Author Archives: Bryan Wall

From top: Minister for Health Simon Harris (centre) and Fine Gael members at this year’s Dublin Gay Pride Parade; Bryan Wall

In The Road to Wigan Pier George Orwell wrote that “having to do everything at other people’s convenience” is an “inherent” part of being working class. To know that you are less or not equal to someone else. That you do not count and are not worthy of being counted.

The working class do not act, they are “acted upon”, he wrote, being forced “down into a passive role.” A bourgeois person, on the other hand, has no such forces acting upon them or obstructions in their way.  Such a person “goes through life with some expectation of getting what he wants.”

Although this is somewhat hyperbolic, Orwell would know of such things, himself being of middle class/petite bourgeois origin and having had the education to prove it. He wrote that the attitude of the middle and upper classes towards the working class is one of “sniggering superiority punctuated by bursts of vicious hatred.”

The Road to Wigan Pier is arguably Orwell’s best work. He went to the coal mining towns of the north of England and not only described the conditions and people he saw there, but lived in them and worked with them.

Its appeal is that he was forthright in his descriptions which are equal parts horrifying and uplifting; the former given the squalor and filth that the miners and their families were forced to live in and the latter given the kindness he was shown and solidarity he experienced from those he lived and worked with.

Orwell is long dead but the conditions he described are still with us. The sense of hopelessness is too. The working class, having long been abandoned by the parts of the Left, have fallen down the memory hole. Issues other than class emancipation have taken the lead.

Over the last four decades, but particularly in the last two, identity politics has increasingly become the banner under which many on the Left have campaigned and marched.

What happened? How did class politics become passé?

One possible explanation is the increase in those attending third level institutions over the last few decades. In Ireland, according to the HEA. (Higher Education Authority), the number of students in the country stood at 225,628 for the 2016/17 academic year. The HEA. also reported that this translated into an increase of “10% over the last five years” alone.

In 2016 the OECD. reported that 52% of Irish people between the ages of 25 and 34 had a third level education versus the OECD. average of 42%. In terms of the socio-economic backgrounds of those attending third level, only 5.5% and 5.6% of were from “Semi-Skilled and Unskilled” categories respectively. By comparison, 18.3% were from the “Employers and Managers” category.

A further 11.2% came from the “Higher Professionals” category. What this tells us is that despite the introduction of free third level education in Ireland — although it is not so free any longer — it remains an arena of the middle and upper classes.

Simply put, we have a highly, and traditionally, educated middle and upper class in Ireland.

Apart from being troublesome in and of themselves in terms of class inequality, these statistics also imply another important issue when it comes to politics.

As has been noted in academic studies, “[O]ne of the most consistently documented relationships in the field of political behavior is the close association between educational attainment and political participation.”

The same people are also “significantly more likely to engage in forms of direct action, such as demonstrations and petitions.”

What this means, then, is that the middle and upper classes are going to study in third level institutions in greater numbers than others, and in turn are more politically active and engaged. Statistics are quite clear on this.

With all of this in mind is it probable that those who acquired such levels of education are likely to question the very system that enabled them to attain, and take political advantage of, their education in the first place?

An answer is not needed as the rise of identity politics at the expense of issues of class and capitalist exploitation is proof enough of the above.

Political activity, in general, is the realm of the middle-and upper-class then. This goes some of the way to explaining why identity politics has become the linchpin of many protests movements over the last few decades.

These days the annual Pride parades have become devoid of any radicalism that their origins suggest. Instead we see corporations line out in demonstration of their professed, and optically profitable, stance in favour of LGBT. rights; likewise for various political parties who not only want to attain office, but stay in it.

Political parties who gut the funding for education, health, and housing will be seen represented by their lackeys at the parades; an attempt to hide the former with the latter demonstration of their putative commitment to equality.

Another, and more likely, possible reason is the influence of party politics where identity issues are seen as easy fixes relative to the wholesale refashioning of society and/or revolution along more egalitarian lines which would involve some form of decapitalising. Identity politics means extending rights to those who may not have had them in the past.

