Notes on last night’s Claire Byrne Live

"Public opinion, c'est moi!"

“Public opinion, c’est moi!”

On last night’s show a debate on Europe’s refugee crisis was preceded by a standing ovation from the studio audience for members of the Irish Navy, who stood in line in full uniform.

The panellists for the debate were actor Liam Cunningham, government minister Paul Kehoe, and Irish Independent columnist Ian O’Doherty. I had started watching the programme out of curiosity after seeing tweets objecting to Ian O’Doherty’s presence on the show.

Ian O’Doherty -a dull-minded figure who poses as a Christopher Hitchens-style contrarian but without the allure of the turncoat, the ostentatious learning, or the mental dexterity that Hitchens had on offer – served up a farrago of racist talking points that originate with the far right. It was O’Doherty’s views that were allowed to frame the discussion, and Cunningham, and to a lesser extent Kehoe, were called upon to respond.

Of those who spoke from the studio audience, only the member of the far right National Party and the member of Christians Concerned for Ireland (who voiced the concern that hundreds of refugees had been arrested in Britain for crimes of “rape, etc”) were, as far as I can recall, afforded an on-screen caption detailing who they were.

If you were to press the programme-makers on their decision to afford Ian O’Doherty a platform, I suggest they would respond that they had sought to achieve a ‘balance’, that other contributors from the audience included a member of an organisation opposed to racism, a person with experience in aid work in Syria, and a woman living under Ireland’s Direct Provision regime. Pressed further, they might admit that controversy generates excitement and therefore viewing figures whereas informed debate is sterile. One imagines, moreover, that they would likely reject any suggestion that their editorial decisions produce racist effects.

In this regard it is interesting to consider not what O’Doherty had to say but what the presenter said. She repeatedly voiced the concern that resources devoted to assisting homeless people in Ireland might be jeopardised if the country took in more refugees.

Such proposed trade-offs arise with dreary regularity. It is always those most at risk, we are told, who are put at greatest risk when we wish to extend solidarity to others.

But even if we impose an arbitrary scarcity of resources in this way, the fortunes of the affluent are rarely, if ever, cited as the first port of call: it always falls, as if by nature, to those most at risk, who are supposedly now expected to take on even greater risk.

These economic trade-offs, of course, find a more vulgar expression in the notion that ‘we have to take care of our own first’. What all this hides from view is the fact of certain groups who will always already be taken care of.

It is not a question of racist cranks simply being given a platform. We should also ask: what kind of platform? In the case of the Claire Byrne Live show, we might best describe it as a pseudo-scientific wrapper.

Following the initial discussion, Claire Byrne said:

“We wanted to find out how people felt about this, so we asked our Claire Byrne Live – Amárach panel ‘Can Ireland cope with the planned intake of 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017?’”

Liam Cunningham, called on to respond to the results of the survey that showed a majority responding No, rightly pointed out that this was mere opinion. But Byrne insisted on how demographically representative the survey was. As if this could be detached from the actual question posed.

What does it mean, anyway, to ask “Can Ireland cope” with anything? Are we referring to Irish people on the whole? The State? The government? Are we speaking in terms of logistical assessments or mental resilience?

Since different people respond to such questions in different ways, the meaning of the question is ultimately established by the person who interprets the data.

In this case, Byrne was clear, or rather, clearly unclear:

“It’s about sentiment. Irish people saying “we can’t cope with this problem”.”

Well, how would she know? Where did the “we” come from?

Byrne, in her own mind, and likely at one with the producers of the programme, identified “Ireland” as “Irish people”. Hence it did not mean people in Ireland who are not Irish -a sizeable proportion of the population- and thus beyond the supposedly rigorous demographic scope of the survey.

But not only did “Ireland” mean “Irish people” here, but no distinction was drawn between the institutions of the state and people -strictly speaking, Irish people- at large. It’s doubtful that any such distinction could ever be drawn in a situation where the audience has just applauded members of the Navy in full uniform for making us all proud.

The overall effect of this concoction was to lend empirical weight -bogus, but weight nonetheless- to what O’Doherty was arguing.

If you want to trace the origins of the idea that “we have to look after our own”, with all the racist logic that emanates from it, it is best not to start with the likes of Ian O’Doherty or the National Party, but rather with those convinced they should be given a voice, in the supposed interests of ‘balance’.


