Posts Tagged ‘Socialism’

Whenever the media open their mouth about Greece, behind the cookie-cuttered cliches (“exploiting public anger at austerity”, “police attacked during demonstrations”) there are several criticisms of Syriza’s plans that come out – criticisms that say a lot more than the critics intended.

Here they are, in a nutshell. Please comment below if there are any I’ve missed.

According to the mainstream media:

– Syriza shouldn’t tax the rich, because then the rich will just take their money out of the country.

– Syriza shouldn’t seek debt write-offs, because then they’ll be kicked out of the Euro.

– Syriza shouldn’t reverse the massive attacks on workers’ rights, pay and conditions over the past few years, because then employers will stop investing.

– Syriza shouldn’t undertake any radical measures at all, because that will scare investors and rattle the markets.

All these criticisms can be summed up as follows:

If Syriza acts in the interests of working-class people, then rich people will take revenge by doing unspeakably anti-social things. 

So, taken together, these criticisms and dire warnings make up the most sharp and devastating exposure of the capitalist system that we can put into words. There is a tiny percentage of humanity that holds too much power: the capitalist class (AKA “investors”, “markets”, “employers”, “world leaders”, “the wealthy”). This class, this powerful minority, will sabotage justice if justice interferes with profit.

So their “criticisms” of Syriza’s “radical”, “reckless” and “irresponsible” policies actually expose the injustice and irrationality of the whole system we live under. Far from being “reckless”, aren’t Syriza being a little too soft in trying to make accommodations with this system?

Instead of trying to find common ground with this anti-social robber class, Syriza should be trying to find common ground with working-class people across Europe, and with the maximum number of working- and middle-class people in Greece. Instead of basing themselves on what the the rich are willing to concede, the bottom line should be what the Greek people need. Yes, even though that goes beyond the limits of the capitalist system.

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“Is human nature compatible with socialism?”

Usually I say that a question is a good question before I answer it. But this is not a good question. It’s a totally irrelevant one.

The idea behind the question, which I hear often, is that for a socialist society to work human beings would have to be superhumanly selfless and good. It’s a stupid question because socialism is the exact opposite: it’s about creating a society which, in contrast to capitalism, does not demand insanely utopian ideas about human nature, which we will examine below.

I stand back from making any bold pronouncements about “human nature” because that’s something that operates completely differently in different contexts, in different situations. Children brought up by dogs find it very difficult to function among humans. Humans living in, say, Ireland, tend almost universally not to eat one another. Humans on life-rafts, isolated in the ocean, or trapped in plane-wrecks in mountains, often eat their dead or even kill the weakest for food. In famines cannibalism becomes widespread.

The dispossession of the rich and the rational planning of the economy by the people themselves would provide for full employment, shorter working hours, better pay, better services, full access to education at all levels and more democratic participation. This is a new context in which people live out their lives and form their characters. It’s unreasonable to say that it would not produce a different, better human being.

We can generally count on people to want to earn wages and have good consumer products and public services, and to learn as much as possible. Where are the conflicts with human nature? Where does socialism place too great a burden on people’s self-interest?

On the other hand, the shockingly innocent demands capitalism places on human nature are very clear.

 

  1. Pro-capitalists believe that if one small group of people has the lion’s share of the money, they will tend to invest it in socially-useful areas. Of course this is utopian: these people, left to dispose of the riches of the planet as they see fit, will tend to look after themselves. This means corruption, environmental destruction, exploitation, war, gambling and economic chaos. It’s pro-capitalists, not socialists, who ignore self-interest.

 

  1.  Or on the other hand, they believe that when people only look after themselves, it actually benefits everyone! So today in Europe there are trillions sitting in bank vaults and tens of millions unemployed. If one measly company then invests and creates 100 jobs, this is hailed as a great vindication of capitalism. Bosses don’t create jobs, they corner the market on jobs. The boss’ self-interest means I only get a job when it suits him to give me one, and I only get it on his terms. The workers’ collective interest is to own the wealth in common and invest it according to need, not short-term profit.

 

  1. That if someone’s born in poverty they have just as much chance as someone well-off of making it. Never mind the pressures of survival and various cultural pressures that exert themselves as well. Never mind the fact that rags-to-riches stories are freakishly rare. The idea that we can all succeed if we put our minds to it goes against both cold hard figures and any experience of human nature.

 

  1. The other side of the coin from number 3: that if the vast majority of us don’t become rich, it’s due to a lack of motivation or some other innate inferiority. Any skipping, smiling innocent idea is always joined by a dark, sick, twisted evil twin of an idea.

 

  1. There’s another funny idea that the problems of capitalism all arise from something called “crony capitalism”. That if you leave the capitalists to themselves without state interference, there will be no (or at any rate fewer) monopolies, corruption, price-fixing, reckless gambling, bail-outs, oil-spills or financial crises. This is rooted in the utopian idea that an unregulated boss class will ever be able to resist corrupting and co-opting the government, or that figures in the state will all be able to resist the temptations toward cronyism.

 

  1.  The idea that democracy can function when there is massive wealth inequality. The people who believe this would be the first to call a government irresponsible and tyrannical if it failed to look after the interests of big business first and foremost. The rich fund the main political parties and provide the personnel. Not only have politicians close personal contact with huge numbers of the rich minority, they are forced by the demands of running a capitalist economy to take care of their interests first and foremost.

 

Fundamentally, any defender of capitalism must hold utopian assumptions about human nature. Capitalism as a system, on the other hand, encourages and rewards humans for behaving in an anti-social way. It spends hundreds of billions on advertising, much of this consisting of appeals to our irrational or vicious instincts. It actively degrades human nature even while it propagates the stupid idea that sucking up to the rich will make you rich too.

Those who attack socialism pretending to be hard-headed realists don’t actually know how loose the ground they stand on is. In fact, they typically don’t have any kind of a grasp of the facts, just a preconceived schema. Look at the following, from an article on the Russian Revolution:

http://frontpagemag.com/2012/steven-plaut/just-what-was-fundamentally-wrong-with-bolshevism/

“The other problem of the Bolsheviks was that, at least in the early stages of the “Revolution,” they were truly captivated by utopian delusions.  The problem of all utopians is that they advocate systems and ideas that can only work with imaginary idyllic humans, but never with real human beings.”

Notice how the author deals in generalities, not specifics. This is because the specifics don’t uphold the argument. The Bolsheviks made no utopian assumptions about human nature. Enough said. The problems with the Russian Revolution were not in fact problems of “human nature”. There was no sudden epidemic of laziness or whatever other unspecified problems the above author implies.

“When they discover that real human beings refuse to knuckle under and behave according to utopian expectations, the utopianists respond with violent rage […]The most violent terrorists and oppressors of others have always been the utopians.  The French Revolution turned violent and the guillotine was introduced to attempt to terrorize actual humans into behaving according to the expectations of the utopianists.  The leaders of the Soviet Revolution were no slower or more squeamish in following the same route.”

Again, this is based on a schema, not on reality. The wealthy classes in Russia, funded and backed by foreign governments and armies, tried to overthrow the revolution, which had the undoubtable support of the majority.

A vicious civil war took place, which the Bolsheviks obviously couldn’t win without violence! Failure to “knuckle under” didn’t feature as a major issue. Failure of the already-backward economy to withstand nearly ten years of continuous war, well, now we’re talking. That was an enormous issue, one the Bolsheviks dealt with better than a chaotic capitalist economy could have.

The French Revolution turned to terror, similarly, as a result of huge military pressure and internal plots. The author here is talking about the guillotine, not the Vendée or the Federalist revolts, the terrors which killed far more people. None of these terrors, however, were a result of frustrated utopianism. The most “utopian” project of the French Revolution, the abolition of feudalism, was a roaring success.

Here’s my favourite piece of the article:

“The greatest strength of capitalism is that it actually works with real human beings, people who are lazy, base, narcissistic, self-indulgent, foul-smelling, mean-spirited, and unsophisticated.  Capitalism does not require idyllic fictional humans in order for it to work.”

I don’t know where “foul-smelling” comes from, but anyway. For capitalism to work we would need a world in which a small number of very powerful and wealthy people NEVER take advantage of their wealth and power, and ALWAYS put workers’ interests and environmental concerns before profit.

A world in which everyone has a superhuman dogged determination to succeed in business and an impossible amount of luck. A world in which for some reason – like too much social welfare, or laziness – they choose not to employ this luck and determination.

A world in which, despite the massive inequalities that exist, ALL politicians and civil servants stand above, detached from and disinterested from society as a whole, and are totally impartial.

The pro-capitalists impose this vision on society, and when human nature resists, explanations must be found. Strikers are demonized as selfish, lazy and undemocratic. Great revolutions, when the masses shape history, are dismissed as the conspiracies of “utopians” and “terrorists”. Their problems and limits, rather than being discussed, are latched onto to fill out a prefabricated explanation.

Capitalism is utopian. Socialism is hard-headed realism.

I’m going to start this post with a pretty long quote. It’s shocking and scary and makes me very angry but also very resolute.

A CEO of a major agri-business corporation said the following to author Andrew Harvey in the early 1990s. You can find this quote on Progressive Commentary Hour podcasts or in Harvey’s book “The Hope” which is on Google books.

Rio [climate change summit] will accomplish absolutely nothing because you do-gooders are so naive about the real world. Most of you that I have met truly believe that if the CEOs – like me for instance – really knew what harm their corporate policies were doing, they would rend their Armani suits, fling out their Rolex-wreathed arms, burst into tears and change. This is madness, it shows how little you dare to know about what is really going on. And how can you even begin to be effective until you understand what you’re up against?

Let me tell you what you’re up against. You’re up against people like me. I know exactly what my company is doing, and what devastation it is causing to thousands of lives. I should know, I’m running it. I know and I do not care. I’ve decided I want a grand, gold-plated lifestyle and the perks and jets and houses that go with it, and I will do anything – bend the law, have people removed, bribe local government officials, you name it, to get what I want. I know, too, that none of my shareholders care a rat’s ass what I do or how I do it, providing I keep them swimming in cash.

[…]

The [left-wing activists] that I meet are frankly bliss-bunnies, about as useful in the real world as a rubber ball would be in a war.”

[…]

This blissful bunnyhood of seekers and the offensive self-righteousness of activists make it very easy for people like me to control the world. I know too, by the way, that the dark forces I play with are also playing with me. […] I’m willing to pay that price in return for the pleasure of being able to afford this restaurant. In return for being able to ring up the President of the United States on my personal phone in front of houseguests just to impress them. Am I getting through to you?

 

I’ve done a couple of posts on how billionaires justify having more wealth than they could possibly ever use. It’s important to argue hard and refute this nonsense because it goes out into the world backed up by a lot of resources and it convinces a hell of a lot of people.

But now and then, as above, the wealthy and powerful let their guard down and are totally frank about what’s going on in the world and what role they play. Our arguments against capitalism are not directed at the capitalists themselves because there is a general tendency among groups of people to believe what it suits them to believe.

The Problems

The human race faces environmental destruction that could lead to extinction. The vast majority of us as a species suffer poverty and exploitation. Almost a billion are hungry. Imperialist wars plague the world. The most highly-developed parts of the world are in an economic crisis which seems absolutely intractable. As a species we have the material and intellectual means to solve all of these problems. However, we live in a society where the rich control the lion’s share of the wealth and invest only on the basis of profit. A state which is supposed to lessen the bad effects of this in fact more often helps the rich.

This rich class is, in general, aware of its crimes and is indifferent.

The Solution

We need to work towards imposing the democratic control of workers over the land, factories, banks, transport systems, natural resources and governments. If we fail to do this and then to plan the economy toward ecologically friendly ends, nothing resembling civilisation is likely to survive the 21st century.

