Sunday, December 14, 2014

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A Dismal Picture

Tommy McKearney delivered this address in the Irish Institute, Dublin on Thursday 13th November 2014 to an audience commemorating the 80th anniversary of the launch of the Republican Congress. Tommy McKearney is a member of the Independent Workers Union and has been a long time socialist activist. The address featured on his blog.


Two governing coalitions on this island and both failing to deliver for those they preside over in two failed, partitioned states. Both of these failed political entities guided and managed by those adhering to the inadequate and failed ideologies of neo-liberal capitalism and right-of-centre social democracy. That dismal picture is Ireland, north and south as we approach the centenary of the 1916 rising. Yet, in spite of the plain to be seen popular disenchantment in the South and evident despair in the North we have yet to build a political movement capable of offering a clear and viable alternative to the prevailing and pervasive inertia and decline. Because if the Republican Congress failed to deliver in 1934, 80 years later we have not even reached the starting line. 

It was once said of the Bourbons that following their 1815 restoration, coming as it did in the aftermath of the political cataclysm that was Jacobin inspired republican revolution and Napoleonic Empire building, that they, the Bourbons had forgotten nothing and learned nothing as a result of the overthrow of the Ancien Régime.

It would be a gross exaggeration to compare the Republic of Ireland’s recent economic crisis with those world-shaking events in France of the late 18th and early 19th century but with one exception. The southern Irish ruling class of today appears, just like the restored Bourbons, to have learnt nothing from the 2010 crisis nor have they forgotten anything in terms of how they used to govern and rule and still wish to do so.

Following the upheaval brought about by the 2010 crisis, little has improved. No beneficial structural changes have been made to the economy. A property boom/bubble is gathering pace in Dublin while there is a shortage of housing and rents are increasing unsustainably. The bonus culture is as well implanted now as it was been in the past and wealthy tax dodgers, both individual and corporate, are as comfortably cosseted as at any time in our history.

On the other hand, workers’ ncome has fallen, emigration has devastated whole communities, the social welfare net has been degraded over and over again and the Dail has become a transmission vehicle for decisions made by big Capital in Germany and Washington.

And if the southern Irish state is flagging as an effective administrative political entity, the northern six county state is verging on farce. Not only does the Stormont Executive disagree on a budget, and disagree on the nature of education, and disagree on what happened in the past and how it might be addressed; they don’t even agree on the name for the place or how to courteously address the Assembly’s chair. Under such circumstances it is hardly surprising that they do not share a vision for its future. Given the debilitating and sterile nature of politics in the northern state, it is clear that its local political administration is unable to offer anything other than a barren, negative programme resulting is sectarian stagnation. Peace of the sort there may be but progress is in short supply.

The governing economic philosophy on both sides of the border resonates to a quip made by John Maynard Keynes in a past decade when he said:
Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

In light of the above, then remember Enda Kenny proudly proclaiming his ambition to make Ireland the best little country for business in the world and in the process, bind Ireland to the draconian Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. His social democratic coalition partners offered no resistance to these proposals and are clearly bereft of any concrete concept of how to overcome the economic trough into which Ireland has fallen.

North of the border, the best that the two-party power-sharing arrangement can offered by way of an economic plan is to lower corporation tax in an attempt to compete with business incentives offered by the southern state. The Northern Assembly is planning to implement, therefore, the granting of financial concessions to foreign multi-nationals at the cost of an equivalent diminution of the London Exchequer’s block grant. A trade-off that in practice means cutting social welfare in order to reward corporate shareholders.

At the heart of the problems north and south is a slavish adherence by the establishment in both states to reactionary or failed ideologies. Whether knowingly or not, the prevailing plan or blueprint to which both jurisdictions are working is a blending of free-market neo-liberalism barely tempered by a dysfunctional, right of centre social democracy ---- with the former dictating the pace. Simultaneously, both the Republic and Northern Ireland are embedded within a world order governed by an overarching imperialism which in effect is the higher stage of its underpinning economic infrastructure; capitalism.

Ninety-two years after the foundation of the southern state, its governing coalition is striving to introduce a water tax, which it has been ordered to do so by foreign financiers acting through, among others, the offices of the European Central Bank. An agency that, as its President Mario Draghi (Pay: €378,240) told us recently, is not answerable to any national parliaments but only to the European commission. In a wider sense, the entire southern Irish economy is now regulated by the European Union’s neo-liberal agenda, which not only dictates the extent of the state’s budget deficit but also reaches into other areas once the preserve of national parliaments. Areas such as public services where there is ongoing encroachment of marketisation and sophisticated and devious practices geared to diminish labour rights and protections to name just a few.

