Forget about platforms. Why not just do it?

Eamonn McCann thinks talking about change will have limited appeal unless it comes with a proposal for material change that people will be motivated to vote for:

History teaches that the only occasions when sizable numbers of Protestants and Catholics have detached themselves from communal allegiance to make common cause have been occasions when they came together to fight together – 1907, 1911, 1932 and onwards to 2010. There is no recorded case of any such thing happening as a result of people being preached at.

The struggle to realign politics along non-sectarian lines must have a material as well as a moral basis. It is precisely in defending the public sector against the ideological assaults of privateers, for whom the pursuit of profit is the only engine for driving society forward, that the material base can be found.

Every wave of cross-community action for the betterment of all has eventually receded, leaving the contours of the political terrain unchanged.

Cynicism re-emerges to ride high and proclaim that no new narratives are possible in Northern Ireland politics; that we are fated to live forever through nothing but the same old story.

And why? McCann’s answer is as entertaining as it is damning and direct:

One reason this happens is that that decent and well-meaning people who devoutly wish to be done with the ugliness of communal hostilities have no stomach for immersing themselves in the rowdy masses, either; wouldn’t be seen dead on a picket line against privatisation, think slashing the wages of public servants a jolly good thing and not before time, reckon that it’s a sign of Executive weakness that water charges weren’t brought in long ago, advocate the demonstrably nonsensical notion that the private sector (banks were private sector, right?) will always serve society better than public provision.

When it comes to turning ideals into material reality, too many in Platform for Change are to be found on the wrong side of the barricades.

They are guilty of the age-old Irish sin – the expectation of salvation without adopting the necessary means to attain it.

It’s a class thing.

, , ,

  • Dr Concitor

    Eamonn McCann is usually entertaining and direct. I don’t know about damming. The problem I have with this is that the public sector in NI is far from as efficient as it could be. Since direct rule it as been run by the S Antrim/N Down elite for their own ends. This needs reformed. I would be as happy as the next person to man the barricades but not to support a bloated public sector. The cuts are here.We need to unite make the best of what we’ve got.

  • Drumlins Rock

    the usual McCann Marxist drivel.

  • It’s the narrow orthodoxy that defines Eamonn’s barricades that I don’t fully buy. The reason that the left struggles to make it’s case – that collective action can be done by other more democratic social forces than commercial firms – is that it involves a faith-based adherence to a small clutch of models and campaigning instruments: The ‘public sector’ and bureaucratic trades unions (neither of which, I know, Eamonn buys himself).

    It’s a big long argument without easy answers, but there’s not much dynamism around the left, is there? I think Eamonn mistakes a willingness to go on a demo as dynamism and this is the problem with his argument.

    It’s not like its 1989 again either. History hasn’t just officially ended and liberal capitalism hasn’t just been shown to be the only option on the table.

    Quite the opposite. There’s plenty of reasons to be cheerful….

  • Johnny Boy

    Only Socialist fanaticism can move us away from religious fanaticism?

  • DC

    If economic capital is at the root of all other capital and is key to people’s voting patterns when push comes to shove, surely given Eamonn’s analysis there shouldn’t even be a need for a platform for change now as pretty much everyone should be status-quo unionists. Or at least pro-NI public sector infrastructure because of the jobs created as a result of it.

    As after all Ireland is close to bankruptcy, so should SF et al not just wind themselves up for the foreseeable?

    The key is to hatch a party through a cross-fertilization of identities and devise policy that is conceived with socio-economic benefits in mind, rather than crude group bids for resources.

    But in answer to your question, perhaps people have seen the attempts by Eamonn McCann?

  • DC

    Paul you should check out the work of Niklas Luhmann known for his sociology theory of interconnectedness – systems theory. And that of autopoiesis in particular. It is about how to interconnect at a social level within and between social systems as a means to achieve change – which I think converges on a lot of IT thinking – where the sociological meets the technical. Same outputs are in mind – connecting people better.

    On some of your drawbacks about Eamonn, a guy Bob Jessop explains the problems with the State as a means to achieve change. For instance, the economic not just being the economic alone, but it belonging hand in glove with the social. Therefore the social (with all its identities and classes and relationships) is the economic as well:

    Jessop’s major contribution to state theory is in treating the state not as an entity but as a social relation with differential strategic effects. This means that the state is not something with an essential, fixed property such as a neutral coordinator of different social interests, an autonomous corporate actor with its own bureaucratic goals and interests, or the ‘executive committee of the bourgeoisie’ as often described by pluralists, elitists/statists and conventional marxists respectively. Rather, what the state is essentially determined by is the nature of the wider social relations in which it is situated, especially the balance of social forces.

