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Dara McHugh - Mon Aug 14, 2017 19:54
David Sloan Wilson describes himself as an atheist, but, he insists, he is a ânice atheistâ. The proviso is made necessary by the often acrimonious nature of evolutionâs forays into religious study. In contrast to writers such as Richard Dawkins … Continue reading →
David Sloan Wilson describes himself as an atheist, but, he insists, he is a ânice atheistâ. The proviso is made necessary by the often acrimonious nature of evolutionâs forays into religious study. In contrast to writers such as Richard Dawkins who views religion as âa kind of mental illnessâ, Sloan Wilson thinks that the spiritual world has much to teach us about our grubby origins.
For most critics of religions, the operative concern is the truth or not of religious beliefs. For Sloan Wilson, however, that is not the point. The interesting questions centre on the roles that such belief systems play in human societies, and how they make human groups behave. In evolutionary terms, âeven massively fictitious beliefs can be adaptive, as long as they motivate behaviors that are adaptive in the real worldâ [pp41].
This is where Sloan Wilsonâs emphasis on the role of multi-level selection in evolution comes in. Natural selection is usually presented as taking place on the level of the individual – why does this dung beetle survive when another does not? But selection can also happen on the level of groups – why does this human tribe defeat the others? As Charles Darwin wrote,
In the long-run of evolution, selection among groups can mean that tendencies which make groups more effective (pro-sociality, for instance), win out against those that make individuals more effective at the expense of their group (selfishness, cheating, etc.). Religions enshrine the idea of a common good, encouraging believers to suppress selfish individual desires in the service of this corporate body. In the terms of multi-level selection, religions suppress within-group competition to improve competitiveness at the group level.
The human tendency to develop religions and other belief systems is useful because it enables us to develop social systems to deal with unique and difficult social circumstances. In this context, the sheer diversity of religious faiths is a sign of how belief systems can mobilise and organise basic human capacities to cope with different situations, be it the day-to-day existence of a forest-dwelling hunter-gatherer tribe, the water temple infrastructure of Bali, or the economic and social challenges of Korean immigrants to the United States. This capacity for variation means that religious groups can be seen as ârapidly evolving entities adapting to their current environmentsâ [pp35]. Cultural variation enables our basic psychology to be organised in ways that are appropriate to a given social and material environment.
That is not to say that all religious systems will be adaptive to their circumstances; from the Protestant Reformation to the communes of Los Angeles, history is littered with the detritus of failed faiths. The variation of religious faiths, much like genetic mutation, constitutes âa process of blind variation and selective retentionâ [p122] and, similarly, will largely result in failure. The reason that explosions of diversification occur at specific historical periods is a question left unexplored here.
The bookâs greatest attraction is in its case studies, which explore the ideas and practices of diverse religions and suggest how various features indicate the adaptiveness or not of that religion to its social environment. This requires a certain level of anthropological and historical rigour, and Sloan Wilson draws heavily on existing literature, applying his own interpretive lens to the findings made by others.
The greatest amount of time is spent on Calvinism and its influence on Geneva. After previously expelling the reformer, political tumult prompted the Swiss city to invite Calvin to lead the Church. Riven by factionalism and on the frontlines of an economic and military conflict, the Genevan authorities realised that they needed to shape up if the city was to survive. Material demands such as the funding of the army called for spiritual doctrine.
Overcoming division required loyalty and responsibility to shift upwards, to transcend factional groupings. Thus we see that Calvinism emphasises traits such as humility and an absolute faith in Godâs will, such that believers will accept their station and role in life without question: âall of lifeâs afflictions have a purpose in Godâs plan, however incomprehensible to us. Our role is to be utterly confident in Godâs wisdom and to accept whatever he places upon us.â[pp100]
The tenets of the faith show a concerted movement from the personal to the public – self-direction is comprehensively displaced upwards, to the structures and processes of the Church. The cynical might say that such aggressive depersonalisation pacified the faithful the better to exploit them, but Sloan Wilson makes clear that part of Calvinismâs effectiveness was the willingness to enforce its strictures on elites and commoners alike. By ensuring that elites could not flout laws with impunity, the city could act more like a coherent and cooperative unit. This is an argument that meshes well with the historical work of Peter Turchin, who argues that the rise and fall of empires is closely related to the levels of inequality between elites and commoners. Ideologies that can mitigate against internal divergences can thus be powerful factors in social stability.
But as the Protestant Reformation certainly shows, there are two sides to group-based cooperation. Given the right encouragement, humans are willing to prefer the common good to our own, but we are equally good at dehumanising those outside our groups, all the better to attack or oppress them. Indeed, there are studies showing that football fans are unconcerned, even pleased by the physical suffering of their rivals. These capacities are often mobilised along national, rather than religious lines, and although Sloan Wilson acknowledges the similarity, it is not a topic he dwells on.
Overall, the book makes a compelling argument about the role that belief systems play in enabling human cooperation, offering a welcome corrective to those that simply dismiss religion out of hand. Spiritual beliefs, Sloan Wilson shows, play a crucial role in the material world, and deserve serious study. Moreover, the evolutionary approach he proposes can take us beyond religion and into a deeper understanding of ideology in general.
David Sloan Wilson, Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, Chicago University Press, 2002.
Review first published in ThinkLeft Issue 2.
Gavin Mendel-Gleason - Wed Jun 07, 2017 11:52
âWhat is truth?â said Pontius Pilate to Jesus. Or at least this is what we are told he said in the Gospel of John. Can we trust John to have related accurately the words of Pontius Pilate? Most scholars date … Continue reading →
Post-truth, or post-irony?
âWhat is truth?â said Pontius Pilate to Jesus. Or at least this is what we are told he said in the Gospel of John. Can we trust John to have related accurately the words of Pontius Pilate? Most scholars date the book of John as two generations after Pilateâs death. And yet, despite the dubious provenance of the quote, it is a very important question. Indeed it is the central question we concern ourselves with here.
On November 24, 2016 the Washington Post ran a story entitled: âRussian propaganda effort helped spread âfake newsâ during election, experts sayâ. The article claimed that Russia had been involved in a concerted effort to sway the election in favour of Trump through a sophisticated propaganda war. But perhaps even more significant than the central claim, is that it launched the phrase âfake newsâ into the media discourse.
