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Yet more on The Left …… February 10, 2013

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics, The Left.

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

Again much to disagree with in the column. which he begins with the lines

GIVEN THE RECENT departure of the Socialist Party from the United Left Alliance (ULA) the progress of the ‘Left’ in Ireland is under the spotlight again. With the increase in issues affecting people across the country such as unemployment, poverty and deprivation, bank and mortgage debt, emigration etc, the question being asked is why is the radical left and opposition social movements espousing a ‘left-wing’ or ‘progressive’ agenda of greater equality, social justice, and democracy, not growing in Ireland ..

(as an aside one thing that struck me in Yesterdays poll was support of 32% in Dublin of Independents/Others, which must surely include a large Left vote)

and then brings us on a tour of Labour, The Household Charge and Unions before finishing on the line (and Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before)…

It is clearly time for the left to take a hard look at what it stands for.

Then just to point out something completely different written by a friend …An audio play in approximately one act set in early January, against the backdrop of the ‘Flags’ dispute in Belfast, 2012/2013

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1. richotto - February 10, 2013

I was expecting a more penetrating analysis from Rory Hearne of the problem which he acknowledges. It just seems like more of the same however, a far left rant against the social democratic left and trade union leadership. The logical conclusion of the argument he is making is that the mainstream Labour left simply be incorporated into the far left agenda and leave all thought of governing the country until the state in its present form is overthrown. He cites comparissons with other Labour movements in Europe without specifics. But wherever I look for instance in Spain, UK, Germany and even France the main left parties there who are incidentally in a much stronger position than our Labour Party are doing or advocating much the same to balance the books.
The results of the treaty referendum are cited as positive evidence of support for the left position but I wonder are they? The childrens referendum which was publicly opposed by a tiny unorganised group was nevertheless only passed by 57/43, a smaller margin than the treaty referendum. That shows to me an appetite for a cheap protest vote without consequences in referendums. The only thing that counts really is a general election and in the last one Labour was standing on the clear policy that it would engage in forming a govt with a right wing party.

2. Daniel Sullivan - February 10, 2013

“one thing that struck me in Yesterdays poll was support of 32% in Dublin of Independents/Others, which must surely include a large Left vote)”

why always the presumption that this support for independents/others must be inherently for a Left viewpoint. I would suggest it is just as likely that it’s for a McDowellesque fiscal rectitude party with a split between those who’d want it to be more socially liberal and those of a more conservative bent. Independents/Others in the Oireachtas at present includes the politically agnostic of the Healy Raes to Shane Ross.

WorldbyStorm - February 10, 2013

Fair question, looking at the breakdown of Indo’s elected to the Dáil it seems that the majority is tilted to the left though.

Ed - February 10, 2013

Also, given that ‘independents / others’ in all the polls includes the far left, and given that Dublin elected a socialist as one of its three MEPs four years ago, and given that it elected four socialist TDs two years ago, and given that a socialist candidate who didn’t have any kind of national or media profile polled around 20% in the last Dublin by-election, it’s safe to assume that in Dublin at least, the ‘independent’ segment is tilted towards the left.

que - February 10, 2013

part of the reason why Dublin elected a Socialist MEP was because there was a friendly uncle Joe campaign so that a shinner wouldnt get in. Thats also there and I cant see Murphy retaining the seat.
Is Dublin West a real representation of prospects for the left. It had the most popular Socialist in the south as its TD, its got a layer of councillors below and while the candidate was low profile nationally, and indeed saw a reduced vote, but the consituency is not a replica for dublin constituencies.
The other flip side is that in the few polls which do include far left parties well actually only the SP they get 1%.

How much of a tilt can there be? Lets be positive about the prospects but shouldnt that be based on harder facts than unquantifiables which can be spun anyway which. As Dan Sullivan said whose not to say this represents the kernel of a new right wing party. Nothing, its just another unquantifiable guess.

Ed - February 10, 2013

Ah come on, that sounds more like begrudgery than anything else – Higgins took the seat in 2009 because he ran a better campaign than M-L McD (and Fianna Fail); there may be a lot of anti-SF stuff in the media but SF was getting acres more coverage than the SP, at a time when it had the same number of TDs in the South, thanks to the peace process so it more than evens out over time.

