What shying “away from clearly advocating non-payment of the water charges” looks like…. July 29, 2015Posted by irishelectionliterature in The Left.
Yesterday The Socialist Party in an article referenced here , made an accusation that Clare ‘Daly, like Joan Collins TD has shied away from clearly advocating non-payment of the water charges.‘
Here’s a few examples (aside from the many examples in the comments of the previous post) of what shying “away from clearly advocating non-payment of the water charges” looks like….
-Giving speeches to Rallies using slogans like “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay”
This particular passage caught my eye….
Many of the most articulate Independents in the Dail are of a ‘populist’ character, with both left and right tinges. Populism could be described as reflecting moods that exist amongst the mass of people in society, but lacking in a clear political programme as your backbone. When this is the case, we can expect any such individual to bend to the status quo if in power.
As an example of a right-wing populist, Shane Ross TD, who has received credit for stinging rebukes of the parties of the establishment, was in fact a cheerleader for Anglo Irish Bank during the boom, and is a former stockbroker himself. Ross supports a neoliberal vision of capitalism with minimal taxes on or state regulation of business.
Clare Daly TD, who can make powerful criticisms of the Government on issues, typifies left populism. Tending to highlight the incompetency of the individual actors, rather than any overarching systemic criticism of the right-wing ideology and practice that’s at the heart of the matter. Daly, like Joan Collins TD has shied away from clearly advocating non-payment of the water charges.
I’m pretty sure both Clare Daly and Joan Collins have advocated non payment?
Between Ideology and Public Discourse July 17, 2015Posted by guestposter in Marxism, The Left.
A very welcome guest post from Gavin Mendel-Gleason, from Spirit of Contradiction
Our political and economic system is in crisis. There is a crisis of affordable housing, of decent jobs, of cuts to public services and cuts to social welfare provisions. There is a crisis of democracy which shows itself at every level from the impotence of local democracy through the county councils right up to the technocratic structure of the EU and the impenetrability of the ECB to any form of democratic input. There is a debt crisis of the states of Europe, precipitated by the financial crisis of 2008 which has seen enormous amounts of public funds diverted to paying private investors; investors who had gambled spectacularly found their losses covered by the public.
The water charges campaign in Ireland saw the first major evidence of a backlash to this state of affairs. People began resisting the imposition of a new charge, which was indicative of the spate of increases in taxation to the general public while public services were simultaneously being cut. However, despite the mass mobilisations and many climb-downs by politicians in direct response to this militancy, we still face momentous challenges in finding a way out of our crisis.
Power today clearly lies in the hands of multinational corporations and international finance. This view is widely held, with adherents from popular economic academics such as Piketty, to your average punter on the street. Any time someone stands up and says: “But we should tax the profits of corporations and investors so we can fund public services” we are told that this is impossible because it would render us uncompetitive. Each country is forced to provide the lowest corporate tax regime possible, all competing with each other to attract capital from one another. We find ourselves in an endless race to the bottom. The countries of the EU do not have any fiscal autonomy, and the capacity to “print money” to restart the economy is non-existent.
And while all of these facts about the invincibility of investors and the vulnerability of the public are well known, in Ireland there is no strategy to get out of our predicament which enjoys sufficiently widespread popularity that it might lead to an alternative. The articulation of egalitarian political alternatives is of course the historical role of the left broadly defined.
Public Discourse as the Alternative
Because of the weakness of the left in Ireland, many have looked abroad for inspiration. In other countries there are left wing movements which have significantly more traction and who have articulated an alternative. One of these is Podemos, a Spanish party which has come out of the social movements in Spain against austerity and which has grown meteorically. Since its foundation in 2014, it has managed to capture the imagination of between 15% and 25% of the electorate according to polling data. Because of this rapid rise, it is of particular interest to those impatient for change.
The main thrust behind Podemos is an idea that a major, perhaps even primary problem of the left is the inability to communicate effectively with the electorate. The thesis is that our difficulty is in essence a question of proper messaging. Podemos are not the only group to propose such an idea, but they exemplify the approach, and are certainly among the most successful in demonstrating it. Further, the approach taken by Podemos has been theorised, incorporating ideas from the Latin American left, from the theorists Laclau and Mouffe, and Podemos’ own Íñigo Errejón.
