Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

Green Cat, No Mice: Right2Water on the Brink

June 11, 2015

Before proceeding, I want to conduct a brief thought experiment. It should prove instructive if taken in good faith – bear in mind that the results are between you, your conscience and your CIA case officer.

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You’re loitering on the fringes of a political rally, convened at short notice to protest the latest outrage perpetrated by the state/the church/the E.U., or some combination thereof. It’s raining, obviously, and the speakers are uninspired, but turnout is respectable and not confined to the usual suspects; another sign, perhaps, that the world is tilting subtly in the right direction.

The final speaker concludes; staccato applause ripples through the crowd as you turn to leave. A loose ring of paper-sellers and leafleters has formed around the perimeter of the rally, like history’s friendliest NKVD blocking unit. Some reflex of politesse and curiosity (morbid or otherwise) compels you to accept a flyer.

At the bus-stop, whilst fumbling for change, you pull the crumpled leaflet from your pocket and scan it hurriedly. It’s a People Before Profit production; Richard Boyd Barrett glares from the page with a boyish earnestness which makes you ashamed of your secret defeatism.

You flip it over. The headline reads A People’s Government Now! It goes on to plead the case for a left-majority government after the 2016 election, composed of an as-yet unformed political party backed by unnamed parliamentary allies, pursuing undefined goals. It concludes by condemning all those who refuse to clamber aboard this magical mystery tour as self-interested wreckers and parasites. It is, in short, the most stereotypically old-school SWP document ever produced.

Hit pause right there, take note of your instant, heartfelt, instinctual response, and hold that thought for the next 1500 words.

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It is fondly imagined in some quarters – Leinster House, Montrose, certain scenic parts of Malta – that the anti-water charges movement has ground to a terminal halt. While the movement does face an existential crisis, it does so because the stakes, of victory and defeat, have risen precipitously in recent months.

In one sense, the ferocity of the battle is testament to the success of coalition strategy since 2011. Its tactic of focusing fire on isolated segments of society (the elderly, the unemployed, student nurses, lone parents) has inflicted defeat upon crushing defeat, clothing the government in a demoralising air of invincibility.

Elites are often at their most vindictive in the ascendant; throughout recent Irish history, weak and sporadic resistance has been countered with massively disproportionate repression. Despite the usual protestations of tied hands and Troika diktats, the government chose its battleground carefully in picking a fight over water charges.

An earlier attempt to impose water charges on Dublin was defeated in the 1990s, and the exemplary power of that struggle has haunted the Irish ruling class ever since; this is a common response amongst anti-democratic regimes, who often feel pathologically compelled to exorcise the sites of past defeats.

By now, it is clear that the coalition grossly underestimated the scale of resistance to water charges. The Kenny/Burton regime has, nonetheless, demonstrated admirable fidelity to its ideological red lines. Despite swingeing concessions, the cast-iron principle of commodification has been steadfastly maintained.

After four years of fruitless resistance, it’s difficult not to be heartened by the sight of a government on the ropes. From a position of sneering impunity, the regime has been rapidly undermined by a series of snowballing scandals arising from the Irish Water affair. Like many a calcified, complacent elite before it, the Irish ruling class is scrambling to respond to crisis after crisis, seemingly unaware that its responses are the crisis.

Denis O’Brien, formerly the poster boy of Ireland’s business elite, is now a hapless hate figure for much of the population. The system of patronage and preference which sustains Ireland’s stratospheric inequality is coming under scrutiny as never before. Establishment figures such as Alan Dukes, untouchable during decades of right-wing hegemony, are visibly stunned and angered to find their pronouncements doubted and questioned.

A key figure in the changed political climate, Dukes’s indignation over Catherine Murphy’s pursuit of the Siteserv deal is genuine and unfeigned. There is much to be taught and gleaned from the mere fact that this malignant didgeridoo was appointed Public Interest Director of Anglo. He represents a class and an ideology which holds – sincerely – that public interest and private greed are literally the same thing. If Dukes and his ilk confused quiescence for consensus, they are being rapidly and rudely disabused of that misconception.

