Archive for the ‘The Left’ Category
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial. Even by the standards of the late 1960s and early 1970s (batoning civil rights marches, August 1969, the Falls curfew, Bloody Sunday to name but a few), internment was immensely reactionary and incredibly stupid. The introduction of internment against not just Republicans and Provisionals but a wide range of civil rights activists and perceived opponents of the regime resulted in a swift escalation of violence, deepened divisions, and proved just how politically and morally bankrupt the Unionist regime was. The fact that the British Army took the opportunity to test sensory deprivation on a dozen prisoners (as well as more run of the mill forms of torture being applied on a more widespread basis) just made matters worse. For anyone interested in the details of internment and the torture experiments, I’d recommend reading online the now-deceased ex-internee and anarchist John McGuffin’s books Internment (1973) and Guinea Pigs (1974, 1981).
As we know, internment provoked widespread opposition. Just how widespread was shown by the fact that from January to July 1972, the Irish Times carried a regular column from inside Long Kesh (the Letters from Long Kesh), written by Des O’Hagan, a member of the NICRA Executive and leading member of the Republican Clubs in Belfast. 22 Letters appeared. This outraged some of its more traditional constituency, including one member of the board of O’Hagan’s employer before he was lifted, Stranmillis College, who wrote to the Irish Times to say that he was a life-long reader, but now would stop buying the paper due to the publication of the Letters from Long Kesh. Douglas Gageby, however, kept publishing them regardless. On the other hand, another correspondent believed that the humanity, eye for detail, and sense of humour in the Letters betrayed signs of genius, and stated that
I would think that a collection of some kind of O’Hagan’s prison journals would be one good thing that could be salvaged from Internment.
And (better late than never) the Letters from Long Kesh are being republished for the 40th anniversary of internment. From the press release:
The Letters are a unique and invaluable contemporary account of life among the internees. They recount the reaction of the internees to some of the major events during the most bloody and tragic year of the Troubles, including Bloody Sunday (which occurred during an anti-internment march), the escalating bombing campaign, and the suspension of Stormont.
They also reveal the daily rhythm of life as an internee – the cold, the banter among the men, the battles with the authorities for better facilities, the close friendships, the political debates, the sense of helplessness as events spiralled outside the prison walls, the efforts
to ensure the availability of drink for St Patrick’s Day, the struggle against depression, the arguments over who made the tea – all told with compassion and an engaging sense of humour.
The Letters (which have an introduction and annotations) cost a fiver, and more information can be got by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
I am including one of the Letters below, from February 19th 1972.
SECURITY AS USUAL DURING IMPROVEMENTS
(OR THE CASE OF THE BOOKLESS LIBRARY)
The celebration of the first six months of internment (one sincerely hopes that this is not going to be a spectacular bi-annual event competing with Easter parades, the Twelfth and other illegal promenades) has prompted me to review the improvements in the amenities of Long Kesh; possibly also readers are interested in the ethos of the camp as I understand it, and this, I can categorically state, has not altered in any way.
Let me say at the outset that I now feel, as one of the reluctant pioneers of what I am afraid must be regarded as not an entirely successful project, a certain attachment – or rather a faint quickening of Behan’s “curious quickening” – for my present home.
On that account my judgments may tend to lack objectivity, but I hope that these proffered comments are not construed as simply malicious or vindictive. In a sense then, this is in the nature of a half-term report which could be of some use to future architects of similar schemes (though I would be the first to recommend that any tentative plans be scrapped and a less contentious form of public diversion be substituted). There is probably some demand for another Stormont, a minor royal residence or a new employment exchange.
It is in the nature of things where one day is remarkably like another that small changes should assume major dimensions. For example the decision by someone up there that boots should be provided for the internees is a welcome index that our dialogues with the camp bureaucrats actually do at times go beyond the barbed wire boundaries. Complaints, demands, requests are normally met by an intransigent negative, regularly described in the phrase “for security reasons.” But the boots are more important in another, far more serious, sense because of the gigantic international plot revealed by Dr. Paisley some years ago, when he divined in the Civil Rights Association a conspiracy born from the Machiavellian marriage of Moscow and Rome. Dr. Paisley was as usual correct, as I discovered last week.
