Spaces of a Second Republic

Comment left on Journal column titled ‘Ireland needs a new party to make the ‘Second Republic’ a reality‘ by Rory Hearne, in which the author proposes, drawing on Fintan O’Toole’s idea for a ‘Second Republic’, ‘a new broad based, progressive, political party that proposes a vision for an Ireland based on the values of social and economic equality, community, democracy, and environmental sustainability’.

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There is a problem here. On the one hand, the author says the public has to ‘go beyond being passive consumers and observers and get involved in politics, campaigns and communities’. On the other, he says that a ‘new political party is necessary to capture the imagination of the electorate’, pointing to particular elected political representatives who might form the base for such a party.

The problem is this: if the public are passive consumers when it comes to attitudes toward politics, it is because their political imagination has already been captured: by the dominant idea, held and promoted by the political establishment, that political representation is the only legitimate form of politics. This exerts a near pathological hold on many people, who see politics as a professional activity that operates at a remove from their everyday existence, and who think a political opinion is of no consequence unless it tallies with a stance held by an elected political party. Plenty more see politics as an inconvenient stumbling block for rule by Ryanair.

There is frequent talk about ‘spaces’ opening up in the current crisis, particularly in light of the Labour Party’s loyal participation in the Grand Troika Party. Such talk of ‘spaces’ is generally in terms of mere representation, of electoral choice. Such talk pays no heed to the question of how public contestation might be heightened, or how the urge toward representation might kill off democratic mobilisation before it can even gather pace or potency.

The idea that a party might ‘do what is right for the Irish people’ in the absence of any such mobilisation, in the absence of any ‘people’ making its presence felt on the streets, would be no more than a continuation of conflict-free clientelism within the regime of representation, helping to leave the fundamental contradiction between capitalism (which the author does not mention) and democracy safely obscured and most of the social problems the author rightly highlights unsolved.

It is one thing to call for people to cast aside ‘archaic socialist dogma’. It is quite another to invoke James Connolly in calling for a Second Republic in this way whilst ignoring his criticism that the ‘democracy of Parliament is in short the democracy of Capitalism’. Without addressing the fundamental contradiction between capitalism and democracy, without addressing the basic factors that lead to widespread depoliticisation, especially this fixation on representation, and by focusing solely on composing a viable electoral vehicle, all you will get is a continued insistence that the people in Ireland shall ‘bend as subjects to be ruled’ (Connolly). That is not much of a democracy, and not much of a republic either.

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