Saturday, May 19, 2018

A postscript: The Sexual Inequality Party

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Andrea Constand, Cosby's accuser, who is not mentioned by the WSWS

By Frank Brenner

I think maybe it’s time for the Socialist Equality Party to consider a name change - to the Sexual Inequality Party. I already examined their willful blindness to sexual abuse in a previous post. [1] Here I just want to add a postscript on their reaction to the guilty verdict in the Bill Cosby case. [2] I don’t think it’s over the top to characterize this article as obscene - for its complete indifference to Cosby’s victims. There isn’t a word of sympathy for them anywhere in the article. Even the name of Cosby’s accuser in the case, Andrea Constand, is never once mentioned.

As I noted in my post, the sympathy of WSWS writers is typically for powerful men who stand accused of sexual abuse. So, in Cosby’s case, we are told, the judge’s decision in the second trial to allow five other women to testify about their abuse by Cosby constituted “moving the goal posts” legally so as to secure a conviction. Which amounts to saying that Cosby is the victim of a judicial frame-up.

In the first trial, only one other woman besides Constand was allowed to testify (though others wanted to). There are as many as 60 women who claim Cosby abused them but only Constand’s case was still within the statute of limitations. But just because the legal expiry date had passed for these other women doesn’t mean that Cosby didn’t abuse them. In fact, there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence that confirms their stories, including non-disclosure agreements and hush money paid to some of these women by Cosby as well as grand jury testimony in which Cosby admitted to repeatedly drugging his victims. It could be argued with a lot more justification that the first trial, where all but one of these women were shut out from the proceedings, amounted to “moving the goal posts” in Cosby’s favor.

A constant theme of the WSWS coverage of cases like this is the need to defend due process and the presumption of innocence. These are indeed important legal democratic rights that need to be defended (though as I’ll get to shortly, the WSWS has a huge blind spot about another democratic right). But the Cosby case had way more due process than 99 percent of people ever get who are caught up in the justice system. He had the best legal minds and courtroom strategies money could buy and he was given two full-scale trials. If this isn’t due process, then the term has no meaning. But reading the WSWS the impression you get is that it is Cosby who is the victim, not his accusers. It would seem that even when due process leads to a sexual abuser’s conviction, this is still not enough for the WSWS. So maybe something else is going on here, maybe what they really want is to make sexual abuse vanish as a public concern.

The same article misrepresents a NY Times op-ed by law professor Deborah Tuerkheimer. Tuerkheimer was arguing that the Cosby case might mark a turning point. She writes:

#MeToo can best be understood as a needed corrective to a longstanding reality: Women who report sexual violations by people they know, including mentors, co-workers, bosses, classmates, acquaintances, friends and intimates, are often not believed.” [3]

One study she cites found that half of police detectives believe most of the sexual assault accusations brought to them are false, whereas the actual number of false accusations are typically in the order of five percent. It’s impossible to imagine any other category of crime - murder, robbery, simple assault - where such a situation prevails. It is this “credibility discounting” - not only among police but also among district attorneys, judges, juries etc. - that is a major reason for why sexual assault remains a vastly underreported crime.

To make its case the WSWS journalist, Tom Carter, deliberately misrepresents what Tuerkheimer writes.  Carter states,

Tuerkheimer’s article, titled “The Cosby Jury Finally Believes the Women,” testifies to the erosion of democratic consciousness among substantial sections of middle-class academics influenced by identity politics. Her line of argumentation inevitably undermines the defendant’s right to the presumption of innocence. Moreover, the entire approach runs counter to essential democratic legal conceptions governing a criminal prosecution. The issue confronting a jury is not whether it should, as a general principle, believe women rather than men, or vice versa. [Our emphasis]

Carter’s claim, that Tuerkheimer is saying that women are always to be believed and that this is an attack on the presumption of innocence, is a complete distortion of what Tuerkheimer is saying.  Rather Tuerkheimer is pointing to a longstanding prejudice against believing the accusations of women in sexual abuse cases. She is arguing for the elimination of that prejudice.  That is completely different than arguing for the replacement of that prejudice with another prejudice, namely to always believe the accusations of women. In her conclusion she writes:

“Jurors do not come to a case against Mr. Cosby, or any other defendant, as blank slates. Instead, provided they have not prejudged the facts, jurors evaluate the evidence admitted at trial fairly, applying common sense and their general understandings of how the world operates. In the past, this important work was routinely infected by misconceptions about sexual assault, resulting in the vast underestimation of survivors’ credibility. #MeToo is only beginning to remedy that profound distortion.”

It is because of that profound distortion - rooted in misogyny - that the justice system is an INjustice system for a huge number of women who are victims of sexual assault.

