Thursday, 25 October 2007

Jack Straw, Human Rights and the 21st Century

Just heard a speech by Jack Straw on 'Human Rights in the 21st Century', although by virtue of his position as politico the talk was of course slightly incoherent it was nonetheless interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the speech has to be read with the recent government announcement on a 'Bill of Rights and Duties', secondly the speech's tone and structure give us some idea of the general government position on rights, thirdly I think Straw's inchoate theoretical probings actually provide a useful foil for people like me. So - seeing as I had nothing else to do - I thought I'd give a rundown of what Straw said and my own opinions on the matter.

The first thing that Straw was keen to stress (and something that is quite telling about his attitude towards the Human Rights Act (HRA)) was that historically and culturally Britain is a country that has been at the heart of the human rights project. He rightly pointed out that British lawyers were at the heart of developing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Further, he put forward the position that 'human rights' are a tradition that has been rooted in British life since the Magna Carta. Whilst I agree with the latter point as far as it goes I'm pretty sceptical about it. Although it seems clear that Britain's rights tradition does coincide with the content of the ECHR it certainly does not have a content of positively enumerating rights and then 'balancing' these rights with exceptions. Rather, the British tradition of 'liberty' is of one where one can do whatever is not forbidden. However, the effort to 'domesticate' human rights is one that speaks volumes about Straw's position, clearly Straw is attempted to combat the typical accusations of the press the the HRA and the ECHR are alien impositions foisted on Britain by an ever-expanding Europe.

However, as was rather predictable, Straw begins to move to our present 'context'. For Straw the post-Cold War situation has been marked with the growth of an 'enabling state' and the spread of democracy to most of Europe. But simultaneously with this there still remain a number of authoritarian states and (dum dum dum) the growth of an international terrorist movement that operates outsides the bounds of ethics and leality. He further noted that this terrorism was qualitatively different from previous forms of terrorism because:
  • It is truly international, with non-national terrorists operating from foreign states with foreign backing
  • The terrorists have access to large and powerful weapons (biological, chemical, nuclear etc.)
  • The aims and scope of the terrorists are very different from preceding forms of terrorism
Now, I will refrain from immediately commenting upon this particular assesment of the threat of international terrorism, at least until I discuss the relevance that Straw attributes to this. What is particularly interesting is that Straw (unlike certain members of the Government and the Opposition) doesn't seem to think that the HRA is inadequate in dealing with terrorism. In fact Straw thinks the HRA is absolutely necessary in order to 'establish and marshall the lawful bounds of our [the government's] response [to terrorism]'. Straw did seem to have some problems with particular decisions by the court - particularly concerning deporting people to places where there is a real chance they will be tortured (he prefers a substantial chance) - but in general he seems supportive of their overall approach. Personally, I actually found this to be quite gratifying, especially after hearing Dr. Reid's ranting for as long as I had to. However, Straw did note that although he wishes to maintain the 'principles' of human rights, he thinks there are some issues with the applications.

Straw proceeded at this point to utterly demolish the Tory analysis of the Human Rights Act, this was awesome and very little needs to be said on it. The most interesting part of Straw's lecture came in his amateur sociological examination of modern capitalism. Basically, Straw argued that there has been much deeper structural changes than just 9/11 which influence Britain's culture of rights; basically he pinpoints two key features:
  • There has been an increase in the heterogenousness of the British population and he links this to the problem of communities 'separating' out etc., obviously this would lead to a decline in a national/collective/public life
  • Globalisation has made people much less deferential, independent and empowered; but this has also turned people into 'consumers' peoples' primary identity therefore is not as the citizen but consumer
Straw then argued that this 'consumerism' is incompatible with 'politics' - as politics requires people consider their long-term interests, make some sacrifices for the social whole and engage in meaningful public participation. According to Straw the result of this process has been that our rights have become 'commoditised' (what a hideous, hideous word - has the man never heard of the term 'commodified'!?). Rights are exercused so as to injure others, with no concern for the 'public good' or our collective right. Furthermore, people become covetous of the rights of others, which they view as a type of 'possession'.

