So here (http://spiritofcontradiction.eu/rowan-duffy/2013/08/16/a-social-democratic-manifesto-for-ireland) we have another of the ex-WSM comrades who are re-discovering the original tradition of Social Democracy and attempting to apply those politics in today’s Ireland.
Unfortunately they do not look to the revolutionary element in that Social Democratic tradition. This is represented by the Bolsheviks and the other elements of the Zimmerwald Left who went on to form the 3rd International in opposition to the betrayal by the bulk of the leaders of the Social Democratic parties who chose their “own side” in the inter-imperialist war. Rather they seem to be looking to the “centre” of pre-WWI Social Democracy as represented by the likes of Karl Kautsky who continually vacillated on the key questions of the state and working class power.
Mendel-Gleason rightly states that “It is the primary aim of socialists to present an alternative vision of the world, suggestions about how this vision might be realised and to actively work to achieve the realisation.” And further that a key issue in that socialist vision is about the “democratic control of the economic basis of our society” so that “a democratic, participatory and collective method of administrating investment, work and the workplace” can be established as the economic basis of a new society.
However what is concretely proposed is not a programme for how to achieve the socialist transformation of society and establish that control over the economic basis but rather a reform of capitalism. This is because “it is necessary to take the long view in terms of a socialist transformation” and therefore “it is critical that we engage with a wider layer of people to try and move forward to reverse austerity. Needs dictate that we provide a coherent programme for getting out of the terrible austerity budgets which are being imposed.”
This is a long-standing gambit by the non-revolutionary elements of the Social Democratic tradition. Posing socialism as a far-distant goal with the real politics for the foreseeable future being about the radical reform of capitalism. One effect of this is that when a revolutionary movement poses the possibility of overthrowing capitalism the reformist Social Democrats will side with the capitalists in crushing that movement – as occurred in the case of the German revolution and the murder of the revolutionary leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in 1919.
Mendel-Gleason argues that “a democratic Europe is a tactical necessity if there is to be any further progress.” He is of course talking about a capitalist democratic Europe and it can be easily imagined how this could develop into supporting crack-downs on any revolutionary workers’ movement that threatened this “tactical necessity”.
Mendel-Gleason even lays the ground for a potential break with the ABC principle for Marxists of working class political independence by arguing that “compromises and alliances with other forces who agree to some minimum demands will be necessary.”
Even in terms of presenting a left-reformist programme to end austerity it is very timid. On the central issue of the debt burden instead of calling for repudiation of the debt what is proposed are a “moratorium on the debt” and “A full public inquiry should be taken into the extent to which a hair-cut can be negotiated”. Mendel-Gleason is no more radical than a number of bourgeois economists when he is so bold as to say that “we should not be afraid to use the threat of default to secure such a deal.”
Mendel-Gleason correctly points to one of the elements of the overall debt burden:
“NAMA which has taken into public holding a large number of properties which were systematically overvalued to help the private banks to avoid a decline in their values by transferring them to the state”.
“A full investigation into the manner in which this was conducted is required.”
The bankers must be quaking in their boots at the thought…
The same timidity is evident in the proposals around taxation. Despite recognising that “The current tax law in Ireland is immensely regressive” all that is proposed is trying to “make the system more fair”. But the standard approach to this question within capitalism of moving to a steeply progressive taxation system is seen as very difficult because of the richest in Ireland “holding diversified capital that exists all over the world and is quite difficult to track, account for or find any leverage to seize.” So all the concrete proposal on taxation amounts to is the “fullest investigation into what might feasibly be taken should be taken.”
But that “feasibly” must be seen in the context of Mendel-Gleasons concern that actually taxing the rich too much more “will spark gargantuan forces in opposition.” And as we don’t want to unduly upset the “tactical necessity” of a continuing capitalist democratic Europe I think this means that what is “feasible” will be quite modest.
As is to expected the proposals in the “Workplace Democracy” section are equally reasonable (in terms of not threatening continued capitalist rule or of frightening off the “other forces” he hopes to join in alliances with). On achieving a parliamentary majority all that is proposed is:
“laws which protect the right to organise and union recognition, limited liability for cooperatives, greater funding access and possible tax breaks for cooperatively structured businesses and laws which allow cooperative banks to be general rather than tied to specific constituencies which are arbitrarily defined to keep them from spreading”.
Mendel-Gleason is equally reticent about directly posing the need for militant class struggle to defend the interests of the working class in this bold new post-austerity Irish capitalism.
“How is it, practically speaking, that we can help to convince the union bureaucracy or a sufficient number of the base that this is possible is a difficult one. Likely we will need at least a very large number of people pushing for such a thing if it is to become at all a possibility.”
In the “Public Spending and Community Revitalisation” section things get slightly more radical:
“As a contrast to the current method of running public services we should promote a very different approach. Organisations like Dublin Bus should be controlled by a combination of the communities they service the workers who they represent.
