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The Left and the Future from Todays ‘This Week’ on Radio 1 February 3, 2013

Posted by irishelectionliterature in The Left.

The Left got some coverage on todays RTE Radio Ones ‘This Week’ show… from around 37 minutes.

Amongst those interviewed in the report were Rory Hearne, Conor McCabe , Adrian Grant and Chekov Feeney. Afterwards Richard Boyd Barrett was interviewed about the Radical Left in Ireland.
Some truth in what many of them said and good to see The Left get some decent coverage. Mind you it was The Socialist Party leaving the ULA that seemed to prompt RTEs interest.

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1. Jolly Red Giant - February 3, 2013

To be honest Chekov was speaking a load of bullsh*t.

2. Jolly Red Giant - February 3, 2013

And RBB did his usual ‘don’t mention socialism’ piece and talked about ‘broadening out the alliance’ – I have sure he’ll be back on the phone to Fintan O’Toole and others now that ‘socialism’ can be dispensed with.

que - February 3, 2013

most people in Ireland are amenable to socialist principles and policies. A very many people in Ireland regard socialists as being incapable of running the country.

No fan of RBB or the SWP but if they they have decided that pushing the substance of socialism without invoking a pavlovian response by mentioning socialism then maybe they are on the right track.

Nobody is under any doubt that RBB is a socialist Nobody!. Why in god’s name is it a pre-requisite that he constantly tell us that fact.
Voters dont want to hear how RBB is positioning himself via other small factions regards their purity of socialism. Maybe he has cottoned on to the fact that people find it repetitive and dull to constantly mention socialism without actually having any mastery of specifics. Indeed for RBB maybe its a handicap because rather than blithely talking about socialist alternatives now he has one less fig. If he can explain himself well without that figleaf then his party will grow because of that.

I mean seriously does Joe Higgins need to be telling anyone that what he is proposing is socialism.

que - February 3, 2013

“Nobody is under any doubt that RBB is a socialist Nobody!.
should be:
Nobody is under any doubt that RBB is a socialist! Nobody!.

A Friend - February 3, 2013

I think there are two reasons the SP want socialist mentioned all the time. The first and most important is because the SWP have decided not to take such an approach. Secondly, they may think if people hear the word socialist it is good product placement for their party – I wouldn’t read much more into it than that.

que - February 3, 2013

It may simply be diffentiation and branding as you say but it seems a particularly purposeless point on which to criticise RBB.

A Friend - February 3, 2013

I very much agree – then again its fairly hard to find much point in most of the disagreement between the SP and SWP

3. A Friend - February 3, 2013

Have to agree with you JRG. Apart from McCabe and Grant, who we didn’t hear enough from, the other three seem to be involved in some form of long term charity work among the working classes – best thing they could do for the left in Ireland is probably stop taking up airtime.

4. WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2013

JRG, please, you know the packdrill around here. There’s no room for gratuitous and off the cuff attacking others. I won’t warn you again.

revolutionaryprogramme - February 3, 2013

I have no particular agreement with anything Chekov said here, or elsewhere, but to merely reject anything he says as JRG does is symptomatic of an unfortunate general approach by JRG, and his SP comrades, for how to deal with any political alternative to their left.

WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2013

To be fair, I’m not so sure it is an SP approach.

revolutionaryprogramme - February 3, 2013

Maybe not all of them, all of the time, but I’ve seen similar, all to often, from the likes of Mark P. and Pat when posting here.

Jolly Red Giant - February 3, 2013

Looks like this is bitch about the SP day on CLR.

I would have thought my comment was self-explanatory to anyone who listened to the radio piece. Feeney claimed that Ireland doesn’t have any left tradition which is bullsh*t and he claimed that the irish population were a right of centre blob politically which is bullsh*t.

RBB put the failure of building the ‘left’ down to using outdated language (i.e. not talking abour socialism or trying to educate people about socialist ideas) and not being ‘broad’ enough (as demonstrated by the fact that he had little issue with Daly and Collins running off to ‘I took cocaine and ecstasy’ Ming and tax dodging Wallace). He then went on to claim that the PBP was an attempt to deal with this problem – the question to be asked is why the PBP is moribund and has made diddly squat progress pretty much since it was founded?

WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2013

No it is no such thing as ‘bitch about the SP day’. I’ve explicitly said that I don’t think that’s an SP approach. Don’t twist others words JRG. This attitude of yours – which is yours and yours alone and nothing to do with the party you’re a member of – is getting to the point of not merely being tiresome but well out of order.

I’ve asked you before to rein in your language. It’s unfraternal, to put it mildly in regards of others on the left. And by God, I stepped in sharpish on your behalf only a week or so ago when someone else contravened the spirit and substance of guidelines on this site. You think Feeney is wrong, you don’t have to run around calling his words bullshit.

BTW, only earlier in the day I was complimenting the English SP for something it did and suggesting it was an approach that should be emulated by others on the left.

5. A Friend - February 3, 2013

RBB, yes, for good or for ill, but I really just do not see there being any value for good or ill to placed upon what the other two ‘activists’ have to say about the left – where did RTE throw them up from.

WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2013

Hearne is ex-SWP, isn’t he? He went over the voluntary/community sector IIRC and had a revelation about the further left in the process. I’ve met Chekov, and despite us having some, at times heated, disagreements in the past I always felt he was pretty sound tbh.

6. A Friend - February 3, 2013

Point taken, but what value are their views? There is about 100 people who you could think of interviewing on the position of the left in Ireland before these two. Actually, and I’m well aware of both I just would never consider them as people whose views on the subject are of much value, is it just not more middle class people getting to ramble on RTE? Of course it is not a surprise that a broadcaster which largely fails to acknowledge the existence of the working class would treat the subject any other way – but the left project is about working class emancipation, if it is about anything, so it is wholly correct that this approach should be condemned rather than ah, well let’s consider what they said anyway – on that I think what they said was wrong but that is not the point what they said is of no importance to the crisis in the left – that they were seen by RTE as acceptable voices for the left is itself a clear expression of the crisis, and don’t get me started on RBB.

WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2013

I kind of agree in a way. It does seem unrepresentative of the left. I’m just glad Conor and Adrian Grant were on the programme.

que - February 3, 2013

“Of course it is not a surprise that a broadcaster which largely fails to acknowledge the existence of the working class would treat the subject any other way”

Yet the leading party amongst the working class is Sinn Fein but isnt it the fact that very many fail to acknowledge that as well.

Those persons on the radio were not picked as acceptable voices of the working class by RTE. Others who werent on the radio show but fulsomely claim to be the voice of the working class dont become the voice of the working class by simply claiming it.

It doesnt work like that and RTE are under no compunction to include reps of self-proclaimed voices of the working class until those groups actually make serious head way in building real rather than rhetorical power and force their way in.

Until then RTE dont care and belly aching about others being house socialists while the real deal is kept on the outside is to ignore the collision between rhetoric and reality

A Friend - February 3, 2013

See my comment below on one of the reasons that working class voices are being stunted in developing. I agree with you re SF – unfortunately as that party has no class analysis worthy of speaking about its idea of representing the working class has now developed into parachuting in the like of o’snodaigh, may lou and doolan into working class areas (or near enough to them) to represent the plebs while either forcing out or to the background actual working class representatives – my view is the middle class know it all Left have a lot to answer for in the lack of the development of a serious working class led Left in Ireland. Look at the history of the Labour party and WP – the know it alls eventually just join the establishment. Rory Ahern is on the face track of such a process. That’s my view respect if you wish don’t if you don’t want to.

que - February 3, 2013

Isnt that just an excuse though. Its not the llefts fault its not gaining traction but instead actually middle class lefties who are derailing the project.
Okay so if it is indeed middle class socialists leading the left astray then why is it that those middle class socialists are in charge. Why are not the ‘truer’ working class activists rising to the top.
This is the same mistake as suggesting RTE wont host ‘true lefties’. No its because ‘true lefties’ are not in a position to on RTE and thats even accounting for RTE’s innate conservatism. Similarly can the far left blame members who come from middle class backgrounds for the failures of their movements to become significant.

