Brexit and Ireland – part 3

The North of Ireland is the weakest part of the UK so should expect to be hit most by Brexit.  Local news has reported two companies as already shifting operations to the Irish State in preparation for the UK leaving.  The EU is the North’s largest export market and while for the UK as a whole, for the period 2004 to 2014, the share of exports going to non-EU countries has grown more than that to EU countries, this has not been the case for Northern Ireland. Since it has been pointed out that some agricultural products can pass across the border numerous times, the scope for tariff and non-tariff barriers to stifle this trade is significant.  Such tariffs generally range between 6 and 22 per cent

While for the three years reported in this paper, the share of EU exports going to the EU has been around 50% for the UK, it has been around 60% for Northern Ireland (NI). In terms of cross-border trade, exports from the North to the South are more important to the North than exports to the North are for the South.   Foreign Direct Investment uses Northern Ireland to export into the rest of the EU so any exit will hit this investment and this employment.

Finally, there is the loss of EU funding, especially for farmers, not that this seems to have prevented many unionist farmers from voting for Brexit.  The UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that direct payments to farmers under EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies represented 87% of annual farm income in NI.

Brexit could impel the UK into trade based on World Trade Organisation rules, just when the US under Trump signals that it may ignore these rules when it doesn’t suit.  China is also reported to be breaking WTO rules but the length of time it takes to rule on any breach and the potential for retaliation are strong impediments to enforcement.   In any case the UK is already failing to manage its trade and might be fined billions of Euros by the EU for failing effectively to police the existing EU rules.  Hardly an endorsement of its ability to look after its own borders after Brexit.

The new US administration is hailed as a potential alternative to the EU even while Trump threatens to restrict and withdraw US investment abroad.  You know Brexit is a disaster when the nationalist policy of the Trump administration is put forward as the alternative, but more importantly you know how stupid the Brexit idea is in the first place when you admit you need an alternative and don’t already have one.

If Brexit makes no sense in the North it scarcely represents an advantage to the South.  It may benefit from firms relocating from NI and Britain but this is likely to be relatively minor compared to the disruption to trade with the UK, which is worth over €1 billion per week.  Exports from the Irish agri-food sector to the UK amount to over €3 billion or over 50% of that sector’s value.  The Irish State has the biggest share of exports going into the UK of any EU country, so has the greatest exposure to potential reduction of this trade.  It also has one of the biggest numbers of its citizens living in the UK of any EU country, exposing them to the threats to their rights the Tories are deploying in an effort to get a better deal.

Merchandise exports from the Irish State to the UK were over 25% of such exports in 2015 while services traded to the UK were nearly 19% of such services.  It has been estimated that in 2014 200,000 people were employed as a direct result of exports to the UK, or over 10 per cent of employment.   Again any reduction in markets could lead to reduced employment, wages, tax receipts and thus state-funded services.

In this respect, it is interesting to note that many of the economic forecasts of the quantitative economic impact of Brexit show greater falls in wages than in economic growth generally, which is no doubt a feature of the models but which shows that it is assumed that workers will pay most from Brexit.

None of this is particularly surprising and most people just get numbed by too many figures.  The effects are recognised and the question is how these are to be mitigated.  The Tories talk about opening up Britain to the world, but this world includes a growing protectionist US; a more powerful China that has already forced a British climb-down over a nuclear power station; Japanese car companies who have done the same; a Commonwealth that is supposed to welcome a return to a 21st century British Empire, and the rest of the world, much of which is part of trade blocs that the British are rejecting.  Given this context, were Brexit to go ahead, the direction of the British state will be less under its control than it was inside the EU.

Similar problems will face the Irish State if Brexit goes ahead. Up to now it could straddle a growing relationship to the EU with historic but declining dependence on the UK; and it could do this while acting as if it was the latest State to join the Union, that is the union of the United States of America.  Brexit threatens the second and Trump threatens the third.  The first is threatened by the nature of the type of Brexit that may occur and by being squeezed by the US and Britain.

If controls on immigration that are under the authority of the EU and British impede migration to the UK, the importance of this migration will decline relative to the Irish State’s greater trade with the EU, making it more attractive to enter into the Schengen area to facilitate such trade.  Entry into the Schengen area for any reason would make problematic any more favourable Irish migration arrangements with the UK compared to others, who might object to less favourable arrangements for their own EU citizens. Either way migration links to Britain could suffer, and such migration (just like that to the US) has always been a safety valve for the young fleeing a country that is regularly unable to promise it a future.

So, if the UK leaving the EU will hurt both Irish States, it is hard to see the sense in advocating that the Irish State also leave.  Unlike in Britain this policy is really confined to sections of the Left and more ‘radical’ nationalists and republicans.  But at least it is consistent with the latter’s nationalism, while how the Left expects workers to become more internationalist while their country becomes more isolated is another sorrowful mystery; even the Tories recognise the need to develop international links.  But why would European workers rally to a movement that declares that the problem is their ‘foreign’ capitalist states and not its own.

But of course, some new orientation to the world would be necessary for an Irish State outside the EU and there is really only one immediate candidate – back to the loving embrace of the similarly isolated British State, ludicrously trying to re-live its imperial youth.  A death-embrace of two states simultaneously pursuing a race to the bottom as a low wage, deregulated, offshore tax haven.

In doing so an Irish State would suffer badly, and just like the economic models relating to Brexit, we can be certain that it would be Irish workers who would suffer most for the nationalist fantasy that is Irexit.  The idea that something progressive or even socialist could develop out of such a project is preposterous.

The Euro area is by far the Irish State’s biggest trading partner, €109 billion in combined exports and imports in 2013/2014, compared to €52 billion for the UK.  Much of the foreign direct investment in the Irish State is because of its access to the EU market and could be expected to leave if it left the EU.  Foreign owned companies account for more than 20 per cent of employment while they dominate exports.

The Irish State would have to create a new currency, especially if (in the very unlikely event) its exit was motivated by the nationalist Left, which regards the Euro as a devil incarnate.  Establishing the credibility of this currency would require massive austerity while failure to do so would guarantee massive inflation.  In either case living standards could be expected to plummet.

