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Socialist Party: A leadership found wanting

There is really no doubt who has been leading the recent evolution of the Irish Socialist Movement. The water charge campaign comes straight from a Socialist Party template. The ULA formation was dependent on SP agreement and its limitation as an alliance most clearly expressed by the party. A strategy of unity around social democratic demands has for long been associated with the Socialist Party. The restriction of the ULA to 26 counties is due to the frantic unionism of the SP. It is reasonable to suspect that their role may have had an impact on the divisions in both movements. 

Below John McAnulty looks at their political evolution. 

One definition of insanity is the repetition of destructive behavior over and over again. 

In the case of the Socialist Party the household charge campaign has led to the loss of Clare Daly, whom they spent 25 years trying to elect to the Dail. 

Ten years ago the Bin charge campaign in Dublin cost them Joan Collins and their then national secretary, Dermot Connolly. 

The campaign against the poll tax led to the loss of Tommy Sheridan and a majority of their Scottish section. 

Any group can and will have internal disputes and will lose people. There is however a clear pattern in the case of the Socialist Party. Once a campaign gets big enough to involve new forces and escape the direct control of the SP the party begins to fracture as there members are exposed to more open debate. 

Why is this? 

The SP is the local franchise of a group called the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). This group practiced a tactic called entryism - operating entirely inside Labour Parties. As the years went on this became a way of life. They stayed in for decade after decade until increasingly right-wing parties forced them out. 

There is an old quote from Karl Marx that being determines consciousness. The Labourite environment has had a number of effects on the consciousness of the Socialist Party as they gradually evolved to reflect the consciousness of the lower level of the bureaucracy in the Labour Party and the trade unions. 

Unlike other Marxists, they now agree with social democrats that a parliamentary majority can deliver socialism - the standard view is that the capitalist state must be brought down. 

Marxist analysis is never used to determine their actions - they look for unity with trade union lefts around a reformist programme. 

So Marxism plays a peculiar role. Rather than as a guide to action it is used to illustrate propaganda and as a secret knowledge for those inside the party (Marxist theory is used in a similar way in the Socialist Workers Party). In order to avoid the collapse of the membership into pure labourism a savage internal discipline is applied. 

The relationship with the lower levels of the union bureaucracy are seen as a relationship with the working class itself, and this generates an extraordinary arrogance. A new party of the working class is seen as involving unity with this layer and links with other left groups and socialist unity projects are constrained by this view. A new party is seen in electoralist terms, being built around council and Dail seats. 

The mindset that this produces was exemplified by the comments of one of the SP's leading members explaining the division with Clare Daly. They had been working in the Dail, he explained, to build the profile of the ULA, while Clare had supported a more diffuse anti-austerity current in the technical group of TDs. 

This is astounding in its dishonesty. The SP have publicly opposed building the ULA. It is striking that they claim building a socialist alliance is in some way in contradiction to participating in a broader anti-austerity movement. Most striking is the conviction of both parties that building structures in the Dail is of major importance - history is littered with movements brought low by the constraints of parliaments.  


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