The following speech was delivered by a central committee member to the party’s eighth congress in September.
This is a very interesting debate, comrades. I find it both encouraging and discouraging at the same time.
Why are we having this debate?
I would like to say that I agree with motion 8. It’s quite clear that this is an issue which is causing genuine confusion – and not only in our party. Our party is the reflection of society, and so if it is confusing us, you can be sure there is a far greater confusion outside our ranks – and that, if you like, is why we’re having this debate.
While I am sympathetic with the arguments put forward by those opposed to motion 8, we clearly do need to have a debate. Clearly some people have taken on identity politics (idpol) as a very central part of their political discourse: people in our schools, people in society, in every mainstream paper that you turn to.
A mere reference to gender identity and idpol, without expressing an opinion, is enough to make many people incandescent with rage.
We have to ask ourselves why that is, because when I grew up some years ago, this wasn’t an issue affecting peoples’ minds. People didn’t talk about it; they didn’t debate it: it wasn’t an issue.
Marx and Engels and Lenin and Stalin didn’t devote much attention to the politics of gender fluidity because it did not exist as an issue. This concept – contrary to the opinion of those opposed to this motion – is not “as old as humanity”.
Does material reality exist?
I do think that it is very important that all our discussions are rooted in material reality. And we have to ask ourselves: do we think that a material reality exists? Because there is the question, a fundamental question of philosophy, which underlies everything.
It’s why dialectics is so very powerful. I don’t want to go on about it. It wasn’t me who invented dialectics, but I am a firm adherent of it; of the revolutionary teachings of Karl Marx.
Dialectical materialism didn’t come naturally to me because my father happened to be a Marxist, or my mother happened to be a Marxist. You have to win that ideological bedrock through study; through really struggling with ideas and understanding.
I grew up in bourgeois society – just like everyone else. So when I was taught chemistry, when I learned and went to school, I quite liked some subjects and I didn’t like others. I realised after a while it was mainly my relationship with certain teachers that determined my enjoyment of certain subjects. But I had a flair for science.
I found out, actually, that I enjoyed studying history and politics more, but I argued with my schoolteachers; they would send me out of the class for disagreeing in a way they felt was antisocial. They couldn’t control the class. So I gave up those subjects and I concentrated on the sciences, thinking that science at least is objective; no-one will argue over the question: is two plus two equal to four?
Lenin quite rightly told us that “if geometrical axioms affected human interests, attempts would certainly be made to refute them”.
What did he mean? There are simple formulas that tell one the volume of a sphere, or how to work out the area of a triangle: half the base times the height. Does anyone fundamentally disagree with that? If a circle thinks it’s a square, is it a square? What a stupid thing to say; no-one’s saying that!
Why can’t a circle self-identify as a square? Is there not some kind of shape fluidity between circles and squares? Are they not fundamentally the same? They all fundamentally consist of area. Why do we differentiate between them at all? Why has humanity worried to define objects as green or blue?
Is there a material reality? There are those who will argue there is no material reality; we are not among them. That is not a Marxist concept.
Sex, gender and gender fluidity
Is sex important? Attempts are being made to confuse us as to what ‘sex’ is. Are ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ synonyms? Well they are synonyms, but a certain group of academics in the seventies in the United States decided that they weren’t synonyms. They were going to use ‘gender’ in their own way; they were going to use ‘gender’ to mean the social construct of behaviour surrounding what was expected of the biological differentiation among human beings (men and women).
But biological differentiation between male and female is a real thing. It doesn’t just exist in humanity, it exists in many species throughout the natural world. Sexual reproduction is a natural biological process that has persisted in nature due to the diversity it engenders; it is a phenomenon encountered in the natural world.
And let’s not forget how this debate impinged upon us. We’ve been following this ideological trend, and encountering identity politics among supporters and candidates for membership of our party, and amongst people we’ve been working with for at least four or five years. Because idpol has become a fashion in that period.
And it is a fashion; it is a trend. And it suddenly – from being very marginal to certain academic institutions in the 1970s – became mainstream globally worldwide; it was actively promoted. Not promoted by communists, not by socialists, but picked up on and accepted by many of them, because they are led by, and they blindly followed, bourgeoise society down this dead-end.
