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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The latest Ipsos MRBI poll shows that ‘Independents and Others’ are currently on 32% therein making them the most popular group amongst the electorate. If these poll figures were to be replicated in a general election tomorrow this would equate to around 52 seats – by all accounts a massive number. To put this number in perspective, in the 23 general elections that have taken place in the state since 1937 Fine Gael have only managed to exceed this figure on 7 occasions. This is pretty remarkable considering the complete duopoly they have shared – alongside Fianna Fail – on our political system.
Now it goes without saying that the ‘Independents and Others’ grouping is a broad brushstroke comprised of People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, former Workers Party members, ex Labour party members, the Fine Gael rejects and a range of other independents from across the political spectrum. And the conflicting political positions of this 52 mean that it would obviously never act as a coherent political unit. In fact some are even rumoured to be considering starting a party of their own, likely a centre right entity reminiscent of the Progressive Democrats – so in other words, nothing we haven’t had before.
However, in saying that, many of this 52 if not elected on a left platform could at the very least be considered anti-austerity anti-establishment candidates. These individuals should certainly look to coordinate as much as possible but where the small left wing parties are concerned this should go beyond mere coordination toward something more concrete. We saw that the transfer pacts used during the local elections in May bore fruit, but the question is why stop there?
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The Marxist Seminars are back!
After our initial 6 seminars based on theoretical topics, we thought we’d run the next 6 on ‘Marxism in Practice’.
We will be beginning on Saturday 9th August, 6pm, Chaplin’s Bar, Hawkins’ Street, D2. Each seminar will be at the same time and venue fortnightly thereafter.
Miles Link will be introducing the first seminar and will be put the case forward for the Frankfurt School of ideas. Western Marxism: Problems of mass culture. A lively debate will surely follow as always.
The full programme is the following:
- Western Marxism: Problems of mass culture – Miles Link
- Comparing popular resistance to neoliberalism in Latin America the in 80s and 90s to the situation in Ireland in the current context of crisis – Prof Barry Cannon NUI Maynooth
- Marxist Analysis of the Trade Union movement – Andrew Phelan
- Fundamentals of communist production and distribution – Gavin Mendel-Gleason
- Personality & History – Helena Sheehan
- Marxism & Feminism – Sinead Kennedy
Hope to see you all over the coming months!
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This article provides a critique of social partnership & ‘soft’ NGO advocacy and reflections on pathways forward.
Political & Economic Context: Neoliberalism & Ireland
Many people ask about the cause of poverty, oppression, rising inequality, environmental destruction and climate change. Neo-Marxist thinkers like David Harvey, Erik Olin Wright and Hardt & Negri, make the case that it is International capitalist globalization that is underlying these social catastrophes. It is the neoliberalism of the Washington Consensus – which was a political project of the wealthy and capital elite, theorized by the free marketeers of Friedman and Hayak. It started in Pinochet’s Chile and then Reagan and Thatcher implemented it in the US and the UK. In the face of declining profitability and the crisis of capitalism in the 1970s the aim of the wealthy and elite was to reduce the share of income (wealth) that went to workers and to increase that returning to capital and the elite. They also sought to reduce the power and influence of trade unions and the working class socialist organisations in society, politics and the economy.
At the heart of the neoliberal ideology was a belief that private unregulated markets are the best mechanisms to organize society and state-led planning is inefficient. Neoliberal policies included the de-regulation of the Keynesian welfare state protections and the financial sector, the privatization of public services, neocolonial conquest through corporations, imperial wars for resources such as Iraq, the commodification of nature like water, land, and seeds. Indeed at the heart of this project of neoliberal capitalism is the commodification of everything. Everything is to be turned into something that can be bought and sold, traded on markets, profited from, commercialized. Neoliberalism is about the utopia of individualized responsibility. Your existence is commodified through competition. You must compete with everyone for everything. Values of solidarity, public good, and co-operation are replaced with competition, individualism, commercialism and materialism.
But neoliberalism is also based on a myth of freedom. Where is the freedom for migrants who die in attempts to enter the EU or the US? Where is the freedom for low paid workers forced to work three jobs to survive? Neoliberalism has been dramatically successful in increasing the wealth of the minority, in increasing inequality, and in promoting its values and ideology amongst populations. However, it is also riven with contradictions as any variant of capitalism is inherently so because of the anarchy of free, unregulated, markets that continually engages in boom and bust cycles and because of uneven development where one area expands at the expense of retrenchment in another area. For example, the declining rate of investment for capital in general commodities led to capital in the 2000s flooding new financial products and the financialisation and commodification of ever greater aspects of our lives that capital could invest, gamble and accumulate profit from. But as the logic of the market was expanded into ever greater areas the potential for crisis and crashes increases and thus we see greater numbers and intensity of economic crises. Naoimi Klein has used an interesting term ‘disaster capitalism’ to describe the way in which the elites use various crises to further intensify exploitation and the commodification of everything by private corporations.
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… I won’t be voting for you. I have voted Labour in every election since I could first vote. I haven’t always given you my first preference – sometimes there were better left candidates – but you’ve always been there in the first two or three, and first more often than not.
