The Red Plough
Vol. 2-No 1
1) The elections- a democratic revolution?
2) Lessons of the Middle East
3) What’s On
Only struggle educates the exploited class.
Only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities,clarifies its mind, forges its will."
The Elections- a Democratic Revolution?
Some commentators described it as a “democratic revolution.” They were not talking about the current uprisings in parts of North Africa or the wave of mass demonstrations across the Middle East. Rather they were talking about the results of the 26-county elections, which saw the dominant force, Fianna Fail reduced to a mere handful of seats, 20 in all.
The party that emerged from the depths of the old nationalist parties and the fascists, Fine Gael, reached their highest every total of seats, 76. The Labour Party also reached its highest number of seats, 37. It is clear they will form a new coalition Government in tandem with Fine Gael unless there is a massive revolt by rank and file labour party members. That leaves an opposition composed of Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein(P), and Independents composed of a variety of views including five who signed up to the United Left Alliance. Sinn Fein (P)had their best every result winning 15 seats.
The irony of the results is that, while it is clear that the electorate punished Fianna Fail for the appalling economic mess that ended up with the Irish people in hock to European bankers and forced to face years paying off debts run up by other bankers, they also elected in overwhelming numbers those committed to the self same policies that Fianna Fail were advocating. As political commentator Vincent Browne put it
“If Fine Gael and Labour have problems in agreeing a programme, the problems are ones of personality and perception. There are no incompatibilities of principle or ideology.”(1)
They both agree to submit to the European Central bank and the IMF. They will want to reduce the interest paid to the same banks but not to the principle of punishing the vast majority of the Irish people for the sins of the bankers and property speculators. To pay of the bankers they are going to introduce a property tax on top of the huge burdens that the previous Fianna Fail/Greens coalition had already imposed.
The leadership of the Labour Party is firmly in the hands of those who once were members of the Workers Party and who knew clearly of the continued existence of the Official IRA. Yet they still pretend they can not work with Sinn Fein(P) because in the words of some Free state commentators SFP are “toxic”.
It is clear that large sections of the electorate, north and south do not share this view. To it’s credit SFP at least adopted a policy of “burning the bond holders”, ie refusing to pay the debt.
The Labour Party for its part still has not yet learned the lessons of its involvement in coalition with main- stream capitalist parties. Vincent Browne quotes figures from the last time Labour entered a coalition.
“During the period from 1994 to 1997 when Ruairí Quinn was Minister for Finance, Seán Healy, then of Cori, calculated that in every one of the budgets for which Quinn was responsible, it was the rich who benefited most. And, in a telling indictment of Labour's five-year tenure in office in the 1990s (first with Fianna Fáil from 1992 to 1994 then with Fine Gael and Democratic Left from 1994 to 1997), the Institute of Public Health calculated that 5,400 people died prematurely every year because of the scale of inequality here.”
There is no evidence that Labour’s participation in a capitalist Government has done anything to alleviate the conditions of the working class. The evidence is to the contrary. Clearly the Labour leadership for the baubles of office is prepared to sacrifice the Irish working class on the altar of the foreign bondholders bankers and exploiters of the workers.
Perhaps Eamon Gilmore should remember what he stood for once when a member of the Democratic Left after splitting from the Workers Party. This was the Democratic left position on the labour party in the early 1990’s.
"Who can point to a single issue in the economic area where this Government has adopted a position or taken a decision that might not have also been taken by the previous Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats administration or the minority Fianna Fáil Government which went before that?
"Has the Labour presence led to any new radical approach to the unemployment problem or new measures to secure an equal distribution of wealth? There is no evidence of that..."
"Far from being in partnership with Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party has now been almost totally assimilated into the political culture which the Tánaiste (Dick Spring) spoke of in such withering terms in the dying days of the last Dáil."
Men of principle, how are ye!
Like previous leaderships the current Labour leadership is well assimilated into the political clientism that passes for politics in the 26 counties. The system itself is geared towards that. Only a radical break can change that.
The coming together of United Left Alliance (ULA) and its modest success hold out some hope for the future. It has been described, I believe, unfairly by the IRSP as
“-a couple of sects espousing reformist rhetoric and reformist demands.”(2)
Indeed it may well turn out a total failure and previous history of the organisations involved does not breed a great deal of confidence in its future direction. The IRSP are indeed correct in questioning its coming together only at election time. Indeed it would be better if a longer-term strategy was worked out in conjunction with those who aspire to a socialist society.
However to simply talk about reformism in a condemnatory way misses the point. How to convince those from the working classes to vote, not to replace Tweedledum (FF) with Tweedledee (FG) but to change the system. And it is only the working class who have the power to change the system. Currently it is easy to say that the masses are confused by reformist ideas and that they don’t vote or act in their class interest but to say that is to ignore reality.
