SWP: After the United Left Alliance forumhttp://www.swp.ie/editorial/after-united-left-alliance-forum/4602
The United Left Alliance held a successful national forum on Saturday with about 350 people in attendance . The mood at the daylong conference was very upbeat and confident. It is clear that a new left wing force is emerging with branches in most major towns in Ireland. Reports at the conference indicate that the ULA is already having a strong impact.
Paddy Healy, from the Workers and Unemployed Action Group, stated that a recent ULA bill on the JLCs in the Dail had severely rattled the Labour Party.
‘The United Left Alliance recently moved a bill in Dail Eireann to protect JLC rates and Sunday premium pay. The venom of Labour’s attack showed their nervousness. But since the bill was introduced, we have also learnt that Bruton’s bill to scrap the JLC has been postponed. Labour is under pressure from the left.’
Michael O Brien from the Socialist Party said that ‘Sinn Fein moved a good resolution opposing water charges. But the ULA had to put down an amendment calling for a mass campaign of non-payment. It showed that the ULA is a stronger, more genuine left.’.
The conference kicked off with a large plenary session on the left’s response to the economic crisis.
Terry McDonogh ,a professor of economics in NUIG, outlined a five point economic programme that should form the core of the left’s response. There should be a default of Ireland’s debt; we should exit the euro to gain control over currency; the state should provide a guarantee of the right to work; Ireland’s natural resources should be taken into public ownership.
Kieran Allen from the Socialist Workers Party claimed that conventional economists cloaked their political choices in favour of the upper class in a technical language. Replying to a debate about more boldly asserting socialism, he said:
‘It is not about how many times you mention the word socialism. It is
whether you are capable of spelling out in concrete ways what it means
and how you will get there.’
He went on to argue that a ‘not for profit’, socialist society would base itself on public ownership of the major economic units of the economy. These needed to be organised through ‘self management’ and be part of a democratically planned economy’.
Throughout the day participants broke up into groups and attended 12 workshops. These were conducted in a democratic fashion and produced a lively debate between the different sections of the left.
Summing up the conference Brid Smith, a People Before Profit councillor and member of Socialist Workers Party said:
‘There should be no long summer rest. The IMF are coming to town in July and all the supporters of the United Left Alliance should be building for a massive display of opposition. The Enough! Campaign has called a mass demo on Saturday 16th and we should all get to it’.
A number of debates occurred at the United Left Alliance conference but these were conducted in a new spirit of comradeship between the different elements of the left. Far from weakening the alliance, the openness and diversity of views strengthened it. There were four key topics of debate.
A SOCIALIST PROGRAMME NOW?
This debate kicked off in the first session when the Socialist
Party’s National Secretary, Kevin McLoughlin, stated that they would be
fighting to get the ULA to adopt a socialist programme.
However, it soon became clear that were a number of ambiguities on this issue.
Neither the SP nor the SWP have any difficulty with using the word ‘socialist’ as it is included in the titles of their organisation. The question, however, is what type of socialist programme? It could be a revolutionary socialist programme which stated clearly that an uprising rather than parliamentary change was required to bring about socialism. Or it could be a more general set of socialist demands and not spell out the exact steps required in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
If it is the former then the programme would differ little from that of the SWP – or the SP. Yet the ULA is being constructed as a broad movement where those who are not yet fully convinced of the need for revolution can join and participate.
Some within the ULA see such a broad, plural party as the end point of the process. As one speaker from the Campaign for an Independent Left put it ‘the material roots of reformism’ have been removed and a right wing tendency will not emerge within the ULA.
This, however, ignores how other radical left formations in Europe such as the Refundatzione Communists in Italy were also pulled back into reformism when they supported a left of centre government.
A dual strategy is required to resolve these issues. It is necessary to construct the ULA on the broadest possible basis, creating a space for those who still have reformist beliefs but who want to fight. But it is also important that revolutionary socialist forces organise within the ULA on an open and democratic basis to win the majority to the need for an overthrow of capitalism.
Moreover, the purity of a programme is no guarantee that a party remains set on the course of revolution. Reformism does not arise simply from the betrayals of a leadership but has deeper roots in the experiences of the working class during periods of ‘normal’ capitalism when it does not enter a crisis.
