By Dale Street (also published on the Workers Liberty website):
In January of 2015 Glasgow Shettleston’s SNP MSP John Mason tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament advocating that creationism be taught in schools. According to the motion, which was backed by two other SNP MSPs:
“Some people believe that God created the world in six days, some people believe that God created the world over a longer period of time and some people believe that the world came about without anyone creating it.
None of these positions can be proved or disproved by science and all are valid beliefs for people to hold. … Children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of all of these different belief systems.”1
There was nothing surprising about Mason’s decision to table a pro-creationism motion. He had already expressed his belief in creationism in an earlier debate In Holyrood:
“We believe that when God made the world he had a close relationship with human beings, that that relationship was broken, and that the reason why Jesus came was to restore that relationship.”2
In fact, according to Mason, creationism is a defining tenet of Christianity, Islam and Judaism:
“The idea of a God that creates the world is a very central belief to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. … Christianity would unravel if creationism was proved wrong. I don’t see how you could be a Christian, Muslim or Jew and not believe that God created the world.”3
And just as the Bible provides Mason with an ‘explanation’ of the origins of the universe, so too it dictates his views on gay sex and gay relationships:
“I am a member of Easterhouse Baptist Church. I believe that the Bible is the word of God and its teachings are God’s direction as to how I should live my life. … The Bible’s teaching is that a follower of Jesus should not have a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex.
I see it as very much secondary whether the relationship is called a civil partnership, marriage, or anything else. … As someone seeking to follow Jesus Christ, I can say that I am clear that people following Him should not be in same-sex marriages.”4
When legislation on gay marriages was progressing through Holyrood (2011-14), Mason claimed – some would say: dishonestly and hypocritically – that he was “relaxed” about such marriages and that his only concern was ‘discrimination’ against opponents of same-sex marriages:
“[My concern is] the legal protections that can be given to those in positions like ministers or priests as well as to public and private sector employees, the third sector, and even volunteers. I am still not sure whether these protections can be guaranteed.”5
The high point of this tactic of counterposing possible ‘discrimination’ against opponents of same-sex marriages to support for LGBT equality came in a letter sent by Mason to constituents who backed gay marriages.6
It began: “I also support full equality for LGBT people in Scotland.” It ended: “I also want a fairer and more equal Scotland and for that reason I plan to vote against the Bill.” The leap in ‘logic’ from professed support for equality to voting against actual equality was the argument:
“This Bill introduces the likelihood of further discrimination against religious people. Amendments were introduced which might have given some comfort for Christians and those of other religions.
Unfortunately, the Government and the [Equal Opportunities] Committee refused to accept any of these amendments. So we are left in the position that discrimination may well switch from LGBT people to religious people.”
Although Mason has written that “church and state are separate and neither should control the other,”7 he has repeatedly used Holyrood as a platform to promote his religious beliefs and the politics which flow from them.
His pro-creationism motion and his parliamentary campaign against gay marriages legislation are two instances of this. And there are plenty of other examples. Read the rest of this entry »
Readers may remember the incident a week or so ago when Fran Cowling, the NUS lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representative, said that she would not share a stage with Peter Tatchell, whom she described as “racist” and “transphobic”. The row was covered in some detail by Comrade Coatesy here, and in the Guardian here.
Tatchell, a long standing campaigner for gay rights and human rights more generally, quite understandably, decided to mount a public defence of his good name against these outrageous slurs. As a result of doing so, he was denounced yet again, in this hysterical Open Letter – which includes the truly Orwellian charge of Tatchell referring to a “confidential email chain” that had been forwarded to him “without permission”, thus apparently making Tachell’s accuser the true ‘victim’ of this story!
The signatories include not just the usual NUS suspects and their petty bourgeois and authoritarian friends in academia, but shamefully, the editor of the anarchist Freedom News has signed, too.
It’s a depressing read, but serious in its way, as an example of the anti-free speech, authoritarian logic of extreme identity politics and the hysteria it can induce.
