Strategies

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Does Ireland Need a New Left Party?

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

Does Ireland need a new left party?

Yes.

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of new left party should this be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New LookLeft out now!

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New LookLeft out now!

€2 for 48 pages of progressive, news, views and solutions

In Easons and selected newsagents countrywide.

This issue includes:

  • Who Watches the Watchmen: The Gardai, drugs and the working class
  • Look Back in Anger: Brian Hanley on remembering the reality of WW1
  • Conor McCabe on Ireland, the frontline of the class war
  • Sean Garland pays tribute to RMT leader Bob Crow
  • LookLeft talks to Andy Irvine
  • Kevin Brannigan on the struggle to save the home of Irish football
  • Interview with Belfast’s Red Devil: Des O’Hagan
  • Jennifer Silva on Economic Uncertainty and Mental Health
  • Mark Walshe on Making a market out of education
  • Chris Hudson asks Where is progressive unionism?

And much, much more….

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Moments of crisis: Aer Lingus seeks millions from SIPTU over strike threat

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Sam Nolan, veteran socialist and trade unionist and long-standing Secretary of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions has post this personal message on Facebook today (14th March). I have commented on it below.

“Moments of crisis happen at certain stages of history. Such a moment is now upon the trade union movement. The threatened move by AER LINGUS to sue SIPTU for financial damages for a strike that did not take place is such a moment. This move is a threat to the future activity of every trade union in the country. There must be a sharp militant response from CONGRESS affiliated unions as well as a legal challenge. Labour in government must decide which class it represents.”

My comment:

There has been surprising little reaction from the unions, the left and even the blogosphere (or my sector of it) to the announcement that Aer Lingus was suing SIPTU over a strike that did not take place.

The action by Aer Lingus, for damages, breach of contract and, in at least one report I heard, conspiracy, has all the marks of the pre-1906 open season on trade unions. As the day wore on the need for someone authoritative in the labour movement to take a stand and make a clarion call was ever more pressing. It is no accident that it is Sam Nolan that has stepped forward and it is fitting and fortunate that it is he who has. Not only has he stood in the front line for decades but he has the respect and authority in the trade union movement to be taken seriously and to be heeded and followed.

When Sam Nolan says it – “Moments of crisis happen at certain stages of history. Such a moment is now upon the trade union movement” – you know it is not stock left rhetoric. It is not some hamburger merchant that is suing, it is the national airline, backed by the airport authority and also by the biggest anti-union outfit on the continent, the William Martin Murphy of 2014.

It is time for SIPTU and ICTU to fight before there is nothing left to fight for – or fight with. And fight with street mobilisation and industrial action, not just in the courts or with press statements which omit that the Labour Party is in government and, in this case, that the government is on the board of the union-busting company. I hope unions, union committees and Branch and Sector Committees can take up his call without delay and that, if there is a delay, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions can repeat its recurrent role of being the focus and the catalyst on crises facing the labour movement.

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Catastrophism – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth

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Book Review: Catastrophism – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis (PM Press 2012)

Catastrophism is a collection of essays addressing the use of dooms day predictions in the environmental movement, the left, the right as well as in popular culture. The four chapters are authored by Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis following conversations within the Berkeley-based Retort collective guided by Iain Boal (who led an excellent biking oral history tour in Dublin as part of the Prosperity Project in May).  This book is meant as ‘a political intervention, designed to spur debate among radicals.’ (4) I have taken this as an invitation for discussion.

Firstly, what is catastrophism? Sasha Lilley offers the following definition in the introduction:

‘Catastrophism presumes that society is headed for a collapse, whether economic, ecological, social, or spiritual. This collapse is frequently, but not always, regarded as a great cleansing, out of which a new society will be born. Catastrophists tend to believe that an ever-intensified rhetoric of disaster will awaken the masses from their long slumber—if the mechanical failure of the system does not make such struggles superfluous.’

Seeking a clearer understanding of what the writers meant by catastrophism, I listened to a podcast where Lilley explains that they are discussing an ideology around collapse and rebirth which assumes a new society will be born out of the ashes of the old. This kind of thinking, they argue, results in people waiting for the collapse rather than organising. They further claim that catastrophism is based on fear which works very differently for the right where it is mobilising, than it does for the left where it is paralysing.

Eddy Yuen begins by voicing a critique of the environmental movement. The central argument he puts forward is that the environmental movement is failing to mobilise because of its catastrophic discourse and an ‘apocalyptic narrative’ that presumes this will lead to political action. He is concerned that ‘dooms day scenarios’ don’t have a politicization effect and suggests environmentalists should find better ‘narrative strategies’.

