As we enter the New Year, be prepared for attempts to engage us with a whipped-up excitement of elections and “new” ways of doing things. A diversion — something like a cross between those periodic shows like the Eurovision Song Context and the Lottery. And like the lottery, there will be a winner but it won’t be us. Whichever party or combination of parties succeeds, it will be the ruling class that wins. A diversion in the other sense too, in that it seeks to divert us from our path.
There is no third way, there are no alternative routes, short cuts, slip roads. There is the revolutionary road and the other. The other leads to the continuation of capitalism. But the other road is often represented as a number of different roads, and the only difference between them is in the degrees of exploitation and repression it will deliver. The non-revolutionary road can NEVER lead to social justice.
To be sure, there are many slip roads and byways on the non-revolutionary road but none of them lead to revolution; therefore they do not lead to socialism and therefore nor do they lead to overcoming the capitalist attacks on the working people and the continuing penetration of imperialism into our way of governing ourselves and our social provision, into our natural resources and into our labour power.
Every now and again, a “new” road is proposed, in which “new alliances” are sought, projects to “build a broader front” away from “clichés” and “slogans of the past”. And it turns out that there is nothing new in these roads except the words being used and sometimes not even those. There is talk of accumulation or summation of forces, for which some objectives must be dropped, for which descriptions must be toned down, for which slogans that mean many different things to different people have to be adopted. Well, either they are heading (and wanting us to follow) for capitalism or they are heading for socialism – there are no other destinations. And if they are heading for socialism, why do they not say so? Why do they not reveal their full program?
There are those who say we can reach socialism by building this wide movement with deliberately unclear slogans and program, building on the hostility towards the present state of things and the dominant political parties. How can that be, if there are basically only two roads? How can this wide movement of discontent displace the ruling class and their system, if it is not consciously heading up the road of revolution? It seems that at some point the curtain will be whipped aside by the socialists in these wide movements and the masses will be shown the monster of capitalism and will realise it is so horrible that it must be killed. And of course they will do it. How? Ah, that’s a step too far, comrade, stick with us, trust us, we’ll tell you when the moment comes.
One can see the fates of Syriza in government in Greece and of Podemos in opposition in the Spanish state to see the enormous expectations that are raised and then cruelly dashed. We have seen the like before in our history in Ireland and we will see that again. As we go into 2016 we will have such illusions of a possible electoral socialist future dangled before us, though on a smaller scale.
Elect Sinn Féin and we’ll have a really different situation, a real change – or so we are told. Nonsense – a party that has never seriously confronted capitalism, a party in fact whose President says publicly (and without correction by his party) that it does not have a problem with Capitalism. A party tried in government of a kind already, albeit in a colonial statelet, that has demonstrated itself unwilling to make a determined stand for social justice in welfare and education and which has maintained a colonial repressive police force. This is also a party which has openly welcomed leaders of US and British imperialism and signaled its acceptance of the treason of the ANC leadership to the South African masses. In the 26-Counties this party showed its eagerness to impress the ruling class with how “responsible” and “law-abiding” it is, so much so that they are not even willing to endorse the civil disobedience tactics of refusal to register for the Water Charge and refusal to pay the charge.
Perhaps, once in the Dáil they might become a revolutionary socialist party? One can of course hope (or pray) for miracles but one has no right to expect them.
Another illusion being dangled before us is the election of some kind of “Left-wing coalition”, whether it would include SF or not. We have a Dáil of 166 seats so it would be necessary to elect no less than 84 to have an absolute majority – a coalition of 84 independents, TDs from small socialist parties and whoever! And what program will this “Left-wing coalition” have that all 84 can be expected to adhere to? We don’t know and we have no revolutionary mass movement which has put forward the demands to incorporate into such a program. There is no need to even consider what measures the ruling capitalist class would take should there ever be a Dáil majority with a revolutionary program – we are not within an ass’ bray of such a moment.
