I was much amused by Tony Greenstein’s statement that I see “class and women’s oppression having no relationship with each other” and I find my defence of Andrea Dworkin even more remarkable than Tony does, since I never defended her: I merely pointed out that her political views were not limited to democratising capitalism, as Tony claimed (Letters, October 25). I was, unsurprisingly, already aware that Andrea Dworkin was a Zionist because I can read.
Since Tony’s commitment to class politics is undoubted, we can expect his political activities to reflect his good advice in an equal commitment to emphasising the relationship to women’s oppression. He might be good enough to furnish us with recent examples.
Tony goes on to describe the “grey areas”, where “one person feels pressurised to having sexual intercourse”. By what process this pressure is manifest is unclear. Maybe if we rephrase it to include some active verbs and human agency it might become clearer. How about ‘where one person pressurises the other’? Off the top of your head, Tony, bearing in mind that around 90% of people in this society are heterosexual, and that research (you know, evidence and facts - remember them?) shows around 90% of rape victims know their attacker, one in 12 men admit to using sexual coercion against women and around one in four women disclose being subjected to such coercion, who do you guess is usually applying the pressure?
And these “grey areas” we hear so much about in discussions of sexual violence (and at no other time) - what about them? Rape Crisis projects around the world explain that “grey areas” provide camouflage for coercive men, muddying the water just enough to cloud the judgement of the confused. The legislation is clear - unless you have reasonable belief that your partner consents, stop. Where’s the grey area? Neither is it found in Tony’s Hollywood idea of the usual behaviour of rape victims. Tony, the behaviour of every fourth woman you meet is the typical behaviour of a rape victim.
The slogan ‘the personal is political’ is given a comforting interpretation as relating only to demands that can realistically be made on the state. This is understandable, as it distances the systematic exercise of power inequality away from personal relationships and behaviour. But this is the great insight of feminism - that domestic violence (for example) is not a private matter between individuals or a result of personal inadequacy, but one feature of the underlying structure of the whole culture.
Turning to Phil Kent (Letters, October 25), his views are generally quite helpful, but rather confused. Phil says the two Swedish women in the Assange case “didn’t feel raped” and suggests this is because they “are committed to casual sex”, so have “different psychology”. Enjoying casual, anonymous sex with men bears no relationship to a woman’s reaction to being raped. Consensual sex, whether with men or women, in a long-term relationship or a brief encounter is enjoyable. If it involves “fear or repulsion” it’s probably not consensual. And sex without consent is (all together now) rape.
Since we are all constantly bombarded with misinformation about masked men leaping out of bushes, mythical “grey areas”, ‘usual behaviour’ of rape victims, etc, it’s no wonder that a lot of people don’t recognise rape when it happens. The Swedish women went to the police to find out if it was possible to compel Assange to take an HIV test because he had refused their requests to use condoms. They were then informed that because they had not consented to penetration without condoms, Assange had committed rape. Since several people (eg, George Galloway) have contributed to debates on this case, both in this paper and elsewhere, without knowing the legal definition of rape, why should those two women be expected to know?
I agree with Phil that the legal system is wholly inadequate in dealing with most things, particularly sexual violence. There is no alternative available, so we must use this system at present. I would be equally reluctant to entrust the interests of sexually abused women to a group of men drawn from the current left, as their attitudes in this area are, at best, hopelessly inadequate and, at worst, appallingly misogynist.
It would be helpful if the misplaced energy devoted to the defence of accused rapists and pimp-led ‘unions’ that donate to the Tory Party was focused instead on education about the realities of sexual violence.
In comrade Tony Greenstein’s letter, he presented a review of how one section of women based on nationality or race viewed the oppression of women of a different national or racial entity. He drew attention to Arab women raped by Jewish men of the Palmach, black slave women raped by white owners in the US deep south and black women raped by white rulers in the Belgian Congo, Rhodesia and South Africa. He then added the role of ‘Aryan’ and the rape of Jewish women. All this was to demonstrate the errors of “western feminists”.
