Monday, 10 July 2017

Fighting for LGBT+ Liberation

Socialist Party members at Bristol Pride

Bristol Socialist Party Public Meeting
Is Equality Possible Under Socialism?
7.30pm, Tues 11th July, 
Malcolm X Centre (smaller building), BS2 8YH
We will be looking at how discrimination affects different groups of people and how it can be fought. The introduction will focus on gender and, in particular, the struggles that trans men and women face in today's society. The discussion is open for any points, questions or contributions that people wish to raise. 
Call Tom on 07986 951527 if you have any trouble finding us or getting in. 

The following article was carried in the centre pages of this week's The Socialist newspaper:

Lessons from the Russian revolution for LGBT+ struggle today

Michael Johnson, from the Socialist Party's LGBT group, examines the lessons of the Russian revolution for the struggle for LGBT+ rights today.


The Russian Revolution is not typically held up as a significant event in the advancement of the struggle for LGBT+ rights. In fact, it's often seen as the opposite, given the terrible oppression that LGBT+ people faced under Stalinism.

The 1934 Stalinist slogan 'Destroy the homosexual - fascism will disappear' casts quite a shadow on LGBT+ rights in the USSR. But in this centenary year of the Russian revolution, it's important to look at the genuine and significant progress that was made in the early years after 1917.

Prior to the revolution, bans on homosexuality in Russia could be traced back to the 17th century and were particularly barbaric.

Gay men and women were put to death, women explicitly by burning. By the 18th century the government had banned gay men from the armed forces and in the 19th century sexual acts between men had been criminalised.

These laws were by no means unique to Russia. In the UK, male homosexuality was punishable by death by hanging until 1861 and remained criminalised until 1967.

Decriminalised

Only a handful of countries worldwide had decriminalised homosexuality prior to 1917, starting with France in 1791 in the wake of the French revolution (though it must be noted that in 1960 France introduced indecent exposure laws targeting homosexuality that remained for 20 years).

Even today, around 80 countries have laws explicitly against homosexuality or which are used to target LGBT+ people - a number of which include the death penalty. In 28 states in the US it is still legal to fire someone for their sexuality.

Immediately prior to the 1917 revolution, the law in Russia had been applied on a very selective basis, with friends of the imperial family benefiting from a selective tolerance.

But institutions like the Eastern Orthodox Church pushed the idea that homosexuality was a sign of corruption, decadence and immorality. While gay rights movements began to develop in other countries such as Germany, this propaganda meant very little was able to develop in Russia beyond fictional representations.

At around this time, under familial and societal pressure, Georgy Chicherin - a flamboyant and openly gay man, already a committed Marxist who used an inherited fortune to support the 1905 Russian revolution and anti-war campaigning - undertook gay 'conversion therapies'.

It's unclear which therapies he attempted - at the time they ranged from psycho-analysis, to hypnotherapy, to surgical procedures and castration. Unsurprisingly, this was unsuccessful and Chicherin later described himself as self-accepting of his homosexuality.

Georgy Chicherin

Chicherin was jailed in Britain for his anti-war activities but his release was secured by Trotsky after the 1917 revolution. He went on to work closely with both Trotsky and Lenin, eventually becoming the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

This appointment was in 1918 - it would have been unthinkable in any other country at that time, even where there were more active LGBT+ rights movements. It would take until the latter part of the 20th century for other countries to have out politicians in similar positions.

Given this background, it was enormously significant that when the Soviet Criminal Code was established in 1922, male homosexuality was not included as a criminal act (female homosexuality and 'crossdressing' had never been explicitly outlawed but were met with heavy repression). This was not, as some historians argue, an inadvertent omission or oversight.

The Soviet minister of health proudly spoke in Germany of the abolition of the Tsarist laws against homosexuality, stating: "No unhappy consequences of any kind whatsoever have resulted from the elimination of the offending [law], nor has the wish that the penalty in question be reintroduced been raised in any quarter."

Dr Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Soviet Hygiene, echoed this, saying: "Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle: it declares the absolute non-inference of the state and society into sexual matters, as long as nobody is injured, and no one's interests are encroached upon."

In 1926 it became legal to change your sex on passports and intersex and transgender people received access to medical care without state demonisation. The advances for women in the early days of the Bolshevik government secured lesbian and bisexual women with unprecedented freedoms.

100 years on and millions are marching in the wish that the US president could be close to being that progressive! These steps undoubtedly energised the fight for LGBT+ rights around the world at the same time as the revolution was breathing new life into the revolutionary struggle internationally.

