To the organisers of the 2013 Sydney Historical Materialism Conference

Some of us were invited to speak, others have already prepared abstracts and papers for panels, and we had all been planning to attend the conference. We have since learned that Solidarity, an affiliate of the Socialist Workers Party, has given its full and unequivocal support to the latter in its handling of an allegation of rape against a senior member. You have informed us that you agree that the position taken by Solidarity is indefensible, but that you have also decided to invite Solidarity members to present at the conference. As a consequence, and in the absence of any evidence of a change of position by Solidarity, we will not be taking part.

Bree Blakeman
Ann Deslandes
Andy Fleming
Mark Gawne
Margaret Mayhew
Angela Mitropoulos
Lara Palombo
James Pollard
Rachel Rowe
Liz Thompson
Steve Wright

If you were going to attend the conference and would like to add your signature, or register your support of those who have decided not to attend, please do so in the comments box below, for now.

NB update, May 9th: Apologies if there’s a delay in adding names or they’ve not been added as yet – have been ‘erring’ on the side of assuming that if people haven’t said so explicitly, their names have not been added.


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27 thoughts on “To the organisers of the 2013 Sydney Historical Materialism Conference

  1. Holding on – terra firma April 24, 2013 at 4:42 am Reply

    I don’t usually involve myself in the life of the more… institutional? ex-Trotskyist? Left but I seem to have run straight-smackingly into the matter of the UK Socialist Worker’s Party, its handling of a rape allegation, and the response of an Australian affiliate of the SWP, Solidarity. And it is truly ugly. …


  2. rushofsun April 24, 2013 at 4:54 am Reply

    I am so heartened to see this response. I read ALL the transcripts available, comment from either side and ‘official standpoints’ and i can only come to the conclusion that an appeal to the ‘disputes committee’ generally reflects a rape/sexual assaults victim’s experience with the state police and courts.

    I am shocked and saddened that our hopefully progressive and insightful ‘comrades’ or ‘colleagues or ‘brothers and sisters’ in Solidarity have chosen to sanction this investigation and eventual conclusion.

    This is not the inclusive fight I want to be part of either.

  3. […] If you were going to attend the conference and would like to add your signature, or register your support of those who have decided not to attend, please do so in the comments box of the post via this hyper-link. […]

  4. usevalue April 24, 2013 at 6:08 am Reply

    I’m not really happy about this. Was looking forward to seeing all you Sydney folks. Please organise something where I can monologue and be the centre of attention for 20 minutes without being an implicit rape apologist.

    But yeah. I’ll sign it. Obviously, if the organisers of HM decide to do a policy turn-about in the next few weeks (i.e. soon enough for us to re-schedule our attendance) I’d like to do it, but from what I hear they have already had this debate and settled on their decision. In fact, it’s the knowledge that that debate’s already happened, and that this was a deliberate decision and not merely an oversight, that makes me think this is something I’ve gotta do.

    James Pollard

  5. Alex Mouzone April 24, 2013 at 6:11 am Reply

    Full support, this is really important and much needed in the ‘left’

  6. Anthony Hayes April 24, 2013 at 7:23 am Reply

    I support your decision to boycott the HM conference and for the reasons outlined. However there are other reasons for avoiding such a pointless academic gab fest which welcomes the old wrecks of Stalinism, Marxism, Leftism, etc., and their latter day heirs as much as those of its critics. The organisers of HM are keen to present themselves as “where its at”. Be assured that if there is such a place its not there.

    Anthony Hayes

    • usevalue April 24, 2013 at 7:36 am Reply

      If I read you right, and you’re suggesting an alternative event, we’re on the same page.

  7. @ndy Fleming (@slackbastard) April 24, 2013 at 8:05 am Reply

    Please add my name to the list.

  8. Aren Aizura April 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm Reply

    I wasn’t intending to go to Historical Materialism, but I fully support those who are withdrawing. By giving space to Solidarity, the Historical Materialism organizers exemplify why a politics of inclusive pluralism just doesn’t cut it in situations like this. Don’t invite rape apologists, or apologists for rape apologists, to speak at conferences.

