Archive for Aibreán, 2009

Real Irish Patriots Don’t Shop in Ireland

Aibreán 30, 2009

Never ceases to amaze me how so many supposedly cosmopolitan people in Ireland can be so parochial – and I’m looking at you, Mr. Cochrane. If it’s the loss of tax revenue due to taxes on the printing going to the British state, that might indeed be a – tiny – issue.

The idea that Irish people are only “really” Irish by virtue of inhabiting the 26 counties might come as something of a surprise to the many emmigrants among the diaspora in other countries. Or rather, actually it wouldn’t. Eaten bread is soon forgotten and all that.

It’s pretty perverse to consider that patriotism now consists of completely ignoring the deep historical, and cultural ties (not to mention political – even FG calls itself the “United Ireland Party”) across the traditional national territory. Someone is actually proud of being that senselessly parochial, of worshipping the limitations the state, as opposed to respecting the natural hinterlands of people? Greasy fingers in the till, indeed.

It’s like a bad Cork joke – real patriots don’t shop in Kerry. But people really take this seriously?

On “Constitutionalism”, so-called

Aibreán 28, 2009

The word ‘constitutional’ is one of the most politically warped and deliberately conflated words in the Anglo-Irish conflict.

‘Constitutional movement for reform’ (e.g. referring to the Irish Home Rule Party operating in 19th century Britain) may seem self-explanatory within one particular cultural, political, or historical context; but e.g. in the USA (even in the Republic of Ireland) the word ‘Constitutional’ carries a very different set of contexts and meanings: a foundational legal document granting legitimacy to the state from the people, guaranteeing certain rights to citizens, that preempts all other executive, legislative, and judicial state powers.
This is fundamentally different from the British understanding of ‘constitutional’, which is closer to meaning ‘important constituent law’, but which can be overruled at will by parliament, and thus does not have the same prohibitionary power against state action or legislative fiat.
This is important, not only because the legitimacy of the British State to rule the Irish people was what was (is?) in question, but because the word ‘constitutional’ is often used as the antonym to politically delegitimise ‘physical force’ republicanism historically.
To use the American example again, no one today would describe George Washington et al as ‘physical force republicans’ in opposition to ‘constitutionalism’ or ‘constitutional reform’. No one is referring to Bastille Day as the triumph of ‘physical force republicanism’. That this can be considered appropriate to describe Irish patriots at all, only shows the extent of Orwellian abuse of language for political purposes in Ireland – and that our court historians and commentariat are the primary subversives of the Republic.

There could be another reason for this meme to be so successful in Dublin 4 politics: the political heritage of Daniel O’Connell and his Repeal (of the British-Irish parliamentary union) movement, and their tactically valid but strategically nowhere, intellectually bullshit, endorsement of the idea that “under no circumstances is a nation justified in asserting its liberties by force of arms” as a way of appeasing certain elements of the C19th British power elite. That this is so self-evidently wrong, or at least would appear to many to be in outer la-la land, does not make it so in the doublespeak of Ireland’s current commentariat. They are the inheritors of both cute-hoorish clienteelism, and the ultra-respectable Maynoothism of Catholic elements willing to sell out the country collaborate with powers hostile to Irish national interests, in exchange for the chance of material comforts and low-level advancements. The first is known too much, and is always the brickbat thrown at Fianna Fáil – although they only professionalised what everyone else are amateur enthusiasts at; but the second is like the curse of Cain on everyone from Fine Gael to the Greens, from the Workers Party entryists to the Europhiliacs.

Surely we should substitute the word “collaborationist” with “constitutional”; not only would the sentences not be adversely affected in meaning, their truth-value would increase.

Republican Anarchism/Libertarian Republicanism

Aibreán 17, 2009

This in response to a thread at

Some extracts on Libertarian Republicanism, and the adaptation of universalist, general ideas to local, specific contexts —

Republican ideals & Anarchist thought:

“Two substantive aspects of anarchist thought…: the alternative conception of social contract elaborated in Proudhon’s ‘mutualism’ as a way of addressing the tendency towards factions or ‘coalitions of the willing’ in international society; and the wider influence of ‘republican’ ideals of civic virtue on anarchist thinking leading to a ‘republican anarchist’ conception of the society of states – an inchoate international republicanism without the state – where state autonomy is integrated with active participation in issues concerning the ‘common good’.”
Kazmi, Zaheer. “Rethinking Anarchy: ‘Classical’ Anarchist Thought and International Society” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Le Centre Sheraton Hotel, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Mar 17, 2004. 2009-04-14

