After the Deadline – Night of the Narky Bollixes

Posted: June 6, 2013 in politics

The deadline has passed for Property Tax registration with around 90% compliance. The figures are almost certainly being spun but it’s still bad. The boycott has been defeated by government threats and media bias.

Responses to Defeat

There are many ways to deal with failure. There are some who refuse to accept it and blindly struggle on without changing their position – I have rarely met these people, but they do exist. If you want an example of the other – far more common – bad response to defeat then check the comments after this article.

Another response is to search frantically for scapegoats and hammer them to hell.

(For a classic example ask for his latest masterpiece, “Having Damaged the CAHWT Campaign by Imposing Suicidal Policies SP and SWP Move in to Pick UP the Recruits!” He emphasizes that they are picking UP recruits, rather than picking DOWN recruits)

Racist imperialist pig and all as he was, Rudyard Kipling had a point when he said that whether you meet with triumph or disaster, you should “treat these two imposters just the same”. The task is the same: to analyse coolly the possibilities and alter previous strategies according to a changed situation. But it’s never as easy. Triumph is taken to vindicate previously-held strategies and ideas, while failure is held to discredit them.

Are our friends commenting on Cedar Lounge calmly weighing up the situation, criticising mistakes and pointing towards a way forward? Even the original post, which is well-considered and for instance doesn’t go mad speculating about Declan Ganley becoming Ireland’s Berlusconi on account of one meeting in Cork, is weighed down by a catalogue of the negatives in the situation.

Acknowledging difficulties and threats is a necessity but a lot of people on the left in Ireland treat it as an enormous virtue. In the effort to be as “realistic” as possible (because they believe that socialism should creep self-consciously around the place apologising for itself), this cohort overstates difficulties, describes only negatives, and leaps on any defeat to try and showcase their “realism”, adding to people’s demoralisation.

The Situation

If we want to carve a clean path through rocky waters we need to identify the rocks, describe them fully, and estimate also what might lie invisible just beneath the surface. However the point of this exercise is to identify the safe and fruitful channels between the rocks. A catalogue of vicious spiky rocks is not a useful chart of a stretch of water. It is an argument for staying on the shore.

(Sound carries over water – many of those we hear warning us of the rocks are doing so from the shore and they have no intention of ever stepping into a boat.)

We have a boycott – too small a boycott, but one in the hundreds of thousands. The boycott has failed to defeat the tax – but still we must defend the boycott.

Avenue Number One

The government has to do something about this boycott. If they ignore it, then once again their threats have been proved false. The weapon of fear and demoralisation which they waved around this time will be laughed at next time.

Avenue Number Two

On the other hand, if they carry out their threats, this is a possible provocation to a renewal of struggle. Considering hundreds of thousands of people would have money deducted directly from pay and pensions and welfare then to say the very least this will be an issue for the campaign to hammer the government on. It is not inevitable that this will lead to an upsurge but it is a possibility -it is an avenue for which we have to be prepared.

Avenue Number Three

A key weapon in defending the boycott is a slate of local election candidates in 2014 to smash up a few local labour strongholds. The obvious difficulty is that these elections will not take place for 12 months. We need to maintain and extend the campaign between now and then if we want to be fighting-fit in 9 or 10 months when we’re into election season.

On the other hand we need to be open to the possibilities in this situation. Demoralisation is an issue here, but fear is not. The establishment parties can lie, spin and spend huge amounts of money, but they can’t threaten to fine us for voting the wrong way. Again, to say the very least, a new field of battle will open up and we need to be ready for it.

As the IRA man once described to a British journalist the foreign policy of Sinn Fein – “REVENGE, bejasus!” What was evident on the doors was that people didn’t want to pay, but were scared. The last-minute rush to register is also evidence of a “wait-and-see” attitude – again, to see how things stood before sticking your neck out. The price of ruling by fear is a storing-up of resentment which will break out in the future with interest.

For Labour, an already disintegrating and crisis-ridden party, imposing this tax under threats may be another nail in the coffin. Fine Gael may also have surrendered ground. Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail’s opposition was very clearly hypocritical and will be easily exposed. Where there are moderately well-organised campaigns, there is an opportunity to break onto the councils and register a serious vote for a new left force in the form of a nationwide anti-Property Tax, anti-austerity slate.

