A Crisis to Fight The Crisis


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Back in 2007 I wrote an article for An Phoblacht about a debate within Sinn Fein on taking a position on coalition with Fianna Fail.

I ventured a view that having upwards of 20 TDs elected would not of itself necessarily move the aims and objectives of the party forward if other factors influencing power in the state were not adequately addressed. Nothing new or earth shattering there.  With all the reactionary forces that are marshaled to resist progressive change, it has always been necessary to have a subversive mindset when trying to fight for a civilised future.

It was hard to argue against comrades who took me to task.  Of course 20 plus TDs would make a difference.

I could not have foreseen how this current crisis would lead to the sweeping away of any semblance of democratic control over fiscal policy.  Now we have a situation where having a majority government fails to guarantee the implementation of manifesto commitments let alone a vision of society fairly put before an electorate.

As I am reaching a phase of life when I could be tempted by moderation and cooperation in politics, I find myself returning to the conclusion that laws will have to be broken and broken regularly to get out of this straitjacket into which we have been put.

For Unions to effectively represent their members, they will have to defy legislation.  The type of industrial action that has been curtailed by successive legislation and supported by political and media led conditioning of the public will have to be embarked on just so that basic pay and conditions can be maintained.  That or the labour movement will be destroyed – long the aim of the architects to neoliberalism.

Any government made up of progressive political parties will have to defy EU diktat in order to deliver any level of equality to an electorate who would have chosen an alternative to neoliberalism. That, or be party to wiping out many of the gains made by working people over many decades of struggle.

Without conflict of this type, austerity will put us back decades.

The challenge facing the progressive left is to accept that realpolitik as proscribed as the political norm – even in opposition – is useless.  What are we to be the better managers of?  Events have moved beyond this.  The Dail and Council chambers will have to be disrupted –  because simply opposing a puppet government is literally a waste of time.

During the 1920’s the Labour group on Poplar Council (A borough in East London, near to where I grew up) were sent to jail en masse for defying bad law in defence of the ordinary working people.  They were castigated by the media and called economically and politically illiterate by ‘responsible’ politicians including the leadership of their own party.

The ‘yes’ vote in the austerity referendum is no green light to guarantee barbarity over civilisation. There is a huge international mandate from the ordinary people of Europe and beyond to fight on.  The headlines that will give the necessary encouragement to the people on the front line are not those that show Sinn Féin and the ULA as effective Dáil performers.  Rather, they will need to see these parties and others creating havoc.  It is up to these parties to help cause a crisis.  There seems little point in being in these chambers besides under the current conditions.

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15 Responses

  1. Antonio

    June 4, 2012 11:53 pm

    ‘Creating havoc’ might well win some extra support for Sinn Fein and the ULA in some sectors of society.

    However, it may also alienate or scare away just as many, if not more, voters who have recently turned away from centrist parties.

    The Sinn Fein leadership would also (perhaps justifiably) run a mile from such a strategy at a time when it is only now beginning to make some modest inroads into the middle classes. It might be argued that such a strategy has much life yet.

    In addition, chasing after ‘headlines’ (particularly when so much of the mainstream media is beholden to corporate interests) seems like an uncomfortable position for any left movement to take

    PS.. No punctuation is needed with ‘TDs’ and ‘1920s’. It’s not ‘TD’s’ and ‘1920’s’.

  2. bevin

    June 5, 2012 2:37 am

    You’re right about the political situation, Vincent. And Antonio is right about the punctuation. At least I think that he is. I’m not absolutely certain about TDs since the words are not English.
    It’s important to get these matters right at a time when there is such volatility in the political world that grammarians of all kinds could be re-evaluating ancient partisan loyalties.

  3. vincent wood

    June 5, 2012 6:48 am

    I understand that SF may not take this route, though it seems to me that it is a better use of time and energy at the moment.

    Given that so much of the problem is the sucess of neoliberal and conservative forces in influencing political and economic discussion and conditioning people over the past few decades, progressive parties need to use every opportunity to be educational. Headlines, if you like, need to count.

    I take the point on grammer and am guilty of firing out material without much care to spelling sometimes too.

  4. Pat Treanor

    June 5, 2012 8:51 am

    Well done Vincent. The result of the Referendum were disappointing for those who put so much into arguing the case for a No vote. It would be easy to become dispondent, but we just didn’t do enough – we just didn’t get it right this time. More hard work is needed. I think we know enough from Tone, Lawlor, Connolly, Mellows, etc, to know that more and better organising is needed. Sinn Fein is organising party structures throughout the country. Help is needed with this work. Unity of the left will only happen when it is organised. Much of this is mundane, slow, frustrating work, but requires local leaders and persuaders in every corner of Ireland. An Ireland of Equals is a worthy objective, and persuing it addresses the economic, social and political mess that we are in.

  5. Noel Martin

    June 5, 2012 11:28 am

    Having 20 TDs in Dáil Éireann who basically speak the same economic/political language as their bourgeois fellow TDs is of absolutely no benefit to the Irish working class.

