Assisting the M.E. patient in managing relapses and adrenaline surges

This is a backup of the page Assisting the M.E. patient in managing relapses and adrenaline surges on the Hummingbird’ Foundation website, for use when that site is offline or unavailable in a particular country.

M.E. patients have strict limits on how active they can be. If these limits are breached, symptoms worsen immediately and there is also a further deterioration 24 – 48 hours later, as well as the potential for repeated or severe overexertion to prevent any type of recovery, or cause disease progression or even death.

This paper explains how carers, doctors, and also friends and family members and partners of M.E. patients, can help patients to avoid overexertion and so have their best possible long-term health outcome. It also describes the characteristics and signs of adrenaline surges and relapses in M.E. for the benefit of these individuals, as well as for newly ill M.E. patients themselves.

This paper is designed to be read together with the more detailed Hospital or carer notes for M.E.  paper.

one-page summary of the text is also included on this page plus links to several short HFME videos on this topic.

See the Downloads section below to download this paper in Word or PDF format.

This paper is also including in the new HFME book Caring for the M.E. Patient.

 

Assisting the M.E. patient in managing relapses and adrenaline surges

Copyright © Jodi Bassett November 2010. Updated March 2012. From http://www.hfme.org

M.E. patients have strict limits on how active they can be. If these limits are breached, symptoms worsen immediately and there is also a further deterioration 24 – 48 hours later, as well as the very real potential for repeated or severe overexertion to prevent significant recovery, cause disease progression or even death.

It is very important that M.E. patients stay within their limits. Unfortunately, M.E. patients may find staying within these limits all of the time very difficult for a number of reasons.

This paper explains how carers, doctors, and also friends, family members and partners of M.E. patients, can help patients to avoid overexertion and so have their best possible long-term health outcome. It also describes the characteristics and signs of adrenaline surges and relapses in M.E. for the benefit of these individuals, as well as for newly ill M.E. patients themselves.

This paper is designed to be read together with the more detailed Hospital or carer notes for M.E. paper.

 

What is an adrenaline surge and how does this affect M.E. patients?

People with M.E. can sometimes operate significantly above their actual illness level for certain periods of time thanks to surges of adrenaline – albeit at the cost of severe and prolonged worsening of the illness afterward.

Adrenaline is often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ hormone as it kicks into action in situations of potential danger. However, adrenaline also kicks in when the body is in physiological difficulty, which is very often what is happening to severe M.E. sufferers. Adrenaline surges make the heart pump faster and raise the blood pressure, forcing blood around the body with greater force to supply the muscles with more oxygen, so that they can make a greater effort. Surges of adrenaline increase the metabolism. They also relax and dilate the airways so that more oxygen than usual can be taken in. Adrenaline surges can also decrease the amount of pain felt. As a result of all of these factors, adrenaline surges – while they last – have the ability to increase physical speed, strength and other physical abilities.

Unfortunately, when these bursts of adrenaline wear off – as they must – people with M.E. are left far more ill as a result for many days, weeks, months or even years of overexertion. People with M.E. are harmed by adrenaline surges, both by the physiological stress to the body of the changes caused by adrenaline, and by the extra activity which adrenaline enables, which may be far beyond the body’s normal limits so that such activity causes damage. For every short term ‘gain’ there is a far greater loss overall.

Surges of adrenaline can last hours, days, weeks or even months at a time.

These adrenaline surges are a bit like credit cards. They allow patients to do things that they could never otherwise do, or ‘afford.’ But the interest rate is extortionate, sky high, a killer. As Clytie, a very ill M.E. patient, explains:

i try to xplain this one in terms of money
ok, yoiu could buy a ferrari, coulnd’t you?
no, i don’t have the money
oh, but you could borrow lots of money, sell your house, talke up dealing drugs, gamble, and in the end you’d have your ferrari
<blank look>
maybe for a day or so, before the l,oan sharks shoot your kneecaps off, and the gangs blackmail you, and you have to find a way to rerpay all that money… could take you a lifetime
<rather frightened look>
yeah. yioyu get the point

M.E. expert Dr Melvin Ramsay explains;

The degree of physical incapacity varies greatly, but is directly related to the length of time the patient persists in physical effort after its onset; put in another way, those patients who are given a period of enforced rest from the onset have the best prognosis. Since the limitations which the disease imposes vary considerably from case to case, the responsibility for determining these rests upon the patient. Once these are ascertained the patient is advised to fashion a pattern of living that comes well within them.

 

Why do M.E. patients sometimes overexert themselves, considering the severe consequences?

There are many reasons why this occurs, including the following:

  • Once a patient gets going, stopping can be very difficult. This is due to neurological problems with stopping and starting new tasks easily, and also because once an adrenaline surge has occurred, it takes a long time to wear off.
  • When a patient has become very ill from overexertion or is in the middle of an adrenaline surge, judgement can be affected, and the patient may be lost in the moment and not realize how important it is for them to stop what they are doing as soon as possible.
  • Resting after a relapse is often very difficult for the M.E. patient emotionally. It can be very difficult to lie in a dark quiet room in extreme pain and worse, with no distraction from it. It can be tempting to keep the adrenaline surge going in a small way, to put off the crash. (A bit like drinking more alcohol the day after a night of heavy drinking to delay the inevitable horrible hangover.)
  • Many patients with M.E. have been treated appallingly in the earlier stages of their illness. Medical abuse is very common. Patients have often been told or forced to keep pushing through their limits and that this is what they must do if they ever want to recover. This ignorant advice has forced many patients to develop a very high tolerance for pain and discomfort – and this can be a real obstacle when it comes to training oneself to rest appropriately when experiencing minor symptoms. Patients have often become very used to paying a high price afterwards for every little bit of fun they have or every task they do, and have had to accept this as a way of life for so long that change can be difficult.
  • Many patients, along with much of the general population, have a very strong work ethic and at times find not pushing themselves to do things very difficult. M.E. patients need a level of discipline at least as high as the average Olympic athlete to control and restrict all their activities so completely for years.
  • M.E. is an acute onset disease which means that patients go from healthy to very disabled from one day to the next. Being so disabled so suddenly is shocking and takes a long time to get used to. Particularly in the early years of M.E., patients often feel the need to constantly push at the boundaries to work out where their limits are. This is also often tied to denial of the realities of the disease, and a desire to keep ignoring physical limits in the madly optimistic hope that this will make them go away as quickly as they came.

Other reasons include:

  • Due to the brutal severity of M.E., some M.E. patients must overexert just to live or to have a little bit of basic human contact.
  • Many M.E. patients overexert themselves as they have no other choice, unfortunately, and do not have the appropriate financial or practical support they need due to the political situation facing M.E. patients. Patients with M.E. are also often forced to overexert themselves in order to get the welfare payments they are entitled to (and need to have to survive) and to try and get some basic medical care.
  • Many M.E. patients are told that ‘everyone recovers, it is just a matter of when, and at most you will be well in 5 years’ by ignorant doctors, websites and patients that do not understand the massive difference between the neurological disease M.E. and mere post viral fatigue syndromes. Thus they have no idea that there is a big long-term cost with every short-term relapse, and by the time they do get this information it is often far too late and they have become severely affected and greatly harmed their chances of future recovery.
  • Many M.E. patients are told that they are not ill, and that they cannot do things simply because they believe they can’t. This incredibly abusive brainwashing can lead many patients to again and again try and push past their limits in a brave but misguided effort to ‘mind over matter’ the disease. Unfortunately, many patients have so much faith and trust in their doctors that they ignore what they know to be true about their own bodies and their disease for many months or even years, often ending up severely affected and very disabled.

 

What signs may indicate a relapse or an adrenaline surge?

Signs that a M.E. patient is overexerting and/or running on adrenaline may include the following:

  • Very fast and continuous talking is a sure sign of an adrenaline burst. Speech may also become very loud as the patient becomes unable to modulate their volume level. This may also be accompanied by fast and jittery movements. Speech may make evident feelings of euphoria, over-excitability or wild optimism and will often be less well-considered than normal. The patient may also sit up or stand for longer than usual (without realising they are doing so) or get fired up to undertake tasks that they would usually be too ill to do. (Big cleaning or organisational tasks for example.)
  • After or during an adrenaline surge, sleeping and resting is very difficult as the patient feels ‘wired’ and very “unfatigued”. Sleep onset may be delayed for many hours, perhaps leaving the patient unable to sleep until mid-morning or unable to sleep that night at all. The patient may also only be able to sleep for one or two hours at a time, awaken for a few minutes many times during the night, and/or may experience very light sleep where the slightest noise wakes them up.
  • Particularly in the first few years of the disease, patients may sleep, or be unconscious, for much longer than usual after overexertion, perhaps 12 – 16 hours or more. In very severe cases, the patient may be unable to maintain consciousness for more than a few hours a day.
  • When suffering a severe neurological episode M.E. patients may be mistaken for being drunk or high on drugs. They may slur their words, talk very fast and ramble, seem euphoric and have very poor balance.
  • A lack of facial expression and ‘slack’ facial muscles and/or extreme facial pallor.
  • A burning sensation in the eyes and/or an inability to tolerate visual stimulus and to keep the eyes open.
  • Excessive water drinking (to try to boost blood volume).
  • Excessive hunger and a desire for sugar- or carbohydrate -rich foods. Even after eating, the patient may still feel as if they have very low blood sugar and may need to eat far more often than usual.
  • Sweating or shortness of breath after minor exertion.
  • Visible shaking of the arms or legs or twitching facial muscles.
  • Paralysis and weakness in the muscles or an inability to move, speak or understand speech.
  • Sudden loss of ability to walk.
  • Very sore throat and/or painful and tender glands in the neck (and possibly other flu-like symptoms).
  • Very distinctly pink, purple or blue feet or legs, with white blotches, after standing or sitting for too long.
  • Patients may complain of a severe headache or feeling of pain or pressure at the base of the skull. This may also be accompanied by pain behind one or both eyes or ears, or blackouts.
  • Sudden onset ringing in the ears or loss of hearing.
  • During and after overexertion, a patient’s pulse will very often become much faster (150 bpm or more), their blood pressure will become lower and their temperature may rise and they may feel very hot (or alternating very hot and very cold). Pulse and/or temperature measurements may be useful in determining when a patient is overexerting. As blood pressure readings tend to only be severely abnormal when the patient is standing or sitting upright – which in itself causes relapse – this test will often be counter-productive and inappropriate.

