Activists demand ‘no more delays’ in decriminalising abortion in North

By Emma Campbell.

The Alliance for Choice has welcomed the landslide vote in favour of abortion rights in Northern Ireland in the House of Commons in Westminster on Tuesday July 16 and has urged the government to take action. An amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill 2019, tabled by Stella Creasy MP, passed by 332-99 votes. There must be no more delay on the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.

The amendment states that if the Northern Ireland Assembly has not reconvened by October 21 2019, the government will be required  to change abortion laws in Northern Ireland. The change in the law will require the government to bring Northern Ireland’s abortion law into line with the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which has recommended the repeal of Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.

Women, girls and pregnant people in Northern Ireland face some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.  Last year 1,053 women traveled to England and Wales to access abortion. The outcome of this vote is a huge step forward in support for human rights and a recognition that urgent action is needed. We urge the government to listen to the majority of the House of Commons and not to delay any further.

Concerns over House of Lords attempt to weaken proposal

The Bill is currently going through the House of Lords today (Wednesday July 17), and will return to the House of Commons for another vote tomorrow.

Campaigners for abortion law reform in Northern Ireland have raised their concerns regarding potential amendments in the House of Lords today to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which are aimed to derail or delay the Clause 9 as introduced by Stella Creasy MP.

An amendment to Clause 9 has been tabled by Lord Morrow and Baroness O’Loan which would require the government to “consult individually with members of the Northern Ireland Assembly on the proposals” and that the regulations could only come in to effect with the agreement of a majority of MLAs.

Campaigners are calling on the Lords to support a revised amendment tabled today by Lord Dubs, Baroness Watkins, and Baroness Barker, supported by Stella Creasy, which has stated a completion date of January 13 – the same date that the amendment on equal marriage is expected to come into effect.

Abortion provisions and restrictions in Northern Ireland

There are existing regulations and provision for abortion already in Northern Ireland. Up until 2013, there were on average 80 abortions each year, usually due to foetal anomalies or severe illness. Marie Stopes was open from 2012-2017 and provided Early Medical Abortion (EMA) to people who met the strict criteria in Belfast, and scanned and referred others overseas. Unlike in the Republic since the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which is starting from scratch, we do have some existing provision and expertise on abortion – albeit limited.

There is currently a draft set of National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines to terminations which would be able to take effect in Northern Ireland if abortion is decriminalised. The guidelines state: “This guideline covers termination of pregnancy for women of any age. It aims to improve the organisation of services to make it easier for women to access a termination. Detailed recommendations on conducting terminations at different gestational stages are also included, to ensure that women get the most effective care possible.”

The Department of Health in the North has a formal link with NICE, under which NICE guidance – published on July 1, 2006 – is reviewed locally for its applicability to Northern Ireland and, where found to be applicable, is endorsed by the Department for implementation in health and social care service delivery.

Medical professionals support decriminalisation

A questionnaire was posted in 2009 to all 43 NHS gynaecologists in Northern Ireland. One had retired. After three mailings, 37 practitioners replied; a response rate of 88 per cent. Of these, 21 (57 per cent) favoured a liberalisation of the law in Northern Ireland . Even if all the non-responders opposed liberalisation, half (21/42) would still be in favour.

A total of 35 per cent (13 of 37) wanted unrestricted access in the first trimester, a more liberal position than allowed by the current law in Great Britain. A total of 29 (78 per cent) were in favour of free abortions for women from Northern Ireland, as is largely the case in England and Wales. A total of 19 (51 per cent) were in favour of abortion charities being licensed to carry out legal abortions in Northern Ireland but 38 per cent were opposed to this proposal.

The following medical bodies are in support of decriminalisation of abortion for women and pregnant people in Great Britain and Northern Ireland:

  • The Royal College of Midwives

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has long campaigned for women in Northern Ireland to be given the same rights and access to abortion healthcare services as women in the UK.

  • The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has stated: “Members of the Northern Ireland Committee have increasing concerns regarding the purchase of abortion-inducing medications online and the potential complications that can arise when they are not taken under medical supervision. This poses difficulties for healthcare professionals caring for women under such circumstances and places women and professionals at risk of imprisonment.”

“We are aware that women, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances, are more likely to attempt to access abortion pills online, despite the recent changes in arrangements for abortion provision in England. It is also more likely that women may delay seeking help should they develop any complications from taking these pills, due to the fear of being discovered and the potential legal consequences.”

  • The Royal College of Nurses

Recently the Royal College of Nursing released the results of its consultation on decriminalisation. The UK-wide poll of members revealed that 73.7 per cent voted in favour of removing criminal sanctions on abortion – however, they are yet to take a position on this issue.

  • Medical Students for Choice

The Medical Students for Choice group has said: “We actively support the introduction of legislation to ensure the full decriminalisation of abortion in NI, and stand in solidarity with the Repeal the 8th coalition in the Republic of Ireland.

  • British Medical Association (the industry trade union)

The union representing medical professionals has stated: “The BMA supports the decriminalisation of abortion UK-wide. Abortion should be treated as a medical issue rather than a criminal issue.”

In a 2017 discussion paper on the issue, the union said it “supports the extension of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland, where it would remain applicable if abortion was decriminalised (for example, if abortion was decriminalised up to 24 weeks’ gestation, the Abortion Act may still apply post 24 weeks gestation).

“The BMA has expressed concerns about section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 which places a legal duty, unique to Northern Ireland, on everyone to report to the police information they may have about the commission of a relevant offence (i.e. one with a maximum sentence of five years or more).”

The Alliance for Choice knows that there are medical professionals who support women’s access to abortion. We had a number of doctors, nurses and others who worked at Marie Stopes Belfast when it was operating between 2012 and 2017. We also know that there were a number of obstetricians and gynaecologists who provided abortions due to fatal foetal abnormalities and for so-called vulnerable women until the 2013 Guidelines from the Department of Health were released, following which the number of abortions per year dropped from an average of 80 to an average of 20, forcing other women to travel.

Emma Campbell is the co-chair of Alliance for Choice . You can follow the Alliance for Choice on Twitter @All4Choice and on Facebook here.

Being LGBT+ in the Traveller community: a personal reflection

By Lois Brooks-Jones.

I remember being sat on the armchair, nails diggings at the leather out of stress as a comfort. I was 14 years old and was preparing to tell my family that I am bisexual. I had known for years, trying to suppress myself due to a phobia of losing everyone I loved. I just wanted to be straight, and not have to worry about seeing the care in my mother and father’s eyes leave, no matter how often they professed their support for LGBT+ rights in small but meaningful ways. 

