unfinished thoughts on social movements and the Irish crisis

I've been working for some time now on thinking through the situation of movements in the Irish crisis. In the nature of things these are unfinished thoughts - not only because the crisis is ongoing, but more importantly because movements themselves are struggling to understand their own situation and possibilities and articulate ways forward. I'm still working on both of these pieces to clean them up for publication, but it can take a while to really pin down the most important aspects and in the meantime life and movements, em, move on. So I'm posting these here as interim / working papers in the hope that they might be helpful to other activists.

This time last year, veteran trade unionist Keith Flett suggested that my paper Popular responses to the Irish crisis and the hope for radical change was probably correct, but shouldn't be published in Ireland for fear of discouraging people. Movements have since come out of the slump which the paper was trying to understand - with the appearance of Occupy, the household tax campaign, NAMA activism and a series of other campaigns - but the broader lesson of the crisis has IMHO not been learned.

In the run-up to the financial crisis the left - libertarian, community and authoritarian - seriously overestimated its own organisational strength, and repeatedly sought organisational responses to the crisis which simply did not work - and in many cases made clear how weak active support for our politics was. Public opinion was (and is) divided, but much is hostile to austerity politics and in principle open to radical arguments - but disconnected from any practice of radical action. It is the reasons for this crisis which the first paper tries to understand.

The second paper, Gramsci in Mayo: a Marxist perspective on social movements in Ireland, is written in the context of the upswing, but tries not to fall into simple optimism of the "now the wind is with us" kind. We are still seeing strong limits to our ability to mobilise or to get people to take action, and a very widespread feeling (for which, it has to be said, the electoral, trade union and community left bear substantial responsibility) that "someone else will sort it out for us".

This may be changing; but if so it is as much a result of the ineptitude of the current government as it is any merit of our own organising. This paper too is unfinished, but tries to think through the question of how radical change could genuinely become possible in Ireland, starting with an attempt to understand what kind of social movement context Ireland represents.

Feedback on both papers is very welcome, at <laurence.cox AT nuim.ie>