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Irish Socialist Workers Party Splits

category national | anti-capitalism | news report author Tuesday November 17, 2009 15:20author by Harry McIntyre Report this post to the editors

Split centred around Belfast

The Socialist Workers Party has split. There has been some speculation on Indymedia and elsewhere that the SWP was having internal difficulties in Belfast. The dust has now settled, and the bulk of their Belfast organisation is now outside of the party.

The SWP has been having a tough time of it in Belfast in recent years. In the early years of the decade, the Belfast SWP was the success story of the organisation, building a number of branches and a strong student group. Then a period of decline followed, with branches merging, the student group weakening and the loss of some key activists. Now an organised split has taken most of the active, politically hardened, remaining members, leaving the Belfast SWP with an occasionally visible prospective election candidate and a handful of his associates.

The arguments flared up around electoral strategy. The Dublin leadership wanted to run Sean Mitchell, the excitable young member who got a small but respectable vote in West Belfast last time out. The Belfast committee, essentially a joint branch committee for the two mini-branches the party was operating in the city, wasn't so sure. Most of its members were of the view that Mitchell had been insufficiently active in the area over the last year. It was, in other words, a minor tactical difference of a sort that a democratic organisation could easily accomodate within its ranks. Unfortunately for the SWP, it is not such an organisation.

With typical heavy handedness, the Dublin leadership came down on the local dissidents like a ton of bricks. Vitriolic arguments ensued and the Belfast committee was wound up to shut up those who disagreed with the Political Committee. The writing was on the wall after that. The people who had held the SWP together in Belfast over a long, hard, period were told in no uncertain terms that either they did as they were told and shut up complaining or they'd be expelled. They decided to jump before they were pushed and resigned as a group.

As the dust settles, Barbara Muldoon, chair of the Anti-Racist Network, Gordon Hewitt, Mark Hewitt and their allies have found themselves outside of the organisation they helped build. It is understood that they are in the process of setting up a new organisation, based on the fundamental politics of the SWP tradition but with a greater commitment to internal democracy. A name, a platform and their first public statements are expected in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the SWP in Belfast has been reduced to Mitchell, a couple of other students and an American academic. Donal Mac Fhearraigh, the SWP's Dublin full time office functionary has been sent North to shore up what's left and try to begin the process of rebuilding.

It's worth looking at the wider implications of this split in one city.

The splinter group are long standing SWP members with personal and political connections to SWP across the island. They could very easily make a nuisance of themselves to the SWP across the island by offering SWP members the option of an organisation with SWP politics but a less dictatorial internal regime. The big question will be whether they can gain support outside of their home city.

For the SWP it further hammers home their weakness outside of Dublin. There isn't one strong branch left outside the Republic's capital. Historic strongholds like Belfast and Waterford are down to a handful of members. Cork and Galway are hanging on by a thread. There's nothing at all in Limerick. Derry has Eamon McCann, which means a high profile, but a weak branch. It wouldn't take much more of a retreat to reduce the party to a regional organisation.

Perhaps more interesting for the wider left is what this incident reveals about the SWP's approach to left unity.

Firstly, while the SWP is very weak outside of Dublin they do at least maintain a tenuous presence, which can't really be said for the rest of People Before Profit. In Dublin, the SWP are the dominant force in the alliance, but there are others present and involved. Elsewhere the SWP simply are the alliance. South Tipperary may become a dramatic exception when the Workers and Unemployed Action Group announce their adherence, although it is not yet clear if that affiliation will involve taking on the PBP label and fully integrating into the alliance or if it mostly represents a formal commitment to continuing their existing work together. The Belfast split remember came to a head over what candidate to stand and in what constituency in the next Westminster elections. This discussion was carried on entirely in SWP branches and committees. But they weren't talking about standing an SWP candidate, they were deciding on who and where PBP should stand. There is no People Before Profit structure in Belfast, just the SWP using the name and taking whatever decisions it like. In so far as anyone else gets a say, its a case of the SWP presenting them with a fait accompli.

