Damien Dempsey has been a powerhouse on the Irish music scene for nearly two decades. He brings a voice to the struggles of those suffering in Irish society and beyond with poetry and sincerity. Damien’s Christmas Vicar Street gigs have become part of the Christmas calendar for many of his devoted fans. Saturday’s performance was no exception, with a packed-out venue. Damien has never been ambiguous about his politics and his music reflects this. The crowd in the gig represented all ages, with an overwhelming working-class representation and with people from all corners of the island. Hearing the whole audience sing out songs such as Colony highlights the level of consciousness Dempsey has raised in his loyal fans over the years.
From the stage: Damien Dempsey live
From the stage, Damien spoke openly about his own mental health struggles; he creates a space with his music to help break the stigmas around mental health and encourage people to talk openly about their own struggles. As two people in the middle of a crowded floor we observed so many resonating with this message as they openly sung along to Sing All Our Cares Away.
Not only does Damien sing about the scourge of mental health and its destruction to so many, he also brings a message of anti-racism and the importance of the power of women to his songs and gigs. His music talks about the gentrification of Dublin and beyond in the guise of a housing crisis at the expense and displacement of the working class. Damien is known for his activist and solidarity work, from supporting the anti-water charges movement, to singing at the Moore Street occupation, as an activist in Apollo House and supporting Repeal. The range of influences in Damien’s music includes reggae, R&B, and Ireland’s folk tradition, fused to create a multi-dimensional sound, one that is accompanied by lyrics that convey a strong message of class politics in a way that everyone can relate to. The value and influence of an artist such as Damien Dempsey to working class struggles can’t be underestimated: like many others before him, Damo’s sincere and simple music raises issues that affect us all and vocalises the social and economic issues in a way that resonates widely with people.
It’s accessible and revolutionary at the same time.
On Tuesday 12 November 2019,
Jeanine Anez, a fierce, right-wing opponent of socialist Evo Morales, took
power in Bolivia with the backing of the police and the military. This
represents a setback for the working class and indigenous people of Bolivia
(and beyond). It was a setback that could have been avoided and the main lesson
is a simple one: socialists cannot succeed in bringing about lasting change
from the top downwards.
In 2005, Evo Morales became Bolivia’s first ever
elected indigenous President, he maintained this position for nearly fourteen
years. How did an indigenous, radical union militant and leader of coca growers
become the president of Bolivia?
This article seeks to explain the rise of Morales and
the MAS party (movement towards socialism) government and the process of change
it brought to the people of Bolivia and its economy. This explanation has to be
found in a wider understanding of the history and politics of Latin America.
Latin America is one of the most unequal regions on
the planet: according to Meirke Blofield’s 2011, The Great Gap: Inequality and the Politics
of Redistribution in Latin America inequality in Latin America has been
an entrenched characteristic since colonization, he states that in 2009, 189
million people in the region lived in poverty.
Latin America has a long history of reliance on world
markets and transnational powers for its survival. Following a history of
colonialism, in post-independence, Latin America prioritised exporting its vast
abundance of natural resources over developing its economy domestically,
leaving the region weak, underdeveloped and vulnerable to the boom and bust
cycles of capitalism. The Great Depression of the 1930s hit the region very
hard as demand for exports dramatically reduced.
World War II and the subsequent rebuilding years following
the war created a stimulus to world trade internationally and Latin America’s
exports began to rise. By 1955 manufacturing was ahead of agriculture in real
GDP terms. Latin America adopted a form of Keynesian economics with welfare
supports and social democracy. It wanted to turn from free market economics to
focus on domestic development using Import Substitution Industrialisation (ISI)
as a protection from the turbulent and at times devastating consequences of
Laissez Faire economics.
ISI focused mainly on high export Tarriffs, domestic
industrial growth as opposed to agriculture and saw a rapid growth in urban
populations across the region, it shielded many from the full force of market
demands through subsidies, it gave labour rights, gave land rights to
indigenous groups and initiated public health, education and housing programs.
While this protectionism gave some improvements to the quality of life it did not tackle the deeply entrenched inequality that remained a consistent across the region: those who mainly benefited were the formal work force, the middle class and the elite.
Latin America was still dependent on core countries
for export and import, technical and intellectual know-how and loans to help
cover the high costs of its welfare programme demands. In the 1970s, the global
economy experienced another shock, in the form of an oil crisis and war in the Middle
The downturn affected the Latin American region in
many ways, the revenue from and rate of exports reduced; the cost of imports
increased; inflation across the region exploded, leading to an ever-increasing
debt for every Latin American country. For example, in Bolivia the inflation
rate in 1984 was at 1,300% by 1985 it was 11,805%. By 1983, total debt in Latin
America was nearly 300 times the rate of its exports. The region had to turn to
the International Monetary Fund for assistance in paying its soaring debt from
Loans from the IMF are significant for countries as they
signal to international markets and lenders that the country is credit worthy.
