The Holy Communion is Religious Indoctrination

Introduction

Children all over Ireland are preparing to make their Holy Communion. For those of you unaware, the Holy Communion is a religious ritual that means ‘togetherness’ and usually denotes unity among Christians. In schools, children go through religious instructions, songs and prayers before completing this ritual in a large ceremony. Often more than not it is now accompanied with parties, presents and money. As anybody else who wasn’t born on another planet, we all know that 99% of the children doing it also associate it to money. So the question has to naturally be posted:

  1. Is it appropriate to indoctrinate children who basically cannot realistically make an informed decision about their choice of religion?
  2. What is the point of it, if it’s participants don’t grasp or understand what they are being inoculated into?

These are the two ‘primary’ issues, there are some subsidiary issues. For instance peer pressure and the fear of being left out of class activities functions as a very large factor. Apathy and a “go with the flow” type attitude, is also, a prevailing view. There are of course other subsidiary issues and I’d imagine they’d crop up throughout the course of this piece. On the Opinions Matter show, you can find many comments on the thread regarding communion: https://www.facebook.com/adriankandjeremyd/posts/571615577651130

Issue

The issue, plainly put, is whether it is appropriate for children to be indoctrinated in state funded institutions into a religion?

A very subjective area, so naturally hard to tell. If the objective is to build a country that separates state and church, then religious programs and curriculums should realistically have no place in school. Consider the uproar, if all 8 year olds had to go through religious instruction of multiple religions, or religions that people have prejudices against (such as Islam).

A lot of people cite the humanistic teachings behind Christianity as reasons they want their child baptized which is not an unreasonable position. The natural response to this is that humanistic teachings and moral values are not monopolised by religion, and being a decent person, exercising certain moral values to a harmonious, peaceful and happy society doesn’t require religious influence or instruction. In fact, there are plenty of past and present examples of happy secular societies with humanistic and positive values enshrined in their cultures and communities.

One of the prevailing arguments in favour of communion is that this is the culture and tradition of this country. That is true, Ireland has been a Catholic country for a long time. A separate discussion is to be had as to whether the Roman Catholic Church has been a friend to the people of Ireland, but the most essential point here is that we now formally subscribe to the idea of separating Church and State. Said separation should come in a much more substantive way than allowing the continued religious instruction of children.

Not only would would it be deeply objected upon were it any other religion, it also sounds, and is extremely weird when you break it down into smaller components.

Your child has time taken from school, to learn the songs of a religious institution with a very big closet full of skeletons, to have anti-scientific information spoon fed to them and then to engage in a ritual (that’s what it is regardless of what you call it) to bind them further into the religion. This all takes weeks and is specifically removed from the over-all school curriculum.

Informed consent

In practice, religious indoctrination through school amounts to taking away the informed consent of children to make when they’re older and more aware of what religious practice entails. My suspicion is that if you removed communion-confirmation, the number of registered Catholics, and general views associated to Catholicism would rapidly decline. Naturally, for a wealthy, secretive and controlling organisation such as the Roman Catholic Church this poses a huge problem. To achieve the separation of church and state, but also to vindicate the right of people to be able to choose their religion to worship, religious indoctrination in the education system should be removed.

Alternatives

In place of religious instruction, the time spent learning prayers and religious songs could be spent learning essential things that actually matter, or assisting children who are behind on certain subjects to catch up.

Humanistic theories about fairness, kindness and justice could be taught in a secular manner that have nothing to do with religion. We already see this through many children’s books and stories that are secular in nature and give moral lessons about bullying, friendship and kindness. Would it be that hard to have humanistic classes on these subjects that aren’t tied to religion and anti-scientific bollocks about the earth being flat or Adam and Eve creating all humans?

Conclusion

This wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive study of religious inoculation in schools, more of a brief commentary on the absurdity of having religious instruction foisted on children. They should certainly learn about religion, but through the prism of historical study, rather than as part of a choice less journey into a religious institution.

Public Servants Should Not Be Millionaires

Introduction

The recent bombshell report published in the Independen stated that 42% of the members of our national parliament are millionaires. The report used a variety of different metrics, including pensions, home ownership and perks.  Many of the TDs were revealed to be landlords with small to extensive property holdings, investments and so on.  In some cases, property was identified that TD’s were not obliged to report to SIPO (Standards in Public Commission).

In certain cases, wealth was clearly inherited and kept within already wealthy families. In, many cases, pension pots accumulated over prolonged service accounted for substantial amounts of the sum that was accumulated.  A critic of this list might say it isn’t fair to include people’s pensions but I think this criticism is incorrect.

Public Service for the Public, not for Mé Féin

The accumulation of a large pension point erodes the necessity of making any radical political, social, economic and systemic change. If you know that the policy you are going to introduce will have a huge impact on the lives of millions of working people, but not on your own nest, what exactly would motivate or demotivate you from proceeding with it?

Take for example the millionaires in the Labour Party. Every year those pot bellied double chinned scoundrels gather at the graveside of JAmes Connolly and fart on about how they’re the Party of Connolly, this that and the other. Simultaneously, they use their TD salaries to become landlords. It’s farcical, but the reality is that politics in the parliament is almost entirely performative. Another former leader in Brendan Howlin, also boasts a huge pension pot and land. How can these people ever claim to represent Connolly, or working people at all? What would they know about having to divvy up 360 euro on extortionate rent, utility bills and food every week? How could they understand? 

While these charlatans pretend to be left wing, right wing commentators and pundits argue that the reason our public servants are paid a generous salary is to avoid corruption.  If one briefly read the Moriarty Tribunal, Mahon Tribunal or the many different stories that regularly emerge of nepotism, cronyism and low key corruption, one would get the impression that even on huge salaries, our elected representatives seem to want more.

This is ultimately what the issue. Public service in Ireland is not done for the public, that part is entirely fake. Public service is done to accumulate wealth and use your salary to become wealthier. 

Public Service for Public Service

To be elected a representative, is to present yourself as a public servant, designated to fulfill the wishes of your constituency and struggle in their better interest. In modern society being a politician is looked down upon with significant distrust. If we look at the simple statistic of “42% of TD’s are Millionaires”, one can immediately see why that to be the case. I would propose the non-radical and uncontroversial idea that public service should be an honourable position within society, wherein one runs based on helping their fellow citizens through public office. That the most virtuous and able candidates assume these positions and instead of self-aggrandizement as has been the case since the era of the Roman Republic, public service is specifically about that, public service.

Generous wages, generous pensions, generous allowances

The listing of allowances for doing your job shows a very generous system for our elected representatives with the basic salary being 100k. This translates into 61.6k after tax, or 5.1k a month after tax. That amount is double the median wage in Ireland, and almost triple the minimum wage.

On top of this wage, allowances for staff, travel, expenses, and so on are paid out as well, thereby covering as many angles of a TD’s work as possible.  In short, generous is probably an understatement. The more apt definition of this system is the one coined by journalist and author Ken Foxe in his book on Fianna Fail expenses: the pigs have their snouts in the trough.

