In his speech on the Budget Paschal Donoghue said that it was ‘the job of those in the middle ground of Irish politics to show that things won’t just fall apart, the centre can hold.’
In the same vein Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath said how “vital it is that the centre holds”.
Apart from the reference to W.B.Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’ our two politicians of the ‘centre’ are also resting on the familiar notions that ‘moderates’ are always the good guys and that the truth always lies some where between the extremes.
The merest glance at history shows how shallow this conception is. Was it right to be moderately or extremely opposed to Hitler? Was the right position on slavery in the US midway between the extremes of spreading it across the country to the west coast (the aim of the South) and abolishing it altogether i.e. allowing it to continue indefinitely within the Confederacy?
Or on women’s suffrage; is the right position neither no votes for women or votes for all women or the middle position of votes for women over 30? (This unequal and undemocratic compromise was actually maintained in Britain between 1918 and 1928).
And if we applied this rule of the golden mean to Irish history there would, of course, have been no Easter Rising and no Independent Ireland only limited ‘home rule’ under the Empire, courtesy of the ‘moderate’John Redmond.
But if ‘the centre is always right’ is stupid as some general principle what does it mean in this concrete situation. What Donoghue and McGrath call the centre is in fact the establishment – the two political parties who, with the occasional assistance of Labour, have always ruled this State.
And it is pretty much the same everywhere. Who are the centre in Britain? Blair and Brown and Cameron and May – right wing Labour and mainstream Tories. In France: Hollande and Sarcozy. In Germany: Merkel and the German Social Democrats. In the US it is Clinton, Obama and George Bush.
In every case it means politicians committed to maintaining the status quo, to free market capitalism and to defending the interests of the corporations and the rich.
This should not surprise us: they are all politicians who, in their different countries, operate hand-in-glove with “the 1%” – the ruling class who own and control the bulk of the world’s wealth. And being the ruling class they get to define, with the aid of the media, which they also control, what counts as ‘the centre’ and who the ‘extremists’ are.
Consequently if there is a conflict in Mongolia about which you know nothing but you hear on RTÉ or BBC that Faction A are ‘moderates’ and Faction B are ‘extremists’ you know immediately that our rulers and almost certainly America’s too, favour Faction A.
But CAN this establishment ‘centre’ hold? They are right to be worried because from New York to Athens, from Dublin to Barcelona, the establishment has been coming under increasing pressure from both left and right due to a) its failure to make the system work even ‘moderately’ well and b) its insistence that the failure of the system should be paid for by ordinary working people. Hence Trump and Sanders, UKIP and Corbyn, Podemos and Golden Dawn, and of course the AAA and PBP in Ireland.
Actually whether or not the centre will hold depends very little on the efforts of the likes of Pascal Donoghue or Michael McGrath and overwhelmingly on much bigger factors. First and foremost how is the system, capitalism, going to fare and not just in Ireland but globally?
The signs are that it is going to fare badly. There is a long run decline in rate of profit, a pending banking crisis in China, the Deutsche Bank in trouble in Germany and the Eurozone economy flat lining with difficulties on the way from Brexit.
If, as is possible, there is another global recession in the next year or so, the pressure on ‘the centre’, in Ireland and everywhere else, will increase enormously and it is most unlikely to be able to ‘hold’.
Inevitably they, the centre, will become more ‘extreme’ in their imposition of austerity and this will provoke working class resistance. Much, in a sense everything, depends on the fate of that resistance. If it is defeated or held down by the centre/establishment this increases the danger that people’s anger will be deflected into Trump-like or fascist channels. If you can’t beat the system maybe you can take it out on the vulnerable.
This is why building the resistance and a real left is so absolutely vital in the present situation.