One of the benefits of reading the Weekly Worker is usually that it enables us to avoid Nick Cohen’s opinion completely. However, fans of bourgeois Sunday supplement commentary can rely on Paul Demarty to perform the double function of bringing together the worst anti-left nonsense from the most trite of the columns, while echoing their bitchy, provocative and irrelevant style. In his quest to become the Marxist Melanie Phillips, Demarty has produced an article which is as meandering and poorly written as it is wrong (‘Rape is not the problem’, March 14). Has debate in the Weekly Worker really fallen so low?
Though it is tedious that comrade Demarty constantly sets out to adopt the bourgeois mode of news production - to provoke commentary through the most childish form of name-calling - it also reveals a dangerous aversion to any degree of constructive debate which might emerge from the Socialist Workers Party rape cover-up. Putting the expression ‘safe space’ into inverted commas does not make this reasonable concept ridiculous. Such spaces may not of themselves be political, but comrade Demarty might usefully ask himself how political any space is likely to be in which participants have a real fear of rape or other violence.
Comrade Demarty adopts the unappealing habit of the SWP central committee in using ‘feminism’ as a term of abuse, and dismisses nine counts of alleged sexual abuse as “a pretty good hit rate” - is this a facetious slip-up or a genuinely naive statement? Even within a context of opposition to token reformism, this is a vile and misogynist claim. He claims that “nowhere is completely safe for women” - yet sound political organising can only be carried out in as close as possible an emulation of the future we envisage for all men and women. If this carries within itself a risk that our alienated sexual relations might lead to coercion and violence, that is no subject for mockery: rather it is a case for feminist organising now and in the future.
For clarification on the question of rape denial, comrade Demarty might consider that in seeking to find supposedly mitigating circumstances for ‘comrade Delta’s’ alleged rape of a teenager, the SWP disputes committee demonstrated clearly that some rapes are widely perceived as being less serious crimes than others - those where the rapist and victim are already in a sexual relationship, for example, or where the victim may have been drunk or drinking.
Within both bourgeois and leftwing debate on rape and rape culture, those involved are continually portrayed as guilty or innocent, good or bad, or, to put it starkly, ‘rapists’ or ‘heroes’. Julian Assange is responsible for a major breakthrough in freedom of information: he may still be a rapist; George Galloway shows occasional streaks of sound political pragmatism: he is certainly nonetheless a proponent of misogyny. We are complex products of society, and therefore behave in complex ways. In no situation does this preclude rape from being either ‘a’ or ‘the’ problem. Childish headlines like this merely emphasise the growing distance between comrade Demarty and all reasonable projection of rational human relations, including freedom from sexual violence, now and after the revolution.
The correct action now for every political group is to develop a robust and transparent strategy for dealing with rape and violence allegations, which refuses to risk victimising the victim and which puts women’s and men’s safety first. Until every leftwing group and institution can provide a safe organising space to all its members, the potential for large-scale organising will remain drastically diminished for at least one half of the working class.
I’m writing to thank Paul Demarty for his superb article. It seems patently obvious that the issue surrounding ‘comrade Delta’ was founded in the SWP’s unhealthy ‘cult of authority’, as opposed to any underlying ‘culture’ of rape encouragement - a suggestion which anyone with any internal experience of the organisation should immediately find laughably absurd. If anything, in recent years, the SWP has been far too sensitive to accusations of sexism, racism and the rest!
Worse still than the ‘new wave’ feminists finding patriarchy in scattered cultural fragments is that they also presume it as a pathological, psychological condition - something unavoidable and deeply ingrained into men’s psyche. This creates a situation where it is impossible to disprove accusations of sexism or racism once made - the accused must simply ‘take on board’ criticisms and ‘be more self-aware’ in future.
The greatest irony is that hypersensitivity to such cultural and psychological ‘signifiers’ of underlying attitudes has been part and parcel of the central committee’s recent battle against democracy: accusations of racism, bigotry and sexism have been to the SWP in the last decade what accusations of ‘Trotskyism’ once were to the former CPGB. A never-ending witch-hunt, chasing after phantoms and creating such a hysterical internal atmosphere of constant denunciation that coherent critiques of the leadership’s increasingly unaccountable position were made impossible. The number of members fighting for democracy and slandered with such epithets as ‘racist’, ‘homophobic’ and ‘bigoted’ was ridiculous. So it’s exactly these theories which enabled the lack of accountability, which allowed the sexual harassment and following cover-up to ensue!
