A stain that will not wash out

We receive the International Socialist Organization (ISO) leadership’s statement  “A response to slander,” published in the Socialist Worker (SW) of 19 February 2014, with sadness. It is written by people who evidently think little of their audience. The authors assume that their readers cannot or will not acquaint themselves with the facts of the matter; that they cannot or will not independently investigate a controversy and make up their own minds. The statement is an argument for those who need no argument; persuasion for those who require no persuading.

Here is the account that the ISO leadership gives of the “Daniel” case:

[A]fter a case of sexual assault, the accused [known by the pseudonym “Daniel”] was suspended from the ISO, pending an investigation; resigned before the investigation was completed; and was formally expelled to make sure the accused could not rejoin the organization at a future date in a different locality.

Now this is all correct in the sense that it all happened (although it is misleading to say that Daniel was suspended “pending an investigation,” as the investigation had started six weeks before Daniel’s suspension). But what this account completely omits–what it obviously omits–is the timeline of events.

This timeline is laid out in our document “Assessing the Year-Long Inaction Regarding Charges of Sexual Violence in the ISO”; it is extracted directly from the first-hand account of the “Xville” members in the ISO’s Pre-Convention Bulletin (PCB) #19, from which all quotes in the next three paragraphs are drawn.

Daniel sexually assaulted a woman in July 2012. Sometime between July and September 2012, leading members of the Xville branch became aware of the allegations, and conveyed the information to a member of the national ISO Steering Committee (ISOSC). This ISOSC member later recalled, “I was told in September 2012 that the issue had already been resolved because [the victim] wanted to move on with her life and didn’t want to press charges.”

In March 2013, an ISOSC member–we do not know if it was the same one–was told by an Xville member that an allegation of attempted rape had been made against Daniel. “The ISOSC member said that they assumed the accusations were false and did not connect the [Xville] member with the ISODC [national ISO Disciplinary Committee].” Later, “[t]he ISOSC member communicated that they brought the issue to the ISOSC, [and] that the ISOSC discussed it and deemed it a local issue.”

In July 2013, the allegations came out publicly (on Facebook), apparently after Daniel “[spoke] about women’s rights”; only then was an investigation begun, even though five members of the Xville branch and the entire SC had prior knowledge of the charges. Daniel was suspended some six weeks later and resigned days after that. Although the branch was badly divided on the issue, the national ISO Disciplinary Committee refused to intervene, citing the need for a “first-party written complaint” per procedures never made available to the ISO membership. Only the day after the publication of PCB#19 was Daniel expelled (6 February 2014).

The timing is the difference between a terrible incident that the ISO handled basically correctly; versus a terrible failure of the organization at all levels. SW’s omission of the timeline amounts to a lie.

Yet instead we, who were members of the ISO’s Renewal Faction prior to our expulsion, are accused of lies, distortions, slanders, etc. Very well: where in our statement is the lie? Where the distortion, the slander?

We are concerned to protect the confidentiality of the survivor. We made a mistake by publishing the name of the city in our original statement; when a comrade appealed to us to remove it, we did so immediately. Furthermore, we have not revealed the identity of the assailant–which we know–even though it is material to our contention that the leadership acted in a negligent and effectively sexist way. We do not know the identity of the survivor; nor do we believe that it is deducible from what we have published.

That said, we are cold to arguments about “confidentiality” from those who would use it as a screen to hide their own mistakes.

The ISO leadership decries that we brought this case to public attention, but by their own acts of internal censorship, they made it impossible for us to speak without speaking publicly. They denounce us for using our website External Bulletin–but our documents were barred from internal publication. They say we did not submit our resolutions to Convention–but our delegates were excluded from the Convention before the relevant session, after they refused to “retract their support” for the resolutions!

The truth is that in the week after PCB#19 was published, we saw no one else in the ISO prepared to demand accountability from the leadership. Two days after PCB#19 was released, ISO National Organizer Sharon Smith flew to New York City to speak at an internal meeting on the topic of feminism. Roughly 70 ISO members were present. Over the course of a more than five-hour meeting, not a single person asked a question about the Daniel case. Documents in subsequent PCBs, while discussing the case, did not draw attention to the role of the ISOSC. We acted when others did not; and our exclusion from Convention meant that the leadership was not confronted with critical questions about their involvement (or lack of involvement).

In any case, we are expelled. The ISO’s problems are no longer ours, save to the extent that they impact the broader left. And what is the ISO telling the left, and the public generally, by what it says and what it omits? That there was nothing wrong with how the organization handled the Daniel case. The case is a stain on the ISO, and it will not simply wash out. Sexual violence inside left organizations is a profoundly important issue and thus the case requires far more serious acknowledgement and assessment.

