At least twice in early December, anarchist students at Sussex University have carried out physical attacks on Socialist Workers Party stalls.
Sussex Autonomous Students (sussexasn.tumblr.com) report: “A few days ago the SWP turned up to one of the Sussex 5 Solidarity demos. They brought a mass of placards and papers, which they proceeded to distribute from the obligatory stall. We binned their placards, turned over their stall and burnt their papers.”
AWL supporters at Sussex report that a second, similar incident took place at the demonstration against management repression and in support of workers' fight against outsourcing on 10 December.
Worse still, the Autonomous Students statement says “We will not tolerate the SWP on our campus” and “Burn the SWP”.
These events are part of a wider phenomenon, e.g. the push to ban the SWP (and later the Socialist Party because of the Steve Hedley domestic abuse case) from holding events at University of London Union. AWL students opposed this and advocated political interventions in the events instead.
The SWP’s conduct in connection with the Martin Smith cases was disgraceful. But it is hard to see what physically barring the SWP from campuses (and by logical extension student unions, trade union branches and labour movement buildings, the streets...) will achieve. It won’t protect people from abuse.
There are still many oppositionists in the SWP seeking to challenge its leadership about these issues. But the issue here is broader and more fundamental than that.
It is difficult to participate in a demonstration, campaign or movement alongside loyalist members of an organisation with such a record on sexual abuse and women’s liberation — and survivors of abuse may find it particularly difficult. But physically attacking the SWP and attempting to drive it out of the movement will not solve the problem, because the problem is not that SWP members go round public spaces organising sexual assaults. Turning over a stall and burning newspapers might feel like effective direct action, but its effects will be negative and counter-productive.
The “ordinary” population of any campus, workplace, or community contains within it many people with far worse attitudes than the worst members of the SWP. Generally (with the exception of fascists), we should challenge their ideas, not try to drive them out.
Similarly, we will sort out the degenerate political culture of the left by political argument and debate, or not at all. Physically attacking or seeking to ban our opponents on the left will make it harder to do that, and at the same time degrade the political culture of our movements.
We appeal to activists in Autonomous Students to reconsider these issues.
Socialists, anarchists, and student and labour movement activists who see the SWP being physically attacked should intervene to try to stop it.
The SWP has a long record of thuggish behaviour. Ironically, these attacks on the SWP are even worse.