The case of “Comrade Daniel”

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What follows is an account written by the person described by the Steering Committee in Preconvention Bulletin 19 as “a member of a different socialist organization…extremely hostile to the ISO.” This individual, who has asked to remain anonymous, is close friends with the woman who accused “Comrade Daniel” of attempted rape. In the following, the author disputes some elements of the account presented in PCB 19, or at least what he feels are some glaring omissions. Slight grammatical edits have been made, but have been reviewed and accepted by the author as conveying its original substance unchanged.

My only editorial comment is that what is at issue here is not whether the alleged incident mentioned at the outset actually occurred. This may seem a provocative position to take to some, but I do not think anyone reading this is in a position to weigh in on the guilt or innocence of “Comrade Daniel,” especially as no details of the event in question appear. (Indeed, the accuser prefers that such details be withheld). What is at issue, however, is the International Socialist Organization’s response to these allegations. Or, more accurately, its lack of a response. As the author of the following makes clear, cases like this are hardly exclusive to the ISO.
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We were out drinking with a friend when she started telling myself and two other friends that she was having some problems with her boyfriend. She shared her story, and while Document 19 takes great pains to inform the reader that the majority of the [city name redacted] branch and at least some members in national leadership think that while it was obviously a violation of consent, it didn’t amount to attempted rape. However, I’m confident that if the reader was aware of what happened they would characterize it correctly.

I would also hope that the reader is understanding with the position I’m placed in as someone who is outside of the ISO, knows the story, and yet didn’t have the event happen to them, making me unwilling to share it with the world. Because of the leak of Document 19 however, I have decided that I will share my side of what happened, especially as the Document saw fit to mention me, and generally obscured the matter more than it revealed.

Anyway, she said she wanted the ISO to know what happened since the perpetrator was elected leadership in the branch and was carrying himself as a strong anti-sexist. That’s how their relationship started and she was worried he would use that as a predatory tool. We discussed it and decided the first thing to do would be to have the woman who was with us talk to a female friend in the branch. We figured that would lead to a report to leadership, as she was part of the leadership herself, there’d be some form of disciplinary hearing, and the perpetrator would be expelled.

Unfortunately that didn’t go as planned. The ISO member we informed, herself a longtime friend of the perpetrator, said that it didn’t amount to attempted rape — because “if he really wanted to, he would have” — and she refused to report it. I was stunned when I heard her say this, but the woman who spoke to her said while she was disappointed as well, she had actually expected that response. As a former member of the ISO herself, she said that complaints with the party, political or personal in nature, are usually viewed with hostility due to the party’s siege mentality.

Some time later, maybe a little under a year, someone on my Facebook feed shared a new article written by the perpetrator [later dubbed “Comrade Daniel”] in Socialist Worker about the importance for men to stand with women against sexism. At the time the SWP-UK thing was still pretty fresh, but out for long enough that everyone who was curious about it could look it up and see what had happened. The Left in general seemed to be more on edge and vigilant about this sort of thing.

But as far as I was concerned, the victim’s worst fears were coming true before my very eyes. The perpetrator was continuing to build a reputation for his anti-sexism work. Furious, I reposted the article, adding that its author liked to prey on women. Continue reading

Marxism and class, gender, and race: Rethinking the trilogy

Martha Gimenez
Race, Gender, Class
Vol. 8, № 2 (2001)

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Photo: 
Young Uzbek woman from Tashkent holding up her Komsomol membership card, 1927.

Dr. Martha E. Gimenez is an Argentinian Marxist-feminist theorist and retired Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she was instrumental in the creation of the Women’s Studies Program. She studied Law and sociology at the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, receiving her Ph.D. from UCLA in 1973. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on Marxist Feminist Theory, the political economy of population, U.S. politics of racial/ethnic construction, and problems of democratization in the global economy. Gimenez is the founding editor of PSN — the Progressive Sociologists Network, PPN — the Progressive Population Network, and together with Chrys Ingraham and Rosemary Hennessy, founded MATFEM — Materialist Feminism, and together with Malgosia Askanas and Carrol Cox, moderates M-Fem — Marxist-feminism. In her work, Martha E. Gimenez has sought to use Marx’s methodology and theoretical framework for understanding the oppression of women under the capitalist mode of production. Her work aims to demonstrate the continuing relevance of Marx and Marxist theory for feminist theorizing and feminist politics.
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Introduction

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A taken for granted feature of most social science publications today, especially those about inequality, is the ritual critique of Marx and Marxism in the process of introducing theoretical alternatives intended to remedy its alleged “failures.” This practice became popular in early feminist literature: Marx and Marxists were criticized for not developing an in-depth analysis of the oppression of women, their “economism,” “class reductionism,” and “sex blind” categories of analysis. Soon after it became common place to assert that Marxism was also at fault for neglecting race, demography, ethnicity, the environment and practically everything that mattered to the “new social movements” in the West. As the movements died, scholarship informed by those political concerns flourished; the energy that might have been spent in the public arena found expression in academic programs (e.g., women’s studies, racial/ethnic studies) and efforts to increase “diversity” in the curriculum and the population of educational institutions.

