Against Hitler (if nothing else): the curious anti-fascism of Alan Shatter and Fine Gael

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An interesting thing happened in the Dáil this evening. The parties of the political establishment recognised that there are times when it is permissible to defy the authority of the State.

The occasion was the passing of legislation to recognise the ‘bravery and courage’ (RTE) of the men who deserted the Irish army to fight the Nazis during World War II. Such men went to ‘fight against fascism’ and ‘contributed to freedom and democracy in Europe’, according to the minister responsible for the legislation, Fine Gael Minister for Justice and Defence, Alan Shatter.

You may, like me, be suspicious about the motivation for the passing of such legislation. Were all such men really committed anti-fascists? No doubt some of them were, and no doubt some of them made the contribution as Shatter describes it.

But how consistent is this commitment to anti-fascism? As Pádraig Mac Lochlainn of Sinn Féin pointed out in the Dáil, men who went to fight against fascism during the Spanish Civil War were excommunicated by the Church and suffered ostracism on their return, whilst the Catholic Church and the Irish Independent were rabidly pro-Franco, and support for the fascist forces in Alan Shatter’s party was near unanimous. In the Dáil, W.T. Cosgrave claimed ‘the fate of European civilisation and everything in it’ depended on Franco. It seems fair to conclude that none of those who went to fight Franco will be given any credit from Fine Gael for doing so. Today, Fine Gael and the Francoist Partido Popular –which has never recanted its fascist past and blocks attempts at investigating crimes against humanity conducted by the Franco regime- are both members of the same grouping in the European Parliament. Both are in government, enacting vicious cutbacks to public spending and attacking social, economic and labour rights, and congratulating each other for the good work they are doing, as was in evidence at Enda Kenny’s meeting with his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy at the start of last week.

So anti-fascism is not exactly in Fine Gael’s DNA. Why would a party normally so insistent on obedience to the authority of the State relent on the matter of deserters who went to fight in the British armed forces, as “the vast majority” (Alan Shatter) did?

Fine Gael’s traditionally pro-British and anti-republican stance is no doubt part of it, since that party has never been shy of currying favour with the British establishment or Northern unionists. Fine Gael supporters in the press have never had any difficulty in likening armed republican formations to Nazis and fascists. The fact that such comparisons served to legitimate the activities of loyalist death squads never seemed to trouble consciences.

Also worth considering, however, is the way an opposition to Nazism –which now looms large as the historical reference point for absolute evil- is an alibi for all kinds of atrocity and criminality.

For instance, imperial aggression, murder, annexation of land, colonialism and subversion of democratic processes are frequently justified by the West and Israel because of some supposed Hitlerite figure at large, whether Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi or Yasser Arafat or Hassan Nasrallah or Ayatollah Khomenei or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hamas or Daniel Ortega or Hugo Chávez. The War on Terror was justified, by the Bush administration and its court scribes, by the need to defeat the metastasised and orientalised Nazism of ‘Islamofascism’.

What is more, at a moment when ruling politicians across Europe are doing the will of finance capital by imposing austerity policies that transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, dismantling the social institutions that were the basis of the postwar democratic settlement, and militarising borders in order to manage the flow of unwanted populations, declaring an interest in defeating Hitler can become an expedient, if rather desperate, way of declaring that you have a sense of right and wrong deep down.

There is also a dimension specific to Ireland’s relation to the European Union, a particular elite narrative in which the unenlightened Irish rabble, unable to see the good sense of balanced budgets and the technocratic dismantling of welfare states, resort to crude nationalist populism and recoil into anti-German atavistic isolationism, much to the regret of elite liberals such as Fine Gael grandee and Goldman Sachs boss Peter Sutherland. To forestall an outbreak of neo-Nazism in Ireland along the lines of Greece, left-wing opposition, street protest and anti-political sentiment must be kept in check, and the population must learn to show sufficient maturity in staying the course of pragmatic obedience to Troika diktats. According to this view of the world, interrupting a public meeting to protest cutbacks and tax hikes to pay for private banking debt is fascism; but using your ministerial power to deny housing to Travellers is democracy.

