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Interview with Richard Boyd Barrett of the Socialist Workers Party
Q.1 Why did the SWP propose a socialist alliance at this time and not 5 or 10 years ago.
R.B.B. The main reason we are proposing a socialist alliance at the moment is because we think it fits the current situation. There is a substantial audience emerging to the left of the Labour Party, people looking for anti - establishment parties , in a way that wasnít the case 5 or 10 years ago. Then the left was in retreat, were beaten back under the impact of the Thatcherite offensive. I think that has changed, now there is widespread questioning of the priorities of capitalism on a world wide scale and here in Ireland is no exception. This has created an audience to the left of labour, but obviously that audience hasnít drawn revolutionary conclusions. People are still looking for parliamentary alternative, so I think it important that the far left pose that alternative and I donít believe that any group on the far left is in a position to do that on its own. The various far - left groups along with individuals, rank and file trade unionists and so on are capable of putting some sort of credible alternative on a national level that could become a pole of attraction to the left of labour.
Q.2 Will the SWP go ahead with such an alliance despite the refusal of the Socialist Party to join.
R.B.B. Yes we would like the alliance to go ahead despite the refusal of the S.P. to go into it. I think it is unfortunate that they are not involved because the SP along with the SWP are the two main organisations on the far left and I find it particularly surprising given that their British and Scottish organisations which are part of the same tendency are part of socialist alliances. We still hope they might get involved but nonetheless we should go ahead and finalise a socialist alliance with the rest of the left and at least work out some means of cooperation; not to stand against each other. I think our programmes will be largely the same anyway and from the point of view of those who are looking for a left alternative , they donít really distinguish between groups, like between the SWP and SP and they probably wonít distinguish between the SP and a left alliance. The main thing is to try and have a strong left challenge in the next election and hopefully at some point in the future the SP will get involved.
Q.3 What does the SWP propose for the allianceís programme.
R.B.B. I think the programme shouldnít be very controversial, because I think it arises logically from whets going on in this country and globally. I think that the programme should obviously include opposition to social partnership deals, an end to wage restraint and support for workers who are putting in wage claims which breach the parameters of social partnership. I think this is happening on the ground anyway and we should support that. The programme should involve taxing the rich to fund public services and if we look at what is happening in this country, in the Celtic tiger, there has been massive tax breaks for the rich. They have benefited massively, there has been a massive redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top. Public services have been run down, a crisis in the health service, a huge housing crisis. So its fairly obvious the alliance would call for a tax on the rich to fund our public services and as part of that to build opposition to any form of local charges or refuse charges. We would have to include policy on the environment, opposition to incineration, demand action on global warming, cut CFC emissions. Also opposition to racism is very important , to take a position in defence of refugees and asylum seekers. To oppose deportations. There is not a lot more I can think of off the top of my head, those would be the basic points.
Q. 4 Will the alliance be a 32 county one.
R.B.B. I think because the alliance is at least initially directed at the upcoming elections, so that is the main immediate concern, but, yes there are attempts to get the alliance going in the North. We support that. So yes, we are in favour of a 32co. alliance. But obviously those alliances are going to be dealing with different issues and are involved in a different electoral process. So there will be many differences. I think the involvement of forces such as the Republican writers group and other forces on the left is a positive development.
Q.5 You mention the involvement of the Republican writers group. could you see the question of the right to self determination become an obstacle to the involvement of the Socialist Party for instance.
R.B.B. I think we are probably going to have a look at that, but I think we should just take a position of calling for workers unity, taking a clear stand against sectarianism and any sectarian structures that exist in the N.I. state. We would probably not get into it much more than that. If we want involve Protestant workers for example in a socialist alliance, there are arguments we have to win with them about the nature of the N.I.. state. But I donít think there should be preconditions on trying to pull them into a left wing alliance on a class basis.
Q.6 What does the SWP propose the activity of the alliance be.
R.B.B. In the first instance we see it as primarily geared towards posing a credible challenge in the forthcoming elections. So it will be about trying to set up constituency organisations, selecting candidates in as many areas as possible on a democratic basis. Thatís the mast immediate task as the SWP would see it. However I think this should lead into more general cooperation on the left working together on all sorts of issues and campaigns. Whether its against refuse charges, supporting workers taking strike action, or whatever issues come up affecting the working class.
Q. 7 What does the SWP feel it can do to make the alliance a success?
I think the main thing is to make it a genuine alliance with no individual party dominating it. Some of the things we proposed in a draft set of proposals was that no party should have any more than two representatives on the steering ctte. which was to be established as a provisional ctte. to organise the alliance. I think that this is the correct approach and much the same should be taken at local level. Local alliance networks or branches as they are set up should not be dominated by any particular group. Obviously the SWP is one of the bigger groups and we probably have more forces on the ground to start with, but as far as we are concerned the test of this alliance is its ability to pull in much wider forces than already exists on the left. So we want to be a minority in any alliance. If we want to attract new forces it will have to be like that. It will have to be genuinely an open democratic organisation where no one far left group dominates.
Q. 8 You said you think that the SWP wants to be a minority in a larger movement. Would you agree that each group should have the right to put their analysis before all the membership and decisions taken on the basis of debating all the alternatives and that the majority in the structures should reflect the majority view of the members . The point being that all views have a fair hearing and a chance to win over the majority.
R.B.B. Yes I think thatís right. On the main issues I donít think that there is going to be a lot of disagreement. We probably agree on 90 per cent of the issues anyway. Some times there is too much concern on what divides us rather than what unites us. If we start from there a lot of these anticipated difficulties will be overcome. But of course any group or individual should be allowed to put forward their view and this should be decided on by the membership of the alliance and if the alliance takes off and we start to build as a serious force we should have a conference to decide these things. Iím reasonably confident if we start with what we agree and engage in real activity that relates to the audience which exists out there then these things will resolve themselves without us ever having a lot of arguments.
Q. 9 Is this a long term initiative of the SWP or only short term. Do you envisage it continuing after the next election.
R.B.B. it is definitely a long term initiative. The point is to begin to try and crystallise the anti - capitalist movement in this country, to begin to build a mass movement that is going to challenge the establishment, challenge the system. The SWP is a small organisation so we understand that any movement that can challenge the system is going to be far bigger than us, therefore we want to build an alliance that can develop and crystalise that movement. So very definitely its a long term thing. I hope the fight for socialism isnít a long term, I hope we achieve it sooner rather than later, but, yes, its a long term commitment.