Catastrophism, here, refers to the warning of environmental crisis. Dissemination of information, according to Yuen, does not lead to action. He claims the environmental movement has caused fear induced-apathy in the population. Yuen pins this to a deeply held conviction about politicization apparently held by environmentalists – if people have the facts they will act. While this may be the case for some, Yuen does not address the importance of understanding the dynamics of climate change and their consequences as a vital precursor to action. In the same way that knowledge of starving children in your city does not lead most people to take action, so knowledge about climate change does not necessarily lead to action. This phenomenon is not unique to the environmental movement.

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A Dialogue on Democracy and the Republic, Part 2

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Here is the second part of a dialogue with philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop on the idea of the republic. This is a continuation of the discussion started here on the 29th of October last.

Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop taught modern philosophy in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid from 1981 to 1986. He translated Spinoza’s correspondence into Spanish and, as a member of the Association des Amis de Spinoza, has taken part in seminars and congresses in France and Italy. He is currently working as a senior translator in the Council of the European Union and is specialized in foreign policy matters. He is an advisory editor of the review Décalages (on Althusserian studies). He writes in European and Latin-American publications on Spinoza, Althusser, modern philosophy and political philosophy. His latest book is La dominación liberal (Liberal Domination. Essay on liberalism as a power apparatus) (Tierra de Nadie, Madrid, 2010). He is currently linked to the Philosophy Center of the Université libre de Bruxelles, where he is preparing a PhD on Spinoza in Althusser. His blog, in Spanish, is Iohannes Maurus.

RMcA: I’d like to relate what you’ve been saying here to the present situation in Europe. Before I do, a couple of comments. I think you -and the rest of the line of the damned!- are right about the common-wealth as an originary reality underlying capitalism itself. Indeed, the legal architecture of a capitalist State rests, at a very basic level, upon a conception of something that is common to all. And it’s also true about the way neoliberalism puts knowledge of this originary reality to its own ends.

 

JDSE: There is much to say on common-wealth or even on communism as the very fabric of any society, even of the one which most utterly denies it, capitalism. What we, on the “line of the damned” construe as the commons, has in bourgeois legal terms, an equivalent: the “public” as synonymous with State-owned and/or -managed. This is, of course, a mystification of the common ground of society, placed as a transcendent One above the multitude. This is exactly the way Hobbes thinks of the union of a Commonwealth in his political works. Against this we consider the multitude as rooted in the common, as an ever open set of incomplete singular individualizations as the French philosopher Simondon put it, in a very Spinozist way (even if he never was aware of this connection). From this point of view, the common is always-already political, and the relevant question is not the one about the origin of the political or the common, but the one about individualization and its modes.

Neoliberalism is an effort -possibly the last effort- by capitalism to get asymptotically as close as possible to the communist fabric of society, and even of the human species, in order to exploit it. That’s why it has been identified by Michel Foucault as “biopolitics”. Life and the reproduction of capital are getting ever closer to each other. The very span of labour time or space is nowadays indefinite and becomes identical to human individual and social life. There is no longer a closed space and a definite time for labour, as was the case in the classical Fordist or even pre-Fordist (Dickensian) factory. Today, life reproduction and labour are the same: Marx would say that we have entirely completed the “real subsumption” of labour under capital.

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Interview with Prof. David Harvey

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Volume one, issue two of the Irish Left Review is now in stores – you can pick it up online or get it from one of the bookshops listed here.

The latest issue features an extended interview with Marxist geographer and social theorist David Harvey. Professor Harvey is one of the best-known radical thinkers of the twenty-first century and has published popular books on topics ranging from urban rebellion to postmodernism and from Marx’s Capital to the history of neoliberalism.

In the printed interview he discusses his forthcoming book, ‘The Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism’, illustrating how the emphasis on exchange value creates a crisis in housing and using contradiction as a basis to tease out a basis for postcapitalist imagination for the Left. Segments of that discussion have appeared previously in Red Pepper.

Below we print unpublished segments of the interview, conducted by journalists Ronan Burtenshaw and Aubrey Robinson, in which Professor Harvey discusses a variety of topics related to his own work and the politics of austerity Ireland. 

Q. One of the reasons why this year is important to the Irish Left is that it is the centenary of the Dublin Lockout. That struggle was built upon a very clear class consciousness, which those engaged in left-wing politics today don’t enjoy. Is there a crisis of class consciousness at the moment? How might we address talking about or organising around class to revitalise it?

