The question is being widely discussed because of a series of high-profile protests. At first these were outside asylum-seekers’ accommodation, and more recently they targeted Sinn Féin TDs.
Prominent members of fascist organisations have taken part in these demonstrations. It is not yet clear, however, whether they have organised all the events or joined in opportunistically. Whichever is the case, it is a disturbing development that demands a response.
It is necessary, however, to put into perspective the definition of “far right.” Is it only those nasty, uncouth neo-Nazis, or does it not include a wider spectrum of ultra right-wingers? What about, for example, a party founded by an avowed supporter of Hitler who recruited mercenaries for General Franco?—a party that has presided for the past decade over a cruel anti-working-class neoliberal agenda; a party, don’t forget, that has been kept in power during much of that period by the equally profit-driven Fianna Fáil.
First, though, it is important to analyse the background and context for these dangerous protests. To do so we need to look at this situation in a global setting before dealing with its specific Irish manifestation.
There have always existed reactionary, right-wing political currents for so long as capitalism has controlled the principal means of production. At certain periods in history this has become more aggressive than at other times. We are now experiencing one such period. Trump’s followers in the United States, Europe’s Giorgia Meloni and her “Brothers of Italy” or Jair Bolsonaro’s riotous supporters are but the most strident practitioners of the trend.
Moving in tandem with this tendency is a NATO-led warmongering alliance that is willing to risk nuclear holocaust in order to retain its economic dominance.
The underlying cause for this rising tide of ultra-aggressive reaction is the problems threatening capitalism’s hegemony. The current neoliberal phase was launched during the Thatcher-Reagan era. In what had always been an unequal and brutal economic system the United States and the European Union abandoned even the limited checks and balances afforded by post-war Keynesianism and the welfare state. Neoliberalism became the order of the day.
For just over two decades the system appeared unchallengeable. Then came the economic crash of 2008. Capitalism globally experienced a crisis, and responded by cosseting the wealthy while hurting working people. Central bankers provided cheap money to financial institutions, generating a boom for stockbrokers and speculators.
Yet all the while social welfare and wages were pared to the bone as working-class communities were hammered by austerity. Free-market-led governments simply made Labour pay for mistakes made by Capital.
Nor has the Irish working class been spared this assault on living conditions.
There is a free-market-created housing emergency, the tip of which is marked by tens of thousands of homeless people. This, the most visible aspect of the crisis, tends to obscure the still greater numbers living precariously in rented accommodation. The need for decisive action to instigate a large-scale programme of public housing is painfully obvious.
Yet despite experience of the value of this measure in the past, the coalition parties refuse to act. Adding insult to injury, the Fine Gael leader is now lamenting the withdrawal of some private landlords from the rental market, claiming this reduces the number of properties available for those in need.
Adding to the misery caused by a housing crisis we have also experienced the virtual collapse of the public health service in the Republic. Day after day the media, both mainstream and social, report on the dire situation in our overrun, under-staffed and under-resourced public hospitals and care sector. No such problems are faced by those able to afford private health facilities. Rubbing salt into this wound are the frequent television advertisements reminding the public that the costly private sector has sufficient capacity to treat paying patients immediately on admission.
Under such conditions of hardship and despair it is little surprise that some misguided individuals would unthinkingly vent their anger in the wrong direction.
Let us be absolutely clear about something, though. The issues fuelling these dangerously reactionary protests, and thereby opening the door for far-right exploitation, have been created by those who have governed over recent decades.
The problems giving rise to the protests did not suddenly emerge over the past few months and certainly not with the arrival of those fleeing war in Eastern Europe or the Middle East. In common with other free-market economies, the Republic is experiencing the unavoidable consequences of decades of unbridled neoliberalism.
Consequently, it is not only wrong to blame asylum-seekers for the dire conditions in which we find ourselves: it is also a profoundly mistaken direction to take in order to protest against genuine injustices.
As a recent statement from the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum pointed out, asylum-seekers and refugees are not responsible for the collapsing public health services, money-grabbing landlordism, non-availability of public housing, poor wages, or absence of job security.
The blame lies with the Irish elite: the landlords, both corporate and local, the employers who pay slave wages, and those who govern over this state of affairs. People are right to be angry but must make sure to hit the right target, i.e. the 1 per cent who run and control our lives. The solution is to change the system that’s at fault, not to blame those who are not responsible.
While the right-wing ruling class must carry full responsibility for creating the hardship now affecting working-class communities, it is nevertheless necessary to assess the role of the fascist far right. It is important not to dismiss them as mere bit-players; because, while the powerful may publicly condemn their violence, they will often privately condone and quietly support it. They do so for the crude reason that they see the fascists playing a useful role in fracturing working-class unity.