The story drew heavily from a think-tank known as PropOrNot who supplied a list of 200 websites that âwittingly or unwittinglyâ were âreliablyâ party to a Russian propaganda offensive. The list covers websites of both a left-wing and right-wing persuasion. Some of them are overtly associated with fascists (dailystormer.com) or white power movements (vdare.com). Some of the sources, such as infowars.com are famously unreliable, mixing nonsense with kernels of truth so regularly that asking the information content would be akin to asking for the nutrition content of corn-studded faeces. However, some of the sites, such as AlterNet.org or AntiWar.com provide relatively reliable information. And some, such as Films for Action are very hard to see as being in any putative Russian camp.
Not long after the release of this news article, an exquisite dramatic irony began to unfold. Attempts to check up on the story began running into difficulties. The PropOrNot think-tank which featured prominently in the article, was revealed as peculiarly shadowy. When pressed in phone conversations, the lone contact for the organisation declined to state the methodology by which they had determined this list of websites to be âfake newsâ. How Russia was the lead in this constellation of sites, or how it could be shown that they were reliably in the Russian camp was entirely absent. In addition, the organisation had no address, no list of employees and no donors list.
How could the Washington Post have used this totally opaque and previously unknown think tank as its primary source? Further investigations by Mark Ames uncovered disturbing connections with Ukrainian fascists and the US security state. The news story had begun to unravel. The story was one as propagandistic, and directed for effect by geopolitical actors, as any fake news story to which it was supposed to be drawing attention. Amazingly, the seminal news story on âfake newsâ, turned out to be âfake newsâ itself. And to complete the irony, the media outlet which published the story by Mark Ames, was one of those listed by PropOrNot as âfake newsâ.
The complexity of navigating news derives from the fact that the world of media is composed of actors, with agendas they would like to sell, as well as advertisers to whom they would like to sell us. âFake newsâ, as a moniker, is designed for a specific effect, and that effect is to persuade.
The most common approach to the interpretation of news, is, as is often the case, one of the simplest. We simply divide sources into those which are trusted, and those that are not. And this is the approach which PropOrNot is attempting to leverage. By telling us which sources we should not use, they suggest by contrast that the other sources: the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian, are to be relied upon.
This approach presents itself as drawing our attention to disinformation; it implicitly or explicitly poses as not âfake newsâ, or âtrue newsâ while it does so. The stakes are exceedingly high, as the beliefs of the greater population are no small matter. It is the difference between who can rule, under what conditions and how.
This simplistic model can be inverted in any number of different ways, simply by choosing a different âa prioriâ set of excluded sources and trusted sources. While habitual readers of the New York Times might feel quite content with the quality of their source, the same can be said of those who read only from âprisonplanet.comâ or âinfowars.comâ. They live in a world âthrough the looking glassâ in which anyone who reads the New York Times is a sheeple reading propaganda produced by globalists.
So how do we read or watch the media? Do we give up on knowing, or is it possible for us to âread between the linesâ, so to speak? We canât very well proceed with any sort of agency in a world in which we are completely blind. We need some way to navigate the rocky shoals of misinformation, disinformation and propaganda.
Karl Popper, the famous philosopher, developed a theory of scientific inquiry. In his systematisation of science, we would first build a model. This model then would make predictions. If the predictions turned out to be false, according to the measured data, we would reject the model.
Unfortunately this approach is too strong, even when our inputs can be trusted. All models are simplifications of reality, and therefore do not capture the full richness of it. They are all in some sense âwrongâ. That some data points are not correctly predicted is insufficient cause to reject a model if it works well most of the time.
Popperâs student, Imre Lakatos, described a more pragmatic approach to modeling that is closer to what is actually employed by scientists, which took this need to allow some divergence from theory into a account. The idea is to have a model which captures a good deal of useful properties that we see in the data, and we can provide patches for information that does not fit. When a model is mostly patches, Lakatos would describe it as degenerate.
And yet even Lakatosâ theory of programmes still falls short when applied to news. The situation with news is even more difficult than the problem that the philosophers of science were trying to solve. The data points that we obtain are themselves suspect and not just because of incorrect âmeasurementâ or noise. We canât trust that they are correct because those relaying the information are attempting to persuade us of a particular belief.
Sifting through this information then means creating a model, not just of the world which accords with the information we receive, but also a model of what it means when certain actors present certain information. Establishing this âunderlying meaningâ requires a theory which ascribes motive to these actors and allows us to read the subliminal semantics. Thus we enter into the realm of the Hermeneutics of Suspicion.
This may all sound very baroque, but a basic theory of suspicious interpretation is widely practiced, and is sometimes called âqui bonoâ or âWho benefitsâ? Most people understand the fact that advertisers are not trying to inform us and instead are attempting to obtain profits from commodity sales. Therefore their claims are taken with skepticism. Similarly most people recognise that media organisations require advertisers, and that upsetting their main advertisers could cost them dearly and so whatever ethical benefit there may be in the full disclosure of information which might cause harm to an advertiser, the media organisation may be disinclined to partake.
Perhaps a concrete example of suspicion might be of use. During the second Iraq War, we were told of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. About half of Americans believe that there were in fact weapons of mass destruction before the war. About one third believe that not only did they not exist, but that the public was deliberately mislead. After the occupation, no evidence whatsoever has been provided which would corroborate the existence of weapons of mass destruction, so it is fairly easy to establish that approximately half of Americans are simply ignorant of the reality. However the case for deliberate disinformation is much more difficult to establish, but suffice it to say, my cynicism lead me to fall into this suspicious camp.
Among the suspicious camp, it was widely believed (both before and after the war) that Cheney et al. were interested in oil resources and war profiteering as their primary goal in conflict. This is again, a simple application of âqui bonoâ. This was, indeed, my own model, and was reflected in me chanting along enthusiastically to the slogan âNo blood for oil!â at marches.
I still belong to the camp of the suspicious, but my model has changed. The primary motives in the Iraq conflict were the projection of geopolitical power, the dismantling of a semi-autonomous or non-compliant regimes, and the creation of a territory which could serve as a node for further projections of power in the Middle East. One might call this altered model of motive, a theory of âimperialismâ. The âstealing black goldâ thesis suffers from the problem that a number of wars which were fought between the US and allies with oil producing states, but subsequently oil production proved difficult to impossible due to instabilities. Further, the costs of these interventions far exceeds any direct costs which could be covered by the oil. It is more likely that the non-compliance of the states is related to the relative autonomy provided to their economies due to their control of oil, reducing their fears of sanctions or trade wars.