But the WSWS is indifferent to any of this. Specifically, they are blind to a democratic right that is just as consequential as due process - the right to consent. As soon as you take that right seriously, then it becomes evident that there are significant limitations to due process. Sexual assault almost always ends up in court as he-said/she-said cases, which is to say cases where there is no independent corroborating evidence such as a witness. Even if the she-said is more believable than the he-said, it's extremely difficult for that on its own to rise to the level of 'beyond a reasonable doubt' required for a conviction. And as Tuerkheimer notes, that difficulty is hugely compounded by the system’s built-in misogyny.

As far as the WSWS is concerned, this is no problem so long as the rules of due process have been observed. But this is the standpoint of a legal pedant, not a Marxist revolutionary. Here we have a category of crimes where a great many women (and some men) are being abused, often scarred for life, and yet few perpetrators are ever brought to justice. It is to #MeToo’s credit that it has focused a lot of public attention on this grave injustice. But here Marxists would part company with liberals like Tuerkheimer in insisting that within the constraints of bourgeois legality it is never going to be possible to fully reconcile due process and the right to consent (a subject for a possible future post). That being said, whatever advances can be made for justice for women within bourgeois constraints should be supported. In that respect, Marxists can never be members of a Sexual Inequality Party.





[1] Willful blindness on sexual abuse, Frank Brenner,
[2] US media escalates #MeToo witch hunt after Cosby verdict, Tom Carter, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/04/30/cosb-a30.html
[3] The Cosby Jury Finally Believes the Women, Deborah Tuerkheimer, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/26/opinion/metoo-cosby-guilty.html

16 comments:

Stephany said...

Thank you! This is what I've been trying to say for months in the wsws comments for months. This was a totally missed opportunity for the SEP to get on the right side of history, but I'm not sure what I expected giving their past positions. I have no idea why they've chosen to support elite men over the allegations of working class women and men. And once they had some of the due process they've been screaming for, they denounce the whole system as corrupt. My mind is boggled. Again, thank you!

Anonymous said...

And thanks for your comment Stephany. A good question indeed - why is the SEP so insistent on coming to the defense of powerful men? And why is it so blind to the scope of sexual abuse? One thing is certain though - their position has nothing to do with Marxism.

Frank Brenner

Anonymous said...

Thanks for finally talking about >"A postscript: The Sexual Inequality Party"
<Liked it!

Adam Cortright said...

Have you no sense of decency, Mr. Brenner? At long last?

Anonymous said...

I see the David North lackey has made another appearance.

phila.ken said...

Once again this shows the WSWS departure from a dialectical understanding of social development. No attempt to understand the change in sexual relations from a Marxist point of view. The same applies to trade unions where they refuse to see the conflict between the rank and file and the trade union bureaucracy, lumping them together as a reactionary block. The same goes for their complete lack of understanding of democratic centralism.

Bloggerbabe said...

The Elephant in the room here Steiner is that all your knit picking in the scheme of things really adds up to diddly squat . Before you anoint yourself 'Mr Dialectic par excellence ', there is another facet of the dialectic which you seem to be completely ignorant of . That the real world abhors a vacuum and so by definition you are either adding to the struggle of one class or you adding to the interests of the other.

Your caveat that you think is wholly sufficient, in that you are not trying to be a daily online paper taking up the daily struggles of the working class, nor attempting to build a revolutionary leadership, is merely a play on words my friend . In objective terms and this is an indisputable fact , you are creating confusion within the class struggle , and providing no leadership as to a way out.

So when push comes to shove, where (in another play on words), are you not a nark or a troll within the workers movement ??

PS this page has been screen shot by the way just in case you seek to airbrush this comment out of the conversation as if it doesn't exist.

Alex Steiner said...

Mr "Bloggerbabe",

Who are you?
Could you tell us what you have done to contribute to the world revolution?
And what does this comment have to do with this post?

Bloggerbabe said...

Who and what I am is self evident . Any other specific is an irrelevance . i made a reply to your posting and so you answer me as to what 'I ''must' be refering to '' ? . After all you're the dialectical genius . If i can make a logical association to your words , then surely you can as well to mine ?

Alex Steiner said...

You are just a troll who adds no value to this conversation.

Bloggerbabe said...

Thats a complete cop out Steiner . Since when does a troll offer you a reasoned argument ? . All you are doing is trying to control the question, for in there lies the control of the answer. All you are doing is playing the lawyer. Face it Steiner you are on the edge of a contradiction you cannot get off , so all you are doing is trying to circumvent it with ( contrary to mine ) an unqualified ad hominem as if it constitutes an argument. After all you are not stupid... just desperate.

Alex Steiner said...

Reply to Bloggerbabe:

All you are saying is,
"Less talk - more action!"

That was the Progressive Labor mantra in the Sixties. In other words, shut the fuck up and keep selling the paper.

It's an argument meant to avoid dealing with any real issues that we are raising. Those issues require something called thinking. Remember that? That's what you are arguing against.

And if your criteria is going to be "Why haven't you built a movement, or why don't you have a daily paper"? then it is only fair that I ask that question of you. Those are your criteria, not mine. But you are not willing to answer.

