(Anna died on the 15th March 2018 – We remember here with here Memoria from The Anarchist Federation)
It's with heavy hearts, full of sadness, love, and rage, that we say goodbye to Anna Campbell, known in Rojava as Helîn Qerecox. She was killed in a missile strike by the Turkish state, after joining in the defence of Afrin with the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).
Anna was a proudly queer feminist anarchist, committed to every aspect of revolutionary struggle. She supported prisoners and fought against the prison industrial complex as a core member of the Empty Cages collective and as part of Bristol Anarchist Black Cross, Community Action on Prison Expansion, Smash IPP and the IWW Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee. She fought fascism both ideologically and physically, undeterred by arrest or by injury. She fought for animal liberation, and would regularly go out to save wildlife with the hunt saboteurs. She organised books in Hydra, planned events, fixed bikes, combatted the arms trade, took part in environmental activism, helped defeat the mountain of admin work that any revolution produces, worked at Kino (a cafe cooperative), lent her voice to videos, and did countless other things to help fight oppression in all its forms.
More than just a list of accomplishments and campaign involvements, however, we'll remember what she brought to the movements and communities she was a part of. Proof that you could take struggle completely seriously, be reliable, be committed, and yet at the same time be joyous, fun, and uplifting. That you be intelligent, insightful, and well read, without ever being condescending. That you could take part in an almost unbelievably large amount of revolutionary work, yet never make anyone feel lesser for what they could or couldn't do. That putting people down is never an option when you are able to welcome them in instead.
Anna was deeply inspired by the social revolution in Rojava, the steps being taken there to dismantle patriarchy and bring about a new world in the shadow of oppression. It would come as no surprise to anyone that knew her that she would risk her life to defend Rojava and the friends and comrades she met there. In fact, she gave her commanders an ultimatum: ‘Either I will go home and abandon the life as a revolutionary or you send me to Afrin. But I would never leave the revolution, so I will go to Afrin’. No force on Earth could've stopped her, and no force will stop her fight from living on in the people she inspired and the actions we'll continue to carry out.
We'll leave the last words to her, rest in Power Anna."Our search for what could be possible means accepting a rich heritage. The women of the Paris Commune of 1871, and the worker's militias of the Hamburg Uprising of 1923 - that's us. The comrades of the October Revolution and the Spanish Civil War - that's us. The workers on strike in India and the Guerrilla in the mountains of Kurdistan - that's us. We are the Anarchists of Greece, we are squatters, we are the witches and the rebellious farmers of the early modern period. We who are working here in Rojava as internationalists are part of the world wide fight of the oppressed against the reign of state, capital and patriarchy." ■
In 2015 the company Ubisoft released another game in its Assassin's Creed franchise called Syndicate. The game was set in London in 1868 and some of its decisions caused a bit of a stir on social media and in the comments sections of video game websites. There were several different but often tangentially related controversies, but I'm only focussing on one, the inclusion of the minor character Karl Marx.
If your not familiar with the game series, don't worry the games themselves didn't have anything to do with this particular argument, all you need to keep in mind is that the game takes place in London 1868 and it has Karl Marx in it.
Right wing types were very angry about his inclusion, but that's to be expected and I'm not going to waste anyone's time on that one. Instead I'm focussing on another counter backlash from gamers whom either identify as Marxists or at least identify as pro Karl Marx in some sense. If you take a look at the above image you'll see the core of the disagreement. On the left is a representation of Karl Marx from the game, his character model and a quotation from one of his lines of dialogue, juxtaposed with a quotation on the right hand side. Essentially some Marxist gamers were accusing the company of a deliberate distortion of the man.
