Politics

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Cutting the Grass in Gaza

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This article originally appeared on Conor McCarthy’s blog Reflections From a Damaged Life on the 22nd of July.

The current Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip recalls earlier interventions over the last several years, going back to Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.  As this blog has noted before, amidst the welter of reportage and high-octane verbiage brought forth in the media about these events, perhaps the most important thing for us observing, and protesting, from afar is to maintain a sense of the ‘bigger picture’.

As this blog has noted previously, Gaza is a place where violence – the hidden violence embodied and crystalised in the historical and present structures of states and interstate relations, as well as the obvious violence of war and counter-terrorism – over-determines the situation as we witness it now.

Let’s repeat a few simple facts:

  1. Gaza is the most densely populated region on the planet, with 1.7 million inhabitants. The overwhelming majority of these people are either refugees or the children or grandchildren of refugees – the human detritus of phases of Israeli ethnic cleansing both in 1947-49 and in 1967.  The great majority of the population is poor, and unemployment is extremely high, with approximately 60% of the population directly dependent on UNRWA for assistance and food;
  2. Gaza has never been a sovereign political entity or part of one – it has no army, no formal state apparatus, and it is technically, in spite of Israel’s pull-out of its settlers in 2005, under Israeli occupation.  This means that Israel has a duty of care to the Strip and its inhabitants;
  3. Gaza has historically been the locus of various kinds of Israeli violence: not merely ethnic cleansing, but also land confiscation, illegal colonial settlement, and population transfer; punitive raids into the Strip are not new – the Israeli raid of 1955 stands out.  And so amidst our horror at the current savagery meted out to the Strip, we must remember that it is routinely subjected to Israeli internventions, air-raids and killings;
  4. Gaza has been subject to an Israeli blockade since 2007, which seeks to control all movement not only of alleged Iranian or Syrian weapons supplies to Hamas, but also of food, fuel, medical supplies, and other essentials of even the most basic civil life, and it is surrounded on its Israeli borders by a ‘fence’, which has served as the prototype for the much better-known West Bank ‘security’ wall.

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Ten Years On, Israel Continues to Defy the Legal Opinion of the International Court of Justice with impunity

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The 9th of July 2014 marked a decade since the International Court of Justice issued an Advisory Opinion regarding the construction of the Apartheid Wall by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  As if the onslaught currently being wreaked upon the people of Gaza weren’t evidence enough of the degree of exceptionalism afforded to Israel by the international community, the anniversary of the ICJ verdict further underscores Israel’s effective exemption from the most basic norms of international law and human rights. The conclusions reached by the ICJ were unambiguous: the wall constitutes a violation of international law, Israel should cease its construction, tear down those sections already built and pay reparations for the damages caused by its construction thus far.

In addition to affirming the illegality of the wall itself, the ICJ stated that the manner in which it is traced serves to effectively annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel, thereby converting the illegal West Bank settlements into irreversible “facts on the ground.”  This constitutes a grave breach of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is a “flagrant violation” of international law according to the ICJ, echoing the wording of previous United Nations Security Council resolutions concerning the settlements.

International complacency

One would be forgiven for assuming that in the wake of such an unequivocal condemnation by the highest judicial authority in the world, the international community would have taken some concrete measures to compel Israel to meet its international law obligations, seeing as it has consistently failed to do so.  Indeed, according to the opinion of the ICJ, such action is legally required of the international community:

“Given the character and the importance of the rights and obligations involved, the Court is of the view that all States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem. They are also under an obligation not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.”(p. 13)

In spite of this however, the ten years since the ICJ ruling have instead seen an unabated expansion of the Apartheid Wall and its “associated regime” of illegal settlements, all with the tacit consent of the international community and at the expense of the Palestinians whose daily lives have been rendered unliveable by the wall’s physical presence.

The devastating impact that the Apartheid Wall has had on such families and communities has been well documented by human rights groups such as AmnestyHuman Rights WatchB’tselem and al Haq. There would appear to be a general consensus among such organisations that the real function it serves is to aid Israel in realising its territorial ambitions, while brazenly violating the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement, as well as numerous other inalienable human rights in the process.

