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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

Your idol has feet of clay

26 Oct

It is always a nauseating but faintly amusing sight to see celebrities politicos and BBC presenters on newsnight pretending to argue with each other and pretending that they are in any way different each other and that they haven’t come from the bbc and/or oxbridge public school political milieu. Whenever I’ve been doing political stuff, talking to people about demos or anti cuts stuff, some people i know always voice the idea that they are not clever enough to know about stuff like that and that they leave it to people who do know what they are talking about, there’s an idea that you can’t be into politics unless you have a certain level of education or be massively clever instead of something that affects everyone and takes into account things that many people dont even think are political. A lot of people don’t have confidence in their own ideas or even in the idea that they’re even “allowed” to have any.

History is not made by great men. So why does so much of the left act like it is, even when they’re not that great, like the leaders of trot sects who have been in their position for decades unchallenged because they don’t even trust the “advanced layers” who have joined their group with the reins of internal political power, let alone the people they’re thinking of leading, or some celebrity that spouts semi-radical rhetoric (which they then assume is the way to the class, like working class people are only capable of thinking through soundbites and what someone said off the telly and can’t actually cope with complicated analysis) like they were more important than the class they purport to represent.

You can see it with the “critical” support of George Galloway, Tommy Sheridan or Julian Assange where a charismatic ability to attract attention and followers even if they are largely or purely out for personal gain or have less than savoury personal and political backgrounds is deemed more important than what they’re saying or doing or whether their “interventions” are worth anything – or whether people have heard of them or even know about them or the work they do has any practical effect. Searching for a figurehead that they can get behind “critically” and “without illusions”.

You can see it with the leninists and their frequent near deification of Lenin and Trotsky and of course the authority of the countless “vanguard parties of the working class” whose leader becomes the new Lenin, who was more important in this great man theory than the working class themselves.

A striking example of this happened this week with how many people on the left reacted to Russell Brand, whose video argument with Jeremy Paxman , while it undoubtedly got a lot of people talking about revolution, was not actually saying anything especially new but was perhaps what putting into words what some people were saying anyway – only, they’ll never get to be on telly. He was talking about revolution because people were talking about it already, people are thinking about it already, because people are angry, and don’t need to be told to do so from above. It’s not a case of the average person is asleep and needs to be woken up by a comedian who a few years ago was being derided for weeks in the media for his prank call with Jonathan Ross to Andrew Sachs about fucking his granddaughter.

I hate this idea that you shouldn’t criticise someone who is doing something vaguely left wing so even if what they’re doing is shit at least they’re doing it, even if they’re contributing to the continued professionalisation of politics and the alienation of just about everyone to what has become more than ever a rarified faux-controversial “safe” establishment bubble, because at least they’re out there and what have you ever done etc etc. There is an analogy to be made between this, and the idea that any job is better than no job at all, so doing literally ANYTHING is better than not working. Job as a bailiff? Take it because at least you’d be doing something, and it’s better than sitting on your arse not doing anything!
So for example if you point out, for example, that Russell Brand owns a $2.224 million mansion in Hollywood and has repeatedly  and publically endorsed and shared a platform with famous anti-semite David Icke, invited him onto his show and had Icke praise him, promoted initiatives like his “People’s Voice” television station, which “leftie” Mail journalist Sonia Poulton is also participating in – “Be part of the heard, not the herd”. If you’re lucky you can fight capitalism with a signed poster of “David” himself! be still my beating heart. Profit is a filthy word is it?

‘I am excited by David’s new venture. We all complain about media bias and now we will have an outlet beholden only to the people. I think it will be crazy and fun and I hope to be on it.’ – Russell Brand

Except that as Icke admits in his promotional video, it will be reliant on donations until advertising revenue kicks in. It won’t be beholden to the people if it has to account for what water-filtration system salesmen, “truth” dvd manufacturers and the owners of Natural News want to hear about will it Russell?
Russell Brand’s interview with Paxman isn’t even that revolutionary – his revolution when it comes down to it is just shit about taxing corporations and “massive responsibility for energy companies” – which even many Tories would probably say they agreed with. It’s hard to be storming the barricades with that level of wealth isn’t it? And while it is nice to see someone famous seem to endorse your views this still exists in a bubble the likes of which the majority of people i know will never break into. The reason he is able to get on TV and say that stuff is because he’s rich and famous already. Being a successful comedian gives him a huge amount of control over his work, means he is not in a position where he has to work in order to survive and puts him in a position which the majority of people cannot hope to imagine.

