Archive for the ‘EU’ Category

A brief note on courage

July 6, 2015

Since Ireland’s pro-austerity Fine Gael/Labour coalition came to power in 2011, it has prided itself on having the courage to take tough decisions. It supporters in the media (which is to say, the media) have adopted the refrain with the dreary gusto of a monastery at prayer. Variations on the theme rattle off the presses and ooze from the airwaves, as commentators gush over the government’s capacity to inflict suffering with impunity. Editorials drip with pious warnings against the dangers of yielding to populism, and the entire commentariat has taken up residence in a parallel Ireland, wherein the bitter medicine of austerity has effected a miracle cure.

Over the past four years, the ruling elite has attempted to mould reality to the contours of its simplistic Thatcherite morality tales. Having failed, it has simply declared reality altered by decree. Unemployment figures are trumpeted as though mass emigration and the herding of citizens onto free labour schemes never happened. Ministers crow about protecting social welfare rates even as they accept plaudits for slashing them to ribbons.

The Labour Party has taken particular pride in its willingness to ravage and curtail the lives of those who traditionally form its core vote. Emboldened by praise from big business and the media, there appears no natural limit to the party’s inexorable drift towards the furthest fringes of the European right. The party contains committed ideological extremists such as leader Joan Burton, but the majority of its parliamentary contingent are simply vacuous automatons, random assemblages of molecules with just enough coherence to vote through a benefit cut. For all that, their calculated viciousness should not be underestimated, excused or forgotten; malice is often little more than stupidity run to seed.

And yet still, from the government benches and the newsrooms, comes the shrill, aggrieved demand that these architects of social catastrophe should be applauded for their courage. The distinction between tactical ignorance and outright delusion has long ceased to be meaningful in Irish politics, but a brief primer on the nature of courage seems to be in order here.

A basic prerequisite for any act of courage is the element of sacrifice or personal risk. There is nothing courageous about an extremely well-paid politician severing the financial lifeline of a single parent (unless you’re a believer in the immortality of the soul). That is not a “tough decision” for anyone except the victim. There is no bravery and no honour in skewering the poor, the sick, the elderly and the helpless when you have the ardent support of the wealthy, the powerful, the entire media and every financial and governmental institution in Europe, with the full repressive might of the police and the judiciary standing by, ready and willing to come down like a ton of bricks on the merest flicker of resistance.

It takes no courage to deprive a disabled child of vital supports if, should it cost you your seat, there is another one waiting for you behind the desk of a grateful multinational. None of that is courage, and no amount of ideological alchemy can ever turn it into courage. It is the opposite of courage, the most abject and contemptible cowardice.

By contrast, the decision of Greek voters to defy explicit, well-grounded threats from every locus of unearned power in Europe was an exemplary act of courage. It will not go unpunished by a vindictive European elite, and will be condemned as irresponsible by those who rattle their drums on behalf of the big battalions. But listen closely to their sneers and their scorn, because you might just detect a note of terror.

Their Apocalypse and Ours

February 20, 2012

The word “bandy” is bandied around all too often these days, but one term that’s been getting a thorough and undeniable bandying in recent months has been “social cohesion”.

Like many standbys of liberal discourse, it functions at a double remove from material reality, as a kind of euphemism for a euphemism. Since a precise definition is elusive, it can probably best be arrived at by a process of exclusion, following is usage amongst the Irish commentariat as a guide.

This phenomenon of “social cohesion” is never espoused as an end actively to be pursued. Rather, it is only ever invoked in terms of its negation – “loss of social cohesion”, “breakdown of social cohesion” etc, usually by reference to the salutary example of Greece, where such a breakdown is supposedly imminent (this is highly instructive, as we’ll discover in due course).

In fact, the loss of social cohesion is regarded not as an evil in itself, but merely a potential existential threat to business as usual (the bailing out of banks and the preservation of the euro at any and all costs).

A few things that aren’t considered a threat to social cohesion (again taking the pronouncements of the Irish establishment as our guide):

Mass emigration, and the tacit and explicit encouragement of same by government ministers.

The subjugation of all existing democratic models to the primacy of the markets, as a matter of both principle and practice.

The positing by the national media of the existence of a “coping class”, assailed from below by the parasitical poor.

The cultivation of a climate of suspicion and resentment, which encourages citizens to spy and inform on one another with impunity, and to regard teachers, nurses, firefighters and other social service providers as thieves from the common purse.

