Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

Posts Tagged ‘Irish anarchism

Alan MacSimóin 1957-2018

leave a comment »

Glasnevin Cemetery 13/12/2018

Alan MacSimóin with Mary Muldowney [Photo: Donal Higgins]

When a photo of Alan MacSimóin appeared on my phone screen on the morning of December 5th, 2018 I wondered if, perhaps, Alan was on his way to Cork. Occasionally, he would ring earlyish in the day to say he would be in Cork around lunch time, if one of his jobs took him in our direction. Admittedly, it was less common in recent years but that’s what came to mind when I saw his photo. I thought, great, it would nice to see him and have a chat. However, as soon as I heard dear Mary Muldowney’s voice I realised that something serious might be wrong. I still didn’t fear the worst, it didn’t even occure to me, but I was wrong.

In the days since the news broke of his death there has been outpouring of affection for Alan online and elsewhere. Some beautiful, lovely and appropriate things have been said about him, that to some extent underline the impact that he had on our lives and the high esteem in which he was held by so many people around Dublin, in the wider political community and, of course, by his many, many comrades in the anarchist and socialist movements, here in Ireland and around the world.

Today, however, we are here to say goodbye to Alan. It seems fitting then to talk about his outstanding qualities which I believe will ensure that he lives on in our lives and memories long into the future.

A Dangerous Dreamer

It is not often said about Alan, but in fact I think it was central to who he was and to his life: Alan was a dreamer. He was a dreamer of the most dangerous and beautiful type because he believed in the ability and capacity of ordinary people to change this world for the better. He knew of and could speak about many instances when ordinary people, the working class, had done this, and it was that vision, dream if you like, that in a sense was the light along the road he took. 

To each according to their need, from each according to their ability. That is what he subscribed to. It is a phrase worth dwelling on for it holds within it the basis for a just and non-destructive existence on this planet. When Alan first got active in politics, which, has been pointed out elsewhere, was at a young age, he was coming into political life when optimism for change was growing and the potential of activism seemed high. He leaves us at a time when inequality has reached criminal proportions, when the future destruction of life on this planet has become a real possibility to all but the obtuse. The problems we see around us now, Alan would have laid rightly at the door of capitalism and I think he was right.

Anarchism or Marxism? [Talk in Cork, 2015]

But he saw an alternative and he spent much of his life working for this, helping in whatever way he could to popularise hope and to convince those around him that, in the words of the anarchist Proudhon, “The great are only great because we are on our knees, arise”.

Alan was an anarchist, and in that movement the Spanish anarchists have a special place. So, it is to them that I turn to put this to you more succinctly. Shortly before he was killed in the famous defence of Madrid, the same battle that was to give us the immortal words “No Pasaran”, words that now seem very relevant in our lives once again, the anarchist activist Buenaventura Durruti was asked for his views on the difficult matter of building a new society. Contrasting the destruction wrought by the Civil War with the high goals they were fighting for, Durruti said that more than anything else, ‘He had a new world in his heart’ and ‘that it was growing at that very minute’.  I believe this is entirely accurate of Alan too: he had a new world in his heart.


At the same time, Alan was an immensely practical man; some might say too practical. Many will have seen this side of him. While it is true to say that you cannot go anywhere without a dream of what the future should look like, Alan’s view was that you had to ground your politics in the practical. We have only to look at his own contribution over many decades to know that this was not just words with him. He opposed racism, fought sexism, fought for women’s liberation, opposed imperialism. However, he was perhaps nowhere as committed as with the struggle of his fellow and sister workers. He was a worker of course and throughout his life an active trade unionist. He was involved in countless solidarity and support events for other workers, those in unions and not in them. His contribution in this area is legendary and will never be forgotten. It is a contribution underlined by the honour bestowed on him today by SIPTU in providing Alan with a guard of honour on this his final journey.

But he was practical in a different sense too. When a number of us began meeting to consider the idea of setting up an anarchist organisation here in Ireland, it was Alan who insisted on the idea that we should plan the process, take our time and be clear about what we wanted. He was the one who rooted the movement in its early days in an appreciation of what being organised entailed.  I know when I first got involved with this project, I was enthusiastic but without any real sense about what to do about anything. In the early days Alan was central in setting a course that took us immediately in the right direction. I believe that this will be one of his lasting contributions to the movement that he played such an important role in.

Workers Solidarity

He had a magnificent grasp of what the world was like and wasn’t under any illusions. He more or less wrote the trade union paper for the organisation, the Workers Solidarity Movement and several others too. Which leads me on to another aspect of Alan and this was his intelligence, depth and wealth of knowledge. Which I might add he gave of willingly and which we spent freely. I have to say it was only occasionally in later years that I thought about the possibility of him not being there one day. Now that time has come.

I asked a number of people who knew Alan about what they thought about him and one of the responses that I frequently received was, ‘I learned a huge amount from him’ Or ‘he knew such a lot’.  I think this was another somewhat underappreciated side to him. Being a socialist or anarchist is about having the courage to stand up and fight for justice, but it is also about education. It is important to explain, teach and share your knowledge and he excelled at that. He fundamentally believed that changing the world involved convincing people that socialist and anarchist ideas were the ones to live your life by.

During one of his final working visits to Cork, so to speak, we invited him to talk about the engaging subject of anarchism and marxism. I was once again struck by how comfortable he was talking about what is a complex question. He was funny and immensely knowledgeable. He used the occasion to take a few swipes at those who were, he said, ‘blissfully ignorant of reality’. He was entertaining and it was easy to see that he enjoyed giving the talk too, sharing what he felt where the lessons of history in an open way.

Alan was always prepared to play his part. He was ready to stand on a picket line on a cold winter’s morning or to hand out leaflets to passers-by outside the GPO on a Saturday afternoon. But he complemented that practical activism with regular contributions on matters concerning strategy and tactics. If a campaign or struggle was not going to succeed, he was often one of the first to call time on the effort. Not because he no longer believed in the justice of the issue but rather because he preferred to put his resources into activities that could materially and politically advance the ideas that he believed in. He suffered defeats but he was a vital part of a number of very important victories. Two stand out and need to be noted: his involvement in the national anti-water tax campaign which succeeded in stopping austerity and, secondly, his involved with Repeal 8th. He played an important role in both these victories as an activist and as an organiser.


In the early days we used to tease by saying things to him things like, ‘So Alan, what was it really like during the Paris Commune? Or did you know any of the sans culottes.’ And when he’d refuse to answer we’d move on and say to him. ‘Well if you won’t talk about the Paris Commune then at least tell us about the Russian Revolution.’ I guess this was a roundabout way of acknowledging his wisdom.

I would like to particularly thank Mary Muldowney, Alan’s sweetheart and soulmate, and Alan’s close family, all his children and loved ones, for minding Alan for us all over these years. Alan loved politics but politics can be a hard business and it has its ups and down. Alan loved his family and they meant everything to him. We are grateful for the love and support they gave him over many decades of activism.

To return then finally to what I said at the outset, Alan was a dreamer so let us keep his dream alive and continue the struggle for it. The spirit of revolt lives on and will always live on, comrades, family and friends. As will Alan’s memory. His contribution is assured, his place in our history is a given.

It is with the greatest sadness then that I say goodbye to my closest friend and comrade, a gentle revolutionary who gave an inestimable amount to our movement and to the cause of the oppressed.

Slán, goodbye, adios and adieu, Alan.

Kevin Doyle


Glasnevin Cemetery

Biographical: Captain Jack White (1879-1946)

leave a comment »

JWI saw red; and when I see red I have got to get into the fight. I offered to speak for the strikers in Beresford Place, the open space outside the Transport Union Headquarters, Liberty Hall, and my offer was welcomed. The sands of my gentility had run out. (Debut in Dublin, Misfit, 1930)

Full version here.  First published (July 2001)

Note: A biographical sketch of Captain Jack White.  Picture shows the gravestone of the White family in Broughshane, Co Antrim. Jack White was the son of Sir George Stuart White, the Hero of Ladysmith.  Unlike his father, Jack White was a revolutionary and was a founder member of the Irish Citizen Army along with James Connolly.

Related Links:

Anarchism, Ireland and the WSM

with 12 comments

Protest at Anglo Irish Bank, Cork

Ye Made A Balls Of Our Gaff! 

The current crisis in Irish society has taken many of us by surprise.  The scale of the social and economic reversal is one thing, but the manner in which the establishment has turned what was an unpredictable economic meltdown into a serious position of advantage has also been disconcerting.  Not surprisingly people have been throwing their hands in the air and wondering aloud about ‘what it will take’ before we all get up off our knees.  The not inconsiderable demoralisation that has resulted has found expression in claims that the ‘left’ is in crisis.

