Rape apologism

Tony Greenstein uses the familiar tactic of setting up a series of straw men to distract us from the discussion of women’s oppression, in this case relating to Julian Assange and rape apologism (Letters, October 4).

Tony seems concerned that I have not obediently placed women at the end of a very long queue, including Zionism, imperialism, racism in the deep south (against men - racist-inspired sexual violence against black women isn’t mentioned), the chequered political biography of individual feminists, etc; and, more importantly, I have failed to subordinate my own interests to those of pretty much everybody else. How unfeminine. Tony suggests that feminists are concerned with democratising capitalism. I suspect many, from Andrea Dworkin to Sheila Rowbotham, might be surprised to learn that their political ambitions were so limited. He also points out that some feminists became fascists. So did some socialists - for example, Oswald Mosley, who was originally in the Labour Party - while many feminists were socialists and communists, notably Sylvia Pankhurst, many Poplar councillors, Dora Montefiore, Charlotte Despard, etc.

To clarify, Assange has been accused of rape, defined as penetration without consent. That seems to many of us to be a serious offence. The behaviour of the women before or after the event is irrelevant. The only thing that counts is consent. Not whether they spoke to Assange, talked about Assange, consented to penetrative sex with Assange at some other time. No grey areas. No implied consent. Just actual consent. In contrast to Tony’s suggestion, ‘Yes means yes and no means no’ is more than a throwaway slogan - in fact, it turns out that the absence of yes means no, too - so a man needs to ensure he has reasonable grounds to believe the woman consents.

Tony relies on the idea that “the woman herself may be uncertain as to whether she wants sexual intercourse and that is taken as a signal by her bedmate”. A signal for what? It should be a signal to stop and find out, but it’s not clear if that is what Tony means. Oh, those confused, befuddled women - they don’t know what they want. Tony is also concerned that the Swedish women did not have a good reason to persist in a relationship with someone who has just raped them and suggests this is because they didn’t take it very seriously.

Firstly, this demonstrates a lack of understanding of the psychological reaction to sexual violence. Women very often behave as though nothing is wrong, minimise and normalise the assault. So I reiterate: continuing a sexual or social relationship is not evidence of his innocence or guilt. It’s just evidence of focusing on the victim, not the perpetrator.

Secondly, there is no reason to believe that a woman who has been raped has any more knowledge of the relevant legislation than anyone else who has been subjected to the prevailing catalogue of mythology and rape apologism. Tony attempts to draw a comparison with the defence of provocation or self-defence in cases of homicide following domestic violence. The behaviour of the dead man in such cases is the direct cause of their death - this is not so in the case of raped women. As has been pointed out numerous times, their behaviour - drinking, dress, flirtatiousness - and previous sexual habits are not the cause of them being raped. Once again, the behaviour of rape victims is irrelevant.

Then Dave Douglass contributes his thoughts on the healthy development of the sexuality of adolescent girls. Reading this is a troubling experience. One can only assume the intended readership did not include anybody with any empathy for a teenage girl drawn into a sexual relationship with an older man in a position of trust and authority. The idea of the age of consent is problematic in many ways, but suggesting that a relationship between a teenage pupil/student and their adult teacher is an example of emotionally well-balanced sexuality is highly questionable. I wonder how far this would be acceptable - 60-year-old male teacher with 12-year-old boy? It serves no good purpose to imply that the legal/judicial system recognises no difference between consensual relationships between two 14-year-olds and sexual exploitation of children by adults. It is widely recognised that physical maturity often outpaces emotional development in teenagers.

The October 11 edition of the Weekly Worker provides Paul Demarty with a platform for his views on the response of the National Union of Students to George Galloway’s stated opinions on rape (‘Unreason all the way down’). The use of ‘no platform’ is not a helpful tactic, as Galloway is not attempting to set up a political organisation aiming to legitimise his ridiculous attitudes. The NUS should have opposed his views and argued against them - not a difficult task, because Galloway’s usual political intelligence has, sadly, deserted him on this occasion. George is mistaken in his definition of rape; this he shares with many commentators, but as an MP we hold him to a higher standard because he is partly responsible for creating the legislation in the first place.