If none of this sounds like the stuff of harmony and fraternity, it’s because, once again, social cohesion is not the object here. The concern is merely that the host organism is beginning to run out of blood.

In Greece, the collaborationist Papademos régime has abandoned even the perfunctory evasions of its Irish counterparts, in favour of hysterical threats and outright repression. From the European media’s racially-aggravated depiction of events there, we can deduce that the following are considered threats to social cohesion:

Mass public expressions of social solidarity.

Hostility to the national and supranational architects of austerity.

Popular demands for democratic oversight of economic policy.

Identification of former imperialist aggressors with contemporary forms of imperialist aggression.

The pursuit of common cause amongst diverse strata of society.

At one level, this is simply a crude and transparent shell game, designed to offer the evangelists of austerity some measure of plausible deniability. In its peculiarly Irish manifestation, however, it nourishes itself from the fetid swamp of petty resentment which lies beneath the foundations of the state.

Liberals always believed that the curtain-twitching bien-pensance of post-independence Ireland had been transplanted wholesale from the pulpit to the parlour. The easing of the Church’s stranglehold over public policy (and it’s sobering to think that only the revelation of widespread and irrefutable child-rape made this possible) has changed little in this regard, however.

Instead, we’ve witnessed an ascension of the divine consciousness from heaven to Frankfurt. The pitting of citizen against citizen, the holy terror of becoming corrupted by the weakness of others, has not been abated by the transition.

The economic forces which dictate the ravaging of society are protected at all costs, with no sector of society – not the unemployed, not disabled children, not the old – exempted from service as human shields, in a crude parallel to the scapegoating of single mothers for problems arising from poverty.

At every turn, citizens are encouraged to see entitlement as privilege, and privilege as entitlement. The spectral hordes of fraudulent welfare claimants haunt Middle Ireland’s dreams, even as their taxes pay for useless multi-million euro reports by the ideological architects and beneficiaries of the crisis. Michael O’Leary becomes a put-upon underdog, while the teacher coping with the fallout of a moribund society in a vermin-infested building becomes a freeloading hedonist.

It is this total identification with the system (not on its own merits, but merely as the prevailing system) which makes every act of resistance, from the SPARK protests to the Campaign Against The Household Tax, all the more admirable and all the more essential.

The political establishment, the media, and their masters in Europe fear that deviation from their ideological consensus will lead to the breakdown of their system of governance; our challenge is to prove them right.

Preoccupied on Dame Street

October 27, 2011

Sometimes, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a sickle.

After three years of asymmetric class warfare and suffocating ideological conformism, it’s wholly understandable that any stirring of organised (but we’ll come back to this) resistance should be welcomed with enthusiasm on the left. The potentially epoch-defining Occupy Wall Street protest represents a slow awakening of class consciousness within the belly of the beast. The copycat movements triggered by OWS throughout the technologically-advanced world, while nowise to be compared to the infectious popular heroism of the Arab Spring, are not without significance.

Its logic may be uniform, but the dictatorship of capital reigns over a wide and varied kingdom, and the occupation tactic is more suited to some quarters than others. Greece, where a volatile coalition of organised labour, political radicalism and popular resistance is forcing the ruling class towards endgame, provides one salutary example. There, the sterile, “apolitical” Syntagma Square occupation inspired by the Democracia Real movement actually sapped momentum from the struggle earlier this summer. In Chile, however, the mobilisation called for the global day of action on the 15th of October fanned the flames of a student revolt which has been raging for months.

In other settings, the Occupy movement (like its stillborn Real Democracy Now twin) has taken on the aspect of an internet meme which made the species jump into the human population and found itself unable to replicate there. Occupy Dame Street doesn’t quite fall into that category, but its contradictions are deep and profound. Whereas Occupy Wall Street wore its union endorsement with pride, its Irish offshoot proved ambivalent to organised labour and outright hostile to the organised left from day one.

There were a variety of reasons for this; the political persuasions of the core group, an understandable (though at times hysterical) aversion to working with the SWP, a reluctance to alienate potential converts gorged on a diet of anti-union editorials.

These proscriptions are gradually being relaxed, potentially estranging those who want nothing to do with the selfish, job-destroying, pension-hogging union bastards, and found such views initially unchallenged by the occupiers. (It could be argued that the influential autonomist tendency have proven their point; it was precisely their maladroit de facto leadership which erected these obstacles to begin with).

