The continual reiteration of the most reactionary ideas about rape by writers who should know better is depressing. Recent contributors to your letters page have openly stated that they are not particularly worried by rape allegations against Assange because he is an anti-imperialist and good looking. Laughable.
I had expected the readership of a serious left publication might trouble themselves to do a little bit of research on a subject before pronouncing their political opinion on it. We are instead treated to some classic rape apologism (it wasn’t real rape, she did/said/wore, she did not want to prosecute, she delayed reporting, etc) and encouraged to believe that feminism is a branch of imperialism. That Cherie Booth justified the Afghanistan war by reference to women’s liberation is irrelevant; she also justified the Iraq war by reference to democracy. Guess what? She lied.
The comrades seem unclear on a number of points. It is instructive to examine the historic development of law on rape from its origin in the defence of patriarchal property rights over women’s reproductive capacity. Law derived from the Old testament formed the basis of legislation until, in the 12th century, we find the following: “She must go at once and while the deed is newly done, with the hue and cry, to the neighbouring townships and there show the injury done her to men of good repute, the blood and her clothing stained with blood, and her torn garments.”
These requirements were made because the woman was not considered to be defending her own physical safety or sexuality; she is responsible for the security of her father’s or husband’s property - guaranteed exclusive access to her vagina. Injury sustained in defence of this valuable commodity was collateral damage, necessary to demonstrate the truth of her allegation. It seems many on the left regard this as a reasonable expectation of a woman’s reaction to ‘real’ rape. Perpetuating a mediaeval view of sexual violence cannot possibly be progressive.
The writings of Sir Mathew Hale around 1700 set the tone for the next few centuries - the customary hand-wringing is immediately qualified by the assertion that women lie about being raped. “It is true rape is a most detestable crime, and therefore ought severely and impartially to be punished with death; but it must be remembered that it is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, though never so innocent.” This provides the habitual refrain which is repeated to this day as a ‘common sense’ approach; as with most appeals to ‘common sense’, it is actually deeply reactionary because it relies on dominant ideology. And dominant ideology is the ideology of the ruling class. So who benefits from the constant reiteration of these ideas?
Recent developments in some countries, including Sweden and Britain, have seen the law changed to one which attempts to deal more realistically with a situation where one in four women are sexually abused, 80% by men known to them, where the average rapist has attacked six people and where less than 1% of rapes result in conviction.
I had imagined that a commitment to materialism, scientific method and so on might extend to an evidence-based approach, reliance on statistics, surveys, etc, in this case. I am therefore surprised to see the determined avoidance and ignorance of any such research by recent contributors to this paper which rely on a series of myths: for example, the idea that one instance of consent provides a ‘season ticket’ of continued consent to any sexual activity which may occur. It doesn’t; women don’t sign a contract when they agree to have sex with somebody. They are allowed to change their mind. The definition of rape is penetration without a reasonable belief of consent. To believe that a person has consented to something while asleep is clearly unreasonable. To believe consent to unprotected penetration has been given when the person has explicitly refused is not reasonable. Only in rape is the victim’s behaviour under closer examination than the perpetrator’s.
Anonymous surveys show that only around 10%-15% of sexual assaults are reported. Of those, the home office believes around 3% are false allegations, including mistaken identity and mentally ill complainants. Of the others, around 10% are prosecuted. Of those prosecutions, around 60% are convicted. These figures are similar in Sweden. Do you believe that the women disclosing their experience of sexual violence who do not see their attacker convicted (about 99%) are all lying? We hear a great deal about the various reasons why the women in the Assange case are lying. The evidence for this relies on their behaviour before and after the incident - this will be familiar from the mediaeval law quoted above. Continuing a sexual or social relationship with a man is not evidence of his innocence or guilt. It could just as easily be argued that domestic violence has not happened because the victim still lives with the perpetrator.
In spite of the extensive project of misinformation on this case in particular and rape and sexual violence generally, it remains true that if I say the women are telling the truth I have a 99% chance of being right. I might be wrong. But it’s fairly good odds.
Chris Knight’s ‘Early human kinship was matrilineal’ (September 20) is a great article. But perhaps it exaggerates the degree to which no-one on the left has sought to either defend or even inquire into the Engels/Morgan/Briffault theory.
In the 1970s, I read a massive and extraordinary book by US socialist Evelyn Reed, Women’s evolution, which did just that in a very thorough way, a very updated way. You may still be able to get a copy from Pathfinder Press in New York, or it may even be available online through the Marxist Internet Archive.
I must admit that I had not paid much attention to anthropology in the past few years. I had sort of assumed that anthropologists were simply accumulating evidence proving that Lewis Morgan, Engels and Marx were right. I would never have thought the anthropologists had been frightened by anti-communism. It’s as if Edwin Hubble had decided to ignore the evidence of the expansion of the universe because he thought it might prove something about dialectical materialism. The articles this month are, for me at least, very enlightening.
