Unfortunately there is an element within the Scottish left that aims to shut down debate, rather than engage openly and honestly. They do this by labelling the opposing voice as some sort of “ism”; racism or misogynism for example. It’s the classic ad hominem fallacy, playing the man rather than the ball so to speak. It’s a good indication that they have no response to the arguments they are faced with, and so resort to trying to discredit their opponent personally. It’s a wrongheaded approach for many reasons, not least because there are in fact very good arguments that can be employed against racists and misogynists. These arguments of course only work if your opponent genuinely is a racist or misogynist. And herein lies the rub: these labels are too often used wrongly and inappropriately.
Another label that has found its way into the Scottish left’s lexicon recently, and is also too often used to shut down debate, is the term “stale pale male”*. This essentially means “old white man”. It’s a favourite of middle class student types at the moment, and prominent RISE activists in particular seem to enjoy employing it against their (perceived) opponents. As an SSP member, I am writing this as a comradely appeal that the use of this label be kicked out of useage immediately. Not least because it is a highly offensive term. It suggests that the opinions of a certain group of people are not worth listening to, simply because of their arbitrary natural characteristics.
Now I often despair at the softness of those on the left currently, who seem to cry “abuse” any time they hear something they don’t like, or hear a potentially derogatory remark. The Tories and the oligarchs aren’t going to be nice and polite when we come to take their power and privileges from them, so to be perfectly frank most of the Scottish left needs to seriously toughen up.
Having said that, there is of course no room for abusing comrades within the movement. This is especially so when you claim to be opposed to bullying. If you don’t accept people using derogatory terms to describe you, don’t use derogatory terms to describe others. It’s just blatant hypocrisy if you do, and destroys your claims to honesty and integrity.
Apart from the derogatory nature of the term, there is another important reason why socialists in particular should dispense of this means of categorising the participants in any given debate. Let’s just look at the term. “Male” gives us an analysis in terms of sex or gender, “stale” gives us an analysis in terms of age, and “pale” gives us an analysis in terms of ethnicity. For socialists this is a very poor way to analyse any set of circumstances. Where is the analysis in terms of class? In other words, these middle class student types in RISE, by making others think in terms of “stale pale males” have succeeded in removing class consciousness from large parts of our movement. It is for this reason that prominent RISE activists, including some on the Holyrood lists, are able to throw their weight about social media telling anyone and everyone that white males not only are not oppressed, but CANNOT BE oppressed. If you remove class consciousness from the equation it becomes incredibly difficult to recognise very real occurrences of oppression and very real disadvantages that many white males do in fact suffer. Now of course age sex and ethnicity are important elements in the understanding of very many occasions of oppression and disadvantages, but socialists recognise that a proper understanding of these requires an understanding of the broader class struggle which gives rise to these oppressions.
Let me explain this by using sex as the example. Some feminists will be inclined to point to the lack of female CEOs and decide it’s an issue that needs to be tackled by creating more female CEOs. Likewise, some will point to women being sexually objectified and commodified and claim we should do the same with men. Others will argue that we should have equal numbers of females as males in the army. They all claim these as examples of liberating women from the patriarchy.
Socialists, on the other hand, by employing class consciousness as part of their analysis are able to recognise that this is not genuine women’s liberation. Women becoming corporate executives oppressing working women at rates equal to male capitalists is not women’s liberation or equality. Men being sexually objectified and commodified at rates equitable to women is not women’s liberation or equality. And women joining an imperialist military to stand guard as their male colleagues rape their way across invaded countries is not women’s liberation or equality. Women’s liberation is only possible with socialism, and by convincing others to think in terms of “pale stale males” we are removing them from socialism. Those who seek to end racism but do not work to end capitalism and its inherent class struggle will fail. Those who seek to end xenophobia and national chauvinism but do not work to end capitalism will fail. And those who seek to end sexism and gender discrimination and gender inequality and oppression, but do not work to totally destroy capitalism will fail. Bourgeois individualist feminism only ensures that a few more women participate in the continued oppression and subjugation of the vast majority of women. Women’s liberation is the cause of socialists, and women and men must join together as revolutionary comrades to end capitalism and gender oppression side by side, since the existence of those is inextricably bound together and part of the same system of elite class tyranny!
The problems of terms like “stale pale male” go beyond the ideological. They are symptomatic of a much larger problem of the left; our almost complete irrelevance to the working class communities of Scotland that we claim to be representing. Let’s just look at this tactically here: prominent RISErs are announcing on social media that they are effectively against white working class males over 35 – in a predominately white working class country! Not much of an election strategy! And it probably goes some way to explain why their candidate in one area was actually polling BELOW 0%!
The right wing doesn’t appear to be suffering from the same problems. So why is the right gaining while the left is struggling? The main reason is because the right is actually listening to working class people, as opposed to RISE’s favoured method of lecturing them about whatever they read in Gender Studies last week at Uni. When people are worried about immigration, UKIP listens to those worries. The left calls them racists and xenophobes. When the elections come round who do you think gets the votes? UKIP’s answers to the “immigration problem” are of course totally wrong, but at least they appear to be listening to working class people. Our job is not to berate people for having concerns. When unemployment is already inexcusably high, and affordable housing already in chronically short supply, it is not difficult to understand why working class people are concerned about an influx of (essentially) competition for the jobs and affordable housing. Our job as socialists is to listen to these concerns and offer our socialist solutions. Not to treat people as if their opinions don’t matter cos they’re just “angry men” or “stale pale and male”.
So of course white males can be oppressed, despite what prominent RISErs will tell you. They are generally not oppressed AS white males, but there are a whole host of ways in which they are oppressed. They can be oppressed as working class, for example. As poor, as unemployed, as homeless, as disabled or for having mental health problems. They can be unfairly taxed for having a spare bedroom, they can be denied access to much needed medical care for living in the wrong postcode, they can be more likely to be sent to jail than a rich person who committed the same crime, or be stuck on a zero hours contract. There are many ways in which they can be and are oppressed. Socialists must learn to listen to their concerns or be condemned to irrelevance while the right continues to gain support. People who use the term “stale pale male” are unable to do so, or at least that’s how it appears to stale pale males like me.
*The term “pale stale male” of course predates the current discourse, and was introduced originally as a descriptive term to describe the political environment, i.e. one dominated by old white men. I have no issue with the term when it is used in this descriptive sense. It is the newer way in which it is used as a means to shut down valid opinions that I take issue with.