The Right2Water Campaign posted a message at the very end of 2014 setting out the tasks for 2015:
“So where to now? If we are to elect people who enact the laws we, the people, need in the next election to continue to unite on what we agree on and not sow division and discord over tactical approaches as some are currently endeavouring to do. We need to grow and develop the unity that has rocked the establishment and the media – not splinter in 100 different directions as Irish people have (to their great cost) many times before thereby allowing an elitist minority to reap and sow at great cost to the common good. It’s been the way of it for much too much of our history. Can we unite and through solidarity fundamentally change how our water, our housing, our jobs, our education and our health services are paid for and delivered in all our interests?”
The statement, and let’s leave aside the exact status of it for the moment, has been criticised on the Revolutionary Programme blog. The criticism of ‘electoralism’ is correct in my view but the first problem is not the desire to somehow, in some way, at some time, lever the people mobilised by the campaign into support for some electoral initiatives, alliances or whatever.
There will be elections at some point not too far away and those opposed to water charges and austerity in general would be remiss in not seeking to utilise them to advance their struggle. Of course critics will claim, with previous ‘form’ for justifying such claims, that elections are typically used not to advance the struggle but the struggle used to advance elections.
For Marxists like the Revolutionary Programme blogger and myself the road to change, even for any significant reforms, never mind revolutionary change, will come primarily from the actions of working people themselves and not from legislators “that enact laws that are wanted and needed by the people they are elected to represent, not Corporations and their cronies.”
Our view comes from our understanding of how the state works and how the nature of the state is such that it cannot fundamentally change society or challenge the priorities set by the corporations and their cronies. This is because power and resources are distributed and reproduced by an economic system over which the Dail has little, and certainly no fundamental, control. In Ireland this is much more obvious since the most dynamic sector of the economy is that controlled by US multinationals and Irish people are used to accepting that neither they nor their legislators control these multinationals.
To fundamentally challenge the priorities of the capitalist economy would mean either putting the system in crisis or compelling more radical transformation to a new system. It stands to reason that if people are put before profit in a system that puts profit before people that the system will start to malfunction or at the very least not function as well – through capitalists taking their money out of the country, failing to invest or simply stirring up political opposition to change. Alternatively, a completely new system requires something much more fundamental than changing the 166 people sitting in the chamber of the Dail.
This doesn’t mean nothing can be done short of some revolutionary change but it does mean that certain limits are put on such change; the fundamental driver for it will exist outside the Dail; such change can only be temporary if more fundamental change is not made and essential change requires action by the working class itself and not by people elected by it to do it on their behalf.
At the very least those advocating the election of those who will “enact the laws we, the people, need” are required to explain what will be done, who will do it and how it will be done.
If this really is the way forward there can be no objection to debating it. If Marxists lose the debate and such a reformist road is carried then that will be accepted because it is only by changing workers’ minds that the Marxist alternative can come alive anyway. Marxists are not opposed to reforms, we are in favour of them, strongly in favour of them, especially when they are posed as a real alternative not to revolution but to no change at all.
What’s more we do not believe that no reforms are possible, just that they will be contested, limited and will not conflict fundamentally with putting profit before people.
What Marxists might really object to now is that such top-down politics is often advanced in a top-down way by those most loudly proclaiming their bottom-up politics.
In Britain a working class party, at least in terms of support, exists in the form of the Labour Party through which the struggle to advance such reforms can be made. In Ireland the Irish Labour Party excites the hopes of a smaller or larger minority of workers at various times, only for it to betray those hopes. But it does not retain workers’ allegiance so that some continuing struggle within it can form the basis of advancing Irish workers political consciousness and organisation.
So no obvious candidate for the party needed to fulfil the perspectives of the Right2Water Campaign’s authors exists. For many people newly drawn into political activity against the water charges this will be an obvious difficulty. But it is not the most immediate.
The most immediate is the fact that what exists is a campaign against water charges that has no structure, or rather no democratic structure, so that it cannot decide whether any of the ideas put forward in the statement should be supported, because ‘it’ – a campaign – does not exist in any sort of form that could make a decision. Nor is there any proposal in the statement to bring one into existence through, for example, a national conference and a democratically elected leadership accountable at all times to campaign supporters.
In a previous post I noted that it would be necessary to develop the scope and demands of the campaign but that this would need to be prepared. Such preparation involves creating arrangements that allow people to discuss what they think collectively, whether they think the campaign should adopt additional objectives to that of opposing charges, and whether certain tactics should be promoted or not. Even the statement leaves open the reality that the charges still exist, have not been killed off, and have a zombie-like existence – being half-dead and half-alive. We have all seen enough zombie movies to know they keep on coming back to life to bite us.
Finally, but perhaps firstly, those involved in the campaign could hardly do better than follow the advice, once given by Tony Benn, and ask five questions of the campaign leaders: “what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”
This is all very simple. If someone thinks the campaign should support certain candidates in an upcoming election they must be able to answer these questions when anyone in the campaign asks them.