Whilst this is all very interesting I really don't see why we need to tie it in with globalisation. The critique that Straw advanced is one that has been advanced countless times pre-'globalisation', in fact here is a rather famous analysis which bears remarkable ressemblence to Straw's:
It is puzzling enough that a people which is just beginning to
liberate itself, to tear down all the barriers between its various sections,
and to establish a political community, that such a people solemnly proclaims
(Declaration of 1791) the rights of egoistic man separated from his fellow
men and from the community, and that indeed it repeats this proclamation
at a moment when only the most heroic devotion can save the nation, and
is therefore imperatively called for, at a moment when the sacrifice of
all the interest of civil society must be the order of the day, and egoism
must be punished as a crime. (Declaration of the Rights of Man, etc., of
1793.) This fact becomes still more puzzling when we see that the political
emancipators go so far as to reduce citizenship, and the political community,
to a mere means for maintaining these so-called rights of man, that, therefore,
the citoyen is declared to be the servant of egotistic homme, that the sphere
in which man acts as a communal being is degraded to a level below the
sphere in which he acts as a partial being, and that, finally, it is not
man as citoyen, but man as private individual [bourgeois] who is considered
to be the essential and true man.
And who made this critique? Why it was Karl Marx in his On the Jewish Question. The basic structure of this critique has been voiced by conservatives, liberals etc. What I would argue here is that the vision Straw presents to us - of civil society as a collection of egoistic individuals whose main form of contact is through clashing rights - is one which is constantly reproduced by capitalist society. The whole point is that this can't really be overcome by simply cementing new political forms over it, since these forms don't tend to touch the social relations which produce certain forms of social life and since - as Marx notes - politics is conceived only as a means of guaranteeing or affecting one's private, egostic sphere.

I would further argue in this vein that actually the whole idea of rights-based politics and rights-culture presupposes this state of affairs. This is where Straw really screws up in my view, the idea of rights being 'commoditised' (arrrgh!!!!) really seems to miss the point that the very right-form is grounded in the notion of an egoistic, individual man with an inviolable area of space, that is to say that the right-form is bound up with the commodity form:
None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoistic
man, beyond man as a member of civil society – that is, an individual
withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and
private caprice, and separated from the community. In the rights of man,
he is far from being conceived as a species-being; on the contrary, species-like
itself, society, appears as a framework external to the individuals, as
a restriction of their original independence. The sole bond holding them
together it natural necessity, need and private interest, the preservation
of their property and their egoistic selves.
All of this means that Straw's solution - reminding people that rights also entail duties towards others - is kind of lame. I mean, he makes a really interesting critique (or at least I read him as doing so) but simply can't go beyond the right's based framework. But the point is that unless you go beyond the rights-based framework you can't possibly transcend the notion of man as a 'consumer' as the defining characteristic of life. Inga Markovits traces this quite well in her examination of the differnce between 'bourgeois' and 'socialist' rights, as she first argues:
As individual entitlements, bourgeois rights confer
autonomy in a limited area, which then can be exercised at the discretion of
the rightholder. In a way, all bourgeois rights are modelled after property
rights: they map out territory, set up fences against prospective intruders,
or, to quote Marx, they delineate the elbow room of the individual capitalist.

(Socialist vs. Bourgeois Rights: An East-West Comparison; (1978) 45 University of Chicago Law Review 612-636 at 614)
She then fleshes out this conception arguing that it results in a focus on dispute, precision and individualism. This critique dovetails nicely with Marx's, and seems a hammer in the coffin for Straw's analysis.

So, ultimately, my real issue with this bit of Straw's speech was that he tried to present this phenomenon as something 'new', whereas it is one which he plagued capitalism since its outset. Further, his proposed solution is uniformly rubbish, and in facts would result in no change whatsover. Though actually this is something Straw seems to love to do. As a lawyer he oftens realises what the law is but then proposes some change to the law which is not a change at all.

Ok, I've written way too much, and it's all got rather rambling, but on the plus side, at least it's not about RESPECT!