The news media, including Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, all dutifully reported the narrative given by the government during the Iraq war. As a rule, they apply little to no skepticism of the motivations or intentions of the US government or its close allies. Noam Chomsky has for decades collected evidence that this behaviour is systematic. He also proposes the mechanisms and pressures under which this takes place with his theory of the manufacture of consent. This model of suspicion incorporates many of the features required of a model which takes into account the social relations which help to produce effective narratives, namely: incentive, capacity and coercion. Other related approaches used in investigate systematic influence in the Irish context of media surrounding the Irish property market, can be found here and here.
These theories give us information about plausible motives. In turn this enables us to qualify our degree of belief in a source within a specific domain. For instance, while most educated liberals in the United States would currently reject RT news as a source of any value, it was a very good source of information on the bank bailout in the US. When applied to events within Russia itself, or within its sphere of influence, its bias can become more obviously a deterrent to clarity. This makes sense within a framework which incorporates motive, information which can be corroborated and can harm the legitimacy of a geopolitical opponents ruling elite, is more useful than mere disinformation, which is more readily challenged.
Though one might take issue with this or that theory, theories of suspicion are not merely optional approaches with which we can dispense. Accepting all sources as simultaneously true quickly leads almost immediately to inconsistency. Some, such as Gavin Titley, have rejected the apparatus of theory as a lens of suspicion, or at least its suitability for students. Yet filters must be applied, either using the most basic trusted-untrusted dichotomy, or some other more sophisticated approach to modelling the motives of actors in the realm of information conveyance.
Suspicion itself is, however, philosophically complex and problematic. A model of suspicion allows you to reject data-points which might prove inconvenient. They may be the very data-points which invalidate or inform the model of suspicion. This phenomena is known as âepistemic closureâ. The sensitivity of truth to the rejection of contradictory information is present in many of the seemingly unresolvable political debates that play out. They appear unresolvable because the different groups reject the evidence base from which the other is working to inform their understanding.
We should seek to choose a model which grounds itself in a broader framework which can act as a scaffold from the outside and which is subsequently less sensitive to the information which we are treating skeptically. That is, our deductions should proceed from a different base of knowledge than the knowledge being evaluated. We should produce models of social relations and materiality which are robust in a range of experimental regimes.
Suspicion of the mainstream media is widespread, and growing. Within a Marxist framework we might say that this results from contradictions. These contradictions arise between the narrative that is provided by the media and the counterposed direct experience of those whom they are trying to persuade. While the media may have significant impact in persuasion of events which are far-away and difficult to interpret, when the audience themselves have their own more direct observations, these narratives can quickly become less effective. Economic tensions can often stretch media narratives which hope to keep social peace to the breaking point.
These contradictions breed suspicion, and yet suspicion need not be structured by any coherent argument. There are many who believe in quite improbable conspiracy theories, such as the two men I overheard talking quite seriously about the lizard people who populate the elite earlier today on the street. Suspicion can drift into undirected conspiracism, and perhaps ironically, into credulity of âalternativeâ sources. One might conjecture that the more absurd the mainstream news is with respect to lived experience, the more conspiracist in interpretation the population is likely to become.
There are no easy solutions to our conundrum which are also liable to be robust. And in the absence of easy solutions, we can expect that most approaches which are applied in practice will range from the inadequate to the absurd. In the end it may be that that truth itself is less important than the trust-networks we form and how they are structured and their impact on our organisational abilities. Religion proved quite organisationally capable over millennia while simultaneously conferring beliefs of one God in three Divine Persons and the virgin birth. Perhaps, in the final analysis what we really need is to start looking at what materiality could form a media and associated trust networks from a perspective that supports our bias, the bias of the labouring class. In the words of Antonio Gramsci:
James O'Brien - Sat Apr 01, 2017 22:54
Martin McGuinness, Political Strategy and the Civil Rights Movement The death of Martin McGuinness has inevitably prompted reflection on his career, with the reactions varying according to oneâs political ideology. For the mainstream, McGuinnessâs oeuvre is sharply divided into two … Continue reading →
Martin McGuinness, Political Strategy and the Civil Rights Movement
A Provisional Sinn FĂ©in poster featuring Joe McCann and other Official IRA members (via Irish Political Ephemera)
The death of Martin McGuinness has inevitably prompted reflection on his career, with the reactions varying according to oneâs political ideology. For the mainstream, McGuinnessâs oeuvre is sharply divided into two halves, that of paramilitary godfather and political statesman, with the dichotomy arising from their view on the Provisional IRAâs (PIRA) long running campaign.
For Sinn FĂ©in and a wider body of sympathisers, thatÂ division is an artificial construct; the two eras â military leader and peacemaker â are different forms of the same struggle. The change in strategy by no means entails an admission that the Provisionals’ military campaign was misconceived, only that it could no longer sustain progress towards their goal.
Interestingly, much of the online commentary sympathetic to Sinn FĂ©in has revolved around how the Provisionalsâ armed campaign was a fight for civil rights in Northern Ireland; the military campaign being an inevitable response to the brutality of British State and the loyalist mobs that the campaignâs progress elicited.
That narrative was summed up by Gerry Adams in his comment that âMartin McGuinness never went to war, the war came to him. It came to his streets, it came to his city, it came to his community.â McGuinness, having seen his community take a battering, took the decision to join the PIRA and hit back at the British forces. There is a lot of truth to this explanation, for undoubtedly hundreds and even thousands of people joined both wings of the IRA in these years, fuelled by such anger. But if the explanation is true, it is not the whole truth.
For the impression given by this explanation becoming the primary one for the long running PIRA campaign is that it was waged primarily for equality of civic rights. And while the violent response to the demand for civil rights was the fuel that drove many into the ranks of the IRAs, it was not the objective for which the PIRA fought for a quarter of a century.
Moreover, the very existence of the Official IRA (OIRA) when the conflagration was igniting, and who chose to go down a different path, illustrates that the long military campaign was not an unavoidable outcome, even after Bloody Sunday. This is not to traduce young men and women like McGuinness, whose reaction is understandable given the circumstances. But understanding their motivations does not remove the need for criticism. The question remains, were they, the PIRA, correct to respond militarily and for so long?
