Saturday, November 22, 2014

From The Massachusetts Citizens Against The Death Penalty Website

Click below to link to the Massachusetts Citizens Against The Death Penalty website.

Markin comment:
I have been an opponent of the death penalty for as long as I have been a political person, a long time. While I do not generally agree with the thrust of the Massachusetts Citizens Against The Death Penalty Committee’s strategy for eliminating the death penalty nation-wide almost solely through legislative and judicial means (think about the 2011 Troy Davis case down in Georgia for a practical example of the limits of that strategy) I am always willing to work with them when specific situations come up. In any case they have a long pedigree extending, one way or the other, back to Sacco and Vanzetti and that is always important to remember whatever our political differences.

Here is another way to deal with both the question of the death penalty and of political prisoners from an old time socialist perspective taken from a book review of  James P. Cannon's Notebooks Of An Agitator:

I note here that among socialists, particularly the non-Stalinist socialists of those days, there was controversy on what to do and, more importantly, what forces socialists should support. If you want to find a more profound response initiated by revolutionary socialists to the social and labor problems of those days than is evident in today’s leftist responses to such issues Cannon’s writings here will assist you. I draw your attention to the early part of the book when Cannon led the Communist-initiated International Labor Defense (ILD), most famously around the fight to save the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti here in Massachusetts. That campaign put the Communist Party on the map for many workers and others unfamiliar with the party’s work. For my perspective the early class-war prisoner defense work was exemplary.

The issue of class-war prisoners is one that is close to my heart. I support the work of the Partisan Defense Committee, Box 99 Canal Street Station, New York, N.Y 10013, an organization which traces its roots and policy to Cannon’s ILD. That policy is based on an old labor slogan- ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ therefore I would like to write a few words here on Cannon’s conception of the nature of the work. As noted above, Cannon (along with Max Shachtman and Martin Abern and Cannon’s long time companion Rose Karsner who would later be expelled from American Communist Party for Trotskyism with him and who helped him form what would eventually become the Socialist Workers Party) was assigned by the party in 1925 to set up the American section of the International Red Aid known here as the International Labor Defense.

It is important to note here that Cannon’s selection as leader of the ILD was insisted on by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) because of his pre-war association with that organization and with the prodding of “Big Bill’ Haywood, the famous labor organizer exiled in Moscow. Since many of the militants still languishing in prison were anarchists or syndicalists the selection of Cannon was important. The ILD’s most famous early case was that of the heroic anarchist workers, Sacco and Vanzetti. The lessons learned in that campaign show the way forward in class-war prisoner defense.

I believe that it was Trotsky who noted that, except in the immediate pre-revolutionary and revolutionary periods, the tasks of militants revolve around the struggle to win democratic and other partial demands. The case of class-war legal defense falls in that category with the added impetus of getting the prisoners back into the class struggle as quickly as possible. The task then is to get them out of prison by mass action for their release. Without going into the details of the Sacco and Vanzetti case the two workers had been awaiting execution for a number of years and had been languishing in jail. As is the nature of death penalty cases various appeals on various grounds were tried and failed and they were then in imminent danger of execution.

Other forces outside the labor movement were also interested in the Sacco and Vanzetti case based on obtaining clemency, reduction of their sentences to life imprisonment or a new trial. The ILD’s position was to try to win their release by mass action- demonstrations, strikes and other forms of mass mobilization. This strategy obviously also included, in a subordinate position, any legal strategies that might be helpful to win their freedom. In this effort the stated goal of the organization was to organize non-sectarian class defense but also not to rely on the legal system alone portraying it as a simple miscarriage of justice. The organization publicized the case worldwide, held conferences, demonstrations and strikes on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti. Although the campaign was not successful and the pair were executed in 1927 it stands as a model for class war prisoner defense. Needless to say, the names Sacco and Vanzetti continue to be honored to this day wherever militants fight against this system.

Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears."

last lines from The Lonseome Death Of Hattie Carroll, another case of an injustice against black people. - Bob Dylan
, 1963

Markin comment (posted September 22, 2011):

Look, after almost half a century of fighting every kind of progressive political struggle I have no Pollyanna-ish notion that in our fight for a “newer world” most of the time we are “tilting at windmills.” Even a cursory look at the history of our struggles brings that hard fact home. However some defeats in the class struggle, particularly the struggle to abolish the barbaric, racist death penalty in the United States, hit home harder than others. For some time now the fight to stop the execution of Troy Davis has galvanized this abolition movement into action. His callous execution by the State of Georgia, despite an international mobilization to stop the execution and grant him freedom, is such a defeat.

On the question of the death penalty, moreover, we do not grant the state the right to judicially murder the innocent or the guilty. But clearly Brother Davis was innocent. We will also not forget that hard fact. And we will not forget Brother Davis’ dignity and demeanor as he faced what he knew was a deck stacked against him. And, most importantly, we will not forgot to honor Brother Davis the best way we can by redoubling our efforts to abolition the racist, barbaric death penalty everywhere, for all time. Forward.

Additional Markin comment posted September 23, 2011:

No question the execution on September 21, 2011 by the State of Georgia of Troy Anthony Davis hit me, and not me alone, hard. For just a brief moment that night, when he was granted a temporary stay pending a last minute appeal before the United States Supreme Court just minutes before his 7:00PM execution, I thought that we might have achieved a thimbleful of justice in this wicked old world. But it was not to be and so we battle on. Troy Davis shall now be honored in our pantheon along with the Haymarket Martyrs, Sacco and Vanzetti, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and others. While Brother Davis may have not been a hard politico like the others just mentioned his fight to abolish the death penalty for himself and for future Troys places him in that company. Honor Troy Davis- Fight To The Finish Against The Barbaric Racist Death Penalty!


Birthday Vigil for Chelsea Manning

November 17, 2014 by Chelsea Manning Support Network

On Chelsea Manning’s 27th birthday, this December 17th 2014, the Payday Men’s Network and Queer Strike are organizing vigils in her honor. Currently, actions are planned for London, San Francisco, Berlin, and Philadelphia.

Supporters are encouraged to also organize an event in their area, and Payday Men’s Network and Queer Strike will publicize it.  Write to for more information and to share details of your event.

London vigil details:

2:30-4:00 PM Tuesday, December 17
On the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields
Trafalgar Square, WC2N 4JJ Charing Cross

(St. Martin’s request that vigils on the steps are silent)
Details on other locations TBA – Check back for more info.

From Payday Men’s Network & Queer Strike on the vigils:
Imprisoned in 2010 and held for months under torturous conditions, Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in August 2013. If this stands, she’ll be out in 2045. We cannot let this happen

Amnesty Intl interviews Chelsea

November 18, 2014 by the Chelsea Manning Support Network
An interview with Chelsea Manning is the cover story of leading human rights organization Amnesty International’s Nov/Dec magazine, WIRE. The interview, titled, “Why Speaking Out Is Worth the Risk“, touches on why exposing the truth can be worth the often harsh consequences that whistle-blowers face.  For Wikileaks whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, she thought “do [I] really want to find [my]self asking whether [I] could have done more 10-20 years later?”. Read the full interview below, or click here.
“Why Speaking Out is Worth the Risk”
WIRE, Amnesty International, Nov-Dec 2014

Why did you decide to leak documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

