The Irish election changes nothing - effective resistance needs to be built

Today*, in an even more meaningless exercise then normal, a minority of the population of Ireland will choose between two almost identical options as to who will implement the ECB / IMF austerity plans for southern Ireland. Outside of this plan the wealthiest 1% will continue to set economic policy tomorrow as they did yesterday and have throughout the last decades. The electoral circus we are now going through provides the rest of us with the illusion of control even though deep down almost everyone acknowledges the ritual as having no real impact on what policies are actually implemented. (written 25 Feb 2011)

The outgoing Fianna Fail led coalition that protected the interests of the richest 1% by attacking healthcare, education, jobs & pay is most likely to be replaced by a Fine Gael led coalition that will protect the interests of the richest 1% by attacking healthcare, education, jobs & pay. Both 'alternatives' put protecting the souths ultra low corporate tax as a major priority, way ahead of the needs of workers in the south. This is almost unchallenged by anyone even though it means in effect we are involved in a race to the bottom that robs revenue from health and eduction services for workers elsewhere in Europe. If we expect workers elsewhere in Europe to come to our aid in resisting the ECB's demand for reparations for the debts run up by the wealthy 1% during their property war then workers in Ireland would be wise to ditch the counter productive support for the low corporate tax regime we have been told is in our interests.

The far left and republican movement defeated in its attempts to build resistance to the massive wave of cuts in the workplaces and on the streets has, for the most part, foolishly retreated to the least favorable terrain, the field of electoralism, where any politics based on struggle will be weakest. This will allow the claim to be made after the election that when faced with the choice 75% plus of those who bothered to vote opted for parties or individuals who signed up to the IMF / ECB plan. That austerity now has a democratic mandate. To demonstrate that point liberal commentator Fintan O'Toole who opposes the plan actually published a piece in the Irish Times during the week with the headline "Voters set to endorse EU-IMF deal in election."

The counter argument that getting a handful of lefties in the Dail to make speeches against the plan is somehow a gain has been made in numerous arguments, this writer at least is not convinced. These may be financial and publicity benefits for the left parties that get members elected but those are gains made at a cost to the struggle both because of the implicit endorsement of the system that happens when you play the role of the Dail clown but also because parliament by design pushes politics from the mass collective field to the individual. United Left Alliance canvassers I've talked to freely admit to introducing themselves as being from 'the Joe Higgins party' on the doorstep even if they are actually in the SWP.

They do so because Joe has built himself a sizable individual following through being allowed to perform in the Dail and the European Parliament as the voice of dissent. Far from seeing this personality politics as a problem many think the answer is to get more Joe's in, forgetting perhaps the historic lesson that for every Joe you get half a dozen Galloway's, Sheridan's, Hatton's or De Rossa's around which hopes are built and then dashed as the idol turns out to have a feet of clay. The Higgin's and MacGiolla's are the exceptions rather than the rule when revolutionaries choose to climb onto the dung heap of electroalism.

On Sunday morning all the left canvassers will be waking up, exhausted and probably hung over to make their own judgement as to how worthwhile their weeks of frantic activity have been. The struggle will continue regardless and most of them will quickly re-engage with it until the next electoral distraction. So I don't intend to dwell further on the problems with the ULA or other left electoral approaches. Those interested in a detailed discussion of why anarchists see it as a choice between Parliament or Democracy will find Kevin Doyle's detailed explanation of that argument useful along with the other coverage WSM have provide of Election 2011. But is Fintan O'Toole right, will the overwhelming vote for pro ECB parties and individuals mean we might as well pack up and go home disgusted with the implied stupidity of the Irish population?

This is not something we should swiftly reject and move on from. Of course his point of view is elitist, what else would you expect from a man who clearly fears the mob more than he favors real democracy. A minor scuffle at the gates of the Dail was enough to send Fintan scuttling for cover, we would be foolish to imagine he was in it for the long haul even if we favored his alternative of a quasi dictatorship of technocrats.

But there is a problem. The working class in Ireland has collectively accepted a massive attack on our pay and conditions without almost no significant organised of spontaneous resistance. The similar offensive in Greece resulted in days of rioting and several general strikes. In Ireland we had a one day public sector strike followed by voting in the Croke Park deal. The media got very excited by the most minor examples of street resistance but the odd angry word and tossed placard hardly corresponds to the hail of rocks and molotov's that normally accompanies resistance to IMF interventions. While ICTU has on a couple of occasions being able to mobilize very large street protests the left has not, turnouts, particularly on budget night, have been pathetic, serving only to prove how isolated the far left is.

Struggle must continue but now should also be the time for some pretty profound collective soul searching by the left. Why is our message is unattractive to the mass of the population? Why have we been unable to mount a challenge to the mis leadership of ICTU? Does the constant 'the next one will be the big one' hype serve to do anything other that eliminate space for genuine discussion and burn out and demoralize the few willing to get involved.

What we can be very sure of is that the attacks on the working class have not stopped, in fact they almost certainly have not even peaked. Fine Gael will certainly feel they have a mandate to implement the cuts they highlighted as part of their election campaign and we all know that in election manifesto's the intention to cut is understated. Those under attack will face the same choice on Monday they faced last week, resignation and demoralization, emigration or collective resistance. The left will likewise be faced with the task of generalizing the anger beyond the dog eat dog world of the Joe Duffy caller who wants the single mother across the road to be targeted but for themselves to be left alone.

On Monday morning the Fine Gael victory, whether alone or in coalition with the Labour Party is not the defeat we need to be concerned about. Nor is it cancelled out by getting two or three lefties into the Dail to play the role of opposition. The electoral contest was a sideshow in a class war that has being going very badly for our side, in almost every case our leaders have panicked and called for a retreat before the battle has even been fought. Turning things around requires a fundamental change in goals, tactics and organisation not the replacement of a couple of generals. Working out what is required and building that alternative is the challenge that faces everyone on the left in the months ahead, a challenge the WSM is embracing.

first published on WSM.ie

  


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