Health Service, Broad Socialist Front, Anti-Fascism
(Reading time main text: 15 mins.)
A new periodical has emerged from the Irish Left. At the time of writing two issues of Rupture have been produced and Parts I and II of this article consist of a political overview (but of course from my individual viewpoint) of a number of issues discussed in the magazine. While the assessment of some is highly critical, overall my opinion is that Rupture is a welcome introduction to socialist analysis of conditions in Ireland.
Rupture is a quarterly magazine format produced by RISE, a group of socialists whose most publicly-prominent individual is Paul Murphy (see Appendix) who is also a TD, i.e a member of the Parliament of the 26 Counties. The formation of the party RISE was announced in September 2019 when Murphy announced his departure from the Socialist Party and his joining this new organisation, of which he is a founding member.
Rupture espouses “eco-socialism”, a drive to organise the production of food and fuel under socialist control while dramatically reducing its harmful impact on the environment. Most of its contributors address issues from a Marxist perspective but interviews with activists from some other perspectives are included.
The magazine’s two issues to date included features on public health, the environment and food production. In addition there have been a number of articles on developing a broad socialist front, combating racism and fascism, multi-national companies and neo-liberal capitalism, Big Pharm and trade union struggle. For the first time, the latest issue (November 2020) addressed the issue of the national question (and struggle) in Ireland. PART I of this article dealt mostly with the discussion of the magazine’s discussion of a) the Environment and b) the National Question, while PART II focuses on its coverage of the Health Service and the Broad Socialist Front, including Anti-Fascism. As a consequence each Part contains both positive and negative evaluation.
From another aspect, the layout is generally attractive and mostly easy to read with photography and artwork which is interesting (if its relevance is not always clear). Some articles are perhaps on the longer side for some tastes but then these are big issues being discussed, in many cases literally of life-and/or-death dimensions.
An annual subscription costs €40 all Ireland or €60 international and I would recommend taking out one for 2021).
The articles on the health service in the Irish state, one might say health services, are particularly strong and, like those on the environment, use published statistics and analyses from other sources to illustrate their points.
It is a fact, as the contributors point out, that the Irish state has never had a national health service (and one of the benefits for people in the 6-County colony is that they have the UK’s National Health Service, for all its current troubles). What we have is a three-tier system: state, private not-for-profit and capitalist — the articles argue for a totally public health system, such as would be in place in a socialist society.
There are those, especially Government Health Ministers (though not necessarily when in Opposition) who argue that the three-tier is the optimum mix, all tendencies working together to deliver the best service to the population. If the fallacy in this argument were not obvious before, with long waitings lists for procedures including even testing, packed A&E departments with patients waiting hours for treatment and some patients even days on trolleys, along with the false negative cervical cancer results, it was brutally exposed by the Covid19 pandemic. Overburdened ICU wards, more pressure on hospital beds, deferment of procedures and longer waiting lists, shortages of protective equipment and overworked and stressed front-line health workers, including shocking death rates in care homes have been stark pointers to the urgent need for change. And now delays in contact tracing and vaccine roll-out.
Besides, the alleged mix of the three types of health service provider is a fallacy, as the articles point out; in fact, public money is funding them all. Whether run by religious institutions or by unashamedly profit-making enterprises, they are all dependent on funding through the Irish State and through tax exemptions.
It would seem rational and logical that if a health service provider insists on working within a religious ethos, that its services be funded entirely by its own institutions and congregation. It would seem rational and logical that a provider who wishes to work on a profit-making basis should fund itself entirely by investors, bank loans and its own profits, just like any other business. It would seem rational and logical that the entire wealth available to the State for health should be spend funding and improving its own services. In the Irish state, none of that is what happens.
Not Fun Facts
The Catholic Church owns and controls 90% of primary and around 50% of secondary schools in the state which however are funded publicly. “Out of the 1,735 total deaths in the first wave (of the pandemic), over half (967 ) were in nursing homes.” “In 2019 the HSE spent 31% of its current budget ( 5.4 billion euros) on outsourcing to outside agencies.” “Top 5 religious orders funded by the HSE (2019): Sisters of Mercy (including the Mater and Mercy University Hospitals) – 432 million; Sisters of Charity (St. Vincent’s University Hospital) — 373m; Brothers of Charity 218m; St. John of Gods – 166m; Daughters of Charity – 122m.” (Total: 1,311,000,000 euro). “By 2019, up to 80% of nursing home beds were private, up from 66% 1n 2009 and 25% in the 1980s.” While working people struggle with ill-health or pay privately, also seeking care for elderly relatives, the huge rise in private health insurance cost and sector growth is the main beneficiary.