The messaging of Podemos, which they have theorised as a counter-hegemonic narrative, spells out in both abstract and concrete terms a means of contacting the public imagination. It echos Antonio Gramsci’s ideas about creating a discourse with the potential to communicate a new “common sense” with a new “historical subject”. The new “common sense” is meant to articulate in simple terms the broad discontent that people have with their subordination to elites, and the new “historical subject” are the people who find themselves currently powerless, but who could become the protagonist for transformative change.
Part of the concrete strategy taken by Podemos is the promotion of universal values, such as peace, equality and solidarity. The other is the promotion of democracy and a highlighting of the attenuation of democracy in various spheres. These approaches follow closely on the theories of Laclau and Mouffe. ￼￼Laclau and Mouffe attempted to overcome what they judged the archaic dichotomy between working class and capitalist class. For them, for any theory to have the capacity to be “non-alienating” – ie not creating a false “other” – it would have to be based on universalisms. At its extreme this has led even to arguments of abandoning the left/right dichotomy in politics as old and outdated.
There is also a highly technical (and indeed, empirical!) component to this approach, which seeks to utilise knowledge of mass communication, of sound-bytes and imagery and of distillation of message, in such a way that it is most immediately palatable to the greatest number of people.
In addition, Podemos has an uncomfortable relationship with the idea of the party form. The widespread discontent among the public regarding the political choices that they currently have (in both Spain and Ireland), the consistent shift to the right of the previously social democratic parties, and the widespread feelings of powerlessness have given rise to a general antipathy towards political parties. People feel that political parties and politicians don’t represent them, that they are not trustworthy, and that they are, at the end of the day, worthless from the standpoint of making their voices heard. Podemos has attempted to “square the circle” by casting itself as a new type of social movement, one capable of articulating a programme and of engaging people in politics, but not in the old way. Theorists attempting to square this circle have, however, failed to articulate what sort of pragmatic techniques are necessary to improve the internal functioning of parties, or indeed, how we would know if we saw an improvement. It presents itself as a critique without putting forward a constructive solution aside from vague platitudes about participation and engagement and in not doing things the old way.
The Democratic Left / Labour merger and after… July 7, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
Not quite sure why but the other day the memory of the Democratic Left/Labour merger of the late 1990s came to me. Perhaps it was on foot of Gilmore announcing his retirement and the possibility of Rabbitte following him. Whatever the reason I managed to find my way there, not as a supporter but simply curious as to show.
What I remember most vividly are two things. One was the numbers attending. Lower than I’d have expected given that DL came from a WP background which could put quite a lot of members and supporters in the field, and that Labour was a component. But above and beyond that was the long faces of people I had known in DL, and talking to a few who were there subsequently I wasn’t alone in that observation.
I suspect for all the rhetoric from the platform of new beginnings (not agendas – natch!) it must have struck home that this was a full stop for many, that entering the embrace of the LP was never part of the plan. Well, not for most, but perhaps a core were happy with it. Even given what I would regard as significant flaws in DL I was never entirely convinced that a merger made any great sense. The nature of the two organisations and their histories were so different.
But… then again, ideologically what was in it? Functionally they were close enough.
And yet the returns too, were so minimal. And I’m not the only one to wonder what the effect was in terms of more radical working class vote and where it went subsequently. The merger opened a space that others were able to enter and monopolise. And not just on the left, albeit there had been changes taking place one way or another. Sinn Féin, the Green Party, and so on, were able to expand their support.
That none of this was foreseen, or at least not talked about, is curious. But then perhaps by then DL had been beaten back from being a fairly thin organisation to start with to being essentially localised around the TDs. What always struck me was that there was never any serious effort to consider why that might be and what might be done to alter that. But then again, given that localisation perhaps the way in which what might have been a most inconvenient set of questions were not addressed is unsurprising.
What’s the left for? Indeed what does left mean? July 2, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, The Left.
William Keegan in the Observer is usually very readable, and his latest column this last weekend is no exception. In it he ponders the nature of the current dispensation under the Tories and reflects on how the Labour Party is currently going through its own long night of the soul after its recent defeat at the polls. He also has some sharp thoughts on the latest calls to cut the top rate of tax from 45% to 40% in the UK, and notes that Nigel Lawson now claims it will cost next to nothing, while recalling sardonically that back in the day the fact that the cost was £8bn was hidden away in the small print.
But he also has this:
…it was interesting to read in a Times article that when party adviser Stewart Wood was asked by Gordon Brown why he had joined the party, he replied: “To help the bottom 25%.” To which Brown responded: “Yes, but we mustn’t say that or we will never win.”