I feel his analysis only encourages the growth of equally problematic issues. If the ‘Aryan’ women were, irrespective of their class, oppressors of Jewish women, were not ‘Aryan’ male workers oppressors too? So gender was not a factor, nor was class; it was all race and nationality. Was there no ‘Aryan’ rape of ‘Aryans’? No Jew rape of Jew?
In these events, comrade Greenstein finds no class-conscious women - or dare I say it? - women with any gender solidarity other than in South Africa. In his aim of demonstrating the linkage of rape to oppression and imperialism, he leaves out one major example of mass rape. That is the thousands of rapes committed by the Red Army (a name I believe they retained by theft) in the process of defeating the Nazis. Are we, if not to forgive, at least to forget this crime against humanity, primarily the female of humankind? Were the proletarian Russian women, in their support of the proletarian Russian soldiers, not acting like the ‘Aryan’ women, white colonialist women and the wives and daughters of the slave-owning Confederates?
Comrade Greenstein says he is “placing rape in a class and not merely a sexual and gender context” and, in my view, this is correct. But, if simply left at that, it becomes a very crude analysis, a form of ‘Marxism’ reduced to the level of chocolate tea pots. It may be OK for a kids’ tea party providing a quick choc boost, but not much use for a full-blown lunch, tea or supper.
Rape and gender issues are far more complex than a simple oppressor/oppressed analysis. Yes, gender conflict is fundamentally a product of class society. My starting point is still old Fred’s The origin of the family, private property and the state, where he, in my crude description, outlines gender roles determined by modes of production, the relationships of ownership and exchange of goods. These led to historically traced gender cooperation and conflict. The end to such conflict can only be achieved with the overthrowing of capitalism and social, economic and gender competition and freedom gained through the cooperative commonwealth. But we are not there yet and women, as a gender, need the support of all in fighting, for example, the rapist.
I now turn to comrade Phil Kent. He correctly states that “Bourgeois states are bodies of armed men, backed up by judges and prisons. Communists need to be cautious about supporting their laws.” He says that he is “baffled” as to why we would rely on a rape law “to protect women’s safety” rather than “arguing for something more effective”, arguing that “we should have confidence in the improvability of human nature and the patience to see it through …”
How long do the victims of rape have to wait until human nature under capitalism has improved to a position where women’s safety is no longer a problem?
He asks why “non-rape denialists … despair in human nature?” I cannot comment as a ‘non-rape denialist’ - only as someone who lives in a capitalist world, where rape, genocide, slavery, imperialism and war exist. I am aware that the opposites of these also exist within society. But the filth of capitalism, in all its forms, can only be got rid of under socialism. Yes, we should campaign for alternatives and improvements in the ‘criminal injustice system’. I admit, reluctantly and with a certain amount of despair, that I have no answer to those who demand the removal of rapists from general society other than the already-mentioned change of society.
As to the Assange case, comrade Kent says it was not about rape. Everything must be OK then. I didn’t know that. I restate my own position. I do not know what Assange did or did not do. I do know that two women say he committed some sort of abuse involving sex. There must be no removal to Sweden - we must ensure there are no actions allowed that would get him out of the embassy - and an independent, labour movement-led investigation into the charges against him.
But I am at a total loss on seeing the following statement by comrade Kent: “It is strange that we should be talking about rape now, when it was the first problem solved by our species.” He then seems to contradict himself when he says, “Sometimes to solve something …” - didn’t he claim that rape had already been “solved”? It is “the process itself that produces the answer and that process must come out of a belief in human nature, not reliance on the culture of punishment”.
I will not pretend to have answers to all the immediate problems posed by rape, but I’m sure that platitudes about human nature will not work. I am sure the only lasting and complete solution lies in socialism, where humankind will stand head and shoulders above its present position under capitalism.
