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How bailing out the banks led to inequality across the globe

By Administrator

The unintended consequences of quantitative easing are the price that others must pay for the way the developed world was saved after the financial crisis, researcher Rodrigo Fernandez told a public meeting in Dublin on Tuesday evening.

Fernandez was speaking at an event held by Financial Justice Ireland (previously the Debt and Development Coalition) on the topic of “Propping up investors and privatising the global south? How the Eurozone crisis dragged down Africa”.

A researcher at SOMO (the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, Netherlands), Fernandez presented the findings of his new research paper “The politics of quantitative easing: A critical assessment of the harmful impact of European monetary policy on developing countries“.

He said that recent incidents such as the Turkish debt crisis earlier this year have been portrayed as being about personalities, which hides the structural issues happening behind the scenes.

Printing money
Quantitative easing is the process whereby central banks use money that has been newly created to purchase bonds and other debt instruments. Often described as printing money, quantitative easing is in essence a swap, explained Fernandez: the assets (such as public debt, corporate bonds, or mortgage-backed securities) held on the financial institutions’ balance sheets are transferred to the central banks’ balance sheets and the money held by the central banks is transferred to the financial institutions.

Used by the US for the first time in 2008, quantitative easing programmes were later undertaken by the Bank of England and European Central Bank, as well as others.

The stated purpose of quantitative easing was to stimulate the economy. However, this clashed with the austerity programmes, which deflate an economy, said panelist Michael Taft, who referred to quantitative easing as “probably one of the most inane contributions to macroeconomics since the eighteenth century”. Taft explained that policies should focus on supporting the productive economy.

As well as laying the seeds of the next crisis by continuing a “debt-led accumulation model” rather than a wage-led one, quantitative easing has unintended consequences for developing countries. The low interest rates led investors (who had just received a cash injection but had nowhere to spend it) to seek out economies with higher returns (or higher interest rates). “This results in ever larger and more aggressive fluctuations of cross-border capital flows. These larger flows have resulted in the build-up of unsustainable debt, both sovereign and private”, according to the report, which argues that QE programmes are in danger of creating a new debt crisis in developing countries.

A number of suggestions, such as using central banks to bail out the planet, halting the privatisation of AIB, listening to economists from the global south who have already experienced QE crises, and looking at the “tax haven family”, were offered in response to the chair, Jean Somers’, request for a target for activism arising from the meeting.

Teachers protest stolen wages

By Roisin Ni Dhalaigh

The sudden closure of Grafton College highlights the need to fast-track legislation to protect teachers and students, according to the Unite trade union.

Members and supporters of Unite’s English Language Teacher branch held a protest outside Grafton College this evening in solidarity with teachers who have been left without wages following the sudden closure of the school.

Unite represents a number of the teachers, who were not paid on Friday and are now owed a month’s wages, while students have been left stranded after paying fees of around €2,000.

Commenting, Unite Regional Organiser Roy Hassey said earlier today that the Grafton College case reinforces the need for legislation to protect the interests of both teachers and students in the highly-profitable English Language Sector, and he pointed out that Unite has advocated a number of amendments to the forthcoming Qualification and Quality Assurance Bill designed to ensure compliance with minimum labour standards:

“It is not in the interests of teachers, students or the wider economy that rogue employers be allowed to continue operating in the English Language Teaching sector. Unite members and supporters will be protesting outside Grafton College this evening in solidarity with teachers who have been left without wages or employment in the run-up to Christmas.

“The Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill will be debated in the Seanad on Wednesday, and I would appeal to all Senators to look at what is happening in Portobello and support amendments designed to ensure minimum employment standards for English Language Teachers. This legislation, with the amendments, needs to be fast-tracked in the interests of the sector as a whole”, Roy Hassey concluded.

Update: Teachers have since occupied the Portobello premises demanding that Education and Skills Minister Joe McHugh visit the college and speak to the teachers, that the Qualification and Quality Assurance bill be fast-tracked and amended to include minimum standards of employment for teachers, and that the owner of the college, Saeed Rehman, engage with them regarding the monies owed.

Tesco’s refusal to engage with workers leads to strike (again)

By Roisin Ni Dhalaigh

Strikes could spread in coming months as company routinely breaches agreements.

Tesco workers in two stores – Sligo and Carrick-on Shannon – have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action as the company continues to breach agreements and deny workers their right to collective representation.

Mandate Trade Union has served notice that Sligo workers will strike this Thursday, 6th December and again on Friday, 14th December. The Carrick-on-Shannon workers will strike on Saturday, 22nd December.

The Sligo store voted in favour of industrial action by a margin of 97pc, with an 85pc turnout in the ballot. Carrick-on-Shannon also had an 85pc turnout, with 81pc voting in favour of strike.

There is a possibility more dates will be added and other stores may join their colleagues in the coming weeks and months should the company not abide by agreements and allow their workers’ their right to collective representation.

Mandate Trade Union General Secretary John Douglas said:

“It’s extremely disappointing it has come to this. Our members do not want to be on strike, particularly in the run up to Christmas, but unfortunately Tesco management have left them with no alternative.

“For the last three years Mandate has tried to engage with the company on a whole range of issues, but it seems Tesco management are determined to continue with their de-unionisation plan, Project Black.”

He added, “They have refused to engage with their workers on pay and conditions of employment, on the removal of canteens and break room facilities, they have refused to pay some workers a cost of living pay increase for four consecutive years, and crucially, they have breached collective agreements which they freely entered into with their workers.”

Mr Douglas explained how Tesco Ireland have changed the way they behave towards their workers in recent years.

“For decades Mandate members and Tesco Ireland had a mutually beneficial relationship which culminated in workers building the company into the most profitable retailer in Ireland, while those staff members enjoyed decent terms and conditions of employment. Over the last three years, the company decided to change that relationship and have engaged in a campaign to de-recognise their workers’ union. We can only assume the €250 million in profit per year from the Irish arm of the business is not enough, and the company’s shareholders want more,” he said.

While workers in the Sligo and Carrick-on-Shannon stores have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action, this could easily spread to the other 150 stores, according to Mandate.

Mr Douglas said: “Tesco workers throughout Ireland are at a cross roads. They are being told by their employer that they will no longer be entitled to trade union represention, and unfortunately now the only way they can avail of that right is to strike.

“It’s appalling that in Ireland in 2018 workers have to strike in the run up to Christmas just so they can avail of their human right to be represented by a trade union of their choice,” concluded Mr Douglas.

Mandate Trade Union is calling on the company to once again engage with their workers through their representatives in order to prevent any damage to the company and to the Tesco brand in Ireland.

One Tesco worker, who wished to remain anonymous apologised to the public, but appealed for their support:

“We don’t want to be on strike. We want to be looking after our loyal customers, particularly in the run up to Christmas. We will be losing our wages and we can’t afford it. But we can’t afford to let Tesco management walk all over us either. That’s why we’re taking a stand and we hope the public will understand and support us.”

Explainer: Why Roscommon Matters

By Roisin Ni Dhalaigh

It turns out that much-maligned Roscommon is leading the way in the fight to change workers lives.

What’s the problem this week?

Work doesn’t pay the rent and leaves us stressed out.

OK, thanks for that current affairs update. And why is this news?

After a bit of a hiatus, working time is back on the agenda thanks to no less an institution than the ESRI. It’s after publishing a report which found that job stress doubled in Ireland between 2010 and 2015, one of the steepest increases in Europe. Alongside other issues like emotional demands, bullying, and being underpaid, the ESRI found that stress levels are increased by working long hours. For example, working 40+ hours a week leaves you twice as likely to experience job stress as working 36-40 hours.

Right, work is bad for us, but the job still needs to be done – products need to be made, phones called, emails emailed – doesn’t it?

That’s the whole point – there’s very little connection between hours worked and productivity. OECD data shows workers in Greece complete on average 2,017 hours per year, much more than the average German at 1,408 hours per year. Even when the self-employed and part-timers are taken out, Greeks still work almost 10% more hours than Germans. So much for the stereotypes.

Alright, say we don’t have to work all the hours in the day to have a productive economy. But what’s the alternative?

Glad you asked! The new public sector union Fórsa held a conference on the future of working time just last week. Speakers brought up a variety of ideas, such as the introduction of a four day week, re-thinking how we value different work, and increasing flexibility.

Wait, “flexibility”? Doesn’t that sound a bit more like IBEC than ICTU?