I wanted to comment on the transition from big-game mastodon hunting to domestication of cattle. If big game had been destroyed by over-hunting, then humans must have been forced to rely on smaller game, such as deer, buffalo and other ungulates. (Oddly enough, civilised ‘hunters’ today classify deer as big game.) Tens of thousands of years of this kind of hunting could easily have led to the occasional capture of young animals (along with the help of another small domesticated animal, the dog.) The smaller game would have been much easier to domesticate than the mastodon, which could explain why humans never domesticated elephants. This domestication led, according to my theory, to the development of cattle, the first form of capital and the beginning of the destruction of matriarchy. Anyway, just a theory.
Keep it clean
Climate change is as natural as the planet. Neither it, nor we, nor anything on the planet would exist were it not for climate change. You cannot ‘stop’ climate change any more than you can stop time because you happen to like a particular hour of the day which suits your mood and inclinations.
Neither can we stop climate change at the particular juncture we happen to find best suits us, like the girl in the three bears fairy story - a climate mix which is not too hot and not too cold, but just right. I’m not a flat-earther, but neither do I believe god made the planet just for us, and made it to always be at the maximum utility setting for our species. The planet has continually heated up and cooled down for reasons which are well known and nothing to do with our presence or absence from it. At various times, human beings have been driven from parts of the earth by perfectly natural changes in climate - especially ice ages and rising seas, volcanoes, glaciers, tidal waves, drought, etc.
Gabriel Levy says such arguments are irrelevant, since change is taking place at a faster pace than at any other time during human history (‘Natural limits, sustainability and socialism’, September 20). Well, given the length of time between major climate changes and the relatively brief period of widespread human habitation of the planet, that’s not really saying a lot.
I am not arguing that human activity has not contributed to climate change. What I argue is that climate change goes with the planet. We didn’t invent it. It is there with or without us. This is a ‘natural’ process. Human beings do not infest the planet; we are not an alien life force here. What we do is part of the natural process; this includes our contribution to global warming. That is not to say we planned this, or thought it through as some mistaken plan. The failure to consider our actions as a species is due to the social evolution of capitalism and it’s utterly unplanned and destructive modus operandi. That is not a necessary part of human existence and is something we can do something about, but let’s keep our feet on the ground: our very existence as a dominant and advanced species was bound to impact on our environment, as have all other species which became dominant. Ninety percent of all species which have ever existed are already extinct, the overwhelming majority of which were extinct before we crawled from the caves.
We need to keep debate in context and not be led off into some mystical, anthropomorphic nonsense. We can minimise our contribution to global warming, and we should, but if anyone thinks this will be anything but a temporary and marginal measure on the natural cycle of hot and cold planet, our orbit’s ellipse around the sun, the variant temperature of the sun and a thousand and one non-human influences, they are delusionary.
The worst thing about the climate debate and ‘green zealots’ is that they see human industrial endeavour as the enemy. This leads them into conflict with the demands of the third world for basic human progress, electricity, decent housing and high standards of water, sanitation, food, medicine and healthcare. These things are driven - like those in the west were - by heavy industry, coal, steel, power, goods and real demand, as well as artificial demand. In the west too, attempts to close down coal power confronts power workers, railway workers and miners, who have entirely different agendas from the well-heeled middle class environmentalists who come to blockade them and close them down.
If you’re part of the climate camp, which has made coal public enemy number one, you’re going to have some pain convincing the Spanish miners, for example, fighting like fury for the retention of the coal industry, or Sardinian miners fighting for their mine, that you support them. Or if you had had that programme during the great miners’ communities and union movement between 1983 and 1993. How could you support them if you agreed that coal mines should be closed down? The debate must be set in the context of political class struggle, control by the masses of the planet and of the whole agenda of human existence, wealth and power, as well as simply what fuels are burnt.
I would also take issue with the idea that coal-burning is the major factor influencing man-made global warming gases. Is coal-burning the major source of the global-warming gases? As far as we can see, methane is a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2; it is one of the worst, if not the worst, source of greenhouse impacts. Miners do not produce this on any scale, although it is a by-product of coal mining, but mass and widespread global meat production does. Farming of mass herds of cattle, pigs, sheep, etc is at least on a par with coal-burning for the damage it does. How come? Billions of animals produce billions of cubic feet of methane from their backsides, as do multi-million tonnes of annually produced manure and silage.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, is the ongoing destruction of the earth’s forests, mostly to make way for the animals and to make land to farm them. The destruction of the rain forests and areas of dense vegetation in ancient woods and tundra is producing a spiral of desertification and killing the lungs of the planet, taking away the ability of the earth to change the CO2 into oxygen and maintain a balance of breathable air. The Brazilian authorities record destruction of the rain forest between August 2010 and July 2011 at 2,420 square miles, a size equivalent to the US state of Delaware, and this is only one part of the never-ending elimination of the earth’s dense forests. The single most important factor in the whole ‘global warming’ process is this feature - destruction of forests, desertification, animal meat production. We have yet to see anything like the clamour directed at this as is directed at coal mining. Odd when you consider that replanting the woodlands and stopping the ongoing destruction could be achieved in a very brief period if the will was there.
