Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

ULA: What kind of party do we need?

with 3 comments

ULA: What kind of party do we need?

A guest post

Thoughts, notes, extracts and a bibliographical background to the discussion on 25th June


The title of the second ‘plenary’ session at the ULA Forum on Saturday 25th June is ‘ULA: What kind of party do we need?. In itself this willingness to discuss such an essential yet sensitive subject is a measure of some flexibility on the far left. This series of pieces, chopped for daily doses, is meant to be a personal contribution to the discussion. Beginning with some extracts and a bibliography. Then, on following days, some general discussion of particular aspects of the new party we need. The bibliography will focus on debate within the marxist left. The reviews to follow, of various elements of organisation actually facing us – all those coming into the ULA – now, will, hopefully apply to anyone giving thought to the nature and structures of what we setting out to build. Some of this material will apply also to the related discussion scheduled for the afternoon workshop, ‘New Workers’ Parties – Lessons from Europe’.

There is already a large body of literature carrying the international debate on the marxist left around the related questions of left unity, left regroupment and refoundation, a New Left, left alliances and organisation (in particular ‘broad parties’ v. ‘revolutionary organisations’). This debate goes back to the emergence of the anti-capitalist movement and is related to the discussion of strategy in the new conditions. The new movement, the anti-war mobilisations, the collapse of stalinism and the accommodation of social democracy to neo-liberalism have opened up new opportunities for the radical and revolutionary left. The economic and financial tsunami of 2008 added a quickening urgency to opportunity and, in our own case, stepped on the gas which led to the formation of the ULA.

To date the current debate has produced, as far as I know, in English, a book, one or two pamphlets, some journal editions given over mainly to the debate, a website, several website pages and very many articles and threads in journals and magazines, blogs and on the internet.

 The current debate, a variant of the perennial dialectic of Party and Class, goes back to the turn of the Millennium, but before that there were critiques which apply to the post-1968 revolutionary left and to a version of Leninism long pre-dating that.

One of the advances made by the organised far left here around the founding of the ULA is an acceptance that it is a party that they are aiming for. Not a ‘united front of a special kind’ or a future aspiration when the objective conditions are present, but a process to a party specifically through the ULA. Both the SWP and the Socialist Party have spoken of the ULA in terms of a new party, whatever kind of party that might be. Though the SP in particular appears to have applied the brakes to the formal declaration of a party in light of the current level (or lack of) struggle, their commitment to the development of the ULA remains clear. In the case of the SWP what was ruled out not so long ago, that the People Before Profit Alliance and its development should become a party, is now positively declared for the ULA. (I intend no sniping one-upmanship here; on the contrary the capacity for reappraisal is heartening and especially when it’s in the right direction.)

 In my view the strongest and clearest voices on the ‘broad party’ side of the debate, the side I support, are Phil Hearse and especially Murray Smith. Last Autumn Murray Smith spoke at an ISN/Fourthwrite Dayschool in Dublin on the subject of left unity. In the course of his talk he referred to the Phil Hearse article of November 2007 from which extracts are reprinted below

At this late stage only a very select bibliography is offered. It is more a reading list and I will furnish a real bibliography of the field in a while. Some of the items are short and can be read quickly. However, to aid the discussion set for the ULA Forum I paste directly below extracts from the Murray Smith article, ‘The broad party, the revolutionary party and the united front: a reply to John Rees’. This appeared in International Socialism (Issue 100, September 2003, and previously in Frontline (No.9, February/March 2003, and Links (No 23, January-April 2003). It was a reply to John Rees’ ‘The broad party, the revolutionary party and the united front’, International Socialism 97 (Winter 2002). Some of the references might be a little dated now.

After thisI paste extracts from a November 2007 article by Phil Hearse, ‘Democratic Centralism and Broad Left Parties’. The full article can be found on his highly recommended and recently renovated website, Marxsite, at

The bibliography/reading list follows the Murray Smith and Phil Hearse extracts below.

Des Derwin

 Extracts 1:

The broad party, the revolutionary party and the united front…

Murray Smith

What kind of party?