In both parts of Ireland Brexit and Irexit is and would be a disaster.

The Left supporters of Irexit would have to find a new name for the above description of the results of Brexit and Irexit, as dismissing it as another ‘Project Fear’ wouldn’t quite cut it, as the experience of attempting to destroy capitalism by destroying capitalism only became a reality.

How ironic that it is the ideological supporters of capitalism itself that are inflicting this damage, rather than the relatively irrelevant proponents of Lexit.  Not only is this Left’s programme of breaking with the EU being implemented by the likes of UKIP, Tories, the Daily Mail and The Sun but the nonsense of a ‘progressive’ Brexit is being pursued by Corbyn’s Labour Party.  And we can see how useless that is as well.

Rarely does this Left get such an opportunity to see its big policies implemented. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they will learn anything from their errors, since they seem barely to recognise that what they have wanted is actually being implemented.

Concluded

Back to part 2

 

 

 

Brexit and Ireland part 1 – the Irish Left

irexitI have just read that various police forces in Britain have taken steps to prepare for a spike in racist and ‘hate’ crimes once Article 50 is triggered in March.  It is also correctly predicted that the course of the negotiations will present numerous opportunities for nationalists and racists to turn the failure of these negotiations to deliver on their fantasies into attacks on foreigners.  What the Tories will do verbally in attacking the EU it can be safely assumed that nationalist street thugs will do with their fists.

The reactionary outcome of the Brexit referendum is so obvious that it is simply grotesque and monstrously stupid that those sections of the left who supported Brexit still see it as progressive.  How dim or blinded by political dogma does one have to be not to see the link between the rise in racist attacks and the encouragement given to racists by the Brexit result?

The reactionary consequences of Brexit are glaringly obvious yet the process is being touted by it supporters in Britain as the way forward for the left in the rest of Europe.  The reactionary dreamers of a long lost imperial glory want to go back to the past while left supporters of Brexit imagine that a massive step back to the past will somehow represent a great leap forward into the future.  One of the few difference between the former and the latter is that the former makes more sense!

The European left have the luxury of watching the British events from one remove, but it is not the only advantage that they have.  Having witnessed the dire outcomes of Brexit they should stand firmly against their own states seeking the nationalist short cut to a non-solution though exiting the EU.  They too, just like British workers, must be alert to any weakening and diminution of their rights arising from the Brexit negotiations.  Of course, were Brexit the progressive outcome claimed by some we should expect a boost to workers’ rights from the negotiations, but the ridiculousness of such a thought only exposes the idea as incredible.

This is particularly the case for Irish workers whose state has the strongest links to Britain and could be most immediately and directly affected.  Yet even in Ireland the same left supporters of Brexit trot out the same ignorant arguments in favour of the decision; despite the increased xenophobia, despite the increased racist attacks, despite the massive shift to the right in the agenda of the Tory government, and opposite incoherence of the Corbyn-led Labour Party.  Despite all the evidence that the consequences have been reactionary the Brexit-supporting left has learned nothing.

The basis for their support for Brexit is the same mistaken arguments of their co-thinkers in Britain. Thus, they say that “the EU is run in the interest of Europe’s bosses and bankers.”  It is “deeply undemocratic, anti-worker, racist and regressive.”  Yep, mostly very true, just like the Irish State itself, which is the alternative to the EU that they put forward.  The nation state that doesn’t even include all of the nation is the alternative to the increased unity of the various states which determine the EU’s policy.  Apparently this is because although the EU cannot be reformed, the Irish State can.

In fact the Irish left must be applauded for making their illusions in nationalism so clear – that their opposition to the EU is based on their belief that the various capitalist nation states can be reformed and become the route to socialism.  The task across Europe is “to bring Left governments to power which will nationalise industry, while the EU would only be “a fetter on a future left-wing government.”

Capitalist state ownership and its political power is presented as socialism without an inkling that socialism is the power of the working class, which it is the capitalist state’s function to suppress and repress.  This complete misunderstanding of what socialism is about means that there is no conception of how it can arise from the current system.

It is correctly recognised that the EU is an attempt to “overcome the limitations of the nation state, to allow the free flow of capital and labour so as to maximise profits as well as forming a more powerful geo-political bloc.  The withdrawal of one of its major economies represents a profound blow to these ambitions.”

This apparently is what makes Brexit progressive.  It’s as if the objective of socialism is to restrict the free flow of capital and to frustrate the maximisation of profits.  It is probably news to these socialists that this is not the objective of socialism.

Capitalism presents its own barriers to the free flow of capital and the maximisation of profit, and which are expressions of the contradictions of capitalism pointed out by Karl Marx 150 years ago.  The point of socialism is to resolve these contradictions through the birth of a new system, not to intensify capitalist contradictions as an objective in itself.

On the other hand, it is an objective of socialism to support “the free flow of labour” and it is the objective of socialism to “overcome the limitations of the nation state”.  In fact, one objection to capitalism is that it has so far proved unable to do this.  Socialists do not seek to go back to the nation state but forward beyond it based on the steps that capitalism has already taken.  The first is called freedom of movement, an elementary democratic right and vital to workers’ unity, and the second is called socialist internationalism, the idea of which the Brexit left seems totally innocent.

Finally, this Brexit-Irexit left want to land a profound blow against “forming a more powerful geo-political bloc” by forming a Lilliputian bloc of one.

This left proclaims that it voted for Brexit “not because we have anything in common with the nationalism and xenophobia of the likes of UKIP” but because the EU is neo-liberal etc.  But this is obviously untrue.  The proposed Brexit referendum was sufficiently to their liking that they voted for it, called on everyone else to vote for it, still support even now and call for other countries to emulate it.  Nothing in common?  Is all this just a coincidence then?

What they both have in common is a nationalist conception of politics that is centred on the professed progressive potential of the nation state.  Both seek national independence as a prerequisite for progress and state intervention as the key to it. Totally the opposite of the socialist view that unity across nations is the key for workers and the nation state an obstacle to this.

