Paul Murphy TD and the socialist position on Ukraine – part 3 of 3

Irish politicians give a standing ovation in the Dail following a speech by Zelensky. People before Profit TDs stand but do not applaud.

Paul Murphy clearly recognises the problem posed by his analysis that the war in Ukraine is both one of national liberation and an inter-imperialist conflict.  He asks himself:

‘What is the balance of these elements of the conflict – national liberation struggle and inter-imperialist conflict? Unlike with Serbia at the start of World War I, this is certainly not a case of 99% inter-imperialist conflict and 1% national liberation struggle. It has not, at least yet, resulted in all out global conflict, with multiple countries being directly drawn in. The different aspects are more evenly balanced. However, the trend of development has been for the inter-imperialist element to predominate more over time, as more US weapons are sent, and the number of NATO troops in eastern Europe having increased tenfold since the start of the year.’

How does this help him decide?  He still declares that ‘supporting the right of Ukrainian people to self-defence is vital.’  Why? If ‘the trend of development has been for the inter- imperialist element to predominate more over time’ why is this still vital?  In what way is it vital?  For what purpose?  Is it some quantitative assessment that at some point tips 51% support for ‘Ukraine’ become only 49% and thus 51% support for . . . who exactly?

Given the approach he takes these are impossible questions for him to answer, or at least answer correctly, and this is because the wrong question is being asked.  The correct question is what the interests of the working class are, and repeatedly we have shown from numerous arguments that these do not involve support for the Ukrainian state, or US imperialism and NATO intervention.

Murphy gets himself tied up by formulas he has learnt but are precisely only formulas because he doesn’t stop to consider their basis in reality.  This leads to proffered answers that are equally unreal. 

He sets himself tasks that should be easy to answer.  He says that his analysis – ‘means socialists must attempt to disentangle, to the degree possible, the legitimate resistance to Russian imperialist invasion, and the inter-imperialist conflict which we oppose.’  And how would we do that if we claim it is a war of national liberation?  If we consider an already independent capitalist state must be supported in war because of the formula of self-determination?

The protection of the Ukrainian working class does not lie in the continuation of a war that continues only because of imperialism.  The desire to conquer Donbas and Crimea will deliver only more war and more suffering for themselves and the workers of these regions. Only an end to the war can offer the prospect of a peace that can begin to address their needs; war on behalf of the US and NATO offers nothing but more death and destruction for everyone except the western imperialists!  More or less arms from NATO does not affect this truth.

Murphy says that his ‘disentangling’ ‘means supporting the right of Ukrainian people to resist. We don’t blame people in Ukraine for getting weaponry from wherever they can source it, but we do encourage them to operate on the basis of complete independence from NATO’. But it isn’t the people of Ukraine who are resisting, it is the Ukrainian state and the political regime that walked them into this war despite all the warnings.  The majority of the Ukrainian people might believe it is their war, but if they have guns in hand, these have been provided more and more by western imperialism and it is not for themselves that they are killing and dying.

They cannot operate ‘on the basis of complete independence from NATO’ because the state they are under the command of is not operating ‘on the basis of complete independence from NATO’.  To do this, Ukrainian workers would have to be independently organised from their capitalist state.  This, of course, may be practically impossible but this doesn’t mean you ignore the terrible consequences of not being able to, or the price to be paid by being subordinated to your own state.  It certainly doesn’t justify thinking that the interests of the Ukrainian working class can be collapsed into the idea of a Ukrainian people without class distinctions, and a Ukrainian state that it is in their interests to oppose.  The fact this state and its political leadership has led them into this war while promising peace is proof of this.

Murphy claims that ‘If such genuinely independent forces existed, socialists could even fundraise to send them weapons. However, those of us living in the western camp, the dominant imperialist bloc in the world, cannot support NATO forces pouring weapons into Ukraine in the pursuit of an inter-imperialist conflict, risking an escalatory spiral that could lead to armageddon.’

If independent working class forces existed in Ukraine they would have opposed the war from the start and opposed the project of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists to re-occupy Donbas and Crimea.  They would have opposed NATO membership and sought to campaign jointly with their fellow workers in Donbas, Crimea and Russia.  That they were too small to do so does not mean they should adopt the alternative of joining those forces who prevented their doing what they should have done had they been more powerful.

What socialists in the west should do is oppose the war, oppose sanctions, and oppose the imperialist alliance in their own countries or attempts by their politicians, as in Ireland, to get them to join it.  This is impossible if you claim that there is some justified war going on that it is ‘vital’ to support and your own state is doing just that.

Murphy claims that ‘A just peace would only be possible on the basis of the withdrawal of these [Russian] occupation forces. Included in that should be recognition of the right of minorities within Ukraine to self-determine their own future. An essential condition for the fair exercise of that right in Crimea or the Donbas region for example would have to be the withdrawal of the invading army and the right of all refugees to return.’

‘In contrast to the calls for further militarisation, we should focus on demands which can assist the Ukrainian people. The demand for cancellation of Ukrainian debt, coming from social movements within Ukraine, may yet gather momentum, as it becomes clear that reconstruction will be impossible with the mountain of illegitimate debt that arose because of the oligarchisation of Ukrainian society. This debt has grown even further as a result of war loans from the Western powers, which have no intention of releasing Ukraine from debt bondage.’

The Ukrainian state has already rejected the rights of minorities within its state, which is why it refused to implement the Minsk agreements and continued, for example, shelling Donetsk city.  Victory for the state of Ukraine will quite obviously not change this.  Equally, so obvious is it that imperialism will exploit Ukraine should it win the war that Murphy himself notes that western imperialism has no intention of leaving it debt free.  What cannot be repaid will not be repaid but this means only that new debt will replace the old and the amount to be repaid will depend on how much can be squeezed from Ukrainian workers after ‘their’ victory.

The contradictions of Murphy’s position will either be resolved positively or sprout further confusion down the line.  From a theoretical point of view the way forward is to review handed-down formulas so that their meaning is properly understood.  From a practical point of view it is to join those in Ireland attempting to campaign against the war; and from a psychological point of view it is to stand 100 per cent against the policies and lies that bourgeois politicians and its media has poured into the heads of what passes for ‘public opinion’. 

Back to part 2

Paul Murphy TD and the socialist position on Ukraine – part 2 of 3

Paul Murphy states on four occasions that Ukraine is a former colony, for example, that ‘the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a brutal imperialist invasion of a former colony is clear.’  Repetition gives the impression of the relevance of the concept of national liberation and anti-colonial war, except of course, we are informed four times that Ukraine is not a colony.  So, if it’s not a colony it must be an independent capitalist state, in which case Lenin’s policy of self-determination obviously cannot apply in the way it is assumed it must.

The outcome of believing that some principle of self-determination applies to every capitalist state in a war, perhaps as long as it finds itself up against a more powerful adversary, could only promise future support for one capitalist state after another.  The possibility of an independent working class position is permanently lost. Ironically, both those who support Ukraine and those who support Russia (because it is defending itself and China against the US) surrender working class politics and just pick a different poison.

The ’reality’ of the Russian invasion he draws attention to ­– the death, suffering and destruction of war – does not lead to support for the Ukrainian state whether presented as synonymous with its people or not.  The way to deal with the reality of this obvious tragedy is to oppose the war, oppose the Russian invasion, and oppose its never-ending continuation promised by the Ukrainian state and their imperialist supporters’ demand for victory. This is the position that this blog has argued from the start.

In opposing those who do not support the Ukrainian state, Murphy says that these people ‘by declaring that western capitalism has already robbed Ukrainian people of social and national rights . . . effectively attempt to cover up their own denial of the rights of the Ukrainian people to self-determination.’  But if it is true that the Western powers have, through their intervention, denuded Ukraine of its rights then what independent role is this state now playing; how could it have become anything other than a tool of Western imperialism, and if this is so how on earth can it be supported?

Murphy accepts that ‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine cannot be divorced from the ongoing conflict between the US-led NATO alliance and Russia and its alliance’ but if this is the case then, given these geopolitical forces involved, this is what defines the character of the war.  It is not therefore in the interests of either the Ukrainian or Russian working class that it continues. 

But this is far from the position of those on the left supporting the war for whom the victory of Ukraine is the objective, an objective only achievable if it continues to fight, no matter what forces the more powerful Russian state throws at it.  Even if Ukraine with western imperialist support was able to achieve their improbable victory, it would involve the occupation of Crimea and Donbas against the wishes of the majority of its people, make Ukraine a NATO member, and allow the stationing of large conventional forces and nuclear weapons that would threaten Russia.

Whoever thinks that this will bring peace and stability probably still believes the Versailles Treaty was a good idea, that NATO really is a defensive alliance, and that Ukrainian ultra-nationalism will be satisfied. Unfortunately, if you already support a reactionary capitalist state that has armed its native fascists; sought the unlimited support of western imperialism; supported a regime that has demanded no-fly zones and ‘pre-emptive strikes’ on Russia that would lead to World War, then your illusions in the fruits of their victory is entirely consistent with this reactionary logic.  So why the attempt to support Ukraine and oppose its NATO allies, without whom it would already have collapsed?

