Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The challenge for the left in Sinn Féin.

Below is a piece I received from tgmac who has an interesting blog at http://socialist-continuum.blogspot.com/


Economics, like politics, requires the ability to manage the inherent tensions within any man made system. The stormont system requires even greater management of the tensions.

Yes the leftist voice in SF has lost some momentum but that's because the SF Left hasn't come up with a plan. It's up to the Left to devise the strategies and the tactics to create a plan that will have the support of the electorate and meet some hard-wired socialist goals.

Those socialists who wish to return to a 19th century analysis and have another go at meta-national command economics are free to do so. What I see among many such Socialists is a wait and see attitude; hoping that people become poorer, angrier and thus more open to returning to this type of system. It's obvious they are gaining some traction. Time will tell. Let'em at it.

I'd rather assist a party that is trying to do something on the ground. Talk's cheap. It's up to the SF Left to organise their camp. It's getting easier as we see those who espouse the command economy type of analysis leaving. This leaves the road open for a new, verifiable and wholely progressive Socialists policies to be adopted.

And when I say I hate the exclusivity doctrine (whether it be fat-cat capitalists or adherence to a biblical like economic doctrine based on personalities) I mean it. I'm not interested in what parties, doctrines, Higgins, Adams or any other person has to say about Socialism on a national stage. The Left either lives it and tries to persuade others that we have a coherent and sustainable policies that work in the real world or history makes us irrelevant.


  1. Thats the fact TmacG. The left has assembled a philosophy but has not successfully extended that philosophy into politics.

    In America civil rights activists spent a decade working to change society and while the work is not complete they did effect change.

    In the 6 counties Sinn Fein is in govt. That did not happen overnight but took again over a decade. The work is not complete but then how else was a UI to be achieved unless the pro-london community could see that Republicans could govern them without the sky falling in. Again a process of slow change.

    In contrast some Socialists argue that reform is impossible arguing for a total and immediate change. I liken this to a promise of get rich quick. Poor today but a millionaire tomorrow. The sentiment is not unworthy but its hard to see it happen.

    Consider the depths of poverty Ireland hit in the 50s without engaging in a revolution. I am not overly familiar with the Socialist thinkers but can only assume they didnt factor in emigration. Emigration is the pressure valve that prevents a revolution in Ireland. Lets not fool ourselves otherwise. I feel that we on the left need to recognise this is Ireland 2009 not an other country or any other time. I read recently an analysis of the Iran situation and a list of the criteria that needed to be fulfilled to achieve a socialist revolution. As T said it would require a total collapse of Irish society. Which I argue would lead to large scale emigration thereby precluding revolution.

    Sorry but a socialist revolution aint happening in Ireland. We can wish for it but so what. Thats not effective. Lets accept that, adapt our strategy and get on with it. I'd rather socialism over 15 years than never. So far all we have is never and its not much to show.

    We also need to recognise that a full command economy does not work and has not worked anywhere. Now that may be regarded as an ideological challenge; its not. The evidence is there in front of us. Now we either accept it and adapt or ignore it and be shunted to the side.

    Those who propose a command economy must also argue how they will overcome the agency problem. That problem whereby after a while the people running the economy, the politburo etc etc., become removed from the people and becomes more concerned with its own interests rather than the peoples. Has then been answered yet. No it hasn't and thats why the communist states also collapsed.

    So I agree that people who push a command economy are actually holding the left back. It just doesn't work unfortunately. Humans being what they are.

    Reading o'Briens book he listed 7 or 8 different contexts that SF should/could operate in (actually i thought they might form 7-8 useful posts and if anyone else has the book then maybe they could be listed as posts for discussion or i can list them for this site. They are interesting). Anyhow he argued that SF should also work with the left across Europe. Unfortunately the left got beaten all across the EU. In the midst of an era changing recession/depression the left lost to the right. Unfortunately the left across Europe took a step towards irrelevant.

    This is not surprising considering the predominance of the Liberal philosophy but that predominance is based on the left's weakness in arguing its point over the years.

