What Lowry actually said was an unexceptionable run through of various worthy positions the WP has taken. There was nothing there to frighten the horses (especially since Lowry isn’t what you would call a riveting speaker in the Eoghan Harris mould) and the message might even have been attractive to some naïve person who doesn’t know much about the kind of organisation the WP is. There was some stuff about non-payment of water charges, opposition to privatisation and building an anti-sectarian socialist alternative. Which would all be fair enough, if one had any faith in capacity of the Workers Party to build such an alternative.
Rather jarringly, Lowry dropped into the middle of his oration a call for the restoration of the Assembly and Executive, and pledged the Sticks to building the anti-sectarian left alternative within Stormont, in the vanishingly unlikely event of them getting elected. How they proposed to use the structures of Stormont to do this was opaque to say the least.
And yet – this may have been pie-in-the-sky stuff, but Lowry the unreconstructed Stickie has a slightly firmer grasp of reality than the main representatives of Trotskyism in the North. The SWP’s standard-bearer in West Belfast, Andytown teenager Seán Mitchell, has two posters up. One says, “Vote for me and stop water charges! Yo!” while the other says “Vote for me and stop the Bush/Blair agenda! Yo!” (Of course I’m paraphrasing here, but I have got the essential gist. As always with the SWP, the exclamation marks and Yo should be taken as implicit.) This I suppose is the minimum/maximum programme in action.
Such ambition is not for the SWP’s deadly enemies in the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland, who not only eschew Yo politics but keep their maximum programme strictly for internal consumption and polemics with others on the far left. The SPNI’s literature concentrates on the water issue to the exclusion of virtually all else. SPNI proprietor Peter Hadden, the Oblomov of Northern politics, has divined in water charges the magical talisman that will finally slay the sectarian dragon and unite the proletariat behind the SPNI, and Peter’s trusty serfs have been beavering away in accordance with this perspective.
There is something missing here. The Sticks at least mention it, even if they don’t understand it. The Trots ignore it. I refer of course to the restoration of Stormont.
To a superficial thinker, of whom there are many on the far left, this will not appear as a problem. “Oho,” says our superficial thinker, “but the bourgeois sectarian politicians are trying to mislead the workers by making this election a sectarian headcount. We’re trying to bring working-class issues to the fore.” If the superficial thinker is a pretentious wanker, he might even say this is counter-hegemonic.
It’s a seductive argument on the face of it, and the fact that the left lacks the forces to impose its agenda is no reason for not trying. But our superficial thinker misses the point. The point of the election is to restore Stormont, and ideally to cobble together a Paisleyite-Provo coalition government. That is its function. The fact that the election will be a sectarian headcount is not the fault of Machiavellian politicians – it’s built into the process.
Our scientific materialists might do well to take note of empirical reality once in a while. That is, unless their thinking is, as I suspect, not materialist at all but a deviated spawn of mediaeval scholastic thought. And that might explain a thing or two about the economist mindset.