Filed under Uncategorized

Between True and False


I will not lie, when I saw the article with the photos suggesting that Justin Trudeau was the secret son of Fidel Castro, I laughed. The photos showed a striking resemblance between the two, in contrast to the apparent absence of family resemblance between Pierre Trudeau and Justin Trudeau. I thought it was funny because of the hero-worship of Trudeau on the part of liberals who see him as the shimmering saviour of West Wing-style politics, and the horror I imagined them contemplating the possibility that he was the immediate descendent of a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary to whom they had dedicated so much time reviling in recent days. (It was nothing against Canada, even if it does need to rein in its ambassadors)

Then I realised the whole thing was not so funny. To be clear, I could not care less if Trudeau is the son of Trudeau (which he probably is), or Fidel Castro, or if he was raised by wolves in the tundra. The first thing that made it feel a bit off was the reference, in the article I read and shared, to Castro ‘committing genocide against his own people’: a false claim, albeit not unusual, given comparisons made between Fidel Castro and Hitler, or Fidel Castro and Mussolini, that were commonplace in recent days. For examples of these beyond the usual Miami sources, consult recent copies of the Irish Examiner.

Following this I saw a similar piece getting shared, through my Facebook news feed, from Milo Yiannopolous. The themes in this piece, and the accompanying commentary, were altogether racist and fascist. The way of understanding the story, along these lines, was as follows: Canada is not a proper white nation. This is because its head of government was cuckolded by a Latino beast from the south. Therefore Canada as a nation is racially impure and deficient in white masculine vigour. The nation’s figurehead is a mongrel, and is likely incubating (no pun intended) Bolshevik ideology so as to unleash it at some point upon an unsuspecting, naïve and weak populace. The appeal here for Nazis who believe that such attributes as political views and even language are genetic should be fairly obvious.

What bothers me here is not the fact that I shared the piece initially, but rather how I perceived the matter of whether it was true or not. Some things are so plainly untrue, so ridiculous, that it is obvious that by sharing them you are not endorsing the truth of the claim. But this is different since, in fact, there is indeed a striking resemblance between Fidel Castro and Justin Trudeau, and the matter of whether it is true or not is also, albeit for different motives, a matter lent weight by Nazis.

To elaborate: the British writer and Owen Jones wrote a piece yesterday in which he outlined his thoughts on Cuba. For him, Fidel Castro was a dictator and Cuba should not be seen as a model to follow. He prefaced his piece with a reference to a ‘revolutionary leftist in Spain’ who had called him ‘spokesman for Soros’ bitch mother’. I found this disturbing. Not Jones’s views, but the claim that he had been apparently referred to as such by a revolutionary leftist in Spain. I have spent some time in the company of leftists in Spain who see themselves as part of revolutionary traditions. Nothing I have ever encountered suggested a leaning towards antisemitic conspiracy theorising of this nature. So, I did some searches – things like ‘Owen Jones Soros puta madre’ and indeed, on Twitter, he had received abuse of this nature. I could not find any instances of people identifying as being part of the revolutionary left, but I’m prepared to believe Jones that it did.

This raised a couple of questions for me. First, why would someone maintain Owen Jones was in the pay of George Soros -who is the subject of conspiracy theories both overtly and covertly antisemitic? As I remarked to people, this seems a long way from theorising about Rothschild Central Banks. I then realised that it was not: earlier in the day I had seen tweets circulating that the reason Castro’s death was being celebrated, the reason Cuba was being subjected to such hostility from mainstream news sources and politicians, was that Cuba was one of the few countries in the world left that does not have a Rothschild Central Bank (a recurring theme in neo-Nazi propaganda). It is no great leap from this to concluding that prominent critics of Cuba, perhaps especially prominent critics of the left-wing variety, were being funded by George Soros.


The second question was whether it was true that a revolutionary leftist made this claim about Owen Jones. There is, of course, no absolute definition of what a revolutionary leftist is. I can only propose a working definition. A revolutionary leftist is someone whose ultimate goal is the abolition of class society. Within this definition, people may differ on the ways and means of achieving this. But antisemitic conspiracy theories are not concerned with the abolition of class society. Rather, they are concerned with how the old world is being corrupted and undermined by shadowy tentacular forces who, to cite a common motif, seek the imposition of a ‘New World Order’.