Well … yes. Back in 1930 J.M. Keynes predicted that by 2030 we’d all be working 15 hour weeks thanks to industrial and technological advances and we’d be left trying to figure out what to do with all that leisure time.

Unfortunately, the lack of workers’ power has meant things haven’t quite worked out like that.

We got flexibility but it benefits the employer. With precarious work and an always on culture we have no free time, just a constant gnawing fear. And it’s making us sick.

Unsurprisingly, it’s women who overwhelmingly get to “benefit” from flexible working patterns by going part-time or leaving work to make up for non-existent childcare and public transport services (and the pension gap in retirement thanks to unequal work patterns means that women never get to escape it all).

That got depressing. How do we do something about it?

Well, there’s already been some battles won. Spain’s largest trade union, Comisiones Obreras, took a case against two security companies, leading to the European Court of Justice ruling in 2015 that time spent travelling by workers without a fixed place of work counted as working time .

In 2016 French workers won the legal right to avoid work emails outside working hours .

And in February this year Germany’s IG Metall won the right to a 28-hour working week for 900,000 workers in the metals and electrical industries in Baden-Württemberg.

And what, workers in Ireland are just sitting back?

Not exactly…

One of the reasons Mandate workers in Dunnes Stores went on strike in 2015 was over secure hours and reviewing temporary contracts. Mandate kept working on its Secure Hours = Better Future charter and in May this year, a Select Oireachtas Committee hearing adopted the union’s key demands for the Employment (Misc. Provisions) Bill 2017.

Only a few weeks later Fórsa went on strike for the first time after Roscommon County Council effectively banned the family-friendly “flexi-leave”. The union made the point about gender equality and control over our own lives explicit when it called out the local authority: “No other local authority in Ireland has attacked working parents – and particularly working mothers – in this way. It is unprecedented within the public service, and it hits lower-paid women hardest as many of them depend on the flexi scheme to balance work and caring responsibilities.” After four strike days an agreement to reinstate flexi-time was reached.

Working time is back on the agenda.

So, Roscommon Abú?

Indeed.

Reaction on the Rise: Brazil Elects a Fascist President

By Donal Boushel

The election of the fascist Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil marks the beginning of an intense period of reaction. It also signals the definitive end to the social democratic experiment that began in 2002 with the election of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

That long process of reform, which saw over 30 million people lifted out of grinding poverty, was disrupted by a ‘soft’ coup in 2016 which toppled Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff and eventually saw Lula imprisoned on bogus charges of corruption, preventing him from running in the 2018 election. PT chose former education minister Fernando Haddad as Lula’s successor. His defeat ends all hope of a continuation of the progressive development of the country for the foreseeable future.

How did such a dramatic change occur in the space of only a few years? The global economic downturn in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis undoubtedly played a role in undermining support for PT. The Brazilian economy slowed down and entered a lengthy recession under Dilma. International capital and the national capitalist class had previously tolerated PT rule so long as profits continued to flow. PT’s unwillingness to engage in wholesale privatisations of public companies and services; their defence of workers’ rights and their support for fighting corruption eventually led to intense opposition from Brazil’s traditional rulers and US imperialism.

Ironically, given PT’s efforts to tackle the issue, corruption scandals proved to be the most effective weapon in the arsenal of those who orchestrated the 2016 coup. The dubious charges leading to Dilma’s impeachment were often conflated with revelations about corruption at Petrobras, the state-owned energy company. That all major parties have been caught up in this kickbacks scandal has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, which instead focuses the blame on PT.

Bolsonaro and others have cleverly exploited the economic crisis, corruption scandals and the ever-increasing rate of violent crime. The latter issue in particular has garnered support for the former army captain and his fascist Partido Social Liberal (PSL) among broader sections of society, without which he could never have challenged PT in a ‘free election’. Last year there were over sixty thousand murders in Brazil, a figure comparable to many warzones, and so it is understandable that there is genuine concern about public safety, even among the working class and poor who often bear the brunt of the violence.

Bolsonaro and PSL’s ‘solutions’, however, will only exacerbate the many crises facing Brazilian society. They had very little to say about the economy during the election campaign, but what they did promise was tax cuts, mass privatisations and an end to vital welfare programmes. Far from addressing endemic corruption, the privatisation of state-owned companies will only reduce accountability as any kind of public oversight will be removed. Many of PSL’s congressional and gubernatorial candidates in this election are serving or retired military and police officers. This fact is an indication of how the party and Bolsonaro will approach questions of public security.

Bolsonaro has often called for the police and army to adopt a ‘shoot to kill’ policy, not unlike the one used by British state forces in Northern Ireland during the recent conflict. Suspected banditos should be shot dead, according to this view. Police and military terror is already a massive problem in the poorest areas of Brazil’s major cities. However, with enhanced legal protection, many officers may feel emboldened to engage in extrajudicial killings on a far greater scale, as witnessed in the Philippines following the election of the reactionary Rodrigo Duterte.

Despite their obvious limitations, however, these policy positions have clearly worked as not only did Bolsonaro win with 55.7% of the national vote; PSL saw its congressional vote increase by 680%! They are now the second largest party in the lower house of the Brazilian congress. The harnessing of genuine economic and security concerns, coupled with hysterical anti-communism and deep-seated racism, have propelled Bolsonaro and PSL from the lunatic fringe to the centre of Brazilian politics. The fact that they now occupy this centreground, so to speak, has normalized their fascistic views to an alarming extent. The traditional party of the bourgeoisie and middle classes, Partido Social da Democracia Brasileira (PSDB), have been abandoned in these elections and only received a humiliating 4.9% in the first round of the presidential election.

Not all hope is lost, however. PT is far from being a spent force. Lula would undoubtedly have beaten Bolsonaro had he been able to contest the election and perhaps Haddad would have closed the gap with more time. Despite losing some seats, PT remains the largest party in the Federal Chamber of Deputies and secured several gubernatorial seats. Its core vote, concentrated in the Northeast of the country, remained largely intact.

Partido Comunista do Brasil (PCdoB), the larger of Brazil’s two communist parties, lost some federal seats but nevertheless returned nine deputies and retained the governorship of Maranhão state. Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL), a sort of umbrella party of various socialist tendencies, doubled its congressional presence and led an impressive presidential campaign despite the relatively low percentage of votes in the first round. While much smaller than PT, both PCdoB and PSOL remain mass parties who will be at the centre of any resistance to fascist attacks. Likewise the more militant Partido Comunista Brasileiro (PCB) will be at the forefront of the fight back.

Bolsonaro has floated the idea of using counter-terrorism legislation against the parties mentioned above and social movements such as the radical Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST). These organizations have members and supporters in the millions and are in a position to make life difficult for the new regime. Union density remains high in Brazil and so strike action is likely to play a crucial role in resistance to Bolsonaro.

It should be deeply disturbing to any progressively-minded person to see a bonafide fascist democratically elected in such a strategically important country as Brazil. The eighth largest economy in the world is now in the hands of a man and a party with no experience in government. The hidden hand of the US State Department and intelligence agencies has no doubt been guiding many of the events in Brazil in recent years. That insidious influence is now out in the open with Trump’s promise that the US and Brazil will work closely on trade and military matters.

Socialists in Ireland must stand in solidarity with the workers’ parties and mass movements of Brazil and help the Brazilian community in this country resist the influence of the fascist menace. Ele nunca!

Cuba Holiday

By Richard O'Hara

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The Foundation of the DDR

By Josh Brady

This week marks the two important, and not at all separate events, in both German and socialist history: The 69th anniversary of the the DDR and the 28th anniversary of German reunification.

Many perceive one of these events as something to celebrate and the other as something to condemn. Certainly in the English speaking part of the world, there are preconceived notions of the DDR (German Democratic Republic; Deutsche Demokratische Republik) -“East Germany”- as being ‘a Stasiland’[1], ‘a Soviet Satellite’[2], ‘a Stalinist regime’[3], and ‘a Nazi hideout’[4]. Perhaps strangest of all is the idea that the DDR is the party responsible for the partition of Germany while the the BRD (Federal Republic; Bundesrepublik) -“West Germany”- was merely the unlucky recipient of the Berlin Blockade, an embargo on UK, US, and French supplies reaching Berlin.

However, as shocking as it may seem, history tells another tale which contradicts the received conventional wisdom most seem to possess regarding the DDR. The people of the DDR were not unilaterally oppressed by the police, the USSR was not a natural ally of the DDR, socialism was not imposed by the USSR on the German people, and Nazis were most certainly not welcome in the new found democratic republic.

