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Ireland: Socialist Workers Party calls for a `broad radical left party'

Joe Higgins.

By the Socialist Workers Party (Ireland)

June 11, 2009 -- The election of Joe Higgins as MEP and the defeat of Fianna Fail in Dublin indicates that the political landscape is changing. The recent elections represent a seismic shift in Irish politics. Ever since 1927, Fianna Fail has dominated the working-class vote but this has now changed -- most probably forever.

Even before the current economic crisis, the Fianna Fail vote had entered a long slow decline. At the height of the Celtic Tiger, for example, Bertie Ahern scored less votes than Charlie Haughey. When the crash hit, Fianna Fail dropped all pretence of populism and launched an aggressive attack on working-class conditions.They have now paid dearly for this.

The electoral base of the Greens has also been decimated. The Greens claimed that they are in government to help save the planet from environmental decay. But they have stood over decisions which have cut the public bus service. They have also voted for cuts in education spending, even while defending the absurd bail out of the banks. Their removal from local authority councils is therefore well deserved.

The major immediate beneficiary is Fine Gael which has been re-furbished through a huge influx of funds from business. At its core, are a new generation of hard-right young politicians such as Varadkar and Creighton who want to intensify attacks on the public sector. On the doorstep, however, Fine Gael played up the populist card, denouncing the 'bail-outs' of the banks.

Fine Gael is seen by many workers as a vehicle for getting rid of Fianna Fail.

The most serious long-term shift in Irish politics is the swing to the Labour Party. It is the strongest party in Dublin and has gained from its verbal shift to the left. It has opposed the bail out of the banks and has distanced itself from Fine Gael. Its growth is part of a greater class consciousness among urban workers.

But Labour can face in one of two ways. It can talk left for a while -- in order to gain greater leverage in a future coalition with Fine Gael or even Fianna Fail. It did this in the late sixties when it went through a ``socialist'' phase and after the Spring tide of 1992. Significantly, Eamon Gilmore has refused to rule out coalition with Fine Gael.

A more ambitious perspective would be to form ``an alliance of the left'', which is advocated by both the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union's Jack O Connor and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams. This would see Labour and Sinn Fein -- and possibly even a reformed and repentant Green Party come together to offer a ``third option'' in Irish politics.

While this might be welcomed as a shift to the left, it still contains severe limitations.

First, both Labour and Sinn Fein are committed to the management of Irish capitalism. Both advocate ``temporary'' nationalisations of the banks; both want more support for business; and both only advocate more public spending rather than the re-organisation of an economy on socialist lines.

Second, both parties define politics primarily in terms of electoral activity rather than popular mobilisation. The Labour Party, for example, opposed a national strike on March 30 and its leader Eamon Gilmore told an IMPACT conference that industrial action in the public sector was a thing of the past. Both will verbally oppose water charges but will advise against a non-payment campaign.

In this context, the vote of the radical left offers some real hope for the future. Today the People Before Profit Alliance, the Socialist Party, the Workers and Unemployed Action Group have all individually more councillors than the Greens. Collectively they could be within striking distance of Sinn Fein. Joe Higgins' magnificent victory in the Euro election in Dublin, replacing SF's Mary Lou McDonald, is another indication of the same tendency. Voting patterns in Dublin indicate many are already wary of Sinn Fein's zig-zagging between left and right.

The vote for the radical left is all the more significant because it grew alongside the swing towards the reformist left -- and before Labour or a Labour-Sinn Fein Alliance had been tested in office.

The radical left must now enter discussions to form either an alliance or broad radical left party, where different tendencies can co-exist. Previous arguments that such a development might be ``premature'' make little sense today.

The Socialist Workers Party is already working productively within the People Before Profit Alliance, promoting its own distinctively revolutionary socialist views while working with others on the 90 per cent we also agree on. There is absolutely no reason why an alliance of this sort cannot be expanded.

We are only at the start of a deep economic crisis -- where even more wage cuts, water charges and redundancies will be imposed on workers. There is now a responsibility on the left to offer serious policies which assume the possibility of an end to capitalism.

[The Socialist Workers Party (Ireland) has a website at]

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