One can find many examples in history of parties with pure programmes who fail to develop a revolutionary practice.
The major parties of the Second International – the socialist movement between 1870 and 1914 – all had ‘socialist programmes’ but then capitulated before national chauvinism. Even the Russian revolutionary Lenin, thought that they were committed to the overthrow of capitalism until he witnessed with horror their support for the war.
The ULA must, therefore , be seen as a development towards explicit revolutionary methods. Many of these can be learnt from the experience in struggle. Others can develop through ideological argument. But all of this will progress better if the ULA is a large broad force that mobilises thousands of new left wing activists.
THE UNITED FRONT
Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD argued that the ULA should always oppose Labour Party TDs being on the platform of any campaign. Given the hostility to Labour, this view was understandable but there is a deeper debate about whether or not the ULA should position it to work with others on the left in broader campaigns.
Mass movements are normally not set into motion by the decisions of a Steering Committee of a political party. Typically, they involve broad diverse forces which initially galvanise large numbers of protestors and then divide on how best to pursue the movement.
The Egyptian revolution against the Mubarak dictatorship was initiated by protests organised by different sections of the left and liberals who wanted democracy. The Spanish protests had even a distinct anti-political party tone to them.
Even short of full scale mobilisation, smaller campaigns often involve diverse forces. Over the past month, for example, hundreds have come to bus protest meetings in Dublin precisely because they have not been ‘branded’ as belonging to one political formation. At those meetings, socialists make known their political affiliation and proposals for action in an open and clear way.
Instead of simply ULA ‘branded’ campaigns it is necessary to initiate movement where we work with broader forces. If there are large scale mobilisations or campaigns, debates on tactics that invariably arise between reformist and revolutionaries, can be conducted in front of many people. Closing off this possibility by insisting that only pure left wing forces are involved is a recipe for a retreat into propagandism.
Undermining the Labour Party requires a sharp tactical sense. Its leadership are totally wedded to the system and the IMF programme. But the aprty won a base in working class areas because it promised reform.
In many real popular struggles, workers will request what is the position of Labour representative on issues. If unions are involved, they will also push for Labour party speakers. The key issue for the ULA is to argue for real popular struggles that involve all who want to fight and within that to explain that the words of Labour party representatives are utterly useless unless they break from the IMF programme by actually voting for left resolutions.
SHOULD THE ULA EXPAND TO THE NORTH?
The SWP, People Before Profit and the Workers and Unemployed Action Groups think it should. The SP think not.
Since the time of James Connolly socialists have opposed partition and promoted the idea of a 32 county socialist Ireland. This will involve a challenge to both Irish states who were born, amidst what Connolly called, ‘a carnival of reaction’.
The SP argue, however , that the ‘timing is not right’ to form the ULA as a thirty two county organisation. They also argue that there are considerable differences between socialists on the national question.
However, the joint government of Sinn Fein and the DUP is about to implement a major cuts programme that will attack the living standards of both Catholic and Protestant workers.
Even before these attacks have begun, two People Before Profit candidates and SWP members, Eamonn McCann and Gerry Carroll achieved 8 percent of the vote in recent elections. This indicates a respectable base to start building a broader left.
There are important differences between the left on the national question. But it would be deeply ironic if the right wing parties can unite in government in the Northern Assembly, but the left cannot create a united space where they can work together – and allow each other to go their own way when there are differences.
FOCUS ON THE IMF?
Everyone is agreed that the next budget will unleash a new wave of attacks on workers. The United Left Alliance will initiate campaigns in local areas against water charges and the home tax. Even before this, the ULA TD Joan Colllins is calling a major meeting on July 2nd against housing repossession and the problem of negative equity.
But beyond these immediate economic issues, one over-arching focal point of protest is the role of the IMF and the EU in dictating economic policy.
The SWP argued for a strong focus on Enough! Demonstration on July 16th that will protest against the IMF. Joe Higgins, however, suggested that activists take a summer holiday to prepare for the big battles from September.
However, anger against the IMF is huge. The IMF turn up every three months to insists that every line and detail of their memorandum is adhered to. They are like absentee landlords who come to inspect their property. Their role exposes the hollowness of democracy and it is therefore perfectly valid to call for a referendum against them.
