On Standards of Feminist Conduct-CMLMS

Reposted from Signalfire: On Standards of Feminist Conduct-CMLMS

“Violence against women is a permanent feature of all capitalist societies, including US capitalist society. It is one of the most abhorrent aspects of patriarchy, the evil institution of women’s oppression. Patriarchy in the US has its own specific characteristics that are particular to capitalism, such as the widespread commodification of women. The term “commodification” refers to the transformation of women by the capitalists into objects for sale, a process in which ordinary men also participate.

Violence against women also shows up within self-proclaimed revolutionary organizations and revolutionary movements in the US. This includes rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual pressure, other forms of physical and verbal abuse, and other forms of violation of consent. Recently, two major Trotskyist organizations, one in Britain [1] and one in the US [2], were rightly subjected to public exposure and condemnation for the liberalism (meaning the unprincipled lack of struggle) of their members in failing to oppose rape culture.

Another communist organization in the US was also exposed less than a year ago for sheltering a rapist member, disciplining him by merely having him write an essay for “self-criticism.” [3] At the height of the Occupy movement, there were accounts of sexual assault at protest camps in New York, Cleveland, Dallas, Baltimore, Lawrence, Portland, New Hampshire, and Glasgow. [4] It is also well known that rape culture is widespread among anarchist collectives and the broader anarchist milieu. [5] For every revolutionary organization and trend, the same question of women’s emancipation is on the table: which side are you on?

This is one of the most important political questions that must be resolved today for the revolutionary movement to move forward. In certain specific circumstances, it is the single most important political question. The fact that there is increasing debate on this question and growing disorder within the ranks of organizations is a good thing that must be encouraged to develop further. There needs to be more of it: more debate, more disorder, more turmoil, and more people raising their voices. Some have pointed out the causal link between the British Trotskyists’ class reductionist line and male chauvinist practice.

Others have highlighted the weak organizational forms of anarchists and their employment of “accountability processes” guided by “restorative justice” frameworks that very often turn out to be shams for the women involved. [6] However, this is too simple of an understanding of the problem if left at this level. In reality, violence against women within revolutionary organizations and revolutionary movements is a phenomenon with a wide expanse. It is not narrowly rooted in any specific trend.

No ideology or -ism will make an organization immune from this problem. There will be groups and individuals claiming all sorts of political positions who at the same time always relegate women’s emancipation to a secondary and unimportant place, or combine feminist discourse with male chauvinist conduct. Therefore, the most important question here is how an organization addresses the problem of violence against women when it arises in practice, as chances are it will at some point within its ranks. Certain guiding principles can be derived from the positive aspects of the Leninist-Comintern historical experience and from the comprehensive whole of today’s ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

Maoism must be emphasized here, because of its breakthroughs in developing the trend of proletarian feminism and on the organizational question. Proletarian feminism is a trend of women’s emancipation generated in practice out of the Maoist-led People’s Wars and revolutionary mass movements around the world. [7] The Maoist party concept is also something fundamentally new in its nature and methods of work. [8] The guiding principles outlined here should determine the formulation of organizational policies in the US on anti-women violence. Without the correct policies based on the correct principles, revolutionary organizations in the US will never be able to organize increasing numbers of women as militants and leaders, as they have so far failed to do in the way that history demands of us.The domination of the NGO opportunists and their petty-bourgeois identity politics will remain uncontested. The masses of proletarian women will be left to follow the leadership of different non-proletarian trends, without the weapon of independent class politics.

 

1. Revolutionary organizations, if they are genuine, must automatically expel any member who engages in anti-women violence and abuse. Organizations that fail to do this cannot be taken seriously and must be publicly exposed for their liberalism in failing to oppose male chauvinism. The “restorative justice” framework and the “accountability process” used by anarchists and other activists more often than not merely reproduce in practice the dynamics of patriarchy.

For Marxist-Leninists, “rectification” and “criticism / self-criticism,” without a policy of expulsion, often becomes the same liberal process with a different name. In contrast, zero tolerance for male chauvinist violence and abuse must be the principle, meaning automatic expulsion and, depending on the circumstances, public exposure. This is the only way to forge organizations that are developing the actuality of women’s emancipation, not just talking about it as an appealing idea.

2. During investigations by an organization in the US into incidents of anti-women violence and abuse, the word of the victim alleging that violence and abuse has been committed against them must be given more weight than the word of the accused. If there is a factual dispute, the guiding principle must be to adopt policies and enact decisions based principally on the victim’s account of events. Victims of domestic violence often have their reality denied or manipulated consistently by their abusers.

This must be taken into account when investigating the facts and when coming to a decision about the accused. The revolutionary organization in the US, which is not a court of justice with a court’s material powers of investigation and presumptions, cannot allow the accused to simply deny the victim’s account in part or wholesale, call into question the victim’s motives, and mobilize their social network to pressure the victim and the organization.

Revolutionary organizations in the US are not states making decisions on punishment and rehabilitation, which would operate according to different standards. They are voluntary associations that must make a call – generally based on limited and conflicting verbal or written accounts – on how to respond to an incident, taking into consideration the need to advance the struggle for women’s emancipation, to develop women as militants and leaders, and to protect the organization’s work and reputation.

