Politics

1

Ireland, Neutrality and Global Militarization

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In the past six weeks two proposals have been presented to Dail Eireann seeking to enshrine neutrality in the Irish Constitution. On both occasions the political parties that have between them formed all governments since the formation of the State voted against the proposals, thereby supporting the ongoing erosion of our neutrality as well as our continued participation in imperialist wars. This is despite the fact that a Red C poll carried out in September 2013 found that 78% of Irish people believed Ireland should have a policy of neutrality.

The first Bill was proposed by Sean Crowe of Sinn Fein on 6th March. In introducing it he said:

This Bill seeks the insertion of a reference to neutrality in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Essentially, it seeks to amend the Constitution to ensure Ireland could not, and would not, aid foreign powers in any way in preparation for a war, save with the assent of the Dáil. The Bill also affirms that Ireland is a neutral state and that the State would have a policy of non-membership of military alliances. Ultimately, it would give power to the people in that it would trigger a referendum on whether Irish citizens wanted Ireland to be a neutral country. The overwhelming evidence is that they do.”

Fine Gael opposition wasn’t surprising, as they have been trying to move the country closer to NATO membership for decades while hiding behind the notion of “military neutrality”.  And since Fianna Fail were the party that gave the use of Shannon Airport to the US military for the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and subsequently went on to argue that Ireland’s neutrality arrangements would continue under the Lisbon Treaty (while knowing that was impossible), their unwillingness to reinstate Irish neutrality wasn’t surprising either. But considering that the Labour Party voted in favour of the same Bill in 2003, their U-turn was particularly disappointing.

These three parties claim Ireland is already neutral on the basis that we are not part of any military alliance or a permanent military formation. This so-called military neutrality predates World War II and reflects the country’s long struggle for independence. In 1949 Ireland was invited to join NATO but it didn’t accept the invitation because it didn’t wish to join an alliance that also included Great Britain. Indeed a “triple lock” mechanism was devised to give effect to Ireland’s military neutrality policy; this means Ireland cannot send more than 12 military personnel overseas without government and parliamentary approval as well as UN Security Council approval for the mission.

The second Neutrality Bill was proposed by Mick Wallace TD on 27th March. In his speech he emphasised that in reality Ireland does not have a policy of neutrality anymore. He spoke of the need for an active neutrality which, as he said,

embodies a commitment to the legal definition of neutrality as described by Hague Convention V and to the following values and foreign policy goals – peace promotion, non-aggression, the primacy of the UN and the confinement of state military activity to UN peacekeeping, not being involved in wars, impartiality and maintaining Ireland’s independence, identity and independent foreign policy decision making. These differ from the concept of military neutrality that has allowed us to facilitate the movement of munitions and millions of armed troops who are engaged in invasion and occupation through Shannon Airport.”

Wallace pointed out that the Government says it promotes disarmament and international peace while at the same time allowing the US military to refuel at Shannon, bring arms through Irish territory, go on to a war situation, drop bombs on people and kill a million civilians in a 13-year period. He also pointed out the increasing significance of the very lucrative arms industry, and in particular, its role in the election of Barack Obama as US President.

The Wallace Bill sought to affirm Ireland’s neutrality through adherence to the provisions of the 1907 Hague Convention (V) Respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land. In defeating it, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour showed their support for global militarization despite the devastating destruction and loss of life caused by it. They have given effect to this support by facilitating US military expansion and intervention, and by dragging Ireland into an increasingly aggressive NATO-EU alliance.

The US doesn’t need any help implementing its militarized foreign policy but our political elite still feel the need to provide some. With better resourced naval and air forces than any other country, the Americans possess the capacity to act militarily anywhere in the world as they pursue their interests and affirm what their military planners call Full Spectrum Dominance. Of course US politicians on all sides are wary of being sucked into another large occupation, in part because it would kill a lot of Americans, but also because they saw from Iraq that it didn’t work. But that doesn’t stop them from conducting airstrikes, as they are currently doing in Iraq and Syria,  or providing aid and weapons to others including rebel forces (like they’ve also done in Syria) to help them engage in ongoing warfare on the ground.

