This Easter, as every year, socialists and Republicans across Ireland will commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising. Yet with only two years to go until the centenary, and with rumours that Her Majesty will attend commemorations in 2016, the aim of the Workers’ Republic that James Connolly, commander of the Irish Citizens’ Army and military leader of the rising in 1916 fought for, appears as far off as ever. Six years into possibly the greatest economic crisis since Ireland was partitioned in 1921, the left, if anything, has gone backwards. This reflects a bending to opportunism, short-termism and a lack of a far-sighted Marxist perspective within Labour or any of the small forces to their left.
Labour has again taken part in a disastrous coalition government with Fine Gael. This followed the working class (particularly the Dublin workers) gifting Labour with 19.4% of the vote in 2011, its highest share since the first Free State election in 1922. Yet, after making significant inroads and the picking up of votes from the working class for its opposition to the austerity measures of the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition; this was squandered in a disastrous lurch toward the right. The trappings of office and the petty trappings of a career in an Oireachtas led the party into the Fine Gael coalition and thence the administration of brutal cuts. Since 2008 €28 billion has been removed from the Irish economy, equalling 17% of GDP. Although Eamon Gilmore may claim that Ireland has been to “hell and back”, the recovery doesn’t feel very real for Irish workers and the youth in particular. There’s been a return to the days of mass migration and whilst the economy may now be growing at the snail's pace, living standards are not growing at all. In the meantime recent polls put the Labour vote as low as 5%, with Fianna Fáil regaining its working class vote. One poll puts Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil neck and neck
Yet despite these circumstances and with an evident space to the left of Labour’s leadership; instead of going from strength to strength we have observed a tragicomic farce. What seemed incidental or accidental events have served as triggers to tear apart the potential to build a serious left force. The fallout in the United Left Alliance began with Clare Daly's reaction to the Mick Wallace tax controversy and soon led to the unravelling of the forces that composed it . Far from United, the 2016 general election will see the Left; that is the Unemployed Workers Group, Socialist Party, SWP/PbPA and Clare Daly and Joan Collins’ United Left stand divided. This has been compounded further by the Patrick Nulty resignation.
On one level these events could be interpreted as merely the actions of individuals and disconnected from broader politics. However, the unravelling of the United Left Alliance confirms that the organisation was too much weakened by left sectarian division to withstand a crack in its leadership. This was indicative of the weakness of the alliance. This is further reflected in the damage done by Patrick Nulty’s issues to the social democratic left and the Irish left generally. In all these cases weak, yet proud organisations each with their own particular N road towards opportunism, and their common lack of a coherent and principled Marxist perspective; were found out by the rotten environment and myopic mentality of parliamentarianism.
The Irish Left will continue to blunder from one crisis to another and remain moribund as long as it continues to pose solutions to the economic and political situation based on reforming capitalism, however superficially radical each particular reformist slogan might be. In the face of this systemic crisis populist sloganeering over austerity and unemployment is not adequate.
Agitation around these issues is vital; but unless they are connected to a perspective for implementing socialist policies, the democratic public ownership of the banks and major industries, this will remain idle pub talk at best or lead to a repeat of Labour’s experience. The state is in no strong position to stand up to defy the whims of the world market and international capital, reliant as it is on world trade. For sure, only the perspective of a decisive break from capitalism can deliver those aims and can orientate our struggles to win immediate demands in these mean times.