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Down with this sort of thing! The problem with anti-coalitionism and safe unity

John McAnulty

4th December 2005

The public announcement in November of a campaign for a new left party raises more questions than it answers.  The embarrassing fact is that there are now three left unity projects in Dublin. Why support this one rather than one of the others?

Supporters of the new campaign have a ready answer. Support should be based on the points of agreement negotiated between the groups involved in the initiative.

But why these points? Obviously because this is what the various groups agreed on.

But is this a sensible approach? There may well be a very substantial difference between what the left agree and what the workers need to do to organise themselves as an independent force. In fact it is very likely that the left do not agree precisely on these central issues – the differences in programme are why they exist as separate organisations in the first place. (The new campaign is already facing criticism over its failure to outline a policy on the national question. This is exactly such a question – one where the left find it impossible to agree yet one that a workers party would have to confront and resolve).

For example, all left organisations oppose the idea of coalition with right wing parties and this is an element both of the new campaign and of the rival People before Profit group. Is this the basis of unity? It’s an issue on which all the socialist groups agree.

Alas no.

A moment’s thought will tell us that it is unlikely today that a new left unity will call for coalition with the right – nor is there ever likely to be such a movement. At the very best the call is a platitude that takes us nowhere.

What can we learn from a discussion of coalition? What we can tell from history is that eventually all the ‘left’ parliamentary parties embrace coalition with the right. This is always presented as a tactical question. Only by entering coalition can the parties reform the system and demand gains for their electoral base.

It’s a strategy that always fails. Any gains are always of an extremely limited nature. The price is always participation in a capitalist offensive that goes on from day to day and sucks the blood from the working class. Eventually the base deserts the ‘left’ party and it is consigned to oblivion, allowing the whole cycle to start again.

This contradiction does not exist for a revolutionary socialist movement.

Revolutionary socialists believe, with a lot of historical evidence to support them, that the institutions of the capitalist state are not neutral. Gains by the working class are resisted and sabotaged. The Dail is not an institution standing above the state. It’s part of the capitalist state. A mass vote for a working-class programme would not lead to a socialist society but rather to a savage struggle between the working class movement and the state apparatus.

That doesn’t mean that socialists don’t stand in elections or take seats in the Dail. They do, but with the understanding that the elections and parliamentary positions are platforms from which they can aid the mobilisation and self-organisation of the working class and build structures that extend far beyond the sham democracy of the Dail to give the vast majority power over their own lives and over the natural resources of our island.

So why not say that?

Why not forget this guff about coalition with right-wing parties and declare ourselves revolutionary socialists, setting before the working class goals that they will have to aim for if they are ever to hope for freedom?

That points the way to unity in action – to stepping forward in issues such as Irish Ferries and calling for the self-organisation of workers so that they may shake off the shackles of Fianna Fail and of the union bureaucracy and strike decisive blows at the bosses.

Now that would wake up the opponents of socialism and make their eyes water!



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