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Spectacle Of Defiance And Hope and the marginalistion of the left

category dublin | miscellaneous | feature author Friday December 24, 2010 23:42author by Andrew - WSM Report this post to the editors

A Spectacle of Defiance and Hope!

Several hundred people took part in "A Spectacle Of Defiance And Hope" in Dublin on the night of Friday 10th December to protest the way the government have cut funding to vital community services. Janice Feighery a co-ordinator at an after school computer program for young people said “Community programmes are being devastated by the cuts. Our work with young people is strangled by lack of funds." The spectacle draws to a close the week of protests against the austerity budget.


The organizers who had received financial support from at least one trade union had focused on giving a single look, sound and feel to the event rather than mobilizing numbers.
Read on HERE



The Full Parade Passes By

There is a still slideshow at that link and we'll be adding more pictures to our WSM Facebook page shortly


http://www.wsm.ie/c/spectacle-defiance-hope-dublin-marginalistion-left
http://www.facebook.com/WorkersSolidarityMovement
http://www.wsm.ie/budget-2011


featured image

author by seedotpublication date Sat Dec 11, 2010 20:27Report this post to the editors

Hi Andrew

great to see the pics of this event and the first of what will hopefully be many videos coming out over the next few days. I thought your article was a bit self obsessed and probably contained some pointers to the irrelevance of the far left in Ireland at the moment. Surprisingly it could also have been written word for word by a member of any of our irrelevant trotskyist groups. I hope that this is an aberration rather than representative of where organised libertarian politics currently are.

The references to the unions are normal unsubstantiated gossip (15000? really - you believe this? and yet they were happy to have a small contingent at the back and no presence on the platform?) along with a yearning for leaders to decide we should have a general strike.

Members of unions strike. They need to be brought to this position branch by branch workplace by workplace.

But this is all normal far left misanalysis.

I think the misinterpretation of this event is probably a bigger issue. Considering it as "Well organized sectoral lobbying and press stunt" is really starting from a lack of knowledge of the role that community arts has had in mobilising Dublins communities in the past, of the significance of events such as last nights in forging identities based on creativity, resistance and radical politics that are truly based on shared experiences. Having spent a lot of the last few weeks outside the dail (sometimes with only a few brave souls as ministerial cars drove at us and we were outnumbered by foreign journalists) I can say that last night was the first time I cam away from anything in this phase of struggle with a positive sense.

Compare this to last tuesday when a crowd maybe twice the size fulfilled its own role in a much more jaded uninteresting spectacle. Face masks and pushing and banners and miserable despondency were my memories of budget day.

Compare this to 27th Nov when a 100,000 marched to the spectacle of the GPO being reclaimed and our divisions being presented for all to see.

You mention the value of alst night in your article - "creating a vibrant sense of purpose for those taking part in the march" but seem to beleive that the presence of a wsm banner would have made the whole thing more relevant. Perhaps to you Andrew but I'm pretty sure to no-one else.

For the first time last night myself and the group I was with came away invigorated with a feeling that justmaybe we could be part of something that would have an impact. Congrats to all involved in the Spectacle of Defiance. Lovely pics though. Can we have some more please?

author by Black Guardpublication date Sat Dec 11, 2010 20:50Report this post to the editors

I think this is a good report and the points made in it are valid and thought-provoking. Well done!

author by Andrewpublication date Sat Dec 11, 2010 21:22Report this post to the editors

That really is a very defensive misreading of the article you are replying to by which I mean you are reading in much more deliberate and sustained criticisms into what is intended to be a critical piece of self reflection, really in fact the deeper criticism is of the left. I was actually attempting a critical but balanced discussion of this particular event and the pro's and con's of such methods of organising. You won't find a "member of any of our irrelevant trotskyist group" doing this because they won't think it worth their time, from what I've seen they have held their discussion to 'very pretty' and such platitudes.