It would be a mistake for the ULA to ignore these broader political conflicts in favour of a more mechanical focus only on immediate economic issues. Relating to broad social movements against the IMF is also a way for the alliance to sink deeper roots and will assist it in opposing water charges, home taxes and house repossession.
The left should not shy away from these debates as they are pointers to the long term direction and shape of the ULA.
The crucial point is that they are conducted in a way that is open, honest and respectful of the views of others.
Whatever the differences in the ULA ,there is a huge commitment to work together and advance strong left wing policies.
The national forum showed that the ULA will emerge as the centre where all activists who want to fight capitalism should gravitate to.
SP: What Program for the United Left Alliance? — After the ULA Forum: Which Way Forward?
Jul 14, 2011
By Socialist Party (CWI Ireland)
The United Left Alliance (ULA) held its first National Forum of June 25th in Liberty Hall, Dublin. For the Socialist Party’s assessment of the Forum and the tasks facing the ULA see the article on the Socialist Party's site entitled "ULA Forum – Building the alternative.”
This article is a response to the review of the Forum posted on the Socialist Workers Party website on the June 27th entitled "After the United Left Alliance forum."
Unfortunately that article by the SWP mis-informs and distorts a number of political issues that are under debate. There are three main issues, dealt with in the SWP article, that we need to comment on: 1) The ULA and a socialist programme; 2) How to build campaigns, including relations with Labour politicians and 3) The ULA and the North.
The ULA and a Socialist Program
Reviewing the discussion on “The left alternative to the crisis,” the Socialist Worker article quotes Kieran Allen’s speech at the event: "It is not about how many times you mention the word socialism. It is whether you are capable of spelling out in concrete ways, what it means and how you will get there.”
We agree with this as a general statement but in the actual debate that is going on in the ULA on how to deal with the economic crisis, this statement sheds little light and seems designed to dodge the key questions and cloak a political retreat by the SWP.
These comments were a response to the points made by Kevin McLoughlin from the Socialist Party that the PBPA did not want to mention socialist policies or socialism as the goal when the ULA programme was being formulated. He also disagreed with those on the left who focused on increasing taxation but didn’t advocate the need for the nationalisation or democratic public ownership of the economy generally.
At the first plenary session some members of the SWP justified their conscious omission of socialist policies and the mentioning of socialism on the grounds that it is not enough to just keep repeating the need for socialism and that to do so can put off working class people. That what is needed is to concentrate on the concrete issues affecting the working class.
The point had also been made that "people before profit" is the same as socialism but should be preferred as it is more understandable. Later, in other sessions in a slight amendment, some SWP speakers said that socialist policies and socialism should be advocated but stressed that this should be done in a skillful way.
The Socialist Worker article also attempted to distort the arguments of the Socialist Party when it said the debate was about whether its correct put forward a detailed outline of how a revolution should be organised or instead, as they argued for, put forward “a more general set of socialist demands.”
What is This Debate Really About?
This is not a debate about the need to be concrete with the working class; nor is it about a genuine attempt to find better language so the working class can understand better the real meaning of socialist policies.
This is a debate over whether socialist policies are actually necessary to overcome this capitalist crisis or whether they should be dropped by the left in the hope of finding some "easier solutions" or because the working class supposedly isn’t ready to hear such an alternative.
This is a debate about whether the ULA and socialists should advocate the essential policies necessary to defeat the capitalist market and overcome the crisis. In particular whether socialists stand for the expropriation of the assets of big business and capitalists by calling for the democratic public ownership of the overall economy, and if they do this where it matters most, in its mass material and in the mass media.
Does the SWP Spell Out in Concrete Terms What Socialism Means?
The ULA program agreed last autumn says: "End the reliance on the private sector, use democratic public ownership of wealth and natural resources and the banks to provide jobs by the launching a state program of industrial development and innovation to build the productive capacity of the economy.”
This text was inserted by the Socialist Party not because we have a dogmatic attachment to nationalization, but because the nationalization of the economy under democratic public control and management, is the only way that the working class can plan the development of the economy and resolve problems like the housing crisis and unemployment.
We had to insert it because in the initial text for the ULA programme written by the People Before Profit Alliance of which the SWP is the biggest part, incredibly there was no such mention of general nationalisation or no socialist clause despite the profound nature of the capitalist crisis that exists in Ireland.