Social attitudes

But the negative social attitudes fostered during the repressive Tsarist regime could not disappear overnight, especially within a geographical area as large as the Soviet Union.

This perhaps explains accounts such as the (only recorded) raid on a party of crossdressers and gay men gathered for a marriage ceremony. This was justified by a single Justice Commissariat lawyer, despite the decriminalisation, as he felt public displays of 'homosexual tastes' may endanger 'suggestible personalities'.

However, so far research has not shown any criminal charges due to crossdressing or public displays of homosexual affection during this early period.

Lesbian and bisexual women, who had received praise for their contributions to the soviet military and police during the civil war, are reported to have received admiration as "energetic" participants in the revolutionary landscape. 'Masculinised' women were seen as politically conscious and valued citizens in Russia while in other countries similar fashions were met with increasing scrutiny as a sign of 'female emancipation.'

There is also some evidence for the beginning of a change, albeit slow, in social attitudes, facilitated by the government. The novel 'Wings' by Mikhail Kuzmin about same-sex love was republished in 1923 by a publishing house owned by the Soviet government.

Especially within the medical community, there seemed to be a push away from the Tsarist regime's religious, moralistic view of homosexuality. Instead the understanding was that homosexuals had biological 'deformities' and, far from their sexual attraction being a conscious, sinful choice, it was instead something that could not be helped.

This was generally coupled to an attempt to find a 'cure' for these desires, but did lead some to conclude that homosexuality's 'inevitability' meant it might be a legitimate part of the 'human sexual spectrum.'

However, to a large extent, questions of sexuality were seen as issues that would resolve themselves once the economic and social foundations of the Soviet state had been laid.

There was no real official position of the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately this undoubtedly left the political and social progress LGBT+ people had made following the revolution at greater risk.

Homosexuality was re-criminalised by the Stalinist government in 1934. This was at a time when the regime was pushing the importance of the Soviet 'nuclear family'.

Male homosexuality in particular was focussed on as a symbol of 'bourgeois individualism,' based on the idea that revolutionaries should put aside their own desires for the sake of the continued revolution.

At the same time, the government banned abortion, calling for an increase in the birth rate. The Stalin government, reforming its links with the Orthodox Church, conflated homosexuality with rape and paedophilia.

Georgy Chicherin, who had passed away following illness in 1930, became a victim of the Stalinist purges at this time. Most references to him were removed.

This was probably because of both his sexuality and his politics. Either way, the result is unfortunately of a leading Bolshevik and out and accepting gay man largely lost to history.

The increase of repression led to around 1,000 trials of gay men for sodomy every year under the Stalinist regime (with punishments of five years hard labour). The new laws seem to have been enforced beyond even the scale that they were under Tsarism.

The complicated record around LGBT+ rights following the Russian revolution is often treated as a simple one by capitalist historians: the revolution, in and of itself, led to repression for LGBT+ people.

Liberation

This view serves to diminish the real lessons we can learn. The decriminalisation of sodomy was an indisputable step forward, giving a glimpse of the possibility for all kinds of liberation in a socialist society.

The subsequent reversal of these advances and the repression under Stalin show the importance of fighting for more than reforms which can be rolled back at any time. Instead we must fight explicitly for all advances towards liberation, along with organising to change society fundamentally.

To truly end racism, sexism and the oppression of LGBT+ people, we must continue to fight for socialism.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Tories in Tatters - Fight for Socialist Policies!



Initial statement from the Socialist Party:

'Theresa Dismay', 'Gamble backfired'. These are the headlines today in the scurrilous Sun and Daily Mail, right-wing rags that have spent the whole election campaign raining down vicious attacks on Corbyn in the vain hope of a Tory landslide.

On the day the general election was called the Socialist Party declared: "If Corbyn fights on a clear socialist programme - for a Brexit in the interests of the working and middle-class - he could win the general election." At the time that was met with derision by many, including, unfortunately, the right wing of the Labour Party who thought a general election would give them the opportunity to unseat Corbyn.

In just five weeks, Jeremy Corbyn's election campaign has proved them all wrong. It has transformed the political situation in Britain. In the face of overwhelming opposition from the capitalist establishment and media, and unfortunately sabotaged by the right of his own party, Jeremy Corbyn has put his anti-austerity programme to the people of Britain. 