“University who are currently being used as state subsidised Research and Development houses for private companies, should be invited into more cooperation to improve the efficiency of public services. This could be a real powerful education for students in actual practical applications of theory. We might reap the benefits of improved transport planning and traffic management or greater ergonomics of hospitals by use of improved logistics.”
However Mendel-Gleason is quick to reassure the reader that:
“None of these things would be much more expensive than what currently exists if only they were restructured to be more responsive to those who rely on these systems for wages or for the services which they provide.”
Of course this reassurance is actually aimed at the Irish capitalists who might unleash their “gargantuan forces in opposition” if the proposals might end up costing them money.
While in the section on the European Union Mendel-Gleason recognises that “we simply can not allow a socialist movement to take an overly national perspective. We must keep an eye on the prize, and the prize simply can not be won in Ireland” His proposals regarding the EU are, not surprisingly given all that has gone before, predicated on the continued existence, albeit in a more democratic form, of this instrument of imperialist rule in Europe.
In the “Tactics” section there is a small nod to workers’ democracy and some degree of class struggle:
“Having organisations gives us the power to pursue policies in some areas that we otherwise might not be able to. Significant traction in the unions, in communities and in communications and the arts will require a careful attention to the best methods of organising and how to replicate them. Part of our organisational strategy needs to be educations into the most effective models of organising. This will mean being participatory and democratic. Without special attention to these we will simply regenerate the failures that mark our current condition.”
“Education will also include attempting to build links with other groups which are liable to share progressive views on a single issue, letter writing campaigns, writing editorial letters, and other activities which bring notice to issues that are important for progress.
“Agitation is useful as a show of force when education is not possible because a relationship is adversarial. Such things occur when a government refuses to act in the benefit of the public, when a corporation refuses to pay its workers or any number of other events. It can range from protest to full scale strikes.”
He also makes an accurate point against the radical posturing of the likes of the SP & SWP:
“However, contrary to the practice of many small parties, it is important to remember that agitation only makes real sense as a show of strength. There is little point in protesting something which impacts the entire population if all you can muster is 200 people. Similarly there is no point in calling for general strike if you can’t convince your workmates that they need to stay home for work. The critical preceding factors for agitation are that they be agitation at a scale which is commensurate with education and organisational strength.”
However Mendel-Gleason’s real political priorities are outlined in the much longer following section on “Parliament”, activity within which is described as “a critically important area for intervention”. The revolutionary socialist approach of seeing the work of TDs as being within the enemy camp and as secondary to the building of workers’ organisations built on proletarian, rather than bourgoies, democratic forms. Mendel-Gleason on the other-hand seems to see parliament as the primary arena in which his programme of progressive change will be implemented and fumbles about trying to fit simple aspects of proletarian democracy like recallability of representatives into this structure that is completely alien to such conceptions.
The final section “The Summit is a Valley” does recognise that it will require more than just a parliamentary majority passing laws to bring socialism into existence and he critiques the traditional “far-left” in Ireland for suggesting that:
“At the point that we actually do enjoy legislative capacity, new avenues are opened, but it is critical that we view these things realistically. Many socialists in the past have been under the illusion that it is simply necessary to take the state, and from that point the socialist transformation is assured. It is hard to overestimate how extensive the difficulties are which will be encountered.
“There is in fact a herd of rampaging elephants in the room and taming them is not going to be easy. These will include the US and UK states and their geo-security agendas and the massive international and national financial institutions, including the IMF, the ECB and various UK and German banks to whom we owe so much money. Some of these institutions are significantly more powerful than Ireland in terms of resources and it would simply be remiss not to take that into account. This means that we really need a long term strategy of building cross links in Europe.”
All perfectly accurate but what is his solution?
“At minimum this will mean political solidarity and communication with other mass European socialist groups. But it will also mean trying to get movements in the EU to coordinate for a levelling of the playing field so we can more effectively organise. For instance, regularisation of corporate tax law and union legal structures as well as a movement for tax regularisation in the EU and perhaps a move to income tax rather than VAT. Unfortunately from the present circumstances it is too far in the future for us to clearly see what avenues will be open if and when we are successful.”
It is true that given the low level of class consciousness and the weakness of all strands of the socialist movement across the reformist to revolutionary spectrum no-one can predict exactly what situation will be faced by an organised mass workers’ movement and therefore what demands and programmatic proposals will be put forward.
However what does seem clear is that if Mendel-Gleason continued with the method outlined in this document then his programme at that future time would be aimed at balancing the needs and wants of working people with what was acceptable to capital in an “as fair as possible” version of capitalism.
All this is not to say that there aren’t specific demands and proposals in this programme which by themselves would be supportable – such as calling for NAMA held property to be put to public use such as “creches, schools community centres and perhaps preferential access for cooperatives.” But as an overall programme it is completely deficient. Not only in terms of a transition to socialism (but then that is a “long-term” goal for “far in the future”) but even as an immediate anti-austerity programme.