As things stand there are 7 TDs from the ‘independent / other’ category in Dublin (if I remember rightly); four were elected under the ULA banner, two are leftish independents (McGrath and O’Sullivan – not very left at all in either case but you couldn’t describe their support as a right-wing vote), and then you have Shane Ross. That doesn’t tell us everything we need to know, not by any means but there’s some evidence there at least that people in that category are more likely to break to the left than the right, it’s more than an unquantifiable guess. This only applies to Dublin, for the rest of the country it might be completely different.

3. CL - February 10, 2013
CL - February 10, 2013

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”-Warren Buffett.

que - February 10, 2013


and not only in the USA. Good on Kerrigan. I like how he puts contrasts that.

Michael Carley - February 10, 2013

The editor who stands over these words is paid €220,000 a year.

WorldbyStorm - February 10, 2013


Michael Carley - February 10, 2013

Does GK have an exit strategy?

WorldbyStorm - February 10, 2013

Now that’s an interesting question.

Tomboktu - February 10, 2013

CWA-award winning detective novels would probably generate a sufficient income for Gene Kerrigan.

4. que - February 10, 2013

@Dan Sull, its at least as likely that the independent/other vote is split to the right than to the left. think its also dangerous to regard it as not containing a dont know element abit of – I choose other in the poll cause sure their all the same but in the election I voted for the local FG TD sure he is a good fella etc.

In the article I think he has got some good points in that there is indeed an alternative story to be told, there is indeed a large pool of possible voters who are disaffected and split from the mainstream discourse as evidenced by referendums – though I think lisbon more than the fiscal showed that. And there is indeed receptiveness to the message.

All of which means there is something doable but what far left party is within a mile of power and if they got power do they have the skills necessary to be able to wield it.

I dont think the electorate believe for one second that any of the further left parties have the ability to wield power and as a result the further left only progresses on niche issues while regarding success on such niche issues as pointing to imminent political growth. Its the flawed thinking shown recently by the decision to leave the ULA and to focus on campaigning against the household / water charges. Niche appeal being dressed up to be something more permanent. Yet short of Ireland entering into Greek level economic collapse it wont deliver. The further left has a credibility problem – not in their committment to the people but regarding their ability to deliver on many issues. This is probably an issue of size. Small parties cant formulate coherent proposals and conduct effective campaigns on multiple fronts. The result is the niche campaign which as suggested is part of the problem. People will walk support the anti charges campaigns but they dont trust you to run their schools, local authorities etc.
If that is true then its the small size, replicated one dimensional campaigns, lack of demonstrable positions on many issues which affects the ability of the left to become credible as general managers rather than one issue trouble shooters. The solution would be a pooling of resources allowing specialisation, wider reach and greater influence. But of course we all know how that went which gets you back to the credibility issue. If the ULA parties couldnt stick together for 24 months then why should voters consider them worthwhile recipients of their votes. Did the ULA make the big impact expected of them by their voters?

Thats the problem right there and argue in 10 ways against it about establishment this, RTE bias, etc etc but until the left can prove its capable it wont get further (and it must prove its capability not the imcompetence of the others its actual capability).

WorldbyStorm - February 10, 2013

It will be interesting if the dynamic you describe of lack of credibility feeds into Election 2015/16 (btw, I think this govt will go as far as it humanly can before the end). It’s the obvious charge to hold against the further left parties involved in the ULA at one point or another. I also think that the point about campaigns is well made. And add to that the issue of personalities driving votes, something that is often disregarded.

Tomboktu - February 10, 2013

I suspect that Kenny won’t want to go to the end, but will want an election earlier so he can be Taoisech for the centenary of 1916.

5. Jim Monaghan - February 10, 2013

I make it that the 3 Troika parties are down a max of 15 seats. If this is victory for the left, then waht is defeat. Even SF who are united are not making that much progress. Most, sorry a lot of, independents are against cuts in their own constituencies.And are elected on that basis in many cases.ULA nowhere. Does the SP figu they will retain their euro seat. Why bother with repression when the far left will destroy itself without any help.

6. CL - February 10, 2013

“A key finding in The Irish Times poll, however, was the seemingly relentless rise in the number of voters who say they intend to vote for Independents/Others (14pc), or who are undecided (34pc), now at a combined 48 per cent.”

It hardly matters which combination from F.F, F.G, Labour, and S.F. forms the next government since all these parties are singing from the same ideological hymn book.

