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A Lot Done …… December 30, 2010

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Ethics, Fianna Fáil.
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No surprise as Bertie Ahern announces he is to Step down from his role as a TD

Maman Poulet has his retirement speech here

Thinking back on his legacy , his role in the Good Friday Agreement is the one thing that will stand out.
Other than that there are naturally a lot of small things but his eventual downfall showed he , despite the carefully crafted image, was as bad as Haughey, Lawlor , Burke et al.
What he allowed Grainne Carruth go through shred the last bit of decency from his image.

Oh and despite his wonderful reputation as a constituency worker he could never do anything about my late Grandaunts water pressure on Broadstone Avenue!

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1. Jack Jameson - December 30, 2010

And one of Bertie Ahern’s parting gifts to his constituents in Dublin’s north inner city on one of his rare visits to the Dáil lately was to vote to cut the minimum wage.

His ever-loyal Baldrick, Cyprian Brady, also voted with him to cut the minimum wage.

Bye bye, Bertie. What about Brady?

sonofstan - December 31, 2010

Brady hasn’t a chance – I wouldn’t be surprised if he develops a bad back over the next few weeks, and takes the pension. Mary Fitzpatrick might have a slim chance, being outside the Bertie camp.

Jack Jameson - December 31, 2010

Unless she falls victim to the FF fall-out – she’ll still have that Fianna Fáil albatross round her neck.

Mark P - December 31, 2010

Best thing that could happen to Fitzpatrick is for her to get shafted at the selection convention and then run as a victimhood independent.

2. Chet Carter - December 31, 2010

So farewell then Cute Hoor Number 2. With a bit of dis and a bit of dat, you did your best for de people of Dublin North Central. Charlie, Cute Hoor Number 1, is looking down on you approvingly. You made your money and got out while you are ahead.

3. Jonathan - December 31, 2010

“People Before Politics” as long as those people have given him a dig-out, or were his mates … Good riddance to him.

neilcaff - December 31, 2010

Rule Number… well not 1 but definitely in the the top 20 of politics is never trust people who say things like ‘People before Politics’ or ‘above politics’ or ‘lets not make things political’. Anyone who says this is either a) a bullshitter, b) an idiot or c) a conniving bastard trying to cynically exploit people’s mistrust of politics because of the overwhelming amount of cynicism that passes for politics.

ejh - December 31, 2010

I believe Shirley Williams* wrote a book called Politics Is For People.

[*possibly before your time]

4. Dr. X - December 31, 2010

I’m pretty sure I remember an Ahern interview where he tried to claim the credit for the Gregory deal – in spite of the fact that he was not fit to lick Tony G’s boots.

Dr. X - December 31, 2010

Also, how sinister is the lighting and pose in that poster?

WorldbyStorm - December 31, 2010

Very, and you’re right, he did try to claim credit. In his biog IIRC he suggested that Haughey said ‘Gregory will get all the credit but you’re the one who did it…’.

Erm… yes. Well, odd how the deal wasn’t done before TG arrived in the Dáil.

WorldbyStorm - December 31, 2010

Sorry, that should read…

‘You’re going to get your plan, Bertie, but he’s going to get the credit’,

5. sonofstan - December 31, 2010

It’s by now an established narrative trope that Bertie and Mr. Tony ‘brought peace’ to NI – and neither is shy about claiming credit for it. Which makes you wonder what the politicians who had to deliver the deal and work the institutions did the whole time during the negotiations – sat there in slack- jawed admiration at the world class statesmanship being enacted in front of them?

WorldbyStorm - December 31, 2010

I think that’s a very important point sonofstan. This was a process, with all the ugliness and small victories that that entailed. It certainly wasn’t simply down to Ahern and Blair, though of the two I think Blair was more important in the actions that the new LP govt. in 1997 took to push the whole thing onto the road again after a hiatus which was the responsibility of a lot of people, and not just the UK govt. That’s not to say Ahern had no input, but it’s seriously stretching the truth and indeed a misunderstanding of the power relationships at work to conclude that he was utterly pivotal.

Mark P - December 31, 2010

Aside from anything else, Ahern was a latecomer to the Irish government side of the peace process. Reynolds set much of the course.

neilcaff - December 31, 2010

You know as the years go by and I think about those who came before and after him old Albert’s Country’n Western period in office seems to get better and better.

Am I the only on who thinks this?

Mark P - December 31, 2010

Well if you consider who came before and after him as Fianna Fail Taoisigh it’s not all that hard to shine!

WorldbyStorm - December 31, 2010

Mark P, that’s exactly right. Without Reynolds curiously depoliticised (at least on the NI issue) approach I’d guess there would have been much more difficulty pushing the situation forward.

You know neilcaff, you might be onto something there! ;)

Mark P - December 31, 2010

“Depoliticised” is exactly the word, WbS, at least in the sense that it never seemed to much bother Reynolds what a new dispensation would actually look like. The point was to get an agreement which would stop the shooting and the details would look after themselves.

The pragmatism of a man who perhaps wanted a personal legacy more than a particular outcome.

WorldbyStorm - December 31, 2010

Sounds about right to me.

