Belfast’s John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy shedding a little Marxist light in on the political and economic crises in Ireland. Below is Joe Higgins, Socialist Member of European Parliament speaking in that place on why he walked out of a Parliamentary gathering of Irish representatives. I’ll be away, hopefully to return with photos from the back roads of southern Ohio. Safe travels comrades.
Ireland: A colony once again, this time under the heel of the European Bank and the IMF
Chapter one of a savage battle between workers and capital
John McAnulty, Socialist Democracy 18 November 2010
Some sense of the convulsion gripping Ireland today is given by the editorial in the leading bourgeois journal, the Irish Times – an editorial made even stranger by the paper’s past support of Irish historical revisionism and the advancement of a post-nationalist argument that dismissed the whole idea of self-determination for Ireland and for her people as an issue in the modern world.
(Is it this that the men of 1916)…. died for: a bailout from the German chancellor … Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Their representatives ride into Merrion Street today….
The current crisis was provoked by the collapse of Irish capitalist strategy on 30th September and the acceleration of the pace of collapse into chaos following remarks by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor at the Seoul G20 summit.
The initial strategy of the Dublin government was always insane. Ireland’s economy is a dependent one and Irish capital has only one strategy – subservience to transitional capital. In order to reassure the bond market they gave a cast-iron guarantee to their own decayed banks and to the major European banks who provided the money. The solution was the effective nationalisation of the failed banks, the creation of a bad bank, NAMA, and massive austerity, driving down wages, jobs and services. The mixture was seasoned with the support of the trade union leadership, who demanded a ‘better fairer’ way of paying the banks while remaining in social partnership with the government. The final decoration for this concoction was a massive dose of lies that consistently underestimated the levels of bad debt within the Irish economy.
The whole edifice came crashing down on ‘Black Thursday’ – 30th Sept when something approaching the true size of the bank bailout was revealed. A strategy aimed at assuring the bond market that every penny would be screwed out the working class began to work in reverse when the size of the debt grew past the point where it became a plausible strategy. The interest on Irish debt grew to over 9% and effectively Ireland was bankrupt.
Speaking in Seoul, where she is attending the G20 summit, German chancellor Angela Merkel said in response to the Irish difficulties:
“We cannot keep constantly explaining to our voters and our citizens why the taxpayer should bear the cost of certain risks and not those people who have earned a lot of money from taking those risks.”
The strategy of Irish capital descended to farce. Merkel had no supporters in the Irish government. The idea that Irish capital would not squeeze workers of the last drop of blood was greeted with horror.
Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan welcomed supportive comments from Britain, France and Germany. Lenihan promised to unveil a four-year programme of austerity measures ahead of the Budget in December. This will involve doubling a savage cut of 3 billion euro to 6 billion euro and a €15bn ‘correction’ over the four years.
The minister said: ‘Our EU partners have confirmed their full confidence in the budgetary strategy being pursued by the Government. It is imperative that next month’s Budget be passed in the Dáil’.
The Irish government believed that by giving an absolute guarantee to bond holders they could placate the market. Now they find that it is the sheer implausibility of that promise that is bringing them down.
They boasted that there was no need to borrow money anyway until 2011. It was the strategy of Mr Micawber – the hope that something will turn up. From that point on control of the economy began secretly to shift to the European Central bank.
The growing Irish crisis has consequences for Europe. If Ireland might be unable to meet the bill then other weak economies might also default and this is reflected in the rising interest rates they are charged, thus twisting the spiral of crisis further. The ability of the European powers to handle the crisis is called into question and the euro weakens. When Merkel called into question the central tenet of Irish policy the pace of events accelerated. Merkel was swiftly corrected by the major European powers who indicated that it was simply a proposal that at some point in the future gambling in property speculation might not always guarantee a 100% return for the major banks. In any case it was a statement steeped in the rankest hypocrisy. Many of the bondholders depending on their pound of flesh are in fact the German banks whom Merkel represents. But by then the damage was done and panic turned to rout.
The imperialist strategy in their new Irish colony is to provide sufficient funds from the ECB to calm the fears of the market and then to embark in a huge experiment to see how much can be sucked out of the Irish economy over and above the astronomical proposals already in place. It is likely that many of the proposals will be drawn from the Greek experience, even though it itself shows signs of failure and has not seen a return of stability.
Conditions will include the reform or outright cancellation of welfare programmes, privatisation of State assets, cuts in capital spending, an immediate increase in VAT and a widening of the VAT base, increases in excise duties, and a widening of the property tax base. Public pensions will include the linking of the retirement age with changes in life expectancy, cuts in the highest pensions, the changing of the base upon which public sector pensions are paid so that they are linked to average lifetime earnings, the lowering of the ceiling on pension payments and the restriction of access to early retirement. Perhaps the most dramatic effect will be in the speed with which standards of living are driven down and the speed with which assets are stripped out of public and semi-state bodies.
Perhaps the biggest weapon that the capitalist have in their armoury is the connivance of the Trade Union leadership in the general strategy of capital, hidden behind a layer of bombast.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is to hold a major national demonstration on Saturday, November 27 in Dublin in protest at existing budget proposals:
David Begg, the ICTU secretary, said; “Congress believes there is a better, fairer way to do this …… Simply put we need to extend the period of adjustment and focus on jobs and growth”.
In other words we should take longer and spend more on undefined investments – a crazy scenario when the effect of a longer borrowing time would be to add billions more in interest charges and when an investment strategy demands that we borrow even more at a time when the crisis amounts to an inability to borrow any money at current interest rates applied to Ireland – this in a context where the ECB will be setting the targets and the Dail will be totally irrelevant!
There has been a protracted tussle between Europe and the Irish government when they wriggled to avoid the loan. The reason for the dispute is simple. The offer that Ireland can’t refuse is meant to protect the euro, not Ireland. It will increase Ireland’s debt and freeze it for years in special measures even more extreme than the unprecedented cuts proposed already. So there are enormous political risks for the Irish capitalists:
There is the enormous loss of face and political authority involved in the return of the country to the status of a colony.
