The Silence of the Hawks

Around forty-eight hours ago, Man From Dáil Monte Éamon Ó Cuív (I think you’ll find that last letter is repugnant to do teanga binn féin, Eamo) announced plans to put the idle poor to work in the flowerbeds, crèches and swimming pools of Ireland, in the hope that some of them will patriotically drop dead or show up late, thus paying a NAMA executive’s frappucino allowance for half a lunchtime.

Twenty-four hours later, with the brazen nonchalance of a man informing his wife that the lost kitten he’s adopted is going to grow up to be a tiger, the full (acknowledged) extent of Anglo Irish Bank’s appetite for public money was revealed.

The response of the official opposition (the Labour Party, the trade unions and the NGOcracy) was to welcome the former and deplore the capacity of the latter to give the neurotic ratings agencies an attack of the vapours.

The seething of the Left was, for the most part, silent. Possibly the liberal think-tank TASC, in its dauntless quest to reform capitalism one piechart at a time, commissioned some report, although I’m sure Michael Taft will have something genuinely enlightening to say on both matters in due course. The Workers’ Party did, in fairness, put out same-day press releases, albeit some time after the events.

Neither the website of the Socialist Party nor that of the SWP contains a word about these latest fronts in the ongoing class-war-from-above. The Communist Party and even the Shinners are equally silent.

Of course, the web is not the be-all and end-all, but if no press releases are visible there, it suggests none were issued (carried or otherwise) to the media. If form is any guide, the Socialist Party will have a forensic, well-written and highly agitational statement out sometime in the middle of next week, when both issues have bleeped off the news radar.

I realise that those involved in these parties (unlike me) put in Trojan and indispensable work in that nebulous terrestrial arena known as “the ground”; but there’s a war on here, and only one side is getting its message across.

That’s why I believe, as I recently discussed beneath Hugh Green’s excellent post on these matters, that the time for a permanent Left presence in the media has long since come, preferably in the form of a national newspaper and/or radio station. Look Left is a step in the right direction, but steps in the right direction are so inadequate at this stage as to be effectively worthless.

The value of material, credible resistance of thought and deed is underestimated by some on the Left, I fear. I’m not talking about theoretical journals in which party members recount in painstaking detail the results of their latest bout of intellectual necrophilia with Marx or Gramsci, I’m talking about a tribune the very presence of which encourages ordinary people to believe that alternatives exist and that resistance is possible.

The cast-iron class affiliation and shameless propagandising of the Irish media are there for all to see. But the Irish media does have one redeeming feature; its supreme intellectual laziness. If you put yourself out there as a credible organisation or publication with credible talking heads who give good radio, it will offer you the oxygen of publicity despite itself (Richard Boyd Barrett, for all his faults, understands this better than does Joe Higgins, for example.)

Visible resistance at both the intellectual and political levels would have made this a very different crisis indeed. In fact, I would go so far as to claim that a late-eighties-style complement of Left TDs might have caused mass disaffiliations from ICTU over the Croke Park deal and made the government think twice about the Christmas Bonus abolition, workfare and possibly even aspects of NAMA itself. A media presence comes a poor second to political representation, but streaks in streets ahead of a chorus of faint and discordant voices mumbling out of tune and out of time on the sidelines.

I’m willing to lend my services as a faceless internet nobody to any debate/discussion/exploration of this proposal. I realise it’s pretty much asking the earth. But I also realise that, without it, we’re fighting with both hands tied behind our backs and our chins jutting out, precisely when the voiceless poor need organs of defence more exigently than ever.

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32 Responses to “The Silence of the Hawks”

  1. Donagh Says:

    If you can spare a moment from your Labour and ICTU bashing (not that you don’t have valid criticisms) why not write a decent article yourself.

    Nice ads by the way….I should get me some Sky TV.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      In the unlikely event of my ever writing a decent article, where would I put it? That’s sort of the point I’m making here.

      I presume you’re seeing ads (I’m not) because I’m WordPress-hosted. Don’t feel particularly inclined to apologise for not shelling out for a domain in present circumstances.

  2. C. Flower Says:

    What have you got in mind DublinDilettante ? Personally, I’d say steer clear of newspapers as they eat lives and fortunes. How feasible is radio? I like the idea of it.

