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Socialist Party join the rush to fragmentation

28 January 2018

This article should be read in conjunction with other reports of trade union and political conferences that have taken place recently, all carving out a space for themselves in the new political landscape.

In an article in "The Village" magazine ( Ruth Coppinger lays out the stall of the Socialist Party in relation to the growing scrabble for members and influence following the decline of the Right2Water/Right2Change movements.

At first sight the article seems to avoid the sectarianism of other groups, calling for a mass party of the left, although, given the unionism of the SP, this is clearly a twenty six county party that accepts the partition of the country.  History tells us that the SP violently oppose including Sinn Fein in the broad left and are backed into a corner, awaiting the millennium when the trade unions turn away from Sinn Fein and from Labour to embrace themselves. No other political, trade union or community groups are mentioned in the call for a party and the political basis for unity appears to be the policies that the political front group, Solidarity, currently advances. It is difficult to read the article as other than a simple recruitment drive.

Ruth correctly identifies some of the major issues facing socialists. There is a capitalist recovery in Ireland, but working people continue to suffer. We are left to speculate how this situation came about despite mobilizations of over 100,000 in the Right2Water marches under the leadership of "left" trade unions and the enthusiastic support of the socialist groups.

The article identifies the housing crisis, wages and conditions, especially the two-tier wage system in public service, and the struggle around the repeal movement to remove the constitutional ban on abortion.

At this point the article becomes confused. "Capitalism cannot deliver a decent standard of living for all" proclaims the SP, yet the rest of the article assumes that it can - that reformist demands will be successful.

This is most clear around the issue of housing. The SP demands a 50% mix of social and affordable housing. (Why socialists are calling for an element of private housing in the middle of a housing crisis is unclear). Pressure on the streets can force the government to fund a mass housing programme and the money is readily available in NAMA and the Irish strategic investment fund. All that is needed is for the Irish government to face down Europe on neo-liberal fiscal rules and the crisis will be resolved.

The sheer unreality of these proposals is staggering. It doesn't take into account the parasitic nature of Irish capitalism and the importance of landlordism and property speculation. Above all it does not take into account the dependent nature of the Irish economy.

The Troika still rules. The rules on state spending are a relatively minor element of the sovereign debt, extending until 2054, the fiscal space into which public spending must fit, and the commitment to privatise public resources. Alongside the sovereign debt and the Troika rules goes a policy of a firesale of NAMA holdings to vulture capital and a determination to manage the property market to ensure the vultures get an adequate return.

Yet the most important elements of the SP analysis is what is not said. People Before Profit is not mentioned.  Whatever the new mass party is, it is not unity of the two socialist groups and the existing alliance between them is simply a parliamentary convenience.  The United Left Alliance is not mentioned, nor the SP role in dismantling the only attempt at a broader socialist party.

For entirely different reasons the trade union leaderships are not mentioned. The Irish working class was not simply the victims of capitalist austerity, but also a policy of collaboration by ICTU that subordinated the economy to the demands of the speculators and bankers and fueled a massive transfer of wealth from Irish labour to Irish capital.

The Socialist Party proclaims the need for a new mass party, yet they, and the majority of the left, are in a cul-de-sac. They chose to accept the manoeuvring of the union bureaucrats, the reformist programme that impoverished the workers and the lobbying within the constraints of Irish capital and the demands of the Troika, yet the outcome of the austerity proves that their rhetorical claims about the impossibility of capitalism meeting workers' needs was the simple truth.

To take housing again as an example. Demands on the government will need to be accompanied by an "Apollo House" approach where we are willing to seize public property, paid for by the workers. Instead the socialist groups are in a campaign limited to lobbying the government with trade union leaders who are moving to the right and rehabilitating the Labour party - a party that helped bring about the housing crisis and led the charge in criminalising protest. There is still, after ten years, no attempt to organise the workers independently of the union leaderships.

There is a burning need for a party of the working class, but that party will be anti-imperialist and revolutionary, not born out of a reformist and opportunist stew.

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