Correcting a pseudo-Marxist on use of the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”

The July 2 issue of the British leftist paper Weekly Worker included an article by Jack Conrad (central leader of the CPGB) “Truth, not myths, serve our cause” with a sub-head “Why do comrades on the left insist on repeating evident falsehoods about Lenin and the Bolsheviks, not least when it comes to 1917?” (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1065/truth-not-myths-serve-our-cause/).

There is much in this article that I believe is, lets say, a creative interpretation of history but one issue stood out in particular – Conrad’s defence of the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” as being a guide for the Bolsheviks right up to and including the October revolution.

I replied as follows in a letter published in the July 9 issue of WW (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1066/letters/).

Jack Conrad ends his meandering piece, ‘Truth, not myths, serve our cause’ (July 2), claiming Lenin’s continuity of political perspective in 1917, as follows:

“The Russian Revolution had gone further than the classical bourgeois revolutions of England 1645 or France 1789, but ‘has not yet reached a ‘pure’ dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’.

“This final quote is from Lenin’s ‘The tasks of the proletariat in our revolution’, a draft platform dated April 10 1917. I see development, concrete application, yes. But, no ‘abandonment’, no ‘break’ with the old slogan for a ‘revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’.”

Jack would perhaps do well to dwell on Lenin’s more substantive discussion of this issue outlined in his Letters on tactics, also written and published in April 1917:

“‘The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ has already become a reality in the Russian Revolution, for this ‘formula’ envisages only a relation of classes, and not a concrete political institution implementing this relation, this cooperation. ‘The Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies’ – there you have the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ already accomplished in reality.

“This formula is already antiquated. Events have moved it from the realm of formulas into the realm of reality, clothed it with flesh and bone, concretised it and thereby modified it.

“A new and different task now faces us: to effect a split within this dictatorship between the proletarian elements (the anti-defencist, internationalist, ‘communist’ elements, who stand for a transition to the commune) and the small-proprietor or petty bourgeois elements (Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Steklov, the Socialist Revolutionaries and the other revolutionary defencists, who are opposed to moving towards the commune and are in favour of ‘supporting’ the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois government).

“The person who now speaks only of a ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ is behind the times; consequently he has in effect gone over to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; that person should be consigned to the archive of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of ‘old Bolsheviks’).”

At a purely pedantic level, Jack is correct that Lenin does not use the exact terms, ‘abandonment’ or ‘break’ in reference to “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”, but it is pretty clear what Lenin in April 1917 now thinks about this slogan – it is antiquated and suitable only for the archives.


Cobh Says No to Austerity disbands

At Tuesday night’s activist meeting of Cobh Says No to Austerity (CSNA) the following motion was passed – with no opposition and a small number of abstentions:

“That the group known as Cobh Says No to Austerity be dissolved tonight the 30 June 2015″

In the wake of that dissolution it was also decided that all the money remaining in the CSNA account (just over €350) along with the megaphone and mobile phone be handed over to the newly established Cobh CommUNITY 4 Change (CC4C) as they will now be the only group in Cobh organising opposition to Irish Water. The CSNA Facebook group will also be closed down. It is likely that most of the remaining CSNA activists will seek to join the new CC4C group.

I was one of those who abstained on the vote to dissolve CSNA.

CSNA existed to maximise the opposition to Irish Water in Cobh. The split of a majority of the CSNA activists to form the CC4C group has significantly undermined the previous unity in action which saw us be so successful in organising the Cobh community to oppose meter installations and gain mass support for non-payment (over 70% according to our canvassing).

It is clear that the continued existence of a rump CSNA would only harm future unity in action given the context of a public, and sometimes nasty, split resulting in a very bad reputation for the group among the wider community.

However the new CC4C group has started off on a bad footing with its sectarian refusal to participate in, and active undermining of, the recent “burn the bills” protest which proved to be the last public event of CSNA. It also appears that CC4C is barring people from participating for a mixture of personal and political reasons in the manner of a membership club rather than a community-based campaign group.