    The state can thus be understood as follows: First, the state has varied natures, apparatuses and boundaries according to its historical and geographical developments as well as its specific conjunctures. However, there is a strategic limit to this variation, imposed by the given balance of forces at specific time and space. Thus, second, the state has differential effects on various political and economic strategies in a way that some are more privileged than others, but at the same time, it is the interaction among these strategies that result in such exercise of state power.

    This approach is called the “strategic-relational approach” and can be considered as a creative extension and development of Marx’s concept of capital not as a thing but as a social relation and Antonio Gramsci’s and Nicos Poulantzas’s concept of the state as a social relation, something more than narrow political society.

    So the State is the legal, the politcial, the business, the financial, the worker, the unemployed, the aspirational etc etc. For us political people, to get a look in we need to accomodate all these different pulls and strains in a bid to attempt to shape outcomes differently, in Eamonn’s case to shift more money into the hands of the less well off than company CEOs.

    Not forgetting the fact of needing to be voted for and elected to do just that – given all those various vested interests working against you – as Eamonn himself has experienced on voting day.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    My father and uncle told me all about the Relief Riots in the 1930s. For many on the Left……although to be honest there are not many on the Left……..this was Norn Irons finest hour……as (in their imagination) the capitalist system quaked.So they have been looking for a cause celebre to get the working class united and start digging up cobble stones to throw at the forces of repression…..and make the front page of Socialist Worker.
    They came close in the late 1960s but the NILP quickly got away from the concept of Human Rights.
    And thats really about the level of committment from the Left Eamonn McCann can expect now.
    Eamonn might want to leave the bar early but the rest want to talk about it some more and start the socialist revolution when the pub closes.
    A nervous Establishment quakes.

  • Alan Maskey

    1. Ethnic Protesants and Catholics did NOT unite in 1907, 1911 and 1932. There was some cooperation amongast unskilled trade unionists where ethnic Catholic deep sea dockers from places like Ardoyne made common cause with some others, just as they might make common cause in peaceful times if a mob were going around mugging old ladies. This myth grew up in the early years of the Irish Free State to idolise James Connolly, himself a very fractious, divisive and, in the case of Belfast, marginalised character. 1916 made Connolly. If it had not existed, he would have had to invesnt it, which he did.

    2. Eamonn McCann makes a valid, if not necessarily correct argument. In a sense, the rabble should make common cause and OIRA/UVF and The General/LVF connections have probably paved the way in this. Oligarchs have more in common than what separates them so there should be no problem in getting a common class enemy for McCann. These could be built around the right to private education and to pay so as one’s kids do not have to mix with those of junkeys’ kids, unmarriwed mothers and the like.
    2a. But McCann is essentially on a hiding to nothing. The Irish, both ethnic denominations, are essentially conservative. Southern Labour’s headiest days were when the ITGWU, representing unskilled labour, hitched itself to the nationalist star, which was led by INTO/ASTI founders such as De Valera and Thomas 1916 McDonagh. Belfast’s headiest days of Titanic etc building were built around the semi feudal Big House idea where the serfs/skilled trade unionists did their masters’ biddiing, even going lemming like to places like the Somme on their behalf.
    3. Today, large swathes of the ethnic Catholics, as shown on the USI demo videos, have posh accents, are well groomed, want to wear designer fashions and go on cheap overseas holidays where they want to have lots of sex partners before they settle down and divorce. I don’t see where McCann’s utopia fits into that and I would imagine he does not either.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Alan, your slipping, that was more or less a concise well constructed argument, certainly of a much higher standard than McCann’s drivel, keep this up and you will have blown you cover as a nutt case completely.

  • The Raven

    And yet….

    “advocate the demonstrably nonsensical notion that the private sector (banks were private sector, right?) will always serve society better than public provision.”

    …one cannot help but agree, everytime something is handed to the “private sector” for public benefit, the customer always gets shafted…or am I missing examples of where private profit from public service has been for the greater good of all and actually delivered….?

  • DC

    Yes I can – whenever NIE or the power stations were privatised.