Why is it always someone else who is responsible? middle class left wingers, RTE, etc etc.

I respect your analysis while disagreeing with it.

Blissett - February 4, 2013

“I agree with you re SF – unfortunately as that party has no class analysis worthy of speaking about its idea of representing the working class has now developed into parachuting in the like of o’snodaigh, may lou and doolan into working class areas (or near enough to them) to represent the plebs while either forcing out or to the background actual working class representatives”

Whatever about having no class analysis, its not the case that working class reps are being bundled aside. O’Brien, Ellis, Cullinane, Ó Clochartaigh, Doherty, MacLochlainn, McLellan, Ferris, Stanley are all of and representative of their communities. Likewise the bulk of the likely next intake of TDs, O’Leary, Brady, Carthy, Quinlivan, O’Toole/MacDonnacha, maybe Hogan, are the same

7. A Friend - February 3, 2013

But we must accept RBB is elected.

ivorthorne - February 3, 2013

What do people have against RBB?

8. A Friend - February 3, 2013

He is not exactly a working class organic intellectual is he? That’s grand but unfortunately the space that working class intellectuals/activists should be seen in seems to have been filled with Blackrock (or other such institution) past pupils expressing their horror that the society that has elevated their kin could not do the same for the poor unfortunates – would they do the supposed subject of their grief and affection a favour and step back and allow the working class represent themselves – if they have something to offer beyond the beautiful sound of their own good pronunciation they could support such a process – as it is they are getting in the way of such a process, in my opinion, which is of course not as valued in our society as their’s.

ejh - February 3, 2013

Translation: I don’t want to have alternative voices to mine on the Left, I just want my sort of people to be heard.

A Friend - February 3, 2013

thanks ejh but I’d be hard pressed to remember when the sort of people I respect were ever heard on RTE but give yourself a slap on the back for being better at knowing my mind that myself – you’ll go far, did you need a private education for such insight?

WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2013

There’s something in that A Friend, particularly as regards moral appeals wrapped in socialist rhetoric (particularly when revolution is far far beyond the horizon). And yet it can also be deceptive to concentrate overly on class, I think of Colm McCarthy who went to the school across the park from where I live which wouldn’t by any means or mention be ‘private’, or Fintan O’Toole who comes from a working class background himself and yet would in some respects seem to link into what I’d regard as upper middle class circles. Or I think of what Conor said yesterday at the launch of the ILR Journal which was that the overwhelming majority of people in this city (and state) are working class. And okay, put RBB aside and think of CD, or JC who are by most reasonable reckonings working class.

CL - February 3, 2013

Working class background, union leader, President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2013

It’s a very good point.

XtraXtra - February 3, 2013

Maybe SF are savvy enough to know that the uber-socialist establishment in this country are the banking sector. But do us, the ordinary range of people, actually want to be subject to the possible life-time, negative or positiv, tides of this establishment. (see the new Spanish movement – the ‘Merinas’ [or something like that]).
The negativity of the ordinary, (and tetchy) SFs is real difficult to withstand. This may be some previous societal shyness that they themselves have endured; and they are just too shy to actually say what they want, which (initially) may just be the detached or s-detached, with cars, hols. etc. But they really need to at least admit to this, otherwise left-persons will perceive them as nothing more than being selfish and hypocritical. And then put in work-standard practices and economics into actual policy. btw I do reckon they are very intimidating to the poorer foreign working people.

Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - February 3, 2013

Reagan never identified as working class. The majority of the people in the state, maybe, by socialogical definition are working class, but they certainly do not self-identify that way. Socialist leaders from other class backgrounds can opt out.

CL - February 3, 2013

Well Reagan’s father was a shoe salesman. That’s certainly a working class background. And he was the only labour union leader ever elected president of the U.S. So class background does not necessarily determine what class one identifies with, or what class interests one serves politically. All this is surely obvious.There’s also the example of Karl and Fred…..

CMK - February 3, 2013

Alan Johnson, form UK Labour cabinet minister, former postman and solid working class background; craps all over the UK unions and claims that Labour in the UK must stick with the Tories’ spending plans. And Owen Jones and others on the UK think the focus of Left wing activism should be the renewal of a party in which extreme anti-working class attitudes are celebrated: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/feb/03/alan-johnson-ed-miliband-union

CL - February 3, 2013

With the seeming disarray on the so-called far left there will probably be calls in Ireland too for a ‘renewal’ of the Labour Party; social democratic rhetoric shrouding the implementing of vicious, anti-working class policy.

ejh - February 3, 2013

Owen Jones and others on the UK think the focus of Left wing activism should be the renewal of a party in which extreme anti-working class attitudes are celebrated

He’s a good thing, though, Owen. And to be fair to him, it’s not as if leftwing alternatives to the UK Labour Party have been terribly successful.

If Labour Party renewal’s his plan, I’d wish him all the best with it – I don’t have a better idea. Not that I think he’ll get that far with it, mind.

doctorfive - February 3, 2013

Owen Jones and others on the UK think the focus of Left wing activism should be the renewal of a party in which extreme anti-working class attitudes are celebrated

and this is seen (or tolerated) as an almost hard left position.

CMK - February 3, 2013

Jones isn’t bad, at all; indeed he’s a very interesting and vital analyst and commentator. ‘Chavs’ was a great read, if depressing and sad at times. But when he starts his old ‘Labour are the only show in town’ stuff I start to tune out. Particularly when the actually existing UK Labour party is horrid in many respects; that quality exemplified by Johnson’s linked interview. However, in the first past the post UK election system it would be very hard for any far left party to make impact. The poor ‘oul UK Greens, after decades of trying, finally got one MP in 2010 when we had 6 Green TDs. Happily, we have no Green TDs (long may that be the case) but, unfortunately, we’ll probably never see any serious numbers of Left MPs in the UK given the electoral system.

ejh - February 3, 2013

Yes. I went to Eton, of course.

You’re the one who saw fit to suggest other people “step back” in favour of other people, unspecified but more to your liking. It’s not a healthy sentiment.

CMK - February 3, 2013

Seriously, did you go to Eton?

ejh - February 3, 2013

As far as A Friend knows.

WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2013

It’s not the class you were born into, it’s the class you stand with… not a bad sentiment I think.

9. gfmurphy101 - February 3, 2013

General comment on maybe a new approach
First and Foremost – Expose the Exploitative Heart of Capitalism http://gfmurphy101.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/920/

then maybe make some noise about this “if you ever wanted to know facts about the wealthy in Ireland, here is your chance to explore”
and then perhaps mention this “Welcome to the Network of Global Corporate Control: Meet the Global Corporate “Supra-Government”, Part 1 by Andrew Gavin Marshall”

ya never know people might sit up and take some notice!

10. Jolly Red Giant - February 3, 2013

Incidentally – I would be interested to hear how the ULA ‘non-aligned’ meeting went yesterday – despite the hype I haven’t seen any comments anywhere about it.

revolutionaryprogramme - February 3, 2013

I wasn’t at the meeting and haven’t seen an official report either though I understand that no final decision on relations with the Daly/Collins group were taken and there will be another meeting next month.

critical media review - February 3, 2013


Julian Assandwich - February 4, 2013

I hope it was healthy and went well. Paradoxically, the need for a Left is more pressing now than even when ULA1.0 was conceived and had the plug pulled last Spring.

11. doctorfive - February 3, 2013

related – some praise from unlikely corners of the Indo business section.


the economic debate here is dominated by a relatively small group of private- and public-sector economists who share similar academic backgrounds and views.

With so many unorthodox economic policies now in play on the world stage, the appearance of economists capable of fresh thought is welcome.

As Mario Draghi’s actions at the European Central Bank shows, yesterday’s heresies quickly become today’s orthodoxies and tomorrow’s anachronism.

On the need for mentioning socialism and dovetailing with comments yesterday. I thought the ILR journal made the correct editorial decision in presenting alternative analysis of finance rather then the – equally worthy – dissecting posters or what have you.

CL - February 3, 2013

What heterodox economic philosophy did the participants in the conference express?