Paul Murphy correctly notes that the weapons going to the Ukrainian military ‘which is increasingly integrated into NATO . . . are not being transferred by western imperialism out of concern for the Ukrainian people’s rights, but in pursuance of its own interests – which are not those of working class people.’  Again, if this is the case, how can those who are wielding these weapons be pursuing any other interest than those of the imperialist powers providing them?

The interests of US imperialism is to neuter Russia as a means of surrounding and subordinating China, and which – through the sanctions directed at Russia – also hobble the European Union as its largest economic Competitor.  The lengths it is prepared to go to are illustrated by its destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines that cut off Europe from cheaper gas supplies and make it more dependent on much more expensive US gas.  

Already European industry is closing and looking to relocate production.  The muted response from western media would not have occurred had Russia, for some inexplicable reason, decided to blow up its own pipeline and future source of revenue, but is another perfect example of the censorship that defines western media coverage of the war. How is the victory of Ukraine and US imperialism in the interests of European workers, unless you think a permanent cost of living crisis is a good idea?

Why on earth should anyone believe that there is also an identity of interests between the Ukrainian working class and US imperialism, and that the ever-increasing reliance and subordination of the Ukrainian state to imperialism will not be at its expense?  Already, even pro-war Ukrainian socialists complain about the effect of western imperialism on the country, through IMF demanded austerity and privatisation.  Yet their subordination to the Ukrainian state leaves them supporting the war and defending the opportunity for its intensification.

This left supports ever-increasing military and financial support by imperialism while flying the kite that this should not be paid for – that the debt of the Ukrainian state should be cancelled.  The potential altruistic intentions of imperialism are given another opportunity to disappoint as the pro-imperialist logic of their position works itself out.  Pretending to be based on ‘reality’ they require a belief in the incredible to make any sense.

Paul Murphy does not endorse some of these woeful illusions but support for the Ukrainian state requires going down this road, unless the contradictory nature of his characterisation of the war is resolved correctly.  He too calls for cancellation of the debt while noting that ‘the Western powers . . . have no intention of releasing Ukraine from debt bondage.’

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

Paul Murphy TD and the socialist position on Ukraine – part 1 of 3

The People before Profit TD Paul Murphy has written on the nature of the war in Ukraine and its importance for socialists. He makes clear that he supports a position I have already critiqued in a previous post but has something more to say than already argued; the critique therefore does so as well. 

On its importance he correctly notes that:

‘If we give succour to the idea that NATO can be a force for defending democracy and human rights, where will that leave us when its members engage in another blatantly imperialist anti-democratic intervention somewhere in the world? The question will be asked – if we accept that NATO is actually concerned with protecting democracy in Ukraine, then why not support joining NATO and expanding it further?’

This is absolutely correct and exposes the threat to any socialist opposition in the West to its own ruling class.  The ideas of some, who defend the Ukrainian state and the supply of arms to it by NATO, is such a departure from working class politics that one would expect some extraordinary arguments in its support.

What we have gotten instead is moralistic expressions of sympathy for the ‘Ukrainian people’ with no consideration of the class nature of the state waging the war, or explanation of how on earth US imperialism and NATO found itself on the side of the working class.

Paul Murphy is correct to say that if NATO is indeed playing a progressive role in the war there is no a priori reason to doubt its claims for its role in future.  These cannot be assumed to be necessarily reactionary but become subject to approval or acceptance on a contingent basis.  For all the wind expelled in claiming to uphold an an anti-imperialist position by the supporters of Ukraine, this becomes an open question; for if the greatest imperialist alliance can carry out progressive military and political actions, then it is not necessarily reactionary and to be opposed.

Unfortunately, it becomes clear in what he writes that Murphy can only avoid this fate himself if he abandons the position he goes on to advocate.  Given the enormous propaganda offensive in Ireland in support of the Ukrainian state, if People before Profit TDs were to abandon this current position, they would face even greater condemnation from manufactured ‘public opinion’, and would have to sit down as well as not applaud the Ukrainian President when he speaks to the Dail.

I will not repeat the arguments made in my previous post referenced above in relation to the statements of the International Socialist Tendency, to which PbP is aligned, but will take up directly what Paul Murphy argues.  I will not address his mistaken understanding on Lenin’s policy of self-determination of nations, which has also been taken up in a number of previous posts starting here.

It is impossible not to get fed up with this policy being held up as support for the Ukrainian state when it doesn’t fulfil this function. Again, unfortunately, left supporters of ‘Ukraine’ are so keen to offer such support they appear too lazy to read what Lenin has actually written.  No matter, this only demonstrates that it’s not what motivates their position in any case.

———————

Paul Murphy sets out three categories relevant to socialists characterisation of the war:

1) Those who have taken the side of Russia in the conflict, either because they see this as a conflict between US imperialism and a non-imperialist Russia, or because they consider Ukraine to be a fascist-dominated state;

2) Those who see the Ukrainian conflict simply as an example of an imperialist country invading a former colony and have taken the position of support for Ukraine;

3) Those who see two intertwined and sometimes contradictory aspects to this conflict: the Russian imperialist invasion of Ukraine – in which they take the side of the Ukrainian people, and an inter-imperialist conflict between the US-led NATO and Russian imperialism, in which they oppose both sides.

He seems oblivious to a position which (1) refuses support either to the Ukrainian state, in which case support for NATO does not arise, and (2) also opposes the Russian invasion.  The first statement on this blog along these lines was put up at the start of the war on 24 February.

While taking up this position it is of course necessary to evaluate the role of US imperialism and NATO, but from first principles it is impossible to support a capitalist state in war against another capitalist state; especially a state that has sought to join the primary imperialist alliance in the world led by the United States in an obvious move to assert its world-wide predominance.  Even if you start from the wrong place, it should be impossible to ignore this reality, thereby compelling an assessment of the role of the Ukrainian state in advancing it.

The right place to start is from the interests of the working class, which precludes support for either ‘Ukraine’ or Russia.  From this point it matters not whether the latter is imperialist or not, by whatever definition is considered correct, just as it is not of primary importance to what extent ‘Ukraine’ is home to, and consists of, far-right and outright fascist forces.  If the latter is noted, it is to illuminate just how awful the position of those supporting the Ukrainian state is and draw attention to the capitulation involved, as well as to pay attention to the political dynamics within that country.

The third position supported by Murphy is not therefore really a third alternative analysis but broadly just an addition of the first two, and it makes no sense, as our previous critique has argued.  He claims ‘two contradictory aspects’ to the war and claims to reconcile them in his third category above.  In fact, the contradiction involved is within his analysis of reality and not the reality itself that he seeks to explain.

Murphy realises the issue is a reoccurrence of a historical problem for socialists, stating it as similar to the those thrown up by World War II, although it more closely corresponds to the experience of the First World War. As Murphy notes: ‘For all who define ourselves as revolutionary Marxists, a common point of understanding is an appreciation of the disastrous consequences of the betrayal of the vast majority of socialists supporting their ‘own’ side with various justifications in World War’.

Through support for the state of Ukraine this is precisely the problem faced by the pro-war Left, which supports its own ruling class’s arming of that country: by one (not very distant) remove it is supporting its own capitalist class and state.  As an aside, the mass propaganda in support of Ukraine by the mainstream bourgeois media and full gamut of bourgeois politicians has caused them no embarrassment, never mind pause for thought.

If he continued this line of thinking he would arrive at the position of Trotsky that he mentions: ‘in consistently arguing against support for either side in such a clash and arguing that the end of the war which socialists should fight for was based on “the intervention of the revolutionary proletariat.’ 

Supporters of Ukraine leave no room for such a position and disarm the working class.  There is no need for its intervention if it is ‘Ukraine’ that must be supported, i.e. the capitalist Ukrainian state that is actually waging the war, not ‘the Ukrainian people’ who must fight it; while there is also no need for it since the arms relevant to Ukraine’s defence are those that can only be provided by NATO.

Murphy acknowledges that ‘the independence of the working class, with an emphasis on working class power and a socialist position is essential’ but this is precisely what is elided, through an appeal to ‘reality.’  But as we have argued before, support for ‘the Ukrainian people’ in war in the real world, as opposed to the imaginary one invoked by erroneous political formulations, involves support to the Ukrainian state actually fighting it. The Ukrainian armed forces do not cease to be a capitalist army just because it is composed of working class people, whether voluntarily enrolled or not.

Of the three types of war he mentions Ukraine does not seem to be included in any of them – not ‘Wars of national liberation or revolts against colonialism’; not Inter-imperialist wars (Ukraine is not imperialist in the sense that it subordinates other capitalist powers, though it is obviously capitalist); and not obviously a war ‘between post-capitalist or workers’ states and capitalist states.’

Murphy claims that the war in Ukraine is of the first variety:

‘The suggestion by some that there is no imperialist invasion of Ukraine, or no legitimate struggle of national liberation by Ukrainian people is not dealing with reality. To reach that conclusion, those who argue for this line are compelled to essentially ignore the fact of Russian troops invading and occupying Ukraine against the opposition of the Ukrainian people.’

