Sex and the SWP

By Chris Knight

It’s not just the SWP. Take the case of Cardinal Keith O’Brien. You’d think he was two different people, each determined to shout down the other. For years, his mouth was denouncing same-sex marriage as “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. Meanwhile, his lower regions were (as he now admits) spilling out all over the place, taking a quite different line. Faced with similar problems in Rome, Pope Benedict prudently resigned: it was all getting too close to home.

It’s not just the SWP, any more than it’s the Scottish Socialist Party, the LibDems or the Catholic Church. What’s bursting apart at the seams right now is the fabric of patriarchy itself. What ripped apart the stitching in this country were the long-stifled voices of literally hundreds of victims of Jimmy Savile’s revolting crimes, magnified by a spectacularly ambitious BBC cover-up.

KnightSince then, more and more victims of patriarchal abuse have gained the courage to raise their voices — Tahrir Square, Saudi Arabia, the Congo. Revulsion against rape in India has now amounted to something approaching a woman-led cultural uprising. 14 February 2013 marked the largest global action in history to end violence against women and girls, women and men in 207 countries taking to the streets together to express their outrage under the magnificent slogan ‘Strike, Dance, Rise!’

I’ve come across a rash of left wing articles diagnosing the SWP’s current problem as the wrong sort of democratic centralism, programme, position on factions or whatever — anything so long as it’s not sex. Is it just a coincidence that it was a sex scandal that struck down the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, then the Scottish Socialist Party and now the SWP? A huge part of the problem surely, is the left’s historic inability to cope with sex — to discuss it, think about it, find any theoretical place for it. While we all talk about sex quite a lot of the time — after all it’s central to most of our lives — as soon as we get to a meeting, we feel the need to get serious, whereupon we stop talking about sex! As a result, the thinking and gossiping is private, unaccountable, politically inarticulate. We say things with our heads, up on public platforms. Meanwhile, other parts of our bodies and emotions are all too often roaming around on their own, taking a quite different line — unaccountable even to ourselves!

When ‘Occupy Wall Street’ had to deal with a case of sexual assault, the activists soon realised they lacked the forensic resources, investigative mechanisms, justice procedures or coercive sanctions to deal with it internally. They were obliged to go to the police. Yes, the police are, in institutional terms, the class enemy. Yes, we need to do better than that — eventually, as the revolution unfolds. But right now, we have no choice.

Should a comrade claim to be the victim of a serious crime, that person must be given full support in reporting it to the police. To avoid the horror of trial by gossip on the internet, the alleged perpetrator has the right to insist on this. In the absence of a proper trial, the most important principle of all — that each of us is innocent unless proven guilty — cannot be upheld.

My main interest here, however, is to work for a change in our own internal culture. In order to have some way of being accountable in our sex-lives, at the very least we need to be able to share things, discuss them, construct for ourselves a language equipping us to face the problems which inevitably arise. Without gender equality — including women’s right to self organisation — little in these areas is likely to be achieved. As the young Karl Marx put it, writing in 1844: ‘The immediate, natural and necessary relation of human being to human being is also the relation of man to woman…From this relationship, man’s whole level of development can be assessed.’


About lunarchist

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