John Rees poses the question at the very beginning of his article, ‘The issue is this, what kind of party should socialists build? Should it be a broad socialist party or a revolutionary organisation?’8 From the beginning the two are counterposed. He writes:

In his ‘Notes on the Workers’ party’, Murray Smith writes as if the whole perspective of building revolutionary organisations is redundant. But in his … most recent article he writes as if the formation of broad parties is simply the most effective way for the revolutionary left to increase its influence in the present conjuncture.9

Let me start by clarifying my position. I am convinced that the building of revolutionary organisations of the type of the SWP, LCR, etc, in their present form, is becoming redundant and that these organisations should contribute to the building of new broad socialist parties and function as currents within them. I do not believe that the strategic perspective of building revolutionary parties, that is, parties capable of leading a revolution, a socialist transformation of society, is redundant.

I am convinced that the role of revolutionary Marxists today is to build broad socialist parties while defending their own Marxist positions within them, with the aim, not of building a revolutionary faction with an ‘entrist’ perspective, but of taking forward the whole party and solving together with the whole party the problems that arise, as they arise. I would put the question as follows: ‘To overthrow capitalism and carry out a socialist transformation of society we need a mass revolutionary party. Starting from where we are today, what is the best way to get there?’ When John Rees counterposes ‘broad socialist party’ to ‘revolutionary organisation’ he is describing the two choices that effectively confront revolutionary socialists today. However, when he later counterposes a broad socialist party to a revolutionary party he is wrong. Building a broad socialist party today may in fact be the best way to advance towards a mass revolutionary party tomorrow. What would be the necessary attributes of a revolutionary party? In particular, such a party would have to be clear that it is not sufficient just to take control of the existing state machine but necessary to replace it with democratic organisations of working class power, that the working class has to maintain its political independence in relation to all other classes and that the struggle is international.

But that is not enough. A party does not approach a revolutionary situation with a ready-made programme which it simply has to apply. We will have to resolve questions that history has not yet posed. We can integrate the lessons of the past into our programme, but we will always have to resolve new problems and make strategic and tactical choices in concrete situations that we cannot anticipate. Organisations who think that today they already have the programme which will enable them to lead the socialist transformation of society are deluding themselves and others.

We are not just talking about building a revolutionary party, we have to build a mass revolutionary party, a party which has real roots in the working class and indeed other sectors of society. Only such a party is capable of simultaneously learning from the working class and giving leadership to it, and at a certain moment winning the support of the majority. The difference between such a party and the existing far left groups is not just quantitative but qualitative. As Alex Callinicos points out, ‘The history of the workers’ movement shows very clearly that mass revolutionary parties do not develop through a linear process in which a small Marxist group gradually grows bigger and bigger by recruiting more and more members; like history more generally, the development of revolutionary parties involves qualitative leaps and sharp breaks’.10 I would argue that in England today the road to a mass revolutionary party does not lie in the linear growth of the SWP nor in a thoroughly illusory fusion with a leftward split from the Labour Party. It lies in creating a broad socialist party that can appeal to workers disillusioned with the Labour Party. It is the alienation of the Labour Party and similar parties elsewhere from their traditional membership and electorate that makes it both necessary and possible to build new socialist parties that can acquire a mass character.

The party will have to be democratic and pluralist, to allow the organised expression not only of different opinions but of different political platforms. This is not an optional extra. It is necessary in order to resolve the many problems that will occur between now and the revolution. The absence of the organised interaction of different points of view in organisations like the SWP, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party, Lutte Ouvrière and others is a real problem.11 If you do not allow pluralism in your own organisation today, why should you allow it in a revolutionary party tomorrow?

A real, mass, living, growing party will have a defined programme. But it will never be chemically pure. The Bolshevik Party always had rightist, compromising tendencies and ultra-left tendencies. That was even more true for the Communist parties which emerged in Western Europe. Is it better today to build a revolutionary organisation such as the SWP or a broad party such as the SSP [Scottish Socialist Party]? The answer flows from the changes in the working class movement. For many years reformism was completely dominant and revolutionary organisations existed as a minority. The possibility of building mass parties to the left of the reformist parties did not exist, so long as workers followed those parties. It exists now.