This fear increases when you come from a community which is currently experiencing mass programmes of assimilation by governments and institutional powers, where ideas of tradition and historical cultural values are clung to even harder, to feel a sense of identity in a world which has been trying for 1000 years to smite it.

You fear being rejected from a community which protects you from the pain and harm caused by wider gadjo society for your sexuality or gender identity, and then being rejected from mainstream society for not only being LGBT+, but also for being Gypsy, Roma Traveller (GRT) identifying. This is a common narrative for LGBT+ GRT youth trying to navigate their own identity as well as deconstructing the extent of their family’s love and support. This impacts mental health, emotional wellbeing, as well as potential regarding suicide victims. 

I was lucky to have my grandmother. When I was 13 years old she point-blank asked if I was gay, taking long drags from her cigarette as she looked at me with her dark eyes. Seeing my hesitation, she followed up her question by saying “Because it’s okay if you are, you know”.

This is a woman born amid 1930s fascism, who learnt what it meant to be persecuted based on an identity outside of her control, and that this level of discrimination and hatred must not happen again. Included in the mass murder under Nazi Germany, LGBT+ people were included, with up to 15,000 LGBT+ being transported to Nazi concentration camps, with 60 per cent believed to have been murdered there.

Need for a support network

When we discriminate against LGBT+ people, we discriminate and threaten the safety of members of our own, already marginalised community. My family not only fully supported me in my sexuality, but also support those without the support of their own families. In no way am I saying that GRT are intrinsically anti-LGBT+, my own family are a testimony to love and acceptance. However, we can’t deny a lack of acceptance for LGBT+ GRT youth in need of a support network. 

Changes are happening, albeit slowly, and we must celebrate the fact that this year for the first time, LGBT+ Travellers made history, as in we had official representation at London Pride. This should by no means be seen as an ends in itself, but instead a vital part in a long-running battle for recognition and acceptance; a momentum on which we can build and send out a strong message to not only LGBT+ GRT people specifically, but to our community in general. We must tackle these attitudes head-on and with pride in ourselves. 

When we begin to accept hatred towards others based on identity, we comply with our oppressors. We divide ourselves, define what is or isn’t GRT, and do the establishment’s work for them. 

Lois Brooks-Jones is currently studying politics and international relations. A British Romany Gypsy, she is a Gypsy Roma Traveller and LGBT+ activist. Follow www.lgbttravellerpride.co on Twitter @TravellerLGBT

Neoliberalism is dead, long live neoliberalism!

By Lisbeth Latham.

Neoliberalism is a term which has entered the left lexicon over the past three decades, although in different countries it can have other analogous terms. While it is a term that the left has embraced, the right, and the advocates of what is commonly referred to as neoliberalism, deny it exists as a phenomenon, instead arguing that it reflects the conspiratorial nature of the left. 

Contrary to these positions I argue that there is a usefulness in conceptualising neoliberalism as a distinct response to the capitalist crisis, and that it is not only the hegemonic response to capitalist crisis but that its proponents use crises to deepen and strengthen its hegemony. Moreover, because significant sections of the governmental left have embraced neoliberalism, challenging neoliberalism is central to not only rebuilding left alternatives but to challenging the rise of the far-right internationally. 

Why does capitalism experience crises?

Capitalism is the only economic system in the history of humanity that is driven by a need to expand and take over pre-existing social relations. It is also the only economic system in which  economic crises are characterised by the production of too much use values (at least in the early period of the a crisis). Marx postulated that the primary underlying driver of an economic crisis is the tendency of the rate of profit to decline. Adding to this general tendency is the anarchic character of the capitalist system, where individual capitalists seek to maximise their own profits by shifting investment to areas of higher rates of profits, which leads to a series of additional crises, specifically crises of overproduction and crises of over-accumulation. 

The rate of profit is profit (or surplus value) over the sum of constant capital and variable capital. Political economists dating back to Adam Smith and David Ricardo argued that it was an undeniable fact that there was a tendency of the rate of profit to decline; however, they believed it remained unclear what the mechanism for this decline was. Marx, in Volume 3 of Capital, argued that this tendency was driven fundamentally by profit (i.e. surplus value) being derived from labour. 

Therefore, increases in constant capital (an increase in the organic composition of capital – for example, factory machinery or the value of the goods and materials required to produce a commodity) would reduce the amount of labour power involved in production and thus overtime would result in a reduction in the amount of surplus value being extracted in comparison to the total constant and variable capital involved in its production. 

Crises of overproduction 

Overproduction simply means that too many goods – of either a single category or multiple categories of goods – are being produced to be sold and generate sufficient profits. Since the earlier period of laissez faire capitalism when markets were generally expanding, this is the normal state of affairs. In the US auto-industry, for instance, the industry operated at 75.9 per cent of capacity in the first quarter of 2019. 

A crisis occurs, however, when the production and sale of goods is no longer able to produce a profit, or at the very least a sufficient profit which can lead to individual companies, or whole industries collapsing. Such collapses, while a disaster for individual capitalists or corporations and the thousands of workers who are employed by them, creates opportunities in the economy to remove excess capacity from circulation and reduce competition.

Crisis of over-accumulation

Over-accumulation crises occur when the level of capital accumulation in the system reaches such a point that there is too much capital in circulation for significant levels of capital to be profitably invested or reinvested in production, or at least increases the appeal of capital investment in financial speculation rather than in investment in new capital goods. 

Overcoming a crisis of over-accumulation requires either the destruction of significant amounts of capital, such as through war, a major recession with widespread bankruptcy, the opening of new markets to create expanded demand, or via the development of new technology – opening new avenues for capital investment. In all of these circumstances, the relief provided cannot and will not be permanent.

Throughout the history of capitalism there have been a range of responses to capitalist crises, particularly large-scale crisis such as recessions and depressions. In the wake of the 1929 stock market crash and resulting Great Depression, then US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, along with a range of governments in advanced capitalist countries, embraced Keynesian responses, which focused on what Roosevelt referred to as “pump-priming” – i.e., public expenditure on infrastructure, much of which was subsidised by using the unemployed as a cheap labour source. 

The Great Depression

Such measures were essential in overcoming the impact of the Great Depression, and they undoubtedly ameliorated some of the worst levels of poverty unleashed by the depression. But there are two important points to remember: the first is that in many countries the Great Depression unleashed significant levels of class struggle, including both the unemployed and the employed – with this struggle resulting in the victory of fascism at the domestic level in Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain – and with the emergence of social democratic governments in a number of countries for the first time. 