How We Get There

Many have already realized the need for socialism. But among them there are many that say that the “old” ideas of “Vanguardism” are

A poster for Syriza, the Greek anti-capitalist broad coalition party

A poster for Syriza, the Greek broad anti-capitalist alliance

outdated, failed examples of “Toy Bolshevism”, and that we need alternative structures for socialist organisations. It is an interesting debate and worth engaging with. Syriza, a broad coalition of left-wing forces that has gathered huge support in Greece, is often held up as a model.

http://www.irishleftreview.org/2013/01/21/crucible-irish-engagement-greek-crisis-greek-left/

Broad “pluralistic”, “meeting-place-of-ideas” kind of parties are nothing new, nothing objectionable to anybody on the left, and – most importantly – nothing you can summon up on the spot! This side of the argument, that there should be a broad mass left workers’ party that may not have the perfect programme, but embraces lots of workers and young people, is not part of any argument. Practically everyone accepts that these things should exist and would be beneficial.

The other side of the argument is the part I want to dispute. This is the assertion that relatively small, centralized, highly-organised and politically homogeneous revolutionary parties should not exist.

There is a variance of positions on this ranging from objection to certain features of revolutionary parties (http://www.irishleftreview.org/2013/01/09/structure-democracy-irish-left-call-discussion/) to total exasperation at those parties and a barely-expressed wish that they would dissolve, pool their members and resources, and form a Syriza that everyone can enjoy.

In Ireland this question is particularly keen because the only two discernibly socialist and significantly-sized parties (http://socialistparty.net/ http://www.swp.ie) see themselves as revolutionary vanguard parties in the Leninist sense. To others on the left this is a constant source of irritation…

http://spiritofcontradiction.eu/rowan-duffy/2012/10/25/why-i-joined-the-ula

…because they have no organisation of their own and unfortunately enjoy very little success in trying to build one. Which is of course not really the fault of the Socialist Party or Socialist Workers’ Party!

The Socialist Workers’ Party in Britain

The result of all this is that, particularly after the fragmentation of the British Socialist Workers’ Party, a lot of people are giving a lot of stick to the idea of a revolutionary party. “Why,” I’ve heard them ask, “Would you organise a party along the lines of an organisation set up a hundred years ago in a semi-feudal autocracy?”

As if the reason for the SWP’s downfall was too much Bolshevism! Most of its members are very admirable but the fact is the SWP has always had a consistently poor analysis and an inability to admit its own mistakes. Its strategy and tactics have always been dishonest and sectarian, with a proliferation of false banners (People Before Profit, Right to Work, Students Against Fascism, €nough!, Unite the Resistance in the last few years in Ireland alone). The Comrade Delta affair was disgusting in its own right but was a lightning-rod for members’ grievances on many other issues and with the party generally. (http://sovietgoonboy.wordpress.com/  http://www.leninology.com/)

Given a long period of Capitalist stability and the constant pressure toward opportunism, sometimes overcompensated for by a cosmetic ultra-left turn, you can see why organisations go bad. In the case of the Healyites, you can see why they go spectacularly bad.  None of this is specific to a revolutionary party.

“Toy Bolshevism”

What are the essential elements of the criticism of the revolutionary party sometimes expressed with the term “Toy Bolshevism”?

  1. A fear of centralisation leading to authoritarianism, in the vein of the right-wing historians who would, if they could, examine Lenin’s shite for the seeds of Stalinism.
  2. A view that revolutionary parties have been impotent and unsuccessful in achieving any significant victory for workers. Apart from Russia of course. And, closer to home, the poll tax. And, even closer, the water charges. And Gama. And the household tax…
  3. A view that the activity of revolutionary parties seems pointless. That instead of the incremental bread-and-butter work of politicising, fundraising, supporting campaigns and strikes, demonstrations, stall and paper sales, there should be… Here falls a strange silence. Or else plans about productive enterprises to finance a mass workers’ party and a “left media” to spread its message. Which of course would be wonderful.
  4. The idea that the members of a revolutionary party have a grandiose sense of their own importance, that they imagine themselves storming Leinster House in the short term, that they count on “an insurrectionary movement from Mars” falling into
    Communist insurrection on Mars? I think there's a videogame where that happens

    Revolution on Mars? I think there’s a videogame where that happens

    their laps. In fact such parties are aware of their own weaknesses organisationally and numerically and in terms of their influence on the class. They are nowhere near the finished product, anymore than society as a whole is ripe for insurrection. But they are in the process of fashioning the necessary party and see it as a very urgent task. This is why they recruit, sell papers, educate, maintain their independence, defend their programme and participate in other forms of what independent lefts often judge to be “sectarian” activity.

Often, however, the objections seem to point to a longing for a more laid-back kind of party. One that is less centralized and which demands less challenging activity of its members, and which would be more broadly appealing politically. One which could be all this but still make a massive difference to the situation now if not sooner!

Problems of a “less revolutionary” revolutionary party

In many countries worker militancy has been sapped, traditional organisations such as trade unions and labour parties destroyed or won over by the right. The only forces to survive the onslaught of capitalist triumphalism in the ‘90s and ‘00s were the revolutionary parties. This tells us two things.

Firstly, it illustrates the weaknesses of more broad-left parties, which are useful in an upswing of labour struggle but which change not just in size but in substance in periods of demoralisation. This if nothing else is an argument for a solid, organised revolutionary party.

Secondly, it explains why people on the left have such strong objections to revolutionary parties. The difficulty of building new mass workers’ parties, which the so-called “Toy Bolsheviks” have always given their all to, has provoked a certain sourness. “Here we are five years into the crisis, and still no significant left alternative!”

People often fail to see that this is a consequence of matters such as the smashing of the British trade unions under Thatcher in the UK, and twenty years of social partnership in Ireland. There being no serious avenues of struggle and a defeatist leadership, demoralisation has been a strong element of the mood in Ireland. But a misdiagnosis of the problem sees people on the Irish left claim that if the Trots loosened up a little and did X, Y and Z, they would grow massively. But hang on. Making your politics more chilled-out and becoming more flaky, disorganised and unable to act in a concerted manner – how would this help to further the cause of workers?

An old-school analogy

The ancient Greek generals knew that a small number of soldiers organised and trained to fight in a phalanx, a tight formation of spears and shields, could see off an enemy many times its size. It was an unstoppable collective machine. Its power was in its organisation, training and weaponry. If a general could somehow gather unstoppably huge numbers of people, in some exceptional circumstance, of course he could win battles without the need for training or strong organisation. But such an army, once panicked and routed, is hard to rally, will be cut down by the enemy in an everyone-for-themselves rout, and leave only traumatised and depressed survivors and many who surrender. A phalanx suffers during a rout but is on the whole solid, and is prepared to weather adversity, withdraw tactically, and remain intact for the next advance.

Basically what we need is a couple of syntagmas in Syntagma Square

Basically what we need is a couple of syntagmas in Syntagma Square

In the same way a centralised, revolutionary party is capable of punching above its weight in society. It makes its decisions democratically with full freedom of debate, but once the decision is made it works in a united fashion to achieve its goals. It has a full-time apparatus to allow it to intervene effectively. I don’t pretend that there are any revolutionary parties in the world today that function in such a well-organised fashion but parties that aspire to the Leninist idea of the revolutionary party have strong elements of the phalanx about them and are constantly trying their hardest to grow in numbers and to improve in organisation.

Conclusion

Remember the quote I posted at the start of this article. “Am I getting through to you?” asks the CEO. He certainly got through to me. Faced with the horrors wrought on the world by capitalism and the extremely powerful interests that keep it that way, military analogies such as the above are absolutely appropriate and are in no way grandiose.

A party which has a flaky approach to politics and organisation will not impress the working class or give the impression that it cares or understands keenly enough. Such a party is not up to the everyday challenges of the class struggle because it cannot intervene effectively. Nor is it up to the task of challenging the likes of our CEO who simply laugh at ineffectual “bliss-bunnies”.

The key task for anyone who wants to change the world is to build organisations – thinking machines with maximum discussion on all subjects from everyday campaigning to philosophy, and at the same time fighting machines to advance the power and confidence of ordinary people and to provide leadership at crucial moments. We are of no use on our own, each of us. The benchmark for your success as a socialist activist should be how well you build, qualitatively and quantitatively, a revolutionary organisation.

 

The danger of “bureaucratisation” is constantly hyped by the critics of the revolutionary party and grossly inappropriate references to Stalinism are frequently made. But even if this danger were to begin with historically relevant and then magnified a thousand times greater than they paint it, it would not be as great a danger as the danger that every one of us might someday die without having dispossessed and humiliated that CEO and fixed the horrors he and his class are responsible for. Read over the quote again. It might almost have been fabricated by some frustrated activist who wanted to provoke complacent leftists into action. “Am I getting through to you?”

There’s a country in this world in which the government can lock you up indefinitely and kill you without trial. If it comes to a trail it can fix them using secret evidence and “expert” witnesses whose testimony and identities stay hidden. This government can and does spy on its people. Its brutal, corrupt security forces keep people in fear by conceiving, funding and organising, then miraculously foiling “terrorist plots” and bribing, convincing and threatening deranged or deluded people to take the fall. Protestors are brutally beaten off the streets. Peaceful activists are hounded and harassed.

In the whole world, this country has the largest percentage of its people in prison and also the largest absolute number of prisoners. It stands side by side with the Stalinist USSR in the 1930s for the highest rates of imprisonment in human history. This country has launched wars of aggression based on deliberate lies which have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and laid waste to whole nations. It blows up villages to punish one or two people who have stood against its will. It abducts and tortures its perceived enemies, flying them around the world with aid from dozens of other states including my own, Ireland.

Its economy has tanked, with massive deindustrialisation and a spectacular over-reliance on finance and credit turning it from a powerhouse to a basket case in a few decades. Now it borrows unbelievable amounts of money to keep itself from collapsing and its political elites have absolutely no way to tackle this problem. Meanwhile unemployment soars and tent settlements accumulate. A huge chunk of the population has to choose between housing and healthcare.

You’ve probably guessed that this poverty-stricken, dreary, repressive and divided land is the United States of America.

Things have gotten so bad for Americans economically, socially and politically, that cracks are beginning to show. While obviously the conditions the majority are living in are terrible, the potential is opening up for serious changes for the better.

Outsiders can sometimes get a distorted impression of events in another country and magnify the importance of some things while minimizing others. But the radicalisation that’s taking place in America is unmistakeable.

Occupy and the Tea Party

Let’s take a balance sheet of Occupy on the left and the Tea Party on the right. Yes, Occupy had faults: a certain world-defying naivety – which is a positive fault, because you can learn a lot from it. This movement has receded. But the Tea Party got massive corporate funding and didn’t get physically destroyed by the police… and it still receded. The conservative “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington in 2010 was dwarfed by the progressive “Restoring Sanity” rally and a massive trade union demonstration in the same year.

Young American radicals believed in Obama in 2008 and were betrayed. Then they believed in Occupy in 2011-12 and learned a lot of lessons. The next outburst of anger will be more mature and effective, and like the last two, it will echo across the world.

Nostalgia is poison

The last great period of radicalisation in America was of course in the 1960s and ’70s. If today we’re seeing the opening of another period of radicalisation, my guess is it’ll be much more significant and effective. The “New Left” of the 1960s, despite rising to magnificent heights, alienated the white working class with its focus on alternative lifestyles that stressed self-indulgence and individualism rather than sacrifice and collective action. A complacent and conservative labour movement meanwhile shunned the black civil rights struggle.

The strangely complementary utopianism and conservatism of Occupy did reflect some of the hippy baggage of the left. But the openness to ideas and to political parties and trade unions that was evident in the US Occupy movement signals that, if this is any indication of what the future holds for America, then the disproportionate nostalgia for the deeply-flawed radicalism of the 1960s will dissipate.

