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Viewing the other… Israeli Propaganda and the Lebanon August 13, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Israel, Israeli - Lebanon Conflict, Lebanon, Uncategorized.
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A remarkable podcast on KCRW’s To the Point [available here]. Hanady Salman of As-Safir, the Lebanese newspaper, made some telling points about the propaganda war.

Apparently the Israeli’s are resorting to leaflet drops in areas and the jamming of radio stations. But Salman had some telling criticism’s of the form of the material. The leaflets had crude and ‘grotesque’ cartoons which she described as being worse than that which her young child could draw. According to her the Communist party radio station had risible anti-Hizbullah propaganda messages superimposed by the Isreali’s instead.

She said that ‘I feel insulted because they’re not spending too much money to convince us’. And that sentiment, while perhaps somewhat strange in the overall situation, reaches a central truth of this conflict.

We’ve seen that Israeli’s did not appear to credit their adversaries with any degree of sophistication, as demonstrated by their apparent surprise at the level of technological advancement by Hizbullah, and their ability to sustain resistance over a protracted period of time.

But what comes through loud and clear here is a sense that the Israeli’s have a bizarrely distorted version of what Lebanon in general and the Lebanese are like. It is rather as if they presuppose that the population is entirely uneducated and lacking in the ability to decode visual or text based imagery.

Indeed, in the current issue of Prospect magazine [here] Tamara Chalabi, writing from Beirut quotes a Lebanese Christian who initially was antagonistic to Hizbullah more recently saying: Israel is being disproportionate. They want to destroy us. They hate us. They can’t stand the fact that we are a cosmopolitan society with different communities, who are as sophisticated as they are, and living together.”

Simply put the Israeli’s, and I’m not ascribing racialism but instead a form of willful ignorance, appear unable to see the Lebanese as anything other than puppets, dancing to the tune of Hizbullah, or responding to their own demands. They are not credited with the ability to think, decide or determine for themselves. Only the most introverted of political analyses could believe that one can bomb a people out of a belief system, or that such actions could have anything other than a unifying effect upon the general Lebanese population which is less sympathetic to Hizbullah, yet this appears to be the motive force behind the current Israeli action, because one presumes the IDF (a clever and very capable force) understands that in military terms Hizbullah will survive, but more importantly in ideological terms it is going to thrive.

Even in the broader context of the war, and the appalling actions that we’ve witnessed over the past three weeks, I think that tells us something very significant about the gulf of incomprehension on the Israeli side as to the situation they find themselves in.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t deny for a moment that at a higher level of activity, internationally and so on, both Israel and Hizbullah are putting out more sophisticated messages.

However, Lebanon is a sophisticated country with a sophisticated society. How could it be otherwise when it has had to hammer out a means of transcending the conflicts of the past by means of a careful system of checks and balances between the different ethno-religious groups?

I loath the use of the term ‘imperialism’ in these discussions. I think it’s glib, and it’s an issue I hope to return to at a later stage, but there is the whiff of ‘talking down’ to the inhabitants in such actions which leaves a sour taste. The world has changed. The Arab world is changing. While there is much to deplore in the overall socio-political situation, and much which can be laid directly at the feet of the regimes there (noted in the UN report…..), there is also great potential for democracy, prosperity and pluralism. Already contemporary communications are having a significant effect on the area.

That the Israeli’s can misjudge the nature of Lebanon, and presumably misjudge the nature of all those in the area around them, that it can with relative impunity attack the infrastructure, both physical and political of one of it’s neighbours, and more importantly one of the brightest spots in the region with a clear potential to ultimately be a friend and ally of Israel, leaves little hope for the future.

We still don’t do sport round here…but some of us go to the matches August 13, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Gaelic Football, Sport, Uncategorized.
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Okay, was at the Dublin Westmeath match yesterday [see here]. And have to say it was a disappointment. Sure, the result was good for Dublin, but as the crowds left Croke Park there was an unmistakeable sense of the underwhelming.

