It seems to me that the Irish left in general has refused to face up to the reality that any and every attempt at social democracy or socialist participation in electoral politics has completely failed to achieve its goals. Much of the blame for this has been put on the characters involved (with some justification), they were not true Scotsmen, so it’s a case of ‘once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more’. But perhaps the problem lies with and stems from this particular form of political engagement?
I read an article yesterday which I found very interesting. While it comes from a perspective I mightn’t necessarily subscribe to, it makes some very good points and is definitely worth a read:
Here’s a bit of it which I think is particularly applicable to the Irish left as it stands today;
Electoral work is not the same as engaging in a social movement. While electoral campaigns through organizations like the Green Party (the “cool” democratic socialists) may raise issues, it leaves the people mobilized around those issues standing cold when the only form of action offered to them is voting. It is great to raise certain points of agitation during their campaign, but we know that they either will not get elected or, if they do, will not be able to actually enact the kind of sweeping changes they are discussing. This is simply not the way the state functions, no matter how many of them pack the chambers. Instead, that time and money would be better used on actual movement building. All the benefits you get from a liberal electoral campaign you could get in putting the same effort toward a social movement, except at the end you actually have functional on-the-ground organizing that can continue to push reforms with popular power.
This point is lost on the Irish left, there is very little, if any, effort to form some kind of movement. Events are held to discuss the need, or lack thereof, for new traditional political partys and discussions are also had about electoral alliances, but there is no effort to create a mass movement. Time and again squabbles are had over various seats, Paul Murphy’s seat in the EU parliament just the latest example.
If we look at the past we can see how time and time again “successful” participation in electoral politics has resulted in dismal failure – The Labour Party, Workers Party and now Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin’s move to the centre and abandonment of revolutionary politics(even if you didn’t agree with them they have certainly moved towards the centre) is directly attributable to engaging in and tasting some success in electoral politics. As is the large increase of careerists and opportunists within the party. Much of the working class does not vote (and who can blame them? It’s a waste of time) and are politically disengaged, so in search of further support party’s inevitably turn to the voting classes which inevitably results in a move towards the centre.
I’ve wandered off the point a bit, and it is thus, given the repeated failure (and I would say inevitable) of socialist participation in parliamentary democracy in Ireland, why does the Irish left have such an electoral fetish?
Why, instead of trying to build electoral support is there not an attempt to build a socialist movement independent of electoral politics? Why are they setting themselves up to fail? Should the unattached on the left look towards trying to agitate and build some kind of mass movement completely independent of the electoral system, rather than ponder setting up yet another electoral vehicle?
Worth pointing out in case it isn’t obvious; the foundation of my argument is the acceptance that our current electoral system, like all liberal/bourgeoisie systems is unrepresentative of the Irish people, the working class especially. (I’ve been reading a lot of Lenin!)
Saoirse go Deo 11th November 2013