But let us unpick the assumptions behind this statement.

Firstly, it is not true that all Ukrainians oppose the Russian invasion.  A minority supports Russia, and this is clearly the case in Crimea and Donbas.  A larger number has previously expressed support for greater autonomy for the Donbas but as citizens of Ukraine, and this was supposed to be the basis of the peace settlement based on the Minsk agreements.  One problem is that the Ukrainian state opposed such autonomy, partly due to far-right opposition, so this settlement became a dead letter and the Ukrainian armed forces continued to attack the population of the Donbas area.

The idea that there is one Ukrainian people with a unified political view is one spread by ultra-nationalists and by Western imperialism and its repetition by the Left in the West is but another illustration of its capitulation to these forces.  The political fracturing of Ukraine is testament not only to outside intervention by Russia and Western imperialism but also to internal divisions, a reality usually ignored in the western narrative.

Far from this proving the need for Ukrainian ‘national liberation’ it proves that Ukrainian nationalism cannot encompass all its people and that it is necessary to, not so much go beyond it, as replace it.  This is an example of why working class unity is required: as the only progressive alternative to nationalist division.

Undoubtedly part of the socialist programme to achieve this involves a fight for democracy, but this is primarily to assist the creation of working class unity and this is not made easier by either support for the Russian invasion or for Ukrainian ultra-nationalism.  This nationalism has been the banner under which the repression, censorship and banning of opposition political parties has been carried out by the Ukrainian state.

Forward to part 2

Ukraine (4) – Supporting Ukraine and Opposing NATO?

People before Profit protest outside Russian embassy in Dublin

There is a second set of errors in what I have called the pro-war left, involving not only those who explicitly support the capitalist Ukrainian state but those who claim that in addition to this it is necessary to also condemn and oppose NATO.

A previous series of posts have demonstrated that the arguments put forward by Gilbert Achcar of the Fourth International are not consistent with a socialist approach to the war.  He and Catherine Samary consistently understate the significance of the role of NATO and the US, and in the case of Samary reach for arguments that are the equivalent of a magician’s misdirection.

The latter, for example, insists that the primary issue in the original enlargement of NATO following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 was concern among rival imperialisms to retain some sort of control over Germany, and not opposition to Russia. (It is, by the way, relevant to note that Germany is now claiming its role is to take the lead in European security and what role other than opposition to Russia?)

This argument by Samary is not serious but inadvertently revealing.  The unity of Germany under NATO firstly required removal of massive numbers of Soviet troops, and the later enlargement of it across Eastern Europe nails any illusion that this was not an anti-Russian move.  A united Germany was a concern, but all the more reason to strengthen the European Union and further the project of a single currency.

NATO membership would further constrain the independent initiative of Germany as Samary appears to admit, which tells against any argument that Ukrainian self-determination, in the sense that she argues it, is compatible with the current embrace of that country by NATO; an issue she wishes to render scarcely relevant to the nature of the war.

Similarly, she claims that Russia was not under threat from NATO and that Putin’s main concern was with the colour revolutions against corruption, including potentially against himself.  For her, the actions of Russia must never be framed as defensive in any way or a reaction to western actions.  So, the possibility of taking control of Donbas and Crimea was primarily to boost his popularity while strengthening Russia’s international position.  This happened when it did because Putin was not previously in a position to be aggressive, while the earlier catastrophic collapse of the Russian economy in the 1990s and its diminished geopolitical power were the result of Boris Yeltsin and an act of Russian self-determination. The war in Ukraine today is not therefore a reactive one but an active aggressive war explicitly against Ukrainian independence.

Some of these points are correct in themselves, it is a question of how far they go in explaining the origin and nature of the war.

Once again the selection of relevant factors ignores the blatantly obvious anti-Russian nature of NATO and its increasingly threatening enlargement, all the more possible and unnecessary precisely because of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact; the collapse of the Russian economy due to Western imported shock therapy; US  interference in internal Russian politics in favour of Yeltsin, and following him the initial attempts by Putin to form some sort of partnership with Western imperialism rather than confront it as an enemy.

And once more the argument is revealing.  Apparently Russian shock therapy was an act of self-determination and since her false application of this principle supposedly adds legitimacy to it, we are left with the view that this was an internal Russian matter. Nowhere is it viewed as arising within and out of the class struggle within Russia, almost always implemented by internal forces, but often on behalf of outside imperialist powers and institutions such as the US, EU or IMF.

Yet nowhere is the loss of political sovereignty by Ukraine through the demands of these organisations given any consideration as impairing the ‘self-determination’ of Ukraine, nor are classes within that country assigned responsibility for the imposition of austerity, repression, and submission to the demands of the IMF, EU and NATO.  Neither is the development and growth of separatist tendencies in the east of the country granted any legitimacy through their resulting to a great degree from the repressive actions of the Kyiv government.

Instead, the growth over the years of support within Ukraine for NATO membership is blamed on Russian aggression, which is only partially true, but with no account taken of the reactionary Ukrainian regimes that have pushed membership even when the majority of the Ukrainian people opposed it, or been so divided that its pursuit could only lead to deepening division and exposure to long-standing Russian threats.

The Fourth International (FI) In the shape of Gilbert Achcar has debated Alex Callinicos on the nature of the war here and here.  The international Socialist Tendency (IST) to which Callinicos belongs and which is represented by the Socialist Workers Network in Ireland, the political leaders of People before Profit, published an early statement on the war.

The IST is strongly critical of the FI’s refusal to condemn the intervention of NATO and its general disregard for its role. This leads them to make many valid criticisms and take a stand against NATO’s provision of arms to ‘Ukraine’ as well as to western sanctions.

Unfortunately, they share other positions with the FI that makes their overall position something of a contradiction.  Similarly with their support for Brexit it has the flavour of having your cake and eating it.  So, they claim that ‘for Ukrainians it is a war of national self-defence’ while ‘at the same time from the side of Western imperialist powers led by the United States and organised through NATO it is a proxy war against Russia.’  One is immediately propelled to ask – so which is it?

What is it from the side of the international working class – from those in China, India, Africa, Europe etc?  It’s difficult not to keep on recalling that Alex Callinicos wrote a book about Postmodernism, from which the IST position seems to be inspired – the nature of the war depends on where you are, i.e. reality is dependent on your viewpoint.

The IST statement says that ‘the war is both an imperialist invasion of a former colony and part of an inter-imperialist conflict between the US and Russia with their allies. We are against both imperial powers. We express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people, supporting their right to resist the invasion.’  Elsewhere Callinicos has said that the war is one of national defence by Ukraine and therefore is justified, and that ‘it would indeed be good if the Ukrainian people were able to drive out the Russian invaders.’

The only way to reconcile this contradiction of being both a justified war of national defence and an inter-imperialist one (and even this would not justify support for the Ukrainian state) is to claim that the Ukrainian state is somehow independent of western imperialism.  We have already seen in this series of posts that this is not credible.  Indeed, the IST statement itself claims otherwise: ‘The inter-imperialist character of this conflict is confirmed by the policy of the Kyiv government, which is to draw the West into the shooting war.’

So, the policy of the Ukrainian state is actually more reactionary and dangerous than that of the US and NATO.  So where is this war of national defence?

When it comes down to it, the approach to the war is not so different between the IST and FI, with the IST saying that ‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February was an act of imperialist aggression and a violation of the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination.  . . . We express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people, supporting their right to resist the invasion.’  The IST thus have the same mistaken take on the demand for self-determination as the FI, from which all else seems to follow.  Except for the IST all else doesn’t follow, which is good, but only because that makes their position more contradictory, if better than that of the FI for it.

If the war really was one of justified national defence, if it were some sort of colonial possession, it wouldn’t matter from whom ‘Ukraine’ got the weapons to fight its war, providing it could retain its interests independently of western imperialism, but the IST doesn’t make this distinction.  Instead, Alex Callinicos says that ‘. . . the Western imperialist powers are instrumentalising the Ukrainian national struggle against Russian imperialism for their own interests.’

On this the FI is more consistent but at the price of complete capitulation to western imperialism.  The FI also proclaims its opposition to NATO, just as does the IST, but neither thinks its role therefore makes the war by Ukraine a proxy one fought on behalf of western imperialism, using its money, its weapons and for its political objectives.

Of course, opposition to NATO arming Ukraine allows the IST to avoid the charge that NATO must exist for it to play this ‘progressive’ role and that is no small thing.  But willing the end – a Ukrainian victory – without willing the means is deceitful.

What would be the result of a Ukrainian victory but a strengthened reactionary regime in Ukraine and a strengthened western imperialism threatening Russia even more immediately and closely?  And this assumes that the perceived vital security interests of Russia would not have beforehand led to the use of tactical nuclear weapons and the potential for nuclear conflagration.