Other things to be aware of:

  • Sometimes when the patient is running on adrenaline, it is very obvious that this is what is happening. The patient is able to do more than usual but feels very unwell and wired; a bit like they haven’t slept in days but have had a LOT of coffee. At other times, particularly where the adrenaline surge is long-lasting, the adrenaline effects can be more subtle and can easily be mistaken for genuine wellbeing for a period of time.
  • When a patient declares that they are improving and suddenly able to do tasks again which they have not been able to do for many months or years – and this occurs right after a very big task has been completed such as a house move or a very taxing trip to the doctor, it is almost certainly an adrenaline surge and not a real improvement. The big task was well beyond their limits and so the body has releases a surge of adrenaline just to cope.
    Unfortunately, this type of lower-level but prolonged adrenaline surge will often be less easily recognized for what it is by the patient, especially where there are problems with memory and placing events which occurred weeks ago in the appropriate timescale. (Events which occurred more than a few days ago may be forgotten, or seem to have occurred much longer ago than they actually did.)
    This type of adrenaline surge can sometimes fool even the most experienced M.E. patients. Having hope of improvement replaced with the realities of a severe relapse can be very disheartening, to say the least.
  • When a patient regularly pays a big price for doing small tasks but then suddenly pays only a small price for a big task, suspect an adrenaline surge. There is just no such thing as a free lunch with M.E., unfortunately. (No expected relapse indicates use of the ‘credit card’ or that the patient’s body is ‘writing cheques it can’t cash!’)
  • Often a considerable rest period is needed before and after a task, which may be hours, days, weeks or months long. For example, someone may need 2 weeks rest before an outing, for example, and may then spend 3 weeks extremely ill afterwards recovering from it. The need for a long rest period before a task is a sign that this task is not within usual limits and will probably require an adrenaline surge to be completed and so be detrimental to the patient’s long-term health.
    Ideally, a patient will only complete tasks which can be done daily or every second or third day without causing relapse. The goal is to do only 80% of the activity that can be done sustainably each day.
  • Thanks to adrenaline surges, a patient may spend several hours one day a week studying or working and then 6 days extremely ill and disabled, or be able to struggle through study or work part-time and spend the other half of their week as well as all their weeks off and end of year holiday time extremely ill and disabled. This type of schedule can only be kept up for a few years at best, as the patient becomes sicker and sicker and less able to bounce back from relapses.
  • Some patients will manage their limits very carefully but still exhibit signs that they are running on a low level of adrenaline most or all of the time. This is likely an indication that more rest is needed and that more challenging tasks should, if possible, be scaled back or discontinued.
  • When the adrenaline surge starts to wane, the patient will often feel very irritable. Part of this is due to problems with blood sugar and so eating a substantial meal can help the patient feel better both physically and emotionally. Cravings for sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods are common at this time, but a meal containing some protein, fat and some low GI and GL carbohydrate foods is a better choice. Part of this is also an emotional response, as coming down form an adrenaline high is very difficult emotionally. A patient has just had a reminder of how it might be if they were not as ill and disabled, and also has a significant worsening of their symptoms and disability level.
    The patient may also feel very cold and shaky and even more sensitive than usual to light and noise as an adrenaline surge starts to wane.
  • When a person with M.E. starts to rest after an adrenaline surge, it takes a little while for the adrenaline to wear off. So the patient will start resting and slowly start to feel more and more unwell. Unfortunately the patient will have to go through a period of feeling much worse, in order to feel better. Starting to feel worse shows that the adrenaline is wearing off and that the patient is resting properly. The period of feeling very ill may last for hours, days or weeks or longer, depending on how ill the patient is and how severely they overexerted.
    In contrast, when a M.E. patient who has not overexerted rests they will feel better right away and this improvement may continue to build over time. Thus feeling much more ill after a period of resting is another sign that the patient has been running on adrenaline and overexerting.

 

What can you do to help?

  • When you notice fast talking, and other signs of an adrenaline burst or surge, encourage the patient to slow down. Perhaps remind them that the sooner they rest, the better off they will be.
  • When a patient is talking very fast and very loudly, subtle reminders to speak more quietly may be helpful. (Remember that slow slurred talking may in fact be a very good sign of health and of living within limits!)
  • When you notice a patient sitting or standing up when they do not need to, or for longer than they can usually cope with, a reminder to lie down may be helpful as the patient may not realise that they are standing up for too long.
  • When the patient has completed a big task that was far beyond their limits out of necessity, be aware from the outset that this will cause a surge of adrenaline to be released. This surge will affect the patient during the event but probably also for some days or weeks or months afterwards. The patient may feel somewhat less ill and be able to do some tasks which they haven’t managed for some time. But tasks done using adrenaline surges come at a very high cost long-term and so must be strongly discouraged and absolutely never encouraged.
    Making sure that the patient is aware of this characteristic of M.E. before a big task is completed and before they tragically misinterpret these signs of serious overexertion and illness as a desperately wanted improvement in their condition can only be helpful.
  • When a big adrenaline surge has occurred, the only way to stop it is to make sure that the body is no longer placed in physiological difficulty. For the severe M.E. patient, this will mean at least 3 days of complete rest. (The time period of rest needed will vary with how severe and prolonged the surge is and how ill the patient is.) Adrenaline will stop being released when the body is at rest and time has passed allowing the adrenaline in the system to wear off.
    Severely affected patients will need almost complete rest constantly, to avoid adrenaline surges and relapses in symptoms.
  • Do not instigate conversations with a patient when they are trying hard to come down off an adrenaline surge. You may ruin hours of solid resting by asking a question that forces the patient’s body to have to rely on adrenaline again in order to reply. If possible, write down any questions you have so that the patient can answer them in their own time and in the way easiest for them. When patients are severely affected and can’t speak often, you may want to devise a system whereby they can reply to yes and no questions or questions with 2 options using hand signals or printed cards.
  • If possible, if you are a carer who visits the patient’s home for a few hours a day, make a set time to talk to the patient so that they do not have to be in ‘on’ and ready to talk the whole time you are there. Staying ‘on’ may require an adrenaline burst and leave the patient very ill afterwards even of you only spoke to them very briefly. Having to be ‘on’ in case of interaction is almost as taxing as actually talking, for many patients.
  • When you speak to a M.E. patient who is very ill or relapsing, speak slowly, calmly and somewhat softly. Do not speak loudly or shout. Do not ask stressful or difficult questions when the patient is at their most ill or if it is not their ‘best’ time of day.
  • Don’t repeat things unless you are asked or indicated to do so. M.E. patients often have a significant time delay in understanding spoken words, and they may rely on a period of silence after each statement in order to understand what you have said.
  • For more information on how to appropriately treat M.E. patients and help them to avoid relapse please see the following two essential papers:Hospital or carer notes for M.E. and also Why patients with severe M.E. are housebound and bedbound.

 

How should you use this information?

This paper largely focuses on patients who are at the severe end of the moderate continuum to severely affected patients who are almost entirely bedbound. It will have to be adjusted somewhat for patients who are more moderately affected, or extremely severely affected.

How much assistance and guidance you give a M.E. patient to help them minimise relapses depends on several factors. These include how close you are to the patient, how receptive they are to input from you, how ill the patient is and how well they are managing their symptoms and relapses themselves.

M.E. patients understand their own limits very, very well almost all of the time. All they may need from you is the occasional verbal reminder to lie down or to rest.

Perhaps in most cases, just the fact that you have a desire to help and have read this paper and that you both have a solid understanding of the challenges they face and the nature of M.E. relapses will be enough. Knowledge is power.

 

Conclusion

It may seem obvious that M.E. patients would always do what is best for their long-term outcome, but this is not always the case. M.E. is a very difficult disease to manage. M.E. patients are very often sick to death of all the resting, carefulness and explaining required of them and so anything that you can do to help is very welcome.

Thank you for taking the time to read this paper.

Relevant HFME videos

More information

For more information on adrenaline surges in M.E., and the different order in which certain bodily systems may be affected by M.E. (and by overexertion), see the Dr Cheney section inThe effects of CBT and GET on patients with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis orTreating Myalgic Encephalomyelitis – Avoiding Overexertion. See also Hospital or carer notes for M.E. and Why patients with severe M.E. are housebound and bedbound.

For more information about the medical and political facts of M.E. see:What is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis? Extra extended version and Who benefits from ‘CFS’ and ‘ME/CFS’?

If you know someone with M.E. and want to know how to deal with it, and what you can do to help, then please read So you know someone with M.E.?

M.E. patients and those involved in determining treatment for M.E. patients may wish to look at theHealth, Healing & Hummingbirds website which discusses treatment for M.E. generally, and also treatments which may assist normal adrenal function (such as extra B complex and vitamin B5, high-dose vitamin C, vitamin A, unrefined sea salt and ashwagandha).

All M.E. patients need to have their cortisol levels checked regularly. Low cortisol levels are well documented in M.E. In some cases testing may indicate very low cortisol levels and a prescription for low dose prednisone may be required. See Testing for M.E. for more information.

To read a list of all the articles on this site suitable for different groups such as M.E. patients, carers, friends and family, the ‘CFS’ misdiagnosed, doctors or severe M.E. patients and so on, see theInformation Guides page.

Assisting the M.E. patient in managing relapses and adrenaline surges – Summary

It is very important that M.E. patients stay within their limits in order to prevent relapse and disease progression and so that chances for significant recovery are not destroyed. This paper explains how carers and loved ones of M.E. patients can help patients to avoid overexertion and so have their best possible long-term health outcome.

 

People with M.E. can sometimes operate significantly above their actual illness level for certain periods of time thanks to surges of adrenaline released when the body is put in physiological difficulty – albeit at the cost of severe and prolonged worsening of the illness afterward. These adrenaline surges are a bit like credit cards. They allow patients to do things that they could never otherwise do, or ‘afford.’ But the interest rate is extortionate.

 

Signs that a M.E. patient is overexerting or running on adrenaline, may include the following:

  • Very fast, loud and continuous talking is a sure sign of an adrenaline burst. The patient may also sit up or stand for longer than usual (without realising they are doing so) or get ‘hyper’ and fired up to undertake tasks that they would usually be too ill to do. Sleeping and resting is very difficult as the patient feels ‘wired’ and very ‘unfatigued.’
  • A lack of facial expression and ‘slack’ facial muscles and/or extreme facial pallor.
  • A burning sensation in the eyes and/or an inability to tolerate visual stimulus and to keep the eyes open.
  • Excessive water drinking (to try and boost blood volume) and excessive hunger and a desire for sugar- or carbohydrate –rich foods. Even after eating, the patient may still feel as if they have very low blood sugar and may need to eat far more often than usual.
  • Sweating or shortness of breath after minor exertion or a sudden loss of the ability to walk.
  • Visible shaking of the arms or legs or twitching facial muscles.
  • Paralysis and weakness in the muscles or an inability to move, speak or understand speech.
  • Very distinctly pink, purple or blue feet or legs, with white blotches, after standing or sitting for too long.
  • Patients may complain of a severe headache or feeling of pain or pressure at the base of the skull. This may also be accompanied by pain behind one or both eyes or ears, or blackouts.
  • Sudden onset ringing in the ears or loss of hearing or sore throat and painful glands in the neck.
  • During and after overexertion, a patient’s pulse will very often become much faster (150 bpm or more), their blood pressure will become lower and their temperature may rise and they may feel very hot.