Note, in particular, this paragraph:
“Tatchell has a long record of urging that public platforms be denied members of ethnic and religious groups, especially Muslims. He has called for banning so-called “Islamist” speakers from Universities. He has even demanded mosques apologise “for hosting homophobic hate preachers” and give “assurances that they will not host them again.” Tatchell claims the right to decide who qualifies as a “homophobic hate preacher”; what counts is not inciting violence or any tangible threats to LGBT Londoners, but rather simply expressing religious opinions about homosexual acts. The peculiar urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims lends credibility to the charge of racial insensitivity.”
So, at some point, it has apparently become acceptable for supposed leftwingers to consider speaker tours for homophobic bigots to be a matter of indifference, and that it is “racially insensitive” for LGBT rights campaigners to object to people expressing “religious opinions about homosexual acts“. Most decent lefties (and liberals) will find this euphemistic description of far-right hate preachers pretty sickening. Now, some might disagree with Tatchell on minor tactical issues of precisely how he approaches this, but my gut response, when ‘lefties’ tell gay rights campaigners to shut up about organised far-right bigotry is: “fuck off”.
Also: “The particular urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims“? Well – which Muslims? All of them? An attack on a far-right preacher who thinks all gay people are animals is an attack on all Muslims? Isn’t it “racially insensitive” to identify all Muslims with the hard-right ideologues that Tatchell feels “urgent” about?
What a wretched, hypocritical shower these self-righteous NUS authoritarians and their academic friends, are!
Like (I’m sure) most decent people, I was appalled to read in today’s Observer that the NUS’s LGBT representative, one Fran Cowling, has denounced Peter Tatchell as “transphobic” and “racist”.
The “evidence” for this nonsense is non-existent to any rational person, so I don’t intend, here, to even dignify it with a response: Comrade Coatesy deals with it here.
Suffice to say that my immediate reaction was that Fran Cowling, the NUS’s LGBT representative who made these comments, may be mentally ill: certainly, she should not be taken as speaking on behalf of the NUS: the NUS told the Observer “Tatchell has not been ‘no-platformed’ by the union as a whole, and that it was up to Cowling to make her own choices with regard to this event.”
So I assumed this was the reaction of one strange and disturbed individual, carried away by the self-righteous logic of identity politics. Until this was drawn to my attention:
Here is what passed – overwhelmingly – at NUS LGBT conference 2015
Motion 101: End Transphobia, Biphobia and Islamophobia on Campus
Content warning: Transphobia, biphobia, and Islamophobia
1.1. NUS LGBT has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as part of LGBT NUS, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.2. All students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus where they can learn, develop as an individual, and achieve their full potential. This safe space must include an environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and prejudice including but not limited to: homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.
3.3. Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as Trans, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, transvestite, and genderqueer people, and anyone who does define into the gender binary norms of society.
4.4. NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’ Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach prejudice and discrimination based on an individual’s identity, and who incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity or beliefs.
5.5. The NUS LGBT Campaign and the NUS Women’s Campaign have previously passed policy refusing to share a platform with Julie Bindel, a journalist and author who is notorious for her transphobic publications and views, and other individuals who hold transphobic views.
Conference further believes:
1.1. Julie Bindel is renowned for her transphobic viewpoints, which first came to light in her article Gender Benders, Beware (2004). Bindel has apologised for the ‘tone’ of this article, but has not renounced further writings which argue that Trans people should be denied medical care. Moreover, she has spoken at events such as Femifest 2014 that explicitly exclude Trans people.
2.2. Julie Bindel argued in her latest book, ‘Straight Expectations’ (2014) that that bisexuality doesn’t exist as a sexual identity, thus erasing bisexual individuals’ identities and experiences.
3.3. Julie Bindel has also criticised women who wear the niqab in her article for the Daily Mail: Why are my fellow feminists shamefully silent over the tyranny of the veil (2013); in refusing to believe that Muslim women have made their own decision to wear the niqab she denies Muslim women agency.
