Thursday, 8 December 2016


Such has been the coverage of the doings of American president-elect Trump that one might be forgiven for thinking that he was already in power.  Much of this coverage has been panicky and shallow: both recrimination against American liberals for their failure to understand the real situation on which Trump was able to capitalise; and dire prognostications of the future under Trump.  In such conditions, what is necessary is cool thought, though not without commitment.  The heart on fire, but the brain on ice.

Here is a fine piece from the London Review of Books, on the election, by the political theorist David Runciman:

Is this how democracy ends?

And from the same issue, Jan-Werner Muller (I like to think of him as Fintan O'Toole's best friend at Princeton, such have been his appearances in the otherwise studiously provincial and anti-intellectual books pages of the Irish Times), on 'populism':

A brace of articles from Jacobin.  Already people are nostalgic for the Obama Administration.  This is a mistake.  Here is why:

The need to pay careful attention to Trump's support:

The credulousness and cynicism of much of the American media, which did not challenge either candidate sufficiently:

Good reading!


Defending Freedom of Speech about Israel - UCC steps up to the plate

Over the last year, a conference on Israel and its policies has been banned from the University of Southampton, not once but twice.  It was originally to be held in April 2015, but was suspended at short notice due to intense pressure on the university authorities by British pro-Zionist campaigners and the British government.   It was cancelled again in March 2016, due to the University's alleged fears that 'pro-Israel' protests would endanger the conference and its participants.

Now this conference has relocated to University College Cork, where it will be held next spring.   Some good news!

Israel conference banned in UK moves to Ireland


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Trump as Morbid Symptom

Our thinking about Trump's victory in the American presidential elections must be located within the wider framework of the rolling crisis in global capitalism.  This enables us to think the rise of Trump, the Brexit vote in Britain, the coming ascendancy of the right in France (embodied either in Marine Le Pen, or a returning Nicolas Sarkozy), and the growth of the far right in Germany, together.  These are alarming developments, but must be viewed dialectically as potentially part of ultimately positive changes.  'The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying', Gramsci famously noted in his discussion of political authority, 'and the new cannot yet be born.  In this interregnum, a great variety of mordid symptoms appear'.

Here are several articles culled from the Verso website.

Firstly, Mike Davis - virtuoso historian of Los Angeles, of disaster, and of the American working-class:

Not a Revolution – Yet

And second, Wolfgang Streeck, theorist of the end of capitalism:

Wolfgang Streeck: Markets vs. Voters

Third, Alain Badiou, unreconciled revolutionary philosopher:

And some historical comparison, from Johanna Brenner and Robert Brenner:

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States.  The liberal media in Ireland, as elsewhere, is lashing itself into an agonised froth of fury, fear, and self-loathing.  In the Irish Times, Fintan O'Toole's hermeneutical skills have risen to the level of telling us that America has told the rest of the world to fuck off.  A maudlin fool who passes as a feminist, Una Mullally, is wailing that white American women have 'failed Hillary Clinton': it doesn't seem to occur to Ms Mullally, from her redoubt on Tara St, that perhaps the real problem might be the other way around: that Mrs Clinton failed American women.

We'll all be absorbing this result for some time, but we must get away in the meantime from the idea that this was an enormous surprise.  Apart from anything else, the polling information showed that the two candidates were very close as we came up to America's election day.  A Trump victory was always on the cards.  But liberals are as capable of self-delusion as most of us, and the leadership of the American Democratic Party, along with middle-class urbanites on America's coasts and their equivalents in Europe, just could not countenance the idea that the American electorate overall could vote an authoritarian, racist misogynist ignoramus into office.  Alas, democracy, like sex, is for everyone, and the democratic process can only be less than itself if we allow such persons to be excluded from it.  

Nevertheless, the result is momentous, for America and for the international political and economic system.  And the date on which this result has been declared is one which resonates across the last century.  November 9 was the date of Kristallnacht, the pogrom in Germany against Jews and Jewish property and businesses that exposed the real character of the Nazi weltanschaung in 1938.  November 9 was also the date of the breakdown of the Berlin Wall, in 1989 - a hopeful moment whose potential has been betrayed by the putatively liberal leaders of the West over the last three decades.  With the space for an expansive and humane 'New World Order' coming in the wake of the collapse of state communism, the United States and its allies in Europe had an extraordinary opportunity for peaceful development.  Instead, in what the late Peter Gowan termed a 'Faustian bargain', the United States, under the 'liberal' and 'peacemaking' Clinton presidency, sought global dominance via its control of the world financial system, producing the conditions for a bloated and unequal growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, and laying the ground for financial turbulence and collapse in 2008.  Make no mistake: we may argue over who voted for Trump (or for Brexit in the United Kingdom), but the conditions of possibility for the new neo-authoritarian and aggressively nationalist politics were laid down in the midst of the Clinton-Blairite-EU hegemony.   

Finding intelligent reactions to the Trump victory is as yet difficult.  Here are some articles that are worth a look: 

First, Jeffrey StClair on Counterpunch:

Next, the editors of Jacobin

Adam Shatz, on the London Review of Books blog:

The Nightmare Begins

Naomi Klein on the Guardian website: 

Juan Cole from The Nation website: 


Monday, 7 November 2016


Good evenin' listeners, as the great Tommy O'Brien used to say.   At some point on November 4, while I was out of internet range in a lonely mountain valley in the West of Ireland, my number of pageviews for this blog passed the 20,000 mark.  And you aren't all bots, either!

Thank you for reading me, and if you like the blog, please pass it on to your friends or to anyone you think would be interested!  And always feel free, if you're on my occasional mailing list, to ask me to take you off it.


Thursday, 29 September 2016

Shooting and Crying - in Israel and in Ireland

The Israeli politician Shimon Peres has died at the age of 93.  His demise has brought with it an avalanche of sentimental, mendacious, mostly revolting coverage in the liberal press, including not one but two gushing, dishonest, ignorant and self-serving obituaries in the Irish Times - one from Reuters, and one presumably from an IT staffer (or maybe taken from The Guardian or the New York Times).

Shimon Peres was a relic, and his death induces elite opinion in the West to mourn the loss of a relic in which it invested a huge volume of Panglossian, narcissistic, and destructive sentiment.  Peres was the leader of Israel that Western liberals liked or wanted.  They liked or wanted him because he gave a certain gloss to the gross realities of Zionism, its murderous aggression, its crimes against Palestinians and against humanity.  Western liberals liked Peres because, unlike more rebarbative Revisionist figures such as Begin or Shamir, or even Netanyahu today, he made them feel good about protecting, respecting, trading with, doing diplomatic business with the major rogue state in the world.

