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A Bleak Electoral Landscape For The Irish Left

category national | anti-capitalism | opinion/analysis author Saturday February 19, 2011 16:54author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacity Report this post to the editors

UNITED LEFT ALLIANCE NOT REGISTERED AS A POLITICAL PARTY AND ONLY A FEW LEFT CANDIDATES LIKELY TO BE ELECTED

Despite the opportunities presented to the Irish radical and revolutionary Left by the current economic climate and people’s anger with the Government, financial establishment and other authorities, the electoral landscape for the Irish Left is bleak indeed.

The Green Party has of course badly soiled its radical credentials by its time in government. Trevor Sargent may overcome that for his own candidature if the electorate in his constituency remembers his resignation as party leader when his party went into coalition with Fianna Fáil in 2007. It seems likely that most electors won’t worry too much about his contacting the Gardaí to get them to move on a consitituent’s case, that kind of thing being almost expected of Irish TDs and his resignation as Junior Minister when the issue went public last year got him out of the Government before the crisis hit. At the moment Trevor is keeping as far away from the media as it is possible for an election candidate to do, following the dictum that “least said, soonest mended” -- but the Greens seem sure to get wiped out as an electoral force.

Sinn Féin is standing 40 candidates and may be facing the biggest success it has ever enjoyed in the 26 Counties but the most they can hope for in terms of overall political influence as a result is that they will get automatic comment and interview rights on RTÉ and other media, though not always and not to the same degree as the parties with bigger numbers of seats. The magic number for TV speaking rights is seven seats and, despite some rather optimistic current predictions from quarters from Right to Left (perhaps made mischieviously in the case of the former), SF would need to be fortunate to achieve them. Any further gains would need to be very large indeed to change the situation significantly.

What the electorate will make of the dispute over their initial voting for the bank bailout remains to be seen. Sinn Féin says they only voted for the pension funds and small savers to be saved while every other party says SF voted for the whole package. Most voters are likely to see SF as the kind of people who would stand up to the EU and the IMF in renegotiating the loan or in defaulting but may not see them as sufficiently experienced to be in government.

The party’s public offer to the Labour Party to make a pact so as to form a coalition “government of the Left” together, in the event of Fine Gael not gaining an overall majority, was predictably rejected. As Sinn Féin moves further towards a radical social-democratic position, the Labour Party, which has been moving away from that radicalism for decades, is now looking apprehensively over their shoulder towards the Republican party.

How the Labour Party will fare in this election is difficult to predict. They were the only party to unequivocally vote against the bank bailout. However, they don’t seem to be making great headway, despite their appearance through media coverage as the Government’s most strident critic in the Dáil. In the event of Fine Gael not gaining an overall majority of seats an approach to Labour for coalition seems the most likely outcome; they’ve been there before, in the most politically repressive government Ireland has seen since the 1930s. In such a scenario, social democrats who want to see social justice under capitalism and consequent increases in social expenditure but instead see Labour going the Fine Gael road of wage restraint and social expenditure cuts, may leak over time into Sinn Féin.

Fianna Fáil know they will take a hammering but are hunkering down, preparing to sit it out and, over time, recover ground. Despite their recent mantra of needing to “stop the squabbling” and “shouting matches” in the Dáil, over the years to come they will undoubtedly be attacking the new government’s measures without mercy (and without shame, considering the substantial contribution they made towards the current disastrous economy). Already Martin and others are criticising Labour and Fine Gael about an alleged “black hole” in their government program costings.

Without a serious revolutionary or even radical challenge, the likely outcome once the dust settles a little after this election (and perhaps an early subsequent one) is a return to Fine Gael alternating with Fianna Fáil in domination of the Dáil and of constitutional politics.

UNITED LEFT ALLIANCE NOT REGISTERED AS A PARTY FOR THIS ELECTION
Despite all the noise and euphoria expressed by the supporters of SWP, SP and by some independent socialists at the forming of the United Left Alliance last year, they have not registered as a political party for this election. The candidates of the Socialist Party, People Before Profit (mostly composed of the Socialist Workers’ Party) and some Left individuals will have their names entered on the ballot papers as representatives of those various groups or as independents, although some have put the ULA on their posters too and they have all ensured they are not competing for the same seats. United Left Alliance will not appear on the ballot papers for easy identification by voters as a joint Left platform.

