I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of white women in the left who offered me warmth and support as a sister while I was an activist. So it is with pleasure that I see one black American feminist, Mikki Kendall, stirring it up with the brilliantly exasperated Twitter hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen.
I recently attempted to draw attention to the actions of a prominent section of the British left who are moving rightwards and redrawing events in living memory as a white narrative, as demonstrated in the all-white Ken Loach's "Spirit of '45", a feature film-length documentary which covered the birth of the welfare state and its legacy. Interestingly, my article was met with only two irate tweets from rabid right-wingers but a blizzard of denial and hostility from the white left.
Instead of debating this worrying trend, personnel in the grouplet Counterfire tried to lead a Twitter mobbing (they got four involved) and attempted hounding me on the Third Estate website before one of the site co-founders gave the perp a slap.
I'm told that, failing to engage with the issues of blind spots in the movement regarding the blatant exclusion of non-whites that need addressing, bods at Shiraz "Socialist" (hah!) are resorting to an ad hominem dismissal of me as a "loose cannon" (as opposed to line-toeing hack, I guess). I hear that one principled leftist has posted evidence of my argument going back ten years but again, rather than deal with the problem, the response is bluster and then silence.
And Lindsey "Shibboleths" German of Counterfire did a phone round denouncing me as a chippy Chinese actress with a grudge about slave labour. Well, I do hope so, Lindsey. Never mind the use of language straight out of a Life on Mars episode illustrating the worst of the 1970s, I hope that any genuine socialist would be unhappy about activists being ripped off for their labour while Glorious Leaders draw a wage from the movement built by those activists Animal Farm stylee.
(And, by the way, why did you, in your role as convenor, decide NOT to mobilise Stop the War Coalition (STWC) action on the most crucial day for the anti-war movement? The day of the Parliamentary vote in March 2003 when a protest at the Palace of Westminster may well have stopped the war in Iraq.)
Unless we all stand together in the face of worsening assaults under capitalism, we all go under. We understand that revolutions have gone wrong when the new boss behaves like the old boss with all the same hang-ups, greed and personal ambitions, so we'd better learn fast that we have more in common than divides us ... and put it into practice.
In Lindsey's honour I'm reposting here my article from earlier in the year looking at the phenomenon of sistahs who ain't sistahs no matter how many big fat tomes they write on the subject.
The Left's invisibilty bomb: how's that liberation thing working out for you?
Perhaps it's unconscious and far from deliberate but there's a set of prejudices in the Left that they just won't confront. You can be a woman, non-white or working class but not all three at once or you get the INVISIBILITY BOMB exploded all over you.
Feminist Camilla Power wrote to me earlier this month asking me to link to her piece on the Socialist Workers Party crisis, Feminism is a Dirty Word, (which I did). However, in a letter to the CPGB Weekly Worker about the dreadful treatment of WOMEN, she then cites the experiences of MEN only. As the elephant in the room who's been writing about this for years as an insider with direct experience of the problem, I wrote to her:
"Imagine my surprise and disappointment to find your letter to the Weekly Worker citing several men but not my experience as the lone working-class non-white woman consistently whistle-blowing and challenging the sexism and abuse in the SWP and elsewhere in the left over several years — in a debate about WOMEN.
"I didn't find this further marginalisation a particularly sisterly act. I'm sure it was unconscious — it was certainly unthinking and insensitive but then what do my emotions count for?
"Please read your letter again and then marvel at the irony. I would hate to think you were part of the problem and not the solution — or all theory and no knickers, as us non-egghead non-people might say."
I got a polite email back — a sort of an acknowledgment — and I'm waiting with bated breath to see whether there's any serious attempt to redress this omission.
This situation has been going on for years. Once again I feel compelled to remind the "comrades" that it took a non-white working-class woman to propel your various campaigns into the media spotlight when the left was refusing to engage with the "bourgeois press" and wouldn't even put out a press release for fear it would sully their revolutionary purity: chiefly (but not solely) the Socialist Alliance and Stop the War Coalition. All full-time and for no pay leaving me in debt having paid to establish the anti-war press office while leaders such as John Rees and Lindsey German drew a wage.
Then there's Ian Sinclair's abysmally-researched book The March That Shook Blair, in which three people lay claim to being the STWC's press officers, but the one person who was at the coal-face actually battering down media resistance from Day 1 is left out. Shame that, because I have the day-to-day blow-by-blow accounts of what it took to get mainstream media to notice STWC when they tried to ignore the mounting anti-war anger.
[EDIT: This was written by Ian Sinclair only a few days ago specifically dealing with abuse in the STWC anti-Iraq war campaign, and I'm still not allowed to have a say. STWC is described as "... perhaps the most high profile campaign of the last decade...". How do you suppose it got to be "high profile"? Charles Shaar Murray writes: 'First time it's happenstance. Second time it's coincidence. Third time -- it's enemy action.' -- Ian Fleming, Goldfinger.]
According to Greg Palast, research shows that not just white people, but even black people, overlook black people when it comes to intellectual tasks. That's no different in the left where, with a few exceptions, everyone congratulates themselves for being "right-on" until something like the SWP sex-abuse accusations bites them on the bum and shines a spotlight on exactly how archaic their own assumptions and practice actually are.
Of course, I could always stay schtum and submit to my own obliteration as a human being. Standards of respect, comradeship, appreciation, decency, solidarity, inclusiveness, equality and other bourgeois individualistic fripperies evidently don't apply to uppity effnik coolie labour, only to the self-appointed chosen ones; but since this is how marginalisation and objectification work, I say screw that.
So backward is the left on this issue that they're behind even the comedians who've acknowledged the phenomenon in Paul Whitehouse's "The Fast Show" series. Arabella Weir's character regularly finds her bright ideas and solutions ignored by the boys in the room until, moments later, they regurgitate what she's said like it's their own. We are all Arabella Weir. Well, some of us are more Arabella than others.
It's a white boys club with a few women allowed to play. You have to be the "right" sort of non-white or woman to register in whatever passes for awareness. The left's current mindset has nothing to do with my liberation and EVERYTHING to do with continuing my oppression.
Anna's updated account of life, dearth and sexism in the SWP and the British left.
My time on the left has largely felt like this.
Public health warning about the People's Assembly as currently led.
A Bad Case of the Trots — an early public airing of the SWP/STWC problem in 2003.
Maybe less elephant in the room and more basketball gorilla. Does this mean I can rob banks?
This was written by Ian Sinclair only a few days ago.
The Smethwick Problem in 2010 by Evan Smith.
- About: British Chinese poet, writer and broadcaster Anna Chen
- On the radio
- Arts Reviews
- The Steampunk Opium Wars
- Foot and Mouth Campaign
- RSC The Orphan of Zhao controversy
- A Bad Case of the Trots
- Reaching for my Gnu: poetry
- Print Room protest: In the Depths of Dead Love chronology
- Poetry Live!
- Yellow Peril Orientalism