12. LeftAtTheCross - February 4, 2013

It was an extremely disappointing piece on the Irish Left, but hardly unexpectedly so. I’m inclined to think that the problem wasn’t the people who were contacted to contribute, but rather the narrative that was pre-designed by the show’s producers/researchers and into which the commentary was suitably selected to back up the notion that the Left is a best an irrelevance. So we get Conor McCabe, quoted for maybe a 20 second soundbite, more or less saying that the TU movement is essentially moving away from the LP and back to its radical roots in FF. What a soundbite. The issue is not whether or not that statement is correct, or whether Conor was qualified to make the comment, but that RTE chose to make that one comment his contribution to a program about the Left in ireland.

13. Ringacoltig - February 4, 2013

The “This Week” item was based on the premise that “the Left” mean those TDs who express themselves or are considered to be on the left. The programme practically ignored the possibility that there could be a Left grassroots with activists on the ground or indeed seemed blissfully ignorant of revolutionary socialism. At best you get an image of left-wing parties as being mere fan clubs for TDs and candidates. At the end you have Chekov Feeney talking about the need for “big ideas” but then he drums on about people too tied to Marx or who have gone into social democracy. Surely the point for those on the Left is that socialism itself IS the big idea.

The real failure of the programme was to even an attempt to analyse what is meant by the term Left. Austerity was mentioned but out of context as if opposing it was merely a tactic because it was unpopular rather than showing that austerity and the economic crisis are a direct consequence of capitalism. Instead of a discussion on the battle of ideas it focused on the battle of egos.

Conor McCabe - February 5, 2013


just to say that in the opening five minutes of my conversation with RTE I pointed out that the left in Ireland includes grassroot, community, trade union and political organisations. I then moved on to “in terms of high politics” and said, crisis? What crisis? I said that the crisis only appears to be one because of the shifting sands within the working class and lower middle class vote with the implosion of Fianna Fail, although it appears that the public sector vote that Fianna Fail lost to Labour last time around is starting to move back to Fianna Fail.

The last line where I talked about the public sector and fianna fail, is the line they used. My fifteen minutes of explaining that the crisis within the Irish left – when seen as something more than just high politics – is , to paraphrase Mark Twain, deeply exaggerated,was not used.

Now, I knew this was going to happen. But fuckit. That’s media for you in Ireland.

Just to save time and typing, the next time I’m on radio or TV, rest assured I’ll be quoted out of context then as well.

As to my extreme optimism regarding the Left in Ireland – well,am I really going to slag off the Left to RTE? I think I know who the enemy is here.

WorldbyStorm - February 5, 2013


I think Conor’s point is central to any critique of the show. People know how this works, how the media will tape x amount and use only that which they think is interesting or important . The topic of this programme wasn’t an event, it wasn’t a case of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but an issue that all of us both offline and online find it easy to discuss at length and that there are multiple websites and magazines devoted to (at least in part).

There’s only one person who I thought was inappropriate for the piece, Hearne, that’s my opinion, – but I think the flaws of the programme were the programmes flaws, and their lack of knowledge and understanding of the Irish left was their problem (the makers of the programme) and indicative of a broader lack of knowledge and understanding, not those who were asked to contribute.

14. Red Hand - February 4, 2013

I thought it was very bad, full of cliches. What is Chekov Feeney’s expertise- is he a journalist or historian? I thought his statement that there was no left tradition in Ireland, that there was no tradition of extreme right or left for example or revolutionary politics in the 20 th century, to be shockingly bog standard and just not true. Did he miss out on 1916-23? McCabe’s point was hard to understand and Hearne was also so vague I was wondering why he was on it at all.

15. Red Hand - February 4, 2013

Chekov Feeney has obviously never heard of the 1913 Lockout, the Citizens Army, Limerick Soviet, Arigna Soviet, Larkin’s Irish Worker League, Republican Congress, Outdoor relief riots, the Blueshirts, Connolly Column…….

Jim Monaghan - February 4, 2013

Or even the left catholic journal Grille

16. chekov - February 4, 2013

Oh brother.

The left in Ireland is far, far weaker historically than in almost any other European country. The brief flickering that we got in the early 20th century (which was relatively heterodox and ideologically confused by international standards) pretty much died by the 30s. Since then this has been a very conservative country until very recently at least.

It’s demonstrably and obviously true by the mere fact of looking at voting patterns in this country. Nowhere else in Europe had anything like the 2 centre-right-catholic parties playing governmental tag with never a discernible policy difference for the entirety of the 20th century post independence. The freaking labour party has barely managed to get any seats ever outside the cities and they were also pretty much centre-right-catholic. Where further left people have got elected it has generally been despite rather than because of their ideological positioning – people vote for Joe and Clare and RBB, way before they vote for Permanent Revolution.

I think any discussion on the status of the left that doesn’t focus on the weakness of socialism as a historical intellectual current in Ireland is missing out on the big picture. I also think that any reflection on the prospects of the left that does not recognise the fact that there is essentially zero resonance (or more accurately a huge negative resonance) for Marxist terminology and the Marxist world-model here is just not engaging with reality. Now, obviously the trot parties aren’t going to let any of that reality in, but it’s absurd for others not to. Obviously, it’s not too hard to identify various political ‘errors’ among left leaders but none of that is particularly important when set against the sad reality that the population isn’t interested. For example, I frequently hear union leaders denounced for their timidity and demanded to call general strikes, etc. In reality, they are normally to the left of the membership and thus the question of general strikes etc is just irrelevant – the membership wouldn’t go with it.

critical media review - February 4, 2013

I think that may be an over-generalisation, the one day public sector strike was successful, people in general did come out and picket. I agree just saying ‘general strike’ doesn’t mean it will happen automatically, but on the other hand a form of ‘Irish exceptionalism’ should be avoided.

WorldbyStorm - February 4, 2013

Interesting point CMR. I’m on contract in a heavily unionised ‘campus’ style location for work (not in the educational sector). Nominally the vast majority are members of SIPTU and other PS unions. As a SIPTU member from my preivous private sector employment I was on the picket line on the day of the one day strike. I’d estimate that less than 3 per cent made that effort where I was. Perhaps a little more perhaps a little less.

And the big problem was that it was the public sector, a sector that is now retreating to the civil service and other areas like that given the way the state has removed itself largely from the commercial sector.

Without serious participation by the private sector a general strike wouldn’t happen, and having been in private sector employments and been on eo fthose active in unions and being fired for my pains the level of activism there is minimal and the level of support even less so.

The only way forward I can see is a serious push by unoins to do what they didn’t in the 2000s and late 1990s and organise in theprivate sector. Otherwise there’s no point.

Unfortunately on the other issue I think broadly Chekov is correct. There’s far too much emphasis put on the 1916 – 1921 period when that was effectively a national revolution with some elements of leftism in the mix.

It’s not exactly exceptionalism, but the socio-political and socio-economic stuctures of this polity have long been regarded as divergent from European norms. Though personally I think they might actually be in an odd way precursors of depoliticised (though clearly centre right/right of centre) polities now emerging.

But even were what those who see more there than (in my opinion) there is what difference would it make today given the balance of forces?

WorldbyStorm - February 4, 2013

Should add it’s often forgotten that at its height the WP got 4-5 per cent of the vote. That’s it. No more. And at a time the LP was sub-10 per cent.

This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best period in my life of 47 years for the left in electoral terms. And even still what is the total percentage and number of seats? And waht’s the likely outcome of the next election?

Jolly Red Giant - February 4, 2013

Oh brother is right-

I am actually astonished that someone originally from the anarchist tradition has shifted so dramatically in the political sands, it is not something that is normally seen emerging out of the small anarchist circles in this country.

Let’s deal with the substantive parts of the argument.

“The left in Ireland is far, far weaker historically than in almost any other European country”

True – but that statement ignores the historical reasons for such a situation, namely the fact that few European countries were subjugated to 700 years of colonial rule and the emergence of two sectarian states, there was no tradition of communist led resistance movements during WW2 and opposition to the national bourgeois gravatated to nationalist opposition movements rather than the left.

“The brief flickering that we got in the early 20th century (which was relatively heterodox and ideologically confused by international standards) pretty much died by the 30s.”