There is the loss of the power of nationalism – a big element in defusing resistance is claims that ‘we are all in this together’ and that ‘we must stand together to save the country’.
The nationalist ideology underpins the social partnership with the trade union leaderships. Will they be able put forward a programme of collaboration with the IMF?
Above all the Irish capitalists fear a call from Europe for a fairer tax regime. They are convinced that the past success of the Celtic Tiger can be explained by a policy of setting a 12.5% rate of corporation tax. If they are forced to levy at the European average they fear that the basic assumption of their strategy – that austerity now will be rewarded by a return of the good times – will unravel and they will be swept away in the ensuing explosion.
The genie will not be put back in the bottle. Angela Merkel, the leading representative of European imperialism, can (at least for a few hours) wag her finger at the bondholders. The dependent representatives of the Irish neo-colony cannot. The trade union bureaucracy, joined at the waist to Irish capital by decades of social partnership, cannot. Yet Irish capital is doomed if it does and doomed if it doesn’t. The bill is too big to pay. Even if Ireland receives a European bailout the question remains. How is it to pay the bailout? Interventions by the European Central bank and the International Monetary Fund presume some failure by native capital and the ability of outside agencies to impose harsher austerity. This is not the case here. Irish capital has done everything it can to wring salvation from the hides of the workers. The austerity can be made harsher, but that is likely to lead to complete collapse. ECB and IMF intervention merely increases the pressure on the weaker European economies, calls into question the stability of the Euro and of the European project itself. Given the absolute failure of the Seoul conference to achieve agreement and head off global currency wars, there is no government in Europe that can feel safe.
Irish workers can cut the Gordian knot. Don’t pay! Repudiate the debt! It’s not our debt! We’re not “all in this together.” Close the dud banks – seize the assets of the speculators – set up a workers bank to manage the real economy. What have we to lose? We will find ourselves at war with the bond market, but they have already declared war on us. The proposal of an independent capitalist Ireland put forward by the majority of the 1916 rebels ran its course on November 18th, 2010. We need a new declaration of independence – the declaration of freedom from capital. Irish workers, struggling for freedom, can link up with the vast mass of European workers and oppressed who find themselves standing a short distance behind on the road we are on and struggle for a free Ireland in a United Socialist states of Europe, a beacon of hope to the entire world.
We lack one thing – self-organisation – the organisation of the working class in its own interests. That means a hard struggle against the crooks and shysters to claim to lead us. That struggle cannot be avoided.
John McAnulty of Ireland’s Socialist Democracy looks at the publication of the Saville Report.
Thirty eight years of protest. Over a decade of legal activity. Over 100 million in costs. A dramatic apology in Westminster. A gathering of the great and the good in Derry. Britain accepts that 14 civil rights demonstrators in Derry were innocent people unlawfully killed.
What is the significance of the admission and apology? The word on everyone’s lips was closure. The findings would bring closure and release for the relatives of the dead. Once the psychobabble dies away many may come to doubt that this belated apology and the recitation of facts they already knew are enough to wipe away the murder by a state of its citizens after 38 years of lies and coverup. In any case it is inconceivable that the resources of the Saville report were expended in the interests of the relatives.
David Cameron has a more straightforward political and pragmatic explanation. The time and money invested in the report are well worthwhile because it spells closure not just for the relatives, but for everyone. And not closure in the sense of a feeling of release. No. Closure means finis – the end. No more prying and poking into the role of the British in Ireland. No more awkward questions. We are in a new and different era. The Troubles are behind us and we must never look back.
As with so much else connected with the peace process, closure is asymmetric. Cameron makes it clear that any republicans not washed clean by the peace deal will still be pursued. On the other hand, we can never expect to hear any admission about the Dublin-Monaghan bombings or any explanation as to why the members of the Loyalist gang that killed lawyer Pat Finucaine were also simultaneously agents of the British state.
Leaving that aside, is Cameron correct? Is the Saville report a firm foundation for a new era in Ireland?
What the report does is lead us step-by-step, bullet-by-bullet, through a day’s killing. That walk-through is enough to exonerate the victims and expose the paratroopers as killers. What the report doesn’t do, in all the endless pages of testimony, is explain why the marchers were killed.
A nebulous picture is drawn of the para’s leader breaking discipline and ordering his men into the Bogside in defiance of policy and of individual soldiers then going berserk. “Wilford ignored orders from his brigadier that he should not order troops beyond a barrier deeper into the Bogside”, the report said. The issue of Colonel Wilford’s action is not pursued. General, then adjutant, Michael Jackson emerges unscathed despite having penned the account of soldiers fighting for their lives that became officially adopted as the Widgery whitewash.
We are asked to believe that members of the British army’s elite unit, trained to obey without question, behaved on that one day as a rabble. We are asked to believe that soldier F, who killed four demonstrators on Bloody Sunday, went on to serve out a full career as a reliable servant of state policy, having gone berserk on one single day, just as his fellow soldiers choose the same day to break the straightjacket of their training.
On some aspects Saville is crystal clear. The army high command, the cabinet, the British state – all are innocent. Saville exonerates the army’s then commander of land forces in Northern Ireland, General Robert Ford, of any blame. It notes that he had agreed to deploy the Parachute Regiment in the city against the advice of a senior police officer in Derry. The report concluded that Ford “neither knew nor had reason to know at any stage that his decision would or was likely to result in soldiers firing unjustifiably on that day”.
At this point the report becomes a farce. Only by narrowing his vision down to single square centimeters of the Bogside is Saville able to ignore the evidence that the policy of the British state was to break up the mass civil rights protests by whatever means necessary.