DH. The traditional way of thinking about class has always been to think about factory labour. During the industrial era factory labour was critical in terms of the creation of class consciousness and organisation. The Left has celebrated, in a way, the factory labourer as the centre of its critical consciousness and politics. We now face the problem that factory labour has largely disappeared in many parts of the world. It is still there in Bangladesh – what has been happening in factories there is similar to the Triangle Fire in New York in 1911 – the suicides in the factories in China and so on. You could take all of those things  and put them in Marx’s chapter on the working day in volume one of Capital. You wouldn’t know the difference.

Nineteenth century capitalism is still a very strong presence in the world – it is just not here in the UK, Ireland, the United States in the same way it was thirty or forty years ago. As a result of that I think the concept of the working-class has to be revised. I was never happy with this concentration on factory labour, partly because of my urban interests. I ask questions like, ‘where did the Paris Commune come from?’ It was an urban event. People wanted to get their city back. You look historically and 1848 was about people wanting to get their city back as much as it was about the factories. The same in 1919 in Seattle. Then there’s 1968 – which was to do with Paris, Bangkok, Mexico City. If you look historically the city has always been the site of political activism.

My argument all along has been that we have got to pay attention to that dimension of class struggle. It is not class struggle which is as clearly defined as the factory – between bosses and workers. It is a struggle over who owns and has the right to the city. There has always been a dimension of class struggle which has been urban-based. Because of the transformations that have occurred over the last fifty years it seems to me that dimension of struggle has become even more significant. The Left has not caught up in its ideology with what is going on because it is still fixated with the notion of the factory labourer.

Why don’t we think about the city instead of the factory as the centre of what class action is all about? There is a very interesting moment in Gramsci. Around 1916 he wrote a piece saying, ‘I’m very much in favour of the factory councils, they are critical political organisations. But they need to be supplemented by the ward committees.’ These committees were organising all of those people who couldn’t be organised through the factory – the street cleaners, the cab drivers, and so on. Then he noticed something. He said, ‘the ward committees have a better idea about the condition of the whole working-class because the factory council is good at the sector but they don’t have a vision of the whole.’ So I think that labour should be organising around the whole working-class which includes all of those precarious and temporary workers right now that are servicing the city.

Take the immigrants rights’ movement in the United States in 2006. Without being conscious of this immigrants decided not to go to work on a day because they were protesting some of the legislation that was being proposed. Because of that Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles shut down. New York partially shut down. The immigrant population, including the undocumented, refused to go to work for a day and the whole city stopped. This is a tremendous power. I think that the Left has to have imagination and ask, ‘how do we organise a whole city?’

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A Dialogue on Democracy and the Republic – Part One

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Renewing the republic, rebuilding the republic, a new republic, a Second Republic, how stands the republic: it all circulates in the verbal debris of Ireland’s political and economic crisis, but what does all this republic stuff mean nowadays? And what is to be done with it? I wanted to pursue the idea of the republic in relation to the wider Eurozone crisis. What follows is the first part of a dialogue with philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop on the idea of the republic.

UPDATE: Part 2 of this dialogue is now available here.

Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop taught modern philosophy in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid from 1981 to 1986. He translated Spinoza’s correspondence into Spanish and, as a member of the Association des Amis de Spinoza, has taken part in seminars and congresses in France and Italy. He is currently working as a senior translator in the Council of the European Union and is specialized in foreign policy matters. He is an advisory editor of the review Décalages (on Althusserian studies). He writes in European and Latin-American publications on Spinoza, Althusser, modern philosophy and political philosophy. His latest book is La dominación liberal (Liberal Domination. Essay on liberalism as a power apparatus) (Tierra de Nadie, Madrid, 2010). He is currently linked to the Philosophy Center of the Université libre de Bruxelles, where he is preparing a PhD on Spinoza in Althusser. His blog, in Spanish, is Iohannes Maurus.

Richard McAleavey: The explosion of the 15-M in the Spanish State in 2011 began with the slogan Real Democracy Now! as its focus. It appealed to the sense among growing sectors of the population that the existing political order, despite claims to the contrary, was not democracy, given that decisive political power rested with powerful political and financial elites. This conflict opened up between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ democracy -between the appearance of the multitude in public squares and the police forces sent in to batter and criminalise and protect the existing regime- in seems to support Jacques Ranciere’s assertion that ‘democracy is not a form of state’.

Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop: One of the main problems the 15M had to face after its sudden appearance is the lack of a real political culture. There was indeed an important pars destruens in the action and the reflection by the 15M: they recognized, after decades of the so-called “culture of the transition” based on the idea of a “consensus on the need for a consensus”, that no democracy could ever work without a real place for antagonism.

Unfortunately, in post-Franco Spain, a tight consensus was imposed by both Right and Left on two basic tenets: that there is no alternative to market economy and that a very particular brand of representative democracy based on strict partitocracy, with hardly any direct political participation from the citizen, was the only game in town. Beyond these limits lay the Hell of economic “irresponsibility” and, even worse, the Hell of terrorism. All the anti-democratic features of the Spanish regime could be in some way or other concealed behind the “necessary compromises” of the “young democracy”, but after more than three decades, the much admired “young democracy” didn’t grow into an actually democratic form of government. In a country where the Left traded real citizens’ empowerment in for its integration in the system and a broad liberty in moral matters -as symbolized by Madrid’s “movida” and Almodovar’s films- everything remained quiet until the advent of the crisis.

There is no doubt that the 2008 financial and economic crisis revealed the regime as what it really is to large social sectors, mainly younger educated people, most of them the sons and daughters of working class families. For one month the 15M occupied the central square of Madrid, the Puerta del Sol, in some way imitating the north-African movements against tyrannical and semi-colonial dictatorships. People suddenly noticed a certain parallel between despotic oligarchical regimes and what until then had featured as a European democracy. Like in the neo-colonial world, the Spanish government acted in behalf of economic and financial powers entirely alien to the Spanish people, which saw itself obliged to pay back a debt it had never decided to take out. The very difference between what democracy is supposed to be, i.e., empowerment of the citizens and active participation in public decision-making, and the reality of an autocratic pro-finance regime became apparent. And people reacted.

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Breaking a Cycle

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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 Bottom Dog Bites Back – Call for Articles

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The Bottom Dog, a publication of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, was first published on 20th October 1917. The paper brought together the forces of industrial unionism and radical elements among the craft unions. By the time the Dog's first editor, Ben Dineen, died in November 1918, forty-eight editions of the paper had been published. The Dog began its life in order to represent the interests of the oppressed (the “bottom dog”), whether oppressed in terms of class, race, nation, sex or otherwise.

Always and everywhere the Dog worked to expose social injustice and to highlight the plight of those whose stories are omitted in polite society, insisting that the “bottom dog would only come into his own when every worker, male and female, was thoroughly organised”. The Dog has always attempted to give voice to the oppressed and has always focused its attention on issues such as bad housing, low pay, unemployment and poor working conditions.

Since the attacks on the working class are as fierce as they have ever been, The Dog is now ready to return as a quarterly publication (from December 2013). The current editorial team is determined that when the Dog returns it will bite hard. With sincere respect to the history and spirit of the publication we take the 1975 editorial statement as our starting point:

“The Bottom Dog is not a platform for any political party or faction. It is rather a forum open to all workers who wish to contribute articles or ideas etc. The paper covers issues where the working class is under attack or on the advance e.g. redundancies, unemployment, wage freezes and attacks on workers' rights, repression, sex discrimination and womens' rights, strikes, sit-ins and trade-unionisation, especially when they relate to, affect, teach lessons or show the way forward for workers in this country.”

The Dog aspires to be a voice of, and for, the working class – a space where workers, activists, scholars and all others committed to furthering the interests of the working class as a class, can develop and disseminate ideas, and prepare for the struggles ahead.

To this end, The Bottom Dog is currently inviting article contributions. These will normally be 250-700 words. All submissions and expressions of interest can be sent to bottomdog@limerickcounciloftradeunions.com. Accepted articles will be published in the printed edition or/and on our website: http://www.limerickcounciloftradeunions.com/apps/blog/

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Left Forum Debate: Does Ireland Need a New Left Party? Sat. Nov 2nd 2013 @ Teacher’s Club

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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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To the Crucible II: A Further Irish Engagement with the Greek Crisis and the Greek Left

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This is a sequel to To the crucible: An Irish Engagement with the Greek Crisis and the Greek Left published on the 21st of January, 2013.

The Dominant Narrative

“Things have gone very quiet in Greece, haven’t they?” So many people said that to me in the past six months or so. I responded that there was a lot going on, even if international media weren’t covering it. There were civil mobilisations of teachers and transport workers, as well as rising unemployment, emigration and impoverishment, being met with continuing protest, strikes, occupations. Even so, I sensed a lull in the rhythm of resistance, since the big demonstrations opposing the passage of the third memorandum last autumn. Obviously people couldn’t keep going at that pitch all the time, but how many were succumbing to exhaustion, despair, defeat? How many were quietly going about their work in solidarity networks, policy development, political education?

