Monthly Archives For November 2013

The November Issue of Socialist Voice is Out Now

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The November issue of Socialist Voice is out now. Download it here, or view it online. Also available to read below.

  • Will we or won’t we? [EMC]
  • Departments I, II and III and economic crisis [NL]
  • Pension benefits wiped (part 2) [Brendan Ogle]
  • Printing money to support the debt bubble [NL]
  • James Connolly and 1916 [NOM]
  • There is an alternative (part 2) [EON]
  • Time for more independent leadership [NOM]
  • Rail and bus transport: Why nationalisation was the obvious answer [RNC]
  • Political statement
  • International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties, Lisbon: Speech by Eugene McCartan, general secretary, CPI
  • The unseemly rise of Qatar [BG]
  • A serious defeat for workers and their union [TMK]
  • Willie Walsh floats again [MA]
  • Letter: Ionad Buail Isteach

Will we or won’t we?

It is now clear that the Irish state will leave the “bail-out” or restructuring programme some time in December. The Government is spinning the argument that when we eventually get the EU-ECB-IMF supervision off our backs we will “regain our sovereignty” and independent action.

The question has to be asked, When have we ever had full sovereignty and independence?

They are claiming that Government policies have worked to such a degree that they may not need any “precautionary credit line” from the European Stability Mechanism, the euro-zone rescue fund. For this state to get access to such funds would require parliamentary approval from a number of countries, including Germany.

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Ireland and the Shadow Banking System

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Now that we only have one copy have no copies of the first issue of the print edition of Irish Left Review left and the second issue is now available to buy either online or in these bookshops we are now publishing some of the articles from the first issue on the web. The first is Conor McCabe’s brilliant article on Ireland the Shadow Banking System.

Ireland and the Shadow Banking System

Bretton Woods and the Eurodollar Market

Conor McCabe

Ireland is a tax haven.  It is a hub in the shadow banking system.  The dominant form of business in the Irish state, the one to which national economic policy shapes itself, is that which accommodates the needs of foreign capital and finance, to the detriment of productive and social activity. This business model is an intermediary model. It is conducted by a middleman class which has positioned itself between foreign capital and the resources of the state. These middlemen are found within law, accountancy, stockbroking, banking and construction.

This is not to say that every successful business in Ireland is a middleman business, but rather that these businesses wield the most influence regarding national economic policy. The type of middlemen may have changed over the decades, but the way of conducting business has not.

The intermediary/middleman business model maintains and reproduces itself through the structures of the state. In other words, the class which benefits the most from this economic policy is also the class with the most influence over the dynamics of Ireland’s legal, education and political systems. Governments come and go but the structural dynamics of the state remain the same. As a result of the structural presence this class has within the state, policy change comes dripping slow.

The current privileged status of international finance and wealth management within Ireland – that is, paper assets over production – is the latest field of play for this middleman class. Upon independence it was live cattle exports to the UK and the transference of credit to the city of London; in the 1960s it was free access to the UK economy for international companies with branches in Ireland, followed by similar access to the EEC/EU, giving rise to construction, land and property speculation; all of this was underpinned by the selling of the State’s gas, oil and mineral rights to whatever bidder took the middlemen’s fancy.

The national resource that is for sale today is the right of an independent state to set its own laws and tax policy. In other words, it is Ireland as a mature democracy and legal jurisdiction, one that is recognised by international law that is traded by this middleman class for the private gain of its privileged players.

The current emphasis on paper assets over production reflects the fundamental changes in economic power relations which have taken place over the past forty years in advanced capitalist countries. This period has seen the financialisation of everyday life and the re-emergence of rentier capitalism. The move towards profit-seeking in paper assets is in part a response to the decline in the rate of profit and a tendency towards overcapacity in global manufacturing industries.  The pressure to return profits in a world of declining margins has seen reductions in social expenditures by national governments and stagnation in wages. The resultant decline in aggregate demand is an underlying factor in the explosion of price speculation over production.

This is part one of a two-part article on Ireland and the shadow banking system. The rise of the Eurodollar market and the decline of the Betton Woods system is covered here. The emergence of shadow banking and Ireland’s role in its operation will be covered in a future issue.

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PHOTOGRAPHING MURDER

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Two very different books sharing a niche interest that will strike some as macabre: one concerns the work of an American freelance photographer, an ‘ambulance chaser’ who arrived at violent crime scenes with camera at the ready; the other offers psychoanalytic readings of British murderers on the basis  of archival crime scene photographs taken by the police.

How Can I Too Become A Weegee?

