Archive | identity politics RSS feed for this section

Trans exclusionary ‘radical’ feminism – a dangerous and anti-working class ideology

9 Apr

Note: Following some constructive criticism I have deleted part of my post which referred to intersex people. Thanks for the feedback.

What do you think about when you think of the word feminism? Do you think of the suffragettes or the women and men who fought in the 19th century for women’s property rights, for women to have the right to divorce their husbands and for rape to be punished as a crime rather than simply being a man’s right? Do you think of the women fighting against gang rapists in India or fgm in other developing countries?

I’m guessing you don’t think about a reactionary nationalist ideology that fights to demonize a marginalized and frequently despised group of women rather than fighting for the rights of women under a brutal system that is still sexist, discriminatory and still finds ways to divide women and men against each other whether it is by cutting services and benefits which predominantly affect women such as child benefit or funding for domestic violence shelters, or by finding ways to pay women less for similar jobs while making it increasingly impossible for single parents to raise a family on one income. At the same time men who experience, for example, sexual assault or childhood abuse often find it even harder to get support and frequently face the idea that a ‘real man’ should just toughen up.

Contrary to what some in the ‘labour movement’ say, often to create political rationale for their attitudes to rape or other what are seen as ‘women’s issues’ but are actually class issues – equal pay, sex work and the treatment of the most exploited workers, anyone who gives a shit about the working class should be a feminist because without women you can only ever have half a revolution. The majority of people who work in some of the worst most dangerous jobs and in the jobs with the least protection such as domestic service and of course, sex work (but that is another post) are women. And when we get home we are the ones who are predominantly doing the housework and looking after the children.

Given this it is apparent that the view still unfortunately dominant in some circles that ‘the working man’ is the only worker worth bothering about is both damaging and inaccurate. it is also the case that any sort of ideology that seeks to stigmatize an already despised and hated group of women and police the boundaries of who is allowed into this ‘community’ is not feminism and has more in common with nationalism.

I am talking of course about ‘radical feminists‘ who take pride in promoting prejudices against people who they view as men pretending to be women, ie transgender people, and in harassing and intimidating them, even to the extent of outing them to employers or even schools in the case of younger teenagers. Rather than the issues that are mentioned above, it is this that they consider the most important issue facing women today.

Why call it nationalism?

These people have become referred to as ‘trans exclusionary radical feminists’ or TERFs. They claim that they want to destroy gender roles which they claim exclusively harm women as a class as opposed to men as a class,  and to do this, women must organize among themselves to ‘fight patriarchy’. Leaving aside the problems with this (what about, for example, intersex people, or for that matter the pressures of capitalist society and the expectation of men to just shut up about their problems leading to eating disorders and the like being ridiculed and under researched?) The TERFs, instead of ‘destroying gender’, enforce a rigid and exclusionary definition of it and are more concerned with keeping out ‘infiltrators’ than actually being any use to anyone.

They reserve most of their poison for transgender women who they accuse of changing their sex because they are perverts and potential rapists who want to get access to ‘women’s spaces‘. They claim that they want to destroy traditional gender roles because they are bad for women, but then go on to try and police the boundaries of what being a woman is, by saying that if you were born a man you could never become one and the only possible reason to is because you are a potential rapist, although they refer to the objects of their loathing by calling them ‘castrated heterosexual men’.

If you were born female and want to become a man, well then your just confused or brainwashed when you should have just been a lesbian (even if you are attracted to men) or at worst you are a ‘traitor’ who is trying to gain access to ‘male privilege’.

Bizarrely, they claim that these people are part of a plot to ‘destroy lesbians‘ (although they are not averse to working with groups who are virulently anti gay and propose trying to cure homosexuality) and claim that bisexuality and the increased use of sex-toys such as dildos is another aspect of this ‘plot’. If this sounds unbalanced that is because it is, but unfortunately prejudiced attitudes towards bisexual and transgender people are not always that uncommon in the gay and lesbian community, I remember my first ex saying that she was upset how nobody could just ‘be a homosexual’. But the TERFs go further than this – they say that lesbianism is being ‘destroyed’, they raise the spectre that everyone will be forced to change their gender, and that women’s cultural scenes such as the now infamous Michigan Womyn’s Festival, notorious for not allowing transgender women to enter, will become ‘colonised’.

Lurid possibilities such as the ‘end of the butch identity’ as butch lesbians will become men instead of staying as they are (what about trans men who are gay?), despite the fact that this itself can be seen as an attempt to fit into stereotyped gender roles, and the idea that trans women only change their gender to spy on women’s toilets, are brought up, along with stories of ‘stabs in the back’ and conspiracy theories involving the idea that transgender people are all willing agents of patriarchy.

when i was involved in the LGBT  scene I sometimes encountered a view that bisexual women are just performing for the benefit of straight men and that people need to ‘choose’ between one or the other and ‘make their mind up’ as if this is anything to do with them at all. Sometimes bisexual women were treated with scepticism like they were either straight and going through a phase, or they weren’t really bi and were just trying to impress guys.

The ‘radical feminist’ ideology builds on these prejudices and of a reactionary tendency of feminism that has been there longer than many people want to admit. In 1914 the WSPU, who had been the most militant wing of the suffragette movement, dropped their demand for equality and became fervent supporters of Britain’s war against Germany. Mussolini’s fascist movement also included some women attracted by its initial demands for equality and attacks on ‘traditionalism’.

In the 1970s a book was published called ‘the transsexual empire: the making of the she-male‘ by Janice Raymond. This work is essentially the TERFs’ equivalent of the Protocols in that it gave their views an ‘intellectual’ appearance and was influential in codifying their beliefs into a logical sounding system rather than just irrational hatred. It was, unfortunately, somewhat influential, and its author went on to successfully push for the US government to deny people gender reassignment surgery and other medical care – even cancer treatment.

In this book it was stated:

All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves …. Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive

“Transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists show yet another face of patriarchy. As the male-to-constructed-female transsexual exhibits the attempt to possess women in a bodily sense while acting out the images into which men have molded women, the male-to-constructed-female who claims to be a lesbian-feminist attempts to possess women at a deeper level, this time under the guise of challenging rather than conforming to the role and behavior of stereotyped femininity”.

Raymond also said that

“I contend that the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence”

The language in this screed and the undisguised hatred in the statement that all transsexuals are raping women’s bodies by appropriating them is not something a normal person would associate with feminism. It’s…something else. The equation of the individual body with ‘the body of the nation‘, saying that we are all ‘raped’ by whoever the enemy is, is a concept common to the most reactionary forms of nationalism.

Raymond pointed to a ‘sociological’ view of what she calls ‘transgenderism’ – in addition to referring to transgender people throughout the book as ‘he’ or ‘she’ in quotation marks, she claims that gender reassignment operations reinforce traditional gender stereotypes, which may be partially true for some people – it would be nice to live in a world where nobody felt that women can’t do traditionally ‘masculine’ things for example (although this is nothing to do with transgender people, who are a tiny minority of the population), but at the same time admits that the number of people having surgery is ‘largely static’ and goes on to attack people who ‘mix and match’ gender roles or don’t fit in to these categories, a completely contradictory standpoint!

