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- Myth #1: The process delivers us from evil
- Myth #2: Good accountability means there must be no consequences for the perpetrator
- Myth #3: If you talk about abuse, then you’re a cop or a fascist
- Myth #4: Make it dirty, then accountability will go away
- Myth #5: Everyone needs to know everything
- Myth #6: Never remember anything
- Myth #7: Protect your mate, even if they’re an abuser
- Myth #8: Only guys protect abusers
- Myth #9: It doesn’t matter what happened, it only matters who did it
- Myth #10: Sneaking out of accountability is ok
- Myth #11: Perpetrators are better comrades than survivors
- Myth #12: It wasn’t abuse if there was no violence
For many years, a toxic culture of abuse has dominated the radical left. Attempts of changing this have consistently failed, including failed accountability processes.In this text, we would like to look at some of the reasons, why so many attempts have failed. Some of the myths presented here, are openly supported by some people in the radical left. For these it is possible to state them and then to criticise or debunk them.But there are also other myths, that are not openly supported, but which are the basis for what some people in the radical left do. Before criticising or debunking these myths, we had to write them down, so they become visible in all their nastiness.This might be uncomfortable reading, but it is necessary in order to understand, why accountability processes as they are run today in the radical left so often do not work.
Myth #1: The process delivers us from evil
This is the most widely held belief about accountability: “If you want to hold an abuser to account, you need a process”. This belief assumes, that without process, there cannot be accountability, there cannot be justice. This is a belief rooted in the foundations of capitalism. Capitalism is organised in a way, that makes the content of someone’s activity (work) very much irrelevant, but which is based on the form of that activity (value). Bourgeois justice is organised in a similar way. Not the content, why and what someone does is important, as that would include the class character of society. Instead the form is important, the question if a law was broken or not. The law has no room for the reality of class society, racism or sexism. Bourgeois justice knowns only one path and that is following the law.By insisting on a process, the radical left is following the same tradition as bourgeois justice. Not the content of what happened and how this can be countered or possibly reconciled matters. It only matters to have a process and to follow the process. As the law, also the radical left process is blind to actual social reality, not even in the microcosm of the organisation.This is also the most often used reproach against allegations of abuse: “The allegation or the result of accountability are not valid due to lack or unclarity of process.” This argument tries, on purpose to avoid the real content of what happened and what should be done about it and instead focuses only on an abstract formal process.
Myth #2: Good accountability means there must be no consequences for the perpetrator
This is also a widely held belief, but less often spelled out. Many people in the radical left believe, accountability can somehow make the abuse go away and the perpetrator will always continue organising in the same way as before, without requiring any effort from the perpetrator. The unfortunate reality is, that in most cases the survivor will leave the organisation or even the entire radical left. It is not an acceptable outcome of accountability that the perpetrator continues as before, while the survivor leaves. On the contrary, accountability should place a higher priority in enabling the survivor to continue organising.The setting of this priority influences how the entire accountability process will play out from the start. If the goal of the organisation is to exonerate the perpetrator, then it is necessary to frame the survivor as the antagonist of the organisation. The desired result of the accountability is already used to define how accountability will be worked on from the beginning. Often one can hear this also as an argument against safe spaces: “Safe spaces are wrong, because they deny the abusers their rights.” This argument leaves out on purpose any thought about the survivor and other people who might feel threatened by the presence of perpetrators.
Myth #3: If you talk about abuse, then you’re a cop or a fascist
A rumour goes around in the radical left, that survivors and their advocates only bring up abuse in order to destroy the radical left organisations. Only anti-feminists would say this rumour out loud, but many in the radical left believe it. The rumour then continuous to give the reasons, why the survivors would do that, because allegedly they are either cops or fascists. This rumour has the goal of destroying the credibility of the survivor and their advocates. If they are cops or fascists, then nothing they say should be believed. This is a typical communication tactic: You don’t need to proof that your enemy is wrong, you only need to cast doubt on who they are. Once the doubt is planted, the argument could be: “We can’t trust the survivor, therefore the survivor needs to provide proof beyond doubt.” It would be already very difficult to provide proof beyond doubt for any case of abuse, but after being cast as cop or fascist it is impossible to provide that.
Myth #4: Make it dirty, then accountability will go away
This belief is never spoken out aloud, but many abusers believe in it, because they know that more often than not it works. This works similar to what the right-wing media does, when they attack a left-winger by piling accusations against them, mixing lies with half-truths and hoping something will stick or the targeted individual will give up after a while. In the context of radical left accountability, the perpetrator – directly or via comrades or friends – will respond to any allegation of abuse by counter-attacking and smearing the survivor and their advocates. Once all the dirt is thrown at the survivor the argument goes “Accountability needs to be dropped, because both sides were wrong.” The abuser hopes this can convince most people in the radical left and could cause the accountability to be dropped. A more aggressive argument would be “Also the survivor or their advocates did many things wrong and need to be held accountable for that”. The goal of this argument is clearly to threaten the survivor and their advocates in order to silence them.The perpetrator will continue with this, until the survivor will be more and more traumatised and give up and leave the radical left. That will then end the accountability.
