Voodoo and left posturing

Anne Mc Shane reports an exchange of views at the United Left Alliance forum

On June 25 the United Left Alliance held its first national membership gathering - not a democratic conference, but a  forum. Despite the election of five ULA TDs in the February general election, both the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party, the two main components, seem incapable of uniting in a ULA party.

As I noted in my article last week, the SWP wants the ULA to be a broad front which does not describe itself as socialist (‘No to ULA talking shop’, June 23). In the first plenary session Kieran Allen told the 350 comrades gathered in Dublin’s Liberty Hall: “It’s not about how many times you mention the word ‘socialism’. It’s whether you are capable of spelling out in concrete ways what it means and how you will get there.”[1]

On the face of it this seems an entirely reasonable position. Marxism is, after all, about theory and practice. Simply calling for socialism without putting forward a programme would be hopeless. But actually what comrade Allen was really doing was trying to obscure the fact that he and the SWP leadership are totally opposed to the inclusion of ‘socialism’ in the ULA bullet-point platform and literature. It is not that he does not want the word used abstractly - he does not want it used at all. In other words, SWP leaders are divorcing socialism from the immediate struggle.

Instead they want the ULA to continue as an electoral bloc ... meanwhile let the working class learn “from the experience in struggle”. But such an organisation needs semi-Keynesian policies. Professor Terrence McDonagh from National University of Ireland was invited to provide intellectual legitimacy for this voodoo economics. He seriously proposed a scheme which could “be implemented within 48 hours and turn the economy around”. The plan would involve not only defaulting on the debt, but also leaving the euro, relaunching the punt, creating a ‘good bank’ and nationalising the Corrib gas field. This would create the basis for full employment, as control over currency would mean there would be more money to invest.

But the good professor and his followers in the SWP leadership seem to have forgotten a few things. Firstly Ireland is an integral part of the world economy. We are in the middle of a global economic downturn, within which Ireland is particularly vulnerable. The Irish economy has little indigenous industry and has always been the ‘poor relative’ of world imperialism, dependent on investment and loans from outside. It is not possible for it to ‘opt out’ of what is an international crisis ... without courting the fate of Stalin’s Russia, Enver Hoxha’s Albania and Kim Il Sung’s North Korea. To suggest that Ireland could go it alone even for a short time is a utopian diversion. We should leave that to neo-Stalinists such as Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan of the failed Scottish Socialist Party.

Instead of indulging in such left-nationalist, hair-brained schemes, we should be concentrating on developing a programme of immediate demands to defend and build our movement. These would include a minimum wage, healthcare at the point of need, and formulations in response to the many serious and urgent democratic and social questions that need to be addressed. We must link up with workers’ organisations throughout Europe - for both united action and moves to build an all-European revolutionary party. Instead, sadly, in this time of unprecedented capitalist crisis and working class discontent, the SWP is turning to what are Stalinist solutions rather than fighting for what they say they believe in.

Throughout the day SWP members repeatedly said that arguing for ‘socialism’ was an abstraction, a barrier to building the ULA. By pushing for the inclusion of the word, the Socialist Party was apparently putting an ultimatum to the working class. Instead, according to the SWP’s Richard Boyd Barrett, we must “wage war on jargon” - the language and traditions of the left can be off-putting, you know, and there is a lot of suspicion of leftwing political parties.

The SWP’s report of the forum argues that there needs to be “a dual strategy”: that is, on the one hand, “construct the ULA on the broadest possible basis, creating a space for those who still have reformist beliefs”; while, on the other hand, “revolutionary left forces organise within the ULA on an open and democratic basis to win the majority to the need for an overthrow of capitalism”. It is difficult to see how promoting the likes of McDonagh can be interpreted as attempting “to win the majority to the need for an overthrow of capitalism”. However, in reality, the SWP only wants to build itself. The immediate need for a mass party is absolutely secondary to its narrow interests.

But, as was countered by Socialist Party members and others, if you believe in your ideas you should argue to win others to them. There are plenty of campaigns and broader alliances that the ULA can work in to win people. To build an organisation based on ideas you do not believe in seems absurd, but is in fact profoundly opportunist. This was linked to another area of contention. The SWP is determined to push its own anti-IMF campaign, Enough, and its own Right to Work rather than involve the ULA directly in organising such campaigns. The only lesson the SWP seems to have learned from the abject failures of the Socialist Alliance and even Respect in Britain is that they went too far in the direction of creating party-like organisations.

The SWP editorial also says that revolutionary purity is no guarantee that an organisation will not sell out. This is a non-argument. It is the SWP that seems intent on pursuing opportunism of the crassest kind. The logical conclusion is liquationism .... Republican Congress, Democratic Left and many others have taken that route before.

As for the SP in Ireland, it is all very well posing to the left - not too difficult when your main opponent is the SWP. But it too is just as hostile to the building of a single united party based on Marxism. It too is against transforming the ULA into a fully democratic party armed with a revolutionary programme.

There were calls for democracy throughout the day, mainly from various non-aligned members, who made up about a third of the ULA forum. TD Joan Collins remarked at the closing session that she hoped the steering committee would deal with the lack of structures within the next few weeks. At the moment there are branch meetings once a month at most and there is little communication outside of that. Individual members are left in the dark. By way of compensation perhaps, it was agreed that the minutes of the forum would be circulated to all members.

The workshops saw a number of non-decision-making debates and constant pleas to be involved in policy development. At the moment research groups have been set up which do not report to the membership. In one well attended workshop the women’s question was discussed. It seemed to be agreed by all that abortion rights need to form part of the ULA programme and we were told by Sinead Kennedy of the SWP that she expected the current absence of this question from the platform to be rectified shortly. There were also a number of complaints about the lack of women on the platform and there was a call for quotas and positive discrimination.

The most you can say about the forum was that there was an exchange of views and that it brought some differences to light. But in a situation where our class is under constant attack by crisis-ridden capital, in a situation where workers are so disillusioned with established parties that they voted in five TDs belonging to the newly formed ULA in the general election, it is criminal that neither of the two left groups wants to take the project forward to its next logical step.


  1. www.swp.ie/editorial/after-united-left-alliance-forum/4602