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the bin tax struggle and the building of a working class movement.
Open letter to the SP. No 2. From John Throne.
The anti bin tax struggle and the need to build a united working class movement against the offensive of capitalism.
The Socialist Party and its role in the anti bin tax struggle.
Open Letter 2. From John Throne.
On holiday in Ireland last week it was great to see the role the Socialist Party is playing in the anti bin tax struggle. JH, CD and DC have all been in prison for their work. Along with other socialist and anarchist groups and along with many community and trade union activists the Socialist Party Comrades continue the struggle against the bin tax. The Socialist Party is showing that it is committed to taking direct action, to carrying out fight to win tactics, to go to prison, to defeat this tax. I would like to thank the Socialist Party Comrades for their inspiration and example.
Taking on the capitalist offensive wherever it expresses itself is the central task facing working class people today. On a world scale the dominant feature is the offensive of capitalism against the working class. The main task for the working class is to halt and throw back this offensive. The main task for revolutionaries is to build a movement that can achieve this and that can challenge capitalism itself. The Socialist Party by its role in the bin tax struggle is showing that it is a central part of this process.
In this context I would like to raise a few ideas for the consideration of the Socialist Party Comrades. In my open letter to the Socialist Party last year I raised the idea of building anti capitalist working class direct action groups in the neighborhoods and workplaces. The Socialist Party leadership have argued against this by opposing my assessment that there are hundreds of activists or workers who want to be active who would be willing to respond to a proper non sectarian approach along these lines.
I was at the Socialist Party meeting in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin last Saturday night and there were between 400 and 500 people present. As far as I could see the anarchist and the other revolutionary socialist groups were not present. I am sure there were many other activists in the city not present. I suggest that this meeting proves that my estimate of the situation is more correct than that of the Socialist Party leaders. I would also suggest that the numbers that turned out against the invasion of Iraq show that there are significant forces prepared to be active.
I would like to raise again to the Socialist Party Comrades this question: “What are you saying to all these activists?” As far as I can see it is this. Join the anti bin tax struggle. Join the Socialist Party, those tiny few who agree with every idea of the Socialist Party that is. And in the future the Socialist Party will help “facilitate” in the building of a mass workers party to which all anti capitalist activists can join. But in the meantime unless you agree with all the ideas and the approach of the Socialist Party .......
I would like to suggest that this approach does not realize the full potential of the situation. I would like to suggest that it does not bring together into a cohesive layer those workers and activists prepared to fight unless they are prepared to join the Socialist Party or unless they are prepared to be active in the anti bin tax struggle.
I am not suggesting in any way that the Socialist Party should shift its emphasis at present from winning the bin struggle. However I am suggesting that it take a wider view of this struggle and it present this wider view publicly. I am also suggesting that the Socialist Party present the anti bin tax struggle and organization as part of a process that can evolve into working class committees to take up the general struggles of working people.
I was impressed with one of the flyers of the Socialist Party which put the anti bin tax struggle in the context of the struggle against capitalism and for socialism. But I was struck by how careful Joe and Clare were in their speeches at the Gresham meeting to present the issue as one of the “neo-liberal agenda.” This makes me wonder if the general anti capitalist message is being taken into the bin tax struggle.
I would like to suggest for discussion in the Socialist Party that the Comrades should present the anti bin tax struggle as one that is against the offensive of the corporations and their corrupt capitalist system and that the government is but the agent of these corporations and this system. I am not suggesting that the Socialist Party make an effort to formally commit in a crude way the anti bin tax struggle to this position but that this general idea is presented so that the committees can see the need to continue to exist and develop, that the anti bin tax struggle is only one aspect of the capitalist offensive, and this understanding can lay the basis for anti bin tax struggles and committees to evolve into the building of anti capitalist working class direct action committees in the working class.
I would like to suggest that the Socialist Party open up a discussion on this topic. And not only in their own ranks but with all the anti capitalist activist groups and individuals. In this way the Socialist Party will be presenting to the many hundreds active in this struggle, the many thousands active in the anti war movement in the recent past, the many community and union activists who are seeking a more effective way to struggle, a non sectarian way forward and a way forward that will bring the largest amount of activists together and this in turn will make more possible the organizing of the broader layers of the working class.