The match started late, the stadium was frozen as a little bit of Autumn came to Dublin, and perhaps it was doubly cold for hard-pressed Westmeath fans who had little to clap about.

The first half saw some fine football, and a real sense that Dublin was in full control, but the second saw an almost shambolic melt-down enlivened only by occasional bursts of spirit and life. Neither side appeared to actually grasp where the goal was with a bizarre succession of wides. And although few would have considered Westmeath had any chance of returning in the last twenty minutes or so there was a strong impression that a different team could do so and that Dublin would be unable to counter them.

The half-hearted attempts at Mexican waves just before the second half and the usual procession of fans from both sides leaving the grounds long before the end of the match only added to a sense that all was not as it should be. And that’s a personal gripe of mine. What is with paying money for a game and then getting out as soon as humanly possible? Why not save money and time and just have someone text the result to the pub?

Uneasy anticipation would best describe where this journey leads next and much depends on the replay of the Mayo Laois game where both teams appeared more impressive than advance publicity and previous form had indicated.

A less than perfect storm – embryos and Irish politics. August 11, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bioethics, Frozen embryos, Ireland, Irish Politics, Medical Issues, Uncategorized.
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This morning a leaflet from www.embryoresearch.org dropped through my door. Accompanied by a photograph of a smiling baby was the attention grabbing headline “Don’t use me for spare parts” and the slogan “Ban Embryo Research and Cloning”. The leaflet was issued by Youth Defence and goes into some detail about how it is wrong to use embryos for stem cell research.

In a way it’s a perfect storm of issues, combining distrust of politics; “We all know this government likes to please the multinationals”, a sub-Chomskyian distrust of the corporate sector and highly questionable assertions; “some bio-tech companies want to make huge profits from abusing human life…that’s because ever patient would have to pay for a cloned embryo which would be used to produce stem cells. And they would spend a fortune on drugs to prevent the embryonic stem cells being rejected by their immune system”, fear of biological catastrophe; “Messing with nature never works – our experience with mad Cow Disease should have taught us that” and the elision of unborn babies with embryos “they want to give multinationals bio-technology companies the right to experiment on unborn babies”.

Unfortunately it’s factually inaccurate. The leaflet claims that “no-one should be allowed to experiment on human life. Yet some powerful corporations want to do just that. Moreover they want the right to do it here, in Ireland”. In fact the government has been clear that such experimentation would never be permitted in Ireland. It’s also doubtful that corporations do want to experiment here when there are much more hospitable locations for such research across Europe and the US.

And, equally unfortunately it’s out of date. The leaflet was clearly generated off the back of the recent events in Europe regarding EU funding for stem cell research, which does indeed use embryo’s as noted [here]. However, it’s interesting to note the embryoresearch website hasn’t been updated in months since the EU agreed, much along the lines of the governments approach, to allow research where it was deemed appropriate by local populations.

The real ire in the leaflet is, perhaps naturally, reserved for stem cell research. Here it is littered with some interesting statements. “Embryonic stem cells have been hyped” and “after more than 20 years of experimentations involving embryonic stem cells, no-one has been cured or treated. Not one person”. Well the first statement is probably true, but the second is not entirely accurate. The first embryonic stem cell research kicked off in 1981 with experiments derived from mice embryo’s. It is only since 1998 that cells derived from human embryo’s have been successfully grown. Science takes time.