In terms of costs I am reasonably sure of my figures, I understand one union donated 10,000. The only reason I mentioned this is in fact because of an (annoying) misconception that making things interesting visually is easy. If you can correct my estimate I'd appreciate it - it could be my information is incorrect (its from a reliable source) but you don't offer either an alternative set of figures or an estimate of costs so at the moment your just sneering at me for mentioning what I suspect are broadly accurate figures. BTW I don't have a problem with 15 grand being spent, from seeing last night its fairly clear this went on materials, vehicle hire and stage construction rather than pints or whatever.

I'm not sure that "jaded uninteresting spectacle" is actually all that useful a measure of anything. While I'm all for things being 'interesting' this cannot be a goal in itself, its one we have and are mostly going to continue to lose to 'X-factor'. Building expectations based on being entertained will be self defeating. The primary problem with the budget demos was not that they were uninteresting but that they showed the isolation of the left from the rest of the population and from itself. The night showed both a lack of numbers and a lack of unity that would not have been solved by us all wearing red, carrying hearts or having a few impressive floats. That might have left us feeling more fulfilled at the end of the night but that would have been an empty fulfillment.

At no point did I suggest for instance that "the presence of a wsm banner would have made the whole thing more relevant." Quite the reverse, I mildly take the piss out of the one political banner that turned up but go on to point out that there was no presence from the left organisations. This could, if you cared, even be read of a criticism of them but rather than going for either set of cheap shots available the point I went on to make was about the marginalisation of the left and why this is a problem.

My final line, which seems to have upset you shouldn't be controversal. "Well organized sectoral lobbying and press stunts could make limited gains for the most marginalized in the past under the Celtic Tiger, it seems highly unlikely they can do so under the ECB/IMF austerity package." The first part is a not only obvious description of strategy but I have heard to explictly advocated at numerous events by those from the community sector carrying out the strategy. The second part should also be uncontroversal again I've heard it said very often by the same people many of whom recognise the obvious, that this is a very different period. The only controversy I can see here is that I rather gently suggest there is a contradiction in using a set of tactics that were well developed and honed for that earlier period in this one.

Anyway I'd encourage you to re-read the article in the light of the above and consider that you may simply have been seeking for and reacting to arguments you expected to find rather than what the core points made actually are. Really even the URL gives the key point I was making away - http://www.wsm.ie/c/spectacle-defiance-hope-dublin-marg...-left

author by leftypublication date Sat Dec 11, 2010 22:13Report this post to the editors

as usual your article is worth a read and thanks for posting the video here too Andrew

author by Gramsci fanpublication date Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:57Report this post to the editors

As usual a very sensible and straightforward analysis of the problems faced by both the far left and the traditionalist (for lack of a better word) community sector. The promoters of the Spectacle are grounded activists but this fetishises style over substance in a very self-destructive way: spectacle in more ways than one.

I would have a slightly different sense of likely outcomes: to the extent that there is a logic in the "business as usual" approach it is aimed at the next government, and calculates to win very specific and highly localised returns for the most organised groups and their leaderships at the expense of any broader gains for those movements let alone their constituencies. It is not impossible, after all, that a new government in which Labour were doing reasonably well might calculate that the cost of restoring the minimum wage, lowering student fees from 2000 to 1500 and restoring tax-free status for union subscriptions was worth it in terms of rewarding their supporters (in the sense of organisational leaderships). It is just that this would (a) be the highpoint of radicalism in the new government's first budget and (b) lead to the demoralisation and demobilisation of the rest of their base - those voters who were hoping for something more.