    What about some kind of clearing house too – to fire off timely comment from the left to mainstream media, givng the thinly-stretched lefts an easier way to get their Press Releases out?

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      Printed publications have precisely the effect you describe. The circulation of the Independent is still frightening, however. Make no mistake about it, it was INM and RTÉ that killed public sector resistance, as surely as the collaborationist leadership did.

      A radio station is more feasible and has more obvious crossover potential with national radio stations.

      Excellent idea on the clearing house. Could be done for equivalent cost of one party full-timer…

  3. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    DD, write something for LookLeft. I’m guessing you know the people to contact but if not I’m sure Garibaldy could steer you in the right direction.

    I’m not sure the Left needs more outlets to be honest, there’s so much English language analysis/commentary being produced that it’s hard to keep on top of. What we need here in this state is some collaboration between people and organisations to get a critical mass going in one broad Left publication or one on-line outlet that is a compelling read for people rather than the myriad of blogs and party-specific publications. The latter are all useful and interesting to us anoraks but are not really targeted at people who want light touch commentary. I’m not of a vintage to remember it but there was a DC-TV piece on the Irish People paper (WP publication) which sounds like it was hitting the right spots in that regard.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      What we need here in this state is some collaboration between people and organisations to get a critical mass going in one broad Left publication or one on-line outlet that is a compelling read for people rather than the myriad of blogs and party-specific publications.

      That’s what I’m saying, LATC! Although I’m not sure a website would be of much use in itself. Quite apart from the number of people a national outlet might reach, it would also cross-pollinate with other media outlets and challenge the consensus in that way.

    • C. Flower Says:

      I’m a little sceptical of the possiblity any left party committing resources to an outlet over which it didn’t have control. Basically, the left parties are up against each other more acutely than they are up against the commercial press.

      It’s not only a matter of getting word out quickly to millions of people.
      Left media is needed for theoretical discourse just as much as for countering RTE propoganda: more, really.

      Given the very small resources, a first step would be to work better with what we have. A good aggregator of left blogs would be a start, as would a clearing house. Also, having spokespeople ready and available for radio and tv interviews and statements. If the Press can’t find someone to go on a slot in half an hour, they give up. This was a constant issue in the last Referendum.

      What we do have, that shouldn’t be underestimated, are websites, blogs. social media sites and forums, that didn’t exist 10 years ago. The audience is limited, but interested, its free and instant.

      FF is systematic in keeping an on-line presence of forums, but if you want to get an input from any left party, it’s pot luck if they show up, and when they do its often unofficial and you don’t know if its the party line or not.

      Political World has a policy of allowing people to start threads with Press releases and also of posting events in our calendar. There’s been a long-running thread on left liaison. We also have a subforum for any political group that wants one. The door is open to all.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      Well, Look Left itself is an experiment in ecumenicism from the Workers’ Party, so your scepticism on that may be misplaced. I disagree with your other points, I’m afraid. It IS a matter of countering RTÉ propaganda. There’s no point in having a finely-polished and internally consistent theory all dressed up with nowhere to go.

      The print and broadcast media still form opinion and frame the terms of debate, blogs and forums are primarily useful for reinforcing one’s own prejudices (although they can educate and inspire, but not broadly enough to be societally significant.)

    • C. Flower Says:

      Does Look Left have a cross-party Editorial Board? i haven’t looked at it yet, so I can’t express a view on how broad a political church it includes.

      It sounds to me like a journal intended for and suited to exactly the kind of internal political debate that’s much needed – I’m talking about robust debate and not an echo chamber.

      A seasonal journal is not going to become mass media just yet.

      The possibility is there of reaching masses of people through taking advantage of the opportunities that can be made via the existing mass media. That means exactly what I said – that the newsdesks and researchers must have a ready list of people they can contact who will give a left viewpoint and act as spokespeople at very short notice. Rossport has been a debacle, with the Cusack version of history going down at least in part because there’s no coherent alternative reportage coming out.

      I didn’t dismiss the need for reaching large numbers at all, but there’s no great political clarity in evidence at the moment, and the risk remains that a good strategy for reaching masses of people would be entirely wasted if there wasn’t political clarity and relevance communicated through it.

      Left media should develop at the pace of the movement itself or not too far from it.

