With protest politics in single issue campaigns being inadequate to stem or reverse austerity, and with a party building strategy based on electoral intervention, there is no doubt that the obvious prospect of no left Government arising from the general election that is closing in leaves the Left with a problem in explaining what they’re going to do.
The Anti-Austerity Alliance proposes the following:
“In the case that no left programme for government can be agreed, but a government could be formed without the establishment parties, our TDs will vote in the Dáil to allow the formation of that alternative government. While we would not participate in a government without a left programme, we would allow that government to come to power and then vote to support measures that benefit working-class people and oppose ones that do not.”
Whether this addresses the problem satisfactorily we shall see. First we should note the absolutely crucial role the project of forming a left Government plays, for the AAA says immediately after the above that:
“At the same time, we would seek to build a mass movement outside the Dáil to put pressure on the government to deliver on its promises and to achieve a genuine left government as soon as possible.”
It is not therefore just that protest politics on its own presents limits to potential impact, or that electoralism has eaten into any former recognition of the limits of parliamentary politics on transformational change; it is clear that forming a Government sitting at the top of the state is the route to their ultimate political objectives. Since immediate achievement of a majority in the Dáil has never been possible and success in getting a few TDs elected can no longer be presented as success the problems of being a minority in the Dail unable to form an administration have to be addressed.
This is especially so given the enormous economic and political crisis that has hit the Irish State over the last 8 years or so. Following scandals that robbed the political establishment, state institutions and the Church of much legitimacy the financial crisis saw the State go bankrupt in order to bailout bankers who were exposed as treating the people with complete contempt. The Irish State lost any pretence at undivided and exclusive sovereignty through the arrival of the Troika and austerity saw large reductions in peoples’ living standards, compelling tens of thousands to emigrate. After all this the failure to elect parties no different from those that presided over the crisis, plus voting to endorse austerity by EU Treaty, have been blows to the Left view that their combination of protest and electoralism offers a long term alternative. And here I will ignore the Left’s habit of always posing its answers with regard only to the short term.
The AAA says its TDs will allow the formation of a Government that does not contain the establishment parties – Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour Party, but does this mean it will vote in the Dail for it or simply abstain? It then says it will vote to support measures that benefit working-class people and oppose ones that do not. What if a proposed budget (for example) includes both? What if voting against a measure will see this government fall with the likely alternative being formed by the establishment parties?
With a non-left Government in place there will be no pretence on its part to be introducing a non-capitalist alternative. Does the AAA think it correct to keep such a Government in office? How would their political responsibility in doing so be justified? What measures by this Government would see the AAA vote against it regardless of the consequences in relation to its replacement? Who would make such decisions?
If it would in effect allow a non-left government to remain in office how can it oppose an alliance with the trade unions in Right2Change on the basis that such an alliance will include Sinn Fein, when Sinn Fein would inevitably be in the non-left Government that the AAA would allow to be formed and would support in certain votes? That it will not form an alliance is based on the claim that SF in government “will make compromises with the system . . . that will undermine the whole basis of the initiative and lead to a dead end.”
Since socialists in parliament are obliged to vote for measures that benefit or strengthen workers, no matter who proposes them, it does not appear that the AAA is saying anything very new. Except that it will be taking political responsibility for letting that Government take up office in the first place, and this on the basis that it is not formed of ‘establishment parties’, which is hardly a very rigorous political distinction on which to make such a judgement.
All this may be academic as at least one of these parties will be in government following the elections. The main point is not that Dail tactics may be unclear and messy but that the admission that such tactics are now considered means the strategy of forming a left Government as the answer to the political challenges faced by workers will shortly be revealed to be worse than academic. Worse because the reformist logic behind this perspective will not only not have any purchase on reality after the election but will prevent elaboration of a debate on what a socialist strategy should be.
That the logic of the AAA strategy is reformist is made clear by the passage quoted above – “At the same time, we would seek to build a mass movement outside the Dáil to put pressure on the government to deliver on its promises and to achieve a genuine left government as soon as possible.” Such is the role of the workers – to put pressure on the capitalist politicians and then replace them with other better politicians.
All this being the result of “ mass movement” does not make it better but in so far as it becomes the fixed and certain political perspective of the workers’ movement it is a strategy bound to mislead.
To be clear: there is nothing wrong with putting pressure on capitalist politicians and a left Government is preferable to a right-wing one. The point is that this pressure should arise from a strategy of building up working class power and seeking to exploit a left Government to facilitate this further. This is not the same as this pressure and a left Government actually being the strategy itself.
So why is this misleading? Well the Socialist Workers Party, which leads the People before Profit electoral front, has written a short article setting out the history of the failure of such initiatives based on the traditional Marxist analysis that the capitalist state cannot be reformed, even with a left government sitting on top of it. I will look at this in the final post.
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