Jeremy Corbyn has come under fire from both right and left for speaking at a “Stand Up to Racism” conference on 8 October.
The complaint is that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) plays a big part in SUTR. Its co-convenor is Weyman Bennett, a central committee member of the SWP. For the right-wingers, this is bad because the SWP is a far-left group critical of Labour.
For the left-wingers, this is bad because of the taint of the “Comrade Delta” scandal of 2010-3, when the SWP office covered up and then dealt bureaucratically with charges of sexual assault and rape by an SWP leader.
We have no sympathy with the right-wing complaints. Whatever the faults of the SWP and SUTR, they have been active in supporting the refugees in Calais and elsewhere while Labour right-wingers have made cheap shots against the Tories for not blocking entry to Britain enough. That Corbyn spoke at a big rally for refugee rights — as he did in September 2015, too, hours after first being elected Labour leader, at a demonstration in which SUTR was a big factor — is good, not bad.
The left-wing critics include groups like Southall Black Sisters and East End Sisters Uncut whom we respect and with whom we’ve worked. We know their criticism is intended to help generate a better refugee-rights movement. And we have many of our own complaints against the SWP. We’ve seen the SWP physically assault our people who attend their events and seek to voice criticisms. The SWP’s line of backing Brexit on the grounds that it would disrupt capitalism, and disruption must be good, showed gross irresponsibility towards the migrant workers now at risk from Brexit. Yet the answer is to criticise — as vehemently as necessary — and to confront politically, not to “no-platform” or boycott.
A better refugee-rights movement would be better. But it doesn’t yet exist. SUTR relies on SWP backroom work, but involves many not-at-all-SWP people who value unity in the common cause. Diane Abbott is its president; Dave Ward of the CWU is co-chair; Kate Osamor MP, Christine Blower, and Steve Hart are vice-chairs; Malia Bouattia, Shelly Asquith, and Shakira Martin of NUS spoke on 8 October.
SUTR is, in fact, a sort of transposition or recycling of an older group, Unite Against Fascism. We’ve had many criticisms of how UAF organised demonstrations against the EDL and others, but we have not boycotted those demonstrations. In this case Corbyn should be commended, not denounced.