Fifteen years after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, black people are still six times more likely to be stopped by police than white people.
Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) is an independent grassroots anti-racist organisation that has supported people challenging racist or unfair policing in east London since 1980. Now we need your support to help us continue this vital work and take on a new challenge – monitoring the impact of the government’s new stop and search reforms.
The police are still largely unaccountable for the misuse of stop and search powers and the often devastating impact this has on the lives of individuals – particularly young people – and communities. Research shows a large proportion of Londoners have little faith in the police complaints system. As a result, the level of complaints in London for stop and search is very low – less than 1% on average. Every year, only around 10% of police complaints are successful and allegations of police racism have around a 1% success rate.
Growing pressure has forced the government to introduce reforms to stop and search, to “help local communities hold the police to account for their use of the powers”. The reforms include a new ‘code of conduct’ that promises to measure the success or failure of stop and search by the volume of public complaints about its misuse.
However, making complaints is frustrating and time-consuming. We believe that unless more people are given expert, independent support to hold the police to account by making complaints then these reforms will fail to bring about genuine change.
As one of the UK’s most experienced anti-racist organisations, we are asking you to stand with us in supporting local communities in east London to put the government’s new reforms to the test. It’s time we put stop and search on trial.
The UK government announced new plans to reform the use of stop and search powers by the police in August 2014.
We therefore need to start monitoring the government’s reforms and making a renewed case for greater police accountability as soon as possible. Unless we do, policy-makers may already have been persuaded in six months time that the misuse of stop and search has been ‘fixed’, when the reality on the streets is very different.
What we plan to do
We want to give local people the best opportunity to put stop and search on trial by:
• Providing rights information to young people across east London
• Supporting people to make police complaints with our assistance
• Monitoring the impact of the reforms on people’s experience of stop and search
NMP has one of the best track records in the UK in supporting people to make police complaints for unfair or racist treatment. In addition, if the system treats complainants unfairly, we are able to support people to expose these failings and campaign for greater justice.
How we will do it
Your donation will help fund the costs of a worker who will assist members of the public, especially young people, to make complaints if they are unhappy about the way they have been treated. The worker will also monitor the way the new stop and search reforms are rolled out over the next six months. Our target is a part time staff member, but the more we can raise, the more hours per week we can provide.
NMP will use its strong connections to youth groups across east London and a pool of dedicated volunteers to help spread the message at meetings and youth clubs.
Why are we crowdfunding?
Firstly, this project and the ongoing work of NMP is unique in that it both supports people directly, and builds campaigns from their experiences. Grants from trusts usually support either policy or advocacy work – securing funds for a project that combines both is far more difficult to achieve.
Secondly, east London’s diversity makes it an obvious area to monitor the impact of reforms intended to change the way the police use stop and search powers. However, it is difficult for a local organisation to secure funding for this kind of activity, even when it has a national significance.
Thirdly, the increased competition for mainstream funding mean that the more challenging campaign projects are viewed as a greater risk than services with less potentially controversial aims.
This project will only be funded if at least £7,000 is pledged by 11:29am 10th November 2014
The decline of the BNP has given UKIP the chance to fill the yawning gap that exists in working class political representation. By way of contrast, the current incarnations of the left are failing, yet again, to make any impression. This is repeating the pattern of recent decades, where the right have consistently out-thought the left in terms of strategy. The ongoing capitalist crisis offers real opportunities for our side, but it also presents great dangers. If the left continues to shirk its responsibility by failing to fully engage with the working class, it leaves the path clear for the continued growth of right-wing nationalism.
The recent Eastleigh by-election, where UKIP came in second less than two thousand votes behind the incumbent Lib Dems, has confirmed UKIP’s rise to political prominence in the UK. UKIP have long been a force at European level, but this has largely been due to their being a single-issue, anti-Europe protest vehicle. However, they are now making an impact at the ground level of British politics. Where not so long ago UKIP had fewer councillors than the BNP (and indeed, the IWCA), in the local elections of May 2012 UKIP were able to field nearly 700 candidates nationwide (compared to the BNP’s 130) and secured 13% of all votes cast, up from 8% in 2011. In the upcoming local elections in May, they will be standing 1,700 candidates in three-quarters of the available seats, as many as the Lib-Dems and only 500 behind the Tories. The website politicalbetting.com states that ‘For UKIP to have the nationwide organisation capable of putting up candidates in three quarters of the seats is a massive achievement’.
More significantly, it is not just in middle England where UKIP are breaking through, for their success in Eastleigh follows on from the second places they attained in the Middlesbrough and Rotherham by-elections in November last year, and Barnsley in March 2011, all Labour strongholds where UKIP comprehensively beat out the BNP. What explains this?
It is no coincidence that the rise of UKIP has followed on the heels of the decline of the BNP. In 2008 the BNP held 55 local and district councillors (link) and scored almost 70,000 votes in the London mayoral election, and in 2009 they won two MEPs in European elections where they netted a million votes nationwide. This earned Nick Griffin a spot on Question Time in November 2009, and the BNP then went on to poll over 500,000 votes in the 2010 general election. From this pinnacle, the BNP are now down to three elected councillors and their vote in the 2012 London mayoral election fell to below 30,000. In contrast to UKIP, the BNP are only standing 100 candidates in the coming local elections.
At the time of the Question Time appearance the BNP appeared all set to mount a profound challenge to the political establishment, but all their forward momentum has been lost and they have gone markedly backwards, and their drop-off in electoral success has been matched by public in-fighting, splits and financial troubles. Why has this happened? For one, the political establishment – all three major parties, plus satellites such as Hope Not Hate – mobilised as one in response to the threat they perceived from the BNP. Resources were poured into key battleground areas (such as Barking and Dagenham), and almost certainly there was an element of state infiltration of the organisation, which helped to sow instability. This is how the political centre responds to any threat to its established order: on a lower level, the IWCA has been subject to similar treatment (link). The concern of Hope Not Hate isn’t to defend the working class from fascism, it is to defend the political centre from any ‘radical’ threat. For a time, the BNP benefitted from the ‘outlaw’ status conveyed upon them as the political establishment united against them, but eventually the weight of resources lined up against them began to tell.