    Relevant or redundant is one view, Radical or redundant is also another even if Mcdowell said it.

    Well our way should be Radical, Relevant, and results orientated that way we wont be redundant.

    The left needs to stop thinking in terms of fighting back, always defending etc. We are always on the back foot. Why is it not the right that needs to fight back, defend corrupt bankers etc.

    The left seems to be conditioned to be an opposition only. That mindset needs to change and we need to prepare to govern and implement policies that bring us to where we need to be. If that takes a decade of slow change then fine.

    Better than promises change.


  2. Féilim Ó hAdhmaillSeptember 16, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    I would agree we a lot of what you say. I think though that it is very hard to promote alternative views within SF. The fora don't exist and whilst there is a semblance of democratic control, in reality the party is controlled in a hierarchial manner. Even if motions on policy are passed at Ard Fheiseanna they will only be implemented with the agreement of the Party hierarchy. Thus we may have a policy on paper calling for a boycott of Israel or for the breaking off of diplomatic relations but in practice we meet with the Ambassador at Stormont. Out approach in this regard often means contradictory positions being adopted in different parts of the country in different contexts. This in turn creates distrust about what the Party actually stands for. The Left do need a plan to promote socialism within SF (before we lose all the socialists!) however, without access to the power in the party that is difficult. My own view is that the Left need to do what the Left in the Party did in the late 1970s. They need to have a publication promoting their views. In the late 1970s the Left of the day were those who followed the Gerry Adams line and they gained control of first Rep News and then An Phoblacht. Times have changed and so has the style, format and content of that paper. Without an alternative publication which can allow discussion and debate then there is no chance that the type of practical socialist solutions that you seem to be advocating can be developed or promoted.

  3. I had previously considered what practical socialism might be. As an opening gambit:

    The protests in defence of the Thomas Cook workers but if we are going to point out the inequality in this state, if we are going to highlight how this state is a failing entity then are we fighting a good fight but is it unfortunately a fight that no one agrees wit?
    Well we are actually knocking at an open door here. A very large majority of Irish people in the south recognise the levels of inequality that exists.The research institute TASC conducted a survey into attitudes on wealth distribution and income inequality in the south. 85% of respondents believed wealth is distributed unfairly and agreed with the proposition that the Government should take active steps to reduce the gap between high and low earners. An open door as I said. Is anyone on the left capable of pushing it? SF could!
    TASC noted that the south is full of people who are mired in poverty or who form the new social class - the precariat as they are called in by TASC - those people coping but on the verge of ruin if the job goes. In the south they have been called the coping class. They see Public services – already inadequate – are
    chopped, and the impact is being felt particularly in the areas of healthcare and education. But at the same time they see the monetary rewards enjoyed by those at the top of our financial institutions and are aware of the great wealth inequality in this society. They are not the upwardly mobile but the downwardly mobile in the words of TASC. The OECD concurs with their view, citing Irish wealth distribution as among the most unequal in the developed world – and seventyone per cent of those surveyed were unsurprised at the OECD’s finding, an increase over the previous year’s figure.
    TASC highlights that things are a bit more fluid now than the simple class divide of the 19th century. So using their analysis who can SF stand for. Well as a party that stands for social justice we stand with the people in poverty, the working poor and even elements of the comfortable class because even some of those are people who are on precarious income, the downwardly mobile.

