See the original blog post, "PLP Defends Rapists" for the announcement and call to action regarding PLP's defense of admitted rapist Seth Miller.

***TRIGGER WARNING*** Everything in this blog is a frank discussion of sexual violence and rape.

Monday, December 31, 2012

How PLP Unwittingly Confesses to Misogyny and What We Can Do About It


On December 16th, 2012 allies of a Los Angeles area activist who was raped by Seth Miller, a member of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), decided to make public their fight against sexual violence. Seth raped his close friend and college classmate in 2006. After years of inaction on the part of PLP to address the issue, and months of concerted effort to push PLP to do something about the rapist in their midst while respecting PLP’s desire for secrecy, these allies had the audacity to speak publicly about their experience and encourage others to join them in challenging PLP.

A number of statements that detail the history of PLP’s involvement in sexual violence can be found on this site, run by allies of the survivor:

In response to these public statements, PLP released a letter criticizing the allies for daring to tell the truth. You can find their letter here. Similar statements have been released by individual party members to smaller audiences in the last few weeks.

Why PLP’s Letter is an Attack on Women and Our Community

Their statement is the best evidence so far of why PLP itself is a problem. Alternate titles for PLP’s letter could include “Misogynists Unwittingly Confess to Misogyny” or “Shut Up Bitch, I Said Shut Up!”

The goal of PLP’s letter is to take something that is unambiguously wrong, the rape of a woman and subsequent cover up, and make it ambiguous. The tactics they employ warrant listing as we are likely to see them again. They parrot rehearsed statements about the oppression of women to demonstrate their “ally” status, they cast doubt on the testimony of the victim by referring to an “alleged rape,” they attack those who dare to speak up as being “fascist, bourgeois, counterrevolutionaries,” they abstract the discussion to one of process rather than outcomes, they blatantly lie about the actions they have or have not taken, they feign victimhood for being called out and imply that their history of activism in the past ought to buy our silence.

PLP’s letter is directed at three primary audiences: the survivor and her allies, the broader activist community, and PLP’s general membership, affiliates, and allies who may just now be learning of the extent of PLP’s cover up.

As a direct response to the survivor and her allies the letter amounts to one profoundly misogynistic and deeply delusional assertion: "Shut the fuck up!" The survivor and her allies must keep their mouths shut because their honesty hurts PLP and hurting PLP is synonymous with hurting revolution. The survivor and her allies should feel ashamed of doing damage to PLP, an organization worth their support, because it has the right analysis of class and oppression. I am hesitant to write what should go without saying: an organization that does what PLP has done does not deserve support and PLP’s vision of revolution is neither “revolutionary” or worth envisioning.

As a statement to the broader community the letter is designed to muddy the waters. Readers are encouraged to question the credibility of the survivor and her allies and to focus on any number of issues other than the fact that Seth Miller, rapist, remains a prominent member of PLP. Their hope is that by distracting from this, readers will be disinclined to challenge PLP and the issue can eventually boil over without any real consequences. To this end, PLP hopes we will engage in protracted tit-for-tat debate about the finer details of the history and the nuances of revolutionary theory, making the basic reality of rape and cover up undecipherable beneath all of PLP's distractions.

As a statement to PLP’s general membership, affiliates, and allies the letter is even more troubling and outrageous. It is a call to dismiss the public statements by the survivor’s allies outright as the machinations of agent provocateurs. It recasts PLP’s secrecy and cover up efforts as righteous acts of resistance against the police state, which PLP fantasizes is aligned with rape survivors instead of against them. In this context, the survivor and her allies become the enemy, the dangerous, bourgeois, fascist, counterrevolutionary “other” that must be stopped. If you think I am exaggerating, consider this facebook comment about the survivor and her allies published on December 29th at 6:40PM by Fernando Chirino, PLP member and faculty at Chapman University:

... Burning hacienda/ plantation owners is ALWAYS a good thing. The REAL problem is getting to that haute bourgeoisie to put them on a spit. I also wouldn’t mind using coward ass, white, petite-bourgeois anarchist COPS and counter-revolutionaries-in-disguise that some of my well-meaning friends and comrades unintentionally legitimated by trying to organize with them... as the hot coals to start up the main roast.

I feel compelled to take a moment and say that any member of PLP who believes it is an act of  “cowardice” for a survivor of rape to go public in a hostile world does not understand the meaning of the word “courage.”

The letter has one implicit demand from for all groups of readers, that we recognize a collective, comradely obligation to protect PLP from harm. PLP is the real victim in their telling of the story. They would like our protection from things that will hurt their recruiting, from the possibility that their work on behalf of immigrants, workers, or students might be damaged by their work against women, and yes, they also want protection from the police state which they incorrectly imagine would lift a finger, even against PLP, to defend the survivor. In short, PLP expects that we will all protect PLP from being judged by its deeds.

PLP’s letter is in perfect harmony with PLP’s public anti-Feminist position, as stated their March 2012 article, “International Women’s Day: Only Communism Can End Sexism,” from PLP’s publication Challenge:
“Feminism, a bourgeois philosophy, disregards the class nature of sexism. Anti-sexist struggles must reject it, because it divides the working class by blaming male workers and shunning them from anti-sexist struggles. This all-class unity for women sets us up for fascism by mobilizing women against their own class interests."
For PLP, when gender concerns are in conflict with class concerns in organizing projects, gender defers to class. PLP promotes a hierarchical, ladder-like understanding of oppression where women’s struggles are not only a lower rung than class struggle, but even below a concern that men might be made uncomfortable by feminism and feel too "shunned." In practice this means that if you commit a misogynistic act but portray addressing that act as being in conflict with "class struggle," even if that act is rape or the cover up of rape, you can get away with it because only a “fascist” would “mobilize women against their own class interests." This is nothing but more of the old, “after the revolution” bullshit that is more about enjoying the benefits of patriarchy than it is a commitment social change. Case in point: Seth Miller raped a woman and is still promoted by PLP as a leader in our activist communities while PLP is criticizing the people who dared to point that out.

Fortunately, no amount of lying, threatening, accusing, misogynistic theory, or manipulative co-optation of our movement’s language of revolution and community can distract from the following basic truths:
  1. Seth Miller is a rapist and continues to be a member of PLP.
  2. PLP leaders have decided at multiple points over the last six years to do nothing, ask that others stay silent, and hope the issue goes away so that they can continue to work with Seth without complication.
  3. PLP only ever talked about some vague future “dialogue” as a way keep the survivor and her allies silent while hiding their decision to do as little as they can get away with.
  4. PLP blames the survivor for not doing enough, and going about what she has done in the wrong way. They locate the social burden outside of themselves and Seth Miller. 
  5. PLP remains to this day more concerned about publicity and their reputation than the fact they have a rapist in their midst. 
PLP's commitment to obfuscation and inaction along with their implicit demand for protection amounts to a message to all survivors and everyone who has not (yet) been assaulted, "be quiet and don't complicate things." It is also a message to every perpetrator and potential perpetrator of sexual violence, "we got your back and understand how hard this is on you."

It is now a matter of historical record that PLP will sacrifice the bodies and souls of comrades for the sadistic pleasure of prominent party members, as long as the party thinks that doing so will not hurt them in their "real" work. No amount of canned lines about revolution and women’s struggle can negate what PLP tells the community through its actions, or the basic facts of this issue up to this point. The question that PLP has put before the rest of us is, “Should we protect PLP?"

Should We Protect PLP?

Despite PLP’s longstanding desire that this story never be told, they have only ever had the option of how it would be told. PLP’s assumption that secrecy was to be the permanent mode of existence for the survivor as well as a viable approach to addressing the widespread sexual violence in our movements demonstrates only PLP’s depravity. Pressuring the survivor to remain silent in any way is itself an act of violence, replicating the experience of being a discardable tool for another’s use including the terror and  
profound degradation accompanying that experience.

I will forever feel guilty for accommodating PLP’s desire for secrecy so long before going public. I wanted to give the people who I trusted and respected in that organization every opportunity to do the right thing, in the hopes we could have told a more empowering story about solidarity against patriarchy’s most extreme and violent manifestations. During this time I was depriving our community of critical information about the real danger that PLP and its members pose to women, and my accommodation of PLP may have had tragic consequences. Our impulses to hope things will work themselves out, to avoid conflict, and to see harsh truths in more comforting lights can be both liberating and oppressive forces. PLP turns these impulses against our community, using them the same way a cop uses his baton to bash our brains in. Their goal in weaponizing our impulses to hope and unity is to achieve our neutrality.

Neutrality is the position which accommodates PLP’s demand for protection and silence. By doubling down yet again on secrecy, obfuscation, and inaction, PLP gambles that the rest of the community shares their misogyny. They are counting on us to buy into the idea that class and gender struggles are in conflict and that class trumps gender, they are counting on our desire to avoid confrontation, they are counting on our cowardice to prevent us from making all of the interpersonal sacrifices that we must make to confront PLP but are so much less significant than the sacrifices that are demanded of survivors of sexual violence. By playing for neutrality as the position that protects their interests at the expense of the survivor and women generally, they have removed the neutrality from neutrality. PLP is not worthy of the protection that silence and neutrality affords them. We can no longer tolerate PLP or any groups or individuals that share their values.

Given PLP and Seth Miller’s utter lack of accountability and continued demonstration of profoundly unself-critical misogyny, we must achieve the total exclusion of PLP and all of its members from our organizing and social spaces. We can no longer pretend that through the course of time PLP will reform itself. We cannot entertain the possibility that any solution outside of exile is appropriate while the basic facts of Seth Miller and PLP’s actions are being obscured and denied. I have learned the hard way that the desire to pursue other options is nothing but the desire to return things back to normal at the precise moment we are confronted by how horrific normality is. Changing that reality is not possible without first accepting it, a step PLP refuses to take. Our reality is that we live in a world where rape is OK, and it is so because we don't do anything about it.

We must not believe in PLP because PLP does not believe in us. Their cynical gamble reveals how little faith PLP actually has in our community’s real potential for courage and revolution. Whatever it is that PLP is fighting for, despite whatever sincere delusions they may have about their efforts, PLP is not working for us and is not working for revolution. We cannot tolerate the presence of any group in our community when that group’s position to that community demonstrates such undeniable contempt and pessimism, and we cannot count on others to do the work of confronting PLP for us.

by J. Ball

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Macktivists, Brocialists, and Manarchists are We All: Exorcizing the Demons in Our Movement and Ourselves

[This could probably go without saying, but for good measure: TRIGGER WARNING!]

Several months ago, I learned that a comrade and friend was raped by Seth Miller, a member of the Progressive Labor Party. I was shocked to hear, but as glad as one can be in this situation that a group of activists and friends were standing up with her and charging PL to hold Miller accountable. At the same time, because of my own history of grievances with PL and its members, I worried that this demand would fall on deaf ears. Initially, several members of PL seemed to take it seriously–they promised to bring it to the leadership and see to it that there was justice. But over time, it became clear that PL as an organization, from the senior leadership to these members who originally promised to help, were doing everything in their power to not bring Miller to accountability but rather to shield him, justify his actions, and attack his accuser. With communists like these, who needs capitalists?!

This is all the more troubling because I know some of these members who are defending Miller. It should be clear enough to anyone with half a sense of decency, much less feminist or leftist politics, to understand that telling a rape survivor that what she suffered wasn’t rape, that it’s just “gossip,” that the attacker is too important to the movement to be kicked out creates an environment where rape is excused ahead of time–where it is made clear that nothing will be done to prevent members from raping others, and that nothing will be done to punish them. But what is less obvious, but just as present, is the culture of rape within PL (and, indeed, many other leftist organizations and circles) that enabled Miller to rape my friend and, likely, other women. Unless PL takes an active stand against rape and rapists, one can only assume that their vision of revolutionary utopia is one in which women have little control over their own bodies, where party members can terrorize others with no consequence.

Shortly after the first public statement was released about Miller and PL’s coverup, I was asked to write something about PL and my experiences with them and their members at UC Irvine. Aside from recounting the events with broad strokes and offering an elementary analysis, as I’ve done above, I have little more to contribute in those areas, which others have written extensively and beautifully about already. And, as a man who no longer lives in Southern California, nothing I could write can or should equal what the women (and male allies) actively organizing against Miller and PL have already written and will continue to write. What I hope to contribute is additional history of PL’s culture of rape and misogyny and some personal experiences relative to the culture and defense of rape and sexual assault in activist circles, and social circles more broadly. In what follows, I don’t name names. As much as it is about these individuals and their actions, it is also about something much larger; it may be clear to some who I am referring to, but I don’t want their individual personalities to draw from the larger issue of sexual assault in our communities.

PL, Behind the Curtains

I came to UC Irvine several years ago as a grad student, after spending all four years of my undergraduate career involved with various activist groups and primarily organizing around workers’ rights issues and international solidarity. Searching for a continuation of this work, I sought to get involved with the only group at UCI interested in workers’ rights, and, in reality, the only group that was radical or organizing. What I found, I soon discovered, was not at all what I was looking for.

The group was dominated by older men, primarily grad students (including several in my department); but the gendered power dynamics were addressed by pushing women into public, formal leadership positions. As one could expect, this resulted in a cloaked power structure, where the men made decisions, while the women would face the responsibility for those decisions. Additionally, as exists in many (all?) other groups, there was a gendered division of labor: men take part in the “intellectual” work and claim publicity (writing, speaking at rallies, choosing which films to see and what articles or books to read in discussion groups), while women took on more rote work while staying in the shadows (working with the administration, outreach to other groups, making sure everyone does what they promised to).

But merely a gendered hierarchy and division of labor do not equate a rape culture. That’s where a lot of the interpersonal relationships come in. One of my strongest recollections from my short time in that group was an incident of one of the male leaders slut-shaming the women when they wanted to go out dancing one weekend. There was much more wrapped up with this incident than just inferring that these women were promiscuous because of an association of women going dancing together where there would be men, taking a paternalistic, Austen-esque view that women needed to be protected and chaste. What this was about, fundamentally, was controlling the bodies of women in the group. Whether it was understood by them as such, the men didn’t really want the women to mix with outsiders, much less outside men. By attempting to attack and undermine their sexuality, the men sought to control women’s sexuality. Men also used relationships with women in the group to control how they voted on things or carried out actions for or within the group. Men also used relationships with women outside the group in order to recruit them.

Along these lines, there were a number of actions I witnessed, designed to isolate group members from other social structures, so that they would be reliant on the group, and especially the leadership, for socializing. Frequent group dinners would be expected of any student club to build camaraderie among members, but this group went further, such that the group itself was the encapsulation of its members’ social lives.

Of course, as I discovered, the group was little more than a front for PL. The two oldest men in the group, who largely ran the group, were members of PL. Let’s call them “D” and “F”. D was a high-level leader in PL, while F was only really associated with PL at the time but is now more active. Most of the decisions of the group, while voted on at meetings, were either decided ahead of time by D and F and their allies, or vetoed afterwards. In one case, after I proposed and took on the responsibility for a film screening, I was told just a few days before that “they” decided to cancel it; telling me was more of an afterthought. But this is to say that the mechanisms of power and control didn’t exist isolated within that group; in reality, the actions of men in the group, especially D and F, were intended to make sure the group’s decisions were in line with PL’s, and to screen and recruit students to PL.

There were actually instances in which student activists who didn’t toe the PL line within the group were forcibly purged. One such student was a freshman my first year of grad school, and, I thought, had a tremendous natural potential for organizing. Unlike others in the group, especially D and F, she came from a poor family, and was working in addition to going to school; as a result of this background, she had a rapport with the workers that no one else could match. Despite this potential, which everyone acknowledged, she (actually her relationship with the workers) was seen as a resource to be exploited, and there was little effort to nurture and mentor her as an organizer, and even her efforts to seek this experience as opposed by some in the group. She ended up dating a campus groundskeeper (which was also, similarly, exploited), but when they broke up following her discovery that he was cheating, other members of the group (especially D and F) continued to maintain a relationship with him rather than her. They would invite him to group functions that were kept secret from her — despite her still being active in the group — and she actually found out that, while they were dating, D and F and others would hang out with him and his other girlfriend. Eventually, after the break-up, she was pulled aside by F and one of his other male allies after a meeting, and told that she was being kicked out of the group in a way that was, at a minimum, unintentionally threatening, violent, and patriarchal. The two of them told other group members who weren’t part of PL or the inner circle that she chose to leave.

Because the group was focused on campus workers, it’s also important to examine the group’s (and PL’s) intentions with those workers and their unions. In retrospect, most of the group’s interactions with workers were dictated by an interest in developing a relationship of dependency. A main reason why the film screening mentioned above was canceled was that the film, and my planned discussion afterward, emphasized worker agency and a vision of unions of, by, and for workers — that is, a union not controlled by bureaucratic leadership or an outside political party. The group often held meetings and events only for workers, and it was really a one-way flow of knowledge. The workers were to be evangelized into communism and recruited for PL if they passed some litmus test; it was not believed that student activists could learn from workers. If anything, workers’ experiences were cannibalized and forced into the PL narrative.

Many of the workers felt uncomfortable with this political proselytization, and those few who actually attended PL meeting were put off and didn’t go back. F would often take the role of speaking forworkers, and managed to get himself onto the bargaining committee of one group of workers, where he dictated their strategy and decisions, and even turned the committee against the union that was representing them, during bargaining. Thus, and ignoring many other reaffirming examples, the group’s interest in workers’ rights did not translate into direct action in solidarity with workers (a la USAS or other groups), but was only something to be leveraged in order to trick workers into feeling dependent on students, with dreams of a power/party structure such that PL, viz. D and F and other student activists, would be at the top of the pyramid, with workers as their foot soldiers at the bottom.

Obviously, the workers never fell for it, and in many cases used D and F and the student group to get what they want; they were smarter than the student group gave them credit for. And, ultimately, it’s of no surprise that this should happen, because there is little incentive to join a political party unless you have come to believe the dogma or have a high-level position.

It’s More Than a Women’s Problem

While PL is marked as a target here, their treatment of Miller is just the most recent occurrence of a repeating phenomenon on the left. What I’ve outlined as my observations with this PL front group at UCI illustrates the mechanisms of hierarchy and patriarchy that allow a rape culture to form within organizations and communities. This culture makes it such that when one member is injured by another, whether by sexual assault or other means, there is an economizing that is done by the leadership, to determine which of the two members is more valuable. If the rapist, as in the case of Miller, is found to be of value to the organization, then that person is kept while the survivor/victim is purged. This goes far past simply blaming the victim, to treating the victim as a cancer that needs to be excised, rather than holding the perpetrator accountable. Or, the survivor may become convinced that it’s better to just stay quiet, because speaking up would mean more attacks against her (accusations of lying, etc) and removal from the space and therefore from her social circle. Within these structures, it is often preferable to pretend the attack didn’t occur. The rape-supporting structures within many of these organizations and communities resembles those of caricatured college fraternities; however, because these groups claim to be fighting against the very thing they are perpetrating, avenues for recourse and accountability may be even more tenuous and frightening than they are in the rest of society.

As few of my friends know, I unfortunately have first-hand experience with how these structures can work (albeit outside of leftist circles). I apologize for how this information is being conveyed–it is something I wish could have been dealt with properly, on its own, and I don’t mean to detract from what PL and Miller have done. It is something that has, for a long time, been difficult for me to come to terms with, but I decided I need to share in order to help others understand what is happening now.

When I was about 15, I was sexually assaulted. I was molested by a peer during a Boy Scouts camping trip, while I was in my tent. What was most difficult was that I was not alone in my tent, but that I was sharing it, at the time, with 4 other friends. And they watched, laughing, as it happened. Some of them were also classmates, while the rest I only knew through the Scout troop. The way that I internalized this all, as I assume anyone else would, was that I believed it was my fault, I convinced myself that this wasn’t sexual assault but a joke. I was afraid to speak out about it because it was my friends, because I was ashamed, and, most importantly, because I had no other social or support structure to fall back on. To cope with my inability to address what happened to me in any meaningful way, I blocked it out of my memory for 5 years, until it painfully came back and since hasn’t left.

Still, women are by and far much more likely than men to be targeted for sexual assault or rape. But it does happen to men, and rather than intending to make this, yet again, just about men, by recognizing that it doesn’t just happen to women, it’s easier to understand that sexual assault affects everyone, and that the burden of fighting sexual assault in our communities does not fall only on women. It is important also to recognize that sexual assault is not exclusive to hetero communities.

What I have come to understand from that experience, and what I have seen too many times since, primarily within activist groups, is how sexual assault comes to be seen as permissible: how perpetrators think that it’s ok or that they won’t be punished; how it’s excused, ignored, or reinforced by others in the group; and the psychology of victimhood and roadblocks to even seeking justice or accountability.

We Need to Kill the Monster Now, Not Later

What needs to be done would take too long to describe here in full, and has already been done articulately in too many other places to list.

In short, we need to fight patriarchy and sexual assault right now, not after the revolution. We need to examine our communities and our own behavior to see those aspects that contribute to a culture of rape and sexual assault. We need to make sure that sexual assault is discouraged, not permitted, and take preventative action rather than waiting until the unspeakable happens in our community. We also need to make sure that our communities practice real processes for accountability and justice — this means the right to confront one’s attacker, the right to be taken seriously, and the right to be included in any accountability process (none of which were respected by PL). This also means that, if the attacker is not cooperative, not willing to meet the reasonable terms of the person they attacked, etc., that person needs to be removed from the community, forcibly if necessary. They don’t need a drinking buddy or to write self-critical reflection papers — they are a danger to the community, just as Seth Miller still is, and need to be prevented from attacking anyone else, by whatever means are deemed necessary by those who they endanger.

Anything short of this is counter-revolutionary, and demands immediate consequences.

From we are the crisis

a short piece on sexual assault and activism in Southern California

It's been a while since I've put anything on the blog. I've been caught up in the process of putting together a draft for the dissertation, along with the stuff of everyday life, but I thought I would put that aside to deal with a fairly significant issue within radical politics in Southern California, although it has national implications. A recent campaign was started by a small number of activists in the area in response to the sexual assault of an anarchist activist by a Progressive Labor Party (PLP) member, Seth Miller in 2006. In the succeeding years, a number of attempts have been made to confront Miller and to get the PLP to take action and hold Miller accountable for his actions. The party did nothing at the time, and it continued to stall when another group tried to bring up these issues six years later in the summer of 2012. At this point, Miller is still an active member of the party in New York, and the party has demanded the silence of those who are still seeking his accountability. You can read a brief description of this process, as well as a call to action here. The program that they ask to implement is, in fact, fairly minimal, requesting that the PLP be excluded from the institutions, structures, and spaces of the activist community as long as they continue to protect Miller, and refuse to take the issue of sexual violence seriously as a political, rather than private issue.

Unfortunately, these issues don't come as a surprise to many of the activists that I have been in conversation with. The Progressive Labor Party has a reputation for not taking issues of sexism seriously within its own structures, and has been more than willing to overlook the poor behavior of its activists. Although I have heard nothing specific, from the sounds of activist conversations, it sounds like this incident is not isolated within the structures of the party. This issue becomes apparent in its treatment of the situation with Miller, as it has refused to engage with activists on the issue, and has engaged in a series of victim blaming. Just as notably, as the necessary means posting notes, "The party has, however, asked that the activist and her allies stop spreading “gossip” about Seth because they see the activist’s rape as a private matter rather than a political matter." The party has, in effect, dismissed decades of work on the part of feminists, and is attempting to enforce a set of divisions between the public and the private, the political and the personal, that has largely been rejected by even bourgeois social structures. Those structures of division go back to the party's reactionary investment in the nuclear family, a position that is derived from a limited and problematic reading of Friedrich Engels's The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, which falls into a similar defense of the nuclear family, despite its recognition of the structural linkage between state domination, private property, and the construction of the patriarchal family. It's also worth noting that Miller is the son of significant party members, giving him additional protection from the implications of his actions.

The party's refusal to act then has to be understood within a nexus of a set of problematic theoretical positions, along with a selfish desire to protect its cadres at the expense of the larger activist community. This situation is the danger of the kind of cadre and vanguard structure that is created by organizations like the Progressive Labor Party, placing the care of their members above the social justice and needs of the community, particularly those who are privileged members, ensconced within its multi-generational structures. Additionally, these benefits don't seem to be given merely on the basis of seniority, and are far more frequently granted to men. Within this context, it's hard to take the PLP seriously as an organization committed to the fight for social justice. It's members and fellow travelers need to be challenged in this regard, and those who continue to participate in its structures and defend its policies need to be excluded from activist spaces. Social justice cannot function as long as there are princes in its midst, along with the patriarchal structures that go along with those figures. As long as we allow the organization to engage in the forms of obfuscation and dissemblance that it is involved in, because of their commitment and meaningful contributions to other struggles, we become complicit in the organizations refusal to confront sexism and reinforce the contemporary sex/gender system. To put it simply, we become complicit in the injustice of the world.

It's also important not to make this a sectarian issue, for a number of reasons. To begin, the issues that we see in PLP are neither restricted to it as an individual organization, nor are they restricted to cadre organizations as a particular type of organization. I've seen sexist men allowed to get away with atrocious sexist behavior because of their prestige within the informal networks of anarchist activism, for instance, and within other progressive structures. If this generational defense of Miller is an issue of a particular type of cadre and vanguard organization, we see other forms of the defense of men who commit acts of sexual violence and contribute to the sexism of our society as a whole. Far too often, criticisms of other types of organization become a way of refusing to deal with the real problems in their own organizations. As the call for action in Necessary Means notes, this moment should be a point for reflecting on our own informal and formal organizational behavior, to confront the sexist and patriarchal behavior that exists within ourselves, collectively and individually. Additionally, making the issue sectarian offers the Progressive Labor Party far too many easy narratives out of the issue, transforming it into an issue of red-baiting, or other distractions. We need to focus our attention on the ways that this situation is symptomatic of larger, structural issues within our communities, rather than transforming it into another petty anarchist vs. marxist turf battle. Along with this, there is something deeply problematic in the way that women's struggles are instrumentalized in service of these sectarian fights, a way that those fights are no longer understood within their own terms, but only in the service of another type of struggle.

To stick to the kind of critical self-reflection that I am insisting that others engage in, these issues certainly have their analogues in Irvine. The kinds of sexist structures within that context tended to be informal, tied into the networks of friends and allies that made decisions about the structure and nature of demonstrations in the early part of the protest movement. It was notable that these networks were dominated by men, and were nearly exclusively made up of men. Some of the folks who made up those networks had ties to PL, but the anarchist networks had very similar issues. It's notable that in my time in Irvine that no one has set up lessons on how to facilitate a meeting, network, or set up an action. These issues have gotten better over the years. I don't think that we see the same issues that defined the years of 2009-2010, but I think we have a long way to go. Within that context, I feel it's worth noting that I didn't do enough to challenge those problematic structures of the early period of mass protest, all too often trying to establish myself in those circles, and contributed to the problems of creating activist structures that were not open to the participation and contributions of women. I've never been terribly fond of the confessional, and have often agreed with Spinoza that those who repent are twice wretched. But for the very little that it means, I apologize for my mistakes and contributions to the often problematic and sexist environment of UCI activism. Perhaps more significantly, I will try to avoid these pitfalls in the future.

reposted from Work Resumed on the Tower.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Revolutionary Heartbreak: Why Every Single Rapist Has to Go

Everything that rises must converge.

I'm sure by now you've read the criticism that my comrades have produced about the Progressive Labor Party's gender politics and their response to the reminder that Seth Miller is a rapist. Through all of our organizing on this issue, our position has been that PLP must administer a systemic solution to the problem of a rapist in their midst, and we've advocated this on behalf of our comrade at every level of leadership to which PLP will grant a non-member access.

To this point I've been able to compartmentalize my feelings by seeing the accountability process as another realm of organizing, but I felt personally betrayed when I learned that PLP implemented a process independently of the process we had been discussing for months. It was a harsh reminder that within the constellation of sexual violence, the political can be very personal.

In the few days since our collective released the original statement calling out Miller and PLP, I've been told by one PLP member that the information I have needs to “be corrected,” but they were not willing to tell me what we have wrong. Moreover, I've been very disappointed in my comrades' efforts to help. People seem afraid to cut out friendships at the expense of dealing with something as difficult as rape, but the pain of cutting those ties is nothing compared to the profound and dehumanizing pain of being raped.

This essay will read to many of you like personal narrative, but you must not dismiss it because it isn't explicitly political analysis. What I describe here reflects real friendships and real communities— relationships that are completely destroyed now because the party decided it was better to let Miller remain than to expel him and support his victim. Maybe there's a political lesson in here somewhere. I just hope I can show how we are all deeply destroyed by rape.

Finally, a disclaimer. A few people from the party have told me to stop gossiping about this to my friends. This is not gossip. Calling this gossip renders a very serious political problem into meaningless social fodder, and it turns fighting patriarchy into labor that is gendered and dismissed as idle and childish. To those members of the party: you will not silence me like that.

This is not a love letter.

I sat on a rickety chair at a recreation center somewhere in Los Angles, and every few minutes a toddler stepped on my foot while amused adults tried to corral the kids back to a play area in the next room. On either side of me people were packed elbow-to-elbow at long folding tables eating homemade food from paper plates. The crowd of 150 or so overflowed into the alley behind the recreation center, and folks took turns at the tables while comrades performed revolutionary songs, poems, and speeches.
 At the end of the night everyone huddled back en masse to sing “The Internationale.” Everywhere I looked fists were aloft. It was like home.

This was the annual Progressive Labor Party May Day dinner. I was invited by a man I knew from organizing on my campus. I'll call him Jay. We started out as distant colleagues working for different unions, but over time we developed a close friendship that, at least for me, transcended our divergent politics. The emergence of that friendship is how last spring I found myself meeting more and more members of PLP, and how I found myself thinking seriously that this was the kind of fulfilling, communal life I wanted to be part of. Everyone was so kind and welcoming. It felt as though this whole world had unfurled before me and I was just supposed to step into it and belong. Maybe I exaggerate, but even in retrospect my reflection feels true to my experience, and it's important to establish that real bonds have been broken throughout all of this.

If any of them knew who I counted among my comrades, they didn't show it. No one ever asked me to identify my politics or defend my positions. No one even explicitly asked me if I was thinking about joining the party. No one until Miller. He sat next to me in front of the stage during the May Day general assembly at Pershing Square. The moment Jay got up to speak to another friend, Miller started in on me aggressively asking questions about my politics.

“So tell me again why you haven't joined the party yet,” he opened. I explained that I don't identify as a statist and I disagree with the premise of democratic centralism. “We'll have to work on that,” he countered. Nearby another PLP member sat watching the stage. He had been really kind to me a few weeks before when I attended a party at his house with Jay. When I tried to make eye contact for an intervention though, he would not look my way.

Maybe Miller sensed my distaste for his questions, because he started pointing out reasons why I would make a good comrade. I laugh at the right jokes. I seemed to fit in with his friends. I was evidently down for antagonizing the cops. I evaded eye contact because I felt uncomfortable from the attention and because the comments seemed to simultaneously mock and flatter me—a strategy known as “negging” to another misogynistic group, self-styled “pick-up-artists.”

This anecdote might seem incidental, but I see it as a symptom of larger problems regarding the ways PLP recruits and retains members and especially women. There's a really telling line in Criticism and Self-Criticism: “But anyone who divides his political comrades from his friends, who keeps one set of ideas for one and another for the other and never the twain shall even overlap, is just as useless as the person with no friends outside the Party.”

This directive to make your friends your comrades at all costs devalues genuine relationships that people build outside the party. But more importantly, it renders those relationships mere recruitment grounds. Ultimately, it's a predatory position. According to the party, a member is useless if he cannot bring his outside friends in. So he must bring them in by any means necessary.

As I learned more about PLP, I started to question whether my friendship with Jay was premised on the principles outlined in Criticism and Self-Criticism. Late one night after hours of tossing back beers in a dim bar on the outskirts of downtown, I told Jay about this insecurity. I told him that I knew the party sees building meaningful friendships as part of its organizing strategy. I said that I was afraid he only spent time with me to recruit me. “I don't see it that way at all,” he explained. He came to the party on his own, had to ask someone how to sign up, and he wouldn't expect anyone else to do things differently. I was wrong about his motivations, and it was enough to convince me that I could trust Jay. His words affirmed the faith I had in his promises to help make sure something happened about Miller.

As I write this I am thinking about three moments with Jay—three moments that define the trajectory of our friendship:

First. We are in his truck and I'm looking at a copy of Challenge, at an article he has written. He tells me I don't have to read it; that he is embarrassed by his writing because it can't compare to what I do; that I am a word architect and the way I write, the way I talk about writing, is beyond him. I read the article and I tell him which parts I like. I worry that I didn't praise him enough, that I should have told him that I like how earnest he is when he writes about politics.

Second. We are on the patio of a coffee shop talking about many things, but I am avoiding saying the words I need to because I'm afraid he will disappoint me. I tell him his friend is a rapist. His jaw drops. I start to cry. He rubs his face, takes off his cap and rubs his shorn hair. He does not know what to say or how to act, so we go dinner and when he drops me off at home we sit in front of my house for a very long time. He says he will help however I need him to. He says he'll burn bridges if it's for a good reason. Later he sends me a text message that says, “WTF. We'll figure it out. Sorry for not knowing, which is messed up on so many levels, not least of which resulted in ur exposure to a bad person. Thanks for being principled and bringing it to light.”

Last. We are in his truck again, but this time I am sobbing because his friend, a leader in his club, suggested that my comrade's rape was adultery and told me that she would have to prove rape happened if we wanted PLP to do anything about it. I tell him through gasps, in the shakiest voice, that this is the logic of cops. I tell him that I started hating cops when they wouldn't protect me from the man who stalked and assaulted me years before. I tell him that this world isn't safe for women. I turn and look at his face as we're stopped at a light in Beverly Hills. He is wiping something from his eyes. When we drive past the La Brea tar pits I ask him to pull over and we walk around the grounds. He tells me that the smell of tar reminds him of his grandfather and playing in the countryside as a child. It's comforting to him in a way that I cannot understand, but his candor comforts me.

As I write this I think about those three moments and I cannot help but compare them to a present in which I have been utterly abandoned. More importantly, I must compare them to a present in which any solidarity between our circles of comrades is impossible. It is a present in which we will never march together against the capitalist state—a present in which we will never be able to work toward revolution because supporting rapists is counter-revolutionary.

And as I think about these moments, I experience profound senses of rage and grief: rage for my comrade who has suffered untold physical and emotional torture on account of what Miller did; grief for losing Jay, who I still love despite this all. I have to believe that PLP is earnest in their decision. The failure to remove Miller from the party and from the organizing spaces we share must be to them a genuine and realistic move in support of revolution as they see it. It must be a kind of religious fervor to think a rapist can be reformed. It must be a twisted kind of faith. That is the only way I can understand things anymore.

What is to be done?

The solution is simple. Eject Miller from the party. Keep ejecting rapists from the party. It isn't difficult. It isn't, as Jay suggested early on, something that must be struggled with for a positive outcome. Just make the decision that the revolution will be feminist and do it.

Radical men theoretically are opposed to structures that enact violence against certain classes of people, whether those classes are workers, people of color, or women. When women* are attacked, it is the responsibility of all radicals to demonstrate solidarity with victims, but in this case, PLP would only consider a process that fit within their parameters. They were uninterested in hearing what our collective wanted to accomplish, and instead insisted that the victim be forced to relive her experience in front of an audience which would judge her truthfulness; if this tribunal decided that she was telling the truth, then they would be willing to give her an audience with Miller where she could confront him and he could apologize and they could both heal.

There will no resolution in this instance if PLP thinks the solution to systemic sexism is individual reform. Rape is political. The writers of an anti-rape zine I admire put it best: “Sexual assault and rape are not things that just happen. They are not merely individual transgressions. These are political— intentional perspectives of a system of domination; a system which is always violent, hostile, and manipulative; a system which cannot be addressed by “fixing” individual perpetrators on an individual level and then welcoming them back into the arms of the community they attacked” (Dangerous Spaces
17). Though the party outwardly appeared invested in an accountability process that at least included the person Miller raped, what they actually did was laughable at best. In a meeting in New York last summer, the party decided that we have not provided conclusive proof that Miller is a rapist, and therefore he only needed to start drinking with a buddy and write a self-criticism about his relationship to patriarchy. Steps like this, the party hopes, will ensure Miller is safe to be around.

Both of these processes, however, set up a system of male-supremacist jurisprudence that provides gendered parameters for what can and cannot be discussed about the rape and the rapist. Just as rape comes to be defined by what men as sexual violation distinguished from their image of “normal” sex, justice in this case becomes defined entirely by the rapist and his apologists. I'm drawing on Catherine MacKinnon here, and what she says about rape between acquaintances seems relevant. MacKinnon points out that women “often feel as or more traumatized from being raped by someone known or trusted, someone with whom at least an illusion of mutuality has been shared, than by some stranger” (177), but PLP seems to operate under the assumption that because Miller and my comrade were close friends his violation of my comrade must not have been so bad. For them, it's only a little misunderstanding to be resolved through a heart to heart talk. That would be justice, according to PLP.

But I am inclined to believe that there is no such thing as justice for someone who has been raped. It is not an act of violence that can be taken back. It is not something for which a person can apologize. A rapist rapes and must not be forgiven because in that forgiveness we accept that rape is the unfortunate choice of a single bad individual. To forgive the rapist is to affirm that he is “an almost metaphysically different creature than the normal man, either a monster or, for liberals, simply very sick” (CE 36). Forgiving our rapists denies that rape is entirely commonplace—an every day exercise of power against which all other sexuality becomes consensual. I want to quote at length from an article recently published in the journal of materialist-feminism, Lies:

Put bluntly, rape is a function of social death. To be raped is not unlike torture in that the raped is placed beyond the bounds of law, norm, or simple caring. To be raped is to be at a point of absolute objectification, boundaries not just violated but uprooted entirely, made meaningless. No help arrives, no language exists to communicate or reconcile one's pain because one is at the point where normalcy produces, contains, and makes operative excess, silence, and the incommunicable...It is only sometimes that one's rape even bears the name or meaning of rape, and where it is nameless it is institutionalized—as in prisons where it is made into a joke, or in the many private hells where one is always 'asking for it.' (CE 37-38)

Rape is embedded into the very fiber of our existence. It is so much a part of our communities and our institutions—our social relations, our material conditions, our discursive practices—that it is practically invisible. But the mundane quality of rape does not mean we are left without pain. The rapist tears our bodies, turns us into meat, and those around us are forced to watch, forced to become, in their own way or another, a kind of rapist themselves. Everyone betrays someone eventually. That's what rape does to us all. And that's why every single rapist has to go.

* I use the term women here, though I recognize that the use of these terms is inherently problematic. I intend to use the term not as a means of oversimplifying dynamics but of providing shorthand for the structural relationship between individuals gendered male and individuals gendered female, as well as the structural relationships between individuals who are not gendered in these ways.

Works Cited

C.E. “Undoing Sex: Against Sexual Optimism.” Lies 1 (2012): 15-44. Web.

Criticism and Self-Criticism.

MacKinnon, Catherine A. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.

Dangerous Spaces: Violent Resistance, Self-Defence, and Insurrectional Struggle Against Gender.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How you promote rape every day

When you don't actively recruit women to facilitate meetings.
When you don't support women learning facilitation or other skills.
When you ignore that no women volunteered to facilitate.
When you ignore that no men volunteered to take notes.
When you accept that a woman is taking notes.
When you interrupt and ignore women facilitators.
When you interrupt and ignore women's comments and proposals.
When you ignore that women are speaking less than men.
When you allow men to speak more than women.
When you twist the words of women to suit your ends.
When your body language dominates a group.
When your tone and volume dominate a discussion.
When you take over facilitating when a woman is the facilitator.
When you repeat the words of a woman in your own words, to clarify or explain what she really means.
When you tell yourself you’re “just speaking the truth” and ignore how the form of your message is dominating, intimidating, discouraging, or hurting other people.

When you take credit for women's ideas.
When you don't give credit to women for their ideas and work.
When you step outside for a chat after a meeting while women stay behind and clean up.
When you assume women will provide the comfort in a meeting by bringing food, supplies, and arranging the space.
When you assume that childcare during meetings and actions is the responsibility of women.
When you ignore that men don’t volunteer for childcare.
When you ignore that women can’t participate because they must provide childcare.

When you ignore that men volunteer for the the “action” committee and women volunteer for the “outreach” committee.
When you glorify the visible actions and take organizing and outreach for granted.
When you leave menial tasks to women.
When you forget to do tasks and make messes and women must pick up the slack.
When you ignore that women are taking up your slack.
When you don't challenge men taking public roles.
When you don't support women taking public roles.
When you give credit and accolades to public roles, and give none to menial tasks.
When you ignore the sacrifices women make to accomplish the menial work.

When you see new women as potential sex partners rather than political actors.
When you don't question why women never go to more than a few meetings before disappearing.
When you isolate new women and "take them under your wing".
When you allow new women to be isolated by macktivists.
When you don’t expel macktivists.

When you assume new women are naive and inexperienced.
When you assume new men have experience and cred.
When you induct new men into the friendship club with handshakes and hugs and exclude new women by projecting sexual tension.
When you assume women are appendages of their partners.
When you speak to men in a group and don't make eye contact with women.
When you talk to women's partners and ignore women.
When you give information to women's partners and assume women will hear about it.
When partners break up, you don't question why women leave the group and their partners stay.

When you dismiss challenges of patriarchal behaviors.
When you don’t challenge patriarchal behavior.
When you become defensive when your behavior is challenged.
When you reframe challenges of these behaviors as personal conflicts rather than political problems.
When you assume that you must not know “everything” that happened.
When you need to know “everything” that happened in order to act.
When you continuously question the victim to want to know more to come to an “objective decision.”
When you dismiss problematic behavior as one small incident, rather than part of widespread patriarchal oppression.
When you attempt to solve these problems outside of meetings through one-on-one conversations.
When you attempt to solve these problems through mediation, assuming that there are two sides to patriarchy.
When you require the victim to report to you what happened for you to take it seriously.
When you assume that because the victim will not report the incident publicly, that there is no problem.
When you do not intervene to shut down patriarchal behavior when you are not the direct target.
When you use a victim saying "I'm ok" as an excuse to do nothing.
When you do not provide a safe place for a victim to report the oppressive behavior they are experiencing.
When you assume that “time” will heal a victim’s wounds.
When you do not discuss these problems openly, honestly, and directly.
When you spend more time “reforming” problem men than supporting the women targeted by shitty behavior.
When you do not support the targets of patriarchal behavior by addressing their feelings of unsafety, invisibility, victimhood, fear, etc.

When you assume you are a good feminist ally.
When you announce you are a good feminist ally.

We acknowledge that rape does not always fall within heteronormative behavior. Patriarchy is the basis of heteronormativity and rape culture, and that is what we are attacking here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Progressive Labor Party Defends Rapists

In 2006 Progressive Labor Party member Seth Miller raped an anarchist activist who had been his close friend and a fellow organizer for many years in the Los Angeles area. The activist found no recourse in the legal system but hoped that PLP leadership would intervene and do something to hold Seth accountable for being a rapist. The party leadership did nothing despite the activist reaching out multiple times.

Early in 2012 the activist found renewed support for holding Seth accountable after learning that he had recently been part of some organizing spaces with the activist’s allies. The activist, along with a small collective of allies, approached PLP again in May 2012 to remind them of the rape and demand a process of accountability. After several weeks and a meeting between the activist, her allies, and a member of PLP leadership, the party seemed to acknowledge it was harboring a rapist but refused to act unless the activist provided “conclusive evidence” that Seth had raped her. Instead, the party leadership engaged in victim-blaming and insinuated that the activist was merely feeling guilty about consensual sex. While party leadership agreed to take up the issue, they opposed any process that didn't conform to their terms and obstructed progress on holding Seth accountable by canceling meetings at the last minute and issuing unreasonable expectations for rescheduling.

It is now several months after those initial conversations with PLP’s new leadership, and Seth remains an operating member of PLP, though he is now based in New York City. Recently the activist found through her own investigation that the party held a secret meeting in New York in July or August during which they agreed that while there was no “conclusive evidence” to their standards proving that Seth is a rapist, they would require him to drink with a buddy from now on and write a self-criticism about his relationship to women and patriarchy. These so-called solutions do nothing to protect our communities from a known rapist.

PLP leadership has failed to acknowledge this meeting just as they have failed to protect our communities from this predator. The party has, however, asked that the activist and her allies stop spreading “gossip” about Seth because they see the activist’s rape as a private matter rather than a political matter.

PLP is incapable of promoting truly revolutionary politics because it refuses to acknowledge individual and systemic sexual violence. In response, we ask a few things of you. The first is to exclude PLP from all activism and organizing spaces. The second is to warn your allies of the fact that PLP is defending and harboring at least one known rapist. The third is to examine and address the patriarchal behavior throughout all of our activist communities that protects and promotes sexual violence. The fourth is to actively support and defend the many individuals in our community that have suffered sexual violence. Finally, we ask you to address these matters in the best way you see fit - you do not need our permission to act.