An issue of the anarcho-syndicalist magazine Direct Action, focussing on gender and sexuality.
If you have a copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.
An issue of the anarcho-syndicalist magazine Direct Action, focussing on gender and sexuality.
If you have a copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.
As usual, New Labour and Tory politicians are fighting to be tougher on immigrants and refugees than each other. At the same time, they protest loudly that they’re not racist. Well, of course not. They just don’t want any more foreigners to come here - what’s racist about that?
Racism is the bottom line of the asylum and immigration ‘debate’. Immigration laws are all about keeping out ‘undesirable’ foreigners. But those who make and support such laws try to cloud the debate by wheeling out the same old myths and lies. Here’s just a couple of my (least) favourite.
The first is our old friend, ‘the interests of good race relations’. The ‘good race relations’ argument sends a clear message to racists and fascists. "Hey, we’re with you boys. All these foreigners aren’t welcome - there’s too many of ‘em here already. It’s not your fault you have to beat the sh** out of them - they provoked you by being here".
Just what we expect from the parties of law and order - tough on crime, tough on the victims of crime. Just as women who don’t want to get raped shouldn’t be out at night without a man and gay people who don’t want to get queer bashed shouldn’t kiss in the street, Black, Asian and refugee peoples who don’t want to get beaten up by racist scum shouldn’t come here in the first place.
A second much peddled myth is that Britain has always been a safe haven for genuine refugees, but sadly we can’t cope with them all anymore and/or we’re now being flooded with bogus illegal immigrant scroungers. Just when this idyllic state of affairs actually existed is never made clear. Probably because it never did.
Since their invention in the 1900s, successive immigration and asylum laws have been specifically designed to stop particular ‘undesirable’ groups from ever finding a ‘safe haven’ here, and to make life as difficult as possible for them if they ever did make it. In the first half of the 20th century, this mainly meant Jewish refugees from central and eastern Europe (including those attempting to flee Hitler). In the second half, it was Black and Asian people from the defunct British Empire. Now the focus is on stopping refugees from just about everywhere (with the possible exception of white Zimbabweans).
It’s blindingly obvious that immigration laws are fundamentally, inevitably and intentionally racist, and that anyone who calls themselves an anti-racist must be opposed to all immigration controls. Obvious to everyone except the likes of Straw and Widdecombe. As far as they’re concerned, immigrants and refugees can fuck off.
Wonder how much comfort it is to those deemed ‘bogus’ and ‘illegal’ waiting for deportation in a privatised detention centre that New Labour wants them to fuck off in a fairer, faster, firmer way?
For information on action against immigration controls and local anti-deportation campaigns, contact the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns: www.ncadc.demon.co.uk
The debate around repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1988 has focused on schools. It has addressed homophobic bullying, discrimination against children without conventionally married parents and sex education policies. This is all very well, but Section 28 does not actually apply to schools because they are no longer controlled by Local Authorities, which is what the Act refers to.
The legal aspects of S28 are a red herring, since the ideological impacts are the real problem. So the starting point in the S28 debate has to be that simply campaigning to repeal it is nowhere near enough – we need to oppose the implications of what it means too.
S28 was actually an amendment to Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986. Section 2A, paragraph (1) of that Act states that:
A local authority shall not -
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
Other legislation, such as The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, however, places a statutory obligation on Local Authorities "to provide a comprehensive and efficient service for all who wish to use it". Moreover, Department of the Environment Circular 12/88, issued on 20th May 1988, states that: "Local authorities will not be prevented by this section from offering the full range of services to homosexuals on the same basis as to all their inhabitants."
Section 28 doesn’t legally restrict the provision of public services, it just bans the mythical "promotion of homosexuality". It has still done serious damage, however. It has created an atmosphere in which discrimination can flourish, and where there is little or no discussion of the provision and development of services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. It has reduced these services from being the responsibility of all workers to the second class status of "personal interest".
Chiefly, this means lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered workers have taken responsibility for providing these services to their peers by default. For example, if you work in a library and you are lesbian, you will be the one who ends up maintaining the lesbian books. It also means anyone who takes these services seriously is assumed to be "gay", leaving them open to sniggering speculation if they are straight, or not open about their sexuality. It has isolated these people, and deemed them to be working in their own interests, not simply doing their job. Repealing S28 will not change this. The standard trades union approach would be to demand that management tackle the problem. Management are only likely to throw the ball back to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered workers, this being our "personal interest".
The issues are best tackled directly, by firstly bringing them up at workplace meetings. Given this wider audience, concrete examples will strike a chord with other workers, and generate support for restoring these services to their proper status. Collective discussion and action will also break down the vicious circle of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered workers being seen as the only people responsible for these services. The culmination of this approach would be establishing the responsibility of the workforce as a whole for these services and, in so doing, tackling discrimination and isolating the bigots S28 has supported. This has the added advantage of the workers retaining the initiative and the means to combat heterosexism. At worst, you’ll be able to put pressure on the management to take responsibility and do something. "Homosexuals" of all services unite, you have nothing to lose but your isolation!
Postmodernism, it seems, is nobody’s friend. It is relativist, and/or nihilistic, and/or elitist, and/or incomprehensible. It bears no relation whatsoever to political struggle in the real world. From their ivory towers in academia, postmodernists deny truth, reality, self-identity and the very possibility of independent moral judgement.
