Archive for August, 2009

Lying about Seán Garland

August 25, 2009

Here is the text of a thread I’ve started over on Politics.ie

Yesterday’s British Independent contained an article that contained a number of outright and ridiculous lies against Seán Garland, written by a journalist with a track record of writing stories that promote the discredited neo-con agenda. The lies contained in the article reveal the real truth about the attempt to extradite Seán Garland, and why we must oppose the Extradition.

The article claims that The Workers’ Party is a “far-left faction…that had never elected a single one of its members to any mainstream political body.”

This is a lie. In fact, The Workers’ Party at its height had 7 TDs and an MEP, as well asmany councillors north and south. It retains elected councillors to this day.

The article claims that “Garland was a lifelong terrorist who had personally engaged in deadly attacks on British soldiers and police in Northern Ireland since the 1950s, and whose exploits were said to have inspired Tom Clancy’s novel Patriot Games…in the 1990s, Garland…rejected the idea of a peace deal in favour of the continuation of bombings, bank robberies and other politically-motivated crimes.”

This is a lie. In fact, Garland was central to securing the (Official) IRA ceasefire in1972, and the transformation of the (Official) Republican Movement into a democratic socialist party. The Workers’ Party for decades has promoted Peace, Work, Democracy and Class Politics, and supported the Good Friday Agreement. Reverend Chris Hudson, the Chair of the campaign against the extradition and former organiser of the Peace Train movement, has stated that it is Garland’s long-term efforts to bring peace that persuaded him to become involved in the campaign.

The article claims that “Bills from the same series turned up a year later in Lebanon’s Bekka Valley, leading to suspicion that the supernote was being printed in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which needed foreign currency to fund an estimated $100 million a year in donations to Hezbollah and other terrorist organisations – who, as it happened, were being trained in bomb-making in Lebanon by Sean Garland. Intelligence analysts noted that Iran had taken delivery of two intaglio printing presses shortly before the fall of the Shah, who had sent a team of 20 master engravers to be trained by the Federal Bureau of Engraving in the US.”

This is a lie. In fact, Seán Garland is a revolutionary socialist. The Workers’ Party aims at the creation of a democratic, secular, socialist unitary state on the island of Ireland – a Republic. The Workers’ Party has been prominent in pushing for the secularisation of Irish society north and south. The idea that Seán Garland had any links to militant Islamists is laughable. And the idea that he was out in Lebanon teaching anyone how to make bombs is beneath contempt. The attempt to link Seán Garland to Islamism is designed to distract attention from a plausible alternative origin for the counterfeit notes that undercuts the neo-con case.

The rest of the article offers no evidence against Seán Garland, and is based largely on the assertions of a man so dedicated to neo-con politics that he resigned from the Bush regime on the grounds that it had gone soft.

The neo-cons lied to us all to start the war in Iraq. And they are lying to us to try and frustrate efforts to secure a peaceful settlement and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, and using lies against Seán Garland to further their agenda. We must remember that one of Condeleeza Rice’s last acts in the dying days of the Bush regime was to sign the extradition request against Seán Garland, knowing full well that it would raise tensions on the Korean peninsula, and make efforts at a peaceful settlement by the Koreans and the Obama regime more difficult. We must not be fooled by their lies.

The case against Seán Garland is non-existent – the neo-cons know that it would never stand up in an unbiased court. That is why they sought his extradition. Mention the words “Korea” and “Communism” in an American court, and a conviction is guaranteed. There is no chance of a fair trial. Garland is 75, and suffering several severe medical problems, including two forms of cancer. The attempt to extradite is a violation of natural justice.

That is why the campaign against the extradition has secured widespread support, from MEPs, TDs and Senators across the political spectrum, from FF, FG, Labour, SF and the SP. Garland has also secured the support of unionist politicians, as well as the trade unions, and prominent figures from the cultural sphere. The attempt to extradite Seán Garland is unjust. Add your voice to those opposing it. As we can see from this article, it is built on lies, and aimed solely at promoting the agenda of neo-cons whose lies have resulted in war before.

Click on the link to the Stop the Extradition of Seán Garland campaign to learn more, and sign the online petition against the extradition.