I have to dispute this – the movements around the period of independence were not a ‘brief flickering’ they were extensive, widespread, driven by Marxist trade union industrial organisers and rank and file members and internationalist in outlook. Yes the movement suffered defeats but again I would reject that they had pretty much died out by the 1930s – the International Brigade is an example of the tradition of the left in the late 1930s.

The isolation during WW2 and the depression fo the 1950s did hold back developments but there were extensive class movements in the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement in the North, the emergence of Peoples Democracy, the shifting to the left of Offical Sinn Fein and the NILP – plus – significant shifts to the left in the LP in the South, the Young Socialists regularly held meetings with attendances in the four figures, coupled with the emergence of the womens rights movement, campaigns against unemployment and poor housing – all of which had a left wing orientation.

“The freaking labour party has barely managed to get any seats ever outside the cities and they were also pretty much centre-right-catholic.”

Again untrue – traditionally the LP has performed better in rural rather than urban constituencies – and the vote in rural constituencies was based on local trade unionists in small and middle sized towns. Places like Clare had a vibrant working class and radical rank-and-file LP membership that return a LP TD for nearly 50 years up until the end of the 1960s. Yes, in some areas TDs managed to establish rural fiefdoms (eg Spring in Kerry and Corish in Wexford) but that was not the case all across the board. Furthermore, many of the city based TDs for the LP were middle-class intellectuals and professionals, particulrly from the 1960s onwards. Prior to this there was still a traditional left-wing character within the LP. In the 1957 election (after a second period of coalition) only one LP TD was elected in Dublin – Denis Larkin (Jim Larkin’s son) in DNE – who was elected because of his father’s standing among the working class of the area..

“Where further left people have got elected it has generally been despite rather than because of their ideological positioning – people vote for Joe and Clare and RBB, way before they vote for Permanent Revolution.”

I fundementally disagree with this – while the electorate may not be conscious of the full programme of the Socialist Party or the SWP, to dismiss the vote of left-wing candidate as a personal vote is fundementally flawed. This was amply demonstrated when people claimed that the Socialist Party would drop significantly in the recent DW by-election with Joe Higgins already a sitting TD – yet Ruth Coppinger increase the SP vote in the by-election.

Ireland was dominated by right-wing conservative, pro-Catholic elements for a long time – however Ireland was not the only country where this was the case. Many other countries have also had significant periods of such domination during the last century. Despite this situation there has been a consistent and resiliant traditional working class element in existance that occasionally has threatened to break apart the political norms. Furthermore, for someone of the anarchist tradition, you seem to place a lot of emphasis on electoral politics despite the fact that this is not the only field of class activity. The Irish Trade Union movement has deep roots in Irish society, that despite the best efforts of reactionaries in the South and sectarians in the North, has withstood everything that has been thrown at it. It has and will continue to be the basis for the development of left-wing political movements.

“I also think that any reflection on the prospects of the left that does not recognise the fact that there is essentially zero resonance (or more accurately a huge negative resonance) for Marxist terminology and the Marxist world-model here is just not engaging with reality.”

Again – I fundementally disagree with this – what is required is not the dumping of terminology or the class struggle – but a re-education of the working class in the traditions and consciousness of the working class. The class consciousness of working class people has suffered from the ideological onslaught of the past 20 years following the collapse of Stalinism. Class consciousness is still not near as widespread as it was in the 1980s – yet the working class are re-learning the lessons of the class struggle and redeveloping an understanding of the class nature of society. To do what you argue is to play straight into the hands of the ruling class by disarming the working class – suggestions about dumbing down the class struggle reflect a lack of confidence in the ability of the working class to control their own destiny.

Last point –

“I frequently hear union leaders denounced for their timidity and demanded to call general strikes, etc. In reality, they are normally to the left of the membership and thus the question of general strikes etc is just irrelevant – the membership wouldn’t go with it.”

This is probably the most out of touch statement in the entire post. It is fundementally wrong – it bears not one jot of evidence to back it up and it again demonstrates a complete lack of understanding and confidence in the working class. Time after time working class people have demonstrated that when a lead is given they will take up the reins of struggle and run with them. To suggest otherwise is a re-writing of the history of the workers movement.

chekov - February 4, 2013

“True but that statement ignores the historical reasons for such a situation”

Just like the statement that “it’s a nice day” ignores the nuclear fusion reactions that power solar radiation. I’ll make sure to include your own particular analysis of the why next time I make an assertion that you agree with.

And, you can of course, just like I can, come up with an endless list of left wing episodes in Ireland and even the odd bit of rural semi-socialism but it’s all totally pointless since you already conceded my point. And all the other nit-picking is similarly absurd. My simple basic point, that Ireland has been unusually politically conservative compared to European countries is quite obviously true. Elections, like em or lump em, provide high-quality opinion polls on where peoples’ world views are at.

The project of re-educating the working class in the Marxist world view has already failed. It has been in decline since the 1920s and in terminal decline since the 1950′s and it is now completely dead. Why exactly do you think that it will work this time? It’s much weaker numerically, objective conditions are much less conducive; its theoretical innovation died 100 years ago; it is most closely associated with the Soviet Union (worse still a very, very negative caricature of the USSR) and it has become full of all sorts of ridiculous ideological caricatures of itself over time.

And the “complete lack of understanding or confidence in the working class” – is a statement admonishing me for a lack of religious devotion if ever there was one. I at least understand that the population generally thinks trots are bonkers – you don’t even get that. The idea that the people are just waiting on the right leaders to take up the fight against the capitalist class is also from the moon. I think it’s a tremendous feat of mental acrobatics to be able to live in this society and believe that.

And, for what it’s worth I have moved my political position slightly, but not in terms of principle at all. I’m just not totally immune to the reality that smacks me in the face. And I don’t see any point at all in pursuing a strategy that has no chance of ever working. If the left is to rise again at all, it simply has to come up with new ways of convincing the population of the viability of their alternative. Agitation based on the idea that working class, revolutionary consciousnesss will emerge through struggle and the unchained creativity of the workers will then institute socialism is an obvious failure. Your revolution might as well be the rapture.

Jolly Red Giant - February 4, 2013

I love the re-writing of the history of the soviets from your WSM days – you really must have been biting your tongue when the WSM were propagandising about them.

chekov - February 4, 2013

What are you talking about? I have not rewritten any history. My opinions on Russia have, if anything become more favourable to the bolsheviks.

The reason I left the WSM was because I became entirely convinced (something that has become more obviously right with time and distance) that basing one’s propaganda on the universality of the logic of the events of 1917-8 in Russia is totally and utterly ineffective and the groups who do so are much closer to historical appreciation / re-enactment clubs than living political forces.

Jolly Red Giant - February 4, 2013

Chekov – I was referring to your dissing of “the odd bit of rural semi-socialism” – the workplace soviets were conscious political acts organised by Marxists and implemented by working class militants. they received huge support from the working class in general and demonstrated the effectiveness of working class organisation.

Dr.Nightdub - February 4, 2013

But JRG, they were still a flash in the pan. A very bright flash, but a flash all the same. We all probably agree on the reasons why they were so short-lived – nationalist counter-revolution, the Special Infantry Corps, catholic church red scares, a woeful LP leadership, etc etc – but it’s still a bit depressing that the high tide mark was 90 years ago and the tide’s shown precious little sign of coming in again since.

richotto - February 5, 2013

If the publics view of far left campaigning is that positive how come the combined membership of the SP and SWP is so low? Its the old Leninist style, saying to the public you’re welcome to support the partys efforts but don’t expect to be in there influencing the policymaking.

Jolly Red Giant - February 5, 2013

No Dr. – they weren’t a flash in the pan – the movements of the period from 1917-1922/23 were extensive, vibrant and posed a serious threat to the capitalist order. There is copious amounts of evidence that confirm this.

Furthermore in the mid-1920s the CnanG government held a public inquiry to investigate the ‘red flag years’ to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Furthermore they were a follow on from a whole series of class movements in the nineteenth century – the Caravats, the Rockites, the Terry Alts etc right up to the Land League.

It is also interesting to note that no one has taken note of the movements North and South in the 1960s as any indication of left-wing movements – which they were.