A word on the strategy pursued so far

Not calling for a boycott would have been an immediate surrender of the most important positions.A strong boycott would have presented the government with a massive problem. Imposing deduction at source would have been a political impossibility, or at least led to a stormy summer that would have shaken the government to its core.

Many of the organised left groups, however, even when a boycott was agreed upon, seemed to have a crystal ball which told them it wouldn’t work. There was a great tally-ho pooling of energy and forward momentum in the Household Tax boycott in 2011 and a real buzz was created. In 2012-13 there was a lukewarmness to the approach of many in the campaign. For example, one leaflet produced by a campaign committee did not dare to argue the campaign’s position, it just “gave the facts” in the manner of a government leaflet.

Of particular confusion to me are the Left Forum types who blast the left for a failure to make large gains after five years of austerity and crisis, and who call for a pluralistic, multi-tendency, broad left movement which would be relevant to the working class. They seemed not to realise that this already existed! They really wanted something identical to CAHWT/CAPTA to happen, but few seemed to have gotten involved with it, preferring to hold out for.. what, exactly?

The fact is that if the full resources and people-power of the left had been pressed toward the boycott, we could have created a buzz around it and victory would have been a probability. This is not to denigrate those who did take part, it’s to praise them and hold them up as an example.

The comments on the cedar lounge post seem to be designed to depress people and derail the campaign. Remember that one of the biggest, most dangerous rocks in the channel is demoralisation and hysteria. One of the major effects of media bias and government threats is to scare and depress. Maintain a clear and calm analysis of what’s going on and what the possibilities are. Effectively shouting “Run to the hills! The fascists are coming! Ganley will be the Irish Berlusconi! The left is impotent!”

…it’s not clear, it’s not calm, and it’s not analysis. It’s not correct to speak of “after the CAHWT.” As an organisation we must maintain and expand it to fight in the 2014 elections and sweep up as much as possible of the nearly 1 in every 2 voters who don’t want Labour, FG, FF or SF.

  1. Sorry to disagree with you for once. The “Left Forum Types” so far as I’m aware have been actively involved, and the CAHWT is not a broad left movement, it was a householders movement predominantly, in political content, in spite of the involvement of Left parties and groups. The rest of my comment is on the much – denigrated CLR thread.

  2. And where exactly does the fight against water charges, and particularly water meter installations, fit into this electoralist approach?

    This also doesn’t deal with the very real political problems resulting from some groups deciding to stand candidates.

    Candidates running in the name of the CAHWT are going to be seen as defacto spokespeople for the whole campaign when they have no democratic mandate, outside of their own local group, to do so.

    The political platform any such CAHWT candidates run on will be decided by just the specific local group and raises the question of how any of us who disagree with elements of that platform, or comments made by the candidates on any issue, will be able to disassociate ourselves from it?

    It seems we are all being faced with a choice over which path to take and it is hard to see how the CAHWT can continue as a unitary entity.

  3. ‘Left forum’ types haven’t made any denunciations you speak of, we are simply creating a space for open discussion. In fact we moved the date of the conference to not clash with the housing tax conference (which split anyway).

  4. Seán Marlow says:

    Once I read “Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail’s opposition was very clearly hypocritical and will be easily exposed.”, I realised why the boycott failed. Anyone who can’t see the difference between FF, who proposed the FFamily Home Tax, and SF who proposed a costed alternative Wealth Tax is politically illiterate.

  5. sapteuq says:

    thanks for comments folks, to be fair that should read “some left forum types”. CAHWT is a left-wing anti-austerity movement based on a section of the working class- the only section that’s fought in a serious way. Anyone interested in advancing the cause of that class shouldn’t need to have the importance of it explained.
    Yes, we need to physically block water meters. As for who represents who, etc, these are the issues that come with a united broad slate, and they’re not as daunting as the prospect of a united slate is vital.
    Sinn Fein’s opposition was hypocritical- they opposed it but also opposed the boycott, demanding instead just that people vote for them. If their resources had been behind the boycott, just imagine the opportunities. Also they’re imposing austerity in the North and if they get into govt here they’ll give the same excuses they’re giving already a few miles up the road.
    FF and SF are not identical, of course not, and I never said so. Just that in their opposition to the tax both are hypocritical

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