Even in terms of the specific role of increased state spending, the views of this left are not so far from some of the proposals for increased spending presented by those other nationalists Trump and le Pen.  The tide of reactionary nationalism that these two and the Brexiteers represent threatens trade wars justified by rabid jingoistic rhetoric and sabre rattling.  The world has been here before in the twentieth century.  Giving a left gloss on this growth of reactionary nationalism by tail-ending it is a massive mistake, only reduced in effect by the relatively small forces advocating it.

The Brexit-supporting left is oblivious to their own role in the growth of this nationalist politics.  It minimises the xenophobic and racist content of the Brexit referendum by claiming that the Remain campaign was also anti-immigrant, ignoring the difference in degree and importance of such ideas on each side.  How quickly the murder of a Labour MP by a nationalist fanatic is forgotten!  How likely was this to have arisen from a supporter of the Remain campaign?

This left doesn’t even believe its own excuses – acknowledging that “the majority of ‘Remain’ voters did so for very positive reasons – in opposition to the xenophobia and inward-looking nationalism of the forces which dominated the official ‘Leave’ campaign, expressing a desire for unity across national borders.”  A desire expressed in freedom of movement within the EU, a freedom ignored completely in the series of analyses reviewed for this post.

All this exposes the hollowness of proclaimed opposition to rising anti-immigrant prejudices, prejudices fuelled by the decision they supported and still support.  Political positions have a logic outwith the sincerest of intentions – it’s commonly called the road to hell being paved with good intentions.  But even here the articles can’t help skirt with prejudice by talking of the “strain” caused by immigration and “the real concerns over the effects of immigration.”

This left presents frankly delusional claims that Brexit has been good for the working class – “opportunities are posed for the working class to organise and assert their interests” and “the working class can now more easily shape the course of events than it could within the glass prison of the EU.”

But in the real world the increase in racist attacks continues and reactionary nationalist rhetoric intensifies.  The Tories threaten to create a low-wage, low tax and deregulated free market paradise off the coast of Europe – a threat to British workers and to all of Europe’s workers – not an opportunity.

Most directly and immediately it is a threat to Irish workers.  After all, who else occupies the low tax, low regulation, super-business friendly niche that the Tories threaten to move into more obviously than the Irish?  My goodness, we even speak the same language.  Of course, the Irish State is inside the EU, which is a great attraction to US multinationals, but this does not help trade barriers for Irish-owned industry buying or selling into Britain, when Britain leaves the EU.  So, what better solution than for the Irish state to leave the EU as well?  After all, this fits the Trump agenda into the bargain.  Just a pity that this particular nationalist agenda also presents its own threats to the Irish ‘model’ of development.

Whatever way you look at it the nationalist agenda espoused by the Brexit-loving Irish left doesn’t offer any solutions to Irish workers.  But then, the Brexit left knows this itself:

“The bosses in Ireland will attempt to go on the offensive against the pay and conditions of workers in an attempt to make Irish exports more “competitive”, in the context of Sterling devaluing against the Euro. In short it is workers in Ireland, both public and private sector, who will be hit by the economic fallout of Brexit. Already the ESRI have talked of wage cuts taking place of between 4-5% for up to 60,000 workers. There have also been reports that the government may seek to attack the pay of public sector workers.”

So “it is workers in Ireland . . . who will be hit by the economic fallout of Brexit”.  But sure, wouldn’t it grand all the same?

Forward to part 2

Towards a Revolutionary Party in Ireland?

swpieA friend sent me a link to an article he thought was dreadful saying it might be worth me replying to.  By coincidence I had looked at the site on Sunday to see the latest on what the Socialist Workers Party was saying and thought I would read one of the articles.  I saw this one but thought I wouldn’t waste reading yet another article on the revolutionary party.  Read one you’ve read them all.

Of course being bad isn’t necessarily a good reason to review something but I read it in my lunch break anyway.

Having done so I thought that it really is woeful and although it makes some unremarkable decent points these are put in the service of an argument so flabby it barely evokes disdain.  Lots of questions are raised but only in the question-begging sense and all the real difficulties are avoided.  Like when was the last time a party that could reasonably call itself revolutionary was built in Europe?

The article gives three reasons “why a revolutionary party must be built.”  The first is to “bring together activists from Clondalkin and Ballyfermot, Artane and Dun Laoghaire, Cork and Sligo, Wicklow and Wexford.”  The author has in mind the recent anti-water charges campaign but also recent strikes. “Without a party the tendency would be just to sit back as individuals either cursing at the TV or worse being influenced by it.”

A revolutionary party will tell workers not to trust their trade union leaders.  Their activists will provide workers with good arguments against racism because they have “people who know the facts, the history and the arguments.”

Why you need a party for activists to unite, in the water charges campaign for example, is not explained. In fact pretty obviously you don’t need a party, never mind a revolutionary one, you just need a democratic campaign.  Unfortunately the anti-water charges campaign never became such an organisation, which it should have been the priority of socialists to create.

Why you need a revolutionary party so you don’t sit on the couch and swear at the TV is beyond me.  I recall the SWP standing one of its leading members for leader of Ireland’s biggest trade union SIPTU but his manifesto never mentioned social partnership and the policy of open collaboration of the unions with the bosses and the state.  One part of history with its arguments and facts the author appears to have forgotten.

The second reason for needing a revolutionary party is that “forming a left government is, in itself, not enough.” The working class has to “move towards revolution and smashing of the capitalist state.”  Were I an innocent abroad I would wonder why the SWP, as part of People before Profit, stands in elections with a programme totally devoted to winning governmental office.  Because if it doesn’t the manifesto doesn’t make any sense.  No mention in it of distrusting the capitalist state never mind smashing it.

The final reason is that while revolutions may break out spontaneously they don’t succeed without a revolutionary party.  The author gives the example of the Irish revolutionary process between 1919 and 1923 and “the counter-revolution” that betrayed the 1916 rising.  A perfect example of what is wrong with the whole article.

Between 1919 and 1923 there was no socialist revolution to betray and 1916 was no such a revolution.  More facts and history misunderstood and arguments I take to task here, here, here and here.  To be fair to the SWP I don’t recall reading any left wing group doing anything other than paint the 1916 rising in colours of red that it didn’t display at the time.