Ninety-four years after the foundation of the northern state, there is rancorous animosity within its institutions, uncertainty about their permanency and no real idea of how to develop its economy. In response to the Scottish referendum, central government in London is developing a new strategy for peripheral regions of the United Kingdom. Germane to this review will be the fact that the northern six counties are not seen as either economically or strategically vital to the interests of a British state all too aware that changing demographics will ultimately put the six county state’s existence in question

Set against this pessimistic analysis is the fact that the contours of Ireland’s political landscape are changing and resistance to the status quo is growing.

The three-party structure that dominated the southern state since the mid 1920s is no longer as secure as it once was. Opinion polls and more significantly, election results, are showing that the thundering blow, which rocked Fianna Fail in 2011 has spread across the party political landscape. Local government and European elections indicated a profound change in outlook. It is now evident that Sinn Fein and a range of left leaning candidates have created a significant challenge to the old triumvirate of, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour. In fact the latter two parties are being pushed further to the margins while the former is struggling to hold on to its ultra-conservative base.

Fine Gael, challenged by a heritage linking it to Michael Collins, has now retreated into Redmondism. Fianna Fail, frightened by the republicanism it once espoused, has adopted 26-County Free Statism, while the Labour Party, fleeing frantically from the ghosts of Connolly and Larkin has imploded. Southern Irish society is not falling apart but the southern state has conceded its sovereignty to others and as such fails to meet the basic criteria required for a republic – that of a self-governing citizenry, something that has not gone unnoticed across the water by one of Margaret Thatcher’s old ministers;

Countries with weak economies in the eurozone have clearly sacrificed the authority to govern themselves. National governments slash public spending and create unemployment because the German chancellor must satisfy the German voter that she is being prudent and tough.’ … Michael Portillo[1]

Equally important in this challenge to the Republic’s Ancien Régime is the emergence of resistance on the streets. Opposition to the household charge introduced a new generation to protest while the current anti-water-tax campaign has revealed a potential Mt. Vesuvius parked beside Enda and Joan’s pretty blue and pink Pompeii.

While the changing reality of political life in the South is clearly discernable, there are some small signals that north of the border all is not cast in concrete. Not only are there trade union organised campaigns supporting the Welfare State but a sliver of evidence emerged of late that the DUP is concerned about left wing ideas gaining purchase among it s working class supporters. Last week the DUP MLA Nelson McCausland, who chairs the Stormont Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure revealed in his weekly column in the Belfast Telegraph [2] the extent of the ‘conspiracy’ that plunged his beloved province into three decades of violence. In short it was the communists – Irish, British, and Russian. As the British actor Michael Caine used to say ‘ …not many people know that’ and least of all I imagine; those Irish, British and Russian communists. Joking aside, these stories usually emerge from within right-wing unionism when the cause of labour is raising its head among the Protestant working class.

To return to the observation made at the beginning. In spite of developing conditions, we are awaiting the emergence of a broad anti-imperialist front capable of bring clarity of analysis, unity of purpose and a focus of action to the current situation. To address this question a number of points have to be made.

The difficulty facing Ireland north and south requires a solution encompassing an answer to both the democratic deficit engendered by imperialism and the economic problems caused by capitalism. The answer can only be found within a socialist republican analysis and a socialist republican response. A true peoples’ republican democracy founded on the principles of democratic ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

However, that assessment is only the first step in developing a coherent programme and a dynamic political movement. The theory has to be unpacked and refined and discussed and owned by the greatest number of people possible, so that it becomes a guide for action and not the preserve of a select few theoritician. We need a theory that explores, analyses and defined imperialism in all its manifestations in the present 21st century. A theory that assists in the development of a viable and effective social and economic alternative to that currently inflicting so much damage pn the people of this country. Finally it has to a theory capable of drawing together all the forces capable of achieving this objective.

Too often in the past the goal of drawing these forces together has been spoiled by a rush to coalesce. Too many promising initiatives have fallen because there has been superficial agreement on areas that all too soon cause a parting of the ways. We, as working people, can ill afford more demoralising divisions. Progress has to be built on the solid ground of a clear understanding of what unites us and an honest admission of where we disagree followed by mature and lasting agreement on the issues we cooperate and work on.

For this reason, the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum has been established to offer a structure through which; the theoretical issues can be explored and discussed; through which the revealed theory can be applied to current topics, and thus equipped, the people of Ireland can build a movement capable of realising the objective – an independent sovereign republic maintaining its citizens’ wellbeing through a communally organised and socialist republic.

