Trans people are in the front line of Britain’s ‘culture wars’. The Tories have been trying non-stop to divide workers and break resistance to capitalism’s onslaught on our living standards and rights. Once largely confined to Tory hardliners, lurid stories about access to toilets, athletes enjoying supposedly ‘unfair advantages’ and caricatures of trans women as sexual predators now appear daily in the media – from the BBC to the Guardian. This atmosphere, whipped up by the establishment has already had deadly consequences, as was seen in Warrington in February with the murder of trans teenager Brianna Ghey.
The heavy artillery in this attack from the start has been the Westminster Tory government’s ban, preventing the Scottish Parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill from becoming law. This reform permitting limited-self-ID, parallels English laws proposed by Theresa May in 2018 when she had spoken of “demedicalising” the process of transition. By crushing the GRR, Tory Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has not only trampled on the rights and identities, but also on the democratic and national rights of workers in Scotland.
Transphobia represents a threat to workers’ unity. This is why a resolution moved by Socialist Alternative members is on the national conference agenda of three major unions. In some, including the NEU, however, officials have undemocratically rowed back on policies supporting trans rights. Scandalously, these include many ‘lefts’ – in particular, members and supporters of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and its paper, the Morning Star, along with their youth organisation, the Young Communist League.
The Star came into attention in 2020 for publishing a transphobic cartoon, which compared trans women using single-sex spaces to predatory crocodiles, aping the toxic bigotry of the Daily Mail. In March, the CPB gained further attention, after doubling down on their transphobia with a statement justifying justifying the Tory section 35 ban. Their implicit endorsement of Tory anti-trans policy claimed that the blocking of the GRR was “entirely predictable” given the “flawed approach of the GRR” in creating “different legal definitions of sex in Scotland and in England/Wales”.
Complex legal arguments aside, we need to ask, why has the CPB lined up with the Tories on this issue?
Legacy of Stalinism
The CPB was established in 1988 by a minority of the new defunct Communist Party of Great Britain. While the leadership of the CPGB were moving towards renunciation of Marxism altogether as the Stalinist dictatorships crumbled, this split was based around generally defending the heritage of Stalinism, albeit in an embarrassed way. After Stalinism’s collapse in the 1990s, the CPB transferred support to the oppressive capitalist regime in China, which had by that point carried out extensive privatisations, plundering the carcass of the planned economy. Today, the CPB backs the fiction that the millionaires of the ‘Communist’ Party of China represent “actually existing socialism”.
These bizarre positions on both trans rights and what counts as “socialism” might seem unrelated. But Socialist Alternative would argue the opposite; we think they are linked. Common to both false positions is their roots in their loyalty to Stalins’ counter-revolutionary, bureaucratic regime with its false theory of ’socialism in one country’. By contrast, Socialist Alternative and ISA stand by the genuine, democratic traditions of the Russian Revolution, epitomised in the life and revolutionary ideas of Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition.
Trotsky, co-leader of the October 1917 Russian Revolution alongside Lenin and many other revolutionaries, later in his life took a bold stand against the bureaucratic degeneration represented by Stalin and his cohort. Lenin had anticipated in State and Revolution that the planned economy would weaken the material basis for capitalist counter-revolution, enabling the gradual withering away of the state. In his book The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky explained how in Russia, owing to the exhaustion following years of imperialist civil war and the isolation of the young workers state, however, an opposite process took place. The new rulers increased the apparatus and ideology of repression, to guard the growing share of wealth and resources they stole from the workers. This was also felt in the field of gender oppression.
The October Revolution brought historic revolutionary gains for women and all the oppressed. Abortion, divorce and LGBTQIA+ relationships were legalised overnight. The Stalinist elite, within a couple of decades, reversed these steps – pushing women and gender non-conforming people back into the prison of the family, under the banner of false speeches about the “new family”. There was, however, nothing new about this. As Trotsky said: “the [Stalinist] leadership are forcing people to glue together again the shell of the old [capitalist] family”. The only glue available was the tired and discredit concept of the gender binary – complete with strict and enforced gender roles.
Many ideas similar to this re-emerge in the distorted, false “feminism” put forward by the CPB. They assert that they are “the only political party with a coherent political analysis of sex and gender. Gender as an ideological construct should not be confused or conflated with the material reality of biological sex.” However this turns facts on their head. If taken to its full conclusion, the CPB’s position would imply that male domination is a “material reality” inherent to human nature and biology, as opposed to a condition of class society which can be resisted and overthrown through workers’ struggle. It in effect dismisses people protecting their gender rights through self-ID as “idealist”.
In fact, as Marxists point out, the binary roles of “man” and “woman” are ideological categories, which arise from the need of class societies to reinforce the power structure of the family. The role of socialists should be to expose this, not to reinforce it.
Not a socialist stance
Under the guise of “safeguarding women and children from predatory and abusive men”, the CPB prefer the existing 2004 Gender Recognition Act, claiming it “focuses on allowing people with gender dysphoria to change their legal sex”. The GRR, by contrast, “allows anyone over the age fo 16 access to a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) with no medical requirement”. In the CPB leaderships’ mind, this is supposed to be a bad thing. What is ignored however, is the way in which the existing legislation has placed trans people in waiting lists for as long as five years while they seek medical attention.
They call for “sex” as a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act to be redefined as “biological sex”. This tears a page straight out the book of what is said currently by Tory ministers, who wish to remove existing rights and protections for trans people – even those with a 2004 certificate! Their claim to support the “right of trans people to live free from discrimination and prejudice” rings hollow.
Unfortunately, the CPB not only backs the Tory government’s right to attack trans people, but also to attack the Scottish people’s right to national self-determination when they claimed Alister Jack’s veto is “defending the constitutional status quo and the Equality and Scotland Acts.”
That the CPB list “defending the constitutional status quo” as a positive thing indicates a dismissive attitude towards the national and democratic rights of the Scottish people. It is no coincidence that the Stalinist regimes – their model for today – were themselves characterised by disregard, and eventual suppression of national rights, as well as a repeat from revolutionary internationalism, in favour of ‘diplomacy’ with imperialist powers.
Trotsky, and Lenin alongside him, long explained how capitalism, through generating national oppression, would require Marxists to take a democratic stance in favour of the right to national self-determination. As Trotsky commented in The Revolution Betrayed:
“Demands of the nations aroused by the [October] revolution require the widest possible autonomy. At the same time, industry can successfully develop only by subjecting all parts of the Union to a general centralised plan. The tendencies of cultural autonomy and economic centralism come from time to time into conflict.”
For a workers’ democracy, this would be:
“…far from irreconcilable [due to] the masses themselves. Only their actual participation in the administration of their own destinies can at each new stage draw the necessary lines between the legitimate demands of economic centralism and the living gravitations of national culture. The trouble is, however, that the will of the population of the Soviet Union in all its national divisions is now wholly replaced by the will of a bureaucracy which approaches both economy and culture from the point of view of convenience of administration and the specific interests of the ruling stratum.”
Over time, this tone-deaf disregard for cultural and democratic rights of nations, under which “the bureaucratic degeneration of the state rested like a millstone on national policy” evolved to become a stifling suppression of the minority nationalities. This eventually paved the way for the break up along national lines of both the USSR and of other ‘socialist’ states built in its image, such as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, accelerating the capitalist counter-revolution of the 1990s.
Today, its pale shadow survives in the CPB’s opposition, reflected in their statement, to the national rights of both Scottish and Welsh workers – a willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories (and Starmer’s Labour Party) to defend the ‘status quo’: the integrity of the capitalist United Kingdom. Though promoted as “radical federalism” and justified on the basis of defending the class unity of British workers, this actually plays the role of undermining the potential for workers unity if the right to independence on a socialist basis is not upheld. This was on show when the CPB even campaigned mistakenly, like the Tories and Labour Party, for a NO vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence.
This echoes the manner in which Stalinism strangled the Spanish revolution between 1936 and 1939. The Communist Party of Spain (PCE) and the ‘Communist’ International were the main drivers of the Popular Front government’s bid to centralise the power of the Spanish state. Although the ostensible aim was united resistance to Franco’s coup, measures to break workers’ power, halt the collectivisation of land, ban left parties (imprisoning and even murdering their leaders) and to curtail (and ultimately brutally suppress) the national autonomy afforded to the Catalan and Basque masses, broke working class unity, and enabled the victory of fascism. The PCE even opposed independence for Spain’s largest colony Morocco, a basic democratic measure, which would have undermined Franco’s army with the 60,000 strong Legion of Africa at its core.
Similarly, during French imperialism’s savage “war of peace” between 1956 and 1962 to crush the Algerian Revolution, the Stalinised French Communist Party backed Algerian ‘union’ with France. PCF deputies even voted in 1956 to grant the French government ‘special powers’ under which they confined the one-in-three Algerians living in the ‘forbidden zone’ to concentration camps.
Trotsky explained how this acceptance of the existing geo-political order by Stalinised ‘communist’ parties, sprang from substituting the narrow national interests of the Russian bureaucracy for those of workers internationally. Under the heading “World Revolution to Status Quo”, he described how:
“Foreign policy is a continuation of domestic policy. The degeneration of the governing stratum in the Soviet Union [was] accompanied by a corresponding change in Soviet diplomacy. The “theory” of socialism in one country liberated Soviet foreign policy from the program of international revolution. The bureaucracy directed its chief efforts to ‘neutralising’ the bourgeoisie [as opposed to struggling against it]. For this it was necessary to seem a moderate, respectable, authentic bulwark of order. But in order to seem something successfully and for a long time, you have to be, retreating step-by-step before the consequences of its own mistakes. The bureaucracy has arrived at the idea of insuring the inviolability of the Soviet Union by including it in the status quo.”
Today, lacking even the excuse of the need to defend “socialism in one country”, the CPB nonetheless remain wedded to ultimately operating within the constraints of the existing British state and its crisis-ridden capitalist economy. Instead of the revolutionary internationalist programme of the Bolsheviks (and ISA today), their programme – Britain’s Road to Socialism is a reformist and nationalist programme. Hidebound by an inability to look beyond the borders of the British state or the limits of what the profit system can ‘afford’ they can see only ‘conflicts of rights’ between cis women and trans people.
This is not a socialist stance on either trans rights, women’s rights or national rights and democracy. Socialist Alternative says that workers in Scotland should build a movement to demand that rather than tamely accepting the Tory veto while appealing to the courts, Scotland’s new First Minister, Humza Yousaf defy section 35 and implement the GRR immediately.
We also fight to extend its provisions – for instance by removing waiting times (especially extended ones for 16 and 17 year-olds) and recognising non-binary people. Above all, we fight for a new party of class struggle to build the mass movement necessary to fight the whole capitalist system – the real threat to both trans rights and women – and pave the way to a socialist independent Scotland, as well as socialist change in England and Wales, and around the world.
Photo: Paul McGowan