In a remarkable display of bad faith, however, or postmodern irony, perhaps, such insulated intellectuals still manage to draw their pay cheques at the end of every month, since their non-belief does not apparently extend to the relation between their own material well-being and a certain economic ‘truth’. Such is postmodernism in the eyes of many. What I want to consider here is whether postmodernism deserves its bad press, or whether it may in fact have something to offer the libertarian left in general, and leftist feminism in particular.
Do postmodernists have a firm political agenda? Or do they (in spite of the leftist rhetorical stance of many of them) simply seek to shift the ground from under everyone else’s feet? Are we obliged to condone both Noam Chomsky and David Irvine in the name of cultural relativism, or to look the other way in the face of atrocities in case we impose our own contingent and oppressive world-view on others? In true postmodern style, this article will probably raise more questions than answers, but one thing I am prepared to argue with some conviction is this: postmodernism, however much it may have been appropriated by the white, male, middle-class, intellectual establishment, is not the pristine product of the white, male, middle-class mind.
Postmodernism was not invented by Jean-Francois Lyotard (obscure and near-incomprehensible philosopher who stuck his neck out and wrote ‘What is Postmodernism?’ No one was any the wiser). What passes for postmodern thought in the twenty first century arose, at least in part, as a consequence of marginalised groups, during the course of the last one hundred years or so, finding a voice with which to articulate their own concerns and to describe the extent of their oppression at the hands of the white, male, middle-class establishment. And here, the relation between postmodernism and feminism comes into its own. In the 1940s, Simone de Beauvoir wrote that woman is man’s ‘other’. Man is the measure of all things; he is the norm from which woman deviates. Man defines ‘truth’ according to his own experience of the world, and woman is ‘other’ to man and to the/his ‘truth’. But what happens when women find a voice, when it becomes slowly apparent that man’s truth is just that: man’s truth?
What happens is that the ground beneath ‘truth’ begins to shift. Feminism in the twentieth century exposed the lie behind certain established ‘truths’. In the field of political and economic theory, for example, feminism pointed to the male bias inherent within political and economic liberalism. Could the isolated, acquisitive individual seeking single-handedly to maximise his gains and minimise his losses in the skewed world of Adam Smith et al ever be a mother of four dependent children under five? Get real. In the field of science, a few trouble-making feminists began to point to a certain anomaly, whereby medical students only ever studied physiological representations of male bodies, except in the specific context of female reproductivity. A minor issue, perhaps, but it was indicative of something far more pernicious than an aesthetic preference for male muscles and fibres. It was common medical practice at the same time only to test clinical drugs on male subjects, as it was thought that the hormonal ‘differences’ in women would taint the results. Clearly, the male body represented a certain ‘truth’ in medical terms: the female body, with its various chemical deviations from the norm, could hardly be relied upon to yield ‘objective’ data. Those who condemn the post-modern/feminist attack on science would do well to bear this in mind – it is not about denying that the earth is round (and anyone who says it is is just mad!)
Feminism anticipated and influenced the intellectual and political development of postmodernism, and the two continue to feed into one another, and to critique one another, to an extent that is either productive or alarming, depending on your perspective. Feminism, for example, has not been above constructing its own ‘truths’ that have turned out to be as contingent as those they sought to replace. In a fairly typical attempt at the complete mystification of the issue, one philosopher (Lyotard again, as it happens) described postmodernism as ‘an incredulity towards meta-narratives’. Here on planet earth, that might translate as ‘scepticism towards grand ideas that try to explain the world’, or simply as ‘be warned: intellectuals have been known to talk bollocks’. And this includes feminist intellectuals, as anyone who has read anything by Judith Butler will testify. Feminism has constructed no end of grand theories to explain the oppression of women by men, as if women were a homogenous mass trudging through life like the match-stick figures in a Lowry painting. It ain’t necessarily so, and in sturdy recognition of this fact Angela Davies, in 1982, published Women, Race and Class. Feminist political theories in the ‘60s and ‘70s – even radical and ground-breaking theories – tended to assume that a certain ‘truth’ governed the experience of women under patriarchy. Women were denied access to paid work and required to fulfil, in the home, the role of wife and mother. Shalumith Firestone went so far as to locate women’s oppression in female reproductivity – no childbearing, no domesticity and, ergo, no oppression. But who were these women whose experience of domesticity defined the shape of feminist theory and practice for all women? White, middle-class women, that’s who, said Davies: ‘More Black women have always worked outside the home than have their white sisters […] As slaves, compulsory labour overshadowed every aspect of women’s existence. It would seem, therefore, that the starting point for any exploration of Black women’s lives would be an appraisal of their role as workers’.
Davies’ appreciation of the different experiences of women, experiences that are defined as much by race and class as by gender, had a huge influence on feminism in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and it reinforced (albeit that Davies is no postmodernist) feminism’s association with postmodernism and its localising, non-totalising concerns. Postmodernism, in its most sane manifestations, has it that, in the social world, one should always be wary of any claim by anyone to possess ‘truth’. ‘Truth’, in a social context (we’re not talking about disproving Pythagoras’ theorem here), is never wholly ‘neutral’, never wholly ‘objective’. To state this is not, I believe, to eschew political responsibility: it is simply to recognise that, before we act, and in particular before we act on behalf of others whose experiences we do not share, we should consider where we are coming from. Even our most seemingly enlightened and humanitarian impulses are, to some extent, the consequence of historical and material influences we can not always account for. The least we can do is examine our motives. Thinking before acting does not mean fiddling (or writing obscure philosophical tracts on postmodernism) while Rome burns: it does require us to make sure the fire extinguisher isn’t full of chip fat.
