Letter sent to a woman who had contacted me asking me to boycott Marxism in 2014. It  sets out the basic reasons why I am opposed to boycotts of the SWP or of its members. I should add that I am equally opposed to boycotts imposed BY the SWP.

    Dear ******,

    Thanks very much for getting in touch. I appreciate your concerns about the SWP and I am sure that you are doing what you believe to be right. I hope you will be prepared to recognise that I have thought through these questions very seriously and that I too am doing what I believe to be right. I hope you will have the patience to read what I have to say.

    I resigned from the SWP last December after fifty years of membership in the organisation. You can read my resignation letter at http://grimanddim.org/political-writings/2013-letter-of-resignation/  As you may imagine this was an extremely difficult and painful decision for me. I had spent the previous year (and I’m 75, so I don’t have a lot of years to spare) helping to organise a campaign to make the party radically change course. We failed and I decided I could no longer stay in the party.

    But let’s be clear about the issues. You accuse the SWP of “rape apologism”. Now as I understand the word, that would mean the defence or justification of rape. In fact nobody in the SWP has justified or defended rape; if anyone had they would have been immediately expelled.

    I have read and reread the documentation on the case and the innumerable commentaries on it, and have discussed at length with many of the key individuals involved. In my view the situation was as follows. It is not possible to establish definitively that “comrade Delta” (as I will call him) was guilty of rape. In fact, the botched and incompetent nature of the investigation means it will never be possible to establish the point beyond doubt. However, what is absolutely clear is that Delta abused his position as a senior officer of the party in order to institute a relationship with a woman more than thirty years younger than himself, a relationship which, whatever his intentions, she came to regard as abusive. He was also undoubtedly guilty of sexual harassment of another woman, something he effectively admitted by resigning his membership rather than face investigation.

    Such conduct was inappropriate, irresponsible, abusive and utterly unacceptable, especially on the part of someone who held senior office in the party. He should have been stripped of his membership immediately. Instead the entire party leadership moved to his defence, covering up the facts of the case; those who objected were threatened and insulted, and eventually we saw no alternative but to leave the party.

    I was profoundly shocked by the way events developed – shocked precisely because it seemed to me a betrayal of all the positive values the party had stood for during my fifty years of membership, I still look back with pride on the way we opposed racism and war, and above all gave full support to working people in struggle against exploitation and oppression.

    And although I find some of the claims made by the SWP leadership a bit glib, I do think we had a good record on fighting against women’s oppression. We consistently campaigned in defence of abortion rights, and gave extensive support to strikes by women workers, such as Trico and Grunwick in the 1970s.

    When I first became politically active in the early sixties, attitudes to women’s oppression were very different to what they are now. I came into the SWP’s predecessor organisation with the ideas and prejudices of my generation and my milieu. The reactionary and sexist ideas that filled my head had to be knocked out of it by hard argument – which I got from women in the party, to whom I remain eternally grateful. Those were fine, brave women, fighters against oppression, and certainly not rape apologists. Some of them are still in the SWP.

    The fact that so many party members, people I had known for twenty, thirty, even fifty years, and whose socialist commitment I had respected and admired, decided to back the leadership was something I found heart-breaking. I am still wrestling with trying to find an explanation – I suppose, very briefly, I would have to describe it as misplaced loyalty.

    The logic of your position, I assume, is that the SWP is a wholly reprehensible organisation and that it should be destroyed; therefore you will do whatever you can to damage its activities. I understand that position but I do not share it. By resigning from the SWP I in effect abandoned any hope of reforming the organisation; but I know there are many good comrades in the SWP who do not share my view.

    Given my public criticisms at the time of my resignation, I did not expect to be asked to speak at Marxism. When I was invited, I took it as a sign that at least some people in the SWP wanted reconciliation with those who had departed – and such reconciliation would inevitably imply a radical shake-up of both the leadership personnel and the whole culture of the party. While I am not very optimistic, I would like to encourage such a process if it is possible. Therefore I decided to accept the invitation and to attempt to maintain political dialogue with comrades still in the SWP.

    The left today is very weak in face of the Tory onslaught on working people and the continuing move to the right of the Labour Party. I would like to see maximum cooperation and dialogue between all currents of the left, and I cannot exclude the SWP from that perspective.

    I am sure you will disagree with my reasoning here, but at least be assured that it is a carefully considered position, and that I share many of your basic principles. I hope you will accept this as an explanation of my position.

    All best wishes,

    Ian Birchall