Sep 27 2007

The Highland Midge

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 3:39 pm

This is written for anyone who has ever suffered at the hands (or, more accurately, the mouths) of the Highland midge. Over the centuries the bear and the wolf have been hunted to extinction in the Highlands of Scotland, but it has never been remotely within the scope of possibility that its most voracious predator could ever be removed from that most remarkable of landscapes.

‘Neath oceans glides the great white shark,
In Africa, best fear the dark,
Where night is torn with eerie howls,
Where prides of lions, hungry, prowl.
There’s crocs from Oz, there’s snakes there, too,
They’ll bite, they’ll tear, they’ll feed on you.
But the greatest bloodfest of them all
Takes place ‘tween Scotland’s spring and fall.

By loch, in glen, on rocky ridge,
There lurks the evil Highland midge.
As sun descends this fearsome pack
In squadrons, moves in to attack.
With anguished yelps and flailing arms
Unwary tourists learn the charms
Of this fierce demon of the night,
Which doesn’t bark, it only bites.

The Romans came, they saw, they conquered,
Then thought, “Who lives here must be bonkers!’
History books, they don’t point out,
But I know it was the midge, no doubt,
That made them leave, and southbound haul
To build the dyke called Hadrian’s Wall.
Clans, battles, kings—all come and gone,
But the midge, it just goes on and on.

Old Scotland’s remote north and west,
Ruled by this savage, tiny pest,
Has stores that sell sprays, potions, lotions
All geared to the quite absurd notion
That if you buy them, then all day
They’ll keep the hellish hordes at bay!
Believe that, then you’re not too bright,
They still get through, and still they bite.

How horrid, awful, bad, it feels
Your face a mass of crimson weals.
The fat, the thin, the poor, the rich,
They all fall prey and how they itch!
The midge cares naught for class nor creed
It just sees all as one more feed!
To miss this slaughter just don’t roam,
Stay safe inside, stay safe at home.


Sep 23 2007

Elections in Greece: Positive Results for the Left

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 8:52 pm

YK analyses the Greek election results and addresses the
prospects and tasks for socialists

That the Greek parliament would be significantly different, as a result of the 16th September elections, was more or less common knowledge in Greece. There had been three and a half years of extreme government incompetence and quite shocking scandals. These included the telephone surveillance case(1), and the abduction of Pakistani men by British agents(2), both having serious implications on national sovereignty; as well as increasing incidents of police brutality, especially during the student protests against the proposed educational reform. All this ensured that support for the conservative government of Nea Demokratia (ND, New Democracy), would retreat significantly from the 45.36% of the vote tallied in 2004 and the strong absolute majority of 165 out 300 parliamentary seats this guaranteed. Moreover, the fact that the whole of the rather short campaigning period took place under the shadow, or better, under the eerie glare of a large part of the country being ravaged by wild fires, which were anything but accidental, made certain that there would be a significant protest vote gained by the far left and, to a lesser extent, the far right.

This happened more or less as expected, with ND suffering a loss of 3.52% and 13 seats, which significantly decreased their parliamentary power, leaving them with a very slight majority of only 152 seats. Meanwhile, the combined far left vote increased by 4.04% to 13.19%. KKE (the Communist Party) gathered an impressive 8.15% (+2.26) of the vote returning 22 MPs (+10), while SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left), with 5.04% (+1.78) returned 14 MPs (+8). In large cities, the gains made by the left were significantly higher, with, for example, KKE reaching 14.55% in the V’ Peiraios district and SYRIZA 9.27% in A’ Athinon. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the far right LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) entered Parliament for the first time, tallying 3.80% (+1.61) and winning 10 seats.

What was more surprising is the serious setback suffered by PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement, the Greek equivalent of the Labour Party). Support for the SPD-style Social Democrats retreated below the level of the 2004 election to 38.10 % (102 MPs, -2.45%), the lowest in more than 20 years(3).

The emerging picture is that of a clear shift of popular support away from the two large bourgeois parties towards radical smaller forces. Whether this is just an isolated protest vote, or the beginning of a more long term trend pointing to an intensification of class struggle, remains to be seen. What is certain however is that Greek society has become far more receptive to more radical politics. This means that an increasing amount of space will be opening up for the far left to organise in the near future. Before going into what the immediate tasks of the Greek left are, it would be useful to provide some background on the parties currently in Parliament, which it would be fair to say, will be the prime forces shaping Greek politics in the next four years (unless of course a revolution happens, workers’ councils spontaneously spring up and the dictatorship of the proletariat is established, but I wouldn’t be getting my hopes up for that).

The Parties

Nea Demokratia

Nea Demokratia was founded by Konstadinos Karamanlis, the first post-dictatorship Prime Minister of Greece. It is the traditional party of Greek capital and its satellite strata. Unlike most centre-right parties, it is not a group of right wing liberals, but on the contrary, includes a variety of rightists from David Cameron-like modern fluffy conservatives, to intensely ideological, ultra religious xenophobic cavemen like the former Minister of Public Order. He used to refer to riot police as the praetorian guard of the country. The party is currently led by Kostas Karamanlis, the founder’s nephew, who seems to have been placed at the helm more for his name than his political skills.

Right after emerging victorious, Karamanlis restructured the government, removing extremely unpopular ministers, like the aforementioned Public Order brute from their posts (in fact, the Public Order ministry was abolished), in an obvious effort to rebuild the party’s citizen friendly image. However, this does not in any way mean that there will be any large scale retreat from the aggressive neo-liberal policies ND has been pursuing against the exploited working people of Greek society with the tacit support of PASOK. Nevertheless, its significantly weakened position in Parliament is bound to make the party far more responsive to social movement pressure.


Above, I described PASOK as SPD-style socialdemocrats. The reason I did so is that, like the SPD, PASOK has been on an increasingly right wing trajectory without however having been transformed (yet) into a fully fledged neo-Thatcherite party like New Labour. The similarities however, end here. Unlike both Labour and SPD, PASOK did not arise organically out of the struggle of the working class, it did not emerge as the political wing of the trade union movement and was definitely never a radical socialist political force.

The party, or movement as they style themselves, was founded, following the collapse of the Colonels’ Dictatorship in late 1974, by Andreas Papandreou, son of the prominent classical liberal politician Georgios Papandreou. From the very beginning, the social basis of PASOK lay in the radical wings of the petty and national bourgeoisie. Its early policy platform was clearly populist left nationalist, and in that manner, they share a lot with the SNP, although Greece’s independent status makes it difficult to draw further parallels. However, like the SNP, precisely because PASOK lacks a deep, organic working class basis, it has been able to engage in a series of political u-turns, like dropping withdrawal from both NATO and EU as a policy immediately upon winning the 1981 elections. For this same reason however, it is also far easier for the working class sections that do support PASOK to abandon it.

The current leader of the movement is Giorgos Papandreou, son of the founder, who acceded to the presidency shortly before the 2004 elections. He became leader in an effort to rebuild party popularity after 8 years of neo-liberal modernisation, under Costas Simitis, had severely eroded its support basis. Despite employing populist rhetoric and conjuring his father’s ghost on every opportunity, Papandreou has failed to stop PASOK’s bleeding of support to the left. After defeat in the latest elections had become evident, he announced that he would be seeking re-election as president. However, shortly after that, Evagelos Venizelos, who while popular within PASOK, is considered to be on the conservative wing of the party, also announced his candidacy. Elections are to be held sometime in November.


LAOS is a strange case. While it would be fair to say that it is a far right wing party, its perception by many as fascist is rather mistaken. LAOS was founded by former ND member and MP, Giorgos Karatzaferis, following his expulsion in 2000. Since then, LAOS has engaged in a number of extremely haphazard political maneuvers, adopting policies in what seems to be an entirely random manner. Its contradictions are evident on a daily basis, with prominent members promoting books that supposedly debunk the “myth” that there was any homosexuality in ancient Greece, while Karatzaferis himself has stated that homophobia must be fought and voted in favour of the European Parliament resolution on homophobia in Europe. Furthermore, while LAOS maintains that there are too many immigrants in Greece, Karatzaferis has often rejected nationalism as an idea, describing himself as a patriot and an enemy of globalization instead. Further, while members of LAOS have often made anti-semitic comments, Karatzaferis has signed the EU motion on anti-semitism(4) while official party literature denounces marginalisation on any grounds and makes it clear that LAOS respects all nations and religions. If anything, LAOS has only diluted the far right in Greece, pulling it towards a more moderate direction.

There is definitely a difference between what LAOS as a party puts forward, and what its members actually believe. LAOS includes former members of extreme right organizations that have often been involved in violent attacks against immigrants and left activists.

However, the percentage of the electorate that was attracted to LAOS is almost certainly not made up of potential fascists and virulent nationalists, but by less conscious exploited strata, as well as disgruntled ND voters. Its electoral campaigning was a classical example of patriotic populism, attacking globalisation, irresponsible bankers, foreign interests etc. while also criticising the government on its handling of national matters like the FYROM(5) name question.