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NCADnotabusiness

Education Versus Neo-Liberalism

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The ongoing events in the National College of Art and Design (N.C.A.D.) speak to a larger and slowly emerging crisis in the Irish educational system. Having endured increases in fees, an escalating dearth of studio space, and an ever more obstinate college bureaucracy and leadership, the students took it upon themselves to offer a list to demands to the college management. The college ignored the requests of the students, even going so far as to pull out of a meeting with the students where their concerns and objections would be voiced in person. The students responded by occupying a room in the college on Tuesday, March 24th, with further similar actions, including public lectures, having taken place in the last few days, and with more actions planned. A petition has also been circulated and signed by a number of Irish academics and graduate students, declaring solidarity with the students and the need for “another model of what higher education might be — one guided by the pursuit of learning rather than the pursuit of profit, driven by radical enquiry rather than bogus metrics”. Events in the N.C.A.D. are a microcosm of what the education system in Ireland is currently enduring. 

Although having to meet certain economic and financial requirements have always been part and parcel of the lives of academics and students, such requirements were not as threatening and all-encompassing as they are now. An obvious starting point for the current attack that the education system is under is the sinking of the economy due to financial malfeasance on the part of banks, civil servants, and governments. In fact, and to my knowledge something that has never been reported on, the education system, particularly third level, was always going to be one of the first areas that would come under attack in order to save the banking system. Reading the transcripts of the MacGill Summer School of 2009, in which over forty Irish intellectuals, government ministers, and elites gathered together to discuss what needed to be done to fix the economy, demonstrates this. Of particular note was the speech given by Dermot Gleeson, the then Chairman of Allied Irish Bank (A.I.B.), and who also happened to have a meeting with the Taoiseach and Minister of Finance on the evening before and night of the bank guarantee. Gleeson, blaming the public as much as the banks for the economy collapsing, pointed out that something needed to be done in order to increase government revenue. He laid out the corrective plan as follows: 

“We need to broaden the tax base by cutting out reliefs which are no longer justified; this is very much preferable to raising tax rates. Property taxes need to be less dependent on transactions and a property tax of some sort, needs to replace stamp duty, at least in part. There may be need for more user charges to fund high quality infrastructure in the form of road tolls, water charges and university fees. A carbon tax needs to balance the demands of climate change and competitiveness. In relation to expenditure we need more difficult decisions while maintaining investment in research and infrastructure. The cost of public services needs to be brought into line with costs in the rest of the economy. Excessive regulation and outdated work practices need to be eliminated. We need to reduce the long term inflation expectation back to the Euro average and we are well advanced on that project…. We need to implement public sector reform with real urgency” [emphasis added].

 University fees are far from the only thing we have to worry about, however. Third level has not only had fees reintroduced in all but name, as per Gleeson’s suggestion, but cutbacks have been made across the system as a whole. In spite of such cutbacks, student numbers have increased, putting the system under even more pressure. An obvious result of such pressure is that it makes universities and colleges more pliable. They simply need the funding and will do what they can to attract such funding.

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cantpaywontpay

Agree to a Left Slate: Response to PBPA ‘Alliance’ Proposal.

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This response is written by Brendan Young and Eddie Conlon

People Before Profit have released a public letter seeking endorsement from individuals and organisations for a ‘coherent left alliance’ which would include “[PBP], the Anti-Austerity Alliance and many independent socialists and community and trade union activists.” The focus of this is the coming general election. We are in favor of a slate of anti-austerity candidates standing in the election – based on the water charge campaign and clear opposition to coalition with pro-austerity parties. While we favor this, we are opposed to the method of the current PBPA proposal. But we are in favour of urgent discussion between the SP and SWP on a left slate and would urge the SP to stop stalling on the matter.

While we agree with much of the politics set out in the PBPA proposal, individuals and organizations are being asked to sign up to a proposal for a new left alliance – which is undefined. An alliance is, by definition, a formal organization involving groups and perhaps individuals. We are a couple of years after the breakup of the ULA and relations between groups and individuals on the left are probably worse now than before 2011. Proposing that a new alliance be set up has no basis in the current relations on the left.

