Rape, Sexual Assault, and the U.S. Socialist Organization Solidarity

by Joaquín Bustelo (Solidarity, U.S.) on July 26, 2013

There has been in the past day or so a Facebook frenzy over a “rape resolution” that supposedly has been adopted by, or is about to be adopted by, the U.S. socialist organization Solidarity.

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Following the crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a group of comrades in Solidarity offered to draft a policy document on the issue of gendered violence. What has been made public is only a small portion of the entire document; the full text can be downloaded here.

As the introduction explains, “The majority of this committee agreed to place this document before the membership at our convention, even though there is not complete agreement on some key aspects of its content.” My understanding is that was done because the convention meets July 26-28 to prepare whatever discussion and action might be taken under this point which had been placed on the agenda.

I am making it public here since the Solidarity National Committee voted to publish on our website all documents formally presented in our pre-convention discussion and I accepted an amendment  that said, in effect, except those documents that the author(s) request be kept internal. I accepted the amendment even while warning comrades that if some of our “internal” discussions hadn’t “leaked,” that’s because they weren’t interesting or controversial enough.  That this 20th-century idea of keeping documents of wide general interest secret was dead, as shown not just by the State Department and NSA, but also the British SWP.

The inevitable has now happened. There is no request that the document be internal, yet this item is not yet in the documents published on our website. So I have decided to release it through The North Star. I think that it is important to clarify that neither is this Solidarity policy nor was there even agreement in the ad hoc commission to present this as a formal proposal for a vote.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Joaquin Bustelo July 26, 2013 at 11:54 am

Somehow I managed to obscure two points.
1) I was the person who made the motion to make pre-convention discussion articles public.
2) The document was released just one week before the beginning of our national gathering.

In addition, the document that will be presented to the convention will be a modified version. I’ve not yet seen it nor know whether this new version has majority support from the ad-hoc commission.

There is a lot of discussion informally in the “summer school” preceding the convention and over email, including some pretty sharp exchanges with a significant number of folks expressing support foe a “zero tolerance” policy.

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Manuel Barrera July 26, 2013 at 12:51 pm

So, a rape assault, stalking, or other behavior normally considered criminal behavior by the police and state, would not be reported? Would the survivor be discouraged, detracted from, or otherwise coerced not to engage criminal legal charges?

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Manuel Barrera July 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm

PS: Significant congratulations to Joaquín for making this document public. I believe that every socialist organization, barring some more clearly exisitng state repression requiring underground resistance and activity, should eschew the pretense that “internal” is meaningful never mind democratic. I don’t consider this point a moral issue, but a political one that must become a tradition of the working class and those fighting in its name.

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Mark Lause July 26, 2013 at 9:16 pm

I was a founder and member of Solidarity before leaving Chicago and participated in four attempts to get a branch off the ground in Cincinnati before I realized that tiny groups of radicals my age were not going to attract young radicals in any serious way, without making some special efforts. I saw so interest even in thinking about such efforts, and have had little contact with Solidarity, which operates here rather less publicly than the Blanquists.

So I have to ask — has ever become an issue in Solidarity?

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Mark Lause July 28, 2013 at 9:16 pm

It’s interesting that this hits just as the universities are rewriting their “blueprint” for responding to sexual assault charges.

http://chronicle.com/article/Colleges-Consider-a-New/140503/

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Joaquin Bustelo July 29, 2013 at 2:13 am

Unfortunately the article is behind a pay-wall. Would you mind sending me a copy? jbustelo [at] gmail.com

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Michael Hirsch July 29, 2013 at 4:59 pm

So if a police infiltrator or a full-throttle loony tables a horrific resolution, one a resolutions committee thinks borders on the psychopathic and stands about as much chance of being reported out as Joaquin has to be voted Prom Queen, it’s still fair game to release it to the public under the rubric “under discussion by the organization>” I don’t think so. My point: As muvh as that offends democratic sensibilities, there has to be some standard for what constitutes a legitimate point of view. I’m not in Soli and I can’t get to see the reso, but what a reso actually says matters. The fact that it’s submitted in itself doesn’t

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Joaquin Bustelo July 30, 2013 at 11:43 pm

Michael,

Totally agreed that some random resolution by a member that is completely off-the-wall OUGHT NOT to be treated “equally” with all others. Why it being accessible to the general public should be seen as somehow some sort of “validation” is not clear to me. At any rate, we have to firmly establish the idea that political discussions are, by default, open. If we do that, I do not think unrestricted access to the most idiotically sectarian or cravenly opportunist postings will somehow legitimize them.

