Socialist Democracy Statement on the Northern Assembly Elections
26 February 2007
On 7th March new elections will be held to the Stormont Assembly, the fourth such election since 1996. When local, Westminster and European elections are included the number of elections since that date is eleven. Despite this everyone condemns the ‘democratic deficit’ that exists in the Northern State and all the major political forces argue that it can only be made up by a local administration. Yet we can see that if elections are any measure, the Northern State is as democratic as the rest of the UK State. Yet the democratic deficit persists. Why is this?
The answer is that repeated elections to a local administration do not denote democratic functioning but the opposite. The repeated attempts at a stable local administration and the repeated failures reflect the inherently undemocratic nature of the Northern State. The election on March 7th expresses this fact in its own particular way. Thus this election has only been called by the British colonial masters in order to return the ‘right’ result. It has been openly stated that its only purpose is to result in one outcome and threats were initially made that were this outcome not likely to be achieved the election would be cancelled and the ‘democratic deficit’ allowed to persist. There was no pretence that elections were first and foremost an expression of the popular will. Within the confines of the Northern State this popular will is subject to outside, British control, and has found expression in sectarian competition.
If we are to ask what this election is about we are therefore compelled to note that it is another manifestation of the undemocratic and sectarian character of the local State and the British inability to enforce stability on such foundations. In this particular election we are faced with the intensification of these features of the Northern State and of the policies of its imperialist puppet master. This is expressed in three ways.
First we are offered as the ‘right’ result the election of Ian Paisley as First Minister, in coalition with Sinn Fein. The leading figure associated with vile and virulent bigotry over the last forty years is to be installed as head of the local government. He is to be joined and supported by Sinn Fein which has acceded to every demand of Paisley and whose allotted role is to seek to protect the sectarian interests of Catholics.
Secondly they are to enforce an economic and social agenda, begun in the last Assembly, determined by privatisation, cuts in taxation for business, water charges, increased rates and cuts in public services. The joint proect on offer is to lower local wages to make the Northern State attractive to multinational investment.
Thirdly, there is no evidence that all this can be made to work and that the demands of the most extreme unionists can be made compatible with even the reduced expectations of nationalist workers or the interests of all workers- Protestant or Catholic.
The three issues that socialists have to deal with in this election are therefore, 1. the imposition of a reactionary and sectarian administration behind which stands the imperial masters, summed up in the prospect of Paisley as Prime Minister of the Northern State. 2. The reactionary political and social agenda of such an administration in which ‘rights’ are defined in purely sectarian terms and which therefore generates sectarian competition. What this means could be seen just before the election was announced when the RUC and new PSNI were exposed as having connived in the murder and cover-up of Catholic and Protestant workers by UVF death squads. Thirdly there is the very real prospect that this poisonous concoction will not work and the ‘solution’ sought in yet another move of the political agenda to the right.
A socialist alternative must therefore begin by addressing these questions and deciding in which way this election can be used to advance an alternative.
Working backwards we should not lament the instability of the project for a new Stormont as many seem to do. We should welcome it and seek to profit by it by presenting a principled opposition.
This opposition is one that rejects the social and economic agenda of the new administration, rejects privatisation, water charges, cuts in corporate taxation, cuts in public services and jobs and demands that workers begin to organise to fight for their jobs, conditions and public services.
It is one that rejects support for the new PSNI and calls for the disbandment of this re-branded RUC and repressive laws that are even now being strengthened by the British.
It means opposition to a new Stormont that promises only a deepening of sectarianism. It means opposition to Paisley as First Minister, opposition to the deals that make this a horrific prospect – the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreement. It means opposition to British imperialism – the real authors of the economic and social attacks on workers, the real master of the police and author of repressive legislation, and the real power behind the sectarian Assembly.
Socialists stand for a democratic and socialist Ireland which eradicates poverty, insecurity, sectarianism and bitter division. This can only be the result of overthrowing the existing State and its system, a veritable revolution. Democracy is not possible in a sectarian and divided country and equality is not possible under a capitalist system. The task for socialists in this election is to begin the long and arduous task of winning the majority of workers to such a view, not primarily through electoral activity but through active organisation and activity – through struggle.