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Photographing Absence

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Book Review: Phantom Home, Ahlam Shibli  (Hatje Cantz, 2013) 

The sudden and violent death of someone close to you can only intensify the grief and feeling of loss that accompanies any bereavement, so much so that looking at a picture of the person may be too unbearable to bear. The raw and unavoidable facticity of someone’s absence becomes a too-painfully presence that would be compounded by a photograph that makes the ordeal even more difficult to cope with. This is understandable and it takes an effort of imagination and empathy to comprehend another kind of response when the sudden and violent death is a public and political moment in the life of a community that is itself living with an ongoing sense of loss and deprivation. Palestinians living in their land under occupation by Israel have witnessed death at the hands of their occupiers for most of their lives and seen the destruction of their homes and crops. They live with daily indignities that prevent them from travelling on certain roads in the West Bank, they suffer from a grossly unfair allocation of water and they observe the expansion of settlements for Israeli colonizers.

Western Graveyard, Nablus, January 20, 2012 In Nablus, the families of the deceased visit the graveyards on Thursday evening or Friday morning to take care of the tombs and sit next to them in commemoration. Usually members of the same family are buried close to one each other, whether they died a martyr’s death or of natural causes.

Ahlam Shibli, a Palestinian photographer, explores the visual culture — posters, murals, banners, paintings, photographs and graffiti – of the community of Nablus as it commemorates those accorded the status of martyrs: Palestinians killed fighting Israeli forces, civilians killed in Israeli attacks and suicide bombers whose missions took them into Israel.

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Pablo Iglesias: “put a stop to the grand coalition that is imposing austerity and financial totalitarianism.”

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This is a rush translation of the address by Podemos MEP Pablo Iglesias to the European Parliament this morning, on the occasion of presenting his candidacy for President of the European Parliament. Original text via Público.

It is an honour to speak to you all in presenting my candidacy for the presidency of this chamber. This parliament is called upon to represent the sovereignty of Europe and we must, fellow deputies, live up to what that means today.

The dream of Europe has been buried many times but it always managed to awake once again. This is what happened nearly 70 years ago: Europe awoke again in the resistance of its peoples against fascism, in the survivors of the extermination camps, in those who gave their lives for justice and for freedom. Thousands of my own compatriots, who had struggled to defend democracy in Spain, took part in that struggle and that dream of justice. You cannot imagine the pride I have as a Spanish person that the first tanks that entered Paris to liberate it were manned by Spanish combatants. Today, as intolerance and xenophobia threaten us once again, I want to call upon Europe’s memory of antifascism, and that of all those peoples who love freedom and democracy.

My fellow deputies, the best of our continent and our common history was forged in the revolutions that made the people the subject of rights, above kings, gods, noblemen and major property owners. The best heritage of Europe is the will of its citizens to be free and to be the serfs of no-one. To be no-one’s serf, my fellow deputies, that is democracy.

That is why I must tell you today that the peoples to whom we owe our social freedoms and rights did not struggle for a Europe in which its people live in fear of poverty, of exclusion, of unemployment or of abandonment when faced with illness. The expropriation of sovereignty and subjection to the rule of financial elites threaten the present and the future of Europe, they threaten our dignity, they threaten equality, liberty and fraternity, they threaten our life in common.

The creation of new supranational entities does not have to come at the price of leaving the citizens helpless. Our peoples are not children, nor are they colonies of any investment fund. They did not win and defend their freedom so as to hand it over to a financial oligarchy. These are not abstract terms, my fellow deputies: all of you are well aware of the problem.

The ease with which lobbies in the service of major corporations move around here is scandalous, as are the revolving doors that turn public representatives into millionaires in the pay of big businesses. We have to say it loud and clear: this way of operating robs the peoples of their sovereignty, attacks democracy, and turns political representatives into a caste.

My fellow deputies, democracy in Europe has been the victim of authoritarian erosion. In the European periphery the situation is tragic: our countries have almost become protectorates, new colonies, where powers that no-one has elected are destroying social rights and threatening the social and political cohesion of our societies.

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast #050: The Matrix

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This week I am delighted to welcome back the economist, economic historian, and extremely prolific author, Professor Michael Perelman of the California State University, Chico. We talk about the latest book he is working on: ‘The Matrix: An exploratory political economy of the dangerous, paradoxical interactions between war, the economy, and economic ideology’.

We discuss unintended consequences, the difficult of decision-making in complex situations, US Imperialism, Vietnam, Heavyweight Boxing ,and the little talked about darker side of Winston Churchill.

You can check out the Professors books here

And here is his blog:

http://michaelperelman.wordpress.com/

Enjoy!

