Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment – Protocols for dealing with sexual abuse

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These protocols are the product of international collaboration over the last several months among the current parties in the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR): the Partido Obrero Socialista-México, the Partido Socialismo y Libertad-Argentina and the Freedom Socialist Party-U.S. and Australia. Established in 2013, CRIR is an effort to promote collaboration among revolutionary forces around a common platform that includes prioritizing the promotion of women’s revolutionary leadership in every political arena. Developed initially to address the problem of sexual misconduct and abuse on the Left and in labor unions, we now offer these protocols to a broad spectrum of social movement organizations as a tool to deal with internal problems generated by patriarchal society. To contact CRIR, email cririnter@gmail.com

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.

Today working women are leading an outpouring of resistance against oppressive working conditions. Where sexual abuse is concerned, they are naming names, from the highest to the lowest, from the centers of corporate power and imperialism to the universities and factory floors, from the maquilas and agricultural fields to the churches, restaurants, offices and hotels. 

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 rightwing, anti-communist forces. Among those parties which are facing charges of sexual abuse by leaders are a number of Trotskyist organizations. 

Development of these protocols 

The Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR), a Trotskyist regroupment project, has from its initial meeting placed fighting for the liberation of women at the top of our agenda. Our founding platform contains the following statement:

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. How are such serious charges to be dealt with by committed radicals in ways respectful of victims of abuse? What about due process for those accused? 

How can an organization clear its name if the charges are anonymous or the result of rightwing political animosity and government repression? 

These are important questions that require a protocol that recognizes violence, rape and sexual abuse are political issues of the first priority and that as Trotskyists we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of personal and political behavior in order to be of any service to the struggle for socialism and human liberation.

An issue of primary political importance

The failure of revolutionary organizations to grasp the importance of the fight for women’s liberation brings CRIR no joy. We recognize it as a political failure of our movement which, of course, is not isolated from the global patriarchy that lays the basis for machismo and male domination in all spheres of life.

One of Trotskyism’s core principles is seeking to understand the relationship between the unfinished democratic tasks of our time and the socialist revolution. But when it comes to feminism, the top leadership seems to have slept through the last half of the 20th century. They have not internalized the reality that feminist struggles all over the globe are shaking longstanding assumptions of male domination in both domestic and public life.

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, in mass organizations, in personal relations, and on the job and in the union. 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 within the social movements and the working class.

So why does male chauvinism persist within some socialist organizations? We believe that calls to practice “revolutionary morality”—by which is meant the need for men in socialist organizations to make common cause with their class sisters and change their sexist outlook and behavior—is an inadequate response to the violent injuries sustained by women. It simply does not go far enough. 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.

It is also true that “revolutionary morality” can be used as an abstraction that has its roots in a convenient anti-feminist ideology. This ideology holds that placing an emphasis on women’s struggle as a gender for emancipation is “dividing the working class.” It is an old lie that upholds male privilege and the patriarchy and has been a curse within the socialist and communist movements. In practice, it has driven thousands of women out of revolutionary organizations for good. As a result, the revolutionary socialist movement worldwide has been weakened. The price? Lost leaders and potential leaders, especially among youth, many of whom have an advanced understanding of the importance of equality between the sexes in the struggle for human liberation.

Trotsky argues that actions must be judged in the concrete historical context in which they take place. The fact that cases of sexual abuse and assault are seemingly almost commonplace today within left organizations is a shocking fact. But for serious revolutionaries it is much more than that. 

It 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. 

The protocols 

There are two kinds of situations faced by revolutionary organizations—ones where the charges are made by members against other members and ones where the charges are made by non-members, sometimes anonymously.

Responding to internal accusations of sexual abuse or domestic violence

When accusations of abuse arise within a revolutionary organization, it is necessary to form an internal commission to investigate the charges and decide on appropriate action. The person accused should be informed of the complaint as soon as it has been made to an elected leader, whether on the national or local level, and the accuser informed of this action. 

Next a commission composed of a majority of rank and file women members should be formed, if possible.