It also states that “scientists strip stem cells from human embryos. This always kills the developing baby”. Unfortunately that’s not exactly true either. A fairly widely available technique called PGD, or Preimplantation genetic diagnosis, is used in IVF where a number of cells are removed from an embryo and tested for various hereditary genetic diseases. The embryo, can then be implanted inside the womb and can lead to successful pregnancy. This technology allows a fix which the leaflet doesn’t mention. The status of the embryo is important. Away from the glossy sun-filled uplands which the leaflet basks in concerning human fertility the truth is that embryos often don’t develop – indeed I’ve previously mentioned the enormous number of fertililsed embryo’s which never implant. In many embryo’s (which can be identified through PGD) there is an incorrect number of chromosomes that from the start prevents further development of the embryo with resulting cell death. Therefore such embryo’s have no chance of ever becoming ‘human’. Howard Zucker and Donald Landry, of Columbia University [here] , argue that in effect the status of such embryos is exactly the same as that of brain-dead adults who have organs removed for transplant, since the stem cells are nonetheless perfectly adequate for research. There are other techniques which involve altering eggs prior to fertilisation which would also lead to the same outcome.

Whether it’s wise to move onto that terrain, in other words to seek to accept and bypass the objections that the leaflet raises is a moot point. The reality is that the objections raised can be overcome in ways which remain within a largely ‘pro-life’ ethic, yet none of this is mentioned or raised in the leaflet or on the accompanying website.

The leaflet keenly promotes adult stem cells, which do as certain treatments work. However there are problems with adult stem cells, unlike embryonic stem cells they do not appear to be able to develop into all tissue and cell types limiting their utility. Because they are taken from adults they are subject to wear and tear which limits their effectiveness. Hence the interest in embryonic stem cells which are obviously newer and have the potential to develop into all cell and tissue types.

The leaflet claims that the majority of Irish people are against such research, which is very questionable, but it goes on to describe such research as ‘creepy’ and ‘barbaric’. Intriguingly in polling in the US support for stem cell research is high, well above the 70% mark, even amongst those who describe themselves as religious.

And the dog that doesn’t bark? Well the leaflet states “In order to allow these gruesome practices, our government will need to amend the Constitution. they want to say that embryos have no rights unless they are implanted in their mother’s womb”. Interesting in that it doesn’t make any mention of one area, regarding which they might not get a sympathetic hearing, that of IVF. Whether Youth Defence have a position on that issue is difficult to tell from the leaflet, or indeed their website. As recent events indicate even those self-described as ‘pro-life’ have differing attitudes towards it with some accepting the necessity for IVF but seeking to place limits on the numbers of fertilised embryo’s or positing ‘adoption’ of embryo’s.

Will this run and run? Difficult to say. In some respects the leaflet is part of a campaign that lost steam almost as soon as it was dreamt up in that the core complaint is simply wrong and won’t have any impact – with the possible exception of IVF practice – in this state. Most likely it is a means of keeping ‘pro-life’ issues on the boil – particularly in an environment where the status of the embryo in Constitutional terms is wending it’s way through the legal process.

In an electoral sense it is hard to tell how this one will play. It has been striking – for me – how this society has altered even in the last ten years and how such issues have simply slid off the political and cultural agenda. Whether that betokens a vague liberalism (of a sort), or indifference, is difficult to assess. Culture war issues usually do well in times when the economy is buoyant – as seen during the Clinton years in the US – a point that it would take a thesis to tease out. On the other hand the high water mark of the ‘pro-life’ campaign – in terms of general public support – was most definitely the mid-1980s during some of the grimmest economic times this state ever saw. Now we have experienced the longest period of sustained growth and economic well-being in our history perhaps the culture wars will return.

Finally, I’ve noted before there are differing viewpoints on all these issues, and all should be considered carefully with due respect, but it does no-one any great service to overstate, exaggerate or promote inaccurate information.

Ayn Rand’s Diary – part 2 August 9, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Libertarianism, Other Stuff.
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(For part 1, see here …)
Tuesday 18 July

12st 13(!!!!), alcohol units 2 (v.v.g.), cigarettes 24 (as planned), inevitable consequence of the collectivist mentality – slavery

10:40 am: Mmmmm. Things might be looking up on the romance front – the drought may just be about to lift. Best not to get hopes up too early though.