In the figure of George Soros, and previously in figures like the Rockefellers and Bernard Baruch, the problem is never capitalist class society as such, or even the accumulation of vast wealth, but rather the particular purposes to which this wealth is devoted, or imagined to be devoted. These are schemes imagined as undermining existing society to the detriment of ‘the people’: basically, in Europe and North America in particular, white people whose rights are a function of their whiteness. In this light we can see the appeal of Donald Trump to Nazis and antisemites: he is a white billionaire, he accumulates vast wealth, but he is clearly on our side, rather than the side of the degenerates, terrorists and subspecies.

By this working definition, it is not possible to act as a revolutionary leftist and uphold conspiracy theories of this character. Not least because one would expect a revolutionary leftist to have sufficient consciousness of the fact that the first people to be liquidated under fascist regimes would be people like them. It is of course possible, however, for someone to act contrary to how they present themselves. Most people do this – including Nazis posing as revolutionary leftists (cf. Trump advisor Steve Bannon presenting himself as a ‘Leninist’), and so we need to be careful.

Whatever the media conniptions about ‘post-truth politics’, whatever the vogue for ‘fact-checking’ as a substitute for actual political debate, being able to distinguish between what is true and what is false matters. If revolutionary leftists in Spain are calling Owen Jones a Soros puppet that indicates the revolutionary left has a problem. If Owen Jones or anyone else, however, is not able to tell the difference between a revolutionary leftist and a Nazi, I suggest that is a bigger problem.

The bigger problem is also expressed in variants of so-called ‘horseshoe theory’, which, ironically, emanate from precisely the same sources that denounce ‘post-truth politics’. The smirking self-contradiction of a Donald Trump, who thrives on the feeling that it does not matter one way or the other, can be mapped onto would-be political scientists and avowed experts who cannot distinguish between someone who campaigns to close down migrant detention centres on the one hand with someone who wants to fill them up on the other, between someone who wants to expand women’s rights and someone who wants to eliminate them, between someone who seeks the democratisation of politics and someone who wants all decisions over what matters to be in the gift of those with the greatest financial power.

As far as conspiracy theories are concerned: for any particular claim about Soros that springs up, not only does the truth not matter, but there is a release of excitement that comes from making these connections, a feeling that it’s all being pieced together now, that the reality of the conspiracy is making its shape known. We need to get beyond the idea that such theorising is merely the work of isolated and paranoid individuals -though they are a necessary condition for them to spread. They are actively promoted by people who may know very well that the particular claim has no basis in fact, but no matter: they create an ambience of confusion and paranoia and the release of vindictive inclinations. In this process the annihilation of being able to make any political distinction between true and false is all to the good. If we are deprived, or we deprive ourselves, of the means of making these distinctions, the consequences are quite clear: the Nazis win.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

More reflections on Cuba

'This year my daughter qualifies as a doctor. Thank you.' Claudia Yilén Paz Joa via Cubadebate

‘This year my daughter qualifies as a doctor.
Thank you.’
Photo: Claudia Yilén Paz Joa via Cubadebate



Cuba is going through a period, not just a moment, a thrilling period of changes. I think they were changes that reality had been incubating, that were not born like Athena from the head of some god. They were born from the energy accumulated by a society that is capable of changing, and that is the proof that it is alive.

Eduardo Galeano, visiting Cuba in 2012.

It’s important to stress that Fidel Castro was not a doctor or nurse, nor was he a schoolteacher. So when the Cuban health and education systems are widely -and rightly- praised, it needs to be borne in mind that there is no single figure with whom it originated, nor a single figure maintaining it. These are things built collectively, and we should not fall into the trap of thinking that they begin or end with Fidel (who was well aware of this), and hence that their defence in the here and now is neither here nor there.

One frustrating thing has come to the fore for me in recent days. I’m not sure how best to describe it, but it is something like the luxury people afford themselves of applying universal criteria to a particular situation of which they only have a partial understanding, combined with a refusal to see how that particular situation fits in with a broader whole. It might be summarised and simplified as hypocrisy, but there is more to it than that.

Let us take the example of people of the repressive aspects of Cuba following the Revolution. I agree completely with the idea that you cannot excuse repression simply because it occurs under straitened and dangerous circumstances. But a lot of people, while acknowledging the fact of US imperialism, place it, and its consequences in Cuba, on a plane of equivalence to internal repression by the Cuban authorities.