The anarchist movement has not of course remained immune from any of this.  The lack of any serious fight back has seriously undermined morale.  Moreover the scale of this and the profound implications of what it indicates have exposed serious weaknesses in our own analysis and practice.  While this is sobering and could be turned to some advantage, there is a developing sense also that there is no longer a clear understanding about how to move forward.  I believe this, in part, is to do with the poor state of the WSM as we entered this crisis.  It is one thing to face into a storm with a readied ship, it is another entirely to look up and see that your sails are in tatters.

The WSM, the main anarchist organisation in Ireland, then is at the heart of much of the paralysis.  It continues to limp on in this difficult climate and it continues to do some things well – a fact that reflects hugely on the commitment of its members.  But the recent Household and Water Tax Campaign has also shown that the organisation has become close to irrelevant in terms of its ability to influence the business end of radical politics.  This is not a place where anyone of us ever expected to be.  While some – for their own reasons – are careful to downplay the crisis, the prognosis, I believe, will not improve until the past is discussed, examined and faced up.  To that end this contribution is added.


Two significant analyses on the state of the WSM have so far emerged.  The WSM and Anarchism: A Political Analysis [1] (referred herein as the WSM and Anarchism) was written by JoB.  Although containing some historical background, WSM and Anarchism is largely concerned with period of the 00s, and the experience and politics of the WSM in that time.  Since it ends fairly precipitously with a rejection of anarchism – the author left the WSM prior to writing WSM and Anarchism – it has suffered the fate of many a heretical document and been cast aside quite quickly by some.  Nevertheless it contains many valid points and has been vital in generating awareness of what the divisions that arose in the WSM in the 00s amounted to.

The WSM and Fighting The Last War [2]  (herein Fighting The Last War) was written by AnF and is titled a reply to WSM and Anarchism.  Extremely long, it is in part an item by item ‘this is why you are wrong and I was right’ exposition on the various points covered by WSM and Anarchism.  It is not clear if Fighting The Last War was initially written as an official WSM response to WSM and Anarchism but to my knowledge it has not; that certainly is positive.

However it is important to note too that Fighting the Last War is more than a reply to the WSM and Anarchism.  It moves on to address the general crisis now facing the left (anarchism in particular) suggesting that the current political basis for WSM activity (and for political activity in general) is no longer sound.  As a result it concludes with an exhortation for the creation of a new model of revolutionary organisation.

A note before continuing on.  It is not my intention here to attempt cover both documents in their totality.  There is a huge amount in each and a lot of material is touched on that I believe is not necessarily central to the main debate any longer.  So this will be, for the most part, a limited and personal assessment of what both these documents have to say regarding where we find ourselves now and where to go from here.


Political badges from campaigns in Ireland in 80s and 90s

Led to stagnation?

In the course of WSM and Anarchism, a number of observations are made about the development of the WSM.  (In passing it should be noted that these observations largely relate to Dublin, where the WSM grew to a few branch in strength before shrinking again.)  The author has set out his account in order to give context to his involvement with the WSM and his ultimate frustration with how it orientated itself – hence his decision to leave.  But his account is nonetheless useful in that it attempts to understand the WSM in terms of the political influences that were active within it during this period and what they were saying.  The main points of interest, it seems to me, as contended by the author, are as follows:

  1. The Platformist basis of the WSM had got the anarchist movement so far.  The organisation was coherent but a consequence of the strategy was that the WSM remained small in size.  It is argued that by 2001 – the WSM was formed in 1984 – the organisation was stagnating.
  2. With the new millennium (but with an uneven and unclear level of consciousness in the existing WSM membership) the organisation moved away from the previous Platformist/ tight model.  Growth (in numbers) became more important and the level of political agreement (needed for membership) was gradually lowered.
  3. The period 2001-2005 was one of high relative activity for the WSM.  More people joined and the new process – Point 2 above – accelerated during this period.   However the new members were not embedded into any level of trade union work – an identified priority for the WSM.  Moreover, according to the account “it was doubtful if a single member was checked for their understanding of anarchism during this period”.
  4. By 2009 coherency had diminished in the WSM organisation.  Two poles of general emphasis existed in the Dublin WSM.  One favoured a reorientation mainly back to the idea of building within the trade unions; the other favoured a continued orientation towards the ‘libertarian milieu’, which was to an extent the basis for a great deal of the activism engaged in during the 2001-5 period.  This schism gradually widened and deepened as Ireland’s crisis unfolded.
  5. By 2010, three factors were to the fore in the organisation.  A move to adjust recruitment in the direction of ‘tighter’ criteria in order to improve effectiveness and affect a move away from the ‘libertarian milieu’ was proposed but defeated.  Education work was proving to be ineffectual in terms of dealing with the different understandings of the role and purpose of the WSM.  Thirdly, the role of the organisation itself was becoming unclear.  Should it initiate and lead the way in the small number of skirmishes that were breaking out here and there as austerity took hold?  Or was that a waste of time and should the organisation regroup around its original analysis of the central role of class influence, recognise the obvious and pull back to a more sustainable level of activity?
  6. Matters as such didn’t come to a head as one might expect or as they often do in other organisations/ traditions.  Instead the (politically) broad non-libertarian milieu/ class struggle angle fractured.  A section wanted to refocus the anarchist agenda on an entirely new initiative.  This would shift activism back towards mainstream politics via the creation of a new populist organisation stressing the need for democracy and the need to fight inequality.  This section, arranged around ‘the Breaking The Anchor’ [3] document, did not muster enough support from its proposal and increasingly disenchanted with everyday activity, left or resigned in piecemeal.  In time the small remaining class struggle/ Platformist section in Dublin also pulled away.


Fighting The Last War, as said above, is two separate though linked documents.  Part 1 mainly deals with the WSM and Anarchism.   As mentioned above, I do not intend to comb through all the arguments examined in this document.  The central contended points, it seems to me, are as follows:

  1. The suggestion that the WSM fracture along a class struggle v activism/ libertarian milieu divide is not true.  False Division – Summit Protest or Unions (1-III) argues that there was collective consensus most of the time about the direction that the WSM took in the 00s and, also, that whatever was done in the direction of the libertarian milieu was easily counter-balanced by other organisational efforts focused on the class struggle.  (A number of examples are given but one would be the WSM’s commitment to making its paper Workers Solidarity a free mass-distributed class-struggle paper.)
  2. In section 1-III it is accepted though that there was a shift in the early 00s as follows within the WSM.  (A modicum of agreement here, you might say.)  Fighting The Last War explains though that this shift was on sound grounds since revolutionary organisations need “to adapt to the actual situation they find themselves in rather than acting as if there were somewhere else”.  It continues: “… there was little or no significant workplace struggle and little or no activity at the base of the unions. But … thousands of mostly young people where being drawn to a broad anti-capitalist politics by international events, in particular the summit protests. Many of these people were either already self defining as anarchists or adopting broadly anarchist organisational methods – in short they were a willing audience for our ideas.”
  3. Fighting The Last War goes on to contend (“misleading”, “skewed analysis”, “selective” in examples etc) that the WSM and Anarchism either wilfully misleads us or simple lacks an understanding of the politics ongoing in the WSM during this period and that this accounts for the interpretation it places on this period and what happened. Whereas in fact – according to Fighting The Last War – the activities in the 2001-5  period, gave very positive outcomes.  Thus: “[Our] … success  … was responsible for the large and sudden growth in numbers that took place at the end of this period. With person after person who joined the reason given for doing so was because they had been working alongside us and observed how we were able to collectively pull together to make sure that what needed to be argued and done to build the movement was carried through.”
  4. Chronologically we now enter the period in which the WSM according to WSM and Anarchism, though raised in numbers, lacked any realistic plan or strategy for moving forward.  There is some agreement between the two documents here with Fighting the Last War pointing out about this period: “But the tide had retreated and it was only a question of time before we would be stranded, our real failure, and perhaps in the circumstances it was inevitable, was [not – kd] to prepare those new members for the low period of routine activity that was to come.”
  5. Initiatives that attempted to recreate some of the successes of the 2001-5 period were proposed and acted on in due course – the Social Solidarity Network being one.  Fighting The Last War importantly maintains that even with this initiative the WSM still focused a great deal of its real energy on standard class struggle politics.  Hence its claim that the divisions adduced in WSM and Anarchism are quite exaggerated.
  6. Nevertheless there is commentary in Fighting The Last War on the tense atmosphere that had developed in the Dublin WSM when the following is said: “Organisationally we failed to deal with the awful dynamics in the branch until eventually it got to such a crisis point that the branch itself had to perform an intervention. It is probable that the failure to intervene earlier led to the resignation of at least one member from the WSM (who said she found the atmosphere too distressing) and at least 3 members of that branch invented excuses for why they had to transfer to other branches. Others stopped coming to meetings for a period. It’s really quite odd to see those dynamics held up as some sort of model.”  So clear difficulties existed, but both documents – to a much lesser degree WSM and Anarchism – downgrade them almost to the category of personality-driven.
  7. In I-VII of Fighting The Last War the controversial topic of membership and what it amounted to is addressed.  Reading this section it is clear that quite substantially different positions now existed in the WSM.  Though the significance of this is questioned by Fighting The Last War.  Nevertheless it notes about the attempt to tighten up membership: “… in effect [this proposal]… would have moved us back towards being a small cadre organisation directed at making arguments to the existing left.”  A view point better explained by this assessment further on: “Most of all though many of us thought the existing membership system wasn’t broken…. In the period we are talking of around 100 people joined the WSM, one mistake is not a significant problem. Trying to create a system that is water tight in every single case will almost always introduce negative consequences that are considerably worse in impact then the occasional unsuitable person becoming a member for a brief period.”

