11
Mar
20

Report on a public meeting to discuss “How can we build a real alternative to FG/FF

On Monday 2 March I attended this public meeting organised by the Socialist Party with speakers also from People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and the Green Party.

The main theme from all the speakers was whether unity around a “left government” could be achieved. “Left government” meaning a government without Fianna Fáil (FF)and Fine Gael (FG) as per this tweet by Mick Barry, the Solidarity TD who was speaking at this meeting on behalf of the Socialist Party (SP):

MB_tweet

Mick Barry proudly proclaimed that not even talking to FF or FG about government formation, let alone being part of a government coalition with either, was a matter of principle. Interestingly no such principle had stood in the way of voting for Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald for Taoiseach in the first sitting of the post-election Dáil or committing in advance to voting for the creation of a Sinn Féin (SF) led minority government in which the Greens would be the second largest contingent.

So what could this “principle” be?

It can’t be opposition to the maintenance of the rule of capital and its particular Irish expression in the sweetheart tax deals for the multinationals which dominate the economy along with their smaller local cousins – as both SF and the Greens stand in solidarity with FF and FG in defence of the Irish variant of capitalist social relations (see their respective 2020 election manifestos).

That shared defence of capitalism also means Mick Barry’s illusive principle can’t be anything to do with a commitment to defend the separate and distinct interests of working people against our exploitation by capital. The response of SF and the Greens to the 2008 bank bailout which set the framework for the years of austerity to follow is instructive in this regard. The Greens were part of the government who came up with the proposal and Sinn Féin welcomed the idea from the opposition benches as per the beginning of a speech by its deputy, Arthur Morgan:

“My party understands that the Government needs to intervene to stabilise the financial system. The logic behind this move is to undermine the bear market and lead to investment in our banking system. This legislation is about more than the banks and I accept the point made in this regard by several speakers. It is about offering security to ordinary citizens, investors and Irish businesses, which in turn means jobs. It may well prove to be a move that other states will seek to emulate.”
Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill 2008: Second Stage, 30 September 2008

It is of course true that FF and FG are the two main establishment parties of parliamentary rule in Ireland while SF has never been in a government and the Greens only once (2007 to 2011 as junior coalition partners to FF). So perhaps Mick Barry’s “principle” is just about not trusting FF and FG because of their well-established governmental record. While SF and the Greens haven’t yet been tested in government (leaving aside the wretched record of the Greens in 2007 to 2011), it is not hard to guess what they will do. When the capitalists remind them of their promise “not to raise corporate taxes” they will start back-pedalling on the positive reforms promised in their manifestos. Every class-conscious worker must already anticipate this.

When I spoke from the floor I pointed out that Irish business leaders have made it clear they do not believe they have anything to fear from Sinn Féin in government:

“Brian Hayes, the top lobbyist for Irish bankers, and a former Fine Gael junior finance minister, believes suggestions of increased political risk in fiscal matters is “exaggerated”.

“People need to be relaxed about this,” said Mr Hayes, chief executive of Banking and Payments Federation Ireland.

“With Sinn Féin, it’s all about what a programme for government says. Manifestos are one thing, but programmes for government are a different animal.”

In its manifesto, Sinn Féin made huge spending promises and effectively said it would narrow the tax base. However, it also pledged to retain the 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate and protect funding for investment agency, IDA Ireland.

“It was a change election. If people were talking about radical change to investment policy and free movement of capital, that would be a worry. But I don’t think they are. I’m confident of a stable government.”
The Irish Times, 10 February 2020

They understand the nature of the contenders for capitalist parliamentary rule far better than the Irish “far-left” it would seem.

One might also wonder what is so different from the election in 2016 when the Socialist Party made it a pre-condition for any support to Sinn Féin that it ruled out, in advance, a coalition with either of the two big capitalist parties. There is no substantive difference in the core elements of the SF programme in 2020 so it must be an opportunist adaptation to the size of the electoral vote that has led the SP to abandon even that phoney gesture in the direction of concern about working class political independence – something that is a real political principle for revolutionary Marxists.

Maybe it is the illusions of a section of the working class in the “left” posturing of SF that concerns the SP. So is it an issue of how to engage with these workers? In an informal discussion after the meeting Mick Barry scolded me over the lack of immediate resonance that my highlighting the reality of the class line had with an audience made up of working people with illusions in the idea of a “left government” and a strong striving for unity among all those to the left of FF & FG. He did not dispute the reality of the class nature of SF and the Greens – he just seems to think it is smart tactics not to talk about it.

Any party that claims to stand in the political tradition of Leon Trotsky (such as the SP and PBP, to a lesser extent) might do well to take his advice about how to politically engage the working class a bit more seriously:

“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s program on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives – these are the rules of the Fourth International.”
—The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International – The Transitional Program

There may be those who think that is all very well in the abstract but it will get you nowhere in the real world of the class struggle in the 21st Century.

Against that excuse for not telling the truth to our fellow working class activists I would merely refer to my personal involvement in the highest expressions of militant working class struggle seen in Ireland over the past couple of decades – the campaigns against Household and Water charges/meter installations where I was one of the central leaders in Cork. During this activity I continued with my political critiques of opposing political tendencies – including Sinn Féin for its pro-capitalist politics and the Socialist Party & People Before Profit (PBP) for their reformist parliamentarian versions of the road to socialism. And yet the rank and file working class activists in those campaigns didn’t seem to find this an issue. Neither did activists in the Together For Yes campaign for abortion rights a few years later where I was also part of the Cork regional leadership.