The goal of the real left - including that part which is involved in community organisations, trade unions and social movements - has to be (a) to mobilise people more effectively (not simply ask them to turn up to take part in a pre-planned spectacle geared to the commercial media, but follow the principles of participation etc. to which community activists nominally subscribe), (b) to be very clear that while these and related issues (pensions etc.) may be the most visible problems in fact in terms of people's real lives they are the tip of the iceberg and (c) to connect with people in those constituencies who support the same goals but do not feel involved in / represented by those organisations - with the aim of moving further once Labour lets them down as per usual.

author by seedotpublication date Sun Dec 12, 2010 17:09Report this post to the editors

Ok, its a few years since I have engaged in a debate on indymedia and I was probably a little more combative than needed Andrew. ;-)

I'd rather leave the issue of the costs of the event - I still find the figure of €10,000 of a donation to be lacking credibility - but then again I spoke with at least half a dozen paid SIPTU officials who were on the march and saw Siptu staffers on the stage in a support role - maybe these figures count time etc. Instead of hard cash. And yes things like this do take resources and significant capacity which is something we all need to address in the months ahead.

I think my problem with your analysis is with that characterisation in your conclusion of the event as a 'press stunt'. If this was what it was it was particularly ineffective. The story in yesterdays Irish Times had no picture and I saw very minimal commercial media coverage (or public service if you believe there is a difference here). The many cameras there seemed to be there for a different purpose than feeding into mainstream media images and spectacle. If this was a press stunt some of that claimed budget could have been spent on PR work since a visually arresting event received very little immediate coverage.

But that was because, having spoken to some of the organisers beforehand I don't think they saw this as a media stunt, or even as 'more of the same' as characterised by Gramsci Fan. For many they were reaching back to modes of organisation and activity which have been absent for a decade or more when their energies were often tied up in negotiating with power. This was an arts event which had significance precisely for those who took part in it, who created this common image of Dublins communities having their heart ripped out. Having been at this I felt much more interested in planning for future actions, in putting the work in both for imaginative spectacles but also into creating more thought through and impactful resistance than we have seen to date. I would also hope that it marks a shift to a new much more confrontational community sector.

My problem with your analysis was it didn't fully seek to examine the Spectacle of Defiance on the basis of the aims of that event but rather on the needs of the left and a classification of the event as media stunt that seemed to be quite pejorative. It was as if someone analysed the 1% networks walking tour on the basis of its success in getting the vote out for left wing alternatives. If socially engaged arts (or participative arts or community arts) are to have meaning it is not as something to be consumed by an audience but rather as a collectively created cultural 'product' that leads into further community strength and radicalisation – by the participants. (Perhaps Gramsci fan could think about the impact of events such as Friday on the post tiger cultural hegemony). Maybe Friday night didn't work fully on this basis (although drinking with a group of pretty experienced activists afterwards we all agreed it had been something special to be part of) but we should be careful not to impose success criteria on an event which are ours and not the organisers.

BTW – DCTV is filming a discussion on Tuesday evening about community arts which may touch on some of these issues – seedotis@gmail.com if anybody is interested.

author by Irrelevant Sectarianpublication date Sun Dec 12, 2010 20:53Report this post to the editors

Your comment about hoping that this will lead to a "new and more combative community sector" is an interesting one, as is the description of the organisers having spent "the last decade negotiating with power". What we are talking about here is the community grant bureaucracy, or the grantocracy as they are known in the North.

They organised their event away from the budget day protests, to avoid contamination from far left views and their open discouragement of "political" banners and signs played a similar message-management role. And yet despite having access to much more in the way of resources than the left, and organisational back up from union officialdom, they mobilised significantly less people than those "irrelevant" groups you sneer at.

If these people are moving in a more combative direction that is to be welcomed. God knows that it's in their own interests to move in that direction given that we are likely going to see the absolute gutting of grants for community schemes over the next few years. All allies are welcome. But it has to be said that they have a long way to move.

Long years as what has become essentially a sub-contracted wing of the state, engaged in the same cozy partnership process that sucked all remnants of a backbone out of most of the union bureaucracy, do in fact shape people's outlook. Their events should be examined with the same cold eye that left organised events are assessed and what's more the "community sector" shouldn't be treated as syonymous with communities themselves.

