The ISA debate on socialist feminism, May 2021 – the majority positions

The International Committee of the ISA voted at its meeting of May 5 and 6, the “Code of Conduct” presented below, aiming to tackle issues of sexual harassment.
The IC minority did not agree with the “Code of Conduct” defended by the majority and voted for an alternative document, titled “Policy against Harassment” produced and signed by five female comrades: Athina K. from Cyprus, Ecehan B. from Turkey, Marina K. from Belgium, Viki L. from Spain and Eleni M. from Greece. The majority document is presented below, the minority positions can be read here: International Socialist Alternative – Policy against Harassment

International Socialist Alternative Harassment Policy & Code of Conduct

This document has been approved by an overwhelming majority at the IC of 5 and 6

May as a provisional guideline for how to fight sexism and discriminatory/oppressive behaviour in our ranks and how to deal with complaints. The sections are asked to discuss this thoroughly and come up with amendments on the basis of collective experience and discussion in their ranks in the run up to the next World Congress, where a definitive version will be put up for the vote.

Part 01: Overview

Part 02: ISA Code of Conduct

Section 01 – What We Expect of Our Sections

Section 02 – What We Expect of Our Members

Part 03: Harassment Policy

Section 01 – Defining Harassment

Section 02 – Preventing Harassment

Section 03 – Expectations of Those in Leadership Positions

Part 04: Procedures for Addressing Harassment

Section 01 – The Rights of All Members and the Party

Section 02 – Handling Allegations of Harassment

Section 03 – International Control Commission

Part 01: Overview

The International Socialist Alternative (ISA) is committed to the struggle of the working class and all the oppressed for socialist change by overthrowing capitalism as a system, and all the injustices and inequalities that this system perpetuates.

In joining ISA, members commit themselves to this struggle to change society and to build our organization. Building a revolutionary party for socialist change and the wider workers movement is harmed when the divisions and prejudices created by class society find expression within our own organization. The prejudices institutionalized by capitalism are an obstacle to building a united revolutionary party with roots in the diverse working class, which fully develops the talents of all its members, encourages them to overcome any lack of confidence they may have, and fosters cooperation in our day to day work. This is especially true when individuals identified with oppressed sections of society face harassment from other members of the ISA.

The party has a responsibility to provide an environment that allows for and encourages full participation of all members. We commit to waging an ongoing struggle, including within our own ranks, against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of prejudice. Our struggle is therefore also highly ideological, fighting bourgeois ideology, individualism, and prejudice, all of which this society based on exploitation and oppression tries to impose on us. It is necessary to reclaim, in the daily struggle of the workers and with our comrades, the best human values of solidarity, camaraderie, generosity and respect.  While systematically and collectively promoting such values, and fighting discriminating behavior, we also understand that the root of such behavior finds its structural roots in class society and that there cannot be a final solution to these problems within the capitalist system.

Part 02: ISA Code of Conduct

What We Expect of Our Sections

Our sections should work to fully integrate a socialist feminist perspective in their outlook, program and work, based on an understanding that socialism cannot be had without women’s emancipation and women’s emancipation cannot be had without socialism. We intervene in feminist struggles with a transitional socialist program. As part of fighting for every gain for the working class and oppressed in these struggles, we aim to build the socialist feminist wing of the movement, in opposition to pro-capitalist, bourgeois feminism that offers a perpetuation of exploitation and oppression. Socialist feminism is based on collective struggle and on solidarity of all the exploited and the oppressed.

Our sections should integrate the idea that the working class can only liberate itself when it fights for the liberation of all humankind. We reject and fight all forms of oppression and strive to maximum workers’ unity in the struggle against capitalism. It demands a conscious attitude of education and involvement in the struggle against sexism, racism, LGBTQI phobia, national oppression, and religious sectarianism. It is part and parcel of our work as a revolutionary international, relevant to all our sections, to develop a working class socialist program and perspective to inform our actions and interventions, on fighting oppression — failing to develop this work will lead to missed opportunities and very serious political mistakes, most notably by missing opportunities to build the revolutionary party amongst oppressed layers and the diverse working class.