The politics of the IST are not so different from that of the FI.  Both start from ‘anti-imperialism’ and the ‘right’ of independent capitalist countries to their own reactionary policies even if, as I have said before, it lands them in the shit.  Neither start from the independence of the working class, including from the capitalist state no matter what its form. Lenin long ago gave the answer to those who think they can combine an imperialist war with national liberation as we set out in a previous post. 

Back to part 3

Forward to part 5

People before Profit’s ‘Zero Covid-19’ Strategy

This week the Dáil debated a motion tabled by opposition parties calling for a ‘zero-covid’ strategy.  It was supported by People before Profit and repeated a number of measures published in their strategy document.  Their approach has been supported by much of the Left in Ireland and in Britain. What can we make of it?

A number of questions are immediately raised that the strategy would have to answer. How long would lockdown have to last to achieve its objective; how much would this cost not only financially but also in the well-known drastic effects of lockdown, and what lives and health would be preserved by the strategy compared to the costs?  Is it demonstrated that the costs will not exceed the benefits?

You will search in vain for answers to any of these questions in the PbP document.

Government strategy is based on a balance of restrictive measures and permission to do certain things that have previously been taken for granted. It is accepted that this involves costs but also benefits that justify the costs, while some costs it refuses to accept.  The financial cost to the state in 2020 is estimated to have been €20 billion and Leo Varadkar has speculated that the final cost may be €50 billion.

The ‘zero-covid’ strategy means the balance is wrong but doesn’t say what the financial cost is of drastically shifting it (or the other non-financial costs e.g. deterioration in mental health, rise in domestic abuse and restriction of basic civil rights etc.).  The People before Profit (PbP) document calls for the ‘closure of all non-essential workplaces’ but doesn’t say what they are: how many more would be closed compared to the current lockdown?  Would the difference be significant?  What work is currently not essential and what would be the impact on the economy and the workers in the closed sectors?

PbP say that profits are being put before health but since we live in a capitalist society production is both for profit and to meet needs.  Socialists object that the former is an obstacle to satisfaction of the latter but they don’t claim that under capitalism needs can be met by closing down production for profit.  Even their organisation’s name seems an unconscious acceptance of this (and you could write a whole post on how incoherent that name is).

PbP says that Governments only care about people working and spending, but working class people care about these things as well, for quite obvious reasons, although this seems to escape those seeking to drastically reduce both.  Socialists of the Marxist variety also don’t believe that pieces of paper, or electronic data in bank computers, are a substitute for the actual production of the goods and services people use and consume.  The pieces of paper that capitalism presents as the universal equivalent of real wealth is useless without the production of that which really embodies the potential satisfaction of needs.

Their demand for economic security as a fundamental requirement of public health is equated with state welfare that has always been a permanent source of insecurity, as well as a more or less inadequate safety net.  Welfare systems are not meant to provide economic security for working class people and it fundamentally miseducates them to say they can.

So, the ‘zero-covid’ strategy doesn’t answer basic problems or objections.  To make big claims requires big arguments and big evidence but even obvious questions are ignored.

A second problem concerns the idea of the strategy itself.  It is called ‘zero-covid’ but appears to accept that you can’t get to a situation of absolutely zero.  Having reduced the number of cases to a low level it still envisages periodic eruptions of cases.  It does not mean ‘eradication’ but repeats that it does mean ‘elimination’, which means that control measures will still be required.  The problem is that for a zero-covid strategy these measures mean punishing lockdowns.

So, the ‘zero-covid’ strategy actually involves severe lockdown of indeterminate duration to reduce cases to very low numbers whereupon lockdown is relaxed, cases will again increase, which will require further lockdowns.  Its advocates think these lockdowns can be achieved by testing, tracking and isolation but widespread asymptomatic infection, incentives not to report, ineradicable errors in testing, more transmissible viral mutations, and drastic quarantine measures to impose isolation all point to something much more sweeping.

It should not be forgotten that cases reduced dramatically during the summer to something close to what I assume ‘zero-covid’ supporters would aim at, but was then replaced by an increasing number of cases giving rise to new lockdowns that the same supporters called to be more drastic.  Rather than the strategy looking like an alternative to repeated lockdowns it looks like a mutant variant of it, following what currently appears to be seasonal eruptions of infection.

The analogy used to describe the strategy provides something of an understanding of what is intended but analogies have a habit of leading to misunderstanding.  The example is put forward of a forest fire that requires maximum effort to put out, while recognising that embers may still remain that require to be put out when they again spark new localised fires.

The analogy fails because while forest fires destroy everything in their path the Covid-19 pandemic does not, and while new local fires can be quickly identified and ring-fenced new outbreaks of covid-19 are often without symptoms and can quickly become far from localised.

This brings us to a third failure of the strategy, which is really incredible but says a lot for its affinity to the current approach and its even worse failure to identify what the danger of the pandemic is.  While noting the importance of targeting Covid hotspots and ensuring the safety of vulnerable groups, it mentions in this category workers in meat plants, those in direct provision and migrant detention centres, and travellers and homeless people.  It fails to say anything at all about the vulnerable most at risk of dying.  Neither does the Dáil motion, which mentions that women are disproportionately bearing the burden of the pandemic.

Nothing is said about the median age of those dying being in their eighties or about over 90 per cent of fatalities having an underlying condition. Nothing is said about the scandalous multiple deaths in residential care homes, where older people should have been made safe.  Nothing about the failure of the state to secure them in its dedicated facilities or of the general failure of health services to protect them.  Nothing about the infection of older people by the heath service either in hospital or through then discharging them into homes.  Instead, infection rates in healthcare staff are put down to lack of money, as if infection control should not be a standing requirement.  The actions of the Health Service Executive has on the contrary demonstrated that this has not been seen as an absolute priority.

To say any of this would undermine the zero-covid approach advocated by PbP, including its reliance on the state and its determined refusal to accept the very limited risks posed to all but the identified vulnerable groups.  To do so might be seen to rob the situation of the sense of extreme crisis so necessary to its attempt to talk up the murderous policy of putting profit before people, and the hope that workers will wake up and smell the coffee.

What we therefore have is a strategy, not unlike the current one, that has ignored the real pandemic that has taken place, and has bought into the idea that it is a threat to everyone equally when patently it is not.  The priority given by the virus in killing people is ignored by a strategy that wants zero cases for everyone, and in doing so has ignored the priority of those whose lives are threatened by it.

The health bureaucracy has moulded its response in its own image to put itself in charge.  The left has moulded its response in the image of its own misguided political conceptions, including the potential benevolence of the capitalist state, despite that state’s obvious failure.  Which brings us to a last major failing of the strategy.

Again and again the state, especially in the form of a national health service, is held up as the answer when a quick look across the border will show that the NHS in the North has failed, has ceased to become a health service and become instead a covid-19 service.  The cost of this in future illness and death has not been a first concern.  Long waiting lists have become even longer while the latter is blamed on the former and previous failure becomes the excuse for its extension.

The PbP strategy is replete with references to the recruitment of new healthcare staff ‘to dramatically increase capacity’.  It wants ‘more public health specialists’ and to ‘recruit extra nurses and doctors’ but there are definite limits to how much can be done quickly.  Really significant increases cannot be created in months but only over years.  As an answer to the pandemic today it is a wish list that can only promise salvation sometime in the future.

It says the problem with the health services is ‘structural’ but then contradicts itself by saying it arises from lack of funding and ‘neoliberal’ management, and further contradicts itself by calling for the ‘nationalisation of private hospitals’, imposing the same structural model that has failed.

Because PbP believes that state ownership is socialist, and they think they’re socialists, then the solution is state ownership when the ‘structural’ problem is precisely this form of ownership and control.  An ownership and control beset by bureaucracy and bedevilled by narrow professional hierarchies and egos.

The problem is not a style of management but that health services are bureaucracies that privilege themselves, with the most powerful within them being best able to do so, including medical consultants who prioritise private work, although this is only one feature of the state capitalist service.  The policy of Governments to portray health service workers as heroes beyond all reproach is resisted by some staff but is pursued in order, not to protect the interests of these staff, but to protect the bureaucrats and politicians who govern the system.  The blinkered approach to the health system leads to mistakes such as the widespread responsibility for infection by hospitals and care homes being either ignored, downplayed or excused.

The absence of answers to key questions posed by the strategy; the inadequate understanding of what it would actually mean in Ireland; the failure to even identify the main threat from the pandemic, and the call for measures that cannot be implemented quickly enough to make the difference its authors say is needed; all this points to an underlying impotent political programme summed up at the end of the strategy document:

“. . . most of all, we will need to clearly articulate a vision for an alternative to the destructive instability of capitalism – in Ireland we can play our part by popularising the call for a Transformative Left Government that would reorganise the economy under democratic control, as part of an ambitious Just Transition. .  .  . A left government supported by people power and workers organised in fighting trade unions can deliver real change . . .”

Capitalism will not be changed by a ‘Left Government’, by a group of politicians seeking to transform society through wielding the power of a state that exists to defend it.  Neither can the economy be ‘reorganised’ top-down by such a Government that will in some way, somehow, then be subject to democratic control.  If anyone in PbP still subscribes to any of the fundamental ideas of Marxism they will know all this is false, and being false it is dishonest to sell such a strategy, which is why it is so threadbare.