The Political Aristocracy

On the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s bithday, historian Eric Hobsbawn penned an article discussing the ‘aristocracy of labour’, a phenomenon that Marx, Engels and Lenin had all commented on.  Essentially what the aristocracy of labour referred to was the ‘middle’ section of workers in industrial Britain who had better wages and conditions and ultimately sought to maintain their ‘middle’ position in contradiction to the struggle of the broader, poorer paid and overworked proletarian sections of the population. It was also a reference to the fact that when elements of the aristocracy of labour lost their position and were ‘proletarianized’, they corrupted proletarian parties with their petit-bourgeois value (the temporarily embarassed millionaire of today). What we see in Ireland is that prolonged service in the parliament has become a sub-culture of its own and public servants, whether well-meaning or not are completely insulated in a blanket of generous wages and allowances from the oft devastating consequences of their own policy choices.

It is not Alan Kelly, or Ivana Bacik, or Roisin Shorthall, or Brendan Howlin, or Leo Varadker, or even Mary Lou McDonald that live the reality of most of the working-class population. Certainly, they may have in the past, but today, their net worth far exceeds that of working people and when it comes to the moment to decide, will it be from them that a medical card is taken, or a single parent’s allowance is cut?

Public Servants Should Not Be Millionaires

Perhaps some will find this controversial, but I do not believe any public servant, through a combination of all the benefits included in their package should be able to become a millionaire, to hoard land, and to become a massive landlord.  The idea that Bertie Ahern and the gangsters who organised the destruction of the economy in 2008 sit on multi-million euro pensions turns my stomach. The fact that their successors in Fine Gael, even if they lose to a Sinn Fein majority, will also enjoy huge pension pots and pay outs and that too, infuriates me.

The entire approach to public service should be redone from the bottom up. It requires a complete cultural change of how we understand what public service means, but it also requires a complete breaking down of the financial perks that come with the role.

If our public representatives were all on the median wage, you could bet that public housing, universal healthcare, collective bargaining rights and other changes would be introduced very rapidly and quickly, but as long as they’re completely socio-economically isolated from the reality of the people they claim to represent, they’ll always make “hard choices” in the “national interest” and the banks, private speculators and cowboy developers will always get bailed out.

#EndTheGravyTrain

Yellow Peril is Alive and Well in Ireland

Introduction

In discussion with several comrades about the geopolitical re-alignment by the West against China, we noted an interesting survey from back in May. Before discussing the survey, this question should be posed to you to consider. Why are the bad guys in most films, the Russians? 

It’s something I noticed when first moving here and watching Hollywood films more often. The enemy, villain and horrible bad guy at the very end was always a Russian. Sometimes he had connections to the intelligence services, or the army, sometimes he didn’t, but he was always Russian.  As it turns out, there is actually substantial investigative journalism into the ties between the CIA, Pentagon and Hollywood. Many articles, ranging from fringe conspiracy websites to more mainstream websites have articles detailing the level of collaboration between these organisations. If you’re generally not familiar with politics, you might ask yourself why the CIA and the US military have a hand in film production.  This is where we get back to the survey about the Chinese government.  The West has continuously waged a cultural war against it’s political opponents. This isn’t a unique phenomenon to Russia or China, in fact, the British media used to do the same to Irish people.

Purpose

The purpose of this constant sub-cultural demonisation is to dehumanise a certain country, delegitimise it’s government and create a sort of cultural cover for any military intervention or attack. It is effectively the same as calling certain countries leaders dictators, or authoritarian, as a justification for the inevitable NATO bombing campaign. This cultural warfare, ingrained into the movie industry has (to steal Chomsky’s line) manufactured consent among the Western people. The survey from May, merely underscores the successful penetration of anti-Chinese and anti-Communist propaganda in Ireland. Let’s dig into it.

Worrying

In this graph, the question that is being measured is this: “In one word, how would you describe the Rise of China?”

Consider the top results. Worrying, frightening, dangerous, scary. All this terminology is deeply negative, but what is it rooted in? What is it that the People’s Republic of China has done in Ireland, or to Ireland, that warrants a fear among the population? Could it be that a constant bombardment in the newspapers, news channels and social media about ‘evil, authoritarian and godless China’ has finally sunk in?

Distrust to the point of farce

The next survey, I thought, was the most ridiculious. The question that was asked was “Please indicate to what extent you trust the following…”

More people in Ireland indicated that they mistrust the British government, the US government and European Commission less than they mistrust the Chinese government.  Think about that for a moment. More people in Ireland mistrust the Chinese government, which has never done anything to Ireland, than the state that occupied, partitioned, invaded and ethnically cleansed Ireland.  

More people indicated that they trusted the European Commission, the same entity that played a role in the brutal imposition of austerity in Ireland, over the Chinese government.. Which has done nothing nothing to the people of Ireland.

More people indicated trust for the US government than mistrust. The US government which operates secret torture centers all over the world, assassinates democratically elected leaders, invades other countries based on lies and uses Shannon Airport to do its dirty deeds, yet again – people in Ireland indicate that their level of trust for this government is greater than that of the Chinese government, which doesn’t do any of the above.

Favourable versus unfavourable

The next question asked whether the poller viewed China favourably or unfavourably. Here are the results:

Once more, a significant proportion of those polled indicated they viewed China unfavourably.

Conclusion

The central question that one should ask when considering this survey is this: What has led people in Ireland to hold these views? The theory I would put forward is the same one that has created the anti-Russian sub-culture in the West. Through a concerted effort by Western newspapers and news channel, they have successfully implanted the Yellow Peril in the mentality of people in Ireland. The role of Communists should be to put forward a clear position against this yellow peril nonsense in conjunction with an anti-imperialist pro-peace position. We should not allow the papers and media to cultivate fear among the people of Ireland against a government that has never done anything to them.

Bullshit Protests

Introduction 

While reading the book Bullshit jobs1 and discussing its themes with my partner, she floated the idea that just like bullshit jobs, there’s an idea of bullshit protests. Before I elaborate let me put a disclaimer, the purpose here is not to say protesting is useless, not at all, but rather to try to identify its purpose as part of strategies and tactics used by groups to advance their causes. 

Living in Dublin, one can avail of a protest on any subject almost every day. From climate change to trade union rights, to housing, to civil rights, to everything – there is always a protest. This piece proposes that some protests are bullshit protests I.e they exist purely for the purpose of existing and contribute nothing to a struggle in a certain direction. 

It dawned on me significantly at the recent Housing & Homeless Coalition while Richard Boyd Barret was speaking. He said something like “Ten years ago we protested for NAMA to use housing for public housing. Ten years now we’re here”  

Although his point was that the struggle is on-going, a tangential point is that protests didn’t work then – and they’re not working now and that despite 10 years of protesting, we were in a worse position than where we started, so the logical conclusion is that the tactics that were being used didn’t work

If you apply that logic to every protest, you’ve been to, what then can the conclusion be?  

Many of us who attend a protest, do so because believe that the protest is a tactic that is achieving change on the given subject. But what it shouldn’t, and what if it isn’t? 