Class politics, on the other hand, demand that society itself is refashioned. All things considered and with all of the possible outcomes weighed up, which is the easier win: Extending rights that already exist to those who have historically had theirs denied to them, or a dismantling of the entire system of exploitation in which people are expendable, unworthy and at times invisible according to the vagaries of the neo-liberal market system?

Any person who questions the idea that this dominance of identity politics may be harmful towards the wider class-based egalitarian movements is taking a substantial risk. There is a large possibility that the identity politics commissars will not be pleased and will duly do their best to ensure that said critic or commentator knows their place in the scheme of things.

Last year, one Irish author and researcher found this out after they had their article questioning the effectiveness of identity politics published in The Irish Times.

They were quickly met with accusations of using the same arguments that alt-right and M.R.A. (Men’s Rights Activists) groups use, with no evidence to show for this accusation.

The author of the piece in The Irish Times has since had attempts to have their appearances at university events and literature festivals blocked because of what they wrote.

Reactions like this only prove the point made by social theorist Nancy Fraser nearly twenty years ago in an article related to this issue.

She wrote that “questions of recognition [i.e., identity] are serving less to supplement, complicate and enrich redistributive struggles than to marginalize, eclipse and displace them.” Furthermore, she noted that identity politics tends to create a problem of “reification”, in which one must adhere to the identity model of political activism and organisation.

One must “elaborate and display an authentic, self-affirming and self-generated collective identity,” or else they will be accused of “disloyalty.” “The identity model”, she writes, “thus lends itself all too easily to repressive forms of communitarianism, promoting conformism, intolerance and patriarchalism”, thereby enforcing “separatism, conformism and intolerance.”

Aviva Chomsky has also mentioned this adherence to the identity model in her article from August 2017 on challenging racist violence. It is worth quoting her at length:

Over the years I have come to see more and more of what Adolph Reed calls “posing as politics.” Rather than organizing for change, individuals seek to enact a statement about their own righteousness.

They may boycott certain products, refuse to eat certain foods, or they may show up to marches or rallies whose only purpose is to demonstrate the moral superiority of the participants.

White people may loudly claim that they recognize their privilege or declare themselves allies of people of color or other marginalized groups. People may declare their communities “no place for hate.”

Or they may show up at counter-marches to “stand up” to white nationalists or neo-Nazis. All of these types of “activism” emphasize self-improvement or self-expression rather than seeking concrete change in society or policy.

They are deeply, and deliberately, apolitical in the sense that they do not seek to address issues of power, resources, decisionmaking [sic], or how to bring about change.

At the height of the Occupy Movement in the United States, journalist Chris Hedges also noted the problems with identity politics and its role in denying the working and lower classes visibility in the political movements of the last few decades.

Occupy was started by the children of the middle and upper classes who now found themselves victims of the very system which gave them the advantages they enjoyed up until that point.

Now they found themselves facing an uncertain future; laden with debt from student loans, no well-paying or well-meaning jobs, environmental collapse, and a political system that was indifferent to their fate. These groups arose and founded Occupy.

But, as I wrote earlier, this is not unique in the sense that political activity and participation has predominately been undertaken by the middle and upper class in the past.

The difference was that now they were experiencing the same things that the working and lower classes, people of colour, and other minorities, had been experiencing for decades at that stage.

When they took to the streets they ran up against some hard questions that were being asked of them by the very people they had ignored in the past.

As Hedges noted: “while the working class was being destroyed, they [had] busied themselves on inclusiveness” in the past.

And now that they were engaging in direct action against the same kinds of issues they had previously ignored there emerged “a kind of scepticism of the Occupy movement by many in marginal communities because they said well, ‘Where were you?’”; where were you when market discipline was being enforced at the expense of basic rights and human dignity? Jump forward a few years and we have an explanation for why Donald Trump is now president of the United States.

Hillary Clinton represented more of the same; more of the corporatist backed neo-liberalism that has destroyed the lives of millions. Bernie Sanders may have offered a way out, or at the very least some hope.

Given what we know about how the DNC. (Democratic National Committee) ensured that Sanders lost the Democratic Party presidential nomination, is it really any wonder that Clinton’s fate was sealed and Trump’s ensured?