The reality is that in real examples of militant class struggle the working class will accept the presentation of honestly held opinions, even if they are not (yet) convinced of those views, if you show through your words and deeds that you are a committed fighter for our interests as a class against the attacks of capital.

In his presentation Mick Barry raised the spectre of the next international recession in the capitalist cycle of boom and bust and yet this seemed to have little relationship to his arguments in favour of a “left government” without FF and FG.

I learnt a long time ago (actually before I was a self-describing socialist) that whether positive reforms can be won for working people has very little to do with the so-called “left” or “right” nature of the capitalist government and much more to do with the militancy, or lack thereof, of working class struggle and where the economy is in the cycle of capitalist boom and bust.

So despite the “left” electoral rhetoric of SF in terms of “giving” positive reforms to working people I think this is completely outweighed by their commitment to capitalist rule. There is indeed a very good chance that the next government, if one can be created, will be in power as international capitalism enters the next global recession – something that may already have begun as the effects of the COVID-19 virus start to spread and effect the supply chains of international capitalism. That capitalist government will make the working class pay to protect the profits of the multinationals and their smaller local cousins – irrespective of what combination of FF, FG, SF and the Greens it involves.

Even if the next international capitalist recession takes longer to occur, why would any class conscious worker think that the policies of a Sinn Féin led government would necessarily be in the interests of working people? It is no doubt true that SF made the most progressive set of election promises of any of the big three pro-capitalist parties but does that in and of itself mean that the SP now views them as a progressive alternative to FF and FG?

It must be remembered that these are just promises – they aren’t actual concrete policies yet. As well as the advice of the business leaders referred to earlier about election promises versus actual programmes for government, people should remember Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte letting the cat out of the bag about promises made in capitalist elections.

Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin, speaking for People Before Profit, argued in his summary that FF and FG have always run the country in the interests of capital and are leopards that won’t change their spots. He therefore urged SF and the Greens not to enter a coalition with either FF or FG and claimed “they are not the same as FF & FG”. At the level of superficial analysis that is of course a true statement but in terms of the things about society that should be important to Marxists, like social class, the fact is that SF and the Greens are on record as being committed to the preservation of capitalist rule.

The PBP speaker’s political confusion on recognising the importance of the class line comes as no surprise given the political perspective presented in their first major article on the post-election government formation – “Challenges for a Left Government” by John Molyneux. This piece ends by drawing an analogy between their call for a “left government” and a couple of historical examples of Popular Front governments:

“In this context it is important to understand that the very establishment of a Left government may raise the hopes, expectations and confidence of the working class and that this can lead to a surge in struggle from below which both supports the government and moves beyond the limits which the government is comfortable with. This is what happened with the election of the French Popular Front government in May 1936 which led directly to the great general strike of French workers in May-June of that year. It is what happened with the establishment of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government in Chile in 1970 which led to mass popular and industrial action including the establishment of industrial cordones (embryonic workers’ councils ) in 1972. Of course this episode ended in catastrophic self-induced defeat at the hands of General Pinochet’s military coup in September 1973, which only reinforces the argument for socialists maintaining their political independence in a way that was not the case in Chile.”
http://www.rebelnews.ie/2020/02/26/challenges-for-a-left-government/

Molyneux’s political incoherence is best exposed by the last sentence in that paragraph. If the socialists were to really “maintain their political independence” it would mean not politically supporting or participating in a political government coalition involving any pro-capitalist parties. This is of course the exact opposite of PBP’s role in Ireland today as the most vocal cheerleaders for a “left government” led by the pro-capitalist parties of Sinn Féin and the Green Party.

Instead of the reality of Popular Fronts arising in the context of already existing working class militancy as a way to cut across and defuse that militancy with the false hopes of fundamental change coming through a cross-class parliamentary bloc, we are here presented with an inversion where the Popular Front is the positive catalyst for working class militancy.

On the French example – here is what Trotsky had to say about the 1936 May-June events:

“The rhythm of events in France has become sharply accelerated. Hitherto the pre-revolutionary character of the situation had to be evaluated on the basis of a theoretical analysis and isolated political symptoms. Now facts speak for themselves. We may say without fear of exaggeration that in the whole of France there are only two parties whose leaders are unable to see and understand, or who refuse to see the full depth of the revolutionary crisis. They are the “Socialists” and “Communists”. We ought, of course, to add the “independent” trade-union leaders. The working masses are now creating a revolutionary situation by resorting to direct action. The bourgeoisie is in mortal fear of the development of events and, behind the scenes, under the nose of the new government, it takes all the steps necessary to defend and save itself, to dupe, to crush and to exact a bloody vengeance. The “Socialist” and “Communist” leaders alone continue to babble about the People’s Front, as if their contemptible house of cards had not already been toppled by the class struggle.