1.1. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT committee shall not share a platform with Julie Bindel.
2.2. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT Committee shall not engage with transphobic, biphobic or Islamophobic speakers
And here is a motion that passed at NUS Trans Conference in autumn 2015 – note “The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform … Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform”
Motion 108 | Hate has no place on campuses
Content Warning: Transphobia
1.NUS has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as trans, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.All students, regardless of their gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus.
3.Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as trans.
4.NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’, “no sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach and incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity.
5.Legally “hate speech” does not cover transphobic speech
Conference Further Believes:
1.1. Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or antiSemitic speakers have no place at universities or colleges.
2.2. “No sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies do not limit the freedom of speech
3.3. Transphobic speech should be legally recognised as hate speech
4.4. Transphobia and transphobic speakers have lead to poor access to health care and welfare services by spreading myths about trans people.
5.5. By allowing transphobic speakers onto campus this can affect the mental health of trans students on campus.
6.6. By giving a speaker a platform it is a method to legitimises their views
7.7. The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform
8.8. Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform.
9.9. Transphobic speech is still transphobic hate speech even if they are a member of another or the same liberation group.
10.10. There is no such thing as reverse discrimination.
11.11. Universities and Colleges should be a place for trans people to thrive where they feel safe and accepted.
1.1. To support all campaigns, protests and petitions making people who are Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or anti-Semitic speakers not to invited onto campuses.
2.2. To not share platforms with and not to invite onto campuses all transphobic speakers including but not limited to: Germaine Greer1 , Julie Bindel2 , Julie Burchill3 and Milo Yiannapolous4 .
3.3. To actively campaign against the platforming and inviting onto campuses of all transphobic speakers at universities.
4.4. To encourage the platforming and inviting onto campuses of people from liberation groups, specifically pertaining to the issue at hand.
5.5. Encourage students’ unions to have safe spaces for trans people, as well spaces where they can operate autonomously
6.6. To work on making transphobic speech covered under the definition of “hate speech”
So it would seem that Fran Cowling is not just an individual lunatic, but is acting on behalf of the NUS’s LGBT conference: in which case socialists have a job of work to shake these tossers out of their self-righteous idiocy, before society as a whole declares them beyond the pale.
Greece late on Tuesday enacted a human-rights’ bill which allows civil partnership agreements between same-sex couples despite protests and opposition from political parties and the powerful Orthodox Church.
A growing number of European countries have established legislation allowing registered partnership rights for same-sex couples, including Britain, Spain and Cyprus, but the issue remains contentious in many other EU states.
Although Greece allowed such agreements for heterosexual couples in 2008 it excluded homosexual couples, a move which the European Court of Human Rights ruled discriminatory in 2013.
On Tuesday, 193 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament voted in favour of similar rights for gay and lesbian couples.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has promised social reforms to mitigate the negative impact of an EU/IMF bailout, said the bill closed “a circle of embarrassment for the state”.
“This is a great moment, not only for the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community, but also for legal equality in Greece”, Vasiliki Katrivanou, a lawmaker with Tsipras’ leftist Syriza party, told parliament.
“But what is worth discussing is … that it took us so long, that it took all these struggles”, she said adding the bill should pave the way for same-sex couples’ civil union, which has been Syriza’s pre-election promise.
As for who opposed it…
This was published in The Times yesterday (Sept 18): JC would be well advised (in the light of reports like this) to respond in an equally courteous and frank manner:
Sir, We would like to congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on his election as Labour leader. We always seek to establish constructive working relationships with the major parties and we hope this will be the case with Mr Corbyn.
There are some key questions on which British Jews will be looking for reassurance. There are concerns about Mr Corbyn’s apparent past openness towards organisations and individuals involved in violent extremism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. These have included Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which are proscribed terrorist organisations, overtly anti-Semitic, have hateful policies towards women and LGBT people and total contempt for human rights. We hope he will affirm and implement a “zero tolerance” stance towards racists, extremists, Holocaust deniers and homophobes.
