open letter about the Socialist Party England and Wales and the Women’s question

I sent this letter to Hannah Sell privately (even though I’d titled it as ‘open’) back in Feb 2013 and never received a full written reply from Hannah or the E.C. – unless you count Hannah’s dismissal of my position of reservations about  pro-sex work forms of unionisation and organisation  of prostitution as ‘petty bourgeois’ in her letter to me and 40 other comrades in April this year which was mainly regarding my complaint against Les Woodward. That letter, and my replies, I reproduced on this blog at the time.

Below I reproduce the letter I sent largely unedited EXCEPT that I now remove the name of the relatively new comrade who supported burlesque / lapdancing at Socialism 2012 from the floor because I do not have want to upset or embarass her in anyway (and besides she may well have changed her position now) and my grievance was with the leadership and never with her. In fact I think this nameless young comrade is otherwise great, just mistaken on this aspect of the program (I refer to her now as comrade X). In another place I also ‘un-name’ a local full timer named in my original letter as the point I was making was fairly minor and yes,  it’s a subjective, personal view of said full timer.

Apart from that , this is 99% as the original letter was written, with no substantive changes otherwise.

I’ve decided to go public with it now as I think it provides important clues as to why the leadership, wary of any dissent, were so keen to accept my resignation in April this year, preferring instead to keep my sexual assailant, Les Woodward, as a member.

