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  One Step Forward: A New Unity on the Irish Left

Socialist Democracy and the International Socialists (former members of the Socialist Workers Party) have decided to form a united organisation, Socialist Democracy, with effect from January 2004.


Our two groups have been working closely together for some time now and it was apparent that we could operate more effectively as a single organisation.  Providing that there were no serious political differences between us, there would be no reason not to unite.

The political aspect of this is the most important, because we are not uniting for the sake of unity. This is one reason why the various unity projects on the Irish left in the last few years have tended to fall at the first hurdle. We are uniting in defence of basic Marxist principles. Accordingly we identified three key areas which might be problematic, and discussed them thoroughly. These areas were:

1. The strategy of permanent revolution, and how it applies to Ireland today.

2. The need for an international organisation and what sort of organisation that should be.

3. Perspectives for socialists in the current situation.

We have agreed that there is sufficient consensus between us on these issues to unite and the following sections of this statement explain the political basis of our unity.

We agreed that the historic question of Stalinism, which our traditions have analysed differently, should not by itself be a barrier to unity. Obviously the analysis of the bureaucratic dictatorship previously existing in Russia, and the current Chinese and Cuban regimes, raise important theoretical questions. Any differences are not, however, of immediate programmatic relevance. We are agreed that these regimes are not socialist and do not in any sense offer a way forward. Our concept of unity is not that it is based on theoretical agreement, but that it is based on acceptance of a common programme.

We are also agreed on how the united organisation should organise. Our approach will be:

1. The method of transitional politics. We reject the approach of offering reformist politics in the here and now, and socialism or a socialist revolution in the far distant future. It is necessary to raise the political consciousness of the class today and to build a bridge between today’s partial struggles and the revolutionary struggle for socialism.

2. An insistence on democracy, not just as an end in itself but because a revolutionary tendency within the working class cannot be built except on a thoroughly democratic basis.

3. A principled stance at all times.

We would also like to state that we see this fusion not as the end of a process but as the beginning of one.  Small as it is, this is the first fusion on the Irish left for over 25 years, and we want to demonstrate that a principled unity can be achieved. We urge socialist militants to study and discuss our example.

Permanent Revolution

We agreed that the strategy of permanent revolution, which originated in Marx and became fully developed by Trotsky, would provide the strategic framework for our understanding and intervening into the Irish and international class struggle.

By this strategy we understand the necessity for an international revolutionary perspective that rejects any idea that socialism can be created in a single country. We therefore reject all varieties of nationalism and stand for the international unity of the working class based on the knowledge that this unity is not a moral imperative but a practical necessity. We reject any perspective of an independent socialist Ireland.  Socialist revolution in Ireland is only possible by its extension to, or as an extension of, a European and ultimately world revolution.

We understand that democracy in Ireland can only be achieved as an integral part of a socialist revolution and only secured through establishment of a new State based on the democratic rule of the working class and its allies.  Such a state that upholds the interests of the working class and by degrees suppresses capitalist private property in the means of production has been termed the dictatorship of the proletariat.  It is a dictatorship only in so far as the interests of the working class are upheld against any claims of the capitalist class.

In Ireland because of its history of domination by imperialism the struggle for democracy takes on a distinct significance and has particular tasks.  These involve the expulsion of British imperialism from direct occupation of the north of the country and the ending of partition.  It means the political defeat and destruction of pro-imperialist unionism and defeat of the State and political forces that have promoted the sectarianism which has so divided the Irish working class.  The carnival of reaction created by partition, and so clearly predicted by Connolly, led in the south to the failure to separate the State from the Catholic Church. This reaction can only be completely destroyed by the unity of the whole of the working class under the banner of democracy and socialism.

We reject the view put forward by many on the left that democracy, that is the exercise of self-determination of the whole Irish people, is not part of the programme of the working class and the socialist movement.  The defeat of imperialism, of unionism and of reactionary clericalism are indispensable tasks and components of the struggle for socialism.  The unity of the Irish working class is impossible without their achievement and this achievement is impossible without their inscription on the banner of the workers movement.