Secondly, what does the SWP leaderships complete inability to tolerate even minor tactical disagreements within their own organisation without pushing the matter to a bitter split say about the depth of their much trumpeted commitment to left unity? How can anyone take them seriously when they talk about how the broad left share 90% of their views and need to work together when at the same time they are casting people with near 100% agreement with them in the outer darkness over the most trivial of disagreements? What does it say about their commitment to working together fraternally when their immediate response to dissent is to smash those who won't do as they are told? If they are willing to break with their own long term membership so rapidly and completely, how secure can any of their allies feel that we won't be the next thrown under the bus if we should ever prove surplus to Political Committee requirements?

author by Harry McIntyrepublication date Tue Nov 17, 2009 15:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I know its bad form to respond to your own article like this, but I should also point out that this split in the Irish SWP is not directly connected to the ongoing rows and expulsions in the British SWP.

Across the Irish Sea, the SWP is in the middle of a factional struggle between the existing leadership headed up by Alex Callinicos and Martin Smith and the former, now ousted, leadership headed up by John Rees and Lindsey German. The existing leadership have begun clamping down on the minority, expelling or suspending a few of their supporters in an apparent attempt to goad the whole minority faction into doing something rash.

The Irish SWP split was not about the Smith/Rees row. Although the Irish SWP have intervened into that row, backing as always whoever the existing British leadership are.

author by Michael Gallagher - Photographerpublication date Tue Nov 17, 2009 22:33author email libertypics at yahoo dot ieauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

...to be learned from this.
I hope the people on the fringes, but outside of the SWP (that is people within the many numerous groups they control, ie: PBP, IAWM etc) take a big step back and try get a handle on what's going on here. Look at the big picture, the wider implications and try and visualise what the future holds. Disaster in my opinion and a potential laughing stock for anyone linked to the SWP is what's I feel is in store. Some would say that the SWP are already a laughing stock. How many times have they and campaigns they were involved in split or fell apart in the last ten years?

There is something suspiciously odd going on here. So called genuine socialists do not split over issues like the selection of election candidates, there is much more I feel to this. Now we have another group of left activists forming yet another splinter group adding to the too many splinters we have on the left. We will soon have enough splinters to condemn genuine socialism to a death of a thousand pricks!

As good organisors as I feel the SWP are on demos, meetings etc, all the intellectualism, political correctness, and analytical 'expertise' etc is not worth a dogs dinner if any party is infected with a lack of democracy, sectarianism, dictatorial 'leaders' and delusional people.
They won't like this thread, but the SWP are not the only left party/group who feel they are beyond criticism.

It will be interesting to see if any of this comes up at Marxism this weekend, I don't think I will be very welcome though because of my comments, but notice I am not hiding behind a pseudonym

Thank you Harry McIntyre for the information. Now where did I leave my helmet?

Photo essays etc of workers issues, anti war, shell2sea and more @ http://www.myspace.com/libertypix

author by Gino Kenny - SWPpublication date Tue Nov 17, 2009 23:09author email ginokenny at hotmail dot comauthor address 7211574author phone 085Report this post to the editors

Michael I think your comments are very unfair to members of the SWP and the SWP itself. Its very unfortunate that comrades in Belfast have felt the need to leave the party at this crucial time. I rarely respond to SWP rants but to say the SWP control the PBPA and the IAWM is complete nonsense. To say we are a laughing stock is too ridiculous to argue over here. The only people laughing at this moment are the defenders of all that bourgeois moralism you read and see in the Irish media. I have been in SWP since 1994 and I have never experienced "all the intellectualism, political correctness, and analytical 'expertise' etc ". I like your contributions Michael on Indymedia , but I need to say you have got it wrong on this one.

author by Michael Gallagherpublication date Tue Nov 17, 2009 23:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I am not going to get into an argument with you Gino and for what it's worth, you are one of the few I admire in the SWP, not least for the fact that you are genuine working class and weren't born with a silver spoon in your mouth or didn't get your socialism from books and you don't talk in a patronising way to people, especially people from poor working class areas.
But Gino, I was in the SWP (SWM at the time) in 1994. After attending meetings for six months, I joined thinking that I found what I was looking for and saw the underhanded trickery they got up to, bandwaggoning issues, barely an original idea of their own, not to mention the reprehensible carry-on with the so called 'petitions'. Using people's contact details as potential recruits, harressing them in their homes and workplace with unwanted phone calls.
I'm not making this up and I don't say things I don't mean. What I said above is some of what I experienced and some of what is being said by others. Would you like to hear some more, like my most recent/current experiences with some of your comrades?