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Scapegoating During a Time of Crisis

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The following piece is based on a much longer article ‘Scapegoating During a Time of Crisis: A Critique of Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland’, co-written by Micheal Flynn, Lee Monaghan and Martin Power. It is available here.

Austerity and Scapegoating: two sides of the same coin

Class war is in large part a propaganda war; it is in no way confined to formal political life, but  works its way through all the institutions of society. For the most part it is the ruling class that is advancing – most obviously through the commercial media, which so often serves to divide, disempower, demoralise and dis-benefit the working class.

Only a few years ago it was generally accepted that bankers, developers and speculators destroyed Ireland’s economy. In the wake of the collapse, Brian Lenihan’s claim that ‘we all partied’ was rightly understood as an attempt to deflect blame from those actually responsible. Most understood that it was the recklessness of the investing classes, coupled with the political decision to socialise private bank debt that had forced hundreds of thousands on to dole queues and/or through airport departure gates. For a time, the anger of the population was focused squarely of those that had destroyed the economy.

Yet, notions of collective responsibility have been carefully fostered ever since. The idea of a specifically Irish lust for property (or even a ‘property-owning gene’) appears to have become the common-sense of our time. The commercial media, with the help of the trendy economists elevated to celebrity status, such as David McWilliams, reason that everything went askew because of a ‘cult of property’. We Irish gave in to a ‘mass delusion’ – or as Indakinny so eloquently explained ‘we all went a bit mad with borrowing’.

Consequently, and very conveniently, the role of developers, speculators and politicians – their systematic destruction of alternatives to crippling mortgage debt, the role of section 23 tax breaks, the endemic planning corruption revealed by the Mahon tribunal, are all put out of sight as blame is socialised. This makes it far easier to justify the on-going socialisation of debt, which in turn helps to rationalise the ‘tough decisions’ that government insists are unavoidable. The subsequent apportioning of blame to specific targets is likewise done in a manner consistent with the distribution of austerity.

As expected, cuts to the public sector have gone hand-in-hand with attempts to demonize public sector workers. With the public sector now on the chopping block, ‘over-paid’ and ‘under worked’ public sector workers have been identified as unbearable burdens on the public finances. Rather than remain focused on where the billions are actually going, attention is paid to a ‘privileged’ public sector. This cultivation of resentment gives licence to savage cuts and softens the public up for privatisations. Even better, damage done to the highly-unionised public sector also damages the trade union movement, which when weakened makes for more effective attacks on pay and conditions down the line.

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Does Ireland Need a New Left Party?

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This article is based on a talk given at conference “Local Resistance, Global Crisis” at National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 13th of June 2014

Does Ireland need a new left party?

Yes.

Why?

We are involved in a colossal class struggle and we are not winning.

We need to confront the very system that is demanding ever more drastic redistribution of wealth from below to above, accelerated accumulation by dispossession, continuing dismantling of the public sphere in favour of private property and commodified culture.

It is not enough to go issue to issue, to oppose cuts, to denounce austerity.

We need to win consent to a counter-narrative to the dominant view of the crisis. We need to break the grip of the belief that there is no alternative.

We need to fashion a force that will challenge for power that will make the long march through all the institutions of society: schools, universities, media, trade unions, local councils, national and international parliaments, production, distribution and exchange.

We need the best possible left. We need to maximise our efforts.

We need to build on electoral gains by the left in elections of 2011 and 2014. The last general election saw the greatest overturning in Dail Eireann in its history and the next will outdo it, we have every reason to believe. The last elections and recent polls indicate a huge shift, primarily to the left, in Irish politics.

We need to aim to form a left government in the next decade or so.

For this, we need a new left party. A party of a new type. By which I don’t mean a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. Traditionally parties of the left have been communist, Trotskyist or social democratic parties. This would be different.

We have a multiplicity of left parties of the traditional types, quite a few of them M-L vanguard parties. All of these have maxed out their potential in their present form. Some are still vital, while others have been in decline for some time.

In the first category are the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party, each of which have formed broader fronts, the People Before Profit Alliance and Anti-Austerity Alliance. In the second category are the Communist Party of Ireland and Workers Party. The two Trotskyist parties and their broader fronts have been especially active on the streets and in electoral politics and they have achieved considerable success. They also built and broke the United Left Alliance.

None of these formations, in and of themselves, form the basis for the sort of new left party we need. They will be important in the future of any new left formation, but a new left party cannot be ULA 2.0.

