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What sort of politics for the Alliance?
The proposed programme of the Socialist Alliance is based on the perceived requirements of the coming general election. General elections are the only time it is accepted by our rulers that workers can involve themselves in politics. The rest of the time they are expected to be, at most, involved solely in trade union issues. This is an important opportunity therefore for socialists to address workers on all the important political matters of the day, to advance their overall political consciousness through effective propaganda and stimulate them to struggle. Consequently the key task is to give political leadership in opposition to all the other parties intent on asserting that workers have no separate political interests
We thus have a clear method in constructing a socialist programme. It must start from rejecting the ‘solutions’ presented by capitalist and reformist worker’s parties and put forward our own answers to the problems and issues of the day. In other words it must address the tasks facing the working class. We cannot limit our programme to what the workers already accept. The class consciousness of the Irish working class is obviously not advanced enough to hope that spontaneously evolved anger and moral outrage over the corruption scandals etc. will lead them to accept the need for the socialist transformation of society. To act in this way would be to abdicate the task of leadership. It would be to turn back from the difficult and onerous task of convincing Irish workers that their present political illusions are deeper than mere recognition that much of the political system is corrupt or that they have not had their fair share of the growing wealth in the celtic tiger economy.
Unfortunately the approach suggested by the draft programme for the Socialist Alliance is based on the belief that there already exists a significant ant-capitalist radicalisation in Ireland, or that there is a growing anger and militancy that we simply have to tap into to (paradoxically) stop it falling to the right! It is one in which the methodology is to hold a mirror up to the working class, with all its undoubted anger, upon which workers will see their own reflection and vote for us. By this method of simply reflecting their anger we would also reflect, or at best leave unchallenged, their prejudices and weaknesses. If comrades do not believe that this is the unconscious method behind the proposed programme they should reflect on this. The weaknesses of the working class are especially political and this is reflected in the almost total absence of politics from the draft programme.
Please do not react to our criticisms as yet more far left sectarian polemic. We present our criticisms as constructive, as designed to strengthen the political basis of a Socialist Alliance. We do not claim to have all the answers and do not present our alternatives programmatic statements as comprehensive. The construction of a Socialist Alliance is not the opportunity to artificially play down differences within the revolutionary left but a real opportunity to use a new climate of trust and openness to have the sort of comradely debate that we should have had a long, long time ago. These differences are real and still exist because they have not been resolved. An important reason they have not been resolved is that there has been no ongoing, open and comradely debate capable of doing so. That opportunity now exists.
Let us briefly state why these differences are real and too important to ignore. Simply, this is because the programme we stand on is not a detail, as stated in an SWP contribution to the debate on a future alliance. What we stand for, our programme, expresses what our unity is all about, what it is for. The fixation on organisational unity is a fixation on a secondary, albeit still important, question. Unity that fails to provide adequate lessons or leadership to radicalising workers, the audience we seek, is hardly worth having. Our starting point cannot be the bare minimum we think we can agree on but collaboration on identifying the key political lessons we, as Marxists, have to present to radicalising workers and how they should organise to meet the tasks they face.
The anarchist comrades of the Workers Solidarity Movement have, in our view correctly, criticised the electoralist emphasis of the moves towards unity so far, lip service to the contrary notwithstanding. However the concentration on an electoral platform for the Alliance has one advantage: it leaves no excuses for ignoring the political questions that are key. The working class, and especially its most radical members, is not stupid. It is aware, to one extent or another, of the full range of capitalist arguments that justify present policies and society. While we can only begin to counter these arguments we must make a real start. Reflecting existing anger in moral outrage is not enough.