Vive la révolution?

The Hist battled over the motion of whether the House Would Overthrow the Establishment

The Hist, along with Trinity Politics Society, began their first debate of the term yesterday, debating the motion “This House Would Overthrow the Establishment”. Jack Synnott opened the debate for the proposition with the famous Marxist quote: “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle”. He argued that the establishment, their systems and structures, are fundamentally unjust and that inequality is so deeply ingrained in our society that oppression and discrimination have become systematic issues. He concluded that because of this, these issues can never truly be fixed by reform and instead the structures that create them must be replaced.

MJ Gillen countered for the opposition by urging that we need structure in our society and that we shouldn’t overthrow our existing structures but uphold and protect them. Anyone who opts to participate in a democratic society owes a social contractual duty to the state to support and obey its laws. It would be disloyal, he argued, to upend the government structures that have brought about peace and justice to our country. Whilst certain inequalities still exist, Gillen explained, they are part of the evolutionary process of society and can be overcome from within the establishment with time.

Gavin Mendel-Gleason, a guest speaker and Workers’ Party representative for Dublin North West, responded by arguing that our current system is failing us. Confrontations across the world, global warming that will force the migration of millions as sea levels rise, and the fact that the cost of living is increasing whilst real wages stagnate are all evidence that “capitalism is designed for cataclysm”. He argued that the current institutions are a means of coordinating the elite whilst obtaining a sense of perceived legitimacy from the people. The antidote to this, he stated, is a new economic system which involves the masses, a democratic communism that will require a revolution to achieve.

Ben McConkey put a comedic spin in his speech when speaking for the opposition by demonstrating what he believed overthrowing the establishment would look like. Holding up a piece of paper with “The Establishment” written on it, he threw it on the ground and stamped on it. Picking it up with one hand and holding the other in the air, he argued this is what we would be left with, a crumpled system in one hand and nothing in the other, disarray, and lack of public order. Next, he attempted to shred The Establishment paper, which, despite his best efforts, ultimately proved unsuccessful when the shredder jammed. This, he said, was a metaphor for how it is impossible to overthrow the establishment.

Next up for the proposition was Dermot Freeman, an anarchist and member of the Workers Solidarity Movement. He opened his speech with a jab at the Hist, noting that when they invited him to speak, notorious speakers like Nigel Farage were mysteriously absent from the list of previous guest speakers. He argued that the establishment has failed us, particularly when we examine the massive inequalities that persist in our society, such as the richest 1% owning 45% of all the wealth and the fact that one in every seven Irish children live in poverty. Freeman said that when the opposition spoke of a moral or social contract with the state, it would be hard to take them seriously if you were a traveller facing discrimination in this country or someone who had spent a decade in a direct provision centre. The type of change that comes through the establishment is negligible, he argued. Serious change is revolutionary, citing the removal of water charges and the protests for same sex marriage as grass roots examples of this.

Brid O’Donnell criticised the proposition for what she saw as a failure to provide any alternative solution to the establishment. She argued that the idea that we can replace a democratic capitalist society with something better is ambitious, will likely involve years of violence and in the end there is no guarantee that we could not have achieved anything more than we could have in our current system. Just because our current system has some failings, it does not mean an alternative system is better; even when you have the best preparations, systems can fail with human error. Norms and institutions can be changed and improved, she urged, but abolishing them can be dangerous.

Ruth Lennon closed the case for the proposition, arguing that while we have an obligation to follow a contract we have voluntarily entered into, when we do not agree to the state’s governance, we are told to obey or be put in prison. There is no genuine option to opt out. She also criticised capitalism for its creation and negligible response to climate change. Lennon stated that the current system, which aggressively pursues profits, is established so that we cannot stop climate change under it. The counties that are wealthiest will be the last to be affected and also the last to make changes to their production, despite the fact that they make the worst pollution.

Andy McLoughlin concluded the debate for the opposition by arguing that it was pointless to keep debating whether or not we should overthrow the establishment as we are simply not on the brink of revolution. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have been in power since the beginning of the state and the crises in housing and healthcare inevitably lie at their feet, yet they still have 58% of the vote, McLoughlin said. He argued that we have several parties that share many progressive policies and we should look towards them before we examine overthrowing the establishment. There are many activities we can do to create change in our society without revolting such as voting, protesting, discussing sensitive political issues with family and friends, and making social media posts. McLoughlin closed saying we should make change and stop debating about what the perfect world system would be. The debate concluded with the opposition winning, deciding that the establishment should not be overthrown.

Seamus Small

Seamus Small is the current Assistant Societies Editor of Trinity News. He is a Senior Fresh Law and Politics student.