Tatchell on O’Brien and Catholic hypocrisy on gays

February 25, 2013 at 9:45 pm (Catholicism, gay, homophobia, Human rights, Jim D, Peter Tatchell)

Above: O’Brien coming out?

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has reacted to the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic, who has been accused of inappropriate behaviour with male priests.

Earlier on Monday, Cardinal O’Brien apologised to those he had offended for “failures” during his ministry and announced in a statement that he was standing down as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church.

He will not take part in electing a new pope, leaving Britain unrepresented.

In a statement, Peter Tatchell said:

Cardinal O’Brien condemned homosexuality as a grave sin and was a long-time opponent of gay equality.

He supported homophobic discrimination in law, including the current ban on same-sex marriage.

In the light of these allegations, his stance looks hypocritical.

He appears to have preached one thing in public while doing something different in private.

Several other prominent opponents of equal marriage are guilty of double standards and vulnerable to similar exposure. They include anti-gay clergy and politicians.

It is estimated that around 40% of Catholic priests in Britain are gay, which makes the church’s opposition to gay equality so two-faced and absurd.

Nearly half of all Cardinals worldwide are thought to be gay.

Recent revelations in Italy have alleged the existence of a gay mafia within the Vatican, including senior Cardinals and other Vatican officials, and their participation in gay bars, clubs, saunas, chat rooms and escort services.

The Vatican is shamelessly championing homophobia and the denial of legal equality to gay people, while hosting a hotbed of secret, guilt-ridden clerical homosexuality.

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Pontifical departure

February 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm (Catholicism, Champagne Charlie, child abuse, homophobia, misogyny, religion)

Perhaps covering up for child abuse, promoting anti-gay bigotry, spreading AIDS throughout the world, and explaining away his organisation’s hatred of 50% of the human race finally wore him out?

Anyway, the former Hitler Youth member  (in fairness, he claims he had no choice) has decided to stand down. Pity his organisation (the Church, not the Hitler Youth) survives.

Pope Benedict XVI

“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
―    Denis Diderot

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Magdelene Laundries report: too little, too late

February 5, 2013 at 10:13 am (Catholicism, child abuse, children, Christianity, hell, Human rights, Ireland, Jim D, religion)

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Associated Press reports:

A new report is expected to lay bare the extent of responsibility that successive Irish governments must accept for what went on in Magdalene laundries.

An 18-month investigation into the Catholic-run workhouses will formally reveal state involvement and knowledge of the harrowing life women in the institutions endured between 1922 and 1996.

A committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, who has since resigned from politics, spent 18 months establishing the role official Ireland played in the for-profit Church-run operation. Survivors have been campaigning for the last 10 years for an apology from state and Church and a transparent compensation scheme.

Over the 74 years, thousands of single mothers and other women were put to work in detention, mostly in industrial for-profit laundries run by nuns from four religious congregations. Each woman had her Christian name changed, her surname unused and most have since died.

James Smith, associate professor at Boston College and member of the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) advisory board, said: “I hope the Government listen. The women can no longer be held hostage to a political system. Time is of the essence, it is the one commodity many of these women can ill afford.”

Survivors have called for a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process for all to be set up, with pensions, lost wages, health and housing services and redress all accounted for.

Mr Smith said: “Until there is an apology – I have met so many women who will not come forward, and have no intention of engaging in any process – they might still not come forward, but other women might come forward if they get an assurance that they were wronged.”

Religious orders the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity ran laundries at Drumcondra and Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, the Sisters of Mercy in Galway and Dun Laoghaire, the Religious Sisters of Charity in Donnybrook, Dublin, and Cork, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross.

JFM is aware of at least 988 women who are buried in laundry plots in cemeteries across Ireland and therefore must have stayed for life. Mass graves have been identified in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick, Glasnevin in Dublin, Sunday’s Well in Cork and at sites in Galway.

The inquiry into the Magdalene scandal was finally prompted by a report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in June 2011. It called for prosecutions where necessary and compensation to surviving women.


The Irish blogger Bock The Robber has been covering this scandal for several years. Here’s what s/he wrote in June of last year:

As usual, it has taken outside pressure to force acknowledgement of the imprisonment, torture and degradation inflicted on Irish women by this State and by the nuns who carried out the abuse.  The United Nations Committee Against Torture has published a report condemning Ireland for a crime.   Women who had children outside of marriage, or who might simply have been perceived as having a bright, cheerful spirit, were abducted by State agents and imprisoned for ever more.

The disgracefully-misnamed Magdalene laundries broke the spirit of thousands of women, enslaving them for the financial gain of warped, sexually-frustrated nuns who inflicted their vindictive self-hatred on these helpless prisoners.

Ireland being what it is, the government excluded the nuns’ gulags from the terms of reference of the Ryan report, no doubt hoping that the problem would go away as the former prisoners became older and more frail, but there it still is, an indictment on the confessional nature of this State from its foundation.

Let nobody tell you that the nuns and the priests and the brothers saved the State money by imprisoning these people.