But Peres was no 'symbol of peace', as the Irish Times called him.  He presided over the Zionist project in its heyday of Western approval, when Israel could do no wrong.  Yet, it was doing great wrong: attacking Egypt in 1956, conquering the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, transplanting colonial settlers to those territories from the 1970s onwards.

Specifically, Peres helped organise the 'Samson option', the Israeli nuclear programme and weapons-building project, which has never been officially acknowledged.  Israel has never signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, unlike its local rival, Iran.

Peres helped to negotiate the Oslo accords, which inaugurated the disastrous 1990s 'peace process'.  It was Peres's presence and authority which allowed elite politicians and opinion-makers - like the ostriches of the Irish Times - to keep the sheen of peacemaking on a process which allowed one side to go on making war.  For making war is what we must recognise Israeli settlement construction and expansion (entirely unaffected by the Oslo agreements) to be, and it was tensions around settlements (not the Palestinian suicide attacks which the Reuters obit drones on about repeatedly) which undermined whatever potential for peace there was.

Peres was Prime Minister when Israel launched 'Operation Grapes of Wrath', a devastating bombardment of south Lebanon in 1996.  Notoriously, the IDF lobbed 155mm shells into a UN base at Qana, butchering 100 Lebanese civilians who had taken shelter there.  Robert Fisk later uncovered video imagery of an IDF targeting drone in the air over Qana, which removed the slightest possibility that the massacre was a simple gunner's mistake.

Shimon Peres shot and cried, to use the brutal but truthful Israeli formulation - he did or presided over terrible things, and then managed to present to the world a putatively agonised and tragic conscience.  It's a disgusting emotional and political strategy.   Thank God he's gone.  Here are two powerful exposés of Peres, by Marc Ellis and Ilan Pappé.

First, Ellis, from the fine American Mondoweiss site:

Shimon Peres, Israel's greatest ambassador, will be remembered for ...

And here is Pappé, writing on the Electronic Intifada site:



Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Storm from Paradise

Walter Benjamin was one of the great critical writers of the twentieth century.  Sympathetic to the Frankfurt School writers such as Theodor Adorno, but never fully affiliated to the Institut fur Sozialforschung, Benjamin lived the perilous life of a jobbing man of letters in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, and then, as the Nazis rose to power, in France.  Scholar of German drama, connoisseur of Baudelaire, early film critic, perhaps the greatest analyst we have of urban dynamics, it's hard to categorise him and his work, which partakes of philosophy, sociology, literary criticism, literary journalism, occasionally infused by a streak of Jewish messianism.

That prophetic tone and angle is famously visible in his strange and brilliant essay 'On the Concept of History', published originally in 1940.  Like Adorno, his friend, admirer and also at times severe critic, Benjamin was influenced in his writing by Nietzsche's aphoristic style, and the 'theses' that make up 'On the Concept of History' are no ordinary arguments or statements of a systematic philosophy.  But they summon up unforgettable images and metaphors for the effort to think historically in the bad new times, none more famous than that of the 'Angelus Novus', the Angel of History.

The Storyteller, a new volume of Benjamin's creative work, joins recent volumes of autobiography, and Lecia Rosenthal's wonderful collection of his radio journalism, Radio Benjamin.  This comes from the Verso website, so often a resource of radical news and ideas.

The Storm Blowing from Paradise: Walter Benjamin and Klee's Angelus Novus



Monday, 18 July 2016

The tumbrils, the tumbrils - The Revolution in the Revolution

Last Thursday was Bastille Day, le quatorze juillet, the anniversary of the storming by an angry crowd of the Bastille prison fortress in 1789, and one of the landmark dates of the Great Revolution.  I did not blog on that day, partly because in Nice a peaceful crowd watching a fireworks display was attacked by a man driving a truck, who scythed his way along the Promenade des Anglais, killing 84 people and injuring 200.  This assault has been 'claimed' by ISIS, though the exact character of the assailant, and his mental state, so far as they are ascertainable to us yet, suggest someone in great mental and psychological distress and disorder rather than a focused ideologue.  This has not stopped George Hook and other would-be armchair warriors in the defence of 'our values', and 'our civilization' abusing the platform of the media to declare that 'we' are fighting a 'war' against 'Islam', and, briefly tearing their eyes away from Victor comic and the collected speeches of Churchill, to mispronounce the names of the hapless President of the Republic and of the French national anthem, and to berate 'liberals' who cannot recognise the reality of struggle today.

The real Revolution, about which such fools know almost nothing beyond sentimental Dickensian clichés, was much more interesting.  And indeed, it must be noted that by a sweet irony of history, the Bastille was by the time of its capture empty of all but seven of its prisoners.  Most notably, the Marquis de Sade had been removed from the prison only ten days earlier - a writer in whose work the Enlightenment is both exemplified and subverted (as Adorno and Horkheimer realised in their great critique of the instrumentalisation of reason).  That proximity of Sade should make us think carefully about the Revolution, and about the invocation of liberty, equality and fraternity now in reaction to attacks such as that at Nice.   The fact is that the Revolution is too great to contain in simplistic pseudo-historical maxims, and any unreflective mobilization of its legacies is the prerogative of dunces.

Nowhere is this more the case than in France itself, where interpretation of the Revolution has been a touchstone of intellectual and political life from Michelet to Furet.  The fact is that the modern historiographic orthodoxy in France about the 1789-1804 period has been anti-republican and counter-revolutionary since at least the 1970s.  But a few beacons still shine for the radical reading of the Revolution.

Of these, none has given me greater pleasure in recent years than Eric Hazan, the Parisian publisher, urbanist, Marxist and historian, whose Invention of Paris sits in my bag every time I visit the city.  This wonderful book, steeped in the political, literary, planning and architectural history of Paris, is written with a mix of steel, erudition and grace worthy of some of his heroes - Balzac, Baudelaire, Benjamin - and it is one of those books that makes me smile in public for the sheer delight of reading.  More recently, Hazan has published a popular history of the Revolution, and a short history of the barricade as an insurrectionary technique.   Here he is - appropriately on the Jacobin website - on the necessity of the Revolution.