“Blum says: “The country has given its mandate to the People’s Front and we cannot go beyond the limits of this mandate.” Blum is duping his own party and he aims to dupe the proletariat. The Stalinists (they still continue to call themselves “Communists”) assist him in this. As a matter of fact, the Socialists and Communists have utilized the dodges, snares and meshes of the electoral machinery to do violence to the toiling masses in the interests of an alliance with bourgeois radicalism.”
The Decisive Stage (Whither France?)

And more directly against Molyneux’s view:

“The sweep of the strike springs, we are told, from the “hopes” in the People’s Front government. This is only one-quarter of the truth and even less than that. If matters were really limited to hopes alone, the workers would not have run the risk of struggle. The strike expresses above all the distrust or the half-trust of the workers, if not in the good intentions of the government, then in its ability to overcome obstacles and to come to grips with its problems. The proletarians want to “assist” the government, but in their own way, in the proletarian way. They still of course lack complete consciousness of their own strength. But it would be a gross distortion to portray matters as if the masses were guided only by pious “hopes” in Blum.”
The French Revolution Has Begun! (Whither France?)

Promotion of non-class based bourgeois parliamentary concepts of “left” and “right” and the strategy of Popular Front type cross-class coalitions has not helped in encouraging the only thing that will really defend working people from attacks on wages and living standards and potentially lead to any substantive “real change” worthy of the name – militant struggle by the working class acting as a class against the interests of capital.

Publicly advocating such a perspective is of course well outside the political framework of hardened reformist parliamentarian socialists who find that kind of approach “sectarian” or “ultra-left” or “dogmatic” or whatever. However, it is the only position consistent with a political perspective that prioritises working class power and recognises that our class has interests separate from, and in conflict with, the interests of capital along with parties, like FF, FG, SF and the Greens, who politically represent the interests of capital.

Class consciousness, in the socialist sense of the term, is unfortunately at a very low level in Ireland. The primary context for this is the twenty years of institutionalised opposition to class struggle by the trade union leaders in the form of “Social Partnership” that provided the framework for the unfortunate acceptance of the capitulation to austerity in the Croke Park, Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road agreements between the government and trade unions. The militant semi-mass campaigns against household and water charges represented a small movement in a positive direction. However, this current opportunist capitulation to bourgeois discourse by the “far-left” organisations points back to the dead-end of parliamentarianism.

This bourgeois parliamentary manoeuvring and playing with the meaning of words does nothing to address the issue of a lack of working class self-organisation and militant class struggle – which for socialists is the real historic problem facing us. It can be argued that a change from a bourgeois parliamentary duopoly to a triopoly indicates the existence of social tensions which may open up opportunities for building working class conscious militancy but in and of itself this parliamentary change means very little in terms of “real change” – to pretend that it does is the very worst kind of political leadership.

07
Mar
20

Discussion on the Irish post-election situation

The Irish contributor to the British left-wing journal Weekly Worker (WW) provided an analysis of the post-election situation “Sinn Féin’s success, left’s collapse“.

In the following week’s issue James McBarron, a prominent political activist in Cork, wrote a letter to WW correcting a factual error in the article regarding the distribution of transfers from Sinn Féin first preference votes (fourth letter – https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1287/letters/) while also describing this as a “class-conscious vote”.

The following is my letter published in this week’s issue of WW critiquing that analysis.

===========================================================================

James McBarron’s letter in WW #1287 correctly points out that Anne McShane, in her article on the Irish election, had mistakenly reported that the Greens had benefited most from Sinn Féin transfers. In fact it was the reformist socialist electoral bloc of Solidarity-People Before Profit who benefited much more from Sinn Féin transfers where they were competing with the Greens.

However, James goes on to describe this as “a class-conscious vote” – which is a very peculiar way to assess this voting pattern.

Given that the first preference of these votes was not for a working class party, it is hard to see how it could be called a “class-conscious” vote by working people.

Sinn Féin are an openly pro-capitalist party who are committed to retaining the sweet heart tax deals for the multinationals who dominate the Irish economy (p19 of their election manifesto).

In response to the large vote for Sinn Féin and the potential for them to be part of a government coalition, Irish business leaders were quick to point out they had nothing to fear from Sinn Fein in power (Ibec says Sinn Féin ‘not mad’ when it comes to the economy)

Those who seek to portray Sinn Féin as part of the “left” might also do well to remember that in September 2008 they voted in favour of the bank guarantee. This bailout of the banking sector resulted in the massive debt the Irish state is still saddled with. This was a significant contributor to the years of austerity which have followed for working people. This was justified by Sinn Féin at the time as being “in the national interest” which any anti-capitalist worth their salt knows is just a code for “in the interests of maintenance of profits and general stability of the capitalist system.”

What this vote for Sinn Féin really represented was a desire for change away from the two big capitalist parties that have traditionally dominated the electoral landscape in Ireland. This was captured in the calls for a “left government” – in the bourgeois parliamentary sense of the term “left” rather than anything to do with class based political analysis.

Voters sensibly judged that voting first preference for what would be the bigger party in this potential “left government” rather than for the smaller advocates of this bourgeois parliamentary “leftism” who would have to hope for the transfer votes from Sinn Féin, would make up for the decrease in first preference votes. The reformist socialists, unlike the Greens, were very vocal advocates of this “left government” approach and so benefitted more from the transfers of Sinn Féin voters.

