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Beyond the pale?

Amnesty International Ireland opposes the right to free speech

6 December 2020

The establishment of gender critical organisations in the Irish socialist, feminist and gay communities has led to a furious outcry and witchunt from a long list of community groups.

The view of the new groups is relatively modest. They believe that they should be able to organise independently without the intrusion of people of a biologically different sex self identifying as part of the group - for example "lesbians" with penises. They are also concerned about some of the consequences of self identity - violent, biologically male offenders in women's prisons, the supply of puberty blockers to young girls, And so on.

The result is a torrent of abuse summed up in an online petition.  These aren't real groups.  They have no role in the struggle for equality (a number have a long history in that struggle). They are not Irish and are importing foreign, non-irish ideas. They are advocating for biology and denying a sexual, as opposed to a gender spectrum. As a result there is a call for the groups to be kept off the air and for politicians not to represent them. The groups should not have the democatic right of freedom of expression extended to cover their views.

Of special significance is the fact that all of the petition groups involved would see themselves as to some extent advocating for democratic rights. One of the major signatories being Amnesty Ireland, a group that would traditionally have been seen as one of the major defenders of freedom of speech.

How did this come about? How did these groups move from advocating for freedom of speech to advocating for the suppression of free speech?

There are many reasons, but the most basic and fundamental is the retreat of the working class over many decades.

Those of us involved in second generation struggles for women's rights and gay rights will be aware that the organisations were largely outside the pale and suffered intense state repression. Their activity was on the streets alongside socialists and republicans. In fact it was the civil rights movement and the growth of radical republican and socialist organisations that unleashed the new mobilisations in Ireland.

Many of those opposed to a gender critical analysis would argue that they are part of that tradition. The evidence is against them. When struggles are beaten back new, more respectable organisations arise. Academic currents start to define new ideologies and the actual lessons of struggle are cast aside. Rather than battling from below new groups manoeuvre from above, seeking sponsorship from the great and the good. There is a struggle for power,  money and patronage aimed at the state.  Whispering campaigns, blackmail and sacking dissidents establish the new ideology rather than rational debate. Instead of laws supporting gender self identity being the result of impassioned public debate, they are slipped through as addendums to other legislation by compliant right wing politicians.

This is a problem in many countries, but especially so in Ireland. In the North,  the Good Friday Agreement saw the growth of community groups. Their pockets filled with state funds, they formed a new grantocracy sitting above the working class. A similar process arose in the South based on the mechanisms of social partnership between government and unions.

The future does not lie with the growing denial of science and rationality. In the longer run the working class will return to struggle and sweep away a fog of liberalism. In the short term the contradictions of ideology and the light of public debate will weaken the trans movement. Now that the British courts have intervened can anyone really imagine a future case where there will be legal support for the administration of puberty blocking drugs to children simply on the assertion of gender dysphoria?

An important role will also be played by socialist and democratic groups. Marxism is historically identified as scientific socialism. In the long retreat many groups have sunk into opportunism and dogmatism.  A refoundation of Marxism will help provide a framework for a new working class radicalism and clear the fog of ideology.

The current dispute is an example of that process. Feminist, gay and some socialist groups step forward to assert science.  There's an attempt to crush them and in the process Amnesty International cross a line and bring to the attention of the workers a position that had remained in the shadows.  The outcome is a step forward for progress.

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