Cork WSM

Cork Shell 2 Sea activists blocade the Shell Depot in the Marina, Cork

Anarchists were prominent in Shell 2 Sea

It is worth noting at this point that the Cork Branch – which grew to a sizable number at one time also – showed a similar pattern of development over the same period.  My recollection is that the internal discussions, albeit unevenly and irregularly, reflected some of the above, but there was no hardening into definite factions as – it would seem – occurred in time in Dublin.  However Cork in the 00s (in line with the WSM as a whole) developed a strong activism leaning and also moved enthusiastically to a more open membership basis.  A consequence was that many joined but a good number left again in time: the very real problem being the inability to find a tangible and realistic political activity which would full-fill the requirements of short and long terms goals.  The IWU had potential but was not straight-forward, nor is it even now.  Moreover a substantial part of the Cork membership came from among students and the libertarian quarter.  Neither were necessarily adverse to class struggle – indeed many accepted that it was this that grounded the WSM as an organisation – but they were in reality once if not twice removed from it in terms of it having any relevant to their present political activity.  Indeed the real issue to my mind – more obvious in Cork as it is a smaller place – was the inability to move outside the ghetto of the far left and small bubble that that creates for itself.  Perhaps this would’ve come in time or with time, though it is hard to know.

One aspect of Cork WSM’s development was the active pursuit of the book shop idea (not an alternative space as such).  There were many positives in this initiative, but ultimately even here the vision was unclear (or perhaps underdeveloped) in terms of how it exactly complemented the WSM’s priorities.  It has remained an activity for the WSM but it has also assisted in Cork WSM avoiding the real problem in its politics which became quite evident in the important CAHWT campaign.


Returning to the two documents.  If the WSM and Anarchism attempts to unpick the superficial unity of the WSM in the 00s in order to indicate that there were in actual fact significant political divisions in the organisation that widened with time, Fight The Last War largely attempts to claim otherwise.  Fighting The Last War is in fact an aggrieved polemic.  Some of this is justified of course, but a good deal isn’t either.  One of the slights that has arisen is the WSM and Anarchism’s assertion that a significant faction within the Dublin WSM in effect abandoned class-struggle politics for the sanctuary of the libertarian milieu.  This of course is a harsh accusation and is unacceptable to many who supported initiatives such as the Social Solidarity Network.  Fighting the Last War insists – rightly I think – that the WSM never formally endorsed (at conference) any such shifts and in any case, it argues, there was always plenty of focus on the class struggle side of things.  But as we all know (and this is where WSM and Anarchism has a strong case) that with regard to much in life, the exact emphasis that is placed on a particular initiative can be everything.   One can agree to partake in a project but is one’s heart in it?  In other words a concrete choice may not be taken – as say was the case in Dublin WSM – but one can still end up going in one direction for the most part.

Did You Hear Me?

Between the two documents then, who is right?  To some extent the answer is given emphatically by what has happened since – further decline and marginalisation has been the order of the day for the WSM.  Also, for me, the WSM and Anarchism is simply a more plausible and believable account of the past than Fighting The Last War.  Leaving aside the key arguments – real organisation orientation, membership criteria, hollowing out of the centrality of the Platform etc – WSM and Anarchism presents us with a framework around which we can understand better what has happened in the WSM.   Whereas in Fighting The Last War we are told that the alleged differences (the minority/ majority split) are exaggerated and that nothing as clear cut as is suggested ever actually happened in practice.  It is even suggested in regard to some aspects also that the author of WSM and Anarchism is wilfully misleading us or that he doesn’t actually understand key aspects of what was going in the WSM when he was in it?  Is that really plausible?  For me it certainly isn’t.

WSM and Anarchism points to serious and real differences – exaggerated perhaps but significant nonetheless – developing in the WSM.  To some extent the nature of these remained hidden because some of the significant defections from the WSM occurred quietly in the end.  In other words there was never an open choice put to WSM members, nor was there a precise time at which one could opt to go one way or the other.  The absence of any formal split – even though it was talked about – allowed the pretence at the heart of Fighting The Last War to persist.

For the WSM and Anarchism the way forward is a rejection of anarchism itself and the document ends with such a declaration.  But what of Fighting The Last War?  Note that this document in the main asserts that much of what was deemed to be problematic in the WSM in the OOs was not really so.  In fact in some ways the WSM in this period was making a lot of the right decisions, it argues.  Fighting The Last War, to me then, is also a defence of the WSM as it was in the period leading into the beginning of the economic meltdown.  In effect it dismisses the main contentions of WSM and Anarchism:

  • That the loosening of membership criteria to the point that it seriously affected cohesion was a mistake and ill-considered.
  • That the emphasis towards the libertarian milieu and activism without end was also mistaken and ill-judged and contributed to a practical unwillingness in the WSM to re-analyse where it was in terms of the long term project.

But ultimately Fighting The Last War cannot hide from reality either.  Something is wrong, it realises, and it alludes to this here and there in the course of its arguments (as set out in its Part 1).  For Fighting The Last War the big test – when the penny dropped so to speak – was the period before and around the Occupy moment.  (What moment, you may well ask?)  It wonders, using a cumbersome surfing/tsunami analogy that I will not pursue here as to

“… how could the organisation [WSM] have failed so badly as to almost not notice the size of the wave bearing down on it and worse still be distracted by trivial debates about ‘activism’ or ‘lifestylism’. Most members in 2009 were very resistant to the proposal that the organisation might need to move onto a war footing, just as most people at the 2008 Grassroots Gathering in Cork had been similarly resistant. The few voices that cried ‘shut up and look at the size of the fucking waves’ were ignored or perhaps quietly sniggered at.  In retrospect its (sic) clear that in any case neither the WSM nor anyone else on the Irish left was remotely approaching the level of preparedness needed to have a hope at successfully surfing that wave in to the beach.”

Free The Old Head Protest, Cork

In Vain?

Concluding on this in general, Fighting The Last War in a rare note of agreement with WSM and Anarchism actually states that:

“[There is] … the sense that our experiences demonstrate that the methods of the WSM and perhaps anarchism in general cannot achieve what we set out to.  Here, in these most broad terms [WSM and Anarchism] is correct.”

Leading onto:

“If so far I have seemed to defend the actions of the past it is solely to establish an accurate base from which to critique those same actions – one that can be used to start to uncover the real outline of what a revolutionary organisation should look like in the modern networked age.”


So what is proposed by Fighting The Last War?  The answer it seems has to do with the fact that we have for some time been entering – we could even be in without ever having known it – a new paradigm in politics.  Chiapas, Anti-Capitalism, Occupy, Why It’s Not (meant – kd) Kicking Off Everywhere and the Internet all mark the boundaries of this new force field.

In 2013, efforts were still ongoing to recreacte the Occupy spirit.

Occupy Again

According to Fighting The Last War it is important to bear in mind that fundamentals have changed and there is no pointing hankering over any of that or this anymore.  Some of what animates what is proposed in this section (2-III) is tied in with a thought process that now sees the ‘system’ having decisive control over society.  The problem is that the ‘system’ can be just about anything.  Thus we get:

“Even in Greece dissent is being successfully channelled into the electoralism of Syriza while in the wings Golden Dawn is being prepared ‘just in case’.”

There is nothing here about the ideas that people have or the belief systems that they hold.  We are, it seems now, but passive vessels in the world.  The system, Fighing The Last War goes on, is moving us about at will and even controls our potential liberators since:

“In particular one of the skills capitalist rule has developed is incorporating radicals of one generation and using them to pacify the struggles of the next generation.”

Politics itself may even have been incorporated into the project of control since:

“…the evidence suggests that sending the best of the left of one generation into a long march through the institutions simply ensures that those controlling the next generation are far more skilled..”

