Richard Seymour’s faction has a problem or two. He and his mates are busy leaking all confidential material to Andy Newman’s Capialist Disunity NarkSquad blog and John Chamberlain’s group. However, as members of the SWP examine what Richard Seymour’s faction has been up to they will discover some rather worrying things about Richard Seymour’s friends.
As I have been reminding comrades, John Chamberlain’s group has a long history of opposing any age of consent. Those Richard Seymour has been leaking material to, to undermine his party, are on the record as supporting sixty year old men having sex with twelve year old girls. I wonder if Richard Seymour is feeling quite so confident about justifying his relationship with John Chamberlain now. SWP aggregates and special conference might not take kindly to Richard Seymour dragging in such hypocrites to smear their own comrades.
Then there is Andy Newman. He has a long history of smearing all those who have struggled to expose the reactionary role of the Catholic Church, and their cover-ups of pedophilia, homophobia, outrageous sexism. Today we discover that one of Andy Newman’s heroes insists on investigating the allegations against himself and then to retire free from all charges. And Richard Seymour is happy to make common cause with Andy Newman? Andy has showered praise on all within the Catholic Church hierarchy up to their necks in covering up these crimes for generations. There is no way he can excuse his ignorance as to what has been going on. He is simply a hypocrite. What more can I say? Actually, a fair bit.
The media are, for whatever reason, going hell for leather in trial by media. All it takes is identifying someone claiming sexual misconduct and the accused has been found guilty in advance as far as the media is concerned. This is disturbing. Due process, presumption of innocence, natural justice are all going out the window. Socialists need to resist this reactionary tidal wave of self appointed judge, juries and executioners. We need to get the balance right. We need to discuss this as a matter of extreme urgency because these are difficult problems for all of us. We won’t all agree in the initial stages but the sooner we start to debate, the sooner we can heal our wounds.
Socialists need to reject lock, stock and barrel any solution based on collective guilt, and collective punishment of all men. That ridiculous position is effectively the one advocated by Pat Stack’s faction. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: women have fathers, sons, brothers, male members of their extended family, work colleagues, friends, neighbours, or simply strangers burdened with a Y-chromosome. Women demand justice for every one of these poor bastards. Women do not want innocent men to suffer imprisonment for false allegations of being a sex criminal, with the gang rapes and tortures by violent psychopaths that goes with such convictions. What women want is what the overwhelming majority of men want: the guilty to be identified, then punished, and punished severely. We all want that.
Expressions of indifference to punishing the guilty so long as someone is punished can do nothing but undermine the prospects of securing guilty verdicts for the right people. We need to get at the truth. Unsubstantiated allegations are not something that should land anyone in trouble, unless a jury of one’s peers examines all the evidence and finds the case proven.
What this probably means is that socialist parties are not well placed to investigate such allegations. They are notoriously difficult to deal with, and there is no reason why a socialist party can get at the truth with greater reliability than the courts, who have access to the kinds of forensic and other resources that a socialist party simply doesn’t have.
In my opinion, the SWP should learn from what has happened to accept that it cannot go through this ever again. While it may have inquired into this for the best possible motives, it hasn’t worked and it isn’t likely to work any better in the future. Now what?
Firstly, if such allegations are made in the future, unless there is credible evidence that goes beyond a “he said, she said” set of allegations, the party had best drop it into the lap of the bourgeois state. Not ideal, but better than nothing. This has to be a matter for the police to get involved at an early stage. Comrades can then decide who they believe, free to side with the accused or the accuser based on personal ties or other factors. The party, as a party, should leave it to others to sort out. At any rate, those are my initial thoughts. I am willing to be persuaded otherwise. What else?
There are suggestions that a male comrade must be treated as a criminal if he is considerably older than a female to whom he develops a sexual relationship. We need to discuss this very urgently.
Firstly, Richard Seymour’s first port of call when it comes to leaking confidential SWP literature is John Chamberlain’s party. These people don’t have a problem with middle aged men having sexual relations with twelve year old girls or boys. Perhaps Richard Seymour needs to justify who he is doing deals with before he calls for the smearing of members of his own party for having sexual relations with seventeen year old women.
Secondly, in the UK we do have an age of consent of sixteen. What does that mean? It means that society accepts that those who hit sixteen are free to make their own decisions as to who they can have sex with. Parents and others may wish to guide their choices. Their friends might want to do that. Many people may have big problems with wide age ranges. However, so long as both parties are beyond the age of consent, there is very little the rest of us can do. We may form a low opinion of mature men engaging in sexual relations with sixteen or seventeen year old girls. However, unless we want to call for the raising of the age of consent to eighteen, we cannot call for any kind of disciplinary action simply because a middle aged man has sexual relations with a seventeen year old woman. Is that not obvious?
There is, it has to be admitted, a separate question, one that is not directly related to age differentials: authority figures. Just as teachers are expected to resist any flirting from a seventeen or eighteen year old pupil, we should expect all authority figures within a socialist party to abide by similar guidelines. If they do not exist within the party today, then it is long overdue that they did. Even so, if no guidelines have been set in stone thus far, no one can be disciplined for not feeling bound by non-existant guidelines. We are not talking about any amnesty here, because no crime has been committed.
What about flirting? In the party as in the rest of society there will be flirting, and there will be a degree of flirtatiousness that is unwelcome. Socialists have to distinguish between those who persist after it has been made clear to them that their sexual advances are unwelcome and those who have simply misread the signs. This has to be dealt with on a case by case basis, with greater maturity expected from older comrades. If someone fails to accept a professional relationship, then it is right for this to be deemed sexual harassment and disciplinary action taken. Comrades must be free to ask for the party to step in and take steps to sort out this sort of behavior, with a range of sanctions depending on the nature of the offense. The offended party, if they feel they have a good enough case, should even be free to go to the police, if that is what they want to do.
If a romantic and/or sexual relationship develop between comrades when one is a full-time officer for the party, there is obviously something akin to a duty of care as he/she is an authority figure. That obviously poses a serious problem for comrades that goes beyond the two comrades. It might be a good idea when the party learns of such a relationship for both comrades to be reminded why such relationships can be a problem.
Honey traps in the socialist movement are a fact of life. It has been for over a century. There is a real danger of unsubstantiated allegations being used to destroy individuals and the party they are trying to build. I don’t know how such problems can be solved. I have a few tentative ideas that I am not going to spell out just now. But one idea that is not a runner is simply finding all men guilty in advance as soon as an allegation has been raised regardless of a complete absence of evidence.