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Monday, 15 October 2007

RESPECT and SWP: Tunes of War

The few, but very esteemed, readers of this blog will have probably already noticed the discussion that's going on over at Socialst Unity on the 3 relatively high profile expulsions from the SWP. It would be entirely inappropriate for the Squirrel Vanguard and especially myself, a member of an organisation so adversely affected by its association with our not particularly dear swips, not to comment on the unfolding events.

As you probably know -if you don't, shame on you- the Great Proletarian Hero Gorgeous George Galloway sent a letter to RESPECT's National Council containing sharp criticism of various RESPECT practices, regarding internal democracy and organisational efficiency. Of course, coming from Galloway, there was a sense of irony about the whole thing. However, the points raised were quite common-sense arguments that had been raised by serious socialist organisations within RESPECT like Socialist Resistance on various occasions in the past.

The letter came obviously as quite a shock to the SWP Holy Synod Central Committee, especially considering that it had been "leaked" to the public domain before they had a good chance to process it, come up with a line and feed it to their rank and file. The SWP replied after a few days with a piece written by John Rees. National Secretary of RESPECT and Elaine Leigh, National Treasurer, beginning with how much they regretted that Galloway's criticism had been "reproduced on various websites", that is, regretting that open and active debate would have to be had. They then proceeded to reply (in a rather weak manner) to the criticisms raised by the original letter. Alas, though, the game was on. The first signs of a rupture in what was seen as a fairly stable alliance between Gorgeous George and the SWP signaled that new political opportunities were being opened up for activists and groups within and out of RESPECT to put forward their own points of view, as well as to try and stir RESPECT towards a healthier political route. People rejoined, Salma Yaqoob published an article offering her own view of the potential development of RESPECT and more importantly, the National Council approved the proposals made by Galloway. All the relevant documents can be found under the RESPECT tag at Socialist Unity.

Immediately, the SWP leadership tried to make this look like a political battle between the left (them, socialists) and right (Galloway's group, communalists) wings of the party. In short, the SWP started attacking RESPECT using all the criticisms that have been leveled against it by the rest of the radical left since its foundation -aye, the same criticisms the swips have been rejecting as ultra leftist and whathaveyou. This was expectable as, like your average Bureaucratic Centralist organisation, the SWP cannot afford to have its One True Line criticised with legitimate arguments that might get their members thinking "hey, this is actually a valid point". The whole existence of a Bureaucratic Centralist formation rests on the legitimacy of the Central Leadership and its ability to withhold information (of all kinds) from the rank and file, allowing to perpetuate itself by preventing any political challenges.

What came as quite a surprise to me however was the expulsion of three relatively high ranking members of the SWP, two of them working for Galloway and the other one nominated for the position of National Organiser (one of the Gorgeous one's suggestions) which was supposed to complement that of the National Secretary, the post held by the Almighty Dear Swip Leader, John Rees. Said Swips were expelled for refusing to give up their posts and decline the nomination respectively. One would have thought that if the SWP cherished their control of RESPECT, they would not oppose the filling of yet another central administrative post by one of their own. Having mulled over it a bit while munching some nuts, it seems to me fairly obvious that the SWP could not be seen to accept the validity of Galloway's proposals by allowing Nick Wrack (that's his name right?) to become National Organiser, as that would in essence be an acceptance of the fact that the Light-giving Central Committee can actually be wrong, fatally compromising its prestige.

Another function served by the expulsions is that they serve as a tactic of burning bridges. The fact that the now expelled members did not submit to party discipline, refusing to give up their places indicates that a good section of the SWP rank and file might have gone native, so to speak, in RESPECT. By removing the most high profile of those from the party, the cult leadership minimises the chances of a mass defection in the event that the SWP loses the internal battle and decides to abandon RESPECT. That there is going to be a battle is of course not debatable. In fact, the SWP has already initiated operations on the ground.

