< Ian Birchall: Take the trouble (February 1981)

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Ian Birchall

Take the trouble

(February 1981)

From Socialist Review, 1981 : 2, 16 February–19 March 1981, p. 30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Anti-gay prejudice is disgusting and reactionary, and any sign of it in a revolutionary organisation should be firmly stamped on. But before the Manchester SWP Gay Group (SR 1981:1) start keeping files on comrades’ alleged lapses, they should take the trouble to read what was actually written.

  1. They claim that in Socialist Worker 711 I linked ‘sodomy (and therefore homosexuality) with French capitalism.’ I linked nothing. I quoted a remark by Coluche, a clown who is running for the French presidency. I don’t in fact believe Coluche’s remark was anti-gay (anal intercourse may be homosexual or heterosexual), but in any case I felt it was quite legitimate to give a quotation – clearly labelled as such – of a typical comment from Coluche. After all SW in the past has quoted Thatcher and Martin Webster.
  2. It is claimed that in my article on Simon Raven (SR 1980 : 10) I ‘equated’ homosexuality with self-indulgence. I did nothing of the sort. I stated that Raven was gay and self-indulgent. (Anyone who reads The English Gentleman or the semi-autobiographical Fielding Gray can check the truth of this.) If I had said Idi Amin was a brutal black dictator would I be accused of generalising about all blacks? What I tried to argue in the article was that although Raven portrays his gay characters in a sympathetic light, their homosexuality is never allowed to challenge the structures of the existing order.
  3. They have totally misinterpreted a passing – and perhaps too flippant – comment in my piece on Stalinism. (SR 1980 : 11) It was certainly never my intention to criticise masturbation as such. (If I had referred to people hanging pictures of Stalin on their walls, would Manchester SWP Art-Lovers Group have written to complain I was against painting?) Nor do I have any desire to censure anybody’s fantasies. But do the letter’s writers really believe that all fantasies are equally good? Surely we condemn fantasies about, say, the Yorkshire Ripper – and the porn merchants and millionaire publishers who get rich encouraging such fantasies. And Stalin killed far more people than the Ripper. All I was seeking to criticise was the distortion of sexuality that was one – small – component of the fascination of Stalin for a generation of the left. The comment was not anti-gay – Stalin had as many female fans as male. And it was not ageist: it’s simply a fact that the generation that loved Stalin are now getting on in years – they were worse when they were younger.

There are a lot of questions about sexual politics that the SWP still needs to work on. The current debate on paedophilia in Socialist Review, for example, has scarcely scratched the surface of the problem. But the kind of discussion we need will not be helped by misquotation and unfounded accusation.


Ian Birchall
North London

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