However with the growing acceptance of transgender people in society has come a growing recognition among many that these categories are unhelpful. In addition, if anything reinforces gender stereotypes it is likely to be the criteria medical professionals use for whether someone can have this sort of surgery, not the person themselves. Her book has been said to have done more to increase transphobia than any book ever written. If you really want to download it and have a look for yourself, it’s on Google.

However, while she made a ‘scientific’ study of the issue and claimed, at least, to be opposing the idea of traditional gender roles (while promoting the idea that gender could never be changed, and that only women could be harmed by such ideas), individuals such as Sheila Jeffreys  and Cathy Brennan have taken the nationalist element even further. Jeffreys calls herself a ‘political lesbian’ and claimed that ‘all feminists can and should be lesbians‘ and central to their arguments is the view that trans women in particular are trying to get into ‘women’s spaces’. Others such as Guardian columnist Julie Burchill have expressed their views in far cruder terms, talking about ‘having your cock cut off’, ‘trannies’ and ‘bedwetters in bad wigs’.

I remember going to a talk when I was a lot younger about the difficulties in transitioning and the speaker talked about what was known as the ‘trans bladder of steel’ and the difficulties he found in using public bathrooms because of the fact that he looked too much like a man at that point to use a women’s bathroom but could not use the men’s bathroom because he had not had the operation yet and was embarrassed and frightened of the reaction he might receive. 

I take the view that the majority of people are probably bi or at least that socialization forms a large part of who people end up sleeping with – that many apparently straight people would probably be more open to sleeping with the same sex if it was not for societal expectations and unconscious prejudice, so OK – but ‘should’? I used to think that I was gay for a long time. The homophobic abuse I received at school made me for a long time sort of cling to that identity even when I started to have feelings for men but could not admit to myself that is what they were. Demanding that people suppress their sexuality in pursuit of some ‘political’ goal is not just insane, it is hugely damaging, and seems almost unimaginable. The idea that lesbians will disappear or be forced to change their gender is equally so – due to cutbacks, it is increasingly difficult for transgender people to get surgery on the NHS, let alone the idea of forcing people to have such surgery because they are gay. 

To many reading these views must seem bizarre and unbelievable – why are some people so completely obsessed with everyone else’s genitalia and what they choose to do with them?

Unfortunately they are all too real. They have had a real life impact; Raymond successfully lobbied the US government making it extremely difficult for transgender people to access medical care after surgery, even for conditions such as cancer, because this is viewed to be a result of the surgery, and Brennan’s group Gender Identity Watch has been lobbying the UN to deny them legal protections.

Inevitably it is people who cannot afford to pay who are hit the hardest by these reactionary measures. These people are quite happy to line up with ‘ex-gay’ organizations such as the ‘Pacific Justice Institute‘ in pursuit of their agenda. To argue as the TERFs do that transgender people are ‘tools of patriarchy’ is a despicable line of argument when they are a vulnerable and extremely stigmatized minority who face ignorance and casually prejudiced attitudes from employers and members of their communities including family members, reactionary views promoted by some forms of religion, attacks from the far right and in many countries, the state itself. This movement is more about defining and defending an exclusive national identity in which ‘womanhood’ or ‘lesbians’ are the nation rather than a racial group, than liberating women or for that matter, anyone else.

At a friend’s recommendation I am putting some links to transgender support groups in case some people read this post and want to speak to someone.

London FTM
Trans London
http://www.connexions-berkshire.org.uk/lgbt

twittersectionalists and the commodification of dissent

5 Apr

I have hesitated for a while before writing this post, partly because I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to put and how I could put this without offending people, partly – to be honest – because I was quite nervous about what would the response be given the way that I have seen people react to criticisms of this topic in the past. Partly because I am quite wary of focusing so much attention on a clique for whom ‘starting a hashtag’ (ie writing something on Twitter) is a pinnacle of political achievement rather than the other more important work that organizations such as Boycott Workfare and Disabled People Against Cuts are doing.

But I was finally prompted to write this by a few things. If you are sad enough to spend lots of time on Twitter you may have noticed a campaign called CancelColbert about a comedian who had taken the piss out of Daniel Snyder, the proprietor of a sports team in the USA called ‘redskins’ (which has been accepted to be a racist term for quite some time) trying to claim that he wasn’t racist, setting up a charitable foundation for Native Americans and likening this to someone saying ‘the Chingchong Dingdong foundation for sensitivity to orientals’ wasn’t racist towards Chinese people.

‘CancelColbert’ claimed that he was racist even though his intentions had been satirical – although Suey Park, the person who started the campaign later backtracked and claimed her campaign had been satirical.

It may have been insensitive but in any case it was the way that Suey Park went about it that I found most revealing – as well as the things that she didn’t mention and did not criticize, some more aspects of which I will get to later.

Shortly after this campaign started she gave an interview to the Huffington Post which I have linked to below. I suggest that you watch the whole thing. Towards the end the interviewer came across as a bit of a dick – talking over her and calling her stupid which to my mind just helped her argument that her critics were just privileged white liberals. But it is what she said at the start that was quite revealing – expressing outrage that someone could compare this type of racism against native Americans to orientalism.

I don’t see a problem with comparing the two because they both clearly need to be opposed. What exactly is the problem with saying that the two types of racism are both wrong and if someone says that so and so isn’t racist it’s like someone saying that something really obviously racist is racist? An example – last year a couple of mates of mine were turned away from a bar because ‘they looked like pikeys’. What is the problem with turning round and saying ‘that’s like refusing to serve someone at a pub because they look like a Jew’ or ‘that’s like not serving someone because they’re black’. There is clearly no problem with it at all, even if the person saying it is a privileged white man.

As a class we are facing huge attacks on our living standards which threaten gains won a century ago in the social wage and in working conditions. We have people in work going to food banks. We have people being forced to choose between eating and heating their homes, we have vulnerable people starving to death because of the collapse of what little ‘safety net’ still existed because of the actions of Tory and Labour governments. In the USA 80% of adults are close to the poverty line. There are attacks on education and proposals to lengthen the school day so that parents are forced to work longer.

Inevitably in such situations the extreme right is capitalizing on the desperate situation, especially in mainland Europe and the mainstream parties while preaching tolerance and hysteria against parties like ukip are carrying out racist and anti immigrant policies like keeping kids in detention centers run by G4S and deporting students about to do exams. Sexism and racism of all kinds are making a comeback and attacks on disabled people are up, not helped by the increasing stigmatization and social isolation created by government policies – Tory and lib dems despite how they now try to distance themselves from each other.

In such situations it has never been more essential to resist any sort of attack and any attempt to create divisions.

In any case it is notable that Park who is quite happy to go on about ‘creating a hashtag’ and helping stuff trend (ie retweeting/posting stuff on Twitter, big fucking deal, plainly the next Che Guevara) is friendly with the vile openly racist and islamophobic Michelle Malkin.


Malkin was quite happy to put her name to oppose a memorial to the flight 93 highjacking because it would feature a crescent shaped row of trees and OMFG A CRESCENT IS A SYMBOL OF ISLAM SO THIS MEMORIAL IS SECRETLY A MEMORIAL TO THE TERRORISTS BECAUSE LIKE ALL MUSLIMS ARE TERRORISTS. In several posts on twitter Park praises Malkin describing her as ‘reasonable’ (I wonder what many Muslim people, or Japanese people whose internment during world war 2 she regards as justified, would reckon about that?) And they frequently retweet each others posts attacking ‘liberals’ and so on.