So the SWP not only opposed the mention of socialist or socialism in the programme of the ULA, they also avoid advocating the democratic public ownership of the economy in its mass material and mass communications.
General Election Material
The general election material of Richard Boyd Barrett illustrates this problem further. It demanded a public bank, public ownership of the banks and the need for public ownership of natural resources, but left it at that.
We agree with these but on their own they wouldn’t in any fundamental way infringe let alone break the ownership, power and influence of the capitalist class. The working class or a government representing the working class would not have enough economic power to overcome the capitalist market and therefore it would be impossible to fulfil the goal of putting people before profit.
So instead of "spelling out in concrete ways what it (socialism) means and how you will get there," the approach advocated by the SWP would leave capitalism in control of society. This approach is similar to the failed “mixed economy” or “social market” policies previously advocated by social democracy.
Capitalism can’t be part abolished and the disaster of such a reformist proposal was graphically shown by its collapse into counter reforms and sell-out by the French Socialist Party in 1981 and PSOE in Spain in 1982.
In the same vein, RBB’s leaflets identified models that should be followed. "There are alternative economic models in Europe based on progressive taxation policies." And again, "We support the Norwegian model and will take our natural resources...into public ownership."
Using examples to illustrate points is necessary, but advocating that some of the capitalist countries in Europe are models for the working class here to get out of this crisis, including models for the type of nationalisation that is necessary, is wrong.
Clearly this isn’t just a case of language but is a programmatic retreat by the SWP which they in turn are advocating that the ULA should adopt as well - ironically just when the need and basis for democratic nationalisation and socialist policies is growing.
Talking radical or espousing revolutionary socialism at party meetings or conferences does not excuse or in any way compensate for not advocating the need to break the capitalist ownership of the economy in front of the working class.
The General Election – a Basic Socialist Program
In the general election, the Socialist Party put forward a whole series of very concrete demands on a whole range of issues, but that didn’t in any way stop us from also advocating in straight forward language socialist change and the key measures necessary to bring that about.
Amongst other text and demands on cuts, jobs, pay, the banks, the deficit, the bail-out, and taxation, the Socialist Party manifesto said: "That will only happen if the major economic resources, including the gas and oil resources off the west coast are taken into democratic public ownership and management and used in a planned way for people’s needs not short term profits."
"End the abuse of wealth by the capitalist establishment. Take the economy and natural resources into democratic public ownership and plan the development of a real manufacturing base, sustainable jobs and a secure future for all.”
“Establish a new party for working class people." "None of the Dail parties represent working class people, (workers, the unemployed, pensioners and the young). Labour accepts the market. Sinn Fein is implementing huge cutbacks in the North. Vote United Left Alliance and help found a powerful new party to represent working class people."
“For a government based on working class people that implements socialist policies and puts people before profit.”
In our four page manifesto the Socialist Party was very concrete but was also able link the immediate crisis with the need to break with capitalism and outline a basic socialist alternative and the tasks facing the working class movement.
We are not saying that the bulk of people voted for the Socialist Party because of the socialist clauses in our programme. However, we are saying that the votes for the party in the general election and the Euro elections of 2009 are proof that socialist policies have not been a barrier, and increasingly will not be a barrier, to the development of the ULA or a new workers party.
Working class people will join the ULA and a new party if it fights on the key issues, offers an opportunity to get organised and a democratic forum to discuss and debate issues and politics.
The idea that by being socialist the ULA would be cut off from key sections of the population or a majority in the years ahead, understates the huge change in consciousness that this crisis is causing and illustrates that some on the left have a conservative and fixed view regarding people’s consciousness, and the depth of support for reformism that exists amongst working class people.
The more the ULA and its representatives are explicit about why the capitalist market has no solutions and why socialist policies are necessary, the better. The more the ULA helps popularise the socialist alternative, which is an essential task if society is to be changed, the sooner such change may become a possibility.
To try to build the ULA on the basis that it doesn’t outline the socialist clauses and measures necessary to break capitalist control and really change society will inevitably result in a failure that the working class can’t afford.
Organizing the Working Class or Propping Up Labour Politicians!
The Socialist Worker article says: “insisting that only pure left wing forces are involved (in campaigns) is a recipe for a retreat into propagandism.”