There are in Britain, in France and in other countries tens of thousands of workers and young people ready to engage in anti-capitalist political action and who can be won to parties that offer a real alternative. There are hundreds of thousands and potentially millions ready to support new parties which offer such an alternative. Is the best way to proceed to ask these workers to come to an existing revolutionary organisation, albeit through a series of campaigns and united fronts? Or is it to create parties that can attract those who refuse the dominant neo-liberal ideology, who are ready to defend a socialist alternative, and to go forward with them?

The dividing line today is between anti-capitalism/socialism and pro-capitalism. That is very clear within the anti-globalisation movement. The opposition is not between revolutionaries and reformists, who have different ideas on how to advance towards socialism. It is between those who think you can combat neo-liberal globalisation without getting rid of capitalism, by going back to a more humanised form of capitalism, and those who realise that neo-liberal globalisation is precisely the contemporary form of capitalism and that it is has to be overthrown….

….We never said that ‘the distinction between reform and revolution is no longer operative in modern politics’. What we do say is that at this stage of the struggle the dividing line in the working class movement is between those who accept capitalism and all that goes with it and those who take an anti-capitalist position. And that we unite people on that basis and then deal with the issues as they are posed concretely.

The fact that the basis no longer exists for stable, durable reforms and the absence of serious reformist currents does not mean that the distinction between reform and revolution is no longer relevant. In Europe reformism today will be weaker and less consistent than during the post-war period because the material base for it has been undermined, making it easier to win workers to a consistent class-struggle anti-capitalist position. Workers followed the reformist parties during the post-war boom not irrationally, not because reformist consciousness is somehow ‘natural’, but because it brought them material benefits, which is no longer the case. …

… In a party which starts out on the basis of assembling those who are ready to fight capitalism and for socialism, a party that is rooted in the workplaces and communities, whose centre of gravity is in those workplaces and communities and not in parliamentary institutions, a party that is democratic and not dominated by a bureaucratic apparatus, there is no reason why, in an ongoing debate closely tied into the experience of the party, revolutionary Marxist ideas cannot become largely dominant…

Marxist programme

…The comrades’ tendency to imagine that only a homogeneous party can be effective is worrying. Because any truly mass revolutionary party would necessarily be impure, heterogeneous and not always very disciplined. The SWP, and it is far from alone in this, tends to perpetuate the myth of a homogeneous Bolshevik party which ironed out its differences and then took united action. In real life it was rather more complicated than that. In 1917 and subsequently there were not only serious differences, but party members not infrequently argued against each other in public…

… To be able to have electoral success you have to be able to communicate your ideas to a mass audience in an accessible way. … Electoral work is not to be treated with disdain. It is a vital aspect of building a mass socialist party. It enables working class people to show their support, not just for this or that campaign, but for the general programme of the party and the ideas of socialism. That expression of support in turn becomes a material factor reinforcing the party’s authority in the class struggle. Electoral success is not the be-all and end-all of socialist politics, but it is a key component of a general strategy of winning the support of the majority of working people…

… The existing far left organisations… are a product of a past phase or phases of the class struggle and the workers’ movement. The task for them now is to invest their intellectual, political and human resources in the building of broader parties and to work in a comradely way to bring the essential conquests of Marxism, the lessons of history, into these new parties. The traditions of mass socialist and communist parties have not been wiped out by the experience of the last 20 years.

The experience of the 20th century has enriched the Marxist programme. It is at present necessary for Marxist currents to organise as such in new parties. When it is no longer the case it will be because Marxist ideas have become largely dominant in the party and such separate organisation is no longer necessary…


8 J Rees, as above, p57.

9 As above, pp66-67.

10 A Callinicos, ‘Regroupment, Realignment and the Revolutionary Left’, IST Discussion Bulletin, no 1, July 2002.

11 This is not to imply that the internal regimes of these organisations are in other respects identical.

(End of Extracts 1)

Extracts 2:

Democratic Centralism and Broad Left Parties

Phil Hearse

What kind of left for the 21st century?