And having played the game and read some of Marx's work, I have to disagree. Some background info, the quotation on the left "killing people and destroying property solves nothing. Democracy is the only way to Socialism". Is said by Marx when he wants the player character (PC) to stop an anarchist friend of his from taking stolen explosives and trying to blow up parliament. As far as I'm aware Karl Marx never said that statement in those exact words, but I've not read everything he ever wrote so I'm not going to rule it out entirely. However when the statement is broken down into its two parts
Then yes it is very representative of the historical Karl Marx. Karl Marx and Engels were quite open about being resistant to terrorism carried out by individuals or small groups. To pick one example in 1867 just one year before the games setting there was bomb attack by Fenians in Clerkenwell, this is Karl Marx responding to it in Ireland and the Irish question:
“The last exploit of the Fenians in Clerkenwell was a very stupid thing. The London masses, who have shown great sympathy for Ireland, will be made wild by it and be driven into the arms of the of the government party. One cannot expect the London proletarians to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of the Fenian emissaries. There is always a kind of fatality about such a secret, melodramatic sort of conspiracy.”1
I'm honestly a little surprised that so many declared Marxists take issue with this part of the phrase since anecdotally speaking their views on these tactics were quite well known and many other well known Marxists developed it further. Trotsky for example wrote several pamphlets outlining what he called a Marxist case against terrorism.2
Onto point two, again its not hard to find both Marx and Engels talking about how necessary democracy is for the revolution. In principles of Communism written by Engels in 1847 an entire section is dedicated to this. Section 18 What Will the Course of this Revolution be?:
“Above all, it will establish a democratic constitution, and through this, the direct or indirect dominance of the proletariat. Direct in England, where the proletarians are already a majority of the people. Indirect in France and Germany, where the majority of the people consists not only of proletarians, but also of small peasants and petty bourgeois who are in the process of falling into the proletariat, who are more and more dependent in all their political interests on the proletariat, and who must, therefore, soon adapt to the demands of the proletariat. Perhaps this will cost a second struggle, but the outcome can only be the victory of the proletariat.
Democracy would be wholly valueless to the proletariat if it were not immediately used as a means for putting through measures directed against private property and ensuring the livelihood of the proletariat. The main measures, emerging as the necessary result of existing relations, are the following:” 3
The above is the opening remarks, the bolding is my own.
Now that's Engels, personally I'm not a fan of treating the two as conjoined, so what did Marx say? Well in 1848 in the Manifesto of the Communist league he had this to say:
“We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the
proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the
bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State,
i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.”4
Democracy is key to the Proletariat becoming a ruling class, and only through becoming a ruling class can the proletariat begin attacking bourgeois property relations.
Also in 1848 Marx gave a short speech commemorating the second anniversary of the Krakow insurrection. The speech was later called Communism, Revolution and a Free Poland. In the speech he rubbishes the claims of hostile European governments that the revolt was a communist one, i.e. an attack on property, but he does champion its democratic aims and at the conclusion notes positively that the rising has left a big influence on the Democrats of Europe and has sparked similar movements elsewhere:
“The Krakow revolution has set all of Europe a glorious example, because it identified the question of nationalism with democracy and with the liberation of the oppressed class.
Even though this revolution has been strangled with the bloody hands of paid murderers, it now nevertheless rises gloriously and triumphantly in Switzerland and in Italy. It finds its principles confirmed in Ireland, where O'Connell's party [the Irish Confederation, founded January 1847] with its narrowly restricted nationalistic aims has sunk into the grave, and the new national party is pledged above all to reform and democracy.
Again it is Poland that has seized the initiative, and no longer a feudal Poland but a democratic Poland; and from this point on its liberation has become a matter of honor for all the democrats of Europe.”5
So its not entirely unreasonable that 1868 Karl Marx would say something like this, especially as an alternative to individual acts of terrorism.
Now there's also an interesting bit of context missing from the "real" Karl Marx on the right. The passage "We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror. " comes from an 1849 edition of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Specifically the last issue of that paper because the Rhinish government had just ordered it closed and given the editor Marx, 24 hours to voluntarily leave the Rhineland or they would forcibly expel him. So understandably he was very angry, but more importantly is that he isn't talking about the final stages of the revolution. On the contrary the "we" and its "terror" is democratic social republicanism. He's attacking the noble class that ruled the German states, and he's threatening them with the spectre of a victorious republic.
And at that time we were speaking with the judiciary. We summed up the old year, 1848, in the following words (cf. the issue of December 31, 1848):
"The history of the Prussian middle class, and that of the German middle class in general between March and December shows that a purely middle-class revolution and the establishment of bourgeois rule in the form of a constitutional monarchy is impossible in Germany, and that the only alternatives are either a feudal absolutist counter-revolution or a social republican revolution."
Did we therefore have to advance our social republican tendency only in the "last pieces" of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung? Did you not read our articles about the June revolution, and was not the essence of the June revolution the essence of our paper?
Why then your hypocritical phrases, your attempt to find an impossible pretext?
We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror. But the royal terrorists, the terrorists by the grace of God and the law, are in practice brutal, disdainful, and mean, in theory cowardly, secretive, and deceitful, and in both respects disreputable. 6
So in a sense the "real" Karl Marx is supporting the views of the "fake" Ubisoft Karl Marx, just in more explicit language.
Conclusion - Why on earth does this matter?
Well I'm not going to pretend this is an earth shattering opinion or an event that everyone must take a stand on. I'm only talking about this now because its been popping back up again. I just thought it was worth pointing out that we have a backlash against a depiction of Karl Marx for being phoney, and in process discovered that quite a few self declared Marxists aren't very familiar with the man or his ideas.