I do not and would not speak for the SWP – but the SP is a revolutionary party (even if RP doesn’t believe this) and it recruits people who have begun to draw revolutionary conclusions. In a society where class consciousness is at such a low ebb – the level of revolutionary consciousness is miniscule. In countries where there is the development of a revolutionary consciousness the situation is different – e.g. South Africa where the sister party of the SP, the Democratic Socialist Movement is recruiting significant numbers – not ones and twos, but groups of the most active and class conscious workers in the mines and the townships – and is playing a major role in the development of the Workers and Socialist Party. Initial indications are that in the Rustenberg mining region alone WASP has the support of 150,000 mine workers.

revolutionaryprogramme - February 5, 2013

“the SP is a revolutionary party (even if RP doesn’t believe this)”

or more importantly despite JRG being able to provide any evidence of this in the major political statements of the SP to the working class (election manifestos, pre-budget statements etc)…

Gavin Mendel-Gleason - February 5, 2013

Just to preface, I basically agree with the bulk of what you’ve said Chekov. However, I do disagree very much with the following.

“Marxist terminology and the Marxist world-model here is just not engaging with reality.”

There are two separate questions here that need to be dealt with in turn.

The first is the question of terminology. Terminology is useful when it deals with analytic categories that are required to exist in order to understand some model. However, there are certainly problems in communicating such things to the public if the public has a different mental model of the words you are using. You are essentially talking past them. Two good examples are the anarchist use of the word “state”, which they want to smash, but which they secretly know doesn’t mean smashing the NHS. The second example is the working class, which is associated in the minds of most with manufacturing – while it means something entirely different to most socialists. Talking past people is clearly not useful and socialists shouldn’t do it.

It does look like there has been a change in the understanding of the term “working class” since 2008 which has been made apparent in polls, and we shouldn’t assume that just becomes the public is confused about the way you use some word, that they will always be, but these are really entirely *tactical* questions. They can be decided when you are trying to frame your messages to the population. The real problem is in the next question.

Does the working class exist as a meaningful analytic category. Here I think you would contend that it does not, and this is where I think you are wrong. The attempts at reframing the working class as the 1% for instance ran into significant difficulties in the details. Many articles about the 1% during the occupy movement started looking analytically at what the 1% should really mean, and often started talking about the fact that it should really be the .1% or some group even smaller. The problem with all of this is that it is effectively an arbitrary cut-off that doesn’t deal with the dynamics of the economy.

Capitalists are simply different from wage labourers *even at extremes*. Take for instance a football player which makes 1 million a year. The capitalist who has surplus of 1 million in a year is commanding some 12 million in investment and thereby dictating the course of the economy in a way that the footballer simply does not. The footballer will use some of that money for investment, which will be quite small in relation to 12 million, and lots of it on conspicuous consumption.

Further, the idea of a substantial difference in classes is not at all “out of touch with reality” even if it might be out of touch with what the population thinks – and these are not at all the same thing. Victor Yakovenko’s group has established strong empirical support for substantial distributional differences in incomes based on the *mode* of income – whether one is making wages or whether one is reinvesting capital.

While the general public might not know their wave equations from their path integrals, this does not make physicsts out of touch with reality – in fact might we not say the reverse?

Further there is substantial evidence that the foundational ideas in Marxian economics (most of which predate Marx, including the LTV, the idea of a circuit of capital etc. many of which go all the way back to Hodgkins) also has substantial empirical evidence (Shaikh, Cockshott, Zekharia, and others). That bourgeois economics can’t come up with a model of price as accurate should make one at least temper ones claims about how absurd these categories are.

I don’t think it’s at all useful to throw the entirety of socialist critiques of political economy into a big Marxology box, or to pretend that it’s all crazy. Further, I don’t think there are any other critiques of political economy that give us as much insight into how to move forward as those that have a notion of a capitalist class, a circuit of capital and a population who are not really involved in this circuit except to sell their wage labour.

Gavin Mendel-Gleason - February 5, 2013

“The attempts at reframing the working class as the 1% for instance ran into significant difficulties in the details.”

Yarg… ruling class.

LeftAtTheCross - February 5, 2013

But that doesn’t overcome the difficulty that maybe only a few hundred people in this state are interested in and capable of reading and understanding what you’ve said there in your comment. The issue is not one of theoretical correctness, but one of accepted relevance. Which is perhaps what Chekov means when he talks about ‘engaging with reality’.

Gavin Mendel-Gleason - February 5, 2013

And that bit I agree with. We have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater though. If it’s correct, then reframe. That’s different to a claim than that it’s all a load of bollocksology.

LeftAtTheCross - February 5, 2013

Did he claim it was bollocksology though? (I couldn’t be arsed listening to it again to check). What I took from it was a valid criticism, which you referenced above in your comment, that there’s little to be gained to using a language that’s simply talking past people. Unless we use a vocabulary that has a shared meaning with people we do simply sound like cranks. Until they put Capital on the leaving cert’ english course or whatever I think we’re going to have to face that reality, and modify our content delivery appropriately. Which is exactly what happens when RBB etc couch their arguments in fuzzy rhetoric, but then they get accused by others within the Left of not mentioning ‘socialism’ of course. And those same people then get criticised for not mentioning ‘revolutionary socialism’. My point being that the Right don’t run around quoting Adam Smith, Milton Friedman etc., because if they did they would be exposed to the same criticisms that they’re pitching their arguments in an old-fashioned ideological way, even though that ideology underpins everything they say and do. The Left might learn a lesson or two there. I don’t know if that’s what Chekov was arguing though.

revolutionaryprogramme - February 5, 2013

Well there is jargon and there is substance. My issue with the politics of SWP is not that they doesn’t use particular words but rather that the substance of what they put forward is reformist.

The fact that the SP use more socialist jargon than the SWP does not mean they are presenting anything better per se as the substance of the policies they put forward is only a slightly more left version of the same reformist content.

CL - February 6, 2013

‘that it was associated with a movement that looked like a layabout stoner hippy commune’
Chekov on Occupy.


‘More than a third of the people who participated in Occupy Wall Street protests in New York lived in households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more, according to a study by sociologists at the City University of New York, and more than two-thirds had professional jobs.’

chekov - February 5, 2013

First of all, that quote is a little out of context – I was saying that people who didn’t recognise the common perceptions of Marxist discourse were out of touch with reality, not that the discourse itself is out of touch with reality. Then:

1. Obviously, I have no problem with specialist terminology. I do think that it matters which terminology that you use. In particular, the concept of class has always been an over-loaded concept. It existed before Marx as an idea of social strata – Marx held that these conceptions of class masked a real underlying concept of class that was purely defined by economics. He was wrong. They are different concepts and the traditional conception of class persists (and is still much more common) than the Marxist conception. Social class / poshness is a useful and necessary tool for understanding society and has not, as Marx predicted it would, collapsed into the supposed economic “real” class. This is particularly problematic because as you have two useful concepts sharing the same term, you get utter confusion. I mean even on this thread we can see supposed Marxists attacking me for being ‘middle class’ – which is purely based upon perceived poshness and has no relation to my stock of capital or wealth or income or anything (by which measures I am the wretched of the earth, sadly). Incidentally, I’m upper class, not middle class – please respect my self-identification here people :-)

This is made all the worse because Marxists, in their old-fashioned way, have a tendency to see the economic classification as somehow ‘real’ while the traditional social stratification is illusory. This is silly – one may be more useful than the other but abstract classifications are all equally real / artificial.

2. Then when we come to analytic categories. It is, of course, indispensable to understanding anything complex like an economy to come up with good categories which help to reveal the systemic dynamics. Marxist theory holds that categorising the population into capitalists and workers is the key to revealing the economic dynamics. This apparently clear cut dividing line is, in fact, anything but. Your example is not actually anything like the extremes – an extreme would be somebody like James Murdoch, on the one hand, a wage-earner, and the population that survives from their private pensions. The second group is, by Marxist reasoning, purely capitalist while the first individual is at least partially a prole. And the world is full of such situations – the guy in Timbuktu who makes his living by renting space in his fridge, versus the Accenture consultant who flies in to destroy Mali’s economy for the IMF, and the list goes on and on.