There is now however, an improved basis for a left slate in that PBPA is now openly campaigning for non-payment of the water charge. Calling for a boycott is essential to winning this battle and is the basis for common political work. We think that PBPA should now energetically build the non-payment demo on April 18; and that PBPA should actively get involved in the Non-Payment Network or agree to a coordinated approach to non-payment activities. This does not involve splitting from R2W. The groups in North Kildare actively build R2W events – but have publicly argued for non-payment from the outset.

But to propose a new alliance by publicly soliciting support is to attempt to apply pressure so that those who do not agree with participating in a new alliance at this point in time are seen as divisive. The PBPA proposal, as it stands, is likely to fail. The last thing we need now is another failed initiative for left unity leading to hostile recrimination and the demoralisation of those who actively want to see the radical left uniting.

A more considered approach is needed which ensures that those left forces with significant social weight, and in the main that means PBP and the AAA, are committed in principle before the project is publicly launched. That’s not to argue that these are the only forces that should be involved. Indeed the success of any new project will be determined by the extent to which it engages with those who have become active and organised against the water charges.

The focus now should be on building a slate of candidates to run in the general election. A slate would be based upon rejection of coalition with the Troika parties and the championing of non-payment as essential points; repudiation of debt, taxes on wealth, a public works program and repeal of the 8th Amendment would also be needed. How to deal with the North should be parked for ongoing discussion, as there are known differences on it and the more urgent need is to put a slate in place for the elections in the South.

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1t

Economic Fundamentals and a Unified Irish Economy

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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).

 fig1_mb

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New Land League press conference yesterday. Photo courtesy of the Irish Times

Those Were the Days, Wha? Jerry Beades’ Old Ways Given a New [Land League] Gloss

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I would like to point out that one does not need a long memory to recall when Mr De Rossa and Mr Rabbitte were constantly using the media to get their socialist message across to the masses.

Jerry Beades 1996

Like a lot of people, I try and avoid reading media stories that have all the hallmarks of absurdity. As these stories grow, boosted by some invisible force they annoy me more because they prove difficult to ignore. You find that you have the gist of what is going on without even trying. Work colleagues discuss them in your presence, people waiting in supermarket queues rattle through the reported facts, and even sometimes, curiosity gets the better of you and in a bored moment you click a link to a seductive news headline and scan the article’s salacious content.

Then the deed is done. You’ve gone deeper than you ever indended. The mind recoils at the avoidance of facts contained in it and the framing of the story to justify the attention given to something that deserves none.

The example I am talking about is this Irish Times story about the ‘repossession‘ and Jerry Beades role in it.

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Euro Finance Ministers Michael Noonan and Yanis Varoufakis

Government Misleading Europe about Austerity and Ireland’s Debt Crisis

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The government is misleading Europe about the reality of austerity and the debt crisis in Ireland so as to avoid admitting that they took the wrong approach with austerity and their failure to get a meaningful debt deal. The truth is austerity is based on flawed economics and it hasn’t worked in either Ireland, Greece or for Europe and Ireland’s debt is unsustainable.

Austerity has devastated Irish society. For most people recovery is just a word being spoken by politicians and the media. The Central Bank and ESRI have highlighted that the much lauded growth figures do not reflect the true health of the Irish domestic economy because they are artificially inflated by multinational and financial activities that do not take place here.

Austerity has resulted in 1.4 million people, almost 31% of the population, suffering from deprivation – which is up from 14% in 2008 and 37% of children suffer deprivation (up from 18% in 2008). The legacy crises are multiple – from mortgage arrears, rent, homelessness, childcare, hospitals, and community services. Unemployment figures are largely reduced because of emigration and the use of unpaid jobs schemes. Domestic demand remains static and working class communities, small towns and rural areas are devastated. Austerity has not worked for the low income and working people of Ireland. At a European level the Euro area is mired in stagnant growth of 0.8%, mass unemployment of 11%, and a debt-to GDP ratio that that has risen from 72% in 2009 to 92% today.