Our sections should dedicate time and resources to consciously develop the understanding of all our members on these issues through regular discussion and through active involvement in actions, campaigns and struggles against discrimination and oppression. This includes and helps in building strong women cadre in the organization, which is a crucial measure to fight sexism within our own ranks. Sections should consciously strive to build a diverse leadership and to help women and people of other groups facing special oppressions develop their political capacities and become cadres by involving them in all aspects of the work and stimulating their confidence that they can play a leading role.

Sexual harassment is utterly unacceptable and will not be tolerated by the ISA. Our sections must aim to make sure every member feels at ease and safe in the party. stimulating them to come forward with complaints on discriminatory behavior in the party when such behavior occurs. They should provide structures and procedures by which such complaints can be treated in a way that develops the understanding of the members and brings the party and its members forward, together with providing justice for victims. We reject the impunity of sexual violence and harrasment by bourgeois society and the way police and justice systems treat these issues; victim blaming and protection of the powerful have no place in our ranks. There can be no privileges for leading comrades: discriminatory behavior must be responded to regardless of the status of position of members and leading comrades must be held to an even higher standard than all the members in this respect.

What We Expect of Our Members

Members commit to ongoing political education and development, including in regards to the roots of oppression, and how that relates to building the revolutionary organization among the diverse working class.

Members commit to treating all members, contacts and supporters with respect and dignity. No member will take part in any physical, sexual, psychological, verbal or online harassment.

Members commit to promoting an atmosphere of professionalism and comradely behavior within the organization, not only in branch, but in all organizational events, and to speak up if that commitment is violated by others.

Members playing leading roles commit to an even higher level of professionalism including, but not limited to, awareness of potential power differential (including but not exclusively related to age, political experience within the organization, gender and racial power dynamics etc), sensitivity to various interpersonal dynamics, and heightened caution when it comes to engaging in romantic/sexual relationships within the organization.

Members commit to representing the organization seriously: this means abstaining from over-consumption of alcohol and other intoxicating substances at organizational events or other types of behavior which could reasonably beconsidered inappropriate. At the same time, we make a distinction between over-consumption and abusive behavior, with the former never being an excuse for the latter.

Members commit to participate in investigations into conduct as requested, understanding that any proposed measures or decisions in relation to their own behavior are of the utmost importance for their political development.

Part 03: Harassment Policy

Defining Harassment

Comments or conduct that are known or would commonly be perceived to be unwelcome could be considered harassment. When the unwelcome comments or conduct are linked to someone’s physical characteristics or known identity, this especially may be considered harassment. While in general harassment is considered to be repeated unwelcome comments or conduct, one incident could be serious enough to be considered harassment.

Harassment may take many forms, but some of the most common forms include verbal, physical, visual and sexual harassment.

Whether incidents of harassment between ISA members occur during formal events of the organization or outside of them, the same standards and approach to resolving the conflicts apply.

Examples of Harassment

1.  Verbal harassment – such as unwelcome jokes, epithets, slurs, negative stereotyping, and unwelcome remarks about an individual’s body, race, ethnicity, physical characteristics, or appearance, questions about a person’s sexual practices, or malicious gossiping about sexual relations;

2.  Physical harassment – such as physical interference with one’s activities, impeding or blocking movement, assault, sexual assault, unwelcome physical contact, leering ata person’s body, and threatening, intimidating or hostile acts that relate to a protected characteristic;

3.  Visual harassment– such as offensive or obscene photographs, drawings and gestures, display of sexually suggestive or lewd objects, unwelcome notes or letters, and any other written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual, because they are identified with an oppressed section of society;

4.  Sexual harassment – any type of conduct that would generally be recognized as being of an unacceptable sexual nature is considered sexual harassment. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.

Behavior that may constitute sexual harassment and sexual assault includes:

●   Unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature, either physical or verbal;

●   Inappropriate or suggestive remarks or verbal sexual advances;

●   Indecent comments, jokes or innuendo of a sexually suggestive nature;

● Unwanted physical contact such as hugging, kissing or inappropriate touching, patting, grabbing or brushing;

●   Requests for sexual favours;

● Any discrimination or actions that create difficulties for anyone based on their sex/gender;

●   Any retaliation for sexual harassment complaints;

●   The display or circulation of sexual imagery;

●   Unwelcome digital communication of a sexually suggestive nature;

●   Physical assaults of a sexual nature such as rape;

●   Sexual battery/violence, molestation or attempts at these;

●    Intimate partner violence.

