by Orla Ní Chomhraí
In 1946 George Orwell wrote: “Fifteen years ago, when one defended the freedom of the intellect, one had to defend it against Conservatives, against Catholics, and to some extent — for they were not of great importance in England — against Fascists. Today one has to defend it against Communists and ‘fellow-travellers.’”(1) In Ireland, in 2021, it looks like we are dealing with a similar situation.
With apparently no sense of embarrassment after the scandal involving People before Profit election candidate in Galway last year (2), and subsequent allegations from branch and ex-branch members that the leadership had, for years, ignored complaints about his violent and misogynistic behaviour — not to mention the more widespread rumbling about how some allegedly abusive males in and around the party were dealt with in an indulgent way by the leadership — now the People before Profit society at a Galway university is actively targeting feminist and LGB rights activists for no-platforming on that campus.
On March 14th, the Auditor of the People before Profit party branch in the National University of Ireland, Galway, announced a motion which he was putting forward at a Students Union meeting 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, such as feminist groups Radicailin (https://radicailin.com/), Irish Women’s Lobby (https://irishwomenslobby.ie/), a group advocating for same-sex attracted people (the LGB Alliance, Ireland(@Ire_LGBAlliance) and two non-fascist political parties Renua (a split-off from right-wing Fine Gael) and United People. It is noticeable that they are not calling for the no-platforming of the Capitalist Society, societies of right-wing political parties such as Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil who actually have the political power to greatly impact upon our society, an anti-abortion society, nor any of the religious societies (e.g. Catholic Society). I wouldn’t support the no-platforming of these groups either, but it is interesting to compare who the People before Profit society are targeting for no-platforming, and who they are not targeting.
As well as the listed groups, the motion includes this worrying addition: “as well as any other groups or individuals who espouse conspiracy theorist, far-right extremist, or discriminatory views.” This vague descriptor has massive potential to be abused by whichever faction controls the Student Union at any particular time. As well as this, the motion states that “NUIG Students Union Officers shall be prohibited from sharing a public platform with members of the listed organisations”. So this motion would potentially affect activism even outside of the university, and would have a censoring and chilling effect on student representatives, both on and off campus.
It was meant to be voted on at a meeting on March 22nd but the vote was postponed due to the meeting running over-time.
Unfortunately, students in other colleges are taking inspiration from this proposed motion, and some are talking about trying to bring in similar motions to their Students Unions.
This comment below displays a worrying, if typical, attitude. This student below, is currently the deputy president of the Technological University, Dublin, Student’s Union, and is a candidate for the position of the (national) Union of Students in Ireland Vice-President for Equality and Citizenship. By womxn here he means women, and by women he seems to mean men.
The Auditor of the NUI Galway People before Profit (PbP) society, Conall McCallig, seems to have led the charge on coming up with the motion, and is being supported on Twitter by the Vice-Auditor of the PbP society, and another PbP member. So I think it is fair to say that the People before Profit society in NUI Galway are supporting this motion. All three of these People before Profit members are also running for positions in the Student Union. I think it is likely that they thought the motion would be an easy way to get themselves noticed, though I think they probably also “believe in” gender identity ideology. Worryingly, some members of People before Profit outside the university are also voicing their support for this motion, though I also hear some are opposed to it.
It is clear that the motion, entitled Opposing Fascism, Far-Right Extremism, and all forms of Discrimination, is written in a way to imply that all the groups listed are a threat to students on campus, and is another desperate attempt to try to lump groups which are critical of gender identity ideology in with groups which represent the far-right of the political spectrum. This is a common tactic used by proponents of gender identity ideology. This false equivalence is then used to justify no-platforming.
You see the argument below that these groups are engaging in hate and discrimination. It shouldn’t need saying but wanting a group for women, or for same-sex attracted people, is not hate or discrimination.
“Platforms are a privilege” is not a valid socialist argument, and especially not in relation to activities at a publicly-funded university. This is similar to the arguments I’ve seen made supporting the decisions by major corporations such as Facebook and Twitter, who monopolise their respective markets, to exclude people from using their product on political grounds. I don’t have space to get into that issue in this piece, but there is a good article on it here: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2021/01/22/should-tech-giants-control-the-public-square/
This motion at NUI, Galway follows upon a ridiculous claim made by Kiran Emrich on behalf of People before Profit that the Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Alliance works with British and American Neo-Nazis (Galway City Tribune, 4 December 2020). In his letter he also voiced his support for an open letter, signed by many NGOs, which had called for people who “defend biology” to be stripped of political and media representation. (3)
We have a serious problem on the Irish political Left if “defending” the existence of material reality and biological sex is to be considered a far-right position that should be opposed. And if feminist and LGB-Rights activists are to be considered targets for no-platforming for defending their rights, wanting to create and maintain their own groups and spaces, and for adopting a reality-based analysis.