Such an approach in my opinion should seek to build the activist committees and movement around a few basic ideas.
#Opposition to the offensive of the corporations and their corrupt capitalist system.
#Direct action fight to win tactics against these attacks.
#The building of a working class movement on these principles.
I believe that this approach would allow the various anti capitalist forces, anarchist and revolutionary socialist to work together. It would allow for the many many community and trade union activists to participate without having to commit themselves from the beginning to a clearly thought out alternative to capitalism or to a particular revolutionary organization.
I was concerned that during the entire Gresham meeting not a single mention was made of any other group which is active in the anti bin tax movement other than the Socialist Party. I understand that at a rally outside Mountjoy a call was made from the platform to join the CWI. My impression is that many of the leading members of the Socialist Party consider that the participation of the other left groups in the bin tax movement is something that they do not like but have to put up with. That they would much rather if the Socialist Party was running the struggle itself. This is a sectarian influence in the approach.
It is also a self defeating approach. The Socialist Party would grow much more, its influence would be much greater, the working class movement would be much stronger, if as well as playing the role it does in the bin tax the Socialist Party openly welcomed the fact that so many groups are working together, that so many activists are coming together and put forward the approach above to assist in building these forces into an anti capitalist movement.
I agree with the emphasis in the Socialist Party material at present that the unions must take action to see that the bin struggle is victorious. I think that the building of support groups in the unions which would organize for workplace action is vital to take the movement forward. I do not think that the suggestions I make above would in any way cut across this work. In fact I think they would help this work.
At the Gresham meeting Joe H and Clare D spoke of Connolly and Larkin and how in messages of support they received these leaders had been mentioned. It is interesting to see how these leaders and their ideas are being raised again by the struggle. Maybe the activist committees could evolve into Connolly/Larkin committees.
In the bin tax special edition of the Socialist Party paper there is an article by Kevin McL. It is headed “Can we defeat the bin tax?” I agree with its emphasis on the need for the union movement to act. However I was very struck by the lack of attention to the building of the local committees, the building of an all Dublin wide structure and no mention at all of the other groups active in the struggle and the need to work together.
I would like to raise also the issue of the workers party. I know that the response to the suggestions I made in my open letter last year were to shoot it down on the basis that there was not yet a movement of the working class sufficient to build such a party. However I do not think that this is the whole story. I still think that in the South the Socialist Party thinks that it can break through and fill this vacuum on its own. In the North it is different.
In an article of the Summer 2003 issue of Socialist View there is an article by Ciaran Mulholland where he says the Socialist Party was the “main component of the Labor Coalition in 1996”. and he also writes that the Socialist Party is “in favor of a broad anti cuts, anti privatization slate at the next election...” this would involve “hospital campaigns, trade unionists in struggle and socialists”. He also writes that “several left wing groups may also stand including of course the Socialist Party”
This article continues: “Discussions must begin now to seek a way of bringing these forces together under a single banner, whilst leaving everyone involved the freedom to run their own campaign”. I am not on the ground but this seems to be a very positive position to take. The only point I would raise is that it is important that this is not approached as an electoral alliance and that is all. The Socialist Alliances in England and Wales have been ruined by this approach. Only by direct action struggle on the ground against the attacks of the capitalist offensive can a movement be built.
But Comrades I would like to compare this position with the position put on the South. In the same magazine Michael Murphy wrote an article titled “A government in crisis”. Michael writes: “It is clear that what is needed in Ireland is a mass workers party. The Socialist Party is in favor and will be to the forefront building such a party in Ireland. However we don't believe that the forces needed for the establishment of such a party exist at this time. As struggles develop against neo-liberalism, (there goes that neo-liberalism again J.T.) the building of such a party will be placed on the agenda.”
Then in the Socialist Party Voice of September 2003 Joe H deals with this issue in his column. He writes about the coming elections: “The Socialist Party will play an important role. We will be launching up to 15 candidates and conducting a serious campaign, offering a socialist alternative to the present system. We will also encourage genuine community organizations and campaigns to get involved in putting forward candidates and we will be advocating the need to move to a situation where a new party of the working class can be credibly launched”.