It is imperative that socialists in RESPECT that do wish to see the project continue and evolve into something useful for the working class movement engage the SWP rank and file (those of them that are principled and approachable that is) in their branches and persuade them not to follow their leadership, if it chooses to abandon RESPECT. It should be clear to everyone by now that the swip leadership is not interested in building socialist unity not under its rigid and direct control. The destruction of Socialist Alliance and the split in the Scottish Socialist Party have been evidence enough of the incapability of the SWP to commit themselves to anything that is not their pet project. Whatever strategy the SWP follows if it leaves RESPECT it is bound to degenerate into nothing more than a Trot sect. Another unity project (especially one initiated by the swips, whom by now, nobody trusts) is bound to never get off the ground while an ultra left turn of going it alone and building "the Party" will lead in them meeting the fate of the WRP. In any case, it is important that the better, healthier elements within the SWP are neither allowed to be swept along by the CC, nor fall to apathy and drop out of politics altogether.

Finally, it must be said that it would be rather unfortunate for RESPECT to be rid by the SWP and then fall to Gallowayism, becoming an identity-less left opposition to Labourism, without a clear working class coordination. Any alliances socialists in RESPECT make with the filthy opportunist that is Galloway must be tactical and temporal and they should be prepared to organise themselves in a unified pole to counter any future swing to the right, whether on abortion, LGBT issues, or socialism itself.

These are my two nutshells. So long, humans.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Crazy search.

Right, I don't usually do "Search of the week" kind of posts, but I thought this was fairly interesting.

Apparently, one of the google searches that led people to my blog was about.....

"i fucked my brothers arse stories"

Do you know where it led them?


Reckon the gods of the Internet are trying to tell us something?

Friday, 12 October 2007

Income disparity in the US reaches record levels

According to a report released by the Internal Revenue Service, concentration of wealth amongst the richest 1% of the population in the United States has climbed to unprecedented heights by post-war standards. From Yahoo news:

The richest one percent of Americans earned a postwar record of 21.2 percent of all income in 2005, up from 19 percent a year earlier, reflecting a widening income disparity among different classes in the nation, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing new Internal Revenue Service data.

The data showed that the fortunes of the bottom 50 percent of Americans are worsening, with that group earning 12.8 percent of all income in 2005, down from 13.4 percent the year before, the paper said.

It said that while the IRS data goes back only to 1986, academic research suggests that the last time wealthy Americans had such a high percentage of the national income pie was in the 1920s.

The article cited an interview with President Bush, who attributed income inequality to "skills gaps" among various classes. It said the IRS didn't identify the source of rising income for the affluent, but said a boom on Wall Street has likely played a part.

The contradiction between the overall increase of wealth and the simultaneous increase in poverty is of course a fundamental characteristic of capitalism as Marxists have been pointing out for decades. With the neo-liberal hegemony having displaced the formerly commonly accepted Keynesian economics, this contradiction becomes of course even more sharp. The political weakness of the working class after a series of defeats, from the failure of the Miners' Strike to the catastrophic fall of the Soviet, which have resulted in the collapse more or less of the socialist movement as a strong antagonist to the bourgeoisie, has only strengthened the latter and facilitated its offensives against the workers of the world.

Of course the increasing brutality of our most absurd mode of production makes it easier for the exploited masses to see it for what it really is, a crime against human progress, and thus provides more opportunities for the building of class consciousness. On the downside (as if there weren't enough already) it seems rather improbable to me that the working classes of imperialist metropolises will develop this consciousness before a large scale collapse of global imperialism.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Green Left Weekly on Hugo Chavez

The following is an assessment, from a Marxist perspective, of the political role of Hugo Chavez as well as the prospects for a decisive break with capitalism in Venezuela, published in the Australian Green left Weekly. I think the points it raises are fairly valid and the analysis of the author reflects my own. With the Bolivarian process picking up momentum in Venezuela and the founding conference of the PSUV only weeks away, I think it is very important to keep an eye on even the finest of developments in the country.

Hugo Chavez: Social-Democrat or Revolutionary?

Stuart Munckton
5 October 2007

Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, led by socialist President Hugo Chavez, has captured the imagination of people around the world and sparked widespread commentary on the nature of the process of social change under way in the oil-rich South American nation.