The question should be approached as one of strategy and goals, rather than one of just moral outrage. War is itself an outrage and once the guns are firing, atrocities abound. These are to be deplored and minimised, but they never settle the question of whether war is justified or not; that depends on the objectives of the campaign, the context, and whether greater evils can be prevented by recourse to military action now.
And that is a political question, requiring an analysis of the political possibilities and their potential at any given juncture. It is here that the weakness of the early Provisional movement is located. For, contrary to the modern playing up of their support for the northern civil rights movement, they chose instead to prioritise military conflict with the British State. This was not just a reaction to the loyalist mobs or the RUC. The PIRA were very clear that their goal was to force a British withdrawal through military force. The massive increase in recruits, as well as the weakening of the Stormont regime on foot of the civil rights disturbances created a relatively favourable context for waging that campaign; they were not the underlying reason for it.
Danny Morrison made this point in his review of Tommy McKearneyâs book on the Provisional IRA:
In fact, it is striking that such a claim has to be defended at all. The persistent demand for British withdrawal, accompanied by a willingness to kill in support of it, was the dominant feature of the PIRA for the first 28 eight years of its existence. That the rights thesis is being promulgated illustrates primarily the cultural influence that Sinn FĂ©in can today wield and thereby shape the narrative circulating, if not in the mainstream media, than at least amongst widerÂ left-leaning circles.
To cap it all; the âCivil Rights Firstâ strategy was the strategy of the Official IRA, not the PIRA, with the former being instrumental in organising the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. If the founders of the PIRA had been of the same view, the other differences (e.g., abstentionism) would have been far less likely to result in them splitting off in the first place. Or at least, the inevitable split would have had all the force that O BrĂĄdaigh could muster in 1986, i.e., none. Of course, the OIRA, just like the PIRA, with its base in working class areas, got drawn into the vortex of military action. The difference was not that the OIRA were saintly choirboys or the Provos callous thugs, but in the strategic assessment of the respective leaderships. This saw the OIRA call a ceasefire, just as the killing was beginning to escalate in a big way.
In contrast, the Provisional leadership had a fundamentally different strategy, and it wasnât one that revolved around the struggle for rights. In the words of SeĂĄn Mac Stiofain, the first Chief of Staff of the PIRA, their strategy was one of escalating the conflict by âmoving from âarea defenceâ to âcombined defence and retaliationâ and then a âthird phase of launching an all-out offensive action against the British occupation systemâ. The latter phase involved a large-scale bombing campaign, which Mac Stiofain had borrowed from Greek Cypriots he had met in prison. Inevitably this led to a considerable civilian causalities, and a stoking of the already burning sectarian flames.
Absurd though it may seem to have to spell it out, the PIRAâs offensive phase, i.e., the bombings, was not dedicated to winning civil rights for nationalists, but to realising their core aim of British withdrawal. In his obituary to Mac Stiofain, Ruairi O Bradaigh, like Danny Morrison after him, was explicit about those aims:
The OIRA was certainly involved in area defence and retaliation too, even after their ceasefire was declared in 1972. The difference was that at a leadership level, the OIRA aimed to move the struggle from the terrain of military conflict and onto one of social struggle. Hence their general avoidance of bombings and their move to wind down operations. This took some time, and made some of their Volunteers unhappy, resulting in their eventual decamping to form the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).
The Official leadership, primarily Cathal Goulding, TomĂĄs Mac Giolla, and SeĂĄn Garland, with important backing from Billy McMillen, pushed for a civil rights campaign in the North as a way of cracking the Stormont regime, without provoking an intensely violent â and violently sectarian â conflict, which would in turn create the opening for building a class opposition â as opposed to an ethnic or sectarian one â to British imperialism. This was to be coupled with social agitation in the South as a way of building up a working class base in opposition to the compliant regime in Leinster House. Moreover, the Officials expanded their understanding of imperialism beyond the simplicity of Londonâs territorial control of the six counties to the impact that American capital, via the increasing levels of foreign investment, was beginning to have as well as the implications of EEC membership for Irish sovereignty.
The OIRA, then, prioritised the political and social struggle and therefore the leading role of a revolutionary working class party as the agent of that change. In the context of the early 1970s, this was a difficult strategy to pull off. The conflict entrenched sectarian divisions and stymied the Officialsâ strategy in the North. Naturally, neither the British State nor the unionist paramilitaries as defenders of the status quo could be expected to play a progressive role.
The various strands of the republicanism, however, had the potential to play such a role, making the strategic choices they faced all the more important. The choice to engage in war had consequences, not only for hundreds of deaths and a deepening of the divisions, but of narrowing the space for political struggle. The argument from Gerry Adams that only later was it possible to engage in peaceful struggle for democratic rights misses the vital fact that the Official leadership had not only pushed for that in the crucial early years but had also argued, correctly, that a military campaign could not possibly achieve its political objectives; that to defeat imperialism required mass support; that socialism was the necessary modern incarnation of republicanism; that the working class was therefore the key social group to organise.
The subsequent trajectory of both the Officials and the Provisionals tells many tales. Usually this involves a myriad of anecdotes about the various sins of both groups through the 1970s and 1980s. More important, however, is their politics, then and now. Once the Provisionals abandoned their military campaign, they quickly evolved from revolutionary to constitutional nationalism. Not only that, in spite of considerable support from working people, they encased their nationalism in a near-Blairite centre-leftism: reductions in corporation tax, opening the New York Stock Exchange, speaking at rallies for billionaire SeĂĄn Quinn. No bridge is left uncrossed.
The Officials moved away from nationalism, embraced state socialism and built up a considerable working class base in the 1970s and 1980s but failed singularly to control their own Blairite cuckoos in Parliament â de Rossa, Gilmore et al. Even here, however, the difference is stark. Whereas the Provisional leadership â Adams, McGuinness, Kelly, MacDonald â are the Blairites, the leadership of the Officials, now named The Workersâ Party â Goulding, MacGiolla, and Garland â rejected the attempts by their protĂ©gĂ©es to shift the organisation away from socialism and into that bland centre, even at the cost of a massive reduction in size, from which it has thus far not recovered.