 

When a patient declares that they are improving and suddenly able to do tasks again which they have not been able to do for many months or years – and this occurs right after a very big task has been completed such as a house move or a very taxing trip to the doctor, it is almost certainly an adrenaline surge and not a real improvement. Improvements just do not occur after overexertion in M.E. this way. The big task was well beyond their limits and so the body has released a surge of adrenaline just to cope. Unfortunately, this type of lower-level but prolonged adrenaline surge will often be less easily recognized for what it is by the patient.

 

Tasks done using adrenaline surges come at a very high cost long-term and so must be strongly discouraged and absolutely never encouraged. You might gently remind the patient to lie down and rest if they sit up for much longer than usual, or are talking very fast and far more than usual, and so on. Do not instigate conversations with a patient when they are trying hard to come down off an adrenaline surge as this can undo hours of resting. If possible, make a set time to talk to the patient so that they do not have to be in ‘on’ and potentially ready to talk for hours at a time as this is almost as taxing as actually talking for many patients.

 

The only way to stop an adrenaline surge is to make sure that the body is no longer placed in physiological difficulty. This often means 3 days or more of absolute rest. While some of the effects of overexertion are immediate there are also secondary relapses that are delayed by 24 – 72 hours. Ideally, a patient will live long-term only completing tasks which can be done daily or every second or third day without causing relapse.

 

In most cases, just the fact that you have a solid understanding of the challenges patients face, understand the nature of M.E. relapses, and know how to help to not make things harder, will be helpful enough. Thank you for taking the time to read this paper. Please see the full-length version for more information.

References

The foundations of the pathology and symptomatology described in this text are well documented. For referenced information on the importance of avoiding overexertion in M.E., cardiac insufficiency in M.E., deaths in M.E. patients caused by overexertion, circulating blood volume being reduced to 50% or less and very low blood pressure readings in M.E., severely reduced cortisol levels in M.E. and the delayed effects of overexertion in M.E. etc. please see: What is M.E.? Extra extended version,Testing for M.E. andThe effects of CBT and GET on patients with M.E.

What is not as well documented, however, is the exact nature of the relapses and adrenaline surges in M.E. The details on adrenaline surges included in this paper have been taken largely from hundreds of patient accounts shared with me both privately and in various online groups over the last 10 years or so, as well as my own experiences as a long-term M.E. patient. The feedback I have had so far from M.E. patients that have read this paper has been overwhelming and very positive. It has probably gotten the most positive feedback of almost any paper I have written, and the most responses as well. Further comments and suggestions from knowledgeable patients or doctors are always welcome.

Reference list:

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  • Dowsett, Elizabeth MBChB. n.d. d, Brain problems in ME – is there a simple explanation? , [Online], Available: http://www.hfme.org/wdowsett.htm
  • Hooper, M. 2003a, The MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT: PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS? A CONSIDERATION OF THE ROLE OF PROFESSOR SIMON WESSELY AND OTHER MEMBERS OF THE “WESSELY SCHOOL” IN THE PERCEPTION OF MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS (ME) IN THE UK [Online], Available: http://www.hfme.org/whooper.htm
  • Hyde, Byron M.D. & Anil Jain M.D. 1992,Clinical Observations of Central Nervous System Dysfunction in Post Infectious, Acute Onset M.E. in Hyde, Byron M.D. (ed) 1992, The Clinical and Scientific Basis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Nightingale Research Foundation, Ottawa, pp. 38-65.
  • Hyde, Byron M.D. & Anil Jain M.D. 1992a, Cardiac and Cardiovascular aspects of M.E.: A Reviewin Hyde, Byron M.D. (ed) 1992, The Clinical and Scientific Basis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Nightingale Research Foundation, Ottawa, pp. 375-383.
  • Hyde, Byron M.D. 1992, Preface in Hyde, Byron M.D. (ed) 1992, The Clinical and Scientific Basis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Nightingale Research Foundation, Ottawa.
  • Hyde, Byron M.D. 1998, Are Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and CFS Synonymous Terms? [Online], Available: http://www.hfme.org/whydesynonymousterms.htm
  • Hyde, Byron M.D. 2003, The Complexities of Diagnosis in (ed) Jason, Leonard at et al. 2003Handbook of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by Ross Wiley and Sons, USA. Available:http://www.hfme.org/whydepapers.htm#390405053
  • Hyde, Byron M.D. 2006, A New and Simple Definition of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and a New Simple Definition of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & A Brief History of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis & An Irreverent History of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome [Online], Available:http://www.hfme.org/whydepapers.htm#390405053
  • Hyde, Byron M.D. 2007, The Nightingale Definition of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis [Online], Available: http://www.hfme.org/whydepapers.htm#390403648
  • Hyde, Byron M.D., Bastien S Ph.D. & Anil Jain M.D. 1992, General Information, Post Infectious, Acute Onset M.E. in Hyde, Byron M.D. (ed) 1992, The Clinical and Scientific Basis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Nightingale Research Foundation, Ottawa, pp. 25-37.
  • Ramsay, A. 1988, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Postviral Fatigue States: The saga of Royal Free Disease, Gower Medical Publishing, London.
  • Ramsay, Melvin A. 1986, MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS : A Baffling Syndrome With a Tragic Aftermath. [Online], Available: http://www.hfme.org/wramsay.htm
  • Ramsay, Melvin A. 1989, ME Association Newsletter, Winter 1989: pp. 20-21.
  • Ramsay, Melvin A. n.d., The Myalgic Encephalomyelitis syndrome [Online], Available:http://www.hfme.org/wramsay.htm
  • The 25% M.E. Group. 2004, SEVERELY AFFECTED ME (MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS) ANALYSIS REPORT ON QUESTIONNAIRE [Online]. Available: (link in title)

Before reading any of the above links to research/advocacy information, please be aware of the following facts: 
1. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) and ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome'(CFS) are not synonymous terms. The overwhelming majority of research on ‘CFS’ or ‘CFIDS’ or ‘ME/CFS’ or ‘CFS/ME’ or ‘ICD-CFS’ does not involve M.E. patients and is not relevant in any way to M.E. patients. If the M.E. community was to reject all ‘CFS’ labelled research as ‘only relating to ‘CFS’ patients’ (including research which describes those abnormalities/characteristics unique to M.E. patients), however, this would seem to support the myth that ‘CFS’ is just a ‘watered down’ definition of M.E. and that M.E. and ‘CFS’ are virtually the same thing and share many characteristics.

A very small number of ‘CFS’ studies/articles and books refer in part to people with M.E., but it may not always be clear which parts refer to M.E. The A warning on ‘CFS’ and ‘ME/CFS’ research and advocacypaper is recommended reading and includes a checklist to help readers assess the relevance of individual ‘CFS’ studies (etc.) to M.E. (if any) and explains some of the problems with this heterogeneous and skewed research.

In future, it is essential that M.E. research again be conducted using only M.E. defined patients and using only the term M.E. The bogus, financially-motivated disease category of ‘CFS’ must be abandoned.

The research referred to on this website varies considerably in quality. Some is of a high scientific standard and relates wholly to M.E. and uses the correct terminology;. Other studies are included which may only have partial or minor possible relevance to M.E., use unscientific terms/concepts such as ‘CFS,’ ‘ME/CFS,’ ‘CFS/ME,’ ‘CFIDS’ or Myalgic ‘Encephalopathy’ and also include a significant amount of misinformation. Before reading this research it is also essential that the reader be aware of the most commonly used ‘CFS’ propaganda, as explained inA warning on ‘CFS’ and ‘ME/CFS’ research and advocacy and in more detail in Putting Research and Articles on M.E. into Context.

 

Acknowledgments

Thank you to Caroline G. for editing this paper. Thank you to Victoria for suggesting the topic of this paper. Thank you to Victoria, Frir, Clytie and everyone else who contributed to this paper.

 

Quotes

i feel sick,foggy, achy, weak, dizzy, jangly but not yummy old fatigue: like you get when you have walked to the beach, or dug a garden bed, or shopped til you dropped.

Barbara LR. M.E. sufferer

M.E. appears to be in this same family of diseases as paralytic polio and MS. M.E. is definitely less fulminant than MS but more generalized. M.E. is less fulminant but more generalized than poliomyelitis. This relationship of M.E.-like illness to poliomyelitis is not new and is of course the reason that Alexander Gilliam, in his analysis of the Los Angeles County General Hospital M.E. epidemic in 1934, called M.E. atypical poliomyelitis.

The Nightingale Definition of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) by Dr Byron Hyde 2006

M.E. is a systemic disease (initiated by a virus infection) with multi system involvement characterised by central nervous system dysfunction which causes a breakdown in bodily homoeostasis (The brain can no longer receive, store or act upon information which enables it to control vital body functions, cognitive, hormonal, cardiovascular, autonomic and sensory nerve communication, digestive, visual auditory balance, appreciation of space, shape etc). It has an UNIQUE Neuro-hormonal profile.

Dr Elizabeth Dowsett

There is ample evidence that M.E. is primarily a neurological illness. It is classified as such under the WHO international classification of diseases (ICD 10, 1992) although non neurological complications affecting the liver, cardiac and skeletal muscle, endocrine and lymphoid tissues are also recognised. Apart from secondary infection, the commonest causes of relapse in this illness are physical or mental over exertion.

Dr Elizabeth Dowsett

In all M.E. epidemic or endemic patients the patients represent acute onset illnesses. The fatigue criteria listed here can be found in hundreds of chronic illnesses and clearly defines nothing.

A New and Simple Definition of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and a New Simple Definition of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & A Brief History of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis & An Irreverent History of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by Dr Byron Hyde 2006

This illness is distinguished from a variety of other post-viral states by a unique clinical and epidemiological pattern characteristic of enteroviral infection. Prompt recognition and advice to avoid over-exertion is mandatory.

Dr Melvin Ramsay & Dr Elizabeth Dowsett

[Legitimate descriptions of the illness are] a far cry from the hopelessly inadequate description of M.E. as ‘chronic fatigue.’ The distinction between fatigue and M.E. needs emphasising. If you are tired all the time, you do not have M.E. If you are feeling drained following a viral illness but are recovering over weeks or months, you do not have M.E. A central problem is the word ‘fatigue’ which doesn’t come close to describing how sufferers can feel – comatose might be better. Like most people with M.E. I have acquaintances who say, ‘Oh I feel tired at 4pm too, and would love a snooze.’ But that’s not it. Minds and bodies do not function. This is nothing like fatigue. 
Lynn Michell in ‘Shattered: Life with M.E.’ p 6

If patients draw down their lifestyle to live within the means of the reduced cardiac output, then progression into congestive cardiac failure (CCF) is slowed down, but if things continue to progress, a point will be reached where there is no adequate cardiac output, and dyspnoea will develop, with ankle oedema and other signs of congestive cardiac failure. In order to stay relatively stable, it is essential for the patient not to create metabolic demand that the low cardiac output cannot match.
Dr Paul Cheney

Dr. Paul Cheney explained how the bodies of patients are choosing between lower energy and life, or higher energy and death. On a physiological level, patients live in a near-death suspension, making patients feel much like they are dying, not tired.