Such unity is a prerequisite in order to answer the dire situation in which working people now find ourselves. Only a socialist economy, built within a Workers’ Republic, will provide the means to do so. To bring this about requires a politically literate and united working class.
It is this unity that the fascists endeavour to shatter, through employing crude reactionary populist strategies. Our task in the short term must be to combat this tactic by working energetically with the anti-war movement on one hand and simultaneously intensify efforts to strengthen unity among the working class. By doing so we can defeat the fascists and their rapacious patrons.
As a parting word, a couple of appropriate lines from the late Woody Guthrie:
Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose:
You’re bound to lose! You fascists:
Bound to lose!
Tommy McKearney is a left wing and trade union activist.
He is author of The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament.
Follow on Twitter @Tommymckearney
Excellent words. I would now classify the two strands of far right as the anti establishment far right and the establishment far right which he identifies. One is crude and opportunistic the other is sophisticated and powerful and one feeds the other.ReplyDelete
I watch what's going on as best I can on many forums and I see many errors in the approach to confront this issue which further divides the working class and creates a marginalised and alienated, small but noisy demographic which the far right recruit from. The bundling in together of social conservatives or those who practice religion is a mistake.
We need to discover a genuine way of reaching ordinary people who may believe what they are told that everyone is against them, they may feel let down by the system for various reasons as Tommy outlines.
There are many different doctrines of thought on the left some much more Marxist than others. I believe the only genuine commonality to unite people both left wing and non ideological is democracy which is where the workers initiatives can be promoted and participated in. People need to be heard and participate in the solutions. The blame lies with the Neoliberals and they must be replaced.
Patrick - if the anti-fascist/far right stance is to be reduced to an anti-capitalist one, is there not an inherent risk of repeating the same strategic miscalculation attributed to the German CP in the early 1930s which 'spent a lot of time attacking the SPD social democrats, instead of building a united front to defeat Hitler and the Nazi’s before they came to power.'?Delete
Social conservatives aren't fascists. Most social conservatives left Sinn Féin and went to Aontu rather than the far right for example because they oppose discrimination but feel morally restricted to embrace all modern forms of liberalism . The far right Feeds off discrimination but to not differentiate is to throw them to the wolves.ReplyDelete
Indeed a United front should be built and maintained against the far right by underlining what constitutes discrimination but let's be careful where we draw the lines as discrimination is definitive and not subjective. It's the policies of the Neoliberals which have created inequality which the far right seize on.
Economic conservatives are not always fascists either. I think it is a strategic mistake to run a typology that includes establishment far right and anti-establishment far right. The current establishment introduced measures it had long opposed and which the far right despise - abortion, same sex marriage etc. This is the ground on which political strategy not reduced to economics is forged. All too often sections of the Left have made enemies out of potential allies because of facile characterisations such as social fascism in the 1920s.Delete
The anti establishment far right would cover the entire repotoire if they gained power and a single fascist enemy would be produced. For now the extreme right wing economics of the establishment right are allowed to flourish because of Liberal concessions, in fact they've often been used as a weapon not least over the question of biological male sex offenders being put into women's prisons. This doesn't advance the Liberal equality agenda it is regressive to it nor are some of the questions around primary school curriculum reflecting gender studies. My own primary school children are still in belief of Santa Claus, seems rediculous to try and explain identity politics to them at primary stage, I believe there's a question to be answered on this in terms of who it serves. My view is that perhaps it's a welcome distraction for the Neoliberal profiteers to have the working class squabble over such things while they see us out on the streets or on hospital trolleys.ReplyDelete
Connollys view in his 1904 writing wages and other things gives me guidance
"In the first place, I have long been of opinion that the Socialist movement elsewhere was to a great extent hampered by the presence in its ranks of faddists and cranks, who were in the movement, not for the cause of Socialism, but because they thought they saw in it a means of ventilating their theories on such questions as sex, religion, vaccination, vegetarianism, etc., and I believed that such ideas had or ought to have no place in our programme or in our party. I held that, if under the Socialist Republic individuals desired to have a Freethinker’s propagandist, a Jewish Rabbi, a mesmerist, a Catholic priest, a Salvation captain, a professional clown, or a Protestant divine, they would be perfectly free to maintain them for any of these purposes provided that society was reimbursed for the loss of their labour. In other words, that Socialism was compatible with the greatest intellectual freedom, or even freakishness. And that, therefore, we were as a body concerned only with the question of political and economic freedom for our class."