Yes, the French Revolution Was Necessary

And here is Jonah Walters, giving a useful sketch of the Revolution through a series of questions:

A Guide to the French Revolution


Many of the greatest intellectuals and writers of Europe were moved by and admired the Revolution.  Not only Wordsworth and Coleridge, Hazlitt and  Paine, Tone and Drennan, but also Kant and Hegel.  Those who think of the latter only as the theoretical laureate of the Prussian state need to re-examine some of his earlier work, the Jena lectures of 1805-1806.  

Hegel on Bastille Day





Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Apotheosis of Moral Mediocrity - Elie Wiesel

Obituary pages in 'liberal' newspapers have recently been filled with sonorous tributes to Elie Wiesel, author of Night, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, who died on July 2 last.  Wiesel, of Romanian-Jewish background, was once described by the LA Times as 'the most important Jew in America'.  He contributed to the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.   His Nobel citation in 1986 described him as a 'messenger to mankind', and noted his 'practical work in the cause of peace'.

Unfortunately, Wiesel's work in one of the fields closest to him was not particularly peaceful, or humane.  He disavowed the task of holding Israel to account for its crimes of war and occupation.  In fact he was a crucial figure in  placing the Holocaust as a central feature of American cultural-political life (as documented by Peter Novick), and in mobilising and instrumentalising the Holocaust legacy in the defence of Israel.  This was a task he continued to carry out right up to Israel's most recent murderous bombardment and re-invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2014.  

Wiesel's passing is not worth mourning.  He has been one of the great hypocrites of recent times.

Some reading of a somewhat more bracing kind than is to be found in the bland mainstream:

Sara Roy, a Jewish scholar and the child of Holocaust survivors, is one of the great experts on the history of the Gaza Strip

A Response to Elie Wiesel


Corey Robin, an American-Jewish political theorist and expert on the radical right: 

My Resistance to Elie Wiesel


David Shasha, a Brooklyn-based scholar of Sephardic history, on Wiesel and Primo Levi:

Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi: A study in contrasts


And Alex Cockburn's tremendous slash-and-burn critique of Wiesel, from 2006:

Truth and Fiction in Elie Wiesel’s “Night”




Saturday, 2 July 2016

Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietman - we've all been there: Michael Herr 1940 - 2016

When I was about 18, I was at boarding school  on Canada's Pacific coast.   It was a highly privileged experience - a small school of about 200 kids, located deep in the great Douglas Fir and redwood rainforests of southern Vancouver Island, on its own small bay, with its own dock, with views down to the Cascades, and with much if not most of the teaching staff living in situ also.  Students from around 60 countries attended.   Classes, held in common rooms or 'dayrooms', were tiny, often under 10 people.  'Freedom' was considerable, and felt real - you could take a tent and disappear off into the forest, or, if you were a driver or had a friend with a license, you could check out a college van and head off into Victoria or elsewhere.

Like all schools, like boarding schools elsewhere, this school was a tremendous laboratory for young people making themselves, and, shy kid though I was, I did this too.  I thought I wanted to be a climber, so I scrambled up cliffs, got stuck, got the shakes, and then tried again.  I suddenly realised that books were not just interesting to me, but were cool and that knowing about them could make the reader cool, too.  Perhaps.  I moved from reading Tolkien to reading Joseph Conrad.  I'd been given a recording of the farewell concert of The Band, just before I headed to this school, and listening to The Last Waltz, borrowing metal and prog rock and New York art-punk music from friends and roommates transformed my sense of music.   And I read Dispatches.

Dispatches has to be one of the great books about war.  Assembled by Michael Herr from his musings and discussion pieces for Esquire and Rolling Stone, it was published in 1977, nearly a decade after Herr had left Vietnam.  It offers no real narrative, it does not push a clear political message or position on American involvement in Indochina, but it gives an extraordinary sense of a particular experience of the American side of the war.  As much a piece of New Journalism (or even gonzo) as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dispatches has since soaked into so many realms of Anglophone popular and high culture as to be a kind of ur-text, Herr a Foucauldian 'founder of discursivity'.   Every Hollywood image of the cynical hack in the Third World, of the world-weary grunt, of the loopy nerdy staff officer or idiot political spokesman, surely owes a debt to Dispatches.   The fiction of Robert Stone and Don DeLillo might not have been possible without Herr's book.  And the language, too:  Dispatches is surely one of the great conduits of black American street-talk, or jive, into English-speaking culture generally.  The after-effects of Herr's book leach on into films - those of Oliver Stone, or Walter Hill, or Martin Scorsese, or Michael Mann, or Katherine Bigelow.   But few of them have the courage not to lapse back into the moralism or the feeble humanism of which they purport to be the excoriating critiques.  Herr does not make this mistake - he's as clear about the bliss of war as he is about the terror, and he reminds us that war goes on happening because enough people out there enjoy it and think it's useful. 

Herr never wrote such a fine book again.  What need, after such a masterpiece?   I read just yesterday, on the webpages of The Paris Review, that he has died at the age of 76.   Latterly, it seems, he was uncertain as to the value of the work he gave to the world, and became reclusive.  This makes me sad: this was a great writer, who makes a lot of our preening Booker- or Pulitzer- or Goncourt-winning literary egomaniacs nowadays look like fools and pygmies.  I know I'll be reading Dispatches long after I've forgotten about the Zadie Smiths and the Colm Toibins and the Michel Houellbecqs.

Here is the Paris Review obituary:

In Memoriam: Michael Herr, 1940–2016


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Conditions for Palestinian Scholars in the West Bank and Israel - A Report Back by David Lloyd

David Lloyd has been mentioned several times on this blog.  He is one of Ireland's most innovative and powerful critics.   Scholar of James Clarence Mangan, aesthetic theorist, expert on postcolonialism and subaltern history, capable of ranging from the visceral politics of hungerstrike and famine to the rigours of Kant's Critiques, Lloyd has few peers amongst Irish intellectuals.

In recent years he has put this formidable critical capital in the service of the campaign for the academic boycott of Israeli universities.  He has been a crucial figure in the effort to get a resolution on boycott passed at the annual conventions of the huge and prestigious Modern Language Association, the major professional association of American literature academics.  As a professor at the University of California, he has been working at the very eye of the storm in this debate, to which he has committed himself with a combination of intellectual rigour and political steel very rare in contemporary academia. 

Professor Lloyd has just led a MLA group to Israel and the West Bank, to learn about conditions for Palestinian scholars there at first hand.  Next Tuesday, he will give a talk on his experiences there, and on the campaign more generally, at Trinity College Dublin.  The talk is entitled 'Conditions for Palestinian Scholars in Israel and the West Bank - A Report Back', and it's co-hosted by Academics for Palestine (the group of Irish academics formed in February 2014 to argue for the academic boycott) and the Irish School of Ecumenics.

