Refusal: Of Sex Work

This keyword was one of fifty explored and put to work on this site. The notes on the keywords are revised and collected together in Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, which includes a concluding essay placing them in historical context. The book includes a detailed reading list with web-links so you can more easily follow the links online, a list which is available here.

Campism: No Platform

This keyword was one of fifty explored and put to work on this site. The notes on the keywords are revised and collected together in Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, which includes a concluding essay placing them in historical context. The book includes a detailed reading list with web-links so you can more easily follow the links online, a list which is available here.

Wages: Helen Archer as slave

This keyword was one of fifty explored and put to work on this site. The notes on the keywords are revised and collected together in Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, which includes a concluding essay placing them in historical context. The book includes a detailed reading list with web-links so you can more easily follow the links online, a list which is available here.

Animal: The Lobster

This keyword was one of fifty explored and put to work on this site. The notes on the keywords are revised and collected together in Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, which includes a concluding essay placing them in historical context. The book includes a detailed reading list with web-links so you can more easily follow the links online, a list which is available here.

Zionism: In Concert

This keyword was one of fifty explored and put to work on this site. The notes on the keywords are revised and collected together in Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, which includes a concluding essay placing them in historical context. The book includes a detailed reading list with web-links so you can more easily follow the links online, a list which is available here.

Intersectionality: Lessons from recent left history

This keyword was one of fifty explored and put to work on this site. The notes on the keywords are revised and collected together in Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, which includes a concluding essay placing them in historical context. The book includes a detailed reading list with web-links so you can more easily follow the links online, a list which is available here.

The SWP and sexual violence

Like an old celebrity charged with sexual abuse, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) keeps repeating that it wants to draw a line under the past and move on, and now we are in 2015 the party hopes we will forget what happened and we will now all be friends. But even though many have left in disgust at the events, the SWP is picking up new members who have no idea what they are walking into, and so now there is a danger that the new recruits will loyally defend their party against what their leaders say is a witch-hunt. What happened over the past two years will not go away, as the attempts to ban them from some university campuses have shown, and we need to patiently repeat the facts and be clear about what we are and what we are not prepared to do with the SWP now.

In January 2013 the SWP conference heard a report from its ‘Disputes Committee’ which had been told to investigate a charge of rape by a young woman comrade against a leading member of the Central Committee referred to as ‘Comrade Delta’ (and very shortly afterwards revealed to have been the National Secretary). The rationale for the internal investigation was that the ‘bourgeois justice system’ should not be allowed to interfere in the workings of the party and that there would be a witch-hunt if the events became public. Predictably, this attempt to cover things up led to an even bigger scandal when the transcript of the conference was quickly leaked onto the internet. At that conference session the Disputes Committee said that the charge of rape was ‘not proven’, a decision which was followed by shouting, crying, accusations, counter-accusations, and pleas to speak to the woman who was apparently just outside the conference hall. Over the next year a series of expulsions took place, and people leaving in their hundreds, some of them forming new organisations, but an opposition group stayed inside the SWP and forced a recall conference, by which time the leadership had refined its line that rumours on the internet were to blame for the disputes. A sizeable enough opposition of respected members of the editorial board of the SWP journal spoke out (and eventually decided they had to get out). The recall conference ratified the decision of the Disputes Committee, ‘Comrade Delta’ left the party as part of a damage limitation strategy in which there was no apology for what had happened, but then it turned out that the links between the party and their old comrade carry on.

Two linked problems lie at the heart of the events; power and sex. In this case the problems took, first, the form of bureaucratic and secretive power in which the male leadership of a small group protects its own, demonising those who try to speak for the powerless, and, second, contempt for sexual politics and feminism so that a woman who takes out a complaint of rape by a leader is subjected to further ordeals and judged to be lying. Those two linked problems are why some of those who left the SWP in several waves to form new organisations (or, sadly, to leave politics altogether demoralised) signed their resignation letters ‘creeping feminist’ to throw back the charge by the party leadership that ‘creeping feminism’ was part of the witch-hunt, and why new organisations set up by ex-SWP activists now take feminist politics seriously. These events are all the more tragic in an organisation that did have a higher proportion of young women than most other far left groups in the UK – the ‘gender’ of an organisation can be stereotypically male even when it permits women to play a role in the structures – and all the more serious because of the level of active discussion so that the participants were not dupes (or in some cases were witting dupes). There is a process of taking stock of what happened which is happening in the new organisations and even still also inside the SWP where their remains a secret opposition that is having to tread carefully, biding its time (though many wonder why they think it is really worth staying in for more of the same). Those events have consequences not only for links between socialism and feminism but for every left organisation and feminist activist. This means four things:

  1. Those on the right will use this as an opportunity to attack every far left group, and we need to be clear that the lessons will only be learnt if there is active support for every opening of discussion about the connection between socialist and feminist politics. Any kind of ‘no platform’ policy directed against the left, including members of the SWP speaking in a personal capacity or as members of other organisations, is misplaced and will be counterproductive.
  2. To the SWP ordinary members it should be spelt out that their participation is only tolerated because it is well-known to the rest of the left that there are still opposition forces inside their party, these forces need to be supported, and it is the responsibility of each new member to ask questions about the events and be prepared to support those who are still trying to bring the leadership to account.
  3. The SWP as an organisation should not be humoured, even when their remaining members go on a charm offensive and pretend that nothing has happened. Other left organisations should not include them when named as speaking for the SWP, and they should be challenged about where they stand on the events, on power and sexual abuse. It is understandable that some organisations will refuse to host their meetings, and those decisions should be treated as a legitimate response.
  4. There should be clarity about participation in electoral alliances that include the SWP as a named organisation, with discussion with other groups about what statement they make about these issues and on what basis they will work with particular members of the party who, perhaps, have a reputation of support for socialist and feminist politics. The opportunity for sectarianism here needs to be countered while making clear abhorrence at what took place.

This is the recent history of the left that needs to be addressed, and action taken now to build the possibility of alliances aiming for a world without exploitation and oppression. No bans on the left, and no compromise on the question of sexual violence. These measures are at the one moment exceptional and at the same time voicing principles that apply to every group were anything similar to occur. We are determined to move beyond those events, but something has to change for that to be possible, and the left has got to be an active part of that process of change in the way its organisations work.

Appeal: Against sexual violence in Indonesia

Our comrade Dian Trisnanti, who is the Coordinator of Radio Marsinah, visited us from Indonesia in Manchester in July 2014. After she returned home she sent us a message and appeal about action her organisation is taking against sexual violence. She reminded us that Indonesia is a developing country with a population of 241 million people. Workers in Indonesia number about 118 million, of which 38% are women. About 60% are informal workers. Most women work in the informal sector, and make up about 41% there because that kind of work does not require a background in higher education. Women workers are paid low salaries. KBN Cakung, for example, is the biggest garment textile industry zone in Jakarta, in North Jakarta, and produces for export garments for Europe and the USA (for GAP, Zara, H & M, Adidas, Kohls, Esprit, for example).

In this sector more than 90% workers are female, and suffer a great deal of violence. They have few rights as workers, they suffer low wages well under the minimum wage, are subject to suspension of wages legalized by the government, and have no rights to maternity leave, miscarriage leave, social security, or unpaid overtime. The violence against female workers is unremitting and there is no response from the government, even though KBN Cakung belongs to the state. The condition of women workers is actually getting worse because they are not only oppressed as workers but also as women. These problems pose big obstacles for them to be involved in labour unions or become active leaders. This is why it is crucial to organise women workers not only as workers but also as women. Radio Marsinah has been involved in advocacy work, it has provided shelter for victims of domestic and sexual workplace violence, and now they have moved on to get more support for this struggle by using film.

Radio Marsinah are beginning with a film on breaking the silence about sexual violence. According to the National Women Commission in 2012, there are 216,156 sexual violence cases, and they know that these figures do not reflect the actual situation of women workers because of the enforced silence about the sexual violence they have experienced. So, sexual violence is also a crime of silence, something that happens in work-place in the midst of the machine noise.This film is a pilot project to break the silence and encourage more victims to speak and become survivors, to speak and organise for themselves, for others. A trailer for the film project is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT6mbJJAY6w&feature=youtu.be

Radio Marsinah needs support for this film project. If you would like to donate, you can transfer funds to BCA (Bank Central Asia) KCP (branch), the address is Kramat Jaya, North Jakarta, 4141796814. The account is in the name of Dian Septi Trisnanti and Kurniati. The Swift Code or Iban number of the BCA is CENAIDJA. FIIMG and activists of the Fourth International in Leeds have sent money already to support this film project, and we are collecting more money now to send. Because of the high bank charges it is more efficient to collect this money and send it all at once, and so if you want to contact us we will ensure that money gets to Dian and the film project team. You can contact us at fiimginfo@gmail.com