From Socialist Voice, January 2011

Political collapse, and the alternatives

It is now inevitable that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party will suffer meltdown in the forthcoming general election. Present prospects are that the main beneficiaries will be the opposition wing of the neo-unionist consensus, namely Fine Gael and the Labour Party.
     I use the term “neo-unionist” to describe those interests, and in particular those parties, whose policies have been to make the country totally dependent on economic and political forces outside it: foreign capital, transnational firms, the European Union, the European Central Bank, and now the International Monetary Fund. It is the dominant ideological mindset that pervades vast swathes of the political, business, trade union and media elite of this state. Inevitably, it also negatively influences sections of republican and left opinion.
     Anti-establishment parties and groups will pick up electoral support from the FF-Green collapse. This is inevitable, given the enormity of the crisis, the harshness and patent unfairness of the Government’s response, and the blatant nature of the lies and deceit used to justify it—for example, that there would have been no money for customers in ATM machines if the banks hadn’t been given a blanket guarantee by the Government!
     The prospects are that Sinn Féin will have at least eight TDs and the United Left Alliance at least two to three TDs after the general election. There will also be a number of progressive TDs unaligned with either Sinn Féin or the United Left Alliance.
     What can we expect?
     After the seminal Navan meeting of August 2009, Gerry Adams said that Sinn Féin is “not about elections for the sake of them but to effect real, positive changes in the lives of the citizens.” How does this square with his more recent pronouncement that Sinn Féin is ready to go into coalition with the Labour Party in the unlikely event of the numbers stacking up?
     Adams’s intervention should be seen as another episode in his efforts to bring about the “realignment of politics” that he has called for on a number of occasions.
     He said after Navan that what Sinn Féin wants from such a “realignment” is an end to the “marginalisation” of the party. If what he means by that is acceptance into the neo-unionist consensus, then what he is advocating is pure opportunism.
     In particular, there has been a pronounced weakening of the Sinn Féin position in relation to the European Union. Sinn Féin documents—for example “Democracy in the EU” and “EU Support for Irish Reunification”—talked grandly about “reforming” the EU on “internationalist” and “socialist” principles, identified EU integration as a motor for Irish reunification, and urged consideration of the euro as the currency of a united Ireland. None of these formulations would be out of place among the most Euro-federalist rhetoric.
     Any political programme that ignores the basic economic common sense that an independent Irish state must have an independent currency and control over its interest and exchange rates is built on illusion, or deceit. Euro-zone “socialism” is about as likely as CIA socialism.
     It is now becoming more and more obvious that joining the euro zone was the biggest mistake the Irish state ever made—followed by its second-biggest mistake, the blanket bank guarantee of September 2008.
     By joining the euro in 1999 Ireland halved its interest rates, though the economy was then in the middle of the “Celtic Tiger” boom. Result: the borrowing binge that bankrupted the banks. On the exchange rate side, joining the euro zone tied us to the currency of an area with which we did little more than a third of our trade.
     The consequence is that we can no longer restore our lost economic competitiveness by devaluing our currency, as we have no currency to devalue, so we are faced instead with “internal devaluation,” which means in effect turning the country into an economic wasteland.
     The present crisis shows the continuing relevance of policies for developing our own resources to the maximum, especially our land (which on average produces only half its potential) and our mineral wealth, as well as policies of state intervention both to encourage exports and to expand and develop the domestic market in a planned way so that growth of demand is met by extra domestic production.
     The new economic departure that this crisis calls for requires a much more economically independent stand by the Irish state, a radical reform of our state structures, and a willingness to tackle powerful interests within the country. It is not the politics of the neo-unionist mainstream.
     The programme of the United Left Alliance is a leftist version of euro-zone “socialism” that can “reject the capitalist market” but fail to make any reference to the fact that some two-thirds of our laws are made by an EU that decides much of the 26-County state’s economic and foreign policy, in the interests of large capital.
     The document is full of the rhetoric of “building solidarity with workers across Europe . . . to put the needs of workers and the unemployed before the greed of speculators and profiteers,” without any explanation of whether the “solidarity” is to try to force member-state governments or the EU to introduce these pro-worker measures. If the former, before this could happen member-states, or a group of member-states, would have to win back the necessary economic instruments lost through the EU integration process; if the latter, it’s an illusion.
     So, for parts of the programme, it’s not clear whether demands are being directed to the Irish state or to the EU. For example, a section headed “Build a real left alternative in Ireland and Europe” talks about “forging a new direction,” but again it’s not clear whether this refers to a “new direction” for the EU or for member-states. After all, the main drive for the “neo-liberal policies of curbing public spending and promoting austerity” that all progressive opinion wants to defeat comes from the EU-ECB-IMF axis.
     It is very difficult for a small country to deal with more than one overwhelming problem at the same time. This country faces three problems: overcoming the crisis and developing a progressive economy on the basis of national independence; halting the erosion of national sovereignty brought about by EU integration; and developing the economy of the whole island by all-Ireland government policies committed to 32-county development.
     These problems are closely intertwined and constitute what the “reconquest of Ireland” is all about today. An “alternative” that ignores this reality is no alternative at all.

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