When the Irish financial bubble, expanded far beyond capacity, finally burst and the private banks that had caused the crisis were bailed out with public money, the Irish people did not immediately rise up. The big trade unions made some noises, called hundreds of thousands to march, then collapsed. The smaller unions, for the most part, caved in afterwards.
It was not long before the Irish people began to be jeered and insulted – and for the most part, by some people who were themselves Irish. They seemed unaware of a thousand years of militant resistance to foreign occupation and many workers’ battles over decades. The frustration, if that was the cause of their insults (not to say contempt), was understandable. Less so, I pointed out at the time, was their dismissal of the only force that could possibly save us – the Irish people.
“The people?” they jeered. “You mean the SHEEPLE!”
They pointed to massive demonstrations and riots in Greece and in France and to none in Ireland. I commented that all their insults could possibly achieve would be to discourage the Irish people further. The limitations under which the Irish people laboured needed to be understood. There was no large revolutionary party in Ireland to provide leadership. There was not even a militant radical social-democratic party or reformist Communist Party. There were no militant trade unions to provide organisation. These things existed in Greece and in France.
Our trade unions had twenty years of “social partnership” – i.e they had during that time negotiated agreements nearly always without industrial action in joint committees where the unions, the employers and the State each had representatives. Their fighting muscle had atrophied to the extent it no longer existed. Notwithstanding all their faults, the Greek and French unions had not similarly wasted away their muscle. Our trade union leaderships had settled for a comfortable life, highly paid, building up their memberships and safeguarding their officers and structures, or trying to, neglecting the purpose for which those unions had been created. They were captains of ships in dry dock, shining and varnished, but riddled with worm holes and sails safely furled – they would never take to sea and be tested in any storm.
As time went by, we saw no significant reforms in the French situation as austerity bit there. There was much excitement in Left social-democratic and Trotskyist quarters as the Greeks elected a social-democratic party with a radical program of resistance to austerity measures. The Greeks had been driven to a much worse economic situation than had the Irish – during the winter, many schools had to close as heating could not be supplied. But then the radical Greek party and new Government collapsed under pressure from the EU’s financial commissars.
The people in the Spanish state were marching in their hundreds of thousands under a new party that was not really a party, they said. But it turned out if one did some digging, that it was not such a new party/ non-party after all, as its leadership came from the old reformist Communist Party-Trotskyist alliance, Izquierda Unida. But still …. huge marches and then huge electoral gains (for what was now without question a political party – Podemos).
But the Spanish ruling class, although unable to receive a governing mandate for a single political party, carried on with its austerity program. Evictions continued as did a great many suicides of those evicted or about to be evicted.
IRELAND (THE 26 COUNTIES)
Meanwhile, what about the “Irish Sheeple”? What were they doing?
They too began to march, in small numbers at first, then larger until they choked the capital city’s centre. The media under-reported them, lied about numbers, stopped doing aerial photos that would show the full extent of the masses in protest.
First in line of the resistance movement was the Household Charge. The campaign slogan proposed by independent protesters and small parties and political organisations was “Don’t register, don’t pay.” Despite that tactic, the most effective to defeat the Charge, not being supported by the alternative party with the highest number of elected representatives in the Dáil (Irish Parliament), i.e Sinn Féin and despite no trade union mobilising against it, the ruling class had to concede defeat. But they changed the tax to the Household Charge and made it collectable from people’s salaries at source, changing the law in order to do so.
The Water Charge was next. The people already paid for water supply maintenance through ordinary taxation and, it later emerged, through the diversion of Motor Tax to pay for the water! Nevertheless, a new charge was levied and again, the campaigners asked the people: “Don’t register, don’t pay!” Again, this tactic was not supported by the same alternative political party or the unions, although they all declared that they were, of course, against the Water Charge.
Despite police harassment, violence and arrests, people in local areas began to block the work-gangs installing the water meters. Some arrested activists refused to obey a court injunction intended to paralyse their activities and were sent to jail. A large protest demonstration marched to their jail and they were released. Many trials collapsed and activists, though hampered by many court attendances, walked free. Some others paid their fines and continued their resistance.
Police attacks on water charge and anti-austerity protesters multiplied and pickets, particularly of women, protested outside Garda stations.
Hundreds of people began to march, then thousands. As the numbers grew, the reformists of political party and trade union climbed on board and the numbers continued to rise to hundreds of thousands. The media were exposed as they grossly underplayed the numbers.
Meanwhile, another struggle had been shaping up, between heritage conservationists campaigning to save a valuable piece of the City Centre of huge historical importance from property speculators. Firstly the State was obliged to declare four houses in Moore Street as of historical preservation status (while however the Planning Department of the local authority gave planning permission for a huge “shopping mall” of a number of acres around those houses). Subsequently campaigners prevented the Planning Department from carrying out a land-swap of Council land to facilitate the Speculator.
Then the State had to buy four houses in the historic terrace; at the same time their plans to demolish three other houses in the same terrace were prevented by their occupation by protesters for five days and a subsequent blockade of demolition workers of almost six weeks.
The blockade ended when a case taken by a concerned individual to the High Court resulted in a judgement that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 monument (against which judgement the Minister of Heritage is currently appealing, scheduled for hearing December 2017).
During the 1916 State commemorations, the Minister of Heritage’s hypocritical laying of a wreath in Moore Street was met with vociferous denunciation by campaigners on the spot, without any of the protesters being arrested.
Two years before that Moore Street event, a mass protest for had prevented two hoursthe Minister for Social Protection’s car from leaving a working class area where she had gone to attend a ceremony.
“Enough!” cried the ruling class and they argued about what to do, their more revanchist section winning the argument. They were going for maximum legal attack, to teach those protesters a lesson and frighten all others in future.
The offensive against the resistance was planned. Early morning raids, to increase disruption and fear. Mass arrests, including of a juvenile. This latter might have looked like a mistake, as it was obvious he’d attract sympathy — but actually it was cleverly thought out. They put his trial on first – in the Juvenile Court where the judge can get away with more, where access to media was restricted to one representative each of print and audio media and where no members of the public were permitted entry. And they found him guilty, of course they did. They avoided much of sympathy outcry by giving the youth a non-custodial sentence but – and this was the crucial thing – they had found him guilty of “false imprisonment”. They now had a precedent for the eighteen or so awaiting trial in the adult court.