We also have two bigger parties of the left, although some may contest whether they are left: the Labour Party and Sinn Fein. They are left, but not as left as what we need. This is primarily because they do not engage in systemic analysis and therefore they do not move in the direction of systemic transformation.

There is a big empty space where a big party to the left of LP and SF should be. We need a new left party to fill this space.

What kind of new left party should this be?

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Mass Deception and the Manipulation of our Minds

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Book Review: Understanding Shadows: The Corrupt Use of Intelligence. Michael Quilligan, Clarity Press. $21.95

A convenient narrative of our times, prevalent in news media, entertainment channels such as TV and movies, and across a wide range of literature, is that the ‘intel’-led security state began in 2002 just months after a tight and cheaply funded operation by a previously little-known group brought down New York’s twin towers and killed almost 3,000 people.

This narrative, which has developed multiple strands and threads, by now woven into a fabric which goes virtually unquestioned, is false, as this book demonstrates.

Michael Quilligan’s focus is on the weapons of mass deception which elites and states use to keep us ignorant. His book is a meticulously researched and corroborated survey of how ‘intelligence’ is used to hide, distort, and bury the truth of great events, and instead implant a ‘version’, a narrative, which reflects the requirements of the rulers of the world and serves to conceal reality.

Intelligence services and their linked military, criminal, and undercover ‘assets’, do a lot of things, of which spying is perceived as the most exciting and glamorous. But they do more.

For example, they murder. The French secret service’s assassination of a Greenpeace photographer in New Zealand is an egregious example, another the almost incessant stream of doorstep killings and public executions by Israel’s Mossad. And now we have daily murder by drone and missile on the orders of a former law professor who became President of the United States, carried out from secret bunkers by agents of one or other of the plethora of intelligence agencies which have been so expanded since 9/11 as to constitute a state, an unanswerable state, within a state.

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Republicanism and Nationalism; What Have They Ever Done for the Workers?

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Fluther (angrily): What th’ hell do I care what he says? I’m Irishman enough not to lose me head be follyin’ foreigners!

Sean O’Casey ‘The Plough and the Stars

Sean O’Casey ‘The Plough and the Stars

In the Monty Python film the ‘Life of Brian’ one of the discontented lefty proletarians asks a very pertinent question – What have the Romans ever done for us?  The answer was apparently quite a lot.  Much of the humour in the scene derives from the questioner being reduced to a dumbstruck silence. Nevertheless it was a question well worth asking.  In the run up to the centenaries of the rising, the war of independence and the civil war the question, what have they ever done for the workers, needs to be asked again.

Republicanism in History

Republicanism has a long history stretching back to the ancient roman republic.

It was far from a harmonious state but riven by class conflict between patricians and plebeians.  Attempts at land reform and wealth redistribution ended with the respective murder and suicide of its two advocates (Boatwright et al, 2004).  Beyond that point the republic was dominated by an oligarchic gang of large land owners until its demise under the emperors.

Republicanism was to raise its head again in Britain between 1649 and 1660.  Cromwell had come to power through an alliance with middling disaffected landowners, merchants and artisans.  Yet he was aghast when the republican revolution and the associated political ferment spawned groups, such as Levellers, Diggers and 5th Monarchy Men, some preaching and attempting to practice a primitive form of millenarian communism.  Levellers demanded complete religious toleration, democratic control of the army and bi-annual parliamentary elections while the Diggers claimed that the land belonged to the whole people of England.  The republican Cromwell was having none of it and told his bourgeois supporters ‘you must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces’ (Morton, 1938)

After 1789 some of the French revolutionaries looked back to the roman republic as an exemplar. They abolished feudalism and the divine right of monarchy, proclaimed the rights of man and citizens and that great slogan Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.  Almost immediately a difficulty arose as to how these slogans could be given a concrete realisation and were they to apply to those outside the ranks of the middling classes.  The answer was not long in coming.  In 1791 the convention passed a law (Loi Le Chapelier) outlawing combination of workers or trade unions (Hepple, 2010).  The ongoing conflict between bourgeois and proletarians was temporarily halted by Napoleon.  Dictatorship preserved the social and economic conquests of the revolution for its main beneficiaries – the middle classes (Goodwin, 1963).  Nonetheless the class conflict stirred up by the revolution was to figure prominently in the politics of the French Republic for a century and a half (Hampson, 1989).

