Politics

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Strengthen Ties with the People and Maneuver Cleverly: The Tasks of the Greek Radical Left

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The last few weeks have seen a number of crushing developments in Greece. Especially the Greek referendum and the signing of a new memorandum by the SYRIZA government are historical events which will strongly influence not only the future of the Greek but of the European Left as well. They will also influence the further course of the EU and the Eurozone, which came on the verge of dissolution and showed by the way it dealt with the crisis its true class nature.

SYRIZA’s signing of a new memorandum cannot be called otherwise but a heavy, unacceptable compromise and a capitulation. This is all the more true, since the Greek people, with its decisive “No” had expressed a massive support for a break with the memorandum policies in the Greek referendum just a week ago. The SYRIZA leadership, however, and Alexis Tsipras personally, chose to come in line with the spokesmen of “Yes”, the bankrupt bourgeois Greek political forces that supported the previous memoranda and the corrupt Greek and European elites.

This choice of the SYRIZA leadership does not in the least diminish the importance of the daring “No” raised by the Greek people in the referendum. This was a “No” not only to the EU agreement proposals, but the memorandum and austerity policies as a whole. The Greek people stood up against unbearable pressures by the Greek mass media, the parties of the ruling class and the EU leaders and showed, by their stance and vote, that they are ready and willing to support another road and overthrow the austerity policies. This result, unexpected even to the most optimistic commentators of the Left, is a proof of the possibility and a call for resistance of the European peoples, as the only force capable of producing radical change.

The decision of the SYRIZA leadership to compromise at all cost with the lenders must be criticized by all Left activists and Marxists in particular. However, it is essential to provide a serious criticism, which points exactly and explains its mistakes.

A number of ultra-Left forces here in Greece, and perhaps elsewhere too, respond to SYRIZA’s compromise by shouting “betrayal”, arguing it proves the bankruptcy of reformist tactics and the fact that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is the only road. However, this kind of criticism misses the fact that the situation in January, when the SYRIZA-ANEL government was formed, was not revolutionary, and it is neither so now. In such a situation it is necessary to maneuver and arguing that focusing on maneuvers and reforms leads to a deadlock, is the wrong way to argue. While this is true on the long run, it does not rule out the necessity to deal seriously with the phases of the struggle when maneuvering predominates and this cannot be done by calling for the immediate application of revolutionary tactics.

In fact, the SYRIZA leadership must be criticized not for maneuvering in general, but for maneuvering badly. It must be criticized for the vacillations and lack of planning it showed during this phase of maneuvers, leading it to a position where it was forced to accept an intolerable compromise. In particular the following points should be noted:

  • SYRIZA lost too much time in meaningless negotiations for months. The dragging on of these negotiations was just a means for the ruling circles of the EU to drive the Greek economy to the present financial suffocation, after exhausting its reserves. The supposed progresses during these negotiations, like the Greek 47 pages proposal, were all sham, a plot intended by the German ruling circles to bring about the present situation.
  • The election of Prokopis Pavlopoulos as President of the Greek Democracy was also an unnecessary concession. It indicated SYRIZA’s leadership readiness for further moves to the Right, when the situation called for cautious moves to the Left.
  • The payment of roughly €8 billion in February-June from the Greek reserves to the EMF was also a step leading to direct capitulation. If the SYRIZA government wanted to base itself on the people, it should have led things to a referendum in February or March, when it had still the means to resist for some time the economic sabotage from the EU. Obviously, if the Greek government had some billions € in reserves this might not suffice to support a break with the EU, but it could help endure for some months a situation with closed banks, etc, and this would put the EU ruling elites under pressure, as the consequences of the protracted instability would begin to be strongly felt by their economies too.
  • Apart from these Right mistakes, the SYRIZA leadership made, in our opinion, a “Left” mistake when it rejected the conciliatory proposal made by Merkel just before the decision for the referendum. This proposal for an extension of the present memorandum for 5 months would have provided the Greek state €15.5 billion for this five month period. It would have been a harsh compromise, including an “evaluation” by the “institutions”. However it would last for only 5 months leaving further options open, while not including the devastating, enslaving conditions of the new memorandum, like the sell-off of public property. During that time the Greek government would build up some monetary reserves from various sources (EU inputs, tourism, taxation etc). Moreover, the end of this five month period would coincide with the parliamentary elections in Spain. A Greek referendum at that time, together with a possible victory of the Left forces in Spain (especially if they are able to unite), would have given a strong thrust to popular movements across Europe.