They did not.

The religious orders made a handsome profit from their prisoners, through slavery.  And if they got a little sexual kick along the way, so much the better.

We have to acknowledge that the nuns who ran these prisons were deeply disturbed individuals, but their disorder seems to be widespread, and not just among those who controlled the Magdalene laundries.   There’s a creepy commonality in the stories told by women who attended nun-run schools, of violence, vindictiveness and small-minded cruelty.

The motif of the keys is the one that stands out most strongly.  Many women, including members of my own family, and also survivors of the laundries, describe being struck on the knuckles with bunches of keys by enraged nuns.  And this punishment always seems to have been administered coldly.

What was wrong with these women that made them so cruel, so callous and so angry?

In my opinion, it isn’t natural to live your entire life without sex, and I think the experience derailed them, but maybe that’s just me being a dirty bastard.  I don’t think so, though, and neither did the old women I grew up among who used to say the same thing, in less explicit terms.

I think these nuns, and all the other hated torturers in the schools and the laundries were so cruel because they were completely screwed up by being who and what they were.  And I think they took it out on the poor unfortunates who fell into their insane grip.

The sooner the crime of the Magdalene laundries is exposed, the better.  There are still nuns out there, walking around, who tortured, beat, enslaved and humiliated other women in the name of Christianity.  They should be held accountable now.

We have to exorcise all the ghosts haunting modern Ireland, until we finally acknowledge the disgrace that happened after independence, where absolute power was handed over to one church.

Until we do that, Ireland will never achieve maturity as a nation.


Previously : The Magdalene Laundries

All Bock posts on the Ryan Report

All Bock posts on the Murphy Report

Ryan Commission report

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Her name was Savita Halappanavar

November 15, 2012 at 12:07 am (Catholicism, Human rights, Ireland, misogyny, women)

By Jessica Luther, reblogged from KYBOOMU

Savita Halappanavar

Her name was Savita Halappanavar.

She was 31.

She was a dentist.

Her husband was Praveen Halappanavar, 34, an engineer at Boston Scientific.

She was 17 weeks pregnant in Galway, Ireland.

She presented with back pain at University Hospital Galway on October 21st, was found to be miscarrying.

She asked several times over a three-day period that her pregnancy be terminated.

This was refused because the foetal heartbeat was still present and the doctors told her, “this is a Catholic country”.

She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped.

She died of septicaemia a few days later.

Mr Halappanavar took his wife’s body home on Thursday, November 1st, where she was cremated and laid to rest on November 3rd.

There  are now two investigations are under way into her death.

[This info via this link. For more.]


According to the World Health Organization, 26.1 million people seek unsafe abortions every year in the world because they do not have access to safe ones. 47,000 die from those unsafe abortions.

I have been unable to find a stat of how many people, like Savita Halappanavar, die because they are denied abortion as a medical option.


Her name was Savita Halappanavar.

So many people will die in situations similar to hers and we will never know their names.

This is unacceptable. It is morally bankrupt. It is the definition of tragic.

Her name was Savita Halappanavar.

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George Galloway MP: an apology

April 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm (apologists and collaborators, Asshole, Catholicism, Galloway, Guardian, homophobia, islamism, Jim D, Respect, stalinism, twat)

Shiraz Socialist has on a number of occasions described Mr George Galloway, MP for Blackburn Bradford West, as a “Stalinist,” a term that implies a belief in a form of socialism, characterised by state control of the means of production and opposition to private property.

George Galloway in Dundee in 1978

Above: young Galloway while still a socialist… of sorts 

In view of Mr Galloway’s inteview with Ms Decca Aitkenhead in today’s Guardian G2, in which he states:

But my main political mistake, in retrospect, was that state ownsership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, in which I believed, and for which I campaigned, was a false God…Yes I’m not saying that everything in the private garden is rosy. There’s just more flowers than there were in the state garden. I’m sorry to say that, and, yes it is painful.”

…we accept that it was completely untrue to suggest that Mr Galloway is presently a “Stalinist” or, indeed, a believer in any ideology that could be described as in any remote way, however degenerate, as “socialist.” We unreservedly apologise to Mr Galloway for any distresss caused to himself, any of his wives, or Mr Ovenden.

We accept that Mr Galloway is a godly, religious man, perhaps a Catholic or possibly a Muslim, but either way he opposes secularism and seeks to re-introduce religiously-based communalism to British politics. As Ms Aitkenhead notes:

“We had talked a great deal about the role of religion in politics, and could not have disagreed more. I thought it outrageous to urge voters in Bradford, as he did, to vote for him or fear the wrath of judgment day. Galloway can’t see the problem at all: ‘I believe that, on judgment day, people have to answer for what they did.’ When I ask if he is troubled that many voters thought he had converted to Islam, he replies: ‘Well, I don’t think many of them are interested in my religion’ – which is pretty rich, considering he put out a leaflet all about which candidate was more of a Muslim. Contrary to every report I’ve read, he doesn’t deny writing the leaflet himself. I think he is ludicrously slippery about invoking religion, playing it both ways to suit his own purposes, but, as he says, we are never going to agree because he doesn’t think politics should be secular. ‘So it’s apples and pears, dear’.”

