Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that revolutionaries address misogynist sexual and intimate abuse. In the ten years that I’ve been involved in revolutionary activism I’ve seen so many instances of abuse perpetrated by men against women, particularly abuse within sexual relationships. Sometimes this abuse is subtle and hard to identify: a pattern of emotional and psychological manipulation and control. Sometimes it’s not subtle at all: I know women who have been severely beaten by their socialist or anarchist partners. I know socialist and anarchist men who have raped women.
All of these situations have been different, but I think the common thread is that every time a woman has been brave enough to come out as a survivor of abuse, to expose a man who abused her, there have been some fucked up responses from people around her. People who are revolutionary activists dedicated to building a society based on justice sometimes don’t see how the injustice of misogynist abuse fits into their political struggle, because maybe they don’t think that intimate relationships, and the abuse that can happen within them, are a political issue.
One thing that always strikes me is the emphasis people put on having a ‘neutral’ view of the situation. For example they might argue that there are two sides of the story, and that both the abuser and the survivor’s side of the story should be given equal weight. Or they might try to set up a police style investigation, where the person who was abused is expected to reveal all the awful details of everything she went through so that the rest of her community can judge whether what happened to her was really abuse. Often people will refer to the ‘allegations’ of abuse, and insist on referring to the perpetrator as an ‘alleged’ abuser.
I think this is a strange response, because anarchists (and other revolutionary leftists) don’t really take a ‘neutral’ approach to any other political issue. For example I haven’t heard any of my comrades refer to George W. Bush as an ‘alleged’ war criminal, or demand that we wait until he is given a fair trial before we pass any judgment on his imperialist invasions. I haven’t heard any of my comrades withhold solidarity with striking workers because they haven’t yet heard the boss’s side of the story. When Rebel Press published The day the raids came: Stories of survival and resistance to the state terror raids, no one thought to criticize us for not telling Annette King and Aaron Pascoe’s stories alongside the stories of the people the New Zealand state terrorized as part of Operation Eight.
Leftwing Revolutionaries don’t usually take a neutral position on political issues. This is because we recognize that you can’t be neutral on a moving train. Standing aside while somebody is being oppressed is allowing oppression to continue. If you don’t stand solid with the oppressed you are taking the side of the oppressor. This applies to imperialist Western states bombing majority world peoples, it applies to capitalists getting rich off the labour of workers, it applies to the state using force to repress activists, and it also applies to men, even revolutionary men, who abuse women.
Because an abusive relationship is a moving train.
 I’m talking specifically about men abusing women, because that’s the pattern I’ve seen recur. That’s not to suggest that intimate and sexual abuse is only ever perpetrated by men against women.