Nonetheless, it is good to be mindful of the principle articulated by Shatter’s legislation, even if the legislators are unlikely to apply it universally: it is legitimate to disobey the State if your concern is contributing to freedom and democracy in Europe, and you believe the government is engaging in unconscionable policies that engender fascism. That is what this legislation says.

That doesn’t mean official history will absolve you, of course. Nor you should take your cue from the government or Alan Shatter when it comes to disobedience. In fact, if you’re successful, there’s a good chance they’ll arrest you. And label you a Nazi.

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26 responses to “Against Hitler (if nothing else): the curious anti-fascism of Alan Shatter and Fine Gael

  1. ejh

    “According to this view of the world, interrupting a public meeting to protest cutbacks and tax hikes to pay for private banking debt is fascism”

    Or indeed “pure Nazism” if you’re María Dolores de Cospedal.

  2. Pingback: Against Hitler (if nothing else): the curious anti-fascism of Alan Shatter and Fine Gael | Cunning Hired Knaves | Tomás Ó Flatharta

  3. This article is an eloquent fulfilling of Godwin’s Law.

    • This statement is an eloquent fulfilling on the misuse of Godwin’s Law. However appropriate/inappropriate the law itself is, it doesn’t claim to articulate a fallacy, but clearly, can itself be used in one.

  4. This is a brilliant analysis of Fine Gael and Shatter.

  5. Booing a trade union bureaucrat who refuses to stand up for the members who pay his massive salary is also “fascism” according to SIPTU boss Jack O’Connor.

    Shatter thinks the British army is a champion of democracy! Small memory, huge ignorance.

    20 years before WWII that same army had been occupying Ireland. In 1944-8 it forced a hated monarch followed by a semi-fascist dictatorship onto the Greek people. In 1945 the British army co-operated with the Japanese in order to crush a revolt against Imperialism in Indonesia. In 1943 the British state knowingly starved to death between one and four million Bengalis. And after the war didn’t Churchill say publicly that Britain came close to invading Ireland?

    But historical fact doesn’t matter – you’re spot on that what Shatter’s doing is trying to set up a binary opposition between reactionary populist nationalism and liberal elite euro-cringing. Classic FF vs classic FG/Lab. Working-class internationalism is the defiant rebuke to both

  6. Eoin

    Perhaps Shatter and Fine Gael make a distinction between the fascism of Franco/Mussolini/Golden Dawn (which is authoritarian and anti-democratic in nature) and Nazism (which advocated and carried out the mass slaughter of Jews.)

    Or perhaps it is that case that, if Spanish civil war volunteers were punished by excommunication and social ostracism on their return, then a retrospective state pardon wouldn’t apply in their case. Would it?

    It’s valid to question whether deserters from Irish army who fought with the Brits were really motivated by anti-Nazism. But in the context of a war in which Ireland’s neutral stance is still viewed with abhorrence by most of Europe, the optics of pardoning these guys (even 70 years after the fact) can only be good for our country’s reputation.

    But let’s be honest, what you’re really insinuating here (but haven’t the balls to say) is that, as the only Jewish member of the Oireachtas, Alan Shatter has a vested interest in wanting his country to pardon those men who fought against the Nazis.

    Now I wouldn’t presume to know Shatter’s mind, and I’m far from a Fine Gael supporter or apologist, but yes, that may very well be the case. So what? There’s nothing remotely curious or sinister about that.

    What is sinister is the way borderline antisemitism is tolerated and even applauded on the Irish left.

    • The fact that Alan Shatter is Jewish is of zero interest to me, and I make no reference to it in the article because it is irrelevant. Yes, Shatter is a supporter of Israel. But so are other members of the government, who are not Jewish, and precisely the same criticisms would apply -if they were Fine Gael members, of course- had it been any of them that had brought in the legislation.

      If you don’t presume to know Alan Shatter’s mind, you should have the courtesy to do the same with others, especially when it comes to accusing them of antisemitism without a shred of actual evidence.

    • Eoin, I think your response to this piece makes some strong points (esp. pointing out the difference between the situations of deserters from the Army and those socially ostracised for their beliefs) but I don’t see any evidence for allegations of anti-Semitism. If “the piece is anti-Alan Shatter” means “the piece is anti-Semitic”, that’s a tenuous argument. Shatter is a minister of a rightwing party. That’s enough reason to question his actions.

