Monthly Archives For January 2013

Costas Gavras, “Le Capital”: An Anti-Capitalist Masterpiece

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1. Motivation and history of the movie

Marxist theorists, beginning with Marx himself, did much to illuminate how capitalism moves, to reveal its laws and demonstrate the necessity of its replacement by socialism, when it becomes a hindrance to historical progress. This criticism was always applied “from outside”, starting from the class position and perspective of the proletariat, the class destined to overthrow the capitalist system, and aimed at orienting the actions of that class towards the directions dictated by the broader social conflicts of each period. In his latest film, “Le Capital” (“Capital”), Costas Gavras –Karim Boukercha and Jean-Claude Grumberg also contributed to the screenplay– proceeds to give a catalytic criticism of capitalist globalization from within, a criticism which, though not focusing directly on the social and class struggles of our time, is still, in its way, highly penetrating and effective.

“From within” in no way implies that Gavras contents himself to show the decay and corruption of the world of capital, to write the record of its decline and to highlight its manifestations in the lives of its representatives. All these things certainly abound in his film. Yet had he limited himself to that, it could result to an improved version of soap operas like Dynasty, even making the representatives of capital likable within their degradation. The film is mostly an anatomy of capitalism’s general objective motion, taking an X-ray of the banking and finance system, whose impunity triggered and impels the current global economic crisis. But if Marx had presented the inexorable logic and inevitable results of this movement using the objective language of science, here its reality is refracted through the artistic prism in a realistic representation of the world of its actors, the leaders of modern capitalism.

Gavras is undoubtedly not only an extremely gifted, but, in the best sense of the word, a militant filmmaker whose entire work contributes positively to the understanding of the conflicts and meaning of our times. In “Le Capital” we can see though the climax of his creativity. Having started from uncovering authoritarianism, anti-democratic aberrations and conspiracies of the holders of power, the engagement of the state with para-state apparatuses, etc. in films like “Z” and “Missing”, he ends up here capturing and reconstructing the molecular processes of capitalism which inevitably generate these results. A look at the occasion and history of the film, as recounted recently by the director himself in an interview he gave to the Greek newspaper Vima, will better clarify his intentions and motives.

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Strikes Now!

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Does anybody else want to scream in frustration at the intellectually-rationalised paralysis that has the Irish Left by its vitals when it comes to the subject of strikes?

Richard McAleavey has written a terrific post on his Cunning Hired Knaves blog. Prompted by a poster for the upcoming Irish Congress of Trade Union (ICTU) march on February 9th against the debt burden, it’s a sharp analysis of its imagery and wording:

“First of all, its destructive ambiguity. To whom is the message addressed? Is it supposed to be a message to the Irish government, and through them, to the Council of Ministers to lift the burden off working people? Or, is it supposed to be a message to the people who bear the burden at the moment that they should exert themselves even more? Who is doing the speaking? Is 'Lift the burden' what the faceless silhouettes struggling beneath the weight are saying, or is it a public notice, as with a street sign that reads 'Give Way'?”

Rightly observing that ICTU’s poster is something Enda Kenny could equally happily stand in front of while telling us citizens that we must pay ‘our’ way, McAleavey goes on to parse the impotence of ICTU and its role in the country’s economic crisis as exemplified by their dissembling poster. However, just at the point in his article at which some readers might reasonably expect a call to strike action against the state of affairs he has just delineated, McAleavey lobs cold water over any idea of that kind in favour of this:

“And that -amid a climate of grim sacrificial inevitability- is a problem that no amount of simply shouting 'traitor!' or 'general strike!' will solve. We need imaginative ways of communicating the conflict, of capturing people’s commitment to a struggle for democratic rights, and of destroying the ambiguity served up by zombie social partnership.”

Whatever all that may yet turn out to mean, I’m sure it will be very worthwhile when it has finally been thrashed out. Wouldn’t strikes themselves be among the most effective means possible of ‘capturing’ people’s commitment to a struggle for rights? But there you have it – sit down again everybody. As you were. We need to do lots more talking and thinking before we act.