In response to an increasingly combative US working class, exemplified by the West Coast maritime strike, the Teamster strikes in Minneapolis, and the Toledo Auto-Lite strike – all of which occurred in 1934 and are seen as key drivers of industrial unionism in the US –  Roosevelt’s second New Deal in 1935 had specific measures seeking to limit the level of violence in the class struggle with formal mechanism for union recognition (Preis, A. 1964. Labor’s giant step: Twenty years of the CIO. Monad Press, New York). 

The second point to note is that many economies did not truly recover from the Great Depression until the second world was, where the massive investment in armaments, mass conscription, and the destruction pf capital goods fed economic growth, and massive profits, this was particularly the case in the united states where the majority of unions, particularly in Stalinist lead unions, made no strike pledges to help support the war effort (ibid). 

Expansion of capitalist accumulation 

In the wake of World War II, the environment was set for the rapid expansion of capitalist accumulation. These were the massive destruction of capital goods wrought by the war, and the opening up of new markets as more and more imperial colonial powers broke up under the pressure of anti-colonial national liberation struggles. 

At the same time, the growth in confidence of the working class, along with the enhanced standing and expansion of the Soviet Bloc through its role in the defeat of fascism in World War II – placing whole swathes of Western Europe at risk of being ‘lost’ to capitalism – despite the efforts of the Soviet leadership to maintain the division of Europe as agreed between Britain, the US and the Soviet Union at the Yalta Conference. 

In this context the US government launched the Marshall Plan to massively boost the rebuilding of capital in Western Europe and Japan. In addition, there was pressure to expand social services and public welfare provisions. These steps lay the foundations for the long post-war boom in Western Europe and the US, which was also prolonged by imperialist spending on their militaries as part of Cold War and hot wars in Korea and Vietnam. 

The 1973 oil crisis

However, the long boom held within it the roots its own demise, which were exacerbated by other dimensions. These were the absolute limits of expanding markets via the collapse of European colonial empires; the rebuilding of capital in the wake of the destruction of World War II leading to greater capitalist competition and reduced opportunities productive capitalist investments; and growing US deficits due to the cost of the Vietnam war. 

In addition, more and more markets were either removed or became more restricted from access to imperialist capitalism as a consequence of national liberation struggles and attempts to build their own national economies. These developments led to a growing stagflation crisis, where both inflation and unemployment grew. This meant that the international capitalist system was vulnerable to further shocks to the economy as the long boom came to a close. Of particular importance were the 1973 OPEC strike and subsequent oil crisis and along with global decline in the demand for steel, exacerbating pressures of deindustrialisation, particularly in the US.

Insurgent neoliberalism

In response to these challenges, a wave of conservative economist and social theorists began to gain a greater hearing among governments for their alternative model for saving capitalism. These groupings, commonly referred to as neoliberals, have their origins in a serious of meetings that founded the Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS) in 1947. 

Although not having a clear economic doctrine, it represented a political project to reassert capitalist class power and defeat the growing strength of the working class and its organisations the trade unions and the social democratic and communist parties. During its early existence neoliberalism sought to construct a international thought collective represented by a range of national and international think tanks, and seeking to influence and take over university economics departments transforming their positions into increasingly common-sense and thus hegemonic responses to economic crisis.

The ‘Chicago Boys’ make their mark

The first experiments with the implementation of neoliberalism came in Indonesia and Chile following the respective coup d’etats  in those countries in 1966 and 1973. In Indonesia, following the establishment of Suharto’s New Order regime, which had been supported in its smashing and mass slaughter of the country’s communist and nationalist left, orchestrated by US intelligence services (particularly the CIA), moves were made to remove barriers to investment by capital from the US and other imperialist nations. 

In addition, the Indonesian economy was actively carved up between US corporations. Despite these changes that enabled the expanded imperialist exploitation of Indonesian natural resources and labour, investment processes were extremely corrupt, with investments requiring joint ventures – with domestic Indonesian capital generally with connections to Suharto’s family and the cronies around him. 

The extensive level of poverty within the country, exacerbated by the opening up of the economy, also meant that the state was forced to provide a significant level of subsidisation of basic goods to enable much of the population to survive – essentially state subsidies for social reproduction in order to allow the imperialist extraction of super-profits. 

In Chile, following the September 1973 coup against President Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government – carried out by the Chilean armed forces with the backing of the US government (pictured) – there began a program of both mass repression and economic transformation.

During the coup and its aftermath tens of thousands of people were murdered and terrorised, and a further 200,000 people (six per cent of the population) were forced into exile. At the same time, the ‘Chicago Boys’ – academic and graduates from the University of Chicago’s School of Economics, including “Nobel Prize” winner Milton Friedman – were brought in to reshape the Chilean economy. The impact of this transformation saw significant reductions when comparing, wages and social spending when comparing 1970 to 1989:

  • Wages decreased by eight per cent.
  • Family allowances in 1989 were 28 per cent of what they had been in 1970. 
  • Budgets for education, health and housing had dropped by over 20 per cent on average.

At the same time, Chile was seen as an economic miracle in comparison to other parts Latin America, with consistent growth in the economy, and lower levels of unemployment than in other Latin American countries. This helped neoliberals to assert ‘common-sense’ truths that private companies are more efficient than governments in delivering services; that higher profits leads to more jobs; and thus lower wages lead to more jobs. 

Neoliberalism bites in the global south

With these ‘successes’ neoliberals were in a position to push for the application of neoliberal solutions to economic difficulties facing both economies of both the imperialist centre and the global south. These changes were pushed by both the victory of openly neoliberal politicians such as US President Ronald Reagan and British PM Margaret Thatcher, and in the case of Australia, France, and Germany social-democratic (or more accurately social-liberal) governments. 

In these countries the attacks were pitched as necessary to maintain competitiveness, the rejection of social goods, and general social responsibility for the collective good – and the assertion, in Thatcher’s words, that “there is no alternative”. In many global south countries, resistance to change came from governments, who were unwilling to go as far as demanded, then the levers of international financial institutions as such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organisation (WTO), which sought to tie loans and bailouts to deregulation and privatisation of countries’ resources.

These institutions routinely operated on a gaslighting framework where the people whose economies had failed under the strain of neoliberal restructuring were told that the problem was not the changes that was enabling corporations to extract billions in profits from the countries for little return, but rather that that their economies had not been restructured enough and the recipe for their situation was more and more privatisation and deregulation.  

Can neoliberalism be defined?

So what is neoliberalism? There is no definitive prescription of what neoliberalism consists of, which is why its advocates can so readily dismiss its existence.

