9 Responses to “Joe Higgins confirms my criticism of the SP’s position on the police”

  1. 1 Kronstadtist
    November 18, 2014 at 12:34

    just to say some great articles written here. As a former member of the Socialist Party mhell never really left just became an inactive activist for a number of years and membership I assume phased out. Firstly on the Socialist Party’s politics I have noticed they have changed their tactics especially how they address the people and government. The reason for this IMO is the majority of the Irish people don’t respond well to revolutionary ideas using words like Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, Revolution and militant and the Socialist Party have responded to this by using words better suited for a mainly conservative population like reform, change and left. I don’t think their policies have changed just more careful how they approach the people who when hear above words think of Soviet Russia. On the Garda issue I would say is complicated they do work for a capitalist government and for the interests of government but they are workers and can have a voice as I’ll point out in a minute. Firstly are we not all pawns or victims of this capitalist state and we all work against reform and equality by driving this system on, until a revolution that is. I can’t see how a Garda who is a pawn of government/corporations are any worse than a worker working in a factory that exploits other workers, or a doctor who promotes brand name medicine over cheaper generic medicines, I know the Gardaí enforce the law but what about a teacher learning children into a capitalistic view, especially if that so called child has no other strong influences from parents, friends or other family, that teacher is doing long term damage creating another pawn of our capitalistic anti-society. A Garda doesn’t join the force with the intention to enforce the exploitation of workers, they become a part of that by default because of the system, we are all taking orders at the end of it. I grew up in West Tallaght one of the most disadvantaged area’s in Europe with you 10 times more likely to end up on heroin than go to 3rd level education paints the picture, it is usually difficult to get statistics for West Tallaght because its not an official area just a social area so gets lumped in with all Tallaght for statistics. Here the never present Gardaí as you can guess where either in the wonderment of what they are or completely and utterly vilified by the population, there is a couple of examples of them taking off the shackles of their totalitarian leaders. In the late 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s most estates in West Tallaght had a peoples movement mainly brought about against drug dealers and crime, but also looked for better facilities within the area’s using the only tool they had to barter with the county council, land to build more council houses. As you can guess the politicians, media and Gardaí tried to squash this movement. When the Gardaí put more resources into intimidating an anti-drug activist over a drug dealer tells it all. But on a FEW occasions the Gardaí did work with the people and turned a blind eye allowing certain drug lords to be lets say removed from society, in one estate which was a sickening act by council over a number of years 19 convicted paedophille’s where housed in an estate of 400 houses that had a street with the highest number of children in the entire state, luckily a Garda released this information and what followed you can guess and the Gardaí once again turned a blind eye and let the residents deal with the situation (in reality the Gardaí couldn’t arrest the men as they had served their time and according to government were reformed but would of been obliged to protect them). They have also shown they are willing to strike or the blue flu as it is. On the other hand if there is a revolution in the morning the Gardaí are the first line of defence before the army intervene, but will they all intervene people power might turn some of them. In Dublin the Gardaí are always more aggressive than outside of Dublin, the main reasons for this IMO is that they are closer to the community outside of Dublin people know them, where as in Dublin they are anonymous to the people which follows up to outside of Dublin there is a certain mutual respect while in Dublin its them and us. There is hope for a movement within the Garda Síochana all be it a very small bit of hope.

    • November 18, 2014 at 16:01

      Kronstadtist, Thanks for the feedback. These are important issues to discuss.

      Firstly on language. I completely agree that it is sensible to use language that engages with your audience. I am not criticising the SP over their use of language to describe their politics but over the content of their politics. The problem as I see it is not that they don’t use enough revolutionary phrases in their material but that the political content of their material as presented to the working class doesn’t have a revolutionary content and instead has a reformist content.

      Secondly on the question of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state – as represented by the Gardai in Ireland.

      The general Trotskyist position on the police (and the SP very much project themselves as representing authentic Trotskyism) is best outlined in this quote:

      ‘The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among Social Democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.’
      (What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, January 1932)

      The point is that by signing up to the Gardai each Garda, no matter what their personal motivations, has crossed over a line and is now no longer like other working class youth they may have grown up with. I think Trotsky was right about this.

      It is of course true that any non-class conscious worker can act as a pawn and do things that reinforce the capitalist system but I think that is qualitatively different from being an agent of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state that in the last instance only exists to ensure the continuation of the capitalist system and the exploitation of working people that is based on.

      I am perhaps less optimistic than you about the chances of winning Garda over but whoever might be right in their degree of optimism that is not the central issue.

      The key question is whether any Garda has to cross a class line and move from being a bourgeois cop to being a worker. Do they have to change sides in the class war?

      If that is true then the SP position of treating the police as though they are already a part of the workers’ movement, without having to make any choice or cross a class line, is faulty for two reasons.