  9. korynmalius April 25, 2013 at 5:54 am Reply

    It is truly awesome to see some solidarity from all the way across the globe, when so many people and organizations in the UK are too scared to take a stance to hold the SWP accountable.

  10. meat tart April 25, 2013 at 2:59 pm Reply

    I hope that this statement and discussions around it might contribute to a serious debate among HM participants about gender violence and a culture of not-rocking-the-boat when it comes to these very difficult and emotional questions. I respect this as an attempt to bring this conversation to a public space, after many other public and private attempts to engage members of Solidarity (both critical and uncritical about their National Committee’s position). In future, I hope that the conference and its participating organisations are known to take a better stance on questions of gender violence and how these matters are dealt with by so-called Marxist organisations.

    As much as I was looking forward to this panel and conversations with others at HM, I think that having this conversation is more important.

  11. korynmalius April 25, 2013 at 7:25 pm Reply

    If you have a press book, here a response piece in which I mention your initiative, to be published on May 1st in the AWL’s magazine,

  12. Angela Mitropoulos April 26, 2013 at 12:15 am Reply

    The organisers of the HM conference have been propagating the myth of a dissenting young man wrestling with his conscience. This elevates the terrible inconvenience of not giving a 20 minute paper above that of taking the issue of gendered violence seriously. Interesting priorities.

    In any case, there is no evidence of dissent that I have seen. I can’t be persuaded to act on blind faith, because this is precisely the problem: people gathering to “decide” that a young woman was not raped by an influential friend of theirs because they just knew, based on no evidence whatsoever. That is a serious problem, horrible for those subjected to its dynamics of extreme ad hominem and ostracism. It also means that the SWP and Solidarity are demonstrably not materialists.

    Most importantly for those of us considering whether to withdraw from the conference — since we all know that any members of Solidarity cannot express an opinion in public contrary to their organisation’s policy without facing expulsion, then there is no practical distinction to be made between ‘leadership’ & ‘rank & file’ for those of us wondering whether to stand alongside Solidarity in public fora. If dissent does not materialise then it cannot be said to exist — except so as to provide loopholes for the convenience of those who seem unable to take responsibility for the organisation of which they are a member.

  13. Liz Thompson April 27, 2013 at 11:34 pm Reply

    Thanks Ange for your clarity on the dissent question. People from Solidarity have sent me private messages hinting at letters being written and things being said in a dissenting kind of fashion, but as yet, nothing. That this functions as a way to avoid being held responsible, now and into the future, in the private conversations that this is supposed to be relegated to, is obvious now. Thanks to all the signatories for this. Happy to be on the signatory list if that helps – I certainly wasn’t presenting a paper or anything but I was thinking I would attend. Now of course, I will not.

    Liz Thompson

  14. Liz Thompson May 3, 2013 at 11:28 am Reply

    In the hope that discussion about this will continue other than in private discussions with Solidarity members and HM organisers: An HM organiser has said to me that their position is being misrepresented. In particular: “the HM organisers don’t have a position on this yet, are trying to grapple with it and have certainly not propagated any kind of myth of internal opposition. I really feel like all of this is seriously pre-emptive”
    I thought I would just post that argument here, as I am less interested in having ongoing private chats about it and more interested in an ongoing discussion about this here. It would be ideal if those who object to this letter argue it here, rather than in private. Any thoughts from others who have been in direct contact with HM organisers would be welcome. Thoughts direct from HM organisers would also be helpful. Otherwise I may just continue channelling the so-far unconvincing arguments that various people, including Solidarity members and one HM organiser have been pitching to me. I’m sure people will feel misrepresented by that. If there is somewhere else in the world that this particular question is better debated please let me know and I will go there. But this seems like a good place.

  15. Angela Mitropoulos May 3, 2013 at 1:53 pm Reply

    After about a month of waiting for HM organisers to grapple with a decision upon their being made aware of Solidarity’s position:

    April 17th I sent the following email: “You mentioned in your email that you would be meeting and coming to a decision at the end of last week. Could you advise us of that decision?”

    The following day, myself and four others were sent an email dated April 18th (some weeks after initial queries, and about which a whole lot more could be said) which reads: “The concrete question facing us was therefore whether or not to remove ______, the only Solidarity member on the program from the conference program. We met this morning and decided not to do so.”