Comrades it seems to me that the objective situation is more ripe in the South than the North at present but in the North the Socialist Party is calling for “discussions now” and these to include other “left wing groups”, while in the South the Socialist Party will stand 15 candidates and “encourage genuine community organizations and campaigns to get involved in putting forward candidates.” Not a mention about any discussions now or other “left wing groups”. Is this difference because the Socialist Party can put 15 candidates forward in the South and many less in the North.
Comrades I am not suggesting that the Socialist Party can issue the call and a new workers party can come into being. What I am suggesting is that the Socialist Party should take the lead in openly campaigning for the unity in action of all the activist groups and individuals through the building of anti capitalist direct action working class committees in the communities and workplaces, and on this basis the building of an anti capitalist workers party within which all revolutionary groups can continue to exist and put forward their views.
There are many ways of moving in this direction as well as campaigning for these ideas directly. I was struck in Dublin by a couple of workers I met who were very clear on how how the corporations and the rich were screwing the working people but then went on to vehemently complain about and condemn immigrants. Would it not be possible to get unity amongst all the activist groups for a major campaign against racism and for workers unity and internationalism, this culminating in demonstrations and conferences.
Such activities on specific issues on a regular basis would help develop unity between the various anti capitalist forces and would also have a much greater impact than groups working separately as many hundreds of activists could be mobilized and the issues could be taken out to much wider sections of the working class. While campaigning for the ideas suggested above and the organizational steps suggested above the Socialist Party could also take initiatives like these.
Of course it is not only only up to the Socialist Party. The many other left groups can also take the lead on this. But the Socialist Party due to its great work in the water charges and now the bin charges and its correct and organic orientation to the working class has the deepest roots and therefore it also has the most responsibility.
One or two final points I would like my Socialist Party Comrades to consider. The Gresham rally was a great success as far as I could see. However it was interesting that the only people on the platform except the chair were Socialist Party members who hold elected positions in the bourgeois parliament or councils. Fifteen more people are to be put up in the coming elections. I believe that it would be very important for the Socialist Party to keep in mind the pressures that come with work in these bourgeois institutions, that is parliaments and councils, and the need to be careful the work on these does not begin to dominate the party.
Naturally enough I cannot end without raising the issue of the internal life of the Socialist Party and the CWI. Even when I was there I saw and experienced the destructive influence of the overly centralized life of the CWI and the Socialist Party. Consider again the meeting at the Gresham with up to 500 present, and with the excellent class composition of the meeting. Comrades for the Socialist Party to become a mass organization it must be able to accept into its ranks these worker comrades.
It is impossible to imagine the Socialist Party becoming a mass organization without such a membership composition and this in turn is impossible without differences and debates and factions. The Socialist Party will not be able to avoid dealing with the issue of what kind of internal life it has and the need to have an internal life which does not squeeze the life out of workers, which instead allows all of our energies and talents and ideas to flourish. The Socialist Party and the CWI no matter how successful in its interventions in struggles such as its very positive intervention in the bin tax cannot become a mass organization with its present internal life.
Comrades those who attended the meeting were very clearly supportive of the work of the Socialist Party. Some were new to politics but many were not. There were also many former Socialist Party members. For the Socialist Party to become a mass organization its ranks will have to resemble the composition of the Gresham meeting with all the great debate and discussion and struggle that is inherent to this composition. This is not something that the leadership of the CWI and the Socialist Party is able to contemplate at present. Control and unity on every detail is the obsession. This also negatively affects the intervention in the movement and stunts the development of a movement.
Once again thanks to the work of the Socialist Party Comrades and the inspiration of the anti bin tax struggle. Thanks also to all the other groups and individuals who have built this struggle. Thanks to the working class families and activists in the communities and the unions who have built this struggle. Hopefully this open letter will contribute to a discussion as to how these forces can work together to the greatest possible extent which will be consistent with the needs of the struggle of the working class against the offensive of capitalism.