The story, shockingly, is the same when it comes to vaccines. Though people are right to question the operations of Big Pharma, the companies that produce medicines to make a profit, the general case for the defence of vaccines against diseases is unanswerable. Many distressing medical conditions and epidemics have been eliminated in parts of the world through vaccines though in some other parts people continue to suffer because vaccinations are generally unavailable.
However the article in the current issue of Rupture points out that a number of companies are in a race to be first to produce an effective Covid19 vaccine so that their company alone can patent it and profit from it (and of course, set their own price). Although their end product is patented and belongs to them to profit by, 66% of their research is public-funded. And they spend a large proportion of their funds on advertising – “64 of the top pharmaceutical companies spend twice as much on advertising as they did on new research, while 27 companies spent 10 times as much.”
In a socialist system, all the scientists would be collaborating and sharing research and work so that not only would likely success be enormously hastened but the vaccine would be universally available and cheap. In fact, the permanently crippling disease of polio was eliminated in Ireland by a publicly-available and cheap vaccine – its inventor Johan Salk, despite its estimated worth of $7 billion, refused to patent it , saying that it was “owned by the people” (https://polio.ie/polio-vaccine-26th-march-1953/).
BROAD SOCIALIST FRONT
Contributors ofarticles in Rupture on the question of creating a mass resistance front to capitalism have criticised the traditional socialist party-building method, which they point out leaves them essentially small, with limited influence in the working class and, through loyalty to their leaderships and reluctance to learn from their mistakes, perpetuates both. Whatever different people may think of the reasons nobody can argue with the result.
The articles advocate participation in broader fronts and attempting to influence them with a Marxist approach while also being willing to learn, instead of using these broader formations primarily to sell their newspapers, recruit some members and project themselves as the main leaders (that last might be more my own point than that of the article authors). It is suggested that on some questions socialist organisations can join in a common struggle with other groups and activists with whom they don’t agree on other issues.
Sounds good? Yes, of course and some of us independent activists have been saying that for decades. Interestingly however (and curiously, one might say if one were unaware of the general trajectory of the Irish Left), there is no mention of uniting with other revolutionary groups such as Irish Republicans and Anarchists. This should be curious because active Irish Republicans usually number many more than the Socialists in Ireland and they – and the Anarchists – have been fighting in struggles for years (including some which the rest of the Left is only now beginning to take up). Furthermore, which should be of more than passing interest to socialists, in general Irish Republicans are significantly of more working class background than are the members of the socialist parties.
If the Socialists in Ireland don’t unite with those groups it is of course possible that they will unite around enough others to overthrow the State and usher in a socialist order. Possible – but hardly likely. What is much more likely is that, in their pathological desire to steer clear of those elements, they will instead drift or gallop into alliance with social democracy. And that element of the Left is one which raises the aspirations of working people only to constantly dash them and, at crucial junctures of struggle always has and will betray its working class and lower-middle class supporters. Clara Zetkin, in the article referred to in the next section, pointed to the betrayal of the struggles of the working class paving the way for the fascists, giving the examples of the factory occupations and agrarian struggles of 1920 and the 1st August 1922 general strike debacle.
At those junctures the socialist organisations that have been in alliance with the social democrats will splinter again, amidst recriminations and opportunism as some leaders jostle for position among the social democrats. In some situations of course, socialists have instead ended up in prison, concentration camps or against a blood-stained wall.
The road to social democracy has been the historical trajectory in the West of most of the parties of the Left claiming to be revolutionary, both of the Trotskyist and Communist Party variety. At this early stage of Rise and Rupture that tendency is already to be seen in contributions to the magazine discussion – one from the USA advocating working within the Democratic Party and others suggesting the possibility of building a mass Irish social-democratic party inside of which the revolutionaries can work.
The rejection by Rupture contributors as allies of those active revolutionary elements, Irish Republicans and Anarchists, can once again be seen in its discussion of anti-fascism in Ireland. In the article on the subject in the November issue we are treated to eight pages of an address by Clara Zetkin to the Communist International in 1923, a time when fascism was still a very new force. The introduction from Rupture, dealing with Ireland and the world today, is barely one page long and doesn’t even mention the history of the struggle against fascism in Ireland.
Of course, discussion of Ireland being kept mostly free from fascism can only be even considered by ignoring the presence of the Loyalists and the colonial statelet, with its sectarian legislation, housing and education allocation and especially policing. As for the Loyalists, pogroms, individual murders and burning people out of their homes – that is not fascism? And it’s not as if there have not been plenty of connections established between Loyalist and fascist groups in and outside Ireland – and not only in Britain.
