted in mass resignations from the party, disgusted by the way the central committee has handled the issue. A new organisation, the International Socialist Network, has already attracted some 100 former SWP members.
Richard Seymour says that the SWP leadership is waging a war 'against hundreds of members who still oppose what they have done'.
The collapse or the crippling of the SWP will have an impact on far left politics internationally, perhaps even in New Zealand. But so far there has been no public comment from SWP supporters and sympathisers in this country. You can speculate for yourself as to what this silence means but my own view is that silence is not an option. It is little more than maintaining a default position of 'nothing has been proved' and, by implication, offers support for the central committee of the Socialist Workers' Party.