So thank you for your injection of sanity into proceedings and I hope the inevitable flak won’t be too unbearable.
I was pleased to read Paul Demarty’s refreshingly sensible and balanced article about the allegation of rape against a member of the SWP.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that certain sections of the left appear to have been gripped by some form of mass hysteria ever since the allegations against Julian Assange broke cover. The discourse goes something like this: if you dare cast doubt on the veracity of each and every claim of sexual abuse, then you are clearly an apologist for said abuse. Female activists like myself are latter-day Uncle Toms within this narrative. I am confident your mailbox will be full of emails accusing you of all manner of thought crimes.
However, I wish you had applied the same rigid logic to the accusations of domestic violence against Steve Hedley of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union. I declare a personal interest here: Steve is the partner of my youngest daughter and I know him well.
What you omitted to say in your piece was that the allegations of domestic violence against Steve Hedley of the RMT were thoroughly investigated by the police and he was not charged with any offence. The RMT investigation, the results of which will be published soon, was not launched because the RMT was dissatisfied with the outcome of the police investigation, as some have implied, but because Steve’s accuser also made an official complaint to the union. It is duty-bound to investigate, as it would any grievance or complaint.
It is a strange kind of logic that deems it fit to criticise the SWP for not referring the rape allegation to the police, yet at the same time ignores the outcome of the police investigation into the allegations against Steve. It appears that some now hope for an outcome from an internal labour movement investigation that is more in keeping with their ready-formed opinion that he is guilty as charged and that women must always ‘be believed’ regardless of the evidence. This is the mentality of the lynch mob.
Needless to say, I agree with much of what Camilla Power says (‘Is feminism a dirty word?’ Weekly Worker March 14). Rape is important. Rape is a vile crime. Rape cannot in any way be tolerated.
There is no argument here, of course, with the SWP either. What its leadership must be criticised for is not that it promotes rape. No, it was that it bungled a particular rape allegation. Trial by mates, saying that a line had been drawn under it by a narrow conference vote, triggered a rebellion in its ranks, a rebellion we have critically supported.
Yes, as we have insisted, there is more to the SWP crisis than the Delta case. Instead of tilting against ill-defined notions of macho culture, we have consistently presented a concrete programme of democratisation, open debate and accountability. We have also shown the necessity of breaking with the dead-end ‘transitional’ programmes of the sects and their fake fronts.
However, there are some important areas of disagreements between myself and comrade Power. Disagreements that need debating. She describes herself as an “anarcho-Marxist”. To me that is like saying you are a nationalist Marxist or a black-separatist Marxist. Anarchism and Marxism are antithetical: two different viewpoints, two different programmes, two different practices. Hence Proudhon vs Marx, Bakunin vs Marx, Chomsky vs Marx. Etc.
Comrade Power also describes herself as a feminist. Well and good, if by that she means women’s liberation. However, she goes on to write about women constituting “a class”, a class which she says will lead in the fight for social transformation. Illusory, in my opinion.
Here I am definitely with that ‘dinosaur’, Alexandra Kollontai. Yes, the Alexandra Kollontai who fought the “poison of feminism”. She insisted on the primacy of class, not sex: “The women’s world is divided, just as is the world of men, into two camps; the interests and aspirations of one group of women bring it close to the bourgeois class, while the other group has close connections with the proletariat, and its claims for liberation encompass a full solution to the women’s question. Thus, although both camps follow the general slogan of the ‘liberation of women’, their aims and interests are different.”
Camilla Power’s defence of feminism is intriguing. In effect, she argues that Marx and Engels were early feminists and that Marxists today should become feminists. She proves that Marx and Engels were deeply committed to women’s liberation and presents feminist ideas as a positive development of their views on sex and class. These include the notions that women have the potential to become a class through exerting collective control over their sexuality; and that Marxists should give the attack on men’s control over women’s sexuality as high a priority as their critique of capital’s exploitation of the labour-power of workers.