Publication of the journal Race, Sex, & Class (changed afterwards to Race, Gender, & Class), in 1993, signaled the convergence of those political and intellectual interests into a new social science perspective that soon acquired enormous visibility, as demonstrated by the proliferation of journal articles and books with race, gender and class in their titles. This perspective, put forth primarily but not exclusively by social scientists of color, emerged as a reaction to feminist theories which neglected racial/ethnic and class differences among women, theories of racial/ethnic inequality which neglected sexism among men of color and, predictably, as a corrective to Marxism’s alleged shortcomings. For example, Jean Belkhir, editor and founder of Race, Sex, & Class, prefaces an article on this topic as follows: “The ‘failure’ of Marxism to develop adequate tools and a comprehensive theory of ethnicity, gender, and class issues is undisputable” (Belkhir, 1994: 79). The list of putative “failures” could be as long as we wanted it to be but what would that prove, beyond the fact that Marx’s and Engels’ political and theoretical priorities differed from those of contemporary social scientists? Less biased, albeit debatable, is the conclusion that Marxism, although offering “crucial and unparalleled insights” into the operation of capitalism, “needs to develop the analytical tools to investigate the study of racism, sexism and classism” (Belkhir, 1994: 79). To refer to class as “classism” is, from the standpoint of Marxist theory, “a deeply misleading formulation” (Eagleton, 1996: 57; see also Kandal, 1995: 143) because class is not simply another ideology legitimating oppression; it denotes exploitative relations between people mediated by their relations to the means of production. Nevertheless, it is the case that neither Marx nor Engels devoted the intensity of effort to the investigation of gender and race (and other issues) that would have satisfied today’s critics. It is (and any literature review would support this point) far easier to emphasize their “sins” of omission and — in light of current political sensibilities — commission, than it is to use their theoretical and methodological contributions to theorize and investigate those aspects of capitalist social formations that today concern us. Notable exceptions are Berberoglu (1994), who has examined the underlying class forces leading to gender and racial divisions in the U.S. working class, linking gender and racial oppression to capital accumulation, and Kandal (1995), who has forcefully argued for the need to avoid the racialization and feminization of social conflicts while minimizing or overlooking the significance of class.

In this essay, I intend to argue that Marxism does contain the analytical tools necessary to theorize and deepen our understanding of class, gender, and race. I intend critically to examine, from the standpoint of Marxist theory, the arguments for race, gender, and class studies offered by some of their main proponents, assessing their strengths and limitations and demonstrating, in the process, that Marxism is theoretically and politically necessary if the study of class, gender, and race is to achieve more than the endless documentation of variations in their relative salience and combined effects in very specific contexts and experiences.
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Race, gender, and class as part of a social science perspective

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Long before the popularization of the race, gender, & class (RGC) perspective, I suspect that most Marxist sociologists teaching social stratification were already adept practitioners. For many years, for example, the Section on Marxist sociology of the American Sociological Association included in its annual program a session on Class, Gender, and Race. I certainly called my students’ attention, in twenty nine years of teaching social stratification and other subjects in which inequality matters, to the fact that everybody’s lives are affected by class, gender, and race/ethnic structures (in addition to age and other sources of inequality). We are, in Marx’s terms, “an ensemble of social relations” (Marx, 1994: 100, emphasis added), and we live our lives at the core of the intersection of a number of unequal social relations based on hierarchically interrelated structures which, together, define the historical specificity of the capitalist modes of production and reproduction and underlay their observable manifestations. I also routinely called students’ attention to the problems inherent in the widespread practice of assuming the existence of common interests, ideologies, politics, and experiences based on gender, race, and ethnicity because class location, and socioeconomic status differences within classes, divide those population aggregates into classes and strata with contradictory and conflicting interests. In turn, aggregates sharing the same class location, or similar socioeconomic characteristics within a class, are themselves divided by gender, race, and ethnicity so that it is problematic to assume that they might spontaneously coalesce into class or status self-conscious, organized groups. This is why, in the late sixties and early 1970s, I was critical of feminist theories which ignored class, racial and ethnic divisions among women and men, and theories of patriarchy that ignored how most men under capitalism are relatively powerless (Gimenez, 1975). Later on, I published a critical assessment of the “feminization of poverty” thesis because it was not sensitive to the effects of class, socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic divisions among men and women; it neglected the connections between the poverty of women and the poverty of men and overlooked the significance of this thesis as a powerful indicator of the immiseration of the lower strata within the U.S. working class (Gimenez, 1990).

