In the 1940s and 50s, advocating Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism could get you fired from your job, blacklisted, deplatformed and even imprisoned. Though communists and socialists were instrumental in the struggles of the 1930s and 40s that built the industrial labor movement in the U.S., by the late 1940s those radical ideas were vilified and virtually outlawed.
Communism was purposely conflated with the crimes of Stalin. Communists and socialists were driven out of the unions. A layer of union bureaucrats that supported the witch-hunt was promoted. For fear of reprisals, many radicals kept quiet and self-censored. Some “recanted” socialist beliefs. Some fingered others to save themselves.
The poison unleashed by that witch-hunt dealt a body blow to the labor movement and its devastating effects are felt to this day. It’s no coincidence that the U.S. is the only major capitalist country with no independent labor party, no universal healthcare, no federally mandated vacation and no parental leave.
After a time, the leader of the anti-communist witch-hunt, Joseph McCarthy, was discredited and the formal apparatus for pursuing the campaign was dismantled. But the damage had already been done.
Moreover, McCarthyism was so effective in house-breaking the labor movement that the tool would never be permanently abandoned by the powers that be. It was merely set aside, to be resurrected again once the need arose and memory of its corrosive cost faded.
Two key features of McCarthyism are thought control and guilt-by-association. Certain ideas are ruled out of bounds. Anyone who defends the censored ideas or questions the censorship regime itself is harshly dealt with.
Anyone defending or associating with someone accused of running afoul of the thought police is dealt with just has harshly. The net result is generalized fear, self-censorship and compliance.
Fast forward to 2016. The Democratic Party manipulated its own presidential primary process to ensure that neoliberal warmonger and Wall Street servant Hillary Clinton ran against odious billionaire Donald Trump. And the Democrats lost!
Trump, we were told, colluded with Russia to steal the election. The evidence for this was razor-thin, but anyone who questions the narrative is smeared as a Russian agent or Putin apologist. Anyone associated with or speaking in defense of someone smeared as a Russian collaborator is denounced and attacked as well. A new McCarthyism blossomed.
Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s multi-year investigation into the affair concluded that “…the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government…” But the smears, evidence-free charges and witch-hunt associated with Russiagate persist to this day. Many on the liberal “left” – from Democracy Now! to the New York Times – bought into and continue to promote this baseless conspiracy.
Meanwhile, another McCarthyite witch-hunt has spread like wildfire. This one proclaims that people can be born into the “wrong” body and denounces anyone who questions this belief as a reactionary bigot. Sadly, in this case, the socialist, as well as the liberal left, has jumped onto the McCarthyite bandwagon.
Trans identified males are biological males who think of themselves as females. Trans identified females are biological females who think of themselves as males. No democratic-minded person questions the right of everyone, including transgender individuals, to their own beliefs, behaviors and lifestyle preferences, free from bigotry or discrimination.
But extreme transgender ideology goes a step further.
It demands not only support for the civil rights of trans people but insists that everyone must also embrace the beliefs of trans extremists.
Not only is the imposition of the belief of one group a violation of the democratic rights of others, this particular belief has negative implications for the rights of women, gays, lesbians and children:
- Under the guise of transgender inclusion, women’s right to sex-based spaces, sports teams and affirmative action programs are under attack.
- Gays and lesbians are accused of bigotry if they insist on choosing partners based on biological sex rather than gender.
- Minor children experiencing gender dysphoria are steered toward life-altering surgeries and hormone treatments, even though 80-90% of childhood gender dysphoria resolves itself naturally after puberty, and a many untreated, formerly dysphoric children grow up to be healthy gays and lesbians.
To question extreme trans ideology today is to be denounced, de-platformed, fired, face death threats and physical attack. As with all McCarthyite campaigns, thoughts which question the orthodoxy are ruled out of order. Anyone raising censored thoughts is persecuted and isolated.
In this way, facts and material reality are jettisoned. In this manner, those promoting extreme transgender ideology avoid having to make their case; they simply rule any contrary facts and opinions out of bounds. So, the following facts are deemed heretical, bigoted and in need of suppression:
- Sex and gender are not synonyms.
- Biological sex is objective and real, while gender is a subjective social construct.
- There is no such thing as a distinctly male or female brain.
- There are only two sexes because there are only two gametes. One sex (male) is optimized to produce small, mobile gametes. The other sex (female) is optimized to produce large, immobile gametes.
- 99.98% of all humans are unambiguously identifiable as male or female at birth.
- One can change their appearance, but no one can chemically or surgically change their biological sex.
- A tiny percentage of people are born with Disorders of Sexual Development (DSDs, or Intersex conditions.) The vast majority of intersex people are not transgender, and the vast majority of transgender people are not intersex.
- Homosexuality and transgenderism are not analogous. Homosexuality is a sexual orientation, but extreme trans ideology is based on the denial of biological sex.
- There are as many gender expressions as there are human individuals.
- Transwomen (i.e. trans identified males) are not literally female.
- Transmen (i.e., trans identified females) are not literally male.
- Transgender extremists do not speak for all trans people.
According to the largest socialist groups in the US – Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Socialist Alternative and the International Socialist Organization (ISO before it imploded) – accepting or even debating the above assertions cannot be allowed because that would somehow “deny the existence” of trans people.
Of course, those on the liberal “left,” like Democracy Now!, the ACLU, the Democratic Party and others, march in lockstep with extreme trans ideology and vigorously pile on anyone who might suggest that the emperor has no clothes.
A perfect example is provided by the February 1, 2020 meeting held at the Seattle Public Library entitled Fighting the New Misogyny: A Feminist Critique of Gender Identity which explored many of the above points.
The event was protested by trans activists who slanderously claimed the gathering was a “fundraising event for transphobic hate speakers,” and that “These speakers include professional anti-trans hate writer Meghan Murphy, and a WoLF [Women’s Liberation Front] board member.”
We, as a city, must rally against this event to tell transphobic hate groups that they are not welcome here, that transphobia has no place in feminism, and that Seattle Public Library must make major changes to make our libraries safe for trans employees and patrons.
These same activists tried unsuccessfully to have the Library ban the event outright. If they had their way, the important ideas outlined above would be forever censored.
Unfortunately, among those opposing the meeting and siding with the McCarthyites was Socialist Alternative City Councilperson Kshama Sawant, whose office sent representatives to the anti-meeting protest.
Marxism, the philosophical underpinning for the socialist left, relies heavily on historical materialism. That is, the idea that there are tangible, physical reasons for what we observe in the development and interaction of societies and classes of people within those societies.
This makes it all the more astonishing when some socialists so thoroughly reject biology and material reality in their analysis of transgender ideology and its effect on other oppressed groups.
The left’s abdication on this issue – especially the misdirection of the socialist left – is a gift to the right, as it allows those on the right to pose as the sane ones. The socialist left bears particular responsibility because it presents itself as a collection of thoughtful, considered leaders.
All the more tragic, then, is the fact that this new McCarthyism, which disingenuously wraps itself in the mantle of “woke” leftism, could never have taken hold if the real left had spoken out clearly and forcefully from the start.
At this point, it remains to be seen whether the left will correct its error or be bypassed by the multitudes who will surely punish those who tried to gaslight them into rejecting material reality.
Bruce Lesnick is a long-time political activist, currently living in Washington state. You can read his blog here.
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