The Left and Rape : Why we should all be ashamed of the Left’s role in covering up the rape of 2 million women.`

TRIGGER WARNING: This content deals with accounts of sexual assault and may be distressing for some people

How I was a rape denier & accepted rape myths

Denial :Twenty odd years ago I picked up a battered old paperback in one of my city’s many wonderful second a woman in berlinhand bookshops.It was called “A Woman In Berlin”. Not only was it a personal testimony, in fact a diary, from the Second World War – a pet favourite subject. It was by a woman. And it was set in the Berlin of  Germany’s Year Zero (1945)

However, I stopped reading it when it became clear that the main bit of history it dealt with was the rape of two million German women by the Red Army, the Liberators of Europe. I stopped not because I couldn’t cope with reading personal accounts of being gang raped (though that would certainly put me off it now).

I stopped reading it because I didn’t want to believe it.

soviet-flag-over-the-reichstag-1945

Rapist?

Perhaps the book was a forgery I told myself – after all, it had been published in the US in the 1950s at the hight of McCarthyism, but not since. Surely it was just CIA propaganda? Surely not all men were potential rapists? Surely the Russians were no worse than anyone else?

Cover Up : Years later I was able to give a talk to my SWP branch on the Second World War. I had a lot to say, and went on for over half an hour, though nobody seemed to mind. I had a lot to say about such a complex subject. But I said nothing about the mass rapes committed by the Red Army – or for that matter by the Germans in Russia, which were worse, or the Japanese in China and Korea.

12 Million Rapes : “Just a detail in the history of World War II”?

When French wannabe-Fuhrer Jean Marie Le Pen called the murder of 6 million Jewish people a “detail in the history of World War Two”, he was quite rightly condemned, and had to pay a 1.2million franc fine.

Yet the attitude to nearly all historians of world war two towards the mass rapes of up to twelve million women is that it either just a detail, a footnote, or not even worthy of mention. Obviously it’s not just The Left that have a problem with recognising the reality of rape as part of war. Practically none of the many volumes of military history give it as much as a mention.

Martin Gilbert‘s “The Second World War: A Complete Historycompletely ignores the experience of the millions of women who were raped.

Winston Churchill’s condensed version of his “The Second World War” has plenty to say about the finals days of the war in Europe, describing well how military strategy had become dominated by the future rivalry between the USSR and the West. But, apart from alluding to “terrible things” done by the Russians in the East, he says nothing about the mass rapes.

John Erickson‘s authoritative and masterful “The Road to Berlin” manages just a few lines in 877 pages, describing “an uncontrollable mob intent on pillage and rape” (pg 584) and “Soviet soldiers raped at will” (pg 466)

Russian Rape Apologists – From Stalin to Putin

In the decades that followed the war, politicians acted as rape apologists for the crimes of their soldiers. Stalin was warned in 1945 by German Communists that the rapes were turning the population against them. Stalin fumed: “I will not allow anyone to drag the reputation of the Red Army in the mud.” This has been the attitude of Soviet and Russian ploticians ever since. For example, Cornelius Ryan referred to the mass rapes by the Red Army during the battle for Berlin in “The Last Battle” in 1966, leading to him being attacked for smears in the Soviet Communist Party daily “Pravda”.

In 2003, Antony Beevor’s popular “Berlin: The Downfall,1945” along with Virago Press’s publication in 2005 of “A Woman In Berlin” and a 2008 film of the book finally brought the horror faced by German women in 1945 into popular consciousness. The response of the post-Soviet Russian ambassador to London was to condemn the rape allegations as an “act of blasphemy.” ! As with current the current refusal of many Japanese diplomats to apologise for the sexual enslavement of up to 300,000 Korean women and girls, Russia sees an apology for the behaviour of soldiers 70 years ago as impossible as if its an attack on the military now.

So what about Trotskyist histories of World War Two?

Well sadly, there aren’t many. (Which I always found surprising given the number of political, economic and social struggles & change crammed into six years.) But those from the anti-Stalinist tradition who cover this period ought to feel able to talk about mass rape in wartime, ought to try to explain it within a Marxist understanding of imperialism and women’s oppression, and offer support to all those women seeking truth and justice.

Instead we get total silence, which in my book is little better than the denials and cover up spread by Stalinists, and the inability to take rape and war seriously demonstrated by most “Military Historians”.

Ernest Mandel crams a lot into just 175 pages in his analytical “The Meaning of the Second World War”. But he has nothing to say about the Red Army’s rape of two million German women.

Tony Cliff has nothing to say about it in his 1950 “Class Nature of the Peoples Democracies Neither does Chris Harman in “Bureaucracy and Revolution”, though he has more than a page on how the Red Army let the nazi’s crush the Warsaw Uprising)

The articles by Chris Bambery , Michael Bradley  in the ISJ have nothing to say. Nor does the ISJ debate around  Donny Gluckstein‘s 2012A People’s History of the Second World War” (I haven’t got access to this book, so please prove me wrong). In fact  five lines in Michael Bradley’s short review of Beevor’s “Berlin:Downfall” is the only mention of the Red Army rapes I could find in all the socialist histories. I searched in.