Hundreds of thousands of people, including the membership of the Socialist Party, have campaigned for his programme on the streets of Britain. The result has been the biggest increase in vote share for any party since Attlee's Labour in 1945. Turnout among young people increased from 43% in 2015 to 72% as they streamed out to support Corbyn.

In Bristol, Labour now hold all 4 seats having won Bristol North West back from the Conservatives. The Tory lead was also cut in neighbouring constituencies such as Kingswood and Filton & Bradley Stoke. 

The Tories have come out of the election in tatters. Now we need to build a movement to force them out of power. The 8 June was the beginning not the end. It was the beginning of a movement to get the Tories out and to create a socialist society that provides free education, decent housing and a well-paid job for all.

Fuller article to follow. 

If you want to find out more come to our public meeting in Bristol:

What Next After the Election?
Tuesday 13th June, 7.30pm
YHA (Grain House), 14 Narrow Quay, BS1 4QA
Speaker: Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Socialist Party National Organiser

Click here for details of Socialist Party meetings elsewhere in the country. 

If you agree, click here to join the Socialist Party!

Come to the Bristol March for Our Future - May Must Go!
12 noon, Sat June 10th, College Green, Bristol

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Socialist Party Public Election Meetings in Bristol

Bristol Socialist Party has two public meeting coming up, either side of the election. 


How Can the Tories Be Beaten?
Tuesday 6th June, 7.30pm
YHA (Grain House), 14 Narrow Quay, BS1 4QA


The election on June 8th provides an opportunity to kick out the hated Tory government. For the first time a generation there is a real difference between the two potential Prime Ministers. Jeremy Corbyn's pro-worker manifesto has seen Labour close the gap, yet he faces not just a hostile press but also Blairite saboteurs within his own party. 

Former Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition parliamentary candidate Tom Baldwin will be introducing a discussion on what might happen in the election and what will be needed afterwards. How can the Tories be defeated and how can Corbyn's policies be realised?


What Next After the Election?
Tuesday 13th June, 7.30pm
YHA (Grain House), 14 Narrow Quay, BS1 4QA

Socialist Party National Organiser Sarah Sachs-Eldridge will be coming to Bristol to speak about what the next steps are for socialists following what will be a watershed election in British politics. 

We will also be launching the new book by Peter Taaffe - From Militant to the Socialist Party - which tracks the history of our party from 1995-2007 and contains lots of relevant lessons about the rise of the right of the Labour Party and how they can be fought.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Manchester Bombing - Unite Against Terror, War and Racism


Socialist Party statement on the Manchester bombing - by Judy Beishon, Socialist Party executive committee

Young people out enjoying themselves were instead faced with one of the worst kinds of horror imaginable on 22 May when a bomb was exploded in the foyer of the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena. Twenty two people were killed and at least 59 injured by this blast at the end of a concert by US singer Ariana Grande.

This atrocity, which the Socialist Party completely condemns, has echoes of the Bataclan concert attack in Paris in November 2015. In both, ordinary people from all walks of life were indiscriminately slaughtered, especially the young.

Early reports suggested the perpetrator was a suicide bomber who died at the scene. It is the worst terrorist attack in Britain since 52 people were killed in the July 2005 London bombings.

Manchester people reacted quickly to aid those fleeing the scene, tweeting offers of beds and lifts home, and taxi drivers gave free rides. Their response of solidarity and help - together with that of the emergency and hospital workers - has nothing in common with the hypocritical reaction of Tory government ministers who profess sympathy and sorrow while they stand four-square behind policies that lay down the breeding ground for such atrocities.

Terrorist attacks in European cities are becoming more frequent. In Britain, coming this time outside London, people throughout the country will now feel less safe. The reasons behind the attacks often appear to be multi-faceted and no two incidences are exactly the same. But a running feature has been links or ideological sympathy with the likes of Isis and anger at western imperialist interventions in the Middle East.

So as well as opposing reactionary organisations like Isis which support and perpetrate barbaric acts on ordinary people, it's essential to oppose imperialist wars and call for the immediate withdrawal of British military forces from the Middle East. We must also build unity of working people against scapegoating, racism and division, and argue for socialist ideas as the only alternative to this present system that can't and won't end poverty, war and terrorism.

Tories' inability to counter terrorism

Following the Manchester atrocity Theresa May will no doubt try to double and treble her 'strong and stable' posturing in order to appear as a firm 'anti-terrorist' law enforcer and boost her election prospects. However, there have been a number of rounds of so-called anti-terror legislation over the last two decades, and none of it is preventing new attacks such as March's killings in Westminster or this latest terrible event in Manchester - as the Socialist Party has repeatedly warned would be the case.

