A crisis in International Socialist Alternative (ISA)

Content warning: abuse, betrayal of survivors

This statement is issued by the Faction to Defend Safeguarding, Socialist Feminism and Internal Democracy (SSFID), an organised opposition within the International Socialist Alternative (ISA). It was initiated by members in the ISA’s leading bodies who, since they were made aware of the safeguarding failures we outline below, have fought to restore the strong commitment to socialist feminism, in words and in deeds, without which the revolutionary socialist organisation that is needed worldwide cannot be built.

Over the last year, a crisis has erupted in the ISA over the failure of a national section to take action in response to very serious abuse allegations against a then-member, which was compounded when parts of our international leadership acted to endorse this mishandling. While the undersigned have vigorously opposed these decisions, we must publicly confront that these failures and the enormous hurt were caused  by our International. On our behalf, we wish to extend our sincere and heartfelt apologies to those impacted by this case and all those harmed in this process, and for the unacceptable time it has taken to reach these conclusions.

The need to apologise for any additional hurt caused, as well as the conviction that a healthy working-class and socialist organisation cannot grow by concealing its shortcomings, are what motivates us to issue this public acknowledgement. Yet just over half of the members of the elected leading bodies of ISA have rejected issuing such an honest statement recognising failure and expressing remorse, and thereby the ideas behind it: the integration of socialist feminism as an integral part of our Marxism, and its consistent application in the form of a safeguarding approach toward victims and survivors of gender-based violence. 

Failure to uphold socialist feminist principles 

The investigation and its outcome, pertaining to very serious and distressing allegations of abuse directed at a leading member, were handled in a manner that broke with ISA’s International Code of Conduct, and failed to put into practice our analysis of abuse dynamics and gender oppression, as well as to prioritise the well-being of the complainant and the organisation’s overall safety for women and people who are marginalised and oppressed. As such, this mishandling is much more than a matter of procedural error; it strikes at the very core of our political principles. 

ISA’s Code of Conduct emphasises the need to hold members with positions of authority to the highest standards of conduct and professionalism. Instead the original investigation focused on establishing guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, weighing the evidence against the perceived risk of losing a longstanding member. Such approach directly contravenes ISA’s Code of Conduct, which states: 

“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 courts use to systematically discredit survivors of harassment and abuse every day, but on the basis of our commitment to the safeguarding of individuals and the organisation.”

In this case, the survivor’s testimony was effectively discounted, and the person accused kept in membership. Not only is this unacceptable; it is diametrically opposed to the socialist feminist approach that all sections of ISA had previously committed to embody.   

The leadership of the concerned section also failed to inform international bodies in a forthcoming manner, hindering the benefit of broader insight and assistance from members with more distance from the respondent in the case. When the decision was reported more widely in the section, and when the process was eventually reviewed by international structures, crucial pieces of information were withheld, and an uphill battle had to be waged to acquire them. 

This, along with the absence of timely communication with the International over this case, unnecessarily prolonged and complicated the process of uncovering and reckoning with the wrongdoing, and of throwing out the original conclusions. The accused individual eventually resigned from the organisation three months after the first scant information was given to the International Executive (IE, part of ISA’s day-to-day leadership). A decision stating that membership should have been withdrawn at the conclusion of the original investigation was formally taken by ISA’s International Committee (IC, ISA’s highest leading body in between World Congresses) over 18 months after the allegations first reached the organisation, and over ten months after the matter was communicated to the international structures. This further and unacceptable delay was due to the persistent defence of the original decision by the leadership of the section involved and by part of the international leadership, despite opposition from a majority of the IE members not involved in the original mishandling. This opposition, however, failed to constitute a formal majority due to the leading members directly involved in the original decision in the section refusing to recuse themselves in relevant votes pertaining to the case’s handling. 

It is clear that the series of intolerable decisions described above were completely avoidable, and that they have caused damage to women and survivors in and around the organisation, and presumably to the complainant as well. This mishandling and the refusal to account for the same has caused a massive division in ISA’s leadership. 

It takes enormous courage for people to speak about their experiences of abuse, and it is incumbent upon us to ensure that their voices are not only heard, but also respected. A primary factor motivating survivors who bravely speak out about their trauma is to keep others safe from harm. It is a brutal dereliction of duty for any left movement to fail to understand this. Any serious lapse in safeguarding, particularly if unaddressed, can create an environment that complicates the process for victims to come forward and for individuals to feel safe. This also raises serious obstacles in the building of any organisation that aspires to be truly diverse and welcoming to all sections of the working class. 

From the time we uncovered the gross mishandling we have taken this issue extremely seriously, because as the old labour movement adage says: an injury to one is an injury to all. Our commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder with all who suffer oppression and exploitation is hollowed out when this solidarity fails to encompass those who have been harmed by “one of our own”. In the words of our Code of Conduct, “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 organisation.” 

