#CopOnComrades - timeline of the controversial defence of feminism against lefty men in Ireland

The end of May 2017 saw the start of an unusually broad debate take place within and around the Irish far left and left feminist movement. As with almost all discussions now most of it took place online although it did also include articles in national newspapers. I’d a conversation with activists friends who hadn’t followed the discussions out of which I realised it was a bit hard to understand the heat of the argument without understanding its development. So I prepared a timeline of it, what is below is a modified version of what I first posted on my Facebook profile, some of the Twitter debate, and my side of some of the discussions that generated in turn.

I think the debate was useful in getting a lot of backroom gripping out into the open where points could be answered. A fantastic outcome of it was a set of excellent texts that explain concepts around intersectional feminism in an Irish context and free of academic jargon. These are linked to at the start of the timeline below.

I’m going to open with a disclaimer that I should have put on the original FB. The timeline is very much how I saw the discussions develop but of course I was doing the equivalent of looking through the letterbox of a mansion and only seeing what happened in a thin slice of hallway. My view tends to centre Frankie as I’d attempted to get a more nuanced discussion of cultural appropriation and their use of Pow-Wow on his initial Facebook post (which he was having none of). But really he was just the most prominent trigger of the replies that followed.

I'll also say I'm not neutral in the discussion - I think the #CopOnComrades statement (below) is a fantastic initative, not just for what it says but also because of what it, a large scale collective process of discussion and decision making of the sort that the Social Media left is often devoid of.  In a landscape where everything is an individuals blog or social media hot take there is huge value in collective processes in building the left we need.  

 I'm also not neutral in the sense I've also been part of a collective process through the WSM that is producing statements debated over months and years before being finalised and agreed at physical gatherings, see Anarchism, Oppression & Exploitation and Class and Exploitation for some of the outcomes.  

What happened?

We could say it all started on the 7th April with a Tweet about the appropriate use of pow-wow

You can read the Tweet for yourself, some context is that HomeSweetHome was/is the Twitter account of coalition of campaigns and individuals who occupied Apollo House back in December in order to provide emergency accommodation for homeless people. This was a very big story in Ireland for quite a while which is why that account has over 10,000 followers. I wasn’t involved beyond reporting on the struggle and attending solidarity protests but from what I’ve been told part of the backstory goes back to some of the internal dynamics of that campaign. In writing this I listened back to the 2nd Pow-Wow podcast where the discussion very much seems to confirm that.

Dean - the host of the Pow-wow podcast - was one of the people involved in HSH and possibly runs the Twitter. Frankie posted a fairly enraged Facebook status about their used of Pow-wow being challenged, various people tried to turn it into a conversation but he was having none of it.

Later on in the month there was a second incident which I missed when the 2nd show was announced. Ironically in light of what followed this show opens with quite a interesting discussion about class identity, initially around the various Dublin accents and then moving onto the question of who is the working class. Frankie steers this into a discussion about how he dislikes being called a Straight White Man (SWM) when he is teaching ‘upper middle class girls’ while doing his PhD in Trinity. Girls is the term he uses. He describes going to a pow-wow meeting which he describes as an epiphany. You can’t help but notice that everyone he mentions in this segment as being important is a man.

 

The show is interesting, not least for its discussion of the Apollo House occupation as one perspective of some of the inside and outside debates that happened. What happened in and around the Apollo House occupation seems to be part of the general background to this controversy as well as being more generally about the attitudes of ‘men on the left’ towards feminism.  You'll probably pick up the defensiveness in this podcast around this, one reason I think it would have been a lot more interesting if there was a women on the panel to get them to engage with that.

Frankie reacted very badly when the Twitter account Bloordom replied to the tweet from Dean advertising this show with “These are really good but maybe try to have some gender balance in the future.” 

Bloordom used the hashtag #manel and included @ManelWatchIre - an account that tweets regularly when panels are entirely composed of men. It’s worth reading the exchange as its highlights the all too common dynamic of men over reacting to even quite mild criticism in a very defensive way. I was unable to locate the full exchange (possibly deleted?) but a screenshot of it was posted on my Facebook thread in which Frankie calls the feminist twitter account “neoliberal scumbags” who “campaign for Hilary”. That’s a theme we will see over and over.

At this point in time there had been two pow-wows, each with a panel of three men. There would be another pow-wow also with three men but the latest one, recorded before the CopOnComrades controversy had two women and one man, the host. Having watched the entire show that the tweet was in regard to I’d have to say there are moments where I felt a women panelist would have led to a much more informed discussion on certain aspects where the three lads were blundering around.

I’d rather cynically presumed that someone in the Irish Times must have spotted the Facebook post and decided Frankie’s rant would be a good addition to their line up of opinion pieces attacking anti-oppression politics (my preferred term over ’identity politics’). But after I’d posted this Frankie clarified that in fact he had pursued the Irish Times in order to get the article below, which kicked off everything that followed, published.

May 19th - ‘Identity politics is utterly ineffective at anything other than dividing people
Irish Time’s Opinion piece by Frankie - although not his headline.