Neoliberalism began as a small intellectual society founded at Mont Pèlerin in 1947, initially heavily influenced by the ideas of Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, but similar societies and think tanks were established globally. These organisations sought to take over and influence university, institutional, and governmental economics programs, forming what Philip Mirowski refers to as the “neoliberal thought collective”

These interlinking bodies do not so much articulate a coherent policy doctrine as seek to build and inculcate policy discussions with neoliberal ideas, which may well be at odds with each other, but have the effect of co-opting and subsuming the language of other movements, but also creating a situation where people are presented with not a choice between neoliberalism or an alternative solution, but simply varying forms of neoliberal solutions – which both, in George Lukács’ view is an articulation of the power of neoliberalism as a hegemonic discourse, but also reinforcing Thatcher’s dictum that “there is no alternative”.

Neoliberalism as a response to capitalist crisis

Neoliberalism constitutes a political project aimed at weakening the political power of the working class, asserting the political power of the capitalist class and seeking to establish profitable avenues for capital investment (Harvey, D. 2007. “A brief history of neoliberalism”. Oxford University Press, Oxford.)

Key features of neoliberal projects include:

  • Reducing barriers to the movement of capital by both removing barriers to capital investment and shattering trade barriers; 
  • Increasing barriers to the movement of workers – which results in increasingly constrained rights and marginalisation for migrant workers (this includes open calls to movement being linked to migrants’ wealth);
  • Prying open more aspects of social life for capital investment – privatisation and ownership of water, for example, exemplified by the 1999-2000 water wars in Cochabamba, Bolivia, between the community and the the Nestlé corporation;
  • Opening of government services to capitalist competition, whether through direct privatisation; corporatisation; “public-private partnerships”; access by government agencies or the introduction of “voucher systems” to enable government subsidisation of the entry of private capital into the provision of social services; and at the same time, deregulating costs. This is often articulated in terms of enhancing consumer “choice”;
  • Reduction in government spending, primarily premised on the justification of the need to reign in deficits, although this has rarely been achieved (throughout the neoliberal decades the US’s budget had regularly been in deficit). Instead reductions occur primarily as a consequence of declines in government income via the narrowing of the tax base to be more heavily reliant on working people, and a redirection of government spending away from social spending on the working class and the promotion of worker-funded retirement funds – which both reduce government responsibility and make massive levels of capital available for speculation on capital markets. For example, the Australian Superannuation Funds amounted to to $AU2.8 trillion in funds at the end of the March Quarter of 2019 .

Weakening the strength and power of organised labour 

The outsourcing of work occurs both within public services and in private companies, often posed as leading to cheaper costs, Outsourcing works to undermine the bargaining power both of the outsourced and non-sourced workers, but tends to have higher overall costs due to the labour hire companies’ own need to provide their own work materials. 

The tying of wage increases to productivity increases has resulted in a significant shift in the share of GDP to profits away from wages, as workers are forced to work increasingly hard to see their wages maintain pace with inflation 

The shifting the cost of the reproduction of labour onto the working class has occurred through a range of mechanism including:

Shifting the burden of paying for the state apparatus via increased taxes on workers and the reduction taxes on capital; 

Reducing spending on social services – via either total elimination of services or means-testing services.

The 2008 crisis and beyond 

The 2008 global financial crisis and subsequent Eurozone crises, with the accompanying response by governments have been seen by some as signalling the death of neoliberalism. However, as Mirowski and others would argue, the responses to these crises instead reflect a deepening of neoliberalism – in that they have resulted in the efforts of saving capitalism being carried on the back of workers, while international capital has largely been free to continue to reap massive profits and pay out dividends and bonuses even as they were receiving public subsidies to survive.  

In response to the global financial crisis (GFC), the US government bailed out banks and financial institutions to the tune of of $US4.6 trillion. This was bankrolled by US taxpayers. The US and other governments facilitated banking consolidation to “save the system” – handing billions in assets to surviving major banks. 

In response to the failure of the “big three” US auto manufacturers, the then Obama administration provided a bailout of $US80.7 billion. This bailout was premised on the tearing up of workers’ collective agreements with demands that workers make significant concessions on their working conditions in order to keep their jobs. 

In Europe, Ireland’s opening up of the purchase of non-performing loans to cheap purchase by vulture funds has driven up housing prices in Dublin at a time of acute economic decline. We also continue to see – in the face of the imminent destruction of our planet – continued refusal and obfuscation by governments and by capital to take serious action to slow and hopefully stop action to combat climate change. The US and Australian governments in particular continue to subsidise the fossil fuel industry .  

Factors behind the growth of the far right

The past three decades have seen a growth of the far right in a wide range of countries, which has coincided with a decline and weakening of the left. This shift has been partly premised on deindustrialisation of certain economies and the erosion of the welfare state, which left-wing parties have at times been responsible for, particularly when in government coalitions with right-wing forces.  

This has resulted in understandable anger and frustration among sections of the working class and the petite bourgeoisie – anger which the right has demagogically sought to direct into anger at marginalised communities, which it blames while at the same time cynically supporting many of the attacks on working people. 

In France for example, Marine Le Pen’s National Front – now National Rally – has sought to court a range of marginalised communities, including Jewish, Islamic, and Queer communities by painting itself as the only force capable of protecting them from “marriage equality” and Islamic fundamentalism respectively. 

Part of the growth of the far right can be explained by the reality that the interests of capitalist class are not homogeneous – the capitalist class is made up of fractions that reflect different interests within its own class. The far right reflect interests of capitalist class fractions that would benefit from a more nationalist framework. Moreover, the far-right in a range of countries have a long history of supporting policies that are not in the interests of working people or the petite bourgeoisie. 

This includes support for:

  • deregulation and privatisation;
  • cutting of legislation which limit pollution; 
  • cuts to social security;
  • attacks on working people.

Left demands opposing neoliberalism

Despite this record, the far-right has taken advantage of the complicity of social-democratic and other left parties in the implementation of neoliberalism to seek to present themselves as the only opponents of austerity and the dislocation of the working class. This includes seeking to cynically accuse social democracy and the left more broadly of abandoning workers for support for multiculturalism and the support of other marginalised communities – causes that the left are more likely to support, but which is totally unrelated to the implementation and support for neoliberalism. 