As well as the Occupy movement the US has seen the massive Wisconsin struggle, the Chicago teachers’ strike, the fast food workers’ movement in New York City and the strike at 1000 Wal-Mart stores. Remnants of Occupy in Minnesota are taking direct action against evictions. A resurgence for the labour movement occurring alongside a political ferment generally could lay the basis for a strong movement with massive appeal and working-class credibility.

Socialism vs Capitalism

Kshama Sawant, a member of the Trotskyist organisation Socialist Alternative who won 29% of the vote in Seattle in November, is herself evidence of a massive change of mood. She reports that while two years ago you wouldn’t have heard people talking about Capitalism very often, there’s much more discussion and insight today. Webster’s online dictionary reports that its two most frequent searches in 2012 were Capitalism and Socialism.

Those right-wingers who have been condemning free healthcare as Socialism have done a massive favour to Socialists. While obviously the understanding of the word “Socialism” is still very mixed and confused in the US as elsewhere, the American right has helped to redefine it as a concept. In most Americans’ minds it seems now to conjure up not an image of a Stalinist Gulag, but of a state-funded hospital. This is of course a much more accurate image so we should thank Glenn Beck and the rest of them.

There’s political paralysis at the top and massive ideological ferment at the bottom, and those at the top are bringing in ever more clumsy dictatorial methods to crush dissent. I’m not predicting revolt tomorrow but nobody can deny that it must be an exciting time to be a Socialist in the US.

International effects

And consider how Americanized Irish society and culture are. Occupy spread to five or six cities here in a click of the fingers once it kicked off in America. It was a weaker movement here of course but the fact remains. And remember how big the demonstrations against the Iraq War were here in 2003.

It’s possible that in the years of crisis Irish people’s attention has turned to Europe rather than the US. It’s correct of course that we should look at massive actual struggles in Greece and Spain rather than potential struggles in the US. But a century of listening to US music, watching US films and TV and reading US authors can’t be undone so quickly. Imagine if a serious socialist/left movement got off the ground in America, what an electrifying effect that would have in other countries.

March 24th, 2012. The National Boxing Stadium, which has a maximum capacity of around 3,000, is packed out for a mass meeting. Hundreds have to spill over into the car park for a second, simultaneous meeting. But, aaahhhh, the Irish people are too passive, they’ll never stand up and fight…

1. People are too worried about dealing with their day-to-day lives to worry about politics.

When new taxes and charges are ripping people off, when there’s barely any jobs, when there’s overcrowded, understaffed hospitals and schools; then it’s mad to say that “politics” and “day-to-day life” are somehow separate.

People’s options are closing off as the crisis deepens, and if we give a clear lead and outline a clear alternative, they will enter into the struggle for a Socialist society.

 

2. But the Irish people will never stand up and fight for themselves. We’re too apathetic in this country, we’re not like the Greeks.

In Ireland the dizzying heights of the boom and two decades of Social Partnership have turned the trade union movement into cynical defeatists, which has held back the movement. In other countries they have big problems too but not to the same extent.

As well as this people are still hoping beyond hope that a recovery is on the way. The government and the billionaire-owned media encourage these vain dreams.

Another problem is a lack of a mass working-class party that’s ready to put forward a clear Socialist alternative for people to fight for.

All these conditions are temporary. They were saying the same thing about the Egyptians.

 

3. It’s terrible the situation the country is in, but there’s not much we can do about it.

There’s actually loads you can do, and it would make my life as an activist a lot easier if you did.

The relatively small number of Socailist activists in Ireland plays a vital role in mass campaigns like the Household Tax boycott. Over the years we have given valuable help and leadership to workers in struggle. We have struck blows against racism, war and the corporate theft of our natural resources.

We were warning about the property crash for years, and at every point since the austerity drive began our analysis has been correct and that of the government, the media and the right-wing economists has been wrong.

 

4. Yeah, fair play. But what do ye want me to do?

If five hundred, a hundred or even fifty of the people who are right now just ranting in front of the TV or suffering in silence were to get active with us, it would be a massive boost to the work we do.

We don’t want admirers or voters. We want comrades- we want activists who will stand beside us and help us fight for a better world.

When huge sections of the people become actively involved in the struggle for a fairer society, that is a revolutionary situation. When the majority become actively involved in the running of society and the economy on a day-to-day basis, that is Socialism.

 

5. You’re crazy to think you’re going to change the world.

Most of our ancestors in medieval times lived in squalid huts growing food and raising livestock for parasitic, violent aristocrats. They had short, dreary, painful lives, vulnerable to hunger, disease and war.

Our species has clearly achieved massive change for the better since the Middle Ages, even if progress has brought with it new problems. Everything is in a constant state of transformation and the only thing that is certain in history is change.

But the lesson is that revolutionary changes in social systems are possible, that a vast improvement in living standards for humanity is possible. In fact they’re not only possible, they’re a recurring feature throughout history.

 

6. Hang on, sorry, are you defending Capitalism now?!

Capitalism transformed the world, bringing huge benefits to the majority of people. Obviously this came at a massive price and as a system it creates its own terrible problems. It’s become obselete, an obstacle to further progress. Today the Capitalist class is not an enterprising, progressive force but an entrenched, decadent class of speculators and exploiters that’s dragging down the world economy.

 

7. But no alternative has ever succeeded.

The 20th century saw Stalinism, Social Democracy and statist regimes like those of Perón or Nasser. These systems all had massive problems, as we’ve outlined before. But all of them demonstrate the same thing: the massive potential of the planned economy and the possibility of achieving a more equal society.

These victories were not given to us by wise politicians or enterprising bosses, but by mass struggle and the militancy of working people.

As HSBC point out in their London underground ads, of all the people who have ever lived to be 65 years old, two thirds are alive today. What this financial company does not point out is that this was achieved by the welfare state, the planned economy and the victories of the workers’ movement. Another statistic relating to life expectancy spells out this point: the biggest peacetime rise in mortality of the century was in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

 

8. Have you not noticed the last forty years? The collapse of Communism, the end of Social Democracy and the victory of free-market Capitalism.

There have been terrible reverses and setbacks in the last thirty to forty years which demonstrate the hideous bankruptcy of Stalinism and the impotence of Social Democracy. Nothing, however, has discredited Socialism itself, the idea of an economy democratically planned by an equal society.

All the free-market era had to offer us was massive speculative and credit bubbles. We’re now living with the consequences of that.

We are determined that the massive changes in store for our generation will be for the better, that we will establish an international democratic socialist society.

We will build a world where everyone has access to a well-paid job with good hours and fully-funded, efficient public services; where we have democratic control over the economy; where we can save the planet from climate change by a planned transition to a green economy.

If you’re sick of paying through the nose for other people’s gambling debts; if you’re being pushed around and exploited at work; if you can’t find a job; if you owe piles of money on your house; if you’re sick of the tyranny, injustice, poverty, disease and hunger in the world, join us today.

1. We have a parliament and democratic elections. If people want change they can achieve it without breaking the law.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are funded by business, Labour are funded by the cosy clique in the leadership of the trade union movement. Then they also give themselves millions in state funding.

So you have the right to vote every few years for parties with millions to spend in running and massively promoting a huge number of primarily party hacks and careerists.

2. So if the government bans corporate donations, will you be happy then?

Firstly, they won’t. Secondly, even if they do, parties supported by the wealthy will still get bigger individual donations. Fine Gael fundraisers involve having golf or dinner with a TD for €100 or more.

Thirdly and most importantly, these politicians admit that they can’t represent us. Their capitalist dogma requires them to treat “wealth creators,” multinational companies and billionaire speculators like royalty, even if it means trampling on the rest of us.

They are more concerned with satisfying credit ratings agencies and “the markets” than with satisfying the disabled or the unemployed. Nobody can deny this.

3. You can still vote, protest, petition and run for office. Count your blessings. 

No. If you don’t control the economy, you don’t control the conditions of your existence and you have very little say in the running of your society.

If you agree with our politicians and leave the economy in the hands of business, with some greater or lesser role for the state, you’re leaving over control in society to a tiny minority. Your job, your education, what you do if you get sick, how safe your streets are- all these things depend on an economy that’s beyond our control. That’s not democracy.

4. We live in a democratic society with a free press. 

You have freedom of the press, if you have access to the massive, complex, expensive operation required to print a newspaper, promote it, pay the writers and distribute it to every newsagent in the country.

If you are lucky enough to be stinking rich and have this freedom of the press, you can then print a lie, a slander, an exaggeration or a distortion on a piece of paper that millions of people will read.

5. You’re lucky you don’t live in X or Y country, where you’d be locked up for saying these things. You’re lucky to live in a society so tolerant and liberal.

Yes, most of the world’s population live under dictatorships or else very repressive regimes.

And guess what? The clothes you and me are wearing were made by those people, in those countries. The fuel in our cars probably came from a place where women can’t drive. Dictatorship is a fundamental part of our society, even if people in the advanced capitalist countries aren’t the ones worst hit by it.

Our Taoiseach refused to condemn the Chinese totalitarian regime when one of its figureheads . He didn’t want to scare off investment.

6. Why do ye talk about working-class people all the time? What about everyone else?

A member of the Kazakh security forces in Zhanaozen, where an unknown number of striking oil workers were shot, beaten and tortured. Liberal defenders of Capitalism never seem to realise to what extent the system relies on murder, violence and terror. The moral of the story for all the Liberals out there is: drop liberalism or drop capitalism.

Labour is the only thing that can transform natural resources into commodities we can use and trade. Labour operates machines and runs all vital services. As such the working class is the only real creator of wealth in society.

Workers have great power- if they are organized and act as one, nothing can happen without their say-so.

The working class is the most exploited but the largest and potentially the most powerful class in a Capitalist society. That’s why Socialists seek to place that class in control.

7. Socialism doesn’t work because greed is a natural part of human nature and it’s no good trying to force people to go against that. 

Who the hell knows what “human nature” is? It operates differently in different countries, different times in history and different classes.  Human nature is defined by its circumstances.

People are often greedy because Capitalism rewards and encourages greed.

Under a system which rewarded and encouraged cooperation, people would behave differently.

8. History shows that extremes of left and right are both equally bad. 

The far right have given the world racism, prejudice, war and industrialized genocide.

The “far left”, meaning revolutionary Socialists, have always been in the frontlines of the struggle for democratic rights; for the welfare state; for labour laws and trade union rights; against fascism, racism, sexism, LGBT discrimination and sectarianism.

There really is no comparison, no way of equating these two “extremes” with each other.

9. Hang on, what about Russia?

We have achieved planned economies in Russia, China and elsewhere, which have transformed the economies of those countries, adding decades to the average life expectancy. Even the horrors inflicted by the dictatorships cannot cast a shadow over the massive achievements of the planned economy in huge parts of the world.

10. You’re defending and justifying dictatorship!

No. Genuine Socialists have always been uncompromising opponents of the Stalinist dictatorships. We defend the planned economy. This means we sought the overthrow of the dictatorship which was a parasitic growth on it, but also opposed the restoration of capitalism in the early ‘90s, which saw living standards in Russia drop by two decades in two years.

11. But it’s best to be moderate rather than extreme.

Being “moderate” just means supporting the most powerful force in a given situation. What’s considered “moderate” at any given time is not dictated by “common sense” but by the business-controlled media.

We don’t live in an academic paradise where all things are equal. We live in a deeply class-divided, dysfunctional, fucked-up society. Letting everyone do what they want just means letting the richest and the most evil do what they like to everyone else. This means that most of us, never mind doing what we want, can’t even do what we need.

