Rape, Republicanism and Revenge

2014-10-28_new_4232679_I1A Belfast woman, Maíría Cahill, whose great-uncle Joe Cahill helped form the Provisional IRA in 1969, has claimed in a BBC programme that she was attacked and sexually abused by a much older IRA man from the age of 16 for a period of 12 months in 1997.

She has accused the Republican Movement of trying to force her to keep quiet about the rape and holding a “kangaroo court” in which she was interrogated about her claims.  “The only word I have for it is interrogation, because that’s exactly how it felt.” The IRA investigation lasted six months and included a face-to-face meeting with Cahill’s alleged abuser.  “They told me that they were going to read my body language to see who was telling the truth and that they were going to bring him into a room.”

She says that she was discouraged from going to the police, in line with Sinn Fein policy at the time.  When she did go to the police the prosecution authorities ensured that it was IRA membership charges that were first taken against the alleged rapist and those involved in the IRA investigation.

When these charges collapsed the prospect of conviction for rape also reduced so she withdrew support from the remaining trials.  She signed a withdrawal statement but maintained her claims of sexual abuse and her claims against the four people accused of subjecting her to an IRA interrogation. She also accused both the police and the Public Prosecution Service of failing her.

What we have then is the story of a rape victim who received no justice from the movement she supported and none from the state, which appeared, as usual, more interested in a political agenda than the concerns of a victim.

The case has become news just as an inquiry is to take place into child abuse at Kincora children’s home in east Belfast in the early 1970s.  It is widely suspected that the British security services colluded in a cover up of the horrific abuse that took place in the home in order to gather intelligence in pursuit of their dirty war.

The hands of the state when it comes to the North of Ireland are literally dripping with blood.

Not unexpectedly however most attention has been directed to Gerry Adams, who Cahill says she met to discuss her rape.  At this meeting she claims he suggested to her that abusers were so manipulative that they can make the abused actually enjoy their abuse.

Adams has rejected this and claims that he asked another female republican to tell Cahill to report her experience to the police.  Cahill in turn has argued that the idea that a senior republican would ask her to go to the police to give information against not only the IRA accused but also the IRA investigators as “absolutely ridiculous”.

The accusations against Gerry Adams come shortly after the conviction of his brother for abuse of his daughter, Gerry Adams’ niece.  Gerry Adams was again accused of doing little or nothing, failing to report the allegations to the police and of concocting a frankly incredible story regarding his own knowledge and actions.

Maíría Cahill continued to work for Sinn Fein even after her abuse and was briefly a member of the Republican Network for Unity, a political organisation very critical of Sinn Fein’s support for the police. She subsequently moved to support a campaign against former republican prisoners working in the new Stormont administration and she now declares her full support for the authorities and the police. She has also sought and received the public support of the leaders of Unionism and of the Southern capitalist parties.  As a result Sinn Fein has accused the latter of seeking political gain from her tragic experience.

Gerry Adams has subsequently given a very general apology on behalf of the IRA for its failures in the area of abuse, acknowledging that it had, on occasion, shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them.  The latter has raised a storm of protest from Southern politicians that the republican movement has in effect repeated the crimes of the Catholic Church by moving abusers about the country, free to abuse again.

The publicity surrounding the Maíría Cahill case has also brought out numerous allegations of IRA protection or leniency towards abuse by their own members in comparison to brutal treatment of others.

For Adams the disbandment of the IRA means there is no “corporate knowledge” to draw on in the Cahill case while he admits that the IRA was “singularly ill equipped” to deal with sexual abuse, although it presented itself as the alternative state for long enough.

So what are we to make of this?  One take on it is that what we are seeing is the politics of vengeance that does society no good.  The political ‘zig-zags’ of Maíría Cahill may obscure the political significance of her case but its significance is salient not only because of her own demands but also because of the other cases which the publicity she has generated has brought into the open.  In other words we are not simply dealing here with one person’s tragic experience that has no wider social significance.  This wider significance goes beyond the political impact of her case on the fortunes of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein.

With regard to the latter we can lament her reliance on the state and any illusions on the justice to be received from it but in this respect the political significance of Maíría Cahill’s pursuit of justice through lobbying establishment politicians and the state, and her criticism of the handling of her case by Sinn Fein, is immeasurably less than the republicans own capitulation to the state and their embrace of it as the providers of justice.  Their treatment of Cahill is also of greater political significance given that they are a major political party seeking office, and the fact that this treatment appears to have been meted out to others.

Even in terms of her own particular situation, she was and is obviously caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.  She initially sought justice from the movement she supported and was betrayed.  The most charitable interpretation is that they let her down but having let her down they stand condemned for having abused and betrayed her.

