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The trouble with the two thirds majority in Irish politics and elsewhere… usually close but not close enough… January 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.


I take a slightly more benign view of the weekends proceedings at the Green Party than franklittle – while very much appreciating his critique. 63% in favour is quite a turnaround in a party which has traditionally been antagonistic to the European project. What others may wonder is whether this is a generalised figure applicable to the population as a whole or specific to the hot-house atmosphere of a somewhat love-bombed GP (although let me be the first to say that the discussion document released to members prior to Christmas was – to my mind – the soul of objectivity). And while I’m at it, interesting is it not how Patricia McKenna said that the GP should stay in Coalition despite the vote. Her open reason is that this now gives the GP Ministers a better hand in Cabinet. Well, perhaps.

However, I’d like to discuss a broader aspect of the events than the actual political issue at hand, fascinating as it is. And that is the nature of policy/direction change in political formations in the context of democratic votes of this sort. Or to lapse into the colloquial, what a world of pain in Irish politics we’ve seen with this ‘two-thirds’ majority approach where everyone winds up both winner and loser…

I have personal experience from the Workers’ Party vote in 1992 when the ‘reformation’ of the party was proposed by a group – largely but not exclusively – based around the TDs and opposed by a group – largely but not exclusively – based within the party bureaucracy. The proposition was formulated within the same sort of 66/33% rule that we saw the Greens use. In other words it required a two-thirds majority to pass.

The proposition failed – but not by much with 61% support. Subsequently almost all the TDs departed to establish what was to become Democratic Left while a rump remained with the WP. Here’s the interesting thing. In my estimation not all of those who voted against the measure remained with the WP, otherwise I suspect it would have retained a greater political profile. Nor, I’m certain, did all those who voted for the measure go with the TDs. The outcome of that vote? Two formations that were weaker than the original one.

Should the TDs have stayed on? Well, broader political forces were now at play. This was before the FF/Labour coalition, but I’m sure that more than one person thought given time that the more likely – at that time – coalition of FG/Labour would accept a ‘cleaner’ post-WP grouping as a more attractive partner…

It’s funny, isn’t it, how while in almost all other contexts a straight majority is sufficient to allow a group or organisation, or indeed a society, to proceed this overwhelming majority – or supermajority as it’s sometimes termed – generally is restricted to policy shifts within political parties or constitutional amendments, particularly in polities where there are distinct minorities either ethnic or political whose rights are enshrined. This latter case is most obvious in an example such as Canada where secession remains a clear possibility and therefore the dice are loaded against such an eventuality… in a most democratic way it has to be noted..! Consider that brilliant rhetorical sleight of hand where the actuality of ‘bolshevik’ and ‘menshevik’ was switched in a feat worthy of Baudrillard. The word has power… no doubt at all. Indeed Lenin himself considered that “There can be no mass party, no party of a class, without full clarity of essential shadings, without an open struggle between tendencies”. No Proudhon he and that’s not exactly how it worked in practise, but… it does point to the enduring power of the idea both of the majority and some limited rights for minority viewpoints.

And in a political organisation the reason is self-evident. A political party which faces a major policy or organisational shift doesn’t have the coherence that a society has. If a divide is more evenly balanced, say 54% to 46% that indicates not merely a large pool of dissent, but more troublingly the potential for a split. Given the history of Sinn Féin in 1970s it is hardly surprising that both legacy wings – PSF and the WP – would find that party coherence and integrity was, on balance, more important than a simple majority vote.

After all January 11th 1970 is engraved on many a heart… that was when Sinn Féin split into Official and Provisional wings following a vote on abstention. The vote fell short of two thirds [incidentally does anyone have the actual figures? I flatter myself on a goodish library of books on these matters and I swear it’s as if everyone is simply cutting and pasting that phrase] and therefore wasn’t carried into party policy. As ever there were complaints of the leadership manipulating the vote. It’s an interesting thought as to what would have happened had the vote passed the 2/3rds hurdle. Would the authority of the party superceded the issue of the principle – much as it did in 1986 – or would those who walked away (some third of the delegates – natch) have been able to establish the Provisionals as the dominant voice of Republicanism? My instinct is that something between those two positions would have occurred if only because the dynamic towards a form of ‘defenderism’ appears to have been so deeply embedded. But… it’s interesting to reflect on what a more ‘official’ Official movement might have been able to do to alter the trajectory of the ensuing conflict…

The greater the number involved in majority formation the more that an exemplary effect would operate particularly in open votes (ah yes, the open vote. Never entirely sure about them myself… and not entirely thrilled to see that used at the weekend).