1. If we tax the rich, they’ll stop investing. 

They’re not investing anyway! That’s why there’s a recession. Private investment has fallen by tens of billions of euros in a few short years.

But you have a point- just taxing the rich is not enough. We need to stop regarding them as “investors” altogether, since they’re not doing that, and take over the large businesses and assets they own. Then we can plan for a recovery based on massive public investment.

2. We need to honour our debts as a nation. 

The debts of millionaire gamblers have nothing to do with most of us.

We need to take over the banks, open their books and guarantee the savings of ordinary people while writing off the toxic debt of speculators. They can go look for a real job like the rest of us.

3. We need to balance the books, we’ve been living beyond our means.

The crisis didn’t happen just because the government spent too much. It happened because that spending was based on taxes off a massive crazy bubble.

The solution is not to cut spending, but to create a real, sustainable economy to replace that bubble and fund the public services and the rights that we need.

Your plan demands that we sacrifice everything- pay, jobs, services, most means of wealth creation in the country- just to suck up to the same gamblers and politicians who caused this crisis in the first place.

And obviously it’s not working- austerity has blown up the deficit to a huge size and crippled the economy. We need to stop this insanity at once.

4. We need to cut the public sector- it’s wasteful. Only the private sector creates wealth. 

Bullshit. The public sector provides vital services for the majority of people. Transport, healthcare, education- are these not wealth?

Even beyond that, public sector workers spend money in society and sustain loads of small businesses.

5. The innate entrepreneurial spirit of this great country is going to fix this crisis. Just take the pain and don’t rock the boat or you’ll make it worse. 

The economy’s fucked. We’ve got pharmaceutical factories that only employ a small number of people, we’ve got farms like we’ve always had farms, and we have a huge debt hangover from the building boom that was the only motor force in our economy for years. That’s it.

6. But a recovery in the world economy…

The world economy’s fucked too. In the US and Europe there’s little wealth creation and lots of debt. These are the world’s biggest markets, so as our crisis deepens the strain is showing in a massive way in China, Brazil and the main exporters.

Like the Irish economy, the world economy was running for years on unsustainable debt. Like in Ireland, austerity is making it worse. Like in Ireland, the rich aren’t going to fix it for us.

7. But we’re on the road to recovery! The statistics for the first quarter say that X is Y per cent and Z is rising steadily and…

Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard in all before. Every month ye ministers have a few nice statistics to point to, and a few weeks later a new statistic, a report, a ratings downgrade or a bailout blows ye out of the water and reveals to us all that ye were bluffing.

“We’ve turned a corner.” –Brian Lenihan Jr, 2010

What we need for economic recovery- massive investment of the wealth hoarded by the rich- just isn’t happening. If there is a sustained recovery, it will just be a feeble pick-up from a terrifyingly low level, after irreparable damage is done.

8. You’re trying to drive people to despair with your fearmongering about the economy! 

Actually we have a lot of good news to tell.

Developing our farms and fisheries, investing in wind and wave energy, retrofitting every home for sustainability, building loads of new tram and rail lines, developing an industrial manufacturing base in Ireland for the first time- all these things would help the economy massively, and they are possible.

The only obstacle is that the lion’s share of the wealth of society is in a tiny number of hands, and it is invested only for the sake of short-term profit for individuals. That means, right now, that a huge part of it is not invested at all.

If we could democratically plan the economy; if elected, recallable councils on the average worker’s wage controlled every large business and natural resource, then the economy would work according to the long-term profit of all, not the short-term greed of the few.

9. We need to do what the EU and the IMF tell us. We need to stay at the heart of Europe.

The fact that the EU and the IMF are blackmailing us shows that they don’t have our best interests at heart- and if you need further proof, look at the insane austerity measures they want us to take.

They just want us to pay back the European and American banks that lent stupidly and stand to lose if we stop bailing them out.

It’s a classic debt trap, it’s happened to scores of countries in the past and it’s never ended well.

10. We need the international markets to start lending to us again. 

“The markets” are super-rich gamblers who control the money supply and use this control to blackmail peoples and governments. I never voted for them and I’m fu**ed if I’m going to do what they say.

We need to stop relying on private lenders, who will always lend with strings attached, and don’t lend at all if you really need it. Money is a social necessity and the money supply should be controlled democratically, not by these gamblers.

11. But if we don’t do as they say, they will cut off funding and there will be no money in the ATMs!

Any government can print money- what matters is wealth. Workers in our country create hundreds of billions of euros worth of wealth every year.

Under a planned economy, free of the debt and taking over the wealth and the industries currently owned by the rich, we could create a real recovery.

Of course it would not be possible for one country, especially small, unindustrialized Ireland, to “go it alone” on this basis for very long. But all over the world workers face the same crisis and if we succeed in one country, it will be an inspiration to all.

12.This is a lot of utopian rubbish! Me and the people who elected me live in the real world not in cloud cuckoo land.

While you’re running around looking for entrepreneurial spirits and confidence fairies, thinking with the same attitudes that caused this crisis, the rest of us are being hammered by cuts and taxes and charges and layoffs, by attacks on our schools and hospitals.

That’s what the real world looks like. What you’re doing is ruining the economy, not saving it.

You think we can fix the economy without investing the massive wealth that’s currently controlled by the privileged few who you play golf with.

You think obeying people who threaten you is a way to remove the threat, not reinforce it.

You think “we’re all in it together”, even though some of us are living on the street while others own dozens of houses.

Even though the richest in Ireland have gotten fabulously richer over the last few years, while the bottom 90% have suffered, and the bottom 10% have been absolutely smashed.

You’re the utopian. In fact, you’re f***ing crazy.

The morning after the violent eviction of Occupy Dame Street in April 2012. This solidarity protest was the biggest Dame Street had seen for months- the movement had long since run out of steam, with only 5 or 6 protesters left for the Guards to drag out. After this protest, it fell again into oblivion. We need to assess the weaknesses of Occupy if we want to reclaim the energy and enthusiasm it released at the beginning.

1. If we want to fight the state and the corporations without becoming like them, we need loose, informal organisation, without leaders. 

The trouble with having no formal leadership is that an informal one will spring up- you get unaccountable unelected busybodies or people with no merit except the fact that they have lots of time on their hands, and that becomes your leadership.

Especially with Occupy, you’ve got those who have time and energy to spend at the camp taking de facto control. People with families, people with jobs, people who are dedicated activists- these are excluded.

In reality, some tasks need to be delegated to a minority. That’s the only way things can work and the Occupy movement proves that. The only choice is whether you want these people to be elected or self-appointed.

2. We need to work on the basis of consensus, where you move forward only when 100% of people agree, not on the tyranny of the majority. 

This sounds great at first.

What you get in the end are long, pointless debates that suck all the time and energy out of the movement. What you get is the dictatorship of the minority- frankly, one idiot can hold back the whole movement from actually doing anything.

Instead of everyone’s voice being heard, you get dissenting views silenced. Nobody wants to be the one to stall the meeting yet again- so they just pretend to agree, and no real open debate takes place.

Meanwhile everyone’s gone home because it took too bloody long and nothing was done.

3. I don’t subscribe to any “ism”. I think political labels are inherently limiting. I am neither left-wing nor right-wing. 

OK then, stop using the wheel and come up with something else.

Labels and “isms” are not comprehensive and I’m sure none can fully convey the nuances and complexity of your individuality. But chances are your views are generally in agreement with a lot of people who have previously explored these ideas and left behind a “label” for the convenience, not for the oppression, of others!

4. I think for myself rather than blindly follow any idea or thinker.

Outstanding revolutionary theorists and activists like Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, James Connolly and many others left behind excellent writings with vital lessons for today.

No-one is “blindly” following anyone, just engaging critically with their ideas. The real blindness is an ignorant, egotistical refusal to do so.

If you’re a revolutionary you should engage with an ongoing debate, rather than being like those idiots who come barging in half-way through a discussion, ignoring what everyone else has already said.

 5. I don’t want to subsume my individuality into any political party. 

We want you to join a democratic organisation and maximise your impact by working alongside others.

If you’ve got some incredible insight or ability that will be damaged by you doing that, then please, please share it with the world.

6. I was occupying that square for so long I got frostbite! And where were all ye Socialists in the meantime? Just dropping in now and then when it suits ye. 

We were busy doing things that are a hundred times more important. We were empowering thousands of people through mass civil disobedience campaigns. We were organising protests and meetings on a huge range of issues. We were building our organisation and selling our paper. We were discussing ideas constantly between ourselves and with others.

The Occupy protests were an inspiration to the world- but they ran out of steam because they couldn’t be decisive and take the struggle forward. Those of us who have jobs to go to and families to feed couldn’t really take part. Of course we would have made sacrifices and tried to come to every General Assembly, but after the first few weeks it was clear there was no real point.

7. The environment is more important than the economy. 

Climate change is the most urgent problem facing the human race. But we can’t save the environment without getting rid of capitalism. It is just not profitable for any individual capitalist, let alone the system as a whole, to make the required investment in green energy. This demands a Socialist plan of investment.

Moreover, the switch to a green economy would displace possibly hundreds of millions of people from their jobs. There’s no way people would accept that.

Under Socialism we could retrain all those workers and re-equip all those factories on a planned, coordinated basis without chaos or unemployment.

8. If you’re so much against capitalism, then why do you use money, live in a house built by capitalists, work in a job where a capitalist pays you and buy goods and services from capitalist companies? 

Because we’re revolutionaries not hermits. If you can live a more ethical lifestyle, then good for you. But it’s not going to change the world.

All our officials are on the average worker’s wage or less and none of our members live the high life. But at the end of the day we don’t look for the perfect “lifestyle” but for an organic connection, in workplaces and communities, with the working class, and a basis for struggle.

We are not concerned with “saving our souls” or being cleansed of the system.  Our goal is to unite the majority of the people and replace the system.

9. We want to leave the movement broad, inclusive and open, so we don’t want to tie ourselves down to any ideas that might alienate people. 

The Occupy Movement kept itself too broad, too uncommitted. It appeared indecisive and vague. It appeared not to do anything.

In fact my local Occupy was so “inclusive” that there were neo-fascists camping there.

Debate on a programme was impossible because of consensus-based decision-making. Demands were set out, but it was not explained how they would be achieved.

If Occupy settled on a programme and course of action then of course some would disagree and might leave the movement. But with nobody sure what the movement stands for, and no victories being won, why would large numbers of people bother joining the movement in the first place?

10. We are against politics and parties entirely.

Socialists, despite the fact that we’re organized in parties and are of course political, see this as a healthy attitude.

By “parties” people mean the cynical establishment parties which are just self-interested machines for managing, not destroying, our messed-up society. We can’t look to them for solutions, we have to organise ourselves.

By “politics” people mean the scams, lies, privilege and corruption that characterise the way society is run under Capitalism.

11. All political parties are cynical and want to hijack our movement.

The establishment parties didn’t want to hijack Occupy, they wanted to destroy it.

They succeeded at least partly because of the paranoid, sectarian attitude of some people in Occupy who were hostile to other groups and parties who were fighting for the same goals.

12. But you’re as bad as any of them.

We’re the same as you- angry as hell and determined to do something about it. But we’ve been at this a while, and learned a few important lessons.

We organize ourselves not as an occupation of a city square but as a party, just as stubborn, just as determined, but infinitely more flexible.

We organise democratically- we elect members to branch, regional and national committees. We work on the will of the majority, with the minority free to argue their case and to continue to do so after the vote is taken.

We run in elections, and our members speak to thousands of people on the doorsteps. Our deputies and Councillors and MEPs use their positions to fight for ordinary people. We don’t think we can change things through electoral politics, but we see it as an aid to the real work in the streets.

A revolutionary party has all the self-sacrifice, defiance and energy of a makeshift tent-town protest in a city square.

