This week I am delighted to welcome back Derick Varn to the show. After listening to the previous show about Cultural Marxism with Doug Lain, Derick sent me an email saying he’d like to come on the show and give his two cents. What followed was a wide ranging discussion on ideology, value theory, and the historical emergence of capitalism. We also discussed the possibility of a revolutionary movement based on a system without abstract value, Marx’s critique of the Gotha Program, and Star Trek as a Marxist Tract. And top of all that, the possible productivity of a communist state, game theory and alternative histories, and the Spanish revolution. You can find Derick’s blog here: https://symptomaticcommentary.wordpress.com/ You can find Derick’s and Amogh’s Podcast here:http://sympthomaticredness.libsyn.com/ The music on this episode was: ‘The Order of the Pharaonic Jesters’ by Sun Ra and his Arkestra ‘If Not For Money’ – The Wytches
Terrorist attacks on Western soil will inevitably spark hyperbolic responses from the European establishment, and these very human tragedies are often manipulated, for a number of reasons.
They are frequently used as a pretext for targeting and undermining our rights to privacy and personal freedom, or for justifying confused or downright aggressive plans for intervention in foreign countries.
Robert Navan and Seán Edwards:
When Obama declared Venezuela to be a threat to the United States he wasn’t being absurd. He meant, of course, a threat to US hegemony in the region.
The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela was the greatest challenge to that domination since the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a cartel is an association of manufacturers or suppliers formed with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.
The sheer number of cartels around the world is astonishing.
Dónall Ó Briain
Not many people today know that the British government made the Orange Order illegal—twice. How different Irish history might have been if it had remained so!
The Orange Order was founded in 1795 following a sectarian fight in Armagh.
The left today seems to be missing some important lessons from pivotal moments in recent Irish history. This article is a brief, and simplified, overview of some of those moments. The lessons are worth keeping to the fore in considering any strategy for building socialism in Ireland, because without them such efforts will be wasted, misguided, and even damaging.
On Saturday 12 December 2015 a very interesting Frank Conroy Commemoration
The new leader of the Labour Party in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, recently told the Morning Star that he is exploring options for breaking up Britain’s media monopolies.
That Corbyn and his supporters would consider doing so is hardly surprising in the light of the hysterical and vitriolic campaign waged against them by Britain’s press and broadcasters.
A newly arrived Martian would find themselves very confused by much of the language used by our mainly right-wing Western media. The confusion would arise from the constant use of words generally associated with the political left.
(Part 1 was published in Socialist Voice, January 2013)
Paulo Freire was one of the most revolutionary of educational thinkers. His seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is a major contribution to the concept of learning. It delves beneath the mechanics of the methodology of learning to encompass concepts such as conscientisation
This article was originally published in Concept, The Journal of Contemporary Community Education Practice Theory, Vol. 5 No. 1 Spring 2014.
This article is based on a qualitative research study which I undertook in 2013 with activists, involved in the initial community response to the drug problems in Dublin. In the late 1970s and early 1980s particular working class areas of Dublin’s inner city developed a community drugs problem. A community drugs problem is characterised by a large number of people using drugs in a small area (Cullen, 1991). When the drug problem first presented itself in Dublin, it was concentrated in two main areas of the city, the Hardwick St flats on the North side, and St Theresa’s Gardens on the South side of the city. Initially, the problem began with heroin, which was killing working class children, as young as fourteen and fifteen. Families and whole communities were devastated by what later became known as ‘the heroin epidemic’. Over time the problem has become much worse and now involves poly drug use.
Initially, the people in the areas most affected by drug misuse tried to access help from the state, but soon realised they were not a high priority with state agencies. This realisation led to the formation of one of the most remarkable social movements in Ireland in recent history. The Concerned Parents Against Drugs (CPAD) in the 1980s and the Concerned Communities Against Drugs (COCAD) in the 1990s – essentially these were two phases of the same movement – set out to tackle a problem that nobody else was addressing. This mobilisation was a major achievement by a group of working class activists with limited education and almost no resources. It has been largely ignored in academic literature, and I think this is mainly because it was a working class movement, and class and social inequality have been lost sight of in mainstream social movement studies. This point is argued in depth by contributors in Barker et al. (2013).
