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The Left and The Elections

category national | worker & community struggles and protests | opinion/analysis author Thursday May 15, 2014 10:10author by Pat Waine - formerly united left alliance Report this post to the editors

The article deals with the challenge to the Left parties and individuals to get their act together and Put a strong opposition to the neo liberal agenda. That calls for them to put aside party sectarianism in the general interest of working people and put realistic goals before people and move things on that ill benefit all the left .

The Left and the Elections

The biggest difficulty for the left for a long time and particularly during the recent economic meltdown has been its engagement with working people. Given the extent of the crisis, The bailout of the banks, the massive unemployment and the return of mass emigration you would imagine that the left and socialist argument would gain more of a foot hold than it has.
At the last election standing under the umbrella of United Left Alliance the left were successful in having 5 TDS elected to the Dail. This was a good start but by no means was it a huge shift. Working people moved more towards Labour and Sinn Fein even. A short few years later of continuing crisis for Irish Capitalism and the ULA is defunct with Clare Daly leaving the Socialist party for a more independent course. My intention here is not to go into who caused what split but to deal with things in a broader sense .In reality the ULA did not grow to any real force within the working class and that’s clear and undisputed.

Since the 2011 election most of the forces on the left engaged in what was initially anyway a mass campaign against the Household and water taxes. Anarchists, Trotskyites, soft lefts and independent mavericks came together within the ranks of the campaign. However a key ingredient was missing. Working people in the communities while giving verbal support to the campaign and sticking with the boycott never engaged with the campaign in any active way. At no stage did the working class try to build the campaign into a working class fighting force. This resulted in the small left parties SP WP SWP anarchists and independents ( approx 500 at the most) controlling the campaign. When the pressure came on the weakness of the campaign showed up to give the kiss of death to the movement that was build up around CAHWT. Left sectarianism rained as the different groups within CAHWT tried to exert their influence over a dwindling campaign. The boycott collapsed as the Government moved the collection mechanism to the Revenue commissioners. To defeat the Government would have meant taking on the Revenue and clearly the forces on the ground with little input from ordinary workers and no trade union clout were incapable of carrying out that task.

Some groups around the small sectarian forces tried to substitute themselves for what was clearly a role of the class as a whole. This is a dangerous strategy in that it does not indicate to workers their role in changing society. I would compare this with the actions of small military forces engaging in individual terror. These actions are worse than useless as they turn the focus away from the real job at hand and also show a huge weakness to workers which in turn leads to despair. To be crystal clear on this I am not questioning the moral fibre or the intentions of any of those who are engaged in this action I just think that its pointless and disagree with substitutionism. The lefts weakness within the Trade unions is a key aspect of our general weakness. During the campaign against the Property tax we were unable to get any backing at all against the austerity measures. Even during the major attacks on the rights of public service workers the left were not capable of defeating the government or even pushing the most odious measures back. The trade union movement is even at ground level controlled by “activists” not fit for purpose.

In the current elections there is no unity of the left as the different forces could not come together to even agree a basic programme. This has resulted in the Socialist party setting up a group AAA anti Austerity alliance out of some of the remaining activists from the Property tax campaign. They argue that this grew organically out of the property tax campaign but clearly was the creation of the SP. The SWP had a different strategy and sought to have their candidates endorsed locally and are standing under the banner of People before Profit. The remainder of the United Left Alliance are also standing candidates under the banner of United Left. Some of the left are standing as community candidates. There is no united front between these groups and therefore no common platform or analysis. This is a difficulty for the left on a number of fronts. Firstly they are seen as a smaller force than they are and secondly the counter to the neo liberal agenda argument is dissipated. The failure to organise the left as a cohesive force can damage all within the left. The idea of the SWP to stand Brid Smith against the Incumbent left candidate Paul Murphy quite plainly is sectarian. The SP however has argued that there is a huge movement of workers just waiting to elect anti austerity alliance candidates. This was why they argued that Dublin South west should stand 7-10 candidates. The madness of this position was shown in the fact that they couldn’t get more than 5 candidates to stand in that area. This overestimation of the mood and the resources is a damaging sectarian turn by the SP and can be linked and can lead to the substitutionist policy touched on earlier. Judging the mood of the working class is important in any struggle and yes things can be done to try to change that. But ignoring the mood is not a strategy. Someone once said that a sectarian mistakes the first month of pregnancy for the last and visa versa.

With the European and local elections to be held this month the left again failed even to build a cohesive force on the left to pose as an alternative. This is a damaging situation on the left. I would hope that any elected left candidates would work together on an agreed programme however I wouldn’t take that as a given.

