Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Is Ian Paisley a socialist?

It is not often that the business pages of the capitalist press refer to socialism. Past experience suggests that when they do they make fools of themselves. A recent article in The Times (29 January) by Tim Haines confirmed this. "Northern Ireland", he wrote, "is in danger of replacing sectarianism with socialism".

If only this were true. Unfortunately socialism (common ownership, democratic control, production for use not profit, distribution according to needs) is not on the agenda there and in any event couldn't be since socialism cannot be established just in one country let alone one province. But this is not what Hames had in mind. After pointing out that state spending represents 60 percent of all spending in Northern Ireland, he went on:
"The Rev Paisley and Mr McGuiness will find little difficulty making common cause in asking for ever larger public spending to be showered, equitably, on their constituencies".

While it is true that politics in Northern Ireland is characterised by what on the continent of Europe is known as "clientelism" - where different politicians appeal to a different group of identified "clients" on the basis of getting material benefits for them in particular – Hames is wrong in thinking government spending and subsidies on and for the poorer sections of society is socialism. If it did then the Reverend Inane Paisley, with his client basis of poor Protestants, would indeed be a socialist. An absurd conclusion which is proof that the original proposition is wrong in accordance with the principle of logic the Ancient Romans used to call reductio ad absurdum.

Government spending on measures to help the poor has nothing to do with socialism. That's reformism not socialism. At most Paisley is a reformist, even a "leftwing" reformist compared with the UK Labour Party which used to take up this position (now it cuts back on benefits for the poor).

But if Paisley isn't a socialist, what about Martin McGuiness? He actually claims to be some sort of a socialist. At the special Sinn Fein conference to discuss policing in Northern Ireland on 28 January Gerry Adams proclaimed that his party's ultimate aim was "to bring about a 32 county democratic socialist republic." But this is just rhetoric. It means no more than the utopia of an all-Ireland Irish capitalist state reformed so as to work in the interest of workers in Ireland. But capitalism doesn't, and can't be made to, work that way. It's a profit-making system that can only work in the interests of the profit-takers not those who work for a wage or a salary.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein is the mirror image of Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party - it is the party of politicians who see the Catholic minority there as their "clients". McGuiness is no more a socialist than Paisley. He, too, only wants reforms to help his clients, the poor Catholics. Which is why Hames is right that the two of them should be able to get along quite well together in any devolved administration of capitalism in Northern Ireland that might emerge after the elections there next month. Not that either of them will be able to deliver on their promises, though both will be able to use the same alibi: that the British State didn't give them enough money.
Adam Buick