    The fiscal Treaty referendum was lost for that reason. Both Sinn Féin and the ULA stuck within the parameters of the EU-ECB and IMF structures in seeking to find answers to a simple question “Where do we find the money to get us over the hump if the NO side prevails.” The small Communist Party which does not have Dail Representation, posed a real alternative to to the SF and ULA social-democratic approach and advocated the seeking of funds from Sovereign debt funds e.g. Norway as Iceland did or Russia as Cyprus did. Plus the re-nationalisation of our narural resources, gas,oil and fisheries which would act as means to repay loans. They also posed the in or out of the EU and Eurozone which SF/ULA did not even consider.

    The trade unions are starting to emerge from decades of collaboration with governments and business by way of the discredited ‘social partnership’ They may yet reclaim a leadership role in the fightback, but they need to dump financing the Labour Party. Since the so-called “Democratic left” infected the Labour Party like a malignant tumour, that party has jettisoned any pretence to being even a mildly social-democratic organisation. Now we have the ridiculous situation whereby the ULA are seeking to become New Labour and SF, attempting to attract the most base middle-class elements are seeking to become New Fianna Fáil. In doing so how can they possibly represent the working class?? They both need to go back to the drawing-board and work out exactly who they want to represent.

  6. Antonio

    June 5, 2012 9:21 pm

    Thanks for so patiently putting up with my grammatical pedantry Vincent.

    As for Noel’s suggestion that SF should be emulating the Communist Party, perhaps it’s worth comparing the CP’s electoral support in recent decades to that of SF.

    It’s easy to ‘pose a real alternative’ at any time. The trick for any emerging party is to pose an alternative that doesn’t scare off the broader electorate, including voters with more than a few conservative instincts.

    In reality, hopes of displacing FF and the longer term goal of taking power requires requires SF to resist the temptation to move any further left.

  7. CMK

    June 5, 2012 10:15 pm

    Antonio, the problem with your analysis above is that it appears to be predicated on the assumption that SF can make inroads into the middle class vote (to put it in crude terms) while retaining their current base in the working class (again, a crude term but you get my meaning) and, from there, work towards a majority and ‘power’.

    However, in order to win over the middle class vote in this state you need to adopt and implement policies that will adversely affect those lower down the class structure. And, not only that, but ensure that a suitable distance in terms of income, status, living conditions and the possibilities of self-advancement, are maintained to the benefit of the middle class.

    A party like SF and other groups like the ULA can’t have both middle class and working class support. Or at least they can’t base their positions on trying to appeal to both as to do so would lead into obvious policy contradiction and incoherence or, like with Labour now, the betrayal of working class voters.

    Fundamental political and social conflict is re-emerging such like hasn’t been seen since the inter-war years. One consequence is that catch-all parties like Fianna Fail are withering, and SF’s advance will be cut short if they try to emulate Fianna Fail.

    Rather, for a party to advance it must identify with a class interest and fight for that interest doggedly – like Fine Gael are currently doing. Therefore, SF and the ULA (I think the latter already know this) need to focus on nurturing, mobilising and cultivating working class people as conscious political agents. Remember the middle-class in Ireland is pretty small. It’s significant in electoral terms solely, I believe, because huge numbers of working class people are alienated from politics. Address the latter and the influence and significance of the ‘middle-classes’, as the Holy Grail of Irish politics, will diminish proportionately.

  8. vincent wood

    June 5, 2012 11:35 pm

    Good points all round. A couple of factors motivated this article. One is a sense of futility with an Irish Parliament that is losing its limited ability to implement policy – even that framed in the current paradym. Unless the parliament defies EU diktat of course. I am arguing that progressive parties represented there need to intoduce this defiance now, or it will add to the futility.

    Another motivation for this piece is the need to lead an educational debate in the country and beyond. Its clear that the conditioning of people to accept that there is a very narrow model of politics and economics has been sucessful. If we limit our language and frame our politics solely on what has become the norm in recent years, then we realy are sucked into a self serving political class. Noel has a point here, although I prefer to encourage a debate about this rather than harang. I know that SF is more open than many people think. I am trying to make a pragmatic argument to them and others.

    Many people who may claim to be middle class are actually working class in my opinion. The conditioning of the past few decades has been sucessful in creating an illusion of mobility. It needs to be pointed out as part of an educational debate that all that has changed, if anything, is the type of jobs they do and that they pay banks a mortgage instead of the corporation a rent. This can be done with a little wit and wisdom and need not scare anybody off.

    Lets face it, much of the establishment media dismisses the SF/ULA/CPI alternative already even though much of it is framed to one degree or another within existing political and economic parameters. Why not push the boat out?

    Under the current circumstances, I believe that the ‘middle classes’ could be persuaded to consider this. But, as you rightly say CMK, we can’t win them all.