We in the Forum claim no position of privilege in this process. We are not dictating a programme. We merely state that the project has to be enlightened by the exploration of three key areas of political reality:


· The impact of class

· The reality of imperialism

· The role of the state

With that understanding in place and every capable shoulder to the wheel, we can ensure that the vision becomes a reality and ensure that working peoples’ republic did not die in 1916 in the stone-breakers yard in Kilmainham jail.


[1] Britain has the best of both worlds on the fringes of Europe. Michael Portillo … Financial Times, November 7, 2014

[2] The perfect storm that saw Ulster explode in a wave of bloody violence. Nelson McCausland … Belfast Telegraph, 06 November 201

29 comments :

Henry JoY said...

"... Progress has to be built on the solid ground of a clear understanding of what unites us and an honest admission of where we disagree ..."

Amen Tommy.

Clarity of understanding and honest assessment (never mind honest admissions) are rarely accessible to those in an aroused or agitated mood.

Calm heads are essential in developing and establishing such foundations.

Good luck with your efforts Tommy.

larry hughes said...

Good luck indeed. People see republicanism and socialism in a negative light historically. I'll not set my alarm for the dawning of a socialist republic in Ireland where the poor are conservative by nature and money mad. More interesting just now is the prospect of Greece further defaulting and exiting the Euro zone. That will hopefully see a few other small nations doing likewise and benefit from an exchange rate which is denied them in the euro nonsense zone.

Wolfsbane said...

I appreciate Tommy's idealism and good-will for all the people in Ireland - but history suggests he is barking up the wrong tree in his search for a solution.

Beginning with the lesser problem, a UI against the wishes of the PUL people will have to be a police-state. Hardly a desirable option for ordinary CNRs, never mind PULs.

More significantly, Marxism has been tried and has repeatedly failed to improve the lot of all but the most oppressed. It just replaces one oppression with a another, usually greater.

Capitalism moderated by Government on behalf of the people must be the answer, it seems to me. It has repeatedly produced fair to good results compared to the alternatives.

It has failed when controls were lifted, or directed by corrupt politicians.

Or am I mistaken? Has a Marxist success story escaped my notice?

DaithiD said...

Wolfsbane, those on the hard left like Tommy (although im not speaking for him) would probably say there has never been a truly Communist country, that Stalinism was a right wing subversion of Marxism, and so the idea is untested. My counter argument would always be : given Irelands vast lineage of ‘snout-in-trough’ politicians, would we end up in a Marxist utopia? Or would we end up like every other country they claim isn’t truly Marxist?

Wolfsbane said...

DaithiD, exactly!

I once had a communist friend (took his yearly holidays in Cuba) explain to me how they were still working towards true communism.

Just a more sustained and harder tug on those bootstraps and we'll soon be flying!

DaithiD said...

Wolfsbane,I fell in with a bad crowd at Uni so sat through interminable lectures on such things (ive been ‘clean’ for 10 years now). The wonderful thing about the hidden hand of profits (apart from the obvious) are that they promote optimal capital allocation, so that for example ,industries don’t end up producing a tractor for every adult citizen simply because central planners had no incentive to stop production.
Its probably also why repressive laws go hand in hand with disincentivised l economies.

AM said...

DaitihiD,

while being as suspicious of central plans as you - they always produce some despot who wants to be the central planner - I don't think the profit drive gives rise to optimal capital location: optimal for profiteers but not necessarily for society. I think capital being so ruinous should be brought under democratic control without falling under despotic control. How do we achieve that? I don't know.

DaithiD said...

AM, Capitalism promotes risk taking and innovation so we have modern miracles like iPhones and 4G networks in the decades after privatisation of those industries. Thus the drive for profits has also benefited society. Capitalism by design is not anymore ruinous than Marxism ,(the greedy bastards want mass consumers, not penniless broken people !), at its worst it makes people a prisoner to their desires, but this is still better than being a legal prisoner, for there is still an element of choice that is absent in the structures that central planners derive from.
Governments should only seek to prevent monopolies, market forces will take care of the rest (bubbles and crashes etc).
Basically there is less chance for idiots to ruin things with Capitalism.

AM said...

DaithiD,

capitalism is a great innovator: one of the reasons why Marx thought it so worth the study he put into it. But so is war in terms of advancing technology. I am not sure we would recommend war on those grounds alone.

Greed is a major incentive and capitalism is for the most part greed driven. No one on this earth requires the amount of wealth that capitalists amass.

Marxism has been ruinous and for that reason I am not a Marxist in prescriptive terms although I very much subscribe to the descriptive aspect of Marxism. I can't stand the vanguard types, feeling they are simply trying to become a ruling class thru a different method.

I think capitalism is quite content with penniless broken people as a disciplinary and competitive factor. Hence the persistent drive to roll back the gains post World War 2 which can only immiserate.