These documents were important because they relate to two connected counter-insurgency conflicts in real-time from the ground. Humanity has never had a record this complete and detailed of what modern warfare actually looks like. Once you realize that the co-ordinates represent a real place where people live; that the dates happened in our recent history; that the numbers are actually human lives- with all the love, hope, dreams, hatred, fear and nightmares that come with them- then it’s difficult to ever forget how important these documents are.
What did you think the consequences might be for you personally?
In 2010, I was a lot younger.  The consequences felt very vague, I expected the worst possible outcome, but I didn’t have a strong sense of what that might entail. But I expected to be demonized and have every moment of my life examined and analyzed for every single possible screw-up that I’ve ever made- every flaw and blemish- and to have them used against me in the court of public opinion, I was especially afraid that my gender identity would be used against me.
What was it like to feel the full force of the US justice system and be presented as a traitor?
It was particularly interesting to see the logistics involved in the prosecution: the stacks of money spent; the gallons of fuel burned; the reams of paper printed; the lengthy rolls of security personnel, lawyers and experts- it felt silly at times. It felt especially silly being presented as a traitor by the officers who prosecuted my case. I saw them out of court at least 100 days before and during the trial and developed a very good sense of who they were as people. I’m fairly certain that they got a good sense of who I am as a person too.  I remain convinced that even the advocates that presented the treason arguments did not believe their own words as they spoke them.
Many people think of you as a whistleblower. Why are whistleblowers important?
In an ideal world, governments, corporations, and other large institutions would be transparent by default. Unfortunately, the world is not ideal. Many institutions begin a slow creep toward being opaque and we need people who recognize that. I think the term “whistleblower” has an overwhelmingly negative connotation in government and business, akin to “tattle-tale” or “snitch”. This needs to be addressed somehow. Very often policies that supposedly protect such people are actually used to discredit them.
What would you say to somebody who is afraid to speak out against injustice?
First, I would point out that life is precious. in Iraq in 2009-10, life felt cheap. It became overwhelming to see the sheer number of people suffering and dying, and the learned indifference to it by everybody around me, including the Iraqis themselves. That really changed my perspective on my life, and made me realize that speaking out about injustices is worth the risk. Second, in your life, you are rarely given the chance to make a difference.  Every now and then you do come across a significant choice. Do you really want to find yourself asking whether you could have done more, 10-20 years later? These are the kind of questions I didn’t want to haunt me.
Why did you choose this particular artwork to represent you?
It’s the closest representation of what I might look like if I was allowed to present and express myself the way I see fit. Even after I came out as a trans woman in 2013, I have not been able to express myself as a woman in public. So I worked with Alicia Neal, an artist in California, to sketch a realistic portrait that more accurately represents who I am. Unfortunately, with the current rules at military confinement facilities, it is very unlikely that I will have any photos taken until I am released- which, parole and clemency notwithstanding, might not be for another two decades.

Please help us fight the legal and political battle to free Chelsea, not only for her sake, but for all those she’s helped, and all whistleblowers endangered by her unjust conviction.

Please donate today!

Standing Against Imperialist Aggression...From The Marxist Archives

Workers Vanguard No. 1056

14 November 2014
Standing Against Imperialist Aggression
(Quote of the Week)
Military setbacks for the imperialist powers, whether governed by fascist or democratic regimes, are in the interests of the world’s working class and oppressed. When Mussolini’s Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Leon Trotsky condemned James Maxton and other leaders of the British Independent Labour Party who had adopted a neutral attitude to the conflict on the grounds that both sides were despotic. While Ethiopia under the Negus (emperor) Haile Selassie was a cruelly oppressive society—one of the world’s last bastions of chattel slavery—revolutionary Marxists sided with that country against Italy because the latter was imperialist.
Maxton and the others opine that the Italo-Ethiopian war is “a conflict between two rival dictators.” To these politicians it appears that this fact relieves the proletariat of the duty of making a choice between two dictators. They thus define the character of the war by the political form of the state, in the course of which they themselves regard this political form in a quite superficial and purely descriptive manner, without taking into consideration the social foundations of both “dictatorships.”

A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history; for example, Oliver Cromwell, Robespierre, etc. On the other hand, right in the midst of the English democracy Lloyd George exercised a highly reactionary dictatorship during the war. Should a dictator place himself at the head of the next uprising of the Indian people in order to smash the British yoke—would Maxton then refuse this dictator his support? Yes or no? If not, why does he refuse his support to the Ethiopian “dictator” who is attempting to cast off the Italian yoke?
If Mussolini triumphs, it means the reinforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism, and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of the Negus, however, would mean a mightly blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this.

—Leon Trotsky, “On Dictators and the Heights of Oslo” (April 1936)
Here is the full text

Leon Trotsky

On Dictators and
the Heights Of Oslo

A Letter to an English Comrade

(April 1936)

Written: April 22, 1936.
First Published: New International [New York],
Vol.3 No.3, June 1936.
Translated: New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the
GNU Free Documentation License.

Dear Comrade:
It is with great astonishment that I read the report of the conference of the Independent Labour Party in the New Leader of April 17, 1936. I really never entertained any illusions about the Pacifist Parliamentarians who run the ILP. But their political position and their whole conduct at the conference exceed even those bounds that can usually be expected of them. I am sure that you and your friends have drawn approximately the same conclusions as we have here. Nevertheless, I cannot refrain from making several observations.
1. Maxton and the others opine that the Italo-Ethiopian war is “a conflict between two rival dictators.” To these politicians it appears that this fact relieves the proletariat of the duty of making a choice between two dictators. They thus define the character of the war by the political form of the state, in the course of which they themselves regard this political form in a quite superficial and purely descriptive manner, without taking into consideration the social foundations of both “dictatorships.” A dictator can also play a very progressive role in history; for example, Oliver Cromwell, Robespierre, etc. On the other hand, right in the midst of the English democracy Lloyd George exercised a highly reactionary dictatorship during the war. Should a dictator place himself at the head of the next uprising of the Indian people in order to smash the British yoke – would Maxton then refuse this dictator his support? Yes or no? If not, why does he refuse his support to the Ethiopian “dictator” who is attempting to cast off the Italian yoke?
If Mussolini triumphs, it means the reinforcement of fascism, the strengthening of imperialism, and the discouragement of the colonial peoples in Africa and elsewhere. The victory of the Negus, however, would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious forces of the oppressed peoples. One must really be completely blind not to see this.
2. McGovern puts the “poor little Ethiopia” of 1935 on the same level with the “poor little Belgium” of 1914; in both cases it means support of war. Well, “poor little Belgium” has ten million slaves in Africa, whereas the Ethiopian people are fighting in order not to be the slaves of Italy. Belgium was and remains a link of the European imperialist chain. Ethiopia is only a victim of imperialist appetites. Putting the two cases on the same plane is the sheerest nonsense.
On the other hand, to take up the defence of Ethiopia against Italy in no way means to encourage British imperialism to make war. At one time this is just what was very well demonstrated in several articles in the New Leader. McGovern’s conclusion that it should have been the ILP’s task “to stand aside from quarrels between dictators,” is an exemplary model of the spiritual and moral impotence of pacifism.
3. The most shameful thing of all, however, only comes after the voting. After the conference had rejected the scandalous pacifist quackery by a vote of 70 to 57, the tender pacifist Maxton put the revolver of an ultimatum at the breast of the conference and forced a new decision by a vote of 93 to 39. So we see that there are dictators not only in Rome and in Addis Ababa, but also in London. And of the three dictators, I consider most harmful the one who grabs his own party by the throat in the name of his parliamentary prestige and his pacifist confusion. A party that tolerates such conduct is not a revolutionary party; for if it surrenders (or “postpones”) its principled position on a highly important and topical question because of threats of resignation made by Maxton, then at the decisive moment it will never withstand the immeasurably mightier pressure of the bourgeoisie.
4. By an overwhelming majority, the conference forbade the existence of groups inside the party. Good! But in whose name did Maxton put an ultimatum to the conference? In the name of the parliamentary group which regards the party machine as its private property and which actually represents the only faction that should have been sharply beaten into respect for the democratic decisions of the party. A party which dissolves the oppositional groups but lets the ruling clique do as it jolly well pleases is not a revolutionary party. It will not be able to lead the Proletariat to victory.
5. Fenner Brockway’s position on this question is a highly instructive example of the political and moral insufficiency of centrism. Fenner Brockway was lucky enough to adopt a correct point of view on an important question, a view that coincides with ours. The difference lies in this, however, that we Marxists really mean the thing seriously. To Fenner Brockway, on the other hand, it is a matter of something “incidental.” He believes it is better for the British workers to have Maxton as chairman with a false point of view than to have a correct point of view without Maxton. That is the fate of centrism – to consider the incidental thing serious and the serious thing incidental. That’s why centrism should never be taken seriously.
6. On the question of the International, the old confusion was once more approved, despite the obvious bankruptcy of the previous perspective. In any case, nothing more is said about an “invitation” from the Third International. But the centrist doesn’t take anything seriously. Even when he now admits that there is no longer a proletarian International, he nevertheless hesitates to build one up. Why? Because he has no principles.
Because he can’t have any. For if he but once makes the sober attempt to adopt a principled position on only one important question, he promptly receives an ultimatum from the right and starts to back down. How can he think of a rounded-out revolutionary program under such circumstances? He then expresses his spiritual and moral helplessness in the form of profound aphorisms, that the new International must come “from the development of socialist movements,” that is, from the historical process, which really ought to produce something some day. This dubious ally has various ways, however: it has even got to the point of reducing the Lenin International to the level of the Second. Proletarian revolutionists should therefore strike out on their own path, that is, work out the program of the new International and, basing themselves on the favourable tendencies of the historical process, help this program gain prevalence.
7. Fenner Brockway, after his lamentable capitulation to Maxton, found his courage again in struggle against the undersigned. He, Brockway, cannot allow a new International to be constructed from “the heights of Oslo.” I leave aside the fact that I do not live in Oslo and that, besides, Oslo is not situated on heights. The principles which I defend in common with many thousand comrades bear absolutely no local or geographical character. They are Marxian and international. They are formulated, expounded, and defended in theses, pamphlets, and books. If Fenner Brockway finds these principles to be false, let him put his own up against them. We are always ready to be taught better. But unfortunately Fenner Brockway cannot venture into this field, for he has just turned over to Maxton that oh so paltry parcel of principles. That is why there is nothing left for him to do save to make merry about the “heights of Oslo,” wherein he promptly commits a threefold mistake: with respect to my address, to the topography of the Norwegian capital, and, last but not least, to the fundamental principles of international action.
My conclusions? The cause of the ILP seems to me to be hopeless. The thirty-nine delegates who, despite the failure of the Fenner Brockway faction, did not surrender to Maxton’s ultimatum must seek ways of preparing a truly revolutionary party for the British proletariat. It can stand only under the banner of the Fourth International.
Leon Trotsky