Another aspect is the lack of political experience and capital within the BNP. Up until 1994 their priority had been fighting a costly and ultimately losing street war. It was only at the turn of the century that they fully committed to the electoral route, and they didn’t win their first councillor until 2002. They then reaped great rewards extremely quickly, perhaps too quickly: having reached the heights by the end of the decade, they did not have the know-how or the experience to train on. They had not developed the wealth of experience and personnel that, for example, the FN in France has over a period of more than thirty years. Bluntly put, the BNP do not have the resources, capability or know-how to fully capitalise on the opportunities available to them (again, the IWCA faces something not dissimilar, particularly where resources are concerned). Finally, a large factor in the BNP’s vertiginous growth was falling for the temptation of spending money they didn’t have, resulting in the straitened financial position they now find themselves in.
UKIP hoovering up the BNP vote
However, just because the BNP have imploded doesn’t mean that the reasons behind their success have disappeared or that their vote has gone away. As the IWCA put it after last year’s French presidential elections: ‘despite these setbacks, the underlying conditions which facilitated the BNP’s rise are still there: disillusionment with the neo-liberal centre and a Labour party that has turned its back on the working class, producing a political vacuum. There is no reason to assume that the BNP is permanently impaired or cannot learn their lessons; but even if that were so, the opportunity remains for some other right-wing formation to fill the vacuum (it is notable that UKIP did well at the recent local elections, a new phenomenon for them)’ (link).
And so it is coming to pass. According to research conducted by Rob Ford of the University of Manchester, many UKIP loyalists ‘come from working class, Labour leaning backgrounds, and are deeply hostile to all the establishment parties… UKIP supporters’ views of all three parties’ leaders are strongly and persistently negative, and they are more likely to express alienation from politics and dissatisfaction with democracy… UKIP’s strongest support often comes from older working class voters, who often have traditional left wing loyalties’ (link).
It is something of a surprise that it is UKIP who are hoovering up the vote that previously went to the BNP: they have never previously expressed any interest in orientating toward the working class, and it would be instructive to know who or what pushed them in that direction (it is well known that it was Tony Lecomber and Eddie Butler, with Nick Griffin more in the role of beneficiary, who engineered that strategic shift initially within the BNP). Furthermore, UKIP have the distinct strategic advantage in that they have had a chance to observe the BNP ‘dry run’. They have had a chance to see what works and what doesn’t, and where to tweak the message as appropriate.
At the UKIP spring conference, their leader Nigel Farage began his keynote speech by attacking increased EU immigration on the grounds that it would lead to ‘massive over-supply in the unskilled labour market in this country at a time when we have a million young people out of work’, a clear populist move. Already they have made the ever-opportunist Lib Dems perform an about-turn on immigration, as well as forcing the Tories into pledging a referendum on EU membership. They appear to be better funded than the BNP, and their less toxic brand makes it easier to draw experienced operators away from the Tory party (link).
Another clear, and extremely instructive, example of UKIP’s new orientation, and the success it is bringing them in working class areas, can be seen in the ward of Gooshays in Havering, on the north-east edge of London. In 2002, the IWCA took just shy of 2,500 votes across the three seats in the ward, totalling 23% of the vote. When the local IWCA pilot scheme fell away, the BNP moved in and won the ward in 2006. The BNP have subsequently fallen away, and at the end of March the ward went not back to Labour, but to UKIP.
However, if UKIP’s success has derived from ‘borrowing’ the vote nurtured by the BNP, it means that if they are to maintain their position as the ‘radical’ alternative to the mainstream, they can never go back to their previous position as a middle-class, single issue protest party. If their current trajectory continues, then at some point their will on this matter will be tested: if they pose a genuine threat to the ‘old gang’ of establishment parties as the BNP did, UKIP too will find themselves under the same pressures the BNP faced. There was no doubt that the BNP were and are fascist ‘true believers’: it remains to be seen if UKIP are anything more than opportunists. If they are insufficiently firm and radical in orientation, they remain vulnerable to their ‘legitimised’ vote returning ‘home’ at some point. Having leap-frogged the BNP, UKIP are currently seen as Britain’s main anti-immigrant party: if polls are to believed they are standing at 17 per cent nationally, which puts them on par with other major far-right parties in Europe. Suddenly, it really is game on.
The slow fix
So if UKIP are partially ‘filling the vacuum’ (link) in working class political representation that up until a couple of years ago was being gradually filled by the BNP it begs the question: after 13 years of New Labour in power where they left no-one in any doubt as to their true colours (as former Labour minister Frank Field has recently remarked: ‘In my lifetime, we’ve moved from a Labour Party which was working class-dominated. Some trendy London middle class went along with it but [were] subjected, at least publicly, to the moral economy of the working class. We’ve moved to a stage where what was that minority is in a governing position, which imposes upon the working class its moral economy… there is a real crisis of representation.’); and five years into a renewed crisis of Western capitalism, why is the political vacuum among the working class being filled by parties of the radical right, not the left?
It was illuminating that in the Eastleigh by-election, alongside the strong showing of UKIP, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition received 62 votes. TUSC has the backing of the RMT and PCS unions, and left-wing organisations such as the SWP and the Socialist Party. With this kind of backing it is sufficiently resourced to make an impact. In addition to the 62 votes picked up in Eastleigh, in the Middlesbrough and Rotherham by-elections (where UKIP came in second) TUSC polled less than 2% of the vote. These are working class, Labour strongholds yet it is UKIP, not TUSC, who are challenging Labour. If TUSC can’t break through here, where can they break through? Why is it that UKIP are able to break through in these areas but TUSC cannot?
As its make-up suggests, TUSC’s orientation is toward the trade union movement and the Trotskyist left. However, trade unionism in the UK is now much emasculated, with the bulk of its membership and influence confined to public sector and/or white collar workers, and its concerns largely sectional. TUSC, then, represents a continuation of usual left-wing practice: long on megaphone sloganeering, short on addressing working class concerns or even any practical engagement with the extant working class itself. The 62 votes in Eastleigh (and the results they have gained elsewhere) stands in rather stark contrast to the results the IWCA has consistently been able to garner with far fewer resources, not to mention the results that the BNP and now UKIP have demonstrated they are able to gain in working class areas.