  7. Writing about the repertoire of reliable, reactionary canards that are used to stifle debate, in the guise of debate, Gary Younge wrote that:

    ‘Sometimes, though not in this forum, questions can be so pregnant with assumptions that they are, arguably, better left unanswered. Not because they do not relate to important issues, but because they are so loaded with prejudice and crippled by ignorance, thoughtless in tone and reckless in content, that the manner in which they are put renders them incapable of addressing important issues. To engage with them would be to legitimise their bias.’

    That’s clearly the case with Eoin’s comment, one that evades the substantive issues by relying on a ‘subtextual’ reading of antisemitism, a reading substantiated not by evidence from the text, but solely by appeal to the commenter’s superior nose for ‘insinuation’, as well as the status of the blogger’s balls.

    Younge’s article – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/dec/01/race.islamandbritain – goes on to consider what kind of response is useful in these circumstances. In this instance it’s obvious; it requires a symptomatic reading.

    In Brian Klug’s work on the history of antisemitism, and his critique of the projection of a ‘new antisemitism’, he notes that antisemitism is not merely hostility towards or hatred of Jews as Jews, but ‘as Jews’, or as ‘not Jews’. That is to say, ‘antisemitism is the process of turning Jews into “Jews”‘. That is precisely what Eoin’s comment does, and given the tangled, ambivalent historical relationship between Judeophobia and Judeophilia, it should come as no surprise that it underpins a contribution putatively in defence of Alan Shatter. But it can only ‘defend’ Shatter by turning him into ‘a Jew’, that is, by eliding all other aspects of his political agency, involvement, commitment and belief. The blog is an exploration of a range of ways in which a somewhat curious gesture – curious, given the Irish state’s track record on issues of historical reparation – by a Minister and the government he serves in could be interpreted conjuncturally. Eoin’s comment can only see anti-semitism, because it suggests that Alan Shatter can only be seen as ‘a Jew’.

  8. Such a distinction between genocidal antisemitic Nazism and bog-standard authoritarian fascism did not apply during the Spanish Civil War. Support for Franco meant support for the forces behind Franco, including the Nazis. The forces arrayed behind Franco were generally referred to as the fascist forces. The left saw the conflict as one between fascism and democracy. The Right, in Ireland, and in Fine Gael, saw the conflict as one between communism and the foes of communism, and it was a matter of supporting the latter. What has vanished from contemporary popular accounts of Nazism is just how much their eliminationist antisemitism went hand-in-hand with their opposition to communism – the threat of ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’, as the Nazis put it.

    Also, it does not look as though Alan Shatter draws such a distinction, as far as I could judge his remarks in response to Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: “To return to the theme Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn raised, I appreciate the sentiments he expressed about others who had fought fascism.”

  9. soundmigration

    Id say there is larger political motivations behind FG’s move. Im not sure that restoring the states reputation is part of this, but rather the normalisation of a relationship with the British State (and army) in the lead up to getting Ireland to join Nato as a fully fledged participant member of that transnational military organisation.

    I don’t read any antisemitism from this and nothing sinister. If Shatters motivations are related to his personal religious/cultural environment, hes no different than most human beings. That’s just part of lived reality. But the piece makes no mention of this. He is Minister for Justice, and openly puts himself forward for criticism as a representative of an organisation that is happy to partake in the erosion of even notional social democracy as it now stands. He’s on record as wanting a closer relationship with the big fishes in Nato as a North Atlanticist himself.

    For what is worth the Fascism of France wasn’t adverse to mass slaughter either. Nor is there anything to suggest that Golden Dawn, if they occupied the machinations of state power – ie had its own army and police at their disposal and with 50% of cops voting for them, that’s not entirely impossible – would not be killing larges numbers of people.

    Whilst there are massive difference in scales of abhorrence political intentions as they relate to local/historical trajectories, I’m not entirely sure that Facism and Nazism are distinct pure philosophical categories or areana’s of social and political action.