Suey Park is from Lake Zurich, a suburb of Chicago where the median household income is $110k, compared to $57k for Chicago and $51k for the US as a whole – makes you think doesn’t it?

Inevitably a theme these people return to again and again is to go on about how class based politics is outdated, and relegate the social relations of capitalism to simply being ‘classism’ ie prejudice based on accent, clothing and other characteristics associated with the ‘working class’. Rather than the conflict between classes being essential to capitalism and wage labour, exploitation and the profits and inherited wealth of the ruling class being intrinsic to the entire system, now its just sidestepped and rather than forming the basis of economic relations in the world it would be fine if there were some more people with northern accents in boardrooms.

It’s a perspective on class struggle which by their own terms is always relegated to a lesser status anyway, resulting in a situation where Michelle Obama can be regarded as more ‘oppressed’ than say an unemployed steelworker who happens to be white.


New Statesman
contributing editor Laurie Penny, described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘the loudest and most controversial female voice on the radical left’ for example has recently been attacking the left about how bitter they are about successful women who are too focused on their careers.

This is someone who like many of the so-called ‘dissent entrepreneurs‘ has taken advantage of the growing trend towards the professionalisation of politics and the opportunities presented in the wake of various protest movements – occupy Wall street being one of them – to build a personal brand, to make money out of a veneer of radicalism.

She was quite happy to address the horny handed toilers at the Oxford Union and describe herself as a ‘revolutionary socialist’ but who nonetheless by her own admission was part of the ‘top 10% of society’ – Laurie having gone to the prestigious Brighton College and then to Oxford University, this is depressingly accurate. The fact that she has nothing but good things to say about privatization advocate, New Labour shill and former head of Wellington College Anthony Seldon makes it very clear where her class interests lie.

These people are not part of the left in any sense. In this context it is not surprising that any idea of fighting the ultimate discrimination and the entire system of social relations based on exploitation of the working class becomes relegated to merely being ‘classism’ which presumably someone like Alan Sugar could still experience today for not having been to Eton. It is quite easy to imagine HR departments adopting this sort of stuff in large companies in a way that seems politically correct but doesn’t actually change anything to do with the way the company operates, except to make the devisers of the policy feel good about themselves.

Take her mate Molly Crabapple, one of the fellow members of the so-called ‘commentariat’ and illustrator of her books, sneering at the suggestion that Venezuelan opposition is in any way backed by the USA and selling her paintings of revolutions she wasn’t involved in for $10000, telling everyone we need to ‘monetize our hotness’ and if we didnt know how we were ‘dumb’, while claiming we don’t live under real capitalism!

image

According to Molly (trigger warning: capitalism)

    I am an entrepreneur. I fucking love entrepreneurship. But society as it is now cannot function if most people are entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs need employees.  They need infrastructure.  They need people to assemble their iphones. To condemn people, as I sometimes see done, to severe financial fuckery, for being the average working stiffs who make the world run, is privileged bullshit I can’t stomach. We ALL have a common cause in fighting the corrupt, anti-competitive oligarchy in power.

This isn’t about whether you wear designer shoes or hate the smell of weed or can’t stand fucking hippies and their drum circles.  Its about whether you support an anti-capitalist fuedal-lord grifter class that privatizes their profits but socializes their losses

How about ‘anarcho-parliamentarians‘ selling ‘e-revolution’?

There’s another aspect to this though – the whole idea of ‘cultural appropriation’. As I have written about in previous posts by attempting to establish a hierarchy of oppression privilege theory ends up doing the opposite of what was intended – undermining solidarity by encouraging ‘activists’ who are from the world of academia and understand the terminology being used, which is so often used as a way to exclude people – to compete with each other over who is more oppressed, ‘call out’ people for being privileged etc – without a thought to what happens outside their bubble like someone writing on Twitter is the most important thing in the world.

One of the ways in which this theory has taken a more unpleasant direction is that of ‘cultural appropriation’. Anything from belly dancing to wearing dreadlocks to having a beard to English people celebrating St Patrick’s Day could be viewed as an example of ‘cultural appropriation’ and therefore an example of colonialism and racism.

The rationale for not doing things is that it is ‘taking someone else’s culture without permission’. The worrying thing about this is that it promotes an essentialist view of culture as something that ‘belongs’ to a particular people that is fixed and that other people who are not from that culture need to ask permission (from who?) Before adopting it. People have been accused of ‘stealing’ styles of art, literature, food etc from other cultures – a view of the nature of culture that you would expect to see from a different side of the political spectrum.

In this piece called ‘why I still can’t stand white belly dancers‘ the author essentially accuses anyone who goes belly dancing for fun without her permission of racism and of taking something that is not theirs. But belly dancing spread across Europe via Turkey and the Balkans and the Arab world hundreds of years ago and it is no surprise that people should have adopted it. People go belly dancing for the same reason they go to salsa or any other type of dancing – to have fun. Expecting the culture not to change and declaring that only certain races of people can take part in certain things displays a disturbing view.

Taken to its extreme it leads to the view that white people ‘don’t have an excuse‘ to be homeless, because they’re all so fucking privileged.

Here’s a video of an English woman teaching Irish dancing to Indian people. Who’s appropriating who here and how do we stop it?

And don’t even get me started on the mohican hairdo debate.

The majority of people on the extreme right declare that they only want to preserve their culture and race. They have another term for people who ‘appropriate’ other cultures – they call them race traitors. In fact, during the 1930s and 40s, the Nazis accused the Jews of ‘plagiarizing‘ their culture from the Germans and simply copying their traditions from other cultures, and for example, forbade Jews from performing works by German composers and from having German flags outside their houses.

More recently groups like Bloc Identitaire in France have taken a similar line saying that white people are oppressed and their culture is appropriated. Far right websites are full of comments decrying black people’s involvement in classical and heavy metal music – wrong skin color so they shouldn’t even be doing it. They’re not going belly dancing or wearing beards or eating all that multi culti food. Presumably they’re fine because they’re not trying to ‘appropriate’ anything.

You might ask why would you even care about such irrelevances – the majority of this ‘debate’ involves people firmly ensconced in their bubble with no interest in, or connection to, working class concerns – Laurie Penny the so called revolutionary socialist won’t even have the NUJ recognized at her own workplace – and thinking that reposting stuff on Twitter and ‘calling people out’ is ‘activism’ but to be honest it is what many people who are getting involved in left politics for the first time will encounter and it can end up doing one of two things – put you off the left for life or turn you into a complete dick, or both.

In addition the professionalisation of politics exemplified by the ‘dissent entrepreneurs’ is an extremely dangerous trend and one that ultimately ends up benefiting very privileged people who are familiar with identity politics theory and the language and culture of ‘activism’ – already in the states there are internship programmes for which having been an ‘activist’ is required – the ultimate cooption of dissent.

Saying that this is a problem and saying that the ultimate discrimination is economic, that fighting for day to day improvements in people’s lives and the possibility of something better is not like being some sort of dinosaur who claims that ‘homosexuality is a bourgeois deviation’ and it’s just fine for people to be sexist and racist until after the revolution. All these things are class issues and at a time when we are facing huge attacks on our living standards throughout the world why don’t we focus on collective solidarity and what unites rather than divides us. And kick out opportunists who see our struggles as a business opportunity.