The media mostly colluded, of course in their news coverage of events, trial and in comment.
The trial process began with an attempt to eliminate from the jury those who disagreed with the Water Charge (i.e most ordinary people) and people from the area where the incident had taken place. Then the Minister herself, in the witness box for four days, regularly failing to answer the questions of the Defence lawyers but using the opportunity instead to attack the defendants, without attempt by the Judge to direct her to answer the question and confine herself to doing so. After all, it’s the Prosecution lawyers’ job to draw out the unfavourable comments.
That was followed by two similar days with the Minister’s secretary, who had been in the car with her at Jobstown.
Then police officers, lying through their teeth. This is of course a regular occurrence in the courts but unfortunately for them, they were contradicted by video and audio recording. Somehow, not only one but several Gardaí heard one of the defendants say something which the recording showed he had not.
Finally, all were found not guilty. The next group were to be tried similarly on charges of false imprisonment but also with use of violence. But how could the State find them guilty of kidnapping on the same evidence that a jury had rejected in the case of the first group? Would even the violence charges stick? The ruling class took a decision to cut their losses, avoid a possible second defeat and decided to drop the charges against them too and against another group scheduled for later still.
POLICE CORRUPTION AND COVER-UPS
Meanwhile, independently of all but perhaps distantly affected by the people’s resistance and the anger at the behaviour of the police, two whistle-blowers emerged from among the Gardaí to accuse them of allowing powerful people to escape drunk-driving charges. Then it emerged that people charged with driving offences had been automatically convicted without the option to defend themselves in court. That was followed by revelations that the Gardaí had claimed to have stopped hundreds of drivers for drink-driving tests which they had not in fact done – and the false numbers grew to thousands. And then Gardaí senior officers tried to discredit one of the whistle-blowers by implying he was a paedophile and even enlisting the involvement of a child-protection agency.
Before the conclusion of the Jobstown trials, general elections had been held. The ruling class in the Irish State has not managed to have an overall majority for a single one of its political parties since 1981 — and this election was no exception. However, one of the parties of the ruling class (its favourite actually, since shortly after the creation of the State) now felt the pressure of the people and made non-implementation of the Water Charge a condition of not bringing the minority Government down, to which the parties in governing coalition were obliged to agree.
As a result of all this (and a number of other less-highly publicised corruption and wrongdoing by Gardaí cases), eventually Allan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, the highest-ranking officer in the Gardaí had to resign. Less than three years later, the new Commissioner, similarly implicated but now also in a scandal regarding officers’ financial corruption, had to resign as well.
In this period, during which Irish people had been compared to sheep, cursed and denounced by some from the “Left” and compared unfavourably with protesters in Greece, France and Spain (despite the people of those three states having failed to succeed to any significant degree), the Irish people have
Totally defeated the Household Tax and obliged the ruling class to change the law and substitute another Tax collectable from income
Paralysed the Water Tax (Charge)
Exposed the mass media
Halted the Government and Dublin City Council’s Planning Department plans to give a historical memory area in the City Centre, prime “development” land, to speculators
Prevented the Government demolition of historic buildings in that area by campaigning, occupation of buildings and a blockade, without a single protester being arrested
Helped obtain a historic judgement from the High Court that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 Monument
Vociferously denounced the Minister of Heritage while she was laying a 1916 wreath at Easter in Moore Street, without a single protester being arrested or prevented from the denunciation
Held up the Minister of Social Protection’s car in mass protest for two hours
Exposed the police in violence and in corruption
Defeated plansto deal a major blow to the right to protest by conviction on kidnapping charges
Caused the resignation of a Minister of Justice and two Garda Commissioners inside a period of three years
And all this was achieved by the Irish people without the organisation or leadership of a mass revolutionary or radical political party or a mass militant trade union.
An old, old debate or discussion has broken out of late. It has been inspired or regenerated by the inability of the main political parties of the ruling class to achieve a ruling majority in the Dáil, even in coalition. Another factor has been the growth of Sinn Féin seats to a number sufficient to attract another party into getting them into a coalition government. And another General Election cannot be far off.
The debate or discussion is sparked by questions something like this:
Should a coalition of revolutionary socialists and radical social-democrats put together a joint slate to present themselves and agreed policies to the electorate?
And a different question (but not completely different in the minds of some of that potential slate above, I suspect):
Should a party that presents itself to some supporters as revolutionary, to some others as radical, participate in a coalition with one of the traditional ruling class parties to form a government?
Against either of those possibilities, groups of anarchists and non-Sinn Féin Republicans, in rare agreement, declare that no such initiatives should be supported; the anarchists, because they do not believe in bourgeois elections or parliaments and the republicans, because this is not a Republic which they can legitimise by taking part in their state elections. Some revolutionary socialists and others of varying hues argue that the system will corrupt those who take part in their institutions and provide a long list of those to whom that has happened historically (and both anarchists and republicans can nod their heads in agreement at the list).
Social democrats and some others argue that an election provides an opportunity to put in to power a different administration, one which has the actual power to change things. They argue that it is their duty to take advantage of that opportunity and accept its challenges; they charge their critics with being dreamers who prefer to hold on to their ideological purity for some distant day rather than to address the real situation in the here and now.
TAKE PART IN GOVERNMENT?
There is room for some fruitful debate and discussion around some of these positions but one thing seems clear to me: it can never be permissible for revolutionaries, under any excuse whatsoever, to be part of a government to run the country for the capitalist ruling class. The capitalist ruling class is our enemy and we are irreconcilably hostile to it and must remain so. We work for the day when we can overthrow that class and put the workers in charge and no honeyed words of exception or self-deception can change that fact.
Undermine it from within? Use their institutions against them from the inside? Throughout history, all those who have attempted that (or who pretended to for their own careerism) have shown that far from subverting the system, it was they who were or became subverted.
Yes, it is a philosophical truth that just because something happened before is no guarantee that it will happen again. Even if it happened every time in the past. Although jumping from the tenth floor of a building on to hard ground has killed hundreds over time, it is philosophically possible that someone could survive it now – even unharmed. But it is not a scientific nor a historical probability. One is entitled to try it with one’s own life but not with the lives of others.
