Tag Archives: democracy

Catalonia is not the problem

No, the problem is Spain, or more precisely, the Spanish political class as represented in politics by the PP, the PSOE and Ciudadanos. The latter two parties have supported Mariano Rajoy’s PP and its policy of squashing Catalonia’s limited autonomy and have enabled the passage of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to put that into effect.

Every effort made by the Catalan President and parliament to engage in dialogue with Madrid so as to find a solution to the crisis has been imperiously spurned. The so-called ‘king’ of Spain (what a ridiculous medieval construct that is!) has rowed in on the side of the PP, causing great offence in Catalonia not least for his tacit endorsement of the actions of the storm-troopers sent by Madrid in to halt a democratic process — the independence referendum.

But the problem is also the EU. Every appeal by the Catalans for a vindication of supposed EU democratic ‘values’ has been resisted. The truth is, of course, that the EEC/EU was founded along explicitly anti-democratic lines, as Teresa Forcades, Yanis Varoufakis and others have shown. We in Ireland have our own proof of that anti-democratic nature in that we were forced, twice, to vote a second time in referendums on the Nice and Lisbon Treaties. Why? Because we twice gave the ‘wrong’ answer from the point-of-view of the EU and our own rabidly-Europhile political class.

As I write, the Catalan parliament has just endorsed the Declaration of Independence while, simultaneously, the Spanish parliament has voted to trigger Article 155.

There will be conflict as a result, and we should hope that it will be confined to words. The people of Catalonia have shown themselves to be peaceful democrats, but the same cannot be said of the regime in Madrid headed by the Partido Popular, the latest manifestation of a political line that stretches directly back to the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. And behind that party are the string-pullers, accurately described recently by British journalist Paul Mason as the remnants of Falangism, Ultra-Catholics, Opus Dei and neoliberals. An unsavoury lot! Who, in their right mind, would want to be associated with that?

But what of the rule of law, and what of the constitution? The answer to that is that the Spanish regime has stuffed the courts with pliable judges drawn from the same political class, and has itself shown a contempt for the constitution both in the case of Catalonian autonomy and in ensuring that rampant corruption within and around the PP is shielded. And the answer is also that the Catalan Republic has its own laws and its own constitution. That comes with self-determination.

There are some who worry about nationalism as though that is automatically a bad thing, which it need not be. The Catalan parliament, acting on behalf of the Catalan people, has clearly stated that the independent state would take the form of a republic, and that it would be informed by universal Enlightenment values of Freedom, Equality and Solidarity. As a republican, my visits to Catalunya over the past ten years have convinced me that the people of that region already think and act as republicans in their daily lives and interactions with one another.

There is another political element that should assuage people’s worries, and that is the healthy state of Catalonian politics and democracy. Into the normal mix of Left and Right parties there has been injected in recent years a developing and very healthy progressive movement based on municipalism, employing open discussion of issues and policies and using citizens’ assemblies to widen participation in politics. That is most readily observed in local democracy, and the presence in parliament today of most of the 700 Catalan Mayors is probably the strongest armour the newly-proclaimed Catalan Republic has against aggression from Spain.

Catalonia’s national boundary is very well established. The same cannot be said of the national boundaries of most of the world’s nations, most of which are arbitrary constucts to suit the wants and needs of imperialist powers — lines on maps in Africa, the Middle East and so on. Oh, and in Europe itself!

At this moment what Catalonia and its people need is solidarity. Its enemies are legion, and powerful, from an aggressive Spanish unionist regime to the EU and some of its most powerful member-states, and beyond among Spain’s allies and those with vested interests in Spanish cooperation. The UN has a role to play here, since its own charter recognises the right to self-determination, the conditions for which Catalonia meets.

But most of all, it is down to us, as individuals or as members of groups to offer solidarity to the great people of Catalonia. It is up to us to counter an antagonistic mainstream media both in Spain and internationally, and to put pressure on our own governments to act ethically and in the spirit of the UN Charter on self-determination.

80 years ago it was necessary to raise an International Brigade to fight in defence of the Spanish Republic. Today the battlefield is ideas and principles — and propaganda. Let us make sure we meet that challenge.