Some of my younger friends are amazed that I voted Labour at all, but they weren’t there during the seventies and eighties, when Labour was on the side of divorce and contraception in a Catholic confessional Ireland. In those days Labour seemed to a lot of people to stand on our side in fights that were not easy, given the array of reactionary forces – the Church, the two main political parties, most of the institutions of civil society. In those days the modernisation of Irish social life – still an unaccomplished task of course – seemed of vital importance. We did not notice, or took a long time to notice, that Labour was moving steadily to the right in coalition after coalition. Those with historical blind-spots, like me, didn’t know, or swept aside the fact that Labour had not always been on the side of Labour, and in fact as a trade union member, I was perplexed to discover that Labour was not always on the strikers’ side in industrial disputes. But other forms of struggle seemed so important then, and Labour was by-and large- on our side. What’s more I have always believed in the idea of a broad coalition of the left, hoping that differing parties with differing discourses could or at least should draw together in shared opposition to capital and oppression.
So for a long time I believed that at heart the Labour Party was really a party of labour, of the worker, a left-wing party, and that given the opportunity it would show its true colours.
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This post was originally published on the 28th of October on the comradezhenka blog.
Socialists, Protests and Strategy
The last few years has seen a lot of frenetic political activity, there have been countless protests and mobilisations without much success in many of them. There were of course some obvious exceptions, the early CAHWT demos and more recently the Coillte protests The unions had organised some very big demos but they’re now in the distant past, and the recent ones are more a case of being seen to do something, rather than actually doing something. It seems like there has been an endless round of activism and it appears people are simply moving from one protest to the next. Every new cut in services is met with a protest, every attack on the working class is met with a demo. There are a lot of very good people putting a lot of effort into these activities. Unfortunately it seems as if we’re simply chasing our tails and one of the results of this is that the numbers attending have, in general, been declining. The lower numbers and the lack of substance to back up the demos ultimately leads to demoralisation and a downward spiral.
If you ask someone outside of the left what the left does, the answer is usually ‘protest’. Is that all we stand for? Of course not. We do however need to move beyond the cycle of tactical actions. Rather than objecting to every single manifestation of ‘austerity’ we need to develop an overall strategy for tackling capitalism. This means we need to break the current cycle of protests. We need to take a step back from the current level of activity and analyse what has worked over the last few years and what hasn’t. It is important we don’t get bogged down in the usual protest-recruit cycle that other groups thrive on, but ultimately leads to a dead end as there’s little substance to back it up. We need now to develop that substance. This is naturally going to be a long process involving as wide a range of voices on the left as possible. It certainly won’t be glamorous and will most likely be boring, but it’s vital for our long-term interests that we break this cycle and get back to some serious thinking.
This is not to say there should be no protests, but that we should pick and choose our battlegrounds more carefully. There are a myriad of cuts and attacks on the working class happening now under the guise of austerity, and we shouldn’t be looking to protest every last one of them. Simply put we don’t have the numbers to tackle each one of them individually. We have been trying to do this, and the result of it is diminished numbers at these demos. In my opinion this has the net effect of making the left appear weaker than it actually is. I know this won’t be a popular idea, but the left is thin on the ground and further dividing our strength by the sheer volume of (and sometimes competing) demos doesn’t serve us well. We simply don’t have the strength of numbers required to attend every protest, and in truth everyone knows the low turnouts make us look weak. We need to strategise our demonstrations, we need to decide what our priorities are and then take each invite to a protest and decide whether it fits into our strategic plan.
This will necessarily involve making some tough decisions. Nobody wants to turn away from any members of the working class that are under attack. But it must be done. We have to find other ways of supporting those groups, because truth be told having 300 people turn up to protest a cut in, for instance, the education budget does that group no favours at all. Ultimately it shows that those protesting aren’t strong enough to defeat the cuts, and makes them ripe for further cuts in future. I know some people will say that having 300 there is better than having no one, but really it isn’t, it amounts to the same thing: There is not enough force there to prevent the cuts.
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The proceedings begin at 10:30 am, and will be followed by an afternoon of open workshops.
The intention of the Left Forum is to provide an opportunity for a productive dialogue across the left, and as far as it is possible, to facilitate coordination of left-activists and campaign groups, so as to strengthen the worker’s movement in Ireland generally.
All left-organisations, left-campaign groups, independent left-activists and all others that are interested in facilitating the development of the workers’ movement are invited to participate. Please join us at the Teacher’s Club on November 2 to take part in this important debate.
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Originally posted on Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal on the 29th of April.
This brief report intends to outline the situation within the Irish left following the slow implosion of the United Left Alliance (ULA).
The ULA was an alliance made up of the Socialist Party (affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International, CWI), the Socialist Workers Party (the International Socialist Tendency, IST), the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG, a locally based group with public representation including a member of Ireland’s parliament [TD] and numerous municipal councillors). It also included smaller groups such as the Irish Socialist Network and Socialist Democracy.
