Cormac Caulfield writing in The Pensive Quill sees a link between liberation organisations and authoritarianism.
This piece has been written with the recent controversies surrounding the ‘’dissident’’ Republican movement, (prison scandals, some treatment of activists within the movement and ‘’republican policing’’) although it is not specific only to the Republican grouping and can be generalised across all Authoritarian spheres of political thought and organising, from the Socialist Party on one side of the spectrum, to the Republican movement on the other. It is written from an Anarchist-Socialist (and anti-Imperialist), or classically political libertarian perspective.
Political Authoritarianism is a complex phenomenon but can be defined, partly as, hierarchical organising methods, with top down, centralised command structures, where power is vested in the upper echelons of an organisation/grouping. These structures lead to, most obviously centralised decision making and therefore centralised discipline/control, where the executive organs of a grouping has the authority to impose its will and decisions upon the lower ranks of the group.
Many in the Republican Movement will view recent events within prisons (and outside for that matter) as unconnected from the overall culture and structure of the movement. As being random, isolated events, simply abuses of individuals of others. This is not the case. The abuse and controlling behaviours of those with power within the Republican movement is inextricable linked to the structural and social power they hold within their organisations. e.g. their appointed position of authority within organisations.
Without positions of unaccountable authority abuse of individuals is greatly mitigated and even eliminated in some cases. It is the Capitalist way for abuse to flow down the hierarchy, whether that abuse is emanating from state structures, a corporation, a patriarchal home or a top down ‘’revolutionary’’ organisation. Only the elimination of hierarchical organisation, with proper democratic structures of equality in place, and accountability processes pre-planned, will minimise the possibility of violent abuse.
There will never be a perfect movement where everyone is treated right, all of the time. However, vesting privilege and power into the hands of a few is one way to guarantee that power is abused. Whether those wrongs done on people are dealt with in an accountable manner is a question of political choice - not mechanistic determinism.
Power begets power. It is a long standing established empirical fact that power is as addictive and intoxicating as a high on cocaine. The more you have the more it must be tightly watched and more must be had. If people think this is the first round of abuse by those with power of prisoners they are sorely wrong. Anyone who has been close to the Republican Movement has heard the incessant stories of prison bullying, isolation, vilification, prison beatings by so-called comrades, and worse, from the early 70’s, right up to the present day.
These things have all occurred to genuine and venerated anti-imperialist activists when they dared question ‘’the leadership’’. Most republicans can tell stories of comrades who have even died at the hands of other ‘’revolutionaries’’, sometimes from within their own groups, in order to rein in dissent.
These are political choices of individuals, not the results of abstract mechanistic determinism.
The Provo "policing" of the ceasefire has turned poacher into game keeper. The next step is for the current groups to take the same path. Kettling in dissent and funnelling resistance solely through its own organisations, through extreme violence when necessary. The war is over, justifications and calls for "unity" in order to cover up wrong-doings no longer hold any reasonable weight.
These are methods to rein in dissent and highly coercive, brutal ways to create group hegemony, under the all seeing "leadership", which has the authority to do so, as it will guide us to "freedom". A "freedom" which largely means the absence of British Capitalist administration in Ireland, not a meaningful material freedom.
The fact is if people are given undemocratic, unaccountable leverage over others means it will be abused and justified through group think, facilitated through loyalty to the leadership or cause, which, as the "big other", is untouchable or unquestioanble, like God himself. As to question the leadership or its power is "counterrevolutionary", or worse still, "playing into the hands of the Brits".
From prison beatings to shooting children for anti social behaviour, it all come down to one thing - control. Control of organisations, control of movements, control of struggle and control of communities. Without directly democratic and accountable structures, power warps those who wield it, even with the best of intentions.
If any of this sounds familiar its because it is. The Admas/McGuinness leadership used the exact same methods to destroy political opponents and genuine anti-imperialists, to kettle in a potentially revolutionary movement into the corridors of acceptable power and eventually, to completely pull the teeth from a liberatory movement that had the greatest potential in western Europe. All done, facilitated and allowed to happen because of top-down structures.
Every, without exception, authoritarian, hierarchical movements have suffered the same fate throughout history and those today who seek to replicate the militaristic, hierarchical past will fall into the same trap. They are doomed to failure.
All top-down parties that seek power for themselves are authoritarian by nature and deploy any means of acquiring that power in their messianic quest for state authority and therefore the ability to legislate for liberty.
The Socialist Party is another example of authoritarianism, on the other end of the spectrum. It manipulates and splits working class movements to garner and carve out a bit more support for itself, lies and misrepresents its politics etc: viewing the organisation as an end in itself, not a tool to be used for liberation. This happened in the campaign against household and water tax movement, where, once it failed to create its central committee to control the movement, split it through electioneering. Similar stories of isolation, vilification ect (although to a lesser degree - they don't believe in physical force) of dissidents within the party can be heard from many a disgruntled former member.
The same can be seen in the SWP. The well known rape controversy is not shocking for its exceptionalism but for how standard such things are within hierarchical, male dominated movements. Circle the wagons, launch smear/isolation campaigns against those "attacking" the leadership, and therefore "the cause", and eventually destroy all opposition to any kind of dissent.
Sound familiar? All of these things happen within all hierarchical, centralised organisations, with no accountability or recall. Why? Because of the very structural nature of such organisations, and the mentality they engender
From the authoritarian state-socialists of the east, to the republicans of Ireland, hierarchical movements have replicated and reproduced the very structures they sought to destroy, many from the beginning, in a form of symmetrical warfare. Anarchists on the other hand, while not denying the need for force, attempt to create asymmetrical, non-hierarchical structures which will not fall into the trap of the masters - that in reproducing the very exploitation and oppression caused by the systems we seek to destroy.
The seeds of this federalist, autonomous approach has some tradition within the Republican movement itself. The 1916 Societies, although largely commemorative, not political organisations, operate in a way that is not top down or authoritarian, at least from the writer's knowledge. These forms of organisational forms should be encouraged and supported if the mistakes of the past are not to be repeated.