Lessons from Europe for Labour? February 26, 2007Posted by franklittle in European Politics, Ireland, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, The Left.
I thought about making this simply a comment after finding WBS had just posted on it, but I’d like to broaden the discussion out a little bit.
Our ‘friends’ in the SWP are fond of pointing to revolutionary, or quasi-revolutionary, struggles in the developing world and then arguing that the lessons we learn from this can be applied to Ireland. I am told that one SWP comrade, at a meeting about the Shell to Sea campaign, argued that if the campaign was pursued along SWP lines, it could end up with a ‘Morales type situation’. Latin America watchers will know this means the nationalisation of natural resources through the use of the National Guard. This is line with the long-standing SWP position that the further away from Ireland a struggle is, the more revolutionary it is. One wonders with some nervousness what would ever hapen to this habit if space flight was developed further.
I think there is a more interesting, and more applicable lesson, in some of the re-alignments, and attempted re-alignments, in Europe. In 2005, we saw a major victory for the left in France with the rejection of the EU Constitution. This entailed a unification in the radical left of the French Communist Party, the LCR, Lutte Ouvriere, as well as the major unions and organisations like ATTAC. What was interesting, and probably crucial, was the decision of a large section of the Social Democratic ‘Socialist Party’ led by Laurent Fabius, to oppose the Constitution.
In 2006, this time with a united Socialist Party that recognised the need to work with other elements of the left, they came together to defeat the CPE, or First Employment Contract, which would have made it easier to fire employees under the age of 26, after massive, and virulently militant mobilisations.
In Germany, a similar re-alignment took place when former members of the German Social Democrats, disgusted about Schroder’s welfare reforms, quit and established the WASG, under former leading Social Democrat, Oskar Lafontaine. Now uniting with the PDS as the Left Party, they won 54 seats in the 2005 Federal Elections, becoming the fourth biggest party and over-taking the Greens.
These have not been perfect successes. The unity in the French left has not survived the Presidential election bid with parties and individuals pursuing their selfish interest. The Left Party had a poor enough 2006 state elections in their Berlin stronghold but at 8-10%, the whole is greater than the sum of two parts.
In all three cases sections of the Social Democratic bloc, all of it in the case of the CPE, moved away and established links with more radical left parties. Successfully in Germany and with less long-term success in France. In both cases, the split in the social democrats was ideological in nature, part of an opposition to welfare or employment reforms, and the neo-liberalism of the EU Constitution.
So what is the lesson in Ireland? I think the first thing to note is what’s missing. Unlike France or Germany where the internal disagreements in the social democratic parties existed for some time,. there seems to be no ideological argument within the Irish Labour party, with the exception of Labour Youth, and anomalies like Declan Bree. Smiffy’s post points out the interesting phenomenon of Labour bloggers (All very good blogs btw) rejecting Rabbitte’s proposed tax cut. This is the closest to a political disagreement within Labour that is not restricted to Labour Youth that I can think of. Previous disagreements centring around coalition tactics. Consequently, without serious ideological division in Irish Labour, the notion of a split, with sections of the party re-aligning with the radical left, is not going to happen. The days of the 80s and the ideological battles within Labour, and major party figures articulating radical left-wing positions, seem further than 20 years away.
This leaves the possibility, that like the French Socialists over the CPE, Labour could move to the left, obviously not under Rabbitte, as part of a broader realignment. It was interesting to see the possibility of working with Sinn Féin being discussed in Labour Youth’s magazine Left Tribune, though the article opposing it by Donal O Liathain was interesting more for the vitriol and basic errors of political analysis, than because he said anything interesting. Curiously, later in the same magazine he lauds David Ervine, an hypocrisy pointed out by others on this site.
But for Labour to move this way, it would require an acceptance that the Greens and Sinn Féin are here to stay and they better get used to them. It would require a change of leader and political direction, not necessarily unrealistic if they do not enter power in 2007. And Sinn Féin would still have to go through a ‘disinfection’ period before the literati of south Dublin (Also know as the Labour and Green leaderships) would deign to break bread with the Shinners.
Lastly, WBS makes an interesting point that labour still sees itself as having a stranglehold on left politics in Ireland. It reminded me of a speech Roger Cole, a former member of Labour’s General Council and a candidate in the ’04 elections, made at an otherwise tiresome Desmond Greaves Summer School in 2004, arguing that Labour was now the FOURTH party, behind Sinn Féin. Obviously Cole is way out there by Labour standards, but I thought it was interesting he felt able to say this nonetheless.
Perhaps, if Labour does not assume it’s role as leader of a multi-faceted Irish left-wing in the short to medium term, it will find itself overtaken, and not merely by events.