The reason a revolutionary party is needed in a time of revolution is apparently because the working class will not have a uniform level of political consciousness.  And this is true.  What we don’t get explained is how the majority of workers will develop revolutionary consciousness.  It is this problem that I have been looking at in my series on Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism.  And this is the real problem, given the total lack of real revolutionary challenge to capitalism for nearly a century.  In some countries, including Ireland, the challenge has never occurred or even looked likely.

The real deficiency with the hastily constructed article is the avoidance of this problem coupled with a view that a revolutionary party will be built by groups like the SWP.

Any movement of the working class capable of building a challenge to capitalism, that at some stage will achieve its overthrow in a political and social revolution, will be created over decades. It will involve political radicalisation that can only be the result of profound and lasting strengthening of the working class not simply in ideological or political terms but through its developing economic and social power – proving that ideas and politics reflect the economic and social development of society.  In short – the working class and its radicalisation will create the mass workers party capable of revolution and not small organisations.

This is what Marx meant by “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.”  The alternative conception of the SWP is of a crisis in which workers search for a solution and a revolutionary party becomes big enough to convince them to follow it in overthrowing capitalism.  It is not the result of a long-determined objective of greater numbers of workers based on their prior accumulation of economic, social and political weight in society that culminates in the conquest of political power.  Instead it becomes a question of accumulating, not this power, but the cadres of a small but ever-increasing organisation.  This prognosis becomes ridiculous when the smallness of the organisation reveals itself clearly to be inadequate to this historic task.  And the SWP author cannot help betraying this reality.

He claims that there is substantial radicalisation of the working class in Ireland North and South and that significant progress can be made in building a revolutionary party.  The first slip is to fail to define ‘significant’ and the second is to assume that the SWP is that revolutionary party.  The final one is the conclusion to the article where the task is reduced to recruiting individuals and having regular and interesting meetings.  In between is the attempt to buttress the first claim by pointing to the anti-water charges movement and the marriage equality referendum victory in the South.

As the author says, the anti-water charges movement reflected not only anger at this measure but also at the economic crash, the bank bail-out, wage cuts, the USC, Household Charge, community cuts, health cuts, housing crisis and “everything else”.  However the “water charges were a piece of pain that the working class felt it could do something about.”  However if we were really approaching the creation of a mass revolutionary party then this would simply not be the case.  The working class would feel it could do something about all these other injustices and would reflect its knowledge that it really did have the power to do something about all of them.

The anti-water charges campaign has led to no cumulative mass organisation of workers able to take up the other attacks.  The marriage referendum involved a democratic question that did not question capitalism so why would it lead to mass socialist radicalisation?  In the North the case for radicalisation rests on flimsy evidence that amounts to a few strikes, “small campaigns” and the election of two PbP candidates to the Stormont Assembly.  It therefore has to ignore the failure of the strikes, the smallness of the campaigns and the continued dominance by two sectarian parties one of which has ideological views about gay rights, women’s rights and evolution that might embarrass Donald Trump.

This overestimation of the significance of current facts is testament to a small organisation that thinks it has made it big, which it has in comparison to its previous history and others on the left, but which retains a narrow view of the world that ultimately reflects its still limited position in society.  The small mindedness of its politics is the failure to appreciate just how far away we are from revolution being on the agenda.  A cause for despair only if you fail to appreciate the facts, fail to understand history and have no arguments as to how revolutionary politics would be relevant in a prolonged non-revolutionary situation.

The SWP author is right to note that in Ireland there is no mass social democratic or Stalinist parties.  It is therefore the case that formations like the SWP/PbP and the similar Socialist Party/Anti-Austerity Alliance can potentially play a much more significant role in advancing the political organisation of the working class.  However to do this they will have to discard the narrow sectarian practices of the past, and face up to the more difficult questions that they face.  To do this would mean a truly revolutionary evaluation of their political history, the arguments they have unthinkingly relied upon and the real political facts of Irish society and its place in the world.  This article shows how far they are from carrying out such a task out and ironically how far they are from any sort of revolutionary party.

A Progressive Brexit?

The Brexit campaign won with the slogan – “take back control”, the rallying cry of right wing Tories and UKIP.  Much more than ironic then that its successful leaders were left totally without control – Boris, Gove and Farage. Except of course Boris has bizarrely been give the job of Foreign Secretary, but then maybe it’s because he’s not even in favour of it but will still be made to share the rap for the Brexit disaster that awaits.

As one writer has pointed out, while the Tory Government didn’t have a plan B this lot didn’t even have a plan A.

It was enough for the Brexiteers that the nationalist argument that UK laws should be made in the UK was won.  There was no plan how they could then put their objectives into effect; for example many have noted that reducing immigration on the scale demanded is not compatible with their demand for single market access.  Johnson’s after-referendum article in the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ promised that everything would now change, with a reassurance that nothing would change – reminiscent of that other nationalist campaign for separation in Scotland.

Despite pretence to the contrary the Lexit campaign – the call for a progressive exit from the EU – made exactly the same call with exactly the same disregard for how the purported objectives behind it could be brought about.

Both Right and Left made exactly the same argument that the UK should be free of the restrictions of the EU with the Lexit Left claiming that this was, and presumably still is, necessary to end austerity.  The EU, it said, was a capitalist club that the UK should leave.  It would appear that the argument here was that this capitalist member should leave the club because somehow it would then be easier to make it less capitalist, ignoring the fact that the UK state is already itself a capitalist club for the capitalist firms within it.

That the capitalist state is already a capitalist club escapes the advocates of Lexit because they start from the perspective that the nation state can be the instrument for socialism while a collective of such states cannot.

The accusation that the EU imposes austerity is correct as far as it goes but it doesn’t go far for the UK; the Tories needed no one to tell them to impose austerity and it would be a cover-up to claim it has not been their responsibility.  In fact it is the UK alongside the US which has spearheaded the neoliberal ideological revolution in Europe and across the world.