Again as a general statement it is hard to disagree with and it would be correct to make this point if there was anyone in the ULA who was actually advocating such an approach.
But as this isn’t the case, it seems again the SWP is unfortunately only throwing this in to confuse important issues, particularly their own orientation towards Labour politicians who are now putting the boot into working class communities.
An attempt was made at the Forum to say that the SWP’s approach is to invite Labour politicians to certain public meetings to force them to account for the policies they have implemented, and using such meetings to put them under pressure on an issue.
The Socialist Party doesn’t have a problem with such an approach and has done similar on many occasions on many issues. Once the reps from the establishment parties are held in check, aren’t allowed to dominate the meeting, then they can be successfully undermined.
But again that contribution at the Forum doesn’t reflect the real nature or content of the orientation that the SWP is advocating towards the Labour Party and Labour politicians.
The recent SWP leaflet “United Left Alliance – What kind of party?” stated: “Where sections of Labour start to break with their party leaders, for example, they should be welcomed onto platform if it will widen the base of support for campaign or struggle. But they should also be told to break with the Labour Party leadership and embrace radical tactics such as non-payment on water charges.”
It’s important we are clear what this approach actually means. It means that a Labour politician, who may have indicated their discomfort at the impact that government policies is having on his or her base, could or should be invited into campaigns and platforms. He or she would be given that privilege even though he or she may not have voted against any of the government cuts but be invited on the basis that they may do so sometime in the future.
For the ULA to orientate to current Labour politicians and members would be a significant mistake and would inevitably undermine its potential.
Ordinary members of Labour breaking away and genuinely coming over to the ULA is fair enough, but the SWP is open to Labour TDs speaking on ULA platforms while they could still be part of a government that is imposing the worst austerity in the history of the state.
This is similar to the approach the SWP adopted in Britain where they invited Labour councillors onto anti cuts platforms who have then justified their voting and support for major cuts in council services.
Will Many Labour Politicians Genuinely Fight the Cuts?
The SWP justify this approach saying that inviting potential Labour dissidents is a way to broaden out campaigns against the cuts. They say that “Labour won a mass base because it promised reforms” implying that Labour has deep authority in the working class communities.
The SWP are again significantly overstating the depth of support that exists in the working class for Labour. It is true that layers moved towards Labour during the election hoping that they would cut across the excesses of Fine Gael. But this wasn’t a deep sentiment or illusion in Labour, more a hoping against hope.
Those on the left that took Labour up in a sharp and principled way were best able to successfully resist the trend towards Labour. If the credibility of Labour and Labour politicians had its limits before an election, it is now being decisively undermined by the policies that they are imposing, hammering any justification for an orientation to Labour politicians.
The position of the SWP re Labour seems to ignore the fact that they are a key force in a rotten capitalist government.
The orientation to potential dissident Labour politicians is unnecessary and inappropriate and far from helping to fight austerity or help in building a new left. It would, in fact, do the opposite.
The idea that the ULA would organise public meetings and campaigns against the austerity cuts and invite Labour TDs to participate would disgust the best workers and young people, whose lives are being destroyed by the cuts that Labour is imposing.
Associating with Labour Politicians Damages the ULA
Such an approach would weaken, not strengthen, a campaign and would also undermine the support for the ULA by its potential association with opportunist politicians who would be seen to have sold-out.
An orientation and political softness towards Labour politicians could lead to the incorporation of the same old and failed reformists and reformist policies into the ULA, the very thing the ULA is trying to overcome.
On the other hand the ULA should orientate to the combative and politically conscious workers and young activists who will inevitably emerge from this crisis. That is the best way to ensure that a new party is really built on solid foundations and the two contradict each other.
Fighting on Issues - Building Genuine and Democratic Campaigns
The Socialist Worker article states: “hundreds have come to protest meetings in Dublin precisely because they have not been “branded” as belonging to one political formation.
This is overly negative assessment of the motives of working class people and understates the openings for genuine left groups. Hundreds of people came to meetings first and foremost because they were concerned about the issues that were being dealt with, whether that be on bus services, SNAs, Pyrite or housing.