In the run-up to Bloody Sunday the Unionist government openly lobbied the British to use decisive force and quickly smash civil rights before the local administration fell. The British Government held a special cabinet meeting to agree policy. In the aftermath of the meeting the Paras were moved to Derry. In the days before Bloody Sunday they beat into the ground thousands of demonstrators at Magilligan. They had carried out a drawn – out program of assassination in Ballymurphy before the transfer to Derry.
It is not as if British actions changed after Bloody Sunday. By any standards the Troubles were a dirty war involving ambush, assassination, mass terror and the formation of Loyalist death squads organized and armed by the state and operating with relative impunity. These crimes will be informally admitted by the British, justified by the necessity to suppress an armed rising. It’s not a defence that applies to the killing of unarmed demonstrators.
The significance of Bloody Sunday, the reason that fourteen people died, is because the British state had decided that it was not in its interests to allow civil rights in the North of Ireland. Contrary to statements made later as a foundation to the peace process, Britain has very considerable “selfish, strategic and economic” interests in Ireland. It considers the best way of defending those interests the continuation of its partial occupation. That requires a mass unionist base and the continuation of partition, ruling out any democratic solution.
The reason that the Saville report does not represent closure is because British policy has not changed. Having drowned democracy in blood, they spilt rivers of blood to construct a new dispensation based, not on democratic rights, but on sectarian rights. The current success of that policy is witnessed by the cheers of their former opponents as they say sorry and close the book. However the settlement is not a solution. Claims of closure do not mark finis.
On the morning of Bloody Sunday many nationalist workers believed that peaceful protest could win democracy. They were wrong. By the end of the day many believed that a militarist solution, the triumph of the will, would bring a solution. They were wrong.
Democracy in Ireland is not possible within the confines of capitalism and imperialism. Closure is not yet and we must strive to build a working class movement that will make it possible.
John McAnulty of Ireland’s Socialist Democracy writes on the current scandal in the north of Ireland:
The circumstances of the latest political scandal in the North of Ireland are by now well known. I ris Robinson, wife of first minister Peter Robinson and a leading loyalist figure in her own right, obtained for her teenage lover a loan of £50,000 from two property developers “simply by the ask” as one of her opponents put it. The same figure (loyalist leader Jim Allister) went on to ask if there was any history of money transfers involving property developers. There is evidence of a cash kickback of £5000 paid directly to Iris Robinson.
The young man was awarded tenancy of a restaurant by Castlereagh Borough Council, despite the fact that he was a teenager with no previous business experience. Peter Robinson had been chair of the council for many years. Iris Robinson was a current councilor, was present at the meeting and did not declare an interest.
Peter Robinson was aware of these financial activities. One of the businessmen, a friend of the family, had been responsible for the majority of property development in Castlereagh. Robinson advised Iris to arrange to have the money repaid, but did not inform the authorities of the breaches of the code of conduct. He says he advised his wife that any payments should be made directly through a solicitor, seemingly unaware of the distinction between legal and moral deniability and the reality of corruption.
A sordid and nasty little scandal, but does it have any deeper significance?
Well, take away the sex and you have the last DUP scandal. That one, involving Ian Paisley and his son, also involved money and property developers. This corruption is an aspect of all capitalist parties, where the main reason for being politically active is to feather your own nest. It is magnified a thousandfold in far right sectarian parties, where you start off with a program aimed at discriminating against a section of the population in favor of your own group.
Castlereagh borough council is a perfect example. Sectarian division guaranteed that the Robinsons would be in absolute control and that their friends and family would also be elected. Opposition nationalist politicians were completely ignored. When people win elections on a promise to discriminate it is hardly surprising when they do and a culture develops where property developers can casually be asked for tens of thousands.
There is more to this issue than the mundane corruption of capitalism or the greed of the right-wing populist.
Not only are right-wing sectarian groups like the DUP systemically corrupt, but using and encouraging that corruption is a central strategy of the imperialist power and a mainspring of the so-called peace process.
Under the 30-year rule political discussions in the British cabinet were released for the new year. T hey show that the British saw Ian Paisley’s bigotry as a major obstacle to a settlement. They also saw his overwhelming greed and ambition to be supreme leader and believed that this could be used to win him over.
The strategy was eventually successful but had within it a hidden contradiction. Bribery drew Paisley towards the British, but drew him away from the uncomplicated fundamentalist bigotry of the DUP base. Paisley fell, in part because of allegations of corruption, in greater part because he had accepted Catholics in the administration.
In the current difficulties of the political process around devolution of policing those involved refer over and over again to the pragmatism of Robinson and his supporters. Translated this means that the British and Irish nationalists understand that the loyalist program uncompromisingly opposes power-sharing with Catholics. Nevertheless power-sharing can be got to work because for the loyalists desire for money, power and position will trump their sectarianism.
Since their capitulation to imperialism a process of corruption has engulfed Sinn Fein. Liam Adams, a brother of Gerry, has fled the North following allegations of paedophillia. It has become clear that the Sinn Fein leadership covered up the allegations for over a decade. The organization today has its own crop of property millionaires and a whole social layer called the grantocracy maneuvering for payments from the British.
The British strategy has consequences in the current scandal. The response of Robinson’s enemies in the DUP is uncomplicated. Gregory Campbell gave Robinson a week to clear himself. Days later the DUP “united” around Robinson on condition that he step down “temporarily”. In reality he will find it enormously difficult to make a comeback. British Secretary of state Shaun Woodward, on the other hand, appealed to the DUP to preserve the peace process – in other words to support Robinson no matter what weight of scandal builds up against him.
Sinn Fein have reacted with incoherence. Martin McGuinness intones with blinding insight that there are questions to be asked but Sinn Fein are the only party not to ask Robinson to consider his position and their decision to postpone an Ard Chomairle meeting was seen as an aid to the DUP first minister. The line since then is that people should focus on the big picture of resolving outstanding issues and preserving the peace process – that is that the corruption of the current system is a matter of indifference and the role of Sinn Fein is to preserve the system indefinitely even if it means leaving the working class frozen in a morass of corruption and sectarian division.
And well might Sinn Fein consider their position. The Irish bourgeoisie are even more frantic to save Robinson and complete the devolution process than the British are. A front page cartoon in the Irish Times reacted to the Robinson scandal with – an all-out attack on the Provos! All the old slanders of republican responsibility for the violence and caricatures of “green fascists” were included.
The message could not be clearer. The Shinners know what to expect if they shirk in their support for the Stormont dung-heap.
Peter Robinson has become the Hamid Karzai of Ireland. Like the Afghan leader, his role as an instrument of imperialism outweighs the failings of a corrupt system. The contradictions of that system are growing apace.
Pragmatism has not delivered. It is difficult to use corruption to subvert an entire movement. Even before the current debacle all the signs were that Robinson was caught in a classic scissors dilemma. Opposition from Loyalism meant he was unable to deliver on promises to devolve policing. Even when he took a hard line, the very fact that he was in government with Sinn Fein and negotiating with them was enough to weaken his position.
Robinson is unlikely to return to power. Even if he does, the forces of absolutism in the DUP and outside in the Traditional Unionist Voice movement will be much stronger and the possibility of completing devolution and stabilizing the North much weaker.
A similar scissors operates with Sinn Fein. A recent poll in the North showed 54% of Nationalists were willing to support the winding up of the Stormont administration if it failed to deliver reform. This is a dramatic shift from the early days of the peace process when nationalist approval stood at 98% and is mirrored by a shift in unionism from an early 56% support for a settlement to a current 86%. This means a grassroots pressure on Sinn Fein to make gains while Dublin, London and Washington will demand that they placate loyalism and keep the settlement functioning. The DUP crisis has now become a crisis of the entire system and the process has reached frenzy with London and Dublin agreeing that the devolution of policing and justice must take place immediately. The only issue is whether the DUP can be got to agree. If they do they will need a great deal of support in the form of further concessions to assure their base that they have established sectarian primacy. These concessions will revolve around giving a free rein to the Orange Order to intimidate Catholics and bribes for the Loyalist militia that made up the RUC reserve. Sinn Fein, already greatly weakened, will support these concessions – there would be no point in the cycle of meetings if they were not willing to do so.
We have been told for over a decade that there is no alternative to the sectarian settlement in the North, yet today its main supporters are indicating that it may fall in weeks. If it does it will not be because of political opposition – there has been almost none. Rarely has a political settlement has the level of support that nationalists gave this agreement. Even in the absence of an opposition all the contradictions of colonialism and sectarianism have continued to operate and the administration now has a zombie life, totally incapable of meeting the needs of working people and poisoning all of society.
Yet beneath this instability there is an underlying inertia. The inability of the peace process to meet the needs of Irish workers provokes discontent but not a political alternative. Nationalist workers see that the process is not delivering, but do not see that a system based on sectarian horse-trading will never deliver. They see the British as honest brokers rather than the imperialist gangsters who designed the current system to ensure their continued control in Ireland. A strong element in this complacency is the fact that the organizations they look to, such as the Irish government, Sinn Fein and the trade union leaderships all rabidly support the settlement and refuse to consider any alternative.
There is a great deal of cynicism and contempt surrounding each new scandal, but most people believe that corruption should be tolerated as a price worth paying for peace and that it will gradually evolve towards a more equal society. The Robinson scandal shows that the corruption extends into local councils. Continuing movements to integrate loyalist death squads into civic society mean that it extends to street level. In these circumstances there cannot be any form of democracy. It is replaced with shadowy cabals at one level and comic-opera assemblies at the other. There can be no advancing of working class interests or any socialist alternative with all aspects of life frozen in a sectarian jigsaw. The decay of the system shows not only that there must be an alternative to a failed society, but that such an alternative must be actively constructed by the working class in the teeth of opposition by Irish capitalists and British imperialism.
Invited to express sympathy and support for the Robinsons, Edwina Currie, former British conservative minister and in no sense a left liberal, declined, describing the pair as “repulsive”.
Repulsive is what they are. These are people who have spent their life whipping up sectarian hatred. Iris Robinson has expressed homophobic hatred that would see her excluded from any civilized society, enriched by hypocrisy as she herself broke the religious strictures that she claimed justified her attacks on gays. Peter boasts of his strength and professionalism in going to work on the day his wife attempted to take her life. The couple have managed to become involved in a financial scandal even though they have a joint income of £600,000. Peter supplemented this modest income by selling his back garden to property developers.
The task of socialists is to explain that British imperialism and Irish nationalism stand foursquare behind this corruption, that they are content to replicate sectarianism and corruption in every corner of society. Imperialist and nationalist policies negate the possibility of democratic rights or of working class organization. The alternative is the self-organization of the workers in a 32 county socialist republic.
John McAnulty of Ireland’s Socialist Democracy looks at the rebranding of the north of Ireland’s bigoted marching season into “Orangefest”-
This years July demonstrations represented the first full-scale attempt to convert the notorious 12th July into a new modern ‘Orangefest’. The attempt, politically organized and heavily subsidized by the British, has a clear purpose. As with the peace process more generally, the aim is to rebrand sectarian bigotry as ‘cultural difference’ and then crush any opposition with a call to support diversity.
There has been opposition to the rebranding, the majority of it from within the ranks of the Orange brethren themselves, but a more interesting question is: can it work? Can the Orange be mutated into a cuddly tourist attraction? This is clearly of some importance in assessing the longer-term stability of the peace settlement.
At one level to ask the question is to answer it. The Orange Order is not in any meaningful sense a cultural organization. It is a virulent anti-Catholic organization committed to sectarian privilege, the sectarian division of Irish society and of the working class, for the defence of monarchy and imperialism. Its long history is a history of riot and of close association with the death squads.
In the very recent past we have seen mass uprisings around Drumcree and in very recent years a full-scale armed battle with the state forces on Belfast’s Springfield road.
This year’s demonstrations have all the classic elements of the Orange season. Gradually increasing sectarian tension, provocative flags and emblems where they will represent the greatest level of intimidation, the McDaid murder in Coleraine, expulsion of Roma, a crescendo of individual sectarian and racist attacks, arson attacks on schools – the rising tension before the 12th each year is mirrored by a long tail of incidents in the months following.
Even the relative quiet of the Orange marches on the 12th is part of the tradition, demonstrating the respectability of the Order and establishing a gap between what went before and what comes after. That tradition was somewhat marred this year, as speaker after speaker stressed their opposition to any modernisation of the Orange Order and their commitment to their traditional diet of bigotry.
Even the Ardoyne riots were completely traditional. The Orangemen went home for their tea while the police waded into the rioters.
But, as with the peace process itself, the aim is not to change the reality of the Orange state, but change perceptions by rebadging the Order. To this end the British have run a campaign of light pressure combined with heavy bribes. ‘Orangefest’ carnival activities are organized. Belfast city centre shops open in the space between the outgoing and returning parades. Grants are handed out for bonfires. Attempts are made to control the number of flags, to tone down the number of paramilitary emblems and reduce provocation at interfaces.
There are two problems in making this work. The first is that in order to rebrand Orangeism you need to support it. The immediate result, again, as with the peace process as whole, is that society becomes more sectarian rather than less. The sectarian marches, bonfires and emblems are still there, but now they are paid for from the public purse. To overcome this problem everyone must go along. They must gaze fixedly at the naked emperor and loudly praise his new clothes.
Those who suffer most from this contradiction are within the ranks of Sinn Fein. They are forced by their position within government and the sectarian logic of the peace process to support the rebranding of the Orange. The McDaid murder is followed by Sinn Fein calling for more leadership from the unionist politicians providing justification for the killing. The farce of Loyalist decommissioning is signed off. Provocative flags and emblems are described as ‘complex problems’ rather than intimidation. Rioting by nationalist youth is condemned and named republican groups set up for repression by the state on the word of Sinn Fein.
And this lays bare the mechanism of the Orangefest rebranding. The rebranding can succeed as long as Sinn Fein endorse it, but the contradiction between pretence and reality will gradually erode their support.
Sinn Fein are fully aware of this and are scrabbling desperately for indications that they are dealing on an equal footing with the unionists. In the process they look even weaker and more ineffectual. Adams writes to the Orange Order asking them to recognise Sinn Fein and meet them for talks. In the process he endorses every lie about the peaceful nature of the marches and the status of the Orange as a harmless cultural institution – all to no avail as far as the Order is concerned. They persuade the DUP to inch slightly closer to the devolution of policing, tearing up the strictures of the peace process in order to do so and guaranteeing that Catholics will be excluded from any future ministerial position in the justice ministry. Talks are under way with the DUP to transfer the issue of parades from the reactionary Parades Commission to the even more reactionary mechanism of horse-trading operated by the Stormont leadership. Even the Sinn Fein showcase of the West Belfast Festival is to be graced by UDA brigadier Jackie McDonald.
Leading republican figures publicly complain that they need some return for the thankless task of policing the Orange demonstrations. No sooner do the Shinners make the complaint than their ability to carry out this function began to erode. Years of forcing back nationalist youth fell apart in the Ardoyne area of Belfast and were replaced with days of vicious confrontation with heavily armed police. A number of leading figures resign. In the main this is a blowback from the failure of their southern campaign to make themselves junior partners to Fianna Fail, but there are a significant number of northern departures around the policy of collaboration with the British and unionists.
We are clearly on the downside of the push to stabilise partition. Public support for Sinn Fein is slackening and their ability to motivate and retain their own members falling off. At the same time the rioting is a perfectly routine part of the Orange state and represents no alternative. There are now a multiplicity of republican groups, but none have come up with a political alternative to the Shinners. There is a wide level of local resentment at Orange sectarianism but in the absence of a political alternative much of it has a strong tinge of sectarianism itself.
That alternative will be a working class, political alternative, but it can only build itself by rejecting Orangeism, rejecting the ‘Orangefest’ and rejecting sectarian division of the working class
John McAnulty of Ireland’s Socialist Democracy
25 January 2009
“A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in
chains, and a slave who through cunning and violence breaks the
chains – let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are
equals before a court of morality!”
–Leon Trotsky, “Their Morals and Ours,” 1938
The month of total war waged by Israel on Gaza has halted for the time being, although the struggle to crush the Palestinian people continues unabated.
The Gaza massacre generated deep revulsion across the globe. In Ireland, as in many other places, substantial protests took place. The protests didn’t involve the main body of workers but they did offer the opportunity of building a substantially stronger solidarity movement. That opportunity was not taken. There are many reasons for this, but a key reason is the mistaken ideas about building united action held by many militants.
The majority of activists believe that any movement should be as broad as possible, and that the way to achieve that is to rely on humanitarian sentiment. This apparently common-sense approach is actually profoundly mistaken at a number of levels and fails every time it is applied.
The point is that unity requires an object. The broader the movement, the weaker and more diffuse its aims. The agreement may fall far short of the needs of the situation and may be so loose that in practice there is only limited common action.
These are really organisational issues. For socialists there are deeper political issues. We believe that only the working class can resolve the major issues facing humanity. In each new struggle we seek to promote the self-organisation and self-activity of the workers. Class struggle doesn’t stop at the door of a new campaign, so there are political battles to be fought to establish the class interest that will dominate.
These issues were worked out long ago in the mass struggles of the working class. In sudden crises single issue campaigns, cutting across classes, can be established but these are inherently unstable.
United fronts are meant to unite different sections of the workers, and sometimes sections of the small farmers and small shopkeepers with the workers. The different sections unite around a common policy. They act together but continue to advance their own programs. A democratic structure allows the movement to change and advance new demands as the situation changes.
The rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy within the working class led to the policy of popular fronts. A good example of the popular front policy was the battle against fascism. Stalinists argued that this transcended class and was best advanced by an all-class alliance. They built alliances with the right and used savage repression against workers advancing demands of their own. The popular fronts, limited to the policy of the capitalists, were inevitably defeated.
Care must be taken in using the terms popular front and united front. As with all Marxist terms, they depend heavily on context. The working class in Ireland today is fragmented and demoralised by decades of social partnership and the defeat of the republican movement. Neither is there a dissident section of the capitalist class at whom a popular front could be aimed.
It makes more sense to talk about a popular front approach. In that way one can focus on the reality of the views of small groups rather than imagine we are talking about significant class forces. So what is the effect of this sort of thinking on the conduct of solidarity actions with Gaza?
The organisational effect is to establish a virtual movement, insubstantial as any other form of virtual reality. This had two effects. The first was to bring in essentially right-wing figures on their own terms, so platforms were crowded with speakers who did not oppose imperialism and with no real connection with a solidarity movement. The strongest example of this was the plethora of clerical speakers bolted on to the trade unions demonstration in Belfast in a vain attempt to defuse loyalist opposition. It was quite bizarre to witness the Socialist Workers party intervention in Dublin They themselves had moved to the left under the pressure of events, but were totally unable to obtain a response from the movement they had partially created.
The insubstantial nature of the movement also left it open to adventures. Again the Belfast demonstration was a good example, with republican activists staging stunts in local stores, making no attempt to discuss tactics with other groups in the campaign.
But the real weakness of a popular front approach is political. Any serious solidarity movement should demand an end of Israeli occupation and the siege of Gaza and the West Bank. As it was, the main demands were for a ceasefire, balanced in many cases by demands that Hamas should not respond with rockets. Calls were made for the ‘international community’ to intervene, ignoring the fact that it had already intervened decisively on the side of Israel. A number of the speakers were the left face of imperialism, supporting the aims of the massacre while bemoaning the bloodshed.
A humanitarian campaign cannot survive a ceasefire. Activists gravitate towards individual moralism, either in the form of charitable donations or individual boycott of Israeli produce. The political demands of the boycott remain unclear.
And it is here that the fundamental weakness of the Irish solidarity movement lies. One of the main organisations declaring solidarity with Gaza is Sinn Fein, closely followed by the trade union leadership and the left organisations. In practice they all support the Irish peace process and the partitionist solution it produced. It follows as night follows day that the Middle East peace process and the two-state solution represent the way forward. We should all be dancing in the streets at the news that heros such as Tony Blair and George Mitchell are to lead the Middle East process forward!
Of course this is all nonsense. The peace process in the Middle East is imperialist policy, with its main aim the crushing of Palestinian resistance. The two state solution is what we see already in Gaza and the West Bank – open prisons, constantly at the mercy of Israeli aggression. The difficulty for many is that to admit this would be to cast new light on the Irish peace process and the sectarian sewer formed in the North.
Just as solidarity with Gaza requires the self-organisation of workers, so to does a genuine peace and justice in Ireland.
Applying Leninism in a time of retreatJohn McAnulty Socialist Democracy
31 July 2008
Some time ago we opened a discussion on the role of Leninism in revolutionary struggle today with the views of US Marxists Mary Scully and Paul LeBlanc. Their early debate echoes more recent discussion in which Marxist scholars and intellectuals have begun to step forward to defend Leninism from the tide of slander and misrepresentation that has engulfed it from those proclaiming themselves ‘left’ critics of Lenin.
I thought these conflicting views important because they indicated to some extent the divergent paths that sections of the revolutionary movement had taken since the fall of the USSR, with the majority following the direction indicated by Paul LeBlanc and attempting to build broad formations and a minority supporting the path indicated by Mary Scully and defending the role of the Leninist party. In expressing my views I am addressing the general strategies, rather than addressing directly the individual views of either comrade.
Essentially neither wing of the movement has been successful. Broad front has followed broad front. In the words of one commentator; “a mile wide and an inch deep”. They collapse with depressing frequency, but no-one ever seems to learn anything from the experience and a new attempt is made, usually with the movement taking a few more steps to the right. On the other hand attempts to build Leninist parties, while being a least a great deal more coherent, have been equally unsuccessful on a smaller scale, while a number of groups identified (wrongly) as Leninist bring discredit on the movement through their naked sectarianism.
The basic argument put forward by Paul LeBlanc is that Leninism is a truly inspiring branch of Marxist thought. We have much to learn from it but we should beware of the Leninists. This is because the layers of the working class that formed the social base of Leninism have decayed. In the absence of this base we cannot build a Leninist party and must be content with broader movements based on more diffuse and undefined policies while we await the revival of these layers or of new layers to replace them. Attempt to build a party are bound to fail and in fact have a negative impact because they breed dogmatic and inward-looking sects.
In response Mary Scully correctly points out that the Leninist concept of vanguard layers of the working class is a political concept, not a sociological one. As long as there is class struggle there are bound to be those who learn from them and move into the vanguard of the class. Putting forward the task of building a broad formation is just a long-winded way of moving to the right. The basis of political action is no longer a revolutionary programme, even for the former revolutionists, but something more palatable, because it is less revolutionary. She also points out, quite correctly, that honest attempts to adopt a Leninist perspective and orient to the struggles of the working class is actually a way of trying to avoid the dangers of sectarianism and dogmatism. It is in the broad formations, open to every opportunist fad, where different currents of the petty-bourgeois hold sway, where the organisation becomes more important than the class and unrestrained hatred of other currents is let loose.
However there are weaknesses in Mary’s formulation. Political isolation in itself can easily breed dogmatism and sectarianism. Implicit in her argument is the idea that there are significant layers of advanced workers with the political consciousness to form a Leninist party, but that these workers are obstructed by the failures of the left. She cites same significant struggles by US workers, but these struggles were all defeated. It is completely unconvincing to imply that this was a failure of the socialist movement. The socialist movement simply wasn’t significant enough to have this effect. She goes on to argue that workers had an advanced consciousness where they saw the betrayals of the labour bureaucracy that led to their defeat. This too seems unconvincing. An advanced consciousness is not needed to tell you when you have been sold out. High morale and consciousness are needed to convince you of the effort needed to organise independently and fight both the bosses and the bureaucracy. In fact, as blow after blow rains on them, the workers cling more firmly to their traditional leaderships in the hope of some limited protection.
Both Mary and Paul seem to draw a connection between the background environment and Leninism which I feel is mistaken. Paul argues that conditions are not ripe for revolution and that therefore Leninism is impossible. Mary argues that conditions are overripe and therefore the immediate establishment of a Leninist party is essential.
We think that it is evident that the conditions for the working class to take power are not ripe, given the widespread collapse of working class consciousness in many areas, but that that does not in the least detract from the need for Leninist politics and for organisations committed to the methods and politics of Leninism.
We can explain this better by looking at a number of conceptions common to the broad movement campaigns.
- There is a spectrum of difficulty in political theory, with workers naturally gravitating towards a social-democratic consciousness when times are tough and only capable of absorbing revolutionary theory when the tide is on the up.
- There is a fixed spectrum of views, so that as social-democratic movements move more to the right, a space or a gap opens up that the socialists can fill if they take up the policies that the social-democrats have abandoned.
- The spectrum idea also involves the belief that social-democracy and socialism are different versions of the same thing rather than polar opposites, with one committed to the preservation of capital and the other to its destruction.
- Unity is unity of the small groups who understand the way in which events are unfolding. The task of unity is therefore a task of diplomacy that will bring them together rather than one of mobilising the class. Because the groups have opposing political programmes, unity is best achieved by obscuring political issues rather than by hammering out agreement.
- As class struggle declines, many of these movements become increasingly electoralist, and the task of mobilising workers is replaced by the need to get people in general to mark ballot papers in appropriate ways.
To a certain extent I would have sympathy with the thesis of social decay. Rather than use the word decay I would use the word retreat and the subject of the retreat is the most advanced sections of the working class. The class has been driven back by the collapse of the USSR, by the advance of finance capital and the globalised repositioning of manufacturing capital, by the imperialist war drive, the collapse of national liberation struggles and by many other factors. In some areas the retreat has increased in pace and become a rout of the working class forces.
If we use this metaphor of a reactionary tide running against the working class then it becomes evident right away that there is no space to the left of the social-democrats and the attempt by socialists to fill this space is simply the way in which the generalised retreat expresses itself inside the socialist movement. There is plenty of evidence for this. Always a new unity project, always the project involves a movement to the right, the project fails, with the socialists moved to the right, the spiral begins again. In some cases the left has collapsed into a bedrock of small social groups in NGOs, community organisations and the base of the trade union. Politics has constricted into attempts to survive within these small social milieus. At this point the pretence that there is some debate about strategy falls apart. The further evolution of these groups is marked by amnesia, where each failed project is immediately forgotten about, omerta (silence), where the last thing wanted is internal or external debate about a practice set in stone and finally slander, with a mountain of abuse and burning hatred for socialists who try and stand against the tide.
So why struggle to be a Leninist? Well, Leninism and Trotskyism are simply the most modern forms of classical Marxism. They provide the best understanding of world dominated by imperialism. The theoretical tools that they have left us are unfinished, as all of Marxism is, but it is far better to start with what is clear than accept theoretical constructs that are confused and contradictory. Above all the method of Leninism, much misunderstood as a particular organisational form, in the end boils down to acting together so that we can see the effects of our actions and from the actions of the workers and form a clearer understanding of the tasks needed to prepare for revolution.
Of course this form of praxis is much reduced when the Leninist organisations are tiny and when the level of working class self-organisation is so low. To that extent Paul Leblanc is quite right in seeing a decline in Leninist consciousness as following on from a decline of the working-class base, though quite wrong in seeing this as some inevitable outcome. In any case the social factors that weaken Leninism also weaken social democracy, democracy itself and even rational thought. In the long run being determines consciousness and it is possible to imagine a world in which the victory of capital is so great that the ideas of Marxism simply disappear, but the dialectical truth also applies, consciousness determines being, and as long as Leninist groups exist they have the possibility of contributing to working class victories and seeing the turn of the tide in the class struggle.
The main contribution is to say what is. Socialist Democracy have done this partially in relation to the collapse of the anti-imperialist movement in Ireland and in analysing the contradictions of the society the imperialists have built on this collapse. We have been able to say something about the development of the semi-colonial project in the formally independent zone in Ireland and the role of the trade union bureaucracy in policing the working class.
We have kept up a consistent critique of the ‘broad movement’ in Ireland, arguing constantly that unity requires an object and documenting the series of unity drives that lack any agreement and that end in failure.
We have also argued for political unity, with one rather tiny fusion and a number of campaigns with other groups. We have demonstrated that the democratic content of Leninism means that it is not necessary to have absolute political agreement to be members of a common organisation and that principled agreement around simple political demands is all that is necessary to build joint campaigns.
In my view, given our experiences, it is certainly possible to consider the beginnings of international regroupment, a unity based around consideration of the needs of the working class rather than diplomacy between political rivals. The central and immediate task of such unity would be to describe capitalism today. At the moment Trotskyism describes the epoch as one involving the death agony of capitalism. Clearly most of the left don’t believe this. By their actions they clearly believe that capitalism has never been stronger and it is necessary to retreat to the right to accommodate capitalism’s new power. The response to this must not be to simply assert capitalism’s doom. We must explain both the parasitic and crisis-ridden nature of modern capital and the success of the blows it has struck at the more advanced sections of the working class. That means an international division of labour, a lot of hard work and research and a forum were views, analysis and experiences can be shared.
We must popularise such discussion, the results of the discussion and the body of theory underlying the discussion. Today more than ever there are means of mass communication available to us and there is in principle a large audience, unsure but willing to be convinced.
Insofar as workers and activists are aware of the different directions within socialism, the broad front approach offers the possibility of a short-cut to victory, although, as with all opportunist positions, it always fails to deliver. The big disadvantage of the political approach is that a realistic description of the balance of class forces is so pessimistic that many workers and activist recoil from the long and intense struggle required. A credible international body would make the task of revolution more palatable and realistic.
Difference is not enough to justify separate organisation in the eyes of the working class. The difference must be great enough to make common action impossible. A genuine anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism, political honesty in debate and a willingness to accept the decisions of majorities while continuing to disagree are probably enough form an initial basis for unity.
Does the existing left provide a base on which a new movement con be built? Our experience suggests that demoralisation has made many sectors so dishonest and opportunist that there is no credible possibility that they will in the future provide a revolutionary leadership. It would however be a tremendous handicap if we had to start again from square one and recruit directly, with our tiny forces, from the mass of the working class. There is some evidence for a silent periphery to the socialist movement, interested in Leninism but reluctant to commit themselves while the balance of forces seems so unfavourable. By our actions we can shift this layer and put the question of revolution by on the agenda.
John McAnulty is a long time Irish revolutionary activist and a member of Socialist Democracy in Belfast. Socialist Democracy, Irish section of the Fourth International, have recently sought to open a discussion on the question of revolutionary organization and the contribution of Lenin. John can be reached via the SD website.
John McAnulty of Ireland’s Socialist Democracy wrote this fine appreciation (below) late last month for Brendan Hughes who died on February 16th. The Dark was a hero to many socialists, Irish Republicans and anti-imperialists around the world. I had the privilege of talking to Brendan several years ago as we were trying to raise money and the profile of the then Irish Republican Writers Group here in the States.
For many years his was the voice I most associated with Irish Republicanism. The videos “Behind the Mask” and “Irish Ways” were rare and eagerly traded films among comrades. There was no possibility of a mass media carrying it. You had to find them at a Noraid, sometimes a leftist, table at a demonstration or fund raiser. Documentaries that had interviews with IRA men and women were nowhere about. Brendan was the most eloquent voice by far in these films from the late Eighties.
My comrade and I took a, rather crazy, 600 mile road trip from Cincinnati via Detroit to New York City for the tenth anniversary of the Hunger Strikes in a cold, wet early May in 1991. Marcella Sands spoke as did George Harrison at, I thought, a rather weakly attended demonstration outside the British Consulate in Manhattan. There was a fund raiser that evening at Paddy Riley’s where Black 47 played and I saw those videos on a lit table. I spent my beer money on those films, though I don’t think I went dry. The days before Youtube.
His presence in the films gave them a weight they otherwise would not have had. His deep, smokers voice retold events so effortlessly and forcefully because he knew and deeply felt the purpose of the story he was telling. That voice will be sorely missed.
A collection of Brendan’s articles at The Blanket from the last eight years and some views on his funeral and ensuing controversy here. A video of Brendan from “Behind the Mask” follows John’s piece.
Brendan Hughes (The Dark): An appreciation
John McAnulty 17 February 2008
I first met the Dark when I found myself a victim of the ‘internment by remand’ system being operated by the British in the ‘70s. An involuntary guest of the British in Crumlin Road jail, I was undergoing a medical examination on entry when the doors of the cell were flung open and a wing full of republican prisoners made satirical remarks about my naked rear end. I later discovered that the men in white coats had been sent by Brendan and that my initiation was one of a whole series of activities designed to lift morale on the wing.
Even at this time Brendan was a living legend. He was what the IRA would have liked itself to be: burning with hatred of injustice and class oppression, innocent of any sectarian impulse, utterly fearless and utterly dedicated to protecting his volunteers, pursuing the armed struggle, expelling the British and establishing a united Ireland. It made him officer commanding (O/C) of the Belfast brigade, the leader of the first hunger strike and, uniquely, the only republican ever to openly protest the class exploitation of ex-prisoners by the capitalist republicans who employed them at starvation wages.
One thing was evident. Brendan was dedicated not only to the goal, but to the process. Daring firefights with the British were not activities to be engaged in reluctantly but were embraced with fervour as adding sharpness, vigour and meaning to life. This attitude made him an outstanding guerrilla leader, but left him defenceless when conditions changed.
One other memory of my time in the Crum was an attempt to organise Marxist study circles. The first meetings attracted 40 prisoners, but the republican leadership then instructed members to attend lectures on Irish history and language. There was no malice in this. They saw the talks as a distraction that might cause division in the volunteers. In reality the aversion to politics left the republican fighters at the mercy of the more political elements on the Army Council.
My last meetings with the Dark were a series of conferences and meetings exploring the possibility of a political regroupment where he spoke consistently of the need to revive the struggle. I last heard his voice at a conference in Derry where, clearly a dying man, he spoke over a phone link, urging the republicans to unite politically and rebuild resistance.
What was absent from these last meeting was any explanation of what had gone wrong. For him, the armed struggle had had the capacity to bring victory and he could not understand why his movement had decayed.
That was the tragedy of the Dark and of many young people of his generation. They gave everything to a physical force movement that would in the end fail them. The tradition of Connolly socialism had the sympathy of many of them and part of the tragedy was the inability of socialists to respond adequately to the mass movement that blossomed in the North.
Brendan died with dignity, true to the freedom call that awoke his generation. That is something that will be denied to those, his former comrades, who betrayed him.