I have lived in communities that are seriously affected by drugs problems. My interest in education as an adult grew from trying to understand and deal with a family drugs problem. I was interested in researching the beginning of the drugs problem, and finding out how long-term activists first got involved with the CPAD and COCAD and how they viewed the drug problem from their present perspective, and how their activism had changed over time. For all of my interviewees their involvement was ‘a massive learning process,’ as one of them put it. But did structured community education contribute anything to this? Could it have contributed more? And what lessons can be drawn for today?
This article is based on a background paper which was delivered to a fringe meeting at the recent Sinn Féin Ard Fheis
In Ireland there are two separate economic entities. Their separation means they run up against the fundamental laws of economics, as first identified by Adam Smith[i].
In the first instance it is the size of the home market which determines the scope of the division of labour. But in Ireland both economies, by their separation, have a truncated home market. This was not always the case. As part of the British Empire the North East portion of the island was highly integrated into what was then the largest ‘home’ market in human history. At the same time most of the rest of the island was primarily a breeding ground for cattle, to help feed the large metropolitan imperial centres.
Post-Partition the situation has dramatically changed. The Empire is gone while the southern economy has both developed a home market of a certain size while integrating itself to one of the world’s largest markets in the EU. This is the key fundamental fact which explains the dramatic changes in average living standards in the two parts of the Ireland since Partition.
This is illustrated in Fig.1 below, which shows per capita GDP using common international Dollars (adjusted for Purchasing Power Parities, first Angus Maddison and then OECD). It amounts to a startling transformation of relative prosperity within Ireland.
To specify the data, Maddison shows that per capita GDP in Ireland in 1921 was $2,533 and that in Britain it was $4,439 (and from a variety of sources that average incomes in the north-east counties of Ireland was at least on a par with Britain). From OECD data per capita GDP in RoI was $37,581 in 2013 and in the UK it was 34,755 (and the ONS data shows NI per capita output was 82% of the UK level).
This translation originally appeared on William Wall’s website on the 17th of December.
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was one of the great political philosophers of the 20th century. Founder of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), he was imprisoned by Mussolini in 1926 despite his parliamentary immunity. He would spend the rest of his life in prison. He is most famous for his philosophical and cultural writings collected in various volumes as ‘prison notebooks’, often written on scrap paper, in a sort of code, and smuggled out to friends, in particular Palmiro Togliatti who would succeed him as head of the PCI. But he was also a father and family man, and many of his letters to his wife, his sister-in-law and his children still exist. Tender, amusing, nostalgic, loving and paternal, they show a different side to the great thinker. This letter, to Tania Schucht, his sister-in-law who had charge of his affairs, is a good example. It was probably written on the prison island of Ustica.
The text of this letter comes from Fiabe, Antonio Gramsci (Edizioni Clichy, Firenze). I am grateful to the editor, Tommaso Gurrieri for his approval of this translation. The translation is Creative Commons, as is all my work on this blog. See the note at the end of this page.
And so the new year has begun. It is necessary to make plans for a new life, according to tradition: but even though I have thought a lot about such a plan I have never managed to achieve it. This has always been a great difficulty in my life from my earliest rational years.
A difficult question, which I resolved for the first time, at eight years of age, fixing my sights on the profession of carter. I found that the carter unites all of the characteristics of usefulness and delight: he flicks the reins and guides the horses, but, at the same time, he performs a work that ennobles the man and earns him his daily bread.
The current crisis of Irish democracy is not the one currently being given space in the nation’s mainstream media outlets. Ungovernability is supposedly just around the corner according to some. A “sinister fringe” is engaging in acts of violence. “Marxist-Leninists” are standing in the way of the government and its wishes. Michael Noonan is on record as saying that he and his government “govern for the reasonable people,” and not the sinister fringe of ungovernable Marxist-Leninists in our midst. Reading this, one would imagine that the Red Army of old is engaging in ideological, and very physical, warfare on Ireland. Of course this is sheer nonsense, but the ghost of the “Dreaded Red” is well risen from its grave, courtesy of the necromancers currently inhabiting Dáil Éireann. Such propaganda is a reaction to the citizens of Ireland having had enough of years of austerity measures.