Of course when meetings are called under a specific banner or by a specific campaign designed to deal with a particular issue, all things being equal, it will get a bigger attendance than if it is convened by a political group alone. Where campaigns are being established that clearly is the best way of approaching it.
Political groups or individuals should have the right to participate in such campaigns but it is vital that campaigns are based primarily on the participation of ordinary working class people.
This approach has long been established and the Socialist Party, along with others, has often argued for such an approach, often in the face of opposition from the SWP. The issue of broad campaigns was raised in the Socialist Worker article as a way of justifying the SWP orientation to Labour, but in our view the arguments advanced don’t add up.
If it is generally best, from the point of view of involving greater numbers of ordinary people and in building pressure on an issue, to establish a campaign and protests on that specific issue, why has it been the approach of the SWP to tell people affected by SNA cuts or facing repossession that the key thing for them is to get involved in “Enough” and fight for a referendum on the bail-out?
Obviously anyone on the left should encourage people to get politically involved and fight the IMF, but we must also help people fight on the issue that concerns them in the best way possible. To do otherwise would indeed be abstract.
The ULA and the North
The Socialist Worker article states that the Socialist Party says that the timing is not right for the ULA to be established on a 32 county basis.
It is clearly implied in the SWP article that the Socialist Party is again slow to move on the issues that affect working class people, even that we are negligent in our responsibilities given the huge attacks and cuts that the parties in the north are preparing to impose.
Actually we are opposed to the approach of the SWP and some others in the ULA regarding the ULA and the North precisely because we are very focused on the needs of the working class in the North, both Protestant and Catholic.
The SWP may reduce the building of new workers parties everywhere to the need for a lead, a spark, an initiative and then it will all come together. But that approach dismisses important objective factors and political considerations.
This same approach led to the SWP’s disastrous failure with RESPECT in Britain which has set back the struggle to build a new workers party there. The danger of not having a principled approach to political issues and programme in RESPECT was illustrated by the fact that elected RESPECT councillors relatively quickly defected to Labour, but incredibly also to the LibDems and the Tories.
That mess is nothing like what would be created if the unprincipled approach of the SWP on the issue of sectarianism became a significant part of the campaign to build a new workers party in the North.
The opposition of the Socialist Party to the extension of the ULA into North has nothing to do with being slow to move on the issues that affect the working class, but is based on having a principled and sensitive approach to the conflict of national aspirations that exists in the North.
We are opposed to the extension or imposition of a broad left organisation based in the South into the North or for that matter, a British based broad left organisation into the North. Either option would be treated with suspicion by one side of the community and would not be a basis to move forward.
The Poison of Sectarianism
We believe that a new workers party in the North, even more so than elsewhere, must be based on the emergence of a layer of working class activists from struggles. It is vital that a new formation is rooted in the understanding of the need to oppose both loyalist and republican sectarianism, and for workers unity against sectarianism and capitalism.
While sometimes over the last years, the SWP have argued for workers unity, that does not mean that they have overcome their one sided view of the national question which has been a hallmark of their position.
The SWP approach has been infected with the view that republicanism as it emerged during the Troubles is progressive, and that includes an approach that tends to excuse Catholic sectarianism while highlighting and condemning loyalist sectarianism.
They also demonstrate a dismissive attitude to Protestant working class people. For instance in our view, the SWP has a sectarian and dangerous position on the issue of parades that would lead to a deepening of sectarian division, the opposite of workers unity.
The reality is that if the ULA was extended to the North, it would only take one serious sectarian incident and there would most likely be a fundamental division in the ULA on issues related to the national question and the conflict that exists.
If a new formation in the North took a left republican position, that would make it impossible for it to win a significant section of Protestant working class people to its banner.
Without the ability to seriously organise in both communities, a new left party would be doomed to failure and the potential to build workers unity and develop a socialist solution to sectarianism and the national question would be lost, potentially at a huge cost.
More Debate and Discussion in the ULA Essential
It was necessary to write this article because of the amount of mis-information in the Socialist Worker review of the ULA Forum regarding both its own position and those of the Socialist Party.
We will soon post separate and more developed articles on the left alternative to the crisis and on the Socialist Party’s approach to building a new workers party in the North.
|Published by SocialistAlternative.org
Read online at: www.SocialistAlternative.org/news/article11.php?id=1638