The ULA was initially very successful by Irish left standards and won five TDs. Though, it should be understood most, if not all, of these victories did not come only from the unity project itself but from literally decades of work by the various groups.
However, seeing the left under a single banner with a serious electoral challenge did initially attract many activists to its banner.
The ULA unfortunately lasted less than two years and today exists in name only.
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Originally posted on Irish Student Left Online on the 24th of April.
Eoin Griffin writes about the history of May Day and how we can use this focal point to reassess our own goals. On Wednesday, May 1st from 6:45PM at Parnell Square we'll be taking the energy that was part of last Monday's public meeting organised by the 1913 Unfinished Business Youth Bloc into the DCTU’s May Day march leaving Parnell Square at 7pm. What was it Oscar Wilde said about socialism and evenings? Sign up to the Facebook event here.
May Day holds a mythical position among the international workers and union movements. Its origins can be traced back to Australia in 1856 when stonemasons and builders in Melbourne downed tools on the 21st of April and marched on Parliament to demand an eight hour working day without any deterioration in pay. In 1884 the Chicago Labour Movement adopted the eight hour working day as their core demand, declaring that May 1st 1886 would mark the beginning of the 8 hour working day being a standard. They famously campaigned for this using the slogan “eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, eight hours of recreation”. This slogan had first appeared in the UK during the Industrial Revolution.
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The First Left Forum will be held in the Teacher’s Club, Parnell Square, on May 18th 2013. In the call out the Forum states:
“We have had five years of crisis, five years where no alternative has been able to win support despite the obvious failures of the current political and economic regime, with serious human and environmental consequences.
Can we do better? Can the Left win widespread support for our ideas and build an alternative society? Can we make socialism more than a nice idea? The Left Forum invites you to contribute your views on the state of progressive politics and to discuss how we can do better.
The forum will be participatory and exploratory, and will aim to ask and answer key questions about what levels of political agreement are possible, what forms of organisation are useful and what tactics and strategies will be effective. We hope that you will join us and help define the future of the Left in Ireland”
This has led to some questions, firstly who is the Left Forum? Is it another front? What ideas do you mean, what exactly is ‘participatory’ and ‘inclusive’ and haven’t we heard all of this before?
Who are we?
The Left forum is an initiative that has been launched by the old United Left Alliance reading group in DCU, (now renamed the Left Forum DCU). While small the membership is diverse representing many trends of the Irish left. The group includes ex members of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party, The Workers Solidarity Movement, The Workers Party, the Communist Party as well as the non-affiliated. Though the various group members very much recognise the different strengths of the various organisations we believe that for both objective and subjective reasons that these groups (certainly alone) do not offer all the answers. The group originally came together as the DCU branch of the United Left Alliance and this initiative has partly comes as a result of the implosion of the alliance and the gap left in the political spectrum by its demise, including the political space available independent left activists.
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Dublin Council of Trade Unions
May Day 2013
‘1913-2013 Unfinished Business’
Resist austerity- March with your banners
The Dublin Council of Trade Unions is holding its annual MAY DAY demonstration on Wednesday, May 1st.
Assembly point will be Parnell Square at 7 pm and marching to Liberty Hall for a public meeting at Beresford Place.
Music and stalls around the Lock Out theme will follow in the theatre and bar area of Liberty Hall.
This year’s theme will be ‘1913/2013: unfinished business’. The unfinished business includes the legal recognition of trade unions in all employments and negotiating rights for all members.
It also includes a policy of resistance to austerity imposed by the government at the behest of the troika. Resistance to unemployment; to relentless cuts in health services, education, social welfare, community services, and in provision for the needy.
Job creation can never be seriously addressed in a climate of austerity. Oil and water don’t mix.
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Explore, participate, act
Teachers' Club, 36 Parnell Square West, Dublin 1
May 18th, 11am – 5 pm
Keep up to date through Leftforum.net & facebook.com/LeftForumIreland
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The historian and author Dr Michael Farry, will give an interesting talk on the role and activities of the labour and trade union movement in Sligo during the war of independence and the civil war; in the Glasshouse Hotel, Sligo, on Wednesday 20th March at 8.00.p.m.
The title of the lecture, which is being held under the auspices of United Left – People First is “The Irish revolution and the labour movement in Sligo 1912-1923”.
Cllr Declan Bree will preside at the event which is open to the public.
Dr Farry who is a native of Coolaney, Co Sligo, has published a number of books dealing with the period. His most recent book “The Irish Revolution 1912-23 Sligo” was published last November.
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Editorial: LookLeft Issue 15, March 2013
“I am, of course, aware that the ultimate solution is the ownership and control of the means of life by the whole of the people; but we are not at that stage of development as yet.”
— James Larkin
Across Europe, progressive political forces have yet to find an adequate response to the rightwing onslaught on the public good which has been unleashed since 2008.
The neo-liberal agenda, which the right uses to disguise the capitalist grab for more power and resources, has over 30 years permeated our political, media, academic and cultural worlds.
In Ireland this problem has been exacerbated still further by the historic success of deeply conservative forces in undermining the development of progressive and working class institutions.
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