    So why my focus on Tasc . Because TASC states that "The challenge now is to devise – and then implement – measures which reduce income and wealth inequalities, while marrying the twin goals of social justice and economic development."
    In order to reduce income equalities then a good starting point is measuring it. The standard measure of inequality, the so-called Gini coefficient,
    For the south of Ireland it was 0.30 in 2000 – but actually increased slightly to 0.32 by 2005. There are different ways of calculating Gini, but the consistent thing is that the the south of Ireland has a much higher Gini co-efficient than many other EU states. The UN found that the south had a co-efficient of 34.3 as opposed to Denmark on 24.7, Japan on 24.9, Czech republic on 25.4 or even Germany on 28.3 or Finland 26.9. The previous countries being ones that are frequently listed either as more competitive, better educated, more innovative or even lower waged when compared with the south of Ireland.
    But if the TASC formula is used, or something like it then you can immediately follow on from discussing inequalities in wealth and tie in several strands of our message and link our wealth inequality policies with pushing for a better education system, or for a more competitive economy or an innovation based economy.
    Whatever our socialism is it should be definable in not only aspirational language but also in quite precise terms which would allow us to push for real targets


  4. Felim,
    The Left do need a plan to promote socialism within SF .

    I think the problem is many in the party think socialism has failed to move beyond the philosophical field, does not take into account the realities of ruling, or of modern society and has not been translated into suitable policies that can generate wealth and effectively redistribute it.

    I dont think an alternative socialist block in the party is required. Thats not whats holding Socialism back. Nor in my opinion is a counter journal required.Handy but unless it contains a new type of socialism capable of shifting us steadily towards a scandinavian equality, while recognising the reality of the modern world then what use.

    If our proposals are rooted in reality and relevant to real people while being implementable without requiring a revolution etc then they will be implemented.

    But to have a separate block of socialists would be retire into our own world. Thats a mistake that the left is only too guilty of and we cant continue that mistake.


    Maybe the party has a clear hierarchy but imagine what its like n

  5. feilim. the issue you are talking about there. in one part of the country we do one thing and so on in another. annoys me as well. and i agree with the out workings of it in terms of causeing dissilusionment, but is it a democratic problem? i see it as a disipline one. the structres in the party cumman cuige ac ard fheis its easy to get a message up and down the line, the problem in my view is implementation. we have a reputation for the jack boot but interms of thinking nothing could be further from the truth, thats great in that a wide varity of opinions are accomodated and for the same reason shit. there is no one standing over people saying this is the line follow it or your out. maybe there should be. who's been kicked out for going against a voted on policy? something happened molloy up in tyrone a few years back but thats all i can think of. were to nice. its ok to be angry sometimes.

    on the publication. i know the lads in aprn. get in contact with them they want more people in the party active in the paper, there like a broken record saying it and they have also started re doing iris on a quarter yearly basis. by and large these publications are maintained on a voluntary basis, the more contributions the better.

    orther wise have noticed the last two ard feis fringe events oganised one for young people and one for women, didn't get invited to either, possibility. maybe a debate?

  6. J, I would be very interested in exploring O'Briens points. I'm not familiar with his writings so every wee bit that forwards my understanding can only help. As you say, it might provide some framework for further discussion. Are you doing any work on the agency problem? I've been exploring (in my own feeble way) the rentier dilemma as well as what constitutes a 'rational' economic actor. (I've been trying to read some Marx on the rentier subject but the fecker is hard to follow. I often get the feeling he's as interested in showing the world what a clever fella he is as much as explaining the problems he's exploring.) [less of the mcdowel quotes, please. :-) - that fecker's name just makes my skin crawl - but the Irish people did reject him - so there's always hope- again :-) ]

    Féilim, I know where you're coming from with regard to a leftist outlet within the party. There is no doubt real politik is at work on the leadership level as they try to navigate through tensions between being practical in govt and pursuing some sort of progressive and coherent economic strategy. It seems they have some way to go and we can 'assist' them in determining a course forward. I also read that Morgan got thrown out of the Dáil over the NAMA debate today. The leadership realises there is hay to be made but we have to provide them with the pitchforks, so to speak, in the form of progressive/socialist policy options.

    Maybe over the coming months, a core group of SF lefties, or maybe just a few practical lefties, can explore setting up a website that will address such issues as you and J have highlighted - a sort of wikipedia of SF progressive ideas and discussion forum. If the site also includes practical consumer/citizen advice, it may attract a broader audience where the practical and political intermingle. (You never know, if a such a site did get decent audience or, indeed, if this site does likewise, it might alert the leadership to the potential.)

