August 2017        

Educate, agitate, organise

Eoghan O’Neill

Politics is often about language, and political movements need common language and slogans to act as a solidifier between the aspirations and goals of a movement and the individuals who take part in it.
      Although Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party campaign has probably been analysed to death at this stage, it is nonetheless important to show how a simple slogan such as “For the many, not the few” can capture the mood of a movement.
      Political parties, of course, always have election campaigns and party slogans that try to capture people’s imagination and the people’s mood: think of Obama’s “Hope” and “Change” campaigns, or Trump’s “Make America great again”—all successful and all used to whip up an army of followers to see them over the post.
      Some of these slogans, however, have rung very hollow, as it is the policy decisions that dictate whether things change or are “made great,” for the many and not the few.
      The British Labour Party’s manifesto, though not revolutionary, has shifted some of the empty rhetoric in past campaigns to more tangible and realisable goals that would certainly benefit the working class. Fundamental socialist policies, such as public ownership and control of infrastructure, services and industry and free education and health services, are at the heart of Labour’s manifesto, which can’t be said for other campaign promises.
      That this manifesto resonated with young people in a massive way clearly demonstrates that the mantra of TINA—“There is no alternative”—is not being believed by younger generations, whose material and concrete circumstances are contrary to what they aspire to and believe to be possible. These aspirations are socialist in content but they have yet to garner the revolutionary organisational form, together with a concrete class analysis of the imperialist forces, domestic and global.
      The challenge communists face today is to try to convince their allies in the socialist, republican, trade union and community-activist movements that the immediate emphasis should not be on parliamentary politics—as Sinn Féin, People Before Profit (SWP) and Solidarity (Socialist Party) seem to think—but rather on building a movement, a workers’ and people’s alliance, whose roots are in our communities and work-places, in our activist, social, sports and cultural groups.
      Our goal should be the satisfaction of the long-term needs of the people, which cannot be met under the existing capitalist system of production and distribution.
      How, then, do we sum up in a simple slogan the work that is to be done?
      The central and immediate task is to deepen and broaden class politics and education, without which the working class will remain weak and easily pigeon-holed into the “loony left” image it has today, broadcast by our class enemies and accepted by large sections of our own class.
      What is needed now is not just words and theory but theory in action and practice by all those who are serious and willing to bring about a just social and democratic system, “for the many and not the few.” This needs to be a people’s alliance, inclusive of political parties; however, experience has shown that political parties have too often used movements for their own opportunist gains, something that has to be condemned outright and publicly opposed by barring such parties if necessary.
      Political schools with workers’ education are the key to beginning the advance towards workers’ power. There have been great examples recently where this has worked in practice, with the numerous weekend schools organised by the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum, and Trademark’s political economy course, as well as others.
      Apart from the participative political education on offer, the social aspect of meeting comrades from different political backgrounds adds to the rich educational experience.
      There are no shortcuts in building class-consciousness, and at this time it should be the highest priority in the political, trade union and community pillars to begin to forge a new movement of the people’s alliance. It will require a massive effort in time and resources, which needs to be sustained over a number of years.
      This needs to be established nationally, and continuously. It could be a crucial area where the trade union movement would contribute some of the essential resources, such as finance and premises, required for hosting the educational workshops, helping to bridge the gap between communities and trade unions.
      The very foundation of the topics, materials and writers must emphasise the class nature of our society, otherwise the goal of building class-consciousness can never be reached. An all-Ireland workers’ educational programme needs to be developed and introduced; however, the work already done by those mentioned above (and others) can be used as a guide or template that can easily be reproduced so as to minimise the delay in getting it out to the communities and to workers.
      Theorists and writers such as Marx, Lenin, Connolly, O’Donnell and Greaves, to name but a few, need to be part of the backbone of our working-class theory and study groups.
      As the study groups, weekend schools and workshops develop over time, the practical application of the theory can help in developing and stimulating the campaigns and demands of the working class. Education develops into agitation.
      There needs to be a commitment from those within this “people’s alliance” to developing a minimum programme to maximise unity, rather than a detailed maximum programme, which would only garner minimum unity and sow division.
      We know that the Right2Change policy document can be a good starting-point. From that programme can stem common issues of struggle and campaigns that need solidarity, co-operation, and trust. At the heart of any campaign there needs to be a class analysis and an understanding of the forces and interests at stake. Our goal should always be to strengthen the hand of labour and weaken the hand of capital and imperialism; from there, tactics and strategies can be worked out.
      If these types of practice and structure are bypassed, our discipline will never hold, the relationships and connections between the various strands will not take root, trust and solidarity will be impossible to maintain in any meaningful manner, our political education will falter, class-consciousness will not be raised, and eventually and inevitably we will be defeated, as has been the fate of the many attempts by Irish revolutionaries over the centuries.
      If we develop these practices and structures, the strength and confidence of the working class will begin to surface. It will empower the working masses, those who by necessity must work to stave off hunger, eviction, and poverty, to genuinely confront those who wish to strip us of our power and daily needs. Only over a period of education, practical application and solidarity work will distinctions and antagonisms between the three pillars begin to dissolve.
      This leads to the organisation phase. Once this is set in motion the movement will have a stronger chance electorally and could seek to build a people’s alliance electoral platform, which could give a voice to our class within the existing capitalist system; but it should not take precedence over building an anti-imperialist revolutionary movement, as we must always have in our sights the overthrow of the barbaric capitalist system, not simply reforming it.
      Ireland’s age-old problem has been the failure to weave together the social question and the national question at revolutionary moments, leading to a weakened revolutionary movement, unable to withstand the counter-offensive of its enemy.
      We have yet to build a revolutionary movement strong and capable enough to withstand our enemies, foreign and domestic. This is the first step that needs to be addressed, and hence the need for a nationwide workers’ political education programme.
      The second step, building towards a revolutionary moment, will need the working class, be they communist, socialist, republican, social-democratic, green, or whatever label that is ascribed, to be united against imperialism, whether European, American, or British, and the capitalist exploitative system, where the means of production are in the privileged hands of a tiny minority.
      No one party can provide an alternative: the enemy is too strong and has too many weapons in its arsenal. Rather than having an objective of building a new or existing party to take control of government, we need to rebuild the power of the working class to strive to take control of state power.
      Without first building the solid class foundations, reforms in the system are all our class can strive for. (The paid-off, opportunist and less class-conscious sections of our class will be content with this.) To avoid this it is imperative that we broaden and build the alliances needed to move towards transformative demands that strengthen labour, build confidence in working-class power, in its own institutions and structures, and move closer to revolutionary conditions and to revolutionary moments, to finally overthrow the class of the exploiters.
      The fate of the working class rests with the working class, and on those committed to building a world free from exploitation, misery, plunder, slavery, and destruction of our planet. To sum up in a simple slogan the work that is to be done: Educate, agitate and organise.

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