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Warsi on secularism: Cameron’s ‘useful canary’?

February 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm (Catholicism, Christianity, intellectuals, Islam, Jim D, populism, religion, religious right, secularism, Tory scum)

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6: 5-6)

When Lady Warsi came out with her denunciation of “militant secularism” allegedly  “denying people the right to a religious identity” in Britain and Europe, my initial reaction  was to treat it as self-evident bollocks from a self-evident dim-wit, unworthy of further comment.

I’ll leave aside for the moment the fact that Warsi’s comments were delivered during an official visit to the Vatican – an outfit responsible for the systematic  cover-up of  mass  child-rape and torture by its own clergy, as well as the appeasement of Hitler and collaboration with Franco’s Spain, Tiso’s Slovakia and Pavelic’s Croatia. No, what struck me as self-evidently preposterous was that Wasi could claim that religion is being victimised at a time when, in Britain:

* Christianity (specifically the C of E) remains the state religion, with reserved seats in the legislature.

* “Religion or Belief” (but in practice, just religion) has legal protection in employment matters and religious organisations are exempted from other aspects of equality legislation.

* One third of state schools are run by religions (mainly, but not only the C of E), while religions are busy setting up ‘free schools’ where they will have something close to a free hand to promote their dogma within the curriculum.

* More and more ‘outsourced’ social service provision is being given to religious organisations, who are then free to proselytize to vulnerable clients.

* Religion is given a free plug (Thought for the Day) in the middle of the national broadcaster’s flagship news programme every weekday.

Hardly a picture of religion being “sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere” (Warsi’s words), is it?

The other self-evidently (at least to me) preposterous aspect of Warsi’s ignorant and self-righteous bleating wes her use of words like “militant” and “intolerant.” Does she know what these words mean? Compare are contrast:

* The National Secular Society brings a court case against Bideford Council, to stop it holding prayers as part of its official business (councillors would, of course, remain free to pray before or after meetings if they so choose).

* At Queen Mary College last month a meeting had to be called off when a man came in, filmed the audience and threatened to “hunt down” anyone who he considered had insulted his religion.

Who, exactly are the “intolerant”, “militant” people at large in Britain today, Lady Warsi? Secularists, with their occasional legal actions, petitions and letters to the Guardian, or violent religious fanatics threatening people, picketing plays and demanding the banning of books? And that’s not to mention suicide-bombings.

As for the wider world, who is it terrorising Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia (where physical attacks have risen by over 300% between 2003 and 2010)? Secularists or religious people? Surely even Wasi knows (or can guess at) the answer to that.

Sadly, it seems that Warsi’s arguments have not been laughed out of court, at least not by the ‘intelligensia’ (the picture amongst the general public, and even most self-identifying ‘Christians’ seems to be more encouraging – further proof of the contention sometimes attributed to Orwell, that “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them”). A large part of the problem seems to be a confusion between secularism and atheism. Just as all cows are animals but not all animals are cows, so it goes with atheists and secularists. As Dave explains here,  secularism is no more and no less than the seperation of church (or mosque or synagogue) and state -  far and away the best arrangement for religious freedom. Julian Baggini makes the same point here, though in my opinion he is too willing to concede the maintenance of religious privilege in the public sphere.

It has certainly come to something when a leading liberal intellectual like Will Hutton (in today’s Observer) clearly doesn’t understand what secularism is (“Secularism unsupported by atheism is nonsensical,” quoth he) and has to be put right by Richard Dawkins, who has always been clear on the distiction between atheism and secularism, even while he is an outspoken advocate of both:

“Secularism unsupported by atheism is nonsensical.’ Really? You mean the US first amendment is nonsense? The Indian constitution? Their idealist founders enshrined secularism in those constitutions because they wanted all religions to be free: no religion should dominate; no religion should impose. Secularism is supremely liberal, the epitome of tolerance, and you, Will, should be the first to treasure it.

“Gandhi’s and ML King’s inner strength may well have come from religious conviction but they were passionate secularists because they believed religion was a private matter – inner, indeed – and an area in which, for everyone’s sake, it was important that the state remained neutral.”

Read the rest of this fascinating exchange here.

But my main mistake on Wasi was to assume that her Valentine’s Day message to fellow-bigot Benedict XVI was merely a frolic of her own. As Polly Toynbee (not someone I often quote with approval) has suggested, “For Cameron, Lady Warsi may be a useful canary: testing if American flag-and-faith culture wars might fly over here.”

Yes, the more you think about it the more it makes sense: Cameron’s too canny and sophisticated to be seen to advocate a turn to US-style religious bigotry and anti-science ignorance in British public life. But Warsi: she’s just the canary for the job.