However, this came at a cost as the Solidarity-People Before Profit bloc suffered in terms of their own first preference votes – dropping at a national level from 3.9% in 2016 to 2.6% in 2020. This translated to significant drops in specific constituencies like member of the Dáil Mick Barry in Cork whose first preference vote dropped from 15.7% to 7.2%. In Barry’s case this did not affect his re-election, as the Sinn Féin transfers made up enough of the difference. However this was not the case for Ruth Coppinger in Dublin, the one Solidarity-People Before Profit TD not re-elected, where the Sinn Féin transfers were not sufficient to make up the discrepancy in her own first preference votes and transfers from the knocked out Labour Party candidate gave the 4th constituency seat to the Green Party candidate.

See https://bolsheviktendency.org/2020/02/05/revolutionary-marxism-irelands-2020-election/ for a pre-election critique of this non-class based approach to a “left government”.

It is both surprising and disappointing to see a long-time Platformist anarchist like James buying into this decidedly non- -class- conscious bourgeois parliamentarianism.

Alan Gibson
Cork, Ireland

17
Feb
20

A critique of XR Story-Vision in 2020

In the wake of the debacle of Roger Hallam’s blunder over the holocaust at the end of 2019 there has been some rethinking in Extinction Rebellion (XR) over some elements of the strategy which Hallam had been particularly associated with.

Three central members of XRUK have produced a small pamphlet (Rushing the Emergency, Rushing the Rebellion? – Story and Vision for XR in 2020) outlining some potential changes in strategy they want discussed in the wider movement. They describe their roles with XR as follows:

Marc Lopatin, is a volunteer communications strategist for Media & Messaging and co-ordinator/co-founder of XR-supported Truthteller.Life (an online whistle-blower gateway).

Skeena Rathor is co-founder of the XRUK Vision Sensing Circle and a member of the Political Circle.

Prof. Rupert Read is co-convenor of XR Political Liaison and a national spokesperson for XR.

Opening up a discussion on the need to move on from the current XR strategy is a development that should be supported:

This chapter is therefore an invitation for rebels to coalesce around a new external story. One that’s human-centric as opposed to ‘environmental’. And built around the near-term risk evidenced by the vulnerability of our civilisation to increasingly locked-in, unpredictable, and extreme weather. Above all, the aim of a new story is to inspire movement building a precursor for realising XR UK’s strategy for accelerating the coming of system change.

The hard work of getting real action – i.e. system-changing initiatives that come anywhere close to achieving the urgent and essential task of reducing emissions – is going to require far deeper engagement with a far more powerful story.

However, the specific changes in strategy being put forward in this pamphlet are not much more than cosmetic. The old underlying perspective of somehow convincing the fossil fuel capitalists and their international financial backers to change their ways remains untouched. As is the unlikely fantasy of a just transition to a sustainable future being compatible with a social system based on maximisation of the legalised theft known as profit, continual market-based growth and capital accumulation.

Their “new story” sees the billionaires who rule our planet as part of a unitary one with the most exploited poor who those self-same billionaires exploit as the basis for their obscene wealth. Under this fantasy we can all work together to help capitalism shed its nasty destructive tendencies and somehow peacefully and willingly “evolve” into what is essentially its direct negation as a socio-economic system.

At the core of the new story is a vision for overcoming this vulnerability, by displacing inequality at the local, national, and global level. It is informed by the truth that no community, country or continent will be an island, to paraphrase John Donne, if business-as-usual is allowed to prevail. Despite what some billionaires believe, none of them will be looking down at the rest of us from a space station anytime soon. It is, above all, a story about how Mother Nature is making us all one.

The intention is to demonstrate we are on the side of working people without coming across as ideologically-motivated class warriors. This underscores the shift in storyline and its telling through embodied actions.

It says: if you’re a believer in social justice, and deeply concerned by the real threat of climate breakdown, be part of XR. If you would like capitalism to evolve beyond its destructive tendencies, and are deeply concerned by the real threat of climate breakdown, be part of XR.

The logical implication of this is that if you draw the much more rational conclusion that to avert a catastrophic ecological collapse capitalism has to be ended with the processes of production, distribution and exchange taken out of private hands, or that any just transition to a sustainable future where inequality has been permanently displaced is also incompatible with capitalism’s inherent inequality – then you aren’t welcome in XR.

As one of those “ideologically-motivated class warriors “and a member of an explicitly anti-capitalist XR affinity group (Radical Rebellion), I reject this viewpoint. The perspective outlined in this pamphlet is essentially green-washing capitalism and should be rejected by XR.

05
Feb
20

Revolutionary Marxism & Ireland’s 2020 election

Marxists recognise that capitalist parliaments represent organs of class rule that are designed to protect and advance the interests of those on top, rather than to function as vehicles for fundamental social change. Yet the capitalist election process can be a useful gauge of support for revolutionary ideas when candidates stand who advocate an explicitly anti-capitalist programme. When this is not possible, revolutionaries can intervene by critically analysing the platforms of those running and, depending on what they propose, offering critical electoral support to working-class candidates. The essential precondition for any support is that candidates draw a clear class line and are advocates for the separate interests of the working class.