I agree with her that rape and the sexual harassment of women are crucial political issues and that women’s collective control over their sexuality is a necessary goal for their liberation. I disagree with her that this has the potential to make women into a class. As she suggests, the leadership of a self-defined socialist group that colludes with, covers up and practises the rape and sexual harassment of its members is not only politically divisive, but also a symptom of the moral decrepitude of late capitalism. However, it does not follow from the persistence of abusive sexist patterns in leftwing political groups that women who resist and expose this are the embryonic leadership of a class with the potential to liberate all women and - by implication - humanity as a whole.
Power forgets to mention that the notion of men as an exploiting class and women as an exploited class capable of organising mass sex strikes has its origin in radical feminism - in particular the work of Shulamith Firestone in the 1970s. It remains a plausible idea because pre-capitalist relations of master and slave, and lord and serf are reproduced within familial relations between husbands and wives and parents and children.
Power fails to mention that relations in the bourgeois family are free from the commodity form. This is evident in the fact that housework and childcare are not productive of value and do not have exchange value (unless bought from the domestic labour market outside the family). The direct dependence that children have on their parents and that adults have on each other within the family explains how relations mirror and preserve pre-capitalist forms of oppression. Nonetheless, when supported by the use of labour-saving and reproductive technologies, dependent family relations can also hint at the egalitarian relations of the socialist future.
Powers’s defence of feminism fails to consider the nature of the movement she wishes to include Marx and Engels within. Contemporary feminism is the doctrine that women’s liberation will be achieved through the collective self-activity of women. Men are excluded from participation within this activity. It is argued that men’s interests are to control and dominate women. They cannot be trusted. Anti-sexist men are either wolves in sheep’s clothing or surprising anomalies.
Feminism is therefore a partial solution to a global problem. It is partial in that it prioritises women’s liberation over the liberation of other groups. The global problem is the ending of all forms of oppression and the liberation of humanity through the formation of proletarian collectivity, the abolition of the rule of capital and the establishment of socialism. Feminism, on the other hand, is a utopian doctrine that expresses a false form of universality.
Feminism promotes the unity of women of different classes in a struggle for freedom from rape, sexual harassment and other examples of male violence. It plays down struggles that divide women on class lines such as demands for 24-hour, free childcare, full employment and the abolition of alienated domestic labour. The pseudo-universality of feminism extends to the idea that if women became a ruling class they would end capitalism, war and class division. These positions follow from Power’s arguments that “the first and foremost target for revolutionary attack” is the “private oppression of female by male” and that the class relation has its origin in men’s control of women’s sexuality.
How has contemporary feminism been able to usurp Marxism’s claims for universal liberation? The answer lies in the devastating effect that Stalinism had on Marxism in general and the Marxist commitment to women’s liberation in particular. Stalinists argued that women were liberated in the former USSR. They alleged women were fully integrated in the workforce and had access to free childcare. Individuals with knowledge of the condition of Soviet women rightly argued that they continued to be doubly oppressed at work and at home.
Contemporary feminism arose during the cold war as a response to the perceived failure of socialism to liberate women. The authoritarian nature of Stalinist parties disciplined those who challenged the line. This was contradictory. Women’s liberation had been achieved under socialism. It would be achieved at a distant date in the future, when socialism was superseded by communism. Within this environment, physical and sexual abuse were final forms of discipline. When women complained about the roles they were expected to play as tea ladies, childminders and sex objects, they were excluded, ostracised and subject to ad feminem attacks.
Contemporary feminism adapted to an atmosphere of despair and fear created by Stalinism. Critical women were denounced as bourgeois feminists and therefore agents of the class enemy. Some feminists adopted a strategy for women’s liberation inspired by the Stalinist doctrine of two stages of national liberation. The first stage was the struggle for women’s equal rights; the second was the struggle for a non-oppressive alternative to capitalism. As the movement became more preoccupied with the former, the latter dropped out of view.
It is arguable that feminism is a spent force and that its utopian nature is self-evident. It is true that feminism has fragmented collectively. Its theoretical foundations were eclectic to start with and it has adapted to post-Stalinist intellectual currents, such as post-modernism and post-structuralism. However, as long as there are Marxist groups yet to engage in the house-cleaning needed to remove the rotting rubbish left over from Stalinism, male leaders will be tempted to abuse their institutional positions of power to oppress women. Feminism will thrive as a result.