Like Paxman who despite his repulsive classist sneering, which must and should be attacked but is really part of the same thing when they just move in the same social and economic circles – “who are you to edit a political magazine” and useless equation of voting in elections with being political and not voting with the now tedious refrain of “apathy”. It may not be a controlled opposition but in some way these radical ideas are simply “recuperated back into capital“.

Although he talks about revolution and socialism he starts using similar language and imagery to David Icke like “waking up”, like “paradigm” and “consciousness” and of course ways of doing things “that have been passed through the generations”. A revolution of “consciousness” before things can actually change – he says that people are compliant with what’s happening to them amid some other self-aggrandising rambling bollocks that makes some good points but suffers from a lack of self awareness and also the fact that most of the time I dont know what he’s going on about. People already are conscious. To think that everyone is unaware of the conditions that affect them and their friends and families and have to have someone explain it to them is pretty fucking patronising. Thats not the issue.

We need an actual revolution, not a “revolution of consciousness”.

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But Brand has far more in common with Paxman in terms of lifestyle, expectations, etc , and with the editors of the New Statesman who he guest edited – even the majority of its readers earn far higher than average incomes, they produced a special supplement in association Barclays and with Vince Cable about getting Britain to work ffs – than the people he claims to speak for. When these are the people he sees and associates with and relates to every day whose side is he really on? And these are the spokespeople of revolution? Is this who are we supposed to look now, who are supposed to wake us up? These people with the same salary, same lifestyle as the people the say they oppose, whose idea of “change” is at best wishy washy sub reformism that wouldn’t be out of place from Ed Milliband, at worst out and out conspiraloonery, in a “revolutionary” garb are the people who you can’t criticise because “at least they’re doing something”?

What if what they’re doing is actually detrimental like the hypothetical job seeker who gets lambasted for not choosing a job they have moral issues with or which would jeopardise their health because of a belief in the moral good of work and the idea that doing something no matter what it is no matter how stupid irrelevant or harmful always puts you above of criticism. “Oh at least they’re doing something! What are YOU doing?”

Of course the “great men” theory also has another side to it whether we are discussing Russell Brand or anyone else, and it is something that should give anyone who is involved in this stuff pause for serious thought, especially considering the meltdown and collapse of the SWP. The great man (and sometimes a great woman) who can get away with whatever the fuck he or she wants in personal morality terms, because we love him or he’s charismatic or he’s got a great personality and he’s a great speaker, so intelligent, so devoted to the Party etc etc. I like X and I don’t like Y so X can’t be doing Y because I don’t like people who do Y. It’s all right for Russell Brand to sexually harass someone because hey it’s Russell and we love him and he’s said something vaguely left wing.

You don’t have to have any great knowledge of politics to see right through this and to know that having “heroes” and using them as a way into (yes people agreed with him but what impact does his video and articles have on people’s real life? Do people really base their views on what people like Brand are saying rather than their lived experience, which we’re not hearing about, is not the fact he says it simply a reflection of the fact people think about it and think it’s important) and substitute for the class (im sorry, cant really think of another way to put it) never ever ends well

And are the working class really that stupid that they need a celebrity writing in the New Statesman, a magazine aimed at self-described “opinion formers”, to tell them to wake up, that the great men speak and they will follow?

Brand says that the occupy movement “introduced” the idea of the 99% and the 1% to the public lexicon. Did it really or did the occupy movement grow out of conditions that were already there, out of things that were already being said or done. Is it always the case of revolutionary ideas coming down from above, like nobody would have ever have thought of the idea of a class struggle or a class system without Occupy or even without Marx?

