Vol. 1-No 9
28th May 2010
2) Optimism of the Intellect
3) The Politics of Illusion
a. Republicanism and Sectarianism
Across the whole of Europe Governments are introducing cuts in public services in salaries and wages and in pensions. Why? It was the collapse of the banks that caused the recession-not the workers, not the public services, not the millions on pensions. The banks were bailed out with billions of tax -payers money. Now the drive is on to push down wages and pensions to their absolute lowest level.
During the 1970’s the share of national income in Britain going to wages was 65%. Now it is 53%. Attempts are being made to compare public service wages with those in the private sector. This misses the obvious fact that public services are unionized while the low wages in the private sector are in part due to the non-unionized work force.
It is a fact that tax evasion costs £70 billion a year to the public purse. A further £25 billion is lost through avoidance, by big business and wealthy individuals (Source Tax Justice Network and PCS)
But rather than hire more tax inspectors the Government is reducing their numbers. So the rich escape!
It is the same story throughout Europe. Capitalism knows no frontiers and is a ruthless predator in pursuit of profits. So it is the poor who get screwed. Now the new Tory/Liberal Government is targeting those who claim benefits despite the fact that Britain has one of the lowest rates of benefit in Europe. Three times as much is lost through mistakes in benefit payments as is lost through fraud. Big business, through tax evasion, defrauds the state of 100 times that which benefit fraud does.
When public utilities were under state control there were no fat cat bonuses. The gas, water, electric buses trains and telecommunications were all run in the public interest. Now they are run for the profit of the shareholders. The socialist argument for taking back these assets under public control is overwhelming but few politicians in Ireland or Britain advocate this. They accept the cosy consensus that profit is all.
Optimism of the Intellect.
In the Red Plough Vol. 1-6 we carried an important article “The Forward March Of Republicanism Halted?” By Liam O’Ruaric
These are a few thoughts on that thoughtful article.
Cde. Liam correctly points out how that by entering the institutions of the Free State and obtaining necessary changes over the years Fianna Fail far from subverting that Free State gave it legitimacy. Nowadays the vast majority of its citizens regard the 26-county state as their Republic.
Fianna Fail’s success was also republicanism’s failure. By the end of the 1930’s Irish republicanism was almost irrelevant. Sinn Fein was almost defunct; the IRA was declaring war with “England” and a bombing campaign in England simply saw republicans jailed without any popular support. De Valera’s policy of benign neutrality successfully binded the vast majority of Irish citizens behind the state. That support also gave De Valera the strength to crack down viciously on his former comrades in the IRA. The left like the IRA was also marginalised. Many of its best had gone to fight to unsuccessfully to defend the Spanish Republic. Those who joined the Irish Labour Party and helped convert it to demand a “Workers Republic” were soon belted by the crozier from Maynooth and once again bended the knee to the power of the catholic church.
Cde. Liam argues that a similar process is today at work in the North. Provisional Sinn Fein’s journey has in the process legitimised the Northern state for many previously alienated nationalists by politically advocating and achieving “parity of esteem” and “equality” and by winning the right for nationalists to share power with unionism.
Essentially the period from 1970 until 1998 was when the alienated northern nationalists made clear that the Orange state could no longer function. The period since then has been to make clear to unionism that they had no option but to share power with nationalists – a message that the DUP only absorbed in the last three years. That period coincided with the break up of the unionist monolith; it’s fracturing into various sections representing differing class interests. It is no accident that the Unionist Party has only recently renewed its links with the Conservative Party. For fifty years while they ruled unchallenged the Northern state the unionist party was the preserve of the landed gentry and the industrialist captains of industry in a natural alliance with the Tories.
