In April 2011, the International Socialist Group was formed by 39 members of the Socialist Workers Party in Scotland. The letter sent to the SWP, announcing its formation makes reference to a number of issues that they have with that organisation, including the treatment of Chris Bambery, who had just resigned (read pushed out) from the SWP . In the 18 months or so that the ISG has been in operation it has gone from strength to strength – it now has over 100 members in all major cities in Scotland, and a majority female membership. Yet still, it is considered by the English Left as “Chris Bambury’s organisation“. They cant even bring themselves to say its name.
Chris Bambery is a controversial figure in Scottish left politics. The Sheridan split and the atrocious role that the SWP played in lying and obfuscating the situation was eventually exposed by the second court case. Sheridan’s subsequent degeneration into the realms of a figure of mockery made anyone associated with the SWP at the time roundly loathed by Sheridan’s victims and those supportingthem. Consequently the association between Bambery and the ISG led the SSP and others on the Scottish Left to initially view the ISG with suspicion.
In time however, the ISG and their activists have gained a level of respect from the rest of the left in Scotland through their willingness to engage in an open and unsectarian manner. One such example of this is their involvement in the Radical Independence Conference. Although a broad coalition of activists from across the left spectrum contributed to the success of this initiative, the role of the ISG in driving it forward should not be underestimated and indeed their commitment to Scottish Independence stands in contrast to the grudging forced support of the SWP, who can see which way the wind is blowing, and that even their old farts cant stop it.
Although it was never stated officially in any of the documents associated with the founding of the ISG, from talking to members it has become very clear that one of the main reasons for a number of people forming the organisation was the treatment of women, and the covering up of sexual violence, abuse and harassment within SWP ranks. The behaviour of prominent members of the party, and their exploitation of young female comrades and the manner in which the SWP as an organisation dealt with this behaviour sickened a number of activists. Yet it was not mentioned in their official statement.
This wasn’t mentioned, I suspect, out of a weird sense of loyalty to their parent organisation and out of a general taboo of raising issues of sexual misconduct. To do so leaves you open to accusations of CIA honeytraps and hysteria. Yet it ain’t going to die. The latest schism in the SWP is much more open about these issues, although still rather delicately refers to them obtusely, unwilling to actually state that senior members of the SWP have raped female comrades. And so, like the ISG before, they too must be smeared. And one such smear is that they are working on behalf of “Chris Bambery’s organisation”
Despite working with the ISG fairly closely from a few months after its founding, I only met Chris Bambery in person at RIC, and I wouldn’t even have recognised him had he not introduced himself to me. He certainly writes for Communique, the ISG media outlet, but as an actual organiser or one who determines the political direction of the organisation, he features but in passing. Yet it is inconceivable to the SWP that a successful socialist organisation could exist and thrive in the absence of a great man.
Most activists in the ISG are under 30, a majority of its members female and a high proportion from ethnic minorities. Its focus is firmly anti-colonialist. Yet for the SWP, all that is ignored in one short phrase. “Chris Bambery’s organisation“. It is simply inconceivable to them that Scottish, young, female and black activists could actually establish and maintain a thriving left alternative Instead strings must be being pulled by a high profile older white man living in London who is secretly telling them what to do. God forbid the natives actually figure out how to run an organisation themselves.
Acht away and haud yer wheesht.