The problem as I see it for the left at this time is that workers do not see a clear alternative to the Government argument.
A large amount of workers will not vote in the upcoming elections and the reasons for that are multiple and complex. I see the problem being that working people (those that vote and those that don’t) all see politics within the confines of voting. They have not seen the protest movement, strikes etc as a political act. Hence they have not joined in most of the attempts to engage them politically on the streets. This needs to change and the left need to look at ways of engaging people locally and explaining the political impact of small local changes. If the Left are to have an impact they need to have a broad appeal , appear united at least on the main issues and put forward a cohesive position capable of defeating those putting forward a neo liberal agenda. Failure to get our act together will have huge ramifications for us all in the years ahead.

author by Tpublication date Thu May 15, 2014 21:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Some good points raised there. I presume when you say: 'This was why they argued that Dublin South west should stand 7-10 candidates' -I presume you are referring to candidates for the council?

And on this point: At no stage did the working class try to build the campaign into a working class fighting force. -I assume you are referring to the lack of people getting involved rather than the various parties trying to push people to get involved even though I know all the Left political parties are always looking for people to help out. On the lack of people coming forward, I think this is very much tied up in the type of society we live in and the media environment that we all swim in. Its hard to know where to get the answers or how to change the situation. One thing that I noticed myself during the early days of the Property Tax campaign was the huge number of people who complained who normally wouldn't voice any concerns, but when it came to getting involved or attending any kind of protest, they did absolutely f**k all.

author by Spublication date Sun May 18, 2014 03:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Pat Wine's thoughtful, but plaintive article touches on shortcomings in "the left's engagement with the working class" and its failure to get its act together to defeat politically the dominant support for the neo-liberal economic tendency in Irish society and presumably in the wider international world. In response T makes the plaintive point that after one big turnout to protest against the Property Tax the majority of people most affected by neoliberalism have done f***all to bring about political change. Both Pat W and T have stated the obvious, which needs to be stated and repeated until more people face the status quo reality in our society.

As I get on in years I have noted different generations of pre-split Sinn Fein, the Worker's Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the CPI and even the frenetic student-driven anti-nuclear power movement of more than 35 years ago all trying in their varied ways to galvanise popular opinion towards the achievement of social and political objectives. Great energy and often novel imagination ran their courses, and normal middle-of-the-road politics prevailed. I despair that our society has two kinds of response to the economic system - spectators and activists. The spectators constitute possibly 95 per cent of the population and the activists in all parties make up the minority 5 per cent. And what a fraction of that 5 per cent act in pursuit of radical objectives!

Too many people in the disadvantaged sectors of urban and rural society just want to be spectators. Activism, as they have seen it done by activists, is not for them. It is sad but that is how it is. The local elections will bring many interesting new people into the arena of representative politics, and the vote switch in the European election towards radical candidates outside mainstream orthodoxy will be amazing. Good luck to all these candidates. But activism will remain a choice for the minority. I know how I'll vote next week, but I can't offer suggestions for reducing the spectator mentality among victims of neo-liberal dominance.

author by Sean Crudden - CEHGpublication date Fri May 23, 2014 18:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This next workshop of the Cooley Environmental And Health Group should be of great interest to many as it will address issues relating to Leadership and Participation in the context of Community Development and Local Government. Events in recent years have reinforced the perception that local communities are increasingly losing control over their own destinies as more and more of the decisions that affect us are made in Brussels or the headquarters of multinational corporations. Government at national level seems to be more interested about meeting the demands of the IMF and the ECB than caring about the needs of its own people, while at local level government appears to be becoming increasingly undemocratic and technocratic. The County Community and Voluntary Forums, which were intended to facilitate the voice of local and voluntary groups are a failed entity, and the likelihood is that they will be replaced by new structures in the ongoing reform of local government, possibly along the lines of Public Participation Networks as proposed by Social Justice Ireland (link). The objective of the Workshop will be to discuss what needs to be done to broaden participation in the decision-making process and to restore more control to ordinary people over their futures. To this end, and in keeping with the principles we hope to encourage, we would like to extend an invitation to all groups or individuals with an interest in local democracy to participate in the organization of the Workshop.

If you have an interest in the topics we propose to debate, please feel free to send us a submission or (better still) join us at our next meeting in the Strand Hotel Omeath at 10am on Sunday 12th September when we will be discussing the format of the Workshop.

The provisional title of the winter workshop is, "Leadership and Participation: Community Development and the Demise of Local Government." The time fixed for the workshop is Saturday 24 January 2015 from 14:00 until 17:30. The likely venue is The Strand, Omeath, Co. Louth.

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