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Campaign for an Independent Left discusses coalition

Kevin Keating

11 April 2006

Since the founding meeting of the Campaign for an Independent Left (see:The Movement For A New Party)  a number of questions have hung over the organisation. Is it a primarily an electoralist structure or is it aiming to build mass and class action within the working class? Does it have a principled political platform or is it an unprincipled and opportunist alliance, empty at the core where genuine political agreement should rest?

This meeting, on Tuesday April 4, at the Teachers' Club in Dublin, seems to have decisively and finally answered these questions in a way that reflects no credit on the groups involved in the CIL.

The first warning signs came with the title: “Can Coalition With Parties of the Right Bring Real Change?”  The answer, as one wag on the indymedia webpage pointed out, was No.  Not only was the answer No, but there was no-one willing to debate a yes position.  All of the parties at the meeting, even those like the Greens and Sinn Fein, whose main strategy is to win a place in a right-wing Coalition, happily denounced coalition to the right without any awkward questions or disputes with the CIL organisers.

So the title was dishonest. The meeting, chaired by Harry Browne of the Village Magazine and with speakers Séamus Healy TD for the CIL, Patricia McKenna (Green Party), Paul Dillon (Labour Youth) and Daithí Doolan (Sinn Féin) was never meant to discuss coalition to the right and did not do so.  The unstated agenda was that there could be a parliamentary coalition of the left, and that its component parts were present on the platform.  In one fell swoop and without any discussion Sinn Fein and the Greens were promoted to parties of the left without being required to have any left policies and the jumbled rag-bag of interests on the platform were put forward as a vehicle to advance the interests of the working class!  The CIL, before it had spoken a word, had made it clear that it was not going to battle with Sinn Fein for leadership of the working class, even though that party stands as a major roadblock in the way of any new working-class party.

In case anyone had missed the point, Séamus Healy spelt it out for them.  His central thesis was that the history of the ‘left’ entering coalition with the right had always proved disastrous for the left parties, and that the argument for such alliances had become more and more unconvincing given that there was an historic decline of right wing parties in 26 county politics. This was evidenced when we tallied the combined vote of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael today and found that they had fallen below 60% in the 26 counties generally and below 50% in Dublin.  The final part of the argument was left unstated but was blindingly obvious. The opportunity existed for a coalition of ‘the left’ to leap forward and take advantage of right-wing weakness to win and electoral majority and seize control of the Dail.

This makes very little sense even within the realm of parliamentary, reformist and electoralist politics. In the realm of the self-organisation of the working class and the project of a socialist revolution it makes no sense at all.  This supposed weakness of the right wing parties ignores the fundamental fact that the neoliberal programme of the right holds absolute dominance as far as the eye can see, both within Ireland and abroad.  No matter what the ups and downs of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, the fact is that the Labour party are busily advocating the same programme as the major capitalist parties, that the Greens and Sinn Fein’s programmes contain only minor amendments to the capitalist consensus, and that the trade union bureaucracy have been lining up with the bosses for decades.  This reality makes nonsense of the daft idea that there is a decline of the right and shows the sheer impossibility of taking groups who support all the major elements of the capitalist programme and shoehorning them into a left alliance.

Bad as this was, the meeting went downhill following Séamus Healy’s speech, with each speaker in some way contradicting the initial thesis and creating a tower of Babel.

By her very presence Patricia McKenna in some way negated the whole thesis.  Always willing to support campaigns and engage in dialogue with the left, there is no way that she could deliver her party into a left coalition, nor any way of disguising the fact that the Green party were aimed towards the right-wing coalition that the public meeting had been designed to condemn.  Given that policy wasn’t an issue, no-one mentioned that in the bin charge campaign that apparently brought the CIL together the Greens had been on the other side of the barricade. 

Perhaps the most enthusiastic supporter of the meeting was Sinn Fein speaker Daithí Doolan.  This is hardly surprising.  It is only a few week since the Ard Chomairle of his organisation agreed a ‘turn to the left’ – that is, a series of stunts, press releases and paper campaigns all designed to cover Sinn Fein’s pro-capitalist programme and the leadership strategy of winning a place as junior partners in a Fianna Fail coalition as quickly as possible. Plenty of empty activity and avoidance of policy is seen by Sinn  Fein as the perfect recipe for success in the next elections.  For the Provos the CIL campaign is a gift.  They get promoted as a left party and are able to claim involvement in radicalism without ever having to define a policy or take part in any united activity.

Unfortunately the bubble burst right away when Patricia McKenna questioned Sinn Fein’s left credentials, citing Gerry Adams handshake with George Bush at the beginning of the Iraq invasion as hardly the act of a socialist radical.  The response was an incoherent diatribe from Daithí Doolan.  They were true anti-imperialists and their abandonment of the republican programme would lead to a United Ireland.  Not only that, but as true activists willing to engage, they would be able to use their influence with Bush to win freedom for the Palestinians!

The most ironic intervention was from Paul Dillon of Labour Youth.  While most of the platform were embracing the electoralist illusions that give birth to the present right-wing labour leadership, Dillon rejected this as a basis for unity.  There was no parliamentary solution to the oppression of the working class.  Real unity would have to come from below, from active campaigns within the working class.  This was an antidote to much of the tosh that was spoken, weakened by Paul’s continued membership of an organisation associated with the Labour Party.

A further weakness was his belief that campaigning from below could be reconciled with unity behind sections of the trade union bureaucracy, a view echoed by Dublin Trades Council member Des Bonass from the floor.  This mirrors the almost universal blindness on the left to the reality of social partnership and the fact that the union leadership are about to sign up to a further ten years of class collaboration.

It would be nice to report that contributions from the floor marked an improvement on the platform debate, but in fact we had a number of contributions from the Socialist Workers Party and their front, the People Before Profit alliance, basically shouting out “us too!” and looking to be included in the mish-mash of electoral politics.

There’s a time and a place for charity and a time and a place for saying how things are.  The meeting around the question: “Can Coalition With Parties of the Right Bring Real Change?” defines the CIL as an opportunist, electoralist front, attempting to reinvent labourism at a time when the Labour party may finally be committing suicide.  In their attempts at pragmatism and realism they are adopting a fantasy scenario, a thousand times more unrealistic than any principled attempt to win Irish workers to revolution.


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