Peggy Munson 2003

There is a difference between diastolic dysfunction and diastolic failure: in diastolic dysfunction there is a filling problem but the body is compensating for it and achieving enough cardiac output to match metabolic demand. Diastolic failure begins when the body can no longer compensate and there is a reduction in cardiac output. This is seen in 80% of patients. In order to stay relatively stable and avoid heart failure, it is essential for the patient not to create metabolic demand that the low cardiac output cannot match.

Dr Paul Cheney

Patients have a high heart rate but a low cardiac output. There is a cardiac dimension that is independent of (but not excluding) autonomic function or blood volume. It’s hard to talk about a low cardiac output without talking about the involvement of the brain and the adrenal glands. A mismatch between metabolic demand and cardiac output, even very briefly, will kill. If the cardiac output goes down, in order not to die, there is a rise in noradrenergic tone (also involving the adrenal glands) to bring the output back up. This is a serious problem, because when the adrenals are exhausted, there will be low cardiac output. There is no such thing as an [M.E.] patient who is NOT hypothyroid: this has nothing to do with thyroid failure, but everything to do with matching metabolic demand and cardiac output. 
Dr Paul Cheney

Order of sacrifice in cases of declining microcirculation; First is the skin; second is the muscles and joints; third is the liver and gut (patients can usually only tolerate a few foods); fourth is the brain; fifth is the heart; sixth is the lung and lastly is the kidney.

Dr Paul Cheney

Among the major causes of death in [M.E.] is heart failure: 20% die of heart failure. There are two types of heart failure: systolic (which is a failure to eject) and diastolic (which is not a failure to eject, but a failure to fill properly). There are two types of diastolic heart failure: primary relaxation deficit giving rise to decreased cellular energy as seen in [M.E.] and secondary relaxation deficit as seen in hypertension, diabetes and the elderly over age 75. Primary relaxation deficit is a disorder that seems to have gone right under the radar of most cardiologists (who focus on the secondary relaxation deficit). Diastolic heart failure was first described in the 1980s but there was no significant literature until the 1990s, and no significant way to measure it until 2001. One is just as likely to die of diastolic heart failure as from systolic heart failure.

Dr Paul Cheney

If your illness is ME, the main thing you can do to help yourself is not push beyond your limits. I seriously damaged my health by pushing myself to continue at work after I became ill. I bitterly regret that now. I wish I had had access to Jodi’s Hummingbird website at that time, which gives the all-important message that we must not push beyond our limits. Lesley, M.E. patient taken from Group comments on the importance of avoiding overexertion in M.E.

ME “old-timers” all say the same thing. Please take really good care of yourself, and don’t get into the mindset of “needing” to push yourself because of things you want to do in the future. When you have ME, it’s important to NOT push yourself, so you’ll still be able to do those things in the future! You deserve to take really, really good care of yourself, especially right now, in the beginning.
I did the same thing too (pushing through, and over-exerting), and I regret every moment of it. If you are still within the first few years, and it IS really ME, please slow down the pace of your life – you still have a chance of a meaningful recovery if you’re very careful. I wish I could go back and do it all over, but since I can’t, I wanted to tell you that you can avoid the mistake we’ve made. I am now totally disabled, and during my “healthy times”, I am doing good to leave the house for a couple hours 2 times a week (and there are a LOT of ME patients much worse off than me!). I also go through periods when I deal with a worsening of my symptoms (like now) and these periods are especially difficult to deal with (bed bound, house bound, etc for extended periods). Sarah, M.E. patient taken from Group comments on the importance of avoiding overexertion in M.E.

My worst acceleration in symptoms was when I was trying to work and go to university at the same time. I really wish I had listened to my body and stopped earlier (although I know this is really hard to do). I might have been able to go back and work part-time or something. As it is, I’m pretty sure the damage is permanent now. I don’t think I will ever be able to work again. On the other hand I am so glad that I did not keep going. I’m sure that I would be a lot worse (scary thought!) if I had. N, M.E. patient taken fromGroup comments on the importance of avoiding overexertion in M.E.

‘Adrenaline surges are one of the best and worst things about M.E. They provide a way for our bodies to cope with overexertion in the short term and they can allow us to attend events that are very important to us (such as funerals, weddings and medical appointments) which we would normally be too ill for. Unfortunately, they also let our bodies ‘write cheques they can’t cash’ and are the reason why so many of us are severely affected. The payback for each adrenaline surge is just so enormous and so prolonged. It can be tempting to rely on them for a while especially when you are first ill, until the whole house of cards inevitably falls down and you are far more ill than when you started, possibly for months or years afterward. Adrenaline surges are also so often misunderstood by others. For example, when I warn a friend that I am having a bad day and may not be up to much while we have our visit, the adrenaline surge phenomena of M.E. sometimes creates an illusion of good health. I get more and more ill as the evening wears on, and when it gets bad enough that my body is in real physiological difficulty, my body floods with adrenaline and I appear to suddenly become quite well. I talk a lot and very quickly. It is frustrating but of course quite understandable that so few people can see the difference between genuine health and vitality, and an adrenaline surge brought on by a health crisis, the latter of which is anything but a sign of good health in the M.E. patient. I don’t expect others to always recognise this sign of a pending relapse, but to have it misinterpreted as a sign of improvement can be hard to take!’  JODI, M.E. PATIENT

If it is ME & you continue to overdo, you may well end up sooooooo much worse than you are now. It happened to Jodi, it happened to me, this determination that we are suffused with in our culture of soldiering through & mind over matter & good people get well…& then we do “fight the good fight”…& with this desease the price is very, very high & can be permanent. Hate to be a harbinger of doom, I know it is hard to imagine being more ill, but you do have an opportunity here to avoid our fate. Hard choices I know. Aylwin, M.E. patient taken from Group comments on the importance of avoiding overexertion in M.E.

Dedication

This paper is dedicated to my dear friend Aylwin Catchpole. Aylwin was the first fellow M.E. patient I met that really understood that the ‘adrenaline surge’ was a part of M.E. and was suffering with it all as much as I was. Over many emailed conversations she helped me understand this phenomenon, and so was very much a contributor to this paper. Aylwin died in 2010 (before this paper was written) and is much missed, but I am sure she would be happy to know that this paper had been written and that hopefully many M.E. patients will get this information at the start of their disease, rather than many years or decades in – like we both did.

For more information on Aylwin see: A memorial page and a memorial fund for Aylwin Catchpole

A one-page summary of the facts of M.E.

Copyright © by Jodi Bassett January 2009 on http://www.hfme.org This version updated August 2009

  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is a disabling neurological disease that is very similar to multiple sclerosis (M.S.) and poliomyelitis (polio). Earlier names for M.E. were ‘atypical multiple sclerosis’ and ‘atypical polio.’
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is a neurological disease characterised by scientifically measurable post-encephalitic damage to the brain stem. This damage is an essential part of M.E., hence the name M.E. The term M.E. was coined in 1956 and means: My = muscle, Algic = pain, Encephalo = brain, Mye = spinal cord, Itis = inflammation. This neurological damage has been confirmed in autopsies of M.E. patients.
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis has been recognised by the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases since 1969 as a distinct organic neurological disease. M.E. is classified in the current WHO International Classification of Diseases with the neurological code G.93.3.
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is primarily neurological, but also involves cognitive, cardiac, cardiovascular, immunological, endocrinological, metabolic, respiratory, hormonal, gastrointestinal and musculo-skeletal dysfunctions and damage. M.E. affects all vital bodily systems and causes an inability to maintain bodily homeostasis. More than 64 individual symptoms of M.E. have been scientifically documented.
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is an acute (sudden) onset, infectious neurological disease caused by a virus (a virus with a 4-7 day incubation period). M.E. occurs in epidemics as well as sporadically and over 60 M.E. outbreaks have been recorded worldwide since 1934. There is ample evidence that M.E. is caused by the same type of virus that causes polio; an enterovirus.
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis can be more disabling than MS or polio, and many other serious diseases. M.E. is one of the most disabling diseases that exists. More than 30% of M.E. patients are housebound, wheelchair-reliant and/or bedbound and are severely limited with even basic movement and communication.
  • Why are Myalgic Encephalomyelitis patients so severely and uniquely disabled? For a person to stay alive, the heart must pump a certain base-level amount of blood. Every time a person is active, this increases the amount of blood the heart needs to pump. Every movement made or second spent upright, every word spoken, every thought thought, every word read or noise heard requires that more blood must be pumped by the heart.

    However, the hearts of M.E. patients barely pump enough blood for them to stay alive. Their circulating blood volume is reduced by up to 50%. Thus M.E. patients are severely limited in physical, cognitive and orthostatic (being upright) exertion and sensory input.
    This problem of reduced circulating blood volume, leading to cardiac insufficiency, is why every brief period spent walking or sitting, every conversation and every exposure to light or noise can affect M.E. patients so profoundly. Seemingly minor ‘activities’ can cause significantly increased symptom severity and/or disability (often with a 48-72 hour delay in onset), prolonged relapse lasting months, years or longer, permanent bodily damage (eg. heart damage or organ failure), disease progression or death.

    If activity levels exceed cardiac output by even 1%, death occurs. Thus the activity levels of M.E. patients must remain strictly within the limits of their reduced cardiac output just in order for them to stay alive.

    M.E. patients who are able to rest appropriately and avoid severe or prolonged overexertion have repeatedly been shown to have the most positive long-term prognosis.

  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is a testable and scientifically measurable disease with several unique features that is not difficult to diagnose (within just a few weeks of onset) using a series of objective tests (eg. MRI and SPECT brain scans). Abnormalities are also visible on physical exam in M.E.
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is a long-term/lifelong neurological disease that affects more than one million adults and children worldwide. In some cases M.E. is fatal. (Causes of death in M.E. include heart failure.)

For more information, and to read a fully-referenced version of this text, compiled using information from the world’s leading M.E. experts, please see: What is M.E.? Extra extended version. Permission is given for this unedited document to be freely redistributed. Please redistribute this text widely.

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Male and female power, and ‘structural analysis’ – avoiding the MRA contagion

There’s an MRA-style position too beloved of economistic socialists — it would be wrong to call them marxists — which treats women’s unsympathetic wordstowards males as being on a par with male-pattern control over women and children, and all the violence and abuse which that entails.

This economism acts as though a sufficient anti-capitalist critique can be accomplished by ignoring capital’s support for male power over women and children, and by blaming DV and rape mainly on ‘poverty and cutbacks’. By avoiding any mention of gendered socialisation and how it is actively enforced, especially via society’s main institutions, from birth.

Real marxists reject the claim that this is any kind of competent ‘structural analysis’.

The failure to get this right makes it impossible to ‘structurally critique’, or understand the inherently oppressive nature of, a key institution of capitalism — the capitalist (male-led) family unit:

+ We can end up endorsing capitalism’s conflation of female self-defence with male attacks on us. And its state institutions’ increased recording and punishment of ‘female violence’ instead of taking action against the male perpetrators (mostly partners or family members) who the women and girls were struggling against.

