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)