Fighting for accountability 

We are fighting for a thorough and collective understanding of what led to this egregious failure to uphold and implement our safeguarding policies and procedures. This is critical to move forward. To that end, a genuine, fully informed discussion involving all ISA members is needed, which must draw fulsome lessons and act to ensure accountability at national and international level. The struggle for such a fundamental overhaul also has to include robust measures to strengthen our safeguarding procedures, enhance the political training and support given to our safeguarding teams, and foster new, comprehensive discussions over issues of abuse and gender-based violence across all levels of the organisation. Due to the approach taken by a majority of the ISA leadership so far, it is unfortunately far from certain that such a well-informed and democratic process will take place. 

Crucially, those responsible for this grave dereliction in the duty of care to both our membership and to broader society must be held accountable for their wrongdoings and harmful decisions. The obfuscation of the mishandling from the international leadership and then from the membership, the continued minimisation of the harm done to the victims and to all survivors of gender based violence inside and outside our organisation, and the refusal to admit that such mishandling has its roots in the lack of a consistent socialist feminism, compelled us to set up this faction. We not only oppose the course taken by the majority leadership, but have also concluded that we need to organise to firmly challenge it through this faction; we strongly encourage other ISA members who oppose the majority’s actions to join us in this endeavour. 

We want to ensure the correct political conclusions are drawn. This includes giving ISA’s members, many of whom have until now not been made aware of the mishandling, the necessary knowledge about the situation – in line, of course, with the highest standard of confidentiality. It also includes a thorough reflection on our own weaknesses and past mistakes to draw lessons. And it includes the vital necessity to remove from the leadership all those directly responsible for the mishandling and the cover up. If the ISA comes out of this with anything less than a deepened understanding of gender based violence and a strengthened practice of safeguarding and socialist feminism, it will have failed a fundamental political test. 

We reiterate our deepest apologies to all those impacted by the mishandling of this abuse case. We thank the survivor for coming forward and acknowledge the pain and distress they have undoubtedly endured. We understand that words alone cannot undo the harm that has been caused, but are fully dedicated to taking concrete steps to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future, and to fight for our International’s internal culture to fully align with our strong socialist feminist record and principles. 

In our view it is impossible for left, socialist and revolutionary forces to grow without an organic connection to the most vital elements of the working-class movement today — workers and youth in struggle, with women and queer people so often fulfilling leading roles. It was our active involvement in the global feminist movement and movements of the oppressed, and in turn their impact on us, which led us to widen our Marxist analysis and programme to fully integrate the special impetus of struggles and demands for freedom from oppression, into our overall working-class revolutionary politics and programme in a deep way. 

We cannot, and will not accept any approach that in any way diminishes socialist feminism and safeguarding, or undermines the importance of fighting oppression. Any organisation that claims to represent genuine Marxism and fights for a socialist world, must have a thoroughgoing socialist feminist approach at its core. 

Several left, socialist and revolutionary organisations have failed to act on a correct socialist feminist basis and in line with a safeguarding approach when confronted with cases of gender based violence committed by one of their members. Often, this happened when the perceived need to keep male leading figures was preferred to a principled safeguarding approach that prioritises the building of a diverse organisation and leadership with roots in the most oppressed layers of the working class. That is unacceptable to us. Fighting oppression in all its forms is not secondary but completely intertwined with the struggle against class oppression and exploitation and for socialist change. 

With the formation of ISA we had made important steps to reckon with the blindspots in our past, to rebuild our International on a healthy Marxist basis, to continue to strengthen our understanding of and involvement in struggles against oppression, a powerful counterweight against the rise of the far right. Part of our leadership has veered back to, or perhaps never left, that past we thought was left behind by all. We will continue the struggle to not only prevent steps back, but to drive forward on the basis of a robust revolutionary socialist feminism. This requires a decisive course correction from the approach taken by the parts of ISA’s leadership that allowed this mishandling to happen. We will not settle for anything less, as the imperative to redress this is a fundamental question of principle for a revolutionary International. Without it, there can be no prospect of building a truly revolutionary socialist International dedicated to combating every form of oppression.

When the culture of abuse and gender violence is perpetuated by those who are left and radical, and who profess to stand against oppression, it does even deeper damage. As we draw painful lessons from this shocking debacle, we cannot lose sight of any person directly harmed. We urge everyone to refrain from sharing information on this case publicly or speculating about specific details that could identify anyone affected by this mishandling.

Issued 18 April, 2024 by:The Faction to Defend Safeguarding, Socialist Feminism and Internal Democracy, which so far involves the leaderships of ISA’s sections in Ireland, Belgium, Austria, as well as groups and individuals amongst ISA members in Brazil, South Africa, England/Wales/Scotland, India, Mexico, United States, Côte d’Ivoire, Poland, Russia, Colombia, Netherlands, Sweden, Spanish State, Czech Republic, and Tunisia.

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