It is not in any sense a socialist strategy either at the level of transforming society or in dealing with Covid-19, as ritual references to emulating New Zealand, Australia and Asian countries demonstrates. In what way are any of these socialist?  In what way are they safe from future infection, if it at any point they cease to separate themselves from the rest of the world in a way simply impossible for Ireland?  Australia itself provides evidence that there is no such thing as one big final lockdown that breaks the back of infection.  Numerous mutations in many countries belie the idea that these are necessarily foreign and can be avoided by border controls over any extended period.

The great advantage of the zero-covid strategy is that it presents an ideal outcome that compares brilliantly with any other potential approach; the more so since no cost is admitted and no account taken of any problems arising from, or consequences of, its practical implementation, even were such implementation possible in any relevant timescale.

That is why it is also ideal, unreal and hollow.  Not so much transformative as transcendental.

Who will I vote for?

UK general elections mean something different in the North of Ireland, and have usually revolved around the national question, whether there should be a united Ireland.  Latterly, the division has been one of squabbling over the detritus of incompetence and corruption that is the life blood of the local devolved administration.

The scandalous nepotism and waste uncovered in the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme was the trigger for Sinn Fein to eventually pull the plug on its participation in the Executive, but only after continuing to hold onto the coat tails of the DUP proved untenable.  Now the republicans have made clear that the architect of the RHI scandal, DUP leader Arlene Foster, will not have to go after all.  Sinn Fein would be happy to have this more-than-usual unpopular Unionist leader back as First Minister.

So now, with only haggling over the spoils at issue, the question of importance might appear to be whether to endorse another round of the sectarian settlement.

This time however the main issue is the same as that in Britain, albeit with very different ramifications and with many thinking it’s the old one in disguise.  It’s a Brexit election in the North. Just as it is a Brexit election in Britain; and when it comes to deciding how I am going to vote it is this that will determine whether, and who, I will be voting for on Thursday.

Brexit was supported by the majority of Protestants and opposed by the vast majority of Catholics, with the former voting Leave 60 / 40 and the latter voting Remain 85 / 15.  In terms of declared political identity the difference were even more marked, with 66% of Unionists supporting Brexit and 88% of nationalists supporting Remain.  Among those who defined themselves as neither Unionist or Nationalist – as ‘Other’ – the support for Remain was 70%.

Unionist support for Brexit is perfectly consistent with identification with an imperial nationalism and illusions in the power of Britain in the world, upon which their political position has always primarily rested.  It is not consistent with the real position of Britain in the world, which has been rammed home – to unionism’s discomfort – by Boris Johnson’s acceptance of Northern Ireland being de facto within the EU customs union and single market.  The same ideological blindness infects the same core constituency of the DUP as the Tories in Britain, while the pretence that they got Brexit right has been maintained despite the DUP having been shafted by Johnson.

If this was to be the position of the North of Ireland upon UK exit then it would mark a significant political defeat for unionism and a step towards a united Ireland.  But one, or even two steps, do not take you to your destination; although it points to one possible direction by which an objectively progressive resolution of the national question can be implemented by reactionary forces – the joint efforts of English nationalism that has no interest in Ireland and the European Union and the Irish State, which are progressive only relative to the former.

Much has been made by Sinn Fein of a border poll and increased support for a united Ireland because of Brexit but there is still no majority for a united Ireland and for that majority to arise the nationalist population has to grow significantly and/or the benefits of a united Ireland have to be demonstrated.  A border poll is not in itself an answer.

It is ironic that People before Profit (PbP) trumpet their differences with Sinn Fein but present a border poll in exactly the same way; while adding the vacuous call for a socialist Ireland, which means nothing outside of a wider programme that has to be internationalist to be socialist.

They have complained of Sinn Fein dirty tricks in putting up posters beside PbP ones stating that ‘People before Profit – Still Support Brexit’, which must be the first time a party has condemned a rival for putting up posters declaring its own policy.

Their complaint of course is that people will interpret this as support for the current Brexit, but unfortunately for them and for the rest of us a reactionary Brexit is the only one possible.  The current Tory Brexit was the only one proposed in the referendum – that they voted for – and the only one put forward now for implementation.  And it is still the case that People before Profit support leaving the EU – Brexit – and still see it as progressive.

So, if they now complain it is only because they know that the only Brexit in town is regarded by everyone as reactionary, and People before Profit condemns itself by not accepting that it is making a gross mistake by continuing to support this reactionary step backwards.

PbP complains that Sinn Fein allowed benefit cuts by agreeing that the decision on welfare should be handed back to the Tory Government in Westminster.  But this is exactly what it is doing by supporting Brexit and handing the power to inflict much greater damage on working people – throughout the UK – to an even more rapacious Tory administration that is salivating over the deregulated dystopia that is planned after Brexit.  There is no Brexit on earth that will not lead to cuts in welfare and attacks on pay that PbP claim they alone will fight.  The greater dependence on the State sector for employment in Northern Ireland will mean a greater impact from the cuts to this expenditure, which will be considered perfectly fine by a project sailing on the winds of English nationalism.

Whatever the benefits and drawbacks of the precise arrangements for the North under Brexit, it is not designed to further the interest of Irish workers: this much must be obvious even to PbP.  The same right-wing views associated with Brexit in Britain are reflected also in the North of Ireland, with those supporting Brexit more likely to have reactionary views on immigration, on the marriage rights of same-sex couples, and support for the most sectarian political parties.

A Brexit that will leave the North largely within the EU trading arrangements will be less damaging than a hard border within the island, but it is obvious that this is a more realistic way to prevent a hard border than a Brexit with PbP protests at how unfair it all is; and that no Brexit at all is the best solution of all.

Brexit has also been opposed because it is claimed that it will raise sectarian tensions, which means that it will upset many loyalists and may lead it their violent mobilisation.  To argue this however is to accept the Unionist veto on progressive change that has made the Northern State the political slum that it is and has always been.  There is no step forward that will not excite the opposition of loyalism.  The Protestant support for Remain should instead be viewed as an objective acceptance that Unionism does not represent their long-term interest; this progressive step should be supported rather than seek to pander to the most reactionary sections of the Protestant population.

So, if Brexit is the issue, who shall I vote for?

A couple of months ago I bumped into a Sinn Fein supporter I have known for years who after a couple of minutes launched into a defence of Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy in relation to Westminster.  We hadn’t discussed politics up to then and I just listened to his poor apologetics for an obviously indefensible position. It has been widely criticised in Ireland and his defensiveness should not have been a surprise.  For a movement that was so wedded to theological shibboleths, from the IRA army council being the legitimate government of Ireland; to abstention from the Dail and Stormont; to not recognising the courts even though it meant longer sentences; to the sanctity of armed struggle; it’s as if one totem of their republican credentials must be retained to convince themselves they are still the republicans of old.

But this is a long way of saying there’s no point opposing Brexit by voting Sinn Fein because Sinn Fein will not be voting against it.  In the event of a Westminster hung parliament the SF position should be strung up with it.

Since Sinn Fein have stood down in my constituency, I don’t have to bother with considering these arguments.  Sinn Fein have withdrawn their candidate while the SDLP have withdrawn theirs from North Belfast to give Sinn Fein an uncontested Nationalist in that constituency.  The ‘Remain’ alliance that has justified these actions can be denounced as purely sectarian solidarity, except that the Green Party has also stood aside and the SDLP candidate has put opposing Brexit to the fore.

The Alliance Party has not stood aside and is also anti-Brexit, and of course also claims to be non-sectarian.  It is also however a unionist party in all but name and has rightly been described as the party of the British Government’s Northern Ireland Office.  The sitting MP is from the DUP and of course a supporter of Brexit.

So, in this election I will be voting against Brexit by voting for the Stoop Down Low Party, as it was sometimes disparagingly called (a long time ago).  And I never thought I would do that.

It is necessary to vote against Brexit and necessary to have that vote carried forward into Westminster.  It is justified also in order to weaken, however slightly, the most reactionary and sectarian major party in the North, the one that has thrown its weight behind Brexit and all the reactionary politics that that project encompasses.

 

 

 

People before Profit and preventing a Brexit hard border

In my last post on Brexit I argued that if the Labour Party seeks to implement Brexit, or facilitate it in any form, it will suffer severe consequences.  These will result not only from the effects of Brexit but also from failure to offer leadership to those opposed to it.  Last month’s demonstration in London of perhaps 700,000 people indicated the potential such a movement has.

Left supporters of Brexit damned its composition and the presence of Liberals, right wing Labour figures and the odd Tory, who were all in attendance. As I pointed out in a discussion on Facebook – had we witnessed 700,000 demonstrating for Brexit the Left supporters of Brexit would really have had something to complain about. There is zero chance that a demonstration in favour of Brexit of such size could be anything other than thoroughly reactionary and worryingly threatening to everything that the working class movement has stood for.