Named after Simon Bolivar, who liberated much of the continent from Spanish colonialism, the process of change has been aimed at overcoming the country’s underdevelopment and widespread poverty. When Chavez was elected in 1998, the country had been devastated by neoliberal policies that bled the country dry largely on behalf of US corporations, with the complicity of a corrupt Venezuelan elite.

Any discussion on this process of change inevitably centres on the role of Chavez, the revolution’s central leader. A common analysis of the politics of Chavez, the government he leads, and, in some cases, the broader revolutionary movement based on the impoverished, working people, is that they can be understood as “social democratic”. Social-democratic politics tend to be understood as seeking to implement reforms that alleviate some of the worst aspects of the profit-driven capitalist system, to the benefit of ordinary people, without breaking with capitalism itself.

Certainly, the Chavez government has implemented a wide number of reforms that in and of themselves don’t do away with capitalism — a system based on private ownership and control over the economy, run for profit and based on the exploitation of working people — but have still benefited the poor majority.

However, describing the process as social democratic misses the profoundly revolutionary nature of the struggle being led by Chavez (who in almost every speech he gives calls for the need to construct socialism and describes himself as the “subversive within Miraflores”, the presidential palace).

The line of march for the Bolivarian revolution pushed by Chavez, who elaborates on revolutionary strategy in many speeches, especially on his weekly television program Alo Presidente (when not singing folk songs), is not for the process of change to stop with reforms to Venezuela’s existing power structures. He has used reforms to weaken the political and economic power of Venezuela’s capitalist class, while at the same time strengthening the confidence and organisation of the oppressed (the workers, urban poor, campesinos, women and indigenous people) in order to replace the structures of the old society with new ones based on the oppressed themselves.

This is a very difficult struggle, with many weaknesses and internal contradictions. It involves the ongoing creation and organisation of a revolutionary movement involving millions of people, who through their mass, coordinated action are capable of creating a completely new social system. Socialism — a society based on a democratically planned economy run according to people’s needs — cannot be decreed from above by a president, nor by simply elaborating a well-written program, as it involves the transformation of social relations for millions of people.

Much analysis, especially in the corporate media but unfortunately among much of the international left as well, focuses almost exclusively on the role of Chavez as an individual. However the correct way to analyse his role is in relation to the masses that have been drawn into political motion, and ask whether Chavez and his government’s policies work to advance the organisation of the oppressed in order to break the political and economic power of the capitalist class, or whether the policies hold this back.

In some cases, claims that Chavez is a social democrat are used to attack him by sections of the revolutionary socialist movement internationally. These arguments go further than suggesting simply that the revolution hasn’t gone far enough, something Chavez himself repeatedly emphasises — for instance, while announcing a series of radical measures aimed at creating a “new revolutionary state” and that nationalisation of “strategic industries” following his re-election on an explicitly socialist platform in December, Chavez insisted the revolution had “barely begun”. Left critics suggest that Chavez and his government either have no desire for significantly more radical measures, or falsely believe that the government's approach is to implement more radical measures over the heads of the masses, which they rightly point out would be bound to fail.

However an analysis of Chavez as social democratic has also come from some outspoken in their support for the Chavez government and the process of change under way, such as the left-wing writers Tariq Ali, John Pilger and Stephen Lendman, all of whom play invaluable roles in promoting and defending the Bolivarian revolution.

While for those revolutionary socialists who wish to label Chavez a “social democrat” it is intended to highlight the perceived limitations of his politics (and by implication the mass movement that supports him), for many people the concept of genuinely social-democratic politics, based on state provision of welfare, health care and education and at least a degree of respect for people’s rights, seems a very good thing in this age of savage neoliberalism.

However understanding why the Bolivarian revolution is not simply a case of Chavez taking up a banner dropped by social-democratic parties, like the ALP and the British Labour Party, rushing to implement brutal anti-worker policies, is crucial to understanding why such parties have moved so dramatically to the right during the past few decades.