“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.

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“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.

“Rape Joke” A poem by Patricia Lockwood

29 Jul

“Rape Joke” A poem by Patricia Lockwood.

this poem is really powerful and it needs to be read so read it.

Guards turn women’s prison into personal rape dungeon

19 Jul

I have changed the title because what happened here can hardly be described as “sex”.

Reading about it has really upset me and stuck in my mind. We read about and hear about so many terrible things but this? I don’t even have words to describe what happened here.

If you have any compassion this story will make you sick to your stomach. But it needs to be heard. It needs to be exposed if we are to truly understand what we are fighting against and the necessity of overthrowing this barbaric, corrupt system where people can get away with such things and how a state of affairs can arise where people are simply locked up for money for scumbags like this to do as they will with them.

If nothing else it is an illustration how every aspect of our “humane” system is underpinned with violence and the threat of violence. Cases like this are how the US justifies the invasion of other countries.

The depravity and the impunity of the barbaric system which allows these bastards to get away with this and for their victims to be seen as so worthless that they got away with it for years. Oh, it’s OK. They’re only criminals.

The two defendants are getting less than two years between them. No doubt there were many more who haven’t been charged.

The greatest democracy on earth. What a sick joke.

 

A complaint for civil damages was recently filed against the Live Oak County jail system in Texas, naming the county and three guards as having turned the jail into their own personal sexual torture dungeon.  The complaint alleges that three guards at the county jail ran a “rape camp” where they “repeatedly raped and humiliated female inmates,” and forced them to masturbate and sodomize male guards, and one another. The three guards named in the report are Vincent Aguilar, Israel Charles Jr. and Jaime E. Smith.

The complaint states, ”Beginning sometime in 2007 to at least August of 2010 the Live Oak County Sheriff’s office ran a ‘rape camp’ known as the Live Oak County Jail,” the complaint states. “In this facility, numerous jailers, all employed by the Live Oak County Sheriff’s Office, repeatedly raped and humiliated female inmates over an extended period of time. These forced acts of lasciviousness included, but are not limited to, forcing female inmates to repeatedly perform oral sex on male guards, forcing female inmates to repeatedly masturbate the male guards, the male guards masturbating in view of the female inmates, male guards forcing digital penetrative sex acts in the female inmates’, forcing female inmates to engage in sexual sex acts with other female inmates, including but not limited to forcing female inmates to have oral sex with each other, among other things.”

“In addition to the repeated sexual assaults, numerous female inmates were sexually harassed. Certain male guards would strip the female inmates of their clothing and provide only shaving cream to conceal their genitalia. Certain male guards would sometimes force the female inmates to shower in front of them while instructing them to shave their vaginas. In other instances, while detailing their degenerate sexual fantasies, the jailers would pin the girls against a wall, grope their persons, verbally berate them, digitally rape their vagina and/or anus, then force them to perform oral sex.”

“In order to facilitate their carnal impulses, these guards would withhold food and water, engage in physical abuse, restrict privileges and verbally and emotionally abuse the women – even threaten to kill them in order to compel their compliance.”

The author of the report is a little naive talking about how all this is coming about as a result of a “need for vengeance” whereas in fact the prison industry in the US (and it’s coming here, too) is earning some people a lot of money. Nevertheless he or she makes some points which are spot on:

Presently, America has more prisoners than any other country in the world, by both per-capita and total population.  No one does prison better than the land of the free, where 86% of the federal prison population is there for victimless crimes.  The costs associated with this vast level of incarceration are staggering, and they are only going to get worse as the number of prisoners over the age of 65 is rising at 94 times the rate of the general prison population.

To me, I view our present prison system as a form of double victimization.  When criminals are incarcerated, their victims are forced to pay for the associated incarceration costs through the tax system, so in essence, the system victimizes the victim twice.  Further, in the vast majority of cases, at some point in the future, that prisoner is going to be released from prison.  So society has a choice to make.  They can either stick with the current system of vengeance based double victimization, which leads to high rates of recidivism and churns out exceptionally violent and sociopathic criminals, or society can look for more humane and cost efficient alternatives.