In short, Marxist economic theory does not map at all cleanly to a useful model of economic power – it requires umpteen post-facto ad-hoc corrections and adjustments – and these are only possible because we already sort of know where power lies.

The modern stuff coming out of econo-physics is, to my mind, easily the most interesting modern leftist economic theoretical work that I have come across. But it does not show what you think it shows. In particular the empirical demonstration that our economies have a 2 class-dynamic is not based upon relationship to means of production – it is based upon wealth. It shows that, given a certain distribution of wealth, and a market economy, those who are above a certain wealth line will tend to accrue all the growth. Now, sure relationship to means of production is a not-a-million-miles-away proxy for wealth – but the proxy isn’t nearly as good as the actual variable – wealth. Using wealth as the basis of your categorisation produces a categorisation that is exactly the opposite of arbitrary – you can actually identify the precise level of wealth from the data which positions one on the accumulation or stagnation side of the line.

You don’t need a proxy at all – the only use of it is to make the model consistent with Marx’s theories. It doesn’t help to understand the dynamics – wealth is better at doing that and when it comes to resonance with the public – there isn’t any competition at all. I mean, your example of occupy is a good one. The 1% thing had resonance even though it came from a movement that was a mockery of a shambles of a nonsense and had every single aspect possible that should ensure that nobody at all took them seriously. Yet the idea of there being a signifcant wealth-based cateogirical division actually managed to catch the broad public imagination – despite the fact that it was associated with a movement that looked like a layabout stoner hippy commune – the opposite of what is normally required to have economic credibility. And the fact that people are debating whether the 1% or the 0.1% is a better dividing line is not a sign of weakness – it is a good thing that people are actually moving beyond the slogan and trying to identify where the actual system-behaviour dividing line is. And the great thing about it is that you can actually identify it from the data – you can analyse a society and the data will tell you what the level of wealth is at which accumulation will tend to happen.

So, in my opinion, wealth is a better criteria than relationship to the means of production for dividing the population into categories for the purpose of understanding the dynamics of our economy. Relationship to the means of production isn’t terrible as a proxy for wealth, but it’s inferior. But wealth is infintely better in terms of its resonance with the population and hence its utility as a model for persuasion But its really in the question of solutions that it comes into its own.

If you hold to a Marxist line – that inequality and exploitation arises from appropriation of surplus value through the wage relation, then your solution has to be to end such appropriation. This, however you like it, means that you are proposing, straight out the door, the total disassembly and reconstitution of our society and economy. If, on the other hand, you identify wealth differential as the motor of exploitation – then your solution simply has to be to limit this differential to such a stage that the bi-polar dynamics do not arise. You don’t have to re-invent the entirety of the socio-economic system, you just have to make things less unequal. And, the task of persuasion moves from the utterly impossible to the extremely tractable – most people already agree that this is good.

Andrew Flood (@andrewflood) - February 5, 2013

The only thing I’d wonder about here is the easy rejection of Occupy. Obviously I understand and sort of agree in terms of what it looked like yet at the same time its pretty much the only genuine internationalist response to the crisis we have seen that wasn’t simply a shadow puppet of a pre existing organisation. And in its form it had strong resemblances to the only other recent such movements (1999-2002 summit protesting).

In looking for a future organisational form I’m of the opinion that it will be as much about looking at what comes into being as theorising what might be.

revolutionaryprogramme - February 5, 2013

Reformism has always been more immediately acceptable to “most people” precisely because it doesn’t involve re-inventing the entirety of the socio-economic system.

But that fact doesn’t change the reality that it is still a fantasy that the “bi-polar dynamics” of capitalism can be avoided by a process of incremental changes to the wealth differential that make things progressively less unequal.

The truth is that to achieve an equal and just society is going to require the re-inventing of the entire socio-economic system. Most of the time that view is only going to be held by a tiny minority and no-one knows exactly how or why that sometimes becomes more widely held and revolutionary change becomes possible. But it is the truth and those who understand that truth have a responsbility to argue for it to the best of their ability.

Ed - February 5, 2013

“If, on the other hand, you identify wealth differential as the motor of exploitation – then your solution simply has to be to limit this differential to such a stage that the bi-polar dynamics do not arise. You don’t have to re-invent the entirety of the socio-economic system, you just have to make things less unequal. And, the task of persuasion moves from the utterly impossible to the extremely tractable – most people already agree that this is good.”

Fine, let’s say we talk about wealth distribution rather than ownership of industry. I agree, it’s a good starting-point that’s likely to resonate with people. But if most people already think this is a good idea, why hasn’t it happened already? And how could we make it happen? Once you ask those questions, you’re straight into a whole set of issues about the way states and political systems function in capitalist democracies, the relationship between political and economic power. Some of the most fruitful ways of looking at those issues (although not the only ones) come out of the Marxist tradition.

And unless we’re going to adopt a very naive reformist outlook, any movement that wants to do something about those issues is going to have to start talking about a root-and-branch reconstruction of society. There can definitely be steps taken to reduce inequality of wealth without a complete transformation of society, but there are also definite limits to how far you can go without crossing that bridge.

WorldbyStorm - February 5, 2013

There’s definitely something to be said about wealth as at least part of a definition – and that’s a very fair point you make about the contradiction of self-professed Marxists of all people fixating about social aspects of class rather than its actuality.

That said, that said. Does wealth entirely cover the area? Social mobility even in Scandinavian countries is remarkably low (despite the latter’s best efforts), its privilege is deeply embedded in generational terms and that seems to me to point to class as having more than just a nominal role in the mix which can be replaced by wealth, albeit the definition is complex.

But then maybe it just is complex (even if it is true as you say that relationships with the means of production are insufficient in definitional terms), that at the same time there is stratification that goes beyond wealth, that we have to rethink what classes mean and where we and they stand in all this.

That said I kind of agree with much of your drift, as one comrade said to me many many years ago now while we were canvassing – Stalin and Trotsky never lived in Kilbarrack, and neither did Lenin (or Makhno come to think of it).

Gavin Mendel-Gleason - February 5, 2013

First, the distribution is bi-modal because there are two distinct processes taking place. You don’t get a bimodal distribution from a uniform process. If it’s not wages versus investment what is it?

Further, simply addressing the question of income is strategically going to be very difficult. Supposing we imposed a 300k top wage over which we tax at 100%. What this would essentially do is ensure that we immediately have to deal with an alliance between professionals and the ruling class to stop such a thing from occurring. At the same time if you were able to actually pass such a law, it would only be practically possible to assess the incomes of those who were in a system such as PAYE.

How do you go about assessing the incomes of the truly rich – that is capitalists – that is people who make their money by investment? This seems to me to be a serious deal-breaker.

“This, however you like it, means that you are proposing, straight out the door, the total disassembly and reconstitution of our society and economy.”

Dealing with the production end of the equation does not require a sudden and total sea change. The introduction and encouragement of cooperatives and legislation to support these, as well as the introduction of cooperative banking institutions and the mechanisms to support these can be first steps toward this goal which do not require a total dismantling of the economy. They further pose the question to those people in the cooperatives of whether they would like to experiment with non-currency centred modes of compensation and inter-cooperative planning.

In fact, it seems to me a requirement that we change the workplace to be both more democratic and responsive to public needs, and this is not addressed by income distribution changes.

Now, if incomes were more equal, it would be much easier to clear the way for such things democratically. I just don’t think that you’ll be able to expropriate capitalists (which is what is required to level the income playing field) who have all the real money unless you seriously change the balance of first. In other words, I think in practice, your suggestion is *more* confrontational and revolutionary.

Jim Monaghan - February 6, 2013

Why not tax at 60% starting with a 100k and 80% at 300k. This was normal at one time.

Starkadder - February 5, 2013

“…It’s demonstrably and obviously true by the mere fact of looking at voting patterns in this country. Nowhere else in Europe had anything like the 2 centre-right-catholic parties playing governmental tag with never a discernible policy difference for the entirety of the 20th century post independence”

Actually, the Left has been pretty weak in Switzerland as
well (us and the Swiss are usually cited as the
exceptions to the “social democrats vs. conservatives”
two-party model in 20th century Western Europe).