“Jewsplaining”

31 Jul

has there ever been a political movement so divorced from reality, and so completely up its own arse as “intersectionality”?

Now it seems, “Jewsplaining” is actually a thing. people are arguing that being Jewish is a “privilege” in the same way that being white or being a man supposedly always is with no regard to economic circumstances, no regard to anything else.

It seems that now we have to fight “Jewish privilege”.

really? really?

Let me be very clear here, when I say intersectionality is up its arse. I am NOT saying that opposing racism and sexism are not important or that from time to time people shouldn’t look at themselves and examine what “privileges” lead them to think the things they do. But Marxism opposes intersectionality. Marxism does not just say that “classism” is just another “oppression” based on what your accent is or how your dress or what your parents did. It is not just about rich people treating working class people badly, not being “allies“, needing to go to back of the “progressive stack” and needing to “check their privilege”. There are two main classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Capitalism is based upon the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, rather than try and make capitalism “nicer” (which is what intersectionality basically is) we should have the “revolutionary watchword – abolition of the wages system!” Today, it sounds a bit like what you might read in the pages of “Workers’ Girder” but it’s true. Capitalism cannot be made “nicer” or “more representative”. Is it any better to have for example a gay boss who treats you like shit than a straight one? The economic system depends on the position of the w/c as an exploited class. But that position also gives it its potential to be a revolutionary class, not just passive victims.

I am NOT saying that this means that working class people are all the same or have exactly the same conditions (it’s this that has given certain wealthy Guardianistas the license to compare their economic position, which while they might be selling their labour value, essentially got there because of the social capital which comes from being in a wealthy family, with those of working class people far lower down the socio-economic scale – witness Laurie Penny’s attempts to claim that she is a “precariously employed young person” and so on. I am also not saying, as some in the “vanguard parties” have done, that their supposed emphasis on the primacy of class means that “women’s issues” are just that, some sort of “bourgeois deviation” not relevant to the rest of the class, and that women and to some extent ethnic minorities exist outside of it whatsoever and are simply not important compared to the burning issues of how many monopolies to nationalise, whether their latest union lash-up has “socialism” in the title, how to deal with “dogmatists” and “autonomism” and how many hours in the general strike to call for without being “ultra-left”. These conditions are what enabled Comrade Delta and many others to get away with what they did for so long. Sexism is a class issue. Racism is a class issue. Homophobia is a class issue. They all affect members of the working class both with people’s attitudes and with institutional discrimination and “divide and rule”.

I quite frequently write on this blog about anti-semitism and sexism. Why? Because I have experienced these prejudices (not least from leftists) and they affect my life. I am not however under any illusions that either can be overcome without the abolition of capitalism or that we can just struggle alone. Sexism to take one example is always going to affect working class women more, because of patriarchal attitudes and low-paid work and usually having to still be the caregiver for the children, not being able to afford childcare, being less able economically to escape their situation, fewer job prospects and having to simply put up with it, whereas wealthier women can frequently just buy their way out of it. Many women stay with abusive partners because they simply cannot afford to leave them, a situation which is getting worse with attacks on wages and benefits, and women are frequently paid less for doing the same jobs, as well as often having to come home and do huge amounts of unpaid housework. It is laughable to pretend that the experiences of some of my mates with sexism and the experiences of someone like Theresa May are the same simply because they are women, even if they have “white privilege”.

I just read this bizarre article where the author is pillorying herself for “gentrifying the neighbourhood” because she is white and saying that by being white, she is “triggering other people’s pain”. I find such stuff deeply concerning to be honest. By having a go at herself like this how is she helping? Is she helping to prevent racism? Quite plainly not. Mindless self-flagellation does not help you recognise and understand the position of those less fortunate than yourself. It is not just patronising, it is verging on “noble savage” territory that elevates their position in society beyond any individual characteristics. These people are laughed at behind their backs. For God’s sake stop embarrassing yourself, stop thinking about yourself and everyone in racial terms. Go out and meet some normal people ffs.

But anyway …  now we get this. Proof that with this stuff, without a proper class struggle perspective, without any sort of analysis beyond “look at me, I’m trying so hard to examine my own privilege” while making the non-privileged bit parts in your own drama while you “deconstruct” your identity, or “look at us and how oppressed we are” your politics can rapidly go into the sewer. You can say goodbye to any form of common struggle if you haven’t got the right “intersections”. And the sad thing they probably think this kind of saying “fuck you” regardless of circumstances to white people is progressive and that it’s going to help in some way.

[IMG]

“Jews were not considered white at the time of the Holocaust. Now with their status as white, they’re oppression is something we are supposed to “never forget,” while slavery and the continued genocide against people of color all over the world is something we’re supposed to “get over” and we’re supposed to “stop using the race card.” For reparations of the Holocaust, the Jews got an entire country. Brown people, meanwhile, can barely even get equal opportunity standards at jobs and colleges without people rushing to call it reverse racist, meanwhile our country pays for the bombing of Palestinian children in order to protect Israel for the Jews. Why? Because they consider the Jews white and they consider the Palestinians POC.

Antisemitism is definitely a thing, but there’s a reason why it’s called antisemitism and not racism, and that’s because Jews are considered white and, for the most part, benefit from white privilege.

Edit: Also, you ever notice how white Jews only bring up the Holocaust when brown people are talking about our oppression? Woooow, it’s almost like the Holocaust doesn’t even affect them in their daily lives and they’re only using the murder of 11 million people (brown people included) to try and silence POC.

Wow.

So wait a minute – “white Jews only bring up the holocaust when brown people are talking about our oppression”? The other week I was at a holocaust memorial service. I didn’t see much silencing going on there or people trying to shut up anyone else, just people remembering their dead relatives or being there for religious reasons. In fact, in my experience it’s often mentioned at these types of events that just as the Jews were the victims of prejudice, we should not turn a blind eye to or be racist or otherwise prejudiced ourselves. And nobody ever tells Jews to “get over” the holocaust, or that anti-semitism doesn’t exist any more, do they? No capitalists ever promote anti-semitism, use the “chic” of Nazism or use anti-semitic imagery in order to sell their shit products.

And of course attacking all white people is a great way to stop racism isn’t it, just as saying “kill all men” is a great way to stop sexism.

The laughably simplistic analysis of the Middle East in the name of “opposing racism” which both ends up repeating anti-semitic stereotypes about Jews and power and – well, talking absolute shit – completely ignores the role of US capital and the fact that the US’s support of Israel is neither to do with “guilt” over the holocaust, wanting to “protect Israel for the Jews” or considering Jews white.  The US government is quite happy to turn a blind eye to antisemitism when it is politically and economically worth doing. Leaving beside the fact that these views simply don’t make sense outside of the context of the US (actually, they don’t make sense at all) in countries where the dominant social prejudices are simply not against “people of colour” (leaving aside parts of Europe where prejudices against Muslims, Roma or Jews all with the same skin colour are the dominant social prejudice, what about Northern Ireland? Or Kosovo – would a black American soldier or NGO worker living there really be any more “privileged” than Serbs in an Albanian area or Albanians in a Serbian area? And aren’t divide and rule arguments encouraged by nationalist politicians about who’s the most “privileged” rather than uniting on a class basis against bosses and landlords partially responsible for what’s happening there anyway?)