Paul echoes many of the misapprehensions so common in this debate, but adds the impressive individual achievement of using the words “shrill” (twice) and “irrational”, puts scare quotes round “rape deniers”, and asks the rhetorical question: “In what universe do women feel less ‘safe’ if Galloway is around?” as part of a general criticism of ‘official’ feminism. Unnecessarily patronising. Since you ask, Paul (albeit rhetorically), women feel less safe in any universe in which Galloway’s views on rape go unchallenged and thus contribute to the rape culture we live in.

Paul seems amused by putting rape on the “list of bad things” drawn up by liberalism, feminists, moralistic witch-hunters and the terminally bewildered. He argues that rape is a bad thing (that’s a relief), but continues to promote unhelpful attitudes. The issue, says Paul, is not that “rape is rape”, but whether we “would rather be cajoled and misled into unprotected sex by a dodgy partner, or dragged into an alley, beaten and sodomised. Neither should be acceptable - but to suggest that they ought not to be qualitatively different in the eyes of the law is frankly obscene.” But they are treated differently. One is rape (penetration without consent) and the other is rape with additional physical violence. They are not treated the same, and no sane person would say they should be. But they emphatically are both rape because rape is defined by lack of consent.

It is interesting that unprotected (presumably vaginal) penetration is considered qualitatively less serious than sodomy. Of course, that could be because the vagina is seen as the natural and normal orifice for an unwelcome penis, while the anus represents a site of genuine sexual violation. I imagine a great many straight men find the latter a more horrifying prospect for a rape victim - many of whom are men and boys.

In the light of recent contributions to this paper, I anticipate next week’s edition will include the attempted rehabilitation of Jimmy Savile.

Heather Downs

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My point was …

What Terry Burns (Letters, October 11) interprets as a “smokescreen” was in fact the substance of what my letter of the preceding week was addressing. That being the absurd and reactionary contradictions in the use of the word ‘child’ and the relative mental and social abilities the state assigns to young people. The state finds no apparent contradiction in finding a 10-year-old quite capable of the rational and mature criminal ability to rape or murder, but a 15-year-old is unable to consent to a sexual relationship. That was the point of my observations.

I may also be old-fashioned enough to believe people’s relationships are actually private and of no concern to anyone other than the people involved and, perhaps, their families; that it actually isn’t Terry’s, or the state’s, business who someone has a consensual relationship with. In a fraught and vexed situation, such as the runaway couple we were discussing, outside interference and the clod-hopping intervention of the law is totally unhelpful and in this case made the situation far worse. The relationship of the teacher with the student, given the current state of the law and manufactured public opinion, was always going to be on the edge of disaster for everyone involved - his current partner, his children, her parents, apart from themselves. But love, as they say is blind, and that’s the nature of the affliction.

We don’t actually choose who we fall in love with or, given the all-consuming nature of that most irrational of all human emotions, think through the consequences rationally. That’s true, whatever your age. In this case, it looks as though the couple simply planned to take off for a weekend, until the press got hold of it and forced them into a tighter corner and even more disastrous decisions. Had this not happened, things may well have worked out differently. Certainly one would have thought a maths teacher could have worked this particular equation out better than he did. He could, for example, have resigned his position at the school, and simply stopped seeing the girl for the four months or so until her 16th birthday. He would certainly have been aware of the not unreasonable proscriptions on relationships with pupils, given the captive nature of teacher-student relations and balances of position and power. He could well have stepped back from the relationship and given his girlfriend space to consider the future and where the relationship would and could actually go.

Terry Burns doesn’t express a shred of communist humanity for people in this complex maze of judgment and punishment, but actually introduces a suggestion for further prohibition and restriction - age gap rather than age difference. The 10-year difference between this couple’s ages would, of course, be the same if she was 20 and he was 30. Just why this in itself should be a consideration as to whether a relationship is acceptable or not is something even the state hasn’t tried to impose. In four months or so, the student will be 16 and there will still be a 10-year age gap, but such a relationship would be legally permitted (but not for a teacher and his student, of course).

I clearly remember being a teenager and all of my sexual encounters - one in particular with a much older women. What I don’t remember is ever weighing whether I should have waited for “a fully equal and free social, including sexual, existence until humankind has achieved a classless world” beforehand. I have a feeling I would have disregarded all the sound wisdom and advice of people like Terry and just lived for the joy and excitement of that moment. With the balance of many years and hindsight, one can often wince at the decisions and judgments one made - and not only when a teenager - but that certainly doesn’t mean they weren’t really free choices, voluntarily entered into. I tend to think we have enough moral enforcement and interference officers around without people ostensibly on the left dishing out suggestions for legislation as well.

