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Gilmore opposes coalition - Let’s all join the Labour Party?

Joe Craig

9 September 2007

The contest for leader of the Labour Party quickly turned into a non-contest with only Eamon Gilmore seeking the post.  He has announced that there will be no Blair-type reinvention of the party; that he will not seek out a clause four to ditch as a signal of a new departure and that he wants Labour to remain true to its traditional values and philosophy, which will not be compromised.  Instead commentators are speculating that he will do what we said was one of his few alternatives in our last article on the party– ride the coming wave of disaffection with a corrupt and failing Fianna Fail led government.

Gilmore has announced that he will; ‘lead Labour as an independent party, to build up the Labour Party independently.  There will be no formal alliances with any party. We will make our own case and develop our own party.  We will be distinctive, we will be different and vigorous.’  This perspective will probably have at least four years before another election puts it to the test.

He has said he will ensure that the party is more welcoming to new members and is reported as being more collegial and cooperative in style, with less of an ego, than his predecessors Pat Rabbitte and Dick Spring.  This dovetails with renewed efforts to organise the party in the North and stand there in the next elections.


The social democratic space and protest vote will be increasingly available to him as the Greens rapidly disgrace themselves.  To their left, (or should that be to their right?), Sinn Fein will have their own problems. They will be even more dependent on Northern successes and any that come their way will matter less and less in the South.  Anything that they can claim as success can only come in an alliance with Ian Paisley, which puts binding shackles on what such success could possibly entail.  If fact it is more likely that their cosy coalition will collapse and the whole of Sinn Fein’s strategy implode.  In any case in the South no amount of spin can compensate for the contradictions that prevent any coherent strategic direction – is Sinn Fein a ‘responsible’ party of government or a party of vacuous but radical sounding protest?

Meanwhile the most remarkable characteristic of the defeat of the small socialist movement in the general election, with the very partial exception of the Socialist Workers Party’s (SWP) front in the one constituency of Dun Laoghaire, has been its inability to face the defeat, account for it and offer a new way forward.  In the run-up to election those seeking a bland electoral unity of the left paraded opposition to coalition as the touchstone of a new alternative.  They identified a crisis of representation as the key problem to address. 

We in Socialist Democracy believe that both electoral representation and anti-coalitionism were the wrong basis for advance.  The problem for those who supported this line is that the adoption of these issues by the Labour party forces them to consider whether that Party should now become the vehicle for a new organisation of the left. The party’s history of betrayal, now going back over generations, and the fact that Gilmore’s uncontested election reveals a deeply demoralised organisation, should – given the views of this ‘left’ – be no obstacle to it being a serious consideration.

This view is strengthened by the fact that the Labour Party held its own in the recent election, the rest of the ‘left’ failed to make any breakthrough, and what advances they could conceivably hope to make in four or five years time are paltry in comparison to the level of Labour party support.

Such a strategy would of course be a cul-de-sac from which the only way out would be an ignominious reverse but, whatever about personal predilections and tastes, the political position of this left has its own logic which will take them where they may not initially want to go.  We have seen this already.  The SWP ten years or so ago looked on in disdain at happy-clappy protest politics but now seeks to generalise and spread it.

Given postulates of an over-riding need for an electoral alternative defined by opposition to coalition, and commitment to a rather vague definition of progressive politics, there is no principled objection to joining Labour.  Certainly no other credible strategy – by which we mean credibly promising significant electoral gain - has been put forward.  In the absence of a perspective questioning the whole idea of electoralist anti-coalitionsim as a basis for an overall left perspective such an outlook will irresistibly gravitate to joining with larger forces.


The alternative means rejection of the twin arguments that the key to a new working class movement is electoral advance linked to opposition to coalition.  As we have said before, if you base your political programme on the self-organisation of the working class such a programme can only be a revolutionary one, one that puts independent organisation outside and against the state as the principle of its existence.  Once independent working-class organisation  becomes the basis of activity the notion that the key problem is a crisis of working class representation becomes absurd. 

Indeed this very formula – representation - is already a capitulation to reformist conceptions, a capitulation that can very easily be conceived as inviting, even necessitating, coalition – so that representatives can defend working class interest at the highest level through governmental participation.  Once again political positions have their own logic quite independent of subjective intentions.

The fundamental problem is not one of giving workers proper representation but of their organisation, mobilisation and struggle.  This is tied tightly to the low level of political consciousness and class awareness of Irish workers.  Raising this consciousness in the process of struggle is the only way forward for building a new socialist movement.  Despite the downturn in struggle we have had opportunities to implement this perspective but it needs greater forces to make progress.  This is the only point to initiatives directed towards socialist unity.

A strategy based on struggle is not the one being endorsed or even considered by the Labour Party and any workers who do engage in struggle will find that party as a barrier in their path. That is fundamentally why the Labour party will fail and why it is a dead end for socialists.


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