Communist Party

Communist Party

The Communist Party is the oldest party in Greece, founded in 1918. It has a very rich history of both outstanding heroism and shameful class treachery. Unlike most European CPs, it did not turn to reformism and social-democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. Instead, the hardliners who marginally dominated the Central Committee purged the party of “revisionist”, or “renewing”, depending on which side you are on, elements which formed a large part of the apparatus. The expelled members went on to form Synaspismos or Syn. Then, KKE also suffered a split in its youth wing, with the majority of the membership leaving to form another party, which has now become completely marginal.

Despite these major setbacks, KKE managed to rebuild itself and its youth, becoming the largest far left political force, with more than 10,000 members. Its success is largely based on its insistence on explicitly class based politics, its focus on staunch opposition to all imperialist projects, both NATO and EU inspired as well as its diligent participation in all workers’ struggles.

On the downside, KKE is extremely bureaucratic, leaving little, if any room for initiative to its grass roots activists. It is extremely sectarian, refusing to cooperate with other left wing groups and parties despite the fact that it could use its political muscle to become the driving force behind left regroupment in Greece. However, it does show some signs that it could be moving towards a healthier political path, with its official rejection of stage theory some time ago being the prime example. Unfortunately, the very strict model of democratic centralism the party adheres to makes it extremely difficult to discern its internal political developments.


Coalition of the Radical Left

Coalition of the Radical Left

The Coalition of the Radical Left, is, as its name implies, not an actual party but an electoral coalition. It is quite peculiar however in that it is not composed of groups of roughly equal political weight, but is instead dominated by one party, Syn, around which a few marginal organisations have grouped. These are: the Communist Organisation of Greece (Maoist), International Workers’ Left (a split from the Greek SWP), Red (a split from the latter), Movement for the United Action of the Left, Active Citizens, Ecological Intervention, Renewing Ecological Communist Left, Popular Unions of Bipartisan Left Groups, and the Democratic Social Movement.

Apart from the latter, it would be fair to say that no one, other than left wing activists, has ever heard of these groups. It is thus very unlikely that anyone, apart from their members, intended to vote SYRIZA in order to support them. It would be safe therefore to regard the growth of support for SYRIZA as a coalition, as a growth of support of Syn as a party. In fact, Synaspismos is Greek for coalition, suggesting that many of SYRIZA’s voters are not aware of the distinction between the party and the coalition. Thus, the politics of Syn form the core of all SYRIZA policies, even if the smaller groups maintain some influence on their content.

Syn itself was formed in the early 90s after the aforementioned expulsions from the Communist Party. The expelled members joined up with the Euro-communists that had split from the party in the late 60s. As is the case with most Euro-communist and reformed CP formations, Syn’s social basis was far less proletarian in composition, with the party being strongest amongst the more privileged strata of the working class as well as the radicalised elements of the middle classes. Naturally then, Syn conducts its politics with little, if any reference to class as the fundamental cleavage in society, while socialism is rarely mentioned as the party’s ultimate political goal, with abstract references to a “more just society” being made instead. This movementist, RESPECT-like approach is entirely in line with Syn’s leadership plan to construct a broad, left of PASOK alliance, as opposed to an explicitly socialist political force. In the context of a society that is obviously receptive to open class politics as is shown by the growth of KKE, this is nothing short of reactionary.

In its defense, Syn has a far healthier internal political structure/culture than that of the KKE, which, allowing the formation of platforms, is fairly similar to that of the SSP. However, the ideological cohesion of Syn is far weaker than the SSP’s even before the split. The SSP suffered from including socialists with very contradictory ideas of how socialists should conduct their struggle, but the idea of socialism as a society that is a complete negation of capitalism was never disputed. Syn on the other hand includes in its ranks anyone from orthodox Marxists to radical social-democrats. This is a rather insoluble contradiction that has often led to embarrassing incidents of Syn members from different factions opposing each other on TV panels.

Prospects and Tasks

While both the retreat of the main bourgeois parties, and the growth of the radical left were substantial, it is important to remember that they were not nearly as great as you would expect after the scale of the destruction wrought by the summer fires. It is important however to realise that, if the left does not remain persistent in its resolute opposition to neo-liberal offensives, as well as organise effective resistance against them, this breakthrough might very well be for naught. While a collapse of the scale of the SSP vote is extremely unlikely, simply for reasons of historic loyalty to KKE by a sizeable portion of the left, a retreat to the levels of 2004 would still be very disappointing.

In the immediate future, there will be a number of issues that will require swift action to be taken by both KKE and Syn-SYRIZA. First, the attitude of the government towards the communities destroyed by the fires will surely cause much disillusionment and aid will most definitely be insufficient, inefficient and tokenistic. Further, it is certain that a large part of the burned areas will be given to land developers to build on. In fact, this has already started in some areas. There will definitely be significant local opposition to this and it is imperative for both left organizations to be visibly present. Unfortunately, given the rural nature of said areas and their long conservative tradition, it is unlikely that a strong left current will be established there. It is however important that the left is present, if only to help raise its national profile, as the destruction of the Peloponnese is regarded as a serious matter by the whole of Greek society.

Second, after having restructured itself, the government of Karamanlis will surely embark on an offensive of modernising reforms that will be directed against the working class. The one that is bound to have the highest profile, at least in the immediate future, is the proposed revision of the constitution to amend article 16, guaranteeing the public and universal character of education in the country. The student movement that shook Greece last year, although bound to be significantly demobilised and weakened after a whole summer of catch up classes and exam periods, will surely reconstitute itself once again. The movement suffered from the lack of a correct political orientation, being led by corrupt elements of the student union and professor bureaucracy. They saw the framework-law reforms – which has since been passed – as an attack against their privileges (which they were). However, there is little doubt as to the need to fight against the proposed constitutional revision, which would almost certainly destroy what little quality public education in Greece still has. The student movement therefore will offer a good chance for the left to build and organise.

Finally, the succession struggle in PASOK will inevitably cause much upheaval within the working masses that still support them. If the populist Papandreou was unable to stop PASOK’s bleeding of support despite his overtures to the left, then Venizelos, the likely winner of the contest, who is a far more thoroughly bourgeois politician will only increase the rate of decline. It is thus more likely that PASOK will soon start to fight ND on its own ground. Bizarrely, this might actually work for them, as ND will most likely move to the right on token issues as pressure from LAOS increases and since the difference between PASOK and ND is almost entirely tokenistic, it is not improbable that the more centre oriented ND support base will move towards PASOK.

In any case, a huge space will be opened to the left of PASOK that the left should move to occupy. In this respect, the president of Syn and SYRIZA, Alekos Alavanos is entirely correct in remarking that radical social democracy should be approached by anti capitalist forces(6). However, the Syn leadership is wrong in trying to achieve this by means of finding common ground, when it clearly has the political weight to pull the left of PASOK elements towards an anti-capitalist direction, meaningfully different to the dead end of anti-neoliberalism. Any alliance of Syn with the radical social democracy, on their grounds, will only strengthen its internal social democratic factions and increase pressure for entering a coalition government with PASOK, a possibility which has never been rejected in principle by the Syn leadership.

Greek fires bring profits to land developers

Greek fires bring profits to land developers

Conclusion: The problem of left bipolarity and the KKE or Syn dilemma

As long as this division within the radical left persists, any resistance against the increasing aggressiveness of the bourgeoisie will be severely fettered by sectarianism, while any hope of it turning into an actual working class offensive will remain just that, a hope. While it is true that responsibility for kicking off the project of meaningful left unity lies with KKE as both the larger and the more radical force of the two (but unfortunately, the most sectarian), Syn-SYRIZA should be criticised on the basis that it does not engage in any action that might make the KKE Central Committee more open towards the prospect of rapprochement.

Specifically, Syn’s complete lack of principled opposition to the European Union’s directives (in fact, the nature of its opposition amounts to critical support), must be abandoned in favour of a more clear cut rejection of the whole project like its position on NATO. Further, the radical wing of Syn should try to pull the party towards a more class oriented approach to politics, away from its current new left movementism, which is a sure recipe for dilution of principles. It is Syn that must provide the initiative for left regroupment on a radical socialist basis, even in the form of an electoral pact, as any such unity move is unlikely to come from KKE.

This situation creates an almost insoluble dilemma for non aligned Greek leftists. Electorally, one has to choose between a mass party with explicit class, socialist politics which is however totally bureaucratic and sectarian, and a smaller loose coalition of vaguely radical left forces without a clear political orientation which could in the future possibly enter a bourgeois coalition. There is no easy solution to this problem and one’s choice is based as much on personal convictions and feelings as on objective political analysis. We can only hope that the self-activity of the working masses will at some point force their vanguard groups to get their act together.



Sep 23 2007

Iranian Workers Face Two Enemies

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 8:06 pm

Yassamine Mather reports on the Iranian people’s need for genuine solidarity

The threat of military air strikes against Iran is today probably stronger than ever before.

Many commentators are speculating about possible ‘shock and awe’ attacks by Israel and the United States on Iran’s nuclear installations and other strategic targets. The US, this time supported and encouraged by the French and other European governments, has succeeded in imposing sanctions against Iran, persuading European and Japanese banks to join their American counterparts in blocking any transactions for Iranian clients.

