1:What Critics 2: Was I right to call it a cover up? 3:But aren’t the Stalinists to blame? 4:Too Little!Too Late?? 5:Doesn’t rape happen in all wars? 6:So is it about men? 7:Further reading and viewing
Well, the critics I wanted to hear from the most remained silent on the issue of the millions of mass rapes carried out by the Red Army in the final months of World War Two. There has been a phenomenal amount of discussion about the left and rape cover-ups amongst the writers and commenters at the hilariously mis-named “Socialist Unity” and “Weekly Worker”.Socialist Unity has reminisced about the equally mis-named German Democratic Republic. But as far as I know/google, they have nothing to say about the Soviet Army’s systematic rape of over two million women just like the rest of the anti-Stalinist left. Rather naively perhaps, I’d hoped that Socialist Unity at least would put my piece on their blog, as they have let me advertise meetings in the past.
However, I was pleased that my most serious blog piece soon became the most viewed, with many positive and thoughtful comments on both the facebook link and in the comments column. There’s now another good facebook discussion around this piece) There have been a few issues I would like to answer, a few points to clarify, more questions to ask, and a few more pointers to reading or viewing on this painful subject.
Was I right to call it a cover up?
Some people have argued that it wasn’t really a cover up as the full scale and horror of the mass rapes wasn’t really known about on the left.
I have have tried to show, there is plenty of evidence going back to the war.
Susan Brownmiller’s “Against Our Will”, published nearly 40 years ago, covers the subject, and other mass rapes in wars, extensively. Many socialists read this, if only to criticise her for being a “radical feminist” or supposedly saying that all men are rapists so don’t bother with this book.
The left historians of World War Two may have only been following the “mainstream” narratives of war. But why were they doing that? Surely the task of radical and Marxist historians is to reflect the reality of ordinary people, half of whom are women. Its 40 years since Sheila Rowbottom had to write “Hidden From History”. Haven’t we learny anything since then?
Furthermore, since the 1970s,left writers analysed rape. I remember SWP members talking about Brownmiller’s book in the 1980s,reading it on Womens Studies courses, and Sheila McGregor’s ISJ article refers to it. But not a single mention of mass rape in war.
This is a question I asked in the last piece. I am still waiting for a satisfactory answer, and perhaps an apology is in order here too.
When groups on the left like the SWP closed down its Womens’ Organisation, Women’s Voice over 30 years ago, members were told that womens issues were important for the whole party, not just the women members. But it seems like in reality, without women meeting together the certain aspects to womens opression were then not discussed properly by anyone.
I believe this partly explains why many SWP members, including the leadership, responded so disgracefully to the allegations against the National Secretary.
But aren’t the Stalinists to blame?
In the sense that they systematically covered it up. Even Hobsbawn has nothing to say on the subject in his “Age of Extremes”. In fact the Socialist Unity Party rulers of the new East Germany must have benefited from the mass fear that rapes by their political mentors and backers had created across Eastern Germany. The issue was a huge taboo in the USSR – though so were the rapes of ten million women in the USSR by the occupying nazis.
This argument reminds me of those overgrown teenagers in their forties who act like idiots and say they can’t help it because their families fucked them up.
There comes a point when everyone must take responsibility for their actions.
Of course, we need to understand how hard it must have been for a tiny band of Trotskyists, Council Communists, Marxist-Humanists etc to rediscover a genuine liberation-Leninism buried under Stalin’s counter-revolution. But its over 40 years since the New Left, the Women’s Liberation Movement and Stonewall. Now, at least in the English speaking world, the Stalinists are the tiny band.
Its time we grew up.
Too Little! Too Late??
In my original piece, I wrote of the absence of left-writers on Red Army war rapes “If somebody can prove me wrong I would be overjoyed”.
I am certainly pleased to hear that Neil Faulkner’s ‘A Marxist History of the World’ (Counterfire/Pluto, 2013) covers the subject. He writes “When the Soviet Army entered German territory in 1944, it began a rampage of state-sanctioned and wholly indiscriminate murder, rape and destruction. An estimated two million women were raped, many of them repeatedly. Such was the terror that 14 million civilians fled their homes and trekked westwards in the largest mass migration in history.”