All this comes to show that, despite all negative aspects, this would have been an acceptable compromise. The reason the SYRIZA leadership failed to take advantage of that opportunity is its fear of the people, together with its illusions about the real intentions of the EU leading circles. As a result it never considered seriously the prospect of a rupture at a suitable moment and of preparing the people for it, but chose to reach a “final” agreement at all costs, falsely hoping it would not be so harsh.

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The defeat of Syriza and Its Implications for the Irish Left

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The EU has enforced a humiliating surrender on Greece.  The Syriza government that was elected to end austerity has been forced to implement it.  The meaning of Wolfgang Schauble, the German Finance Minister’s infamous phrase ‘we can’t possibly allow an election to change anything’ is now clear.

The scale of the brutality is astounding.  To take just one example:  there will be a ‘significantly scaled up privatisation programme’ to generate a fund of €50 billion. This fund will then be effectively controlled by the EU to ensure that bank debt and bondholders are paid off.  Up to now €7 billion worth of privatisation has been pushed through by other governments in Greece.

The Irish government helped humiliate the Greeks. The former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has stated that Ireland – along with Spain and Portugal – were among his ‘energetic enemies’. He explained why,

the “greatest nightmare” of those with large debts – the governments of countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland – “was our success”. Were we to succeed in negotiating a better deal, that would obliterate them politically: they would have to answer to their own people why they didn’t negotiate like we were doing.

This attitude became public when the Labour Minister, Alex White, welcomed the ‘fair’ deal. The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, went further and claimed that, under the deal Greece, would ‘thrive and prosper’

The Irish government tried to invoke an undertone of nationalist rhetoric to bolster its position. ‘The Greeks are looking for more money from us – they should take their medicine like we did’ was the message. But the issue cannot be framed in such terms because the original €7.5 billion that the Greek government requested as a loan was never going to be used to fund public services. It was earmarked to repay previous loans because Greece had been put on a treadmill of austerity from which it could escape.

In 2012 the Troika intervened in Greece to safeguard wealthy private creditors. In return for a haircut on their loans, these investors got EU institutions and the IMF to fund a Greek loan that guaranteed them re-payments. These ‘loans’ triggered further austerity and created the latest crisis.

So the issue was never about Greek people begging from others in Europe. It was about a devious mechanism to make the Greek people pay for debts to wealthy bondholders. Which is precisely what happened the people of Ireland.

The Irish government’s strategy of using ‘quiet diplomacy’ to get  the Irish debt reduced has proved an abject failure. But by backing Germany’s brutal approach, it has copper-fastened debt re-payment from Ireland until 2053.

WHY DID THE  EU TORTURE GREECE?

Stathis Kouvalakis, a member of Syriza, has described the outcome as ‘the most resounding defeat of any leftwing government in Europe after the war’. It certainly represents a turning point in leftwing politics.

Ever since the crash of 2008, there has been an increasing call among activists to forget ‘old’ debates about reform or revolution. Yet the betrayal of Syriza re-opens this very question. To understand the implications for future socialist strategy, it is necessary to analyize the motivations of both the EU elite and the political strategy of Syriza.

