The trans debate remains sunk in confusion, with this new sexist ideology presented as left wing and oppositional by both progressives and conservatives. So it’s important to highlight every left group that has held the line against it. One is the CPGB-ML, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist).
Defending Kathleen Stock
Earlier this year this group’s website, The Communists, ran the article The tragic fall of Kathleen Stock: another voice silenced by trans extremism. Liberal feminist Kathleen Stock was forced from her academic post at Sussex University for holding gender-critical opinions.
While distancing themselves from her wider views, The Communists share her “concerns about the ramifications for women, when material realities such as sex are ignored,” and when “legislation endorsing self-identification was being rushed through in England without due consideration for its impact upon women in ‘medicine, sport, science and education’.” Those attacking Stock also attack “workers’ rights” and “the rights of women”; they “reinforce sexual stereotypes” and they “come to ideological and physical blows with lesbian and gay people.”
The article also points out the appalling role played by the Sussex chapter of University and College Union (UCU), through “its active participation in the witch hunt” against Stock. Rather than defend their harassed union member they “called for an investigation into ‘institutional transphobia’ at the university”; its local leader “boasted of installing ‘Terf-blocker software’ on her Twitter account”.
Material reality and the sexual binary
In 2019 The Communists ran a piece called The reactionary nightmare of ‘gender fluidity’. “Lenin,” they note, “told us that ‘if geometrical axioms affected human interests, attempts would certainly be made to refute them’.” And that is just what trans ideology gives us, an attempts to deny material reality in support of vested interests – for example via the notion that sex is assigned at birth.
They also defend the now-contested biological differentiation between male and female. This sexual binary is anchored in sexual reproduction, which “has persisted in nature due to the diversity it engenders.”
An “identity” mainstreamed by the bosses
The “capitalist class,” they point out, took trans ideology “from a group of academics” and propagated it “to the point where it’s on the lips of every prime minister; it’s on the lips of every banker; it’s on the lips of every capitalist.” From “being very marginal to certain academic institutions in the 1970s” it “became mainstream globally.”
Here they make an extremely valuable contribution to the discussion. The trans trend would indeed have remained on the margins without mass propaganda pumped out by the film industry, by liberal broadsheets and right wing gutter tabloids, all saying that boys who wish to play with dolls are really girls, all modernizing old sexist tropes. The role of the media, supported by the public and private institutions of neoliberalism, is the decisive feature of the trans trend.
Class power, trans ideology and identity politics: just divide-and-rule?
The Communists are firm opponents of the oppression of women, black people, and other groups. They argue for the working class and the revolutionary party to fight oppression in all its forms. But identity politics, they say, is no solution. It fragments the working class, leading workers to see themselves mainly via their identity – their ethnic group, for example – and the bosses then pit different identity groups against one another. The bosses, they imply, support trans ideology simply as one more form of identity politics.
Where did identity politics come from?
Reading these articles, you do get the feeling that identity politics has been spun out of nothing by the bosses, as a weapon against workers and socialists. The decline of the unions also seems to be a pure act of destruction by the capitalist class. In fact, identity politics has its origins in the long agonizing decline of the western workers movement, in which the bosses were only one factor.
The late 1960s and early 70s saw confident, radicalized workers win huge strikes, alongside campaigns by militant social movements. The political establishment was the enemy of all; the slogan one struggle one fight captured the mood. But the mass campaigns against the Vietnam War and conscription came to an end. Economic crisis set in; union leaders rallied behind the bosses “in the national interest” against their own members. Unemployment came with it, workers’ confidence fell, and they depended more on the very union leaders who now turned on them and broke down their spirit. The bosses launched savage new attacks against the weakening unions. Outsourcing turned yesterday’s union militant into today’s subcontractor. Strike levels almost flatlined in most western countries.
In this new climate workers no longer looked like a key force for change. One struggle one fight rang hollow. Movements against the system fragmented; identity replaced solidarity. In this demoralized climate, postmodernists opened a point by point attack on revolutionary politics, sometimes under a pseudo-radical veneer, pouring out poison that still flows in today’s political bloodstream. Trans ideology is perhaps the most important example of this. Finally, the neoliberal bosses opted to embrace identity politics in tokenistic ways, extending its reach but in shallow form.
The contradictions of identity politics
Identity politics has two sides to it. Certainly the bosses use it as a distraction from austerity policies. They prefer individual workers to think of themselves as women, black people, gays etc. rather than as workers. And the bosses pit these different identity groups against each other.
They use identity politics, but did not invent it, and would prefer a world without it – where members of oppressed groups were utterly atomized with no sense of their oppression. Because, for all the bosses’ efforts at co-option, identity politics here and there generates organized resistance, sometimes very militant, if limited in scope.
The specifics of trans ideology
Trans ideology, however, offers the bosses a lot more than just another chance to divide-and-rule. As The Communists say it reinforces sex stereotypes, but it does so in very emphatic and destructive ways. First, gender identity theory naturalizes confining sex roles for women by declaring that deep inside they have feminine “gender identities” aligned to their female bodies. Secondly, women who rebel against confining female sex roles are now partitioned off as trans, nonbinary, fluid etc. with no message to spread to their “cis” sisters except to support trans rights. Thirdly, these attacks have been successfully passed off as progressive, and militantly defended by activists as well as by union bureaucrats, liberal academics and journalists, and most of the far left. All this makes trans ideology a real prize for the bosses and their political establishment. This is why gender identity theory is embraced by the conservative as well as the neoliberal media.
The bosses “divide and rule” only when it comes to the practical outcomes of gender identity theory: the attacks on women, children, clinicians, critical academics and other critics – and on liberal-democratic values such as free speech – which all flow from the theory. This is where the right wing media shifts ground and plays to the concerns of gender critical feminists, right wing liberals and social conservatives. These arguments have been discussed at great length on Freer Lives.
The Communists are part of the Stalinist tradition, which makes their politics intensely contradictory. On one hand, Stalinists formed the backbone of the left within the western workers’ movement for decades, fighting attacks on the unions, and opposing Israel and western imperialism. On the other hand, they have long supported regimes that try to crush every particle of democratic self-organisation within their own working classes. The CPGBML are hardliners who support, for example, North Korea, and denounce the turn towards social democracy taken by western communist parties after Kruschev’s liberalization in Russia in the late 1950s. (The CPGBML was expelled from the Stop the War Coalition, apparently after disputes over what line to take on Libya and Syria.)
Major disagreements on the left are nothing new. Debate should not be stifled but nor should it interfere with unity in action around progressive goals. Stalinists’ residual presence within the union movement seems to have given them some insulation from trans ideology in the identity politics milieu. That is very welcome (though the CPGBML admit that the issue is “causing genuine confusion” in their party). All left wing critics of trans ideology should collaborate against it, however divergent their views on other matters. At the very least, they should know about each other.