October 2015        

The cart before the horse

Eoghan O’Neill

The year 2015 has proved to be one in which there was a deepening of the process of a people’s debate about what type of Ireland we want, from the Vincent Browne road show to the Right2Water and Right2Change mass demonstrations and conferences.
     Many challenging questions need to be asked and answered if we are to face the challenges ahead, and none more so than proposing an alternative to the established political parties.
     Unfortunately, people are still of the belief that having the ability to change the party in power every four or five years means you can also effect fundamental change at a wider economic, political and social level. Through bitter experience it has become obvious that this isn’t possible: the party names change but the policies remain the same. It seems that the vote remains the last democratic tool of legitimacy left for ruling parties throughout Europe, and it remains the fulcrum on which many parties on the left base themselves.
     It will not be long before a general election will be called, and already the canvassing has begun—some even began as far back as the end of last year. The major established political parties have their agenda of keeping the status quo: austerity is working, Europe is our friend, play our part in the recovery, condemn those who try to resist against Austerity Europe.
     The left opposition parties, including Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party (Anti-Austerity Alliance), and Socialist Workers’ Party (People Before Profit), harbour some or all of these illusions. The question remains, what can opposition parties do that will form an alternative to the current trajectory of government austerity policies?
     The CPI would give serious consideration to supporting the establishment of a left alliance with the potential to form a government, one that would alleviate some of the burden that has been put on working people since the crisis hit, but at the same time it knows that, no matter who gets voted in, a real and viable alternative economic, political and social system cannot be developed within the restrictions of the euro and EU membership.
     The existing political party systems throughout Europe have been cartelised, whereby the policy differences between parties are negligible, ensuring the longevity of parties. We have multi-party states but with no policy choice. This is part of the process of downsizing and professionalising of parties and the careerism of politicians.
     We are now witnessing attempts to break the cartel parties and present new, alternative parties; however, the trajectory over the past thirty years has been to diminish the levers and effectiveness of parties in national governments, thanks to the ratification of the various EU treaties, effectually dismantling democratic accountability and value.
     Opposition parties that criticise sitting governments for the policy choices are only engaged in a democratic façade. Parties that present themselves as real alternatives yet fail to challenge the fundamental barrier to alternatives—the EU—will find themselves subsumed and then integrated in the party cartel. Nowhere has this become more obvious than in Greece. The hard lesson to be learnt from SYRIZA is that there can be no alternatives within the EU.
     In Ireland over the last year the left opposition parties have been scrambling over one another, fighting for space at any and all events, presenting themselves as the real party of the people, licking their lips at the thought of being the next Irish SYRIZA; yet not one of those parties has presented a coherent critique of the nature of imperialism or the EU, whose interests and control have superseded that of national governments. Without such a critique no viable alternative can be presented to the people, no matter how much talk of working-class solidarity, revolution and socialism is bandied about. The launching of the AAA-PBP initiative cannot change this fundamental defect in Ireland’s left-electoral opposition.
     The problem is not that they are running in elections, as elections are an important tool in effecting democratic change: the problem is that these parties use elections as their means of growing and furthering themselves as a party, and that in hoping to have a large party they believe they can effect the required changes in government. This, as regards a working-class strategy, has proved to be folly, and to continue to present this to the working class will do more harm than good in the long run.
     In effect, what these parties are doing is putting the cart before the horse. What is needed now is not restricting the ambitions of the working class to elections, with the inevitable opportunism, splitting and capitulation of parties that comes with the territory, but to begin a long-term strategic plan to educate and organise the working class and its allies, to build a movement of solidarity between the trade unions and communities, and to put in motion the building of the people’s resistance.
     This strategy has been the call of the CPI for many years and has been developed even further in its latest publication, the Democratic Programme for the 21st Century. There is much more of a need to deepen and strengthen the class-consciousness of ordinary workers than there is to use the issue of the day as a platform for furthering party interests; and the CPI will always choose the former.
     Communists in Ireland have often been ridiculed for the supposed lack of large numbers in their ranks. However, numbers will not be the deciding factor in creating an alternative economic, political and social model: it will be the ability to champion an alternative ideology to capitalism and for it to be popularised among the masses.
     The fact that the CPI has not yet become a mass party is more a reflection of the lack of a class-consciousness developed among our people, which the Irish state has ensured through its education system, its anti-communist propaganda, and the many other branches that it controls, than the perceived relevance of the party. The party of the working class will develop out of the concrete material conditions and contradictions of the capitalist system—which are becoming more apparent as the crisis continues to unfold.
     Through the continued, conscious political development and education of the working class, our class will eventually be led to the inevitable conclusion that to effect real change a real alternative must be presented. That alternative has to have the role and nature of the EU front and centre, and must take into account the historical significance of the first socialist states formed in the twentieth century. The CPI will continue to advance this position, because anything less than this will end up in a capitulation to the capitalist and imperialist forces at home and abroad.
     It’s up to all class-conscious people to load the cart first and then set the horse down the revolutionary road.

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