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Class Politics Versus Identity Politics

August 23, 2009

I’ve just put this post up at Cedar Lounge Revolution, but I’m sticking it up here too.

Interesting article from the current London Review of Books by Walter Benn Michaels, a professor of literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The article touches on some of the themes raised in this recent piece I wrote on the necessity for the left to concentrate on economic issues, specifically the failure of identity politics to address the fundamental importance in society of economic relations. The flavour of it may be guessed by the fact that Michaels has written a book entitled The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (which I am planning to order for myself in the near future).

Michaels starts by talking about how over the last forty years sexism, racism, and homophobia have declined in America, and obviously acknowledges this as a good thing. And then there is the ‘But’. And it is a big ‘But’.

But it would be a mistake to think that because the US is a less racist, sexist and homophobic society, it is a more equal society. In fact, in certain crucial ways it is more unequal than it was 40 years ago. No group dedicated to ending economic inequality would be thinking today about declaring victory and going home. In 1969, the top quintile of American wage-earners made 43 per cent of all the money earned in the US; the bottom quintile made 4.1 per cent. In 2007, the top quintile made 49.7 per cent; the bottom quintile 3.4.

He goes on to make another important point:

More generally, even if we succeeded completely in eliminating the effects of racism and sexism, we would not thereby have made any progress towards economic equality. A society in which white people were proportionately represented in the bottom quintile (and black people proportionately represented in the top quintile) would not be more equal; it would be exactly as unequal. It would not be more just; it would be proportionately unjust.

Michaels believes that the increasing intolerance for racism, sexism and homophobia is in accordance with the key ideas of neo-liberalism – to put it crudely, when Regan and co and later Bush and his cohorts argued for spreading democracy it wasn’t entirely a front for economic imperatives, but a genuine part of their world view, wherein legal equality and a heavily skewered version of meritocracy were key components of their ideal socieities. But, Michaels points out, just as it is intolerant of discrimination on grounds of gender, race or sexuality, so neoliberalism increases the tolerance of economic inequality.

Hence the extraordinary advances in the battle against discrimination, and hence also its limits as a contribution to any left-wing politics.

Couldn’t (and didn’t) put it any better myself. Michaels swiftly outdoes himself though.

But a diversified elite is not made any the less elite by its diversity and, as a response to the demand for equality, far from being left-wing politics, it is right-wing politics.

Exactly. Hence the facility with which so many seeming radicals obsessed with identity have shifted quickly into the realms of vacuous New Labour politics, if not further to the right.

Michaels singles out the US universities as an example of the inadequacies of identity politics, whereby the race for diversity covers up the failure to address economic inequality. In the UK, the same function is performed by Oxbridge admitting state school pupils whose social and economic background is by and large the same as those of their public school cohorts. In Harvard, which I think takes 40% legacy students (other colleges take more and won’t even reveal the figures), 9% of students are black – but only 7% are poor. Michaels uses the outrage over the recent arrest of Professor Gates in Harvard as indicative of the fact that anti-racism and anti-discrimination enables the elite to feel better about the possession of its wealth – if discrimination against peple is removed, then their wealth is because of their talent, not structural inequality. And the poor deserve to be poor.

in a society like Britain, whose GINI coefficient – the standard measure of income inequality – is the highest in the EU, the ambition to eliminate racial disparities rather than income inequality itself functions as a form of legitimation rather than as a critique.

I’d say that in Britain gender and sexuality would be more important than class, but the point holds.

Michaels’ article is itself a review of a report from January 2009 from the Runnymeade Trust, Who Cares about the White Working Class? The introduction by the report’s editor begins with the subtitle ‘Class Re-emerges in Political Discourse’. Reintroduced, apparently, by Harriet Harman of all people, in a speech to the TUC conference in September 2008. The report points out that when it has suited them, politicians and pressmen who object to the use of class as a political term when it smacks of increasing equality have expressed a great desire to ensure that the white working class is not left behind when they might support the causes of the xenophobic right. The introduction ends with the hope that it will

initiate a dialogue to ensure that a re-emergence of class onto the political agenda will not feed divisions, but promote equality for all.