Long live the Catalan Republic!

Freedom, Equality, Solidarity!





A Very British Coup in the making

Those who are familiar with the 1988 mini-series “A Very British Coup” in which a newly elected left-wing Labour British prime minister is brought down by dark forces within the British Establishment, will with some justification see parallels in that same establishment’s reaction to the election as Labour party leader of Jeremy Corbyn.

A sustained campaign across the entire British mainstream media, including in supposedly slightly-leftish newspapers such as the Guardian and the Independent, sought to undermine Corbyn’s candidacy and then his leadership, often involving risible smears, outright lies and distortions regarding his positions on a variety of issues and backed up with partial quotes taken entirely out of context.

A reasonable onlooker to all of this might hope that such an outlandish campaign of vilification as this might be understood by a majority of people in Britain, who can rightly be assumed to be intelligent and fair-minded, might backfire, but there is no evidence of a mass reaction against it.

Recent developments are more worrying to those who believe in the primacy of democracy over tyranny.

Just last weekend, in the Sunday Times, a serving British army General was reported as saying that if Corbyn were elected Prime Minister “the British military would take direct action. There would be mass resignations at all levels. He would face the very real possibility of an event which would in effect be a mutiny.”

That is an extraordinary statement for a serving officer to make. There is precedence for it. In 1914 senior army officers based in Ireland threatened to resign en masse in what became known as the Curragh Mutiny over British Cabinet plans to suppress Unionist paramilitary opposition to Home Rule by moving against the Ulster Volunteer Force.

More recently, hard evidence has emerged to support long-standing claims by Irish nationalists of collusion between the British army and Loyalist paramilitaries to carry out planned assassinations of political opponents and random murders of Catholics presumed to be IRA supporters or as acts of terror – terrorism against a civilian population. The British army has previous form in carrying out extra-judicial activities, as reports from Kenya and other former colonies bears out.

And so, the remarks by that serving British army General have to be taken seriously. As of now, there is no evidence that he has been forced to resign for his direct challenge to democratic institutions, and to democracy itself.

Where does the British Conservative Party stand on this challenge to government, parliament and the will of the British people, who, one can reasonably assume, would not support what would in effect be a military coup to subvert the democratic process?

Within hours of Corbyn’s election as leader of the British Labour Party, prime minister David Cameron had accused him of being a ‘threat to national security’, in effect giving the green light to that army General and his colleagues, including in the secret services.

Three days after the General’s threat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Crispin Blunt MP – Conservative Party, appeared on the BBC’s ‘HardTalk’ programme to be questioned by Stephen Sachur. Here is the exchange between Sachur and Crispin blunt (CB) relating to that threat, and to Corbyn.

Sachur: A serving General said in the Sunday Times that if Corbyn were elected Prime Minister “the British military would take direct action. There would be mass resignations at all levels. He would face the very real possibility of an event which would in effect be a mutiny.”

(CB): He can speak for himself but he certainly is speaking way outside the authority of any serving officer. If Jeremy Corbyn is elected Prime Minister under a Labor Government the army, like everybody else will have to turn to their right and carry out the instructions of the elected government.

Sachur: It is confusing for the public because your party – as soon as Corbyn was elected – issued propaganda – if I may call it that – suggesting that he was a fundamental threat to the security of the United Kingdom.

(CB): Well he is. If you believe in a coherent defence strategy of the United Kingdom where you want at least 2% of your GDP spent on defence – if you want the United Kingdom to be properly committed to NATO – then, I think he is a threat to our security. He would un-pick the whole of our defense posture. If he was allowed to revert to the opinions he expressed before he became leader of the Labor Party. There is obviously now a very live debate within the Labor Party with the people he has appointed. …

Sachur: But, there is something different about saying that he is a fundamental risk to the core of the security of the nation. It is a very active debate now about whether Cameron´s government is prepared to share with Jeremy Corbyn the level of military and intelligence information – secret information – that has been shared in the past.

(CB): Yes, but they are under no obligation to share that information.

Sachur: Precendence suggests that they will. It is a part of accountability and transparency in a democracy that the leader of the opposition knows as much as can be safely given to him about is being done in the name of the United Kingdom.