Pennsylvania Adopts Prisoner Gag Law to Silence Mumia Abu-Jamal

Workers Vanguard No. 1056

14 November 2014
Pennsylvania Adopts Prisoner Gag Law to Silence Mumia Abu-Jamal

On October 21, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett signed into law the vicious “Revictimization Relief Act,” enacted with the express aim of silencing political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. An innocent man framed up for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia cop Daniel Faulkner, Mumia has spent 33 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The bipartisan rush to pass the bill came after Goddard College, a small liberal arts school where Mumia earned his degree while behind bars, aired a prerecorded address by him on October 5. This gag law sailed through the state House of Representatives in a unanimous, 197 to 0, vote. The statute allows prosecutors and “victims” of a “personal injury crime” (and their family members) to sue prisoners who do or say anything that would “perpetuate the continuing effect of the crime on the victim” by causing “a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.”
Mumia has been in the crosshairs of the capitalist state since his days as a teenaged Black Panther Party spokesman in the 1960s. That enmity grew in the 1970s when as a journalist known as the “voice of the voiceless” he exposed the racist Philly police vendetta against MOVE, the largely black back-to-nature group he came to support. On 9 December 1981, the Philly cops had their first opportunity to silence Mumia forever. Evidence shows that when he arrived at the scene of Faulkner’s shooting, the cops shot Mumia and brutally beat him on the street and later in the hospital where he was taken. When Mumia survived that ordeal, police and prosecutors proceeded to manufacture evidence to convict him, including by terrorizing witnesses and concocting a fake confession two months later.
After a 1982 trial in which Mumia was denied the right to represent himself and was repeatedly ejected from the courtroom, he was sentenced to death explicitly for his political views, primarily his Black Panther history. Federal and state courts have time and again refused to consider evidence proving Mumia’s innocence, especially the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner. (See the 2006 Partisan Defense Committee pamphlet The Fight to Free Mumia—Mumia Is Innocent!) In 2011, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office dropped its longstanding effort to legally lynch America’s foremost class-war prisoner. But Mumia remains condemned to life in prison hell with no chance of parole.
While the Pennsylvania gag law is directed against Mumia, if upheld, it portends similar measures in other states to further restrict the already barely existent rights of prisoners. By its terms, anyone who would dare to publicize their legal defense in Pennsylvania can now be sued for “perpetuating” their crime and causing “anguish.” This twisted logic could be used to justify censorship of everything from prison newspapers, such as the acclaimed Angolite published by inmates in Louisiana’s Angola prison, to interviews with inmates who maintain their innocence or protest the inhumane conditions of mass incarceration or oppression in the world outside.
At a photo-op “signing ceremony” for the new law, the governor railed against Mumia’s “obscene celebrity.” Seated next to him on the platform was Maureen Faulkner, Daniel’s widow, who along with the Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) campaigned for Mumia’s execution for over three decades. Even after the authorities have buried him alive in a Pennsylvania prison cell, with his legal appeals effectively exhausted, the fact that Mumia can still gain a hearing for his powerful print and radio commentaries drives the forces of “law and order” into a frenzy. The ongoing vendetta against Mumia and other former members of the Black Panther Party captures how the bourgeoisie is haunted by the spectre of defiance to this system of exploitation and racist oppression.
Mumia and Prison Radio, which broadcasts his commentaries, as well as other prisoners and prisoners rights organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court on November 10 challenging the “Silence Mumia Law.” The lawsuit includes the claim that this gag rule could be invoked to prohibit journalists and organizations from publishing commentaries by Mumia and other prisoners. Civil libertarians and many in the bourgeois media have castigated the legislation as blatantly unconstitutional. “Some victims of terrible crimes will be in a ‘state of mental anguish’ as long as the person who did it to them is alive and breathing,” wrote the Harrisburg Patriot-News (17 October), which asked: “Does ‘breathing’ qualify as ‘conduct’ that’s now subject to court action?” An editorial in the Los Angeles Times (22 October) opposed the law even while expressing relief that in his Goddard address “Abu-Jamal didn’t insist on his innocence or even refer to the crime, except to note that when he resumed his studies he was ‘a man on death row.’ Instead, his speech combined reminiscences of Goddard and commentary on current events, from the war in Gaza to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.”
This is the latest of many attempts to silence Mumia and his defenders. In 1990, a PDC-initiated defense rally in Philadelphia was met by a cop backlash, with the Philly F.O.P. head declaring that all Mumia’s supporters were part of a “misfit terrorist group” who should be put on an “electric couch.” Over the next three years, the PDC and its fraternal organizations in Europe and beyond garnered wider support, significantly from labor organizations representing millions of workers, for Mumia’s cause and spurred other organizations to take up his case. This international support for Mumia rankled the forces pushing for his execution.
In 1994, when National Public Radio (NPR) agreed to run Mumia’s commentaries weekly on its program “All Things Considered,” the F.O.P. launched a national counter-campaign. From the floor of the U.S. Senate, Republican leader Robert Dole called for cutting NPR’s federal funding. Bowing to the pressure, NPR canceled the commentaries. The PDC, along with the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, initiated a protest speakout that featured a reading of Mumia’s commentaries by several personalities. Among them was the late actor and political activist Ossie Davis, who was co-chair of the Committee to Save Mumia.
The next year, Mumia came to national prominence with the publication of his first book, Live from Death Row. This selection of powerful commentaries about Mumia’s life, prison and death row was critical in blowing the lid off the cops’ and prosecutors’ Big Lie campaign to slander Mumia as some kind of crazed killer. The forces of reaction hit back with a campaign against the publishing company, which made its money primarily from school textbooks. The publisher lost orders from schools all over the country. A barrage of editorials and op-eds against Mumia appeared in such newspapers as the New York Post, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Philadelphia Daily News, as well as on TV news shows like Dan Rather’s Eye on America on CBS.
It is a good thing that today some of the media have denounced the Mumia gag rule. We note, however, that the bourgeois press played its part in consigning him to a life behind bars by acting as a transmission belt for police/prosecutor lies and refusing to report any of the overwhelming evidence of Mumia’s innocence.
The state authorities who sought to strap Mumia to an execution gurney for three decades want to see him rot in prison, a forgotten man. We are determined that Mumia and other class-war prisoners not be forgotten, which is the purpose of the PDC’s program of support to these prisoners. This program is modeled on the International Labor Defense in the 1920s, which not only provided stipends to class-war prisoners as an expression of solidarity but also gave voice to their fight for freedom. Ever since taking up his case in 1987, we have fought for Mumia’s struggle to be taken up by the multiracial proletariat with the understanding that militant workers, fighters for black freedom and those opposed to U.S. imperialist depredations must have no illusions in the capitalist courts. Mumia must not be silenced! Free him now!
From the Archives of Marxism-“Freedom of the Individual”-By Peter Fryer