If these negative beginnings are integrated into its ongoing organisational culture CC4C will be nowhere near what is required to organise working people in the fight against water charges and other attacks in the name of “austerity”.

Certainly I will not be able to be active within CC4C unless it is transformed into a democratic and open group, facilitating participation of activists with a range of political views. It is only by testing different political perspectives in action and open debate that we will have any chance of developing strategies to defeat austerity for good.

Meanwhile, I will of course participate alongside other activists in Cobh and the wider Cork area in supportable actions, whether organised by CC4C or anyone else, and continue to argue for the types of organisations and strategies I believe are necessary in this fight, as outlined elsewhere on this blog.


Cobh AAA members condemn AAA leaflet

Immediately after I released my statement withdrawing support for the motion to expel Ciara from Cobh Says No to Austerity the split I had been trying to avoid went ahead. The four other members of the committee met with a large group of CSNA activists and decided to all leave CSNA. They have set up a new group called Cobh CommUNITY 4 Change, that officially came into being on Tuesday 16 June by announcing itself on Facebook with the following statement:

It is with a renewed sense of purpose that the majority of the founding members and committee members of CSNA would like to announce the establishment of our new group, Cobh CommUNITY 4 Change.
We are a non aligned community based group that welcome the support of any political party who share in our vision and commitment to building a better future for all of us and who will respect our autonomy.

Our primary objective is to support all residents in Cobh and outside Cobh in stopping the installation of water meters and we also support the non payment of IW bills.

We believe that the best way to face the challenges that lie ahead of us is through grassroots organisation and activisim which puts the community at the heart of our campaign.

We want that voice to not just be heard but to play a central part in all decisions that affect us in our daily lives.

We want to create a space where people can contribute to this movement, become empowered and motivated to support one another and move forward towards a better future, a better time, a better way of being in this world.

This is our moment, our mission and our movement.

Let’s make it work.

As might be expected this provoked a furious debate on Facebook between supporters and opponents of the split. The following evening the Anti-Austerity Alliance had a large team in Cobh, including Mick Barry and Dave Keating who are two of the Socialist Parties most senior comrades in Cork. They were distributing a specially produced leaflet that included a section on the split in CSNA that made some widely inaccurate claims about the reasons for the split.

At the Cobh Says No to Austerity activist meeting on Thursday 18 June I moved the following motion:

This meeting of Cobh Says No to Austerity condemns the Anti-Austerity Alliance leaflet distributed in Cobh on the evening of Wednesday 17 June.

The AAA leaflet states that the recent split in the CSNA is not about personalities but is a Sinn Fein influenced political move. This is completely untrue. It also claims that the new group which comprises the majority of non aligned activists is actually a manoeuvre against the AAA. This is a complete misrepresentation of the reality behind the events leading to the split in CSNA. The AAA’s central leadership has been informed of the personalised and disruptive behaviour of one of its members but has refused to listen to reps of CSNA.

The leaflet even suggests that the new group is not calling for a boycott of the bills – when this is explicitly not the case.

For these reasons, as well as the timing of the leaflet’s distribution, we consider this to have been a provocation by the AAA which can only harm united action in Cobh against the water charges – this is already reflected in activists refusing to attend the CSNA’s bill burning event on 23 June.

We therefore demand that the AAA issues an apology and promises not to engage in any similar provocations in the future.

The motion was amended to more simply read:

This meeting of Cobh Says No to Austerity condemns the Anti-Austerity Alliance leaflet distributed in Cobh on the evening of Wednesday 17 June.

Cobh Says No to Austerity is grateful for any help in organising its cause so long as Cobh Says No to Austerity is not being used to promote any political or personal agenda.

The amended motion condemning the AAA leaflet was passed by a clear majority – including with all three local AAA members voting for it!