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What Can Come of the Leftward Movement in the Irish Local and Euro Elections?

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The left are on the march in Ireland since the local elections. Irish people and Irish political culture is slowly changing. The old description of Whyte (1972) that Ireland possesses a politics ‘without social bases’ is coming to end. Class politics has started to arrive and the old ‘two and a half’ Irish party system, with the demise of Labour, is no more. These developments present real opportunities for the left in Ireland and for the people who have been oppressed by austerity. In this context, this article attempts to factor in the gains on the left and predict the future at the next election.  This is done to see whether at last we can have a progressive left-dominated government which can prioritise public services, workers, the welfare state and offer fairer taxes, and other progressive measures that this left government would bring.

Dr Adrian Kavanagh has been doing some excellent work in recent times examining opinion poll data since the FG/Labour government came to power in February 2011. Also, Tom Louwerse’s analysis, which calculates the average across all opinion polls from April 1st 2011 to April 1st 2014 is very useful. Reading off the approximate values from the Louwerse graph (politicalreform.ie), the analysis suggests that constant first preference party support is as follows:  FG (25%); FF (22%); SF (18%); Labour (8%); other parties/Independents (20%); Greens (3%).

The European elections indicate the following first preference party support levels: FG (22%); FF (22%); SF (20%); Other parties/Independents (30%); Labour (5%).

The final result for the Local Elections shows the following first preferences: FF (25%); FG (24%); Other Parties/Independents/Greens (28%); SF (15%) and Labour (7%).

Adrian Kavanagh uses a model to predict the number of seats that first preference votes would give to each party and he does this for all the final national opinion polls produced in the weeks prior to the Local and European Elections 2014. His analysis is based on this RTE commissioned ‘poll of polls’ of May 21st, 2014.

This gives the following breakdown: FG (24%); FF (22%); Labour (7%); Independents/Other Parties and Greens 26%.

Corresponding to this ‘poll of polls’,  Kavanagh predicts the number of resultant TDs in the Dail if a general election was held, as follows: FF (38); FG (45); Labour (2); SF (32); Independents/Other Parties/Greens (41).

I have analysed the ‘Independents & Other’ TDs (which includes left parties such as SP and PBP which opinion polls still categorise as ‘Independents/Others!) in the current Dail, as follows:

Currently there are 28 in total at this point. Of these 28 TDs, 11 come from mainly FG gene pool, that is, supporters of Lucinda Creighton, with the remaining being ex FF or PD.

However, the majority of the 28 seats, 17 in total, are from a ‘left’ leaning/ ‘people power’ gene pool in terms of their political philosophy. These include: Tommy Broughan (ex Lab); Joan Collins (People Before Profit); Clare Daly (Ind Left); Stephen Donneely (Ind); Luke Ming Flanagan (Ind); John Halligan (Ind); Finian McGrath (Ind); Catherine Murphy (Ind);  Ruth Coppinger (SP); Maureen O’Sullivan (Ind); Tom Pringle (Ind); Shane Ross (Ind); Roisin Shortall (ex Lab); Mick Wallace (Ind); Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP); Seamus Healy (TUAG); Joe Higgins (SP).

If we assumed that these 28 existing TDs were to get re-elected next time, which is not too unreasonable, then Kavanagh’s analysis suggests that at least a further 13 ‘Independent/Other TDs will also be elected at the next general election.

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Same Same but Different

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Book Review: Event, Slavoj Žižek; The Most Sublime Hysteric, Slavoj Žižek and Hegel and the Art of NegationAndrew W. Hass 

Event, Slavoj Žižek (Penguin, 2014)

A difficulty in reading Žižek is that he often seems to be juggling with too many balls, making dizzy the reader who tries to track the course of a single idea as it speedily travels from one page to the next before somersaulting in a paragraph. The challenge is not in grasping the idea but in following it amidst the inflections and involuting digressions. The whole asymptotic shebang can become just too much and the exasperated reader is tempted to close shop on the whole act by slamming the book shut.

What makes Event easier to read and follow through from start to finish is that this time one of the balls is bigger and more brightly coloured than all the others. The reader can keep this master ball in focus, safe in the knowledge that the smaller ones circulating with it are all derivatives, examples or reduplications of the one defining conceit: Event.