So where does this leave feminism and the left? On shifting ground? Yes, but this is no bad thing. Intriguingly, the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy relates post-modernism to ‘the sceptic’s old problem of how to think and act’. Scepticism, meanwhile, in its original form, was ‘centred on the value of enquiry and questioning’. If we believe that the means of effecting social change are as important as (because definitive of) the change itself, then surely a certain scepticism – a certain process of questioning and enquiry – is a prerequisite of sound, ethical political action. The price of freedom – and therefore the price of striving for freedom – is eternal vigilance.
New man is dead, new lad is dirty old man on a lower shelf, men are in their cave, getting in touch with their man-ness. If all this was just a roundabout way of saying masturbation is OK, all would be well and good; unfortunately it’s not. What it appears to all be about is new excuses for old behaviour.
Feminists, or at least the more radical elements within the broader movement, as part of what they were doing to address the issues of patriarchy and inequality between the sexes, challenged the accepted/acceptable ideas of what is to be a woman. Feminists fought to find and open opportunities for women to be more than one of an accepted selection of stereotypes. In many cases, they did this using radical, non-hierarchical structures – recognising that it was not just sexual inequality that was oppressive, but all forms of normative inequalities that allowed groups (notably white heterosexual European males) access to power over others. Whilst this is still going on, at least the issues have been addressed, seriously and from a radical perspective. Men have barely tinkered with the edge of what it is to be a man, because they haven’t needed to – to be a man is to be a human, a homo sapien – all philosophical discourse (we are talking sweeping generalisation here) up to the onset of feminism was about man. Unfortunately, much of this self-reflection was about man’s (white European man‘s at that) relation with the gods, God, existence, the Universe and, well, nothingness. Not much about man’s relationship with women or each other in there, really. Men need to address their existence as men, not as man=human.
Feminists and their predecessors were about taking back some public space as women in their own terms, about releasing the grip of male domination on the identity of woman, about gaining power. For men the problem is different, for men have to relinquish power, make way for others in the public space and reclaim some of the responsibility for the private space they occupy.
Recently, we have had the Man is from Mars and Woman is from Venus phenomenon (and as the cartoon put it, pop-psychology is from Uranus). Without undergoing too much extensive research (it was tried but deemed unpalatable, so second-hand sources have been relied upon), it would appear that men are macho and women are feminine… what a shocker! It is so much codswallop heaped on more codswallop. Since it would waste space to bang on about what rubbish it all is in detail, let’s get straight to the fundamental objection - it’s all too easy. The whole thing was easy to think up and easy to digest and easy to assimilate without actually addressing anything about what it is to be a man. Just taking an established list of stereotypes, thinking up a few half-baked metaphors and a snappy title really isn’t helping. To just explain away the differences and say "learn to live with them" isn’t acceptable. Men and women are heterogeneous groupings - not all men are alike and not all women are alike. This should not really be news, but some people seem to have difficulty with this. That a lot of ‘male’ behaviour maybe able to be explained (with or without the use of caves and Roman gods) is one thing, but explanation is not justification. Too much of this cod nonsense is simply self-justification.
The argument that insists that male (and to the same extent, female) behaviour is somehow identifiable and innate because men do tend to display some similar types of behaviour often seems to lead to the argument that because there is this ‘male’ type (and ‘female’ type), the world will just have to learn to cope with it. This archly conservative opinion basically states "I am what I am, and therefore I cannot change." What this means in practice is these archly conservative men like the status quo and don’t want to change, therefore they have decided that their nature is the natural way and, if women don’t like it, tough. It's a man thing
The ladism media phenomenon is slightly different. The position here seems more an extension of the free love ideas from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Everything revolves around the old hedonist essentials – football, beer and sex. But what is different? What is specifically wrong with the new lad? Well, it’s new lad and new ladette for a start. Women seem only to be allowed to partake of this free hedonistic lifestyle on two accounts; the object or the cheerleader. Ladism, for all its alleged knowing, its winks and its self-mocking, is just business as usual, but this time driven by a media in which advertisers are prepared to ply their wares. Just as concepts behind free love seemed to be hijacked into the idea of bearded and beaded pot smoking men getting their oats without responsibility, new ladism is about replica shirt wearing lager-drinking men getting their oats without responsibility.
The term responsibility maybe what all this is driving at. The problem of masculinity is too many people making accusations or excuses and not enough men taking responsibility for themselves, their own behaviour. This is not a call for men to run around being guilt ridden and always apologising for their role in the oppression of women. Not all men are bastards and to depict all men as oppressors, rather than looking at the system of patriarchal power and seeing how it can be overcome, does not really help. Firstly because whilst these men are lamenting their and their brethren’s role in the oppression of womankind, they are often not actually addressing the core issues, and secondly, because the depiction of men as aggressors, as transgressors against women, can only mean that women are depicted as victims. No matter how strong these victims maybe portrayed, they are still being seen as victims. These is not to deny that women are victimised by men, but that it is not the place of men to see themselves lifting the burden of oppression from women. We won’t make much progress if all that happens is that men perpetuate the image of themselves as transgressors and women as victims. What’s needed is for people to both recognise it and act to end it.
