The last thing we should do

On 4 July, an article was published in Socialist Voice arguing that Irish communists should unconditionally support Sinn Féin with no red lines. It even goes as far as to state explictly that “if they utter a coalition with FF, let that not dissuade us from voting them. If they fail to denounce the EU, NATO and offer no economic alternative to the open Irish economy strategy, then let it be”.

It has been said that the article is merely an opinion piece; albeit an opinion piece from a senior member of the CPI. Nonetheless, any mention of “the party” subsequently in this article is on the assumption that the author does indeed sincerely wish this to be the approach of the CPI, and wider communists.

There is much that could be said about this article, and there certainly will be. But before getting too riled up at the sheer idiocy on display, let’s review the article itself and explore what logic is being used.

The key logic at play is what has been termed “transformative demands”. The article uses the following quote to explain the idea:

Within democratic demands lies a transformative element that can turn a simple reform into an opportunity to deepen and develop class-consciousness and democratic principles and practices. It is up to the most conscious members of the class to lay out the transformative demands. These stretch the envelope of working-class demands, because they are shaped by the most class-conscious section of the working class, bringing into clearer focus the conflict that exists within class relations. They are born and are developed from the reformist demands of the people but are then shaped by applying Marxist-Leninist theory to form transformative and revolutionary demands.

There is nothing overly controversial within this, though it would be interesting to see how these “transformative demands” are distinct from “transitional demands” often associated with Trotskyist groups.

The author partly acknowledges how utterly daft the proposal is and anticipates backlash from socialists and republicans: “I understand some sections of the left, socialists, republicans and others, will be wincing, cursing and rolling their eyes up to heaven at the thought of this.”

However, the sole ambition being put forward with this approach is “to upset the status quo”. It is stated clearly that there isn’t even any intention of left-wing demands as part of this. Indeed, it is explicitly stated that “nor should we tie them to one where conditions have to be met”.

As previously quoted, the author would not even put any expectations of rejecting a coalition with Fianna Fáil, or criticising NATO, or even addressing the “cost of living” crisis. It is curious then that the author is so keen on disrupting the status quo that he seemingly has no interest in it being challenged politically in any meaningful way.

Sinn Féin is chosen seemingly because it “is yet to be tied by a thousand threads to the bourgeoisie, the Irish ruling class and foreign capital. It still has roots and connections to the working class, to both the republican and socialist movements”.

This of course ignores the fact that it very much is “tied by a thousand threads”.

This is the same Sinn Féin which actively rules the occupied six counties on behalf of Britain and which has cosied up to the British monarchy. This is the same Sinn Féin that ignored the demands of the Palestinian solidarity movement and went to the White House to meet Genocide Joe, and discuss further investment from Caterpillar. This is the same Sinn Féin which has landlords as elected representatives. Indeed, the article recognises the pressure that Sinn Féin is under to make itself “fit for government”, something it has spared no effort in. It has reassured landlords and businesses that they have nothing to fear from a Sinn Féin government.

If Sinn Féin is to be supported on the basis of its connections to the trade union movement, perhaps the Communist Party should liquidate itself into the Labour Party again? After all, Labour is affiliated with SIPTU and Fórsa, the largest Irish trade unions.

To deny that Sinn Féin has not become a party of the status quo – which it most certainly is in the six counties – would be to deny reality, which would be anti-Marxist. Even from an activist standpoint we must be honest about the fact that Sinn Féin has dropped its commitment to withdraw from PESCO and the Partnership-for-Peace, as well as dropping its opposition to the Special Criminal Courts.

Therefore, pray tell what would be disruptive about that? Parties may represent different wings of capital, or reflect different approaches, but a capitalist party will still rule on behalf of capitalist interests.

There are of course further considerations on this strategy. I would go so far as to say that it is utterly lacking in internationalism.

At a time of growing militarism and imperialist conflict, at a time when zionism has murdered 186,000 Palestinians with the active support of NATO and the European Union, what sort of a communist party drops any sort of red-line regarding NATO and EU militarisation? What sort of communist could simply sit back and “let it be”. Such an approach is a disgusting abandonment of proletarian internationalism and republican anti-imperialism.

To be content with the prospect of a Sinn Féin-Fianna Fáil government is utterly absurd, even by the logic of the author. Surely such a prospect would be more than enough confirmation that Sinn Féin has managed to integrate itself fully into the political status quo of the Irish bourgeoisie? Yet seemingly this is of no concern to the author – communists would not merely silently accept this, but continue to unconditionally support Sinn Féin.

The approach of tailing Sinn Féin is not a new one, nor limited to the CPI. The real task for us as communists and socialist-republicans is instead to show that Sinn Féin are not the harbinger of change that they are made out to be. Our efforts should not be channelled into being the water-carriers of reformists, but in building a genuinely socialist-republican, class-conscious movement. This fundamentally necessitates breaking illusions in Sinn Féin.

The article, whilst trying to pretend that it does not overly care about electioneering, seems to be have a warped idea of the significance of a Sinn Féin electoral victory. Even if Sinn Féin won, it would not change the realities of the Irish economy. The ruling class, the multinationals, and the landlords would not be fundamentally effected by this. Not to mention the reality that the state is ran by the mass of unelected civil servants regardless of who sits in Leinster House.

As communists, we need to set our sights higher than simply disrupting the status quo. If disruption alone was the limit of our immediate task, then we may as well have all voted TUV in the north. Indeed, the author acknowledged at the end that the communist movement must “focus our energies on building a working class movement outside of the existing electoral boundaries that have kept revolutionary potential hamstrung for over a century”. Yet such a movement cannot be achieved by simply acting as the left-flank for a party which is deeply wedded to those same electoral boundaries.

The CYM as a youth organisation does not have any delusions of grandeur regarding electoral intervention, but the organisation knows better than to liquidate ourselves. As communists we cannot effectively postpone serious independent work until the status quo is somehow disrupted, whatever that means. Indeed, this is certainly work which members of the CPI are capable of, and which were argued for in Barry Murray’s article in the same issue of Socialist Voice.

The task of the socialist-republican and communist movement is to put forward a vision beyond Sinn Féin. Not to strengthen illusions in the vaguest amount of change in the ballot box, but to show the path beyond it.

In the meantime, it is well-worth remembering what James Connolly had to say on the matter;

We will get the workers to have trust in their own power to achieve their own emancipation when we demonstrate our belief that there is no task incidental to that end that a worker can not accomplish; when we train the workers to look inward upon their own class for everything required, to have confidence in the ability of their own class to fill every position in the revolutionary army; when, in short, we of the socialist working class take to heart the full meaning of the term sinn féin, ‘ourselves’, and apply it to the work of Industrial Reconstruction, the era of the strutters and poseurs will end and we will realize at last what was meant by Marx when he spoke of the revolt of those who have nothing to lose but their chains.

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