+ We can end up thinking that male children are as endangered by male-averse women muttering about them as they are by their family. (Statistically, the former are nearly no threat, whereas family and older acquaintances — especially older males — are a large threat.)

+ We can fail to understand the MRA-style psychology of the brocialists who portray as dangerous the women who joke about lopping off penises. Or the psychology of brocialists who joke about women who really do this. In fact, women who joke about doing it are a threat to nearly no man, whereas women abused by men might, very occasionally, do it. Socialists who joke about women experiencing such long-term abuse are no healthy or revolution-promoting force.

Part of male supremacy’s constant policing of women, to keep us too intimidated to oppose it much, is its practice of making us feel like the aggressors no matter what. (Sometimes women are manipulated into enacting this policing on its behalf, ‘jumping down our throats’ at what are merely factual comments about patterns of abuse from men.)

Poststructuralist politics, which have invaded anti-capitalist ideas more than we realise, exacerbate all this by holding that criticism or ‘discourse’ are what oppress us, and by ignoring real, class-based dynamics. Such as capitalism’s institutional enforcement of male power over females — for instance, by ensuring that women and girls who kill men to escape longterm abuse can receive far heftier prison sentences than many murderers do, whereas men who kill their female partners are typically treated more leniently than other murderers.

These postmodernist (‘pomo’) politics have transformed the previously more materialist and structural takes on socialisation. Gendered socialisation is no longer considered an outcome of the sex hierarchy as it is moulded into and reinforced by all major social institutions. Rather, it is considered something more like ‘free-floating ideology’, which individuals can readily recognise and even opt out of. (Even, to listen to some trans activists, something which one can opt into, as if by tuning into the feminine radio station of one’s choice, and tuning out of the masculine one.) Or perhaps something which parents teach their children — or don’t, if they are “gender free”.

While these elements of conscious identification with the dominating or subordinate sexes have some reality (and we do need to keep trying to disengage from male supremacist ideology and practices), these liberal understandings of socialisation:

  • overemphasise the degree to which people are both willing and capable to recognise and challenge their own socialisation. People detrimentally affected by their sex’s socially enforced role have significantly more stake in challenging their socialisation to submit than do those whose socialisation to dominate, and take advantage of, already has society’s backing. Trans women may like thinking of themselves as female, but they tend towards male patterns of criminality, especially in regards to violent crimes.
  • overemphasise how much both the adults in the family unit and the capitalist education system recognise what they are teaching children. Studies have repeatedly emphasised that adults believe they are giving boys and girls equivalent time and attention, when most of it has been spent on the boys.
  • underemphasise the extent to which children learn from all their interactions with the world, and not just from what they are consciously told. Consciousness is not formed narrowly from what we hear, read or see, but also from the responses we get when we interact with the world. However much boys are allowed to like pink, they are still allowed to speak longer before being shushed or ignored, and still allowed to be more adventurous. However sporting girls are, they still learn at some stage that their bodies are considered legitimate sexual harassment targets by males — in school, on the street or socially — and that adults around them, whether family member or teacher, often will not treat all of this as a serious offence. Young men learn that they can walk or jog along the street and attract little inappropriate familiarity, and usually have no idea of the impact on young women of being refused this right.

    Consciousness is very much formed by what we are and are not allowed to get away with.

  • underemphasise already-existing knowledge on how fundamental social change occurs. It does not happen via individual family units deciding in isolation to rear their children gender-free. It occurs via overthrowing capitalist relations of production and misogynist state institutions which reinforce male supremacy, for instance courts which grant abusers access to children under the fathers’ rights belief that “all children deserve a father” (read: “all fathers deserve their children”). Social change occurs via eradicating industries which profit from the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, and establishing a truly participatory democracy. Via a mass feminist movement of women which continues to transform society even after the overthrow of capitalist social relations, being afraid to declare that female boundaries and autonomy are nothing but healthy.

Any assertions that “I, however, was not socialised into gender”, or that “I teach my boy not to dominate or be sexist” are idealist illusions which deny the role of all social institutions, and our exchanges with all the world, in forming consciousness. Heck, they deny the role of the relations of production in forming consciousness. Upending Marx and Engels, they declare that perhaps capitalism itself cannot be nice, but we can all still act nicely and bigotry-free.

They also make us too prone to blame children’s primary care-provider, who is usually their mother, for not having ‘socialised’ the child correctly. As one commenter in a recent Facebook discussion on this pointed out, capitalist impositions on most women make this very difficult:

Poststructuralism makes us too inclined to believe that the point of undertaking a ‘structural analysis’ is less to overthrow oppressive social systems, and more to simply teach children that they are wrong, apparently thus removing the problem of socialisation. Because what kid could retain any degree of conservative psychology after this?

Similarly, we see postmodernism’s socialisation-denying consequences in the outraged declarations by the male-born that they must not be denied entry to spaces where females shower or sleep or socialise, because their agendered or even feminine nature — since by this logic, why should they not be the ones to designate it— makes them no threat. And because gendered socialisation is backed by the endemic, structural and ideological male supremacy of capitalism, we listen to and cater to this outrage — regardless of how the male persons identify.

When males are ‘‘offended’’ by slogans on feminists’ placards like “lesbians exist” and “porn hurts women”, the intentional intimidation that then follows these women relates not just to the words in question (mild and incontrovertible as they seem to be), but to how society is structured around silencing women and catering to male feelings. To understate the issue, society is not built around putting women’s wishes and words into action.

Women can be wrong, and at times our words can lend endorsement to oppression. We should also avoid using terms which objectively satisfy hate-speech criteria. Our words may be validly criticised on the basis of the politics which they support. (And frankly, I don’t joke about penis-lopping since it focusses our attention on venting rather than organising against male power. And will be taken by some male whiners as an opportunity to respond with far more harmful misogyny.)

But when the merely unsympathetic words of the ‘care-provision’ class are regarded as morally and effectively on a par with those whose abuse of females is actively enabled by capitalism’s social structures, we must recognise this as harassment designed to corral us back into our prescribed service role.

Socialism and the Struggle for The Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men: 1995 Australian socialist resolution

From my former party, now defunct.

 

Socialism and the Struggle for The Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men

The Activist – Volume 5, Number 6, 1995

 
By Kath Gelber – 1995

[The general line of this report was adopted by the 16th National Conference of the Democratic Socialist Party on January 8, 1995.]

At our 15th National Conference, held last January, it was decided to draft a new party resolution on gay and lesbian rights. In the report on the revised edition of the party program, we assessed that there were a number of confusions and a lack of clarity among comrades on some of the contemporary issues being debated in the gay and lesbian movements.

We decided to draft a new resolution for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we noted that the language used in the resolution on gay and lesbian rights adopted by our 7th National Conference in January 1979 was outdated. In that resolution, we used the term “gay” to mean both gays and lesbians. As was explained in the introduction to the resolution when it was reprinted in pamphlet form in 1992, that was the terminology that was used in the gay and lesbian rights movement at the time. Since then, the term “gay” has come to be used to refer to male homosexuals.

Furthermore, in the new resolution we have referred to the gay and lesbian movements, reflecting the fact that the movement for gay rights and the movement for lesbian rights have developed differently. The lesbian movement emerged from within the women’s liberation movement as lesbians demanded visibility and their consciousness was raised around their oppression as women and as lesbians. This was different from gay men, who have often been in the forefront of struggles to eliminate anti-gay laws.

Strategy and tactics

In drafting a new resolution on the struggle for gay and lesbian rights, we also wanted to correct a political problem in the 1979 resolution which we had in fact noted at an NC meeting in March 1979, but which has not yet been corrected in a public document on gay and lesbian rights. This problem was evident even in the title of the earlier resolution: “A Revolutionary Strategy for Gay Liberation.” This suggested that we have some specific strategy for winning gay and lesbian rights, which is separate from our strategy for ending any other form of oppression. Our strategy for winning lesbian and gay rights is the same as our strategy for winning women’s liberation or for ending racial discrimination or environmental destruction. It’s the Leninist strategy of building a mass revolutionary workers’ party to mobilise the collective power of the working class and its potential allies to overthrow the capitalist government and replace it with a working people’s government. This is our strategy – our overall plan – for winning gay and lesbian rights.

In the 1979 document there is a confusion between our strategy for ending the oppression of lesbians and gay men and the tactics we advocate for building a movement that fights for the democratic rights of gay men and lesbians. Both of these become subsumed under the phrase “our mass action strategy.”

Mass actions – street marches, rallies, strikes, etc. – are tactics we use in building movements, the aim of which is to mobilise our class in anti-capitalist political action. Our strategy for ending the oppression of lesbians and gay men is to build a revolutionary party to mobilise the working class in mass actions to fight for political power. Building a movement fighting for the democratic rights of lesbians and gay men that relies on mass actions rather than lobbying capitalist politicians, is a tactic to facilitate the implementation of this strategy, to draw working people into independent political action.

Because we have applied the same general tactical line in each of the new social movements that arose out of the youth radicalisation of the 1960s – movements that arose outside the framework of the organised workers’ movement – we slipped into regarding it as our strategy. In the Perspectives Report adopted by the May 1979 meeting of the National Committee, Jim Percy pointed out that:

We developed a tactical line for our political work in the anti-war movement. That’s the first important movement that we become involved in. That’s where we developed, where our ideas developed, where our tactics developed. You must remember how the anti-war movement in this country began, with small committees largely outside the labour movement.

There were marches largely made up of students. As this movement grew to very large proportions it pulled in significant union support. But this union support was not a constant factor. It came out for the big mobilisations at certain critical points but again and again the movement was rebuilt by us posing the question, we need to build mass action, or demonstrations to be more precise.

Again, the women’s liberation movement developed largely outside the labour movement at first. Understanding the reality of the Australian labour movement, that’s no accident. The independent committees, the consciousness-raising groups, developed not in the trade unions, but outside them. We proposed the sort of actions we [had] proposed for the anti-war movement. We used the example of the anti-war movement to say that the women’s liberation movement can win its demands, can move ahead if we do the sorts of things we did in the anti-war movement such as organising the street marches. From a tactical line for the anti-war movement this became our “mass action strategy.” You can see it in resolution after resolution, document after document. At our last conference, our gay liberation resolution, for instance, referred to this “mass action strategy,” as we called it.

Jim Percy then read a passage from the old resolution:

The strength of the homosexual movement lies neither in influential “friends” nor in terrifying cops with flour-bombs, but in the power of masses of people determined to struggle for their rights. The gay movement can win only by relying on its strength: the hundreds of thousands of homosexuals who want an end to their oppression and the hundreds of thousands of “straights” who can be persuaded to support gay rights.

“The Socialist Workers Party therefore favors a strategy of mass action, of mobilising as many people as possible in demonstrations focussed on specific and uncompromising demands.