Andrew's article was a fair-minded attempt an assessment. I don't agree with him on every detail, but the defensive reaction to quite mild criticism was quite telling.

author by Tpublication date Mon Dec 13, 2010 23:28Report this post to the editors

I can't see any form of arts type approach to 'resistance' to the EU/IMF cutbacks has ever a hope of succeeding. I doubt anyone in government was even aware this took place on Friday night. The type of person who seem to think these types of approaches can work tend to be very optimistic and not very realistic. We are up against naked power and it is simply not going to work. Its a bit like hoping that if the Jews had put on 'creative' performances maybe the Nazis would have changed their mind.

On the other hand the Far Left in Ireland are irrelevant precisely because the system has made it that way. We just have to accept that 99.9% of all forms of media reaching every person in this country is either State owned or privately owned. The propaganda system not only works, but works extemely well. We should recognize that uncomfortable fact. So with the constant barrage on the media and general negativity and derogatory comments that always get aired whenever the Far Left is mentioned in Ireland and the equivalent and same in other countries, then it is not surprising that the average person would not dare to be seen dead either associating with the Far Left or voicing any of their arguments in public discourse outside of those circles. And why because the propaganda system has so discredited the Left and all Left ideas that they have managed to turn it into a social stigma. To think about something equivalent in terms of the power of a cultural force, in the case of Saudi Arabia, the culture or religion there makes it so shameful for a family if a daughter commits adultry that the father (or brothers) are expected to kill her. And this does actually happen. This is a stark example of how the power of expectations and what are considered cultural or religious norms are such that people can be driven to such measures. Now flip back to the topic at hand, and try and see the outline of how at the cultural / public level, our system has made any form of promotion or discussion of Far Left wing politicans as pretty much taboo.

There has obviously been many parts to the story of how this happened and it has taken at least 2 or 3 decades but at this point combined with the changes in society and particular the declining rates of attention span of people, you will find almost no-one who exists outside the Left has the inclination to listen to more than about 3 sentences max, of someone articulating any of the various arguments from the Left.

It is this which is the problem. No amount of alternatives are going to get the masses onboard. As already said, the capitalist system has run rings around its opposition -i.e the Left, as there are just far too many resources at its disposal and myraid distractions that it can deploy to scatter the attention of the masses in hundreds of different directions. (e.g. X-factor, celebs of all flavours, Man Utd, golfers, tennis stars, pop stars, movie stars, Soaps, movies and on and on.)

On reflection, it does leave you in awe as to how union leaders over a century ago managed to rally tens of thousands to their cause and to get them to take far more direct action that what we see anywhere today.

author by seedotpublication date Tue Dec 14, 2010 11:24Report this post to the editors

Hi T

I don't think anyone would disagree with your analysis of the role of socially engaged arts -I definitely wasn't suggesting that 400 people in red t-shirts, a samba band and some co-ordinated chants were going to be effective in opposing the IMF ;-).

I do think though that the far left explaining their irrelevance 'because the system has made it that way' is a bit of a cop out. Capitalism has consistently sought to co-opt, to adapt to and to make resitance movements irrelevant. Thats is why it is a struggle. The far left needs to look internally at what it can do and how it can link into wider strands, how it can influence the culture that we live in. Last Friday was very small but I do think the hip hop producer who was on a megaphone and the kids who learnt off their chants and the others from very specific communities around the city were stepping outside of the imposed culture as commodity that we are fed by our media.

Andrews original article touched on this -  "creating a vibrant sense of purpose for those taking part in the march” - my problem was that this was seemingly dismissed in an analysis of the event as a press stunt. I also think your analysis is a bit defeatist 'T' – 'no amount of alternatives are going to get the masses onboard'. If you believe this we might as well give up, as the purity of revolution struggle without the masses is fairly pointless.

I think your question about the union leaders over a century ago is interesting. When the transport union took over the building in beresford place that became Libery Hall they had loads of rooms which were used for irish language classes, for sports club meetings, for music and other cultural activities. I'm sure somebody in 1909 looked at these activities and cast scorn on those who thought playing football with your hands or holidaying in the west to learn Irish were going to bring about a revolution and defeat Capitalism.