We also hope Mr Corbyn will pursue contact with the mainstream Israeli and Palestinian political parties, with the aim of advancing peace and security for both national communities. We look to him to reaffirm long-established Labour party policy against boycotts, which are stigmatising, divisive and counterproductive. We will also be asking for support on a range of key religious freedoms important to Jews, Christians, Muslims and others.
President, Board of Deputies of British Jews
Paul Canning reports:
When CNN International reporter Lucy Pawle stepped out of a store in London’s West End she could not believe what she was seeing. As a dutiful journo, she got out her phone and snapped away then placed a call to her station. Shortly after she was on the air breathlessly reporting her find; a black ISIS flag was on the London Gay Pride Parade! And no one seemed to have noticed!
Not being a mug, not at all, Pawle wondered if it might be that British sense of humour she’d heard so much about as the lettering appeared to be “gobbledygook”.
The CNN anchor then brought on the ‘security expert’ Peter Bergen who pondered why an ISIS flag would be there when the group hurls gays off buildings.
Pawle should have looked closer. No, scratch that, she should have used her brain. No, scratch that, her editor and the anchor and the ‘security expert’ all need eye tests.
The flag is a parody with the ‘lettering’ being images of dildos and other sex toys. I have no idea who made it and what they were trying to say (will update if I find out) but I can guess. I think they were trying to say FU to ISIS.
About an hour after the report went out and Pawle had started to get laughed at on Twitter the video got taken down by CNN, but Mediate have a copy.
Personally I think the flag parody looks hilarious and I guess that those who saw it did too since no one appears to be complaining. But I can see how some might think it disrespectful or something.
What do you think?
Edit: The artist behind the flag has now been tracked down. The non-anonymous Paul Coombes told PinkNews “the flag of ‘Dildosis’, a conceptual organisation he has set up as a counterpoint to ISIS, established for the advancement of an ecstatic state”.
More about the very brave Coombes at his website http://www.paulcoombs.co.uk/
Somehow, this seems entirely appropriate:
Socialist Resistance takes down article on feminism and transgender issues: where is this madness going to stop?
Dave Osland wrote:
The website of Socialist Resistance – a organisation of which I was once a member – is currently running two articles on the transphobia debate [JD adds: Dave wrote this before SR took down the article by ‘Author A’]
Author A, a radical feminist, sets out her position. Author B, a trans woman, subjects it to critique.
The first writer does not stoop to Julie Burchill-style cheap shot invective aimed at ‘chicks with dicks’ but simply sets out her stall in entirely reasonable terms.
This is what most people would consider a rational exchange of opinion, a process whereby both camps can potentially gain, if only by better understanding their opponent’s case.
But for its pains, SR is now subject to an online petition, in which dozens of activists – including some big names in the bubble politics of the far left – have signed up in protest against ‘the hosting of transphobes’.
In its small way, this affair encapsulates much of the mindset that relegates revolutionary socialism to the margins of the margins.
It is as if to say: “We have the correct line, comrades; no other line can even be permitted the ephemeral existence of a posting on a small readership website.”
This is an attempt at petty cyber-Stalinist bullying on the part of people who believe that they are in the business of politics to work towards a fundamentally more democratic society.
If they cannot handle debate now, at this level, than how would they handle it in the event that they actually exercised some degree of real influence in society?
By all means take on Bugs Brennan and her ilk. But freedom of speech is as vital on the radical left as it is within society as a whole.
As far as I know, this is something of first. But now the precedent has been set, I wonder where this madness is going to stop.
Here is the ‘offending’ article, with an introduction, written by the author (Victoria Smith, aka ‘Author A’) since the piece was taken down; it comes from Victoria’s blog glosswatch – a feminist blog. We reproduce it here at Shiraz not because we necessarily agree with it, but because we think it is a serious contribution to a serious debate, and should not have been suppressed:
I originally wrote this piece for Socialist Resistance – in response to an idea that came from them, not me – but asked to have it withdrawn in light of this editorial announcement. I think it’s important for women’s work to be represented fairly and I don’t consent to my work being presented in contexts which don’t reflect the actual commission. The insistence that women’s voices in particular – particularly when women are describing their lives and needs – require “trigger warnings” is patriarchal to the core. When people are offended by women speaking or writing, it’s rarely women who are the problem.
