On the situation in the SWP: No Marxism without feminism
The SWP is now going through arguably the most turbulent period in its history. This will have an impact on the entire radical left in Britain and will also affect left currents internationally. If the SWP disintegrates this will be a profoundly negative outcome, as it will mean the demoralisation and fragmentation of thousands of activists who relate to the party, and a weakening of the class struggle left in unions and campaigns. It will also shape the views of tens of thousands of activists whose understanding of revolutionary Marxism is strongly influenced by their contacts with the SWP. In particular, the radical left is looking to see how the party deals with issues of internal democracy, women’s rights and its understanding of feminism. The right wing in the union movement is also following it closely and we can expect that they will use it in dishonest polemics against the entire left.
Outsiders are relying on leaks for their information on the cause of the turmoil and the party leadership’s response. The most significant document is the transcript of the report of the party’s Disputes Committee to its conference, on an allegation of rape against a member it identifies as Delta. After admitting that all the committee’s members had known and worked with the alleged perpetrator for a number of years, they concluded that the woman wasn’t raped by Delta and that allegations of sexual harassment were not proven. The active involvement of two members of the Central Committee in the enquiry adds to the impression that it was weighted against the woman, as they would have been very influential in its decision making. The subsequent decision to exclude from the Central Committee two members who had supported the woman making the allegations, gives a strong signal that her case was completely without merit and that she and her supporters will be marginalised inside the organisation.
The word feminist was used as a term of abuse within the discussion, strongly implying that it is impossible to be a feminist and a revolutionary socialist at the same time. The term “creeping feminism” was used, for example, as if the real danger was that that organisation was in danger of becoming ‘infected’ by alien ideas from the women’s liberation movement, rather than the actual issue; how it could support a comrade alleging sexual violence.
The SWP has had a position for many years that it does not describe itself as feminist, preferring to call itself a supporter of women’s liberation. Socialist Resistance is proud to be part of the feminist struggle. We think the fight for women’s liberation is an indispensable part of the struggle for socialism, and can only be strengthened by a stronger voice for socialist feminists within this.
There are legitimate debates about how left activists describe their politics in relation to mass movements for liberation, and about how we work in those movements and around the demands they raise. But to use the term ‘feminist’ as a derogatory characterization, especially in such a situation, is not acceptable.
Whilst no organisation could guarantee getting everything right with such a difficult issue, unless there is a culture in the organisation built around feminist principles at every level, including in the way it deals with disputes, there is little chance of success.
A radical movement must have no interests separate from those of the oppressed
Members of revolutionary organisations are not immune from the prejudices of the societies in which they live. The fight against sexist behaviour, including sexist violence and other forms of discrimination, is an ongoing one which also involves recognising that these problems are very likely to occur within our own ranks.
The comrades of the Mexican section of the Fourth International put it like this in a document agreed at their Congress in 1989:
“A party like ours, whose revolutionary principles include a feminist perspective, finds itself up against challenges and contradictions when trying to set norms and rules about internal functioning. When we join a revolutionary party we usually assume a certain world view, implicit in our principles, and that becomes an accepted common identity, establishing therefore in practice a social form of control between the members of the revolutionary party. This social control is found in our party norms and bylaws, and is enforced fundamentally by the control commission, and by all other party bodies. This is where sanctions come in to the picture. And this is why they are accepted by the militants as a necessity.
“There are certain values that have historically been accepted by Marxists regarding a revolutionary activist’s behaviour. Nevertheless, when confronted with feminist questioning, we have fewer common values…
“The changes in behaviour and in values that feminism proposes are not accepted by society as a whole, nor by all revolutionaries, because they are part of what has historically been considered as private. For that reason, creating norms for party life using feminist criteria is no easy task. We know that it is not a matter of giving recipes or models for life. The search for new men and women is just that: a search. We know that the total liberation of both men and women is not possible in the capitalist system, but precisely that is one of the contributions of our internationalist current, to recognize the necessity of struggling for change, starting today. We do not assume the cynical attitude that says “we can’t change this today; it will change under socialism.”
“In our new revolutionary Marxist current, we have a conception of feminism as a movement that seeks profound change, the subversion of the established order …Our feminist struggle is not simply for formal equality, but to revolutionize gender relations, as a whole, between men and women. It is for this reason that our feminist conception includes also the private sphere. Our purpose is to feminize both the public and the “private.”
This is one of the reasons why Socialist Resistance has provision within its constitution for women members to meet together at all levels of the organisation at any time – in what we call women’s caucuses – so that those most affected by these issues have the possibility to come together and propose collective solutions, which should then be implemented by the organisation as a whole.