Thomas Jefferson’s “Little Republics” and the United Irishmen:

Jefferson’s proposal of the ward republic represented an attempt on his part to supply greater security to the political rights of citizens by overcoming anemia (a potential vulnerability in liberal polities) and encouraging citizen vigilance.
Webb, Derek. “Jefferson’s Ward Republic: Political Rights and an Engaged Citizenry” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois, . 2009-02-05

Thomas Jefferson idealistically remained attached to and hopeful of putting into practice his classical republican ideas. This paper analyzes Jefferson’s ward democracies and how they intended to support public education and active citizenship.
“… ward republics, which were to be divisions within each county ‘of such size as that every citizen can attend, when called on, and act in person’ to govern locally… Unlike many of the founders, Jefferson believed that a republic must be established on more than mere consent, and many of his republican proposals were considered by his critics to be of the ‘levelling’ sort… he was advocating his ‘little republics… where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward… and feels that he is a participant in the government… not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day…”
Dotts, Brian. “Thomas Jefferson’s Ward Republics and a Defense of Classical Republicanism” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois, Apr 20, 2006 . 2009-02-05

Among the thousands of political refugees who flooded into the United States during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, none had a greater impact on the early republic than the United Irishmen. They were, according to one Federalist, “the most God-provoking Democrats on this side of Hell.” “Every United Irishman,” insisted another, “ought to be hunted from the country, as much as a wolf or a tyger.” […]
[…] America served a powerful symbolic and psychological function for the United Irishmen as a place of wish-fulfillment, where the broken dreams of the failed Irish revolution could be realized. The United Irishmen established themselves on the radical wing of the Republican Party, and contributed to Jefferson’s “second American Revolution” of 1800; John Adams counted them among the “foreigners and degraded characters” whom he blamed for his defeat. After Jefferson’s victory, the United Irishmen set out to destroy the Federalists and democratize the Republicans. Some of them believed that their work was preparing the way for the millennium in America. Convinced that the example of America could ultimately inspire the movement for a democratic republic back home, they never lost sight of the struggle for Irish independence. It was the United Irishmen[…] who originated the persistent and powerful tradition of Irish-American nationalism.

Bolton Hall & the “Free Acres” community:

“Selections from Free America and other works” Bolton Hall
(Introduction by Mark Sullivan)
(p.1) “Bolton Hall was a pioneer of what we may cal ‘alternative economics’ – what E.F. Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’ ppopularized as ‘Economics as if Prople Mattered’…”
(p.2-3)”Bolton Hall was born August 5, 1854 in Ireland. He came to America in 1867 with his parents when his father had been chosen pastor of the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York… he took up the study of law, and founded the American Longshoreman’s Union. […] He took part in other movements tending in anarchist or libertarian directions […] Moving among these radical circles [he] eventually met Emma Goldman. Despite their differences on how best to realize a free society, they became friends and mutual supporters through thick and thin…”

Founding of Free Acres
In 1910 Bolton Hall (1854-1938), a follower of Henry George, founded Free Acres. Hall’s background and intellectual predilections were strikingly similar to those of George. The son of a prominent New York City Presbyterian minister, Hall also combined religious and economic views to argue that humankind should serve as the “stewards” of the land. Hall’s philosophy is a combination of the law of love enunciated by Jesus, the economic views of Henry George, and the political rights of people defined by Thomas Jefferson.
He also followed American anarchists and antistatists in the tradition of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and John Brown. He was influenced by his contemporary anarchists like Russians Leo Tolstoy and Pyotr Kropotkin, Englishman William Morris and American Emma Goldman. He believed that governments generally interfere unjustly with individual liberty and should be replaced by the voluntary association of cooperative groups. He held a vision of small cooperative communities in which simple life can maximize opportunity for individual self-expression.
He founded Free Acres to serve as a working experiment in local democracy, a living testament to his beliefs. He had an abiding faith in small communities, that liberty, justice and greater equality would prevail among the face to face relationships provided by the Free Acres monthly meeting. Free Acres would be able to avoid the onerous burden of bureaucracy and the futility of civil service reform that he associated with state socialism.