And now she wants vengeance? As Leon Trotsky said “the feeling of revenge has its rights.”  It is not the case that she has no demands other than this.  She wants others put in the same position by the Republican Movement to come forward. She wants republicans to admit the truth of her claims and she wants help for her and other similar victims. These goals appear to me to be entirely supportable even if her road to achieving them is not. But, as I have noted, she initially chose a different road.  It is not difficult to understand how, given her circumstances, she chose the course she is now on.

The Socialist Democracy article noted above correctly argues that justice “can only be asserted by the self-organisation of the working class and oppressed” and that “to win justice we have to rebuild the self-organisation of the workers, not give backhanded support to the state and the mechanisms of class oppression.”  But this is hardly a task that one woman could be expected to take on board herself and if she did not see it as an option this reflects the current near invisibility of it as a practical option for her.

Which brings me to the political lessons that socialists must learn from this and similar episodes. The article states that “the IRA was a revolutionary nationalist army . . . the idea that it could effectively investigate rapes is ridiculous.” Yes indeed, just like the idea that it could defeat British rule.  Except it claimed it could do both and organised an armed campaign that assumed responsibility for both, a responsibility it has not properly accounted for. Instead the Republican Movement has rewritten the past (it fought for ‘equality’ not for ‘Brits Out’) and has relied on the British state to place it into its new arrangements for imperialist rule.

But let’s pause for a second to ask ourselves how an army, even an ‘army of the people’ could possibly represent an alternative state?  What sort of state would it be that is defined by, conditioned by and ruled by an army?  It’s not that the Republican Movement couldn’t help itself when it came to dealing with questions routinely addressed by the capitalist state, including rape allegations, but that Irish Republicanism has always elevated armed actions above political struggle, the liberation of the oppressed by the oppressed themselves.  When it has stopped doing so it has stopped being in any real sense republican.  It reminds one of the saying that you can do everything with a bayonet except sit on it.  Guns are no answer to fundamental social and political questions.  The singular in Adams’ “singularly ill equipped” can only truthfully refer to republican militarism that it embraced until it was defeated.

For Marxists it should be a salutary lesson that political programmes defined by what they are against; defined by ‘smashing the capitalist state’ are only progressive to the degree that the working class has built itself a democratic and viable alternative.  Too often this is not at all the case and justification for particular political positions is often reposed on the argument that it will split, weaken or smash the state while doing nothing to advance the organisation or political consciousness of the working class as the alternative.

Whatever political weaknesses that Maíría Cahill may have, they pale beside those of her abusers who must ultimately be held responsible for the trauma of which her political odyssey appears as an expression.

The Left against Europe 4

david cameronThe question of membership of the European Union has loomed large because of the recent successes of UKIP in Britain.  Many of the questions raised by it also underlie the recent Scottish ‘independence’ referendum: questions of nationalism and internationalism.  Both are or might be settled in referenda.

Thus many of the points I have argued in the posts on the Scottish referendum apply to the debate on Europe, which I was addressing in a series of posts before I interrupted them to post on Scotland.  This post continues to look at the issues that are thrown up for the Left by looking at the ‘great debate’ generated by Britain’s potential membership of the Common Market (as the EU was called then) in 1971.

In the previous post on the question I looked at the views of the International Socialists (IS), which was the forerunner of today’s Socialist Workers Party.

By the time of the ‘great debate’ among the ruling class in 1971 over joining the Common Market the majority of the International Socialists appeared to have dropped their previous attitude, which recognised the positive features of the capitalist European project (while still recognising that the working class had to assert its own position).

Instead the majority position appeared to be represented by a Chris Harman article in their journal ‘International Socialism.’  In this article Harman provided an analysis of what the European Economic Community was – “The Common Market is essentially what its title says it is – a business arrangement, an agreement between different capitalist ruling classes, relating to the way in which they organise their markets.”

“The second aim of the Common Market has been to move beyond being merely a unified arena within which different competing national capitalisms compete, to the beginnings of a positive integration of the rival capitalist classes.”

“There are a number of steps which would have to be taken for such a merging of interests to occur.”  These included that:

“ Impediments to the free movement of capital from one country to another would have to be done away with.

Legislation and tax policies in different countries have to be made homogenous with one another.

Exchange rates of the different European currencies with one another should be fixed immutably,

and preferential treatment in the allocation of governmental contracts to national rather than other European firms would have to be overcome.”

