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Who Needs the State to Smash the Radical Left When Feminists Are Doing Such a Fine Job of It?

11/03/2013 13:41 | Updated 10 May 2013

I'm no fan of the Socialist Workers' Party, so I won't be losing much sleep over the fact that it is currently imploding under the weight of two sex scandals. But I do find it intriguing that this intellectually moribund organisation is having the final nail pounded into its coffin, not by the state or by the right, but by feminism.

The SWP, one-time declarer of war against mighty capitalism, is being done in by feminist disdain rather than by free-market fundamentalism. And it isn't the only one - more and more radical left-wing groups are meeting their ends at the hands of feministic finger-pointing.

The SWP's current travails started when it was revealed that a party member had accused a party leader of raping her, and that the party's membership were not happy with how the leadership dealt with the allegations. Now there are new revelations about another alleged rape in the party, giving rise to the claim that the SWP is a "dangerous environment for women".

There have leaked party documents, ceaseless blogger gossip, and Schadenfreude galore, everywhere from anti-SWP websites to the Daily Mail. But what is most striking is the way in which feminists have used these sordid incidents to call into question the whole structure of the SWP. Feminists have effectively subjected the SWP to a kind of mini-Leveson, interrogating not just the alleged behaviour of a couple of party leaders but the party's entire culture, ethics and practices.

One commentator says the SWP debacle places a "question mark over the sexual politics of many men in powerful positions on the left". Another says the controversy calls into question the "culture and structures" of the SWP.

Observers say it isn't surprising that the SWP, being a closed-off "organisation of committed people", has ended up with the kind of "structures... that might allow sexual abuse and misogyny by men in positions of power to continue unchecked".

In short, the problem is not simply that some individuals in the SWP behaved badly, but rather that the entire make-up of the radical left is rotten. Apparently it is because the SWP is a private political organisation, based on passionately shared ideals among a closely knitted group of "committed people", which allowed it to transform into an alleged cesspit of sexual abuse.

You can't help thinking that some observers are turning the SWP's two alleged victims of rape into Trojan Horses against Trotskyism, using them as battering rams against an ideology and party that they never much liked.

One interesting blog post suggests the SWP brought this feministic attack on itself, since in recent years it willingly adopted a "brand of feminism which... was moralistic and oppressive. It fostered authority rather than subverting it. It demanded an eternal vigilance about 'sexism' on the part of male comrades which actually enforced a humourless respectability". So if the SWP is currently being eaten alive by idealism-fearing feminism, it could well be its own fault.

Strikingly, the SWP isn't the only radical group crumbling under the weight of feministic outrage. Wikileaks, once the darling of liberals and the left, is now looked upon as a weird outfit run by a white-haired pervert (allegedly). Following those Swedish accusations of rape against Julian Assange, Wikileaks, too, has been subjected to a feminist critique of its structures, attitude and culture.

George Galloway's Respect party has also effectively been slain by feminism. After Galloway made daft remarks about rape, feminists deserted and then demonised his party, depicting Galloway as yet another one of those "men in powerful positions on the left" who has warped sexual politics. Respect lies in tatters.

Left-wing radicals always feared, or perhaps fantasised, that they would be battered by the forces of the state. But it's feminism that is pushing them over the edge.

Of course, these organisations are not being hounded into oblivion by actual cliques of feminists who woke up morning and said to each other, "Hey, let's screw over the radical left!" There is not, despite what the likes of the Daily Mail might have us believe, a feminist conspiracy in modern Britain dictating how everyone should think and behave.

Rather, the crises in these radical groups reveal the divisive and destructive impact of identity politics, of which modern-day victim feminism is a key strand. The politics of identity is naturally hostile to old radical left-wing ideals for two reasons.

Firstly because radical leftism was built the idea of universalism, on a belief in a common cause, whereas the politics of identity is particularistic, pitching women against men, disabled people against the abled-bodied, gays against straights, and so on. And secondly, where the old left was driven by a conviction that human beings are strong-minded and strong-willed, capable of governing both their own destinies and the world they live in, modern-day identity-obsessives promote the cults of fragility and victimhood instead, the idea that people are easily harmed by words or unfortunate experiences and thus might occasionally need the state to look after them.

A few years back, feminist Beatrix Campbell spelled out rather well the instinctive hostility of victim feminism to left radicalism. It was feminism, she argued, which "clarified the unsustainability of... communism". Left-wing radicalism is "macho, manic", she said; it "valorises conquest of nature and other humans"; it is a "men's movement masquerading as egalitarian and socialist".

In short, the old Socialistic worldview was just too darn cocky, too ambitious, too keen on exploiting nature's resources to create a world of plenty, and thus it needed to be put in its place by the more caring, apparently mumsy creed of feminism. This, fundamentally, is what the feministic finishing-off of various radical left groups represents: the downsizing of the left imagination to make it fit better with the petty obsessions and humourless authoritarianism of today's inward-looking politics of identity.