Some commentators have used this issue to attack everything the SWP has ever done – sometimes when they themselves have no tradition of supporting those fighting sexual violence. This is clearly not our position.
We also disagree with the conclusion that many seem to be drawing: that organisations on the left should not themselves seek to take any action over questions of sexual violence.
Rather, we believe that any organisation committed to revolutionary social transformation has to, as part of that process, commit itself to taking such action so that women in their organisations can exist and act in confidence.
The SWP is just about large enough to enable members who choose to live in a relatively closed political and social world. This is combined with the fact that many of its members, consciously or unconsciously, see themselves at the only revolutionary organisation of real significance. Overlaid with this is a Marxist understanding of the class, race and gender bias of the state’s system of justice. Despite the difficulties which can arise in cases of rape and sexual harassment, a political organisation has a responsibility to defend its members against such crimes and to establish a political culture, a code of conduct and internal procedures which can best achieve this aim. In fact, if an organisation is to regard itself as feminist, it must be in a position to defend its members against rape or sexual harassment.
This is not to argue that these issues, when they do arise, are easy to deal with – or that we are trying to suggest that we have all the answers; with the Delta case we do not know any of the substance of the allegations. It does mean that we think there are a number of principles that should guide any discussion about how to proceed.
If a complaint about sexual violence, harassment or rape is raised, the comrade concerned should be supported to contact a rape crisis centre or other appropriate resource if s/he has not already done so. The complainant should also be supported if she/he decides to go to the police and should certainly not be persuaded or pressurised not to do so.
It is therefore necessary for the organisation itself to deal with the issue whether or not the courts are involved and, if they are, in parallel with it. It would be unacceptable, for example, that a victim of abuse would be required to coexist in an organisation with the perpetrator – who in the case of a credible complaint – would have to be expelled or at least suspended whilst this procedure was going on.
Procedures should be put in place to support those bringing up such issues e.g. a female majority on the investigating body, the right of the complainant to have a supporter with them, the right of both parties to call as many witnesses as they want. Those procedures should be reviewed in deciding how to proceed with a particular case, to see if there are any additional measures that ought to be put in place.
Any organisation with a morally authoritative core group, which collaborates closely with new members, has to be aware of an imbalance of power relationships. This is particularly the case when older men and younger people are working together. There is scope for coercion, undue influence, subtle intimidation and inducement by favours.
It is hard to see how any woman joining the SWP could now have confidence that if she were raped or harassed by a senior man in the party, her case would be handled in a way that does not exonerate the perpetrator and stigmatise the victim. That is the implication of the “not proven” ruling.
At the time of writing, the SWP has made only one public response. In an extraordinary statement in Party Notes, which is also publicly available on their website[i], they dodge most of the salient points being raised by their own members, as well as by the left more generally. They conclude: “ As far we are concerned, this case is closed. This is not a ‘cover up’. It is a determination to reflect the decision of our conference. We believe that both parties to the case should have their right to confidentiality and their right as members in good standing respected.”
To the outside world, but in particular feminists, trade union militants and socialist activists, this attitude is complacent to the point of offensiveness. It is not even an attitude which commands general support inside the SWP, as many members who have to engage in real mass organisations understand very clearly how the handling of the rape allegations will be perceived. Their reservations were already apparent even at conference, when 18 delegates abstained from voting: the 231 votes in favour and 209 against hardly constitute a clear expression of confidence in the process.
Further, it seems evident that given the narrowness of their support at conference, an unprecedented situation, such a plea to treat the matter as closed was not going to be met with unquestioning obedience. This was never going to happen, with or without the leak to Socialist Unity.
The level of outrage evident in the transcript of the Dispute Committee’s report, and the visceral anger of many party members at the manifestly unjust handling of the allegations, meant that the instruction not to discuss the matter again would be breached immediately. A scandal on this scale was not going to disappear because a leadership and its paid employees insisted on it. It should be difficult for a Marxist to agree to this sort of self-censorship.
The ground for this absurd request had been prepared by the pre-conference expulsion of some comrades who had been discussing on Facebook how they would approach the conference. Given that in 2013 most people with computers are using social media sites to talk to friends, this is essentially the same as expelling them for talking about their own party conference. This is punishing people for thought crimes and has nothing in common with revolutionary socialist democracy but, while it was widely considered shocking, it was not judged surprising. Rightly or wrongly, the SWP is perceived by many activists to have a very low threshold for dissent and we have seen in recent years how every conference is accompanied by expulsions shortly before, or after, for differences that should be easily containable inside the same organisation.