      One – most importantly it confuses and disorientates working people when we come into conflict with the police through our political activity. Do we seek to organise alongside them as fellow workers or do we organise against them as representatives of our mortal enemy the capitalist state?

      Two – it actually doesn’t help any individual Garda who isn’t happy with what their social role is making them do. It is only by making it clear that there is a line they have to cross that we can expect them to really come over to our side.

      • 3 Kronstadtist
        November 19, 2014 at 13:50

        I must admit I haven’t dissected any SP material recently and assumed they have always been on the same course, maybe its a way to begin reform first and then revolution but I defo wouldn’t support it if they are looking to balance capitalism and socialism (which is a contradiction in its own right) like in Scandinavia, Canada, New Zealand etc. Although much fairer societies they still breed inequality and have sections of society on or below the bread line. I can’t see SP supporting this, I am not saying thats what you are saying, but reform would hint that its altering a corrupt system not ripping it down and starting again from the ground up. i am an advocate of all true left parties to work together in achieving the ultimate goal and after that is won then differences can be ironed out, as it is I think too much resources are spent on getting one over the other, one of the reasons I became inactive for a number of years.

        I understand what you mean now, yes the Gardaí can not be classed as the workers right now this minute because they don’t represent the workers at this very minute and have to cross a line to become part of a workers movement. As of now they are working for the capitalist state and are trying best to put down the peaceful protests stretched across the country but we must continue to leave out an olive branch that they might grab and become part of the movement. If we completely alienate them as possible workers then its isolating them into a corner in which they don’t have a choice but to support their totalitarian overlords.

        I would also class other workers on the other side of the line with the Gardaí, they are the guardians of the corporations but other workers can do as much damage indirectly and must also cross a line to support fellow workers in a movement. From personal experience and an issue found right across the country, in a factory where you have a union, full time staff and temporary staff, some temps there 12-15 years but still have few rights. The full time workers and union choose not to support the temporary who are paying into the union on issues like sick pay, forced overtime and job security. They are likewise feeding into a corrupt system and neglecting so called fellow workers to be victims of the system, in one instance new plastic spoons in the canteen was seen as a more important issue than job security for several hundred workers. They also come from working class backgrounds but choose to disassociate themselves with a workers issue and likewise at this moment these type of workers are not supporters of the movement but protectors of capitalism. Same across many different types of jobs. I can see the difference a Garda is enforcing law and will be used to protect capitalist law, maybe some of these full time workers mentioned will be protesting against the water but when it comes to equal status within the work place they are not in support.

      • November 20, 2014 at 16:19

        I think the SP genuinely believe that there is a reformist path to getting rid of capitalism (through getting elected to a majority in parliament and then this workers’ government passing laws to nationalise the “commanding heights” of the economy – what they used to refer to as passing an “Enabling Act”). My problems with this are three-fold.

        Firstly it leads them to emphasise creating certain forms of organisation (electoral) and give much less emphasis to creating other forms (grassroots participatory democracy). This happened in the CAHWT and I worry it will happen again in the anti-water charges movement.

        Secondly it leads them to limit the concrete programme for overall social change they present to the working class (election manifestos, alternative budgets etc) to a radical restructuring of capitalism with an abstract reference to socialism tagged on the end. I think this only helps reinforce reformist consciousness among workers when it is the job of revolutionary Marxists, as probably best outlined by Trotsky in the Transitional Programme, to explicitly link radical reformist demands to the issue of working class power based on workers’ councils including the need to “smash” the capitalist state (using sensible language and relevant examples of course).

        Thirdly it leads them to downplay the need for organised opposition to the state – like the bizarre (from the point of view of revolutionary Marxism) condemning of someone throwing a water balloon at Joan Burton as “violence”. And of course muddying the waters over the social role of the police with the “workers in uniform” position.

        On your last point, certainly there are many problems caused by low class consciousness and it is part of the job of revolutionary Marxists to challenge that. By being part of campaigns aiming to overcome the negative manifestations of these problems but also recognising that a big part of the process of changing consciousness is workers seeing the practical effects of working class solidarity and the strength of working class self-organisation (as we are seeing the few first small green shoots of in Cobh Says No).

  2. 5 Kronstadtist
    November 22, 2014 at 23:52

    I’m not in any way playing down the movement that is upon us nationwide at this very moment, as I have never seen a movement this diverse before. Although it is great in theory that we stand in solidarity with all workers, in reality we don’t at this very moment and could take a generation to break down the barriers that exist, the movement that we are experiencing is community based and is fundementally based on the anti-water charge campaign. My heart says it will snow ball into a full scale revolution and people will re-organise this country and maybe beyond into a society controlled by the people from community up. My brain says that when the water charges are defeated and the Blueshirts step down, which I believe will happen in tandem as Fine Gael have to much put into this to back down and more than there seats are on the line. Which will probably lead to a Sinn Fein Fianna Fail ind govt and water charges being scraped and possibly household charge, then we lose a mass of people as they will go back into the security of sheltered capitalism. The only way IMO I can see this continue at the extent it is after the water is when the water is looking near its end is for the people to drive on with another nationwide topic whatever it will be. When I look back on the anti-drug movement in Dublin in the 90’s which was also a community movement creating soldarity between communities and lasted 15-20 years in which residents controlled their estates. Main problem’s that ended this movement one was it was only in the poor working class area’s of Dublin never spread nationwide a handfull existed outside of Dublin as it was based around issues of crime, disadvantaged communities and fundementally the heroin problem which was nearly non existent outside of Dublin then, likewise spread very little to settled working class area’s and not at all to middle class. 2nd was finiancial and green space was the barter tool, over time as more was lost and eventually the rapid programme broke the camels back and most sold out to this causing most estates to hand over last remaining green spaces leaving them with no leway and the housing crash played its part as well. 3rd was from start to finish pretty much the same people where involved in each community and they over time got wore down by Gardaí, Politicians, Media, begrudgers and local gangs. As we can learn from the past whatever the issue is to mobilise the people even further will have to be nationwide and spread across all communities like the water, people are moving but I fear we will settle. Sorry this is off topic on SP matter 🙂

    • November 24, 2014 at 21:11

      No problem for drifting off topic a bit. I’d largely agree with your assessment about likely developments. The issue for me is whether it is possible to make solid links between a decent sized layer of militant working class activists who will then provide a higher level platform for future struggles. The coming together of the nucleus of a revolutionary organisation as part of this process would be a nice bonus as well.

  3. 7 Kronstadtist
    November 23, 2014 at 23:28

    To add and defend the SP a little, I believe it could be possible to bring about a leftist state through reform first and a gradual revolution if this is the means they currently approach. When I was involved in the SP it was always about trying to work on the ground with groups and get them to develop at grassroots level, this used up a lot of resources and manpower from the SP and 9 times out of 10 ended up going around in circles, sometimes they took the wrong approach like in West Tallaght during the anti-drug movement they where kicked out of the meeting accused of trying to hijack especially suggestions coming from an SP memeber not even living in Tallaght let alone West Tallaght wouldn’t of went down well. Also at that time the SP were struggling financially apart from Joe Higgins cash flow keeping it a float. Although they are probably healthier now with more TD’s and I assume a bigger membership. Obviously somewhere along the line they voted against this maybe to free up whatever resources to get members in the dáil where if they got majority could put in place resources to develop people on the ground help them financially and educate on grassroots people power and have a gradual change to a Socialist state. The big issue would now be trust, that the SP would infact implement these changes and begin a process of revolution rather than sit on their new found power like has happened every time since history began, I doubt their voters would stand for this.

    • November 24, 2014 at 21:31

      I don’t actually see any evidence of the SP giving a priority to the building of working self-organisation, like we are seeing the embryo of in Cork. Just as with the CAHWT what they are interested in is something quite different – campaign style groups at a constituency level. These can organise effective protests but are not primarily about direct empowerment of working people, rather they are much more useful for electioneering.

      In terms of the potential for the SP’s strategic perspective to have a chance of succeeding I think this overlooks one issue – the existence and social role of the capitalist state repressive apparatus.

      The bourgeoisie are not going to sit idly by and simply watch the SP get into a position of forming a government (if they don’t capitulate and instead continue to put forward an anti-capitalist programme – albeit reformist anti-capitalism from my point of view). We are already seeing an amazing amount of vilification of the Socialist Party (something I hope to find time to blog about in the next few days). If their influence continues to grow those horror stories will only increase and will be used to justify direct repression of them, and other militant forces on the left, a very long time before they get any chance to win governmental power through any elections.

      This is the core of the Marxist understanding on achieving working class power as outlined perhaps best in Lenin’s State and Revolution. The SP seek to get around this by posing the easy neutralisation of the bourgeois state repressive apparatus by things like “community control of the police” and appeals to them as “workers in uniform”. These are not new ideas and I look at the debates in the past and stand with the likes of Lenin and Trotsky who were scathing in their criticism of similar approaches in their time.

    • December 1, 2014 at 07:21

      Mick Barry’s speech at the protest on Saturday were another confirmation of my critique of the SP approach. Despite hailing Cobh’s opposition to meter installations he choose to say nothing about the importance of the beginnings of working class self-organisation we are seeing here. I actually think it just never occurred to him to do so as he is completely mired within an electoralist framework.

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