Still I can’t help feeling that – as in 1991/92 with the WP – the very fact a formation drew greater than 60% in favour of a specific course of action indicates that general sentiment runs with the proposition. It’s as one moves closer and closer to the 66% that conversely the tendency to split may be exacerbated by that very closeness. After all, if it’s 64% or 65% what is the point in remaining within a formation and having to argue it again the following year? In a way that was something that puzzled me about the WP vote. Sure, there was inertia in the party and there was a strong case for some sort of ‘reform’, but those proposing the changes were clearly able to call upon a strong majority within the party. I always believed that given twelve months chances were they would prevail, and almost certainly within a couple of years… but then perhaps the rolling dissolution of the USSR was in part a dynamic that assisted the unseemly sprint by the leadership to the exit. And there’s another thing. Whatever point one wishes to set these rules at one can be certain that it will be fought across.

Granted at least we were never treated to a Gerry Collins (of Fianna Fáil) moment with someone on either side coming out and pleading with the other side not to ‘bust up the party!’. Frankly, it wasn’t, as a perusal of this site will indicate, that sort of a party.

PSF experienced much the same in 1986 over abstentionism. There are those who are absolutely certain that the Ard Fhéis was packed with paper members. Perhaps it was. But perhaps – as subsequent history has demonstrated – the tide was always going to run in one direction there too. The vote was a little better managed than others with 161 of 590 delegates voting against the removal of abstentionism. And while dissidents continue to complain about the technicalities of the vote (some suggest that strictly speaking it wasn’t constitutional), they’re largely missing the point. The genius of human institutions is to permit flexibility.

And that’s an interesting aspect to this. Democracy rests upon more rather than less. But how many more? Which question of course links into the functional aspect of political activity. Yes, 50% + whatever is a majority. Yet… it’s hardly the most stable basis for action. But then, in democracy there is no stable basis. It varies, it shifts. And why wouldn’t it? These are people we’re talking about.

To divert slightly, I’m always reminded of a piece by P.J. O’Rourke which I think appears in A Parliament of Whores. The book itself is a dissection from a libertarian right perspective of US democracy – and well worth a read what ever one’s individual political stance. But at the end he considers local democracy and gives the example of a town hall meeting – or somesuch – in his own area where the issue of an industrial/commercial development was put to a vote. It was voted down and O’Rourke, while appreciating the perfect (or imperfect) democratic aspect of the vote actually finds himself repulsed by a process which can lead to this outcome and asks why it is that a businessman (for it is a man) should see a project that had months, if not years, invested in it simply pushed aside by an expression of the public will which may or may not be informed fully and which when set against that investment is often shallow or transitory. O’Rourke is not a simple reactionary, and I understand his qualms, but I’ve always found those qualms telling and … in their own way profoundly reactionary and anti-democratic. And my reasons for that are quite simple, at the very least a public vote of that nature (and wow, could we do with some of that sort of local authority – and I mean that in the many meanings of the term) allows us to take the temperature of those who do have an investment, have a voice and an absolute right to have that voice heard. If I live in an area I expect that my voice will be heard – but I also accept that the input my voice has is contingent on other processes and issues. In a way O’Rourke feeds into the sort of discourse that Leo Strauss was part of… a sort of radically intellectualised ‘don’t tread on me’ approach [btw, worth reading his thoughts on ancients and moderns in regard to political philosophy which have a relevance to our discussions this week on John Waters and Galileo. Strauss was no fool and I suspect his heart was with reason, but his work pulls back to revelation of one form or another continually]. But of course Strauss had a hesitant relationship with democracy at the best of times… which is not to say he was precisely anti-democratic, but perhaps more accurately ademocratic (to coin a term). And it is not difficult, although perhaps churlish, to suggest that a line can be drawn from that agnosticism as regards democracy towards the rule of elites, a tendency which was exacerbated by what I would propose was his distinct fear or aversion to the demos. Still, you don’t have to go looking for that on the left or the right. In the populist ‘progressivist’ centre we see much the same dynamic emerging with the thinking of the rather fascinating but not entirely correct Christopher Lasch, a figure once of some note on the US centre left (and remarkably of the Frankfurt School) who as time progressed shifted to a rather tart centre right view which was provided almost an inverse of the elitism of Strauss through a process of identification with the demos, but a rather narrowly defined and constrained demos at that. Most distressing – to me at least – was the eventual aversion of Lasch to divorce and seeming distrust of feminism. Actually I think he is worth a post of his own so I hope to return to him