David Douglass
South Shields

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Move to right

Terry Burns accuses me of Fox News-type spin and suggesting that “all feminists support the same common group of activities” for pointing out that Nora Elam, general secretary of the Women’s Political and Social Union, became an active member and organiser for the British Union of Fascists.

With the greatest of respect, Terry entirely misunderstands the argument that I was making and perhaps I too am guilty for not making my points with greater clarity. Nora Elam wasn’t the only suffragette to become a fascist or militarist. Mary Richardson, who became the head of the women’s section of the BUF, was another. So too was Mary Allen, a founder of the Women’s Police Volunteers.

Likewise, Emmeline Pankhurst and two of her daughters, Adela and Christabel, moved to the far right after World War I. Emmeline Pankhurst began a recruiting campaign among the men in the country, handing out white feathers to those who wouldn’t or weren’t serving in the army. The political cleavage I am speaking about is best demonstrated by the Pankhurst sisters themselves. Christabel ended up supporting suffrage only for women with property, whereas Sylvia campaigned for universal suffrage and was an anti-imperialist.

In case it is still not clear, the point I am making is that feminism, as with gay rights, is a movement whose objective is to democratise capitalism, not to overthrow it. It is only a minority amongst feminists or gay rights activists who draw anti-capitalist conclusions. Indeed it is easier for certain movements to attain their demands than, for example, anti-racists to achieve theirs. Equal pay, in theory, has been conceded, whereas the abolition of immigration controls strikes at the roots of an imperialist society like Britain.

I am well aware of the strike of women at Ford for equal pay in 1968, which led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970. But this had little to do with modern feminism. It is much more difficult for working class women or black people to obtain redress at an employment tribunal than a middle class woman or banker. Anti-discrimination measures are skewed in favour of the least oppressed, highest paid women - precisely those who complain of the glass ceiling. The working class women of Ford were abandoned by their feminist sisters in the movement for women’s liberation, as the latter focused on pornography and consciousness-raising.

Terry also misses my point about the events at Brighton’s Gay Pride. In fact, it was the police attack on, and kettling of, Queers Against the Cuts to which I referred. Gay Pride marches have been commercialised and are now sponsored by big business. In Brighton the organisers openly collaborated with the police in seeking to isolate their more radical sisters and brothers. Would Terry have me say nothing about this and pretend that class is not an issue?

I know from personal experience in the 1980s how, when the issue of Zionist feminism raised its head, white feminists expressed their concerns over ‘anti-Semitism’ rather than the very real racism that Palestinian women experienced. The white women of Spare Rib, and feminists like Andrea Dworkin, sided with the Zionists. It was black women who formed papers like Outrage, who raised the issue of racism. I can remember one issue of Labour Briefing which equated rape with black men. Those of us who expressed solidarity with the Palestinians were attacked by Zionist and socialist feminists inside my own organisation, the Socialist Students Alliance.

The point which Terry comprehensively misunderstood is that the feminist movement consisted of a radicalism that was rapidly moving to the right, drawing in many of those who called themselves socialist feminists. It manifested itself in New Labour and the Harriet Harmans of this world. Ruling class acceptance was more important to these people than solidarity with working class women. In Briefing at the time of the miners’ strike certain feminists even equated miners’ direct action with ‘male violence’.

Tony Greenstein

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Drawing the line

In his comments (Letters, October 11) on my article (‘Not part of the left’, October 4), Chris Cutrone asserts that, “for good or ill”, the ‘anti-Germans’ must be considered “part of the global left”. A strange declaration, seeing as neither the German left nor the hard-core anti-Germans themselves share this view.

As I reported in my article, they operate in accordance with their slogan, “Deny the left and other Nazis the right to exist”. Like other ex-communists before them - whether Shachtmanites-turned-neocons or Eurocommunists-turned-Blairites - their journey took them to a place that can no longer be meaningfully described as ‘left’ by anyone who has eyes to see. As those who remember Jack Straw recommending Lenin’s pamphlet, Leftwing communism, in a 2004 issue of The Independent will readily concede, residue Marxist vocabulary is not unusual among the lapsed and the terminally diseased.

