There has been some debate following the Weekly Worker’s series of articles on feminism, including on Labour Representation Committee member Louise Whittle’s blog, Harpymarx. It’s regrettable that a lot of it has been conducted in a less than sober manner, with individuals ranging from the AWL-leaning Shiraz Socialist blogger to a leading member of North London Solidarity Federation opportunistically riding on the wave of thought-terminating hysteria. The latter person, to whom the CPGB apparently represents something like ‘rape denial apologists’ or ‘rape apology deniers’, quite happily engages in infantile Twitter “hate campaigns” against individuals, yet blocks people from his own feed when asked inconvenient questions or challenged to debate.
I responded to the anarchist nothingiseverlost‘s misrepresentations of the CPGB and its organiser, Mark Fischer, which he/she published in several comments below this article by Louise Whittle. Unfortunately, Louise is no longer approving my comments. Therefore, find below the follow-up reply I tried to leave last week.
Mark Fischer’s letter, which prompted this discussion, can be found under the heading ‘Bogey Bowler’ on this page.
Frankly, I do not believe that the AWL member in question had ample reason to feel “not safe” or contemplate calling for the security guards simply because a member of the SWP Disputes Committee happened to be somewhere in the same building. As Fischer himself wrote, “what did the AWLer think comrade Bowler’s presence portended?” I expect the AWL comrade attends protest marches despite the presence of police – arguably no less brutal and unaccountable than the most hardened SWP hack? Does she ever use public transport? Does she ever go out? Does she ever cross the road? Of course, I cannot be sure. But I think it’s safe to say that in view of the dangers that daily life poses to most people – without them being on the brink of tears at all times – Maxine Bowler’s rushing by poses a comparatively negligible threat.
So yes, this is utterly “irrational”, “brittle” and – running danger of insulting children – “childlike” behaviour, triggered not by the comrade’s gender, but the result of disempowering, infantilising, bureaucracy-aiding ‘safe spaces’ mongering, in this case opportunistically endorsed by the AWL (for reasons too long to go into here). Not only do I think you are doing women a disservice by refusing to acknowledge the ludicrousness of such behaviour, I also think you are being dishonest.
And yes, I do think that feminists – that’s feminists, not women – often have a tendency to positively endorse and perpetuate irrational conduct. This is symptomatic not of their gender (there are plenty of zealous male feminists in and outside of the left), but of a particular political culture – one that has effectively replaced critical thinking with outrage and moral one-upmanship. It is not exclusive to feminism, although it’s particularly pronounced there. But in case you think we attribute terms such as “hysteric” or “screeching” exclusively to (female) feminists, be assured that we have framed our criticisms of the SWP’s brand of anti-fascism, for instance, in precisely the same terms.
It can be a real problem debating feminists because, as Demarty correctly observed in his earlier comment, they tend to elevate feminism to the status of a faith that is beyond criticism and must be adopted unquestioningly – as if the umbrella term for several overwhelmingly non-revolutionary trends of thought somehow had a monopoly over the women’s question (no Holy Programme here, just a Holy Hodgepodge of half-remembered fragments of post-Stalinist and left liberal concepts, see also the latest article by Mike Macnair –“dry as dust” by your standards, but informative).
This feeds into what I have described earlier: if you criticise feminism in any shape or form, you are a “sexist”. If you point out that this logic does not follow, you are a sexist because you are “calling women irrational”. If you try to explain what you meant, you are “patronising to women”. If you stop explaining, you are “arrogant”. If you appeal to calm, constructive debate instead of shouting insults, you are a “man telling a woman to shut up”. And so forth. It’s a no-win situation that makes me wonder whether there exists a feminist manual for how to terminate debate. It’s not that I’m particularly heartbroken over this, but it does make it so much more difficult for either side to arrive at any new conclusions.
In reply to your question whether I would have a problem with individual Jews being described as “money-grabbing” and such depends entirely on the context and whether it’s clear enough that such a description is not intended as racist innuendo. For instance, if you referred to Gene Simmons of Kiss as a cynical, money-grabbing businessman who doesn’t give two shits about art, I don’t think I would suspect underlying anti-Semitism.
Fischer made clear enough – and in more ways than one – that this was not intended as a swipe at supposedly “female” characteristics. He went out of his way to emphasise the connection to a particular kind of politics. You’re quite free to argue that he did not actually mean what he wrote, and that it’s more important to consider whatever can be read into a couple of expressions he used. But then we’re entering the 1990s ‘war of the words’/political correctness/language debate of postmodern academia, which is of little interest to me politically.
I concede that the term feminism is used in a variety of ways today (which is why clarification of its ideas is particularly important). To some, ‘feminism’ is shorthand for a special commitment to achieve gender equality as far as possible under present circumstances, including on the left. I have no problem with that, though this lower-case feminism often reiterates tactics of feminism proper, none of which I find particularly desirable (e.g. ‘safe spaces’ campaigns, autonomous organising of the specially oppressed). In my view, we are better off dropping the core assumptions of second-wave feminism and developing the women’s question in Marxist terms.
As I mentioned in this readers’ letter to the Weekly Worker, this does not mean that one cannot draw on any insights from the women’s movement – though for a fruitful exchange of ideas to take place, feminists would have to stop shielding feminism from criticism.