Tag Archives: neo-liberal

Not European, but Atlantean Irish

We are Europeans now, they tell us, ‘they’ being the Irish political class, including the entire national broadcast and print media. No explanation, it seems, is necessary, just that bald statement – ‘we are Europeans’.

Were we Europeans when a genocidal famine was inflicted on our ancestors by the British establishment, without any worthwhile intervention by any of the the states that collectively made up the European continent? Were we Europeans when the same British establishment waged a war of terror against the people of Ireland from 1919-1921, or when this small island was partitioned under threat of terrible war unless the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 were signed off on by the Irish delegation? Were we Europeans when economic war was waged against the quasi-independent Irish state by Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, or when the Irish economy was kept in a state of undevelopment right up to the 1960s and beyond through the malign interventions of British legislators, industrialists and financiers using the tools of tariffs, taxes, quotas, licences, undercutting, restriction of money supply and so on? Were we Europeans when war was waged against Northern nationalists who had the temerity to ask for fair treatment and justice in the British administered Six Counties, and were we Europeans while that war was sustained for almost 30 years, even after we had become members of the European Economic Community, later the European Union?

The answer is, of course, that we were not Europeans. We were not considered to be, nor did we consider ourselves to be. We were Irish. While the political class embarked on their project of achieving membership of the EEC we never described ourselves as ‘European’. Europe was ‘over there’, beyond two seas and an often politically unfriendly British island. Europe was a place rarely visited, other than by members of the political class and by pilgrimages of disabled and unwell Irish citizens to Lourdes and other Roman Catholic centres of pilgrimage. Even when mass tourism started to appear in the 1960s, the Irish were, when visiting Spanish resorts, going abroad, heading for an ‘exotic’ and ‘foreign’ place, travelling without any notion of being European but certain of being Irish. After we joined the EEC in 1973, and right through to the creation of the European Union through the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, nobody other than those europhiles in the political class for whom the EU project represented some sort of Nirvana referred to us as ‘Europeans’.

We are, under the terms of the Maastricht Treaty, ‘European citizens’, although most of us would probably describe ourselves as Irish citizens – citizens of an Irish state that is part of a European Union that is itself neither a nation or a federation of states in a political union like the United States of America. And while the Maastricht Treaty describes us as European citizens, it is how we see ourselves, and describe ourselves, that is indicative of our personal connection or lack of connection with the concept of ‘being’ European.

Now that the Euro is in crisis through the grotesque mishandling of the currency itself and the crisis that has ensued, and an outrageous lack of regulation of private banking and other financial institutions within the European Union which is a substantial part of the cause of that crisis, it is not enough that we just be Europeans. No, to comply with EU diktats on the repayment of private bank debt by Irish citizens regardless of culpability for those debts, we must be ‘good’ Europeans. In other words we should shut up and pay up so as to protect private banks in Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and elsewhere, including in the USA. And if our people are beggared in the process, so be it, and let the Irish people take on the moral hazard that properly belongs to the money-lenders of Europe, and do it with good grace – as good Europeans.

Three years in, the crisis has been used to create a wave of ‘austerity’, particularly in the peripheral nations – Ireland, Greece and Portugal – but also in Italy and Spain. Adopting the neo-liberal approach to economics and society, the EU has placed the burden of correcting budget deficits on the shoulders of the most hard-pressed citizens of these countries while the wealthiest have got wealthier. The EU has taken down two democratically elected governments and replaced them with unelected technocrats.

That other mantra of the Irish political class, ‘we are all in this together’ is patently an outright lie. The most recent budget has illustrated how the hands-off-the-wealthy policy of the current right-wing government mirrors the same policy of the previous right-wing government.

The demand for a fast track approach to balanced budgets is destroying the Irish economy, depressing any prospect of growth, and spiralling the nation’s finances towards bankruptcy. It is not that there is no-one shouting ‘Stop!”. Both national and international economists of some repute have berated the policy-makers for their stupidity, but they might as well be shouting into the wind. The virus of ‘austerity’ has entered the minds of the political class whose members it least affects, and they have lost any reason they may have had, although given the handling of the nation’s affairs over many decades any claim for the existence of rational thought among the political class is a precarious one. In truth, right-wing ideological prejudice is a more likely phenomenon among members of that class.

