Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Environment and the Irish National Question

 


Written by Diarmuid Breatnach and first published at rebelbreeze under the title Rupture and Revolution Part 1.

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 and private services, 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 deals mostly with the magazine’s discussion of a) the Environment and b) the National Question, while PART II focuses on its coverage of c) the Health Service and d) the Broad Front and Anti-Fascism. As a consequence each Part contains both positive and negative evaluation.

For 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).

Environment

As with most serious commentators on the environment, the articles in Rupture point to an accelerating crisis and the need for urgent action right now. At the same time they point to the unwillingness or inability of the capitalist system – which means the governments of most states today — to take the necessary steps. In fact, unwillingness and inability are almost the same thing with the capitalist system because if one capitalist does not maximise his profit he will be undercut and crushed – or taken over – by another who will do “what is necessary” according to the rules and logic of the system.

Even if in the longer term (or the medium term, in this case) the scramble for profit maximisation destroys the very resource — cod and herring, for example or rainforest. In this case, without the slightest exaggeration, it is the whole civilisation-sustaining environment that is at stake.

Not Fun Facts

“In 2017 a habitat area the size of a football field was lost every second.” “Eirgrid has projected that 2027 as much as 31% of Ireland’s electricty could by consumed by data centres” (most of it for cooling the servers to prevent them overheating). “In Ireland a fairly normal herd of pigs consists of 3,000 animals — only 2% of pigs are living in small herds of 5 or less. ….. a flock of chickens can normally be around 3,000.” Diseases due to overcrowding of animals enter the food chain for humans, causing infections of “bird ‘flu” and “swine ‘flu” through ‘zoonotic spillover’ (remember that term — you’ll be hearing more of it in future).

The prediction a fairly long time ago that the choice, rather than being between socialism or capitalism is in reality socialism or barbarism, is facing us now as an urgent practical question. Because when civilisation crashes the remaining groups of humanity around the world, assuming their survival, will indeed be thrust back into barbarism.

The contributors to Rupture quote writings of Karl Marx and Engels which one never hears from non-Marxist environmentalists and rarely either from Marxists themselves. These early developers of Marxist thought studied not only economics, class struggle and philosophy but also (and dare I say it, necessarily), history, science and culture too.

Mental health is an issue discussed in the magazine not only in respect to the appalling lack of health services in that area or the stresses and strains of work under capitalism but also in the divorcing of most humans in cities from nature. The agricultural landscape, having been moulded by humanity is far from natural and yet retains much of nature, the environment in which humanity first came to exist and in which it developed …. but most people in the West are not employed in agriculture. In these times of fear of infection along with isolation from our regular social contacts, even a walk in a park, in woods, on hills or botanic gardens can be rewarding and a reminder of what we have lost and are losing.

It is a challenge to radically change the way we produce food and generate power in a long-term sustainable way but only a socialist system, with overall benefit replacing profit as the ruling motivation has the possibility of bringing an end to the ruthless exploitation of not only labour but the very environment.

 The National Struggle

This is a question rarely dealt with by the socialist parties in Ireland, a situation which surprises revolutionary socialists across Latin America and much of Europe in particular. Some might ascribe that to the British origin of a number of those parties, particularly the main Trotskyist ones which in that respect established a tradition very far from the theory and personal practice of Karl Marx. So although I have much to disagree with in this article, the fact that it is being discussed at all should be encouraged.

I hope it will serve to encourage further discussion rather than its opposite when I summarise the piece as containing partial history and poor analysis with however one important recommendation. This critique really deserves a treatment all of its own but since this evaluation of the magazine has already got appreciably longer than was my original intent, I will have to be brief and therefore blunt.

The brief overview of history does not even mention that the United Irishmen (and therefore the uprisings of 1798 and 1803) was led almost exclusively by a section of the colonist-descended bourgeoisie, which is why the leadership was virtually all of various Protestant religious backgrounds. This is important because this is not the same bourgeoisie that rules the Irish state today.

The article also omits any mention whatsoever of the linguistic genocidal legislation and practice of the conquerors of Ireland and for any treatment of “the national question” one would have to wonder how or why one would omit that. In dealing with the occupied Six Counties, the treatment of the civil rights movement is poor, even for a very brief overview – it was not only “anti-Unionist unity” that drove or characterised it but opposition to the violent response of the Unionist statelet, Loyalist mobs and paramilitaries and their resolute backing by the armed force of the British State.