Workers Vanguard No. 1056

14 November 2014
From the Archives of Marxism-“Freedom of the Individual”-By Peter Fryer
The article excerpted below elegantly refutes the slander that communism stifles individuality. Its author, Peter Fryer, was one of some 200 British Stalinists won to Trotskyism under the impact of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, a defeated proletarian political revolution against Stalinist misrule of that workers state. “Freedom of the Individual” originally appeared in the August-September 1958 issue of Labour Review, the journal of a British group led by one Gerry Healy. Although the Healyites later revealed themselves to be political bandits, at the time they were putting forward a seemingly orthodox Trotskyist program, attracting high-caliber Marxist thinkers, including Fryer for a brief time. (For more, see “Chronicler of Hungarian Revolution: Peter Fryer, 1927-2006,” WV No. 883, 5 January 2007.) The ellipses within quotations in the article are Fryer’s.
*   *   *
‘We are not communists who want to destroy personal freedom and transform the world into one great barracks or one great sweat-shop. As a matter of fact there are communists who do not care for and want to suppress personal freedom, which in their opinion bars the way to harmony; but we do not want to buy equality at the expense of personal freedom’ (Frederick Engels, Kommunistische Zeitschrift, September 1847).
Capitalism and Human Nature
To liberals no freedom is higher and more precious than the freedom of the individual. Marxists wholeheartedly agree that it is the individual human being who achieves freedom, and not humanity in general. They agree that society as a whole cannot free itself unless every individual is freed. But they take issue with the use of the watchword of individual liberty in opposition to socialism and socialist planning. For they do not think there is any contradiction between the interests of the individual and the interests of a society whose fundamental aim is the satisfaction of people’s material and cultural needs and the enrichment of their lives. They take the view that only under communism will the individual human being be able to develop his potentialities and abilities to the utmost.
Under capitalism the great majority of people have neither leisure, money nor education to develop as all-round human beings. Nor are they encouraged so to foster their individuality. The capitalist system of production, the bourgeois educational system, the barrage of advertising and ready-made ‘culture’ to which the individual is subjected from the cradle to the grave, are not designed to fan into flame the sparks of talent and creative ability that are possessed by all but a tiny proportion of human beings. They are designed to make competent wage-slaves. Capitalist relations of production—the private ownership for private profit of the means of production—cannot bring to the individual wage-worker the freedom that comes through leading a full life, a life packed with many-sided activities and giving the fullest scope to every physical and mental aptitude. They block the way to a full life for the exploited.
Capitalism devastates human nature, dulls and extinguishes the senses, corrupts and brutalizes men as it sucks out profit from their work, rends men into fragments, into half-men, makes labour a burden instead of a joyful and indispensable part of life. It robs men of their heritage of happiness, beauty and knowledge. It takes the warmth and colour out of human relationships and measures every emotion, every delight and every virtue by the yardstick of gold and silver and bits of printed paper and entries in account books.[1]
The individual is not, and cannot be, free under capitalism because he cannot leap out of the world of the market, the world where everything moral and spiritual is bought and sold for cash. It is a world of universal venality, of cynical self-interest. Human labour power; works of art; knowledge; the very conscience and honour of men; truth itself:[2] all become commodities, measured in terms of their market value, accessible to those with money.
To the profiteer the object he is buying or selling, its meaning and importance to human beings, are in themselves of little or no importance compared with the object’s abstract expression in monetary terms. This barren outlook determines and taints every relationship, not only between man and object, but between man and man. Money becomes a fetish: the cash nexus becomes the only significant bond between people. The questions that matter about a fellow human being are not ‘Is he happy?’ or ‘Is he hungry?’ or ‘Is he a good man?’ but ‘Is he rich?’ and ‘Can we do business together?’ and ‘What advantage can I get out of him?’ Those who have this outlook cannot be said to enjoy life: what they enjoy are deals and transactions and money-making. ‘Life’ in bourgeois society means ‘making a living’.
Nor can the wage-worker remain wholly unaffected by this outlook. The very fact that he is forced to sell his labour power, that he must work for someone else in order to live, drains his labour of its sweetness, makes it a dreary burden instead of an essential and beneficial part of living. The life of the individual worker is chopped and divided: there is the part of his life that is not his own, but the boss’s, spent in the factory, where the boss is the aristocrat; and there are the looked-forward-to oases of leisure, the time that belongs to the worker himself....
‘Taylor, of Bethlehem Steel Works fame, has declared that in order to get pig iron loaded most efficiently it is necessary to get men as near like oxen as possible. But men do not grow so: they have to be made. An important part of scientific management is this scientific degradation of men.’[3] The individual is stunted, warped, chained for life to one particular calling, to one particular function, often to one particular tool. In capitalist society what matters is not man as such but particularized man, restricted and conditioned by his special skills: the division of labour is the division of the individual labourer himself.
And this means that men are subjected to their instruments of production, that instead of the producers using and controlling the means of production, the latter use and control the producers. Nor have men control over the disposal of the products which result from their labours; these products become independent forces which overpower their makers in booms and slumps according to the ‘blind’ laws of the market.
The means of production are utilized in such a way as to enslave men and atrophy their faculties. And the exchange of products for profit leads to the concentration of enormous wealth in the hands of a few and the impoverishment of the majority, to economic anarchy and periodical economic ‘blizzards’.
Thus men are not free to determine their own destiny. It is determined for them by forces over which they have no control. In the process men’s individuality is forfeited, is crushed. They lose their individuality because they are dependent on capital. ‘In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.’[4] ‘An economic individualism of motives and aims,’ echoes [American bourgeois philosopher John] Dewey, ‘underlies our present corporate mechanisms, and undoes the individual.[5]
Defenders of and apologists for the capitalist system of society have as little right to speak of the freedom of the individual as they have to speak of any other freedom. Under capitalism human individuality ‘becomes at once a commercial article and the fabric in which money operates’. Capitalism ‘estranges man from nature, from himself, his own active functioning... It is the alienation of man from man.’[6] Capitalism stifles men’s creative spirit, condemning the majority to a life of monotony, drudgery and ugliness—to life in a cage. It puts out the eyes of the painter and cuts out the tongue from the poet who is within each one of us. It butchers human nature on the altar of the machine and calls that progress....
The Decay of Liberalism
The liberal idea of individual liberty is a good example of an idea which is progressive when first put forward, but which begins to play a reactionary role when the circumstances which gave rise to it have changed.
Preoccupation with the individual and his rights began in the seventeenth century, with the rise of the bourgeoisie, whose existence and development as a class depended on the freedom of the individual capitalist to buy, and of the individual proletarian to sell, labour power. The rebellion of the rising bourgeoisie against the economic shackles of feudalism found its political, social and ideological expression in opposition to arbitrary political power, to arbitrary restraints on personal liberty, to the violation of human dignity and to clerical obscurantism. The fight was seen as a struggle between reason and unreason. The class which fashioned liberalism as its intellectual weapon conceived of individual freedom, not as freedom from all restraint, but as freedom under the law,[7] as freedom limited by certain eternal truths and values which were thought to be embodied in a natural law or natural rights derived from human nature. Both the atoms of which matter was composed and the social atoms of which society was composed were governed by rational laws which human reason could grasp and apply. But, as Marx observed, the natural ‘Rights of Man’, the rights belonging to individuals by virtue of their humanity, did not eliminate man the egoist, an individual withdrawn into his private interests, separated from the community. On the contrary, bourgeois society itself appeared in them as an external frame for individuals, as a limitation of their original independence; the only ties by which individuals were held together were natural necessity, material needs, private interests and the conservation of their property.[8]
As developed by the bourgeois intellectuals of the early nineteenth century, the liberal idea of individual freedom remained progressive in an age when the workers were totally deprived of their leisure, when women and children worked in the pits, when there was no legal limit to the working day. These intellectuals supported the struggle for leisure for the industrial workers, as a struggle for time in which people might be free to do, think and say what they liked—provided they were not thereby endangering capitalist society.[9] The liberal ideal could not, and did not, transcend (but rather reflected) the splitting of a man’s life into two parts: his working time, in which he was unfree, a wage-slave, and his leisure, in which he was for a few hours a day an individual shorn of responsibilities, answerable only to himself—an individual temporarily outside of society, and whose ‘freedom’ was enjoyed outside of society. [The 19th century British political economist] Mill, for example, wanted every worker ultimately to have the same leisure as his employer and therefore the same partial freedom from the necessities of social organization as he.