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The Truth about the Deficit


The following letter was sent on Monday by Paul Murphy MEP to Minister Varadkar, to clarify the facts made on the January 27th episode of The Week in Politics. The program can be watched on the RTE Player for any who missed it.

Dear Minister Varadkar,

I hope you are well. Yesterday on ‘The Week in Politics’, we disagreed over a number of factual issues to do with the level of the primary deficit and the impact of a repudiation of debt. I would like to detail here the sources for my statements, which I stand over. I intend to publish this letter on my website ( in order to allow people to see the relevant figures.

I asserted that the primary deficit for 2013 was, according to government figures, slightly over €3 billion. This is confirmed by the government’s ‘Medium Term Fiscal Statement’ from November 2012. The table on page 26 puts the General Government Primary Balance for 2013 at -€3,250 million, i.e. a primary deficit of €3.25 billion.

A separate figure is also given on that page of an ‘Exchequer Balance’ which gives a primary deficit in 2013 of €8 billion. Which figure is more accurate? Table 1c of the ‘Ireland – Stability Programme Update’ from December 2009 answers as follows:

“The General Government Balance (GGB) measures the fiscal performance of all arms of Government, i.e. Central Government, Local Authorities, Health Boards (prior to 2005 – their replacement, the HSE, is part of the Exchequer), Vocational Education Committees and non-commercial State sponsored bodies, as well as funds such as the Social Insurance Fund and the National Pensions Reserve Fund which are managed by government agents. It thus provides an accurate assessment of the fiscal performance of a more complete “government” sector.” (my emphasis)

It seems to me to be clear that the figure of the ‘General Government Balance’ is the figure that should be used.

In addition, I asserted that if we refused to pay the €9.1 billion in payments and the bailed-out bank bond payments this year, we would not need to borrow on the international markets and could in fact have public investment in jobs. Regardless of your political position on whether this is a viable strategy or not, I believe this to be self-evidently factually true.

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Time to Stand up to Discrimination


I wish to bring to your attention the numerous incidents of racism that have been in the Irish press over the last 2 weeks. What they amounted to was a public representative, be it a councillor or a senator, as well as a judge using either racist slang or making racist statements in the course of their work. These statements were largely brushed under the carpet by the media despite the long term effects they have on the oppressed groups they targeted. A statement by a Fianna Fail senator last week that he would not get into a taxi driven by an “obvious” non-national resonates quite closely with our own problems with racism in Galway city.

Despite numerous letters to the local media as well as reports categorically confirming that racism against African taxi drivers is rife in the city, the practice continues with more and more non-national drivers reporting incidents of aggravated racial assault and abuse, to the effect now that these men and women see it as normal for them receive racism on a daily basis.

Comments by this Senator only serve to cement such prejudice and make the day-to-day living of an African taxi driver that bit harder. In times of recession and economic crisis, it has been noted that racist attitudes begin to rise due to people lashing out at whoever is the easiest to blame. Surely our political representatives were elected to rally against such attitudes, and not stoke the fires of racism in a bid to represent, and ultimately win votes, from people who play on such racist attitudes, much like the Conservative Party in the UK covers such areas in a bid to make the British National Party irrelevant.

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Supposed Refusal of the ECB to Agree on Promissory Notes


The general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland, Eugene McCartan, commenting on the supposed refusal of the ECB to agree a deal on the promissory notes, warned working people to be careful, as a false trail was being laid.

This is the usual stance of an establishment attempting to give the impression that it is fighting the good fight on behalf of the people. It is a dance around the bones of our public services, with health, education and social services being stripped bare and starved of resources to pay a debt that is not the people’s. The government’s only request is that the debt should be paid over a longer period, not that it should be repudiated.

The economic and political establishment—the internal Troika—have long since committed themselves to paying this odious debt, as their complete dependence on the European elite and their strategic self-interest require them to do. They will continue to use the debt crisis as as a stick with which to beat workers, in particular public-sector workers. Croke Park II will see a renewed assault on workers and on services provided to the public. Securing this agreement will herald renewed cuts in social welfare and pensions.