For Paul Krugman, the actions of the EU in humiliating Greece are an act of ‘madness’. The assumption that the EU acted irrationally also finds an echo in Varoufakis’ efforts ‘to save capitalism from itself’. He had aimed  to put ‘forward an analysis of the current state of play that non-Marxist, well meaning Europeans who have been lured by the sirens of neoliberalism, find insightful’. In other words, to present a rational case for why austerity policies would harm capitalism. More generally, Syriza’s strategy was premised on the fact that it could persuade its European ‘partners’ to move away from austerity.

Once they came into government, Syriza found that their words literally fell on deaf ears. Here is Varoufakis’s description of what occurred when he spoke to eurozone finance ministers

‘there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on, to make sure it’s logically coherent, and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply.”

There were a number of reasons why it was not possible to even get them to listen.

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palfestireland

Progressive Film Club: Palfest & “5 Broken Cameras”

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Progressive Film Club

Oscar-nominated “5 Broken Cameras” amongst the attractions in upcoming Palfest.

We finished our screenings for summer last Saturday and plan to resume in September or October. We thank you for your great support for our events.

In the meantime we will try to keep you posted on any upcoming films that might be of interest such as these that are being screened during the upcoming Palfest (full details from site).

SMALL HANDS IN HANDCUFFS

Wed. 8th July 2pm
The Pearse Centre
Admission Free, donations welcome

In October 2013, Anrai Carroll, a 16 yr old Transition year student travelled to the West Bank to make a film about child arrests in Palestine. Posing as tourists, Anrai and his mum, activist Brenda Carroll flew to Israel and travelled on to the West Bank where Anrai finally met Mahmoud, a boy his own age who was arrested at 14 and imprisoned for almost a year and a half, also Rasim, 18, who lives in fear of a knock on the door which could mean his arrest.

Anrai’s film shows not just the physical journey but the painfully emotional and sometimes scary transition from naive xbox player to a wiser and stronger young man. What started as a simple idea in Powerscourt Lawns, Waterford has grown into a global symbol of solidarity.

FLYING PAPER

Thurs. 9th July 4pm
The Pearse Centre, Dublin
Admission Free, donations welcome

Flying Paper tells the uplifting story of resilient Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip on a quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most kites ever flown. This feature-length documentary film is directed by Nitin Sawhney and Roger Hill and co-produced with a team of young filmmakers in Gaza.

FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS

Fri. 10th July 4pm
The Pearse Centre, Dublin
Admission Free, donations welcome

A screening of Emad Burnat’s Oscar-nominated Documentary, – an extraordinary work of both cinematic and political activism, 5 Broken Cameras is a deeply personal, first-hand account of non-violent resistance in Bil’in, a West Bank village threatened by encroaching Israeli settlements. Shot almost entirely by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who bought his first camera in 2005 to record the birth of his youngest son, the footage was later given to Israeli co-director Guy Davidi to edit. Structured around the violent destruction of each one of Burnat’s cameras, the filmmakers’ collaboration follows one family’s evolution over five years of village turmoil. Burnat watches from behind the lens as olive trees are bulldozed, protests intensify, and lives are lost. “I feel like the camera protects me,” he says, “but it’s an illusion.”

“It presents with overwhelming power a case of injustice on a massive scale, and gives us a direct experience of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of oppression and dispossession, administered by the unyielding, stony-faced representatives of those convinced of their own righteousness.” – Philip French, The Guardian.

OPEN BETHLEHEM

Sat. 11th July 4pm
The Pearse Centre
Admission Free, donations welcome

Armed with her camera and a dilapidated family car that keeps breaking down, filmmaker Leila Sansour plans to make an epic film about a legendary town in crisis but just few months into filming her life and the film take an unexpected turn when cousin Carol, Leila’s last relative in town, persuades her to stay in Bethlehem, her hometown she had left years before, to start a campaign to save the city.

As the pair launch OPEN BETHLEHEM, Leila finds herself trapped behind a wall in the very place she so much wanted to leave. The face of Bethlehem is changing rapidly with potentially detrimental consequences. Reports predict that if trends continue the Christian community of Bethlehem, a city that provides a model for a multi faith Middle East, may be unsustainable within one generation. Leila’s plan to stay a year stretches to seven.