Over the next few days the develops into what people who liked the article initially welcomed as ‘starting a conversation’. Central to the rest of the story Frankie rejected all criticism of the opinion piece as
A) Written by neo-liberal feminists
and/or
B) Written by people (mostly women) who didn’t understand his piece

A lot of 'men on the left' repost the statement and welcome it, often making further 'wrecking the left' style accusations while doing so.

A couple of days into this I did a quick gender count on the likes on
1) Frankie’s sharing of his piece (2/3 men)
2) A well crafted reply by Sarah  (almost 80% women)

Without being massively scientific (there were a total of 350 likes) that gender ratio is part of the reason for what happens next. At this point the story becomes much broader as what was happening was feminist women were seeing ‘men on the left’ posting comments on this piece many of which went considerably beyond the hostility Frankie had already shown to them. It wasn’t about Frankie at that point but about the attitudes many ‘men on the left’ displayed in applauding his piece.

May 25th - Cop On Comrades
A statement published simultaneously by dozens of women and on a number of websites. It’s initially signed by about 107 although that number grows, currently its approaching 500.  As this will enter into the discussion the version with just the 107 is on the WSM page.

The Irish left internet explodes in response, #CopOnComrades over on Twitter will give some sense as to this  (you'll find specific examples below). A number of additional pieces are published. The first couple respond to Frankie’s claims that the CopOnComrades response doesn’t directly address some of the points in his piece. The later ones leave the specific context of the Irish Times piece behind to dig into the concepts. All in my opinion are very worth reading.

May 26th - Men of the Left Vs Intersectionality: A Response 
More or less written as a response to Frankie’s demand for a reply to his specific points

May 26th - My Straight White Male Life

May 28th - Do You Like My White Runners? Class Struggle and Working Class Identity Politics

May 28th - Straight White Men And The Invisibility Of The Default Setting

May 29th - The Left & Identity Politics

And then things get a little odd with the publication of a remarkably off tone poem that simply serves to demonstrate many of the CopOnComrades criticisms.  Incidentally probably because Frankie is a writer there are a lot of poets and other writers involved - it could well be that the fall out in art circles will be a lot greater than the left.

May 30th - Death Chant of The Handmaidens: For Choir of 350 Identical Voices

Quite some time later another poet, Sarah published a rather better poem

More recently its moved into podcast territory and indeed that has just caused another major blowup as Frankie used an all male panel on the Irish Times feminist podcast to smear the women of #CopOnComrades as either ‘upper middle class’ or ‘tokens’. The accusations are both ludicrous but if anything the second is the worst of the two, in particular given the level of threats some of the ‘tokens’ received after signing it.

June 30th - Hostile podcast interview with Sinead, one of the signers - its useful as the hostility means she explains a lot over very basic concepts with great patience 

July 10th - Irish Times Women’s Hour podcast has a panel of Frankie and two other men to discuss the controversy.  Heroically a lot of this got transcribed

There are also thousands of FB posts and hundreds of Tweets, some long and thought out, some short and bitter.

#CopOnComrades - a selection from twitter

Here I want to expand the conversation out and away from the Irish Times article. The problem with the timeline offered above is that while its an accurate enough snapshot of how I saw the conflict develop that can’t be a complete picture. There is much I didn’t see before this (in particular I suspect around Apollo House / Home Sweet Home ). But far more importantly the #CopOnComrades was about the general attitude of men on the left rather than the author alone. Those men didn’t take the time to write anything detailed but contributed through Facebook and Twitter comments.

The tricky thing is how to talk about it. I’ve heard stories about other aspects of the conflict involving a much larger grouping of (mostly) men around the Apollo House occupation but that strikes me as not really something I can usefully write in detail about. That’s more for those directly involved. I also don’t want to pick up random past examples that happened to fall in my point of view as that suffers from the same section problem as my timeline. I also don’t particularly want to use peoples Facebook posts as Facebook is set up to allow privacy changes post publication and so that old posts are hard to find and eventually forgotten. This incidentally is why I've just used first names in these accounts apart from then screen grabs, they are far less likely to turn up via google.

The solution I hit on is to use the tweets to #CopOnComrades. Twitter is public, people engaging there did so knowing they were making public rather than private statements. And as it turned out a lot of those statements very well illustrated some of the general problems with men in the discussion. The examples I’ve chosen are not typical but rather illustrative of that problem however they include the people who had tweeted the most, second most in the first 3 weeks with the hashtag, these two hostile men accounted for 30% of all tweets on that hashtag.

--

The Labour party signers who weren't

I'm updating this section to start with a late incident that I consider particularly telling.  From early on I saw tweets that claimed the signers included people 'responsible for implementing austerity'  Often tweets to that effect were posted over and over by the same small group of men.  I made an error here in presuming that they had perhaps seen a Labour Party member announce that she had signed the statement once it had gone public.  It struck me as possible that the organisers were not capable of checking exactly who new women signing were and someone had crept through. I didn't pay then accusation much more heed because as far as I saw it the orignal 107 where the people who had created the text and if someone at position 427 had later added her name to the original statement any contradictions were the responsibility of 427.