Maureen O’Sullivan, defending Tony Gregory’s old seat in Dublin’s inner city, is standing, as her predecessor did, as an independent socialist community activist but has given her name to the ULA (in that, she seems to be their only certain TD with probably a second in Joe Higgins). Incidentally, Christy Burke, who fell out with Sinn Féin during the local authority elections two years ago and also with a track record as a community activist, is also standing in Dublin as an Independent, as is Cieran Perry, a long-time Leftie and previous election candidate -- neither of them have joined the ULA.

Speaking on RTÉ some weeks ago, prominent SWP activist Richard Boyd Barrett, standing for People Before Profit, while castigating the Labour Party for not joining with them to make a “left-wing challenge” to Fine Gael, was reluctant to predict PBP’s showing in terms of seats. Eventually he estimated somewhere between five to eight seats (they are standing nine candidates). Their candidates (not all of them also in SWP) have the ULA on their posters but the ballot papers will only read “People Before Profit”. They will not reach the seven seats necessary for the media speaking rights mentioned earlier.

Joe Higgins who, back at the ULA's launch on 29th November, openly declared the Socialist Party’s wish to build “a mass revolutionary socialist party” out of the ULA’s intended entry into electoral politics will have to stand as the Socialist Party’s candidate after all. Their posters may say “Socialist Party and United Left Alliance” but their ballot papers too will read only “Socialist Party”. And despite the SP’s fielding another eight candidates, Higgins is likely to be their only success.

Looking at the electoral prospects of the Revolutionary and hard radical Left, it seems clear that the most likely outcome of the elections will leave the revolutionary Left as a whole without the seven Dáil seats necessary to give them media speaking rights. Unless the showing of Fine Gael is a lot worse than that which is widely expected, the Left’s numbers will have no effect on important legislation and financial measures taken in the Dáil. In combination with the radical social democrats of Sinn Féin and a few Independents, the revolutionary Left could perhaps mount a serious challenge to Fine Gael in the Dáil (particulary should Fianna Fáil also oppose the government’s plans in a vote – but not if FF do as badly as currently predicted). But the SP and the SWP have already ruled out cooperation with SF on the basis of the latter’s readiness to go into coalition with a pro-capitalist party (despite the SWP and SP’s invitations to Labour). On the other hand SF have rarely shown much interest in working with the other two groups (and complain of being stitched up whenever they have done so in the past).

CONSTITUTIONAL POLITICS ARE NOT THE ONLY POLITICS
Of course, constitutional politics are not the only politics and, for some, are even their least important aspect. But radical and revolutionary politics on the street, in the communities, in the trade unions and in student bodies are in a woeful organisational state, again despite the widespread anger at the establishment as the lower middle and working classes are made between them to bear the economic pain of the capitalist crisis.

Historically, the revolutionary and radical left has been weak in Ireland. The centuries of struggle for national liberation have taken the majority of radicals and revolutionaries into their ambit. There they have been outnumbered by nationalist petit-bourgeois and workers with low class consciousness, their discourse all but drowned in the dominant nationalist one. Where they have declared the equal importance of class and national struggle, they have proved unable to analyse the class forces in society or to cohere around a working class perspective. In counterpoint, the revolutionary and radical left has, in most cases after the 1916 Rising and the Civil War, drawn away from supporting the national liberation struggle and therefore left the nationalists a clear field there.

Essentially, the revolutionary Left in Ireland just doesn’t have a coherent and believable programme of mass organisational revolutionary work. Despite the hard work of some smaller groups and some individuals from the comparatively larger revolutionary socialist groups, the necessary work of building bases among the broad masses of people just hasn’t been done. Little work has been done in the universities and third-level colleges (FEE campaign being an exception but without a wide enough reach yet) and students usually stay in those institutions for three to five years only, which means a high input is necessary in order to build and maintain a mass power base there (of course such work would also feed into organisational work in society at large and have a long-term effect in society, but long-term planning is precisely what the revolutionary Left does not do).

Community work is fragmented and those fighting to improve the communities and resist cuts are rarely revolutionary socialists. Also some community activists are silenced or compromised by their position as employees ultimately in receipt of state funding.