Further, the basis on which the outgoing Central Committee proposed not to re-elect two of its former members, Ray Morall and Hannah Dee, to the new leadership following conference, was deeply disturbing. Charlie Kimber and Alex Callincos put it thus:
“The comrades not only attacked the statement’s endorsement of the Disputes Committee but also criticised the detailed defence of democratic centralism it offered (though they accepted the section on the expulsion of four comrades for organising a secret faction). It was the vehemence of their opposition to the statement that decided the majority of the CC that it would be dishonest to recommend to conference the existing slate as a Central Committee that could work together.
“We only propose that conference should remove Hannah and Ray because the minority four are very far from being a coherent political grouping. They are united negatively, as much as anything else as a mutual self-defence pact.
“The CC majority believe Hannah and Ray have in different ways destroyed the basis of trust essential for a leadership to work as a coherent body. ..”[ii]
SR does not follow the SWPs practice in having the outgoing Central Committee proposing its replacement. We think there are deep problems with that approach. But we think there are also huge problems in arguing that comrades cannot be part of a leadership because they have political differences – effectively arguing that leadership bodies need to be homogenous. In our tradition, on the contrary, minorities have the right to representation – and to decide who those representatives should be.
In the document The Dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist democracy the position of Socialist Resistance and the Fourth International is set out:
“In order to prevent any abuse of power by a vanguard party leading the working class under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the following principles are adhered to by the Fourth International:
“a) Fullest internal democracy of the party itself, with full rights for organising tendencies and a refusal to ban factions and possibilities of public debates between them before party congresses.”
The functioning of the socialist organisation has, to the best of its ability and the limitations of historical circumstances, to contain within it the seed of the socialist society. As Jane Kelly and Dave Packer wrote about a previous SWP conference:
“Democracy is not ‘icing on the cake’, but essential for the successful building of revolutionary or anti-capitalist parties.[iii]” It is heartening to see that many comrades in the SWP are now coming to a similar conclusion. Richard Seymour wrote on his influential site Lenin’s Tomb:
“More generally, a sane leadership might think about opening up year round communications so that party members can communicate with one another outside of conference season. They might think about creating more pluralistic party structures, ending the ban on factions outside of conference season and rethinking the way elections take place. Instead, they tell everyone in Party Notes that there will be no further discussion of the matter.”[iv]
The SWP has attracted some of the best socialist activists. It has introduced many thousands of people to the ideas of revolutionary Marxism during years of defeat and retreat. It is influential in many unions and campaigns. These are major gains for the British working class movement. But there is another side to this. Many of these militants have been trained to accept a level of submission to their leadership that they would consider unacceptable in any other area of their lives. They have often allowed themselves to be active participants in manifestly anti-democratic practices in the class struggle. Now they are being asked to move on from the most serious crisis in their party’s history, because they should trust the leadership and its handling of a rape charge. Comrades inside the party need to start drawing up a balance sheet of how they arrived at this situation – and the issue of democracy is fundamental in order to do that.
The entire radical left now has to reassess its understanding of feminism. The split in the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) had similar roots. It was about a majority of the SSP’s leadership unwillingness to lie to cover the then convenor Tommy Sheridan’s misogynist behaviour, both inside and outside the party. The SWP, a platform in the SSP at the time, backed Sheridan for tactical reasons. It now appears there may have been some solidarity from sections of the SWP leadership. Sheridan’s misogyny was well known by some of the SSP’s inner circle, who thought they could control it. It shows the fallacy of building a party on anything other than democracy and feminist principles. The Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) was destroyed because its unaccountable leader was allowed to sexually assault its members. George Galloway’s Respect is now reduced to a personality cult, due in no small measure to his failure to understand rape. The experiences of parties which collapse in this way is seldom positive. Most of the WRP’s cadre quickly drifted away from Marxism. We don’t yet know if the SWP will collapse or slowly lose members, alienated by its bureaucratic practices and disgusted by its handling of the rape allegations. We appeal to those who continue to identify with feminism and revolutionary Marxism to discuss among themselves and with those of us outside the party how, out of this awful situation, we can re-shape the left in Britain.
Socialist Resistance National Committee, January 19th 2013.
“The entire radical left now has to reassess its understanding of feminism.”