Correcting a mistake: On Divisions in Cobh Says No to Austerity

I recently proposed the following motion for the next Cobh Says No to Austerity (CSNA) meeting (being held on 18 June):

“Ciara’s disruptive behaviour at the end of the meeting on 2nd June 2015 was only the most recent in a long line of disruption and personal attacks on other activists which can no longer be tolerated. Therefore Ciara is expelled from Cobh Says No to Auserity.”

The motion refers to a young woman activist who became involved in CSNA last year when the meter installers arrived in the town. She played an important role in organising the “spotters” we used to identify and follow meter installation teams as they came on to the island. However she was also centrally involved as an active protagonist in three big personal disputes that have led to activists leaving CSNA – often directly citing Ciara’s behaviour as the reason.

Following an Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) public meeting a couple of months ago in Cork Ciara, along with two other key CSNA activists, joined the AAA. Unfortunately the most recent personal dispute got overlaid with unsubstantiated accusations about these new AAA members being underhanded in some way. I became increasingly worried that Ciara’s disruptive behaviour was being used as a stick to politically attack the AAA’s participation in CSNA with the last few weeks seeing various proposals about closing down CSNA and creating a new group that would somehow exclude Ciara and other AAA members, and would likely be close to the national Right2Water (R2W) organisation.

In an attempt to protect CSNA as a group that had successfully united all those in Cobh opposed to the water charges irrespective of their political affiliation, my motivation for proposing Ciara’s expulsion from CSNA was to try to isolate the issue of her as a disruptive individual, long pre-dating her AAA membership,

However I now believe that I was mistaken in thinking that I could separate internal issues of CSNA from the wider political context. The national anti-water charges movement is currently in the midst of a damaging split between two electoralist projects, with the reformist socialist groups like the AAA who advocate non-payment accused of splitting and disrupting the wider movement, which R2W claims to represent. In that context my motion would inevitably, despite my best efforts, be seen as a politically motivated witch-hunt. Ciara has also indicated on the CSNA Facebook page that she is pulling out of the group in any case.

I am therefore withdrawing my support for the motion to expel Ciara.

The focus on the upcoming election by both R2W and the AAA is a backwards step for a movement that for a period mobilised broad layers of the working class who are not usually political active in concrete measures to prevent Irish Water from installing meters in their neighbourhoods. CSNA was one of the best examples of this independent working class activism and it is distressing for me and many others to see it being torn apart by personal animosities and the illusion that the water charges and austerity in general can be defeated by electing a handful of TDs on a reformist programme. Non-payment of water bills is still a key campaign but without a mobilised working class, it is in danger of being subsumed into the AAA electoral machine. R2W meanwhile continues to refuse to call for non-payment relying solely on the election of a “progressive government” that will remove the charges.

Despite my significant political differences with both of the main political blocs around which the split is coalescing I remain committed to working with all those involved in the fight against water charges where we agree on the concrete immediate demands of the struggle – be that the AAA, Workers Party, Sinn Féin, R2W or those with no party affiliation – and hope that joint activity remains possible in the future.

The ease with which electoral divisions are damaging the possibilities for effective joint action only underlines the need for the Irish working class to have a revolutionary Marxist party committed to prioritising the self-organisation of our class to best fight for our interests against the capitalists and their state machine. This kind of working class self-organisation, as seen in embryo in anti-water charges groups like CSNA, also points towards the workers’ council type of organisations that will be the basis for taking political power into our own hands and running a society where resources are channelled to those who need them, no longer subject to the whim of the capitalist market that will have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Such a revolutionary party may use the heightened political interest around the capitalist election process by giving critical support to other candidates claiming to stand for the independent interests of the working class or even by standing its own candidates. When doing so it will always expose the democratic limitations of capitalist institutions like parliament as vehicles for fundamental social change. Instead it will use the platform provided by the elections, or in the Dáil if elected, to champion, in both word and deeds, the political independence of the working class based on our own alternative working class organisational forms.