By the way taking the depoliticised thing a bit further or broader, clearly Reynolds was a right of centre pol on other issues, but an arch pragmatist in way that even Ahern strikes me not to have been.

Ghandi - January 4, 2011

Of course Reynold’s Eastern Europe property investments and otehr property related developments had nothing to do with it!!!!!!!!!!!

would put in a smiley here but can’t seem to work out how.

Crocodile - December 31, 2010

Looking back on those talks one wonders whether the northern diehards and ideologues just took a look at Tony and Bertie’s total lack of principles and thought ‘We’ve been doing this all wrong – telling people what we really think and representing the views of the people who voted for us.’

sonofstan - December 31, 2010

:)

One can only imagine the the shock of recognition when Bertie met Tony the first time and each saw an answering emptiness in the other.

WorldbyStorm - December 31, 2010

That’s true too.

In an odd way though it’s clear that Blair himself, from the accounts now available from that period, really did invest enormous time on it. Interesting to work out the psychology of that.

6. Blissett - December 31, 2010

Think Blair would be viewed in a very different way, and possibly in a much more positive light by the general public, had he the same track record as a tory PM, which is what he should naturally have been, he was a born tory. I dont mean that as praise of Blair, but I do wonder how he ended up in Labour.

sonofstan - December 31, 2010

That’s an interesting question, but there’s also a hint of anachronism to it. Blair looks like a Tory now, because Tories now look like him, but when he joined the Labour party, and was first elected an MP, he wouldn’t have fitted into the Conservative ranks at all, but for reasons which have now ceased to signify much.

Remember the Tories in the ’80s enacted Clause 28, something which would have been anathema to Blair and Blairites, and remember too, the not- at- all concealed racism of the Tebbit cricket test. And, if you look at one of the first things Labour did in power was enact devolution legislation, again, something the Tories would never have done. Someone like Blair, who, for all his weird religiosity, is at heart a social liberal, would not have been at home in the Tory party then.

None of which is to deny that the past 30 years in Britain has seen a fundamental continuity of economic policy, from Tory to Labour and back again.

Incidentally, while looking something else up, I found out that all of his kids have Irish passports, by virtue of his mother, who was born in Ballyshannon, with an Orange-ish background: this might be a possible answer to WbS’ question as to his apparent willingness to work hard on the North.

Mark P - December 31, 2010

While you are right to point out that Blair would’t have fit into the Tory Party when he joined Labour (in the 1970s), it’s worth pointing out Blair’s own evolution.

Just as the Labour Party in the mid-1970s was very substantially different from the Conservatives, so too were Blair’s own politics very substantially different from those he would later espouse. He didn’t join the Labour Party as the small-l liberal he would later become. In fact he was on the (very) soft left of Labour at the time, and even claimed to have come to socialism through Marxism.

He was by no means a radical, but he was to the left of the Old Labour right, who in turn were well to the left of the modern Labour Party.

The Labour Party marched continuously to the right after the early 80s and Blair marched in the same direction, albeit faster than most.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1521418/The-full-text-of-Tony-Blairs-letter-to-Michael-Foot-written-in-July-1982.html

7. ejh - December 31, 2010

It’s also possible that he was telling Foot what he thought Foot wanted to hear.

WorldbyStorm - December 31, 2010

That’s an important point. People are self-deceiving and deceptive to others. And in some cases the two can be merged, and I suspect that’s true of Blair. Though I’ve often wondered at the cognitive dissonance he experienced over Iraq in particular.

8. Blissett - January 1, 2011

Really interesting letter all the same, had some valid points, regardless of how genuinely he held them.

9. Chet Carter - January 1, 2011

I don’t believe Blair had any deep held political believes. Indeed, he used this as a selling point to the British electorate, his mantra being ‘what works’. So he was lucky he became Prime Minister when no hard economic decisions had to be made. Pro big business and financial sector policies allied with a large amount of spending on public services.

With regards to Ireland, he also used this to his advantage. He could flit between meetings with Paisley and Adams and convince them both that he was on their side. When the Iraq war decision had to be made the chips were down. He always saw being PM as being a stepping stone to making large amounts of money so he was always going to side with the rich and powerful. This decision politically has brought into the American neo liberal camp but I doubt that he has ever read up on the philosophical roots of neo conservatism – Hayek, Friedman, etc. It’s just where the money is.

Tim Johnston - January 3, 2011

Hayek and Friedman have nothing to do with neo-conservatism.

Blair’s roots make more sense if one explores the Christian Socialist aspect of his philosophy. CS in Britain became a home for the socially-conscious liberal as well as the sort of non-atheist Marxist, and feeds into Blair’s big-government conservatism. Whether he himself was a Tory or not is debateable, but he did ‘big government’ very well.

10. sonofstan - January 2, 2011

Bertie has now decided to stick the boot into Biffo. I don’t recall even Blair descending to quite that level, and he loathed his successor. Class act, the Bert.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

Dismal.

11. Chet Carter - January 3, 2011

SoS – Believe me Blair loathed Brown and he is very happy that Cameron – sonofblair – is the Prime Minister. Both Cameron and Clegg will continue with the Blairite brand of neo liberal economic policies with right on socially liberal policies. Can’t stand trade unions and all those unsophisticated white working class oiks but …
hey, we think gays are great.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons the left has faded into insignificance is that there is no connect between the left and working class people anymore. An obsession with multiculturalism, gay rights, trying to establish links with Islamists, etc doesn’t do anything for a working class that is struggling to survive.