If the Irish state has been kept generally fascist-free so far, might it not be of some value perhaps to investigate why? In fact there have been fascist organisations operating within the Irish state but they were smashed by energetic action of Irish Republicans, both left and more generally nationalist throughout the 1930s, as well as by eventual banning by the De Valera government of Fianna Fáil, which was elected largely by Irish Republican and Socialist support.
Subsequently, every time until the very recent past the fascists have attempted to gain a foothold they have been smashed again, both by Irish Republicans and Anarchist and Socialists – but notably, never by the main socialist parties, who have sometimes demonstrated and more often written against fascism but always remained aloof and even critical of direct confrontation.
Irish antifascists in the 1930s, mostly of an Irish Republican background, contributed to the international struggle directly by participation in the International Brigades in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War (1936-1939), in Britain (notably in the Battle of Cable Street 1936), also the little-known burning of the Clonfert mansion of Sir Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists, the “Blackshirts” in 1954. And contributing since, down through generations of the diaspora to Red Action and Anti-Fascist Action in Britain.
When the European fascist network based on Islamophobia tried to include Dublin in its program of organisational launches in European cities, it was defeated in Dublin, making the Irish state probably the only one in Europe that was not host to a Pegida launch. The mobilisation against Pegida was huge but what really demoralised the organisers and ended the alliance of Irish and East European fascists in acrimony, was as a result of the physical confrontation which hospitalised some Irish fascists en route and required Garda vans to drive the East European variety away to safety.
The more active antifascist opposition was overwhelmingly Irish Republican, with some anarchists and independent socialists. And the people still facing charges of “violent disorder” and a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison (or an unlimited fine or both!) are all Republicans from different organisations. Those who confronted the fascist National Party on October 10th in Dublin last year and sent the nazis scurrying off under Garda protection included (unelectoral) Socialists but the largest element were undoubtedly Irish Republicans of various groups and none.
Today, even the new fascist groupings of Síol na hÉireann, the Irish Freedom Party and the National Party, along with the right-wing anti-vaxxer, anti-mask conspiracy theorists such a QAnon, all try to piggy-back on the history of the Irish Republican movement (at least until 1922), lacing their rhetoric with references to “700 (sic) years of struggle” and “the martyrs of Irish freedom”.
The formation of the Le Chéile antifascist alliance in early December last was an alliance of liberals, social-democrats and the electoral Left, with TDs of Rise and PBP in the lineup. Regarding the earlier discussions or founding meeting, a well-connected Irish Republican told me “I don’t know one Republican group that was invited” and when the alliance declared that they would not be organising any confrontations with the Far-Right, one suspects why. While it might be said that socialists should join such alliances in order to influence people towards the correct strategy and tactics, the least they could have done would be to publicly disagree with that stand. The reason the electoral Left did not do so seems to be because they agreed with it, as evidenced by their practice throughout the last two years.
By all means discuss and develop a theoretical understanding of the historical origins, development and nature of fascism but socialists need to remember that in the final analysis it was a huge expenditure of physical effort, with millions of martyrs, that brought fascism to its knees in most of Europe at the end of the 1940s.
RISE would do well to heed at least one of the remarks of Zetkin in the quoted speech: “Fascism confronts the proletariat as an exceptionally dangerous and frightful enemy”.As such, socialists require serious analysis of its history and current appearance in Ireland, along with an examination of the tactics and strategy necessary to defeat it.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PAUL MURPHY (RISE)
Formerly an activist and TD of the Irish Socialist Party, an Irish child of the British Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Party (and formerly, Militant, the largest among a number of entrist groups into the British Labour Party), Murphy left them gently in September 2019 to form the RISE group. It may be remembered that Clare Daly, also a TD, left the SP in August 2012 in a somewhat more acrimonious dispute and became part of Independent Left with some other socialist TDs and municipal councillors, since when she and her partner Mick Wallace were elected Members of the European Parliament and virtually disappeared from the Irish political scene (to be missed by many without allegiance to either group). Paul Murphy has also been an MEP in the past, from 2011-2014. Although now a member of a different political party, he has remained in the Solidarity-People Before Profit coalition of SP and PBP which retains another five TDs (four essentially of the Socialist Workers’ Party but no longer any of the SP).
Murphy has a long record of activism and has been violently handled by the Gardaí (Irish state police force) and also arrested as part of the celebrated Jobstown case defendants in 2015 (all acquitted two years later). His international activism includes participation in the Gaza blockade flotilla in 2011 and high seas capture by the Israeli Zionist state, detention and deportation. His production of regular video broadcasts to date during the Covid19 crisis, both from home and of his interventions in the Dáil have included lashing the Government on placing accommodation of capitalism above the lives or ordinary people, denouncing its “yo-yo policy” of precautionary restrictions followed by much-too-early relaxation and also demanding the nationalisation of private health facilities.