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The Spectacle Of Exclusion
Tuesday December 13, 2011 01:09 by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacity
The exclusion of revolutionary political parties should be opposed by all progressive people.
The Spectacle of Hope of Hope and Defiance on December 10th was visually and audibly wonderful but the exclusion of political parties was ultimately in the interests only of the social democrats, who sponsored the event.
The Spectacle of Hope and Defiance parade on December 10th was wonderful – colourful, musical, funny, pointed ... It was great not only to watch or to take part in the event but also to know that so many of the community and youth groups taking part had put together their own outfits, protest signs and banners, etc. But there was one aspect which, although it may have largely escaped notice, should be quite worrying. There was a ban on political groups participating, a ban lifted only for the United Left Alliance.
This did not seem to unduly worry many of the participants, including political activists with a long history, some as members of political parties and others as independent activists. It was seen by some as a specific exclusion of the Socialist Workers’ Party.
The SWP is undoubtedly the current bęte noire of the Irish revolutionary and radical Left. The perceived reasons lie in a long series of actions that most Left activists will be happy to quote: hijackings of protests, takeover of organisations, packing votes, opportunist jumping in and out of campaigns, building false fronts, calling their own meetings of demonstrations just before those called by fronts of which they are part, packing demonstrations with many times more placards than their own supporters can carry, priotising building party membership over the needs of the struggle .....
Of course, it is not that the SWP are the only party at which these accusations may be levelled. But it is the one party which is most consistently and repeatedly accused of these ill-doings. The party’s attempt to hijack the first march of the Occupy Dame Street collective had the SWP call a demo for the same place and date as had been first called by the ODS, but for an hour earlier. Then the SWP marched away with less than two hundred in a forest of their flags and placards, leaving the few ODS remaining to await their own supporters but soon to march themselves with about a thousand.
The struggle between the SWP and a group of activists in the Occupation Dame Street collective was made public by both sides in Facebook postings and in video posted on the Internet. It was a major distraction within the ODS, who have their own logistics and internal struggles to deal with and but had the reverse effect of that sought by the SWP: it alienated people at ODS even further, to the extent that an SWP member had only to propose something for the others to vote against it.
So when the exclusion of the SWP is seen as the purpose behind a ban on political parties, it is easy to understand why some on the Left rejoice and larger numbers do not feel moved to protest. But the exclusion is general and highly dangerous. It has the effect of isolating the community sector from revolutionary ideas. Of course, many of the voluntary and paid activists of the state-funded NGOs will feel this is no loss. For some of them, revolutionary activism was what they now see as a phase in their lives, while some others have always been social democrats. But what of newcomers to the world of community volunteering and what of the service users themselves? To whose benefit would it be to keep them away from parties that espouse revolutionary socialism?
The Irish Labour Party, the current major political expression of social democracy in Ireland, is naturally in opposition to the SWP and, for that matter, to the Socialist Party. And those parties are also in opposition to them, frequently critising and on the attack, also nibbling at the LP’s more radical extremities, trying to tear away tidbits for consumption. But the LP represents more than just the political and ideological trend of social democracy, it represents also the political affiliation of virtually the whole of the top leadership of the trade unions within the state as well as of large swathes of their middle-leadership tiers.
Those tiers of trade union bureaucracy also hate the Trotskyite parties of the SWP and the SP and have not forgotten the booing of both the President of SIPTU and of the General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Jack O’Connor and David Begg, as they spoke in front of the GPO in November 2010 after the anti-cuts protest march attended by well over 50,000. Although it is clear that the booing and heckling was widespread and that furthermore it was at least tolerated by most of the audience, from conversations with some people within that higher strata of the trade unions it is clear that they blame the SWP exclusively for it, whether from genuine misapprehension or from plain wishful thinking.
(Short video footage of incident).
So the exclusion of “political parties” from such events favours the social democrats of the Labour Party, the social democratic tendencies prevalent among the NGOs and the social democratic leadership of the trade unions. Coincidentally or not, the main sponsors of the Spectacle of Hope and Defiance were SIPTU, IMPACT and UNITE (organisers’ flyer). SIPTU and IMPACT are the two largest trade unions within the Irish state, both with a history of deep implication in the Social Partnership Pacts of past decades that have left the Irish trade union movement deeply compromised and without either the will or the ability to mount a serious resistance to the attacks of capital upon their members and on the major part of Irish society. The stage at the GPO where the Spectacle came to rally, the technicians and sound equipment, were all provided by SIPTU. It would not be surprising if at least some of the artwork and installations were also funded by the unions. And while UNITE has also sponsored more radical demonstrations against the cuts, in Britain, where its HQ is, the union is affiliated to the British Labour Party.
So what of the permission granted to the ULA, who marched behind a wide banner saying who they were? Of their five TDs, is not one of the SWP and another of an SWP front, and two from the SP? Yes, they are, and that permission might be seen as a concession, wrought from the organisers by tough negotiation. But there is another interpretation. The trade union leadership, despite their unwillingness to fight, do not enjoy their emasculation and loss of bargaining power. They are embarrassed by it and do not enjoy the disappointment and distrust of their members. And although the Labour Party is their natural political expression, their actions within the current Government are not welcomed by the trade union bureaucrats. The existence of some Left oppositional force within the Dáil may well be something they welcome, even though they may detest the Trotskyite background of the TDs involved. And not all the ULA is by any means Trotskyite or even revolutionary socialist – on the ground, and among its elected councillors, a number are left-social democrats. It is also possible that those within Irish social-democracy who believe themselves gifted with farsight can see the parliamentary experience of the ULA slowly moderating its membership and lifting some its “stars” into a personal career orbit away from the parties and ideology which first gave them their lift-off. This is, in fact, a future predicted also by some observers on the revolutionary Left.
Only social democracy will ultimately benefit from he exclusion of revolutionary parties and organisations from any demonstrations of sections of Irish society who wish to fight back against the austerity measures being imposed upon them by the ruling class and their Executive, successive Irish governments. Social democracy is an ideological and political trend of compromise with capitalism and of betrayal of those who form the rank and file of its movement. It is the trend and practice which undermined and sold out the militant industrial movement of strikes and occupations by the Irish working class from 1919-1923. It is that which also left the trade union movement unable to respond to capital’s attacks of recent years other than with rhetoric, a few demonstrations and empty threats of industrial action. It is ultimately but another face of Irish capitalism. If democratic openess and opposition to censorship were not reason enough to oppose this ban, this reason alone should have been enough.