Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

ULA nonaligned: A Left Unity Platform

with 9 comments

On Monday 23rd, in the run up to the ULA conference on Saturday,  Henry Silke and Therese Caherty circulated the proposal below to the nonaligned Google mailing group. Both are nonaligned members in Dublin Central and Therese is standing for one of the nonaligned positions on the ULA Steering Committee.

It’s a five-step plan that the nonaligned  might agree on to develop the ULA and its structures. Tomás understands it to be a proposal for discussion, and  there does not seem to be any facility for dealing with it this Saturday. Other signatures welcome.

A Left Unity Platform

1. The Left Unity Platform is open to members of the ULA who are not already members of the three founding organisations represented on the steering committee.  The membership of individuals in already existing smaller organisations (not on the steering committee) will be decided on by the membership of the Left Unity Platform.  The final decision of membership of all individuals rests with the membership of the Left Unity Platform.

2. Members of the Left Unity Platform must agree to the minimum program of the ULA.

Members are free as individuals (not representing the Left Unity Platform) to hold other views.

3.  The aim of the Left Unity Platform is to develop the ULA into a fully fledged party of the working class. All members will work towards this end.

4. The Left Unity Platform will work to develop permanent working participatory democratic structures in the ULA.

5. The Left Unity Platform will work to overcome all forms of political sectarianism within the ULA.

Written by tomasoflatharta

Apr 27, 2012 at 1:32 pm

9 Responses

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  1. There’s a touch of the Motherhood and Apple Pies about this, is there not? I mean at this level of abstraction and generality, is there anything here which anyone in the ULA couldn’t sign up to? Does anyone in the ULA oppose the idea of a new party of some type, with some form of politics, and some form of democratic structure at some time in the future? Is there anyone who doesn’t like the idea of “unity”? Or who isn’t opposed to “sectarianism”?

    The actually contentious issues, like how to go about building a party of the working class, on what political basis, with what programme, whether in the South for the moment or in the North to, with what structure, etc are all just elided into a general sentiment for “unity”.

    On the issue of “facility for dealing with it this Saturday”, I wouldn’t have thought that the actual conference sessions themselves would be the best place to have a discussion about setting up a faction.

    Mark P

    Apr 27, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    • The basic idea is for a group to actively lobby towards the party formation and participatory structures rather than wait patiently for the parties to do so. It also gives some political expression to what most non alinged seem to agree on. While everyone in the ULA may or may not agree with the sentiments we still see two entirely seperate campaigns for the austerity treaty taking place. I agree combating sectarianism is a more difficult one to do, maybe it is just a case of calling it. It is an opening document rather than fully formed policy, and is to be worked on. The politics are loose to allow all to take part, while one must agree to the minimum policy people are free to hold diverse positions on policy, (northern Ireland for example). Personally I think ULA policy in the end should come from participatory democratic structures rather than be handed down from a quasi permanent and secrative leadership. Structures and policy should not be thought of seperately but as a dialectical whole. The key to developing policy is developing structure. Faction is a strong word, it will probably be more of a network of people who want the ULA rather than the SWP or SP to be ‘the’ party. And in the process develop genuine participatory and democratic structures, from here I hope the ULA has the potential to develop into a party with serious revolutionary potential.

      Henry Silke

      May 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      • 1) If you manage to convince the ULA to adopt structures which are “party like” or to declare itself a party, or even to adopt structures which don’t reflect the existence of large, highly organised, groups within it, you will succeed only in destroying the ULA. Neither your very vague initial platform, nor your response to me, engage with the realities of the ULA and its composition at all. Wishful thinking about how you would like the ULA to be is of no interest or relevance to what the ULA actually is and what the best way forward for it is.

        2) I’m not sure why the accurate term faction has such an abrasive effect on some tender sensibilities. Whether you call a faction a “platform” or a “network” or a “tendency” is irrelevant. It amounts to the same thing.