Historical context is necessary when appraising the choices of figures like Martin McGuinness. Demonisation as a simple terrorist does not persuade those who understand the context in which he made the choices. But criticism is necessary, particularly if we wish to avoid the romanticisation of a military campaign at the expense of political strategy. There were other options; there were even other revolutionary options. The Provisionals chose instead the traditional nationalist one, and settled into the role as Catholic Defenders with a republican gloss. As such, their present incarnation as modern day Daniel OâConnells is none too surprising.
Cathal Goulding - Mon Dec 26, 2016 17:11
This introduction and interview is from “On Our Knees: Ireland 1972” by Rosita Sweetman Introduction The Irish Republican Army officially came into being when Padraic Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence from the steps of the General Post Office … Continue reading →
This introduction and interview is from “On Our Knees: Ireland 1972” by Rosita Sweetman
The Irish Republican Army officially came into being when Padraic Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence from the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin on Easter morning, 1916. The IRA traces its roots right back through all the physical force resistance groups that at various times throughout 700 years of British domination of Ireland had risen up to try and get them out. Its recognised father figure is Theobald Wolfe Tone, of the United Irishmen, and his grave is the scene of an annual re-affirmation of Republicanism.
The IRA was the army of the people during the War of Independence (1919-1921). They secured military victory for the Irish people in that they forced the British to the conference table, but were sold down the Swanee by political leaders who divided on the Treaty offered by Britain. The compromise reached was that Republicans would have a 26 Country “Free State” to run as they wished in theory (in practice of course it was to be run as the British wished as they still held the purse strings), and the 6 remaining counties were to be jointly controlled by the Unionists in Stormont, and Westminster. In the absence of the British enemy the Irish turned on each other and the resulting Civil War saw the IRA defeated, the Free Staters in control and building bourgeois Ireland under President Cosgrave. Thousands of IRA men were imprisoned and interned and Ireland settled down temporarily to trying to become a nation of grocers and big farmers.
In 1927, Eamonn De Valera, a veteran of the 1916 rebellion and leader of the anti-Free Staters, decided that the cold of remaining outside the Free State parliament hitherto unrecognised and boycotted by Republicans (or anti-Treaties), was too cold. By 1932 Dev’s new party, Fianna Fail, was able to secure 72 seats in the General Election, and completing a political Houdini on the Oath of Supremacy to the British Crown, Dev led his new Party into the Dail. The Republican Movement was split down the middle. Some felt Dev was right to enter the political arena and beat the Free Staters at their own game, others believed that compromise would eventually result in a watered down Free State, and more importantly a continued recognition of the Border which separated the Six Counties from the rest of Ireland.
Dev did release Republicans imprisoned by the Free State government, started the Economic War with Britain by refusing to continue paying land annuities to that country, but hopes that Fianna Fail would be the political expression of the ideals of the IRA were soon shattered. The following four years saw Dev consolidating his parliamentary position; the dropping of Sean MacBride as the radical Chief of Staff of the IRA; the appointment of a far more conservative Chief of Staff, Tom Barry; boredom amongst IRA volunteers in the absence of any military action, and 80 of them leaving for Spain to fight alongside Republicans there.
By 1939 the full betrayal on Fianna Fail’s part of Republican principles became startlingly clear to all when the IRA launched a bombing campaign in Britain, designed to show the British and Irish governments that not all Irishmen were happy with the puppet “Republic”. Dev’s answer to his old comrades in arms was the opening of internment camps in Curragh, and military courts which gave widespread powers of arrest and detention of Republican “suspects”.
The IRA staggered on through the forties. A planned campaign against the Northern Ireland state was dropped. Cathal Goulding, a young IRA volunteer, was elected to a provisional Army Council, a few months later all members of the new Council were arrested. In the middle of the forties Sean MacBride, formed “Clann na Poblachta” – designed to be the expression – again – of republican principles inside the regime.
By the late forties the battered remnants of the IRA called a convention at which military campaigns against Britain and Northern Ireland were planned, as well as aggressive military action in the South. IRA volunteers were forbidden to join the Communist Party, and were told summary dismissal faced them if they appeared in court on even the smallest charge. The IRA was to be untarnished by either “the red peril” or shades Chicago gangsterism. The same year Sean MacBride’s new party won ten seats in a General Election, and formed a coalition with the old Free State party, now called Fine Gael. Costello, as Taoiseach, proclaimed the Republic of Ireland. Britain’s answer being the Government of Ireland Act which formally handed over control of the North to the Stormont regime.
The middle fifties saw the IRA’s Border Campaign against Northern Ireland beginning. It was called off in 1962. Militarily and every other way the campaign was a complete flop. The Catholics in the North were on the whole disinterested in the IRA plan. Internment was introduced North and South and thousands of IRA men picked up.
In 1962, Cathal Goulding, just out from internment, and prior to that having served an eight year sentence in Britain, was elected Chief of Staff of the depleted and woe-begone Army. He ordered a complete moratorium (sic) of Republicanism since 1798, on the whole physical force tradition in Ireland, and on why, if so many Irishmen were prepared to die for Ireland, they never succeeded in freeing her.
The sixties was a period of re-assessment for the Republican Movement. Those anxious to get back on the border with guns and bombs were told to wait. Marxist intellectuals like Roy Johnston were co-opted on to a kind of “Think Tanks” to draft policies for discussion. By 1964 a nine point document was presented to an extraordinary Army Convention. Suspicions that the Army had “gone soft” were confirmed in the eyes of the old style IRA men, those who felt that the problem in Ireland consisted of the Border and nothing else, and that problem could only be solved by physical force. The new policy of the IRA was based on Marxist ideology. That if political power comes out of the barrel of a gun it’s necessary to gather the political ammunition of the people before firing the gun. Recommendations to the convention included the dropping of the “abstention ban” on Sinn Fein representatives (Sinn Fein being the political wing of the IRA) taking up their seats in the Dail or Stormont; the formation of a popular or national front with other left-wing movements; the engagement of members of the movement in all types of agitationary movements, whether through members of existing pressure groups, or the formation of new ones. If the IRA was really to be “the army of the people” as it claimed, then, it was argued, it must first identify with the people and their everyday struggle for existence.