If this is the case then the obvious question should be raised, what is the purpose of it? 

Protesting for the sake of it is bullshit protesting 

As mentioned above, I attended many different protests and most of them, didn’t change the circumstances of the situation they were focused on. I think as a side note, the reason most people don’t attend protests in Right2Water style numbers is because they know said protests are meaningless. Only recently did I assess the purpose of the protest and whether it would change the situation we protested about. Before, I too, like others, thought that protesting makes change.  

The reality is that on 95% of the on-going issues, the act of protest as an individual form of resistance has done very little. I say individual specifically because I think that if protest is part of multiple strategies that are more confrontational or direct, then it can be valuable.   

But what of protests disconnected from any wider strategy? What of the protests that really are protests for the sake of having said your party/group/team had a protest?  

These forms of protests are bullshit protests. 

It’s hard to tell whether the organisers know it, possibly they don’t, but protests that validate their existence through their existence are bullshit. They are there to aggrandize the organisers and the speakers, to put them on a platform on a certain subject. The disingenuous part is that this act is completely performative. The protest occurs, the protest finishes, nothing happens – you move on to your next protest / issue with largely the same pool of people, from the same groups/backgrounds/unions/parties. Indeed, sometimes one would think all some members of groups are paid for is to head out and represent their group at any given group.  

This may be glim, but I think it’s a more honest assessment of the protest ‘scene’ in Ireland, but in typical left-wing fashion I’ll present a slightly different model that alleviates the ‘bullshit’ aspect of a protest. 

Strict gauging of objectives, goals and strategies 

In order to do that, the objectives, goals and strategies behind protests must change. We should set out, when organising a protest, to ask as to what it will achieve. 

“Will issue X be resolved or come closer to being resolved if a protest occurs?” is the formula I would suggest considering. Although one criticism could be it’s a very strict application, the response would be that it’s a more practical one.  

Protests should be a part of a wider strategy towards achieving a goal.  

“Will issue X be resolved or come closer to being resolved if a protest, as part of a doorknocking/occupying/military/civil disobedience campaign/blocking water meters/etc occurs?” is essentially how the call for a protest should look like.  

If there is hard work being on a specific issue, in a specific field/area, then the level of investment by those involved will automatically be greater. The ‘density’ of interest in a particular problem is one essential feature of a successful protest.  

Protesting for change 

The act of doing something meaningful toward the issue is the only way I can answer that question. It’s better to use examples. 

Right2Water was successful because people got out of their houses, had street meetings and then got arrested, regularly for stopping water meters. This act of resistance and defiance is what motivated the numbers to mobilise behind R2W. It was the activity, the ‘struggle’ that brought people out. 

Similarly, during the civil war, when Republican movements had active military wings through recruitment from the local community, the act of a military campaign and the many complex struggles (hunger strike) that emerge from one, pushed people regularly onto protests. Many who attended were effectively indirect participants of the other struggles, who opted to demonstrate their support by committing to the act of protest.  

In both instances, protest existed as part of anchored campaigns that actively struggled. In the current environment in Dublin, many protests are attached to no campaigns, but occur none the less.  

We go back to the example mentioned above, the housing rally.  The housing rally occurred on the eve of a bill that was going to lie because of the party whip system. Everybody knew that, so the selling of the protest was that the protest would effect change, but then obviously the problem is that we know it won’t – what is the purpose of It? I’m not going to claim to have a definitive answer, but I would controversially say there was no point of it.  

The result of the bill would have been the same with or without the protest. For the protest to be effective, it must be part of more is the practical conclusion that I am drawing here. If a protest didn’t affect the change it wanted to, then it wasn’t sufficient by itself and more must be done.   

Conclusion and brief lessons 

What that ‘more’ is, is for the group organising the protest to determine, but usually it takes the form of more direct activity & engagement with your class/community/workplace then just protesting. It’ll be different in every set of circumstances. But for instance, when there was the attempted violent eviction of the Sunnyvale occupation in Stoneybatter, a protest was called for. It had a clear purpose in mind – defend the communtiy and retake the area – and a clear fail/succeed guideline because of that purpose. Whereas if Sunnyvale didn’t exist and a protest was called outside the premise making a demand for public housing. The two are in sharp contrast in their impact on class struggle and people’s consciousness. But what I would do if I was to call a protest for any subject, is spend a considerable amount of time thinking whet the goal of the protest is, and how the protest will help. 

If for example to combat racism in my community I started calling protests over the subject, they’d run out of steam very quick because in of themselves they wouldn’t do much. If I however spent time with my comrades assisting the overcoming of racism through practical personal and direct interventions towards formal/institutional/informal problems, the protest might carry more weight and purpose I.e it would be solidifying existing work. 

In many ways, we don’t think about criticizing protest, because we’ve been imbued to think of all protests as having purpose because they’re occurring. Drop that good faith presumption and rigorously ask your comrades/colleagues/trade union members the purpose of the protests they organise or go to. 

I suspect that in most circumstances, ‘more needs to be done’ will be the answer.  

Don’t get me started on petitions and meetings…. 

Actualizing Seamus Costello’s Anti-Imperialist Front

Introduction

Shortly before Seamus Costello was assassinated, he pioneered a proposal to several organisations. You can read the section fully here (https://foreignlanguages.press/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/S13-Costello-5th-Printing.pdf) at page 97. It is titled ‘The Anti-Imperialist Broad Front’. The basic premise of the idea was that several organisations, Communist, Republican, Socialist, would combine together and propose a common agreeable platform to campaign on. The piece is written in good faith and in no meant to initiate an attack on any of the fraternal organisations. If an issue arises, feel free to contact me directly or leave a long winded rage post at the bottom which I probably won’t read.

The platform would include the following positions:

  1. That Britain must renounce all claims to sovereignty over any part of Ireland or its coastal waters.
  2. That Britain must immediately disband and disarm the UDR, RUC and RUC reserve and withdraw all troops from Ireland.
  3. That the British and 26 County governments must immediately release all political prisoners and grant a general amnesty for all offences arising from the current conflict.
  4. That Britain must agree to compensate all who have suffered as a result of imperialist violence and exploitation in Ireland.
  5. Recognising that no country can be free and independent while it permits imperialist domination of its economic life, the Irish anti-imperialist Front will oppose all forms of imperialist control over our wealth and resources.
  6. That the Irish Anti-Imperialist Front rejects a federal solution and the continued existence of two separate states in the six and 26 counties as a denial of the right of the people to sovereignty and recognises the only alternative as being the creation of a 32 County Democratic Republic with a secular constitution.
  7. That the Irish anti-imperialist Front demands the convening of an all Ireland constitutional conference representative of all shades of political in Ireland for the purpose of discussing a democratic and secular Constitution which would become effective immediately following a total British military and political withdrawal.

End.

The demands in of themselves are uncontroversial and broadly agreeable. They are far sighted enough to explicitly include commentary on wealth and resources, which can today be extrapolated to include the American Chamber of Commerce and the finance capital of the European Union. Indeed, in updating them, one would change little. Where this proposal falls down is the actual functional mechanics as to how it would work between the groups and how campaigns would function. This piece will propose a series of mechanics with concrete proposals and in short, a means of actualizing the Broad Anti-Imperialist Front.