    This was after I’d been told that the original line-up of the closing session (namely, the one I had agreed to be on months back) had, without my being informed in the meantime, been changed to now include a member of Solidarity. While it’s been implied that conference organisers have suggested (to others but not to me) that this member of Solidarity had been considered for that session some months ago, I was only informed that they would be on the closing session some weeks after I and others had raised serious concerns about Solidarity being given a platform at the conference. And after I had already expressed my unwillingness to participate if that were the case.

    I was not one of those approached by one of the organisers of HM with information about “internal dissent,” but it’s because that did happen with at least one other that conversations between the four turned to Solidarity’s rules obliging the public conformity of all its members with ‘the line,’ as it were.

  16. WildlyParenthetical May 4, 2013 at 2:28 am Reply

    I wasn’t planning to attend, but I fully support this open letter and the action taken by the signatories. Thank you for refusing to cover over gender violence and rape apologism.

  17. margaretmayhew May 4, 2013 at 8:23 am Reply

    I was considering attending the HM conference, because it looked like something politically interesting and academically thorough, but this rape apology crap is Stalinist nonsense. HM should be a forum for conscious critical public intellectuals to do the work that is so necessary in these neoliberal times, but to start something with a lie, and with a lie that perpetrates misogynist violence makes it unthinkable. Thank you for this letter, and discussion of what is a horrible concern for so many of us.

  18. Liz Thompson May 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm Reply

    I should add that in the discussions I have had with Solidarity members since putting my name to this, it has been made clear that Solidarity don’t intend to respond to this as an organisation. They seem to be hoping that if they just ignore this it will go away. I have been told that this is NOT the intention of the HM organisers, but of course the longer this goes on without a response from them…..It has been a fair few weeks now. The same goes for the apparent dissidents within the organisation. I honestly hope to hear from both soon. The latter two have indicated that they want more, not less debate on this question, but the debate so far is becoming a little one-sided without their participation.

  19. Lara May 4, 2013 at 11:29 pm Reply

    It is upsetting hearing about all this. I was considering coming to some of the papers but it is not going to happen now. Solidarity has made its own decision but I cannot accept that the organizers of this Conference and others attending this event have to accept it. If rape and gender violence are not key concerns for this Conference then there is nothing else to say. Thank you to the people that signed and circulated the letter.

  20. Liz Thompson May 8, 2013 at 11:31 am Reply

    This from an HM organiser, one of two people (the other a Solidarity member) who keep accusing me of wanting to shut down debate because I have signed the letter. As if debate is happening on Solidarity’s document anywhere else as far as anyone can tell. Anyway, despite my constant encouragement to discuss this here, this keeps ending up on my Facebook page. I am just going to cut and paste here:

    “HM have decided that the panellist is still invited to speak. And I agree with that decision. I think calling for a boycott of HM because HM is refusing to ban Solidarity members from speaking is really over the top, to be honest. These are not SWP members and they are not leading members of either SWP or Solidarity either. I do support bans on those who are organising to defend the position of the SWP, or support the setting up of forums for debating this out in the open, in public, where the SWP can be shamed in public. I do not support bans on every member of every oganisation that comes out in support of the SWP position and certainly don’t support bans or boycotts on every organisation or event that allows any member of any organisation that supports the SWP position to attend an event. We should be calling the defenders of the SWP to account by making them accountable to OUR forums and opening up discussion in forums wider than the rubbish internal SWP ones. Otherwise we are further isolating those members inside these organisations that are opposed to their organisations’s position, and worse, we are also further isolating members who have suffered this kind of abuse themselves but are too afraid to speak out. I think solidarity with those in the minority of the SWP and/or Solidarity is a priority here, not excluding them. I do support the Delhi HM decision by the way. But I think those circumstances are entirely different. They were dealing with an SWP Central Committee member who has been active in defending the SWP’s line. I doubt very much that they would put a ban on every SWP member speaking, let alone every member of every organisation that has come out in support of the SWP.”