Certainly we know Greece has suffered and continues to suffer from Eurozone austerity but Greece is a small and weak country in comparison to the UK.  We have enough evidence that the rules apply differently to bigger countries such as France and Germany.  In any case, just how would leaving the EU assist the Greeks fight the EU’s austerity?

It is argued that the way this might be achieved is through a mass anti-austerity campaign, but just like the Boris’s and Gove’s of this world the Lexit game plan makes no sense and it was obvious from the start it made no sense.  Everyone knew the Brexit campaign would be led and dominated by the most vicious right wing political forces and that a victory for such forces would be a victory for reaction in general.  That doesn’t change with the leading figures screwing up their victory – the announcement of the potential for even greater corporation tax cuts and the increase in racism and xenophobia are two illustrations of this. The assault on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is another.  The make-up of the new Tory cabinet yet another.

Which brings us to the Lexit campaign’s alibi for failure.  You see it’s not their fault that this strategy is such obvious mince, it’s the fault of Jeremy Corbyn and his failure to campaign for Brexit. Apparently had he done so it would have made Brexit progressive, it would miraculously have made all the little-Englanders (and Little Great Brits in the rest of the UK) a progressive force.  It would have made them, including large numbers of alienated workers, less racist and xenophobic.  By agreeing with them that the British state would be better off alone it would have made them less nationalistic and would have won them to an anti-austerity message.  Instead of being ignored by the mass media and press in his campaign for Remain, Corbyn would have been propelled by this media to the front row in place of Boris, Gove and Farage.  Wouldn’t he?

No doubt all those workers who voted to Remain, including the majority of young people, would just have followed a Brexit/Lexit call by Corbyn.  Why wouldn’t they?  Wouldn’t this just be an example of what these so-called vanguard organisations call leadership?  People have no ideas of their own, they just follow slogans and ‘leaders’ and would be happy to be on the same side as UKIP. No doubt they would have found it easy to combine support for leaving the EU with support for less vindictive immigration controls, alongside those supporting Brexit who are unhappy that the controls are not vindictive enough.

In the real world, had Corbyn attempted to rally to the Brexit/Lexit cause the Labour Party would have been thrown into chaos and his support in Momentum and the trade unions would have collapsed in demoralisation.  The coup by the Blairite MPs would have been executed before the referendum campaign had even officially began and John McDonnell wouldn’t now be in a position to call them “fucking useless”.

All this might seem to be about re-fighting the last war again, after all the political landscape has radically changed in only a few weeks.  But this is not the case, because the Lexit campaigners have got what they wanted – a vote to exit the EU – so how do they substantiate the claim that where we are now will help the fight against austerity?  How will the legitimation of racism and anti-immigrant prejudice help unite workers?

The Left organisations supporting Lexit are now dependent on the labour Party Remain leadership to be even remotely relevant because the immediate struggle that dominates politics will be the fight to retain Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.  Only by and through achieving this can an anti-austerity movement be created.

However, because of the referendum result we are now presented with the task of having to fight for a progressive Brexit.  How can we achieve it and is it even possible?  Are there any alternatives?

Brexit will mean the gutting of the UK legal system of legislation either reliant on, or possibly dictated by, the EU or by EU law that is not transposed but directly effective.  Huge gaps will emerge where new purely UK law does not replace EU laws and regulations.  What laws to keep, replace or leave out will be a paradise of anti-worker butchery for the Tory Government.

Jeremy Corbyn has presented the line that the Labour Party must fight to defend workers’ rights in the Brexit negotiations and presumably it is in identifying and campaigning against this opportunity for the Tories that he is referring to.  Going on the offensive it isn’t.

As I have posted before, a Left exit would still require negotiations with the remaining EU on trade and investment and the free movement of people.  In such negotiations not only would the leaders of the EU not be inclined to be generous to the UK, it having just threatened and damaged its project, but it would be doubly antagonistic to demands put forward that were to be in the best interests of British workers.  First, because they would not be interested in the rights of Britain and secondly because they would not be interested in the rights of British workers.

For European workers the British would have been seen to seek their own interests separate from those of the rest of the EU who otherwise could be its allies in fighting their own conservative Governments.  These Governments are therefore under less pressure from their own working classes to accommodate any demands arising from a ‘progressive’ Brexit.

By definition the UK Government, even a left one, could only negotiate a Brexit on behalf of British workers, so immediately the logic of nationalist division weakens a working class approach based on the unity of all workers regardless of nationality.  Why would the EU succumb to the demands of a left British Government that’s leaving?

Perhaps the supporters of a progressive Brexit think that they could simultaneously ride the Remain view of freedom of movement and the reactionary anti-immigrant attitude of Brexit and negotiate more open and liberal migration rules.  But how would they sell this to the Brexit majority and how would they sell more liberal UK immigration laws relating the wider world if these were more open than those allowed by the EU itself, which is what the proponents of Lexit claim they support?

Because while the UK could have more open borders to the rest of the world than the EU the EU would not be obliged to accept entry to it of any additional migration allowed to the UK.  Yet another example of the necessity for international action and the utter blindness of national roads to socialism, or whatever else Brexit/Lexit could more accurately be described as.

So even a Left exit would end up in the same position as Brexit – the EU would set limiting rules of access while the UK would have no voice in setting these rules.  How does this assist British workers uniting with their brothers and sisters in the rest of Europe?  How does this assist opening the borders between workers of different countries?

Of course much of this is speculation – we don’t know how future arrangements may be arrived at but this is an entirely plausible scenario that illustrates that there is no progressive ‘Lexit’ on offer.  It isn’t going to happen.

So are there alternatives?  What about a second referendum?  Or would this not be anti-democratic?  What would the Irish who have been here before say?  Well, I think they would say – yes it would be undemocratic!

It could be claimed that there is little point in observing that the Brexit campaign lied through its teeth and has immediately retracted pretty much all its biggest claims; about money saved going to the NHS or of a future large reduction in immigration.  If telling the truth was a prerequisite for maintaining the results of a vote the Tories would not still be in office.  So there is nothing unique about a vote being based on lies.  Neither is there mileage in numerous anecdotes that many Brexit voters have changed their minds.  Being serious about politics is not a necessary qualification for the franchise.