But it can’t be destroyed by one night of police violence. It can discuss with full openness and give air to all ideas. It can state its message clearly. It can then act with unity, determination and organisation.

1.     Personally I’m a Social Democrat and I believe in a fairer and more equal society. But right now we’ve got to pay off our debts and balance the books. Then once we’ve got the country back on its feet we can worry about those other things. 

So, deep down in the cockles of your heart, you have some left-wing inclination and you think that means you’re on the same page as us.

But if your Socialist heart has absolutely no influence on issues like austerity, the markets and the eurozone crisis; if reality and your “Socialism” exist in separate universes; if the “national interest” comes before the interests of the majority of the people in the nation (and in every other nation), then why should anyone care about what you believe in “personally”?

2.     The ideas of Marx are out of date- we now enjoy much better living conditions than people did in the 19th century.

Who’s “we”? Practically all the clothes you and me are wearing were made by underpaid, exploited, non-unionized workers living in dictatorships.

Even in the more “developed” countries, a tiny minority controls most of the wealth (the Capitalist Class) while the vast majority does all the real work to create that wealth (the Working Class).

Huge numbers of people live in poverty and misery, and most of us have no real say in politics. With the terrible price of this crisis of capitalism being forced onto our shoulders, we have nothing to look forward to but our jobs disappearing, pay and welfare being cut, our towns and neighbourhoods falling apart and the cost of study soaring way out of reach.

3.     It’s better to reform society slowly than to risk revolution.

You can’t reform society slowly- you can’t defeat your enemy then leave him armed and at large. If you do, he’s going to come back with a vengeance.

We campaign for every reform within the capitalist system to make life better for ordinary people- but these battles are only to embolden and organize the working class to fight for a final break with Capitalism.

4.     It’s best to control and regulate capitalism, not get rid of it. 

The right-wing fearmongers have a point. If you keep the power of the capitalists intact while hedging them around with regulations, they WILL stop investing.

If you try to make them behave reasonably, while at the same time leaving all the wealth and power in their hands, they will use that wealth and power to sabotage the country in every way they can, from a strike of investment to a military coup.

5.     Are you in favour of violent revolution?

Throughout history the capitalist class have used violence to defend their unjust privilege, even bringing to power Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet and a host of other fascists and mass-murderers just to prevent revolution.

If it’s necessary to suffer or inflict violence to end the permanent violence of exploitation and oppression, then we are prepared to do so.

6.     Rich people aren’t all evil oppressive exploiters. 

If a capitalist is not prepared to oppress and exploit, his business is far less likely to survive. It’s not a question of personal morals but of what this sick system forces people to do.

The logic of capitalism means that the worst exploiters, scam artists and crooks are rewarded not punished. Studies have found that there’s more psychopaths in high positions in business and finance than any other part of society apart from prison.

7.      I’m a Socialist personally but you shouldn’t talk about Socialism because it puts people off.

We’re revolutionaries not advertising executives. Our job is to challenge and to change the way people are thinking, not to patronize people, underestimate people’s understanding or pander to the lowest common denominator.

8.      If working-class people are so brilliant, why do they vote for right-wing and far-right parties?

Mostly because the Social Democratic and Labour parties around the world have totally stopped representing working class people and on economic matters become nearly identical to Conservative and Liberal parties.

Where class issues are thrust into the background, all that flag-waving crap takes centre stage.

9.     You’re right, austerity alone isn’t working. We need a stimulus package and growth clauses and a financial transactions tax. But Socialism and revolution, that’s going a bit far!

How the hell can you have austerity and stimulus at the same time? That’s like donating blood to someone while leaving their wound gaping open.

And most “stimulus” measures so far have been just huge handouts to banks.

We need to scrap the debt. We can’t do this without practically destroying the international financial system. We can’t stop austerity without seriously pissing off the gamblers in the financial markets. We can’t invest wealth in society unless we get it from somewhere.

In short, we can’t solve this crisis without starting a huge struggle against the markets, the banks and big business- a class struggle for the ownership of wealth in society.

Stay tuned for Arguing About Socialism, Part Three: The Hippy, coming soon

The fascist coup in Chile, 1973- the bloody birth of the neo-liberal, free-market era.

1.     You want to take people’s hard-earned money off them.

Capitalism doesn’t reward genius or hard work a fraction as much as it rewards simply having rich parents, so that’s really a non-issue.

Mathematically, it’s crazy to think that someone could actually work hard or long enough to earn millions or billions of euros in a single lifetime.

2.     The profit motive encourages people to come up with new ideas, products and services that are of benefit to society.

Nobody should be any richer than they need to be to live a comfortable life with their family and friends. And in fact, beyond that point, it’s been proven that pay rises DO NOT improve performance at work.

People come up with new ideas and work harder when they’re given more freedom at work and more control over their workplace- when they identify with their work instead of just clocking in and clocking out.

In fact, the profit motive encourages middle-of-the-road thinking and safe, unoriginal ideas rather than innovation.

3.     The profit motive encourages the rich to invest.

The profit motive encourages investment only on the basis of greed, not social need.

So we have massive speculative bubbles and little capital investment.

We have incredible amounts of money spent on guns and bombs which could be educating and employing billions of people.

And right now, there’s mass unemployment while trillions of euros sit idle in bank vaults across the world.

The profit motive means trivial or harmful things will be provided as long as there’s a market for them. Things people need to survive don’t get a look-in.

4.     Why should everyone earn the same amount of money, regardless of how hard they work?

Many high-earning professional and managerial jobs are in fact easier and more fulfilling than manual labour.

Anyway in a Socialist society the key thing is not wage equality but workers’ control of wealth and democratic planning in the economy.

The key thing will be the “social wage” allowed by workers’ control of the wealth of society- vastly improved schools, hospitals and transport; massive economic development, full employment and the transfer to sustainable energy.

5. Centralized economic planning is clumsy because economies are too complex. The market, on the other hand, provides constant feedback to businesses and ensures supply meets demand.

We can see all around us that big companies and banks manage their internal economies on a vast scale. They gamble on the stock market using staggeringly complex financial instruments.

If all our IT geniuses and our finest mathematical brains worked on a plan of production and distribution rather than in financial institutions that gamble to make greedy rich old men even richer then, absolutely, we could manage an economy.

6.  Capitalism guarantees the individual freedom from the power of the state. 

Most of the world’s Capitalist countries today are in fact oppressive and tyrannical regimes. China, the world’s most successful Capitalist state, brutally attacks, monitors and oppresses its people.

In many countries workers have fought hard and managed to achieve limited democratic rights- the right to vote once every few years. This did not come as a gift from Capitalism but as a concession.

7. State control over the economy means state control over every aspect of life. Socialism means dictatorship.

Socialism means the massive extension of democracy far beyond the bounds of a parliament. People will have the power of direct democracy through councils controlling every major business and service, every community, town, city and region.

Democracy is the lifeblood of a Socialist economy- without it you’d get the massive inefficiencies and horrible crimes of Stalinism.

8. That’s all great in theory, but who’d have the time to go to all those meetings and committees and votes?

Socialism will guarantee those freedoms not only on paper but through shorter working hours and a comfortable income for everyone, and therefore the ability, and not just the formal right, to participate in the running of society at any level.

9. It’s the State that creates monopolies, corruption and unaccountable corporate power. With a much smaller State there would be free competition and less corruption. 

Yes, a Capitalist state is always in the pocket of big finance and big business.

And no, a smaller state within Capitalism means the pure, unaccountable power of those with the most money, elected by nobody and responsible to nobody.

10. Nationalised companies and public services are unaccountable, lazy and inefficient. 

That’s an enormous myth- in fact such services and companies are the foundation-stones of most economies.

There’s an element of truth in it though because nationalised companies are often run by government-appointed bureaucrats.

Socialist nationalisation on the other hand means that everyone in authority is elected by those under them, subject to instant recall and on no more than the average wage.

11. Tax breaks and hand-outs for the rich are good for the rest of us- we should create a good environment for the rich to invest. 

The most obvious problem with that idea is that we give the rich whatever they want but we are guaranteed absolutely nothing in return.

Before you know it they’ll relocate the local factory to a dictatorship where people have to work for chicken feed.

They’ll drive down your wages and hike up their bonuses. They’ll destroy the planet, they’ll buy off politicians, they’ll start wars for oil.

They’ll invest in finance capital and create massive bubbles and rack up huge debts for the rest of us to pay off.

12. The crisis didn’t happen because of Capitalism!! It happened because of the cronyism in the banks, ie. the opposite of the free market! The banks got bailed out by the government, which is against the rules of Capitalism! 

Capitalism isn’t a rulebook- it’s a way of organizing society where a small privileged class control most of the wealth and the supply of money.

The government ripping off society in a doomed attempt to bail out a failed financial system- that’s Capitalism.

Capitalists spending 30 years gambling on the stock market while investing less and less in actual wealth creation- that’s Capitalism.

Kids dying of malaria, diarrhea and starvation while Capitalists invest in a hundred identical hair-care products with different labels and a thousand identical movies, and ads to create a market for products nobody would otherwise want- that’s Capitalism.

Please tune in for Arguing about Socialism, Part 2: The Social Democrat, coming soon

Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gun to the Head

On April 25th the Irish Congress of Trade Unions made their final decision on the Austerity Treaty: to sit on the fence. General Secretary David Begg had a few days earlier come out with a cowardly and short-sighted paper on the Treaty. It praises with mild criticism, in a tone of tiredness and detachment, before giving a lazy shrug of the shoulders:

While the treaty is wrong from our economic and social perspective it becomes hard to oppose it unless a satisfactory alternative to the ESM can be advanced.

An extended pondering over Francois Mitterand, Jacques Delors and late-lamented social Europe, which Begg entitles “Context,” seems to have little direct relevance. Begg seems to be trying to tell us that the battle was fought and lost thirty years ago.

The problem now is Delors is gone. Social Europe no longer has champions. The Employment Social Affairs and Inclusion Directorate is marginalised.  Strong German/French inter-governmentalism is in possession.

Alas! History has tied Begg’s hands. Passing the buck to the French Social Democrats of the early eighties rather than taking responsibility himself is Begg’s way of justifying a Treaty which will allow him to pass even more and even bigger bucks in the future. The “context” is as follows: We lost decades ago- resistance is futile. He concludes that

The problem for us is that we are a programme country with the gun of ESM pointed at our heads.

The few words I’ve put in bold from Begg’s comments on RTÉ News on April 25th throw a little more light on his position:

We’re in an absolutely unique situation, A: Where we have a referendum and B: Where we’re part of a programme with the Troika.

“Where we have a referendum.” If there were to be no practical outcomes to ICTU’s stance on the Treaty, why then they would oppose it. We might propose a definition of “Trade Union bureaucrat” based on these words.

What about this “Employment Social Affairs and Inclusion Directorate,” the marginalisation of which apparently makes all resistance to neo-liberal Europe futile? I never heard of this Directorate until I read Begg’s paper. Shows how much I know, you may say, but you probably didn’t hear of it either. Viewing this directorate as a key element of “Social Europe” stems from the same mind that justifies supporting the Treaty because of

the possibility of the German Social Democrats insisting on a European programme for growth as the price of their support [for the Treaty].

What possible substantial “programme for growth” could co-exist with a Treaty that writes austerity into law? The bureaucrat is a worshipper of charters, programmes, clauses and directorates. Not because they constitute anything material; in Lisbon, a Charter of Fundamental Rights could co-exist with attacks on workers’ rights.

Another example: SIPTU’s demand for a €10 billion investment and job creation package as a condition for supporting the treaty. But the treaty may sign us up to as much as €11.86 billion in cutbacks and new taxes. Bureaucrats negotiate surrenders, but they like to bring home some trinkets from the enemy’s camp to display as spoils of war.