Thus people say “Yes, US imperialism is terrible but even so…” I get the feeling that this ‘It’s terrible but..’ operates as the same kind of disavowal you hear in “I’m not racist but..” (and more genteel variations). The effect is to say: let’s set aside US imperialism for the moment.

But what justifies your decision to set it aside? What allows you to separate one thing from the other in this way? What actual values and principles underpin your criticism of Cuba at this particular moment?

In his book with Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel Castro talks about witnessing, in the Sierra Maestre, the bombing conducted by the Batista regime with rockets provided by the US. He writes a message saying it will be his destiny to fight against the United States. Then, reflecting on this forty or so years later, he talks about the millions killed and mutilated in Vietnam, the destruction of the Vietnamese jungle with napalm, and:

the tortures in the prison at Abu Ghraib, the use of white phosphorous in Fallujah… Look at the dictatorships they imposed, the torturers educated by tens of thousands in institutions created for that in the US, those who ‘disappeared’ ten or twenty or thirty thousand Argentinians, whose children were stolen from them; I saw those who “disappeared” more than one hundred thousand Guatemalans- “disappear!”. If you add to this the repression in Chile and you add all the horrible things that have happened, a Dominican Republic in tremendous difficulties, with the Trujillo regime supported by the North Americans, created by them, the same as that of Somoza in Nicaragua…

One may be entirely at odds with the way that Cuba is run now, and how it was run with Fidel Castro in command. But I cannot see how an onlooker with little to say otherwise about the events Castro names above -which are all facts- can suspend these facts from view when considering Cuba, and leave it at that.

That is, if Fidel Castro was wrong, what was the right way of confronting this? I should stress: this does not mean Fidel Castro was right. It means that you have to have an alternative in mind, and one that goes beyond abstractions such as ‘movement from below’, or ‘respecting human rights’, and into concrete actions.

If you have no proposal -and I do not have any great solutions myself- then by default, you are saying the alternative is to submit.

This is not a matter of counterfactual history either. These facts are present in the here and now. It will not do to express admiration for Cuba’s health and education system whilst having nothing to say about a global dynamic that seeks to eliminate even the possibility that such achievements can be built or maintained anywhere. It will not do to be concerned about the oppression of LGBTQ people in Cuba -which was real, and horrific for those subjected to it, but major advances have been made- and yet have nothing to say, for example, about the disastrous consequences for LGBTQ people in Honduras following the US-backed coup in 2009. The continuum of life on this planet is not so easily split into discrete parcels. As Sartre said: we are all in the same soup.

In far too many cases, my sense is that this criticism I have described is mere opportunism, and that it has nothing to do with a genuine interest in what Cubans actually think, what they have fought for and indeed continue to fight for, or even with a preparedness to try and reach the facts of the matter.

What is interesting for me here, and ironic too, is that when I was in Cuba I spoke with plenty of people about politics, not only in relation to Cuba (and yes, they were often very critical of how things were going there) and the US, but throughout the world.

What I found -and I see no need to claim that this is representative, but it is one of the abiding memories of being there- was that they were better at listening than me, better at asking questions than me, more knowledgeable about the world than me, and better at dialogue. On reflection now it seems to me that people in these parts are far too quick to luxuriate in the criticism of the absence of democracy and democratic culture elsewhere, when they have not even thought about building their own yet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Beacons of Human Rights

There are 10.3 million people in Haiti. The UN estimates that there are 130,000 people living with HIV there, of whom some 9,500 are children under 14.

There are 11.3 million people in Cuba. The UN estimates that there are 22,000 people living with HIV there, of whom less than 100 are children under 14. The prevalence rate among adults aged 15 to 49 is estimated at 0.3%. In Haiti it is 1.7%.

One of the biggest private investors in Haiti is Digicel, mostly owned by Denis O’Brien. Denis O’Brien, though an Irish citizen, is resident in Malta as he does not wish to pay more tax in Ireland. He owns newspapers and radio stations in Ireland, all of which spread the common sense that the country should be run like a business, that low corporation taxes are proper order, that public services should be privatised, and that public sector workers hold the country to ransom. The Beacon Hospital group, also owned by Denis O’Brien, is part of a major provider of private healthcare in Ireland.

Strangely enough, we do not hear a great deal in Ireland about the human rights of people with HIV in Haiti.