I am surprised that you and some others have remained in the SWP for so long, in fact I'm very surprised that the SWP still exists!

author by Philip Fergusonpublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 00:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

>Secondly, what does the SWP leaderships complete inability to tolerate even minor tactical disagreements within their own organisation without pushing the matter to a bitter split say about the depth of their much trumpeted commitment to left unity?

The other question would be, "Was does all this autocratic and control-freakery behaviour over the organisation say about their much-vaunted 'socialism from below'?"

Organisationally, I can't really see any difference between them and old-time hardened Stalinist outfits.

I mean, who would want to live in a society 'liberated' by such leaderships?

Fortunately, we don't have to worry about that, because there appears to be a quantitative limit on how much you can build with this kind of model.

Phil

author by Travenpublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 00:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Good rhetorical question that: who'd want to be 'liberated' by plotters and manipulators? I'd rather liberate myself, thank you, or endure the present Dail system. At least there's some chance of talking to elected dimwits and chancers and exacting concessions. There's always the hope that enough voters will get sense and kick them out. You can't do that with control freaks in tightly knit fringe groups. You can't even reason with them: their ideologically primed minds are made up comrade and anybody thinking out of line is a heretic. Actually some of the power trippers think and act like members of religious sects.

Left campaigning outside the Dail system is essential because the Dail is not where the social suffering takes place. Control freakers are pests where organising at the grassroots is concerned. The 'masses' can do effective actions without them.

author by The Truthpublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 02:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Michael Gallagher was also more recently a Socialist Party activist til he left in a huff coz the Socialist Party quite rightly wouldn't let him run for the Socialist Party in Dublin Central. Notice you didn't mention this coz all you wanted to do was yet more SWP bashing. Oh Michael you sure know how to fall out with former comrades.

author by Tom Burnettpublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 09:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I would suggest that those who have left the SWP in the North should go to the SWP's Marxism 2009 event this weekend and try to get a debate going around the issues that led to the split.

author by Michael Gallagherpublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 10:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

That's a funny choice of a word. I did NOT leave the SP for the reason you say. The Socialist Party don't know why I left and by the way, I left almost five years ago (not recently) after five years membership. So I am exposed after five years! Funnny, A typical SWP reaction, juvenile, off the mark and funnnny!

Obviously (The Truth) you don't have the guts to use your real name, but that's ok. Your attempt to divert this into a personal issue won't work and I won't give my reasons for leaving the Socialist Party, but I have my reasons. All I will say is that I can get more done alone (and have done) than waiting around for some 'committee' to approve a good idea and pass on (sorry down) their permission. That goes for both parties.

There's a lot of people in the SP and SWP that could good with a good dose of poverty to help them get into the real world. But if I was to make a choice of either party, well I would not recommend either to anybody. What I would recommend is a good shake-up of both and a review of their inner structures and outer tactics. Despite their electoral success's, they are both killing socialism and are not in a position to deliver on many issues they go on about.
It still annoys me after all the years of making mistakes, that the SWP are still the same, still making the same mistakes. I am becoming more convinced that their is one or more people in the SWP, who are actively causing all this strife and instigating splits and bent on keeping it going like a sect, (agent provocatuers I think they are called).

There is little or no hope for anything close to a major, united socialist alternative in this country, and the people don't want socialism.
The greed that has infected and trickled down to many levels is nothing short of shameful, people are not interested in the common good, it's a me me me Ireland we are living in, and if not individually well as a group in their trade unions. This is what the 'leaders' in the trade union movement are promoting and the workers are going along with it. The after effects of the boom 'tiger' years , the majority of her cubs are as oblivious as their mother was to the forgotten and marginalised in our society, especially the homeless and heroin addicts.

