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No room at the internet. ISN claim ‘no space’ for discussion

Some time ago SD member John McAnulty submitted a response to an article in the ISN journal ‘Leftline’ on the issue of democracy within left organisations.  The ISN have now declined to carry the piece.  John’s response is recorded below.

9 November 2006

Dear comrades,

Some time ago I sent you a critique of a ‘Leftline’ article arguing for unstructured forms of democracy within left organisations and movements.  You have now responded refusing the piece on the grounds that:

· It was longer than your limit of 900 words 
· No-one was available to write about so obscure a subject
· Your articles were on the immediate class struggle rather than topics such as the Russian Revolution.

In fact the most recent edition of Leftline ( has one article at just under 1400 words and another at 1800.  One of your correspondents has written an article about the obscure Dutch anti-Leninist Anton Pannekoek.  Finally, I was quite angry at your suggestion that my article was about the Russian revolution.  I am quite convinced that the Leftline article, and my reply, were about the Irish left today – readers can confirm this by going to:

It seems to me that the ISN article was not for discussion but was an outline of existing policy and practice in your organisation, a policy in which you disagree sharply with Socialist Democracy.  We support the ideas of Leninism because we find them most effective in protecting our own internal democracy. Our experience is that ‘no leadership’ organisations have a hidden leadership unrestrained by formal internal controls. However you are unwilling to discuss this difference with us.

This is not the first time that we have found ourselves in disagreement with the ISN or found the ISN unwilling to discuss that difference. We participated in earlier talks about left unity hosted by the ISN where we put forward what we felt was the uncontroversial proposal that unity be around the major political issues facing the working class.  The ISN did not argue for a different position.  They simply failed to turn up at the next meeting and began a new round of talks in private, excluding Socialist Democracy and a range of other socialist organisations.  As we understand it from the outcome, the subject of these talks centred not on the needs of the working class, but on the electoral needs of the component organisations.  The result was that the process of private diplomacy acted as a sort of Dr. Frankenstein, giving birth to the monstrous Campaign for an independent left (CIL), a thoroughly reformist, electoralist and opportunist alliance whose only ‘principle’ is opposition to coalition.  Interviews by leading figures in the ISN and the composition of CIL platforms indicate that electoralist 'left unity’ could stretch all the way from Labour Youth to Sinn Fein!

All new organisations have a certain honeymoon period.  People give the new group the time to develop their positions and clarify their views. A certain ambiguity is allowed for and accepted.  It seems to us that the ISN method is now clear.  It calls itself a network but operates as a party without clearly outlining its programme.  It outlines a new form of democracy applying both internally and within the socialist movement but is unwilling to debate the obvious shortcomings of a practice attempted over and over again in the past.  Along with the vast majority of the established socialist  groups on the Irish left it seems engaged in a headlong rush to throw together some sort of reformist structure in the desperate hope of making gains in the next elections.

New organisations also have an opportunity.  They have the freedom to think ‘Outside the box’ and develop new methods and ideas.  They also have the opportunity to shake up the ideas of other left groups who, at least for a time, have to consider what they say rather than automatically dismissing it.  The members of Socialist Democracy can only express their disappointment that the ISN appear, at least this side of the elections, to have put aside that opportunity, especially as we find individual members of the group to be committed and serious revolutionaries with whom we have worked well in individual campaigns.

In the meantime the Socialist Democracy website is open to any member of the revolutionary socialist movement in Ireland and abroad. We will not always agree, but we will always publish and reply.  One of the great advantages of the web is that, unlike physical journals, debate is not constrained by the space available – only by the political willingness of the contesting parties.


John McAnulty


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