Commission members ought to be among the most respected and trusted comrades in membership. 

The commission may also include comrades outside the organization, such as recognized activists or representatives of other organizations. This would require the agreement of all those involved.

As soon as feasible, testimony should be taken from all those who wish to speak to the commission whether they belong to the group or not, and a decision made within a matter of weeks, not months, and communicated to the membership, including what action, if any, will be taken. An educational approach is recommended.

During investigations, attention should be paid to the treatment of the alleged victims of abuse so that they are not victimized again by the investigatory process. On the other hand, people who are accused must have due process and an opportunity to defend themselves. It is up to the group to decide whether to make the findings and remedial action public; the point is to deal with these incidents as a serious political issue.

 It is up to the group to decide whether to make the findings and remedial action public; the point is to deal with this incident as a serious political issue. 

It is important to recognize that even with high ideals, revolutionary organizations cannot stop all sexual and physical assault; we are a part of the violent, patriarchal, capitalist world we live in. But by setting the bar high for relations among comrades and dealing seriously, quickly and educationally with any incidences of abuse, we can demonstrate the kind of relations socialists endeavor to create in a new socialist world. 

Finally, we recognize that all victims of rape, domestic violence, etc. have the option of filing charges with the police. There are many reasons why this may be dangerous given the threat of the police using this against the organization, the sexist disregard police and courts have toward violence against women and LGBTQ people, and the reality that the prison system exists to punish not rehabilitate. Still, a victim of abuse may feel compelled to try and stop the perpetrator from hurting anyone else and a revolutionary organization should not stand in the way. 

When charges are made by non-members

When accusations of sexual abuse are made by non-members against members of left groups or organizations, the investigation can most productively be conducted by an Independent Commission composed of respected leaders in the social, labor and left movements. This is the best way to show that an organization has nothing to hide and takes sexual exploitation seriously. If the charges arise from anonymous leaflets, their authors should be called out of hiding to make a public statement. This would be a way to reveal whether they are animated by political hostility or genuine concern for sexual exploitation. Responding with violence and/or intimidation against groups or individuals who claim abuse is completely counter-productive and even counter-revolutionary.

The Independent Commission should be composed of a majority of women and conduct its investigation in a timely manner, respecting both the rights of the alleged victim and the accused. Anyone with information related to the charges should be allowed to speak before the Commission and its findings made public. 

Conclusion

There is a great need on the Left and in social movement organizations for self-evaluation and focus on preventing sexual harassment and rape in the first place, not just handling it after claims are made. That comes down to politics: the theoretical understanding of the origins of women’s oppression and male dominance and the practice of developing women’s leadership within radical organizations.

* * *

Outline for implementing these protocols

We understand that the present document is not a recipe for resolving cases of sexual violence. Each case is different and has its own characteristics. The commission must understand and be sensitive to this fact. Even so, these protocols constitute a tool since they seek to provide guidance, order and transparency in the handling of these cases. Below is a summary of the proposed actions.

When an allegation of abuse involves members within an organization:

1) The alleged victim reports abuse to the leadership as defined by the group.

2) The person accused is informed.

2) Establishment of an Internal Commission to conduct the investigation. This Internal Commission needs to consist of respected and honorable grassroots members of the organization. It needs to be composed of a majority of rank-and-file women, if possible.

4) The Internal Commission will take statements from all those who wish to address it.

5) The Internal Commission will decide whether to take corrective action or make public its findings.

6) Aspects that need to be considered:

– Avoid revictimization of the complainant.

People who are accused have the right to defend themselves.

– The complainant has the option to file charges with the police.

When charges are made by non-members of an organization:

1) The alleged victim reports abuse to the leadership as defined by the group.

2) Establishment of an Independent Commission to investigate made up of respected leaders in the movements.

3) The Independent Commission needs to be composed of a majority of women, if possible.

4) Aspects that need to be considered:

– Avoid revictimization of the complainant.

People who are accused have the right to defend themselves.

5) The Independent Commission will make public its findings.

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