Representative

From the very beginning, each organisation involved must have equal representation. I would propose a system of either 2-3 delegates, but each organisation carries with it one vote. The delegates would form a committee style body that would discuss points of organising and subsequently feed them back. The respective executives of each organisation could decide to either a. invest power in their representatives to make on-the-spot decisions or b. feed them back to their respective executive bodies for a final decision.

Campaign issues

This one is relatively simple because it already occurs in one area most groups are familiar with: anti-racism and anti-fascism. The Republican movement adopts a clear cut anti-fascist position. I believe this can be replicated within the trade union movement, housing unions, social campaigns, political pressure, limited electoral scope and more. In fact I would wager that people from different organisations probably already overlap into different campaigns or attend different events – they simply do it without making a conscious effort to collaborate.

Trade Unions

I would hope that most Republican organisations encourage trade union membership and participation. On that presumption I would propose that cross-left collaboration should exist within the trade unions. Common positions on certain issues, common candidates for certain structures and common strategies, particularly against right wing hacks who very obviously all work together.

Housing Union, namely CATU

I hope that those who are in CATU take no sinister reading from this paragraph, it is not intended that way. The Republican movement, particularly in the mid 70s made a big turn to social campaigns. Bobby Sands recollects his time organising a tenant and housing union. There is absolutely no reason any Republican organisation should not be promoting membership of CATU, especially in areas where CATU is struggling to develop. CATU, like industrial unions, is the perfect melting pot to consolidate and solidify a unity of left wing organisations – but it is also a vehicle that builds broader power for our class. A recent piece by a comrade in the CYM illustrates that point well: https://cym.ie/2021/09/29/the-community-action-tenants-union-an-organisation-of-peoples-power/

Anti-Imperialism

If the broad principles laid down by Seamus Costello are agreeable, then they can form the nucleus of political demands and positions regarding the continued British occupation of Ireland alongside the hyper-exploitation of Ireland by American and European finance capital. In unifying and clarifying all anti-imperialist forces, the collective voice of all organisations combined would be stronger. This would not be particularly different to the semi-unified campaign against the EEC that was carried out in 1972. It should be noted that yes, analysis of what imperialism and anti-imperialism constitutes differs in each organisation, but there is effectively no way to challenge or supplement said analysis without substantively engaging in it in good faith.

Political Education

It is clear from speaking to members of a vast amount of different organisations that political education levels and standards vary. This is neither a good or bad thing and deserves no moral judgment. What could be experimented with are broadened out political residential schools involving members of all constituent organisations, either discussing, debating or learning about a pre-agreed set of agenda items. Perhaps one such model could be that organisations take turn drafting up an agenda for such a residential so that a wider view of the priorities, as well as weaknesses of each movement are put forward.

Prisoner solidarity and opposition to extralegal political courts (Diplock & Special Criminal)

Again, there exist levels of co-operation on this ground already, but I think for organistaions that have no political prisoners it is essential to be involved because at one point in time they very well may have those prisoners. It is essential that a sense of unity and commonality exists among organisations outside to the plight of prisoners convicted in the kangaroo courts in both jurisdictions. It is important that campaigns, pickets and protests have cross-party support. It is equally important to exchange information on the functions of the special courts. Who sits on them? How do they function? What happens when you are charged under the Offences Against the State Act? What recourse (if any) do you have? I personally learnt a lot more outside the CYM and CPI respectively by engaging other Republicans than I did inside either organisation. This was an issue I sought to rectify within the CYM as General Secretary by interviewing and inviting speakers who had went through the process. Every generation of young communists, republicans and anti-capitalists should be aware to the workings of the political police and courts.

LGBTQ+, Feminism, Anti-Predator Unity

It is a common theme that men expelled from one organisation, have a habit of finding themselves in another organisation. I have seen this occur firsthand several times. The lack of communication, and to some degree trust between organisations, has led to this process continuing. It is completely intolerable and unacceptable. There should be no refuge for predators or abusers in any left wing organisation. In order to achieve such a status quo, a level of communication and trust must exist between the respective organisations.

Organisations should challenge each others records on how they treat victims who come forward, rather than hiding behind the pathetic excuse that it is “sectarian to do so”. In doing so, they will set a higher standard for all of us.

Although organisations on the left all clearly row behind progressive campaigns (Abortion rights for example) I firmly believe that more should be done to link socialism republicanism to feminism. There exists a rich historical precedent for this connection in the organisations of the Irish Women Workers Union and Cumann na mBan, but it strikes me that this link has been severed for some time. As far as I know most organisations have a womens section, or a womens committee, or a womens officer, or all three — it is nigh time some form of overlap existed between the respective left organisations of a similar womens structure.

Public events and Unified Commemorations

Depending on which city you are in, different organisations come out for different things. I note that attendance for events such as May Day seems to be sporadic and seen as a “labour” thing. I firmly believe that the entire Republican movement should come out for International Workers Day with the same efficacy and passion as done for H-Block anniversaries and other events. Not only will this foster a more natural link to the trade union movement, but it will clearly vindicate the oft quoted Connolly quote that “Labour is the cause of Ireland.. the cause of Ireland is Labour”.

Additionally, I am likely not the only one who sees Easter Rising commemorations being duplicated as silly. It is time to consider and do our best to converge. The commemorative events belong to no one tradition or party, they never did, and never will. They belong to the sole and incorruptible inheritors of Ireland, the working class. In acknowledging that this is more complex than I have laid it out to be, I would propose it is started small and for events that are seen to be less significant, before culminating in larger and more grandiose events.

Electoral politics

Organisations have adopted differing strategies, ranging from total disengagement to running independent Councillors who are then members of organisations secretly. Whichever strategy it is, a level of collaboration already exists. We all know which Councillor or TD to approach and regularly do so. Perhaps the future could yield a common electoral strategy (including a policy of non-engagement or boycotting). The only way tor each that, however, is through discourse.

Self Defence, Health and Substance Abuse

Drinking culture is not a phenomenon that suddenly stops at the gates of political organisations. It has its tentacles everywhere. From rampant cocaine use to constant drinking, substance abuse is a plague on on our class and the many movements that fight for it. I think it would be hugely helpful for organisations to promote their members in training together in the same clubs, but equally so to posit a pro-health approach. We want our communities to be healthy, we want the people of Ireland to have long and disease/cancer/illness free lives. In order to do so, we must be a vanguard of change when it comes to cultural activities.

32 County Democratic Socialist Republic

Although it is highly unlikely that groups will agree on what a post-capitalist Ireland will look like, in my view that discussion should be taking place. Costello aptly identifies a constitutional assembly. I think we should be going further and considering a draft socialist constitution and logically, what consequences a new constitution would entail. Perhaps a commonly organised mock referendum on such a constitution?