“Such mass actions are the best way to demonstrate and to increase the strength of the gay liberation movement.”

Jim Percy went on to point out that we generalised this tactical line for each of the social movements so that we slipped into a sort of poly-movementism, i.e., the way to overthrow capitalism began to be seen as adding one movement to another, with each employing mass actions. What eventually get’s left out, is the fact that none of these movements and struggles can really win their demands without the support of the organised workers’ movement.

But our tactical line for the anti-war movement, which began among students, was aimed at winning the support and involvement of the labour movement. And in fact, it was because the movement against the war in Vietnam began to draw support from the unions that it eventually won its central demand – withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam. It was the capitalist rulers’ feared that union support and involvement in the anti-war movement would lead to a broader radicalisation of the working class as a whole, that led them to decide the political cost of keeping Australian troops in Vietnam was too high.

Our tactical line for the women’s liberation movement, which also began among students, had the same strategic goal. i.e., to win the support of and actively involve the organised workers’ movement in the struggle for women’s liberation. Recognising that the leadership of the organised labour movement was hostile to the struggle for women’s liberation, we sought to create the best conditions for drawing more and more workers into the struggle by building mass street marches around particular feminist demands. But over time, we started to slip into identifying this tactical line with our strategy. Protest marches began to be seen as a strategy for winning women’s liberation. United-front type coalitions to organise protest marches began to be seen as a strategy for winning not only women’s liberation, but for overcoming every form of oppression.

This kind of approach leads to other misconceptions; the implication that it is only women who should fight for women’s liberation, or it is only gay men and lesbians who should fight for gay and lesbian rights, which is also not our approach. We support building alliances, strengthening the anti-capitalist movement by taking on board all of the struggles of the oppressed as part of the fundamental transformation of society. This is based on an understanding of what social forces are capable of taking on the ruling class and winning; that the central social force in the struggle to end all forms of oppression is the working class. Through their daily experience of exploitation and oppression workers can learn that the only way to win a struggle is through cooperative unity in action, overcoming divisions based on race, sex and in the labour process between white and blue collar, skilled and unskilled and so on. That is, in order to defend their class interests workers are impelled to overcome the divisions forged or fostered by the ruling class to weaken the fighting strength of our class.

Only by winning the support of the working class as a whole can different oppressed social groups drive back discrimination and oppression, while at the same time moving towards a more fundamental transformation to rid society of the foundations on which such oppression is built.

Social weight and political centrality

This understanding therefore also clearly rejects any notion of a hierarchy of oppression; misleading debates about who is most oppressed. Such debates erect barriers to the building of the alliances necessary to strengthen the anti-capitalist movement. They are fundamentally divisive.

While we reject the notion of a hierarchy of oppression, what we do do, and we do this all the time in determining the priorities for our political work, is make a political assessment of the social weight of oppressed groups and the political importance of struggles against particular forms of oppression. How do we assess the social weight of different oppressed groups and the political importance of their struggles? We do it by looking at their relation to the tasks and line of march of the working class in its struggle for socialism.

For example, our party assesses the social weight and political importance of the struggle against women’s oppression as central to the working class in the struggle for socialism. This is not only because women are a majority in the world, although this is a major consideration. Women constitute a super-exploited section of the work force, and the largest section of the reserve army of labour – both of which are used by the capitalists to hold down the wages and working conditions of the working class as a whole. The working class can’t take state power without combating the discrimination the ruling class imposes upon half its membership, because this discrimination aims at keeping the working class divided, pitting one half of the working class against the other.

Moreover, the struggle against the oppression of women directly challenges the family, the basic socio-economic institution of class society. The struggle against women’s oppression poses a need to replace this fundamental institution, to socialise the tasks performed by women within the family. This poses a direct challenge to class society.

The oppression of gays and lesbians is a by-product of the oppression of women. This was the analysis we made the document adopted in 1979 and it remains our analysis today.

The oppression of lesbians and gay men has many manifestations. They have ranged from ignoring their existence to physical extermination in Nazi concentration camps in World War II. Lesbians and gay men have been subjected to servitude in forced labour camps, denial of their civil rights, assassination by death squads, censorship, imprisonment, castration, clitoridectomy, forced internment in psychiatric institutions, the barring of parents from raising their children, state hangings, dismissals from jobs and the military, shock therapy, family rejection, forced registration with the state, government-sanctioned torture, prison rape, threats of eternal damnation from religious leaders, evictions from churches, and random street violence.

But while there have been many different manifestations of the oppression of lesbians and gay men, homosexuality has not been a basis of systematic super-exploitation within the workforce. Lesbians and gay men do not play a special role in the system of capitalist exploitation of wage labour. While employers in a variety of jobs and professions discriminate against open lesbians and gay men, homosexuals as a group are not subject to the last-hired, first-fired, high-unemployment, low-pay pattern of a super-exploited section of the workforce. The oppression of homosexuality is not a comparable source of direct profits as the oppression of women. Lesbians and gay men are persecuted not for direct economic gain, but as part of the defence of the ideology which justifies the oppression of women through the family system. The social weight and political importance of the struggle against the oppression of lesbians and gay men is therefore less central to the line of march and tasks of the working class in its struggle for socialism than the struggle against women’s oppression.

The nature of lesbian and gay oppression

Lesbian and gay oppression is a result of repressive bourgeois sexual morality, which is an aspect of the ideology used to shore up the family.

Bourgeois sexual morality stigmatises any form of sexual activity that is outside the framework of heterosexual activity within the family for reproductive purposes. It is a fundamentally hypocritical morality. For example, women who are sexually active outside a monogamous relationship are castigated and scorned. Yet men who do the same are not. Women sex workers are criticised for working in their industry and regarded as morally wrong, yet none of this scorn is directed at their male clients.

In preparing this report the National Executive came to the conclusion that some formulations in the draft need to be changed to avoid unnecessary confusion. One is the use of the phrase “homosexuality challenges the ideology of the family.” This would more usefully be phrased “homosexuality contradicts the repressive sexual morality of the family,” that is, bourgeois sexual morality.

Bourgeois sexual morality says that homosexuality – which is clearly not for the purposes of reproduction – is wrong, that it’s an aberration, that it’s unnatural, it’s “against God’s will” and so on. So homosexuality does pose a challenge to this sexual morality.

But the ideology that is used to bolster the family system involves more than sexual morality. For example, it includes the idea that women should bear children and stay at home to care for them, that women should take responsibility for care of the young and the elderly and the sick. This includes the necessity of women staying home and not working, that women do not need economic independence. It asserts that women do not have the right to control their own fertility.

So to change the way we formulate this clarifies our position; homosexuality represents a contradiction to one aspect of the ideology used to buttress and support the family. It contradicts a central aspect of repressive bourgeois sexual morality, which stigmatises all sexual activity outside the framework of sexual relations between married heterosexual couples within the family directed toward the conception of children.

The struggle against lesbian and gay oppression, because it is a struggle against repressive bourgeois sexual morality, has a potentially anti-capitalist dynamic.

Homosexuality and homosexuals

This brings me to another point in the draft resolution that needs to be highlighted. There is a change in our theoretical analysis of the origins and nature of the oppression of gay men and lesbians.

In the document adopted in 1979 we put forward the view that the oppression of homosexuals is a permanent feature of class society. We did not make clear the distinction between homosexual acts, which have existed throughout history and throughout class society, and the identity of “the homosexual” – later gay man or lesbian – which only appears under capitalism.

The origin of homosexual oppression is as a by-product of the oppression of women in capitalist society. It is therefore crucial that we have an understanding of the origins and nature of women’s oppression. That is why we describe this in some detail in the resolution.

But in terms of when, historically, the oppression of homosexuals emerged, we make the point in this document that this is connected with the rise of capitalism. We say that “while homosexual activity has existed in a great diversity of social forms in many human societies, a category of people called homosexuals' has existed in almost none of them. The word homosexual was only coined in the 1860s in German, emerging in English in 1892. The creation of a specific person known asthe homosexual’ is a product of modern societies… Only in the last hundred years… long after capitalism was firmly established in the Netherlands, Britain, France and North America – have gay/lesbian identities emerged in their distinctively modern form.”

This was because capitalism provided – for the first time – the material conditions that made it possible for people engaged in same-sex activity to set up their personal relations on this basis.

Changing family structures and gender roles in the developing capitalist nations combined with industrialisation and urbanisation, created large numbers of people who were able to lead a more independent life outside the constraints of a feudal family structure. These urban communities, made up of new social classes (the capitalists, the urban middle classes and the working class) exercised a greater degree of economic independence and therefore greater possibilities for personal relationships emerged.

While capitalism created the material conditions to make it possible for people engaged in same-sex relationships to live outside of traditional family structures, this also meant that traditional family structures could be undermined. This was one of the contradictions for capitalism.

It was in this context that capitalism needed a repressive sexual morality to tell people that this was wrong, unnatural or evil. Combined with this ideological onslaught there emerged the first anti-homosexual laws. These laws still exist in many places today, and even in areas where the gay and lesbian movement has been able to repeal such laws, repressive sexual morality continues to play its role in promoting homosexuality as wrong or unnatural.

This analysis of the origin of homosexual oppression represents a major change in our theoretical approach. For this reason, a large amount of descriptive material dealing with this point has been included in the resolution. This theoretical analysis is based on factual information which is not readily available. Providing this information in the resolution clarifies for comrades why we have taken this theoretical position.

Other material not widely available or common knowledge has been included in the resolution for purposes of clarification of the political points. For example, the increased lesbian content and the information about the development of the lesbian and gay rights movements in Australia.

This is a programmatic document: it provides comrades with the political framework and analysis for understanding the nature and character of the oppression of lesbians and gay men, and how to fight it. The resolution provides comrades with a framework to understand the debates that exist in the lesbian and gay movements, and our position on them.

In this sense it’s not a conjunctural document, i.e., we haven’t included events that are specific to the current period and don’t help our analysis or understanding, although some of these issues will come up in the report and discussion today.

I want to move on now to discussing some of the sections in the resolution, dealing with some of the debates and confusions in the movements that have emerged since 1979. These form a major part of the new resolution. Clarity on these questions is needed by our comrades, if we are to effectively intervene in the movements. Some of the confusions that reign have, understandably, filtered into the party and have meant there is a degree of confusion within our own ranks.

Identity politics

One of the biggest confusions stems from identity politics, which is very widespread in the lesbian and gay communities; the notion that “identifying” as lesbian or gay, that coming out and being out is a radical political act.

In historical terms the assertion of a homosexual identity has only recently been seen as a political act. Earlier in the development of the movements, “coming out” was an act of defiance, a refusal to accept the social constraints of the day. It broke the rules. Today, while this may in certain specific instances still be true, that is limited. To “come out” today is much less an act of defiance than it once was. And not only is it less an act of defiance, but the logic of identity politics is that that’s all you have to do to be radical. You don’t need to do any more. Being “out” is enough.

The logic of this position is that just being a lesbian or a gay man is radical; that it’s a radical act, a politically progressive act.