Meanwhile, over at Counterfire, John Rees has produced a good TV documentary on “history of the second world war told from the perspective of ordinary people”. But these “ordinary people” seem not to include two million rape victims. I’m not able to say if Chris Bambery‘s latest book covers the subject, though Lyndsey German does at least discuss war and rape in her new “How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women

Ted Grant, who like Tony Cliff was a observer from afar at the time, did write aboutthe domination, plunder and enslavement of the Balkan and Central European peoples”. While he may be partially correct to write about “the admiration and support for the Red Army” and how “the entrance of the Red Army into Eastern Europe provoked a movement among wide strata of the oppressed workers and peasants”, he says nothing about the mass rapes across Eastern Europe and the role that fear would have played in the psychology of those “liberated”.

The only anarchist account I have of the period is a reprint 1948 IWA pamphlet “Bulgaria: Another Spain”. This details the brutality of the Red Army and how it quashed genuine attempts at workers uprisings in 1945. But even though the Red Army raped 100,000s of women across Eastern Europe (though Bulgaria less than others, perhaps because of similar linguistic and ethnic identities), there is not a single mention of rape in this otherwise excellent account.

Finally, if the men writing about the war cannot bring themselves to mention the rapes, can the writers about rape mention the mass rapes of the war? Sadly, no.

Sheila McGregor writing about rape and sexual violence in the ISJ in 1989 and 2013. She has nothing to say about mass rape in war time. Sandra Bloodworth says nothing in her otherwise excellent 1992 article “Rape, Sexual Violence and Capitalism”. While I understand that one of the main points these articles make is that rape happens within relationships and needs to be seen in the context of family structures in class society, I find it staggering that they say nothing about the use of mass rape and sexual abuse by soldiers during wars.

If there are any socialist, anarchist or left historians who deal with the mass rapes by the Soviet Army, I apologise. I could find nothing. If somebody can prove me wrong I would be overjoyed. Feeling ashamed of the socialist tradition is not easy. Years of denying that Marxism is “blind” to “women’s issues” and rape in particular are more questionable than ever in the light of the SWP’s rape cover up. But joining in the bourgeois and Stalinist historians in the cover up of millions of rapes is disgraceful. I can’t help thinking that perhaps the inability to deal with the the politics of rape was a factor in some of the appalling attitudes shown by some SWP members recently.

The Red Army, The Left and Rape Myths

Bolshie Elaine”  did a good job at demolishing some of the rape myths currently circulating around the SWP. Many of these simply perpetuate myths propagated by the dominant ideas of class societies going back thousands of years. Understanding these same myths are useful if we want to explain why the anti-Stalinist left ignored rape and how those on the left with admiration for the Red Army worked hard to ensure that the women’s stories would never be told, that this war crime would be hidden from history, that it would be impossible foranyone to drag the reputation of the Red Army in the mud.”

MYTH ONE:Sexual history with the accused or others is in some way relevant

Many women across Eastern Europe, including the author of “A Woman In Berlin” found themselves seeking “protection” from more powerful officers in the Red Army. “No question about it: I have to find a single wolf to keep away the pack” she writes. “An officer, as high-ranking as possible, a commandant, a general, whatever I can manage” Submitting to one man who could prevent gang-rape by others does not mean that the officer had a right to have sex with the woman. I don’t know if these desperate women’s experiences are even counted in the rape figures.

MYTH TWO:She didn’t complain at the time…

Part of the horror for women in Eastern Europe was the total fear they experienced knowing that their home city was swarming with armed gangs of men who could rape at will with no consequence. There was no one to complain to, though of course women talked to each other. Once “order” was restored, in the queues for ration books and jobs, the women talk about how many times they’ve been raped and how they will deal with their husbands about it. The fear created lasted long after authority was restored- The Woman In Berlin describes howgoing out in the evening, she never sees women. In fact the figures for rape come not from the non-existent police, but the abortion clinics and VD clinics, which were overwhelmed with 100,000s of women desperate for abortions. It is also estimated that over 240,000 women died following their ordeal, either by suicide or as a result of the injuries sustained in the extreme violence of the attack. Some women did complain – Eva Shtul, a Soviet prisoner was raped by her countrymen liberating , and  then beaten and raped by the officer she complained to.

MYTH THREE: The women were German/Nazi and were just making up anti-Soviet propaganda. It’s an attack on socialist politics.

No woman, whatever their political views, deserved to be raped. Furthermore, the Red Army raped Jews, Hungarians, Poles, Romanians, Austrians German communists, Russian prisoners and slave labourers, even those “liberated” from concentration camps.

As for the truth of these women’s stories, it is very well documented. Some of these unbearable testimonies are at the end of this piece.

MYTH FOUR: There are two sides to the story

This is where we are supposed to understand the terrible experiences of the average Russian solder at the hands of the Nazi occupation of the Western USSR. The mass rapes and forcing of women into army brothels, the devastation, the brutality of the war itself. These are often all the Left can say to explain why so many Red Army soldiers became rapists. While understanding the mentality of rapists may be an important part of stamping out all rape, this argument is often presented as some kind of excuse. More right wing commentators on the Red Army’s mass rapes focus on “backward”, “Asiatic” or peasant attitudes. Such racist views help nobody to understand or prevent rape.

