Trashing: The Dark Side of Radical Movements of the Left

There is a bitter generalization that is shared by long time activists in the left wing/progressive movements that we don’t need enemies to destroy our movements.  We are given to ritualized cannibalism and the forming of circular firing squads which drive away dedicated people.

I’ve studied 20th century left wing movements in the US.  Particularly the Communist Party. Few people today realize how much energy the American Communists devoted to the African American Civil Rights Movement during the Pre-World War II Era.  The role of CP-USA in the development of the Farm Workers organizations has been erased.  The same is true regarding Anti-Corporate movements, the Women’s Movement and so on.

The only people who seem aware of the role of the American Communists and Socialists are those on the rabid right.  They use that knowledge to tar more recent movements for the above causes even though the American Communists were purged from those movements in the years after WW II.

But there was a time when both the Socialists and the CP were active political voices.  I saw a documentary about the Folk Music scene in Greenwich Village the other evening and the late Dave Van Ronk quipped about the fist fights at the San Remo every week end between the Trotskyites and the Stalinists.

While these movements were severely persecuted during the McCarthy Era what really tore them apart were the endless purges over perceived political incorrectness.  (See Jessica Mitford’s  A Fine Old Conflict  and Maurice Isserman/Dorothy Ray Healey  California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party)

The term “Political Correctness”  is not a recent right wing invention used to mock the Left.  People used it to describe the trashings meted out for deviations from “the party line”.  Often times these deviations from the party line were so minor and over such strange parsings of the targeted persons words as to seem absurd.

Add the extreme pressure from the outside in the form of the Red Scare to the internal trashings and purges over matters of political correctness and absurd minutia and people just deserted the movement.

In the period between about 1966 and 1970 I watched the rise and fall of SDS.  When I joined in 1966 there were a few thousand members.  Over the next couple of years that rose to over a hundred thousand members. Then the internal battles set in mostly between the Stalinists of Progressive Labor and the more anarchistic faction that became Weatherman.  Then it blew apart and Weatherman emerged with a few thousand supporters.

In Weatherman the same sort of trashings and internal battles over who was the most revolutionary, the purges for lacking political purity continued to fracture what was a small faction of the organization.

People would be picked out for harsh criticism/self-criticism sessions modeled on confrontational therapy.  Being subjected to these sessions was emotionally devastating.  Put together with all the police actions from without, the raids, the police committing murder (in the case of the Panthers) and pretty soon all that remained was a tiny core, while the rest of the movement dissolved.

The plain truth is that damned few people are willing to put their bodies on the line, devote a great deal of time, energy and commitment to a cause when other people involved in that cause are going to emotionally abuse and terrorize them.  There are too many other causes, or for that matter other ways for one to spend their life.

A movement is like a home, comrades are like family.  No one wants to live in an abusive family.  No one should be expected to put up with abuse for the sake of the movement.

Many women left the anti-war and African American Civil Rights movement as well as other movements because they were tired of the sexism within male dominated movements and because the leaders of the Second Wave insisted on total commitment.

Few of us looked around and saw just how many varieties of feminism were available out there.  We had come from radical movements and so radical feminism had to be the place for us.

We were in an even more precarious position if we were transsexual, because as transkids we had received our socialization as women, our lessons as to how to cope with being women vicariously through books, films and observation rather than from direct experience.  In short we were ill equipped to deal with some of the mind fuck games that were going on within the world of Second Wave radical feminism.

I think some of us, perhaps most of us have an idealized picture of womanhood/sisterhood that we start to lose after a few years both pre and post-op as we build of experience as women interacting with the world as women.

But most of us do not experience the ways in which girls bully other girls, or the games mean girls play to abuse other girls they have selected as victims.

When we moved into a place where sisterhood was supposed to be powerful and those games were supposed to be superseded by common purpose, we were pretty defenseless as well as lacking the developed sense of awareness that might have caused us to recognize those mean games when they arose.

Apparently WBTs were not alone.  Many of the early leaders of the Second Wave were ambushed and trashed the same way we were.

As post-transsexual women we have to deal with Transgender Borg historical revisionism telling us that the trashing was unique to transsexual women, most notably Sandy Stone and Beth Elliott.

What we need to do is place the trashing in context as well as look at the dynamics.  Reading Beth Elliott’s book as well as a recent encounter with BevJo Von Dohre caused me to see just how far some sociopaths will carry the dictum, “The personal is the political.”

BevJo has waged a 40 year campaign of stalking and abuse that has evolved into an ideology of inchoate rage and hatred directed towards transsexuals.  a contradictory polemic more hateful than something one would expect from the Taliban Christians of the ultra right wing.

That people with powerful voices like Robin Morgan, Mary Daly, Germaine Greer, Janice Raymond, Sheila Jeffreys and Julie Bindel have used their platforms to wage a bigoted hate campaign that would be clearly seen as such were it targeting another group with more power.  They have made the “transphobia” of feminism and lesbian feminism seem a majority opinion whenmuch of our experience in real life tells us it is far from universal.

After all where are the the voices of the women who tell us in private how courageous we are, how dedicated and hard working we are?

Perhaps they have seen so many other women in the feminist movement get trashed they are cowed into silence.

You see women with a history of transsexualism are not the only women who have been targeted for brutal trashings.

