One of the things I found shocking in Amanda MacLean’s second article (‘Sex is not psyche’, May 9) is her attempt to sidestep my concerns about her use of the term ‘gender ideology’, which she implies is some sort of misreading of her first article, ‘Decoupled from reality’ (April 18). Throughout her original article MacLean uses the terms, ‘gender ideology’ and ‘genderism’ or ‘genderist’ as interchangeable.
I am troubled about MacLean’s reluctance to even acknowledge the existence of a rightwing assault on LGBT and women’s rights in various places around the world, through attacking transgender people. It is notable, for example, that the assault on woman’s right to choose in Alabama has been part of series of reactionary bits of legislation, including an attempt to pass a ‘Bathroom Bill’ that would prevent trans woman and trans men from using woman’s and men’s bathrooms respectively. Given this, I find it perplexing that MacLean does not take the opportunity to distinguish how she sees the ‘gender ideology’ that she proposes from that of the conservative Christian and alt-right movements.
Instead MacLean goes on the offence, by claiming that trans people asserting their rights is somehow “racist”. Not only does this overlook the fact that many transgendered people are black, Asian or from a minority ethnic background, but adopts a counterproductive perspective that sees rights as a zero-sum game and that assertion of one identity requires the negation of another. MacLean’s position is certainly not shared by groups like Black Lives Matter, who see “gender justice” (their phrase) as part of their struggle.
Since Amanda MacLean’s first article we have seen the ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Caster Semenya’s case. They upheld the decision of the International Association of Athletics Foundation (IAAF) only to allow Caster Semenya to compete in women’s 800 metre events if she takes drugs to reduce her naturally elevated levels of testosterone. More recently the IAAF has said that, if she prefers, Caster can run against men. Caster, who has XX chromosomes and identifies as a woman, has in effect been put in no-man’s land (sic). One can only conclude from this that the relationship between gender, sex and biology is not as straightforward as Amanda MacLean suggests, and that ‘sex’ as not stable, ahistoric category. For the IAAF at least the levels of someone’s testosterone is more important than people sex chromosomes or genital development.
As MacLean observes, discussion amongst biologists over whether sex is a spectrum has been around since the 1980s, if not earlier. With more advanced techniques in genetics, scientists are finding greater diversity in nature. Here the question is not some ‘new science’, but more evidence that ‘sex’ may not be immutable. ‘Sex’ may become like ‘race’ - ie, problematic to see as biological concept. I appreciate that this is a still controversial and the case has yet to be proved, but to dismiss it as “decoupled from reality” is somewhat crass and unscientific.
Indeed, MacLean’s arguments are somewhat circular. She dismisses anyone’s biology or self-identity as statically unimportant or having a disorder if they don’t conform to her narrow definition of the sexes. Sex may not be psyche, but neither is it god-given. All definitions of ‘sex’ are based on humans’ interpretation or, as in MacLean’s case, selective interpretation of the evidence.
Perhaps the most shocking and quite chilling aspect of ‘Sex is not psyche’ is MacLean’s solution to her transgender ‘problem’: the creation of “third gender/third space”. This “third gender” is not a recognition of some cultural phenomenon, but an imposition of MacLean’s circular logic - with, one assumes, ‘men’ and ‘women’ genders corresponding to MacLean’s understanding of sex, and all people that she deems statistically unimportant or having a disorder pushed into this “third gender”.
Leaving aside whether this is biologically determinist, it does raise a whole range of practical and ethical questions. Is there really the desire in austerity-torn Britain to build a whole array of public toilets, hostels, prisons and hospital wards for this new “third gender”? How is gender to be assigned and by whom? And how are these genders to be policed? This has the smell of segregation and ghettoisation.
Transgender people have been using spaces of the gender that they identify with for years This right was enshrined in the Equality Act of 2010. Acts like the proposed new Gender Recognition Act have been passed in countries across the world, including Ireland, Malta, Norway, Argentina, Portugal and Belgium, with no upsurge in violence against woman.
Isn’t it time Amanda MacLean and people who share her intolerances just learn to accept the wider diversity of humanity and that trans women are women, and trans men are men?
I had to laugh at Nicola Daniels’ letter in the Weekly Worker (May 16). Did you omit, for reasons of space, the rejoinder where she states that some of her best friends are trans women?
I won’t go into her unsubstantiated accusations about trans women’s behaviour in safe spaces, other than to say I felt sad that the old capitalist tactic of ‘divide and rule’ is alive and well! I presume the women that live in Mayfair, Park Lane or feature in the rich list of the broadsheets have no need to avail themselves of these safe spaces. I wonder why.