  9. Gabe

    June 6, 2012 7:59 am

    Yes, Vincent Wood, many self-described members of the middle class may actually be, in terms of modest incomes, working class i.e. they earn lower incomes, sometimes lower than skilled manual labourers, bus drivers, carpenters and suchlike.

    A problem about political parties/groups trying to ‘appeal’ to middle class voters is that in contemporary society there are more self-described middle class voters than there are self-described working class voters. Therefore to stop appealing to the middle class would mean getting too few votes to count as a political force. In the time of Marx et al society was pyramid-shaped, with the bourgeoisie-aristocracy at the apex, the middle and petty bourgeoisie beneath that exclusive set, and the vast majority of downtrodden working class citizens at the wide base of the pyramid. Nowadays, with the embourgeoisement of social-democratic societies in western and northern Europe since the 1960s, societies have become diamond-shaped, with the income elites at the apex, the vast majority of middle and petty bourgeoisie at the inflated and expanded centre, and the low income working class and sub proletariat at the numerically diminished bottom rungs.

    It’s a conundrum: how to have radical policies and win middle class votes; how to espouse the cause of the bottom apex of society without having to dilute policies by appealing to the middle classes.

  10. Donagh

    June 6, 2012 9:00 am

    Congratulations Gabe, you have perfectly described the Myth of the Middle Class Majority. Please go to the depot and present this coupon to receive your prize.

    Despite the fact that class is not determined by income, there are enough commentators in the media, and indeed within the trade union movement, who are happy to see class purely in terms of income, who maintain that Ireland has a majority middle class, with a working-class rump and a lucky few at the top. And they cite Ireland’s wage levels as proof of the middle-class majority.

    If you are not able to collect it perhaps you might enjoy these six points on class that are edifying as well as clarifying on the matter on how class works in Ireland, and right across contemporary capitalists societies.

  11. Gabe

    June 8, 2012 2:05 am

    It may be False Consciousness, but it exists among three-quarters or more of the Irish electorate. Societies like the United Kingdom (especially England), France, Italy, Germany and Netherlands show similar attitudes. If ideological missionaries wish to spend years of their lives evangelising for a mind-change among these populations they’re welcome to it. I think it is a headbanger project from the start and I prefer to take the ‘broad masses’ as they really are, not as I’d like them to be according to an uttainable blueprint.

    A topic for a different thread and series of articles might be the failure of Soviet Russia and Communist China to eradicate false consciousness about class in those societies.(Ever read the books of a Yugoslav dissident, Milovan Djilas?) The new bourgeoisie in contemporary Russia and China show a callous indifference to the lives and working conditions of the lowest income peasants and labourers. All those grim decades of trying to create a New Socialist Humanity have borne little fruit in the minds of citizens. An Irish friend, a former journalist, recently quipped that there is more socialism/social welfare in Ireland than in China.

  12. vincent wood

    June 8, 2012 7:33 am

    Gabe. we have to be careful not to fall into ‘The End of History’ territory here.

    Of course it is true that the former USSR and China can be picked apart for failings. We can and do pick apart the failings in Ireland, Britain, the US and elsewhere too.

    That large swathes of people vote for conservative parties doesn’t make those people lost causes. I have already mentioned the conditioning that has been perfected in the past few decades. I could also point to the failure of much of the left to stop navel gazing.

    The vision laid out a hundred or so years ago – the ‘New Socialist Humanity’ that you mention may not have been implemented in Europe. But these ideals were brought to the battle field and what little Social Democracy we got was due to these ideas ‘pushing the boat out’.

    We started from the left and got the centre left. Not enough, clearly, but a hell of a lot more than taking a fatalist – if you can’t beat them join them – approach, which your comments seem to suggest.

    I haven’t given up on the progressive left being able to articulate in a more accessible way and to challange the conditioning entrenched in society. For every horror story from the ex USSR or China, there are many live examples all around us. This article, among other things is suggesting that those in elected chambers see the educational opportunities here as well as the democratic deficit.

  13. Gabe

    June 8, 2012 11:07 am

    Thanks for these heartfelt comments and, as your article started the thread, I won’t say any more here.

  14. Joe Davis

    June 16, 2012 9:30 pm

    An excellent, heartfelt exchange, but lost in a dialogue chained in the past. Today’s “Left” in Ireland is a confusing mockery. No mention whatever of the need to break the grip of a sectarian-schooling system, and we’re now into 2012!
    The cleverest pseudo-intellectuals will never equate sectarian-schooling with education. Richard Dawkins is correct in describing it as child-abuse. Human and civil liberties are being pushed back by sectarian corporations and Ireland’s “Left” doesn’t seem to notice.
    Surely even Ireland can have a somewhat belated Enlightenment/.Reformatiom era?
    Joe Davis

  15. vincent wood

    June 17, 2012 11:16 am

    I am all for a non sectarian secular education system. The thread can only cover so much ground! I doubt any of the contributors to this debate would be found wanting if you want to expand your comments further.