The IMF insist on neo-liberal structural reforms from a borrowing country: the
IMF is the last resort for countries, they are rarely able to refuse. Structural reforms consist of reducing state
spending, privatisation of state assets and resources, also the privatisation
of health, housing and education resources, a more precarious labour market
with few labour laws, minimal welfare supports. This austerity often led to
authoritarian regimes and military control in order to implement such goals. As
Jean Grugel wrote (in Grugel & Riggirozzi’s 2011 Governance after Neo-liberalism in Latin America):
By the early 1980s the social fabric of the region was in tatters, the horrors of civil war, military aggression and state sponsored repression created a willingness among ordinary people and their leaders not to push too far in the way of redistribution.
A change in
international relations and a horror at how the military regimes treated its
citizens brought a third wave of democracy in Latin America in reaction to
The third wave worked in two ways: through free market
economics and liberal politics. This created a very minimalist form of
democracy and its only requirement was free and fair elections. Neoliberalism
believes in reduced state intervention and control that the free market can
regulate itself and will eventually reduce inequality using trickle-down
economics. It is in the context of this third wave that, despite its
limitations, radical movements could begin to find political expression,
including in Bolovia.
Bolivia has a wealth of natural resources including forestry,
minerals, lithium and more recently, oil and natural gas reserves. Additionally,
there are large swathes of agricultural land with a strong livestock industry
and significant soya bean production. The wealth and development from these
resources have never been equally distributed among all sectors of the Bolivian
According to Linda Farthing’s 2019 article, ‘An
Opportunity Squandered? Elites, Social Movements and the Government of Evo
elite within Bolivia have run the country in their own self-interest for over
200 years drawing from their own class to ensure the positions of the
presidency, the senate and the judiciary were tightly within their power.
The neo-liberal era in Bolivia did not reduce
inequality; the New Economic Policy negotiated by the IMF was implemented by
three consecutive right-wing state managers from 1985-2002. This shock
treatment caused profound economic and political exclusion of popular sectors,
threatening their very livelihood leaving them without defences.
Nevertheless, this inequality was challenged in a
number of dramatic outbreaks of social struggle by workers and their allies. In
1952, for example, Bolivia experienced a social revolution.
The implementation of the New Economic Policy in the 1990s saw reforms in labour laws, reductions in mining, and an increase in gas production. The traditional unionised sectors from rural areas were destroyed. People sought employment and began organising in more urban environs. The USA under the new economic regime were facilitated to destroy coca growing and coca farmers. This brought traditional union organisations, national liberation movements and indigenous groups together: earlier in the twentieth century, these groups did not have perceive common ground with each other. These challenges and new formations of popular sectors and their subsequent struggles against the New Economic Policy lay the foundations for the MAS party and the presidency of Evo Morales.
The original strategy of MAS was in extra-parliamentary
activism, grounded in anti-neoliberal, anti-imperialist and rank and file
democracy. Its power lay in the great number of different organisations
involved in the party, including neighbourhood groups, unions, precariat
workers, women’s groups and indigenous organisations. These groups were able to
mobilise against neo-liberal reforms and eventually topple two successive right-wing
Jeffrey Webber’s 2017 The last day of Oppression and the First Day of the Same: The politics and Economics of New Latin American Left, points out that Bolivia had a huge opportunity for fundamental, transformative and structural change from 2000-2005 as it was in a:
… revolutionary epoch this saw a combined rural and urban rebellion of a liberation struggle to end the interrelated process of class exploitation and racial oppression.
Post 2005, however, the class composition leadership
layers of the party, its ideology and political strategy began to shift from a
revolutionary organisation to a reformist outlook. When it began to contest
elections and needed the middle-class urban voters, its leadership began to
reflect an outlook formed more by the intelligentsia and middle class than that
The election of Evo Morales and the MAS party brought
significant improvements to the lives of those who have suffered consistent
inequality, poverty, racism, sexism and exclusion in Bolivia. According to Linda
Farthing the victory of MAS expanded formal rights for women and indigenous
people, leading to a significant increase of both within the MAS party and in
positions of power in government.
Bolivia has seen one of the greatest drops in poverty:
it has tripled the minimum wage, provided massive public investments in rural
areas with new schools, hospitals and roads, and initiated the biggest land
reform since the 1952 revolution. Despite opposition from the USA, MAS ensured
that coca production became an indigenous right. The Morales leadership
introduced a more radical constitution, voted on by referendum, his leadership
brought a reduction in violence and a more stable situation for the majority of
Yet Evo Morales’s administration failed to deliver on
its more radical promises.
The domestic elite and transnational capital still had
control of important sectors of the economy: banking, insurance and
construction (mainly in LA Paz the capital and Santa Cruz the headquarters for
the hydrocarbon and agribusiness sectors). After Morales’ first electoral
victory to the presidency, the ruling elite still maintained power in the
The elites in La Paz initially resisted the new
Morales regime, but the flow of capital from large government contracts and a
limited expansion of state banking soon saw the economy thrive and profits grow
and with that the La Paz elites were happy to cooperate.