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The dishonesty, banality and inconsistency of Terry Eagleton

February 2, 2012 at 1:16 am (Catholicism, Champagne Charlie, Christianity, intellectuals, philosophy, religion)

“A hundred real thalers do not contain the least coin more than a hundred possible thalers…My financial position is, however, affected very differently by a hundred real thalers than it is by the mere concept of them (that is of their possibility)” -  Immanuel Kant,  Critique of Pure Reason (1781)

Now, please don’t get me wrong about this: like all right-thinking folk I consider the pop-”philosopher” Alain de Botton to be a complete prat. I especially despise his preposterous plan for a “temple to atheism” and (although I haven’t yet read it), I’m sure I’ll hold his book Religion for Atheists in the same contempt.

You’re either an atheist (or a believer) or you’re not. Which is why the term “agnostic” always strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. And as for appreciating the wonders of nature and existence, the warmth of human companionship, or even the grandeur and profundity of religious writing and religious buildings, plenty of atheists (including the supposedly “destructive” Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens) have made it clear that we can appreciate all that stuff. Philip Larkin put it very well in his poem ‘Church Going’:

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

Note that the atheist Larkin is writing about a proper (albeit deserted) church, not some neo-Comptean fake-religious travesty. We atheists (especially, but not only, those brought up on Marxism) understand what religion is all about, even as we reject it.

Which is why de Botton’s attempt to appease religion and the religious – to meet them halfway – is so pathetic and insulting to both sides. Much healthier is the straightforward “destructive” atheism of Dawkins, who declared (of de Botton’s plans), “Atheists don’t need temples. I think there are better things to spend this kind of money on. If you’re going to spend money on atheism you could improve secular education and build non-religious schools which teach rational, sceptical critical thinking.”

Having got all that of my chest, I have to admit that I harbour some sympathy with de Botton when he writes in last week’s New Statesman (not yet on line, so no link) about being “Eagletoned” (his soft-on-religion book had been blow-torched by the so-called “Marxist”  Terry Eagleton in the Guardian):

de Botton on Eagleton:

“This kind of sympathetic atheism infuriated Eagleton for reasons that entirely escaped the archetypal Guardian reader. They may remember him fondly (as I do) from the days when he used to explain critical theory to us – and was unrivalled in the clarity with which he popularised  otherwise complex thinkers such as Lacan.”

Eagleton’s vituperative review of de Botton’s book is often perceptive (well, you’d expect that of an academic of his background), and I especially like his (Eagleton’s) comment about atheists who think religion is necessary and/or accepatable, for the lower orders:

“There is something deeply disingenuous about this whole tradition. “I don’t believe myself, but it is politically prudent that you should” is the slogan of thinkers supposedly devoted to the integrity of the intellect. If the Almighty goes out of the window, how are social order and moral self-discipline to be maintained? It took the barefaced audacity of Friedrich Nietzsche to point out that if God was dead, then so was Man – or at least the conception of humanity favoured by the guardians of social order. The problem was not so much that God had inconveniently expired; it was that men and women were cravenly pretending that he was still alive, and thus refusing to revolutionise their idea of themselves.”

Now, it’s important to remember (or just know) that Eagleton made his name in the 1970′s as  “Marxist” academic and then -quite suddenly - after 9/11, and rational people like Christopher Hitchens had begun a serious attack upon religion,  Eagleton began attacking atheism, whilst still allowing himself to be billed as a “Marxist”, and indeed, as  a (self-proclaimed) “atheist” all the better to give “intellectual” credibility to his defence of religion.

Meanwhile, some of us began to question whether Eagleton really was the “atheist” he claimed to be, and was billed as being…

Eagleton’s attack on  Dawkins in the London Reveiw  of  Books  was well-received on much of the “left” and liberal-Guardianista-”left”:

One of  Eagleton’s complaints, in that article,  against Dawkins’s book (‘The God Delusion‘) was that:

“He (Dawkins) can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single  human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddah or Allah are wiped from human history – and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.”

Yet, now, then self-same Eagleton complains about de Button:

“De Botton does not want people literally to believe, but he remains a latter-day Matthew Arnold, as his high Victorian language makes plain. Religion “teaches us to be polite, to honour one another, to be faithful and sober”, as well as instructing us in “the charms of community”. It all sounds tediously neat and civilised. This is not quite the gospel of a preacher who was tortured and executed for speaking up for justice, and who warned his comrades that if they followed his example they would meet with the same fate. In De Botton’s well-manicured hands, this bloody business becomes a soothing form of spiritual therapy, able to “promote morality (and) engender a spirit of community”. It is really a version of the Big Society.”

That may well be true, but Eagleton must now tell us where he stands on religion: not as some “objective” commentator, but as someone who is a vigorous participant in the debate and who seems to have a strong personal investment in it. We have a right to know where this person stands, and so far he has noticeably failed to inform us.

And a final (for now) theological  point about Eagleton’s ‘position’ upon religion; he says, in his much-vaunted ‘critique’ of Richard Dawkins:

“Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.”:

This is, in fact, no more and no less than the well-known (and ridiculous, banal) “ontological argument” of St Ansulem: “Something than which nothing greater can be conceived”: he then argued that something that exists in reality must be greater than something that exists in the mind only; so God must exist outside as well as in the mind, for if he existed in the mind only and not in reality he would not be “something than which nothing greater can be conceived.” I’d call that a circular argument, not worth the time of day, if anyone asked me.