I am aware, however, that most sociologists do not take Marxism seriously and that theorists of gender and racial oppression have been, on the whole, hostile to Marxism’s alleged reductionisms. More importantly, this is a country where class is not part of the common sense understanding of the world and remains conspicuously absent from the vocabulary of politicians and most mass media pundits. Continue reading

The oppression ouroboros: Intersectionality eats itself

Jason Walsh
Economia
1.25.2014
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Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

— Macbeth, Act V, Scene V

For those of you lucky enough to live the real world, which is to say having no connection to academia, the Left, or Twitter, what follows may seem obscure to the point of being obtuse. Sadly it is neither.

Richard Seymour, a former junior intellectual in the Socialist Workers’ Party turned majordomo of the International Socialist Network, has been censured by his own organization. His crime? Defending “race play,” a form of racialized and sadistic sexual role playing. That he would even mount such a defense, according to his fellow intersectionalists, means Mr Seymour is racist. Anyone who pays attention to such things cannot but find it darkly comic. Mr Seymour himself has shown little mercy in the past, denouncing many of his opponents as beyond the pale. As the intersectionalists themselves might well say: “Wow. Such schadenfreude. Very gloating.” But the anathematizing of one ex-Marxist is just one short chapter in the development of an ideology so toxic that it threatens to drive a wedge into mainstream political discourse.

Intersectionality, devised in the late 1980s by UCLA law scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, is a theory of justice that’s been embraced by the radical left since the 2008 financial crisis. Though initially the theory was mostly influential in post-Apartheid South Africa, intersectionality proposes, modestly enough, that disadvantage — which its proponents call oppression — comes in many forms, forms that intersect with one another, not only compounding each other but dividing the interests of the oppressed. So, a black woman may be oppressed by white feminists, a black feminist herself may be oppressing gay women and all of them may be oppressing transsexual women. Since then it has taken up residence in university departments, particularly though far from exclusively, in the United States. Popular in social science and cultural studies, it has spread to disciplines as seemingly unrelated as literature, and, of course, is rapidly becoming dominant in gender studies.

So far, so what? Well, were this simply another academic fashion or cranky far left displacement activity it wouldn’t matter a jot. Its importance lies in the fact that not only does it specialize in the application of guilt and silencing through deploying epithets such as racist, misogynist, and homophobe, thus going some way toward making sincere debate impossible, but also because it fits so perfectly, not into radical politics, but into US-style social liberalism.

There are a number of factors that differentiate intersectionality from previous far left identity politics, such as the radical feminism of the 1970s or Eurocommunism of the 1980s. For a start the liberals, for want of a better word, got there first. Leaving aside the Gramsciite/Eurocommunist (in the UK) and New Left (in the US) antecedents of the theory, the core of intersectionality isn’t much more than multicultural babble, arranging pyramids of oppression, complaining of privilege, and clamoring for “recognition.” It’s for this very reason that it took off so rapidly: liberal-minded people were already receptive to the core idea. It thrives in academia for similar reasons: the dominance of “theory,” particularly postcolonial, critical, and Gramsciite, et al, and the thoroughgoing destruction of truth performed by the now passé postmodernists (who seem mild by comparison). Intersectionality is the tyranny of good intentions, bent badly out of shape. Continue reading

First as tragedy, then as farce…then as low-budget bondage porn

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Richard Seymour, China Mieville, and Magpie Corven have, along with several others, resigned from the fledgling International Socialist Network following an internet row over interracial lesbian bondage porn and its ideological implications. (Not kidding. You can read about the original incident here and the ISN Steering Committee’s official response here). Jara Handala alerted me to this development by linking me to the online document they published on Dropbox; thanks for that.

The toxicity of these witch-hunts and irresponsible accusations probably requires no further explanation or commentary by me. But hey, I’ll say a couple words about it anyway.

First, while I’m hardly sympathetic to Seymour as an intellectual or political figure, I hold no sympathies for the International Socialist Network either. As far as I can tell, they are little more than Cliffite Trots who’ve lately supplemented this old-fashioned, weak-tea brand of revolutionary socialism with vogue theories of “intersectionality.” Probably to compensate for the culture of institutionalized sexism that characterized the British Socialist Workers Party following its scandalous coverup of rape allegations about a year ago.

