Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

ULA forum: a resounding success

with 13 comments

The ULA Forum yesterday was a resounding success. It filled the Theatre in Liberty Hall all day and the official registration list for the day was announced as 320. Four features of the gathering were the number of new faces, the number of non-aligned people, the number of young people and the delegations from outside Dublin (Cork, Tipperary and the North to these ears in particular).

There was a great sense of achievement, potential, departure and, for most of the time, camaraderie. The Socialist Party were rather too forthright in pressing their perspective of a more ‘revolutionary’ programme (with the emphasis on the use of the word ‘socialism’). The SWP were more sensitive, yet perhaps more arrogant,  in pressing their ‘Enough!’ campaign on the gathering and on the ULA.

Nevertheless all involved must take credit for a phenomenon that would have been practically unforeseeable a year ago. It will be said that the day amounted to nothing because it was not a decision-making day. Decisions should come soon but yesterday did represent a step forward, an assertion of collectivity, arrival and belonging, and an amount of consensus about what needs to be done organisationally (membership, branches and internal communication) and actively (campaigning against austerity). There were admonishings on the responsibility that has come with the achievement and opportunity of the ULA.

The first speaker, Terence McDonagh, provided the perfect start with his proposal of an ‘Irish Big Bang’ on the crisis. Five steps: 1.Default 2.Leave the euro 3.Create a good public bank  4. Guarantee a job to everyone at the the minimum wage at least and 5. Nationalise the Corrib gas field. It was direct and refreshing, though not everyone agreed that the matter is so simple. I look forward to Paula’s film of the presentation and of Kieran Allen’s impressive economic presentation which followed, and to discussion of Terence McDonagh’s perspectives on the Irish Left Review, Notes On the Front, and elsewhere. Hopefully Paula will put up her film of all or most of the proceedings.

Declan Bree gave an excellent speech, left, radical and socialist, which was fully committed to the building of the ULA and a new party while recognising the reticence of some and that the party cannot be established overnight

Des Derwin

Written by tomasoflatharta

Jun 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Ireland

13 Responses

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  1. […] quite as positive about the results of the forum but here is Des Derwin’s take on it – LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. I see it as positive but with some worrying signs. The “Socialist ” stuff from the SP was a bit disconcerting. I have criticisms of the SWP but I felt that there was an element of positioning here. Could there be jockeying for position? Think ULA is still fragile
    I attended 2 workshops. Not impressed at the “jobs” one. Little but truisms.I am not impressed at the newbies of the SWP and SP being “blooded” as speakers by spouting what are in my opinion fairly banal points. (this is probably an agist thing with me.
    The North. A clear gap between Paddy Healy representing the Tipp group. He stated that all in the 32 counties have a right to join ULA. A red letter issue for them and me.For me the struggle for national unity and independence is a progressive cause and now extends to the full 32 counties with the existing sellout to the IMF/EU. Lenihan and Cowan and now FG/Labour are as bad as Redmond at Woodenbridge.The SP persisted with their equals too sign between the nationalists and the unionists. They do not want an ULA in the North or argue that if there is one it should arise out on Northern dynamics. I disagree. I feel we have a lot to discuss but we have time for a civilised discourse. Some stupid barracking of the SP speaker which I dislike. The stupidities of the Provo war have laid a basis for at least some of the errors of the SP position in my opinion.
    After this I heard a truncated piece of a discussion with an SWP member (female) from Derry. Worrying signs of the 32s gathering momentum with an appeal to alienated youth.Would have liked to have heard more as she struck me as knowledgeable and shrewd.I am not au fait as regards the current position on the ground.
    Agree with SP call for representation of unaffiliated. Where do the non SWP part of PbP fit in. Should move on this.
    Would like a fraction devoted to solidarity movements. ULA should be seen as the natural party of those who support Palestine etc.
    On a superficial footnote. Merge the bookshop operations. All the titles could be sold by each other. Just shows a lot of the disagreements are superficial with the exception of the North.
    On the barracking ( it was not that much) but it really annoyed me. The SP are entitled to their position. Those of us who disagree have to patiently explain rather than get on our high horses. And this applies to everything.
    Kieran and Terence were the stars. But everyone else did well.
    I see we have the beginnings of transitional demands. Interesting that policies that for example FF (Mexico, etc.) followed in the 30s are now impossible for any element of the bourgeois establishment.
    By this I mean have a relatively independent economic program and not bend the knee to Imperialism.Oh, Mexico under Cardenas nationalised the oil industry.Gilmore would find Keynes far too radical.
    Even our pair of ultra lefts(the Cork IBTer and CPGBer) behaved themselves. Maybe they are not as bad as my bete noirs of the IWG.

