Speculation continues about the formation of a new Government and that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will collaborate to ensure that it will be more or less stable for however long. It would be a disturbing thing for many if the ship of State were to sail too long without what is considered to be the captain. The Left repeats that there are no differences between the two parties and that they should unite, making it easier to present the opposition as the Left. In doing so they remind me of regular sermons from Catholic and Protestant Churches in the North that its politicians should get over their differences, to which the latter’s reply should be – “ok, you go first.”
It is not that the Left are wrong, they are correct. The historian Diarmaid Ferriter quoted Seán O’Faoláin in 1945 saying that “Irish politics today are not politics; our two main parties are indistinguishable not because their political ideas are alike but because neither has any political idea at all – warriors of destiny and race of the Gaels – silly romantic titles that confess a complete intellectual vacancy as far as the reality of political ideas are concerned.”
This is something of an exaggeration – he’s wrong to say that the two parties’ ideas are not the same. There are no ideological differences between them and this is only partly due to their respective ignorant assumptions that they don’t have any ideology in the first place; they do, and it’s called nationalism, which is very good at hiding and accommodating reactionary ideological views, often under the cover of left wing opinions.
But the long dominance of the two parties, with meagre ideological convictions to motivate them and stunted political ideas, rests on a population reared on a similar basis. Of course the parties have gone a long way to create the lack of political development in the population but both have deeper roots borne out of the country’s lack of economic and social development for much of its history and the resulting political weakness of its working class. This in turn has resulted in a politically weak labour movement. An examination of this was written some time ago and I don’t intend to repeat it here.
The point is that the two civil war parties are both creations and creators of the population that supports them and that they have governed. The rebound of Fianna Fail despite its calamitous performance as the previous Government only arises because of its continuing deep roots in society, roots that give it a permanence, which while not invariable and everlasting, nevertheless gives it a strength that can sustain major blows. This reflects the nature of class society in Ireland and the social structure that grants endurance to the Fianna Fail clientelist machine and its nationalist ideology.
The Left would normally be built on similar permanent features of class society such as trade unions and other political movements but these are themselves politically weak and do not involve the majority of the members in regular joint activity. This only takes place among union members when at work and mainly in their role as employees and not as trade unionists. The roots of the union movement have particularly atrophied, as with social partnership there is little need for shop-floor or office activism when the relationship between low and high level reps and management and State sorts out everything important. The Left has grown but mainly in localities through electoralism, not in the unions and not through rebuilding an active labour movement. Ephemeral campaigns are no substitute for the permanent structures on which the right wing parties are based.
One mechanism that lies wholly within the Left’s power to build is a real political party; as we noted at the start the fragments could unite and stop throwing stones at Fianna Fail and Fine Gael while still in the greenhouse. An obvious lesson of the elections, which shouldn’t need an election to be discovered, is the need for unity.
Unfortunately the AAA/PbP grouping showcases a left that comes together for the purposes of elections while tolerating and defending disunity outside them on the basis of tactics in campaigns and dogmatic political traditions and theories that they often don’t even adhere to. The AAA/PbP is not only based on unity but also on a split within the previous United Left Alliance.
So even attempting unity is a major task that threatens the component parts because they may lose control. But any attempt to maintain control would only frustrate the potential, the creation of which a united party is meant to release. The point would be lost.
As I have said before, the capacity of the component organisations in a united working class party to contain large numbers of workers is very much open to doubt and in my view could only be successful if their dogmatic and undemocratic culture was dissolved, shattered or whatever simile is best applied to the process that would see it disappear.
Part of this ought also to include rejection of ideological assumptions that rest on unquestioned parroting of political views that should burn in the mouths of anyone claiming to be Marxist. The day before the election I was listening to Today FM and Richard Boyd Barrett of People before Profit telling listeners that even those not on the Left regard the AAA/PbP as “good for the Dail”, as if it were ever any job of Marxists to be good for the institutions of the capitalist state.
Here was me thinking their duty was to expose the hollowness and pretence of capitalist democracy, not to pretty it up and sell it better than its real owners.
A further example was provided by an ‘Irish Times’ interview with the retiring (as a TD only) Joe Higgins of the Anti-Austerity Alliance, who stated his faith in statist ‘socialism’ by saying that the solution to the financial crisis in 2008 was to take the banks into (democratic) public ownership, which was more or less what was done with their effective nationalisation, but which also meant taking ownership of their unpayable debts. The idea that the socialist answer is working class, cooperative ownership was not mentioned.
No wonder so many commentators have felt able to allege that Fianna Fail “stole the left’s clothes”; a reflection of the grubby character of the clothes rather than the daring of Fianna Fail. A promise by the latter to legislate for workers’ rights to ownership of their place of work would really have been a bold and brave step, one the Left itself hasn’t contemplated.
A left that claims to be Marxist believes that it can and has held out against the world wide right wing trend of the last decades and the even longer period of absence of revolutionary circumstances in the most advanced capitalist countries. Of course it has not and had it done so it would, ironically, disprove Marxism, which believes that social consciousness is determined by social being, including political consciousness being conditioned by material economic, social and political circumstances. Not simply by ideological fealty to a particular set of theories.
It would be strange if, this being the case, small and weak political formations were not subject to such forces and extraordinary if there were no examples of its effects. Once again, ironically, the disparagement of the need for ideological debate is one such example.
While the divisions on the right are built upon denial of common ideological views that are actually there, the divisions on the Left are due to presumed ideological divisions that aren’t. This presumption helps prevent the required political debate necessary to develop the politics of the Left beyond reformist politics that facilitate allegations of theft.
Back to part 1