True victims of sanctions

As a consequence of this, Iran finds it increasingly difficult to raise loans, obtain foreign currency or hold any assets offshore, as it cannot obtain dollars, euros or yen. Inside the country inevitably there is a shortage of many essential items, because the state and the private sector cannot afford to import many goods. Other items have become scarce, as the monopolies importing food and medicines are targeted by sanctions, mainly because they are owned by senior clerics and their relatives. Of course these Islamic capitalists have already found new ways of profiting from sanctions by increasing their involvement in other sections of the economy and in the black market. The true victims of the sanctions against Iran are the workers, the poor and the underclass.

As far as the US is concerned, there are many reasons why air strikes against Iran appear an attractive option. At a time when the US military and the administration announced the withdrawal of over 30,000 troops from Iraq, at a time of major economic upheaval, what better way to divert attention from military, political and economic crises but the start of a new adventure? However, on the surface it seems difficult to understand the logic behind the determination of a section of Iran’s leadership to encourage such a conflict. The reality is that, faced with dissent at home, anxiety at rising prices and fear of shortages caused by declared and unannounced sanctions, the Iranian government is as eager as the US administration to divert attention from its economic failures – branding all opposition to its medieval Islamic laws as part of Bush’s plan for regime change from above.

Contrary to the regime’s intentions, attempts at silencing all opposition using the threat of war have backfired. Most Iranians are becoming increasingly impatient with the regime, blaming its ‘adventurist’ policies for sanctions, shortages and the threat of war. In fact, despite severe repression, the number of public protests has increased over the last few months, with many Iranians blaming the regime, as much as the US, for the hardships they face in their daily life.

Iranian workers act

Over the last two weeks, thousands of unpaid Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory workers in Shoush in the Khuzestan province in Iran have been on strike. The government sent security forces to repress the workers but the strike continues. In early October, three thousand workers from this Company held demonstrations outside the Khuzestan provincial governor’s office in Shoush city (Susa) demanding their wages.

Worker demands at the sugar company include:

  • the payment of all salaries in arrears
  • an end to the sale of foreign sugar on the Iranian market by “mafia” groups
  • the right to labour representation
  • a rise in salaries to reflect the rising cost of living brought about by poor weather
  • right for workers to participate in the election of workers’ representatives
  • retirement of those workers who have reached retirement age
  • provision of adequate safety equipment
  • dismissing the company’s board of directors
  • ending threats to workers.
Iranian students protest at Ahmadinejads visit to Tehran University

Iranian students protest at Ahmadinejad's visit to Tehran University

Students demonstrate

On Monday 8th October, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed a gathering of pro regime militia at Tehran University, hundreds of students scuffled with police and chanted Death to the dictator outside a hall where the Iranian president spoke.

Students on Monday shouted: Detained students should be released and Fascist president, the university is not a place for you, as they marched towards the campus gates.

In a leaflet published in late September, a group of workers in Iran Khodro, the country’s largest car plant wrote:

Sharivar 22 [September 13] is the anniversary of the death of our fellow worker, Peyman Razilou. On that day in 2002 he died from exhaustion during the afternoon shift.

His death was four years ago and we haven’t forgotten that tragedy – or the untimely death of our colleague, Mahmood Khayami, who died from stress. And this year we have witnessed another death – this time it was Ali Akbar Shourgashti who was killed because Iranian capitalists pay no attention to health and safety regulations.

While the government is shouting from the rooftops that working hours will be reduced during Ramadan, we have not only failed to see any such reduction, but by cutting out our meal break, management has seen to it our working day is actually longer. According to the latest announcements from Iran Khodro, the production shops will start up at 6.45am instead of 6.55am and the early shift will end at 5.45pm. As you can see, the shift is longer, especially as the morning breakfast break is also abolished. Friends, why is it that we have to work with no breaks during Ramadan?

Many of our fellow workers cannot tolerate these conditions. Some are ill, while others will become ill if they don’t eat regularly. What are they supposed to do? The forces of the harassat [factory religious police] watch us like hawks. Even if we avoid them, members of the islamic council don’t allow us any peace.

Contract companies have expanded, full-time employment does not exist any more, work environments are not only more dangerous, but tens of workers have lost their lives at work, while tens of others have been incapacitated because of accidents.

As inflation is rising every day, our real wages are falling, while many benefits are being cut. Production is rising, but we do not benefit from what is exported. Today full-time employment in this factory is just a dream.

Iranians face two enemies, an external imperialist force threatening them with air strikes, further sanctions… and an internal one, determined to maintain power at all costs, defending the privileges and the wealth of the few at the expense of poverty/hunger and destitution for the majority of the population. Genuine solidarity with the people of Iran requires, not only an end to the policies of the war mongers outside Iran, but also against the theocracy in power inside Iran.


Sep 14 2007

From Operation Banner to Operation Helvetica

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 2:58 pm

John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, Belfast) looks at the changing face of British rule in Ireland

In their usual astounding display of chutzpah Sinn Fein have produced a T-shirt depicting the IRA expelling a Brit soldier, claiming that the ending of ‘Operation Banner’ (the deployment of troops and the armed suppression of the civil population during the years of the troubles) amounts to British defeat and republican victory.

Republicans have not been slow to put them right, pointing out that Operation Banner has been replaced by Operation Helvetica, involving a permanent garrison of 5000 troops, that MI5 have built a massive base to monitor opposition to the new state, that new laws far exceed the emergency legislation of the past, that a large paramilitary police force remains armed and in place, with many of the structures and individuals who ran the death squads still in senior positions, and that loyalist groups are armed and sponsored by the state.

The republicans are perfectly correct in the substance of their attacks on Sinn Fein. But this is not the whole story. The fact is that the 5000 strong British garrison is significant mainly in that it defines the colonial nature of the state. If the current settlement is to succeed then the troops will remain in barracks. The police and special laws will be successful only if aimed at a small minority in an otherwise ordered society. The struggle for the British is not about unleashing loyalist violence, but about containing it while incorporating the loyalist groups into civil society.

There are three important questions that need to be studied:

  • How did the Old Stormont regime maintain stability?
  • How will the new society envisaged in Operation Helvetica remain stable?
  • What are the internal contradictions that will lead to its collapse?

Perpetual seige

The physical base of stability in the pre 1968 Orange state was the Protestant militia. The A, B and C special constables all had scraps of uniform and weapons and very little control over their actions or accountability (the British had no record of how many guns had been given out). The sweeping Special Powers Act ensured that almost all forms of political activity that the government disapproved of were illegal, while at the same time providing effective immunity for crown forces for example the ability to ban inquests. Blatant and sweeping discrimination in employment marginalised Catholic workers, while a whole network of loyal orders around the workplace both kept bigotry alive and policed the Protestant workers for disloyal ‘Lundys’. Although Catholics were excluded from political power, a nationalist middle class and the Catholic Church had relative privileges and helped police the nationalist workers. This atmosphere of perpetual siege was effective against the small militarist republican groups, but broke apart when faced with mass mobilisation.

Today the official Orange militia of old have gone, to be replaced by a much more sophisticated network of repression. Intelligence has been taken from local hands and will remain forever in the central organs of the British state, represented by MI5. The change from RUC to PSNI has been accompanied by the preservation of major structures such as the special branch and the place of the militia taken by carefully cosseted paramilitary groups, fully armed and closely linked to the state forces. A curtain of silence is now being thrown around those structures and investigation of collusion is increasingly being ruled impermissible.

The armed police force will be much larger than the old RUC, will have the enormous surveillance apparatus of MI5, and will have the new powers of the strong state, effectively unrestricted powers of seizure, internment and detention as well as a host of new laws that will make many acts of political opposition crimes of subversion, incitement or conspiracy. These are now the norms of everyday civil law in the British state. If not enough, extra emergency powers lurk in the background.

In the new society Catholics have their own share of sectarian privilege and sectional political rights, This much increased privilege, shared by Sinn Fein, the Catholic middle class and the Catholic church, carries with it a much greater responsibility to defend the state and police Catholic workers, with state funded organisations that will extend into every street in working-class districts.

The watchtowers have been replaced with a more sophisticated network of repression

The watchtowers have been replaced with a more sophisticated network of repression

The lynch pin of the new state is sectarian division. The loyalists are to be used as assassins only in the last resort. Their primary role is to be inserted into civic society so that policing, health and education will be a patchwork of sectarian rivalries and the working class atomised and fragmented.

There are three weak points to the new dispensation:

  • 1. The sectarian division is not equal.
  • 2. The DUP have been given a limited primacy that they urgently want to expand and they need to constantly demonstrate that they are the top dog by attacking Sinn Fein and nationalist rights in general.
  • 3. Sinn Fein maintain stability by constantly giving way, but this is not a process that can continue forever.

The settlement involves a far right economic policy. The mild form, advanced by the British, calls for a lowering of the basic wage, mass sackings, cutbacks in public service and wholesale privatisation and deregulation. Sinn Fein, the DUP in fact all the capitalist parties, backed by the intervention of the Catholic church, cry salt tears about some aspects of this while also advocating a stronger far right policy turning capitalist heaven into paradise with the lowering of corporation tax and massively switching the tax burden further in the direction of the working class.

Silence of the grave

The settlement depends on the silence of the grave falling over the North while a corresponding 26 county nationalism runs rampant in the South. This is possible only as long as there is no mass working class opposition on either side of the border.