Capitalism does not need idiots to ruin things: it is systemic to it.

Like you I don't want to have the equality of the prisoner but I don't find capitalism very liberating. Money is very liberating but becomes problematic when it is used to deny liberty to others.

I subscribe to what works: I don't think capitalism works very well.

And I still feel people have the right to bring capital under democratic control.

Tain Bo said...

Wolfsbane,

I believe David Bowie summed up communism in one line:

Lenin’s on sale again.

Tain Bo said...

Anthony,

it is that methodology of a communist ruling class that eventually topples itself. Capitalism is sneakier as it creates a distraction allowing a wee bit more freedoms; just enough to keep the masses from noticing the sheep are being fleeced.

We could say that millionaires are the new middle-class knocked of their perch by the rise in Billionaires the new elitists.

DaithiD said...

Thanks AM, some thoughts :

"Greed is a major incentive and capitalism is for the most part greed driven. No one on this earth requires the amount of wealth that capitalists amass."

Well it's an individuals pursuit none the less, a state that dictates these parameters is a dictatorship.


"I think capitalism is quite content with penniless broken people as a disciplinary and competitive factor. Hence the persistent drive to roll back the gains post World War 2 which can only immiserate."

This is just scapegoating one section of the community, the hard right pull the same trick on a racial basis.The republic I dream of for Ireland would encompass all stratas of society.

"And I still feel people have the right to bring capital under democratic control."

In most instances it already is under democratic control via share ownership. Shareholders hold the executive to account.

AM said...

DaithiD,

a state bringing the most essential component of society under democratic control, the economy, is democratic not dictatorial. The challenge is to keep it democratic and prevent it going dictatorial. Restricting greed that is harmful to society seems to me a positive measure.

I don't see what is being scapegoated. You could assist by explaining in greater detail.

On the contrary capital has evaded democratic control. I think that evasion is structurally embedded in the nature of the capitalist state if my understanding of Poulantzas is correct. Of course my reading might not be correct given that he is notoriously abstract but we can only try.

DaithiD said...

"I don't see what is being scapegoated. You could assist by explaining in greater detail."

You are taking a negative aspect of the system, and claiming this is a defining characteristic, and those participants of willfully pursuing this. Take an analogy of the Unionists defining the entire Provo campaign in terms of Enniskillens, and that those civilian deaths were the main objective, as opposed to a risky oversight.

AM said...

DaithiD,

rather than selecting a negative aspect of the system I see capitalism as systemically negative.

Capitalism is systemically sustained in part by people being left behind. It is not a chance element. It has systemically failed to come up with a corrective.

Capitalism divides wealth in the most skewed manner and continuously endeavours to redistribute wealth in favour of the profiteers and away from the poor.

While recognising the problems posed by the power lust of the Marxists, I cannot see the type of greed endemic to capitalism and which serves as its engine as something that can be recommended.

Such a system in my view is not ethically superior to a system that brings capital under democratic control and ensures a distribution of wealth towards the poor and away from the avaricious.

AM said...

the morning after ... it is amazing to find what the pen has churned out the night before fuelled by bourbon!!

Henry JoY said...

Touched by the Holy Spirits Anthony we occasionally find our selves speaking in tongues!

Niall said...

19th century concepts for 21st century societies.
I'm not sure how relevant it is these days to divide a society up in to class concepts defined within tangible 19th century imperialism.

AM said...

the problem Henry is rereading it the following morning: one good reason for allowing a get out of jail free card for what is said in the comments section.

Niall,

if Marx is right on the nature of capital, as a growing number of capitalist economists believe, then there is some conceptual relevance to the 21st Century.

The challenge is how to strategise politically from it. I haven't seen that done yet.

A basic problem is that most people want more and capitalism has proven to be more productive than socialism (hence Kruschev's wrong predictions leading to a crisis of legitimation for the Soviet system from the 70s on.)

And those of us who don't really grasp the economics all that well are at a disadvantage every time someone with a little economic knowledge comes forward. Look at the mauling Adams sustained at the hands of McDowell and that was really an argument between two bald men over a comb. McDowell at least knew what the comb was for.

DaithiD said...

AM, you equip yourself well, economics isnt an exact science anyway. Its a really crucial debate to be having, because it seems the current Republican groupings are competing to be the furthest left. Any military victory (which i expect at some stage) will be squandered if they pursue this as a Government of a United Ireland. The Proclamation was written at a time when Britain had the largest Empire in the world, to be weary of “Capitalism”/British Power then might of been prudent. They arent any longer, and trade is set according to internationally agreed rules. A United Ireland outside of international trade would be a inviable state, and a completely pyrhric victory.