Ideological confusion by PBP member below:
The gender identity movement is waging a war on reality. It collapses under even mild questioning. Hence their need to no-platform critical thinkers, or people who base their thinking and analysis on the acknowledgment of biological sex and material reality, and the pressure they exert to exclude people who are willing to stand up for accuracy and clarity of thought in the face of pressure not to.
I read about a case recently which shows how bad things have gotten. A Clinical Biologist got de-platformed from an academic conference for stating a basic biological fact about sexual development in the fetus. A non-doctor attending the conference, who identified as Trans, objected to this information and pressure was put on the Biologist to retract his comment (which was factual). The Biologist refused, so got cut from the meeting, and future presentations he was meant to give got cancelled.(4)
People before Profit members below saving the world from dictionary definitions.
Now clearly there are limits to how many people a movement can cancel. But they can impose their thoughts, ethos, and demands to an extent by creating an atmosphere of fear so that people are afraid to challenge them. It doesn’t matter how many people disagree with you if they are afraid to voice their thoughts.
Another reason for silencing and no-platforming critics is that most of the public would not support some of the key demands of the movement, such as an end to all single-sex spaces, and allowing any man to self-identify as a woman. Transrights groups have admitted to a strategy of hiding proposed radical law-changes from the public as much as possible until they are passed. These are some revealing excerpts from a report produced by and for Transrights activists/lobbyists, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and a major law firm Dentons, with input by BelongTo in Ireland:
“In Ireland, Denmark and Norway, changes to the law on legal gender recognition were put through at the same time as other more popular reforms such as marriage equality legislation. This provided a veil of protection, particularly in Ireland, where marriage equality was strongly supported, but gender identity remained a more difficult issue to win public support for…The most important lesson from the Irish experience is arguably that trans advocates can possibly be much more strategic by trying to pass legislation “under the radar” by latching trans rights legislation onto more popular legal reforms (e.g. marriage equality), rather taking more combative, public facing, approaches… In Ireland, activists have directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum.”(5)
This is the top-down, anti-democratic, movement “socialists” are attaching themselves to.
Historically, the Left supported de-platforming of fascists only due to their inherently violent and anti-democratic stance. As journalist and socialist activist Paul Foot put it in the 1990’s: “ the central aim of fascism is to destroy democracy” (6).
No platforming wasn’t a strategy to be applied willy nilly or to groups simply for having ideological differences with them. In a recent article in the Morning Star on cancel-culture and no-platforming, Kevin Ovenden points out the historic roots of no-platforming: “stopping actual fascists from violently organising — no platform — arose from a militant defence of democratic debate, including with those who held sometimes reactionary ideas that fascism sought to turn into something worse.”(7)
Cancel-culture and no-platforming as it is being used now, against non-fascists, centrist, and even liberal-left groups and individuals, is not just wrong-headed but actually a barrier to building working class solidarity and left-wing political organisation. Excluding feminist groups from universities, or making it easier to for employers to fire people for political wrong-think (a common tactic in cancel culture), is not a productive or ideologically consistent activity for so-called socialists to engage in. Worker solidarity used to be a basic starting point on the left. And the right of the oppressed to self-organise used to be supported by socialists.
A lot of ordinary people hate Cancel Culture because they can see it for the illiberal, disempowering, witch-hunting activity that it is. But there is a risk that the left will drive some of these people towards the opportunistic right when they see supposedly socialist groups supporting cancel culture.
Even though I am focusing on the Left’s attacks on freedom of speech in this piece, due to the no-platforming motion mentioned at the beginning, there is also a push coming from the Right in various countries against free speech and against the right to protest, as can be seen in Britain (e.g. the Hate Crime Bill in Scotland and the anti-protester bill in England) and elsewhere. (8) But it is harder to fight the state, or institutional, attacks on freedom of speech and assembly, when you are busy trying to put out a fire in your own house.
It would be great if the left could get back to some basic principles such as solidarity, a pro-science and critical thinking stance, and supporting freedom of expression. There will probably be a need for major re-grouping on the left in order to do this, but hopefully we would see a more confident rational left result from it.
Orla Ní Chomhraí is a former member of the Galway City branch of the People Before Profit Party and the Socialist Workers Party.