Bourgeois and proletarian politics
But we are a party of a different kind. What is the purpose of internal party discourse? What is the purpose of debate? What is the purpose of democratic centralism? It’s so that we can amongst ourselves work out the truth; what is in the interests of the working class as a whole.
We claim to be the party of the working class. It is a big claim, and really, we’re in embryonic form – let’s be frank about it. We’re not going to be the people and the organisation that finally make the revolution. We’re the beginning of that; we’re in the process of building it.
We have to earn the right to be trusted by the working class; to bring the best elements of the working class into our ranks and organisation. We must develop broad roots among the masses, to be in a position where they even trust and accept anything we’re saying.
And so, we are really only trying to find the truth. The truth is our biggest ally in that process.
Why deny the material reality of gender?
Why did it become a fashion to say there’s no such thing a male and female? I think the use of our internal bulletin has evolved to the point where we actually used it successfully to conduct that inner-party debate. The debate came up because of some posts on the party’s main Twitter account; the controller of the account was denounced on Twitter as “fascist” and “racist”.
Is it true? Are we going to get up here at congress and denounce comrades in debate? Will we tell them that “If you say X,Y and Z – then that’s it! I’m off! Screw the lot of you!”?
Is that a comradely way to have a debate? Does that forward our arguments? Does it help us reach a sound understanding? It does not! We’ve got to reckon with science, we’ve got to reckon with social phenomena. We have to come to a correct position which serves our class, and if we fail to do so, our organisation will fail to exist.
Not that the working class won’t achieve their salvation without us; it’s our firm belief that they will be able to. But will they be put back in the process if we do not evolve the leadership that is capable and worthy of the name of actually interpreting the world and Britain, and leading them forward?
Yes, they will be set back enormously. We know how difficult it is to get a foothold and a correct orientation; to develop and hold a class position that’s capable of leading working people. It’s been a problem – and it’s been a problem not just because it’s hard in itself; it’s been a problem because there’s been an active class whose interest it is to prevent us.
The British capitalist class is not passive; they’re not idle, and they’re perfectly happy to troubleshoot problems. They don’t have all the answers ready-made, but they have all the levers of power and they have capital.
So they can take an intellectual worker, they can set him a problem and when he comes up with a solution they find workable, they can employ him, and when they put their divisive ideas into practice in a little case study somewhere, and that seems to be working quite well, they can roll them out.
Class analysis seems alien to many workers in Britain because it’s gone ‘out of fashion’. It’s gone out of fashion because it’s been deliberately denounced and ridiculed from every pulpit, every university, every fount of learning. From the kindergarten right through to getting your PhD and becoming a lecturer, you’re rewarded if you do certain things.
In industry and in science, you’re rewarded if you provide any kind of technology or medicine that’s going to make money.
Keeping workers economically, intellectually and ideologically subordinate
When I went to medical school, I had a very erudite, intellectual, quite self-satisfied, pompous, English upper-middle-class, Oxbridge graduated professor. He had a degree of respect and notoriety as he had become a multimillionaire through the intellectual property right he exercised over his research. He had discovered and developed the proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) that went on to become the drug Omeprazole.
It’s just one of those things. In the lab he had played a key part in inventing this drug, which reduces stomach acidity. During an undergraduate lecture at the Royal Free hospital many years ago, he told us that before his results had been widely published, someone phoned him from Wall Street.
He said: “I was amazed that someone from Wall Street even knew about my research!” And this Wall Street capitalist asked him one question. He said: “This medicine, would you have to take it for a certain period of time, or would you have to keep on taking it to get its effect?”
The professor: “Ah, well, you’d have to keep on taking it.”
The Wall-street caller: “Oh, well thank you very much, that’s fascinating.”
His discovery went on to become one of the pharmaceutical industry’s huge money-making drugs, rolled out worldwide – because you have to keep on paying. It doesn’t solve the problem. To keep gastric symptoms at bay, you have to take it lifelong. So the drug was viewed by the industry as an almost limitless source of revenue.