It must be clear that none of the major parties offer such an alternative. They are the instruments of imperialist inspired division, not the instruments of liberation from it. The decision of Sinn Fein to support a partitionist Assembly, to support an Assembly structured in sectarian terms – to designate themselves in a sectarian manner and assert rights on this basis, to support the economic strategy of the British government behind which lies privatisation etc, to support the PSNI – disgraced by the latest revelations of its collusion with murder. All this makes Sinn Fein part of the problem, not in any respect a part of the solution.
At least two alternatives present themselves in this election. The first is what is termed republican dissidents. Behind this term lies those who seek simply to influence Sinn Fein and who on that account alone rule themselves out as an alternative to it. On the other hand are others who are better described as traditional republicans, bitterly opposed to the Provisional movement, but who because their very traditional nature have no relationship to the socialist demands that alone offer an alternative to workers. Their demand for Irish self determination is laudable but devoid of any specific class content they can offer no alternative. They offer only a return to the failed perspective of the past, summed up in militarist conceptions of political organisation which because of their inherently undemocratic character inevitably betray their democratic objective.
The other prospective alternative is the left. Two sets of candidates are presenting themselves. The first is the Socialist Party. This organisation has put a great deal of work and effort into opposition to a key plank of the economic and social offensive on workers – water charges. They have in the past failed to appreciate the importance of privatisation to this offensive, of which charges are only the inevitable expression. More importantly their dishonest and narrowly sectarian method of organisation means that they will be incapable of building a mass opposition to water charges or privatisation. Narrow sectarian campaigns which make little or no pretence to be more that small organisation fronts, devoid of real democratic functioning, cannot organise masses of workers. This method of organising does no service to the cause of socialism and will repel the most thoughtful and critical militants.
Beyond this the Socialist Party seems to lament the weakness of the Stormont Assembly and appears to base its perspective on such an Assembly being a means to advance the socialist cause. The reformist core to the Socialist Party’s politics, though heavily disguised by Marxist rhetoric, is cruelly exposed by the sharp contradictions of the Northern State. The undemocratic and reformist character of the Socialist Party is no signpost for workers in a State where questions of democracy and the necessity of a revolutionary approach have immediate consequences for current and urgent political demands. Support for Stormont brings reformist logic - of supporting the instrument by which you wish to bring reforms about - to its absurd conclusion in support for the instrument of sectarian division.
The second left alternative is represented by the Socialist Workers Party which is different from the Socialist Party only in its lack of the latter’s coherence. This organisation again does not so much boil down the political questions facing workers to charging for water services as simply ignore them. Thus Goretti Horgan explains on radio that all the orange and green issues have been ‘sorted.’ This explains why the Socialist Environmental Alliance, one name of the two the SWP is standing under, states that ‘if people want to indicate their choice between the other parties, they can do this with the other preferences but to vote against water charges, vote SEA.’ This statement is so crassly stupid that to state what is wrong with it seems unavoidably condescending. But it can only mean that all sorts of reactionary politics can be held and expressed as long as water charges prompts the voter to give a first preference to the SEA. Without water charges the SEA announces its own redundancy. Socialists must in all honesty say that even with their existence the SWP has no useful role to play except to make socialism look like the refuge of idiots.
The task of building a genuine socialist
alternative will not be taken forward by these left organisations standing
and their greater or lesser success does not seriously impinge on the tasks
facing the rebuilding of the workers’ movement. Such a task will
not be accomplished by the narrow and opportunistic practices of the left
which preaches unity while refusing to unite despite having no political
differences. There are no short cuts. How long the real road
to socialist renewal is depends on the willingness of existing militants
to weary of the poverty of the existing left, how quickly new militants
arise and how and when workers start to seriously organise to defend themselves.
In order to register your opposition to imperialism in this election we
advise our readers to spoil their ballot by marking it ‘Workers Republic.’