A serious crisis is shaking the English SWP, one of the largest parties of the Left in England, which claims to be Trotskyist. It is a moral crisis and the IWL cannot remain on the sidelines because firstly, the serious events that occur in this Left party are used by the bourgeoisie to destroy the image of the Left as a whole, as if all parties were a single organisation. Secondly, because it is through the actions of all organisations that claim to be revolutionary that the Left builds its place among the world’s proletariat.
Synthesis of what happened
A member of the party accused a member of the central committee of raping her. The Dispute Committee (called the Moral Commission in the IWL) investigated the case for four days and concluded that there was insufficient evidence against the accused.
A report of this investigation and its conclusion was presented to the conference in January. Delegates protested that the member who accused the leader had not been invited to the conference. Meanwhile, another member of the party made allegations that the same leader had sexually molested her.
In this climate of discontent the discussion was led in a bureaucratic way by strictly limiting the time for contributions, which prevented a broad discussion.
All these facts cast suspicion on the committee’s work and report, so that the conference was split almost in half, with231 votes in favour of the report, 209 against and 18 abstentions.
An unprecedented crisis followed with members breaking from the party and even intellectuals who had always worked with the SWP refused further cooperation with them.
Why no full freedom of discussion?
In our opinion, these are serious issues and require deep reflection. A complaint of rape from within the ranks of a party that claims to be revolutionary must be regarded with the utmost seriousness by all members, particularly by the leadership.
Rape is a type of violence against women that leaves scars for life. A woman who has suffered rape feels permanently threatened and afraid that this will happen again. It is a physical and psychological aggression that is difficult to overcome.
Therefore a complaint should be investigated thoroughly, and the leadership of the party has to be the most determined to ensure this; to prevent this from being repeated within the party. They should be the first to ensure complete freedom of discussion, encouraging all members to speak, especially the very member who made the complaint, without any embarrassment.
But that is not what happened. The member who made the complaint was not invited to the conference.
This is extremely serious because if the SWP leadership were sincerely interested in clarifying the complaint and establishing the truth, they would have given her presence fundamental importance. Moreover, the report of the conference shows that instead of ensuring the broadest possible freedom of discussion of the report, the Disputes Committee sought at all costs to avoid clarification of all the facts adding to the climate of distrust among the delegates.
An important question put by the delegates was why had the Disputes Committee not taken into account the second complaint by another member, in order to review their decision to acquit the leader or, at least, to raise doubts about the initial decision.
Thereafter, the Disputes Committee itself was questioned on suspicion of having acted to protect the leader. This is because two of DC members were appointed by the CC and another three were former members of the CC. It is much more democratic if all DC members are appointed by the Congress delegates, not just some, otherwise the composition favours the ruling group in the party.
A question of revolutionary morality
In the Transitional Program, Trotsky says that, “In a society based upon exploitation, the highest moral is that of the social revolution. All methods are good which raise the class consciousness of the workers, their trust in their own forces, their readiness for self-sacrifice in the struggle. The impermissible methods are those which implant fear and submissiveness in the oppressed before their oppressors in a society based on exploitation, the supreme moral is the moral of the socialist revolution. Good are the methods that raise the class consciousness of the workers…”
Trotsky is saying that the struggle against the oppression of women is part of the defence of revolutionary morality in our organisations and these issues cannot be treated solely in a formal way.
What happened in the SWP was just the opposite. They used methods that undermined the confidence of militants and created uncertainty and fear before the oppressors.
No political organisation is exempt from the possibility of moral revolutionary deviations. The question that arises is how these deviations are treated within the organisation.
The IWL (International Workers League – Fourth International) has also suffered such problems. Some of them were so severe that they came to threaten the very existence of the IWL.
What was the approach of the IWL? Firstly, we did not hide the facts, but clearly investigated them and punished those involved by expulsion from our ranks.
We even reached the point of losing an entire section of our International.
A companion of the main leader of the Bolivian section of the IWL accused him of beating her violently and repeatedly. The case was thoroughly investigated by our Moral Commission, which eventually proved the charges.
This leader had been in the IWL for many years but he was expelled from our ranks, which led to the remainder of the members of the Bolivian section to abandon the ranks of the IWL in solidarity with him. Thus, the IWL preferred to lose an entire section rather than keep in their ranks a militant who was proven to have serious moral problems.
The question of revolutionary morality is widely discussed among all the members, and the IX World Congress (2008) of the IWL agreed a document “In Defence of Revolutionary Morals”, which shows that our daily activity is an essential part of our construction.
What this showed us is that the question of revolutionary morality is not just an issue, but a key question for a leftist organisation that wants to build in order to destroy capitalism and bourgeois society.
It was a tough battle, but we are sure that the IWL has been strengthened by it. However we are aware that the threat remains, because the bourgeoisie will always seek to impose its morals on us and we are under constant pressure from bourgeois society and its moral degeneracy. We must stand firmly against this and not allow it to penetrate our ranks and destroy our organisations.
The IWL position is based on the teachings of Trotsky. We opened this discussion in our ranks to confront the problems by battling for a communist morality in our sections, in order to prevent the growing pressures that could eventually destroy us.