In the field of science, why is it that huge amounts of money is put into the latest research to develop endovascular stents for an aneurism, which is going to cost £50,000 to treat a single patient, when in fact you could get rid of much of the problem by stopping the community from smoking? You could usefully spend those billions of dollars to develop a programme of preventative healthcare, rather than develop treatments for the wealthy inhabitants of a very small number of overwhelmingly industrial countries in certain healthcare systems, making a huge amount of money.
How much do we spend on malaria research, or tuberculosis research? Or even realising how aspirin can be used to treat certain conditions? Use and application of cheap drugs, that you can’t patent, are not pursued or promoted.
There is a vested interest of the capitalist class to accumulate capital, through the exploitation of their wage slaves.
Bourgeois ideology in culture – the hypocrisy of the mantra of ‘objectivity’
But then there is also an ideological outlook. Science and the arts are not alien to bourgeois influence. Lenin wrote a very beautiful article in 1905, in which he called for the intellectual class to be partisan.
He said: “Don’t be neutral. Don’t say ‘art for art’s sake’. Don’t pretend that your output – funded and commissioned by the possessors of money, the capitalist ruling class – is intellectually neutral output. Call a spade a spade. Become and state fearlessly that you are fierce advocates of the working people, and that their only way to a better society is to develop a liberating culture, a culture of proletarian revolutionary ideology.
You have to be openly partisan! That was his call – in art, in culture and in science.
Sex and sexual identity
So the question is sexuality: how does this tie up with the question of sexuality? And we come back to that innocuous post on Twitter, which I thought was obviously hilarious because I thought it was non-controversial.
We wrote: “There is a group of self-proclaimed ‘socialists’ who are not actually any longer fighting against our oppression, they’re fighting against reality!” and posted a link to an article.
Why did we say that? They’re a circle of people who broke away from a very small group which you may know, called the RCG. This circle wrote a blog called ‘Red Fightback’, and the bottom line is, their position is that there’s no such thing as gender.
Rather, gender, they claim, is some kind of medical conspiracy where, at birth, the doctors go away and huddle together and they ‘assign a gender role’ to you. So, pregnant mothers: when you have your 20-week ultrasound scan, you’re not having a scan to see whether your baby is a boy or a girl (say ‘Red Fightback’). No; that’s all medical conspiracy! And when the baby is born, they inspect the baby to say it’s a boy or a girl – well that’s all medical conspiracy, too! These things (boys and girls, men and women) aren’t real – don’t you see??
Now, that seemed to us to be so absurd and preposterous that we posted it. And the post seemed popular! It had, like, 100,000 views, with hundreds of comments saying: “You’re a Terf!”
I didn’t know what a Terf was at that point but, but I have since found out. It is an acronym for ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist’ – which I’m not, because I’m not a feminist! But essentially, their line is that anyone who would purport to say there really is such a thing as gender (men and women), is some kind of fascist.
Who is pushing this ideology that there is no such thing as gender? That there is no such thing as sex? That it’s not real?
There is even a movement termed ‘ableism’ or ‘trans-ableism’. There exist people who say: “I look as if I’ve got two arms and two legs, but actually in reality, I feel like I was born disabled.”
There are people who are petitioning for the right to have an arm or a leg cut off; to have an operation which will make their physical form conform to how they feel; “my inner essence”.
It’s the ultimate idealism isn’t it? Idealism in the philosophical sense that that “the material world doesn’t exist”; “it’s whatever I think that is most important”. So actually, by that rationale, ideas are prime and matter will have to conform with my ideas, and the ultimate result is this kind of solipsism where you are alone in the world – the lone conscious force and the ultimate determiner of your own reality without reference to other people or the material reality of the word’s environment around you.
Morally, it means whatever you want subjectively is right and correct. So it can be used to justify doing anything, committing any crime against anyone.
As a philosophy it is totally isolating, and totally gets rid of the idea, as the previous speaker was saying, of having things in common, uniting on a class basis around the real things that oppress us; real material and economic phenomena.
Capital is the labour of past generations, accumulating in the hands of a tiny number of people who use their vast wealth to oppress and enslave us. We are wage slaves. We are slaves!