The IWCA is of the left, the BNP and UKIP are of the right, but what all three share is an awareness of orientating toward the working class, and of the necessity of addressing day-to-day working class concerns. There is a clear pattern: a direct strategic orientation first and foremost to the working class where they live – and not just where they work, and not just those in unionised occupations – bears fruit. It is a simple, straightforward strategic insight, yet it has eluded what is left of the left outside the Labour party. The failure of the left to grasp this simple lesson is allowing UKIP a free run to swallow up the vote the BNP previously broke away from Labour. UKIP are filling the vacuum because they are now the only ones who are trying, in any realistic sense, to fill it.
In particular, they are being allowed to lead the debate on immigration and frame the matter purely in nationalist, reactionary terms, with no countervailing perspective framing the matter in terms of class. TUSC’s manifesto does not mention immigration, it merely states ‘Defend the right to asylum’ (link). Prior to the onset of the economic crisis, the attitude of the liberal left was that any failure to support unlimited immigration was xenophobic and racist: it seems that even TUSC has realised this position is no longer tenable, but rather than address the issue in class terms they don’t address it at all.
By contrast, the IWCA has attempted to grasp the nettle, stating ‘UK plc wants a certain level of “quality and controlled immigration”, not because it is benevolent or kind hearted, but because this dampens wages down and keeps the working class insecure through the creation of what can only be described as a reserve army of labour: immigration is being used as a weapon of class warfare. The importation of skilled labour from overseas also represents a free gift to capital: why spend time and money investing in British workers when you can simply steal much needed skilled labour from poorer countries instead?’ (link, see also link, link and link). Such an approach could negate and undercut the supposedly pro-working class credentials of UKIP, forcing them to choose between their populist position on the one hand and their pro-business support on the other. When put to the test, it is fairly transparent which way UKIP would jump.
Both the neo-liberal right and the nationalist right over recent decades have dramatically out-thought the left in terms of political strategy. They have identified tactics, narratives and constituencies, while the left has succeeded in alienating its core constituency of the working class. Even a glib mainstream pundit such as the Independent’s Owen Jones has been compelled to concede that ‘the right have been winning the intellectual argument for over 30 years… the left has been forced into an entirely defensive posture. “Stop privatisation”, “defend our NHS”, “stop the cuts”, “save comprehensive education”; stop the world, I want to get off. Contrast this with the booming right-wing intelligentsia, injecting the seemingly impossible into the mainstream, pushing the political goalposts ever right-wards’ (link).
Unless there is a change of strategy and orientation on the left, the process of ‘pushing the political goalposts ever right-wards’ will only continue. As has been shown, there is a means whereby the left can begin to compete, namely to ‘fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class’ because ‘in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement’ (link). As a strategy it can be arduous, unglamorous and requires a long term investment – a slow fix – but it is the only way forward if our side is serious about rising to the twin challenges of capitalist crisis and growing right-wing nationalism, not just here but in Europe. The austerity clawbacks offer a once in a century opportunity and if the left as a whole continues to shirk its responsibility, the judgement of history will be merciless and the consequences will be profound.
For more of Kenan Maliks writings and discussions please head over to his blog Pandaemonium
At the heart of the current debate about immigration are two issues: the first is about the facts of immigration, the second about public perception of immigration.
The facts are relatively straightforward. Immigration is a good and the idea that immigrants come to Britain to live off benefits laughable. Immigrants put more money into the economy than they take out and have negligible impact on jobs or wages. An independent report on the impact of immigrationcommissioned by the Home Office in 2003, looked at numerous international surveys and conducted its own study in Britain. ‘The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population, or that immigrants depress the wages of existing workers’, it concluded, ‘do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report.’ More recent studies have suggested that immigration helps raise wages except at the bottom of the jobs ladder where it has a slightnegative impact. That impact on low paid workers matters hugely, of course, but is arguably more an issue of labour organization than of immigration.
Immigrants are less likely to claim benefits than British citizens. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, of the roughly 1.8 million non-British EU citizens of working age in this country, about 90,000, or around 5%, claim an ‘out of work benefit’, compared with around 13% of Britons. Migrants from outside the EU are also much less likely to claim benefits.
The most comprehensive study to date of East European migrants to Britain concluded that ‘A8 immigrants who arrived after EU enlargement in 2004… are 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing’. The study also discovered that ‘in each fiscal year since enlargement in 2004, A8 immigrants made a positive contribution to public finance despite the fact that the UK has been running a budget deficit over the last years’. This was because ‘they have a higher labour force participation rate, pay proportionately more in indirect taxes, and make much lower use of benefits and public services’. They paid around 30 per cent more in taxes than they cost our public services.
Whatever the truth about immigration, it is clear that there exists widespread popular hostility to immigrants. For some, often on the right, the hostility makes sense because, irrespective of its economic benefits, the social impact of immigration is destructive. For others, often on the left, such hostility exists because people are irrational and take little notice of facts and figures. Both arguments have little merit.
Immigrants, the critics insist, disrupt communities, undermine traditional identities, and promote unrestrained change. David Goodhart, director of Demos, whose book on immigration, The British Dream, is published on Monday, claimed last week that ‘Large-scale immigration has created an England that is increasingly full of mysterious and unfamiliar worlds’. As a result, ‘for many of the white people… the disappearance of familiar mental and physical landmarks has happened too fast’. He quotes one man from Merton in south London: ‘We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more.’
Had Arthur Balfour been able to read that, he would undoubtedly have nodded in agreement. Balfour was the Prime Minister in 1905 when Britain introduced its first immigration controls, aimed primarily at European Jews. Without such a law, Balfour claimed, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’ Two years earlier, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (an ‘alien’ was, in the early twentieth century, both a description of a foreigner and a euphemism for a Jew) had expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’.