That is why we are concerned about what is happening in the SWP. We want our experience to help all revolutionary militants in different countries to understand its importance, with an awareness that this is a constant battle if we want to build a real organisation to serve for the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat.
With each passing day we are more and more convinced that there will not be a solid construction of a national revolutionary party, nor an International, if we do not maintain with courage our determination to fight anyone who damages revolutionary morality in our ranks.
The working class needs its own morals in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, which involves specific questions for the labour movement for the mutual protection of persecuted workers; never abandoning a worker who is fighting an employer or the police and always maintaining fair and honest relations between labour organisations.
But the revolutionary party has a specific morality.
The reason is that the more advanced fight is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat. For that revolutionaries must have an iron discipline and morals that are superior even to proletarian morality, from which it comes.
It is essential that there is a high level of trust between everyone, a “brotherhood of the persecuted” as it is historically called in Latin America, because those who want to overthrow capitalism are persecuted and may pay the price with their lives. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain a higher moral strength in this organisation in order to withstand the pressures that the bourgeoisie impose.
For the party, collective organisation is everything, as opposed to the outlook of capitalist ideaology where individualism and selfishness prevail.
We need to strengthen the confidence of each comrade in their own strength, and develop trust between all militants, because in the most serious moments of our struggle we must trust our comrades.
To develop this, we want and we help each other to develop politically. Our party must be an organisation against the state and that requires complete trust between comrades whether men or women.
Confidence in women
There is a gap in society between men and women – it is harder for women to become militants. They are less able to be active, they experience a lesser position, historically have been slower to enter political life, and they continue to carry the burden of double oppression – so women have to make more effort.
At home, at work, at school, in all spheres of society, the woman is at a disadvantage and suffers all kinds of oppression, prejudice and sexual abuse.
The party has to be the opposite. In it women should find an environment of respect and interest in their political development. There is revolutionary respect for a woman who enters the party and is willing to give her life for the revolution because upon entering the party she will have to overcome greater obstacles than those faced by a man.
Within the party, if a party leader sexually oppresses a comrade, then he is committing a grave error because this is not what you would expect from any militant willing to dedicate their life to the socialist revolution.
Socialism is incompatible with such an attitude. Within the party, a conscious woman and militant revolutionary, does not expect to find the same that they find every day in society. Within the party they rely on their comrades, they lower their guard against them, and expect in return trust and a relationship of respect and camaraderie.
The denunciation of what happened in the SWP has not been made only to draw attention to the gravity of what happened. A revolutionary party that does not incorporate into its daily activity a struggle against the oppression of the oppressed sections, in this case women, can not be victorious in the struggle for liberation of the class.
You must fight all moral deviations, and along with it, be consistent with the program of liberation for the whole class, men and women.
We who fight against the oppression of women, know how important it is for a woman to become politically conscious and above all, to enter the party. So if incidents of sexism in society as a whole are serious, they are doubly pernicious within our ranks, because they will be destroying a militant and also our ultimate goal that is, the construction of the party – the instrument that we are building daily to win a socialist society, and with it, the total emancipation of women.
A constant battle
Inserted in bourgeois society there is a need for the party to fight to educate their members in revolutionary morality – theoretically and programmatically. This has to be a daily task. If when moral deviations occur and it is clear that this task has not been taken seriously, or, is addressed only in a formal way.,then the party remains more exposed to attacks by the bourgeois press and conservative forces, who will take advantage of these deviations to make attacks on all leftist organisations.
Why is it so important make every possible effort to establish the facts? It is to show to the working class and society as a whole that our parties are distinct from the bourgeois parties, where corruption, slander and deception reigns. To show that revolutionary politicians are different from the bourgeois politicians, who use politics to promote themselves and rob from the public coffers. To show that we have distinct morals and that our struggle against the oppression of women is a sincere struggle, not just something to mention in our documents, but is part of our everyday life. Only in this way can we win working men and women to our ranks.
The comrades of the SWP have an example in Britain of the kind of moral deviation that can destroy an organisation however strong it may be. The Healyite WRP was an organisation that had a long history in the English Left, but in the 1985 the catalyst for its destruction were the moral deviations of the leadership.
The leader of the party, Healy betrayed the trust of activists, especially women. Several of the women were sexually abused by him, and when they found the courage to report it, most of the leadership tried to smother it and dismiss the charges in order to protect the leader. The result of this approach was quickly followed by the total destruction of the organisation.
We need to learn from those mistakes to avoid repetition and destruction. The oppression of women and sexist deviations within our organizations must be fought relentlessly. Revolutionary morality requires us to exercise constant vigilance, which implies not only frequent discussion with our members through debates, lectures and courses, and with a thorough investigation and verification of any deviations.
Coming from our daily experience, which is often painful, the biggest lesson for all members is that men and women who today are part of revolutionary organisations throughout the world have to combat bourgeois morality, which is grounded in selfishness and privilege over others and in the hateful oppression of women.
For further reading on the IWL’s struggle see the congress documents and documents from our history Morals ; including a document by Nahuel Moreno from 1957 and In Defence of Revolutionary Morals from IWL IX Congress 2008.
For further information and documents please write to ISL, c/o News From Nowhere, 96 Bold Street, Liverpool L14HY or email@example.com