Since the declaration of the IRA ceasefire in 1994 Northern nationalists have prospered, relative to what had gone before. A ten-year period of relative prosperity under the British Labour Party Government saw an unparallel growth in the self -confidence of northern nationalists. Former symbols of British/Unionist control such as the Queens University, Belfast City Hall became instead symbols of the growth of northern nationalists. Sinn Fein saw the rising catholic middle class and rode to power by representing their interests while not neglecting their original working class roots. Even previously prosperous middle class areas once the preserve of the protestant middle classes like the Malone road area of Belfast has become predominantly middle class catholic. Now more and more of the middle classes are identifying themselves as “Northern Irish”
This identification with the state is conditional on that state delivering in terms of economic prosperity, equality of treatment and a respect for differing traditions. But the reality is, that in current economic conditions and with all so called mainstream parties in favour of slashing public services and increasing private investment, it means that the working classes will bear a disproportionate share of the pain as the public sector cuts take effect.
Already there is a strong sense of “protestant alienation” that expresses itself on random attacks in at the moment in mainly rural areas on isolated catholic homes or housing estates. The fears of the these loyalists are exacerbated by the political right wing rhetoric of the Traditional Voice of Unionism (TUV) looking for a return to the old type of Stormont regime when the “taigs” knew their place.
Now those same “taigs” are on the policing boards, running administration departments, condemning “dissident” republican terrorism and political positions. They are even calling for further repressive measures against these “traitors”. (The Belfast Telegraph, 10 March 2010)
Those so-called “traitors” threaten to destabilise the pacification programme and hence endanger the rising economic prosperity of the catholic middle classes. Thus the bile splurged out against them. It is therefore no wonder that Adams, proposed a nationalist pact in Fermanagh /South Tyrone and South Belfast. Denying it was a sectarian pact the Provisionals advocated it as pragmatic politics. Indeed given the logic of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrew’s Agreement, which placed identity politics as the main political discourse for the Northern state there was a certain amount of logic from a nationalist perspective for the Adams pact.
Of course from a republican perspective there was none. It totally goes against basic republican beliefs, sectarianises all political activity and reinforces unionist fears and prejudices. When so-called republicans want to paint post-boxes green, erect statues to republican icons and put up a few pictures to represent so called nationalist traditions during the worst economic crisis for eighty years then one realises that they have abandoned all semblances of republican belief, of socialist belief and have settled for a mess of porridge. Their political nakedness to be covered up by demands for an Irish language Act and a Bill of Rights while their own police force represses political dissent in the same old ways that the current power sharers once so denounced. Now they condone repression.
So it can be argued that the armed struggles in the North were in fact not for a Republic but to maintain equality within the Northern state and allow nationalists to fully participate in the running of that state. There is little or no doubt that the vast majority of nationalists have settled for that and their interests are well represented by both the SDLP and Sinn Fein (provisional). Furthermore there is little or no desire within the 26 Counties for unity. Even during the boom years of the Celtic Tiger the South could not have afforded the costs of running the North. To maintain current levels they would need an extra £12 Billions. Economically under the current economic system unity is a non-starter.
The working classes North and South still retain beliefs in the nationalism, unionism and social democracy. Indeed throughout West Europe as Cde Liam points out,
“Reformism has been sufficiently successful to close that political space and legitimise bourgeois democracy and the capitalist state in the eyes of the vast majority of workers in general and those on the left in particular.”
But it is now worse than that in one sense. Now there is a consensus amongst the political elites of Europe that the historic gains made by the working classes over generations must be weakened. Hence the consensus about cuts in public expenditure. All the main political parties in Britain were adamant about the cuts during the elections. And they left no doubt that the working classes would bare the brunt of the cuts. Within the media left wing views that would have been commonplace 40 years ago are now denounced as extremist and the real left is marginalised and derided. The coalition administration at Stormont has already begun the process of cuts and we can look forward to years of cuts in public service provision. These cuts are not academic exercises in book keeping. They directly affect the lives of nearly every person in the state- workers, civil servants, mothers, students, pupils unemployed, all will suffer over the nest few years.
Yes in one sense Cde Liam is correct
“In terms of consciousness and organisation the left today is very weak”
- “The forward march of labour is halted”
And there is not necessarily a connection between the downturn of the economy and a rise in the political consciousness of the working class. But it is a mistake to think, that because some political commentators decry the chances of the left, and because the left itself is so fragmented and split and in some cases so politically sectarianised that it has negative impacts, that the task in Ireland is to make the Republican movement the catalyst for the progressive forces of this country and abroad.