*****

All in all, then, times appear to be ripening in favour of an alternative political proposition. Giddiness and discord are to be expected, and even welcomed, in the circumstances. There are many diverse forces ranged against water charges and the regime of expropriation they represent, and all are sincere in their desire for fundamental and progressive social change.

Some of the strategies emerging from the loudest and most persuasive voices in the movement, however, are misguided, potentially calamitous, and being advanced in rank bad faith. Ever since the bureaucratic component of Right2Water organised a hand-picked conference in May, it has become clear that its ultimate goal is to channel the movement in an electoral direction.

It is also evident that this electoral force, should it ever materialise, is to be conjoined with Sinn Féin at the earliest possible opportunity. This depressing development has been anticipated for some time. Various influential factions within the de facto leadership of R2W have been orienting towards Sinn Féin since last autumn.

For the Syrizists within R2W, Tsipras’s explicit endorsement of the party was always likely to prove irresistible, even if it came just as Syriza’s shameful lash-up with the far-right Independent Greeks cast doubt on its taste in bedfellows.

The bureaucrats’ motives are more opaque, and may amount to nothing more remarkable than a catastrophic lack of political imagination. The lust with which the electoralist approach is being pursued, however, is no less ferocious for its lack of coherence.

So far, it has taken two forms; firstly, an all-out assault on the motivations and credibility of the Trotskyist formations within the movement, over the issue of non-payment. Personally, I have always found the Socialist Party (in particular) far too eager to precisely re-enact the Poll Tax wars, even where the variables of a given campaign militate against it (as during the failed struggle against the Household Charge).

In the case of water charges, however, non-payment is clearly the only winning move on the board. Faced with disciplined mass non-payment – already underway – Irish Water will implode beneath the pressure of its own statutory requirements and political toxicity. Non-payment is the only tactic which can defeat the charge, preserve the mass character of the movement and inflict an unambiguous democratic defeat on the oligarchy.

The second electoralist gambit will be familiar to anyone who suffered through the Occupy Dame Street fiasco, the canonical clusterfuck of recent pan-left politics (in Dublin, at least). The electoral wing is playing the same precarious game as Dublin’s anarchists did – very ill-advisedly, not least in terms of their own prospects – in 2011; tacitly cultivating a crude anti-party anti-politics, the better to ostracise its politically organised opponents within the movement.

This is particularly ill-considered and self-defeating if your ultimate endgame is an electoral one. We might also reflect, in passing, that the socialist left is the only component of R2W with experience of getting actual, non-hypothetical TDs elected on radical platforms, and of using them to good effect.

The electoralist current has ratcheted up its rhetoric in recent weeks, spooked by opinion polls which show a fall in support for Sinn Féin and left-wing alternatives. This response is, I believe, a fundamental misunderstanding of both the nature of the movement and of Irish politics in general.

*****

Many of those who marched against Irish Water throughout the winter will, despite their anger, continue to vote Fine Gael or Labour. Irish voters have been conditioned, by nine decades of theory and practice, to view the polling booth in a particular way; namely, as a private forum to lash out against those most likely to erode one’s own advantages. For much of the population, this is taken to mean – not irrationally – those who occupy the strata immediately below one’s own.

But the starkness of recent events has begun to clarify, beyond refute, the class character of Irish society. The concepts of democracy and political agency, so long defined in stultifying electoral terms, are once again up for grabs. For R2W to short-circuit this process by pandering to the strictly circumscribed parliamentary traditions of the Irish state would be myopic and inexcusable.

Besides which, the prospect of a “progressive” government emerging from the next election is little more than an overwrought fever dream. Sinn Féin’s left-wing credentials have been frenziedly burnished beyond all recognition by the electoralists – a position that appears even more ludicrous now Eoin Ó Broin, Parnell Square’s point-man for all things leftish, has publicly endorsed coalition with Labour.