Professor Lloyd's talk takes place on Tuesday June 28, at 7pm at the Irish School of Ecumenics. The ISE is part of TCD, and it's located at the southeastern end of the campus, next to the Zoology Building.  Here are some helpful directions: Please click here to view our Dublin location on google maps, this also allows you to get driving/walking directions.

Here is the campus map, with the ISE marked on it:

Here is a link to the Academics for Palestine notice about the talk, from the AfP website:

Everybody and anybody is welcome to come to this talk.  It's not for academics only!


Friday, 20 May 2016

Revolution from the Margins - Saluting Toussaint L'Ouverture

We're just under two months away from July 14, the official anniversary date of the French Revolution.  I honour the Revolution, with all its dialectical complexity.  As with most revolutions - even that Irish 'revolution' which we've been marking in this country recently - it was characterised by a bewildering variety of actions, sentiments, ideas, political theories and cultural forms. 

The French Revolution, and the radical Enlightenment which preceded it and which fed also into the American Revolution, produced echoes in many places, including Ireland.  But perhaps most notable and tumultuous of those echoes, or indeed parallel revolutions - a revolution within or at the edge of the Revolution - was the great San Domingo slave uprising, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture.  The most famous history of the slave revolt is CLR James's masterpiece, The Black Jacobins, a great text of 'postcolonialism' written long before Edward Said or Gayatri Spivak were even heard of.  Today is Toussaint's birthday, and it's marked by Verso with an excerpt from a volume of his writings, which I post here:

Happy Birthday Toussaint L'Ouverture



Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Notes on Anti-Semitism

The charge of 'anti-Semitism', the fear of being labelled 'anti-Semitic', the fear of somehow giving comfort to fascism and racism - these are the materials from which the current Israeli and Zionist push-back against the rising success and prominence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (approaching its 49th year) is made. 

To be labelled anti-Semitic - I've had it done to me, in the pages of the Irish Times, and it's not much fun - is, in the wake of the Holocaust, to be tarred with a very unpleasant, and potentially very dangerous, brush.  It's to be put beyond acceptable debate or discussion or conversation; to be seen as racist; to be seen as denying the humanity of the Jewish people, and so on.   For anyone who wishes to take part in public discussion, who has an interest in the values traditionally associated with liberal Western culture and politics since the Enlightenment, such a label is deeply damaging and corrosive.  In Ireland, where the public and political culture is relatively sympathetic to Palestinian rights and where there is not a Zionist lobby of any significance, such a label is ugly and harmful.  In the United States, Britain or France, such a smear can destroy careers and shred reputations.

What these struggles over language, rhetoric and terminology represent is the sense that, in Foucault's famous words, 'discourse is the power to be seized', that the way that understanding of the contest between Zionism and Israel, on the one hand, and the movements for Palestinian liberation, on the other, is framed is crucial to the way that contest will take shape.  So, of course, we see the term 'anti-Semitism' thrown around discussions of Israel and of Zionism on an all-too regular basis.  Yet the very power of the charge of anti-Semitism has led to its overuse, and to the significant evacuation of much precision from the term.  If the activities of Einsatzrgruppen in the Ukraine in the summer of 1941 are held to be the measure of the position of a handful of people manning a protest outside an Israeli Embassy in a European capital, and vice versa, then, clearly, we're on very confused moral (not to mention historical or philosophical) terrain.
Nevertheless, this has not stopped Israeli and Zionist attempts precisely to equate 'anti-Zionism' (opposition to and critique of a political ideology which underpins the activities of a state) with 'anti-Semitism' (essentialising hostility to all Jews everywhere merely for the alleged sin of being Jewish).  The most recent iteration of this in the Anglophone world has been the effort in Britain to damage the Labour Party and particularly the left of the Labour Party, by attacking Ken Livingstone, and by extension Jeremy Corbyn, for their 'anti-Zionism'.

Here are three articles to help us negotiate this morass, taken from the Verso website:

Yitzhak Laor is an Israeli writer and radical.  His essay 'Tears of Zion', published in the New Left Review some years ago, is a devastating attack on the 'liberal' Israeli 'left', as embodied in persons such as the novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman, beloved of the Irish Times and the Dalkey Book Festival.  Here he is on the Corbyn/Livingstone affair:

Corbyn and Israel: Concept and Reality

Tariq Ali, still streetfighting and still correct:

And Alain Badiou, redoubtable French philosopher of the radical Left:


Sunday, 15 May 2016

An-Nakba - the meaning of disaster

Today, May 15, is Nakba Day, the day that Palestinians name for the 'catastrophe' that overtook them in the late 1940s.  For Israelis, it's Independence Day, the day the new 'Jewish state' of Israel was declared in 1948.

For Israel, 'independence' (from Britain?  from the United Nations?) has consisted in becoming the predominant military power, and in some respects economic power, in the region.  Israel does not have the oil wealth of the Gulf princedoms, but it appears to have a real economy: a highly educated multilingual workforce developing formidable export industries in high technology that sell sophisticated machinery all over the world.

For the Palestinians, the 'catastrophe' has not stopped since the armistice of 1949.  Various attacks and punishments of refugees in Gaza and Egypt in the 1950s led up to the Suez War, where Israel, in alliance with France and Britain, assaulted Egypt and took over the Canal zone.  Much greater harm was initiated in 1967, when Israel conquered the Sinai, Gaza, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Another 250,000 Palestinians were uprooted, and the last vestiges of historical Palestine disappeared into Israeli control.  Settlement construction started slowly in the 1970s, accelerating with the arrival of Likud in government in 1977.  Ever since, the Nakba has continued, albeit more slowly - one roadblock, one demolished farmhouse, one life blighted, one baby lost, one olive tree stolen at a time.  The Israeli upward-curving story of economic and political expansion has been matched by the downward-curving Palestinian story of slow but unending dispossession.

The paradox is that Israeli 'independence' is built on, among other things, continued remittances of funding to Israel by Zionist Jews elsewhere in the world, particularly in the United States; and on the largest single aid programme in the world - the American programme of approximately $3 billion per annum in loans and military aid to Israel, which has been in place for decades.   So much for the independence of the Jewish state celebrated today.
Here is some reading to mark this grimmest of days for Palestinians - the online Resources of the Institute of Palestine Studies, and this superb collection of articles and information on the Nakba:
The Nakba - In The Words of Palestinians | The Institute for Palestine Studies



Thursday, 12 May 2016

Where is our James Connolly?