17. Jim Monaghan - February 4, 2013

“the question of general strikes etc is just irrelevant – the membership wouldn’t go with it.”
Possibly so. I find that it is mostly rhetorical. Very little is being done in union branches to get militant resolutions passed. There is not really a class struggle tendency at least organised in most unions and most union branches.The petty squabbling of the left is refelected in the fact that there is little cooperation in the work in the trade unions.

revolutionaryprogramme - February 5, 2013

At best the calls for a general strike currently being made are just demands on the existing trade union leaderships to organise said action. As such they are at best pointless/rhetorical and at worst politically misleading in that they imply that the existing traitorous tu leadership would in fact organise a real general strike when in fact all they would possibly call is a fake general strike and they would undermine even that in reality.

For any reference to a general strike to be real it must be directly tied to the need to build a militant class struggle alternative leadership to the tu bureaucrats among the rank-and-file of the unions, and indeed among the currently non-unionised.

18. chekov - February 4, 2013

It’s not Irish exceptionalism – it’s recognising the fact that, compared to any other European country, there is a very limited segment of the population who have class-based politics at all. And, more to the point, unless you are a revolutionary socialist who is hoping for an insurrectionary movement to emerge, it is not at all obvious why a general strike or other such conflict would be a good thing. I mean, how do you even motivate such a thing to somebody who isn’t in favour of revolution?

critical media review - February 4, 2013

Well a strike could be simply sectional and on a grander scale win more concessions towards working people, ie on basic social democratic issues such as wealth redistribution. Probably one of the clearest sign of left weakness here is the very fact it is left to the ‘revolutionary’ left to make basic social democratic political and economic demands

Ed - February 5, 2013

“how do you even motivate such a thing to somebody who isn’t in favour of revolution?’

One way would be to point out that many ‘reformist’ gains have been made as a result of general or mass strikes. The French general strike of 1936 delivered the first paid holidays to the working class. The general strike of 1968 delivered bigger gains than the election of the Mitterand government 13 years later. There are almost limitless examples. The one-day general strikes in southern Europe haven’t been able to stop the ECB/IMF in their tracks, but they stand a better chance of doing so than Fintan O’Toole’s latest brainwave – a mass petition against the bank bail-out.

Dr. X - February 5, 2013

Fintan always reminds me of an old Soviet cartoon I once saw, in which a rabbit is presenting a wolf with a document headed “critical remarks”.

The wolf is licking his chops, and not at the thought of reading the critical remarks.

(NB, Fintan is the rabbit in this scenario)

Ed - February 6, 2013

Can you imagine a scenario in which he would be the wolf? Maybe a debate with John Waters.

Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - February 6, 2013

Fintan’s a real hate figure on the CLR isn’t he? Any chance a 100,000 people signing a petition might just give the impetus for raising a stoppage in union branches? Would it be better if there wasn’t ONE writer in the Irish Times opposing austerity? Even the Phoenix recognises that OToole has stick his neck out on resisting the TINA narrative.

19. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - February 4, 2013

Chekov argued that there was essentially no Irish left-wing tradition not indeed a right-wing tradition, that instead we had essentially a centerist political status-quo. That not only is a bland generalisation that any journo from a mainstream paper would agree with, it is also not historically correct. The revolutionary period is important in its own right, but simply has to be also understood in terms of its longer impact- and on just one point for example, Ireland topped European strike figures in the 1960s. The problem with Chekov’s soundbite is that it reinforces the old ‘the Irish are a conservative people by nature’ trope.

WorldbyStorm - February 4, 2013

Well obviously there’s a left wing tradition, and one could argue that it’s strong in parts, but its influence is weak.

chekov - February 4, 2013

I didn’t argue that there was no Irish left wing tradition. I spent the best part of 20 years in political educationals about every flicker of Irish leftist agitation that history has seen. I am very familiar with the micro-history of Irish socialist agitation and my opinion is still that the political spectrum in Ireland has been relatively narrow and conservative compared to other European countries. I think everybody actually knows that this is true.

WorldbyStorm - February 4, 2013

I don’t think that’s such a contentious statement Chekov, and I’m not sure why people are being quite so defensive. I think you’re correct, the spectrum is narrow in Ireland and the exceptions are notable. Your point earlier about further left individuals being elected largely by dint of personality is so obvious that I’m surprised people would take issue with it.

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

To my surprise I find myself agreeing with Jolly red. Maybe it’s unfair to blame Chekov for a generally shite radio show, but his comments above are straight off the ‘sure that aul socialism lark is old-fashioned, it’ll never take off in Ireland and ordinary people think that socialists are mental anyway. I know this because I used to be a leftie and I know LOADS of ordinary people, whereas you Trots, who have jobs, are active in trade unions, and work in various local campaigns obviously never meet any ordinary people and spend all their time reading obscure texts.’ A job in the media awaits.

WorldbyStorm - February 4, 2013

Isn’t it important though to make a distinction between describing the past and predicting the future? One can believe that in the past the Irish left hasn’t exactly set the world aflame without believing that there’s no prospect of socialism ahead. I’d certainly agree with you that it’s nonsense to consider socialism ‘old-fashioned’ or that it ‘will never take off in Ireland’ – if anyone here believed those then we’d hardly be as active and engaged as we are off-line. That said it’s also important to keep a sense of the scale of the challenge ahead. That’s why I noted earlier that far from taking away because a general strike is moonshine at the moment the idea it will always be moonshine, my attitude would be that unions must organise in the private sector. Takes time, hard work and so on, but it could reap dividends further down the line.

chekov - February 4, 2013

I’m pretty sure I didn’t claim that my opinions derived from a broader knowledge of ordinary people than anybody else. I also think that your insinuation that I’m adopting a media-friendly “lefties are nutters” attitude is not at all an accurate reflection of my opinions.

There is a very widespread perception in our society that socialism and marxism are old-fashioned and that revolutionary socialist activists are somewhere between comic and bonkers. Maybe you disagree with me about this, but I personally think it’s hugely obvious that the perception exists – (I don’t share the perception by the way but I don’t think it comes from nowhere).

If you do accept that such a perception is widespread, then you surely must agree with me that it is problematic and needs to be addressed. I think it’s obvious that the situation is highly unlikely to be reversed by persevering with traditional approaches.

Jolly Red Giant - February 4, 2013

Chekov – there is a media perception that Marxism is old-fashioned and that the trots are bonkers – it is something that is perpetrated on internet forums on politics by right-wing hacks. But it is only a perception and where Marxists engage in political activity in communities and workplaces any such perception that may exist disappears rapidly. In my political activity over the past 30 years I have never experienced such an openness to socialist ideas and socialist/Marxist terminology – the taint of Stalinism has receded significantly. However, the re-establishment of class consciousness requires an upsurge in the class struggle before that is manifest in political activity by significant layers of the working class.

Martin Savage - February 5, 2013

I think Chekhov provoked comments because his statements were just mainstream ‘commonsense’ – not left wing analysis unlike grant or mccabe

20. CL - February 5, 2013

Don’t forget Michael Pat Murphy; he was a Labour Party TD for West Cork for about 30 years,-but then West Cork has always been full of bourgeois types.

21. CL - February 5, 2013

Two conservative parties that emerged from a civil war, traditionally strong religious, anti-communist beliefs, an active pro-capitalist media, and unlike continental Europe no really strong left-wing history,-how could people in such a country look favourably on socialism ?
But still:
” socialism has more fans than opponents among the 18-29 crowd. Forty-nine percent of people in that age bracket say they have a positive view of socialism; only 43 percent say they have a negative view.”

richotto - February 5, 2013

I think that to characterise the two main parties as simply conservative is inaccurate. FF was clearly understood as an economically social democratic party representing the less well off right up to the 70s. It did many radical things social democratic parties did in Europe and some ahead of its time such as large publically run companies. Also for instance it built over 40,000 council houses in several years during the 50s at a time when the country was skint. It only took on more overtly right wing idealogy with the second and third generation FF’ers, sons and daughters of the original working class party bosses who were mixing mainly with the well heeled and going to private schools ect.