Soviet Occupation 1945-1949

By the end of World War II (WWII) 50 million lives had been lost in Europe. The conflict had taken an enormous toll on ordinary German people, and most of the population demanded change from the disastrous imperialism of the Nazi regime. According to Brunhilde de la Motte “there was widespread demand for the expropriation of the big banks, utilities and Nazi-supporting industrialists, a genuine denazification and democratic reform – and these demands were being made not only by left-wing parties, but across the political spectrum”.[5]

In particular, it should be noted that the communists (Communist Party of Germany, KPD), social democrats (Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD), and other anti-fascists enjoyed an unprecedented degree of popularity due to their involvement in the German resistance movement.[6]

On 10 June, 1945, only a month after the end of the war, Soviet occupation forces encouraged the re-establishment of political parties, trade unions, and cultural organisations. The KPD emerged on 11 June with a manifesto calling on “all those willing to help in the reconstruction effort to join together under the leadership of the united working class”.[7] This proposal of unity was taken up by the KPD, SPD, CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and LDPD (Liberal Democratic Party) forming a Bloc policy front, while maintaining their political independence, for the purposes of rebuilding the country.

In August 1945 the Potsdam Agreement stipulated the denazification and democratisation of Germany. In order to achieve this it was necessary to dismantle the arms industry and monopolies. Furthermore, the agreement outlined the redrawing of Germany’s eastern frontiers, a reshaping which would forfeit territory to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the USSR. Finally, the agreement bound the German people to pay war reparations for the damage wrought during the war.[8]

These demands were very popular with the German population, as referendums passed showed, and the anti-fascist Bloc. “However, the western powers went about implementing the resolutions of Potsdam in a perfunctory and inconsistent fashion, then increasingly disregarded them, and ultimately, they sabotaged them altogether”.[9] For example, referenda were held in Soviet-occupied Saxony and US-occupied Hesse in 1946, polling the populace on the expropriation and nationalisation of land, industry, and banks seized from Nazi supporters. Both referenda passed with 77% and 72% respectively, however the US ignored the results of their referendum.[10] British-occupied Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia had similar referenda which were subsequently ignored by the British occupying forces.

In the Soviet-occupation zone there was a great undertaking “to eliminate Nazi ideology and to remove those who were either war criminals or top Nazi activists from all positions of power”.[11] In 1948, 520,000 former Nazis were removed from office.[12] The GDR “carried out a thorough denazification of teaching staff in schools and other learning institutions” immediately following the end of WWII, so as to eliminate the indoctrination in racism and other undesirable ideologies in education, from the perspective of the Bloc party.[13] In the Soviet-occupied zone there were 39,000 teachers, of whom 28,000 had been members of the Nazi party. These teachers were dismissed and replaced with 40,000 new teachers from working class backgrounds with no prior teaching experience who had to be trained very quickly.[14] This undertaking, coupled with post-war conditions, made the rebuilding of the state more complicated, as many new workers lacked the administrative experience required for civil service. Thus, schools of administration were established in 1946 in each province of the Soviet-occupied zone. Interestingly, the first leaders of the German Democratic Republic were all from Nazi persecuted groups, including Social Democrats (Otto Grotewohl), Communists (Walter Ulbricht and Wilhelm Pieck), and Jews (Albert Norden, Hermann Axen, Klaus Gysi, Markus Wolf, Rudolph Herrnstadt, Alexander Abusch, and Hilde Benjamin).

Despite strenuous efforts to remove Nazi ideology, there persists a strain of literature that claims that the GDR is the inheritor of Nazi Germany, claims that entirely ignore the measures taken to purge Nazi officials from key positions.[15] By contrast, equivalent measures were not taken under western powers. Indeed, in the FRG “in fact, many ex-Nazis were reinstated and even promoted”[16] in teaching positions following the war, as part of the 1951 amnesty for civil servants.[17] Worse still was that many former Nazi party members moved into the West German CSU and regained prominence, including Dr. Hans Globke who wrote the Nuremberg Race Laws. Indeed, one third of West Germany’s first cabinet (1949-1963) were ex-Nazi party members.[18]

These efforts of bureaucratic reform by the DDR also required a significant cultural shift. Due to years of targeted Nazi propaganda, there was a distinct anti-Bolshevik sentiment “whereas there was little hatred for the USA, Britain or France, despite their also being ‘the enemy’”.[19] This made the process of denazification in the Soviet-occupied zone especially difficult.

In July 1945, the Cultural League for the Democratic Renewal of Germany (Kulturbund) was established in the Soviet-occupied zone “to assist with the reopening of theatres, music venues and cinemas and to promote Germany’s democratic cultural legacy as an antidote to Hitler’s fascist deculturalization and xenophobia”.[20] In fact as early as 28 April 1945, during the Battle of Berlin, the Soviet city commandant of Berlin granted “permission to reopen theatres, cinemas, and sports grounds in liberated parts of the city”.[21]

The seizure of industry and agriculture from former Nazis, being tremendously popular policies, changed the Soviet occupied zone with immediate effect. Due to the result of the aforementioned Saxony referendum in 1946, a policy of expropriation and nationalisation became the basis of legislation in other Länder (German regional provinces). “By the spring of 1948 a total of 9,821 business concerns belonging to former Nazi activists and war criminals were confiscated without compensation”.[22]

The ‘Junker’ class (the aristocracy) had been the main financial supporters of the Nazi party, and various other incarnations of German imperialism, and had controlled virtually all farm lands in Germany. When farmers began protesting for “Junkerland in Bäuernhand” (Junker lands in farmers’ hands) in the summer of 1945, talk of agricultural reform began within the Bloc party. All landowners with holdings exceeding 100 hectares were expropriated without compensation.[23] A total of 2.5 million hectares were redistributed to 300,000 farmers and peasants.[24] These land reform policies further boosted the reputation of the Bloc Party.

There were, however, many difficulties faced by the Soviet-occupied zone. Firstly, the Soviet-occupied zone was only a half the size of the western-occupied German territory. The economic starting position of the Soviet-occupied zone was, in 1945, significantly less than that of the western territories. The western forces had gained 70% of industry, of which 20% had been damaged during the war, while the Soviet-occupied zone gained only 30% industry, of which 45% was damaged by war.[25] By the end of the war, many “last ditch efforts by the Nazi forces to halt the Red Army”, resulted in the destruction of entire cities.

Secondly, while western-occupied Germany gained significant financial aid from the Marshall Plan, the USSR invested nothing into the new eastern German economy during these years. In fact, the USSR hindered growth in the German territory by dismantling and transporting 2,000 factories (about 30 percent of the Soviet-occupied Germany’s industrial capacity) and 12,000km of rail track (48% percent in the region). By 1949, up to 100% of automotive, chemical, military, and fuel industries were Soviet controlled (of which had fixed quotas to be exported to USSR territories). Hence, it should be noted when the Soviet-occupied zone is mentioned the policies that benefit eastern Germany are not Soviet but rather the USSR only stationed soldiers and authorities to prevent military rebuild-up and extract German resources.

One of the greatest problems faced by the new government of 1946[26] was the displacement of millions of Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia. By January 1947, 4.3 million of the 11.6 million displaced Germans arrived in the Soviet occupied zone.[27] More than a third of the land confiscated from Junkers went to those resettling in Germany.

The economic reforms of the Soviet-occupied zone led to a trade and transport (rail and transit) blockade from western powers in March 1948[28]. As the eastern side of Germany lacked the same industry as the west and was dependent on intra-German trade, it was now isolated from their primary source of raw materials. These kind of Cold War tactics were an attempt to destroy the Eastern Germany’s economy. This was not the only instance of such tactics. Western occupied territories also evaded payment of USSR reparations.

Of the 100 billion Deutsche Mark paid in war reparations, 98 percent was paid by East Germany.[29] This took an enormous toll on the economy which resulted in East German income per capita being only 40 percent of the West German level. Despite this setback, by 1989, due to successful economic strategies, the East German income per capita had risen to 66% of the West German level.[30] This disparity in income would later result in various problems for the DDR.