Late into work again this morning, still suffering from last night’s festivities, when I tripped rushing into the lift and almost spilled my Starbuck’s skinny latte all over Freddy, that new chap who’s just started in accounts. Luckily, he grabbed my arm as I fell, although the contents of my handbag fell out all over the floor and onto the new issue of Heat, which I’d just picked up (picture of Orlando Bloom on the cover – yum!).

Obviously a gentleman (and virtuous – a man who has created his wealth through his own productive will. I could just tell) Freddy helped me gather my bits and bobs, half-cocking his eyebrow at my blue-haired troll key-ring. I think he might have smiled at me as he got off, but I was desperately trying to hide my face and my shame behind my hair.

Oh God, I thought I was scurried up to my desk, hoping that evil boss wouldn’t see me. I’ve made a total ruddy idiot of myself. Stupid, Ayn, so stupid! Maybe I could keep my head down and avoid him for the next … well … thirty years or so. I just wanted to curl up and die, right there and then, until I realized, of course, that I can and understand and control my own behaviour as well as I can understand and control the behaviour of crop plants and domestic animals. In this, I am justified in believing that I have become civilized.

Imagine my surprise when, a short while later, the following popped up on the computer screen in front of me:

message hayek

notwithstanding the moral axiom that the state has no right to impose itself on private relations between rational adults, that skirt you’ve got on today could cause someone to commit a crime

fred

I couldn’t believe it! Maybe he didn’t think I was a complete idiot. And he was utterly fit (with no ring on his finger, so maybe …). But what am I going to reply to him? I’m terrible at this kind of thing.

message rand
all individuals must, as an imperative, be considered rational, independent beings. i do not believe that anyone, least of all the state, should play an role in prescribing rules intended to regulate discourse between autonomous persons. if I did, however, i might consider that your last message could be construed as sexual harassment, you dirty pig!

ayn

There. Nice and playful. Hopefully he’ll like that. Within seconds, he’d replied.

message hayek

come, come, you little minx. can’t i interest you in starting up a little collective – just the two of us? bring a toothbrush.

fred

message rand

ugh. can’t think of anything more frightful! anyway, don’t have time to stay here chit-chatting. am very busy and important, and can’t afford to let you lead me down the road to serfdom

ayn

message hayek

roflmao!!! ‘road to serfdom’ – love it! must remember that one. talk to u later, u doe-eyed temptress!

fred

What does “roflmao” mean?

10:45am: Looked up “roflmao” on Google. I think it’s a good thing, although why does he have to be so crude? I hope he’s being playful. Does he really think I’m a “temptress”? I bet I’ve scared him off. He probably thinks I was being serious. Typical bloody me! Maybe he’ll mail me again.

12:50pm: Nothing from Fred yet. Maybe he’s busy and will send something over lunchtime.

2:00pm: Still nothing.

5:30pm: Nothing all day. Sod it – I’m going home.

30 days and still waiting for something better… August 7, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestine, Uncategorized.
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And so we arrive at the eve of day 30 of the current Israeli-Hizbullah conflict. Watching the news there are reports of John Bolton at the UN with ‘zero interest in talking to terrorists’, George Bush pointing an accusing finger at the sponsors of terrorism in Syria and Iran, the Lebanese Prime Minister breaking down in tears at a meeting of the Arab League in Beirut and proclaiming his ‘Arabism’, Ehud Olmert calling for the support of all Israeli’s and Jews worldwide in what he appears to paint as an existential conflict, the UN still impotent, torn between an Arab world still gazing uncomprehendingly at the events and their inability to shape them and a US unwilling to make the necessary distinction between the security interests of Israel and those of itself which are not necessarily coterminous.

One can speak of the danger of civilian leaders, unexperienced in military issues seeking to compensate for that by pursuing unachievable goals. One can speak of those who would gladly exacerbate the situation in order to divert attention away from the failings of their societies. One can point the finger of blame everywhere, the US and Israeli governments, Hizbullah…well actually not everywhere. Not Lebanon itself or it’s people, or the Israeli people. Worst of all though is the clear sense that international structures simply do not exist, or are not permitted to exist, to deal with this sort of conflict. I’ve always supported some degree of so-called liberal intervention, I supported it in the former Yugoslavia as it went down in flames, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan and went some way to supporting action regarding Iraq. But here, if ‘liberal interventionism’ is to have any meaning is a conflict which demands action from the world and yet there is nothing.