What happened to liberal ideology when capitalism approached its monopoly phase has been well summarized by Hallowell and Laski:
So long as the bourgeoisie remained economically, socially, and politically unsatiated they championed the substantial rights of man. As…monopoly capitalism replaced free enterprise…and as the bourgeoisie acquired a dominant social and political position, they tended to espouse formal equality and formal rights of citizens rather than substantial equality and substantial rights of man.[10]
The earlier liberals released the individual from a type of social organization which restricted his capacity for growth. But the assumption which underlay that release made it in fact valid only for men who were in a position to surmount the conditions of a fiercely competitive industrial society, that is, broadly, the owners of property. The liberty predominantly secured was their liberty; the others came in as residuary legatees of their triumph. And when the men of property had won, they conceived that the campaign was over.... What they did not see was that the new social order their liberalism had built brought with it new problems as intense as any they had solved.... Liberalism…had established a freedom in which, formally and legally, the workers were entitled to share. Actually, they could not, for the most part, share in it because its attainment was predominantly conditioned to the possession of property; and they had no property save in their labour power. When the victors were asked to extend the privileges their new freedom had brought them they were dismayed.[11]
In the period of monopoly capitalism it is precisely the separation of the interests of the individual from those of society, the counterposing of individual freedom to external social necessity and social responsibility, that becomes an ideological weapon for the defence of capitalism and for arousing opposition and hostility to socialism. The social discipline of social planning is held to destroy human personality, to take away the individual’s liberty to ‘live his own life’ and to think and choose for himself. This discipline is represented as being imposed on people against their will.
The liberal who today attacks socialism on these grounds is in fact surrendering all the values that liberalism once championed. He is turning his back on the warping of human individuality and human personality by monopoly capitalism. Whether he is aware of it or not, his claim to ‘freedom of the individual’ is at bottom the claim of the privileged, leisured and rich section of the population to the maintenance of their privileges, leisure and riches, based on ‘the liberty of private property as such, to be uncontrolled in its operations by aught else than the will of the individual possessing it’.[12] Since these privileges, leisure and riches are obtained and maintained for the bourgeoisie and for the intellectuals who serve them only by the exploitation of millions of their fellow human beings, what the modern liberal is really demanding is freedom for an élite....
The Individual and Socialism
The task of socialism is to lay the indispensable basis for the teeming abundance of necessities and what are today called luxuries that must be achieved before men may receive according to their needs. The social discipline of socialist planning alone can free men from the jungle of capitalism. Even with bureaucratic distortions [as in the Stalinist-ruled Soviet Union], socialist planning is able to achieve a great deal. With these distortions eliminated socialism will harness the creative energies of millions. Real socialism does not impose economic plans on people ‘from above’. The individual helps to draw up, administer and fulfil the plan; by so doing he not only helps to make everybody else’s life better, but also improves his own life. The individual cannot free himself from the capitalist swamp by his own unaided efforts, but only in active co-operation with millions of others. Together they are fired with the vision of a new life and a new society. Together they work to achieve them. To accomplish the socialist reconstruction of the world is not to mould the individual to the requirements of an abstract ‘society’. It is to reshape the social system to the requirements of the individuals who make it up. This implies planning. It implies discipline, endeavour, sacrifice, voluntarily undertaken. But this alone is the way to make men free from class exploitation and class oppression. ‘The outcome of socialism is...a human individualism as opposed to class individualism.’[13]...
The view that men who are hungry, or poor, or insecure, or exploited, or unemployed, or homeless, or oppressed, are not free, that freedom from these social evils is the foundation of human liberty, is to be found well before the advent of Marxism. It was held by Shelley:
What art thou, Freedom? Oh! could slaves
Answer from their living graves
This demand, tyrants would flee
Like a dream’s dim imagery:
         *   *   *
For the labourer thou art bread
And a comely table spread
From his daily labour come
In a neat and happy home.
Thou art clothes, and fire, and food
For the trampled multitude:
No—in countries that are free
Such starvation cannot be
As in England now we see.[
If by ‘England’ we mean also the British colonies in Africa and Asia, the argument summed up in these lines is wholly true today, when for hundreds of millions of Asians and Africans the problem of individual liberty is before everything else the problem of finding enough food to keep the individual alive another day. Moreover it is recognized by many of those concerned about the growth of revolutionary movements in what are called the ‘under-developed’ regions as by far the most difficult argument for imperialism to answer. An editorial in the Manchester Guardian, for example, came to the conclusion that the advocates of ‘Western freedom’ must address themselves, not to the masses of the people of Asia, but to the intellectual élite there, for only this enlightened minority could understand the meaning of the ‘freedom in ideas and freedom of debate’ that the West had to offer.
Offer a starving man liberty or a packet of sandwiches, it is said, and he will naturally choose sandwiches. But the classes to whom our appeal is addressed are not actually starving, though they may be commendably disturbed about how many of their countrymen are in this plight. The middle classes and intelligentsia of Free Asia can still be attracted by the ideals of liberty...[15]
But socialism does not make real liberty, liberty without quotation marks, stop at freedom from hunger. What it does do is expose the hypocrisy of capitalist ‘freedom’, which denies the fundamental freedoms to the colonial peoples, and hypocritically prates about ‘freedom in ideas and freedom of debate’ though it can no more permit free discussion and exchange of ideas in the colonies, when those ideas challenge imperialism, than it can adequately feed the millions it oppresses. Real socialism offers not merely material prosperity, but is also a powerful stimulus to intellectual ferment. Even with major bureaucratic distortions and defects, a workers’ State has taught tens of millions in the central Asian republics to read and write, so opening for them the gates to the world of ideas and culture. And, as even [British pseudo-socialist William Angus] Sinclair admits, ‘one reason for the appeal of communism to the Asiatic and the that it promises an industrialized culture with a higher standard of living to groups that have remained intact and continue to feel as groups; whereas at present the Western powers can only provide an industrialized culture which admittedly offers a higher standard of living, but in which a man feels an isolated and lost individual. Whatever else they give him it does not include what is essential for his happiness.’[16]
Cherishing and fostering individual ability, socialism will elevate the individual to a position of far greater real importance and give him far greater social responsibility than capitalism can ever do. To run society in a conscious, planned way cannot but call forth the utmost personal initiative, imagination, enterprise, zeal and creative ability from each individual. Liberty to choose where and how one can best take part in the general social activity, to discuss that activity both in its general aspects and its local details, to have one’s own suggestions and criticisms discussed, means that the individual is no longer an insignificant cog in a vast, impersonal, exploiting machine, but a vital and conscious part of a great collective endeavour whose central aim is the improvement, elevation and ennoblement of human life.
Now while this is already a tremendous advance on the stifling of personal initiative and creativeness by capitalism, it does not yet solve the problem of the splitting and stunting of the individual. This problem is solved only in the course of a long transition to communist society.
The individual becomes free in the full sense of the word only when he is able to take out of society’s store exactly what he needs to develop all his capacities to the full; when dull and arduous work is abolished and a new attitude to work as a joyful and indispensable part of life has grown up; when the distinctions between intellectual and manual labour no longer exist and all workers are raised to the level of engineers, technicians, scientists and artists; when the hours of socially necessary labour have been shortened to something like four hours a day or less, enabling the individual to ‘work’, play, study and take a full part in running society. Of all these requisites, none is more important than the shortening of the hours of labour, the ‘fundamental premise’, as Marx observed, for the flourishing of ‘the true realm of freedom’.[17] The individual becomes really free, in fact, only when men have achieved complete conscious social control over their entire economic development—complete control over the utilization of their means of production and the disposal of their social product. This establishes truly human conditions of existence, in which ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’.[18]