The latest episode in EU mishandling of the Euro crisis, a rush to create a fiscal union by fair means or foul, points to an end-game that was predicted by opponents of Ireland’s accession to membership of the European Economic Community almost four decades ago and warned against consistently through treaty referendum after treaty referendum ever since. That end-game is the creation of a much-expanded federal United States of Europe controlled by the strongest states, all of them imperialist nations. Far from being a union of states weighted so as to strengthen the smaller and weaker states, the dominance of the Franco-German alliance in driving all policy regarding a solution to the crisis, without evidence of a meaningful involvement by the rest of the EU states, demonstrates an arrogant autocratic approach which must be resisted, but won’t be. It is not as if the Franco-German alliance has shown that it is capable of providing a workable solution. Far from it, the Merkozy approach has been bound up in French and German ideological positions and internal national political expediencies, and as a consequence is incapable of creating a coherent and sustainable solution to the crisis.

And still, with all of this obvious to the average citizen, our right-wing government which includes a discredited Labour Party, together with the main opposition party – also right-wing – bends the knee in supplication to their masters in Europe, hoping that some crumbs will fall from the table, without any discernible evidence to support that hope. Words like ‘solidarity’ and ‘cohesion’ and ‘partners’ still flung about by our home-grown europhiles have lost their meaning in neo-liberal Europe. It is to be survival of the fittest and the relegation of the weakest to some yet to be defined second-class status, and still our political class wants in.

It is time to stop fooling ourselves, or to be more precise allowing ourselves to be fooled, with the notion that we are Europeans over and above being Irish. It is our duty, and the duty of those entrusted with power in the government and the administration, to assert ourselves and to reject policies that will destroy our economy and with it our society, to resist any further attempts to undermine our independence, and to insist that private gambling debts owned by European banks and bond-holders be carried by those institutions and individuals. If any bailing out of European banks is to be carried out, let it be by the nations in which those institutions reside, or as part of a package which includes Irish banks, by the European Central Bank. Any attempt to create a fiscal union which takes away the sovereign right of our nation to determine its budgetary policy must be decisively rejected, as must any attempt to arrive at that position without recourse to the people through a referendum.

It is by no means certain that the cack-handed approach to resolving the Euro crisis will succeed. Should there be a collapse of the monetary system, then contingency plans need to be in place. It is difficult to have any confidence in the Irish government and administration in this regard, so married are they to the notion of being ‘European’. These are dangerous times for a people whose state has been recklessly weakened by a succession of bad governments whose members preferred to strut the European stage than to take care of domestic politics – their primary duty. But there is no doubt that in changed circumstances, however difficult they would be, that the Irish people are capable, by genuinely being ‘all in this together’, can recover. For an example of success in that regard we should look, not to the European continent, but to another small Atlantic island, Iceland.

We must set our faces against surrendering to yet more domination by imperialists and expansionists. Our freedom and independence were too hard won to be given away. It is time to pit ourselves against a venal political class, and to win. Let any of them who want to be European take their chances. The rest of us should opt to be the Atlantean Irish and to set our gaze on the rest of the world and on a viable future in that world, free and sovereign.

Occupy The Citizens

The primary objective of anyone or any group who want to promote a new way of seeing the world in which they live, of effecting change, must be to galvanise support, to rally citizens to the cause, to bring not just a moral force to bear on an issue but to show that a numerical force of citizens exists in support of the argument advanced for change.

One of the contentious positions occupying the Occupy movement, and particularly, it seems, the Occupy Dame Street pioneers, is that of whether to allow an involvement in the protest by various groups, from political parties to other pressure groups including trade unions. That is not surprising given reasonable fears that attempts may be made to ‘take over’ what has been begun by a collective of  individuals who have roused themselves to make a stand and have shown courage and commitment to do so when others who might have been expected to live up to their own rhetoric failed to recognise the opportunity and step forward themselves.