Yet we still read nonsense from the supporters of Lexit, who maintain their position by failing to engage with reality.  At least Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour Party opposed Brexit.  The supporters of Lexit have no such excuse.

The stupidity of their position is no more obvious than in relation to the sticking point of the Brexit negotiations – the claim that there can be Brexit and no hard border in Ireland.  Theresa May has claimed that the UK can leave the EU and its Single Market and yet maintain the current frictionless arrangements.  But this is impossible, and she is running out of time to either reverse her position on the Single Market or dump us into a no deal.

In the first eventuality there would be no strong reason to seek an exit from the EU in the first place, and in the second scenario there will be what’s called a ‘hard’ border.  The supporters of Lexit in Ireland, People before Profit, have announced that they are “ready to oppose a hard border” and “will advocate mass civil disobedience against the imposition of a hard border . . .”

So just what form should or would this civil disobedience take?  And how would it be more than just a token protest and actually be effective?

Will, for example,  PbP seek to persuade lorry drivers to refuse to submit papers on the border that validate their imported or exported load?  Will they picket workplaces of hauliers, ports, factories and warehouses telling the workers not to process export or import paperwork?  Will this be done both North and South for those exporting and importing into the North?

Will PbP tell Environmental Health Officers and other border control officials to ignore any changes to regulations and continue to enforce current food and phytosanitary standards etc?  Does their support for Lexit entail opposition to these EU standards or to new ones?  Or is all this just so irrelevant to their thinking that they have ignored these issues?

What about all the loads that don’t get sent because the companies aren’t prepared for the bureaucracy required to trade across a hard border: the knowledge of regulations, how to implement them and demonstrate compliance  with them? What form of civil disobedience will take place here?  Or will they magic up a slogan – workers’ control of Single Market regulatory compliance?  And since People before Profit are opposed to the EU, will this workers control involve refusal to process regulations under Single Market rules or refusal to implement changes?

But maybe it will ignore the everyday reality of what Brexit entails and just have a political campaign around the Single Market?  But since only this can ensure a continuation of the current border arrangements, is People before Profit proposing to campaign in favour of the Single Market or against it?

Or perhaps they want their cake and eat it as well.  Get out of the EU but keep all the benefits.  Or simply ignore reality and persist with meaningless protest politics which are incapable of addressing the questions raised?  For example, how will civil disobedience address the inflation caused by the devaluation of the currency?  How will it make up for the fall in investment, or drop in tax receipts as a result of reduced growth, or the recession that will be brought about by the disruption to trade?  Have they got proposals that will boost trade with India, China and the “third world”’ or is it not really their place to say?

Will they picket airports and tell pilots that, in the event of a no deal, they should take off and fly to Paris, Malaga and Faro even though they and their aircraft will not have been approved by the EU to fly over its airspace and land at its airports?  Is it telling people not to worry and book their two weeks in the sun next year anyway because civil disobedience will sort it all out?

To ask these and a thousand other questions that arise from supporting Brexit show how detached from reality PbP is – protest politics  against reality that shows reality more effective in protesting against its politics.

Once again, some on the Left appear incapable of learning that its ‘principled’ politics are no substitute for a real, concrete alternative, i.e. one that makes sense in the real world.

In previous posts I have argued that the objective of seeking to leave the EU and supporting Brexit is not a route to the unity of the working class. This argument is at the level of principle and programme.  I have also argued that the practical effects of Brexit are contrary and hostile to the working class’s most immediate interests.

In this post it is clear that even if we start from the Lexiteers own demands, they have no idea how to make them effective; no idea how they could be made to work; and in fact, it is not at all obvious what it is they would be seeking to make effective.  Outside immediate socialist revolution they make no sense whatever, and probably even less sense within one.

But that’s what you get if you vote for Brexit, which, by definition, means the erection of new borders, and then you complain that a new border might be created!

PbP want a way out of the contradiction they have walked into by appealing to the Fine Gael led Government – “If a deal is agreed between London and the EU that includes measures like a hard border, the Irish government must veto it. Should a ‘no-deal Brexit’ occur, then Varadkar should clearly state that his government will not implement any measures that would lead to hard border.”

But this just shows that PbP has failed to learn anything from its mistaken support for Brexit and is demanding that the Southern State also leave the EU! And even here, in this statement, there is not the slightest recognition that this is what it is doing, never mind an open argument why this would be a good thing to do.

Once again there is a failure to think things through, to think concretely about what exactly, in practice, its political positions mean, what in the real world are the implications. Because failure by the Southern State to implement the Single Market endangers that market and fundamental rules of the European Union,.  There is not even the demand that the rules should be changed – just ignored!  In everyday language this is, as they say, just asking for it.

PbP claims that “neither side in the Brexit debate has the interests of working class people at heart, and we refuse to be bullied into backing one or the other.”  But that of course is exactly what People before Profit did.  It voted for Brexit.  And the vacuity of its attempts to deal with the consequences show that they really didn’t know what they were doing and that now, having bought it, they don’t know what to do with it.

But, as the Left is known for saying quite often, it is not the case that there is no alternative – there is.  It may involve a shift in the political method of PbP but this should be eased by the fact that changing its mind will lead it away from its current exposed position.

Opposing Brexit entails no support for the EU, or its policies, and involves no renunciation of political principle.  It recognises that the unity of the international working class rests on the international development of capitalism and that the creation of a socialist alternative will be based on this development and not on its retrogression. Socialism is a move forward to the future, not back to the past and a national road to socialism.  The political tendency behind PbP used to know this.

 

 

Lexit – life Jim, but not as we know it

The discovery of intelligent life in the second largest galaxy of the Local Group – a galaxy called the Milky Way – itself in the universe within the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies, is of obvious significance. This life-form exists on a planet located in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way (called the Orion Arm), which lies about two-thirds of the way out from the centre of the Galaxy. Here exists part of the Solar System – a group of eight planets, as well as numerous comets and asteroids and dwarf planets which orbit the Sun. The planet with intelligent life is called earth and it is the third planet from the Sun in the Solar System.

The discovery of intelligent life on earth might seem to be called into question, but is actually confirmed, by the equally brilliant discovery of a Local Group in the island of Ireland, off the largest land mass on earth, by the People before Profit organisation.

This organisation has released a statement on the Brexit negotiations, in which it announces its brilliant discovery – that it is “becoming increasingly clear” that these negotiations will take place between “two reactionary imperialist blocs. On one side are the Tories” and “on the other side are the bureaucrats in the EU Commission.”

Who’da thunk it, eh?  Hard to believe, I know.  But there you are, it’s true. When the referendum produced a Brexit result, it was the British Government and the European Commission that would negotiate the outcome.

I know the first round of negotiations started in June, but the referendum was only called in February 2016 and held on 23 June 2016, and Article 50 was only invoked on 29 March 2017.  It is only now becoming clear that it is the Tory Government and EU bureaucrats who will cobble together the deal (if there is one) and now, or rather on 13 December 2017, when the statement was published, that it became “increasingly clearthat “the Brexit negotiations are a competition between two reactionary imperialist blocs.”

Can we expect a progressive outcome from these negotiations?  I don’t think so. People before Profit are therefore surely right to say that this does not bode well for the working class of Ireland.  Or Britain for that matter.

But hold on a minute!  Did not People before Profit support Brexit?  And should it not have been suspicious that the British Government would end up negotiating the Brexit deal with the European Commission?

It is hard not to conclude, after careful thought, that Yes! Yes! is the answer.  They should’ve known.

But wait, didn’t People before Profit not support something else entirely?  Didn’t they support Lexit?  And isn’t this a completely different life-form from Brexit?

Mmmm, I know what you are trying to say, but wasn’t it Brexit on the ballot paper, not Lexit?  And didn’t People before Profit vote for it?  And isn’t this life form ‘Lexit’ completely unknown to our universe?  Is it not, to quote Mr Spock ,“Life, Jim, but not as we know it!”, completely alien to life in our Solar System, never mind the North of Ireland?

Does this really matter?  Can’t we change Brexit to Lexit?

I don’t think so – “ye cannae change the laws of physics”, even if you really understood them.

Jesus Christ!, isn’t this politics complicated?!

So, let’s move on.  After all, that’s what all politicians do when they’ve f****d up.

So, People before Profit now say that “The question must be asked what use is it to call for an end to the British Empire only to dissolve Irish sovereignty into a new EU empire?”

That’s a good question.  But what exactly is “Irish sovereignty” – the sovereign power of the Irish people maybe?  But how could this power be exercised in a capitalist Irish State, which seems to care only about rich tax dodgers, corrupt bankers and multinationals?  Didn’t this Irish State declare that it would die in the ditch to protect its sovereignty by retaining a 12.5% corporation tax rate, even as it saddled today’s and future Irish generations with €64 billion of debt to bail out the twats who invested in Irish banks?