Today some of these steps have been taken while others are still the subject of controversy, such as harmonisation of taxation.  Others have been surpassed, such as the creation of a common currency.  All are steps that a state must take to advance a unified European capitalism.

Harman maintains that “paradoxically, the very internationalism of capitalism is an important factor enhancing the role of the national state.”  The problem then is to create a European state that can do at a European level what national states have been unable to do for their national capitalisms:

“The failure of the nationally based capitalisms to begin to merge with one another does not, however, do away with the need for them to do so. Resources have to be mobilised and production organised on a continental, rather than a merely national basis, for survival in the most advanced industries. Europe’s failure to integrate has been paralleled by a failure to keep up with the international leaders in such fields.”

So the problem becomes a political one: European capitalism “wants a ‘Europeanisation’ of capital – but this continually clashes against national state boundaries. The only way out would seem to be to somehow reduce the dependence of firms on the national state by developing some sort of European state.”

Harman sees the mechanism to achieve this as the European Commission, which he states was the original intention of the Treaty of Rome, officially the Treaty setting up the EEC.

“The Commission, it was implied, would represent a political projection of the economic trend for national boundaries to be superseded. What the international companies were accomplishing in economic terms, the Commissioners would accomplish politically. Eventually they would concentrate in their hands the budgetary and monetary prerogatives of national governments, and oversee on a European scale the economic and social needs of the system as a whole. At this point the present national governments would be effectively redundant. Such was the dream of the more extreme ‘Europeans’ [13] – and the nightmare of those who criticise the Market from the point of view of ‘national sovereignty’.”

“However, there is little evidence that the Commission has been able to fulfil this role at all, even in an embryonic form. So far the European institutions have not begun at all to rise above the squabbles of opposed national interests.”

“The failure of the Commission to develop as an autonomous power has effectively left real power with the separate governments. But these remain under the sway of different national economic interests and political orientations. Their interaction so far has failed completely to produce the sort of single minded direction that would correspond to the needs of the advanced sections of capital seeking integration.”

In part this would seem to be a failure of the institutions to take on the most essential role of the capitalist state:

“Above all the state remains the chief means by which the capitalist class exercises its political and ideological control over the rest of society. This does not only mean repression, although it remains of crucial significance. Also involved is guaranteeing the conditions under which subordinate classes can identify with the status quo.”

“Left to themselves the rival capitalist concerns would tear society apart in their relentless search for profits. The state prevents this, in so far as it can, in the interests of continued capitalist domination. It tries to integrate the middle classes into the system by all sorts of privileges for them; it attempts to placate working class discontent by ‘welfare’ policies and the like; budgetary and other measures are used to impose some restraint on economic fluctuation and to ensure some evenness of economic development in the different regions of the country.”

While the seemingly natural workings of the capitalist market, and the widespread view that there is no alternative, is the primary ideological force imprisoning workers, nationalism is the primary means by which the subordinate classes identify with the status quo.  This allows support for a variety of policies that the state can pursue but none that involve breaking the bounds of what is defined as the national interest, and certainly none that threaten capitalism or that point to a socialist alternative.

It is the national state that continues to tax and spend and so continues to pull the levers of privilege sought by the middle class and which also form the basis of welfareist measures to placate workers.  It also still has powers to ameliorate economic fluctuations endemic to the capitalist economy and which today’s EU has been so criticised in the ‘Euro crisis’ for being unwilling or unable to introduce, at least to the extent some consider necessary, (such as quantitative easing, Eurozone debt instruments etc).

It is not quite true today that, as Harman said over 40 years ago, “the European institutions have not begun at all to rise above the squabbles of opposed national interests” but it remains true that the European project has not won the workers of Europe to identification with its institutions or ultimate objective of a European state.  This means that national political forces continue to promote nationalist solutions, or solutions premised on nationalist assumptions, which therefore create difficulties for everyone when they need to take steps that go beyond the framework of the nation state.

These difficulties can become quite acute.  In January the ‘Financial Times’ carried a long article – ‘Torn in two’ – about the Tory leader David Cameron and his decision to call an in-out referendum on British membership of the EU by 2017.  ‘The British prime minister’s ‘in-out’ EU referendum strategy  looks like it is backfiring as he is caught between the anti-Europe faction of his Conservative party and powerful business groups.’

The Eurosceptic wing of the party has grown and is now making demands that Cameron cannot satisfy and which therefore threaten British membership of the EU and the vital interests of big business that are associated with it.  It is making demands that would mean, according to former Foreign Secretary William Hague, that “the European Single Market would not work” and other demands on restricting immigration from Eastern Europe that would be illegal under EU law.