Perhaps that’s instructive. Perhaps this is a display of realpolitik. Perhaps this is the way the world actually works, away from the cosy illusions of those of us on the left, right and centre who hope for something better. Perhaps nations, and militias, are untrammeled when they are sufficiently powerful or have sufficiently powerful sponsors. Hizbullah can pour the rockets into Israel and Israel can pour returning fire into Lebanon and because both are supported by greater powers they remain unchallenged, able to sock it to each other until the death. Except they won’t of course be dead because Hizbullah can’t be ‘killed’ in the sense the Israeli’s appear to want to kill them and Israel can’t be destroyed.

Maybe it’s naïve to be surprised by inaction after Bosnia, or Chechnya or Tibet or East Timor.

Meanwhile northern Israel cowers under the (real) threat of missile attack and southern Lebanon shudders under the actuality of Israeli naval and aerial bombardment. And all the while the world looks on as Israel squanders the good-will of many, the US administration jettisons itself of the last remaining vestiges of credibility in international affairs and Tony Blair…does what Tony Blair appears to do best these days which is to assume a magisterial irrelevance to the events at hand.

And most grim is the sense that in five, or ten or fifteen days the only real change will be the numerals at the top of this post.

The Election, the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin August 5, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Ireland, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left, Uncategorized.
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An article in a recent issue of Fortnight Magazine by Adrian Guelke [fortnight] (the site is a year or so out of date) has some food for thought. Discussing the prospect of renewed negotiations for the convening of the Assembly at Stormont and the establishment of a new Executive, composed presumably of the DUP and SF, Guelke notes that politics in the UK and the RoI has in many cases driven, or impeded, the process.

He particularly notes that this year, of all years, with an election looming in the Republic and the Blair leadership moving towards it’s end, although when that end will actually be seems to be something of an imponderable, there must be a temptation for the various parties to hold back in the hope of something better around the corner. For the DUP that something better would be a Conservative government. Guelke proposes that the Tories ‘abandoned bipartisanship on the peace process years ago’ – something worth teasing out further at some point. Whether David Cameron would actually bury the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement is an interesting question. Hard to see what he would gain from it. More likely it would be a case of killing it with disinterest. Having said that certain British political commentators, including former Conservative Michael Portillo consider that Cameron is unlikely to win at the next election, and that it will take him a further four or five years assuming he’s given the opportunity. In that situation some in the DUP suspect that a Gordon Brown government might be more favourable towards the Unionist position. Perhaps, but as Guelke notes, Brown is unlikely to want to disassemble one of the key achievements of New Labour.

Where the analysis get’s really interesting is in relation to how the politics of the GFA will impact, or not, upon the politics of the General Election in the Republic. Guelke notes that while the ‘people down south seem to take events more seriously than the folks across the water to judge from the media coverage…that won’t in the least prevent political parties in the Republic from giving the highest priority to their own electoral interests’.

Guelke thinks that the election ‘will be close…with the odds against the present incumbents retaining power’. Hence the performance of Sinn Féin will be of particular significance, and he suspects that ‘Sinn Féin is likely to come in for some rough treatment…and it is quite likely that attempts to drive down the Sinn Féin vote will involve revelations about past Republican misdemeanours regardless of their possible implications for the peace process’. This, he proposes, might prevent Unionists from jumping into an Executive for fear of what is coming down the line.