Feminist scholars have made an important contribution to world culture. Some have documented the extent of women’s oppression in a declining capitalism. Others have also recorded the history of women’s involvement in struggles from below. This literature includes Power’s anthropological fieldwork on tribes such as the Hadza hunter-gathers in Tanzania. Power reminds Marxists of the centrality of women as producers and reproducers. Marxists will appropriate this literature critically in their struggle to develop a thoroughgoing anti-sexist practice.
Critical reflection and study will lead eventually to a growth of a new literature on women’s liberation. This will be Marxist, not feminist.
Reading your debate on the importance (or not) of alpha-males in evolutionary terms made me reflect that perhaps the thinking tackle of alpha individuals may be more relevant than their sexual gear.
A few years back I watched a documentary about baboons. At a key time of the year, millions of rice grains are washed up onto the shore at the base of their mountainous jungle home. This was obviously some long awaited treat, as hundreds of baboons come down from the mountains to pick up the rice from the sand. The families include large numbers of females with their babies. The task is quite painstaking, with delicate selection of the rice grain out of the sandy beach.
The camera happened to focus on a particular female who the film crew knew to be particularly intelligent. You could almost see her brain working, as she weighed up the labour-intensive, literally nit-picking exercise. At length she alone picks up two large handfuls of sand and rice grains and, with her babe clinging to her, she wades into the sea, and drops the materials into the water. At once the sand sinks and the rice floats. She and her baby are able to eat rice by the handful rather than grain by grain. It took about an hour before every monkey on that beach watched and learned from her example.
Now I consider myself a fairly alpha-male, but I know for certain I’d have starved to death before I had discovered such an ingenious method of maximising food intake in the way that female monkey did.
The Left Front Art Collective congratulates Callum Williamson of Communist Students on the inclusion in his manifesto for the University of Westminster students union election of the following: “Stop criminalising youth: legalise all drugs! For free abortion on demand, provision of non-moralistic sexual education and counselling services for the youth. Protect the rights of individuals to enter into any consensual sexual relationships of their choice” (‘Taking a stand for communism’, March 14).
If only the rest of the left could adopt the same enlightened position, and say so, rather than associate communism with ‘moralism’ - especially around sex and consensual sexual relationships.
Ex-dictator of Argentina Jorge Videla is calling for a new coup against the government of president Kirchner. When the Argentinean army took power in a coup on March 24 1976, general Videla was designated president. He is now in the prison of Marcos Paz, sentenced to two life terms plus 50 years.
He denies that 30,000 people were killed under his dictatorship. He considers himself a political prisoner and denounces the “dictatorial procedures of Kirschnerism and its followers”.
In 1995 captain Adolfo Scilongo confessed that he had thrown 30 people, who had been drugged, from airplanes into the ocean. According to him, the Catholic army chaplains afterwards consoled him and other murderers in similar missions that they were “separating the chaff from the wheat”.
Currently in prison is a priest, Christian Von Wernich, sentenced for his involvement in 34 kidnappings, 37 cases of torture and seven murders in his religious functions. However, he continues to perform mass inside the prison, as the church has never sanctioned him. This is in contrast to the church’s sanctions against Yorio and Jalics, priests of the Theology of Liberation, who were removed from their positions by Jorge Bergoglio - now pope - and apparently handed over to the military to be tortured.
On March 3, Class Wargames hosted a games-playing session in the basement of the Firebox cafe in London. Over the course of this spring afternoon, the political struggles of the 1789 French Revolution were played out on the board of Martin Wallace’s Liberté.
In this game’s opening phase, as happened in history, it was the liberals who prevailed over the guardians of monarchy and superstition. Then, as the conflict intensified during the next round, the republicans emerged from third place to seize control of Paris and - within a few moves - take over the whole country. Best of all, learning from the mistakes of the past, Napoleon Bonaparte had been sent to the guillotine in this ludic recreation of the revolution. Our Sunday afternoon of leftie gaming in a Trotskyist cafe was coming to a most appropriate conclusion. This time around, the Jacobin republic had won.