I have been working as a temp administrator in a private school which mostly caters to rich international students, many of whom want to go and study at Oxford or Cambridge University afterwards. So about two months ago, the guy who teaches Arabic came into the office. This guy is originally from Palestine. He started talking about how many “rich Arabs” there are in Israel and the Middle East who would like to come and study in the UK, he then started talking about how he is running a business not a charity and he doesn’t want any students “whose parents are teachers or clerks in the bank”. I asked him where he was from, he said Israel, I asked whether that was Israel or Palestine. My manager who is from Ukraine then said “oh that’s a complicated subject”, she then starts talking about how “the Jews” own most Ukrainian businesses and how 70% of the politicians in Ukraine are Jewish.

Who is the most privileged here? I have a feeling it could be me, because I am white and Jewish and English is my native language, even though I am an agency worker, have few rights, and earning far less than they are. While I’ve been working there, I have heard other anti-working class and racist remarks from the managers, including about “lazy” English people and how the genes of people in the West have “degenerated” because of their lazy lifestyles. Oddly enough, these “privileges” haven’t meant that I was able to get rid of my managers or that I am in a better economic position than they are!

On the flipside of course, there is the perception of Jews on some sections of the liberal left as being some magical, special “breed”, noble savage shit along the lines of Julie Burchill, which is not anti-semitic but is deeply patronising and irritating, especially when it is tied to a political agenda (either opposing it, or supporting it) about Israel.

Some of the reactions by Jews to the “Jewsplaining” stuff are also fairly disturbing and the language used about “gentiles” (really??) disturbingly reminiscent of campaigns to stop people from “marrying out” and prevent “assimilation” (ie stop the “calamity” of Jews marrying non-Jews, as if marrying a non-Jew means you automatically stop being culturally Jewish or even following the religion. Without this “calamity” I wouldn’t be here). We get diatribes against “tumblr goyim” and people saying that “gentile is a privilege”. Would the idea that “gentile is a privilege” apply to working-class Palestinians in Gaza? Because that’s where this idiocy leads straight back to. Implicit support for the president of the US based on the fact he is black. Implicit support for the Israeli state based on it being a “Jewish state” or implicit support for other Middle Eastern states based on their leaders being Muslim and not white. Implicit support for Thatcher based on the fact she was a woman.

Or even to a situation like my family – some of my non-Jewish family members have still experienced anti-semitism based on our surname and the fact there are Jewish people in the family. It is telling that so much of this stuff doesn’t actually challenge capitalism but sees their priorities solely in terms of how diverse a “project” is or how many ethnic minorities or women are in “leading positions”. Capitalism lives on but this time on lines which merely seem more open and diverse. Is the “pink pound” for example really any less desirable than the ordinary pound to business? Do openly gay people not serve as members of the Tory party, despite their tradition of disgusting homophobia which continues with policies on housing benefit for example making it more difficult for working-class gay people with unsupportive families to leave home? Just because this stuff disadvantages someone it does not make everyone else better off as a result – racism, homophobia, sexism etc impede our ability as a class to struggle effectively whether we are directly affected by it or not.

While often well-intentioned privilege theory only helps reinforce these divisions. If you care about actually fighting this stuff rather than establishing a “hierarchy of oppression” become a communist.

The oppression olympics

16 May

Attacks on the working class are coming from all sides and the policies of neo-liberal governments wished for by capitalist institutions and businesses have had the effect of eroding common solidarity so that we can now appear to have less in common than what divides us.

Against this backdrop the growing irrelevance and degeneracy of much of the left is scarcely surprising. Many of the old institutions such as unions have become increasingly irrelevant or are seen to represent narrow sectional interests (such as public sector workers etc) without anything being done to promote links between them. The growth in precarious zero-hour contracts and self-employment, and to some extent in traditionally middle class professions whose workers are better off (and may there feel more able to defend their pay and conditions) the growth in home working and “flexible hours” help to stop a sense of solidarity between work mates. You can see it every day – the public sector against the private sector, permanent staff against temporary staff, people in work against people on the dole, people on the dole against people in work for being able to be in work, people on the different kinds of benefits resenting each other etc.

The group which has talked about this stuff quite a bit and come up with some quite interesting conclusions has been the IWCA or “independent working class association” , which grew out of Red Action. I definitely don’t agree with all their conclusions but when they talk about how the brutality of neo-liberal capitalism leads workers to be viewed as simple economic units who should “follow the work” regardless of family or community commitments and decades of these neo-liberalist policies have led to an increasingly individualised consciousness of “every man for himself”.

I do not think that this attempt at “divide and rule” has succeeded as much as is the aim or the extent that some disillusioned lefties fear. I have a lot of faith in human nature and I think that most people are sensible enough to see these attempts for what they are and I don’t generally believe the idea of “sheeple” brainwashed by government propaganda. However the decades of neo-liberal atomisation have had an affect on the political landscape of society, as the idea of collective struggle is forced into the background, especially in the world of student politics (although fortunately not that much outside it) where the phenomena I’m going to describe are prominent

So in this void what do we get? We get … nothing. Increasingly identity politics have come to the fore and you get the phenomenon of people trying to tie each other and themselves into knots over how “oppressed” they are. This phenomenon is currently largely in student politics but obviously the careerist slime of the NUS (that’s the national students’ union, who in many universities are in bed with the management, or pretty much part of it) who promote this stuff, aim to make a career for themselves in the real world. It is tied in with a individualist apolitical view of the world without an “end-game” on how they want to see things change and promoted by wannabe student politicians who have the time to sit around navel gazing about their identity rather than do anything about any of the issues they purportedly care about. Instead of the idea of defending terms and conditions and of linking struggles between students and university staff and the wider community you get the whole idea of a “platform of intersectionality” where people basically try and get elected in meaningless student elections which hardly anyone votes in anyway (or at least they didn’t when I was a student) based on their identity – based on how oppressed they are (or say they are – many of the people promoting this stuff, especially in activist circles are white and upper-middle class anyway).

My forays into this weird world have been less than pleasant despite the fact that the people promoting this form of identity politics are supposedly all about tackling oppression. To tackle oppression you have to tackle the CAUSES of it and the causes are economic. These people who tie themselves in knots over a theory with no application to the real world have no interests in fighting the real cause of racism and sexism which is economic, they would prefer to “call out” people and get them to “step up and step back” and similar interminable jargon. Perhaps because their theory allows them to “check their privilege” on some superficial level by wondering what terminology they’re using, or more likely lecture people about checking theirs.

The architects of these theories have never really checked their privilege – the privilege which allows them to escape thinking about the most fundamental “oppression” of all but one which can be and is continually being fought back against and shaping society, instead they reduce the class system to one “oppression” among many and turn the relations between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie into “classism”. Class conflict is about much more than oppression, about hurt feelings, it governs the entire structure of society. People are treated as victims who are just oppressed – which is exactly what the practical results of such a theory will be, where people are encouraged to think of themselves as individuals and encouraged to think about what divides them against other people who are actually frequently in similar positions, rather than any notion of a common struggle taking place.

It is important to recognise that not everyone is in the same position – this is one of the problems with “the left” – that they frequently ignore the differences between the people they try to represent. That doesn’t however mean that a theory that aims to emphasise those differences to such an extent that it completely ignores the structure of society and the structures which make those differences matter can be a good thing.