    This site was and is badly needed in my humble opinion. Fair play to the person who set it up. Personally, I could find no forum where people were rational and willing to explain their positions. Long may it continue.

  7. Féilim

    I agree with you about the left of SF needing a publication, or at the very least a web site you can all adhere to. What you do not what is a leadership given space, as they can, as you know only to well, turn a tap off as well as on.

    I'm reading 'The Lost Revolution' and a statement from Peadar O'Donnell gave me pause for thought, he said in hindsight he believes the mistake the left in the IRA made in the 1930s, was to resign and leave the movement. It seems to me much the same thing 'may' be happening today, with comrades leaving as individuals exasperated with the leadership. [echoes of the 30s again]

  8. Féilim Ó hAdhmaillSeptember 17, 2009 at 4:15 PM

    As a follow on point can I say that I think the big problem in SF is that the only thing which unites ALL the members is a commitment to a 32 County republic and a basic empathy with the working class experience based on the experience most of us had growing up. Socialism was an add-on in times when it was since as 'popular'. However, for many in this movement "socialism" gets in the way of practically running a Government in the North which operates in a neo-capitalist framework over which we have little control. It also gets in the way of attempts to win over the international business class and the political elites internationally to the idea of Irish unity. Finally it gets in the way of us being the biggest nationalist party in the North where the strategy has been geared towards winning over the Cathoic middle classes. Yet in the South we say we are a socialist party. This presents a contradictory message to both our membership and our base, let alone to potential supporters. The problem with the party in my view is not a lack of practical socialist policies for the short, medium and long term, but a lack of ideology other than a commitment to a 32 County republic. Instead of basing actions and policy on ideology we base these on pragmatism and indeed populism. Since we operate in different contexts North and South this means that whilst an action or policy in the South seems socialist, in the North our actions and policies can often be criticised for not being so. The problem with this is that we can be perceived as being inconsistent and untrustworthy. In reality what SF lacks is an ideological underpinning which will enable it to operate in a consistent manner North and South based on clearly defined socialist republican PRINCIPLES. I remember a prominent SF spokesperson while ridiculing the idea of priniciples at the start of the Peace Process arguing that the only principle "was to win". At the time I thought "and when we win will the only principle then be to stay in power?". That's the problem with a lack of ideology in the party. Everything becomes a tactic in a battle to win power and become popular etc. with the danger that we lose sight of what we are supposedly trying to achieve when we do win power. That's my concern. My reason for arguing for the need for space to debate this type of thing is not to further marginalise the Left or to cause further divisions within SF. It's because it's a debate that needs to be had and it has no forum at present.

  9. Féilim, there is very litle in your comment I can disagree with.

    Much of the talk recently about the need to move away from abstract labels such as left and right http://www.anphoblacht.com/news/detail/38507 is to me of great concern. Surely we need to have a clear identity and a clear ideology on which to base our view of events in Ireland, and help us to get our message across more clealry to the public.

    I feel those members of the public who may well be sympathetic to Sinn Féin don't really know what we stand for beyond a united Ireland.

    Personbally speaking i am a socialist and a republican and what i wish to see is the party being that too and proclaiming that loudly.

  10. I came across this interesting submission by an australian Labour party member who is part of the Socialist left club in that party. The devate is from 2002 but similar in argument to what this site discusses.


    The writer begins by fairly commenting that previously it was all to easy to label some elements of the socialist agenda as old and instead adopt right wing ideas as new and happening:

    Here, the 'old', of course, is taken to be traditional social democratic/democratic socialist values and policies: income redistribution, a robust welfare state, progressive labour market regulation, economic democracy and the 'mixed economy'.

    The 'new', by comparison, is any policy initiative that moves the relative political spectrum and terms of debate to the Right, in capitulation to neo-liberalism.

    They continue saying that :democratic socialist ideas of economic democracy and distributive justice are lampooned as redundant ideas of 'the Old Left'

    They then introduce the concept of the Socialist Objective.