The latest edition of ICTU’s Union Post is out, and includes extensive reporting on the recent ICTU conference, as well as reports on various strikes and agitations across the island and further afield (including the recent open letter from Jack O’Connor, Eamon Devoy and Jimmy Kelly opposing the extradition of Seán Garland). The reports on the conference include the differing positions taken by different prominent trade unionists on social partnership and debates on government policy north and south. Interesting and important reading for leftists.
Good interview by Alan in Belfast with John Lowry, Workers’ Party west Belfast candidate, as party of his series talking to the smaller parties.
TRADE UNIONS CALL ON ALL CITIZENS TO STAND UP FOR PEACE
The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions calls on all workers and their families to show their outrage at the barbaric murder of constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh last weekend.
Please meet at Belfast City Hall, at 1pm, on Wednesday 6th April 2011
Peter Bunting, Assistant General Secretary of the ICTU, said: ““The murder of Police Officer Ronan Kerr in Omagh was an attack on a brave public servant and therefore an attack on every worker who serves the community and works towards a better future.
“The assassins targeted Constable Kerr because he was Catholic, and that makes this a sectarian murder, deliberately aimed at intimidating one section of the community.
“All citizens must stand together to show that we will not be intimidated by violence or threats from armed groups who should now publicly disband
“This public event being organised by the Trade Union Movement is open to all citizens, the vast majority of whom support the democracy we have achieved in this region. We all depend upon the maintenance of peace, democracy and justice.
“We urge all people who can attend the short event at Belfast City Hall at 1pm on Wednesday 6th April to do so.”
The following is taken from the WP website.
International Women’s Day Rally, Bray, Co Wicklow
Speech by Valerie Hayes
Workers’ Party Central Executive Committee
Sadly, International Women’s Day 2011 in Ireland is not a cause for major celebration. Undoubtedly there has been significant progress over the last century and specifically over the last 40 years. But the objective of true equality has never been reached, and now that objective faces new and severe pressure.
We are all aware of the global crisis of capitalism which has engulfed whole continents over the last few years. We can see around us the devastation wreaked by that collapse in mass unemployment, ghost estates, rising emigration and the infamous EU/IMF deal. We know that the mantra from the right which says we are in all this together is a downright lie and a deliberate political deception. As ever there is a clear class divide. The rich still get richer and the workers carry the can. Bankers still get bonuses and we get swingeing cutbacks. But it must be said clearly that the burden of the recession falls disproportionally on women, and that the 2011 budget in particular was profoundly anti-woman.
Women make up by far the greatest percentage of low paid and part-time workers in the economy. Tourism, retail, services, and hospitality sector have always employed large numbers of women on a part time and often seasonal basis. They are all notorious industries for low pay, bad conditions and operating within the black economy. Traditionally also these industries have actively and viciously discouraged trade union membership amongst the workforce.
The one Euro reduction in the hourly minimum wage, representing a real cutback of 12% was, therefore, largely an attack on women. Not only was it an attack on women, it was an attack on the most vulnerable section of women in the workforce. As can be seen from the recent dispute in the Davenport Hotel many of the lowest paid women have come from other EU countries to work here. They may have language problems, no family to act as support; and a fear of joining the Trade Union Movement because of threats of victimisation. While we may celebrate at the success of the Davenport strikers we must ask how many other bosses have not been highlighted, have not been brought to the Labour Court and have succeeded in slashing already meagre wages.
One of the more despicable cuts in the December budget was the cut in the carers’ allowance. This revealed the real contempt which the Fianna Fáil / Green Party / PD rump had developed for the vulnerable in this society. This contempt is most evident when the cut in the carers’ allowance is contrasted with the cushy deal offered to already over-paid consultants and the big-wigs in the HSE hierarchy. We realise of course that the attack on carers was not gender neutral. The vast majority of carers are women, so the vast majority of the victims of that cynical cutback are women.