And here we need to return to Michaels, to see how in the absence of clear class politics, the language of class can obfuscate rather than elucidate the challenges for the left.

In the event, however, what Who Cares about the White Working Class? actually provides is less an alternative to neoliberal multiculturalism than an extension and ingenious refinement of it. Those writing in this collection understand the ‘re-emergence of class’ not as a function of the increasing injustice of class (when Thatcher took office, the GINI score was 0.25; now it’s 0.36, the highest the UK has ever recorded) but as a function of the increasing injustice of ‘classism’. What outrages them, in other words, is not the fact of class difference but the ‘scorn’ and ‘contempt’ with which the lower class is treated.

Michaels highlights a dangerous tendency in what he calls ‘left neoliberalism’, whereby being working class is like being a member of an ethnic group, and that all that is needed is to treat them with respect rather than addressing the injustice that workers suffer.

The great virtue of this debate is that on both sides inequality gets turned into a stigma. That is, once you start redefining the problem of class difference as the problem of class prejudice – once you complete the transformation of race, gender and class into racism, sexism and classism – you no longer have to worry about the redistribution of wealth. You can just fight over whether poor people should be treated with contempt or respect. And while, in human terms, respect seems the right way to go, politically it’s just as empty as contempt.

Michaels points out how race in the US has functioned similarly to sectarian identity in Ireland. Poor whites have been encouraged to identity with the white elite, while poor racial minorities have been encouraged to identify with rich people of similar colour, and see their wealth as somehow reflecting well on them. Anyone familiar with Daniel O’Connell’s selling out of the forty-shilling freeholders, never mind the history of Northern Ireland, will recognise this pattern. At the same time, anti-discrimination in Michaels’ argument seeks to form a sense of solidarity between the liberal white academic and the African-American woman who cleans his office for a tenth of his salary. She is supposed to recognise that he values her as a person, and her culture as equal. And thus forget about the income disparity. Michaels doubts that she does, and he may well be right. But the problem for the left is that far too many people do buy into the myths of an unequal society. Again, Northern Ireland gives the perfect example.

So how can we apply Michaels’ argument to our own situation? Ireland is a changing society, with growing diversity in colour and culture among its inhabitants. That brings challenges, which are often met by placing people into pre-determined boxes, especially in NI, where we remain Protestant Atheists and Catholic Atheists in the census. And we must meet those challenges. And sections of the broad left are doing so. One of the issues on which trade unions have been active in the north of late is in reaching out to immigrant communities, and there is a burgeoning NGO sector (some of it state-funded) dealing with these communities. Several recent Workers’ Party Ard Fheiseanna have been addressed by representatives from immigrant communities too. But whereas The Workers’ Party maintains its focus very clearly on class, the same cannot be said for everybody. While Ireland changes and throws up new situations, the Left must place class at the centre of all it does, including issues surrounding immigrant communities and racism. We cannot allow ourselves to be sucked into the vacuous equality-speak of what Michaels terms the left neo-liberals. A case in point would be the complete mess that has been made of the NI Human Rights Bill by the Human Rights Commission, where at times it seems every interest group has been included to the detriment of the overall goal of providing a strong, simple, and clear Bill of Rights. As the diversity of Irish society grows, we must avoid the temptation to fall into the identity politics trap, as has happened so many before. Class is the fundamental division of society. We know that. We must remember it. And we must communicate that message at all opportunities.

The Economy and the Left at Cedar Lounge Revolution

August 17, 2009

I’ve put up a long post on the need for the left to re-engage seriously in economic thinking, and in attempting to re-create an independent left culture among working people.

The Real Face of Tory “Progressive” Politics

August 16, 2009

Yesterday’s Guardian had an interview with George Osborne. The Shadow Chancellor has taken to declaring that the Tories have taken over from Labour as the vehicle for progressive politics in the UK. He has been appointed to the advisory board of the think-tank Demos. So apparently some other people seem to think he is within the broad confines of the New Labour project. I’m not one of them.