Weegee: Murder Is My Business, Brian Wallis (Prestel, 2013)

Weegee and his ’38 Chevvy cruised the mean, dark streets of New York from the mid-1930s to the mid-’40s — working at night was his forte — with his fedora and tools of his trade on the front seat and accessories in the boot. His mission was film noir, literally: Arthur Fellig, known as Weegee, apocryphally for his psychic-like ability (as in Ouija board) to know where a crime had taken place, was a freelance photographer. He had the nose of a nocturnal trufflehound for what was pleasing and his dish of choice, served best whilst still warm, was homicide; preferably a mobster killing, though brawls, fires and grisly car crashes would do at a pinch – as long as a person, dead or alive, was in his frame. Often, he was indeed the first to arrive at the crime scene, sometimes before the cops, helped by having a police-band radio in his car and another in his one-room apartment situated very close to the Manhattan Police Headquarters. He worked with a cumbersome, large-format Speed Graphic camera – usually set at f/16 at 1/200 of a second with a set focus distance of ten feet — and, what was a fairly new piece of gear at the time, a large, bulbous flash. Nothing else was required, except his special pass issued by the New York Police Department that allowed him to cross police lines. After all, murder was his self-declared business and as he explained years later in an interview, ‘when you go out on a story, you don’t go back for another sitting. You gotta get it.’ And get it he did, time and time again, earning his living by selling to tabloid newspapers the kind of photographs reproduced in this book.

Nowadays, of course, a crime scene is strictly off-limits for press photographers and the generic kind of pictures the public are allowed to see have to be taken from behind the ubiquitous police line of coloured polythene tape. The close-up shots of suspects that could once be taken are now rare. One of the photos in Weegee: Murder Is My Business shows Anthony Esposito, a hoodlum probably but with his humanity on display, about to be booked on suspicion of killing an officer of the law in New York in 1941. He is handcuffed to one detective, is cut under one eye and his shirt is dishevelled, while the back of a second, broad-shouldered detective commands more space than the man in custody. Both lawmen have turned away from the camera to avoid their faces being shown.

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Interview with Prof. David Harvey

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Volume one, issue two of the Irish Left Review is now in stores – you can pick it up online or get it from one of the bookshops listed here.

The latest issue features an extended interview with Marxist geographer and social theorist David Harvey. Professor Harvey is one of the best-known radical thinkers of the twenty-first century and has published popular books on topics ranging from urban rebellion to postmodernism and from Marx’s Capital to the history of neoliberalism.

In the printed interview he discusses his forthcoming book, ‘The Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism’, illustrating how the emphasis on exchange value creates a crisis in housing and using contradiction as a basis to tease out a basis for postcapitalist imagination for the Left. Segments of that discussion have appeared previously in Red Pepper.

Below we print unpublished segments of the interview, conducted by journalists Ronan Burtenshaw and Aubrey Robinson, in which Professor Harvey discusses a variety of topics related to his own work and the politics of austerity Ireland. 

Q. One of the reasons why this year is important to the Irish Left is that it is the centenary of the Dublin Lockout. That struggle was built upon a very clear class consciousness, which those engaged in left-wing politics today don’t enjoy. Is there a crisis of class consciousness at the moment? How might we address talking about or organising around class to revitalise it?

DH. The traditional way of thinking about class has always been to think about factory labour. During the industrial era factory labour was critical in terms of the creation of class consciousness and organisation. The Left has celebrated, in a way, the factory labourer as the centre of its critical consciousness and politics. We now face the problem that factory labour has largely disappeared in many parts of the world. It is still there in Bangladesh – what has been happening in factories there is similar to the Triangle Fire in New York in 1911 – the suicides in the factories in China and so on. You could take all of those things  and put them in Marx’s chapter on the working day in volume one of Capital. You wouldn’t know the difference.

Nineteenth century capitalism is still a very strong presence in the world – it is just not here in the UK, Ireland, the United States in the same way it was thirty or forty years ago. As a result of that I think the concept of the working-class has to be revised. I was never happy with this concentration on factory labour, partly because of my urban interests. I ask questions like, ‘where did the Paris Commune come from?’ It was an urban event. People wanted to get their city back. You look historically and 1848 was about people wanting to get their city back as much as it was about the factories. The same in 1919 in Seattle. Then there’s 1968 – which was to do with Paris, Bangkok, Mexico City. If you look historically the city has always been the site of political activism.

My argument all along has been that we have got to pay attention to that dimension of class struggle. It is not class struggle which is as clearly defined as the factory – between bosses and workers. It is a struggle over who owns and has the right to the city. There has always been a dimension of class struggle which has been urban-based. Because of the transformations that have occurred over the last fifty years it seems to me that dimension of struggle has become even more significant. The Left has not caught up in its ideology with what is going on because it is still fixated with the notion of the factory labourer.