On the other hand it cannot be argued that these things don’t matter, because they reflect the fact that Brexit is a big delusion and mistake.  You don’t get petitions signed by millions of people if there isn’t some dispute about the legitimacy of the outcome, although reversing it is not a matter of simply running it again to get a different result.

Nevertheless for socialists the first thing to say about such a proposal is that there is no principled reason why there could not be a new vote.  What matters is how this might come about.

Socialists do not regard any particular vote under the terms set by capitalist democracy as sacrosanct because all such exercises are predicated on the majority not being able to implement any decision arrived at.  Instead a political machine called the state carries out all such decisions, to a degree and in a manner that it sees fit, through political parties that carry out the job of filtering what will and what won’t ultimately be carried out.  In other words capitalist democracy is part sham, part neutered and part a necessary requirement for the working class movement to organise and advance its interests.  And it is advancing these interests, the interests of the vast majority, which is paramount.

It is thus not the sovereignty of the state, not the legitimacy of Parliament and not the authority of the Government that is decisive but the struggle of classes; in this struggle it is the advancement of the working class, its sovereignty, its legitimacy and its authority which must be foremost.  It is not one particular exercise in capitalist democracy that is sacrosanct but that of the democracy of working people struggling against the power of a capitalist system which is anything but democratic.

The lies of the Brexit campaign and the inability of those disillusioned millions who voted for Brexit to execute their vote as they intended are all testament to the limitations of capitalist democracy.  The threats of job losses and cuts in living standards resulting from a depreciating currency show how little the majority have control over the society in which they live.  Capitalism makes a mockery of the reactionary and Lexit vanities about taking back control.

In these circumstances negotiations on Brexit and the fight to ensure that the rights of workers are not sacrificed on the altar of a ‘popular’ vote will reveal the realities of the referendum vote even further than the swift events that followed the vote.  A rejection of Brexit however could only be legitimated or accomplished to the benefit of workers and young people if there is a struggle to defend their rights that leads to a vote or election that clearly signals a rejection of the referendum result.

An election engineered to reverse Brexit by the deceitful and debased methods of the referendum would increase the potency of the most bitter and reactionary elements of the Brexit campaign.

The struggle to defend working class interests and reverse the result must be fought in the open if progress is to be made in reducing and substantially defeating the reactionary impulses and prejudices within the British working class.   This can only be done by mobilising its best and progressive forces.  These are currently grouped around Jeremy Corbyn and it is no accident that even those on the Left who supported Brexit find themselves supporting and dependent on these Remain campaigners.

Brexit is reactionary and its implementation will provide repeated evidence of it.  In fighting against its effects such a fight should not renounce fighting their immediate cause.

Fight for Jeremy Corbyn!

corbyn imagesIn one of the post-Brexit debates on Irish social media a supporter of the Socialist Party in Ireland claimed that one of Corbyn’s two mistakes was that he hadn’t tried to build outside the Labour Party.  For sheer blind chutzpah this isn’t bad.

Immediately after the UK elections I wrote the following:

“Right now the opportunity exists to have a debate in front of working people about the wide range of policies that they need to advance their interests.  This arises from the debate on who will be the replacement leadership of the Labour Party.  It will not of course be a debate pitting a pure revolutionary programme (however understood) against a cowardly watered down Keynesianism.  But what could ever lead anyone to expect that?  This is where the working class is at and no amount of wishful thinking will make it otherwise.  Will those organisations claiming to be Marxist be able to place themselves in the middle of this debate?  Will they even want to? The debate will happen anyway and many will look to it for a new way forward beyond the despair that the new Tory regime will inevitably create.”

Of course the left organisations ignored the Corbyn phenomenon until they noticed the world was passing them by, whereupon they suddenly discovered that the world was passing them by.  Now Corbyn and his supporters are criticised for not creating a mass anti-austerity movement and not kicking out all the Blairite MPs immediately.

In a world in which the fundamental problem for working people has been a “crisis of working class leadership”, i.e. workers have not found their revolutionary leaders (for nearly 80 years now – how on earth could this be possible?); for this view all that is required is for a political leadership to decide something and it sort of happens, just like that.  Think of the US TV series ‘Bewitched’ (look it up if you’re too young).

Having contributed nothing, not even awareness of what was at stake after the election, they think Corbyn can magic up a mass movement and upend the whole Labour Party in less than a year.  We’re expected to believe the push to kick him out has been a surprise to him.

Now the immediate and medium term fate of socialist forces in Britain is overwhelmingly being determined by the fight to keep Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.  All the criticisms that he is an electoralist is so much irrelevance because this fate will likely depend on an election, one in which the left group members don’t have a vote.

Of course it is correct to criticise Corbyn for being a reformist who is opposed to a total transformation of a capitalist society that can only be achieved in a revolutionary fashion but this is the sheerest hypocrisy from the members of these groups, and here’s why.

For the last few decades these parties have claimed that the problem is a crisis of working class representation arising from the move of social democracy to the right, leading to the political death of the Labour Party; no longer a working class party in any sense and no longer a viable vehicle for workers to struggle from.

So their bright idea was to replace the Labour Party with themselves as the social democratic alternative: in effect a new Labour Party still standing on a Keynesian economic programme.  All the while displaying their new found talent for bourgeois politics by failing to openly present what is supposed to be their real politics, or what they consider to be Marxism, rather like bourgeois politicians who promise one thing but mean quite another. It’s almost as if they stole the Labour party’s old clothes only to find Corbyn appear on the stage with the Labour Party’s genuine old clothes.

Now they have the cheek to criticise Corbyn, who in less than a year has inspired a movement that dwarfs the fruits of their years of effort, on a programme not qualitatively different from their own, while still failing to register the importance of what is happening.

We all make political mistakes but we learn from them.  Since the left organisations never admit to political mistakes they never learn.