In 1947, at the Council of Foreign Ministers held in Moscow and London, western powers rejected the Soviet proposal to establish a democratic German government and to sign a peace treaty with that government and Austria. Furthermore, in June 1947, the US announced the launch of the Marshall Aid Plan. The western-occupied zones received 3.7 billion US dollars, “of which ⅔ was a gift and ⅓ was credit”.[31] Fearing that Germany was being partitioned, the Bloc policy front initiated the Movement of the German People’s Congress for Unity. In May and June 1948, in an initiative started by the People’s Congress, 14.7 million registered voters, of which 1.5 million were from the western-occupied zones, called for a referendum on the unity of Germany. Despite meeting the criteria for referendum under the Constitution of the Weimar Republic, which was viewed as the last valid constitution by occupying forces, the western powers ignored the calls for plebiscite by 37% of voters.[32] The People’s Congress; call to unite Germany was instead met with an announcement on 1 June 1948 when western powers declared the merging of the western occupied zones. This was followed by the unilateral introduction of a separate currency on 21st June, a move that was a clear violation of the Potsdam Agreement. In response, the Soviet Union closed transit routes to West Berlin as the new currency would, inevitably, undermine the economy of the Soviet-occupied zone. These events triggered the Soviet Blockade and the Berlin Airlift.

In September 1948, a Parliamentary Council was set up in Bonn. It adopted a “Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany” in May 1949, formalising and founding a separate, partitioned Germany. In September 1949, the first government of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) met in Bonn. The SED and CPSU deliberated on what counter measures need be taken. The Bloc policy front decided to convene the German People’s Council on 7th October 1949. To pursue the cause of a unitary and democratic German state, as outlined by the Potsdam Agreement, the Council enacted a Constitution of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), thereby founding the state.

Ultimately, East Germany was not established out of a desire for a separate German state but rather old imperial powers (UK, US, and France) played their hands to hinder the rise of socialism in Germany. These western-occupiers were satisfied to allow amnesty for Nazi war criminals and the political re-establishment of Nazi officials.

While one half of Germany scrambled to rebuild a denazified, democratic Germany, the other did the opposite. Only the Soviet-occupied Germany followed all the accordences of the Potsdam Agreement. Hence, we can say that the foundation of East Germany was for democratic, unitary Germany, not for a partitioned Soviet satellite. In contrast, West Germany was founded on the basis of imperial interests. The ignoring of referenda that promoted socialist values by the western-occupiers shows their position: to defend the interests of capitalism whatever the costs.

Although East Germany no longer exists, 7 October marks the victories of anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, and the working class; a day to celebrate.

 

[1] Funder, A (2003). Stasiland: Stories from behind the Berlin Wall. London: Granta.

[2] Merkl, P. H. (2004), German Unification, Penn State Press

[3] Schwarz, P. (1998) Stalinism in Eastern Europe: the Rise and Fall of the GDR. World Socialist Website

[4] Hawes, J. (2018). Germany’s far right never went away, but festered in its eastern stronghold the Guardian

[5] Green, J. and De La Motte, B. (2015) “Stasi State or Socialist Paradise?: The German Democratic Republic and What Became of It.” p.10

[6] Heitzer, H. (1981) DDR – Geschichtlicher Überblick (GDR historical outline) Verlag Zeit im Bild Dresden p.13

[7] Webb, A. (2017). Longman Companion To Germany Since 1945. [S.L.]: Routledge, p.86.

[8] Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), (1945), Volume II – Office of the Historian. [online] Available at: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1945Berlinv02/d1383 [Accessed 17 Sep. 2018].

[9] Heitzer, H. (1981) DDR – Geschichtlicher Überblick (GDR historical outline) Verlag Zeit im Bild Dresden p.24

[10] Broszat, M., Weber, H. and Braas, G. (1993). SBZ-Handbuch. München: R. Oldenbourg, p.395.

[11] Green, J. and De La Motte, B. (2015) “Stasi State or Socialist Paradise?: The German Democratic Republic and What Became of It.” p.11

[12] Traverso, E. and Weissbort, D. (1995). The Jews & Germany: From the ‘Judeo-German Symbiosis’ to the Memory of Auschwitz. Lincoln [etc.]: University of Nebraska Press, p.136.

[13] Green, J. and De La Motte, B. (2015) “Stasi State or Socialist Paradise?: The German Democratic Republic and What Became of It.” p.40

[14] Heitzer, H. (1981) DDR – Geschichtlicher Überblick (GDR historical outline) Verlag Zeit im Bild Dresden p.35

[15] See Connolly, K. (2007a); Connolly, K. (2007b); Hawes, J. (2018).

Connolly, K. (2007a). Hitler’s honour lives on in G8 summit town. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/mar/12/germany.kateconnolly [Accessed 17 Sep. 2018]; Connolly, K. (2007b). I’m no hero, says woman who saved 2,500 ghetto children. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/mar/15/secondworldwar.poland [Accessed 17 Sep. 2018];

Hawes, J. (2018). Germany’s far right never went away, but festered in its eastern stronghold | James Hawes. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/02/germanys-far-right-never-went-away-but-festered-in-its-eastern-stronghold?CMP=fb_gu [Accessed 17 Sep. 2018].

[16] Green, J. and De La Motte, B. (2015) “Stasi State or Socialist Paradise?: The German Democratic Republic and What Became of It.” p.40

[17] Article 131 [Persons formerly in the public service]

The legal relations of persons, including refugees and expellees, who on 8 May 1945 were employed in the public service, have left the service for reasons other than those recognised by civil service regulations or collective bargaining agreements, and have not yet been reinstated or are employed in positions that do not correspond to those they previously held, shall be regulated by a federal law. The same shall apply mutatis mutandis to persons, including refugees and expellees, who on 8 May 1945 were entitled to pensions and related benefits and who for reasons other than those recognised by civil service regulations or collective bargaining agreements no longer receive any such pension or related benefits. Until the pertinent federal law takes effect, no legal claims may be made, unless Land law otherwise provides.

[18] Graf, W. (1984). Anti-Communism in the Federal Republic of Germany. Socialist Register 1984: The Uses of Anti-Communism, 21, p.172.

[19] Green, J. and De La Motte, B. (2015) “Stasi State or Socialist Paradise?: The German Democratic Republic and What Became of It.” p.12

[20]  Green, J. and De La Motte, B. (2015) “Stasi State or Socialist Paradise?: The German Democratic Republic and What Became of It.” p.11

[21] Heitzer, H. (1981) DDR – Geschichtlicher Überblick (GDR historical outline) Verlag Zeit im Bild Dresden p.33

[22] Heitzer, H. (1981) DDR – Geschichtlicher Überblick (GDR historical outline) Verlag Zeit im Bild Dresden p.46

[23] Heil, W. (2013). Zeitgeschichte. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

[24] Schwartz, M. (2004). Vertriebene und “Umsiedlerpolitik”: Integrationskonflikte in den deutschen Nachkriegs-Gesellschaften und die Assimilation Strategien in der SBZ/DDR 1945-1961. Veröffentlichungen zur SBZ-/DDR-Forschung im Institut für Zeitgeschichte. Oldenbourg Verlag, p.649.

[25] Heitzer, H. (1981) DDR – Geschichtlicher Überblick (GDR historical outline) Verlag Zeit im Bild Dresden p.48

[26] The new Socialist Unity Party of Germany, a merger between the KPD and SPD, won 57.1 percent of the vote in local election. The ministers of the Soviet occupied zone were a combination of SED (21), LDPD (9), CDU (8), and Independents (1).

[27] Amos, H. (2011). Vertriebenenverbände im Fadenkreuz. München: Oldenbourg, p.6.

[28] Heitzer, H. (1981) DDR – Geschichtlicher Überblick (GDR historical outline) Verlag Zeit im Bild Dresden p.55

[29] Siegfried Wenzel: What was worth the GDR? And where has this value remained? 7th edition. The New Berlin, Berlin 2006, p. 43

Die Reparationen der DDR betrugen insgesamt 99,1 Mrd. DM (zu Preisen von 1953) – die der Bundesrepublik Deutschland demgegenüber 2,1 Mrd. DM (zu Preisen von 1953). Die DDR trug damit 97–98 % der Reparations Last Gesamtdeutschlands – pro Person also das 130-fache”.

[30] Gregory, P. and Stuart, R. (1995) Comparative Economic Systems. Houghton Mifflin: Boston.

[31] Green, J. and De La Motte, B. (2015) “Stasi State or Socialist Paradise?: The German Democratic Republic and What Became of It.” p.13

[32] Thomaneck, J. and Niven, W. (2001). Dividing and Uniting Germany. London: Routledge. p.26

The ESB’s dirty secret

By Administrator

A meeting in Dublin last night heard about the real cost of Irish coal.