The left has to connect with the emerging low income class in services industries – hotel staff, call centre workers, part time contract workers in the newly privatised public services. It’s going to be hard.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

Yes, one of the more dispiriting aspects of recent interviews with Blair is that he has no visceral antagonism to the Tories. At all. None.

Though I don’t think Islamism is a real issue on the Irish left.

I don’t think that there’s any conflict with gay rights and leftism, but leftism has to be positioned within a genuine effort to support/enable/assist/be there for everyone. And yes, it has to be particularly there for people in the private sector at mid to low income levels. That’s the greatest flaw of so called social partnership where private sector workers were effectively abandoned to tax cuts by the unions/establishment left across the last 15 years, a point where it would have been much easier to recruit them there.

Garibaldy - January 3, 2011

I think Chet’s points chime in nicely with the ongoing debate on here about how the shift towards identity politics – fundamental though things like equal rights for gay people are – have damaged class politics and can be an impediment to (re)establishing them.

sonofstan - January 3, 2011

SoS – Believe me Blair loathed Brown and he is very happy that Cameron – sonofblair – is the Prime Minister.

No argument from me. The point is, he didn’t ever -that I can remember – actually criticise Brown while he (Brown) was still PM the way Bertie did Cowen today.

On your other point – it’s a big question, but also one that needs a nuanced approach: the abandonment of the working- class by the institutional left is one undeniable thread of recent history here and in Britain, but we need to be careful not to see the working class as one thing and ‘gays’ or ‘Islamists’ or the objects of an ‘obsession with multiculturalism’ as something else – there are, after all, gay and Islamic working- class people too – possibly even combined in the same persons.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is the way in which identity politics slots into liberalism, in both its political and market sense, quite neatly – in place of the universalisation demands of both republicanism (small ‘r’) and socialism: both of those discourses require that the citizen understand herself as responsible to and with all others in a relationship of collective sovereignty, whereas identity politics confers political and social power on the individual only as a member of an interest group that much compete with other groups for the attention of the state – and therefore has no material incentive to cooperate with anyone outside that group, since the success of other ‘identity sectors’ could mean a smaller slice of the pie for your own ‘identity’.

ejh - January 3, 2011

Unfortunately, one of the reasons the left has faded into insignificance is that there is no connect between the left and working class people anymore.

Yes, but you can’t establish any connections with something that isn’t happening. If there’s no working-class movement and no industrial action of any significance, then there’s nothing for people to latch on to.

It was easy when I was younger – there were big strikes all the time and the miners’ strike started in my first year at college. All my youth, the importance of the labour movement was simply taken for granted by anybody interested in radical politics. You couldn’t miss it and you couldn’t avoid it.

But in the last twenty years or so, that hasn’t been true. So of course people have gone in other directions. Other things, other issues have been prominent. Now to somebody like me, bread-and-butter, wages and conditions, have always been at least as important as identity politics, but I can’t expect people twenty years than me to feel the same. And nor would they be likely to be responsive if I laid into them and said “don’t be interested in that stuff, be interested in this stuff instead”. A broad movement is broad.

12. WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

First up very much agree with EJH.

Secondly I’d still argue that in Ireland identity politics superseding class politics hasn’t been the issue not least because it was starting from such a low base, no contraception, no divorce, etc, etc. Yes, some energies were divertged in the campaigns on those issues, but having been engaged in them myself I think it’s fair to say that not as much as people tend to think. moreover the Irish example on the left is further counterintuitive in that the time of the left (broadest definition) success, say 1987 to 1994, on an electoral level at least came when it was most clearly aligned with a broader modernist/liberal agenda personified by Mary Robinson, and that was true of both LP and WP.

Pagels - January 3, 2011

Surely Mary Robinson is the classic example of identity politics superseding class politics. Within the Labour Party there was a move to propose Noel Browne and this was shot down by the leadership, who wanted instead the Queen of Hearts.

The template of the mainstream Irish Left is to find someone who won’t piss off the NGO middle class. And NGOs are the nothing more than class-hating identity politics machines.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

But the point is that Noel Browne almost certainly wouldn’t have won, not against Brian Lenihan Snr.
And Mary Robinson almost lost.

But the other point is that she represented in some respects a high point in terms of left achievement, at least on paper in terms of LP seats won at the subsequent election precisely because she represented a cross class coalition. Now we can like or dislike it, personally I think it was chimerical. But at no time prior to or since did the LP gain numbers anything like that. So clearly there was something in that mix. BTW, I’m not much of a fan of Robinson, though on some issues her Presidency was useful. It certainly made it a tad easier on social issues such as divorce, contraception to be passed subsequently. Those weren’t small things to any of us who campaigned on them in the 80s.

By the way the Irish left template isn’t entirely incorrect because it’s fairly certain that a homegrown mainstream left candidate won’t win a Presidency. So it’s not just about not pissing the NGO middle class, who in any case aren’t a sufficient demographic to assure election victory (as by the way was exemplified by Adi Roche’s candidacy).