They have taken to the streets, engaged in peaceful protest, and civil disobedience, in order to show their contempt for their treatment by the government. Compared to other European countries over the last few years, Ireland has been relatively quiet on the protest front. The planned introduction of water charges has changed all that. And now, the government and the Irish media, are panicking. A citizenry of a Western and ostensibly democratic state is not supposed to be actively engaged in the democratic process. To do so is to cause a “crisis of democracy”. This is nothing remotely new. During the 1960s and 1970s, people on both sides of the Atlantic demanded equal rights, an end to war, and generally demanded social change from their leaders whom they considered to have failed in their duty to create an equal society in the post-war years. To that end, they engaged in massive demonstrations and civil disobedience in order to achieve their aims. Such activity on the part of the wider citizenry frightened the leaders of the Western world, so much so that it became the basis of a report by the Trilateral Commission.
Published in 1975, The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, examined in some detail the causes and effects of the active citizenry that emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s in Europe, the United States, and Japan. Written by three leading academics for the NGO, it is premised on the idea that a previously apathetic citizenry became more active and therefore undermined the credibility and functioning of democracy. Although the introduction states that the report is “designed to make democracy stronger”, the definition of democracy being worked off is a top-down approach to governance in which the population is preferably apathetic, passive, and stratified. All three authors wondered how to make democracy not more democratic or effective in the popular understanding of the term, but how to enable a return to the previous state of affairs of an apathetic, passive, and stratified citizenry.
A “crisis of democracy” was “a breakdown of traditional means of social control, a delegitimation of political and other forms of authority, and an overload of demands on government, exceeding its capacity to respond.” An “increase of social interaction” resulted in the breakdown of the means of “traditional social control imposed upon the individual by collective authorities, especially the state, and by hierarchical religious institutions.” In turn, this meant that citizens “resist any kind of social control that is associated with the hierarchical values they have learned to discard and reject.” Individuality was seen to have usurped traditional civic values and stratification, and therefore people were more free than ever to choose their jobs, friends, partners, and general future, as they saw fit. At the very least, the wider population had decided that they could make those decisions for themselves without government interference.
Whether you agree with wearing a poppy or not, all Irish people who fought between 1914 and 1918 deserve to be remembered. Since the 1990s and the Peace Process in Northern Ireland, the Irish nationalists who went to fight for the British army in the Great War have re-entered the public’s historical consciousness. However, we are still slow to recognise the role that Ulster unionists played in the war.
The 1916 Easter Rising is a central event in modern Irish history, and is particularly significant in the development of Irish nationalism. Equally, the massive losses suffered by the 36th (Ulster) Division at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 were a formative event in the development of Ulster unionism. 1916 is a crucial year in history for both communities on the island of Ireland. Loyalties were consolidated and identities were crystallised in the GPO in Dublin and in the trenches at the Somme. While considerable differences existed between the two communities before 1916, the events of that year polarised them. Both nationalists and unionists would look back on the events of 1916 as moments of great sacrifice which were endured to assert the rights of their respective communities.
As Professor Keith Jeffery has convincingly argued, the First World War was the single most significant event of the Irish experience of the twentieth century. 210,000 catholic and protestant men from the island of Ireland enlisted in the British Army, 50,000 of whom were killed. Despite this, there persisted what historian F.X. Martin referred to as a ‘collective amnesia’ regarding these events in the Republic. Historical research, public discourse and political commemoration focused on the military events which happened at home during this time. The 1916 Easter Rising was regarded as more important than the experiences of Irishmen who fought in the British army on the continent between 1914 and 1918. About 2,000 rebels took part in the insurrection against British rule, while up to 105,000 Irish nationalists were fighting for Britain on the continent.