A Marxist response to Noreen Murphy’s letter to the Examiner

On Tuesday 2 June a letter in the Irish Examiner appeared under the title “Non-payment of water charges will just force more debt on people” (http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/yourview/non-payment-of-water-charges-will-just-force-more-debt-on-people-334052.html)

As the author, Noreen Murphy, is the most ardent and loyal supporter of Right2Water in the Cork anti-water charges movement it is quite instructive about the politics of Right2Water.

Noreen’s letter was edited by the Examiner which included taking out a point that her defenders are saying is proof of her arguments being misrepresented.

That point was “On a point of principle, I will personally never pay for water…” This is the only difference of any substance between Noreen’s original (copied here) and the published version.

Noreen goes on to argue (in both original and published versions) that:

“‘non-payment’ will neither prevent more debt being piled on the Irish people, nor prevent the privatisation of our water and waste water services”.

What is the conclusion to be drawn from such an argument (irrespective of her personal “point of principle”)?

In the propaganda war for the hearts and minds of working people over non-payment what effect will this have? Will it encourage people wavering to pay or not to pay? The answer is quite clear.

If she is right and non-payment has no possible positive outcomes and instead will only result in fines for non-payment then what would be the point of not paying for those who don’t see the issue as one of personal principle?

We should presumably instead put all our energies into getting a new government elected that will hopefully remove the charges as part of its “progressive” management of the capitalist system.

In one way it is good to see Noreen be so open about the real logic of the R2W position – but it is one that anti-water charges activist must reject. While non-payment may not be the only answer it is clearly an important part of the answer in our fight against water charges.

Noreen also claims that “The Right2Water campaign has given a voice to hundreds of thousands of people…”

Actually Right2Water is only one part of the anti-water charges movement. The continual conflating of R2W with the whole movement by R2W acolytes like Noreen is extremely annoying not to say disrespectful to the tens of thousands of activists all over the country who have participated in opposing the installation of water meters and support non-payment – neither of which R2W has played any part in organising.

I also find it very patronising to be told that an undemocratic, self-appointed and unanswerable steering committee (which is all R2W actually is) has been the thing that has given working people a voice. Working people have a voice because we have spoken and acted in our communities up and down the country.

Then there is Noreen offering up the fantasy of some kind of political third way – “Podemos and Syriza are offering a balanced alternative to the extremist right or left…” – as if the irreconcilable interests of the capitalists and working people could be resolved simply by appealing for some “balance”. There is no “balance” possible within capitalism – it is a system based on the exploitation and oppression of working people for the benefit of the tiny minority who rule us.

Their “policy principles” document makes it clear that R2W only see the struggle of working people within the framework of capitalism. This is effectively advising us to limit our dreams for a better future to how many crumbs we might gather from the table of the fat cats as they continue to gorge themselves on the fruits of our labour.


A Marxist response to the Right2Water “Policy Principles”

Trade unions in Right2Water have called for submissions on their document “Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government”, expected to be adopted by the full Right2Work organisation at a conference on 13 June. It is likely that this will form the minimal basis for calling for votes to candidates in the upcoming general election and perhaps a platform for community activist candidates standing under the Right2Water umbrella.

While it contains many abstractly supportable demands around the right not only to water, but to employment, housing, healthcare and education, the document is clearly designed to remain within the existing capitalist framework, as shown by the requests that submissions:

“Put forward principles that can create unity among all progressive organisations and individuals and building the widest possible coalition for change.

“Promote principles that will promote policies that are radical, popular and deliverable.”

Given the involvement of Sinn Féin in Right2Water these provisions are presumably intended to ensure that this capitalist party can be included in the “progressive organisations” that will be part of this proposed “widest possible coalition for change”.

Closer examination only confirms this impression. The section of the document entitled “Right2Jobs and Decent Work” includes the gem that:

“A full employment economy requires several layers: a socially responsible private sector; an expanding public sector including public enterprise; a growing cooperative sector, non-profit and labour-managed sector; and a growing public enterprise.”

