We are pleased to publish another letter from a reader in Ireland. Also on this website are earlier letters from the same reader, The Saville Report on the Bloody Sunday Massacre, Catholic Ghettos Erupt in Face of Orange Provocation and Police Brutality, and Massive Protest Against Austerity in Ireland.
The Dublin government is brutally attacking the working class with unprecedented austerity measures to make workers, students and poor people pay for the bailout of Irish, British and other European banks. In return for the tens of billions of euro in loans to the southern Irish state and banks, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are demanding a 15% cut in social welfare spending along with other savage attacks such as the slashing of over 20,000 public-sector jobs and a rise in education fees at third-level.
Fianna Fáil (FF) and their coalition partners in the Green Party (GP) implemented many of these attacks in the Budget at the end of last year and have further codified them in the Finance Bill. The Finance Bill was passed in January despite the GP’s departure from government and the supposed “opposition” of Fine Gael (FG) and the Labour Party (LP), both of whom could have stopped the legislation by bringing down the minority FF government through a vote of “no confidence”. FG and the LP hope to take power after this month’s election and they will claim, particularly in the case of the LP, that they will at least mitigate the austerity measures to some extent. But the reality is they will not. They will be tethered to the diktats of the international markets and European financial interests just as FF and the GP were. Like the country, imperialism has the LP traitors of the working class by the throat.
Under this assault, it is vitally important for workers to find the best way to fight back and stop the austerity attacks. The mass Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) demonstration of 100,000 people in Dublin last November was impressive and showed workers’ anger, spirit and willingness to defend past gains. [See the report Massive Protest Against Austerity in Ireland.] But such one-time mobilisations are not enough -- in fact, the bureaucrats currently at the head of the unions only intend for these actions to blow off steam. Unprecedented austerity measures call for unprecedented militant mass action by the working class, students and the poor. That means strikes, and more than that it means a general strike, and more than that it means an unlimited general strike that continues until the government (whichever party or parties it happens to be) cancels all the devastating attacks on all our living standards.
But senior ICTU bureaucrats like Jack O’Connor and David Begg only make the pathetic demand that the government stick to the so-called “Croke Park Deal”, that is, the somewhat less severe cutbacks they had negotiated before the ECB and IMF intervention. Jack O’Connor has called on workers to vote for the LP and has expressed his desire to see a “left” government of the LP and Sinn Féin (SF). Not only would this be a matter of the working class having its throat cut with the left rather than the right hand, but it won’t even happen as the LP has categorically stated that it is not interested in a coalition with SF. LP leader Eamonn Gilmore said some time ago that a LP administration would not be “a trade-union government” and he has also made it abundantly clear that the LP will not be “reversing all the cuts”.
Unfortunately there is no political party or organisation in Ireland today that is calling for a general strike by the working class to cancel all the austerity attacks. The Socialist Party (SP), the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA)/Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG) from South Tipperary and several independent candidates have formed an electoral bloc called the “United Left Alliance” (ULA). The ULA opposes all the austerity attacks, which sets it apart from the LP and the major capitalist parties. SF also oppose the majority of the austerity measures, but unlike the ULA they are open to compromise and any potential coalition partners that will deal with them. As a result, workers, students and poor people looking for a way to fight back are likely to turn to the ULA. On this basis, revolutionary socialists should advocate a vote for the ULA as an expression of solidarity with this developing spirit of resistance.
However, while calling on workers to vote for the ULA, revolutionary socialists must also warn workers not to trust the ULA! Its “lowest common denominator” political programme does not meet the needs of the working class. As outlined above, the working class needs to lead a mass struggle against austerity with an unlimited or indefinite general strike to force the government and their imperialist taskmasters to beat a retreat. The ULA does not advocate such a course of action, instead opting for vague sound bites about “mass mobilisation” and “people power”. In fact, when prominent spokespeople for the ULA such as Joe Higgins of the SP and Richard Boyd-Barrett of the PBPA/SWP have made high-profile public appearances on Irish television programmes and elsewhere, they have failed to openly call for workers to organize strikes. This is typical of the way their respective organisations operate, and the watering down of their message is all the more noticeable in the context of the election campaign -- and all the more unforgivable in the context of unprecedented assaults on the working class.
