A comrade wrote this to me recently:
“I’ve only just read this article. Really really awful.
And the Weekly Worker‘s extraordinary, ignorant and frankly embarrassing, misogyny (in the name of “Marxism”!) continued:
Now, someone has got their act together and replied. It’s pretty devastating:
The man doth protest too much, methinks….
Poor old Paul Demarty. You gotta sympathise with him, he writes a piss-poor article on feminism and the SWP and he’s shocked by the tsunami of criticism. Poor lamb. Though he provides me with much comedy. Alas, poor Demarty, a fellow of infinite jest. Your flashes of merriment were wont to set Comrade Harpster a roar!
There is nothing in feminism as a core set of ideas that contradicts Marxism. Demarty, in this rather over-the-top shtick claims that the relationship between feminism and Marxism has “tortured the far left” since “at least’ the 1970s. No, comrade, it’s tortured workerists who fail to understand feminism. If you take an essentialist view in your analysis, i.e. radical feminism locates women’s oppression in patriarchy, understanding it as a monolithic entity without seeing the relationship between capitalism & patriarchy. There’s a mirror image between what Demarty is arguing and radical feminism… essentialism. Demarty’s essentialism is workerism. Or to use the phrase Barbara Ehrenreich used back in those “tortured 1970s” … Mechanical Marxism.
And Demarty is shocked I say, shocked due to the comments that ranged from supportive to mildly irked, to downright hostile.
What does he expect?
Demarty is sloppy in his analysis but also dishonest. He fails to understand the power relationships between men and women in a capitalist patriarchal society, which is also reflected on the Left. People are angry precisely because the SWP dealt with a rape allegation appallingly, it also reflects those power dynamics between men and women, it is about the abuse of power. Something that Demarty is incapable of understanding due to his workerist politics.
Just how pathetic and insulting is this statement: As for “other violence”, the comrades Grahl ought to try selling theWeekly Worker outside the Marxism festival, especially when things are generally tense, as they will be this July. It increases your chances of intimidation and assault a great deal more effectively than merely having a vagina.
Say what, Demarty? Merely having a vagina…
Demarty sez this about Comrade Whittle (er, that’s me): I believe she is playing dumb, but this paragraph is a little needlessly jargon-heavy, so I will spell it out.
Demarty wrote in his previous piece: Rape – and domestic violence – are not conducted, by and large, by people who explicitly hold women in contempt, but are rather symptoms of an underlying social psychopathology, a deformed consciousness that does not manifest itself in a way that it can, as the writers of the statement imagine, be “confronted” or “challenged” in a direct way.
Again, I say… Huh? I don’t have a clue regarding this. Not playing dumb just don’t have a scooby-do!
Where’s the empirical and rational basis for this? Psychobabble nonsense mixed with this “deformed consciousness”… Where does this fit in with a rigorous Marxist analysis, which I am sure Demarty is keen to display. And it still stands, he can still be accused of “highfalutin’ verbiage” which once picked away you are left with… empty arguments.
Oh, and “safe space” policies… Does Demarty actually understand what is meant by that because I believe he hasn’t got a … clue. Actually does he believe in the opposite, “unsafe spaces”? Safe spaces aren’t just about physical safety but about psychological safety i.e. not demeaned, not being sneered at, not undermined nor bullied. Is that such a hard concept for him to grasp? It should be a safe place where comrades can challenge each others ideas. It’s also about showing solidarity to women who have experienced violence. Again, what is so difficult for him to comprehend?
A reader’s understanding of feminism: “I have always thought of feminism as simply the belief that the liberation of women from oppression is a priority, that this oppression seeps into all the pores of our society and finds expression in multitudinous ways, and that those at the sharp end of that oppression should play a leading role in combating it.
Demarty’s understanding of the above: There are two problems with this definition. The first is that it is at a very high level of generality, which fails to tell us anything useful about what feminism does. A definition of Christianity might be offered – the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. No more precise formulation would avoid excluding one group or another of Christians. Not all believe Jesus was the son of God. Not all accept the biblical accounts. There are Trinitarians, Unitarians and all the rest.