Operation Helvetica is not Operation Banner. One depended on the troops actively fighting to preserve the Northern colony. The other depends on the troops remaining in barracks. Under Helvetica the main policing mechanism for ensuring stability will be an unholy triumvirate of Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and the Catholic Church assuring us that the partitionist, colonial and sectarian settlement is a suitable end point for Irish history and a suitable vehicle for the emancipation of the Irish working class.


Sep 14 2007


Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 2:57 pm

by Jim Aitken

Eliot said the game was up
after the First World War. How wrong!
For after the Second we fell
into a state of disbelief
that still must make us shake our heads.

And on then to Hiroshima,
To Korea down to Vietnam,
And all the other names we call-
Cambodia, Timor, Iraq.

The list a litany of grief,
and what now to say about this
except Beckett may have the words
to sum it up: ‘No matter, Try
Again, Fail again, Fail better.’


Sep 14 2007

When the Fighting is Over

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 2:55 pm

With casualties continuing to rise in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rod MacGregor shows imperialism’s disdain for working class lives

He’s five feet tall and he’s six feet four,
He fights with missiles and with spears,
He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen,
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years.

Universal Soldier (Buffy St Marie)

In Dundee’s Eastern Necropolis there is a headstone-free area known as the Poor Ground. As the name would imply, this is where the poor of Dundee’s past lie in unmarked graves, in stark contrast to the imposing headstones and memorials of Dundee’s Victorian industrial barons and merchant class.

Even in death, it would seem, equality can be an elusive concept—the prosperous proclaiming their earthly greatness for all to see, while many of those whose sweat and toil created for them their fabulous riches lie unmarked, unknown, forgotten.

The Poor Ground is possessed of the solemn tranquillity common to graveyards, and on a pleasant day it is a calm and peaceful place to sit on one of the three benches that form a row on the northern edge of the area. Each of the benches has a plaque on it, and the inscriptions on the two westernmost make for an eye-catching and interesting read. They are as follows:

Peter Grant

Peter Grant

In memory of PRIVATE PETER GRANT VC Born 1824
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in India 16 November 1857.
He died 10 January 1868 and was buried near here.

And, on the other bench,

Thomas Beach

Thomas Beach

In memory of PRIVATE THOMAS BEACH VC Born 1824
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in The Crimea 5 November 1854.
He died 24 August 1864 and was buried near here.

Neither Beach nor Grant fared well after their brief flirtation with fame, and both were dead in their early 40’s, almost within a decade of receiving their VC’s. Thomas Beach left the army in 1863. He returned to Dundee, where he died in the Royal Infirmary on August 24, 1864, aged 40. The cause of death is believed to have been severe alcoholism.

According to a report in the Dundee Advertiser, dated January 11, 1868, Private Peter Grant (who at the time was still a serving soldier of the 93rd Regiment, stationed in Aberdeen) had been missing from where he lived since Friday, December 27, and had not been seen again till the previous morning. His body was removed from the river, near Craig Harbour, by a Constable Bremner.

Still pinned to his uniform coat was his Victoria Cross and his campaign medals. In the pockets of the coat were a fourpenny piece, a penny and a knife. He had been on a visit to friends in Dundee. The last sighting of Private Peter Grant had been in Wheatley’s Public House in the Overgate.

What the inscriptions on the benches at the Poor Ground tell us is instructive.

Despite being feted by the state, their country bestowing upon them its highest award for valour on the field of battle, that same state which honoured their courage so, in death abandoned them, not even caring enough to provide a simple headstone to mark the last resting places of those it had so recently proclaimed heroes, one of whom was, at the time, still a serving member of the army.

Indifference and callousness

Fast forward now from the mid-to-late nineteenth century to the first decade of the twenty-first century. On August 26, 2007, I am reading an article in the Independent on Sunday, the headline of which reads Our boys deserve better treatment than this.

I am habitually and instinctively wary of articles containing the words our boys. Usually, they are flag waving, shallow pieces of jingoism, designed to inculcate in the population the belief that all British foreign military adventures are benign, and to make us feel that there is something wrong with us if we do not support our troops.

Many thousands of us have, of course, been supporting our boys in the best way possible, urging prior to March 2003 that we should not attack Iraq, and calling for the withdrawal of the troops ever since the launching of that ill-thought-out foreign misadventure.

But the article in the Independent is highlighting the plight that our boys face when they are wounded, either mentally or physically. Two cases in particular are highlighted, each in its own way a shocking indictment of the indifference and callousness of the state which would send our young people into combat on a mixture of half-truths and downright lies.

On the Military Families Support Group website, one mother tells of her son, who is home on two weeks’ leave from Afghanistan. She discovered that he was suffering from a double fracture to the jaw, caused by a faulty rocket launcher, which recoiled into his face. Other than pain relief he had received no treatment at all for the injury.

It was not till his mother sent him to her dentist that the true extent of the injury was discovered. He was told at Selly Oak Hospital that as the fractures were, by that time, four weeks old, there was nothing they could do and he was sent back to Afghanistan after being told to eat only soft food.

The second case is, if anything, even more harrowing.

A mother tells how her 19-year-old son, an infantry soldier who served in Iraq, is haunted by witnessing a child sliced in two by a British bullet which was fired into a crowd in Basra. The memory of the boy’s father gathering up the pieces of his child, sitting on the curb and hugging them, torments him.

When the nightmares come he has to climb into bed with his mother and her husband. Before he can sleep she has to cuddle him and rub his nose as she did when he was a baby. Clearly, his mother says, he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but this young soldier has received no counselling.

Many who leave the armed forces fare no better. An article in The Scotsman on August 8, 2007, stated that as many as one in ten homeless people are ex-forces’ members. To put that figure into perspective, if it was proportionate to the size of the armed forces, Britain would have six million serving members in the army, navy and air force.

It is feared that the traumatised of Iraq and Afghanistan will begin to swell the number of homeless ex-service personnel in the not-too-distant future. Many will leave with alcohol related problems and find it hard to adjust to civilian life after traumatic experiences in the forces.

War crimes

At least, unlike during the First World War, we no longer execute those suffering from PTSD. In that most terrible of conflicts three hundred and six disturbed young men, many only boys really, were executed on the orders of military top brass and senior officers. Their sole crime was to have become mentally unwell due to the unspeakable horrors they had witnessed in the human slaughter house that was trench warfare.

Most of those who were executed were vulnerable, defenceless teenagers who had actually volunteered for duty, deliberately selected and found guilty as a lesson to others. Their heinous crimes included desertion (ambling around in a confused and dazed state, suffering from PTSD), cowardice (the same symptoms) and insubordination (some trivial incident that could be twisted into an excuse for trial, conviction and execution).

Regularly, these trials would take place one day (the accused would often have no defence), they would be convicted and found guilty on some specious charge, and they would then be shot at dawn the day after the trial.

The British commander-in-chief, General Haig, himself signed the death warrants of all those killed by their own side for the crime of being human, for the crime of being able only to take so much before becoming ill.

It is a war crime to execute the sick and the wounded.

Following allied victory, in 1919 Haig received the thanks of both houses of parliament, was given a grant of £100,000, and rewarded by a grateful state with an earldom.

Just over a decade after the end of the war, in 1929, the world’s stock markets crashed in capitalism’s great crisis.

For many who had escaped with their lives from Europe’s killing fields of 1914-18, who had endured the unendurable in places which were to become forever synonymous with savage slaughter on an industrial scale—The Somme, Paschendale, Ypres et al—a good day for them would be one when they and their families went to bed at night with full stomachs. Not for nothing were those times known as the Hungry Thirties.

From Victorian England, to the dark days of the First World War, to the present day, a pattern of neglect, and at times, sheer bloody-minded vindictiveness, emerges concerning the treatment and after-care of military personnel. Some might say, I believe harshly, that they knew what they were signing up for and take a hell mend them attitude towards them.

Economic conscription

Instead, it should be contended that, as in most things, prevention is better than cure, that these young men and women should never have been put in harm’s way in the first place.

Many of the troops now doing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan will be young, working class, economic conscripts, lured into the armed forces with the promise of a trade and regular paid employment. They will see it as an escape from low paid, slave wage, short term employment, they will see it as a career.

But it is a career which, just as much now as it ever has been, can come with a lethal price. They are the young men and women denied a fair chancein civilian life by the market forces of capitalism, as well-paid jobs are shipped abroad, where labour is cheaper and health and safety not really much of an issue at all.

How ironic it is, then, that the youth of this country who take the queen’s shilling will, almost inevitably, end up shipped abroad themselves to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where, too, health and safety willbe perilous issues.

What, then, of the future? It does not bode well. Recently, to much rejoicing among the mainstream political parties and shipyard workers, the government announced that it was placing orders for two giant aircraft carriers, the largest warships ever to be built for the Royal Navy. The deal was touted as securing thousands of jobs.

But the implications of this alleged good news have a darker side. The building of these two giant warships tells us much about the government’s long-term perception of what Britain’s role in international affairs should be.

The military purpose of an aircraft carrier is not a defensive one. They are the long arm of imperialism, designed to facilitate the ability to strike anywhere on earth that their political masters deem necessary for the furtherance of imperial wars and ambitions, the chastisement of undemocratic dictators or any of the other familiar, oft-used excuses needed to unleash the dogs of war.