Since the beginning of the decade important steps have been made in rebuilding the left internationally, following the working class defeats of the ‘80s and ‘90s and the negative impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Starting with the demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle at the end of 1999, an important global justice movement emerged, which fed directly into the building of a massive anti-war movement that internationally dwarfed the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960s. These processes breathed fresh life into the left, as could be seen already at the Florence European Social Movement in 2002 where the presence of the Rifondazione Comunista and the tendencies of the far left was everywhere. In addition, the massive rebirth of the left and socialism in Latin America has fuelled these processes.

However unlike the regrowth and redefinition of the left symbolised by the years 1956 and 1968, in the first decade of the 21st century things were much more difficult objectively, with the working class mainly on the defensive. Multiple debates on orientation and strategy have started to sweep the international left, leading to a reconfiguration of the socialist movement in several countries.

Positive aspects of this process include historic events in Venezuela and Bolivia (with all their problems), the emergence of Die Linke – the Left party – in Germany, the Left Bloc in Portugal and indeed new left formations in many countries.

In other countries the left redefinitions have been decidedly mixed. For example the Sinistra Critica (Critical Left) went out of the Communist Refoundation in Italy, over the fundamental question of  the latter’s support for Italian participation in the Afghanistan war and neoliberal domestic policies. In Brazil a militant minority walked out of the Workers Party (PT) to found the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), over the central question of the Lula government’s application of a neoliberal policy which made a mockery of the name of the party. This splits, for sure, represented a political clarification and an attempt to rescue and defend principled class struggle politics. But the evolution of the majority in both the PT and Communist Refoundation are of course massive defeats for the left.

So, in many countries debates are opening up about what kind of left we need in the 21st century. This is of course normal; each successive stage of the international class struggle, especially after world historic events of the type we have seen after 25 years of neoliberalism, poses the issue of socialist organisation anew. It is absurd to imagine that it is possible to take off the shelf wholesale texts written in Russia in 1902 or even 1917, and apply them in an unmediated way in 2007. Even less credible is the idea of taking the form of revolutionary organisation and politics appropriate for Minneapolis in 1937 and simply attempting to extrapolate it in a situation where revolutionary politics has been transformed by central new issues (of gender and the environment in particular); where the working class itself has been transformed in terms of its cultural level, geographical distribution and political and trade union organisation; and where the experience of mass social movements and the balance sheet of Stalinism (and social democracy) has radically reaffirmed the centrality of self-organisation and democracy at the heart of the revolutionary project.

As we shall discuss in more details below, it is now obvious that the models of political organisation and habits of engagement with the rest of the left, adopted by some self-proclaimed Trotskyist organisations (like Gerry Healy’s SLL-WRP) were strongly pressurised by third period Stalinism and organisational methods and assumptions inherited from the Stalinised Comintern. No section of British Trotskyism was entirely unaffected by this pressure…

Revolutionary Socialism and ‘broad left parties’

As noted above, the experience of building broad left parties internationally has been decidedly mixed; in some cases they have slid to the right and ended up supporting neoliberal governments. For some on the revolutionary left, what we might call the ‘clean hands and spotless banner’ tendency, this shows that attempts at political recomposition are a waste of time. Far better to just build your organisation, sell your paper, hold your meetings, criticise everyone else and maintain your own spotless banner. But underlying this simplistic approach is actually a deeply spontaneist conception of the revolutionary process. This generally takes the form of the idea that “under the pressure of events”, and after the revolutionary party has been “built”, the revolutionary party will finally link up with big sections of the working class. With this comforting idea under our belts we can be happy to be a very small (but well organised) minority and be sanguine about the strength of the right and indeed the far right.

In our view this simplistic “build the party” option is no longer operable; indeed it is irresponsible because it inevitably leaves the national political arena the exclusive terrain of the right. In the era of neoliberalism, without a mass base for revolutionary politics but with a huge base for militant opposition to the right, it seems to us self-evident the left has to get together, to organise its forces, to win new forces away from the social-liberal centre left, to contest elections and to raise the voice of an alternative in national politics. This is what has been so important about Die Linke, the Left Bloc, the Danish Red-Green Alliance and many others.