What is telling about this analysis is that the reckoning of political parties in the Republic is judged to be entirely dispassionate as regards the GFA. Local comes before national, as it were. Indeed local is supremely more important than national. As is blindingly obvious it is one of the interesting, and ironic, quirks of the GFA that enticing Sinn Féin into the structures has entailed making it, indeed transforming it (as far as is possible), a key political player in the North. And that has had the add-on effect of making it potentially a significant political player in the South. But one is arguably entirely contradictory to the other, or to put it another way, presumably it’s not just Eoghan Harris who feels a shudder down his spine at the thought of a vigorous Sinn Féin in an Executive with the DUP, or working within the Policing Board. Such an outcome would – to some degree or another – undercut the old, and often legitimate, charges regarding SF. Arguably such an outcome might further legitimate a non-physical force Republican viewpoint and with that would come further gains for Sinn Féin – a virtuous cycle as it were. And that holds true for both north and south, and for all parties to a greater or lesser extent.
Actually what is notable to date is that political attacks on Sinn Féin have been somewhat muted. There have been periodic controversies over the ‘Disappeared’, Garda McCabe and others, but the traction of these has – as far as one can judge from the polls – been limited. Perhaps those who vote Sinn Féin on a regular basis are unlikely to be prised away from their choice. Again one wonders whether the muted tone of the attacks is calculation or just circumstance. If the latter that would be a consequence of the decision to fully decommission. With no weapons Sinn Féin simply becomes another, albeit not insignificant, largely left of centre party (whatever about Pat Rabitte’s protestations to the contrary on the Election Ireland podcast – which if he believes what he says he believes on that issue he must be more or less the last person in Ireland to do so). If the former, it may also be as a result of decommissioning and a wish on the part of the other parties not to highlight Sinn Féin for fear of raising their profile, or reminding their base just what it is (or was) about them that makes them (or made them) so different.

Of course that is now, and the future is the future. Three weeks before an election it might make perfect sense for Labour, Fine Gael and the PDs to throw up the danger of a resurgent Sinn Féin if it looks like that would be one of the few viable options for Fianna Fáil to regain power. That would certainly energise their respective bases. On the other hand Fianna Fáil has to play this one astutely too. Sinn Féin has been fairly successful in nibbling at the greener edge of the FF vote over the past six years. Fianna Fáil will be eager to stop any further rot before it starts. And in all this the GFA is – well, forgotten to be honest.

The above is to some degree predicated on Sinn Féin not sitting in a new Executive. But what if it is?

Then the situation is changed for everyone – including Sinn Féin. Suddenly it becomes a party of government – once again. The image of Sinn Féin Ministers traipsing south to canvass for existing and prospective T.D’s must send an equally unpleasant shudder down Eoghan Harris’s spine, and again not just him. Yet, would this, arguably triumphant moment for Sinn Féin necessarily play out as well as they might expect? Yes, they’d be in government, but they’d also be in Stormont. It won’t just be the dissidents, impotent and infuriated, sitting on the sidelines pointing this out. Will the SF base be entirely delighted by the prospect?

Now, whether it’s likely that the Executive is restored in November is difficult to judge. Various observers blow hot and cold on the prospect.

The problem is ultimately that attack Sinn Féin and you attack a vital leg of the GFA. I’ve watched numerous Dáil debates over the last two years where issues relating to Sinn Féin or PIRA have come up. These have ranged from decommissioning through to the murder of Garda McCabe. In every instance, whatever the spin afterwards, I felt that all those who commented in the Dáil on these issues pulled their punches to a very large degree. That may be a tribute to the level of political discourse in this state (which it arguably is), but it may also be due to a recognition that without SF on board the game ‘wasn’t worth a candle’ to coin a phrase…

But perhaps the situation is different now. PIRA has gone away, Sinn Féin isn’t invulnerable, and the GFA is no longer necessarily the only game in town when the two governments can talk of ‘joint stewardship’. That may make it more tempting to attack Sinn Féin and that might be a mistake for those who do the attacking since it might just burnish the credentials of the party.