Dear Hannah,

This letter via email is not about nor does it refer to my complaint against Les Woodward. Instead I write as a long standing, active and committed member of our organisation since I joined at Socialism 2000 who feels obliged to make some critical remarks about some important political and organisational problems I am convinced the party has when it comes to both our programme for women and their emanicpation and socialism AND a culture (say at the Euro School, for example )  which far too often lacks respect for women and overlooks the problems of male stalker comrades, for example, which we the unfortunate women can not so easily escape. However inadvertently, I believe female comrades – many of whom I know personally and have worked with for years – are frequently unvalued and under used by some of the male full timers in several different regions at least.  Nor are their immense contributions , that is – our many female rank and file members- acknowledged and utilised as they should by many male full timers. The women to be championed above all, are the most oppressed and silent – women without formal education etc, older working class women who struggle all their life, and above all, working class women of colour – rank and file women members are still a rare sight on most of our platforms where female E.C. members of the party are not available to help rectify this. Instead, I have personally spoken to and befriended many many female comrades who have all shared with me experiences of misogynistic bullying from certain male comrades. It is not enough for us to keep repeating blindly the mantra ‘It’s just an isolated few cases each year’ as the likelihood is many women do not complain to the party at all and / or fall away from activity or drop out all together. I have witnessed many such cases in Wales since I have been a member. I think the party leadership ought to publicly admit to comrades above all else that we are not perfect or immune to problems of sexism and that we should and must organise effective political education to try to create a safer culture for women as a high party priority.
 This last point is also a major reason why I think we are mistaken to prioritise the lightweight and fluffy ‘Rape is No Joke’ campaign and instead I advocate that we organise at a national level – and from the centre –  a serious Stop violence against women type of national campaign, much more along the lines of our Indian, American and Swedish comrades do so – that is RAGE Against Rape – because rape is a crime but also young women in particular want to see protests against cuts and violence – not lame comedy shows organised by us! Further, this type of stop violence type of campaign needs also to take up as well as sexualised violence and rape, the problems of:
          domestic violence / incest / molestation / sexual harassment including name calling, bullying and stalking on the streets, public transport and at work and school etc / oppose the sex trade and trafficking of women
Now this brings me on to the problems I perceive – and other comrades in the party share – we have with our present national structures for Socialist Women and the paucity of theoretical material the leadership has produced in over the ten years I’ve been a member. Important social and economic phenoma pertaining to women such as the expansion and ‘legitimisation’ of the sex trade and huge promotion of both lapdancing and burlesque are specific examples here where I am not satisfied that the comrades responsible for this work have correctly addressed such issues as part of party’s overall programme for women, whilst CADV has been on the backburners for years and has not been an actual campaign since the early 1990s – e.g. years before I even joined. 
Over the years I have continuously raised these points at all levels of the democratic structures of this organisation and whilst I find most of our members are thrilled to discuss and debate these questions, the reception I get from the majority of N.C. members or full timers when I raise it is for me to be met with at best a sigh and an ironical raised eyebrow to outright hostile suspicion. I know there are other wonderful N.C. comrades who are not like this I fully appreciate them as they have helped keep me both sane and in the party. Nevertheless I can go on no longer accepting the status quo within the party – that is why I write to you personally about these matters as I do not find that my opinions are taken seriously as they should unfortunately by some of the most senior party leaders in Wales, including specifically our IEC representative, Alec Thraves. Other comrades are ok.
 I would like this situation to change and as a constructive start I thought I’d ‘go straight to the top’ in the hope that I will not only be heard but also discussed with and engaged with as comrades on equal terms which I know you will do, whatever your response(S) to this letter may be but I honestly feel like I’ve been both side lined and under used for years by a party I serve so loyally.
Hannah, I have much more that I want to address by writing to you. I will probably need to write more than once to be able to make all the points I need to make which I’m not going to cover here. However, in this correspondance I will now express some ideas and observations I would like to make about the N.C. selected National Women’s Committee structure AND related to this the question of written material on women and whether it is at a sufficiently high level at present to actually critically engage with our intellectually curious young marxists joining us in South Wales at least. New comrades have such a thirst for ideas but this is left to marxist discussion groups etc, where older comrades – according to the views of one local full timer, for example – have no part to play. I feel that I am taken for granted, as are many, many other comrades not in the so-called public eye of the party leadership.
In recent years I have observed a marked dip and then rapid fall in the overall political, theoretical and above all marxian philosophical  engagement with both historical and contemporary questions around women’s oppression and the socialist tasks of the revolutionary party at the national women’s meetings  – but not in many regions, districts and branches where we have female thinkers AND activist comrades who add so much of the freshness, complexity and challenges to the discussions at national women’s meetings, despite often weak contributions from one or two of the women committee members during generalised leadoffs on women and the cuts at this year’s Women’s meeting, for example. Welsh comrades proposed a new pamphlet or charter for women but whilst these were taken aboard (BUT NEVER FOLLOWED THROUGH – SM June 2013) I am disapointed that my offer at this meeting to do unpaid work for the centre for 3 weeks in January was never taken up. I am trying to work collobaratively with key comrades but feel very much that I am not being made use of at all by centre when I am more than happy to write, speak etc and that it was only Arti and Margaret who took up my offer and in Arti’s case, helped her produce a page of the text for the Rage Against Rape intervention.
 I realise these are quite harsh criticisms to make but I have heard the same tired, shallow and generalised leadoffs about women at national women’s meetings and women’s sessions at Socialism for years and it not only does not challenge or engage, many incorrect and false positions have been propounded by leading female comrades on the following issues, as recently as Socialism 2012, when Sarah Wrack, introduced the session by explaining that ‘we’ do not have a problem with burlesque or lapdancing. Sarah as a full timer is my representative and she does not represent either my views  nor did she represent the views of the many other rank and file women both present and not at the meeting itself. Sarah did not reply to my point of critique nor did any of the other London full timers there present at this meeting correct the point, instead ALL staying silent when a very naive and new Scottish comrade argued in favour of prostitution. I am disappointed that the full timers and national comrades present remained silent on this.
 I am also disappointed to hear Dave Reid report to me yesterday that Jane James thinks I was wrong to oppose burlesque and lapdancing as sexist as this is ‘insensitive’ of me to comrade X. I think that is politically completely incorrect of Jane here and would suggest in the friendliest comradely way that Jane should try instead to correct X instead of myself and take my lead by actually trying to engage X in a discussion where X may just have to contemplate that she is wrong  to publicly champion such a sexist and demeaning activity in her capacity as a Socialist Party member (and not me for OPPOSING it as a member) and actually try to convince X to change her mind! For years it has been left to a handful of comrades such as myself – in my case with no official party position beyond branch officer – to take these issues up and challenge such backwards ideas and practices. 
I’m afriad I also would like to complain that Christine Thomas did not reference / acknowledge / credit or refer to the unionisation of prostitution discussion document produced by Mariam Kamish, Katrine Williams and myself in Feb 2005. In Christine’s book she actually plagerises our argumentation AGAINST unionisation – without ever crediting us as her source! – to argue the oppositie point! She argues in favour of unionisation of prostitution in print which was not the compromise agreement the E.C. reached with us in 2006, following the E.C. reply a year later by Christine herself.
 The compromise was that unionisation was the party’s position but comrades wouldn’t publicly advocate it as they recognised its flaws as well as the complexities of the issue. Yet Christine’s text was published unedited, with no explanation to the three authors clearly referenced in said text by any cde who had followed and read up on debate on this decision to print or why we were not referenced, as is standard academic practice as followed by Trotsky and Lenin but perhaps not Stalin. If this was an ‘oversight’ please can our document be referenced in future editions hereonin. Neither Mariam or Katrine have asked me to raise these points by the way. it is the concern of mine for obvious reasons.
 This deeply disatisfies me and I do not think the question of what programme we put forward for women on prostitution and its related activies of lapdancing, porn etc is a finished debate, as I know anyway as french comrades have told me that there was ‘a debate about prostitution’ in the C.W.I. not that this has been acknowledged at party meetings here in England and Wales. Alas, comrades travel so we hear of these things anyway! I think we need to be a lot more open about these differences of opinion and not just about the debates where a section won out – or sections in this case -China / Hong Kong and Sweden over the question of whether China was state capitalist or not, for example. I have written extensively and in depth about these issues for many years and intend to publish at some point later this year. I would prefer to do so as not an oppositionalist faction but as a recognised member of this party who has something to contribute and therefore could potentially be published by our organisation – at some future stage – and through further discussion and exchange of experience and ideas and campaigns.
Comradely yours,
Sara Mayo, February 2013

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