A leading figure in a nationwide institution has been accused of rape and sexual harassment. This has shaken many of those who had confidence in the organisation, although others have rallied round to defend him.
This is not a reference to a Scottish Cardinal and the Roman Catholic Church, nor to a Liberal Democrat peer, nor to a dead DJ and the BBC. The latest scandal concerns the ex-National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party.
A Disputes Committee of the SWP (made up mostly of those who knew the accused, but not the victims) decided that no offences had been committed and this decision was ratified by a National Conference of the SWP.
The different institutions have different functions, but they have bred creatures who seem to behave in very similar ways. As a DJ Jimmy Savile seemed to assume that constant access to young girls meant they were available for sexual abuse. Lord Rennard, a Liberal activist since the age of 12, credited with his ability to manipulate the electoral game over a period of thirty years, was accused of “inappropriate behaviour” with at least ten women. He was defended by some LibDems out of loyalty to a man who helped them gain prized parliamentary seats. There was also relief when Eastleigh was retained. Cardinal O’Brien, a vociferous opponent of gay marriage, has been accused of “inappropriate acts” towards fellow priests, an interesting variation of the usual accusations against Catholic clerics. Although nothing has been proved the Church thought it best for the Cardinal not to play a role in the election of a new pope.
While some have resigned from the SWP, Martin Smith continues to function as a leading figure in organisations such as Love Music Hate Racism and Unite Against Fascism. Critics have used the accusations to renew the usual criticisms of the SWP – it’s a cult, they’re Leninists, they oppose feminism. But this is not something new to this political milieu, or specific to the SWP. Back in the 1980s there were all the accusations against Gerry Healy of the WRP - twenty years of gross sexual abuse of women members.
What is significant is how those with power and influence appear to have been able to get away with ‘inappropriate’ behaviour for so long. In reality there’s not a contradiction between the roles of entertainer, spiritual leader, political strategist, leftist functionary, and the behaviour which the bourgeois media currently chooses to vilify. At other moments, in other situations, a blind eye is turned. The leering figure of Silvio Berlusconi is an easy target for ridicule, but variations on his behaviour permeate the corners of all manner of organisations of the capitalist status quo. Ultimately, organisations that have no quibbles with the barbarities of imperialist war are likely to be at ease with their leaders taking personal advantage of their position. In this the SWP (advocates most recently of war in Libya and Syria, as they have been over the decades elsewhere in the Middle East and internationally) are natural bedfellows with parliamentarians, the church and salacious entertainers.