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Today I’ll mostly be… January 27, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
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…over here. Opining at length on “inexorable rises” in politics…

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1. dublindilettante - January 27, 2010

Thanks for this, WBS, a very thoughtful and well-argued analysis as ever. I disagree with much of it, largely because (to a mind prejudiced against this notion), a lot of it reads like special pleading for what I would consider your fairly promiscuous definition of “the left.” I think the point about revolutions is that they tend to be inconceivable until they happen, which is what makes them revolutions.

I don’t know that I agree with the statement that we’ve missed the boat in terms of revolutionary sentiment. What has to be borne in mind is that this is essentially an apolitical, pre-ideological society in which popular anger has no political outlet, and in which the entire apparatus of the establishment is working its arse off to make sure it stays that way. What we have is a sort of inverse populism whereby the people feel compelled to compromise their principles to suit what the political class are offering, rather than the other way ’round.

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irishelectionliterature - January 27, 2010

I figure that we’ve missed the boat due to the decisions that have been already made. Bank Guarantees (especially that of Anglo), NAMA and so on. Once these were set in place the goalposts changed.
Had Anglo been let go bust, the main banks merged and the property market left to its own devices we would have a different situation.
Alas at the next election, a new government will have to work within the framework of recapitalising the banks, NAMA and so on. The bailout for the rich has already been done.

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WorldbyStorm - January 27, 2010

That’s an interesting point about revolutions… but it’s also true that they tend to occur at times of massive social dislocation. Is that likely in the near future? Is the dislocation we’ve already seen here which has resulted in an apparent retrenchment of the right (which I think can dovetail with your concept of an apolitical society, in that it becomes an unthinking default option adn that this is where the political forces take their cues from both pro and contra) not profound? But is a more profound one likely? I can’t see it. Not in my lifetime anyhow. And here I wonder about the idea that we’re in a pre-ideological society. I think, and perhaps this is a rosy view of matters, that in the 1970s and 80s this was a much more ideological society. And now it is fundamentally less so, at least in terms of a sense of cohesive alternatives competing, even slightly so. I’m not sure where that leaves us. What I am sure of is that it is essential that there are many voices on the left from the revolutionary all the way through to the mildest forms of social democracy…

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WorldbyStorm - January 27, 2010

Irishelectionliterature… I think that’s a very important point. The framework is set in place, for a generation or more potentially. No wonder they want the inquiries to be so toothless. That’s just icing on the cake.

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dublindilettante - January 27, 2010

Not being a fully paid-up Marxist, I’m not putting this forward for ideological reasons, but I think it’s in some ways encouraging that we live in a Marxist state. By which I mean that the ruling elite operates on the basis of a conscious and acute understanding of Marxian class relations. Hence social partnership (a device by which they gave up a hell of the lot, at the time, for the glittering prize of nipping class struggle in the bud), hence the demonisation of striking workers etc. The establishment are like bookies; it’s generally safe to assume that the threats they guard against are real. The fact that they’re still on their guard regarding class consciousness is an indication that the threat is still live.

I don’t think we’ll see it in my lifetime, either, but then this recession hasn’t played out yet, not by a long shot. A lot of the people who underpin the regime won’t take the hit until the next budget. I do think that the left could further its purpose by putting forward concrete alternatives rather than preaching fire and brimstone to a populace which is depressed enough as it is.

I’m not sure we have been through the ideological phase yet. I think there’s a danger of conflating academic and media fads (and this is a country that’s highly susceptible to intellectual fashion) with popular feeling. The only party which has succeeded on ideological grounds in this country’s recent history was the PDs, and they bottomed out pretty quickly.

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WorldbyStorm - January 27, 2010

I’d agree with pretty much everything you’re saying dublindilettante. I think you’re right about the PDs, about the nature of our ruling elite and about the response from parts of the left. How it all plays out though…

It’s funny. I’m a marxist, but of a very critical sort. I dislike the term post-marxist though… it detaches too much from marxism, and as you say, the ruling elites get marxism intuitively, albeit from a different direction.

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Garibaldy - January 27, 2010

I’ve yet to meet an actual conservative who didn’t realise there was a class struggle. It’s basically the social democrats who deny it. And the caring conservatives. A phrase you don’t hear much nowadays.

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WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2010

Absolutely G. I really hate it when people say ‘class doesn’t matter’… Yeah, right. For them.

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Tomboktu - January 28, 2010

The only party which has succeeded on ideological grounds in this country’s recent history was the PDs, and they bottomed out pretty quickly.