It seems that is a long way off.

It’s a grim topic but rape and the threat of rape is a key weapon in the oppression of women (and men) in a patriarchal capitalist society. The fear of violence and particularly the threat of rape helps to control people’s behaviour – for example, not going out after certain times, not wearing certain types of clothes, and socialise people into different roles, don’t behave in a certain way, too loud, too assertive or whatever or you might get raped. When institutional abuses occur victims of rape are routinely denigrated and blamed for what happened to them. Male rape and the phenomenon of prison rape is frequently viewed as something that is almost funny and in some way deserved.

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You only have to look at the reaction of a huge range of institutions to the abuse of children by Jimmy Savile and other BBC presenters to see the results.

It is used and has been used as a weapon of war and to dehumanise the “enemy” throughout history. The most notorious example in recent years of the widespread use of rape as a weapon is the Congo where millions of women have been raped but there are countless examples in the history of the 21st and 20th century, such as the use of it by all sides in the Balkan conflicts during the 1990s.

The fact that these individuals were given such power over others and the fact that scumbags like this are given the authority to use that power with impunity is a symptom of the barbarity and the immorality of capitalism and its “monopoly on violence”. This is what it means, this is the system that law and order fetishists end up endorsing, a system which criminalises the poor and crimes against property more than crimes against people – and uses those crimes against people to legitimise its existence and to “keep order”.

The claim that the law enforcement industry is there to protect citizens against criminals is shown up as worthless by the fact that they allowed this rape camp to exist for so long and turned a blind eye to the abuse, and that now that it has been exposed, two of those responsible will receive less than two years between them despite the fact they are guilty. They are a worthless sham and should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

feminism and marxism

13 May

i didn’t want to post more about this, mostly because it seriously pisses me off, and secondly because criticising intersectionality theory from a marxist viewpoint often leads you to be viewed as being on the same side as the comrade delta’s of this world who use marxism to justify their own behaviour against women, by for example counterposing marxism to feminism and saying that women’s oppression can only be dealt with “after” we have socialism or whatever.

In reality, any society where women were still second class citizens or where the rate of rape and sexual violence was at the levels it is now would not be communism. it simply would not be, because communism is about a classless society, where nobody is disadvantaged and problems are worked out by the community and discussed within the community and among the class, not a small section of it. Sexist attitudes are to a large extent the result of the role women have ended up in class society, the fact that we are expected to spend a large proportion of the time looking after children and other forms of unpaid labour around the home (and that many working class women end up looking after middle class womens children of course).

Women are socialised into different roles from men, the nature of wage labour and work means that it is often more difficult for a woman to gain some measure of financial independence at the same time as she expected to do other things such as look after children. So working class women have faced both the oppression of patriarchial systems and also the economic hardship caused by their position in society, the illnesses caused by work and poverty as well as having to deal with the sexist attitudes of society, which the more higher up the socioeconomic strata you go, you tend to (but not always) become more and more insulated from, since even if your family are sexist and give you little support you can often gain access to more social and financial capital to be able to do things on your own steam.

Rape and sexual assault are enormous problems with low level sexual harassment being so widespread that its often just accepted as normal, and of course this means that worse stuff is accepted as normal as well. I think that the structural violence of capitalism enables the physical violence to happen because all these ideas are promoted in bourgeois society such as the innate differences between men and women and the like as an explanation for why women have and still do have an inferior status. In a system which based on threats and violence and where one class dominates another it becomes easy for one gender to dominate the other and for violence against women to become readily acceptable, these social relations go into all aspects of life.

I think traditional marxist theories have sometimes ignored the oppression faced by women in favour of concentrating on a narrow idea of the working class which often doesn’t exist any more (skilled manual workers in factories, heavily unionised etc) and also this perspective is distorted because the left is often dominated by middle class men who have little idea what many working class jobs actually involve. However I think that some of the recent developments in feminism and “identity politics” have completely abandoned any idea of class politics in favour of a highly individualised idea of “intersectionality”. There is no doubt that class is the one thing that affects most peoples lives more than any other, how much money you have, whether you have enough work, how much you are paid and whether you have any control over your own surroundings.