Creating safe spaces for women, or indeed anyone, under capitalism is like getting drunk to forget your problems. Unfortunately when you sober up they are still there. Why not join the readers and writers of the Weekly Worker to create a safe place for all members of the working class? It’s called socialism - and trust me, Nicola, that will be a safe space for women. But for those that want to sell working class women short, then I guess safe spaces are probably all the reformists have to offer.
I won’t be wishing you good luck with that, because it does nothing to stop women dying at work, dying of starvation or dying in capitalism’s wars. But what does that matter, when there are trans women to exclude from safe spaces?
I was initially surprised to read Ian Birchall’s wholesale sense-of-humour bypass in response to myself (Letters, May 16). As I understand from other comrades active in years gone by, Birchall’s role in the Socialist Workers Party was essentially one of presenting ‘Cliffism with a human face’, given that he was one of the few of its members who had the capability of relating on any human level to the rest of the left.
This was a reflection of the fact that the general SWP ‘cadre type’ tended (then as now) to be unpleasant, half-educated, permanently over-excited and occasionally loutish. With that in my mind, it was necessary, even for the SWP, to have people who had the ability to sweep up from time to time. (Being in the SWP ‘diplomatic corps’ wasn’t necessarily a comfortable position. In Cardiff, many moons ago, I saw those in the SWP who did have good relations with the rest of the far left ostracised, with one eventually being booted out on trumped-up charges and slurs about his conduct.)
So I am quite sure that Birchall has had to listen in good humour to a fair few jibes about the SWP down the years. But, with the mothership limping on after the crises of the last decade, I suspect that it’s all become a bit more painful for the refugees.
Birchall says: “I should think very carefully before involving myself with a political organisation that finds hundreds of millions of human deaths a subject for humour.” I am sorry to tell Birchall that I am a member of no other organisation or campaign except the Labour Party. I am not a member of the CPGB and I am hardly a prolific writer for its paper. Obviously, I’m not talking for the Labour Party either. I could ask Corbyn if he needs a spokesman on ‘the disintegration of the SWP’ but I suspect he has bigger fish to fry.
As for the pompous and censorious injunctions on what should and shouldn’t be a topic for jokes, I’m guessing Birchall has never heard of gallows humour. This is bluster anyway; he knows full well I am joking about the former inmates of a deluded political sect and not about the imminent destruction of humanity. I don’t necessarily expect people to find funny what I do, but I certainly don’t intend lecturing to others what they should get a giggle from either.
Birchall complains that I “make no political arguments”. It may have been oblique, but I did have a serious political point to make. It is ridiculous that people such as Birchall have learnt so little from history. His wanting to opportunistically adapt himself to Extinction Rebellion (XR) is classic SWP politics - being merely the obverse of its brittle sectarianism, which led to ridiculously inflated ideas as to its importance. The idea behind this was that the SWP aimed to keep mass movements at a politically primitive level, in order that it could indulge in low-level recruitment campaigns. Birchall is not offering tactical advice in relation to XR: he’s merely reminiscing about the good/bad old days.
He now suggests that lying about membership figures and demonstration sizes was a mistake, but repeats sterile SWP bullshit that “the Nazis were set back for a generation” by the Anti-Nazi League, etc. (In reality, the National Front was set back by Thatcher; only those in and around the SWP really believe that the wretched pop-front ANL defeated the NF.) Very little of the SWP’s legacy has been rethought by the group of people who ended up being politically wounded the most by it.
As a final depressing indicator of how little Birchall has learnt from history, he offers up this classic SWP-inflected gem: “… it is also true that the SWP initiated the Anti-Nazi League and Stop the War. Now doubtless Parker will find some doctrinal point to justify sitting on his backside rather than involving himself in those movements.” In SWP parlance, unthinking activity is always sharply counterposed to criticism: ‘doctrine’ is nothing, movement decides all. When Birchall was an oppositionist in the SWP a few years back, the leadership attempted precisely this kind of stupid counter-position: the SWP rebels were guilty of wanting an inactive party that didn’t intervene in the class struggle, in favour of navel-gazing and picking away at internal scabs. As SWP oppositionists said at the time, it is perfectly possible to have criticism and activity. You can walk and chew gum.
Exactly why Birchall still wants to parade the discredited cultural mores of the SWP leadership by implying his critics are lazy slobs beats me. He really should know better.
I primarily want to counter one political argument in Ian Birchall’s reply to my letter of May 7, when it comes to the police and tactics.