There are sound reasons for being wary of political party involvement. It would be ridiculous if the three main parties, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, were to show up to pretend support for the aims of the occupiers of the Central Bank Plaza, given their support for the very institutions and ideology that the Occupy movement opposes (and Labour is no different on that to the other parties other than possibly on the scale of neo-liberal inspired austerity).

There is a case to be made, however, not to exclude other parties who have a track record in opposing both the power of the same institutions, and capitalist ideology – of which neo-liberalism is a particularly pernicious form, especially those parties that have advanced proposals to restructure politics, the economy and society in favour of the mass of ordinary citizens and who have expressly opposed the various world and regional bodies such as the IMF and ECB and their policies. Ground rules could be laid down for the inclusion of supporters of these various parties, such as on the use of party banners and on the issue of the right of the Occupy Dame Street pioneers to control their protest themselves and the ground they occupy, without any attempt by any third party to take over on either front.

There is another body that represents a massive number of people on the island, the vast majority of whom are ordinary citizen-workers (and by extension their families and dependents). The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has a combined membership across the island of  over 800,000, with in excess of 600,000 in the 26 Counties. A significant percentage of those members, and their dependents, are suffering from the effects of the insane policies of various right-wing governments from the 1990s to today, with many suffering very badly.

There are valid criticisms to be made of the way trade unions operate. But it must be pointed out that there has been a sustained campaign in the right-wing corporate and state media against the trade unions and against trade union leaders, much of it grossly unfair and unreasonable, all of it inspired by an anti-worker agenda fuelled by vile neo-liberalism, a regressive, brutal ideology that seeks to reverse the gains made by workers through trade union activity over the past century or so.

The reasons for that campaign are obvious. After all, without the unions it would be very easy to drive ordinary workers’ pay and conditions down even more than has been the case over the past four years, thus enhancing the wealth of the corporations and the privileges that those who enjoy high salaries and perks – the professional class – enjoy. The freedom to fire those who do not enjoy the protection of a trade union is exemplified in the case of the Talk-Talk workers in Waterford, whereas the Aviva workers, with trade union representation have at least had some concessions to their dignity and their rights as workers. There are many more examples on both sides. Without the backing of a trade union the power relationship between the employer and the worker works entirely in favour of the employer.

On the issue of criticisms of trade union leaders, there is certainly a case to be made that union leaders should receive a salary commensurate with the work they do as leaders of large organisations but in tune with the pay that their members receive – much as should be the case with public representatives in the Dáil and Seanad – the parliament, and with public servants on the higher scales. Contrary to the picture painted of them, most in the leadership of the trade unions, and the Congress, are good and decent men and women, whose ethics and standards compare more than favourably with those of media owners and their hacks, and politicians, business leaders, bankers, bishops, lawyers and other members of the political class.

Another point worth bearing in mind when considering criticism of trade union leaders is that they, in theory at least, are the servants of their membership. Who are their members? Contrary to what one might imagine, their members are not, in general, left-wing by nature, although many are. A significant number of trade union members support, and may even be members of, right-wing parties such as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and of Labour which has consistently enabled right-wing parties to achieve power. It is right to expect trade unions to be radical, and left-wing – since that is consistent with their origins and their expressed ethos – but the leadership is not autonomous, it must have the support of the membership from which it cannot alienate itself.

What the trade union movement can bring to the Occupy Dame Street campaign, and other affiliated campaigns around the country, is a numerical backing that protests and marches need for public impact, and also a valuable and free publicity machine to spread the essential message of the Occupy campaign to a wider audience in the absence of a media that is fair, balanced and interested in real democracy. The unions may also offer practical assistance on-site and with printing and distribution, etc. They should be asked to do so.