And in patriarchal society the oppression of women (which does not actually leave any men, except the men in the ruling class, better off) and the toleration of it have a sort of horribly complimentary effect. I dislike this idea that all men somehow benefit from the oppression of women however, there is little doubt that Margaret Thatcher was in a far better position in every way for example than the steel workers she put out of work, or their families for that matter.

In countries where the society is extremely sexist and discriminatory towards women the men are hardly all waking up every day and having a great time, except for a few who are very wealthy and help to keep the ideology of traditional gender roles in place.

I’ll write more tomorrow, just sort of thinking aloud really. 🙂

Why i am disillusioned

17 Mar

I thought long and hard over writing this blog post because of a number of things – am I being disloyal by writing it? I have thought long and hard about it because I don’t know whether I will change my mind later or not or whether my current state of disaffection has come about due to factors like not being able to see comrades as much as I’d like, having no money, not being able to get to things, etc.

The recent scandals in the SWP have provoked an inevitable bout of navel gazing on the part of the far-left in this country, as if its members don’t do enough of it already. It has reached beyond the SWP and has led to many members of far-left organisations asking serious questions about the leaderships of those organisations, the democracy and accountability within the organisation and ability to respond effectively to a similar situation, how they would themselves respond to a case of this nature – or made people who were already dissatisfied feel more confident in speaking up. I have a lot more to say about all of these things but I am writing this post as a contribution to what I hope will be an ongoing discussion about organisation on the far left in the wake of the SWP scandal.

This blog post is in no way intended to be a criticism of the many good people i know in the SP, or even in the leadership of that organisation. I think there are a lot of things the party does right and I have seen how effective it can be – for example intervening in strikes and helping to organise them in my local area to such an extent that the SP members were branded as troublemakers by their own union.

I do however think there needs to be a serious reevaluation of what’s going on in the far left. At a time when “capitalist crisis” seems at its most extreme for a long time why do we keep failing? Are we actually failing for that matter?

According to some critiques of the left it might not actually be failing at all. Groups like the ICC and the CWO (who publish the “Revolutionary Perspectives” magazine which I can strongly suggest buying) critique the various trotskyist and leninist groups as being part of the “left of capital” and, like the trade unions, acting as a brake on the struggle, wanting to direct it down certain lines (ie being happy with some of the actions at Millbank or other forms of direct action, cooperating with the police, keeping strikes within trade union confines rather than trying to encourage people to seriously extend it) and as well as this promote an unrealistic state capitalist ideology (equating “nationalising X amount of companies” with “socialism” for example) and leaving people who join with some sort of critique of capitalism and class consciousness burnt out and demoralised.

While I would personally perhaps not be as harsh as this, I am sorry to say that I think their criticism has a lot of truth in it. During the last few months since first hearing about Comrade Delta’s sordid exploits and how “democratic centralism” was used to cover them up and silence any opposition, I have been critically looking at trotskyism in general and the SP in particular. In all honesty theoretically I think I am fairly far from trotskyism and probably have more sympathy with council communists like Paul Mattick and his “anti-Bolshevik communism”, part of the central thesis of this is that Lenin’s regime within the party and the country led directly to Stalin and Stalinism and Lenin in fact laid the groundwork for Stalin to consolidate. In reality Lenin and the Bolsheviks hijacked the revolution and where workers had taken control of factories they frequently reinstated the old bosses under a policy of “one-man management” and sidelined the workers’ councils.