Just under 90% of the imported coal used at Moneypoint power station in Clare since 2011 has come from Colombia, according to ESB figures.

The vast majority of the imported Colombian coal comes from the Cerrejón mine in the north eastern La Guajira region.

Owned by Anglo American, BHP, and Glencore, Latin America’s largest open-pit coal mine has become famous for the forcible and violent eviction of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, many losing livestock and means of survival as well as their homes.

Ireland’s links to the mine were discussed at a public meeting in the Teachers’ Club last night organised by the Latin America Solidarity Centre (LASC).

Clodagh Daly, who recently completed a Masters dissertation at UCD on the links between human rights  abuses emerging from coal extraction in Colombia and the ESB’s use of Colombian oil at Moneypoint, spoke of the hypocrisy of Ireland and the EU holding high environmental standards within their borders while taking little or no responsibility for actions down the supply chain.

According to Daly, the ESB states that it “expects that all suppliers and contractors, including those who supply our coal, to conduct their business in a manner which is honest and ethical and to respect internationally recognised human rights. To this end the ESB is a member of Better Coal with a view to engaging with our coal suppliers to support corporate responsibility in our whole supply chain.”

However, Better Coal is not a regulatory body, it’s a “voluntary standards system”.

“The ESB received permission to continue burning coal without being aware whether or not their main suppliers were complying with standards the ESB deems acceptable,” said Daly, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency licencing the ESB in July to continue operations at Moneypoint despite Better Coal being unable to evaluate Cerrejón’s compliance (an assessment is ongoing).

Niall Sargent of GreenNews looked at Ireland’s future without coal and the impact that some of the alternatives being proposed for Moneypoint are already causing for communities across the globe.

Those present discussed different methods of putting pressure on the Irish Government to divest from Cerrejón.

As the campaign gets off the ground there will be further information available on LASC social media.

Explainer: the Land Development Agency

By Administrator

Another week, another snazzy video of the rolling hillsides to convince us Fine Gael are working hard. We take a look behind the press release to understand the Land Development Agency.

So, what’s the fuss about?

After spending a week trying to avoid the stories of him being an out of touch posh boy with no understanding of what the housing crisis means to real people, Minister Murphy announced the launch of the new Land Development Agency on Thursday to almost total derision.

That doesn’t sound too bad. What’s the plan?

The LDA aims to make surplus public land available to build 150,000 homes over 20 years using funding of up to €1.25bn. 10% of the land will be used for social housing, 30% for affordable, and 60% for private housing. Apparently, it will include land banks at Dundrum Central Mental Hospital, Skerries, Balbriggan, Devoy Barracks in Naas, Dyke Road in Galway, St Kevins in Cork City, Meath Hospital in Dublin 8, and Columb Barricks in Mullingar. None of the homes will be delivered before 2020.

Eoghan Murphy grew up in Dublin 4, went to a school that costs €5,500 a year, and thinks reverse snobbery is a thing – what exactly does he think ‘affordable housing’ means?

€320,0000.

That doesn’t sound very affordable.

Under the Central Bank rules, you’d need to be earning at least €82,000 a year to afford that so no, not particularly affordable.

But once you get them you’re safe right?

Well … according to housing policy analyst Mel Reynolds 43% of households that bought ‘affordable’ homes during the boom are in arrears so affordable housing hasn’t a great track record for families.

But there’ll be some public housing, right?

You’re right there. Of what’s currently 100% public land, a whole 10% will be kept for public use. That’s pretty much the same as is currently required of private developers in the Part V regulations. Fun fact: a 2012 review undertaken for the then-Department of the Environment found that between 2002-2011 there was a potential output of 60,000 Part V units but 19,245 were delivered. That same review found that  “Part V units are typically not suitable for special needs and the more vulnerable client groups, due to the necessity for the needs of such groups to be factored into account at the design stage”.

So this isn’t actually a plan to build homes any time soon, is it?

Local authorities currently own land with the capacity for 48,000 dwellings. In 2017 they built all of 780 homes, which in fairness was 247 more than the year before.

Right, so this new agency isn’t getting local authorities to build, it’s going to have unaffordable ‘affordable’ housing with a dodgy track record, and will give away a load of public land that we can’t get back. Who exactly is this agency for?

At this stage even the Irish Times has reported that developers are the big winners, saying that “they’ve watched land prices soar to prohibitive levels with a challenge to sourcing land in areas where people want to live. The release of these lands is surely a bonanza for them, and the cherry on top is the minimisation of the land-cost element.”

This is starting to sound like a NAMA-level disaster.
Funny you mention NAMA. The LDA’s interim CEO is John Coleman, former NAMA finance officer.

At least Eoghan Murphy has changed the story from him being a posh boy.

His granddad robbed Gay Byrne and now Eoghan Murphy is robbing all of us.

So what’s the solution?

Short of a huge scheme of building public housing, at this stage, probably mass emigration. We hear Vienna is nice.

DCC votes not to sell off ex-Magdalene Laundry site

By Eoghan Gardiner

Yesterday evening, a demonstration was organised by Separate Church and State outside City Hall, urging Dublin City Council (DCC) not to sell the site of what was once one of the notorious Magdalene Laundries, as councillors voted on the matter that evening.

It was proposed that the site, the last of the Magdalene Laundry sites to be still in the possession of DCC, was to be sold off to a hotel chain. This was met with outrage from many of the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries and their supporters. Protestors took up the footpath as they protested against this decision.

Later on as the meeting was underway, a number of these Magdalene survivors and their supporters made their way into the public gallery of the council chamber, showing their support to a motion put forward by North Inner City Social Democrats Cllr. Gary Gannon. His motion proposed that the site not be sold off to the hotel chain, and that instead those who suffered abuse at the hands of the church in Magdalene Laundries be commemorated with a memorial.

After much discussion on the matter, Councillor Gannon’s motion gained the overwhelming support of city councillors, and ultimately passed with 37 voting in favour, 8 against and 2 abstaining. The survivors were visibly emotional as the results came in just as the meeting came to a close.

Why workers need a party

By James O'Brien

When it comes to organising, progressives don’t need to reinvent the wheel – the mass workers party is the only vehicle that can bring us to socialism, argues James O’Brien.

As everyone will know, most political activity is day-to-day work. Writing up a leaflet, booking rooms, attending meetings, keeping up contacts, visiting pickets, supporting campaigns. So it’s good sometimes to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

What I want to do here is outline in a very simple way our reasoning for doing all that day-to-day work. To start, it’s always worth asking “what is the job to be done” before we select the tool to do it. That is, before we know what a useful strategy is, we need a clear idea of the goal. At the most general level, we can say it’s to create society in which each human can live a flourishing life to their full potential.

As socialists, we think that instituting co-operative or socialist economy to replace privately owned businesses is necessary to create the structural conditions for that flourishing to occur. This is not just a question of getting rid of poverty. Economic inequality provides the structural resources for other forms of social inequality such as racism. You don’t necessarily solve racism by solving economic inequality — sectarianism is still a problem in the North even as unionist control of industry has declined. But it does make the job a lot easier if you knock out the material incentives and structural supports for them.

So, economic equality is a goal of ours and socialist or co-operative production is a central goal in achieving that. Obviously, it is not the only one. We also subscribe to basic republican goals like civic equality, freedom to organise and so on. But the focus on common ownership of production is what is distinctive about socialism.

What, then, do we need in order to achieve a co-operatively organised economy?

As Marxists, as opposed to liberal leftists or ethical socialists, we place our bets on the working class; that due to its social position and the effect of class struggles it will develop the power to take over and socialise the economy. But how is that to be done?

Social power, labour and political organisation

Here we need a very quick digression on the subject social power more generally. Power is a slippery concept. One way to conceptualise it is as the ability to command labour. Labour is the expenditure of human effort. There’s only so much of it on the planet and if you or your group can mobilise labour you get to do lots of things, everything from constructing infrastructure to waging war to engaging in art to political activism. And every bit of labour that a group controls is labour that is denied to other groups. Since labour is needed to do anything at all there will be competition to control it. In that competition, social groups will prove to have an advantage over individuals and so they will tend to emerge and engage each other in competition. It is a theory of natural selection applied to the social realm if you like.

In our era, certain methods have proven to be extremely good at organising labour: namely capitalist social relations. Not every method is capitalist. Volunteering with a charity isn’t, nor is political activism or domestic labour. But capitalist production is the sun around which all other forms of social life must orbit.