The story circulating in May, promoted by its government, was that Greece had stabilised and protest had subsided. Grexit had given way to Grecovery. Antonis Samaras, who was most actively articulating this, touring the world with the good news, even heralded a Greek ‘renaissance’. The feeblest of economic indicators were offered as evidence, although international commentators, even ones who wanted to believe this story, found it hard to get past the fact that most indicators still pointed in the opposite direction. In other statements, Samaras conceded that they hadn’t really changed the numbers yet, but insisted that they had eliminated the ‘negative psychology’.

Many Greeks were scathing, pointing out that tiny shifts from rating agencies and bond yields paled into insignificance aside the continuing freefall of the economy and the still deteriorating conditions of life for non-oligarchic Greeks. Among indicators being trumpeted were lower wages, which might be good news for investors, but hardly for workers. Yanis Varoufakis labelled the Greek success story as the ‘latest Orwellian turn of the Greek crisis’ and laid the economic facts on the line’

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Marxism and Social Movements

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New Book: “Marxism and Social Movements” 

Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky and Alf Nilsen, eds., (2013), Marxism and social movements. Leiden: Brill (Historical Materialism book series).

482pp. hardback; ISBN 9789004211759. Paperback version with Haymarket to follow; some chapters available online.

Marxism and Social Movements is the first sustained engagement between social movement theory and Marxist approaches to collective action. The chapters collected here, by leading figures in both fields, discuss the potential for a Marxist theory of social movements; explore the developmental processes and political tensions within movements; set the question in a long historical perspective; and analyse contemporary movements against neo-liberalism and austerity.

Exploring struggles on six continents over 150 years, this collection shows the power of Marxist analysis in relation not only to class politics, labour movements and revolutions but also anticolonial and anti-racist struggles, community activism and environmental justice, indigenous struggles and anti-austerity protest. It sets a new agenda both for Marxist theory and for movement research.

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05-07-2013RM

The roads to power: capitalist democracy and socialist strategy

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This article comes from an abortive book project that I was working on about five years ago. The questions that it raises about political strategy for the radical left now appear far more pressing than they did when I wrote it, in the light of events in southern Europe and especially Greece. It sets out two alternative strategies for left-wing parties in capitalist democracies—one passing through the established parliamentary institutions, the other going beyond them—by summarizing the views of two important Marxist thinkers, Ralph Miliband and Ernest Mandel. It was originally published in Spirit of Contradicition on the 1st of July.

On the eve of the global economic crisis, the French socialist writer Daniel Bensaid announced the ‘return of strategy’ as a topic for discussion among progressive and radical forces. According to Bensaid, a long defensive period was drawing to a close: ‘We are coming to the end of the phase of the big refusal and of stoical resistance . . . [characterized by] slogans like ‘The world is not a commodity’ or ‘Our world is not for sale’. We need to be specific about what the ‘possible’ world is and, above all, we need to explore how to get there.’[1] Bensaid argued for renewed discussion, not of ‘models’ for radical change, but of ‘strategic hypotheses’: ‘Models are something to be copied; they are instructions for use. A hypothesis is a guide to action that starts from past experience but is open and can be modified in the light of new experience or unexpected circumstances.’[2] 

Labour and socialist movements in the industrialized North have been dealing with the challenges posed by bourgeois or capitalist democracy for many years. These questions are now of equally pressing interest beyond Europe and North America, as various forms of capitalist democracy take root from Brazil to South Africa. A ‘strategic hypothesis’ of the sort called for by Daniel Bensaid must address the opportunities and difficulties which such political systems present for the Left. 

Classical perspectives 

The body of thought known as ‘classical Marxism’ can be of limited use for any survey of capitalist democracy, and for obvious reasons. Marx and Engels died at a time when absolute monarchies still dominated European politics and universal suffrage was a rare phenomenon. The leading thinkers associated with the Russian revolution and the Communist International witnessed a period when parliamentary democracy appeared to be in danger of extinction. As Eric Hobsbawm recalls: ‘The twenty years between Mussolini’s so-called ‘March on Rome’ and the peak of the Axis success in the Second World War saw an accelerating, increasingly catastrophic, retreat of liberal political institutions . . . the only European countries with adequately democratic political institutions that functioned without a break during the entire inter-war period were Britain, Finland (only just), the Irish Free State, Sweden and Switzerland.’[3] 

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