Amanda HG (Cambridge)
Ben S (Atlanta)
Brian C (Providence)
Chris Ma (Providence)
Chris Mu (Providence)
Ian G (Providence – Brown)
Mary R (Providence)
Neil P (Cambridge)
Paul H (Providence)
Shaun J (Cambridge)
Vanessa B (Washington DC)
Yuval S (Cambridge)

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20 thoughts on “A stain that will not wash out

  1. “the people who want to listen, which at this point are disgruntled ex-members and folks who were always hostile to the ISO for whatever reason”: I am neither, and I’m listening.

    • I wonder if you and Chris are actual members. And if not, why are you defining yourselves by your opposition to a group you seem to think is insignificant? Aren’t there better things to do w/ your political time? Just saying.

      • Can the loyalists make up their minds please? Half the time, it’s “If you have criticisms, join the group and air them.” The other half it’s “Why do you stay in a group if you have criticisms?” Which is it? Seriously, genuinely want an answer.

      • Like I told another loyalist, if you really hate the RF, which you do, and wish to repeat the slander against them, which you have, then you really have no business being here.

  2. I would not want to be a part of an organization that thinks sexual assault and one of its star young members admitting to talking to the police about their political activities are not worthy of serious discussion or action. They are endangering others on the Left by maintaining that their members have the right to sexually assault other activists and talk to the cops about other activists. This should be of concern to us all. But apparently protecting their members and reputation with lies is more important than addressing things they did wrong that are dangerous to the Left. Simply “not being a member” is not enough to protect ourselves from their actions. Many other critiques are just of concern to members, but the most serious ones are not.

      • Just to be clear, you are asserting that the police report on the NLG website is a forgery, and that the comrade in question did not give information regarding the activity of the ISO and various anarchist groups to the police? Yes or no, is that what you are asserting? And if the answer is no, then in what way is Shaun’s assertion regarding the comrade in question incorrect?

  3. Let’s not forget that the ISO itself began as a faction that was expelled from the old IS under acrimonious circumstances back in 1977. The Renewal Faction is comparatively much smaller than the LF, but my sense is that there are a lot of comrades out there—Socialist Outpost, Philly Socialists, North Star, Philly Socialists, elements of Solidarity, and a bunch of unaffiliated people—who are or would be sympathetic to the RF’s politics and its demand for internal democracy and transparency in socialist groups. Perhaps something could come of this, I don’t know. The most pertinent caveat would be that any new formation must be radically different; otherwise you’re just another sect, and you’re setting yourself up for yet another split down the road. I don’t know what form that would be—and as we see with the UK ISN, throwing off the baggage of sectism, even in a newly constituted and open “network,” is hard to pull off.

  4. I agree with the comments made by Ismael. With the number of groups and individuals who are sympathetic to the RF’s politics, the need for transparency and internal democracy, and the importance of broad socialist cooperative action that David K. has alluded to, the creation of some sort of broad and open socialist network seems like the most viable option. Yet the difficulties of creating such a network are obvious, given the long history of sectarianism in the US left and the current state of demobilization of radical forces. One thing is clear: the growing use of political and social media by the left is making it impossible for traditional top-down, secretive structures to maintain their control, a point which Proyect makes in his recent post on Counterpunch.

    As a non-ISO member who was following events closely, during the month before the ISO convention I thought that while censure of the RF was a possibility, there was a zero percent chance that the RF would be expelled. It seemed to me that expelling the RF members would be suicidal for the ISO, because the RF had succeeded in establishing links with other current/former ISO members with similar views, and I thought that the ISO would want to avoid the terrible PR impact of a mass expulsion, not to mention the chance of losing several branches and creating internal pressures within the ISO.

    I believed that once they had succeeded in getting people to accept that Shaun Joseph’s ISO career was over, they would try to be conciliatory to everyone else in the faction and avoid an open split. Their hard-line actions and threats against the faction have made absolutely no political sense. Aren’t the ISO leadership familiar with the history of purges, which almost invariably lead to a weakened organization, if not one that is effectively destroyed, such as what happened with the Barnes/SWP purges in the early eighties?

    What has happened is that the ISO has lost some very good people, including some with long years of service, they have given publicity to Socialist Outpost and others who have left the ISO, they have generated considerable attention to the sexual assault case, they have alienated some who have been generally supportive of the ISO and its political work, they have given Proyect and other prominent Marxists an opportunity to make cogent criticisms of the ISO from a theoretical point of view, and they have given those already hostile to the the ISO, an opportunity to discredit them for their actions against the faction. Was it really worth it to the ISO SC to endure all this pain?

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