In Liam’s words
“That is the main challenge we face today.”
I disagree. Despite the influences of social democracy and reformism, despite the dominance of nationalist and unionist ideology, the working classes in Ireland still have tremendous revolutionary potential. That potential can be unleashed but only when both objective and subjective factors combine. Political activity can help create the subjective factors.
Currently it is almost impossible to define what constitutes
“The Republican Movement”
Irish Republicanism certainly has a progressive role to play but only if it ditches, elitism, militarism, and sheds its obsession with the republican dead, and the “ Republic”. There are a number of republican organisations some socialist, some not. The majority seem to ignore actual existing realities such as the living and working conditions of the working classes.
Of course it is right to campaign on behalf of the political prisoners, they are anti –imperialists fighters and while we may disagree with their tactics at this historical juncture, nevertheless they are political prisoners entitled to be treated accordingly and not brutalised by sadistic warders as the following account describes,
Last Thursday, Harry was dragged from his cell, battered, bruised, kicked, and stamped on his chest by several screws. They danced on his chest. He was able to ring home right afterward to our 16-year old daughter. He was breathless and could barely talk or breathe. He had no doctor, and no water. Harry was dragged into SSU (isolation) where he had his clothes cut off his body. He was handcuffed and chained to a bed. We've had no word from him since.-The Pensive Quill
It is also shameful that others on the left pay only lip service to the issue and refuse to actively campaign. But if republicanism is to be relevant it must engage in the day-to- day struggles of the working class. So far few apart from the IRSP seem willing to engage in these day to day struggles.
But at the end of the day the liberation of the working class is the task of the class itself. There are no instant solutions, no short cuts, no adventurist stunts, and no big bombs that will liberate the class. Only class struggle. To lead that struggle the working class need an organisation steeped in Marxism and the progressive traditions of Republicanism. That requires both optimism of the will and optimism of the intellect.
The Politics of Illusion
(Speech by Ciaran McClean at closure of Mid Ulster A & E Rally May 24th)
I stood in the recent Westminster elections in West Tyrone as an independent on an environmental ticket. I didn’t get elected but was glad to be able to show that even in West Tyrone there are people who won’t accept the type of politics on offer by the usual suspects. My views towards the current Government of Northern Ireland are fairly well known as I argue from a labour/left/environmental perspective when campaigning on various issues in my area. It doesn’t make me popular; I’m pleased about that.
In recent years the people of Omagh were put in a similar position that your community finds itself today, regarding a downgrading of hospital services. The only difference was that the people of Omagh and Enniskillen were pitted against each other, making it a us versus them campaign with representatives of the big parties rooting for their own area in an attempt to seem genuine. This was sub-defuse sprinkled with smoke and mirror politics. The very politicians that were party to the decision to downgrade Omagh were the same people who demonstrated when the axe fell. Their specialty is to hunt with the hare and run with the hounds and come across as honest brokers.
A perfect example of this is the Sinn Fein, DUP backed legislation to curb the right to public demonstrations. This time next year we may be all breaking the law by just attending this type of gathering, be in no doubt people, what we are witnessing regarding the withdrawal of essential services in our community and delivered by our locally elected politicians can only be described as “Trojan horse Thatcherism”, only this time it has a more sinister face, with a remit that includes legislation so draconian that citizens will have the most basic right taken away – the right to make known ones feelings in a peaceful manner. To add insult to injury the proposers of the 37-day bill justify it by citing contentious marches, the very same marches they themselves made contentious when as they sought to polarise the community in order to gain maximum political power.
To that end their aims have been achieved, they have a mandate and as such are reflective of the type of society they helped create. What they do not have is a mandate to shut hospitals at the drop of a hat. That is not what people voted for when endorsing these people at the last election. Is it just a coincidence that the announcement to withdraw services at Magherafelt came shortly after the election? One wonders what would have happened to Mr McGuinness’s tally had this announcement been made before any votes were cast.