Conclusion

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list and there are certainly subjects that are missing, it is a general overview of items that I would classify as priorities for class struggle. In identifying these issues, I would suggest that any further or consequential left unity should be issue based and any prior contradictions worked out beforehand, so that when it comes to action, the action is unified. One of the main failures of “left unity” in Ireland is that its proponents demand that it be abstract i.e don’t talk about the differences, focus on the common areas of agreement. This inevitably leads to splits and break ups of groups. I would propose that the chronology of such an approach is reversed. Issues are first discussed, the contradictions or differences explored and when common agreement is found, followed by activity. I was going to leave a list of organisations, but I’ll avoid that controversy for now and simply say that all Trotskyist organisations should be completely excluded.

I had COVID

Introduction 

I spent roughly 9 days at home recovering from COVID-19. It hit me like a moderate flu, with fevers, loss of smell, fatigue and a chesty cough. I bounced back quick enough and feel much better already. Laying about and scrolling the internet gave me much more time to think about what I call illusory issues.  These are issues that concern people, but on a balance of probabilities are not that important. They are made important by the over inflated traction they receive in the press and in the media. Suddenly, these issues go from being obscure issues, to primary issues, often pushing out more important problems that Irish society faces. But before I move into one such illusory issue, I’d like to re-affirm my commitment to obtaining a vaccine and denounce the smearing and conspiracy theories that have gone unchecked.  

I would like to express my complete support to the nurses, doctors, paramedics, porters, ambulance staff and every other worker who has worked through this pandemic. I know, and many of my readers know, that there is no conspiracy among you to conceal a highly infectious and deadly virus. I support you and will use my minimal platform to do what I can in that regard. 

Conspiracies are designed to make you panic 

Since the beginning of the pandemic (or should I say plandemic?) every sort of conspiracy theory has found its way to all parts of the internet. Indeed, I spent probably too much time engaging with many of these issues and it culminated in a permanent Facebook ban. My observation of many of them leads me to conclude that the theories / stories are designed not to provide a scientific of fact-based analysis of COVID-19, vaccinations, lockdowns, but to instil an emotional and psychological panic within the reader.   

Before commenting on some of the conspiracy theories, something else I observed – and perhaps others must, is that people have begun to interpret political, scientific and cultural changes through the lens of films I.e they jump to certain conclusions because cinematography has presented one or multiple issues in a certain light. There is even a relevant conspiracy theory associated with this, which I’ll comment on later. 

For example, one of the first stories that made the rounds was one that claimed that COVID-19 was in fact a bioweapon, designed to kill people. This story was repeated by Donald Trump and spread all over the English-speaking world. Numerous far right Irish YouTube grifters also repeated it and the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland had to take out a paid Sunday Business Post article to outline how the virus was neither ‘Chinese’ nor was it a biological weapon. As I said to a colleague of mine, if it was a weapon, it wasn’t very effective for most of the population. This conspiracy theory becomes relevant when we discuss conspiracy theories around vaccinations, because now, the focus is to panic people into thinking that the vaccinations are in fact the method of population control. More on this later. 

Another example of the absurdity of those against various regulations is attempting to link the roll out of high speed internet 5G to the spread of COVID. Indeed, last year, headbangers of a special variety attempted to explode a mast in Donegal only to later find out it was the Letterkenny hospital mast. The point however is that the panic underlying the conspiracy theory, led people perhaps with genuine concerns to act completely irrationally.  These attacks occurred all over the English speaking world, before quietly fading into obscurity (like many of the other conspiracy theories). To be clear, viruses don’t travel through mobile networks. 

Another example of absurd ideas is that COVID-19 and/or the vaccine are methods of population control because humans have polluted the planet.  This theory emanates from the wellness movement. In short, the wellness movement focuses on holistic and often anti-scientific methods of healing. One of the long-term overlapping theories that acted as a bridge between the wellness movement and the anti-mask/lockdown movement was their united opposition to vaccines, all of course based on debunked and outdated scientific claims linking vaccinations to autism / down syndrome.   

Another conspiracy theory revolves around Bill Gates. Why Bill Gates? I’m not entirely sure, but presumably because there exists a healthy working-class scepticism of NGOs and their objectives in relation to society.  As a Communist, I can state confidently that NGOs focus as a means of distracting people & resources from resolving issues caused by capitalism. Charities and NGOs are an industry and often function as a means of rewarding political allies of the establishment. This is all very clear and not conspiratorial – capitalists after all, do their business in the open. Back to Bill Gates, I think the stories about him began when he made comments about vaccinations and people needing them. The stories evolved into tales of microchips and brain control, or whatever the fuck, but that was their point of origin. There is actually a very simple explanation for why Bill Gates would support vaccinations. Are you ready for it?  Profit. Bill Gates is a capitalist. Capitalists are interested in getting wealthier. The manufacturing of vaccines, like many other medical supplies or medicines by the private sector, means they can be sold to people who need them at a rate of the private sectors choosing. In America for example, people die because they can’t afford insulin, because it’s private. That’s just one medicine of many.  So, fuck Bill Gates and all but fight him and his class because of their billionaire status achieved through exploitation, not because they’re drinking the blood of children to stay younger. 

One of the most prolific and original theories was a denial of the existence of COVID. It was just a flu, it wasn’t real, the numbers were falsified and so on. Some of my own relatives repeated these absurd stories, in Russian and English. The question arises, why were normal people bought into these theories. My explanation would be this: governments in most advanced capitalist countries are hated, despised and mistrusted, so when Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in coalition say something, our class gets a natural inclination to either do the opposite or believe the opposite. I get the sentiment completely. However, like any issue, one should apply a critical analysis to what is going on and ask themselves on what grounds they choose to believe or disbelieve something. Many people disbelieved the reality of COVID because somebody unqualified in the scientific community or disqualified from the scientific community spread misinformation. At what point does this scepticism end? When you go to your GP, do you challenge what their verdict is on your condition because you can diagnose yourself reading symptoms? Of course you don’t! That would be utterly ridiculous. 

When COVID continued to ravage communities and kill people, the conspiracy theories shifted to commenting about the lockdown and the vaccine. Theories about the lockdown talked about how fascism was on the way and so on. There is a small element of truth to this, the problem is, many of those who spread the stories about how lockdown would impact society did so based on what grifters on YouTube had told them. Personally, I closely followed the reports the Irish Council for Liberties released which gave a clear legal analysis of what kind of issues might arise from certain pieces of legislation.   

It became clear halfway through COVID that the biggest proponents of the lifting of lockdown were in fact corporations, hotels, bars and restaurants. Every single week you would have some sort of bleeding-heart story from a representative of big business talking about how their place of business is being killed. Of course, many of the newspapers didn’t bother to interview workers in a comparable rate, so the image one could get from reading newspaper and press coverage during the COVID period is the one that the Vintner’s Association want you to get.  

Fascist organisations such as the National Party adopted the positions of big business as well, demanding a re-opening of society under the slogan “Let Ireland Live”. Ironic statement from deniers of clerical abuses? Nevertheless, those who were anti-lockdown unwittingly (or willingly?) put forward the position of the very “big corporations” that they were claiming to resist in the pharmaceutical world.    

