Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Letters to the Weekly Worker: On rape apologism and anti-Germanism

I extract these letters partly for another kick at the reactionary Stalinoid anti-imperialist trad-leftism of the likes of Julian Assange, George Galloway, Tony Greenstein, and co, who all turn out to have very reactionary positions on what was once known as The Woman Question. But more seriously, it might help us reflect about the triangulation between the "the left" (whatever that is and the principles of anti-imperialism and anti-fascism. 

I enjoyed this letter by Heather Downs in a recent Weekly Worker:
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
Medway
I also liked some of the points made by Chris Cutrone of Platypus in his response to the WW's attack on them for publishing anti-German texts. Here's an extract:
Platypus seeks to expose the less well known pathologies on the ‘left’ than the usual, banal and mealy-mouthed: for instance, the supposedly ‘anti-imperialist’ but ultimately politically unserious platitudes of Tariq Ali, George Galloway et al. The Antideutsche may be apparently less of a problem than the mainstream ‘left’ internationally, but that doesn’t mean something crucial can’t be learned from considering them. Certainly, it is not the case that theAntideutsche are more influential than the Socialist Workers Party or the US International Socialist Organization - or than Die Linke. That the Antideutsche appear to ‘cross a line’ more than others do is an artefact of ‘leftist’ doxa that we need to recognise and interrogate, precisely in serious consideration of the problems raised by them. 
What Maciej Zurowski (‘Not part of the left’, October 4) is confessing is a greater willingness to concede to problems of one kind (for example, Die Linke) rather than another. We in Platypus don’t think such selective concessions are justifiable or warranted in any way.
We think a future left cannot begin as a fringe - tail - on the existing prevalent dead ‘left’, but rather must take a much broader approach, not eclectic or reducible to claims of ‘unorthodox’ or ‘undogmatic’ sentiments, but rather be much more critically engaged - with all aspects of the problem of the current ‘death of the left’ that we face today. 
Platypus’s publication of the Antideutsche is meant to precisely put pressure on them at a global stage. We don’t expect them to achieve a greater hearing and political influence than they already do. We don’t fear giving a platform to anyone who claims to be on the ‘left’.
Furthermore, Zurowski’s contention that by publishing such articles at all Platypus tacitly concedes to them, for publishing “a strong polemic alongside a mildly critical reply, for instance, aims to leave the reader with the impression that the truth is to be found somewhere in the middle”. But the reply to the Antideutsche we have already published, Felix Baum’s characterisation of the Antideutsche as “German psycho”, is hardly ‘mild’ in its criticism.
The truth is not to be found “somewhere in the middle,” between avowedly “anti-fascist” and “anti-imperialist” perspectives, but rather in neither and both such perspectives. This is why it is important to include them all in considering the impasse the global ‘left’ has faced for more than a generation. None should be considered out of bounds for critical educational purposes. It is actually Zurowski’s argument that implies that one must navigate somewhere between twin dangers, whereas actually there is no escaping them, but only the possibility of transforming such politics. A future, reinvigorated left will need to incorporate and transcend the concerns of, for example, both the anti-fascist and anti-imperialist ‘lefts’ today, not choose sides or find some place ‘between’ them. 
For it is not simply the case that, as Zurowski puts it, “At its most elemental, the left opposes privilege, while the right defends it ... and eventually Platypus, too, will have to decide on which side of the class divide it stands.” The problems today are not so simple, especially as all tendencies on the ‘left’ in their weakness concede in important respects to the status quo. This is why Platypus exists: to address precisely that which the various existing tendencies on the pseudo-‘left’, including the Antideutsche, are blind to in their divided, blinkered condition, what they all have in common - the fact that the ‘left is dead’. 
This cannot be adjudicated, let alone overcome, by trying to determine on “which side of the class divide” various tendencies and organisations do or do not stand, which can apparently, according to Zurowski’s standards, change as quickly as a particular political position happens to be taken, showing how specious such criteria are for contributing to the actual building of a socialist politics that has any hope of really changing the world. Everyone on the present ‘left’ has long since adapted to the overwhelming power of the status quo, and none are really challenging it. 
‘Position-taking’ is virtual and gestural, not substantial. The stakes of the present ‘left’ are not very high, practically, but only have a (deleterious) effect ideologically. This is why no concessions at the level of the educational tasks can be afforded. No propaganda purposes of expediency can justify ignoring problems out of distaste. To simply wish away the Antideutsche as well as other problems on the ‘left’ is to concede to the reality that produced them.
Previously: Revolutionaries are easily distracted; The Morning Star and rape denialWe Are Not All Julian, and Julian is Not Pussy Riot.

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