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:

      I’m with DD on that. We need to find the common ground on the Left and reach out to the depoliticised in society with a vision that’s backed up by analysis and compelling critique of the orthodoxy. Not to diminish the importance of debate within the Left and the necessity of educating the party membership etc., but the bigger battle is for the hearts and minds of the masses. We have enough of the theoretical debate, or at least we can handle that via blogs and web forums etc., that caters for people with a deep interest, but what we really need is the propaganda for mass distribution and mass consumption.

  4. Garibaldy Says:

    There was talk about ten, fifteen years ago among the Communist and Workers’ parties about perhaps starting a Europe-wide progressive radio station but it proved impossible. I know that some of the bigger European CPs have a TV or radio presence in their own countries. I think webTv or webRadio is the most realistic way that the Irish left could do that, and even then it would be at most for a few hours a day. But if that could be done, there may well be room for expansion from there.

    I’m sure LookLeft would be glad to hear from you DD. As you say yourself, it’s only a step in the right direction, but the best way to improve it is for as many people as possible to become involved in it. Writing for it, promoting it to others, and buying it. It will never serve the function a daily paper or tv station would serve, but it can play an important role.

  5. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    Garibaldy, it’s a pity that the Communist & Workers’ parties didn’t get their act together a decade ago, though in fairness the timing was probably all wrong in that the Left was probably more on the back foot then during a time of boom than it is even now, despite the current austerity attacks on the working class. Are there any internationalist support mechanisms in place for stronger parties to provide assistance to comradely organisations? By stronger parties I mean those with bigger mass membership and critical mass of theoretical and technical expertise within their parties, those with human and capital resources in relative abundance. Not saying that parties in other jurisdictions don’t have their own battles to fight, but the relative weakness of the Left here in terms of resources could be compensated by international assistance to some degree.

    • Garibaldy Says:

      LATC,

      There is some cooperation along those lines, though the mechanisms for cooperation could doubtless be improved. The Portugese, for example, have developed their own operating system. It’s not all just from big going to small One of the things The WP international department does is work on the English for the documents of the international meetings of communist and workers’ parties.

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:

      Good to know there is some collaboration at least. I’m inclined to believe we’d benefit from more all the same. Not suggesting that we need another saga like the letter to the CPSU by any means, but in the spirit of internationalism one might expect the bigger CPs / WPs to maybe give the local organisations a bit of a boost? What with Anglo-Irish bank being the next Lehmans by all accounts, one might like to believe that it might be in the interests of global socialism to focus some effort on what is clearly a weak link in global capitalism right here under our noses. You know, if we really wanted to push capitalism over the edge this is one of the places where the house of cards is relatively vunerable to tumbling down.

  6. Donagh Says:

    I’ve a challenge for you DD. Why not write a 800 word article on the Workfare thing for Look Left which attacks the government without it being an attack Labour (although of course you’d have to deal with the response of the parties and Labour deserve a kicking on that score). I think you should be able to manage something worth printing in 800 words, although I’d leave the decision about whether its decent or not to the editors of Look Left.

    Here’s some resources you seem to have missed which might give you a hand out.
    http://www.progressive-economy.ie/2010/08/why-do-we-pay-people-social-welfare.html

    http://eapnireland.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/workfare-wont-work-for-the-unemployed/

    http://eapnireland.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/workfare-wont-work-for-the-unemployed/

    http://www.examiner.ie/ireland/anti-poverty-network-attacks-social-employment-proposal-129370.html

    It would have more credibility if you used your real name, but that’s up to you.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      (This was hiding in the pending queue, WordPress is evidently a bit nervous about large numbers of links.)

      I don’t think the notion of evil neoliberal scum acting like evil neoliberal scum is one that’s especially ripe for elucidation amongst Left activists and sympathisers; the misguided belief that Labour represent an alternative remains doggedly alive on the liberal fringe, however, and deserves rebuttal. An article on why a stable coalition with a large Labour contingent represents the biggest threat to the Irish working class since the foundation of the state might be worth considering, though.

      I perused all those articles yesterday (because I was writing about the subject and do occasionally condescend to research things), but thanks anyway.

