How I became a Marxist

Over the past year or so, two people have asked me how I became a Marxist. No-one had asked me that for years prior. As I always do, I mumbled something about going to the LPYS, not finding it very left-wing and joining the Communist Party instead. The real story is too long and challenging to fit in a short vignette, and I’m never very sure of how people would react to it.

So here goes.

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Scottish Anti-fascist Solidarity

Unlike many other European countries, and indeed England at points in its history, Scotland has no significant history of fascist organisation. In the 20s and 30s, while it was in the ascendancy across Europe and a fascist presence was starting to be established in England under Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, Scotland proved relatively barren ground. Although sectarian organisations did flourish, any attempt to organise by anyone identifying themselves as fascist met with substantial and sustained resistance. Again in the 70s, while the National Front gained a level of prominence south of the border, again Scotland proved megre pickings for the fash.

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What is Rape?

Being the nosey kind when I got a pingback on a previous post which explored the constructs which support rape, I immediately took a shifty.  At first I thought the blogger had just misunderstood the kind of assumptions that women live under compared with men, but once the comments started it became crystal clear that that she and clearly much of her readership had no idea what rape actually was.

And wow.  Just wow.

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Sparks of Resistance

The last few months have seen the start of a fightback against some of the attacks which are currently going on against workers the length and breadth of the country.  November 30th saw the largest strike this country has ever known with 3 million workers out in a strike that spanned the entire public sector. From hospitals to local government offices; schools to subways workers refused to work when the government intends to severely reduce their pension entitlements. Faced with the prospect of getting less pensions for higher contributions at a later age it is no surprise that even unions which have never before taken strike action joined the demand for the government to change its plans.

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A sort of friendship recognised by the police

Having had to apologise twice in the last week for comments that were patronising or condescending, I’m quite sensitive at the moment about the manner in which I express my views.  At the same time, the campaign for Equal Marriage is hotting up in Scotland, and I don’t really approve.  Its not the Equal stuff that bothers me, its the marriage bit.

In one respect, I feel like I should really keep my mouth shut.  I have friends who have been discriminated against the whole of their lives because of their sexuality, which is why the campaign for equal marriage exists, but at the same time, same sex partners do now enjoy legal entitlements that they were unable to until very recently.  And in all honesty – that is my problem.  I feel like by losing the LGBT movement to marriage we are losing a valuable ally.  Marriage is more than a bit of paper.  The campaigners see that, that’s why they are fighting for it.  But look carefully at what you wish for.

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Greece: Teetering on a Precipice

Last night, while hundreds of thousands took to the Athens streets in protest, the Greek parliament approved yet another austerity bill.  No one has any illusions that these measures or the loan extensions granted the EU will grant on the back of them will have any positive effect on the Greek economy.  Not the politicans voting these measures through, the Eurocrats insisting on them, the bankers who gain from them, but above all not the people who will suffer for them.  Its not so much that the mask has slipped but just that they can’t be bothered hiding the grotesque any longer.

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Women of the Left: Juana Belen

The Mexican Revolution was a remarkable period in the country’s history, and the stories of the women within it well worth a retelling.  Many remarkable revolutionaries emerged through this period, including Dolores Jimenez y Muro, a political advisor to Zapata and Hermila Galindo, who advised Venustiano Carranza on womens rights.  Yet one woman still stands out, her story a testimony to the strength of Mexican female revolutionaries and her diversity remarkable. A political theorist, journalist, teacher, military commander and agitator, Juana Belen is not nearly as widely known as she should be.

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The BBC are beyond a joke

I’ve had it with the BBC for a very long while, but my TV is in serious danger of getting a foot put through it and not just because I cant work the remote control.  Yes, yes, I know they make good drama, Eastenders is pretty good and hell historical drama and they are there, but for a public broadcaster; someone whose public responsibility it is to keep the public informed and knowledgeable, it is disgraceful.

