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Socialist Voice from the CPOI – December Edition December 7, 2018

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Now online here.

The Growing Debt Crisis

The Political Power of Central Banks

Sombre Assessment for Unionism

20th International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties

International Conference Against Military Bases

Successful British Communist Congress

Compassionate Communists

And more…

Blame Dublin… December 7, 2018

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Who could be writing this?

On Tuesday afternoon, as the British government staggered towards another Brexit humiliation, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged Fianna Fáil and Irish Labour to press their Westminster sister parties, the Liberal Democrats and British Labour, to support the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.Speaking in the Dáil, Varadkar said rejection of the agreement would lead to a no-deal Brexit that “nobody would benefit from”.This can only be seen a desperate attempt to spread blame for such an outcome.

Interesting. Not an analysis that seems all that robust.

Neither the LDs or BLP can be seen to be swayed by political siblings in Ireland, a country that has portrayed itself as the UK’s hardball opponent in negotiations.

Is that entirely fair about Ireland being an opponent in negotiations? Not least given that the negotiations were between the EU and London.

Or this?

It might seem unfair to attach any blame for Brexit to Irish politicians. However, to the extent that Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney have sought credit for success, they are equally exposed to failure. Constant proclamations of Irish influence and EU solidarity over the withdrawal process create ownership of the result – disaster included.
The mistake Dublin appears to have made is in not sufficiently distinguishing between a weak British position and a weak British government.

This is puzzling. The reality is that it is the British polity which is divided – a British PM who is unable to control even her own party, or bring it together given the incredible fractures now visible within it. To suggest somehow this is a ‘mistake’ of Dublin’s making is absurd (and again evades the core issue that it is the EU that is negotiating). As is the following:

Having London over a barrel, both in the structure of the negotiations and in the UK’s need for a future EU partnership, might create a temptation to drive a hard bargain. However, a strong British government was always going to be necessary to deliver its side of the bargain.

But there’s a basic problem with the above. There was no ‘London over a barrel’, at least not in the sense he believes. There were clear lines which the EU was unwilling to breach in relation to the Border, the single market and so on. All this was or should have been well known by London in advance. Granted looking at those sent by the Tories to negotiate one has to wonder at their ability to quite comprehend what was going on, but that again is a problem of London’s making. What Emerson seems to believe is that the EU (and Dublin) would continue to soften their position at any cost to themselves. But that’s to ignore the reality they have clear reasons why they would not want to. Not least that there’s no pressing need to create yet another form of association with the EU.

Though it is in the following where we really see how threadbare Emerson’s argument is:

Yet Varadkar, who became Taoiseach one week later, quickly moved the Republic to a more assertive Brexit position, which he and Coveney have stuck to ever since.
Now they seem almost trapped by the contradiction, unable to assist a pathetic opponent. There was a brief moment last month after the agreement was published when it might have been sold to the Commons as a British victory, if only a form of words could have been found to de-dramatise the backstop exit mechanism.

Firstly this state has every right – indeed an existential one, to assert its position clearly – should it see fit. Secondly, and yet again, he ignores the fact Dublin has actually gone out of its way, as in recent weeks, to say nothing that might interfere with the delivery of the UK government message. It was not Dublin’s responsibility to sell it – but it did nothing to impeded the sale. What he is actually saying is that a different agreement should have been struck. And as always there’s an odd misreading of Irish politics:

Although May is a hopeless communicator and her ministers were a bag of cats, they made an attempt to do so – only to be shot down by the Taoiseach and Coveney in uncompromising terms.

Now think about his chronology here. Though the backstop has rumbled away in the background it was in truth really only the DUP that was hugely exercised about it. In a telling display of indifference it is only this week it seems to have exercised Westminster as a whole. And it is unlikely beyond reason that anything the Taoiseach or ‘Coveney’ said had any impact whatsoever on the thinking in Westminster. Or lack of thinking. Moreover, and this I think gets to the heart of matters – the agreement reached with the EU by May is the agreement reached with the EU. It may be politically impossible to bring it across the line, but one would suspect that no deal she offered would command a) her own dissidents on Remain and Leave side, the BLP, the LDs etc. At least not immediately. Again – all this reflects is not Irish government ineptitude or crowing but rather very British dynamics.