In response to this challenge, it is important that the left is seen as putting forward proposals that address the needs of working people without giving ground to attacks on marginalised communities. Such demands would include:

  • In the event of mass foreclosures government should protect owner-occupiers;
  • Ensuring our demands are around universal provision of services rather than accepting means-testing for access;
  • Ban redundancies in profitable companies;
  • Job creation through limiting overtime and reducing working hours with no loss in pay;
  • Support for a universal basic income – but it must be set at a level which is liveable, and there must be strict controls on rent/commodity prices to ensure that it is not simply consumed as increased profits;
  • Ending of speculation and separating retail banks from investment banks;
  • Caps on wage ratios between senior managements and the lowest-paid workers;
  • Lifting company tax and personal income tax threshold for higher-income earners to fund an expansion of social services;
  • Reabsorption of outsourced social services back into the government – to facilitate collective bargaining and improved wages for workers in these vital and essential services;
  • Legislate to require companies operating in a country to at minimum comply with that country’s standards when operating in other countries;
  • Legislate to enable workers the option of creating co-operatives in companies facing closure or sale;
  • Give workers veto rights on restructuring plans.

While such demands seem unrealistic in the context of more than 30 years of retreat and defeat globally for progressive movements, it is important for us to consistently challenge neoliberal hegemony and to always, to quote Che, “be realistic and demand the impossible”.

Lisbeth Latham is a contributing editor to Irish Broad Left. You can follow her on Twitter @grumpenprol.

Trotskyism today and Cold War hysterics

By Fergal Twomey.

“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language” – Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

If I were a Trotskyist, alarm bells would be ringing in my head. Globally the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) is coming apart at the hinges in one of Trotskyism’s perennial cycles of splits, as the dialectic seems to be unfolding backwards towards further fragmentation rather than unity of opposites.

In Ireland, the foremost outpost of the international Trotskyist movement, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Party (SP) cadres are finding themselves in uncertain waters. By financing core parties through state funding, they have rendered the majority of their small membership into full-time organisers and in turn managed to craft a delicate eco-system of fronts to carry the burden of the very same electoral machine that enables their existence.

Such a stable system has, in fact, initiated a unique convergence of factors in Ireland that have enabled the existence of unprecedented “Internationalism in One Country”, as Irish cadres distance themselves from their counterparts abroad, who are, of course, back to their usual habit of depraved theoretical disputations in the case of the CWI, and are, well, just embarrassing to be associated with in the case of the International Socialist Tendency (IST).

In such a context, we can only feel sympathy for our Militant comrades who are discovering for the first time the frustration of having pragmatic responsibilities to their class run into direct contradiction with Trotskyist gospel. To paint the dispute in broad strokes, their electoral focus on popular social struggles in Ireland has invoked the dreaded appellation of ‘identity politics’ from their more ‘class-oriented’ contemporaries abroad. 

However, to waffle on about this dirty laundry would be a waste of paper (or electricity). It would be far too tempting, for instance, to end up “using Kerensky as a gun-rest to shoot Kornilov” by implying that there is a global crisis in Trotskyism based on the poll doubts and international hostility facing the Irish Trotskyist movement. Moreover, it has already been covered accurately and in excruciatingly fine detail by Paul Demarty for the Weekly Worker in articles with catchy titles such as What will be left? and Drop the Dead Donkey, which I recommend be enjoyed ironically.

‘Stalinist’ as a political slur

For the purposes of this article, I want to draw attention to one of the most amusing idiosyncrasies of this clash of personalities (apart from the existence of the non-faction faction) which has been the use of ‘Stalinist’ as a political slur between competing Trotskyist factions. When I turn back through the pages of my memory, I can find countless occasions on which I’ve been called a Stalinist by errant supporters of the goateed prophet for doing such relatively innocuous things as walking my cat, holding a divergent opinion on the 1938 transitional programme, or being in the wrong Facebook group at the wrong time.

The term ‘Stalinist’ can’t be said to have lost any appreciable meaning, for it never held much meaning in the first place, but it has reached the point of sheer parody in the life-course of any decently debased word where it has come to mean everything and anything, approaching the final terminus of “nothing”. 

It is thus with some enthusiasm that I welcome a new article authored by John Molyneux for the SWP’s theoretical journal Irish Marxist Review, entitled The Return of Stalinism? The first thing that springs to mind is an old adage in journalism, Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which states “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘No’ ”.

Revival of ‘Stalinism’ among Irish youth

This article, at a glance, is a brief overview of the history of ‘Stalinism’ written with the aim of responding to a “certain revival of various forms of Stalinism among a layer of young people on the left, including in Ireland”. I hope I can be absolved of flattering myself in the assumption that this bold claim refers to the recent consolidation of the Connolly Youth Movement (CYM) as a fixture of radical politics on an all-Ireland basis, given its explicit reference to the CYM’s comrades abroad in the UK and Greece.

Comrade Molyneux, hoping by this venture to dissuade a new generation of youth activists from veering too far from the truth of his brand of Cliffism, has divided Stalinism into a series of historical categories, each with an inevitably sordid history reflecting the folly of Marxism-Leninism. 

His characterisation of the Soviet Union inevitably drudges through the hoary old clichés about Lenin’s will, degenerated (or is it deformed?) workers’ states and intra-party feuds, and it is not my wish to contest the documentary evidence surrounding these century-old grievances. It condenses, as always, a complex story of human aspiration and mass socioeconomic development into a neat bundle of betrayal, even going to the extraordinary lengths of comparing Stalin to the blueshirts, a charge I am relatively confident he would have denied.

Material reality of life in the Soviet Union

This whole operation is carried out under the ostensible premise of lip service to material analysis, but even the fundamental trends it cites as the basis for its speculations do not hold up to scrutiny. The standard of living in the USSR, for example, did not fall under Soviet socialism. In fact, it increased year on year until in the 1960s life expectancy in the USSR briefly surpassed that of the USA.

Of course, socialised medicine is not socialism, and institutional ossification eventually slowed the growth of the economy, but central planning, rational development, and workers’ democracy existed in the USSR and were salvageable from its flaws. For those who are interested in a more balanced approach to Soviet history that does not revolve around mental gymnastics in service of failed factionalists, I emphatically recommend the works of the scholar Geoffrey Roberts, as well as other writers such as Eric Hobsbawm, Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny, and Moshe Lewin.

Just to show you how totally baseless and steeped in Cold War paranoia the work of John Molyneux is, consider the fact that he cites as a source Roy Medvedev – whose massive death counts hung at the door of Stalin were a grotesque fabrication based on the surely unbiased material evidences of White émigré testimony and on gross distortion of population trends. To use such outdated Cold War historians with axes to grind rather than the most recent and comprehensive reviews of the history is a major lapse of diligence and endorses ideological partisanship over fidelity to good scholarship. 

A mature analysis of the USSR’s successes and failures

Comrades, I want to believe at this point that we can engage in a mature and honest discussion of the failings and successes of Soviet socialism within the Communist movement without frothing at the gob or adhering to the comforting simplifications that Trotskyism has to offer.