The calculations of economists Reinhart and Rogoff that austerity was required to reduce government debt levels below 90% in order to return to growth was also found to be incorrect. The IMF has also admitted that it underestimated the negative impact of austerity’s higher taxes and spending cuts on economic growth and unemployment.

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4

Leave it out!  Left in and left out in Irish Syrizian thinking

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The imminent truncation of the Labour Party and the rise of Sinn Féin would probably have tabled it anyway. But the reaction to Syriza’s election in Greece has changed the topography of the Irish left unity discussion (such as it is) in one long political week.  Not necessarily for the better. Sinn Féin and then SIPTU President Jack O’Connor , and others,  have shifted the frame from a radical left alliance to one effectively taking in Sinn Féin and even Labour.

These two propositions are very different animals altogether. Furthermore, in a burst of ‘yeah, let’s do it too’ élan, people are now talking about going for a left government. The strewn constellation of the radical left will likely be split on the wider of the projects, even if it gets no further than a talking point. Including even a shrunken Labour is almost a no-no for the radical left. Including Sinn Féin is highly problematical to say the least. (Some categorise them outside the left; the anti water charge campaign left their left flank exposed, and may still do; two recent developments raised leftist eyebrows that may not have been raised before: the cutback provisions of the Stormont House Agreement and their failure to support Clare Daly’s December Bill to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion).

But here is another problem. Sinn Féin’s stature as a left party does not depend on how they are viewed by one or other far left party, but on how they are viewed by the electorate (voting workers, blue and white collared). It will be very difficult to carry an argument for a united left alternative while simultaneously arguing that it should exclude Sinn Féin (and arguing for a similar exclusion with those who would want to add Labour too).

Fortunately there is an old shepherd’s crook on the Irish left for separating the sheep from the goats: coalition with conservative parties (effectively Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael). If this condition is raised by the radical left it requires Sinn Féin (and Labour) to qualify their political positioning, and rescues the radical left from the accusation of refusing to unite for a ‘left alternative’ offered (with various degrees of sincerity) to the people. So, there is a simple question for Sinn Féin, Jack O’Connor and others. Would a vote for Sinn Féin or Labour be guaranteed as a vote for the left? Or could it end up as a vote for another coalition led by, or with a large bloc from, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael? How do you stand – now – on such a coalition? Of course there are crucial policy and programmatic matters to be considered. But this initial question would indicate whether there really is any game on at all.

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alphatoomega

From Alpha to Omega Podcast #059: Test Those Theories

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This week I am delighted to welcome to the show Jose A Tapia Granados, associate Professor in the Department of History and Politics in Drexel University. Originally trained as a medical doctor, Jose now specialises in the links between fluctuations in the economy and health conditions. He also is interested in purely economic issues, and is the co-author of the book ‘La Gran Recesión y el capitalismo del siglo XXI’ or ‘The Great Recession and capitalism of the XXI century’ in english. The interview is based upon a really fascinating paper of his I read recently called, ‘Does investment call the tune? Empirical evidence and endogenous theories of the business cycle’. In this paper, Jose looks at the different theories of crisis, in particular those of Keynes and Marx, and sees how they stand up when you test them against the historical empirical data. Very interesting stuff indeed.

Here is the podcast’s new YouTube channel, with all the episodes uploaded:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCD63zXEPxFpl9Y0Vh8abp4A

You can find the paper here:
http://sitemaker.umich.edu/tapia_granados/files/does_investment_call_the_tune_may_2012__forthcoming_rpe_.pdf

You can find his book here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/GRAN-RECESION-CAPITALISMO-DEL-SIGLO/dp/8483196115

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brollyT

When Joe Brolly Met Georg Lukács

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Joe Brolly wrote an interesting article on the commodification of sport in this week’s issue of Gaelic Life. It’s a topic that crops up frequently as a critique of capitalist culture, from the Against Modern Football movement to combat the pricing of working-class fans out of the game, to controversies over the proliferation of performing-enhancing drugs in elite sport, to debates over whether college athletes should unionise in the United States.