  7. Garibaldy Says:

    C. Flower (and BTW DD, any chance of sorting out that incline when you reply to someone’s comments),

    To the best of my knowledge, not everyone on the editorial board is a WP member. But more important than the composition of the editorial board is the fact that the paper is open to people of diverse left opinion. Which is why since it was relaunched, you have had people from a range of parties and none on the left writing for it, from Labour Party councillors to People Before Profit to anarchists to people like Conor McCabe. The first edition is up on the reader thing under latest issue (the second will be up soon), and basically all the stories from the second issue are online over at its website if you haven’t seen it, as well as a few from this issue.

    http://www.lookleftonline.org

  8. Garibaldy Says:

    Much better. Was getting too narrow just. Thanks.

  9. C. Flower Says:

    Thanks Garibaldy, I’ll have a good look at that.

    LeftatTheCross – I’m completely agree about communicating with large numbers of people. I just don’t think a periodical journal will do that, at this stage. What circulation does the journal plan to reach in the next 6 months?
    There’s no one single means of communication that can meet all our needs.

    Television and radio will not go out and hunt down left spokespeople, but if they are spoonfed with good, coherent people who turn up when they say they will, once in a while the word will break through to millions.

  10. FDonohoe Says:

    LookLeft has a WP majority editorial board – ie 3 leading WP members and 2 non-members. In working on the editorial board there has been a total understanding that as was said by WP CEC member Valarie Hayes at Bodenstown it is th duty of the Left to effect real change, and as there is no principled party of the Left of a scale to do that at this time it is the duty of all Left groups (and progressive social democrats) to co-operate in order to bring some semblance of justice into this current economic crisis and hopefully build for a development of real politics North and South.

    Of course LookLeft as a magazine is not capable of countering the solid mass that is the conservative media – but if someone has a few million and wants to launch a daily paper tell them to give us a bell. Even at that it would be the wrong way to go about it, just look at Daily Ireland, Village magazine etc for new media launches trying to do something new, if not the right thing, in Ireland.

    LookLeft is not the complete product yet, but hopefully it can build into something that if it can not reach into the homes of everyone – will pierce the conservative consensus – the truth spoke in a whisper is still the truth and people are tired of the idiotic din that passes for comment, analysis and news in the conservative media – and I talk as one who works in that field.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      I wish Look Left all the best, it’s a fine counterblast to the consensus and I’m going to be purchasing the new edition tomorrow. Hopefully it will go from strength to strength and reach as many people as possible.

      However, the argument that, because something has been tried and failed (due to improper execution) in the past, it shouldn’t be tried again is a strange one to make from a socialist, let alone a WP, perspective. What we need is some sort of rapid reaction propaganda force to contest the market myths at source, whether in printed or verbal form.

  11. C. Flower Says:

    I hope that Look Left goes very well and will be happy to do anything I can to help promote awareness of it.

    If anyone wants to open a summary of contents/ review and discussion thread at Political World when the next new edition comes out, you would be very welcome to do that.

  12. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    “The Morning Star” is a Left publication in Britain, produced daily. I had forgotten about until today, when their Twitter feed (
    http://twitter.com/M_Star_Online) burst into life:

    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php

    Wikipedia gives its print run in 2006 as 25,000. Not huge in a population of 60 million. Sort of illustrates the difficulties we’d have here in a population 10% of that size.

    An Irish edition anyone, similar to those of the mainstream British/Irish tabloids?

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      LATC, The Morning Star is a tale unto itself. It’s essentially a party publication writ large, with plenty more problems besides. I don’t see why the smaller population base would militate against an Irish paper, quite the opposite, I’d imagine.

    • LeftAtTheCross Says:

      DD, I realise that The Morning Star has a bit of a history but that’s sort of beside the point. What I meant about the population base was that even in a society like Britain with 10 times the numbers, and arguably a stronger Left tradition than we have here, that they still have problems sustaining a publication with a relatively small distribution. Given the economies of scale it’s hard to see at a first glance how such a daily publication sould be self sustaining here.

  13. C. Flower Says:

    Vincent Browne tonight excused himself from not having any community voice from Docklands on the grounds that one individual hadn’t been available.

    How best to deal with that?

  14. FDonohoe Says:

    Saw that – it was a fairly tame community voice he intended having on aswell – Browne mustn’t have Joe Mooney’s number -anyway if the left is dependent on Browne it won’t be going far

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