Marxism 2017 – organizational success, political failure
6 December 2017
The Marxism 2017 conference, organised by the Socialist Workers Party in late November, was a success for the organization, with 200 mainly young activists attending and many full workshops.
By success we mean success for the SWP as an organization. In terms of laying out a strategy for the working class there was much to be concerned about. Few of the political platforms were clear. Those that were clear were wrong-headed. What was really telling was the number of burning issues that were not addressed.
What for example is policy on Brexit? The workshop was a cumbersome u-turn from frantic support for Brexit to opposition to a "Tory Brexit." The possibility of a hard border was dismissed, even though this will be an automatic outcome of the Brexit process.
One workshop was entitled "The alternative to Stormont" but we were left none the wiser after a diet of anti-austerity and people power. Do the SWP still plan for a left wing Stormont?
Policy on housing was clear. We are to call on the government to implement a policy of mass social housing. Unity with the union bureaucracy in a mass lobbying campaign will be sufficient to persuade them. There is no need to alert anyone to the parasitic nature of Irish capitalism nor their subordination to imperialism. Nor do we need to raise the need for the expropriation of property and disruption of the capitalist state.
Even more extraordinary was the debate with Sinn Fein. It was clear that this was a fraternal debate, with the SWP holding firm to the dream of a left government, despite Sinn Fein's sprint towards the right and coalition with Fianna Fail. A similar orientation was visible in the discussion around new "broad left" international formations. A typical SWP amnesia blocks out an earlier frenzy around the Syriza government in Greece and how that turned out.
However it what was absent from the agenda that told the tale. Where was the assessment of the right2water campaign that absorbed much of their energy? Why no speakers from the left of the trade union bureaucracy? Why not even a nod to the Socialist Party, with whom the SWP are supposed to be constructing a united movement? Even more importantly, where was the assessment of Lansdowne Road ll and the new manacles of social partnership around public sector workers or the ongoing battles to privatise transport.
Behind the enthusiasm and youth of the activists, in the leadership of the SWP, as with the majority of the left, lies a deep pessimism. Before the last election the line was "reform with a core of revolution." Yet now policy is totally reformist.
It is perfectly correct that everyone should call on the government to build social housing. However revolutionaries must point out that they will never do so in anything like the amounts needed to meet our needs. It is correct that we work with the trade union leaderships where we can, but we must also oppose their timidity, reformism and frequent betrayals and call for the self-organization of the workers.
There is nothing wrong with seeking parliamentary election, but what happened to the pledges that the main function of TDs and MLAs would be to build outside the Dail and Stormont? In fact, given the reformist parliamentaranism of current representatives, they would be at risk from a Sinn Fein now holding out the prospect of participation in government as a way of achieving change.
The Right2Water campaign failed to demolish Irish Water, to dismantle the charging system and to build a movement against mass privatisation of services. The movement has now disbanded and the component factions are now counting their own gains and influence while ignoring the needs of the working class as a whole. That was the systemic weakness of Marxism 2017. That failure to focus on the working class is what we must correct. A timeless belief that we can simply recruit members until we become the leading party of the class is yet again evident. Whatever happened to the ULA, which at least offered the mechanism of building a broad working class party?
The left groups are counting their own gains, ignoring the extent to which a lack of revolutionary programme limits the possibility of a broader regroupment of the working class.