Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Electoralism: a real and present danger for the radical left everywhere – in Ireland the Dáil SPBP bloc avoids the trap : unconditional opposition to coalition with the FFFG et al right

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A publication in India, the Radical Socialist, offers a timely warning to radical socialists in every part of the globe :

Unless the lessons of the repeated political collapses in Sri Lanka are learnt, not only Sri Lankan Marxists, but those elsewhere in South Asia, who have learned also from the achievements of the Sri Lankan Marxists, may suffer politically. There is a need to examine, not merely in terms of mid 20th century history, but in terms of today’s class struggle, why the politics of electoralism, and of alliances with bourgeois parties (under the disguise that they are petty bourgeois parties, or ‘democratic’ parties, etc) can only lead to damages for the Trotskyist forces. We urge the Fourth International leadership to take it up as a burning political and educational issue, and take firm action. Collaborating with bourgeois oppositions is hardly restricted to Sri Lanka, and serious political discussions will benefit revolutionaries in India, at least. http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/statement-radical-socialist/899-radical-socialist-statement-on-sri-lankan-elections

What is the story in Ireland?

Gaining significant electoral victories is a key achievement of the radical left in Ireland since 1997, when Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party won a Dublin West Dáil seat. This electoral victory significantly helped to defeat government water charges plans promoted by the then main capitalist parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which were aided by their serial coalition partners, the Labour Party.

Ups and downs in Irish radical left electoral fortunes have occurred from 1997 to 2020. This was an open question in 1997 : could the Dublin West victory of Joe Higgins be a minor Trotskyist blip on a stable bourgeois election landscape dominated by FFFG? It turned out this was not a blip. Higgins was the first TD who openly promoted a “Women’s Right to Choose” Abortion policy. He himself and members of his party actively promoted various pro-choice campaigns. The election of numerous radical left pro-choice deputies in 2011 and 2016 eventually forced the main right wing parties to allow a referendum repealing the anti-abortion 8th constitutional amendment. The result : a landslide victory for the pro-choice movement in Ireland and abroad. Here is one report written by USA activist Sarah Jaffe : http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article5823

Today there is a 5 TD SPBP radical left bloc in Dáil Éireann. Three other deputies – Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly and Thomas Pringle – adopted the same anti-FFFGGG governmental policy as the SPBP bloc. This scenario was historic – it had never happened before, since the foundation of two partitioned states in Ireland nearly 100 years ago.

Government Coalition with the Right? : Ghastly Results Revealed

The policy of the Irish radical left on coalition with right wing parties is clearly explained here by RISE Dublin South-West TD Paul Murphy :

Question : There is a clear difference between the government policies of SPBP and SF. Can you elaborate on that?

Answer : SPBP will vote for a Sinn Féin left government. It will not vote for any government that includes the right. Coalition with the right-wing parties in Irish politics has always been a graveyard for parties that receives support on a leftward basis – again, and again, and again. The 2020 SF vote is compared with the Labour Party “Spring Tide” of 1992. A large left vote was used by Labour Leader Dick Spring to enter coalition with Fianna Fáil, then Fine Gael, and the party was hammered in the 1997 General Election. The Labour Rise and Fall between 2011 and 2020 was even more dramatic. We also have the experience of the Green Party in government from 2007 to 2011. The party won 6 Dáil seats in 2007, and lost all its TD’s in 2011. So, this has happened very regularly. Parties go in with a mandate for change. FF and FG represent the interests of the capitalist class in this country and block any sort of change that impacts in a substantial way their profits, and their right to maximise their profits. So, for us on the left, that has always been a red-line issue. You can not form a government with FF or FG. Such a government will not deliver for ordinary people.

That was a very a strong point in our election campaign. The headline in our leaflets was that we “the only party that will not prop up FF or FG”. That challenged very strongly, fitting in with the mood of many voters. It was an election not primarily about policy – though policy featured – it was primarily about trying to kick out the establishment parties. RISE and PBP repeatedly placed demands on SF to rule out coalition with FF and FG. SF did not do so. That helped to establish a reason for people to vote for the socialist left – we were the only ones who would definitely not put FF or FG back into power. https://tomasoflatharta.wordpress.com/2020/02/27/to-all-of-them-we-say-rule-out-coalition-with-fianna-fail-and-fine-gael-sinn-fein-should-seek-to-lead-an-alternative-minority-government-interview-with-paul-mu/

Shifting our focus back to Asia: Alex de Jong, a Fourth International comrade, observes :

”Radical Socialist sees the candidature of Vickrambahu Karunaratne (‘Bahu’), leader of the Nava Sama Samaj Party of Sri Lanka, and one of the two organisations affiliated to the Fourth International in Sri Lanka, as an UNP candidate, as an unambiguous crossing of the class line. This is however not something that happened without any prior warning.”

Returning to the Radical Socialist warning :

This is a total betrayal of class independence and the building of a class struggle oriented mass party. This is not even any 1930s style Popular Frontism. It must be recognised that while the SLFP and its successor organisations have been Sinhala chauvinists, the UNP has also been extreme right-wing in its politics. Unless the lessons of the repeated political collapses in Sri Lanka are learnt, not only Sri Lankan Marxists, but those elsewhere in South Asia, who have learned also from the achievements of the Sri Lankan Marxists, may suffer politically. There is a need to examine, not merely in terms of mid 20th century history, but in terms of today’s class struggle, why the politics of electoralism, and of alliances with bourgeois parties (under the disguise that they are petty bourgeois parties, or ‘democratic’ parties, etc) can only lead to damages for the Trotskyist forces. We urge the Fourth International leadership to take it up as a burning political and educational issue, and take firm action. Collaborating with bourgeois oppositions is hardly restricted to Sri Lanka, and serious political discussions will benefit revolutionaries in India, at least. http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/statement-radical-socialist/899-radical-socialist-statement-on-sri-lankan-elections

Storm clouds are ahead.

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