But in 1912 when the union was engaged in struggle the GAA gave the gate receipts from the Leinster hurling final to a strike fund. When Griffiths' (still monarchist, pretty reactionary) Sinn Fein tried to side with the bosses against the workers in 1913 it was in part the Irish language movement that pulled it at least towards neutrality. Successfull movements are wide and exist on cultural as much as political levels. And anyway – 100,000 people came out on the 27th November, brought out by the TU movement at elast in part. Even if it was just lip service at least the language and imagery was much more combative (and even class based) at the Spectacle of Defiance. My argument is that for those who took part in both events the much smaller Spectacle of Defiance was much more empowering and the left should seek to examine it on its own terms, not those of the far left, nor those based on suspicion of specific activists.

(oh and irrelevant sectarian - I'm not sure why what I say is classed as defensive. It is possible to disagree with even such august non-leaders as comrade Flood just because you disagree ;-)

author by Brendan dowling - SAYSpublication date Tue Dec 14, 2010 19:30author email brd at iol dot ieauthor address 19B York Street, Dublin 2author phone 0872940735Report this post to the editors

It is disappointing to see the Irish Times figures of several hundred being repeated on Indymedia. There were approx 2000 not 'several hundred' - count them on your own video footage.

author by Irrelevant Sectarianpublication date Tue Dec 14, 2010 20:37Report this post to the editors

Brendan, your optimism is getting the better of your numeracy. There was nothing like 2,000 people on that march. My estimate was 800 at the time, and after looking at the footage I'd revise that slightly down.

author by Andrewpublication date Wed Dec 15, 2010 12:18Report this post to the editors

Indymedia isn't like a newspaper with an editorial line and journalists working for it. It just allows people like me to publish so the responsibility for the (IMHO generous) 'several hundred' estimate is entirely mine.

For those interested in the debate there are another 11 or 12 posts on the WSM Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/WorkersSolidarityMovement I think I'll probably do a follow on blog on the reactions for the reasons I outline in my replies there.

author by seedotpublication date Thu Dec 16, 2010 01:27Report this post to the editors

hi andrew
could you link back to your thoughts on indymedia? I don't like corporate web spaces but would like to talk to you on this.

C.

author by Unitedpublication date Thu Dec 16, 2010 14:39Report this post to the editors

Good article Andrew but unfortunately there are more questions than answers in relation to the pulling power of the Left. People were disappointed with the turnout on the budget day protest but why did anyone expect anymore? Where was it advertised, how would ordinary people have found out about it? Would the Dáil be a natural destination for non political people to protest? It hasn’t been in the past. I would imagine that for ordinary people the attraction of a protest at the Dáil becomes less with every poorly attended protest like last nights demo.

The ICTU march proved that there is real anger out there but people feel powerless. The majority of people, including union members, feel that the leadership of the trade unions are part of the problem not the solution, yet 60-80,000 turned up at an ICTU protest. There is something to build on but are the Left capable?

Irrelevant Sectarian has made an extremely important point in relation to the “Spectacle Of Defiance And Hope” and the “grantocracy”. Most of these people were nowhere to be seen during the so called Celtic Tiger and it is only now when their jobs and wages are under threat that they have become vocal. In most cases the community have just become a vehicle for their ambitions. As Irrelevant Sectarian says - “the “community sector" shouldn't be treated as syonymous with communities themselves”

As a matter of interest I can confirm that Unite the union gave €10,000 towards the organisation of the Spectacle Of Defiance And Hope and another two unions were also asked to donate substantial amounts.

author by seedotpublication date Mon Jan 03, 2011 19:12Report this post to the editors

I meant to post this when it was made a few weeks ago. Here's the Dole TV take on the Spectacle of Defiance.