The Santa Cruz elites, on the other hand, have always
been part of the regional autonomy movement and have rebelled against central
government whenever they have come under pressure to deliver to the state an increased
share of the economy. To thwart Morales,
the Santa Cruz movement formed a coalition with three other regions with a neo-liberal
ideology and a discourse of light skinned superiority. At its height, this
coalition mobilised a million people, almost bringing the Morales government to
crisis, but the rebellion didn’t last as Morales had the support of social
movements across the country. The right did manage to gain concessions from
Morales regarding land reform, which saw many of the elites keep illegally
acquired lands. Nor did Morales fully
nationalise gas production, which had been an election promise, but managed to
secure a much-improved deal which brought a huge amount of capital to
The process of change in Bolivia under the Morales
government saw much improvement for many, but there came a point where its momentum
towards change began to falter. Workers remained in precarious employment. The
rate of unionisation dropped despite the country having a strong militant
history of union organisation. Bolivia under Morales, despite the name of his
party, was not a socialist state, the elite still owned vast swathes of land,
foreign investment grew under Morales and this gaves the elite power and
leverage. In short, the left administration scored some success but failed to
deliver on its radical promises.
Morales continued to negotiate and work with domestic and foreign
capital even after increasing his political power after the 2009 election. The
process of change in Bolivia has not seen a socialist society emerge, nor could
it when the strategy was to work with the local elites and global powers, to
obtain the resources for reform.
Morales and twenty members of his administration had to flee for their lives to Mexico following threats from the army and police on 10 November 2019. Their ability to rouse the population and especially the working class against this coup had been deeply undermined by years of disenchantment as well as a perception of interference with the election of 20 October 2019 by Morales’ supporters.
course, Independent Left are against the coup and for a restoration of Morales.
But we also have a wider vision.
Time again in Latin America and beyond the demands of capital have clashed with aims of governments that have declared themselves socialist. And every time, whether the Castro regime post-Cuban revolution, or that of the Sandinistas, governments that tried to manage their local part of a world capitalist system ultimately failed to transform society.
You cannot bring about socialism on behalf of the working class while in
partnership with big business. Instead, we have to take over the workplaces and
run them on entirely different lines, with entirely different goals and with
very different politics to those of Morales.
By Niamh McDonald, Chairperson, Dublin Bay North ‘Together For Yes’
‘Repeal Changed My Life’
Ireland’s long journey from being a country with strict anti-abortion laws to the success of the Repeal movement was not a gradual one. Rather, after years when there was no movement on the issue, the country would gain a much deeper national understanding of why women should have right to choose from particular cases.
The awful situation
that a fourteen-year-old girl – Miss X – found herself in, having been raped
and made pregnant in 1992 shook the country. Not only was she refused an
abortion in Ireland, but the Irish courts initially refused to let her travel
to England for an abortion. Only after a massive outcry and a march of over
10,000 people did the Supreme Court rule that abortion was legal if the woman’s
life was at risk.
Another such case was
that of Miss D, who we now know as Amy Dunne. Last week, Amy told her story to
RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke. Unlike the X case, Amy wanted a baby but discovered in
2007, on her seventeenth birthday, that the baby had anencephaly. Her choice
was to have an abortion, but because Amy was in temporary foster care, social
workers were involved and the told her that she – along with anyone who
travelled with her – would ‘be done for murder’.
Amy refused to back
down and took her case as far as the High Court in order obtain the right to
travel to the UK (and her passport, which was being withheld from her).
In Liverpool, after
induced labour, her baby, Jasmine, died. The experience has left her haunted.
As Amy put it, ‘I would have lived with the regret of having an abortion but
now that’s not what I have, I have a baby I carried, I have a connection, I
have a grave, I’ve had a funeral. I have pictures, I have a child, I have
memories. I have newspaper clippings.
‘I am forever haunted
instead of just being able to go and do what I needed to do.’
The retelling of such
a traumatic experience in public while trying to live with its consequences
every day is a huge act of bravery and this bravery highlights the sheer
cruelty of the actions of anti-choice bigots who still continue to bully
pregnant people when they are at their most vulnerable.
Repealing the 8th was a huge achievement, one that was delivered thanks to the grassroots organisation of thousands of women across the state. But the legislation is too narrow and restricted. People are still travelling for abortion healthcare, the lack of flexibility in the law means some migrants and people in Direct Provision are left without care.
We urgently need
legislation for exclusion zones, a demand that Amy Dunne spoke in favour of.
She said that seeing protests at hospitals made a difficult situation worse for
a woman who has a hard choice to make, ‘I don’t think anyone should be allowed
protest outside a hospital. Pro-life people should be ashamed of themselves. I
think it’s sick – I think they have a mental illness. We all make decisions and
they’re not made lightly.’
Fine Gael were happy to
ride the Liberal repeal wave that was created by the hard work of grassroots
activism but now when women and pregnant people need support these are sadly lacking