Again, let me reiterate, say what? Sometimes you do talk about things in a general level, it’s to be as succinct as possible about a complex and dynamic form of ideas. That’s perfectly acceptable. If you didn’t go into more depth that would be a problem but the reader is giving a general indication of what they believe feminism is about. So far so good. Demarty tries to explain the problems with generalising by using Christianity as an example. It doesn’t work….
Insultingly… On the basis of the actual history of feminism as a movement, more fissile than Trotskyism and Maoism put together, this claim is transparently false, but it is still a serious motive force.
Demarty argues again in an essentialist manner. And with essentialism you hit the skids quickly.
Finally (as to be honest…. reading through this article was like wading for treacle…)
So here is the “line in the sand”. It is necessary for Marxists to fight for the class solidarity of women and men, to oppose all oppression of women and all expressions of sexist ideology, be they religious or secular, explicit or implicit. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty. Feminists, on the other hand, fight for the unity of women as women. The Weekly Worker is unequivocally on the former side of the line. The two positions are not compatible. There are no doubt many self-described ‘Marxist feminists’ who are also on our side of the line. That is all well and good, but in that case their feminism is adding nothing to their Marxism, and they may as well drop it, for clarity’s sake.
Here we go… feminism and Marxism are not compatible! Demarty and Co. have a real fear of feminism, because it’s alternative power structure, an alternative source of organisational strength. Ooh scary. To explain in simple terms to him and the rest of the anti-feminist WW crew about socialist feminism.
A socialist feminist perspective takes the position that the patriarchy is not a separate or superior form of oppression to class oppression. Rather it is a phenomenon that has developed alongside and intertwined with class society and with class oppression. As political activists we are confronted by the question of what are we going to do about the issues that we face? Do we struggle against oppression or do we shrug our shoulders? Is our cause strengthened by challenging oppression or is it better to decide as the reformists are prone to do which things we can be bothered to face. Historical materialism developed as a recognition that the capacity of things to be changed through struggle. It is part and parcel of Marx’s dicta about our role being to change things as opposed to merely understand them. Patriarchy is based on men perceiving a benefit in, for example, having household skivvies around who are also sexually available to them. Many working class men may decide (very often do decide) that this advantage outweighs the conflicting interest they have in fighting for a society of equals. Is it not to be open to women to organise against such matters?
As Heidi Hartmann argued in her essay, “The Unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism”, We must understand the contradictions among social phenomena, the sources of dynamism and the likely directions of changes, learning from our inevitable mistakes and keeping on with the struggle.
The forms of struggle that we take must reflect this dynamic complexity or the organisations that are supposed to combat oppression will end up causing it.
Unfortunately most of Demarty’s article is insulting, patronising and offensive to women. And if he wanted an honest debate around feminism he’s scuppered it with his incoherent and nasty rhetoric (you aint winning any points comrade…). Language that says, “great collective shriek” which is no doubt aimed at those “left feminists and their blind rage”…
Boy, Demarty just can’t handle angry feminists. Men.. they can get angry but not women. Yes, there’s a lot of anger around and it’s very understandable. Yet he finds these debates have distinctive features: repugnant, laughable, paranoid and hypocritical.
Bit like Demarty’s writing style….
Finally… and this is the kicker: Given that this all started with a provocative headline, let me end with another provocation: this is all sound and fury, signifying nothing. The trolls scream only because they have nothing to say.
And who are the trolls, feminists perchance?! Well, this troll is unimpressed if this is all WW can muster regarding arguments against feminism.
When it comes to his writings he is no wordsmith, no crafting of any cogent arguments and no elegance. If Demarty was a gunslinger he would take aim yet fire from the hip in all directions, missing his targets in this stream of consciousness manner. He’s no sharpshooting gunslinger. When he shoots from the pistol in his left hand his aim is dictated by the recoil from the shot he’s just fired from the pistol in his right hand. In other words, he can’t carry an argument rather he blunders, blathers and babbles.
Weekly Worker… you are going to have to raise your game.
[NB: the Weekly Worker/ “CPGB” people have collected the responses together and posted it all up on one page. http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/online-only/join-the-debate-feminism]