To return to the question of workers instituting socialist production, we can, on this model of a universal competition between groups for labour, say that the working class can only succeed if it can control more labour than rival groups, i.e. corporations and state bureaucracies. Now capitalist corporations are not informal groups. They are not vague networks. Nor is the state bureaucracy organised according to a vague network. They are highly structured formal organisations. And that is no accident.

In order to mobilise the labour of thousands and even millions of people, formal organisation is required and doubly so when we want to engage in constructive work such as running an economy or social services. Destructive work, such as mass mobilisation to bring down a dictatorship can sometimes get by on spontaneous networks. But we are interested in building a new society, not just in tearing stuff down.

The necessity to create formal organisations capable of scaling to a massive level is why an emphasis on movementism, e.g. Occupy, can never lead anywhere despite the freshness and energy with which they start out. At some stage they have to be constituted as actual organisations, and that transition is rarely an easy process. And if they don’t do it, they will fade away.

The workers’ party

But if formal organisation is necessary it is still not obvious that political parties are the best way to change society. There are trade unions, churches, charities. So why do we choose political parties? The short answer is the need to win state power for the working class. Only the state has the ability to both resist a counter-attack from the elite when socialisation is undertaken and only the state has the ability to command enough labour to really socialise the economy in the first place. So the working class needs to win politic power and the primary way of doing this is through political action.

It is not the only way: a lot of people in the early socialist movement, most notably Babeuf and Blanqui, thought they could win political power through military conspiracies. The classical anarchists, on the other hand, when they weren’t terrorists, abjured political action altogether and thought that working class power could only be built via trade unions with the aim of collapsing the state in an insurrection and then using the trade unions to run all of society in their place. Because they wanted to destroy the state they boycotted politics and therefore political organisation.

But our approach is to use politics as a way to win state power and, more precisely, to build organisations capable of wielding it.

The capitalist elite like to keep as many affairs out of the political sphere as possible as they are stronger economically and naturally prefer everything decided by the market. This is no accident as it is through politics that the working class can advance its interests. The more issues that the ruling class keep out of politics the harder it is for workers to win concessions and to build a movement.  We want to do the opposite, to bring as many issues as we can into the realm of politics and as working people are the majority the more that issues are subject of politics the better for us. And while trade unions can and do win gains for workers by reducing the amount of a firm’s income going to profits and passing it to workers as wage increases it is through political action that society wide measures can get enacted: e.g. holiday pay, maternity leave, environmental controls.

Because workers lack any productive property, there is little incentive for them to pursue individualist solutions. Whereas the peasants of the past might long for a plot of land, there is no prospect of a worker getting a small bit of a company that he can live off. Worker organisations therefore tend to be fairly socially minded, pushing for collective solutions to social problems: public health care, social welfare, unemployment benefit, social housing etc.

The endpoint of the collectivist measures is, of course, socialism. But if the worker organisations lean in that direction, the pressure of conforming to “being realistic” , makes it very slow to realise its own inherent dynamic. The labour movement does not exist in splendid isolation; it exists in societies which subject it to a lot of pressure to conform and many of them do. Even ones which start off as radical socialists, such as the German SPD end up integrated into the system. It happens right down to our own day, for example the likes of Syriza and of course the Democratic Left split.

But there is that second dynamic to the politics of the workers’ movement, the one that pushes the inherent collectivism to its logical conclusion. It’s not just about securing the welfare of workers within capitalism; it’s about replacing capitalism with society based on socialised production: communism. We tend to think of socialism as being intrinsically connected to the labour movement and get annoyed when Jack O’Connor or Brendan Howlin whoever isn’t a modern day Lenin. But, as we have seen, there is a major tendency within the labour movement to keep it pragmatic, to focus on winning concessions from capital.

This shows I think that socialism and the labour movement are are not automatically going to be united. For sure, they are compatible, but the match still has to be made. And, in fact, even in the 19th century they were originally separate. One of the major innovations of Marx and Engels was to say that socialists had to merge into the labour movement and stop being isolated in small groups.

Trotskyism – ultra-left isolation from the working class

Some socialist tendencies deliberately maintain the separation of the labour movement and socialism. Trotskyism is one. Traditionally they have preferred to retain the purity of their politics and, when revolution arrives, be in a position to assert their political line, so instead of a mass workers party they advocate a small revolutionary socialist party, a sect, and workers’ councils.

In non-revolutionary times, their primary role is to orbit around the major workers’ organisations and act as a critical voice.

Because of their separation from the labour movement, Trotskyists can and do take very idealist positions, such as calling for general strikes without any consideration of how that will work in practice. They don’t have the responsibility to the members nor the interest in building the organisations since it runs counter to their strategy of having small pure organisations.

On the face of it, the refusal to merge into the labour movement is a reasonable position given the propensity of mass parties to become integrated into the status quo. But it is doubtful whether the workers’ councils are up to the task of governing society. Society is very complex and taking over the task of constructing and running a state from scratch, in the midst of a revolutionary upheaval is unlikely to succeed. Even in Russia, which is usually held out as the prime example of where something like this occurred, social control had to be taken by the Bolshevik Party. After about 1919 we hear very little about the soviets.

Orthodox Marxism and the merger of socialism and the workers’ movement

And, in fact, the separation of the masses and the socialism was not and is not the orthodox Marxist position. The orthodox approach was to create mass parties, with a huge membership, which were imbued with a scientific socialist ideology so that could act as a vanguard for the wider class. There were a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, the aim was to educate workers about how society worked and the socialist alternative. You can’t do that from afar and by preaching to them from on high. You have to be with them if they are going to listen.

Secondly, large numbers gave the organisation credibility in confronting its political opponents.

Thirdly, it gives it resources: both volunteer labour and money to pay for professional organisers.

This allows it to plant roots in every street and every parish. Not only do we have the infrastructure to spread our message, we also get feedback from the people on what the problems affecting them are and if our policies and political tactics are useful to them.

A mass party can’t just dictate to the people; it is has to be in contact with them and bring them with it. The question of scale is vital here. The major avenue for advancing socialisation is the State. It alone has the resources and the ability to be the vehicle for the popular will, to do the job of socialising the economy. So, it’s not just for reasons of useful reforms but for the fundamental job of transformation of the capitalist economy into a socialist one that a party is needed.

The importance of scale becomes clear if we consider the job of subordinating the state to the wishes of the majority. It is well known that the upper layers of the state bureaucracy are given to co-operating with the elite. Unless there is a large amount of public pressure exerted on the state it won’t be possible to resist that, let alone get rid of them and replace them with competent people. That public pressure has to be organised both within and without of the state if it is to be a long-term phenomenon.

The abolition of the water charges has shown that the state will bend if enough pressure comes on. But ad hoc movements like that are rare diamonds. Transformative change requires a lot more pressure for years, if not decades on end. Nor can that pressure be focussed on just one issue at a time. There is a lot wrong with this country and so a lot to change. There’s childcare, the health system, education, and housing to name just the most basic issues.

Moreover, even though the Irish state has largely removed itself from active production, we most definitely want to use it to take over as much as the productive economy as possible. This requires gaining control of finance, setting up our own banks and ensuring that officials are not just funding their own boys.

The state, then, is a large and very complicated machine. Directing it towards being a vehicle for social transformation is no easy task. It requires a large and experienced organisation. It’s not a job that can be done on the fly by newly created institutions, like community assemblies. Nor is it a job that can be done by a few socialist intellectuals, no matter how correct.

It can’t even be done by a mass labour movement, if that movement is not animated by the aim of communism. It requires both the labour movement and a socialist ideology. It is only when the two of them merge that they gain the strength to seriously challenge the capitalist order, on the one hand the organisational experience and on the other knowledge of where we want to go.

Our present situation in Ireland is that there is a labour movement and there are socialist parties, including the Workers’ Party. But unlike with the original Social Democrats of Lenin’s time or the later Communist Parties we are separated from the labour movement.

It is obviously bad for us since it means we lack the scale and resources to make the impact we want. It’s also bad for the the trade unions since a strategy based exclusively on pragmatism means that they constantly placed on the defensive. The ruling class aren’t too worried by trade unions on their own. They definitely like the extra profits that come from destroying unions and forcing wages down. But ultimately they can live with them. And the ruling class certainly aren’t worried by revolutionary communists on their own. It is only when the two merge into a large mass socialist organisation that the ruling class get scared. The crucial point to note about the merger formula is that they were unitary organisations comprising the convicted socialists and masses of workers.