Advising men whose expression of Republicanism had hitherto been midnight raids on the Northern border to take their place in the picket line alongside Socialists and Communists was not going to be an easy task. Ireland is a deeply conservative country and the Republican Movement as a whole reflected that conservatism. The Republican Movement had been following the holy grail of a “United Ireland” for too long, and at any cost, with the gun, to easily switch to political education and working with the people. De Valera’s accession to power had confused many Republicans, who still thought along Civil War lines, and thought all problems lay North of the border. Awakening them to the fact that bourgeois capitalism, or “green capitalism” existed in the South, that Fianna Fail were just as efficient lackeys of British business interests as the Unionists in the North, just as efficient expressions of the “cois muintir” (working class) was going to prove a long haul.
Some evidence of the threat the new Marxism of the Republican Movement posed to the Irish state, though, can be seen in the events which led up to the split in the Movement in January 1970. Through 1969 paid agents of the Fianna Fail government were told to infiltrate the IRA to reactivate the old physical force elements still living in romantic nationalistic dreams. A renewal of sectarian strife in Northern Ireland in August 1969 ensured that at least some of the old IRA men accepted the money and the arms offered by these agents of the Fianna Fail government in return for breaking away from Dublin Headquarters and its Marxist doctrines and pledging to concentrate activities in the North through the physical force method.
The crisis of August ’69 produced the denouement needed by the establishments North and South. In the North it ensured that the inching progress being made towards smashing sectarian barriers between Catholic and Protestant and the gradual democratisation of the State was halted. In the South it produced the necessary catalyst to call out all the latent nationalism in the people there which blinded them as to their oppression by Fianna Fail and ensured Fianna Fail’s continuance in power as long as the Provisional IRA maintained a physical force campaign.
The intensification of the Provisionals’ military campaign throughout ’71/’72 was, in the words of one Republican, “with the dust of the fucking bombs flying nobody could see where we were going.” Internment succeeded in halting the burgeoning political education programme of the Official IRA, further polarised the two communities as Catholics resisted it with vehemence and violence increased.
With the temporary suspension of Stormont the Provisional IRA went into decline. What they’d been demanding all along was suddenly granted overnight and their lack of political education, even of their own members, let alone the people on whose behalf they professed to be fighting, produced a crisis within the Movement. The Officials see the suspension of Stormont as another “mystification” of the essential problem – British imperialism.
In the short term the Officials believed that one of the basic problems in Northern Ireland was the division of the working class; that this division was no longer useful to Westminster, that therefore some sort of compromise government, or commission, must be established to govern Northern Ireland in Britain’s interest but with less blatant sectarian overtones than the Unionist Party.
While the Provisional IRA sees a United Ireland as one of its most important aims, the Officials feel that a United Ireland could be worked out within the next couple of years, initially through a federal solution linking Dublin, Westminster and Belfast. A United Ireland the Officials believe would confuse many “nationally minded” people who would see the problem as at last being solved.
The problem can only be solved, they say, when the grip Britain has over Ireland, by extension the grip the lackeys of British Imperialism have over Ireland – Fianna Fail and their cohorts – and the Unionists in the North – are all broken, and a socialist republic set up. They have no doubt in their minds that this is a long hard struggle.
STATEMENT TAKEN DOWN, EARLY 1972, VINDICATING SOCIALIST-REPUBLICAN POLICIES OF OFFICIAL IRA IN THE SOUTH AND NORTHERN PARTS OF IRELAND:
“I think from the time I first really started to think about revolution I felt the Republican Movement was the right one for Ireland. It was the people’s instinctive reaction to British Imperialism and through it I felt they would accept Socialist ideas that they mightnât say accept from something like the Communist Party.
“In 1962, I was elected Chief of Staff of the IRA. The Northern Border Campaign had just been called off. At that stage I felt what we needed to do in the Republican Movement was to sit down and have a good look at the whole revolutionary movement in Ireland – from 1798 up to today, I and others, felt that the Movement as a whole had never given a thought to winning a war. They only thought of starting one. What we lacked was the support of the people. The reason we didn’t have their support was that the people didn’t understand what we meant by freedom. They thought it was a sort of Brian O’Higgins type glorious vindication of the Irish race. This wasn’t our idea at all.
“Our struggle must be a socio/political one. Something to do with the ordinary people. The middle class Irish felt as emancipated as they ever would be, the people who needed the freedom were the people who had nothing. This is what we were fighting for, and we had to make it plain to the people. To do this we had to involve ourselves in their everyday struggles for existence. In housing, land, trade unions, unemployment – maybe it would take ten years of working like this before we could even say we had the basis of a revolutionary movement.
“A meeting of the IRA Army Council was called, and the Army Executive. We set up a committee to study the Movement. Most people felt we should re-organised the fighting units, get more arms and money and start the war all over again. It was pointed out that this had been done before and always ended up as it did in 1962 – the Movement practically smashed.
“In 1964 a nine point document was presented to an extraordinary Army Convention. It was for internal use only and dealt with what we should do as a revolutionary force. The main recommendations were dropping of the abstention ban on participation in parliament and the formation of a national liberation front to unite all the forces fighting against the Establishment. The job of the guerrilla fighter is to fight, or not to fight, according to the tactics that suit him best. There should be no hard and fast rules.
“As far as success goes I think its too early to think of success. We did help in initiating a very good housing action group in Dublin. We’ve been very active with the people in land agitations, in the protection of Irish fisherman, in the fight for the ownership of Irish rivers. The reciprocal support has been small. I don’t think this is the fault of the people, it’s partly that our movement wasn’t geared to this type of action at the time. Most of the people in the Movement were geared to a physical force campaign. First of all political agitation wasn’t as exciting I suppose.
“When we set about initiation our agitation movement in the North we came up against a blank wall. We were amateurs in a sense, and the Republican Movement was completely outlawed in the Six Counties. Before we could get any kind of proper agitation moving we wanted to clear the ground for political action. In other words to gain freedom for political manoeuvrability. The first thing we needed was civil rights. There was a kind of Mickey Mouse movement which wrote letters to the Government about prisoners in South Africa or something, so we decided to revive that. We told Republicans to join the Civil Rights Movement and to develop it, with the idea of gaining civil rights in the North.
“As long as the Civil Rights Movement didn’t look for revolution, or total freedom or unification with the 26 Counties, then we felt this would help get the Protestants involved, and get away from the old divisions. Our objectives were civil rights reform, for Catholic and Protestant working class, and the splitting of the Unionist Party.