Myth #5: Everyone needs to know everything
This belief is widely held and often written, but rarely thought about.Many perpetrators choose positions of power within the radical left, as abuse is easier if the perpetrator has some kind of power over the person they have chosen as target for their abuse. In order to have such a position of power, many perpetrators have therefore leading roles in many different organisations and initiatives. If a survivor in that situation brings up allegations of abuse, then each and every organisation the perpetrator is involved, will demand to know everything, every big or little detail, however intimate, personal or hurtful this is for the survivor.In this case the survivor would be required to go through 5, 10 or 20 accountability processes. It is emotionally draining for a survivor to go through 1 accountability process, but almost impossible to go through many.Members of those groups then argue: “We demand to know everything, because we must run our own accountability processes. If the survivor or their advocates don’t deliver then they are not serious.” The effect of such arguments is, that accountability becomes a theoretical concept, that in reality cannot be achieved.
Myth #6: Never remember anything
This is another belief, that is never spoken about, but intuitively used by almost all perpetrators and their friends. Faced with allegations of abuse or with accounts of what happened, the perpetrator can always say, they don’t remember. If they say that, then the perpetrator shows their unwillingness to participate in accountability.Even after the survivor or their advocates have repeated their accounts and explanations many times, the friends of the perpetrator will still claim, they cannot remember anything that was said or written.The friends of the perpetrator will say “Why does the survivor and their advocates never say anything? What can’t they give any details? Why do they not communicate?” And even if the survivor and their advocate repeat their accounts another hundred times, the friends of the perpetrator will simply repeat the same argument. The motivtion behind this argument is, to force the survivor and their advocate into giving up.
Myth #7: Protect your mate, even if they’re an abuser
Many people in the radical left think, that personal loyalty to their comrades is more important than accountability.Perpetrators foster personal relations with comrades close to them, where personal loyalty is valued extremely highly. The perpetrators frame this as a very important part of radical left organising. While it is a normal element of human relationships to protect ones friends, precisely for radical left organisations this becomes a problem, if these personal loyalty networks (‘old boys networks’) damage the political goals they are pursuing.In the case of these personal loyalty networks around perpetrators, these are responsible for keeping away many potential activists from joining and for expelling many existing activists. This has caused a huge strain on the radical left. Political actions and organisational questions are manipulated by these personal loyalty networks around perpetrators in order to maintain dominance within the radical left.As soon as their yoke is shaken off, then the radical left can grow. That will incur the wrath of these personal loyalty networks and eventually they will try to destroy those radical left organisations, where they cannot maintain dominance.
Myth #8: Only guys protect abusers
This is a belief, that many people have. While it is true, that many of the direct perpetrators are (cis) male, their networks of friends and comrades close to them also contain non (cis) male people. This has proven to be one of the most effective weapons against accountability.Every perpetrator in the radical left, who wants to stay in their position of power for longer periods, will try and forge close personal loyalty relationships with at least one non-cis male, in many cases with a woman. If such a perpetrator is faced with any allegations of abuse, then they will rely on the outspoken support from a woman.This can include statements of support towards the perpetrator but also character assassinations against the survivor and their advocates. In many cases, due to such a non(cis)male support, organisations decide to believe the perpetrator and to forego accountability.
Myth #9: It doesn’t matter what happened, it only matters who did it
This is rarely admitted, but many people in the radical left belief in this. If the people who run the organisation and/or who have powerful friends are accused, then the accountability will be made to go away, irrespective of what actually happened.If on the other hand, the same people who run the organisation want to get rid of someone, then they use accountability to do that. Again, it does not matter what really happened.Any bureaucracy is a tool in the hands of those who have power. If accountability is run as a bureaucratic process, then those who have power in those organisations will use it in their own favour.To avoid that, accountability should never be a bureaucratic process.
Myth #10: Sneaking out of accountability is ok
Everyone has learned this from bourgeois justice: If there is a loophole, take it, to get off easy.In some cases the same is applied towards accountability, then there cannot be an acceptable outcome.The perpetrator or their friends could say “But the perpetrator is not member of the organisation any longer, so we cannot do anything”. In reality this can be the loophole out of accountability. Whenever a survivor or their advocate mentions abuse to the organisation, then the perpetrator will leave the organisation. Once the accountability process has ended – because the perpetrator isn’t a member of the organisation, then the perpetrator can rejoin the organisation.
Myth #11: Perpetrators are better comrades than survivors
This is a belief held by most perpetrators and some of their friends.The perpetrator believes to be superior to others in their organisations. The perpetrator thinks of themself as a fantastic organiser, hardened militant and sophisticated strategist who is entitled to hold a position of power and to use or abuse others in lower ranks in their organisations. The perpetrator’s argument “I am more useful to the political cause than the survivor.” is in reality a description that the perpetrator believes to be more powerful than the survivor. Power is applied as a justification for abuse.
Myth #12: It wasn’t abuse if there was no violence
This is a belief that is held by some people in the radical left, but only used in the context of accountability. Someone’s experience is devalued, because someone else might have had a worse experience. The experience of abuse is devalued because it is believed it lacks the element of violence. If the element of violence was there, then the amount of violence is questioned.This will re-traumatise the survivor. The goal of this is, to minimize, devalue and delegitimise the experience of the survivor and eventually make the survivor give up.
We believe, that the radical left should work to achieve better outcomes of accountability processes in the future, without replicating the bourgeois justice system. And the radical left should work to change the toxic culture, which for many years has formed the basis on which abuse is thriving.
In the meantime, we should not wait and accept the situation as it is. Instead, we can create safe spaces, where perpetrators, who have avoided and sabotaged accountability, are not welcome.
– some comrades in London, June 2020 –
DISCLAIMER: this is written by some comrades and does not represent the opinion of LAFA