But I don't give up hope, even as we argue here, I believe their are people out there who will come along and give us real leadership and unite the left factions and take us closer to what will be a major force of a real and genuine left alternative in this country. But that's only half the battle.
Winning workers over to the socialist alternative against the sysytem we have now, will take nothing short of a minor (or major) miracle!

author by radical Jonnypublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 12:11author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The SP and the SWP, to my mind, seem to have it backwards. These parties are not arising from a genuine popular movement (witness their numbers and election success) but from a vision of socialism that the proponents hope will one day catch on (I'll even be generous and say 'hope will catch on AGAIN') and will then sweep them to power and to revolution.

But the Irish context (not to mention the global context) has changed. The nature of the struggle has changed. The British Empire and the globalized free market are both unjust, but unjust in different ways. Class dynamics have changed. There's certainly nothing wrong with a Marxist critique, but the solutions need to be re-thought.

If we don't do that, we seem to be perpetually doomed to receiving 372 votes in the most recent election, as opposed to the 341 votes we received in the previous election, and calling it progress.

author by Conor. Mpublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 14:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Your a man I have a great respect for even though I've only ever spent a short time with you. It's annoying to see cowards attacking the person, not the idea.

Its very difficult to see a solution. I agree with almost everything you said here. The big problem is, where do we go from here?

author by tomeilepublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 16:54author email tomeile at hotmail dot co dot ukauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Harry’s post squares with what a lot of people have been saying since the formation of PBP – that PBP is a front organization for the SWP . It could have been far more.

During a split those involved will often see things personally but there are always political differences involved in a political split which need to be brought out. . The SWP’s inability to recruit despite the economic collapse of capitalism is surely what any new party would have to address . If that new party is a party based as Harry writes “on the fundamental politics of the SWP tradition “ it will ,despite the best intentions of its members , go the same way as SWP .The reasons for the party’s failure to grow are to be found in its political perspectives and orientation.

Ten years ago the SWP line , as set out by Alex Callinicos , was that the world was going into a re-run of the nineteen-thirties “only in slow motion.” . The prescription seems to have changed recently to a re-run of the thirties - only with a happy ending.
Callinicos now sees a new world war as “improbable” at a time when much of the rest of the world –including the type of people that the SWP are looking to recruit - sees a very clear danger. Until groups like the SWP catch up to the mood in the mass movement and start acting on the presumption that a war involving nuclear weapons could place in the near future , they won’t be recruiting many.

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/nov2009/nbww-n18.shtml

author by Daithí - Republican Socialistpublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 19:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

like connor i am out raged by the truths attack on michael gallagher a man i have alot of respect and time for.

Michael is a hard working socialist and is a well known face at every progressive march rally or meeting in the capital and at many beyond.

i have even more respect now because he gives his opinion under his own name, not hiding like this so called 'truth' dispite character assasinations from childish people, who are a bad reflection on their party.

keep up the good work Michael dont mind the begrudgers.

author by Election watcherpublication date Wed Nov 18, 2009 20:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Electoral Office (NI) website lists Mark and Gordon Hewitt (are they brothers?) as the leader and only office bearer of People before Profit in Northern IReland. So, if what they are saying about PBP's relationship with SWP is true, are they going to abandon it? Things are obviously different in Derry where the Socialist Environmental Alliance was always wider than SWP and it has now voted to join the PbP grouping - there will be difficulties in Derry if the Hewitts refuse to work with SWPers as the SEA is no longer listed on the Electoral Office website.

author by Accuracypublication date Thu Nov 19, 2009 12:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I fear the american academic you refer to has not been an active member of the SWP for sometime.

This particular person is a valuable addition to the left in the city and speaks at events, irregardless of who organises them, well almost irregardless.

author by and waitingpublication date Thu Nov 19, 2009 13:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This all sounds more than a little strange. One of the biggest far left groups in the country has split and given the politics of the place has split in the worst possible way - north/south. The three individuals named would have been regarded as dyed in the wool party faithful (though fairly well regarded by most on the left spectrum). The other "excitable" individual named has a profile that seemed to begin and end with his mugshot on an election poster and has no form outside of that bar a minor reputation as being a sullen dummy spitter. Yet according to this report the split was forced by the leadership itself in support of said Mr M. I'll guarantee that there is more to this than meets the eye.....

author by john - nonepublication date Thu Nov 19, 2009 15:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

'I am not going to get into an argument with you Gino and for what it's worth, you are one of the few I admire in the SWP, not least for the fact that you are genuine working class'

This said a lot about the outmoded thinking of a lot of people on the left. It betrays some naive belief in The authentic experience . Precarious labour is the experience of most of the country at the moment,
Is the revolution only for the people who fit your outmoded idea of the genuine authentic working class experience.??