There is a need to get away from the current dominant idea that there are all these little egos running around in isolation – people are social. Humans are social and our behaviour and attitudes are conditioned by our society. Men must start to acknowledge that, at the moment, we live in an unequal society and, in general, male sex gives an advantage, one which boys are trained to accept, and to not even notice, from birth. Surely a better new masculinity is one where men can communicate with not just women, but with other men as well. Where men recognise they can change male-dominance, not give in to it. Then people can more easily get on with changing society for the better. Put simply, it is time to re-emphasise that people, including men, can change their behaviour and influence the behaviour of others.
Some ‘perfection’ is not what is being sought, but how about trying to be better? Men should not be the same as women; men needn’t be the same as men. Not everyone can get their way all the time, not everyone should. Be a man, be yourself, but for fucks sake, give a toss. The toys can stay out of the box boys, but maybe the ego can be put away and the toys shared around?
London Mardi Gras (LMG) 2000 – let’s have a look inside the glossy packaging…
The annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pride events in London have undergone a number of changes in recent years. This year, the London Mardi Gras (LMG) 2000 "Gay and Lesbian" package includes an arts festival, a parade starting in Hyde Park, and a music festival in Finsbury Park.
In 1999, the march, or parade, was organised by Pride (London), a non-profit-making company set up in response to a survey in which the community expressed a desire to see the march organised by such a body. The festival in Finsbury Park was run by LMG, a profit-making company set up by wealthy gay and lesbian business people, responding to the same survey’s desire for a gay business-run event which was perceived to be more efficient.
Pride (London) began holding outreach meetings after Pride in July 1999, to get feedback from its constituency on what it had done. These provided a forum for criticism of LMG’s perceived profiteering, insensitivity and lack of commitment to diversity. There was also a feeling that the march and festival should be "re-united", so that there was somewhere affordable and accessible for people from outside London to go after the march, making the trip worth the cost and effort.
LMG obviously decided that they didn’t like this criticism. They need to conscript the community to do its duty and pay for the festival they have graciously organised for our benefit. They booked the route of the march for Saturday July 1st 2000, and recruited Steve Greenwood from Pride (London) to be their Parade Director, leaving us to choose between ceding control of the march, or organising a separate one. The latter is not feasible, but resistance continues in spite of a virtual news blackout, due largely to the fact that both Kelvin Sollis, chairman of Chronos Publishing, owners of the Pink Paper, Boyz, etc., and Chris Graham-Bell, chairman of Millivres-Prowler, the gay publishing empire which owns the Gay Times and Diva, are part of LMG. Pride (London)’s active membership is small, and so not much in the way of counter publicity - leaflets, etc. - can be produced and distributed. Our medium term aims are to increase the active membership and counter the blackout.
A rare piece of publicity was the article written by then-editor David Smith in September’s Gay Times. Pride (London) were described as "the nominal organisers of this year’s Pride march", and the late Barry Jackson of LMG claimed that, without LMG’s (financial) backing, the march would not have happened. This is in spite of the fact that the march has never lost money, unlike the festival, and that the stewarding is organised by an independent group each year. Jackson also alleged that we had "thrown in the towel", and planned to "move Pride to a date in November", forcing LMG to take over.
Not-for-profit Pride’s strategy is to raise our profile in the community. On July 1st, we ask as many groups and individuals as possible to march behind our banner, with the slogan "Pride not Profit: for equality and diversity". We encourage people who feel excluded from the Mardi Gras to enjoy the traditional alternative to a commercial festival - the picnic in Hyde Park. Our point is we march for our pride, not for LMG’s profits. You are welcome to join us. If you are reading this after July 1st, it is not too late. A re-enactment of the first Gay Liberation Front demonstration in Britain is taking place in London on its thirtieth anniversary on 26th November 2000. This is a one-off addition to Pride. We hope to remind people of our existence, and of what the non-profit-making company people want the Pride march to stand for. These events will give us a platform for reclaiming the Pride march from LMG in 2001 (we hope).
While we appreciate that people don’t like or want to dwell on conflicts or the politics behind them, it is impossible to explain Pride without saying what’s wrong with LMG. The reason LMG have hijacked the Pride march as a London Mardi Gras Parade, part of an overall vision of Parade, Festival and Arts Festival, is to get punters and sponsors to cough up. In spite of the much-hyped "efficiency" of business, the 1999 festival lost nearly half-a-million pounds. LMG’s investors are keen to recoup their losses and to start turning a profit. Their need to court sponsors has had two inevitable side effects.
First, the march must be depoliticised to avoid frightening off sponsors who want to reach a market, not to back militancy. Secondly, they have to clearly define that market - the one with the cash to spend. This means affluent white gay men, and their lesbian equivalents. This means not bisexual (unreliable) or transgendered (too threatening) people, who do not present the right image to potential sponsors. Only the affluent and conservative are welcome, which excludes most of us.