    To apportion a criticism antisemitism by suggesting the actual intention is there, but that cowardice on behalf of the author stops him/her writing it. Its a pretty blunt way of reducing public expressions of social thought to rabid rants wrapped.

    The point seems to hinge on whether the article was written (or is read as being) about either
    1 Alan Shatter as a person who is using his role and Justice and Defense to push a personal agenda on this specific issue of pardoning deserters who fought against Nazi regimes.

    2 or about the relationship between those same specific legislative changes being looked at through and within a wider context of historical FG policy and culture, the contemporary use of Nazism as a rationale for a variety of other oppressions etc etc.

    The only place I can see any confusion about the piece is via an interpretation of “You may, like me, be suspicious about the motivation for the passing of such legislation.” Suspicious of the man and his motivations or suspicious of the state motivations? This is the only part of the piece that I can get – by deliberately re reading through the lens of “In what way could this be read to make me think its anti-Semitic” And that itself is merely a triggering line when actually trying to walk in the shoes of Eoin’s claim.

    For me its clear what the post is about. And I think it can be pretty damaging to writers to accuse them of something as serious antisemitism with merely a vague broad brushstroke of what unnamed and unillustrated parts of the left ‘do’ and no meaningful explanation of how that conclusion is arrived at.

  10. Eoin

    So essentially what you’re saying, Gavan, is “I know you are, but what am I?” Wow, it’s like arguing with an intellectual judo master. I’m sure I’m not worthy.

    Look, I’m sure Gary Younge, or any other other observer of American politics in the last couple of years, could deduce that racism is likely a partial motivating factor behind the Tea Party and birther movements, without having to produce a smoking gun to prove the case.

    But let me make just make three observations about the above piece above:

    1. Alan Shatter is mentioned six times by name. The only other member of the current government mentioned even tangentially (Enda Kenny) is mentioned only once.
    2. There are references to Shatter’s “curious anti-fascism” and “suspicious motives.”
    3. The image above juxtaposes a picture of Shatter and saluting Blueshirts.

    And finally, let me ask a question…

    4. If James Reilly or Phil Hogan or Richard Bruton had passed this legislation (concerning members of the Irish army who deserted to fight for the Brits seventy years ago), would the text have included mentions for the state of Israel and Goldman Sachs or would the issue have been viewed entirely within the context of British-Irish relations?

    • Ed

      No, Eoin, you’re not worthy – which is to say, you’re way out of your depth, your pitiful efforts have been torn to shreds and you would do well to bow out now instead of continuing to hurl shit at the wall in the hope that some of it will stick.

      • Eoin

        Ed, just because I ignored Richard’s convoluted central thesis here does not mean I’m out of my depth. And just because you disagree with me, does not mean my argument has been torn to shreds.

      • Ed

        Nope, the fact that your argument was torn to shreds, is what would mean your argument has been torn to shreds. And since you can’t even remember whose argument you were unable to respond to (it was Gavan’s, not Richard’s – although you were also unable to respond to Richard’s), you are most certainly way out of your depth. Scurry off now mate before making an even bigger fool of yourself. You’re not going to get a free pass for sleazy insinuations that have no basis in fact; you would have been better off not commenting in the first place, but trying to defend your tripe is going to make things even worse.

  11. D_D

    It wasn’t just that Fine Gael supported Franco and attacked those who really were going away to fight fascism, in Spain. Fine Gael supporters went away to fight for Spanish fascism and part of Fine Gael were actually fascist: the Army Comrades Association, better known as the Blueshirts.

  12. Let me deal with this point-by-point.

    1. Alan Shatter is mentioned six times by name. The only other member of the current government mentioned even tangentially (Enda Kenny) is mentioned only once.

    Shatter introduced the legislation. He advocated its passing, and the article deals with the words he used in doing so. There is nothing wrong with mentioning him six times.

    There is another member of the government alluded to, quite pointedly: Phil Hogan.

    2. There are references to Shatter’s “curious anti-fascism” and “suspicious motives.”

    The references are not just to Alan Shatter’s ‘curious anti-fascism’ but to the ‘curious anti-fascism of Alan Shatter and Fine Gael’. Therefore I identify Alan Shatter as the person responsible for the legislation -because he is- but, in so doing, as a representative of Fine Gael.