MYTH FIVE: Drink was involved

Usually, the question of whether drink or drugs was involved is directed at the woman as part of a questioning of her ability to remember what happened or understand issues of consent. This time the myth is usd as an excuse for the rapists. That there was mass drunkenness amongst the occupiers of the Red Army is no secret. Any alcohol was looted and many soldiers died, poisoned by industrial alcohol. But since when did socialists justify behaviour by saying “the drink made them do it”?

MYTH SIX: I am not interested in this stuff, the key thing was stopping the Nazis and the Red Army beat Hitler

Regardless of this rape is rape, and a rapist is a rapist. The experiences of rape of millions of women is just as relevant as the experiences of civilian bombing, Dunkirk, RAF fighter pilots reaching for the sky etc. It is a war crime regardless of the failure of The Nuremberg trials not prosecuting anyone for rape or other sexual violence. Rape was defined as a crime against humanity, but prosecution was not included because such crimes had “no nexus to war.”

So Why did the “anti-Stalinist” Left ignore the mass rape by the Red Army?

Some will say that the best socialist historians of the war don’t accept any of the rape myths outlined above. They may claim that they had no knowledge of what happened precisely because so many have conspired to keep it hidden.

This is not good enough. Why?

Partly, because anybody who can research the details of the life of Soviet workers in the 1940s, or how production was organised, or how political leaders behaved is capable of researching the experience of women. They chose not to.

There has always been plenty of evidence about this hidden war crime. Susan Brownmiller details this at length in her classic feminist work on rape “Against Our Will”. This was written in 1975. Did our war writers not ever pick it up?? Before I conclude with some questions for the left, I feel I must repeat some of the evidence that has been around for a long time. This part in particular is disturbing to read.

Popular Memory

There is no way mass rape on the scale carried out by the Red Army cannot be known about by virtually everybody. These were not rapes behind closed doors. They were carried out in front of families, in the rubble, in the streets, and deliberately in front of men. A friend who lived in Berlin, Vienna and other parts of Germany in the 1980s confirmed that what the Red Army had done in 1945 was common knowledge. It was discussed. Memoirs published, films made, stories told and songs sung. When “Trümmerfrauen , referring to the “Women of the rubble” who worked to clear the ruins of Berlin was painted on the Berlin Wall, everyone knew it was a reminder not just of the central role of women in rebuilding Germany after the war, but also the rapes and forced prostitution that so many of these women went through.

Soviet Accounts of Mass Rape

red armyLike most armies, the Red Army was formally opposed to rape and soldiers could be punished for it. Undoubtedly some officers, especially the political officers, attempted to stop it. (Officers were permitted to keep a “campaign wife”, a PPZh, young women who worked at HQ as signallers, clerks , medics etc.) The political department of the 19th Army declared “When we breed a true feeling of hatred in a soldier, the soldier will not try to have sex with a German woman, because he will be repulsed”. But as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Red Army captain in East Prussia testified at the time, rape and general destruction of German civilians was the norm. he was arrested partly due to his critique of the treatment of civilians. His 1948 poem “Prussian Nights” gives a glimpse of the horror he witnessed.

The little daughter’s on the mattress,
Dead. How many have been on it
A platoon, a company perhaps?
A girl’s been turned into a woman,
A woman turned into a corpse.
It’s all come down to simple phrases:
Do not forget! Do not forgive!
Blood for blood! A tooth for a tooth!

Svetlana Alexievich published a book, War’s Unwomanly Face (1985) that includes memories by Soviet veterans about their experience in Germany. According to a former army officer,

We were young, strong, and four years without women. So we tried to catch German women and … Ten men raped one girl. There were not enough women; the entire population run from the Soviet Army. So we had to take young, twelve or thirteen year-old. If she cried, we put something into her mouth. We thought it was fun. Now I can not understand how I did it. A boy from a good family… But that was me.”

A woman telephone operator from the Soviet Army recalled that

When we occupied every town, we had first three days for looting and … [rapes]. That was unofficial of course. But after three days one could be court-martialed for doing this. … I remember one raped German woman laying naked, with hand grenade between her legs. Now I feel shame, but I did not feel shame back then… Do you think it was easy to forgive [the Germans]? We hated to see their clean undamaged white houses. With roses. I wanted them to suffer. I wanted to see their tears. … Decades had to pass until I started feeling pity for them”

Other accounts and interviews with former Red Army soldiers reveal the attitudes at the time.

More recently, Beevor’s “Berlin ;Downfall” notes that veterans today will “admit to hearing of a few excesses, and then dismiss the subject as an inevitable result of war. Others are completely unrepentant.Two million of our children were born [in Germany],” bragged one tank commander.

Beevor also cites the Soviet leader’s retort to a protest by Yugoslav Communist Milovan Dijilas about Soviet troops raping Romanian, Croatian and Hungarian women: “Can’t he understand it if a soldier has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle?”