        3) The problem with “sectarianism” as a concept is that the left is full of wild uses of the term to mean anything the person speaking doesn’t like. You will meet for instance a few people on the independent left who regard any organised disagreement or even activity by organised groups outside of an amorphous “unity” as “sectarianism”. By contrast, for the SWP, “sectarianism” essentially means disagreeing with the SWP.

        4) The Socialist Party makes no apologies whatsoever for running its own campaigns. As far as the austerity treaty is concerned, it will be running its own campaign, taking part in the ULA campaign and taking part in the broader Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty. Do you have some reasonable objection to any of that?

        Mark P

        May 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm

  2. Hi Mark

    Well firstly on point one you seem to be putting words in my mouth, I never said any such thing, I don’t know where you got that from the five points or my response to you? Of course the ULA should represent the founding parties. My own suggestion for the branch delegate council (which was published on this site explains my position) is here:

    This delegate system would be very much a minority on the steering committee. As it happens we are getting a delegate council on an advisory role, which is certainly a good start. The idea you seem to suggest is that we cannot lobby or argue for how we would like the ULA to develop. Why on earth not?

    There is nothing vague in the structures of organisations, though leaderships and bureaucracies do tend to mystify them. The structural development of the ULA is essential as far as I am concerned. I do not endorse the SWP position of one man one vote now, but a more nuanced position that the structures should develop in a hopefully organic manner. The addition of the new members to the steering committee is a huge step forward as is the delegate council. Moreover I think we need to move beyond the idea that memberships have a say once a year to pass resolutions a party leadership and/or bureaucracy may or may not implement. Or as Paddy Healy pointed out, elements of the ULA may or may not implement.

    On point two there can be very much a difference between a centralised and organised faction and a loose network. From our own tradition militant would hardly described as a loose network. The non aligned are meeting in June to discuss this further, again the five points are a possible beginning of a joint strategy, of course they may not be accepted as written or at all.

    On point three, sectarianism is indeed a difficult concept to define, however I think one of the key ones is the culture of sectarianism, where let’s be honest often the first thing a new recruit learns is who the enemy is. I have no problem with debate, discussion and disagreement but there is no denial that sectarianism can be an issue. Though I think that the whole situation has improved immensely in the last few years. And no I don’t have a magic wand to fix it, I was not sure if I should include it, but in the end I think it would have been wrong to ignore it.

    On your final point no apology is necessary, but it was a simple example at the lack of unity on the left even since the ULA. I could also have mentioned, Enough, Unite the Fronts etc etc etc. Of course the SP and SWP can and do run their own campaigns. However in my opinion a united ULA campaign should take precedence. But obviously I am in no position to influence either party bar telling you my opinion.
    And that really gets us back to the point the idea is the ‘non aligned’ to express our opinion on various issues, beginning with a starting point the wish to develop the ULA into a party of the working class with participatory structures.


    Henry Silke

    May 3, 2012 at 12:52 am

    • Hi Henry,

      To take a few of your points in no particular order:

      1) I have no disagreement with you on the issue of the delegate council or on the extended steering committee. These are both steps forward, which allow people outside the three main affiliates to have representation on the leadership and play a fuller role in decision making. In fact, I’d go further and say that I would generally support any reasonable further measures anyone comes up with for the same ends, as long as those measures don’t ignore or try to smooth over the current reality of the ULA and the prominence of two organised blocs within it. Trying to do the latter will result only in the ULA tearing itself apart as each vote is decided by whether the Socialist Party or the SWP have more people at a particular meeting.

      2) The word faction doesn’t necessarily mean “tight” any more than the word network means “loose”. You can have very loosely organised factions. A faction is a grouping within an organisation which organises for a particular point of view. I just find it amusing that some people are so allergic to the term when it comes to their own activity: factions are for that other crowd over there, we’re a “platform” or a “network”. Even though in practice it amounts to the same thing.

      3) When it comes to having its own campaign, under its own banner, reflecting its own politics and its own arguments for an important referendum, the Socialist Party is not asking for permission. Our right to raise our own views as we see fit is not up for discussion, now or ever. Right up until the moment that the ULA, or some successor to the ULA, becomes a fully rounded revolutionary party with a revolutionary programme, thus making the Socialist Party obsolete, the Socialist Party has both a right and an obligation to raise its ideas, its politics and the profile of its organisation. This is not “sectarianism”. It is not a failure of unity. It’s not a reluctance to commit to the ULA. It is a basic duty of a Marxist organisation.

