This piece was originally written and approved at the Workers’ Voice 2018 Congress. We have congresses every 2-3 years, and following the Marxist and Leninist/Trotskyist tradition, they are our highest decision making body, which is conducted as a democratic assembly of the entire membership of the organization. Our congress documents are written and approved after months of collective and deep discussions and debates and are a good reflection of our organizational politics/program. It was further edited for clarity by the editorial team of Workers’ Voice in 2021.
Our Marxist Approach to Combating Women’s Oppression in Working Class Organizations
- Political Context
- The Fight Against Oppression in the Socialist Program
- Identifying Internalized Manifestations of Oppression
- Political Guidelines to Actively Combat Sexist Behaviors in Organizing Meetings and Developing Women’s Leadership
- Political Guidelines Regarding Cases of Sexual Harassment, Assault, and Violence
- Developing Marxist Criteria to Assess and Deliberate on These Matters.
A Resurgence of Oppression. Despite a vibrant legacy of mass movements and sociopolitical reforms achieved by the revolutionary Left, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of oppression are present and continue to harm our class. How many union or student spaces have been destroyed because of sexual harassment or assault? How many women, LGBTQI people, immigrants, and Black and Brown people have left organizing spaces because they felt either discriminated against, physically endangered, or excluded from political conversations and organizing work?
Similarly, how many political organizations have collapsed or lost their credibility and capacity to lead the class struggle because they failed to provide a clear answer to questions of sexual harassment and assault in their own ranks? Too many, including but not limited to the epic internal crisis of the Socialist Workers Party of the UK resulting from the cover up of rape allegations against leadership cadre in 2013. The ongoing refusal of the SWP leadership to openly and democratically discuss the case or to recognize their initial mistakes in handling it led to a collapse of a party (2,000 members strong before the crisis).During this crisis the party saw a significant principled split on this issue (160 members formed Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century) which tried to uphold a revolutionary and principled position on confronting oppression. However, hundreds of members left the party frustrated and demoralized. The SWP today retains only a few hundred members. More recently the MTS (Movimiento de los Trabajadores Socialistas; sister party of the Argentinian PTS in Mexico) entered into a crisis because of a sexual abuse allegation, issued by fellow party activists, against one of their members.Instead of constituting an independent commission to investigate the facts, the party unconditionally backed the accused member, who responded to these charges by countering that their accusers were slanderers and reactionaries. Hundreds of members left the party frustrated and demoralized. The SWP today retains only a few hundred members. More recently the MTS (Movimiento de los Trabajadores Socialistas; sister party of the Argentinian PTS in Mexico) entered into a crisis because of a sexual abuse allegation, issued by fellow party activists, against one of their members.Instead of constituting an independent commission to investigate the facts, the party unconditionally backed the accused member, who responded to these charges by countering that their accusers were slanderers and reactionaries. Hundreds of members left the party frustrated and demoralized. The SWP today retains only a few hundred members. More recently the MTS (Movimiento de los Trabajadores Socialistas; sister party of the Argentinian PTS in Mexico) entered into a crisis because of a sexual abuse allegation, issued by fellow party activists, against one of their members.Instead of constituting an independent commission to investigate the facts, the party unconditionally backed the accused member, who responded to these charges by countering that their accusers were slanderers and reactionaries. issued by fellow party activists, against one of their members. Instead of constituting an independent commission to investigate the facts, the party unconditionally backed the accused member, who responded to these charges by countering that their accusers were slanderers and reactionaries. issued by fellow party activists, against one of their members.Instead of constituting an independent commission to investigate the facts, the party unconditionally backed the accused member, who responded to these charges by countering that their accusers were slanderers and reactionaries.  This crisis led to a serious loss of confidence in the MTS and its capacity to lead among key working class sectors. When one working-class party or organization is compromised due to failure to address sexual harassment, we are all diminished. It is the duty of all of us to combat sexual harassment and all forms of gender oppression in our working-class movements.
Left organizations often do not grant the same attention and resources to the active struggle against all forms of oppression and the need to provide clear and strong political leadership when cases of oppression surface within the organization as they do towards other activities, such as membership recruitment. This is a failure to our class and our legacy. When cases of oppression surface within organizations, these moments represent a critical opportunity to develop political leadership, build trust, strengthen a socialist program, and hone Marxist methodology. We must not avoid, evade, remain silent, or expect others to solve our cases.
Gender oppression is a necessary part of imperialist capitalism; thus, as long as capitalism grows, so will gender oppression.Both rely on the same logic: domination, shallow competition, conquest, intimidation, and a “survival of the fittest” mentality, where the loudest and most “able” (according to capitalism’s definition of “able,” ie, able to access the highest paying job in a capitalist economy) maintain power and attention. Gender oppression divides, disorganizes, and demoralizes the entire working class by draining energy and resources from our collective project of building an equitable economy and society. Overcoming gender oppression is one of the major challenges in achieving unity and liberation of the working class. This document will explore the specific nature of gender oppression’s relationship with capitalism and class division.We then explore ways to achieve our liberation from capitalism and gender oppression together.
Challenges in Our IWL Parties and International. Our international began seriously addressing these problems internally in 2008 and has deepened and developed a still ongoing struggle against sexism in our own ranks and in the movement spaces where we intervene. We are not immune to this problem, quite the opposite. Cases of leadership comrades accused of very severe allegations, like abuse and harassment, prompted the IWL-FI to take a strong position on this matter. Those comrades who refused a party investigation on these matters were expelled.This contributed to the loss of the majority of our Bolivian section in 2008, when leaders who were accused of domestic abuse and who refused to respond to these allegations and face accountability in front of the International Moral Commission (the Moral Commission existed prior to 2008; this was the first instance of domestic abuse taken to the Moral Commission). Fortunately, since the party began tackling internal questions of sexism and other oppression in the ranks, the majority of comrades accepted and applied the sanctions voted by the Control or Moral Commissions of the respective parties.Cases of harassment, assault or abuse by leadership members were henceforth to be investigated and decided upon by commissions independent from the leadership, and sanctions of members in leadership positions were to be harsher.
The Balance in Our Own Party. The last nine years have seen our own party, La Voz de los Trabajadores/Workers’ Voice, face challenging and formative experiences combatting sexism in the worker and student movements in which we are most active. We have also had three cases of gender oppression emerge within our national organization. Such cases have led to the destruction of our entire Los Angeles branch over the course of four years, losing in total nine members (two members were charged with a range of sexist behaviors including treating women comrades as sexual objects and sexist behaviors in meetings). We have also been confronted with at least one case in the last year (2017) in the social spaces in which we have intervened (unions, student groups).The balance for our party is mixed – while we have struggled to correctly and promptly address the problems that confronted us, the results have been quite devastating in some cases (Los Angeles being one). Our small group was not able to quickly and correctly assess the realities of sexism in the LA branch. There were two reasons for this. First was the relative political inexperience of our young leadership, especially the male cadre, who were put in leadership positions before having been tested in the class struggle, and tested especially on the issue of women’s oppression.While male members of the leadership in LA formally vowed to combat sexism and to support women’s liberation, in their concrete life and their practical interactions with women comrades and activists, they did the opposite. Second, we lacked a developed position on women’s oppression in the class struggle as well as a clear, agreed upon protocol for addressing specific incidents. The repeated cases of oppression even led in one case to the development of fractional tendencies.
The value of these experiences is indispensable towards the process of formulating correct strategy and tactics for the women’s liberation struggle.They confirm that the fight against the oppression of women, starting with, and especially against, sexism in our movement and organizing spaces, is a task of the first order for the revolutionary class struggle. Without engaging and winning this fight we are doomed to repeat our mistakes and inadvertently fuel capitalism’s expansion.
The Goals and Scope of this Document. This document will focus especially on the concrete manifestations of the oppression of women and LGBT people in organizing spaces. , but the same concern and methodology should be applied and developed to tackle the other forms of oppression using a Marxist and revolutionary approach. If we want to be able to confront the marginalization and oppression of women in society and be credible when fighting for women’s liberation, we need to be able to do so concretely in working class organizations, by being aware of and responsive to practices, behaviors, attitudes, and relationships that discourage women from participation, inhibit or minimize their voice and opinions, or which threaten women militants.
As Marxists, we should develop a methodology to deal with these cases in a way that:
a) politically educates our class on the need to combat oppression, the roots of oppression, and its connection to capitalism
b) develops the confidence, agency, and leadership of the oppressed sectors (eg, working class women, queer people) and
c) develops the power and strength of working class organizations, by practically demonstrating that the proletariat offers processes and solutions to address gender oppression superior to the individuated, isolated processes and solutions offered by the bourgeois state and non-profit organizations.
In the rest of this document we will use “women” (and “men”), which are the binary sexual constructs of all bourgeois societies, in a non-exclusionary way. By “women” we mean both cis women and trans women, and the same thing goes with “men.” We acknowledge that trans men may experience the tropes, characteristics, and privileges of bourgeois masculinity differently than cis men. Though this document will primarily focus on the oppression those identified under the social construct of “women”, we know that our queer/LGBTQI communities are impacted in similar ways by the same dynamics of sexist and misogynistic oppression.Some members of our queer/LGBTQI communities do identify as women, and feel excluded by a hierarchical and binary sexual construct that puts a version of masculinity at the top and a version of femininity at the bottom.
A Note on “Identity Politics”. Reactionaries have actively belittled demands around oppression and discrimination. They minimized the legacy of the women’s rights, gay, and civil rights movements by claiming that these movements focused on mere “identity politics”. Their position maintained that “identity politics” were not “real” politics, but rather a distraction and deviation of important matters, mainly the economy and wages. Reactionaries have used this phrase to avoid addressing questions of oppression and to de-legitimize these demands in the public discourse by reducing them back to the private, individual, domestic arena.It was a way to undermine the tremendous effort of key social movements in the 1960s and 1970s that demanded systematic relations of oppression be dealt with through public policy solutions. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, aimed to rebuild its electoral base among oppressed sectors, mainly women, and Black and Latino communities. It became a defender of “identity politics” for electoral purposes.
For Marxists, it is important to understand that electoral and public discourse of the bipartisan system pushed crucial matters of oppression under the umbrella of “identity politics” in order to benefit the bipartisan system, obscuring the roots of these oppressions.The fact that both bourgeois parties have framed questions of systematic oppression in terms of “identity” (a very personal and individual term), and later in terms of “privilege” (“white privilege,” “male privilege”) is telling of their superficial conception of systematic oppressions. The problem of the “identity politics” framework is that it can ultra-personalize cases of oppression (which have, of course, an obvious personal dimension). It moves away from making the struggle against oppression to a collective one with clear political goals,
Alternatively, a Marxist analysis of oppression shows how imbalances of material power create group-differentiated discrimination, and at the same time it analyzes the role of the State and its institutions (from the judiciary to the education and prison systems) in shaping these collective identities. . . More fundamentally, Marxist analysis focuses on the role of capitalism in perpetuating discrimination and oppression. What distinguishes the Marxist approach from other critiques of patriarchy and sexism is its attention to the ways in which relations of oppression are articulated through relations of exploitation , by analyzing the material roots and effects of oppression .It makes clear that the working class cannot become a revolutionary class unless it has managed to begin actively combatting all forms of oppression and integrating its various struggles. This task makes a revolutionary party even more necessary for the social liberation from sexism.
Safe Spaces. A contemporary demand of many oppressed sectors – one that socialists should actively approach – is the demand to create “safe spaces.” Safe spaces are usually meant to be completely free of any form of oppression, and are contrasted to merely “inclusive spaces.” Often when students demand “safe spaces” of university administration, for example, they are strategically calling out the unjust, even distribution of power in the university system, where administrators make unilateral decisions about the institution’s academic, financial, and political life.As socialists, this is obviously a goal we share, but it is also our role to warn against idealism of the possibility of constituting a pure safe space to fight within our organizing spaces, which would be absolutely free of any form of oppression. Some oppressed sectors of our class, such as undocumented people, may never accept any overtures of a space being “safe” so long as the state exists in its current repressive form and it is potentially short-sighted to call our spaces “safe” until such time as we all truly are safe from imperialist capitalist surveillance and violence.We think it is better to identify and agree upon mechanisms to deal with oppression and actively educate working class people, transforming those spaces together by establishing shared rules and processes, rather than declaring our ultimate goal of a fully oppression-free society as a prerequisite rule. . , and then expel from these spaces everyone that does not live up to such standards. If we believe that we cannot completely eliminate oppression until capitalism is destroyed, it means that we will not be able to have purely safe spaces until then.
Yet our answer to the legitimate demand of “safe spaces” cannot be to tell oppressed sectors that total safety is impossible under capitalism and that they have to suck it up. That would be reactionary and demoralizing.We must, rather, argue that the best safety mechanism is in our conscious, collective organizing for liberation. Our attitude should be to show that our party is fully committed to fight for spaces that actively combat all forms of oppression, that we believe we can build spaces where trust is developed between men, women, and queer people to jointly combat oppression and be united in the struggle. In the course of this daily struggle, we also need to point out that the only way to uproot, in any durable way, the contemporary institutions that perpetuate oppression,
2) The Fight Against Oppression in the Socialist Program
The Transitional Program Framework. The main accomplishment of the transitional program, created by Trotsky in 1938, is to develop a method to formulate political demands (or a program) that bridges the “minimum program which limited itself to reforms within the framework of bourgeois society,” with the “ maximum program which promised substitution of socialism for capitalism in the indefinite future”. 
The Transitional Program which was the founding political program of the Fourth International and the Trotskyist movement, made a point of integrating the fight for liberation of all oppressed sectors to the fight for socialism , following the legacy of the first years of the Communist International.This was a clear break with the Stalinist counter-revolution that betrayed the struggles for liberation and attacked many key gains of the Russian Revolution in this domain. In the United States, the Socialist Workers Party developed these struggles first with struggle for Black liberation and in the 1960s and with the women’s liberation movement and the gay rights (LGBT) movement in the 1970s. Our strategic goal is to bring the working class to power to destroy capitalism, and in order to do that we need to transform the working class from an exploited and oppressed social subject into a conscious and organized political one, with a class consciousness that explicitly includes the demands of liberation struggles.
The Role of Oppression in Capitalist Society . Marxists have a particular understanding of the systematic relations of oppression which distinguishes us from other political currents. We have a materialist analysis of the relation between oppression and exploitation in capitalist society . Under capitalism, oppression is systematically combined with exploitation, in a hierarchical way.Oppression generates specific forms of exploitation (ongoing forms of slavery such as sex trafficking, unpaid household labor, etc.), and adds to the dominant form of exploitation (capitalist exploitation based on the wage system) for certain groups of people (women, LGBTQI , Black, Brown, immigrant, etc.), which, combined, constitute the vast majority of the working class. Relations of oppression are subordinated to the goals of capitalist exploitation: the increase of corporate profits by increasing the rate of exploitation of the oppressed sectors, or extracting free labor from them. It also has the advantage of perpetuating systematic divisions and hierarchies between different sectors of the working class to prevent the emergence of solidarity and joint organization.In some cases, certain forms of oppression have been lowered or diminished (but never totally abandoned) for a period of time, as was the case for women in Western countries after the major social struggles in the 20th century, for the fight for equality grew. . to the point that it managed to mobilize large sectors of society which could have put the capitalist system altogether at risk. Today, following the neoliberal offensive of the 2008 economic crisis, these rights are again being questioned and taken away. as was the case for women in Western countries after the major social struggles in the 20th century, for the fight for equality grew to the point that it managed to mobilize large sectors of society which could have put the capitalist system altogether at risk.Today, following the neoliberal offensive of the 2008 economic crisis, these rights are again being questioned and taken away. as was the case for women in Western countries after the major social struggles in the 20th century, for the fight for equality grew to the point that it managed to mobilize large sectors of society which could have put the capitalist system altogether at risk. Today, following the neoliberal offensive of the 2008 economic crisis, these rights are again being questioned and taken away.
As Marxists, we see that the dominant relation that structures society is the exploitation of labor, which generates surplus-value; all of the various types of oppression support this extraction of surplus labor to increase profits in the productive sphere.This does not mean that oppression has no important or profound extra-economic dimensions. Oppression manifests itself through political discrimination, physical violence, and psychological and emotional trauma. However, the roots of oppression do not always overlap with its devastating effects on human beings. At a social level, if we look beyond the individual, relations of oppression are not rooted in an evil psychology inherent to humanity (or the male sex, for example). They are social constructs that have a material base rooted in capitalism,
Strategic Implications for Liberation . Only the working class as a whole, with the leadership of a revolutionary party, can end both exploitation and all forms of oppression. The conclusion we draw from our analysis of how oppression and exploitation are intertwined is a strategy for liberation which puts the class at the center of the project of liberation. This means, for example, that we do not think that working class women alone, or even all women, can achieve the long-lasting liberation of all women. Only dismantling capitalism will liberate all women. Only the united working class can have a chance to defeat capitalism.We also believe that women and other oppressed sectors, working within revolutionary parties and with their own separate class organizations if necessary, will play a key role in the revolutionary process.
Stalinist, Castro-Chavista, and workerist currents continue to insist on the reactionary idea that oppression is just a “reflection” of exploitation and that, therefore, it does not need to be specifically discussed and concretely combated in the class or the party. Even worse, some “Marxist” or “socialist” currents continue to label concerns about sexual liberation, gender identity, and women’s oppression as “petty bourgeois”. They argue that it’s politically dangerous to focus on these issues because it “divides” our class and derails us from combatting capitalism.We could not disagree more: our class is already divided, and will continue to be even further divided unless we actively intervene to address oppression, with a Marxist perspective, everywhere we are. Furthermore, there is no chance of successfully combating capitalism when a vast majority of our class is unable to organize politically because it is overexploited, physically endangered, and humiliated daily through multiple layers of oppression. The question is not “if” we should pay a great deal of attention to the struggles for liberation, but rather “how” we do it: from a class perspective, inside our unions and class organizations, in our workplaces and neighborhoods etc.
On the other hand, the are “anti-capitalist feminist” currents and radicalized forms of black nationalism that see the combination between oppression and exploitation the other way around: for them the dominant relation that structures society is a relation of oppression (racial or gender ), and capitalist exploitation is a way to perpetuate an ancestral form of oppression which is rooted in an ideology or in human nature (for example, the so-called natural sexual division of labor). For such currents, oppressions are eternal, they cannot be eliminated. Some of these currents locate the origin of oppression in the emergence of the State, but do not link the State with the emergence of class society as Marxists do. Even if they agree that capitalism needs to be eventually destroyed,they do not see the working class as the revolutionary subject that will eliminate oppression and exploitation. They argue, like many nationalists, that the social subject that will manage to achieve liberation is the oppressed one (women, blacks, LGBTQI communities etc). Therefore, they argue that the social subject of liberation is comprised of the oppressed portion of the working class that can identify with a particular oppression alone. They do not think we need multi-racial and gender inclusive class organization, or that we should make it a priority to transform the ones we have into such kinds of organizations. They believe in creating permanent separate organizations of oppressed sectors of the class which will fight on their own.that the social subject that will manage to achieve liberation is the oppressed one (women, blacks, LGBTQI communities etc). Therefore, they argue that the social subject of liberation is comprised of the oppressed portion of the working class that can identify with a particular oppression alone. They do not think we need multi-racial and gender inclusive class organization, or that we should make it a priority to transform the ones we have into such kinds of organizations. They believe in creating permanent separate organizations of oppressed sectors of the class which will fight on their own. that the social subject that will manage to achieve liberation is the oppressed one (women, blacks, LGBTQI communities etc).Therefore, they argue that the social subject of liberation is comprised of the oppressed portion of the working class that can identify with a particular oppression alone. They do not think we need multi-racial and gender inclusive class organization, or that we should make it a priority to transform the ones we have into such kinds of organizations. They believe in creating permanent separate organizations of oppressed sectors of the class which will fight on their own. they argue that the social subject of liberation is comprised of the oppressed portion of the working class that can identify with a particular oppression alone.They do not think we need multi-racial and gender inclusive class organization, or that we should make it a priority to transform the ones we have into such kinds of organizations. They believe in creating permanent separate organizations of oppressed sectors of the class which will fight on their own. they argue that the social subject of liberation is comprised of the oppressed portion of the working class that can identify with a particular oppression alone. They do not think we need multi-racial and gender inclusive class organization, or that we should make it a priority to transform the ones we have into such kinds of organizations. They believe in creating permanent separate organizations of oppressed sectors of the class which will fight on their own.
Democratic and Transitional Demands in the Struggle for Women’s Liberation. It’s critical for the mass political struggle for women’s liberation to raise demands on the government and employers that are specific to working-class women, and simultaneously to spread revolutionary propaganda on the liberation of working class women under capitalism.
Under the transitional program, there are two kinds of demands: democratic demands are for reforms we can achieve within capitalism, for legal rights and protection or for redistribution of wealth reallocation of resources; and transitional demands , or demands that require the elimination of capitalist exploitation and the abolition of the bourgeois state.Transitional demands can only be met under a workers government and with the establishment of socialism.
Most tasks in the program for women’s liberation are democratic tasks, such as demands for equal pay for equal work, free abortion on demand, the right to vote and the right to divorce, for real protections against sexual harassment and violence, and for expanded maternity and paternity leave, etc. These rights, which were won in many countries decades ago, are under attack today. Yet there is a set of demands which have to do with the material base of oppression, the reproductive labor performed by women in the household and family, that can only be addressed with a government workers that will socialize reproductive labor (free childcare centers, community laundromats and restaurants, communal kitchens, etc). These are transitional demands.
In all our intervention in working class organizations (unions, workers councils, community assemblies etc.) we should seek whenever possible to:
- Integrate into the existing program both the democratic and transitional demands for women’s and LGBTQI liberation
- Educate around those demands among our working class base
- Put a special emphasis on the transitional demands, which are the ones that help us connect the struggle for liberation with the struggle for socialism
One of our goals for the next period is to develop a national political program that includes the major demands that will help us mobilize today to fight for women’s liberation, building on the initial programmatic formulations of the IWL-FI and adapting them to the national situation in the United States.
Promoting Women’s Participation and Leadership . A central part of our conception of the working class movement is for women to participate and conduct the class struggle against exploitation and oppression and to lead the movements against the bosses and government alongside other working class people. The idea that working class women should only deal with the struggles that confront them specifically and only as women not only ignores their reality and struggles as workers, but also immediately reinforces the already existing division that men should deal with politics while, at best, women can engage in some type of “women’s work.”
In our work overall, one of our central tasks is to raise the participation and develop the leadership of women in the struggle. This requires an active and proactive campaign against sexism and the creation of organizing spaces that challenge sexist acts and the men who perpetrate them. When men inside the movement engage in oppressive practices, whether it be in organizing spaces themselves or in their “personal” activities, they become an obstacle for women’s participation in the movement. Similarly, the fact that reproductive labor still falls on the shoulders of women, for the most part, is a concrete and material obstacle to women’s participation in the struggle and in the party.
Our party must champion the fight for working class women to participate in movement and organizing spaces, and develop their leadership in the party and the movement. In order to do that we propose the following guidelines:
- Our party will organize, among activists and comrades, free childcare in our movement, union, and party events so all women can participate. Whenever possible we will pay for this work.
- Our party will make a conscious effort to develop the visibility of our own female and LGBTQI comrades who play a leading role in the struggle. In general we should support the work of women who play an important role in working class struggles, so that they’re publicly acknowledged and named at each opportunity.
- When we are making a balance in the party to elect someone for a local or leadership position, we should take into account that if a man and a woman have an equal balance, it was harder for the woman to get there because of systematic oppression. Therefore we should “add a half a point” to their balance.
Combating All Concrete Manifestations of Sexism and Other Oppressions . The fight against women’s and LGBTQI oppression cannot just be a fight around political demands, agitation, and theoretical education. Sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are constant threats to the development and survival of more than half the working class. This is why as a revolutionary party we need to develop (for ourselves and for all our class organizations) methods to combat the concrete manifestations of sexism, while also foregrounding revolutionary ethics and values.
We must unite the class around clear anti-oppression principles and practices that recognize and correct problematic behaviors instead of hiding or minimizing their destructive effect in our party and class organizations. The fight against sexist and other oppressive practices needs to be done by everyone, regardless of gender identity. The expectation of our society is that each oppressed group must carry – alone and isolated – the fight against their own oppressions. We are opposed to this restrictive view, and we see the struggle for women’s liberation as one that needs to be taken up by working class men too, with women and LGBTQI communities at the vanguard. We propose the following guidelines:
- All working class people take up the fight against sexism, homophobia, and transphobia together. This is especially important of all party comrades.
- While our strategy is to build inclusive all-gender class organizations, we argue for the need to develop within these organizations women’s and LGBTQI caucuses to carry on the fight for liberation and against oppression both internally and in wider society. We should propose their creation when there is a base and conditions for their development. In special cases and under certain conditions we can tactically recognize the need and importance of organizing working class women separately outside of those organizations, if it is not possible to organize women and other sectors inside the unions and other class formations. Our strategy should be to create and defend all-gender inclusive working class organizations, and reform the existing organizations so that the concrete fight for liberation and against sexism is integrated and carried forward.
- When cases of oppression occur, we need to make sure that the women comrades and activists should not feel that it’s all on them to address these, or even worse, that in order to do so, they need to compromise their own feelings of safety. We need to prioritize as a basic prerequisite for this work ensuring the safety and emotional well-being of women in the party, and the working class movement. Men cadre of the party have to take up the task of educating men and winning them to fight women’s oppression.
3) Identifying Internalized Manifestations of Oppression
Here we focus on identifying the most widespread and recurrent manifestations of women’s oppression in our organizing spaces. In the second section we propose ways to address them. We are defining the following forms of oppression as “internalized” because more often than not, men do not think they are being explicitly oppressive. Rather, they think they are just “acting as dudes do” or even think that they are acting in a comradely way and “helping” women and LGBTQI collaborators. The problem is that our society reduces women’s oppression to open, explicit harassment or offensive or aggressive language and behavior, equating oppression with physical and sexual assault and violence. However, oppression operates in a deeper and more subtle way, expressing itself constantly in our meetings and organizing activities through such daily activities as use of language, distribution of speaking time, division of labor, etc. We know that most men are socialized into certain roles and types of masculinity. Our goal is to point out the internalized behaviors that inhibit, limit, or minimize women’s participation in our struggles and organizations. We believe all committed working class fighters can change those behaviors if they become aware of such behaviors and understand their consequences. We think the revolutionary party, and in particular the men in the party, have a key role to play by leading by example. Our goal is to point out the internalized behaviors that inhibit, limit, or minimize women’s participation in our struggles and organizations. We believe all committed working class fighters can change those behaviors if they become aware of such behaviors and understand their consequences. We think the revolutionary party, and in particular the men in the party, have a key role to play by leading by example. Our goal is to point out the internalized behaviors that inhibit, limit, or minimize women’s participation in our struggles and organizations. We believe all committed working class fighters can change those behaviors if they become aware of such behaviors and understand their consequences. We think the revolutionary party, and in particular the men in the party, have a key role to play by leading by example.
Cases of harassment and physical violence will be dealt with with the fifth section. They demand a particular protocol, since they present an immediate threat to the livelihood of our class.
Luckily, in identifying oppressive behaviors, we are not starting from scratch. We are building on the extraordinary work initiated by the Women’s Commission of the Brazilian PSTU, which established the guidelines adopted at the XII Congress of the IWL-FI in 2016. We believe these guidelines can be adapted to different forms of oppression. Because of the interlocking nature of oppression (race/ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, age) these guidelines around sexism will help us address other manifestations of oppression in our party and in wider society.
a. The Invisibility of Women as Political Leaders
Women are often ignored, underestimated and undervalued as political participants in organizing spaces. This is reflected in the percentage of women in leadership structures, which is generally low in working class and political organizations, not excluding our own. Women are underrepresented on IWL-FI leadership bodies because our international party has only recently begun to realize the deep roots and implications of this problem and to tackle it. The way women are invisibilized in the movement is the result of a patriarchal and bourgeois vision of the division of labor in society that has influenced our organizations. A male comrade can walk into an organizing space for the first time and feel more confident in participating than a woman who has organized in that space for a month. Why might this be? Men are expected to be active in the public sphere, which bourgeois society equates with the political sphere, the domain of language and ideas, and women are expected to remain in the private sphere, that of domestic labor, which bourgeois society defines and diminishes as an “apolitical” domain of the family, feelings, and emotions. Even though mass social movements and working class struggles have questioned (and sometimes even succeeded in partially modifying) this binary division of social roles, it is still the dominant one in capitalist society. Capitalism inherited and transformed the pre-existing patriarchal institution of the family and the exclusion of women from the political sphere, deepening the oppression of working class women. the domain of language and ideas, and women are expected to remain in the private sphere, that of domestic labor, which bourgeois society defines and diminishes as an “apolitical” domain of the family, feelings, and emotions. Even though mass social movements and working class struggles have questioned (and sometimes even succeeded in partially modifying) this binary division of social roles, it is still the dominant one in capitalist society. Capitalism inherited and transformed the pre-existing patriarchal institution of the family and the exclusion of women from the political sphere, deepening the oppression of working class women. the domain of language and ideas, and women are expected to remain in the private sphere, that of domestic labor, which bourgeois society defines and diminishes as an “apolitical” domain of the family, feelings, and emotions. Even though mass social movements and working class struggles have questioned (and sometimes even succeeded in partially modifying) this binary division of social roles, it is still the dominant one in capitalist society. Capitalism inherited and transformed the pre-existing patriarchal institution of the family and the exclusion of women from the political sphere, deepening the oppression of working class women. Even though mass social movements and working class struggles have questioned (and sometimes even succeeded in partially modifying) this binary division of social roles, it is still the dominant one in capitalist society. Capitalism inherited and transformed the pre-existing patriarchal institution of the family and the exclusion of women from the political sphere, deepening the oppression of working class women. Even though mass social movements and working class struggles have questioned (and sometimes even succeeded in partially modifying) this binary division of social roles, it is still the dominant one in capitalist society. Capitalism inherited and transformed the pre-existing patriarchal institution of the family and the exclusion of women from the political sphere, deepening the oppression of working class women.
The result of this is that in our own organizing spaces, our internalized behaviors often pressure women to speak less in meetings and allow men to stop paying attention when women speak. For example, when women speak, male comrades may “take a break” in their concentration, informally talk among themselves, look at their phones to check messages. Male comrades may sometimes interrupt women comrades to correct, direct-respond, or change the topic of the conversation. Men may repeat women’s ideas or proposals as if they have not heard or valued their women comrades’ contributions to the discussion. When women make concrete proposals, these are not taken into account, be it written on the board or put to a vote, especially if they have not been validated and re-articulated by male comrades. Our practices of soliciting participation in discussion can privilege those who feel most confident (usually men). Worst of all, when women clearly constitute a large majority of activists in a space, when they are the ones who make sure tasks are completed and collective decisions are carried out even though they did not have equal say in making these decisions, their organizing efforts are very rarely recognized. It often happens that the credit of the organizing goes to the guy who “had the idea”, and not to those who implemented it successfully, involving many times (although not always) a majority of women. It also happens that actually a woman came up with the idea in the first place, but it was appropriated by a man who took credit for it. when women clearly constitute a large majority of activists in a space, when they are the ones who make sure tasks are completed and collective decisions are carried out even though they did not have equal say in making these decisions, their organizing efforts are very rarely recognized . It often happens that the credit of the organizing goes to the guy who “had the idea”, and not to those who implemented it successfully, involving many times (although not always) a majority of women. It also happens that actually a woman came up with the idea in the first place, but it was appropriated by a man who took credit for it. when women clearly constitute a large majority of activists in a space, when they are the ones who make sure tasks are completed and collective decisions are carried out even though they did not have equal say in making these decisions, their organizing efforts are very rarely recognized . It often happens that the credit of the organizing goes to the guy who “had the idea”, and not to those who implemented it successfully, involving many times (although not always) a majority of women. It also happens that actually a woman came up with the idea in the first place, but it was appropriated by a man who took credit for it. their organizing efforts are very rarely recognized. It often happens that the credit of the organizing goes to the guy who “had the idea”, and not to those who implemented it successfully, involving many times (although not always) a majority of women. It also happens that actually a woman came up with the idea in the first place, but it was appropriated by a man who took credit for it. their organizing efforts are very rarely recognized. It often happens that the credit of the organizing goes to the guy who “had the idea”, and not to those who implemented it successfully, involving many times (although not always) a majority of women. It also happens that actually a woman came up with the idea in the first place, but it was appropriated by a man who took credit for it.
b. Regarding Female Comrades/Activists As Sexual Objects
Capitalist society represents women as sexual objects, as bodies at the disposal of men’s sexual desires, not as political subjects. Women activists and comrades are often not regarded by men as militants, but rather as a new possibility of sexual relation. When women perceive or fear that such is the main reason why male organizers are “paying attention” and realize they actually have other intentions, they get hurt and feel dehumanized as sexual objects. This erodes their confidence to become political leaders. Likewise, the political development of male organizers becomes stilted. There are many “wait a minute” moments, when women thought a party comrade or a union organizer was really engaging them on the topic or campaign at hand and they suddenly realized that this was about something else. This is demoralizing and disgusting, and women often react by politically disengaging and leaving the organizing space. They also come to the conclusion that organizing spaces are rotten with the same dynamics of sexual predation operating in public and work spaces.
A distinct but related dynamic is when women organizers’ political interventions and confidence are sexualized, for example as an invitation for flirtation or sexual advance. This dynamic is exhibited, for example, by male organizers deeming political competence and confidence as “sexy” or alluring, and not as politically important for the movement and worthy of respect regardless of a person’s sexual identity. One is not competent “for a woman”. One is competent as a comrade and militant. Here we must also speak to the double-bind faced by women – particularly femme-presenting women – in our organizing spaces. If a woman does exhibit stereotypical tropes of femininity (ie, she is considered pretty, feminine, or beautiful) she is sexualized. If she does not, she is considered ugly and then invisibilized. In either scenario, a woman’s appearance – and not her political development or contribution – is what is seen and valued. As a result women might be hesitant to get involved in politics again, even if in a different space. Politics cannot be reduced to a venue for meeting women or sexual partners.
c. Sexist “Jokes” and Disrespectful and Aggressive Behaviors
Disrespectful and aggressive behaviors at meetings and in organizing spaces are also a problem, as are sexist or homophobic “jokes”. In general, when an organizing or political discussion entails a yelling contest, and an hypermasculinized atmosphere is deployed, women and LGBTQI comrades may feel less comfortable and safe to intervene in the debates. Many “tense” meetings, when key decisions are to be made, end up being polarized between key male cadre of the party or key male activists of the movement, where the political arguments become increasingly conflictual, with male comrades employing uncomradely tactics to win debates. . Examples of this include speaking loudly, reacting aggressively, adopting a threatening attitude or body language, leaving the room, interrupting, personalizing differences, and launching nasty invectives.
Aggressive disagreements may mean that women do not intervene to express their point of view, or will tend to silently agree with those voices and bodies that are the most intimidating. This is not because women cannot “handle” conflict or that they fear it, but rather that there are more severe, negative consequences when they participate in open conflict. For example, they may be labeled difficult, “bitchy”, hysterical, needy, or overly-emotional; male comrades may discourage others from working with these women, may openly belittle them in meetings, or may even use physical violence to “teach them a lesson” or “put them their place”. Assertive women may be seen as seeking sexual attention (rather political leadership) and may be subjected to greater harassment. This has a special impact on working class sectors that are already oppressed in society. Of course not all women and LGBTQI activists react the same way, but in general women are socialized and educated to obey, to defer to male authority and not to raise their tone of voice. If, during discussions or debates about politics and other key matters for the working class movement, we adopt a tone or form of discussion that actively discourages and intimidates women and LGBTQI, we are deeply undermining our collective capacity to come up with the best solutions, tactics, and strategies, ones that are genuinely agreed upon by all after a fair and comradely debate. to defer to male authority and not to raise their tone of voice. If, during discussions or debates about politics and other key matters for the working class movement, we adopt a tone or form of discussion that actively discourages and intimidates women and LGBTQI, we are deeply undermining our collective capacity to come up with the best solutions, tactics, and strategies, ones that are genuinely agreed upon by all after a fair and comradely debate. to defer to male authority and not to raise their tone of voice. If, during discussions or debates about politics and other key matters for the working class movement, we adopt a tone or form of discussion that actively discourages and intimidates women and LGBTQI, we are deeply undermining our collective capacity to come up with the best solutions, tactics, and strategies, ones that are genuinely agreed upon by all after a fair and comradely debate.
The same happens with recurrent sexist, homophobic, and transphobic “jokes.” Comrades who make such comments rarely if ever perceive them as “ill-intentioned.” Still, such comments have a chilling, hurtful, and humiliating effect for our working class brothers and sisters who are targeted by them. Humor needs to be shared for jokes to be truly funny. Until trust is built and affirmed among all participants, any jokes regarding gender identity and sexuality have the strong risk of being perceived as insulting and offensive by the groups who are referenced in them, regardless of the intentions of those who tell them.
d. The Division of Labor in the Organizing Spaces
Division of labor is arguably the most internalized form of gender oppression in our organizing spaces. Most of the time it appears to be a “natural” division. But there is nothing natural in the fact that men are the ones expected to come up with “the plan”, the political arguments, the demands, the theoretically grounded considerations, basically the bulk of intellectual labor, while women are expected to be good at logistics and manual labor (preparing food, making photocopies, cleaning and arranging things after the events, making banners and art, organizing childcare etc). These expectations are in no way “natural” or “spontaneous”. They are precisely the social, gendered constructs of bourgeois society that are designed to exclude women from the political sphere.
Compounding this division between intellectual and manual labor is a division between the use of public and private spaces. It is true that sometimes women will challenge these established roles, but precisely because they are challenging a hegemonic rule, they will be judged more harshly. Were they articulate enough when they spoke at the rally? Are they able to galvanize the crowd and energize everyone? Or were they yelling too much like “hysterical women”? Are they able to ground their arguments in theory or were they just controlled by their emotions? This is just a sample of the sexist comments we still hear when a woman dares to take the public stand. The key public figures of social movements, the ones that speak at rallies or are interviewed, who are sent as delegates and representatives of the movement to conferences,
Finally, women are expected to deal with what we call emotional labor, which entails assisting and supporting organizers and activists who are going through personal crises (depression, anxiety, break-up etc.) in order to ensure that they stay active in the movement , mediating conflicts and carrying the burden to alleviate existing interpersonal tensions between cocky male leaders, comforting insecure organizers about their great political capacities, developing their confidence to lead and help them prepare, etc. These are extremely draining activities that fall on women individually while they should be a group responsibility where everyone intervenes and helps to find a solution.
All of the roles outlined above correspond very clearly to the gendered division of labor enforced by capitalist society. In our organizing spaces, we must consciously discuss these matters, reject this pre-established division of labor, and propose a new and liberatory one based on equality and justice.
e) Women’s Responsibility for the Housework/ Reproductive Labor
As Marxists, what differentiates our program for liberation from others, even the most radical ones, is that we want to tackle the root material of women’s oppression, which is a form of exploited labor that women do for free and which keeps capitalist society functioning: reproductive labour.
The fact that today the vast bulk of household and reproductive labor still falls on women, that is to say on 50 percent of the working class, is a material obstacle for the political mobilization of women and the development of women party cadre. This is a matter of time and money, like everything in bourgeois society. If women need to clean, buy and make food, and take care of the children, they cannot be at the political or union meeting.
Lenin asserted that a revolutionary party had to do ample work of education among proletarian men; that the revolutionary party had to seek ways of fighting against this ideology in the party and also in the class in concrete terms. He strongly criticized male comrades who minimized the fight against seixsm and for women’s liberation and organization in the struggle:“Unfortunately, it is still true to say of many of our comrades, ‘scratch a communist and find a philistine’. Of course, you must scratch the sensitive spot, their mentality in regard to women. Could there be a more damning proof of this than the calm acquiescence of men who see how women grow worn out in petty, monotonous household work, their strength and time dissipated and wasted, their minds growing narrow and stale, their hearts beating slowly, their will weakened! Of course, I am not speaking of the ladies of the bourgeoisie who shove on to servants the responsibility for all household work, including the care of children.” 
Party cadres ought to have a completely different relation to housework than men of the masses have, but this is not what our internal reports are showing. Comrades often relegate such tasks to their female partners with the excuse that they’ve got other political tasks to do. Therefore, we enter into the following regressive dynamic: the more that men are active in the class struggle, the more they put on their female partners’ shoulders all reproductive labor. When a couple of cadres has a child, the woman is expected to restrict her militancy, reduce the number of activities in which she participates, regulate the time tables of the meetings and very often give up militancy. Men, however, continue to organize normally, relegating all the responsibilities onto their female partners, reinforcing in practice this ideology,
4) Political Guidelines to Actively Combat Sexist Behaviors in Organizing Meetings and Developing Women’s Leadership
We propose the following intervention guidelines to deal with the problems identified in part 3.
a) Develop the Visibility, Participation and Leadership of Women
The way to combat the institutionalized invisibility of women and develop their active participation and leadership is to collectively implement conscious practical measures:
- In organizing meetings we need to ensure the conversations are not dominated by men, and when this is the case, we need to propose a progressive stack (either to privilege those who have not spoken, or to intervene to analyze the gender dynamics and specifically say that women and LGBTQI will be moved up in stack.
- We should make sure that no comrade interrupts any women when they speak, or checks out when women are speaking, and if other men in the space do that consistently we should have a separate conversation with them.
- When women comrades or workers make proposals in meetings, or make comments, we need to make sure they are validated and receive equal attention to men’s comments and proposals.
b) Regarding Women Primarily as Political Subjects
The question here is not to prohibit dating or romantic relationships between activists or comrades, for we are neither Stalinists nor fundamentalists of any religion. We believe in people’s freedom to develop the kinds of sentimental and sexual relations they wish (as long as they are not hurting anyone), and our goal is never to regulate that sphere of personal activity. Yet, what needs to be clear is that people do not join organizing spaces or the party with the primary goal of meeting or dating people, because this leads to considering women active in those spaces primarily or exclusively as potential sexual partners. It’s not that we want to avoid relationships from developing, but rather, for women in the movement and in the party to not feel that they are being seen by their peers as sexual objects.
- If we have evidence that some male comrades or activists are using the organizing spaces as a way to find sexual partners, and thus are making advances to women activists/comrades, we should immediately have a conversation with them about this. This is especially important if we identify activists who behave like sexual predators. We should aim to build the kind of trust where women in the party and the movement feel comfortable talking to us about these things so we decide together how to intervene. Especially, if a male comrade dates/meets sexual partners exclusively from small, close knit organizing circles the burden of proof must shift from assuming that the relationships are comradely and needing the exploitation/essentialization to be proven to the other way around:
- When we are doing recruitment work for the party or a union (or in any organizing space) we all should refrain from sending mixed messages to new people who are getting politically involved with us. Political and organizing discussions and meetings should be clearly just that, at least for the first meetings, until women and LGBTQI comrades have already joined the organizing space and feel comfortable and validated as political subjects.
- If comrades or activists start dating or break up, we usually leave it to their good judgment to be able to separate their romantic from their political relationship. There is absolutely no reason for any political organization to have a say in this for in our tradition we respect the private life of our comrades. Yet if in the party (or sometimes in the movement) we see that the personal or romantic relationship becomes an obstacle to the political development of women comrades, we should find a way to address it. These matters are the most delicate to deal with and we should only intervene if we have a pre-established relationship of trust. But we need to pay attention to this too as a party, especially with cadre.
c) Actively Building Anti-Oppressive Organizing Spaces
Some will call the following feminist practices, others will call them socialist, and yet others will simply refer to them as “common sense.” More than agreeing on labels, we want to agree on the content of the practices which we would like to enact in our meetings:
- Comrades of the party of all genders should not raise their voices or get angry in debates, nor should they personalize political differences. Yet because men tend to do so, it is especially important that men be especially vigilant about these tendencies. It is okay to be emotionally angry, but it is not okay to take your anger out on a comrade, and even less acceptable to enact anger or become aggressive in a meeting. It is always a good idea for comrades who feel angry to request a break to step out of the room to cool down.
- If comrades of all genders feel personally in a discussion, they should attack point that out, and with the help of other comrades, we should make sure that we are able to conduct political discussions and organize work without these getting personal.
- All comrades should refrain as much as possible from using insults, slurs, and vulgar language. Such language is often loaded with sexist and homophobic meaning. The same goes with sexualized language and so-called “jokes.” Again we are not language police, but we need to know that different social and class sectors will react differently to different kinds of language, and that in some cases such language is inhibiting and offensive.
- If openly sexist, homophobic, or transphobic remarks or comments are made in any meeting we must either immediately stop the meeting to signal such comments and to demand a retraction and apology, or put such incidents on the agenda for the next meeting and prepare for conversation on them.
- The same applies if we experience that some meetings become tense, get out of control and, for example, cause women to go silent. We need to intervene and address such situations. Our goal is not to single out the guilty parties to punish them, our goal is to concretely point out the behaviors we should not tolerate and collectively agree on the kind of space we want to build, winning the majority of participants to agree to check the behavior of those who have caused offense, a toxic atmosphere, etc., and to educate those offenders. We need to be patient and firm on these matters. Changing such behaviors is a hard task, because working class men are socialized into developing toxic forms of masculinity. But there is no reason why they will not be able to change if they are asked to do so, with a clear political explanation for doing so.
d) Proactively Contesting the Existing Gendered Division of Labor and Building for Equality
In the matter of the division of labor in the movement and the party, this should be an open topic of conversation before we assign tasks, especially in the party where we expect comrades to agree that the bourgeois gendered division is unacceptable and needs to be reversed in practice in the party work. In general:
- We should ensure that logistical and practical tasks do not exclusively fall on women, by making an open and explicit call to men to take on those tasks. Our male party comrades should lead by example both in the party and in the movement by performing such tasks. It is helpful to outline the tasks that are expected to be done, so that they do not fall on the shoulders of women, who normally tend to do these tasks if they see they are not being done. For example if it is agreed that a committee will deal with food, housing, cleaning, printing etc, it is important to set clear goals.
- We should make special efforts for women to be public figures and seen as leaders and representatives of the movement. This needs to be an open conversation, and it will require us to explain, many times if necessary, the leadership capacities some key women organizers have already shown and to argue for them to be elected to leadership positions or to speak at rallies etc. This applies equally inside the party and outside it, in the movement.
- The emotional labor women individually do needs to be brought to the collective space and discussed together. If some assistance is required for some members or activists, or some interpersonal mediation is needed, these should be tasks we assign to ad-hoc coed committees.
e) Towards an Equal Division of Household Labor Among Comrades
As socialists we demand the socialization of all reproductive labor. Yet until we achieve socialism, male comrades and activists need to take on their share of these tasks. Obviously, our struggle is not for the equal division of housework in the private sphere, but for the complete withdrawal of these tasks from the private sphere and the socialization of reproductive labor. In the meantime, however, we cannot reproduce the status quo. In the party we need to demand that male comrades do their share of work, which is different from “helping at home:”
- All male comrades are encouraged to openly discuss reproductive labor with their partners and come up with an agreed upon division of labor that approaches as much as possible a fair distribution. We are not proposing that the party monitor and exert control on this domain of comrades’ private lives, but we are proposing that we at least openly discuss these issues amongst ourselves.
- It is also important that women cadre bring issues of division of reproductive labor at home to their branch meetings when they feel their private life situation is an obstacle to their own political development. While branches can only make recommendations and have educational conversations, we think these are still qualitatively progressive steps.
- When comrades go to the homes of other comrades, social activists, or contacts they need to ensure that they are not increasing the household labor of their hosts. This means helping to cook and clean if food is entailed, rearrange the space used etc. Everything should be left as found, and it is very important that our male comrades take a leadership role in carrying out these tasks.
- When a couple of comrades has kids, the branch needs to be there to support childcare if the comrades cannot afford it. If childcare is not an option, then the best recommendation is that both comrades take turns in meeting childcare responsibilities. Further, the party should strive to hold meetings – whether branch meetings or others – in spaces where kids can be brought. Again we are only making recommendations in this domain, but we do think that those decisions carry political implications.
5) Political Guidelines Regarding Cases of Sexual Harassment, Assault, and Violence
By far the most difficult and pressing situations, the ones that require immediate attention and a solution by the party or through the party, are cases of sexual harassment, assault, and violence in the movement and in the party. Most of the time these cases are “deal breakers” because they have a moral component. Because these behaviors entail the physical and emotional endangerment of our women and LGBTQI comrades, and they are a threat to their bodies and psychological integrity, they break the necessary trust we need to organize together in a common space and project. Those cases have a traumatic and damaging impact on the survivors, and on other women, who can feel re-traumatized. By making our political spaces explicitly unsafe, they break the basic conditions we need to organize together.
Furthermore, capitalist society has created a situation in which women and children facing sexual abuse and oppression have no recourse, no resources, and are thoroughly marginalized and atomized. The capitalist state has failed to meet any of the “privatized” needs of the family, women and children, and the very meager existing public social services do not offer proper, sensitive, and sustainable attention and support to survivors. The only option left is the police and the court system, which are inherently biased against women, and also against black and brown working class people.
This means that our party (and the other revolutionary socialist organizations) need to propose forms and methods that are necessary and appropriate to address these cases, starting from those which emerge in our own ranks. As we have said, no organization is immune to such cases. The more a party is organically tied to the mass struggle and to the working class, the more it needs to educate on these issues with new comrades and to deal in a vigorous, principled way with cases of assault or violence. Our goal when dealing with particular and personal cases is to transform “personal” trauma and difficult collective experiences into a process that develops political confidence and clarity. Showing leadership in these situations is also a way to build the party and its political influence,
The Fight Against Manifestations of Oppression is a Principled and Not a Tactical Question
What do we do when a case of oppression with such a strong moral component comes up? How should we react when a victim/survivor comes forward or someone has evidence of an act of oppression of this kind? First, because of the moral character and gravity of such actions, which go far beyond the internalized forms of oppression we patiently address in all instances, we need to discuss and vote in the party the need to prioritize and develop a specific protocol of intervention . Cases of harassment, assault, and violence require that organizations stop and set aside specific time and resources to address such cases. Addressing such cases needs to become a top priority in the organizing space in which they occur. .
When there is a case internal to our party, we need to refer it to our Accountability Commission and notify the leadership, for our organization is already equipped with mechanisms to deal with these sensitive and important questions. When a case occurs in our unions or in our intervention spaces (united fronts, community groups, student groups, etc.), we need to figure out with our allies which accountability process will make the most sense to ensure the question gets properly and thoroughly addressed.
As revolutionary militants, we must express our principled support for survivors and consult with them in order to deal with the case in question. By doing this, we can design a process which will be discussed and acted upon through the broadest existing democratic space. To consult with the survivor implies making clear to them that their identity can and should be protected from the majority of the members of the organizing space. . We can provide several options and see with which one they are comfortable. Our primary goal is that the question gets addressed by the organization in a principled manner.
Usually the first political fight we have to have as a party is to convince our fellow union members or student activists that dealing with these moral cases of oppression (instead of ignoring them) is an utmost necessity for our collective struggle. We need to patiently explain that what is often perceived as a “distraction” from or “an obstacle” to the “real” struggle is in fact a condition to be able to fight in the first place. The struggle against all forms of oppression and their more ugly manifestations is inseparable from our struggle as a class.
We have heard, and will continue to hear all kinds of arguments against this: that addressing cases of oppression and violence is too sensitive a matter, that doing so will divide us, that it can be used against us by our class or political enemies in the movement etc. We have already explained in our articles why this is a total fallacy. The fear and reluctance expressed by our companions in the struggle is just an expression of the existing generalized oppression and ideologies that justify and condone it. We argue that it is precisely covering up cases of violence, harassment, and oppression that actually weakens us, not addressing and combating them.
To refuse or delay dealing with a case of oppression is not only wrong because it is unfair to the survivor or to the oppressed group that is indirectly targeted, it damages any collective project to improve our lives, our work and study conditions, our wages and our civil and political rights. It is a way of reinforcing the lines of oppression that divide us in our struggle. It is a longstanding injury to our shared project of emancipation. As revolutionary socialists we need to make clear that it must be a moral and political principle to combat all cases of oppression and violence where we intervene.
It also has to be clear that if and when differences emerge regarding whether or not those cases are worth addressing, we will always try to win a political majority and force a vote on this issue so the lines are clearly drawn. Even if we lose the vote and the survivors want to move forward with an accountability process, we will continue to work with those who agree that something needs to be done (even if we disagree on what and how). We will also, consistently and in a non-sectarian way, campaign to invite the resisting members or activists to join this important political process.
Our Scope: Cases We Have the Obligation to Address and Cases Were We Can Support from the Outside
While we must conduct a principled struggle against all forms of oppression, we must clearly demarcate ourselves from a service-oriented organization (in the sense of social work) that will be the receptacle of all possible cases of abuse and violence. First, because it is practically impossible for us to carry out this work in a mass way, and second, because it will also undermine our functioning as a revolutionary combat party. Our strategy is not to focus on putting bandaids on a structurally broken society, doing the job the state is supposed to do. We want to organize our class to fix the root cause of these problems. The primary relation we want to develop with the class is that of providing political leadership by transforming working people’s consciousness, power and confidence, not to be a “service” that comes from the outside to fix its problems. We do the latter when it is at the service of the first goal.
Our socialist strategy is to destroy capitalism, not only because doing so will eliminate the exploitation of human labor, but because it will eliminate the material base that has justified and sustained all kinds of oppression for centuries. This will free the material conditions to socialize domestic labor and redevelop the forces of production. Our socialist strategy has concrete repercussions in our political axis of intervention and in our tactics. While we cannot neglect nor minimize any case of oppression in the spaces where we intervene, we also cannot make it our strategy to address all the moral cases of oppression that inevitably emerge in such a degraded society.
If we are a combat party for the class struggle, a party of intervention and not simply for propaganda, we must have a particular strategy, one that differentiates us from a movement platform or an NGO. This is why we say that to uphold the socialist strategy for liberation is concretely incompatible with making the fight against all existing cases of oppression our permanent strategy, which is more of what a nonprofit or NGO type of organization tends to do.
We must combat all cases of oppression in the party internally and where the party intervenes. And we always fight to do so in a principled way, refusing to ignore these ugly issues or run away from them.
We believe, like Marx, that “the emancipation of the working class will be the work of the working class itself,” so our goal is primarily to politically organize the working class from within its own organizations, not to “help” or “assist ” it from outside. We think we as a party can only begin to properly address the daily violence the capitalist system does to our class and provide a liberatory political transformation of those spaces if we have roots in a site of class struggle (a school, a workplace, a union or a neighborhood). Only in places where we have established relationships and a political presence – such as in democratic unions, councils, and the revolutionary party – do we have a chance to tackle these problems with a working-class perspective,
To sum up, this is why we say that while we must address all the cases that arise where we are and where they have political influence or reach, but we cannot, unfortunately, address all cases in society (not even in a State, city, neighborhood or area) and transform the party into an “emergency response team.” Of course if people come to us about cases in other spaces we will share our methodology, advice, and all the resources we have. However, we cannot take a leadership role in addressing them, we can only support and mentor from the outside when we are invited to do so.
b. When there is no Consensus, We Need to Create an Independent Commission
The first question that emerges when we are dealing with these cases is the credibility of the survivor which is immediately questioned. The fact that the first thing that comes to mind to many is that it is possible or likely that “the woman is lying” is just another expression of the systematic oppression women face. Let’s then review the facts. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the majority of sexual assaults, an estimated 63 percent, are never reported to the police.  Furthermore, different studies show that the cases of false reporting are extremely low: between 2.1 percent and 7.1 percent.  These facts quickly undo the mythologies about false reporting.
At best, therefore, we only hear about fewer than half of the cases of harassment, assault, and violence that occur in wider society, and we should not expect that our own organizing spaces are significantly better. In short, it is really difficult for survivors to come forward, and the vast majority of allegations that are made by the survivors are true. Coming forward a lot of strength and courage, because often a survivor’s first response requires is to feel guilty, ashamed, and responsible for the attack. On top of that comes the fear of retaliation and further social humiliation, as exemplified by the disgusting victim-blaming and “slut-shaming” many men, and some women, engage in. These facts alone should be a reason for us to be 100 percent supportive of every woman that comes forward.As a rule in our party we need to make it clear that we believe survivors who come forward and we need to explain that this is a political matter and share the facts above . However, we know that in most cases this is not enough to convince the membership of our unions and community and student organizations.
Most of the time, the perpetrator denies the accusations and immediately seeks the complicity of other men. When the perpetrator recognizes the wrong-doing, we think he should address the entire membership, make a statement admitting what happened, and then let the membership deliberate on the case. This happens very rarely, unfortunately. Usually there is no consensus about what happened, and everything turns into the “he said-she said” charade, which only serves to undermine the credibility of the survivor’s testimony and breaks trust within the group along gender lines. In such cases we need to propose the creation of an ad-hoc independent commission to investigate the facts .
The need to have an independent commission is not about investigating or doubting the survivor. It flows from our strategy: the need to educate our class politically and elevate our class consciousness by discussing the need to combat oppression through proletarian methods. This is how we must present and explain the kind of commission we want.
For us the role of an independent commission is not to be a tribunal that judges or deliberates on the facts, but a commission that investigates (conducting interviews, gathering evidence, producing facts), and makes an impersonal report to a general democratic body. The ad-hoc independent commission must be made up of people everyone trusts so that their findings and report cannot be questioned. Its goal is to be able to bring to the general membership of a class organization or a movement what is known about the case, summarize the facts, so the case of oppression gets depersonalized in an emancipatory way for the survivor, and so the collective body can deliberately democratically upon a sanction. The goal of this process is to help survivors avoid having to hide in shame or be repeatedly publicly exposed, questioned, doubted, and interrogated.
It is not useful for different groups of individuals with particular affinities to start their own investigations, which results in several versions of the facts circulating among the membership. Without a solid plan everyone can trust, the case most likely will not get addressed. Additionally, it is very likely for the organizing space to fall apart or end up divided and debilitated. This is why we must show leadership and be clear politically on what the goal of an investigation commission is. Once this step is reached and there is a public space to deliberate, then the party can intervene with our policy of zero tolerance, with our explanation of the root causes of oppression, on the need to be firm and united. In this way, the party can publicly combat prejudices and reactionary ideas and attitudes that reinforce oppression.
We do not want to individualize cases, make them about the personal word or trustworthiness of such and such person. Rather we want to transform cases into moments of political education in our sites of struggle and organization. These become moments where not only of sanction of the perpetrator and the establishment of rules, but moments where everyone in the space or organization understands that a collective struggle is needed to tackle the root causes of oppression, and where political consciousness develops.
c. The Problem of Ultra-Left/Vanguardist Tactics in These Matters
It is the attempt to elevate the collective consciousness in relation to the struggle against racism, sexism, homophobia etc. as a principled and anti-capitalist one that makes our intervention as a party unique. Our intervention as a revolutionary party aims to make a qualitative difference by bringing into organizing and activist conversations the difficult discussions that bourgeois individualism rejects. Although we are all repelled by acts of assault or harassment, our political intervention cannot stem from a gut and spontaneous reaction to events.
The avant-garde impulse to “take justice into our own hands” might be emotionally fulfilling for a minority, but can lead to strategic errors or even disasters when it does not have the support of the majority. We want each sexism case we address to strengthen all of the women of our class and not only one. And we do not hide our intentions. Rather, we want to win all of our fellow workers to this conception.
We have politically fought and will continue to fight against those who claim that “we cannot afford to bring cases of violence/assault/harassment to the union as a whole” or the “student assembly” or the “Occupy assembly” because this will mean being a minority or being put in a minority and losing the vote, leaving the perpetrator unsanctioned. Some have even claimed that to bring such cases, after an investigation is conducted, to a democratic space is a recipe for failure. They think it will jeopardize the chances to get any process of “justice” or “accountability”. What they do instead is deal with the cases using a pre-selected and “screened” group of individuals or “affinity group” in a secret and separate fashion. We think this vanguardism stems from a political capitulation and internalization of defeat: that idea that we cannot convince the majority to combat oppression, that the working class is “backwards”, that people are reactionary and sexist etc. All of these are excuses not to try to win over a majority and provide convincing answers to difficult questions. As a revolutionary party, our reason for existence is based upon the opposite premise: that we can convince a majority to fight oppression and exploitation.
The avant-garde attitude of not involving the rank and file in these matters, alleging that workers are “backward,” is politically inconsequential, as no radical vanguard can destroy institutionalized sexism and patriarchal ideology let alone capitalism. It is also a political limit to what can be done against the perpetrator: besides collective intimidation, slander and pressure, little can be achieved. Disciplinary actions that have the support of an entire organization that has been educated and mobilized to actively combat oppressive behaviors are far more effective than actions taken by a small vanguard group.
We argue that by reducing to a minimum the number of persons who confront the perpetrator, that is, by organizing only with those few who are already educated on these matters, and keeping potential and necessary allies in the dark, we increase our chances of losing . By openly discussing the matter within our organizing space we increase our chance to win over our ranks to the fight against sexism. As revolutionaries, we want to choose the winning strategy, the one that will make us stronger. Such a strategy can never be one that fears a public political debate. Our tradition and our party is not short of arguments to wage such a fight; on the contrary, we will show in those crucial moments that we are among the best prepared.
d. The Investigation Commission Needs to be Independent and with a Working Class Composition and Orientation
We should clarify that by independent we never mean independent from our class or movement, far from that. We mean independent from the people involved in the case , so the process cannot be questioned. The main problem with the recent MTS case in Mexico is that the MTS comrades created a commission to investigate the accusations which was composed only of members of their own party, and thus did not have the support and trust of the organizing space and the university where the perpetrator teaches. There is thus a legitimate concern that the party will cover it up. Second the MTS did not make the conclusions of their investigation public to the rest of the university community, which can only increase the distrust against the MTS and the rest of the revolutionary Left. This is why we argue for an independent commission. Here we mean independent from the party, but composed of trusted working class members in the struggle that have no personal stake in either defending or smearing the organization. Moreover, it goes without saying that the organization should recognize the results of such an investigation.
Another essential issue is that any independent commission be composed of working class members with experience and a strong ethical standing in the movement, not by professionals. The commission should, in short, have a clear working class composition and orientation. We are generally opposed to bringing “outside” groups of professional experts to help us with cases. Such groups tend to be NGO type groups composed of professionals and experts who do not have a revolutionary or Marxist method, but rather a liberal or progressive one. We generally combat the established bureaucratic reflex to bring professionals from outside the class to “train” and “educate” workers in our unions and spaces. We think we can do a better job and one does not need a Ph.D. or a $100k+/year salary to be able to solve workers’ problems. In general, this organizing culture in the US constantly undermines the political confidence we want to build inside our class. That said, if we do not have enough resources or support to form and lead these commissions ourselves in collaboration with workers,
An important goal for such commissions is to educate all members of the organizing space on why and how to carry forward these matters. The intervention of outside groups in the most sensitive matters of our unions and organizations undermines our internal democratic processes and control of our internal democratic procedures by the rank and file. Moreover, by referring to outside groups and experts we send a demoralizing political message to our class: that in our working class tradition and history we do not have the experiences to deal with problems of our movement, so we need the assistance of another class ( the bourgeoisie or the petty bourgeoisie) or of a particular social layer (the professional or the expert) to help us. However, there are more examples and lessons to learn from our own history of struggle than from a workshop,
6) Developing Marxist Criteria to Assess and Deliberate on These Matters
It is not enough to propose addressing these cases collectively in our organizations. As revolutionary socialists we also need to also propose political criteria that distinguish us from other currents, especially conservatives, liberals, and anarchists. The following three points are intended to begin this process of developing clear political criteria for evaluating each particular case.
We do not think a pre-made code that assigns a definite sanction to each particular behavior is the best way to go, since in each case there are important particularities that we need to take into account. Our goal is to discuss with the rank-and-file members the political implications of each case, so that together we can advance the process of education and consciousness raising.
Highlighting the Class Dynamics in all Instances of Oppression
When we are dealing with cases of oppression in our workplace and in the social movement we need to take into account the class dynamics of the situation. It matters if the alleged perpetrator of sexual misconduct or violence is in a supervisor position over the survivor (eg, direct boss, manager etc), or has a material privilege (eg, tenured professor or dissertation advisor, writers or journalists with high social status , prestigious union leader or activists in leadership positions). Men of the ruling class are socialized to think that they should have free and direct sexual access to the women they employ and perceive to be “below them.” The dynamics of power in the workplace, which are unfortunately replicated in bureaucratic organizations, aggravate oppression.
While it is equally serious and despicable when this violence occurs between workers of the same rank as between management and workers, the way we propose to address each situation varies tremendously. Workers lose their jobs immediately when allegations of sexual misconduct are made, most often without a real independent investigation. Bosses and privileged professionals who have personnel under them tend to keep their jobs despite the number of cases of harassment including serious cases of sexual assault.
When we are dealing with a worker, we think it is important to go through a real and firm internal process of accountability among peers. We do not think this is really possible when we are dealing with a perpetrator that does not belong to our class organizations, such as managers, CEOs, executives etc. In the latter case, we should organize all workers to demand the immediate suspension or firing of these figures and issue a public statement explaining the facts. When we are dealing with accusations against leaders of working class organizations, we need to demand that these leaders lead by example: that they temporarily step down from office and organizing spaces, and fully collaborate with the internal process of investigation.
Finally, if we believe some workers are being falsely accused of sexual misconduct by their managers or class supervisors, we should demand an independent investigation where their class peers can participate. We need to make clear to all workers that we will never compromise on these issues, that we need to be able to defend our class from dirty tricks by management (or even sometimes the labor bureaucracy) against its working class opponents.
Class Independence and our Approach to Bourgeois Courts and the Prison System
One of our core political principles is class independence, which means not only independence from the bosses and their parties (Democratic and Republican Parties) but also from bourgeois state institutions. We usually avoid resorting to the courts to solve our problems, and we are opposed to the judicial system interfering in the internal affairs of our class organizations, including our party, to regulate our activities etc.
Furthermore, it is clear that the courts and the prison system are designed to surveil, divide, and disorganize the poor. In particular, these systems of the prison state actively contribute to the resegregation of the Black population through hyper-incarceration and policing of poor, marginalized, and ghettoized communities. This is why as a rule we never cooperate with the police nor assist in their investigations.
Our political tradition deeply distrusts the courts and our policy is, in general, to develop the independent power of our class. We must avoid this power being channeled into lengthy legal processes that lessen working-class participation and momentum. That said, we can sometimes use the courts, as a temporary measure, to protect our class, while we build the foundations of a new society which will allow us to deal with the root problems of oppression and exploitation. This happens when we can use the courts against our class enemies: corrupt politicians, police officers that kill our brothers and sisters, military and government officials accused of war crimes, etc. This can also be applied to serial rapists or members of our class that act as our class enemies through perpetual violence.
This is why, if survivors want to press charges, we should support them. Our position is that the courts usually do not charge those who attack our class, do not believe survivors, and often retraumatize them. Therefore, we have no political trust in the judicial system, nor in the capacity of the prison system to rehabilitate offenders. But we support the process of pressing charges if that is the desire of the survivor, and we should be ready to testify in court if needed. While we do recognize that incarceration today in the US is an evil, it is a lesser evil compared with the impact of sexual predators and abusers who are let loose in our class. Our party sometimes does not have the capacity to prevent those who cause continuous harm; likewise, we have limited capacity to rehabilitate offenders, and in some cases we can only develop accountability processes when we have the full collaboration of the perpetrator. Until we are able to propose a superior system to the existing prison system of mass incarceration, we need to understand that incarceration can prevent harm and make people safer, especially those in our class impacted by crimes of rape, sexual assault, and physical violence and given that some offenders are unrepentant and recidivist.
Develop a Class-Centered Process Consistent with Our Strategy for Liberation
It is important to have some clear criteria to manage this whole accountability process and to respond to understandable pressures that might emerge from many sides. In general, we believe it is important to keep in mind the following points which tie our concrete response to cases of oppression and violence to our strategy for ultimate emancipation:
- The Wellbeing of Survivors and Oppressed Groups Is Our Priority . When cases surface, they are not only devastating for the survivors but for all women in the organizing space. This is why our first political priority is to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of the sector of the working class that is under attack by sexist violence and harassment. That means the temporary and definitive removal of the perpetrator from the organizing space, and if necessary from the workplace. This measure of separation sometimes needs to be extended to those who actively support the perpetrator and adopt aggressive attitudes that make the organizing space explicitly unsafe. If necessary we should use organized force to enforce these basic protection measures.
- Defending and Developing All-Gender Inclusive Class Organizations . Sometimes, out of very serious cases, separatist positions emerge. For example, some women may demand a permanent exclusion of men, or a group of men, from organizing spaces. This expresses the distrust by some sectors who believe that “all men are the same” and will never change. However, because masculinity is a social construct, it can be changed and men can develop open feminist and socialist practices. While permanent separation or gender segregation is in general a very bad outcome, we might be sometimes forced to temporarily support this demand while we rebuild trust and find a durable solution.
- Enforce a Class-Centered Process . We want to make sure these issues are first addressed in working class organizations (not outside of them) and that they are solved within them. The best practice is to avoid collusion with employers or outside forces trying to address cases of sexism. We can end up collectively making demands on the employers, managers, security services, or the courts, but this should be the result of a conscious collective deliberation and not our immediate reflex.
Some Criteria for Making Decisions on Sanctions: The Tensions Between Safe Spaces, Rehabilitation, and Unity of our Class
When serious cases of oppression occur, one of our major guiding principles is to make sure that the needs of survivors are a priority in the organizing space: women should feel safe coming to meetings and continuing to organize.
Sometimes, immediate expulsion of the perpetrator is the only viable solution to maintain our safety and cohesion. In other cases, rehabilitation is possible for individuals who acknowledge their wrongdoing and are fully committed to complying with an accountability process. We recognize that we are not always going to be able to come up with a sanction that fully satisfies everyone. What is most important is that our democratic decision making leads to a clear and actionable sanction that can be supported and respected by all members of our organization.
We propose the following, while understanding the implications of different sanctions:
- Permanent Expulsion. Expulsion from the organization is the harshest sanction, and also a definitive ruling. It means that according to the space from which the person is expelled , there is no hope in changing or holding the person accountable. All perpetrators who refuse to be part of an internal investigation and accountability process should be expelled. All perpetrators who refuse to follow or stop following the totality or parts of the accountability process should be expelled. We also think that there are actions and behaviors that, given their own gravity and severity, warrant an immediate expulsion of the perpetrator. This is also the case for comrades who are repeat offenders. Moreover, when we expel someone we should make a public statement and let our working class allies know the facts of what happened. We also think that if we consider the perpetrator to be dangerous and toxic in the workplace where things occur, we need to ask or force him to get another job. While it is sometimes necessary, we consider expulsion to be a worst possible outcome, and the most demoralizing. Not only does it represent a failure to rehabilitate a former comrade, it leaves us unable to stop the perpetrator from repeating their harmful behavior in other spaces outside of our organizing efforts. It is also extremely demoralizing for women (that men will never change, that they cannot be held accountable etc).
- Temporary Separation from the Organization and Conditions for Return. This is a common sanction , because it allows for a real break from the organizing space while it establishes a clear protocol for accountability. A temporary separation from an organizing space or from the party can last for months or several years, depending on the gravity of the act(s) by the perpetrator, and the necessary steps to deal with accountability and a real personal transformation. For example when aggressive behaviors are linked to substance abuse, it is important to allow the necessary time for a real recovery to establish sobriety. Other requirements can be therapy, actual proof of changed behavior, attendance of specific workshops, etc. Also, in order to return, one needs to fulfill conditions that demonstrate real changes, as stipulated by the party.
- Limited Organizing Work and Loss of Political Rights. In some cases sanctions can entail a limitation on the kind of work the member can do in the organization (not allowed to be a public figure or to represent the organization in any capacity, not allowed to do new organizing work, etc.); being confined to a particular kind of work (confinement to administrative work in the office or internal tasks etc.); and/or a temporary or permanent deprivation of political rights (inability to vote in meetings, inability to get elected for any positions). Furthermore, the sanction can specify that for a period of time the person needs to inform organizing spaces of a given ongoing sanction.
- Internal Education and Reflective Statement. All sanctions that do not lead to expulsion should have a strong educational and reflective component. The goal is to make comrades really understand the true roots of their behavior by doing readings and discussing them with the accountability commission. Comrades should always be asked to write a reflective statement where they analyze and reflect on the deep implications of the behavior and the damage they have caused both to individuals and to the group.
In conclusion, we need to continue developing stronger methods to fight oppression through theory and experience. It will be very important to make careful balances of our experiences, to conduct debate and deepen our study to keep updating and improving our document. The participation and leadership of women, especially women of color, is a central task of our daily organizing. There is no doubt that sexism inside the movement and in our party must be challenged. But fighting individual sexist behaviors is insufficient for the political fight against women’s oppression. We must also raise demands against the capitalists in the interests of working class women. That fight, which must be carried on by men with women, is part of the fight of all people that are oppressed by capitalism.
 Therefore, “insofar as the old, partial, “minimal” demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism – and this occurs at each step – the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime. The old “minimal program” is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution.”
 Clara Zetkin. Lenin on the Women’s Question.