The article, Left Behind, was originally written in 2003. I wrote it mainly from my own personal perspective of the revolutionary Left mainly for therapeutic reasons and also a friend at the time encouraged me to write it. It languished on my PC for another two years before I suggested an article like this to Cath Redfern, then editor of the F Word. She agreed. Once it was published I kinda forgot about it then I got an email from Cath telling me it was causing a bit of a buzz in the feminist blogosphere… funnily enough, not a peep from the Left (though Leftie blogs were in their infancy unlike feminist blogs!).
Many women were discussing their own personal experiences and unfortunately the negatives outweighed the positives. I was glad in some way I wrote that article and that it initiated a discussion in the feminist blogosphere as it highlighted just how crap things were. Story after story disheartened me and some I could truly relate to. Simultaneously, I read an article by an American leftie woman trade unionist who wrote passionately and very powerfully about the number of women she had encountered on the Left who had experienced violence by a Left-wing man. I contacted her and we had an email exchange discussing our own personal experiences of violence, and again how the labour movement had a tendency to cover-up acts of violence, minimise or just ignore it. In my own experience I believed that the man I was with knew better, a consciousness raised about oppression, how very wrong I was. It was a real head fuck when you listen to the comrade spout about the importance of liberation and fighting oppression, yet once within the sanctity of the home get thumped in the face …. my “misdemeanor” was because I set on the edge of his bed.
I endured constant put downs, was undermined, my confidence was broken, identity shattered, thumped and raped. Yet I never told anyone, it took some time to admit the truth to myself and to others. Even as a socialist feminist I internalised my own oppression and blamed myself (even writing this my anger comes to the forefront remembering the past and who I was back then, a broken and damaged person who blamed herself… Well, no more!). Writing about this to the woman trade unionist helped me come to terms with the experience but it also depressed me as so many other women were going through similar experiences and that made me angry. Many sought out similar minded people who they could trust with their experiences but it’s more of a problem to talk about this in the wider movement as experience tells you, as reality tells you, you are not encouraged to open up and talk about the realities, the awkward realities (for some) of violence against women on the Left. Still the same vilification, minimisation, disbelief and excuse after excuse is trotted off to defend the shameful behaviour. Any allegation is usually shot down in flames.
So when I read the DC report on SU regarding SWP dealing with an allegation of rape I felt physically sick, unbelievably angry and shocked. It just felt like groundhog day! Reading about individuals who have not the expertise, nor legal knowledge or experience to deal with a crime of a serious magnitude like rape. No organisation has the systems in place to deal with this, nor should they. How was the approach taken? What formulation was used? How were the statements taken? How was evidence gathered? How did they interpret the legal definition of rape? How was similar fact evidence taken into account? How were the individuals questioned? How was the evidence weighed-up? The criminal law is based on the certainty that the person committed the crime. Do you need such a high standard of proof when the worst sanction is expulsion from a political group? Who carries the burden/standard of proof? A fair hearing would imply that you know what rules to follow but in this instance, regarding the SWP kangaroo court anything goes. Is an internal disciplinary body an appropriate place to deal with an allegation of sexual assault in the first place? No, it’s not.
We may have moved on historically and made political gains but the myths surrounding rape still exist and pervade this society overall. Only 5% of rapes ever end in conviction. Do we even know the true figure of how many women experience sexual violence? Women have an uphill struggle in being believed. Whether she is described as “asking for it”, her sexual history being brought into the equation, the clothes she was wearing, leading the man on,demonisation(including internal minimisation including self-blame), that “no” really means “yes”, cuts in rape crisis services, patchy/inconsistent police responses, sexist criminal justice system.
At the centre of this allegation of rape was a woman, who needed support and solidarity yet given the apparent atmosphere she didn’t get that at all. Far from it. A travesty of justice. Instead this case highlights a privileging of men. It highlights inherent sexist dynamics within an organisation that reflects society overall.
Any of the various left-wing organisations exist at least on the face of it to oppose oppression and to bring about a society that is not based on the oppression of the majority of human beings by those in positions of power. Once any such organisation that covers sexually oppressive behaviour up or fails to deal with it in a transparent and fair way it undermines its whole reason for being.
Finally on inviting the bourgeois state into the revolutionary party. If a woman who is not in a left group accused a man who was also not a member of a revolutionary group no one on the left would have an issue with saying that she should receive support to go to rape crisis, the police or anyone else that she wished to go to for help. Suddenly if we are talking about two members of a revolutionary group then the woman loses this right. She goes from being a second class citizen as a result of the way that society treats women to being a 4th or 5th class citizen who cannot complain to any proper body when she is sexually abused. In the SWP she is stuck with explaining her self to the friends of the person who has abused her. If this is true then we are not talking about a revolutionary party that will lead the oppressed and wretched of the world to liberation. Sorry comrades your faith in your party is misplaced.