Vasily Grossman, later the well known writer of “Life and Fate” spent the war as a special correspondent for “Red Star”, the Red Army newspaper. After the war he admitted to his daughter that the Red Army “changed for the worse as soon as it crossed the Soviet border”. He describes

Horror in the eyes of women and girls…..Horrifying things are happening to German women. An educated German whose wife has received ‘new visitors’ – Red Army soldiers – is explaining with expressive gestures and broken Russian words, that she has already been raped by ten men today…..women’s screams are heard from an open window……The women and girls[left behind] are safe while he [a Jewish officer] is there. When he leaves, they all cry and plead with him to stay. Soviet girls from the camps are suffering a lot now. Tonight, some of them are hiding in our correspondents room. During the night we are woken by screams : one of the correspondents couldn’t resist the temptation”

Later, once he reaches Berlin, he describes meeting a Frenchman who says to him “Monsieur. I love your army and that’s why it is painful for me to see its attitude to girls and women”

red army rapistsBeevor describes how Georgi Malenkov, one of Stalin’s top henchmen, reveals that Soviet troops arranging huge mass rapes of Russian girls.I waited for the Red Army for days and nights,’ said one, ‘and now our soldiers treat us worse than the Germans did.”

Eyewitness from Germany

Paul Mattick who’d worked with the IWW (the Wobblies), and the Council Communists (what Lenin called the Left Communists) wrote an account  in 1948 which describes how

Children would follow their mothers and sisters, only to see them ordered to bend over and lift their skirts to make ready for love in daylight and collectivity, to be loved by drunken soldiers still able, however, to keep an eye on the rooftops so as not to be killed in the act of copulation. Long afterwards, the smaller of the children would play the newly-learned “game of raping.”

Witnesses from the German Communist Party

Atina Grossmann records the views of many, including the KPD. As a party,they argued that given the drastic circumstances, women were “owed the right to an abortion”. But their leader Walter Ulbricht was unmoved by pleas for a crackdown on Red Army behaviour and refused to even consider allowing termination of the resulting “The gentlemen doctors should be reminded to exercise a bit of restraint on this matter” he wrote a tens of thousands of women filled the clinics for abortions and STD treatment.

Ordinary Communists pleaded with their leaders that “even the Red Army soldiers, now that the war is already over for eight weeks, absolutely must discipline themselves” Another communist wrote

“Men and women from the working population say to us over and over again : We had so hoped that it would become better, we were so happy the Red Army was coming, and now they are behaving just like the SS and NSAPD always told us they would. We cannot understand this.

Others at the time wrote about what was happening, including Eva Von Sacher-Masoch. Marianne Faithfull’s mother. The long term impact on her family was recently told by Marianne on BBc TV‘s “Who do you think you are?” recently. But her mother was also a feminist writer, and ensured the story of the rape of 100,000 Viennese women at the hands of the Red Army made the front page of her magazine in 1945.

Much of the recordings of the memories of the women was done at a much later date. In fact for some, it was the stories of mass rapes by Serbian ethnic cleansers that encouraged German women to tell their story.

In 1995 Helke Sander,published her book “liberators and liberated” in which she interviewed victims and befreier_und_befreite-9783596163052_xxlresearched archive documents.There were a lot of young girls raped. I talked to very many who were then 13, 14 years old and had no idea what happened to them. For many this meant that they later could never sleep with a man and , abhorrence of the sexual act “developed.” The rapes took place on the streets, in cellars, in homes, where children and  other people watched. One of them was raped repeatedly by ten Russians in a row said “It has shaped my life as a woman. I have promised myself to stay alone.”

She later turned this account into a film. She documents the pregnancies, abortions, illegitimate children that resulted, as well as the break down in family relationships, the stigmatization these women experienced, and mental and physical duress these women underwent at the time of the rapes and as treaties were passed between the German and Soviets that never mentioned reparations for the rapes. She also interviews Soviet and German soldiers who admitted to raping women during the war.”

rape-german-women-ww2-Margot-Serovy-paintingMargot Serowy shows the rape of German women by Russian soldiers in this painting.  Serowy was born in East Prussia in 1937 and witnessed the apocalypse that Germany underwent at the end of WW2. She describes the painting thus, “Please take me. A mother’s plea to save her young daughter. Rape was a fact of life among the Russian soldiers. My mother was raped by seven of them right beside me. Children played at rape.”

There are so many accounts from survivors that surely the mass rapes a now undeniable. What we need to do now is explain why it happened.“Having always in the past slightly pooh-poohed the idea that most men are potential rapists, I had to come to the conclusion that if there is a lack of army discipline, most men with a weapon, dehumanised by living through two or three years of war, do become potential rapists,” Antony Beevor told The Bookseller.

Rape and War : What the Left needs to explain

Rape has been used as a weapon of dominance for centuries. In Bosnia and Sierra Leone recently. By the European and American slave owners who saw black women as animals, yet saw themselves as having the “droit de seigneur”. In some tribal wars that saw women captured and taken to the victors territory, and a host of wars and battles for thousands of years. Socialists must to be able to explain this. Otherwise we leave the debate to Susan Brownmiller and that strand of feminism that has at least been raising the issue for decades but despairs of changing men or the whole of society.

The left, if its claim to be the “Tribune of the Oppressed” is to be taken seriously also needs to expose this hidden history. In fact the mass rape of women by the Red Army is just one of the unmentioned war crimes from World War Two. It is estimated that up to ten million women were raped in the Soviet Union occupied by Hitler’s war machine, with between 750,000 and 1,000,000 children born to live with the hidden shame of their “fathers”. American soldiers too raped – over 11,000 in WW2, but also in Vietnam. The sexual abuse and rape of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by the US military, including by female officers, is one of the few well known and discussed cases, and even here, the rapes were barely discussed.