And perhaps, behind it all, Sinn Féin might not be entirely unhappy with a situation in which they remain a growing party of political dissent within the South as de facto joint authority is imposed upon the Six Counties. They have the consolation prize of their MPs and the greening of the local authorities in the North.

Which effectively means that the events of the next six months north of the Border will be as important as those south of it in determining the shape of the General Election.

Happy days.

We’ll have any United Left, as long as it’s ours! August 1, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Greens, Ireland, Irish Politics, Marxism, The Left, Uncategorized.
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An interesting post on IrishElection by Cian [here] raises some very useful questions. Just what is happening on the further left at the moment and how are the various campaigns for a United Left going?

Well if we look at the last twelve months a neutral observer might think the answer to that question is quite a lot. But if we dig deeper…well hey, why spoil the fun? Here are some random reports from the frontline.

A little over a year ago there was the announcement by Independent TD Seamus Healy of the Workers’ and Unemployed Action Group and Dublin Anti-Bin Tax Cllr. Joan Collins of a campaign for a new left-wing party pre-empting Labour’s decision to enter an electoral alliance with Fine Gael. Other worthies in attendence were Dermot Connolly of the CWAG (Community & Workers Action Group) and Colm Breathnach of the ISN (Independent Socialist Network). For those of you unfamiliar with the terrain of the Further Left Joan Collins was once a figure of some significance within the Socialist Party, but sadly there was a parting of the ways and Joan went onto win a Council seat in Crumlin Kimmage as an Independent with a not-disreputable 13.78% of the vote.

A significant plank of the new campaign was an absolute aversion to coalition.

In November this was formalised at a meeting in the Teachers Club where there was agreement on various issues including the following:

1. That a joint campaign to build a new party of working people would be launched by all those involved.
2. That this campaign would be known as the Campaign for an Independent Left.
3. The campaign would be based on eleven points of political agreement (see below).
4. That a steering committee would organise this campaign with two representatives of each organisation involved and a number of independent representatives.
5. That a series of public meetings would be held to open out a public debate on the need for a new party of working people.
6. That this initiative was not about setting up yet another small left organisation or exclusive grouping to rival already existing bodies and that the CIL would engage in discussions with other left groups/parties/individuals to advance this project.

Meanwhile the SWP that September, never far behind on the issue of a United Left, declared in Socialist Worker that it was creating the Davitt League described as ‘an exciting development which could be the basis for the emergence of a new left movement in Ireland. Labour, the Greens and Sinn Fein refuse to rule out coalition with right-wing, privatising, pro-war parties. A new left movement of people-power can give a political voice to campaigns and help to build a movement to defeat neoliberalism and war’. The SWP, perhaps confusingly already had their People Before Profit, or more ‘youthful’ PB4P, alliance which worked for much the same as the Davitt League.

Perhaps coincidentally, at the same time, in England and Wales the Socialist Party declared itself in favour of a campaign for a ‘New Workers Party’. Note the declaration was in favour of a ‘campaign for’ rather than an actual party. There’s a reason for this, general opinion within the SP, following a rigorous analysis of the objective political circumstances within which they labour, believe that the conditions are not yet right for a mass party of the working class. Some elements outside tend to agree, but not necessarily for the same reason.

Not to be outdone Caoimhghin O Caolain of SF called for a ‘New Left Project’ between the more popular…I mean of course less principled elements of the left…Sinn Féin and Labour! Simultaneously Mick O’Reilly of the ATGWU called for Labour to ditch the Mullingar Accord and build a ‘new project’ of the left. His definition of the left was “Labour, Sinn Féin, the left independents, and a lot of the social groups outside that and the trade union movement”. Now while O Caolain’s intervention was almost certainly mischief-making that of O’Reilly was deadly serious.

Interestingly in March this year Joe Higgins at the Socialist Party conference in Maynooth himself called for a ‘new left’ party. The platform for such a party would be a socialist alternative to mainstream parties, or as he put it, “There is no real choice here for working-class people as all these parties share similar economic and political positions. All they fight over, in reality, is which cabal should have its hands on the loot”.