Although not a conspiracy theory, a common line put forward about the lockdown was that it wasn’t working. I cautiously agree with this statement but give it a different analysis. The 26 counties never had a “full” lockdown. Exceptions were made throughout the entirety of COVID. Whether it was for Keelings flying in migrant workers to exploit the fuck out of them, or letting Yanks come in from infested states so that they can do their tours of little ole’ Ireland, or whether it was Golfgate. Lockdown Ireland was done the way everything is done by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, arseways and full of contradictions and loopholes! Personally, I advocated for a complete lockdown Chinese style, one that would close businesses, provide support for workers and families and go forward with a robust tracing and testing programme that woul deliminate the ability of the virus to spread. 

The final conspiracy theory I wanted to touch on was the one that compared the rolling lockdowns and the introduction of mass vaccinations to being a Jew during Nazi Germany. Although the absurdity of it is obvious to many, unfortunately many people have repeated statements like this. An elected member of the 26 county parliament even did it and it’s honestly just repulsive.   The issues that surround the handling of COVID are in no way comparable to the systemic slaughter of Jewish, Gay, Roma and Slavic people and this comparison should not be invoked in this manner.   

Conclusion  

There are a lot of criticisms to be made of how the State and establishment handled COVID. They let people die in December so people could shop. They didn’t close traffic to Britain despite COVID hitting Western Europe. They didn’t question Cheltenham going ahead. They underfunded our health service since it’s been created to a point where it can just about handle a winter flu. They introduced questionable Garda powers of arrest and fining. Issue after issue exists – and all of it is widely commented on and discussed.   The central and primary issue that should concern everybody is the fact that countries which are considered “free” and “wealthy” collectively let hundreds of thousands of people die because they don’t give a fuck about them.  Our struggle is not a struggle for abstract and undefined calls for freedom, but for a very concrete changing of ownership of the political, economic and cultural levers of society, between capital and labour, between the exploiters and the exploited. If we had an economy that was run for the people, would our health services be so poorly run and susceptible to crashing under the weight of seasonal colds? If we had an economy for the people would housing be the issue that it is? These are all rhetorical questions – because the answer is no.

Death to the bourgeoisie!

Long live the class conscious working class!

Our Union Movement is Stagnating

Authors Note:

This piece should not be interpreted as a hit piece on trade unionism generally. This piece is a criticism of the failings of the Irish trade union movement. The criticism is penned with the hope that it is understood in good faith and rectified. Having said that, I doubt that Gerry Light or Patricia King will become radical revolutionaries any time soon, so I suppose the article is not for them.  This piece is for pissed off shop stewards. For worker organisers, for radical officials and for members of all unions.  It is for you to use your rulebook and begin to change your trade union. Use the criticism as a weapon against the class collaborators and take your union back to the philosophy of Connolly & Larkin!

Introduction

My experience draws on membership of four unions. Three of them are industrial, and one tenant’s union. They all operate in different ways, represent different workers and are differently sized. What they share is straightforward; they are all steadily losing members. Year in year out their presence among the workforce is becoming smaller and as a result, their bargaining power.

The reasons for this decline in membership can be broadly placed into two categories. 

  1. The trade unions have by and large abandoned all radical, non-conforming and militant organising. As a result, they have declined. 
  2. Trade unions all over the western world are entering a crisis, in part not of their doing and in another way, entirely their own doing. 

The two reasons can be elaborated and further surmised by stating the following:  since the death of James Connolly, the tradition of militant industrial struggle has dipped. In fact, I would go as far saying that the Limerick Soviet was the apex of industrial power in Ireland, and everything else after represented a march backwards. Although some might disagree with this assessment, stating that in 1972 almost one in every worker was a trade union member.  That is true, but trade union membership alone does not lead to socialism. Social Democratic countries with stronger collective bargaining rights by law have higher density rates than Ireland – but these unions are no more radical, no more political, and no more dangerous to the state than other Western capitalist countries with incredibly low membership rates and more stringent legislative trappings.  

Individuals v. Institutions

At this point, I would like to make the following comment. All the trade unions in Ireland have a small, but noted number of officials, members, representatives, and activists who are fantastic champions of our class. They tirelessly fight an uphill battle against craven class collaborators and saboteurs in their own union.  They can be counted on two hands, because they are few, and the fact is – they are losing. Every union in Ireland, except for two, is completely dominated by people who think the Labour Party are the inheritors of James Connolly and think inviting Leo Varadkar to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) congress is acceptable. As the sub-heading plainly shows, these individuals are not representative of their institutions. That is ultimately what is important when giving an assessment of the trade union movement. Let us begin.

What have Trade Unions Gotten Wrong?

This is not an exhaustive list. I have no doubt that those who have walked the corridors of union halls can add to it, but here is what my experience has taught me. 

  1. Trade Unions have too many well-paid officials 

A contentious point. Some of my friends in the union movement might not be too happy, or they might agree, but the bottom line is that anything upward of the industrial average wage (43,000 euro last I checked) creates a disconnect from other members.  My dad once summarised it in the following way when referring to his local Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) official: “How can the workers trust a ‘workers representative’ who pulls up in a Mercedes [of that year] and in an expensive suit tells them all about workers rights”.  I would be inclined to entirely agree. While you are still working class even if you earn 5,000 euro a month – you are not in the same bracket as most of your membership, and much like a “revolutionary” left TD who draws on a massive wage and lives in a massive house, you can easily begin to lose focus. It was only a few years ago that a well-known trade union official on 80,000 a year called ESB workers “spoilt”.  This issue of pay has been captured very well by another comrade of mine, who when seeing the make up of the Low Pay Commission and its Trade Union Representatives stated that, “There was nobody low paid on the low pay commission”. I do not know about anybody else, but I would struggle to trust anybody who draws on a 100k salary and talks about the worker’s struggle.

Lenin referred to this layer of working-class people as the aristocracy of labour and in this essay from a few years ago, reputed historian Eric Hobsbawn delves into detail into that subject. For further reading you can check it out here. (https://monthlyreview.org/2012/12/01/lenin-and-the-aristocracy-of-labor/

  1. Trade unions are not democratic as democratic as they should be.

Contrary to what unions themselves put out, many of them are exceptionally undemocratic. The influence of said well-paid officials is phenomenal. They can (and do) stop a balloted-for strike. They can make or break any campaign or initiative made by rank-and-file members. Officials that hold these positions are not elected, cannot be recalled, and essentially answers to nobody but the other officials of the trade union in corporate format. In some unions, certain branches have maintained a level of autonomy that allows them to keep afloat, but even then, those perverting the course of any radical activity have immense influence and power. Trade union officials have forgotten that our hard-earned dues through often genuinely really difficult work pay their wages.  

By contrast, consider the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (commonly known as the RMT). This trade union has a revolving set of industrial officials, which are directly elected for fixed terms. After serving their fixed term they resume their previous place of work or run for something else. Their officials can be recalled by their members. When I was given a tour of the headquarters by Eddie Dempsey a few years ago, I was provided a thorough breakdown of the mechanisms which made officials accountable to their members. 