We reject the idea that the revolutionary struggle in Ireland must go through a distinct democratic phase in which the demands of the workers for socialism and for their own rule must be subordinated to a struggle limited within the framework of capitalism.  We do not therefore support a capitalist united Ireland but will fight in any struggle for a united Ireland to make this a struggle also for socialism.  We thus reject those who claim primacy for the national struggle and who claim that ‘labour must wait.’

The development of Irish society and the growth of the Irish working class determine that a successful revolutionary struggle must address the needs of this class by the expropriation of private capitalist ownership of the means of production.  The directly colonial characters of the Northern State, ruled directly by a foreign imperialist power, and the semi-colonial character of the southern State, in which formal political independence has hidden continued subordination and in which capital accumulation has been determined by the needs of imperialist capital, means that such expropriation immediately raises the questions of democratic resistance to foreign rule and internationalism.  Only a socialist programme can address these tasks and overcome the obstacles.

The workers revolution can only be achieved by the working class itself and we reject any perspectives based on the interests of workers being secured through capitalist parliaments or by the activities of self appointed leaders.  We reject republican militarist conceptions of struggle and counterpose to this the mass mobilisation and organisation of the working class and its allies through revolution.  This must be led by the most conscious and politically advanced sections of the class organised as a separate revolutionary party.  It is the responsibility of this party to assert the separate interests of the working class in all political and social questions, interests that are irreconcilable with those of capitalism and imperialism. 


We are internationalists, not on moral grounds, but because we recognise that capitalism is a global system and the struggle for socialism must be waged on an international level. We therefore believe that socialists should organise internationally, to develop a global perspective and to co-ordinate our concrete struggles. What is needed is an international party, based on revolutionary Marxist politics, with a real mass base in the world working class.

In pursuit of this goal we will retain Socialist Democracy’s existing status as a sympathising section of the Fourth International. This organisation offers a sphere in which to organise to advance the struggle for a revolutionary socialist international.  We are Fourth Internationalists in the sense that we recognise the need for a World Party of Socialist Revolution, and that Trotskyism, as the only significant Marxist current to survive the treachery of Social Democracy and Stalinism, will necessarily be at the core of building a new International.

That does not mean, however, that the new International will emerge from only one of the existing organised currents. The International will be created by the future struggles of the working class, and by the intervention of Marxists into those struggles, creating real parties. That does not mean we are content to sit back and wait for a mass International to fall from the sky.  The main task for socialist groups today on the international level is to seek out and develop elements of a common programme and methods of communication, debate and joint activity. Open discussion can help us clarify our ideas. 

Today the socialist movement internationally is divided into various currents, many of which are retreating from Marxist politics. We stand firmly alongside those who are trying to defend the basic principles of Marxism and of revolutionary politics.


The goal of Socialist Democracy is to take part in the construction of a revolutionary internationalist party of the working class.  This means fighting for the unity and independence of the working class and organising its most conscious members in a revolutionary socialist party.

In the present period in Ireland we see the main political tasks leading to that goal as being opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and opposition to the policy of social partnership between unions, employers and government. The Good Friday Agreement justifies and strengthens imperialist rule in Ireland and, by denying a democratic settlement, stands as a barrier to working class unity and self-organisation.  Social partnership has led to a whole generation of workers being confined within a prison constructed and policed by those in the trade union bureaucracy charged with defending their rights.  Employers and government have been consistently on the offensive while attempts by workers to organise and defend themselves have been consistently subverted.

For over a decade the working class internationally has been the spectator at the celebration of the triumphal march of imperialism.  Those traditionally claiming the mantle of leadership – the organisations of Stalinism and Social Democracy – have politically collapsed and supported, and often led, the offensive against the workers.  Despite their victories the representatives of capital find themselves ensnared in capitalism’s contradictions.  Voices have begun to speak out in protest but as yet the political consciousness needed for the working class to successfully lead a new resistance is not present.  Overcoming this crisis of consciousness is the primary task of the revolutionary socialist party.

The long struggle against imperialist rule in the North has suffered an historic setback, exposing the limits of the Irish republican programme.  Through the collapse of this programme we now see the Provisional republican leadership end its fight against imperialism and seek a role as junior administrator of imperialist rule.  In no sense can this movement offer a vehicle for the interests of the working class.  Its republican opponents offer no alternative and offer the same road of strategic defeat as that trodden by the Provisional movement.

