The Serpent's Egg

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Mon Aug 18 04:23:20 MDT 2003

Hi Chris,

Just a few thoughts, that is all...

"I sympathize, Jurriaan.  I have come to believe that for Marxists relations
between the sexes should be with Marxists as well.""

Well, as a sexual libertarian I don't normally pass social or political
judgement on inter-subjective relationships that people want to have, it's
up to them, I defend their right to have them, without saying that I would
necessarily do the same, or that I can necessarily personally be associated
with just anybody. Some Marxists quite happily have e.g. liberal or
conservative partners, I don't have any problem with that in principle. You
cannot generalise about it all that much in a useful way, all you can say is
that some relationships get in the way of, or prohibit a political
engagement or career, or a politics of a certain type. For the rest,
specific experiential knowledge is required. What I often find objectionable
is people trying to play parent or God over over other people's
relationships, when they really have no mandate to do it, from the people
involved. But even this, may be difficult to judge objectively, without
knowing the precise motives. There is a difference between paranoia and a
genuine healthy revolt against patronising attitudes.

Modern information/communications technology and the mass media create many
new possibilities and systems for manipulating other people's interpersonal
relationships, and through this, personal subjectivities, and this can
become a political issue in itself, extremely important from the point of
view of political organisation. I think many Marxists cottoned on to that
too late, with honorable exceptions. There is a lot more to it, than just
"starting up an outboard motor" type thing. Sexual development has a big
effect on neurological development and life-chances, although this is even
today in many ways still not well-researched in a scientific sense, or its
social implications well-understood. Morality, ideology and cultural norms
get in the way of objectivity here, often.

Marx regarded the relationship between the sexes as a synthetic indicator of
human progress, or the progress of civil society (see the 1844 Paris
Manuscripts). The tragic thing about the modern world is that hundreds of
millions of poor people don't even have the physical energy for satisfying
sex often, because they don't have enough food to eat, i.e. they cannot
express themselves in this species-activity, because they simply lack proper
nutrition. Or because their working hours are too long. Naturally this is
not a theme which you will see featured in the media, but a materialist
knows that there are material preconditions for satisfying sexual activity,
such as enough food and water, and freedom from disease. Love is a popular
subject, but social (non-individual) and materialist considerations about
the topic are rather few. It is clear to me that, compared to the granite
hardness of proletarian radicals in the future, a hardness produced by
adversity and the destruction of all sentimentality by capitalist society,
I'm just a bit of a "softy". I don't say that you have to be tough to be a
good radical, but toughness is a factor in winning a fight.

Some people think that sexology is irrelevant to socialist politics, but I
think that every socialist party ought to have at least one well-trained
resident sexologist really up with the play, it's a fast-changing field.
There is a whole new generation of young people out there in the world,
looking at it demographically, and if you cannot relate to their concerns
specifically, you might lose them. And sexuality is one of their
preoccupations, that's undeniable.

The clash between generations is a powerful source of political controversy
and new political ideas. I formulate it in this way, because it is slightly
different from the theme that "the youth hold the key to the future" or some
such thing - the older people may in fact know far more, and have more
influence, but it is the relationship between the old and the young that is
The Trotskyists often did not really know how to deal with that, they
thought they would just follow Trotsky's prescription.
Recently I had another look at Gay Talese's book Thy Neighbour's Wife (it
came out in 1980 and influenced me), which traces the transformation of
sexual culture in the 1960s and 1970s in the USA. When you read that, you
realise how much has changed since then, in the way people think about it.

"But, in a pertinent aside: Do you know of the Marxist author, and teacher,
Edward Upward?"

No, but thanks for the reference, I will get it. I didn't just work as a
tutor, you know, I worked in a library, as statistician, translator and
archivist after my university days, plus numerous occasional jobs, from
photographer to postal delivery, following my interests or survival needs at
the time...

"The Serpent's Egg" (Das Schlangenei, 1977, starring Liv Ullmann) is
probably the most explicitly political film made by Ingmar Bergmann,
commenting on the genesis of German Nazism. It contains some themes which
have a special personal meaning for me, and the end of the film is
spectacular and prophetic in its gruesomeness. It's not light holiday stuff,
but well worth watching, if you are in the mood for it.



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