Thursday, September 03, 2020

The Coalition Trap

The Coalition Trap

written by John Molyneux June 27, 2020

This first appeared on the REBEL website

John Molyneux dismantles the idea that the Green Party in government with the right can bring any real change for the working class in Ireland.

One of the many reasons for reading Marx is that he shows, especially in his great work Capital, that the reason why capitalism operates it does, prioritising profit over people, is not because the wrong people are in charge but because of the inner logic of the system. 

That logic is driven by competitive capital accumulation. Every capitalist unit, every business, bank and corporation from the global giants like ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, BP, Toyota and Apple to the your local shops and small employers, is competing with others in its sector to maximise its profits, so as to invest further, capture more of the local, national or global market, and make even more profit, and so on in an endless cycle. 

This competitive struggle is relentless and ultimately all consuming. Any business that does not take part will be driven out of business. 

Governments and state apparatuses of nation states are not outside of or above this process but part of it and subordinate to it. They can influence and modify the course of the competitive struggle  a little bit here and a little bit there, slightly to the left on this issue and slightly to the right on that issue but they cannot alter its overall trajectory or turn it into one that serves the interests of working class people . 

‘Serious’ politicians, ‘senior hurlers’  as they like to call themselves in Ireland,  or ‘the grownups in the room ‘ as Christine Lagarde of the IMF put it, understand this and accept it. They know their job is not to resist or challenge the system but to serve it, perhaps making it work as well it can, perhaps lining their own pockets on the way or most likely doing both. This is why the current coalition is such a trap for any party that aspires or claims to be ‘left wing’ or bring about real change. 

‘Come into my parlour!’ said the spider to the fly. ‘Then you’ll have real power, real influence, instead of just staying out in the cold, sitting on the sidelines’. In reality any left party that falls for this is immediately caught in a dense spider’s web of constraints that massively restricts their freedom of action. 

First they will have ministerial seats at the cabinet table – that’s what joining a government means. These ministers will be in a minority, of course, compared to the ‘real’ grownups, but they will be bound by collective cabinet responsibility. 

Below the cabinet ministers, there will be elected representatives given Junior Ministerial posts which also locks them into the government consensus. Moreover, these ministers and junior ministers will gain very considerable material, status and career vested interests in ensuring the continuance of the government and of their own positions within it. 

Ministers will be subject to massive pressure (and obstruction) from Senior Civil Servants and the bureaucracies that they head. The civil servants will also consider themselves ‘grownups in the room’ and regard any idea of radical change, especially anti-capitalist change, as completely ‘impractical’ and out of the question. 

The pressure exerted by the dominant right wing members of the government and the civil servants will unquestionably be complemented by, and often coordinated with, pressure from highly paid lobbyists from industry. 

Most important of all will be the objective constraints imposed by the major capitalist corporations and institutions: the banks, the multinationals, the stock and currency markets, the European Central Bank, the IMF etc. Any sign of serious deviation from serving their interests, which is precisely what a left wing party should be doing, would be met with falls on the stock market, threats to the currency, disinvestment, capital flight and the kind of economic terrorism that was visited on the Syriza government when they tried to defy austerity. 

And the media would be on hand to blame the resulting economic chaos on those in the government who dared to challenge the status quo – its left component. 

If, as is the case in the present state of the world, the left party joined the government coalition in a time of economic crisis and recession, pressures to make working class people pay for the crisis would intensify immeasurably. 

In such a situation, ‘left’ party leaders would be transmitting to their base, and thence to the wider working class, all the well worn excuses and familiar arguments against mobilisation or resistance. ‘Don’t be impatient’, they would say, ‘we’ve only had 6 months, a year, two years…’ or however long it might be. ‘These are exceptional circumstances’ they would plead. We have to put the national interest first.’ ‘Yes we know it’s painful, but we have had to make hard decisions … in the national interest!’ It is possible to write these speeches in advance. We’ve seen it all before.

Thus the overall effect of going into coalition with the right will be not to advance the cause of the left but to create a new obstacle in the way of change and, if the members and voters of the left party concerned are serious in their expectations or their principles, to massively damage the left party itself. 

Even if the Programme for Government weren’t such a slap in the face to those who overwhelmingly voted for change, those in power economically would do everything possible to smash attempts to deliver on radical promises.

But what is the alternative? The alternative is just to sit on your hands and do nothing, all the establishment commentators will say as one. But this is predicated on the idea that all real change ever comes about through parliamentary legislation and being in government.

This is completely untrue. It is untrue historically – think of the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Irish Revolution and so on – and it is untrue in terms of more recent history, globally and in Ireland. 

Consider for a moment the struggle against racism. In the United States, the decisive moments have been the Civil Rights movement of the fifties and early sixties; the Black Revolt of the late sixties (Black Power, the Black Panthers, the Watts and Detroit uprisings etc); and the current Black Lives Matter movement. None of these took place inside government or legislatures. All were primarily mass movements on the streets. 

Nor is this just a matter of the US – the other great anti-racist struggle of modern times, the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, was also waged not in parliament [Blacks were not allowed in the South African parliament] but in the streets, the townships, the mines and the countryside. Its principal leader spent almost the entirety of the struggle in jail. 

Then there is the anti-colonial struggle. All the great victories against colonialism and empire – India, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria, Kenya, etc. – were won through extra-parliamentary struggle. 

When it comes to climate change, very little of substance has yet been won but it has been mobilisation on the streets – by the school strikers and Extinction Rebellion – that has been key even to put the issue on the agenda. 

In Ireland the massive water charges movement and the Repeal movement prove the same point. And for trade unionists in all countries, industrial action, the strike, not parliamentary manoeuvres, has always been the key to defending and advancing their rights.

In short, an abundance of historical experience in Ireland, with both the Labour Party and the Greens, and in numerous other countries, shows that for a left party to go into coalition with the parties of the right, of the ruling class, is a recipe for disaster both for themselves and for those they claim to represent.



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