Worse still, they have contributed to the disastrous threats that now threaten British workers by having supported Brexit and the tide of reaction it has unleashed.  Like cynics who know the price of everything and the value of nothing they know, or rather think they know, how to destroy capitalism but not a clue how to create socialism.  They know what they are against but are incapable of saying what in the real world, the world that exists now, they are for. They now prattle on about a political crisis oblivious of the nature of that crisis and how well placed the working class is to resolve it in its interests.

Once again they remain blind to the real world, describing the referendum as a workers revolt, “a revolt . . against the people at the top of society”.  This overwhelmingly nationalist ‘revolt’ heavily saturated by racism and xenophobia can, according to ‘Socialist Worker’, “be dragged left or right.  The right will ty to use the Leave vote to deepen racism.”  All this in a leaflet entitled ‘Unite to Shape Revolt against Establishment.’

Once again they’re a bit late.  The Leave campaign started off very right wing but managed to shift even further right the longer it went on.  The Leave campaign has already deepened racism – turn on your TV and watch the news to see its effects.  So who exactly are they going to unite with? Who?  Even ‘Socialist Worker’ had to admit that “#Lexit – the Left Leave campaign we were part of – had only a marginal effect” and that’s being generous.   So who do they think did have an effect?  How did “the campaign get dragged to the right?  Through whose influence?

And what’s their alternative?

They think that Labour should have joined the Leave campaign, a ‘tragedy’ it didn’t.  Apparently it would have “transformed the debate to be far more about democracy, breaking from austerity . . .” an admission of the real character of the real Leave campaign that wasn’t about democracy and wasn’t about breaking from austerity.   Their alternative is the next ‘big’ demonstration in October at the Tory conference and “a general election now.”  But who on earth would they vote for?

The referendum campaign demonstrated the growth of reactionary sentiments in some working class areas presided over by Blairite MPs, in other words demonstrated the importance of that Party, and the importance of a victory for Corbyn as leader of that Party.  The struggle in the Labour Party is not therefore simply an internal matter even if it is the fight inside the party that will decide.

In this fight the Blairite careerists have launched a premeditated and calculated campaign using a mass media that brazenly shows little pretence at balance.    The purpose of this mass media is to make people feel isolated, alone and despondent; that their left wing views are marginal and that all they can do is accept whatever media friendly candidate the Blairites finally unite around.

As I type these words Channel 4 news reports on a demonstration in Edinburgh in favour of Remain and some nationalist says he feels zero per cent British.  Immediately the camera cuts to an unofficial demonstration at Westminster by predominantly young people also demanding Remain.  The obvious lesson – unity, the obvious lesson for nationalists – separation; although now they will find it a tad more difficult to use ‘London’ as some sort of swear word and they will be fighting with that dirty label ‘unionist’ as supporters of the European Union.

The only credible vehicle of such unity now is a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn but that party is now split and will split.  The mass membership will not stay in a party that overturns its democratic decision, that seeks to turn its back on opposition to austerity and seeks to join the movement that scapegoats immigrants.  Equally there is no room for careerist MPs in a Corbyn led Labour Party, MPs who would rather see the Party lose than see it win under Corbyn.  This being the case there is no room for unity.

If the Left wants to do something useful it should re-evaluate its disastrous association with a reactionary cause and throw its weight into fighting in the Labour Party to defend the movement that has given hope to many millions.  Millions that they otherwise have no hope of reaching.

Their Marxism should be the most internationalist, the most alive to the needs of young people, of the workers and its movement; in so doing being the most attractive to all those seeking an alternative to the current system.

“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

(Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto)

Unity all round after the election

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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

The 2016 election – a victory for social democracy?

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Votes. Scenes from the counting of votes for the Dublin West Constituency, at the Phibblestown Communmity Hall Count Centre in Blanchardstown, Dublin. Photo shows Anti Austerity Alliance candidate Ruth Coppinger after winning a seat in her constituency. Photo:RollingNews.ie

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 – Counting of Votes. Scenes from the counting of votes for the Dublin West Constituency, at the Phibblestown Communmity Hall Count Centre in Blanchardstown, Dublin. Photo shows Anti Austerity Alliance candidate Ruth Coppinger after winning a seat in her constituency. Photo:RollingNews.ie

The 2016 general election has been hailed as delivering a ‘sensational’ result, although this is disputed, and has led to some difficulty in forming a new Government.  Apparently only one party, Fine Gael, wants to be part of one, partly as a result of the horrendous results for the governing parties in the last two contests.

In this election the two Governing parties, holding a record majority, lost heavily: the Fine Gael vote fell from 36.1% to 25.5%, while the Labour Party was decimated, losing more than three quarter of its seats, its vote falling from 19.5% to 6.6%.  The biggest apparent gainers were Fianna Fail mainly because of a striking reversal of fortune, increasing its vote from 17.5% in 2011 to over 24.3%, and Sinn Fein, which increased its vote from 9.9% to over 13.8%.  This performance however will be seen as disappointing, coming nowhere near the 20% it recorded in polls beforehand.

The governing parties stood in the election on the basis that their painful austerity medicine had worked and that there was now a remarkable recovery, the fruits of which would allow tax cuts and improvement in public services.  And the truth is that there has indeed been a recovery; new austerity measures have generally ceased and for some people incomes are rising, either through getting a job or pay increases.

Unfortunately for the Governing parties their arrogant declarations of success rankled with a population fully appreciative of the slenderness of the improvement, which for some has been non-existent, while the more they declared the scale of the success the more it appeared to contrast with the experience of the majority.  The Government claimed credit for the improvement but it was a long time coming and the Irish people are aware enough of the vulnerability of their economic circumstances not to be inclined to credit the Government with creating it or of letting the possibility of a new recession escape their minds.

Above all, the accumulated austerity measures inflicted by the Government have not at all been reversed, the huge cuts and tax increases of the last seven or more years are still being felt, the price is still being paid, and smug and arrogant claims of achievement angered a population weary of austerity and aware of too recent and continuing attacks, including water charges.