OPEN BETHLEHEM is a story of a homecoming to the world’s most famous little town. The film spans seven momentous years in the life of Bethlehem, revealing a city of astonishing beauty and political strife, under occupation. The film draws from 700 hours of original footage and some rare archive material. In fact the making of this film has led to the creation of the largest visual archive of Bethlehem in the world and plans are currently being discussed with University College London (UCL) to turn the collection into a museum.

Website ;- http://www.palfestireland.net/

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peoplesnews

Latest Peoples News No. 127 is Out Now

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The latest issue of People’s News is out now. 

CONTENTS – Peoples News No 127

Page 1. Solution to Greek crisis impossible within the euro zone
Page 2. The promoting of EU identity – a little-known slush fund
Page 3. It could be all about regime change
Page 5. Powerful vested interests try to push ahead despite setback
Page 6. A new publication on TTIP
Page 6. Greece applies to participate in BRICS
Page 6. TTIP and “common values”
Page 9.  Time to return to human scale
Page 10. The elephant in the room
Page 11. The end of the euro is nigh?
Page 13. A Macedonian “colour revolution”

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RD

Rachel Dolezal – Signifying Monkey

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There is something compelling and disturbing about the case of Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who successfully passed at being black – so successfully that she headed up the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, before her parents outed her as white.

Let’s ignore the personal aspects of the story. The inevitable made-for-TV movie will cover this – the admittedly fascinating question of why did she do it? Even more compelling is the public reaction to her trickery. If Dolezal’s successful passing as black offers little more than a textbook truism that race is a social construct, the outrage and confusion that followed, once her trickery was uncovered says far more about the nature of racial politics.

The first thing to note is how messed up this form of politics is. A lot of black commentators are angry because, by claiming blackness, Rachel Dolezal took away speakerhood positions from black people. This is true and this is depressing. I’m reminded of my research a few years ago into US Jewish supporters of Palestine.  I once interviewed the head of a local Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) chapter – a thoughtful and very funny woman. About twenty minutes into the interview – I started asking her about her Jewish background. She laughed and told me she wasn’t Jewish, why did I think she was?

That floored me and I asked her awkwardly, well… why are you in a group like Jewish Voice for Peace then? Her reply was to tell me to be realistic, that she’d be taken much more seriously if she spoke – not as a Jew (which she never pretended she was) but as someone representing Jews. I couldn’t deny that reality. In the US, perhaps more than elsewhere, the claim to ethnic representativeness bolsters one’s claims, whatever these claims may be. Small wonder that other people than Rachel Dolezal ground their positions on this claim. Small wonder too that these people have reacted so angrily to her undermining their credibility to speak from ethnic personhood.

There is something fundamentally wrong about a form of conversation where your ability to speak – or rather, to be heard – is to a large extent predicated on your ethnic origin. I’m not slagging off the NAACP or black activists for this – they didn’t create this system and are merely trying to manoeuvre their way through it. This is known as strategic essentialism – the way that oppressed groups essentialise their identity for strategic reasons – in order to coalesce as a group and to provide a platform from which to fight these oppressions. This type of identity politics may well be the least bad option when fighting racial discrimination. But the question arises if some of the anger directed against Dolezal is because unwittingly, she exposed the pretences underpinning this strategic essentialism – the nakedness of this particular emperor.

For say what you like about Rachel Dolezal, but she has unsettled the easy racial categories. It’s disheartening to see article after article snarkily praising her for her hair, as if that was it. As if, once we can isolate and fix the feature that allowed her to be black – it was her hair – then the problem is solved and we can re-erect the racial barriers that keep us secure, if not safe. The problem is that it was no one feature, not her hair, nor her skin colour, nor her political claims which allowed her to be black. It was that she performed being black as well as any other black person. Recall, she wasn’t found out by her fellow black activists. If her mom hadn’t told on her, she could still be black today.

