By I Am Séamus Fierce
It’s kinda weird to review a film you saw over a year ago, I know. Just after I’d seen it at the pictures, I started writing a review for the SSY blog (RIP). It never got to the publishing stage, and I let it slide. But it gnawed away at me because I knew there was something in it. At the time Julian Assange was dominating the headlines. Recently it’s been the SWP rape crisis. Another deadline came and went (the Ides of March is the 18th) but I was too busy and stressed with attempting to thwart the second coming of Tommy Sheridan.
It’s easy (and right) to point fingers at the Catholic Church and the BBC, but it’s equally important – as well as braver and more challenging – to get our own house in order. Hopefully we’ll see the start of a discussion on how the Left has frequently created the conditions which allow powerful men to abuse with impunity.
If you haven’t seen George Clooney’s 2011 US film ‘The Ides of March,’ I apologise in advance for any spoilers. It’s pretty good, like a 7 out of 10. There’s intrigue, tragedy and treachery, but not much in the way of big laughs or thrills. The hidden mechanics of power are laid bare by writer Clooney, who (funnily enough) decided he was best-placed to star as Governor Mike Morris. Well, the G-Man was right. He’s very convincing in the role of a Democrat politician seeking selection as the Party’s presidential candidate.
Clooney has a reputation in America for being one of those pinko liberal actor types, provoking hostility through such subversive actions as advocating equality and opposing illegal wars. I can’t remember if they specifically took the piss out of him in ‘Team America,: World Police’ but you know the kind I mean.
The movie borrows its title from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a classic text about an imperious leader getting done in by his homie. And there’s a woman involved, or something. (I was gonna read it, but did I mention this article is heavy late?)
‘Ides’ tells the story of 30-year-old Stephen Meyers (played by Ryan Gosling, hubba hubba) a talented and loyal aide to George Cloo… er, Mike Morris. Meyers is pulled and pushed by the competing pressures of doing right by his boss, furthering his own career and keeping the lid on a scandal which could destroy them both.
Operating in the cut-throat, self-interested arena of professional politics, Stephen has undoubtedly mounted the greasy pole. On the other hand, he’s genuinely devoted to Mike, owing to the Governor’s outspokenness and radicalism. Using town hall rallies to defend abortion rights, mock opponents of gay marriage and rail against “the distribution of wealth to the richest Americans by our government”, Clooney is totally believable as the type of Great White Hope that the Left churns out again and again and again. He even talks about challenging the oil industry and ending the dependency on Saudi Arabia. Rad stuff, yo.
With the contest for the Presidential nomination nearing crescendo, character assassination attempts proliferate – both from rival nominees and enemy outsiders. There are echoes of Obama in Morris’s admissions that he may not be “religious enough or experienced enough” for some voters. Behind the scenes though, the bigwigs know that a fresh face is often welcome at the top of the pile, especially one as handsome and quick-witted as the Governor of Pennsylvania. In the modern era of round-the-clock news and soundbite politics, charisma and camera-friendliness count for everything, as discovered by poor old Gordon Brown.
Junior Campaign manager Meyers receives an offer to join another candidate’s team, but rejects it, proclaiming faith in his boss. Morris is, after all, a decorated veteran of the First Gulf War, vocal opponent of the Second. The type that makes everyday ‘muricans go gooey-eyed. Initially it’s all so convincing. Something tells you it must be too good to be true… And so it proves, as Stephen’s world collides with that of Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), a precocious intern, whose outward confidence belies her teenage years and position of vulnerability.
Naturally for a young politico, she is in awe of these important men giving orders and forging alliances. Her father is head of the Democratic National Committee, which opens doors for her career. However, she quickly learns that some of these operators are not-so-smooth, and behind closed doors, their Family Man image is an act. Scenes of a sexual nature ensue, and while she is ostensibly self-assured in these engagements, morning-after male attitudes betray an imbalance in respect.
