The Left Arrives

Posted: March 5, 2011 in Welcome

Exit polls showed that the overwhelming motive behind voting in the General Election was anger. Less attention was paid to the detail of the rightwing policies of Fine Gael.

The former Fine Gael Minister, Ivan Yates, claimed that ‘Voters signed up for years of harsh medicine’. But nothing could be further from the truth – the last party that talked of ‘harsh medicine’ was decimated.

The scale of Fianna Fail’s defeat is of epic proportions. They scored fewer votes than the old Irish Parliamentary party in the 1918 elections. Their defeat is similar to the wipe-out of parties like the Canadian conservatives or the Italian Christian Democrats. Only the PR electoral system masked their total decline.

Irish politics is witnessing a new polarisation. Fine Gael’s vote increased by 14% and business interests backed them overwhelmingly. They had the wealthiest war chest and admitted to receiving €2.25 million in donations, mainly through corporate sponsored golf matches.

The business elite yearned for a single party government that could ‘sort out’ the population. The Independent Group of newspapers, owned by the two tax exile millionaires, O’Reilly and O’Brien, were to the fore in trying to create a bandwagon effect for this openly Thatcherite option.

But while a section of the upper middle class backed FG’s right wing policies with enthusiasm, the majority of their voters heard a message about ‘change’. They either used Fine Gael as a vehicle to get rid of Fianna Fail or were attracted to ambiguous rhetoric about ending the ‘two tier health system’ or ‘reviewing’ the Universal Social Charge.

The reality is that Fine Gael does not have the same deep roots in Irish society as FF and so a volatile electorate will soon turn against them.

The election also saw a major shift to the left in Irish society. A new left wing force, the United Left Alliance, now has more TDs than Fianna Fail in the capital, Dublin. A decision by Sinn Fein to tack left over the past year also led to big gains, mainly outside Dublin. And even the increase in Labour votes reflected a class suspicion of the Thatcherites in Fine Gael.

In all, more voters switched to Labour, Sinn Fein, ULA and left independents than Fine Gael. But you would not know that from a corporate media that is desperately trying to present Enda Kenny as the saviour of the nation.


‘It is like a game of Munster and Leinster. After it is over, you put on the green jersey’. This is how Eamon Gilmore described how Labour and Fine Gael could transcend differences and form a new coalition government. He should remember that the last people to talk of ‘wearing the green jersey’ were Brian Lenehan and Seanie Fitzpatrick!.

Both the FG and Labour parties’ leaders see politics as a game where election promises are buried after the match. They want to come together to form a ‘strong’ government that carries through the assaults necessary to save Irish capitalism.

Fine Gael’s extreme right winger, Leo Varadkar, gave the game away when he suggested that in times of crisis, the ‘centre right’ and ‘centre left’ must join together so that they are not pressurised by strikes, demonstrations or populist pressure. ‘Strong, stable government’ is only a code for resisting democratic pressures.

In the next few weeks, the new Labour-FG government will pay over at least €7 billion more to the banks. After that they are facing even further demands for ‘re-capitalisation’ that could amount to €15 billion.

On March 11th, they will go to the EU summit having told that Irish people that their softly, softly approach to negotiation will yield concessions. But they will get virtually nothing apart from a few symbolic gestures or a minor cut in interest rates. The population will still be lumbered with a massive sovereign debt to shore up the stability for the European banking system.

Once these moves are out of way, the stage is set for an all-out war on working class living standards. Labour has said it has no ‘red line’ issues so it will make concession after concession on water charges, university fees, privatisation or public sector ‘reform’.

The hope of many workers that Labour will therefore ‘soften’ Fine Gael will, therefore, quickly melt away.

Labour, of course, could refuse the poisoned chalice of coalition – as a small number of its left wing members are advocating. It could join the opposition and allow a government composed of Fine Gael and rightwing independents to self-destruct in a short time. Or even force FG and FF together to bring about a real alignment of Irish politics.

But its leadership are totally plugged into the political and corporate establishment and will jump at the slightest opportunity of exercising power.

Once trapped in coalition, Labour will follow the way of the Greens and end up as apologists for the right.


The United Left Alliance is the new left wing force in Irish politics. It has five TDs, one MEP and nearly twenty local representatives. Only once before in the 1980s did a similar force emerge.

But the ULA comes from a very different tradition to the old Workers Party, who emerged during the recession of that decade.

It opposes any involvement with, or support for, right wing parties. It promotes the self-mobilisation of workers as the key to change rather than simply parliamentary manoeuvres. It does not support foreign dictators who claimed to lead a socialist homeland. The ULA is a principled left that grows out of workers’ struggles rather than being an add-on to the republican tradition.

But, crucially, the context is very different. The scale of the crisis facing Irish capitalism is far deeper and the country has become one of the weak links in the chain of global capitalism.

Provided it remains a party of struggle, the ULA could expand dramatically. Its growth will, however, require a new ideological struggle to match its huge electoral effort.

It will have to convince large number of workers to break from union leaders who have systematically cultivated a mood of defeatism. The last minute support for Labour to participate in a ‘balanced’ government grew out of the experience of two years where workers have retreated before the employers’ offensive. The main reason for that retreat has been the sabotage of struggle by union leaders who urged acceptance of pay cuts and endorsed a ‘more for less’ philosophy for workers in the public sector. The ULA will have to fight hard to reverse this mood of defeatism.

Left parliamentary activity cannot substitute for the weakness and fear that workers experience. It can only assist the awakening of a new mood to resist. A major strategic goal of the ULA must, therefore, be to build a base in workers’ organisations and win manual and white-collar workers who reluctantly voted Labour in the desperate hope that they could soften Fine Gael.

Second, the ULA will have to relate to those workers who voted Sinn Fein to show that while this party uses left rhetoric – it will not break from capitalism. In the past, Sinn Fein looked like the only real opposition to the political establishment. But across the border they have joined with the DUP in implementing savage cuts in living standards. The long-term goal of Gerry Adams is to enter government with a right wing party in the South – ideally, before the historic anniversary on 2016.

The ULA can welcome many who support Sinn Fein into struggle – but it must seek to expose – in a consistent and fraternal manner – the weakness that hides behind a left republican rhetoric.

All of this means that the ULA has a huge responsibility. It should engage in a process of open debate and discussion to lay the basis for a new left wing party. That party should be a multi-tendency party where the Socialist Workers work alongside the Socialist Party, the Workers Unemployed Action Group, and independent socialists to build a genuine party of the left – while giving each other the freedom to debate and discuss their differences.

But above all it should open itself out to the many new activists whose hopes have been raised by the Irish left coming of age.


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