      What is up for discussion is the balance of work, and how best to carry out multiple different obligations. In this particular referendum, the Socialist Party will be running its own campaign, and will also be a driving force in the ULA campaign and in the broader Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty. Due to GUE funding specifically for that purpose, the SP has much more in the way of resources available for its own campaign, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the balance which the SP would choose.

      4) Perhaps you could outline what sort of thing you mean by “participatory structures” in the context of the ULA, or in the context of a future party stemming from the ULA.

      Mark P

      May 3, 2012 at 6:41 pm

      • Hi mark

        I agree with you completely on your first point. The ula should be federal in nature in respect of this. Membership organisations being part of that federal make up.

        On the second point words do have meaning and in popular usage most would see a differences between different types of groups or factions. As nothing actually exists bar an opening document faction is not a correct definition.

        On the third point the sp and the Swp do not have to ask permission nor apologise for running their own campaigns. And yes both maintain they are the best representation of revolutionary marxism. If it is a question of priority I think the Ula is the priority. Neither of the two former parties have grown much in terms of recruitment even in the last five years and may in fact not. The ula I believe has more potential.

        In the balance of work I don’t believe the sp up to recently has put enough into the Ula, though hopefully Kevin’s speech at conference which I took as ‘the objective conditions’ are changing will mean a greater orientation to the Ula. Thus far for example only one member of the sp has regularly attended Ula branch meetings i n Dublin central, which I think indicates something. Hopefully this will l change. I take the point on gue funding.

        Finally participatory democracy means a democracy where members participate in decision making rather than simply elect reps to make decisions for them. It implies permanent decision making structures rather than for example annual elections. It also means the membership have the right both to make policy proposals to both leadership structures and the wider membership. It also demands an open internal culture of discussion including disagreement. The link on my previous post was my submission to the Ula sub committee on structures with develops it in a practical sense.

      • Hi Henry,

        I fully accept that there is no faction, if no organisation has actually been formed. If you look back to my first comment you’ll see that my reference was to “a discussion about setting up a faction”. Anyway, this is pedantry on my part, so I’ll drop it for now.

        On the participatory part, perhaps I was a little unclear. I wasn’t asking you what you meant by participatory structures in general terms. I was asking what structures you were proposing in the context of the ULA or a party coming out of the ULA in a more detailed sense.

        Mark P

        May 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      • Hi Mark

        Check the link above for my submission to the sub committee on structures.


  3. The vehemence with which Mark P continues to oppose the actual development of the ULA into a party of the working class, insofar as he reflects the official postion of the Socialist Party (which he usually does), is dismaying.

    Firstly, can we set aside the SWP’s championing of ‘democracy’ as a tactical turn on their part? Secondly, what Henry, myself, Eddie Conlon, Brendan Young, and many of the nonaligned mean is that we campaign, in a balanced way, for the stepped but real movement of the ULA towards a party (there has been some progress). We are, I think, against any forced imposition of party structures and distance ourselves from the SWP and others on this. Mainly because of the SP’s and the WUAG’s strong opposition to party organisation at this time: our tactical wish to preserve the ULA for the achievement it is. Nevertheless it is disappointing to see the SP so forcefully oppose – into the projected long term – departure from an alliance model.

    What is at the bottom of our concerns? That the ULA fulfils its promise as an alternative focus and force for all who want to fight and organise. To do that it needs its larger substance – as the unity of several forces – to be larger still. Hence the need for unitary campaigns (there are five ULA related campaigns on the Treaty, Henry, not three), true participation of new nonaligned members, ULA publications, etc. Some of its components may prefer to promote (and genuinely see) themselves as the alternative, the option for people wanting to get involved, rather than the breakthrough ULA itself.


    May 11, 2012 at 11:48 am

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