The legal entity that is the PDs may have bottomed out, but their spirit lives on: Madam at the helm in the I.T., the bright new things in the Fine Gael parliamentary party, current and rising senior officials in the Dept Finance …

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alastair - January 28, 2010

As a self-proscribed Social Democrat, and watery liberal, I’d dispute that class struggle plays much of a role in this country. Class certainly matters, just not very much. The ambiguous class that our ‘ruling elites’ stem from is pretty much a case in point – our political leadership has predominantly sprung from humble enough backgrounds – Bruton and Fitzgerald the notable exceptions in recent years. Likewise many of the captains of industry here don’t really fit the class struggle bill – Johnny Ronan, Tony O Reilly, Sean Quinn, the Murtagh brothers, Michael Smurfit, etc – mostly fall into the ‘muck and brass’ school of getting rich.

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dublindilettante - January 28, 2010

In fairness, Alastair, if your understanding of class in this context relates to the backgrounds of people with money, you may have missed the point of the debate somewhat.

PS: The only other person in Ireland who describes himself as a social democrat is Dermot Lacey, I’m not sure you want to be in that company.

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alastair - January 28, 2010

No – I’m not talking about money – I’m talking about the class that many of these people (the ‘ruling elites’) actually came from. Is there a mysterious third strand to the ‘ruling elites’ that I’m missing out on?

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2. Dr. X - January 27, 2010

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Off topic, I know, but I just thought I’d post that as a wee reminder.

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Crocodile - January 27, 2010

If you can, watch the tv programme, I was a Child in Belsen, featuring dubliner Tomi Riechenthal, showing tonight. Even better, go to see the man speak. He’s driven by the need to tell as many children as possible what he saw, so that they can tell their children. Incredible – and all too credible.

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3. dublindilettante - January 28, 2010

Alastair, the ruling class in this context relates to the tiny minority of people who control the economic system and receive the profits, by whom and on behalf of whom the state is run. Tony O’Reilly may be from what is colloquially termed a “working-class” background (I don’t know that he is, actually; are there many Belvo old boy rugby internationals who are?) but he runs his businesses and his newspapers in the interests of his class, the ruling class. Organised labour is the biggest single threat to the hegemony of that class, hence the campaign against it.

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4. alastair - January 28, 2010

You’d be surprised – you get all sorts turning up in Belvo.

Seems to me that you’re not concerned about class at all – if the only prerequisite for the ‘ruling class’ is that they have economic or political leverage. Once organised labour exert the same leverage, are they not in exactly the same boat?

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dublindilettante - January 28, 2010

Well…yeah. That’s kinda the point. That the state and economy is run democratically by the vast majority for the benefit of everyone, rather than by a tiny minority for the benefit of themselves. I know you don’t agree with that, but that’s the context in which we were discussing class, which I think you misunderstood (understandably, if you’re not of like mind.)

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5. Son of Toil - January 28, 2010

Tony O’Reilly isn’t from what anyone would consider a working-class background. Bill Cullen is. Michael O’Leary isn’t- neither is Dermot Desmond. Harry Crosbie is.
But that is not the point, It’s what they own or control, not their accents or the schools they went too. In general though, the super-rich recreate themselves.
A union may for example have particular power (seldom if ever used) to shut down parts of the economy. But their members don’t own it.
Alastir would probably consider nurses middle-class (and many nurses themselves would agree) but by virtue of their position in society I would say they are part of the working-class.

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6. alastair - January 28, 2010

The problem there is that a Marxist perspective on class pretty much just comes down to how much money you’ve got in your pocket – which, all limitations of social mobility aside, has only a limited relationship with economic and political leverage. We live in a state which is democratically run, and the will of the electorate is the greatest determinant of social and economic policy – for all the leverage that the ruling ‘class’ might apply.

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dublindilettante - January 28, 2010

Alastair, if you seriously believe “the will of the electorate is the greatest determinant of social and economic policy” then I think we’re too far at cross purposes to usefully discuss anything. The recent draconian budget, A: Would never have been passed by referendum and B: Was drafted by Brussels and the IMF, and not by any body accountable to the people to whom it applied.

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7. alastair - January 28, 2010

Eh, nope. The people we elected drafted the budget according to frameworks that we voted to work within. We never have a referendum on the budget, bar the one at GE time.

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8. John Green - January 29, 2010

Hi Alastair

I’m not a Marxist either, and only a post-Marxist in the sense that I used to be a Marxist 30 years ago, but I do know that class in Marxist terms is not determined by the amount of money in your pocket but by your relationship to the means of production. Regardless of where someone comes from, if their social position means that their income is derived from extracting profit from the exploitation of the labour of others, they’re members of the Bourgeoisie. Class is thus a social relation. Of course, it isn’t the sole determinant of social structure and mobility by any means; sex, race, age, sexual preference, geographical location, all sorts of historical factors contribute to shaping a society. But class is nonetheless a permanent feature and consequently so is the struggle between classes for a share of the pie.

You can argue that class isn’t solely determined by relations to the means of production, of course. There are consumption-based theories of class or Bourdieuvian and Weberian theories that combine class with status and cultural capital, but then they wouldn’t be Marxist theories.

Where’s Conor? ;-)

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