The whisper is that a new movement is to be created, called Right to Change and that it will publish an on-line mass left-wing newspaper, which will be the first mass left-wing paper in this country since 1913 and even then, that newspaper’s distribution was mostly confined to Dublin.
In fact, a movement based on the right to change already exists, taking in not only the right to water but to housing, to social provisions, to health, to education, to natural resources – the many things that have been removed or cut or are under threat in order to pay the bankers and speculators. One supposes that this new organisation is intended to build on that movement, coordinate it etc. And no doubt put up a slate of candidates at local government and at general elections.
It is Right to Water that has given rise to this idea and no doubt a number who were prominent in it will be likewise in the new organisation.
Right to Water was not a movement, rather a kind of coordinating organisation for national demonstrations, chiefly in Dublin, against the water charges and the expected privatisation of water. In that work it has been highly successful.
The demonstrations built on the actions and mobilisation of hundreds of community groups across the country, protesting locally, encouraging people not to register or pay the charges, blocking Sierra and others from installing water meters and so on.
Many people will think that building Right to Change is the logical next move and will be enthused by it. And why not? Sure wouldn’t it be great to have a large number of TDs standing up to the System, denouncing its plans and their actions? The kind of thing done today by a few Independent TDs and others representing parties with small representation in the Dáil. Well, it would be useful but would it really make a difference?
Recently a Dáil committee set up to review the water charges and so on published its recommendations. Only 13 of the committee’s 20 members agreed with all of the recommendations but all of the recommendations stand nevertheless. Of course some of the objectors were right-wingers but many were of the Left – the System will always have a majority in the sub-systems it sets up. And if a time should come when it cannot achieve that …. well, that’s when you’ll hear the tanks clanking down the street.
Ok, granted perhaps, but it can’t hurt, can it? To have more Left TDs harassing the Government? No, of course not. Not unless we expect too much of this new organisation. Not unless we come to depend on it. And scale down our own independent activities. Hand over power to them.
That wouldn’t happen, would it? Unfortunately it has been a historical trend for popular movements to do exactly that. And social democracy always betrays the mass upon which it has erected itself. The Liberals in the further past and our ‘own’ Fianna Fáil in more recent history often promised the workers many things to win their votes. And even helped the workers push some things through from time to time. But they never promised to abolish the System, never promised socialism.
Social democracy does promise to deliver a fair and just society. It is a promise that it has been making for well over a century but on which it never delivers. It’s not just about jobbery and corruption, of which there is plenty in the corridors of power and to which many social democrats gravitate; it’s more that the Councillors and TDs elected never had any intention of abolishing the System. And in fact, will come out to defend the System whenever it is in danger. When it comes down to it, the System is THEIR system.
From time to time one hears social democrats bewailing “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, as though there exists an “acceptable” face of that system. They may talk at times about the “evils” of capitalism but will bear in mind the “good things” of capitalism too, the benefits they draw or hope to draw from the System. So criticism must be “balanced”, one mustn’t “throw the baby out with bathwater” and so on.
“The law must be obeyed”, they agree, as though “the law” is something divorced from class and politics, some immutable thing that just somehow exists. And yet just about every major social and political advance — including the right to organise a trade union at work, the right to strike and the right to universal suffrage — was won by people breaking “the law”. “The law” and its enforcers are part of the System.
If (heaven forbid) the action of the System’s police should be criticised, then we will hear phrases like “the police have a hard job to do”, the action of the ‘bad’ police is “bringing the force into disrepute”, “there are a few bad apples”, “better training is needed”, a “change in management is necessary”, etc etc. Anything but admit that the police force in a capitalist country exists in order to serve that System.
SOCIAL DEMOCRACY BETRAYS
At the beginning of May 1926, with a coal miners’ strike as a catalyst, Britain was heading towards a real possibility of revolution. The social democratic Trades Union Congress called a General Strike. In many areas of the country and in cities, no transport moved unless it had authorisation from the local Trades Council (a committee of local trade union representatives) or it had armed police and soldier escort. In less than two weeks, the TUC, at the behest of the British Labour Party, called off the strike, leaving the miners to fight on alone to their defeat in less than eight months. “By the end of November, most miners were back at work. However, many remained unemployed for many years. Those still employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements” (Wikipedia).
