Unredacted: Rape controversy and internal strife within the International Socialist Organization (USA)

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My decision to publish the leaked internal documents from the International Socialist Organization was primarily motivated by the extreme contents they contained. One document in particular, involving a “Comrade Daniel” who had been unofficially accused of rape. Whatever my other reasons may have been for publishing them, I did so at the behest of a number of different ISO members (former and current) who got in touch with me independent of one another. They were deeply disturbed by what they saw going on, and felt that these matters should be made public. Upon reviewing them, especially Document 19, I agreed to honor their request. They’d approached others about it too, apparently, who also circulated the documents, uploaded them to The Pirate Bay, and so on. Not that this absolves me of responsibility for publishing the documents, but they would have been widely published whether or not I chose to publish them myself. Documents 13, 15, 19, and now also 21 and 23, all contain information pertinent to the ISO’s internal “investigation” of the affair.

Besides, not only did Lenin never advocate an “internal bulletin” — he even felt that conference proceedings should be published (i.e., made public) in full. At the risk of seeming a dogmatist, one member of the ISO who approached me about these bulletins reminded me of a 1901 text by Lenin regarding the publication of internal documents and proceedings:

We have decided to publish the proceedings of the “Unity” Conference, so that all…may independently draw their own conclusions as to the reasons for the failure of the attempt at unity made by the organizations abroad. Unfortunately, the secretary of the Conference, elected by the Union Abroad, refused to assist drawing up the minutes of the proceedings. This refusal is all the more strange for the reason that the Union Abroad has published its own account of the “Unity” Conference.

On the other hand, the publication of all the documents and declarations presented to the bureau is all the more necessary at the present time, since the Union Abroad has crowned its strange refusal to participate in drawing up the minutes of the Conference with a still stranger method of drawing up the Conference report. Thus, the Union Abroad has not reproduced in full the interpellations submitted to the bureau of the Conference.

Though this might seem an attempt to rationalize my decision through an appeal to past precedent or an authority, I find Lenin’s remarks here relevant to the ongoing debate on organizational transparency — a debate that continues to rage today.

Problems with the ISO Steering Committee’s official story

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Furthermore, even beyond the information these documents explicitly contain — which is embarrassing enough on its own — there was an almost unanimous distrust of the official version of events that they present, which to their minds simultaneously sought to minimize apparent wrongdoing by the local branch committee. Moreover, the account given by the ISO’s Steering Committee misleadingly pins the mishandling exclusively on members of the local branch. This is how one particularly disillusioned member of the ISO related it to me recently. She explained:

I have come to not trust anything that the Steering Committee claims. So if they claim that something was dealt with, I naturally don’t believe it to be so. It’s hardly surprising that a document written from the perspective of the branch’s leadership would give the impression that the situation couldn’t have been helped. Especially since it’s looking to exonerate itself. The document would have clearly been much more damning had they not been treading so carefully. Not only to avoid taking any of the blame themselves, but also to deflect blame from the Steering Committee.

Still more troubling were revelations brought to light by an activist from the region where the alleged incident occurred, who happened to know the woman accusing “Comrade Daniel” of attempted rape. This was the person described by the Steering Committee in Document 19 as “a member of a different socialist organization…extremely hostile to the ISO.” His testimony gives a sense of the frustration and dismay he felt in trying to work with the ISO’s ordinary organizational channels:

Just wanted to remind everyone that the guy [“Comrade Daniel,” the one accused of attempted rape] was only finally expelled on Feburary 6, 2014 (i.e., the same day the “Daniel” case was published in Preconvention Bulletin #19). Either way, it’s clear that the majority of the San Diego branch — and maybe some national leadership — doesn’t think that forcing yourself onto someone and only getting off when they knee you in the groin, is attempted rape.

It’s all well and good to talk about “politically inexperienced comrades,” but we tried to get this handled internally in 2012 when we told someone in the branch’s leadership (the woman who later recused herself) what happened. She, along with a number of the other long-term branch members, were the people who were informed, but chose to do nothing. Don’t know how long you have to be a member of a group before you are no longer considered inexperienced, but I would hope it’s a period shorter than three years. The ISO’s handling of this has been a disgrace.

Over and above what’s contained in the leaked documents themselves, then — fairly damning even by itself — there’s good reason to believe that the situation is worse than they let on. Several others who knew about the what happened, the sequence of events, etc., challenged the interpretation offered in the leaked documents.

Character assassination as standard procedure

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In any case, as the same person quoted immediately above added, after months of incompetence and bureaucratic bungling by the ISO, he made passing mention of the alleged incident on Facebook. The ISO Steering Committee responded harshly to his decision to force the issue by making matters public. Predictably, their first course of action was to undermine and discredit him. Hence the Steering Committee’s characterization of him as a crazed opponent obsessed with tearing the ISO down.

Countering this claim, he clarified:

And to clear something up: I’ve got political issues with the ISO, but it’s never stopped me from working with them. We’ve been in more coalitions together than I can count, and consider myself a good friend of one of the people who wrote the document. The claim that I hate the ISO is a smear job designed to exculpate the branch for fucking up.

Well, at least he isn’t the only one being smeared. As I indicated in a previous post, character assassination is part of the ISO’s modus operandi. By publishing the members-only Preconvention Bulletins, I knew I’d be incurring the full wrath of the ISO’s leadership and hardline supporters. In no time at all, they were defaming me, digging up an old blogpost I wrote four years ago. Nevermind that it no longer reflects my opinion, or that individuals’ views change over time. Regardless, I’ve dealt with this already before.

Mike Ely from The Kasama Project also made an intervention into the drama that ensued. A couple days he published an open letter, more or less the same as one he’d sent me in private the night before. To his credit, Ely proceeded in a fairly principled manner compared to most members of the ISO who instead opted for ad hominem attacks. Later on, though, he seemed to grow impatient with some of the backlash in support of my decision to publish the bulletins. In an uncharacteristic outburst, he exclaimed: “Ross Wolfe doesn’t give a shit about rape — he is a crude and open abuser of women.”

This is absolutely untrue, and I unequivocally contest Ely’s suggestion that I could care less about the plight of women or the incidence of rape. A couple mean comments made about a specific ex-girlfriend in a moment of anger (after she’d physically attacked me on the street) does not constitute anything approaching “abuse.” Moreover, Marc Luzietti, another member of The Kasama Project, baselessly accused me of “outright piggery,” implying I’m the moral equivalent of a police informant. Once again it is to Ely’s credit that he did not make such a presumptuous claim, remembering that I defended The Kasama Project from a similar charge that was leveled against it by Sunsara Taylor of the RCP-US. I rose to Kasama’s defense by refusing to cut ties or disinvite the organization from an event I was organizing.

Hypocrisy of the highest order

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Another motivating (or rather, disinhibiting) factor in my decision to publish these bulletins was that I saw dozens of members of the ISO, including high-ranking leaders such as Scott McLemee and Sherry Wolf, participate in the public dissemination of the Platypus Affiliated Society’s entire e-mail list serve history last year. Hardliner ISOers like Jon Kurinsky, Paul Heideman, and Aaron Hess also gleefully reposted the Platypus documents.

Though I’ve since quit that organization, because I was a member at the time a number of e-mails written by me were included in the transcripts. Nothing in those documents reflects too badly on me personally, but it was nevertheless a source of extreme annoyance at the time. It is a hypocrisy of the highest order that the ISO should protest so loudly whenever someone does to them essentially the same thing they did to others not even a year ago. Sherry Wolf and Scott McLemee even signed an open letter along with Richard Seymour (formerly of the British SWP, also formerly of the International Socialist Network) that contained leaked documents in quoted in their entirety in the body of its text.

Had they not done so, I would have probably thought twice about leaking them, even though I might well have gone ahead with it anyway — considering the gravity of what they contain. Such unprincipled behavior on their part indicates to me that they are undeserving of having a principled stance taken toward them. What goes around comes around. Besides, no matter what one thinks of Platypus as an organization, or some of the extremely distasteful jokes and needlessly provocative proclamations its leaders made in private, none of them ever attempted to brush under the rug a rape allegation made against one of its members (or deal with it “internally”).

Unredacted

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Because of the seriousness of this issue, I have decided to reverse my temporary redaction of the leaked ISO documents. Eight new Preconvention Bulletins are also included. There is additional information in a couple of them pertaining to the alleged sexual misconduct, and yet another round of browbeating dished out to the Renewal Faction by the старая гвардия in the Steering Committee.

  1. Preconvention Bulletin 01
  2. Preconvention Bulletin 02
  3. Preconvention Bulletin 03
  4. Preconvention Bulletin 04
  5. Preconvention Bulletin 05
  6. Preconvention Bulletin 06
  7. Preconvention Bulletin 07
  8. Preconvention Bulletin 08
  9. Preconvention Bulletin 09
  10. Preconvention Bulletin 10
  11. Preconvention Bulletin 11
  12. Preconvention Bulletin 12
  13. Preconvention Bulletin 13
  14. Preconvention Bulletin 14
  15. Preconvention Bulletin 15
  16. Preconvention Bulletin 16
  17. Preconvention Bulletin 17
  18. Preconvention Bulletin 18
  19. Preconvention Bulletin 19
  20. Preconvention Bulletin 20
  21. Preconvention Bulletin 21
  22. Preconvention Bulletin 22
  23. Preconvention Bulletin 23
  24. Preconvention Bulletin 24
  25. Preconvention Bulletin 25
  26. Preconvention Bulletin 26
  27. Preconvention Bulletin 27

See also some of the statements published by the ISO Renewal Faction on its “External Bulletin”:

15 thoughts on “Unredacted: Rape controversy and internal strife within the International Socialist Organization (USA)

  1. You know, I actually think that what’s in the documents about the various cases (San Diego, Portland, Austin) reflects reasonably well on the ISO; they come across as being broadly aware that they screwed up and are trying to figure out how to do things better next time. Certainly it’s better than I expected. And there is a striking mea culpa from the New York District Committee about how they behaved themselves in a discussion on race in 2010.

    On the other hand, that’s another example of why their whole approach to secrecy is so paranoid. If they had these kinds of discussions out in the open, I think it would make them a lot easier to get along with.

    The little memoirs that Socialist Outpost published last week are really something, by the way. They’re written by people who are really speaking their minds (unlike these documents) and are reasonably levelheaded (unlike some others out there) and they really show what a dysfunctional group we’re talking about.

      • Even so, they admit they mischaracterized the position of the people they expelled and otherwise treated them badly. To be sure they are only even thinking about it because the line has changed in the meantime, but it’s interesting, since I don’t know in the past if they would have even acknowledged things on that level.

  2. I just looked at the document again and there is no acknowledgment of the fact that people were expelled over this (and they were!). It only says that they were “defensive”.

    • Were they? Are you sure you’re not confusing them with the people in DC? I’m not saying that wasn’t inexcusable, just that I don’t know whether I would expect it to come up in a document from New York. I don’t know, I guess it implicitly means they are treating it as though it were an isolated incident, which is interesting.

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  5. Rape is a crime of power, and the rape allegation is a microcosm of why socialism has never functioned. People crave power. You can never live in an economically equal world as long as there are people controlling the purse strings. Those people will always become powerful and use socialism as a weapon to suppress others into poverty and voicelessness.

  6. It is the alleged victim’s fault. Making accusations internally instead of going to the police is outrageously immoral. Shame on her.

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