There lies the explanation for all the “prudence” and clandestine attempts at redistribution – although, given the tendency of globalised capitalism to widen the gap between rich and poor, it was often a case of preventing the gap becoming worse rather than actually narrowing it.
He’s probably right that some in social democracy function(ed) in that sort of fiscal stealth mode. Though one would have to question whether being quiet about it was quite the way to seize the narrative, let alone to effect real change.
But there’s a deeper point too. Is that what it’s all about – to ‘help’ the bottom 25%? It seems a curiously stunted ambition for leftists. I’m not a Leninist, or not much of one, and my Marxism is a bit all over the shop these days. But to me the point of the left is to transform the structures and the system and to move to more democratic and equitable social and political forms.
In fairness contemporary social democracy doesn’t really speak of such ambitions, though it once did, even if even in only hushed tones. But the idea of the social democratic left controlling capitalism has proven in practice to operate more like capitalism controlling the social democratic left and pitching it headlong in a rightward direction.
And it’s interesting isn’t it that Keegan himself in the second part of the paragraph above acknowledges that problem.
Inequality… June 25, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
Colin Murphy has a thoughtful piece on inequality in the SBP, even if the ideas therein aren’t necessarily to my taste. His basic thesis is that inequality shouldn’t simply be a concern of the left. Indeed he argues that:
Two world wars, the advent of the welfare state, the deepening of the concept of national identity and the advent of a sociological understanding of man as a product of his environment all served to promote the idea (and practice) of greater equality.
In the 1990s, though, with the “second globalisation”, this consensus collapsed. The result was both soaring inequality and a weakening of the social cohesion required to combat it.
I don’t think it’s any great stretch to point to the existence too of a counterweight in regard of the USSR as an implicit reason why western states tended towards welfarism during the post war period as states sought to entice populations away from communism. Now this isn’t as such an argument for supporting the existence of such states – one could rightly feel that it was at the very least problematic that oppressive states guaranteed implicitly European welfare states. And one could also wonder at the inability of social democracy to defend the gains of that period as well.
But be that as it may Murphy rightly notes that:
The danger here is that this becomes a vicious spiral. I saw how this works in microcosm when I lived in Johannesburg (where income inequality has increased since the end of apartheid). The rich perceive the poor as a threat, so they retreat into secure, private space.
Public spaces and services become the preserve of the poor, so the rich have less interest in subventing them. The public sphere thus deteriorates, and ever more people abandon it.
This is, as many will know, particularly evident in the US, and not just there. Underfunding of public services is now manifest across the ‘developed’ world in states where low taxation and decreasing expenditure is becoming the norm. That this has appallingly negative effects upon citizens and their lives is a form of almost deliberate collateral damage, and intrinsic to the dynamic.
Murphy suggests that French academic Pierre Rosanvallon has warned that the corrosive effects of the processes described above threaten the fundamental basis of our and others societies (given the level of inequality in this state). And he suggests that:
At the heart of this is the idea of reciprocity. If people don’t believe that the others around them are contributing their fair share, they won’t either. Reciprocity (which is similar to what Robert Putnam calls “social capital”) is vital to the success of democracy. And inequality is corrosive to reciprocity. He quotes Tocqueville: selfishness is “to societies what rust is to metal”.
The feeling that reciprocity has broken down is directed at “the two extremes of the social ladder” – the very rich and those dependent on welfare. For this, he has three remedial solutions, which could appeal across the political system: greater transparency of fiscal and social statistics, so people know exactly what is being paid by and to whom; “vigorous” measures to prevent tax and welfare cheating; and a return of universal welfare benefits.
I fundamentally agree with the latter, have question marks as regards the second and think the first is unquestionable. But I wonder if in some ways this prescription is simply too late. Because it’s not just a question of the status quo ante, but of a changing economic context where work itself, at least well paid, continuous medium to long career, style work is becoming – under the pressure of automation and other factors – scarcer.
In that new context the very nature of work itself and the relationship between state and citizens alters and it is telling and troubling to hear a rising chorus of voices – in the field of political economy calling for basic incomes, shorter working weeks and so on.
Yet, it is refreshing to hear again how inequality is in and of itself part of the problem rather than, as often seems to be the orthodox line, not merely an unavoidable byproduct, but rather a virtue of a system that is itself deeply problematic.