    Jim Monaghan

    Jun 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    • There’s no inherent reason why people arguing ultra-left politics should have to be obnoxious or disruptive about it. The Sparts (and apparently, although I don’t remember them first hand, the IWG) have left some bad expectations in that regard.

      Mark P

      Jun 27, 2011 at 12:14 am

    • I’ll comment on my experience of the workshops only.

      I attended the ‘radical plan for jobs workshop’ which was very disappointing in my opinion.

      I expected proposals to be more concrete. I thougth this was a realistic asumption given the title of the workshop. The two speakers weren’t so bad but the points and nature of the debate when it went to the floor followed on more from James O’Tooles piece ( which was good itself ) in to an abstract and frequently banal discussion on the nature of struggle/socialism/the labour party – i.e. way off topic. I tried to put in myself with points about the construction industry/schools but was ignored. I found the chair was little better than useless and bent the agenda to his mates to his left hand side – and to the frequent personal appeals from them. One guy from you identified himself as a SWP member from Ballyfermermot was very openly aggressive and abusive to a speaker he disagreed with on one occassion the chair (his mate) did nothing.

      Terrence MacDonagh was there – he could have given some meaningful input but he was not invited to.

      I was at ‘The alternative to the housing Crisis’ one later. It was better but agan I found myself ignored. It seemed this one had several strands to it – one was homelessness, one was access to social housing and final was the housing market where repossessions and problems mortgages. It was flipping around too much to deal throughly with each. To be honest there are three or four workshops that could come out of that topic alone. I did find that there was a bit of a la carte socialism to be found here in the views as expressed though.

      Joe R

      Jun 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

  3. Jim – I don’t know why you thought I’d do anything else – I am serious about this project.

    My report on, and assessment of, the national forum is available for anyone who is interested at

    Alan Gibson

    Jun 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm

  4. I thought that it was an interesting and useful day. And the attendance, which seemed to me to be higher than the 320 registrations announced, was encouraging.

    I don’t agree at all that the Socialist Party were “too forthright” in pressing for a socialist programme to be adopted. There are disagreements on a whole range of issues in the ULA, as well as substantial and important agreements. Part of coming together involves discussing and debating those disagreements in a fraternal way, and it is better that people are forthright and clear about their opinions. The Socialist Party understands that it is unlikely that the ULA as a whole will be convinced of all of our views in the near future and it is not presenting ultimatums in that regard. It does however think that it is important to present its case and to push for the ULA to adopt as radical and left wing a programme as it can be convinced to do.

    There will be pressure on the ULA, as a small but real force in national politics, to moderate its views. There are also forces in the ULA (chiefly, but perhaps not only, the SWP) which want the ULA to be less radical in programme, a view that they are entirely within their rights to hold. This last part was obliquely referenced in Eddie, Joan and Dermot’s article when they talk about the importance in their view of not watering down or ignoring the existing programme, and in particular not doing so to accommodate politicians who don’t agree with us.

    By and large, I thought that most points of view, on all sides of the debates, were reasonably and fraternally expressed. The discussion on Northern Ireland was perhaps a partial exception, with some rather intemperate contributions. The main thing which came from that discussion, in my view, was a reinforcement of the Socialist Party speaker’s view that there simply is not enough political agreement amongst the various forces on the Northern left to simply expand the ULA there in the near future. I can only confess to being somewhat confused about the point of view of people who feel so strongly that the Socialist Party are completely wrong about Northern politics that they feel the need to barrack Socialist Party speakers at what was generally a very well mannered event and yet at the same time want a political alliance with the Socialist Party in the North! You can have one point of view or the other, but the combination is bizarre in the extreme.

    Mark P

    Jun 27, 2011 at 12:33 am

    • Mark
      I agree totally on the barracking.Everyone committed to the ULA project has a right to be heard with politeness and comradeship. While I disagree with the SP on the North, I said and I believe that the mistakes (yes, I know there are stronger words) of the Provo campaign alienated a lot of people. It should be a condition of membership that democratic norms of comradeship be adhered too.

      Jim Monaghan

      Jun 27, 2011 at 12:38 pm

  5. I attended for half of the day and I was impressed by what I saw. Firstly, the attendance. I was seated in the main hall and I was stunned when I realised that the upper part was also open.