In this particular instance I think Socialist Resistance need to be honest about their editorial policies and their political principles. There is a word for people for whom discussions of female bodies, female labour and male violence cause “offence and distress.” That word is not “trans”, “queer”, “marginalised” or “oppressed,” but “misogynist” (it’s been around for quite some time). If that is a publication’s desired readership, fine, but it is frankly bizarre for it to then use the term “socialist” when any analysis of the means of production expressly excludes the exploitation of female bodies and the experiences of female people as a labour class.
Moreover, if an editor believes it is contentious to claim that the exploitation of women is something which benefits a more powerful group (as opposed to something based on a random, free-floating “phobia”); if he or she thinks it is triggering to suggest male violence should be named; if he or she is unconcerned about the age-old exclusion of female bodies from understandings of what human bodies are, then that editor should say so. It’s not okay to make glib statements about not “supporting the exclusion of transwomen from women’s spaces” when that is not what is being debated. If you’re going to slap a trigger warning on someone’s writing and make dog-whistle references to phobias, you need to give precise reasons why. And if your “socialism” is actually “redistribution amongst male people while female people carry on cleaning up everyone’s shit,” you need to be clear about this. Because selling your publication on the back of moral principles you don’t have simply isn’t fair.
I am wondering if an alternative title for this piece should be “why are some feminists so mean?” After all, this is the assumption made by many upon hearing that when it comes to trans inclusion, many feminists still want to talk about difference. “But trans women are women!” we are told, as though this will make everything alright. But it doesn’t. The impression is that we are cruel. Surely what is at stake matters a great deal to trans women but very little to us? Why can’t we just loosen up and let everyone join the “being oppressed as a woman” party on the same terms? Shouldn’t the excluding be left to the men?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, at least not if feminism is to mean anything as a political theory which analyses how and why women are oppressed, with a view to dismantling the structures which dehumanise, objectify and exploit. This is no more an abstract discussion for feminists than it is for trans people. It is not a matter of discomfort with particular words. It’s about real, flesh-and-blood suffering. If we cannot talk about how patriarchy arises, how it functions and who benefits from it, then we cannot help ourselves, let alone each other. We might as well go home.
In a 2014 piece for the Guardian, the trans journalist Fred McConnell describes gender as “one’s innate sense of self.” This is not a definition that many feminists would use. To us, gender is a hierarchical system aimed at enforcing women’s subservience. It is neither natural nor innate. As the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards writes, “much of what is believed about women stems from what is wanted of women.” If you decide that woman = innately predisposed to meet the needs of men (and dress it up in fancy wording which suggests womanhood is actually to do with being pretty, nurturing, communicative etc.), you have a ready-made justification for abuses which have endured for millennia and are going on to this day. That is what gender means to us.
I am conscious the feminist definition of gender sounds a little depressing compared to the trans one. Maybe so, but it is a description of what is. Forced marriage, unpaid wifework, reproductive coercion, sexual slavery, educational exclusion … all of these things continue to be justified by the insistence that women are “naturally” subservient, caring, decorative etc. Moreover, the women to whom these things happen do not have the opportunity to identify out of their oppression because this oppression remains material in basis. Saying “I’m not a woman – my innate sense of self tells me I’m not THAT!” does not work (I write this as a pregnant woman and believe me, no amount of insisting “I’m a pregnant PERSON!” grants me an exemption from laws which were written on the assumption that women, as a reproductive class, should not have full bodily autonomy at all times in the same way that men do).