If the old ways are dead and buried (and you can kiss goodbye to your dream of storming up the steps of the Winter Palace too, it seems) then what are we to do?  Fighting The Last War is not suggesting a specific programme but much can be deduced from the following:

“Revolutionaries must fight capital like insurgents and not as a regular army. We must avoid any symmetry in the class war, any attempt to match our resources against theirs….Instead we build networks across the working class, in the broadest use of that term, using what possibilities exist in any particular moment. When capital or the state is slow to respond to crisis we insert ourselves into the gaps that develop to build in those moments but with the understanding that this is not a long term emplacement. Like an insurgent force our aim is to build widespread discontent and widespread experience of organisation so that each time a crisis arises more and the population have the skills and vision to push on.”

Throughout this contribution I have resisted being facetious and I certainly don’t intend to fall near the last hurdle, but in heaven’s name what does any of that even mean?  Perhaps it is words like ‘insurgents’ and phrases like ‘we insert ourselves’ and “using what possibilities exist”, but I am left wondering I must admit.

Thankfully Fighting The Last War points out almost immediately that “this is not an argument for an underground organisation”.  It states that is emphatically opposed to a strategy that involves “a long march through the institutions that can lead to anything other than pulverising defeat or incorporation into a system we set out to fight.” (One wonders is this a comment on the WSM but I can’t imagine that it is.).  Fighting The Last War then stands in the end:

“… for valuing broad, loose and open networks over capturing institutions of power whether those institutions are council seats, union officerships or full time community staffer positions.

In a concluding section – added an addendum – the proposal is made that the WSM focus “for the next year with the aim of developing the model of revolutionary organisation not just on the local level but also as an international example.

And there one has it.


One thing that is important to establish is that we are dealing with two significant problems, not one.  These problems have overlapped and become enmeshed tightly in places but they are distinct at the end of the day.  Solving them involves separate initiatives.

One set of problems is to do with the state of WSM as we entered the crisis.  The other set is to do with the impact on (and implication for) our politics of the huge rollback evident in the period since the crisis/ crash – particularly with capitalism now resurgent in the ideological and economic spheres.

In addressing the enmeshed picture both WSM and Anarchism and Fighting The Last War catastrophise the situation we face.  For the WSM and Anarchism things are so bad that the only way out is to abandon anarchism and deem it an unmitigated failure.  For Fighting The Last War, after spending a lot of time saying that things were moving along decently –right choices were being made and not that much was really broken – we suddenly find ourselves jumping (in the light of crisis) to an entirely new plain.   Fighting The Last War suggests that the WSM (and even anarchism itself) may no longer be fit for purpose and then proposes what is plainly bizarre – some sort of politics of insurgency.  [I am reminded of the scenario where a dysfunctional family, seeking to find the source of is distress, blames its condition on the amount of TV that everyone is watching. In other words neither rhyme nor reason appears to at work in Fighting The Last War;there is some cogency at least in WSM and Anarchism.]


We started out in 1984 with very ambitious aims and those aims were re-affirmed again and again on numerous occasions by the WSM as an organisation.  There is nothing wrong with ambition but it is worth bearing in mind that ambition is also blinding – to real obstacles, to innate weakness.  In my time in the WSM, there have been three significant periods of movement forward that ended in very difficult head on crashes.  These episodes have always shaken the organisation to the core and each one has had the potential to end the WSM for good.  But the option is always there too to re-affirm what has been learned, regroup and get going again.  This time we have hit more a difficult impasse – because it is composed of a significant internal division but also a significant external crisis too.

First and foremost I think we should reject the ‘catastrophe’ outlooks.  What has happened is a wakeup call.  We made wrong decisions.  We were right to make decisions and to try new initiative but,  as we with many decisions in life, there are intended consequences.  But what exactly are and were those and what do we do about them?  What were we right to do and what was not sound?  Inevitably though there is no way out without consolidating around (1) a common agreed understanding of this past and (2) a core programme for the next period.

The suggestion has made that doing the above means taking the WSM back to the 90s.  But that cannot happen.  The organisation is quite different now, even the movement of anarchist ideas in this country, such as it is, is a lot different now.  The organisation did make bad decision – in good faith – but it has learned a huge amount.  Certainly, in the case of Cork, where I am more familiar with, this is obviously true; one cannot go back.

Where we have fallen down most clearly is in the hollowing out of the Platform as the basis for organisational activity and planning.  As is evident from the shift in the WSM in 00s, there was never a black or white choice offered on this process or on the principle of it.  There were sound reasons for attempting to find a new balance, given that we seemed to be overly rigid.  But a shift became a slide.  I recall at a Conference held in Cork (I think in 2009 but I am not certain).  Bear in mind that those present were the most active at that time in the WSM. When polled about the Platform and its relevance to the WSM, a majority at that Conf said that it no longer saw it as key to the WSM.   To not be able to join the dots here (as what was going on and the state of the organisation) is, for me, strange.

But there is ample other evidence and I will only briefly mention one of those here and only in general – the CAHWT.  In this significant and vital campaign, our commitment was organisationally piecemeal.  Individuals who are anarchists did a lot of work but as the WSM we appeared to be a third rate outfit.  It was difficult at times to even know who was active in the Campaign in the WSM.  And even when significant opportunities were placed in our lap – the grassroots democracy initiative – we were not sure how to take it forward.  I know from Cork that there was a great deal of confusion.  And I would maintain that CAHWT as it developed did for a period present anarchists with one of the most significant opportunities in a long time for getting its ideas out there and into a much more mainstream swathe of life.  CAHWT brought together the most militant and active people opposed to austerity and a significant minority never wanted it to go down the electoralist route.  We were (and are) one of the few political traditions with  the politics and ability to address this and yet a significant number just didn’t seem to think it mattered.

What the CAHTW brought out most clearly was the slide inside the WSM.  From a practical point of view now the organisation finds it difficult to implement politics anymore except where members – by voluntary activity on their own part – move to do this.  So what happens is determined more and more by the drive or interest of particular individual or group of individuals.  Increasingly then the organisation settles back into a zone where what happens is what is expected as a minimum to happen.  So regular meetings occur, the internet presence say, is maintained, or the odd protest around the old reliables tends to happen.   Such low level of work is fine if you are keeping a club together, but it just won’t cut when you have to face a formidable and readied opponent like the government.

I emphasise here that is not a commentary on any individual or myself even, it is a criticism of the state we have let the organisation slide into.  The Cork WSM may have been in a healthier state than other sections of the WSM (I don’t know if it was) but in Cork we began to largely act like a collection of individuals after a while.  Personally for me having driven a stake through the heart of the ‘Cork Anarchist Group’ vampire a number of times, it was bad karma indeed to see it return in its full glory again.  Comrades, there are occasion when it is reasonable to trade (very carefully) coherency for numbers, but is this one of those times?


Both Fighting The Last War and WSM and Anarchism conclude with new recipes.  The past, in both their views, has been duly analysed, a balanced sheet reconciled.  It is time to move on.  Both documents to different degrees however are deeply flawed in another important way.  This is in the lip service that they pay to objective conditions.

Objective conditions greatly determine what we can do at any one time.  In both Fighting The Last War and WSM and Anarchism objective conditions are mostly mentioned only with an eye to removing them from the equation.  It is as if, by some feat of magic, that by merely mentioning your enemy you turn him or her to dust.  A fine example of this in one of the documents is this statement: there was little or no significant workplace struggle and little or no activity at the base of the unions. But  … And off goes said document on its merry way anyway never again really engaging with the reality of that simple observation.  Is it seriously being suggested the anarchism can be moved forward when there are little or no significant struggle in the society about us; even worse when passivity is actually on the rise.  Isn’t it struggle that provides the basis for breaking the hold of the ideas that hold people in check?  I always thought so anyway.

If we are to understand the trajectory of this present crisis and understand what it says about the anarchist project then we need to better appreciate the real and substantial ideas that bind people to the Irish capitalist agenda.  Contrary to claims that people are vessels or mere puppets that are moved about at will, I would argue that many, many people uphold and share values that are deeply opposed to where we want to go.

Since the previous economic crisis in the 1980s, the left (in its totality) has failed to build any new significant base of support for its ideas (its ideas I emphasise here) within the working class on this island.  In fact as many of us know much of what is and was essential to working-class combativity – rank and file activity and networking – has actually atrophied.  This isn’t only to do with the practical impact of ‘partnership’ – although this is and remains an important factor.  Other factors are also active.  Previous bouts of high unemployment and “the emigration experience” (arising for the 1980s/90s recession) have also taken their toll – and are doing so once again.  In parallel, the more militant sectors of the Irish trade union life, as we should know, have seen their industries dismantled or radically overhauled, while the relatively active and influential milieu of ‘old Left’ trade unions activists has fallen by the wayside in part to do with the ideological collapse of Soviet Union model, which many held some truck with and which did provide succour of sorts.  Similarly a hugely significant factor has been the revitalised capitalist project built around neo-liberalism.  On an ideological front, this is now in the ascendancy – abetted by the media – in many significant area of social discourse.