Rather than being just a feeling or just another spoke on the “wheel of oppression” class conflicts are the fundamental thing that governs economic relations and affects every single aspect of every single person’s life on the planet, how long you will live, what your health will be like, whether you can own property, whether you have any individual control over your work and so on and so on. It’s just another identity – and plainly different “identities” are just as important.

Probably one of the main reasons I am a marxist, although I haven’t always been, is because I was brought up with the idea of being opposed to racism and fascism. Before I knew anything about politics I knew that half my family were Jews and that I hated fascists, I didnt know what they were really but I hated them. Later on I experienced anti-semitism and also I had a shit load of homophobic abuse at my school when I decided to come out.

Another idea I want to address is the idea that for example, white people, men etc necessarily benefit from racism, sexism, etc. Some of them undoubtedly do but personally I think that this stuff actually hurts everyone. When I was younger i was severely bullied for being gay, now that I am in a straight relationship does that mean that I benefit from anyone being homophobic? Of course not, it’s taken me years to get over this stuff, and a lot of my mental health problems I think originate in that period. Ultimately the brutalising effect that the acceptance of prejudice has in society will only mean that the real privileges of those at the top are entrenched. And at the end of the day we are all responsible for each other. An injury to one is an injury to all, rather than benefiting from prejudice everyone is harmed from it either immediately through the stress and worry it causes to friends and family members or in the long term effects on the ability of people to defend their own rights and living standards and those of others.

Here is another example – I lived in Moldova for a bit, it’s a country where there is quite a lot of sexism, a high level of domestic violence and street harassment which is hardly reported to the police. There is also a high level of racism and anti-semitism and don’t even think about trying to say you are gay. But yet the average white christian straight man is not waking up every day and having a great time. You only have to look at the queues I saw there a few years ago by embassies of people desperate to leave the country from economic reasons or the fact that there are workers there on building sites working without any protective clothing or nothing, where many people work very long hours and can hardly make ends meet and the high levels of unemployment and alcohol abuse, frequent periods without electricity and frequently crumbling infrastructure. Nobody could say the Moldovan working class are privileged. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and these poor conditions have undoubtedly helped to create this type of atmosphere. while there I saw people begging in the street with bleeding limbs and legs swollen to several times their original size. The failure of Stalinism and then neo liberal “shock therapy” capitalism has created a climate where life is cheap and some people inevitably develop a lack of empathy, and there are no shortage of politicians willing to exploit that.

I honestly can’t see the average person there benefiting from this, even if they do hold some prejudiced attitudes. And the majority of people there are not prejudiced really and do not benefit from the economic situation. They are good people and there is still a huge amount of collective solidarity and friends and neighbours helping each other out etc just as there is here.

I am now in a straight relationship with a man but I have also experienced various sexist bullshit (although its pretty low down on the scheme of things, including the assumption that I can’t be a woman and must be a man because I dont agree with this stuff). Well guess what Ellen Meiskins Wood wrote a fantastic book about the retreat from class and the critique of identity politics and she is a woman.

If I always go on about her, I’m sorry, but in a world of left wing politics that’s notoriously known for being a “sausage fest” it was such an amazing thing to read such a strong and engaging writer write a book with such an unflinching and readable analysis which was so thorough and it does make you feel better about being a woman and agreeing with Marxist criticisms of these theories. That does not mean that a class analysis can be used to excuse thinly veiled prejudice and rape apologism as it did with the SWP, it can’t by anyone with an ounce of integrity, but the whole point of this stuff is to transform society for everyone.

The world is not some sort of “oppression olympics” we have collective power through a common struggle to change society, rather than splitting into more and more identity groups all competing with each other to be the most victimised. I have seen it for myself and I honestly believe that if people are able to work together to win some sort of victory for themselves and each other whether it’s through a strike, a struggle against an abusive landlord or something else, it will help to break down prejudices, and it does.

“trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” What is wrong with them??

5 Jan

I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. I have probably done so for most of my life. I don’t wish to talk about it here (not for now anyway) but it has had an extremely destructive effect on my life, on my personal relationships, and many other things. It has made me a very difficult person to be around at times and as a result I have behaved in ways that I am really not proud of. I have suspected people of things and been completely unable to shake the doubt that there may be some truth in my bizarre convictions even though I knew what bullshit they were.

If you have OCD there are two parts to the disease, there are obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are the anxiety provoking thoughts that you can’t stop thinking about. They can be about anything, from thinking that you have left the stove on and that the house is going to burn down, to thinking you are a paedophile and have to avoid walking through parks and avoid all children. While most people experience unpleasant and intrusive thoughts of this kind, no meaning is ascribed to them. Most people simply think “ugh” and forget that they thought about it. And if they have left the stove on or whatever, then they realise it, and turn it off, and then forget about it, they don’t beat themselves up for the rest of the day about how they are a cunt and an idiot who could have killed everyone in the house and should just kill themselves.

Compulsions are the things that you do to stop the anxiety caused by the obsession. They can be mental or physical, like washing your hands, or trying to “reason” with yourself to convince yourself that you are not a paedophile or that you don’t have aids. They can also be behaviours such as seeking reassurance from other people – “i did lock the door/feed the cat/whatever, didn’t i? I did, didn’t I? Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure, can we go back and check” or by simply avoiding the thing that you are worried about. So if you have obsessive thoughts about possibly being a paedophile you will avoid going into places where you might have contact with children or might see a child, you will avoid looking at pictures of other people’s children, and you will go out of your way not to have any contact with them (it will not occur to you that this paranoid behaviour is the exact opposite of a paedo’s behaviour). It can get so bad that you can avoid going outside for fear of harming somebody, or for fear of “contamination”.

As part of the treatment for anxiety, it is recommended that avoidance is tackled first, and part of the way that this is done is something called exposure and response prevention. So if somebody is scared of catching a disease they will have to go for longer and longer periods without washing their hands, and they will have to put their hands on something that they consider dirty for example. Exposure and response prevention is considered the most effective method of treating OCD, and it is also used for other anxiety disorders such as phobias. The aim is to make you comfortable with the thoughts you are worried about or with the objects you are worried about, so that you won’t panic every time you encounter them.

With all this in mind there is a development in the world of left wing politics which I find quite troubling. The idea of a trigger in the context of anxiety disorders, especially PTSD, was, I think, originally a specifically medical warning which aimed to warn when people were going to read something very traumatic which could re-traumatise them, such as something about rape or sexual abuse. I think that this can be useful, because you do not want to tackle something that causes you the most anxiety and distress first, or before you are ready.

However, it is now being used by some of the people in the “privilege politics” circles to refer to anything from long posts about gender identity to anything to do with sex in general. It is being used as a fashion accessory. I find this very objectionable. You don’t want to have a disorder which could destroy your life. You want to recover from it, and not let it rule your life. It is not something to parade around. You don’t want to be in a position where you even have to think about things like trigger warnings, let alone to do it to show how right on you are.

Secondly, attaching a “warning” to anything that people could be worried or distressed by, as well as being offensive does not actually help people suffering from these conditions. If somebody has a phobia of spiders you do not help them by putting say a trigger warning on a post about spiders on the internet, because that will help them to avoid it and avoid eventually becoming comfortable with the object of their fear, and stop it ruling their life to such an extent. If you accommodate a person’s OCD it will simply get worse and take more and more and more and more. I do not want to have people trying to “help” me by actually making the OCD worse and in so doing impeding my ability to have a normal life, I want to get rid of it completely.