For the Occupy Dame Street pioneers to succeed in bringing about change it is necessary to make their movement a mass movement. Nothing will be achieved by avoiding worthwhile publicity and consciousness-raising among the wider population who, as citizens, deserve to be made aware of the arguments being put forward by the campaigners for revolutionary change. If the movement does not expand by gaining the support of a mass of people it will wither on the vine, to the delight of the political class. That is what they are hoping for, far preferable from their PR point of view than sending in state police to clear the site.

There are other organisations who would also be helpful, including community groups, unemployed workers’ groups, various anti-poverty bodies and those who work for the rights of older people (whose capacity to protest successfully is proven), etc. These are well worth encouraging to become involved. They represent citizens, after all, and citizens who might be very sympathetic to the cause.

Decisions on these matters are entirely for the pioneering campaigners down at the Central Bank in Dame Street to resolve. Anyone who believes in what they are trying to achieve will hope that the decisions they make will be wise and will lead to success. Occupy Dame Street owns the Dublin campaign at the moment. The decisions they make will decide if they can sustain that ownership into the future.

All revolutions start in the imagination, all begin with a small body of committed revolutionaries. But all successful revolutions depend on the support of a significant mass of citizens who come to the ideas that the revolutionaries originate and develop. For that to happen then dissemination of those ideas and the arguments that support them is vital, using every available medium.

Occupy The Citizens!

Occupy The Republic

The publicity surrounding the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ campaign, and its offshoots across the USA and similar movements in other countries across the world, suggests that politics is being parked to one side so as to attract a diverse range of individuals in support of the campaign’s central aim – of taking control back from the powerful and super-wealthy 1% and redistributing both the power and the wealth among the other 99% so as to create some form of genuine democracy and much fairer and more equitable societies.

These aims are entirely laudable and rational, and, despite the constant assertions from various right-wing ‘elites’ (their self-serving word) that only they have the expertise and knowledge to govern and to administer public policies and programmes, these aims are also entirely sustainable. After all, is it not the case that responsibility for all of the major military, economic and political disasters over the past century and beyond can be laid right at the door of the various ‘elites’ and their ‘expert’ advisers? Only a self-serving, powerful social deviant or a supportive fool would suggest that human beings who manage very complex personal and community lives do not have the capacity through acting in alliance with others for the common good to make decisions that are at least no worse than the calamitous decisions made by the existing ‘elites’, and likely far better.

Many older political activists and agitators will have been pessimistic over the past decade and more at the prospects for the development of new radical social movements willing to shake off the illusion of increased personal wealth and ready to tackle the problem of political and economic neo-liberal hegemony in North America and Europe. They need not have been pessimistic since if history teaches us anything it is that history is composed of cycles, of highs and lows, of periods of apparent peace and of periods of conflict, of oscillations between what we describe as the politics of the left and of the right.

So certain were neo-liberals and neo-conservatives of their ultimate triumph over the forces of the left following the fall of the Iron Curtain that one of them, Stanford University academic Francis Fukuyama, was prepared in 1992 to declare the following nonsense with a straight face, and was lionised in many quarters for it – “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” That sound that we can hear in the background is of furious back-pedalling, but too late – the hubris of the political right is the cause of their undoing as will become apparent as this latest cycle unfolds.

Many of those older political activists and agitators will shake their heads at the notion of a de-politicised or apolitical movement for fundamental reform (in other words a revolutionary movement). They need not worry. What is going on is a process of attracting support from populations that have been subjected to many decades of media-delivered propaganda, populations that are unsure of the consequences of challenging authority, of stepping ‘over the mark’. That is how hegemony works most effectively through what Elisabeth Noelle-Neuman described as a Spiral of Silence in which individuals, confronted with potentially contentious issues, scan the horizon to determine what they think is a social consensus out of which they are disinclined to break because of fear of social isolation or physical injury. The Spiral of Silence is broken, and with it hegemony, when voices begin to challenge authority and increase and magnify as more people find their courage. That process can be very rapid. The fall of the Iron Curtain is one case in support of this, Tunisia another.