But then on July 12th it got more specific when a couple of the men tweeted that they were referring to Susan O'Kxxxxx - I'll use SoK here onwards to defeat google..  The name didn't mean anything to me but it turned out they were saying the Sok on the statement was the same SoK who had been the senate whip for the Labour Party when they were in government.  That struck me as very odd but I went off to do the obvious and confirm she wasn't one of the first 107.  It got odder, there was indeed a SoK on the list of women who had been involved in the drafting process.

I was on the edge of tweeting that this did indicate a problem when I thought I should first eliminate a rediculous possibility, that the men concerned had simly seen the name and presumed it was the same SoK without checking that it wasn't someone else of the same name.

Andrew Flood @andrewflood
To butt in for a moment - how do we know which Susan O’Keefe that is on the statement? The LP one isn’t the only women of that name

Cathal @rmltpie
It hasn't been denied and was first raised about a month ago.

Andrew Flood @andrewflood
So thats an admission thats an assumption you’ve made, you are making a lot of posts on the basis of that assumption

magpie @magpie839
I don't know why he just doesn't ask her. Politely.

Cathal  @rmltpie
If its not her then why don't #coponcomrades say so?

Andrew Flood @andrewflood
it would seem very odd if it is the LP one as the statement itself contradicts LP policy & action

I'll give Cathal credit here for not trying to dodge accountability by deleting all his tweets after it became clear that it was not in fact the same SoK.  The same was not true of Kevin the poet whose reaction was to cover his tracks through a deletion and then try and distract people by retweeting a 6 day old contribution on another aspect of the dispute.  Fortunately a lot of people had already done a screen grab, as below 

The top tweet is a photo from Kevin of the SoK who was the actual Labour party chief whip, the reply is from the SoK who actually signed the statement.  Not the same person.  Kevin simply deleted his tweet without even acknowledging the error.

I subsequently heard that they had also done the same thing with another name on the list whom they had wrongly presumed to be the Labour Party TD Jan O'Sullivan.  So when ever you see that claim about 'people implementing austerity' remember that the only basis for this was the assumption that a woman on the statement with a particular name had to be the Labour Party person with a same or similar name.  They said and tweeted this over and over for weeks without ever actually checking despite the fact that both these names are commone enough.  And when they revealed the names and it turned out these were not the same people Kevin simply tried to cover his tracks (and most of the rest fell silent).

Beyond the embarrassment factor what's important here is the illustration of 'confirmation bias'.  We are all prone to this, basically finding and interpreting facts to agree with our own opinion even when they don't.  The bias here was that which 'men on the left' feel towards intersectional feminism.  They believe they know what it is and who holds to it so even when the facts don't actually confirm that belief they believe, as here, that they do.

This may also be a good point to mention that as the number of signers went into the 400s 'men on the left' started to actively try and sabotage the process by submitting fake names.  This increased the workload so that at 469 names new women could no longer be added to the statement.  Quite a disgraceful piece of sabotage of what - regardless of the content - was an important bit of left feminist networking.

———

Who or what is a ‘bell hooks’?

bell hooks is a Black American feminist writer of such renown that anyone paying any attention to Black feminism in general or intersectional writing in particular would be very familiar with her. She enters the conversation because while the MRA left likes to insist feminism is an entirely separate and hostile space to socialism she has a catch phrase that describes the systems of oppression that does the opposite, i.e. That what is to be fought, in particular in a USA context is “imperialist white-supremacist capi­talist patriarchy”

The tweets below show his she enters the #CopOnComrades conversation but the central point here is that men that have set themselves up as experts on intersectional feminism clearly know neither the core concepts nor one of the central figures.

Cathal ‏ @rmltpie May 29th
The intersectionals want us to apologise to the British for fighting back.Leo Varadkar is Gay & Coloured so they support him #coponcomrades

Andrew Flood‏ @andrewflood May 29
1. How does some random man making up nonsense on the hashtag do anything other than further confirm the need for #CopOnComrades

2. In fact that behavior isn't a one off, as I scan down I see it over & over including from men I know well enough to know they are lying

3. In other cases it may be based on ignorance through being misled but still demonstrates refusal to listen to women

4. bell hooks refers to a global system of ‘imperialist white-supremacist capi­talist patriarchy’ - I'll go with that

RON ‏ @ronportnoir
I feel like a fool relying on the standard definition of patriarchy, when 'bell hooks' was there for me, i have egg on my face once again.

Andrew Flood‏ @andrewflood
So this is a bit like having a very strong opinion on Marxism without knowing Engels even existed - possible but indicates important gaps

RON ‏ @ronportnoir
Marx/Engels/Chomsky very widely known global figures, i have never heard of 'bell hooks' don't even know if it is a person or organisation.

Andrew Flood‏ @andrewflood
So what do the 3 named have in common and how is bell hooks different?

RON ‏ @ronportnoir
I don't know what bell hooks is, i don't even know if it is a person, you still havent told me after multiple tweets.

I gave up on this particular strand of the conversation at that point as I wasn’t about to try and write a biography on my phone for someone who clearly wasn’t even bothered using google. Some of you reading this will think this was a bit elitist of me, others will be nodding in agreement. And that’s sort of what this fragment is about.

