On recent attacks on the ICC on libcom

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The publication of our article ‘Reflections on the split in the Anarchist Federation’[1] has been widely read (close to 1000 reads at the time of writing), but has also ignited a storm of virulent attacks on the ICC, led by two longstanding members of the libcom collective, Steven and Mike Harman[2].

The ostensible reason for these attacks was a short paragraph in the article describing the events at the Anarchist Bookfair which had precipitated the split in the AF, a clash between a group of radical feminists (labelled “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” by their opponents) and supporters of “transgender rights” over the question of transphobia – hatred or discrimination against transgender people. This had not been the main focus of the article – the paragraph had figured as an introduction to a more general critical analysis of the statement of the group which had left the AF. But it was the central focus of the attacks on our article. We - or “the authors of the article” – were accused either of gross ignorance of the issues (and were given sundry links to sites where the basic terminology would be made clear to us) or of outright transphobia. The main evidence provided was that at the beginning of the article we had placed the word transphobia in inverted commas, as though it was not a real thing; but more importantly, that we had referred to transgender women (ie those who have “transitioned” from a male gender identity to a female one) as transgender males. According to our critics, we were thus providing support for the radical feminists, who had distributed leaflets at the Bookfair criticising proposed government legislation which will make gender identity a matter of subjective choice, because in the view of these particular feminists it will expose women-only spaces to the presence of people who they don’t consider to be women at all.

It’s true that this misuse of the current terminology was an error on our part, and we have made certain changes in the paragraph to make it clear that we are simply describing the position of the “TERFs” and in no way supporting them. But it was clear from the approach of posts attacking us that however much we altered the formulation used, we would still be judged guilty of promoting transphobia, because we have an entirely different approach to the whole issue. This is how Mike Harman deals with it. He cites the attempt by our poster on the thread, Alf, to focus on the real questions raised by the article: “is it true that significant parts of the anarchist movement are being pulled into the politics of 'identity', whether based on gender, sexuality, race or nationality?” and replies:

“You're asking the wrong question, because you don't understand the basis of the conflict. Another question to ask would be, ‘Why did two Green party members feel sufficiently emboldened that they could distribute transphobic leaflets at the anarchist bookfair, and put up posters in the toilets?’”

Harman’s post thus provides a justification for refusing to engage with the growing impact of identity politics on the anarchist milieu. Not only that, but Steven in particular repeatedly demanded that our entire article should be taken down – a clear attempt to silence us[3].

But in insisting that the one and only issue is the action of the “TERFs”, Harman also implies that unless you side with the anti-TERF resistance, you are providing ammunition for their transphobic agenda. In other words, what the posts by the libcom collective members really show is not our insidious prejudice against trans people, but the libcom collective’s own deepening involvement in identity politics or “id pol”. Small wonder that Steven (who is a remaining member of the AF) dismisses our view of the split as being an attempt – albeit partial and inadequate – to reject the growing weight of id pol, as “bollocks”.

For our part, we want to emphasise that not only do we not take sides in this clash between different brands of identity politics: we are opposed to all of them. As our sympathiser Baboon put it in a post on our forum: “I don't think that the fight between radical feminists and trans activists has any possible advantage for the proletariat or in any way assists the pressing needs of the class … I'd seen these two groups confronting each other on the TV weeks before the bookfair on Channel 4 news where (at a Gay Pride march I think) their confrontation was turning very ugly and very nasty[4]. At the bookfair apparently the police were called by one faction and both factions were involved in mobbing and scapegoating, a situation that showed nothing positive from a working class perspective and was entirely in line with certain populist developments arising from capitalism's decomposition[5]

At the same time, both groups are founded on deep illusions in capitalist legislation. Some feminists seem to think that women are defended by current legislation, but will be undermined by the change. Meanwhile, some trans activists seem to think that the change to the Gender Recognition Act will be a great step forward for trans people. Both milieus have profound reformist illusions. And their goals are mutually exclusive, therefore deeply divisive.

WR, February 2018

[1] http://en.internationalism.org/icconline/201802/14822/reflections-split-anarchist-federation

[2] https://libcom.org/forums/anarchist-federation/whats-going-afed-27122017?page=7

[3] Echoed, more crudely,  by the poster El Psy Congroo who simply told our comrade to “shut the fuck up”

[4] The incident in question actually took place at Speakers’ Corner in September 2017: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/oct/26/woman-punched-in-brawl-between-transgender-activists-and-radical-feminists

[5] http://en.internationalism.org/forum/1056/jk1921/14834/reflections-split-anarchist-federation