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The Anti-Drug Movement in Dublin

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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?

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Opportunities, Polls and the Left

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A response to Ronan Burtenshaw and Eoin O’Broin, by Paul Murphy,  Anti-Austerity Alliance TD and member of Socialist Party

Last Sunday’s Red C poll, which saw a rise in support for the government parties and a decline of Independents/Others has provoked a discussion about the prospects for the left. Independent socialist, Ronan Burtenshaw, wrote an article on The Village website, entitled “Left may have squandered opportunity”. Eoin O’Broin, a leading member of Sinn Fein and a Councillor, then responded on his blog.

The discussion provoked by the opinion poll findings and these responses is useful. Debate between different analyses and programmes is a necessary and unavoidable part of working towards building a significant new left movement. This response is written to contribute to that debate in the hope that it will help to clarify the position of different trends within the left and the movement against the water charges.

Ronan’s piece is provocative and engaging, but I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that it is a classic example of confirmation bias. His essential conclusion from an analysis of the movements of the polls over the past couple of years is this:

“Clearly people in Ireland experimented with mass mobilisations against austerity, rejected the government’s line on water charges and the economy more generally, and even went so far as to express majority support for forces other than Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour for the first time in history.

“But my conclusion, given this data, is that they have found the alternatives unconvincing. As a proportion of the population, few new supporters have been won over to a project for political change.”

His conclusion, that the fall in opinion polls is because people looked at the alternatives and found them to be unconvincing, simply does not flow from the data, or his preceding analysis. Instead, I would contend that the opinion polls worsened primarily because of the decline of major mobilisations as well as because the low point for the government wasn’t fully capitalised on by a sufficiently authoritative force to consolidate the indicated trends.

I think his analysis contains two essential flaws.

Marriage Equality Referendum

The first is that he under-estimates the temporary impact of the marriage equality referendum result on support for Fine Gael and Labour. In fact, he makes no mention of it whatsoever, which is strange given that was a major political event that occurred just in advance of the poll being carried out.

It was always likely that a referendum victory, which enabled Labour in particular to wrap itself in a rainbow flag and present itself as socially progressive, was likely to result in an increase in the polls. I think much of that can be reversed as people are reminded by the real role of the Labour Party. Within days, for example, of the referendum result, but not accounted for in the Red C poll, they moved to sell-off the remaining state share in Aer Lingus, and politics was embroiled in another Denis O’Brien-related controversy as he tried to silence the Dail itself.

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Principles for a Left Alternative

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Principles for a left alternative. May-June 2015

The following statement, as a contribution to the debate at the conference organised by the R2W unions on June 13, has been agreed between the Anti-Austerity Alliance, the People Before Profit Alliance and some independent left-wing activists including Cllr Brendan Young.

The Mayday Conference initiated by the Right2Water Trade Unions was designed to bring union members, community groups and political representatives into dialogue about an alternative to the political and economic establishment. We welcome the fact that these unions initiated such a meeting to build a political movement based on the anti-water charges struggle of the last eight months. Unfortunately, the meeting was a limited and invite-only event, without sufficient space for discussion.

Open up and democratise the June 13 conference

To best achieve the potential for this movement, we believe that the process needs to be opened up and democratised. Without grassroots participation, any political initiative will lack the energy and vibrancy needed to challenge the political establishment. So we think the follow up conference on June 13 should have delegates invited from all of the community groups campaigning against water charges, selected over the coming weeks at local meetings.

On June 13, the conference must also be designed to allow genuine debate and maximum inclusion. In place of structured inputs from selected speakers, the event should be bottom-up and participatory. It should be designed to allow as many contributions as possible and allow for decisions to be made by those present.

For an anti-austerity, anti-coalition approach – based on struggle

To initiate the debate, the R2W unions have developed a document entitled, Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government. The basis of the Principles document is a series of seven economic and social rights. The R2W unions have asked for “further discussion and input”. In responding to this call, we believe that a number of additions and amendments need to be made.