So what is the solution? Feminists propose that we abolish gender and accept that both male and female people are human, free to express themselves however they choose regardless of their sex. Trans activists propose that we abolish sex difference (as if one could) and accept that whether one is male or female depends upon how one identifies, using gender as a guide. Quite how the latter option deals with the material exploitation of sexed bodies under patriarchy – beyond making it unmentionable – isn’t very clear. Nor does it tell us how we might confront male violence (over 90% of all violent crime is committed by male people, regardless of how they identify). Are we therefore to assume that a predisposition to violence is merely a part of someone’s innate sense of self? And is it now up to perpetrators to say whether their violence really counts as “male violence,” dependent on how “male” they feel? Indeed, under the rules of trans politics, can we identify any forms of material oppression and dominance at all?
When feminists point out that trans women are not biologically female, we are not, as some would have it, behaving like “knuckle-dragging bigots.” We’re saying our bodies exist and matter, too. This isn’t a minor point. The idea that male bodies are the default bodies is patriarchy 101. Eve is constructed from Adam’s rib; Freud clocks our lack of penis and comments drily that “a hole is a hole”; modern medical research is still biased towards using male bodies. Denying sex difference by making male bodies the only “real” bodies is not some modern stroke of genius; it is conservative to the core. Moreover, it is directly contrary to the feminist objective of ensuring that biology is not destiny.
Many people find this hard to understand, thinking that to associate being female with having a female reproductive system is akin to “reducing women to their genitalia.” It’s a non-argument that’s rather akin to saying anti-capitalists “reduce people to their earnings” or anti-racism campaigners are “obsessed with skin colour.” If we don’t talk about biology – and hence never demand the structural changes which ensure the world is built to suit the needs of all bodies – then for female people, biology always will be destiny. For instance, it’s highly unlikely that company bosses ever sat down and decided to actively discriminate against people who look like they might have the potential to get pregnant; they just built the rules on the assumption that the default employee is someone who definitely can’t. This then leads to enormous inequalities, forcing women into lower-paid, part-time work or excluding them from employment altogether (while allowing male people to continue to benefit from the disproportionate share of unpaid caring work undertaken by female people; unfortunately males who see “woman” as an identity rarely seem to identify with the floor scrubbing and arse-wiping aspect of the whole experience).
In all this it’s worth asking who really gains the most from trans politics in its current anti-feminist guise. Female people don’t and if we’re honest, neither do most gender non-conforming males. Whereas feminism seeks to dismantle male dominance, trans politics reinforces traditional masculinity by insisting that any quality that is considered insufficiently manly is shoved into the “woman/not man/other” box. Not only does this offer no challenge whatsoever to the global epidemic of male violence, but it ensures that women can continue to be blamed for it (If women were only more accommodating, men wouldn’t have to beat anyone up, as said by every single misogynist since the beginning of time). Moreover, this is entirely in keeping with a feminist analysis of gender as a hierarchy. When self-styled cis men order feminists to accept that “trans women are women,” what they’re really saying is “accept that my dominance is natural” (any admission that male people might freely identify with so-called feminine qualities without having to declare themselves female would be far too unsettling; it might show that patriarchy is a house built on sand after all).
A recent poster campaign asking feminists to be “more inclusive” showed a trans person trying to decide which toilets to use. On the door of the ladies’ were the words “get yelled at”; on the men’s, “get beaten up.” That’s patriarchy for you; men learn violence, the most women can do is seek to raise our voices. The trans solution? Demand entry into the “get yelled at” space, even if this also means granting entry to potential beaters as well as yellers. Accept male violence, but not female dissent, as a fact of life. The feminist solution? The opposite: no to male violence, yes to raising our voices. Confront the system that enables the beaters. Do so even if it means you get yelled at and called a TERF and told to die on a daily basis. Do it because you know male violence is wrong, that no one deserves to be beaten and that all people should be free to express themselves how they wish, regardless of sex.
I know which option I’d choose. Other people can make their own choices, but let’s be honest: this is not about identity and inclusion. It’s about power. Think about who and what you’re propping up.