With almost half the electorate not committed to any of the above real political opportunity exists.
The worldwide reserve army of the unemployed is above 200 million. The class war being waged by capital against the workers is intensifying so it is surely necessary to organize defensively. Nostalgia for a defunct social democracy is not an alternative.

que - February 10, 2013

“With almost half the electorate not committed to any of the above real political opportunity exists.”
Yes but thats established isnt it. Though even when there was only a smaller pocket freed up the further left wasnt making much gains. So its moot point to say thats of use to the far left. Its only of use because the far left is so small that its not quantified in polls (or believe the other version which is establishment forces doing them down).

“The worldwide reserve army of the unemployed is above 200 million”
Again where are you actually going with that line of reasoning? Are you proposing like trade unions in 1920s America that such a reserve army of the unemployed is a tool of capital against labour and access should be restricted for same? Or is there no proposal other than a generic marxist style sound bite signalling a certain soundness politically.

“Nostalgia for a defunct social democracy is not an alternative” and indeed useful to “organise defensively” but arent those things just meaningless soundbites.

Arent they just pavlovian triggers for us on the left, meaningless for most people, and actually devoid of content. If they are written on a left site then they arent challenged but they should be shouldnt they. Until the left stops retailing in cliches and soundbites designed to demonstrate political position to each other and not to the working class in the main then isnt it wasting its time.
Thats not to target you CL but just I think fair comment on how the left discourses

CL - February 10, 2013

“corporate profits are at a record high. How is that possible? It’s simple: profits have surged as a share of national income, while wages and other labor compensation are down. The pie isn’t growing the way it should — but capital is doing fine by grabbing an ever-larger slice, at labor’s expense.

Wait — are we really back to talking about capital versus labor? Isn’t that an old-fashioned, almost Marxist sort of discussion, out of date in our modern information economy? Well, that’s what many people thought; for the past generation discussions of inequality have focused overwhelmingly not on capital versus labor but on distributional issues between workers, either on the gap between more- and less-educated workers or on the soaring incomes of a handful of superstars in finance and other fields. But that may be yesterday’s story.”
Paul Krugman, NYT
At a time when orthodox Keynesians such as Paul Krugman and the New York Times (not a left-wing publication) are discovering the class struggle in an analysis of the current crisiis, it is peculiar that some on the Irish left are advocating that the notion be abandoned. And its unclear what they want to put in its place. Rory Hearne’s piece, cited above is little more than ‘nostalgia for a defunct social democracy’.
que is his comments is concerned with the ‘far left’. As best i can discern he/she seems to be saying that because the ‘far left’ has not come to power they should abandon their ‘far left’ position and make themselves more like F.F, F.G, Labour etc.

Why did I cite the 200 million reserve army of the unemployed? Because its an empirical fact and is part of the milieu in which struggle takes place. It does strengthen the power of capital over labour.; mass immiseration is a real possibility. To resist this it is vital to recognize the war being waged by capital on labour.
As the capitalist crisis deepens it is politically obtuse, indeed farcical, to advocate that the left should relinquish a key theoretical concept and that it abandon in practice the class struggle, and that it put in its place as que suggests some business school notion of managerialism.

que - February 10, 2013

more the point that the ‘far left’ has a serious credibility problem and thats being reflected in its ability to deliver.

And as regards the idea that the a business school approach be taken thats I think missing the point. When I write general managers read that as caretakers. Describe it as you may but the problem is that communities of ordinary Irish working class people dont display any trust in far left parties to run their communities/towns although appreciating the campaigns of left parties in certain fields.

The point about becoming FF/FG because the left hasnt come to power is a pointless misrepresentation. My point is that seeing as how the left has no power, and never comes closer to having any that you know maybe its high time to reflect on that.

You are surprised about Krugman mentioning Marxism but Krugman built on the great work down by Marxist Economic Geographers which he adapted into a more formal economic model and eventiallu got a gong for. He would be aware of the need to adapt and of course himself is an adapter of Kenysianism and always uses the IS-LM model which is itself an adaption of Keynesianism.

Why did Krugman and Hicks adapt Keynesianism because when it wasnt working anymore it needed to be changed. While the marxism/socialist theory of the Irish left may work to explain the world (and does powerfully) its plain that the implementation is not working and needs to be changed.

Is this not patently obvious. Its as obvious as the universal truth that capital screws labour.