Well indeed. Hurrah to that. Glad this article has been written as it’s important to the debate.There is a low level of political insight and awareness around liberation politics from the revolutionary Left. If you stifle debate within your organisation and only use a top-down method of education then isn’t it any wonder sexism and unequal relationships between men and women exist on the Left. I recall the article SR wrote at the time of Sheridan and the implosion of the SSP… the conclusion was simple and correct, Sheridan betrayed the class.
This is also what happens when an organisation adopts workerism as an explanation for oppression… everything is subordinate to the class. The interests of the class collapses into the revolutionary party as defined by the revolutionary party. This dismissive attitude to feminism only weakens the struggle by ignoring it and/or making sweeping statements (“bourgeois”) (“academics”) about feminism. No analysis either of the dynamics of patriarchy… or the dialectical relationship between patriarchy and capitalism.
It still reminds me of when Sheila Rowbotham wrote about being told by the IS leadership that she was either a revolutionary or feminist… you couldn’t be both!
I think you can!
Am glad SR have written this article.
Totally agree with Louise. It is an excellent contribution to the debate and I am delighted to see a far left organisation show a much deeper integration of a feminist framework into this whole cataclysmic nightmare for those involved. Let’s not forget that our Mexican comrades wrote this in 1989 though and to be brutally honest it is a disgrace that the leadership of the SWP (or any other of the unreconstructed left groups where feminism is either a dirty word or a shallow veneer of words not practice) can come to be in this position.
Where do we go from here though and turn this crisis into a permanent shift in political culture of the far left? Where comrades who are of any gender or none can be assured they are not going to be subjected to abuse or bullying of any type – sexual, physical, psychological, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist etc. Where comrades can TRUST that if they are a victim of current or historic abuse in the movement that they will not endure this betrayal by the very people they look to for support.
Out of this crisis MUST come a committment to support victims of sexual violence/abuse where the perpetrator is a member of a far left group, trade union or campaign group we are involved in. Indeed this should be extended to victims of domestic/relationship abuse and of harassment/hate crime, other serious violent offences. There is no place for any of those behaviours within our movement and we should not abuse any privilege or personal power over others. Of course we are all human beings and have all been brought up in a culture which fetishes power and control over others. Our inner social animals who’ve been growing up in these patterns of domination – often subtle manipulations and ‘grooming’ of those around us. Abusers often manipulate victims from a very charming place and charismatic political leadership often comes with it’s pull of eroticism which makes it all the more imperative that we face this issue head on.
I am sure there is a wealth of experience from comrades across the far left, in many organisations or none, who have a good working knowledge of safeguarding good practice. It would be great if we could have a practical working conference on the issue bringing together those comrades who work or have experience of these issues and even asking some help from any supportive people we know who work in these areas, e.g. domestic abuse or sexual violence. Sounds radical to ask for help in areas we are weaker in but I feel like it would be part of the process the far left needs to go through … to learn to be reflective and emotionally intelligent as well as having the intellectual and activist know how.
This trauma ripple must be hitting many comrades very hard though and I have every respect for the integrity and political courage of those SWP comrades who stood up for the rights of the victim in this case and in doing so have made the rest of the far left take this issue seriously. The unbelievably damaging way in which the SWP leadership has treated this has exposed the fundamental flaws with their highly patriarchal version of ‘democratic centralism’ and their not unrelated attitude to feminism.
Just one more thing … can we make clear that when we say women and men that we are not necessarily buying-in to a binary or essentialist notion of gender and that our women’s caucuses are also open to transwomen.
Given the incredibly low bar, Socialist Resistance have no reason to be so proud of having produced what may be the best statement so far by a socialist organisation in response to recent events in the SWP. Yet self-satisfaction pervades this whole statement, a polishing of the anti-sexist halo that is the USFIs legacy on self-organisation of the oppressed.
While those are gains to be defended, and have undoubtedly influenced the positions of SR (e.g. as a lonely voice on the left supporting feminists within the SSP against Tommy Sheridan’s sexist bullying) this is nonetheless a deeply disappointing statement.
The starting point is that the ‘disintegration’ of the SWP, were it to happen, would be profoundly negative. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, no one can know exactly what a left without the SWP would look like, but there is certainly reason for optimism given the already large numbers of independent activists who were one-time members of the SWP but have nonetheless found a useful life beyond the party. The catastrophist tone is an implied critique of those, such as Tom Walker, who have resigned (thereby catalysing disintegration) over this issue and given the party a good kick on the way out.
