Corbyn’s links with the SWP and rape culture

Just as Donald Trump’s campaign is being derailed by his contribution to rape culture, a quieter but still disturbing manifestation of the same demon has appeared in British politics.

Jeremy Corbyn continues his long-standing links with an organisation and a man implicated in the covering up of rape allegations and the bullying of the women who dared to complain.

Weyman Bennett (left) with Jeremy Corbyn in March 2016. Source: @AntiRacismDay on Twitter

Good causes

Yesterday Corbyn spoke at a conference organised by the campaign group Stand Up To Racism. Stand Up To Racism sounds like an excellent thing, and the group brings together many good people fighting for noble ideals.

It also contains some professional hard-leftists who perhaps aren’t so noble.

Stand Up To Racism’s Co-Convenor is a man called Weyman Bennett, who is also a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

The SWP is not large and does not have a good reputation. One of the ways it operates is to attach itself to broader groups and campaigns, so it can steer their agendas and find new recruits. For instance, the SWP was key to setting up the Stop the War Coalition (as was Corbyn, who served as its Chair for several years).

Another group the SWP uses is Stand Up To Racism.

After it was announced that Corbyn would be speaking at this conference, there were protests about the connection to Bennett and the SWP, not on ideological grounds but on moral ones.

The SWP’s rape scandal

In 2013 the SWP became politically radioactive, even on the left, when it disgraced itself by the way it handled a rape allegation. A 17-year-old female member complained that a senior party officer, referred to in reports as “Comrade Delta”, had raped her. The resulting scandal was widely covered in the press.

Rather than referring the matter to the police, the SWP let its own Disputes Committee hold a hearing to handle it internally. The party does not like washing its dirty linen in public, nor involving the fascist imperialist police.

From Edward Platt’s account:

Comrade Delta was supplied with details of the complainant’s case weeks in advance but she was not allowed to see his evidence beforehand, and the committee members — who included colleagues of Delta’s, old and new — asked her questions about her drinking habits and sexual past. [The young woman] left the room in tears, saying that they thought she was a “slut who asked for it”.

The Disputes Committee announced its verdict — not guilty — at the SWP national conference.

The complainant was not allowed to speak, though she had wanted to, but other people spoke on her behalf: one asked the conference to reject the report because of the “serious failings in the way the hearing was conducted” and another said that W felt “completely betrayed” by the way she had been treated since the hearing. The conference was also told that a second complaint of sexual harassment had been made against Delta which the committee had not investigated.

The conference narrowly voted to approve the verdict, and the party leadership said that anyone who disagreed should leave the party. Hundreds did.

Weyman Bennett was on the SWP Central Committee at the time, an ally of Comrade Delta, and is implicated in other aspects of this vicious travesty of justice.

The Socialist Unity website published a detailed account from “Viv”, a former Central Committee member. Two party members (“Sadia” and “Donna”) had come to Viv on behalf of the young woman (here called “W”) to explain her allegation against Delta (here called “M”). Viv raised the matter with colleagues and the accusation was put to M.

The day after M was confronted, Sadia and Donna began to receive telephone calls from Weyman B who left messages demanding that they return his calls. When Donna answered, Weyman told her he knew that they were the two comrades who had come forward and he was angry with them for doing so. He declared, “nothing is hermetically sealed” and “I know all about your plans and your little meeting with Viv”. Weyman met her and accused her of being a traitor and told her she was wrong to approach Viv and should have spoken to him instead. …
Following this Weyman led a sustained campaign of bullying against Donna, who was working for UAF at the time. She was later sacked from her role in UAF which she felt was a result of coming forward to raise comrade W’s case. Donna took Weyman to the Disputes Committee the following year — a case she lost and which led her to leave the SWP.

(UAF is Unite Against Fascism, another wonderful-sounding campaign group with SWP links: Weyman Bennett is its Joint Secretary and Delta/M himself has also been an officer.)

Rape is unspeakably horrible in itself. But what makes it even worse is that too often, women raising accusations are disbelieved, mocked, humiliated, bullied, blamed. This doesn’t just add to the individual woman’s pain; it also maintains a culture in which rapists can more easily flourish. The SWP is part of this rape culture.

Jeremy and Weyman

So this is why many on the left, including Corbyn supporters, were aghast that the Labour leader would be speaking alongside Bennett at the Stand Up To Racism conference yesterday. They protested, and some of the speakers pulled out. After having the objections explained to him, Corbyn apparently agreed to pull out too.

But then he went and spoke anyway. Perhaps he was swayed by Diane Abbott, who (as President of Stand Up To Racism) also attended. But perhaps he was swayed by his enduring attachment to Bennett.

I did some googling and found that this was not a one-off.

Corbyn and Bennett in November 2015. Source: SWP website

Corbyn and Abbott spoke alongside Bennett at another Stand Up To Racism event in November 2015. At the end of Corbyn’s speech (44:47), he gave Bennett a friendly pat on the shoulder.

The two men are old comrades: they co-signed a letter to the Independent back in 1994, and even since the SWP rape scandal broke they have appeared together at numerous public events.

At one of these, in March 2015 (0:18), Bennett introduced Corbyn, who then said:

Thanks, Weyman. And in Weyman we have somebody very special and very principled and very good. Weyman, thanks for everything you do, have done and will do.

The taint of Corbynism

One of the few things I like about Corbyn is his principled, humane position on refugees, which was on show at the event yesterday. But it’s a tragedy that he continues to corrupt himself, and weaken every cause he supports, by turning a blind eye to the sins of comrades on the far left.

No doubt Corbyn is sincere in opposing rape and its apologists, just as he is sincere in opposing anti-Semitism. But a man is known by the company he keeps: that of Bennett and the SWP, tainted by their despicable reaction to rape allegations. Corbyn has chosen to share that taint.

Update, 4 February 2017: Sadly, the first half of the first sentence of this piece has not aged well — Trump won. Sadly, the rest of the piece still stands — today, Corbyn endorses another Stand Up To Racism event that Weyman Bennett is speaking at.