In his book Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century (which Chavez strongly praised on Alo Presidente and urged Venezuelans to read), Canadian Marxist Michael Lebowitz uses his experience as a policy advisor to a social-democratic New Democratic Party state government in Canada in the ’70s to show that for social democrats, the interests of the capitalist system have always come first — and if advancing the interests of working people conflicts with the needs of the system, then it is the former that gets dropped.

In the First World the post-war economic boom allowed for the creation of a welfare state and other measures that improved the lot of working people, but since the boom ended in the mid-’70s, the capitalists have attempted to wrest all of these gains back. Social-democratic parties across the board have proven willing to implement neoliberal austerity measures to this end.

In Venezuela, the advent of Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution have amounted to a break with the class-collaborationist politics of social democracy that seek to subordinate struggles by workers to the interests of capital by promoting the idea of common interests between two fundamentally irreconcilable social forces — working people and capitalists.

Within Venezuela, these politics were expressed by Accion Democratica, a political party that alternated in power with the conservative COPEI party and controlled the unions, and today is part of Venezuela’s counter-revolutionary opposition.

Although the program Chavez initially sought to implement after his election did not break with capitalism, the mild reforms aroused strident opposition from the capitalists, outraged at even minor encroachments on their privileges. The capitalist class was defeated in its attempts to overthrow Chavez when working people took the streets in April 2002 during a US-backed coup and during a lockout by bosses in December that year. This lad Chavez to conclude that the changes Venezuela desperately needed were impossible within the framework of capitalism.

However, many commentators point out that, even with the pro-people, anti-capitalist measures implemented so far, capitalism is far from abolished in Venezuela. These reforms have included the government wresting control of the oil industry; forcing foreign oil companies into joint ventures that give the Venezuelan government majority control; increasing nationalisation of “strategic industries”; a program of land reform to break up large agribusiness for the benefit of campesino cooperatives; the promotion of a “social economy” based on a massive expansion in cooperatives; and a series of measures that restrict the ability of capitalists in Venezuela to put their profits above the needs of the people — price controls, heavy restrictions on their ability to sack workers and increasing workers’ rights. In fact, despite these reforms, corporate profits have grown with the economic boom.

The key question in Venezuela is not merely the subjective intentions of Chavez, who has sparked a mass discussion on socialism in Venezuela, but the willingness and capacity of the millions of oppressed to take political and economic control out of the hands of the capitalists. Through the political battles over the last few years, this has continually increased, opening the way for increasingly radical measure. The key to the revolutionary process can be found in a book that Chavez urged Venezuelans to read during his Alo Presidente program on April 22 — The Transitional Program by Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Russian Revolution and an opponent of its Stalinist degeneration.

Written in 1938, the book is an argument for how a program of struggle for increasingly deep-going reforms that, without abolishing capitalism, make deep inroads into the capitalist system, can raise the level of consciousness and organisation of the working people and open the road to socialism.

Transitional measures aim to proceed from the mass of people’s existing level of consciousness and, by pushing measures that solve the needs of the working people while undermining capitalism, lay the groundwork for much deeper measures towards a socialist economy. Such transitional measures — such as nationalising key areas of the economy, introducing elements of workers’ control and shortening the working week with no loss of pay — can act as a bridge between the existing capitalist system and an increasingly socialist economy under the control of the working people and run according to their needs.

The transitional approach seeks to find ways to draw masses of people into political activity and increasingly radicalise the broadest layers so they are willing and able to fight for even more radical measures. This explains why, at the same time as Chavez promotes policies increasingly attacking capitalist interests, he continues in his speeches to urge the capitalist class to join the revolutionary project. Some revolutionary socialists, who already understand that the capitalists will never accept the measures implemented by Chavez, see this as evidence of social-democratic politics. However, Chavez is not speaking to those already convinced of socialist revolution, but to the millions of people in Venezuela, including the more than 4 million who voted for the opposition — the overwhelming majority of whom are not capitalists but middle and working class people misled into backing the pro-capitalist opposition.

