Tag Archives: apology

A letter to my sisters & brothers

Standard

dsc_5820

A guest post by Bolshie Elane

The decisions that the SWP makes this weekend do indeed matter— as the war on terror continues to rage, and the era of Austerity marks the most determined war on our class. Here in the UK the Coalition is dismantling the welfare state, in the process hitting hard women, whose most secure job prospects have been in the public sector, and making war on migrants.

We desperately need a dynamic, open, revolutionary left that can build on the best things the SWP has done in the past; that can take the tradition of socialism from below and carry the flame of historical experiences of our class into current debates on strategy. We need a left that can respond to new challenges and understand the changes in how capital is organising, that can take initiatives, push struggles forward, unite strands of resistance and always, that can fight in solidarity with everyone trying to fight capitalism.

Everyone who has stayed in the SWP in its current crisis-and everyone who has left in disgust and despair, sometimes after decades of membership, agrees on that.

So how can the SWP find its way back from this crisis over the abuse of young women? How can the lost generation-denounced as creeping feminists and driven from the branches be won back?

It cannot be done by pretending that a scandal over rape and sexual harassment in which hundreds have been driven out and the complaints speak of intimidation, bullying and harassment is simply a matter for robust debate and has no impact on the party’s political position on women’s liberation.

In a brief period several women have brought complaints about a CC member who resigned rather than answer the second complaint, while concerns that a jury of his friends and colleagues began with the interests of “the party” and not of the well-being of a young comrade have been widespread. There has also been criticism of another rape allegation against an organiser being dealt with only by time limited suspension and finally yet another rape complainant writes that she was harassed by members of the DC earlier this year and warned off bringing a complaint.

There have been many examples of good politics and good practice over the years that the SWP has organised when it comes to dealing with sexism and harassment. There have been countless little and big examples of challenging sexism, many times when oppressive behavior and especially harassment was driven out by expulsion and the political implications discussed. But to misquote Cliff, “don’t tell me all the good things you have done, you are only as good as your last case”.

Over the years alongside all that good stuff, there have also been times, even before this crisis when sexual harassment and rape have gone by, never even referred to the disputes committee, because it was inconvenient to raise it, admit it, and talk about it. Because the man doing it was important in some way. Or because the woman complaining was not. Because the culture has frowned upon, but not taken seriously, those men who have time and again treated young women around them as if all might be sexual conquests. Because somewhere along the line a debate with a particular brand of “feminism” in the 1970s and 1980s has become an assault on all struggle for reforms for women that address anything other than directly economic issues. Because an idea has grown up that SWP women are strong and confident class fighters and therefore, they just won’t be hurt or bothered, by sexual harassment.

There is no way out of the crisis in the SWP that does not openly state a clear apology to the women who have suffered abuse and then been attacked for complaining. That needs to be a proper apology in which the leadership explain clearly what the women suffered.

A public apology won’t make it okay. But it will mark recognition that what has happened was wrong and a determination to put it right.  There is no way out that does not admit that the party has been tainted by the contradictory attitudes of the 1970s and 80s in regard to sexual harassment and rape and needs to take urgent action to change the culture in which young women complaining of rape and sexual harassment can be accused of “reimagining the experience by viewing it through a feminist prisim”; or of being police spies; or jealous and bitter.

There has to be a reckoning with what has gone so wrong that the party allows men who engage in such crude sexism as to treat their young sisters as sex objects can rise to the top and then mobilise the party machine and cadre to defend them from the young women who don’t accept it.  There needs to be a clear rejection of the rape myths the political confusion that has been spread—for example the argument that the accused CC member (a white middle-aged man accused by young women in subordinate positions) is in the same place as the Scottsboro boys.

The appeal to members to unite and just move on is what Cliff used to call, a fudge. This is a fudge in which those who have been pushing rape myths and bullying members are holding to ransom everyone who feels something very wrong has happened but desperately wants to keep the party they have worked so hard to build together.

The appeal will not work. The party cannot go on expecting its young new women members to accept harassment and abuse and stay quiet because the left in Britain so desperately needs an organised, hardworking party of revolutionaries.  The fudge cannot do because unless what is wrong is understood; then it is going to happen again.  It happened to me.

There can be no real comradeship in which every aspect of the party—its ideas, its rules and disputes procedures, the example set by the leadership—are not mobilised against sexual harassment and abuse of members by the leadership. Appeals for unity without that are nothing more than an appeal to the victims of abuse to let it pass.

The unity of our class does not rest on the oppressed accepting oppression and staying quiet in the face of injustice. It does not wait for socialism—we fight for it every day in our workplaces, in our estates and our society. The only unity possible in a revolutionary socialist organisation is the unity against exploitation and oppression because unity rests on solidarity.  A revolutionary party that cannot offer equality to its women members is on a road away from the traditions of the IST.

It is indeed a few seconds to midnight—and the responsibility to save the party rests with those who have been so busy destroying it. Admit you are wrong, apologise and begin to think seriously about what a commitment to women’s liberation means in the 21st century, to a generation of young women who expect their right to genuine consent to be respected and will not silently tolerate anything less.

The two women are still owed a proper apology

Standard

brumno

This piece was originally published in the SWP’s pre-conference bulletin 1. It was of course heavily edited by the CC. Even with those changes, I think it is appropriate to republish it now, at a time when the detail of the cases is much more widely known within the party. On a second reading, some of the details here may take on added significance. In particular, I think it is important for comrades to be aware of the gracelessness and hostility with which the CC acted on the DC’s advice that it should make a (limited) apology to the second complainant

The SWP has suffered the worst year in the party’s history. We have had to have three conferences in one year, the numbers attending Marxism have fallen by half, and the party has suffered hundreds of resignations. Everywhere in the organisation, we see ageing and decay. If the SWP is to survive, we desperately need to change course.