A permanent backstop was a deal-breaker and the agreement had ensured it, they declared.
Varadkar told the Dáil just prior to publication that he was open to “creative language” on the exit mechanism but this evaporated as soon as Sinn Féin teased him about “losing his nerve”.

And I find it entirely unlikely that Varadkar was in the slightest bit swayed by SF ‘teasing’ or otherwise. This by the way is something one reads on some commentary from north of the border, a massive over-estimation of Dublin’s concern regarding SF or SF’s influence.

It does make me wonder, reading all this from Emerson, whether he quite grasps what the back stop is or is not. Because he writes:

The agreement is a huge victory for the Republic on the border that counts – that is, the border with Wales. An all-UK backstop in the customs union, forming a baseline for the future EU relationship, promises Ireland relatively open trade with and through Britain. Admittedly, this is hard to celebrate when the alleged purpose of the backstop is an open border with Northern Ireland. But the Irish Government could have quietly banked its victory and offered London soothing words. Instead, Dublin crowed and May was left to sell the deal alone, bringing matters to a predictably nail-biting conclusion.

But he seems blithely unaware of why that situation might not persist, indeed look across at the House of Commons and how so many Tories see the idea of the UK being in the customs union, or even entering the backstop should all else falter, as being utterly anathema, and one can see that the EU and Dublin might view the longevity of any agreement with the UK with deep concern.

Indeed, just on that, why isn’t Emerson lambasting an entity he – at least by dint of proximity might be expected to have greater leverage over, that being the DUP, or how about the UUP and taking it to task for pulling away from its anti-Brexit stance after the referendum? Because had the UUP joined with the GP, Alliance, SDLP and SF between them they could have presented a pan-unionist/nationalist/republican/other front that would have underscored just how isolated the DUP position actually is.

And that raises a further point. What on earth is the actual alternative Emerson offers as distinct from laying in to Dublin? He mutters about how this was an ‘EU demand’ but it is entirely logical that given the local sensitivities and context there would have to be some determination as to the status of the North – and to be frank given what was said by Raab, Davis, etc about breaching agreements, and indeed by what happened after the supposed agreement struck this time last year between the UK and the EU the latter would be sensible to ensure that the UK could not wriggle away from given commitments.

Frustrating the will of the referendum… December 6, 2018

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So far that hasn’t happened and the Bill passed yesterday night just around 12…

The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which will allow for the introduction of abortion services, will proceed to the Seanad after passing all stages in the Dáil last night.

TDs voted in favour of the abortion legislation by 90 votes to 15, with 12 abstentions.

Some of the proposed amendments though – thankfully not adopted… and difficult not to agree with Miriam Lord’s assessment that it was as if the referendum had never happened. And now on to the Seanad.

Beyond populism… December 6, 2018

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CON has some very useful thoughts on the French situation here on the CLR, for those who might have missed them.

Meanwhile, on the same topic, opinions differ on Richard North, but this observation on the protests in France is fascinating:

Emmanuel Macron and his government, says Lichfield, were undoubtedly slow to take the movement seriously but it is foolish to blame the long-standing problems of Peripheral France on a president who has only been in office for 18 months. It is time for opposition politicians in France to stop pretending that Macron is the only source of yellow jacket anger.

In what might be seen as a chilling parallel with the UK, Lichfield goes on to say that “many, many yellow vests are decent, frustrated, suffering people”. They no longer believe that any of the mainstream political movements – or even Marine Le Pen’s Far Right or Jean-Luc Mélenchon Hard Left – will do anything to help them.