Bloggerbabe said...

' shut the fuck up and keep selling the paper.'' is an amorphous statement that means everything and nothing. What you do is to throw up paper tigers as if they are consequential in the greater scheme of things . You are just constantly examining your navel and everyone elses in relation to some idealised form you have of what a revolutionary party should look like .

In relation to time and events i don't think you see how obsolete and irrelevant you have become. You're an echo in the wilderness attempting make something yet with no concrete practise of your own to give it a form in reality. The real world has moved on . it has chewed you up and spat you out , and all you can do is create an illusion of your worth by knocking the one party that is actually going somewhere.

The SEP is now leading and collaborating with other sections and groups in relation to vital present day issues that confront the working class and even your hallowed middle class . It does so however with an identity grounded in struggle and confirmed by events . You are nowhere going nowhere, yet you persist in sabotaging the party that is . Your objective reality ''is'' the troll , the ''nark''.

Get a reality check and get over yourself ...

Alex Steiner said...

Bloggerbabe,

I think we have heard enough from you. Your sophmoric name calling shows that we cannot expect anything resembling reasoned discussion from you.

There was once a very vulgar argument that went something like this:

"We are a successful party. We have hundreds of thousands of followers and our international comrades in the Soviet Union command the largest country in the world and have one of the most powerful armies. You cannot argue with that kind of success."

When that argument was voiced by the Stalinists it carried a lot of weight with many people who were drawn toward the powerful and successful. By comparison the arguments of the tiny groups supporting Trotsky did not get much of a hearing even though Trotsky was 100% right.

Only a vulgar opportunist would argue this way but the argument still had some resonance as long as the Soviet Union existed.

To repeat such arguments today while pointing to the "success" of the SEP is a good example of self-delusion.

Anonymous said...

Have you read today's entry in this continuing saga of All Sex Scandals* Are Political Scandals? While an interesting history involving Charlie Chaplain, it swerves into delusion by the implicit comparison with Weinstein. It of course continues to ignore the fact that the vast majority of posters of #metoo-tagged experiences are in the working class. The success brought to Jessica Chastain by association, apparently, wipes out the millions of incidents exposed by working women (and some men) during this wave of communication.

*Their comparing of #metoo with "sex scandal" is also telling.

Reese Mittane said...

You write, "Specifically, they [the WSWS] are blind to a democratic right that is just as consequential as due process - the right to consent. As soon as you take that right seriously, then it becomes evident that there are significant limitations to due process. Sexual assault almost always ends up in court as he-said/she-said cases, which is to say cases where there is no independent corroborating evidence such as a witness."

Even ignoring the larger political limitations of the MeToo movement, you are arguing that the guilt of the accused can and should be determined using standards that fall far short of a reasonable doubt. In other words, if due process cannot determine the guilt of the accused, then other methods should be employed. This is the language of fascism and not of Marxism.

Despite your Marxist pretensions, you've fallen--and likely quite willingly fallen--into a trap set for you by the capitalist state and its defenders in the Democratic Party and mainstream media.

Terrified that emerging mass opposition to Trump could become a broader mobilization against the Capitalist state as a whole, this emerging sentiment had to be diverted into reactionary channels. Noone wants to see women abused by powerful men after all. The thinking was, 'distract the people from a fight for their basic class interests and try to convince them the stinking corpse of imperialism still has some progressive fight left in it. Let a few isolated women get wealthy as a result and bring some left wing saps on board in hopes that they might get some of the spoils too.'

As far as your criticism of the WSWS's analysis of the Cosby verdict is concerned, you are extraordinarily duplicitous. Here's what the site actually wrote,

"Substantial evidence to support a verdict of guilty was presented at the trial. At the same time, the manner in which the trial was conducted raises serious legal questions that will doubtless be the subject of a lengthy appeal process.

However, it is necessary at the outset to distinguish between the question of Cosby’s individual guilt and the anti-democratic campaign that is being waged in the media around his conviction."

You suggest that somehow this provides sympathy for Cosby. Anyone with basic English reading skills and without a hidden political agenda would argue that it does not.

One final note. Although the WSWS is not in a position to definitively determine the guilt or innocence of any of the accused (for that matter, neither are you, notwithstanding your reliance on the fantastic power of subjective idealism as a basis for political analysis), it rightly recognized that it was the duty of the working class and the revolutionary party to defend democratic rights now matter which class was affected. After all, the methods being used against the wealthy will be turned against the working class too and with far greater scope and viciousness. Although you're well past the point of taking anything Lenin said seriously, I would still advise your readers to take heed of the following:

"Working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse, no matter what class is affected — unless they are trained, moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic point of view and no other. The consciousness of the working masses cannot be genuine class-consciousness, unless the workers learn, from concrete, and above all from topical, political facts and events to observe every other social class in all the manifestations of its intellectual, ethical, and political life; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata, and groups of the population."