Wolfsbane said...

Tain Bo said:
'I believe David Bowie summed up communism in one line:
Lenin’s on sale again.'

:)

AM said:
'a system that brings capital under democratic control and ensures a distribution of wealth towards the poor and away from the avaricious'

Do not Compassionate Conservatism and Social Capitalism seem to have that in mind?

Wolfsbane said...

DaithiD said:
' The wonderful thing about the hidden hand of profits (apart from the obvious) are that they promote optimal capital allocation, so that for example ,industries don’t end up producing a tractor for every adult citizen simply because central planners had no incentive to stop production.
Its probably also why repressive laws go hand in hand with disincentivised l economies.'

I hesitate to post more on economic issues as I'm just a 'prol' among economists. But let me state the Christian take on the problem.

Uncontrolled capitalism will bring out the greed and lust for power in the rich. Marxism/Socialism will bring out the same in that sort of Government.

Man has an inherently corrupt nature that needs restraint, checks and balances, if it is not to accrue wealth and power for its elite, and oppress the masses. Capital leaders and Party leaders have the same snouts.

Democracy has been a blessing from God, a moderation on the powerful. Not ideal, but better than the alternatives.

We should be arguing for getting the best out of democracy, fiddling with the controls for the optimum of wealth generation, social welfare and civic freedoms. Not thinking of changing it for failed models, or yet untried models that take no account of human nature.

Henry JoY said...

Yeah Anthony the 'dusty bin' edit facility is there for us all. Chose to remove a comment at least once myself!

That said though, I followed your exchanges with Dáithí last night with interest and could understand both your positions.

Truth is, in my opinion, there has to be a systematic change at some stage soon. Relentless consumerism is ultimately unsustainable.

Individuals can and ought exercise restraint to the pervasive manipulations of their wants.
And there is a place for community based 'not for profit Trusts' in the provision of services in health, education, disability and social care sectors too.

There are alternatives to the capitalist comoditisation of services and to those centralised and paternalistically elitist ones previous to Thatcherism.

I read recently a good interview with Adam Curtis, writer and producer of the 2002 documentary 'Century of the Self' which may be relevant. See here to read 'A seething mass of desires: Freud's hold over history'.

AM said...

DaithiD,

your comment on the Proclamation would make for an interesting piece in the vein started by Nuala of What The Proclamation Means to Me

There is a lot of Left discourse among the republican groups opposed to Treatyite politics. A lot of it seems to be what Lenin said about waving the red flag without any red strategic orientation. Yet, many of them remain opposed to what they feel is a serious lack of social justice and believe that capitalism is responsible for it. A system that produces such a concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and causes serious problems of deprivation not to mention environmental harm will always seem something in need of being radically challenged by republicans. If they merely see it as instrumental to furthering their own political ends, their efforts will be in vain.

I suppose ultimately the question is can capitalism continuously reproduce itself? Or is the Marxist law of economics that capitalism cannot be sustained forever going to prevail?

Economic systems do change. They are, like nations, not timeless entities but very much of their historical time.

Marx predicted socialism or barbarism. I think ultimately, that society globally will have to socialise the economy to avoid harm. But I am no economist and the Trotskyist Left has been predicting the imminent end of capitalism since the 1930s.

Wolfsbane,

I think caring capitalism or compassionate conservatism are fringes on the system in general.

Henry,

it looks good but is lengthy.

DaithiD said...

AM , I would be honoured to write something on it for this site.The vainity in me worries if anyone will comment , maybe I've thrown enough "utter hogwash" comments out there to warrant a kicking back. I hope so.

AM said...

DaithiD,

it is a chance we all take! You really have to have the thick skin of a comedian I once read about trying to make a Glasgow audience laugh. You will give as good as you get. But it is just an invitation, not a challenge. Feel free to decline.

larry hughes said...

Agree with DaithiD regarding global realities and believe a free Ireland of the type espoused by the republicans 1916 and the rest will try and make a reality the Ireland Dev wanted. Shit poor taking Irish at the crossroads. Watch emigration then.

David Higgins said...

I think these left, right paradigm arguments completely miss the point. Anybody with a degree of intelligence could interpret the proclamation, or any rhetoric for their own agenda. Republicans were fighting against injustice, simple. That injustice happened to be capitalism, so republicans on the whole opposed capitalism, if we faced soviets or outlook no doubt would have been different. My point is while while we argue about which form of control suits us better, injustice continues. When push comes to shove does it matter if the people oppressing you have on pinstripe suits or overalls?

larry hughes said...

David Higgins

republicans opposed capitalism? have you been on magic mushrooms?