Yes, I said we have no revolutionary mass movement — but I was not dismissing (nor “dissing”) the movement of resistance. For two years we have had a wide and numerous movement of resistance to the Water Charge or Tax, carrying on from the previous movements against the Household Tax and the Property Charge. With regards to the latter two, the first was successful but the second was successfully bypassed by the State by changing the law, enabling the State to collect the charge directly from our income. Whether this was illegal or not is beside the point – they did it and anyway, to whom does the law belong if not to them? Certainly not to us!
With regard to the remaining one, the movement of popular resistance to the Water Charge continues, even without much central leadership, without the practical support of the trade union movement. Those absences may have prevented it being completely taken over by opportunists and careerists and state agents but it has also prevented it from waging a campaign of sustained resistance, of presenting an agreed slate of demands of sponsors and of candidates for election, of putting real pressure on the trade union leaderships and of regular mobilisation of numbers to defend resisters being hounded through the courts and threatened with imprisonment. Nevertheless, the resistance continues.
But we should not fool ourselves that the campaign is revolutionary – it does not have as an objective the overthrow of the capitalist system. To be sure, some and even many of its supporters may wish for that – but it is not an objective of the campaign. In fact, even the demand of the abolition of the Water Charge is not a revolutionary demand — that can be achieved without overthrowing the system.
For revolutionaries, reforms and partial gains are not things to be ignored. We take our stand on them with regard to a number of criteria. In the case of the Water Charge, the great thing is that it was and is being resisted by civil disobedience and if this tax should be eventually defeated through this tactic we should celebrate the victory. We should proclaim that resistance does work, that breaking the law of the State is necessary when it impedes our progress. And that the campaign has exposed the role of the State – legislature, police and courts in repression and service of capitalism. But we should be clear with the movement that it is, however great, a temporary victory – the system remains and while that is so we are open to many, many other attacks which we can safely predict will follow.
The victory of the movement of civil resistance can be put to use for revolution – in terms of tactical and strategic lessons learned by individuals, communities and organisations. The pool of revolutionary activists can be enlarged. This can best be done in the context of a revolutionary movement which is not something we have but which it is not beyond our capabilities to build. But it will not be built by elections nor by electoral campaigns.
As the elections approach we will be gabbled at from nearly every quarter: Vote for Us! Vote Against Them! Vote for Me! Then there will be the shrill “You Must Vote!” and “You Have No Right to Criticise If You Don’t Vote!” And even the fewer but also shrill voices that shout “Don’t Vote!” and “You’re Supporting the System If You Vote!” Really, what a lot of nonsense all of that is. The system will neither be changed by us voting in its elections nor will it overthrown by us not voting in them. Nor will voting in them strengthen it significantly, except in the case of a popular boycott which is not even on the political horizon.
There is an Irish Republican tradition of standing in elections and not taking seats in the Dáil and whether one is a genuine revolutionary or Republican (choose whichever label you prefer) is judged by whether one takes that seat or not if elected. This seems to me to be a false test. There have been revolutionaries who took seats in parliaments on the one hand and on the other, reformists within revolutionary and resistance movements who worked away without taking parliamentary seats. While it is true that opportunists and careerists often wish to enter parliaments in order to further their careers and to pay off their senior party supporters, there is no guarantee that not doing so will prevent activists from being corrupted and co-opted. There are so many other rewards the system has to offer – a secure job, seat on a company board, status and recognition, special awards, publication of writings, career advancement, jobs in various institutions and civil service, funding of one’s project as a non-government organisation, paid expenses, paid travel ….. along with safety from the danger of arrest, the dawn raid, the assassin’s bullet, torture, years in prison.
We can of course vote for individuals in order to keep other individuals out or to put someone we like in or to maintain a useful few voices in the Dáil. But let us not fool ourselves that is really making a difference to the system as such. Only revolution can do that. Of course the revolutionary road is not without its switchbacks, potholes and blind turnings. Nevertheless, it is the only viable road and if we are not heading up it then we are not going to bring about any real or lasting change.
Vote or don’t but the crucial thing is to organise resistance, to contribute to it practically and ideologically. And the latter does mean not spreading illusions.