    The first plenary was interesting and the question of the degree of emphasis to place on an openly ‘socialist’ programme is something I think the ULA will have to tackle soon, as it’s a potential stumbling block. Could the ULA come apart over this point? There seems to be a SWP/WUAG v. SP/Bree division, to me at least. Anyway, it’s still early days. As struggles evolve the necessity of foregrounding ‘socialism’ will be clearer.

    I thought Alan’s contribution at the first plenary was sensible and well made.

    Finally, attended the trade union workshop. Nothing spectacularly new. But thought it was interesting that there was a contribution from a member of the IBOA. Also, holding two simultaneous workshops in the main theatre was a bad idea, particularly as the one on the upper tier sounded like a rowdy affair and often drowned out speakers at the TU workshop.

    Overall, a success; a couple more small steps forward. Enough to overcome the inevitable steps backwards.


    Jun 27, 2011 at 11:40 am

  6. Posting this for John O’Neill (cf’. ‘Building the ULA’ thread on the Cedar Lounge):

    I attended the Jobs workshop and the one on the ULA and Northern Ireland. I agree that some of the SWP new members were a bit animated but it wasn’t withourt provocation. Their anger was directed at a man who attended the forum with the intent to disrupt. He had attempted to address the opening session unsuccessfully and spoke at the Jobs workshop. In essence he stated we should all join the Labour Party, that social democracy has brought prosperity to all of Europe and that emigration is to be welcomed as a lifetime opportunity to experience the world. A member of the SWP was angry because his brother had been forced to emigrate hence the shouting. If I had attended a Labour Party forum and insisted on speaking about the failure of the LP to offer an alternative to right wing policies of FG I would be ejected immediately.

    I have to disagree, the intro from the SP speaker to the Jobs workshop was a very good introduction (most likely targetted at newcomers to the ULA or Left politics) and the proposals presented by Emmet (SP) from a sub committee of the ULA on Jobs were practical short term realistic ideas. Everyone attending the workshop was informed by Emmet that the poroposals weren’t finalised and any contributions were welcomed that would strengthen the ULA Jobs plan.

    As for the chair, he wasn’t a member of the SWP but of TASC and was appointed at the meeting. He was a little nervous and deserves thanks for volunteering and he did attempt to involve Terrence MacDonagh in the debate but he didn’t take it up.

    The workshop on the North was a bit heated at times and as for timing I thought it should have been in the morning as it was possibly the most devisive of all the workshops. The SP outlined their position clearly which could be summarised as a fear that what constitutes the left in NI is ‘too green’ and would be considered a barrier to working class unity.

    Des Derwin

    Jun 27, 2011 at 5:41 pm

  7. I am going to write a report myself tomorrow but for the moment I would say that while it was a step forward, the project remains very fragile. I am very concerned that it will turn into a Respect type organisation – which along with many of the European broad lefts was an absolute disaster.
    I believe that the ULA should be pluralist and democratic but that it should place itself firmly within the revolutionary tradition. It seems to me that there is an idea that you cannot have a democratic socialist organisation – that everybody has to agree in a revolutionary organisation and that it is closed. That says everything about the unfortunate impact of Stalinism – as also reflected in Trotskyist methods of organisation.
    Revolutionary ideas – as so well put by Laura from SP – are absolutely concrete. They relate to every aspect of people’s lives. A revolutionary programme has to come up with immediate demands that point in the direction of socialism. And revolution is not about a smash and burn operation but a supercession of the old society. Instead of shelving socialism we should debate its meaning in the here and now. We should interrogate our old ideas. But we should not junk it for the sake of attracting people who do not share our politics. Instead we should win people who are coming into struggle.

    And on Jim’s comments about the ultra lefts from Cork, I have to stop myself becoming annoyed. I am not an ultra left. Alan might consider himself one but we have very different politics. No doubt I am on the left of the project but I think there are many more like me – judging by the response I got from individuals I think there are many who are sympathetic to the need to fight for socialism now.

    Anne McShane

    Jun 27, 2011 at 8:37 pm

  8. […] Des Derwin | ULA forum: a resounding success […]

  9. I agree that weak , useless chairing will not gain the respect of the working class. I spent two years trying to argue that point in the swp and it was pretty much ignored. I thought the sp would bring proper democratic protocol and respect worthy democratic practices but it certainly hasn’t happened yet.

    nora boyle

    Jun 30, 2011 at 10:41 am

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