The result – if it is not effectively opposed - is victory for the "pink pound" commercialism to which LMG subscribe. It is also unworkable. The old Pride Festival was hyped as "Europe’s biggest free music festival" to the point where it was unsustainable. By 1997, the rush to involve sponsors had "de-gayed" much of Pride’s publicity, separating march (political) and festival (fun). Festival producer Teddy Witherington used the hype to get the equivalent job in San Francisco, and left owing the Pride Trust more than £21,000. Losses totalling £45,000 were put down to "ditzy" management, which could be corrected by sound business input. Enter Pride Events UK Ltd, who failed to organise a commercial festival on Clapham Common in 1998, partly because commercialisation reduced community support, and prompted Lambeth Council and the Police to charge commercial rates, making it unprofitable. Pride march 1998, however, was organised by an ad hoc coalition of community groups, which were not hamstrung by the need to make a profit. In short, LMG arose from the thinking that the 1997 festival had raised £340,000 in sponsorship, according to Labour Research, and this is where the money is to be made. The paradox is that, to maximise sponsorship and profits, it has to alienate much of its core audience, who are strangely unconvinced by business ideology.
The idea that there are pots of lesbian and gay money out there for businesses to cash in on is false. A gay couple is like any other couple. Even if they are both working, for example, the combined income of a care worker and a nurse is about enough for one person to have a decent standard of living in London. LMG will eventually have to cut its losses, what those of us involved in Pride (London) want to avoid is it taking our march with it when it folds. Above all, it is about keeping up the campaign for diversity and human rights, not LMG’s profits (or losses).
Back in November 1998, a conference entitled "Repensar el SIDA" ("Rethinking AIDS") was organised in Cádiz, Spain, by the local section of the CNT (sister organisation to the Solidarity Federation in Britain). In attendance were the two high-profile "AIDS dissidents", doctors Peter Duisberg and Kary Mullis (Chemistry Nobel Prize winner in 1993). Dissidents? Because they have questioned the official theory that HIV is the cause of AIDS.
Duisberg thinks that drug taking, and not a retrovirus, is what causes AIDS. In fact, Duisberg argues, it is the AZT drug agent used to treat HIV that is killing people. Based on correlation studies carried out in San Francisco and Vancouver, Duisberg showed that drug taking among the male gay population causes suppression of the immunological system, and indicated that AIDS was not infectious, nor could it be sexually transmitted.
Duisberg and Mullis have not only criticised AZT treatments as dangerous, they have also pointed out vociferously the fact that, behind these drugs, lie the economic interests of the pharmaceutical industry. These drugs, indeed, make a lot of profit, and bankrupt many who apparently need them. Duisberg also has questioned whether an AIDS epidemic really is what is happening in Africa. According to him, many old illnesses caused by malnutrition and parasitical infections have been labelled under the acronym AIDS. And the dissidents are not so isolated. Other doctors, including Harvey Bialy and Gordon Stewart, have shown that more than 80% of African HIV positive cases are actually false positives. AIDS has become big business in the last two decades, with the commercialisation of tests and treatments, and money previously spent on medication against malaria, TB, etc. is now being spent on the distribution of AZT treatments which people can’t afford. Monopolistic drug pricing is certainly a real millennium bugbare.
Many of the political and economic arguments exposing the disgusting profiteering from illness that pharmaceutical companies indulge in when they can are cast iron. However, there are serious question marks around some of the alternative theories of AIDS. First, there is undoubtedly strong correlation evidence linking AIDS to HIV. In fact, in the same tests carried out in San Francisco and Vancouver, which Duisberg used as data for his drug taking-AIDS research, all AIDS cases were also HIV antibody-positive. Another study amongst haemophiliacs in Great Britain showed that, in the period 1978-1992, the chance of death was ten times higher among HIV positive patients compared to their HIV negative counterparts. Now, correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but the links are there. Furthermore, whilst AIDS drugs may well be damaging the human immunological system, it does not follow that drug taking causes AIDS - although it may well be a co-factor. In fact, even amongst alternative aids researchers, Duisberg is sometimes criticised for denying categorically the possibility that HIV plays a role in AIDS infection. This is not a question of sitting on the fence – it is about the fact that very little is known about the origins of AIDS, and that the official HIV explanation is questionable, particularly given the real motivations of the drug companies and many of the scientists who work for them.
It does not follow that Dr Duisberg is right. Certainly, AZT treatments combined with other drugs (combination therapy) are pretty toxic and, frankly, potentially dodgy, and different people respond to the drug cocktails in different ways. This is clearly not an ideal situation. My dilemma, though, is that having known HIV positive people who have undergone the treatment and have stayed healthy, I will not discourage them from sticking with it. Would they have ended up not developing AIDS anyway, without these treatments, even if they are HIV positive? It is about making judgements of different risks – if possible, with ‘good’ information, it is the person getting the treatment who needs to choose.
As for transmission, it also seems pretty likely that AIDS can be transmitted sexually. There are not only correlation tests, but also virologic and celular biology studies which seem to point in this direction. Which, of course, does not mean that unsafe sex between someone with AIDS and someone not affected would result in the latter being infected. However, again, the link is too strong to deny that there is a risk. Some liberal charities, like Terrence Higgins Trust, emphasise the importance of being tested and having safe sex to extents which have made some sectors of the gay population label these organisations as preachy and moralistic. The other extreme is the attitude of some left wing organisations, who discourage people from using condoms, arguing that AIDS is a myth invented by puritan western capitalist societies who want to prevent people from having sex!
With AIDS drugs firmly in the grip of big business, and global and local economic inequality gaps widening, the future does not look good. The free market has reached the status of sacred god, and greediness of a minority is apparently accepted as more important than the health of many thousands of people. The drug companies’ defence is that treatments used in combination therapy are still in development and there is no simple and regular model of production and administration. In other words, these treatments are not easily "marketed". This contrasts with, say, TB treatments, which are cheaper and simpler than before (until, that is, drug-resistant TB strikes back). This is not due to rich world companies suffering an unexpected attack of generosity, but because the patents on these drugs expired a long time ago and the TB treatment regime has changed little since the 1960s. The profit has run to a steady trickle. But for now, with the backing of our leaders and stockmarket profiteers, the pharmaceutical industry has itself a now well-established goldmine in HIV-AIDS. The gold rush continues.
