2 February 2015 Edition
Building an alternative involves imagining an alternative
Building an Alternative
We have learned a lot from experiments in socialism of the past but we need to chart a new path, one that we walk here and now, not a dream of a revolutionary rupture
Dr Helena Sheehan is Chair of the Left Forum Emeritus Professor at Dublin City University
IN IRELAND, during these years of crisis, we have witnessed unprecedented anger and alienation, a rising tide of protest, but paralysis in projecting and procuring an alternative.
To break this paralysis we need to go beyond issues, policies, budgets, candidates and constituencies.
We need to name the system that enables an ever more drastic redistribution of wealth from below to above, culminating in 1% owning more wealth than the 99% of us combined in the next year.
We need to identify the class interests masking themselves as national interests. It is not a few bad apples. Our problems will not be solved by changing faces or peripheral reforms.
The Left has an analysis and a vision. Capitalism is the problem. Socialism is the solution. This is far more than a simple slogan. It is the wisdom of a formidable intellectual tradition and political movement.
Under capitalism, the wealth, which stems from natural resources and human labour, is diverted to the profit and parasitic consumption of the few at the expense of the health, education and welfare of the many. Under socialism, production and distribution are organised along drastically different lines: from each according to ability, to each according to need.
It has never been easier, whether in university classrooms or everyday conversations, to convince people of the desirability of this. The problem is believing it to be possible. Fredric Jameson has observed that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
• The crisis in Greece took a far more severe form there and the resistance was larger and more militant
We need to break the grip of the belief that there is no alternative to capitalism and to articulate a vision of socialism. Crucially, we need to project a strategy for getting from here to there.
We need to win consent to a counter-narrative: a protracted and complex transition from capitalism to socialism. We need to fashion a force that will challenge for power, that will make the long march through all the institutions of society: schools, universities, media, trade unions, local councils, national and international parliaments, production, distribution and exchange.
We have learned a lot from experiments in socialism of the past but we need to chart a new path, one that we walk here and now, not a dream of a revolutionary rupture.
Since the start of the crisis, we have seen increasing awareness and critique, followed by an explosion of protest, peaking in 2011 with people occupying public squares in over a thousand cities on six continents, with the 99% standing up to the 1%. This mobilisation failed to find a sustainable form but the problems giving rise to it have not disappeared. Indeed, they have intensified.
Ireland has been part of this. It’s not true that Irish people don’t protest. The Right2Water campaign has been the biggest mobilisation of Ireland in crisis, combining the forces of the political Left, the trade unions and local communities. It is not just about water. It is about the whole system of exercising power and distributing wealth.
The last elections and recent polls indicate a huge shift, primarily to the Left, in Irish politics.
Through these years, we have been watching Greece. Although the same forces were in play, the crisis took a far more severe form there and the resistance mobilised higher numbers and took more militant and creative forms. However, despite all the assemblies, protests, general strikes and solidarity networks, the cuts in wages, pensions and public services continued to bring impoverishment, desperation, suicide, social decline. It became evident that the only thing that would break the logjam and set the society on a new trajectory would be the election of a Left government.
In Syriza they fashioned a force capable of bringing this to fruition. Syriza is a synthesis of old Left and new forces. It is engaged in a titanic struggle. It is not only a matter of winning the election but facing down the formidable forces ranged against them, nationally and internationally, as they move to reverse the cuts, to redistribute wealth and to engage in radical social transformation.
Syriza stands as a challenge to us. We too need to fashion a force that could form a Left government, one that can challenge for political power in the electoral arena but rooted in larger social movements.
Specifically, I believe that we need a new Left party gathering the forces stemming from the socialist tradition, both existing parties and unaffiliated activists. I would like to see this party converging with forces stemming from the republican tradition in an alliance with Sinn Féin that might eventually form the basis of a Left government.