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Review: A new Resistance?

"Resistance" – Paper of the Irish Socialist Network – Free publication

John Mc Anulty

5 August 2007

The first issue of the new ISN paper, Resistance, was issued in July.  It has the advantage of a clear, colourful and bold design, professionally laid out and with short, sharp and snappy articles. There are a few small quibbles: the layout, an A2 sheet folded in four, seems to me to make reading difficult. The more traditional folded A3 to make an 8-page paper would be a great deal more readable.  I would also question the logic of a giveaway paper as a party publication.    The giveaway format makes great sense in campaigns, where you want to reach out to a very large number of people on a specific issue.  It is not clear how it will work as a party publication, where you need a response from readers and eventually for some people to make a commitment to your organisation – perhaps by paying for the paper!

There are some obvious strengths – a strong team of writers and, unusually for a party publication from the Irish left, a wide range of contributions from outside the party.  The magazine touches many of the bases on central issues for the socialist movement – anti-war, the environment, the election defeat, the nurses dispute, Palestine, the North, Racism, fitting in a book review and a piece on socialist theory.  It is refreshing to see the magazine buck the trend of small-u unionism that plagues the Irish left, with its article on the PSNI/RUC.

There are however reasons to question the analysis provided by the ISN.

In the new paper Colm Breathneach’s slant on the elections is that ‘Tweedledum wins’.  Is this really the case? We had an election in which Fianna Fail won despite open corruption, Sinn Fein’s election strategy came crashing against the buffers and the left electoralist strategy failed spectacularly (except where Richard Boyd-Barrett dropped the S word).  He asserts that the ISN stood, not to get elected, but to raise the banner of socialism.  Really?  That’s not at all evident from the ISN manifesto.

In a companion piece Stephen Lewis asserts that the problem with the nurses’ strike was a lack of solidarity from the trade union bureaucracy.  That is simply not the case.  The ICTU and SIPTU bureaucracy intervened directly in the dispute to break the nurses’ action.  That’s called scabbing.  The difference is significant.  A movement showing lack of solidarity can be won over.  A scab leadership has to be broken, no matter how difficult that task seems.

Fintan Lane presents an honest account of the disparity between public sentiment and the weakness of the anti-war movement but is the weakness accounted for by a feeling that events in Iraq are the decisive factor?  Would it not be more correct to say that Irish workers recognise our dependent economy and society and are willing to accept Fianna Fail warmongering as a necessary, if unpopular outcome of that dependence?  In a further article Fintan lays into the Green Party, while at the same time asserting the importance of an environmental programme for socialists.

Ed Walsh provides a useful account of the socialist view of elections, but obscures the distinction between direct action and mass action – a crucial distinction in Marxist theory.

Brendan Harrison gives the RUC/PSNI a good kicking, but can we expect that there will be a point when they are not above the law?

More awkward questions arise when non-members write.  I understand that these views are not the views of the ISN, but we expect that their own views will be made known – of course, it is early days yet, and this criticism may well be corrected by the next edition of the paper. In this context the article on racism seems to conclude with an approach aimed at the reform of state institutions rather than mobilising working-class resistance – an approach that seems to be blown out of the water by the recent government attacks on Roma migrants.  Really offensive was the Palestine article calling for a lack of criticism of the Palestinian movement – at a time when the Fatah leadership have actively joined an imperialist offensive against the Hamas government!

And this seems to me to be the central question mark around the new paper.  If it is open is it open to all?  If not on what basis does the movement select those with whom it discusses and co-operates?  There are bound to be differences of opinion between even ISN members.  These disagreements will be much greater between the ISN and outside contributors.  How are they resolved?  How does such discussion lead in a positive direction, towards genuine united action?

The success of a socialist paper does not depend on layout or distribution.  It depends above all on politics. What is the political project of the ISN?  How is the paper to promote this project?  What likelihood is there of success?

Answering these questions is not easy.  The self-proclaimed trademarks of the ISN are libertarianism and support for left unity, but these aspirations are not linked to a very transparent internal life and the organisation is slow to explain the internal processes by which it makes and changes policy.  It is important to note however that the ISN did have a very clear policy which it shared with many other left groups.  That policy was organised through the Campaign for an Independent Left, which proposed left electoral unity around a social-democratic programme.  The programme quickly degenerated into a demand for unity for its own sake, absent of political content. The ISN later withdrew from this grouping, which itself fragmented, but the left as a whole continued on that general electoralist trajectory until it was defeated in the polls. The ISN has never admitted its central role in building the CIL, given its reasons for withdrawing, or publicly outlined the new strategy it is now following.

In the aims section of the new journal the ISN commits itself to “work in a non-sectarian manner with, and promote dialogue between, all socialist and progressive organisations.”   If it follows through on that aspiration ’Resistance’ will be real step forward.  I hope for a fair wind.


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