Canadian blogger Shafeen Charania writes that “Things don’t suddenly hit the fan, there is a lead up that gets to the point when people, despite the risk, say “Enough.” It is at this point that revolutions are born, that causes are formed, that the Man is made to pucker. As the unjust disparity grows, the people’s desire to hold on to the status quo shrinks to the point where what was once unthinkable becomes thinkable. Unjust disparity is the gap between being controlled and being in control”.

If the ‘Occupy’ movement is successful in maintaining and then expanding its support then that may take care of the question ‘how are we going to get there?’. But that leaves unanswered the question ‘Where do we want to go?’. In effect it is the ‘the cart before the horse’ scenario. As things stand the movement has some nebulous idea of the need for a transformation in the way political and economic power is wielded and its effect on societies and individuals, but that revolutionary idea needs to have a focus, a destination, a ‘place’ where a majority of people are prepared and interested enough to go, and it must be a journey that has the possibility of a successful conclusion in as short a space of time as is possible to avoid the potential for a political vacuum that may be filled by malign forces. History can illuminate that journey.

At another time, in what seems like a strange land, the then ninety-niners lived in conditions not dissimilar to but very much more exaggerated than those that today’s ninety-niners rebel against. They were governed by a succession of tyrannical kings and governments that constantly shifted wealth from the poor to the rich, stole the ninety-niners’ lands and resources, used famine as a genocidal tool, and the noose, the sword and the gun as a means of suppressing dissent. The tyrants did all they could to destroy the indigenous laws, culture and language,  used the ninety-niners as slaves at home and abroad, ensured that living conditions were, for the vast majority, utterly sub-standard and that hope for a better future seemed an impossible illusion.

Eventually, just as today, a small number of ninety-niners determined that change must come, that they would attempt to transform the lives of all ninety-niners in their land by creating revolutionary change. A journey would be required, and all involved knew that it would be an extremely hazardous one, that some would make it to the destination but that others would fall in the making of the journey. But what would be the destination? It surely had to be one worth reaching, if the human cost was to be high. No point in making a journey that ended up, more or less, at the point of departure.

What those ninety-niners did was to draw up a set of requirements for a new society, which are, again, not dissimilar in many respects to the requirements that today’s ninety-niners are articulating – justice, equity, freedom, genuine democracy by ownership of government by citizens, and prosperity. Oh, and for good measure, those ninety-niners of old added a truly revolutionary notion, that the government would work, not just for the prosperity of its citizens, but for their happiness!

Now, not only did the ninety-niners of old know they had a journey to make, but that there was a destination worth arriving at. If today’s ninety-niners are to be successful then it is imperative that they set down the broad requirements of the renovated societies that they wish to achieve – only then will they have the potential to attract the mass support needed to overcome seemingly impossible odds. To do that they must lay out some sort of vision for their particular society in the country in which they are campaigning.

In their deliberations, today’s ninety-niners might examine the template for a better society drawn up by the ninety-niners of old. It may be that they might find ways of improving on it, but that is doubtful. Here is the essence of it – “The Irish Republic is a Sovereign Independent State and is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of all citizens. The Republic declares the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”.

No privileged ‘elite’ outside of the rule of law; no preferment for corporate interests over the citizens’ interests; religious and civil liberties enshrined; absolute parity of esteem for all citizens without qualification on grounds of gender, race, religious persuasion, intellectual or physical ability, social class or profession/trade, etc.; control of national wealth and resources by the people; ownership of government by the citizens and not vested interests; prosperity and…happiness.

Today’s ninety-niners might well consider these ideas – would they be satisfied with a society in which these were the rule of law and enshrined and underpinned in a costitution? If not, how are they to be improved on? It is reasonable to suggest that the vision of the ninety-niners of old represents an achievable destination, and that the journey need not take an inordinate amount of time to complete.

Occupying Dame Street is a worthwhile and admirable thing to do. It could be the first step towards a bigger objective with a slightly different slogan – ‘Occupy The Republic’.

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