Beacon: Ireland’s capitalist paradise

The Beacon Hospital group has a hospital in Sandyford, built during the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, with tax break investments and Ulster Bank debt. Former Taoiseach and minister for health, Brian Cowen, is a non-executive director of the Beacon Hospital group. Its Deputy CEO, Brian Fitzgerald, was previously CEO of St. James’s Hospital, a public hospital. Its Chairman, Colm Doherty, was appointed managing director of AIB bank in November 2009, following the €21bn State bailout of the bank. He was paid €432,000 in salary, €707,000 in a termination payment, and a cash payment of €2m, following his ten months in charge.

Strangely enough, there is not much in the press as to why Ireland does not have universal healthcare.

The plain facts of Ireland’s two-tier health system -foremost among these the fact that wealth determines your health- seldom make headline news. We hear stories broadcast of its disasters, and in many cases these are followed by advertisements for the Beacon Hospital or the Blackrock Clinic. It all appears to have nothing to do with human rights.

What has made headline news, in the past two days, is Michael D Higgins’s -perfectly sensible and correct- statement on Fidel Castro’s passing. Apparently Cuba’s human rights record is the problem. The concern with human rights anywhere, on the part of Ireland’s media and political establishment, is news in itself. It is hard to recall any questions raised about Britain’s human rights record in Ireland -its death squads, its torture of prisoners, its shoot-to-kill policies- when the British head of state was given a lavish reception back in 2011. Nor for that matter when the Saudi flag was flown at half mast on official buildings following the death of its head of state. Well, questions were raised, but only by those habitually classified as troublemakers and malcontents. And they were ignored. As for Shannon Airport, used to transport prisoners to Cuba for torture -but in Guantánamo Bay- well, the rights of local people to sell sandwiches to US troops have to be borne in mind.

Whatever about Cuba and Fidel Castro, anything that appears as a challenge to capitalism, in capitalist societies, will either be demonised or incorporated by the mass media and commercial firms. It was not so long ago that a private health insurance provider in Ireland -Vivas- (even the name suggests a rally of revolutionaries) ran a TV ad campaign advertising its products, which, let us recall, are designed to allow people with money to skip the queue for healthcare, with a Fidel-like figure announcing a revolution in healthcare, to the acclaim of cheering crowds. No human rights concerns were raised.

You see, the current manufactured outrage about Michael D Higgins marking the death of Fidel Castro has absolutely nothing to do with a concern for human rights in Cuba and everything to do with making sure that the public at large doesn’t start getting any crazy ideas about socialism that an informed discussion might arouse.

Across the water, meanwhile, it appears that BBC news is, like its Irish counterpart, far more devoted to the question of human rights in Cuba than ever it was to the question of human rights in that part of the UK where its government ran death squads and tortured prisoners. I note it is far more devoted to the question of human rights in Cuba than ever it was to the British government’s plans for the UK army to opt out of the European convention on human rights. I see them, and I see all the grandstanding media commentators and columnists with Oxbridge degrees masquerading as the guardians of true left values. They all deserve to be swept away by a hurricane, like the one in the final pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Notes on finding things out about Cuba


‘Raul is dead’

This is about Cuba, but about access to accurate information more generally.

There are many claims made about Cuban society, history and politics, and Fidel Castro in particular, that are bizarre and untrue, but they are intended to perpetuate a negative image, not only of Castro and Cuba, but also of any challenge to capitalism. There are also many such claims that offer a negative image of Castro and Cuba because they are true.

It is always important to distinguish myth from reality, but particularly important, I feel, in relation to Cuba, precisely because the US sought to make an example out of it, to teach peoples around the world what would happen if they mounted resistance to capitalism. Part of this entailed circulating myths about it.

Contrary to the notion that we have landed rather abruptly in a ‘post-truth’ society, the dominant picture offered up of Cuba in Western societies has always been a deliberate distortion. Of course, in order to make the distortion convincing it is necessary to provide elements of truth.

Let’s recognise that this distortion has been a means of propagating indifference to the miseries inflicted on the Cuban people by US imperialism, and of justifying the miseries inflicted. What is more, this distortion has always ignored the remarkable efforts of the Cuban people in seeking to overcome these miseries, and preferred to present them as mere pawns in the game of a malevolent Castro.

Let’s recognise, moreover, that a key purpose of the miseries inflicted was to undermine support for Castro and the Cuban Revolution both inside and outside Cuba.