A “socially responsible private sector” is included as part of principles that are supposed to be “deliverable”?

Whatever we might think about the personal “social responsibility” of individual capitalists, the dog-eat-dog competitive nature of a socio-economic system that is based on the expropriation of the fruits of labour in the form of profits puts such an aspiration in the realm of fantasy politics. The reality is that a “socially responsible” system is incompatible with the structures and internal logic of capitalism.

The “Right2Debt Justice” section places its trust in the imperialist dominated institutions of Europe and the United Nations:

“Debt justice requires a European Debt Conference to restructure sovereign debt throughout the Eurozone.

“End the Irish government’s inexplicable boycott of the UN Committee on Sovereign Debt Restructuring, and begin to work, led by partners in the Global South, to develop legal mechanisms to protect citizens from the impact of financial speculation and vulture funds.”

Institutions like the EU and UN enforce the rule of capital and it is absurd to see them as vehicles “to protect citizens from the impact of financial speculation and vulture funds.”

These examples advocating change within capitalism are in no way challenged by any reference to “class” or even “working people”. Instead we have “citizens” and “people”. This is no semantic distinction but a clear signal of a general approach which limits itself to cross-class based solutions within the framework of capitalism.

We may find ourselves participating alongside supporters of this approach in specific campaigns around some of the aspirational demands outlined in the document, as we do in the fight against Irish Water, but that is quite a different thing from how socialists should respond to an overall social programme that is based on the fantasy of creating a humane and socially responsible version of the capitalism that oppresses and exploits us on a daily basis.

For anyone identifying as a socialist or working-class militant there can be no thought of supporting this pro-capitalist document.

Of course it’s easy to simply criticise. Socialists within the struggle against the water charges need to be engaging in discussion and debate to thrash out an alternative set of policy principles. In my opinion, the following are key points that should be the basis of building an organisation that can really fight for the interests of the working class. I welcome any critical analysis from those who share that aim.

Guaranteed free access for all to basic needs such as:

  • Housing, water, power
  • Healthcare
  • Education

Opposition to all manifestations of sexism and racism

  • Free abortion on demand, equal pay for equal work, free quality childcare.
  • Full citizenship rights for all who live in Ireland.
  • No discrimination against Traveller communities, asylum seekers and all other immigrants.


  • Active solidarity with the workers’ movement and oppressed in other countries.
  • Opposition to all imperialist military interventions, e.g. British troops out of Northern Ireland, Irish troops out of all UN “peacekeeping” roles, imperialists out of the Middle East

Working class political independence

  • No political blocs with capitalist organisations – including Sinn Féin and the Greens.
  • Throw out the pro-capitalist trade union leaders and build fighting unions to defend workers interests

Workers’ democracy not bourgeois democracy

  • Working-class organisation in the trade unions and single issue campaigns on a delegated and recallable basis to be encouraged at every opportunity.
  • Any candidate seeking to represent the working class in elections or by holding office locally or in the Dáil must always seek to expose the illusion that it is possible to get fundamental social progress by a series of reforms in the capitalist parliament.
  • A political party formed on the basis of these principles, prepared to lead the working class to take power in our own name

Recognition of the class nature of state power

  • The capitalist repressive state apparatus is not a neutral instrument that can be made to work in the interests of the working class. Cops and screws out of the workers’ movement.
  • Building on existing defence against water meter installation, workers’ defence guards to defend our communities, our rights and our picket lines against state repression.
  • The capitalist state must be smashed and replaced with organs enforcing working class rule organically linked to the organisations of workers’ democracy.

Economic basis of a truly socially responsible system

  • Expropriation, without compensation, of the banks, multinationals and all the other big-business parasites to allow conscious planning for social need rather than production to serve the maximisation of profit.