To sum up, those on the left who are serious about looking at ourselves and working out how to rebuild an inclusive left movement, two questions must be answered.

Firstly, we ignored/trivialised/covered up mass rape. Why did we get it so wrong?

Secondly, in war, many many men, perhaps a majority, can become rapists, or at least pretend to look the other way and say nothing. What is our explanation for this and how does it affect our political practice?

LATEST

There is now a follow up to this piece following some very good discussion in the comments here and in the two facebook threads. This article has also been reproduced on the libcom site, with a reasonable discussion on the subject from a more anrchist/syndicalist point of view, which is interesting.

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32 thoughts on “The Left and Rape : Why we should all be ashamed of the Left’s role in covering up the rape of 2 million women.`

  1. I don’t think the revolutionary left covered up the rapes of German women thru political denial. I don’t remember anyone In the SWP ever glorified the liberation of Germany by the Red Army. To be honest I never thought about it unt I reAd deeply on the subject in preparation for teaching A LevelNazi Germany.
    Much of the history of ww2 has never been really considered by the far left. I think this is perfectly understandable.
    There are lots of things we never discuss due to lack of resources or historians or whatever such as the massive massacres of madagascans in the war against colonialism in the late 40s
    The only serious discussion of rape in wAr that I have read comes from feminist historians of South Asia or the fiction of Sadat Hassan Manto.
    It is an absence but idont think it is a deliberate one.

    • Not deliberate in one sense perhaps. There is also massive ignorance of say the 10 million killed or driven to starvation in the Congo by Belgium in the 1890s; or the 30 million in India who died at the hands of British misrule in India. Why do we only know about the 1 million who died in Ireland decades earlier.
      But my point is that some on the left definitely knew about it, they wrote about either the end of the Nazi regime, or about rape, and there is not one single mention of the mass rapes by any of these people until very recently. All I want to know is why not, and what an we learn by that mistake – deliberate or otherwise.

    • UPDATE

      On International Women’s Day it is opportune to record that a book published this week extrapolated that US soldiers raped 190 001 women and girls during the occupation of Germany. This is the most striking claim of the German-language history book that examines sexual abuse by the four occupiers. The author, Miriam Gebhardt, also estimates that 860 001 females were raped in Germany in 1944 & 1945. She says the sexual abuse, including rape, of males was not inconsiderable (“etliche”).

      It needs to be noted that Gebhardt’s estimates have been heavily criticised for extrapolating from a narrow dataset with highly implausible assumptions.

      http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/book-claims-us-soldiers-raped-190-000-german-women-post-wwii-a-1021298.html
      http://www.welt.de/geschichte/zweiter-weltkrieg/article137972349/Auch-US-Truppen-veruebten-brutale-Vergewaltigungen.html

  2. Thanx so much for this highly original piece of work; a real eye-opener. Thank you.

    I’ll comment later today as I want to check a few things, & I have a few sources to add to the many that you have considered.

    I don’t have a copy but you didn’t mention ‘The Struggle for Hearts & Minds: Essays on the Second World War’, 1995, by Ray Challinor, RCP member (omitted from his ‘Socialist Worker’ obit), co-founder of both the Socialist Review Group & IS, but refusing to be part of its presentation to the world as a party, the SWP: does Challinor broach the topic?

    Your essay needs the widest circulation. Perhaps Dave Renton, the IS Network, & others, will ask you to re-post it. Let’s hope so.

    • Sorry for the delay Jara – I’m still learning how to use wordpress (perhaps that’s obvious!) – for some reason it automatically approves some comments and not others..
      Hopefully it will get wider circulation – I was hoping it would go on socialist unity, as there’s a lot of people there that have had a lot to say about the left and rape.
      I will add a list of left books about the war to my blog later, but my point remains that there is no excuse for any left historian of the war not to mention the mass rapes/forced prostitution, particularly by the japanese army in korea and china, the german army in the ussr and the red army across eastern europe.
      Ignorance is no excuse, and as the responses to this blog have confirmed, plenty of us did know about it, so why the silence?

  3. The second world war was always a big problem for Trotskyists (the splits that arose from it signalled the beginning of the long disintergration of orthodox Trotskyism). That accounts for the paucity of book lengths accounts on the subject (as well as the analytical logic chopping charecter of productions by Mandel etc who was in a sense the key guardian of a more sophisticated orthodoxy which still had to avoid key questions arising. Another tendency is sometimes just to flip over into rehearsals of Stalinist style populism though this is not something Mandel could ever be accused of). It doesn’t though account for the paucity of the discussions of mass rape in warfare. Which I think is the product of the fact that it is feminism that introduces the possibility of taking gender seriously in history and hence, of course, sexual violence. And whilst the revolutionary left benefited enormously from the development of both the feminist movement and feminist ideas, this was an uneven process. Probably one can see this uneven process in detail in the responses and reviews of books like Susan Brownmiller’s ‘Against Our Will’ which introduced these subjects as the subject matter for proper historical research and therefore consideration, for the first time. I think therefore there are real theoretical reasons for this gap in Marxist writing on the Second World War.

  4. Don’t look for a political basis of rape in the context of a war. War is always pure brutality and all manner of brutal acts should be a given.

    • War is always brutal fieldlab . But rape is political, and those on the left who want to stand up for the oppressed, be their “tribune” must take up rape as a political issue, however horribly personal and private it may be for individuals

  5. It is deliberate simply by the nature that the left is run and operated by middle class white men who have zero interest in what they see as “women’s issues”, aside from paying lip service to them, to encourage women into the movement so they have young women to listen to them & to do the donkey work. The left is no more welcoming to women or minorities than any other part of society. As with everything else on the organised left, all is viewed through a white male, middle class faux-poor lens, The left has never been further from the poor or anyone else they claim to represent. All I ask is- why on earth is anyone surprised at this? The left is as white male supremacist as everywhere else.

    • I know what you’re saying, though I disagree. The left is far from perfect on these issues. But I know plenty of LGBTQ people who certainly in the 1980s found the left a much easier place to be out than most other places. Obviously my article is saying there is a hell of a lot wrong too.

  6. Pingback: Reblog: The Left and Rape : Why we should all be ashamed of the Left’s role in covering up the rape of 2 million women. | Ema Teapot

  7. I think that the problem you must deal with is that rape was indeed endemic where troops occupied, but that rapes featured heavily in the propaganda of both the Axis and the Allies. There is no doubt that soldiers of the Red Army raped thousands of women. It is also the case that the authorities in Berlin, both during and after the war used heavily racialised accounts of rape as war propaganda. It was the 1953 Federal Government’s Documentation of the Expulsion of the Germans from East Central Europe that published thousands of pages of evidence of rapes (and its head was a former Nazi Theodor Scheider). None of that diminishes the fact of the rapes that took place, but it does go some way to explaining the way that people have been unwilling to believe the accounts. Furthermore the use of racialised allegations of rape as war propaganda, as with the campaigns against the use of coloured troops in the occupation of German territory after the First World War – ‘Black rape on the Rhine’ – was fresh in people’s minds.

    What surprises me, though, is that while you make an issue of the left’s denial of the rape of women in Germany (and one should add all across East Europe) – however, you have shied away from the very well documented evidence of the rapes of Italian women by Moroccan troops in the French Expeditionary Force, known as the Marrochinate in Italy. an estimated 7000 women were raped many of them children. These atrocities were debated in the Italian parliament and after the war the French government paid compensation to Italy for the offences (there was even a film made of the events starring Sophia Loren, Two Women, based on the hit novel by Alberto Moravia). These events happened – and yet they are also the raw material of racist propaganda, which is why people on the left tend not to talk about the Marrochinate.

    You can read about these events and the arguments surrounding them in the one account of the Second World War that you seem to have left out, which is my own Unpatriotic History of the Second World War, published by ZER0 books last year. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Unpatriotic-History-Second-World-War/dp/1780993781

  8. https://www.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/campaigns/tackling-rape-weapon-war
    http://www.unicef.org/sowc96pk/sexviol.htm
    Even mainstream ‘liberal’ organisations acknowledge sexual violence as an integral part of war.
    I’m finding this discussion very strange because I assumed the mass rapes by the Red Army were widely accepted as fact. I had no idea until today there was any controversy about the fact that it happened, only the usual apologism of the kind described and minimisation of how significant it was. But I thought that about men killing two women a week in domestic violence too – and discovered that is widely disputed on the left as well.
    This is half the working class we’re talking about. Remember them? The people we’re meant to represent?

  9. When he led the Red Army, Trotsky sent out a very stern warning to his soldiers that they should never harm prisoners-of-war under their jurisdiction. The contrast between this principled stance and the appalling actions of the army bearing the same name 25 years later, and the justification for them by Stalin, shows the degeneration that took place over that time. Perhaps we have been reluctant to face fully the dreadful degree of that degeneration, that a force set up to fight for human liberation had turned so quickly and thoroughly into its opposite when it came to its conduct towards women in Germany.

  10. I guess I’m stunned that this was ever doubted. My mother was a child of 7 in Berlin when the Russians came, and she told me stories of how our family tried to evade the Russian army. Luckily, my grandmother was clever enough to rub herself down in filth and made herself undesirable, but my mother said many of her friends – under 12 years old, even – were raped. They also nearly arrested my grandfather and sent him away to “hard labor,” which few men, I understand, returned from. They were stopped when my mother rushed forward and hugged his legs and sobbed and begged him not to go – they took pity on her. When my family returned to their apartment (they had tried to leave the city), it had been ransacked by Russian troops who pooped in the bathtub, washed in the toilet and tore the heads of my mother’s dolls. They were terrifying, and relief only came after the Americans were assigned to their part of the city.

    It had always been presented to me so matter-of-factly that I’m amazed that other people never knew, or worse, never believed. Rape has always been a part of war. I don’t believe any army has avoided seeing conquered or occupied women as theirs to do with as they like.

  11. ‘Joe Bloggs’ clearly has a point when he writes about the mass of rapes that took place when the Red Army occupied East Europe and Germany. These rapes happened and should not be minimised.
    One reason that many people have been reluctant to give these events the weight they deserve is that the threat of rape at the hands of the Soviets was a feature of Nazi propaganda during the war. In 1944, the commander of the Nord Army Group issued the following Order of the Day:
    ‘Ilya Ehrenburg [the Soviet propaganda officer for the Red Army] is urging the Asiatic peoples to drink the blood of German women. Ilya Ehrenburg insists that Asiatics should enjoy our women. “Take the flaxen-haired women they are your prey”, he says.’ [Ehrenburg did make anti-German statements, but this is clearly an invention]
    After the war, also, the Federal German Republic carefully documented and propagated accounts of rape at the hands of the Red Army. In 1953 a Federal German government sponsored project, Documentation of the Expulsion of the Germans from East Central Europe published several volumes of testimony of atrocities, much of it of the rape of German women at the hands of Soviet troops. Some of the material that Joe Bloggs cites is material collected by the Documentation Project.
    The Documentation Project did not stop at recording rape. It interpreted these events through the prism of race, as the Nazi propagandists had before. The editors wrote that ‘these rapes were the expression of a manner of behaviour and mentality, which for European sensibilities is inconceivable and repulsive’. The racial lens through which the editors viewed the rapes was not so surprising. The head of the Federal Government Documentation Project was former Nazi Theodor Scheider.
    Frau Anitta Graesser remembered that the Russians were all ‘Asians’ who ‘rode camels, wore high spiked, white fur hats’. One victim interviewed by historian Anthony Beevor for the BBC Timewatch Programme, broadcast in May 2002 remembered that she had been set upon by ‘hordes of Mongols with slitty eyes.’ In fact the Mongolian People’s Army – a force subordinated to Soviet command was used exclusively on the Eastern Front, in Manchuria.
    Joe Bloggs cites Paul Mattick’s 1948 account of the occupation of Berlin. But Bloggs has left out one aspect of Mattick’s account. Mattick writes ‘The loot had been promised to the Russian troops – mostly made up of Mongolians’. According to Mattick the troops were later rotated ‘the Mongolians [sic] retreated to the hinterland’ and adds that this change softened the occupation ‘they were now forced to buy their women’. But even the Russians were racially inferior:
    ‘What kind of people were these Russians?’ asks Mattick ‘Had they been so totally demoralized by years of campaigning that they forgot all the so called civilized ways of behaviour? Or did they come from Russian regions so backward that any comparison with western standards was at once unfair and impossible.’ (Partisan Review, October 1948, p1110-1112)
    He goes on to recount how these Russians did not know the difference between the bath and the toilet, and many other stories of their ignorance of the basics of civilisation. Mattick was only as good as his sources, and those sources saw the occupation through racial eyes.
    None of this means that rape was not endemic under the Soviet occupation. But it does mean that the accounts of rape were heavily racialised in Germany propaganda before and after the war, which might explain why some on the left have been reluctant to share those stories.
    For more information, you can read my own book, The Unpatriotic History of the Second World War, ZER0, 2012.

    • In central Europe, in the inter-war period & the 1940s, talk of the Asiatics & the Mongols didn’t refer just to people from Mongolia, it was a general designation. A Kazakh would be ‘slitty-eyed’, & so a Mongol – Prince Philip had his predecessors.

      The tone of the time finds evidence, for example, in Stanislaw Witkiewicz’s ‘Insatiability’, 1930. This paragraph from its English wiki entry is accurate:

      “The utopian story takes place in the future, around 2000. After a battle, Poland is overrun by the army of the last and final Mongol conquests modelled on the Bolshevik revolution. The nation becomes enslaved to a fictional Chinese leader Murti Bing. His emissaries give everyone a special pill called DAVAMESK B 2 which takes away their ability to think and their will to resist. East and West become one, in faceless misery fuelled by sexual instincts.”
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insatiability

      So Americans & Brits weren’t the only ones subject to the spectre of Fu Manchu. The ‘Yellow Peril’ was everywhere, even justifying the White Australia policy. It was intrinsically gendered, sexualised, & violent, witness this drawing:

      So besides the Russian Slavs there were their Mongol accomplices. A truly terrifying prospect.

  12. I don’t believe the left (at least the non-Stalinist left) deliberately trivialised or covered up the rape of German women. However, there has certainly been a degree of avoidance or just plain ignorance of this topic. In the latter respect, I have to plead guilty myself. While I was aware that many rapes had occurred towards the end of the WW2, I had not realised the sheer scale of the tragedy until I read Beevor’s book this summer.
    Could it be that the absence of discussion of this topic in the works of socialist historians and writers is because most of them are men? Apart from the case of those wearing Stalinist or Pabloite blinkers, I can see no other explanation ….

  13. 1) The 2008 cinematic interpretation of the Berlin woman’s memoir is in HD, in a single upload, with English sub-titles, at yt:

    It has been shown at least twice on German-language terrestial TV (the 3sat channel) & the scheduling was significant: in 2011 it was on just before midnight on a Friday, but in August this year progress, 8.15pm on a Saturday.

    2) Relevant books include Merridale’s ‘Ivan’s War’ (2005), and Neitzel & Welzer’s ‘Soldaten’ (2011; the 2012 English version has the same title; based on the transcripts the Brits & Americans made of their widespread bugging of German & Italian POWs during WW2, c. 150 000 pages).

