Socialist Worker

Oppressed people aren’t always united

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2647

Bigot and zealot Patrick Peyton

Bigot and zealot Patrick Peyton


Father Patrick Peyton would have opposed teaching about LGBT+ relationships in schools. Happily he is dead, but unfortunately he did not take his bigotry with him.

When Peyton was alive in the early twentieth century Britain ruled all of Ireland. It fought a brutal war and partitioned the country to prop up British imperialism.

Peyton became a celebrity in the US during the 1940s with his slogan, “The family that prays together stays together.”

He toured South America with a “Recite the Rosary” crusade in the 1950s. Nothing about the repression of Catholics in Ireland made him progressive.

Last year people in Ireland voted in a referendum on abortion rights. Some anti?women bigots used imagery from the 1916 rising against the British Empire to suggest abortion was a foreign plot to depopulate Ireland.

Roger Casement arranged arms shipments to that 1916 rising. He was tried for treason. During his trial the British government leaked diaries that showed Casement had sex with men.

That was enough to stop respectable society from supporting Casement. For most of a century Irish Catholic Republicanism couldn’t deal with the idea that a nationalist martyr had sex with men. The diaries were denounced as fakes.

Contradictory

Casement was more than a sex tourist. But he was a white man having sex with the “natives”.

Movements for anti-colonial liberation often rightly railed against the sexual exploitation of people by foreigners.

People have contradictory ideas under capitalism. There is a contradiction between the reality of class society and the ideas our rulers use to justify that exploitation.

But fundamental change comes from the mass of ordinary people who have these contradictory ideas.

Writing about the 1916 rising Lenin ridiculed those looking for a pure revolution. “To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by the small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petit bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses is to repudiate social revolution,” he said.

“Whoever expects a ‘pure’ revolution will never live to see it.”

Overcoming attempts at divide and rule is just as crucial today. To achieve real unity it is not enough just to declare yourself for equality.

Manifestation

Lenin argued that revolutionaries “should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects”.

There is no automatic “unity of the oppressed”. Suffering racism doesn’t stop you from being sexist or homophobic. The same is true the other way round.

There isn’t even unity within oppressed groups. Class cuts through, the interests of workers and bosses within oppressed groups are irreconcilable.

The founder of the International Socialist Tendency Tony Cliff used the example of a worker on a picket line who makes racist comments.

He argued, “You can say, ‘I’m not standing with him on a picket line. I’m going home because there no one makes racist comments.’ That is sectarianism.

“The other possibility is simply avoiding the question. You say, ‘The weather is quite nice today!’ That’s opportunism.

“The third position is that you argue with this person against racism, against the prevailing ideas of the ruling class. You argue and argue.

“When the scab lorry comes you link arms to stop the scabs.”

Revolutionaries have a duty to be at the forefront of fighting all injustice and oppression.

That means actively opposing prejudice at the top and the bottom of society.


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