“The Civil Rights Movement went from strength to strength. There were a lot of Protestants high up in the Six Counties at the time who were hankering after respectability. They wanted a democratic state like Britain. The people in power, the Unionists, knowing if the Movement did succeed it was the end of Unionism manufactured artificial pogroms on the Catholics to bring up the old enmity between Catholic and Protestant. This is now an established fact. The RUC and the B Specials led the Protestants into the Bogside in ’69 burning the houses and shooting people; the so called pogroms in Belfast were also led by the RUC and the B Specials.
“The pogroms of 1969 against the Catholic population produced the Provisional IRA. They in turn are now creating the necessary Protestant backlash, while the Establishment is still trying to ensure that there is no spread of civil rights demands into the Protestant working class.
“In 1969 certain agents and members of the Fianna Fail party were sent to infiltrate the IRA. When they found they couldn’t get any change from us they started working on the men in the North. The members there were told if they broke away from what they (the Fianna Fail agents) called the Marxist/Communist group in Dublin they’d be given arms and money. We were told in the South by these same men to stop attacking the establishment in the 26 Counties, drop all socialist policies and have an all-out attack on the Unionists in the North. What they wanted in fact was a development of Fianna Fail power into the Six Counties through a sectarian war. I told these agents we would decide how the arms and money would be used if we did decide to take them – and then all discussion stopped. We did in fact get money from Fianna Fail people collecting in London – I’ll take money from President Nixon if he offers it, but I’ll spend it the way I want.
“In January 1970 the Republican Movement split. I think it was inevitable. In Ireland you’ve always had this left/right struggle. The provisionals didn’t like our socialist policies. They saw the abolition of Stormont as a primary aim. We see Direct Rule as a retrograde step. You simply have a number of Commissioners regulating the Civil Service and the police. They’ll be the same Civil Service and the same RUC.
“What we want is democratisation of the system in Northern Ireland – more democracy, not less. We want the representatives of the people, to be the civil rights workers and people like Paisley and Boal. This means that the old political power blocs will be broken down. They are breaking down already. With civil rights guaranteed by some Bill of Rights the present regime couldn’t continue – you can’t have a dictatorship administering a democracy. Our aim is to develop the political and passive resistance of the people to the point where the administration just can’t administrate any more.
“I’m a physical force revolutionary. I’m not naive enough to think that we don’t have to use guns. An armed proletariat is the only assurance that they can have the rule of the proletariat.
“But we believe that the most important thing in the Six Counties at the moment is the civil resistance campaign. We have used every effort to try and get the people back on the streets, the demonstrations, non-payment of rent and rates, passive resistance. This is the most important phase of the struggle because it involves the people. You might have 500 armed IRA men in the North but it wouldn’t be as good as 10,000 people resisting in a passive way. The two together would be even better of course! but the most important part of any revolution is the involvement of the people, this ensures that when a settlement comes the people will have to be represented at the talks.
“In 1969-70 you had the Citizens Defence Committees in the different areas – Protestant and Catholic. This was a revolutionary development. Irrespective of the people’s reasons for it. Once they begin thinking along independent lines you slowly break down the power the political parties have over them. There was joint action on a number of occasions between Protestant and Catholic working class. The Protestants wouldn’t be in favour of the IRA, but it was a contact, for a certain limited social objectives – bettering housing, better jobs.
“Due to the sectarian bombing and shooting campaign of the Provisionals this has now broken down. The non-payment of rents could have drawn in the Protestants if it hadn’t been for the Provo’s campaign. If a Protestant worker, working alongside a Catholic, knew that the Catholic was drinking his ten bob rent instead of paying it to the Local Authority, he’d very soon say to the Authority, ‘Well if them Fenian bastards aren’t going to pay their rent, I’m not going to pay me fuckin’ rent either’.
“The main function of the Official IRA in the North at the moment is to see that there is a mass involvement. That the street committees and all kinds of civil resistance committees become kind of People’s Soviets, actually administrating the areas. We would like to see the local IRA units putting themselves at the disposal then of these committees for the defence of the areas, to be the armed cadre of the people. In the case of the IRA administering law and order I don’t think this should be done. I think the people should administer their own law and order and if they want the IRA’s help they could call on them. In the end we won’t have to go out and attack the British Army, but the British Army will have to come in and attack the people in these areas who are opposing the Establishment. They’d have to come in and put a soldier on every doorstep.
“If the people are in control of their own areas they can have a say in any settlement that comes. Even if they’re from the Shankill Defence Association and are bigoted initially, in the final analysis theyll be forced by their own people to represent local interests. It the Catholics then are demanding better houses and better jobs, the Protestants won’t sit around simply demanding a defence of the Constitution – they’ll want the same social demands as the Catholics. Any advance the Catholics make towards civil rights, as workers, the Protestants will want the same. This will bring them both into confrontation with the Establishment, the more this happens the more you will break down the traditional loyalties and power blocs.
“We could produce a crisis situation in the morning in the North, either with the Provos on our own. But what would happen? Would the British say ‘okay, here’s the Six Counties, have your little workers republic’, or would they say, ‘we’re getting out altogether’? I don’t believe they’d say either. What they might do is have some kind of federal solution, or a united Ireland, with the 26 Counties re-enforced to protect the interests of Capitalism, British Capitalism. A United Ireland would confuse a lot of ‘nationally minded’ people in Ireland. They would support it, and this would mean a lessening of support for revolutionary forces. I don’t see any difference between Jack Lynch and Brian Faulkner. I’m sure they could hammer out some solution – but what would that bring? Simply a re-enforcement of the grip that vested interests have in Ireland.
“Political power vested in the people through the street committees, will slowly but surely develop the take over of industrial resources, and the means of production, distribution and exchange in the Six Counties, which will have an effect on the 26 Counties as well, democratising it, and this would allow us to develop towards a 32 County Workers’ Republic.
“At the moment though we consider the anti-EEC campaign to be the most important issue in the country, North and South. If the EEC becomes a fact then the establishment of a socialist Republic in Ireland is going to be put back for maybe hundreds of years. The EEC bloc is one that has been developed by the big cartles of Europe and America, it’s anti-social. Ireland would become a hunting, hooring, and fishing group for the big business elements in Europe.
“In the North we believe we must continue to critise the actions of the Provos because basically they are anti-people. In the sense that onece they alienate any one section of the Irish working class community they are wrong. A Workers’ Republic isn’t possible without the co-ooperation of a fairly large section of the Protestant working class community. Our aims on this line would be to bring in or neutralise, in some shape or form the working class Protestants into the struggle.