    3) The effects of war on women is a neglected theme but there is another glaring one: the oppression of children. However it is the subject of a 3 hour German-language documentary, ‘Kriegskinder’, first broadcast in 2009, & repeated in the last few days on the Phoenix channel:
    http://www.phoenix.de/kriegskinder/510440.htm (episode 1 of 4, which has a link to #2, & so on)

    It is noteworthy that at no point did it mention children suffering sexual violence – Jo Bloggs presented some of this data, including second-order evidence such as ‘raping’ become a new children’s game.

    Why this double neglect by historians & socialist/anarchist revolutionaries? Rhetorically one can draw an analogy: to cite the wit, if men got pregnant would the science & provision of birth control have been so tardy? Fundamentally the neglect of sexual violence, humiliation in war, & how children have been used, is an expression of applying to research a human ontology that relegates to a subsidiary position gendered & aged relations; socialist/anarchist revolutionaries have largely done this too.

    4) I have been able to assemble in just over 24 hours enough German- & Russian-language materials (both primary & secondary) to form the basis of a journal article if anyone is interested.

    • Thank you very much Jara – I’m putting some of this onto my next post.
      The point about children “playing rape”, referred to twice by different observers in my post I took to mean that children acted out what they had seen around them, as the mass rapes were carried out publicly in the streets, or in homes in front of families. Children act out what they have seen, and I found the image of children “playing rape” afterwards particularly disturbing

  14. Missing from all this dialogue is the fact men globally in peacetime and during mens’ war on other men always engage in mens’ favourite occupation, which is raping and subjecting women and girls to male sexual violence. British male soldiers, American male soldiers also committed mass rapes and male sexual violence against women and girls so don’t fool yourselves it is a ‘left issue.’

    The real issue is mens’ centuries old male pseudo sex right to females of all ages which is the issue and this is why male historians continue to deny women’s reality of living in a world wherein men continue to enact their pseudo male sex right to female bodies.

    These books document the fact allied soldiers were not the only ones perpetrating male sexual violence against women and girls. Male French men who claimed they were helping Jewish women and girls hide from the Nazis, also subjected many of these women and girls to rape. Being female means to males being sexually available for males to rape and use for their sexual entertainment.

    But will men en masse recognise this centuries old male psuedo sex right to female bodies? No because recognising this means males having to accept they are accountable and far better to blame ‘those over there than those males in our midst.’

    Solidaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying – The Secret Second World War Tapes – this book documents what male German prisoners of war discussed amongst themselves when they were imprisoned by the Allies. Unsurprisingly the male German soliders boasted amongst themselves of raping innumerable ‘other mens’ women and girls’ and these male rapists all viewed their crimes as ‘male sexual entertainment.’

    The Comfort Women by George Hicks discusses and documents Japanese male soldiers’ pseudo sex right to females during wartime.

    (Male) Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During The Holocaust by Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel. This book discusses the reasons why mens’ pandemic sexual violence against Jewish and note non-Jewish women and girls was another despicable male nasty secret which could not be openly acknowledged by men because it would turn mens’ world upside down!

    Just in case men believe such acts of male sexual violence against women and girls are now longer relevant consider this latest research on pandemic male pseudo sex right to females of all ages.

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/26/rise-women-coerced-into-sex-uk-survey-finds?CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

    Males living in the UK continue to enact their pseudo male sex right to females because males have subjected one in ten women to rape and yes it is rape whenever a male decides he is the one who will initiate sexual contact irrespective of the woman’s wishes. Male created rape laws are designed to protect men because only males accord themselves the right of sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies.

    So before engaging in a discussion of why ‘left wing male politicians refuse to accept male perpetration of sexual violence against women in war time’ consider the glaring fact that males of whatever ethnicity; race; political persuasion all believe and/or justify male pseudo sex right to females of all ages. Then you males just might possibly begin to discuss how and why innumerable males continue to enact sexual violence against women and girls and think does malestream pornography reinforce mens’ pseudo sex right to female bodies? Because malestream pornography whilst not solely being responsible for male sexual violence against women and girls does justify said male sexual violence because central is mens’ continuing misogynistic belief that only man (sic) is human and women aren’t human because we lack what defines man (sic) which is that fragile piece of flesh called the penis!

    Don’t bother to mansplain the claim ‘not all men are rapists’ because this rape apologism isn’t about you – it is about the fact men collectively benefit from mens’ belief it is their innate right to have sexual access to any female if they so choose. Just because some men believe they aren’t rapists doesn’t magically erase the fact male sexual violence against women is pandemic and has existed for centuries. I do not see men en masse shaming those males who commit sexual violence against women and girls but I certainly see men en masse colluding; excusing; justifying male pseudo sex right to females.

    Think of this before you rape apologists swarm the comments section all hysterically claiming ‘not all men are rapists!’

    • Thanks for your considered reply Hecuba.
      My piece was only intended to raise awareness of one small part of rape denial – yes of course theres more than just the Russians, or wars.
      I’m doing a follow up piece soon and I’ll add the books you mentioned, and will try to deal with some of your points about men.

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