The continuing domination of the capitalist system of production for profit threatens the entire planet with endless wars and ecological collapse. Marxists assess electoral candidates on their advocacy of policies pointing towards the socialisation of the processes of production, distribution and exchange which, given the commitment to the ecologically damaging attitude of “business as usual” by international capitalism, is a necessary component of any realistic plan to avert a catastrophic ecological and social collapse.

As usual, most options before the Irish electorate fail these rudimentary tests with candidates who either explicitly, or implicitly, commit to the continuation of capitalism and a multi-class “we the people” approach. Likewise even the most radical sounding among the pro-capitalist parties, i.e., the Greens, do not go beyond suggesting adjustments to capitalism.

The exceptions to the mainstream are the “far-left” candidates in the Solidarity–People before Profit parliamentary bloc (Solidarity – initiated by the Socialist Party; People before Profit [PbP] – initiated by the Socialist Worker Party & RISE – recent split from the Socialist Party). All these organisations claim to be socialist and to represent the interests of the working class.

However the PbP election manifesto argues:

“Our Election Manifesto 2020 is inspired by hope for a fairer economy and a better society. The proposals laid out below have been fully costed and rely on wealth and income distribution that targets the top 7% of the population. This group will still have a considerably more than the average worker after our proposals and the benefit of living in a more cohesive and healthy society.

“People Before Profit want a 32-county socialist republic, which puts needs of people and the planet before the profits of the few. This manifesto is designed to move the country in this direction.”
– People Before Profit 2020 Manifesto
(https://manifesto.pbp.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/People-Before-Profit-General-Election-Manifesto-2020.pdf)

So to paraphrase: PbP are for a socialist republic of ome form sometime in the distant future – but in the here and now they keep their demands modest enough to not unduly rock the boat. Supporters of PbP who consider themselves socialists of some kind presumably hope that a reformist manifesto reflecting the existing consciousness of the working class by raising minimum demands might embolden the class to fight for more and perhaps eventually lead to the development of revolutionary anti-capitalist consciousness.

Certainly it is true that workers, both as individuals and as a class, come to revolutionary consciousness through their experience in the class struggle, which tends to involve a fight for immediate reforms. In all such campaigns there is also an opportunity for political struggle between the politics of reform and revolution. One of the primary roles of Marxists is changing the political consciousness of the working class from a class in itself to a class for itself. This requires involvement in struggles for immediate reforms within capitalism.

The PbP approach of presenting a programme of reforms, with socialism relegated to just an aspiration for an unknown future, cannot begin to change working-class consciousness. Even the most militant sections of the Irish working class are currently dominated by reformist consciousness. The PbP Manifesto only reinforces that reformism.

The history of class struggle has very few examples of the spontaneous development of revolutionary consciousness simply through participation in the class struggle. The pull of reformism, a bourgeois ideology within the workers’ movement, is much more pernicious than was thought in the latter part of the 19th Century when the Marxist movement was young. The political betrayals by most of the socialist parties, who backed their own capitalists at the outbreak of WWI, demonstrated that having a single party within which reformist, centrist and revolutionary workers co-existed, acts as a brake on the development of revolutionary consciousness. To make progress it was necessary for the revolutionary wings of these parties to split from the reformist wings, as in the Russian Revolution of 1917, led by the Bolshevik Party, which was a “party of a new sort”—a party of the revolutionary vanguard. Since that time the understanding of the need for political struggle against reformism has been at the very heart of revolutionary Marxism.

Leon Trotsky’s Transitional Programme was designed to provide a framework for connecting immediate campaigns for specific reforms which workers with confused reformist consciousness support, to the necessity to go beyond capitalist private property and to fight for a workers’ government based on the socialisation of the means of transport, production and communication.

Despite occasional nods towards Trotskyism, PbP’s detailed programme on climate change – Planet Before Profit: A Manifesto for Radical Climate Action (https://eco.pbp.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/People-Befire-Profit-Ecosocialist-Manifesto.pdf) omits any mention of the necessity of a working class struggle for power. While making many sensible technical suggestions for social change it still leaves most of the essential elements of a modern economy in private hands (apart from the proposal for the nationalisation of big agri-business).

Solidarity is not as cravenly timid as PbP. While completely ignoring the central question of state power – as the ruling class will under no circumstances voluntarily give up their privileges peacefully – Solidarity proposes nationalisations rather than expropriations of capitalist property. Trotsky explicitly distinguished between expropriation and “the muddleheaded reformist slogan of ‘nationalization’” in the Transitional Programme, as demarcating those who want to find an accommodation with big capital, and those who seek its overthrow. Solidarity does propose much more sweeping social changes than PbP and attempts to link these to a socialist transformation of society. (https://www.solidarity.ie/principles)

RISE, as a right-wing split from the Socialist Party, sits somewhere politically between Solidarity and People before Profit.

There has been an increasing clamour for an electoral position of “anyone except FF [Fianna Fáil] or FG [Fine Gael]”—a position supported and actively encouraged by the would-be socialist electoral parties. This approach mistakes seeing FF & FG parliamentary dominance as “the problem” when the real obstacle is the capitalist system itself. Changing the dynamics of which capitalist parties are playing leading roles in government coalitions – to go from the big two to include SF in a new big three who take turns – will not fundamentally improve the lives of working people. Any coalition of capitalist parties in power will act in the interests of the ruling class of this country (the multi-nationals, mainly US & British, which dominate the economy and their smaller Irish cousins).