Preventing Harassment

We must maintain a culture in our party that does not tolerate sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of prejudice. A crucial element of this is an atmosphere in which recipients of unwelcome conduct feel confident to immediately speak up, and where their requests to desist unwelcome conduct are respected. Yet the responsibility for rejecting harassment does not fall on comrades who are faced with such behavior. We must establish and reinforce a norm where others will feel responsible to immediately intervene when they witness harassment or otherwiseunwelcome, offensive conduct, even when they are not the recipients of the conduct or don’t feel deeply offended themselves.

More than anything else, creating such a culture requires systematic political education on the underlying causes of oppression in capitalist society and a socialist program to fight back.

By joining ISA, and particularly when taking on responsible roles within the organization, comrades are making a commitment to challenge the wider oppressions created by capitalist society, and also a commitment to struggle to develop oneself. All comrades must strive to understand the root causes of oppression and prejudice, how to resolve them on a systemic level, and how these systemic prejudices have conditioned our own attitudes.

Put simply, when women’s oppression and struggles for women’s rights are an active part of our members’ political development, our comrades have more confidence to deal with sexism in our organization — to intervene if something seems wrong, speak up, or to, through political education, combat the learned sexism in themselves.

Our organization does not exist in a bubble and our members are not immune from the deeply ingrained prejudices and attitudes spawned by centuries of class society. We’re not trying to create the socialist utopia within our organization; we’re building a tool to defeat the capitalist class and transform society. Our membership is drawn from many different backgrounds. We take a discussion orientated approach that strives to develop  members’ understanding and approach on these issues. We expect from all our members to be open to this.

These tasks of preventing harassment are, and always must be, ongoing. This active political struggle should be reinforced by every section having a clear approach to harassment, with discussions in every level of the organization on our policy and procedures, so that comrades understand that internally, it’s incumbent on them to act on the basis of our politics and program.

Expectations of Those in Leadership Positions

All members of the ISA must be held to high standards of conduct, whether they are in leadership positions or not. However, members with positions of authority within the party or within the wider workers’ movement must demonstrate an even higher level of professionalism, comradely behavior, and rejection of sexism than wewould expect of anyone else. This is a key part of building an organization where sexism is not accepted.

Branch leaders must be attuned to the interactions within the branch and consciously intervene to promote an atmosphere of comradely behavior. This must not be dismissed as a menial task of simply ensuring amicable relations amongst members, but needs to be seen as crucial to our maturation into an effective revolutionary force, one that is worthy of the great historical tasks before us. In doing so, our leading members also help maintain an inclusive and respectful environment that is welcoming and accessible to a diverse range of people.

Establishing such a culture in no way precludes robust debate within our ranks, nor does it contradict the historical traditions of Marxism and democratic centralism. Members will, of course, feel passionately about topics under discussion in political debates, but should strive to maintain a comradely approach and a level of sharpness in proportion to the debate at hand.

Our leadership is elected on their political merits, but this must also take into account their ability to exemplify revolutionary socialist politics both in public and inside the organization with all of their comrades. This includes understanding and practicing respect and consent in their private / personal relationships. Further, no comrade’s perceived authority or role can be prioritized over their behavior in instances of harassment or abuse.

Members are asked to bring forward reports of harassment that they’ve been informed of, whether they’ve learned about such reports in a formal or informal manner. This must be done in a way that does not contradict the rights of confidentiality as outlined throughout our approach.

Part 04: Procedures for Addressing Harassment

Whenever possible, instances of harassment are to be addressed within national sections and their appropriate elected bodies. As such, having an international “procedure” has its limitations. Given the variation of size and development of our sections, there is also a variation in established norms for harassment procedure. Yet harassment within our ranks damages not just one section, but the entire international.Part 04 is intended to lay out basic guidelines for our organizational approach to allegations of harassment or abuse. The responsibility for appropriately handling such cases is with the elected day-to-day leadership of each section (often called national Executive Committees), even in sections where additional elected bodies exist to help process complaints when they arise. There are instances when the International Control Commission (ICC) and international leadership bodies will become involved in cases of harassment.