For me, the most telling sentence in comrade Greenstein’s letter was this: “The fact is that white women were part of the oppressor society and also complicit in the oppression of both black women and men.” I fail to see the relevance of this. Is it to say the oppressor class oppresses as a class, and contains both men and women? I would suggest this is a given, a part of the ABC of class analysis. Is it a call for the working class to act as a class and overthrow the oppressor? Is it a reminder to recognise that a significant part of the struggle is the fight against the attacks on working class women, which ruling class women do not suffer in a similar way? That too is something I have no problem with. But that does not remove the duty, as a workers’ movement, to tackle issues such as rape, abortion, female circumcision and others that cross the class-gender lines within society.
Thanks to Terry Burns (Letters, October 25) for clarifying his position and correcting my misinterpretation of it in my letter of October 18. On the basis of these corrections, I clearly had the wrong impression, for which I have no problem in apologising.
Nick Rogers again misunderstands fundamental Marxist concepts - here value and exchange value (Letters, October 25).
Nick says: “In the opening pages of that work Marx defines value as the unity of use-value and exchange-value.” Marx said no such thing. Marx defines the commodity as the unity of use-value and exchange-value.
In chapter 1, Marx writes: “A thing can be a use-value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour.” In other words, what gives it value is the fact that it is the product of human labour. How much value? The amount of labour time required for its production. “A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because human labour in the abstract has been embodied or materialised in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? Plainly, by the quantity of the value-creating substance, the labour, contained in the article.” Note that Marx does not say ‘commodity’, but only “use-value, or useful article”. That is because a thing may both be a use-value and possess value (ie, be the product of human labour) without being a commodity (ie, without being an exchange-value).
Marx writes: “A thing can be useful, and the product of human labour, without being a commodity. Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour creates, indeed, use-values, but not commodities.” That is the reality of all human production prior to generalised commodity production. Marx gives the example of the payments made by peasants as rent: “The mediaeval peasant produced quit-rent-corn for his feudal lord and tithe-corn for his parson.”
Does Nick deny that these payments were payments of value? Marx did not doubt that, although these payments did not represent exchange-value, they were payments of value; nor that the value was measured by the labour time expended. Marx writes: “The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes therefore, so soon as we come to other forms of production.”
He continues: “But for the very reason that personal dependence forms the groundwork of society, there is no necessity for labour and its products to assume a fantastic form different from their reality. They take the shape, in the transactions of society, of services in kind and payments in kind. Here the particular and natural form of labour - and not, as in a society based on production of commodities, its general abstract form - is the immediate social form of labour. Compulsory labour is just as properly measured by time as commodity-producing labour; but every serf knows that what he expends in the service of his lord is a definite quantity of his own personal labour-power.”
Nick misreads Marx’s statement, therefore, that “it is only a historically specific epoch of development which presents the labour expended in the production of a useful article as an objective property of that article: ie, as its value”. Marx is not saying that objects prior to this time do not have value, but that it is only when commodity production becomes generalised that this value is presented as being an objective property of the article - ie, that commodity fetishism arises!
In fact, it is commodity fetishism that Nick is guilty of. Value is not an objective property of the commodity, as Nick suggests, but a measure of the labour time expended upon its production. The commodity is merely a vessel within which that labour is contained. Where Nick believes that value is something specific to the commodity, and that what is happening is the exchange of commodities, Marx says this is an illusion: what is really being exchanged, as with all previous forms of production, is human labour. It’s in order to expose the illusion of commodity fetishism that Marx examines value in non-commodity-producing modes of production.
Nick’s undialectical view of time and history leads him to view things as discrete blocks, sealed off by Chinese walls from what has gone before and what comes after. So the law of value, like value itself, for him has no process of evolution or dissolution. It springs, like Minerva, ready formed into history alongside capitalism and disappears in the same way. It is as though he has never read chapter 3 of Capital, on the development of money, where Marx sets out its role as a universal equivalent form of value. He writes that money first emerges amongst nomadic tribes. If, as Nick claims, value is specific to capitalism, how does he explain the circulation of coins as symbols of value in antiquity?
When Marx describes Robinson Crusoe’s calculations, measuring the labour time spent producing various use values, what does Nick think Marx means when he then says: “... those relations contain all that is essential to the determination of value”? He does not mean value in the sense Nick understands it as “an objective property” only of a commodity, because a requirement for a commodity is that it is exchanged, and Robinson has no-one to exchange with.
