Workers Vanguard No. 904
7 December 2007
A Clarification on Logan, Sadism and the British Ruling Class
October 23, 2007
To the editor:
As a longtime sympathizer of the ICL, I was shocked to read in the otherwise effective preface to The Logan Dossier (reprinted in WV 900) the following sentence: “The British ruling class, particularly in its Tory embodiment, has long been notorious in its appetite for blood sports, capital punishment (most recently mere hanging), corporal punishment in its schools and associated sado-masochistic sexual proclivities.”
This can only be read as saying there is something wrong with “an appetite for blood sports” and “sado-masochistic sexual proclivities”—two harmless matters of personal taste with no political or moral implications. And yet I cannot believe the party would endorse such a view.
As for blood sports, Lenin and Trotsky both did some fox-hunting, as did Engels, an enthusiastic member of the Cheshire Hunt. In a letter to Marx he wrote, “That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish excitement for several days; it’s the greatest physical pleasure I know. [...] At least twenty of the chaps fell off or came down, two horses were done for, one fox killed (I was in AT THE DEATH)” (cited in Francis Wheen, Karl Marx: A Life, page 226).
And the suggestion that sadomasochistic sexual tastes are sick and inhumane undermines the party’s forthright line that, as long as everyone involved is willing, what people like to do (or look at or read about) for pleasure is no business of the state or anyone else. I always thought we agreed with Gore Vidal in this area, including when he wrote, “I’m all for bringing back the birch, but only between consenting adults” (provided we pardon him the adults here for the sake of the joke).
Like others whose inclinations stray from those approved by bourgeois morality, people who go in for SM acts or fantasies are targets for reactionary state persecution, perhaps nowhere more so than in...Britain. In 1990, after a four-year-long police investigation in Manchester known as “Operation Spanner,” sixteen men were convicted and some went to jail for taking part in consensual gay BDSM. Some were charged with assault and others, quite absurdly, with abetting in their own assaults. The decision, upheld on appeal, effectively criminalized the SM scene in the UK and drove it underground. This case was recently cited by the British government in its proposed legislation (part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 2007) to make it a crime to possess (!) so-called “extreme pornography.”
That sort of thing goes on here too, of course. In your exemplary review of Capturing the Friedmans (WV 808), Workers Vanguard reported and denounced the ongoing federal prosecution of Extreme Associates, a producer of fantasy rape porn, for sending “obscene material” across state lines through the mail.
As the Spanner case shows, the repression of SM sex can be a pretext for anti-gay persecution. I remember Workers Vanguard’s defense of exhibitions of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, which made use of gay and sadomasochistic motifs, when there were efforts to censor it in 1989-90.
I would hate to see the isolated and inexplicable lapse into squeamishness and prudery cited above in any way muddy the party’s crystal-clear record of defending personal freedom in sexual matters against bigotry and state repression.
Alan H. is right. We did not intend to imply in our indictment of Bill Logan (now a leader of the International Bolshevik Tendency) that we believe voluntary and personal pursuits such as “blood sports” or “sado-masochistic sexual proclivities” are matters to be condemned by the Marxist movement. As we state in the introduction to the two-volume bulletin, The Logan Dossier, “We have published countless articles opposing any interference by the church, state or other agencies in the intimate affairs of mutually consenting individuals.”
The point of the passage Alan cites is not to criticize any form of mutually consenting behavior but to condemn the sadistic brutality historically inculcated by the British ruling class in those who aspired to be the administrators of its colonial empire, a sadistic brutality bound up with the institutions of the monarchy, House of Lords and established church. This was the training Logan brought with him when he used his position as leader of our Australian section in the 1970s to maliciously and sadistically interfere in and destroy comrades’ personal lives. As the preface to The Logan Dossier makes clear, Logan’s “social and educational background lay in New Zealand’s English-style ‘public school’ (elite private school) culture, steeped in imperialist elitism and misogynist sadism.” The sociopath Logan was a creature of his own small nasty bourgeoisie aping the British rulers. Following a meticulous trial, we expelled him from our tendency in August 1979 for crimes against communist morality and elementary human decency.
The sadistic practices and sexual/psychological terror that were part and parcel of life in the British public schools had nothing to do with pleasurable activity and everything to do with maintaining a culture of arrogant bullying. One is molded to take pleasure in manipulating and inflicting suffering and pain on others, particularly those of the “lower orders.” The movie Mutiny on the Bounty (especially the 1935 Charles Laughton version) and George Orwell’s essay “Such, Such Were the Joys,” a chilling description of the unrelenting sadism of his prep school days in Sussex, evoke this vicious world quite well.
Finally, a small point: Our party has no position on “blood sports,” though we would note they aren’t quite harmless for the small creature—a fox, say—that gets torn apart. For every enthusiast like Engels, there’s a more jaundiced view, such as that expressed by Oscar Wilde: “The English country gentleman galloping after a fox—the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.” To each his own.