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The real price of oil
opportunism and the Irish left
Don't get stuck into a fake discourse of humanitarian emergency - Slavoj Zizek.
The left in Ireland has many problems, too many to discuss here. But one that I have noticed to re-occur time and again is the problem of short sightedness and opportunism. Although this is a problem going way back, I do feel it may become an even greater problem now that we are in the middle of an ’ economic crisis’ and the left feels the need to capitalise on the dire situation the workers find themselves in. Its an obsession with immediate aims and goals and trying desperately to build up their own party to be the vanguard that puts the mind of each and every member in a sort of an activist trance. The opportunity to capitalise on a social issue Now in order to boost their membership and popularity in certain areas is too much of a prize for them to take a class based analysis, which may see them less active in this geographical or social area today but more relevant to the working class struggle as a whole tomorrow. It is the goal of tomorrow, the working class republic, the emancipation of human kind, which should be their focus. And we shouldn’t be afraid to take time out to get our ideological positions clear so that we can move forward with confidence. But instead the left gets bogged down in a morass of actions, just for the sake of action. Which in turn leads to left egoism and sectarianism which also leads to a demoralised and weakened left.
We can see the mistake of opportunism played out in nearly every campaign the left has been involved in going back 30 or 40 years. The civil rights struggle seen the opportunism of some nationalists who thought they could use this social unrest as an opportunity to further their struggle for national independence. The ‘troubles’ epoch also seen its fair share of opportunism. From the opportunism of the liberal left who didn’t want Provisional Sinn Fein having sole access of the working class mandate to the opportunism of Provisional Sinn Fein themselves, who used various working class slogans to gain working class support. You also had the opportunism of many British/Irish left organisations who jumped on and off the partition bandwagon so many times its a wonder they didn’t break a leg. The bin charges is a more modern example but the Shell To Sea campaign is probably the most recent one.
It’s not as if the Marxist organisations involved in this campaign don’t know the real class analysis of the situation, they do. They’re very well educated on Marxist theory and something as simple as the class analysis of a countries natural resources is a lesson they would have learned and understood very well. The problem is that they are afraid to mention this class analysis too loud in fear that it will destroy the IMMEDIATE opportunity to gain popular support and relevance through a campaign that is happening NOW. The Marxist class analysis of the Mayo pipeline situation might cause some unease to the people directly affected by this pipeline and it is an analysis which (in the eyes of the left organisations involved) will only have to be faced up to some time in the distant future, so they don’t want to rock the boat now and destroy this immediate opportunity to gain a stronger foothold in the working class/rural community. But the problem with that is that they have to embrace ideological positions which are in conflict with their own. And in doing so, sow the seeds for an inevitable conflict of interests between them and the non-Marxist campaigners and locals.
They know that the correct Marxist analysis of this situation is that the working class people as a whole have the right to the ownership and control of these national resources. It has nothing to do with the rights of individual farmers or the majority will of the people in Mayo. But that’s the slogans adopted by the shell to sea campaigners and that’s the slogans embraced by the Marxists involved in that campaign. These slogans will eventually come into conflict with a Marxist class based analysis. What then?
If the majority of people in the affected area do settle with Shell (and they will) where will the Marxists stand then? They have been involved in a campaign which has used as one of its ideological arguments the right of ‘majority rule’ (in a Mayo context). When that issue is dealt with by the state they have no ideological argument to continue opposition. It will be a bit late then to start going on about the rights of the real majority, the working class, to the ownership of this resource. So instead of keeping this issue burning, it falls flat. It will just go down in history as another campaign where the left made some small gains (which they will loose in the future) but who were eventually sold out by some bureaucrat or bourgeois element in the campaign. Allowing individual human rights and the rights of a fake majority to be the central ideology of the campaign is playing a bourgeois game, and there can only be one outcome at the final whistle, a bourgeois conclusion. You cant complain about someone selling out to a bourgeoisie deal when their wasn’t even a revolutionary deal on the agenda.
What if in the future we did manage to create a workers republic, and we took control of this resource, would we definitely NOT run it through these individual farmers land if it was in the interests of the people at large? Also, would the majority will of the people in Mayo be more important than the working class of Ireland as a whole? I think not. That shouldn’t be the case even in capitalist society so why are socialists harping on about individual human rights and the will of a majority in Mayo? All that should matter for an organisation which is concerned with the working class, as a class, is what is in their best interests, as a class.
You may say ‘but it ISN’T in the best interests of the working class at large to have this pipe run through this farmers land and inflict a blow on his human rights,’ and you may be correct, but to make those issues the central ideological reason for this campaign is missing the point entirely. Not only is it an in-correct analysis from a scientific Marxist point of view, but it will be counter productive in the end.
The ideological oppositions the Marxists have adopted as their own by being an integral part of the shell to sea campaign and saying little about the class analysis are short sighted and non-Marxist. The only majority that Marxists care about is the real majority, the working class. But the left are saying little about that (apart from the odd poster) in fear of upsetting a fake majority in Mayo. The same logic gets applied by the Left in relation to the Protestant class in the 6 counties. Its a case of ‘don’t mention the war’ and it really is comical.
This narrow approach to ideology and its role in the working class struggle will eventually go against them and what will they do then? Walk away with another campaign under their belt? Sure, you could talk jazz on some internet forum 5/10 years down the line about your parties actual involvement in said campaign, but is that really important? The opportunism applied to the campaign put the left in a demoralised and weakened position after its inevitable outcome. That’s nothing to be proud about. Also the workers will see the left only as a vehicle for reform, not for change. The decisions the left take now will affect its growth, ideological and actual, in the future. Using tactics that are not principled and which lead to inevitable conflict with your own ideology only breeds demoralisation and burn out within the left, something which seems to be a massive problem for all groups.
Infiltration of local campaigns is fine, but if the Marxist analysis is being drowned out by the roars of non-scientific subjective slogans should the Marxists try and find a way to strengthen and individualise their own analysis? Maybe even from outside the Shell to Sea group?
The Shell to Sea organisation itself is small but the issue is huge. Marxists could have a stronger more independent vehicle of opposition than they currently have if they worked from outside the Shell to Sea group or even if they set up a front from inside. They can support the local campaigners while also carrying out their own propaganda and actions, sound in the knowledge that their ideological opposition is relevant up until the day a workers republic is declared and the natural resources come into the control of the workers. No buy out of local farmers will weaken or demoralise a honest class based campaign. Defeating Shell and the state is only possible through the creation of a workers republic. So you must ask yourself, what can we possibly gain from this campaign as Marxists if the inevitable outcome is more than likely going to be a settlement with the state? Is it OK to use it simply as a tool to build your own party? Or should the revolutionary left be trying to analyse the situation to figure out a way to use it to progress the working class struggle ever so slightly in the right direction? Should that be inside or outside the Shell to Sea group? I don’t have the answers but I do think that in order to find them we have to at least start asking the right questions. Blending in to campaigns without making it very clear that you are a Socialist party with a Socialist analysis seems to be definitely failing anyway.