Although there are good reasons for optimism arising out of the protests that centre on water metering and billing at the moment – particularly the politicisation of so many who had been silent, the problem is getting past the widespread and mistaken belief on the part of most citizens that our only demonstrable power resides in our interaction with the ballot-box every four or five years.
Because of that, pressure must be maintained on those parties that are not FF, FG and Labour, and on independents – whether lone voices or representing groups, to atempt to overturn permanent misgovernment by any combination of those three parties and replacing that bad option with the option of a progressive alternative combination.
Let us admit from the off that the progressive alternative that we can construct in the short-term will not be perfect, but let us understand that we are capable of refining that initial model. ‘We’ does not indicate a top-down leadership but a bottom-up movement of politicised and increasingly better-informed autonomous citizens.
The most important result of the presentation to the people of an alternative is not necessarily electoral success this time but rather the process of breaking old bad habits of opting for the ‘safe’ haven of ‘the divil you know’. We have had 93 years to learn the hard lessons of that repeated foolishness, and we didn’t.
But the next time out at the polling stations in the General Election offers the opportunity to allow enough people to imagine, many for the first time, that there may be another better option. And if it worked (and it’s a long shot) and there was a government including SF, SP, SWP, other leftist parties and independents, but which didn’t ultimately measure up to our expectations, then we are not married to them either – a politically better informed and more adventurous electorate would be better positioned to move the pieces around the chessboard and less likely to accept failure.
There are real signs of a hunger for change and a willingness to leap into the unknown on the part of 40%-50% of likely voters. There are real signs of a growing active citizenry determined to have their say, to speak directly to existing power structures, and to make their demands for a place at the negotiating table.
Writing Sinn Féin out of that alternative equation, failing to pressure that party into moving further left, is to effectively run up the white flag and to consign the citizens to another five years of counter-revolutionary tyranny. There is currently no alternative that works without the numbers that Sinn Féin will provide which may well be closer to 30% than 20% by election-time. There are valid criticisms that can be made of that party, just as there are valid criticisms that can be made of the SP, SWP and other left groupings. Those criticisms should not trigger ostracisation but should trigger honest dialogue aimed at genuinely serving the citizens by creating a viable alternative.
There are those who will have to hold their nose so as to get over the potential mix of an alternative, some part of which they don’t like or don’t fully trust or about which they have misgivings. We all have to do that to a greater or lesser extent. The important thing is that we hold our nerve, dispel the idea that there can be a ‘pure’ revolution, and try to achieve an electoral payoff that lays the foundation for future transformational change if we don’t succeed this time – or even if we do. Light a fire in the imagination of citizens, and fan the flames. And then don’t be surprised if they start exercising some real control. Welcome it.
Meanwhile, and in parallel, all on the left should engage with the process of creating a new constitution for the sort of society (I call it the Irish Republic, but that’s my bias) that we think would work far better for all citizens, and for those who live among us, than the existing failed entity. Venezuelans and others have been able to do that, but for some strange reason we either believe it to be unimportant or that we are incapable of pulling it together. Without doing that work all we have to offer the people as we seek their support are broad principles, often fuzzy, rather than a clear outline of what the state that the citizens must own has to offer politically, socially and economically under that new constitutional regime over which the citizens must exercise ultimate authority.
Leaving the gate open for more of the same dreadful failure that we have consistently endured since 1922 is simply not an option for any genuine socialist or republican whose concern must be implementing immediate change to significantly alleviate the severe plight of many of our people, and whose goal must be the creation of a far better country in which to live, and not just exist.