Perennially weak aspects of the Irish economic situation – affecting the temper of class radicalism – have also had an important influence on where we now are, determining to an important degree what was and is possible.  So the ideological reliance of the current economic platform in the Republic on FDI (the role of multinationals etc) and the marshalling of State resources (media and state investments) to defend this pillar of our ‘our economic wellbeing’, has resulted in a considerable level of public and working class support for our (supine) relationship with these same multinationals; you could even argue at a stretch that some of these multinationals rescued some of us from a precarious reliance on gombeen Irish capitalism (admittedly at an extortionate cost).  A further important ideological factor has been the aggressive push in Irish society from the 80s on to impress on all (utilising the not so dormant spectre of Irish nationalism) that Ireland can only thrive in the harsh new world economy if we support ‘Brand Ireland’ whenever and wherever it shows it head.  So from ‘Buy Irish’ to partnership, the corporatist model of Irish economic life (and not class division) has been to the fore and has been repeatedly re-enforced.

The above is worth emphasising in order to point out that they are actually a considerable number of reasons why we are where we are today – in retreat.  Some people indeed are throwing their hands in the air and despairing but to me the outcome from this crash is the logically conclusion of the twenty or so years that proceeded it.  Why should it be otherwise?  What is the saying: if it looks like and it tastes like, it is….

The tendency in anarchism that suggests that the masses are ready at a moment notice to upturn the social order is a hard one to understand, for me anyway.  Note too that it is an idea that permeates Fighting The Last War – yet another reason why it should be substantially rejected.


It is very clear now looking into short and middle distance of politics that we are in for a period of heightened conflict in society.  This is a different period from what has gone on before – the period that was about the long reign (and fall from grace) of social democracy.  [This is not to suggest for the moment that SD can’t or won’t be reinvented again – since it does answer a reasonable desire in society to avaoid social revolution].  But can we build on in this period and keep in there?  Learn more, build more and fall back again?  Those are the questions.

People will know of old that I have always maintained this business is a very long term project.  One cannot predict the future but in the process of planning and working for the long term there is always the possibility that a perfect opportunity might come along.  But you cannot operate on a Lotto eventuality either.  Plans that do not base themselves on the long term are doomed in my view.  Short terms scheme also attract people who engage in unsustainable levels of activity that are in themselves detrimental to pragmatic consistent engagement.  And a consistent mode of engagement has to be the way forward since ultimately anarchism was, is and always will be about establishing and building human relations – solidarity in a word.

Much of what has stood to anarchism in the past has been its ability to establish and nurture such strong human bonds around a very hopeful vision of the future.  I don’t think it will ever be any different in essence.  That is why I don’t think there is any new paradigm.  We may find new ways to put ideas about and we might find new ways to maximise numbers at protests but at the end – if anarchism is to prevail – it will because of what is established between human beings in workplace and communities.

The aim now should be to recognise that for the moment – given the current hegemony of capitalist values – that the long term has got longer; but we don’t know how long either.  That is why I believe that the anarchist project on this island needs to be put back onto a sound and sustainable footing based around the centrality of the Platform and focused on class-politics.  We need small localised effort – that fit within a national coherency – to keep our heads on the ground.  We also need time and honesty to pick over the past so that we can take from it what we have learned and needed to be made realise.

There is no guarantee that we won’t hit another crisis again in the future but that is how it works.  Learn more, build more and fall back, and then go on again. I can certainly see how far we have come since when I first got involved and it is a long, long way

[1] The full corrected text is published at

[2] The full version is

[3] To my knowledge the Breaking The Anchor document is not available online.

Written by Kevin Doyle

June 2, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Anarchist Lens

with 4 comments

Anarchist Lens is a series of blog posts looking at topical issues from an anarchist perspective.  The emphasis is  towards non-breaking news with the intention to better explain anarchist ideas and concepts by relating them to events and debates that are happening around us in the world today.

Anarchism’s critique of power relations in society; its analysis of authoritarianism and its dangers; its commitment to meaningful democratic expression as well as its acknowledgement that we live in a world where class warfare in an ongoing reality for many, many people are just some of the strands of understanding that Anarchist Lens will use.  Bear in mind, of course, that this is a work in progress and that ideas, suggestions and comments will always be welcome.

Follow Anarchist Lens post via Twitter at @AnarchistLens

Jan 2013

List Of Posts

The Clare Daly Affair

The Green Experiment

Written by Kevin Doyle

January 18, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Anarchist Lens: The Clare Daly Affair

with 12 comments

Clare Daly’s was elected to the Dáil in303848_309803329035607_1821912624_n 2011.  A founder member of the Socialist Party, Daly was initially hailed as a bright new voice for Ireland’s parliamentary Left. But in strange and controversial circumstances, Daly left the Socialist Party in 2012 on foot of her defence of fellow TD and tax fraud, Mick Wallace.  In this edition of Anarchist Lens, Daly’s about-turn is examined from an anarchist point of view.

Follow Anarchist Lens post via Twitter at @AnarchistLens


In early September 2012, Clare Daly, one of two Socialist Party TDs in the Dáil (the Irish parliament) resigned her membership of that party citing irreconcilable differences.  Re-designating herself a member of the United Left Alliance (ULA)[1], she declared that it was time to “prioritise the building of the ULA” which she described as an “an alternative political force, that can present a real challenge to the establishment parties”.[2]  Daly’s statement implied that she had undertaken a re-assessment of the possibilities for the Irish left and in so doing she had discovered that the Socialist Party (SP) – her political home for twenty-five years – was sorely wanting.  She implied that in recognising that it was not possible to change the SP from within, she had reluctantly taken the decision to move on.  The ULA was a much wiser venture.

On a superficial level Daly’s explanation of her decision to migrate to the ULA made some sense.  However it was far from being the full story and almost anyone who had taken any interest in the matter knew this to be so.  In the months prior to her departure from the SP, Daly had become increasingly linked to the independent Dáil TD, Mick Wallace.  A controversial figure with left leanings, Wallace had also won a seat in the Irish parliament, at the same time as Daly, for the Wexford constituency.   Unusually – given his views – Wallace was also a building contractor and a property developer[3].  During the Celtic Tiger period he had amassed a significant empire that he subsequently lost in the financial crash and economic meltdown that began in late 2008.  Emerging from this with a good deal of his personal wealth intact, Wallace successfully traded on his reputation and misfortunes and resoundingly won election to the Dáil in 2011.

However, in the early half of 2012, Wallace’s past caught up with him.  The Irish Revenue Commissioner took proceedings against the Wexford TD accusing him of failing “to make full tax returns on apartment sales over a two-year period” [4].  Wallace’s company, MJ Wallace Ltd, had collected monies from individuals and families it sold its apartments to but it had not subsequently passed this money onto Irish Revenue even though Wallace continued to collect a generous salary as director of MJ Wallace Ltd.  The sum of money demanded by the Irish Revenue was €1.4 million[5].  It also emerged that on another occasion Wallace had withheld pension contributions totally nearly €50,000 that had been deducted from his employees in order to maintain his companies in credit[6].  In due course Wallace pleaded guilty to charges put to him.  M.J. Wallace Ltd was fined a substantial sum by the Irish Revenue but the original sum of money owed to the tax department along with the fine were never to be recouped as Wallace’s building company had become insolvent[7].


The complications for Clare Daly were not initially of her own making.  Her party, the SP, were bound together with Wallace in the Dáil in a practical arrangement known as a Technical Group (TG)[8].  The TG had no common political programme and was little more than a ship of convenience used by its members to make more efficient use of certain Dáil services based on the number of members it contained.  TG participation allowed its members to propose and promote Dáil Bills and put questions to the Government etc; the TG also received a certain amount of administrative and financial benefits due to is size.

Wallace was adamant about continuing as a Dáil representative despite his past business transgressions.  However within the TG of which he was a vocal member, there was considerable unhappiness about his position and the controversy surrounding his tax dealings.  This was not surprising given that the Irish electorate was by this time (2011-12) well exercised by the matter of corruption in high office.  There was widespread public sentiment that there was simply too much double standards and that this had played a significant role in bringing about Ireland’s economic meltdown.  Surely, the electorate felt, it was time for a new beginning and for an end to duplicity? A sentiment encouraged no doubt by the reality that Wallace had stood for election under a slogan that proclaimed: ‘For A New Politics’.

Socialist members of the TG were particularly uncomfortable over Wallace.  Within the TG the leftwing TDs operated under two banners: their individual party banners – Socialist Party and People Before Profit for example – but also under the collective banner of the United Left Alliance.  In all of these organisations and in the ULA itself there was disquiet among the rank and file about the proximity of the left TDs to Wallace given his tax irregularities.  It could not be any other way.  For many Wallace openly seemed to be having the best of all worlds: he had been through a financial disaster but was still very well off.  Now he was collecting a very lucrative salary as a Dáil TD while claiming to be part of the new future in Irish political life.