However, I don’t think they are entirely right and they are obviously doing some things wrong (or else why would they find it almost impossible to get their memberships out of double figures?) I also think the ICC’s dogmatism on things like anti-fascism and the unions and the way there is very little in the way of an “accessible” (to people who don’t already know about this stuff) introduction that you don’t have to read several times in order to understand it, is probably just as damaging as that of the “left of capital” they’re criticising. The CWO’s position is a lot better and less dogmatic than simply insisting that the members don’t join unions – although while I see relatively little in Revolutionary Perspectives I disagree with, the obvious question is why are they not able to grow and what are they doing to put roots down in w/c communities? Could their criticisms not also apply to these organisations themselves? And is it not the case that even in the party leaderships many people are not motivated by a desire to channel the struggle down meaningless paths on behalf of the bourgeoisie but because they sincerely believe their strategies are right (even if they are wrong?)

I have come to some conclusions which may be controversial but which I think are essential if things are ever going to progress further. I think we actually get a lot of things right as well as wrong. However so much of what we get wrong is based on a flawed understanding of the class struggle which in my view is gonna have to change if things are ever going to get better.

I don’t think that these left wing organisations are completely worthless or that the work that I and many other comrades have done is worthless and I don’t think that they are doomed to be part of the “left of capital” for ever, I do think things could change and an organisation like the SP or even the SWP could keep the good parts and still play a useful part in the class struggle and the struggle against capitalism itself.

There are a load of criticisms that I have but I think ultimately they all stem from one thing. What is that thing? 

I think we need to get away from the Bolsheviks and their conception of what a revolutionary party should be like. What the Russian revolution led to in a few years, what was already happening in Russia at the time of Stalin’s “coup” within the Bolshevik party, the fact that somebody like Stalin was able to gain such a position in the first place – should start you thinking critically about how democratic Lenin’s regime really was and just how it was that Stalin was able to take over so easily if “the working class” had really come to power in Russia. I strongly suggest, that if you are interested in the first few years of Bolshevik rule, that you read the book “The Guillotine at Work” by Russian anarchist Grigori Maximov, it shows the true nature of Lenin’s regime. We should stop looking at the Bolshevik party as a model for how revolutions should be for all times and look at current conditions today.

So what does this mean for today then?

I think a lot of the problems are from a certain aspect of Leninism which says that the working class can never attain a “revolutionary consciousness” on its own. Left to their own devices, the working class as a whole can only get “trade union consciousness” and only those within the Leninist party will actually have a revolutionary consciousness. In other words if you just think about all of this stuff on your own without being exposed to Leninism you’ll only think within the limits of supporting your trade union and the most basic forms of solidarity. Lenin advocated a party of “professional revolutionaries” separate from the working class, but whose task would be to convince the masses of the need for revolution – and, of course, the need for leadership by a “revolutionary party”.

While I think that the SP and other trotskyist groups have actually in practice abandoned a lot of this thinking, which in my view is a good thing unless you want an organisation like the Sparts who if given any sort of power would create a new North Korea, you can still see signs of it. When for example they talk about how “consciousness is lagging” because of the low levels of industrial action and the like. In actual fact this is confusing the idea that people don’t really know what’s going on with the idea of accepting the solutions proposed for it by the SP and other Marxist groups. In my experience people are perfectly well aware of what’s going on.

The language itself tends to alienate people – another comrade said to me that this talk of “layers” and “advanced consciousness” and so on was alienating to people and indicated a subculture that had retreated into only talking to each other rather than talking and listening to the people they are supposed to represent. Outside of a left wing bubble people don’t know what the hell we’re on about. In addition the procedures of trade unionism, “motions” and so on at meetings aren’t something which many people these days, especially young people, often know a great deal about. It serves to alienate a lot of people and in so doing exclude them from things and put them off. Not an appealing thought if you want to overthrow capitalism and replace it with something better – what makes them think that what would replace it would be better?

In addition I think this whole idea of “consciousness” affects other aspects of their politics as well. For example, the opposition to direct action and the initially less than supportive reaction to the Fortnum and Mason occupiers and the Millbank protesters on the grounds that it is alienating, on the grounds that it’s “not organised” and that it will put people off – especially right-leaning trade unionists. In my experience the opposite is often true – people who may not agree with the need for “revolution” right here and now or may not even disagree with, for example, some of the cuts may still be inspired by direct action as we saw at Fortnum and Mason’s on March 26th, they might think “good for them” and be horrified by the disproportionate police response to it. I think some of this opposition stems not necessarily as some anarchists would say, because they weren’t in control of it, but because of this “level of consciousness” idea and the idea of “not jumping ahead of the class” and that people must be introduced to revolutionary ideas slowly. In reality some people who aren’t in the least interested in socialist politics are still impressed by direct action and have been surprised by my (albeit somewhat lukewarm) opposition to it!