Those who formed Fianna Fáil crossed over that line not long after they split from Sinn Féin: not only that but the party soon became, despite its Republican and nationalist roots and rhetoric of being for a 32-County Republic, the preferredpolitical party of the Irish foreign-dependent capitalist class in the 26 Counties and virtually unknown in the Six.
The Sinn Féin we know today (Provisional Sinn Féin, as they no longer like to be called), the largest survivor of a number of large and smaller organisational splits since the days of the creation of Fianna Fáil, also crossed over that line. In a sense, they did so in an even worse (or more obvious) way than had Fianna Fáil – Sinn Féin participated in a colonial government, the administration of an armed foreign aggressor.
That party is heading for entry into a capitalist coalition government in the 26 Counties, if only it can find a partner willing to accept it for the dance. Based on its history in government in the Six Counties and some other measures, the SF party leadership strives to prove to the Irish capitalist class that it can be trusted to manage the system, alone or in partnership with one of the main capitalist parties.
The President of the party has said that “Sinn Féin doesn’t have a problem with capitalism”. The party’s leadership refused to support the “Don’t register, don’t pay” slogan of the early campaigns against the Household Tax and later against the Water Charge (the first was defeated by popular resistance following those slogans and the second is on hold, due to a number of factors ultimately arising out of popular resistance). Dublin local authority councillors of the party voted to hand over public land on a prime Dublin site to private property speculators. The party’s leadership has shown itself publicly welcoming to every imperialist or zionist representative to visit them, including the mass-murdering political leadership of the USA and the British monarch and Commander of the Armed Forces which is enforcing the occupation of one fifth of the country.
But it is not only necessary for SF’s leadership to convince the Irish ruling class (and its foreign partners) – in order to get elected, it has to also convince its own following and thousands outside of that. So some anti-imperialist and left posturing is necessary. Of course it is opposed to the Water Charge and was also opposed to the Household Tax, it tells people – it was just that it couldn’t ask people to risk going to jail and losing their homes by taking part in civil disobedience. And it does put some of its followers out on the street in demonstrations against the Water Charge.
In defence of the vote of Dublin City councillors, it declares that through the deal, it got funding for a percentage of public housing on the site – wasn’t that good? Perhaps, but better than a 100% public building program of its own on its own land, using the many construction workers currently idle? Hardly. And once public land is gone, it is gone for ever (well, forever short of the kind of revolution that SF declares to be unrealistic).
So Left words for its potential voting public, soothing words to its long-suffering membership and acts of collaboration and collusion (and signals of more of the same) to the ruling class. And for the collaborationist careerists jumping into the party.
A SLATE OF REVOLUTIONARY AND RADICAL LEFT CANDIDATES
A revolutionary coalition with SF, even if it were to agree to such a thing, would be for any movement of resistance to cut its own throat. But what of the other parties, groupings and independent political activists?
In my opinion, it might well be worth supporting an attempt to create such a coalition, presenting a list of revolutionary or even radically progressive demands.
“But isn’t that reformist and in contradiction to the revolutionary vision?” If it were reformist, i.e with only the intention of reforming, I would say yes, it is in clear contradiction to our vision. If it were to suspend popular organisation and mobilisation and to put its faith in the outcome of the elections, I would be against it.
But the intention here should be to form a revolutionary and/or radical ParliamentaryOpposition, putting forward radical reforms which would, if achieved, make living conditions and resistance much easier for the working people and extortion and repression much more difficult for the ruling class. And meanwhile revolutionaries should never cease in their revolutionary propaganda that only the overthrow of the ruling class can bring about deep and permanent changes for the benefit of the working class.
Tom Stokes, a commentator on political affairs and media reporting for many years, in August 2015 published a list of policies or demands upon which such a slate could be based, upon which they could campaign (https://theirishrepublic.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/broad-left-policy-platform-essential-now/). Although the manifesto did not gather much publicly-expressed support at the time, it seemed to me then and seems still to be a worthwhile initiative and one to consider for any builders of a putative Left electoral slate.
A POSSIBLE LEFT SLATE MANIFESTO
This is the list which Stokes published, without any claim to it being definitive. However, a list of demands for a Slate of candidates to agree to cannot be exhaustive – there will have to give and take, as he acknowledged. The important thing from a revolutionary point of view should be that it points the way forward to resolving the economic problems facing the working class and the majority of the people in general and to the radical improvement of their rights. Further on, I give my own thoughts on this manifesto. 1 Adequate, affordable, secure housing as a right, where necessary through public provision.
2 A single-tier publicly funded, secular and excellent education system with no provision from the exchequer for private fee-paying schools with exclusive enrollment policies. Religious instruction outside school-hours. Ending the university-controlled points system for third-level entry. Free third-level or vocational education/training subject to contractual obligation to work within the state for any three of first five years post-graduation with debt-related penalties for non-compliance.
3 The right of all children to adequate housing, nourishment and provision of health and care according to need, guaranteed by the state.
4 The right of workers to employment, or to further education or training as required, including those who wish re-enter the labour ‘market’.
5 A living wage, the ending of oppressive zero-hour contracts, workers’ right-to-organise and right-to-negotiate guaranteed by the state.
6 Full equality for women including pay-rates, personal autonomy and dignity including reproductive rights. Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Provision of supports for mothers and carers commensurate with their contribution to society for that work.
7 State ownership of essential services, natural resources & physical infrastructure. Constitutional provision for public ownership of water and protection of Mother Earth.
8 Empowerment of communities, starting with disadvantaged communities – rural and urban. State support for community initiatives to achieve personal and community empowerment.
9 Strong laws against public and private corruption with strict sanctions. Ending political appointments to judiciary. Curbing legal costs for citizens. Equal access to civil courts regardless of means. Refocusing criminal justice system and penal system. Taking politics out of policing in favour of civic obligations.
10 Realigning taxation system to shift burden towards wealthiest. Ending tax-exile status, tax loopholes and tax-havens. Enforcing Corporation Tax.