However powerful these ships are, the aircraft carrier is only one tool in the armed wing of imperialism. The chosen target’s population, having been suitably shocked and awed by aerial bombardment, and we from the comfort of our armchairs treated to video game TV news items showing surgical strikes by smart bombs, the dirty work still has to be done.

The task of enforcement and occupation, thinly disguised and euphemistically described as liberation, the bringing of democracy, etc., etc., will fall, as always, to the troops on the ground. It is they who will have to live with the day-to-day horrors of any occupation.

Some will be driven slowly mad by what they witness; others, tragically, will die amid those horrors.

In a letter home from Iraq a young nineteen-year old soldier wrote, I do not see why our lads have to die for something that will not make an iota of difference. Despite his tender years he had come to understand how rotten, how bankrupt his country’s policy in Iraq had become, had always been, how wasteful of young lives it was.

That young soldier was killed while on sentry duty in Basra.

We have done with Hope and Honour, we are lost to Love and Truth,
We are dropping down the ladder rung by rung;
And the measure of our torment is the measure of our youth,
God help us, for we knew the worst too young!

Rudyard Kipling


Sep 14 2007

Irish Election: Downturn in Workers Struggle Means Teflon Bertie Rides Again

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 2:09 pm

by John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, Belfast)

The Irish election of 24th May astounded all the political observers commenting on it. The election was called unexpectedly at a rushed early morning press conference in a transparent attempt to head off a judicial enquiry into suspect financial dealings by the Taoiseach , Bertie Ahern. The enquiry was immediately postponed. On the campaign trail Ahern was struck dumb when questioned about his finances. When he did make a statement a poll showed that over half the electorate did not believe him. In the background behind the corruption allegations was a major strike by nurses, a crisis in the health service, the repression of women’s reproductive rights, major incidents of pollution and a mass privatisation campaign.

The confident prediction was that Fianna Fail would be forced out of office and replaced with a ‘rainbow coalition’ of the right-wing Fine Gael party with the Irish Labour party as junior partners. The Green party and Sinn Fein were expected to substantially increase their share of the vote and the smaller socialist and local independent candidates expected to do well.

The actual result was that the Fianna Fail vote fell slightly, but they were returned as the major party, ready to form a new coalition government. The opposition was concentrated in a major swing to the right-wing Fine Gael vote, but Labour performed poorly and were not in a position to form a coalition. The Green vote was below expectation, but their six seats may put them in coalition government. For Sinn Fein and the small socialist organisations the vote was a disaster. Ironically the Fianna Fail partners in the last election, the far right Progressive Democrats, who always claimed to be watchdog over the probity of their coalition partners, were wiped out in the election. The best news of the election was the defeat of minister for justice, the Progressive Democrat leader, Michael McDowell, well hated for his ultra-right views, lost his seat and has said he will resign from politics

In the 30th Irish Dáil the final state of the parties

  • Fianna Fáil 78,
  • Fine Gael 51,
  • Labour 20,
  • Progressive Democrats 2,
  • Green Party 6,
  • Sinn Féin 4,
  • Independents 5.

In the 29th Dail Fianna Fail had 81 seats, Fine Gael had 31, Labour 21, PDs 8, Greens 6, Sinn Fein 5, Socialist Party 1 and independents 13

Life in a ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy

There were many issues in the election that spoke volumes about the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. A major strike by nurses was defeated at the hands of the Irish trade union bureaucracy, locked in partnership with the bosses to prevent strikes like the nurses succeeding. The partnership deal is now leading to workers working harder for what is effectively a pay cut. The major issue of the collapse of the existing health service loomed in the background. In housing, the majority of workers cannot afford homes and there is no real programme of social housing. Parents pay over 30% of the direct running costs of schools. Water privatisation is on the agenda, while at the same time uncontrolled pollution is making water undrinkable. Housing costs that force workers to satellite towns and lack of public transport mean hours added to the working day. In the ‘D’ Case attempts were made to force a young woman to carry a nonviable foetus to term. Shannon airport continues to play a major role in the Iraq war despite Ireland’s status as a neutral country. Shell to Sea documents a campaign where the state is crushing the rights of its citizens in the interests of a major oil company. A new partitionist settlement pushed Irish unity further away than ever.

These were issues, but they were not election issues because there was no-one to present them. Sinn Fein’s populist pretence of social democracy evaporated within days of the election being launched. The small socialist movement lost its electoral voice in this election. It had lost its political voice long ago.

Nurses in Ireland defeated at the hands of the Irish trade union bureaucracy

Nurses in Ireland defeated at the hands of the Irish trade union bureaucracy

The political retreat of the working class had become a rout following the Irish Ferries struggle of 2005. A mass mobilisation of workers followed deregulation, casualisation and outsourcing of jobs – a ‘race to the bottom’ that saw mass redundancies and the employment of migrant workers on starvation wages. The mobilisation was firmly under the control of the trade union bureaucracy who used it, not to oppose this process, but to draft a new 10-year agreement with the bosses called ‘towards 2016’.

This offered flexibility and wage restraint in return for promises that the government and employers would manage the offensive on employment rights by, for example halting wage cuts when they reached the legal minimum. The outcome of this policy was that the trade union leadership and sections of the working class began to actively support the privatisation process. The privatisation of the national airline Aer Lingus, was accompanied by the issue of shares to the workforce at the urging of the union.

The privatisation was immediately followed by a predatory bid by Ryanair and the ludicrous situation of workers and unions collaborating in speedups and jobs cuts – tearing up their rights as workers in order to defend their rights as shareholders!

Aer Lingus: victim of provatisation

Aer Lingus: victim of provatisation

The downturn in class struggle was apparent in the national action by nurses during the election. There were a number of statements of support by left groups, but no solidarity action. The government’s counter-attack – that social partnership with the unions prevented them meeting the nurses demands – went unremarked, as did the active participation of the union bureaucracy, through the partnership ‘National Implementation Body’ in forcing the defeat of the Nurses. Their demands will now be addressed through the partnership ‘benchmarking’ process, that exchanges concessions on wages and hours for speed-up and redundancies that will see the workers pay for the so-called concessions.

The outcome in electoral terms was that the small socialist movement fought small local and community-based campaigns that adapted to the retreat of workers. A good example was the demand for ‘affordable housing’. This reflected the widespread view that public housing or any general right to be housed is utopian. In the absence of thispossibility many workers want their own chance to get on the ‘property ladder’ and join in the speculative bubble based on housing stock which made homes for workers unavailable in the first place!


With no challenge from the left the election became a battle between right and ultra-right. (The Irish Labour party can be included among the ultra right. One of its key complaints was that the middle class were being taxed too heavily). The main ground – the corruption of the government – could not be fought too closely. Only the incurably naïve would imagine that corruption was restricted to one section of the Irish capitalist class. As a result the campaign became a presidential one, with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern himself becoming the main issue.

Bertie was far from defenceless. In the campaign he was able to balance the negative reports of his financial irregularity against pictures of himself posing with the bigot Paisley as the man who had finally resolved the Irish question and images of Bertie as world statesman addressing the British House of Commons. The hidden sub-text of corruption played in his favour also. The right critique of corruption in Ireland is similar to American critiques of corruption in Africa, a mechanism for promoting further privatisation and deregulation. The right believe that the flip side of corruption – the patronage and populist clientelism that define Fianna Fail – is too inefficient and concedes too much to the working class. Social partnership, which grew out of Fianna Fail patronage of the trade union bureaucracy, is seen as an unnecessary concession. In fact during the election the Irish small business federation launched a bitter attack on social partnership from the right, complaining that the basic conditions in public service forced them to provide a basic wage in the private sector.

In fact the Irish expect corruption from their politicians. Bertie Ahern got over 30% of the votes cast – a figure reduced from over 50% by his parties voting advice in a multi-seat constituency. One figure in the top ten of voter preferences who may well support the new government as an independent is Michael Lowry, forced to resign as a government minister for breathtaking public corruption. Another figure is Beverly Cooper-Flynn. Elected on a high turnout and willing to support the new government, she may well lose her seat by being declared bankrupt. The bankruptcy would arise from legal attempts to contest media reports of corruption – attempts which failed. The Dublin working class vote for Fianna Fail indicates that, after two decades of partnership and following the collapse of republicanism as any kind of radical force, they are now looking to the populist wing of capitalism to defend them from the worst of the coming offensive.

An important footnote in the campaign was the weakness of Sinn Fein. Expecting to double their seats and have a good chance of positions in a coalition government, their vote and number of seats fell. There were a number of reasons for this. Their expectation of reward for delivering the imperialist settlement in the North was misplaced. Irish capital is grateful – but not that grateful. The 26-county state already has a Fianna Fail and has no need for Fianna Fail Óg. The party, having carefully crafted a mild social democratic taxation policy, abandoned it at the start of the election campaign to adopt the economic policy of the right. Finally, the party has not developed the skills of ‘normal’ bourgeois parties.

Adams, put face to face with other politicians found that his grasp of political and economic issues was not sufficient. Years of cosseting by politicians and media urging on the republican surrender disguised the fact that the organisation is still run on regimented and military lines and its pool of political ability is very small.