I think part of this also stems from a desire to lump for example, “anarchists” in together and assume that all anarchists and all direct action is like those twats who blew up the signalling boxes in Bristol. To caricature their positions and say that they’re all opposed to “organisation” and so on whereas there have been some very successful organisations organised on anarchist lines like Solfed and the IWW.

In reality the whole “jumping ahead of the class” idea is a bit suspect too, as well as being very patronising. The experience of history, as well as my own experience on stalls and talking to people when trying to sell the paper etc, suggests that it may in fact be the other way round – when revolutions do happen, the “revolutionaries” desperately try and catch up with events and with the class they’re supposed to be “leading”. The fact that workers are not flocking to join trade unions, too, is not a sign of “lagging consciousness” in my opinion but out of cynicism with these organisations and what they represent, as well as the fact that they have become increasingly irrelevant to many people’s lives. People do not necessarily think that a largely symbolic strike which lasts 1 or 2 days is the best way to struggle when none of the strikes such as November 30th etc have been successful and led within a few days to the capitulation of the trade unions, even if they’re “given a lead”! Can you blame people for not being wildly enthusiastic about these types of actions if they have worse than no effect?

In my experience it is easier sometimes to say outright that capitalism has failed than to try and convince people of “transitional demands” which people know full well are unachievable – even the most basic reforms are largely unachievable under capitalism and so much of the class struggle has become a desperate losing battle to prevent even the most basic living standards from being lost. People know this and I think to some people the idea of capitalism having failed and a new system being needed probably sounds more realistic than saying that the minimum wage needs to be raised to £10 an hour or whatever when there is no guarantee that there will even be a minimum wage within a couple of years at all. Again this comes down to this idea about consciousness. And people within “revolutionary” parties can be more “backward” if you want to look at it that way than the average person in the street!

I know I have a few backward ideas and probably a few more that I haven’t even thought about or know are “backward”, being a Marxist doesn’t exactly prevent it! Why not just say you disagree with somebody, why do they have to be part of a backward layer? Doesn’t it just promote even more of a separation between you and them and prevent you considering their arguments and why – if they’re wrong – why they would think so? Why do they see themselves and their interests the way they do? What is it about the backward explanation that’s more convincing than yours? It may even be that you have to look again at who’s really backward?

I am also unconvinced that top-down electoral lashups are the way forward. They are unlikely to be successful unless you get a George Galloway type situation where one person is elected on the grounds of their personality. I am not convinced that trying to create another reformist party along the lines of an “improved” version of the Labour Party is the answer. But let’s for arguement’s sake say that it is. In that case why not try to put down roots in the local community outside elections, make a name known for it outside elections and transform that party into something other than an electoral vehicle for existing groups? Why not try to build a few local successes on the back of successful local campaigns and then build them in to something of a federation from the bottom up, rather than letting union bureaucrats and other left groups dictate the agenda? The most successful campaigns the SP have had are ones where we already had a local support base in the area and did just that on the back of existing campaigns we were involved in – we should be continuing to do this. One real strength the SP’s electoral strategy, despite its problems, has had is the fact that by and large they haven’t capitulated to nationalism or communalism or played the sectarian politics game like RESPECT and George Galloway have. Worse than “socialism in one country” is the idea of reformism for a few identity politics groups!

I have a lot more to say about the issue of the trade unions and electoral strategy and so on, and I’ve already gone on enough about the theoretical side of things, so this is a topic for another blog post. I’m going to end this post by putting a few proposals forward.