1. In his Adult Interests (New York, 1935) Dr Edward L. Thorndike gave the cash payments which men and women would take to do certain normally repugnant things. He claimed to find that the average woman would practise cannibalism for 750,000 dollars, but the average man would do so for 50,000. The women tested would renounce hope of life after death for 10 dollars, but the men wanted 1,000. The men would become intoxicated for 25 dollars, but the women demanded 98. Other ‘money equivalents’ were given for blindness, temporary insanity, eating beetles and earthworms, choking a stray cat to death, cutting a pig’s throat and spitting on a crucifix and on pictures of Charles Darwin, George Washington and one’s mother. Dr Thorndike has been described as ‘the Nestor of American psychologists’. Back
2. ‘The best test of truth,’ according to Mr Justice Holmes’s epigram, ‘is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market’ (Dissenting opinion in Abrams v. U.S., 250 U.S. 616 (1919)). Back
3. [R. M.] Fox, [The Triumphant Machine: A Study of Machine Civilization (1928),] p. 5. Back
4. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, vol. i (1950), p. 46. Back
5. [John] Dewey, [Individualism Old and New (1931),] p. 57. Back
6. Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, quoted Modern Quarterly, vol. v, no. 1, p. 14, Winter 1949-50. Back
7. ‘Freedom,’ wrote Voltaire, ‘exists in being independent of everything but law’ (Pensées sur l’administration publique). Back
8. See D. Rjazanov, ed., Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, part i, vol. i, I (Frankfurt, 1927), p. 595. Back
9. ‘No one pretends,’ wrote John Stuart Mill, ‘that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the Press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard’ (On Liberty (Everyman edition, Utilitarianism; Liberty; Representative Government, 1954), p. 114). Back
10. John H. Hallowell, The Decline of Liberalism as an Ideology With Particular Reference to German Politico-Legal Thought (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1943), p. 14. Back
11. J. Laski, The Decline of Liberalism (1940), pp. 13-14. Back
12. E. Belfort Bax and J. Hiam Levy, Socialism and Individualism (n.d. [1904]), p. 10. Back
13. Bax and Levy, op. cit. p. 28. Back
14. The Masque of Anarchy. Back
15. Manchester Guardian, January 10, 1956. Back
16. Sinclair, [Socialism and the Individual: Notes on Joining the Labour Party (1955)], pp. 146-7. Back
17. Capital, vol. iii (Calcutta, 1946), p. 652. Back
18. Marx and Engels, Selected Works, vol. i, p. 51. Back
From  The Marxist Archives ...
The “Date Rape” Issue: Feminist Hysteria, Anti-Sex Witchhunt
(From Women and Revolution No. 43, Winter 1993-Spring 1994)
Workers Vanguard No. 1056
14 November 2014
The “Date Rape” Issue: Feminist Hysteria, Anti-Sex Witchhunt
(From Women and Revolution No. 43, Winter 1993-Spring 1994)

