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    Popular responses to the Irish crisis and the hope for radical change: organic crisis and the different meanings of counter-hegemony

    Cox, Laurence (2011) Popular responses to the Irish crisis and the hope for radical change: organic crisis and the different meanings of counter-hegemony. In: Alternative Futures and Popular Protest Conference 2011, April, 2011, Manchester Metropolitan University. (Submitted)

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    From being the "Celtic Tiger" poster child of neo-liberalism, Ireland has moved first into recession and then into an IMF-EU bailout entailing massive cuts, with unemployment at the highest-recorded levels ever, the historically dominant Fianna Fail party alternatively in third or fourth place in polls and an unprecedented level of withdrawal of trust. Yet by contrast with the political upheavals in Iceland and Greece and the dramatic protests in countries like Britain, France and Italy, Ireland has seen remarkably little by way of active protest. The few large events have been determinedly single-issue or thoroughly corralled by conservative unions, radical attempts at organising coordinated movement resistance let alone alternative social directions have failed comprehensively to mobilise popular support, and all the indications are that the election will lead to a relatively routine alternation of power with Labour as junior partner in a government committed to a modified version of neo-liberal austerity. While the Irish left has discussed the economic side of the crisis ad nauseam, little serious attention (in politics or academia) has been given to understanding this situation, which is rather taken as a given. This paper attempts an answer to the question of why responses to the crisis have been so restricted to organisational fixes. It starts with a broad analysis of the shaping of popular agency in Ireland via the long-term effects of nationalism, the channelling of popular hopes through state-led modernisation and the institutionalisation of self-organisation, with particular attention to the unresolved issues of "carceral Catholicism" in the South and war in the North. Discussing left parties, unions, community activism and social movements, the paper explores Ireland's "Piven and Cloward" moment in the failure of organisational substitutionalism through electoralism, social partnership, clientelism and populism. If modernisation and social partnership together represented a form of passive revolution, constructing a new hegemony in the wake of the collapse of nationalist autarky, the underlying relations constructed in this period seem remarkably unshaken by state withdrawal from this programme. In this context it argues that casual reference to counter-hegemony as a simple collection of moments of cultural opposition is a wilful misunderstanding of the problem, politically and intellectually, and that the real challenge is to construct a coherent alternative which has the capacity of becoming hegemonic in its turn in both these dimensions. Given this analysis of the context of Irish movement activity, what can or should organisers do, in the historically new situation created after the end of the "Celtic Tiger"? The paper argues that simple alliances between the leaderships of organisations which in practice privilege their engagement with existing institutional arrangements over popular self-organisation will not be enough, and explores the outcomes of attempts at alliance-building in three arenas: unions, social movements and community groups; electoral politics; and street protest.

    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
    Keywords: The Irish crisis; radical change; organic crisis; counter-hegemony;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology
    Item ID: 4871
    Depositing User: Dr. Laurence Cox
    Date Deposited: 08 Apr 2014 10:07
    Refereed: No
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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