An example of this came on June 2, when Chavez addressed hundreds of thousands of supporters in a demonstration to defend his government from attacks by the US-backed, right-wing opposition. Claiming his government had no plans to “eliminate” the Venezuelan capitalist class, Chavez added: “If the Venezuelan bourgeoisie continues to desperately attack us, utilising the refuges it has left, then the Venezuelan bourgeoisie will continue to lose these refuges one by one!

“This message is for the Venezuelan bourgeois class. We respect you as Venezuelans, you should respect Venezuela, you should respect the homeland, you should respect our constitution, you should respect our laws. If you don’t do this … we will make you obey the Venezuelan laws!”

Presenting the struggle in such a way aims to ensure it is the actions of Venezuela’s capitalists themselves that expose them and provide the justification in the eyes of millions of people for more radical measures that aim to overturn capitalism completely.

This mass action-based approach is the essence of a genuinely revolutionary strategy, one that applies in all countries, although according to national conditions. It is necessary to understand that while the revolution is a work in progress, its aim and trajectory are not simply tinkering with the system along social-democratic lines, but its abolition and replacement with socialism.

[Stuart Munckton is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency in Australia’s Socialist Alliance. Visit for more information.]

Friday, 5 October 2007

Post-reproductive rights?

Right, a while ago, in fact, maybe a few months ago, there was a conversation on the SSP online forums about something pertaining to reproductive rights. As this was quire boring, since pretty much everybody agreed with each other, the conversation gradually branched out to the question of whether a man should be expected to provide for his biological child if he had made it clear during the time that the mother was pregnant, that he did not wish to be the child's father and would have preferred the mother to terminate the pregnancy. Obviously, the ultimate choice over whether there is an abortion of not belongs to the woman, never mind what religious nutjobs who care about the "rights" of the father want to believe. But after the child is born, is there a convincing argument to support the idea that the biological father should have any kind of legal responsibility to the child and also, is this argument constructed on a moral basis acceptable to socialists?

I think not. I believe that the way one approaches the right of women to choose determines to a great extent their attitude to this issue as well. As a socialist, and a Marxist one at that, I do not support the right to an abortion because of any metaphysical notions of any kind, but because of the very objective, material reality that it is only the woman who suffers the physical costs of pregnancy and therefore it is only her who has a moral right to decide whether she will, or will not suffer them to their full extent. The father's ("father" is a rather shaky notion in itself, but I might discuss this in another post) moral right can only be restricted to expressing an opinion on the matter. For me, this is pretty straightforward stuff where notions of life (I don't consider an unborn child alive anyway) need play no part.

But after the child is born, that is, leaves the woman's body, the woman ceases to have a physical connexion to it and its fate is thus no longer a matter of physical self-determination. From the moment the woman, exercising her right to choice, decides to carry the child to term, she also of necessity accepts the implications and responsibilities this choice entails (this does not mean that the mother should necessarily keep the child after it is born, but that it will be born and that it will be up to her to choose what to do with it, should the biological father have forfeited his rights over same). The attitude of the biological father must necessarily be one of the variables the woman considers when she chooses to keep the child. If she doesn't care about what the biological father thinks and wants to have and keep the child anyway, then fair enough, she should receive support from the state to raise the child as comfortably as possible. If she agrees with the father but believes that "killing babies" is wrong then that's also ok, she can have the child and then give it up for adoption. If she absolutely wants her child to grow up with its biological father when he does not to be one, then the rational choice is to abort.

Forcing the father by legal means to maintain any short of relation to the child would essentially be a violation of physical self-determination similar to what we want to prevent by defending women's right to choose. Forcing someone (man or woman) to direct their physical activity in the form of labour, or the fruits thereof, towards something they do not want to is, social norms aside, in essence no different to forcing someone to carry a child to term (indeed, pregnancy lasts 9 months, supporting a child to maturity lasts at least 18 years) and is actually the same alienation of labour we as socialists claim to stand against.

The above was a quite stream of consciousness-like post, so I would appreciate comments from everybody, especially those of you who happen to be female and more well versed into the issues surrounding reproductive rights than myself. Cheerio.