The US Election

False Hope & the Irish Question

The dust has barely settled on what many have cited as being the final stage of the total emancipation of African-Americans in the US, that being the election to the White House of Barack Obama. For centuries African-Americans have had to endure slavery, lynch mobs, segregation and racism, but with the appointment of Obama to the Oval Office it truly was a red letter day in American history.

It is easy to get caught up in this momentous occasion and let romanticism get the better of us. Instead, we must as always approach this situation from a revolutionary perspective and address the true significance of this event for the working class in the US. and the world over.

One could forgive an American worker for being seduced by the flowing rhetoric Obama brings to the table, especially with the class consciousness of that worker yet to be awakened and developed. But behind the charisma and buzzwords such as "Change","Unity" and "Hope" which have defined the Obama/Biden ticket, is there anything meaningful for the workers of America to grasp on to? Almost certainly not. Realistically, the fact that the Obama administration's rise to the most powerful office in the world signals the end of the tenure of George W. Bush's disastrous reign, is of scant consolation to the workers.

There is no doubt that as socialist republicans our political ideology is diametrically opposed to the political philosophy Obama espouses. One must only look briefly at his foreign policies to see that the American imperialist machine will continue to roll on. Obama's opinion of the Iraq war flatters to deceive, there is no doubt that American capitalism and imperialism will be alive and well in Obama's hands, which of course we will continue to be steadfast in our opposition to.
It is indeed heartening to see the first African-American president of the United States as it shows a unity within the US that had always been tore asunder by the social-ills capitalism drags along with it.

It is a step forward for the nation socially speaking, but does it bring class unity closer by one iota? If we analyze it closely perhaps the opposite is true. Barack Obama seems the perfect candidate to distract the workers from their true class interests and instead restore a false notion of hope to the workers minds with regard to the current economic system, just when they began to ask questions.

During the campaign Obama outlined his main reason for running for presidential office in the first place. It was 'out of concern for his children's future', he said. What world will our children grow up in, what will the world be like in twenty, thirty or forty years time? The question goes beyond the American working class as it is relevant to every worker across the globe. How will the recent progressive events in South America develop and what will the situation be like in Ireland in a few decades time? How are we as republican socialists preparing ourselves and our youths to deal with the issues that will effect our class in the future? The only question we can tackle is the last one posed. It is here we can take the advice of Barack, to start thinking about the future and to act now to make it a bright one.

There is no doubt that republicanism is at one of its lowest ebbs in a long time, something which also extends to the Irish left. With the workers now tightening their belts during this current recession it seems the national question is increasingly drifting down the order of importance in the Irish psyche. The goals of Connolly and Costello seem to be farther away now than they have ever been.

But there is little point in licking our wounds and offering reluctant consent to the current political mediocrity without challenge. We must once again set about our goals with enthusiasm and conviction, meeting any future success or failure with the exact same response: unwavering dedication to taking the struggle forward.
Unfortunately the only change the American workers will see will be entirely superficial, much like the 'change' the Irish working-class has seen within the ranks of the RUC/PSNI after the Good Friday Agreement and the careerist settlement by Sinn Fein called Stormont. Barack Obama firmly nailed his colours to the mast when he endorsed the bail-out of Wall Street.

It's quite apparent where Obama's loyalties lie and they are with Wall Street, not main street. One could also make the same assertion in Ireland when asking where the allegiances of Sinn Fein lie, are they with the Irish working-class or are they with the chambers of power?

It could not be seen as a false assumption to say that once these men and women enter the corridors of power more often than not the electorate who put them there in the first place are cast aside, the pre-election promises left as a fond distant memory. To most of us it seems unthinkable that an individual government, responding to this global economic crisis, would reach into its resources and help out the very people who put them in power in the first place. They would rather let our class slide further into the pits of destitution as each day passes. But for some reason when the major financial institutions enter a crisis, there is a limitless amount of money to get them out of the mess they created themselves. Even worse, it is the taxpayers money being used to do this. Yet the working-class just accept it and raise little more than a whimper.

The corporate elites of society remain unchallenged and are continually testing the fortitude of our class. It is time to arm the working-class with the tools they need to take on society's aristocrats, the ones who's interests capitalism has been a loyal friend to. Almost certainly(although I acknowledge the sometimes tactical usefulness of electoral success) this empowerment of the working-class will not come from parliamentary success.

History has shown the pitfalls of a strategy which places all it's attention on the acquirement of seats in an existing government body, there is of course no parliamentary road to socialism. Indeed, we could look at how adopting this strategy can be detrimental to the struggle when analyzing the failure of James Connolly's ISRP, a valiant attempt at building a Marxist revolutionary party. Anyway, such a strategy even if 'successful' can very easily lead to reform. It must be clear that working within the system has certain limitations for the socialist.

Capitalism cannot be reformed or shaped and it will take a total uprooting of this economic system and the establishment of socialism before the working class will be free from exploitation. Articulate speakers like Obama may allude to change for the working people of the US, but we as socialist revolutionaries know just how empty these promises are. While capitalism exists the disastrous contradiction between worker and capitalist within the relationships of production will remain.

It was quite humorous throughout the US. presidential campaign how John McCain and Sarah Palin(the Republican candidates for the Oval Office) accused Obama of being a socialist in a derogatory way, as if somehow championing the exploited class in society was a horrible affliction. Obama of course laughed such an insinuation off, in fact he was insulted at such remarks. It is not Obama who should have been insulted, but socialist political activists across America. Socialism continues to be misrepresented across the world as some sort of repressive regime stifling creativity. Socialism is not repressive, but expressive.

