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Ireland: Socialist Workers Party calls for a `broad radical left party'

Joe Higgins.

By the Socialist Workers Party (Ireland)

June 11, 2009 -- The election of Joe Higgins as MEP and the defeat of Fianna Fail in Dublin indicates that the political landscape is changing. The recent elections represent a seismic shift in Irish politics. Ever since 1927, Fianna Fail has dominated the working-class vote but this has now changed -- most probably forever.

Even before the current economic crisis, the Fianna Fail vote had entered a long slow decline. At the height of the Celtic Tiger, for example, Bertie Ahern scored less votes than Charlie Haughey. When the crash hit, Fianna Fail dropped all pretence of populism and launched an aggressive attack on working-class conditions.They have now paid dearly for this.

The electoral base of the Greens has also been decimated. The Greens claimed that they are in government to help save the planet from environmental decay. But they have stood over decisions which have cut the public bus service. They have also voted for cuts in education spending, even while defending the absurd bail out of the banks. Their removal from local authority councils is therefore well deserved.

The major immediate beneficiary is Fine Gael which has been re-furbished through a huge influx of funds from business. At its core, are a new generation of hard-right young politicians such as Varadkar and Creighton who want to intensify attacks on the public sector. On the doorstep, however, Fine Gael played up the populist card, denouncing the 'bail-outs' of the banks.

Fine Gael is seen by many workers as a vehicle for getting rid of Fianna Fail.

The most serious long-term shift in Irish politics is the swing to the Labour Party. It is the strongest party in Dublin and has gained from its verbal shift to the left. It has opposed the bail out of the banks and has distanced itself from Fine Gael. Its growth is part of a greater class consciousness among urban workers.

But Labour can face in one of two ways. It can talk left for a while -- in order to gain greater leverage in a future coalition with Fine Gael or even Fianna Fail. It did this in the late sixties when it went through a ``socialist'' phase and after the Spring tide of 1992. Significantly, Eamon Gilmore has refused to rule out coalition with Fine Gael.

A more ambitious perspective would be to form ``an alliance of the left'', which is advocated by both the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union's Jack O Connor and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams. This would see Labour and Sinn Fein -- and possibly even a reformed and repentant Green Party come together to offer a ``third option'' in Irish politics.

While this might be welcomed as a shift to the left, it still contains severe limitations.

First, both Labour and Sinn Fein are committed to the management of Irish capitalism. Both advocate ``temporary'' nationalisations of the banks; both want more support for business; and both only advocate more public spending rather than the re-organisation of an economy on socialist lines.

Second, both parties define politics primarily in terms of electoral activity rather than popular mobilisation. The Labour Party, for example, opposed a national strike on March 30 and its leader Eamon Gilmore told an IMPACT conference that industrial action in the public sector was a thing of the past. Both will verbally oppose water charges but will advise against a non-payment campaign.

In this context, the vote of the radical left offers some real hope for the future. Today the People Before Profit Alliance, the Socialist Party, the Workers and Unemployed Action Group have all individually more councillors than the Greens. Collectively they could be within striking distance of Sinn Fein. Joe Higgins' magnificent victory in the Euro election in Dublin, replacing SF's Mary Lou McDonald, is another indication of the same tendency. Voting patterns in Dublin indicate many are already wary of Sinn Fein's zig-zagging between left and right.

The vote for the radical left is all the more significant because it grew alongside the swing towards the reformist left -- and before Labour or a Labour-Sinn Fein Alliance had been tested in office.

The radical left must now enter discussions to form either an alliance or broad radical left party, where different tendencies can co-exist. Previous arguments that such a development might be ``premature'' make little sense today.

The Socialist Workers Party is already working productively within the People Before Profit Alliance, promoting its own distinctively revolutionary socialist views while working with others on the 90 per cent we also agree on. There is absolutely no reason why an alliance of this sort cannot be expanded.

We are only at the start of a deep economic crisis -- where even more wage cuts, water charges and redundancies will be imposed on workers. There is now a responsibility on the left to offer serious policies which assume the possibility of an end to capitalism.

[The Socialist Workers Party (Ireland) has a website at http://www.swp.ie/.]

Comments

JOE HIGGINS

Please send joe over here to the USA cuz we need someone like him here...goddess help us...Congrats to JOE...you are the best. i dont think anyone anywhere has seen the likes of this type of honorable politician...Best of everything for
Ireland.