One hundred years ago today, the greatest leftist leader Ireland has produced was tied into a chair in the Breakers' Yard at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, and executed by soldiers of the British Army.

James Connolly was a remarkable man by any measure: a former member of the British Army himself, he was a party founder, a union organiser, a fiery orator, a gifted polemicist, and an international Marxist revolutionary.  Though one must recognise the qualities of the other 1916 leaders, Connolly stands out head-and-shoulders above them, for the sheer force and power of his combination of intelligence, commitment, courage, writing and action.  Alas, of course, his death after the Rising deprived the Irish workers of a leader of tremendous grit and ability in a time of extraordinary agitation and ferment.  It's a truism of Irish history that the great Dublin Lock-Out of 1913 was a climactic battle between employers and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.   The drama and suffering of the Lock-Out was indeed exceptional, and the ITGWU weakened by its defeat.  Yet the years 1917-1923, as demonstrated so powerfully by Conor Kostick in his wonderful book Revolution in Ireland: Popular Militancy in Ireland, witnessed an even greater, more creative and in many ways more radical flowering of labour agitation, with general strikes in Limerick and Belfast, and over one hundred soviets declared all over Ireland.   Better led and organised, these movements and forces might have shaped the emergent Ireland in all sorts of interesting ways.

Connolly spent the years 1903-1910 in America, active with the Socialist Labor Party, and then with the Industrial Workers of the World (better known as 'the Wobblies').  These years were crucial to his political development.   Here is a link to an article I've just published on the excellent Jacobin website, on Connolly's American years.  Warm thanks for their help in preparing this go to Bhaskar Sunkara, and Bashir Abu-Manneh.


Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Embers of Easter and the Coming Insurrection

On this day, 100 years ago, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and their comrades took over the General Post Office on Sackville Street in the heart of Dublin.  After they had invested the building, sent the Post Office workers home, and run up the flag of the Irish Republic, Pearse stepped back out onto the street, and read aloud the text of the Proclamation of the Republic.  As with other kinds of rhetorical performance, this act of itself brought its object into being.

Over the last four months, Ireland has been 'celebrating' or 'commemorating' the Rising and its central figures, tenets and incidents.   Thousands of events have been held all over the country.  Some have been organised by the State, many others have been organised and run by a plethora of political, civil, local and popular bodies or institutions - towns and villages, schools and universities, unions and campaigning organisations, local history societies, academic and popular historians, political theorists, political parties, cultural groups and institutions.  For the most part, the events held appear to have been conducted in a genial and good-natured manner.  Such has been the range of events; such has been the effort made to be accessible and 'inclusive', to highlight the involvements in the Rising of women (listening to RTE or reading the Irish Times one might be forgiven for thinking that the Rising had more female participants than male), Protestants, atheists, children, eccentrics of every stripe; such has been the effort to make the large State events 'family-friendly' with music of no particular pertinence, anachronistic dance or art, speculative performance pieces (the de-politicising Toibin/Dennehy effort on Casement and Conrad); such has been the effort apparently to 'internationalise' the Rising and  its legacy, that one has the impression that the events of Easter Week 1916 themselves have been muffled, partly occluded, de-centered by context, hidden. 

Furthermore, it must be noted that the social category which has been relatively neglected in this welter of 'commemoration' is that of class.  Every commentator rightly notes the commitment and intelligence of James Connolly, but this is where the analysis tends to halt.  Connolly was a brave, clever and energetic man; he was also, utterly unapologetically, a Marxist revolutionary, and described himself as such.  He was an important leader of working-class agitation in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century, in America from 1903 till 1910, and then again in Ireland for the rest of his life.  But he was not a lone figure, and to overlook the class ferment of Ireland in the years leading up to the Rising, and even more in its wake, is unhistorical and reductive, detaching the revolutionary elements from their social bases.

Ernest Renan, writing in 1882, famously noted how much had needed to be forgotten for the making of the French nation:  'Yet the essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common, and also that they have forgotten many things. No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgundian, an Alan, a Taifale, or a Visigoth, yet every French citizen has to have forgotten the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, or the massacre that took place in the Midi in the thirteenth century'.  Renan's wider point is that modern nations are built on foundational acts of accumulative and centralising violence even as they retroject a claim to an ancient legitimacy, and this means that our contemporary 'commemoration' of the Rising is as much about state-sanctioned forgetting as about remembrance.  This is then illustrated by timid, bungled and ignorant state-sponsored efforts such as the ludicrous video put out last year by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht under the leadership of the gormless Heather Humphreys, 'Ireland Inspires 1916', which failed almost entirely to mention the Rising while somehow including Bono, Ian Paisley, Bob Geldof and David Cameron.  

To invoke the name of a great philosopher like Gilles Deleuze after those of such mediocrities may seem bizarre, but in Logic of Sense, and A Thousand Plateaux, he produced a theory of the 'event', or more accurately a critique of the concept of the event, which has some pertinence here.  Where, he famously asked, is a 'battle'?  Everywhere on the battlefield struggles are taking place, but does the 'battle' inhere in all of them or only some?  How to choose?  For Deleuze - a little as for Stendhal in the hilarious scene in The Charterhouse of Parma where Fabrizio arrives on the field of Waterloo only to find it a confused muddle and only for him to be summarily removed from his horse and dumped on his arse in the mud - the battle is neither collective nor personal, but instead a series of individual moments that communicate without being reducible to each other.  It is anonymous, evanescent, an infinitive outside conventional time:

If the battle is not an event among others, but rather the Event in its essence, it is no doubt because it is effectuated in diverse manners at once, and because each participant may grasp it at a different level of effectuation within its variable present ... But it is above all because the battle hovers over its own field, being neutral in relation to all its temporal effectuations, neutral and impassive in relation to the victor and the vanquished, the coward and the brave; because of this, it is all the more terrible.  Never present, but always yet to come and already passed, the battle is graspable only by the will of anonymity which it itself inspires.

Deleuze argues that the way to deal ethically with such a situation is to 'will the event'. As Ronald Bogue, a leading commentator on Deleuze, puts it, '[w]hat soldiers should affirm in the battle is not so much any specific outcome as the pure event of the battle, the virtual "to battle" that plays through any of the diverse actualizations of the battle that may take place.  To be worthy of what happens is to will the virtual event immanent within one's ongoing actualization in the world'.