Confession time, I didn’t read anything by bell hooks until sometime around 2011 when I decided that I should really catch up on more than the online arguments before I could express an opinion about the explosion of a new wave of feminism that was causing huge ructions on the left. I’d read some of the classic feminist books in my late teens and early 20s but after that my non-fiction reading has tended to be history. My brain doesn’t work well on philosophy and Judith Butlers Gender Trouble was to totally defeat my efforts to work through it, like Ulysses its sits on my Kindle and every now and then I go back and complete another percent.

What I read from bell hooks and Audre Lorde blew out my limited expectations of feminism in a parallel sense to the many conversations I was happening in that period. I thought I knew what it was because I’d read the left critiques of ‘bourgeois feminism’ and the older classics, I discovered I didn’t. But perhaps most importantly it underlined that you should avoid forming a strong opinion of something by just reading critiques of it, you need to go to the source to see if those critiques are in any way accurate. And the way the left in Ireland talk’s about feminism (and anti-oppression politics in general) is anything but accurate. Falsehoods and limited vision have become established through sheer repetition and few if any ever look at the original sources.

I'd more or less fallen for this myself - 20 years ago I might well have been on the other side of the debate.  What started to change my opinion was the time I spent in 2007/8 travelling around the US and Canada as part of a 44 city speaking tour.  As well as public meetings in the various spaces activists used I held private meetings and of course spent a couple of days or more going along to whatever political activity happened to be in progress as I passed through (this included getting shot with pepper spray filled balls out of the police equivalent of a paintball gun).  That opened me up to listening and in the following years when I was back in Ireland a number of women took advantage of that to challenge me on everything from personal behaviour to political understanding - a sometimes difficult enough process for all concerned.

Of course for some on the left mentioning bell hooks will be deflected by labelling here as an ‘academic’ - something that actually confirms someone hasn’t read her. But it’s one of my observations that the very same people who will propose the formation of yet another Das Kapital reading group will try and dismiss studying any other strand of thought as academic.

bell hooks in fact gets a far bit of grief for not being a proper academic. But with hooks and Lorde their writings are in pretty plain language, the thin sprinkle of specialist terms is explained. Dip in if you want to get a snapshot of what anti-oppression politics looks like when you are on some of the marginalised end of many of the privilege V marginalisation axis.
 

- -

Upper middle class

The next illustrative example come from a former comrade turned university professor who would have known many of the women who signed the statement. Certainly he would have known more than enough to realise they could not be described as ‘upper-middle class’ and that ‘white’ also wasn’t an accurate description of all of those who signed.

Aidan - “A gang of upper-middle class white women launch public bullying campaign against a working class lad that dared to disagree #coponcomrades”
 

 This ‘hot take’ was Retweeted by Frankie and by a number of alt-right & MRA accounts with bios that included ‘American hyper-nationalist’, “The Maintenance of Western Civilisation, Classical Republicanism, Ethno-Nationalism”, ‘Mens Voices Ireland’ and 3-4 more. The posts will be there under Aidan’s original tweet if you want to look these up, the point is that accounts openly identifying as alt-right and MRA were quite happy to like and retweet these and other accusations.

A number of women who knew Aidan replied as below (I’ve anonymised these responses)

W1 “Aidan.Thats not simply factually and emperically incorrect. Its also trolling trolly with trolls on top. But you know that already, right?”

W2 “Wow! I am honestly shocked at this statement. Seriously Aidan, how can you write something you know to be untrue. You know a lot of us.”

W3 “Ah, I think you'll find that there are many working class women on that list-and not one 'upper middle class' women I can think off”

As did some who didn’t and perhaps didn’t understand this was an exercise in rhetorical dishonesty

Wa “Did you read the letter? "We are working-class women, women of colour, migrant women, trans women, Traveller women, disabled women, queer.."

Wb “I’m working class & I signed.
My issue is not solely with Frankie's ideas, it's with the misogyny in activist circles.”

Wc “You're so far off the mark there. I'm a welfare dependent lone parent for example, also we're not all white or dominant ethnicity.”

Wd “I’m sure you know full well that that list was full of working-class women and women of colour. So shame on you for lying.”

We “The letter specifically said they're women of colour, queer & trans women, sex workers, working class women, and so on.”

On June 1st while working on this piece I wondered if he might have changed his mind as a result of these responses in which case I wanted to at least give him a chance to say this, so you’ll see me ask

“Hi Aidan, I'm writing a piece on the twitter interaction and was going to use this as an example, do you still stand over it after replies?”

There was no reply and while I’ve not seen Aidan repeat the accusation plenty of other men continue to do so, including Frankie.

Irish Slave meme

From time to time the #CopOnComrades hashtag receives hostile posts from actual alt-right types, including ones that appear to be active in Ireland. In this context I’m not so much interested in these except in the areas where there argument gets picked up and used by people on the left hostile to intersectional feminism, as in the case below.

The specific conversation below flowed from the often repeated by entirely false claims that the CopOnComrades signers were friends of colonialism.  No evidence was ever presented for these claims so the value of presenting these tweets is showing how the opposition to anti-oppression politics extended beyond feminism, in this case to a refusal to see 'the Irish' as anything other than victims of colonialism when in reality we were also part of it.

