In an article in the Irish Independent, columnist and recently appointed member of the Irish Senate Eireann Eoghan Harris made a short stick of justifying why he is is no longer a socialist but a supporter of Bertie Aherns and Fianna Fáil.* Whilst it is far from an unusual occurrence for people to move in middle age from the left to the right, history is littered with such creatures and most of them sing much the same sorry tune as Eoghan is today; but to be fair to Eoghan Harris he was no fly by night having been a member of the Workers Party for 25 years and after that a supporter of the Fine Gael/Labour Party coalitions. Prior to the WP he was also involved with Official Sinn Féin and claims he was amongst those who helped draw up the platform of the northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement.
He has been for decades articulate and passionate about his politics and especially his political hates. Indeed it is his hatred of Provisional Sinn Féin which is the common thread in his political life and he is the first to admit this, still I digress. Harris claims that far from acting on a whim, he was slowly forced to the conclusion that socialism was fatally flawed by the historical facts of the European and Irish experience, which according to him proved that free markets and not state intervention served the cause of freedom.
Which is pretty disappointing stuff as Harris is simply parroting the Neo-conservative justification for all they do and the misery they leave in their wake. For a man of his intelligence to try such a flim-flam of an excuse makes one wonder whether to attain a seat in the Senate Eoghan Harris had to agree to a lobotomy. One only has to look at New Orleans, Iraq and China to understand that unfettered capitalism does not serve the interest of human freedom. One can almost see the Neo-conservative worms at work in Harris head when he attempts to link bureaucratic Stalinist State socialism of the type he was once a cheer leader for with all and every form of democratic socialism. Much as the American Right attempts to do when they equate the British NHS health care system with State socialism.
Even with a lobotomy Harris is far to an intelligent a man not to know he is being untruthful, for he is well aware that socialism, like capitalism comes in 57 varieties. Yes the wretched Stalinism of Eastern Europe deserved to implode and the working people of those countries are all the better for that, even if materially and socially they still have a long way to go and are coming to regret they allowed the baby to be thrown out with the bath water. Never the less without the dead weight of Stalinism hanging around the political lefts neck, we have a real opportunity with hard work and unity to return to the political centre stage.
Most on the left, especially those from a working class background understand only to well that working people are never going to throw over the bourgeois democratic State for a Party Dictatorship. But we also know that unfettered capitalism spells disaster for not only ourselves here in the west, but also billions of people around the world. What is needed is a medium between socialism and capitalism and increasingly for many socialist that is the aim.
A right to work, a fair and equitable system of Taxation for all whether they be worker, a professional, company director or a multi national corporation, a first class health care system free at the point of need, a state education system that is based on giving all pupils an equal opportunity in life. A transport infrastructure that takes into account the needs of the environment and future generations, decent and affordable homes for all, whether they be for rent or buy, a level of state old age and disability pensions which provide a decent standard of living , adequate unemployment and sickness payments, a decentralization of state power and a directly elected head of state.
Like many socialist I do not give a fig what the society which provides its citizens with the aforementioned is called; but what I do know is that such a society is impossible with out curbing the unacceptable face of capitalism. One only has to look at the USA and sadly increasingly Ireland and the United Kingdom to understand this. For the fact is only the State can provide the services I have mentioned in a fair and equal way. Capitalism is based on the rate of profit, it cannot be otherwise, thus when Capital provides such service they do so on the basis of the bottom line is all; and if one is unable to meet their fee, as over 40 million US citizens are as far as health care is concerned then tough.
There are other advantages to having the State run such services, for when the fear of being unable to meet healthcare or education costs etc are removed, people have the time and energy to become engaged with civil society. Whether it be the local political party, local kids football team, book club whatever. It is no accident that in todays world politics and community work is increasingly becoming the preserve of the wealthy or well off retired, as indeed it was in the 19th Century.
Eoghan Harris understands all of this perfectly but like the UKs New Labour crowd, he also saw which side his bread was buttered and realized if he were to continue to fight for the type of society I have aforementioned, nothing but hard toil with little reward or public adulation lay before him. The more so when GW Bush and his neo-conservative cronies came to the helm. So he decided to join the have’s and enrich and aggrandize himself, whether he believes all his nonsense about capitalism and freedom only he knows, in any-case that is for him and his conscience.
Many years ago in an interview, the Russian socialist Leon Trotsky was asked if socialism is not on the immediate political agenda, where would that leave socialists. Trotsky for all his faults instinctively replied “in the same trench as the dispossessed and fighting alongside them to better their lives”. It seem for Eoghan Harris like many before him the thought of such a berth would be on a par with going steerage, so instead he has chosen the upper-deck, first class accommodation as provided in the Senate Eireann thanks to Bertie Ahearn and his neo-conservative pals. All we on the left can do is wish him Bon Voyage and hope he is booked on the Titanic.