In the more inclusive atmosphere of the 1990s, fostered by the Peace Process, historians began to examine the role Irishmen played during the First World War. One fascinating aspect of the war was what it meant to the different confessional communities on the island. Nationalists were encouraged to enlist so that Home Rule would be implemented upon their return, while unionists joined up to prevent the implementation of Home Rule. There was also a new found appreciation of the difficulties faced by Irish nationalists returning home to a country where an armed rebellion against the British had taken place while they had been in Europe fighting for the King. This more inclusive analysis of the 1914-1918 period has deepened our understanding of the complexities of life and loyalties in Ireland at that time.
However, in the Republic, there is still a gap in the public understanding of the events of the period. The Ulster unionist experience of the Great War needs to be further explored and this is particularly pertinent as we approach the 100th anniversary of 1916. Less than three months after the Rising in Dublin, 5,500 men of the 36th (Ulster) Division were either killed, wounded or declared missing in the first two days of fighting at the Battle of the Somme. The 36th was drawn from the Ulster Volunteer Force, established in 1912 to prevent the imposition of Home Rule in Ireland. The wartime contribution and sacrifices made by Ulster unionists left an indelible mark upon the psyche of that community. Murals of the Somme can still be seen on Belfast gables and the battle is commemorated every year. If we are to fully grasp the dynamics and complexities of this period, it is essential that the Ulster unionist experience of the war be further explored and remembered.
The first stages of the Peace Process allowed for a reinterpretation of recent Irish history, resulting in a new found appreciation of the role played by Irishmen in British uniform during the First World War. But the role of Ulster unionists, their motivations for enlisting, the sacrifices they made and their commemoration of the war are aspects of the Irish experience are unknown in the south. While the 1990s provided the impetus for the exploration of the forgotten aspects of Ireland’s wartime past, this decade of centenary commemorations is the perfect opportunity to explore the Unionist experiences of the war. With the 100th year anniversary of 1916 approaching, there needs to be a greater awareness of the sacrifices made by those at the Somme. Just as the Rising was a formative event in the history of Irish nationalism, the Somme is equally important in the development of Irish unionism. A more comprehensive historical understanding of the divisive year of 1916 can foster empathy between the two communities on the island. This is critical for the development of the Peace Process.
A better understanding of the formative events in the histories of both nationalist and unionist communities is required if the Peace Process is to continue. 1916 is the fulcrum around which ideas of loyalty and badges of identity have been based. In this decade of commemorations, and as we approach the 100th year anniversary of 1916, a more rounded assessment of this period of Irish history is needed. In order to achieve this, we must – in the words of playwright Frank McGuinness – ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme.’
Speaking at a fundraising event in New York last week, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams remarked that during the War of Independence, Michael Collins had his men enter the offices of the Irish independent, hold the editor at gun point, and dismantled the printing press. This was in response to that papers accusation that Collins and his men were guilty of ‘murder most fowl.’ He went on to say ‘I’m obviously not advocating that.’
Notwithstanding this qualification, Adam’s comments have been criticised by his political opponents and by the media. Such criticism is yet another example of the fear of the rise of Sinn Fein and the desire of the established parties, as well as some sections of the media to vilify the party. Opponents of Sinn Fein point to the party’s violent past in an effort to discredit its current leadership and to scare the public into thinking that Sinn Fein still advocates violent methods.
The Irish state: Born in Violence
On Easter Monday, 1916, a tiny, unrepresentative armed group, comprising of Irish Volunteers who had not gone to fight in the Great War and members of the Irish Citizens Army, affect a military insurrection which primarily took place in Dublin city. More civilians were killed during Easter week than British soldiers or Irish rebels.
Book Review: Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, Karl Whitney (Penguin Ireland 2014)
Dublin, perhaps uniquely, has suffered mythologization by genius and by sentimentality. Caught between Leopold Bloom and the Leprachaun Museum (yes, there is), the city of Dublin, the living breathing people and the physical structures they live in and on, has fallen out of sight. Joyce and Flann O’Brien caught its speech, but the one did it so perfectly people are afraid to read him, and the other was so accurate they think the humour is a laughing matter; James Plunkett wrote Dublin on a human scale and gave it flesh and blood characters, but is little known outside Ireland. We have ended up with Bloomsday and Paddy’s Day, the first now more kitsch than the second.
