England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Why socialist ideas are vital for trans liberation: A response to the organisers of Saturday’s Manchester trans rights protest

This government has all but declared war on trans people. From Johnson’s bigoted claims about the ‘unfairness’ of trans women competing in women’s sports, to the shocking decision of the government to exclude trans people from the ‘ban’ on conversion therapy, it is very clear who the Tories are appealing to. 

Nothing could underscore the need more urgently for a mass movement to fight for LGBTQ+ liberation. We need militant struggle to fight against scapegoating of trans people and all those who experience oppression under this rotten system, linked to the fight for fully-funded healthcare, education, housing and rights in work for all. 

This was why it was hugely positive on Saturday 16 April to see an angry, militant protest in Manchester, with estimates of up to a thousand making their message clear in the face of Tory division: we need a complete and total ban on ALL conversion therapy! From placards reading “Leave my genitals out of your shitty Tory politics”, to the presence of trade unionists, there was a clear, unapologetic mood that trans people will not remain silent in the struggle for liberation. 

Members of Socialist Alternative in Manchester took part in the protest, with leaflets and posters reading “LGBTQ+ liberation through class struggle”. As our leaflet put it: 

“The baseless idea that trans rights are in opposition to cisgender women’s rights has been constantly peddled by the UK press, with trans women portrayed as a ‘danger’ to cis women. In reality, the only danger that trans liberation poses is a danger to the position of the capitalist class, whose system of enforced gender roles is the biggest barrier to true liberation”. It is this reason why we see socialist ideas as so vital for our movement. 

Counter-productive approach

Overwhelmingly our ideas were well received by young people keen to find a revolutionary and anti-capitalist approach. Many already saw themselves as socialists looking for a political home where none has seemed available so far. Unfortunately however, this was not the approach of some of the protest organisers. 

From the start, they told Socialist Alternative supporters to leave the protest. Our members were harassed continually, followed around and even threatened with physical violence simply for being present. 

The spurious pretext for this – that Socialist Alternative is a “cis organisation” – was repeated as justification for this. It is clear that trans people need to be central to the leadership of the struggle for trans rights. Across our whole international organisation – ISA – we have many queer and trans members, often playing leading roles in many fields of work, including developing our programme on, and ensuring we pay close attention to, the fight for trans liberation.

But the makeup of an organisation taking part in any movement is not as important as the ideas and strategy it puts forward. Throughout history socialists have been among those at the forefront of fighting liberation struggles of all types. More urgently than ever we believe that the movement for trans liberation needs a programme and strategy that can lead it to victory. We believe revolutionary socialist ideas – which not only stand for the rights of all oppressed groups, but offer a path to uniting working-class people in struggle against the capitalist system that is the source of oppression – are therefore vital. For putting forward these ideas and seeking to discuss them with people at the protest, our members were branded “hijackers”. 

This approach amounts to little more than to say that those who don’t align with a certain point of view deemed ‘acceptable’ by a small circle of people are not welcome to participate. The question we would ask is how can we truly win liberation if the approach is not to mobilise the largest number of people truly committed to fighting for trans liberation? How can we achieve that if some are intentionally excluded for genuinely putting forward their ideas for the movement to win? In our opinion, this will only divide the movement to the benefit of the powerful and reactionaries. Instead, we’d like to see open, democratic structures, where ideas can be debated and leaders can be held accountable. After all, our ideas were received well when there was nobody there to shout over our members.

Why sell a revolutionary paper?

For selling our monthly socialist paper, also called Socialist Alternative, we were accused of ‘profiting’ from the suffering of trans people. This is wrong on every level. Each and every penny from sales of our paper, our pamphlets and merchandise goes back into the movement, including funds to print leaflets, posters, banners and more. 

Far from looking for “profit”, we sell our paper precisely because we have no rich individuals or corporations backing or funding our work. We are a working class organisation, with members from many different backgrounds. We thus have to rely for our funding on the self-sacrificing approach of our members, as well as the preparedness of working-class people more widely to support our work.

The struggle for socialism and liberation needs independent media and funds. Far from the transphobic and divisive rhetoric of the capitalist media, our regular articles and coverage stand consistently with those resisting exploitation and oppression. 

International Socialist Alternative

We are connected with ISA, a revolutionary Marxist, global fighting organisation of workers, young people and all those oppressed by capitalism and imperialism, with a presence in over 30 countries around the world. We proudly stand for a genuinely democratic socialist world, rid of oppression, discrimination, exploitation, poverty and war. 

In every country we are organised, the struggle for trans rights and liberation is an important part of what we do. In the US, we have played a key role in unionising trans workers in the fight for gender-affirming healthcare. We have helped to organise the protests against transphobic legislation in Texas and Arkansas, raising the need for a coordinated national fightback. 

In Ireland, as part of Rosa International Socialist Feminists, we arranged emergency demonstrations in response to the horrific murder of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee. In Belgium, our sister organisation, the Left Socialist Party, alongside the Active Left Students, has played a leading role in the yearly Pride is a Protest events. 

Despite the unfortunate actions of a tiny minority on the Manchester demonstration, we were proud to take part in this energetic protest and look forward to helping to build a united working class movement for trans liberation and a socialist future.

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