Left wing political groups in Ireland, and around the world, are characterised not so much by their provision of a viable alternative to capitalism as they are by their tendency to turn on one another and tear themselves apart. The proliferation of socialisms in the guise of the trade unions, the Labour Party, the Socialist Party, the Workers Party, the Communist Party, or the Socialist Workers Party is a symptom of the extreme sectarianism which has effectively crippled any meaningful progress for the working class for at least the last four decades. This is the most significant criticism of socialism, but thankfully it has not killed the idea, and it has not killed it because socialism – contrary to many of the parties’ assumptions – is not the property of the parties but the aspiration of the working class itself.
Criticism of this modern dysfunctionality of the socialisms serves no purpose, either for the cause of organised socialism or the objectives of socialist class struggle. There comes the point where one is forced to offer something constructive, and this is best done in pointing out that capitalism is still the real enemy. While this may seem obvious to some, many have clearly forgotten this simple truth. No ideology exists without conflict of ideology, and it was the power of capitalist ideology that gave rise to socialism long before the formation and crystallisation of philosophical socialist dogma. It too, like the party political socialisms, exists only as a result of the anti-capitalist aspirations of the workers.
Histories of socialist dogmatic dispute have contributed to the identification among socialists of other socialists as the ideological foe rather than capitalism, and this – more than anything else – has produced the present state impotence within socialism. From one economic crisis to another we have seen how disciplined and self-disciplining capitalism is, and so, in line with Marx’s call to unity, socialism too must step out of its infantile opportunism towards a united, disciplined structure. Rather than hijacking popular causes, as some often do, socialism must build a vanguard party that builds and maintains the closest possible relationship with the working class. A vanguard without solidarity and mass support is no vanguard at all.
Imperialism is capitalism in that stage of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.
– Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism
Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky did not write sacred or inerrant scriptures, and so it must be realised that the dogma of what worked in Russia almost a hundred years ago or in Cuba or China afterwards isn’t even close to the concrete realities of Ireland or anywhere else now. Capitalism has changed. Like any virus it has mutated to meet changing social, economic, and political circumstances, and socialism must be at least as flexible as its real opponent. Right now we are the charge of the light brigade. The conditions of labour have changed, and with them the constitution of the “working class” has changed. Our continual attempts to save a now non-existent and romanticised construct of the past are hindering us from meeting the realities of the here and now.