We don’t agree with this. We don’t think it’s any more radical to be gay or lesbian that it is to be a woman, or to be black, or to be a wage worker. Being oppressed is not a radical political act. Joining in common action with others to fight oppression is.

Certainly, the recognition of oppression is an essential step is the development of political movements against that oppression. But by itself, recognition of oppression is not a radical political act. This is one of the limitations of identity politics. It does not have a logic of advocating getting involved in a political movement to struggle for the rights of lesbians and gay men. On the contrary, its logic is that you can change society through individual acts, through coming out or even just engaging in same-sex relationships. Ultimately, identity politics is an expression of petty-bourgeois liberalism. This has obvious limitations in the light of what I discussed earlier in the report about our strategy for combating the oppression of lesbians and gay men, our strategy for fundamental social change.

Identity politics therefore seeks to build a movement on the basis of personal choice and individual lifestyle. It draws on the understandable situation under capitalism where, on a social level, gays prefer to live, socialise and work with other gays and the same goes for lesbians. As a political party we don’t take a position on any person’s individual choices about who they prefer to socialise with.

Identity politics attempts, though, to create a movement based on these social ties rather than on political ties, on common political views. It advocates that, for example, a movement for gay liberation should be composed only of gay men, rather than being composed of all those who politically support gay liberation. Or that a a movement against the oppression of lesbians should be composed exclusively of lesbians, rather than of all those who support the struggle against the oppression of lesbians.

An example of the limitations of identity politics is the recent furore in Sydney over Oxford Street, the so-called “gay mile.” In fact, this debate has shown how identity politics lead to reactionary, anti-democratic ideas. Oxford Street contains a large number of gay owned and/or what are now called “gay-friendly” businesses. That means capitalists who have realised they can make money out of a ghettoised community. Some of these capitalists are themselves gay and they publicise this fact because they believe it will give them an edge in a competitive market. And in many senses they’re right. Other capitalists dress themselves up as gay-friendly, they stick pink triangle “Safe Place” stickers in the window of their businesses, they offer 10% discounts to members of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, they put a float in the Mardi Gras parade, or they provide some minimal sponsorship to a community event. There are other ways of proving their gay friendliness, but basically they promote a business to the gay and lesbian communities in the hope that it will become trendy. They usually charge exorbitant prices for their goods and services too. It’s a niche market.

Recently a debate was started when the South Sydney Council, which controls one side of Oxford Street, proposed a refurbishment and zoning plan to upgrade the area and attract “gay” businesses. Included in the proposal was its reverse side; venues “that would be likely to attract people likely to be perpetrators of violence” would not be permitted to set up in the area. That is, businesses that people like the lobby groups feel will attract young heterosexual men, will be disallowed. The Council which controls the other side of the street opposes the plan. Commentators from the gay and lesbian community have had a mixed response. It has been claimed in the gay and lesbian media that doing this represents positive discrimination, or affirmative action for gays and lesbians. One of the phrases quoted was, “there’s nothing wrong with discrimination per se.”

The rationale is to control violence against lesbians and gay men on the street – and this is a real and escalating problem. But of course any push to control the entry of new businesses into the area caters nicely to the profit margins of the capitalists already situated in Oxford Street.

In this debate, some of the lobby groups have supported the proposal to exclude supposedly inappropriate businesses from the area. In their comments and the coverage in the gay press, gay capitalists have been portrayed virtually as automatic representatives of the majority of gays and lesbians as a group, who like the rest of the population are working class.

The social causes of anti-gay and anti-lesbian violence are not discussed or examined. The question of who benefits from anti-gay and anti-lesbian violence is sidestepped, and therefore the question of who can be won as political allies to a movement demanding an end to such violence is not taken up, or understood. This means that heterosexuals are seen as the enemy – on the basis of their identity as heterosexuals.

These views are being expressed by some people in the community who see themselves as the spokespeople for all gays and lesbians. This of course is not the case. Most gays and lesbians are not part of the “gay and lesbian community.”

This approach – of excluding some young heterosexuals from Oxford Street – attempts to solve the very real problem of violence against gays and lesbians by ghettoising the community even further and segregating gays and lesbians from heterosexuals. There is no room for any alliance with heterosexuals who support gay and lesbian rights.

In fact, this issue hasn’t only been the result of identity politics. It has also been framed by its logical extension – separatism.

Gay and lesbian separatism

In the gay and lesbian “communities” separatism is expressed in a variety of forms ranging from lesbian separatist feminists to rich gay men who don’t want women coming to their bars.

Separatism has been a phenomenon in the feminist movement since the second wave. Feminist separatism is based on an analysis of the origins and nature of women’s oppression which identifies men – individually and collectively – as the enemy. Women are subordinated because of men’s manipulation of women’s sexuality and their reproductive role, especially through the use of violence and rape. The primary oppression of women is then generalised to the creation and maintenance by men of all other divisions and inequalities in human society.

Separatists therefore advocate separating from men as a strategy for women’s liberation. You’re therefore not a “real” feminist if you have dealings with men or are not celibate or lesbian.

This current still has its advocates in the lesbian feminist movement, and a recent controversy that has emerged in Sydney illustrates this very well.

A couple of years ago a project called the Lesbian Space Project (now called Lesbian Space Inc.) was launched. The idea was to raise money to buy a centre for lesbians. The fundraising began in earnest long before the specific politics of the project were publicly discussed. The project was advocated in the name of “coalitionism.” The general gay community was asked to donate money to the project, and by doing so they were supporting lesbians and therefore helping to build a coalition. The definition of this kind of coalition work was respecting each others’ rights. This included respecting each others’ right to political independence. Gay men were asked to show their support for coalitionism, and prove they were not sexist, by donating to a project that they were never to be allowed to participate in.

By this logic, the whole notion of political independence of a movement fighting against gay and lesbian oppression became equated with being socially separate; political independence for the lesbian movement has become synonymous with having a space that no-one else is allowed to have anything to do with, but they are expected to support it – especially financially.

When we talk about a movement retaining its political independence, e.g., the women’s liberation movement, we mean it is a movement organised and led by those who are subjected to a particular form of oppression that that movement is fighting against and that it does not subordinate this struggle to the needs and concerns of capitalist politicians. Separatists, on the other hand, confuse political independence with social separateness – and demand their right to do so in the name of “coalitionism.”

This has been the experience in regard to lesbian separatists and the Lesbian Space Project. Recently, the project has been the focus of a heated debate fueled by a group calling itself the Autonomous Lesbian Movement. This group stacked out meetings of the LSP with proxy votes from interstate and voted to ban male to female transsexuals who identify as lesbians from the LSP. This approach was justified as follows:

We are feminist lesbians who identify and define lesbian as female-born. We take an autonomous and proactive position both in defining ourselves, and in our intention to set our agenda according to our own perspective, beliefs and requirements, and not according to those of any other political or social agenda… In recent times there has been a push by lesbian identified male to female tranies to enter into lesbian community and redefine our politics… The fact that lesbian space is in jeopardy, clearly demonstrates the dominant social power of even a small minority of male born people to define themselves as “woman” and “lesbian.”

The LSP organisers claim these tranies deny their claim to the existence of real differences between men and women and force lesbians to accept that female-born bodies “are equivalent to male bodies with some surgically constructed female parts.” The LSP organisers announced after a “community consultation” meeting to only accept as members “lesbian identified women who are born female.”

Queer politics

The separatist group Autonomous Lesbian Movement claims they have formed in response to queer politics, to “reclaim feminism.” Historically, the development of the queer movement was the reverse of this. It followed on from separatism as a reaction to it. Queer politics was based on the idea that anyone interested in or involved in unconventional sexual activity, identity or even dress and appearance, could be part of a so-called queer movement which challenged “straight” heterosexual behavior. It claimed to be inclusive and open, reacting against the separatism and/or identity politics that had been such a big part of the politics of the gay and lesbian “communities.”

Queer political theorists were criticising gay and lesbian identity politics for being not radical enough, for not challenging gender stereotypes. They claimed gay and lesbian identity politics relied on a so-called polar view of sexuality, i.e., that a person is either heterosexual or homosexual. They claimed that under the banner of queer it was possible to unite broad layers of people suffering sexual repression, and that this was in fact a more radical position than traditional identity politics.

In the end, queer politics became the ultimate in identity politics – under a new name. It advocated the adoption of a new, radical identity – the identity of queer which was claimed to be a more progressive identity than that of gay or lesbian, as well as being inclusive of bisexuals, transsexuals, cross-dressers, S/Mers and others engaging in unconventional sexual activity.

Queer politics remained inside the framework of identity politics with all its limitations. Queer politics claimed to solve questions of oppression by virtue of a new label. It advocated unity not on the basis of political agreement around demands directed against discriminatory social practices or a struggle for democratic rights. Membership of queer groups is defined by who you are, what your sexual practices are. In this sense it has the same problems as identity politics – a unity based not on political agreement, but on social ties, with all the limitations that implies.

Queer politics was particularly appealing for bisexuals who had been involved in the gay and lesbian movements for years, often in the forefront of many struggles. Yet due to the combination of identity politics and separatism in the movements, bisexuals were often excluded; branded as “sleeping with the enemy,” or unable to make up their minds because they participate in both heterosexual and same sex relationships. Queer politics provided a framework within which bisexuals could “come out” and not be excluded by gay and lesbian political activists.

Bisexuals suffer particular forms of social prejudice in the gay and lesbian communities as well as in society as a whole, e.g., bisexuals have been blamed for transmitting HIV to heterosexuals or into the lesbian community, by placing people at higher risk. However, there is no institutionalised inequality or discrimination which is specific only to bisexuals.

Many people who engage in so-called unconventional expressions of sexuality encounter prejudicial attitudes. These are a product of repressive bourgeois sexual morality, as outlined earlier in this report. We are against such morality; we are against the interference of the state and society in sexual relations and we are opposed to social prescriptions of any particular forms of sexuality, except in instances where someone is injured or coerced. However, not all those who encounter prejudicial attitudes to their sexual practices are necessarily subject to oppression, i.e., to a systematic material relation of inequality.

Queer politics, however, fails to differentiate between oppression, i.e., social relations of inequality and discrimination, and individual prejudices because of its lack of political focus and its reliance on a social milieu. This can lead to confusion over the kinds of prejudice and oppression bisexuals face. Bisexuals are not subject to any specific form of bisexual oppression. Bisexuals are oppressed only insofar as they express same-sex desire, or engage in same-sex relationships. Social prejudice against bisexuals is a by-product of bourgeois sexual morality’s stigmatisation of homosexuality.

Queer politics has some other drawbacks. Taken to its own logic, queer politics has the potential to be inclusive of coercive and non-consensual sexual behavior, such as paedophilia.

Queer politics also lends itself to notions of a hierarchy of sexuality – those who are most developed sexually are those who identify as sexually fluid, not either heterosexual or homosexual.