Jim Larkin, James Connolly, and the Revolutionary Syndicalism of Chicago culture & the IWW:

“The Rise & Fall of the Dil Pickle: Jazz-Age Chicago’s Wildest & Most Outrageously Creative Hobohemian Nightspot”
Founded in 1914 by former Wobbly Jack Jones, Irish revolutionist Jim Larkin, and a group of fantastic IWW-oriented Bughouse Square hobos and soapboxers, the Dil Pickle in just a few years was widely recognized as the wildest, most playful, most creative, and most radical nightspot…

Industrial workers of the World: James Connolly
First and foremost James Connolly was a Socialist. And when asked to elaborate on his Socialist theory, he would always advocate Revolutionary Syndicalism. Readers of James Connolly may react by saying that almost nowhere in Connolly’s work can any mention of Syndicalism be found. This is simply because Connolly preferred to use the term ‘Industrial Unionism’ to Syndicalism.

Jack White: Anarchist & Christian Communist

Jack White proposed the idea of workers’ militia, the Irish Citizens Army (ICA) in 1913 and played a key role in its early development and organisation. In April 1916 he was arrested in south Wales for attempting to organise a strike of miners in support of James Connolly.
In 1931, White was involved in a bitter street battle between unemployed workers and the RUC on the Newtownards Road in Belfast. 1936 at the age of 57 he travelled to Spain (as part of a Red Cross ambulance crew) to help fight fascism. Here he gravitated towards the anarchist CNT.
Impressed by the revolution that had unfolded in Spain, White was further attracted to the anarchist cause due to his own latent anti-Stalinism

“It is a fact, that the Barcelona churches were burnt, and many of them, where roof and walls are still standing, are used to house medical or commissariat stores instead of, as previously, being used by the fascists as fortresses. I suspect their present function is nearer the purpose of a religion based by its founder on the love of God and the Neighbour.”
First Spanish Impressions, Nov. 1936
“White travelled to Bohemia… lived in a ‘Tolstoyan’ commune in England and then travelled and worked in Canada… declaring himself to be a ‘Christian Communist’. He declared that ‘he was not prepared to go forward as the representative of any class or party, but only of a principle – the voluntary change to communal ownership of the land – and – the gradual withering of the poisoned branches of standing armies, prisons and the workhouse system.'”

IrishRepublican.Net: Land Nationalisation

Aibreán 14, 2009

This is in response to the thread on IrishRepublican.Net:

I’ve worked on farms, in factory and office too; I’d like to caution against emotional reductionism to an urban/rural rivalry. Not only is this completely unproductive both politically and intellectually, it’s actually kind of parochial.

I’ve heard lots of criticisms about farmers before, some valid. The wrong-headed ones are overwhelmingly from people who have no actual firsthand knowledge of farming – I am not saying that should prevent people from having an opinion, but I don’t think many of the invalid prejudices would be considered as broadly acceptable if concerning an ethnic minority, for example.

The average income of a farmer from agriculture is about 20,000 yearly; the average income of an employee of the department of agriculture is about 50,000. A farmer does not get a state-guaranteed pension, travel and mileage allowance, his livelihood is not protected by labour tribunal, or by security of civil-service salary and benefits etc. etc.

I’m highly ambivalent about the repeated use of “urban worker” in contrast to farmers. Not only is this being used euphemistically to conflate and ideologically place urban dwellers on a plane above criticism, but also to imply a kind of four-legs-good, two-legs-bad opposition against farmers – not “urban workers”, and by sly implication, not workers?

Ah, but they own land. And if they sold the land… they wouldn’t be able to be farmers anymore, would they? But someone – some urban dweller, let’s say – might build a house, or a whole development of houses. So let’s turn this around… I could also argue that all those “urban workers” – for the sake of consistency, I’ll also use that as a euphemism for all urban dwellers – who have been living large during the Celtic Tiger years, on the Pig’s Back of mortgaged equity, have been relentlessly driving up land prices. This creates a huge incentive for farmers to sell land to developers, at these inflated prices (most farmers promptly turn around and by land somewhere else – it’s just what they know). It also makes it impossible for young farmers to enter farming unless they inherit land – there is no way you can justify that kind of expense for the paltry returns from a field of wheat.

But what is the purpose of creating urban/rural rivalries like that? Does it benefit our understanding, or cloud it? Who benefits from that distraction, other than those elements and institutions who have actually gained the most, and who are now getting bailed out by the taxpayer?