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Eritrea: War, Women and Aid

As Scotland considers her future it is worth looking around at other nations which have pursued national liberation from an ostensibly benevolent neighbour.  One of the most interesting examples of this is Eritrea, who gained nation status in 1993 after a 30 year war of independence from its neighbour Ethiopia.  Eritrea is a fascinating wee country – ethnically diverse with eight major ethnic groupings, and with a religious split between Muslim, Christian and Animist followers, yet with sufficient national identity to maintain an ideology of liberation which saw them through a long and brutal war.

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The Minutiae of a Call Out

I had a really interesting encounter the other night.  A poor chap, rather ignorant in the workings of the world had the misfortune to find himself surrounded by feminists.  I spoke to him only briefly, but I’m sure he’s quite a nice fellow really – but hey – a lot to learn.

Apparently he had started a discussion on whether we should be supporting feminism or promoting gender equality.  He leaned very much to the latter, believing that only supporting women’s struggle would give them unfair advantages which ultimately undermined the aims of gender equality.  Several women present then pointed out that he was missing the point  – that women were systemically oppressed and that the aim of feminism was to destroy that system.  In the course of this discussion he made a couple of sexist remarks.  A pro-feminist nearby overheard these and started challenging him on the remarks, and a further discussion was had on whether these were acceptable things to say, a female friend of the chap in question happened to pass and, as a “joke” to diffuse the tension that was building, asked her to go to the kitchen and make him a sandwich.

Cue Feminist Rage

Well, I have no doubt that the chap has got the message that he upset some people, but at the same time it was a quite a well handled call out and a reasonable reaction.  I do suspect tho he is wondering who all the dangerous man-haters are and there is undoubtably a contingent that think – good grief, what a bampot.  But hey, call outs aren’t easy to give or take, it wasn’t ignored and it was resolved after a fashion.

He himself appreciated that he was no great feminist scholar, but he really didn’t see what he had done so wrong.  And, you know, I actually sympathise with him.  Sexist behaviour is everywhere you look – you see it on the streets, at home, in the college or workplace.  You see it on billboards, on the TV, on websites.  You see it down the pub, with your mates, on facebook.  It surrounds you – everybody does it, it must be acceptable.

And thats why the callout needs to be done.  We take it on in communities, workplaces, colleges and the media, but we also take it on when we see it.  We’re working for a world free of patriarchy, free of sexism and free of womens oppression.  And the most important environment we can change is the one right there in front of us.  Sometimes the environment we are facing is national – when we are protesting or speaking to the media, but mostly its not, its in the minutiae of everyday life.

Anyways back to the “joke”.  Feeling a tense situation brewing, he asked his female friend to go to the kitchen and make him a sandwich.  Now really, is that so bad?  Hey, I’ve asked people to make me sandwiches before, and I’ve joked with people that I’ve known about unacceptable things because they knew my true character.  Our objection to the “joke” he claimed was because we had taken it out of context – the context that he said it to his friend who knew his character.  But this is missing a much wider context – that it was a sexist remark made in an offhanded way while in discussions about things which he said that others had interpreted to be sexist.

The reasons why it was sexist and unacceptable

1. It is sexist and unacceptable for a man to ask a woman passing to drop what she is doing and go to the kitchen and make him sandwich.

2. It was a direct challenge to everything that was being said – the remark was underlined with “I can make a very sexist remark and get away with it”

3.  It sought the collusion of a female friend – she (quite appropriately) interpreted it within the context of their friendship and took no offense at the remark

Now, there was a lot of good things about this call out.  That people were willing to challenge in the first place and not just let it go.  That it had been made known that other men also found sexist behaviour unacceptable.  That women took the lead in the challenge.  That there was support available for women who were feeling overwhelmed by the situation.   That people were willing to explain to him what they felt was not acceptable and explain issues of sexism to him calmly.  His reaction also had good points – he was willing to listen to people, make no defense of sexism and there was an understanding that he had upset people.  At the same time, it could have gone better.  The main call out was done on the nook of a stairs, which led to a feeling of him being penned in.  At times the frustration became evident through the challenge and there was a general negativity around some of the interaction.  Even by resolution, there was no acceptance that his remark was unacceptable or worth apologising for.