Brolly, a former Derry footballer turned RTÉ pundit, explores it in the context of the amateur GAA and specifically men’s gaelic football. His thesis is that the increasing commercialism of the GAA leadership is driving the sport towards professionalism, instilling a will to win that is sapping the love of the game from the players and producing private bodies which are enriching the few at the expense of the many.

What he’s describing is similar to a process philosopher Georg Lukács called “reification”. This is where human relations or properties are transformed into human-produced things, given a value independently of and surpassing people themselves, and eventually coming to govern our lives. This distorts human relations, forcing us to interact with each other in terms of things rather than as people ourselves, producing a commodity fetishism. The pre-eminence of economic relationships over social relationships also causes a generalised condition of alienation, where we feel divorced from the work we do, the parts of life we enjoy, each other and even ourselves.

Interestingly, Brolly’s analysis reminds us that these processes do not happen in isolation or simply as economics. They are effected by the latent culture. So, in the GAA, commodification is buttressed by existing ideology like the “doctrine of club and county” and “strong community expectation” which produce a “loyalty” to the organisation and make deviating from its line difficult.

Ideology plays an important part in the GAA, which as well as being one of the largest amateur sporting organisations in the world has also, as an institution, often been on the side of conservative forces in Irish politics. In certain respects sport has a similar social function to religion, bonding communities, giving them rituals to share and establishing a sense of tradition – even if anyone who has attended Catholic mass would tell you sport’s entertainment value is a good deal higher. But any organisation of that kind that lasts under capitalism will have the GAA’s contradictions – partly playing a role in reproducing the system, partly providing ordinary people relief from its hardships.

And so on the one hand you have an organisation of over a million members, operating on a communitarian ethos, rooted in local communities, with a genuine sense of ownership for the grassroots, and at the same time its assets are over €2.5billion, many fans are priced out of its biggest games, its former leader sits in the European Parliament with Fine Gael and its most notable moment in 2014 was when it tried to force through a series of multi-million dollar concerts against the wishes of a working-class urban community.

Brolly’s description of the merits of the GAA, an organisation that teaches us “the joys of community and the great satisfaction that comes from collaboration and hard work”, echoes what Liverpool greats said about their sport in the past.Bill Shankly said that football was about “everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards”. John Barnes said that “for 90 minutes, regardless of whether you are Lionel Messi or the substitute right-back for Argentina, you are all working to the same end.” Both compared this ethic explicitly to socialism.

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ula

Time for the Left to Act Together

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Popular desire for political change has become a feature of the current campaign against the water charge. This charge is the last straw in a litany of bank-bailout  impositions; and many want an entirely different set of socio-political priorities. Recent months have also shown the power of the mass movement to bring change. The movement now needs to drive home the advantage by making the charge unworkable through mass non-payment and continued mobilization. But this in itself is not enough to create the radical political alternative that would implement the significant change that many in the campaign, and across society, desire.

Such change would require a new left party – committed to a socialist alternative. The imperative for socialism has never been greater given the disastrous impact of the financial crash on working people and impending environmental meltdown due to the failure of the market system to curb fossil fuelled growth.

Is a new left party on the political horizon at present? Clearly not. The closest recent approximation to the start of such a party was the United Left Alliance. While we acknowledge its failure, we think there are some lessons from the ULA experience that can help us today.

At the time when ULA TDs were elected there was little mass challenge to the government: dissatisfaction was expressed through the election and there was no mass movement behind the new political formation. So there was no big growth in the ULA.

But other factors also influenced the difficulties in the ULA. There was insufficient trust between the leaderships of the two main political groups; there was unease at working together in a common organization, while having differences. There was also a failure to prioritise the ULA and build it as a functioning organisation.

But the political conditions for such a formation have changed for the better: there now exists a powerful mass movement against the water charge and other austerity measures – albeit quite fragmented. It has created the conditions for a political alternative to the Troika parties and to Sinn Fein, which is prepared to go into coalition with the Troika parties – with the inevitable political accommodations that preserve inequality such as we have seen Labour and the Greens implement.