I do not think anything can be solved with avoidance, which does not help in a medical setting or a political setting. I wish I could do better but if you want to help me please don’t do it by helping me to avoid stuff, because when I’m eventually confronted with it it will be even worse.

Which brings me to my next point, that of “safe spaces”. There should not need to be a “space” where people are “safe” from sexual assault, bigotry or whatever, it is running away from the problem, and does not address why the rest of it is unsafe. You do not deal with racism, anti-semitism, sexism etc by setting up a “safe space” where these things are supposed not to happen. You deal with it by challenging it. The very fact that this became such an issue in the occupy movement shows that there is a problem in the wider political culture which cannot be solved by setting aside a small area.

I saw a great quote today on urban75, “In a society which is unsafe there can be no safe spaces”. This sums up my feelings on the matter entirely.

Palestinian solidarity movement – part 2.

22 Dec

In my last post I went into a bit of detail about what I dislike about the Palestinian solidarity movement and also Jewish groups around it. During a conversation on twitter (yeah i know!) somebody made the point that expecting zionism to be overthrown by a slight alteration to Jewish theology is absurd, moreover, while pressure on Israel from diaspora Jewish communities could have an impact in changing it’s behaviour ultimately it is completely naive to expect that Jewish self hate and self flaggelation about how bad they are for not doing xyz will have any impact on Israeli policy and do anything other than alienate people from their cause, people who quite rightly do not see why they should “hold themselves accountable” for the actions of Israel, which the individual citizen has very little control over. There is also no reason why people who have no influence over Israel’s actions should “hold themselves accountable” especially since, as the same organisations repeatedly point out, zionism and Israeli policy are not the same as Judaism.And by the same token condemn those who do not “hold themselves accountable”.

Since a lot of the rhetoric about this (Jewish activists holding themselves accountable for the occupation of Palestine and that sort of shit) is coming from Jewish organisations I would not say that anti-semitism is involved. Rather I would say that its a particular kind of identity politics and quite a bizarre one. I would also say that it is quite damaging, it should be enough to explain the basics of israeli policies and its injustices against palestinians, the history of violence in Israel, etc, rather than laying it out in terms of “we’re guilty everyone look how guilty we are”. It is a gut reaction when thinking about israel for many jewish people, to feel ashamed etc, but you cannot base your entire worldview on that reaction.

too many people do not do that.

The IWCA and the SP have recognised the fact that it is a bad idea to say, dismiss everyone as a racist who opposes mass immigration and that it is both wrong, and counterproductive, to equate the fact that somebody has voted BNP with them being a paid-up nazi due to the dismal alternatives on offer and the failure of large parts of the left to engage properly with working class people and that it is a bad idea to parachute people into areas they dont know anything about and deliver leaflets about how bad the BNP are come election time without tackling any of the reasons why people would want to vote for them, and while these views are still bitterly opposed by some on the left, it has become a much more mainstream view than it was a few years ago. Trying to send people on guilt trips does not work and it certainly will not get them to take you seriously especially when it comes from people who have no little or no involvement with you personally or politically, who dont know about your life, your concerns, etc

A similar approach is needed here I think and the answer is not in my opinion to come across as some sort of finger wagging liberal. A lot of people who are unsettled by campaigns such as BDS and what they see as a disproportionate criticism of Israel in the media, are actually very critical of Israel themselves. The reason that they dont get behind these campaigns isn’t usually because they’re massive zionists it is because they are (quite rightly in my opinion) anxious about what would happen if Israel did not exist, alot of them have friends or family in Israel, etc, or simply that based on some of the placards and messages on palestine demos they are quite rightly worried about it especially when, like the majority of the left’s approach, to many of the people the IWCA members knew or ended up campaigning alongside, little or no attempt is made to engage with the jewish community except for a few groups like for example Neturei Karta who believe in an extreme fundamentalist version of Judaism which says zionism was a heresy (it was) but it says among other things that the holocaust was a punishment from god for the Jews not being religious enough. Hardly the most reassuring group of people if you’re worried about anti-semitism.

In terms of the question of israel’s right to exist, i would say (and this may be controversial) that it was 75 years ago and the majority of people there were born there and have known no other home. In my opinion the creation of Israel should never have happened. But it has, and it is now 75 years later, and you cannot say that the entire group of people in that country should just leave, as otherwise you are making a whole other refugee problem to replace the first one. Some of the rhetoric about this is completely unhelpful, and again I would not say that anti-semitism was involved all of even much of the time, but it shows that people have not thought about what they are saying. Actually sometimes it is involved, and even when people are not personally anti-semitic they are often unwilling to say anything. There is an idea that because criticisms of Israel are not always anti-semitic it means that no criticisms of it EVER are.

Now I want to get to the next part of my criticism. Like all single issue movements there is not a class analysis involved. Recently I saw a headline about how the BDS movement has managed to get the ANC to endorse BDS as part of its official policy. The ANC today is not the organisation that it was, which helped to overthrow apartheid in South Africa. Today the ANC is a deeply undemocratic organisation which has ruled South Africa since the fall of apartheid which was in 1994. Recently the government shot several miners who were on strike and used apartheid-era laws to try to try the remaining survivors for murder. Several of its leading figures have made inflammatory remarks against gays and lesbians in what is already a deeply homophobic environment. I do not think that that kind of endorsement is something to be celebrated and like many single issue campaigns it makes the assumption that the fact that governments or important people make those kind of statements it adds a legitimacy to the campaign which it does not.

As for the BDS campaign itself I do not agree with it and will say why. This is not to say that I think nothing should be done about Israels activities. I am not a zionist. Ido not and will never support Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians and I will happily do what I can to oppose them. I just don’t think that the things I described are things that I want to be part of.

The whole idea that zionism is wholly a “spiritual” problem or a problem to do with guilt (i was told once on a demo that the reason why Israel was supported by western countries is because of guilt over the holocaust) is part of it. The real reason why this and many other wars continue is because of the fact that people make money out of war and they also use war as a distraction from economic problems, as a way of “unifying” the nation etc. Israel’s leaders certainly do this and they are not the only ones. Reducing it to a moral problem or a problem thats uniquely jewish aint gonna solve it, all it will do is annoy people. Cosying up to bourgeois leaders even if they share your political views on a single issue will not stop the conflict it will not help the working class in either country and only trying to work alongside people in israel and palestine, trade unionists etc will do that

the israeli/palestinian conflict DOES receive a disproportionate amount of attention from many activists on the left. there are many reasons for this. anti-semitism might be part of it, but it is not the only reason. I would say perhaps one of the most important reasons is because of the historic importance of the region in Christian culture and the fact that some of the places (Bethlehem etc) are so familiar to us all, and also the fact that Israel has been an ally of the US for so long. Most people in the western world have hardly heard of what has been taking place in Western Sahara since the 70s which in many ways is almost identical, there are settlements, a huge fuck off wall, massive control of water and other resources etc. As I said there are reasons for the lack of coverage of these places. I dont think that the way to talk to somebody who should bring this up is to seem to confirm their fears.

