The Irish election results have produced a changed and changing political landscape. There was a solid rejection of “austerity” by hundreds of thousands of working people throughout the country, with both Fine Gael and the Labour Party suffering heavy losses.
The Labour Party has paid the heaviest price for its opportunism and its active support for anti-worker policies.
The resignation of Éamon Gilmore, who raised opportunism to the level of party principle, caused no surprise. His removal was an attempt to ignore the fact that voters deserted the Labour Party because of its policies in government and that the issue it needed to face was not a matter of the leader’s personality but participation in a Blueshirt regime. As for Gilmore, he will be rewarded for his services to the ruling class with directorships and perhaps with a plum job in Brussels as an acolyte of imperialism.
The political establishment could not allow this Government to collapse, as Tweedledee is still limping behind while Tweedledum is falling apart, unable to create the illusion that we have a democracy rather than a circus with the EU ringmaster dealing out the lashes.
What is becoming clearer is that there is now a significant segment of working people throughout the country who no longer look to the traditional establishment parties to solve their problems. The establishment parties are being increasingly exposed as having nothing to offer the people, parties whose primary political strategy is to defend the EU and its policies.
All these parties support further integration within the EU and the removal of democracy from the people. They give priority to the interests of the rich, the international finance houses and the big monopoly corporations over that of Irish people. NAMA and the other so-called solutions are nothing more than an attempt to re-establish the Golden Circle—their paymasters.
It is also increasingly clear than many working people no longer believe or even listen to the establishment media, including the state-controlled RTE. The media, along with the main political parties, have for decades steered politics and political debate away from policy into the realm of celebrity and individualistic “beauty contests,” avoiding any real discussion on substance or policy, as if the economic system is set in concrete.
A huge number of voters ignored the hysterical and infantile anti-republicanism of the media and opted for Sinn Féin because of its opposition to austerity measures, its condemnation of EU policies, and its local work.
The growth of Sinn Féin and of the leftist parties, together with the increase in the number of progressive independents, is a reflection of a deep alienation among working people about what is happening. But along with the growth in support for these forces there are also the large numbers of workers who have given up voting altogether.
There is now a definite gap between those who are governed and those who govern.
There is a discernible and definite left vote at the local level throughout the country. Not all independents are right-wing: most reflect the deep frustration and powerlessness felt by people. At this moment many people do not believe that the existing political formations have any solution for their problems.
Over the decades local politics have been deliberately steered towards “potholes, not policy.” Many independents have emerged from the various grass-roots struggles in defence of hospitals and other public services. The danger of having such a large number of independents, at both the local and the national level, is that it suits the establishment. It can manage and manipulate a diffuse opposition. It means that even in a minority situation the establishment parties can secure their own class interests.
The question has to be asked: Has the left a strategy for enhancing local government, for turning the demand for greater democracy and control at the local level into a site of struggle? This is an urgent task for all of us, both those inside and those outside the council chambers.
Bankrupt social democracy
The Labour Party is on the way to electoral oblivion, and rightly so. A vote for the Labour Party, either at the local level or for the EU Parliament, was a vote for current government policies and EU-imposed austerity. It was a vote to confirm that there is no other way out of the crisis.
The strategy of the Labour Party over the decades, of propping up right-wing governments, has contributed to the belief by many people that no alternative is possible. The Labour Party has been essential for depoliticising the debate about economics, and has actively promoted the belief that economics and the economy are a neutral space, creating a situation where people end up voting for those who they think can manage the system best at a particular time. And workers keep on waiting.
Austerity and the savage attacks on workers’ rights—not just here in Ireland but throughout Europe—have been sustainable only because of the active collaboration of social democracy and social-democratic parties. They have used their links and influence within the trade union and workers’ movement to blunt and deaden opposition and to actively draw workers into accepting the belief that there is no alternative. The Irish and British Labour Parties and the French, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek “Socialist Parties” have been allocated the main role in subduing workers and managing their expectations.
But the historical era of social-democratic policies has ended. The system can no longer afford the social-democratic compromise of the last half of the twentieth century. It is now an imperative that all areas of economic and social activity must be privatised, to allow private capital to expand into what was once public economic space, as investment opportunities are increasingly difficult to secure other than in financial speculation.
Yet while the objective conditions for social-democratic reformism may have come to their historical end, social-democratic views and illusions are still strong and are attractive to a large section of the working class.
The Labour Party—particularly its leadership—and social democracy in general are part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution. Workers and their trade unions cannot allow themselves to be locked in to the view that if the Labour Party is electorally defeated and disintegrates, this would be a disaster.
The current challengers to lead the Labour Party will no doubt make promises regarding austerity and budgetary policy they simply can’t fulfil. Austerity is permanent and will be imposed by the EU treaties. The troika have not left, you know. Capitalism itself can’t allow any other way as it is essential to saving the system itself. These constraints will also apply to Sinn Féin if it succeeds in entering government on the policies it current advocates.