On the face of it, the most concentrated and potentially fertile arena for mass revolutionary work is in the trade unions and among currently unorganised workers. The trade unions are led by class-compromising social democrats but the reason they are able to get away with their deals is the absence of any serious alternative organisation among their members. The SP and the SWP both state that this work is important and that they are doing it but the fact that no serious cross-union grassroots revolutionary (or even radical) socialist organisation is being built even yet suggests that they have no serious plans in that regard. So what is the revolutionary organisational programme of the Irish revolutionary Left? They appear, like Micawber, to hope that “something will turn up”.

In the face of some of the greatest opportunities that the Irish radical and revolutionary Left have ever been handed, they are unable to take advantage of them. Should the capitalists’ political (and therefore economic and social) system come safely out of this crisis in Ireland, as it seem likely to at the moment, the majority of the Irish revolutionary Left will have only itself to blame.

Ends.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Sat Feb 19, 2011 17:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

1) Maureen O'Sullivan is not a supporter of the United Left Alliance.

2) The Socialist Party has not made any invitations to Labour to form any kind of alliance.

3) The parties and independent candidates which make up the ULA sought to have the words United Left Alliance added to their descriptions on the ballot paper, but were informed by the registrar of political parties that this could not be done before this election. The United Left Alliance features on the posters of its affiliates, in their election leaflets, in their election broadcasts and in their media appearances. There will be discussions about how to take the project forward immediately after the election.

4) It is very difficult to predict how many ULA candidates will be elected as a number will be involved in battles for the last seat. Joe Higgins and Seamus Healy would be widely considered to be strong favourites to take a seat in their respective constituencies (a recent Irish Times constituency poll had Healy polling over a quota in first preferences). There are a number of other candidates who are in the running, notably Richard Boyd Barrett, Clare Daly, Joan Collins and Mick Barry. Overall it could easily be anywhere from 2 - 6 seats. The ULA is very unlikely to get 7 seats on its own, but as a number of leftish independents are likely to be elected, forming a technical group would not appear to face insurmountable obstacles.

5) As far as building a radical network across the unions is concerned, the Socialist Party intends to invite socialist organisations, union left groups and rank and file trade unionists to an open meeting to discuss setting up exactly such an organisation in the wake of the election. This is the approach the SP has taken to a number of other campaign initiatives in recent times - trying to get as many interested people together as possible to discuss what's needed rather than just presenting some full formed initiative to the world.

author by Dennypublication date Sun Feb 20, 2011 05:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The article writer says there is an opportunity for mass revolutionary work among trade unionists and then states the obvious: that the trade unions are led by class-compromising leaders. Can't he see the illogicality in this? Many trade unionists are embedded in the skilled and third level educated middle class i.e. they are not working class and feel that is not their social-economic scene. That is not fertile ground for mass revolutionary work. There is a pecking order in the disparate trade union movement, and about half of the labour force does not belong to trade unions anyway.

Stop fetishising the trade union movement and deal with people where they are and with their cultural and economic hopes. The late Tony Gregory served his constituents, whether they were trade union members or whether they were poorly paid unskilled workers or housewives or street traders or unemployed. Most of them were not in trade unions, and he knew that. He dealt with his constituents on their own social and educational terms, not according to textbook theories of radical sociology and revolution. Those candidates of United Left Alliance who have campaigned steadily and pragmatically for the interests of their disadvantaged constituents in a similar pragmatic spirit will garner votes in the general election. I hope at least 5 of the 7 worthy candidates are sent to the Dail. ULA cannot be printed on the ballot papers in the relevant constituencies for the simple reason that it has not registered as a party. The first duty of a politician is to get elected. After that the elected deputies and their supporters can talk about forming a party.

author by Kimberly Jacobpublication date Sun Feb 20, 2011 12:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The ULA left it very late in the day to register as a political party - too late. This doesn't just mean that ULA candidates won't appear on the ballot paper. It also means that even if 7 ULA candidates were elected, they couldn't form a group in the Dail. Because they would be elected for different registered parties, they could only form a technical group by inviting every other independent TD to join. (Joe Higgins referred to this in a radio interview during the week. Of course, the technical group he once led in the Dail included a whole range of independents, far more than 7.) It also means the ULA wasn't entitled to a party political broadcast. This all seems to show that the ULA was put together in a bit of a hurry without doing its homework.