Isn’t this attachment to an “Irish sovereignty” rather old fashioned, when a really, truly independent Ireland can’t exist in a globalised world?  Isn’t that why we are socialists?  Because we know that the sovereignty of working people will have no need for borders, just like now the capitalists and their money have no need for borders?  Is this not why we are internationalists – we don’t want to be exploited and oppressed by anyone, whether they’re from Baltimore in County Cork or Baltimore Maryland, Dublin Ireland or Dublin Ohio?

Would fighting with our fellow workers in Denmark, Spain and Lithuania etc. not be a better idea than “Irish sovereignty”?

But let’s move on, again.

“PBP continue to call for referenda to be held North and South on any Brexit deal. Ordinary people should have the final say in whatever deal is made, as a matter of democratic principle.”

But what sort of shit deal from the “two reactionary imperialist blocs” can we expect to look forward to accepting?  Or are we going to reject all of them, one after another, as they concoct ever more awful arrangements for us to vote on?

Can we maybe expect them to eventually come up with Lexit?  So we can vote yes, just as we might expect a monkey, given enough time, to type the complete works of Shakespeare?

Or, are we rather to expect that we would reject every conceivable deal they would throw at us?  In which case why should we have supported Brexit/Lexit/whatever-you-want-to-call-it in the first place?

But then, surely this is the point of the People before Profit statement.

They’ve worked out that Brexit (whisper it – Lexit) is a crock of shit, and want to be seen to have nothing to do with it, and to oppose it, without however looking stupid and without, to use the HR jargon employed in my work, ‘showing competency in holding to account’.

What better way of doing this that declare up front the bleeding obvious – that it is “becoming increasingly clear” that these negotiations will take place between “two reactionary imperialist blocs. On one side are the Tories” and “on the other side are the bureaucrats in the EU Commission.”

Then, when you already have them agreeing with you, say that you want to vote again (when you can get it right this time) and cover your tracks with “PBP continue to call for referenda to be held North and South on any Brexit deal. Ordinary people should have the final say in whatever deal is made, as a matter of democratic principle.”

So, far from being cynical, perhaps we should recognise the fact, that People before Profit have recognised the fact, that Lexit is a joke and Brexit a disaster, and should be opposed.

They aren’t all the way there yet, but then, who ever expects a small left group to admit it got it wrong, very wrong?

This statement might therefore be seen as a start – at impulse power rather than warp drive.

Of course, there’s other rubbish in the statement, but it’s less important than this unacknowledged step forward (or should that be backward).  As I noted before, the British mothership once refused to engage in reactionary opposition to the EEC, perhaps it’s coming home again, via Belfast.

Socialist Strategy – reply to a critic 3

In a 1 June article Socialist Democracy (SD) wrote that “a popular slogan by People before Profit (PbP) candidates – “we are neither Orange or Green, but Socialist!” – is a form of neutrality that draws an equals sign between Irish republicanism, with its revolutionary and what Lenin called “generally democratic” content and the utterly reactionary and counter-revolutionary politics of Unionism.”

In another post SD say that “This neutrality ignores socialist support for democratic rights and the frequent alliances between republicanism and socialism that are part of our history. It can blind workers to the very real mechanisms employed by loyalism and the state to combat radicalism amongst Protestant workers and prevent working class unity.”

First some basic points.  Saying you are neither Orange or Green, unionist or nationalist, is not to equate the two, no matter how SD convinces itself it does.  It is a matter of fact, and a matter of principle that socialists are not unionists or nationalists.

It is similarly the case that socialists do not believe that workers should be led by either unionists or nationalists.  We do not believe nationalism can deliver the equality that socialists support never mind the fundamental reorganisation of society we seek, and which makes us socialists.

It is therefore not only permitted, but absolutely required, that socialists state that they are socialist!  At a very basic level it is as simple as that.  It is also the case that they need to do so to distinguish themselves from Irish unionism and Irish nationalism.  In the SD version of democratic alliances with republicanism it would seem that we cannot say that we are not unionist or nationalist, which amounts to politically surrendering your flag.

Does SD believe that Irish nationalism, in whatever form, can unite the Irish working class?  If so, it should reconsider its independent existence.  If not, it should drop this ridiculous line of criticism, and in doing so the comrades should consider how they ended up defending such a position.

I will venture that they did so because of their understanding of nationalism. As quoted above, SD states that “Irish republicanism . . (has a) revolutionary and what Lenin called “generally democratic” content”, forgetting the fact that Sinn Fein is no longer standing by the traditional republican programme. The Provisional republicans, as SD say (in their article of 10 March) have moved from “armed struggle to constitutional nationalism.”

Their failure to register this when condemning PbP must have something to do with their declared opposition to the slogan of the PbP and their claim that this disregards “the generally democratic programme of Irish nationalism.” (1 June 2017)

SD state in their response to my original posts that “all theories have to deal with real life”.  So how does the theory that the programme of Irish nationalism is “generally democratic” stand up to real life?

Let’s examine the concrete, real life expressions of Irish nationalism, and not the theoretical one clearly envisaged by SD.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the ‘United Ireland Party’ and ‘Soldiers of Destiny’, are both reactionary Irish nationalist parties of the capitalist class.  Sinn Fein, by SD’s own admission, is a “constitutional nationalist” party and cannot be considered as either a party of working class interests or even of revolutionary nationalism.  The role of the real republicans is actually obstructive of working class unity, since they convince everyone including themselves that the only alternative to the peace process and the current sectarian arrangements is militarist violence.  In doing so they don’t threaten British rule but bolster it.

So, in the real world, just what nationalist movement does SD defend and support, so much so that it wishes not to declare socialist independence from it?

Socialist Democracy do advance correct criticisms of PbP, but they are lost in an avalanche of the good and the simply atrocious, which will convince no one who is not already convinced.  Its articles are written in such a way that it is not clear that they are designed to convince anyone not already on-side, but simply to declare a position.

This reaches the point that even when PbP make clear that it is not neutral on the question of democratic rights and the issue of the border this isn’t welcomed, but dismissed – “ A key slogan of the new [People before Profit] election campaign is for a socialist united Ireland.  Is this anything but a re-branding following fierce criticism of their previous position of neutrality between the reactionary ideology of loyalism and the generally democratic programme of Irish nationalism? (Emphasis added by Sráid Marx).

In summary, my original posts were designed to raise the problem of strategy that socialists face in the North of Ireland.  The response from Socialist Democracy does not take us any step forward.  My initial overall impression when coming to draft this reply to their criticism was that the comrades are wrong in several serious respects in relation to socialist strategy.  In drafting the response my final overall impression is now one of their more or less complete confusion arising from misunderstanding the reactionary role of Irish nationalism.

On this there is obviously much more to say (see this post and ensuing discussion for example). The demand for an end to partition and national self-determination has historically been reflected through Irish nationalism (and still is today by the real republicans), but the utter inadequacy of nationalist politics in maintaining any democratic content in these demands in its real world political manifestations, in its political parties and programmes, is something that must be understood.  Otherwise the essential role of socialist organisation and a socialist programme, based on the self-activity of the working class itself, and not on organisation and a political programme divorced from it, is not understood.

Irish nationalism must be combatted North and South because (among other important reasons) it cannot uphold the democratic impulses that are contained, and have erupted periodically, within the Irish working class.  This much should be obvious in the South of the country.  It should certainly not be defended because at some times and in some places it has taken leadership of struggles that have had such a democratic content.  Not least because it will fail and end up strangling such democratic dynamics while sidelining and opposing socialism.

This is what happened over the period following the rise of the civil rights movement, where Irish nationalism, in the shape of republicanism, substituted itself, its methods and its programme for this mass democratic struggle, and then helped bury it in the sectarian deal brokered by imperialism.

This is the underlying political analysis that answers a question that might be posed by my posts – does any of this matter?  The SD response states that “perhaps criticism of Socialist Democracy and its politics is simply commonplace”, but the author will know that it is, in fact, much more commonly ignored.

Socialist Democracy wants to resist the rightward drift of the socialist movement in Ireland, and its arguments would ideally be as powerful as pure argumentation can be in countering this drift. Unfortunately, its arguments cannot play such a role, and if the comrades seek that they should they will have to be seriously revised.

concluded

Back to part 2

Socialist Strategy – reply to a critic 2

The second point I want to respond to in the response to my initial posts is what Socialist Democracy have to say about the nature of Sinn Fein (SF), which in my view is once again confused.

SD state that it is a serious weakness of mine that I see Sinn Fein in the North as a Catholic Party and equivalent to the DUP.

I do indeed assert that it is a party that defends Catholic rights but that does not mean I assert equivalence between it and the DUP.  I don’t assert this, and in fact my analysis has been that Sinn Fein’s project of seeking equality of sectarian rights is not only not the same as the DUP’s but has been rejected by the DUP, which wants superiority of sectarian rights for unionism and rejects such equality.

What this means is that Sinn Fein fights for Catholic rights, for communal sectarian rights, but is not equivalent to the DUP, which continues to seek Catholic subordination.  How could the Socialist Democracy author have missed this?

It is nevertheless the case that Sinn Fein has asserted and defended sectarian rights and does so straight from entering Stormont, when declaring itself as part of one of the sectarian blocs for voting purposes.  Even the SD author acknowledges that in relation to defense of Catholic rights that “it is true that this is their mode of operation in the various carve-ups in Stormont.”