    • @ndy Fleming (@slackbastard) May 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm Reply

      Leaving aside the anonymous author’s agreement with the decision by HM conference organisers to invite members of Solidarity to present at the conference, this blog would seem to be a very good place to debate questions arising from Solidarity’s support for the SWP’s handling of a rape allegation. Or perhaps not? My understanding is that both Solidarity as a collective and individual members of Solidarity have expressed no opinion outside of, in addition or in opposition to the National Committee’s statement in February, which gave the SWP unequivocal support. (At the same time, Solidarity member Paddy Gibson has stated that the NC statement has no formal status and is simply an internal document — one whose contents must therefore be simply disregarded.) Surely one of the virtues of the Open Letter is precisely that it actively encourages debate and discussion regarding an issue which Solidarity would seem to want to disappear? Finally, regarding the status of these debates, their location and importance, I think that Google and other search engines would suggest that this blog and others do in fact provide a very public means of engagement with such matters as the SWP, Solidarity and rape allegations.

  21. ana australiana May 8, 2013 at 1:47 pm Reply

    This action (ie an open letter noting our refusal to participate in the HM conference, and our reasons for doing so) *is* a way of “calling the defenders of the SWP to account by making them accountable to OUR forums and opening up discussion in forums wider than the rubbish internal SWP ones.” It doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of HM being such a forum. I hope that it is. Personally I want nothing to do with it if people from Solidarity are going to be participating, because they have made a statement supporting the SWP. It’s as though gendered violence has been hived off from and subjugated to the more-important task of class struggle and the preservation of organisations that have appointed themselves as its vanguard. That’s my line in the sand. If these mysterious dissenting members cannot speak their dissent publicly, how can I make a distinction? Why don’t they resign? But I appreciate that the stakes and debates and perspectives are going to be different for others and am sure a useful conversation can still be had inside the tent, as it were. Though I would hope it’s not just about whether this action is “over the top”, or not.

    I am curious as to how we could be “further isolating members who have suffered this kind of abuse themselves but are too afraid to speak out?” How can any of us actually know that? In any case, bringing the question to public action in the way we have intended to do here is a fairly well-practiced strategy in fighting sexual oppression and particularly rape. It doesn’t mean that those who don’t join us are being labelled anti-feminist, or indeed rapists or rape apologists. It is about creating more space against such. Privacy and secrecy is a big part of the problem.


  22. The original intention for writing this was to clarify my reasons for withdrawing from the HM conference in Sydney this year. However, what has actually been written has grown broader than the original intention, and the following may not clarify things as much as I would have liked. My sense is that this is the case due to the nature of the question at hand. Nonetheless, given that I have been struggling to find the time to get any of these thoughts down, and that writing about this could feasibly go on for a long time, these incomplete ideas are put here as they are, to be put aside for now, and so that conversations may continue more openly. …


  23. Lara May 15, 2013 at 2:12 am Reply

    I wanted to reply to Mark’s letter. Thank you for explaining your position and for articulating it so well. I do not underestimate the complexities that you discuss in your letter. I find the accusations of moralism, sectarianism etc… that you critique in the letter frustrating because they seem to be disembodied from the material effects of gender violence and also at a great distance from the hard work of women, feminist and non-feminist organisations. I come from a left background and I have also faced gender violence and throughout my years I have devoted time and energy supporting directly and indirectly women and organizations working to stop gender violence. I pretty much carry on with this activism wherever I go and whatever I do precisely because gender violence is endemic socially (including within the left). This does not mean that I know what to do, but I have made it my business to respond to this problem by connecting with people that clearly can help to make better decisions. For me signing this letter was the ‘right’ and ‘ethical’ thing to do and I continue to hold this position. I do feel that there is a bottom line or the right thing to do in this case; this does not mean that there are no consequences. It seems to me that the SWP, Solidarity and the organizers of the Conference have indeed all carefully thought out their positions or what is the right thing to do and have enacted their bottom line; now they are facing the consequences. I have no doubts that members of these organisations are split over the issue but this is something that they need to deal with (friends or not friends). For me the issue is to ensure that these existing positions are challenged.

  24. Steve Wright May 15, 2013 at 3:37 am Reply

    Yes, thanks from me as well. What you and other posters have written here has helped me as I try to process the broader implications of all this.

  25. […] letter to Sydney Historical Materialism […]

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