CL - February 5, 2013

Two conservative parties, is a fairly accurate description of the Democratic and Republican parties in the U.S. and of F.F and F.G in Ireland.
I recall Milton Friedman using Hong Kong as his exemplar for successful capitalist freedom; Hong Kong where one third of the housing was social housing.
But a fairly extensive welfare state was built up in Ireland which is now, under a Labour minister, Joan Burton, being turned into a Thatcherite workfare state.

Jolly Red Giant - February 5, 2013

I would agree with this – Brian Lenihan Sr. famously claimed that FF of the 1920s were a bolshevik party – while this was an idle boast, FF of the 1920s, 30s and even into the 40s were a mass populist party with support among the working class and small farmers that used left rhetoric – the closest similarity would be the SF of today. Now the leadership of FF of the 1930s did have a heavily pro-Catholic hierarchy bent – but it was the populist counter-balance to the Blueshirts and subsequently FG.

WorldbyStorm - February 5, 2013

Yeah, kind of agree too JRG,during that period FF certainly had a limited but real radical stance.

CL - February 5, 2013

Kinda difficult to see Eamon De Valera and Martin Corry as social democrats.

WorldbyStorm - February 5, 2013

Absolutely agree CL but they were forced by a broader sentiment and I guess in fairness some of their own rhetoric to tilt towards a leftish populism

CL - February 5, 2013

All true, and most of them had fought in a revolution just 10 years previously. But with populist rhetoric and considerable working class support Fianna Fail came to power in 1932, nd 16 years later as they left office the unjust political, social and economic structure remained intact, even strengthened. We don’t need to make the same mistake again with a populist/nationalist F.F/S.F coalition.

Jim Monaghan - February 5, 2013

While obviously a “catholic” party (FF), McQuaid felt it was easier to bully FG which was more crawly.

Dr. X - February 5, 2013

Ferriter, in his transformation of Ireland, says that he found a letter from McQuaid trying to lay down the law about something or other, which had a note in the margin reading “his grace’s letter does not merit a reply”.

The marginal note seemed to be in Sean Lemass handwriting, which I assume Ferriter would be able to recognise.

Of course that makes FF worse, because it implies that they were quite happy to have McQ dispense the opiate of the masses when it came to keeping the rabble in line.

When FF was first founded, and making “leftish” noises, did anyone propose merging Labour with the new party? And what would have happened if the two had, in fact merged?

22. Andrew Flood (@andrewflood) - February 5, 2013

Strikes me there is rather a lot of shooting the messenger here but briefly

- the idea Chekov would be unaware of the significant events of left history in Ireland doesn’t hold water. As he says above he spent as long as too decades as part of an organisation that regularly researched and presented educationals on that. The same applies to much of international left history.

- The flowering of the left in Ireland was brief and mixed up with other ideologies, in particular nationalism. The highpoint of the late 1910′s was not really ‘marxist’ in the sense the SP are using it here – it was much closer to a ‘apolitical’ syndicalism which **at best** was influenced by the likes of the IWW. Individual leaders may be argued over but there were NO specific political organisations of the left of note in those movements. Those organisations for whom left organisational history starts with the comintern avoid realising this through seeing the movements of the 1910 as being a simple precursor to the foundation of the CP etc.

Militant struggle in Ireland has tended to be strangely divorced from political organisations in a way that is quite unusual (using the term ‘militant’ here to also cover armed struggle). The nearest we seem to have got to breaking from that was the Workers Party/Officials but although significant that just flowed back into the electoralist dead end.

- The idea that the votes for the ULA/SP/SWP candidates are personal & protest votes rather than votes for the political programs of the SP/SWP seems uncontestable.

- Russia 1917 or Spain 1936 are so far removed from current conditions that they serve as no sort of organising guide at all beyond perhaps warnings about what can go wrong. The only reason we have difficult acknowledging this is because the ideology of our organisations (SP, SWP, WSM etc) is derived from one or both of those historic moments and its rather a large challenge (!) to imagine an insurrectionary road to communism in current conditions in Europe. I’m still in the WSM (unlike Chekov & Gavin) because I have a bigger problem imagining a non-insurrectionary road but that doesn’t mean a refusal to acknowledge that we really have no idea of what the path forward is. To an extent that has been my position since the mid 1990′s although increasingly I’m moving from seeing the answer coming from a blend of the old & the new to being a complete reinvention.

- Organisational discipline, individual committment & hardwork has allowed a pretty bankrupt far-left to continue to self-replicate through recruiting at a rate that approximates the rate of attrition for two decades now. I’m increasingly inclined to suspect this is a bad thing because the ideological strait jacket required for the survival of the long term cadres that keep the machine running probably stands as the most significant barrier to the emergence of a new model that might go somewhere.

Gavin Mendel-Gleason - February 5, 2013

Agree, but especially with the final point. It’s a huge problem that other forces on the left have been completely incapable of even reproducing themselves, much less growing. If there is any way out of our present predicament it’s going to be in coming to terms with this problem.

daramcq - February 5, 2013

“I’m increasingly inclined to suspect this is a bad thing because the ideological strait jacket required for the survival of the long term cadres that keep the machine running probably stands as the most significant barrier to the emergence of a new model that might go somewhere.”
I think this is a strange belief. Models and movements don’t emerge by themselves, they need people to actually do the organising. In an ideal world, the unions would really be the source of this, but they’re not and the far left try to do it themselves. But this left is so small that there is significant room for independent activity, i.e. without jostling with factions you disagree with.

I don’t believe there is a mass movement in waiting that’s being stifled by the nefarious machinations of assorted Trotskyists; in truth these parties play a significant role in doing the groundwork, even if you disagree with their aims.

Andrew Flood (@andrewflood) - February 5, 2013

In almost 30 years of political activity in Dublin I don’t think I’ve been involved in a single significant campaign where what you call “the nefarious machinations of assorted Trotskyists” was not a serious issue. You are of course also right that the same organisations often do a fair proportion of the groundwork (but sometimes they just arrive after that is done) – but that too is part of the reason why we find ourselves where we are. It’s self replicating both in terms of recruiting enough to survive but also in terms of feeling that the groundwork earns brownie points which makes the “nefarious machinations” OK.

Incidentally it was you who chose to point a finger at “the nefarious machinations of assorted Trotskyists” in particular. I’d tend more towards extending it to the left in general while recognising that some organisations often pose a far greater problem than others.

I think its significant that as the internet has greatly accelerated the rate at which new activists can discover the “nefarious machinations” of the past and realise that they are part of a pattern that emerging movements are tending to focus on creating structural defences, sometimes in quite counter productive ways (eg the compulsory consensus of Occupy Dame Street).

daramcq - February 5, 2013

The question is not whether or not small political parties cause problems for a campaign or not. I’m sure they can and do. The issue is whether this is “the most significant barrier to the emergence of a new model that might go somewhere”. That just seems absurd. Who, it must be asked, would be organising this new model?

Andrew Flood (@andrewflood) - February 6, 2013

Well the only recent example of an attempt at a new model is Occupy and regardless of what you might think of that the impact of far left intervention on that in Dublin is pretty well documented and is part of a general international pattern.

BTW I’m a little annoyed that you selected one sentence out of a long piece and then in the follow up reply snipped ‘probably’ off the start of the sentence to further remove context. That and your subsequent use of ‘absurd’ is a little more school boy debaty than productive political discussion.

Liberation Jumpsuit - February 5, 2013

That the radio show sought the views of four ‘intellectuals’ rather than seek out any of the many political conscious young workers out there shows the divide between the self-defining Left and those people and the poverty of RTE – these politically conscious workers are out there but quite rightly see nothing in the current Left formations. Unless the Left gets its act together the populist right (which includes Wallace and Ming) will soon be making the running in the resistance to what will be presented as a national struggle against the EU elites rather than the long time class struggle which the working class has lost in Ireland since the ruling elite threw their lot in with the Brits, Catholic Church or fucked off to Europe in the Flight of the Earls.

23. Yet more on The Left …… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - February 10, 2013

[...] last weeks Radio 1 Appearance Rory Hearne is back with a column in TheJournal.ie on What’s happening to left-wing parties in [...]

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