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Reply to Brigitte (from Jonathan Clyne)

posted 8 Mar 2012, 00:01 by Admin uk
 In the past three decades many things have got worse – mass  unemployment came to stay, the welfare state has been considerably weakened, and the labour movement and the left generally is a shadow of its former self. But nonetheless there are also some things which have got better, at least in advanced capitalist countries. One such thing is the social and legal attitudes towards women, especially in the last ten to fifteen years. I have written more about this here:                                                       


An important aspect of this has been the sea change in attitudes towards rape. Previously the attitude was not dissimilar to Pakistan today. Rape was something that happened to women who were beaten down by an unknown stranger and had the physical damages to prove it. If this was the case, and the woman had not worn “provocative” clothing nor had any previous sexual interests outside of marriage, then the steepest sentences could be doled out against the rapist. Because rape was considered not only an abuse of the woman but also a property crime. The property of the father, brother or husband had been damaged.                     


Today things are different. It is generally understood and legally accepted that the overwhelming amount of rapes are actually committed by somebody known, even close, to the victim. A symptom of how late this change in attitudes has come is that Germany only introduced a law in 1997 that made marital rape punishable. Even since then laws have been changed in a number of countries redefining rape legally.


It is also understood and legally accepted in many countries today that rape need not be connected to a physical attack, that incapacitation of the victim can happen by other means, and that the victims previous clothing and sex life are irrelevant. Just because one wants to have sex and has had sex does not mean that one wants to have sex with anybody who is around and just then. Here is a good example of what is socially and legally considered a rape today, but would not have been considered one 25 years ago: Superficially this example could be seen as a seduction, as a game between consenting adults, but in this case it is clear that the girl was not in agreement and that the guy went ahead regardless. And it most likely led to a lasting trauma for the girl.


There has been a sliding scale during the past decades from the completely archaic view to the modern view of rape.


When I was a member of the CWI and later in the IMT, rape was never discussed. It was considered an issue irrelevant to the class struggle and therefore insignificant. Therefore there is no reason to assume that attitudes were much better in a control commission than in society in general. In fact, in terms of tolerance for appalling behaviour, things were worse among the majority of the leadership than among a broad swath of the population.


Of course it is difficult to establish what happened 25 years ago in the case referred to by Birgitte and I have no intention of trying to prove things either.


I had no idea that she would read what I wrote, nor were there any hints in what I wrote through which somebody who was not very closely connected to the CWI leadership in the mid-eighties (a mere handful of people) could identify her role in this sorry business. It was not my intention to identify her, and I apologize for that. I should have expressed myself even more generally. Because the main reason I raised the issue was not to mention her, but to show my distrust in the private courts that have been the norm in some left-wing organisations. There is more about that here:


In retrospect I would have approached the alleged rape of a comrade in Pakistan differently. But any new discussion is a learning process. And I do not regret pursuing the issue. It has been confined to the shadows for too long, and if it had not been taken up lessons would never have been learned.


Nor do I regret that I wanted the allegations against the IMT published on www.karlmarx,net. Even sensitive issues, such as rape, should be subject to a public discussion. Public discussion is one of the important  reasons why attitudes have changed such a lot in the past decades. Rape culture, a culture where sexual violence is both made to be invisible and inevitable, has been pushed back as people have become aware of what the situation actually is. Both sides should of course be able to present their case, and that has been done. Readers have now got the opportunity themselves to judge for themselves what side contains the most self-contradictions, falsehoods, and irrelevancies.