But if it was to present itself as a coherent alternative, there were other things it could have done and has chosen not too. The ULA could have put out a joint election manifesto instead of a range of different manifestos for each group. It could have made all its press conferences into ULA events rather than SP or PBPA etc conferences. It could have put up posters that prioritised the ULA, rather than posters that prioritise the individual groups.

The ULA could be and should be a huge step forward for the left, a chance to finally go "beyond the fragments". The key to this is that the left presents itself as a united force, instead of allowing its differences to build walls amongst it. But the groups in the ULA don't seem to share the enthusiasm for left unity 100%. They are afraid of putting all their eggs into a united basket, preferring to cling to their own labels. We should all vote for the ULA, but after the election it will have to outgrow its constituent parts if it is to fulfil its promise.

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacitypublication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 04:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yes, Mark P, my apologies for an important inaccuracy -- I was informed that Maureen O'Sullivan had joined the United Left Alliance which surprised me but I accepted it without checking.
But I HAVE heard Socialist Party speakers say that Labour should join with the Left, instead of going into coalition with Fine Gael. OK, that's not exactly an invitation, but ...

The ULA was formed last November and had ample time to register as a party and Kimberley Jacob makes some excellent further points on united initiatives they could have taken but did not.

It is true that ANY left candidates elected could form a "technical group" but that requires at least seven being of sufficiently like mind and also may raise difficulties in agreeing a spokesperson and a position on a number of issues arising.

I believe it was you, Mark, that told me months ago in this very paper of the intention of the SP to call a conference to build a grassroots trade union network. Intentions do not an initiative make, Mark.

I have been a bit sloppy; however the picture I drew is broadly accurate.

No Illogicality, Denny -- in order to oppose the class-compromising trade union leaders, a militant and effective GRASSROOTS cross-union organisation is essential. Trade unions encompass many different types of work and many grades, from cleaners, through drivers to lecturers. The fact that many workers do not belong to trade unions is also a failing of the trade unions and I would propose that recruitment and job organisation be part of the work of an established grassroots network.

It is important to deal with people where they are but it is also important to make a realistic analysis of the forces in society, especially when one wishes to resist the attacks of the capitalists and their state. On the basis of that analysis, we can then decide where to put most of our energies. By all means build bases in the communities and the colleges and I will support you in that but I know where the main resources of the revolutionary movement should be put -- if we want to win.

A word on textbooks: they are essential for people in any trade, Denny, and it is important to practice too, and to learn from the latter. I try to be guided by theory and by the lessons of practice -- mine and that of others.

author by Alan Davispublication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 11:43author email alan.bolshevik at gmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Unity with the Labour Party who are committed to the basic framework of the IMF/EU deal?

Unity with Sinn Fein who despite their social democratic pretensions are not a working class party and have shown in government in the North that they are willing to participate in anti-worker regimes?

Unity between reformists and revolutionaries in a party-type organisation on a compromise programme?

While the broadest possible unity is necessary in campaigns against the attacks any who claim the mantle of "revolutionary socialist" need to be clear that it would be a mistake to water down their revolutionary politics in order to get unity at the level of a party-type organisation. This has been proven to be a disaster for the revolutionaries every time it has been tried since the first historic betrayal of parties uniting "all the left" at the outbreak of WWI.

For a revolutionary Marxist approach to the coming election see:

Related Link: http://www.bolshevik.org/Leaflets/2011IrishElection.html
author by slippypublication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 12:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Do you really believe that a technical group is something to do with a "right" to be interviewed on RTE?

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 15:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Kimberly:

You were making almost exactly these complaints from the moment the ULA was founded. The ULA has been very clear that it is, at this stage, an alliance of parties and individuals and not itself a party. All of the affiliates intend to move the process along after the election, but to be blunt the success or otherwise of attempts to move on towards a new party will be largely determined by the involvement of significant numbers of people from beyond the ranks of the current left organisations. You seem to want to skip ahead, past a process of growth, discussion and collaboration, straight to the declaration of a new party, something which neither I nor many of the others involved in the ULA think would be a very good way of going about things.

At the moment, the ULA has a structure appropriate to an alliance, not a structure appropriate to a party. Presenting it as a party when it is not yet one would be dishonest and counterproductive. It has worked together harmoniously so far and its affiliates have spent considerable time and energy, in their leaflets, their public meetings, their media appearances and their publications, on raising the profile of the alliance. Contrary to your claim, the overwhelming majority of press conferences held by the left have been joint ULA press conferences. It has been a positive experience for the left in Ireland.