This past week, Occupy Dame Street weathered a downpour likely to be the equal of any the Irish winter can muster. It’s still standing, and I’ve no doubt it will go on standing as long as the bodies and minds of the camp residents hold up, and probably well beyond that. The stamina, resourcefulness and tenacity of the residents has been inspirational, and nothing forestalls breaking-point like a comrade at your shoulder. But whereas the boisterous processions from Parnell Square to Dame Street have doubled in size week-on-week, the number of bodies manning the camp itself has yet to see a corresponding increase (not that such an increase could be accommodated in any case).

These natural limitations of the Central Bank site, and its vulnerability to the encroaching winter, are frequently-cited criticisms of the movement. This is unfair; both issues were as unavoidable as they are insurmountable. We shall simply have to add al fresco insurrection to the list of activities for which there is no suitable season in Ireland, alongside cricket and rock festivals.

The physical precariousness of the camp has, however, come to necessitate a sort of liberal sŏn’gun policy, whereby the needs and maintenance of the camp itself take precedence over all else. This has had serious implications for a movement already struggling to resolve its political orientation and terms of engagement with the public and wider working class.

Having sat in on a couple of working group meetings, the overwhelming impression was one of organisational paralysis (actually the strongest impression, to be indelicate, was the class and socio-economic background of those involved, but that may be a churlish observation.) The challenges posed by the consensus-based decision-making model have been freely acknowledged within the movement itself, but the tendency to regard them as minor logistical teething problems is misguided.

In fact, these problems are inextricable from the prevailing political and ideological deadlock. With only the broadest and faintest of parameters to guide them, individuals and working groups are reluctant to be seen to act unilaterally. When referring an item to the General Assembly only serves to further confuse matters, a perfect feedback loop is completed.

All roads lead back (however frustratingly, however predictably) to the question of programme. Aside from the noli-me-tangere warning to the left, there’s nothing objectionable, and plenty that’s commendable, in the Occupy Dame Street mission statement. When organisers address assemblies and rallies, however, the messages become more mixed. The fallacy that opposing the IMF/ECB programme is “not a matter of left or right” enjoys frequent airings.

Three years into a crisis caused by rampant neoliberalism, deregulation, disempowerment of the working class, and the underlying structural paradoxes of the capitalist system, anyone who can proffer this argument is either being incredibly naive or incredibly disingenuous. This non-differentiation between right- and left-wing critiques of the bailout programme is not just foolish, but extremely dangerous. A quick detour to Co. Cork may help explain why.

For the past few months, the tiny village of Ballyhea has hosted a weekly march against the bailing out of bondholders, one frail flicker of resistance on a landscape clouded with apathy. Last weekend, after a visit to Dame Street by the chief organiser, the villagers were treated to an audience with Mr. Declan Ganley.

It’s unlikely that Ganley would be welcome at Dame Street, where the superb Occupy University initiative has witnessed talks and workshops by people like Paul Murphy, Eugene McCartan, David Malone, Gavan Titley and Conor McCabe (if money were no object, I’d have 2,000 copies of Sins Of The Father air-dropped over the next march).

Murphy’s address to the rally on the 15th was passionate, lucid and articulate, but his carefully-phrased appeals to attendees as workers fell on stony ground; largely, I sensed, because most listeners simply didn’t understand the linkage, and nothing they’d heard had served to forge it for them. (As an aside, the CWI’s almost Debordian reverence for the General Strike as exemplary spectacle is even more noticeable when starved of context).

Three weeks into the occupation, the spectre of the SWP exerts as powerful a hold over the imagination of the camp as ever. Dark mutterings of “packed” assemblies abound, along with stern assurances that future infiltrators will be identified (presumably a special derogation excludes SWP members from the 99%). Paranoia and insecurity are deeply unattractive qualities, and a movement capable of being co-opted by a Trotskyist micro-party, however bad its faith, is a movement that has stalled beyond revival.

Occupy Dame Street is not necessarily such a movement, but its window of opportunity for correcting those initial mistakes is closing fast. The crucial instincts and insights which can carry the struggle forward are present, and not entirely dormant, within the group. Namely – that our labour is all we have that the 1% want; that the demand for “real democracy” cannot be satisfied under capitalism; that, historically, Dublin is a city taken by storm or not at all; and that occupying a symbolic location is a poor substitute for occupying our communities, hospitals and workplaces.

George Romero’s lengthy, generation-spanning series of zombie movies describe an arc in which the undead gradually begin to rediscover their human instincts and habits over the course of decades. In a country gasping beneath the death-grip of zombie banks, Occupy Dame Street is perhaps best understood as a kind of zombie protest movement, with depoliticised and disenfranchised victims of the epidemic gradually re-learning the basic motor skills of resistance.