Through his relationship with the young intern, Stephen stumbles upon information which could be WMD against ‘our’ campaign. Maintaining the pretence of concern for Molly, he meticulously sets about covering up the evidence, paying no heed to her well-being. Corruption and cajoling become necessary, no means too ruthless to prevent the personal-political artifice being shattered at the crucial moment. Gosling becomes an assassin, doing the dirty work demanded by his righteous cause.
What follows is a catastrofuck of almighty proportions. Hubris abounds as the suddenly-unemployed spinmeister learns that a mainstream political machine exists for one reason: preserving itself. He may be talented, he may be principled, but he’s tainted. In this world, he is now surplus to requirements. At this moment, he’s as frozen-out as Molly, whom he personally orders to go home with a few hundred dollars and a lecture about paying for mistakes. The difference between he and she? This power structure can offer him a means to come roaring back through bribery and regicide. She is fated to fade out. Each political faction is a cell, but they form a whole with its own self-replicating logic. The lower down the food chain you are, the greater the likelihood you’ll be chewed up and spat out.
I’ve probably ruined the film enough for you, but suffice to say the Good Guy turns out to be anything but. He triumphs regardless. Him and his disciple fall out, then cobble together a pact, putting the coffee-and-doughnuts guzzling admiral (Zara) out to pasture, his final resting place a consultancy job with a million-$ salary. Molly’s story is covered up and forgotten. She is collateral damage. Sure, no-one really meant for bad stuff to happen to her, but there’s no danger of any of these players being held to account. When you’re operating at their level, any bad deed can be explained away as an accident.
What struck me is how familiar this process felt. I’ve never been to America, nor have I been a member of a big political party with hunners of money. But it’s a pattern that’s played out so often in politics, you start to wonder whether these dudes all went to some International School of Bastardry.
IRL, the main influence Clooney drew on was probably John Edwards, who repeatedly stood for the Democratic nomination. He never came close to actually winning, but he was always taken seriously, combining a pretty face, strong debating style and leftish populism. Edwards was a friend not just to mythical Middle America, but to the Blue Collar Worker, and an ally in the battle for women’s rights. Edwards’ ‘man of the people’ act was always pretty transparent (he used to get $400 haircuts) but the family man reputation he relied upon was destroyed by the revelation that he’d secretly fathered a child with his mistress while his wife was dying. He spent a couple of years denying the truth, which always makes it so much worse.
Much closer to home, my Sheridan alarm went off several times while watching this. Not because of any resemblance between The Cloon and the ex-SSP convenor (sorry Tam). It was more the mixture of charm/smarm, populist tub-thumping, and clinical determination to maintain a false public image, with hypocritical spousal devotion, e.g. “We have a normal marriage, which means when we disagree, she wins.” That one was obviously from the film, as Tommy usually throws in MA WIFE LOVES SHOPPIN for good measure.
His 3-year prison sentence for perjury means he is barred from standing for office until the Scottish elections of 2016. With just over 3 years til then, the rehabilitation apparently starts now. Opportunities to turn on the xmas lights at George Square/release nudey calendars have failed to materialise, so a return politics probably seems like a good way to pay the mortgage. Having been legally prevented from taking a seat on the Govanhill Baths Community Trust, the campaign against the ‘Bedroom Tax’ is offering him a handy place to hang his hat. In some ways it’s ideal: lots of normal people involved, dazzled by his celebrity, and more concerned with the threat of losing their home than perceived factional squabbles. His Squalidarity chums have stitched up the “interim committee” of the West of Scotland Federation of campaigns, as part of their plan to transplant the 1980s into the 21st century, allowing him to press palms and shout at rooms full of punters again. Well that plan backfired spectacularly, as the grassroots activists who had got the campaign running have now pulled out of the illegitimate “Federation” entirely.