None of this should be taken as seeking to diminish any of the shortcomings or excesses of the Cuban Revolution, which are real and considerable. But it is important not to repeat myth as fact. The trouble is that separating myth from fact, not least in this particular case, requires work, attention, inquiry and discussion.

Let me give one example. A while ago, a British writer made the claim on Twitter, repeating a claim on the US website The Daily Beast, that George Orwell was banned in Cuba. To me this claim did not ring true. And so I asked a Cuban journalist -one who had recently published articles criticising government policy- to confirm. He said it was false.

When I brought this claim to the attention of the writer in question he said, in high-handed dismissal, that the journalist was unreliable because there was no freedom of expression in Cuba. So, I went and gathered substantial evidence that the claim was false. Now it was also the case that there had been so-called ‘independent libraries’, apparently funded by the US Interests Section in Havana, which had been the subject of investigation by the Cuban authorities. And so it had been claimed that ‘Orwell was banned in Cuba’ because Animal Farm and 1984 were supposedly among the titles being circulated by these ‘libraries’. Well, the point is that all this requires time and effort to unpick and get to the truth, and in the end I was not able to complete in good time what I set out to do. As such, I ‘lost’ the argument.

Let’s take the particular example of ‘freedom of expression’ in Cuba. It is all very well to say that there is insufficient freedom of expression in Cuba. In fact, it is true. But it will not do to claim, on the one hand, that you are in favour of freedom of expression, but on the other, you propagate myths with indifference to the facts or the potential effects of what you are propagating.

Let’s take another example, that of LGBT rights. It is unquestionably true that LGBT people were imprisoned and oppressed following the Cuban Revolution. But it is also true that Castro acknowledged his responsibility in this regard and that substantial progress has been made. Once again, it takes time and effort to get to the truth, not least because there are many who are all too happy to perpetuate the idea that there has been no progress and that the country is irredeemable in this regard (until, of course, it converts to neoliberalism), but also because there is a language barrier and information can be difficult to access. This morning, I spent a couple of hours reading different reports on the treatment of people with HIV, and interviews with Mariela Castro of the National Centre for Sexual Education. The picture to me seems a positive contrast to many of the claims being made. But I am not interested in producing rosy pictures to confirm my own desires, so I need to look at it further. And I might write something about it, or, I might not, given other commitments.

In sum, if people are actually interested in knowing the reality of the situation, as opposed to convenient high-handed dismissals depending on the source, if they actually care about what happens in Cuba and its consequences for the rest of the world, they ought to make some sort of concerted effort to find out, rather than seek out some snappy summation to cement whatever view they hold most convenient.

PS: Readers are likely to recall examples from their own encounters with news media, of major political figures from Western governments speaking about how this or that crime attributed to Muslims did not correspond to the ‘true Islam’, or the ‘real Islam’. They may wish to gather examples, in all the coverage concerning Fidel Castro and Cuba, of similar figures speaking about how Cuba does not correspond to ‘true socialism’. I imagine they will find none, since the image of Cuba, the one media outlets produce, is, as far as they are concerned, a faithful representation of ‘true socialism’, and, as far as they are concerned, any such question regarding what socialism constitutes can now be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Home With No Keys

I was surprised by the death of Fidel Castro. I had expected him to live to 100 at least. That expectation was heightened from witnessing so much lap-frotting down the years from news outlets anticipating his imminent death.

Today I have seen a lot of people give their verdict on Cuba based on a short visit. When I was in Cuba, a woman there gave her verdict on Ireland based on a short visit. I didn’t like Ireland, she said. I was in Leixlip for three months. I stayed in a house there. It was so lonely and cold. Here in Cuba we have scarcity, but we have solidarity.

We had arranged to meet, in front of the Cathedral in Havana, because her son had asked me to deliver some things to her. There was a book fair on that day, and to thank me she gave me an anthology of Gabriel García Márquez’s journalism (there’s a great piece in García Márquez’s book on all the assassination attempts on Fidel). It felt like far too much, since it had been no trouble for me to bring along a consignment of trainers, chocolates, painkillers, razorblades and pens. It also felt strange since I can’t imagine anyone in Ireland giving a book to someone they didn’t know for performing a small favour.

That meeting came to mind by chance a few hours before the news came that Fidel Castro had died. I remembered what she said about the house in Leixlip after I did a translation of a poem by Marcos Ana.