Sinn Fein councillor quits and joins Socialist Party

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Via the Socialist Party (Ireland)'s website:

Cllr Domhnall O Cobhthaigh resigns from Sinn Fein to join the Socialist Party

Sinn Fein councillor Domhnall O Cobhthaigh today announced his resignation from the party at a press conference in order to join the Socialist Party to “build a cross-community opposition to the right-wing economic policies of the Assembly Executive”.

Fermanagh Cllr Domhnall O Cobhthaigh who has served on Fermanagh District Council for the past two years claimed he could no longer remain in Sinn Fein as it was now part of an Assembly Executive which is “implementing cuts, job losses and privatising public services”.

Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP for Dublin welcomed Mr O Cobhthaigh’s decision to join the Socialist Party today in Belfast

“The Socialist Party seeks to build a movement of working and unemployed people in Northern Ireland in Protestant and Catholic communities against the attacks on jobs, wages and services which are being pursued by big business and the parties in the Assembly. We warmly welcome Domhnall as a valuable member of the Socialist Party and look forward to building a genuine socialist alternative in Fermanagh for working people and youth.”

Jim Barbour of the Fire Brigades’ Union welcoming Mr O Coghthaigh’s decision claimed

“There is an urgent need to develop a cross-community anti-sectarian political alternative for workers who are facing massive job losses and attacks on wages, terms and conditions. It is nothing short of a disgrace that while the banks are bailed out to the tune of billions, ordinary working people are paying the price for their crisis. Domhnall’s decision today is a welcome development in building a socialist voice for workers. We are also working closely alongside our colleagues in Britain campaigning for a new mass party to represent working class people who have been long abandoned by New Labour.”

Mr O Cobhthaigh also stated that he has resigned his council seat.

“Despite my happy experience in working with the communities of Erne West and Enniskillen in demanding improvements, I feel it would be indefensible to retain a council seat to which I have not been elected (I was co-opted to the seat in 2007). Therefore, I have decided to resign from my seat on Fermanagh District Council.

Why I have resigned from Sinn Fein to join the Socialist Party

Councillor Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh resigns from Sinn Féin and Fermanagh District Council
3rd September 2009

“I have decided to resign from Sinn Fein after a period of careful reflection. Over the past twelve years I have worked tirelessly to develop Sinn Féin as an engine of change. Leaving is a very difficult decision given the many friends I am leaving behind in the party.

“I consider that the current economic crisis has brought to antagonism the contradiction between the nationalist and socialist agendas within Sinn Féin. I have struggled for many years to promote the agenda of community empowerment and opposition to neo-liberal economics but realise that I cannot now usefully continue that within Sinn Féin. As a result I have decided to resign my party membership.

“Despite my happy experience in working with the communities of Erne West and Enniskillen in demanding improvements, I feel it would be indefensible to retain a council seat to which I have not been elected (I was co-opted to the seat in 2007). Therefore, I have decided to resign from my seat on Fermanagh District Council.

“Over the past year, I have come to understand that the Assembly system itself only reinforces the sectarian divisions within our society. All five mainstream parties are doing little more than overseeing the long-term administration of senior civil servants and their right-wing agenda. While I still have the greatest of respect for many of my former colleagues within Sinn Féin, I cannot see how they will change this significantly in the context of the current framework of governance.

“I welcome the fact that we now live largely free from violence. I believe that working class people played a key role in what became known as the peace process through their opposition to sectarian violence. Today however deep sectarian divisions remain and low level sectarian violence continues. The main Assembly parties have a shared right-wing economic agenda. Their policies of cuts and privatisation only cement sectarian division.

“I also want to use this opportunity to unambiguously reaffirm my opposition to all groups who would wish to take us backwards to conflict or who would further increase divisions between sections of the working-class.

Looking forward for change

“I wish to play my part in building a cross-community working-class platform to oppose the cutbacks which are being forced on working people to pay for the bailouts for the super-rich and which leave Fermanagh communities suffering from second-class provision right across the board.

“Over the past two years I have learnt that there are very many people who share my commitment to fundamental change. I know that the effects of the current downturn are impacting on all but I am aware of their particular impact on young people who are leaving education only to struggle to find employment. The mainstream parties do not deliver and cannot deliver for working class and young people. As a result, there is a growing gap between all the mainstream parties and the majority of people, particularly the working class.

“I am convinced that change can only come about if working, unemployed and young people themselves organise to challenge the status quo. We have seen the power of effective local campaigns in fighting against health cutbacks and against the imposition of water charges. The sad truth is if we are waiting for change to come at the hands of any of the mainstream parties, then we will wait a long time indeed. Working people must organise themselves against cuts and to defend jobs.