The sense that Jewish immigration was uncontrolled and that ‘We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more’, was palpable in the discussions. ‘There is no end to them in Whitechapel and Mile End’, claimed one witness giving evidence to 1903 Royal Commission. ‘These areas of London might be called Jerusalem’. The Conservative MP Major Sir William Eden Evans-Gordon expressed the same sentiment through a quite extraordinary metaphor. ‘Ten grains of arsenic in a thousand loaves would be unnoticeable and perfectly harmless’, he told Parliament, ‘but the same amount put into one loaf would kill the whole family that partook of it.’
By the 1950s, the Jewish community had come to be seen as part of the British cultural landscape. The same arguments used against Jews half a century earlier were now deployed against a new wave of immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean. A Colonial Office report of 1955 echoed Arthur Balfour, fearing that ‘a large coloured community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken… the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached’. There were worries, too, about the uncontrolled nature of immigration. ‘The question of numbers and of the increase in numbers’, Enoch Powell insisted, lie at ‘the very heart of the problem’. ‘Whole areas, towns and parts of England’, he claimed, were being ‘occupied by different sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population’. A decade later Margaret Thatcher gave a notorious TV interview in which she claimed that there were in Britain ‘an awful lot’ of black and Asian immigrants and that ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ The echoes are unmistakable both of the debate about Jews before and of the contemporary immigration debate.
Just as Jews became an accepted part of the cultural landscape, so did postwar immigrants from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, though the acceptance was more grudging, and often not extended to Muslims. Today, the same arguments that were once used against Jews, and then against South Asian and Caribbean immigrants, are now raised against Muslims and East Europeans.
The idea that immigration is disruptive of culture, identity and social cohesion is, in other words, as old as immigration itself. Whether it is Irish or Jews coming to Britain, Italians or North Africans to France, Catholics or Chinese to America, every wave of immigration is met fear and hostility and a sense being overwhelmed.
Immigration has clearly brought major changes, in the physical character of British cities, in the rhythm of social life and in the sense of what it is to be British. But immigration is not alone in driving social changes, nor is it even the most important driver of social change. Had not a single immigrant come to Britain, Britons today would still be living in a vastly different nation from that of half a century ago. Feminism, consumerism, increased social mobility, the growth of youth culture, the explosion of mass culture, the acceptance of free market economic policies, the destruction of trade unions, the decimation of manufacturing industries, the rise of the finance and service sectors, greater individual freedom, the atomisation of society, the decline of traditional institutions such as the Church – all have helped transform Britain, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But it is immigrants who primarily have become symbolic of change, and of change for the worse. Why? Because of the way that the immigration debate has been framed. From the beginning, immigration has been viewed as a problem, even as a threat. This is true even of liberals and multiculturalists, who might welcome diversity but think it has to be policed, by enforcing speech codes for instance, to minimise the clashes and conflicts and frictions that it brings in its wake. Inevitably, therefore, immigration comes to be seen at best with suspicion, at worst with hostility.
Consider, for instance, an image that David Goodhart uses as a symbol of unpalatable change – that of a newly built mosque in Merton, south London. The ‘mega mosque’, Goodhart writes, ‘replaced an Express Dairies bottling plant which provided a few hundred jobs for local people and lots of milk bottles — an icon of an earlier, more homogenised age’. In fact, a local blogger pointed out, ‘the dairy closed in 1992 and the mosque was inaugurated in 2003’. There was a seven-year gap between the dairy closing and building work beginning on the mosque. In those seven years the abandoned dairy was, according to local accounts, turned into a crack den. So, one story we could tell is that of economic forces closing down an unprofitable dairy, with the loss of a several hundred jobs, and of Muslims subsequently rescuing the abandoned, crime-infested site, creating new jobs, both in the construction and in the running of the mosque, and in the process transforming Merton for the better. Critics of immigration want, however, to tell a different story. The mosque, in their eyes, is symbolic not of the rescue of a site from abandonment and crime, but of the original closure of the dairy and of the transformation of Merton’s old way of life.
All this takes us to the second kind of argument as to why immigration continues to be such a fraught political issue. Many, often on the left, accept that immigration is a good but worry that people are too irrational to understand. Hitting people with facts and figures, they suggest, will not help. We need to accept people’s emotional opposition to immigration. If we do not engage with people’s anxieties, they argue, the left’s project will get shouted down by rightwing and populist anti-immigration voices.
It is true that simply presenting facts and figures will change few minds. This is not, however, because people are irrational or because they are indifferent to facts, but because facts are always understood within a particular political, social or philosophical framework. Since the issue of immigration has been framed in such a way that both sides accept immigrants as a problem, so it is inevitable that people will understand facts and figures within that context. That is why the Merton mosque, for instance, is seen only as a threat and as a metaphor of loss. That is why the economic and social changes that truly disrupted the old way of life in Merton become elided with the building of the mosque, and the mosque becomes symbolic of change for worse.
If we want the facts and figures to have an impact we need first to reframe the immigration debate. There is not much point in showing that immigrants do not come to sponge off the welfare state, or that they benefit the economy, if we have already accepted that immigrants are a problem. We need rather to view immigration from an entirely different perspective. We need to acknowledge the movement of peoples as neither an aberration, nor as an evil to be tolerated, but as an inherent part of human life. We need to view the social changes that immigration brings not as a loss of something precious, but also as the gain of something valuable, the creation of a more open, vibrant, cosmopolitan society. We should regard the clashes and conflicts in ideas and values that immigration often creates not as something to be feared and minimised but as something to be prized, the basis of social engagement, the means by which we can break out of our narrow cultural boxes and create possibility of a common language of citizenship.
Adopting such an approach is difficult because it runs counter to so much of what is regarded as social wisdom. That is why it is all the more important to view immigration in this fashion. To do so requires, however, conviction and courage. And those are two virtues noticeable by their absence in contemporary politics.
Tom Walker, (now former) Socialist Worker journalist, argues that the time has come to leave the SWP
The Socialist Workers Party is in deep crisis – as it has been for several months now. The reason is simple: an allegation of rape against Martin Smith, the then central committee member now referred to on some parts of the internet as comrade Delta, and the way it was handled by the party.
This case, as several speakers at conference noted, was in reality the sole reason for the four expulsions in the run-up to conference, the sole reason for the formation of two factions, and the sole reason for the split in the CC which resulted in an alternative slate being put to the conference, removing two CC members who had attempted to challenge the way the case was handled.
