Independence First

By Jason Michael

Independence has to come first. The rights of marginalised people and groups are vastly important, but we can never forget that none of our rights will be safe while we remain under the control of Westminster.

Let me begin by saying I haven’t the foggiest notion what people mean when they tell me they are members of the “radical left.” The last time I had a discussion about this radical left was with an enthusiastic young PhD student who introduced himself as being “on the hard left,” and he did this while tucking into a bowl of marinated garlic and chilli stuffed black olives on a bed of kale and quinoa. He lived in a rented room in an up-and-coming gentrified area of town where landlords were busy evicting lower-income tenants on the pretext of “extensive repairs,” allowing them to double the rent. His local, which served only craft beer from its basement micro-brewery, was “established in 1901” while somehow only having been in operation for six months.

This guy, who looked confused every time I corrected him with “people” when he referred to “units of labour,” had adopted an entire set of acceptable positions on the rights of marginalised social identities. “Struggle was all about challenging the hegemony of the cis-gendered misogynistic and transphobic ruling class,” he told me before asking if I had ever heard of baklava. Revolution was about achieving the maximum amount of freedom for all, he’d say, then complain about the “lumpen” kids from the flats who called him gay for drinking beer from a wine glass on a sun lounger at the front door of his house. This was his hard left. “Is that right, aye?” I asked.

On Saturday night I was chatting online with Jordan Daly, the Huffington Post and Common Space contributor who wrote the piece on sending Wings packing, about the importance of keeping the independence movement together. What I said to him was that, for the Yes movement, independence must take priority “above all other social and political concerns.” He took issue with this: “Ok,” he replied, “I’m for Indy but not ‘above all other social concerns,’ esp[ecially] as a gay man.”

We were right back at those acceptable positions on the rights of marginalised identities – what has come to be known on the “new left” as identity politics. These positions have become so important to the radical/hard/new left that it now makes perfect sense for pro-independence identitarians, in the broader context of the independence campaign, to side with unionist politicians when they deploy this politics of identity as a weapon against other pro-independence activists. This, it almost goes without saying, is the very epitome of counterproductive.

Of course the rights of marginalised people and groups are important. The defence and the furtherance of those rights is not the exclusive preserve of Scotland’s unionists. Everyone has an obligation to defend the rights and protect the dignity and worth of his or her neighbour. That much is a given – or, at least, it should be. But my problem with the ideological package – those acceptable positions – of the new left is that it is replete with internal contradictions.

My PhD student friend will soapbox until the cows come home on the need for social and worker solidarity, but he’ll happily fuel the mechanisms that aggravate the structural causes of poverty by supporting the class war project of gentrification in the neighbourhood in which he has become a “coloniser.” Likewise, no doubt well intentioned people like Jordan Daly go to a default identitarian setting when it becomes relevant – even when that relevance is little more than political capital being used cynically against comrades in the Yes movement. It has become an ideological package that trumps even the principle objective of “the struggle” – be that the fight against the systems of capitalism and state neoliberalism or the campaign for Scottish independence.

Such thinking lacks the reflection of classical socialism. It becomes incapable of revolutionary praxis. Battling on the platform of identity rights to the harm of the wider independence movement, following the schemes of unionist strategists, is ultimately destructive because Britain will never safeguard anyone’s rights. Our struggle is against a Westminster establishment that is still up to its neck in political assassinations, foreign interventions for the purposes of bringing about regime changes useful to itself, and wholesale murder and human rights violations.

Britain is about money and power over the needs and rights of ordinary people. It has implemented an austerity regime explicitly designed to impoverish and kill the most marginalised and vulnerable people in these nations. How will becoming an unwitting instrument of Great Britain against the independence cause benefit Jordan Daly, “as a gay man?” It won’t.

When we say that independence has to come before all other social and political concerns, it is not being suggested that we simply ignore these other concerns. That too would be stupid. Neither is this a matter of “nation over individual.” That too is both stupid and dangerous. What we are saying in this – and this is important – is that no one’s rights will be safe, protected, or furthered so long as we remain in the United Kingdom. Hands up if you’ve heard of Brexit and the replacement of the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s all on the way.

All our noble leftist and identitarian ideas of rights are dead without independence. Separation from Britain therefore is the prerequisite for a fairer, more just and equitable society that we ourselves will shape. As I see it, as old-school socialism argues, there is a hierarchy of rights. At the top of ours is independence. All other social and political concerns – while never ignored – are secondary and auxiliary to this end. If we are weakening the struggle for independence by our squabbles over rights and ideas that can never be safe under London rule we are simply rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.


The Religion of Identity Politics

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What is Wrong with Ireland’s ‘Radical’ Left?