The Wallace tax scandal unfolded over the spring and summer of 2012, just as tentative steps were being taken to develop the ULA into a national political party with proper structures and membership requirements[9].  This was a delicate process given that the ULA contained within it different factions and a multitude of difficult individual egos.  Nonetheless the goal was clearly set out by Joan Collins, a member of People Before Profit[10] and one of the ULA’s influential Dublin TDs:

I want people to stand under the banner of [the ULA] for the local elections in 2014. We need an electoral alternative to cuts in the budget. There is a need for a principled opposition.[11]

The Wallace scandal detonated silently inside this shaky alliance.  It was noted by ULA members that four of their five TDs had been silent on the matter of Wallace’s questionable standards; Seamus Healy, the Tipperary South TD, was the only consistent dissenter.  No immediate statement was issued by the ULA distancing itself from Wallace or explaining to its membership what its position was on the matter of Wallace and his ongoing career in politics.  Some put the silence down to the cumbersome, consensus-based decision making arrangement that the ULA had lumped itself with during its formation.   Other rumours however – largely emanating from the more right-wing sections of the press – suggested that there was more to the paralysis than was at first apparent.  The increasingly ugly spat eventually spilled over into the Campaign Against the Household and Water Tax (CAHWT)[12], which Wallace had linked himself to via his Wexford constituency[13].  The Campaign was a nationwide grassroots movement to oppose austerity and in particular a household tax that was being imposed on all house owners by the Irish government.  It had a large, politically and geographically, disparate membership and it included in its ranks both the anti-parliamentary and parliamentary left.  In the CAHWT there was little equivocation about Wallace and the Campaign issued a statement dissociating itself from the TD and his past fraudulent actions[14].

The scandal deepened in early June when Wallace’s plans to attend the European Soccer Championships in Poland became known.  It seemed to some that Wallace’s lifestyle had been largely unaffected by his tussle with The Irish Revenue[15] and this provoked renewed criticism of the Wexford TD and his apparent lack of remorse.  On June 12th the Socialist Party reacted and declared that “Mick Wallace’s failure to pay the original sum of €1.4 million in VAT is disgraceful, unacceptable and indefensible”[16].  The statement while clear cut on one level, went on to explain that Mick Wallace had no connections with the SP or the ULA (despite their close links with him in the TG) and that the campaign against Wallace was being fuelled by a right-wing media which had it in for Wallace, due to his past utterance.  (Wallace publicly opposed Irish Government support for the US war in Iraq in 2003 – a stand that put him at odds with pro-US newspapers like The Irish Independent.)

Around this time it also became more publicly known[17] via more media reports that Clare Daly was ‘friendly’ with Mick Wallace, an Irishism for stating that they were in a relationship together.  This news – as an explanation for Clare Daly’s puzzling stand – came more fully into the public light when Daly refused to back a Socialist Party supported motion designed to discipline the Wexford section of the CAHWT which was refusing to dissociate itself from Wallace despite directions from the Campaign nationally.[18]   Daly’s position was now increasingly explained as being one to do with a personal ‘loyalty’ to Wallace[19].  In other words she was refusing to join in the public condemnation of the troubled TD because she was in a relationship with him.  Importantly also, Daly’s stand was offered as the reason for the initial reticence of the SP and the ULA to condemn Wallace and his actions.  Later in the summer, after Daly refused to support a motion in the CAHWT, supported by her party (SP), proposing to censure the Lock Garman (Wexford) section of the Campaign which was standing by Wallace, the SP went public with their dissatisfaction and stated:

Unfortunately, two United Left Alliance (ULA) TDs, Clare Daly and Joan Collins, spoke in opposition on the grounds that the motions infringed the democratic rights of the Loch Garman group. This argument, against the agreed policy of the ULA, ignores the fact that the issue is of such importance to the campaign across the country that it is a decision to be made democratically through the national structures of the campaign.[20]

Shortly after this, Clare Daly dramatically quit the SP and issued her statement committing herself to the ULA and its potential to be “a real challenge” to austerity politics.  Needless to say few activists inside the Socialist Party were convinced by the reasons she was giving for her volte face and within the ULA itself there was also considerable scepticism re Daly’s about turn.  Had Daly really been converted to the aspirations of the ULA or was she just using the ULA to cover over the debacle with Wallace and move on?

Daly’s departure from the SP ended a twenty-five year long association with the Party.  But the acrimony and headaches did not end there.  Citing dismay with the ULA’s wavering on the matter of Wallace and its tolerance of Daly within its ranks, the important Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG) associated with the Tipperary South TD Seamus Healy departed the ULA in September[21].  More significantly the Socialist Party continued to grumble and made it clear that it was openly at odds with Daly and her supporters inside the ULA. As 2012 approached its end, a real question mark hung over the future of the party.  The SP, while at the same time announcing it would not leave the ULA, launched a broadside against the new venture stating that it was “not measuring up to the political challenge”[22].  In other words a right mess for all those left activists committed to the parliamentary road to socialism.


Many on the Left have been flummoxed by Daly’s loyalty to Mick Wallace and by the manner in which his predicament appeared to have influenced her decision to end a twenty-five year association with the Socialist Party.  There has been much incredulity and, it must be said, much dismay too – as indicated by the acrimonious divisions with the ULA.  But, seen from an anarchist perspective, is Daly’s political migration really that unusual?  Unexpected certainly, but unusual?

In Left history, anarchist theory has played a vital role in critiquing the process by which parliament not only contains but also disarms the drive to bring about meaningful change in society.  This critique has become all the more important and relevant given the repeated emphasis placed by socialists and Marxist-socialists on using the parliament.  This despite the fact that the parliamentary road to socialism is an entirely failed entity, littered with repeated disasters, compromises, examples of ditched principles and, in many cases, outright betrayal of the interests of the working class.  [For specific examples and the overview in Many Roads, One Destination in the WSM pamphlet Parliament Or Democracy[23]].

Anarchism indeed has presented a coherent and consistent analysis as to the why and the how of the phenomena.  There are, it should be emphasised, different aspects to the critique.  For example working-class self-activity – a key component in the struggle for change – often declines significantly when a strong parliamentary socialist movement emerges.  There is also the significant issue to do with the feasibility of using the State (an intrinsically authoritarian structure) to bring about fundamental processes of liberation.  There is the important issue of disconnection that emerges when socialist candidates obtain parliamentary office and how that disconnection impacts and impairs movement objectives.  In regard to much of this, anarchism has been proven to be an insightful political theory when it comes to understanding why seemingly ‘committed and principled’ socialists renege on their promises when they achieve high office.  The Clare Daly debacle is perhaps best understood within this anarchist critique.


To understand better what is meant here it is important to look at the journey that Clare Daly has made.  First and foremost, Daly was catapulted into a very different world by her election to the Dáil in 2011.  Some socialists like to pretend that this does not matter and that a person with principles can stand above material trapping at will.  But in practice that is actually not always the case. There is no iron rule here, of course.  Some individuals are impacted more than others; sometimes the effect takes a long while to materialise whereas with others it is felt immediately.  In Daly’s case it should also be borne in mind that her arrival in the Dáil was a long time coming.

Daly after all was a founding member of Socialist Party (SP) – formerly the International Militant Tendency.  She worked tirelessly throughout much of the 80s and 90s at a grassroots level for the cause of socialism in Ireland; very few people, if any, dispute this.  During that time she worked for the Irish airline, Aer Lingus, in their Catering Department, where she was an active member of her trade union, SIPTU; she held the elected post of shop steward for over 10 years. In 1999 she first tasted electoral success in the public sphere when she won a seat for the Socialist Party on Fingal County Council; she was subsequently re-elected in 2004 and 2009[24].  In 2011 with austerity in the air she finally made the long sought-after breakthrough and won a Dáil seat for the constituency of Dublin North.

Her election to the Dáil gave her a new, powerful platform from whence she was able to make her views known about the causes of the crisis and what should be done about it.  In the initial period she performed ably and well and was, notably, a new and a fresh voice in Irish political life.  She featured regularly on significant Irish media fora such as the flagship current affairs programme Today Tonight (RTE) and on the influential Tonight with Vincent Browne (TV3).   During this period it was certainly clear that Daly was following through on her track record and on the mandate she had received at election time.  She certainly championed the cause of social justice at a time when mainstream politics in Ireland was roundly focused on delivering a swift dose of neo-liberal medicine to its unprepared public.