He went on to say that there is no “good” or “bad” debt: the complete indebtedness of this state is the result of the application of neo-liberal policies over the last two decades, a political and economic strategy that has had the full support of the internal Troika of Fine Gael, the Labour Party, and Fianna Fáil.

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On the Imperialist Intervention in Mali


They say history repeats itself if its lessons are not learned. The truth of this saying is entirely apparent when one looks at the current events being played out in the arid deserts of northern Mali, an impoverished North African country and former French colony. It is fitting then that the bombs now raining down on north Malian towns are being dropped from French Air Force planes, and the troops now landing on the ground in the country bear the French flag on their sleeves, the flag that only a few decades ago dominated this region of Africa.
The narrative in the western media is the usual nauseating one: the French troops are intervening in Mali’s ongoing civil conflict to defeat yet another spectre of Islamist terrorism and oppression, and bring democracy and freedom to its long suffering people. One instantly recalls shades of the Afghanistan campaign that began in 2001 – and the parallels are not accidental. The current conflict in Mali, and the recent French intervention, has its roots relatively far back in the history of imperialism’s power games in the world’s poorest regions.

The ‘War on Terror’ declared by the United States and its allies at the start of the millennium has followed the same basic pattern since its inception: a country displeases the US imperialists, or refuses to submit to their will, or has one or other natural resource required for their plans. The populations of the west are then treated to long-running news stories, documentaries, and newspaper editorials extolling the evils of said country / regime / stereotyped dictator; a sort of ‘softening up period’, mentally preparing the people of the imperialist countries for the coming war to be waged on the ‘enemies of freedom’. Then, the imperialist militaries have been shown to take two main courses of action, depending on the strategic position of their targets: they either obliterate them with brute force (Afghanistan, Iraq) or they foment internal unrest, arm domestic opposition militants and extremist groups (usually Islamist in nature, given the current main theatre of operations), and attempt by subversion and subterfuge to destroy their target from within, using local proxies to do their bidding. This latter method has in fact proven to be the more effective, both for preserving imperialist military strength and for making such interventions acceptable to the population at home. Let us look at some examples.

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Diary of a Middle Aged Redundant Man


Diary of a middle aged redundant man (part 240113, especially for the hard eyed advocates of the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stop whingeing” school of economic Calvinism. Those fine, self-made men and women, who make the journey from “self-help” to, er, “self-love” look very short indeed).

Dear Diary,


is not

always sudden


the truth


an old

dropping penny



My beloved parents







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Progressive Film Club: The Women of Brukman & 161 Days

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Details of Upcoming Screening – Next Saturday – 26th January

To mark the centenary of the 1913 Lockout, the Progressive Film Club plan, throughout 2013, to include films on the themes of labour struggles and workers rights.

We kick-off , on the 26th of January with our first screening of the year, which features two films about factory occupations, one in Argentina and the main feature, which is set here in Ireland. The Argentinian film “The Women of Brukman”, tells of the take-over, by the workers, of a clothing factory, which had been abandoned by the owners.

The main feature “161 Days”, recounts the story of the workers in another clothing factory but this time, here in Ireland. After their agreed redundancy payments had not been met, the Vita Cortex workers made a decision to occupy the factory, which they did for 161 days, making it one of the longest industrial disputes in Ireland. This will be the first public screening of the film in Dublin.

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ILR Journal Available at Connolly Books or to Buy Online

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Some readers may have noticed that the Irish Left Review Journal is now available to buy online. If you haven’t there’s a tab at the top of the site called Buy ILR Journal Online which brings you to the page that allows you to pay for it through PayPal. Similarly there’s an image of the first issue to the right of this post. Clicking the image brings you to the same page as does this link. We’ll do our best to post out the copies on the same day they are ordered, weekends excepted.

The 128 page first issue is also available to buy at Connolly Books, Temple Bar, Dublin. We'll provide updates when it becomes available elsewhere and there are plans to make it available around the country.

The launch will also be held in Connolly Books 2pm on the 2nd of February.