Trump’s claiming to be outside of the realm of politics as usual, and claiming to care about the lives of those who have suffered for the last four decades, was enough to win him the presidency.

Clinton’s words, and those of her fellow Democrats, were seen as hollow and meaningless to those who had been promised time and again that they mattered and that their lives mattered while business, and inequality, continued as usual. Trump was a way of personifying this anger.

As one study notes, the election “results support the claim that Trump’s appeal to the white working class was crucial for his victory.” Identity politics, as it has been practiced up until now, gave us this result.

However, at the end of all this a caveat is needed. All of the above is not to say that identity politics are not important. Of course they are. In any egalitarian and truly free society the rights of all are a function of the rights of the individual. What this means is ensuring that all of us have our rights upheld, including rights regarding our personal identities.

A problem only arises when identity politics shoves class politics under the carpet and out of sight and out of mind, which has been the case for the last four decades.

Identity politics without a class dimension is a hollow facade and the same applies to class politics without a foundation in protecting the rights of individuals as individuals.

Thus far though, identity politics has been a convenient way for those claiming to be egalitarian to decry the supposed privilege of others without questioning their own very real class and economic privilege.

Moral elitism and smugness is not going to create a viable movement, let alone an alternative, to neo-liberal exploitation at the hands of global conglomerates supported by those in government and others in positions of power.

For any viable movement to emerge it has to cut across class and identity without subordinating the former to the latter. Until that happens the working and lower classes will continue to be ignored and lash out when they can. How many more Trumps can we take?

Bryan Wall is a PhD candidate in the departments of sociology and philosophy in University College Cork. His interests are in citizenship, human rights, democratic and political theory, and the history of Zionism. Read his work here

Rollingnews

From top: Israeli  Prime Minister President Benjamin Netanyahu and other Likud lawmakers in the Knesset after the passage of the nation-state law last week; Bryan Wall

In 1896 Theodor Herzl published his pamphlet The Jewish State. In its pages was contained his vision of how to acquire the land of Israel and what would be the content of the state.

His writing covered details such as the kind of government the state would be based on, as well as the more mundane such as how many hours a person would work per day.

He also made references to the area in which his future state would be founded. Being located in the Middle East, he wrote that the state could play an important role for the Great Powers of the time (Austro-Hungary, Britain, France). Once founded, Israel would “there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”

As for what was to be done with the native population, he was also quite clear in this regard.
Herzl was a man of his time. He was a liberal and a social democrat but the particular milieu lived in ensured that he held non-European states and their peoples in low esteem.

Thus, his proposition for dealing with the population of Palestine was influenced by the era of colonialism in which he lived:

“Supposing, for example, we were obliged to clear a country of wild beasts, we should not set about the task in the fashion of Europeans of the fifth century. We should not take spear and lance and go out singly in pursuit of bears; we would organize a large and active hunting party, drive the animals together, and throw a melinite bomb into their midst.”

Jump ahead two decades and we come to Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Jabotinsky was an advocate of what was to become known as Revisionist Zionism.

His arguments for the creation of Israel were a logical extension of Herzl’s Political Zionism. Jabotinsky called for an “iron wall” beyond which the local population would not be able to pass.

Being a metaphor for military and demographic superiority, Jabotinsky was clear when it came to how the state would be created and how it would ensure its fortunes.

A future Israel would be safe and secure when

“the Jews become the majority” as once the natives accepted this, and realised they would not be able to rid themselves of the Zionist colonisers, they would strive for peace with their new Zionist overlords. He was realistic in the sense that he knew that “we are seeking to colonise a country against the wishes of its population, in other words, by force.”

With this in mind it should come as no surprise that Israel has now passed the Jewish nation-state law. If anything it should come as a surprise that it has not happened sooner.

Perhaps facts on the ground have dictated this, such as the increasing amount of illegal Israeli colonisers in the West Bank and Golan Heights over the last three decades.

The Bill, which was passed by 62 members of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), declares that:

“The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.”

Furthermore, it states that:

“The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

The reporting of the law in the mainstream media has, as usual, been less than stellar.