The article quotes a spokesperson for a right-wing think-tank saying that “the party is going to split, there’s no doubt about it.”  It quotes former leader John Major saying that “calling three of my colleagues bastards was absolutely unforgiveable.  My only excuse is that it was true”.  The number of bastards has grown and some in big business have become concerned.

“Bankers attending last year’s Tory conference were startled by the pervasive mood of “rabid” euroscepticism.  “It seems to me they are bending more and more to Eurosceptic concerns because of Ukip, and the more they do that , the more unhappy business will be,” says a City worker.  “Companies want better outcomes from Brussels but you don’t get it by shouting insults from the sidelines.  City lobbyists are gearing up for intensifying discussions with senior Tories.  The Square Mile realises that if it waits for the referendum to be called, it could be too late to influence the debate.”

Contrary to the Tory policy of seeking big changes to powers given over to the EU, the City of London has taken the “view that there was no need for a “repatriation of powers” but that Britain should strengthen its ties with Brussels, for example by boosting the number of UK officials working there. “There is no prospect of negotiating a better deal for Britain of any significance” says a leading City manager.”

The split in the Tory party reflects the division in its support between big business which has Britain as its main base, but Europe and the world as its field of operations, and small capitalists and reactionary middle class who need not or cannot see further than the British market and for whom a ‘little Englander’ mentality is perfectly satisfactory for their position in the world.

The dynamic development of capitalism continues to disrupt all class and political relations just as much, if not more, than its revolutionary effects so vividly captured by Karl Mark over 150 years ago in ‘The Communist Manifesto.’

This development causes problems not only for the right but also the left.  Harman writes that “of course, the development of the forces of production demands the creation of a European state. But then the development of the forces of production also demands a socialist revolution. It may well be the case that the former will take place after the latter.”

If only this were true the problems posed by it not being true would not prove such a barrier to an internationalist policy.  Harman appeared to believe that the European capitalist project would fail but so far it has not:

“Indeed, it is an important fact that there seems to be no historical precedent for the peaceful integration of different bourgeois states. A minimum of physical force has always had to be used. The examples of Germany, Italy and the US bear this out. In the modern world national ruling classes are more closely linked to national state structures than ever before. There is no certainty that such an obstacle to unity can be removed.”

On top of this the prospect of socialist revolution in Europe looks further away than it did in 1971.  The view that the problems posed by the continuing rapid development of capitalism can somehow be ignored through the immediate alternative being a programme of socialist revolution is obviously mistaken.  But how is it mistaken and how does this relate to a socialist approach to the EU?  In the next post on the ‘great debate’ I will look at what policy Harman advocated and the alternative put forward in the same issue of ‘International Socialism’ by his comrade Ian Birchall.

Two films: ‘Pride’ and ‘Tony Benn: Will and Testament’

JS45320465When Margaret Thatcher died my daughter asked me if I could recommend any books that would explain who she was and why she raised such strong views on her death.  I struggled to think of one that would convey the political issues and the raw emotion that she generated.  Even the youngest who are semi-interested in politics know that in some way that Thatcher helped shape politics today, not only in Britain but much more widely, and that at the very least she symbolises changes we are still living through.

In the last week I have watched two films that provide some way of appreciating Thatcher while also immersing one in the feelings generated at the time.  The first – ‘Pride’ – tells the story of a lesbian and gay group in London, which raised more money for miners in a South Wales valley than any other group, during the miners’ titanic strike in 1984-85 against Thatcher.  It’s rarely sentimental, the performances are wonderful and if you don’t walk out of it feeling proud that this is the side you are on then there’s no hope for you.

If you’re older then you’ll remember the struggle with pride and not a little bit of sadness.  If you were in any way involved in solidarity in this side of the Irish sea then you’ll now appreciate the importance of the struggle and perhaps realise you didn’t quite understand its importance then.  You’ll also appreciate the need for unity and solidarity of the oppressed and that only when we fight together do we make real the unity that underlies our oppression and our liberation.

Of course what you take out of any artistic creation partly depends on your own experience and you will only learn from a political film what your political understanding will allow.  Some things will stand out more than others – for me the performances of the actors, including Ben Schnetzer who plays Mark Ashton, the spokesperson for the gay and lesbian solidarity group and originally from the North of Ireland – brave and tender;  or Paddy Considine as the miners spokesperson Dai Donovan, who welcomes against opposition within his own ranks the support of the gay and lesbian group with understanding and appreciation for the bravery of the miners’ new supporters and the value of their own struggle.