3. Rectification of individuals who have engaged in anti-women violence must be encouraged, but can take place only after their expulsion from the ranks of an organization, as a condition of re-admission at a future time. Certain acts, such as rape or sexual assault, must result in a lifetime ban without question. For organizations struggling in the imperialist countries, the Communist Party USA’s expulsion, subsequent mass public trial in 1931, and eventual rectification of Yokinen, a Finnish CPUSA member who denied several African Americans entry to a dance at the Finnish Workers Club in Harlem, remains the best example in the US of what a successful rectification process looks like in practice, in this case for white chauvinist conduct. [9]

Rectification in this regard does not mean uttering some words in an organizational meeting, writing an apology essay, engaging in mediation, participating in accountability circles or victim impact panels, or getting counseling and treatment. Are white chauvinists supposed to be counseled and treated as well? Rectification means conducting self-criticism widely before the masses, submitting the fullest account of one’s conduct and history to public scrutiny, and following through on a course of political activity of struggle against women’s oppression, which must include ongoing transformation of the individual person, similar to what Yokinen successfully carried out under the leadership of the CPUSA.

Recognizing that there is no organization in the US today with the necessary base, prestige among the masses, and scale to conduct such a process means that in the current objective and subjective conditions, successful rectification of individuals for male chauvinism should generally be pursued, but will inevitably continue to be the exception rather than the rule. The most important thing is to struggle against the small-group dynamics that are a soil for male chauvinism and prevent the organization of women. Violence against women will not end without the organization of women.

4. The ideological and political line of a revolutionary organization might be outlined in its documents, but ultimately becomes a material force among the masses only through the conduct and actions of its members. This is one of the new contributions of the Maoist party concept, which emphasizes the importance of revolutionary attitudes among the cadres. Revolutionary organizations must instill in members the need to practice the constant remolding of their thinking and actions to create the actuality of women’s emancipation.

5. Putting the proletarian feminist line in command requires a continuous engagement in criticism and self-criticism, or CSC. CSC in this particular instance involves studying the concept and history of patriarchy, discussing its manifestations in thinking, conduct, and actions through facilitated group settings, and coming to collective decisions on how to fight it. At the same time, CSC that takes place without an existing policy of expulsion for male chauvinist violence and abuse ends up being a toothless ritual that paralyzes rather than strengthens organization. The party building movement of the last phase, the 1960s and the 1970s, largely failed the masses of toiling women in this country.

Those who imagine that a communist organization with proletarian feminist politics at its core can be built or that a revolutionary proletarian feminist movement can be developed today from the ground up – without first confronting the pressing issue of male chauvinism in the existing organizations and circles, including determining the proper guiding principles and policies to do this – are thoroughly deluding themselves. This view amounts to the liquidation of the struggle for women’s emancipation and a kind of economism that refuses to address the real political question at hand of the involvement of women in organizations. We welcome dialogue with feminist-oriented collectives and individuals who are working on this issue in practice and interested in mutual learning through the discussion of organizational principles and policies:

Center for Marxist Leninist-Maoist Studies 16/8/2013

Endnotes

1. Shiv Malik and Nick Cohen, “Socialist Workers Party leadership under fire over rape kangaroo court,” guardian.co.uk, March 9, 2013. (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/mar/09/socialist-workers-party-rape-kangaroo-court).

2. “Rape, Sexual Assault, and the U.S. Socialist Organization Solidarity.” (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=9350).

3. For more information, see the blog Necessary Means: Confronting patriarchal violence. (http://necessarymeansfight.blogspot.com/).

4. “Occupy Wall Street: How About We Occupy Rape Culture?” (http://persephonemagazine.com/2011/11/04/occupy-wall-street-how-about-we-occupy-rape-culture/).

5. See, for example, Betrayal: A critical analysis of rape culture in anarchist subcultures, Words to Fire Press (“It would seem that throughout the anarchist milieu, wherever you turn, there is a community being ravaged by rape, by sexual assault, and by abuse.”).

6. Ibid. (“[T]internal workings of the accountability process itself have the potential to be hijacked and used against a survivor. … In some cases [perpetrators] are allowed to make demands of the survivor or else place criteria on their own participation. Perpetrators, or their apologists, all too commonly respond to being called out by making defensive ‘callouts’ of their own. As discussed earlier, they will accuse the survivor of any wrongdoing they can think of, or else make some up when actual misdeeds are not forthcoming. Rather than recognize these pathetic attempts at slander as the manipulative transgressions they are, the false supporters usually join the perpetrator in absurd calls for ‘accountability’ from the survivor. From this newfound position of righteousness, and with the complicity of the false supporters, the perpetrator is free to alter the very character of the accountability process.

What began as a callout becomes more like a negotiation, as a perpetrator’s cooperation becomes contingent on the survivor addressing their concerns. Perhaps some of these concerns might even be valid, but of course what’s important is not their validity but their role in undermining the survivor’s struggle. The survivor must now earn not only the accountability they get from the perpetrator, but also the support they get from the community. Those survivors who are unwilling or unable to jump through all the hoops will be written off. In a final perversion of the accountability process, the survivor will be the one blamed for its failure, the one who was unwilling to ‘work things out’. By this point the so-called ‘Restorative Justice’ framework has been so distorted that it succeeds only in ‘restoring’ the power dynamics of a Rape Culture which had been otherwise compromised by the survivors’ struggle.”).

7. See, for example, Avanti, “Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement.”

8. See, for example, Ajith, “The Maoist Party.”

9. Harry Haywood, “The Struggle for the Leninist Position on the Negro Question in the United States,” The Communist, September 1933, available at:http://www.marxists.org/archive/haywood/1933/09/x01.htm.

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