If Cutrone is really prepared to consider any tendency that operates with left imagery or terminology as “part of the global left”, then I look forward to reading translations of Russian National Bolshevik Party pamphlets in the pages of The Platypus Review - without comment or additional information, of course, so as to facilitate the unprejudiced “conversation” and reinvigoration of the “dead left”. After all, that formation’s fantasies of a Eurasian empire under the Russian jackboot are, to use Cutrone’s words, “no worse, ideologically, and certainly not practically,” than Stephan Grigat’s far more reality-based agitation for imperialist war against Iran, with all the social tragedy, political devastation and heaps of corpses it entails.

But Cutrone’s blog, The Last Marxist, offers a somewhat less impartial outlook: “Now, we are clearly more sympathetic to the anti-fascist rather than the anti-imperialist ‘left’,” he observes. “This can be found in our orientations towards the anti-Deutsch and others as our preferred objects of critique - more interesting, in certain respects, as objects of critical engagement, to be redeemed in some way.”

Indeed, Cutrone’s sympathies for what he calls the “anti-fascist left” are quite clear. What is more, his coding of social-imperialism as “anti-fascist” is a stratagem borrowed from Nick Cohen, whose grouplet of signatories constitutes the bulk of what Platypus members refer to as the “global anti-fascist left” outside Germany. Those people’s “anti-fascism” amounts to little more than support for the ‘war on terror’ and an explicit allegiance to ‘democratic’ bourgeois rule, with all its anti-democratic ‘checks and balances’ (see The Euston manifesto). It has nothing to do with fascism - unless we extend the definition to any type of ‘authoritarianism’, including being sent to bed without supper. Nor is it in any way related to the countless international anti-fascist groups, which, despite elevating the threat posed by the far right over all other political concerns, are generally not imperialist-friendly. They would rightly object to being lumped in with the likes of Cohen and Grigat.

I self-criticise for failing to mention the Initiative Sozialistisches Forum sect - whose text, ‘Communism and Israel’, Platypus has also published - in my brief rundown of ‘anti-German’ history. According to Henning Böke, who was among the early ‘anti-Germans’, when those were still identifiably part of the left, one must “distinguish the new anti-German current which emerged after 1994 from the anti-German tendency of the early 1990s”.

And furthermore “the new anti-Germans [from the ISF] who came after us were radical academics who never had been involved in any social movement ... They constructed the core of new anti-German ideology by rejecting any kind of workers’ movement and, even more, any idea of a collective emancipation.”

Whether the partial change of personnel really represented a clean break between the old Kommunistischer Bund cadres and the new ISF guard is arguable. Ideologically at least, the latter seems very much a consistent aggravation of the former, with the already discarded proletariat increasingly assuming the role of a transhistorically anti-Semitic bogeyman. The anti-Germans’ ‘Goodbye to the working class’ takes the shape of ‘Fuck the left’ - a position that is aggressively manifest in their activism, which I have described at length and which Cutrone declined to comment on.

It is worth reading the full text (‘Nuanced history of the anti-Germans’: http://contested-terrain.net/nuanced-history-of-the-anti-germans) to get an idea of the thematic affinities between the ISF current and Platypus. Beside their reconsideration of liberalism as a precondition for progress and their Postonian allergy to any anti-capitalist activism, the anti-Germans consider bourgeois democracy to be the hallmark of ‘civilisation’ that distinguishes the west from intrinsically ‘fascist’ peoples such as the Arabs. One may well wonder: if these folks are part of the global left, then where do we draw the line - somewhere to the right of Anders Breivik? As evidenced by Platypus’s decision to publish texts from the ISF milieu, it is this “hard-core” current - not the early 90s tendency - that Cutrone wishes to “redeem somehow”.

Cutrone does not discriminate between ‘anti-imperialist’ apologia for reactionary Middle East regimes, on the one hand, and the principled anti-imperialism proposed by campaigns such as Hands Off the People of Iran, on the other. It is obvious that the opposition to imperialism bothers him more than the sugar-coating of tinpot dictators, which is why he wraps ‘imperialism’ in sniffy inverted commas. Progressive conclusions will not be drawn in “conversation” with the neocon warmongers that Platypus is bringing to the table.

Its policy of publishing ‘anti-German’ writings while blanking out the context appears like an attempt to make the best of a bad job - a way to create international space for the ‘anti-Germans’ where there previously wasn’t any. Superficially, the presentation of duplicitous Grigat con-jobs alongside a variety of left texts and well-meaning criticisms appears as a quasi-postmodern “dead left” curiosity exhibition, implying that everything is as valid as everything else. But I suspect there is a specific political project behind the disinterested appearance: namely that of advancing positions which deny the historical role of the working class.