Written amid a general anti-sex frenzy in the U.S. two decades ago, the article excerpted below, about a supposed epidemic of “date rape” on college campuses, also cuts against today’s campaign for anti-sex “affirmative consent” regulations. Women and Revolution, in which the article originally appeared, was the journal of the Women’s Commission of the Spartacist League/U.S. until its publication was suspended in 1998. Today, articles under its masthead also appear in Spartacist, the International Communist League’s theoretical organ.
*   *   *
The anti-sex frenzy springs from the agenda of the religious right. Espousing an ideology supposed to have something to do with women’s rights, the feminists might be expected to oppose this witchhunt. Instead, there is a convergence between feminism and religious reaction in support of moralist repression. This is particularly evident in the “date rape” frenzy on the campuses which has recently grabbed headlines across the nation and the world. Egged on by feminist witchhunters, “politically correct” sex on campus serves the war on privacy by whitewashing the intrusion of the campus administration and the cops into students’ personal business as “protecting women” and “stopping rape.” One goal of the student struggles of the 1960s and ’70s at colleges across the country was to put a stop to the in loco parentis prerogatives of campus administrations and to end rules that set curfews for young women, limited the hours that men could enter the sex-segregated dorms and encouraged “housemothers” to make periodic checks of the rooms to see that “all four feet” were firmly planted on the floor when a guy visited one of the “coeds.” The “date rape” hysteria has opened the door to the return of the college snoops.
In The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus, Princeton grad student Katie Roiphe exposes the climate of fear and the self-imposed status of “victims” engendered by the “date rape” feminists. Speaking for a layer of young women repulsed by this anti-sex hysteria, Roiphe contrasts what she found when she entered Harvard with what she was taught by her mother, who grew up in the wake of the anti-Communist witchhunt of the 1950s:
“This image of a delicate woman bears a striking resemblance to that fifties ideal my mother and the other women of her generation fought so hard to get away from. They didn’t like her passivity, her wide-eyed innocence. They didn’t like the fact that she was perpetually offended by sexual innuendo. They didn’t like her excessive need for protection. She represented personal, social, and psychological possibilities collapsed, and they worked and marched, shouted and wrote, to make her irrelevant for their daughters. But here she is again, with her pure intentions and her wide eyes. Only this time it is the feminists themselves who are breathing new life into her.”
Roiphe’s scathing attack on the “date-rape crisis” has earned her the enmity of rabid feminists everywhere, and congratulations from more rational layers. In “Not Just Bad Sex” (New Yorker, 4 October 1993) Katha Pollitt accuses Roiphe of everything from poor journalism to a “privileged” lifestyle. While Roiphe’s polemic does not reach beyond the middle-class, heterosexual and largely white college milieu in which the “date rape” frenzy is centered, she has done a real service in challenging the campaign of “politically correct” sex—what the Nation (8 November 1993) labels “the new sexual McCarthyism.”
On a certain level, “date rape” hysteria is an absurdity: Even literary classics like Andrew Marvell’s love poem “To His Coy Mistress” have been tagged as apologies for male sexual “coercion”! “Date rape” is indeed a fitting butt for the spate of cartoons and magazine articles that followed the publication of Roiphe’s book.
But ludicrous as it is, “date rape” feminism has a destructive logic, and it’s nowhere more obvious than on the question of abortion rights. The government has usurped the authority to determine when and if a woman wants to have a child by whittling away at the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion nationally. A big part of this is its assertion of the in loco parentis privilege of “protecting” young women through “squeal laws” that demand parental consent for abortions for women under the age of 18. Last November the Supreme Court upheld Mississippi’s reactionary law requiring permission from both parents or a judge.
“Date rape” hysteria serves as a diversion from the real oppression and exploitation suffered by the vast majority of women in this country. Most working-class and minority women can’t afford to go to college, but rather endure the constant menace of violence and rape as they go to and from backbreaking, low-paying jobs or to pick up their continually threatened welfare pittances. The most forceful and consistent assertion of government intrusion into private life has been the anti-drug witchhunt, which for poor blacks (including, obviously, women) in the devastated inner-city ghettos has meant massive police raids, while workers across the country are subjected to urine testing serving to enforce discipline in the workplace.
Willfully lumping together everything from morning-after regrets to savage brutality, “date rape” hysteria trivializes the crime of rape and belittles the real humiliation, terror and agony that rape victims undergo.
Anti-Sex Codes and Campus Hysteria
The “date rape” campaign was launched on campuses in the 1980s with annual “Take Back the Night” candlelight parades to “end sexual violence against women.” Culminating in outdoor speakouts where “survivors” give testimonials of their personal experiences, the marches have taken on the aura of religious ceremony.
Far from focusing on real acts of violence against women, the “date rape” frenzy redefines as rape experiences which are instead ambiguous or unpleasant—thus trivializing the sometimes painful tribulations of young people grappling with their first sexual encounters. But the “date rape” frenzy is more than these celebrations of trauma and helplessness. Freshmen undergo required “sexual harassment counseling”; films are shown and peer-group sessions held, all with the message that sex is dangerous and dating should be done only when sober, preferably with a chaperon. College pamphlets ask, “Is Dating Dangerous?” and “Friends Raping Friends: Could It Happen to You?”
As if this weren’t sufficiently daunting, campus administrations are now enforcing in loco parentis anti-sex codes. At Ohio’s “liberal” Antioch College, a “sexual consent policy” proscribes “Insistent and/or persistent sexual harassment…emotional, verbal or mental intimidation or abuse found to be sexually threatening or offensive… unwelcome and irrelevant comments, references, gestures or other forms of personal attention which are inappropriate and which may be perceived as persistent sexual overtones or denigration.” To avoid any misunderstandings, students must get “willing and verbal consent” at each stage of the sexual encounter: “If you want to take her blouse off, you have to ask. If you want to touch her breast, you have to ask. If you want to move your hand down to her genitals, you have to ask. If you want to put your finger inside her, you have to ask.” While many of us would be begging this motormouth to shut up and get on with it, this seemingly absurd scenario is serious: A woman can now cry “rape” if she thinks a guy might want to screw her, and the administration can suspend or expel the accused, who then faces the hideous legal ramifications of a bogus rape charge. Novelist Martin Amis, speaking at Princeton in 1992, quipped, “As far as I’m concerned you can change your mind before, even during, but just not after sex.”
Lots of people think it’s fun to get drunk and screw, but if you go to Antioch it’s against the rules: If you’re drunk, your “consent is not meaningful”! At Ann Arbor sororities, one woman is picked to remain sober during frat parties; it’s her job to stop her sisters from going off with a guy to his room. The logic of the “date rape” frenzy is carried to its chilling extreme in a poster put up around Berkeley, “Dead Men Don’t Rape” and signed by the Women’s Action Coalition “We Will Take Action.”...
“Date Rape”: Brutal Reality or a Political Program?
Statistics are notoriously susceptible to manipulation for political ends, and the statistics cited for the feminists’ “epidemic” of campus rape couldn’t be a better example. The evidence for “date rape” rests on a 1985 survey by Ms. magazine, financed by the National Institute of Mental Health, which found that “one quarter of women in college today have been victims of rape or attempted rape.” But, as debunkers have pointed out, 73 percent of the women categorized as rape victims did not define their experience as rape—that was done by Dr. Mary Koss, the psychologist who analyzed the survey and who coined the term “date rape.” Some 42 percent of these women later had sex with the man who allegedly “raped” them!
Roiphe astutely points out that the “date rape epidemic” is not a reflection of sexual behavior but a “mood.” Just listen to its propagandists: “Without mutual desire” it’s a “form of rape,” according to Andrea Parrot, Cornell professor and “date rape expert.” The code words are “manipulation” and “verbal coercion”—defined as “a woman’s consenting to unwanted sexual activity because of a man’s verbal arguments not including verbal threats of force.” The etiquette guides of the 19th century told young women that attractive men “can with a subtlety almost beyond the power of her detection, change her ordinary views of things, confuse her judgements, and destroy her rational confidence in discriminating the powers of her own mind” (Advice to Young Ladies, 1848). The titles may be different, but today’s “sexual consent policies” peddle the same retrograde assumptions about the stereotype of the aggressive, violent man, who “wants only one thing,” and the weak, indecisive woman, uninterested in sex and requiring protection.
The definitions used in the “date rape” culture reflect the feminist view that heterosexual sex and rape are a natural progression. Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth (1991) writes: “Cultural representation of glamorized degradation has created a situation among the young in which boys rape and girls get raped as a normal course of events.” This is a rehash of Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 book, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, in which she argued that rape was “nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” According to Brownmiller’s contemporaries:
“Rape is not a special isolated act. It is not an aberration or deviation from the norms of sexual and social behavior in this country. Rape is simply at the end of the continuum of male-aggressive, female-passive patterns, and an arbitrary line has been drawn to mark it off from the rest of such relationships…most men in our country are potential rapists.”
— A. Medea and K. Thompson, Against Rape
At its extreme, rape is equated with sex, for example by anti-porn queen Catharine MacKinnon: “Compare victims’ reports of rape with women’s reports of sex,” she says. “They look a lot alike.” But contrary to feminist mythology, rape is not a “normative” expression of sexuality in this society. As we wrote in 1975 in “Rape and Bourgeois Justice” (Young Spartacus No. 29, February 1975):
“Rape transforms what is normally a pleasurable intimacy and consensual activity for sexual gratification into an experience of fear, degrading submission, brutality and often injury for the victim and into an overt expression of hostility and aggression for the rapist. Between the actuality of rape and the sex act per se there are differences. These differences may be considered as discontinuities in the continuum of sexual relations. It is precisely the feminists who make the value judgement that there are no discontinuities, no differences in kind, between mutually pleasurable, consensual sexual intercourse and a victimization and violation filled with terror and degradation.”