Where Tom Walker’s resignation letter and Richard Seymour’s first statement, communicate a visceral disgust, any similar response from Socialist Resistance members is rendered undetectable in the abstract and euphemistic language used here. No doubt the Mexican section’s 1989 contribution is valuable, but what are these ‘changes in behaviour and in values that feminism proposes’ but which ‘are not accepted by society as a whole, nor by all revolutionaries’ in the private sphere? If you can barely name them, what hope have you to change them ‘starting today’.
Like other left commentaries, SR moves quickly from the difficult question of rape to the much easier terrain of democracy and the formal rights of women to organise. In doing so, you have missed an opportunity to educate and open up discussion in your own organisation, other left groups and the wider left about the nature of consent and the effects of living in a culture of pervasive sexual violence, effects that impact way beyond those who have been raped or sexually assaulted. There is an abundance of blatant misogyny on the left, a brief acquaintance with the comment threads on rape at Socialist Unity are just one example, where a self-identified socialist man may proclaim the acceptability of non-consensual sex (and its distinction from ‘real rape’) and a woman who dares take his statement on face value is banned from the site. This one interaction provides the perfect mirror of the wider culture, in which to allege rape is more worrying, more heinous, than rape itself.
Sexual violence is both a common experience and often a deeply traumatising one. This has consequences for how discussions take place if they are to include and not silence those who have been most directly affected. Tom Walker acknowledges this stating “I worry about conference delegates as well after that session. As more than one comrade said, they had never seen so many people in tears as there were in that room.” Without established policy and process, it is inevitable that those who complain of sexist or sexual violence within left organisations will be badly treated, however sympathetic individual comrades are. How long has the process outlined in the statement above existed. If it is a formal policy, when was it passed? Can this policy deal with ‘historic allegations’ of sexual violence taking place within SRs predecessor organisations, which are likely to surface as many individuals recollect their own experiences in left groups, including the British Section of the FI in its various iterations, in the light of events in the SWP.
While the British left has seen sexual violence as a marginal and potentially divisive issue, other feminists and their allies has got on with the job of developing thinking about how sexual violence is enabled and strategies to challenge it in the here and now. Socialist Resistance does not engage with these developments in this statement. I guess the gains of the 1970s are still a badge of honour to parade when so much of the left remains stuck in the 1950s.
While accepting Liam’s analysis as worthy of support; I wonder if SR will oppose the much maligned ” positive discrimination in favour of woman”. It is not worth discussion
The problem with it; it was a tool by New Labour to rid their party of traditional socialist members that opposed Blair’s Kitchen cabinet. He successfully killed the progressive forces of the left in the labour party by introduction of the anti feminist “Blair Babes”.
This group supported Blair’s wars and the eventual attacks on the family’
In my time within the New Labour Glasgow Kelvin branch I moved the motion to Keep GG as our standing MP. I was opposed to Patricia Godman using Blair’s unseemly strategy of “positive discrimination in favour of women”, because it was a witchhunt against a comrade whose oratory and politics I bought into.The motion was accepted.He kept his seat.
Liam, the SWP, is now engaged in fiasco inner party anti-democratic politics, Like GG they are now a millstone round the neck of progrssive thought and action and a total let down regards feminism aspirations.
The SWP through UAF,Anti War Coalition, LMHF and other fronts have a big following outside the political mainstream and no doubt will be about in testing times with all its warts. The remedy is in your last paragraph
I think that the fact that Blair (quite probably) used women-only shortlists to shoe-horn his supporters into parliament says something about the political degeneration of the Labour Party and nothing about the merits or demerits of positive discrimination. After all, he didn’t lack for male parliamentary support for all his reactionary policies!
I am surprised that you are trying to make this connection.
Surely it also says something that the left was unable to field sufficient women candidates in response to the move to women-only shortlists. Perhaps we need to look to ourselves in thinking about why this was.
But there were potential women candidates. The problem was that most of the women with decent politics, like most of the men with decent politics, had been drive out of the party. Look at what happened with Martha Ossamor and Liz Davies, to name just two of a long list of socialist women excluded from shortlists.
In which case, as PhilW says, not a problem with women shortlists per se, but with the machinations of the Blairite labour party in preventing women with decent politics getting on those shortlists and with the weakness of the left in being unable to fight this.
good to see this debated by people who appear familiar with the basic 101 of the issues involved. The comment about moving as fast as possible from discussing sexism and sexual violence on the left to more comfortable terrain is striking and most disappointing. It seems a detailed analysis of the internal structure of every left organisation is much preferable to discussing the rape of one socialist by another. The level of complacent ignorance displayed has been shocking. There is little appetite for reassessment of the analysis of sex and gender which is woefully inadequate throughout the left. good to see an attempt to change that.
