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The left in the elections
This crisis of opposition, both for the discredited old one of Fine Gael/Labour and the new one of SF/Greens puts an enormous responsibility on the left to advance an independent road for the working class. So how stands the left in regard to this challenge?
The Socialist Party retained its TD in Dublin West and improved in Dublin North from 2,971 votes to 5,501 coming close to a second TD. In Dublin South it increased from 624 to 1,063. Elsewhere it did not do so well and its candidate in Dublin South West saw his vote decline from 2,026 to 954. In total five candidates received 14,896 votes compared to 12,117 from four candidates in 1997.
The strategy announced by the SP at the meeting to try to organise an Irish Socialist Alliance: that the task for workers was to elect a second SP TD, now looks like the lamentable perspective it always was. This will now presumably have to wait another five years and even if successful, what then? The SP programme was the lowest form of economistic politics and was ridiculed as Ďitís the bins, stupid,í referring to its platformís domination by opposition to the recently introduced bin tax. The SP has absolutely no perspective of presenting and fighting for revolutionary politics and its whole approach does nothing to lift the political horizons of radicalising workers. Quite the opposite.
The Socialist Workers Party ran seven candidates and garnered 3,335 votes compared to 2,028 from four candidates in 1997. The average percentage of the vote declined however from 1.21% to 1.03% and its highest vote was 876 (1.62%) in Dun Laoghaire.
The manifesto of the SWP was an improvement on the programme it was happy to saddle the stillborn Socialist Alliance with but still contained contradictory messages, timid formulations and erroneous positions. It contained no coherent argument and read as a list of single-issue positions, which accurately reflect the organisationís approach to politics. In reality however the SWP campaign suffered from similar economistic weaknesses as that of the SP, albeit to a more limited extent. Certainly its overblown claims for the anti-capitalist radicalisation have been burst and as an answer to the challenges facing Irish workers is utterly deficient.
Public sector workers face an onslaught to their pay, terms and conditions and redundancies resulting from the proposed privatisation of semi-state companies. Such attacks in the past have been successful through the strategy of social partnership and already Des Geraghty of SIPTU is hailing as Ďa plusí Bertie Ahernís support for another partnership deal. Yet this crucial mechanism for attacking workers was more or less ignored by the left, receiving not a mention in the SWP manifesto for example. This, the Nice Treaty referendum and continuing implementation of the Good Friday Agreement are the crucial challenges facing Irish workers for which the election was an opportunity to rally the most advanced workers and awaken wider layers to their independent class interests. It was an opportunity that was lost.
Elections in themselves will not convince a majority of workers that they have separate class interests independent of those that are claimed to be national or that these interests can only be defended through a revolutionary transformation of society. A minority however can be won to such ideas and through this minority the majority also won through application of the political lessons advanced by socialists. The ideas proposed in elections are therefore important because they reveal and define the issues and struggles that are inevitably thrown up and which most workers, often with little consciousness, engage in. In this respect it is relatively easy to see that the campaigns of the left in the election were woefully inadequate, for an examination of upcoming struggles shows their campaigns to have been little use in preparing workers for the assaults they face.