Firstly, any proposed political initiative must not become a replacement for the grassroots struggles that have brought us to this point. In relation to water charges, the document proposes that “Irish Water PLC’ and domestic water charges will be abolished within the first 100 days of a government endorsing this policy”.

We must not wait for a progressive government to abolish water charges. What if such a government is not elected? Abolition can only be won by an organised boycott and continuing the protest movement on the streets. People power and protest is the only way to beat austerity measures and the best way to build support for the actions of any future left government.

We think the 13 June conference should make a public statement calling for mass non-payment of the water charges. This is the crucial stage of the campaign and the crucial question. It would be negligent if a major conference of large sections of the anti-water charges movement takes place and does not issue a call for people not to pay. Instead of giving confidence to the movement and impetus to continue organising and mobilising, it can give the impression that the only focus now is the election.

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The Rationalist’s Defence of Injustice

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Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilisation, supposedly replied that he thought it might be a good idea. Taken at face value, we can presume that he was both contemptuous and cynical of the idea of civilisation of any kind existing in the West. Being on the receiving end of Western civilisational endeavours such as the one he experienced in India during his life, he would have been well aware of hollowness of the idea that actions and ideas emanating from the West were inherently virtuous. Indeed, very few people, especially in Ireland, need to be reminded of the great altruism with which the British Empire undertook the task of civilising the world. Although Great Britain is no longer the empire it once was, it continues to play the civilising game along with its master, the United States. Meanwhile, the notion that great powers undertake certain actions for the benefit of the “uncivilised” of the world continues to hold sway, along with the concomitant idea that such actions are inherently virtuous. They are inherently virtuous simply because said actions are being carried out by the U.S. and its allies. Nothing more needs to be said in their defence according to the reigning orthodoxy. Said orthodoxy resides not only in and around the centres of power, and not only emerges from the mouths of the most devoted nationalists and neoconservatives but can also be found in those who are considered to be sceptics and rationalists.

Two of the most vocal types of this are Sam Harris and his former colleague, Christopher Hitchens. Both men had become two of the four faces most associated with rationalism, specifically atheism, and the so-called New Atheism, that emerged more or less immediately in the aftermath of 9/11. In the case of Hitchens, advocating for a non-religious world due to the fact that he deemed religion a threat to humanity became one part of his public persona. The other part was as a cheerleader for the neoconservative movement. Counting amongst his friends Paul Wolfowitz, the former U.S. Deputy Director of Defence in the Bush II administration, Hitchens could be relied upon to decry the evils of religion in the same breath as declaring British and U.S. intentions in the Middle East as righteous. His views did not in any way evolve before his death in 2012 from oesophageal cancer. One year before his death, when asked if he thought the invasion of Iraq along with the subsequent chaos it unleashed was worth the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein, he responded in the positive; the fracturing and destruction of a country, from which it may never recover, was deemed a price worth paying for the regional interests of his acquaintances in the White House.

Although claiming to take a more nuanced view of things, Harris is arguably worse than Hitchens in his support for the British and U.S. interests around the word. Although Hitchens was outlandishly crude in some of his pronunciations, Harris on the other hand relies on the veneer of calm and respectable discourse in order to promote views that are far from respectable. Harris’ position is essentially that Islam in particular represents an existential and ongoing threat to superior Western civilisation and ideals. Therefore, it must be dealt with accordingly by those who have the power to do so. Being unmentionable is that it just happens that the balance of power resides by far in the hands of the U.S. and its closest allies, yet the threat apparently remains. This is half of the premise of Harris’ main point of contention with Noam Chomsky, the other half being that that our intentions are good regardless of the outcomes. In this view, because collateral damage is not intentional on the part of leaders, what we do that causes civilian deaths in the first place is therefore not judged by the supposedly unexpected outcome of collateral damage. The act is judged simply by its intentions. If the intention was to destroy a terrorist training camp via a Hellfire missile, and civilians were accidentally killed in the process, the civilians do not enter into any moral calculation. The initial act was carried out for the correct reasons, at least according to those in power and their supporters, therefore the unintentional deaths of civilians do not enter into any moral calculation of the hypothetical missile strike.