At the same time the Tories' unrelenting austerity drive is making people more vulnerable when attacks occur. After the Westminster attack we drew attention to the way in which cuts to the emergency services, hospitals and transport staff will inevitably reduce the speed of assistance for those needing urgent help.

It has been reported that eight hospitals in Greater Manchester have treated casualties of the bombing, while at the same time it's the case that some of these hospitals are facing cuts in which the loss of 24-hour emergency cover is being considered. The Manchester Arena attack, taking place in the late evening, exposes the potentially disastrous nature of such cuts, which the Tories want to push ahead with.

During the general election campaign so far the Tories' determination to continue with callous austerity measures has been clear and they met a major backlash to their plans to further penalise people who depend on social care. Now, following the Manchester attack, their self-portrayal as the defenders of ordinary working people needs to be further exposed and rejected in all its guises.

Popularity of anti-war policies

The 2004 Madrid train bombings in Spain, in which 191 people died, took place during a general election campaign and the ruling Popular Party tried to use the atrocities to boost their election prospects. Their strategy backfired; mass anger was directed at them after they tried to blame Basque nationalists for the attacks. Rather, it became clear that the perpetrators were acting in sympathy with Al-Qaida, and the mood of revulsion towards the government and its pro-Iraq war position led to the Spanish Socialist Party winning that election.

While it was a particular blunder by the Popular Party that helped to fuel that outcome, in Britain's present general election campaign Jeremy Corbyn's anti-war stance can gain even more resonance and have a strong impact. Corbyn has long been a consistent opponent of intervention by Britain and other western capitalist powers in the Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria wars. These have caused mass devastation and loss of life and have created the conditions for a horrific level of terrorist violence in those countries and beyond.


We in the Socialist Party have also strongly opposed those wars and have consistently warned that it would be ordinary working people in the Middle East and worldwide who will pay the price of them, both financially and as a result of the escalating instability they have caused. 

At the same time we condemn (as does Corbyn) the ideology and abhorrent methods of right-wing reactionary organisations like Isis and Al-Qaida that seek to build a highly repressive semi-feudal and capitalist caliphate, with no workers' democracy or basic rights.


It is the task of the working class in Iraq and Syria, through building trade unions, democratically-run non-sectarian defence bodies, etc, to lead a struggle against the likes of Isis, assisted by solidarity from workers internationally. The imperialist powers, on their part, are intervening for their own prestige and influence and in the interests of their top corporations.

This includes British imperialism, whether represented by the Tories or the Blairites before them. It was a fitting coincidence that the Guardian's 'morning briefing' following the Manchester Arena attack, after beginning on the bombing, immediately followed it with a second section on the "unprecedented support for the fossil fuel industry" in the Tory election manifesto. Oil industry bosses have promised over £390,000 to May's campaign as a result, it explained.

The general election on 8 June provides a much-needed opportunity to kick the Tories out and take forward the struggle in the labour movement against the Blairites by bringing Jeremy Corbyn in as prime minister. This would be a very important step on the road towards ending the austerity, poverty and war inherent in capitalism, that underlies division, racism and terrorism.

Thousands March in Bristol to Defend Education


On Saturday 20th May around 5000 people took to the streets of Bristol to oppose devastating education cuts.

The demonstration, organised by the National Union of Teachers brought in people from across the local area. Tory spending plans will see 98% of schools worse off by 2020. In Bristol that means schools will lose more than £32m, the equivalent of 1000 teachers.
Pupils, parents and teachers alike were chanting “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!” Anger toward Tory cuts is rising as some schools in the area are now sending out letters warning what the impact will be. Increasing class sizes, shortening the school day, cutting subjects from the curriculum, cutting support for children with additional needs and firing teachers and other staff are all being considered to cover the huge shortfall schools will face.

This government are willing to cause this damage the future of a whole generation of children just to pay for tax cuts for their super-rich friends. It’s no wonder that most people at the protest saw the need to kick the Tories out of power in order to protect education. The Socialist Party’s message was very well received on the demonstration and we sold over 100 copies of the Socialist newspaper. 

See below for pictures of the demonstration. See our Facebook page for more photos.  





How the Bristol Post covered the demonstration. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Kshama Sawant to Speak at Socialism 2017


Socialism 2017 is an unmissable weekend of rallies, discussions and debates, organised by the Socialist Party in November. We will be discussing all the most important issues of the day as well as marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution.