Right throughout Budget 2011 we can see the same anti-women bias. From cutbacks in community projects and the community development programme to changes in pension entitlement for public servants, that bias is evident. In Cameron’s England the very same pattern emerges. In Stormont, Sammy Wilson MLA, Minister for Finance in the Sinn Féin / DUP Executive, has just last weekend produced an equally regressive budget.
Tomorrow in the Republic we will have a new government, a grand coalition of Fine Gael and Labour with 66% of Dáil seats between them. We already know their programme for government. While it is carefully crafted for the catchy soundbite and the occasional sweetener, I see no solution there for our problems. The incoming government totally avoids tackling wealth and inequality; avoids tackling the robbery of our natural resources; avoids any radical decisions on either the banks or the bailout. So, as I said we may have a sweetener like the restoration of the minimum wage, but will we get the retention of the REA for the pub, hotel, and catering trade?
It is as important now as it was in 1910 when Clara Zetkin, secretary of the organisation International Socialist Women, organised the first International Women’s day conference that women are organised in all the progressive political, social, and trade union movements. Women must be to the forefront of the socialist movement. We must not allow this economic crisis and the brutality of the capitalist response to sap our energy. If we continue to organise and struggle we still have so much to gain. On the other hand if we relax and cease our vigilance we have so much to lose. We cannot cease now, we cannot surrender now. The struggle for equality and freedom continues.
There has been an ongoing debate simmering in the Communist Party of the United States of America over its future direction. There have been sharp differences of opinion over the correct attitude to and significance of Obama’s election, and how the CP should try and address itself to ongoing developments. There has been talk that some within the leadership would like to change the name of the Party, or to go into a broader left formation, while others remain wedded to the more traditional view of what the CP is, and what it is for. It’s not clear where all this is going, but Sam Webb, the Chair of the CPUSA, has recently published an article outlining his personal views on some of these questions, A Party of Socialist in the 21st Century: What it Looks Like, What it Says, and What it Does. Needless to say, it makes for interesting reading. Although it is clearly addressed to the situation in the US, it raises issues for the left everywhere. It makes arguments regarding both theory and practice that challenge traditional assumptions among communists. It’s a long document made up of 29 different points, but what does it boil down to?
Just put this up on Cedar Lounge Revolution too.
The prospect of a new Eric Hobsbawm book is always one to pique your interest. And today in the Observer, there is an interview with Hobsbawm on How To Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism. Unfortunately, the interview is conducted by Tristam Hunt MP, but still makes for interesting reading (there’s another, and shorter, interview in the New Statesman, and a review in the Daily Telegraph here). I have to say though that one’s confidence in the publishers and those writing about it is slightly diminished by the fact no-one seems to have noticed it is 162 years since The Communist Manifesto was published, and not Das Kapital.
So what is the book about? It is a collection of previously published and new essays, including, Hunt tells us, “some fine new chapters on the meaning of Gramsci”. Hobsbawm seems to be arguing that the current crisis has breathed new life not only into interest in Marx, but also into the possibility of systemic change, though he is unclear as to how it might come about.
he rediscovery of Marx in this period of capitalist crisis is because he predicted far more of the modern world than anyone else in 1848. That is, I think, what has drawn the attention of a number of new observers to his work – paradoxically, first among business people and business commentators rather than the left. I remember noticing this just around the time of the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Communist Manifesto, when not very many plans were being made for celebrating it on the left. I discovered to my amazement that the editors of the [in-flight] magazine of United Airlines said they wanted to have something about the Manifesto. Then, a bit later on, I was having lunch with [financier] George Soros, who asked: “What do you think of Marx?” Even though we don’t agree on very much, he said to me: “There’s definitely something to this man.”
Hobsbawm sees the resurgence of Marx as coming about in particular from the fact that the crisis has proven neo-liberal economic orthodoxy completely wrong – we are in a crisis of a kind it said could not happen, in his view. The collapse of the USSR and associated countries, in Hobsbawm’s view, by removing a lot of the passion from the situation, allowed people to look at Marx afresh. Globalisation has become the victim of its own success.