In other attempts to simulate these tumultuous events in late 18th century France, the different players take on the role of the rival factions or personalities. You are the leader of the red republicans - and your task is to move your pieces around the board until you’ve beaten the blue liberals and white monarchists. Martin Wallace’s game slyly subverts this familiar trope of historical re-enactment. Instead of having each person restricted to playing one of the rival factions, Liberté allows everyone to have a go at being a little Louis XVI, Lafayette or Robespierre. France is divided into different provinces and - during your move - you can choose to commit your forces to fighting for monarchical reaction in one region, while simultaneously championing liberal moderation and republican radicalism in other areas of the board. The players of Liberté are leaders of occult conspiracies who are competing to manipulate the contending factions of the 1789 French revolution. In Martin Wallace’s game, the liberals almost always come out on top during the opening rounds - and the republicans in its concluding phase. The trick is to be on the winning side at the correct moment. Whichever party dominates, your conspiracy must be in charge.
While playing the game and in the pub afterwards, the political meaning of Liberté was a constant topic of discussion. If nothing else, recognising and talking about the characters and factions featured on its cards was a history lesson in itself. More interesting were the ideological assumptions embedded within the game’s mechanics. By enabling each of the players to be monarchists, liberals and republicans at the same time, Wallace was echoing the paranoid fantasies of Hippolyte Taine and other 19th century Catholic historians, who blamed the social upheavals of the 1789 French Revolution on malevolent conspiracies of freemasons, Jacobins and Jews.
However, we reckoned that Liberté owed much more to those bizarre websites which denounce the elite members of the Illuminati who are plotting to subjugate humanity to the new world order. Left and right, big business and big government, they’re all controlled by shape-shifting lizards. Similarly, as players of Liberté, you act as the dark forces which give the orders to the politicians, generals and agitators who are directing the revolution. So, we wondered over a pint later on, does this mean that Wallace has invented an inherently conservative game? This time, the Jacobin republic might have won, but the players’ moves that had culminated in this heartening result were realising a reactionary logic. In this cynical reading of history, duty to the king, the rights of man and the one-and-indivisible republic had become nothing more than empty ideological slogans of rival conspiracies struggling for power.
Yet, ironically, it was precisely this reactionary model of the 1789 revolution that had enabled its players to share the experience of leading the monarchist, liberal and republican causes. When the Jacobin republic won, everyone around the table in the Firebox cafe had contributed to its victory.
Back in 2007, one of our main motivations for founding Class Wargames was boredom with stereotypical ways of thinking about radical politics. In the back of Len Bracken’s biography of Guy Debord, we’d come across the almost forgotten rules of The game of war. As well as providing thrilling contests with down-to-the-last-move finishes, his ludic masterpiece was also - most wonderfully - a smart lesson in situationist theory. Over the years, our participatory performances of The game of war have revealed the political effectiveness of this seductive combination of playing and reasoning. First-time contestants are always curious to find out whether or not Debord had succeeded in turning The society of the spectacle into a board game.
Of course, what puzzles many people is why he didn’t invent a simulation of May 68. Instead, the two sides in The game of war are commanding pieces which represent the military trinity of Napoleonic warfare: infantry, cavalry and artillery. But, once they start playing the game, its situationist logic soon becomes apparent. North and south are rival cybernetic systems. The winner is not the person who can take the most pieces, but the one who can fatally break their opponent’s network. By the time that the match is decided at our participatory performances, both sides will have understood that The game of war is Debord’s theory in ludic form.
In these times of austerity economics and imperialist wars, the more po-faced members of the left dismiss playing games as frivolous and infantile. However, as Debord well realised, the class enemy has no such inhibitions. Simulations are an essential tool for planning military expeditions, deciding business investments and plotting political power-grabs. Debord conceived of The game of war as a détournement of these ludic manifestations of spectacular capitalism. He created a set of rules which would train revolutionary activists in Carl von Clausewitz’s military precepts for successful strategy and tactics. Just as importantly, he’d invented an entertaining game to be played in bars and cafes of the more proletarian and bohemian neighbourhoods. As this inveterate drinker would have appreciated, our participatory performances of The game of war are much improved when accompanied by generous supplies of alcohol!
Class Wargames invites you to join us at one of these Sunday afternoon sessions at Firebox. We’re also open to invites to host participatory performances in your own town or city. Above all, we would urge leftists to enjoy playing political games together. What better metaphor can there be for socialists resolving their sectarian squabbles than moving pieces over a board? We can only successfully argue with each other by agreeing to observe the rules of the game without too much cheating. Competition requires cooperation. In honoured memory of Guy Debord, Class Wargames is proud to proclaim its world-historical mission: playing politics as the ludic guide to intelligent communist thinking. Proletarians of all nations, unite and fight on the game board!