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"...have you left no sense of decency?"

People before Profit lead reactionary university witchunt

28 March 2021

"..have you left no sense of decency?" This question from lawyer Joe Welsh is seen as the turning point that led to the political collapse of American senator Joe McCarthy and the end of an anti-communist witchunt that set up a culture of informing and drove thousands from their jobs, often forcing artists and writers out of the US.

Now, amazingly, a left group in Ireland has gone down the same rabbit hole.

Full details are given in this article by Orla Ní Chomhraí:

Briefly, the People before Profit society at a Galway university is actively targeting feminist and LGB Rights activists for no-platforming on that campus. They are doing this via a motion entitled “Opposing fascism, Far-Right Extremism, and all Forms of Discrimination”. It included a list of groups the party wants to see being ‘No-platformed’ by the Student Union at NUIG, drawing on a no-platform policy by the students’ union passed in 2013 and a 2021 resolution from Trinity SU. The resolution also would prevent student union officers from joining outside campaigns involving the offending groups.

Although headlined as an anti-fascist policy, the resolution targets a mixture of groups of the right and left, ending with a catch-all reminiscent of the old Special Powers act; “as well as any other groups or individuals who espouse conspiracy theorist, far-right extremist, or discriminatory views.

Where to start?

Socialists don't support no-platforming. We support freedom of speech for all, although we reserve the right to turn up at right wing events and put our own point of view across or to defend ourselves when such forces mobilise against the workers. The No-platform policy is reserved for fascists for the simple reason that they reject any form of debate in favour of the physical suppression of democracy, of the working class and of its representatives.

The principled reason for supporting free speech is also practical. We fight like hell against any restrictions on democratic rights or free speech because the whole history of our movement tells us that, no matter what the rationale, the workers will be the target of these restrictions.

We don't normally depend on the institutions of capitalist society, such as university administrations, to enforce democratic rights. Again, they have a long history of suppressing socialists and smothering socialist ideas.

The leaders of PbP are well aware of the dangers around these sorts of witchunts. So why are they leading the charge on this one? The answer is embedded in the operating mechanism of the Socialist Workers Party, buried inside PbP.

That method is called "bending the stick". The organisation sniffs the air to detect the current zeitgeist, especially among young people. It immediately swings around that issue and engages in a frenzy of recruitment.

This opportunism works quite well when class struggle is on the rise. In times of retreat the result is that reactionary ideas in youth culture are carried into the socialist movement. That's what's happened here. Just how cynical the approach is can be seen when we read an indignant article by SWP leader Kieran Allen accusing RTE of cancel culture in relation to Northern nationalism when his own organisation proposes to cancel gender critical activists.

So, to understand this issue we have to treat PbP as the canary in the coal mine. They are spreading the noxious ideas, but they didn't create them.

There are many sources of cancel culture, especially around the attacks on feminists who defend women's rights. Virulent forms of identity politics, postmodernist dogma and queer theory align with major medical industries, with further ammunition coming from the commercialisation of the sex trade.

While universities have, somewhat romantically, been seen as allowing room for critical thought and space for young people to think for themselves, in the decades since the 60s there has been a constant pressure by the capitalist state against students, academics and academic disciplines themselves. The commercialisation of university education reduces the main aim of university life to paying for a degree, and the level of personal indebtedness this produces leaves little room for critical thought. Academic advancement depends on kowtowing to dogma. Student politics reduces to anterooms into bourgeois politics and electoral careers.

How do we deal with these reactionary trends? The new level of witchunting and deplatforming is leading to defensive movements being formed. At the basic level there is protest based on rationality. A movement that bays against defending biology belongs in the dark ages and clearly has to be rejected out of hand. A special role rests with feminists.  The application of puberty blockers in minors, denial of women's spaces, admission of violent males to women's prisons, the inclusion of biological males in women's sports, and the mangling of medical language    so as to endanger women's health are just some of the issues.

We would argue that there is a special role for socialists. The rise of reaction follows from a long retreat by the working class. The socialist groups are not immune to this retreat and advance reformist politics with their main eye on electoral advantage. Without a revolutionary programme they are quickly sucked into the committees and subcommittees of capitalist administration.  The opportunism of PbP pushes them to the forefront of the new witchunts.

But all around we see a capitalist society in collapse. New revolts by workers arise in many parts of the world. There are many revolutionaries in Ireland, given its modern history. By discussing a political economy of Ireland, providing examples of the Marxist method at work, we can provide a counterbalance to a tide of reaction and prepare for the coming revolutionary wave.

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