The function Trotskyism played for Western leftists was as a disinfectant to wash their hands of the legacy of the Soviet Union, allowing them to act with an autonomy of theory and action that ultimately amounted to adventurism and left them briefly mistaken in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s demise that they really were finally the true inheritors of the mantle of revolution that they so coveted.

For us the revolution is not an old knick-knack or a gaudy coat-of-arms to be fought over; it is the lived experience of millions, and the greatest trove of that experience is in the lives of the liberational struggles of the Socialist world. To cast aside the memories of millions for the bitter recollection of a handful of exiles is an injustice against history.

The fundamental and only real material argument put forward by Molyneux is that the Soviet Union was state capitalist. Far from infested by capitalists, the Soviet Union was a state of workers, scholars and agitators, among whom laboured planners and economists who were more than mere bureaucratic boogeymen. They were dedicated workers shaping the economy in trust and consultation with the party, industrial workers and their trade unions.

Although between the 1960s and the 1980s, significant chasms of miscommunication opened between the different channels of Soviet administration and life, their relationship was fundamentally cooperative rather than competitive. Even a culture of corruption and black marketeering did not replace the Soviet system at once, but rather created an underbelly parallel to it.

The ‘state capitalism’ that wasn’t

A capitalist class, as we are aware of it as Marxists, consists of individual actors. Trotskyists would argue that the collective became one gigantic capitalist, devouring the fruits of its own labour. In reality, inflation was virtually non-existent in the Soviet Union as prices were fixed and the exchange rate was static with foreign currencies.

Money in this closed publicly owned economy did not operate according to the principles of money in a capitalist economy and came close to Marx’s conception of the lower phase of Communism described in the Critique of the Gotha Programme. To say that in such an economy, where the majority of re-investment was not through valourised profit, free to be spent on luxuries, but rather through the rational redistribution of materials to new projects, that the state acted as a capitalist and that moreover its planners were capitalists is nonsense.

The main suggestions of the proposed Kosygin reforms in the Soviet Union was the introduction of ‘autonomous enterprises’ and re-alignment (i.e. inflation) of prices to more accurately reflect the cost of production (i.e. to allow the new autonomous enterprises to be able to profit). We can see here that the opportunist ‘reformers’ in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union knew exactly what the socialist elements of the Soviet economy were and how to dismantle them. 

Democratic central planning

When we speak about capitalist economies, especially those of scale, we often forget that the capitalist is a planner. The chaos of production in capitalist society is that of thousands of disproportionate planners each deciding where the investments of owners will go and trying to absorb the profits of the others.

Central planning removes that chaos and replaces its incoherent competition with growth in the interest of all rather than the individual. Regardless of the good or ill health of Soviet democracy at different points in enabling the workers to communicate their desires to planners, fundamentally the goal of the economy was not the enrichment of individuals but the decency of all.

We can’t wear blinders about the inconsistencies in Soviet society that charted it on a course to dismantlement and the mass poverty and death wrought by neoliberalism. Neither should we have fantasies about ‘state capitalism’ to justify counter-revolution over self-criticism. 

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, we turn next to the second and third faces of Stalinism in Molyneux’s categorisation. These are the Stalinism of the Comintern/World War 2 and the Stalinism of the later USSR’s intervention in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, as well as the Stalinism of Ho Chi Minh and others.

As you can see by now, we’re beginning to rack up a lot of Stalinisms. Given that the term is applied to countries and outlooks that are completely removed from Stalin as an individual as well as from orthodox Marxism-Leninism, ranging from other Trotskyists, to Gorbachev, to Ceaușescu, to Kevin O’Higgins and Eamon Gilmore (perhaps Bertie Ahern is the final torchbearer for true Stalinism in Ireland), we ‘Stalinists’ should take care not to become Dizzy with Success or overcome with a sense of vanity at how far our tendrils reach.

Hungary 1956

The highlight of these sections is the description of the counter-revolution in Hungary in 1956 as being a ‘workers’ revolution’ crushed by Soviet tanks. This point of view is so far removed from reality as to need no real response, but in service of my insidious plot to lure the working class to Fully Automated Luxury Stalinism, I’ll point out the most glaring flaws.  

Molyneux asks the rhetorical question “How was it to be explained that after 10 years of ‘glorious’ socialism, fascism suddenly gained mass support in Hungary?” I will showcase my typical Stalinist arrogance here by answering a rhetorical question. One decade before the Great Hungarian Workers’ and Peasants’ Revolution of 1956, ended a World War where Hungary was in the grip of a fascist movement that had emerged in reaction to the legitimate Hungarian revolution. A reactionary past doesn’t disintegrate in 16 years but is a painful and lengthy process of disempowerment and re-education.

Imre Nagy was little more than a figurehead, a leader on paper, incapable of controlling a section of society that had years earlier supported Miklós Horthy. He wanted to adopt a position of neutrality between the USSR and Western powers – hardly a workers’ revolutionary position. We have seen with the course countries like Austria, Italy and France took in the 20th century, that in bourgeois democracies ‘neutrality’ quickly became repression of the Communist Party, vote-rigging, and armed opposition to the socialist states.

To call it a ‘workers’ revolution’ is a solecism and abuse of phrasemaking at the expense of meaning much the same way that calling Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (brownshirts) a ‘workers’ revolutionary organisation’ might be correct in that it was an organisation; it called for a reactionary insurrection; and it had workers in it.

I will advance this as one of my primary criticisms of Trotskyism – it embodies the very ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ mentality that Molyneux says he is writing against. As soon as any group acts against ‘Stalinism’, which, as we have seen, means whatever Trotskyists don’t like, then suddenly that group gets the words ‘revolutionary’ and ‘worker’ tacked onto the front of its name with no material basis for such absurd claims.

Trotskyists are fond of trotting out Stalinist disruptions and Stalinist diversions of communist parties and movements across the globe, but in reality Trotskyists have failed to ever achieve the mass mandate or democratic legitimacy of Marxist-Leninist parties in leading the working class into power. The book Quite Right, Mr. Trotsky by Denver Walker elucidates this pathetic history of backstabbing and collaboration, with a unique focus on the history of the SWP. It responds with much panache to many of the critiques of the international role of the Comintern which Molyneux makes. 

Irish Communist formations

On Irish Stalinism, the final Stalinism (I hope in the sense of being the Hegelian absolute), Molyneux weaves a colourful tapestry of the Communist Party of Ireland’s purported intrigues to corrupt the Irish republican left from within with ‘two-stagism’. He levies the charge at the CPI that it is guilty of a sort of ‘Labour Must Wait’ misinterpretation of James Connolly that originated with Menshevism (!) and passed to C. Desmond Greaves through the Comintern’s policy of promoting temporary power-sharing with the national bourgeoisie.