That as societies we tend to permit the 50% plus one to allow us to – for example – change divorce laws (rightly in my opinion) demonstrates a certain ambivalence as to these things. Many of those now pleased with the problematic aspect of the Green Party vote would express no such reservation over the outcome of the knife edge divorce referendum which finally permitted divorce in the Republic of Ireland. There the votes was 50.3% in favour, 49.7% against. So close – eh? For either side, and my sympathies were with the former.

It’s entirely understandable, human nature being what it is when ‘our’ side wins we tend to see the victory as all, and ignore or at least underplay the processes which led to that victory. Incidentally I’d be interested to see what the current support/opposition to divorce is in the RoI. My instinct is that there is probably greater support since the most hyperbolic negative implications have tended not to occur – but perhaps I’m wrong and polling data indicates the opposite.

And there perhaps O’Rourke’s point of view has a certain traction. Because democracy is in some ways a pretense, or one might argue a ‘myth’ in the Barthesian sense. It pretends that a democratic will exists above and beyond the issues themselves that permits or legitimates actions to be taken or validated which inevitably lead to the circumscription of the views of others who take a differing viewpoint. A minority is a minority. The 1995 vote was remarkable if only because the vote could – potentially – have gone either way and either side could have been the majority. About 9,000 people to be honest. That’s all it took. Now none of what I say about democracy being ‘mythic’ is novel, both Leninists and libertarians have argued similar points from different starting places – hence the wonderfully odd injunction against ‘initiating force’ amongst the latter.

And I doubt there is anyone who would seriously argue that – for example – in elections a 66%/33% rule would be a better and more ‘democratic’ expression of the electoratal will than the current one. Indeed, almost counterintuitively, such an idea would be closer in practice to the enormous democratic deficits which are thrown up by First Past the Post systems, such as that in the UK. I’m not certain whether that might lead to the embedding of a minority position. Perhaps, but either way it doesn’t seem entirely ‘democratic’.

So the general usage is for constitutional amendments in certain jurisdictions (well, some. For example Lisbon will stand or fail on a referendum of 50% plus one) or again for policy or constitutional amendments within political parties.

That the Green Party nuances this with a sort of half-way house is both very Green, very consensus-like, and to my mind rather honest whatever one thinks of the issue itself (mind you, let’s not get too entranced with consensus – if I recall correctly there was some analysis of US Green consensus structures that seemed a bit tricksy). Since they failed to win the two-thirds majority their members are under the terms of the vote able to campaign as they see fit. As it happens the parliamentary party will campaign with one voice – that of support, but it could have been otherwise.

It’s also fair to say that this is hardly unprecedented in political terms or in relation to Europe. Note how in the UK in the 1970s Labour MPs were permitted to support which ever side they saw fit on EEC accession. I may not like that in political terms, since I can see how it might lead to outcomes I’d be strongly against, but it’s hard to argue that it is dictatorial or whatever (indeed consider, if you will how Sinn Féin would have handled the policing issue had it decided that individual members were able to promote either side of the debate from within or without the party. Recent history might have taken a more unpredictable turn).