Mr Shenanigans is a big problem. He is an abuser and proven liar who single-handedly set the Left back 10 years. I am unwilling to work with him personally, or accept his election at any level in the movement. It was a relief to see him buckle under pressure and resign as Secretary of the interim committee last week, though this may only be a temporary reprieve. Suffice to say the political resurrection he’s planning will occur over my dead body. If you don’t understand the hostility, click here for info.
Lessons must be learned about the creation of Sheridan the mythical figure. Successive socialist organisations used his profile as a shortcut for promoting the collective. He was presented as incorruptible (haw!), selfless and passionate. In the 2004-06 period, when he’d been sacked as head of the SSP, but was yet to form his Solidarity splinter, I would catch myself saying “Tommy Sheridan’s party” to punters who didn’t recognise the SSP brand. The danger with building it all around one man (and it is always men) is it becomes easy for enemy forces to bring you down. More than that, the focal point for a personality cult is very likely to become an egomaniac. Seems so obvious now.
Tensions between rival Left factions died down after Sheridan went to jail. Seeds of resentment lay dormant for a couple of years, but have bloomed with his return to the scene. Some of the recent behaviour of his allies has been ugly in the extreme. This aggression can be partly explained by the crisis within the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), who’ve been in freefall since it came to light that they attempted to cover up the rape and harassment of a teenage party member by Martin Smith, their National Organiser. As a cult, they are attempting to keep their members in a permanent state of hyperactivity, so there’s been a redoubling of efforts to rule or ruin every campaign in sight.
As well as featuring in mainstream media here & here, the scandal is being covered extensively in the blogosphere, including a guest post on this site, so I won’t go into too much depth. It’s worth noting though, while Smith was never any use as a media personality, he was an imposing presence within the SWP. Never adverse to physical intimidation or verbal abuse, he was the model “full-timer” enforcer. Swippy brainbug Alex Callinicos used him as an attack-dog in the debates of recent years, in which the leadership have driven out members for questioning Party control-freakery and lack of democracy. One lesson to be learned from this saga is the need to smash the mould of bully-boys being promoted within a hierarchy, which subverts member-led democracy and makes abusive men feel untouchable.
This psychology, of assuming the heroic man must always be right, found expression in the SWP joining other sections of the Left in throwing their weight behind Julian Assange. To their credit, the SWs have since done a U-turn, though as with their kangaroo court’s acquittal of “Comrade Delta”, the secrecy of the discussion leads you to suspect the worst motives. The Assange situation has been disturbing as his popularity has increased since a Swedish arrest warrant was issued following complaints of rape by 2 of his followers.
Taking the Wikileaks founder’s lead in denouncing Sweden as “the Saudi Arabia of feminism”, his supporters have fallen over themselves to smear the victims as CIA agents, and present rape by deception as acceptable behaviour. The blonde bombsite will surely make history as the only person ever to seek asylum from persecution by Swedish women’s libbers. As with Sheridan, some individuals have elevated him to the level of secular sainthood. Many become indignant at the suggestion he could ever do anything wrong, since he’s done some good stuff that got the government mad. And, just as the Sheridanistas did, the Asshatistas have thrown up almost every example of oldschool sexism in the book.
In the future, we’ll look back disdainfully on the idea that the rape allegations were all a state plot. But there’ll probably always exist a small number who believe in far-fetched conspiracy theories. Hell, on demos in London you still bump into the occasional Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP) member. In the 1980s they were like a pimped-up version of the SWP, with a daily newspaper funded by Colonel Gaddafi and a host of celebrity donors recruited by Vanessa Redgrave (yes, really). Cultishness and a macho hierarchy were in full effect, and surprise surprise, their nasty bastard leader, Gerry Healy, took advantage to abuse a series of young female members, getting away with it for decades. When it finally came to light, a cover-up was attempted, the victims were blamed, and CIA involvement was alleged. Sound familiar?