You go and tell working people outside this congress that they’re wage slaves! They won’t agree with you – they’ll think you’re mad. “I’m not a slave. Slavery, that’s all gone. That was the black people in the United States.” They literally have no concept of real history and culture. That is the deliberate product of capitalist education.
We in the CPGB-ML are here to create a scientific analysis. But let’s move away from the fact that this is pure idealism.
Why would the capitalist class suddenly take this idea from a group of academics and propagate it worldwide 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?
You know, sometimes, the billionaires let slip things that the mainstream politicians feel unable to say. Now there was quite a nice article, probably about the time when the 2008 banking and world-economic crisis hit, when Obama had said to Wall Street: “I’m the thing that stands between you and the pitchforks.” But the billionaires were not to worry, Obama told them: “We’re going to bail you out. We’re going to protect you.”
Some of those billionaires have said that they don’t understand why the working-class movement hasn’t got more traction than it has. They literally don’t understand why they’re getting away with it. There are, incredibly, just eight (8) multibillionaires who have as much wealth in their hands as fully one half of humanity’s population (3,500,000,000 people). Billions of people don’t have enough food, clothing, housing, shelter – the other, apparently ‘uncontroversial’, motions that we’ve discussed today very convincingly paint that picture.
So there’s a real question on how they can take art and culture and ideology and politics and divide working people, make them feel disunited. If you make people concentrate on their differences, if everyone is totally isolated and different, if everyone is suspicious of their neighbour … well, racism certainly has a part to play.
It’s very useful not to trust muslims or not to trust Pakistanis or not to trust Afro-Americans, or “I don’t really like that Nigerian who lives next door to me, they’re a bit different aren’t they?” Well, if people rub along with each other, they get over that don’t they?
In my opinion, despite the active promotion of anti-immigrant hostility, this country is far less racist then it was whilst I was growing up. Yet the capitalists are constantly, constantly searching for new ways of dividing people.
Not enough working women are involved in our movement. Why is it that all of our YouTube videos have 80 to 90 percent hits from men? Young women don’t think politics has got anything to say to them. They’ve been pushed into this blind dead-end of bourgeois feminism.
As a previous speaker very informatively related, what began as a liberating movement for women became a simple demand for a meaningless piece of legislation – complaints about pay for professional and wealthy women. Working-class women were left to go back to the kitchen and raise their families.
Actually, say the bourgeois feminists, equality with men is mainly about women being sexually promiscuous. To the absurd point where Hugh Hefner-type Playboy promiscuity, not conforming to this marriage thing, just ‘go for it, girl’, make yourself naked and get into a pornographic magazine – this is touted as ‘liberation’! Women were already liberated in the sixties and seventies, runs the narrative: well done women, all your problems are over, be in pornographic magazines – all your problems are over!
Working women, while not fully buying into all of this, however, have successfully been encouraged not to identify with mainstream working-class movements. It’s very hard. We’re lucky to have a few strong women comrades; but look at the composition of the room: where are our able, active, working-class young women? Why aren’t they here?
We’ve been divided from them through a narrative that says: “Sex is the most important thing. Men are oppressing me. Why would I unite with a man to try and solve my problem? My problem is men! I don’t want anything to do with you.”
Unity of all workers and oppressed
We must get away from this idea of wearing a ‘badge of oppression’. We are a small group because we’ve been actively marginalised. The huge, multimillion-strong communist movement across Europe and the middle east, across much of Asia and Africa, has been broken by Khrushchevite revisionism from within. It’s been broken by imperialism, which used every division in the communist movement as an opportunity to drive home the wedge and destroy our ideology.
The grip that communist politics naturally had over working people was based upon its truth and utility as a guide to the liberation struggle of the masses.
We want to rebuild that. We’re not going to rebuild it through division and discord; through a struggle against reality. I think the resolution is very good for this reason.
We in the CPGB-ML are and have always been actively opposed to discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, or sexual proclivity. We want broad unity of the working class, as working people who face the same economic oppression and have the same interest in changing it.
Relative and absolute oppression. Data and truth. The oppression of ‘transwomen’
During our inner-party debate running up to this congress, conducted largely in local groups and the party bulletin, some comrades produced articles saying that particular and unusually harsh oppression had come to a group of people, ‘LGBTQ+’ people. They attempted to demonstrate this particular oppression of transgender people by producing a variety of references and percentages.