The idea that someone (even a prominent academic like Eagleton) can come out with such religious nonsense, and still be taken seriously as some sort of  left-wing figure, is (sorry about this)… beyond belief.

Eagleton continues, to this day, to present himself as a ‘Marxist’ , whilst concealing the fact that he is, in fact, first and foremost,  a Catholic. Nothing wrong with that as an individual human right, of course,  but in the context of this debate, it is relevant:  religious belief and Marxism, are, of course, incompatible.

But the final reason that it’s important to know where Eagleton is coming from is this: he appears to truly believe that sinners (like Christopher Hitchens) are – or should be –  roasting in hell; he writes:

“Liberal-capitalist societies, being by their nature divided, contentious places, are forever in search of a judicious dose of communitarianism to pin themselves together, and a secularised religion has long been one bogus solution on offer. The late Christopher Hitchens, who some people think is now discovering that his broadside God Is Not Great was slightly off the mark, would have scorned any such project. He did not consider that religion was a convenient fiction. He thought it was disgusting. Now there’s something believers can get their teeth into …”

Or, as de Botton puts it in the New Statesman:

You’d almost miss it: Eagleton believes that Hitchens is roasting and regetting having written God is Not Great. In other words, I was up against a reviewer for whom balance was going to be a challenge.”

What I am saying is this: Eagleton has clearly returned to his Catholicism: that does not in itself disqualify him from the debate about religion and related matters. It does, however mean that we must take everything he says in the context of his  backward superstition. And also in the light of his dishonest concealment of it for many years.

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Sean Matgamna’s political grounding

November 20, 2011 at 1:04 am (AWL, Catholicism, history, Ireland, Jim D, truth, workers)

In the evolution of civilisation, the progress of the fight for national liberty of any subject nation must, perforce, keep pace with the struggle for liberty of the most subject class in that nation.

James Connolly

The children with whom I have played, the men and women with whom I have eaten Have had masters over them, have been under the lash of masters, and though gentle, have served churls.

Patrick Pearse

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast The little tyrant of his fields withstood.

Thomas Gray

(Below: Sean Matgamna, founder and leader of the AWL, has started recounting his family background and his earliest political influences  – it will be continued):


The economic earthquakes that for three years now, from 2008, have shaken our capitalist world have led many people to look again, but with a more receptive mind, at the analysis of capitalism made long ago by Karl Marx.

They have disposed some of them to adopt a new view of the nature of capitalism. The ultra-Tory British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, carried a cartoon in 2008 of Karl Marx laughing in his grave at the woes on Wall Street.

Capitalism itself has once more forced to the attention of serious people the objective case for a socialist reorganisation of our world. This comes after two decades of breakneck globalisation in an enormous capitalist expansion and the collapse of the murderous and reactionary Stalinist counterfeit socialism.

In 2008, when this writer debated socialism with the Observer columnist Nick Cohen, Cohen thought he was dealing a commonsensical knockout blow when he asked: how could Karl Marx have understood the world we live in a century and a quarter after his death?

The fact, however, is that Marx uncovered the basic laws under which capitalism exists and moves. Capitalism has changed and developed enormously since then, of course, and shows a great power of adaptation. But what has adapted and modified is still recognisably the capitalism which Karl Marx anatomised.

Capitalism itself creates the basic economic elements of socialism. It creates gigantic, world-straddling enterprises, some of which have budgets bigger than governments. It “socialises” the forces of production, communication, and, in part, of exchange. This is the tendency which Frederick Engels long ago described as “the invading socialist society”.

We have seen governments that had made a God of free-market economics – for instance, the Bush regime in the USA and the pre-2010 New Labour government in Britain – forced to assume responsibility for the banks, and for orchestrating the economic affairs of society. The problem is that this capitalist “socialism”, spectacularly surprising though it was and is, was social regulation in the interests directly of the capitalist class

The “socialising” character of capitalism is is a fact, a gigantic fact, no matter how defeated, the depleted and marginal the advocates of socialism may be at a given time.

But if even an honest Tory journalist can sometimes see and admit that Karl Marx’s basic analysis of capitalism still tells a lot of truth, and the fundamental truth, about the nature of capitalism, many of those who are inclined to adopt a general socialist critique of capitalism balk at the idea that the proletariat can re-make the world, that we can overthrow capitalism and replace it with international socialism. They doubt the core idea of socialism, that, as Karl Marx put it back in 1864: “That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”.

The proletariat, the wage-working class, is what James Connolly like his socialist contemporaries described as “the slave class of our age”; what Jim Larkin indignantly called the “undermen”; what an elitist snob, the liberal John Maynard Keynes, dismissed as the social “mud”. The visible working-class in our world, and for a long time now, seems too far from what the working class will have to be to play the role of the gravedigger of capitalism and builder of a new world in which first working-class solidarity and then human solidarity will replace the dog-eat-dog ethos, “the war of all against all”, which defines the bourgeois society in which we live.