The thing is that although this was a “private joke” between two friends, it was made in a semi-public environment, private jokes, like other intimacies, should be kept for private.  That environment was one in which there was already a concern that sexism was being expressed and there was already a level of denial around women’s oppression and exposure to sexism to the extent that a member of a the same privilaged group stepped in to express how unacceptable he found it.

The patriarchy swilrls around us all the time, it is unsurprising that it rubs off and attaches itself all over the place to all kinds of people.  It wont smash itself you know, which is why we have to constantly challenge it, not only in other people but also in ourselves.  If someone calls you out – listen and reflect.  Defensiveness does no one any good.  They are calling you out because they have been offended by something you have said. Appreciate that and also that offending people is something that you should really avoid doing, and apologise for if you do.

One last thing.  As I challenged him and just as I was leaving the converstation he accused me of being patronising.  I probably was being.  Rather than taking this comment on board and appreciating that as an older person I was using the advantages of age to counter his gender advantage, I responded with a very patronising remark.  I’m sorry, it was wrong of me.

We should all check our privilege.

Rape: Eyes, Laws and Codes

It was Germaine Greer who said that women never really know how much men hate them.  Thanks to the internet we’re starting to find out, as “banter” comes out of the backrooms and spews itself over the web.  Unilad has just been shut down after it pointed out approvingly that rapists have rather good odds, with the “lads” blaming humourless feminazis for spoiling their fun.

A week or so ago, a friend posted up a list of the things that Mens Rights Activists quote out of context to demonstrate how nutty feminists are.  Among them was a quote attributed to Marilyn French stating “all men are rapists“.  This statement as a view of how feminists see men is often given as evidence of the misanderous nature of feminism and how ludicrous it is, but the full quote, given below, which comes from “The Women’s Room” and is spoken by Val – a radical feminist character in the novel, bears further inspection.

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Leaving People the Fuck Alone

Earlier this week, the BBC reported that the Mostest Detailedest Pictures EVER! had been taken of the isolated Mashco-Piro tribe.  Apparently these pictures were taken completely by chance.  A Spaniard just happened visiting Peru, went out for a wee walk found himself amazingly right at the site where the Mashco Piro tribe happen to live and as luck would have it, tucked away in his pocket was not only a camera but also a telescope.  Wow – what a co-incidence.

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The Destruction of the Metropole

It is an odd situation that Scotland finds herself in at the moment.  A bit like a teenager, yearning for the freedom which is only a few years away but seems like a lifetime is to be lived until the magic date which will denote the beginning of our independence.  And like a teenager we must make good use of the intervening period to ensure that our freedom once obtained is not shackled by repeating mistakes that many have made before and lived to regret as the first flush of their youth evaporated.

In the 1950s and 1960s a wave of liberation swept through Empire.  Great hopes were held for the third world and grand schemes were developed.  By the 1980s, riddled with debt, systematically stripped of resources and a pawn in the Cold War, its people were hungry, impoverished and disease ridden as the newly rich implemented the tricks of the Bwanta – syphoning off the nation’s riches, using ethnic and cultural differences to justify exploitation and conflict, all the while squandering the capital of the nation to build luxurious and impressive symbols of the nation in its capital.  Welcome to the new boss, same as the old.

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Multi-cultural Glasgow

One of the things almost any English visitor to Scotland will notice almost the instant that they get off the train is how “white” our country is.  Partly this is because the sun is an infrequent visitor, but compared with England, where almost 10% of the population is of minority ethnic origin, and London in particular with over 30%, Scotland is white, very white.

Growing up in small town 70s Scotland, my first experience of ever meeting anyone Black was around four years old, when my Granny  called me over excitedly one day when we were out shopping to “see the Black baby”.  I came over curiously, as my baby obsessed Granny cooed over a 9 month old Black infant in a pushchair, anxiously watched by her (white) Mother.  Once her baby lust was sated, and as we were walking away, she commented that she was glad I had seen this because I would never see another one.  Such was the exoticism of ethnic minority communities at that time in Scotland.  And when in High School, a Chinese girl joined our class and our teacher walked over to her and asked her very loudly and very slowly “Do…you….speak…..English?“, only to meet with the reply of “Aye, how, dae you no?“, he looked visibly taken aback.

