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Identity politics and transgender: John Rees and Counterfire (Part 1)

Britain’s rulers endorse trans ideology, as part of their wider embrace of identity politics, says Marxist John Rees, a leading member of Counterfire. (Establishment ideological contradictions and the left 29 November 2021).

The “the rainbow of minorities”, he says, find support from most “of the political establishment, parts of the broadcast media, the NGO universe, the Human Resources departments of most public and private institutions” and from “much of the Labour Party and trade-union bureaucracy,” the establishment’s “labour movement echo chambers.” This support is, of course, tokenistic. So, for example, black people are “visually prominent in prospectuses and publicity, celebrated in black history month, and promoted in public,” but not given resources to deal with discrimination. But this tokenism helps the establishment re-legitimise itself after decades of austerity.

A minority within the establishment, Rees says, replaces tokenism with right wing populism, taking “a more traditional, often socially conservative, ruling-class view of what states and national cultures should be about.” In doing so it draws popular support not just from white male workers but from “considerable sections of the working class, men and women, of all ethnic minorities,” who “have been left behind by neoliberal capitalism” and who react against the multiculturalism and identity politics promoted by the neoliberal elite. He says: “Something similar [to the Brexit battle] is observable in the trans debate. Those on what is called the ‘gender-critical’ side of the argument find most of the print media, especially the right-wing press, ‘on their side’. So is half, but by no means all, the Tory hierarchy.”

So, tokenism and populism – and the game of divide and rule. Both wings of the establishment use identity politics to foment division between and within oppressed groups, and “it is the divisions in the political establishment which accounts for the virulence with which these issues are debated” on the left.

Rees’ critique of the left’s position on identity politics will be covered in part 2 of this article. First, a response to what’s been said so far.

When so many revolutionaries present trans ideology as purely oppositional, his argument is very welcome. When labour bureaucrats and their hangers-on back the trans lobby, this does not reflect a natural alignment with workers interests, or a response to progressive impulses from their members. They are in large part echo chambers for the neoliberal elite.

More could be said. For example, when trans lobbyists reach out to the NGO universe, HR departments etc. they prefer back channels, minimising public awareness of the issues at stake, reflecting the top-down nature of the trans trend. And it’s worth noting that the vast trans lobby in the USA is supported not only by the warmongering Democratic National Committee but by billionaire and corporate philanthropy which pours vast funds into LGBT shell bodies that have little or no social roots, bodies which increasingly disappear lesbians and even sideline gay men in their focus on trans issues.

Most importantly, trans ideology offers distinctive and very important benefits to the capitalist class, and to both wings of its political establishment, in their ongoing war against working class women.

Why the bosses back trans ideology

The capitalist system relies on a huge amount of unpaid labour, in the home and elsewhere, that raises the next generation of wage slaves and maintains today’s proletariat in a work-ready state. For historical reasons it is vastly easier to impose this unpaid labour on women, who have been made to see themselves as very different from and inferior to men, and ready-made to serve others. The bosses are addicted to working women’s unpaid labour and thus cannot afford to let go of the sexism that underpins it. But here the bosses face mounting pressure, because they also want women in the paid workforce en masse, where over recent decades they have learnt that they are equal to men. The bosses need a new cool sexism that resigns women to continued subordinate roles in modern times.

Gender identity theory is part of the answer. It offers the bosses a chocolate box of benefits. It says the vast majority of females come with pink gender identities naturally aligned with confining sex roles, naturally drawn to dolls and lipstick and, with all that, mountains of unpaid work. It says the girls and women who reject their sex roles no longer have any message to share with their sisters except to support trans rights. And it’s all progressive! The long-loathed women’s liberationists are now howled down; much of the spadework for this new sexism is handled by the liberal and far left. For these reasons, the capitalist media and institutions have mainstreamed trans ideology. This is what explains the otherwise-bewildering triumph of a trend formerly confined to the social margins.

The right wing bosses also back “gender identity”

And the ruling class and its establishment are not as divided on trans issues as we might think. In the USA, during the mainstreaming of the trans trend in 2000s, transgender ideology had support from some leaders of the Republican Party. Most importantly, the core element of trans ideology, gender identity theory, has been solidly backed by conservative bosses, for they too see its benefits. When the Murdoch media runs a headline like A woman has been thrown behind bars after sexually assaulting a stranger it is saying that transwomen are women: no doubt about it, no discussion needed. There is abundant, irrefutable evidence that the gutter tabloids and other right wing media have for many years waged a propaganda war to mainstream gender identity theory, as previously discussed on this blog. This is an enormous denial of material reality, defended only in terms of feelings, of magical thinking, of pseudo-science and waffle. Yet in a short few years it has become normalised; it feels odd to contest it. This normalisation could only have happened with support from the right wing media.

Right wing support for “gender identity” is the great secret of this debate. The trans lobby and their left-liberal allies bury it, of course, so as not to tarnish the theory’s progressive credentials. The right wing media themselves are coy about it too: again, this united approach helps make “gender identity” natural, normal and beyond debate. For this is by no means a done deal, since many ordinary people still doubt that men can be women. The gutter tabloids must continue to gaslight and demoralise their base on this issue, just as the left-liberal corporate media must keep stifling uneasiness among their own audience.

The culture-war divisions on the trans issue, always spotlighted, come into play almost entirely on the practical implications of gender identity theory: the many and varied attacks on women, children, clinicians, academics etc. that it demands. For the main, neoliberal wing of the establishment, the disturbances caused by these attacks, still fairly minor, are easily-absorbed overhead costs of supporting trans-related sexism and identity politics.

The traditionalist wing, on the other hand, has not bought into identity politics in the same way, and detests the trans lobby’s entanglement with the political left. Having secured the sexism of gender identity theory itself, they now denounce its practical consequences as part of the wider culture wars. Here the right wing media can channel the discontent of their audience, presenting the trans lobby’s attack through a conservative lens – and as a bonus, they can try to win progressive women from their old allegiances. (Strictly speaking their stand is contradictory: if transwomen are women, why not let them win every female sports event, or walk in on 14 year old “cis-privileged” females getting changed? But the right wing media can live very easily with contradictions.) Here and there the right wing media may carry incidental challenges to gender identity theory, as a concession to its social conservative base, or as part of the backlash against invasive and disruptive trans demands. Neither of these things alters the huge role that the traditionalist wing of the bourgeoisie, and its lackeys, have played in mainstreaming trans sexism.

Part 2 of this article will look at John Rees’ analysis of the lefts’ response to identity politics and the trans issue.


3 Comments

  1. […] Identity politics and transgender: John Rees and Counterfire (Part 1) […]

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  2. Reblogged this on aunt polly's rants and commented:
    Another must-read. Part one of a two-part series.

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  3. […] silverapplequeen on Identity politics and transgen… […]

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