And here we must address other issues. Party unity is crucial on the left and the Republican left. The reasons for that are also self-evident, particularly in the latter. The relatively small size of such parties means that any slippage in membership can be disastrous. That some formations from the Republican left had – connections – with other organisations with a somewhat different profile required a near military discipline. And that worked in intriguing ways leading to a politics that could acquire an authoritarian hue despite itself. I’m hardly the first to propose that if one examines either the WP or PSF this discipline manifested, and indeed continues to manifest, itself. That the WP blended both the ethos of the Republican ‘secret army’ heritage and a sort of sub-Leninist party organisation perhaps exacerbated that tendency within it more than PSF. Mind you, consider that from the ceasefires in the early 1970s to the split in 1991/2 it took nigh on two decades for the sort of open debate about strategy and direction which presaged the division to appear. If we are to see a similar dynamic manifest itself in PSF we might expect it to occur – well, any day now…

So, being an oldish cynic, it seems that the 66% rule is effectively a reflection of the structural aspects of political activity, rather than being wedded to any particular conception of democracy. We can expect it to be rolled out as validation, or indeed otherwise, of party positions and policies for quite some time… but my advice? Dump it. Otherwise we’ll continue to see the remarkable sight of 60 per cent plus majorities being considered defeats…


1. ejh - January 24, 2008

asks why it is that a businessman (for it is a man) should see a project that had months, if not years, invested in it simply pushed aside by an expression of the public will which may or may not be informed fully and which when set against that investment is often shallow or transitory.

Well, there are a number of answers to that, and one is that this is what everybody does. If I decide, for instance, to take a job in that businessman’s organisation I may very well invest yers of my time, move house, abandon other jobs and projects – and then find myself without a job because of some decision made by that businessman which may or may not be fully informed.

There’s a big spoiled-brat element in much business and pro-business thinking: they have to get what they want or it’s not fair.


2. WorldbyStorm - January 24, 2008

Yes, I’d completely agree. Indeed reading libertarian right stuff or worse again Objectivism does have that sort of whinging aspect to it. But my point is that this strain of thinking is anti-democratic because it ignores the necessity for processes (democratic) to arrive at outcomes that allow all a voice… etc, etc.


3. ejh - January 24, 2008

that sort of whinging aspect to it

It’s also a – to be kind – paradox in that type of politics, that it devotes a lot of time to telling poorer people that they should stop whinging and complaining…and spends the rest of its time whinging and complaining

As for democracy, it’s a rare rightwinger who’ll put the rights of governments, however democratically-elected, above the rights of property.


4. Tomaltach - January 24, 2008

Very interesting post. Regarding the issue of 50/50 v supermajority, I suppose I’d be in favour of the simple majority, despite the inherint instability in it. Many progressive changes to our constitution would never have seen the light of day if they required 2/3 majority. Of course, in an era of regressive measures, such as the climate in Germany in the 30s, a simple majority allows safeguards and protections to be eroded away much more easily. But one would have to hope that on balance, that progressive measures are more likely to be the order of the day. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking and too deeply presumptive of the idea of progress. In any case, regardless of the mechanism, the important thing is to have the debate and thrash out the ideas. If you lose your debate this time round, try again. Nothing inherently wrong with that.


5. WorldbyStorm - January 24, 2008

That’s the thing that worries me about the 66/33 rule Tomaltach. One could imagine being locked into the status quo forever, which of course is exactly the point when it comes to political parties.


6. CL - January 24, 2008

WBS- I think you may be on to something here when you refer to “with this ‘two-thirds’ majority approach where everyone winds up both winner and loser”. Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives voted 260 to 152, 63% to 37%, to,in effect, extend health insurance to children. However not enough to override Bush’s veto which requires a two-thirds majority. Both sides can claim to be winners. But the losers are the children. (Of course such a two-thirds requirement can work both ways, just imagine a liberal president vetoing some rightist legislation). And of course the U.S. separation of powers constitutional set-up may not be altogether relevant to an Irish context. But yet…


7. WorldbyStorm - January 24, 2008

No, I think you’re right CL. I presume that it would have needed the extra 3% to bring it forward? Yes, it does provide certain checks in certain instances but… it’s very much checking – acting in the same way as upper houses or legislatures which can veto stuff in the UK for instance. I’m not optimistic enough to believe that the representatives of the people are always right, but I’m dubious about 50% plus 16% being somehow the final arbiter of that rightness…


8. CL - January 24, 2008

Apparently there are enough votes in the Senate to override the veto (at least 60). The Democrats will no doubt bring it up again. Its a means of embarrassing the Republicans. That there is so much support for such a left-liberal measure shows the mood in the U.S. electorate. Edwards should be doing much better-but he seems to lack that indefinable aspect-gravitas. But then look at others who were similarly deficient and who hold and have held high office.