This case is different. Following the catastrophic cluster-fuck in the British SWP six months ago, several women members of Solidarity, a U.S. socialist, feminist, anti-racist organization, stepped up offering to create mechanisms & guidelines for dealing with gendered violent or coercive relations within the movement.

Before they had finished, they were a little more than a week before the Solidarity convention. So they agreed to release for the Solidarity membership as a whole, as a way of letting us engage on these issues, a “snapshot” of the various comrades’ thinking insofar as it was reflected in the evolving draft in mid-July. They made very clear this was neither a finished proposal nor something like a “majority” position from their ad-hoc commission.

One part of that text, the infamous “chart,” was doubly taken out of context when made public via Facebook: it was removed from the rest of the document and removed from the context that this was just one moment in an evolving process of trying to develop something that is unprecedented on the left: a completely and holistically FEMINIST (= women centered/empowering) approach to gendered violence/abuse/bullying/targeting within “the movement,” especially socialist or revolutionary organizations.

The document presented to the Solidarity convention was significantly different from the earlier one I shared here. The latter version called for expulsion in the case of “category III” behavior –what most people would call rape or wife/companion beating– but at the same time trying to clearly convey that Solidarity’s overriding concern MUST NOT be the aggressor, or the punishment “he” deserves, but supporting the survivor, protecting her, empowering her, including by engaging with the way she wants to approach the situation in relation to organizational sanctions against her attacker, her desires in relation to police/judicial intervention against her aggressor, etc.

I think the important thing to “grok” is that the most important thing are not sanctions against the aggressor, but the support, protection and empowerment of the survivor, the target of the aggression.

[Let me make clear in passing that the document’s use of gendered pronouns is not about rejecting other patterns of abuse or domination, but nevertheless recognizing the way the big majority of cases present themselves.]

The other very important thing, I think, is the “continuum” of the much-maligned chart. For example, unwelcome reiterated invitations to intimacy are not tantamount to rape, but they are part of a spectrum that privileges men over women, and at the farther end of the spectrum are rape, or involve such degrees of physical or psychological coercion as makes no difference.

I really think this is the most important aspect of the proposal presented to Solidarity, the creation of a mostly non-punitive mechanism that tells us boys to face up to the reality that, sexually, she’s really not that into us, and accept that gracefully, with the hope that this will be a step towards us boys understanding certain limits, and not overstepping them.

She –and in reality she/he– may be eager to have a friendship and extensive political/ideological/sociological conversations, but not a physically intimate contact, much less an ongoing sexual relationship.

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southpaw August 6, 2013 at 11:54 am

I was a member of Solidarity until last year, and stuff like this contributed to my sense that something wasn’t working with the group. While this resolution is clearly unacceptable (it was since changed), some folks addressing these issues last year went looking for examples to base a sound sexual assault policy on. They could not find any left group that publicly stated its sexual assault policies. I’m not sure if that means they don’t exist, or its a secret, but either way it’s not good. Something we should all think on.

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Martin Sayles August 8, 2013 at 2:17 am

Honestly, I don’t see what the big deal is about this. I read the DB and it seems to be a pretty decent attempt at a comprehensive policy. I might quibble with a formulation or two, but the overall policy and its motivation are sound and really nothing controversial. I’m not in Solidarity and I don’t consider myself a “feminist,” but I would really have no qualms about voting for a policy like this.

(NOTE: While our organization doesn’t have such a singular, comprehensive policy written down [relying mainly on a handful of policy statements written over a period of years], I can say that what the Commission wrote would be no different in many ways from our practice, should such an incident of interpersonal violence among our members and/or supporters actually arise.)

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