  1. Trade Unions focus on legislative changes through political change rather than industrial militancy. 

Social partnerships are a fancy term for getting into bed with the State on pre-agreed terms and conditions. Even as I write this, senior officials in ICTU, particularly from SIPTU and Fórsa, are falling over each other to obtain a deal from the government and sell it to their own members. Social partnership is best characterized as class collaboration. It suspends and diverts union militancy in exchange for brokered deals. This flies in the face of the entire reason a union movement and unions should exist. Our trade union movement is our instrument to fight against the ruling class, instead, a vast part of this instrument has been turned into a negotiating tool for suits. 

4. Trade Unions are dominated by social democratic politics 

Since James Connolly was murdered, the trade union movement, led by his comrades, propped up the first Free State government through the Labour Party. The ensuing relationship that Labour maintained to the ITGWU and to ICTU completely poisoned all radical politics. This is well represented by the recent joint Labour-SIPTU commemoration of Connolly, where Alan Kelly, the landlord leader of the Labour Party, delivered his bullshit speech alongside Ethel Buckley, Deputy General Secretary of SIPTU. Both harped on about Connolly and his legacy whilst trying to justify their cowardly politics.  Even more entertaining was the fact that they had to stand behind special branch and a locked gate from a dozen CYM members who went there to protest their bastardization of the radical revolutionary. Every single trade union is bereft of communists and pilfered with class collaborators.  Most of them are obsessed with social partnership and pushing legislative changes while doing the least amount of work as possible. An organiser in one union recently told me that the officials call their members from private numbers to avoid handing out their phone number! This complete laziness, coupled with Labour Party-type politics has resulted in the political landscape and culture of trade unions to be outwardly social democratic, rather than being radical or revolutionary.

5. Trade Unions shun political education, for a reason.  

A couple of years ago, a senior trade union official strategically moved to cut out a known education group delivering political economy training to shop stewards and workers. He did this to make sure that said group could not deliver radical education in the union.  Another example is that of SIPTU College. On the face of it – it is a great idea.  An institute for working class people to develop their education and politics. The problem is the politics reflect SIPTU itself and can only be characterized as dogshit. The emphasis on negotiation, compromise and sitting at the table dominate the modules that are presented. The teachers themselves are integrated into the Labour Party and its politics. If you scratch through any of their Connolly talk, they are as radical as the Social Democrats.

6.Trade Unions are often anti-Republican in nature 

It remains a mystery to me as to why so many trade unions (despite for example claiming the mantle of a Republican in James Connolly) harbour such resentment towards the Republican movement and such antipathy towards discussion or advancement of the national question.  Institutionally ICTU tows the line which the Labour Party puts forward – which is that the Republican movement and the Unionist movement are two sides of the same coin, and we must strike a “third way”. This position is essentially the position of every half-baked social democrat in the country and one completely ambivalent to the question of imperialism. Republicanism is the direct result of the colonial plantation of Ireland, it is an emancipatory ideology rooted in seeing Ireland free and unfettered from foreign domination, whilst Unionism is the ideological justification for colonialism and imperialism. Ironically, many trade union officials with an antipathy for republicanism will still fly a Palestinian flag.

7.Unions don’t pay enough attention to migrants 

Although my experience is short in this field, I can safely say that the interest in migrant workers among the mainstream movement is minimal. Russian speakers have been completely abandoned to the worst excesses of capitalist exploitation and every day that goes by, more and more migrants are strategically recruited by agencies based in eastern Europe. The workers are sold a capitalist utopia where they will be able to live a happy ever after. The reality is that eastern European workers get caught in underfunded rural areas with no amenities slaving away in the factories of the beef barons and creating super profits. As all this occurs, the main trade unions that do have a presence in the meat and agri sector, sit idly by or worse yet, make deals that can only be described from bad to worse.

External factors that impact trade unions

Although the above reasons all focused on the issues within trade unions themselves, there are some external factors that should be considered when commenting on the state of the movement. 

  1. The 1990 Industrial Relation Act is central

The 1990 Act essentially prohibits political strikes and general strikes by re-categorising disputes as disputes pertaining to two parties and any actions having to be in “furtherance of the dispute”. Before any actions can take place there must be ample “negotiation” through various mechanisms, namely the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Labour Court. This means that any fire that workers might have had on the first of May, could be gone by November. A deal would then be brokered by the suits and before you know it half of the demands the workers desired are gone. Ironically, ICTU contributed and negotiated in the writing of this legislation, so make of that what you will. The correct position on the legislation is to support, campaign and fight for its abolition and although some unions have passed motions at their conferences to that effect – acting on said motion is an entirely different matter. Because of the way the legislation is structured, any activity seen to be or recognised by the Courts to be “in furtherance of an industrial dispute” but not following the procedures would be deemed to be not in accordance with the 1990 Act and therefore open to costly civil actions and remedies. Injunctions and damages are usually the main options for employers to hammer union finances with.

  1. Unions are declining in the West in general

Ireland is not the only country to experience stagnancy in the trade union movement. In the UK, US, Canada, etc it is much the same. Numbers have steadily declined since Thatcher-Reagan went on the offensive. Although their offensive cannot be ascribed to the unions, their response, or lack of it, can be.  The solution was to essentially surrender the militant edge of the working class in exchange for social partnership style national agreements, everywhere. This response, coupled with an aggressive offensive by the neoconservatives smashed many trade unions – some, like the miner’s union, never regained what they were, while others – cowed into submission moulded their unions into amicable NGO type organisations that would ask the legislature for things, rather than fighting.

  1. Anti-Communism has helped trade unions decline

Whether it is social democrats, Trotskyists, anarchists, or any other elements of the anti-communist left – they have advanced an anti-communist position and only fed it right into the hands of the right. This has made the staunchest advocates of militant trade unionism the scapegoats for many. It was not so long ago that Trotskyists of the Socialist Party variety engaged in a witch hunt in a trade union in Ireland after Communist Party members, ultimately expelling them in a show trial that would make their arch nemesis Josef Stalin blush.  Anti-communism in the English-speaking West maintains the isolation of any union member that openly states that they are a Communist. Unfortunately, this re-enforces the social democratic and tepid character of the union movement.

  1. Unions have embraced “apolitical” character

Centrist and liberal individuals within trade unions, i.e those who support the status quo, vote Fianna Fáil and Labour simultaneously attempt to paint themselves as above politics. As a result – you have trade unions posturing in a manner that suggests that they have no politics and, as a result, that political discussions do not belong in said union.  All this means in practice is that political alliances are made “informally” rather than being hashed out in the existing structures – party members of different groups/organisations pre-agree what they will push and do so. Everybody knows who in what is party and pushing what position, but it’s often pretended otherwise.

Conclusion

Although one could interpret this piece as an attack on the trade union movement, I would urge the reader instead to interpret it as my desire to improve and strengthen our union movement. To do so, a very honest assessment must be made of where our union movement is at.