Impatience can be understandable, but it's the enemy of progress.

Diarmuid:

1) You may have heard Socialist Party speakers argue that if Labour was really a party of the left, it would be looking to ally with the forces to its left rather than with Fine Gael. The point of that argument is to demonstrate that Labour is a business as usual right wing party, not to invite it into an alliance. Just to make this abundantly clear, just in case there is some confusion: The Socialist Party will never, under any circumstances, ever, enter an alliance with the Labour Party. I hope that's clear enough for you.

2) The ULA hasn't registered as a political party because it is not a political party. It is an alliance of parties and individuals. The registrar was asked by all of the affiliates if they could add the words "United Left Alliance" to their descriptions and were told that this was possible but the process would take six months or more, as other parties would have to be asked if they objected, etc.

3) Of course difficulties could arise in forming a technical group, but as a large number of independents are expected to be elected, a ULA group short of seven TDs would be unlikely to be unable to gather together a few independents looking for a technical group. It isn't necessary that they be of particularly like mind either, as a technical group is a purely technical arrangement and does not involve any political agreement.

4) Yes, I did indeed tell you about the Socialist Party's intention to call a meeting to discuss building a cross union activist grouping. The meeting has been delayed by a few weeks because the government inconveniently called the election right about when the meeting was going to be called. The meeting will go ahead. Hopefully you will participate.

author by Kimberly Jacobpublication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 16:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mark misunderstands my point. I don't want the ULA to skip towards being a party. I want it to skip towards being what it claims to be - an alliance.

An alliance can stand alliance candidates as an alliance. It can call all its press conferences as an alliance. It can publish an alliance manifesto, It can put up alliance posters for its alliance candidates. To satisfy technical and legal quibbles, it can register its alliance as a party purely to allow it to puts its alliance candidates on the ballot paper as alliance candidates (which doesn't take anything like 6 months - there's only a 21 day appeal period, according to the Irish Times).

I hope I've used the word "alliance" enough to emphasise that these are all logical steps for a political alliance to take, which the ULA hasn't taken. There is a mood out there for a coherent socialist response to what's going on in the world, which the ULA has tapped into. But I think it would have tapped into it more, if it had gone all the way to being a genuine alliance. Instead it has settled for a loose electoral umbrella of separate groups and independents, like a left wing version of New Vision (with a less confused set of agreed points, of course).

As Mark says, most of those in the ULA are happy with the way they have done things. But this just proves my point that it needs to outgrow the limitations such people are placing on it.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 17:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Kimberly, there's something a bit odd about arguing with someone who apparently feels no need to check whether his/her points are at all accurate. Let's look at some of your suggestions:

1) The ULA is in fact standing candidates as an alliance. That's the whole idea.
2) Almost all press conferences have in fact been called as joint ULA ones.
3) It has in fact published a joint manifesto - our detailed points of agreements.
4) The ULA features prominently on all of the posters of its candidates.

In fact, the ULA has already gone further than your suggestions:

1) The leaflets of its candidates prominently advertise the ULA.
2) When given the opportunity to appear in the media its candidates have talked about the ULA at some length.
3) It has held joint ULA public meetings in every single constituency it is standing in.

Every single one of the "suggestions" you make, has in substance already been done apart from the registration of the ULA as a party. The ULA has not been registered as a party because it is not a party. Instead an attempt was made to have ULA added to the description of its candidates, which hasn't happened because the registrar of political parties informed the ULA it couldn't be done in time. Not that this will stop you from repeating the same incorrect claims you've been making since the ULA was announced yet again as if this hadn't been explained to you repeatedly.

The ULA is an alliance, it is not a political party. There is a strong feeling amongst those involved in the ULA that the process of collaboration can be strengthened and advanced after the election and that it may be possible to move towards founding a new party. If that happens it will be on the basis of careful and detailed discussions about programme, structure, democracy, etc. It will not be done precipitously to satisfy the impatience of one random individual on the internet.

author by Kimberly Jacobpublication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 17:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I apologise if I'm too random an individual for Mark, but I hope that thousands of other random individuals like me will vote for the ULA on Friday.