  • The slate system needs to be abolished. Despite the arguments in favour of the slate system, that it discourages competition, that encourages a group of people to work together in favour of the good of the party,  I think that what it does is reproduce a bureaucratic leadership and since nobody ever puts forward an alternative slate, makes removing them extremely difficult. We are told that if we want we could put forward an alternative slate but in practice nobody ever does and it would cause huge controversy in the party if somebody did.
    In addition it encourages an unthinking and uncritical mindset because people tend to see some of the names on there and if they recognise them they will think that the others on there who they don’t know must be all right and not question it.
  • In fact the whole system of voting within ours and other trotskyist groups needs to be completely reformed. The idea that the outgoing CC in particular can appoint a new one and all that needs doing after that is just for it to get approved by the membership is in general deeply problematic . It’s not really democratic at all. How can we say that socialism would be more democratic if the revolutionary party is a mini replica of what we want the country to be like under socialism, yet there are few ways of getting rid of the leaders?Resolutions should be voted on under a secret ballot rather than a show of hands and each time people should be aware of exactly what it is that we are voting on. Ballot papers should be sent to every member of the party rather than people who have the time to physically be at the conference when voting is taking place. A show of hands could work in “one man and his dog” groups but anything larger than that, it’s not really democratic is it?
  • Related to the question of electoral reform within the party is the tendency within many, perhaps most left wing groups, for an elite to form at the top who are insulated, comparatively speaking, from the conditions of life of the party membership, and from the class as a whole. Living in a bourgeois society tends to recreate the same hierarchies you see in other organisations under capitalism. While I do not think this could be eliminated completely this tendency could perhaps be minimised by imposing rules on how many times people are allowed to serve on the EC, perhaps for a maximum of two years, with a set period until they are allowed to stand again for election.Full-timers and EC members should be subject to recall by the membership as well.
  • Encourage people to be critical. By that I mean by encouraging people to read widely outside party literature, not only the old “classics” by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky but also from other traditions – and other left groups – as well. I think the Marxist discussion groups set up by the SP around the country are a very important initiative. There should be more real debates within the paper and where the party has got it badly wrong people should be encouraged to say so not just within the branch but at every level.
  • If you’re going to have a paper, it shouldn’t have only politics in it. It should contain things which appeal to people who don’t have that much of an interest in politics – for example, culture, cartoons, humour, stories, sport, TV and so on. The Labour Party and even the old Communist Party was able to put down roots in local communities through Labour Clubs and cultural events not solely related to politics, anarchist groups have done this in Greece and Italy through squatted social centres and so on. Worryingly the people trying to  do this type of community grassroots organising seem to be the extreme right and they seem to be having a lot of success at it.
  • Last but not least it must be a safe space and party members MUST feel able to report troublesome incidents or raise criticisms without being subject to direct or indirect pressures. I think that the idea of causing damage to the party must have been a factor in stopping the Comrade Delta incidents coming out for such a long time in the SWP, even when it was not stated outright there would be a feeling that speaking up would have been disloyal. I think the whole idea of democratic centralism and “Leninist discipline” has something to do with this, but perhaps even more than this is the fact that as a Leninist party is viewed as the vehicle for revolution whatever “helps” the party is often deemed to be good and something like openly exposing a rape scandal is deemed to be bad. People need to feel that if they report something something will get done about it, and they will be BELIEVED – and if they leave the party for whatever reason it won’t be blamed on “feminism” or some other bogeyman (or woman).The personal is political and any attempt to view sexual violence as something that’s “outside of their remit” can only have a toxic effect and call into question the entire credentials of the organisation – people will rightly ask why they should support a version of “justice” that is, as we can see from what’s happened in the SWP, no better than bourgeois justice, and actually could be worse.As it happens the SP are far better on this point than other organisations but a lot more could still be done. In addition there is the question of what to do about members expelled over sexual or other misconduct, does the party have a duty to alert other revolutionary organisations or the local community? There needs to be an open discussion about this.

This has taken me a long time to write and think about and I would appreciate anyone’s comments or thoughts about it. I hope this can serve as a useful contribution to  a debate which many of us are thinking about and having at the moment.