This is the challenge facing Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party, and People Before Profit (Socialist Workers’ Party). Just because the Labour Party is collapsing and there is a social-democratic vacuum does not mean that this space has to be filled.
A study of the many pieces of election literature produced for the local and EU elections by all these groups shows that there is a grave danger of them falling into the social-democratic vacuum, with little politics other than better footpaths, laws for dealing with anti-social behaviour, and better, fairer cuts—trying to capture the anger of the people, not for a different way forward but for a better form of capitalism.
The Communist Party took the decision to stand in the local elections to use them as a platform and an opportunity for public education, for raising the central questions of the EU-imposed debt and austerity and the continuing assault on national democracy and sovereignty. It is our belief that by raising and developing the people’s struggles of today we present the possibility of a different future.
European Union elections
IN THE elections for the EU Parliament there was very little debate of substance. The crucial question of the attacks on national democracy and sovereignty by the EU, in active collaboration with the Irish establishment, got little attention, as did the role of the debt as a weapon for imposing austerity and attacks on workers’ rights.
There was no debate about how more and more political and economic decisions and priorities are being removed from the national government, removed from democratic influence, freed from democratic accountability, fixing in concrete the economic, social and political priorities of European monopoly capitalism. No matter who people vote for, nothing can change without the EU’s say-so.
The trust of the people must not be betrayed for the promise of a seat in a toothless Government that has already ceded its power to the European Union. Republicanism is of little value if it cannot defend, or even set down as a basic principle, the belief that the people are and must be sovereign. This is the very antithesis of what the EU stands for and its strategy of emasculating the people.
The election of an increased number of members from Ireland who presented themselves as opposed to or critical of the EU is very much to be welcomed. The establishment, both here in Ireland and throughout the EU, have been attempting to play down the result of the vote and reduce it to a challenge by “Eurosceptics” and racists. (Yet the EU has no problem encouraging and using fascist forces for its own ends, as it is doing at present in Ukraine.) In Spain, Portugal, Greece and even here in Ireland millions of workers rejected the solutions imposed by the EU. These people are not “sceptical” but have reached the conclusion that the EU itself, and the interests it serves, are the greater part of the problem.
While there has been a growth in electoral support for parties of the right—some of which are out-and-out fascists—others of a more populist nature have succeeded in tapping into the deep alienation, hurt and anger of working people towards not just their own ruling class but what they see as the clear links and controls over their lives by the European Union.
People are becoming increasingly alienated from the narrow concept of democracy that is on offer. This can open up a greater scope for arguing for a much wider view of democracy, one that embraces every aspect of social life, from the shop floor to the home, from the local arts group to the question of what constitutes cultural policy, to democratic relations between men and women, between young and old. The struggle for democracy must be instilled with revolutionary content.
Millions of workers voted for these parties and candidates not because they are racist or fascist but because they feel betrayed by decades of being taken for granted and being used as election fodder by social-democratic parties. They cannot distinguish between the rambling of the establishment parties regarding the European Union and that of social democracy or even of some communist parties that sow the illusion that the EU can be reformed from within. In many cases, workers are ahead of these opportunist parties.
The challenge facing the workers’ movement throughout Europe is to become the champions in defence of the people’s interests, to defend national democracy and sovereignty—not as it is now used but as the tool needed for bringing about real and deep economic and social change, which is the only real basis for radical solidarity among the people and for true internationalism.
If the communist and workers’ movement cannot separate itself from the false internationalism as expressed by the Party of the European Left or the European Trade Union Confederation, then the right and populist forces will lead the people into confronting each other rather than the real enemy—monopoly capitalism—which no longer needs democracy at either the national or the international level.
The challenges facing the Irish left
The challenge here at home is whether the left can harness the people’s anger for change. Anger is an emotion, not a political strategy. We need to develop a coherent strategy for radical change and not descend into electoralism or internecine warfare between the factions that call themselves the “revolutionary left.”
We need to build a more militant trade union movement, with its own clear demands and world view, a movement that has a class understanding and a class approach to politics. This is an essential vehicle for rallying the forces for change, for bringing more coherence to the scattered independent councillors and campaigns and for neutralising the party-political electioneering that is in danger of undermining the small but important advances made.
This will require of us all that we engage with one another to see where co-operation can be established.
It is now an urgent task to build a left-patriotic anti-imperialist movement capable of presenting to the people an alternative way out of this moribund and crisis-ridden system—a movement that is not for gathering up votes but for politicising and deepening the class-consciousness of the people, mobilising the people in defence of their own interests. It must bring the people beyond anger, armed with their own ideology and an understanding of their own class interests—a truly risen people.
This analysis appears in Socialist Voice published by the Communist arty of Ireland