All of the candidates standing under the ULA umbrella are standing first and foremost as candidates of their own groups. The ULA gets a mention in their literature, but only a subordinate one. That's not a proper alliance.

Having "almost all" press conferences as ULA conferences is not the same as the ULA organising them all, with the affiliated groups happy to take part as alliance members. The SP, PBPA etc have insisted on having media campaigns of their own in parallel. That's not a proper alliance.

The agreement to set up the ULA is not a joint manifesto. It's not even a "detailed" agreement. The PBPA, SP etc have published separate mainifestos of their own which are far more detailed. That's not a proper alliance.

There are a good few PBPA posters up which don't mention the ULA at all. The other posters advertise the PBPA or SP or whatever far more prominently than they mention the ULA. That's not a proper alliance.

If the people that set up the ULA can't tell the difference between a proper alliance and a New Vision-type electoral umbrella label, then it once again underlines my original point, that the ULA will have to outgrow the limitations set by its founders.

author by D_Dpublication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 18:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mark P says, "Yes, I did indeed tell you about the Socialist Party's intention to call a meeting to discuss building a cross union activist grouping. The meeting has been delayed by a few weeks because the government inconveniently called the election right about when the meeting was going to be called. The meeting will go ahead. Hopefully you will participate."

A clarification on this necessary and welcome initiative. I think things may have moved along on it. At the ULA activists' meeting in Dublin on 10th February it was announced that the ULA was convening this meeting, or one exactly the same as it ("a conference of trade union supporters").

author by D_Dpublication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 18:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

10th January

Too many letter boxes!

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 18:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

D_D:

That's certainly possible, I'm not a trade unionist and haven't been keeping precisely up to date with the plans of Socialist Party (or ULA) trade unionists. Last I heard, the meeting was going to go ahead but it had been pushed back by the government's very inconsiderate decision to call the election earlier than expected.

The original intention was to convene a meeting of all interested groups and trade unionists, to discuss the setting up of a broad cross-union activist body. That would be rather different from a meeting to organise ULA supporters in the unions as it would include trade unionists from other organisations and those unaffiliated with any particular political formation. Both would be important (indeed necessary) steps forward, but they aren't quite the same thing.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 19:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Kimberly, I wonder where you are getting your definition of a "proper alliance" from, as from where I'm sitting you seem completely unable to distinguish between an alliance and a political party. The ULA, once more, is an alliance of parties and individuals. It is hoped to progress beyond that, but at the moment it is just that: an alliance.

The groups which are part of the ULA have not dissolved and have not abandoned their own identities and their own politics and nor are they claiming to have done so. They are working together to try to get a bloc of left wing TDs elected. I've outlined in this discussion the significant prominence its candidates have given to the ULA in their media appearances and election literature and the series of joint public meetings which have been held around the country.

That doesn't appear to be enough for you. That's fine. But you are quite deliberately downplaying the very real progress which has been made.

author by D_D - PBPA - individualpublication date Mon Feb 21, 2011 23:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mark P, you are quite right, and you make an essential distinction when you point out that "a meeting of all interested groups and trade unionists, to discuss the setting up of a broad cross-union activist body...would be rather different from a meeting to organise ULA supporters in the unions as it would include trade unionists from other organisations and those unaffiliated with any particular political formation".

It is imperative that a trade union grassroots network would be composed of trade union activists of many political affiliations and none.

For that reason, and for the unfortunate and regrettable reason that recent experience has indicated that if one political organisation calls an initiating meeting, even in an open and inclusive way, some other political organisations will not engage with it, or will engage with it without real commitment, it might be better to have the initial call made by a cross-party and independent list of representative trade unionists. Nevertheless, preliminary and open discussion meetings before this critical step and facilitated by trade union colleagues in the Socialist Party would be very useful and I look forward to any such roundtables.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Tue Feb 22, 2011 00:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Well, yes, D_D.

The point was to get all interested groups and individuals together to discuss setting up such a body, rather than simply creating one privately and then presenting it to everyone else as a fait accompli. A similar approach was taken with a preliminary meeting about setting up an anti-water tax campaign, and to trying to get the left to mobilise for an ICTU protest. And yes, I would guess that the call will be made, when it finally is, by wider groups than simply the Socialist Party.

author by Linguist.publication date Tue Feb 22, 2011 01:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Any gobsh*te can call himself socialist.

NAZI is "National Socialist".