In light of this, I am sceptical whether a point-by-point reply in The Platypus Review that “directly addresses concerns [arising from the Grigat article] with respect to Iran”, as requested by Cutrone, would be a very good idea. We have long argued that, in principle, it is not reprehensible to debate anyone, including fascists - but it is preferable if that does not happen on the opponent’s terms. Sometimes, the internet dictum, ‘Don’t feed the troll’, is the correct tactic.

Maciej Zurowski

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So what?

Dave Gannet points out that the government of Iran appears to be many years away from being able to make a viable nuclear weapon (Letters, October 4). Whilst this is an important point to make, it is also worth asking, so what? What if the Iranians did have a weaponised nuclear device and even a missile capable of delivering it?

In this, purely fictional, situation all that Iran would be able to do would be to bomb either Israel or a US ship in the Gulf. This would be to invite unilaterally assured destruction. Whilst the Iranian leadership may be barbaric, it does not appear to be clinically insane and actively willing its own physical destruction.

In short, the ‘issue’ of Iran’s nuclear weapon is revealed as a well-worn imperialist propaganda fairytale to justify intervention.

Ted Hankin

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By way of economising on the number of contributions I inflict on readers of the Weekly Worker, I will offer just one observation on Arthur Bough’s two most recent letters about the temporal single-system interpretation (TSSI)/rate of profit debate (Letters, September 20 and October 4).

I am impressed by Arthur’s stubborn defence of his position on Marx’s law of value - he maintains that Marx held this law to have operated across the whole of human history and to be the basis of all modes of production. However, in this case, stubbornness lacks the virtue of clarity - or of being right.

After all, Marx’s letter to Kugelmann - in which, to my mind, Marx clearly links the law of value to the emergence of commodity production - was a defence of his treatment of value in volume 1 of Capital. In the opening pages of that work Marx defines value as the unity of use-value and exchange-value. To conceive of value existing in the presence of use-values alone - as Arthur does - breaks with Marx’s dialectical understanding of value.

Arthur cites Marx’s discussion of Robinson Crusoe in Capital. If Arthur had read from the beginning of the same chapter, he would have come across an unambiguous statement: “The product of labour is an object of utility [ie, a use-value] in all states of society; but 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. It is only then that the product of labour becomes transformed into a commodity.”

And Arthur misreads Marx’s Critique of the Gotha programme in asserting that value will continue to exist after the overthrow of capitalism: “Within the collective society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion, but directly as a component part of the total labour.”

Nick Rogers

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Mosquito war

In response to Tony Greenstein on the isolation of the left, let’s say that, for now, there’s neither prospect of winning/smashing the state nor hope of some simple unity in one party (‘There’s no success like failure’, October 11). However, resistance and promotion of alternatives are still possible.

It is obvious to all that the capitalist state’s project is to destroy its welfare sector, even drawing on people’s distrustfulness of established institutions to do so. Eradicating the ‘welfare state’, though, risks a backlash from a network of welfare users (not only benefit claimants, but clients of education and health services) alongside public sector unions and even groups who challenge capitalist priorities from ‘outside’ cooperatives. It’s already happening in Spain and Greece.

This is also the time to work on associating left groups not only with this central struggle, but with freedom and cooperation, avoiding at all costs the splitting and censorious ‘lefty’ smirking, conservative caricature and popular fears.

We no longer need to pursue unity (which feels too much like authoritarianism), but we can establish connection, in a modular, united-front movement with no central hub, but one enemy: alienation of our lives and productiveness for debilitating profit. Not storming the centres, but everywhere (and with the use of the web) challenging and subverting capitalist and state imperatives: the war of the mosquito.

Mike Belbin

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Over, not under

In my article, ‘Crazy politics and class forces’, I wrote: “It is doubtful whether Ryan’s fulsome assurances that his plan will not affect those now under 55 ... will serve to allay suspicions that his attack on the most popular government programme since the New Deal is only the first step in a plan to do away with it altogether” (October 11).

I meant ‘over 55’. Why I wrote the opposite is a mystery to me. A sign of advancing age, perhaps?

Jim Creegan
New York

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