    I say ‘suspicious about the motivation for the passing of such legislation’,. That should be an indication that since it is not Alan Shatter who passes the legislation, it is not merely his motivation under suspicion. It is not even simply Fine Gael’s motivation under suspicion. The opening paragraph refers to ‘the parties of the political establishment’.

    3. The image above juxtaposes a picture of Shatter and saluting Blueshirts.

    Big deal. It also references the Hucklebuck. Alan Shatter is a member of a party with fascist roots. It’s now introducing legislation that honours people for their contribution in the fight against fascism. There is a curious contradiction there, one the article explores.

    4. If James Reilly or Phil Hogan or Richard Bruton had passed this legislation (concerning members of the Irish army who deserted to fight for the Brits seventy years ago), would the text have included mentions for the state of Israel and Goldman Sachs or would the issue have been viewed entirely within the context of British-Irish relations?

    Yes. Because the particular national and international conjuncture in which the legislation is passed would be precisely the same. It is entirely appropriate to make reference to the State of Israel because although Israel is not part of the West (it is in the Middle East), it is a close ally of Washington. It is entirely appropriate to make reference to Peter Sutherland in his capacity as a Goldman Sachs boss because it illustrates the class interests that Fine Gael serves, and the overlap between the political and the financial establishments.

    By the way, this is not the first article I’ve written about the contemporary resonance of Fine Gael’s fascist roots. For instance, here:

    ‘That said, trans-European collaboration in the destruction of democracy is nothing new in itself. Recall the barbarism of German and Italian planes bombing civilians in Málaga in 1937 as an illustration. People in Ireland would do well to remember that when this happened, the Irish Catholic Church, the Irish Independent and Fine Gael were all on the same side as, Franco, Hitler and Mussolini.’

    and

    ‘Far from operating as a bulwark against the erosion of democracy, European institutions are the tools for its dismantling. As Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times notes, from the point of view of European rulers, success is no longer compatible with democracy.

    What spirits of the past will be anxiously conjured up by the counter-revolutionaries for this new scene in world history? What names will they borrow? Those of us with an eye on Ireland might wish to recall that Michael Noonan –the Minister for Finance whose party is the same party that supported the fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War- in his budget speech this year, to justify the troika-driven measures as a bid for independence, cited Richard Mulcahy approvingly. Mulcahy, as Noonan and the assembled deputies know full well -was a decisive member of a deeply authoritarian government had overseen the assassination of republican prisoners, including Liam Mellows. A minor example of how global capitalism conjures local authoritarian productions in order to sustain its increasingly primitive processes of accumulation. ‘

    https://hiredknaves.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/collaboration-with-our-european-partners/

    None of it mentions Alan Shatter. But hey, I’m sure you’ll find something that sets off your antisemitism spidey-sense.

  13. Also, Eoin, please let me know if you are planning on retracting your claim that I ‘don’t have the balls’ to give voice to the antisemitism you attribute to me.

  14. Eoin

    Richard. Read my comment again. The insinuation I felt you were making (which you hadn’t the balls to come right out and say) was that Alan Shatter had a special interest in honouring those Irish who fought against Nazism, as opposed to Irishmen who fought against other forms of fascism.

    Rather than describing this insinuation as antisemitic, I actually said that it may well be correct.

    The overall tone of the piece, including the illustration, was what I felt was borderline antisemitic. And I stand by that, for the reasons I outlined in my last comment.

    • There is no such thing as ‘borderline antisemitic’, Eoin. If I say a particular comment is the work of a borderline asshole, I’m really saying that person is an asshole. So you are really saying that this piece is antisemitic on account of its ‘overall tone, including the illustration’.

      I’ve stressed to you that the fact Alan Shatter is Jewish is of no relevance to the piece.

      I really don’t know how much Alan Shatter’s public support for Israel -which is well-known- has informed this particular piece of legislation. But if it has, this public support for Israel is only one aspect of his political outlook and commitments, and moreover, has nothing to do with him being part of a ‘Jewish race’, any more than Ruairi Quinn’s public support for Israel is on account of him being part of a ‘white race’! That is because the very idea of Jews constituting a ‘race’ is a racist idea to the core. And since it’s an idea you find persuasive, I suggest you should start looking a bit closer to home on your quest to identify public expressions of antisemitism.