Why don’t we think about the city instead of the factory as the centre of what class action is all about? There is a very interesting moment in Gramsci. Around 1916 he wrote a piece saying, ‘I’m very much in favour of the factory councils, they are critical political organisations. But they need to be supplemented by the ward committees.’ These committees were organising all of those people who couldn’t be organised through the factory – the street cleaners, the cab drivers, and so on. Then he noticed something. He said, ‘the ward committees have a better idea about the condition of the whole working-class because the factory council is good at the sector but they don’t have a vision of the whole.’ So I think that labour should be organising around the whole working-class which includes all of those precarious and temporary workers right now that are servicing the city.

Take the immigrants rights’ movement in the United States in 2006. Without being conscious of this immigrants decided not to go to work on a day because they were protesting some of the legislation that was being proposed. Because of that Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles shut down. New York partially shut down. The immigrant population, including the undocumented, refused to go to work for a day and the whole city stopped. This is a tremendous power. I think that the Left has to have imagination and ask, ‘how do we organise a whole city?’

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Education: Giving our young people the kind of qualification they need

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This post appeared originally on William Wall’s Ice Moon blog on the 2nd of November.

We hear so much nowadays about the need to find a way to measure how our education systems work. In England, for example, the government has just instituted a major educational reform that will see GCSEs graded in 9 levels to replace the antiquated 8 point scale. What’s even more shocking is that the old system of designating student achievement by letters (G- A*), which everyone must recognise as a way of masking the actual real world function of the metric, is to be replaced by a straightforward numerical system with 9 as the top grade. This new scale will make it easier for bosses to work out who is at the top and who is at the bottom. To say someone got a 9 in English, for example, is a much better indicator of achievement than to say they got an A. Bosses are plain-speakers and like things explained to them in plain language.

However, I feel this change, revolutionary though it is, does not go far enough. There already exists a perfectly good numerical scale that would serve to provide a real world understandable equivalent to a student’s achievement at the end of education and would be much more readily appreciated by bosses.

Money.

The ideal real-world equivalent of grading an examination would be to benchmark a student’s knowledge against a currency. So, instead of saying that after x years in the system a student has achieved a ‘pass’, a ‘d’ or whatever, terms that have no real-world equivalent, we could say that he has earned 50c or 55c, etc.

Now we have a proper metric by which to understand the fruits of education. Furthermore because of currency exchange benchmarks in the real world, we have a metric of international equivalence. Our student’s 50c can be measured against an American student’s achievements by the simple expedient of applying the prevailing exchange rate, which, of course, reflects the real world value of education over there. By applying the Reuters spot rate for today, for example, I can tell you that British Pound GCSE value of 50p is equivalent to an American Dollar rate of 67.4. It is no accident that this figure represents the European point of view as regards the American education system – their grade inflation is worse than ours.

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The Euro – exit stage Left?

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Paul Murphy MEP (Socialist Party) contributes to a discussion on what position the Left should take on the euro.

It hasn’t gone away, you know. Although much of the media and political commentary would suggest otherwise, the eurozone crisis is very far from resolved. The economies on the periphery of Europe all face deep economic crisis, the burden for which has been heaped upon working class and poor people, with the devastating social consequences seen at their most extreme in Greece. The situation in much of the rest of Europe is not much better. The political consequences of this ongoing crisis have been seen with near government collapse in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy over the course of the summer – with mass disillusionment with austerity a key underlying feature in all cases.

The Irish capitalist class has long tried to separate itself from the other peripheral countries – repeating the mantra that Ireland is not Greece and trying to demonstrate it by more effectively implementing austerity. It has been assisted in that task by the leadership of the trade union movement, which tied to the Labour Party, has attempted to stifle opposition

However, the facts and the crisis remain. The debt to GDP ratio is now at 125% in Ireland and rising. Another dramatic wave of the eurozone crisis could be unleashed at anytime by political or economic developments, the effects of which would be strongly felt in Ireland. The euro will again be at the centre of political developments.

As Ireland moves into primary surplus, the euro could become an important justification for austerity used by the political establishment and a battering ram against the Left. An important reason given not to default on debt or break from austerity policies may be the possible consequence of Ireland being forced out of the common currency. If the experience of Greece tells us anything, it is that an important argument of right wing forces in the next local and European elections, but in particular in the next general elections could well be – if you implement left or socialist policies, Ireland will be out of the euro and economic disaster will result.

Socialists and the Left must prepare to tackle this scaremongering, to demystify the euro and to put forward a left ‘exit strategy’ from the crisis that accepts the possibility of exiting the euro and puts forward radical socialist economic measures to deal with the consequences. There are two pitfalls common on much of the left to be avoided here.

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