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Is it time for an alternative left in Ireland? What is the role of political parties in the movement?

Dermot Connolly, Colm Breathnach, Des Derwin

26th March 2005

Editor’s note: The following open letter was published in the 26 March 2005 issue of Socialist Worker. We reproduce it here for the information of readers. The article ‘The fight for a new workers party and unity on the left’, carried on this site, is a contribution to this debate.

The mistrust of political parties by many of those involved in the struggle against imperialist wars and global capitalism is perfectly understandable. Fear that the movement can be channeled into a safe parliamentary opposition and of bureaucratic control from the top is entirely justified by the history of the past century.

It is not just undemocratic political parties who should be mistrusted. Bureaucratically controlled trade unions, so called non-governmental organisations, (NGOs), and especially so-called non-political campaigns or movements, which are actually controlled by people with political connections, all attempt to do the same thing.

Nobody who wants thorough change can give any degree of support to the elite political structure, bought and paid for by big business, which promotes the tweedledum/tweedledee politics of Bush versus Kerry, Blair versus Howard, Ahern versus Kenny.

No real opposition

Despite the many sincere activists in their ranks, parties such as Labour, Sinn Fein and the Greens, which claim to be on the left and anti-war, offer little or nothing in terms of a real opposition. Their aim is to get into a pro big business government led by either Ahern or Kenny. Both such governments will be pro-imperialism and pro-war in real terms.

Many young people rightly recoil from these ‘politics'. However, large numbers of these same young people are interested in a serious struggle against global capitalism, environmental disaster and unjust wars. To adopt an anti ‘party politics' stance to maintain ‘street cred' with these young people is to do them a disservice.

To build a serious movement to oppose/end global capitalist domination and imperialist wars requires a serious discussion on what we are for and against, how we are to organise, what method of struggle should be used.

Meetings and forums

This means having meetings, forums, setting up groups in different countries, cities. To do this it is necessary to engage in some form of organisation. This is a political discussion and therefore its organisation implies a political organisation of some sort.

Within that, discussion groups will come together with definite political views. To argue their view, they will organise to produce leaflets, journals, a website, meetings to discuss their ideas and work. They will have some method of political organisation.

Whether they call themselves parties, groups, movements or alliances is not fundamental. They are political organisations. Far more important are questions like: are they democratic in their structure and relationship to the broader movement? What is their political programme? What method of struggle do they advance? Do they connect with ordinary people? Do they wish only to control, or can they learn from the wider movement? What do they actually do in practice as opposed to what they say about themselves?

Campaign for a broad political alternative

In our view, what is needed to advance the social and anti-capitalist movement, and the political left, is a campaign for a broad political movement/alliance/party (we are not hung up on the title), based firmly on the working class, to involve young people, anti-war and anti-racist activists, anti capitalists and all those who are interested in a struggle to oppose and end global capitalism and its effects.

It should stand not only to the left of Labour, Sinn Fein and the Greens but a core principle must be that it is always independent from the bosses' political establishment. It must be democratic in its internal life and controlled from the bottom up. Such a party would be member-centred with a vigorously participatory internal life instead of the failed model of a self-perpetuating leadership immune from challenge or debate.

We believe that within such a political movement or formation all forces on the left, whether they describe themselves as socialists, anarchists, revolutionary marxists, or none of these, should have the right to organise as political platforms, with a duty to respect the rights of others and to fight for the organisation's overall aims.

The principles outlined here, for the relationship of socialist organisations to the new ‘anti-capitalist' and anti-war movements, should also govern the relationship to the trade union movement, community organisations, single-issue campaigns, the women's movement, struggles on the ground, participation in elections, etc.

Finally, while recognising the sincerity of those who argue against political groups in the social movement, such exclusion is no guarantee against the movement being dominated by elements with a hidden political agenda. While strictly maintaining the organisational independence of the movements from any one political party, an open and honest exchange of political views and platforms is the best way to guarantee that such covert manoeuvring fails.


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