The forgotten ally and friend
Rease Higgs responds to the AWL’s defence of its behaviour over ‘comrade Alpha’
Predictably, my article highlighting the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s opportunist and hypocritical behaviour in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts last week,1 triggered an immediate response. Ed Maltby, an executive committee member, was told to talk privately to those who appeared troubled by it. One comrade posted online: “I’ve received a private message from Maltby insisting that I call him. I have nothing to do with far-left politics, but it seems to me that the AWL are desperate to put a lid on this whole issue …”
The best defence is a good offence, or so the AWL leadership seems to think. But frankly its public response to allegations that it had invited ‘comrade Alpha’, an alleged serial sexual abuser, to its summer school fell short of the mark on both counts.2 As you might expect, the AWL attempts to paint itself in an entirely positive light, all the while attacking the CPGB for our “virtual endorsement” of the exoneration of Steve Hedley by the Socialist Party in England and Wales.
However, the response at least admits that the AWL did in fact make an arrangement to accommodate an alleged sexual abuser at its July 2013 Ideas for Freedom summer school, while at the same time pursuing its campaign against SPEW over Steve Hedley (the RMT assistant general secretary had been accused by his former partner, Caroline Leneghan, of “domestic violence”, but was cleared by an internal RMT enquiry – she is also an RMT member).
The AWL claims: “The WW article seems to imply that the individual in question molested or abused people at IFF [Idea for Freedom] – which is not the case and which no-one has claimed. This is so bizarre that in this instance maybe WW has genuinely misunderstood. Surely not even they could by so cynical as to consciously invent this.” One slight problem: there is no such implication in my article and I have no idea what this refers to. Perhaps it is the AWL that has “misunderstood” something.
The AWL pretends to uphold completely different standards from those of the rest of the left, not least SPEW: “If Socialist Party comrades wish to make the labour movement and the revolutionary left accessible spaces for activists of all genders,” wrote AWL executive committee member Cathy Nugent, in an article published not long after Ideas for Freedom, “they urgently need to hold their leadership to account for its recent record.”3
In another article, published a month after further allegations against the alleged sexual abuser invited to Ideas for Freedom were made public, fellow EC member Sacha Ismail wrote to “call on Socialist Party comrades to stand up to their leaders about the organisation’s handling of the Steve Hedley/Caroline Leneghan case”.4 Then last month, in a piece entitled ‘Stop evading, stop lying’, the AWL’s Esther Townsend admonishes SPEW for defending itself by stressing that Caroline Leneghan has never been, and Steve Hedley is no longer, a member: “Caroline’s non-membership in the SP is surely irrelevant.”5It is without a hint of irony then that the AWL declares: “… the person [invited to Ideas for Freedom] accused of sexual abuse is not and has never been an AWL member, organised sympathiser, financial contributor, regular ally, etc.”
Aside from the obvious hypocrisy, the AWL leadership must surely know that this is a complete falsehood, given that ‘comrade Alpha’ has written for Solidarity, the AWL weekly, and is listed as a contact in numerous AWL internal emails. On Monday April 24 2013, during a recruitment trip around the country, Ed Maltby – who ironically refers to himself as a “cynical factional manipulator” – met with ‘comrade Alpha’ to discuss whether or not he would join the AWL. In a 1,500-word report submitted to the EC on April 29, Ed notes that he had “not reconsidered joining AWL, but will work closely with us. Agreed to sell subscriptions to Solidarity to [Labour Club] members and bring some to Ideas for Freedom.”
Recently obtained emails from the NCAFC national committee show that ‘comrade Alpha’ had voluntarily accepted a lifetime ban from the organisation for his conduct back in June 2013. They reveal that “a large number” of people on the NC had been “fully aware” of the circumstances for some time – an allegation one member of the NC acknowledges:
“In the specific situation of [the accused], I think things are clearly cut and dried. Safer Spaces agrees he should not be at NCAFC events, [the accused] agrees he shouldn’t be at NCAFC events, [and] the NC should know, as it’s NC members who are going to be organising NCAFC events.” So writes a member of the NCAFC NC, at a time when the AWL comprised roughly 30% of its NC. “It’s imperative that [‘comrade Alpha’] is not at events. Categorically not, and as far as I’m concerned that isn’t even a matter of discussion,” writes another.6
In addition to these emails, Sacha Ismail revealed in internal AWL correspondence in September that “Ed [Maltby] described it at [AWL] EC a while back that [‘comrade Alpha’] got wasted two times and felt people up. Ed negotiated an agreement with [the woman] about both of them coming to different bits of Ideas for Freedom. She was fine but then seemed to get more angry.”
Rather than holding itself to the standards it demands of the rest of the left, the AWL instead chose – in spite of its campaign against SPEW on the ostensible grounds of creating a ‘safe space’ on the revolutionary left – to negotiate an arrangement so as to accept the presence at Ideas for Freedom of ‘comrade Alpha’. Emails revealing that he had agreed to bring people to the event suggest a possible motivation for this decision.
“We did not publicise these arrangements,” writes the AWL in its response to my article, “through a statement or whatever, for obvious reasons.” The obvious reason being that anybody with a modicum of sense would have pointed out what a bad idea it was. Not only this, but it would have exposed the AWL’s moralising campaign against SPEW to be entirely motivated by factional opportunism in the NCAFC.
The AWL eventually banned ‘comrade Alpha’ from its events, but that was six months after he had been indefinitely banned from the NCAFC, and three months after allegations that he “has a tendency to build friendships with women who are disabled and takes advantage of them and their health as well as sexually assaulting people” were made public, and the same month as a member of the AWL left the organisation. Yes, noting the incident in the resignation letter.
When one of the survivors of sexual abuse came out publicly about the NCAFC’s silence over ‘comrade Alpha’s expulsion from the organisation, she wrote: “Is anyone going to announce anything about the person who has been banned? I think for the sake of people’s safety it should be known … I think it’s the responsibility of NCAFC and part of the ethos to openly talk about this sort of thing; it shouldn’t be taboo. No more apologies for mental health either – it’s not an excuse and it’s certainly not a reason to keep things quiet. I’ve learned that the hard way.”
While aimed at the NCAFC, the post contained invaluable advice for the entire left. The way to deal with cases of sexual abuse or domestic violence is not through quasi-judicial panels and committees operating in secret or without the knowledge of the members of the organisation, but through openness, transparency and solidarity.
The hypocrisy of the AWL lies in the fact that, for all of its bluster about safe spaces and holding leaderships to account, its own EC has gone completely unchallenged. We say this not because the CPGB wishes to start a campaign against the AWL, but because we favour rational discussion, honest polemic and a thoroughgoing cultural revolution throughout the left.
1. ‘Pot calls kettle black’, January 16.