History has rendered the word socialist empty of all meaning.

author by Dennypublication date Tue Feb 22, 2011 04:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There are 157 varieties of socialism, and as twentieth century experience shows us, the National Socialists in Germany did their bit to devalue the meaning of socialism. Don't forget that Benito Mussolini in sunny Italy also bellowed socialist rhetoric from public podiums on the road to fascist power. Then there was Bertie Ahern's assertion that he, and FF, were socialist. And in the heady 1960s Brendan Corish as Labour leader famously declared that: "The Seventies will be socialist". (Words with a certified 24-carat gold that turned out to be fool's gold)

Best of luck to the beavering 7 ULA candidates, and to the residue of the Workers Party, and to some (but not all) of the scattered Independents.

After the election the social crisis will continue to depen as voters realize that the Dail cannot/won't change their daily living conditions.

I don't share Diarmuid's affection for textbook radical theory. The big trade unions are too embedded in the macroeconomic system to work for a humane rational alternative. The real word of quiet desperation is differen from what leaders negotiate at social partnership round tables.

author by Kimberly Jacobpublication date Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There's not much point in rehearsing the arguments further than we have, but it seems to me there are more than the 2 alternatives Mark poses.

The ULA is a step forward, but needs to go further. As far as Mark is concerned, this would mean the groups involved abandoning their identities and politics. But there can be such a thing as a socialist political formation which organises as a coherent united formation, while at the same time allowing different currents of opinion to exist within it. The left tends to think that every difference of opinion has to result in setting up a separate organisation. Even when they set up an alliance of sorts, they still insist on maintaining their own separate campaigns, refusing even to replace them with a common effort for the few weeks of an election . I think there are people on the left who would want to work in a more united way, to go further than the ULA has, without for a minute underestimating the difficulties involved. This once again comes down to whether the ULA can develop a vision further advanced than those who set it up.

In the meantime, vote for them early and often!

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - personal capacitypublication date Wed Feb 23, 2011 16:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mark P is correct that I criticised the euphoria around the launch of the ULA, on the grounds that I believed that the main item on the agenda of building united class resistance at this point in time was building a cross-union grassroots organisation. I also pointed out that as an organisation with an electoral focus, the ULA would effectively exclude some significant elements of the revolutionary Left. Then I went on to point out that its likely impact even on parliamentary politics would be negligible because of its numbers.

At the time I did not dream that even in a general election, the very kind of event for which it was formed, that it would fail to register as a party (call it “an electoral platform” if you prefer), so that it would not even appear on the ballot papers. I did not dream that it would not issue a joint election manifesto and leaflets, listing all its candidates nationally or area by area. This was a monumental error, either attributable to political sectarianism, as some allege, or to inefficiency, as I suspected – or a combination of both.

There has been exhibited in some of the replies the usual arrogance of our major (but tiny) revolutionary socialist parties. A refusal to accept justified criticism and an arrogance towards critics on the basis that they are doing so from an individual rather than a party platform. Some individuals have spent many years in and out of trade union struggles, parties, broad committees, solidarity organisations etc. – and I’d venture the opinion that there are more anti-imperialist and socialist activists that do NOT belong to the SWP and SP than there are in those two parties’ combined membership.

Mark P assures us that “just in case there is some confusion: The Socialist Party will never, under any circumstances, ever, enter an alliance with the Labour Party. I hope that's clear enough for you.” Yes, very clear and would reassure some aware of the party’s origins in the Militant Tendency which organised inside the British Labour Party and always campaigned for its election until they were expelled from it (and even after).
But is “Mark P, Socialist Party (in a personal capacity)” authorised to make such statements?

I did not say that I had an “affection” for textbooks, Denny – I said that they were essential in any trade. If you would expect a plumber, nurse, electrician, teacher, architect etc. to have studied theory associated with their trade, surely we should expect that those proposing measures to bring about an egalitarian society free from exploitation should have done likewise! Revolutionary theory is drawn from the study of actual events, social organisations and economies as well as some speculation (just as in the sciences); it informs practice today, which in turn informs the theory of tomorrow.

I do agree with Denny about the big trade union leadership. The question is, how to resist? When 70,000 trade unionists walked down O’Connell Street in protest at the Government not so long ago and the ITUC was promising a one-day General Strike, that could have been the start of serious resistance. Of course we would have had to take the leadership of the trade union struggle out of their hands in order to win even significant concessions. But without an effective and broad network, how could we do that? We couldn’t even go ahead with the General Strike when they called it off and crawled to the surrender-negotiating table.

