The Coffee Circle Papers: Paper 2 – New Century Socialism: Fighting for Justice in the Jungle
Date:1998
Organisation: Democratic Left
Contributors: Info
Rosheen Callender, Des Geraghty, Seamus Murphy
View: View Document
Discuss:Comments on this document
Subjects:

Please note:  The Irish Left Archive is provided as a non-commercial historical resource, open to all, and has reproduced this document as an accessible digital reference. Copyright remains with its original authors. If used on other sites, we would appreciate a link back and reference to The Irish Left Archive, in addition to the original creators. For re-publication, commercial, or other uses, please contact the original owners. If documents provided to The Irish Left Archive have been created for or added to other online archives, please inform us so sources can be credited.

Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

17th July 2023

Many thanks to Catherine Murphy TD for donating this document to the Left Archive. The document has been posted as the specific chapters which can be found here. As noted previously:

This document [published on foot of a series of meetings] is unusual in respect of the Irish left in that it sought to challenge fairly directly the assumptions held by a political formation. That formation, Democratic Left, less than a decade old had recently left government after Fianna Fáil had won the 1997 General Election. It had also shed two seats from its complement of six TDs.

This document examines the economy and has a paper presented by Des Geraghty and another by Seamus Murphy, financial journalist. As with other excerpts from the overall compilation there is far too much text to give any more than a flavour of the contributions.

Geraghty argues.

For me, democratic socialism must be the political expression of a truly egalitarian value system which determines a particular approach to politics, economics, social policy and the environment. To be sustainable – or credible – it must be deeply rooted in a world view which demands equality and justice for all human beings, irrespective of race, creed, class or gender. It must be informed by the belief that human society can cater for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed; that people are naturally disposed to care 1or and share with each other; that by working together we can provide sustenance, jobs, shelter, security, and the opportunity for personal and collective expression and cultural achievement.

He also suggests:

It is against these yardsticks that I measure all political, economic or social theory, and assess the value of the European market, the trees in the Glen of the Downs, or the so-called Celtic Tiger. Thesee are the yardsticks that I apply to the debate on market or non-market economies, state ownership of public utilities, central planning, class struggle, national liberation, or political democracy. These are how I measure human progress.

Equally, I believe it was the departure from these essential human values that doomed the Soviet model of socialism to failure, and will in time undermine the liberal market capitalism of our own time.

I make this assertion because of the self-evident destructive potential inherent in the unrestrained values of individualism – not individuality, which I value greatly – and the exercise of avarice, exploitation, environmental destruction, injustice, over consumption, power, privilege, and abuse of human rights which permeates so-called ‘free market’ capitalism.

He examines various examples of ‘free’ markets and argues:

We must challenge continually the ‘myth of the market’ which· is constantly promulgated to oppose political attempts at redistribution of wealth or the establishment of social protection_. We must point out that leaving everything to the market is a political choice of conservatives, and usually those with strong vested interests and extensive economic power in the market already.

There is no single market. But there is scope for a variety of approaches to open markets, partial markets with significant regulation, and non-market sectors for such essential services as welfare, health, education and social housing. These are practical choices, the means to an end. Essentially, markets must be part of a democratically regulated economic and social order: a system which prevents monopoly, the abuse of economic power, and the absence of transparency, accountability and social responsibility. Markets must be a mechanism of -and not the master of -political life, and the role of politics must be to ensure the mastery of people over profit.

And he argues that there is a need to work towards a ‘New Left Economics’.

Murphy contends.

I would not dissent from anything contained in Des’s paper, but would rather argue for a different and very specific focus on the politics of financial markets in particular.

And:

So, is it hopeless? Should we surrender, throw in the towel? No, but we have got to realise that these people are massively more powerful than they were 20 years ago. That is why Tony Blair is no Ernest Bevin and Bill Clinton resembles FD Roosevelt only in the libidinous region. They are· what the market will tolerate. They have public expenditure under control.

Politicians of all kinds have much less power than they had a generation ago. The political arena -the democratic space -has shrunk, and is still shrinking. The mills of the market grind exceedingly small. They are not satisfied with their current level of political power, they never will be satisfied. Remember, it’s not personal, the dealers are doing their job. It is the nature of the beast.

And:

There are signs in several parts of the world that there is at last a fracture, between markets as useful mechanisms and the neo-liberalist claptrap of the resurgent right which has dominated the last 20 years -what George Bush called voodoo economics. Into this space, this fracture, we can insert a new politics -a new socialism for the new millennium. Markets as such do not frighten us, except when they try to subvert our democracy. I leave you with one thought -is not the whole history of socialism composed of the struggle to bring market mechanisms under democratic control? It is one way of looking at it.

In summation Rosheen Callender, economist with SIPTU and Special Advisor to Proinsias De Rossa when he was the Minister for Social Welfare, and the moderator argues:

Most speakers saw competition and market forces as part of today’s economic furniture. The challenge was to shape and control them; to force them, if necessary, to meet peoples’ needs – but not to keep denying, or railing against, the fact of their existence. Others were less ready to accept this, believing that ultimately it’s impossible to control market forces; therefore they cannot and must not be accepted. However, one such speaker added, somewhat sadly, that he couldn’t really offer any convincing alternative.