Sinn Fein’s difficulty will not end there. In the North they will hold on desperately to the parliamentary positions that they already have and will be easy prey for further demands from the Paisleyites. In the South they will be very welcome to hold up the Fianna Fail minority government without reward, giving them all the disadvantages of openly supporting the capitalist offensive without any of the advantages of office.

Localism and electoralism

Despite the loss of the one seat held by Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party, the small socialist movement’s vote was not insignificant in numerical terms (one candidate, Richard Boyd Barrett of the Socialist Workers Party, did come close to election, but not around any socialist demands). What did render it insignificant was the politics of the candidates. Localism and electoralism meant that what we got was a left gloss on the dominant capitalist programme. A few thousand votes for the workers republic would have meant incomparably more in terms of organising the fightback against the offensive that will follow this election.

The one distinct gain from the election was the defeat of the Progressive Democrats and the obliteration of their leader, the ultra-right former minister of justice, Michael McDowell. The fate of the PDs was both defeat and victory. It was victory in the sense that they party was formed to force on Fianna Fail the need for a Thatcherite deconstruction of Irish society. In this they were supremely successful. However, when Fianna Fail did adopt their programme their reason for existence changed. They declared they were in government to act as watchdog on government corruption!

In fact the PD’s played a unique role in coalition – as heatshield for Fianna Fail. The PD demise indicates how unpopular their programme is, but Fianna Fail have been able to escape blame for implementing it by regretfully explaining that the rules of coalition tied their hands. Bertie Ahern understands how useful this role has been and is now trying to construct an informal alliance of the PD rump and independents which would again deflect blame for the government.

This is unlikely to work. The populist and clientelist cover over a full-scale offensive on Irish workers is unlikely to last for long. Fianna Fail will face choppy water long before the 30th Dail runs its course. Just how difficult its task will be will depend to the extent that the working class can begin to build independent structures for its own defence.


Sep 14 2007

Past Mustn’t Stand In Way of Future

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 1:45 pm

Below, we reprint the editorial from the Belfast Newsletter, 27 March 2007. As a DUP-supporting newspaper, it gives a clear indication of why Paisley went into coalition with Sinn Fein.

No matter what happened yesterday, Peter Hain had planned to be the winner. If the Assembly had met and a First and Deputy First Minister had been appointed, he would have graced the world’s media as politics’ true Houdini.

The deputy leadership of the Labour Party and, as a result, the country would have been in reach and all would hail his momentous or even historic feat as the final solution to an age-old problem. Only his ‘natural’ tan could have masked the glow of success.

If, on the other hand, his master plan had crashed and burned, he would have displayed his mettle as the man who means business by proceeding to implement his dissolution consequences like a vindictive dictator.

Water bills would have been delivered, the abolition of academic selection would be confirmed and the Irish Language Act would have progressed through parliament.

Thankfully, none of that has happened or indeed will happen. Stormont has not closed; further Dublin involvement will not occur and water bills won’t arrive.

But more importantly, the arbitrary deadline set by the Government has not been enforced. The leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party secured what many others said was politically and realistically impossible.

They have found a third way. They have defied illogical deadlines and ensured that when full devolution does occur in May, it happens because it is right for unionists and it happens, for the first time, on unionist terms. And while what occurred yesterday may have been a surprise, it is important to remember just what progress has been made.

Sinn Fein has locked itself into the Assembly and, in doing so, helped to imbed Northern Ireland as an integral part of the UK.

They have agreed to participate in an Executive within a British institution and, as a result of legislative changes, are required to endorse our Royal Courts of Justice and support the forces of the Crown within their own communities. But it doesn’t just stop there.

While progress has been made on an economic package that will ensure an Executive has the best chance of survival, commitments have been made to increase efforts to broaden that package and get the best deal for this Province.

On the transformation of Sinn Fein, great strides have also been made.

The decommissioning of weapons may not have happened in the most transparent way, but it did happen and the ending of paramilitary and criminal activity as outlined by the IMC is borne out by the media, security analysts and others.

That is something that we have to accept, but there is nothing stopping us taking action if the situation changes. Confidence, however, can be found in procedures that will ensure that, if Sinn Fein was to resort to old tricks, they would be the only party to suffer.

Only a fool would think the DUP and Sinn Fein could work together on the basis of trust but, as Ian Paisley said yesterday,

we must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future.

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Sep 14 2007

Consensus Politics or an Unprincipled Lash-Up?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 1:39 pm

Following the Welsh Assembly elections, Bob Davies (CPGB, South Wales) details the compromises in the pursuit of power

Cross party, consensus politics currently appears in vogue at the moment. As I write, and perhaps encouraged by recent developments in Welsh politics, Gordon Brown has announced that Patrick Mercer and John Bercow, both Tory MPs, will be joined by Lib. Dem MP, Matthew Taylor to advise the government on certain policy matters with their expertise. It seems the Labour/Plaid coalition administration in Wales could yet provide the basis for thenew politics Brown hankers for – all in the interests of the country as a whole, of course.

One Wales

Somehow, I think not. The Welsh electorate experienced the same sort of empty, meaningless rhetoric following Welsh Labour’s predicament when it failed to secure an overall majority in y Senedd during elections to its’ Assembly on May 3rd this year. The eventual outcome of that were a Labour First Minister and a Plaid Cymru deputy First Minister with ‘One Wales’ being ratified as the policy document that now forms the basis for the country’s political direction until 2011. It is worth giving the period in question a quick résumé.

Events in the weeks subsequent to One Wales being approved may have bordered on the farcical, but they were hardly surprising. The Welsh Assembly has a very limited remit and this found its reflection in the nature of the election campaign generally leading up to May 3rd – the politics being exhibited by all mainstream parties were high on platitudes and low on concrete proposals. The battle for the ‘greenest’ politics and who could best manage the NHS took centre stage. Evidently, how each party imaged itself was more important than its politics.

As soon as it became clear that no single party had secured an overall majority in the Assembly, which of the party leaders could get their grubby hands on first ministerial power became the issue. Talk of deals, pacts and horse – trading in order that each of their respective parties could govern in the ‘best possible way for the people of Wales’ became the norm. Indeed, the Welsh First Minister, Rhodri Morgan’s repeated call to reach out to those in other parties with similar ideas typified the narrow political agenda on offer. Each party leader seemed prepared to make a deal with any of the others but, initially at least, could not quite pull it off.

All Wales Accord

Take the manoeuvrings around the ‘All Wales Accord’ – the first policy document being sold by the proposed coalition of Plaid, Liberal Democrats and Tory Assembly Members, the then infamously named Rainbow Alliance. That document contained such things as a commitment to work towards the improvement of transport links, the piloting of a laptop scheme for all schoolchildren, a trial of NHS walk-in centres and a vague promise to improve social housing. It also carried a commitment to hold a referendum on further powers for the Welsh assembly, bringing it in line with the Scottish parliament. Measures to bring about real democratic change or improve workers’ social and economic rights were absent.

One Wales hardly provides a substantial principled political shift from its predecessor – despite Morgan speaking about it as a new beginning or Plaid’s deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, (who had only recently been praising the All-Welsh accord when One Wales was introduced), bleating about it as a historical moment for the people of Wales.

True, but hardly inspiring, whilst One Wales contains anti-privatisation sound-bites about moving purposefully to end the internal market in the NHS, general commitments on, for example, education are hazy and range from providing extra assistance with student debt to initiating a pilot scheme for laptops for children. Indeed, ‘One Wales’ contains the platitudes people may expect from politics that are characterised by backroom deals between mainstream parties. As with the All Wales accord, principled proposals for real change were, unsurprisingly, not to be found.

The Left in Wales

So what of the Left in Wales during the period in question? Leaving aside the fact that there was a wide array of organisations contesting the five regional lists, at least two and as many as five left slates were vying for the same vote in every region. Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the Morning Star‘s Communist Party of Britain contested each one, while the Socialist Party (standing as Socialist Alternative) and Respect were also on the ballot in South Wales West and South Wales Central. In addition, one of the fragments of the former Workers Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Equality Party, stood in the last named region.

Thankfully, Forward Wales did not add to the confusion by contesting the regions, although its two most well known members at the time, Ron Davies and John Marek, were standing as independents in Caerphilly and Wrexham constituency seats. The average percentage vote for all of these groups combined was around a meagre 0.5%.

The campaigning efforts of those organisations hardly set the world alight either. Take Respect. This organisation in Wales had not conducted any public activities in the run-up to May 3 – thus personifying some of the criticisms George Galloway MP has recently raised about it. Indeed, the most up to date Respect national members’ bulletin at the time, whilst commenting on the 2008 mayoral election in London and the local council elections in England on May 3, had chosen not to even mention Wales in any shape or form.

The SLP too, lying dormant and unseen in the previous few years had done its best to let us know it still existed – if only on paper. Although its party political broadcast had already been screened, its manifesto was launched only on April 22, a little over a week before the election date. Meanwhile, the Socialist Equality Party parachuted its politics and candidates into South Wales Central (each of its candidates lived outside of the country).

Only the CPB and the SP seemed to be putting some effort into campaigning. No doubt buoyed by the first communist broadcast since the 1970s, the CPB had been holding a series of public meetings across Wales. The SP organised a smattering of events in south Wales and its website at least gave the impression of up-to-date campaigning activity.