A revolutionary Marxist’s view on the Marriage Equality referendum

As I am not an Irish citizen I don’t get to vote in Constitutional referenda but I am fully in support of people voting YES in the upcoming referendum on marriage equality.

The following article was first published in 1917, the journal of the International Bolshevik Tendency (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no36/ibt_1917_36_09_capitalism_queers_equality.html). While it was written by a leading gay rights activist in the context of the successful legalisation of same-sex marriage in New Zealand the article is just as relevant here in Ireland.

Love & Marriage

Capitalism, Queers & Equality

In April 2013, New Zealand finally legalized marriage for same-sex couples. There was considerable discussion among left-wing queer and trans activists about whether marriage equality should be supported as a democratic right, or opposed on the grounds that marriage is a bourgeois institution. In October 2013, the Queer Avengers organized a conference in Wellington entitled “Beyond Marriage” where this issue, among others, was discussed. Reprinted below is a speech given at the conference by Bill Logan, a leader of the successful 1985-86 struggle to decriminalize homosexuality in New Zealand and a supporter of the International Bolshevik Tendency.

Like most of us, I’m far more interested in love than marriage, but I want to consider the connections and antagonisms between love and marriage today. I don’t want to attempt a precise definition of love here, but I don’t merely mean deep caring for our fellow humans, or close friendship, or filial affection, or warm companionship. All those are great things, and often in the world we live in today, they are our best sources of personal security. But what we are talking of here is passionate, spontaneous, sexual love.

Now, in this sense, love and marriage both have long histories in Western culture, going back thousands of years, but they are almost entirely separate histories. Love and marriage have quite simply had nothing to do with each other. Even the fiction that love and marriage should somehow be combined is rather recent, and rather unevenly applied. Marriage has always been about status and property. Even in the last two hundred years, when marriage has attempted to appropriate love for its own purposes, it is a debased, deformed kind of love that marriage has sought to incorporate—a love where the perfect match involves celebrity, power and money, and where your grandmother tells you it is as easy to fall in love with a rich woman as with a poor one. The ideal marriage requires you to love a millionaire, a film star, or preferably a prince—all of whom are probably pretty unlovable.

The Pet Shop Boys [a British electronic pop duo] are not exactly right that love is a bourgeois construct—it would be more true to say that love is a feudal construct, because the modern ideology of love is primarily shaped in the ideals of the knightly chivalry of the Middle Ages. And, of course, love under chivalry was always outside marriage, and about either unfulfilled yearning, or unadulterated adultery. Marriage was about power and property, and love was counterposed to it.

If love penetrated the ruling classes during the age of chivalry, it had a pre-history, which is largely unwritten. Before chivalry, love was confined to the lower orders. Citizens of Athens and Rome did not love their wives, though they may have been infatuated with a slave-girl or a boyfriend. But servants and shepherd boys, whose lives went mostly unrecorded because they didn’t matter, were able to love each other, and love intensely. Although the record is sparse, traces are inevitably left in song and verse.

We live in a cynical age, and intelligent people are not supposed to believe in love. However, in hints and traces, and also in anthropological studies of pre-class societies, we can see that patches, incidents or explosions of love have formed in most of the different kinds of social arrangements our species has tried out. We can see that love is sometimes capable of great heroism against the predominating institutions of society. And we can see that love has been most widespread where power, status and property are weakest. Indeed, what I want to argue here is that love can appear in many environments, and has extraordinary potential for social disruption, but if love is to transcend the exceptional and episodic, and if there is to be a generalized freedom to love, then class society must be dismantled.

Of course, the spontaneity and diverse forms of love—its passion and sheer joy—do not sit easily beside the authority and hierarchy necessary to run a class society. So marriage has become a tool for the organization of love. Love is a danger, and marriage is put into service for its moderation and debasement, and to render it uniform.