I agree we shouldn't limit the scope of opposing Fascism to economics, but we shouldn't widen it to include those who don't impose their beliefs onto others.
Other than being a rhetorical device I don't find it prudent in any strategic sense to class the economic system in this society as extreme right. While these things are not science that we can speak about with certainty, an extreme far right economic policy is what happened under Videla or Pinochet with a corresponding effect in the political sphere. Trade unions and opposition parties are smashed, civil society is suffocated, and we have a whole range of measures that reflect Umberto Eco's Ur-fascism much of which is not present here.ReplyDelete
I might have missed something but I am not getting the point about the bollix the government can get up to with prisons. Often, that is a woke/Left/socially liberal sphere rather than the far right. The latter sems to hate all that.
Nor am I sure of the point being made by Connolly that influences you. He sounds like Orwell here when the latter made observations about fruit juice drinkers. It's witty but other than that I am not sure of the point.
Is there a typo in the final paragraph - we shouldn't widen it to include those who don't impose their beliefs onto others.? If the don't was meant to be a do I would respond but will hold off in case I make myself look silly by missing the point!
I believe that economic policies which result in poverty levels at around 13% of the population, 12,000 people homeless, 300,000 hidden homeless at some point last year 84,000 people on in-patient and 600,000 people on out-patient hospital waiting lists with a National debt of hundreds of billions are only some of the indicators that profit driven privatization models are extreme and are in opposition to the interests of the people.ReplyDelete
My point on liberal divisions stems from my original assertion that there are two strands of Far right (Establishment and Anti-establishment) and my understanding of your view that the neo-liberals have implemented socially liberal policies proving them not to be far right. I believe that there are some examples of extreme forms of liberal policy that do more harm than good and cause working class division- I see these as useful distractions and not progression of equality. There are of course many advances since the church lost its grip in Ireland which are advances in equality, were these driven by the Establishment parties or the people? The answer for this can be found in the flip in policies of the same parties based on cynically sampling the mood of voters.
The point I derive from Connolly is that some issues are distractions and as such we shouldn't get bogged down in issues which don't address the substantive problem which is class based. If people wish to be religious or involved in identity politics go ahead but society should be reimbursed for the loss of labor, in other words in my reading wasteful distractions aside from the issue.
My view is to respect everyone's views, be they religious conservative or Atheist and liberal so long as they are NOT being pushed down on others and let us get on with the issues affecting us economically and collectively which will in turn when addressed remove the rally calls from the far right that all our issues are the fault of migrants which they clearly are not.
Conservative economic polices are always harsh but far right/fascism are generally treated as a political and ideological phenomenon. Economic fascism is regarded as manifesting itself through the corporate state and planned economy where the articulation between state and nation suppresses liberalism and any concept of the individual citizen having rights. In Ireland we really need to stretch logic to think that exists. We don't even have an exceptional state form. The government we have is not far right but is driven by a capital logic as is every Western government. To describe Labour as far right when it was in government seems wide off the mark. And if SF get into government, they too would have to be described as far right given that they are not going to change the economic fundamentals. And if any anti-fascist struggle is to exclude SF because it is far right, then we are back to unlearning what was learned and should never have been forgotten when the Communists could no longer see the difference between the fascists and the social democrats.Delete
A perspective propelled by economism tends not to see the political sphere as clearly as it should. It was an economism that left the Third International blind to the dangers of fascism.
The terms far right or fascist are too often used as a discursive rather than an analytical tool - another way to call someone a bastard as Brendan O'Neill once pointed out. As analytical categories, there are objective factors that come into play and they don't seem to be present in this government to the point that it can be called far right.
A liberal state will cause working class division: that is one of its structural functions. It has to unite the dominant bloc, disunite the dominated bloc and mediate the relationship between the two in order to allow capital to forge on. There is nothing new in this. I am merely repeating well established Marxian perspectives.
Class as an economic category tells us very little about political strategy. Althusser's observation on Engels is revealing: from the first moment to the last, the lonely hour of the "last instance" never comes. In my view Connolly was mistaken to reduce everything to class, and I say that coming from a political economy perspective.
Your final paragraph would seem to exclude SF from any broad or popular front given their history of censoring and imposing their view. But again, the question poses itself - how broad would any broad front without SF be?
If we find reasons for excluding forces from an anti-fascist alliance rather than reasons for including them, then ultimately the balance of forces is going to favour the fascists.
Reading back over this comment, it has the ring of Marxist wank to it but I'll leave it as it is because the discussion always interests me until it doesn't.