Spartacist Canada No. 151
On "Age of Consent" Laws
5 October 2006
Just wanted to call your attention to a confusing way of putting things that I found twice in the otherwise very good article reprinted from Spartacist Canada against the repression of youth sexuality.
Spartacist Canada writes: [W]e do not think intergenerational sex is by definition abusive, nor do we think incest is a priori a crime to be punished by the bourgeois state and, further down, We do not accord the capitalist state the right to decree the age at which youth may engage in consensual sexual activity.
I dont understand what the words bourgeois and capitalist are doing qualifying state in these two sentences. Naturally, we would be no less intransigently opposed to the criminalization of consensual sex by a (presumably deformed) workers state. I understand that the legal age of consent in Cuba is 16 for Cubans and 18 if the older partner is a foreigner, and thats just for male-female sex—homosexual activity at any age can mean prison.
Elsewhere the article spells out the basic line quite clearly: As long as those who take part agree to do so at the time, no-one, least of all the state, has the right to tell them they cant do it.
Hands off Mark Foley!
Our article Canada: Anti-Sex Crusade Targets Youth, Gays (WV No. 876, 15 September [reprinted from SC No. 150, Fall 2006]) was written about the Canadian governments plan to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16. Alan H. asks why we specified our opposition to capitalist and bourgeois state interference in private sexual matters between consenting individuals. The state is not an abstraction; the reactionary age of consent laws are the work of the capitalist state in all its concreteness. Just to be clear: the other references to the state in this article are also to the capitalist state. Indeed, in opposing the capitalists laws criminalizing sexuality, we point toward a future socialist society. And as our article states, this is part of the struggle to lay bare the ways in which the bourgeoisie maintains its grip on the working people.
Alan H. writes that we would be no less intransigently opposed to the criminalization of consensual sex by a (presumably deformed) workers state. Indeed, we oppose Cubas age of consent laws. A healthy workers state would, as the Bolsheviks did following the 1917 Russian Revolution, move swiftly to eliminate the web of laws that enforce the oppression of women and buttress the repressive institution of the family. But a workers government would have to reckon with the legacy of the capitalist society that went before:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.
—Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)
Our reader is quite correct that Marxists oppose state interference in private consensual sexual matters on principle. At the same time, Marxists differentiate between private sexual relations and institutionalized practices that are oppressive to women. Thus, social reality varies greatly from country to country, presenting special problems and tasks for proletarian revolutionaries. In countries that never experienced bourgeois revolutions, where women are held to be little more than the property of their patriarchal masters, womens liberation requires fighting to end such institutions as the bride price and the veil. In Iran, for example, where child marriage is legal and common, a workers government would prohibit child marriage, along with the buying and selling of women.
The heavy burden of the tsarist past confronted the Bolsheviks as they sought to make their liberating program a reality in a terribly backward, overwhelmingly peasant country. We explored this in depth in The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 59, Spring 2006). Well cite but one example here. The Bolsheviks new marriage and divorce laws were very popular, but as we wrote:
Given womens traditional responsibilities for children and their greater difficulties in finding and maintaining employment, for them divorce often proved more problematic than for men. For this reason the alimony provision was established for the disabled poor of both sexes, necessary due to the inability of the state at that time to guarantee jobs for all.
As our Spartacist article explains, the Stalinist bureaucracy abandoned the communist commitment to fight for womens liberation. The official glorification of family life and the retreat from Bolshevik policies on divorce and abortion were products of the political counterrevolution that usurped political power from the working class. But despite bureaucratic degeneration, the central gains of the Russian Revolution—embodied in the overthrow of capitalist property relations and the establishment of a planned economy—remained until the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, and those gains were reflected in the material position of women.
As for Cuba, a bureaucratically deformed workers state, it is not the case that homosexual activity at any age can mean prison. For decades, homosexuals were persecuted by the Stalinist Castro bureaucracy, at times viciously. But in 1997 the laws against homosexuality were removed from Cubas penal code. Today there is greater tolerance for homosexuality, although homophobia remains widespread. The Cuban Stalinists uphold the family, which in turn reinforces machismo nationalism, as opposed to the revolutionary Bolsheviks, who deplored the institution of the family and sought to replace it.
As we wrote many years ago in Women in Castros Cuba (Women and Revolution No. 6, Summer 1974):
The creation of a revolutionary international capable of leading revolutions in the advanced countries as well as in the underdeveloped ones is necessary for the victory of socialism. The Spartacist League therefore works for the rebirth of the Fourth International. Until Cuba is able to industrialize fully, without the pressures of world imperialism and without the betrayals of the bureaucracy, the full emancipation of Cuban women cannot be achieved
A genuine socialist society in Cuba, whose construction will require a political revolution in Havana to overthrow the Stalinist Castroite regime, will be profoundly different from the society which we see there today. Workers democracy will take the place of the present cliquist bureaucracy, and the conditions of material abundance will provide the basis for womens emancipation and equality for the first time in modern history.