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Where unity really is divisive!

An initial report by Socialist Democracy on discussions on the formation of a Socialist Alliance in Ireland was headed ‘Where Unity is Divisive.’ This was a quote from Mick O’Reilly of the ATGWU remarking on what was a common problem afflicting the Irish left. Little did he know how right he would be.

At a meeting on April 7 the fledgling Alliance took a giant step backwards. The SWP announced that as far as they were concerned the new Alliance was to be a partitioned one, with different structures north and south. Socialist unity was to be built on the division of the working class!

The meeting had been called to discuss the draft programme proposed by the organising committee elected at the last general meeting. Socialist Democracy had made clear our criticisms of the draft programme and had attempted to make changes to it at the committee meeting.

These were largely unsuccessful and we had hoped that a debate among a wider audience would clarify the issues and at least achieve a common understanding of what the purpose of the programme was. Unfortunately only fifteen attended the meeting.

For most people present this was the main disappointment but it reflected weak attempts to build the meeting and the general downgrading of specifically political discussion.

Socialist Democracy pointed out that such a meeting did not have the moral legitimacy to decide on the programme and that a further meeting should be built.

Initially the SWP agreed, but as it became clear that they would gain a majority for any position they put this began to change. After some animated discussion it was eventually agreed that the redrafted programme along with Socialist Democracy’s ‘minority’ amendments would be circulated, having a discussion only status. (See amendments, below)

The discussion leading up to this decision and the announcement that we were operating in a partitioned alliance brought out the key issues that will determine the direction and success of the initiative.

Socialist Democracy introduced its thinking on the question of programme by stating that its content must be determined by the challenges and tasks facing workers, as understood by the socialist movement.

A similar formulation was repeated by Kieran Allen of the SWP but another SWP member stated that the programme should be determined by the need to unite the existing left organisations, a need that was demanded by a large number of workers.

It is not clear that the SWP understand that there is a difference – but a difference there certainly is.

Besides the obvious point that there are not large numbers of workers waiting for socialist unity, the resulting programme has clearly been set to fit the Socialist Party which has rejected the alliance. So the programme of socialist unity is tailored to those that have rejected it!

The Socialist Party has rejected the unity of the whole Irish working class and has reduced their electoral programme to the barest reformist populism.

This fits with the approach of many in the alliance who look upon the programme as an obstacle to workers voting for the alliance and therefore the more it includes the worse it must get.

Instead of seeing Socialist Democracy’s amendments as means of clarifying the tasks ahead and of raising demands that meet real needs, such as a woman’s right to choose, these are labelled as part of a ‘maximum’ programme that we wish to impose.

Had we put forward the demands for armed workers’ militia, workers’ councils and an insurrectionary general strike this latter criticism might have had some merit.

Some independents were annoyed that the SWP had gone ahead and created local alliances without their involvement and clearly feared SWP domination. In fact the creation of local alliances by any component is to be welcomed. The problem lies in the basis for uniting the local initiatives that develop.

The organisational unity of the alliance now appears to be dependent on the SWP and the political platform is similarly subordinated.

The role of independents would now seem to be to provide the cover to allow the SWP to take initiatives they could not credibly carry out by themselves. It was therefore ironic that in the short discussion on the name of the alliance someone suggested ‘Not the SWP.’

The only positive decision taken was to launch a Socialist Alliance campaign against the Nice Treaty in the forthcoming referendum.

This will be an important test of the Alliance, showing whether it can bring in new forces and reinvigorate old ones and by so doing put the existing programme to the test.

It is instructive to remember that the initial programme criticised by ourselves had failed to mention the EU – never mind the Treaty.



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