Looking forward to seeing plenty of ILR’s friends there. Below is the editorial which describes what has been covered in the first issue.

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To the Crucible: An Irish Engagement with the Greek Crisis and the Greek Left


A Greek tragedy

A monumental drama is playing out before our eyes. It is a true Greek tragedy. The plot: A society is being pushed to its limits. The denouement is not yet determined, but survival is at stake and prospects are precarious. Greece is at the sharp end of a radical and risky experiment in how far accumulation by dispossession can go, how much expropriation can be endured, how far the state can be subordinated to the market. It is a global narrative, but the story is a few episodes ahead here.

Greece is the crucible.[i] It is a caldron where concentrated forces are colliding in a process that will bring forth either a reconfiguration of capitalism or the dawn of its demise.

Salaries, pensions, public services are falling, while prices and taxes are rising. Massive asset stripping is underway. Water, power, ports, islands, public buildings are for sale. Unemployment, emigration and evictions have brought a sense of a society unraveling. Homeless people wander the streets and scavenge for food in bins or beg it from the plates of those eating in tavernas. If they are immigrants, they are terrorised. Those looking into a horizon without hope either drift into desolation or perform the ultimate decisive act of suicide. Some have done so in private spaces, while others have chosen public places to underline the political nature of their fate, as they jump from heights, set themselves on fire or shoot themselves. In April 2012, Dimitris Christoulas, a retired pharmacist, who felt he could no longer live a dignified life after his pension had been slashed, shot himself in front of parliament. His last words were: “I am not committing suicide. They are killing me.” He urged younger people to fight.

Speaking to Greeks, it is hard to find any without a far reaching systemic critique. They tell you so many details of the deceits of the troika, the corruption of government, the decline in their own standards of living, the pervasive sense of social disintegration. When asked if they see any hope, few answer in the affirmative.

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Micheál Martin – Opportunism and Cynicism of the Very Worst Kind

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The award for opportunist of the week must surely go to Micheál Martin. His hastily written opinion piece in Wednesdays Irish News was a timely reminder of Fianna Fáil’s cynical approach to both the peace process and to politics.

For weeks Belfast city centre has been brought to a standstill by illegal loyalist blockades. Night after night the same protestors have returned to their own neighborhoods and engaged in running battles with the PSNI causing real disruption to their own communities.

In more recent nights these riots have turned into organised attacks on nationalist homes in the Short Strand.

The situation is very serious. If it continues, many fear that someone will be killed.

So what is Micheál Martin’s response to this escalating crisis? Does his article give the impression of a political leader trying to understand the causes of the problem in order to play a constructive role in helping resolve it? Unfortunately not.

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Lost Opportunity


Perspective of a ULA national steering committee member

The 2011 general election gave the Irish far left its highest profile in decades. Five TDs were elected under the electoral banner of the United Left Alliance (ULA), reflecting growing anger against the austerity imposed by the previous government’s agreement with the “Troika” of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank.

During the campaign, I was strongly critical of the ULA’s overtly reformist election platform, which did not even mention the word “socialism”. This omission was made explicit by Ann Foley, the ULA candidate for Cork North West and a well known participant in People Before Profit (PBPA), one of the ULA’s founding organisations:

“I feel the ULA has very common sense policies. When people think of socialists, they think of communism, which is not the case. There is nothing dramatic or revolutionary about our policies. A lot of countries have functioning social democracies, especially in Scandinavia. They have great health, transport and childcare systems. This is the direction we want to take, a direction this Government failed to follow.”
(Cork Independent, 6 January 2011)

The decision to move beyond a reformist electoral lash-up by opening up membership to individuals and initiating a process supposedly aimed at the creation of a new working-class party, however, encouraged me to join. I saw this as an important opportunity to discuss the revolutionary socialist programme that the working class so desperately needs. Since then, I have participated in that discussion in ULA meetings at all levels and on my blog (, and have twice stood for election to the national steering committee (NSC). In October 2012 I was elected onto the NSC to represent non-aligned members, ie, those not in one of the ULA’s founding organisations.

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