After much reflection, I have decided the immediate aftermath also means that I have no option other than to resign not just from the paper, but from the party, and encourage others to do likewise.
Before I go any further, I want to say that I will not be discussing any details of the case itself whatsoever, either here or privately. Indeed, I do not know them. I know little more than what was reported to SWP conference, which later unfortunately appeared on the internet. I will not be quoting from that document.
However, I believe that what I know is more than enough to come to some unavoidable conclusions, and the fact that the transcript has been so widely circulated – to the point where every member is facing friends outside the party, in their workplaces and campaigns, asking them about it – makes it impossible to remain silent any longer about what those are.
I will, as the conference session did, refer to some of the awful processes used to hear the case, but – and this is absolutely vital – only the processes. The CC will likely issue a response saying that this violates confidentiality and is a disgrace, but surely the real problem is that the case ever happened in the first place and that it has been allowed by the leadership to develop into a crisis in this way. I believe that what delegates on all sides said within the conference was scrupulous about respecting the confidentiality of the case itself and not for a moment prying into the details of the woman’s testimony, otherwise I would never write something like this.
I will argue four main things:
- The disputes committee 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. The disputes committee’s extra-legal nature means its finding that this comrade is innocent is meaningless. One person, even on this committee stacked in his favour, believes sexual harassment at least is likely.
- Leftwing parties are institutions that exist within our current society, and they need to put an analysis of gender and power relations at the absolute heart of their structures to avoid replicating that society’s problems. Moreover, a lack of democracy inside left organisations is not just a big political issue, but plays a role in enabling abusive behaviour. Having a good record and theory on women’s liberation turns out to be little defence against this.
- The CC’s determination to ‘draw a line’ under the discussion, to the extent of banning all further mention of it on pain of expulsion, I believe makes it nigh-on impossible to ‘stay and fight’ within the organisation for any sensible interpretation of these events or concrete reforms to the structures to make sure it does not happen again. To stay in the party now means to keep your head down and try to live with yourself.
- For this reason, and because of the incredibly damaging publicity around the case, the party has become no longer fit for its stated purpose. It will surely be unable to attract or hold new recruits. I do not believe anyone sensible will ever join it again. We must think again about our methods of organisation on the left. I propose a few outlines of my thinking, but I am very open to others’ views.
I will now explore these points in more detail.
The disputes committee hearing – and by extension the entire mess that followed – should simply never have happened. To be honest, it is nothing short of incredible that it was allowed to go ahead. What right does the party have to organise its very own ‘kangaroo court’ investigation and judgment over such serious allegations against a leading member? None whatsoever.
Of course, I am dead set against the capitalist police and courts, and the way they treat people. That doesn’t mean we can go off and set up our own. The SWP itself called for Julian Assange to face rape charges in Sweden, in a Socialist Worker article I am proud to have written.1
I do not see why what is good enough for Assange is not good enough for the party’s leaders.
It is stated that the accuser did not want to go to the police, as is her absolute right if that was truly her decision. However, knowing the culture of the SWP, I doubt that was a decision she made entirely free from pressure.
Do not underestimate the pressure the SWP can bring to bear on members by telling them to do or not do things for the ultimate cause of the socialist society the party’s members are all fighting for. Against the prospect of the liberation of the whole of humanity, they will attempt to make even the most serious issue seem less important than the party’s survival. I do not think the CC are cynical cultists, by the way – I think they believe this themselves.
Either way, respecting that wish not to involve the police does not excuse what the party did next. The disputes committee’s project of amateur justice was doomed from the start, with the questions asked unintentionally reflecting the worst practices of the police and courts. The people involved have spoken about the immense distress and traumatisation caused.
I would add that I worry about conference delegates as well after that session. As more than one comrade said, they had never seen so many people in tears as there were in that room.
For many it will have come as a real bolt from the blue. Despite working at the party centre myself, I was under the impression that, yes, we were in for a challenge to the disputes committee, but that we were facing a row primarily about expulsions and democracy. Though some other party workers were getting involved in a faction, I felt it best to maintain a sort of journalistic distance.
In the session itself, my reaction was one of simple, visceral disgust. I was shaking. I still am. I did not know what to do. I walked out of the building in a daze. It is over the last few days of reflecting, and seeing the strong responses to the case from people inside and outside the organisation, that I have come to my conclusions.
From the fact that the disputes committee is not a court flows the fact that, while it found the comrade not guilty of rape and that sexual harassment was “not proven”, those verdicts are utterly meaningless. Sitting in the hall, that was too easy to forget.
The disputes committee says we have not heard the evidence or details. That is true, and nor should we. Yet they admit that the only evidence they themselves heard was two straightforwardly conflicting accounts of what happened – one from the accuser and one from the accused. We do not know why they believed the accused.
As those who raised criticisms pointed out, the disputes committee included five current or former CC members, and all have known comrade Smith for many years. Though I believe they took the case deeply seriously, this was not a jury of his peers, but a jury of his mates. If we were talking about any other organisation we would all consider it obvious that allowing it to investigate itself is unlikely to produce damning conclusions. It seems unlikely that a Wikileaks disputes committee, if it existed, would find Assange guilty.
We should also remember that even this committee had a minority of one, who has faced some very real abuse for his position that it is likely there was sexual harassment. It is not my place to argue one way or the other about either allegation, but one thing that cannot be argued with is that both allegations have not yet been investigated by anyone competent to do so.
I also wonder what on earth the disputes committee thought it was going to do if it found comrade Smith guilty. Expel him and send him on his way?
As others have noted, this DIY investigation will have corrupted the evidence, as well as traumatised the accuser too far for her to want to pursue the case by other means. I am absolutely convinced this traumatisation is very real, as I cannot believe that the issue would have played out the way it has otherwise. The internet may have read the transcript of what the woman comrade’s friends and allies said, but only those who were in the room will have heard the sheer anger with which the words were spoken. If we believe that she was traumatised, then logic dictates that it is very unlikely that the allegations are of no substance.