I'd just like to finish up here with my own comments on Karl Marx in Syndicate.
A quick summary,
Its not perfect, reuses the reform word a bit too much for my liking, but considering he's a character in a video game that caters to a large mainstream audience and not made by overt Marxists, and is not trying to be a complete accurate record of historical events, its pretty good. Especially when you factor in that for many this will be the first time they've encounter Karl Marx directly. It probably goes a bit too far in presenting him as a do gooder, but Marx in the popular consciousness is still heavily associated with state terror and mass murder, thanks to the legacy of several regimes. So maybe pushing him in this direction is actually a good thing.
I don't know, here's a video that has all of his cutscenes; feel free to judge his depiction on your own. It cuts out the speech he gives, but sadly the only videos I can find that keep that in have the player talking over it. ■
(Originally posted on Libcom.org Feb 2 2018 [libcom.org/blog/listen-gamers-02022018]
[Content warning: In addition to transphobia in the abstract, this piece discusses harassment, violence and abuse. Some sources linked to for reference purposes feature transphobic abuse and slurs.]
Transphobia is a class issue. By this I mean that in a class society that is also deeply transphobic, it is impossible to talk about transphobia in a meaningful way without also talking about class. Trans people are more likely, all other things being equal, than our cis peers to fall into the most exploited and oppressed sections of the working class and the extent to which transphobia will negatively affect any given trans person’s life will be mediated by their economic class. This article is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of every aspect of this issue, but to contribute to an ongoing conversation around it and illustrate a class struggle perspective on transgender issues.
By transphobia I mean two related phenomena:
These two types of transphobia are not strictly distinct and one often creates or reinforces the other.
Often when discussing transphobia popular discourse focuses on overt, interpersonal hostility and street level violent hate crime. While these are indeed real and very serious issues, this focus on the interpersonal and the overt often leads to a failure to recognise the measurable economic effects of transphobia on trans lives. This constitutes a form of hidden, endemic, systematic violence against working class trans people.
A 2015 EU report found that trans people in the EU were more likely than their cis peers to be in the bottom 25% of earners and that around a third of trans people reported experiencing workplace discrimination in the year leading up to the survey and a similar proportion had experienced discrimination while looking for housing. Unsurprisingly, given high levels of workplace discrimination and general social stigma, trans people are disproportionately more likely to experience unemployment. Emma Rundall carried out a survey of trans people as part of her 2010 PhD thesis and found that 14% of respondents were unemployed, around two and a half times the then national unemployment rate (pp 139 of thesis), this is consistent with a general trend in the literature for higher rates of unemployment amongst trans people.
Housing discrimination and high rates of family rejection and abuse also lead to higher rates of homelessness for LGBTQ people as a whole and particularly LGBTQ youth. A 2015 report by the Albert Kennedy Trust  found that LGBTQ youth were “grossly over-represented within youth homeless populations”, stating that one in four young homeless people were LGBTQ, the report also found that a majority of young LGBTQ homeless people reported rejection or abuse at home as a major factor in their homelessness, with an overwhelming majority of housing providers failing to recognise the unique and specific needs of this marginalised community for housing support. Specific figures for trans people alone in the UK are difficult to find, however in Canada, a culturally similar developed nation, the research and community organisation Trans Pulse carried out a study of health outcomes in 123 trans people aged 16-24, with a view to measuring the effect of parental support. All respondents reporting “strongly supportive” parents reported being adequately housed, however, almost half of the two thirds of respondents who did not have strongly supportive parents were “inadequately housed” (homeless or in a precarious housing situation), around one third of the total sample.
As well as the economic effects of transphobia itself, we can also consider the intersections of transphobia and class, i.e. the ways in which class and transphobia interact and magnify each others’ effects; the greater financial resilience of the middle and boss classes, the ability of wealthier trans people to buy their way out of some forms of transphobia, the classed nature of the bureaucracies that trans people are often forced to navigate and the elevation of privileged voices within the broader trans community as the authentic voices of all trans people.