This proposition of “anyone except FF or FG” perpetuates the illusion that bourgeois parliamentarianism can be progressive. This approach stops working people from drawing the necessary conclusion that gains for the working class, even parliamentary reforms, come only as a result of militant class struggle. It is a travesty that the so-called “far-left” are actively selling this lie to the working class.

The only option for real pro-worker social change (and averting catastrophic ecological collapse) is building new organisations which stand on the principle of working-class political independence from all capitalist parties (no matter how “left” or “progressive” they claim to be during the election shell game of half-truths and outright lies). There is no secret parliamentary bullet to end the inequality of capitalist society – only the organised working class engaging in militant class struggle, up to and including the overthrow of capitalism, can do that.

The Irish ruling class was shocked by the strength of the campaigns against Household and Water charges, especially the beginnings of self-organisation of workingclass communities in the struggle against water metre installations in the mid-2010s. Giving Sinn Féin a greater role at the political top table is a small price to pay for diverting that dangerous development back into the political safety of parliamentarianism.

A significant indicator of the shape of the upcoming election is that the two main capitalist parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are polling so low that they may end up sharing less than 50% of the vote. This has led to a great deal of speculation about a progressive/left coalition government. Most advocates of such a development conceive of such a government as including every party and independent candidate to the left of the two main parties, including the bourgeois nationalists of Sinn Féin. Michael Taft, a political analyst for SIPTU (the second biggest trade union in Ireland), has described its make-up as follows:

“Sinn Féin represented the nationalist Left; Labour and the Social Democrats were (unsurprisingly) the social democrats; People Before Profit, Solidarity and the Independents4Change represented the radical Left; and then the Greens, who represented the ecologists.”
https://tribunemag.co.uk/2020/01/irelands-historic-opportunity

People before Profit is explicitly promoting the idea of this kind of “grand coalition” of the left (https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/richard-boyd-barrett-calls-for-united-front-of-the-left-to-end-fffg-dominance-978701.html) RISE leader, Paul Murphy, supported this approach at a recent press conference held with PbP (https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=153641269418916).

Solidarity TD Mick Barry backed the idea of such a “left” government during a televised debate between the parties on Thursday, 30 January. He responded to a question on possible post-election coalitions by calling on Sinn Féin to come out in opposition to a coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, and opined that if the two big capitalist parties do not get a majority then Solidarity–People before Profit would talk to all other parties about forming a government. Apart from this statement, he struck a posture as an advocate of working-class interests, in contrast to the other participants, especially with his call for a national strike to defend the pension retirement age.

So what will happen if after the election the numbers make this “grand coalition of the left” a real possibility and Sinn Féin reject a coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael as Paul and Mick demand? It is pretty clear that Solidarity & RISE would then incline to join PbP in a coalition with capitalist Sinn Féin and the other smaller “leftist” capitalist parties. That would mean participation in what Marxists call a Popular Front government – in this case one led by a capitalist party. It is a very dubious sort of “socialist” political leadership that doesn’t even recognise the class line and promotes the reformist dead-end of unity with the “progressive” capitalists.

The strategy of cross-class coalitionism explicitly repudiates the central axis of socialist politics—the necessity for the workers’ movement to remain independent from the bourgeoisie. Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Vladimir Lenin of the Russian Revolution, declared in 1936 that “the Popular Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch” and as such provides “the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism” (“The POUM and the Popular Front”).

Reformist parties involved in popular fronts are not necessarily more likely to govern in the interests of the capitalist class than they would if they held power on their own. But when they act as a component of a Popular Front, their working-class character is effectively suspended and the contradiction between their ostensible socialism and their openly pro-capitalist actions is therefore suppressed. Voting for candidates committed to cross-class coalitionism can only hold back the class struggle. Trotsky’s observation that “All the Popular Fronts in Europe are only a pale copy and often a caricature of the Russian Popular Front of 1917” is just as true today as it was in the 1930s. Given the existential crisis of ecological collapse facing humanity in the next few decades, this betrayal of basic socialist principle is particularly odious. The tactic of critical support is only applicable to those who claim to stand in defence of the interests of the working class. Revolutionaries advocate a vote to such candidates while criticising the deficiencies and contradictions in the programme they advance which mean that they will fail to deliver on their promises. By giving them electoral support whilst warning that they will disappoint their base should they be elected, it is possible to shatter illusions and demonstrate the qualitative superiority of revolutionary politics over reformism.

In this election there is no basis for Marxists to give critical support to the left-reformist workers’ parties in the Solidarity-People before Profit electoral bloc which openly advertise their willingness to participate in a popular-frontist government, a policy which violates the core Marxist political principle of working-class political independence and is directly counterposed to the necessary policies required to launch a serious struggle to avert catastrophic ecological collapse. Marxists can only advise workers in this election to spoil their ballots, because working class political independence is the only basis for serious struggle against capitalist rule and the climate catastrophe it is creating.

 

17
Jan
20

Latest global warming projections

This graphic taken from the excellent Climate Action Tracker web site outlines the very dangerous situation humanity now faces:

 
CAT-Thermometer-2019.09-3BarsText.width-1110

 

In my political activity around climate change, in Extinction Rebellion and elsewhere, I keep running up a strange blind spot with most activists.

This is the reality that under the rule of capital there is no hope of preventing a catastrophic ecological collapse.

The big oil and gas companies (backed by trillions from finance capital) are committed to continued exploitation of fossil fuels over at least the next couple of decades. This is not a secret – for instance see the Economist article The Truth About Big Oil and Climate Change

There is a belief among many climate change activists that it is possible to just stop these particular companies through different government policies and regulations without stopping capitalism as a whole system. I would argue that this is just a political fantasy. It doesn’t deal with the reality that these companies – fossil fuel and finance – completely dominate international capitalism in the 21st century. As any of the various lists of the “top x” companies in the world will outline.

But even if I am wrong and it is indeed somehow possible to bring the oil and gas barons to heel and create this fantasy of a “green capitalism” that manages to avert a catastrophic ecological and social collapse there are still problems with this supposedly more “realistic” approach. Because of the ecological damage already locked in from our insanity as a species to this point even if humanity took the most optimal action now there is still going to be massive social dislocation and suffering –  likely beyond anything seen outside of the World Wars of the last century and perhaps even worse than that.

We already live in a world of obscene inequality and untold human suffering – even without the elements of that horror which are directly related to climate change and the other elements of ecological destruction. Our rulers in the capitalist class (all its parts) have been quite happy to reap the massive benefits from their position at the top of that social system with no care for the human and ecological damage caused.

I therefore consider it bizarre to believe that a “green” capitalist class would somehow put aside their personal interests in profit maximisation and capital accumulation (thereby effectively stopping being capitalists) to allow the level of planning and coordination on an international scale that will provide mitigation against this locked in devastation and guide humanity as a whole through a just transition to a sustainable future.

I therefore believe it is important to recognise that unless stopping capitalism (in whatever way people might think that could come about – and there are plenty of discussions to be had about that) is included as an integral central part of all the things that need to be done then all of those other things aren’t going to stop the inevitable outcome. At best they will give humanity a few more years, or decades at most, before an inevitable collapse into horrific barbarism and quite possibly even leading to our extinction as a species.

I know this is a difficult thing to confront and I recognise that the chances of success are tiny. However it does at least offer a realistic glimmer of hope that is consistent with the truth about the sick reality of capitalism as a social system and its continuing role in the destruction of the Earth.

19
Nov
19

The contradiction at the heart of Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion launched a “Global Hunger Strike” yesterday – https://rebellion.earth/event/global-hunger-strike

The statement announcing the launch starts by saying:

On November 18th the Extinction Rebellion Global Hunger Strike will officially launch to demand that governments act on the climate and ecological emergency that threatens the extinction of a million species, the collapse of civilizations and the death of billions of humans.

It finishes:

Extinction Rebellions three demands are clearly aimed at the central governments and authorities in each country. However, hunger striking is a form of protest which is based on bringing forward compassion from the power holders. The major assumption is that if you suffer, the opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. But in order for this to work, the opponent must have a conscience. The governments, corporations and power holders in the world do not have a conscience. Therefore the hunger striking is in essence aimed towards the public, to showcase the lack of compassion and penetrating self-interest that is prevalent in governments and in the people in power.

If that conclusion is telling the truth about our capitalist rulers in business and governments (as all the evidence indicates) then why does XR continue with a strategy based on trying to convince them to do what is necessary?

Surely it is time to change tack away from that pointless strategy and start putting some reality into XR’s calls for “system change”. Developing a strategy based on mass mobilisation aimed at removing our rulers from power and creating a new society that is both ecologically sustainable and based on meeting human needs rather than maximising profits and capital accumulation as at present.

An argument is sometimes made within XR that the movement’s strategy is about mobilising the masses who will find out first hand that demands on the government will be ignored. The first step is to get people taking part in XR actions, then they will become frustrated and together create something that works.

There is one obvious problem with that approach.

It breaks the principle which is supposedly at the heart of XR – to tell the truth. If it is the truth that our capitalist rulers will not do what is necessary then XR should say so.

Instead XR are actually contributing to the problem by spreading the lie that it is possible for our capitalist rulers to be convinced to fundamentally change their minds/actions.

XR sometimes says (as per this most recent statement on the hunger strike) that the rulers of the current system are unwilling/incapable of making the required changes – that would seem to be an unsolvable contradiction.

If XR really believes that the existing system requires changing in some fundamental way if humanity is to avert catastrophic social and ecological collapse (as I believe is the case) then XR should not be encouraging, in any way, the idea that the rulers of our current system can do what is required – as we know that is a lie.

If XR doesn’t think this is a lie and instead that enough pressure can really force our rulers to act then XR should stop talking about system change.

23
Aug
19

A new direction needed for Extinction Rebellion?

A fellow Extinction Rebellion (XR) activist in Cork recently referred me to this interview with Roger Hallam on the BBC’s HARDtalk show:


This new approach is outlined in more detail in a recent much longer talk Hallam gave in Penzance, Cornwall:

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been very critical of Hallam’s general perspectives on XR and its role in the struggle to avert catastrophic ecological collapse.

However on the basis of this interview and the new “Time to Act Now” presentation it seems there might be the beginnings of movement towards more of a consensus.

Hallam is correct that capitalism is destroying the very basis for its continued existence as a result of its inability to make the fundamental social changes required to avert catastrophic ecological collapse.

I have sometimes heard this recognition that capitalism is destroying itself used as a justification for opposing the idea that XR needs to take on an anti-capitalist perspective. Why bother taking on the difficult task of building an anti-capitalist movement if capitalism is going to do the job for us anyway?

But those who make such arguments would do well to dwell on Hallam’s prediction for what happens if capitalism does simply collapse as a coherent social system in the face of the ecological crisis.

Social chaos and a collapse of civilisation as a result of mass starvation with 6 billion dead by the end of the century.

Sure capitalism as we understand it won’t exist in that world but the untold horrors that will have occurred as a result of its collapse don’t bear thinking about and must be avoided at all costs.

One thing that immediately springs to mind from this interview is where does it leave XR’s demands on capitalist governments to tell the truth and take decisive action against climate change? Hallam correctly outlines the reality that the capitalist elites and their governments have lied to us, continue to do so and they show no signs of stopping telling those lies. It is effectively business as usual with even their verbal commitments to meeting the outdated and insufficient targets of the Paris Agreement barely worth the paper they are written on.

So why should XR continue to make, what must therefore be completely pointless, demands on capitalist governments to tell the truth and act accordingly when they have so clearly shown they are not prepared to do either of those things?

This is the truth of where we are and that should have some consequences for what our demands are and how we organise. Hallam is right to say in the interview that a revolution is coming. He further says:

“If the elites don’t respond to non-violent action then you know what’s going to come next – people other than Extinction Rebellion will use violence. That’s what’s coming down the road.”

Later he says:

“A critical mass of people are starting to realise what’s going on, which is that the elites and the governments aren’t actually going to do anything. They are not going to fulfill their primary responsibility which is to look after the people.”

As an aside I would dispute the idea that the primary responsibility of a capitalist government has anything to do with looking after the mass of the people – that is a myth they perpetuate to help contain social struggles within acceptable limited boundaries. Their real primary responsibility is to facilitate the operation of the market and the obscene capital accumulation that results from that.

But what is clear from this comment, even if Hallam doesn’t seem to realise it, is that he has just said that the current XR strategy of trying to force the elites and their governments into taking the action required to avert the coming catastrophe has no possibility of success.

There is an argument that making these demands on the government exposes their to either tell the truth or act accordingly. That is true but the demands don’t just do that. They also imply that the government can actually do these things.

However the more XR highlights the truth that the elites and their governments have been lying to us, are lying to us and there is no evidence that they plan to stop lying to us along with it being clear that is business as usual for them the more the demands on them to do otherwise start to lose there efficacy as a propaganda tool.

More importantly the current perspective is a problem in terms of what it means for the time and resources XR are committing to this effectively pointless strategy and associated demands.

Hallam is of course absolutely right that disruption tactics and personal sacrifice by activists will indeed be an integral part of our struggle. But without a coherent strategy for dealing with the reality of the unwillingness/inability of the elites and their governments to do what is necessary that disruption and personal sacrifice will not be enough. The level of civil disobedience disruption required to actually achieve the level of social change required to both avert the worst of the coming catastrophe and to have a just transition that can deal with the effects of ecological collapse that are already locked in is also far greater than what he is projecting.

The examples that Hallam refers to in the longer public talk of victorious campaigns of civil disobedience actually provides confirmation of my contention about their limitations.

None of these campaigns got anywhere near the level of social change that is required now. As Hallam says. we need fundamental system change – not just a change in some policies or in the specific make-up of those who rule us.

  • Are the Indian masses free of exploitation after changing their governmental rulers from British to local Indians?
  • Are African Americans in the USA free from racist persecution as a result of the formal end of Jim Crow segregation?
  • Has the fossil fuel industry, backed by trillions of $/€/£ from international finance capital, stopped, or even slowed, its operations as a result of successful direct action divestment campaigns in universities?
  • Was a real climate emergency and climate action plan worthy of the name implemented by the British government as the result of the XR disruption in central London in April?

Unfortunately the answer to each of these questions is a resounding No. While I think it is simplistic to view these campaigns in isolation from other developments in social struggle it is certainly true that these campaigns and actions resulted in immediate victories, of varying degree, which all progressive people would have supported. However they were not the kind of “structural changes” Hallam says are necessary – at least not on the magnitude of structural social change we need to confront the coming social and ecological catastrophes.

The simple truth is that we need to end the rule of private capital.

All this points to the need for XR to change its strategy to an openly anti-capitalist perspective.

Fundamental changes in how our society produces, distributes and consumes things need to be made to avert the horrors that are otherwise coming. If the capitalist elite are not going to make those changes (as Hallam states – and I agree with him) then how will it happen?

It can only be achieved by, alongside the disruptive civil disobedience, building alternative social governance structures as part of an explicitly revolutionary anti-capitalist movement. A movement which can replace capitalism before the horrors resulting from a collapsing capitalist system become too much for any kind of coherent social response to make any difference. Such a social collapse, in the absence of a revolutionary movement capable of providing an alternative social structure, would mean it was not possible to prevent a descent into horrific social barbarism and even potential extinction as a species.




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