It claims that the two-stage corruption then passed from Desmond Greaves, who is now allegedly responsible for the Stickie-Provo split, to the Workers’ Party. Finally, this wild rollercoaster arrives at Eamon Gilmore. We can answer an intellectual question that no one has ever asked – how do you trace the ideological genealogy of Eamon Gilmore back to his Menshevik and CPI handlers? 

In the Leninist/Comintern sense, the idea of revolutionary power being approached in stages is not an “inheritance from the mensheviks” as Molyneux describes it and is how the Bolshevik revolution proceeded. The Mensheviks saw the industrialisation connected to capitalism and market forces as something that could only be performed by the bourgeoisie. Lenin states, as published in Letters on Tactics

What, then, is the first stage?

It is the passing of state power to the bourgeoisie.

Before the February-March revolution of 1917, state power in Russia was in the hands of one old class, namely, the feudal landed nobility, headed by Nicholas Romanov.

After the revolution, the power is in the hands of a different class, a new class, namely, the bourgeoisie.

The passing of state power from one class to another is the first, the principal, the basic sign of a revolution, both in the strictly scientific and in the practical political meaning of that term.

This is the sense in which Lenin speak of stages of revolutionary transition – as a brief step in removing a more entrenched obstacles before quickly (in the same year in the case of the Bolsheviks) finishing off the state power that the working class had to share. Not the Menshevik concept of the development of the economy according to the impetus of the bourgeoisie, but rather, the transfer of state power from a feudalistic regime to a broad alliance, followed by a workers’ and peasants’ state.

Colonialism and emancipation

However, this is neither what the Communist Party of Ireland or Connolly advocated for Ireland.  For a colonial state like Ireland, which shared many similarities to the level of class development of Tsarist Russia, British colonialism occupied the same position as the local aristocracy in Russia.

Patriotic internationalists, including Connolly, have understood the necessity of allying with the peasantry, which was highly present in the rank-and-file, although not the leadership, of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and Irish Republican Army (IRA). A nationalist revolution for the overthrow of colonial domination was deeply intertwined with the alienation of the landless farmers and workers.

Many falsely believed that a bourgeois revolution would also involve social emancipation, and many others falsely believed that socialist emancipation was possible under colonialism. The workers’ soviets and industrial upheavals that coincided with the War of Independence were crushed by the neo-colonial Free State.

Connolly knew what he was doing. He was temporarily allying with the national bourgeoisie to gain Irish sovereignty, which was a natural predecessor for the working class to wrest power from the national bourgeoisie, which depended on colonial support to maintain its privileged position. His writings show that he was under no illusions as to the nature of who he was working with. The consciousness of the workers and peasants could have developed to the point of making the national bourgeois element redundant.

Moreover, this trend was already taking place more slowly, for example, Liam Cahill writes in Forgotten Revolution: Limerick Soviet, 1919 that IRB and Volunteers were restructuring in 1916, and that working class agitators were taking a more prominent role. This is what happened in the Soviet Union, as first the hold of the Tsar was broken, only to be overthrown by the Bolsheviks as the political situation changed. 

Moreover, the Revolutionary Workers’ Groups (RWG), the CPI’s forerunner, did not attempt to join Fianna Fáil because of some tactical madness in believing that Fianna Fáil could usher in socialism, but rather saw Fianna Fáil as a fertile potential recruiting ground. The Fianna Fáil of that day was releasing regular articles in support of the Soviet Union through The Nation and many radical IRA members had joined.

RWG members also had to join Fianna Fáil because their members were being attacked or killed, and their offices and presses were regularly moved, withdrawn or assaulted. They were presented with total illegality and disintegration or joining Fianna Fáil to try to influence the left-most members safely. That this was a mistake is a testament to the terrible conditions these early communists operated in and the trying decisions and stigmatisation they were faced with.

It is not some secret conservative kernel at the heart of the CPI, which has been at the forefront of workers’ and tenants’ struggles in Ireland; it is the reality of doing the best with the hand you’re dealt. The RWG struggled from attack and dissolution to attack and dissolution in the 1930s, whilst in the 1960s the CPI were out and open as communists in one of the most repressive environments in Western Europe, whilst the SWP was attempting abortive entryism into the Labour Party. It is a shame for Molyneux that he cannot recognise the bravery of these visionaries who struggled without credit in the dark. 

It’s clear from this article that the SWP knows which way the wind is blowing. It hasn’t recovered and is unlikely to ever recover from the serious crisis of identity it suffered in the early 2010s. Based on my previous observations of interactions between members of the CYM and the SWP, they are starting to build up a repertoire of talking points that seem to, now, have finally developed into something that purports itself to be a substantial critique.

Poverty of thought

It is telling, then, that all Molyneux can do is inveigh against the CPI for imagined past sins. This escape into the past is very telling of the priorities of the SWP, given that its present is not an enviable position to occupy. It is a reflection of the poverty of thought in the Trotskyist movement that it engages in the vulgar practice of calling for materialist analysis, of claiming to be adept in performing material analysis, but carefully avoiding lifting the hood to discuss the phenomena on which its justifications are based.

This search for moral high ground that it has lost today has led the SWP to bizarre accusations that the CPI is responsible for the defection of the leadership of the Workers’ Party to the Labour Party in 1989. 

The most glaring evidence of this poverty of thought can be found in Molyneux’s self-plagiarism of his past publications in this latest article. The subsection shown below is recycled straight out of his 1983 book What is the real Marxist tradition? without any self-citation:

The Bolshevik party found itself suspended in a vacuum. To administer the country it had to take over and use a vast army of Tsarist officials and against all its intentions it itself became bureaucratised. Bureaucracy is essentially a hierarchy of officials not subject to popular control from below. In Russia the social force that Marxists (above all Lenin) counted on to prevent the development of bureaucracy, an active revolutionary working class, had been cut from under the feet of the party. In this situation it was impossible to implement the Marxist programme in pure form. For a period it was possible to mount a holding operation, relying on the hardened socialist commitment of the Bolshevik old guard, to cling to the basic revolutionary aspirations while making the necessary practical compromises (for example the New Economic Policy or NEP) and waiting for help from the international revolution. This in essence was the course taken by Lenin. But failing the international revolution (and it did fail) a stark choice had eventually to be made. Either remain loyal to the theory and goal of international proletarian revolution, with the possibility of losing state power in Russia, or cling to power and abandon the theory and goal. The situation was extremely complex and the participants did not see it in these clear terms, but, essentially, Trotskyism was the product of the first choice and Stalinism of the second.