Uplifting and inspiring as it is the significance of the miners’ struggle was illustrated for me by the miner’s banner that proclaimed their adherence to international workers unity and the struggle for socialism.  Of all the reference points that they had, as Welsh, as miners, workers and brothers they stated on their banner that what would always define them was international unity and socialism.  Through the strike they demonstrated in their solidarity with gay and lesbian activists from London a unity that went beyond nationality and sexual orientation to recognition of their shared and common interest in fighting oppression.

pride-2014-003-miners-march

And a miner’s banner also featured in another film – ‘Tony Benn Will and Testament’ – a documentary covering his life and political activity, including the miners’ strike and his inclusion on a new Miners’ banner.

It showed Benn narrate his personal and political life and his acceptance of his death that must have followed shortly after the film.  It shows his journey through politics and his affirmation that he moved to the left through joining government and not, as everyone else does, to the right.

He explained his determination to become an MP and change the world because of an encounter with one of the Americans involved in dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, eventually becoming the minister responsible for the civil nuclear programme in Britain.  In this role he explained how he was completely kept in the dark about the fact that the plutonium waste used in this civil power generation was sent to supply the US nuclear weapons programme.   More widely he explains that he came to realise that while in Government he didn’t have any real control and that the Labour Party became simple managers of the system when it achieved office.

The film covers many of the class struggles in Britain over the latter half of the twentieth century, from the campaign against nuclear weapons, to  the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders sit-in, the ‘winter of discontent’ provoked by attacks on workers by the labour Government, the miners’ strike and the anti-Iraq war movement in our current century.

His bid for the Labour Party deputy leadership in 1981 against Denis Healy, which he very narrowly lost by barely 1%, does not get the attention it deserves but it does turn the spotlight on Neil Kinnock – the so-called left who abstained in the vote.  He later became leader and was leader during the miners’ strike, which he more or less also betrayed, later being rewarded with a place in the House of Lords.  A fighting leadership of the British labour movement could have made the difference between defeat and victory.  Watching the film I found myself getting angrier with him than with Thatcher, but isn’t that always the way with traitors?

He brings to attention the possibility, since the 1970s, of using North Sea oil to modernise Britain but identifies the failure to do so in the pro-big business policies of Thatcher.  Some on the left today see the possibility of modernising Scotland based on what’s left of North Sea oil. However they base this not on any lesson drawn from recent decades but on nationalist division.  The political leader they in effect followed, Alex Salmond, proclaimed that his SNP “didn’t mind the economic side so much” of Margaret Thatcher, while claiming that “the SNP has a strong social conscience, which is very Scottish in itself.”  So that puts the rest of us in our place.

I remember listening to Tony Benn speak and someone asked him about the idea that socialism could be brought about through parliament and whether the capitalist class and its system would allow such a transition without mounting a violent coup to prevent it.  Ah, he said, the Chile question, referring to exactly such an attempt to introduce reform in Chile at the beginning of the 1970s, which led to the least politically interfering military in South America mounting a coup, deposing the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and murdering thousands and thousands of workers and socialists.

Unfortunately having identified the question he didn’t give an answer to it and this might seem to be the major point to highlight in a Marxist review of a film of his political testament.  And so it is.  But by his own experience and through his own words he demonstrates these lessons and the film is valuable for showing them.

Tony-Benn

After recounting how he wanted to become an MP the film a few minutes later shows him speaking in the House of Commons – to row upon row of empty green benches.   Having had the experience of Governmental office noted above he later announced, in a line provided by his wife, that he was leaving Parliament to spend more time in politics.  We then see him on the campaign trail at meetings and demonstrations until his death this year.

So whatever his reformist words his practice in this way became the opposite of the fetishism and ‘cretinism’ of parliamentary activity for which Marxists would criticise reformist politics.

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Unfortunately today , it is the so-called Marxist left who argue that the big question is the ‘crisis of working class representation’ and pursue one electoralist intervention after another, like a hamster on a wheel, going nowhere, fed on the most piss-poor politics that they otherwise condemn in other times or in other places.

So it is not just the young that could learn from these two films.  Very straightforward as they are in political terms, there are basic lessons to be learnt from them – the need for unity of the oppressed, workers internationalism, the futility of seeking fundamental change through capitalist parliaments or the capitalist state, and the need for class struggle.

The defeat of the miners’ strike and the experience of social-democratic politics cast a long shadow over the working class and socialist movement today.  We can learn vital lessons from them and their failure.  That we do not do so is partly because we cannot see the shadow, since it is overcast by an even darker one – that of Thatcherism and the rampage of what is now called neoliberalism.  To come out of the shadows we need to come out of both.  These two films can help us.