Strategic Flexibility

There are very few political prescriptions in Marxism. It doesn’t say that violent revolution is inevitable or that electoralism is the only way to victory. It examines the conditions of society and attempts to work out the best forward for that society. But it might be different somewhere else. Of course, the bedrock of socialist politics is class politics and the drive towards collective solutions. How these play out in each country is never predetermined from what happened in another country or in the past. For sure, we can learn from the experiences of others, but to simply copy their approach because it worked for them is a recipe for failure. We have to develop appropriate tactics for our situation.

There are three simple points that I’d like to finish with regarding Marxist strategy. They’re fairly general.

The first is to be in contact with the people and to agitate alongside them. There is no possibility or winning popular support without that.

Secondly, we try to use both existing institutions and policy development to crack open the contradictions within the present system. The Workers’ Party’s Solidarity Housing proposal pushes a collectivist solution that puts the other parties on the back foot. So although we do think we need socialism, that’s not all we have to say. We need to be able to prove to ordinary people that we have policies that are sensible and can make their lives better. If they are implemented we’ll gain support and if not they are useful propaganda in spreading our message of how society could be. The same goes for institutions like the council or parliament. They’re far from perfect, but they can be used to further our message and build our organisation.

Thirdly, I would suggest that a strategy of patience and of building to take advantage of conditions is a hallmark of the successful Marxist parties. We can’t say exactly how those conditions will play out but we do know that there are inherent contradictions within capitalism that will give rise to opportunities. Our job is to build organisations that can take advantage of those contradictions when they arise. This isn’t just a question of waiting in the long grass but of educating our members politically, spreading our ideas amongst the population, developing policies that can help solve the problems that people face, and, of course, having an organisational presence across the country so that we can advance when the tide turns in our favour.

James O’Brien is National Organiser of the Workers’ Party.

Anti-clerical abuse protests held around the country to mark Pope’s visit

By Eoghan Gardiner

A rally, dubbed as Stand For Truth, was held today as survivors of abuse and their supporters gathered outside the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin City Centre to demonstrate opposition to crimes committed by the Catholic Church throughout generations, as Pope Francis visited the capital and read mass only a short distance away in the city’s Pheonix Park.

As expected, upwards of two thousand attended the rally with little space to move around, as protesters took up almost the entirety of Parnell Square East. The organiser of the event Colm O’Gorman spoke and introduced a number of singers and poets, including Hozier, Brian Kennedy, Mary Black, Róisín O, Thanks Brother and more. Many people held banners which read  “Truth, Love, Justice.”, which were distributed by the organisers. Also to be seen were homemade banners calling attention to the numerous scandals involving the church.

In Tuam, a silent march took place from the town hall to the site of St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home, an institution operated by the Catholic Church where the remains of 796 infants were found buried in a cesspit being used as a mass grave. This came to light only in 2012, over half a century after the maternity home closed down. Upon reaching the site, candles were lit in memory of those who died there at the hands of the Catholic Church.

Similar events also took place in Athlone, Buncrana, Dundalk and Kilkenny.

 

 

Housing activists occupy second building in Dublin

By Eoghan Gardiner

After vacating 35 Summerhill Parade following a court order, which came after the property had been occupied for over a week, a crowd of housing activists and their supporters marched from the previously occupied building through Dublin city centre to 34 North Frederick Street, where more housing activists were occupying the premises

The group, who had left Summerhill before the injunction came into place at 8am this morning, drew a crowd upwards of sixty people who were voicing their opposition to the housing crisis. A moment of silence was held at the Garden of Remembrance out of respect for all those who have died homeless and for those who are struggling through the crisis now. When the march arrived to it’s destination on North Frederick Street, the chants continued and a number of speakers spoke to the crowd, highlighting that the crisis continues as the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government was nowhere to be seen. Following a protest at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in which demonstrators occupied the Customs House for roughly 6 hours, it was agreed that the Minister would meet with representatives from a number of the groups involved.

The building currently occupied has been empty for three years, a spokesperson for the occupation said, in the midst of the worst housing crisis in the history of the Irish state.

“Summerhill was only the tip of the iceberg. We’re ready to keep going.” a statement released by the group read. The statement reiterated the demands made by the group that the house previously occupied on Summerhill Parade, as well as the currently occupied 34 North Frederick Street, be compulsory purchased by Dublin City Council and given to the local community. They wished to highlight that private, vacant properties can, and should be put into public ownership. Another demand made was for fair rent and security for all tenants, with a ban on all evictions proposed, as well as a rent cap of 20% of the occupant’s income or at €300 per room maximum.

For anyone interested in taking direct action against the housing crisis, the Facebook page for the occupation can be found here.

 

 

Support for Summerhill Occupation grows as crowds rally against the housing crisis

By Eoghan Gardiner

This evening, a crowd gathered outside 35 Summerhill Parade, a premise currently occupied by housing and community activists from a number of groups across Dublin, to show their support for direct action taken on Tuesday following a march from O’Connell Street to occupy the house.

The event, dubbed “Leo’s early risers” by the organisers, was described as a collective visual protest, as demonstrators stood wearing masks bearing the face of Leo Varadkar. The protest was very well attended, taking up a considerable part of Summerhill Parade. Speakers spoke about the housing crisis both in their local areas and on a national level, and made clear that it is an issue not only in Dublin but also far beyond. It was also acknowledged that the Fine Gael government are not going to solve the housing crisis, and that working class communities will have to organise collectively to do this ourselves. Additionally, a family fun day taking place on Summerhill Parade tomorrow was announced, with family festivities as well as more information on the occupation to be available.

The occupation of 35 Summerhill Parade comes following a mass eviction of tenants living in a number of houses on the road back in May, leaving over 120 people living in the five properties without a home. The houses have sat empty until the decision was taken by the housing activists to occupy one of them. A statement from the Summerhill Occupation Facebook page released on Tuesday demanded that the houses be compulsory purchased by Dublin City Council and be given to the local community, as well as stating that they wished to highlight the fact that such vacant properties can and should be put into public ownership.

To sign up and volunteer your time at the Summerhill Occcupation, click here.

The Levellers and the Putney Debates

By Kieran Connolly

Kieran Connolly looks at the Levellers and the Putney Debates which foreshadowed many of the ideas of modern democratic republican thought.

The Ulster Plantation which basically involved transfer of ownership from the native Irish clans to settlers from Scotland and England took place following the “flight of the Earls” Hugh O’ Neill and Hugh O’ Donnell in September 1607 after their defeat by the English.

In 1641 the resentment of the dispossessed Irish combined with short term factors such as very poor harvests due to bad weather in a period known as the “little Ice Age” and an economic recession to provoke a rebellion. During the early years of the rebellion in Ulster thousands of Protestant settlers and many others fled to England. The scale of the atrocities taking place in Ireland was greatly exaggerated in England. The reports suggested 154,000 deaths but the best modern estimate is a figure of 4,000.

The English Government decided to raise an army to suppress the rebellion. The difficulty was whether the King, Charles I, or the Parliament would control the army. At the time the Parliament was attempting to limit the power of the King. The latter believed in the divine right of kings. This political crisis led to the beginning of the Civil War in England in August 1642 when the King mobilised an army loyal to himself. Parliament responded in a similar way, raising their own army.

Initially the Parliament relied on local militias and, when they were unwilling to fight far from their homes, the Parliament authorised the leading men on its side to organise private armies to fight for it.  At the end of 1644 Oliver Cromwell, a leading commander in the parliamentary army, said it could not win until it organised a more effective army along the following lines:

  • A centralized command structure
  • MP’s could not hold military office (despite this rule Cromwell did serve both as an M.P. and an army commander)
  • Regular payment for the soldiers
  • Peasants and craftsmen could become officers
  • This was called the New Model Army

The ideology of the soldiers was based on the Protestant interpretation of the Bible. This included the belief that God made all men equal. This was summarised in a simple verse to describe the situation in the Garden of Eden:

“When Adam delved (dug) and Eve span

Who then was the gentleman?”

That is, there was no class distinction in the Garden of Eden. This religion also said that a man could talk directly to God and did not need to go through a clergyman or look for the services of a saint. And, even more significantly, they were very taken by the concept of ‘covenant’ or ‘contract’. This, of course, occurred first in the old testament when God made a covenant with the Jewish people. While Charles I believed in the God-given right of a King to rule, they said that there was a contract between the King and the people he ruled. If the King broke the terms of the contract then they were entitled to reject his rule.

