Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ireland Votes for Same Sex Marriage. Facing up to my past mistakes.


Sean O'Torain.


I emigrated from Ireland in 1965. This helped me to evolve somewhat from the anti gay prejudice with which I had been brought up by Irish society. This was good. But I came back to Ireland and joined the struggle for civil rights and the socialist movement. Specifically the Militant group, now  the Socialist Party, which was and is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International. I was the first member of that group in Southern Ireland and the first full timer in Ireland as a whole. At that time we were working in the Labor Party and in particular trying to win the leadership of the Labour Youth. The climate in the country then was very anti gay and also anti women's right to choose. Against that background I and the now Socialist Party took an opportunist if not reactionary position on women's and on LGBT rights. While we within our group, the then Militant, argued for and stood for women's right to choose we did not try to win the Labor Youth to this position as we thought this would give the Labor leadership the chance to close it down. This was an opportunist and thoroughly contemptible position. I unconditionally accept this mistake on my part. I share this experience and mistake for many reasons. One is to further consolidate within myself the approach that I am now fighting for and that is to honestly and publicly face up to my mistakes of the past and to learn from these. And the other is to help others and the movement to learn from these.

But there is another reason. While I had broken from my prejudice against gay people individually and personally, I still held reactionary views on this issue. I still did not fight for same sex marriage and full unconditional rights for GLBT people. I still did not try and win the Labor Youth to fight for these rights. In fact I argued against this both on tactical reasons, if we had done so the Labor leadership would have closed down Labor Youth, and also while I personally did not feel any prejudice against gay people, I also was not anything like sufficiently consciousness of my responsibility to fight for gay peoples rights. On top of this I did not see that not fighting for the rights of LGBT people added to the divisions in the working class and helped the capitalist class in their divide and rule strategy. As well as my own mistakes a major reason for not having the right position on this issue was the position of the CWI. It did not fight for Gay Rights. I remember one of the top leading figures of the CWI internationally explaining how women were not strong enough to do jobs such as driving buses. Incredible. In fact I had a more progressive position on LGBT rights before I joined the CWI than after I joined them.

So what is the lesson here? I remain a revolutionary socialist and a Marxist. I have long since been expelled from the CWI, not for issues relating to gay rights except in the sense that the CWI will never admit its mistakes. But the lesson here for me is not to be arrogant not to think you know everything. Instead listen to people, listen to that magnificent movement of people in Ireland and who came back to Ireland to vote yes. Ireland and Irish people and people from Irish background wherever they live will never be the same again. It is wonderful. This movement was not led by any Marxist group. Yet it was a movement such as was never seen in Ireland before. Just because you consider yourself a Marxist and have read all the books does not mean you can interpret the ideas, does not mean that you can fight for what has to be fought for. In fact what I can say is that when I joined the CWI in the early 1970's this threw me back in terms of my position on the rights of LGBT people. For opportunist reasons I  did not fight for these. Not only that, but grasping some of the basic ideas of Marxism made me arrogant. I thought I knew everything. Joining the CWI, learning the basic ideas of Marxism had a dialectical affect upon me. On the one hand it helped me understand many aspects of the world and society but on the other hand it shackled my mind on many other aspects of the world and society. I think the revolutionary left, the Marxist left, the CWI,  played very little role in this magnificent movement in Ireland for same sex marriage. It has changed Ireland forever. And not only that it is of worldwide significance, impacting Irish people and people from Irish backgrounds wherever they live. I am looking forward to my next vista to my Irish pub here in Chicago.

For those of who see ourselves as Marxists, and by the way Marx always denied he was a "Marxist", this great victory in Ireland teaches us many things. One is we have to be self critical and conditional in what we believe. But we have to go further than that. We have to see that Marx was not right on everything. In fact he was plain wrong on some issues. One was his lack of sufficient attention to and analysis of the special oppression of women. And much much more so the special oppression of LGBT people.

1 comment:

Stephen Perkins said...

Yes it is important not to hold anyone up as a deity including Marx. We are all subject to making mistakes in our approach and analysis.