On reflection, perhaps I had set my own bar too low, as I fundamentally agree with everything Heather has just written and can empathise with a good deal of what Jodley says too. That said, I think SR’s statement shows a higher level of understanding of the issues than anything else I’ve seen yet from a far left organisation. The FI experience is powerful and I have just come across the Indian socialist feminist Soma Marik who has written on the current struggle against rape and sexual violence on the International Viewpoint site below. I hasten to add that I am aware this statement came out of a careful discussion and the strong feeling of revulsion felt by the comrades involved at what has occured seems to have been lost in translation. The left needs to see that the primary issue here is the sexual abuse of comrades within the movement and not organisational methods … although the SWP’s approach to ‘democratic centralism’ has in my view left it wide open to the risk of political leaders abusing their power in this way … hence their antipathy towards feminism. The issues are related but the primary question right now is the issue of sexual violence and why it is a class issue and an issue for our movement.
Sorry, link to Soma Marik’s article is here:
The full statement from the Mexican comrades from 1989 is at: http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?rubrique156
Im not sure why Jodley reads the statement as critical of people like Tom Walker and Richard Seymour but that certainly wasnt and isnt its intention. One of the things it is trying to say is that everyone who is distressed +/angry about what has happened needs to engage with and learn from what the feminist movement has been saying about issues of sexual violence for decades.
Any statement that has, as its opener, that the disintegration of the SWP would be a negative outcome necessarily prioritises its continuing survival over the feelings of individuals who resign such as Tom Walker (“But how can we be expected to just turn off our horror at the whole thing? We are not robots. That is why I cannot stay another second.”) I don’t suggest that the statement is critical of Richard Seymour (though it contains nothing to compare with his “There isn’t enough bile to conjure up the shame and disgrace of all of this, nor the palpable physical revulsion, nor the visceral contempt building, nor the sense of betrayal and rage, nor the literal physical and emotional shattering of people exposed to the growing madness day in and day out.”
Engagement with what the feminist movement has to say about sexual violence is just what this statement does *not* do. My point was that activists on questions of consent (“feminists and their allies”) have *not* been saying the same thing ‘for decades’. Responding to and utilising social scientific research, responding to decades of failure to reduce prevalence of sexual violence and increase justice through real changes in police and court practices, they have been *developing* their thinking about how sexual violence is enabled and how to challenge it. Slutwalk is miles away from Reclaim the Night. And challenging the social license to operate that results from a thriving rape culture is different from proclaiming loudly that ‘no means no’.
Erm any organization which prioritized the feelings of those who left it over the organization’s political aims would only last till the following Tuesday lunchtime!
Erm, Tom Walker did not leave Socialist Resistance. Socialist Resistance are entitled to believe collectively that their own survival does not trump the feelings of individuals who leave it.
Organisations and individuals outside the SWP have to make a political judgment as to the legitimacy of the feelings (criticisms, if you prefer) of those who leave that organisation. Unless one takes an a priori position that the survival of the SWP trumps absolutely any other question – which is the attitude that the CC got into this mess in the first place. It’s just a bad starting point for a commentary on the recent events in the SWP.
Just to clarify, in saying SR are ‘entitled’, I meant only that any organisation will seek to perpetuate its own survival, so it would be understandable if their response to a member leaving its own ranks would be dictated by a belief that their own survival trumped all else. In the event of criticisms being raised by someone leaving an organisation, those outside that organisation do not have to prioritise its survival over all else.
Richard Seymour and others have a new website at http://internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/ which collates some important contributions on this question
“My point was that activists on questions of consent (“feminists and their allies”) have *not* been saying the same thing ‘for decades’. Responding to and utilising social scientific research, responding to decades of failure to reduce prevalence of sexual violence and increase justice through real changes in police and court practices, they have been *developing* their thinking about how sexual violence is enabled and how to challenge it.”
You are right Jodley, feminists have been far from united around these issues and so it is hardly surprising that among socialist feminists there will be a variety of views and ways of coming at the issue. That these can evoke intensely strong human emotions has probably (in my view) meant that comrades have been reluctant to face the very real power dynamics within internal cultures in left groups and in activist circles and how they are maintained and can be abused. Actively campaigning against rape and sexual violence involves more than having a list of excellent demands. It means comrades taking a personal commitment to educating themselves on how these offences truly impact on victims and survivors so they can be conscious of how to sensitively and appropriately support any victim that may disclose to them.