The real situation is given by Marx when he writes: “The value of commodity A is qualitatively expressed by the fact that commodity B is directly exchangeable with it. Its value is quantitatively expressed by the fact that a definite quantity of B is exchangeable with a definite quantity of A. In other words, the value of a commodity obtains independent and definite expression by taking the form of exchange value.”
Marx sets out the dialectical relation by which value, embodied in all use-values, as products of human labour, across all modes of production, becomes exchange-value, as a consequence of historical development, resulting in the production of commodities.
It is by this historical process that “the value of a commodity obtains independent and definite expression, by taking the form of exchange-value”. It could not have found independent expression as exchange-value unless it already existed within the commodity as value. It is only in the process of exchange that a use-value becomes a commodity, and that the value contained within it is expressed as an exchange-value.
Nick also refers to the wrong quotation from the Critique of the Gotha programme in this regard. The relevant quote to which I was referring was where Marx refers to “a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society … Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no-one can give anything except his labour, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But, as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labour in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labour in another form.”
I have replied to Nick’s other letter about the temporal single-system interpretation (TSSI) on my blog at http://boffyblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/filleting-nick-rogers-latest-argument.html.
I agree with the bulk of what Anne Mc Shane argues in her piece on the United Left Alliance, but I must correct her critique of my election statement (‘Sectarian self-annihilation’, October 25).
Anne claims that my election statement “makes no argument for democracy, working class or otherwise”. She might well take the time to read it a bit more closely, as I explicitly argued that “Big business (both Irish-based and the multinationals) must be expropriated and placed under democratic control of new working class organs of direct participatory democracy.”
She then goes on to argue in reference to me that, “Contrary to what he argues, we should not be out to ‘salvage’ the ULA - we need to transcend it.” I am not proposing to salvage the ULA in and of itself. What I actually argued was: “The key task for the upcoming period should be trying to salvage what we can from the ULA for the project of building a new workers’ party” and I then went on to outline the general revolutionary framework I believe such a new party should have.
For anyone interested in the real content of my election statement, please see http://goo.gl/GHXXg.
Day of action
The following statement was received from the O/C of the republican prisoners of war in Maghaberry Gaol, Co Antrim, in October 2012:
“We, the republican prisoners of war incarcerated in Maghaberry prison camp, wish to send greetings to those assembled all over the world today protesting on our behalf. At present we are engaged in a ‘dirty protest’ to end the archaic practice of strip-searching and 23-hour lock-down, and to secure conditions befitting of prisoners of war. The age-old British policy of criminalisation of Irish republican prisoners is in full swing in Maghaberry and as always we, as republicans, will oppose this in any way we can.
“We have been on this current phase of protest now for over 18 months and we see little movement from our captors. The conditions we endure are far from humane or acceptable, yet we will continue in our struggle until our demands are met. We have a duty to all republicans and to those prisoners who may follow us.
“We find ourselves incarcerated due to British rule in Ireland and are part of the broader struggle for Irish independence. We take heart that Irish republicanism is alive and vibrant, kept alive by people like you. As republican prisoners of war we will not shy away from our duty and we salute all those in Ireland and abroad who work towards the independence of Ireland by any means necessary.
“The support we have received from those across the world makes us more determined and resolute. We are indeed grateful, and ask for your continued support and activism on our behalf. We applaud those of you who take to the streets all over the world in protest at the detention of true republicans.
“We will continue to resist all attempts by the British government to criminalise us and our struggle and, with your continued support, we are confident of victory. Onwards to the republic!”
Day of action
Day of action
Deportations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) asylum-seekers are continuing despite government pledges to ensure fairer treatment.
Traumatised refugees who have fled homophobic intimidation and violence should not be subjected to removal to countries where they are at risk of discrimination, harassment, assault, arrest, imprisonment, torture and murder. These deportations violate David Cameron’s and Nick Clegg’s commitment to a fairer deal for LGBT refugees fleeing homophobic and transphobic persecution.