Deleuze describes some of the effect of the 'commemorations' of the Rising, and hints at some of the reasons that the Rising alarms the Irish state and political class so much, even to this day and why the attempts to muffle it may fail.   If the 'event' of the Rising is or has been rendered indeterminate in the way described above, then there remains the fact that it is 'always yet to come and already passed'.  To grasp the Rising in a Deleuzian manner is to affirm the 'to battle' which underpins the diverse and various actualisations of the Rising which took place.  The strength of a Deleuzian reading of the Rising and its commemoration is to find resources even in the occluding clouds of cross-hatching discourse by which 'the battle' of the GPO is accessible to us now.

Here are some decently inflammatory  readings to mark today's centenary:

First, the greatest single piece of radical commentary on the spur of events: Marx on the counter-revolution of 1851 in France, and its aftermath:

Then, Marx, just a few years earlier, theorising revolutionary philosophy by thinking through Feuerbach:

Theses on Feuerbach

Next, Walter Benjamin's great set of maxims of historical materialism, 'On the Concept of History'.  I think that sections VI, VIII, XIV and XVI, in particular, are interesting at this moment: 

Antonio Gramsci, theorising the workers' revolution in 1919:

The development of the revolution

A review of a fine new biography of Ireland's greatest Marxist activist, James Connolly:

The Real Revolutionary

A late statement in The Workers' Republic by Connolly:

We Will Rise Again

And a manifesto of resistance, rising and 'willing the event' from contemporary France:

The Coming Insurrection - About Tarnac9


Monday, 11 April 2016

The Spectres Haunting Israel - The Ghosts of Palestinian Civil Society

'A spectre is haunting Europe', Marx and Engels famously wrote, opening their Communist Manifesto in 1848, 'the spectre of communism'.  With these words, Marxist revolutionism brought into being that to which it aspired: the active movement of the communist left across the globe.

The spectre haunting the Zionist state of Israel these days is not the prospect of Syrian armoured divisions ready to break through into the Galilee, as it apparently was in 1973; nor the prospect of an Iranian ballistic missile striking Tel Aviv with a nuclear warhead, red herring as that notion always was; nor even the prospect of another war with Hizbollah like the one that bloodied the nose of the IDF so dramatically in 2006.  Rather, the ghost in the Israeli machine is the spectre of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which takes its cue and its beginning from the call from 170 Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 for a worldwide boycott of Israeli state institutions until the occupation is brought to an end, and Palestinian national rights are properly recognised.

BDS is a movement which has been gathering ever-greater pace in recent years. Corporations and religious institutions have withdrawn from investments previously made in Israeli companies or businesses.  The Irish company, Cement Roadstone Holdings, finally last year got rid of its shares in Nesher, the major Israeli group supplying the concrete for the construction of the West Bank Wall.  And on campuses around the world, students, scholars and teachers have rallied to boycott events which are sponsored by or with Israeli state assistance.

For long derided and marginalised by mainstream politicians, smeared by its enemies as a mere expression of anti-Semitism, BDS and boycott specifically have attained recognition by powers of the highest stature and most conventional nature - this exemplified in February 2014 when American Secretary of State John Kerry warned Israel, as bilateral talks with the Palestinian Authority broke down once more, that it might eventually find itself isolated on the world stage and suffering a 'economic boycott'.

Israel is rattled by BDS.  Israeli politicians and state officials complain of a campaign to 'delegitimise' the Jewish State.  American presidential hopefuls, such as the odious Hillary Clinton, have made obeisance to the Israel lobby in the United States (this always being part of the presidential race), and declared that they will take action against BDS campaigns on university campuses.  France - the home of liberté, egalité and fraternité and the perfervid defender of the right of Charlie Hebdo to discuss Islam in racist terms - has legislated to make advocating BDS an offence punishable by law.  The Conservative government in the United Kingdom is aiming to bring in similar restrictions.

Recently, a conference was held in Israel, organised by the widely-read newspaper Yediot Ahronoth, and entitled 'StopBDS'.  It was addressed by a rather motley array of speakers, including the President Reuben Rivlin, the American TV comedienne Roseanne Barr, and ministers of the ruling right-wing coalition.  In his speech to the conference, Israel's Transport Minister, Israel Katz, called for a policy of 'focused civil elimination' to be applied to leading figures in the BDS movement, most obviously Omar Barghouti. 

The terminology is directly reminiscent of that used to refer to Israel's policy of 'targeted assassination' deployed against Palestinian guerrillas and militants in Gaza and the West Bank.  The armed and physical violence of extra-judicial execution in one sphere is to be matched by the anticipated discursive and representational violence in the other sphere.  Remembering the fate of a Palestinian advocate and intellectual such as Ghassan Kanafani, killed by a car-bomb in Beirut in 1972, one wonders at what point one kind of 'elimination' will turn into the other, or when civil elimination will be seen not merely to anticipate but to justify physical elimination.  At the very least, we have here an example of an Israeli cabinet minister inciting hatred and, potentially, even murder.

Where is the protest and criticism from the 'international community'?

Some further reading on this grim topic.

First, a report on Alternet on the StopBDS conference:

Watch: Israeli Gov't Calls for 'Civil Elimination' of Left-Wing Activists and Roseanne Barr Goes on a Rampage

Second, distinguished Stanford Professor David Palumbo-Liu, also on Alternet:

Israel Targets BDS Movement Co-Founder With 'Civil Elimination' Plan


Third, also from Alternet, a report on the French government's attack on BDS campaigning:

France's Shocking, Wrong-Headed Repression of Protests Against Israel's Violent Policies


And fourth, from Mondoweiss, a rallying call by a leading American BDS campaigner, Nada Elia:

As threats against BDS grow, it is time for ‘sumoud’ in activist communities







Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Antinomies of the Exception - Empire and Emergency Law

[I began writing this piece in the immediate wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris, but was forced to leave it to one side by sheer workload.  Completing it now in April leaves it tied to its original moment of writing in a few places, but not, I hope, damagingly so.  I post here articles on the French state of emergency, and also on the Belgian bomb attacks that have supervened in the wake of the French atrocities.]

France continues to be convulsed in the wake of the breathtakingly murderous attacks in Paris.  Shock, pain, grief, anger, at the individual level, and at the level of society itself, are understandable and inevitable.  The problem is when political and military actions are taken in this kind of atmosphere.