Ireland’s popular struggle against the austerity measures of two rightist governments and its Right2Water campaign have gone from strength to strength over the course of the past decade, and yet this momentum has failed to translate into mass support for the left parties. As support for Sinn Féin wanes in the opinion polls before tomorrow’s general election, and as Richard Boyd Barrett’s People Before Profit Party and Paul Murphy’s Anti-Austerity Alliance lie festering with a combined three to four percent share, we have to start asking serious questions of Ireland’s so-called hard left. No matter how much the people of this country want to see this promised real change, the ‘left alternative’ – once again – has failed.

Criticism is no bad thing, and a healthy critique of political platforms and strategies – especially of those groups and partied of which we are broadly in favour – can only fortify ideas and bolster wider public trust in them. Anyone on the outside of the party structures who has ever attempted to question the tactics and strategies of Boyd Barrett or Murphy is quick to discover that these are not operations keen on transparent dialogue. On the contrary these are stereotypical closed shops. When it comes to having their names attached to massive nationwide demonstrations they have proven themselves to be past masters, but when it comes to support for their parties and leaderships they are rank amateurs.

The bottom line is that the public simply do not trust either of these ‘Socialist’ groupings, and even less the personalities involved. Perhaps the beginnings of this disconnect can be extrapolated from the fact that both People Before Profit and the Anti Austerity Alliance are fronts for the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party respectively, and whilst both lay claim to the Socialist label they have less in common with one another than do Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The Socialist Party, as the militant edge of Labour, were expelled from the Irish Labour Party in the late 1980s, whereas the Socialist Workers Party, as internationalist Trotskyists, have little truck with the single-state or social-democratic socialism of Labour and the Socialist Party, and have not infrequently aligned themselves with foreign revolutionary armed struggles.

Both fronts were created in the hope of winning greater public support from those who might otherwise not vote so far to the left, but ordinary people don’t like fronts and they like even less the thought of being hoodwinked. It certainly doesn’t help matters that both groups have tended towards personality cults. Benign and often smiling as they may be, people used to the running of liberal democratic systems are deeply suspicious of cults of personality. Add to this the fact that the self-styled class warriors who are the focus of both parties’ personality cults – men, incidentally, who I quite admire – are solidly privileged, privately educated, middle class Dublin southsiders.

Ordinary working class people, who have consistently demonstrated their desire for an authentic political alternative to austerity, see through these masks. The lack of translation from public protest to support for the ‘radical’ left highlights their deep suspicion. Tomorrow the whole country will go to the polls and it is unlikely that either People Before Profit or the Anti Austerity Alliance will significantly alter their share of the seats in Leinster House. In spite of the heroic on-street rhetoric of Boyd Barrett and Murphy the left will be filled with left-leaning members of Sinn Féin and an assortment of independents – all without any meaningful sense of solidarity, bereft of all leadership, and – as per usual – it will be ordinary people who will be made to suffer another austerity government.

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It’s Time to Blow the Froth from Craft Beer Socialism

Already the enemy is at the gates! All the powers of the international financiers and banking institutions of the European Union are laying nothing less than a siege on Greece. Let’s not pretend that we are not being hypocrites in our present concern. Over the past seven decades the same and similar institutions and creditors have despoiled and bankrupted the poorer nations of the southern hemisphere and we have scarce lifted our voices. Everything has changed now that these predators have encircled little Greece – one of our own. To be sure, if Greece falls then the ordinary working people of every country in Europe lie naked and defenceless before the march of the destroyers of worlds. If these gates are compromised then it is certain and beyond any shadow of a doubt that we will never be in a position to defend their victims elsewhere in the world.

Greece is in crisis, and this means that Europe is in crisis, and what is meant by this is that it is not the banks, financiers, creditors, and the entire apparatus of the European Union that is in crisis but the ordinary people of Europe; working people, children, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. If Greece falls then the doors are left wide open for these suits and ties to bleed every last one of us dry. We are all in crisis.

Now is the time for thoughtful and decisive action; not quasi-intellectual thoughts (which are nothing but more cerebral flatulence) or pseudo-Socialistic cheer-leading (half-baked academic onanism), but real and meaningful, well-thought action. Europe’s siege of Greece has forced the left-wing Syriza coalition government to introduce crippling capital controls in a desperate bid to save the country’s economy from complete collapse – the result, on the ground, of which is that food and medicine (among many other things) have run out. As we watch on, the people of Greece are being starved into submission, and all we are getting from the so-called Left in Ireland is tired old quotes from dead Marxists, but the people of Greece cannot eat hackneyed slogans!

Herein lies the sickness of Europe’s Leftist Alternative: it is all about the critical analysis, the sophisticated academic articulation of progressivism, inaccessible economic publications, macchiato crème frappuccinos, and expensive craft beers. It is an “alternative” alright – an alternative route into a career in politics and an alternative to actually doing something. Tonight one thing is absolutely clear right across Europe, and that is if Greece falls then this monstrous system will be coming for us. It is time to wake up! It is time to start doing something. We could start by making sure the Greeks on the frontlines have food in their bellies.

Jason Michael
Blog Author