You see, in a sense, the globalised economy was effectively run by what one might call the global north-west [western Europe and North America] and they pushed forward this ultra-extreme market fundamentalism. Initially, it seemed to work quite well – at least in the old north-west – even though from the start, you could see that at the periphery of the global economy it created earthquakes, big earthquakes. In Latin America, there was a huge financial crisis in the early 1980s. In the early 1990s, in Russia, there was an economic catastrophe. And then towards the end of the century, there was this enormous, almost global, breakdown ranging from Russia to [South] Korea, Indonesia and Argentina. This began to make people think, I feel, that there was a basic instability in the system that they had previously dismissed.
Hobsbawm continues his in his view that one of the main consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union has been the destruction of any meaningful form of social democracy.
In fact, one of the things I’m trying to show in the book is that the crisis of Marxism is not only the crisis of the revolutionary branch of Marxism but in the social democratic branch too. The new situation in the new globalised economy eventually killed off not only Marxist-Leninism but also social democratic reformism – which was essentially the working class putting pressure on their nation states. But with globalisation, the capacity of the states to respond to this pressure effectively diminished. And so the left retreated to suggest: “Look, the capitalists are doing all right, all we need to do is let them make as much profit and see that we get our share.”
That worked when part of that share took the form of creating welfare states, but from the 1970s on, this no longer worked and what you had to do then was, in effect, what Blair and Brown did: let them make as much money as possible and hope that enough of it will trickle down to make our people better off.
The significance, he says, of the current crisis is that living standards are clearly failling once again, and so the question of reformism will emerge once more.
Again, he continues with a pre-existing line, namely his argument that the traditional proletariat is no longer sufficient to change society on its own. Instead, it must form the backbone of progressive alliances. Hence Hobsbawm stating that
Today, ideologically, I feel most at home in Latin America because it remains the one part of the world where people still talk and conduct their politics in the old language, in the 19th- and 20th-century language of socialism, communism and Marxism.
Against some of the more excitable comments about the student protests, Hobsbawm questions the extent of the shift in student consciousness and reminds Hunt that the last major student protests (i.e. 1968) didn’t actually amount to all that much (an argument I have a great deal of sympathy for). In another argument I have some sympathy for, he seems unimpressed with Zizek as well.
I suppose Zizek is rightly described as a performer. He has this element of provocation that is very characteristic and does help to interest people, but I’m not certain that people who are reading Zizek are actually drawn very much nearer rethinking the problems of the left.
Hobsbawm, like everybody else on the left, feels that the coalition is taking the opportunity provided by the crisis to pursue a Thatcherite ideological agenda.
Behind the various cuts being suggested, with the justification of getting rid of the deficit, there clearly seems to be a systematic, ideological demand for deconstructing, semi-privatising, the old arrangements – whether it’s the pension system, welfare system, school system or even the health system. These things in most cases were not actually provided for either in the Conservative or the Liberal manifesto and yet, looking at it from the outside, this is a much more radically rightwing government than it looked at first sight.
I don’t think I’d agree with the remark that the government didn’t look this rightwing from the start. I think that was an illusion about Clegg and the Orange book LibDems, and perhaps even about Cameron, that some of the British centre-left allowed themselves to indulge in, culminating of course in the Guardian’s deluded and foolish call for progressives to vote LibDem. Hobsbawm calls for the Labour Party to concentrate on defending public services from cradle to the grave, and pointing to improvements it made in power. In other words, to move further to the left than Ed Miliband has positioned it so far.
Hunt points out that Hobsbawm’s book’s final paragraph notes that
the supersession of capitalism still sounds plausible to me
. Hobsbawm’s response suggests that he believes a move to socialism unlikely, but that he thinks the neo-liberal era may well be left in the past.
The record of Karl Marx, an unarmed prophet inspiring major changes, is undeniable. I’m quite deliberately not saying that there are any equivalent prospects now. What I’m saying now is that the basic problems of the 21st century would require solutions that neither the pure market, nor pure liberal democracy can adequately deal with. And to that extent, a different combination, a different mix of public and private, of state action and control and freedom would have to be worked out.