Ordinarily an event is just something that happens but with an Event something is realized in a way that is extraordinary. Rust Cohle in True Detective is far from being an ordinary police officer because of how he actualizes and fully realizes, in a Platonic way, the Idea of the detective.  For Plato, everyday empirical reality is a pale shadow of the bright and substantial reality of Ideas, an originary and eternal order not to be confused with the fleeting world of appearances. DunmanusBay that I see outside a window, and every other bay that anyone ever sees, only participates in the Idea of Bay by virtue of being a surface copy. Žižek gives Platonism a twist by saying, yes, there are absolute Ideas but they realize themselves purely in appearance. Rust Cohle, in the pursuit of his investigation embodies what it authentically means to be a detective, he enacts the truth that belongs to the concept of detective and in him the Idea of detective shines in all its purity. The essence that he embodies is there, unhidden in the material reality of his behaviour. In Hegelese, the distinction between appearance and essence is inscribed within appearance – because appearance is all there is.

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Greek EU Elections: A Clear, Historical, But Still Not Decisive SYRIZA Victory

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The Greek EU elections have produced what is clearly a historical result, not only for Greece but for the European Union as well. SYRIZA won by a clear margin of almost 4% (3.8% to be more precise), scoring 26.5% against 22.7% of ND, the governing right party. Moreover, in the municipal and regional elections SYRIZA gained an impressive victory in Attica district with Rena Dourou, though it failed to elect Sakellaridis in Athens, who lost by a small margin to Kaminis.

SYRIZA’s victory is widely discussed by the European mass media, together with Marine Le Pen’s impressive first place in France, as the two most striking and weighty EU elections results. But while important on a general level, SYRIZA’s success is even more important for the European Left. It is the first time in recent history of Western Europe that a party of the Left gains first place since 1984, when the Italian Communist Party had achieved the same, just after Enrico Berlinguer’s death. However, SYRIZA’s victory comes at a much graver occasion, when the specter of fascism, racism and reaction hangs heavily over the continent. In this connection, it is crucial in showing that there is another road for Europe apart from the turn to the ultra Right, observed not only in France but in several other EU countries (Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, etc.) as well.

Yet, precisely because it is historical, SYRIZA’s victory must be analyzed in a serious way and not be idealized or overestimated. This is not only because it was accompanied by a new rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, but also because, if closely viewed, it points to some weaknesses of SYRIZA, without which it could have been even larger. Moreover, the Greek EU election results show some interesting tendencies with regard to the other parties as well, reflecting underground social trends which may be relevant for other EU countries too.

We will proceed therefore to a commentary of the Greek EU elections, hoping to highlight some of these aspects. But first of all let us give the results themselves (we also cite the May and June 2012 parliamentary elections results for the sake of comparison).

Party

%

Seats

May 2012

June 2012

SYRIZA

26.5

6

16.8

26.9

ND

22.7

5

18.9

29.7

Golden Dawn

9.4

3

7.0

6.9

Elia

8.0

2

13.2

12.3

Potami

6.6

2

-

-

KKE

6.0

2

8.5

4.5

ANEL

3.5

1

10.6

7.5

LAOS

2.7

2.9

1.6

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Left Surge in the Republic of Ireland’s 2014 Local and European Elections

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This article originally appeared in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal on May 27, 2014.

Over the past few days there has been a minor earthquake in Irish politics. Sinn Fein has made a breakthrough into mainstream southern Irish politics, almost doubling its vote to 17% nationally in municipal polls and achieving more than 20% in the European election, with MEP in each Euro electoral district in the South. This was alongside a surge of electoral success from those further to the left and independents.

Overall in the municipal elections in the South, Sinn Fein won 150 seats and the “further left” won around 40.

In the European election, Sinn Fein topped the Dublin poll with a first-time candidate; this was replicated in Ireland South with another first-time candidate winning a European seat for the party, as well as Matt Carthy winning the closely fought third seat in the Midlands Northwest constituency. The success of first-time candidates across Ireland has seen Sinn Fein arrive as a party, lessening its previous dependence on individual local candidates.

The bourgeois parties are attempting to console themselves with the belief that people vote differently on Euro and local elections compared to national elections. There is ample evidence, however, that Sinn Fein and the further left can convert much of their success into Dail (parliament) seats and wider political influence.

An interesting aspect to the Sinn Fein vote was that Gerry Adam’s recent arrest for the 1972 murder of Jean McConville seemed to have no effect on the outcome.

