Against the Inquisition

by Mary Lou Greenberg

Revolutionary Worker #987, December 20, 1998

Mary Lou Greenberg is an abortion rights activist and spokesperson for the New York Branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party. This article is based on a talk given at a Refuse & Resist! forum on "The Hidden Meaning of the Inquisition and What It Means for the People," December 5, 1998, at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

This Inquisition is not just an event that resides in the halls of power. It is true that it is a struggle among the powerful, but it is one with grave consequences for the people. This Inquisition has brought unprecedented new powers for prosecutors, the denial of legal rights for defendants, the criminalization of consensual sex, and the imposition of religious morality on political life. These are very important reasons why we cannot stand aside from the Inquisition itself--or, if it is cut short, from the battle for summation of this unprecedented event--that will be going on throughout society for some time to come.

When this thing first broke in Washington D.C., I had a hard time figuring out what the big deal was. I kept thinking there must be something more going on here than sex. As things began to develop, I began to see that the issue here did involve more than sex, but imposing traditional morality--including sexual morality--on society is at the heart of the matter. There are a lot of things being struggled out through the vehicle of morality. And the question of morality concentrates a lot of things.

Now it seems that even people in the ruling class who don't agree with the whole program of the Christian fascists decided that there should be a wide-ranging discussion of moral issues, and on one level or another, a moral cleansing would be good for society.

Well, I say if they want to have a discussion of morality, then let's have it. And let's begin by discussing their morality. Key issues for them are abortion, homosexuality, the reimposition of traditional patriarchal values and personal responsibility.

One of the things that has come out in this Inquisition is a real sexual McCarthyism, and many have used this term to describe what's going on. We see this in the disgusting and prurient examination of the minutiae of Clinton's sexual life. And let's not forget it is women who have been the principal victims of all such sex police activity throughout history--from the Puritan days when sexually active women were forced to wear the scarlet letter `A' for `adultery,' to today when single mothers are blamed for the evils of society--women have been the main targets of the self-proclaimed patriarchal morality judges. We saw this clearly when two women who were convicted for lying under oath about sex were dragged before the Judiciary Committee to say how glad they were to have been punished. It was a scene straight out of the Salem witch trials.

The Inquisitors base their pronouncements on their interpretation of the Bible. But they conveniently forget the parts of the Bible where there are many examples of polygamy and rape, not to mention slaughter of innocent children and women by a vengeful god. All that oppression is generally put on the shelf when they start talking about biblical morality. And they want to impose this morality--to shove it down people's throats. To justify acting against the will of the people, Henry Hyde arrogantly said: "If Jesus had taken a poll he wouldn't have written the Gospels."

I also want to talk about "personal responsibility." This is a big theme utilized by Clinton as well as the Christian fascists to rationalize the cruelest social policies. A lot of youth I know have come up against this in a big way. They get preached to about it in school and in society generally.

The destruction of welfare that is throwing millions of children into desperate poverty was mandated under the `personal responsibility' act. In this view welfare should be dismantled because it breeds depravity and encourages women to have children outside of marriage. Now under the personal responsibility act, single mothers will lose welfare grants unless they ID the father of their child and help the courts make him pay child support.

"Personal responsibility" is also a big theme from outright Christian fascists like Randall Terry, a founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, who ran for Congress this year. Terry justifies the most punitive social policies by quoting the Ten Commandments, which in his view are all about personal responsibility. He says Medicare, which helps old people pay for medical expenses, is no good because that means that people can't "honor thy father and mother" by taking care of their parents in their old age.

Now what this responsibility thing is really all about is blaming the people for the failure of bourgeois society to live up to all the promises and principles it proclaims, and in particular blaming those in the inner cities for their impoverished and oppressed conditions: You're poor? You don't work hard enough! You're pregnant? You should have kept your legs closed! You're in jail? You broke the law! You've got AIDS? It's your own fault! Or it's God's punishment which comes down to it's your fault anyway because you brought down his wrath on you.'

"Taking responsibility" in the world of Christian fascists, as well as the Clinton-ites, means people have to suffer for what society is really responsible for. That it's the people's moral failings, and not the workings of the system itself and the policies of the powers that be that are the root cause of people's poverty and misery.

But during the '60s, a very different view prevailed. And there came to be a widely held view that society, the economic conditions and the dominant social relations--male supremacy, white supremacy--determined a lot of things. And it was society that had responsibility for the fact that people were poor, or that different nationalities were oppressed, or that women were kept in a subordinate position. And it's this understanding, this '60s morality, that the Inquisition is targeting.

Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the RCP, has said about the '60s: "In the context of a revolutionary upsurge throughout the world in that period, millions of people in the U.S. broke with the prevailing conditions and established authorities and took up the challenge of fighting for new relations among people and new cultural expressions that were not centered around careerism and battling for position in the cash nexus and the social pecking order and that consciously rejected `America number one with god on our side.' A great many people came to understand that the common source of all the evils they were fighting against--and the obstacle to the things they were fighting for--was the capitalist-imperialist system. Many who had been into crime had their sights raised and turned instead to revolution. The great potential for people to transform things--and to be transformed themselves--through revolutionary struggle was shown in many powerful and moving ways."

This is the history that I came out of--and what our Party came out of. And we have a very strong view about morality.

We don't need the morality of a system where a small handful controls the wealth and power and exploits the many millions whose blood and bones have literally created the world's wealth.

Or the morality which leads to the starvation of millions when there is every basis for hunger and poverty to be eliminated.

We reject the domination and oppression of nations, of peoples, and reject chauvinist notions of the superiority of any nation over others. And we look forward to the time when a diversity--and equality--of cultures, of languages, can enrich the common effort to move society forward.

In a revolutionary society there would be open discussion and struggle around sexuality, and the need to get rid of male domination in all spheres of behavior, and throughout society, including sexual relations, and to achieve true women's liberation.

And instead of Look Out For #1, the dominant ideology would be Serve the People.

Now that's what we revolutionary communists stand for, and we're eager to engage the new generation--and everyone --in grappling with what kind of society we need and how to make revolution at the soonest possible moment.

People don't need to agree with this communist vision to go up against the Christian fascists and the whole politics of cruelty. But everyone who wants to take them on needs to be part of the effort to re-seize the moral high ground. And this needs to be part of the whole movement of resistance. We have to say:

We don't want to live in any society where people are monitored, persecuted and punished for consensual sex between adults.

We don't want to live in a world that demonizes and criminalizes young people.

We don't want to live in a world where women are brutalized, abused and forced to bear children they don't want.

We don't want to live in a world where immigrants are hunted down by border police, or live in fear of their lives.

And we don't want to live in a world where fundamentalist morality becomes the basis for laws.

It's time for everyone who rejects the politics of cruelty and this Inquisition to refuse and resist!

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