A core component of transphobia at present is medical gatekeeping, the process by which trans people are forced to jump through semi-arbitrary hoops in order to access certain kinds of trans specific healthcare. In Sex Educations: Gendering and Regendering Women Lisa Milbank discusses real life experience (RLE), a period of time in which trans people are expected to present “full time” as their gender in order to access certain kinds of healthcare, as a form of socially enforced “breaking” in which trans women are subjected to “an experience of public freakhood, composed of constant stares, transphobic harassment and potentially violence, without access to much of the (intensely double-edged) training given to cissexual women on how to survive this”, while Milbank focuses on the experience of transsexual women in particular, this also applies to some extent to the experience of other trans people. One’s ability to pass as cis (to be read by most people as a cis person of one’s appropriate gender) will heavily influence the extent to which RLE is a dangerous and potentially traumatic experience. Since passing as cis takes the form, in part, of being able to perform conventional cis norms, which are themselves heavily classed (and racialised), a trans person’s ability to do so will be mediated by their class status. I.e. the wealthier a person is, the more likely they are to be able to afford to take additional, elective steps (extensive hair removal, specialised clothing to hide or accentuate particular gendered body traits, etc.) to increase their chance of passing as cis. In this way, middle class and boss class trans people are more easily able to navigate gatekeeping in order to access healthcare and sidestep the harmful effects of RLE in a transphobic society. Similarly, since transphobia often takes the form of institutional and economic discrimination and/or family and community rejection, an individual trans person’s financial security becomes their ability to cope with isolation financially and to remove themselves from harmful situations (e.g. a neighbourhood in which they are frequently harassed or a family home in which they are rejected or abused) is key to their ability to survive and thrive in a transphobic society. While all trans people experience and are harmed by transphobia, the extent of that harm will inevitably be strongly classed.
To live as a trans person in today’s society is to frequently find ourselves bumping against the various bureaucracies that serve as its basis, from things as theoretically simple as changing one’s legal name to navigating the complaints procedures of government departments or companies in order to secure some kind of accountability for another instance of transphobia. While this is, in theory, something anybody can learn to do, these bureaucratic institutions are complex and exclusionary by design and often function to favour middle class people. In this way, yet again working class trans people suffer an additional burden from transphobia.
So given that trans people are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty and transphobia’s worst effects are experienced most by working class people, why is this not a part of the media discourse on trans people? Why are some of the most prominent media trans voices wealthy, right wing figures like Caitlyn Jenner? Part of this is precisely because transphobia is strongly classed; as discussed above the wealthiest people will find it easiest to “pass” and meet the standards of conformity to cis-heteronormative standards expected of professional voices in the media. Equally it is the case that middle class and rich trans people are simply more likely to have the necessary connections to be a major media presence. Where it includes trans voices at all, mainstream discourse on trans issues is dominated by an unrepresentative minority of wealthy, white, middle class, trans women. It would be remiss of me not to note an obvious irony here since, while I am far from wealthy and never have been, as a white postgrad student I am myself far from representative of the majority of trans people and, in my defence, I do not claim to be.
A common means of dismissing trans people’s attempts to raise issues that affect us or criticise institutions or public figures that have harmed us as a group is to dismiss us as privileged. Trans people are a bunch of middle class kids or a load of wealthy university students who are just looking for something to complain about. For example, after the well-established journalist Suzanne Moore went on a bizarre, transphobic tirade on Twitter in response to criticism over the wording in one of her articles, fellow career journalist Julie Burchill wrote a piece, initially published in the Observer but eventually withdrawn and then republished by Spiked, which while largely consisting of a series of transphobic slurs also perfectly illustrated this ideological tendency. After claiming that she and other transphobic journalists are “part of the tiny minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street”, Burchill goes on to depict trans people as academics with “big swinging PhDs”, attempting to silence working class cis women by arguing about “semantics” (the semantics in this case being Moore’s use of “Brazilian transsexuals”, a group plagued by particularly high levels of poverty and violence, as a throwaway pejorative). While trans academics certainly exist, we are far from the majority of trans people or even trans activists, nor are we necessarily as highly privileged as Burchill would like to suggest. By engaging in this erasure of working class trans people, transphobes are able to both trivialise the serious, material effects of transphobia as discussed above and rhetorically exclude trans people from the working class.
In her excellent 2008 essay ‘Liberal Multiculturalism is the Hegemony – Its an Empirical Fact’ – A response to Slavoj Žižek, Sara Ahmed points out that racism is often projected onto the white working class, with liberal prohibitions on overt bigotry serving merely as a means to locate bigotry in some marginalised other. We see a similar process with transphobia, bigotry against trans people is positioned as definitively working class, and thus the existence of working class trans people can be ignored as impossible by definition. A well paid Observer journalist can mock trans people en masse as middle class kids, obsessed with identity politics, because everybody knows that real working class people are white, cishet and hostile to anybody who is not white or cishet. The reality, of course, is that this image of an “ordinary” working class as the default is a fantasy, the working class is a weird, wonderful and diverse class and only a politics that recognises the many and varied ways in which we experience exploitation and oppression can allow us to build a movement to end oppression, end exploitation and ultimately abolish class itself. ■