Next is transport - private cars, planes; not simply their emissions, but also the road-building devastation which accompanies them. These too eat up the oxygen-producing vegetation of countryside and woodlands. Could this be addressed by a return to public transport, mass transit rail systems fuelled on clean power? The by-product of the clean-coal hydrogenisation process is hydrogen - an inert gas which can be used to fuel mass public transit systems without pollution. Again it requires only the will.
Finally, yes, there is coal - not so much coal production, but the unrestricted burning of coal up the chimneys of mass polluting power stations. We, as miners’ unions, have fought against this waste of our labour and fuel for a century. Clean-coal power is possible. The development of these systems focus at present on carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants, but the government, for entirely political reasons, has chosen not to finance them and pulled the rug on every scheme we had. The exception is the Hatfield scheme, which is now duel coal/gas and CCS linked to oil extraction, without which the scheme would have folded.
The point I’ve made time and again is that coal will be burned worldwide. How it is burned is the most telling question on coal’s impact on global warming. Seven million Chinese coal miners and hundreds of millions of Chinese who depend on their labour and extract are not going to stop their development or walk away from hundreds of years of fuel beneath their feet. I also disagree that coal is getting harder to extract - it isn’t. As a matter of fact, it’s becoming easier, as companies are given their head to extract coal in the most destructive open-cast quarries rather than through deep mines. Half of all coal in Britain is now open-casted.
Oil and gas are running out far faster than coal, both of which can be extracted from coal. There is no question that we should use the fuels available to us. They shouldn’t be wasted; they should be used in the most environmentally friendly way possible, but they will be used. How they are used is linked to the question of class power as a whole, and that question will only be answered in conjunction with the proletarians who produce the fuel and consume the fuel. At some very distant point in the future many centuries ahead, perhaps with undersea mining techniques, coal will run out. Hopefully, we will have properly mastered solar energy - or that massive, untapped boiler in the centre of the earth with enough power capacity to fuel all our needs for eternity.
Keep it clean
Keep it clean
From a debt-averse and budgetary perspective, one could call the levying of a special tax on some combination of windfall profits, operating profits and financial assets a fiscally ‘responsible’ or ‘conservative’ socialism of sorts. Then another combination of cash proceeds and tax credits could be disbursed, in a compulsory purchase or eminent domain manner, to take the relevant ownership stakes into permanent public ownership.
This policy should be considered for the CPGB’s Draft programme. At a crude level, it can be implemented by bourgeois states requiring renationalisation of, for example, natural monopolies that were privatised. For left unity purposes, those talking the talk about “whatever has been privatised, let it be renationalised” (to quote Chávez), acceptance or rejection of this pretty much defines the sincerity, or lack thereof, of what they’re saying. A number of things have been privatised, and there may be a consensus to take them back into public hands.
However, the only other bourgeois alternative is debt financing, and we all know what has happened time and again with debt financing agreements for nationalisations (interest payments better used for nationalised operations, social expenditures, etc).
In November, 8,000 workers who do weekends and/or shifts at Birmingham city council are due to get a massive pay cut with the abolition of weekend money, shift pay and other allowances. Actually, this is a result of the disputed contract forced on us in November 2011 by the then Tory-Lib coalition. The ‘Martini contract’ is what Unison called it, as it brings in flexibility within grades, as well as in hours and workplaces.
For me, as a full-time, ‘any five from seven’ care assistant doing lates and earlies, as well as unsocial hours, it is a 24% pay cut. This is on top of more generalised attacks upon council workers led by national government/employers and specific attacks on the workforce via things like a new sickness policy that has led to a number of dismissals of sick workers and the hated ‘performance development review’ bollocks that leads to pay cuts if you don’t clean enough shit - according to your line manager.
Some heroic workers have resisted this PDR (introduced after the imposition of a disputed contract in 2008), but the union bureaucrats have stamped on this - mainly alienating those workers attempting to resist the big business plans of our employers, the city council. The local union bureaucrats, who run the branch without any participation at all by the members, are like another layer of management.
The second and main point is the desperate need for independent organisation of the working class: that means, of course, independent of the gaffers, but also of the bureaucracy of the workers’ movement. How this is going to happen, and what kind of vehicle we’ll need in order to move forward and advance demands for improvement of council services, as well as of our jobs, seems to be a real problem.
I was at the founding and some other conferences of the National Shop Stewards Network and heard directly about the ‘split’/walkout: the fact that NSSN is like a front for the Socialist Party, who flooded that ‘walkout’ conference with enough comrades to form a clear majority, as well as their lick-spittle attitude towards the ‘left’ bureaucracy, means that establishing NSSN in Birmingham has been a non-starter - there have been at least two or three failed attempts.
The Grassroots Left is no better - there has been one ‘Midlands GRL’ meeting in Birmingham, but the whole thing seems to be controlled by the headers of the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism: ex-Marxists/Stalinists who see the British bourgeoisie as their mates in the struggle against Brussels. They and their stupid friends from groups like the International Socialist Group (or whatever they’re called now) and Workers Power - they were part of that too and it boils down to a fundamental weakness vis-à-vis the capitalists and their agents in the workers’ movement.
Since May 2012, Labour have resumed control of the city council and the closure programme continues, as does the impending massive pay cut.