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After Right2Water

Eirigi regroup around a radical democratic programme

9 March 2018

As we have recorded elsewhere, the fragmentation of the water charges campaign has been followed by a series of strategic shifts as the various political and trade union groups have marked out new paths for political action. To their credit, the republican socialist group eirigi have gone beyond the fairly narrow tactical essays of other groups involved in the water charges campaign to produce a complete programme (A Democratic Programme For The New Republic).

There is much to welcome in the programme. Unlike the vast majority of Irish left politics, it is genuinely and unconditionally anti-imperialist and resolutely opposed to the continued partition of the country. There is a genuine commitment to updating republicanism for the 21st century, with support for the democratic rights of women and for the environment, opposition to privatisation and the theft of natural resources, and a commitment to a secular society, free of sectarianism and church control.

However there are areas of difference with the views of our own organisation, Socialist Democracy. The programme remains above all a democratic programme, advocating national unity, independence and thoroughgoing democracy. The phase "Workers Republic" is present, but clearly a full scale workers republic is not envisioned but rather different classes working together as citizens.

Democracy and self-determination

Marxists fully and unreservedly support a programme for democracy and self-determination, but the idea that this can be achieved in today's world without the complete overthrow of capitalism seems far fetched. Capitalism as a world system is in crisis. As the advanced capitalist powers decay they sharply increase the plunder of smaller countries, aided by local capitalists who line their own pockets. There is no "democratic" capitalist class who would oppose imperialism. It is true that other oppressed classes and minorities can be won to a fight against the capitalists, but in our view only the working class, organised independently, can provide the leadership and power to force a revolution.

We believe that the working class must lead the revolution. They can suppress the native outposts of imperialism and advance a global alternative to capitalism on which international collaboration and solidarity must be based.

A concentration on the democratic programme means that it is easy to adopt socialist elements of programme from socialist groups and accept them as true coin. When both socialist and republican currents are moving towards revolution this is less of a problem than when the political environment is heavily reformist, as it is today.

We see the influence of the trade union leaderships and the left reformist groups in the assertion in the eirigi programme that the water charges campaign ended in unqualified victory and that a similar movement can be used to obtain further reforms. Yet the water charges movement was stymied in removing the charging structure or in dismantling Irish water leaving the road to privatisation intact.

Weakness of Right2Water

In our view this failure was partly due to the refusal to take on the broad issue of the overall austerity programme imposed by imperialism through the Troika or to build genuinely democratic structures that could discuss policy. This in turn reflected a trade union policy of social partnership that involved staying within the Troika programme. A human rights approach tens to avoid the fact that only mass struggle on our own behalf will be successful.

The weaknesses of Right2Water turned into a cul-de-sac with the formation of Right2Change. Instead of a call for a socialist alternative we were presented with a call for a series of human rights demands that would be enshrined in the constitution. It is hard to describe what a diversion this is. For example, a movement or government able to deliver housing would not need a constitutional amendment. A government acting in the interests of landlordism and vulture capitalism will not be swayed by such constitutional manoeuvres.

Where constitutional issues obstruct the interests of our rulers they are ignored, as is the case with tens of thousands of US troops pouring through Shannon. The major constitutional issue facing the country today is on abortion, and it is essential to win the broad repeal element, yet it is becoming clear that the terms of the legislation going through a reactionary Dail and the power of the woman's movement to mobilise against another betrayal are decisive in terms of the final outcome and the impact on the everyday lives of working people.

A momentís thought will point up the absurdity of most constitutional campaigns. How many activists will turn away from a battle to force the provision of housing now to begin a long lobby of capitalism to win a referendum?


The referendum call, originating in the trade unions and adopted by the socialist groups and by eirigi, is actually an expression of pessimism about the possibility of mobilising workers. It falls in the long tradition of pressing the Dail to make concessions which is the main activity of the union bureaucracy.

Striking the right note, building an independent revolutionary movement while also working to have the broadest representation and unity in campaigns, is not easy. The trade unions are often the last line of defence against attack, but they also have a role in maintaining social peace with employer and government and suppressing any action they consider too extreme. At the end of the day workers have to organise on their own account, around their own demands. The recent strike by teachers in the US state of Virginia showed dramatically the difference between day to day negotiation and the mass mobilisation of teachers with the support of parents, pupils and other sections of the working class.

Eirigi are to be congratulated in producing a forthright and radical programme that reintroduces the concept of imperialism into left discussion in Ireland, but we believe the merciless attacks on Irish workers and experience in the coming struggles mean that we will all need to go much further in organising the end of imperialist rule and the establishment of the workers republic.

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