This article is republished from the website of the American International Socialist Organisation, a group once associated with the British SWP, but who broke their links with them some years ago. I think it’s an important contribution to the debate around identity politics, ‘intersectionality’ postmodernism and the relationship between class and oppression. It’s a longish piece, but quite accessible and well worth taking the trouble to read – JD:
Sharon Smith is author of the forthcoming Women and Socialism: Marxism, Feminism and Women’s Liberation  and Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States . At the Socialism 2014 conference last June, she spoke at a session that took up the discussion about the politics of privilege theory and the practice of privilege-checking.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I THINK it’s important to make clear at the outset of this presentation that recognizing and appreciating the degree of gross inequality in capitalist society–which is a necessary feature not only of exploitation, but also of oppression–is much more important than the term you use to describe it. That is, whether you call it “privilege,” or “benefits” or “advantages” is not the main issue.
The only way we can hope to build a movement that fights oppression in all its forms, and also includes all oppressed people within it, is not by minimizing the degree of oppression that exists, but by recognizing its many manifestations–no matter which oppressed group you are discussing.
It is also the case that a solid proportion of people, especially young people, who have become radicalized in recent years have done so precisely because of their recognition of and opposition to oppression–be it racism, sexism, LGBTQ oppression, disability oppression or any number of other forms of oppression that exist today.
This makes sense. On the one hand, the dramatic growth in class inequality since 2008 has led to a sharp rise in class-consciousness–most recently demonstrated by the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. But this class-consciousness is mostly limited to anger at class and social inequality–without an obvious connection to a working-class strategy to transform society.
This is completely understandable, since anyone in the U.S. who became politically aware after the mid-1970s will have had little to no opportunity to experience firsthand the solidarity that is palpable among workers who are fighting shoulder to shoulder in an open-ended mass strike. So while the misery caused by the system is obvious to all those who are radicalizing today, the potential power of the working class is not.
Recent generations of young radicals have often gotten their first introduction to the issue of combatting oppression through reading the very influential Peggy McIntosh essay of 1989, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
The best thing about this essay is that it forces its white readers to appreciate the many manifestations of racism in everyday life. But the essay itself primarily focuses on individual awareness, rather than putting forward a particular strategy for ending racism. I also find that it tends to conflate the meaning of “white” people with white middle-class people, without actually integrating a class analysis.
For its intended purposes, though, this essay raises awareness and does some good–mainly arguing that white people looking at themselves in the mirror should realize the many ways that people of color are victimized in ways that white people do not experience. And McIntosh certainly doesn’t call for privilege-checking as a strategy for social change. This strategy arrived to the radical left much later on. Read the rest of this entry »
I ran into Comrade Clive Bradley over the weekend, and he was warm in his praise for the film Pride, which depicts (albeit in “feel-good” style à la The Full Monty and Made in Dagenham) the role of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) during the great 1984-5 strike.
Clive was a prominent member of LGSM at the time, although he’s not portrayed in the film.
Here’s an interview that Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity did with Clive a couple of weeks ago, just after the film’s release. There is also a review of the film, which I haven’t republished, but which can be read here.
“The miners needed solidarity”
Solidarity: What was LGSM and what did it do?
Clive: It was a group that was set up of lesbians and gay men set up to support the miner’s strike. It has to be said it was initially mainly gay men, but more and more women got involved over the time. Practically it raised money for the miners who were on strike for a year. Mainly by standing outside lesbian and gay pubs rattling buckets, it raised quite a lot of money. This was sent to a particular mining community in south Wales, in the Dulais valley, with which connections had been made.
Solidarity: Why did this get started, and how did you get involved?
Clive: It was the idea of two people in particular, Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson. Both are dramatised in the movie. They put out a call at Pride in ‘84 and organised a meeting at “Gay Is the Word” bookshop in London. At that time I was just moving to London from Manchester and was a member of Socialist Organiser [forerunner of the AWL]. It’s not rocket science to see how I got involved.