Yesterday’s water charge protests… June 21, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
As opposed to some previous, larger demonstrations which saw isolated scenes of confrontation and occasional skirmishes between protestors and gardaí, a convivial atmosphere was evident throughout today’s rally.
Any thoughts on the protests?
Parties and non parties… June 19, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
I mentioned this before when the news about the latest ‘new’ party – that apparently being formed by Murphy, Donnelly, Shortall and Zappone was announced – that perhaps the most interesting thing is that all of those individuals have come to the conclusion that some sort of a party identity would be or greater utility than contesting the election as Independents. That three of those arrived in their respective parts of the Oireachtas under an Independent or somewhat independent banner is suggestive of something of a shift in recent times in regard to the perception of Independents.
Of course this doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The fairly chaotic machinations amongst the Independents in relation to the Ross-led alliance may have had an effect, as did the hardly stellar showing of Independents at the most recent by-election. Let’s thrown in the clear disunity amongst parts of the further left in recent times. The ULA is now no more than a memory. The moves at the weekend perhaps will bear some fruit, but what seems to be being proposed is more a seal of approval applied to a diverse range of parties, formations and individuals rather than an actual structure. So all of that will have impinged, and let’s not ignore the dipping numbers in polls for independents, though let’s also not ignore the small detail that even as it stands Independents and Small Parties gain somewhere around 22%, a good 7% on their 2011 rating. That Small Parties aspect may – however – indicate to those involved that that is sufficient unto the day for them. And perhaps it will be.
Moreover it would be difficult to think of at least two of that number whose stars could be higher. Murphy for her role in engaging with Denis O’Brien, Zappone and her sterling work in relation to the marriage equality referendum.
So if they consider the independent tag less useful than a new ‘social democratic’ party tag. Well, isn’t that something?
Where next though? It seems reasonable to assume that this is a cohort explicitly driving towards government. There was some mention of that in the Independent on Sunday. Some entertainingly optimistic numbers being thrown around by Fine Gael people too, 60 seats for that party, 15 for Labour and then the balance being made up by the new party or independents or who?
Fianna Fail 34, Fine Gael 52, Sinn Fein 32, Labour Party 12, Independents and Others 28.
The number a government would need in the new 158 seat Dáil is 80 plus. If it is an FG/LP/AN OTHERS lashes that’s going to need quite a few extra others since the LP and FG would get perhaps 65 or 66 seats between them. Sure, perhaps the polls will improve for FG. But perhaps not with RENUA nibbling them to their right and the new crew(s) nibbling at them to their left. But one way or another a variegated crew it would be to get them to 80.
Which raises more questions. Would the new social democrat formation serve in government with RENUA? And with Labour? And with Fine Gael? Hmmm… we shall see.
One good friend suggested to me that a party with Donnelly is something he could never regard as ‘left wing’. Others will, I suspect, feel much the same. But this may not hobble them.
Press Statement 17th June 2015
The Finglas Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) held a very successful meeting last night in the Bottom of the Hill pub with over 90 people in attendance
Over 90 people attended a ‘What Next for the Water Charges Movement?” meeting last night (Tuesday 16th June), which was hosted by the Finglas CAHWT. The mood was resolute in its ongoing opposition to the water tax.
Speakers on the night included Bernie Hughes (Community activist), Jimmy Dignam (Workers’ Party representative), Dave Gibney (MANDATE representative), Dessie Ellis TD and was chaired by Jessica Hughes of the Finglas CAHWT.
What is clearly apparent is that the water charges movement is as determined as ever to abolish this controversial tax. Whilst there may be differing views on tactics, it was agreed that above else unity is key in successfully winning this battle.
A lively discussion also took place on the direction that the movement should go in next. It was largely felt that progressive politics needs to come to the fore within in Irish politics. A presentation was also given on the recent Right2Water policy platform discussions, which have involved community activists, trade unions and politics parties who are involved within the water charges movement.
A strong focus was put on continuing to put pressure on the government and Irish Water over the coming months. It was agreed that the Finglas CAHWT would hold further protests and events in its struggle against austerity. The meeting ended with a message of solidarity being sent to the recently locked out Clerys Department Store workers.
For more information contact:
Jimmy Dignam (Workers’ Party) – 0851556914
Jessica Hughes (Finglas CAHWT) – 0851026921
Bernie Hughes (Community Activist) – 0872929214
(Picture attached: From Left to Right – Dave Gibney, Jessica Hughes, Jimmy Dignam)