However in taking up her seat in the Dáil, Daly was facing an old and difficult bogey for a socialist.  How would she cope with her new found status?  The most obvious and immediate factor is the special position that is reserved for TDs[25].  Lucrative salaries, allowances and expenses are part of the deal but this is accentuated by the special attention that is focused on politicians particularly in the modern setup where media/ celebrity status is increasingly valued.  So a TD can easily gain much greater access to all sorts of privileges that an ordinary person would never dream of encountering.  This sort of limelight can affect a person’s orientation and indeed the trapping of high office have long been viewed as potentially corrupting to core principles.  Not so much a problem for a mainstream politician but a considerable headache for a revolutionary socialist whose commitment must remain loyal to those excluded from power and privilege in society.

The benefits of parliamentary success are not accidental creations, of course.  Within the narrow confines of modern ‘Western’ democracy, parliamentarians are expected to see themselves as leaders and, in theory at least, they are also potential decision makers within and for their communities.  In that sense it seems quite logical that they should be rewarded with privilege and status.  Such endowments send the right sort of signal about parliament’s role in society and it ably assists in binding parliamentarians to the institution and the process of standing for election.  Again, in practice, this presents no real problem for a mainstream politician but for a Marxist party such as the SP and its membership there are pitfalls.

Longstanding activists of Clare Daly’s ilk are not unaware of this problem.  Nor, for that matter, is (or was) her former party.  The Socialist Party for example ordains that all its members follow one simple rule on attaining Dáil office: all Socialist Party TDs must commit to only taking a wage that is equal to the ‘average industrial wage’.  The surplus money that accrues to the elected party members is instead donated to the Party for its uses in the wider struggle.  In this way, in theory anyway, no SP TD can personally benefit from being elected to the Dáil. But in practice of course the problems associated with Dáil privileges and status present themselves in a number of ways – amounting to a lot more than just the jingle of coins.  A party member may well eschew the material trappings of office (money and material aggrandisement) but as is evidenced in the Clare Daly case there are plenty of other trinkets in the shop window to catch the unsuspecting eye.


For an elected member of parliament the road to pragmatism and moderation is both well known and well worn.  There have been the famous cases – ‘grand’ examples so to speak – such as that of the pre-WW2 German Social Democratic Party.  The GSDP grew meteorically after its formation and had radical aims[26], but as high office beckoned it was to discover that its leadership had become increasingly dominated by a very pragmatic viewpoint.  The socialist Edward Bernstein articulated this well when he said that electoral politics was ‘the high-school of compromise’.  Throughout his life Bernstein retained a commitment to the eventual aim of socialism – redistribution of wealth via the ending of capitalist production – but crucially, he argued that the more immediate and tangible goals should and did take precedence over long term aspirations[27].  Bernstein’s influential viewpoint culminated in his now classic re-formulation of the priorities of the GSPD when he stated:  ‘the movement means everything… what was usually called the final aim of socialism … nothing’.[28]

Recent Irish history illustrates the same process.  For example Irish people have just been through a budget where the Labour Party justified its role in imposing severe austerity on the grounds that if the Labour Party didn’t deliver the medicine to the public, an even less sympathetic coalition of parties might impose something even worse – a sort of mental mind-flip worthy of Orwell’s 1984 surely.  Another interesting example is that involving the formation of the political party, Democratic Left[29] in 1992 as a breakaway from The Workers Party.  On that occasion a majority of The Workers Party’s seven Dáil TDs, left to form a new left-centre party.  At the time, the acrimonious split cloaked itself with a number of pragmatic reasons including the desire by the seceding group of TDs to distance themselves from the image of Stalinism that had clung to The Workers Party.  But in reality the new Democratic Left party was decidedly more ‘centrist’ than ‘left’ and quite amenable to capitalism too.  In time all of Democratic Left’s TDs merged into the Labour Party and today one of those originals, Eamon Gilmore, leads the Labour Party where he has played a key role in imposing austerity on Irish workers.  QED?

Compared to the above examples, Clare Daly’s migration does not amount to a great deal.  Her defection is partly personal and it is also limited in its scope by the reality that it doesn’t involve a tranche of other supporters following suit.   However it does come at a bad time for the Irish parliamentary Left which itself is in the midst of manoeuvres to establish a stable and viable electoral alternative intent on occupying the space vacated by the Labour Party.

But where Daly’s case is of interest is that we rarely see the process identified by anarchists working itself out so thoroughly and dramatically in an individual case.  It is far more common (as with the Democratic Left example above) to see the process working itself out within a political party where it can sometimes stay hidden from full public view.  In Daly’s case though her travails are largely hers and hers alone and, for reasons that are not entirely fair to her, they have become quite public too.


Commenting on the experience of being elected to parliament, a member of the Australian Labour Party commented thus, as far back as the early half of the 20th century:

[Our supporters] “commonly criticised their MPs for not being icy enough.  They saw Parliament as a comfortable club which seduced Labour members with facilities way beyond the reach of the a typical toiler – higher wages, comfortable leather chairs, billiard tables, dining rooms, well-stocked library, free rail travel and invitations to lavish functions.

This of course is a familiar refrain – the danger of being seduced by the material trappings of high office – but the same observer went on to make this other significant point:

Close contact with [our] adversaries could be disarming too.  After lashing union bashers on the hustings it was different matter altogether to confront them in relaxing surroundings and find they are not bad blokes to share a drink with or a game of cards with.  Many Labour men were obliged to adjust and often did so without being aware of the process. [30]

Leaving aside the sexism of those times for the moment, the key observation is that a person (an elected socialist) might find himself in due course and as a result of his exposure to the hum-drum of parliamentary life ‘obliged to adjust’ his behaviour.  He noted also that that such a person “often did so without being aware of the process”.

So we are led back to the unexpected and, some would say, uncharacteristic about turn by Clare Daly in September of last year.  A theory has floated about that explains Daly’s move as being one of a sudden bout of bad judgement perhaps brought on by the heady emotions of being in a new relationship with Wallace.  But this hardly does justice to Clare Daly.  By any measure she is not a novice.  If anything she is a seasoned and an influential activist.  For example it was openly suggested that she would one day be the next leader of the Socialist Party.  So hardly an example of someone who would blow with any wind.

Another aspect of Daly’s about turn has been her steadfastness.  For the best part of a year she hardly wavered to any significant degree on the matter of Wallace.  Rather, in her confrontations with her formers comrades, she has been trenchant and, even now, with her move into the ULA she has not shown any desire to compromise – a factor that is likely to do terminal damage to that party.

What seems much more plausible and fair to Daly then is to accept that she has changed.  Her political outlook had shifted and it appears to have shifted significantly since her election to the Dáil.  Some of this no doubt is to do with the new situation she finds herself in but it also has to do with the people she is now in closer proximity to.  Daly’s support for Wallace could (reasonably) be viewed and described as ‘seeing things from Wallace’s own perspective’.  Recall that Wallace himself does not really believe he did anything particularly wrong in terms of his tax affairs[31].  He was simply a man trapped in a collapsing building (the financial crash).  He had to take harsh measures or else he might never have got out alive.  Clare Daly’s own pronouncements to some extent echo this viewpoint.  She had stated that she has condemned Wallace for his past misdemeanours.  But, as she puts it, these aspects are now in the past and it’s time to move on to more important issues.


In keeping with her surprising support for Wallace, Clare Daly has also become more closely associated with a reformist wing within the ULA which aims to mould it into a social democratic electoral party.  A ‘social democratic’ party might sound like a fine aspiration to some but recall that it is light years away way from the revolutionary socialist position that Daly adhered to while a member of the Socialist Party and which she articulated and stood over for decades.

There is no knowing for sure, of course, what has gone on with Daly – and my conjectures here are just that.  Time will tell us more no doubt.  But the evidence is mounting that Dáil tenure and the ‘limelight’ of office has got to Daly.  In this sense anarchists may well be quite justified in engaging in a bit of ‘I told you so’.  But for Ireland’s troubled parliamentary socialist movement the fallout is a lot more serious and worrying.  For parties such as the Socialist Party much is made of (and huge effort is expended on) the matter of getting someone elected to the Dáil.  Consider for example what the SP put into Clare Daly’s slow but steady rise.  It was actually huge.  With her election won, the hope and expectation was that she would work hard to increase the Party’s profile and standing.   But now all of that has come to naught.

Once more then, Dáil office (and power) – The Holy Grail for Ireland’s parliamentary socialists – has proven to be a graveyard for its political ideals.  Some might hope that in time this latest debacle will provoke a sobering reassessment in that quarter but it would be naive to expect anything dramatic either.  Sadly, some socialist traditions seemed fated to repeat the same errors again and again and again precisely because they neither understand the nature of power (the electorate versus the parliamentary machine) or how this power dynamic works steadily (and stealthily) against the processes of liberation.