What you will call that, I don’t know. But it may well no longer be capitalism, certainly not in the sense in which we have known it in this country and the United States.
In a sense then, there’s not a lot new in this interview, and probably not a lot new in terms of Hobsbawm’s views on contemporary politics, as noted by the Telegraph review. I suspect that for the CLR audience, those of us who read it will find the more historical, philosophical or interpretive reflections on Marx and his followers as being of more interest than Hobsbawm’s political message, which seems perhaps unduly limited and perhaps defeatist.
The following is a statement by The Workers’ Party on the current situation in the Republic on the anniversary of Theobald Wolfe Tone’s death.
Theobald Wolfe Tone, the father of anti-sectarian Irish Republicanism, died on the 19th November 1798. Today (Friday) is his 212th anniversary.
Today is also the day on which Fianna Fáil, the loudly self-proclaimed Republican Party, totally have surrendered the last vestige of meaningful republicanism.
Since their return to power in 1997 Fianna Fáil have run this country in the interests of bankers and speculators. When the Celtic Tiger property bubble inevitably burst two years ago, Fianna Fáil immediately went to the aid of the banking-speculator axis. Since that time they have ruthlessly cut wages, slashed services, and borrowed internationally, to support this failed strategy.
The freedom to decide our own budget is one of the basic cornerstones of a sovereign state. Today, with the arrival of the second tranche of the IMF heavy-gang that freedom disappeared. No matter what way it is glossed over, the Irish Finance Minister will, for the foreseeable future dance to an IMF tune. The voice which delivers the budget speech may well be Irish, but the script will be all New York.
The surrender of our sovereignty is an insult to every Irish person. The lies and verbal contortions of FF ministers over the last week is a further insult to the people. The co-incidence of these events on the anniversary of Wolfe Tone is an insult too far. Tone, in his time knew that to trust the fate of the country in a rich elite would lead to disaster, and in his own words, stated: “Our independence must be had at all hazards. If the men of property will not support us, they must fall; we can support ourselves by the aid of that numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property”.
Now, more than ever, the Workers’ Party calls on the men and women of no property, the Irish working class, to unite to defend our interests, protect our resources and promote a decent future for ourselves and for our children.
This is taken from the WP website here
“Speaking at the ICTU rally outside Dáil Éireann today, Malachy Steenson (Workers’ Party Dublin PRO) stated that he welcomed today’s action and particularly welcomed the fact that it was part of an EU wide day of action.
“Capitalism” stated Malachy Steenson “is a worldwide phenomenon; the crisis in capitalism is a worldwide phenomenon, and the brutal attack by capitalism on workers and their families to pay for this crisis is, likewise, a worldwide phenomenon. Therefore the response must be international. That is why the initiative by ETUC is important and on the next occasion such an event occurs then we in Ireland should aim to emulate Spain and organise an all-out and effective one day strike”.
“We know that in Ireland there were certain factors that have made the crisis worse here that in many other countries. The property bubble, the tax evasion, the non-existent banking regulation all turned an international crisis into a national catastrophe. The incompetents who sleep-walked us into this situation are still in power, and those waiting in the wings to get their hands on the Mercs and Perks have given no indication that they have an original or radical proposal between them”.
“What we have seen however is that the greed and avarice of the capitalist class has not abated. Not only do the bankers and property speculators want us to bail the country out of the they got us into but now they want to get their greedy paws on the only valuable assets left in the Irish state coffers – the publicly owned commercial companies. Already Fianna Fail and the Greens have set the ball rolling on this process and Colm McCarthy, of Bord Snip Nua fame, has been given the job of facilitating this process”.
“On behalf of the Workers Party I want to declare that we will oppose tooth and nail the handover of public companies to the failed private sector. We are in the present dire situation because the private sector has failed. Publicly owned, semi-state commercial companies are being successful. These companies” concluded Malachy “belong to the Irish people and if they are allowed to develop and flourish these companies can be the basis for economic regeneration and long-term sustainable development.”