“Having looked around I am convinced that the Socialist Party offers a platform from which to build such campaigns and is determined to achieve fundamental change in the way society is organised. I am now committed to working alongside party members in building the party in Fermanagh to struggle alongside workers and our communities at every possibility.”

“As a first step in building this, I will be organising an open night in Enniskillen Library to discuss the reasons for my leaving Sinn Féin and the way forward for resisting the Assembly’s agenda of austerity.”

 

Re: Sinn Fein councillor quits & joins Socialist Party

Re: Sinn Fein councillor quits & joins Socialist Party

Opposing neoliberal policies is admirable, as is a desire to breakdown
sectarianism in the working class. But unfortuantely, the Socialist Party
give no weight to the national question, the ongoing national oppression in
Ireland - arguing that it is a distraction that divides the working class.
In particular, that has beenthe SP position on the movement for Catholic
civil rights and breaking down the deeply entrenched sectarian privileges of
the protestent population in the six counties in the north.

They have even argued it was about Catholic supremecy. As such, their
position on republican prisoners during the armed conflict was
particuiolarly atrocious. They refused to recognise the republicans in the
concentration camps as prisoners of war (fighting foreign occupation),
instead arguing during the time of the hunger strikes that hunger strikers
like Bobby Sands should be tried by a "workers' tribunal" organised by the
trade union movement The trade union movement was dominated by forces that
either supporterd, or were largely uncritical of, British rule, meaning
Bobby Sands and his comrades would face another trial controlled by forces
friendly to British rule.

It is one thing to argue to break down sectariansim and for working class
unity, but it is like asking for unity between Palestinian and Israeli
workers without making the *basis* of this unity the ending of Palestinian
oppression.

Domhnall O Cobhthaigh talks of the "contradiction between the nationalist
and socialist agendas" in Sinn Fein. If he was not joining a party renowned
for its hostility to the national liberation struggle, it could be argued
that by "nationalist" he just meant a particular brand of middle-class
pro-capitalist moderate nationalism. But as he has joined a party hostile to
the struggle for national liberation, it implies a contradiction
between republican politics (the struggle for national liberation) and
socialism.

But there is no necessary contradiction between resolving the national
question and the struggle for socialism, as long as the features of national
oppression exist, the srtuggle for socialism will be bound up with struggle
for national liberation. Oppression and greivances relating to the national
question don't disappear simply because a socialist group says there needs
to be working class unity, any more than racial oppression disappears
because someone calls for black and white workers to unite.

Even on the question on which O Cobhyhaigh left Sinn Fein on, the
implementation of neoliberal policies by the Northern Ireland administration
Sinn Fein particiaptes in as part of the power-sharing deal accompnying the
peace process, the national question is an important one. The budget that is
administered by the authorities in the six counties making up the northern
statelet is controlled by London. The main economic policies implemented are
decided and enforced by London. That is where the power lies in this case.

The compromises made by SInn Fein to be part of the administration bind it
to help implement neoliberal policies, despite having an anti-neoliberal
program (which they push in the south). They don't have the power, within
the existing set-up, to do otherwise.

Leaving aside the question of whether Sinn Fein are right or wrong to
participate in this, it ties in immediately to the national question. It is
matter of basic democracy that the Irish people are entitled to administer
their own affairs. To have it imposed by the government of a foreign power
violates the national rights. The struggle for pro-people policies is *not*
in contradiction with republicanism, but the creation of a 32-county
republic would ber a democratic advance for the Irish people, it would
strengthen Ireland as a nation, rather than it currently being carved up
into the 26 county southern state and six county northern statelet
controlled by Britain.

It would make the issues simpler. It would remove the national question as a
barrier to class struggle by creating the formal structures by with the
Irish people can govern themselves and decide their economic polcies. Of
course, such power is only formal - in the southern state, real power lies
with the capitalist class, which is happily implementing brutal
neoliberalism. Without foreign control dividing and weakening the country,
the question becomes a more straightforward one of what sort of Ireland? Who
gets to govern a formally indepedent Ireland? The people or a clique of
capitalists? What does real independence mean?

The struggle for a 32-county Ireland is important — it is not counter-posed
to socialism, but is important in the struggle for a 32-country socialist
republic, which, on paper at least, Sinn Fein is committed to.

That is why it strikes me that, while leaving Sinn Fein mightlbe a good
thing to do, the decision to leave for the Socialist Party seems strange and
not a step forward.

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