We are pleased to announce that Kshama Sawant has been confirmed as a speaker for the event. Kshama caused waves across the world when she was elected as a Socialist Alternative councillor in Seattle, USA. She has been a staunch fighter for working-class people and a leading campaigner against Trump. See www.socialistalternative.org for more information about her.

Please see www.socialism2017.net for tickets and more information about the event.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

June 8th - Chance to Kick Out the Tories!

Corbyn and May - who will be the next Prime Minister?

Defeat the Millionaires' Tory Government

Corbyn Must Fight the Election With Socialist Policies

Socialist Party statement

Theresa May has called a general election for one reason - not the reason she gave - but because of the government's weakness in face of a rising tide of anger in British society.

Workers are suffering the most prolonged squeeze on wages since the start of the nineteenth century. Benefits cuts are leaving millions without enough money to feed themselves and their families. Last year a record 200,000 people were admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition. Education and the NHS are facing life-threatening cuts. The housing crisis is acute. The new ultra-draconian anti-trade union laws are creating bitterness and frustration among trade unionists.

Far from being a strong government, May fears that, given the Tories' wafer-thin majority in parliament, she could be overwhelmed by forced u-turns. In the first year of the government alone there were eleven, now - in order to try to prevent more - May has made the biggest u-turn yet. Having pledged not to call a snap election she has gone ahead and done so. This shows how capitalist politicians change the rules whenever it suits them.

Cameron and Clegg introduced the Fixed Term Parliament Act in order to try to shore up the Coalition government for five years, now May is over-riding it to try to strengthen a weak Tory government. She is gambling, based on current opinion polls, that she will win the general election with an increased majority and will then be more able to carry out her real programme - not the warm words about helping the 'just managing', but vicious austerity.

photo: Paul Mattsson

High risk for Tories

Her gamble is high-risk. The real poll will take place on 8 June, and a lot can happen between now and then. She is partly posing the election as a referendum on Brexit, hoping that the third of Tory voters who supported 'remain' will reluctantly continue to support her government. This is not guaranteed however - some may well switch to the pro-remain Liberal Democrats.
Moreover, the hated Tories are very unlikely to make significant inroads in Scotland. The Scottish National Party is not yet fully exposed and is likely to largely maintain its electoral base. Winning the Copeland byelection has probably given May hope that theTories can improve their position in the North of England. However, in both the Copeland and Stoke byelections the Tory vote actually fell in absolute terms. The Tories only scraped victory in Copeland because the Tory vote held up better than the Labour vote.

Globally the lesson of recent elections - from the US, to France, to the Netherlands - is that voters want to punish the capitalist establishment; and those parties and candidates that claim to be anti-establishment can have a mass appeal. Look at Melenchon in France, who by standing on a left programme, has soared to 19% in the opinion polls with a possibility that he will even go through to the second round. Jeremy Corbyn has already stated that Labour will not oppose the general election going ahead. Now he needs to launch an election campaign based on socialist policies that are relevant to working class people's lives.

Policies for socialist change

It is clear that much of the pro-capitalist cabal at the top of the Labour Party will be secretly welcoming this election because they think Corbyn will be defeated and they can then replace him with some pro-capitalist pro-austerity leader. However, they could rue the day this election was called. If Corbyn fights on a clear socialist programme - for a Brexit in the interests of the working and middle-class - he could win the general election.

The policies that first thrust him into the leadership of the Labour Party would be a good beginning - an immediate introduction of a £10 an hour minimum wage, free education for all, mass council house building and nationalisation of the rail and energy companies. These should be combined with policies such as an immediate end to all cuts in public services and a pledge to immediately renationalise Royal Mail.

Jeremy should make clear that he would kick the privateers out of public services and education. He should pledge to introduce a real socialist NHS - a well-funded, comprehensive, high quality NHS, under democratic control, with care free at the point of use. These demands should be linked to the need for fundamental socialist change - for a society run in the interests of the majority instead of for the profits of a few.

Such an election campaign should not be limited to speeches and election broadcasts. The campaign to defend the NHS should be linked to the mass movement which began with the national demonstration on 4 March. Jeremy Corbyn spoke at that demonstration. Now he, together with the trade union movement and health campaigners, should call a second demonstration, during the election campaign, mobilising millions onto the streets against the Tories and in defence of the NHS.