I would state that XR shows that it takes too kindly to the police and repression, when they, as I stated before, yell that they love them and their children, while their comrades (or even random passers-by!) are being arrested. There is a difference between bringing a gun to a ‘peaceful’ action and actually trying to resist police repression and exposing what side the state is on. There is no evidence that this was a conscious tactic to confuse the police. Furthermore, in their guide to doing prison time they put forward the absurd claim that prison guards are nice people and that most are non-white (while in reality an absolute majority are white). They have since taken it down after a backlash.
Lastly, I do not have all the answers, of course, and I do try to discuss with more knowledgeable comrades on what the relation should be between socialist organisations and the different environmentalist organisations. There might be valuable lessons from XR, but they will more likely be ‘practical’ rather than political. At the same time I think we need to be smug from time to time to counter the smugness from XR militants, and the ‘left’ environmentalist movement at large. In my time as an organised communist I’ve stumbled upon people who simply state that the climate is to be our number-one issue - if not resolved all others don’t matter. Things regarded as central by the left and labour movement, like workers’ struggle and feminism, are implied to be secondary or explicitly made out to be distractions. This tendency is growing more and more rapidly.
The response to ‘climate politics above all’ and the hyper-focus on ‘civil disobedience’ needs to be a rejection of ‘forming opinions in the mainstream’ as a sole tactic and the ‘immediate-ism’ of thinking that the climate can be saved by simply forcing the states of the imperialist core to adhere to climate agreements. It sounds obvious, but it is the core to our strategy as socialists and needs to be reaffirmed when new movements pop up in the left: the organisation of the masses of workers is the strongest weapon for real societal transformation. In other words, unification of the socialists and labour movement.
I’m pleased that the Weekly Worker believes in freedom of speech enough to publish my letters. But I’m not so pleased about the quality of the journalism on offer.
Yet again David Shearer misquotes and misleads, and I wondered if we could start a GoFundMe in order to get him to journalism school (‘Preparing for battles ahead’, May 9). The first rule of journalism is to appear impartial and sadly David gets that wrong too. His creepy tribute to Labour Against the Witchhunt’s show trial was worthy of anything Stalin’s media acolytes would have churned out.
His biggest boo-boo is tantamount to slander, but I really can’t be bothered to sue him - his legal costs would surely put him on the street. Let’s look at this sentence: “The steering committee proposed to expel Peter Gregson over his refusal to remove a link from his personal website to someone who was recommending an article posted on the well-known holocaust-denial site, Codoh.”
Fact 1: Change.org is not my personal website (I’m not that powerful).
Fact 2: Ian Fantom was not recommending Kollerstrom’s article; he was just referencing it.
Fact 3: LAW patron Noam Chomsky actually had an article on Codoh calling for freedom of speech for real holocaust deniers.
Mr Shearer makes so many more errors, it would fill the letters page to go into all of them. Sadly, Shearer even gets the voting wrong - he claims 24 called for my expulsion, but it was only 20. This represents but 5% of the LAW membership. I’d previously lobbied to allow the 360 LAW members who were unable to make the meeting the right to vote by email, but the steering group would have none of it. A few members did write in, expressing their support; their views were ignored. And the truth is, only 10% of LAW got to the meeting and of those only just over half wanted me out. So, the views of those 5% now reflect the reputation of the other 95%.
Shearer suggests that I have “no problem in associating with holocaust deniers”. If he had bothered to read the whole exchange of emails, which I put on my website, he would see this is untrue. It is precisely because of this kind of skewed and slanderous coverage that I have felt it necessary to put things online.
Being accused of holocaust-denial support is a pretty serious allegation. Bad news travels fast and I do not want anybody to think I had a fair trial. The motion was untrue: it claimed that I had “refused to distance myself from the holocaust denier, Kollerstrom”. But I did distance myself and Kollerstrom is not a denier - he accepts Jews were mercilessly slaughtered, but he disputes the efficacy of Zyklon B gas.
When the allegations are patently wrong, how can the trial be fair? The steering group published fraudulent charges against me - for a reference that I had declared at the outset to be toxic. This was a witch-hunt by the witches. This was a lynching, with Jackie Walker putting the noose around my neck, and Tony Greenstein, Graham Bash and Tina Werkmann pulling the rope tight - for committing a crime that did not exist.
Tony is even now saying that I “linked with a holocaust denier”, who could only be Ian Fantom - he wrote the article that Tony despises so much. Ian has written to Greenstein to protest at this slur. He writes: “One of the sponsors of LAW is professor Noam Chomsky, and I came across an article of his titled ‘All denials of free speech undercut a democratic society’, in which he defended professor Robert Faurisson’s rights after he had denied the existence of gas chambers.” Chomsky had written: “He was then brought to trial for ‘falsification of history’ and condemned - the first time in the west, to my knowledge, that the courts have affirmed the familiar Stalinist-fascist doctrine that the state has the right to determine historical truth and to punish deviation from it.”