http://vimeo.com/17926623

BTW for anybody interested Dole TV is an initiative entirely produced by unemployed volunteers using DCTV's equipment. 13 weekly episodes were produced before Christmas and broadcast every Friday at 7pm and every Monday at 12.30. We can guarantee there are no grants or other funds involved to corrupt anybody who wanted to get involved - doletv@dctv.ie



Caption: Dole TV 12 - You Cut We Bleed

Related Link: http://vimeo.com/album/1470926
author by Des - Npublication date Tue Jan 04, 2011 14:58Report this post to the editors

More accurate to call it a protest ramble by elements of the poverty industry who have realised that the gravy train is coming to a halt. Interesting to note that the Union Bureaucracy is funding them, not exactly a recommendation, given their ‘leadership’ when Lenihan was and still is, attacking the most vulnerable in ‘our’ society.

author by gdub30 - napublication date Tue Jan 04, 2011 23:13Report this post to the editors

Yes I can also confirm that Unite granted €10,000. That an IMPACT branch representing members in the voluntary sector gave €2,000 and that IMPACT may have given support as may SIPTU.

You can be as cynical as you like about the iniatiive. It does not mean you are right. The idea of the Spectable was to offer something different to the usual marches and protests. It was not supposed primarily to be about press publicity. I supported it and was won to it because it was offering a collaboration of community groups working together developing creations and all to a point. The point being that if the budget cuts funding supports to the community sector, it risks ripping the heart out of the community.
I also supported it because it was a concrete follow up event to encourage people to following the union march on the 27th.

The nature of the protest might fit in with Guy Debord and the Situationists of 1968 who drew their analytical inspiration from writers after Gramsci who challenged the notion of vanguard parties and of course bureaucracies with his notion of counter hegemony.

The notion of the Defiance was actually closer to the idea of self organisation so advocated by the anarchists. Thought perhaps Andrew, you are too much of an anarchist to pick up on that.

The days of protest marches with a list of speakers at the end are finished in terms of their effectiveness. It is dispiriting the there is no follow up to the 27th, just as there was not follow up to marches earlier in the year.

So that is my defence, what about my critique?

I think it was actually wrong to discourage political and union banners- though it is not wrong to try and manage display. I think the approach was not about involving the unions but about getting their grants. That said, this is all taking place in a much more complex situation a situation where people are powerless to effect change through the channels on offer.

The unions are undemocratic and bureaucratic, while the community sector is too diverse and sectional and that the polical left is not cohesive even in spite of their divisions.

In order for the unions to effect change in the budget and change in society, they need to change internally themselves. To use Mc Dowell's phrase- they need to become radical or redundant. At the moment they are becoming redundant just like many of their potential members.
I

author by Hampstead Heathpublication date Wed Jan 05, 2011 02:19Report this post to the editors

One reason that many Irish people don't follow up occasionally successful demonstrations is that Irish people apparently Don't Do Parades. The civic culture is weak. People are sedated by television. Have you ever realized why the state spent money on the creation of four TV stations for a population of only 4.4 million people? Keep disgruntled people cosily in their couches.

Street theatre, in good weather, might be a welcome alternative to marshaled marches with strings of boring platform speeches at the end. Nobody is ever convinced by platform speeches, and many orators are Looking for Votes. Guy Debord and the Situationists had some novel communication ideas that merit revisiting. Adapt them to the timid Irish situation. Irish people are timid. Activists ought to bear that always in mind. But Irish people have a sense of humour, and so had the Situationists.

author by Spectacle of Defiance and Hopepublication date Thu Jan 06, 2011 00:40Report this post to the editors

Communities Take to the Streets
On December 10th, a broad range of communities, community and youth organisations, trade unions, cultural groups, students and campaigning organisations from Dublin and beyond came together to participate in a Radical Spectacle.
The heart is literally being ripped out of our communities and this affects the country as a whole. The Spectacle was an act of Creative Resistance to the redundant policies of a redundant regime in Ireland.


Caption: Spectacle of Defiance and Hope

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