April 2018        


A welcome debate

A chara,
     The letter concerning electoral politics in last month’s issue is a welcome contribution to a perennial debate among the Irish revolutionary left. For our purposes, the debate is more concerned with what is the role of parliamentary struggles in the broader transformative struggles for socialism. I would say that it is more a case of how can elections as a tactic best be utilised rather than an all or nothing choice between pure electoralism or an abstentionist approach to elections, both of which are cul-de-sacs. The relationship of Connolly’s Irish Socialist Republican Party, formed in 1896, to elections is one with much educational value on this.
     Elections have a role to play in revolutionary politics in terms of measuring support for revolutionary forces as well as being an opportunity to educate, agitate and organise in an environment of increased political awareness. The election of progressive voices to parliamentary benches can indeed be used to expose the powerful and undermine confidence in those institutions. Elections can also be used to highlight a certain issue, for example the ongoing campaign in Waterford for a cardiac care centre, which also further highlights the over-centralised nature of the political system in the 26 counties.
     However, there are many glaring problems with elections, which we are unfortunately all too aware of. This became all too clear for activists involved in the water charges campaign as it went on. As elections came nearer, bitter fighting between the broad left and ridiculous short-term actions became more common as the more opportunist sought to protect and increase their electoral gains arising from the water struggle. Elections became seen as more than just the tactic or the means to an end, but the end itself. It echoed the basic definition of opportunism, in the famous words of Bernstein, that “the final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing; the movement is everything.”
     It is necessary for Marxists to always “politicise” things, to put them in a concrete and scientific way. Elections can indeed be used for our purposes, but this also means to understand them as a means to an end and be strategic in our use of them.
     We should also take note of the growing numbers of people who have lost trust in the political system. In the last General Election in the 26 counties, over 35 per cent of the electorate did not vote at all, while in the previous General Election this was at 30 per cent. The growing mistrust in the electoral system as a vehicle for change should also be exploited. This can be done by direct political action in local communities, which may or may not involve standing in elections at some level, as well as standing for election to positions within our trade councils, ICTU and Union Committees—where the organised members of our class are—for the same reasons, but in doing so we have to be careful not to put ourselves in a situation where we can’t see the wood for the trees.
     Graham Harrington

A chara,
     With reference to comrade Jimmy Corcoran’s comments on my article “Time for change” in last month’s Socialist Voice, there seems to be some confusion, so I’ll try to clarify. The point I was trying to make is that the battle for the hearts and minds of our people must be won before anything will change in parliaments—or anywhere else for that matter. Up until now this battle has not been won, but more progress in the political knowledge of the class nature of society was made during the Right2Water campaign than for many years previously and in countless election campaigns.
     Unfortunately, once the issue left the streets and was transferred from the communities to the politicians in Dáil Éireann it was watered down, as is the nature of our parliament as it stands. This is its job: to preserve capitalism. Of course every means at our disposal (including elections) should be and is used to win the “battle of minds.” Until this battle is won, nothing will change.
     We are not looking for reforms, a nicer form of capitalism: our job is to smash it and build socialism. Our transformative strategy will build and increase class-consciousness and in doing so weaken our enemy, instead of compromising and actually strengthening capitalism, as is the case when the Right2Water demands entered the Dáil.
     A weakened enemy is easier to defeat than a strengthened one. We must challenge capitalism to its core, not compete with it through reforms, as this only props it up. Our job is to tear it down.
     In solidarity,
     Jimmy Doran

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