    Efficiencies in staffing were achieved from 700 down to 70-80 at the moment in the power station at Kilroot for example – and production costs have dropped. Numbers have dropped because it is far more efficiently run, this proven to be the case as there hasn’t been much in the way of technological change or operational change inside the plant in terms of how the electricity is actually produced.

  • DC

    But I suppose you could actually re-nationalise it now – the power stations that is – particular after it being preened. The local government could re-capture the profits that otherwise would have gone to shareholders – then wait a decade before selling it off again.

    It’s all about the sort of investment needed and changes required. Outsourcing should be followed by insourcing when public services and functions are believed to have reached a more acceptable level of performance – if not at optimal level.

    Trouble is at the moment – it’s all one way. Private, more private and even more private.

  • DC

    I think it’s time to give Eamonn McCann a let’s do it policy option:

    Slashing public sector workers wages to find the additional £200 million to protect regional benefits (housing benefit etc) here against the proposed Tory cuts to them under IDS.

    Eamonn you decide.

  • Dr Concitor

    DC even NIE didn’t over man by a factor of 10, a substantial portion of the staff reduction is due to bringing in private contractors, so the staff are there but not on AES’s books.
    I agree in general that privatising the power stations has saved money. By the way they used to call Ballylumford ‘Treasure Island’

  • The Raven

    …what Dr Concitor said. I also have problems with a near-monopoly being used as an example.

    Any others?

  • DC

    Some people are never happy:

    How about Sealink British Ferries being taken over by Stena Line, providing an improvement in ferry transport:

  • Simbo

    The problem with shifting money from CEOs to the less well off is that money is not wealth, it is tokens of exchange, cowry shells if you like. Wealth is created by economic activity, labour, entrepreneurship and investment (i.e. delayed gratification). If you want the less well off to have more wealth then taking money (cowry shells) from investors and giving them to people who produce little in terms of exchange value is not necessarily the most effective way of going about it. It does not bring more food, plasma TVs, cancer drugs or trainers into existence, and might cause less to be produced. The wealth pie is not a fixed entity to be shared out. Fiscal policy alters the size of the pie itself. Entrepreneurs also make the poor better off, not just governments, by employing them but also largely by finding cheaper mays to produce the same or a greater number of goods, which they can buy.

    There may be good arguments for tax and spend on the less well off, but equality isn’t one of them. Equality in and off itself doesn’t make anyone better off.

    The Guardian goes on about FTSE 100 CEO pay as if such a thing matters. These are literally 100 people out of a population of 62 million. If equality is the game concerning ourselves with these 100 people who earn usually a single figure number of million pounds a year apiece is about as important to the Gini coefficient as the national lottery. Banning the national lottery would do more to reduce inequality in the UK than anything the government could realistically do about the pay of these 100 people.

  • Thanks DC – I learned something there and I suspect I’d find a lot to like in your pointers. I’m familiar with Systems Thinking (but not much of the literature) and I wonder how far that’s what you’re talking about (my job to find out!).

    I don’t know if what you’ve outlined leads to notions like Social Capital / Bridging Capital etc, but thanks for the leads. Will follow them up.

  • DC

    Paul here is a brief Wiki concept of the theory:

    Systems theory

    Luhmann’s systems theory focuses on three topics, which are interconnected in his entire work.[6]

    1.Systems theory as societal theory
    2.Communication theory and
    3.Evolution theory

    The core element of Luhmann’s theory is communication.

    Then this:

    A system is defined by a boundary between itself and its environment, dividing it from an infinitely complex, or (colloquially) chaotic, exterior. The interior of the system is thus a zone of reduced complexity: Communication within a system operates by selecting only a limited amount of all information available outside.


    The criterion according to which information is selected and processed is meaning. Both social systems and psychical or personal systemsoperate by processing meaning.

    So there is the overlap, IT is about information technology – connecting up information *communications* between people. So if you could link up enough meaningful communications within and between decision makers in particular and provide them with this meaning – in this instance make them see the sense in not slashing public services or reducing benefits through rationale and merit alone – different decisions could be made. All as a result of reasoning through meaning, basically not just understanding the message but accepting it also.

    So going back to your original point about barricades, Eamonn McCann’s work is largely fruitless unless he can get his message out to people – decision makers – not just through participating in the political system himself but extending it out so that people take from his message a sense – a meaning – that his rationale is right and the right thing to maintain social cohesion through reducing say poverty for instance, etc.

    Hope I’ve managed to explain myself somewhat.