“The “war on woke” is part of the strategy for prosecuting a massive attack on living standards that we cannot ignore. We will only defeat it with our active and unapologetic solidarity.”
By Sam Browse, Labour Outlook
Liz Truss assumes the premiership after an internal Tory contest that saw both front runners declare a “war on woke”, and a field of candidates that scoffed at the language of contemporary LGBTQ+ liberation, preferring instead to indulge in salacious and lurid rumination of the anatomical features that define a woman.
These declarations of war on a modern-day “PC gone mad” came in the same month as physical assaults on LGBTQ+ people reached an all time recorded high, as fascists picketed libraries protesting “drag queen story times”, and as the WHO declared monkeypox an international health emergency – while the British government looked on, and continues to look on, with indifferent disregard to the forever scarred bodies of queer young people or the snaking queues outside hospitals for the vaccine. The LGBTQ+ community is perhaps more embattled than it has been in a long time.
The rhetoric in the race to be the next Prime Minister is not a flash in the pan or thrown simply as red meat to a reactionary Tory membership only to be cast aside later for more “sensible” politics. It follows a pattern of verbal attacks – which have no doubt contributed to the physical – in mainstream political and media discourse on the LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans people.
It’s easy to see why. With costs soaring, wages plummeting, and discontent at over a decade of stagnating pay and living standards rapidly growing, the government is more intent than ever on protecting profits over people – as this week’s pitiful plan to cap energy prices at an eye-watering £2500, passing the cost on to workers in the longer term, amply demonstrates. With no solutions to this crisis, they have a strategy to confect a different one.
Although differing in its intensity in the UK, it’s a strategy that is internationalised in the global far-right from Hungary to the US that locates the cause of social crisis in the moral and sexual degeneration and decadence of one section of the population – that says they represent a decline in the moral fibre of the nation, to which is attributable an economic and social decline (alongside, of course, the presence of and rights for migrants, or for women, people of colour, and disabled people).
It would be wrong to see this redefinition of the crisis as a “distraction” from the real class politics at stake; it is class politics. The consequences for one section of our class are writ large in the shocking statistics on physical assaults on LGBTQ+ people. According to police figures released last month, homophobic hate crime has doubled and transphobic hate crime has tripled in the last 5 years. It’s not just criminal activity, but also our treatment by the state – access to adequate health and social care, appropriate housing, justice, education and other public services, even access to public toilets.
The war against woke is a divide and rule political strategy aimed at turning a milieu of workers against another minority section already facing persecution. It requires a political response.
For socialists, that should not mean framing the attacks as a distraction from the “real” economic issues, but articulating a politics that binds the fate and fortunes of the entire class with the liberation of LGBTQ+ people. The former approach is entirely inadequate; it will only cause the people we are trying to persuade to say “I’m glad that you’re fighting for my wages, my conditions at work, for lower rents and better public services, but what are you going to do about all these perverts and degenerates (or, indeed, migrants, or “benefit scroungers”, or any number of other reactionary scapegoats)?”
Rather than vacate that field of political contention, we need to emphasise the practical need for solidarity – a weakening of the position of one section of our class is to the detriment of all. The focus should be on the confluence of interests.
Take the Bell versus Tavistock case – a legal battle which attempted to prevent the Tavistock clinic from providing puberty blockers to trans kids without the consent of their parents. The case (now thankfully defeated) turned on attacking the legal principles of Gillick competence – the very same principles that underpin access to birth control for minors who do not have the consent of their parents. The attack on trans young people was also an attack on a right that has long been at the centre of feminist politics.
In forging a politics of solidarity, socialists must actively seek out these intersections and amplify them. They are abundant because LGBTQ+ oppression resides in the same structures that oppress all working people. The principle, here, is not that “we are all the same”, not to paper over the cracks and fissures that exist in our class, or to deny that some sections hold reactionary views, but to find the points of unity, and especially unity in action, build outwards from them, and thereby strengthen the ability of all working people to fight back against our shared enemy – the boss class and their representatives in parliament. This is a unity that doesn’t proclaim itself abstractly, but that is brought into being through shared struggle.
And it’s a unity we need urgently to build given the scale of the attack we are facing. The “war on woke” is part of the strategy for prosecuting it that we cannot ignore. We will only defeat it with our active and unapologetic solidarity.
- Sam Browse is an organiser for Arise Festival and Labour Outlook, you can follow him on twitter here.