Back to Ireland, where the misrepresentation of socialism is all too common also. In contrast to the Democratic presidential nominee in the USA, the Provisional Movement clings to the tag of socialism for dear life. At a recent Ard-Fheis one of their cumainn restored sanity to proceedings when they proposed that the party officially drop their socialist charade. Of course this was rejected, ensuring this important principal of Provisional policy(ie. Paying lip-service to James Connolly etc) remained in their programme. Somehow, I don't think James Connolly would have had a warm welcome to Ireland for the figurehead of modern day capitalism and imperialism. I would say this gesture irrevocably damaged the socialist credentials of the Provisional Movement but the reality is that there was not much to damage.

The US. Election, like all such elections was basically a prolonged waste of time and money. That massive quantity of funds could have been used to eliminate much of the world's increasing hunger as basic food supplies become too expensive for many on this planet, or could have prevented many unnecessary and premature deaths from preventable disease. According to the latest World Health Organisation report, thousands of preventable deaths occur every year in Ireland and the United States due to inadequate funding. Thousands more afflict the third world everyday. So what was the election for? It was to settle peacefully, and in a way that does not threaten the stability of the system, conflicts of ambition between rival bourgeois factions. The extraordinary length of the election campaigning process, stretching across years, is to give the capitalists ample time to weigh their options and select their candidate (who is de facto selected by the amount of campaign contributions s/he receives from the bosses and connections to the influential; it is the electoral college that chooses the president, not the popular vote). In other words, it had nothing to do with democracy in the correct sense of the term.

The working-class indeed had their moment, the gracious capitalists once every four years allow them to choose which candidate would be the face at the forefront of the oppressive machine exploiting them. People in Ireland both north and south of the border have a comparable choice. Firstly we can take the 26 counties. The party in government is a centre-right big business supporting party with the largest opposition party to them being politically identical. Labour and the Green Party, both of whom originally had some potential have sacrificed every principal they had at the thought of gaining power. A political void exists in Irish politics, the only difference between the 26 and the United States is that we have more choice on voting day as to who will be the next to exploit us. In the occupied 6 counties the British import of sectarianism still reigns supreme, and both Sinn Fein and the DUP exploit this to achieve more votes. Is it out of order to suggest that the workers have a choice that actually looks after their interests? At this point I will reassert the fact that socialist revolution will not come from the ballot box, but if a republican socialist stands as a candidate in an election we should by all means give them our full support.

Much has been made of his race, but in truth Obama was elected because he does not have a history of campaigning or championing the rights of African-Americans.In fact, he is the first significant African-American politician to not come out of the Civil Rights Movement. Much of his success had to do with his message that race no longer mattered, a line that compliments America's narrative on race- a version of history that owes much to wilfull amnesia.

However, it is important to note that his electoral victory - in a landslide no less - signifies a huge change in American politics. To put it simply, a great number of people voted for Obama because they believe he is going to defend workers rights, end the war and provide health care for all workers. The Huggington Post ran a story in which it quoted the head of the largest union in the USA, the SEIU, who promised to spend the first 100 days of the next congress campaigning to ensure that Obama makes good on his promises to them. This is a change in American politics we should welcome (though not the administration itself). For gone are the days of "values"-based voting, in which workers manipulated by the churches put into power candidates who were openly against their own economic interests. The USA appears to be emerging from the period in which the far right dominated political discourse- the election is being read by even mainstream sources as a referendum on the far right, who were soundly rejected by the electorate who turned out in record numbers. The Obama victory has raised morale for many progressive Americans, workers in particular(It should be noted that religion is still a strong factor for voters in certain areas, especially in conservative strongholds). The honeymoon with Obama will soon end as the sinking economy limits his options in implementing reforms, and will quite likely lead to a period of intense class struggle and possible radicalisation. As a rule of thumb, workers are most likely to be more militant if they organised and have higher expectations. A McCain/Palin victory would've been likely to diminish the working classes ability to resist, for workers would expect to be ground down by their free market policies. Therefore, when the honeymoon with Obama ends, it is the biggest opportunity for socialist workers to organise and spread their message since the Great Depression, and push past the reformist platitudes of the Democratic leadership, taking the needs and deeply felt impulses of the working class as part of their programme. If the left fails to spread and gain more influence from these opportunities, then in time the far right will regain momentum.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that "a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus" and this is what we must be as revolutionaries, leaders in the struggle. The Irish working-class are tired of a self-serving corrupt government and need guidance. We must harness their discontent with the status quo and economic downturn and we must politicize them. Republican Socialists have got to show the working class that socialism and a revolutionary state is the only just system to live under. We have got to educate and mobilize, to show why national liberation and socialist revolution are in their interests. One would do well to remember that without the working-class no matter how educated or committed the party may be there is no hope for revolution. Accordingly, our immediate concern is to build a movement to give the working-class an alternative to a system completely unjust by nature, one which will aid and offer guidance to them as they emancipate themselves.

Soon Barack Obama will take his place as head of American capitalist interests and his temporary romantic call for change and unity once falsely inspiring to the American workers will become a fading memory as another bourgeois politician pursues the interests of his class. He will have to go straight to work to try and improve the current economic crisis caused by the unsustainable system he whole-heartedly supports. Likewise it is our duty to immediately set about our work, to produce an alternative to the current strategy of constitutionalism and reformist nationalism in the six and to destroy the imperialist and capitalist institutions, both foreign and native, that exploit our class everyday.
J. O'Neill

The Starry Plough Magazine Online

The Starry Plough magazine is the organ of the Irish Republican Socialist Party. The aim of this publication is to assist and develop republican socialist ideas as well as to create debate. This is your magazine. This magazine is put together by a volunteer collective of activists and is paid for only by donations, subscriptions and sales. We have no corporate backing nor do we want any.

Likewise we welcome all articles that will initiate discussion.

Make a donation