Fine Gael won the previous election on the back of the then Government’s perceived responsibility for a disastrous economic collapse, a promise that its policy would be different and that the existing ‘no bondholder left behind’ approach would be challenged.  Labour campaigned on the grounds that there was a choice between Labour’s way and Frankfurt’s way.  Of course these promises were hollow and no coherent policy alternative was put forward, a more politically aware population would have understood this, but the immediate task was to punish the egregious Fianna Fail and a Fine Gael/Labour coalition has been its historic alternative. What this meant, as one commentator has put it, was that in that election they took the least radical option for change, just as they have almost done so again, while in between they voted to accept austerity in the 2012 EU referendum.

So the 2016 election has been hailed as a vote against austerity and an Irish reflection of the forces that have produced Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US.

But the vote in 2011 was also in part a vote against austerity, although driven mainly by the desire for revenge through a massive vote against Fianna Fail, which rocked that traditional hegemonic party of the Irish State and led many to wonder whether it was finished.  It has now had something of a comeback in yet another anti-austerity election.  In the 2011 election the Labour Party did extremely well on an anti-austerity ticket, at one point believing it might end up the largest party.  So what exactly is the nature of a ‘new’ anti-austerity vote that sees the bounce-back of Fianna Fail and the continued development of Fianna Fail nua in the shape of Sinn Fein?

The general election has been characterised by some as a demand for social democracy, an anti-austerity alternative, that was reflected in Fianna Fail’s emphasis on the fruits of the recovery being spent on public services and not on tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich.  The claimed new consciousness is also supposed to be reflected in the increased vote for Sinn Fein, which emphasised that it was in favour of a ‘fair’ recovery in which the better off paid most, and in the showing of new formations such as the Social Democrats, which did moderately well arguing that US tax levels were not compatible with a European standard of public services.

There is therefore a case to be made that the election was a vote against austerity, a vote for some sort of social democracy and even a move towards a more conventional right/left political division, now that the more or less identical Fine Gael and Fianna Fail parties together have declined to just under half the vote.  There is also an obvious case to be made that this is a reflection in Ireland of a wider international phenomenon.  But it is more an Irish reflection of this phenomenon rather than a reflection of the phenomenon in Ireland.

So we have an initial clear problem that the recovery in the vote for Fianna Fail is evidence of the move towards social democracy while its savaging in 2011 was also such an example.   We have a move to a left/right divide while the historically largest civil war party made a strong recovery.

This does not invalidate the argument but simply demonstrates its limitations and the weakness of the shift.  But that a shift is taking place is nevertheless still the case.  The long term decline of the civil war parties continues, as recently as 1997 they received 78% of the vote and in 2011 73%.  The 2016 vote was a vote against austerity, but not yet a vote for an alternative, at least not a real alternative because neither Fianna Fail nor Sinn Fein are a real alternative and neither are the majority of right wing independents coming, as they say, from the Fianna Fail or Fine Gael gene pool.

The social democratic tone of the likes of Fianna Fail reflects more an improved economy and not any more basic shift in economic policy.  Fianna Fail is still widely blamed for sharing a large degree of responsibility for the economic crisis while Sinn Fein voted to bail out the bankers and bondholders.  Fianna Fail has a long history of populist rhetoric and actions, which may be called social democratic in a broad sense, but which has been successfully employed to prevent the development of a left/right divide in Irish politics.  Without such a divide we have simply had a right/right division.

The case for a growing right/left split rests partly on the policy proposals of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, and their success, and partly on the pressure on Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to collaborate in order to allow creation of a new Government.  There are no credible alternatives as the forces of ‘the left’ are too disparate and divided.  Some informed commentary is that Fianna Fail will not allow such an alliance to happen partly to frustrate the development of such a divide, which would threaten its traditional role and base inside the working class.

The argument for the development of a left/right demarcation however mainly rests on the rise of Sinn Fein, understood broadly as a ‘left’ party, and the fortunes of the Social Democrats and some left independents.  It also rests on the progress of the genuine left, most visibly in the shape of the Anti Austerity Alliance/People before Profit (AAA/PbP) alliance, the creation of the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party.

But Sinn Fein is not, it must be repeated again and again, a genuine left party.  Have a look at austerity in the North if you find this hard to accept. Only by the most expansive definition can it be considered left wing, which might be useful as some sort of catch-all description in some circumstances but is misleading when it comes to any analysis.

Having a predominantly working class support does not make a working class party; Fianna Fail has had the largest support of any party within the working class for many decades until relatively recently.  A working class party is one that not only is supported by the working class or part of it, but is composed of workers, is organised from within its ranks and in some way represents its separate interests to a greater or lesser degree.

So what constitutes ‘the left’ and how has it performed in this election?  One commentator has argued that, if we include one third of the large number of independents elected, the left has hardly increased, amounting to about a third now compared to 35% in the outgoing Dail, although the composition of this left may be said to be more ‘left wing’.  A second analysis defines Labour, Sinn Fein and United Left Alliance as the left in 2011, together receiving 31.5%, while Labour, Sinn Fein, AAA/PbP and Social Democrats are defined as left for the purposes of the 2016 election, receiving 27%.  Another perspective groups the AAA/PbP and explicitly left independents together to arrive at a total of 141,890 votes, not very different from the Labour Party’s 140,898 – which is supposed to have had disastrous election.  A narrower definition could take the TDs from the United left Alliance that went into the 2011 election and compare their performance in 2016 (while including the gains of the AAA/PbP) and arrive at a total of over 5%.

None of these show any dramatically increased vote for the left, however defined, and are certainly more convincing than some comments from the AAA/PbP, who have not unnaturally looked firstly at their own results.  Richard Boyd Barrett has been quoted as stating that “we went from being newly formed to almost 4 per cent.”

However one delineates the left it is clear that the only consistent social democratic alternative offered has come from the AAA/PbP and the candidates who used to belong to the United Left Alliance and perhaps a handful of others.

There has therefore been no qualitative radicalisation but instead a longer irregular evolution of rejection of the traditional right wing parties but without an embrace of any consistently thought out alternative.  This is therefore expressed in illusions in parties which peddle familiar solutions that may appear to a greater or lesser degree to be social democratic.  When we see these include the Labour Party, Sinn Fein and even Fianna Fail what we don’t see is any sort of consistent social democracy.

to part 2