The Rights of All Members and the Party

Every member has the right to bring forward a harassment grievance against another member or members. No member is endowed with more, or less, rights than any other member. Even in the absence of a formal investigation, equal rights are given to all members to bring forward an issue that they perceive as inappropriate.

Any member accused of harassment or inappropriate conduct has the right to a fair and impartial investigation of said conduct. While preliminary action may be taken as an interim measure, final decisions will not be made until all sides to a case have been heard.

Confidentiality and sensitivity are essential for all parties involved in this process. For comrades to have confidence to come forward with instances of harassment or abuse, they must be able to reasonably expect that personal details, including their identity, will not be disclosed without their consent.

After an investigation is concluded, the organization commits to informing only those members and leadership bodies directly affected. On a case by case basis, a wider disclosure of information will only be done if it is deemed appropriate and acceptable by the national Executive Committee (or equivalent body).

Members must be free to raise concerns without fear of reprisal. Retaliation for reporting harassment, or perceived harassment, for making complaints of harassment, or participating in any investigation of incidents of harassment, or perceived harassment, is not acceptable and constitutes a violation of the harassment policy.

Handling Allegations of Harassment

We have the responsibility of protecting a comrade who has experienced harassment or abuse as best we can, protecting the broader membership, andprotecting the organization as a whole from the harm and political degradation of such behavior.

Any member who believes they have been subject to harassment or have been made to feel uncomfortable by the conduct of another member should promptly report the matter to a member of the appropriate elected leadership, whether that is local or national leadership, or a body otherwise elected which receives such complaints. Comrades not directly affected may also contact these bodies. While we encourage members to promptly report any complaint, there is no time limit to report abuse or harassment, and the period separating a complaint from the time of the incident is not relevant to assess the merits of the said complaint.

Complaints must be promptly and thoroughly investigated. All information disclosed in the course of an investigation will remain confidential, except as necessary to conduct the investigation and take any remedial action. Decisions about how to proceed, what information to disclose and to whom, and other sensitive questions will be made in the closest possible dialogue and agreement with the individual making the complaint. Comrades involved in carrying out the investigation or taking decisions on a case will recuse themselves from cases in which they could be reasonably understood to have a personal interest.

This process is internal to the ISA and its democratic structures; it is not bound to the established norms of the legal system. That is to say that we take seriously the rights of individual members to a fair process, whether they are making a complaint or are the subject of a complaint, and an investigation will be carried out with no presumed outcome and in an open-minded manner. This is necessarily balanced with the rights of other members to participate in the work of the organization to their fullest capacity and the right of the organization to continue its work without undue interruption.

At the same time, we do not aim to create our own “court system” within the party, which claims the ability to build factual accounts or determine absolute “guilt” or “innocence” through investigation. The basis for a leadership body taking action at the conclusion of an investigation is not on whether or not “proof of guilt” has been acquired, which bourgeois courts use to systematically discredit survivors of harassment and abuse every day, but on the basis of the best interests of the organization moving forward.This may include disciplinary action against the accused party, up to and including temporary suspension or even expulsion. Where possible, through discussion with all involved parties, resolutions that are agreed by all and ensure the continued uninhibited participation of all will be arrived at.

Any decisions are subject to the appeals process as per the democratic structures of the organization.

International Control Commission

As outlined in the ISA Statutes, each World Congress elects an International Control Commission (ICC), a body necessarily made up of comrades with appropriate training and sensitivity on questions of harassment and abuse.

The International Executive (IE) or International Committee (IC) have the right to convene the ICC to intervene in a case of harassment in a section. The IE will select a group of not less than  three members of the ICC to undertake any enquiry. This may be done if a case has to do with a comrade on an international leadership body, on the Executive Committee of a section, or in the case that the size of a section or proximity of the leading body does not allow a genuinely impartial investigation. This may also be ok done on the basis of disagreement or concern with the handling of a case. Additionally, a section or individual may request the intervention of the ICC.

The decision about whether the ICC should be convened will be made by the IE or IC, after discussion with the relevant section. After an investigation, the ICC will report to the IE or IC, which will make a decision on any necessary action after considering the report.

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