The thought struck me looking at the Andulucian elections this last week where Podemos had a not great showing and VOX did considerably better than expected that each new ‘alternative’ seems to have less and less staying power. Vox’s day will come and go too. And that even the ‘populists’ and far-right have no guarantee that voters will stick with them either.

The question of course is whether those forces gain sufficient traction to gain a measure of state power (as in Italy).

Speaking of populism December 6, 2018

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Been thinking about populism, and it struck me that the definitions offered by GW and others were spot on in regard to many of the current formations, that is national authoritarians. Indeed thinking about it the party that seemed to me to be most ‘populist’ was 5SM, because for me populism is not parties to the left of ‘mainstream’ social democracy or to the right of the centre right but parties that are incoherent in their political platform. 5SM seems to me to typify this perfectly, whereas the League is a different kettle of fish.

This is not to say that the League doesn’t have populist aspects but that’s not the major aspect of its identity, any more than Fidesz in Hungary or the PIS in Poland. Those are all parties that cleave closer or further away to versions of national authoritarianism. And I think that the Guardian’s pieces during the week do a real disservice by not engaging with this reality. Synaspsimos, Sinn Féin and so on are not populist in this reading, and I don’t do this to allow them to be above or beyond criticism, but to point to the fact they are qualitatively different sorts of parties to FIS, etc.

Indeed, as GW noted, there’s something deeply depressing about the idea that populism is all that which isn’t the centre of politics – a self-ascribed and rather right-wing centre. And given that why is British Labour under Corbyn not described as populist?

Alan MacSimoin December 5, 2018

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Joe Mooney notes the passing of Alan MacSimoin here. It’s genuinely unbelievable.

Alan has been a fixture on the Irish further left for many many years, a person who was passionate, knowledgeable, extremely kind and thoughtful (this site owes him so much in terms of his willingness to donate documents to the Archive, time and his knowledge across a fair few cuppas), a wry, sometimes sceptical but never disillusioned take on Irish left politics and someone who had held true to his libertarian communist beliefs from the days in OSF, on to the WSM and thereafter.

The last time I saw him was at the series of East Wall History Group talks where he was his usual exuberant self. Our condolences to Mary and his family.

1968 December 5, 2018

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Saw a link to this on Slugger, Ulster At the Crossroads – by Capt. Terence O’Neill who as Premier of Northern Ireland issued this on Monday December 9, 1968. It’s an odd document – prescient in its own way, and significant in that it admits to a range of issues where discrimination occurred, in local government and housing, that some within Unionism have later, and more recently, sought to downplay.

At this remove, weighed down by the intervening decades it seems clear that the dynamics in play were such that there was little or no space for the trajectories to shift.

Creative destruction, he says… December 5, 2018

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Do others feel similarly sceptical to myself in regard to this from David McWilliams. Writing about the (slightly) fading fortunes of Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Netflix who have collectively lost $1tn in value he suggests a comparison with Nokia which in 2007, just 11 years ago, was worth $150bn in value but only a few years later was sold for $7bn.

What happened?

Put simply, these world-beating companies were overtaken. This constant churn and relentless innovation whereby one company powers ahead only to be assailed by a more innovative competitor, is what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter described as the “perennial gale of creative destruction”.
Creative destruction is the essence of capitalism but it is also the core of innovation in the arts, literature and music. In fact, anywhere that creativity is valued, creative destruction is the force that propels individuals to greater and greater feats of innovation.

Creative destruction – eh? Or perhaps technological innovation, which is a little less exciting a term. Though that doesn’t stop McWilliams who announces that:

This is why the eclipse of once great companies is not too dissimilar to the ebb and flow of great artists, directors, writers. When an artist is going through what is often termed a “purple patch”, he or she is being more creative than all the rest. Typically this lasts a while and then they are overtaken by someone more creative who comes up with something new, a new storyline, a new melody or a better insight that resonates – and off we go again.