You might be wondering what exactly is wrong with this – self-plagiarism is considered a form of fraud in academia, because it repackages an old work as a new one, thus avoiding originality while tricking audiences into believing that they’re consuming novel work.

This brings me to my fundamental criticism of Molyneux’s outlook that I hint at in my opening quote. Trotskyism is a repackaging of various personalities, figures, and feuds of a different age and an attempt to build a cargo cult. By attempting to go through the rituals that Leon Trotsky, Ernest Mandel, Tony Cliff and their contemporaries went through in the great factional hullabaloos of their day, Trotskyists are constantly enjoying a form of live-action roleplay where they are invariably persecuted geniuses and academic revolutionaries chased by conspiracies of conformist Stalinoid bureaucrats.

This re-enactment of the Comintern struggles of the 1930s satisfies egos while providing a safe merry-go-round to dissipate revolutionary fervour of young people in alignment with Western soft power foreign policy and domestic interests. The Trotskyist electoral machine, meanwhile, continues to burn out young activists with potential and enthusiasm in futile and hollow electoralism. Red Youth are building a new revolutionary form of popular struggle from the ashes of the old, and sectarian partisans will have to recognise that their methods are spent and that a new chapter is beginning for socialism in the 21st century. They must decide whether to become obstacles to that progress or actively aid it. 

I would invite the youth activists of today to not go glassy-eyed gazing at the past, nursing old grudges, but to critically and coldly scrutinise it for fundamental principles of theory and action to apply to the present. By working in one mass communist party, along the lines of democratic centralism and a serious commitment to class work and dialectical materialism, we can win back the future.

Decaying capitalism will not inevitably deliver socialism

We shouldn’t wait around for any Trotskyite delusion that the ‘class balance’ or ‘decaying features’ of capitalism are going to bring us socialism on a silver platter. Nor should we, in the name of most revolutionary slogans, lend our voices to any revolution in any country regardless of its class character and its ideology. Let us not forget that it is Molyneux’s erstwhile comrades in the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) who referred to Aleppo as the “Paris Commune of the 21st century”.

Considering that the ISO, like the IST and CWI, are teetering on the brink, we will soon gladly consign useful-idiot gullibility and left-wing anti-Communism to the dustbin of history. No to re-constructed “socialism”, no to counter-revolution, no to euro-communism. Forward to victory and a new unity. 

To quote Che Guevara: “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You must make it fall”.  

To quote Lenin: “To wait until the toiling classes bring about a revolution on an international scale means that everybody should stand stock-still in expectation. That is nonsense”. 

To quote Regina George: “Why are you so obsessed with me?”

Fergal Twomey is the former National Chairperson of the Connolly Youth Movement. Follow CYM on Twitter @ConnollyYM .

This article is part of a general debate and, like all articles we publish, does not reflect the views of the Irish Broad Left editorial team. We welcome responses to this article from those with opposing views.

Pride: Not for sale

By Damien Thomson.

Pride month is over, so now what?

While company logos on social media accounts will start going back to their original colours and remove their rainbow filters, Queer folk won’t be putting anything away in boxes. 

The gestures of solidarity are indeed widely appreciated within the Queer community, but July 1st tends to be when the hangover from it all kicks you in the head. After being unambiguously appropriated for business strategies, Queer identity is then binned while boardrooms start looking at the next quarter’s biggest sales focus. Heterosexual summer starts, and Queer lives stop being openly ‘celebrated’. 

Allies or profiteers?

There is nothing genuine about how companies appropriate Queer culture and identity for their market strategies. What is thinly veiled as a gesture of solidarity, is, of course, a chance for maximising profit – nobody even doubts that.

What makes it socially acceptable, though, is that LGBTI+ folk are taught that they should be receptive and grateful for whatever support they get. Having an ally, you’re told, is better for you, even if it is a corporation. The more normalised being Queer is, the better, and Coca Cola can help you with that.

Pinkwashing protest

For a company whose target audience is especially geared towards young people, it is an unmissable opportunity to glitter up its brand and associate it with the ideals that underpin the Pride flag. Tesco has a float in the parade; Facebook reminds you what day it is; and your bank sends you a push notification to wish you a Happy Pride. Pinkwashing can be disorienting in a world where you’re told you should take all the help you can get.

There is an ongoing and deliberate trend of depoliticising Pride and turning protest into party – and I mean just a party, the two are certainly not mutually exclusive! By taking the protest out of Pride, companies and even well-intentioned allies are contributing to the hollowing of the struggle (or better yet, struggles).

Stonewall riots

This year’s Pride has been particularly important to commemorate and recall the foundations of the modern LGBTI+ movement, 50 years on from the raids of the Stonewall Inn in New York. Remembrance is symbolically important, but it also serves as a useful litmus test.

Many of the protesters who took to the streets the day after the Stonewall raid would probably be perplexed looking at a Pride parade in 2019. While bound to be ecstatic with the amount of participation and (general) acceptance in most European cities, there is no doubt that most Pride parades would be seen as far-removed from their origins. 

The riots of Stonewall were about Queer folk standing up against police violence, then leading into the creation of a movement rooted in solidarity. In an era where homophobic and transphobic violence is on the rise, even in Europe, Pride cannot just be a time to just celebrate. It needs to be a reminder to rebel.

The liberal and assimilationist gains of marriage equality and adoption rights compound the atmosphere of merrymaking instead of manifestation, of partying without protest.

Depoliticising Pride

But the depoliticisation of Pride is not just a coincidence, it is a very deliberate attempt to make money off the backs of marginalised and oppressed folk, often using the poster-boy of white, male, middle-classed privilege to plaster over the diverse lives and experiences of oppression within Queer communities. The less political Pride is, the more brandable it becomes.

Recently two women were assaulted on a London bus after refusing to kiss on demand for a group of young men. While the public outcry was overwhelming, the victims were keen to note that “this is not a novel situation”, and that the media attention around their story was amplified by being “two attractive, white cisgender women”.

But the violence and oppression experienced by Queer communities is not just that which makes headlines. It’s real, it’s diverse and it’s becoming more frequent with the rise of fascism across the world.

So is it really okay for Ben & Jerry’s to hand out free rainbow flags at a Pride parade with their logo in the middle as if it were some sort of Queer crest? Is that really an act of solidarity? Is H&M’s €9.99 “PRIDE” T-shirt really that good to us when it’s shipped over from the sweatshops in China? I think a PFO is in order (Please Fuck Off).

So next year don’t pay for a ticket to that private ‘Pride party’, don’t participate in the pinkwashing of business strategies, and don’t feel obliged to accept everything that looks like a gesture of solidarity. Stand as part of the struggle.

Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.