A few months ago, I resigned from the Socialist Party. The trigger for this was the hypocritical cant published by Hannah Sell about dealing with sexual assault and domestic violence in the labour movement, at the culmination of a series of events which involved a complete lack of punishment for a Socialist Party member who had sexually assaulted another, the cover up, attacks upon the victim, and an attempt to string out the appeals process to make the problem go away. Sara Mayo has now published a statement on Violence Against Women in the labour movement, the culmination of a collaborative process with many who have supported Sara inside and outside of the Socialist Party. It can be found here.
I am unable to sign the document, as I believe it has a number of things that I am unwilling to sign up to, but I urge anyone interested in justice, and an effective labour and socialist movement to carefully and thoughtfully read the document. Even if you do not ultimately sign up to the document, there is much of value in it.
I should clarify my reasons for not signing it. First of all, I believe that the events that have occurred to trigger a lot of introspection about these sorts of issues on the left – the SWP and ‘Comrade Delta’, and Sara’s treatment by the Socialist Party – are primarily manifestations of deep-rooted problems on the left, and the parties of the far-left. These are conservatism, dogmatism, a culture of secrecy and cliques (this fosters the spread of rumours on the internet, leading to a peculiar hostility to the internet and the sort of communication unmediated by the party’s hierarchy and structures), an unwillingness to conduct serious critical assessment about the failures of methods of organisation, an opportunism when it comes to ‘defending the party’ by dismissing any accusations made against prominent trade unionists or full-timers, and a way of managing dissent that stymies, delays, channels and ultimately explains away disagreements (this often involves attacking the arguer rather than the argument, as disaffected, impatient, isolated, ignorant, and increasingly, arrogant – after all, if the revolutionary party is the ‘memory of the working class’, what right have you to disagree with the accumulated historical wisdom of the working class?).
I do not think that an ingrained misogyny or ‘rape culture’ or ‘patriarchy’ is the main problem here. I don’t deny that misogyny and violence – sexual or otherwise – isn’t a massive problem in society, and that the left is not immune to these. I do question the usefulness of concepts such as ‘rape culture’ and ‘patriarchy’ however. On the latter, the fact that Hannah Sell was one of the worst players in the events in the Socialist Party highlights that patriarchy was not the problem, but that the way the Socialist Party operates, and its internal culture, certainly is.
I have two more problems with the document. I do not agree with the mention of Steve Hedley. There may be valid criticisms of the process by which Caroline Leneghan’s complaint was handled by the RMT, but ultimately he has been found guilty of nothing. The fact that only in a tiny minority of cases are accusations made by women against abusive men actually false does not mean that any accusation is evidence enough of a man’s guilt. It should inform the process of investigation however, which should always operate from the principle that from the outset the complainant should be treated as if she was (or he was, in the lower number of cases of abuse against men) telling the truth. This should go alongside the continued presumption of innocence before reasonable proof of guilt for the accused.
The other factor is the reference to ‘Safe Spaces’ policies. I have seen such things referred to as looking like HR documents, and indeed they are. They are examples of regulating and bureaucratising human relations, which in the end only ever benefits the bureaucrats. And it is the culture of bureaucracy that gave rise to the appalling ways in which complaints of sexual assault were dealt with by the SWP and SP recently.
Those criticisms aside, the initiative that lies behind the document are laudable. The labour movement is no place for domestic violence or sexual assault, or for backward ways of dealing with them. The document produced primarily by Sara Mayo will hopefully promote further discussion of how we go about changing this.
Finally, a point about publicity. One of the arguments used against those who wish to discuss such things publicly is that it will ‘damage the left’. I disagree. The way the left has behaved is damaging the left. Trying to hide the consequences under the rug not only won’t work anymore (another reason why the bureaucrats hate the internet, no doubt -see footnote for an observation on this though), it prevents a serious discussion about how the left can build and grow, and deal with its problems in an open and constructive way, rather than defensively dismissing criticism and opposing viewpoints all the time.
Footnote – I am surprised that the case in the Socialist Party has not received more publicity. The assault which took place was admitted by the perpetrator Woodward, who rather than being apologetic somehow found out that his victim had left the Socialist Party, and promptly posted a nasty message on the Socialist Party facebook page attacking the victim and questioning her mental state. The ‘Socialist Unity’ website run by pseudo-intellectual liar and Labourite creep Andy Newman usually takes any opportunity it can to publicise misdeeds in the far-Left, but GMB activist Newman has remained silent on the crimes of GMB official Woodward. Surely a coincidence.