Rape at the final discontinuity ceases to be a sexual act.
Susan Estrich, feminist author of Real Rape, believes many women “would say no if they could” to any sex with men. Nonetheless she is quite correct that “The legal definition of rape turns on force and nonconsent, not on the relationship between accuser and accused.” We believe that effective consent should determine sexual relations—not the age, sex, number or degree of intimacy of the people involved. Because it’s the circumstances of a sexual encounter that determine whether it is a crime or an act of voluntary sexual intercourse, ambiguities about consensuality do and must occur, particularly when the people know each other. Consent is always colored by the society we live in. Consensuality is rendered something less than complete when sexist attitudes and economic constraints (however expressed through a complex set of social factors that make them more or less “acceptable”) keep estranged couples together. And given the tangle of race, sex and class in this bigoted society, relationships can often be emotionally exploitative and unequal—but to call them “crimes” is to bring in the government, which is the very enforcer of that bigotry and exploitation.
If among adults the psychology and sociology of sexual relations are murky and complex, they are all the more so when young people come into sexual contact with each other at the height of their socialized sexual differentiation, without any preparation or experience and without much access or opportunity. Sexual experimentation is one of the things youth is all about. Sex hormones are boiling for both young men and women, but the expressions of this sexuality differ. While the current crop of college women has been spared some of the guilt, shame and fear of pregnancy imposed on earlier generations, experiences vary from doing nothing to doing a lot. Social control over teenage boys is much less: they can be described as alienated young males charging an indifferent and hostile society with an erection, and generally bouncing off. Young men will do almost anything to get off; mainly this takes the form of masturbation, but guys will get a girl in bed if they can. And contrary to feminist myth, they are often successful: many young women do like to screw.
Of course early sexual experiences are not always the most auspicious, particularly now that AIDS is a real fear. Condoms do not make for a spontaneous expression of passion. Teenagers often have to get drunk to get up the nerve to have sex, and they aren’t experienced at handling alcohol. Under these circumstances, premature ejaculation, fumbling, miscommunication are unfortunately probably the norm rather than the exception. But awkward, unpleasant, even manipulative experiences are not rape. In an interview with the London Independent on Sunday (31 October 1993), Mary Koss revealed an underlying assumption behind the “date rape epidemic”: “It isn’t drunkenness itself that determines whether or not you get raped, it’s whether you have the misfortune to be drunk around a sexual jerk.” If finesse defines consensuality, one gets an idea of the genesis of her “one in four women raped” statistic.
The difficulties of teenage sex result in part from religious moralism which reinforces the myth of asexuality of youth in this society and in part from sexual stereotyping which tries to make bullies out of little boys and compliant dolls out of little girls. Moreover, deforming puritanism and bigotry in North American society all but seals off, especially for boys, anything but heterosexual activity.
It would surely help to have sex education that prepared young people for screwing. An understanding of the reproductive system is important, but somewhat more pertinent for youth than the placement of a girl’s Fallopian tubes is the existence of her clitoris. Instead, the federal government has spent over $31 million to develop an “abstinence only” curriculum which teaches “the only safe sex is no sex,” doesn’t mention condoms or homosexuality, and counsels girls that have had sex already to practice “second virginity.” This does not differ much from the message of pamphlets distributed at some college orientations to teach of the danger of AIDS: “To eliminate risk, abstain from sex or avoid sexual intimacy beyond fantasy, massage and mutual masturbation.” In this sexually charged society, the message that teenagers get from these moral strictures is that when adults tell you “what’s good for you” it’s all hypocrisy and lies.
Rape Laws and “Family Values”
...Rape is a hideous crime, one which embodies all the sexual myths and stereotypes of this deeply racist society. But the juridical basis of the current rape laws has little to do with protecting women against violence. The laws exist for the protection of women as property, based on the moral code embodied in the institution of the family. Thus the real crime of rape in patriarchal societies of all kinds is that the woman is “defiled”; her value as a “pure” transmission belt for the inheritance of private property is damaged. In the U.S. this is expressed in the notorious harassment of the victim by the police. Victims are sometimes denied immediate medical attention and frequently find themselves on trial as courts subject them to rigorous moral scrutiny. For the cops and judges in America, a rape victim with a sexual past has no value to protect.
In strict Islamic societies, rape victims are often killed by their families; at best they cannot marry. Shrouding women in the veil in countries like Iran and Afghanistan is the ultimate in “protection of women,” meant to keep them in a condition of chattel slavery to husbands or fathers. This was not the least of our reasons for hailing the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, which alone held forth the prospect of freeing women from this bondage. Indifferent to the plight of their Afghan “sisters,” American feminists backed the CIA’s cutthroat mujahedin allies in their fight against the Red Army.
Despite the inherent contradictions of “justice” in the bourgeois court system, we do not oppose the rape laws per se and could well support prosecution of an accused rapist in a given situation. We take a very different attitude, however, to the statutory rape laws, which prohibit any sexual intercourse with any girl under the age of consent (which varies from state to state). Such laws exist only to oppress young people and are almost always prosecuted in a vindictive manner by the state. In New York, for example, a 19-year-old boy can go to jail for spending the night with his 17-year-old girlfriend.
The Social Tinder of Race and Sex
The reform of the rape laws in the 1970s made it easier for a woman to prosecute, but it also made it easier to railroad the accused on purely vindictive charges. In this racist society the new laws have been used to further victimize black people. In a country where the ultimate taboo is interracial sex, the ruling class never hesitates to pull out all the stops in their manipulation of sexual fear in the service of racial oppression. Nor are the feminists wanting in this regard.
Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black youth, was hideously mutilated and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for “reckless eyeballing” a white man’s wife. This monstrous racist lynching was a touchstone on the race question. But 20 years later Susan Brownmiller disgustingly insisted that Till had something in common with one of the murderers: “They both understood that…it was a deliberate insult just short of physical assault, a last reminder to Carolyn Bryant that this black boy, Till, had in mind to possess her.” In her book Katie Roiphe recalls Emmett Till’s case, and describes how at George Washington University a female student fabricated a story about “two muscular young-looking black males” in “torn dirty clothing” raping a white student; she later recanted.
Roiphe rightly points out that the feminist insistence that male catcalls and leers are tantamount to rape is no different from the accusations of “reckless eyeballing” that formed the basis for white lynch mob attacks on blacks in the South. But Roiphe relegates it to a lesson of history, asserting that “lynchings and Jim Crow are not the current danger.” In fact, the protection of “Southern white womanhood” remains the bloody battle cry of the Ku Klux Klan. Legal lynching is a current reality: In 1990, a 21-year-old black man, David Scott Campbell, was found hanged in a Mississippi jail, one of 24 blacks who were declared “suicides” in the state’s prison system in the past five years. Campbell was arrested on a year-old warrant, but in the eyes of the cops his “crime” was dating a white woman.
The institution of the family inculcates powerful anxieties and superstitious fears which are especially prone to social control by reactionary forces. “Take Back the Night” marches are reactionary, not-so-thinly veiled calls to strengthen the state and its repressive apparatus, the racist cops; along with slogans like “Dead Men Can’t Rape” and “Castrate Rapists,” they’re a lynch mob waiting to happen. (The demand for castration is especially horrifying: this brutality was performed on black men by the slavocracy until as late as the 19th century, when even they abandoned it as too barbaric; and for decades the Klan performed it in lynchings.)
The “date rape” hoax is a cynical and dangerous business because it invokes government authority to intervene as moral arbiter in our most intimate affairs and fuels a state-sponsored campaign of sexual regimentation in the service of bolstering the reactionary institution of the family. While Marxists cannot decree either a just or a pleasurable solution to the ambiguities that arise out of the intersection of sex, race and class in this capitalist society, we can and do oppose all attempts to fit human sexuality into legislated and decreed “norms.” Back-alley abortions, prostitution, unwanted pregnancies, physical and sexual violence and racial oppression are the sordid reality behind “public morality.”
The “date rape” fraud deflects attention from the real violence perpetuated every day against women and children under this class system. Social degradation and dehumanization (which permeate sexual relations as all else) is rooted in the nature of this society and the exploitation of labor. The social alienation of a system in which the vast mass of people are tools for the enrichment of the very few is compounded by the institutionalized inequalities of race, nationality and sex. Violence against women springs in part from the deep sexual insecurities fostered by repressiveness and social irrationality.
This system is also imperialist, reaping billions off the Third World masses who are deliberately pushed down into starvation, illiteracy and endemic disease, and held down by brutal dictatorships. Subjected to oppressive practices like female genital mutilation or enforced segregation under the veil and in the home, most women get to watch their children die and to die young themselves, often in childbirth or after some botched abortion.
To create genuinely free and equal relations between people in all spheres, including sex, requires nothing less than the destruction of this class system and the creation of a communist world. In a classless society social and economic constraints over sexual relations will be nonexistent, and in the words of Frederick Engels, “there is no other motive left except mutual inclination.”