This was the importance of the Workers Party in Brazil and the Communist Refoundation in Italy at their height: that they articulated a significant national voice against neoliberalism that would have been impossible for the small forces of the revolutionary left.

More than that: the very existence of these forces, at various stages, had an important impact on mass mobilisations and struggles – as for example Communist Refoundation did on mobilising the anti-war movement and the struggle against pension reform in Italy. The existence of a mass political alternative raises people’s horizons, remoralises them, brings socialism back onto political agendas, erects an obstacle to the domination of political discourses by different brands of neoliberalism and promotes the struggle. It also acts as a clearing house of political ideas in which the revolutionaries put their positions.

So with a broad left formation in existence everyone is a winner – not! No broad left formation has been problem free. For revolutionaries these are usually coalitions with forces to their political right. They are generally centres of permanent political debate and disagreement, and they pose major questions of political functioning for revolutionary forces, especially those used to a strong propaganda routine. They inevitably involve compromises and difficult judgements about where to draw political divides.

What an orientation towards political regroupment of the left does not involve is a fetishisation of a particular political structure, or the idea that broad left parties are the new form of revolutionary party, or the notion that these parties will necessarily last for decades. For us they are interim and transitional forms of organisation (but see the qualification of this below). Our goal remains that of building revolutionary parties. It’s just that, as against the ‘clean hands and spotless banner’ tendency, we have a major disagreement about what revolutionary parties, in the 21st century, will look like – and how to build them.

The functioning of revolutionaries in broad left parties

Broad left parties (or alliances) are not united fronts around specific questions, but political blocs. For them to develop and keep their unity, they have to function according to basic democratic rules. However this cannot be reduced to the simplistic notion that there are votes and the majority rules. This leaves out of account the anomalies and anti-democratic practices which the existence of organised revolutionary currents can give rise to if they operate in a factional way. On this we would advance the following general guidelines:

  • Inside broad left formations there has to be a real, autonomous political life in which people who are not members of an organised current can have confidence that decisions are not being made behind their backs in a disciplined caucus that will impose its views – they have to be confident that their contribution can affect political debates.

  • This means that no revolutionary current can have the ‘disciplined Phalanx’ concept of  operation. Except in the case of the degeneration of a broad left current (as in Brazil) we are not doing entry work or fighting a bureaucratic leadership. This means in most debates, most of the time, members of political currents should have the right to express their own viewpoint irrespective of the majority view in their own current. If this doesn’t happen the real balance of opinion is obscured and democracy negated. Evidently this shouldn’t be the case on decisive questions of the interest of the working class and oppressed – like sending troops to Afghanistan. But if there are differences on issues like that, then membership of a revolutionary current is put in question. One can also imagine vital strategic and sometimes important tactical questions on which a democratic centralist organisation might want its members all to vote the same way. But these should be exceptional circumstances and not the norm. In practice, of course, on most questions most of the time members of revolutionary tendencies would tend to have similar positions.

  • Revolutionary tendencies should avoid like the plague attempts to use their organisational weight to impose decisions against everyone else. That’s a disastrous mode of operation in which democracy is a fake. If a revolutionary tendency can’t win its opinions in open and democratic debate, unless it involves fundamental questions of the interest of the working class and oppressed, compromises and concessions have to be made. Democracy is a fake if a revolutionary current says ‘debate is OK, and we’ll pack meetings to ensure we win it’.

  • Revolutionaries – individuals and currents – have to demonstrate their commitment and loyalty to the broad left formation of which they are a part. That means prioritising the activities and press of the broad formation itself. Half in, half out, doesn’t work.

  • We should put no a priori limits on the evolution of a broad left formation. Its evolution will be determined by how it responds to the major questions in the fight against imperialism and neoliberal capitalism, not by putting a 1930s label on it (like ‘centrism’).

  • The example of the PSoL in Brazil shows it is perfectly possible to function as a broad socialist party with several organised militant socialist currents within it. The precondition of giving organised currents the right to operate within a broad party is that they do not circumvent the rights of the members who are not members of organised currents.