The ULA’s programme is essentially populist, not socialist. It is not just the question of strike action that constitutes the ULA’s populist character. To a large extent they follow the mainstream narrative of rich vs. poor and a framing of the entire issue in moral terms: indulgent, decadent and corrupt bankers lacked the moral fibre to behave themselves, and so a more rational, morally-upright capitalism will be sufficient to correct this flaw, and so on. This populist plea is more than just the result of supposed socialists and open reformists jumping in bed together. It betrays a weakness in the SP’s and SWP’s analysis of the causes of the current economic crisis and broader lack of understanding of capitalism in this, its epoch of permanent decay. The SP, SWP and many others on the far left deny the decaying nature of the system characterised by a long-term tendency for the rate of profit to fall, which has generated a global economic assault against workers’ wages and conditions to defend profits. Instead they say that the crisis is just a result of the ordinary “boom & bust” cycle of capitalism and that the answer to the crisis lies within the boundaries of the capitalist system itself. The truth is that the only solution to the long-term crisis of decaying capitalism is socialist revolution!
The ULA has also failed to call for the right of women to access to free and safe abortion on demand. Seemingly without any sense of shame, the “socialists” of the SP and SWP think this is acceptable because their separate organizations advocate reproductive rights for women outside of the ULA platform. There has never been any excuse for failing to oppose the sexual oppression of women, the LGBT community or young people, and moreover in the past two decades the brief spell of prosperity (in tandem with hard-fought struggles and sex abuse scandals, of course) has torn a hole in the reactionary social fabric of southern Ireland, and the moral authority of the Catholic Church and the majority of its teachings has evaporated in the eyes of most workers. The vestiges of clericalist reaction, such as the prohibition on abortion and same-sex marriage, belong with O’Leary in the grave, and the ULA’s dodging of these issues only postpones their burial, to the detriment of those oppressed by them. All of this clearly demonstrates that the ULA is more interested in getting its candidates elected than in being a pole of attraction for those who want a rupture with the past and a radically different, socialist Ireland.
Another question that is absent from the ULA’s programme is the not-so-insignificant matter of the continued British imperialist occupation of the North of Ireland. Both the SP and the SWP have atrocious track records when it comes to the Irish national question. The SP (and its antecedent organisation, the Militant tendency within the LP) have always either remained on the sidelines or inadvertently parroted the hypocritical moralising of British imperialism and its native stooges by condemning the actions of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) or even ordinary Catholic workers and youth fighting to defend themselves against potential pogroms or state terror. The SP advocated a “yes” vote in the referendum on the “Good Friday Agreement” (GFA) in 1998 which saw a copper-fastening of the partition of Ireland. The SWP have fared little better with their predecessor welcoming the deployment of British troops on the streets of Belfast and Derry in 1969. Following that they tailed the IRA’s campaign of individual terrorism and SF’s electoral efforts up until the mid-1990s, with the occasional word of protest against this or that tactic. Revolutionary socialists cannot remain indifferent to such struggles, but on the contrary must stand with the nationally oppressed against imperialism on a principled basis that stresses the need for real working class unity and leadership. [See also the report Catholic Ghettos Erupt in Face of Orange Provocation and Police Brutality.]
While revolutionary socialists should advocate a vote for the ULA, we must make it clear that the ULA does not have the answers and are not the genuine alternative political force that the Irish working class, students and poor need. This general election, as part of the unfolding economic catastrophe and the response of the working class to it, will hopefully lead to a greater debate outside of the current parameters as to what social and economic system is necessary for humanity, given the systemic instability of imperialist capitalism. In such a debate the task of revolutionary socialists is to advocate a classless, stateless, communist future free of all oppression and to emphasize the need for a revolutionary working class party in order to begin the process of realising that future.
February 18, 2011