Further airstrikes on ISIS targets have been carried out, though they do not represent a new policy, but rather an intensification of action that was already underway.  Police raids have taken place all over the country.  The most significant of these was the raid in Saint-Denis, in northern Paris, which resulted in a prolonged shoot-out and siege, and a number of casualties, including the alleged 'mastermind' (as the media like to call him) of the November 13 attacks, Abdelhamid Abaoud.  The Assemblée nationale has extended the period of emergency by three months, greatly expanding the already considerable legal powers of the French security forces.  M. Hollande has been calling on the leaders of great powers past and present, including America and Russia, to join France in a grand coalition against ISIS.


A couple of simple truths nevertheless are not part of the fever of discussion and debate - much of it driven by media speculation, by the kind of idiotic bar-talk that passes in Ireland for public discussion on radio, in particular.

France disports itself on the world stage as the home of Enlightenment revolutionism, citizen republicanism, and liberté, égalité, and fraternité.  In truth, it has left those values behind long ago, and what we now see is an empty husk.  The hegemonic ideological power and attraction of the husk is still immense: hence the capacity of a milk-and-water RTE radio presenter, Cathal Murray, to finish his early Saturday morning programme of anodyne light music a couple of days after the attacks by playing the Marseillaise and declaring 'Vive la France'.  The power of the husk is such, in fact, that this kind of statement is beyond or above politics: hence Murray's freedom for otherwise unacceptable editorial commentary, and the declared plans of the English Premier League to play the Marseillaise before all football matches the following weekend.

France's adherence to these values was questionable almost from the start, and this partiality was dramatised most overtly in the colonial context, as exemplified in the violent struggle that ensued in Saint-Domingue - now Haiti - in 1791, when the French revolutionary government allowed citizenship only to wealthy persons of colour, and Toussaint l'Ouverture led the only slave uprising that ever established a state.  Enlightened France then imposed reparations - 150 million gold francs - in 1825 on the Haitian Republic for the losses suffered by slave-owners in the revolution.  These reparations systematically bankrupted the young republic, were not paid off until 1947, and distorted the economy of Haiti in ways from which it still shows few signs of recovering.

The conquest and colonisation of Algeria were initiated in the days of the Restoration, but they were  ramified and strengthened by the Second and Third Republics.   Since King Francis I signed an agreement with Suleiman I of Ottoman Turkey in 1536, France has styled itself as a 'protector' of Christians in the Middle East, a position that survived even the great Revolution, and the laicité of 1905.  Broadly speaking, France has been meddling in the Middle Eastern region - as a crusader power in the High Middle Ages, with Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt in 1799, with its 'humanitarian intervention' to save the Christians of Mount Lebanon in 1860, with the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, and the granting to France of the League of Nations mandates of Lebanon and Syria after the First World War - for a very long time.

What this history shows is that in its actions in the Middle East and the Maghreb France has not always been driven by the ideals of Enlightenment rationalism and Kantian cosmopolitanism.  Rather it has behaved as a great power, seeking wealth and resources, territorial aggrandisement, ethnic and religious sway and advantage, and an imperial sphere of influence.  This genealogy feeds into any actions France takes in the Middle East today.

Yet one must also note that for all the verve or swagger with which France carries out actions in its former territories or zones of interest in Africa in the postcolonial era - in Kolwezi, in Mali, unseating Qaddafi in Libya with Britain - it is a defeated power, and one which has not come to terms with its defeats.  Invaded and greatly damaged three times by Germany - in 1871, in 1914, and in 1940 - France also suffered much greater reversals than Britain in the decolonising period - from the disaster of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam in 1954, to the Algerian War of Independence, the attempted coup of the generals in the face of defeat in Algeria, and the return to France of the pieds noirs - whose children and grandchildren form the backbone of the Front national now in its southern strongholds.

With defeat in North Africa also came an increase in the flow of Algerian immigrants to France, including the 'harkis' (Algerians who had sided with the French colonial regime and who were at risk in independent Algeria).   At the time of the War of Independence, there were already 200,000 Algerians living in France, and these numbers rose dramatically in the 1960s, passing the million mark in the late 1970s.  In a France that was modernising rapidly in the post-war period of reconstruction, a pool of cheap migrant labour was economically useful.  Initially, France adopted a policy vis-a-vis these immigrants of assimilation, but from the 1980s onwards, the policy was of integration.  The policy shift was experienced by many immigrants and their children as one of exclusion. 

The net result, then, is a France which seeks to act as a great power on the global stage, in spite of its declining geostrategic capacities. When it comes to intervening in the Middle East, French freedom of action is not only hampered by shrinking military power and reach, and the necessity of working with transnational alliances such as the EU or NATO, or a regnant superpower such as the United States, but it is also affected by legacies at home and from history.

One may conclude, therefore, that in ways which stand out among the North Atlantic great powers, France's activity in the Arab Muslim world is particularly shadowed and overdetermined by historical legacies and by its internal demographic and social balance, producing extreme torsions and imbalances in attitudes, policy and actions.   On the one hand, France wishes to take aggressive military action in Syria and Iraq, to become Saudi Arabia's premier armourer, to remain a major influence in North Africa, to pay service of even symbolic kind to its historical tradition of guardianship of Christian communities in Lebanon and the 'Holy Land'.  On the other, it has a large, often impoverished, disgruntled population of Maghrebi Arab Muslims, to whom the rhetoric of republicanism and the Marseillaise is a cruel joke, who live outside the gilded world of old Paris, who have little cultural recognition or capital in modern France, and who provide a relatively tolerant milieu, and in some instances a fertile recruiting ground, for Wahhabi or Salafi Sunni extremists. 


'Sovereign is he who decides on the exception', wrote the German rightwing jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt in his Political Theology (1922).  To liberal thinkers - the followers of Rawls, most obviously - the scandal of Schmitt's formulation has been its suggestion that sovereignty is a constitutive precondition of a legal order, not a product of such an order.  Any legal order is based on a sovereign decision, not a legal norm.  What follows from this is Schmitt's exposure of a form of authoritarianism secreted within supposedly liberal constitutions such as those underpinning most Western democracies.  True sovereignty, in this vision, lies in the political agency in society capable of suspending the law, and installing the 'state of emergency'.

Schmitt, writing in the early 1920s, was working and thinking in the era of the Weimar Republic, the shaky liberal constitutional arrangement in Germany after the First World War and the various uprisings in Germany that followed defeat in that war.  It's unsurprising, therefore, that he should offer a vision of a legal order which is so aware of the vulnerability and even arbitrary character of that order.  Schmitt, an admirer of Thomas Hobbes, takes from Leviathan the nostrum that law is not made by truth, but by authority.  He suggests that the applicability of legal norms presuppose or require a situation of 'social normality', or social homogeneity.  No legal norm can function in conditions of social chaos, and therefore a polity must be entitled to decide whether and when to suspend application of its law on the ground that the situation is abnormal.  Hence, his definition of sovereignty: if there's a person or institution, in a given political unit, able to institute a total suspension of the law, and then to use extra-legal force to 'normalise' the situation, then that person or institution is the sovereign in that polity.