In the south of the country the organisations of the working class have been subverted and bureaucratised.  This bureaucracy now represents the central mechanism in frustrating the unity and fighting spirit of militant workers.  An absolutely central task for these militants is to attack and defeat this bureaucracy.  This can only be carried out by rank and file workers themselves and cannot be achieved by relying on ‘left’ bureaucrats to replace the current hierarchy.

The organisations of the revolutionary left should be best placed to undertake the task of building this party of the working class. However the existing left organisations appear to be resolutely opposed to the serious political discussion that would advance this process.  Unfortunately we have to say that, even after a series of socialist unity initiatives, they have displayed both crass political sectarianism and infantile opportunism. This has showed itself most painfully in their electoral interventions in which they have upheld, not the banner of revolutionary socialism, but the type of anaemic reformism that they claim to oppose.  This results in a strategy of electoralism which subordinates the advancement of the struggles and consciousness of the working class to the pursuit of votes and seats. 

Alongside electoralism lies the view that the road to the construction of a party of the working class lies through linear growth of the current organisations. This offers no strategic road forward for the working class as a whole or for its advanced sections. Of course organisations need to recruit, but if recruitment becomes a strategy that blinds militants to the fact that the working class already has a structure and a history, and that a major element of socialist strategy is to confront workers’ relationships with their existing organisations such as trade unions, then such a strategy will fail.  Even worse, it leads to the assumption that the activities of the small group and its recruitment are more important than the activities of the working class itself.  In the end this substitutionism results in the left organisations diluting their politics into reformism and opportunism.

We believe that small layers of young workers, moving into political action as they contact campaigns for the defence of the working class and oppressed, are the best militants for building the nucleus of a party.  The other is existing members of the revolutionary left who find themselves unhappy with the increasingly unconvincing dogmas of electoralism and opportunism.

We believe that the principled unity of militants such as these around the defence of Marxism and the application of the Marxist method to the struggles of the working class is possible today and that there are sufficient numbers to build a organisation that could serve as a focus for beginning the construction of a revolutionary party of the working class.

The immediate tasks of Socialist Democracy revolve around:

• Analysis of the current development of capitalism in Ireland, particularly  the working out of the Good Friday Agreement and of social partnership.

• Analysis of the development of the struggles of the working class, of the successes and failures of campaigns and struggles, and the role of the various political forces when faced with the strategic and tactical problems these struggles and campaigns give rise to. 

• Popularisation of the Marxist programme and politics especially as they apply to Ireland.

• A commitment to open debate on the key issues facing the socialist movement. We are willing to provide a platform to those fighting on the side of the working class in order to explore and clarify what divides us in the hope of obtaining a stronger and more secure unity in future.

• A willingness to explore, decide on, and openly state a position on the major issues facing the socialist movement on the international stage.  We intend to seek greater clarity for our tactical orientation in Ireland and to seek a more unified, determined and clear international movement offering a principled vehicle for action by the working class.

• The immediate vehicle for developing these themes is an independent website under the editorial control of Socialist Democracy.  We are however determined that we will not under any circumstances simply retreat to a virtual existence. Major statements etc. on the web will have a physical counterpart that will be made available to working class militants.  E-books will be accompanied by hard copy which we will distribute as widely as possible.  In so far as our size allows we will directly join in campaigns to test our ideas in action and learn from the ongoing struggle.

The party we want to build will be based on principles of the most thoroughgoing democracy allied with discipline, where members unite in action, even when they disagree, in return for an honest and open evaluation of policy.  Its purpose is to organise a highly committed and critical membership.  This sort of movement, based on the best traditions of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky has been corrupted, deformed, lied about and slandered. Despite all this it remains the only method of avoiding, on one hand, bureaucracy or, on the other, disorganisation and ineffectiveness

We call on militants to join us in the fight.  In exchange for the time and effort they invest we offer political education in the spirit of critical thinking and comradely collaboration in fighting for socialism.  We offer a clear understanding of the forces sweeping across our planet, understanding of the key role of working people in ending capitalism, and collaboration in building the instruments of working class emancipation. 


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