Garda Darren TOPAZ‏  May 29
Can't people have a conversation on twitter now? Imperialism ur blaming Irish people 4 that? We only got our state recently.we oppressed no1

Andrew Flood‏ @andrewflood May 29
My point is the opposite - if you taken the time to look at intersectional feminism you'd discover anti- colonialism built in

Garda Darren TOPAZ‏  May 29
You called white men in Ireland imperial. Can u retract that. Many died fighting imperialism and we invaded no country. Thanks

Andrew Flood‏ @andrewflood May 29
Err I didn't but reality is that an unfortunately huge amount of Irish men died fighting for imperialism in British uniform

Garda Darren TOPAZ‏  May 29
They died as they had no job and needed the money! Fighting Napoleon and Hitler was noble!

Andrew Flood‏ @andrewflood May 29
A lot of them died imposing imperialism in Africa, Middle East & Asia - British empire relied on Irish & Scottish troops

Andrew Flood‏ @andrewflood Economic reasons certainly drove men into Brit army but many internalized & reproduced colonialism

Garda Darren TOPAZ‏  What over seas colonies do we have ? Any ones in warm climates I can go to ? We were slaves. Calling Irish imperial cause a small number

This was accompanied by the image below using a very much discredited Irish Slave meme circulated by the US alt-right and far-right as anti-Blackness.

Andrew Flood‏ @andrewflood
Oh great - now we are getting Irish Slave memes posted here - you others going to 3 monkeys those as well?

'Garda Topaz' blocked me after I pointed to this use of the Irish slave meme.  None of the others ever distanced themselves from it although GT later did, see note at end of next section.

——

Killing all men

Andrew Flood‏  @andrewflood
And more MRA memes posted to this thread - TBH they say way more that I can add

Garda Darren TOPAZ‏  May 29
you have said nothing. Do you condone or condemb this feminists words? Is she woke ? she got a book deal hating all men maybe u will?

Crime Wave‏ @CraigFitzsimon1 May 29
Daz, go & read up on your Zionist feminism - that's the quality stuff. Once u get a taste you'll never go back, that right Andrew?

Garda Darren TOPAZ‏ May 29
I've seen women say 'all men are rapists+ should be locked up + then executed'. Holding my son i cant agree with that crap. I feel only love

 

For those not familar with it #KillAllMen became a feminist injoke used to express frustration over exactly the sort of behaviours we are discussing here.  It was first used by a 24 year old man as a joke to express his frustration at  "being around a whole bunch of really immature nerdbros, at home and at school, who pretty frequently said and did stuff that was either awful or at least really cringey"

The only people who pretend its proof of a feminist conspiracy to #KillAllMen are MRA types who produce meme's like the one above and then run around the internet demanding people denounce the 'presented as serious' joke.  Which if you get tricked into just adds credibilty to their false presentation of the hashtag.  It also has to be mentioned that while there have been a number of horrific mass shooting which involved a man trying to 'kill all women' the reverse isn't true.

The twitter interactions are characteristic of a certain type of lefty man that is only radical as long as he doesn't have to be even slightly self critical.  The discussion of colonialism illustrates this quite well, as long as the man can be the downtrodden because of the impact of colonialsm on Ireland he'll will be signing 'RA songs till the bar kicks him out.  But ask him to be critical of the involvement of the Irish in colonialism and roars of outrage will soon follow. As part of the EU we now are part of the colonial relationship between the EU and Africa in particular.  The parallel with the hostility to feminism from the same men hardly needs comment beyond pointing out that once you are entirely on the other side of colonial history, by being English for instance, then such men and their roars of rage become the EDL & UKIP.

Update: I later had a fairly extensive DM exchange with 'Garda Darren Topaz' that convinced me his use of the meme's was casual and out of relative ignorance around the topics rather than out of a malicious alt-right position.  As such it demonstrates the way MRA or even alt-right meme politics can gain a foothold out of casual opposition to anti-oppression politics.  Which is of course the purpose of such memes in the first place.

 

Some of my Facebook comments

As well as the timeline I’m adding expanded versions of a couple of the comments I posted on Facebook, mostly so I can find them myself in future. These came from a long thread on my FB page that was draft 1 of this timeline.

Social media exchanges are often tough mental health wise as there are a whole load of weird new dynamics going on that we are only beginning to develop collective etiquette to deal with. I reckon a lot of the mistakes of the last couple of years won't be repeated so intensely in the future as we get a better understanding of the pressures and costs. I actually spend a lot of time thinking about that and have written a little so I'm going to throw in this link here to avoid going off on that tangent yet 

OK so I figure the best thing to start with is to outline areas of Frankie’s original piece where I thought he had a point worth discussing. This approach might be annoying for a lot of people reading this so I'll just say trust me on this for now and that I recognise that the reason I can do this is also very much connected with my relative privileges in that conversation which means I can be more detached because its not my identities under attack.

Checking back I can see although its in the article it was more directly asked in some of his replies, basically why single out three particular axis of privilege, straight, white and male as the standard go to and not mention others, in particular class. There is a point of weakness here on our side of the fence and it is one that was destructively exploited by Clinton in the recent US election campaign.