I went to the second ever meeting of LGSM. I was active in supporting the miners and thought it was a brilliant initiative. It proved to have a very powerful effect on lesbian and gay men and on the miners. The NUM went on to lead the pride demonstration in August 1985. The NUM, a traditional union, not famous for its view on matters such as lesbian and gay rights, became quite prominent in the changing policy on gay rights in the Labour Party.
Solidarity: What impact did it have in the gay community, and what arguments did LGSM make about why gay people should support the miners?
Clive: The strike lasted for a whole year and divided the country, divided everybody. A lot of people supported the miners and didn’t need to be persuaded, but we argued that we needed the miners to win. If the miners lost then the Tory government would be going for everybody, and these lesbian and gay communities would be an easy target. People would put a lot of money into the bucket to show solidarity — presumably a lot of money they didn’t have in many cases. LGSM was the first really concrete example of how an “autonomous” movement of the “specially oppressed” (as we used to say) could struggle alongside the organised working class, and transform working-class consciousness in the process.
Solidarity: Were other left groups involved in LGSM? What was their attitude to it?
Clive: Some members of different left groups were personally involved, even members of Militant [forerunner of the Socialist Party] and the SWP, whose organisations were more hostile to the project. Militant , for example, generally argued that any kind of autonomous organisation was necessarily divisive. LGSM and Women Against Pit Closures, etc. showed that quite the reverse was true.
Solidarity: How was LGSM received in the mining communities?
Clive: The film does this quite cleverly. It is basically a rom com between two communities. The film shows you both acceptance and hostility, but a growing acceptance. That isn’t far off what actually happened.
I went to South Wales twice, the second time when the strike was actually finishing in March ‘85. That was very emotional for all of us. My own experience was that people couldn’t really have been more welcoming.
The first time we went down, there was a minibus load of us, we were being put up in people’s houses, that was the deal. We all went down to the miner’s welfare in the evening to sing songs and get drunk. It was completely fine, no hostility at all.
The reality was we were raising money for them. The miners needed solidarity, and I’m sure if people were at first dubious about where the solidarity came from, need overcame that. And, of course, as you make contact with people you realise that you have more in common than you initially thought. Why the suspicions broke down, as I’m sure there were some, is no mystery. It was the nature of people meeting each other and the power of solidarity.
Solidarity: What do you think members of LGSM learnt from the experience?
Clive: For many people it was their first time going to that sort of working-class community, though certainly not for everyone. We were a mixed group and certainly there were people from working-class backgrounds, it was not all middle class lefties. The vast majority were just people who wanted to do something.
When you have a big confrontation between a section of the working class and the government you have to take sides, more than just in your head.
There have been reunions [of LGSM] recently and many people still seem to hold broadly the same views that they used to. You can tell for many people in LGSM it was an absolutely formative experience in their lives, and very important to them.
Solidarity: Do you think there was rolling back after the defeat of the dispute, both in the gay community and in the mining community?
Clive: The miners were beaten and most of them lost their jobs. Generally speaking in the class struggle, the defeat of the miners had a hugely bad effect. We’re still living with the consequences of it.
I doubt miners’ attitudes rolled back too much with regards lesbian and gay rights. You started to get stories of miners coming out. At reunions we get visits from miners. We often hear “it turns out my son is gay”.
Ex-miners and their families came up from south Wales for the film premiere.
In the lesbian and gay community, struggle wasn’t rolled back. You got growth of the lesbian and gay movement after 1985. Not long after was “Section 28” [the Tory law which prevented the “promotion of homosexual lifestyles”] against which you had enormous demonstrations. The pride parades in the early ‘80s were relatively small, but by the late ‘80s and certainly the early ‘90s they were enormous.
Solidarity: What do you think about the film?
Clive: It gets an awful lot incredibly right. It’s in the broad ball park of something like The Full Monty, but much more political. Over the credits you have someone singing Solidarity Forever. It takes for granted that the strike was right. It’s absolutely about the importance of class struggle and solidarity between communities. The portrayals of the real people are very close and a good tribute.
Its good that for the anniversary of the strike, this particular act of solidarity will be remembered.