I accept that not everyone is comfortable with expressing ourselves in more emotional language than the Marxist left is used to. I absolutely respect that for many feminist women it has been a huge struggle to challenge the accusations often thrown at them by men on the left of behaving ‘too emotionally’. It is not for me or anyone else to say how people should emotionally engage with this but we really do need to respect that the vast majority of people WILL engage in a highly emotional way. The far left needs to listen to that and maybe step outside of the comfort zone of abstraction and face itself in the mirror in order for us to fully embrace the meaning of socialist feminism in practice, within the context of gender and sexual diversity that is not stuck in these old binaries.
Below is an excellent article about Sexual Violence and the Justice System by Mhairi McAlpine.
“In a country where the majority of people believe that a woman can be held responsible for her assault through her prior behaviour, and most young men state that would force a woman to have sex if they thought they could get away with it – a new method of addressing sexual violence must be found.”
I agree with both Jodley and Sam. I think Sam makes the valid point about the far left needs to maybe step outside of the comfort zone of abstraction. The reality is there are a number of women comrades who have experienced violence within the left. If it is discussed it is discussed from a theoretical perspective.
My own take on the issues raised http://harpymarx.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/revolutionaries-and-rape/
No one who contributed to putting together this statement had any information about the case other than what is in the public domain. However, it does seem reasonable that when one member of an organisation accuses another of rape that the victim should automatically be believed. This is doubly true when there is a history of allegations against the person accused.
It stretches credulity that a comrade so evidently committed to the party and displaying such faith in its structures would make such a serious allegation if it were not true. Given that the disputes committee felt it was sufficiently competent to investigate the complaint that attitude should have been its starting point.
I would go further and say that it should be the starting point of any socialist organisation.
You appear to be saying that such allegations are always true. If this is the case, the party’s crime was to have a hearing at all. I don’t believe such allegations are always true, but I think people who do believe so should say so openly in order for debate to be possible.
The statistics speak for themselves- 23% of UK women disclose being sexually assaulted or raped; 10-15% report to police 10% of those cases are taken to court by CPS; 58% convicted. Home Office estimates 3% false reports, inc; mentally ill, mistaken identity, mistake by 3rd party, malicious allegation. Unless you believe over 99% of women who disclose being attacked are lying, you must accept that in believing them you have a very, very high chance of being right.
The starting point of an enquiry inside a socialist organisation into an alleged rape should be that the victim is not a liar. I don’t think that should be controversial if the organisation wants to create an internal life in which woman to whom such things happen don’t have to be put through the same horrors the state’s enquiries offer.
That should be the approach which informs how such cases are handled. I find Mhairi McAlpine’s article below instructive.
I agree with Liam’s argument regarding cresting an internal life where a woman would feel able to talk about this. Great in theory but practice says different. The point is, John Mullen, nobody got a “fair” hearing even Comrade Delta re to this kangaroo court of investigation. The woman in question didn’t receive any justice nor was there a transparent and unbiased investigation. I mean, how could it when the “investigators” were the comrades of the accused. There are allegations about Delta that go back yet time and time again he’s let off the hook. What foes that say to you John Mullen? Also, that “investigation” was flawed from the start as it was never objective. Plus the power relationships between Delta and the woman. John Mullen I would be bloody disgusted and ashamed….
I don’t know what SR are doing re these issues raised. Organise meetings on these issues? Get involved in various initiatives on the ground. Certainly where I live there’s a young vibrant feminist movement. I think this is just a start you need to continue this discussion.
Jodley says “Just to clarify, in saying SR are ‘entitled’, I meant only that any organisation will seek to perpetuate its own survival, so it would be understandable if their response to a member leaving its own ranks would be dictated by a belief that their own survival trumped all else.”
Over twenty years ago a section of the Fourth International accepted that it had failed deal adequately (that is to the satisfaction of the women comrades) with accusations of rape/sexual aggression. The comrades responsible had been expelled or resigned but the women felt the organisation had not been self-challenging on the fact that leading male comrades had felt able to insist on sexual relations with women comrades using their prestige as male leaders who were at the time leading a major social movement. The women therefore had all resigned. The decision of the international conference of the FI was thus to remove the status of “section” (member) from the group which remained all male, and to maintain that status for the women. This was approved by a very broad majority in the Fourth International including the representatives of the group in question, thus removing a key section from membership.
Of course in our view this was the best way to ensure our own survival because we sincerely think that revolutionary Marxist organisations can only exist if they are also thoroughly feminist, even if that synthesis is not easy.