So heterosexual marriage is the standard, against which all other relationships are measured. Parental expectations, housing policy and architecture, family law, and popular music all tend to push toward a marriage-like form. To the extent that a relationship is in the nature of a marriage—a heterosexual marriage—it is judged successful.

And so we have the modern nuclear family under capitalism as an instrument for the mass organization of domestic tasks and reproduction, and for disciplined training of the workforce. The ideal wherein love and marriage are combined has a dual function—of bureaucratizing and routinizing love to render it socially harmless, and of spicing up marriage to make it acceptable.

This is not to say, of course, that there is no real love in the world today—indeed many get a taste of genuine love, and some get a full serving, but the commercial mass-media love industry and the attempts to tie love to the institution of marriage have profoundly misshapen it. The pursuit of love is combined with a pursuit of money, power and fame, and the experience of love is twisted by crass commercialism, showy weddings, and the legal and social controls that define marriage.

Nor is this to say that marriage at an individual level is necessarily a betrayal of love. Each of us must make their way as best they can in this broken world, and marriage helps many negotiate a path. But as a cultural institution, marriage is fundamentally conservative.

And so we come to the struggle for same-sex marriage rights, which has emerged with remarkable historical speed on a global basis very recently. When I was a younger man fighting for homosexual law reform in the 1985-86 campaign, gay marriage was not something we thought of as a possibility to be considered.

In the context of the way marriage is carried out, its social role and its debasement of love, it is frankly not surprising that radical queers looked on this movement with great suspicion. Why would we want to buy into the process whereby the creative, disruptive, passionate power of love was tamed to fit the conservative straightjacket of marriage?

But marriage will not be transcended by maintaining the limitations and constraints on it, but by opening it up, and by freeing it of the compulsions which surround it—compulsions which are ideological, legal and material.

So of course, most of us took a deep breath, and supported the marriage reform. We supported it quite simply because legal prohibition is not an instrument of liberation. Many of us don’t want to join the army or the police force, or to become a truck driver, or adopt children. But we want the same rights to do those things as anyone else. The point about the fight for the right to get married was not that we were advocating that all of us queer people should actually get married, but that we should be allowed to get married.

While there were some attractions in the argument that we want the right to be different, not merely to be the same as the majority, the truth is that the fight against oppression (whether sexual, religious, national or economic) is always a fight for equal rights, the right to be the same. Separate but equal, is not equal. Where Muslims or atheists do not have the same rights as Christians, they are pushed to make their beliefs about religion invisible. Where queers do not have the same rights as straights, they are pushed to make their queerness invisible. It is only through winning the right to be the same that we really gain the freedom to be different.

So we supported the campaign for equal marriage rights. But it was hardly an earth-shattering episode, and although our little victory in that campaign was quite satisfying, mostly because we don’t get to experience very many victories, it was not exactly a turning point in history. The campaign was an occasion for some highly reversible mass consciousness-raising, and possibly laid some groundwork for the more important struggle to protect queer kids from bullying in high schools. But the objective and concrete achievement of this campaign was actually just a tiny logical extension of bourgeois democratic rights, which will have very little impact on our real lives. At the end of the day, it was not a big deal.

When the celebrations died down, queer and trans people still faced discrimination and oppression in families and schools and workplaces, as we always knew we would. In my counseling practice I still see heteronormativity pushing people to the brink of death. I see very high levels of stress and addiction among queers. I see the Independent Youth Benefit denied to adolescents who have nothing—no family, no accommodation, no job [though it is routinely given to youth who are not queer or trans who are cut off from financial support by family breakdown]. There are in fact extraordinary levels of unemployment among young queers right now. I still see health professionals refusing to take seriously the problem of queer and trans suicidality, and gay boys bullied at school, and trans teenagers kicked out of their homes.