This is Harris’ stance on the nature of U.S. foreign policy, at least as he laid it out in recent correspondence with Chomsky, arguing that the U.S. is “in many respects, just… a ‘well-intentioned giant.’” The Clinton Administration’s bombing in 1998 of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, which resulted in the destruction of roughly half of the country’s medicines, including its entire supply of anti-malaria drugs, was a legitimate act according to Harris. The apparent intention, which Harris takes for granted, was to destroy a chemical weapons factory, with the resulting suffering unleashed on the country being of no concern. What matters are intentions, nothing else. Harris simply takes it for granted that what we do is right and proper simply by virtue of the fact that it is being done by us. Harris presumes, with no evidence, that “Clinton (as I imagine him to be) did not want or intend to kill anyone at all, necessarily.” The more likely reason, which Harris fails to mention or perhaps even realise, is that the plant’s destruction was in retaliation for the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania two weeks earlier. Although a terrorist attack on civilians in the Middle East or somewhere in the West may have the same outcome as the al-Shifa bombing and other similar acts by Western states, the two cases cannot be compared according to Harris conception of intentions. By logically extending his notion of intentionality, our crimes are not really crimes, and deaths caused by us are not really caused by us, a logic that would impress the most committed totalitarian ideologue.

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peoplesnews

Issue 124 of People’s News Out Now

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Issue 124 of People’s News out now

The articles in this issue include:  

  • Page 1: TTIP’s way is Europe’s way. Brussels may vet legislation
  • Page 2: Even more of an attack on democracy than ISDS
  • Page 4: MEPs scrap scrutiny on allowances
  • Page 5: A la carte system for GMO imports
  • Page 5: Secret “trialogue” talks to be investigated
  • Page 6: The hidden cost of EU trade deals
  • Page 7: A window on Microsoft’s lobbying
  • Page 7: TTIP negotiations to drag on
  • Page 8: The real alternatives in the Northern elections
  • Page 9: Apple expects “material” financial damage from EU investigations into corporation tax
  • Page 10: The billion euro man
  • Page 11: Fraud and the EU
  • Page 12: The cost to Greece of membership of the euro zone
  • Page 12: Trade union leader warns Juncker that his policies made the crisis worse
  • Page 13: Gotcha

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1

From Protest to Politics: How Can We Get a New Republic?

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An important question that those opposing the water charges, austerity, growing inequality and those looking for an alternative to the establishment political parties are asking is; what exactly are we looking to achieve and how are we going to do it? There are immediate changes needed such as getting rid of the water charges and Irish Water, reversing austerity and cuts and standing up to Europe (and with Greece) on the immoral debt. There are also more profound changes being sought such as achieving the right to housing, health, education, decent jobs etc for everyone. These will require the creation of a real Republic of equality and a genuine democracy where people are treated with dignity and have a real say in the running of their community, their country and Europe. But the most important change is already happening; that is the active participation and empowerment of the (extra) ordinary citizens at the grassroots who are changing their world by standing up for themselves through protest and political action.

It is becoming clear to more and more people that a government dominated by the establishment parties (Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour, Renua & other ‘fake’ independents) will not achieve these necessary radical reforms. Ordinary people have to do it themselves by creating a government that is made up of the people’s representatives – without any of the establishment parties involved. A people’s government would be anti-austerity, anti-establishment, rights-based, and progressive. Let us learn from previous mistakes and understand that it is not sufficient to be a minor player in government – for real change the people’s representatives must be the government.  To do this anti-establishment and anti-austerity groups and parties will have to convince the majority of people in Ireland (particularly the undecided voters from a wide breadth of societal groups) to vote for anti-establishment candidates. The task then is not just to protest and resist but also to try win the coming general election. In order to win we must believe that we can win and we must plan to win. But winning is not just changing the faces in government, it is bringing about a New Republic – a real democratic transformation by an empowered citizenry.