It’s a slow and tortuous process, but consciously turning away from what we know and have always known about challenging power isn’t going to expedite it.

The Lie That Came In From The Cold

June 24, 2011

Following documents were swiped off the desk of an inattentive Eurocrat within the past hour (he was colouring in a map of Latin America at the time, for some reason). Further extracts have been withheld for exclusive publication in the Independent over the next 39 weeks.

(Larger: 1, 2)

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Module 14a: Debasement of Language

March 29, 2011

Match the words with the appropriate images from the following pairings:

QUESTION 1

Status Quo
Revolution
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QUESTION 2

Our European Partners
Our European Enemies

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QUESTION 3

Parasites
Victims

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QUESTION 4

Risk-Taker
Greedy Bastard

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QUESTION 5

Austerity
Cuts

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Dublin in February 2021

February 7, 2011

A video I made after a wee squint into the crystal ball (but enough about Enda Kenny.)

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chad’s All, Folks!

April 2, 2010

Minurcat may sound like a Romanian children’s cartoon from the seventies, but more than 2,000 members of the defence forces have served in Chad under its umbrella (or, more aptly, its parasol) since May 2008.

The UN deployment in Chad was notable for a couple of reasons. The first was a rare and happily unsuccessful attempt on the part of the Irish media to drum up an Our Boys mentality with regard to the troops stationed there. This included an extraordinary special edition of the Late Late Show, in its post-Gaybo role as handmaiden of the establishment, in which the geopolitical rationale of the deployment was barely discussed, and certainly not questioned. It also pandered to the laughable portrayal of Army Ranger Wing as an elite special forces unit (in reality, they’re just the ones with the least prominent beer bellies.)

Equally conspicuous was the equanimity with which the use of an Irish detachment to bolster up a force largely comprising French troops (the former colonial power in Chad) went almost unremarked, even on the nationalist “left.”

Yesterday, Minister for Defence Tony Killeen announced a phased withdrawal of all Irish troops from Chad. This has precipitated a minor political shitstorm in Brussels and New York. UN bods are said to be particularly concerned about the timing of the announcement, coming as it does in the midst of discussions with the Chadian government regarding the extension of the UN mandate.

What we have here is a rare example of Fianna Fáil being right for the wrong reasons. Fine Gael are pushing for the decision to be reversed, citing the effect on Ireland’s “international reputation” (one wonders why they’re so keen to get into government, given their desire to outsource all the state’s decision-making capacities.)

To do so would blow away the last withering fig-leaf of Irish neutrality. The UN mandate has expired, and the Chadian government want the troops out. Failure to comply with that wish may be ethically tenable or may not be ethically tenable, but the one thing it isn’t is militarily neutral. There’s a word for retaining a military presence on the territory of a sovereign state against the wishes of its government; occupation.

The soliders’ representative organisation, PDforra, has also deplored the withdrawal. While political militancy in the armed forces is to be encouraged (PDforra’s threat to refrain from strike-breaking a couple of years ago was singularly suppressed by the Irish media as simply too incendiary to touch), imperialist adventures in Africa are not a valid means of improving members’ pay and conditions.

Of course, the government’s real rationale (money) is of a piece with all its attacks on the public sector. As such, they’re entitled to a little frustration with the mixed messages coming from Brussels. On the one hand, they’re being commended for slashing and burning pay, on the other, criticised for undermining the EU’s interventionist foreign policy.

The EU factor is likely to emerge as a serious challenge to the neutrality pretence in the coming years, especially with the major armies of Europe massively over-committed throughout the globe. Indeed, the flags are already being unfurled and tentatively waved by the likes of Martin Mansergh, who, in an interview with David Norris yesterday, opined that participation in the military structures of the EU was a means of asserting our independence from the “British sphere of influence.”

This appeal to dormant Anglophobia will be familiar to anyone who witnessed Mickey Martin’s contributions to the Lisbon debate. Although a more mean-spirited curmudgeon than I might be tempted to ask what perception of Ireland’s position in the British sphere of influence would be borne away by an Anglophone foreigner listening to David Norris interview Martin Mansergh.

Personally, I hope the commission’s enthusiastic support for NAMA (vehemently opposed by a large majority of the Irish people) will whip the EU trump card out of the deck for good, and with it, the prospect of Irish participation in the EU’s ever-deepening descent into the morass of muscular neo-imperialism.