The facilitator of the discussion was Nuala Keher of the Open Learning Centre in UCG.

More from Democratic Left

Democratic Left in the archive


Comments

No Comments yet.

Add a Comment

Formatting Help

Comments can be formatted in Markdown format . Use the toolbar to apply the correct syntax to your comment. The basic formats are:

**Bold text**
Bold text

_Italic text_
Italic text

[A link](http://www.example.com)
A link

You can join this discussion on The Cedar Lounge Revolution

  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 18 Jul 2023 10:08:07

    In reply to alanmyler.

    The problem is isn’t it that when taking on political adversaries who own all the structural aspects of a society/economy there’s no clear strategy forward. So it’s difficult for me to be overly critical of the fact there were many approaches though can’t say I think any have worked in terms of delivering unproblematic outcomes. So yeah, it’s hard to win.

    Of course the opposite is also true. Social democrats of all stripes introduced significant state provision in various states and that’s often ignored as if the only action was on the radical or far left. Though to muddy things yet further so did non social democrats or leftists.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Colm B Tue, 18 Jul 2023 13:56:59

    In reply to alanmyler.

    I like the way that those to the right of revolutionary socialists always dismiss them as idealists – I’ve heard this sort of put-down a million times: “You keep dreaming while we get on with the real world work of achieving real changes etc etc.”

    Except it rarely works like that because, firstly most revolutionary socialists do work for immediate reforms/changes but try to link them to long term change and to activity by those effected, not by those with power granting reforms from above. Second, many who make this type of anti-revoltionary argument often actually achieve less when they’re in power and even worse just discredit the whole left with their compromises.

    Contra what you imply, I have no illusions about DL/Labour style parties: I don’t expect them to deliver radical change as they never seriously claim to aim to replace capitalism. But what they will claim is that they will deliver major reforms (as social democrats did in the past – NHS in UK etc.) so that’s the standard they should be held to IMO. And, at least the Irish versions, have failed miserably in delivering significant reforms.
    As for your eggs broken, well those wouldn’t be that words I’d use for millions of lives lost but we can argue about Stalinism another day.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Colm B Tue, 18 Jul 2023 13:58:06

    In reply to Colm B.

    Those comments were in response to Alan’s comment

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Colm B Tue, 18 Jul 2023 14:03:11

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    You’re right WBS in the historic sense but I can’t think of many examples of centre left parties introducing significant state provision since the 1970s. In fact I can think of lots of examples of such parties helping to dismantle such provision in the era of neoliberalism.
    Also the reason why these parties introduced welfare states was at least partly to do with massive pressure from below post WW2.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 18 Jul 2023 14:43:26

    In reply to Colm B.

    Surely there was a mass appetite amongst their memberships to do so? I’ve not read too much hesitation at doing so in accounts of SD party leaderships during that period, though there was some efforts to get liberals to provide cover (Beveridge for example). But take Scandinavian SDs – they did so with gusto. You’re right, later they did dismantle a good part of that, but that was with different leaderships (and memberships) too. I’ve always felt that if SDs could be true to their own supposed ideology things would be a fair bit easier. But there’s a sort of slipperiness around that that makes it very difficult, near impossible, to rely upon them to defend the gains they themselves have been involved in and to implement new ones that their own stated ideology would supposedly support. It’s a bit like you say in the comment below this one, SDs should be held to their own standards. It is that simple. And some of those standards are pretty good, so the next part is to hold them to defending them and extending them.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Colm B Tue, 18 Jul 2023 15:29:02

    Yep I agree WBS, that putting pressure on centre left parties to bring in reforms and/or to defend and extend them is an important task for those further to the left. In fact I think this whole issue is going to “go live”, as it were, with the possible accession to power of a SF-led government.

    Will SF try to introduce serious reforms? Will they yield to radicalising pressure from below ( voters, trade unions, community orgs etc.) or “moderating” pressure from above ( the markets, multinationals, big business etc.)? I have no illusions about the limitations of SFs ambitions but I hope they prove to be a cut above the Coffee Circle Socialists, though that’s not a high bar really, is it?

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Fergal Tue, 18 Jul 2023 15:54:41

    In reply to Colm B.

    That Colm added to the post-war social contact designed to prevent the resurgence of fascism via a welfare state plus the existence of an alternative* to capitalism in the USSR/Eastern Europe… in order to keep a lid on workers’ demands in the west a welfare state developed… the collapse of the USSR et al meant the threat of an alternative to capitalism vanished and opened the door to unbridled free markets everywhere…?
    *I’m not saying it was an alternative, but you see what I mean?

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Colm B Tue, 18 Jul 2023 17:08:58

    In reply to Colm B.

    Yes Fergal, I agree that the existence of an alternative, even though it was another system based on exploitation and oppression, is another factor that pushed the centre left, and indeed other some right wing parties into creating the welfare state in capitalist societies.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 18 Jul 2023 20:42:01

    In reply to Colm B.