I really hope both the accusers are not further affected by my writing this, which is fundamentally about attempting to draw lessons from the disastrous process they were subjected to, to make sure it never happens again. From the moment this case became the subject of a faction fight and the leadership refused to row back, I believe the CC must shoulder the responsibility for a series of disastrous decisions that spawned all that has followed and will follow.
Power, sexism and the left
I want to move away for a moment from the process of this case and talk about some of the wider issues it raises. The allegations inside the SWP fit a bigger pattern which should lead us to question the left’s long-term theory and practice in this area.
We might consider a spectrum of misogynist behaviour by leaders of leftwing organisations, with George Galloway’s comments about rape at one end and the horrors of Gerry Healy at the other. You can argue about who else should be included on it – unfortunately it isn’t too hard to think of candidates.
Of course, as nothing is proven either way, we do not know if or where comrade Smith fits on that spectrum. Nevertheless, there is clearly a question mark over the sexual politics of many men in powerful positions on the left. I believe the root of this is that, whether through reputation, lack of internal democracy or both, these are often positions that are effectively unchallengeable. Not for nothing have recent sex abuse allegations in the wider world focused on the idea of a ‘culture of impunity’.
Socialist Worker has pointed to the way that institutions close up to protect powerful people within them. What is not acknowledged is that the SWP is itself an institution in this sense, with its instinct for self-protection to survive. As previously mentioned, its belief in its own world-historic importance gives a motive for an attempted cover-up, making abusers feel protected. Also, leaders are put into positions of power within an organisation with open recruitment but quite a closed culture, and this has a dramatic effect on any relationships that take place. Older male party leader with younger female party member is a triply unequal power relationship, and should be considered so.
That still does not account for how on earth an organisation that has such a good analysis of the way the police and courts effectively put the woman on trial in rape cases managed to replicate the state’s reactionary lines of questioning. How did it fail so badly to put its own politics into practice?
It may shed some light to learn that ‘feminism’ is used effectively as a swear word by the leadership’s supporters. This seems to be a legacy of a sharp political argument conducted decades ago against radical feminism and its separatist methods of organisation, but unfortunately it is being used today against young, militant anti-sexists coming into the party. In fact it is deployed against anyone who seems ‘too concerned’ about issues of gender. A group of women comrades who raised questions over whether the SWP has a sexism problem last year were quietly condemned by the leadership as “feminists”, and the CC has devoted much energy since to fighting this perceived scourge.
Marxist and feminist theory would surely agree, however, that in a sexist society, sexism is a constant danger in any organisation, no matter what its politics. The only way to deal with this is to not only fight hard against sexism at all times, but to accept that if any woman or group of women are not happy with their treatment, then the organisation has a problem, needs to look hard at it (and that is not “navel-gazing”) and needs to change, not claim that the issue does not exist or that the complainants are motivated by political differences.
This leads to an additional issue, which is that the issues of democracy and sexism are not separate, but inextricably linked – the lack of the first creates space for the second to grow, and makes it all the more difficult to root it out when it does. That is surely why people like Paris Thompson, a campaigner for more democracy in the SWP who had just published his own critique in the internal bulletin, were at the forefront of the fight against an attempted cover-up of the case.
Delegates to conference were handed a partial transcript of the Facebook conversation used as evidence to expel Paris and the other three comrades. The CC says it shows evidence of cross-branch coordination and is therefore “secret faction” activity. Yet what the document shows is not at all a group organising in pursuit of political differences – Paris explicitly says he is fighting over those separately – but people trying to make sure that the way the rape case was handled would be discussed properly at conference, not swept under the carpet.
From coordinating motions to party aggregates about the case, to making sure they were elected as delegates, what the four did was not in pursuit of their own agenda, but the agenda of ensuring these serious concerns were heard. Their reward for this, barring a Damascene conversion on appeal by that same disputes committee, is that they have been cast out of the SWP for life.
When you can’t draw a line
What has happened since the SWP conference at the weekend? Despite everything, the CC position is ‘draw a line under it and move on’. The opposition were also told to sign up to this or face expulsion. That applied as of the minute conference ended – and the leadership intends to enforce it.
The CC is shutting down all debate, on the pretext that it is about the rule that factions must dissolve after conference. Party workers are being spoken to individually, and if they refuse to give a guarantee that they will never so much as mention the case again, they are being told they must leave their party jobs. Some have already gone, others may be going as I write.
Meanwhile branches are being told that the criticisms of the disputes committee raised in conference will not be reported to them and cannot be discussed by any member, even in outline. At the behest of the CC, the Socialist Worker report of the conference does not even mention the disputes committee session. For one, this means that the reason behind the alternative CC slate is not explained at all.
Meanwhile, comrade Smith turned up in Hackney on the evening of Tuesday January 8, representing the party at a Unite Against Fascism meeting as if nothing had happened. Next week he is off to Athens, again as part of the party’s work. He may have been booted off the CC, but he lingers on, rubbing it in our faces. Frankly it is sick.
If the leadership is allowed to get away with this, it means the problem just sits there and festers. It means it could all happen again. It means the party cannot further examine just how this went so utterly wrong, or do anything about it, as the official position is that the vote means none of the criticisms made were accepted. A similar accusation tomorrow would be dealt with in the exact same way.
Ticking time bomb
I believe that not dealing with the issue ultimately makes the party’s destruction inevitable. I am not its destroyer – it has already destroyed itself. Maybe it will be days, months or years, but it is now a permanent time bomb. I cannot imagine how it will hold on to any recruit who knows how to use Google. Sooner or later the whole thing will be used against the party in the unions. In the absence at the very least of the most grovelling public apology and a massive process of internal reform, I am afraid I think the SWP is broken for good.
I know there will be many who will want to stay in the party and keep fighting until the bitter end. If they can do that without simply ‘keeping their heads down’ then I absolutely respect it. I hope they, and in particular those who were involved in the opposition to the disputes committee vote, will understand why I felt I had to go now and argue that others should do the same.
You might ask what right I have to jump now. You might say that this is not about us; it is about the people affected. All true. But how can we be expected to just turn off our horror at the whole thing? We are not robots. That is why I cannot stay another second.
Another problem with staying is the likelihood that individuals who opposed the CC at conference will be picked off gradually, one by one. That is not only unpleasant and isolating, but risks diverting a large amount of activist energy into an ongoing internal struggle against victimisations. I hope people will get in touch and discuss it when they feel ready to (or when they find themselves expelled). I will also 100% keep the confidence of any current member who contacts me to discuss this.
To those who will say I should have raised these issues openly before resigning, the CC has made it abundantly clear that to do so means instant self-expulsion. It would also be unfair on others at Socialist Worker to launch some tirade in an editorial meeting and make them choose between walking or ritually condemning me. I hope that they especially – people who have been my friends and workmates over several years – will look at their consciences and decide their own way forward.
To all comrades, I say: it is a wrench, it really is, but the first step is to admit to yourself that it is time to go. I do not know how it will turn out, but at least that way we have a chance to try to create something better. The alternative – for thousands of committed socialists to sit on their hands and keep quiet, wondering if the person next to them is thinking what they are thinking – is too awful to contemplate.
I strongly believe that if everyone who reads this is able to take courage to follow their heart and their principles, then, instead of members slowly drifting off into the wilderness or being gradually drummed out of the party, the SWP can be left on the shelf of history alongside the Workers Revolutionary Party, and something a thousand times healthier built in its place.
There is hope yet. The CC talks with dread about young and student cadre who are “influenced by the movement” bringing such ideas into the party, but on the evidence of conference the ideas coming in are militant anti-sexism and a desire for democracy. The substantial opposition votes show that many members’ politics remain excellent, even while they also frustratingly show that the leadership simply cannot be defeated through the party’s democratic structures, even on this most grave of issues. If it could be, despite everything I would have stayed.
For my part, I am certainly not planning some new ‘Workers Socialist Party’.2 Surely we can do better than that? I intend to discuss, think and write further about how we can take a step back from the specifics of the SWP and learn some wider lessons about sexism, democracy and organisation. I believe that for the good of the whole left, and the class struggle whose course we hope to influence, we ought to be able to find a way to create something that can be a hospitable and enduring home for militant workers, radical students and activists.
I want a left where a case like this simply cannot happen, where no-one will ever have to suppress their unease or disgust thinking it is for the greater socialist good, and where no-one will have to resign because whole areas of discussion have been banned. In that future left, I hope, we will be able to organise together again, democratically, as comrades in the struggle against our real enemies.
SWP CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT – DISPUTES COMMITTEE REPORT can be found below.
It’s with great sadness we pass on the news, if you haven’t already heard, of the death of James May a.k.a. James Walsh who has taken his own life at the age of 43.
James had been a regular visitor to Norfolk in the last couple of years, and his often controversial but always thought provoking political ideas were in part behind the formation of this very organisation.
Quite simply James realized many years ago the left were stuck in political quicksand with absolutely no where to go unless they stopped crying ‘nazi’ at the drop of a hat and started sorting out there own back yard before attempting to save the world and making a complete arse of themselves in the process. And James was never shy of pointing out the eras of their ways, be it on the street, on a platform, a march or a Class War paper sale.
We will not attempt here to write an obituary as there are others way more qualified to do so. Therefore with that in mind we would pass you over to Paul Stott’s blog for a very moving piece on James’ political life.
Our thoughts go out to his family and close friends at this awful time with a reassurance from all of us at NCAG, James May will never be forgotten and we look forward very much to his thoughts and ideas one day soon being put into print for a much wider audience.
Paul Stotts piece James May-A Political Obituary can be found here http://paulstott.typepad.com/i_intend_to_escape_and_co/2012/12/james-may-a-political-obituary.html
- The evaporation of ‘real and existing socialism’
- The startling evidence of both the vitality and social reach of the neo-liberal agenda
- The emergence of euro-nationalism as an electoral threat across Europe
the one group to seriously re-evaluate whether it was fit for purpose (‘were we primed to persuade rather than provoke, to set agendas rather than simply protest?’) was Red Action itself.
Under New Management
- That we begin to give prominence to reporting on events and campaigns that RA members were involved in.
- That we begin to challenge the modus operandi of various organisations and campaigns on the Left.
- That we begin to politically challenge the theories of orthodox Marxist-Leninist and anarchist organisations.
“None, perhaps, are as deeply dyed revolutionaries as Red Action…[whose] website also notes Red Action’s leadership role in the organisation Anti-Fascist Action and AFA’s involvement in deliberately triggering street brawls with the British National Party. The images on the website’s home page are of Red Action members “in action,” aiming kicks at those attending a fascist rally. The website also records Red Action’s willingness to recruit combative street fighters on football terraces and its association with Celtic Football Club hooligans alongside discussion of when Marxism began to go wrong in the Soviet Union.”
“The success of these forms of direct action caused them to be legitimised in the eyes of the public. This in turn emboldens fascist supporters toward more ambitious political demands, inevitably followed by further paramilitary excesses.
In this year’s Newham Monitoring Project’s annual report AFA is condemned for the use of ‘intensely paranoid almost paramilitary tactics’. To follow this line of argument is to accept that not only is confronting the fascists an alternative to confronting the state, but in addition it is to pretend that in the battle for the streets the state remains neutral.
“Instead they insist the anti-fascist movement should devote its whole strength and energy to those middle class patch-work reforms which could provide the political establishment with new supports and hence perhaps transform potential catastrophe into a gradual piecemeal and hopefully peaceful process of dissolution.
“Groups like the Newham Monitoring Project follow this strategy because they are paid to; ‘revolutionary’ groups like the Socialist Workers Party or the Revolutionary Communist Party follow a similar strategy by choice.
Rather than concern themselves with resolving the practical problems faced by the working class, their reason for being is to suggest abstract solutions to the problems faced by the state. For once you accept the state is the cause of the problem, it is logical to deduce that the state can, indeed must, provide the solution.
“So while the objective of the hard right is to strengthen the state through the use of force, the parallel function of the soft Left is to strengthen the state through the use of reform. The purpose of the mission is an attempt to save the state from itself. Adding to the attraction of approaching the issue arse-about-face is the promise that one’s relationship with anti-fascism remains purely platonic.” (RA 1992)
The alternative to ignoring community organisation is that parties like the BNP seize on peoples discontent, and stir up hate. In Phil Piratin’s book ‘Our Flag Stays Red’ he describes the Communist Party’s (CP) strategy for defeating fascism in the East End in the 1930’s.