It is high time we strive to take back the union movement from the watery Labour Party type suits and put the militant edge, law breaking, ass kicking and employer scaring culture back into our movement. This will require breaking the law, shattering ICTU bureaucracy, triple carding across multiple unions and fighting in a coherent and organised manner against the right-wing aristocracy of labour.

Why did Eastern Europeans leave after 1991?

Millions of Eastern European people upped and left their villages, towns, families friends and homes in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, they are dotted all over the world. In Ireland, the émigré community from the former Soviet Union continues to grow as Ukrainian workers, fleeing the decimation of their country at the hands of EU-US backed neoliberals continues to decimate the country. As somebody born in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Union into the dystopian hellscape of neoliberal democracy I would summarize the main reasons for the mass exodus as follows:

  • Mass privatization of all public infrastructure such as hospitals, factories, industries, orphanages, health clinics led to the closure of many of them
  • Immediate unemployment for many state industries that were privatized, leading to anti-social issues
  • Cessation of construction of public housing, leading to a homeless epidemic that was never seen before in that part of the world
  • Releasing of people with mental illnesses to cut the budget costs around health clinics and mental institutions
  • Closure of orphanages and child/teen homelessness
  • Collapse of all law and order and streets descending into war between rival gangs, often composed of military trained men
  • Decimation of pensions through currency inflation and speculation, leading to wipe outs of decades of pension savings for many older Soviet citizens
  • Revival of far right nationalism, notably in the Baltic Countries, Poland and Ukraine
  • Misinformation about a higher standard of living in the West

These are but some of the reasons, but the majority of them are regularly overlooked when we discuss why people migrated West. They also rarely come up in conversation with Eastern European émigrés. Although having said that, on the odd occasion that I have attended a CYM stall and been confronted by an angry Eastern European person about the Soviet flag, we did come to a mutual agreement that we were both migrants as a product of the failures of neoliberalism. Similarly, when I an article for Russianireland on the need for trade union representation among Eastern European, the telephone conversations I had after with people ringing me up had a lot of commentary regarding the poor working conditions found in Ireland and the exploitation that Eastern European migrants suffered.

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein is essentially a repackaging of what is already understood commonly understood by Marxists, but it does offer a useful guide in understanding what exactly occurs when an economy collapses, what actions the state takes and who do those actions benefit. In summary, the best way to understand what happened in Eastern Europe is to look at the economic changes made to Chile after the US supported fascist dictatorship took power.

The first prime minister of Estonia, who began his term in 1993, dubbed himself a “disciple of Thatcher” and was even awarded the Milton Friedman Prize. So you can generally guess what followed his term in government reflected exactly what Margaret Thatcher brought to the UK. If you commence a cursive Google search, you will find article after article talking about the “miraculous” transformation of the Estonian economy. These articles aren’t so far apart from the articles that came out about Ireland “coming out of the recession” and how much of a miracle it was. The main metrics for measuring success of course were not orientated around key social issues like homelessness, hospital beds, quality of work and cost of the living standard, but around the success of private enterprise. Is that beginning to sound familiar?

The 1992 Estonian parliamentary election paved the way for the first Republic of Estonia election. The winner of these elections was the ‘Fatherland Bloc’, a merger between multiple “conservative” and “nationalist” parties. This party promised to make a complete break with the socialist past and transform the Estonian economy into a market economy. In the case study “Estonia’s Way Into the EU” published by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs the point is made that the government needed to provide a “balanced budget”. When we hear this in Ireland, we know what that actually means. The government immediately targeted the State and it’s many services and cut. Unemployment exploded to 30-40% of the population while international capital, gobbling up newly privatized sectors of the economy, flooded the country. What did the Estonian state do? Well, the glossy eyed author of Estonia’s Way into the EU states that they froze unemployment benefits to “stimulate people to work” and began to finance initiatives that helped people set up their own businesses. This is again, comparable to the DSP’s programmes where they either throw money at employers through schemes like JobsBridge or actually provide funding for people to come off Jobseekers Payments in order to set up a small business. The next big task that the Estonian government did was begin an informal blockade of the Russian economy by refusing permits and licenses for barter and trade with Russian enterprise. All eyes on the West was the mantra.

The Estonian economy, like the economies of many small capitalist countries, including Ireland, began to be restructured away from manufacturing and industry, towards a service style economy. On this road, they then implemented the wet dream of libertarians everywhere, flat tax rates. This meant that whatever you earned, you were just taxed a flat rate on that amount, so whether wealthy or poor, you paid the same. This of course ties neatly back into the oft shouted ‘taxation is theft’ slogan that rebukes the right and role of the state to tax those on higher income brackets, a higher percentage. It perversely took the idea progressive taxation and inverted the Marxist concept of the labour theory of value to do this — you are entitled to your wealth, is what the Estonian government said. What this actually meant was the wealthy would keep a greater share of their wealth and continue paying dogshit wages.

One of the main think thanks that contributed to these early reforms was the Heritage Foundation, a self-identifying conservative think tank. Indeed, it is also on their page that you’ll find the analysis of the first Prime Minister of Estonia on this “Estonian economic miracle”. As he himself repeats, “radical cuts” were needed, and indeed, radical cuts were made. Cuts to state industry and the civil service, as well as a mantra of opening the Estonian economy, made Estonia the highest recipient of foreign capital in central and Eastern Europe in the late 1990s. All this rhetoric of miracles, balancing budgets and democracy would send any liberal into a tizzy.

The human cost of all these economic reforms is summarised in the bullet points at the beginning of this piece. Mass unemployment, rise of drug addiction, mass importation and distribution of heroin, the explosion of organised crime, a drop in the standard of living and of course emigration. When confronted with what was going on with the country they had lived in, ethnic Estonian and Russian-Estonian people began to pack their bags and leave. It is estimated that 20% of the Estonian population of 1.5 million left the country within the space of a few years. This is not so different to the waves of emigration in all other post Soviet countries which saw huge chunks of their people just up and leave. The position that these countries put out is that this is because of Communist rule rather than neoliberal shock therapy, but I would argue, that it is in fact, in reverse.

The chronic destruction of industry and social institutions lived up to the ‘disciple of Thatcher’ statements made, and this led to our families leaving. When many of these migrants first arrived to their country of destination they thought they would live out the American dream. Indeed, this illusion played a small role in why people fled West. They thought that once they got to the UK, Ireland, America and others, they’d be able to own their home, drive a nice car and never have to relive the horrors of neoliberalism again. I think that since 2008, for many Russian speaking migrants living in Ireland, this illusion has long been shattered. The austerity measures introduced to Ireland since 2008 virtually mirrored the austerity of the 1990s in Eastern Europe and that’s what it should always come back to when a discussion is had about Eastern European emigration to the West.

Why wear a mask? They won’t stop COVID.

Why wear shoes? It won’t stop a bigger piece of glass.

Why wear hats? It won’t stop your head from getting cold.

Why wear gloves? They won’t keep your hands warm forever.

Why wear clothes? They won’t always keep you warm.

Why wear a seatbelt? You may crash anyway.

Why wash your hands? There is bacteria everywhere.

Why wipe your arse? You’ll need to go to the toilet anyway.