I do hope that a meeting is called soon to set up the trade union grassroots network which I have been going on about for a few years now and I hope that all sympathetic are invited to discuss how best to proceed. I don’t care who starts the ball rolling but eventually an inclusive meeting will need to be called which I hope will pave the way for a broad organising and administrative committee. Of course I’ll be there if at all possible (hopefully I’ll hear about it even if I get left off the invites).

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Wed Feb 23, 2011 18:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Diarmuid, I don't know what you are responding you above when you talk about me being "right" about your previous criticisms, as far as I can see I didn't mention them. But if you wish to discuss the value or otherwise of standing for election, I'm more than willing to do so. It is not electoralist to stand for election and it is not "electoralist" to stand for election with the hope of winning some seats. The ULA and its components have been very clear that the central purpose of their election campaign is to try to get a group of socialist TD's elected, and then to use those positions to help mobilise and give voice to more significant movements in the streets and in the workplaces. It is not being posited as an alternative to those movements, but as a means of assisting their development, a distinction you seem unwilling to grasp.

The ULA is an alliance around a limited common programme. It is not a merger of the organisations involved. It is not, at least as of yet, a new party. It has cooperated harmoniously and relatively closely since it was announced and a considerable number of people from outside the affiliated organisations have become involved. This is something which should be welcomed. It is very difficult to predict how many seats it will gain. I would guess somewhere between 2 and 6, which would be 2 to 6 more than the socialist left can muster now. Not a massive breakthrough, but potentially an asset to extra-parliamentary movements, as the GAMA workers could tell you.

While I don't normally speak on behalf of the Socialist Party here (nobody does), I can certainly assure you that I accurately represented the Socialist Party's position on the Labour Party. I'm quite surprised that somebody who seems so keen to pontificate on the alleged failings of this country's socialist organisations, that you apparently haven't noticed that the Socialist Party regards the Labour Party as just another right wing party, not a party of the left, not a potential ally, not preferable to Fianna Fail or Fine Gael. Our predecessor organisation was part of the Irish Labour Party up until the early 1990s and for a number of years after Militant was expelled from Labour it continued to regard Labour as being a part of the broad left. However, the LP was, over an extended period, moving to the right, its once strong left wing was dying out and it was systematically ending its commitment to even the wateriest reformism. The Socialist Party hasn't supported a Labour vote or transfer in any election since it was founded and is not interested in forming an alliance with it.

As for accepting criticism, Diarmuid, there's nothing arrogant about rejecting criticism which is inaccurate, unfair or ill-founded.

author by Motorist.publication date Wed Feb 23, 2011 19:11author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If you are rich enough to buy a new car then the poorer people pay for your "scrappage." deal.
The poor pay for scrappage.

If you are so poor you only pay for your car tax 3 months at at a time then you pay dearly in extra car tax.

The rich are different.

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - personal capacitypublication date Thu Feb 24, 2011 02:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

What to do when his arguments are shot full of holes? Invent a position not stated to reply to and ignore the real issues raised -- oh yes, and add a little more arrogant abuse!

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Thu Feb 24, 2011 20:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Diarmuid, there's no abuse in my posting, arrogant or otherwise. I just don't agree with you. If there's some issue you've raised that you think I'm ignoring or avoiding, feel free to point it out and I'll respond.

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - personal capacitypublication date Fri Feb 25, 2011 05:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mark P, "abuse" may not be the correct nomenclature but calling me "someone who seems so keen to pontificate ...." does seem like an intended insult. A bit like when you called another person in this correspondence "a random individual".

I leave it to the readers to judge from the published article and correspondence whether you have a) consistently addressed the issues raised in the article and b) whether your replies worked as rebuttals.

author by Sean Nolanpublication date Fri Feb 25, 2011 09:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

... what Diarmuid's problem is here. I've read this whole debate and honestly can't see any abuse from either side. Diarmuid is being way too sensitive if he's going to give up because someones said he 'pontificates' - not something I would consider an insult especially in the context of a very respectful overall debate.

But I really am interested to know what points Diarmuid would like Mark to address, that he hasn't already?

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