9. WorldbyStorm - January 24, 2008

My fear is that the support you speak of is frittered away by an internecine contest and/or by those who don’t hold to the measures with any sincerity.


10. CL - January 25, 2008

Correction to above. A two-third majority is also need in the Senate, and that would be 67. ( 60 is the number needed to end a filibuster). But the 63% of support in the Congress is surely indicative of widespread support for this left-liberal health measure. Is Hillary or Obama reflecting this left-liberal sentiment or is Edwards nearer to what’s happening at the grassroots? Put another way if Hillary or Obama took a turn to the left would they increase their chance of the nomination?
The original SCHIP programme was jointly sponsored by Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch (a Mormon)


11. gareth - January 25, 2008

interesting post. my only wish is that you presupposed a little less knowledge, though. what was this green party vote about. what about the one that led the worker’s party to split? and the one that split the official and provisional ira?



12. WorldbyStorm - January 25, 2008

I can’t work that one out myself CL. Is it broad sentiment, or is it just that they’re following current public opinion. Your left turn question is pivotal, isn’t it? Would that connect with a greater number of voters, or less?

gareth, cheers. Wiki has all this stuff should you want it in detail. The Green party voted on whether to support the European Union Lisbon Treaty or not. Although the vote was in the early 60s it failed to get the 66% necessary to carry it. Therefore under GP rules members can support or oppose the Treaty as they see fit. The WP split over the issue of a party reformation whereby the constitution and structures of the party would have been changed in such a way as to move it away from democratic centralism, any vestigial linkage to the OIRA, etc, etc… The OSF/PSF split was over recognition not merely of the Republic of Ireland parliament by SF, but also Stormont and Westminster. Interestingly it wasn’t simply about armed struggle per se…


13. Tomaltach - January 25, 2008

The presidential veto in the Us is an interesting one. In the early Republic, in fact, for most of the 19th century, the veto was used sparingly if at all. There was a stricter view of the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive. Making law was simply not the presidents job. The veto was seen as a tool to protect the President in case of encroachment of the legislature on his office or a tool to allow him to prevent the enactment of hasty and ill considered measured. Over time that view has evolved entirely as experimentation and cumulative power gave it its current shape.

Interesting to note that George W Bush has not used the veto that often by modern standards. (7 or 8 times). FD Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower used in total more than 1000 times during their 3 presidencies!


14. Tomaltach - January 25, 2008

Last sentence in 1st paragraph should read : Over time that view has evolved entirely as experimentation and cumulative precedent gave it its current shape.


15. Jim Monaghan - January 25, 2008

Attended anti Eu constitution meeting in Dun laoghaire last night.
Roger Cole spkoe drwaing from Wolfe Tone and giving a stirring speech aginsts militarism and for a neutral and fre Ireland
Richatd Boyd Barrett stressed neo liberalism. Eoin O’Brion was quite impressive. Hope he is the future of Sinn Fein and not those hungry for a coalition seat. Patricia McKenna spoke well as usual.
Speakers made an effort to be complementary rather than covering the same ground ad nauseum.
Attack on the Greens after Patricia Mckenna spoke.
Attack renewed after McKenna left.
Eoin O’Broin was quite effective saying that 42% voted aginst the EU treaty at the Green assembkly and that Patricia was key to that mobilisation.
About 60 at meeting which for Dun laoghaire was in my opinion quite good.
Bodes well for an effective campaign,.
Boyd Barrett made point for unity with diversity. The Left will want to stress different aspects. Even individuals will have different points they want to stress.
The La Pen bvisit was regarded basically as an attempt to tar the No campaign with a racist etc brush. Some felt that it had been orchestrated.
Mind you the YES camp will have a problem now that Berties image of the basically ordinary bloke with the pint of Bass and no interest in personal gain is somewhat tarnished.