If this seems like a warrant for dictatorship, then it must be noted that Schmitt also argued that attempts to legalise the state of exception are doomed to failure.  The state of emergency cannot be prepared for in positive law.  On the contrary: if a Schmittian sovereign exists, its authority to suspend the law doesn't require positive legal recognition, since the law's applicability itself rests on a situation of 'normality' put in place and secured by the sovereign.

Further paradoxes structure Schmitt's thought in this matter. If the sovereign's power to decide on the emergency or exception is not restrained by positive law, then the sovereign has the authority to decide what is an emergency.  To respond properly to such an emergency, nevertheless, the sovereign must be sensitive to social attitudes and mores.  So, to respond to and deal with the emergency, the sovereign must have the support of a substantial social constituency.  Yet, the sovereign's decision on the state of emergency is most likely to be required under conditions of social fragmentation.  In this situation, no unanimity of opinion will  be possible, and the sovereign will end up having to throw its weight  behind one social conception of 'normality' over against another contending conception.  So, the sovereign making of normality is the creation of a community's political identity, and this creation is likely to be predicated in part on the quoshing of other groupings whose notions of normality differ from those of the sovereign.  And so the matter of the legitimacy of the law turns on the question of the legitimacy of an identity-forming sovereign exercise of foundational or originary violence.


The pertinence of Schmitt's work to the current French situation, or indeed to the situation in the United States in the wake of 9/11 and the Bush Administration's announcement of the 'war on terror', or indeed to the modes of governance deployed by Israel against the Occupied Territories, is clear. The occurrence of some kind of military or 'terrorist' 'emergency' is held to permit of the 'partial' or 'temporary' suspension of the law or of elements of the law.  The colonial context is striking and crucial: the last time France declared such a state of emergency was during the riots in the banlieues in 2005, and the time previous to that was during the Algerian War in 1961.  It appears that the defence of the values of the political Enlightenment requires their suspension by the polity that presents itself as their chief home.  At these times, the supposedly liberal-republican order of France has turned itself inside-out to reveal the usually-hidden authoritarian authority underpinning liberté, égalité and fraternité.  It's this angle of vision that allows us to realise that crowds spontaneously gathering at the Place de la République to proclaim their adherence to laicité are not simply expressing popular democratic values and a defence of human rights, but rather, or at the same time, are expressing ethnic-majoritarian authoritarianism of an alarming kind.

Here are three articles worth reading on this situation:

Firstly, Richard Falk.  Falk is emeritus professor of international law at Princeton, and one of the most distinguished scholars of human rights law alive.  Here is an essay from his blog on the recent bomb attacks in Belgium:

Reflections on the Brussels Attack

Next, two articles from Jacobin on the French emergency situation in the wake of the November attacks.   Gilbert Achcar is a prominent Lebanese scholar teaching at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London::

France Returns to the State of Exception

And Grey Anderson, a young student at Yale:

The French Emergency


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Red Women/Women to Read - Marking International Women's Day

My mother, Lavinia, was a feminist.  She used to tell me a story about sitting in either the Bailey or the Coffee Inn, two cool joints in Dublin in the late 1950s or early 1960s, with a female friend.  They were talking books, I'd say.  Some godforsaken eejit leered down at them, and asked, with a condescending smirk: 'Do you ladies always conduct your conversation on such a high intellectual plane?'  I like to imagine them telling him to fuck off, but more likely they smiled patiently, and waited till, finally realising he hadn't a hope, he drifted away.

In my mother's day, feminism was called 'Women's Liberation'.  What a pity that the more open, forceful, and yes, utopian, language has been left behind!  Lavinia was an early member of the Irish Women's Political Association.  She was quietly but formidably articulate on the issues of family planning, divorce (she was a 'separated' single mother), and abortion.  The books of Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Kate Millett and Simone de Beauvoir lay around the flat.  She read Nell McCafferty and chuckled wickedly.  I imbibed that atmosphere.  At some point, with that combination of honesty, pomposity and a little precociousness of a clever kid, I told an old friend of my mother's, Mary, that I was 'a male feminist'. I was probably about 12 at the time.

Later, in my twenties, I was trying out ideas for myself, and at one point, I argued the case (as I thought) against women's right to determine the fate of their own bodies in the context of pregnancy.  Quiet but steely, Lavinia put me right in a few seconds.  A more loving parent could not be found, but she knew what she believed in, and she wasn't going to sit and listen to bumptious male twaddle from anyone.

Later on again, Lavinia took adult education classes, a certificate at UCD, and then did a postgraduate diploma at WERRC - the Women's Education, Research and Resource Centre, one of Ireland's first women's studies programmes, set up by Ailbhe Smyth, a truly radical Irish feminist.  My mother was not particularly confident returning to an academic context in her sixties, but she was determined.  With Ailbhe's support and inspiration and that of her colleagues, my mother got her diploma, and her flat filled up ever more with feminist writing, women's history, pamphlets, women's fiction.  In college, I had got uppity again, and gave her books by Toril Moi (Sexual/Textual Politics), Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (their wonderful masterpiece The Madwoman in the Attic) and Mary Ellmann (the brilliant and hilarious Thinking About Women).  They were all devoured.

After Lavinia's death, I read Beauvoir for the first time, and was and remain a convert.   Last year, through the good offices of my comrade Sinead Kennedy, I met Ailbhe Smyth to discuss Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women, and had the chance to remind her of how much my mother had enjoyed learning with her.  Ailbhe herself remains a beacon of courage and principle to us all.

The first International Women's Day was celebrated 103 years ago by Russian revolutionaries.   Here is an essay from that time by Alexandra Kollontai, posted now by Jacobin, explaining the impulse behind it:

The Meaning of International Women’s Day

And here is a Verso/Guardian list of reading for International Women's Day.  It's at least less in thrall to (neo-)liberal feminist goals such as professional success, prestige, power and wealth than today's Irish Times list of Irish female 'role-models'.  How anyone could see Samantha Power, theorist and jurist of liberal imperialism, as an example for young Irish feminist women is beyond me. 

Happy International (Working) Women's Day!