Second, in this particular instance I actually find Seymour and Magpie to be far less ridiculous than their accusers. Granted, Seymour’s a stubborn and arrogant prick — but hey, aren’t we all? Like I said a couple posts ago, there’s part of me that feels like his fall from grace (within International Socialist circles, at least) is a kind of comeuppance, that he somehow deserved to be pilloried and lambasted the way he was because he’d used similar logic to anathematize others. But another part of me felt genuinely sorry for the guy. It’s sad enough that the Left has degenerated to such a pitiful state, where it squabbles over such piddly crap. Did Seymour and co. really need to have their reputations ruined on account of it, though? Tarred as perverts and racists? I don’t think so.

Ad hominem arguments and insinuation cannot stand in for rational, ruthlessly critical discourse and debate. Without tedious moralization and thought-taboos. Seymour can and should be challenged at the level of his ideas and actions, but not on the basis of this nonsense. Below is the letter of resignation they released a few hours ago.

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Resignation from the ISN

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To the Steering Committee (SC) and our comrades in the International Socialist Network (ISN):

With great regrets, we are resigning from the ISNetwork. Many of us were involved in the setting up of the network, and we are very sad that it has come to this. We remain in full solidarity with ISN comrades, and look forward to working with them on campaigns.

Despite the repeated characterization of us as a “right bloc,” we do not represent any unified political position beyond our concerns about both the political direction and internal culture of the ISNetwork. It has been clear for some time that our critiques put us in a minority: contrary to a common smear, we have always been willing to argue from this position, and welcomed this political debate. However, there has been an increasing breakdown of trust between us and various leading members of the organization. It is now clear that we are not welcome in the ISN. Continue reading

Live by intersectionality, die by intersectionality

Fall of the House of Seymour

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From that chamber, and from that Vampire’s Castle, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast château and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened — there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind — the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight — my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder — there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters — and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Seymour.”

It’s hard not to entertain a certain amount of Schadenfreude watching the feeding-frenzy that took place on Facebook today. A swarm of piranha descended upon an unsuspecting individual, eating him alive. The victim: Verso posterboy and now ISN booster Richard Seymour, alias “Lenin” (from his blogging handle at Lenin’s Tomb). His devourers: virtually the entire ISN Steering Committee.

Richard Seymour speaks at the London School of Economics

Richard Seymour speaks at the London School of Economics

Rebranding Richard Seymour

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Everything had been going pretty smoothly in Seymour’s post-SWP career up to that point. No major obstacles appeared to stand in his way. By all accounts, he was reinventing himself at a remarkable rate, shedding his outdated Marxist allegiances in favor of the latest theories of Butler and Foucault.

Then out of nowhere, three separate comrades messaged me almost simultaneously to let me know there was a storm brewing on the horizon. “On Tim Nelson’s Facebook page,” one of them told me, “the whole of the ISN Steering Committee has turned on Richard Seymour, denouncing him as some sort of racist mansplaining pervert.” Continue reading

“Safe” spaces

Making the world “safe”
for continued capitalism

Introduction

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Left Unity, making the world “safe” for the perpetuation of capitalist social relations without serious political opposition.

Policies like these seem to me the rhetorical equivalent of a panic room, a ridiculously oversecure place where small groups of people go to hide from the “evils” of society that lurk somewhere outside. As in a panic room, there are all sorts of procedures, protocols, and safeguards meant to ensure that the security perimeter is not breached.

Unfortunately, these problems originate in the world at large, and cannot be dealt with at the level of “rules of conduct” for bureaucratic enclaves supposedly resisting capitalism. This article by Paul Demarty on Left Unity’s recent “safe spaces” initiative originally appeared on the CPGB’s Weekly Worker website.

Safe spaces

Paul Demarty

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There was once an exchange on an internet discussion list run by the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), a left student front associated with the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

During a particularly hot-headed intervention, a comrade made mention of the word “cunt” to describe an allegedly disreputable individual. Inevitably, a sea of complaints came forth. A feminist angrily denounced the allegedly sexist use of the word “cunt”; after all, a vagina is a beautiful thing, which should not be degraded by comparisons with an individual all were agreed was a bad egg.

Immediately, a trans woman took to her keyboard to decry the implicit association of womanhood with the possession of the full, double-X chromosome plumbing. Finally, the original poster argued that censoring the word “cunt” was oppressive to those from Scotland, where, apparently, it means something different (not that different, I suspect). Continue reading