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After the No vote – Left fail the first tests of Lisbon

Kevin Keating

24 July 2008

What gives the Irish no vote its impetus and power is not the fact that the EU can’t win the popular vote in Ireland – it’s that it can’t win a popular vote anywhere.

This is quite  problem for capitalism, given that the Lisbon treaty/European constitution is the way forward for capitalism in Europe, supported by the entire capitalist class across Europe and already being implemented in all sorts of areas.

Part of this programme is an absolute contempt for the popular will, so the debate on Ireland is about how to subvert the vote, nullify the peoples opposition, and press on with the capitalist project.

This places a big weight on the socialist movement. It has to begin the process of not just holding ground, but of constructing an opposition that will reverse the tide, counterposing a socialist Europe that meets the needs of the working class and organising independent class structures that will start to push back the gains of capitalism.

The majority of the tiny Irish socialist movement do not accept that analysis. Their strategy has been to unify around a broad front for a No vote and damn the politics.  They see this strategy as having produced the victory of the majority No vote.

Socialist Democracy strongly opposed this view. The loose amalgam sponsored by the left included:

The left of the Greens – with the result that the Greens, a government party supporting a yes vote, were able to retain their popular vote after defeat.

The trade union bureaucracy – the majority called for a yes vote and SIPTU called for concessions from the government as a condition for voting yes. Where they did have objections to the treaty it was on the narrowest of grounds. Jack O’ Connor spelt this out on Mayday when he announced that recruitment was their priority and if they were granted legal guarantees for the right of the bureaucracy to represent workers they could support the treaty. Privatisation of health care or other services were not SIPTU’s concern, as they had made clear at a trade council conference on healthcare. The narrow concerns of the bureaucracy - their own future is their motivation.

The result of not opposing this is that we weaken the opportunity to begin building a rank and file movement and leave the bureaucrats free to press on with the talks with government and bosses and the assault on the working class that a revamped social partnership will represent.

Sinn Fein were elevated to honorary socialism during the campaign even though their opposition was limited to specific elements of the treaty rather than the overall assault on workers rights. The fact that they renounced their past opposition to all the previous treaties up to the Nice treaty and now supported the overturning of the Nice ‘No’ vote was glossed over to maintain the fiction of unity. As a result they were able to refurbish the left gloss that their right-wing programme in the last election had cost them.  As the only No party in the Dail they are able to pose as the leadership of the left and are well placed to win concessions for their movement at the expense of the working class. 

A series of recent meetings have thrown into sharp relief weakness and incoherence of the left and the shallowness of their claims to leadership. These involved a number of SWP/People before Profit meetings, a meeting of CAEUC (Campaign Against the EU Constitution) and a protest against the visit by Sarkozy.

A simple point to make about all three meetings is that the numbers involved make it clear that the left did not lead any sizable campaign against Lisbon.  Particularly embarrassing was the small CAEUC meeting.  Its claims to represent a united left were refuted during the campaign, with plenty of testimony to its real role as a foil for the socialist organizations who essentially conducted their own separate campaigns – electoralist operations in areas they hope to establish as constituency areas. Grandiose plans for directing a future campaign reduced to a few SWP and their fellow-travelers.

The biggest meeting, a Dublin SWP meeting of 130, was based around an analysis by Francois Duval of the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire.  The French had had a successful No vote.  This was organised around the alternative of a social Europe. Out of this victory was coming a new mass party based around the LCR.  The French revival was part of a more general socialist revival in Europe.

There is much to doubt in this analysis. The success of the no vote was followed by the election of Sarkozy, the defeat of a mass strike by public sector workers, the almost effortless reversal of the No vote in a parliamentary endorsement of the Lisbon treaty and, as I write, the abolition of the 35-hour week for French workers. Just what the dissolution of the LCR into its own periphery will do to reverse these events is unclear, as is the nature of the political unity between the different ‘new’ parties across Europe.

No matter. This is an SWP meeting.  There is no discussion of the situation in France or in Europe generally. An attempt by myself to find out what a social Europe is, as opposed to a socialist Europe, was met with anger. There are new parties in Europe. That means it is time for a new party in Ireland, consisting of the fusion with the Campaign for an Independent Left (CIL), the warmed up leftovers of the last unity drive. There is no chance that this patchwork, empty of politics, will lead the campaign against capitalist Europe, let alone unite socialists.

The first test comes with the Sarkosy visit. Sarkosy offers the conventional gambit of the bourgeois politician with an offer to meet some of the opposition.  For those demonstrating under the slogan No means No the simple response is to refuse. Instead the left simply fell apart.  Some go in. Some stay out.  The SWP, in unconscious homage to Sinn Fein, are in and out at the same time.  Some of those left out complain that they weren’t invited in.

At the same meeting Sinn Fein, well inside the tent, declare their willingness to work to resolve the difficulty within the framework of a capitalist Europe. The left ignore their collaborationist role

In the meantime a member of the putative new party organises a public meeting where Jack O’Connor of SIPTU will set out his views on the Lisbon treaty – he already has: 

“The Government does not need to renegotiate the Treaty to give a commitment that it would implement Article 28 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It would also signal clearly to the Republic’s workers that the new EU structures would benefit them, as well as employers”

For the likes of Jack O’ Connor class struggle does not exist even when the EU codifies a vicious campaign to strip workers of the right to the most basic trappings of civilisation in order to prop up their ailing system. The essence of social partnership is a denial of the need for class organisations such as unions. They in turn lose any rationale for their very existence. Campaigns for increased membership and the right of the bureaucracy to represent workers in these circumstances are doomed to failure.  The ‘left’, so long and deep in denial of the collaborative role of the bureaucracy in the capitalist offensive, adapt their politics so that defeats become victories (Irish Ferries).  Cynical posturing and manoeuvres such as strike ballots on everything and anything in, for instance, the ESB, Health Service and Aer Lingus, while collaborating on the central issue of privatisation receive their resounding endorsement.

The socialists don’t seem to be aware of the difference between democratic issues where we might ne able to work with liberal groups and the programme of socialism. Defence of neutrality is now being advanced by the SWP and the rest of this unity alliance without them seeming to be aware of any contradiction between this and the anti imperialist traditions of  Connolly and the working class.

The first step in building an opposition to Lisbon is to oppose forces such as Sinn Fein, the Greens and the union bureaucracy in their betrayal of the workers.  The ‘unity’ current are unwilling to do this and that makes them a barrier to a fightback rather than an asset.


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