To begin with the defensive response to the question. Straight, white, male is the shorthand because on the left when you identify who takes up space and time unnecessarely they are overwhelmingly straight, white and male. Class is both a simple and complex thing but actual ruling class types tend not to turn up at left meetings and perhaps as importantly would be less identifiable anyway as they’d leave the top hat and monocle at home. So as far as the left goes - and this is a conversation of people on the left - the shorthand sort of makes sense because it describers the problem that comes up most often - straight white men taking up a lot of space.

A concrete example was that several years year we brought the feminist historian Martha Ackelsberg over to talk about Mujures Libres, the organisation of anarchist women that existed in the Spanish state during the war and revolution. There wasn’t a lot of time left for Q&A and the initial round of three was dominated by two ‘straight white men’ who wasted time with general and loaded anti-feminist questions & statements with no reference at all to her knowledge. Or the experience in Spain she had just spent 50 minutes talking about ( you can listen to it,  the Q&A starts around the 50th minute).

So that’s the defensive response to why is it always ‘straight white male’. The SWM phrase is thus useful on the left but it obscures and refuses to acknowledge a fair bit. The defacto and formal leadership of the left over represents people who are from fairly economically privileged backgrounds including some of the offspring of the factory owning class who most of us would otherwise not come into contact with. And those people do take up a good deal more space than others.

In fact there is a left identity politics based around a reaction against that which probably found its most popular form in the British organisation Class War. So I agree that class belongs in that privilege checking list as do other neglected areas like citizenship status, a huge deal in this country particularly in the aftermath of the racist citizenship referendum.

All that said on this issue I’m fairly confident that the first 107 - as I’m going to call them - who signed the #CopOnComrades response would probably largely agree with this. If that comes as a surprise to those hostile to anti-oppression politics its only because you haven’t actually taken the time to look beyond the hostile left reactions to it which of course never acknowledge this. Read the original feminist debates around intersectionality and a particular understanding of class as part of the equation of oppressive behaviours is all over them.

And this is where the Irish Times can be brought in. I don’t for a moment imagine that the Irish Times is concerned about the marginalisation of working class straight, white men from the inner city. Quite the opposite, although far too polite to say it out loud I suspect the property porn neoliberal agenda would be delighted to see that population removed so that all that valuable housing stock could be added to the Monopoly board. The Irish Times agenda here and McManus in particular is driven by a hostility to intersectional feminism, a hostility we’ve seen scattered across a whole range of opinion pieces they have commissioned / accepted in recent months. If you want to make rhetorical arguments about alliances with neoliberalism there is one lying right there for the asking, to pick up and swing around. I’m going to just point that out and move on.

[ Some weeks later the Irish Times led the charge after the #JobstownNotGuilty verdict released a group of anti-water charge activists that the state had tried to fit up on a kidnapping charge after a sit down protest. The Irish Times tried to blame social media as somehow influencing the jury and suggested that the men charged were guilty of lesser offences. It also rushed to deny the need for an investigation into the very obvious instances of co-ordinated garda perjury around the trial. ]

I’d no more go to the Irish Times as part of some dispute internal to the left than I’d go to the cops. Just to be clear that is not a ‘as bad as’, just a no way I’d do it. They are simply going to use such approaches to get what they can for an agenda that is no way ours. If they’d take an Opinion piece on how property speculation has driven so many of my friends out of Dublin and indeed Ireland I might put pen to paper for them. But not for this.

It’s also the wrong avenue for a couple of other reasons. Firstly because its a method of communication that is very one directional - basically the writer is given a huge platform to shout their opinions from to a crowd which lacks an equivalent mechanism to respond. If you are saying something contentious that’s going too create frustration and anger that wouldn’t be present if you’d chose a more equal space for such a discussion. Indeed I’d bet that the collective efforts of the 107 to get their response out there probably only reached a fraction of the audience of the Irish Times piece.

Secondly because its exposing the points of conflict to a lot of cackling assholes who are hostile to the left, including any concept of gender liberation. Going there is going to bring them into your mentions, as we saw on #CopOnComrades on Twitter when actual MRA memes and even the ‘Irish Slave’ nonsense started to get posted by Frankie supporters. That’s got to be more than a little embarrassing. And that sort of exposure also attracts publicity hungry poets whose support is as useful as a concrete wetsuit.

These two mean its going to be pretty impossible to have a conversation on the left through that platform that doesn't escalate in the way this did.

Thirdly its behind a pay wall which adds significantly to the siloing of discussion that Facebook has introduced. That’s a big problem in general but I’ll get into that in a later post as this one is already way beyond the couple of paragraphs I intended.

——

The rage of caliban

  this was a reply to Frankie again using this phrase to dismiss critics.

I got curious yesterday and googled the expression Frankie has used a few times, that he is being subjected to the Rage of Caliban. I presumed this was a reference to The Tempest but I’d done Julius Ceasar for the leaving so I wasn’t familiar with what it might mean in the way ‘But Brutus is an honourable man’ would be self explanatory for me. Googling suggested it’s actually a reference to Oscar Wilde / Portrait of Doran Grey and when I looked into that use of it I rather liked it and thought it said a lot more than perhaps Frankie intended.

The meaning is discussed in multiple places but given the context its fairly self explanatory here if I just quote Oscar Wilde’s use of the concept
“The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.
The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.”

I’m interpreting this as Frankie feeling that he has been exposed to rage because he has shown us the reality where ‘we’ are neo-liberal Hilary supporters. But of course the reference is very easy flipped over to where he becomes Caliban and his rage is explained by being shown the even working class men are privileged in comparison to working class women, etc.

This is where it gets tricky because it appears much of the heat here is a apparent denial of a reality the other sees as self-evident. Of the two contrasting views of what Caliban sees in the mirror that sends him into a rage the ‘neoliberal Hilary supporters’ claim seems relatively testable. Are the 107 women made up of neoliberals who supported Hilary Clinton? I honestly can’t see how that question can be answered in the affirmative on the basis of evidence as opposed to a circular assumption. The rage in that case isn’t because the true face of Caliban is revealed but perhaps this is where the second part of the quote is relevant.

“The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.”

Is this then a dislike of romanticism? In other words to a certain amount it doesn’t matter that the face revealed was not the true one because the writer is above such considerations. What matters is the impact of the story told rather than whether or not the specifics are accurate.

The sounds ludicrous but to an extent does serve to explain a lot of the reactions to #CopOnComrades where several man Tweeted very definite claims that were not factual (to put it mildly, more strongly they tweeted what they knew to be lies). In some cases the men concerned are well enough connected into existing networks that I have to assume they were aware their claims were wrong. But to them this wrongness didn’t matter when the goal was establishing a particular story where neoliberal Hilary supporters lurk out of sight, ready to sabotage the left at every opportunity. That narrative is defended not through fact but through retelling with increased feeling.

I’d a weird day on Twitter on the Monday morning after the statement was published where I tried to reply to some of these false but very definite claims only to be met by an avalanche of additional claims. To the extent that I got a Twitter pop up saying ‘We see you are getting a lot of notifications, would you like to change your settings to reduce this’. I was using my phone and on a beach for part of this but even though I explained this people were getting angry that I wasn’t addressing these claims fast enough or with enough detail. I’ll return to this in another post. All that felt like a performance designed to establish a narrative rather than ascertain the accuracy of particular claims.

I think that sort of process happens a lot more than we acknowledge, indeed in terms of conventional politics it’s very much encouraged. What matters is the cutting remark and the performance of outrage rather than whats actually going on.

The problem with this approach is indeed it does unleash ‘the rage of Caliban’ as those being shown something that is not in fact their face become outraged at the misrepresentation. In this case the repeated showing of Hilary Clinton as ‘them’ provokes a reaction that threatens and is perhaps intended to obliterate discussion.

From my quick scanning of one of the explanatory texts I found via google provides what may be a useful summary of Caliban as he appears in The Tempest
“for now let me just say that Caliban is a sub-human or part-human monster, capable of reasoning and language, but also physically ugly and immoral and base in his actions. Yet for that, he is at least partly a sympathetic character, at the mercy of his nature—we fear him in his rage and his plotting to overthrow the hero and rape his daughter, yet also we pity him in his deformity and his impotence.

And so too does Caliban pity himself. It is at least a possible reading that what makes Caliban angry is not Prospero's treatment of him, but his awareness of his own base nature. He is described as being to a man as man is to an angel, and he is in fact what man is when man compares himself to angels, or two any other ideal of what man can be. He is what we do not like about ourselves when we examine ourselves.”

Who is Caliban in the #CopOnComrades discussion? The second paragraph seems very relevant to discussion about privilege, different understandings of what the term means and how people can react when privilege is highlighted. In that context perhaps at least some of the heat comes from seeing ourselves as Caliban?

——

I'll update the links here and perhaps add more explanatory text as the discussion develops.  Tweet me with anything I may have missed, corrections, etc.  Due to spam I had to turn off comments on this site a while back so if you want to comment publicaly what I've done is posted a link to this piece on the Anarchist Writers FB page so you can comment (and read other peoples comments) over there.

Comments

Update as of July 19th

The Twitter exchanges reached peak strangeness when a new man ‘on the left’ in our story came up with the idea that the Kate O’Connell who had signed the statement had to be the Fine Gael TD.

Spoiler; As anyone who has read the main piece above will not be surprized to hear it was another Kate.

You’d imagine after the other two lads vanished from the conversations after they made asses of themselves by assuming women with names similar to Labour Party politicians must be those politicians he’d have been a bit cautious.  But nope he just posted that assumption as fact out there multiple times.

You’d also imagine a moments consideration of the politics expressed in the statement would have given pause for thought.  He might have wondered;
a) Would a Fine Gael TD describe herself in the opening words of the statement as an “activist women” or referred to “a good number of the left-wing men we work and organise with.”  
B) Does Fine Gael talk of “structures of oppression and privilege under patriarchal racial capitalism”

For readers outside Ireland Fine Gael is the right of centre party that forms the current government.  It’s very neoliberal and about as likely to use that sort of terminology as to sing the International to close the party conference.

In fact @dublinmacker was aware that it didn’t sound like the terminology Fine Gael would use but still went ahead with posting the assumption that Kate had to be that Kate.  Top tip - in future if you think you’ve spotted a politician on the list why not drop them an email and ask before going public.