Since LAW patron Noam Chomsky argued for the rights of holocaust deniers to be heard, he must surely be next in line. But LAW allows him to get away with far greater support for holocaust deniers’ freedom of speech than I. This is rank hypocrisy.
The issue throughout all this affair is about defending freedom of speech. The body, LAW, that sought to pick up the reins from Liberty - another agency that is failing to tackle the loss of freedom of speech on Israel in this country - has shown itself to be unequal to the task. It is more concerned with expelling activists (Socialist Fight were expelled on January 6 as anti-Semites, when they were nothing of the kind) than fighting for our rights.
I pray it finds its course and reflects upon its tarnished reputation. We need organisations like LAW. But we need them to be honest and fair. Something they have patently failed to demonstrate.
I must take exception to a bit in David Shearer’s otherwise useful report of the latest members’ meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt. He writes: “The steering committee proposed to expel Peter Gregson over his refusal to remove a link from his personal website to someone who was recommending an article posted on the well-known holocaust-denial site, Codoh.”
That does sound terribly convoluted - and it is also false. I am a bit surprised by Shearer’s misunderstanding - presumably he was at the meeting? Also, in the previous week’s edition of the Weekly Worker, Carla Roberts did manage to correctly describe the motivation of LAW’s steering committee. Maybe he should have just copied that? In any case, the steering committee neither has the time nor the desire to go checking out the “personal websites” of its members. We are not thought police.
Here is what really happened. Peter Gregson regularly updates his various online petitions, which means that every single person who has ever been unfortunate enough to have signed one of them will be getting these updates by email. In these updates, he often identified as a member of LAW - just as he did in the one he sent out in March, in which he urged people to read Ian Fantom’s article, ‘UK’s Labour anti-Semitism split’. In this article, Fantom positively references “my colleague, Nick Kollerstrom”, who is a well-known holocaust denier (or “holocaust sceptic”, as holocaust deniers like to describe themselves).
LAW’s Tony Greenstein engaged in a long email exchange, in which he tried to persuade Gregson to take down his recommendation of Fantom’s article, but Gregson refused. Instead, he idiotically put the whole - private - email exchange online, which also featured people’s personal email addresses. There it was picked up by the Jewish Chronicle, which gleefully reported the whole disagreement.
This is the real background to the steering committee’s proposal to expel Gregson - and it is rather different to Shearer’s rather lazy account.
As if to prove how right we were to expel him, Gregson has since published an audio recording of the LAW meeting (which he secretly recorded, despite the meeting expressly asking everybody not to make such a recording) and has sent out libellous and false accusations against Tony Greenstein to rightwing organisations and media outlets.
While we would still argue against Gregson’s expulsion from the GMB union and his suspension from the Labour Party, we also urge all Weekly Worker readers to be very wary of his various campaigns. The man certainly has a lot of energy, but he is also a very loose cannon.
Law steering committee
Any critical reader will understand that truth is often the first casualty of journalism. If not actually a casualty, the truth is treated as malleable in other spheres.
At present there are various discussions (ongoing) about anti-Semitism, and what exactly constitutes it. I have heard it said that only Jewish people can decide what is anti-Semitic. But what happens if people from different Jewish communities disagree? Who decides - the group with the loudest voice, or the most column inches in The Guardian (or the Weekly Worker, for that matter)?
One angle at present being used to ‘prove’ anti-Semitism seems to say that if the words ‘Nazi’ and ‘Jews’ are used in the same sentence, it automatically equates to anti-Semitism. For instance, a bone of contention is about whether/when/where there were negotiations between the Nazi hierarchy and Jewish communities (Zionist and non-Zionist) about releasing Jews to leave the country for another destination, in exchange for money or property.
I don’t understand how this discussion can possibly prove someone is anti-Semitic. Of course, we all know now what ‘fake news’ is - it appears that, especially in the era of Trump, any and all history - complete with names, dates, times, research and personal interviews - is now a matter of ‘opinion’. Or, to quote Alice in Wonderland, “A word means what I want it to mean; neither more nor less.”
For those of us who still read books that do not need to be coloured in, a suggested tome on the actual Jewish-Nazi negotiations is Yehuda Bauer’s Jews for sale?, subtitled Nazi-Jewish negotiations 1933-1945. Bauer is a professor of holocaust studies at Hebrew University. Although from Bauer’s point of view the Zionists did what was best (a debatable point, as he acknowledges), the detail is staggering.