(CB): No, it is not I don´t think. I don´t think it is part of any – it may have become convention but I wouldn´t present it in those terms.

Sachur: You don´t see it as democracy, transparency and accountability?

(CB): No. The leader of the opposition gets privileged access to information on a basis that other members of Parliament don´t have? No, not necessarily. That is a judgement for the Government to take. It is normally taken when the Government is seeking to persuade the leader of the opposition to associate himself with a particular government strategy whilst the Government is seeking consensus. If the Government is not going to get consensus because he holds very strong views opposed to the use of military force in almost any circumstance.

Sachur: And you think that is justification for giving him less access to information than previous leaders of opposition in the recent past.

(CB): What would be the point of giving him the information if it is not an attempt to achieve consensus?

Far from supporting the primacy of Britain’s democratic institutions, Crispin Blunt is explicitly accusing Corbyn of being a threat to national security – echoing the prime minister and the army General, and suggests that even within the newly appointed shadow cabinet there are those who agree with Conservative Party, British Army and security services policy to the extent that they may be seen as undermining Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, and justifies the withholding of crucial information and intelligence from Corbyn that would normally be shared with the Leader of the Opposition.

Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has stated his opposition to war and his support for political solutions in its place. He has stated that he is a republican but will reflect the wishes of the people who support the monarchy. He has promised to work for fairness and justice, and greater equality across British society. He is in favour of reducing dependence on hydrocarbons and in favour of green energy, and in developing modern industries based on technological innovation. He wants more democracy, more involvement by the people in shaping policy, more accountability, less corruption, greater control of the financial sector, more and better public services including health and education, renationalisation of key services including transport, and a changing role for Britain in the world to what has been the norm up to now.

He sounds like a decent, intelligent, ethical individual who is concerned about the lives of the many, not just in Britain but in other parts of the world.

He is, therefore, a dangerous man. He threatens the wealth, privilege and power of the British Establishment. He must go.

These anti-democratic machinations by the British establishment are what we would recall from various Latin American coups in the 1970s and 80s. Some of us might see resonances of that in the undermining of the democratic expressions of the Greek people by the European Union led by Germany, this year.

And those off us who remember that brilliant mini-series from 1988, a piece of fiction, can now see it begin to become fact in the creation today of A Very British Coup.

That is not a flight of fancy. Read the signs.

Democracy’s Child, Dictatorship

Contrary to what the German ‘elite’ think of the Greeks at the moment, we can generally expect to find the pearls of wisdom we need there, even if they have to be excavated from 2,500 years ago.

Plato had something to say that might sound warning signals about the Fine Gael-Labour coalition: “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty”.

With a combined strength for the Coalition of 113 Dail seats, just 52 TDs will occupy the opposition benches, and several of those are likely to be sympathetic to Fine Gael on a range of issues and policies, with Fianna Fail already indicating that it will be supportive where government policy is in accord with the previous administration’s. That leaves fewer than 30 Dail Deputies between Sinn Fein, the United Left Alliance, and left-leaning independents, who are ideologically opposed to the stated programme for government.

In these conditions, there can be no expectation of close-run votes in the Dail, even on the most contentious of issues. When it comes to the matter of standing orders in the Dail where these affect issues like speaking time and order of business it will largely be in the gift of the governing parties to make concessions and not because it is right, or equitable, or fair, or indicative of parity of respect for the voters who put those Deputies there to give voice to their concerns.

Between the parties that make up the Coalition there will undoubtedly be tensions, and within the parties too. But given the likelihood that the opinion poll ratings for both parties will drop substantially there will be little appetite for publicly expressed discord within or between the parties. Despite Eamon Gilmore’s closing oration at the Labour Delegate Conference when he presented a rosier outcome for Labour at the next election than history would indicate, many of the newly elected Labour TDs will have a serious fight on their hands to hold their seats. It is likely that Fine Gael’s position will be little different. The need for survival is a great gagging device.

It is quite likely that we will see legislation or regulation proposed that under normal conditions would either not be proposed or would be modified because of tight voting conditions that normally prevail in the Dail. With the majority it will command this government need not be so restrained, and those who think that Labour would guard against the introduction of repressive legislation don’t know their recent history. Section 31 of the Boradcasting Act is one example, introduced by a Labour Minister, Conor Cruise O’Brien, and there are others.

It is likely that Sinn Fein will shine in opposition. The party has seen returned as Dail Deputies not just a cohort of intelligent and highly articulate TDs but also a leader who has demonstrated exceptional political skills, is a good communicator, and is a person with considerable international stature. There is no doubt that Sinn Fein is ready in the starting blocks, rarin’ to go.

The United Left Alliance too will shine. Again, they have a group of intelligent and highly articulate TDs, with street ‘cred’. They will relish the thought of getting stuck into Labour from the word ‘go’.

It may well be that the most effective opposition will have to be fought on the streets outside Leinster House, and the United Left Alliance and Sinn Fein will be primed for that too. That may well be the place that dictatorship will be denied, and democracy enhanced. The republic is after all, according to another Greek, Cicero, “the property of the people”.

So it must remain.

Election Mania: notes from the asylum 5

There they go again! ‘We must have stable government’ says the political class – more specifically the Labour leadership and the bourgeois press.  ‘We need a broad-based government to send a message to our partners in the EU and the international financiers’, they say.

What they mean of course is that Labour must do its ‘duty’ – again. It must, for the Labour leadership, get into power. For the bourgeois press, Labour must prop up the hegemonic right-wing political system, or the sky might fall.

We have had stable government for 14 years, with a minority Fianna Fail government relying either on small parties or a number of compliant independents, so stable that the government was able to bankrupt the country in broad daylight with the assistance of the small parties and independents without any significant protest from them until Black November when the IMF and EU were gifted our sovereignty by that government.

And what of Labour’s claim that its presence in government will make it more ‘broad-based’? A glance at the profile of the Labour TDs elected this time will reveal very few TDs from the working class, self-employed manual workers, small farmers, the unemployed, working mothers, carers, people with disabilities. Oh, but Labour lawyer-TDs, and Labour economist-TDs, and Labour academic-TDs, will, they say, ‘represent’ those people. The truth is that a ‘Labour’ party that does not have a healthy cohort drawn from the working and lower middle class among its parliamentary representatives is just another bourgeois party.

A Fine Gael – Labour coalition would have upwards of 115 seats in the Dail, leaving about 50 seats to the opposition. Such an imbalance, far from being just ‘stable’, would amount to a parliamentary dictatorship, free of the possibility of dismissal from power, and capable of governing without the need for accountability.

It makes no sense to read the voters’ intentions in this election as an endorsement for this sort of ridiculous coalition of Left and Right, particularly when it is obvious that there could be a very stable government formed between Fine Gael and the remaining rump of Fianna Fail, thus really ending Civil War politics. The two parties are in complete ideological agreement, are two sides of the same coin.

A proper reading of the voters’ intentions is to be gauged by the massive increase in support for left-wing parties, which in the mind of the electorate includes the Labour Party, Sinn Fein, The United Left Alliance and leftist independents. Matched by a significant decline in the number of centre-right and right-wing TDs coming out of this election, this is not just an urban phenomenon but is spread around the country.

The appropriate response of the Right to the wishes of the electorate is a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, and some in those two parties may already be discussing this option. That would leave us with a powerful opposition, the first left-wing opposition in the history of the State.

This election has been revolutionary in its outcome. It cannot be, for the convenience of a few, turned into a counter-revolution. The next election will be even more important. It will likely take place in 2015 in the run-up to the centenary of 2016, the most appropriate moment to finally create the sort of Republic envisaged by the revolutionaries of 1916. It would be a travesty if the Labour Party, so central to that revolution, should, by its actions in going into government with Fine Gael, ensure that a rejuvenated Fianna Fail and a burgeoning Sinn Fein have their hands on those levers, to the exclusion of the Labour Party.

Labour – listen to the voters. Their intent is clear, that Civil War politics must end, and that we should finally have a democracy mature enough to take seriously the Left as well as the Right. It is called democratic choice!

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