Parliamentary elections are always held as the cornerstone of liberal democracies. The idea that voting every five years for a certain leader or party, and that this single isolated act is the greatest expression of freedom is constantly trumpeted and hawked in both the liberal and conservative press alike. This ideological position is often zealously accompanied with references to historic struggles, always delivered almost as a vague fable of how certain people (a long time ago, and the longer ago the better) fought and died for the right to vote. It is not hard to recognize the progressive step that the right to vote has been, but it is also important to point out that enfranchisement was a minor aspect, among many others, in a steady array of historic struggles won by ordinary working-class people. These struggles and sacrifices are not wasted, nor shamed and denigrated by those today who decide to turn away from and shun parliamentary electoral processes by not voting, but more so instead, by those who organise them.
The reality is that parliamentary elections today are a charade. Besides the sham that the people elected are totally unaccountable to their own voters once in office, free to break promise after promise – the greater issue with parliamentary elections is that they do not aim to alter or disrupt the fundamental relations between power and property, nor the fundamental social antagonism responsible for the oppression of the working class in society today – Capitalism. Leinster House and other state institutions hold as the organized expression of that capitalist power in society – with the structural foundations of the capitalist establishment being in the property and land-owning class, the foreign corporations, retail capitalists, global finance, and a sycophantic capitalist media. At the beginning of Irelands modern revolutionary period, James Connolly already understood the role of governments and class relations under capitalism, as well as anyone today when he pointed out that –
‘Governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class’.
However, we do not hold an elitist position towards elections, and neither do we see elections as meaningless nor devoid ofpolitical significance. Elections are instructive and understanding them is of great importance in highlighting the contradictions and tensions that exist within the capitalist class and their supporters. In the current climate of housing crisis, health crisis and worsening material conditions for the working class, it is often asked why those presiding parties continue to be voted to government. Consider this to be the political expression of the interests of a certain social class,and it perhaps becomes more understandable. We may now ask, and wonder, if the working class professed an independent political expression that upset this dynamic, and began to organise and consciously vote in its own interests – would the existing power structure of capitalism allow elections to remain as ‘free’, ‘liberal’ or ‘democratic’?’
On Saturday the 8th of February we’ll have the third election since the 2010 Economic Crash and Banking Crisis – after which successive governments, led by Fianna Fáil & Fine Gael and supported by the Labour Party and the Greens, ensured ordinary working-class people bore the brunt of the devastating economic effects and fallout. Since then we have seen a shambolic recovery, with Ireland being acclaimed by capitalist media far and wide as ‘a great place to do business’.Meanwhile, the billionaires list continues to get longer as therest of us flounder. Working class people get priced out of their cities & face soaring rents, they and their children getendless housing lists and hotel rooms, pensioners get left in the cold or left on a trolley in an overcrowded hospital corridor. We have suffered a material fall in living standardsand under resourced and worsening public services right across the board.
In the previous three elections since the crash, little has changed in the power dynamic of government. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are one and the same, and with the reality that either could realistically again lead the next government after this election. They plaster their faces all over the landscape and are parading across media platforms telling us how they are the ones to fix the disasters in our public services – disasters that they themselves have caused, created, fostered and presided over. The traditional parties are making commitments to spending on one hand and to tax-cuts on the other, speaking out of both sides of their mouth in trying to convince a bewildered electorate that they will resolve the crisis in our housing and health systems, that their ownpolicies have systematically and continuously aggravated.
It’s said that promises made over pints are soon forgotten the morning after, and likewise, promises made pre-election are often forgotten and buried once the dust has settled and the high and mighty take to their perches in Leinster House. All too often for those of us in working class communities, these promises rarely come to fruition. Whether it is housing, health, infrastructure or education, we’re promised the sun, moon and stars for our vote – and these electoral pledges are quickly forgotten once the establishment politicians and sweet-talkers take their well-paid pensionable jobs in Dublin, and their true masters from the realm of native commerce & international finance come knocking to remind them that it is the power of Capital that they really serve. Fianna Fáil andFine Gael have consistently shown us that they work for the landlords, the bankers, the property developers, the big ranch farmers, the moneymen and vultures of Wall Street and those who seek to represent them here. They’ll throw the working-class mere scraps, while they feast at the table, and expect us to be grateful for the privilege. That is the reality of the primitive version of democracy in Ireland today.
Again however, we must also recognize that we have to use whatever means possible available to us in our fight against the status quo. If that means tactically voting in elections, for individual candidates who closest fit the profile of being pro-worker, socialist, or anti-imperialist – then we see it as legitimate to support, campaign, and vote for such candidates who may be best positioned to jar the electoral and parliamentary consensus. Whoever gets into government after the 8th of February, we know that all progressive commitments and promises made during the election will be off the table. Recent experience is the all too painful proof of this. They will continue as before ensuring public money will be used to subsidise the ventures of finance, of property speculation, of property developers and foreign multinationals. Wastingpublic money on one hand and selling and privatising our public services on the other. The establishment parties will always remain committed to serving the interest of private enterprise and speculators over the interests of ordinary people.
Working class people feel and live through the reality of this rapacious system built on a philosophy of greed – but we are also awake to it. And we can take heart that more and more ordinary working-class people are having these necessary discussions, taking a political interest, voting and getting politically activated.
Voting will not be enough though – We need to change the society we will live in and whose interests our resources are used to benefit. We need to organise for the sake of our communities, our cities and towns, our countryside and the environment. Only ordinary working-class people can successfully upset this cosy arrangement of power between the traditional parties, big business and capitalism. The time to start doing it, is now.