Now some of us might think that a more prosaic explanation would be that Apple, in particular, offered an alternative to Nokia phones (and Blackberry too), in the shape of the touch-screen smart phone that was an inevitable, or near-inevitable, technological development and one that once available at prices that allowed for mass sales swiftly overtook all others, and forced rivals to produce their own similar products. One can indeed say there’s a creative aspect to this, but whether this is ‘art’ or even entirely analogous is a different question – for a start the comparison breaks down entirely in relation to how artistic works or artefacts function – being one-off pieces (almost exclusively) produced for limited markets, and with limited spread beyond them. Movements in art while reifying innovation don’t follow the same trajectory as those in technology – and it’s worth keeping in mind that in the context of post-modernism retrospection is a key element of artistic endeavour.

He ropes in authors as well suggesting that one writer will impel others to ‘greater imaginative feats’ and how the economy works in a similar fashion. But again, RyanAir (which he mentions) is not exactly similar to Sally Rooney (who he also mentions).

Arguably a better comparison might be visual communications given that it is involved in mass production and material culture, and yes, designers in particular are driven/ride along with technological innovation in regard to computers and apps – but even there retrospection has largely stepped in as the experimentation of the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s with the forms and constraints of then technology (and look at April Greiman and David Carson and those who came after for a sense of that). And again it’s not exactly the same. I’ll bet, and this is no reflection on anyone in this position, that most here don’t know those names directly above – the designers are a step or two or three back. And their link to products or institutions or entities is near anonymous. Apple is not the same as a designer, or an author. It can’t be, by definition.

And the problems a tech company faces are not the same – the definition of creativity is stretched too in the laboured comparison he offers.

There’s a much duller reality, that yes, technological change – primarily – drives companies and corporations and that an innovation can, in certain circumstances, be enough to secure the medium term future of one and sink another. But there’s another reality that is equally dull which is that of mature technologies. One does not expect a new sort of kettle every year or two, boasting ever greater innovations, because a kettle, as a simple, straight-forward and mature device is probably about as good as it can be. Always room for improvement, but those improvements are marginal. In a sense the smartphone, or the computer, is moving towards a similar point, if indeed it hasn’t arrived. The next iteration will either be so different as to mark a completely different sort of technology as to present a genuine rupture, or it will be essentially a further refinement of technologies that are already pretty refined. I don’t bet but I’d think it most likely the latter.

None of which is to say that smartphones are perfect. Quite the opposite. The atrocious issues of battery life, sustainability, etc all weigh heavily. But that sort of innovation I suspect isn’t what McWilliams is talking about.

Latest new party news! A very mildly leftish Renua? December 5, 2018

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Whatever else Peadar Tóibín does appear to be serious about setting up this new organisation. He’s addressed four meetings state-wide. Talks openly about a ‘new party’ and so on. And he’s determinedly pushing a soft centrist line… a lot of stuff about small businesses, etc. As well as a complaint about an ‘over-concentration on Dublin’.

But it reminds me of nothing so much as a Renua without all the that not entirely popular right of centre economic policy. And yet Renua, for all its faults had four or five actual sitting TDs. Whereas…

I’m always fascinated by this dynamic. Establishing a party is a very particular sort of challenge, particularly for a TD or TDs. It means juggling constituency work with the basic administration and organisation necessary to give form to rhetoric. There’s basic requirements – I’m told that other new groups in recent times had to filter some more excitable applicants out of those seeking to join. There’s the issue of determining policy, and recognising that once a group has some coherence that may mean policy drifting away from the control of the leading figures. There’s candidate selection – and who knows what the membership might throw up? Then those local councillors who join, or attempt to join.

One TD, himself alone? That’s going to be even more difficult.

It’s not impossible – but I’m not hugely convinced that the ground being traversed here is politically that fruitful. There’s too many others competing on the same territory. And the thought strikes if it wasn’t for Renua either then…

What you want to say – 5 December 2018 December 5, 2018

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

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