As much as this inclusion is a vast improvement on no mention at all of the rapes, I can’t help wondering whether Faulkner’s inclusion is a consequence of the coverage of the subject by writers like Beevor, and the republication and film of “A Woman In Berlin”. Now, Unicef and Amnesty talk about war and rape, and much has been produced about the Red Army and rape in recent years, even though one motivation may well be to smear socialism. My point remains valid I feel that as self-proclaimed “Tribunes of the Opressed”, it should have been the left historians fighting to get the mainstream ones to unbury this previously hidden piece of history.
Perhaps more importantly, while it was important for left analyses of rape to focus on rape within families and relationships rather than the mainstream dominant view of rapist = stranger-down-dark-ally, it must be able to explain
- Why it is men who rape, and not women
- Why such a huge percentage of men “became” rapists in situations like the whole Eastern Front in 1945. Is Beevor right to say “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”? And if so, how does that fit in to any socialist-feminist or Marxist understanding of man and rape?
Doesn’t Rape Happen In All Wars?
From Bosnia to Bangladesh, from Napoleon‘s armies to Assad’s butchers, rape is of course common in war. It’s depicted in paintings of Troy and Shakespeare’s “Henry V” While it almost totally absent from standard military histories, on another level many take it for granted – almost as if it were a natural part of the mayhem and butchery of armed conflict. However, unless we really do believe there is something inevitable, genetic or natural about a huge percentage of men becoming rapists in certain situations, we need to explain why mass rapes happens.
There is a massive disparity between the hundreds of thousands, millions of rapes carried out by the Red Army, the Nazi War Machine and the Japanese, and the 11,000 by the US Army in World War Two. The US Army committed thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of rapes in Vietnam. Yet in Afghanistan, the US Army like the Soviet Army before it was not involved in rape on anything like this scale.
I will leave in to Jonathan Neale to point to an explanation of the difference.
“Our answer is that the troops do what the generals allow and encourage. We go on from this to a class analysis of rape, sexual abuse and harassment, in which we argue that to understand what is happening you have to start not from the perpetrator but from the managements of organisations, companies and justice systems that systematically cover up and collude, and thereby set the framework for what men do.”
I think this is useful to our understanding of the differences, but as another commenter said “it doesn’t really account for rape unless you understand rape to be something that (some? most?) men desire when permitted. So, we’re back to [the] question of why that would be so”.
So it is about men?
I’m not aware of gangs of women anywhere going around raping or sexually abusing other women, men or children en mass anywhere in history. It is true that some women in the Red Army stood by and felt nothing as German women were publicly raped. And of course some female GIs were involved in the sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. But this is relatively insignificant.Socialist-feminists and Marxists must be able to explain this huge gender difference.
Perhaps this is simply blind faith on my part, but I am still convinced it is possible for human beings to create a society where sexism, sexual abuse, sexual violence and rape are not endemic. There is some debate about whether pre-class societies were free of rape, but I’m not really qualified to comment on. In fact I’m not really qualified to comment on anything – I haven’t the time or resources to study anything in depth. My blog merely attempts to pose questions for the left in the hope that others will provide some answers.
So I will end with more from Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale, who it turned out had been writing only this year about rape and war. But more importantly, rape and war in the context of sexual violence in general, including against gay men and children, and in the context of race and class across different historical eras and cultures.
Their article warrants serious study, and has been followed by some debate in the SWP’s “International Socialism Journal”
“As Roy Porter writes of early modern Europe: “Patriarchy’s scandalous secret…is that it had to be obsessively vindicated—often in grotesque or brutal ways like witch hunting or wife beating. Scolds were routinely chastised if they behaved as though they wore the trousers; fops were taunted, ‘rough music’ directed against cuckolds for letting the side down. Above all, masculinity was systematically beaten into boys. As with army recruits today, early brutalisation was believed to be an indispensable training for later instinctive exercise of authority”.13
When enforcing gender differences, violence is never far away. Mothers and fathers hit immodest daughters; playground bullies beat up sissy boys. The landlord’s enforcer in an Indian village may rape and kill the wife of an insolent labourer. A woman who defies the priest may be driven from the village, and an openly homosexual man may beaten or raped. Women who complain too loudly may be forcibly medicated.”