Opposed conceptions of the left

There is a false conception of the configuration of the workers movement and the left, a misreading of ideas from the 1930s, that is common in some sections of the Trotskyist movement. This ‘map’ sees basically the working class and its trade unions, the reformists (Stalinists), various forms of ‘centrism’ (tendencies which vacillate between reform and revolution) and the revolutionary marxists – with maybe the anarchists as a complicating factor. On the basis of this kind of map, Trotsky could say in 1938 “There is no revolutionary tendency worthy of the name on the face of the earth outside the Fourth International…”.

If this idea was ever operable, it is certainly not today. The forms of the emergence of mass anti-capitalism and rejection of Stalinism and social democracy has thrown up a cacophony of social movements and social justice organisations, as well as a huge array of militant left political forces internationally. This poses new and complex tasks of organising and cohering the anti-capitalist left. And this cannot be done by building a small international current that regards itself as the unique depository of Marxist truth and regards itself as capable of giving the correct answer on every question, in every part of the planet …

… We have our own ideas and political traditions, some of which we see as essential. But we want to help refound the left, together with others, incorporating the decisive lessons of feminism and environmentalism, in a dialogue with other anti-capitalists and militant leftists. One that doesn’t start by assuming that we are correct about everything, all-knowing and have nothing to learn, especially from crucial new revolutionary experiences like the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

Today the ‘thin red line of Bolshevism’ conception of revolutionary politics doesn’t work. This idea often prioritises formal programmatic agreement, sometimes on arcane or secondary questions, above the realities of organisation and class struggle on the ground. And it systematically leads to artificially counterposing yourself to every other force on the left…

Postscript: ‘Leninism’

… the name, the word, is unimportant. What is important is to incorporate what is relevant today in the thinking of great socialist thinkers like Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and Gramsci. Lenin was far from being a dogmatist on organisational forms; from him we retain major aspects of his theoretical conquests on imperialism and national self-determination, the self-organisation of the working class, the notions of revolutionary crisis and strategy, and his critique of the bureaucracy in the workers movement and social democratic reformism.

All these great thinkers were prepared to change their forms of organisation to suit the circumstances; the unity of revolutionary tendencies is not guaranteed by organisational forms, but by programme and a shared vision of the revolutionary process. Thus we reject the idea that by our ideas about left regroupment we are ‘abandoning Leninism’, any more than we are abandoning Trotskyism or what is relevant in the ideas of Rosa Luxemburg. What we are abandoning, indeed have long abandoned, is the template method that sees Leninism as a distinct set of unvarying organisational forms.

We repeat: some of these organisational forms, including a monopoly of decision-making by a tiny central group with special privileges (often of secret information and un-minuted discussion) – came from a beleaguered Trotskyist movement, that inherited many  of its organisational forms wholesale from the Stalinised Communist International. …

1 November 2007.

(End of extracts)


1 Among ourselves

As mentioned already there is a discussion WITHIN the broader debate ‘broad left party or revolutionary organisation’. Within the ‘broad left party’ camp there is the secondary debate: ‘whether revolutionaries should maintain their own organisation/fraction within the broad party (and/or to what extent they should’).

David Packer argues for the maintenance of organised revolutionary tendencies in broad parties:

An example of the case from the other side would be the following piece from Louis Proyect.

Murray Smith, who was involved with the New Anticapitalist Party while he lived in France for a while, has moved from the retention position to the dissolution position, which he expressed while in Dublin.

I am still open on this, and circumstances vary from place to place.

One of Chris Harman’s last articles, a short but quite surprising piece, appears to endorse the LCR’s fusion with the New Anticapitalist Party in France without retaining a separate LCR organisation!! (Though it is qualified at the end by citing different British conditions). See:


2 Journal; Links(DSP Australia, No 23, January-April 2003). Contains a compilation of then recent articles debating left unity.