Karl Whitney has now written a book that gives us back Dublin as a city, not the set of a novel, or the battlefield of dreams of some misty eyed tourist in search of their heroic and downtrodden ancestors.
While some of the tourists might be inclined to follow Whitney’s Joyce trail—visit all of Joyce’s Dublin addresses in order (the Trieste equivalent includes his favorite knocking shop)—or even his Liffey descent—from where the river becomes tidal to the last bridge before the sea, crossing every bridge on the way—his bus game would be a bit too Situationist. In this one, you take buses for ninety minutes, changing bus every fifteen, crossing the road if a coin comes up tails. The first time he tries it, he ends up in an area with only one bus. A later attempt is no better. Taking a bus in Dublin has no element of play, but only `the extreme frustration familiar to the demoralized commuter.’ Whitney would not be the first artist crushed by the inadequacy of Dublin’s infrastructure.
The consumerism generated by capitalism throughout the ‘Developed‘ or ‘Western’ World is a major obstacle to tackling climate change, the biggest problem facing mankind. So the next question must be: why is capitalism still so widely accepted? Why do workers in the ‘West’ vote overwhelmingly for pro-capitalist parties?
One of the less obvious features of capitalism is that by exponentially expanding its ‘free’ market into every corner of life it puts a price on everything, and it thereby becomes a great social leveller: kings and lords, upper-class birthrights and privileges decline as possession of money, which by chance can be acquired by anyone, comes to measure everything. As a result, other than the massive inequalities of money, we now live in a society with a level of personal equality that was unimaginable throughout human history up to perhaps 40 years ago for gender, race, single mothers, LBGT, etc. But crucially this equality drive of capitalism has always encouraged constantly growing agitation by workers for a just and equal economic share of their social production. They now see themselves as the social equals of their bosses, which causes desperate problems for capitalists. Capitalism thereby lacks the acceptance of difference which earlier civilizations did, and which could last thousands of years in spite of vast degrees of inequality, class divisions, emperors, slavery, etc.
England’s history demonstrates this capitalist dilemma. In response to the rapidly growing agitation the capital-owning class must react, like any ruling class, in two ways: some groups are violently repressed and exploited; some are bribed to keep them loyal. Thus colonies were plundered by Imperialism to deliver ‘bribes’ to English workers (noted in England by Engels1 ) finally resulting in the compromise of social democracy. For example while the famine was devastating Ireland massive amounts of food were exported under British army guard to Liverpool. Violence was used in the 1819 Peterloo massacre of protesters. But when Chartist agitation for equality grew towards 1850, this time instead of violence the Corn Laws were ended to allow imports of cheap food to quieten the agitation. It is clear that most wars fought during Hobsbawm‘s Age of Empire2 and continuing today were concerned with access to cheap labour, food, raw materials, and later oil. The home working class was comfortable enough to forgo dangerous agitation, even gaining the vote over the years. But after 2 diverting world wars, which were much caused by imperial rivalry, in the 1970’s there arose further demands for economic equality by English workers (e.g. the miners strike) and also agitation by the colonies for their own liberty, for the equality of nations. As there were no new colonies to invade Thatcher and others in the West had to find another source of wealth to answer this new agitation.
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”
Ask the vast majority of people who said that and it is a fair bet they will probably reply something like: Josef Goebbels, or maybe Stalin perhaps, Saddam Hussein might even come up, maybe even Henry Kissinger, or maybe even, in a lucid moment, they might reply Rupert Murdoch, or for that matter Denis O Brien. The truth is they would be wrong on all accounts. Although they would at least be relatively close with the last two or three.
But no, none of them said it, but it is a sure bet that all of the above names would understand the sentiment.
The quote is the first sentence from a 1928 book called Propaganda. The writer was Edward Bernays who many regard as the founder of modern public relations. As a bold and declarative sentence it leaves you in no doubt what so ever as to the logic underlying the words.
That is, the masses can be first organised and manipulated and secondly, even more important, they must be if “democracy” as it is largely understood today is to fulfil its function in maintaining market-driven politics. The logic therefore is that “the people”, the great mainstay of democratic theory and thought or so we are told, cannot and should not be trusted.