I just do not believe that socialists and marxists should be campaigning for the leaders of the ruling class to impose sanctions on Israel any more than they should campaign for sanctions to be imposed on any other state, when sanctions only end up harming the working class and those who they are supposed to be aimed at carry on doing exactly the same thing, and leading even more of a life of luxury. In the case of North Korea for example sanctions have not harmed the government they have allowed the north korean government to use food and allocation of resources as a weapon to control the population, and as you can see the Kim dynasty are hardly suffering from a lack of food. In addition Israel’s political discourse is completely paranoid and apocalyptic with the government and it’s propagandists portraying every war as a battle for its survival. Austerity measures have already been imposed on the w/c population (with the impact falling on already marginalised groups like israeli arabs etc) for a long time. Much is made of the fact that sanctions helped to defeat the apartheid gov’t in south africa, but in fact it had more to do with the armed wing of the struggle within South Africa and the actions of workers which made the regime untenable, and where boycotts did help they were targetted, for example, trade unionists not loading shipments of weapons destined for that country.

(the south africa comparison is also, in my opinion, very flawed, if i was to compare it to anywhere it would probably be Serbia in the late 80s and 1990s, but that is another post).

It does not trouble the ruling class at least in the EU to impose these types of measures there is a section of them which already views Israel as something of a liability.

In any case the people at the UN security council and the leaders of governments who would be responsible for implementing the boycott, divestment and sanctions policy are not exactly blameless, having supplied many regimes including israel’s with weapons and the technological expertise to make them over the years (and have also benefited from israeli, among other, military expertise). in the case of divestment it gives the impression that there is an “ethical” way for capitalism to invest its money (by not investing in a particular company) whereas we all know that companies are often delighted to to give the appearance of being ethical, such as the “costa foundation” and initiatives like that, which end up driving further privatisation initiatives within those countries. Starting schools etc seems like a really good idea until you consider that what is happening is actually deepening the dependence of those communities on the company which will probably control what they are taught, as well as degrading the quality of state education. The british state has committed atrocities that make Israels look like a picnic in the park but it is (and not just with Israel) to that state that liberal single issue campaigners turn rather than trying to build working class solidarity which really could end this conflict and many others

Even in the case of sanctions on Burma in the case of tourism etc, some Burmese socialists made the point that it was better for Burmese people to encounter foreigners for work, tourism etc rather than be completely isolated from the world and dependent on what the government told them. And of course many companies found ways around the boycotts anyway, such as TOTAL.

I am sure that there are some things I’ve missed out but these are the basic points, other criticisms I know have been covered elsewhere but I’ll be happy to go into them in the comments

My thoughts on the Palestinian solidarity movement, Judaism and Marxism (part 1)

20 Dec

I am in no way a zionist and have not been for quite a few years now. I do not in any way, agree with the policies of Israels government, and will continue wherever I can to protest against them, I have long thought that zionist nationalism has corrupted what it means to be Jewish (whatever that is) and wherever I hear about Israeli atrocities against Palestinians I am filled with disgust and also shame. About what is being done in the name of the Jewish community, and the failure of various leaders of the community, to speak out about it.

but recently, i’ve been coming to realise something else.

the pro palestinian movement doesn’t represent me either and neither do I want to be “represented” by them.

now this isn’t some sort of whiney bollocks. At least it is not intended to be. I decided to start this blog because there might be some things that I’m not comfortable sharing under my actual name and this might be one of them.

I recently found this blog, and sadly, some of the individuals identified on this blog as being anti-semites, I can well believe it of them. Obviously it has to be taken with a pinch of salt and it looks like they may be a zionist site but it sits all to well with my experiences in the PSC. I will say that there are a lot of good people in it and the majority of course do not share such views. However sadly some do and these tend to be quite vocal and it has been my experience that they are not challenged effectively. There were occasions where as a jewish person I felt pretty uncomfortable, for example people saying “anti zionist” stuff that pretty much was using zionism as a code for something else, saying they had all sorts of influence, had assisted the nazis, etc. Or people saying that israelis were “savages” in meetings and that sort of stuff.

I could give alot more examples, but my main thoughts are this.

I’m not a zionist, but i’m not a self hating jew either and it seems to me that in the PSC and groups like it, that is often what you have to be. I’m deeply dubious about a lot of these boycott campaigns. I dont think we should write somebody off as a cunt, because they support Israel (or rather don’t go on demos against what it does).

I am quite simply not prepared to put up with that bullshit. I think that not only does the whole idea of portraying Jews as having some kind of “special” responsibility for what Israel has done even when its well intentioned, does alot to put off working class people who may have otherwise been sympathetic, but also is an echo of an idea of collective responsibility which puts the onus on an individual to feel guilty and go around wearing a cloth over their heads for something that they are not responsible for, something which the ruling class is responsible for. Jews are no more responsible for the crimes of Israel than all Christians are responsible for the attacks on benefits and imperialist wars started in a “christian” country and posing the issue as one of how “we” must face up to “our responsibility” totally misses the point, that it is the ruling class of many countries but primarily Israel and the US, not individual jews or christians, and not even jews or christians as a whole, who are responsible for the perpetuation of the israeli/palestinian conflict

I don’t want to apologise for doing things that have existed a long time before Israel was formed. Yes the zionist movement has meant that parts of Judaism have become completely corrupted. But there is no reason why the solution to that is to constantly define yourself and the religion in opposition to it if you know what I mean.

By that I mean, things like this, which was posted on the jews for justice for palestinians website as an alternative liturgy for yom kippur. It is worth bearing in mind, that yom kippur is for sins that YOU have done not somebody else, you don’t get to feel righteous about what other people have done that’s not what it’s about. I don’t particularly believe in this stuff myself but it seems to me that making an alternative liturgy based on the sins of zionists (and not your own sins) is a deeply flawed idea because you are not examining YOURSELF and your own actions.

For the sin we have sinned against You through the desecration of Your Name

Fulfilling the commandments how to treat our fellow human beings only with regards to Jews

And for the sin which we have sinned against You through insolence –

            Saying that only Jews have rights to the Land.

 

For the sin we have sinned against You through drunken vision

               Not seeing Israeli Arabs as fellow citizens.

And for the sin we have sinned against You consciously or unconsciously,

Not giving equal opportunity to study, work or be full members of  society

 

Who is the “we” being referred to? obviously not a group of human rights activists. So what are they repenting for? Yom Kippur is not about feeling righteous about things that other people have done and you havent.

I also found this a bit troubling.

Hundreds of Jews declare in unison at #occupywallstreet: We will hold ourselves accountable for the occupation of Palestine

Firstly zionism is not the same as judaism so why should they be “holding themselves accountable” over something they have absolutely no control over? Secondly how is this going to get other Jewish people (and other people in general) interested in the palestinian cause when this sort of bollocks is spouted, the kind of bollocks that says that they personally are guilty of what israel has done?

As life long anti fascist and a marxist I reject any idea that any group is “accountable” for the actions of a state, even a state which claims to act in the name of a particular religion. In placing “responsibility” onto a group of activists it shifts the blame from where it belongs, the ruling class and capital whose interests it is to keep the conflict going and keep the israeli and palestinian working class divided

thirdly, of course, it is an utterly facile analysis of the conflict (at best) from a marxist point of view. A working class jew in the uk (or israel) is no more responsible for Israels actions than is a working class palestinian. I dont think this kind of guilt tripping helps anyone.

You can view the JFJFP’s page here, about halfway down the page.

http://jfjfp.com/?page_id=32281#rosh

This post is probably going to be in at least two parts so watch this space