Based on the experience of the ULA, we think that any new left formation cannot be based solely on an amalgamation of the current small parties but would have to draw in activists who have mobilised in recent months and who want real change. Relations between these parties are not great at present: witness the electoral competition in the European elections and Dublin South West. But a commitment to develop common work against the water charges and a common electoral project involving many new activists could generate positive working relations and create the momentum and trust required for the construction of a new, anti-austerity political formation after the election.

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paristhumb

Discussing Charlie Hebdo

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It is possible to mourn human loss without embracing everything those humans did.

It is possible to mourn human loss while being openly disturbed that certain deaths are never mourned, and the reasons for that.

It should be possible to discuss the political consequences of an act without having to dissociate that discussion from the politics of the act itself.

It is possible to speculate as to motivation, causality, experience, relations and histories without condoning, or being accused of condoning, an act.

It is possible to defend a right and also to enact it in criticizing the way in which that right is enacted, and reductively understood.

It is possible to oppose an assault on free speech, while also insisting on the hypocrisies, inequalities and elisions that undermine the idea that free speech is a cornerstone of ‘the West’.

It is possible to value politically the freedoms you have without understanding them as deriving from exclusively Western ideals, or as evidence of civilizational superiority.

It is possible to understand the political value of ‘the right to offend’, while opposing the political deadness of the contemporary duty to offend.

It is possible to defend a universal right to free expression, while noting the strange contemporary relativism that has little interest in the content, context and consequences of what is expressed.

It is possible to recognize the intentionality of an expression without accepting that this defines its meaning or significance.

It is possible to insist on the importance of context without assuming that there is but one context.

It should be possible to recognize the importance of context without writing dissenting voices and evident antagonisms out of that context.

It is possible to oppose oppressive institutional and political uses of religion while not contributing to the ways in which presumptive religious identities are racialized.

It is possible to be critical of positions derived from faith while not succumbing to the kind of identity politics that depends on treating faith as a failure of the mind.

It is possible to grasp that the lack of secularism, in one context, underpins oppression, and that a surplus of secularism, in another, extends it.

It is possible to approach racism as a political effect and not as an individual moral failing.

It is possible to critique racism without the reductive certainty of categorising racists and antiracists.

It is possible to understand that political actors can act against particular forms of racism while simultaneously extending others.

It is possible to affirm that ‘Islam is not a race’, while still contributing to anti-Muslim racism.

It is possible to hold onto the diversity of Muslim populations while recognizing the ways they are collectively racialized as Muslims.

It is possible to grasp that effects matter more than intentions, and thus that what is presented as antiracist may be received as having racializing consequences.

It is possible to wear your values on your sleeve, if you wish, and still reject monocausal explanations.

It is possible to advance a grinding form of communitarianism while criticizing the appeal to community.

It is possible to insist on the living legacies of colonialism and the hierarchies of the racist state, while recognizing that this does not determine the political agency of  ‘extremists’.

It is possible to oppose both antisemitism and anti-Muslim racism, and not to present them relationally as a zero-sum game.

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laugh

From Alpha to Omega Podcast: #058 Radical Laughs

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This week I am delighted to welcome Sean Michael Wilson to the show. Sean Michael Wilson is Scottish comic book writer, who now lives and works in Japan. In the last couple of years, Sean Michael has released a couple of explicitly political graphic novels:

‘Parecomic: The Story of Michael Albert and Participatory Economics’

‘Fight the Power! A Visual History of Protests Among the English Speaking Peoples’

He has also recently wrote a post for the Forbidden Planet Blog on how an anarchy-based economic system would benefit the creation of comics, and all art in general. We discuss the creative process of the comic-book writer, the emergence of the adult comic-book genre, the Walking Dead and it’s Hobbesian view of the world, why Hollywood does not do anarchy, progressive politics in comics, socialism and the world of art, and the need for revolutionary jokes.