This is my second time trying to post this. Strange...

author by The left spectrumpublication date Thu Nov 19, 2009 15:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The other "excitable" individual named has a profile that seemed to begin and end with his mugshot on an election poster and has no form outside of that bar a minor reputation as being a sullen dummy spitter.

Is this the same person that played a key role in recent times in organising and mobilising people against poverty and against the war?

So what about the middle?

Just asking

author by with a little more interestpublication date Thu Nov 19, 2009 16:04author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Could you be a little bit more specific about what playing a "key role" involves.

author by Niall Bpublication date Thu Nov 19, 2009 17:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I thought I remembered this and I was right. Seems that last time out young Mitchell was greatly assisted by Barbara Muldoon. Not only was she his election agent but check out this link http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/teen-ta....html
So what gives?
I really hope that this isn't going to be one of those splits where everyone keeps a dignified silence

Related Link: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/teen-takes-hain-to-court-over-poll-age-ban-13402386.html
author by RedFlag32publication date Sun Nov 22, 2009 13:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If the Irish Republican Socialist Party can disband the military wing of their organisation democratically without ANY splits then i would have thought the SWP could have managed this little non-dispute a lot better. Its always sad when the left splits. It does seem to be a left wing trait though, i wonder has anybody any ideas on why this is?

author by carina - swppublication date Wed Nov 25, 2009 20:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

it was just a lack of common sense on part of the Dublin committee to send a culchie from donegal to tell belfast boys what to do

author by Ex SWPpublication date Thu Nov 26, 2009 15:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

having met and worked with the individuals concerns, i'm not surprised that this has happened. i join the SWP having agreed with the aims of the organisation, however the working of it was totally against what i believed in. some of the members at the time seemed to me to be selfish and power hungry, a few others i had great respect for, Mark being one of them. i was glad to get away from the SWP at the time that i did and felt sorry for the ones left behind.

i may now have time for the SWP again, however there is still along way for them to go.

author by tomeilepublication date Fri Nov 27, 2009 15:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors


The Workers Power group which originally came came out of a split in the SWP have theories about why splits seem to be a trait in the left. They don't see splits as neccessarily being bad and think that a genuinly revolutionary movement can only come out of a process of splits within and fusions between what they regard as left centrist groups . I think that's roughly what their line is .

author by Jimpublication date Sat Nov 28, 2009 15:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Most of the bickering comments are pretty much what you'd expect from certain quarters at a time when capitalism is placing uprecedented burdens on working class families. Of course no other left wing party has seen members leave in recent times ,have they? Of course they have . But all the storms in the teacups for some inexplicable reason only seem to crop up whenever the SWP is involved.

Whatever the situation is in Belfast (and I don’t deny that there may have been difficulties) , SWP member RBB is blazing a trail in Dún Laoghaire that has clearly started to get the goat of the right wing there . Richard came under fire from FG councillor ,Mary Mitchell O'Connor , recently after he had the audacity to organise a public protest outside the county council offices on Marine Road in October while the council was in session ! Tut-tut .Cllr O’’Connor thought it would be more appropriate for RBB to raise his concerns within the hallowed chamber itself .

The October protest was staged in opposition to the recent demolition of structures by the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company on the Carlisle Pier
http://www.people-before-profit.org/node/233

author by jimpublication date Mon Nov 30, 2009 16:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Just in case anyone reading any of the above comments thinks that the SWP in Belfast can be written off ,there’s a public meeting organized for next Tuesday at QUB . What is the Alternative to Capitalism?. Eamonn McCann will be the main speaker. One for your diaries.

http://www.swp.ie/index.php?page=145&dept=Events

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