I live in Sixmilecross, 9 miles this side of Omagh. Since the axe fell there my closest hospital is Enniskillen or Derry. If you have ever sat in the back of an Ambulance with a dangerously sick child you would know just how long that journey feels and how much the downgrading of services at a local hospital hits home. This was my experience and I would not wish it upon any of you people, thankfully my child made a good recovery.
Perhaps the greatest sin in our economy is the fact that finances are being frittered away to finance the big party machines, in order that they carry out policies that will see our countries services hacked to death. This form of Party funding means that, in essence, the bigger parties can effectively buy each election with the war chest they accumulate between contests. The net result is that whilst Society sees it’s infrastructure collapse, the politics of illusion, as forwarded by McGuinness and Robinson thwart the will of the people and erode our democracy further still in Northern Ireland. The plan seems to be going well, some politicos may even feel that after the last election they are pleasing the “grey suits” who bankroll them.
They are wrong! Worldwide pressures are forcing the issue of Social Justice and environmental issues squarely onto the agenda. The Puke politics on offer by the mainstream parties have no answers to the crisis they helped create. The best they can come up with is to silence those of us who are prepared to oppose their “make it up as you go along” style of Government.
I didn’t join the organisation to save the hospital that put the people of Omagh and Enniskillen at each other’s throats. I felt that they would be used and abused by local Councillors and MLA’s and then cast aside when they had no further use, that’s exactly what happened. I urge you not to allow any politicos next or near your committee, they will do to you what they did to the people of Omagh – lead you up a blind ally and fade away hoping that Nationalists will blame Unionists and visa versa. I urge you to call these people to account regarding their methods of Governance that sees essential services whittled down to nothing.
Emails, phone calls and any other medium you can access should be used, let them know how you feel about their outrageous proposals to ban peaceful protest, let them know that you won’t be fooled again by their honeyed words about what they will do for this country and let them know that pitting people against each other with issues that never had any place in this society won’t work either.
Letters to the Plough re: Republicanism and Sectarianism'.
Many of those opposed to the peace process welcomed the recent organisation of a hunger strike commemoration independent of any political party. It gave those who were and remain upset with Sinn Fein’s perceived ownership of Ireland’s patriot dead a chance to remember the sacrifices of the hunger strikers. While this was the case, I subsequently became aware that the most defining aspects of the commemoration was that it was entirely devoid of politics.
The composition of the commemoration itself was almost entirely made up of non-SF Republicans, for this reason it could very well be argued the de-politicisation of the parade is a direct consequence of the de facto dissolution of the Irish Republican Forum for Unity. After attending some of the IRFU public meetings, it became clear that politics was quite simply not on the table. It seemed that Republicans opposed to the status quo had no real interest in working together beyond prisoner issues and holding further commemorations while the world’s financial institutions collapsed around us.
For these reasons, I was sceptical of the commemoration but decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. While the parade marched through the city centre, past the bus stops to the Shankill and other predominantly Protestant areas it was met with barrages of abuse and although there was some from those on the march it paled in comparison.
On the return leg of the march from Dunville Park, as the Carrickhill flute band returned back to their area, it passed a small Protestant enclave. While the protest of the residents was dignified, further down the road at the bottom of the Shankill another protest of assembled Protestant youth jeered the parade, openly singing sectarian songs about being up to their knees in ‘fenian blood’ and missiles were thrown.
However, this was met by a response from some of the participants who threw missiles back and jeered, presumably as having ‘got one over’.
But this surely raises the question should Orange marches now be welcomed through predominately Catholic towns and villages and for that matter past Ardoyne shops because it just passes the area and there is no music played while passing?
This parade, although not sectarian in content was sectarian in consequence. The entire event was turned into a chance for the most backwards section of the Protestant youth to come out and display the ugly face of sectarianism. Additionally, it showed that on the nationalist side there is also a triumphalist tendency, not too dissimilar from the Orange Order’s coat trailing supporters.
I would appreciate if some of those behind the parade were prepared to debate this matter in the Plough.
(Name supplied to the Red Plough but withheld on request)
James Connolly Archive http://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly
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