The coalition government pledged: “We will stop the deportation of asylum-seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation.” In 2010, David Cameron personally promised: “Those Africans seeking asylum on the basis of sexual orientation and at real risk of persecution in their home countries should be allowed to stay in the UK.”
In an apparent bid to reduce asylum numbers, the home office is sometimes resorting to the despicable tactic of refusing to believe that refugees are gay, even when they provide evidence of same-sex relationships and witness statements from their current or former partners. If this evidence is not good enough, how are refugees supposed to prove their sexual orientation? It is an impossible task. The UK Border Agency seems to be making it deliberately impossible - presumably in order to boost the numbers being deported to satisfy the anti-asylum lobby. This is shocking and shameful.
No-one in government is taking responsibility to end this injustice. Ministers are doing little or nothing to stop this ongoing unfair treatment of LGBT refugees. The UK is not honouring its obligations under the Refugee Convention.
I have been working with a Malawian lesbian refugee, Esther C. She was scheduled for deportation twice, despite seeking a judicial review of the decision to refuse her asylum. What kind of justice system attempts to deport people before their cases are heard? Esther has now won a last-minute reprieve, but this was only due to a determined campaign to save her from deportation.
On October 16, Alice N, whose asylum claim had been dismissed on the grounds she and her female partner had not done enough to prove her lesbianism, was deported to Cameroon, despite the well known anti-gay witch-hunt that is happening in that country. Just over two weeks ago, a gay Nigerian man, Olalekan M Ayelokun, who provided testimonies of his homosexuality from male sexual partners, was deported after a judge refused to believe he was gay. What else is he supposed to do to prove his homosexuality?
We are helping many genuine LGBT refugees, who tell heart-breaking stories of discrimination and violence in their home countries. These are very vulnerable people who have suffered greatly. They’ve shown great courage, given their persecution in their country of origin and their subsequent mistreatment here in Britain. These people have come to the UK expecting a safe haven, only to be thrown into a detention centre and treated like a common criminal. When they protest against the appalling way they are treated, they can face punitive action and be subjected to fast-track deportation.
Many LGBT asylum applicants have poor legal representation. The legal aid system does not provide solicitors with sufficient funds to prepare a proper case.
We are calling on the coalition government to reform the asylum system to end the deportation of LGBT people who have a sincere, well-founded fear of persecution.
The upcoming conference, ‘Up the Anti: Reclaim the Future’, taking place on December 1 at Queen Mary University in London, has been co-sponsored by the Platypus Affiliated Society, along with the Anti-Capitalist Initiative, Ceasefire, Globalise Resistance, New Left Project, The Occupied Times, Pluto Press and Red Pepper. However, recently, at the urging of conference speaker Jamie Allison, who claimed pressure from members of the Historical Materialism journal editorial board to exclude Platypus, the other sponsoring organisations voted to remove Platypus’s sponsorship of the event. This was done with one notable abstention, by The Occupied Times.
The red herring was Platypus’s publication of translations of articles by ‘Anti-German’ tendencies, which was regarded as political endorsement of the articles’ views. In the Stalinist manner of ‘amalgamation’, Platypus has been accused of guilt by association. But, as readers of the Weekly Worker know, Platypus’s mission is to “host the conversation on the death of the left that would not otherwise take place”, which means including perspectives of great disagreement that claim to be on the ‘left’.
Such action as the involuntary withdrawal of Platypus’s sponsorship by the Up the Anti conference organisers, alas, is typical of conditions on the dead ‘left’ today. We can only hope that such actions will not claim our future!
I agree with Mike Macnair’s article where he says the left must rebuild the movement (Weekly Worker October 18).
Recently, on several left websites, there has been much discussion about tax avoidance by the super- and not so super-rich and corporations such as Amazon, Starbucks, EBay, etc. David Cameron has also implied that George Osborne will include anti-tax avoidance measures in the December autumn statement to parliament. The left is facing an open goal here.
Rather than wasting time arguing for a general strike, the left would do better spending its time, money and energy in campaigning against tax avoidance.
Good job on the Scottish Independence article (‘Independence from what?’, October 25). I like what you say.