Even if HIV treatments miraculously became cheaper overnight, in many countries, there is no infrastructure of services for their application. Unless the IMF and the World Bank decide to help the poorer countries instead of dealing out punishment beatings for defaulting on extortionate loan interest charges for loans, the situation is not likely to change. And they won’t, unless they are forced to. No change there. For many years, people in Africa have died from malaria and TB, not having the economic resources to pay for medicines, and the fat cats of the World Bank hardly flinched.
Rather than adhering oneself to this or that theory of the causes of AIDS, better stick to the facts. For ages, big multinationals and corporations have been exploiting the poor, killing them and allowing them to die. HIV-AIDS is simply a symptom of the wider cause of this phenomenon - capitalism. In Rwanda, Zaire, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola and Somalia even basic quality health and education is rare. Sexual taboos and stigmatisation of HIV-positive people make things worse. In Zimbabwe, until 1989, AIDS couldn’t be recorded on death certificates, probably with the aim of protecting the tourist industry. Even in Uganda, where prevention campaigns have been carried out by many NGOs and charities, the situation remains dire, with HIV-positive people unlikely to work if they are not specifically backed by a human rights campaign. In Uganda, a woman who refuses to have sexual intercourse with her husband and ends being beaten up by him would not generally get any legal support. The charities and NGOs are effective only at the margin, if at all. They are not revolutionary; their aim is not to change the system - a serious limitation. The breakthrough can only come when the control of the drugs barons is broken and new drugs are made available for all who need them. This is the real battleground, where effective gains are most urgently needed.
Back in the rich world, new forms of HIV-positive self-help support groups in San Francisco have provided more than mere support, including welfare advice, information on treatments and on needs and rights of people with AIDS. Some have even started buyers clubs and treatments newsletters, to assist those who want access to experimental treatments, some of them not licensed in the US (AIDS Treatment News in San Francisco, for example, provides information on "underground" and experimental treatments).
For anyone seeking revolutionary alternatives to current capitalist society, these are demanding times. The last twenty years have seen particularly rapid change. The capitalist system is in a state of flux with mass production giving way to a mass service industry. Technological change increasingly affects all aspects of the economy. The certainties of the post-war period, with full employment, ever rising standards of living and workplace organisations capable of inflicting defeats on capitalism, are now distant history.
Many people on the revolutionary left have been simply unable to cope with the changes and carry on as if we are still in the 1950s. Unable to let go of the social democracy that dominated the post war period, they continue to pedal parliamentary politics to the extent of telling us to "vote for Labour without illusions". They see the failing of trade unions as due to lack of democracy - unions are led by corrupt leaders selling out the militant rank & file. If only things were so simple.
Alongside this, the current political and capitalist elite, through their media mouthpieces, constantly portray the changes taking place within society as stemming from new technology. All such change is portrayed as both inevitable and progressive. Those who seek to challenge technological change are castigated as backward-looking reactionaries unable to come to terms with the modern world. The idea seems to be that technology is some sort of independent, all-powerful force, driving itself forward for the benefit of society as a whole. The reality, of course, is that new technology is sponsored and owned by capitalists and is thus in the interests of capitalism. Technology is only developed commercially if it will lead to greater profits. There are two basic options; new products that can be sold, or technology that cuts costs of current production. Either way, profit is the force that drives technological change.
The ideological campaign centred on the idea that new technology is automatically a liberating force for choice and freedom is critical to the successful adoption of new technology by capitalism. At the core of the campaign lies the pre-eminence of the free market. It is apparently only the free market that can produce the technological change that delivers more things and greater individual choice. Of course, here we do not mention the vast majority of the world which the market has completely failed. In Africa alone, 20,000 children die daily from starvation, lack of clean drinking water and various diseases. Malaria not only affects the health of millions, it holds back development. Capitalism chooses to invest more money developing anti-wrinkle cream than on a cure for malaria. This speaks volumes about the true role of technology within capitalism. Fundamentally, let’s face it, it is not about real choices or real quality of life.
Should malaria affect the developed world, there would be a vaccine developed – the attempts to date have largely appeared around various western military interventions in malarial zones. When our boys start going down with malaria instead of killing the enemies to our dominance, it’s time a cure was found. Even if/when it is, it is doubtful that Africa would/will benefit. Billions have been spent on a cure for Aids. Africa does not benefit from the gains from that research in the form of better treatment simply because Africa cannot afford the price demanded by drug companies.
In the face of technological change and the accompanying ideological onslaught, the socialised movement and wider labour movement have proved powerless. At the core of this failing lies the notion of the state. The post-war socialist movement - both Marxist and otherwise, represented by the Communist Party (CP) and the left of the Labour Party in Britain - held that the state could be utilised by the working class to bring about change. Much of the ideas surrounding state control stemmed from Marxism, which argued that the state under the control of a communist political party could be used as a means to eradicate capitalism and bring about a communist society.
Post-war Europe was dominated by the rise of social democracy, which accepted the need for partial state control as the means of preventing future free market capitalist crises. Social democracy meant that the state should take over the running of certain sectors of the economy, such as education, health, basic services and transport. This led to a blurring of the division between social democracy and parliamentary socialism. Both supported state control, and both shared a belief in the need for political parties in the process of achieving socialism. Hence, both saw the need to gain political power and both supported parliamentary democracy. Even the revolutionary wing of socialism sought full state control as the way to replace capitalism. By the 1950s, the CP was on the long "British Road to Socialism", in which it argued unequivocally that socialism would come about through the Ballot Box. As did Euro-Communism. Meanwhile, the myriad of Trotskyite groups either attempted to infiltrate the Labour Party or argued for voting for Labour come election day. Several stood for elections in their own right.
The increasingly apparent economic weakness of the Soviet Union and the failing of nationalist industries in Europe proved easy targets for the exponents of free market capitalism. When European-style social democracy failed to prevent the return of mass unemployment and rising inflation in the 1970s, as it had promised it would, the post-war cosy parliamentary left bubble began to burst. Capitalism, faced with crisis, did what it always does in such situations, and went on the offensive. Both socialism and social democracy were fingered as the culprits who had presided over the failure of state control. Snatching the initiative, Thatcher and the like championed the free market, both as a movement of freedom and as the best means of ensuring rising standards of living and quality of life. That the free market re-emerged was not a miracle – neither was the collapse of the bankrupted state-dominated social democratic movement. Both were inevitable and sadly predictable. At the heart of the problem was the notion that the state could deliver.
Like its political party counterparts, the post-war trade union movement became increasingly dominated by social democratic ideas. Undoubtedly, there persisted throughout a strong workplace presence of people prepared to go beyond the dominant social democratic principles of conflict avoidance and partnership with management and take strike action. However, as disillusionment with socialism grew, this militant faction increasingly allowed itself to be undermined by those trying to secure a bigger slice of the capitalist cake. Pay and conditions became an end in themselves. Belief in socialism as a long-term aim was effectively replaced in most workplaces by a militancy which sought to challenge capitalism without overthrowing it. The deliberate and false split between economic struggle in unions and political struggle, largely now in statist parties, brought the complete detachment of the unions from any semblance of wider political struggle or longer term revolutionary goals.
A key aim of post-war social democratic capitalism was to ensure full employment through welfare spending and some redistribution of wealth through taxation. Both were designed to ensure adequate levels of demand for capitalism’s goods and services, and avoid a repeat of the 1930s depression, where a crisis of under-consumption nearly brought the end to capitalism, as Bolshevism waited in the wings. Through the 1950s and ‘60s, the cost of welfare capitalism coupled with the strength of a trade union movement empowered by full employment and, demanding an ever-greater share of the capitalist cake, began to eat into capitalist profits.
The remedy was a shift into technological innovation as a means of cutting rising labour costs. However, even this was not easygoing for the capitalist elite, as working class industrial strength often either resisted the introduction of new technology or was still able to take some of the resultant profit gains in new pay deals. Thus, the UK newspaper industry doggedly resisted retooling and fought an inch-by-inch battle to demand a share of productivity gains from new technology as it seeped in.
By the early 1960s, capitalism across the developed world was experiencing falling profits. Growth in both Europe and the US dipped below 3%, from 6% in the early 1950s. As profits fell, US economic dominance began to falter, and it lost its ability to stabilise international capitalism. Investment levels began to fall, which led quickly to rising unemployment and fiscal and monetary crisis.
With inflation rising, the traditional social democratic solution to slump of stimulating demand through higher public spending could only make matters worse. In 1969, the Labour Party discovered that ‘tax and spend’ not longer offered the solution it once had. The state moved to support capitalism due to a crisis caused by falling profits. In order that profitability could be restored, capitalism and the state launched a joint attack on organised labour with the aim of sharply reducing wages and conditions.
Despite the resultant rising unemployment and cuts in welfare spending, the state/capitalist forces still faced a well-organised labour movement. Thus, the state was forced to work ever harder to reduce the standard of living of the very workers it had promised to work for at the last election. In the UK and the US, where state interventionist policies had always been treated with suspicion and outright hostility by the financial sector based in London and New York, the opportunity was taken to play government and workers off against each other. Management went onto the offensive.
Thus, both social democratic government and the trade union movement were exposed, for different reasons. In the case of the former, it was due to inherent weakness in their economic policies and reliance on the state. For the former, without any wider political perspective, the unions had no real alternative to a capitalist system intent on policies of class war. The trade union had retreated into the workplace. Outside it, the years of intensive propaganda aimed at undermining the culture of working class solidarity in favour of greed, and the pursuit of manufactured goods had begun to have a long-term effect. A whole generation of people had experienced narrow workplace union organisation with no wider values or aims, while they had been bombarded with a well-orchestrated capitalist culture campaign, with the mass media at its disposal. The result was workers in the immediate workplace willing to demonstrate solidarity, while away from the workplace, and often in relation to other workers, dominant capitalist values prevailed. A dual vision emerged where workers identified strongly within each other in their own workplace and industry, but were all too ready to accept the media’s interpretation of other workers’ struggles. No real national, regional or local organisations existed that could organise local solidarity and cross-industry support.
Capitalism, spearheaded by Thatcher, was able to expose the divisions and picked off industries one at a time. Trapped in their social democratic view of the world, the unions and the centre-left were unable to organise any real resistance to Thatcherism. The more management advanced, the more they retreated into social democracy, hoping their willingness to accept job losses and wage cuts would convince capitalism of their worth and restore the post-war consensus.
