Discussion on what the Irish election represents in class terms

This letter from a supporter of the Bolshevik Tendency was originally published in issue #1289 of the Weekly Worker journal (http://weeklyworker.co.uk) in a slightly edited form. The letter below is as submitted.


James McBarron’s letter in WW #1287 correctly points out that Anne McShane, in her article on the Irish election, had mistakenly reported that the Greens had benefited most from Sinn Féin transfers. In fact it was the reformist socialist electoral bloc of Solidarity-People Before Profit who benefited much more from Sinn Féin transfers where they were competing with the Greens.

However, James goes on to describe this as “a class-conscious vote” – which is a very peculiar way to assess this voting pattern.

Given that the first preference of these votes was not for a working class party, it is hard to see how it could be called a “class-conscious” vote by working people.

Sinn Féin are an openly pro-capitalist party who are committed to retaining the sweet heart tax deals for the multinationals who dominate the Irish economy (p19 of their election manifesto).

In response to the large vote for Sinn Féin and the potential for them to be part of a government coalition, Irish business leaders were quick to point out they had nothing to fear from Sinn Fein in power (Ibec says Sinn Féin ‘not mad’ when it comes to the economy)

Those who seek to portray Sinn Féin as part of the “left” might also do well to remember that in September 2008 they voted in favour of the bank guarantee. This bailout of the banking sector resulted in the massive debt the Irish state is still saddled with. This was a significant contributor to the years of austerity which have followed for working people. This was justified by Sinn Féin at the time as being “in the national interest” which any anti-capitalist worth their salt knows is just a code for “in the interests of maintenance of profits and general stability of the capitalist system.”

What this vote for Sinn Féin really represented was a desire for change away from the two big capitalist parties that have traditionally dominated the electoral landscape in Ireland. This was captured in the calls for a “left government” – in the bourgeois parliamentary sense of the term “left” rather than anything to do with class based political analysis.

Voters sensibly judged that voting first preference for what would be the bigger party in this potential “left government” rather than for the smaller advocates of this bourgeois parliamentary “leftism” who would have to hope for the transfer votes from Sinn Féin, would make up for the decrease in first preference votes. The reformist socialists, unlike the Greens, were very vocal advocates of this “left government” approach and so benefitted more from the transfers of Sinn Féin voters.

However, this came at a cost as the Solidarity-People Before Profit bloc suffered in terms of their own first preference votes – dropping at a national level from 3.9% in 2016 to 2.6% in 2020. This translated to significant drops in specific constituencies like member of the Dáil Mick Barry in Cork whose first preference vote dropped from 15.7% to 7.2%. In Barry’s case this did not affect his re-election, as the Sinn Féin transfers made up enough of the difference. However this was not the case for Ruth Coppinger in Dublin, the one Solidarity-People Before Profit TD not re-elected, where the Sinn Féin transfers were not sufficient to make up the discrepancy in her own first preference votes and transfers from the knocked out Labour Party candidate gave the 4th constituency seat to the Green Party candidate.

See https://bolsheviktendency.org/2020/02/05/revolutionary-marxism-irelands-2020-election/ for a pre-election critique of this non-class based approach to a “left government”.

It is both surprising and disappointing to see a long-time Platformist anarchist like James buying into this decidedly non- -class- conscious bourgeois parliamentarianism.