But what were the political differences that separated all these groups and prevented them even discussing an electoral pact, not to mention a common campaign? For the most part, there was not that much. A look at the material available on their respective websites at the time and the literature handed out at public meetings said it all.

One Wales?: Rhodri Morgan (Labour) * Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid Cymru)

One Wales?: Rhodri Morgan (Labour) * Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid Cymru)

True, the SEP’s broader manifesto specifically questioned the nature of UK democracy, but the common themes promoted were defence of public services (particularly the NHS) and opposition to imperialist war. Of course, both of these are essential demands, but the question of how we are ruled, including the national question and the constitutional monarchy system, were, by and large, absent. The brand of politics being offered to the electorate, including in relation to imperialist war, was economism – albeit with a particular Trotskyist, Labourite, reformist or populist twist.

Furthermore, the fact that the electorate in South Wales Central region, for example, had a choice of five very similar slates typified the problem: that the organised left (particularly in Wales but in Britain generally) is, in fact, splintered and, actually, highly disorganised. The question of party is not considered. The glimpses of left unity seen in previous elections in Wales (the United Left in 1999 and the Welsh Socialist Alliance in the 2001 general election) has now long gone. The whole situation would have been amusing if it wasn’t so tragic.

Plaid Cymru’s left

The response by Plaid Cymru’s left to the twists and turns post May 3rd were more interesting and worth a mention.

From the onset, the prospect of the Rainbow Coalition sparked something of a minor rebellion amongst a small number of Plaid’s left Assembly Members, amongst whom Leanne Wood, AM for South Wales Central, was prominent.

Yet the effectiveness of that rebellion was always questionable. Triban Coch, the now inactive, if not defunct, left-wing grouping in Plaid, did not write a word about that Alliance since it was first mooted by Plaid’s leadership before elections to the Assembly even took place. Indeed, the reason why the Rainbow Alliance failed to become a living entity was actually due to the fact that the Liberal Democrats scuppered the idea – it had very little to do with Plaid’s left rebels.

The politics of that opposition too was always questionable. Speaking at the time of the proposed Rainbow Alliance, Wood stated

There is a clash of values and principles between Plaid and the Conservatives. That is why we believe an arrangement between us would be unsustainable in the long run and not deliver the stable government for which we all strive … We fought this election on a platform to deliver a proper parliament for our nation. A deal with the Conservatives would undermine the chance of delivering that goal.

The other left rebel AMs within Plaid also echoed
that idea. For example, Helen Mary Jones stated that she was against the Alliance because her Llanelli electorate did not want a real Welsh government called into question. Similar comments came from the other two Plaid AMs involved in the rebellion, Nerys Evans AM and Bethan Jenkins AM.

It is, of course, correct and fundamental to demand a parliament for Wales with full powers. But partisans of the working class place such a demand not within the context of Independence but within the context of workers unity on an all-Britain level by raising the importance of the need for a federal republic of Wales, England and Scotland. Fundamentally for Plaid’s left therefore it was not the interests of the working class, but those of a classless Welsh “nation”, which had to be protected from a lash-up with the Tories. On that question, Plaid’s rebels differed little from its leadership.

Indeed, having fought within their party to reject the ‘All-Welsh accord’ only three weeks earlier, it is unclear what precisely Plaid’s five AMs had initially seen when they voted to accept One Wales. For while they are yet to voice publicly their reasons for backing the document, we can only speculate that their thought processes may not be too dissimilar to those of their Westminster colleague, Plaid MP Adam Price (also formally a member of Triban Coch). From the onset, he sold the deal as a progressive political development. On June 28 – two days after Labour and Plaid AMs had formally agreed the new policy document – Price’s blog spoke of ‘One Wales’ in positive terms:

If we are what we say we are, a socialist party, a party of the left, then, all things being equal, when presented with a progressive programme in alliance with another party of the left or an alternative programme in alliance with the political right, then our natural tendency should be to choose left. If we embraced the rainbow under these circumstances, then the message we would send to the people of Wales is that our adoption of socialism in our party’s aims for 26 years was just for show. We would have appeared unprincipled, opportunistic and ideologically rudderless. In other words, we would have looked like the Liberal Democrats. And none of us would have wanted that


Price’s socialism is revealed in some further comments. It seems that the programme contained in ‘One Wales’ will not only make Welsh-medium education a right at every level from the nursery to university, but will bring the right to a decent home within the grasp of every citizen too. To finance this, the Welsh government will cut business taxes to boost the economy, wrote the MP the following day. In other words, administering capitalism is, first and foremost, the priority.


Whatever. Although the coalition government is now up and running, the fact remains that tensions between Plaid and Labour as well as amongst members of each party are very likely to be tested at some point in the near future. Indeed, there is already some ambiguity around the question of a referendum on the introduction of further powers for the Assembly – both parties will need to assess the levels of support for full law making powers necessary to trigger the referendum. Thus it appears that Plaid may yet find itself at the mercy of a Labour veto on the question – a fate which will cause political chaos between the two organisations.

So, despite the fact that, in June, each party conference overwhelmingly endorsed One Wales, it would be safe to say that the coalition can be described as anything but secure. Recent spats about identity and Britishness between Adam Price MP and Labour’s Huw Lewis AM for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney via their respective websites during July and August highlighted the underlying tension and fragility of what some see as an unlikely alliance. It must be noted that some Labour activists continue to feel uneasy about entering into government with the nationalists, while many Plaid members hate the thought of cosying up to British unionists.

For the Left in Wales (and Britain), whatever the outcome of the Labour/Plaid administration, the question of left unity, the need for a genuine working class party organised around the fight for a principled and radical working class programme must remain at the forefront of the political agenda.


Sep 13 2007

The SNP’s ‘National Conversation’ Prepares the Ground for Reform of the Union

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 6:40 pm

Allan Armstrong assesses the impact of the SNP plans for Scotland in the context of British ruling class thinking about reform of the UK

New Unionism and the reform of the UK constitution

On May 3rd New Labour lost its control of both the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. Scotland now has a minority SNP/Green Scottish Government, whilst Wales now has a Labour/Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly Government. This was followed by the replacement of a Ulster Unionist/SDLP-led Northern Ireland Executive by one run by the DUP and Sinn Fein-led Executive on May 7th. What does this all mean for the future of the UK and for socialists throughout these islands?

The current constitutional settlement to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom was implemented by the incoming New Labour government, in 1998, following upon successful referenda results in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This New Unionist deal involved Devolution-all-round for these countries, and replaced the Tories’ preferred UK constitutional order, represented by Westminster Direct Rule and administrative devolution through the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh Offices. New Labour’s political devolution measures are now so well embedded, they have become the new UK constitutional status quo. The Tories no longer seek to overthrow these – only the marginal, intransigent unionists of UKIP.

Constitutional settlements do not exist in a political or economic vacuum. The whole purpose of the New Unionism, initially developed by the Tories in the Anglo-Irish and the Downing Street Agreements, and brought to its rounded form by New Labour with Devolution-all-round, is to create the political environment in which the global corporations can maximise their profits. UK and Irish governments have cut business taxation, promoted privatisations and deregulation and undermined civil rights and effective trade union organisation.

Before we arrived at the latest constitutional settlement, the Tories had faced rising national democratic opposition, most obviously from the Republican Movement in the ‘Six Counties’, but also in Scotland and, to a lesser extent, in Wales. The election of Bobby Sands MP, during the Hunger Strike, in 1981, was the beginning of the end of attempts to break national challenges by head-on conflict.

Thatcher did manage to break much of the power of the organised trade union movement, when she defeated the Miners’ Strike in 1985. However, her continued attempts to break the whole working class, through direct confrontation, came unstuck with her attempt to impose the poll tax. Her efforts only contributed to further destabilisation of the UK, but this time in Scotland.

The British ruling class decided that subtler methods of control were needed. Thatcher, and then the Tories, were ditched in favour of New Labour. They also had a new way of dealing with working class unease. Get the trade union leaderships to act as a personnel management service for the employers through ‘social partnerships’. New Labour borrowed this model from Fianna Fail in Ireland. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement has brought these two partners closer together. The STUC, Wales TUC and the Northern Irish Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have all given their public support to the New Unionist constitutional arrangements.

The mechanisms holding the New Unionist settlement together and the new challenges

The key mechanisms to keep the New Unionist, Devolution-all-round settlement in place have been:-

  • i) supine New Labour-led administrations in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, willing to take orders from New Labour in Westminster.
  • ii) the ‘cooperation’ of the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
  • iii) the support of the Irish government.
  • iv) the support of trade union leaders locked into ‘social partnerships’ both in the UK and 26 County Ireland.
  • v) the backing of successive US administrations and the EU.

The elections to the Scottish Parliament, and to the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, have undermined the first two of these mechanisms. At first glance this sounds like a sure recipe for conflict between Westminster and these three devolved bodies. However, there are wider factors at work, which could lead to a further refinement of the New Unionist project. The most radical form this could take would be ‘Federalism-all-round’, where the Westminster Parliament is maintained for imperial, defence and certain domestic purposes, whilst parliaments, with more powers, are put in place in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. A less radical form would be the further devolution of powers from Westminster, to the existing Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, on an ad hoc basis, thus continuing the asymmetrical devolution model currently in place.