Every day there are classes between the forces of capital and labour (Not that the Labour party would ever describe them as such)
For example see the “ SUPPORT O'CALLAGHAN DAVENPORT HOTEL STRIKERS” at Facebook (http://www.causes.com/causes/582437-support-o-callaghan-davenport-hotel-strikers?m=82ea650a)
These struggles will intensify as the screw is tightened on the working class. All those manifestations of struggle need to be generalised so that the class see the connection between their exploitation and the system. That requires leadership.
While the Red Plough has no illusions about the leaderships of parties like SFP and the Labour party we do recognise that many of their rank and file are committed to change. Name calling does little to build a movement of change.
Is the left, whether the labour left or the republican left, capable of creating the revolutionary leadership that is needed?
Lessons of the Middle East
For over forty years in the North of Ireland Republicans of various hues have used armed force to change the status of the Northern state and create a united and/or socialist, Ireland. Indeed the provisional IRA procured arms from Gaddafi’ Libya when Gaddafi was going through a so called “anti-imperialist ‘phase. Those arms allowed that organisation to maintain its armed campaign for many years before its final defeat.
Recently off- shoots of the Provos have despite all evidence to the contary maintained that armed struggle is the only way forward. However whether they are the real, the really real or the really really real IRA’s none of the groups is capable of maintaining a consistent armed struggle.
Occasionally shots are fired in Lurgan, Derry or somewhere else, bombs and hoax devices are planted yet the vast majority of people ignore it and get on with their lives. While there is little enthusiasm for the Stormont Assembly or the power sharing administration among many nationalists there is not yet enough opposition that could possibly justify armed struggle. Of course there maybe the occasional “success” such as the killing of a uniformed soldier or policeman, the assassination of a prominent politician, the burning down of a furniture store , the bombing of a “prestige” target and the kneecapping of a “local hood”.
But will that change the fundamental relationships between Britain and Ireland? Will it improve the position of northern nationalists? Will it win over the protestant working class to socialism? Will it bring about a United Ireland? Or will it stop crime in working class communities? Will it hell! All it will do will be to see another generation of young people languish in British and Irish jails. And for what? Yet another glorious defeat.
Compare and contrast that with what is now happening in the Middle East. Note how weeks, sometimes days, of mass action by the people succeeded in changing autocratic dictatorships that had been in power of decades. In Libya the mass struggle there is now combined with mass armed actions as the people attempt to overthrow the regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi. Tunisia, Egypt, Lebannon, Jordan, Quatar etc there have been tremendous explosions of popular discontent. Change is certainly in the air and Imperialism caught unawares tries to adjust to the new situation and stop the mass movements from radically changing the status quo.
Oil has been the dominant factor in the running of these countries for years. So the Western powers supported, armed, financed and trained the police and armies of corrupt leaders in these countries. All in the interests of Western imperialism.
Suddenly the whole deck of cards started to tumble down when the Tunisian masses responded to the tragic suicide of a young market trader denied a license by corrupt police. Corrupt was rife in both Tunisia and Egypt ; massive wealth for the thousand of so elite families and dire poverty for the millions. That was the reality.
Hence the massive explosion of anger that fanned the flames of revolt throughout the Middle East. The mass explosions have at their core democratic demands. Of course within the struggles there are religious fundamentalists, monarchists, and enthusiastic followers of Imperialism but there are also vast masses wanting fundamental changes in the political social and economic conditions under which they live. And they are the driving forces for change.
While it is too early to predict the outcome of those mass struggles there are certainly valuable lessons for us here in Ireland.
Change comes, not as Mao says from the barrel of a gun, but when the masses move. Individual acts of violence, unrelated to the needs and aspirations of the masses, is elitist militarism and does nothing to advance the cause of either the militarists or the masses. That is also the lesson to learn from other successful revolutions such as the Cuban and Chinese revolutions. Armed struggle in both was linked to the social emancipation of the masses and without that support both revolutions would have failed. (the development of China’s revolution from 1949 is another separate question)
The other key lesson from the mass uprisings in the Middle East is the breaking down of national and religious barriers. There is an internationalism occurring in what is happening that transcends the state barriers imposed by imperialism. The masses in Egypt, Libya etc saw what their brothers and sisters had achieved in Tunisia and started to emulate them creating a bond among the Arab masses. Of course just as in Ireland Imperialism will try to fan the flames of tribalism, sectarianism and fundamentalism in order to maintain a foothold in the Middle East.
It is for the progressive elements in the struggle to ensure that does not happen. Otherwise like Ireland the struggles will be diverted in blind alleys of bigotry and sectarianism. When that happens there is only one winner, Imperialism.
History Staff/Postgraduate Seminar Series
* Venue : Postgraduate Seminar room, 18 College Green, Belfast at 4pm.
* Event Open To : Students, Staff, General Public
Chris Loughlin: Beaten and crushed? Violence and intimidation against the Belfast labour movement, 1924−39.
James Connolly Archive http://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly
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