Eddie the Kid: Sexual Violence, Socialism and the Left

Feb 26th, 2013 | By | Category: Articles, Promotions

Guest Post by Leo Zeiligleozeilig

I have spent most of my adult life in a far-left organisation. The party’s organisers—my comrades—are strong and dedicated fighters against sexism. My earliest memories in the party are of clear and sharp reprimands when I spoke of women as ‘girls’, or, on one occasion, as a new member, spoke about someone who I sold the paper to as a ‘really good contact, and attractive too.’ ‘Leo, this is not how we speak about women.’ I was told as my face burst out in shame.

In our practice women have always insisted on total equality for women in our parties and campaigns. Male comrades guilty of domestic violence are swiftly expelled. Rape, harassment, and sexism matter for all of us, of all political hues, but for those of us who see the oppression of women as a structural inequality embedded in capitalist society, there seems to be something more vital about these debates. With our understanding of an inherently gendered and sexist world, it seemed that we, as good Marxists, were unmarked by the gendered oppression that surrounds us.

My novel Eddie the Kid is being released by Zer0 Books this March.  Eddie the Kid is a story about a 34-year-old activist, Eddie Bereskin, involved in the extraordinary anti-war movement of 2002–03. The novel finishes on the famous demonstration in London on 15 February in 2003. Eddie is, perhaps more unusually, a radical socialist—he works closely with a fringe revolutionary group, though he is not a member. So the novel speaks to two slightly hidden subcultures: that of the activism that briefly broke into the UK mainstream ten years ago as resistance to the Iraq war spread, and that of a far more ‘underground’ group of far-left socialist activists.

Of course these subcultures are not ‘hidden’ to the thousands who every day attend meetings, demonstrations and socialist discussions, or the even larger numbers who have passed through the ranks of anti-war and socialist groups over the last fifteen years. But in contemporary fiction these stories are almost entirely silenced. What do the lives of these activists look like? What are the private hopes and passions of modern, UK-born revolutionaries? How do Eddie’s commitment to women’s liberation and to a socialist society collide with his own private life?

There is some cross-over between the novel and my own life. My father was a socialist, though not an activist like Eddie’s father Stewart. Our household buzzed with political debate and heated conversations about books, newspapers articles and campaigns. My dad had grown up in the Communist Party of Canada, in a Yiddish-speaking household in Winnipeg where anti-Zionism and the Soviet Union were defended with equal fury. In the novel, Eddie hears his grandfather describe hearing of Stalin’s crimes after Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’ in 1956 and “feeling like a child had died”—these were the words of my grandfather to me in 1990 when the Soviet monolith was breaking up. My father split from the Communist Party in 1968, when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. The family arguments at the time are legendary—my mother remembers her red-faced father-in-law hitting the table, exasperated by his son’s condemnation of the invasion, his refusal to bend, again, to the party line. But my father held onto his rage against injustice and the arms race. He defended socialism as a vision of the poor coming together to create a world based on mutual solidarity, not greed—rather like my grandfather’s stories of the utopian promise of the Russian Revolution. We would learn, as they had, to build a society of full employment and limitless possibilities – the promise of a socialist society that had been betrayed by Stalin. My father breathed this vision into his children.

Yet my father, like Eddie’s, was also violent. Politics, justice, peace and socialism pervaded my childhood—but so did my father’s occasional violent outbursts. Many children experience their parents’ love as schizophrenic—lurching from affection to violence against their children and against one another. The poet Philip Larkin memorably described parents, in his poem on family life, who ‘half the time were soppy-stern, and half at one another’s throats.’

I explore these themes in Eddie the Kid—a father who is all love and affection one moment, all angry outbursts the next. In the novel Eddie witnesses Stewart beating his mother, then takes a beating himself and has to cope as the pain is followed by hugs and kisses. But Eddie the Kid also asks: what happens when a parent is violent against his wife and children, but is also a committed and principled communist? How does this experience shape a child’s notions of political activism?

In the novel Eddie is involved in an anti-war group in Tooting; he reads the left-wing press and argues with friends and comrades about how to change the world. When he finds himself falling in love with Rebecca, who he meets on the Halloween anti-war protest in 2002 in London, he rapidly comes apart. Arguing about the dialectic is one thing, but Eddie can’t prevent the experience of his childhood, his father’s treatment of women, from infecting his relationship with Rebecca.

Falling in love draws out our early lessons—but when these have been fused with activism and socialist politics, Eddie can’t find a way out. Instead he repeats his father’s destructive pattern. Eddie comments early on in the story that ‘life is just the continual folding over of what has already happened to us. When we think we have moved on we find ourselves staring back at our old, past lives.’

Eddie is not alone; his sister Esther, too, struggles to cope with her childhood trauma. Esther suffers from psychotic episodes. She self-abuses; the anger and violence visited on her by her father bubble out of her as madness. While Esther fights herself, Eddie comes at the world, inflamed by his love for Rebecca, with his fists flying.

For the left, while our formal politics on gender may be great—our personal relationships are just as difficult and flawed as everybody else’s.  Our politics, it turns out, don’t make us exempt from our histories, our personalities, our own oppression, the lies we’ve been told all our lives about what women are worth and how to treat them. We are not the iron Lenins we thought we were. We are human.

Eddie the Kid is not a didactic novel, but it does tell us that we activists and socialists have been, like everyone, profoundly marked and disturbed by the violence and prejudices in our families and societies. Those of us active on the left are more like Eddie Bereskin—and there are more Eddie Bereskins—than we’d prefer to admit.

Obviously this is not an excuse for violence against women in socialist organisations; such behaviour is never acceptable. Rather, the story is a simple and humane acknowledgement that even as we scrabble around trying to change society, searching for an alternative to the rampant violence of global capitalism, we have all been indelibly and sometimes horribly shaped by that society.

2008-04-01-fists-up

eddiethekidEddie the Kid

 

Eddie Bereskin wants to change the world and stop the war, instead his life unravels after being arrested on a protest.

ISBN: 978-1-78099-367-6, $18.95 / £10.99, paperback, 282pp

EISBN: 978-1-78099-368-3, $9.99 / £6.99, eBook

Eddie Bereskin wants to change the world and stop the war, instead his life unravels after he is arrested on a Halloween protest in 2002 - an incredible story about loss and hope set in London. Eddie the Kid takes us to the anti-war movement and two generations of activists, where, amid rioting and arrests, the destinies of Eddie and his sister Esther have been shaped.

...a humane and political novel for our times. Nicola Field, Author of Over the Rainbow

...disturbing and strangely inspiring. John Molyneux Author of What is the real Marxist tradition?

Leo Zeilig is currently a senior researcher at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

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