 The article remarks on the “weak capitalist class” in Ireland. But what is the nature of the weakness of this class? In other words, towards which forces are they weak? Not towards the working class, with programs of austerity funding bank bailouts, decades of emigration, slow adoption of equal social rights, high homelessness. Not towards the working class, with the Army used to undermine the Dublin Bus strikers in 1963 and 1979 or the restrictions on the right to strike and solidarity action. Not towards the Irish Republican movement with its Civil War, special non-jury courts, its repressive legislation and armed police.

No, it is not those towards which the Irish capitalist class is weak. But it is weak in developing its own industry and developing an independent political line. Its weakness economically is marked by the takeover by big foreign capitalists of nearly all of its industry and telecommunications network, along with chunks of its transport infrastructure and services, its health services (private religious and foreign companies) and its national airline and large pieces of its agriculture. Its weakness is demonstrated in failure to develop its own natural resources and selling them off or giving them away.

The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its firstly accepting the partition if its national territory and going to war with the independence movement rather than join it gaining total independence. Subsequent, the same weakness manifested itself in its inability to unite its territory and subsequently abandoning any claim to do so.

The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its permitting atrocities committed against its citizens at home and abroad by the occupying power, only once taking a case against it to the European Courts of Human Rights and never to the European Court of Justice or the United Nations. And it permitted without protest the intelligence services of that occupying power to bomb its capital city many times, including in 1974, with the murder of 26 people (and another eight in Monaghan). And there are many other examples too.

The article admits that the Irish capitalist class has been “acting to facilitate the exploitation of people and resources by foreign capital”. What would we call a capitalist class that behaved like that in Latin America, Asia or Africa? Yes, neo-colonial. Or in Latin America, possibly “comprador”. The difference is not just in location but in the minds of the Irish electoral Left – but none of significance in the reality on the ground. As the contributor from Talamh Beo points out, “even though we’re geographically in Europe, our land history is radically different.” Of course defining the Irish capitalist class as neo-colonial might give one a very different outlook on the national struggle, right?

And also on socialist revolution, which we would understand to be opposed in Ireland not only by the majority native and the minority colonial capitalist classes and their apparatus, not only against our powerful imperialist neighbour, but also against economic interests in the imperialist USA and EU.

In addition, despite the officially neutral status of the Irish State, its armed forces are being integrated into the European imperialist military alliance. Ireland has not (yet) joined NATO but has the EU Battlegroups, as part of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union (EU).

Fianna Fáil, although a split from Sinn Féin in the 1930s and therefore the losing side in the Civil War, it has become the first party of choice of the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” class, a neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with its main rival, Fine Gael (and the Greens).

Fine Gael, although formed from the victorious side in the Civil War, it has become only the second party of choice of the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” class, a neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with its main rival, Fianna Fáil (and the Greens).

The truth is that in the above respects, Irish Republicans in general have a much better understanding of the Irish State, the representative of that neo-colonial capitalist class, than do the electoral left parties in Ireland. The Republicans have traditions and history and recurring practical experience that teaches them.

Ireland’s main social-democratic party, whenever in Government it has always been as a minor partner in coalition. It always supports the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” neo-colonial capitalist class. It is currently sits on the Opposition bench.

The Green Party of Ireland, whenever in Government it has always been as a minor partner in coalition. It always supports the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The electoral socialist Left, far from joining with the Republicans, chooses instead to snipe at them on occasion and to ignore them the rest of the time. And to permit their civil liberties and human rights to be attacked for the most part without protest.

Positive Recommendation

The positive recommendation in the article regards the projected Border Poll. While not wishing for any kind of capitalist Ireland, whether partitioned or united, the article recommends voting YES in any such referendum. I myself must agree with that and along with them find it difficult to imagine how any socialists could advocate any other position.

Recommending a NO vote even if for the best of reasons would isolate any party from the majority of the Irish people, while recommending abstention would leave the party on the sidelines not only regarding the poll but in important debates about what kind of Ireland we should have. Even the British & Irish Communist Organisation deviation of the 1960s and 1970s with their two-nation theory, although it generated much discussion, never looked likely to grow to any size, much less become a mass party of the Left.

I am far from convinced however that a genuine poll on the reunification of Ireland will ever be agreed by the ruling classes of the UK and of Ireland or, should it be held and have a majority for reunification, that the ruling classes will implement the verdict.

 APPENDIX

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) on a number of occasions 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.

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