Bad from a left-wing perspective as New Labour may be, there is a fundamental difference between them and the Tories, as has been revealed in both this interview and a story from today’s Observer about the Shadow Cabinet’s desire to destroy the NHS. Basically, New Labour has some sense of the importance of the state as a provider of services, and have some commitment to their albeit far too limited view of equality and fairness. A good example of this was Peter Mandelson’s response to Osborne’s claims. Now, we all know Mandelson is far from trustworthy, and the original master of Blairite spin. But he does a good job of bringing out the differences between himself and Osborne, and the reality of Cameron’s lick of shiny paint on the callous Thatcherite edifice.

When Cameron and Osborne took over, they promised to follow New Labour spending plans, and that they would maintain and improve public sector investments. This was an attempt to ape New Labour’s succesful attempt to convince middle England they could trust it with the budget by keeping their first term expenditure within Tory spending plans. Once the banking crisis hit, the mask slipped, and this language was dropped in favour of the Tory perennials of public sector reform and retrenchment. Apparently progressive politics now means a rhetorical commitment to public services while saving money. Something that did not pass unnoticed by the Guardian

Tory circles are abuzz with excitement about yet another chance to wage war on the big state, and usher in Cameron’s “post-bureaucratic age” even more zealously than the party leadership plan to. Tax rises have not been ruled out, though as Osborne recently put it, “the bulk of the strain in dealing with this debt crisis has to be cutting public spending”. Only health and international development have been ring-fenced – though today, when it comes to health spending, he says only that “we will work hard to protect it”.

Given the fact that it is precisely their public spending levels that have enabled the Germans and French to exit the recession, we can see that Osborne is motivated by the same cruel and heartless ideology as ever. It’s not quite the open class war rhetoric of Thatcherism, but as we can see, it’s not far from it.

“Maybe I’m being too optimistic,” he says. “There is an absolute resolution on behalf of the Conservative party that we will deal with this debt problem … I think we have demonstrated our toughness in sticking to our message. We are the people who said the government’s spending plans were unaffordable. We are the people who have talked to the country about the debt crisis and the Age of Austerity. No one should doubt that if they elect a Conservative government, we will deal with the public finances, and put them right.”
This time, there’s at least a glint of Thatcherite steel. “And if necessary, we are prepared to stand up to people who are in our path. But I begin with the hope that we can work with the public sector unions, and others, in trying to deal with this problem. Now, if they don’t want to have a discussion about pay restraint, and they don’t want to have a discussion about how we make public-sector pensions more affordable for future generations, then so be it.”

So how do his shadow cabinet colleagues see Tory progressive politics in action?

The Observer can reveal that leading Tory MPs – who include Cameron’s close ally Michael Gove – are listed alongside controversial MEP Daniel Hannan as co-authors of a book, Direct Democracy, which says the NHS “fails to meet public expectations” and is “no longer relevant in the 21st century”.
Others listed as co-authors in the book, published shortly after the 2005 general election, include shadow cabinet members Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt and frontbencher Robert Goodwill.

More than 20 Tory MPs and MEPs have given support to books by Hannon calling for the NHS to be scrapped. Hannon told Fox News that the NHS was a 60-year mistake. Charming. In my recent post on the sense of entitlement felt by the rich Tories who form Cameron’s inner circle, I expressed a hope that Labour would use the brayings of these arrogant elitists to their advantage in the forthcoming election campaign. Looks like it could be beginning to happen.

Gordon Brown last night broke off from his holiday to issue a statement declaring he would place the future of the NHS at the heart of the next election. “I will not stand by and see the NHS and its brilliant staff denigrated and undermined, whether that’s by the right wing in the United States or by their friends in the British Conservative party,” he said.

Let’s hope that Labour has the requisite moral courage to play on the social origins of Cameron’s crew. Not only are they incapable of understanding the lives of working people, they have no desire to do so, and feel contempt for the working poor, never mind the unemployed. The Tories have nothing to offer but pain for working people. This must be the message of the Left for the next election.

The History of Emotion

August 12, 2009

I’ve just put up a post on Cedar Lounge Revolution discussing some thoughts by Eric Hobsbawm on writing the history of emotion should anyone be interested.

Sense of Entitlement? Moi?