Nationally, the governing Fine Gael Party lost 8.4 per cent of its vote, leaving it at 24%, while the Labour Party, the junior coalition party, lost half its popular vote, to 7%. The Labour Party was decimated in the local councils across Ireland; the party has now no seats on Cork City Council (Ireland’s second-biggest city), and the party has been reduced to eight seats on Dublin City Council (a drop of 17% of the first preference votes). Nationally, Labour has been reduced to 50 seats, which compares poorly to Sinn Fein’s 157.

In Dublin, Sinn Fein won almost one quarter of first preference votes, an increase of 12%, making it the largest party on the council with 16 seats. This vote tallies with the 23% won by Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan in the European election, making the party by far the most popular in the city.

On the far left the Socialist Party and its electoral front, the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA), won a very impressive 14 council seats; what is particularly important here is that the block won three seats on the Limerick City Council and three seats on Cork City Council, making it a national rather than Dublin-centric alliance. The Socialist Party also won a parliamentary by-election in Dublin West, meaning that now two of the four seats in the constituency are Socialist Party. This also leaves the party well placed to keep a seat after party stalwart Joe Higgin’s retirement from parliamentary politics in 2016.

The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and its electoral form, the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA), also did very well, winning a total of 14 council seats. (The group also made a breakthrough in Northern Ireland winning a seat on Belfast City Council).

Outside of the main blocks, the United Left (a group made up of some independents from the now defunct United Left Alliance), won two council positions and the Workers’ Party won a seat on Cork City Council. The Tipperary Workers’ and Unemployed Group also won a seat. A number of independent left councillors were also elected across the country, some of whom will be key to the future development of left politics.

One sour note on the left was the loss of Paul Murphy’s (Socialist Party) Dublin European seat. In a particularly Machiavellian move, the SWP ran a candidate (Brid Smith) in the European election with the aim of building her profile for the 2016 national elections. This — as widely predicted — split the vote with Murphy taking 30,000 (around 8%) of the first preference vote and Smith taking 23,000. Smith argued that her standing made no difference to the final outcome, but this is a very dubious claim as the few percentage points that most likely would have gone to Murphy may have been enough to keep him ahead of the pack in the transfer race.

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Greek Elections Update: A Small Step for SYRIZA, a Medium Step for Golden Dawn

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The first round of the Greek municipal and regional elections is over. The results, while indecisive, present a number interesting aspects, which give some idea about what may be expected in the second round as well in the European Parliament elections next Sunday. We shall summarize and comment them here.

First of all, abstention was quite high, though not higher than that in the previous, 2010 municipal and regional elections. It ranged between 53% in the city of Athens (it was 57% in 2010) to 35% in smaller provincial cities. This fact shows that the crisis of the political system still continues, without however SYRIZA or any other party clearly benefiting from it.

There was an interesting incident with the exit polls at 7 p.m. Sunday afternoon showing that SYRIZA was heading for a spectacular win in the biggest municipality and district, respectively Athens and Attica. They forecasted a win for Dourou, SYRIZA’s candidate for the Attica district, with a margin of 6-7% against the center-left “independent” Sgouros, and also a small precedence of Sakellaridis, SYRIZA’s candidate in Athens, against the equally “independent” center-left Kaminis. This created euphoria in SYRIZA with its leader, Alexis Tsipras, making some enthusiastic comments. However, these forecasts, which would indeed mean not only an overturn of all polls, but also a triumph for SYRIZA in the decisive battles, failed to materialize. As results began to roll in, it became clear that Dourou’s margin was much lower, of the order of 2%, while Sakellaridis was second after Kaminis, even if marginally. Still, the final result was a very descent one for Dourou and Sakellaridis. Meanwhile, it turned out the neonazi Golden Dawn scored better than in forecasts, achieving two quite positive results: 16,12% of the well known Kasidiaris in Athens and 11,11% of Panagiotaros in Attica district. Both in Athens and Attica the ruling party’s ND candidates failed to make it to the second round.

Had the picture in the rest of Greece been the same, with regard to SYRIZA and ND, than even that result would be a clear victory for SYRIZA. However, this was not the case. In most districts and in the other big municipalities (Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Patra) SYRIZA’s candidates scored well below that, roughly at 15%. The governmental district candidates, on the other hand, apart from the disastrous Attica result (where the ND candidate, Koumoutsakos, took just 14.13%) averaged somewhere between 25-30% (or even more in some cases).

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