To repeat what I said in the main piece “Beyond the embarrassment factor what's important here is the illustration of 'confirmation bias'.  We are all prone to this, basically finding and interpreting facts to agree with our own opinion even when they don't.  The bias here was that which 'men on the left' feel towards intersectional feminism.  They believe they know what it is and who holds to it so even when the facts don't actually confirm that belief they believe, as here, that they do.”
 

Do nothings

If the @dublinmacker accusation ends of being amusing the slightly earlier intervention of Dave Gibney was less so.  Dave is the Communications officer with Mandate, one of the better unions organising in Ireland.  He’s a bit of a public figure, in particular with regard to Right2Water but also appeared on Apollo House panels and has spoken to the press in that context. 

In this context he could be said to be part of the Apollo House faction centred around another left wing trade union official, Brendan Ogle.  You might remember that the immediate origins of Frankie’s article was in the Pow-Wow podcast with Ogle that discussed the Apollo House occupation, its posted in the main article.  All this is relevant background as Dave otherwise appears seemingly from nowhere on the hashtag.   Rather than coming from nowhere we can presume he has been involved in whatever formal or informal conversations are going on in that circle about the controversy.

On Monday night Dave tweeted “I would genuinely love women behind #coponcomrades to unify & get organised to tackle #homelessness, abuse & poverty over coming weeks.”

The problem is that this is exactly what some of the women have been doing, not just for weeks or months but in some cases years.  The tweet got read as a passive aggressive ‘you do nothing’ and got responded to on that basis with several women detailing just how much they are already doing.

Dave then pulled a “Wow! I apologise and will not express hope for more unity and cooperation to tackle these issues in future.”

And then as more women came online and responded to his tweet he deleted first the original one, then the ‘apology’ and finally his entire account.  I reproduce some of the replies below

W1. Off to work to fight alongside workers on low pay for their rights and for social change. Like I do everyday. #coponcomrades #communitywork

W2 @davegibney I guess my 18 years experience volunteering and working with vulnerable women and kids in DV, care and homelessness counts for nothing

W3 I would genuinely love if male activists whining about #coponcomrades unified & did some anti-rape,anti-DV,abortion rights work this century

W4 Just to let you know... we are already!!! But thanks again for the erasure AGAIN #coponcomrades

W5 So many of the people who signed #coponcomrades are doing amazing work you'll never hear about. Supporting women in all kinds of situations

This deletion to cover claims that have been shown to be false has happened too often in this discussion.  They are a product of men a making wild accusations against the women signing on the basis of a combination of prejudice and lack of knowledge. Then when the accusation is demonstrated to be rubbish rather than acknowledging that, being self-critical and adjusting their analysis they have sought to cover their tracks through deletion.

The right response here would have been for Dave to have admitted to forming his opinion on the basis of prejudice rather than knowledge, say this was a mistake and wish the women luck with their work, and perhaps even offer support.  That might well helped to heal some of the wounds that have been opened.  It’s likely Dave wasn’t intending to mislead, he was just ignorant of the work done by the women of #CopOnComrades - honestly stating that rather than pretending his intention was misunderstood would have been helpful, covering his tracks wasn’t.

Those following my timeline will be aware these two contributions are part of a pattern. Men trying to undermine the #CopOnComrades statement not by outlining disagreements with the concepts it contained but by attacking those who signed it in a way designed to suggest their ideas are not worthy of consideration.  To date we have the accumulated painting of the #CopOnComrades women as ‘upper middle class Hilary Clinton loving neoliberals, who are (either or both?) members of the last Labour government, the current Fine Gael government party and who do nothing (presumably except write statements).” All these claims are not only false but ridiculous, making them could only polarise and divide.

There were more, including at the extremes people tweeting that the whole thing is a vast conspiracy directed by ‘academics’ and ‘spooks’.  I’ve even been described as ‘dodgy as fuck’ in that context and more strangely someone who would have signed the ’Solemn League and Covenant’ - a very odd claim indeed considering what I’ve written about loyalism.  These are silly smears but they also display a methodology where smears, even ridiculous smears, stand in for political critique based on understanding of where the difference lie.  You can’t pretend to favour ‘left unity’ and engage in that wrecking methodology.
 

At last

There was one breath of fresh air this week and that was the blog post from Gillian Hamill titled ‘Why I an Irish feminist disagree with the #CopOnComrades letter
 
or the most part the blog takes the points raised in the #CopOnComrades piece and outlines where the author disagrees with them.  I disagree and I also think its a bit too similar in form to the situation when a friend says something fucked up. You hurriedly step in to explain what they ‘really’ mean in a way that subtly shifts both tone and meaning before things get out of hand.  She manages to mention Frankie by nbame a dozen times in that process.   But in comparison with every other response to #CopOnComrades it’s a shining star that deserves consideration.  Gillian Hamill is one of a number of feminists who has tweeted that they don’t identify with the #CopOnComrades letter, you’ll find others on the hashtag.

I’m not intended to otherwise enter into debate about that piece, mostly because I think my role as a man in this discussion is to take on the other men trying to pull down intersectional feminism.  I’d place a pretty low value on any explanation I might offer to a women on feminism in general, in particular if it’s unrequested! 

 

 

  


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