In one chapter, a local family is being evicted by slum landlords and the CP branch discusses what to do – the problem being that the head of the family is a member of the Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Piratin’s position is that irrespective of the family’s BUF connections, the eviction must be resisted because working class people must be protected against the capitalists. Amidst much internal hostility, Piratin’s position prevailed. The CP successfully prevents the eviction of family, and the BUF member defected to the CP, saying that he had mistakenly believed that the fascists stood for ordinary people like him
‘Ages and ages hence two roads diverged, and we, we took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.’
Taken from Kenan Maliks blog Pandaemonium. Please follow it here.
I have been meaning for a while to write about the current controversy over racism in English football. Lack of time has prevented me from doing so but today’s match between Chelsea and Liverpool is too good an opportunity to pass up.
These are, of course, the two clubs at the heart of that controversy. Earlier this year, Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward, was banned for eight matches for calling Manchester United’s Patrice Evra a ‘negrito’. Suarez insisted that this was colloquial Spanish for ‘mate’. An FA disciplinary board found him guilty of racism. More recently Chelsea (and former England) captain John Terry was accused of racially abusing Queen’s Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a match. This time the police got involved. Terry was charged under the criminal law with using ‘abusive language’ but was acquitted in court. After that acquittal the FA charged him with the same offence and, with a lower burden of proof, found him guilty. Then last month, Chelsea accused a referee, Mark Clattenburg, of using ‘inappropriate’, and reportedly racist, language towards two of its players, a claim currently being investigated by both the police and the FA.
The discussion of these cases by football authorities, politicians and the media has led to a growing sense of English football as a hotbed of racism. A number of leading black players, including Rio Ferdinand and Jason Roberts, have accusedKick It Out, football’s official antiracist campaign of being ‘soft’ on racism. Some have threatened to create a breakaway union black players’ union. A national poll revealed that 40 per cent of people think that racism is ‘rife’ in football and more than half believe it will never be eliminated.
As someone who has been both watching football and fighting racism for nearly thirty years, I find much of this discussion surreal. I am, for my sins, a Liverpool fan. I am Gary Neville’s worst nightmare – probably the only person brought up in Manchester who ended up supporting the real Reds. I arrived in Britain as a six-year-old, knowing nothing about football, still less about the sociology of tribal support. By the time I found about the bitterness of the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United, it was too late. The tribal, irrational, unconditional nature of football support meant that I was stuck with my loyalties.
In my teenage years visiting Anfield, standing on the Kop, I was often spat on, kicked, called a ‘fucking Paki cunt’ and worse. I was hailed not infrequently with a chorus of ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack, so all the Pakis can fuck off back’. Not just from the visiting fans, though that often happened, but also from the Kop faithful. Not by everyone on the Kop, of course, or even by most people, but by a significant number, and a significant number that was largely tolerated. In the 70s and 80s racism was endemic in the football, and the authorities did not want to know.
Why did I carry on supporting Liverpool despite the abuse? Partly because sporting obsessions are rarely driven by rational considerations. Partly because to have stopped watching football would have been to give into racism; and I am the kind of person who, if I am told I cannot do something, I insist even more on doing it. And partly because standing on the Kop was little different then from standing on any street corner in Britain. Britain was a very different place then, and so was football. Racism then was vicious, visceral and often fatal. Stabbings were everyday facts of life, firebombings almost weekly events, and murders all too common.
This is why the current furore over racism seems so bizarre. I cannot remember the last time I faced the kind of abuse that was so common in the eighties. Racism still exists, of course, and needs always to be confronted, but it is relatively isolated. Indeed, it is precisely because racism is so rare that it seems so shocking when we are confronted with it.
If I cannot remember the last time I faced the kind of abuse that was so common in the seventies and eighties, nor can most players. David James was for many years the England goalkeeper, one of England’s leading black players and a highly articulate opponent of racism. ‘I struggle with the racist issue in football’ he observed recently at a ‘Leaders in Football’ conference at Stamford Bridge recently. Not because he faces racism all the time, but because he so rarely does. ‘I don’t see it’, James said, ‘and that’s not because I’ve got my head in the sand. In the earlier days, yes, but the game’s changed.’ In the whole of the 2010-11 season, there were just 43 arrests in England for racist or indecent chanting. A number of black players have certainly faced nasty abuse on Twitter, but that tells us more about the character of Internet discussions than it does about racism in football.
The fact that racism is rare, does not mean that it should not be challenged wherever it appears. But just because racism is not right does not mean that we should pretend that it is rife.
If racism is not the issue that once it was, why the sudden interest on the part of the football authorities in combating racism? Having spent decades ignoring racism in the sport when it was a real, live issue and required a robust response, the FA is now trying to gain the moral high ground by conducting a war that has largely been won. It would have taken guts and commitment to have stood up to racism three decades ago. Today, the FA is trying to clamber on to a moral high ground that has long since become crowded.
If the character of racism has changed over the past three decades, so too has the character of antiracism. Antiracism has all too often become less about challenging discrimination or hatred, more about moral posturing. ‘A lot of the issues that we’ve gone on about in the last season or so, it’s more about people driving the issue than the issue being a real focus’, as David James put it.
Antiracism has also increasingly become a matter of social control, of the law defining what is and is not acceptable for people to say. Consider two recent cases. Last month, Rangers fan Connor McGhie was jailed for three months for ‘religiously aggravated breach of the peace’ for singing ‘offensive songs which referred to the Pope and the Vatican and called Celtic “Fenian bastards”’. Meanwhile the Society of Black Lawyers have threatened Spurs fans with court actionif they continue to refer to themselves as ‘Yids’ or the ‘Yid Army’. The Rangers fan was undoubtedly motivated by bigotry, the Spurs fans mostly by a desire to challenge bigotry. Both cases reveal, however, how antiracism in football has become part of the wider campaign to use the criminal law to ban speech deemed offensive or hateful.
I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism.