Trigger Warning: Discussion of Sexual Assault/Predators
BAMF has published a “strategy” to eradicate sexual predators from the left. This strategy consists of forming an anonymous and unimpeachable committee of “listkeepers” to track sexual predators and rape apologists, and to organize supporters in a series of escalating direct actions against their participation in the activist scene. While recognizing the need to turn predators out of left organizations, BAMF’s strategy fails to effectively deal with the question of sexual predation, and dangerously proposes to put survivors and left groups at the mercy of a secret clique.
The key issue is who should have the power to determine how to deal with sexual predators in the Left. BAMF writes:
“The State shall not determine for the Left who is a sexual predator, which groups harbor rapists, or who is a rape apologist. Listkeepers shall determine that based on a solid combination of experience, knowledge, documentation, and sound judgment. No applications will be accepted to join the Listkeepers. Membership will be determined by express invitation only.”
Modern capitalist states are still dependent on patriarchal family structures to reproduce their labor force, and the state is therefore deeply invested in upholding said anachronistic structures. BAMF rightly distrusts the state’s intent or even capacity to deal with the problem of sexual predators. However, in place of the state they prop up an explicitly self-nominated, anonymous-to-the-public group of people to secretly decide not only who are sexual predators and rape apologists but what sexual harassment and rape apology consists of. Communist groups, and more importantly survivors, must submit themselves to the obscured whims of the secretive “list-keepers” or face disruption and ostracization.
What are the benefits of the secret committee of list-keepers? To protect survivors, BAMF argues. But how? The most important element to protecting survivors is limiting the ability of the accused to contact or further harass the victim. This is often addressed by charges processes and safe space policies, though constrained by lack of resources. Like a charges process, the strategy only deals with sexual predation after it has occurred. All that the central committee of list-keepers offers is anonymity, contingent on the “solemn vow” of the anonymous list-keepers. In other words, the same trust we’d expect in a charges process, yet now without any form of accountability.
Unaccountability and a lack of transparency in the context of generalized sexist social relations is a recipe for abusive disaster. Groups that foster this sort of behavior, like FRSO with which BAMF is very familiar, use secrecy to hide their crimes. Comintern-inspired Leftist Organizations often depend on secrecy to hide the actions of the leadership and activists from the rest of the membership. Secrecy is a weapon wielded by bureaucracies, private or public. It robs the membership of their agency and denies that they are capable of making this or that decision themselves. Unless extremely repressive conditions make it necessary, secrecy should have no place in the Left.
Unlike an elected committee, the strategy does not serve to spread the skills necessary for dealing with these situations or generalize the knowledge and experiences that may result in the active prevention of sexual predation. A complaints committee elected by the general membership, and subject to its veto and recall would include the whole group in the general process if not in every particular case. The result is that the entire group learns from the horrors of sexual predation; many members would have the skills necessary for dealing with sexual predators, which at least increases the chance that predators will be dealt with. “The strategy” offers none of these benefits.
Instead BAMF seeks to forcefully compartmentalize the membership by levels of participation, depriving the general membership from experiences which would have helped the group deal with sexual predation and may even have resulted in its prevention. Instead, communist and left groups must bear fully the costs of dangerously “eradicating” sexual predators with force. This is an invitation for violent retribution and legal costs for any organization involved.
Not only does “the strategy” advocate bureaucratic control over victims, and depriving the Left of processes that would generalize experience dealing with sexual predators, but they threaten individuals and groups who do not comply with their strategy with public denouncement as rape apologists:
“We will hold selfproclaimed Leftist organizations and individuals to the highest standard.****** All Communist groups, formations, parties, and organizations must commit to Level 4 or face ruthless, relentless denunciation as enemies of the working class until they begin actively aiding the implementation of the Strategy of their own impetus, with their own resources, effective immediately.”
Thus by implementing their strategy, BAMF argues that they ought to have veto power over the political activities of any organizations on the left, as well as the desires of survivors. This threatens not only to affect those groups misguided enough to subject themselves to a shadowy, self-selected inquisition, but the whole left should this strategy gain much traction. Most importantly, it subjects survivors’ needs in organizational life to the whims of an unelected and unaccountable central committee, running the risk in the long run of being captured by the kinds of predators and abusers it aims to eradicate.
There is no real advantage in the strategy. Instead there are only a slew of potential problems related to the lack of information and accountability. Sexual assault has to be handled in left organizations, and we wouldn’t presume to have all the answers. Some critical problems for left groups include enforcing expulsions or terms of immediate relief and ensuring the process is speedy, both of which require considerable resources. However we should keep in mind core principles of accountability, democracy, and transparency, if we’re to find methods which work.