I cant understand how this is contentious. Clearly no progress is made and I think it behoves us all to discuss that. Maybe there is nothing to discuss and things are going great but I dont think thats the case.

Finally does innuendo about business school help. As if i were some YFG type. Thats just a trick to shut down debate and doesnt help.

CL - February 11, 2013

Thanks for the clarification. But I still don’t understand you position. If you’re just saying that the left has no power and we should reflect on that then that’s hardly contentious. Your claim that the left lacks managerial ability…. well we don’t know if they don’t have power.
You introduce a ‘red herring’ of John Hicks’ IS-LM curves. Hicks abandoned this approach in later life for very good analytical and philosophical reasons. However they remain a central component of the orthodox, neoclassical synthesis. I’m still not entirely clear what you are advocating. If you are suggesting the Irish ‘far left’ should substitute IS-LM curves for the class struggle i would have to disagree.

CMK - February 11, 2013

I’ve a serious problem with this whole ‘credibility of the Left’ perspective. For that to have any coherence as an tool for thinking it’s logical corollary is that the Centre and the Right are based on ‘credible’ political positions.

The fact is that all political parties, organisations and outlooks lack credibility to some degree or other. There is no telling to where this current situation will evolve and what kinds of circumstances and forces will come into play.

We can see here in Ireland that political advance and ‘credibility’ are disconnected. Otherwise FF would not be rising in the polls. I think anyone who is trading on the ‘credibility’ argument is implicitly endorsing the mainstream political narrative which insists that only the established political parties can be vehicles for social advance, with room for SF if they moderate their rhetoric and prove themselves to be worthy potential governors.

The bar for ‘credibility’ for political parties is close to non-existent here, which is why attempts to critique the far-Left on that score are fundamentally incoherent. FF are a ‘credible’ political party, according to one in four voters who have been polled recently and according to every media outfit in the state. And yet their record is one which should undermine any claim of credibility.

Reading this thread and others I really wonder what the point of Left wing activity is in this state. Nearly everyone believes that the socialist Left will never make any significant breakthrough and that the Right wing hegemony that dominates this state is immoveable and that that is not only a fact of history 1922 to the present but will be a fact of history from the present into perpetuity. Which begs the question: why bother?

I’ve read possibly tens of thousands of words here and elsewhere about the problems of the Left in Ireland and I don’t think anyone has addressed organisation and geographic scale. There simply aren’t enough people who are willing to commit to the levels of activity that would bring about a shift in favour of the Left. The fact is that where there are coherent Left groups working steadily and consistently, there are electoral results from that. The seats in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin North, Dublin West and Dublin South Central are based on decades of hard work. A couple of hundred more cadre types sprinkled across all the existing Left groups would yield significant results.

Those places where the Left has made advances or where the Left placed a decisive role where not genetically Left wing. Social, economic and political circumstances intersected with relatively small numbers of ideologically motivated socialists and communists who, through patience, sacrifice and perseverance, were able to build something enduring. The PCI in Italy, PCF in France, the Left parties of Greece, for all example. Italy, France and Greece were all conservative societies but yet hugely influential Left forces emerged.

The sense of defeatism about the Left’s prospects here is dispiriting and a good example of a self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

A strong Left emerging and consolidating here is a urgent necessity. The end of the ULA was a setback, but a ULA II will likely emerge in the future if, as I think is inevitable, the crisis intensifies.

que - February 11, 2013

Thanks for your contribution. I appreciate the points you are making but when I reflect on your comment about the seats gained being the results of decades of hard work then its that sustained long term input for such a marginal return which troubles me. You refer to Italy, France, Greece but what about Ireland. Ireland is our focus and the successes of socialist movements across the contintent only demonstrates what should be possible here but even now isnt taking off, and truthfully is going backwards. Joe Higgins built what looked like a good base in Dub West on the strength of the water/bin campaigns – real long term work yet come 2007 he was still out on his ear. The decision by small left wing parties to focus on such signature campaigns in the belief this equates to permanent association with voters rather than temporary alignment is a mistake and will sure as you like fail to deliver.

The strategy being pursued is failing and even if there were a few hundred more cadres (there arent) then the return would be limited. As for a ULA mark II it will not occur. Who will be in it? People who to date have not yet been radicalised.

