Why does the far Left not oppose the conservative and sexist aspects of the transgender trend? None of the rationales that I have heard, or have come across online, ring true:
- The feminist critique of transgender does not rest on biological or cultural determinism, but on opposition to sex stereotyping and the demand that we recognise oppressive female socialisation – ideas that the far Left shares with these feminists, but chooses not to apply to the trans issue.
- It is not a matter of pontificating to trans people about their ideological imperfections, but recognising that neoliberal capitalism is promoting the transgender trend for its own reasons.
- Opposing sexist transgender ideology does not mean caving in to the religious Right, any more than supporting Brexit meant caving in to UKIP, or opposing Russian genocide in Syria means capitulating to US imperialism (though it does highlight the need to distinguish yourself from the warmongers and racists).
So what is the real reason for the Left behaving as it does? Is it the result of sexism from socialist men? Apart from anything else, their line on transgender is little different to that of most feminist women. Fear of isolation? We are talking about people who support open borders for migration.
But it is one thing to be isolated from mainstream public opinion, another to be despised by the sort of people that you are trying to work with and recruit. In the Left’s milieu it is widely agreed that “gender identity” is real, innate, and essentially separate from your sex of birth. Once you believe in gender identity, you are also likely to believe that those denying its existence are bigots, comparable to lesbophobes and homophobes. For far Left groups to point out that “gender identity” is ultimately an internalisation of sex role stereotyping, and to campaign against its oppressive implications for women, is likely to make them pariahs, in the short term at least. For one Left group alone to challenge this orthodoxy would be a gift to its rivals. Here, perhaps, is one fundamental reason for the Left’s position, whatever rationales might cover it.
The demoralising impact of neoliberalism
Context is crucially important. This debate occurs against a backdrop of persistently low levels of working class struggle in most of the western world, conditions in which Marxist groups have battled very hard to maintain membership and morale. The Left has been becalmed by the quiescence of the working class during 35 years of neoliberalism. This has hit the best sections of the Left most of all: sections that do not look to trade union bureaucrats, dictators, or ossified dogmas, but to the real live working class as the way forward for the world.
The fall in working class political activism has many causes. Workers lost confidence with the onset of high unemployment in the mid-1970s. As unions became more highly centralised and legalistic in the 1980s grass roots union organisation rotted away. Thatcher and Reagan inflicted huge, game-changing defeats. The fall of the USSR demoralised Stalinists in the western workers’ movement, people who had, for all their problems, formed the backbone of much of the industrial Left. All this while, globalisation and fragmentation of the workforce eroded bargaining power.
The union bureaucracy often tries to snuff out industrial campaigns before they build up too much momentum, to maintain their own control. Under the conditions described above, this tendency has had a particularly deadening effect. Meanwhile rising workers’ movements in the so-called developing countries have rarely as yet moved from economic to political demands. Despite pockets of intense industrial and political action in countries such as Greece, the international working class just doesn’t look that much like the key agent of social transformation, and this will probably continue in the short term at least.
These difficulties don’t change what needs to be done in relation to the transgender issue. I believe that the Left needs to seek alliances with trans-critical feminists to challenge the conservative and sexist side of trans ideology, and highlight the capitalist interest supporting it. This might create a rallying point for those working class women, and men, who currently feel uneasy about the transgender trend, but have been silenced.