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‘Where unity is divisive’
A meeting of nearly 100 people was held in Dublin on 25th November to discuss the possibility of socialist unity in Ireland. Called by an ad hoc group of independent socialists its clear purpose was to emulate the progress made in Britain, particularly by the London Socialist Alliance (LSA).
The meeting started with reports from Greg Tucker of the LSA, Francois Vercammen of the Fourth International and Jo Harvie of the Scottish Socialist Party all relating the experience of their own unity initiatives. The meeting was mostly composed of long standing activists who would have been familiar with much of this experience.
The real debate was left for the second session, which dealt with the situation in Ireland. Mick O’Reilly of the ATGWU emphasised the problem of social partnership between the unions, bosses and government and concentrated his attention in the political sphere on the unions relationship to the Irish Labour Party.
However it was the question of unity on the far left that dominated the discussion. The speaker from the Irish SWP, Richard Boyd Barrett, called for the creation of an electoral alliance on the lines of that being created in Britain. This was required because political conditions had changed. The defeats of the 80’s had given way to a new radicalisation, occurring across Europe from the French public sector strikes in 1995 and now evidenced through the anti-capitalist protests in Seattle and Prague etc.
This was reflected in Ireland through the weakening of two key pillars of conservatism, Fianna Fail and the Catholic Church, both rocked by scandal. The booming economy had witnessed a renewed level of strike activity, which reflected deepening class division and created potential for the left. A rather bare political platform was mentioned but it was later stated that this was open for debate.
The Socialist Party speaker, Stephen Boyd, also dealt with the rising level of workers action and what he called the final betrayal of social democracy which could no longer be regarded as working class parties. The revolutionary left was disoriented; much of it having abandoned the project of building a revolutionary party. What was required was ‘a new mass working class party.’
He argued that the successes of the Socialist Alliances were exaggerated. The LSA and SSP were not the start of building mass working class parties. The SSP was reformist and did not represent anything in advance of the Socialist Party in Ireland which has its own TD (MP). Although the SSP has more members the Irish SP was a revolutionary marxist party. The lack of a national question in England and southern Ireland (!!) meant that the same development had not taken place as had in Scotland.
Boyd rejected an electoral alliance because unity with the SWP would not have an impact on the working class and there were no tested candidates. The SWP had no base and his advice to the rest of the left was to follow the SP example and build one. While agreeing to a non-aggression pact and not ruling out an alliance in the future he rejected one now. The Irish working class would either by-pass such an alliance and build its own mass party or the SP would become that party. In the next election, expected next year, the task for the working class was election of a second SP TD.
The meeting had clearly been based on the unity of the SWP and SP and many of the independents involved could not accept the arguments of the SP in rejecting unity. One of the organisers rated the two organisations pretty even in terms of influence etc and others noted the united activity that sometimes took place in other work - so why not elections? A united left would self-evidently be stronger than a divided one. It was argued that the SP had now taken the sectarian approach previously adopted by the SWP.
Despite lip service to the idea that electoralism was to be avoided there was little discussion of programme and a clear note of impatience that steps towards unity had to be made in order to address an upcoming general election. Socialist Democracy argued that the starting point had to be the tasks facing the working class at the present time and that this clearly made a nonsense of the SP analysis that this reduced itself to a second SP TD. These tasks clearly required explicit opposition to social partnership and the Good Friday Agreement. We supported creation of an alliance and recorded our previous active support in the election of the SP TD. We argued however that the alliance had to be democratic and that this would mean a clear break with existing practices on the left.
One task immediately presented to the gathering was to oppose the attempted censorship of the Republican Writers Group in Belfast and all those present were called upon to support a petition to Sinn Fein opposing its intimidation of two RWG supporters.
No agreement on unity was achieved. Socialist Democracy argued for a series of forums to discuss the idea further and the organisers promised to consider the outcome and come back to those attending the meeting. The key however lies with the SWP. Will it go forward with an alliance despite the SP rejection? On what political basis will this take place? And how will any alliance function to ensure the fullest democracy?