Neitzel & Welzer “Solidaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying – The Secret Second World War Tapes” (2011, 2012 in English) – this book documents what male German prisoners of war discussed amongst themselves when they were imprisoned by the Allies. Unsurprisingly the male German soldiers 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 (1997) discusses and documents Japanese male soldiers’ pseudo sex right to females during wartime. Tens of thousands of women were forced to work as sex slaves for the Imperial Army.
(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!
Berlin 1945 : War and Rape : “Liberators take Liberties” October Magazine,72 (1995) co-edited by Stuart Liebman and Annette Michelson , an award winning article in the US.
“Ivan’s War :The Red Army 1935-1945, by Catherine Merridale” (2005) Stories from ordinary men and women soldiers of the Red Army,sourcing letters and journals preserved in newly accessible archives, and from many hours of interviews with veterans
Norman Naimark’s “The Russians in Germany.” (1996) The first history of the occupation of Germany to draw extensively on Soviet and East German archives
James Heartfield Unpatriotic History of the Second World War James makes some very useful and informative comments on the original blog post, including this “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”
‘The Struggle for Hearts & Minds: Essays on the Second World War’, 1995, by Ray Challinor
Ray was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party (Trotskyist/Fourth International) during the war and a co-founder of both the Socialist Review Group & IS. Sadly I’ve never seen this book, so I can’t comment on its coverage of the Eastern Front in 1945.
The Socialist Workers party, Socialist Review and Lindsey German
Apparently, Lindsey German, while on the Central Committee of the SWP was keen to talk about mass rapes in war years ago. There may be an article she commissioned in “Socialist Review”, but this is yet to come to light.
Meanwhile, as mentioned above, the party’s quarterly journal has, since the SWP’s crisis over its rape cover-up, has carried some analysis and debate on rape, including Colin Wilson’s critique of SHeila McGregor and John Molyneux’s reply to Colin, Lindisfarne and Neale. Shanice McBeen replies to Molyneux here.
But perhaps some of the better pieces on rape and sexual violence can be found on the opposition blog of Dave Renton
The Socialist Party (England & Wales) : “Combating violence against women: A socialist perspective on fighting women’s oppression”
Like the SWP, the SP had nothing to say about mass rape in war, but one CWI member did take the issue seriously, and pointed out this article.
Following the cover up in the SWP, and their own sexual assault allegations, the Socialist Party eventually produced a (typically) long statement. Their argument is identical to the SWP majority when they write that “Some feminists argue that individual men are the main beneficiaries of the uneven division of labour between the sexes, but while many men may get a few more hours leisure time, this is nothing in comparison with the enormous economic benefits for the capitalist class.”
But they share the views of those in the SWP opposition, and many of those who have recently resigned, when they write “In his book ‘Class struggle & Women’s Liberation’ Tony Cliff, founder of the SWP, argued that the women’s liberation movement was wrong to focus “consistently on areas where men and women are at odds – rape, battered women, wages for housework – while ignoring or playing down the important struggles in which women are more likely to win the support of men: strikes, opposition to welfare cuts, equal pay, unionisation, abortion”.
We countered this narrow approach.”
Perhaps I was most disappointed by Chris Bambery’s failure to mention the rapes since I’d heard and read him more than ayone else.Since I criticised his WW2 articles most, and because he’s a “facebook friend”, I wrote to him offering him a right of reply. I haven’t heard back, but the offer still stands.
A Woman In Berlin : The Film
My initial article began with the story of how I avoided the Red Army rapists issue when I came across this book 25 years ago. Now I couldn’t face it, or the film, but one commenter kindly posted the link to the film, but it says its not available in “my country”.
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.