My own back-of-the-envelope calculations are that about 50-60% of the so-called “farmers'” subsidy goes to administration. That would mean those “urban workers” in suits and offices, and all those urban-based inspectors whose numbers have not been decreasing, even as farmers’ numbers have. For every 360 citizens, there is one Garda; for every 14 farmers, there is one Department of Agriculture employee. Of the remainder of the budget, about 75-90% goes on inputs, the majority petrochemical based – e.g. pesticides, fertiliser and fuel. Those are not produced on farms, by the way. And that would be most of the 75-90% of that two-thirds of that so-called “income” mentioned by others; the farmer is a middle man who just takes a cut, before passing the majority on to more urban-workers (have I beaten this horse enough?) in suits and offices.

Picture a loaf of bread. About half a slice of that, that’s about what the farmer gets as a return from that loaf. Who is getting the lion’s share? You might start by asking those fellows who are charging you 50% more in the 26 counties than your compatriots in the six-counties (and I doubt even farmers there get more of a share).

There was a good Pamphlet issued by one of the Wobblies, I think, called “Socialism for the Farmer who Farms the Farm” (as opposed to the “farmer who farms farmers” i.e. the large land-holders). They use the metaphor of “the fat man on the bridge” who collects a toll from everyone who wants to go to the market to sell their products. The toll-taker represents the capitalist problem (not the market per se). The fat man on the bridge is no longer one class or set of people, but the institutional, structural alienation of the product of labour from all workers – rural and urban – by the privatisers (or privateers) and state-sanctioned capitalists.

I disagree that small-scale enterprises are inherently inefficient as opposed to large scale. The question of scale is one of appropriateness and is relative to context. A lot of corporate gigantism is not the result of “free markets”, but rather of state intervention on behalf of corporate and managerial interests. The huge physical distribution costs are effectively subsidised by public road-building and geopolitical pacification (military, political and economic suppression – or transfer – of restless natives: e.g. NATO strongarm, EU Big Mother, IMF economic hitmen…). There is a huge cartelisation impetus, and artificially-high market entrance barrier because of high regulation – the compliance-cost of which can cripple small- to medium-sized enterprises, but which can be absorbed as a constant running cost by large-scale business, now protected from more innovative up-starts.

This applies not just to shops and workshops, but to farming and farmers’ markets (or local shops and restaurants that try to favour local produce). There is a very large compliance cost in agricultural production in Ireland, both in time and resources necessary.

This all suits both big-business and big-state managerialism (many of the top people rotate between them both). It regularises tax-intakes (e.g. the unholy alliance of petrol-companies and Revenue/Dept. of Finance in crimping alternative energy), and provides secure, stable profit streams (less competition).

The mutualist writer, Kevin Carson, has some excellent analysis of this at – check out particularly his “Studies in Mutualist Political Economy“, also “Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective“.

By the way, when people say “part-time” farmer, it sometimes sounds more like a sneer. I’m not sure why Mexican campesinos should be less deserving of respect, if they work at other jobs for income, for example. This is a long established phenomenon in sociological and economic studies of many rural societies around the world, there’s nothing aberrant about it (the correct term is “pluriactive” FYI).

Another thing: the people who make the regulations and implement the regulations, and the people who buy the agricultural commodities and consume the products, are primarily urban dwellers, not farmers. Look at how much you are all paying for a bottle of water. Water. In Ireland. Now, on a volume/price basis, compare that with what you are all willing to pay (I should say, “not” willing to pay) for an all-natural energy and health drink with water, protein, calcium… or: “Milk”. You, urban dwellers, are supporting this – not farmers.

I realise that the Irish Farmers’ Association makes a big noise. But the Civil Servants regard this as a game. They know that the IFA leaders may need to make a big song and dance, but that eventually they will be made go away by some “cash in the fist” – they get something shiny to take back to the members as a big victory, but that the system will go on fundamentally the same. IFA leadership is a revolving door for managerial positions in government, a training ground for boyo’s who have proven their mettle, that can be useful assets to a smart government. (the “Phoenix” touches on this, this week actually.) And the farmers are mesmerised into thinking their fella knows all the big boyos and will sort it out. The IFA are tactically brilliant, but strategically nowhere – except as a future governmental asset testbed.

The farmers – a greying population – are being given subsidies as a kind of morphine drip, in preparation for wholesale euthanasia of the industry. Like cattle being lined up for culling. I want to emphasise, that I do not believe they get the vast majority of the subsidy – but they are mesmerised by the little piece of paper telling them how many numbers are supposedly going into their bank account. The most ingenious con-system is one in which the marks are actually committed to it, because they believe they are the chief beneficiaries.