It sometimes feels like we’re in a battleground, and in the context of the trauma that surrounds us, and the lesser, but still urgent, practical needs, our imaginings of a future utopia of polymorphous perversity seem a bit indulgent. We might want a world where the privileges of monogamy are dismantled, where there is a culture of celebrating diversity and a universal validation of relationships with many different shapes. But right now what we have to concern ourselves with is that almost all queer and trans kids grow up in fear of bullying at school, and a significant number want to kill themselves because they have been kicked out of home with no resources.

What I want to argue is that we should not separate, but rather we should link, the struggle for immediate needs and the struggle for a more profound liberation. Indeed it is only in the struggle to meet immediate needs that we can lay a path to profound change and a fundamentally better society.

To take the example of housing: it is clear that an abundance and a variety of subsidized housing would be an enormous step in meeting immediate needs—helping counter the effects of poverty and taking a lot of the sting out of family transphobia and homophobia. If even modest housing were immediately accessible, it would take much of the stress and conflict out of adolescent coming-out crises. There are depressions that would lift, and suicides that would not happen.

In fact, it’s not just queer and trans adolescents who need access to accommodation separate from their parents. Most families with adolescents at certain points need more housing options. And as well as addressing the immediate needs of adolescents, good accommodation options would also address the needs of married people when their marriages were in trouble, or they were merely needing a little space. Whether it is a question of domestic violence, irritations about the relatives visiting, or a new sexual configuration disturbing the equilibrium of the household, access to housing would remove one of the most important constraints that too often turn a marriage into a prison.

When there are children, one of the compulsions that ties the couple together and makes it difficult to escape a marriage even though it has passed its use-by date, is the expense of setting up accommodation that allows genuine co-parenting. People are forced to stay in the marital home in order to keep connected to their children or, in leaving the marriage, they also leave most of the parenting to one of the former partners, usually the mother. Decent accommodation options for families that are coming apart would remove another of the compulsions that shape marriage.

So while certainly it is true that family law, fairy tales and Hollywood are important forces shaping and maintaining the institution of marriage, actually it is too often simply the absence of an alternative place to live, or even to stay temporarily, that keeps a given marriage going, or determines its shape.

As with housing, so with decent free childcare, which is another thing we should be fighting for. It would remove another set of compulsions that keep in place the marriage system and gender inequality. A program to remove those largely economic compulsions and see what people make of their lives without them seems a far more sensible way of approaching the world of the future than to try to imagine in advance how it will look, because that is something we simply cannot know.

We cannot know the future of marriage, but we can fight for the removal of the constraints on domestic relationships. If there were true material security, which would of course include guaranteed access to well-paying jobs, the compulsions that today hold marriage and the currently prevailing family system in place would be removed. With material security can come enormous sexual freedom and diversity of domestic arrangements.

Of course, we are told that the system simply cannot pay for full employment, easily accessible decent housing and childcare, and I guess that the people who say this to us know their system and that they are right. This system can’t pay for these things. So much the worse for the system. Throw it away.

And so the struggle for domestic freedom is indivisible from the struggle for socialism. The running costs of the capitalist system are simply too high. There is an awful lot of corruption and freeloading involved in running capitalism, and also an awful lot of paperwork, all of which eats up human lives without giving anything back. And then there is the human effort wasted in financial shenanigans, and whole industries that add very little to the sum total of human happiness—banking and insurance and advertising. Capitalism is profoundly wasteful.

But the resources exist. There is a study on the basis of data for the year 2000 by the United Nations World Institute for Development Economic Research. It reports that the three richest individuals in the world possessed more financial assets than the lowest 48 nations combined. It reports that the richest one percent in the world owned 40 percent of global assets.

So the program for a world beyond marriage must be a program that addresses the obscene inefficiency and inequality of the capitalist system. Only a program of socialism can create the conditions for transcending marriage.

Exactly how will we live under socialism? We cannot know. We cannot know what will replace our current marriage and family arrangements. But we can suspect that when issues of material security are behind us, people’s personal preferences will trump any considerations of family pressure or popular prejudice. And we can expect that our domestic arrangements will be extremely diverse.




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