You may also be interested in a promising new podcast that has just been launched by Amogh Sadu and C. Derrick Varn called ‘Symptomatic Redness’. It features a really good interview Amogh did with me earlier in the autumn, where I give my opinions on all things economic and political, and slander all my previous guests. You can listen to the interview here.

Here is where you can get your hands on Sean Michael’s Work:

Here is Sean Michael’s blog:

You can find Sean Michael’s Forbidden Planet blog post here.

The music on this show was:

‘The Order of the Pharaonic Jesters’ by Sun Ra and his Arkestra
‘Turning Japanese’ by the Vapors
‘wrapping the green flag around’ by The Dubliners
‘Such A Waste Of Mind’ by Faron Young
‘Bring Me Sunshine’ by Morecambe and Wise

You can find the Sligo Anarchist here.

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gram_letter

Antonio Gramsci: A New Year’s Letter

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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.

Dearest Tania,

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.

In those days the elementary schools would assign, at this time of year, as a theme for composition, the question: ‘What will you do with your life?’

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.

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3t

Working Hard to Maintain the Status Quo

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In an article in last Saturday’s Irish Times entitled ‘The water charges fiasco: a lesson in how not to do things’, Kathy Sheridan describes the saga as “an accessible, textbook study of how an unaccountable Government and Civil Service can unite to patronise and insult us.”  Drawing on the views of Eddie Molly, she goes on to identify a number of reasons for public anger at the charges: rushed legislation, perceived cronyism in terms of board and management appointments, and, under a deal with the trade unions, the guaranteeing of workers’ jobs at Irish Water. I have to confess that at last week’s mass demonstration against the charges I did not see a single banner bemoaning the fact that workers were being allowed keep their jobs, but it was a very big turnout so maybe I missed one.  

However, many banners highlighted other issues concerning Irish Water, including the regressive nature of the charges and the fear that a public asset might be privatised.  The vast majority of people on the march were not attacking a claimed bogeyman nexus of civil servants and trade unions.  Many were, however, attacking a perceived cosy relationship between decision-makers and corporate interests, specifically those of Denis O’Brien.  The story of how an O’Brien-owned company won contracts to install water meters despite not being registered as a company at the time, and had a large chunk of debts owed to the former Anglo Irish Bank (i.e., the public) written off, need not be rehearsed again here, but it was common currency on both posters and in speeches at the demonstration. Kathy Sheridan’s elision of corporate power’s baleful influence over governmental decision making serves a reactionary agenda that places Ireland’s governance problems at the door of public sector workers and trade unions.

On the day of the water demonstration itself, Sheridan was scathing about the fact that the protestors had, she claimed, “hijacked” World Human Rights Day and foregrounded such relatively petty concerns above more pressing rights violations such as those endured by the people of Gaza.  Well, maybe there is something in that, though I saw lots of people at the water demonstration who I also see regularly at small Gaza protests (where I am pretty sure I have never spotted Kathy Sheridan). Let us take one example of what is a very urgent human rights concern in Ireland right now – the scandal of Direct Provision for asylum seekers.

Sheridan interviewed the Minister responsible for Direct Provision in November in an article entitled ‘Minister with a mission to deliver’ and in which Frances Fitzgerald is described as “[p]ractical, tireless, sharp and fast-moving”.  It was the sort of article that makes one wonder why the Minister bothers with a PR officer when she has the services of Ms Sheridan available to her.  In fairness, Minister Fitzgerald is quoted sympathetically as saying that “I think it’s quite tough on families”, but she is referring to the problems faced by the families of politicians, not asylum-seeking families forced to live for years in inadequate and  often abusive conditions.

Am I being unfair in singling out Kathy Sheridan?  Perhaps, but she exemplifies many of the traits of Ireland’s mainstream journalists.  She professes horror at the state of governance in Ireland but ignores the corporate constituencies that have been at the heart of bad government and the current economic crisis.  She laments the lack of protest in Ireland and then maligns and distorts the views of those who have the courage to come out on the streets. She claims to be concerned for human rights but, given the opportunity to ask a minister challenging questions about human rights abuses, she opts instead for servile flattery. The status quo is safe in such hands.

 

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