As for your point about NGO being identity politics machines I’d argue it depends on the NGO, but it’s a massive overstatement in any case.

Pagels - January 3, 2011

I don’t understand your comment. I said that Mary Robinson was the triumph of identity politics over class politics – you say that it wasn’t, citing as evidence that Mary Robinson got a cross-class vote.

Can you explain that logic to me?

As far as Noel Browne as a definite loser against Brian Lenihan Snr, well, I think the Q&A tape was a game-changer so hats off to your confidence in Mother and Child Scheme and TB-eradicator Browne losing no matter what.

As for this comment:

“it’s not just about not pissing the NGO middle class, who in any case aren’t a sufficient demographic to assure election victory.”

Well, exactly. Probably explains why Labour were the third party in Irish politics until FF decided to fuck the dog.

The antipathy of class politics in the Irish Left is Fintan O’Toole, and he’s the hero of the Labour Party.

The NGOs of course, includes the poverty industry, and the analysis of Irish society provided by the left-wing of the Irish poverty industry is best exemplified by the Necessity for Change / Poor Can’t Pay campaigns. Hardly class warriors.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

I don’t understand your comment. I said that Mary Robinson was the triumph of identity politics over class politics – you say that it wasn’t, citing as evidence that Mary Robinson got a cross-class vote.
Can you explain that logic to me?

I’m suggesting that she doesn’t represent the triumph of identity politics over class politics because it was impossible for class politics, as exemplified by say a Noel Browne presidency, to triumph in the circumstances of the 1980s and particularly at the Presidential election she contested.
All she represents is that in Ireland in the 1980s/90s class politics was very weak indeed and that to get even a very very watery left candidate elected the left needed the liberal centre ground (and of course there were no LP candidates prior to that election).

But that doesn’t constitute a triumph of one over the other since at no point during the process was class politics seriously in the contest.

As far as Noel Browne as a definite loser against Brian Lenihan Snr, well, I think the Q&A tape was a game-changer so hats off to your confidence in Mother and Child Scheme and TB-eradicator Browne losing no matter what.
Not no matter what, but Browne was never an inevitable winner.
Browne was by all accounts a difficult personality who would have come freighted with his own problematicals as regards public presentation. Furthermore Browne was far from universally loved on the Irish left. There’s also the issue that Robinson was seen as a fresh face whereas Browne for all his virtues would be seen as anything but (Michael D. will have a similar problem if he’s nominated – and let’s not even talk about Fergus Finlay). It’s also arguable that the perception of her was as a less political figure than Browne. Then there was the impact of a certain P. Flynn’s comments during the campaign which some think as important as the Duffy internvention.
But even after all that Robinson got 38.88% and Lenihan was on 44.10%. The transfers are instructive, Robinson got 205,565 of Curries, whereas Lenihan got 36,789. I seriously doubt Browne would have received that level of transfer. Even assuming that Browne was close to 38% first preference, again something I doubt and I think Curries vote would have been higher.
Certainly at the time there’s little doubt that there were far too many voices against a Browne candidate for it to be a viable prospect.

As for this comment:
“it’s not just about not pissing the NGO middle class, who in any case aren’t a sufficient demographic to assure election victory.”
Well, exactly. Probably explains why Labour were the third party in Irish politics until FF decided to fuck the dog.

I’m not sure that it does explain that. If you’re suggesting that Robinson was an NGO style candidate, which I’m not so sure of given her prior career, rather than her subsequent one, clearly in Roche the LP was hoping that her high profile work etc would swing it with the general public. Not that the NGO’s themselves would be sufficient to do so. In other words the LP hoped good works alone would be enough. They aren’t and weren’t.

But let’s be clear. The LP was always in a peripheral state. It wasn’t just third in this state for most of its life but a very very precarious third on 10%. For most of my adult life they had less than 20 TDs. That’s a shockingly low figure and while we can all recite how the LP was a weak left party in terms of its positioning and rhetoric it’s also true that it suffered mightily from structural aspects of the Irish political environment, most obviously that the great divide in Irish politics occurred over issues it wasn’t that interested in allowing class politics to divide not on left/right working class/other class lines but on competition between parties of the middle and other classes rather than the working class. Some ofthe blame obviously accrues to the LP (and I’m not exactly a fan of theirs either), but some of it – perhaps most of it – was way beyond their control.

The antipathy of class politics in the Irish Left is Fintan O’Toole, and he’s the hero of the Labour Party.
The NGOs of course, includes the poverty industry, and the analysis of Irish society provided by the left-wing of the Irish poverty industry is best exemplified by the Necessity for Change / Poor Can’t Pay campaigns. Hardly class warriors.

Surely. But who ever said they were? Anymore than the community sector are class warriors. But I don’t blame people for not being what I want them to be when they never claimed that they were what I wanted them to be.

Pagels - January 3, 2011

This doesn’t make any sense:

“I’m suggesting that she doesn’t represent the triumph of identity politics over class politics because it was impossible for class politics, as exemplified by say a Noel Browne presidency, to triumph in the circumstances of the 1980s and particularly at the Presidential election she contested.”

She doesn’t represent the triumph of identity politics over class politics because it was impossible for class politics to triumph?

This doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Trade union membership in the 1980s, along with the success of WP in Dublin, suggests that class politics in Ireland was hardly ‘impossible.’

Now, class politics was pushed aside for a women’s rights / human rights candidate. That’s the triumph of one approach over another. The idea of using the presidency race as another field of class-consciousness raising was pushed aside for the ‘we are all middle class now’ vision of left politics, the one that has the working class as an unemployed rump who need our help – that’s the vision which won out, and that’s the idea of class put forward by NGOs and the poverty industry in Ireland.

It’s a view which is still put forward by the left in Ireland – the sensible ‘realistic’ left who thought that class dynamics was gone forever – the same ‘realistics’ who thought the Celtic Tiger was actually real.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

I haven’t suggested at any point in this discussion that class politics didn’t exist. I’m suggesting it was impossible for it to triumph. That’s a crucial distinction. Class politics exists all the time, it’s all around us, that’s the mistake Labour makes to pretend that there’s none. But even given that there are victories that the working class can achieve on its own or have to decide whether they’ll do it in tandem with others. Obviously many leftists diverge on where these decisions, or if they, have to be made.

So it wasn’t a case that class politics was pushed aside for a women’s rights/human rights candidate – by the way both of which like gay rights – are of central importance to a socialist society, but that there was never any prospect for a pure class politics candidate to win. The WP in 1989 had 7 TDs out of 166. The idea that a WP candidate could win, even in tandem with all other left forces – a particularly impossible feat given that they wouldn’t have worked with the WP then and vice versa (everyone’s loss by the way), is beyond the bounds of possibility.

And you yourself implicitly seem to believe that the run would be consciousness raising and not a victory. And here’s the thing, all these issues, gay rights, women’s rights, human rights, were all pressing struggles for the working class as well. I don’t believe for a moment that the Robinson campaign put back the working class struggle. That’s part of a much broader process that has been going on in this society for a very long time.

BTW Noel Browne never struck me as going beyond a democratic socialist. No shame in that at all but not the red in tooth and claw approach you seem to be proposing.

Pagels - January 3, 2011

As regard this:

“The idea that a WP candidate could win, even in tandem with all other left forces – a particularly impossible feat given that they wouldn’t have worked with the WP then and vice versa (everyone’s loss by the way), is beyond the bounds of possibility.”

If I recall correctly, this is pretty much the point Eoghan Harris made c.1990, and was the approach taken by what became Democratic Left.

As far as I can see, all you’re doing here WBS is putting forward the pro-split side of the WP – that class in Ireland is a dead-end, so let’s just get on with ‘reality.’

Whereas it is hard to say where the WP would have ended up if it had NOT split, we know where the splitters DID end up – in a Labour Party saturated with the type of Guardian-reading hand-wringers who think that their political decisions are due to no viable alternatives – in other words, they deal with identity politics and poverty industry approached not because they have made those choices, but because they are ‘realists’. Well how convenient that their wishy-washy politics are paradigms of reality.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

None of what I’ve said is meant to convey the left shouldn’t fight as best it can. Nor is it about what Harris or DL did (and I’m not sure that’s what the Necessity for Social Democracy did lay out). I consider the WP split to have been a disaster and the emergence of DL equally so. Nor is it about getting on with reality.

What I’m suggesting is that a left candidate most likely couldn’t have won in at the Presidential Election, and more than likely couldn’t win at the next one either.

That has literally nothing though to do with the split in the WP – which by the way occurred after the Robinson election.

I’m not a Labour Party member or apologist. You surely from reading this site know that my politics is centered in an overlap between WP, SF and Independent Republican socialists of the Tony Gregory type.

All I’m doing is laying out the actual terrain of the 1980s and early 1990s as it is rather than as I or you would wish it to be and pointing up the choices or lack of same available to leftists. Of course the WP could have run a different candidate (though I doubt the LP would have done so). But I’m not sure what that would have achieved one way or another and I’m a bit dubious that it would have marked an extension of class politics or some sort of triumph over identity politics if, perhaps, Robinson had consequently gone down in flames due to her vote being diminished.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

By the way Pagels, I think your questions here get to th heart of what the contemporary left should be discussing in terms of positioning.

DublinDilettante - January 4, 2011

Secondly I’d still argue that in Ireland identity politics superseding class politics hasn’t been the issue

Hmm, I hope I’m not the only one present who believes ethnic and cultural nationalism to be the apotheosis of identity politics.

13. Worldbystorm - January 3, 2011

The other side is that it’s not entirely clear how strong identity politics was as a political dynamic say in the UK or France or Germany or even the US on the social democratic left and whether that had real as against perceived electoral impacts. In all those cases the SD left ( well not the US ) succeeded over the past three decades in assuming state power and to be honest I can’t think of a Case where it lost power due to social as against economic policies. As for the further left s it really tenable that identity politics sapped the strength of say communist parties? The PCI had it’s greatest electoral success almost a decade after the 1960s and that’s to forget that many proposing identity politics did so because traditional labour and working class activism was weakening in the face if changing technology, w onim and social contexts.

Finally I think it’s important not to see the working class as simply antagonistic to identity politics as a whole. Fairly rigorous data seems to indicate a broad acceptance of say civil unions, extension of rights in general etc. And it’s also important to recall just how socially conservative say the 60s could be, particularly if one were gay, a woman or a minority. But in terms of social deference and other issues many working class people were trapped by much if that soft repression too. I thinkshrugging that off was a significant gain for everyone.

shane - January 3, 2011

“I can’t think of a Case where it lost power due to social as against economic policies”

The election of George Bush in 2004?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What%27s_the_Matter_with_Kansas%3F

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

Or more likely 2000 given that that was when the clear change between Dems and Reps took place? Interesting point. Perhaps. Very finely balanced in any event but I think I’d agree with you.

shane - January 3, 2011

You’re right there about 2000, my mistake. In fact at the 2004 election the Dems gained a lot of that socially conservative support back, partly because they turned to the right on social issues. Their rhetoric about abortion went from ‘safe, legal, and rare’ to ‘well I’m personally opposed to it but….’ and stressing how they could co-operate with their opponents to reduce abortion rates etc.

When left-wing politicans focus on things like multiculturalism, immigration, gay rights, abortion etc, it’s extremely easy for right-wing populists to protray them as them out of touch ‘smoked salmon socialists’. It even puts off many people who are fairly liberal on those issues anyway – see any of the threads at politics.ie on Ivana Bacik. That image of championing the ordinary man against the ‘liberal elite’ is played on relentessely by the Republicans, and is of enormous benefit to that party. In France Sarkozy played the same card in his election campaign — ‘liquidate the generation of ’68′, and recently expelling the Roma, which was so hugely popular with the public that all the Left parties abstained.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

That’s something I’ve been trying to work out myself, how well the Republicans can play that ordinary man card. It’s amazingly effective and perhaps flows from the strong strain of individualism in that society.

Still, I wonder if the LP here eschewed what we can loosely term the liberal agenda (and abortion in a way is an outlier of that here given the huge societal aversion to it even now and presumably well into the future) would it gain support. I don’t know. I tend to think FF would be able to do their old trick of ‘well, we care as them ones but we’re better at managing the system’.

shane - January 3, 2011

WBS, I think in western Europe social liberalism will increasingly become the province of the right. Because the ‘native’ population is so homogeneously liberal, the only substantial opposition to homosexuality comes from minorities, particularly Muslims. Look at Geert Wilders and the huge gay vote he gets. He likes to protray himself as a defender of traditional Dutch liberal values, against Muslim reactionaries. The BNP do not have an LGBT section, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

Tim Johnston - January 3, 2011

Shane, the BNP will never do ‘socially liberal’, it’s just not in their genes. I think your analysis is otherwise correct re: Europe’s ‘new right’.

“That’s something I’ve been trying to work out myself, how well the Republicans can play that ordinary man card”

Indeed. Although it is easy to point out the liberal bias of the media in the US and the arrogance of a lot of the so-called elite who talk down to ordinary Americans, who are not and never have been impressed by elitism. In which sense I think you’re 100% right about the individualism aspect.

ejh - January 3, 2011

Because the ‘native’ population is so homogeneously liberal

What?

shane - January 3, 2011

More recently, the passing of Proposition 8 in California was credited by some to Barack Obama’s candidacy, and his mobilizing of the Democrats’ electoral base. Ethnic minorities and the poor were found to strongly oppose gay marriage while the white middle classes supported it.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

And yet civil union per se is accepted by the centre right in the US, so clearly there’s been a sea change since even ten or fifteen years ago. Or let me put it a different way. In 1990 or perhaps in 2000 if you’d told me that within 20 years there’d be civil unions I’d have been absolutely disbelieving.

Tim Johnston - January 3, 2011

As I recall prop 8 was unique in that it split almost every demographic. Interestingly, some attempts were made to ‘blame’ ethnic minorities for it -black Americans voted 70/30 for- particularly Roseann Barr, who came close to racism in many ways.

14. Chet Carter - January 3, 2011

ejh, the working class are still with us, only they are not down the mines anymore. They are in call centres, high street shops, hotels,the catering and leisure industries. The Trade Union movement has to develop a strategy to reach these people. They are presently in a comfort zone of relying on their public sector base. This plays into the hands of the neo liberals, for instance Eoghan Harris can spout off ‘look at that lazy public sector bunch with their cushy pensions and salaries sponging off hard workers like yourself’. This argument has to be turned around 100%. Everyone should have the right to fair pensions and civilised working conditions, not the short term contract work that more and more working people are being subjected to.
SoS totally agree, gay people and muslims should all be part of progressive politics and reactionary working class opinions should not be pandered to. But a lot of the left in Britain seem to look on Islamists as natural allies. This should be stopped immediately. Islamists whenever they are given a chance will crush left progressive movements, destroy women’s rights and kill homosexuals. Just because Islamists want to overthrow capitalism doesn’t make them the lefts allies.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

Thing is I completely agree with you re your first paragraph. I think the biggest defeat self-inflicted by unions in Ireland was retreating to their public sector base and during partnership not doing anything near enough to push for better rights in the private sector. And I think your point re EH is on the money.|

On the second issue, again, it’s nearly irrelevant in Ireland. I’d share some concerns re a far too uncritical relationship with some aspects of political Islam by parts of the left. But I can’t help but think that was a function of the convergence of the Iraq War and a number of other factors that broadly won’t be replicated subsequently.

Garibaldy - January 3, 2011

Islamism may be irrelevant in Ireland. The question of mixing religion and politics of course remains very alive. And with disastrous consequences for class politics.

The decline in trade union membership is more than a case of the unions retreating to the public sector. Things like the erosion of union rights for part-time workers, no-union contracts etc as well as the general decline in class consciousness are also important. Having said that, there can certainly be criticisms made of trade unions. The RMT provides a good example of how a union can make itself relevant to the target audience, although obviously being on the tube gives it an almost unique power.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

Absolutely, and I’m no fan of mixing religion and politics, but I did want to be clear for Chet that the Irish context isn’t applicable to the UK one.

Re TU membership, that’s true to an extent, but even in relatively benign societies vis TU rights we’ve seen a general erosion of union membership (though also some counter examples of growth). Changing work environments seem to me to be key to an extent with the introduction of new layers of workers who had no class consciousness at all, sort of sub managerial staff, etc, etc. Technology had a lot to do with that. I think I’ve said it before how some of my colleagues thought that because we were in what might broadly be defined part of the media/communications industry (though to save their blushes and mine I won’t define it any further) ‘we didn’t join unions’. Hmmm… was my response. But that is a strong dynamic. And then even in contexts where there is strong unionisation, like the PS, there’s been a gradual attrition of numbers as well.

The RMT are in a very very strong position.

ejh - January 3, 2011

ejh, the working class are still with us, only they are not down the mines anymore. They are in call centres, high street shops, hotels,the catering and leisure industries.

Yes, I know that. Everybody knows that. But the point you’re missing is that the difference between now and couple of generations ago isn’t the particular nature of the work people do, it’s that back then there was a great deal of trades union militancy, which attracted the interests of leftists and shaped their opinions – and now there’s next to nothing. So it doesn’t.

I think analyses like yours maybe look at things the wrong way round. You’re criticising the left for not being as interested in certain things than in other things – but perhaps the reason is that certain things are happening today and hence seem relevant, and others aren’t, so don’t.

We can’t make people join trades unions, combine against the employing class or what you will. If these things start happening on a serious scale again, then you can expect people to find them important.

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

I think that’s a really sensible analysis. Of course activists should be active and parties should be ready in case the above does happen, union militancy on a massive scale, or whatever, but it’s not happening now.

I think it’s interesting too you mention the 1980s because that definitely seems to me to be the tipping point, a point where more traditional modes seemed to wither away… where the last great industrial actions were lost and it’s more of a tipping point, much more than the 1960s or early 1970s and that’s why I think identity politics has much less to do with this than economic, technological or social change on a much broader scale.

ejh - January 3, 2011

The thing is, whether things changed fundamentally or only superficially, whether permanently or temporarily, I don’t believe they did so because of “all these other leftists than me doing the wrong things”.

I have an aversion to that kind of analysis anyway. I don’t dispute that large portions of the left (or any other part of the spectrum) can at certain times do very much the wrong thing, perhaps for long periods. But I think that anybody with an interest in Marxism, for instance, ought to be looking for much wider causes of long-term trends than pointing at the bad political choices of other groups. That’s just an outgrowth of sectarian politics: “my opponents are tiny and entirely irrelevant to the working class, and everything that has gone wrong is their fault”.

Besides, if large chunks of the Left went over to identity politics, NGO politics, environmental politics or what you will, that never explains why other people didn’t rush in to fill the gap.

15. sonofstan - January 3, 2011

Shane, the BNP will never do ‘socially liberal’, it’s just not in their genes. I think your analysis is otherwise correct re: Europe’s ‘new right’.

Perhaps not the BNP – yet – but hark! what’s this?

http://casualsunited.wordpress.com/category/edl-gay-division/

16. Pope Epopt - January 3, 2011

Interesting discussion – especially Chet’s points re the distractions of identity politics.

I’ve just searched and this entire thread and can’t find a mention of the elephant in the room – the identity politics that has done more distract Irish people from class antagonisms – namely nationalism.

17. Blissett - January 3, 2011

While agreeing with much of what has been said, I think its most curious that Class politics is not considered to be a form of identity politics, given that this is the identity most leftists tend to feel most strongly about. The argument should not be that class politics is more important than identity politics, or that identity politics distract from class struggle, it should be that class politics are the most important kind of identity politics, and to outline the reasons for that. Its seems absurd for us to bemoan the lack of class consciousness among irish people, and then to draw an artificial distinction between class and identity politics.

sonofstan - January 3, 2011

The argument against that position would be that class in not an identity in same way as race, sexuality, nationality or religion, because, while societies have been and still are structured around exclusions based on all of these things, the defining structuring distinction of capitalism is class, and therefore removing it is not possible without the revolutionary transformation of, well, everything.

In other words, you can, within the horizon of liberal democracy and market capitalism, envisage equality of opportunity and ‘parity of esteem’ along lines of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, while maintaining the underlying political and economic structures – whereas, to equalise along class distinctions would be to abolish the essential inequality on which capitalism depends. So instead we get the myth of postmodern classlessness as a sleight of hand to disguise this necessary truth.

(I would say that many feminists would want to argue that patriarchy is at least as fundamental – I’d be inclined to agree)

In either case,the argument is that class and/ or gender are not just quantitatively different from other markers of identity, but qualitatively as well.

Incidentally, this discussion prompts me to suggest something that’s been at the back of my mind for a while: rather than discussions on a ‘big’ subject like this arising out of something contingent like Bertie’s retirement, it might be an idea to try a ‘symposium’ format: people sign up a few weeks in advance, and undertake to produce a 1,000 words or so on a particular, non- topical issue – like this, class V Identity politics – and they be put up, either simultaneously, or on successive day or weeks. Contributors could still obviously comment on each others pieces, but not in the body of their own contributions. Up to the Mgmt of course :)

WorldbyStorm - January 3, 2011

That’s a brilliant idea. It’s true, we can’t possibly fully deal with this here in all justice.

Blissett - January 4, 2011

It seems churlish to reply given your suggestion (which is a good one) but nonetheless!

I have no disagreement with your second paragraph, and if i had inferred that we lived in a classless society, then thats the very last thing I had intended, but the fact that it is qualitatively different from other forms of class, doesnt make it any less a form of identity. Indeed even among the other examples you have chosen there are obviously huge qualitative differences – race and sexuality being innate and unchosen, and religion and nationality being, to a great or lesser degree, chosen.

This is but one facet of what makes up these identities, but there are many obvious differences at fundamental levels between all of these categories, you could construct a veritable venn diagram of it, and class would fit in that. The clearest seperation between all others and with class is that the others can be used as tools of division (though I dont subscribe to the notion that they are in and of themselves necessarilly divisive) whereas class cannot, which along with the centrality of class identity to a reconstruction of society, is what makes it the most important. But inherent in that, and I would suggest in much of what you say, is that Class is a form of identity, and that class politics are a form of identity politics.

We talk a great deal of class consciousness but as Tombucktu correctly notes, its a struggle to make it a part of peoples identity. People easily and readily identify with locality and ‘nationality’, but class isn’t on the tip of their tongue.
Further I would submit that the european left has held itself back by insisting that various forms of identity are bunk, rather than attempting to make class a facet of peoples identity, which are made up of many complementary (as well as some which are not) charachteristics, such as locality, sexuality, ‘nationality’ and even the shagging GAA, and then emphasising its central charachter in shaping human history and our personal welfare.

18. Chet Carter - January 3, 2011

ejt, if the left has abandoned campaigning on economic issues in favour of identity politics because that is easier I suppose I am being critical. Organising in these new service jobs has to be done. It’s the only way forward for working people. Interestingly it won’t be done seventies style by men shouting into microphones at mass rallies but will need a more feminist perspective that can identify issues that this workforce can rally around.

Since everyone from Richard Branson, to David Cameron to Rupert Murdoch to Michael O’Leary are probably all social liberals who believe in free trade and mass emigration (to drive down labour costs),gay rights,multiculturalism, women’s rights, the right to practise whatever religion you believe in,etc I don’t see what is the point of the left in putting their organisational energies into these issues.

ejh - January 3, 2011

It would perhaps surprise the readers of some of Mr Murdoch’s newspapers to learn that he was in favour of gay rights and multiculturalism.

19. Chet Carter - January 3, 2011

Ha, ha got me there! Rupert being a good businessman has enough media outlets to be both pro and anti gay rights and multiculturalism. Bet you that none of them support Trade Union rights.

20. Tomboktu - January 3, 2011

I don’t know enough about the “facts” but I wonder if there is a peculiar problem in that class politics has suffered because being a member of a class no longer forms part of people’s identity.

Pope Epopt - January 4, 2011

I’m sure this ground has been well-tilled by others more knowledgeable than me, but we often confuse cultural class-identity with structural class position. The former is now hopelessly confused but the former is a solid and key concept, if difficult to get across against its hegemonic denial.

Pope Epopt - January 4, 2011

Sorry, the latter former should be ‘latter’.

Oh for a re-edit button!

Crocodile - January 4, 2011

‘we often confuse cultural class-identity with structural class position.’
‘We’ do, I suppose. ‘We’ have also learnt, over the last couple of decades, to distrust those who assure us that our interests are not best defined by ourselves, but by those at the top of authority structures – church, bank, government – who have more perspective.
The justified scepticism that is now most people’s reaction to being told what’s best for them isn’t helping the left – when the left tries to do just that.

21. The Many Fathers of Success « Circumlimina - January 4, 2011

[...] of course, is prompted by the heroically deluded valediction of Patrick Bartholomew “Bertie” Ahern (even his name is a half-truth concealed within a [...]

22. the pilatesbiz - February 9, 2012

I had a great conversation with Miho Sakai from the Japanese NHK TV network about this the other week. She brought up an ingredient that I hadnt thought of but realized was crucial; counterculture. Entrepreneurial communities, and innovated ones, need counter perspective and tension to keep everything interesting and in-line. Without it, too much cool-aid is drunk, and things will fizzle and die in 5-10 years. Gratefully, Boulder has plenty of counter culture (as does the Valley).

WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2012

Yeah. Thank God.


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