If anything, the major sub-plot of the next election ought to be the battle between Sinn Féin and the left, a battle to define (or confine) the scope of popular resistance to the water charges and the oligarchy. Sinn Féin understands this, even if wishful sections of the left do not, which is why it poured huge numbers of resources and personnel into an unsuccessful attempt to deny Paul Murphy – an explicitly anti-payment candidate – a seat in Dublin South-West.

For the plural left, supporting a Sinn Féin-led government would be like trying to force an elephant onto a see-saw; even if you somehow get it up there, things are only going in one direction, and it’s not yours.

*****

Both facets of this strategy – the rage against the left within R2W, and a politics which disavows politics – draw from the same well of modish post-Marxist thought. This tendency is especially pronounced within Podemos, and Kieran Allen has delivered a concise critique of its theoretical shortcomings here.

Again, this is a depressingly familiar feature of libertarian-influenced political dissent. Proponents of a politics “beyond left and right” imagine they are carving out a new political space on which to confront power; in reality, they are simply ceding without a fight the ground won by neoliberalism over the past thirty years. In doing so, they share the neoliberal conception of 1989 as a hard reset of social consciousness, as well as its vision of the modern individual as a uniquely self-actualised and rational consumer of ideas.

It’s easy to see why this model appeals to the pro-Sinn Féin elements of Right2Water; after all, if the distinction between left- and right-wing politics is illusory, Sinn Féin’s right-wing tendencies are more readily explained away.

*****

If it holds its nerve, Right2Water can deliver a resounding blow to the Irish ruling class, perhaps the most devastating in the history of the state. The regime has no viable exit strategy; it has, of its own volition, transformed the issue of water charges into a referendum on the right of a moneyed elite to overrule democracy.

To deviate from this task in favour of a sterile, impotent parliamentary idyll would be a gross miscalculation, and an historic betrayal. The inevitable failure of a Sinn Féin government to deliver meaningful change would discredit progressive politics in Ireland for a generation.

For all their vapid sloganeering about big things and small things, the Right2Water bureaucrats appear to have lost sight of the biggest thing of all; the opportunity to defeat the water charges themselves and to pave the way for a new emancipatory politics which can confront Irish capitalism on terms of its own choosing.

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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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Green Party PPB: The Honesty Remix

February 18, 2011

Because the original annoyed me so much.

Dublin in February 2021

February 7, 2011

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

Friday Quiz

October 22, 2010

Have a crack at the following. Multiple choice, no second preferences.

1: [The social welfare budget/Living on €196 a week] is just not sustainable in the long term.

2: We have to give [people/the markets] confidence about where their next [meal/billion] is coming from.

3: We are where we are, so [we must keep doing what we did/we should try something different.]

4: [Funding hospitals/Negligible corporation tax] is an indispensable part of who we are as a nation.

5: [Ordinary working people/Bondholders] are holding the country to ransom by [defending their livelihoods/trying to recoup their gambling losses.]

6: [Anglo Irish Bank/Care for sick children] is of national systemic importance and must be preserved at all costs.

7: [Social Welfare fraud/Systematic tax evasion] is flagrantly, demonstrably a bigger problem than [Social Welfare fraud/systematic tax evasion] and must be policed ruthlessly.

8: Our native economists and newspaper pundits called the crisis completely wrong, so we should [keep doing their bidding/tell them to go fuck themselves.]

9: An annual publicly-funded salary of €630,000 means you’re [perfectly placed to demand the impoverishment of the low-paid/an horrendous hypocrite to dare open your mouth on the subject.]

10: The only thing better than two parties pursuing a failed neoliberal agenda is [four parties pursuing a failed neoliberal agenda/kicking the lot of them out.]

11: In supporting NAMA, the European Commission is [helping us out of crisis as promised prior to Lisbon II/condemning us to penury as promised prior to Lisbon II.]