The short answer to the doubt, though in itself not necessarily the conclusive one, is to point to the working class in history – what it has done and what it has tried to do. And not only to the great, big-scale, world-shaking deeds and attempted deeds and projects of the working class. There are many smaller actions and attempts by the working class which are buried, unmarked and unknown, in the subsoil of modern history.

For it is the victors who write history. The history of wars between countries and empires, and especially of the war of classes, where the defeated working class can so easily be misrepresented in the aftermath. Those who resisted are “Luddites”, senseless malcontents, justly defeated and conquered Calibans, dark forces from the subsoil of society, the yahoos, the morlocks, the weasels. The history of much of the working class, much of the time, is lost, sifted out by historians.

Just as the many local acts of resistance to the movement of food out of the country that must have occurred in the 1840s Irish famine are lost, buried in the obscurity of old newspaper files, so that the overall picture is one of passive acceptance of their own starvation, so too with many other aspects of the history of the working class.

And so too with the Irish working class during and after the Irish bourgeois revolutions, the economic revolution on the land and the political revolution after 1916.

The first modern labour movement, Chartism in the late 1830s and the 1840s, emerged out of the bitter disappointment of those who had helped the British bourgeoisie win its bloodless political victory in the Reform Act of 1832 and were then ill-treated by the bourgeoisie in power, and faced with being locked up in the workhouse prisons created by the New Poor Law of 1834. It would be strange if the working class which had participated in the revolutions that put the Irish bourgeoisie in power had shown no signs of fight for its own interests.

In at least two areas in County Clare, the working class showed a great deal of resistance to the conditions in which they found themselves under Irish bourgeois rule. It is probable that there were similar working-class movements in many areas. The working class of the towns, those disinherited when some of the people got the land from the old landlords, and many of whom would be doubly disinherited by being forced out of the country altogether, were anything but passive spectators of their own disinheritance, degradation and continuous victimisation.

My viewpoint, by inheritance and conviction, is that of the town labourers, a little of whose history I attempt to explore and chronicle here, in what can be no more than a rough sketch of the resistance of the working class of Ennis.

“Shrewsbury Twenty-Four”

In the events in Ennis which I describe here there is a strong parallel to events that took place in England in 1973 and 74. 31 building workers — oddly, the group is known as the “Shrewsbury 24” — were charged and tried in connection with trade-union activity.

After Britain’s first national building strike – June to September 1972 – 31 building workers were brought to trial for the mass picketing with which they had attempted to stop all sites in North Wales. In court the prosecutor described the mass picketing as “like Red Indians”. The strikers had demanded a 35 hour week, a minimum wage and an end to employment of casual workers organised by what we would now call gang masters – it was called “the lump” in the building trade. They won a big wage rise but not the end of “the lump”.

There were three “Shrewsbury” trials in all. In the first the 31 men were acquitted of all but minor charges. However five of them then had had the charge of “conspiracy to intimidate” added to the indictment against them.

During 1972 mass picketing had inflicted major defeats on the Tory government. The decisive turning point in the miners’ strike at the beginning of that year was when a mass picket of engineers, miners and other workers in Birmingham had forced the closure of the Saltley Coke Depot.

Five dock workers had been jailed in July for picketing that had recently been made illegal, only to be released under duress by the government when upwards of a quarter of a million workers all over the country immediately went on strike, and the TUC decided to call a one-day general strike. Many thousands of workers laid siege to Pentonville jail in North London for the whole time the five dockers were incarcerated. The one-day general strike proved unnecessary.

Someone in authority then decided to make an example of the mass-picketing builders. It was a political trial. Typical of the reckless misrepresentation of the workers in court had been a witness testifying that a mass of pickets had descended on a building site shouting “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Indeed, building workers all over the country had chanted “Kill!”… But they specified what they wanted to kill. “Kill… the lump”.

Three of the prisoners, John McKinsie Jones, Des Warren, and Ricky Tomlinson, were charged with unlawful assembly and conspiracy to intimidate. They got sentences of nine months, three years and two years respectively.

They had been on the strike committee which had met in Chester on 31 August 1972 and among other things discussed the mass pickets that were to be mounted during the strike. On 24 February 1974, three more men were jailed for six months on the charges of “unlawful assembly” and “affray”. In response building workers struck in London, in Glasgow, and on 25 building sites in Manchester. Warren and Tomlinson went on hunger strike.

A Labour government had been elected on 28 February 1974, in an election called by the Tories against industrial militancy, under the demagogic slogan: “Who rules, government or unions?” Would Labour now act on behalf of the victimised building workers? No, of course they wouldn’t! They too wanted to demobilise working-class militancy.

It was as a result of that experience that I first became properly aware of what had happened in Ennis 40 years earlier. Watching a TV report early in 1974, both my father and my mother were visibly upset by a report that some appeal or other had failed. This was unusual, such a personal response to a big public event. Visiting them in Manchester from London, I talked to them about this and learned about the trial of the 24 labourers in Ennis in 1934.

