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More on the ‘new’ party… January 3, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

Tom McGurk makes an interesting point in the SBP this weekend in relation to the comments by Michael McDowell on the need for a ‘new’ party. He argues – tellingly – that the future outcome of an election, given the current balance of forces is an LP ‘slaughter of FF-like proportions’, a ’smaller FG than is current’ and probably a ‘larger FF and SF from which to construct a government’. Could be. And as he says, FG and FF will ‘never appear more indistinguishable’. He also suggests that if neither can cut a deal with SF they’re going to have to try to do so with ‘quixotic Independents’. I doubt it will come to that last, unless the number of FG TDs returned is higher than currently seems probable. But overall I think he’s correct. It’s a mess.

But while he thinks that McDowell is correct that there is political space for a new party, he suggests that following:

McDowell’s thesis may be fundamentally flawed because, not only has the economic crisis changed the shape of the Irish political system, but it has also trapped it in an economic vicegrip that no political party currently existing, or in the planning, can escape.
Much of the political class – as well as journalists and commentators – seem to have blithely forgotten that the final remnants of Irish political sovereignty – post the various EU referendums – disappeared with the bailout.

And that’s well worth reflecting on. The sort of party that McDowell would like to emerge would, presumably be a PD redux, in some form or fashion. But such a party would hardly be offering, or given its adherence to the orthodoxy able to offer, anything substantially different from the status quo ante. Indeed it would be more likely to agree with many of the precepts of the orthodoxy or seek to implement them with even greater vigour. This is the paradox. There is dissatisfaction with FG to a small enough extent and LP to a much greater extent not because they’re cutting and taxing with insufficient enthusiasm but because they’re cutting and taxing. That’s not to say that space could not be fashioned for a euro-scepticish party of the neo-liberal right, but such a party would, as McGurk says, be constrained by the external circumstances which it would in large part agree with anyhow.
And McGurk makes a reasonable enough point when he continues:

So simply to think in terms of new political parties which would inevitably end up juggling with the same political and economic Rubik’s Cube is hugely to underestimate both the creek we are up and the necessity for the paddle we are lacking.
In fact, to think in terms of just another political party parading up and down the boulevard of the social democratic centre ground, promising to be different to everything that has gone before, is to fundamentally misunderstand the depth of the political and democratic crisis we face – not only in Ireland, but across Europe as well.

That point about social democratic centre ground is perhaps overstated, though it is true that in terms of much of contemporary social democracy it is hard to see much difference between the forces at play in this polity in terms of FG, FF and the LP, whatever about oddly antiquated references to Christian Democracy from some in FG. But even accepting that pushing rightwards doesn’t seem to offer much scope for a party (there’s also the thought that SF provides a more convincing albeit more traditional take on social democracy).

And there’s a broader conceptual problem, which McGurk notes:

Perhaps not since the 1930s have we faced such economic and political uncertainty. What has added to our crisis is an entire political class pretending that there is some sort of salvation around the corner if we just “do” more austerity. We are like the souls in some bizarre political and economic purgatory, suffering our austerity, but devoid of any discernible release date.

This is an huge issue. With no prospect even, or especially, in the medium term of the end of the current crisis what can any party that cleaves to the orthodoxy offer? This is the central problem for Fine Gael and the Labour Party in particular, but also for Fianna Fáil. Once there’s no actual opposition to, or effort to reshape the nature of, the current dispensation then there’s no space for meaningful change. And any new party will face precisely that point. Either it accepts that dispensation, in which case all it can do is fiddle around with the margins, or it doesn’t. Is it genuinely likely that a party with McDowell and his ilk involved would present any serious opposition to the orthodoxy? I’m doubtful in the extreme.

Mind you, McGurk while seeing the need for a change in politics is oddly nebulous as to what that might constitute:

I have only the vaguest idea of what the new politics might constitute, but of one thing I am absolutely certain: we have to restore the sovereignty of our democratic process.

Which leaves us exactly where we’ve been hitherto. But difficult to take issue with his concluding thought:

“Hold on, and things will get better” has been the message every new year now for more than five years. Will anyone have the neck to try it again tomorrow night? How much more sand do they think they can kick in our faces?

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1. CL - January 3, 2013

‘we have to restore the sovereignty of our democratic process.’. Impossible of course without economic sovereignty. :When Kenny/Gilmore etc speak about ‘restoring economic sovereignty’ what they mean is bringing about a political economic situation which satisfies ‘the markets’. When the main thrust of government is to subjugate all policy to the dictates of international capital to speak of the ‘social democratic centre’ is nonsense.

2. greengoddess2 - January 3, 2013

CL, the markets are king. SURELY you can see that? Any other suggestion, which might lead to to, for instance, raising the CTR and imposing a tax on the financial services, is, well , ” deranged ” or from ” the kindergarten school of economics” . You of course are probably a socialist. A ” failed” policies with ” failed” people. …..😉

3. richotto - January 4, 2013

A group which may comprise a majority which has reason to feel most put upon at the moment are the private sector non professional workers. If a new party is to be credible I believe it has to offer something new to this neglected section of society. There is a feeling that these workers are forced to keep the country on its feet, pay taxes and get in return precious little back from the state after the powerful vested interests have been catered to. From my soundings there is an awareness that they are being ignored, treated as second class citizens and with an employment situation little better than casual labourers. Employers are running riot in the workplace and Unions are washing their hands even if the staff pluck up the courage to take a stand. The blind eye thats presently being turned across the political spectrum to these special problems of inequality may help explain why workers are not out on the streets in solidarity as the left complains. A new party has to address the above if it is not to be seen as just more of the same by the majority.