Among them Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone, Gloria Steinem, and Susan Brownmiller.

What exactly is trashing?

Trashing is not legitimate discourse that recognizes the humanity of the person or class being trashed.

One can not argue logically against trashing as trashing is often times filled with completely contradictory arguments.

The woman being trashed can and will be subjected to accusations of incredibly vile crimes.  These accusations are invariably lies made up by the woman who instigated the trashing.

Any and all attempts to calm the woman instigating the trashing will be labeled as siding with the monster being trashed.  Defending a woman being trashed, particularly if that woman has a transsexual history is labeled a crime against all womankind.

One of the best pieces I ever read regarding “Trashing” is buy the highly respected feminist writer Jo Freeman. It can be found at several archival sites.  I’m pulling a few appropriate paragraphs from one.  The essay originally appeared in Ms Magazine: April 1976 issue, pp. 49-51, 92-98.

Trashing the Dark Side of Sisterhood

What is “trashing,” this colloquial term that expresses so much, yet explains so little? It is not disagreement; it is not conflict; it is not opposition. These are perfectly ordinary phenomena which, when engaged in mutually, honestly, and not excessively, are necessary to keep an organism or organization healthy and active. Trashing is a particularly vicious form of character assassination which amounts to psychological rape. It is manipulative, dishonest, and excessive. It is occasionally disguised by the rhetoric of honest conflict, or covered up by denying that any disapproval exists at all. But it is not done to expose disagreements or resolve differences. It is done to disparage and destroy.

The means vary. Trashing can be done privately or in a group situation; to one’s face or behind one’s back; through ostracism or open denunciation. The trasher may give you false reports of what (horrible things) others think of you; tell your friends false stories of what you think of them; interpret whatever you say or do in the most negative light; project unrealistic expectations on you so that when you fail to meet them, you become a “legitimate” target for anger; deny your perceptions of reality; or pretend you don’t exist at all. Trashing may even be thinly veiled by the newest group techniques of criticism/self-criticism, mediation, and therapy. Whatever methods are used, trashing involves a violation of one’s integrity, a declaration of one’s worthlessness, and an impugning of one’s motives In effect, what is attacked is not one’s actions, or one’s ideas, but one’s self.

This attack is accomplished by making you feel that your very existence is inimical to the Movement and that nothing can change this short of ceasing to exist. These feelings are reinforced when you are isolated from your friends as they become convinced that their association with-you is similarly inimical to the Movement and to themselves. Any support of you will taint them. Eventually all your colleagues join in a chorus of condemnation which cannot be silenced, and you are reduced to a mere parody of your previous self.

It took three trashings to convince me to drop out. Finally, at the end of 1969, I felt psychologically mangled to the point where I knew I couldn’t go on. Until then I interpreted my experiences as due to personality conflicts or political disagreements which I could rectify with time and effort. But the harder I tried, the worse things got, until I was finally forced to face the incomprehensible reality that the problem was not what I did, but what I was.

Read the complete essay at:

Keep this essay in mind if you have been subject to trashing within  feminist circle or by certain radical feminists.

Bear in mind these same techniques are being used by certain members of both the Transgender Borg and Transgender Inc.

Remember the ironic usage of the term “Political Correctness” was not invented by the right wing, but rather by good left wing progressives and feminists fed up with bullshit.

7 Responses to “Trashing: The Dark Side of Radical Movements of the Left”

  1. Anna Rosa Says:

    Hmmmm…Most thought provoking. Thank You

  2. quenyar Says:

    Don’t you think that there was a significant impact of the national security state on these events? I know that many organizations experienced internal wranglings, but were these not almost always fed and exacerbated by government informants and spies who worked to sow the seed of dissension and disharmony from within the organizations?

  3. tinagrrl Says:

    Of course there was cointellpro going on — most likely more than most folks thought or think. Still, all you have to do is look at the current Republican Party here in the USA where “ideological purity” has become paramount. They have begun their own version of “trashing”, they have their own circular firing squads. Heck when someone calls “John of Orange”, the conservative house speaker a “socialist”, when Rick Perry is called a “socialist”, you know they have their own individual versions of ideological purity.

    I think any time you have a movement, any movement, that depends on, calls for, insists on, any form of ideological purity, it is open to seeing the most radical as the “purest” — until it disappears up its own asshole. After all, sooner or later, only ONE person will be “pure” enough.

  4. m-stealth Says:

    10-12 years ago i was a member of one of the more vocal transgender organizations. As a good leftist i fought to make the organization truly democratic rather than a typical board run organization. It was foolish of course and i even had some person forge emails from me. The forgeries were laughable because they simply cut and pasted pgp signatures not understanding that the signatures were a checksum of the key and the contents of the email.

    I also organized a student union and i was a farm labor organizer for a summer.

  5. Beth Elliott Says:

    It’s so true about catching your socialization on the fly, or second-hand, and not being prepared for the “mean girl” syndrome among your supposed sisters. And if you’ve had some very positive experiences with true sisters, while young and scared and vulnerable … My no-longer-girlfriend-but-still-wants-to-hold-me girlfriend loves the country band Sugarland, and they have a great song about mean girls.

  6. Andrea B. Says:

    Trashing occurs amongst left, cetrist, right, single issue and religious groups. The left are no different in that respect.

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