In addition I am saddened to see comments like this “the far left needs to listen to that and maybe step outside of the comfort zone of abstraction and face itself in the mirror in order for us to fully embrace the meaning of socialist feminism in practice” which seem to me to dismiss the contributions of feminist and revolutionary women comrades such as the Mexicans as being in a “comfort zone of abstraction” without perhaps any real knowledge of what the situation is actually like in different countries around the world.
Of course, that particular comment of mine was in reply to John Mullen’s “any organization which prioritized the feelings of those who left it over the organization’s political aims would only last till the following Tuesday lunchtime!” and not a particular dig at the FI or its British Section – simply an observation that SR is not the SWP and doesn’t have to accept the priorities of an SWP loyalist. Moving on….yes the Japanese section got removed from membership and replaced with an organisation of the Japanese women (or was the formal position that they were both sympathising sections?) for a time. Today the mixed-gender JCRL is now listed as ‘an organisation of the FI’ on IVP website. I’m sure the rest of the left globally can learn a lot from this experience – are there any published reflections by the section and the FI on this process that have been translated into English and which you could link to?
My point was to underline that an organisation that is attempting to integrate feminism with revolutionary Marxism should be capable of taking decisions could be seen as against its own interests (in a short-term view).
The decision was precisely as I outlined it. The women’s group were members, the male group had no status at all. Today recognition of the JRCL as the section is pending, dependent on other questions. The rubric on the IVP website lists: Fourth International sections and journals, sympathising organisations, organisations including FI supporters and organisations with the status of Permanent Observers.
Certainly Penny, I accept your comment about global feminism but you cannot escape the fact that women are still facing violence on the revolutionary left. The UK left specifically the revolutionary left in dismissing feminism. Instead there is this workerist attitude.
“Certainly Penny, I accept your comment about global feminism but you cannot escape the fact that women are still facing violence on the revolutionary left. ”
This fact doesn’t escape me. But I think we should also recognise and support the effort women in revolutionary organisations have made and are making an effort to change them to make them fit for purpose; that is feminist and revolutionary organisations. This is why I find dismissing what they say as coming from a “comfort zone of abstraction” a disappointing lack of solidarity and empathy.
I agree having a sectarian dig at the SWP’s recent problems – as some have done – is not the best way to deal with the serious issues involved. For this reason the latest article at http://www.critical-mass.net is entitled ‘Clinging onto Patriarchy’ and considers how the whole of society – including the left – is dominated by patriarchal forms which result in various forms of marginalisation and exploitation of women – and not just in the SWP. Regards, Roy
Can I suggest that anybody who thinks that the idea that the patriarchal capitalist sytem we live in also affects the revolutionary left is new read the following twenty-year old resolution of the Fourth International: http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article143. The title “Positive Action” is really inadequate to indicate the scope of its analysis of the place of women in our organisations.
And of course the idea that capitalist society cannot be a school for the proletariat had already been formulated before that.
Let’s stop taking the SWP model at their valuation: the possibility existed and exists within revolutionary left organisations, even ones who value Lenin, for a different better understanding and practice.
Yes indeed! The subjection of women as an issue was discussed by Bachofen, Briffault, Mclennan and Morgan (among others) in the 19th century and early 20th. On the anti-capitalist left this was taken up by Marx in the 1844 Manuscripts and Engels, in ‘Origin of the Family etc.. As Marx noted the relationship of Man to Woman “..reveals’ the extent to which Man’s natural behaviour has become ‘human’ or the extent to which the ‘human’ essence in him has become a ‘natural’ essence – the extent to which his ‘human nature’ has become natural to him.” Yet despite strong words so little has changed in reality. Hence the title of my piece at http://www.critical-mass.net. ‘Clinging onto Patriarchy’.
Marx was a man of his Victorian time: e.g. a patriarch. But he gave us the analysis and tools to deconstruct patriarchy at the heart of capitalism and all levels in the developments of different modes of production.
Marx’s gender blindness to patriarchy should not be a problem to socialist feminists in a combined struggle against capitalism and patriarchy.
Patriarchy is a specific mode of production with the nuclear family being its site and the surplus value that it creates by women is generated from unpaid domestic work and children’s work too.
Starting to talk about patriarchy as an economic system baed on the exploitation of women’s work including sexual services and emotional support to men alongside Marx’s analysis of capitalism and the class struggle is the only way we will ever enable women to become equal to men. This would also provide a theoretical and practical framework to defeat fundamentalism.