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The movement for a new party Ė some questions that need to be answered

Andrew Johnson

7th June 2005

Recently a campaign has been launched in Dublin calling for the formation of a new party of the left. The main forces behind the campaign are Tipperary TD Seamus Healy and his supporters, and former members of the Socialist Party grouped around Dublin city councillor Joan Collins, with involvement from the Irish Socialist Network and a number of independents.

We do not want to dismiss this initiative or make a premature characterisation of it. We lack sufficient information to make a judgement, as Socialist Democracy was not invited to take part in the discussions leading up to the launch, and the statement put out by Seamus Healy, Joan Collins and Des Derwin was short on details. However, we believe there are questions the initiative needs to answer Ė perhaps those involved havenít yet asked themselves these questions Ė and a few signs giving cause for worry.

The justification given for the initiative is that the Labour Party is no longer an effective vehicle for socialist politics and the working class requires a political party it can call its own. We can agree with those points as far as they go. But it is puzzling that Labourís decision to enter a pre-election pact with Fine Gael is cited as decisive. Would it really have made a difference if Labour had waited until after the election? And Labour first went into an FG-led coalition in 1948 Ė to what point in the last 57 years should we date Labourís qualitative degeneration?

It is also disturbing, although not unprecedented, that a unity initiative should begin by being exclusive. The initiative seems to have arisen out of private discussions among a narrow layer of people. Socialist Democracy was certainly not invited, and we hear that neither the Socialist Party nor the SWP will be allowed to take part. Many people are wary of those two organisations and rightly so, but between them they represent the bulk of the organised left in Dublin. It is a strange kind of left unity that starts out by excluding most of the left.

Unity requires an object

Some of the comrades involved in the present initiative were also heavily involved in the short-lived Socialist Alliance in 2001. The fundamental lesson of that experience, as Socialist Democracy argued at the time, was that unity requires an object. You do not unite for the sake of unity. You unite to do something, on the basis of agreement. The failure of the SA was not merely a question of the SWP killing it off, but of the fact that neither the SWP nor most of the other participants had any idea what the alliance should be for.

Has there been any political agreement reached? The statement released did not say there was any, much less outline the political basis for a new formation. We havenít been a party to the discussions leading up to this initiative, so we donít know if any of the central issues facing the working class were discussed. If they were, there is no hint of a common position.

Has there been an agreement to do anything? The participants mentioned their involvement in various struggles, but said nothing about any joint activity. For people who pride themselves on their activism, some sort of programme of activity would have made the new campaign much more impressive. Joint activity would also be the best way of building the trust that is in such short supply on the Irish left.

We could point to the Campaign Against Water Privatisation in the North as a small example of how we think unity in action can be achieved. Members of the Irish Socialist Network and Socialist Democracy reached a common position on the political content of the campaign, agreed on a programme of joint action, and have been carrying out this action, encouraging grassroots initiatives in working-class communities in Belfast. Furthermore, the discussions took place not as a private arrangement between the ISN and SD, but came out of an open meeting which had various political tendencies Ė members of the IRSP, the SWP and the anarchist movement among others Ė in attendance. There was nothing to prevent these other tendencies taking part had they wanted to do so.

A way forward

It remains to be seen what might develop from this new initiative. It might lead nowhere, or it might only succeed in forging loose links between Seamus Healyís and Joan Collinsís election machines. We donít believe socialists should be content with that, when more is possible. As the initiators of the campaign recognise, it would be folly to proclaim a new party now when the forces for it so obviously donít exist. But we can take important steps towards building a real political unity.

We propose that the comrades involved in the new campaign should make it their business to encourage an open discussion of the major issues facing the Irish working class Ė the collapse of the Good Friday process, strategies for combating partnership and rebuilding the unions, the crisis of working-class representation being the most obvious ones from our point of view. And this political discussion should be coupled with an attempt to reach agreement on joint action, to show in deed and not just words that comrades are serious about building a new left and willing to put in the necessary work.
 

 


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