    Again I wonder about that reading of history. It’s not wrong, certainly in so far as some of the post war period that there was increased support for welfare states to fend of the Marxist left in Europe, but it’s not like in the 30s or whatever the Labour Party or other SDs hadn’t been active. The LP in Britain in 1929 in government as a minority government pushed for increases in unemployment, housing act, etc, etc. These were policies of these parties. I don’t think that they didn’t have a political purpose – but the reality was that other parties as with the Tories were able to stymie some or all of this by keeping them out of power, or – there was the Great Depression which savaged governments of all ilks (or forced them into cuts which in any other circumstance they wouldn’t have made – but again these weren’t for the most part Marxist parties so they sought change within the existing system). It’s difficult to look at the record of the 1945 Labour government or the Scandinavian ones and think that they only moved forward on a broad front of changes in order to defang Marxists – for a start there was no marxist presence able to compete there. And the changes made were strikingly deep rooted, nationalisations, etc – consider how the NHS even today is a bit of a shibboleth (even if personally I think the focus of it has been rather like Roe V Wade in the US – a distraction almost allowing all manner of other changes by the Tories and even the LP in its time to be waved through as everyone rallies to that one area).

    I guess the point I’m making is that even if those parties had to some extent or anther abandoned Marxism they still had agency of their own and goals which in power they sought to achieve and in many instances were able to move quite some way, even given the circumstances, to doing so both before and after the War in Britain and elsewhere. Again it’s not that social democracy is without at least some merit and as with the UK example could see a very significant if not quite systemic change, it is that social democrats (in the general) seem to be unable to actually promote it in meaningful ways.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 18 Jul 2023 20:43:39

    In reply to Colm B.

    One would hope that they’d have significant ambitions – by the way the name Coffee Circle really irritates me, it’s the last thing I’d have used for such discussions. It almost trivialises them.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Colm B Tue, 18 Jul 2023 21:46:51

    Yep but it, at least partly, reflects the social composition of DL at that stage, which was very different from the WP in its heyday. The generals were still there but most of the soldiers were gone or should I say replaced by people who really at home chatting about market socialism over coffee.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Fergal Wed, 19 Jul 2023 06:54:56

    In reply to Colm B.

    Was the coffee fairtrade?
    Was the milk bought from a small farmer or even better still from a member of the coffee circle? Or was it purchased at one of those big supermarkets?
    Was the sugar fairtrade too? Or did they opt for honey from a local producer?
    Were there biccies too? Another multinational brand or did someone in the circle bake a few scones?
    Criticising capitalism with our snouts in its trough…

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Colm B Wed, 19 Jul 2023 08:31:38

    There was an influx of mainly middle class people into DL who really were well, just liberals, with a lot of opportunistic jostling to gain favour of TDs etc. I left as soon as they went into gov but my memory of what happened next is that they were so small in numbers that lots of people got rewarded with membership of official boards etc.
    To give an idea of the rapid degeneration of DL – if my memory serves correctly, only 16 members voted against DL entering coalition gov with FF/Lab at the special conference in 1994. Don’t recall how many were at the conference but it was definitely over 100 people.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 19 Jul 2023 09:23:45

    In reply to Colm B.

    It really did become a life support for TDs didn’t it?

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 19 Jul 2023 09:26:44

    In reply to Fergal.

    In a way that’s no win though isn’t it? We have no choice in that regard but that said yep something v middle class about Coffee Circle as a term.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Fergal Wed, 19 Jul 2023 09:37:19

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    Think the coffee circle usage could be linked to the golden circle that was much in use then, if my chronology is correct?
    I think within capitalism alternatives exist … and it’s by creating and supporting viable alternatives to capitalism that we can try to exist outside capitalism.
    I’m reading Braudel’s Grammar of civilisation now and he’s emphasising the huge differences between a market and capitalism, must be influencing my comment above 😂

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: banjoagbeanjoe Wed, 19 Jul 2023 09:50:39

    In reply to Fergal.

    All this reminds me of a great bit of graffiti I saw in London once. It was a billboard ad for Maxwell House Coffee. It pictured a Sth American campesino working in a coffee plantation with a big sack on his back. The slogan was: “He only knows three words of English – Maxwell House Coffee”. The graffitist had spray painted out those three words and replaced them with Yankee Go Home.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: roddy Wed, 19 Jul 2023 15:10:49

    In reply to Colm B.

    Brian Hayes joined DL due to it’s neo unionism.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: banjoagbeanjoe Wed, 19 Jul 2023 16:34:32

    In reply to Colm B.

    “lots of people got rewarded with membership of official boards etc.”
    And two, McCartan and White, got jobs as judges.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: banjoagbeanjoe Wed, 19 Jul 2023 17:15:46

    In reply to Colm B.

    “There was an influx of mainly middle class people into DL who really were well, just liberals,”

    I think that process had started within the WP years before DL was established. I guess those leftish liberals in WP were guaranteed to join DL when the split happened.
    I know one person, a neighbour, who I believe joined DL after it started up, never having been in WP. This person certainly fits the bill of middle class liberal, not socialist.

    Reply on the CLR