You are right there is a sense of pessimism on this thread and others about the Irish left but would we be blindly optimistic to think things were going well and that the strategy of trying to just get a few extra committed recruits in, to roll out ULA II and to work the community campaigns angle once more will somehow result in a change of fortune.

As regards the credibility argument I think you are looking at it from the wrong angle. FF are to me and to your eyes woefully corrupt and uncredible but to a sustained group they retain credibility. As do the others. Do they deserve it no they dont but they have it and the reality is that 7 times as many people voted for FF alone in collapse as they did for SP, SWP and WUAG so talking about the credibility of FF misses the point that even if the credibility is undeserved they still got enough of it to get a massive vote where as the ULA and its parties didnt.
I recognise that this gets back to the well a vote doesnt mean credibility line but if you cant get working class voters to stand with you in the ballot box then how successful the strategy of getting them to stand with you in campaigns. Its the difference between building fixed support for a Socialist party rather than temporary support for a campaign that aligns with community intetersts and which campaign happens to be run by Socialists.

Last point is I find that any time someone points out that maybe the strategy being pursued is slightly off then its met with the straw man of ‘so we should be like FF etc’ or lets just abandon socialism is it.

Recognising that things arent working and the same old approach wont work now is not a call to abandon socialism its a suggestion that maybe its time to succeed at socialism.

I’ll park it there though. Thanks for the comments.
I fundamentally disagree with Dr, Ahearne’s idea that there is no left tradition in Ireland by the way.

7. CL - February 11, 2013

Thank you, CMK, for an eminently sensible, coherent, reality-based, important statement.

CMK - February 11, 2013

Cheers. And point taken, too, about the nature of the relationships between Occupy and organised labour in the US which I may have misrepresented a tad in a previous discussion. I was perhaps projecting onto the New York Occupy experience some of the problems apparent in Dublin, where hostility to unions seemed to have been vocal. Glad to see that that hostility was far less pronounced in New York.

CL - February 11, 2013

One of my vivid memories of Zuccotti Park is a union chorus giving a rousing rendition of Solidarity Forever.

8. Red Hand - February 11, 2013

‘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 think that pretty much sums up the state of play with the far-left. Problem is, what else do you do?

FergusD - February 11, 2013

Red Hand, Yes, amongst all the doom laden views expressed about prospects for the left in Ireland, nobody has really suggested what the left should do!

Isn’t there danger, in all this pessimism, of also over stating the “success” of the left elsewhere in Europe? After all Holland isn’t really fighting the orthodxy and all though the parties to the left of the French SP may be bigger, as a share of the vote, than in Ireland, but they are not doing all that well, they aren’t making great strides AFAIK. The far right NF does better. Same goes for Italy where even social democracy/Eurocommunism seems to have sank. What has Spain got to the left of the PSOE?

Why does a seemingly bankrupt party like FF seem able to rise from the grave when the far left can’t make much of an impact? Because the far left inevitably challenges so many of the majority of people’s assumptions/ideology, FF (and SF) does not. It’s always going to be hard.

Having said all that the real key is linking up present day consciousness (sorry for the lingo) with ideas pointing to a different consciousness. But that’s just really hard. And no, I don’t have any answers.

ejh - February 11, 2013

What has Spain got to the left of the PSOE?

IU, 15% in the polls

9. ejh - February 11, 2013

In general in these discussions, I think people worry far too much about what “we” should be doing, as if:

(a) “we” were ever likely to agree as to what to do ; and
(b) anybody actually knew what to do.

There’s all sorts of jokers on the internet who know exactly what should be done, it’s just that they know what would work if other people did it.

But in fact, nobody knows what to do. If there were some obvious way to go, people would be following it, and they wouldn’t need to be condemning everybody else for not agreeing with them, they would be proving in it practice by getting results.

Moreover, I often think people see the problem the wrong way round. It’s not that the activists aren’t doing the right things that would wake up the people – it’s that until the people wake up (if I may use that metaphor) nothing the activists may do is going to make a lot of difference, and the activists don’t have the power, in any sense, to bring this about.

If there is a sea-change in public consciousness, you’ll know what sort of things to do.

I’m not saying there’s nothing that can be done now, nor that all options are equally sensible and fruitful, but I am saying that you may be looking for a key that doesn’t exist to a door that can only be opened from the other side.

maddurdu - February 12, 2013


10. CL - February 12, 2013

Make the road by walking

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