The image of a “gun to the head” of Ireland is a striking one. If there’s a gun to your head, it follows that the one holding the gun is your enemy. That is all that needs to be said in support of a “No” vote, surely. It doesn’t make sense to sign away your liberty to your enemy.

If “our European Partners” have a gun to our head now, imagine if this treaty were passed: automatic punishments for any substantial deviation from extreme austerity; “economic partnership programmes,” meaning a virtual economic-policy dictatorship, in the event of “excessive deficit.” Begg wants to hand them a bazooka in place of their gun. You can see why any good bureaucrat would like this idea: it’s an opportunity to pass the buck higher than ever.

When the buck stops with the European Commission, over whom none of us has any democratic control whatsoever, the likes of Begg will be able to give us history lectures on the “Context” of his irrelevance to his heart’s content.  The times we live in are giving us an insight into the logic of creeping dictatorship, and into the motivations of those who let it happen.

Fighting Back

At a meeting recently I suggested that the “gun to our head” was in fact imaginary. “Getting into existentialism now, are ya?” someone called. Someone else suggested that we just seize power by arming the proletariat with imaginary guns. For saying something off the top of my head without being ready to back it up, I deserved to be laughed at.

All the same, we have to look at what this “gun” constitutes. It is the European Stability Mechanism, a means by which, following our inevitable second bailout, we would be drip-fed money to keep our economy from suddenly collapsing, in exchange for us stripping the country bare all means of creating wealth.

Firstly, the government collaborated in making this the case through the infamous “blackmail clause”; they could remove the gun if they wanted.

More importantly, and more generally, any political actor or commentator who can’t see beyond the next source of short-term funding, who wants “money in the ATMs” at the expense of all else, does not appreciate the scale of this crisis and will be deeply shocked by the course of events in the next few years.

Austerity has, at every juncture, made the crisis worse. The level of debt on the shoulders of the European working class; the parasitical role of financial institutions; the strike of private sector investment; in these conditions, pushed to its conclusion, the strategy of Europe’s ruling class would turn the continent into an economic wasteland.

It’s unlikely they will get that far, however. Austerity is driving people into revolt across Europe and across the world. It will continue to do so because it’s making the crisis worse. Significant Keynesian measures have barely featured because of the neo-liberal consensus and because such policies would be against the immediate interests of those who control capital and the money supply.

In any case, European economies are unravelling, not for want of SIPTU’s token €10 billion, but because they are fundamentally fucked, ruled by a decadent, parasitical capitalist class which is hoarding and gambling rather than investing.

Irish people create €156.4 billion on average every year. If we got every cent of this back in jobs and services, there would be no crisis. Across Europe there’s €2 trillion lying idle in the bank vaults of corporations. We need an international democratic Socialist plan of investment and production to match up potential with need. The market is not going to sort it out for us. We have to do it ourselves, and in increasing numbers, people are joining the fight for such an alternative.

The gun is not imaginary, but it is contingent on many increasingly unstable factors. It is based on institutions which have absolutely no effect once masses of people withdraw their cooperation and move into opposition to Capitalism. Its days are numbered. It’s impossible to say what that number is, but it would be a lot lower if the trade union leadership was doing what it’s paid to do, and fighting for the interests of the working class.

The conditions by which we are being coerced are the conditions of a specific historical moment: the moment in which austerity is being imposed, in which there exists widespread, seething anger; but in which this anger finds limited outlet and in which fighting back is difficult because bureaucratic defeatist rubbish like Begg has not yet been swept aside.

Typed out below are notes from the two plenary sessions of the United Left Alliance forum in Liberty Hall, June 25th, 2011, giving a report, noted down on the spot, of the main points made by speakers from the podium and the floor. These are for the perusal of anyone interested who couldn’t make it. More importantly, in a few years there may be great interest in what exactly was said by whom. Let’s look back on this and see how well we anticipated the challenges and opportunities, and learn from that. Also I have in mind issues of democratic accountability and minute-taking, which were recurring themes in speeches.  

The Left Response to the Crisis- 10.30-12.00

Chair: Ailbhe Smith (PBPA) Speakers: Professor Terence McDonagh (NUIG), Kieran Allen (SWP), Kevin McLoughlin (SP)  

Ailbhe Smith (PBPA) Acknowledged Gay Pride parade on the same day, displayed the lgbt flag and apologized for not showing up in costume! Stressed need for “generosity of politics” and spirit of compromise between constituent organisations. Sent message of solidarity to comrades on the Gaza Flotilla including Paul Murphy MEP and Cllr Hugh Lewis.  

Prof Terence McDonagh Will outline an economic programme that can be implemented within 48 hours and turn the economy around

1-Default, 2-Leave the Euro, 3-build a good public bank, 4-guaranteed job for everyone, 5-nationalize corrib gas

Default- by 2014 debt will be €80 bn private banking debt, €40 bn sovereign debt and further €80 bn interest on borrowing Can’t possibly pay back, shouldn’t pay back

Leave the Euro- control over own currency, fall of value of new punt, fiscal control for public works

Good Public Bank- public bank to provide credit for people, bad private bank for the bondholders & shareholders of private debt [applause and laughter]

Job guarantee- control over punt gives leeway to govt. Little risk of inflation because inflation is created by bidding against the private sector- not applicable

Nationalize Corrib gas- Nobody loses except Shell

Endorses end goal of Socialism- this programme is a step in the right direction  

Kevin McLoughlin (SP) Emphasis on mass uprising creating basis for programme to be implemented- Perspective of such an uprising taking place in Ireland in coming years

Outlines crisis of capitalism since the 1970s- shift to finance, credit to fuel consumer spending, fundamentally unproductive capitalism resulting in the bubble bursting

No way out under capitalism Debunking 2 myths on which the right-wing discourse rests: Recovery through 1) MNCs, 2) Exports

Multinational Corporations- account for 7-8% of labour force but 90% of exports in Ireland- profits sent abroad, equipment and raw materials mostly ordered from abroad

2005-2011: 11% growth in MNC sector- no corresponding job growth.

Exports- Indigenous Irish Capitalism & “entrepreneurship” accounts for only 10% of exports

2000-2007: 11,000 jobs lost in indigenous enterprises ULA must debunk these myths, as a starting point  

Kieran Allen Economists compared to priests, interpreting “the signs” of the markets for the benefit of the rest of us ignorant masses- with no offense meant to Prof. McDonagh- “He’s one of the best ones! It’s unusual to see an economist like him!” Economics is not a technical matter- it’s about choices

Eg. Last budget took €100 million from corporations but took €1 billion from PAYE workers

Need for wealth tax

Middle East- North Africa revolutions presented by mass media as being for “Western-style democracy”- in fact the demands of the revolutionaries, little-publicized, are for better wages and social conditions, “for democracy and against neo-liberalism”

The €18 billion sovereign deficit that commentators always go on about: if 450,000 people were working instead of on the dole, we wouldn’t have that deficit

The rich are effectively on strike, demanding major reforms and threatening to sabotage society if their demands are not met

2007: investment in economy of €50 bn, 2010: only €14 bn- collapse on the scale of the Great Depression

Economist John Fitzgerald says: Irish people apparently have loads of savings, economy would recover if only people went out and spent more! In fact Irish people have been hit very hard, repeatedly

Capitalism is insane- €613 spent on advertising, which would solve world hunger if invested Need for democratic public ownership  

Over to the floor—  

Anne McShane (CPGB) Need to hold ULA TDs to account Membership-led organisation

Debate on what we mean by socialism

Internationalist agenda  

Alan Gibson (IBT) Accusations of stage-ist approach in economic programme  

Sinead Kennedy (SWP) Need to present concrete alternatives to people

Slavoj Žižek says that now, Socialists are the realists and the Capitalist class are the new utopians  

Kerry Cuskelly Need to go beyond economics to civic engagement and social development

As a social worker, she works in communities where they wouldn’t get what we were talking about, communities with serious problems like racism and drugs

Can’t just frame it in terms of economics but involve underprivileged people in a real way  

Brian Gould Don’t pay back the banking debt

State should honour debt but not private debt

Question to Prof. McDonagh: leaving Euro or leaving EU? Need to express economics in simpler terms  

Anne Connolly In a simple capitalist default, working people will still be hit hard- not enough to argue for a default

Need for a 32-county workers’ republic Condemn Union ldrship  

Spirit of James Connolly

Brendan Young Use of the word “socialism”- link abstract to concrete

Getting rid of Euro would result in speculation against the punt

Ireland in the European economy, need for a Europe-wide solution

Control over currency would not mean control over economy or capital  

Paddy Healy (WUAG) Victories and achievements of ULA TDs

Govt has deferred the JLC bill

Substantial differences from the 1080s when WUAG was formed- people now far more qualified  

Mary Smith (SWP) A revolutionary socialist, but not hung up on the word “socialist”- must not be “abstract”

Need for mass organisation and building of campaigns

“It’s wonderful to be swimming in a sea where people agree with you”

People don’t have the confidence to call themselves socialist, while they do agree with us.  

Cian Prendiville (SP) Vital need for a programme that represents reality and will solve our very real crisis, rather than simply chasing opinion polls

Key problem: strike of capital

“telling the truth” demands that we talk about socialism

We need not to demand a limited public sector “tangential” to the capitalist system but the end of capitalism

Eg. Sinn Fein/Unite: €2 bn public works programme proposed- would still only restore economy to 2010 levels  

Amal Nasser [apologies. I missed her name and I’m certain I have it wrong here- please correct me by commenting below] Egyptian revolution- revolutions are a progressive force in society

Problems: Middle East, petrol. Imperialists/Capitalists will not allow revolution to survive

Ruling class planning Islamist regime

Military govt arresting, torturing activists

Female activists arrested and subjected to virginity tests

Attacks on Copts allowed by military govt., no investigations

Young officers leaked documents on how military govt,. Is pushing a plan drawn up with Soudi Arabia and the USA

Revolution in Egypt is only the beginning  

Summation

[Alibhe Smith says that time is up and we must return to the main speakers. an attendee proposes that he be allowed two minutes to speak before return to podium for summation. Refused by chair. Persists. Shouted down by audience. Sits down, heard to grumble: “…not very democratic.”]  

Prof. Terence McDonagh Leaving the € and leaving the EU inseperable.Costs vs. Benefits- Benefits of leaving Euro outweigh costs

Outlines conflict between broader and narrower range of demands  

Kieran Allen (SWP) Private &state debt now too closely intertwined to continue slogan of “burn the bondholders”

Must default on all

Blackmail about being kicked out of the EU must be answered

Believes People Before Profit is a better name than Socialist Party or Socialist Workers’ Party

Not about words, it’s about methods

If we say socialism, we must explain what it means, not be abstract  

Kevin McLoughlin (SP) SP is not “abstract”- delivered detailed, worked-out manifestos to 250,000 homes in the country during election

If SP is abstract, it got 2 TDs elected on that “abstractness”- but SP is not abstract- history of linking concrete proposals to the need to change society

Should be no hesitation about using the word socialism or having a socialist programme

People are not turned off by socialism- socialism has never dissuaded people from voting for Socialist Party  

14.15-16.00: The ULA: What kind of party do we need? Chair: Laura Fitzgerald, Speakers: Declan Bree (Cllr), Richard Boyd Barrett (SWP, TD), Seamus Healy (WUAG, TD), Joe Higgins (SP, TD)  

Declan Bree (Cllr) Outline of general situation- Huge crisis of capitalism, austerity, union sellout EU/IMF diktats

Attempts to divide public and private sector workers Social Democrats and Republicans who see the state as neutral must soon see the error of their ways

ULA must be the new force on the Irish left Amid growing radicalisation, it must definitely be socialist ULA as it is now- only an initial step

Must be prepared to fight capitalism, not just fight for a more humane form of capitalism

Must create a new party, as soon as the ULA has built a base through campaigning

New level of cooperation Non-aligned members- a democratic participatory structure is vital

Industrial, social and community action  

Joe Higgins (SP, TD) Filling the vacuum left by the shift to the right of the Social Democratic parties across Europe

Recognition that capitalism is “a diseased system” that is wounding economy and society NO solution within capitalism

Yes to reformist demands, but these demands, to be consistent, must be led into the need for a socialist alternative Orientation toward working class & youth Unions, communities, action groups

ULA must not crudely control campaigns as has happened in the past with some organisations, but assist in a leadership capacity, also provide logistics, resources Building a mass workers’ party

NO COALITION with right-wing parties -labour totally discredited -anomaly of Sinn Fein opposing cuts down here, implementing them in Northern Ireland with the “lame” excuse that they are in a power-sharing government ULA must act with principle, honesty, consistency

Raise criticism of an SWP leaflet- ULA should give no platform to any Labour  Party TD or Cllr- they are supporting the govt, even if they are willing to criticize it

Parliamentary limitations have been frustrating for ULA- technical group rather than party etc.