How did you do? (You expect me to give you the answers? What are you, some kind of communist?) Award yourself a year’s subscription to the Sunday Independent, membership of the Labour Party or a tray of Molotov cocktails as appropriate. And don’t hog the cocktails.

New McCarthy report leaked

August 3, 2010

Fetched these out of a skip the other night (times are hard, don’t judge me.) Pretty much as expected.
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Sunday Maxim

March 28, 2010

Never trust an apostate, regardless of what he’s turning his back on or turning his face towards.

More on Haiti

January 28, 2010

A dumbfoundingly uncritical report on the RTÉ website of the IMF’s magnanimous loan (!) to Haiti.

The International Monetary Fund will disburse $114 million to Haiti by Friday to help the government get back on its feet and restart the economy devastated by the earthquake.

The loan includes $102 million in new emergency funding approved by the IMF’s board on Wednesday.

This country has just been through the equivalent of a localised nuclear apocalypse, greatly exacerbated by the IMF’s systematic dismantling of its economy and public services, and they’re offering them the pittance of $114 million? It gets worse.

The IMF said Haiti will not pay interest on its IMF loans until the end of 2011, part of a package of measures agreed last year to help poor countries cope with the impact of the global financial crisis.

Before the earthquake, Hait was among the most wretched economic basket-cases in the world. Since then, things have got immeasurably worse. By 2011, the deterioration will have become exponential. And the fact that Haiti will be obliged to resume paying its tithes to the imperial court at that point is being presented as a gracious act of humanitarianism.

Some $1.2 billion of Haiti’s debts to the IMF and World Bank were written off in July last year as a reward by the international community for progress the country was making in economic reforms and management.

I leave to your individual discretion whether to laugh or cry at that para.

Viking settlement found on Dublin’s northside

January 27, 2010

If, like me, you followed that link hoping to see mobile phone footage of a few burly blokes in woollen tunics and horned helmets being kicked out of Abrakebabra, you’ll have been disappointed. What they’ve actually discovered, as the Irish Times rather more soberly reports, is evidence of an 11th-century Viking dwelling, the first one north of the river.

I was excited for a minute, though. Not least because one of my fond convictions is that, in some unexamined corner of the city, there dwells a sizeable lost band of surviving Neanderthals. Because someone in Dublin has to be voting Fianna Fáil.

Allow me to introduce myself

January 25, 2010

I come from North Dublin and I’m a socialist, and have been all my adult life. I believe Marx was the Newton of the social sciences, but I am not a Marxist within the meaning of the Act. I find common cause with some Trotskyist parties, but I am not a Trotskyist.  I despise nationalism in all its forms, as the most murderous manifestation of chauvinism ever conceived, and the third worst idea in history after capitalism and the silver goal rule.

In other words, were I an Irish political party, I would have long ago  split into several Trotskyist factions, a liberal reformist study group, a timorous huddle of libertarian anarchists and an ideologically indeterminate formation primarily concerned with denouncing the foregoing.

Outside of politics (and I emphatically believe that such a sphere exists), my interests lie mostly in football (esp. domestic), literature (esp. foreign), cinema and cricket. I have something of an obsessive, monomaniacal personality, shackled to an atrophied attention span. This will be abundantly apparent from my writings.

I am a socialist because I believe that neoliberal capitalism is not only wicked, unjust and potentially lethal to humanity, but that its shibboleths and gospels are so inextricably entrenched within the social and political structures of our society that they have poisoned and corrupted them beyond salvation. Therefore, those structures must be built anew or replaced entirely.

I also believe that capitalism is immoral, and make no apology for saying so. Amongst the left, the very concept of morality is a contentious and precarious one. My own belief is that the capacity to suffer and the experience of suffering is something that is understood by us all (score one for the Buddhists), as is the knowledge that we are engendering that suffering in others. Therefore, to cause others to suffer gratuitously in full cognisance of what that entails is my personal definition of immorality. It serves me well enough.