My father had been one of 24 labourers in Ennis tried for a mass picket in 1934, as had his brother, Paddy, who was badly disabled in the Civil War at the beginning of the 1920s. The story I then heard for the first time as an adult and properly (I’d been politically at odds with my parents since I was 15) was, after 40 years, vague on detail. Both my father and my mother died within the year, and, living in London, I never got the chance to talk to them about it again.

Many years later I looked up what had happened in the files of the Clare Champion newspaper at the British library newspaper depot in Colindale. The events had taken place during the general upsurge that accompanied the establishment in 1932 and afterwards of the De Valera government, a government of those defeated in the Civil War nine years earlier.

Read the full story here

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Nadine Dorries, how dare you reduce the abortion debate to conspiracy theories and phoney concern?

September 4, 2011 at 1:05 am (Catholicism, Christianity, Daily Mail, Feminism, health service, Jackie Mcdonough, women)

Part of ‘Shiraz Socialist”s mission is to bring you excellent writing, even (actually, especially) from unlikely sources. Janice Turner, writing in this Saturday’s Times, deals with anti-abortion Tory MP Nadine Dorries in vintage fashion. As the article is shielded behind Murdoch’s paywall, we reproduce it below:

Britian doesn’t want a Mama Grizzly, Nadine

For some time Nadine Dorries MP, has buzzed around public life like a late-summer wasp. Vexing and attention-seeking as her utterances have been – whether calling for abstinence in girls, for disabled Twitter users to lose benefits, or championing the “rights” of high-heel-wearers at work – one hoped she would just exhaust herself banging repeatedly against the media window pane. But now, as her unsheathed sting hovers over the reputations of important and upstanding charities, there is no option but to cross the room with a rolled-up newspaper.

Where did it come from, this grotesque slur that Marie Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Sevice (BPAS) do not provide objective counseling to women but strong-arm them into abortions? Not from their raft of of strict regulatory bodies or independent inspectors, including the Care Quality Commission and the Department of Health. Nor their women clients, who routinely award satisfaction ratings around 97 per cent. Not even from the Daily Mail, which this week, on a trawl for evidence of abortion-peddling, sent a “pregnant” undercover reporter to BPAS only to find every possible option, including adoption, was evenly presented.

Now we hear that Marie Stopes and BPAS have a “financial incentive” to promote termination – that they are “kept in business” by some pay-per-abortion piece rate. Really? Two long-established, not-for-profit bodies that are awarded contracts by the NHS to supply myriad services from family planning to cervical smears and vasectomies. They just want to kill babies to make a quick buck? Well, they need to work on their productivity: the abortion rate has remained almost static for 15 years.

Speak to either charity and it is bemused, hurt and deeply alarmed. Hithertoo they had heard not a whisper of government concern or criticism. This storm came from nowhere. Because it emantes soley from the mind of Nadine Dorres.

At present a woman visiting Marie Stopes or the BPAS with a “crisis” pregnancy is given a medical check. She can then, if undecided, discuss her fears and options – often immediately, in the same building – with a trained therapist. Under the Dorres amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, she would be sent away with a list of “independent” counsellors that might include actively anti-abortion groups. An appointment could take weeks, a decision stalled perhaps until the option of termination expires.

Which is what underlies Ms Dorries’ zeal. She has a declared mission to reduce abortions by an annual number plucked from the air: 60,000. (What she will do to assist this extra town of humans not born into the most favourable circumstances we do not learn). Her two parliamentary attempts to cut the abortion time limit from 24 to 20 weeks failed.  To mount another openly would mean not just taking on not just the  pro-choice lobby but the British medical establishment. Easier, then to circumvent ethical debate and slyly slip her agenda through, even if it means women’s  health is imperilled by the increased likelihood of later abortions.

What Ms Dorries and Louise Mensch MP – who, smelling a media picnic, has buzzed right over with her own amendment – do not grasp is that being “pro-choice” means just that. Marie Stopes and BPAS are not “pro-abortion”. If women had been pressured to terminate, would newspaper not have resounded with such scandals? If these charities have any financial incentive at all, it is in a woman leaving their clinics satisfied with her own choice. Marie Stopes wishes to show Ms Dorries case studies of women counselled by it who do not terminate pregnanacies, including a 16-year-old girl who it discovered was being coerced by her family. Ann Furedi, the head of BPAS, has invited the Labour MP Frank Field, co-sponsor of the amendments, to meet and hear about their work: he has nor replied.

Because the object here is not best medical practice, it is only to make noise. Such was the volume of Dorries-generated droning that the Department of Health initially agreed to move towards counselling becoming independent of abortion providers. This was downgraded quickly to pland for a vague consultation, perhaps to avoid trying epistemological questions such as: “Who is truly independent?”

Or more likely Downing Street feared that if government had to step in and create its own abortion counselling body, it might be pricey, considering Marie Stopes alone receives 500,000 calls a year.