    Specifically, the 'Socialist Objective', as articulated in the Austraalian Labour Party Constitution, aims (amongst other things) for the following: (from the Constitution of the Australian Labor Party - 'Objectives and Principles')

    "c) Redistribution of political and economic power so that all members of society have the opportunity to participate in the shaping and control of the institutions and relationships which determine their lives."

    "d) Maintenance of and support for a competitive non-monopolistic private sector, including small business and farming, controlled and owned by Australians, operating within clear social guidelines and objectives."

    "l) Equal access and rights to employment, education, information, technology, housing, health and welfare services, cultural and leisure activities and the law."

    "j) The abolition of poverty, and the achievement of greater equality in the distribution of income, wealth and opportunity."

    "n) Recognition and protection of fundamental political and civil rights, including freedom of expression, the press, assembly, association, conscience and religion; the right to privacy; the protection of the individual from oppression by the state; and democratic reform of the Australian legal system."

    "p) Elimination of discrimination and exploitation on the grounds of class, race, sex, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, regional location, economic or household status."

    "t) Recognition of the need to work towards achieving ecologically sustainable development."

    "u) Maintenance of world peace; an independent Australian position in world affairs; the recognition of the right of all nations to self determination and independence; regional and international agreement for arms control and disarmament; the provision of economic and social aid to developing nations; a commitment to resolve international conflicts through the UN; and a recognition of the inalienable right of all people to liberty, equality, democracy and social justice."

    The writer recognises that people often aim for the same thing but describe it differently and comment that: most of the policies canvassed herein are fairly moderate and realistic. Moderate social democrats, who have some real commitment to progressive taxation, income redistribution, a critical and independent civil society, and the welfare state - should have no problem coming to terms with them.

    They finally comment that:This is not necessarily to imply, however, that there is not room for improvement

    I like this because it begins to spell out some fairly points which can guide policy.


  11. féilim, i agree with alot of your last post but one point of order. in the south socialism is not popular. in the recent local election there was a swing from FF to FG ?????? they were the big winners, fair play to joe for getting the left seat in the capital but the big swing was to the right. this in the after math of the collapse of the banks and any neo liberal argument. Socialism is not a popular alternative yet SF in the south or the city's any way still want to be equated with Socialism. a blatent atempt to run others politics put dublin in to tormoil but going through that and knowing the individuals and arguments coming out of that city now, Dublin is back to were it was before the éirigi split. i think because a socialist republican outlook is a more instinctive out look so popular our not were here again.

    there is a contrast i agree between being tied down in stormornt, and wining the catholic middle class in the six counties. i think we need to re -evaluate our thinking there. the SDLP aren't going any where, its been tried. the only room for growth i can see in protestent working class but think it's an idea who's time as come. minus the trongs of was a semi normalized situation i think it can be done, might have to go into opposition to do it which wouldn't be bad for people like yourself in south because arguments would be consistant but think it can be done. stormont is a farce or the decission making process of the executive any way, the DUP are making noise's again, if we could get an Irish language act devolution of policeing and justice maybe tax raiseing or something for stormount or getter role for the south then i think it would be worh listening to them.

  12. anon,

    in the south socialism is not popular... Socialism is not a popular alternative yet SF in the south or the city's any way still want to be equated with Socialism

    and yet according to TASC 85% of respondents believed wealth is distributed unfairly and agreed with the proposition that the Government should take active steps to reduce the gap between high and low earners.

    But I agree Socialism is not popular in Ireland and yet across Ireland there is clearly a recognition by people that society is unequal and should be changed.

    For me thats the big problem here. There is a hungry market there looking for equality who want a credible alternative vision. Credible being the key part and note credible does not mean bland, unprincipled or ineffective.

    So yeah I agree irish people look on Socialism and hear little in it for them but at the same time they want change and want a fairer society. I have never doubted that a large block want such change.

    Who will provide the credible alternative that gives them the change in wealth distribution they want?