The Marxist Seminars are back!
After our initial 6 seminars based on theoretical topics, we thought we’d run the next 6 on ‘Marxism in Practice’.
We will be beginning on Saturday 9th August, 6pm, Chaplin’s Bar, Hawkins’ Street, D2. Each seminar will be at the same time and venue fortnightly thereafter.
Miles Link will be introducing the first seminar and will be put the case forward for the Frankfurt School of ideas. Western Marxism: Problems of mass culture. A lively debate will surely follow as always.
The full programme is the following:
- Western Marxism: Problems of mass culture – Miles Link
- Comparing popular resistance to neoliberalism in Latin America the in 80s and 90s to the situation in Ireland in the current context of crisis – Prof Barry Cannon NUI Maynooth
- Marxist Analysis of the Trade Union movement – Andrew Phelan
- Fundamentals of communist production and distribution – Gavin Mendel-Gleason
- Personality & History – Helena Sheehan
- Marxism & Feminism – Sinead Kennedy
Hope to see you all over the coming months!
This article provides a critique of social partnership & ‘soft’ NGO advocacy and reflections on pathways forward.
Political & Economic Context: Neoliberalism & Ireland
Many people ask about the cause of poverty, oppression, rising inequality, environmental destruction and climate change. Neo-Marxist thinkers like David Harvey, Erik Olin Wright and Hardt & Negri, make the case that it is International capitalist globalization that is underlying these social catastrophes. It is the neoliberalism of the Washington Consensus – which was a political project of the wealthy and capital elite, theorized by the free marketeers of Friedman and Hayak. It started in Pinochet’s Chile and then Reagan and Thatcher implemented it in the US and the UK. In the face of declining profitability and the crisis of capitalism in the 1970s the aim of the wealthy and elite was to reduce the share of income (wealth) that went to workers and to increase that returning to capital and the elite. They also sought to reduce the power and influence of trade unions and the working class socialist organisations in society, politics and the economy.
At the heart of the neoliberal ideology was a belief that private unregulated markets are the best mechanisms to organize society and state-led planning is inefficient. Neoliberal policies included the de-regulation of the Keynesian welfare state protections and the financial sector, the privatization of public services, neocolonial conquest through corporations, imperial wars for resources such as Iraq, the commodification of nature like water, land, and seeds. Indeed at the heart of this project of neoliberal capitalism is the commodification of everything. Everything is to be turned into something that can be bought and sold, traded on markets, profited from, commercialized. Neoliberalism is about the utopia of individualized responsibility. Your existence is commodified through competition. You must compete with everyone for everything. Values of solidarity, public good, and co-operation are replaced with competition, individualism, commercialism and materialism.
But neoliberalism is also based on a myth of freedom. Where is the freedom for migrants who die in attempts to enter the EU or the US? Where is the freedom for low paid workers forced to work three jobs to survive? Neoliberalism has been dramatically successful in increasing the wealth of the minority, in increasing inequality, and in promoting its values and ideology amongst populations. However, it is also riven with contradictions as any variant of capitalism is inherently so because of the anarchy of free, unregulated, markets that continually engages in boom and bust cycles and because of uneven development where one area expands at the expense of retrenchment in another area. For example, the declining rate of investment for capital in general commodities led to capital in the 2000s flooding new financial products and the financialisation and commodification of ever greater aspects of our lives that capital could invest, gamble and accumulate profit from. But as the logic of the market was expanded into ever greater areas the potential for crisis and crashes increases and thus we see greater numbers and intensity of economic crises. Naoimi Klein has used an interesting term ‘disaster capitalism’ to describe the way in which the elites use various crises to further intensify exploitation and the commodification of everything by private corporations.
Communist Party of Ireland
The Inter-Imperialist War, 1914 – 1918: Not a noble cause
Dr Brian Hanley (historian)
Dr Brian Hanley (historian)
Eddie Glackin (CPI)
Mary Cullen (historian)
3.30pm, Saturday, 26 July 2014
James Connolly House, 43 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Note that the time has changed due to the march in solidarity with the people of Palestine at 2pm at the Spire in O’Connell Street.