I remember a Dept. official once snidely remarking to someone who asked what he would do when every farmer had been driven out of business: “Don’t worry, I’ll be the last one to lose my job.” They will be happy when there is one big farm, and one big shop to sell it in: they’ll have the same number of people to regulate it, a nice tidy revenue stream – and whether the system calls itself “socialist” or “capitalist”, you can be sure the same people will be rotating through that managerialist revolving door.

Want some quick fixes that could actually work?
1) a) Abolish the Department of Agriculture, and most of the agricultural regulations. Outsource all clerical functions to India;
b) Send an annual cheque for 5-15% of the previous agricultural budget directly to the farmers (remember, this is effectively all that they are getting after everyone else takes their cut anyway, we’re just cutting out the middlemen);
c) You can now either not charge the tax, or refund every resident in the form of food coupons. Or, you could give the 5-15% actual farmer subsidy to actual consumers as food coupons, to be actually spent on actual farm produce.
Congratulations! you have now just slashed the Agricultural budget by 85-95%, and made the effective subsidy go where it was supposed to without the farmers (or urban workers) being worse off;
3) Zone land according to use and/or underlying value category. Urban land is charged a fee in order to reclaim “socially added” value (public infrastructure, demographic density etc.) for public benefit, and is subdivided on that basis (e.g. residential, industrial, commercial, shopping centre, central business district versus periphery etc.). Rural land is also so divided, with “Agricultural” among the lowest – with “Ecological reserve” or “forestry” being perhaps zero charge, or as credit against others to give an incentive to preserve wildlife and habitat etc.

There has been talk of nationalisation and ownership. Remember first that Proudhon is often misquoted as saying “Property is theft”; that’s a misquote, because while he said that, he _also_ said that “Property is freedom” – he was listing the ways that the institution of property could be used to protect the worker (the worker owned his own means of production) as opposed to when the institution was used to alienate the worker’s labour.

“Property” in land is not one category, but a bundle of rights and entitlements. It’s quite possible to own the right of one use, but not another (e.g. right-of-ways, cropping), or to own the right to use, but not the underlying value (e.g. one person is allowed farm it, but in case of sale the money is split). It’s quite possible to “nationalise” the “socially added” value of land, while leaving present owners with the right to use it and transfer it. I say “socially added” because the value of improvements to the land (whether through fertility or a building) ought in justice go to the people making those improvements. “Socially Added” value is not due to specific individuals, e.g. publicly funded infrastructure, density of population/labour. This also has the effect of increasing the efficiency of land/site use, since there is a charge for use regardless. The previous comment about land being similar to Gold is very apt: no one’s making more of either, and land or sites are a limiting factor to all production.

There’s lots of ways to skin a cat. Instead of charging home-buyers (or farm-buyers?) a big lump-sum stamp-duty, annualise the capitalisation-cost of the site value (thus also providing a steady stream through good times and bad, and not penalising personal improvements to the house etc.). All of those properties in hock to the bankrupt banks: peel them out and nationalise them – the underlying site values remaining a national reserve, to be paid a regular lease in lieu of tax. All such charges would not necessarily increasing taxes on people, but could allow them to shift their tax burden. I don’t advocate charging away all value: efficient allocation of resources would require an incentive to do so – a bonus or commission kept.

Another big plus to this kind of system: no benefit for tax-exiles, you can’t take land and sites with you. And because sites are necessary for all production, site-value charges are famously “sticky” – they cannot be passed on to consumers, the front-loaded onus is on the site owner to actively pull in revenue instead of squatting there and waiting for people to bribe him for use rights. It also has the benefit of reducing speculative excess – a burden on the entire economy and new house buyers – since possession of land or sites would bear a cost.

I’m borrowing and adapting ideas here from both the American economist Henry George, and the Irish economist Raymond Crotty (but don’t blame them for anything that ticks you off – that’s probably me).

One other thing: I realise that I’m being cheeky calling for the abolition of the Dept. of Agriculture, but examine your response – are you really anti-subsidy, or just anti-farmer? Is it ok to outsource farming, but not office work? How does a farmer compete with state-capitalist corporations that pay third-world workers 30 cents an… hour? A day? Farmers might be more “efficient” if we could pay our accountants that kind of money! Is healthy, inexpensive food-commodities just another consumer item, or a matter of national interest? Do you all want the best – or at least most regulated – food that money can buy, but expect farmers to do it as a charity?