It is at this point that the SD author attempts something extraordinary.  First by saying that this “does not sum up the party itself or the dynamic of their supporters.”

We have already quoted from SD itself on the dynamic of its supporters – “popular consciousness is still contained within the consciousness of the peace process that the parents of current activists voted for and which they grew up in. Imperialism does not exist.”  As SD have also said: “the majority of the population accept the framework of the Assembly and the idea of a balancing of sectarian rights.”  It has also pointed to Sinn Fein conciliation of unionism in its response, which, let’s be clear, means conciliation of sectarianism.

As for the party itself, interested readers are free to read article after article on the Socialist Democracy web site slating the political practices of Sinn Fein and its support, and its collaboration with imperialist rule and the most outrageous facilitation of loyalist corruption, including its own description of Sinn Fein’s politics as “Catholic populism.” (article 1 June 2017)

In an article published on 10 March this year we read this:

“the central tenets of the peace process, equality of the two traditions and the Government of Ireland Act, remains a barrier to anything other than the institutionalisation of sectarian division.”

“they (SF) were facilitating, and participating in, the corruption and sectarian carve-up of resources that is the everyday activity of Stormont.”

“the St Andrews Agreement and the settlement around it is based on communal rather than civil rights.”

Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein “went from opposition to Britain rule to administration for British state and comfortable membership of a nationalist family of church and state.”

“McGuinness and Sinn Fein surrendered to the Catholic Church and the Catholic bourgeoisie represented by the Derry Traders Association.”

In another article from 5 January this year we read that “structural sectarianism extends into the internal life of the parties. . . The main business of the assembly is to share-out resources on the basis of sectarian privilege.  Its output is a routine of scandals based on sectarian corruption. . . But to really get to the heart of Arlene’s impunity we must take into account the role of Sinn Fein. . . In this environment, they must desperately wave their presence in government and the share of sectarian patronage they control as proof of the success of their strategy of working within the colonial system.”

If one wants to read a textbook case of the sectarianism that Sinn Fein defends then one could do no better than read the Socialist Democracy article published on 8 December 2016.  It sums up the political practice of Sinn Fein in Stormont by stating that “the consequence is that sectarianism – rather than being allowed to wither away – is being artificially kept alive.”

Yet, in his reply to my critique, the SD author finds that “Sinn Fein presents itself as a part of the left.  Their main demands at the moment – an Irish language act, LGBT marriage rights, investigation of state killings, are essentially democratic demands. . . . It is not long ago that the SM (Sráid Marx) blog itself proposed Sinn Fein as a central element of a reformist movement in the 26 county state!”

It’s not clear at all what we are supposed to make of all this. Previous SD commentary on Sinn Fein speaks repeatedly of Sinn Fein “lies” and states that “Sinn Fein have been speaking out of both sides of their mouth since the beginning of the peace process.”

So, what point is the SD author now making?  Is SF still up to its neck in sectarian patronage, or is it in some way a party of the left, putting forward democratic demands?

Did SD not write on 10 March that “Sinn Fein itself was unconcerned about state murder, about corruption or about the Irish language until their own members revolted.”  Is it now implied that this revolt has changed the nature of the party?

Just as on the question of reforms, which are supported in general in order to be dismissed in particular, Sinn Fein is sectarian in particular but dare not be compared to the unionists in general because it puts forward democratic demands.

Oh, and isn’t it noticeable that while PbP gets slated for putting forward demands for reform, Sinn Fein’s claims to do so are presented as some sort of defense or exculpation for its less appealing practices?

But perhaps it really is that Sinn Fein have changed. So, for example, in its article on the elections on 1 June, Socialist Democracy say that “The political campaign that Sinn Fein ran in the March elections was much sharper than the vague populism of the SWP.”  After another paragraph, we learn in the same article that “The Sinn Fein slogans were insincere.  They allowed all these issues to fall in order to keep Stormont running, but now they put forwards substantive policies that reflected the anger of their supporters.” (Emphasis added by Sráid Marx).

This indeed would now appear to be the SD argument, for it says in its response that “It is true that Sinn Fein voters, along with the majority of the nationalist population, hold the illusion that reform will come through Stormont, but it is not the case that they seek only rights for Catholics. There is all the difference in the world in looking to Stormont for reform and supporting Stormont as the bulwark of reaction.” (Of the last sentence, we can only agree!  It is SD that, in its criticism of PbP, appears not to see any difference, as I pointed out in the first of these posts.)

But of course, it must be noted that now SD is speaking not of Sinn Fein itself but of its supporters.  Yet this doesn’t quite tally with what it has previously said: of the working class, SD has said that “many oppose open sectarianism, but feel that there is some benign form that could share resources peacefully. They despise politicians, but feel that a team of better politicians could manage better. Politics are avoided as many have been convinced that the only alternative is armed conflict.”

Most importantly, this move to discuss aspects of the Sinn Fein support appears here to be employed with the effect of providing cover for the Sinn Fein party, for nowhere is it admitted that Sinn Fein is a bulwark of support for sectarian discrimination, something that was previously an SD commonplace.  This is a remarkable retreat on its part.

This shift in the assessment of the Party has been presaged with earlier SD condemnation of PbP while simultaneously at least partially exonerating Sinn Fein:

“Nowhere in the PBP narrative is there any recognition of the imperialist dominion of Ireland or an acknowledgement of the material base of partition in armed bodies of the state. The Sinn Fein narrative, while mistaken, is at least coherent. A presence in government in the North and South would so impress the British that they would immediately withdraw from Ireland, they believe. Exactly how having PBP candidates in Stormont would lead to a united Ireland is far from clear, given their frantic support for the institution.”

So, read that again.  As against the PbP narrative, the Sinn Fein one is at least coherent – get into government North and South and the British will withdraw, but the PbP strategy of getting into parliament is “far from clear.”  So, although both strategies are described as more or less the same – achieving power through parliament – the SF one is ‘coherent’ but the PbP one is not.

More importantly, the role of Sinn Fein itself in mobilising Catholic workers in support of sectarian arrangements, which in turn support loyalist intimidation of Protestant working class communities, one that “keeps sectarianism alive” (according to earlier SD analysis quoted above), is nowhere admitted in the response to my critique.  It all falls to the wayside in defense of what SD thinks is an anti-imperialist and revolutionary approach to politics in contrast to perceived reformist heresies.

However, SD notwithstanding, as long as Catholic workers support Sinn Fein they will be vicariously supporting sectarianism and this has and will continue to block development of a socialist alternative among these workers.  This is what is key, but is what is completely absent in the SD response, which consists of savagely criticising the failings of PbP, while now putting forward some meagre cover for Sinn Fein.

This bias for Sinn Fein and against PbP, even in particular cases where it appears that there is no essential difference in approach between them (and we leave aside whether this is in fact true) arises from a further aspect of SD’s politics, illustrated in a recent theme of their criticism of PbP – opposition to the slogan “Neither Orange or Green, but Socialist.”

However, before dealing with this and leaving this section of my reply, I want to address the SD point that while I criticize Sinn Fein for defending sectarian rights I also “proposed Sinn Fein as a central element of a reformist movement in the 26 county state.”  This is correct, so I need to explain why I did so.

The posts in which I put this forward explained that the programmes put forward by the left groups in the South were reformist and different only in degree from that of Sinn Fein.  In order to put their strategy forward as a credible alternative, these groups would have to seek unity with Sinn Fein and seek to stiffen the latter’s reformist promises or expose them as fraudulent.

If this led to a larger reformist alliance there might be some greater hope that a break by Irish workers from the capitalist parties they have supported (in particular Fianna Fail) might be made on a larger scale, providing the grounds upon which Irish workers could learn and advance to more adequate socialist politics.

I understand that for SD this is to be regarded as a betrayal, involving the creation of a reformist movement, in which case I also await their opposition to Corbyn’s Labour Party in Britain.  For my part, it is a judgement that at that time such an alliance would have been an advance for Irish workers upon which further advances could hopefully be made.

However, despite SD protestations to the contrary, it is clear that it envisages a purely revolutionary democratic road forward (and they criticise stagism!) when the comrades state that:

“As in the years following 1916, we should not wait for the British and for Irish capital to grant us independence. We must take it for ourselves. Given the number of parties who claim that they stand for a united Ireland and the widespread support for unity even while it is downplayed everywhere, is there any reason why a 32 county constituent assembly cannot be called to assert our democratic rights?”

So, SD believe the bourgeois democratic institutions of the Southern state can be overturned and replaced by a Constituent Assembly!  To answer their question – the reason why such an assembly cannot be called is that all the parties claiming to support a united Ireland don’t really mean it, and the mass of the population regard their bourgeois democratic institutions as legitimate and support them.  If the tiny number who support a constituent assembly attempted to turn their slogans into reality this vast majority would join in crushing them.

I have no idea how such a perspective could be defended from the charge of being ultra-left.

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3