This means that electing an anti-establishment government is only one part of a process of empowerment of ordinary people to transform Ireland. That process must also take place in communities and workplaces, creating new forms of socially caring and enterprising employment that can make solidarity and cooperation the key values of any New Republic. It also means that election and government processes should be led by the citizens, communities and ordinary people. It should continue the new wave of citizen empowerment from the water movement. This also means that if anti-establishment opposition do not win the coming election at least we will have been further empowered to pressure whatever new government is elected to take these issues seriously. Importantly, it will ensure that a solid foundation is put in place to be the major opposition (in the Dail and on the streets) and to be in a much better place to win in the subsequent election, which could come much sooner than expected, and to continue to protest and campaign on a wide range of issues.

Convincing a majority of the population to support an anti-establishment political alternative is going to be extremely difficult and challenging. Multiple approaches and strategies are required. None of the anti-establishment groups, the trade unions, independents, Left political parties, or the communities can achieve this on their own. Therefore, unity and coherence is required amongst as many of these as possible in order to offer a clear alternative to people in the election. This will show people that we are serious and that there is a credible, serious and coherent alternative that is worth voting for.

That is not to say everybody has to be part of the one organisation or alliance. There is the opportunity for multiple organisations to be part of a new alliance or there might be a number of alliances and parties co-ordinating together. There will be some who do not wish to be part of any of these and that should be respected just as the desire for those who want to work together on this new alliance should also be respected. The politics of new alliances must be inclusive and respectful of each other and the principles or plurality and diversity. If we are not trying to be the very change we want to see in the world then we have failed from the start.

One idea could be to form a new umbrella alliance or political movement like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain or the SNP in Scotland. This new alliance could be made up of some of the Left parties, new movements, independents, communities, trade unions, and individuals. Let’s call it the Movement for A New Republic for the moment. In the election the people would have a real choice between the Movement or the establishment parties. The Movement for A New Republic would say to the people ‘we are standing for election to become a government of the people that will not involve any of the establishment parties’. This new political movement would aim to represent the ideals and vision of the 1916 Proclamation- in a meaningful way – for a sovereign, democratic, New Republic, New Ireland of equality and social justice, based on the protection of the vulnerable, community and fairness and assertion of the rights of all.

One single major political alliance or movement appears to be a key part of gaining majority public support for a new radical politics in Greece and Spain, rather than lots of smaller groups. The experience of other countries also suggests that the success of new political parties and movements is exactly that – that they are actually new and are not dominated by their past. A new movement that is clearly anti-establishment, standing for the ordinary people against the cronies and elite, made up of leaders that are new (or clearly independent from) to the political system, could gain significant additional support, and therefore, increase the possibility of an alternative government and a new politics in Ireland. This movement should also play a key role in representing the desire for a completely new politics in Ireland for the long term beyond the coming election.

Ideally then the Movement for a New Republic would include the broadest possible alliance from Sinn Fein to Says No Groups, trade unions, independents, communities and socialists, similar to the successful water movement. While there are many differences between these groups – the only realistic way an alternative government is going to be formed is to work together. Anti-establishment candidates should be supportive of each other against the common enemy of the establishment parties. There has to be an end to divisive actions and attacks on each other, and removing dogmatic approaches that alienate potential supporters beyond the ‘true believers’, and an agreement that we want to be in government and not just permanent opposition. There would need to be Movement candidates in every constituency in order to get sufficient TDs to gain the majority to form a government. The media will also be an important battle ground and, therefore, leaders and spokespeople are required who can represent the message of the new movement in a way that connects with the majority of people.

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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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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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