16. CL - January 25, 2008

WBS-‘Tis..on opinion only that government is founded’-David Hume


17. WorldbyStorm - January 25, 2008

True CL. Although one might also add that power comes from the barre… no… no… maybe not.

Good info Jim. Sounds like an interesting meeting. The attacks on the Greens are telling, aren’t they? And yet they’re a point up in the polls…

Tomaltach, that’s something I didn’t know. So really it represents the extension of Presidential power, I guess that was always inevitable in an executive Presidency, but it does seem to go against the intentions of the framers of the Consitution.


18. Garibaldy - January 27, 2008

I’m in favour of 2/3 for fundamental decisions, for precisely the reasons Tomaltach pointed out, that it makes it much more difficult to erode freedoms and rights.

Specifically on The WP vote in 1992. As I understand it, the De Rossa faction could have achieved most of what it wanted to do with a simple majority vote, but wanted the 2/3 as a demonstration of support. And perhaps to force people who would be unhappy to go with the flow by suggesting there was no alternative. The real aim was to purge the party of those who remained committed to socialism by deregistering the entire membership and only allowing those who agreed with the rush to the right to “re”join. This would have left them in control of the party’s assets and unopposed in entering coalition. So, unsurprisingly, I’d say the things at stake were different to those WBS outlined above for Gareth. And I think subsequent events have proven that the De Rossaites were interested solely in moving to the right in the pursuit of personal gain and power. The shame is that many good socialists were fooled and followed them.

WBS is right to say that not all those who voted one way or another ended up going that way. Some voted with De Rossa for the sake of unity but stayed when he went.


19. WorldbyStorm - January 27, 2008

I think that there were varying reasons for the split above and beyond purging those who believed in socialism. Consider the vote at the New Agenda conference which went very much against any non left identity for the party such as the – awful – name Peoples’ Party. The thing is that you’d be hard pushed to find amongst those who left those who weren’t socialists, even the leadership were whatever their own personal ambitions which I don’t dispute. There were serious and genuine concerns, held by people such as myself (and indeed many who wound up in the ISN) about the nature of the party structures which didn’t rest on personality clashes with Garland et al. For people like myself who were effectively euro-communist or democratic socialist the WP was far too rigid and regimented and allied with some enormously dubious regimes internationally. I understand how that came about, I accept the hard work and sincerity of those who thought such links were a good idea, but it’s not a small thing. I didn’t want the WP to vanish, I wanted it to rethink that sort of thing. I certainly didn’t want to move rightward, as DL did, although to be fair they still remained left of Labour. I’d also note that on an international level the DL was similar to many – and retained links with – post-CP parties. It’s was hardly unusual and it was very typical of the time.

The problem was that the De Rossa leadership allowed ambition to outweigh the reality of what was possible outside WP structures.


20. Garibaldy - January 28, 2008

I understand what you’re saying WBS. To be honest, if I were you and anyone with any serious left politics who went DL, I’d feel like I’d been led right up the garden path, and been betrayed as comprehensively as the northern DL people were, never mind The WP. I don’t think it’s possible to argue at this point in time that the programme of people like Rabitte wasn’t to get into Labour (at least) all along – even the attempt to avoid any left reference in the name from the TDs should say something. I suspect De Rossa’s ego may have meant he mightn’t have been thinking that way.

The DL split was I agree fundementally part of a broader phenomenon. That was the abandonment of hope in a socialist future, and an inexorable progress rightwards by those who chose to abandon their heritage. The USSR et al were far from perfect. But they were progressive in that they prevented imperialism overruning the world without opposition. By 1992 they were also gone, and no longer that big an issue. What was at issue was what type of strugle the party was to be engaged in, and to what end. Everything else was a smokescreen, and advantage was taken of people’s genuine concerns.

I have to say I think your words above are poorly chosen, when you suggest that The WP was somehow not interested in democratic socialism. This ignores its efforts to build a comprehensively democratic political culture north and south – the people who stayed were also at the heart of that agenda.


21. WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2008

Garibaldy, I think one has to be very careful when analysing any group to look at it in the round, particularly when one has (or had) a loyalty to that group. There were issues with the WP, and it’s not simply a case of an evil De Rossa leading the chosen people away. Over 60% of the party thought there was sufficient an issue to support the reformation. That support didn’t come from nowhere, those people didn’t leave for no reason. The subsequent collapse of the WP as a significant vehicle for socialist change in the South and the continuing relative success of the DL up to the merger and the ability of the former DL TDs to retain their seats, etc, attests to the fact that this is more than a simply DL bad, WP good situation. There was right on both sides. I’ve said it before I thought leaving the party both personally and in terms of the broader exodus was a huge mistake but I doubt that the intention was to go into Labour either then or until quite a while after. Otherwise why all the efforts to entice Stagg to join NA/DL? As for the name, some TDs wanted Peoples Party, McCartan in particular, others, as far as I am aware, didn’t. I’m not saying the WP wasn’t interested in democratic socialism, but it was interested in a very specific form of democratic socialism. In any case the WP was much more complex an organisation with many tendencies within it. Some people, as you know, cleaved to one idea of democratic socialism, others to another and still others to various other sorts…


22. Garibaldy - January 28, 2008

Yeah sure. There was a majority of delegates for change, although one should not forget the machinations both sides involved in on that front. I’ve always believed that once elected in a southern election it’s much harder to lose than hold the seat, and that media profile is key to getting and keeping it. We can analyse the success of DL, or we can look at the fact it lost seats despite the biggest swing to the left in decades if not ever.

As I’ve said before, the crisis was both inevitable and unique. Efforts to rebuild were hampered by demoralisation, bad publicity, fiscal problems, the fact that overwhelmingly the public representatives and people in societally important positions went and the collapse of the USSR. I’m sure The WP was far from perfect. Equally I;m sure that what happened was a disaster for the working people of the island.


23. WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2008

On that I agree completely.


24. dilettante - January 28, 2008

I don’t care to intrude on the private grief of the old WP (if I could use such a term), but the 2/3rds issue is an interesting one, particularly because it is linked to the Lisbon QMV debate.

It depends on which side of the debate you are on. If you see the 2/3rds (or whatever qualified majority) as allowing you to block negative developments with a 1/3rd+ minority then it is a good thing. If you see it as a hindrance to progress then it is a bad thing.

As things stand in the EU there is a tremendous momentum for liberalisation and privatisation. The task of the left is to prevent it from happening: to defend public services, workers rights, and civil liberties; to oppose liberalisation, privatisation, and the imposition of unfair trade deals on developing countries; to prevent militarisation and the erosion of neutrality; and to ensure that decision-making does not become even less accessible and less accountable.
To achieve this the retention of the veto in as many areas as possible would be a progressive thing.

If there were a left majority across the EU then it might not be a bad idea to have a lower threshold for decision-making in order to push forward a progressive agenda – theoretically.
Then you look at the reality of how large parts of the left (the vast bulk of social democracy) have been co-opted into the right-wing project. The majority of governments which agreed the Lisbon Agenda (competiveness and unbridled market forces, with a few soothing words) were social democratic.
This leads me to the conclusion that it is essential to maintain political control at the lowest possible level. Yes town-hall meetings (if that is practical), but in any case don’t let Brussels (or Moscow, or Washington) decide on what enterprise should be put where.

In party structures I also see the logic of weighted majorities. On a policy issue of such importance It is healthy for democracy that the Green Party leadership are not in a position to come out and say “the party is 100% behind me”.
We know full well that in none of the pro parties is there 100% in favour of Lisbon (nor is there 100% against in SF). Most likely if push came to shove in all those parties there would be a more than 2/3rds majority to support the positions their party is lining up with, but nonetheless… A bit of honesty from the Greens is to be welcomed.
And certainly, looking at the past of the republican movement, both WP (in their day) and SF had/have reason to maintain the overwhelming majority approach. There are are enough divisions on the progressive side of the political spectrum without fuelling more splits.

PS: WBS, I do find your use of “PSF” a bit irritating. Is the name “SF” seriously contested these days? Except perhaps by the old(er) WP?


25. WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2008

dilettante, I only use PSF because I also use OSF quite a bit and on occasion RSF and it’s seems reasonable to make it as clear as possible who I’m writing about. It’s sort of a pedantic tic, but it’s not intended in any sense to ascribe any greater or lesser legitimacy to any of those organisations. FWIW I see all three as having or having had largely equal legitimacy in using the SF name (and I say that as no fan at all of RSF) and I was only thinking today, being sick and at home about the way in which on the continent it’s quite common for there to be multiple parties who use similar prefixs around a core common name, which is one reason why, for example I was sorry SFWP dropped the SF. As it happens when I talk about SF I invariably mean the current largest incarnation of SF.

I know the case you’re making, but I think there is a different problem that kicks in which is that … as in a way happened in both the original SF/OSF/PSF split and later in the WP/DL split a weighted majority can tend to make the minority position appear to have some sort of ‘moral’ majority. Therefore it was SF which walked away with credibility in the original split and despite a close run thing DL was established in the latter, despite the majority viewpoint.


26. dilettante - January 28, 2008

Don’t worry, I won’t walk out over the PSF thing, whatever your majority. But as far as I know there is no party which calls itself PSF, whereas there is a party which accepts the name RSF (or is it SFP?), and there was a party which called itself OSF (before calling itself SFWP). I suppose the “Official” bit was part of the “Bolshevik” mentality asserting itself in an Irish context?

And I see the case you’re making.
But looking at it from a more marxist point of view, maybe it was less a question of which group got what majority in any given split, rather who best articulated and defended the interests of a particular constituency. The officials took up a fairly mechanistic class-based narrative (which sidelined – and then opposed – popular resistance to imperialism, according to the theoretical and diplomatic constraints imposed by Moscow), whereas the provisionals plugged into that popular resistance (perhaps putting class issues on the long finger). There was no way the officials were going to thrive in the north with that analysis.
And while it worked for a while in the south the DL people then lost sight of the need for a solid grass-roots movement in the headlong rush towards electoralism and the “mercs and perks”, devastating the WP in the process.
I can’t help but feel if the rules of the (weighted majority) game had been respected by the DL component, the WP could still be a force in southern politics (for good or for bad).


27. WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2008

Good stuff. I’m not sure there is a majority here for WP…!

I’m very taken by your point about the Officials being constrained by Moscow. I doubt that was ever a formal constraint, but Moscow did disapprove, as the Teoiric article indicates of ‘terrorism’ and the WP certainly kept an eye on what the prevailing wind was. I agree completely that a class analysis simply couldn’t cut the mustard in the North, however much one would have liked it. I also agree with your analysis re the DL, although I’d also suggest that a party which was built around the TDs in their fiefdoms was always on a bit of a loser. I competely agree with you that had DL sat it out within the WP things might be very different. For a start I can’t see them entering coalition with FG in the mid 1990s short of a name change, and even then.


28. Garibaldy - January 29, 2008

On the Official thing, That was a name given by the media (along with SF Gardiner Place/Kevin Street). The name was never OSF – it was SF. In the same way, there was the IRA. Although occasionally people would make reference to the Official Republican Movement, it was never “officially” the name. It had nothing to do with the Bolsheviks.

Nor, to be honest, had The WP analysis in the north. In fact, not only did The WP not take its line on the north from the Soviets, but the Soviets were told on more than one occasion that they were mistaken in their analysis of Ireland in party to party meetings. Opposition to violence was on the basis that it was setting back the cause of the struggle against imperialism, north and south, by dividing the people of the island, setting back the cause of both unity and socialism. And the increased division among the people of NI suggests that that analysis was correct. Even if it was not what lots of people wanted to hear.

As Dilettante points out, the 2/3 thing can be a double edged sword. But I still feel it’s the right approach for fundamental issues.


29. WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2008

Interesting to note that according to Ed Moloney the first walkout (in pre-split Sinn Féin) occurred when the Ard Fhéis was having a vote of confidence in the IRA (which had already accepted the new direction) put to it which he suggests would have been carried thereby invalidating the first vote on abstention to at least some degree. Hence the upping of non-sticks and leaving (sorry, couldn’t resist). So as with everything much depends on the questions asked and how many.


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