Socialist Party use 10 Dec to call for electoralist strategy

At the Dublin 10 December protest against water charges I was given a Socialist Party leaflet that appeared at first glance to promise a more left-wing perspective from the SP than usual. The headline read “To challenge austerity you must challenge the system” with “challenge the system” in very large typeface.


There is a rousing revolutionary quote from James Connolly next to a picture of Joe Higgins in firebrand mode:

“The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go.”

The text refers to a “new working class movement emerged into the communities, and then onto the streets in Dublin, on October 11th… people are organising their own fight back.”

To finish the front page they argue:

“Ordinary working class people are the most powerful force in Irish society and the task of the new movement is to organise and mobilise that power.

“The Socialist Party is a cutting edge in the movement. We are the organised political force that is advocating non-payment of the water charges and is fighting for a genuine socialist challenge and alternative inside and outside the Dáil.”

But, as the saying goes, the devil is in the detail – and on to the back page we go.


Anyone who thought the front page of the leaflet  represented some kind of leftward move by the Socialist Party in response to the exciting developments of working class communities organising to block meter installations would have been brought swiftly back to earth with a bang by the details on page two.

In a five-point plan entitled “What the Socialist Party is fighting for” the last two items read:

  • Kick the parties of austerity out of the Dáil – the new movement should stand anti-water charges / anti-austerity candidates in the coming general elections.
  • No deals with the capitalist establishment – for a Left government that ends austerity and breaks with capitalism. The needs of the majority must come first.

The concrete perspective being put forward by the SP is for the movement to give priority to standing candidates in the elections with the aim of electing a “Left government that ends austerity and breaks with capitalism”.

Some may think this strategy of establishing a socialist future through the limited bourgeois democracy of capitalist parliaments is completely compatible with creating much more democratic institutions of working class self-organisation. However the entire history of working class struggle shows these to be quite distinct paths within the socialist movement, one usually taken by reformist socialists and the other by revolutionary socialists.

This is not an academic historical issue. Exactly the same process happened within the campaign against the household charges. We were told that running in elections would not impact on the household charge campaign and yet those groups who chose to run candidates, like the SP’s newly created electoral vehicle the Anti-Austerity Alliance, disappeared almost completely from the campaign. This was a contributing factor to the collapse of the CAHWT, resulting in a bitterness that has left the anti-water charges campaign somewhat fragmented.

The electoralists also continually stymied attempts to encourage grassroots organisation within the campaign against the household charges in favour of groups based on electoral constituencies. It is therefore no accident that they have been slow to build anti-meter installation groups, like we have in Cobh, based on residents groups as the base units with any office holders and committees answerable to, and recallable by, delegates from those residents groups.

I argued in an earlier post that one of the main criteria for considering electoral support to anyone in the next election should be how they support, in word, and more importantly in deed, the deepening and strengthening of these exciting developments in real working class power.

As it stands I am highly doubtful that the electoral perspective being put forward by the SP would meet that criterion. Instead it seems to boil down to exactly what Connolly objected to – patching up the capitalist system.

This is of course not a blanket argument against participation in the capitalist election process, which can be a useful platform provided that it is done on the basis of any successful candidate becoming a working class agent in the enemy camp whose primary role and responsibility is to encourage the development of working class self-organisation in opposition to the capitalists.  This not only best defends us against current attacks like the water charges but also points the way, if only in embryo, towards something only possible through the working class taking power into our own hands – a  different kind of society based on meeting our needs and wants instead of the insanity of the capitalist drive for profits no matter the human cost. Posing parliamentary reforms as the road to transforming society  can only lead to political passivity and the undermining of the empowerment that comes from participation in these more democratic forms of working class organisation.


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