References, notes and links below:

[1] The United Left Alliance was set up before the Irish General Election in 2011.  It is a coalition of left parties and independent left activists and includes the Socialist Party, People Before Profit (an organisation controlled by the Socialist Workers Party) and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group.  While it contains within its ranks Trotskyist parties such as the Socialist Party and other left groups, it is nonetheless seen as a more moderate populist organisation and very much a work in progress.

[2] Clare Daly on 31/8/12

[3] See the entertaining but jaundiced view of Wallace in Business and Finance, a mainstream Irish business magazine.

[6] Wallace later paid back all the monies that he owed to the Construction Workers Pension Scheme.  See

[9] However it should be said that this was and remains a very uneven process and is more advanced in some areas than others.   For honest analysis on this process see the blog

[10] PBP was set up by the Socialist Workers Party and is widely views as being controlled by this party.  Its programme is here Currently PBP has to TDs in the Irish Dáil – Richard Boyd-Barrett and Joan Collins.

[12] See Campaign website

[15] Wallace had a longstanding interest in soccer in Ireland.  He let it be known that he was intending to travel to the Euro 2012 in Poland to see Ireland’s performance but this caused a furore given the fact that he had a large sum of taxes unpaid but was still intending to travel to Poland.  Wallace eventually said he wouldn’t travel to Poland although report later indicated that he did in fact make it there.

[19] See in this report the trouble over Wallace’s resignation from the Technical Group.

[24] See and Clare’s Record

[25] In this interview in Dole TV (May 6th 2012), Daly made clear how aware she was of the rarefied environment that is the Dáil.  See The same material is also covered here

[26] See the adoption  of the Erfurt Programme by the GSDP

[27] Norman Wintorop Ed., Liberal Democratic Theory And Its Critics, (Croom Helm, 1983), p214

[28] ibid., p214

[30] R. McMullan, The Light On The Hill (OUP Australia, 1991), p89-90

[31] See this the Irish Times report which details some of the dealing by the MJ Wallace Ltd before its final collapse at and also



Written by Kevin Doyle

January 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm

The “Drone Bomber” Arrives To A Warm Welcome From Our Glorious Leaders

leave a comment »

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

Hamid Mir, Editor with Geo News in Islamabad (Pakistan) recorded that there were 34 drone attacks in the Pakistan region between 2004 -2008.  Between 2008 and March 2009 the  number rose dramatically and there were 46 drone attacks alone in that 15 month period.  [Note, as confirmed in reports below, the number of drone attacks has risen further and sharply under Obama’s first office term.  See in particular this Google Map of the attacks]

Mir points out that there 80 drone attacks during the entire period referred to above.  In all of these attacks 513 people were killed.  Having checked all the records Mir has ascertained that of all these casualties only 14 were actually of alleged terrorists (names confirmed by US Defense Dept Press Releases). The remainder, 499 people, were all civilians.

Hamid Mir investigated 11 individual incidents of drone bombings.  In two of these, he found that two ‘low-level’ Taliban activists had been killed.  In the remaining 9 attacks only civilians were killed.  As he states in the second of the two you tube clips below this is violation Article 3 of the UN Human Rights Charter – among many other violations contrary to the conduct of war.

Today, our glorious leaders, will warmly welcome the Commander In Chief of the US armed forced responsible for these atrocities.

And Hamid Mir on Drone attacks in Pakistan.

Victory for Liberty: Obama not coming to Cork

leave a comment »

Quick take: Obama’s proposed visit to Cork to honour the memory of Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist,  has been cancelled after it emerged that the conditions and abuse suffered by prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre (currently endorsed by Obama) were in many cases comparable to the horrendous conditions suffered by slaves in the United States.  Unconfirmed reports suggest that Douglass’s  statue – soon to be unveiled in Cork – refused to have anything to do with proceedings if Obama was to attend.

>>>> For those with time, read on >>>>>

It nearly happened and to think that the fine city of Cork actually had four US senators on its side too!  Imagine: four real millionaires were flying the flag for Cork, but Obama’s visit is not to happen afterall.  Heart breaking news, of course, for Cork’s La-Di-Da community and the Lord Mayor but a victory for truth and liberty nonetheless.

Readers will be wondering why the old liar was going to go to Cork in the first place?  Well, it’s an interesting story. Obama’s proposed stop off here had to do with a plan by University College Cork to honour the memory of Frederick Douglass, the  former black slave and abolitionist, who wrote the ground-breaking autobiography Narrative Of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave.  This book, published in 1846, was one of a number at that time to record in words the life and experiences of African slaves in the United States.  As such it played a seminal role in opening up knowledge and condemnation of slavery and what it entailed.  Later in his life, Douglass visited Ireland (and Cork itself) during our Famine and wrote warmly about his experiences and the welcome he received here.  [Not wanting to be ironic but us Irish know quite a lot about slavery and so we all got on famously.]

In remembrance of this connection (and fittingly too) UCC  will, in May, officially launch a human rights lecture series – part of which will entail the unveiling of a statue on campus in honour of Frederick Douglass.   Hence the Obama visit connection.  Apparently Obama credits Douglass as a inspirational figure in his own life – for his moral stand, courage and outspokenness [yes Barack you sure could learn a lot from Frederick alright].  But also, of course, Obama likes to place himself beside Douglass and his important position as an African American who escaped slavery and fought for liberty.

So Cork, Obama, Douglass – it was on the cards, it seems.

However then things started to go askew.  Good old fashioned nervousness entered the fray and following close scrutiny of the record books, distressing parallels between what Douglas fought against AND what Obama is standing up for, emerged.

If you read Douglass’s main work, the above named book, and you examine what he records, then one thing becomes very clear: Douglass had a huge and uncompromising committment to human liberty.  Douglass too, of course, knew what he was taking about.  He had been a slave and he had witnessed the lives of slaves.  Douglass saw the ugliness of servitude first hand.   Take this passage from Narrative …  (By the way Douglass’s account is scattered with accounts like this below.  In Narrative …. he paints a violent picture of the abuses and random violence that slaves were subjected to on a whim.)  Here is one:

“I used to be in Mrs Hamilton’s house nearly everyday.  Mrs Hamilton used to sit in a large chair in the middle of the room, with a heavy cowskin always by her side, and scarce an  hour passed during the day but was marked by the blood of one of these slaves.  The girls seldom passed by her without her saying ‘Move faster, you black gip’ at the same time giving them a blow with the cowskin over the head or shoulders, often drawing the blood.”  (p 80  Penguin Classic edition.)

Now take a look at something that Obama has recently stood over with his Administration’s defence of the prosecutions/ information gleaned from interrogations carried out at Guantanamo Bay.  I picked this at random: an account of the circumstance of Martin Mubanga incarceration there.

“Martin Mubanga‘s … hands were shackled in rigid, metal cuffs attached to a body belt; another set of chains ran to his ankles, severely restricting his ability to move his legs. Trussed in this fashion, he was lying on the interrogation booth floor. The seemingly interminable questioning had already lasted for hours. ‘I needed the toilet,’ Mubanga said, ‘and I asked the interrogator to let me go. But he just said, “you’ll go when I say so”. I told him he had five minutes to get me to the toilet or I was going to go on the floor. He left the room … I squirmed across the floor and did it in the corner, trying to minimise the mess. I suppose he was watching through a one-way mirror or the CCTV camera. He comes back with a mop and dips it in the pool of urine. Then he starts covering me with my own waste, like he’s using a big paintbrush, working methodically, beginning with my feet and ankles and working his way up my legs. All the while he’s racially abusing me, cussing me: “Oh, the poor little negro, the poor little nigger.” He seemed to think it was funny.’ (From How I entered the hellish world of Guantanamo Bay.  See more about Martin Mubanga’s story here.)

Parallels, right?  But the thing is – and initially this got lost in the heat – Douglass was against these abuses.  Against.   Whereas Obama, now he is for them.  He has defended and kept open the atrocious Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre despite his election promise and plenty of other guff about human rights and so on.

So something was wrong , right?  Actually it got worse.  Incredibly.  When I was looking into the Obama thingy and his coming to Cork, I also discovered: apparently, as a youth Frederick Douglass was enslaved on a plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, called Mount Misery.  This aptly named place was then owned by Edward Covey, a notorious “slave breaker.”  It was, reports say, a place where brutality and beatings were very common.  Now guess who owns some of that the Mount Misery property today?  No, it’s not Obama.  It’s Donald Rumsfeld.  Yes, the former Secretary of Defense (key architect of the U.S. military’s program of torture carried forth at Gitmo) now actually owns part of the Mount Misery estate.

No wonder then that the statue/ memorial to Douglass (soon to be unveiled here in Cork) stared to behave strangely – making noises and shaking and so on, and so forth.  Sheer indignation and anger at the hypocrisy and downright slight to the great exponent of liberty was the cause.  So no Obama for Cork, afterall, but a small if not unimportant victory for truth and liberty all the same.

Related Articles:
%d bloggers like this: