Socialists and sexual violence claims: An evidence-based approach

SWP

by Ian Anderson

On March 12th 2013, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the UK split, over a crisis triggered when the Central Committee defended a member accused of rape. The Disputes Committee, comprised of colleagues and friends of the accused, had found the case “not proven.” While leading members of the SWP challenged this decision, a Special Conference in March reaffirmed it, leading to around 100 members leaving and forming a new International Socialist Network (http://tinyurl.com/bafj5ya).

This is not an isolated case. In recent years, rape allegations against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange have divided progressives. Whenever nominally progressive men are accused of sexual violence, it reveals divisions in the groups and communities they’re a part of.

When men are accused of rape, “where’s the evidence?” is a common refrain – as seen in the SWP Disputes Committee verdict of “not proven.” But what evidence or proof should we look for? Forensic, psychological, case-by-case? What is an evidence-based approach to rape and sexual violence?

Our method: From general to particular
In terms of evidence (as a philosophical or epistemological category rather than a judicial term) Marxists proceed from the general to the particular; from knowledge of how society as a whole operates, to a particular problem. We do not ask each worker to prove they are being exploited, because we know how work is organised under capitalism, how profit is taken from the mass of workers. While we seek information on the specifics of a workplace situation, we do that on the basis of a broader analysis. Similarly, our analysis must proceed from knowledge about how gender oppression works.

In order to approach accusations of sexual violence, we must start from the general. We start from analysis of society, how it produces sexual violence, and crucially where we are located in this process. Rather than starting with each case, we should proceed from a general understanding of sexual violence, to particular cases.

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Happy International Working Women’s Day!

Socialists Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin.

Socialists Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin.

Gender and women’s liberation is essential to socialist revolution, which is why socialists founded International Working Women’s Day in 1910.

Below we link some material we’ve previously published on women’s liberation.

Contemporary struggles
Women, Class and Revolution, Kassie Hartendorp
Don’t Talk to Me About Sewing Machines, Talk to Me About Workers’ Rights! A Call to Action for Socialists from a revolutionary hooker, Greta de Garves
Rethinking ‘Domestic Purposes’: Do we need a new approach?, Byron Clark
The War on Women, NZ edition: Beneficiaries and Contraception, Anne Russell

Sexism on the left
Why have women left the Occupy movement?, Byron Clark
Safer Spaces in Political Organising, Kassie Hartendorp
SWP: Sexism on the Left, Daphne Lawless

Historical
Revisiting socialism and women’s liberation, Kassie Hartendorp

SWP: Sexism on the left

Daphne Lawless

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is the biggest revolutionary organisation in Britain, and one of the most well-known and influential in the English-speaking world. But it’s currently in the midst of a crisis which brings issues of democracy, bullying, and sexism within the revolutionary movement to the fore.

[Read more…]

Reclaim The Night: Interview with Margarita Windisch

Joel Cosgrove conducted this interview after the recent Reclaim The Night march in Melbourne.

 

THE SPARK: Reclaim the Night seems to have been an important event throughout Australia this year, what is reclaim the night and what has driven people to get involved?

MARGARITA WINDISCH: Reclaim the Night originated in the US, with the first march held in 1973 in San Francisco. Reclaim the Night (RTN) was initially about re-claiming public space for women and protesting sexual violence against women. Over time many organising collectives broadened out the demands to reflect the many forms of violence women experience, of which the majority still occur in the home.

RTN used to be dominated by a more separatist feminist perspective, which essentially blames individual men for women’s oppression. This has changed somewhat to a more inclusive perspective that looks at systemic causes, allowing a broader participation, including men.

RTN mobilisations have always played a critical part in the women’s movement by keeping the issue of gender based violence in the public eye. With the ebb of the second wave of feminism in the 90’s we also saw a drop in RTN attendance as with other feminist activities around the country.

Numbers however started to grow again over the last few years, indicating a renewed interest in feminist ideas and activity.  Feminist speakers have been attracting sell-out crowds at writer’s festivals and feminist collectives are springing up on university campuses.

We also have to give credit to the excellent Equal Pay campaign waged by the Australian Services Union over three years, for bringing gender based wage discrimination into public consciousness. The campaign demonstrated that gender was a key contributing factor for the massive pay gap for the social and community services workers in the non-profit sector.

The global ‘Slutwalk’ phenomena which started in Toronto in 2011 is another example of re-invigorated feminist action and protests rape and victim blaming. In Melbourne these protests attracted around 1000 people in 2011 and 2012.

RTN 2012 was big across Australia, and in Melbourne exceptionally large, with estimates ranging from 5000 – 8000 – making it the biggest ever in Melbourne.

The brutal rape and murder of 29 year old Jill Meagher, who walked home a couple of months ago from a night out in the trendy and hip Melbourne suburb Brunswick, traumatised an entire community and broke the silence and complacency around violence against women. Many women not only identified with Jill and started to publicly discuss their own experiences of threats and harassment and lack of police support around their complaints.  A local resident organised a ‘peace march’ via facebook event after Jill’s body was found and a stunning 30.000 people turned up.

A small group of local women took the initiative and called for a Reclaim the Night (RTN) Rally along busy Sydney Rd, the place Jill M disappeared from. The group had three weeks to organise the protest.

The rally was diverse and included many families.  There were a high percentage of young people and at least one in four people at the rally were men. Men had been invited to participate but were asked to march in the mixed section behind women who led the march. The vibe was fantastic and many of us wondered about ‘where to from here’  [Read more…]

Rethinking ‘Domestic Purposes’: Do we need a new approach?

Byron Clark

As the government ramps up attacks on welfare recipients defensive actions have happened across the country as those on welfare and their supporters advocate for their right to dignity and a living income (not that benefits can really be called that). The status quo we are defending, however, is a much less than ideal situation, what we need is to change the way our society defines and values ‘work’.

The Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), which is one of several to be merged into a new ‘job seeker benefit’, was  formed through the Social Security Amendment Act in 1973 with the first payments starting in May of 1974. It was originally set at a level that would enable single mothers to care for their children as a full time job without having to enter the work-force. A year before the Social Security Amendment Act, American feminist Selma James launched the wages for house work campaign, arguing that the work done in the home should be financially compensated.

While the DPB only applies to single parents, New Zealand must have looked somewhat progressive in the early 70s. Several decades later however, there is an enormous stigma in being a ‘DPB mum’. Back in 2002, six years before he would become prime minister, John Key described women receiving the DPB as “breeding for a business”. Work done outside of the wage-labour system- and being a parent is a huge amount of work- is not recognised by the likes of Key as having value. Even from a purely economic perspective, the reproduction of the next generation of the workforce is a service capitalism is getting on the cheap.

One nation has taken steps to ensure that this work is valued. In 2006 Venezuela began paying the nation’s poorest housewives 80% of the minimum wage for work done in the home. “The world is beginning to recognise and value women’s hidden contribution to society but Venezuela goes further” wrote James at the time. “This is finally a wage for housework, something we have demanded since 1972!”  [Read more…]