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Coprrespondene: The Irish Socialist Movement  - Doctors or gravediggers?

Dear Editor, 

The first rule of trade unionism is to fight back when you are attacked. I was at the march against budget cuts and I saw the resounding slap on the face delivered with such reactionary gusto to the CAHWT and the Left by ICTU in February, when Jack O’Connor called his opponents Fascists, followed by the “lift the burden” march, when the union bosses collaborated with the guards to kettle demonstrators. The Left has suffered these indignities in a remarkable degree of silence. 

Instead of a fight back, placing demands on the ICTU and Labour Leadership, we are still treated to proposed Keynesian solutions from the ‘doctors of capitalism.’ For political leadership what we are left with are rightward moving centrist entities that are almost wholly committed to parliamentary politics. 

The prospect of building a revolutionary workers party has been kicked further down the road once again. 

Socialists in the United Left Alliance shy away from issuing fighting demands and argue that we have to strengthen forces to our right before conditions are considered suitable to raise a revolutionary critique of capitalism. Is this approach even possible? 

The irony is that in an alliance of committed socialist revolutionaries the confidence does not exist to publicly make the case for revolution. Assumptions are made about working class consciousness and it seems that the masses just can’t handle the truth. The strategy is to build a broad left alliance to attract the broadest masses of people…. to what? To a reformist organisation that will someday convert itself into a revolutionary organisation? 

Despite the fact that this strategy is discredited around the world with ‘successful’ broad lefts selling out to the right or ‘unsuccessful’ ones collapsing in ignominy the question for our local variety is this. Why should this strategy succeed here? Assuming also that this flag of convenience does attract support, something uncertain considering the fall off in numbers as the project has progressed so far, it is also pertinent to ask at what time would the surreptitious revolutionaries emerge from their cocoons and declare that a revolutionary strategy is incompatible with reformism? Or is a smooth fusion with a gradually developing spontaneous reform movement envisaged? Would this emerging movement be likely to develop its own organic leadership? 

Leon Trotsky answered the question of a smooth merger with reformism with an emphatic No! Describing the possibility as a ‘vain dream’ he writes: “what separates the Communists from the Social Democracy are antagonisms on fundamental questions. The simplest way of translating the essence of their disagreements is this; the Social Democracy considers itself the democratic doctor of capitalism, we are its revolutionary gravediggers.” 

These antagonisms must be faced up to and a culture which resists taking a stand on the fundamental differences between reformism and revolutionary politics, ostensibly in the interests of breadth and inclusivity, obscures and confuses opposition to the capitalist assault. The resultant fog means that we are not to know whether our elected representatives see their positions in the Dail as, in Trotsky’s words, “an instrument for transforming society” or “a means of rallying the workers”. It is this basic equivocation on fundamental questions that lies at the basis of all the uncertainty and quibbling over TD’s accountability. Ming Flannigan and Mick Wallace have also become whipping boys for this inability to return to basic Marxist principles. Socialists that are tied to spontaneity fear a spontaneously arising leadership. These spontaneously arising leaders are bogeymen not because their politics are substantially different, but because they already occupy ground that the centrists see their ‘new’ labour party standing upon. 

The collapse of the ULA has seen revolutionaries talking around in circles through a maze of smoke and mirrors to make sure they were singing from the same hymn sheet and could build a connection to the remaining ULA TDs. No one seemed to notice there was no hymn sheet. No programme of action. No actual opposition to the ICTU’s “blue betrayal” despite conscious recognition of it. No demands for the nominal leadership of the Irish labour movement, the Labour Party, to stop administering the austerity and leave government. Nothing! 

The entire left is collapsing to the right by following this disastrous anti Marxist strategy. It’s time for a return to first principles and that requires not only a programme of action but a concerted fight to get the working class to accept that programme. 

In order for the TD’s to represent a means of rallying the workers they would need to condemn the Labour Party and call for their withdrawal from government, but why expect them to do that when the revolutionaries deem it unnecessary or perhaps too advanced a demand? They would need to condemn ICTU’s ‘blue betrayal’ of the working class in the Croke Park deal and the coming Croke Park II and they would need to strain every sinew to mobilise workers against these betrayals. They would need to call on trade unionists, over the heads of their reactionary leaders, to refuse to handle the tainted goods that is the administration of all bills, payments or fines associated with the Household and Water taxes. They would then need to join with all others outside the Dail, including Ming and Mick, that agreed with these demands and were willing to fight and mobilise on that basis. 

They would need to contact workers in the workplace, not through Liberty Hall, to mobilise them and build cross union rank and file activity. 

Then we would have the beginnings of a fight back. Otherwise we have people turning their back on the struggle and running away from the fight 

Eddie McLaughlin. 


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