  15. Eoin

    In response to Ed (above), I’m not being given a option to reply to your comment above so I’ll do so here. I wasn’t sure who you thought was pulverizing me with their superior intellect so I assumed you were talking about Richard, whose central thesis in the original blogpost I have deliberately ignored.

    As far as Gavan’s comment is concerned, he first claimed that I am so ignorant, prejudiced and reckless that there is no point responding to anything I say. (Of course, he said this in the course of a long, rambling and excruciatingly patronising response to what I’d just said. But that’s neither here nor there.)

    He then asserts that the above blogpost – in which Alan Shatter’s “suspicious” motives are questioned, his picture is juxtoposed alongside some seig heiling Blueshirts and the issues of Israel and Goldman Sachs are somehow shoehorned into a discussion of 1940s Irish army deserters (in a manner even Jim Corr would find cavalier) – was written by someone utterly oblivious to Minister’s race. And that, in fact, as the person who first acknowledged the Minister’s race here, it is I who am the racist. Well, that’s disingenuous nonsense.

    My original point was valid. My point about state pardons not being applicable to excommunicated Spanish civil war veterans was also valid. Telling me to “scurry off now mate before you make an even bigger fool of yourself” just because you disagree with my opinions does not suggest that you have an interest in having your opinions challenged.

    That’s my final comment on this.

  16. Eoin,
    I didn’t claim that you are ‘so ignorant, prejudiced and reckless that there is no point responding to anything I say’. I quoted an argument that discusses how certain arguments are so loaded in their construction as to make one pause and reflect on whether to legitimate them by responding, and if so, on which grounds.

    Neither did I suggest that Richard was oblivious to what you term the Minister’s ‘race’, I made the really pretty obvious point that he didn’t mention Shatter’s Jewishness as it is of no import to his arguments (I could explain how your turn to race and racism underlines the point that Klug was making, but referring to books and stuff didn’t go down too well the first time).

    So, even in this response, you reprise the dependence on insinuation and bespoke ‘subtexts’ that you originally based your accusation of ‘borderline antisemitism’ on. Simply reiterating ‘ I stand by that, for the reasons I outlined in my last comment’, even after Richard has refuted point-by point the reasons you outlined, really isn’t very convincing, and doesn’t display much conviction, either.

    You are well aware that the accusation of antisemitism is politically toxic, and one that places the accused in the difficult position of becoming entangled with the accusation the more strenuously or comprehensively they refute it. Given this historical and contemporary toxicity, it’s still surprising that you reacted with such glibness to the brief introduction of some thoughts on antisemitism’s complexity. That’s got little or nothing to do with ‘intellectual judo’ by me or anyone else, though it may involve a bout of ‘anti-intellectual fitness boxing’ to insist that antisemitism means what you want it to mean, and nothing else.

  17. Eoin

    Gavan,

    He didn’t refute my arguments, he simply gave a series of alternative explanations, any one of which would have been perfectly plausible in isolation from the others.

    Obviously, it’s a matter of one’s own interpretation. But as I said above, one can infer for oneself that racism is a motivating factor behind the birther movement, even in the face of denials and the absence of a smoking gun.

    Just to clarify one other point on which you appear to misunderstand me. My reference to “intellectual judo” merely referred to the fact that you were using my own line of attack against me (“I’m not an antisemite – you are!”) That’s a tactic often employed by combatants in judo. Also small children.

    Now it’s obvious that you hold your own intellect in high esteem. You’ve made that very clear, although it’s not strictly relevant to the matter at hand. It might be an idea, however, to bookmark this page, return to it in a couple of days when we’ve all calmed down, reread the first comment you left, and decide for yourself if you actually come across as a bit of condescending wanker.

    All the best,
    Eoin

  18. ‘Come across as’? I full intended to condescend to you, Eoin. And you don’t seem to grasp that when you decide to pursue an empty smear of ‘antisemitism’, that it’s actually the most charitable response you could hope for.
    all the best,
    Gavan

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