There had been more workers coming out at that time but also some of the union leaders were beginning to crack, as the struggle was shaping up to be a real showdown between the System and the workers. The TUC didn’t even set up a system to guarantee no retaliations by bosses against activist workers in non-mining unions and many lost their jobs.
The Chilean Salvador Allende is often seen as a hero, a radical social democrat who stood up against internal military fascism and external CIA-led destabilisation. Workers and peasants and some sections of the middle class got Allende elected President in 1970 but right wingers and officers in the military, working with the CIA, were conspiring against him. Everybody knew this and sections of the workers asked for Allende to arm them against the coup they knew was coming. Allende tried instead to compromise and find senior officers he could work with to use against the plotters. When the military carried out the coup, there was some armed resistance but most workers were unarmed. The coup left “3,000 dead or missing, tortured ten thousands of prisoners and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile” (Wikipedia). In addition, the children of many murdered left-wingers and union activists were given to childless right-wingers and military and police couples to raise as their own.
Social democracy always betrays or ends up hung by its own illusions. Unfortunately the workers end up hanging with it also.
In 2010, in response to Government budget cuts of between 5% and 10% on public servants, along with a levy on pensions, along with a breakdown in the “partnership” system of business and state employers negotiating with trade unions, the social-democratic Irish Trades Union Congress called a major demonstration in Dublin. Perhaps 70,000 marched down O’Connell Street and the ITUC was threatening a general strike. Despite escalating strike action in a number of sectors and the growing unpopularity of the Government, the ITUC abandoned the idea of a strike and instead went in to do a deal with the Government, in which they actually agreed to pay cuts and the pension levy, in exchange for some guarantees around public sector jobs. The social democratic trade union leaders didn’t have the stomach (or backbone) to take on the Government, to test the level of support for resistance.
Why all this talk about social democracy? Well, because Right to Water is essentially a social democratic alliance. It contains Sinn Féin, the biggest minority party in the Dáil, with 23 elected representatives, third in number of TDs. Right to Water is also supported by Unite, “Britain’s biggest union with 1.42 million members across every type of workplace” according to their website – it is pretty big in Ireland too, which is a “region” for the union, with 100,000 members across the land. These are forces that, while opposing the water charge, did not support civil disobedience on water meter installation nor refusing to pay the charge (although a number of their members fought along with the rest). Refusing to register and pay were the most effective ways of resisting the water charges and it is the high level of civil disobedience behind the giant demonstrations that has made the ruling class think again and promoted divisions between FG and Labour on the one hand and Fianna Fáil on the other.
But these elements did not support that policy. They want to be not only law-abiding but be seen to be law-abiding. Seen by who? Well, by the ruling class of course. SF in particular is champing at the bit to get into a coalition government but needs to show the ruling class that it is a safe pair of hands, i.e that the System will remain intact if managed by them. As indeed they have done in joint managing the regime in the Six Counties.
Of course there are many occasions when social democrats and revolutionaries can cooperate – but never by ceding leadership to the social democrats nor by depending on them, always instead by relying on their own forces and striving to educate the masses that the system cannot be reformed but needs to be overthrown …. and that the ordinary people are perfectly capable of achieving that.
AN ON-LINE MASS LEFT-WING NEWSPAPER
What about the left-wing newspaper though? Now that might be something, true enough. A source of rebuttal to the lies we are constantly getting from the media and a source of information and news which media censorship ensures most of us don’t get to read, see or hear.
If it seeks to be a truly mass paper it will need to cover not only foreign and domestic news but also sport, with sections on history, culture, nature, gardening ….. Rudolfo Walsh, who founded and with others ran the important ANCLA news agency during the dictatorship and the earlier extremely popular CGTA weekly in Argentina, until he was assassinated by the police, has been credited with two important sources of the weekly’s success: his informants within the police and army and an excellent horse racing tipster!
It is a big undertaking and a very interesting one.
But will the new paper practice censorship? Will it confine its discourse to the social democratic or instead allow revolutionary voices in it? Will it allow criticism of trade union leaderships, including Unite’s? Will it cover the repression of Republicans on both sides of the Border but particularly in the Six Counties? One would certainly hope so. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and of the newspaper, in the reading.