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Rape: Myths and Media

Alison Saunder, head of the CPS yesterday warned that the demonisation of young women is contributing to the failure to secure more convictions of suspected rapists. In an interview with the Guardian she states that a debate needs to be opened up about the myths and stereotypes that jurors bring with them when considering cases of rape and that she believes that this may not only help prosecutions, but also prevent opportunistic offenders who think they can get away with it because some women don’t complain because they feel they might be vilified and that making a formal complaint might be worse for them in the long run.

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You Ignorant (Hard-Working) African

There is an interesting anecdote doing the rounds at the moment, written by Field Ruwe, a Zambian novelist and journalist currently based in California.

It tells the story of a chance meeting on a plane between Ruwe and ‘Walter’, a former IMF official now working in a similar capacity for another organisation.  On realising that Ruwe is from a country with which Walter has had some connection, a conversation is struck up.  Walter starts by boasting of the pleasant time he had in Zambia, when he came as part of an IMF delegation to “rip you guys off”, and that he is about to repeat the scam under the auspices of a different organisation; of the theft of native American land and of the exploitation that the Bwana (masters, often used to denote whites) reap from the spoils of their trickery.   Rowe silently reacts and on noticing his reaction, Walter aknowledges the fundamental similarity of people of differing pigmentations.  

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Riding the Waves

Feminism is in flux these days.

As the waves lap at the shore, generational differences are crashing into one another and creating a lot of white water.  I’m not old enough to remember the start of the second wave, but I am almost certain that there would have been conflict between first wavers who concentrated on the political and legal situation of women, and the next generation who explored the social and sexual.  Not, of course, that these are necessarily in conflict: the legal framework of any group defines its social position, and indeed it was only at the start of the second wave that the Equal Pay act was introduced, and well into it before women got the right of independent taxation.

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The Threat of Open Content

Its been an interesting few days in digital activism.  First on Wednesday Wikipedia, Reddit and BoingBoing shut down together with very public protests from Google, Craigslist and Mozilla over the proposed SOPA and PIPA acts, this was rapidly followed by a raid on MegaUpload, a file transfer system for large files, accused of internet piracy.  In retaliation Anonymous shut down fourteen websites, including the FBI under a distributed denial of service attack.

It would appear that the protests over were quite a success with 4.5 million signing Google’s online petition, 162 million seeing the protest message on Wikipedia and 8 million people looking up their elected representatives address, and indeed both SOPA and PIPA have now been withdrawn – for now at any rate. Yet it is still worth looking carefully at the drivers of the desire for content control .

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The Congo and Conflict Minerals

On December 9th, Joseph Kabila was re-elected President of the Democratic of the Congo.  Overseen by international observers, this was the first ever election organised from with the DRC… and it was a whitewash.  With serious electoral irregularities being minimised and ignored by the international community, the election was a farce.

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Porn, Rape and Consent

A really interesting twitterspat broke out yesterday over this article on the anti-porn men blog, with several feminists becoming rather enraged at the perceived denial of agency and objectification of women in the sex industry as base materials for the extraction of a commodity as well as the concept of “implicit rape”.

Sophie Buckland wrote a detailed response to some of the controversial statements in the article, to which Kit Withnail, author of the original article has written a further reply.  Buckland is correct when she points out that the argument advanced in the initial article is lacking in nuance, however it does raise good issues – about effective rather then idealistic agency; the labour status of women in the sex industry and what constitutes consent.  I have very little truck with the traditional porn industry, an exploitative and misogynistic creature, but at the same time, there are dangers in overblown condemnations which see women as eternal victims of male sexuality and the purpose of feminism to protect them from it.