August 12, 2009

Another peak under the veil at the diseased and rotten face of “Dave” (Eton and Oxford) Cameron’s “Progressive” Conservatives. Alan Duncan (Merchant Taylor’s Independent School and Oxford), Shadow Leader of the Commons, has been recorded complaining that after the expenses scandal MPs are being badly treated. Duncan has had to pay back £4,000. Here are the choicest of his remarks.

No one who’s done anything in the outside world or is capable of doing such a thing will ever come into this place ever again the way we’re going.
You have to live on rations and you are treated like shit.

Duncan has attempted to laugh these remarks off as a joke, but they demonstate the extent to which the Tories remain the same nasty party. The party of the privileged for the privileged. The reality is that MPs earn a lot of money. They have access to all sorts of other benefits such as employment with companies who want an MP on the pay role. And when they retire on their generous pensions, it’s not unusual for them to continue in profitable appointment as consultants and what have you. But, if you are born to wealth and privilege as Cameron’s shadow cabinet overwhelmingly has been, then it seems you view the institutions of democracy with contempt, as an impediment that stops you from the real business of making money and exercising the power you perceive as your birthright. Let’s just hope that Labour – deeply flawed as it is – is able to put such remarks to effective use come the election.

USi Protest Against Fees, TCD August 12th at 12pm

August 11, 2009

From the USI website, which doesn’t give the date, though Indymedia gives it as August 12th at 12 pm outside Trinity College.

Angry members of the USI will voice their strong opposition to education minister Batt O’Keefe’s proposals to implement a graduate tax or deferred loan system onthe students of Ireland.

This event will coincide with the release of the Leaving Certificate results, whenthousands of young people discover how they performed in the State exams.

USI President Peter Mannion said:

“This is a time when students should be excited about receivingtheir Leaving Certificate results and going to college to study their chosensubjects, but many thousands of young people will be signing up to a systemwhere their futures come with a hefty mortgage.

If the Minister of Education gets his way, these studentswill be liable to pay tens of thousands of Euros in future for a degree. It isgrossly unfair that these young people, who expected to receive a freeeducation just over a year ago, will now be targeted with fees.”

Support the USI and SAY NO TO FEES!

Black is Still Black, Not White.

August 11, 2009

Cheeky git.

Red Dawn Once More

August 10, 2009

It’s been a while since I put up a film post. And this isn’t going to be a review, though I’m hoping to do one soon. Anyway, I have to confess I’m somewhat startled by the news that Cold War paranoia/teen movie Red Dawn is being remade. And starring Tom Cruise’s son no less. I remember enjoying this film when I was a child – the thought of urinating into a car’s water tank was a particularly stiking one for my class at school – and then as I got older, the sight of communist boots on American soil provoked ‘if only’ reveries. So I’d be quite interested to see how the remake plans to deal with the communist menace rampant once more.

Alas, I am to be disappointed. It turns out that the main invaders will be the Chinese, later assisted by the Russians. So while there may well be some hint of fighting communism, clearly this will be more of a straightforward great power struggle. However, I’ll probably watch it at some point anyway. Let’s hope the planned remake of Robocop proves more satisfactory.

SIPTU Protest September 30th

August 9, 2009

Picked this up off Cedar Lounge Revolution

Dear Member,

Please find attached the first national SIPTU Community Sector newsletter. This will be a quarterly publication to keep you informed of the organising campaign to build your union.

As part of the campaign a major protest is being organised against the critical underfunding in the sector and the savage cuts proposed by Colm McCarthy’s “Bord Snip Nua” report. We are encouraging all workers, activists and communities to make every effort to show you support on:

Wednesday 30th September
1pm
Parnell Square, Dublin 1

We will be marching to the Dáil to deliver our message directly to Government. Please circulate the newsletter and protests details to your colleagues.

Further protests outside Dublin will be announced in the coming weeks.

If you have any queries, please contact your local branch or the Community Campaign at 1890 747 881.

Regards,

SIPTU Community Campaign
______________________________
Darragh O’Connor
Community Sector Lead Organiser
SIPTU
Liberty Hall
Dublin 1

T: 01 – 858 6365
F: 01 – 8749115
http://www.siptu.ie/community
http://www.youtube.com/user/siptucommunity