“I believe in the long run we’re in a better position organisationally than the Provos. They’ve lost a lot of their Northern leadership through people like Joe Cahill, Martin Meehan and those having to come to the South. The Provos are now coming back to the situation where they can’t mount a decent military operation with the Six Counties, but have to attack over the border from the 26 Counties. As their military leadership begins to decline so will their military activities. What helps the Provos most in the North is that every Catholic youth is a Provo at heart. They can be used individually by the Provisionals for one operation, say planting gelignite in a shop. In this way the campaign can go on for a long time. Anyone who kills a British soldier is “a good fuckin’ man’ in the Catholics’ eyes. They may be more popular too in a military sense, people say – “well they’ve shot more of the bastards than you lot have”, or, “you people are not half as good in an aggressive sort of way as the Provos”. But when it comes down to the cold logic, to a committee of people deciding what they want done, and how they can get it, I think they will trust us far more. We want all our units answerable to these local committees – in the end I think the majority of people will see the difference between the pay-off of violence, and the pay-off of the civil resistance campaign.
“The basic difference between us and the Provos is that they believe that by uniting the Catholics North and South they can have a United Ireland, we say you canât. The middle class Catholics in the North are just as worried about retaining their stranglehold over the people as the middle class Protestants are. Theyâd all love some kind of settlement so they can get back to the business of making money.
âI think the role of the IRA in the North now is to get back to a situation where we can organise in a revolutionary way. I think while the âno goâ areas in Derry provide an opportunity for developing revolutionary consciousness among the Catholic working class, they [the barricades] are creating a greater barrier than the old barriers of State sectarianism to our getting across to the Protestant working class.
âI think some form of peace should be established. I donât mean the peace that will allow the establishment to continue its exploitation of the people, or the peace that will allow them to hunt down men on the run, but peace on our terms.
âThese are: (1) an end to all repressive laws (such as the Special Powers Act.) (2) The unconditional release of all internees, an amnesty for men on the run and release of political prisoners. (3) The withdrawal of the British Army to their barracks, pending their complete withdrawal from Northern Ireland. (4) A declaration of intent from the British Government that we in the Republican Movement will have the freedom to operate openly like any other political organisation.â
Gavin Mendel-Gleason - Sat Dec 10, 2016 18:23
In 2012, there was substantial outrage about Russia placing restriction on foreign financing of NGOs and unions which was spurred by the fact that there was significant funding by the United States. The Western media were almost uniformly appalled that … Continue reading →
In 2012, there was substantial outrage about Russia placing restriction on foreign financing of NGOs and unions which was spurred by the fact that there was significant funding by the United States. The Western media were almost uniformly appalled that such restrictions would be placed. I remember reflecting at the time on what the media angle might be were the roles reversed. What if Russia had tried to interfere in US politics by funding opposition forces? I surmised there would be immediate calls of treason and the response would be at least as intense as the one for which Russia was being condemned.
Well, it turns out I wasn’t wrong in this prediction. The current scenario demonstrates the asymmetry nicely. Russia is currently being accused of hacking the US to subvert the election. This claim is being made by both the power centre of the Democratic Party and by the CIA and is now being featured as a media headline in the Washington Post, the Guardian and other major media outlets.
It’s certainly likely that Russia’s security state is involved in hacking exercises in the US. The US is involved in vast numbers of cybersecurity attacks in Russia, including promulgating some of the most sophisticated worms and viruses ever caught in the wild, so it would only stand to reason that the Russians would be concerned to be competent at cyber-warfare themselves. However, for this specific claim of hacking the DNC or Hillary’s e-mails, we’ve been given virtually no evidence, and the evidence that was supplied is unconvincing to anyone with even passing familiarity of computer security.
But even if we accept that the Russians did directly hack the DNC and/or Hillary, the claim of Russian hacking to subvert the election appears to resolve to Russia having introduced too much transparency into the election. The claim is that Hillary and the DNC were disadvantaged by the leaking of information which demonstrates conclusively what they actually think. That we were swayed by knowledge of the internal Machiavellian machinations that Hillary and co. engaged in to ensure that the Democrats remain firmly in the hands of the billionaire elites and her involvement in creating chaos in the Middle East.
How can any progressive believe that we would all be better off if the real internal nature of the Democrats was opaque to the voting public? The only apparent argument is that this is unfair as there were no leaks about Trump. But what is there to be leaked? The guy was apparently raping people, involved in numerous criminal lawsuits, a xenophobe and an unabashed oligarch. All of this was in the public domain and widely advertised by the media. For my own part, I’m quite confident that there isn’t much that could have harmed Trump which was not already mobilised by the media.
If all of this weren’t bad enough, the CIA are one of the major contributors to the story of Russia as hostile foreign force. They backed Hillary all the way because she represents the interests of empire. She, in her position in the State department, proved a competent administrator of the world system of American military hegemony. Trump is widely hated by this group precisely because he is not considered to be an effective imperialist. The CIA and the rest of the security state have an interest in the centrist elite that Hillary represents and so it is not even slightly surprising that they support her in opposition to Trump.
Aside from the CIA having a stake in the outcomes, their function is precisely to distort truth. One of their core missions is disinformation in the interest of continuing American power. They have lied and lied repeatedly.They are responsible for decades of interference in democratic elections all over the world, often in support of brutal right-wing dictatorships. Being credulous of their claims speaks of either deep ignorance or calculated malfeasance.
We appear to be entering a stage in which the CIA’s operations are, once again, turning inwards to influence politics in the US. This direction could accelerate especially if Trump is bold enough to try to actually dismantle NATO relationships or move the US towards a truly isolationist policy. The well-studied techniques of subversion of democracy abroad can easily become subversion of democracy internally.
The exhortations to patriotism and demonisation of Russia are extremely dangerous. It amounts to siding with the American security state in their aim of keeping a tight grip on world power. This narrative of Russian interference helps to create an “other” that the elites can use to justify the status quo and continuing on the path of growing inequality. It is a narrative which says: âThe real threat is abroad, and those who donât side with us are foreign agents.â If this story goes unchecked, it will be mobilised even more effectively against Socialists than it is currently being mobilised against the Right. It may seem convenient to go along with Hillary and her CIA friends at the present moment as a ballast against Trump, but it will not serve us well in the end.