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Rising to the Unionist Challenge

The last few days have been a remarkable display of kack-handedness, arrogance and sheer stupidity on the part of Unionist politicians.  Attempting to seize the initiative on the Scottish Independence Referendum, Cameron set out a range of parameters under which he was prepared to consider allowing the kind of question that he liked, at a time of his choosing, considering that we should be grateful for his benevolence of considering us worthy to be asked such a stupid question.
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Thatcher: A Feminist Retrospective

With the Iron Lady released in cinemas last week, prompting protests by some of her victims, there has been a wave of renewed interest in the evil cunt, including attempts to portray her as some kind of feminist icon. Thatcher was no feminist icon – she had no feminist principles and once explicitly stated that she owed nothing to feminism, clearly situating herself outside the struggles of generations of women who had fought for equality.  She was however a woman, and consequently not immune from the sexist and macho attitudes.

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Culture and Class

Over on искра/iskra, Kit Withnail has been thinking over the whole “chav” culture and the way in which it is looked down and the snobbery associated with the use of the term.

I have problems with the whole “classism”(discrimination on the basis of class) narrative. Class is a relationship to the means of production, discrimination on the basis of class is a given – people who own the means of production *automatically* have more power than those who don’t.  Kyriarchial discrimination on the other hand is based on socially constructed power – power which just floats along through the use of narrative rather than embodied in bits of paper.

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Limmy: What the fuck happened?

I loved Limmy, I really did.

Ever since chancing across his show flicking through channels one night, I thought I had found something fresh and original.  Edgy comedy in the best traditions of Rab C Nesbitt and Still Game in a sketch format.  With characters like Jacqueline McCafferty, embodying working class self-doubt;   Dee Dee, who over-analyses the simplest of situations and Wee Gary, making a profit out of playground exploitation.   Neds, Junkies, schoolkids, dodgy prophets, frustrated suits – all portrayed with a level of sympathy and warmth, a striking contrast to the cruelty of Little Britain.

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Housing Benefit Changes: Crisis and Effects

New research was published by Shelter this week revealing that approximately 1 million people – 2% of the adult population, have taken out at least one payday loan to help pay their mortgages or rent this year.  Approximately 7 million (15%) have taken on debt of one form or another for this purpose.  There is clearly a crisis in housing affordability.

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Pornography: Ethics and the Industry – Part 2

As described in Part 1, up until this summer, I had always been critical of porn without ever viewing its contents, watching the “Price of Pleasure” which included scenes from porn films as well as outtakes showing the aftermath of filming. My next foray into the world of porn came when I posted a pair of rather nice shoes on Facebook, and someone commented that they were “real-life Furry Porn”.  Hmmm….furry porn, I thought, whats that?

…but Google is my friend and I soon discovered.

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Pornography: Ethics and the Industry – Part 1

The Free Hetherington was a wonderful place.  Over the seven month occupation as it emerged as a hub for activists of all stripes to congregate and share ideas.  In amongst the activism, probably due to the student influence, there was a very good if a little impromptu programme of political education.  Nothing formal, although there was a popular (and continuing) Radical Reading Group, but quite often sessions would be arranged to discuss theory or ideas that had arisen.

…and it was at the Hetherington that I first saw porn.

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On the Need for Women Only Spaces

Living female is a way of life.

The first pronouncement of the midwife is the sex of the child and from there on in, sex and gender provide a context to human experience.  Female life experience is gendered and the behaviour that is socially accepted as a gendered being differs from that of males.   Our society is set up for the ungendered.  Male experience is taken as the norm  – while women’s experiences are the deviation and the gender-specific.  Throughout their lives, from toddlers to old age, men take up more time and attention in public spaces.  In the upper echelons of politics, business, law, medicine and academia men proliferate while female presence is worth note only as a oddity.

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The Honeytrap of the Worker Bees

This week, the Guardian broke the news that eight women are planning to sue the Met over relationships that they had with undercover police officers.  Over a course of 23 years from 1987 to 2010, men sent by the police to infiltrate protest groups have initiated sexual relationships with female activists, lying and deceiving them to gain their trust and through that – their information.

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Women, Media and the Law

In recent years there have been a number of women caught up in the justice system, not as perpetrators of crime as witnesses or victims in a court case, but as victims of the justice system itself, and of the media which reports on it. These cases are diverse in many ways, but the thread that binds them all together is that they all concern sexual behaviour and their perceived immorality, played out across the pages of the media with intimate details of their lives splayed out across double page spreads.

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