Besides, the aggregate of voters who must be grateful for such services must be legion. Though Ms Dorries suggests that she speakes for a groundswell of socially conservative opinion, there is nothing to suggest that abortion is starting to define our political landscape as in the United States, where legal abortion is under grave threat. The British position remains one of tolerant distaste: it is a grave, unpleasant provision, but a necessary one.

The trouble for Nadine Dorries is that God and hellfire don’t scare enough British women into carrying unwanted children. Neither are they swayed overly by the notion that life begins at conception. So anti-abortionists have resorted to appropriating the language of feminism. Abortion is anti-women, they say: it denigrates our nature, our unique capacity to make babies.

Furthermore these groups utilise spurious medical data to “prove” that abortion is detrimental to our health.

Look at the website of Care Confidential, a counselling organisation with branches across the UK. It purports to be even-handed while concealing its faith-based views. Abortion is listed as having many risks: mental illness, alcoholism, panic attacks. Adoption, however, is all sunny upsides: no mention of anguish suffered by generations of women who handed over their children at birth. Wopuld this, under the proposed amendment, qualify as independent advice?

This has been a week of of a dishonest debate and shameful accusations against two charities doing good work. But Nadine Dorries, hoisting the flag of her phoney counselling crusade, would seek to reverse that, How brave she likes to tell us she is; how she yearns for the adulation enjoyed by Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann for her sassy right-wing woman power.

And yet she receives only anger, ridicule and distrust. No Mama Grizzly: just a nasty, whining and bothersome bug.

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Boyce Brown, aka Brother Matthew

August 25, 2011 at 7:55 pm (Catholicism, Christianity, Disability, good people, humanism, jazz, Jim D)

I’ve been liaising with jazz writer Michael Steinman on the subject of alto saxist  Boyce Brown (aka “Brother Matthew”), possibly the most complex and fascinating character in the entire history of jazz.  Here’s Michael’s excellent posting on his site ‘Jazz Lives’:



Posted on August 24, 2011 by jazzlives|

Boyce Brown (1910-1959) is a tantalizing, elusive figure.  Although he played hot jazz with the great Chicagoans, he was not one of them — hard-living and hard-drinking.  The picture above shows him in 1956, surrounded by Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Eddie Condon, and George Wettling, at his final recording session.

Scott Yanow calls Boyce “eccentric,” “outlandish,” “an erratic individual,” although those characterizations sound ungenerous.  I think of the famous lines from T. S. Eliot’s THE FAMILY REUNION, “In a world of fugitives, it is those that turn away that appear to run away.”

In the case of Boyce Brown, it is difficult to know if he chose to turn away from the world of musicians and gigs for the world of the spirit, or if the earthly world scorned him.  All we know are the facts of his short life.  He became a professional musician at 17 and recorded with some of the greatest Hot players — but his path was an unusual one outside the clubs and recording studios.

Boyce loved marijuana and what it could do, but it didn’t contribute to his death.  He didn’t die of tuberculosis or freeze on a Harlem doorstep, but prejudice and sorrow seem to have shortened his life.  He is certainly underrated and not well-known or well-remembered.  I agree with Jim Denham (of SHIRAZ SOCIALIST) who thinks that Boyce should be both remembered and celebrated.  And although I’ve never met Jeff Crompton (of HELLO THERE, UNIVERSE) I and other jazz fans are indebted to him for his generosities.  (You can find the blogs written by Jim and Jeff on my blogroll.)

What facts I have collected seem at first an assortment of weird personality traits, but viewed lovingly, they are the markings of a rare bird.

Boyce was someone who “saw” musical notes as colors.  He nearly died at birth; the midwife saved him by reshaping his unformed skull.  His parents encouraged him to take up the saxophone in hopes that it would strengthen his weak chest.  When he played, he had a habit of stretching his neck out like a bird — causing him to be rejected at an audition for the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.

Eddie Condon said Boyce was “a slow reader,” Condon-speak for partial blindness.  Boyce lived with his mother, wrote poetry, listened to Delius.  Condon’s SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ contains Boyce’s whimsical poem about ROYAL-T (slang for the best marijuana), hilarious and tenderly decorated by Boyce himself — a Hot illuminated manuscript.

He named his alto saxophone Agnes, and thought deeply about her personality and moods; if a recording disappointed him, he blamed himself for not being in harmony with his instrument.  All of this might seem freakish on first perusal, but other musicians have spoken of their synesthesia (Marian McPartland, whom no one considers an eccentric, told Whitney Balliett that the key of D was daffodil yellow), and Ben Webster, hardly an introvert, called his saxophone Betsy or Ol’ Betsy.

But before we get caught up in the debris of habit and personal history, let us — as Al Smith used to say — look at the record.  Or listen.  Two, in fact, from 1939: CHINA BOY and JAZZ ME BLUES:

Boyce sounds like himself.  Those rolling, tumbling figures are the playing of a man on a mission, someone with a message for us in the eight or sixteen bars allotted him…

…Read the rest here

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