However the definition of “the people” meant male property owners. The franchise was confined to these people.

By the Summer of 1647 it was clear that the creation of the New Model Army was leading to a parliamentary victory. However the soldiers in the ranks, privates not senior officers, began to suspect that the leaders of their army known as “the grandees” were not willing to prosecute the war to a final victory over the King. “The generals. themselves members of the titled nobility, e.g. sir Thomas Fairfax, were seeking a compromise with the king. They did not commit fully to defeating the king because they feared that a shattering victory over the king would create an irreparable breach in the old order of things that would ultimately be fatal to their own position.”

Even worse from the soldier’s point of view they also looked set to betray the religious and political ideals the New Model Army had spent the previous five years fighting for, “we were not a mere mercenary army hired to serve any arbitrary power of a state, but called forth … to the defence of the people’s just right and liberties,” the soldiers complained.

In addition they had not been paid regularly and on the end of hostilities, the conservative M.P.s  in parliament wanted to either disband the army or send them to fight in Ireland without receiving their back pay. And, since most parliamentarians wanted to restore the king without major democratic reforms or religious freedom, many soldiers asked why they had risked their lives in the first place.

Their grievances were taken up by “Levellers” in the army rank and file. They declared that “all degrees of men should be levelled, and an equality should be established”. They put forward a post-war manifesto entitled ‘An Agreement of the People’.

“It urged religious toleration (“The ways of God’s worship are not at all entrusted by us to any human power”), a general amnesty (for acts during the war) and an end to conscription; a system of laws that must be “no respecter of persons but apply equally to everyone: there must be no discrimination on grounds of tenure, estate, charter, degree, birth or place”; regular, two-yearly parliaments (“The Long Parliament” sat from 1641 until 1649); an equal distribution of MPs’ seats by number of inhabitants. (Many constituencies were “rotten boroughs” in which the seats were controlled by the largest landowner, Blackadder depicted this as a borough where the only voter was Baldric). At its heart was a profound belief in human liberty and a conviction that politicians were as dangerous as princes when it came to undermining personal freedom. It was the people who were sovereign.”

By early June 1647 it had become clear that the Levellers had established support in the parliamentarian army where pay arrears were a key issue, as was the projected campaign in Ireland. The latter was designed to re-conquer Ireland and to punish the Irish rebels for the “massacres” in 1641. When parliament rejected the Levellers’ call for more radical reforms to be introduced to England and Wales, the leadership of the Levellers looked for support from the army’s rank and file.

The regiments of the army demanded the creation of an army council to which each unit would send representatives known as adjutators. (This is the source of the modern word ‘agitator’.) With Oliver Cromwell in the chair, the general council of the New Model Army came together at St. Mary’s church in  Putney from 28th October 1647 to 9th November 1647 to argue the case for a transparent, democratic state free from the taint of parliamentary or courtly corruption.

It proved to be one of the greatest intellectual encounters in western political thought. What was remarkable was the active involvement of the rank and file.

A major topic for discussion was, “who had the right to vote?” For the Levellers, the answer was clear, all those who placed themselves under government should have the right to elect it. The vote was a natural right, irrespective of property or position.

One of the most radical voices, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough said, “for really i think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he and therefore … every man that is to live under a government ought first, by his own consent, to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.”

Oliver Cromwell made it very clear that he very much opposed to the idea that more people should be allowed to vote in elections and that the Levellers posed a serious threat to the upper classes, saying: “what is the purport of the levelling principle but to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord. I was by birth a gentleman. You must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces”.

The wealthy, socially conservative grandees were horrified by this spectre of egalitarian democracy. To their minds, it presaged anarchy and corruption with wealthy politicians able to buy up the votes of the uneducated, dependent masses. Instead, Cromwell’s son-in-law, Henry Ireton, proposed that the franchise be limited to those with a “fixed local interest”, that is, the independent, propertied sort.

For Rainsborough, such a solution was a wretched betrayal of the civil war sacrifice. “I would fain know what we have fought for: for our laws and liberties? (yet) this is the old law that enslaves the people of England – that they should be bound by laws in which they have no voice at all!” In the end, they reached a compromise that the vote should be granted to all adult males – excluding servants, apprentices, foreigners, beggars and, obviously, women.

Rainsborough was sent to serve with a force besieging a castle. During the course of the siege a group of enemy soldiers managed to penetrate the camp and kill Rainsborough. It is suggested that Cromwell may have had a part in his death.

A compromise was eventually agreed that the vote would be granted to all men except alms-takers and servants and the Putney Debates came to an end on 8th November, 1647. The agreement was never put before the House of Commons. Cromwell and the Grandees opposed these ideas as too radical. The General Council instructed general Sir Thomas Fairfax to send all the agitators back to their units until he might think it necessary to call them together again. Of course, he never saw that need.

Three days later the King Charles I escaped from parliament’s control and began what became known as the second civil war. This required the army to focus on its military task. The Leveller leaders were arrested in 1649 and Cromwell crushed an attempted mutiny in that year. The army won the second civil war, it ended in 1649 with the execution of the King on 30th January, 1649.

The army was then sent to Ireland to reconquer the country. The records of the debates also seem to show that some of the delegates were opposed to the use of the army to suppress the Irish people. Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland included many massacres and included a renewed confiscation of lands held by the native Irish. The vicious reprisals were justified on the basis that the Irish people had massacred helpless Protestants in 1641. Cromwell and his supporters considered Irish Roman Catholics as little better than savages, barbarian in their lifestyle and habits, and capable of appalling atrocities against Protestant settlers. They were sub-human and dangerous, and were to be treated accordingly. It is estimated that around 500,000 people died from the war and its accompanying hardships.

Lloyds workers hold rally on seventh day of strike action

By Eoghan Gardiner

Today, a couple of hundred workers from LloydsPharmacy outlets, who are represented by Mandate Trade Union as they engage in a dispute with their employer over union recognition, held a demonstration outside the headquarters of United Drug, the parent company of the pharmaceutical chain, in Citywest. Members from a number of other trade unions, political parties and the general public also came out to show their support to the striking workers.

This followed a general meeting of LloydsPharmacy workers in Citywest Hotel, where they discussed their next move as their dispute with management continues. They stressed the fact that they do not want to be on strike, but have been left with no other choice by their employer. The workers would like to see a pay increase and incremental pay scales, the introduction of a sick pay scheme, security of hours, the elimination of zero hour contracts, and improvements in annual leave entitlements and public holiday premiums. LloydsPharmacy is owned by the McKesson Corporation, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, which in 2017/18 had revenues greater than double that of the Irish state at €177 billion.

Initially assembling just outside the premises, the workers and their supporters marched (after negotiation with security) to the building owned by their employer, then calling on representatives of their management to come out and speak to them.

A statement released on the campaign’s Facebook page prior to the demonstration said that it is “extremely encouraging to see such a huge turnout of workers prepared to stand up as a collective and fight to win better terms and conditions”, highlighting the fact that 270 of the workers represented by Mandate showed up to their general meeting, before joining up with their supporters for their demonstration.

As it stands, LloydsPharmacy refuses to afford their staff the right to trade union representation by refusing to negotiate. Workers and customers alike are hoping to see an end to the dispute soon.

Paddy Power Betfair finds out the law applies to them too

By Administrator

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has granted awards to fourteen workers employed by Paddy Power Betfair for the denial of rest breaks.

The workers took the cases through their trade union, Mandate, under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 and have been awarded between €750 and €1,000 each.

According to Mandate, the WRC adjudication officer found the company to be in breach of the Act. Mandate urged more Paddy Power Betfair workers to come forward to prosecute claims where merited.

The union has also written to the company seeking a meeting to discuss the implications of the WRC decision.

“These decisions vindicate our members in their claims and I congratulate them on their successful cases,” said Mandate General Secretary John Douglas. “There are tens of thousands of workers in Ireland currently being denied their rights at work because their employer believes the law shouldn’t apply to them. We’re here to tell them that it does.”

Douglas went on to warn Paddy Power workers of requests from management to ‘single-man’ shops: “Workers should not put themselves at risk by working alone for prolonged periods and should take precautions at all times, including shutting the store if necessary. Paddy Power is a highly profitable business and can afford to sufficiently staff their premises so that workers are safe and can avail of their legal right to rest periods.”

Mandate has said that it intends to serve a comprehensive claim on Paddy Power Betfair regarding pay scales, step up duty pay, and premium payments, among other issues, in the coming days.

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