The War on Woke

Roland Rance details the latest goings-on in the anti-trans moral panic, placing Kathleen Stock’s appalling attacks on trans people, their defenders and families, in the context of reactionary attempts to divide liberatory struggles.

 

When examined, the moral panic about trans people never survives surface scrutiny. To pick a recent example, when transphobic academic Kathleen Stock resigned last year from her post at Sussex University, it was widely misreported that she had been sacked for her views. This was then used to smear supporters of trans rights and opponents of bigotry as “censors”, and Stock was misleadingly compared to academics who had been fired from their jobs because of their support for Palestinian rights. Unfortunately, this sleight of hand was echoed by some on the left, who mistakenly accepted this comparison, and expressed solidarity with Stock on that basis.

Some of these supporters may have been taken aback when Stock “proved” her progressive credentials by becoming a founding fellow of the new anti-woke University of Austin, alongside luminaries such as Niall Ferguson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bari Weiss and David Mamet. Since then, Stock has compounded her bigoted views, with her latest outburst in a row in the Society of Authors leading one critic to write, “One day this tweet will be in a book explaining transphobia, fascism and online radicalisation. Even in that context, I suspect people won’t believe anyone was evil enough to have said this”.

The background was the recent stabbing of Salman Rushdie. (This shouldn’t need to be spelled out, but for the avoidance of doubt, whatever one’s personal view of Rushdie’s literary talent, or his growing closeness to US imperialism, this attack was a criminal act that should be condemned by any socialist.) JK Rowling responded to the attack with a tweet putting herself at the centre of attention, noting that she too had received death threats. She also complained that Joanne Harris, the President of the Society of Authors, had failed to defend her and had “betrayed” members who did not agree with Harris’s support for trans rights.

Harris responded, condemning all death threats and attacks on free speech, and defending Rowling, while reiterating her unequivocal support for trans rights. She noted that she had a son who had come out as trans a few months ago, leading Stock to welcome this “honesty”, but then using Twitter to complain that at least two other critics had “undeclared trans-identified offspring”. This, she claimed, meant that they were biased, and their views therefore not worthy of consideration.

This despicable tweet epitomises the reactionary depths to which Stock has descended. Only the transphobes and “gender critical” theorists who agree with her can be objective; trans people, and those who support them, are “other”, and their views can be legitimately discounted. Moreover, her opponents should be obliged to declare whether they are the parents of trans (or, in Stock’s bigoted terminology, “trans-identified”) children.

It is this obsession, rather than support for liberation and for self-organisation of the oppressed, which is truly taking identity politics too far – and in the wrong direction. And this also vindicates the students who protested Stock’s presence at Sussex University – where she clearly did pose a genuine threat to trans students.

Moreover, her opponents should be obliged to declare whether they are the parents of trans (or, in Stock’s bigoted terminology, “trans-identified”) children.

It is this obsession, rather than support for liberation and for self-organisation of the oppressed, which is truly taking identity politics too far – and in the wrong direction.

Attacks on trans rights are increasingly surfacing. In the current election for Green Party deputy leader, one prominent candidate has been attracting support from a vocal group applauding his opposition to trans rights. In the Labour Party, instrumentalisation of false claims of transphobia has split the left slate for the NEC election. Meanwhile the candidates in the Tory leadership election, in a bid for the lowest common denominator Tory backwoods votes, have been outbidding each other in attacks on trans rights.

When, as expected, Liz Truss wins, it is speculated that her cabinet appointments will include the outright transphobes Suella Braverman as Home Secretary and Kemi Badenoch as Education Secretary, presaging even further restrictions and delegitimation. It is increasingly probable that the hated Section 28 will return, only now with a superficial anti-trans makeover.

The attacks on trans people and their supporters is part of the general war on “woke culture” embraced by the right across the world. Trans people are both a direct target, and also collateral damage in a concerted attack on liberatory politics in general. We have witnessed the success of this approach in targeting Palestinians, anti-Zionist Jews and their allies, to delegitimise Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, and ultimately to sabotage the Corbyn project. This witchhunt continues, and shows no signs of abating, as Truss made clear in a remarkably antisemitic speech attacking the civil service. 

The attacks on trans people and their supporters is part of the general war on “woke culture” embraced by the right across the world.

Identifying “Jewish values” as the Conservative values of support for the family, hard work and starting a business, Truss gave the bizarre pledge that she would deal with the “woke civil service culture that strays into antisemitism”. Presumably, this is so that she can ignore any advice from foreign policy experts that her pledge to move the British Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would be a disastrous decision.

And then, as if to prove that tragedy is always succeeded by farce, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps unveiled the latest target for stigmatisation – cyclists. In putting forward proposals that have been repeatedly rejected by his own department, and rapidly abandoned by every authority that has tried to implement them – with the exception of North Korea – Shapps has provided what must surely be conclusive evidence that the “war on woke culture” is motivated primarily, if not exclusively, by a desire to pander to the Daily Mail rather than by any concern about the alleged consequences of this culture.

The coming months are likely to see a rise in class resistance, with more and longer strikes – hopefully coordinated – and direct action including mass non-payment of obscene energy prices, disruption of environmentally damaging projects, and mobilisations to defend migrants and prevent their deportation to Rwanda. Attacks on “woke culture” are also likely to increase, in an attempt to divert attention from the real struggles, and to divide resistance.

For this reason, as well as from basic principles of solidarity, the left must support and stand in solidarity with trans people, with Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews – and yes, even with cyclists. To fail to do so, and to lend any credence to these unprincipled attacks, can only weaken our collective resistance and aid the government and its billionaire cronies.


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