It’s frustrating and tragic that we have thus far failed to learn from these mistakes. For the sake of the victims and the safety of all women in our groups/campaigns/parties, we need to break this cycle by finding new ways of organising. It must be horrible to face the choice of dropping out of the cause you believe in or having to face someone who has harmed you. Worse still must be when you’ve been brave enough to speak out, the guy seems to have gone away, but reappears. Well spare a thought for women in Nicaragua, where “socialist” President Daniel Ortega is in office for the 2nd time, despite his stepdaughter revealing he abused her from the age of 11. He claimed immunity from prosecution as a member of Parliament, and a 5-year time-bar on investigating accusations meant no action was taken.
Ortega’s role in overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship as part of the 1979-1990 Sandinista revolution means that to this day many of his supporters immediately reject any notion of wrongdoing. Socialism without feminism is nothing, yet here we have another example of those who expose sexual violence being cast as somehow “counter-revolutionary”. Ortega’s politics drifted rightwards, and when he was re-elected to head office in 2006, most of the mainstream media welcomed him as a “moderniser” and “more Lula than Chavez” – meaning he would allow multinational corporations to benefit from the country’s wealth rather than use it for the people. The intersection of unaccountable leaders, abuse of women and selling out of socialist policies is the key weak spot we must address in attempts to build 21st-Century socialism.
The ‘New’ Sandinistas have been able to make some modest reforms in government, certainly more so than the right-wing opposition would have done. This has partly been made possible by their affiliation to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), spearheaded by Venezuela’s recently-deceased President Hugo Chavez. In many ways, El Comandante was the exception that proved the rule – no-one can deny that his personal profile was a key factor in the historic process underway in Venezuela since 1998. The liberal press painted him as a dictator, while I once heard a Venezuelan Marxist describe him as “a straw in a hurricane”. Chavez was neither. Or halfway between the two. You know what I mean. Definitely part of the caudillo mould of Latin American strongmen, his colourful personality and decisive leadership transformed him into the physical embodiment of the revolution. Unlike Lenin a century ago, el Presidente actively encouraged this process, though it is difficult to claim that he did so for particularly cynical reasons.
Despite the success of the Bolivarian project up til now, it would be folly to attempt to replace one powerful figurehead with another. Rather, the fate of the Fifth Republic will depend upon the strength of popular power in Caracas, Valencia and across the nation. Indeed this was the only force which kept Chavez in position, especially during the failed coup of 2002. Of the lessons to learn from Venezuela – nationalising industry, expanding public services and entrenching democracy, etc. – cultivating a singing, ranting joker from a military background is not useful for us.
Millions of people have had the scales removed from their eyes, anti-capitalism is changing from fringe fantasy to common sense. The introduction of “reforms” such as the Bedroom Tax and Universal Credit will drive people across the country into conflict with the political and economic system. The debate over independence is increasingly becoming a left-right conflict, with the Radical Independence Campaign offering an opportunity to elaborate a plan for building a new nation, freed from the shackles of the City of London, with its financial fetish and Tory hirelings in Westminster. These ambitions can only be met by harnessing the latent talents of the vast majority of people who are normally ignored and exploited. Our current society engenders a predisposition to hierarchy. We must resist the temptation to defer to a charismatic champion. To do so would set us up for a fall. Our task is to cleanse the Left of machismo by feminising the political space.
“Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.” – Che Guevara.
Since starting this article, the struggle to hold leaders to account and expose those complicit in harming women has continued. The sectarian axis of Sheridanites, Swips and Socialist Party Scotland (not to be confused with Scottish Socialist Party) barred us from speaking at a planning meeting for last Saturday’s Bedroom Tax demo, then had the cheek to stick Dave Sherry, of SWP-Disputes-Committee-acquitting-Martin-Smith fame, on the platform as a speaker. Oh, and they got Tommy to speak at the fringe meeting. Abso ridic. This is a call to arms: rape apologists and dishonest abusers cannot be allowed to be representative of social movements, and obscure wee Trot sects cannot be allowed to seize control. They’ll just fuck it up by doing things like cutting the number of disabled speakers at demos. Yup, that really happened.