Along with the joint state/capitalist assault on union organisation, the formidable capitalist propaganda machine was again brought to bear. The unions were portrayed as powerful, narrow-minded, self-interested groups of workers, alongside the idea that the only alternative to these people ruining it for the rest of us was fundamental free market change to restore the profitability of British capitalism, under threat from the availability of foreign cheap labour. Those who resisted change in the form of new technology and changing work practices were branded dinosaurs. The future was to be a ‘flexible’ workforce able to constantly adapt to technological change and conditions. This would bring its rewards to workers and their families in the new age of the service sector.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early ‘90s only intensified the free market assault. Anything or anybody standing in the way of the free market was branded reactionary and backward. A classic example occurred with the global stock market crash and subsequent slump in the SE Asian economies. These new emerging tiger economies, which had hitherto been portrayed in much of the media as shining examples of the free market, were suddenly branded as bastions of state control and regulation. The only alternative was the free market style US economy. Cue New Labour and the darling Tony Blair.
Faced with the events of the past few decades, the sheer depth of the left crisis is revealed. The problems are deep, and they cross social, economic and political spheres. There is no simple fix. Clinging to old post-war institutions of Labour Party or unions is clearly no solution, since they are now empty shells devoid of any militant working class content or alternative vision. They are part of the problem rather than the solution. There is simply no point in fighting or voting for the Labour Party. Within the trade union movement, the left can shout until it is blue in the face about undemocratic leaders selling out the rank and file. Still, reality beckons; the failure of the unions lies in their social democratic charter, which explains their undemocratic nature, not vice versa.
As for the big idea of state control that underpinned both the revolutionary left and social democratic left, this too has been proved a failure. Yes, it can and should be argued that certain sectors are better in state hands in the short term, while we have to live with a state. At least the National Health Service doesn’t prioritise shareholders above patient care – because it doesn’t have any. But such an argument is not about changing or overthrowing or replacing capitalism. The big idea of state control transcending capitalism is bankrupt - it died in the ashes of the Soviet Union and the bureaucratised nationalised industries. In short, the state can no longer provide an alternative to free market capitalism, either now or in the future.
There has to be a fundamental rethink. And the start of that rethink could do a lot worse than return to the historic and tragic split in the workers’ movement between the authoritarian socialist and libertarian wing of the First International. The first was to develop into Marxism, while the latter developed into anarcho-syndicalism. During that split, the libertarians predicted the failing of state control with amazing accuracy. They unfalteringly opposed state control and the formation of political parties. They argued for self-organisation based on direct action. Direct action was seen not just as a tactic, but as a means of building a culture of solidarity that would form the social basis of the struggle to replace capitalism. They recognised that state control would only replace capitalist tyranny with state tyranny, and that the socialist movement had to proceed according to the same democratic principles as the envisaged new society.
The aim of the future society was not just getting rid of ‘want’ by replacing the capitalist system based on profit with a communal one based on need. This was seen as just the starting point. They did not perceive some final socialist utopia, and so the effective end of human history. Rather, they rightly envisaged a continuous movement for improvement in mutual quality of life. The aim was a free society that was always changing and developing, and within which each and every individual could develop their individual potential in the way that suited them best. Pursuing individual potential automatically means society as a whole is enriched – hence the idea of continuous development of society. The sum total of human knowledge was seen as a crucial ‘stock’ which the future society would hold collectively and continuously add to for the benefit of the current and future generation.
Any socialist rethink must have at its core an alternative to capitalism. This must be the foundation of a new working class movement. To do otherwise would condemn humanity to a capitalist future. Capitalism cannot be reformed; it must be replaced. We must learn the biggest lesson of 20th Century history; any state, far from ensuring workers’ liberty, does just the opposite. Any vision of post-capitalist society must have at its core the idea of human freedom, from which all else flows.
Such all-encompassing vision does not emanate from a single organisation, but from a broad movement of people infused by the anarcho-syndicalist principles of solidarity, self-help, self-organisation and direct democracy. This movement will necessarily be multi-layered and interactive, and profoundly anti-capitalist by its very nature of directly pursuing a post-capitalist society. It will be anti-state and anti-party, since no-one can act on our behalf. It will challenge capitalist oppression in every possible effective way, as it impinges on quality of life and emotional well-being. The short-term aim will be to wrest control from capitalism and build areas of our life based not on the culture of greed and narrow self-interest but on mutual aid and solidarity. The long term aim grows seamlessly from this; organising a culture of resistance to the point that capitalism can be challenged and overthrown confidently, as one of the horrors of human history.
Anti-capitalist culture – or if you like, post-capitalist culture - will not evolve in theoretical abstractions, but directly and practically out of our experiences of fighting against what we do not like about capitalism. The embryo of this culture is already developing amongst a broad range of people in a broad range of places and situations. People are increasingly turning away from the tired, worn out empty promises of politicians and placing their faith in direct action. Seattle was perhaps a good example of this new mood. However, just as the post-capitalist culture of solidarity cannot be built in abstract theory, neither can it be built purely from action alone. Ideas, principles, and democratic methods of working must emerge within this struggle. It is here that the long history of struggle of anarcho-syndicalism has much to offer the revolutionary movement, as it seeks to overcome its present growing pains.