On a slightly different tangent Republicanism, perhaps influenced by this outbreak of fraternal cameraderie on the further left, held a meeting in the ATGWU hall on Abbey Street, “Where next for Republicans” which brought together most strands of Republican and Republican Socialist thinking.

Finally the ATGWU hosted a conference, the one Cian refers to, on June 17th 2006 which called for A New Left Alternative. Various groups including the SWP, Joan Collins and various socialist and Trade Union activists. No particular set of agreements came out of the meeting but the mood was said to be reasonably good, which is a little victory.

So as can be seen there’s a lot going on, but does it add up to anything?

The answer as usual is, yes and no.

As ever, the prospects for a mass left party, or even a new left party, seem poor. Simply put the differences of outlook between the players is too great. It’s not just ideology, although that is a part of it, it’s personality, history, development and context. Indeed the very fact there are so many players is one of the problems.

It’s almost inconceivable that organisations as disparate ideologically as the ISN (former WP/DL activists), the Workers Action Group (various independent and Republican socialists), the CWAG i.e. Joan Collins’ people, the WUAG, the SP, the SWP and so on and so forth could agree a single platform. A single slate might be more tenable with groups agreeing to support agreed candidates (somewhat along the lines of the Scottish Socialist Party). Even then the picture breaks down when we contemplate this latest bit of news from June 26th where it was agreed at a PB4P meeting that Brid Smith of the SWP would be nominated to contest the next general election in the same constituency as Joan Collins (should she decide to make a run). Not entirely inexplicable from a party political point of view, since Smith did reasonably well during the local elections, but hard to square with the new unity drive. Worse again there appears to be some concern that Joan Collins had the temerity to vote for the FF Mayor of Dublin. As might have been expected people are wondering where that fits in with the Campaign for an Independent Left.

Yet, there is the possibility on a certain level that (some of) these groups could, in concert, lock into a general disenchantment with mainstream politics. There are already TDs in the Dáil who in part reflect that view, most notably Finian McGrath, Seamus Healy and, of course, Joe Higgins. The first two will be fighting hard to protect their seats and perhaps linkages to nebulous broad further left campaigns will do them no good, and possibly some harm. Joe Higgins is representative of a party which to some degree appears to believe it has a favourable wind at it’s back and perhaps they too are unlikely to want their message diluted or distorted by the more vociferous class warriors (although to be fair they do class war rather well themselves). The other left-independents, such as Tony Gregory and Catherine Murphy, come from a somewhat different political background and less interested in such entanglements.

Will it work? Gut instinct knowing people involved in at least six of the organisations mentioned above (not in itself an achievement – trust me)? No it won’t.

But the fact that so many of these groups are talking about unity, and meeting about unity and planning unity seems to me to indicate that there is a genuine appetite for a structured organisation on the further left.

Perhaps it is because they feel there ‘should’ be a further left vote (arguably because they’ve never come to terms with the fact that Republicanism has mopped up much of the radical vote and also that Irish society is politically rather centrist), or perhaps it’s the example of Joe Higgins that makes them believe that ‘there but for the grace of God go we’. I don’t think so though, I think it’s both illusory, and delusory.

I certainly don’t see the votes there to support such an organisation of the left. Labour will sweep up mainstream centre left. The Green’s will take their niche vote with them. Sinn Féin as I’ve argued at the Cedar Lounge Revolution are doing quite well with the hard-edged non-further-left left vote (the old WP/republican left) vote, which leaves a couple of percentage points to be prised away from Independents.

But that hardly makes for much of a party of the independent left, or indeed a mass party of the left. Two TDs, perhaps three would be the best that could be expected and their future trajectory would probably follow that of previous Independent left TDs, kings of much they survey in their geographical fiefdoms but of marginal significance outside of them.
Anyhow, for those of us interested in such things further details and discussions can be found at [indymedia.ie]

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