CMK - January 4, 2013

No new party, if it is of a McDowell vintage, will give a flying f**k about those workers. Indeed, making life as hard as possible for all workers will be a core concern for any such party, as it is a core concern for the present coalition and as it will be a core concern if FF/SF form part of any new government post 2016. Labour cost competitiveness = makes life as shitty as possible for workers. Any party who are espousing ‘competitiveness’ as a political priority are telling you, implicitly, that reducing the pay, conditions and living standards of workers are a priority. The only parties with any interest in the concerns of the low paid in the private sector are the small socialist parties, i.e. precisely the parties that the majority of workers are encouraged to deprecate, dismiss and disregard. If workers keeping thinking their interests are going to be protected and advanced within the political Bermuda quadrangle of FF, FG, Lab and SF, then they’re in for a fall.
Sadly, if workers continue to return to the right-wing/centrist electoral swill bucket they can have no complaints when the life continues to get worse and worse. That’s a harsh perspective but I think it’s fair to say that no society on the planet will make progress towards a decent society for all workers without both a very substantial centre-left electoral presence and a substantial hard-left. We’ve neither her, alas, and instead workers are going piss away their votes on a collection of egotistical ‘independents’ who are incapable of organising.
I’m getting fed up with the ‘private sector workers fell ignored’ shtick when the vast majority of people in the state hand over hundreds of thousands of their votes to parties who are dedicated to reducing the living standards of workers. And who, moreover, are now working, explicitly, at the behest of international finance ccapital in doing so. If you’re a worker and you vote right-wing, you’ll get mangled and you’ll have no-else to blame but yourself. Nothing is going to change until people start voting Left and I don’t think it’s credible to argue that first of all the Left parties have to present a ‘credible’ programme to convince workers.

4. sonofstan - January 4, 2013

It’s funny how the enthusiasts for a new party of the right are so convinced that this is what the people are waiting for, and that there is a substantial constituency out there who find FG too soft. As far as I can see, such a party would have a chance in maybe 5 constituencies – 3 south Dublin ones, Wicklow, maybe one more? Through hard experience, most on the left understand that the gap between seeing the need for a electoral force to the left of Labour and building that force is huge, and the people won’t simply arise from their slumber of false consciousness and sweep away the rotting hulk of capitalism ‘just like that’. But McDowell and the like live in such a bubble that, because all their social circle, and all the media they both inform and consume, agree with them, they think that that must be representative of the rest of the country. And yet we’re supposed to be the fantasists.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

Libertas was one such ‘new party’ of the centre right, wasn’t it? Ganley certainly got plenty of media coverage. Plenty of money behind it. No positive outcomes, from their perspective. You’d wonder what McDowell etc. make of that failure, how they rationalise it, what they see as the lessons to be learned, if any, or do the egos get in the way and personalise it as an individual failure rather than something more deeply rooted in the political system and its processes?

WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2013

That’s a great point LATC. The only wriggle room is it didn’t contest national elections, but I’d love to hear an argument as to how they would have done significantly better at them.

CMK - January 4, 2013

Excellent points, Stan. Spot on in every respect.

WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2013


greengoddess2 - January 4, 2013

Surely if would be a Party of the left? However, do the Irish people actually know what all of this means. I think many voted for FG not being aware of the values of centre right. As for centre left……

CMK - January 4, 2013

Confusing people about what the right and left represent, when it comes to the interests of ordinary workers, is the sacred duty of our so-called ‘media’. You’ll have seen yourself how such a straight-forward reformist measure like the Financial Transactions Tax is transformed by the self-same media into a threat to the foundations of the financial system which would have an incalculable impact on ordinary people (‘higher costs of credit’, ‘instability in the banking system’, ‘bad for confidence’, blah, blah, blah). When anyone who knows the first thing about the FTT is that its impact is limited to a tiny sliver of the financial elite and its benefits enormous. Yet such is the power of the financial elite within the media and PR that it can completely distort a very simple reformist measure like the FTT. Any more fundamental reforms will be subject to exponentially more skewed distortions by the same media who will faithfully rely Fine Gael’s delusions that its mission is to protect families and communities, while its policies, along with Labour, effect the opposite.

5. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 4, 2013

‘Nothing is going to change until people start voting Left and I don’t think it’s credible to argue that first of all the Left parties have to present a ‘credible’ programme to convince workers.’

Actually the evidence would suggest that they do- that shouting about general strikes isn’t enough, nor is simply saying ‘tax the rich’ – you need serious plans and people who are prepared to argue for them, not clowns

Joe - January 4, 2013


CMK - January 4, 2013

I disagree profoundly with that point and I think that perspective will lead the Left here down a cul-de-sac. The longer people keep voting Right, like they have been doing for 90 years (years of poverty, emigration, low living standards and crap public services for the majority of workers) the tighter the Right’s hegemony becomes. And it’s so tight at the moment that it’s choking this country.

Are you seriously suggesting that the Right here is dominant because they have presented a succession of ‘serious plans and people who are prepared to argue for them’ since 1922 to the present? That support for the Right is not based on inchoate ideas about nation, country, patriotism, religion which were uninfluenced or divorced from the political programmes articulated by the Right at election times.

Because to me the crux of the perspective you’re articulating is that the Right has, and has always, had a coherent political perspective and the capacity to develop and implement ‘serious plans’ and that that explains why workers support them. I don’t think that’s a credible view to hold when the Right, for instance, can, on the basis of back of the envelope calculations, drastically re-orientate our society like they did with the bank guarantee, or where the present programme for government, and stated targets for reducing unemployment, economic growth etc, bears no relation to the economic situation which is actually worsening.

My view is that workers beginning to vote Left, regardless of the alleged problems with the programmes advocated by Left parties, will create political pressure by the Right to respond to a turn to the Left by voters and on those parties themselves to get serious about articulating its ideas.

I think the ‘get the product right first and they’ll buy it’ approach is flawed. Getting people to vote Left first is the only way to create the conditions where really developing a programme becomes a viable option. Did SYRIZA have, or does it have now, a detailed, worked out to the letter programme which Greek voters decided they’d give a run out in the circumstances? Or did the circumstances generate electoral support for SYRIZA which pushed them to begin the process of sharpening their programme? I think it was the latter.

ejh - January 4, 2013

+1 to this last comment and the last paragraph in particular. There’s not going to be some magic key, which, when the Left discover it, will produce a response from working people that otherwise will not be forthcoming. I don’t think it works like that at all, and people who go in pursuit of that magic key no more find it than anybody finds the end of the rainbow.

WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2013

Absolutely, there’s no magic key, but there’s a combination of keys. A programme alone can’t do it, but I do think what Joe outlines below comes closer to the sort of broad range that is required. Or let’s put it another way. I’ve noted before that I think the CAHWT has some significant limitations, and always did, but it’s been part of a process. But the process must go much wider and deeper than the CAHWT and with luck it will.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

+1 also to Branno(not LookLeft)’s comment.

To CMK’s reference to cul-de-sacs, perhaps he can provide an outline of how the CAHWT for example will lead to socialism?

I take the point that it is insufficient to provide a roadmap by itself, but one has to distinguish between sufficient and necessary. There are many parts of the jig-saw which are necessary. We don’t yet know which parts of the jigsaw and in what combinations will be sufficient, not here, not in Greece, not elsewhere.

What is clear is that the political vacuum to the Left will not be filled by single-issue agitations and inane calls for general strikes. In the absense of serious work to define a Left programme, and buy in from across the diverse Left, the playing field is left open to populism and the cul-de-sacs of quick-fix rhetoric.

What CMK’s comment somewhat disingenuously hides is that those who claim it is a waste of time to create a roadmap are in fact saying that there is no need to create a different roadmap to the one which they themselves are following.

CMK - January 4, 2013

I don’t think CAHWT will lead to socialism, and I don’t think any socialist involved in it believes that. But it is a pivotal struggle, the first in post-2008 crisis Ireland, where explicitly political issues are being contested outside of the parliamentary-media nexus. It’s also serving to politicise many ordinary people for whom CAHWT is the first time they’ve become involved in a political campaign that was explicitly opposed to government policy and where civil disobedience was the basis of the campaign.

I don’t think calls for general strike are inane but they should continue to be made while the organisational work goes on that would make a general strike viable. Both can go hand in hand. I’ve never said that it’s a waste of time to develop a roadmap or that the roadmap one organsiation is working towards is the ONLY viable one. What I’m taking issue with is the claim that calls to ‘tax the rich’ or ‘build for a general strike’ are evidence of a lack of credibility or that those making such calls are content to use them as rhetorical devices rather than real political objectives. At this stage in the crisis, where the ‘solutions’ being signalled are going to be based on backs of working people, calls to ‘tax the rich’ should be uncontroversial for an Left supporter. Rather than viewed as evidence of a lack of seriousness.

WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2013

The problem with the SYRIZA example is that at the last election the orthodoxy still trumped it. I’ve a lot of sympathy for your position CMK, to put it mildly, but there is a serious problem once one moves even a little way beyond the shores of the left/further left in terms of credibility as to the political and economic programmes of the left. Quite simply they’re not taken seriously and I think in large part for good reason because far too often the case is a moral one with some trimmings of economics but the latter being desperately underplayed.

I’d put it another way. What left parties in the current context have serious economic research units generating economic approaches for the contemporary contex?

Some say they don’t want to do capitalism’s business for it. Fair enough, but then faced with the choice of voting for someone who has the appearance of knowledge and grasp of the current system as it is (and very real roots into its functioning – for better or worse) or someone who says chuck it aside in general people will tend to vote for the former. Or to put it another, if one has a mortgage or a loan or is on low wages or dependent upon social welfare or whatever how many people are going to take a chance on completely new societal and socio-economic structures which are untested (or worse have a bad rap from the Soviet experience) as distinct from stick with the flawed but seemingly knowledgeable and essentially monolithic (in global terms) orthodoxy (which in any case trims as the LP and FG did in order to win election).

I would disagree about general strikes. I think they’re a pointless distraction. No one, left right or centre believes there’s going to be one. There’s no basis for support for one. The private and public sectors are desperately divided and union activity even in the latter, its supposed strong hold is minimal. I can’t see a genuine prospect for a general strike for years, and that built upon a complete reorientation as regards the private sector by unions in terms of seriously trying to organise there.

And I think it’s there that the problem about either that or ‘tax the rich’ being real political objectives comes into views. The former ‘general strike’ is utopian in terms fo feasibility, the latter oddly is significantly more achievable. Problem is they’re not near enough in terms of convincing people – and evidence for that I suggest is in the still remarkably low support at the last election for the further left. In terms of a place to put votes it came in well behind both general leftish Indo’s, FF and SF. And there’s little evidence that it’s increased significnatly subsequently.

CMK - January 4, 2013

WbS, your point on the SYRIZA example and the orthodoxy still triumphing hits upon another part of the problem. That is even if the best, most coherent, credible, well costed, intellectually unassailable programme were developed and if it were subscribed to by all Left forces in this country (indulge this fantasy for argument’s sake) and if it were put to the electorate and if the electorate looked like they might support it, it would then be subjected to a ferocious assault by the Right wing media here, the Church, the state’s ‘security’ organs, by the EU, no doubt the US would have something to say, we’d be told the economy is going to collapse (if there’s still a functioning economy by that stage), that we’d be expelled from the EU/Euro etc, etc. Any Left programme, which is going to be put to the electorate as a basis for holding things steady with a few to begin the structural changes necessary to build a better society (with ‘socialism’ or, why not, even ‘communism’ as an ultimate destination) is going to require a number of things. It’s going to, for instance, contain some elements which may well impact negatively on the ‘capitalist’ economy and possibly, on a temporary basis, on workers. There’s no escaping that. There may be short term pain. Secondly, that programme is going to have to be imposed, by force, on very recalcitrant elements who will resist and who will not hesitate to use extra-legal means to defend their positions, if they have to. The ferocity with which the Financial Transactions Tax – the limpest, weakest, common-sensical Social Democratic reform that could be imagined nowadays – has been resisted by the financial and political elite, gives a taste of what to expect if a Left programme ever became democratically and electorally viable. Getting it implemented won’t be a pretty sight and will involve significant social conflict.

My fear, which is a combination of frustration and a pessimism of the intellect that is not significantly off-set by any counter-vailing optimism of the will, is that the Right are so hegemonic here, probably far beyond the imaginations of the socialists upon whose writings many of us are drawing as we seek to plot a way out of the mess, that we begin, is that that hegemony is now the ONLY paradigm within which workers assess political options and alternatives. So, that workers, for instance, cannot see any problem with demanding that existing workers in the public sector work increased hours at the same time as 450,000 people are on the dole, where the obvious solution, from a Left perspective, is to hire additional people to do the work, the grip of Orthodoxy is so strong that such suggestions are dismissed outright, by workers themselves, i.e. by the people who stand to benefit from such a development.

Regarding general strikes: well, I think one would be a good idea if only to demonstrate that society can’t function without workers – something our current culture denies vehemently. But, I take your point and that of others, that circumstances are not propitious for one now. Having said that a political scenario where the idea of a general strike is dead in the water is not one where a Left alternative can grow and develop and, furthermore, that those freighting the ULA, for instance, with all kinds of expections are perhaps overplaying the degree to which a mass workers party is even a coherent concept in Ireland at the moment of the greatest capitalist crisis since the 1930s. Workers who baulk at the idea of a general strike, in such a economic context, they are unlikely to be too keen on a mass workers party. Extrapolating from that it would be fair to offer the view that the Orthodoxy, and it’s destructive policies and determination to make this a harsh and nasty society, is safe and will probably prevail. I could be wrong on that point, I hope I am.

Loveyou longtime - January 4, 2013


LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

CMK, the first paragraph of your comment above suggests that the initial steps in the journey Leftwards will provoke massive and successful reaction from the Right. However that’s not a given. If the first steps are on the terrain of traditional social democracy then it’s more likely that the hegemony of the Right could begin to fracture. The first steps are unlikely to be based on a majority further Left government, not here, which is one significant difference to the SYRIZA situation. It is more likely to evolve through a succession of phases (or stages if that’s not waving a red rag to the bull) incrementally. The groundwork would need to be laid down in advance of each further step, both in terms of building popular support for continuation and expansion of the project, and in terms of restricting the room for manouvre of the opposing forces. You mention the FTT as an existing example of a hurdle to be overcome. I would suggest that disestablishing the IFCS Clearing House Group and decoupling the links between government and corporate lobby groups across the spectrum would be a useful precursor to such jumping such a hurdle. Lots of small steps rather than one big step.

WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2013

Again there’s so much that I agree with in your latest comment CMK that it’s interesting that there’s even any divergence between us. I agree entirely about the Right hegemony. I’m perhaps a little less pessimistic that a left programme – and I agree it would have to have both forcible (but democratic) and negative elements – couldn’t be implemented if an election went the right way.

A general strike that worked would be something I’d fully support, and when I say ‘worked’ I don’t even mean one that changed the overall political structure, but one that had an exemplary effect. That’d be enough. I think that there was a very small window at the start of the crisis when the right orthodoxy looked particularly shaky that it might have been possible to have broadish actions that might have been used to generate suppport for a leftish programme. But that was flunked, as we know. But now I’m deeply pessimistic about it at present and worry that as a demand it sets up unrealisable expectations, or worse a sense that the left is detached from actual dynamics in workplaces both public and private.

The mass party idea does raise questions. Again, how are all those people who are currently right or centre voters going to go over to the left. What sort of mass party? How big is a mass party? etcetera.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

WbS, your comment about the shakiness at the start of the crisis providing the opportunity to win support for a Left programme is exactly the point. There was no Left programme.

It’s like the quote about Milton Friedman and the Chicago school programme, it lay around for years, building support amongst influential players, waiting for the opportunity to be picked up and used.

CMK - January 4, 2013

LATC, I disagree that there wouldn’t be resistance to a Left turn and particularly if that Left turn led to a Left government. For many right wingers, who love delivering lectures on the ‘rule of law’, that same rule of law can be scrapped once there is a Left government in power. The experience of Chavez shows the lengths to which right wing power elites will go to preserve their power. However, we may soon find out exactly how the right – both nationally and in its incarnation as global capital – reacts if SYRIZA win the next Greek election. I agree that small steps are important, and in the Irish context the CAHWT is more than just a small step, but there has also have to be several big strides as well. Small, incremental bits of progress by the Left can be counted by a hegemonic right who have the power to change the rules of the game. See, for instance, how the government have had to respond to the success of CAHWT by changing the collection mechanism for the property tax.

ejh - January 4, 2013

But the Chicago School programme wasn’t a country-specific thing, was it?

CMK - January 4, 2013

WbS. I think you’re spot on with the view that in 2009 there was scope for some mass resistance to government policy. The mood was there among workers to possibly have sustained some kind of action, if not a general strike itself. The present generation of trade union leaders deserve every bit of ignominy that is coming their way for not seizing that chance to divert or stay the onset of what we’ve come to know as ‘austerity’. I share you pessimism about a general strike now but it may well be the case that a general stike may well have to be, like the 1916 Rising, a glorious failure. The participants and organisers pilliored at the time but proven right by subsequent events.

ejh - January 4, 2013

I’m not as fond of the late Mr Lenin as I was as a youngster, but I seem to recall that he once gave the advice “patiently explain”. Which might be the best thing he ever wrote.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

“But the Chicago School programme wasn’t a country-specific thing, was it?”

No, not in it’s generic form, but it was quickly customised into country-specific implementations when the opportunity arose. The point being that there was a body of work prepared in advance which was sufficiently flexible that it could be offered (forced) as a point solution and locally embedded through a cadre of expert advisers who could supervise its deployment. It had popular support within the strata where that support was required. The analagy holds i think.

ejh - January 4, 2013

Maybe, but it was actually first implemented by flying in a bunch of people from Chicago, rather than local cadres, and the circumstances involved weren’t that people were won over to the programme: the programme was shooting and imprisoning the Reds.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

In that situation the people who were important to win over weren’t the ordinary people but the existing local power elites. Yes there were outsiders flown in, but amongst them there were also local enthusiasts who had been schooled on the ideology and who could hit the ground running.

ejh - January 4, 2013

Yes, but the point I’m making is – in part – that the coup didn’t happen in order to implement the Chicago School programme, any more than Franco’s rebellion took place in order to implement autarchy.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

Are we talking about Chile, yes? I’m not sure you can state that part of the motivation for the coup wasn’t to exactly that, to roll out the brave new world of free markets.

ejh - January 4, 2013

I’d say very clearly that that wasn’t the first thing on the generals’ minds.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

And the generals planned the coup in a vacuum, devoid of external influences, support and suggestions from further north? Have you read Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine?

ejh - January 4, 2013

And the generals planned the coup in a vacuum

I think the distinction between the major and immediate purposes of an action, and its secondary purposes, is not beyond us to grasp or consider.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

Right, leave it at that so EJH.

6. Loveyou longtime - January 4, 2013

“regardless of the alleged problems with the programmes advocated by Left parties” – you’re looking for clowns no workers

CMK - January 4, 2013

So hammer out a perfect programme, with all of the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, and, voilá, the workers will vote for it and abandon FF, FG and Labour en masse. It’s that simple? So, when the magic bullet of the ‘perfect programme’ – ‘credible’ (to who? who’ll inform people it’s ‘credible’? The mainstream media? RTE? Newstalk?), costed (don’t forget to cost it, perhaps with DoF figures!) – workers will shift their electoral allegiances instantly. If only the Irish left weren’t, seemingly, ‘clowns’ all would be well.

Are you content, then, for workers to keeping voting Right until the perfect Left programme is developed? And if not, who should workers vote for in the e intermim while ‘the clowns’ try to get it together?

Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 4, 2013

‘but it may well be the case that a general stike may well have to be, like the 1916 Rising, a glorious failure. The participants and organisers pilliored at the time but proven right by subsequent events.’

Please don’t tell me you believe this nonsense? There is NO comparison between the 1916 Rising and any kind of industrial action in 2013.
A general strike that was a failure would not be glorious in any way- it would fuck the labour movement good and proper, giving an excuse to the David Beggs to argue that strike action never works and divide people even further- do you like the idea of large numbers of your workmates crossing picket lines?
Can I ask- are you in a union? Are your workmates active in the union? Do you think they would vote for a strike? If not then cop on.
One of the leading callers for a general strike works in an institution in which about 50% of his colleagues are unionised. That’s part of the problem, not just whether Jack O’Connor is going to call a general strike or not.

CMK - January 4, 2013

I was trying, and obviously failing, to use analogy and not equivalence when I mentioned 1916 and a general strike.

To answer your questions, which are well put:

- I am in a union and am active. I’m completely unrepresentative of my workplace and my workmates who regard the union as a service provider, much like insurance: ‘hopefully you’ll never need them, but it’s good to have them there if you do’. There’s no class consciousness, no understanding that they owe their good working conditions to the struggles of previous generations of workers, no understanding that a union is a living entity and that they are not separate from ‘The union’ that they are the union. So far, so predictable. They’re possibly the perfect group of workers for today’s union leaders.

- Following from that they wouldn’t vote for a general strike and, indeed, the last time there was a ballot for strike action it was defeated. If there were a strike I’ve no doubt significant numbers would cross the picket lines.

- None of that means that I think a general strike is a bad idea and that we’d don’t need one. Unions are, at a conceptual level and at the level of consciousness, with some exceptions, mostly where there is an active Left, paper tigers. Were FG to get into power alone or with a few right wing TDs and they did decide to ‘take on the unions’, in deference to the mass media, they would likely win or at least dramatically push back workers rights here. They’d win because anti-trade unionism is entrenched in significant sections of the working class and that is reinforced by apathy and a sense that any struggle will ultimately prove futile. I imagine similar sentiments were present in late 19th century industrial countries.

- For a general strike to succeed there needs to be work laying the foundations, at an intellectual level among workers, for it. That work is not happening; the present union leadership will not let it happen and those on the Left who are saying now that it wouldn’t work are guaranteeing that it won’t work. My point is that the very process of educating for a general strike, and agitating for it among a sceptical workplace would have positive political consequences. The ‘partnership’ era has completely detached unions from wider political issues. And unions are inherently political organisations. While the upper echelons are obviously highly political and politically alert, the rank and file are not, in most cases, and are not encouraged to be. THAT has to change whether we want a general strike or even if we just want to hold the tide and wait for things to pick up in the future.

WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2013

I’m not convinced that leftists who say that a GS won’t work are guaranteeing it won’t work. You yourself outline in great detail precisely why the conditions don’t exist currently and likely not for some time to come for any such actiion.

I also think there’s a distinction between a political movement or indeed, as many of us are, independent leftists who are willing and happy to use a general strike as a tool which is entirely appropriate at a certain point and calling for a general strike well in advance of that certain point and as crucially the basis for a successful call for a strike being established. The first can be stated in literature as part of a general strategy to be worked towards. The second is replete with problems, again problems you yourself outline in great detail above.

That’s why I think for example the placards in advance of the Budget calling for a General Strike were seriously misconceived. No one calling for it thought it was going to happen or that any material basis existed for it to happen. It’s an ambition whose scale is so great given where we currently stand that I’d be very leery trying to bring it to peoples attention.

And that makes me think of another point, and I don’t mean to be a Cassandra but perhaps it is useful to work through the problems as we seem to be doing in order to arrive at solutions. Shifting workers political beliefs and identities is an enormous task in itself. I think I’ve mentioned preivously that despite prolonged action where I once worked and some success in that action in subsequent years there was no dividend on a political level in terms fo shifting people to vote further left. It just didn’t connect in their lives (and that has echoes of your point about many workers seeing it as an insurance – by the way, I’m not agin that as a starting point for participation in unions, but it’s obviously nowhere near enough) that action might mean a political decision further on. Ironically I met up with a couple of my union colleagues over the Summer and the most right wing one at the time was now facing the property tax as a pensioner on the state pension and therefore was in favour of the CAHWT. Conversely a more radical one supported the tax because they saw it as essential in terms fo equity – but here’s the thing, they voted for Clare Daly in their constituency and would again. Meanwhile another had shifted towards FG from FF. But all had been solid in the union and particularly active.

Perhaps the crisis might shape them towards the left but I don’t know.

At the same time don’t get me wrong, all this still requires people being active and engaging etc, indeed more so than ever.

ejh - January 5, 2013

I’m completely unrepresentative of my workplace and my workmates who regard the union as a service provider, much like insurance: ‘hopefully you’ll never need them, but it’s good to have them there if you do’. There’s no class consciousness, no understanding that they owe their good working conditions to the struggles of previous generations of workers, no understanding that a union is a living entity and that they are not separate from ‘The union’ that they are the union.

I think this is the way things have gone pretty much all over during the past thirty years: consumerism, easy credit, home ownership, greater ease of travel, rising living standards. People found that they could make their own way by working and buying the things they wanted. Social being determines social consciousness and a consumerist social being doesn’t bring about a socialist social consciousness: moreover it’s a self-reinforcing thing, so where people are not, for instance, acting together politically or in unions, they neither practice the practical habits nor develop the mental habits that are bound up with socialist ways of thinking and acting.

But that model has broken down, and that means that people, and younger people in particular, may be open to some kind of reconstitution of socialist ideas and organisation. Difficulty is now, you’ve got no models. Programmes are all well and good, but people don’t believe in them. Don’t believe they’ll work, or don’t believe you’ll be allowed to put them into practice. Moreover, even on the level of trades unionism, people probably aren’t going to be that enthusiastic for trades union activism until they reckon mlitant trades unions can win.

How do you change any of that? I don’t know. I also don’t think anybody else knows, though there’s plenty of people who reckon they do. Most likely you can’t change it – you just have to wait until it changes of its own accord, and in the meantime, just do the things you think are right and the things you can.

WorldbyStorm - January 5, 2013

I tend to think it’s probably much much longer than thirty years, though in its most obvious manifestation that may be the period when it became most clear. But take the UK, outside of certain communities perhaps the great flourishing of socialist thought and practice came in the aftermath of the Second World War and perhaps precisely because of the War where class distinctions were blurred to some degree in the war effort and by the experience of those serving in military forces (reading about how reactionary the society was pre-War is an education in itself). And how long did that last at a societall level?

But I think it’s also important to recognise that people expect much more concrete proposals now, precisely because of the nature of the hegemony.

As I’ve noted above nebulous appeals to ‘socialism’ in the absence of any lived experience of it almost at all are positioned ina moral basis and that only takes people so far. The expectation is that there will be some sort of structured path forward (this after all is what one gets in all otnher societal interactions – however deceptive they may be, as with pensions or insurance or mortgages). And I don’t think it is unreasonable as part of the mix you rightly point to of doing what one can to also offer something along those lines.

CMK - January 5, 2013

WbS, just getting a chance to respond now to your points below. What I suppose I’m trying, arguably in a vague enough manner, is the conflict between an adherence to socialism, the Left, communal ownership, equality, the public sphere dominating over the will to privatisations etc, and the reality of a working class which is massively complex; complex well beyond the conceptual universe of socialist thinkers even up to 30-25 years ago. I know you’ve referred to Andre Gorz before but it would be an interesting thought experiment to fly him (bring back to life first, obviously!) to Dublin, put him an taxi and send him to Mullingar to spend a week there in a commuter belt housing estate and see what he comes up with as an understanding of the Irish working class’. It’s possible that while a definition of ‘working class’ is coherent at the level of income, say everyone below the average industrial wage is now ‘working class’, within that class there are probably hundreds of thousands who’d recoil at the thought that there were ‘working class’. I think the point you make about your former union buddies is apposite to this debate. Where you have several differing, and conflicting, perspectives within a handful of workers. Such that ideas of the ‘working class’ as capable of form a political ‘mass’ seem so much pie in the sky.

I suppose in those circumstances, trying to build for a general strike, conceived as an expression of ‘working class’ power is a big ask, where many of those who would be putative participants in that strike, do no regard themselves as such.

Having said all that, those are the subjective elements animating the working class. There remains an objective dimension of a capitalist class which views itself as socially exclusive and who view the rest of their fellow citizens as cash-cows who must obey the rules of the global market as interpreted and ‘localised’ by the respective national capitalist classes. While the capitalists know, pretty precisely, where they want to go, and they seem to have a clear course plotted to get there, the same can’t be said about workers. I suppose what it comes down to is that it is probably easier to develop a homogenising consciousness among, to use the Occupy concepts, the 1%, by virtue of the relatively limited numbers, than it is to develop the same among the 99% who are, inevitably much more diverse and heterogenous. And that the 99% have evolved over the past 100 years of relative success for the workers movement from homogeneity, which was the basis of their ability to attack and win as a class, to a heterogeneity which ultimately serves to weaken it and expose it to political and economic attacks that will have the result of homogenising it all over again.

CMK - January 5, 2013

I hope, ejh, you’re right that today’s young people, by whom I would define as those under 25+ and for whom the 1990-2008 long capitalist boom is, even at this stage, ancient history, are capable of developing a degree of socialist consciousness to resist what’s coming towards them. The days of easy credit, a decent lifestyle, relatively secure work etc are drawing to a close and the coming labour market will resemble the Roman colosseum where they’re throw into it and will have literally live or die by their own faculties with zero collective resources to draw upon.

Alas, for precisely that group while I would be hopeful that they might develop the consciousness, I’d be less optimistic that they will develop the concomitant organisations to give political expression to that consciousness. Partly because there are so many distractions these days where concentrating on any one task is a challenge for most people, even for those of us you remember when there was nothing but TV, radio, books, magazines the cinema and, eh, that was it.

My own belief is that it will be my children’s generation, i.e those under 10 today, who will really bring the fight to the capitalist class because I’ve no doubt that when today’s toddlers and primary school kids get in to the labour market it will be a savage and unforgiving experience. That’s not a comforting thought, but it is a realistic assessment of the direction of current developments. My kids’ generation will, probably quite literally have nothing to lose by a full frontal assault on capitalism.

Finally, I think you’re point about people being reluctance to engage in militancy without some reassurance that they can win, is well made and goes to the crux of the matter. Alas, the trade union movement, at least in Ireland, have made a virtue of never struggling or engaging in militancy. Hundreds of thousands of union members are seeing their working conditions decline with no response, hundreds of thousands of workers who are not members of unions are being given impossible ultimatums with no possibility to resist. However, unless you engage in some militancy, which carries with it the risk of losing, then you’ll never find out if you could win. At this point in the crisis ‘playing it safe’, in the hope that energies and resources can be conserved for latter battles, is counter-productive as workers and their collective organisations – trade unions – are facing a real existential crisis from which there is absolutely no guarantee they’ll emerge as viable organisations.

7. Loveyou longtime - January 4, 2013

Also you do realize that SYRIZA is based on decades of debate between serious left groups from the Euro-communist, Marxist reformist, social democratic traditions, putting forward serious programmes which are they debated and sharpened by comparison to the very serious programmes of the KKE – not some Trot Wayne’s world “book them and they will come” fantasy.

No rational person claims that a ‘perfect programme’ divorced from an active invigorated political movement will get anywhere – what rational people are against is the Trot refusal to engage in the development of any serious programme – its time for the clowns to depart the stage.

CMK - January 4, 2013

So, the key to SYRIZA’s advancement was presence of the KKE, who obviously have the ‘correct’ approach in all things and whose ‘very serious programmes’ were a resource to the various Greek clowns who eventually became SYRIZA. I’m well aware of the differences in history of the Left in Greece versus here. But, frankly, when you start positing ‘rational people’ and ‘Trots’ the debate is not going to get very far. If ‘the clowns’ (who I presume you mean the various groups who make up the ULA), to use your terminology, depart the stage who’ll take their place? What other Left force is out there to step into the breach?

Loveyou longtime - January 4, 2013

Let me rephrase that – its time for the clowns to either take off the make up get real or fuck off – the red noses and bright coloured hair is scaring off real workers and their families as their cynical approach becomes ever more clearer.

CMK - January 4, 2013

Who’ll replace them if they ‘fuck off’? Are the ‘real workers and their families’ who given them their votes scared of them? Hard questions. Try to answer them.

ejh - January 4, 2013

Any left programme which depends, on its succcess, on leftists who disagree with it disappearing from the stage, has to deal with the problem that they won’t.

Which, of course, is a handy alibi for people whose political activity consists of blaming the “Trots” for everything.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

EJH, while there may be differences of opinion on these questions it’s somewhat provocative to suggest that anyone is blaming the “Trots” for anything, let alone everything. There is space for different approaches, they’re not mutually exclusive, the approaches can complement each other rather than being antagonistic. I don’t see it as being necessary for anyone to disappear from the stage as you put it.

8. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - January 4, 2013

One the one hand your saying people who vote right-wing deserve what they get, on the other more and more will vote left in response, (no matter what the left say)…so we should hope for a few more right-wing governments then? If you went door to door in any working class area this week and asked people ‘do you support a general strike?’ you would find out that the majority don’t, that loads are out of work and can’t go on strike anyway, that many work in non-union jobs, that lots of union members don’t really have a problem with the union leaders…etc
And this should convince you to go off, start at the bottom, revise the slogans, and work hard to build your alternative. But I see no sign that a lot of the far-left have any interest in doing this. The quick-fix of the recruitment of a few students, a half-decent turnout at a public meeting and an appearance on Vincent Browne is the limit of their ambition. And shouting at some ICTU fella at a demo.

CMK - January 4, 2013

I’m well versed in the complexity of working class experiences and life circumstances and that that complexity doesn’t map comfortably onto much Left wing thinking.

My frustration is based on the view that there is mechanical relation between Left forces developing a ‘credible’ programme leading to a shift towards the Left electorally. That the latter is the sole pre-requisite for the latter.

And, frankly, while I don’t believe that people who vote for the right ‘deserve what they get’, if there is no connection between masses of workers voting Right and the ongoing degradation of said workers living and working conditions, and if that’s not an issue for the Left, then we might as well give up and try to make the best of things and hope the Right knows what it’s doing. Making it clear to working people that there are consequences to their electoral choices should be a fundamental task of the Left. The middle classes and the rich vote according to their class interests, and are encouraged to do so, while workers rarely do, and they are not encouraged to do so.

LeftAtTheCross - January 4, 2013

CMK, there’s no suggestion af anything ‘mechanical’ in the process, or a reduction of the motivation for substantiation of a Left alternative to purely electoral terms. Clearly the process is more complex than that. And in my opinion there should be nothing mutually exclusive about an agitational approach, or an approach which builds alternatives in the gaps between existing structures, such as co-op’s, or an approach which looks to build momentum around an incremental transition through existing structures. We don’t know in advance how interactions between these will reinforce the shift Leftwards in society. Different approaches will appeal to different constituencies and at different times. There’s no single end point, no single path towards it. The problem is that the Left as currently composed is focusing on only one approach, and thus leaving the field open for others to fill that space with projects which have very different objectives in terms of altering the power relationships between capital and people, i.e. not altering it at all.

9. Joe - January 4, 2013

I’ll try.
To break it down a bit. If what is being talked about is how to get the working class to vote left.
First: Some kind of overall agreed vision of what a country (Ireland) run by the left would look like. Initially, the members of the Left party would need to buy into that vision and then it would need to be sold to the masses.
Second: A concrete programme for each election addressing the state of the country at that time and saying how a Left government would deal with it – what measures it would take re employment, taxation, social welfare etc etc.
Third: The members of the Left party to be active on the ground in their constituencies – helping people and communities with their daily struggles.

To me, that third bit sums up how the Right have been in government since the foundation of the state – their party apparatuses have done the leg work (“constituency work”, “advice centres”, “clinics”). And I’d be pretty sure that all ULA TDs have done and continue to do that kind of work too.

Look, all of the above is shorthand and there’s room for lots of debate and teasing out. And maybe this boils down to another revolution vs reform thread. Time for a bit of nostalgia – I think steps one, two and three above were beginning to be achieved by the WP in the 80s but… ah, well.

WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2013

I like it.

que - January 5, 2013

+1 joe but problems are:

first – Agreeing the vision internally within a party and then selling it to an external audience who would like to see the transition path to that vision are two different things. I would think you’d need a vision plus 5-6 different stages. But will that fly past a left wing party concerned about diluting the programme. Or will the vision be kept rigourous and instead appeal to about 2-5%.
It not an easy question and only Syriza has managed to sell it so far.
Second – fully agree but I am concerned that very few left parties are actually now doing that. Whatever impedes most left parties from preparing that needs to be identified and resolved. I think its a follow on from the first point myself.

I think also the WP were building that but whether this is right or wrong tmy read is the WP at the end was too rigid and dogmatic and truthfully its position on the north and on farmers were inappropriate for the circumstances of Ireland in 1980s.

The question of revolution versus reform is usefully considered by following up your reference to how the right has put in place the mechanisms to handle all three of your requirements already.

The right in Ireland, Europe and America has built up a strong neo-liberal bulwark not through revolution but by incremental steps on many fronts using a consistent approach based on a simple principle. The right in Europe and America rowed back welfare state models and in the American case a more equitable society incrementally over decades and not via revolution.

Whether that means reformism is alone is appropriate is not the argument but more that reformism has been used very effectively to shift the entire discourse right. In politics as in life look at whats working and whats not working. Clearly what ever the right is doing is working for their skewed agenda and whatever the left is doing is well look at the record.

10. Garibaldy - January 4, 2013

Surely the idea that left parties should have something it can place in people’s hands and say this is our programme for economic development in the short to medium term ought to be accepted as a central aim? How else are you to persuade people that you have a vision to transform things.

This isn’t to say such an entity is a panacea; of course it isn’t, but it’s hard to see – from the lessons of our political culture and history – how the need for such a thing can be questioned.

Martin Savage - January 5, 2013

Not just the ULA imploding but PBP cutting their own TDS throat should inspire the masses- see Dublin south central

daramcq - January 6, 2013

At the risk of sloganeering, I’d say that the programme is a process – it will have to be revised and expanded as the party develops. The idea that a programme is unnecessary is surely as foolish as fetishing it. The question arises: how can you expect people to support and participate in your project for power if you don’t have a clue what to do with it?

11. richotto - January 5, 2013

Comments from sites like these over the past few years usually have a theme of an underlying unity of interests from those below the elite or earning over 100k or whatever and speculate on what it takes for all workers to come to their senses in a general strike or whatever. Thats not the reality in Ireland and there was quite a few on the make getting special increases over the past 40 yrs without any consideration for the general situation of other workers. Theres a ocean of difference now developed between a typical private sector worker on 15-20k and public sector professionals on 60k and over. It is in denial not to acknowledge these differences and how they came about, how to rectify the injustice of the unjustified wage inequality that we have now. I’m always amazed how far left socialists can feel so threatened on the subject of wage inequality like its something thats inherently off message. There was a comment above from CMK about how he/she is fed up by the “schtick” on private sector workers feeling ignored. Its as if they should know their place and take the crumbs after the fatcats on the so called workers side have filled their boots. Thats the reality with the left trade union priorities over the past 40 yrs or so, giving the easy gains in rounds of special increases to the public manopoly workers and refusing to push for comparable increases for workers in the weaker sectors. How can these groups now appeal for solidarity and a sense of common struggle with the gaps in pay so large now? I’m not talking about the two thirds or so of public sector staff on less than 50k by the way as they are being used in a way like the farmers to have the rich ones hiding behind the poor and invoking false common cause.

WorldbyStorm - January 5, 2013

Well again, I’ve always argued on this site that the great oversight during partnership was the position of private sector workers like myself whose interactinos with the unions even when we were being active and actively militant was amazingly hands off. And this at a time when union activity was fairly low and predictable. But hay was being made in the public sector where it was easy rather than in the private sector where had it been encouraged it could have built structural foundations for preicsely the sort of actions now required. But the thing is I can’t say in all honest that that was a result of ‘left’ thinking because I don’t regard the unions as being terribly left wing (though I do think there’s something in what you say more generally about an approach on the left that seems to almost ignore the reality of private sector union activity and continually default to thinking about public sector activity – something I wonder whether it is a result of trying to see the Irish empllyment structure through the prism of other states experience, where public sectors were much much more powerful historically).

que - January 5, 2013

that error has been made before. Harris’ and Smullen’s Ireland industrial revolution booklet showed up how they ignored the reality on the ground that up until the 60s and really until the 90s Ireland (at the saorstat) was a primary producing country yet not as drastically poor as primary producing countries elsewhere in the world. Effectively due to its history it needed to be tackled in a different way. Instead Smullen and Harrris to my reading just said ignore that and lets focus on whoever is now working in a factory – cause thats the way it happened in the countries with large manufacturing bases so lets pretend thats also Ireland’s circumstances. That prism problem is a long time around.


12. sonofstan - January 5, 2013

Excellent discussion this. Laid low by ‘flu and not really mentally capable of contributing much, but carry on…… There’s material for stand alone posts in many of the comments above.

WorldbyStorm - January 5, 2013

A bad dose going around, some of it piggybacking on vomiting bug. Hope you get better soon.

13. doctorfive - January 8, 2013

Curious letter in response to McGurk on Sunday


“Ireland does of course need new politics. However the simplistic notion that an old fashioned left/right divide, or the equally simplistic notion of being pro- or anti-Europe, is well out of date. What we do need is a politics where the values of the left are allied to a pragmatic recognition of the facts of the real, and the financial and fiscal realities that confront us. The left-versus rightly false ideological debate leads only to stalemate and ideology blocking progress. ”

penned by a Labour Councillor

doctorfive - January 8, 2013

*facts of the real world

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