A radical approach to sexual abuse in working-class organizations

A crowd of women, some carrying babies, in a park gesture toward the camera.
Performance of “A Rapist in Your Path,” Mexico City, November 29, 2019. Mass performances of this feminist anthem denouncing sexual abuse, patriarchy, and capitalism have been performed across Latin America and the world since its debut in Chile on November 25, 2019. PHOTO: Wotancito
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In May 2020, the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR) made a major contribution to the Left and unions. It published Protocols for dealing with cases of rape and sexual misconduct. Many other groups ignore this elephant in the room while a few have laid out legalistic, establishment formulas for dealing with allegations. On the other hand, CRIR has developed a political road map for defending women based on supporting their leadership.

CRIR is a groundbreaking international collaboration of revolutionary parties that aims to build solidarity in action and defense of the most oppressed — “especially women, youth, racial and sexual minorities, immigrants, and Native and Indigenous peoples.” A Trotskyist regroupment project, its current members are Partido Obrero Socialista-México, Partido Socialismo y Libertad-Argentina, Movimento Revolucionário Socialista–Brasil, and Freedom Socialist Party-U.S. and Australia.

The path to the Protocols began soon after CRIR was formed when several other socialist organizations were rocked by women’s charges against male leaders of rape or sexual assault. Among them were the Mexican section of Fracción Trotskista-Cuarta Internacional (FT-CI) and the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The groups’ failure to take charges seriously and investigate them fairly caused damaging internal splits and widespread condemnation from feminists. (See  “Feminism and the crisis in the British SWP.”)

As a result, CRIR tasked the FSP-U.S. with drafting proposed protocols which were then discussed internally by the membership of each CRIR affiliate, amended and adopted by the committee as a whole.

Sexual abuse and discrimination are widespread beyond the Left, but they are particularly corrosive to radical and working-class organizations which claim to fight for social justice. Ultimately, entrenched, unacknowledged sexism (to say nothing of sexual assault!) sidelines women in the struggle for fundamental change. And without women’s full and active participation, victory in any fight is impossible at this stage of human history.

Below are key excerpts from the Protocols.

• • •

Introduction. Women worldwide are on the rise against male chauvinism and all its brutal by-products — domestic violence, rape, sexual humiliation on and off the job, discrimination in employment, and the inequality of pay and educational opportunity. The beautiful international women’s marches in January 2017, January 2018 and March 2020 are the smoke and fire from a massive volcano of female hopes and dreams deferred. They are the rumblings of an explosion which, having been so long delayed, is becoming more powerful and widespread every day. …

The rising of half the human race against their oppression should be cause for celebration among revolutionaries. Unfortunately, too many revolutionary parties are on the wrong side of history. Their leaders stand accused of sexual abuse and their organizations are charged with either trying to discredit the female accusers or frame the abuse accusations as political attacks by right-wing, anti-communist forces. …

Development of these protocols. … At the same time as we fight against capitalist exploitation, we also fight for the emancipation of women from all the oppression they face. The working class will not be able to summon all the force it needs against its exploiters, and socialism will not exist, without a true and real equality between men and women and women’s decisive participation in the struggle for human liberation.

We therefore consider the current crisis faced by various groups a key political question for the working class and revolutionaries everywhere. …

An issue of primary political importance. … A 21st century, revolutionary organization must place women’s freedom from the stranglehold of a macho organizational culture at the center of everything it does, if it wants to be relevant and principled. And its leaders must exemplify this approach in and out of the party. … It is not just a matter of how it handles charges of misconduct by members or non-members. It is a matter of the priority placed on developing women’s leadership within organizations and emphasizing their struggles for emancipation as a critical factor in the struggle for socialism. It is impossible to develop women leaders in an organization where women’s safety, integrity, intelligence and human rights are not valued and protected. If women’s voices are strangled, it affects the whole organization by perpetuating a lack of trust among members and supporting a macho, bureaucratic subculture within the group. And it undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the organization. …

So why does male chauvinism persist within some socialist organizations? … Exhortations for correct behavior become a substitute for holding violators accountable, especially if they are in leadership. It is usually the case that where women’s voices, experiences and leadership are stifled or denied, an infallible bureaucracy arises which constricts the whole membership, especially the young. And defense of the bureaucracy becomes the group’s first duty. …

The fact that cases of sexual abuse and assault are seemingly almost commonplace today … is taking place at the same time as two great new developments — today’s global rising of women against their oppression and the deepening awareness by the international proletariat of capitalism’s fatal flaws. In this context, it is critical that we show that we understand the political ramifications of a failure to address the current crisis on the Left. If we cannot deal with cases of sexual abuse and violence fairly and sensitively, we will drive women and conscious male activists away from radical politics. If, on the other hand, our organizations become role models of how to create a joyous, mutual comradeship between women and men while taking sexual harassment and assault seriously, we will have played an important role in advancing revolution in our time.

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The CRIR Protocols outline different steps to take when one member makes a charge against another or when a non-member accuses a member. For charges between members, an internal commission made up of rank-and-file members is recommended, with a majority being women. When a non-member is the victim, it’s proposed that the group set up an independent commission of respected movement leaders who are not members to investigate and recommend action.

Read the powerful, full Protocols for dealing with sexual abuse here.

The Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR) brings together revolutionary organizations of different countries to work toward founding a new socialist international. Read CRIR’s program here. Contact email: CRIRinter@gmail.com.

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