The basis of survival is at least clear. First, there will need to be a significant change in our leadership: at the minimum it will need to involve the removal of the minority of our old CC who voted against the adoption of the second DC report and of Alex Callinicos, whose intervention at our January conference (“this is war”) set the party up for our last eight months of continuous internal conflict. A new set of comrades needs to emerge, not selected on the basis of how they voted in the last 8 months, but on whether they are capable of moral leadership and of playing a consensus role.

Second, at every level of the organisation, we need to break the culture of “following orders”. It was this mentality, that the next rank up of leadership is perfect, which led the first DC into repeated errors. How can you properly investigate a leadership you have been trained to think infallible? The purges which members of our outgoing CC have authorised in North London, Walthamstow, and Manchester must stop. The relationship between the CC and NC, and between each of them and the branches, needs to be reversed. Initiative has to be allowed to come from below.

Third, there needs to be a public and meaningful apology to the two women at the centre of the complaint. After our conference in January 2013, Charlie Kimber wrote to all members of the SWP saying, “We believe that both parties to the case should have their right to confidentiality and their right as members in good standing respected.”

Eight months later, no-one can pretend that the situation is still the same. The person about whom the first complaint was made (until 2013 a member of our Central Committee) has resigned from the party, and following a second complaint our disputes committee has found that he has a case to answer on a complaint of sexual harassment.  He is no longer a mere non-member of the SWP, and if he wanted to join the party, he would have to apply to join.

The phrase “case to answer” is itself curious. The former CC member resigned from the party in July 2013, just weeks before the DC that was due to hear complaints against him. A decision was taken, even before the DC investigation had begun, that the disputes procedure investigating the second complaint would be limited to the two options only of “case to answer” or “no case to answer”.

Where an employer investigates a complaint against a worker, or a grievance against a manager, or where a union investigates misconduct, or where a professional body investigates allegations of misconduct casting doubt on a worker’s fitness to conduct their profession, in the employment tribunal, or in the family or criminal courts – all of which investigate complaints of sexual harassment – an investigation is not halted halfway merely because the person subject to the complaint says “sorry, I won’t attend a hearing”. In all these other bodies, a decision maker investigates, and makes a decision as to what probably happened. In all of them, a wilful refusal to attend is taken as a small but significant sign of guilt.

Only in the police, where senior figures are allowed routinely to resign to forestall misconduct investigations, is there a culture of protecting senior figures by refusing to investigate fully when the senior figure resigns, and stopping a decision short of saying robustly, “yes, on the evidence before us, he did it”.

The DC recommended that the party apologise to the second complainant because her move to another place of work and to a more mundane job with less political content, caused her “unintended but nonetheless real hurt and distress”. Our outgoing CC waited a month before belatedly accepting the need to apologise in these terms. Its apology was partial and expressed its reservations with the DC report.

If the party wants to remove the terrible stain that has accumulated over the last three years, we will have to go further, and apologise properly and publicly to each of the two women.

In terms of the second complaint, the DC did not go far enough in suggesting that the party only needed to apologise for moving her but not for the sexual harassment which was what her complaint was about.

Following the most exhaustive investigation of which the party is capable, a two-day hearing in which a number of witnesses were heard and documents read, it was found that the former CC member had a case to answer for sexually harassing the complainant.

The period of time her complaint relates to is one when she worked for the party and he was our National Secretary, the person who appoints everyone else who works for the SWP. Part of her complaint was that it was his role as her employer which meant that she was required to keep on seeing him.

There could be no logic to justify saying: “We accept the complaint of sexual harassment has enough merit so that we can decide to place an obstacle on the former CC member rejoining the party, but we do not believe it has enough merit to oblige us to apologise to the woman concerned.”

In terms of the first complaint, the reasons for an apology are slightly different. Part of the need relates to our process of disputes procedure reform. In drawing up new procedures the party has accepted that our old rules were not good enough. But those were the rules under which her complaint was heard. If our old procedures need change; it must follow that the complainant has not had what we now consider a fair hearing.

There is another reason. In both complaints the women wanted an investigation of what they said was sexual conduct involving the same man. If the decisions had been heard in the reverse order, with the first complaint determined after the second, then by the time the first complaint had been heard we would have already decided that there was a case to answer on a complaint of sexual misconduct.

Anyone who has ever been involved in even the simplest kind of workplace investigation will know what this means. Where a company investigate a worker for two thefts or two assaults, and finds on one of them “case to answer”, the second hearing is inevitably more robust. The worker has to do so much more to be heard and believed where at first sight there appears to be a pattern of similar behaviour by him.

The same point applies with even more force in the courts, where what is called “similar fact” evidence is allowed in sexual cases – the similarity of the behaviour justifies placing an extra burden on a person to disprove the case against them.

For all these reasons, the part has a choice. The CC could say now to the first complainant, “We don’t know whether all your complaint was true, and in truth we will never have the complete answer. But we are serious about our politics, and if there is any possibility at all he did it, that is enough for us, we will apologise to you.”

Or, if that is a step that our outgoing CC will not take, the new report into the future of the DC recommends there should be an appeal process against the DC’s decisions. If this is the only way in which the party will allow proper findings about our former National Secretary, then so be it. To reclaim any scrap of authority, the party must revisit the first complaint – and, this time, investigate it fairly and properly.

You cannot re-build a party around an injustice. As part of the steps needed to bring the party’s crisis to a conclusion which we can explain to the outside world, the two women who made complaints each require a full, public apology.