Should I be angry with my dog for not laying eggs for my tea, or should I just let him be? What if he’s dressed up as a big feathery chicken, and every now and again his bark sounds like a cluck? What if it turns out that I live in a town where no-one has had eggs for their tea for generations, and the historical memory of eggs relates to dogs dressed up as chickens who talk -yes, in my world, dogs can talk- about how they’re the proud bearers of a tradition of egg-laying dating back to way back hen, but who don’t seem to do much else to differentiate themselves from all the other dogs apart from wearing chicken suits?
I am talking, of course, about the Irish Labour Party. Man, I really ought to get beyond thinking about the Labour Party. But there’s an election coming up. I’m not one of those lunatics who believes that voting in an election is a solemn privilege or that the only civic involvement in democracy is the vote, nor do I think there is some magical property to your vote that registers an effect even if your wishes are entirely ignored. But I don’t think it’s always completely pointless either, since there can be considerable material differences of consequence depending on the actual outcome of the vote.
Nor can anyone with an interest in seeing a better world ignore the fact that, whether you like it or not, and I certainly don’t like it very much, many people do believe that periodic elections are the sole legitimate instrument of political expression accorded to the population, and how they perceive politics is affected greatly by what they observe in the course of the electoral campaign. And given that the Labour Party is featuring heavily in electoral coverage as a party on the move and also as a party of the left, featuring even as ‘radicals‘ in this Guardian piece, I do not think it a good idea to pay them no heed at all.
Now with that said, I think James Connolly’s observation from more than a century back still holds true: that ‘the democracy of Parliament is in short the democracy of Capitalism. Capitalism gives to the worker the right to choose his master, but insists that the fact of mastership shall remain unquestioned’. And with this in mind, when the Labour Party claims to be the heir to James Connolly, it is a bit like George W. Bush claiming to be carrying out Jesus’s will.
Nonetheless I am sure there are lots of people with whom I agree on a lot of things who believe they have very good reasons to be members of the Labour Party and, you know, maybe, just maybe, when I have been plied with rohypnol and tequila and taken to a darkened motel room in the middle of the night, I might concede that, in their terms, they have some justification. But in the cold light of day, my own rap sheet against Labour is mammoth, and includes, but is not confined to, the following:
- In terms of their historical intended purpose, social democratic parties have pretty much kicked the bucket across Europe. The idea that owners and investors in firms can be given largely free rein to do whatever they want with their surpluses in exchange for some worker protections, in a grand deal between labour and capital, doesn’t look too clever these days, seeing as social democratic political parties are tripping over themselves to clobber workers across Europe on behalf of unelected, unaccountable ‘markets’. Though I would find it hard to argue that Labour is a social democratic party by the standards of other such parties in Europe anyway. How is Eamon Gilmore’s ‘One Ireland’ of ’employers and employees’ substantially different from Brian Cowen’s ‘new politics that cherishes all sections and interests of our people irrespective of class‘?
- Labour -whatever the position of its individual members and whatever Pat Kenny, the Irish Independent and The Irish Times say- isn’t a left-wing party. Just because you dress a dog up as a chicken doesn’t mean it will lay eggs. However, after its leadership’s bout of violent red-baiting last week, it seems to be striking a more strident left-leaning pose, with Gilmore criticising Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s ‘Celtic Toryism’. Boo! Hiss! And yet, when you look into the fine print of its ‘plan for stability and growth’ -and let us note in passing that ‘stability and growth’ echoes the dogmatic and procrustean neo-liberalism of the Eurozone’s Stability and Growth Pact- you can see that it is not anti-austerity as such, but merely anti ‘excessive’ austerity. Now, reduction of budget deficits is not necessarily a bad idea. But, as Ha-Joon Chang -hardly a Marxist revolutionary- points out: ‘the appropriate level of budget deficit can only be decided according to the state of the economy. Of course, we may disagree on what the appropriate level may be for each situation, but any economically literate plan for spending cuts should specify the amounts of cut with reference to economic indicators – economic growth rate, unemployment rate, house prices, level of private sector investment, and so on – and not in terms of calendar dates, which has no economic meaning.’ So it seems that what the Labour Party -which claims to be the heir of James Connolly and Jim Larkin- plans on doing, with workers in the throes of the gravest capitalist crisis in living memory, is to present itself as left-wing outriders, opposing the swingeing crooks of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, by, um, slashing and burning a little less, in order to meet the optimum conditions demanded by the Eurozone capitalist class, gunning for a budget deficit of 3% by 2016. How do you like dem left-wing apples? Something to bear in mind when the Labour leader declares that “it’s Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way“.
- The recent penchant for saying mildly angry things about the European Union, like when it says the rates Ireland is being charged for the EU ‘bailout’ are ‘at odds with core principles’, should be taken with a shovelful of salt. The neoliberal dogma of European policy élites holds, as Vicenç Navarro notes here, that if the PIIGS had behaved themselves and had been as disciplined as the states of the countries of the centre and the north of the Eurozone with their public spending, they would not find themselves in their current situation. This, Navarro notes, is despite the fact that the current crisis has been engendered by the private sector, and that the public spend per capita and social spend per capita for PIIGS countries, including Ireland, are well below the EU-15 average. But Ruairi Quinn -who is regaining prominence in the party- said back in May that not only was there ‘no intellectual disagreement in political Ireland against the necessity for the macroeconomic measures‘ but, in full-throated approval of EU policy élites’ dogma, that “instead of learning to behave like Germans [Ireland] continued to act like Italians, or should I say Greeks.” Nor was he too concerned about the ‘core principles’ violated by usurious lending rates: au contraire, he cheerily pointed out that Ireland was ‘going to make a bit of money out of this’.
- Sticking with Europe. The Labour Party -and this is really where it is a matter of questioning how much you should complain about a dog dressed up as a chicken for not laying eggs- gave wholehearted support to the Lisbon Treaty, plying the population about glittering generalities about how wonderful Europe is, either ignoring or endorsing the neo-liberal character of the treaty. Perhaps -if one were to expect the Labour Party to represent worker interests over bosses’ interests, and not a One Ireland of ’employers and employees’ (remember Marx’s dictum that ‘between equal rights, force decides)- it might have been also reasonable to expect it to have been a little bit more circumspect in explaining the implications of that treaty.
- The Chilean President. OK, this is a fairly minor objection. But that Gilmore interview that was the main source of the Joan Burton controversy on Vincent Browne last week featured a steely promise from Gilmore that he would take matters in hand the way Sebastián Piñera had done with the Chilean miners’ rescue. Piñera is a right-wing billionaire whose brother served under Augusto Pinochet: the perfect figure on whom to model your aspirations to government managerialism.
But with all that said, and I could go on, some people are suggesting that I should transfer to Labour in the upcoming election in order to keep Fine Gael out. I have no principles regarding maintaining some sort of communicative sanctity in my voting activities: if a certain order transfers will serve to keep an even more right-wing figure out of government, well, it stinks to high heaven, but I would do it if I thought it made sense (though this may be an idle boast: I have never actually done it). You only have to look at the revanchist vandals installled in the UK at the moment to realise that even if dominant political parties are all subservient to ‘the markets’, there can still be a significant difference in the viciousness of the policies that get implemented. And yet I am not so sure that a vote for Labour would, in fact, significantly mitigate the EU-IMF enema coming down the line. A few months back I wrote that a Labour party in government would push through the austerity measures with even greater enthusiasm because they would be able to make claims to left egalitarianism while doing so, with the wholehearted endorsement of the press. Not a lot has happened in the interim to tell me that this will not happen if Labour does well at the polls. But if you disagree, I’m all ears.