Friday, 7 February 2014

Sexual conduct allegations emerge in International Socialist Organisation (USA)

Over the last year or so there have been reams of comment both in print and on-line about the "comrade delta" affair in the Socialist Workers Party. The bottom line is that groups like the SWP have no business in setting themselves above the law in dealing with such issues. You'd think that other groups would have learnt something from all this.

It seems not however as the International Socialist Organisation in the USA has also managed to get itself in a mess over "sexual misconduct" allegations. The ISO used to be the American affiliate of the British SWP but split with them over a banal doctrinal dispute in 2001. The SWP accused them of being a bit too conservative towards the "anti-capitalist movement" developing at the time whilst the ISO accused the SWP of having "bloated perspectives" in the nineties.

That's Trots for you.

The ISO appears to have a few hundred members and is in the process of preparing for it's annual convention (AGM for Brits) and have published a phenomenal 19 pre-conference bulletins which have been leaked on-line by a disgruntled ISO member. Most of these bulletins contain the same kind of self serving waffle you would expect from a group like this and the comrades have got rather over exited towards a dozen or so fellow members who (gasp) have set up a renewal faction.

Not much to interest there though. It was the final bulletin that caught my attention.

The "Comrade Daniel" affair

It is in Pre-convention bulletin no 19 that we find the latest far-left scandal. This revolves around a certain "comrade daniel":

“Daniel” was a member of the San Diego branch for many years, by all accounts a leading member and dedicated activist, and was a member of the Branch Committee (SDBC). In July of 2013, an activist, who is a member of a different socialist organization and extremely hostile to the ISO, took to Facebook, calling “Daniel" an “attempted rapist”. In the comment thread that ensued, they accused the ISO, at both a local and a national level, of a cover-up. There were no details of the incident presented, the poster was not the victim, and did not name her (it was clear from the accusation that the victim was female). It was also clear that the poster did not have the victim’s consent to make this accusation publicly. 

One of our comrades knew who the victim likely was, and right away decided to reach out to her to get a 
first hand account of what had happened. The victim described the incident in full. She stated that while she 
did not want "Daniel" to be expelled from the ISO, she also thought it was wrong for him to speak about 
women's rights. That same day, an emergency SDBC meeting was called. 

Just like their erstwhile British counterparts they attempt an investigation:

It became clear during that meeting that the incident had occurred a year prior, in July 2012, and that at least some members of the branch had been aware, through accusations made by people close to the victim (but not the victim herself), or by rumor. In 2012, no formal investigation had been made.

By the end of the meeting in July 2013, an investigation committee (SDIC) was formed, and the committee members were chosen based on the comfort of the victim, the objectivity of the members regarding the accused, and the knowledge & training of members in intimate violence and gendered oppression. This two-member committee was charged with working in consultation with the SDBC to collect evidence on 
the incident, communicate with the complainant and the accused, research intimate violence, and make 
recommendations on actions to take. 
After the meeting concluded, the SDIC and the two remaining SDBC members (1 had recused) stayed to 
discuss the notes from the victim’s verbal account of the incident. The impression of all members present 
was that the behavior she described included clearly violating consent. The majority did not think the 
described behavior amounted to attempted rape. 
During the investigation, it was revealed that two members of the current (2013) SDBC had known a year 
prior that an accusation had been made, one of whom was also on the SDBC with "Daniel" at the time of 
the incident (July 2012). As of July 2013, no one had spoken to the victim, no disciplinary action had been 
taken against "Daniel," no fewer than five San Diego comrades knew that there was an accusation, 
including two members of the (2012) SDBC, and the ISOSC was also aware.* The accusation was not 
investigated further in 2012, in part due to the way it was brought (also on Facebook), and the person 
bringing it (also hostile to the ISO). People didn’t want to bother the alleged victim about it. 

The document concludes that:

The primary failure in this situation was that no ISO member suggested or took the initiative to
contact the victim directly to get her account of what had happened. This mistake was made by every member who was in some way aware that an accusation had been made, regardless of their position in leadership or their dedication to fighting sexism. We are not claiming that any ISO members acted in bad faith, but that is precisely the point: Even with the best of intentions, our established procedure produces huge failures.

There are similarities with the SWP in the reaction of the alleged victim:

By the time the investigation had started in July 2013, the victim had made life changes that made her harder to reach. The SDIC communicated with her by phone and email, and met once in person.

As for "comrade daniel", he seems to have taken lessons from "comrade delta":

"Daniel" had been voluntarily absent from the branch for a number of weeks, and upon his return, he contacted the SDBC with his account of the incident, which he asked to remain confidential. He stated that while his behavior the night of the incident was childish and mean, he had done nothing to warrant actions be taken against him by the ISO. He believed that he did not need further education on women’s oppression as a result of this incident, and he demanded that the investigation be resolved immediately in his favor. When asked why he was reversing his position, he said that he had felt ganged up on at the emergency meeting.

Since then "comrade daniel" has resigned from the ISO, the branch where all this happened is in disarray and there is an argument over "daniel's" status should he decide to return. The ISO will be discussing resolutions on this matter at their convention.

Why can't these people just learn they are not suitable to investigate such matters and the victim should have been referred for professional counselling and legal advice whilst the comrades should stick to selling their unreadable version of Socialist Worker

Sexual Violence is a serious matter that should not be dealt with by bloody amateurs.

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