There would, of course, be opposition to these measures. There are significant Labour figures, such as George Foulkes, who would join with the Tories, to mount an intransigent unionist defence of the new UK devolutionary status quo. However, this approach did not go down too well for Labour, when they recently launched their way-over-the-top attack on the SNP, equating their taking office with ‘the end of civilisation as we know it’! Partly as a result of such attacks, New Labour lost control of Holyrood, when the electorate turned its back on such negative campaigning.

However, it is necessary to look to the global context to see that the wider balance of forces is shifting towards acceptance of the need for further constitutional change in the UK. The years of Bush/Blair gung-ho imperialism are coming to an end in the sands of Iraq. The Enron and Halliburton scandals, and the collapse of the housing market in the USA, are leading to increased questioning of neo-liberalism and a finance capital-dominated economy.

The rip-offs, at the expense of the state, taxpayers and employees, represented by equity capital and PPP deals in the UK, are also being increasingly questioned. If US imperialism and corporate capital, in cooperation with the UK’s political leaders, are to maintain their position then gung-ho imperialist, neo-liberal turbo-capitalism may have to be sidelined for a more consumer-friendly, cuddly capitalist alternative. George Soros, global speculator and Joseph Stiglitz, former Chief Economist to the World Bank, have both said so. Retired generals and former CIA spokesmen have added their voices too.

Political adjustments will be necessary in the UK. When Gordon Brown became new Labour leader and PM, he was quick to outline new constitutional proposals for the UK. New Scottish Labour leader, Wendy Alexander, is tentatively looking to the possibility of increased powers for the Scottish Parliament too.

The ‘National Conversation’ in the wider UK context

This issue of Emancipation & Liberation has a special supplement which shows that the election of an SNP-led Scottish Government is unlikely to lead to a successful referendum on independence. Salmond’s ‘National Conversation’ is really designed to build a wider coalition for further reform of the Union – ‘Devolution-max’. The appeal is to Labour nationalists like Henry McLeish.

We have also included a very interesting report from Bob Davies, of the CPGB, on the situation in Wales. Bob comes from a Left unionist tradition. From this perspective, he is well able to see the continued retreats being made, not only by the very mild constitutional nationalist, Plaid Cymru, but also by Left nationalists in Wales.

Forward Wales took its inspiration from the SSP. It has now dissolved, with ex-Labour MPs, John Marek and Ron Davies, becoming Independents, but still (unsuccessfully) pursuing Old Labour-style politics. Marek has lost the Welsh Assembly seat he had won in the 2003 election. Others, including members of the former Welsh Republican Socialist Movement, have now joined Plaid Cymru, and its Left nationalist, Triban Coch grouping. Bob chronicles the Left nationalists’ continued retreats.

There is dire warning for the SSP in all of this. One of our former affiliated platforms, the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement, has also raised the prospect of socialists joining the SNP. Others, particularly from the ex-ISM platform, continue to pursue a Left nationalist strategy, which, when it comes to constitutional issues, makes the SSP, in effect, a pressure group on the SNP. Our special supplement offers a critique of this approach from the RCN’s socialist republican, internationalism from below viewpoint.

We have also included a most unlikely piece – an editorial from the Belfast Newsletter, the DUP supporting newspaper for Northern Ireland. Many, including some in the SSP, have argued that Sinn Fein has ‘got one over’ on the Unionists, by ‘forcing’ the DUP into a new coalition with them, on May 8th. Now, if Ian Paisley had made any significant concessions to nationalists, which undermined the position of Unionists, he would soon have been called a ‘Lundy’. He would face the same future as David Trimble, a one-time unionist intransigent, originally in the semi-fascist, Vanguard Party, but later leader of the Ulster Unionists, until his party’s electoral demise.

Paisley signed-up to the St. Andrews Agreement, in October 2006, when it removed the concessions to nationalists/Catholics, which hard-line Unionists found most unacceptable in the Good Friday Agreement. There was indeed some internal intransigent DUP opposition. Paisley also faced a challenge from Robert McCartney, former intransigent, UK Unionist MP for North Down. McCartney stood for six seats, in the new Stormont elections, on March 7th, challenging Paisley’s St. Andrews Agreement. He was soundly beaten in all of them. The Belfast Newsletter editorial shows us why.

It also helps to explain, just why it is that Northern Ireland currently represents the least of the challenges to the existing constitutional set-up in the UK. Not having local New Labour stooges in place, the UK government has had to follow a different strategy to win the cooperation of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This involves the Westminster government manoeuvring itself into a position of being the ‘neutral’ arbiter between the main local parties either the UUP and SDLP in the past, or the DUP and Sinn Fein now. These parties squabble amongst themselves, over the distribution of the Westminster block grant to the Assembly, and over other concessions, either to nationalists and unionists, whilst making appeals to the UK government for its support. The government must be quite satisfied at the success of its strategy.

The UK government is therefore, for the time being, in a better situation in ‘the Six Counties’ than it has been for a long time. Not only did the intransigent Unionists receive a trouncing in the Northern Ireland elections, so also did the intransigent Republican Sinn Fein. Meanwhile the former ‘intransigents’ Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness get down to the business of running the province in the interests of big business.

Water privatisation looms, reform of secondary education has been dropped, whilst the only ‘challenge’ to Westminster being actively pursued, is the demand to cut corporate taxation in the province! It is even possible that, as with the possibility of the devolution of more its powers, Westminster may agree to differential business tax regimes for Scotland and Northern Ireland (and perhaps elsewhere). This would represent a neo-liberal replacement for earlier differential regional grants and subsidies, originally inspired by social democratic economic thinking.

The elections to the Irish Dail reinforce the British government’s hand

The 24th May election to the Irish Dail also strengthens the hand of the UK government. John McAnulty’s article shows why it was that apparently discredited Bertie Ahern has been able to remain in office. Fianna Fail has now formed an administration with the Greens as new Coalition partners. Here too, two ‘oppositions’ were seen off. One of these was the widely hated Michael McDowell, Progressive Democrat (PD), Minister for Justice in the last Fianna Fail/PD Coalition government. He is as anti-Republican as Paisley (only he would not have joined any coalition government involving Sinn Fein!), and he is also against any concessions to trade union leaders.

Although suffering a personal defeat, McDowell could take some consolation from the fact that the new Fianna Fail government is not in the position of depending on Sinn Fein TD support as some predicted (and Sinn Fein leaders hoped). The PDs were originally a split from Fianna Fail. They were the original Irish flag-bearers for neo-liberalism and accepted Ireland’s allotted place in the New World Order. Their reason to exist has largely disappeared. All the mainstream Irish parties largely accept their neo-liberal economic policies. Irish neutrality has been effectively ditched. Even McDowell must be surprised at just how far Irish trade union leaders are prepared to stoop in ‘the race to the bottom’. This is why most Irish bosses still give their support to ‘social partnership’.

However, if Fianna Fail has largely eliminated any threat from the neo-liberal Right, by occupying much of the Right’s own ground, the opposition to its left, has suffered a much bigger setback. Sinn Fein spent the pre-election period ditching radical policies, which might have caused it trouble in trying to gain a place in a post-election coalition. Gerry Adams hoped that by adopting the role of the national statesman, who delivered peace in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein could substantially increase its vote in ‘the 26 counties’. However, Gerry was upstaged by Bertie. Bertie shook hands with ‘Big Ian’ in Dublin on May 4th, and was then invited by Blair to speak to a joint meeting of the Houses of Commons and Lords on May 15th.

Sinn Fein was unable to ride two horses at the same time – appearing both as a statesman-like voice in the international establishment and the radical voice of local community concerns. It lost a seat and its vote fell badly in Dublin. The Socialist Party also lost its TD, Joe Higgins, and other independent Left TDs were defeated.

New Labour’s New Unionist strategy is designed to reassert the UK’s political and economic influence over ‘the 26 Counties’, as well as reforming the Union, which had received such a battering, when the Tories pursued their old-style intransigent Unionism. The May 24th Irish election result will reinforce the position of the British government. While Sinn Fein licks its wounds in the South, there are less likely to be nasty surprises in the North, when Brown begins negotiations to update the current Devolution-all-round settlement.

Building on the principles of socialist republicanism and internationalism from below

As long as the Left remains in a weak position, throughout these islands, the way is clear for future New Labour-nationalist reconciliation. The likely political basis for this is further reform of the Union and cleaning up the ‘excesses’ of gung-ho imperialism and neo-liberalism. However, in order that the Left can make a recovery, we must have a clear analysis of what is actually happening; not have any illusions that the SNP can deliver independence, nor Sinn Fein, a united Ireland. As a start, this means rejecting the Left nationalism currently being pursued by the SSP leadership and turning to the principles of socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’ pioneered by John Maclean and James Connolly.

It is also a good reason why the SSP Conference should agree to sponsor a Conference for socialist republicans throughout these islands. The UK and Irish governments work hand-in-glove to maintain the current political order. Alex Salmond seeks cooperation with the anti-nationalist, London Labour mayor, Ken Livingstone, and with Stormont’s new First Minister, Ian ‘No Surrender’ Paisley. We need to organise internationally too, which is why the Republican Communist Network has presented its motion to Conference.

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