11 Properly codifying the state’s position on neutrality, opposition to war, concentration on international and intra-national conflict-resolution and peace-keeping. Adherence to international codes on prevention of torture, refugees, humanitarian obligations, etc.
12 Proper commitment to reunify the people of the island through concerted, direct, rational dialogue with the objective of creating a fully representative all-Ireland parliament based on equality, respect and civil and religious freedoms.
13 Greater local and regional democratic control as appropriate. Making government fully accountable to parliament and the people. Creation of a democratically elected upper house to speed legislation and as a counter to excessive power of parliament. Installing a publicly accessible online register of lobbyists and a publicly accessible tendering system for state acquisitions, both updated daily.
14 Regulation of media in terms of ownership and the public’s right to essential information, fairly and accurately delivered. Active fostering of ideological diversity in media in the public interest. Insistence on journalistic ethics in the public interest. Higher values of Public Service Broadcasting a requirement for state media.
15 A commitment to expedite a widespread public consultation process towards creating a new constitution for a genuine republic.
Let us examine these demands now.
1. Decent, affordable housing is an obvious necessity so as not to have people sleeping on the streets, families in unsuitable accommodation, people at the mercy of landlords and others slaving to pay the monthly rent or mortgage. And public provision is the obvious way to provide this.
2. The right to secular education as a norm is a basic democratic right and should have been a Republican demand from the outset. No church should be permitted to exercise any control over admission to — or content of — education; any religious group that wishes its children to be instructed in its religion should pay for that themselves and provide it outside of school hours. And unless we have free third-level education only those already more privileged will be able to avail of it or will plunge themselves into debt in order to do so.
(I am unsure about the inflicting penalties for not working within the State after graduation – if we provide a decent economic and social environment it seems to me that most people would want to stay or to return after they had left and we should avoid coercion where possible).
3. Children are our future and must be accorded full legal and social protection – the contrary to what our State has done for decades. How can we disagree with that?
4 &5. It seems to me that we can combine these under the right of workers to employment and training and organisation. Further, workers must be permitted to exercise their latent power in order to ensure those things are provided. We need the acknowledgement and legalisation not only of the right to strike in defence of the demands of one’s own workplace but in support of others. This would remove a gag and chain on the working class at present which prevents trade unionists, at threat of the sequestration of all or part of their funds, from supporting action by workers who are in weaker positions. If the Left Slate were to achieve this alone, even though it could all be nullified later, it would be a great step forward. Were they not to succeed in achieving it, their raising it as an objective on their platform would be a strong indication of the direction for workers to take.
6. Full equality for women under the law must be a central demand of any democratic platform. The right to abortion is a recognised right in all liberal and socialist societies with the exception of Muslim states, the USA and the 26 Counties. I myself am in support of that right but it remains a divisive issue among the largest alternative movement in this state, the Republican movement and is opposed by many others. This issue should be discussed in any Left electoral slate. Nevertheless, Amendment 8 to the Constitution has no right there and should be removed.
7. One would think that demanding State ownership of all Ireland’s natural resources would be unopposed within a Left Coalition slate. I am not convinced that would be so. And since I do not expect socialism to arrive through a parliamentary majority, I would settle for some specified areas: oil, gas, water infrastructure, sea, rivers and lakes. And public transport, water infrastructure, roads and telecommunications infrastructure.
The abolition of the Water Charge would be popular and is obviously a necessity on a number of levels, not least the democratic one that maintenance of a drinkable water supply has already been paid for in two different taxes. A change in the Constitution that would put our water services beyond privatisation would also be a great relief and a step forward.
8. No-one considering a Left Electoral Slate organisation is going to argue with “empowerment ….. of disadvantaged communities” — the difficulties will arise over how to interpret that demand, what will be the specific targets and timeframes, the amount of financial investment.
9. This is an extremely wide-ranging point. Clearly the judiciary should be separate from other forms of administration or political interests. Clearly too, those who hold posts of public responsibility should suffer strong sanctions should they behave corruptly while in office. And obviously, given a democratic society’s reliance on law to manage their affairs, taking cases should not be the prerogative of the rich, which means reducing the cost of such procedures drastically, including appeals. And it seems to me that most people would support such changes, though they would be frantically opposed by special interest groups.
10. Realigning the tax burden to fall upon the rich and closing tax loopholes (more like tax flood gates!) for the rich, ending exile tax status etc all seem commendable and fair to the people, the majority of the population, who bear the actual burden of a number of taxes. And the Left Slate could push those objectives on to whatever government gets elected, as popular demands which the bourgeois parties (and their compromisers) could not concede. But careful! The revolutionaries inside the Left Slate should make it clear that they are not for fairer taxes on the rich and working people, but instead for the expropriation of the rich, whose stolen wealth is to returned to the working class. We do not intend to become part of any government inside a capitalist society, for reasons I shall go into a little further on.
11. There is no question but that the position of the Left Slate should be for a real neutrality on the part of the State, making it increasingly difficult for the ruling class to indulge any dreams of returning to a British Commonwealth or to joining NATO. Such alliances have dire consequences not only for millions of people abroad but also ultimately at home – one consequence alone would be to facilitate foreign military intervention in the 26-County state in the event of an insurrection or even the election of a Left-leaning government. Alliances of that sort always include a “mutual assistance” clause and we can be sure that the “mutual assistance” envisaged is one between the capitalist ruling classes of the various states.
Prevention of torture should be a human rights requirement of every nation and state but, on the contrary, it is ensured in practice by none. Those who complain of their followers being tortured have been shown time and time again to be willing to inflict it themselves – always for the “highest” of reasons. There is no reason to believe therefore that no participants among the Left Slate will at some point, finding conditions favouring such a practice, indulge in it themselves. But the Slate should in any case incorporate it into its program. And thereby also, it might be said, strive to build some protection for its own members and supporters from such practices by the Gardaí and prison guards.
In the field of human rights and under the principles of internationalist solidarity, it is clear too that a Left Slate should advocate and push for a humane regime for the processing of refugees and migrant workers and their integration into the population.
12. This seems like a progressive demand but actually I do not support it. This is something perhaps for a revolutionary government and such can only come about after the overthrow of capitalism.
But I do think that the Left Slate should advocate the reunification of the island and religious freedom. Understanding the composition of the Irish Left, inclusion of reunification in the Manifesto is bound to run into difficulties from some quarters – revolutionaries, not just Republicans, will have to consider whether to compromise to some extent on this demand for an agreed Left Slate manifesto (while retaining their own political demands outside of that) and, if so, how to do so.
13. The creation of a register of political lobbyists is not actually a revolutionary demand but I think revolutionaries should support it. Such a register will help to expose the lines of communication and mutual assistance of capitalist political parties and the capitalists themselves. The same goes for tendering for State and local authority projects. But I do not support the rest of those demands. They seem to me to envisage a Left Government, trying to make the system better and, at the same time, stabilising it. This is not what revolutionaries are about. Besides which it seems to me that the creation of another parliamentary tier is counter-democratic and would tend to increased bureaucracy.
14. I understand the motivation for this but find it difficult to envisage how it might be achieves. Anti-monopoly legislation might for a while hamper media monopolisation but the experience of other countries shows that ultimately, it will not be successful. Enforcing a system of right of reply (as distinct from a voluntary one adopted by the media) for those who feel they have been misrepresented in the media is one possibility. Another might be enforcing the right of publication of a counter-report when substantiation can be provided on, for example, the numbers reported as attending a demonstration or the events during a confrontation between police and demonstrators.
But definitely, the Left Slate should push for the lifting of State restrictions on community radio and television, with the aim of facilitating a diversity of such broadcasting, including news reporting, political commentary, cultural performance and discussion, etc.
15. I do not oppose this point nor do I endorse it. A new Constitution worth having, in my view, is a revolutionary one and as such, can only be properly conceived of by a population that has passed through a revolutionary process and been, in the course of that, revolutionised and empowered.
SHOULD REVOLUTIONARIES SUPPORT THE FORMATION OF A LEFT SLATE?
“OK, so let us imagine that a credible Left Slate is agreed and presents itself for election. Should revolutionaries ask people to vote for it?”
I think so. But it should also be clear that organisation and mobilisation in struggle and resistance should not diminish one iota but, on the contrary, intensify. And revolutionaries should clearly tell the public that only the complete overthrow of the ruling class can usher in lasting change – and that the working class should prepare themselves for that struggle. But also that, whatever members of that coalition slate may say or do, the revolutionaries will never participate in any administration of the old system, i.e no national government prior to the overthrow of the capitalist system and the expropriation of the capitalist class.
“Perhaps revolutionaries should then just ignore the Left slate and concentrate exclusively on revolutionary work – organising and supporting campaigns of resistance, ideological and historical education?”
I strongly disagree. Campaigning for such a slate would bring revolutionary ideology to thousands of working people who are currently unreachable by the revolutionaries. And many people will want to know what revolutionaries think of the Left Slate and of its policies.
And anyway, just because we are revolutionaries, does that mean we are against reforms? Not at all – in our history as revolutionaries, we have been some of the most resolute campaigners for reforms and defenders of them when they have been won! However we are not reformists – the kind of people who believe in a radical or steady improvement in life by reforms but leaving the capitalist system in place.
But we are for reforms that strengthen the working class, the movement of resistance. For examples: the right of workers to combine and strike; the shorter working week and safety legislation; the abolition of child labour; universal education; the right to vote for all adults regardless of gender or property; equal rights regardless of sexuality; abolition of slavery; abolition of racist laws and regulations; the right to oppose invasion; separation of Church and State; the right to protest and campaign politically; the right to freedom of speech and of the press; universal free health care; free or cheap childcare; low-rental housing. These were all rights that we fought for and many were hard-won.
“OK, so revolutionaries could organise electoral support work for the Left Slate – but surely not participate in the actual Slate? Revolutionaries should not present any candidates, of course.”
But why not? We are not against elections in all cases. We elect people to responsible positions in our organisations, decide policies by vote at congresses, decide tactical and strategic aims by voting too. What we are against is not voting but bourgeois elections, where no real change is offered, where we are encouraged to put our faith in some representatives of the existing system and to leave things in their hands for a number of years with little control over what they say or do. Revolutionaries can make it clear that is not what we are about as well as making it clear what we are about, what we intend to do if elected – and if elected, stick to that.
Revolutionary representatives within the Dáil (the Irish Parliament), elected as part of a Left Slate, can work among the other successful candidates of the Slate to strengthen adherence to the list of demands and to combat drift away from them or towards other concessions to the ruling class.
And if we are part of the discussion on the Manifesto and the Slate, we can also participate in the fight to agree that Manifesto in the first place because it is certain that will not be an easy struggle. But let us never forget that the role of the Left in any Parliament should be to support the struggles of the working people outside – not the other way around.
NO TO A LEFT GOVERNMENT
As revolutionaries, we are for the overthrow of the system, the expropriation of the rich, the empowerment of the working people. There will be arguments and discussions about how best to achieve those aims and that’s fine. Let the people, participating in those discussions, decide, experiment, make mistakes, revise. But that can only really take place in practice when the people hold revolutionary power, i.e after the overthrow of the capitalist system.
Should a situation exist where a Left Government be elected, or looks likely to be elected, the social democracts and liberals will quickly call for slowing down, for less struggle, to let them get under way. At this point the capitalist class must be weak, perhaps divided among themselves on how to respond, perhaps unsure of the reliability of their repressive forces, the police and army. Or perhaps, though weakened, the ruling class is merely biding its time, organising a coup or some other event. Or, very likely, instead or in addition to the above, they are working with elements inside the Left Government or Party to seduce them, to arrange compromises, etc.
This is the point at which revolutionaries, far from resting and wait-and-see, far from facilitating a Government that is trying to stabilise the system in its hour of difficulty, should instead intensify their mobilisations, their actions, and organise the people more militantly and more daringly, pushing for more rapid enactments of popular demands. Should the ruling class be paralysed or indecisive, they should be shocked further and further, exactly as their disaster capitalists have done to national systems, as described by Naomi Klein in Shock Doctrine (2007).
We can hardly be free do all that from inside a Left Government.
Of course those in the Left Government will plead with us and with the people to give them more time; they will tell the people their great plans, perhaps plead their difficulties. They will accuse the revolutionaries of being disrupters, wreckers, saboteurs …. They may send their police to arrest us.
It will not be the first time in our history to be accused of such things. And in a sense, they will be right — we do intend to wreck the system and we do intend to wreck their project of stabilising it. We intend to overthrow it all and to bring in socialism, the organisation of society and its productive forces and resources by and for the benefit of the people. And that’s the wheel we’ll keep pushing and rolling.
Old election posters: https://irishelectionliterature.com/tag/old-fianna-fail-election-poster/
What tactics should we use in political resistance struggle? Physical action or not? If we think physical action is valid, what type do we support and when should we employ it? On the other hand, the same questions arise with regard to non-physical action ….
For most people in this country, the closest they come to physical action in politics is to present themselves at the polling booth. One of the primary declared objectives of most political groups, in fact, is to deepen the involvement in political action of the majority of the population of the country (although what each means by this and to what degree they are serious about it differs greatly).
Something of an ideological struggle has been taking part in the movement against austerity measures as to how best to increase public involvement in effective resistance. Some advocate participation in demonstrations and pickets as their main activity, with perhaps a sprinkling of public meetings. Others advocate civil disobedience and/or disruption as the most effective tactics. Curiously, most agree with participation in on-line petitions and “liking” particular ideological Facebook pages. Many agree with voting for candidates perceived to be in opposition to austerity measures, while some do not. For some, membership of a political party is an important step while for others it is of no value at all. Faced with this lack of general agreement across the spectrum opposed to the status quo, how are we to make decisions, to make reasonable choices?
I’d like to attempt to answer this question but first I’d like to give an example from which to learn, a parable, if you will.
ONCE UPON A TIME ….
Let us imagine a country called Awtaegin. Across the world in the 1960s and 1970s, youth and students were in a ferment, disenchanted with the dominant system as they perceived it and in this Awtaegin was far from being an exception. This disenchantment with the dominant system also extended to many of the oppositional political parties, such as the main social democratic opposition party (which we can call the “Labour Party”) and the USSR-aligned Communist Party (which we can call the UCP).
A number of organisations arose which were opposed not only to the existing order but also to those aforementioned political parties which they considered to be no more than a slightly alternative way to manage the same system and order to which they were opposed, in the case of the Labour Party and a hindrance to mobilising for real change, in the case of the UCP.
One of the opposition organisations to arise was a communist group advocating revolution but which did not support the system in the USSR, which it considered oppressive and imperialist. This group in fact supported the system in China and the politics of its leader at the time, Mao Tse Tung. At that time this leader and his country were very popular among revolutionary communist and national liberation organisations around the world. Let us call this group the MCP.
In its early days, the MCP was something of an object of derision for most of the Left organisations including those advocating revolution in Awtaegin. It was very small and put a lot of store in the Red Book of Mao’s sayings. The MCP popularised Chinese posters. The leaflets and newspapers produced by the MCP tended to contain many quotations from “Chairman Mao” (but also from Lenin and Marx, which the other revolutionary organisations liked to quote too) and the party insisted on using revolutionary political terminology which had gone somewhat out of fashion in Awtaegin.
No-one could deny that the members and supporters of the MCP were hard-working. They went on to the streets and door to door in working class areas with their newspapers and leaflets, attended demonstrations and strike pickets, held internal discussion meetings, organised public meetings, put up posters. Nor could anyone deny that they had guts – their activists often vigorously resisted arrest, they carried their political struggle into the courts instead of, as had become the norm, just trying to be found “not guilty” or to receive the least possible punishment. It was not long before some of them found themselves being sent to jail by the State and there too they often continued their struggle.
If the members and supporters of the other revolutionary organisations had a sneaking respect for those of the MCP, they did not show it. The commitment to work and resistance exhibited by the MCP was explained as fanaticism.
The MCP had built links with a loose network of ethnic minorities in Awtaegin, most but not all students. Mao and China were very popular among many of these ethnic minorities, particularly among the students from Africa, Asia and Latin America, whether on grounds of the national liberation of their home countries from imperialism and colonialism or on the grounds of overthrowing capitalism and of building socialism. Many of these students were organised into a broad organisation which we can call the Progressive Afro-Asian Association (PAAA).
The MCP developed fraternal links with the PAA, which had quite a large network. Through reading, through internal discussions and discussions with the PAA, the MCP developed a theory on racism and its relation to fascism in application to conditions in Awtaegin. In that country at that time racist ideology was dominant and also a number of organisations with an openly racist agenda were on the rise.
The MCP theorised racism as a product of and justification for colonialism and imperialism and also as a method of dividing the working class to facilitate capitalist exploitation. They characterised the organisations with a racist agenda as fascist, as both a concentrated reflection of the dominant racist ideology in Awtaegin and as organisations encouraged to attack revolutionary and progressive people and to intimidate ethnic minority people, in particular settled and migrant ethnic minority workers. MCP articles also analysed and criticised racist writings and statements by politicians and authors.
Although some of these attitudes were to be found in the rest of the revolutionary organisations to some extent, there was a general agreement among them that the racist organisations could not be termed “fascist” and the MCP was criticised for adopting the position that they were. The opposition to the MCP however arose to fever pitch when the party put forward the political position that “Fascists have no right to speak” and advocated this with regard to authors and politicians. The rest of the Left at this time was largely split into two camps: those who thought the racists should be ignored and those who thought they should be defeated in public argument.
But the MCP and PAA applied this policy in action, refusing public debate with racists and those they considered fascists and disrupting lectures, book launches and public meetings that featured speakers they considered racist or otherwise fascist. These disruptions tended to take place mostly in institutions of higher education, where space was being provided for racist and fascist idealogues but also where the PAAA had many members and supporters. The disruptive actions of the PAAA and MCP were criticised by both pro-establishment figures and by most of the Left in Awtaegin. But many people began to consider seriously the arguments put forward by the MCP and the PAA. In time, the position of “Fascists have no right to speak” became popularised as “No platform for fascists” and gained widespread acceptance across the Left spectrum in Awtaegin – it was even adopted as official policy for a year or two by the Students’ Union in that country.
The MCP had been studying, as related earlier, and attempting to popularise the teachings of Mao Tse Tung but they had also studied and discussed other writings and had examined specific contemporary conditions in Awtaegin about which Mao had written nothing. The MCP also investigated the history of earlier struggles against fascism and racism. They uncovered and popularised the history of the resistance to fascism and racism (mostly anti-Jewish racism in those years) in Awtaegin, which had been led for a period by the UCP, the same party that in the more modern struggle was leading people away from confrontation with racist organisations. In the 1930s, the anti-fascists had fought fierce battles with the fascists and with their police protectors.
The policy of “fascists have no right to speak” was applied by the MCP to the racist organisations organising outside the institutions of higher education. The public meetings of racist organisations were beginning to be picketed and their rallies met with counter-demonstrations. Such opposition now had to be taken into account by racist organisations planning public meetings and rallies, as well as by local authorities and other bodies considering hiring out venues to such organisations. By now the disruptive response was becoming popular among the revolutionary Left, with the exception of the UCP which generally tried to outnumber the racist organisations in counter-demonstrations but then lead a march away from them so as to avoid clashes. Another exception included some libertarians, who thought it wrong to deny even racists the right to free speech.
The policy of confrontation with racist organisations, now becoming widespread in the Awtaegin revolutionary movement and even among radical and democratic anti-racist sections of society, was largely confined in practice to peaceful demonstrations and pickets, with the exception of some ethnic minority youth taking actions into their own hands and opportunist physical attack by some members of the Awtaegin Left.
But the MCP took their policy to its logical conclusion and openly advocated physical attack on fascists in the street. When they could, the MCP also physically attacked members and supporters of the racist organisations, particularly during counter-demonstrations to fascist ones. Once again, the MCP appeared to be isolating itself from the rest of the revolutionary movement in Awtaegin. However, their position found favour with many in the PAAA and with ethnic minorities who were under attack by racist organisations, the racist state police force and by racist immigration legislation. In time, the MCP’s position was adopted by the fringes of some of the revolutionary organisations too (some of which were expelled or split from their parties as a result) and the broad anti-fascist and anti-racist ‘physical force’ organisations that arose at that time spent the next decade or so successfully beating the fascist organisations off the streets. The threat of fascist organisations gaining dominance in Awtaegin did not resurface for another two decades.
So what are we to make of this history of the MCP and of the revolutionary movement and the racist organisations at that time? First of all, is it true? Yes, it is, though a little simplified and with names of country and organisations changed.
WHY WERE THEY SUCCESSFUL?
Why and how did the MCP succeed in having their political line with regard to fascism and racism, at first so widely disparaged, adopted so widely later? It certainly was not due to the influence of numbers as the MCP was a very small party. Even with the support of the PAAA, their numbers were smaller than some other revolutionary Left organisations and the PAAA split and diminished after a few years anyway, leaving the MCP to depend totally upon itself.
The MCP had very few individuals within it who had fame as intellectuals or a personal following of any kind – any influence the MCP had came about as a result of their work. Revolutionary organisations opposed to the MCP’s line included in their membership well-known journalists, actors and public speakers.
I can see no reasonable alternative to the judgement that the MCP’s line of physical opposition to racist organisations and idealogues gained popularity because it was the correct one, at least for its time and that implementing it also proved effective, giving victories in the short term to the anti-fascist anti-racist movement.
OK, so if we can agree on that, how was it that the MCP came up with this correct line when so much of the rest of the revolutionary and radical Left in Awtaegin were in disagreement with it? Was it because the MCP’s political ideological position was so generally advanced that they could not help but be correct on the question of fascism and racism? Hardly – they were followers of Mao’s and his ideology has been rejected by most of the revolutionary Left today; China has become a state facilitating internal capitalist expansion and foreign imperialist penetration within a few years of the death of Mao. In Europe, the MCP supported Albania under Enver Hoxha’s leadership, a state the collapse of which took mere days with the bankruptcy of its political line exposed to the world. In fact, the MCP itself is no longer in existence and in real terms lasted little more than a decade after the death of Mao.
It seems to me that the MCP was correct on the question of fascism and racism in the 1970s in Awtaegin because they started from a position of ‘commitment to revolution, whatever it takes’. In that regard, their “fanaticism” worked in their favour. In addition, they studied not only the writings of Mao but also those of other writers on the topic and discussed their opinions internally and with other progressive people. Then they also studied the history of the world’s people in struggles against fascism and racism and that of Awtaegin in particular. Finally, they had the courage (or arrogance) to advocate their line publicly and to put it into practice when the opportunity presented. They used research, investigation and analysis to develop their theoretical position and they progressed it to practical application.
The MCP could have decided that the task of convincing the rest of the movement was too great and either abandoned it or thrown themselves into it in isolation. What they did was take on the task of convincing the rest of the movement with polemics and historical example and also putting it into practice themselves, seeking allies who agreed with that approach without necessarily agreeing with the rest of their ideology.
TODAY, IN IRELAND
So, in deciding what are correct tactics in struggles in Ireland today, I suggest that we should use the same overall approach as did the MCP in the example given. Study writings on revolutionary tactics, research and study our own class and national history, study current circumstances, discuss ….. then advocate publicly and, when appropriate, apply in practice.
If we look around us in Ireland at the moment, we see that the majority of the population, as observed earlier, is not engaged in political struggle. The sector in opposition to the status quo that has the most people in it, with however a wide spread in ideology, is the Republican movement. This sector has revolutionary and non-revolutionary parts; the major part of it has become non-revolutionary and the rest of it is struggling with fragmentation and ideological confusion. Traditionally, with some exceptions, the Republican movement has concentrated on the struggle against British colonialism and left the rest of the political, social and economic issues more or less alone. As a movement, the revolutionary rump of the Republican movement has given virtually no leadership to — and organised little participation in — the current and recent mass struggles against the Household and Property Taxes and the Water Charge (though its members are clearly in sympathy with the resistance).
In the historically small Socialist sector in Ireland, revolutionaries and radicals sometimes occupy the fringes of the social democratic Labour Party while the rest operate as independents or belong to a number of small revolutionary Left organisations. Chief in size of the latter, although comparatively still very small indeed, are the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers’ Party, with their respective front organisations, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit. While these organisations exhibit little interest in the Irish anti-colonial struggle (other than to condemn periodically those engaged in it) or in the struggle against the repression of the anti-colonial movement, they have concerned themselves very much with social and economic issues.
Both the SWP and the SP have concentrated their activities in opposition to the recent and current taxes and water charge in trying to build large protest mobilising organisations and in electoral campaigns. The mobilising organisations for mass demonstrations and pickets have also been seen as areas of contention between the SP and the SWP. The electoral campaigning is also intended to promote one party or the other, as well as promoting the resistance to the economic and financial attacks upon the working people.
The mass mobilisation has yielded numbers which at first surprised even the activists, growing in thousands succesively from the first demonstration in October to the next in November and many predict even larger numbers this week, on the 10th December. These numbers have forced some recognition of the level of public dissatisfaction by the mass media along with significant initial water charge reductions from the Government. The latter concessions are clearly intended to mollify public discontent and reduce the oppostion to the water charge while the State and the media concentrate on driving a wedge between the general opposition to the charge and some of its more active elements.
Meanwhile, some activists, mostly independent of any political party, have been organising physical opposition to the instalation of water meters. Let us remember that mass non-registration coupled with the threat of non-payment defeated the Household Tax but that the Property Tax replaced it, with the change in the law permitting the Revenue Department of the State to collect the tax through people’s salaries and pensions. In order to levy a charge on water consumption, however, in the absence of a blanket same-for-everyone charge, the State has to install water meters. Currently this work is being undertaken by a private company on behalf of the State with widespread speculation that capitalists involved in that company (such as Denis O’Brien) will eventually buy the water “industry” cheaply from the State.
The resistance to the instalation of the water meters has been taking the form of groups of people turning out in some communities where the meter instalation teams are in operation and physically impeding them in carrying out that work. The tactics have involved parading slowly in front of the company’s vehicles, slowing down their progress enormously and also by physically blocking with their own bodies access to the spots outside houses or estates where the meters are planned.
The Irish state has responded to these physical but peaceful tactics in some cases by postponement of instalation but mainly by a physical repression of the resistance with methods varying from deployment of sufficiently large numbers of police to force the resisters aside, to assaults on those resisting. In one area in Clonmel, even armed police were deployed for a while. In addition, the State issued court injunctions against a number of activists but for the moment has suspended them, for fear of giving the movement some martyrs in jail and augmenting the resistance. This fear is a realistic one, given that public condemnations of the water meter resisters by two Government Ministers, backed up by a compliant media, have resulted mainly in antagonizing public opinion against the Government and the police. Detecting political opportunity in the changing breeze, a number of political parliamentary representatives, notably Sinn Féin TDs, who previously announced they were going to pay the Water Charge but under protest, have now indicated they will not be paying (though however being careful not to advocate a general campaign of non-payment and thereby ruining their party’s chances of integration into the system).
To sum up: the SP and SWP, to varying degrees, are concentrating on two main approaches, building mass demonstrations and electoral campaigning. A group of non-aligned individuals are concentrating on physical opposition to the instalation of meters. Which should we support?
The mass demonstration mobilisation approach is already idealogically split between insistence on non-payment one the one hand and on the other, a broader church tolerating payment under protest by its numbers. Increasing numbers at the cost of an important tactic such as non-payment, particularly at a time when the opposition to the meters is growing, seems a particularly retrograde step. On the other hand it seems tactically unsound, in the absence of a convincingly large presence in the resistance movement, to split on this issue rather than to remain inside it fighting for the line of non-payment.
It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the SWP, through its front PBP, has agreed to tolerate in the ranks of the mobilising organisation those who refuse to advocate non-payment, like for example Sinn Féin and the Unite trade union, even to dropping or muting the SWP’s own line of non-payment, in order to be the left-wing of a larger campaign – i.e. political opportunism. Since the SP and the AAA do not have anything like the numbers or connections necessary to have a significant impact on the resistance movement from a lone position, it is also hard to avoid the suspicion that they have left the broader campaign in order to posture at being more revolutionary than the SWP and, perhaps, if the broad resistance movement continues to grow, to gain in recruitment from its more militant Left members.
However, the general strategy of both the SP and the SWP is in any case wrong. Large demonstrations have a morale-building effect, of course; they give the resistance a physical presence representing many who could not be present and they strengthen the hopes of the resistance – up to a point. But building successively larger demonstrations will not in itself change the ruling class’ determination to make the people pay for the financial crisis. And at some point, demonstrations may peak and then begin to reduce in numbers as people perceive that nothing will be changed through this tactic. This in fact occurred a couple of years ago when the SWP tried to organise a programme of escalating demonstrations against austerity measures. The demonstrations then have a demoralising effect as those who continue to attend see them getting smaller.
Those who advocate physical resistance with regard to the meter installation seem to me to be on the right track but they are too few in numbers to have a decisive impact. They need the support of the rest of the resistance movement. It is the meter resisters who have widely exposed the connection between the State and private company installing the meters and the degree to which the State is willing to go in order to push its program through. They have done this through their actions and through filming police violence and disseminating the videos through the Internet. It is they who have rattled the Ministers into making ill-considered statements which in turn have deepened the mood of resistance. The rest of the resistance movement needs to find ways to support the physical resistance, physically if possible and ‘morally’ when not, e.g. by statements of support, pickets of news media demonising physical resisters as for example recently against Independent Newspapers and protest pickets of the police, as the “pink ladies” did for example in Coolock and in Tallaght (photos: http://www.broadsheet.ie/2014/11/20/the-pink-ladies/)
In the long run, of course, the Irish capitalist class can content itself with installing meters where it can do so without difficulty, then later isolating each area of resistance in turn, swamping it with police and installing the meters. But if the meter installation resistance were to be combined with large demonstration mobilisations and identified with by the broader movement, then the State would risk the development of a situation that could threaten its very existence unless it abandoned its Water Charge plan and thinks again about how to finance its debt. That is far from being all that revolutionaries would want but that kind of victory, transitory though it may be in the longer term, would provide a welcome respite for the people. It would also give rise to a huge boost in confidence for the ordinary people and lessons in effective tactics of resistance, as well as a sorting through of who are worthy to lead future struggles and who are not.