First of all, I would urge then to look very carefully at their figures and their sources. What is the actual percentage of the working class that are transgender?
It’s very difficult to find out. (A member of audience: “Ten percent of the population!”)
No. It’s very far from that figure. It is statistically so small as to be insignificant. It’s absolutely tiny. But, if you take everyone who is ‘gay’ and tell them “actually really, you’re transgender”; if you take everyone who is ‘confused during puberty’ – well, everyone’s confused during puberty! – “but actually, probably you’re transgender”. If transgender becomes your fashionable label that you impose on everyone who feels alienated in society, then you start to arrive at these incredible figures.
Because actually, the percentage of people who are alienated in society is massive; absolutely bloody massive. Because alienation is a product of capitalist exploitation, of its individualism and its dissatisfying, isolationist, selfish culture.
Equally, if you take any group in a society, figures can be quoted to show an association but not causality. Let me give an example. I’m not comparing the two groups, but if I said that “fascists are overwhelmingly working class” or “fascists are overwhelmingly less likely to get a job”, therefore we need to be championing the rights of fascists – it’s totally the wrong way of constructing an argument; it’s meaningless.
When we discuss the question of ‘trans rights’, we are told that this is exiting and new and meaningful and trumps all other issues! But never forget that to the extent that this is a real group of people and not a manufactured ideological product purveyed by the bourgeoisie to sow confusion and disunity in the ranks of the working class – then we’re talking about an insignificant percentage of the working class.
When we state clearly that we are against unjust discrimination, that relates to everyone, to all groups of workers. It’s covered! That statement and belief covers everyone. We’re inclusive.
Racism, black and bourgeois nationalism vs proletarian internationalism
It’s the same in our attitude towards racism. I’ve been in Brixton and I’ve had someone walk up to me and say: “Yeah, man. You think it about race, or about class?” And when I told my fellow Lambeth resident and worker that fundamentally oppression is based on class, he simply opined: “Nah!” and walked away, because the black community also … Why aren’t the black community here? They should be! Overwhelmingly, black workers find themselves confined to the lowest sections of the working class, because of racism, because of the legacy of colonialism.
Black workers should be identifying with the broad highway of working-class politics. But no, because we’ve been kept artificially divided. Blacks are told whites are racist, whites are encouraged to be racist, and, despite the fact that we’ve broken that down in many day-to-day dealings, in our political organisations, in our social organisations, we ghettoise.
We ghettoise. Should a Turkish comrade living in Britain identify as a British worker or as a Turk? Is he a Turk first and foremost? That’s been a huge problem for the revolutionary movement in this country.
I can tell you there are hundreds, thousands of militant communists in London who will agree with me on pretty much everything – but they will not join our organisation, “because I’m a Turk. Actually, the struggle I identify with, that I feel most strongly about, is going on in Turkey. And although I live here, and my kids are here, and they go to school here and I’m working here, and I face the problems that are here and in fact basically, I’m a British worker and my kids don’t speak Turkish … Well, I’m Turkish, and I don’t want them to get involved with you because I want them to look to Turkey.”
The children of such a ‘revolutionary’ are almost impossible to draw into revolutionary politics on this basis. They don’t really engage with Turkey in that way because they’re British; they were born here. You adopt the culture of your friends and the culture that surrounds you when you grow up. For kids that grow up in Britain, they are culturally British. And to deny their Britishness, and their right to change British culture, to join the British working-class movement and change what is wrong in their lives, means they become alienated from all that is living in both cultures.
Are we going to carry on in that way, where we are all separate and all divided? Do we have to follow the fashion of the bourgeoisie?
The bourgeoise that have pushed this identity movement aggressively have done so to confuse and isolate working-class youth.
So I will conclude by saying: We are not transphobic! There’s nothing to be afraid of in this statement. We do not advocate discrimination against any group of the working class. We advocate unity, we advocate common struggle, we advocate understanding, we advocate a broad and tolerant society. But, we do not advocate and we cannot allow the bourgeoisie to impose this divisive ideology upon us!
Thank you, comrades.