Commentary has ranged from tepid narration to an occasionally decent article that does more than call the law “controversial”, with the The Irish Times, the BBC, and CNN being guilty of this journalistic languidness.

They were joined by the New York Times, the “paper of record”, whose anaemic reporting referred to the law as “divisive”.

Others such as The Atlantic, Democracy Now, and the Irish Examiner did more than simple transcribing. In these cases the law was reported as “formally sanction[ing] discrimination against minorities”, “a hate crime”, and as making “Israel officially a sectarian state”.

Although many of us find this kind of honest reporting laudable it is still short-sighted. This is because it ignores the larger history of Zionism, the history of Israel, and its treatment of the Palestinians.

Having lived under an occupation and Zionist-framed law since 1948, the passing of the law makes very little difference to the lived experience of the Palestinians.

It is just more of the same; albeit under the veneer of legality. Ownership of land has always been restricted to Jewish citizens, with military laws being used to repress Palestinians and confiscate their land decades before the introduction of this law.

Citizenship being limited to Jewish people only is nothing remotely new, with the state having been defined as the state of the Jewish people since its founding, something the mainstream media seems to have either missed or ignored. Such a definition has even caused problems for Jewish citizens in the past.

For example, in 1962 Shmuel Oswald Rufeisen (Brother Daniel) sued the state in order to have it recognise him on his identity card by his nationality and not his religion, the latter of which was, and continues to be, standard practice.

He was a Polish Jew who had converted to Catholicism during the Second World War. Now a monk and no longer identifying as Jewish, yet still wanting to be part of the “Jewish destiny” in Israel, he moved there. Having given up his Polish citizenship he wanted to acquire Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

His argument was that even though he was no longer of the Jewish religion, he was Jewish by nationality and therefore entitled to citizenship of the state. His application denied, he then petitioned the High Court of Justice, who also denied his application.

In spite of this, he was eventually granted an Israeli identity card which recorded his nationality as “Not Clear”.

As the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand has rightly pointed out, “It was categorically denied that there was no Jewish nationality without its religious shell.”

It was no longer the individual’s decision as to whether or not they were Jewish. The state would decide who could be a citizen and that, like everything in the state, had to be refracted through the prism of Zionism.

In the context of the new law then, we are simply seeing some legal formalisation of what has been standard practice for decades. That the media does not understand this historical context, and has ignored it, either intentionally or unknowingly, is unsurprising.

The reasons for this are many and have been covered by others such as Howard Friel and Richard Falk. What is more important is the fact that the law is being reported on outside of the historical context in which it has been written and passed.

Outside of this context the media can portray the law as merely a recent deviation in the history of an otherwise “liberal and democratic state”; the only one of its kind in the region, as the well-worn talking point goes.

The media can also portray it as a protective measure in light of the recent events, both in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and elsewhere in the region.

But by understanding the history of Zionism we can also understand two things in particular. Firstly, the history of Zionism, going back to Herzl, makes it clear that a demographic and military superiority was needed in order to found the state.

An “outpost of civilization” was to be created using “melinite bombs”, despite Herzl’s apparent liberalism. Legalities aside, the needs justified the ends. Secondly, Jabotinsky’s writings also make it clear what actions were going to needed in order to secure the future state.

An Iron Wall of Zionist supremacy was what would ensure the creation and security of the state. Anything less would condemn the project to the dustbin of history.

With this in mind, we can see how the nation-state bill is nothing new or unique. It is merely a continuation of the colonialist strategy that was theorised by Herzl and his acolytes, and put into action by Jaobotinsky and his adherents; and ironically by his ideological enemies such as Ben-Gurion.

The Palestinians have suffered regardless of this new law and will continue to do so no matter what legal formulas are created. That the wider media does not report or understand this demonstrates their blind spots, ignorance, and obsequiousness to state power.

While they transcribe, the history of Zionism continues to discriminate, segregate, and deny basic rights to those it deems unworthy.

Bryan Wall is a PhD candidate in the departments of sociology and philosophy in University College Cork. His interests are in citizenship, human rights, democratic and political theory, and the history of Zionism. Read his work here

Pic: Getty