However, the key problem with the queer politics perspective, and the one that we want to edit the draft resolution to highlight, is its attempt to substitute a movement based on social ties of “unconventionality” in sexual identity for a movement based on political agreement to fight against concrete manifestations of oppression based on people’s sexual practice, i.e., the oppression of lesbians and gay men.

Lobbyism

Another area I want to look at is in relation to the limitations that exist for us to do work in the gay and lesbian movements is the domination of the lobbyist perspective.

As with other social movements, the perspective of lobbying, or working within the framework of the capitalist parliamentary system, has won a lot of ground. Overwhelmingly the gay and lesbian rights groups that exist work within this framework.

The ALP’s dominance in the lobbying arena is very strong. Many of the community organisations reflect this – Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby for example. As a result, we have limited allies in the movement. The opportunities to build an independent movement that will involve everyone who supports the democratic rights of lesbians and gay men are very limited. Radical sections of the movement are in decline.

One example of the degree of ALP manoeuvring is the recent announcement by Susan Harben of her ALP candidacy for the inner city Sydney seat of Bligh. Harben is a very high profile lesbian, and ex-president of Mardi Gras. The seat is currently held by an independent, Clover Moore – self-styled champion of the gay community. She introduced the anti-vilification legislation and has been marching at Mardi Gras for many years. Harben represents the best chance the ALP has to win back the pinkest seat in Australia. Harben is the first public lesbian candidate.

Discussion so far in the letters columns of the gay press has centred on issues of personal loyalty, for example, how “Clover has done a lot for the community so we should keep on supporting her,” versus how “Susan is a lesbian who works hard in the community and deserves our support.” The magazine Lesbians on the Loose has openly endorsed Harben’s candidacy, on the basis not of her politics, but because she is a lesbian. They say “endorsing Susan is about congratulating her about the courage of her lesbian convictions,” and “We want out lesbian MPs in major political parties that govern in Australia.” She is drawing heavily on identity politics for her support. The question of her membership of the ALP and the ALP’s record on fighting against the oppression of lesbians is avoided.

Our tasks

In conclusion, the most effective way for us to get involved in the gay and lesbian movements at the moment is to use Green Left Weekly, to increase our propaganda work. We need more articles taking up these debates. This resolution is aimed at politically arming comrades for these debates. The biggest obstacle at present to winning gays and lesbians to our perspectives for building an independent movement fighting for lesbian and gay rights is the ideological confusion that exists within the movements. We need to be clear ourselves.

We want to publish the resolution in book form, with a more popular title. We want to have launches in the branches for the book, hold forums on it and workshops. We want to promote it as a key tool for our interventions into the gay and lesbian movements, use it to promote a higher level of debate on issues within the movements today. This book will provide a very useful tool for us overall in our work of integration, education and intervention.

The published pamphlet which contained a version of this resolution:

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Women’s Day in Russia 1917: A day to prepare for victory – John Riddell

John Riddell writes:

“1917: The View from the Streets” – leaflets of the Russian revolution – #5

A leaflet issued by Russian socialists 100 years ago to honor Working Women’s Day anticipated the revolution that began that day.

One hundred years ago, on or about March 6 (February 21, according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time), the Petrograd Mezhrayonka (or Interdistrict Committee) distributed a leaflet regarding International Women’s Day (IWD), coming up in two days’ time on March 8. That day in 1917 became the first day of the Russian Revolution, begun by a strike of women textile workers.

Although the origins of IWD were in the United States, German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin proposed in 1910 the annual celebration of the holiday on March 8 (February 23 in Russia). The holiday was first celebrated on this date in 1911 in Germany and several other European countries. Russia followed with a small demonstration in 1913, but IWD was overshadowed in Russia by May Day and the anniversary of Bloody Sunday (January 9, 1905).

Women demonstrate in Petrograd, 1917

In 1917, Russia’s various socialist groups failed to unite behind common slogans for International Women’s Day and therefore were unable to carry out a joint action. Without a printing press at the time, the Bolsheviks did not issue any leaflets for IWD.

The Interdistrict Committee, authors of the leaflet below, wanted to rally all Revolutionary Social Democrats in order to present a united socialist front against the war, the autocracy, and liberal attempts to draw workers into a patriotic effort to support the war. During 1917 the Interdistrict Committee, which Leon Trotsky joined when he returned to Russia, fused with the Bolshevik current.

According to historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, the Interdistrict Committee intended the leaflet below to educate workers rather than provoke rebellion. None of the male socialists expected that on this holiday, women workers would provide the catalyst for the February Revolution, which would topple the autocracy.

Food shortages had become a routine occurrence by March 1917. On the morning of March 8 (February 23), a fuel shortage in Petrograd stopped bakeries from working. Women (or their children) who had stood in line for hours had no bread to buy. Anticipating the cries of their children hungry for food, women workers reached the limit of their patience. Women textile workers went on strike and appealed to metalworkers to join them. Radical socialists quickly decided to add slogans against the autocracy and war to the calls for bread.

In this way, unexpectedly and on a commemorative day that most radical leftists treated as of minor importance, the February Revolution began.

Selection, translation, and annotation by Barbara Allen.


Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party.

Proletarians of all countries, unite!

Working women comrades! For ten years, women of all countries have observed February 23rd as Women Workers’ Day, as women’s “May First.” American women were the first to mark this as the day to review their forces on it. Gradually, women of the entire world joined them. On this day, meetings and assemblies are held at which attempts are made to explain the reasons for our difficult situation and to show the way out of it.

It has been a long time since women first entered the factories and mills to earn their bread.  For a long time, millions of women have stood at the machines all day on an equal footing with men. Factory owners work both male and female comrades to exhaustion. Both men and women are thrown in jail for going on strike. Both men and women need to struggle against the owners. But women entered the family of workers later than men. Often, they still are afraid and do not know what they should demand and how to demand it. The owners have always used their ignorance and timidity against them and still do.

On this day, especially, comrades, let’s think about how we can conquer our enemy, the capitalist, as quickly as possible. We will remember our near and dear ones on the front. We will recall the difficult struggle they waged to wring from the owners each extra ruble of pay and each hour of rest, and each liberty from the government. How many of them fell at the front, or were cast into prison or exile for their brave struggle? You replaced them in the rear, in the mills and factories. Your duty is to continue their great cause – that of emancipating all humanity from oppression and slavery.

Women workers, you should not hold back those male comrades who remain, but rather you should join them in fraternal struggle against the government and the factory owners. It is for their sake that war is waged, so many tears are shed, and so much blood is spilled in all countries. This terrible slaughter has now gone into its third year. Our fathers, husbands, and brothers are perishing. Our dear ones arrive home as unfortunate wretches and cripples. The tsarist government sent them to the front. It maimed and killed them, but it does not care about their sustenance.

There is no end in sight to the shedding of worker blood. Workers were shot down on Bloody Sunday, January 9, 1905, and massacred during the Lena Goldfields strike in April 1912. More recently, workers were shot in Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Shuia, Gorlovka, and Kostroma. Worker blood is shed on all fronts. The empress trades in the peoples’ blood and sells off Russia piece by piece. They send nearly unarmed soldiers to certain death by shooting. They kill hundreds of thousands of people on the front and they profit financially from this.

Under the pretext of war, owners of factories and mills try to turn workers into serfs. The cost of living grows terribly high in all cities. Hunger knocks at everyone’s door. From the villages, they take away cattle and the last morsels of bread for the war. For hours, we stand in line for food. Our children are starving. How many of them have been neglected and lost their parents? They run wild and many become hooligans. Hunger has driven many girls, who are still children, to walk the streets. Many children stand at machines doing work beyond their physical capacity until late at night. Grief and tears are all around us.

It is hard for working people not only in Russia, but in all countries. Not long ago the German government cruelly suppressed an uprising of the hungry in Berlin. In France, the police are in a fury. They send people to the front for going on strike. Everywhere the war brings disaster, a high cost of living, and oppression of the working class.

Comrades, working women, for whose sake is war waged? Do we need to kill millions of Austrian and German workers and peasants? German workers did not want to fight either. Our close ones do not go willingly to the front. They are forced to go. The Austrian, English, and German workers go just as unwillingly. Tears accompany them in their countries as in ours. War is waged for the sake of gold, which glitters in the eyes of capitalists, who profit from it. Ministers, mill owners, and bankers hope to fish in troubled waters. They become rich in wartime. After the war, they will not pay military taxes. Workers and peasants will bear all the sacrifices and pay all the costs.

Dear women comrades, will we keep on tolerating this silently for very long, with occasional outbursts of boiling rage against small-time traders? Indeed, it is not they who are at fault for the people’s calamities. They are ruined themselves. The government is guilty. It began this war and cannot end it. It ravages the country. It is its fault that you are starving. The capitalists are guilty. It is waged for their profit. It’s well-nigh time to shout to them: Enough! Down with the criminal government and its entire gang of thieves and murderers. Long live peace!

Already the day of retribution approaches. A long time ago, we ceased to believe the tales of the government ministers and the masters. Popular rage is increasing in all countries. Workers everywhere are beginning to understand that they can’t expect their governments to end the war. If they do conclude peace, it will entail attempts to take others’ land, to rob another country, and this will lead to new slaughter. Workers do not need that which belongs to someone else.

Down with the autocracy! Long live the Revolution! Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government! Down with war! Long live the Democratic Republic! Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat! Long live the united RSDRP.

Petersburg Interdistrict Committee

Published in A.G. Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 306-308.

References

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, The February Revolution: Petrograd, 1917, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981, pp. 215-18.

Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016.

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via Women’s Day in Russia 1917: A day to prepare for victory — John Riddell

WoLF, the Religious Right and stealth evangelism

I sometimes think how fortunate Australians are to have less of the extremist Christian Right influence, and then I read this: ‘[In 1991], in an interview with Norfolk, Virginia’s Virginian-Pilot, Reed talked about the organization’s stealth political strategy, a strategy aimed at having Religious Right candidates hide their social agenda, while talking about other issues more attractive to voters, such as lower taxes: “I want to be invisible. I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag. You don’t know until election night.”‘

Reminds me a lot of how former Prime Minister Tony Abbott got elected. He attracted a fair amount of ridicule before the Federal Election for his “lack of policies”, but his slash-and-burn agenda was quickly evident after the poll.

So we need to read about these rightwing stealth tactics.

Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) is, as its name suggests, a feminist group based in the USA, with a few chapters elsewhere.

WoLF, Women’s Liberation Front has solicited and received $15,000 from Alliance Defending Freedom. Members were notified of this in 5 Nov 2016 via email, I got it as I was a member of WoLF. The email said that “WoLF Board member Kara Dansky applied for and received a $15,000 grant from the Alliance Defending Freedom, […]

Since I linked to this piece, it has gone offline. I have been unable to find another version of it but while it mentioned WoLF, most of it was based on a Buzzflash piece on the reasons for the rise of the USA-centred Religious Right. This can be read at Stealth Evangelism 3.0: The Remarkable Resilience of the Religious Right.