3 Journal debate: 1. International Socialism, No 120, October 2008, Alex Callinicos, Where is the radical left going? 2. International Socialism, No 121, January 2009, François Sabado, Building the New Anti-capitalist Party Alternative versions of these two articles can be found in International Viewpoint, November 2008,

4 Article: Daniel Bensaid, Notes on recent developments in the European radical left, International Viewpoint, December 2009,

5. An unwavering left field overview complete with a volley aimed straight at your present hosts: ‘The road to God knows where’ by Aindrias Ó Cathasaig, Red Banner No. 39. March 2010.

6. ULA! “No one would have believed….” Des Derwin, Irish Left Review, 13th December 2010:

7. Building the ULA: Reflections on the Past and Proposals for the Future, Brendan Young, Irish Left Review 9th January 2011:

8.Ireland On the Turn?, Daniel Finn [Irish Socialist Network], New Left Review 67, January-February 2011.

9. The European Workers’ Movement: Dangers and Challenges,  Murray Smith, Irish Left Review, 30th March 2011:

10. Bellum Omnia Contra Omnes (the left in the Northern elections), blog comment, Des Derwin, 25th April. 2011:

11. On The Cedar Lounge Revolution blogsite, which is frequented by a wide range of knowledgeable leftists, there is a long discussion on Building the ULA:

The thread eventually descended into an Indymedia type mud fight about ‘costing’ economic alternatives. There is also links on the thread to a Socialist Party article on building the ULA,
and to the SWP leaflet distributed at the local ULA public meetings.
(The latter says clearly: “We need a new party that stands up for working people and the United Left Alliance lays the basis for that party.”)

12. A thread on the ULA:

13. New Hope in Ireland, Brendan Young, Irish Left Review, 20th May 2011:

3 Responses

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  1. In the context of these discussions it is well worth reading the debates which surrounded the establishment of the Scottish Socialist Party out of the Scottish Socialist Alliance. The dominant force in the Scottish Socialist Alliance was Scottish Militant Labour, the sister organisation of the Irish Socialist Party in the Committee for a Workers International.

    There were of course significant differences between our present situation in Ireland both in terms of the wider political context and in terms of the nature of the alliance itself, notably the SSA had a more radical programme than the ULA currently has. However, there are a lot of parallels and the discussion has the dual advantages of being rather longer and more in depth than most outbreaks of this sort of discussion and also of having a concrete focus (the situation in Scotland) rather than an air of generality. The length may also be considered, from another angle, to be a disadvantage however! Also, the documents were originally written for internal discussion and so they can sometimes make more use of jargon than any of the participants would use in public documents.

    It’s clear from reading the discussion now that some of the conjunctural issues debated have been settled by the passage of time. The SSP was able to grow substantially and become a minor but real political force. SML did in fact gradually wind down and then dissolve their distinct Marxist organisation, etc.

    The documents are all available in the CWI’s discussion archive:

    Mark P

    Jun 21, 2011 at 12:20 am

    • I also think it might be worth having a detailed discussion of the steps forward and steps backwards made by some of the new working class parties in Europe (and elsewhere) over the next few years. Too often these discussions are framed merely in terms of straightforward admiration of how this or that party got a bunch of people elected to parliament and how if “we only got our act together” we could build something similar. In fact, these parties are worth evaluating seriously in terms of size, participation, the forces they represent, programme, political evolution etc.

      The Left Bloc, for instance, is an impressively large organisation by Irish standards although still much smaller than the Portuguese Communist Party in activist numbers. It has just had a disastrous general election, losing half its vote and half its seats. We should be looking to learn from their experiences.

      In my view they have adopted a mistaken orientation, towards the Socialist Party (ie Labourites) who were in government at the time and justifiably extremely unpopular. They also stumbled badly on the question of debt, sticking to a “renegotiation” line. They have also taken a confused position on the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, although it’s highly unlikely that this last part had a significant effect on their vote.

      Mark P

      Jun 21, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      • I have to say I agree with Mark P on this.I am strongly electoralist but it can become a be all and end all. ULA has avoided this. The confusions of the Left Bloc and what appears similar confusions in the Danish one is a bit worrying.

        Jim Monaghan

        Jun 22, 2011 at 11:11 am

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