However, Dail intervention on many issues, eg, the JLCs, has been excellent ULA will work for new party- November 2010 was very good timing for the launch of the ULA- the launch of a mass party demands equally good timing

Limited numbers currently- need to build the ULA Vital need to represent non-aligned members on the steering committee

Launching a mvmt of thousands against double taxes

Great success so far- 5 TDs, 20 Councillors, 1 MEP

Must work towards the ending of the “diseased, sclerotic” system of capitalism  

Richard Boyd-Barrett (SWP, TD) Come a long way in the past year- achievements so far still relatively modest, but still it’s a very exciting time

Lots of hope invested in the ULA

New force outside of the ”cosy club” of the political establishment

Context & basis of this alliance: Egyptian revolutionary movement- coalitions of diverse groups on the basis of what unites them rather than what divides them- we should be the same, the 90, 95 % we agree on should be the basis

Vast majority of people agree with us that austerity and the overall policies of the govt are bad

That is is unjust that we are paying the gambling debts of rich people

Need to win over people who are not used to the same tradition and language as we on the left are

People furiously angry- most favourable situation for the left since the foundation of the state

Problems: we’re not big enough

People want to resist, need leadership- starting from a starting-point that may not be close to us but on a trajectory toward us

Party of struggle- we’re all here on the basis of broad movements

Answer concrete questions, break the strategy of fear

There is an alternative- cancel the debt, tax the wealth, default

“captains of enterprise” are vultures, parasites- take wealth, invest it, struggle mass movements, power of workers

“wage war on jargon”- language& traditions of the left can be off-putting- suspicion of political parties  

Séamus Healy (WUAG, TD) ULA must be grass-roots and bottom-up

Comparison to birth of South Tipperary WUAG- workers, unemployed, housewives got together and got active

Local and national electoral success of group- many borough, county and town Cllrs as well as a TD

1980s- “no alternative” mantra- real alternative

The bailout is to benefit British, French, German banks

Not a “good Samaritan” deal- paying off bad debts of international gamblers

Default, burning the bondholders, wealth & assets tax

Building through campaigns- water, JLCs etc

Importance of building personal& political relationships

Good start today, great turnout

Must be all around the country, not just Dublin  

Over to the floor…  

Eddie Conlon (PBPA) Tremendous success, very encouraging

Ppl looking towards us

Ldrship-responsibility and opportunity

Constituent organisations must concentrate on building the ULA

intervention into campaigns and independent ULA-launched campaigns

We can build 40 branches, very soon

Serious democratic structures, get ppl on board

Great opportunity, let’s not blow it  

Shane Fitzgerald Presenting view of an independent participant, unaligned to a constituent organisation

Need to bring in loads more people Open question: how many in the room are non-aligned members?

Some proposals- doesn’t want to press for huge changes but just suggestions

One branch meeting per month is not enough for independent members, while SP and SWP members meet every month.

Unaligned members fall out of the loop

Proposal: E-mail newsletter. Contact @ weareragbags.wordpress.com or weareragbags@gmail.com  

Ruth Coppinger (SP, Cllr) Campaigning party first and foremost

Lively, interesting discussions at branch meetings

Meetings should be about the ULA

Programme- Boyd-Barrett’s comments on “war on jargon”- heard the same thing years and years ago in another party- one called Labour Youth. Same things said about scaring ppl away and being too extreme

We need to politicize, not depoliticize- not abstract demands, but demands that make a bridge   

Gerard Lawlor (SIPTU Shop Steward) Piece of EU legislation regarding Unions- demanding democratic participation from membership, information sharing systems

Works in a private hospital, struggled very hard over recent years bringing membership from 10% to 60%

Local union branches not implementing this very important piece of legislation

Union leadership holding back movement

David Begg- on board of Irish Times, Aer LIngus and Central Bank, yet still General Secretary of ICTU! David Begg must go!  

John Lyons (SWP) Lots of ppl voted Labour to take the edge of Fine Gael, while many voted Sinn Fein because they believed SFs radical rhetoric- many times more than voted for us voted for those two parties

Lots of disappointed Labour voters will be coming over to our side- target labour supporters

Andrew Keegan, Larkhill candidate for PBPA- campaign to save the no. 3 bus, public mtg- 70 present

Labour TD Róisín Shortall came to meeting, read out info given to her by Dublin Bus- proposed nothing concrete- people just listened politely

Bus campaign will expand and Labour will have little to do with it 

 Dermot Connolly (PBPA) ULA is a process for now, not a party

We need to build not over a scale of years but over a short space of time

Build party culture, build trust between organisations

Campaigning together will be successful- eg. Of general election

Next local elections- double number of councillors

Build branches, not just a Dublin project– 15 present at Mullingar launch- that’s a branch, in somewhere the Left has never truly been active outside the Labour Party

Unaligned ppl need control over branches- we should have 40-50 branches soon

Proper communications network for unaligned- regular forums- rank & file must control  

Annette Mooney (PBPA) Question of gender representation- only 9 women speaking at ULA forum out of 25 total- undemocratic

What is ULA policy on gender representation? Issues like childcare& education get ignored without representation for women  

Matt Waine (SP, Cllr) Not the 1st time the left has got together- previous left parties

Immediate demands to mobilize around are not enough- mistakes of past Social Democratic and Labour parties- same mistake of current left formations

Socialism is not something for the dim and distant future

Consciousness lags behind the situation

Example of youth mvmts in Greece and Spain- independent youth movements totally bypass the left because the “left” was too conservative

Gareth Fitzpatrick (ULA North Kildare) Need for taking minutes at meetings Information for individual members- steering committee needs more contact  

Mick Barry (SP, Cllr) Busy week next week- vote in council, protest, 2 meetings

Class issues opening up, vital to build ULA on these issues

Saturday- ULA day of action in Cork- 18 on the streets- credibility through campaigns

We fight for reforms, but we are not reformist

Election programme- a step forward, a left anti-capitalist programme but not a socialist programme Emphasis not on jargon but on content- whether you call it socialist or whatever else you want to call it, what’s the content?  

Madeleine Johansen (SWP) Need for grassroots, democracy Discussions at branch mtgs in which everyone puts forward their opinion ULA must be revolutionaries ULA must have “A vision of a future society that is better for all”  

Summation [Same guy as before wants 2 minutes to speak. Chair refuses, time is pressing. Persists. Lots of shouting from the audience. A handful seem to be shouting “Go back to the workers’ party”, “Go back to Labour”, even “go back to your IMF”. One individual stands up and says it’s unfair that this guy wants special treatment. Applause. Dermot Connolly stands up and proposes that the guy is given just a minute to speak. Less applause. Shouting continues for some time until the guy finally sits down.]  

Séamus Healy (WUAG, TD) Vital to get information to members and take minutes of meetings Campaigns vital to knit together the organisations  

Richard Boyd-Barrett (SWP, TD) Building branches- 40-50 branches- key unit of democracy and accountability

Branch delegates to a national council which would make decisions, coordinate

Local groups should decide their own regularity of meetings- no central diktat

Public reps and delegates must be kept accountable to branches.

Agreeing on action & campaigns, ideological ferment  on IMF etc Forces moving toward us, not as left-wing as us, but getting there Socialism about the deed, not the word, eg. Socialist parties in Greece and elsewhere, who are in govt bringing down cuts, what does the word “Socialist” mean there?  

Declan Bree (Cllr) Urgent need to develop ULA internal democracy- hopes that the steering committee can provide that  

Joe Higgins (SP, TD) Gender balance points raised- 9 women out of 25 is not undemocratic. Would not advocate Fine Gael-style gender quotas – what is needed is an open and welcoming atmosphere. Further, ULA should choose the most able candidates, and the ones most willing to make sacrifices in their personal lives for politics

Unions- ULA must reclaim them for workers- activist networks forming in unions

Rest over the summer- in September things will heat up- opposition to local charges and water taxes

Water charges, ‘94-’96- great victory, but we’re fighting that battle again. Why, because it’s the same system. Critical need to bring together all our demands and campaigns with the aim of a Socialist world

  [this is all taken from notes I jotted down while sitting in the audience- inevitably I will have made some mistakes and misrepresented some things. If you’re reading this and want to propose an amendment to it, feel free to comment below. Sorry if I misunderstood or misleadingly rephrased anything anyone said]

13-5-11

Our “European partners” are the people on General strikes in Greece and Portugal, not the wise grey heads that think “responsibility” means closing down schools, hospitals and welfare programmes. Those who loudly voice their opinions in the mainstream press, even those who are pro-default,  show no signs of copping on to this reality. Never mind. We can safely ignore them.  

It seems every time Morgan Kelly writes one of his big showpiece articles, the frontlines of debate in the mainstream press shift a little, with some grumbling. All Kelly does really is he repeats what Left-wing political papers with tiny budgets and tinier circulation have been arguing for months if not years. He does it with more obscure jargon- though not as much as most economists- more political timidity, complete hopelessness, no class consciousness, and with the word “Doctor” in front of his name, and he does it in the Irish Times, so I guess it all adds up to make his opinion more “respectable” than the consistently accurate predictions and analysis of the Revolutionary Left.

Experiencing conditions of scarcity teaches you more about the world than any number of degrees, but the people who write opinion pieces in the Irish Times, who have any number of degrees, wouldn’t agree. What we see in Kelly is a guy who’s been through the right-wing gauntlet of a higher education in Economics expressing in conscientious and a serious way what’s up with this country. Accordingly, while he calls for massive cuts, he does back it up with an honest analysis rather than platitudes about cloud computing or some other economic miracle cure.

Whereas practically everyone else is just making it up as they go along, committing to nothing but cuts and working “with” our “European partners” (before being shown up for the bluffers they are next time we get downgraded or have to pump another few billion into the banks), Kelly represents the more sincere edge of mainstream opinion. He tries to say it like it is, not as he wants it to be or wants people to think it is- which is why some have accused him of “sowing panic” among the swinish ignorant multitude and the financial markets. His articles usually end with predictions of how the Beast and the Whore of Babylon will battle with Christ and St. Michael in the skies over the hill of Armageddon. I’m not taking the piss out of him; from a sincere Capitalist point of view, that’s a fair enough analysis. He’s honest. Accordingly, his message is: On our own right-wing capitalist terms, we’re fucked.