By the summer of 1933, for example, he writes: “ ... the American Jewish Congress ... had become the major Jewish body organising [a worldwide boycott of German goods], just when the Jewish Agency reached its agreement with the Nazi government called Ha’avara (transfer).” Transfer of what? People (Jewish people, of course) able to leave Germany with some of their wealth intact, as long as the boycott was called off.
The Ha’avara agreement was a bone of very heated contention amongst the various Jewish entities from its beginning, and eventually succumbed to the holocaust, when, as Bauer points out, the Germans realised that ‘world Jewish domination’ was not as dominant as they had originally thought.
Bauer eventually concludes: “Given the circumstances, [the Jewish negotiators] could not possibly succeed ... In any case, they should be judged not by their success or failure, but by the answer to a basic moral question: ‘Did they try?’ And try they did.” Again, this in itself is debatable, but at least in this book every last detail of the ‘trying’ is analysed.
The May 23 European Union elections are an example of a special election when the normal rules don’t apply. While I decided to vote Labour, you can’t vote that in Northern Ireland and I would not support Labour in Scotland, since the party has done nothing to support Scotland’s right to remain.
Earlier this week I went to Vauxhall to canvass with Labour members and Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry and Richard Burgon turned up. So I was able to talk to them about a ratification referendum. I emphasised the important distinction between ratification and repeat/remain (or multiple-choice). I emphasised the democratic case for the former and the need to oppose the latter, and I got a fair hearing.
As a republican I don’t normally vote for her majesty’s Labour Party, which is institutionally loyal to the constitutional monarchy and the British union. It has produced Labour governments responsible for the Iraq war, support for Nato and Trident, continuing Thatcher’s neoliberal assault on the working class, etc. So this is no auto-Labourism, where you vote Labour at every election out of routine, or from ‘proletarian’ dogma.
Jonathan Freedland says: “If you don’t vote Labour on Thursday you are not abandoning the party for ever; you are not even committing yourself to voting the same way at the next Westminster election. That will be a different contest. Each election is about the decision in front of you at the moment” (The Guardian May 18). I agree with this, but draw the opposite conclusion.
In this election Freedland wants Labour members to back any ‘remain’ party. The anti-Corbyn Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, urged something similar. Tory grandee Michael Heseltine is going to vote Liberal Democrat this time. So in the game of Brexit musical chairs I would urge working class people in England and Wales to vote Labour as the best means to finish off a Tory Brexit and oppose the Brexit Party.
In the 2016 EU referendum 72% of Fenlanders voted ‘leave’. So I can understand what it must be like for Dave Douglass living in a Brexit-supporting community like the north-east (Letters, May 16).
Last October I went to Blackpool for the weekend. Apart from the new bus routes and tramways, it is very run-down and depressed. I came away understanding why so many people in the north-west solidly voted ‘leave’. I also understand the problems Dave has faced in trying to organise the many migrants who have come to live and work in the north-east of England since April 2004.
In my hometown of Wisbech, out of a population of 31,000 there are now 8,000 migrant workers. However, these migrant workers could be living in a parallel universe as far as any integration between the migrant community and the locals is concerned. Wisbech, March and District Trades Council has tried to promote union membership amongst the wider migrant community, but without much success.
The only place where the two communities come together is in the large food-processing factories which dominate the Fenland economy. Only two of these workplaces have union branches - the GMB in Nestle and Unite in Princes. Ironically, in these two factories it is the migrant workers who are more likely to be union members than the locals.
I think there are lessons we can learn from the German Social Democratic Party 120 years ago. In contrast to Britain, where the trade unions built the Labour Party, in Germany the SPD came first and then set about building the unions. In 2019, we cannot rely on the trade union bureaucracy to rebuild the movement. All the bureaucracy is interested in is ‘servicing’ their members and ‘managing decline’. As Lenin famously said, “The trade unions must become schools for communism.” Union branches in Britain today are shells. However, this means that the ‘lever’ of a small number of active Marxists can have an effect far greater than their numbers.
Just like the Trotskyists and communists in 1930s America, who built the trade unions and led the famous strikes in Minneapolis, Toledo and San Francisco, it will be Marxists who rebuild the trade union movement in Britain in 2019. Marxists in the Labour Party have a role to play here. Just like the SPD 120 years ago, Labour branches need to play an active role in rebuilding the unions in our local communities.
I look forward to the days in the not too distant future when the Weekly Worker is sold at all trade union conferences, and reports of the goings-on at these conferences become a regular feature.