Marcos Ana

Marcos Ana

Marcos Ana, a Spanish poet, died on Thursday. ‘Marcos Ana’ is a pseudonym: Marcos was his father’s name and Ana his mother’s. He was from a poor family of day labourers. He went to the front in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, aged 16, then joined the Spanish Communist Party. His father was killed the following year, in a bombing raid by the Condor Legion of the Third Reich. Marcos Ana wound up in a concentration camp, and was then sentenced to death for murder, and later had the sentence commuted to 30 years in prison, because he had supposedly committed the crimes as a minor. He spent 23 years imprisoned under the Francoist dictatorship.

The image below shows him in Cuba, with Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother. He kept this photo on display in his house.


When Che Guevara was found in Bolivia, the poems of Marcos Ana were found in his rucksack.

Marcos Ana wrote this poem (my translation):

My home and my heart
(dream of freedom)

If one day I go out into life
my home will have no keys:
always open, like the sea,
the sun and the air.

Let night and day come on in,
and the blue rain, the evening,
the red bread of the dawn;
The moon, my sweet lover.

Do not let friendship halt
its steps at my threshold,
nor the swallow its flight,
nor love its lips. No-one.

My home and my heart
never closed: come on in
birds, friends
the sun and the air.

I don’t have much to say about Fidel Castro’s death right now. My feeling is that it would be better to let the general outpouring of idiocy pass. I am talking about the kind of people who have nothing to say about US imperialism in Cuba- invasions, terrorist bombings, swine fever, dengue, and a crippling embargo- and yet feel free to hold forth on human rights in Cuba.

I am talking about the kind of people -in Ireland- whose political and religious forebears backed the efforts of the Condor Legion that wiped out Marcos Ana’s father but who, ignoring such facts, feel free to talk about democracy in Cuba.

I am talking about the kind of people who would have you believe that progress -in the form of free healthcare, or free education, or the right to culture- is a gracious concession from capitalism, and likely just around the corner once the unions have been properly buried and public institutions subjected to market forces, rather than something won through the flesh-and-blood struggle, the solidarity and the conscious striving of many millions, with their symbols of defiance and resistance, and, among them, the poems of Marcos Ana and the example of Fidel Castro.

For this kind of people, the dream of freedom stops at keys to a house. What the rest of us have to fight for is the home with no keys. Hasta siempre.


Filed under Uncategorized

A Note on ‘Narcissism’

For God knows how many months now Donald Trump has been denounced in liberal media and by public figures for his narcissism. He is a narcissist, says Michael Moore, for example, who makes feature documentaries where he is the central character.

Well, maybe he is. I am intrigued though about where this preoccupation with narcissism comes from. I’m no expert on psychoanalysis but from what I recall narcissism was a term that described a tendency, or maybe a striving, inherent in everyone but one that could prove destructive if it could not be somehow transcended. So there is something that sounds a bit wonky to me when someone in particular is identified as a ‘narcissist’.

To me (yes, to me) what seems more important is the fact that Trump is the ultimate incarnation of a greedy capitalist pig (with apologies to pigs). So I wonder why It is self-regard, and not greed, that seems the more deplorable characteristic.

One possibility is that the charge of narcissism is one of the few things you have left in a world where greed is taken for granted. If everyone is compelled to be greedy then no-one needs to be, as they say, called out on it.

Once you assume that the capitalist market is a fine invention then you can view greed in instrumental terms, the way Adam Smith did: who cares if he wants to make as much money as possible if by doing so he contributes to the greater good?

This is a viewpoint shared not only by the likes of the Heritage Foundation but also by someone like Barack Obama. But Obama and the like are able to present this as an endeavour in the service of the greater good, and anyway it seldom gets challenged by whoever is interviewing him or writing about him.

What must make Trump so obnoxious, in this regard, is how he does not play along with this game and instead boasts about how rich he is. It also appears that quite a lot of people like him for it. Maybe they feel a sort of inner liberation from having someone say: I’m really rich, I do whatever the hell I need to to get even richer, and no, I don’t give a shit about anyone, and neither should you if you don’t feel like it.

Then it comes as a shock to people who believe in the magic of representative democracy that so many people in the privacy of the polling booth, where no-one is ever going to judge you as a narcissist, think to themselves: I’m having some of what he’s having.


Filed under Uncategorized