As I said, the frontlines of debate shift when Morgan Kelly comes to town, but there is always some grumbling. A big showpiece opinion article a few days ago (“Coalition strategy may give us safet”y net we need”, Philip Lane, IT May 12) was all

“…the ongoing heavy reliance of the Irish banking system on ECB liquidity support means that the consent of the ECB and governments is essentially required if the imposition of losses on senior bondholders is the be smoothly achieved…”

The phrase “unilaterally impose” was repeated and repeated and repeated— there’s something tyrannical and dictatorial, it seems, about making extremely rich people pay their own gambling debts. Reality usually “unilaterally imposes” this, but these debts are so big the system has been called into question. Government strategy is therefore to “unilaterally impose” mass misery on millions of people. This is perfectly OK in the eyes of the opinion-piece writers, because if we go after the rich, they and the governments that are in their pockets will punish us:

“…tighter liquidity conditions would considerably diminish the net financial gain from unilaterally imposing losses on senior bondholders…”

These people cannot see that any system (Capitalism) and any institution (the EU) which “unilaterally imposes” the interests of the richest and most powerful people on earth onto the clearest moral and ethical issues is insane and wrong. Another phrase repeated a few times this article was “our European partners”. Why can’t they see that this stock CSPE phrase has become, more obviously than ever before, laughable? Beneath all the bullshit, the Eurozone crisis is a clear case of the weak being tossed about by the strong. Behind all the talk is the unacknowledged assumption: they’re stronger than us and can do whatever the fuck they like with us. So let’s get sucking or they might make us do something worse.

Anyone will tell you that passivity is the worst possible response to bullying. Moreover, the fact is that like many bullies, they’re not stronger than us. Any system demands the cooperation and consent of people. However much mainstream opinion has written human beings out of the equation, even the core countries of the EU, France and Germany, have seen mass movements of people power in the last year. In Britain, students and workers have shown their strength. And then there’s Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain, three of which have seen general strikes, while Italy has mobilized enormous protests against Berlusconi, reflecting a deeper social anger.

Then look beyond Europe— but that’s a subject for a book, not for a blog post.

These movements need clear and decisive leadership and a logical programme to fight for, and they need to be united, but that will come. Realize that this is only the start. Remember that those who form mainstream opinion in our newspapers are a privileged elite commentariat who, for the most part, have nothing to worry about economically. Take their writings with a handful, not the usual pinch, of salt.

To conclude, let’s return to Kelly for a moment. His autumn article concluded that, radicalized by this crisis, the people of Ireland would turn to the far right. Here we see an example of how any time these wise-men factor in “humanity”, it’s with total condescension and fear: of course they’re going to turn into fascists, they’re stupid, that’s the kind of thing they’d do. In, say, Sweden or Britain or Greece there are scary far-right nuts gaining ground. But in Ireland, aside from a ridiculous, swiftly-exposed attempt at an “Irish National Party” and a quiet, harmless “Immigration Control Platform” without widespread support, there has been zero evidence of far-right gains. Kelly sees that there must be some mass reaction to this deep and horrible crisis: he concludes, for whatever reason, that it will be Fascist-populist in character. It’s true that there must be a mass response to mass emmiseration. However, there is no evidence for a burgeoning far right in Ireland. There is in fact evidence of a far more positive development.

The fightback on the streets in Ireland has been smaller than in the other PIIGS, but on the other hand none of those other countries have elected active revolutionary Socialists to their parliament. With a sizeable parliamentary platform and a man in the European Parliament, and more importantly with a respected fighting record and a principled opposition to cuts, the Left in Ireland has huge potential to grow. Let’s not be complacent about the far right, but in the Republic of Ireland they are less of an organized political force than in any other state I can think of.

The media, political and business elite, though they take either an “all is well” or a “nothing we can do” position, should be scared. But the spectre of an imaginary far right that, if it existed, would pose no threat to their broad interests anyway, is irrelevant at this moment. Capitalism has failed spectacularly, and it’s Trots like me, who can provide a serious, logical alternative, that they should be scared of.

Trotsky reading the Militant in 1931

Image via Wikipedia

The bloody birth of a blog post: You see something or you read something, and it makes you angry first and then it makes you think. In the case of this article, that “something” was a sign that the Fine Gaelers put up in Galway near Claddagh Park. This was during the election campaign, this has been brewing and going rotten at the back of my head since then. The sign said:

“GIVE CREDIT TO SMALL AND MEDIUM ENTERPRISES- THE BACKBONE OF OUR ECONOMY”

(or something like that- maybe they said SMEs).

I asked Leon Trotsky about this and he said, “In this simple billboard in Galway, to the naked eye an element barely significant, we see in fact the magnificent summit of the mighty immovable rock that is bourgeois parliamentary imbecility. Give credit to small and medium brains- the backbone of our liberal parliament.” To be honest I wanted to say something similar myself. I’ve not said it because it sounds a bit up myself. But I’ve let you in on what Leon said so that you get an idea how it made me feel, and in what spirit I’m writing this blog post.

Can small and medium-sized businesses be “the backbone” of any economy? Shops, restaurants, niche suppliers- that’s the scale we’re talking. They could definitely be the metacarpals or phalanges of the economy. Femur or tibia would be stretching it, but plausible. Ribs, I guess.

You could have an economy in which SME’s are the backbone, where you’ve got millions of people either well-paid professionals or working behind counters and in their spare time buying stuff off each other to keep the economy afloat—

just it’d be shit.

All the large-scale manufacturing has to be shipped off to where people work harder for less and the dictatorship doesn’t allow unions. That’s what Reagan and Thatcher were all about, and in Britain and America huge sections of the working class are living in the wasteland of de-industrialization. Ireland, on the other hand, which never industrialized in the first place— but we’ll come to that.

It’s not profitable for big business to employ a strong, united working class that lives in a democracy. That’s the strange world we’re living in, of course, but my point is that a services-based economy simply can’t employ everyone. It demands that you keep huge swathes of the population on welfare. At the same time, you have to banish production to places where $2 a day and a kick in the arse is the best the local workers can hope for. That’s the sinister meaning behind the pro-business propaganda that this sign typifies.

Ireland doesn’t have an economic backbone, really, and that’s the problem. The backbone was construction, but in 2008 that backbone was surgically removed by reality. Similar story all over the wealthier countries of the world: reality caught up with the credit binge that kept Capitalism bearable for a lot of us for so many years. And shoving more loans up the arse of our economy won’t replace the missing backbone, it will just make us bleed horribly.

From that quick, sweeping anatomy of an economy we turn to dissect a billboard and what it says about our country’s future. Why would someone trying to get elected raise such a brainless slogan? Why would they get away with it?

You can read this billboard in more than one way. One way of rephrasing it is:

GIVE CREDIT TO SMEs- I HAPPEN TO OWN SEVERAL

Or it could mean, literally,

GIVE FINANCIAL CREDIT TO SMEs

Sure, why not? Stop the bailouts, compensate people on the basis of need, start up a genuine banking system run by democratic committees of the working class who can lend money to small businesses. Good start.

As this wasn’t a major plank of Fine Gael policy, though, I doubt that’s what the billboard meant. It meant kind of moral credit; fair play to them, out there on the frontlines, employing people AND making money: selflessly looking after themselves, walking evidence for the principles of capitalism. With this in mind we can provide a translation of the slogan based on actual Fine Gael policy:

GIVE CREDIT TO THE BOSSES OF SMEs- DON’T COMPLAIN WHEN THEY SCREW THEIR WORKERS

This wasn’t an isolated billboard. According to people like Mark Fielding of ISME, a decent wage is an obstacle to, rather than a prerequisite for, giving someone a job. That’s the kind of twisted logic that comes out of a twisted system. And like so much, it comes down to the capitalist system:  it would be avoiding the problem to say that all SME owners are scummy greedy rich fuckers who are making plenty of money but are using the recession as an excuse to drive down wages. Many of them are, of course. But when some right-winger argues that SMEs need to exploit just to survive, they’re scoring an own goal without realizing it.

When you’re criticizing something as huge and all-pervasive as Capitalism, sometimes it can be frustrating trying to keep up with the constantly-shifting frontlines of the debate. For instance, the very same person might tell me on two different days two different things: on Day One they might deny that Capitalism is an inherently exploitative system. On Day Two they might defend the Fine Gael slogan on the billboard by saying that businesses need to pay lower wages or else they’ll have to fire people altogether. This is, in other words, justifying exploitation by arguing that businesses need to exploit to survive. Join the dots. And who’s the big loser in this way of doing things?

In its more moderate form, ie. in the form in which nobody questions the underlying issue- ownership of wealth- this is a well-worn debate. Back during the depression Keynes used to say pay higher wages so there’s more consumer spending. The orthodoxy of the time, however, as now, was higher wages means more unemployment. Keynesianism- “nice” capitalism- definitely fails to address this point. It doesn’t ask, for instance, who’s paying the wages. We live under a system where the minority has most of the real wealth and the majority has to play by the bosses’ rules just to pay their own bills.

There is no way to make this unequal power relationship “nice”. You can with great effort force the bosses to pay a minimum wage, but you can’t stop them kicking people out of work. You can’t stop flight of capital– not by constitutional means, anyway. You can’t stop a new elite generation rising up through the isolation and dogma of a wealthy life, indoctrinated in business-centric policy and ready to take up the reins of power in turn.

If you try to make capitalism OK without challenging the claim of private individuals and companies to huge portions of the world’s wealth, you’re playing the game leaving all the cards in the hands of your opponent. Notice that the golden age of Keynesian policies coincided with the greatest boom in the history of capitalism, which proved that you can up to a point make the rich share, yes. But only when they’re making profits so huge that they can, from their point of view, afford to share. It took one recession and an oil crisis for the regrouped Right to smash most of the progress made since the war. Now their successors are coming back to finish the job and the more cuddly pro-capitalists- <cough>Labour<cough> -are, instead of fighting this onslaught, hysterically trying to prove that they’re not scared of cutbacks. As if shattering peoples’ lives and livelihoods was like going to the gym- something difficult but virtuous, something admirable.

What this billboard should remind us is not simply that there are now stupid people in government who don’t really know what they’re talking about. These aren’t just stupid people; some of them are clever, and people can be clever and stupid in different ways, of course. In another life Cowen might simply have been an excellent lawyer, Reilly an excellent doctor, Gilmore an excellent… uh… Tory. The point is these clever and stupid people are on an ideological crusade. They think the only way to save the country is by doing what those rich and smart men from the IMF, the EU and the financial markets say, with a tweak here and there. What this will lead to is a deep worsening of the situation on the ground and a mass backlash on the streets.

This billboard also points out the sinister propaganda that lies behind the cuddly cult of the businessman that’s with us everywhere, from Junior Cert Business Studies to Dragon’s Den. Just as the example of high-paid quango parasites is raised by right-wingers as a cover for attacks on low-paid public servants, the small businessman, struggling to survive the bad times, is conjured up as a cover for millionaires.

I admire people who come up with good ideas. Whatever. But I don’t like it when someone who’s in it for the money is shoved in my face as some kind of moral example (especially those arrogant sexist pricks on Dragon’s Den). More importantly, when this cult prays for pay cuts and claims divine power- BACKBONE OF OUR ECONOMY!- it’s just so obvious that the whole thing is a justification for greed, gambling and exploitation.

But their arguments wouldn’t have so much weight in society if there wasn’t something behind them. There is. Under this system, all the policy options of any government boil down to different ways of kissing the arse of the rich, hoping to fuck they stay in the country and invest. Just listen to two words strung together by any politician for evidence of this.

It’s a Venn diagram, two overlapping circles: what’s individually profitable and what’s socially profitable. We only get what’s in the crossover, a crossover that’s shrinking with every recessionary year. So you have a number of options: keep the wealth in their hands and kiss their arses (Thatcher), keep the wealth in their hands and don’t kiss their arses quite as much (Keynes), or kiss their arses if that’s what you’re into, but for fuck’s sake bring the wealth under democratic control and invest it usefully (Marx).