Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Archive for the ‘Internal Democracy’ Category

Essential profits, replacable union leaders.

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“There are no infallible party leaderships, or individual party leaders, party majorities, “Leninist” central committees” – and so on!

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We can learn from history, we cannot change it.

Russia in the 1920’s was a one-Party State. The ruling Bolshevik Party banned internal oppositional currents. Different groups emerged opposing the party leadership centred around the dictator, Joseph Stalin.

On a smaller level today in Ireland, one-Faction “broader parties” – for example People Before Profit (ultimately controlled by the Socialist Workers’ Network) or Solidarity (ultimately controlled by the Socialist Party) – are a living contradiction. They are, because internal democracy is curtailed, bureaucratically deformed radical-left parties. RISE, originating from internal differences within Solidarity/Socialist Party, represents a serious effort to break free from the bureaucratically deformed model.

“Build a new mass left-wing party

“There is a desperate need for a mass political party of the left. Because of Sinn Féin’s acceptance of the capitalist market and its hesitancy to engage with people-power movements, it will not be that party.

“None of the existing radical left parties are likely to grow directly into that mass left party either. Instead, we need a left party that is anti-capitalist, anti-coalition and anti-oppression, while being open for different groups to organise within it. https://www.letusrise.ie/featured-articles/we-need-a-socialist-government

RISE and our TD, Paul Murphy, wants to work with others to build such a party. While fighting for every reform in the here and now, we are a revolutionary socialist group that sees the need to end the rule of the bosses and big corporations.”

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, most of the opposition currents were reluctant to put their differences in perspective, and unite against the common ruling enemy. Tragic consequences followed – the Stalin machine murdered and framed all its opponents in infamous 1930’s Moscow Show-Trials.

Victor Osprey highlights important efforts to do things differently

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RISE Leaflet – We need a socialist government

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RISE distributed a leaflet (link below) at a 1000 strong March 7 Dublin Demonstration. The last paragraphs advocates the creation of a new left party which is “open for different groups to organise within it”. This is extremely positive.

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“To all of them we say – Rule out coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael! – Sinn Féin should seek to lead an alternative minority government” – Interview with Paul Murphy TD, RISE

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“To all of them we say – Rule out coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael! – Sinn Féin should seek to lead an alternative minority government”

The Irish General Election to the 33rd Dáil, February 8 2020

Interview with Paul Murphy TD, RISE, Dublin South-West.

Paul Murphy is a member of RISE

RISE – Radical Internationalist Socialist Environmentalist

RISE was part of the Solidarity-People Before Profit (SPBP) Electoral Coalition.

Full Statewide results are here

Irish General Election February 8 2020 – Results

The Dublin South-West Result is here :

Result of the 2020 Irish General Election, Dublin South-West

The interview took place in Dáil Éireann on February 19 2020.

John Meehan asked the questions.

Dan Finn’s excellent analysis of the Irish General Election Results is here : Ireland’s Left Turn

Finn summarised the main features of the result :

“At a time when left parties in Europe have been losing ground to their rivals on the Right and Centre, the Irish election bucked the trend. Whatever Sinn Féin does next, this was clearly a left-wing vote. The exit poll showed that health and housing were by far the most important issues for voters. [1] Two-thirds wanted investment in public services to be prioritized over tax cuts. 31 percent agreed with the statement that Ireland “needs a radical change in direction”. It’s possible that this opportunity for change will be squandered. But right now, the momentum in Irish politics is with the Left, and the traditional conservative parties are on the back foot. An election that was supposed to call time on the political turbulence of the last decade has had the opposite effect.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ireland: What’s left after the ULA? | Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

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http://links.org.au/node/3326

Henry Silke on the decline of the ULA.

Future Left: ‘Beyond Capitalsm? The Future of Radical Politics’ reviewed by Phil Hearse

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Future Left

  • March 29, 2013 11:02 p

Phil Hearse reviews Beyond Capitalism? by Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy (Zero Books 2012).

This review of an important new book on the erupting question of the future of the left and of socialist organisation is from the website of the the British group Socialist Resistance: http://socialistresistance.org/5019/future-left#comment-48309

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There could hardly be a more timely book for the socialist left, facing in most countries a dual crisis. On the one hand since 2008 the working class has faced a brutal austerity offensive which has not been thrown back. On the other, partially as a result of the austerity offensive and working class defeats, the socialist left has suffered a series of political defeats which have seen organisations in several countries decay, split or go into crisis. Closely connected with the far left crisis is the fate of the global justice, ‘anti-capitalist’, movement which announced itself spectacularly at the November 1999 anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle.

When I heard about the Seattle demonstrations I rashly predicted “Now the American left is going to grow spectacularly”.  At a big London conference the next year a speaker from Global Exchange in the US said to huge enthusiasm from the audience “We’re winning”. In July 2001 the huge demonstrations at the Genoa G8 summit were politically dominated by Italian Communist Refoundation with a significant input from the Fourth International – Fausto Bertinotti and Olivier Besancenot were the key speakers at the main rally. The global justice movement was on the offensive and the militant left seemed to have a significant role in it.

Twelve years on the situation seems very different, despite the Occupy movement and despite the Arab Spring. Obviously the main objective factors that changed were the post-9/11 situation which enabled the huge new military-political offensive of American imperialism and its allies; and the financial collapse of 2008 and the utterly ruthless offensive against working class living standards that followed.

For Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy, two young militants of the Anti-Capitalist Initiative, the thing to be explained is this:

“The capitalist crisis poses profound questions about the future of left wing politics because of its sheer depth and severity…After all, in these conditions radical political ideas should be striking a major chord amongst millions of workers. If they are not we have to look hard at ourselves.” (1)

Part of the problem, obviously is the relative weakness of anti-capitalist ideas in most parts of the world:

“In most countries in the world not only is acceptance of capitalism fundamental to the assumptions of the major political parties, but a specific variant of neoliberal ideology has come to be seen as the exclusive road down which politics must travel.” (2)

Contemporary mass movement

This reflects itself in the weakness of anti-capitalist mass consciousness. But more than this, there seems like a perennial problem in the existing revolutionary left linking up with major movements of resistance and in particular with the young rebels who emerged in the global justice movement, going through the anti-war movement, the various Social Forums and into such contemporary mass movement as the Indignados and Occupy!

That doesn’t mean, they point out, that militant leftists don’t play leading roles in the movements and protests, indeed they do especially in labour movement based campaigns, but their leading roles are often quite separate from their identity as political militants. This problem seems particularly obvious during the anti-war movement of 2002-3, when in Britain the Socialist Workers Party led a coalition which mobilised two million on the streets but failed to grow at all. By contrast the Vietnam movement in the late 1960s, much smaller in numbers, saw every left organisation grow.

Luke and Simon explain that thy were themselves radicalised during the upsurge of the anti-capitalist movement, and the failure to effect a junction between the existing revolutionary left and the anti-capitalist movement is a theme to which they continually return. Their argument on this is quite nuanced but it is the pivot on which much of their basic position relies. Briefly summed up it goes like this:

  1. Resistance movements are themselves pressured by ‘capitalist realism’ and “still largely remain within the assumptions of liberal democratic ideology” (3).
  2. The way that this is expressed among many youthful protestors is a disastrous rejection of ‘politics’.
  3. BUT the strength of these movements has been their democratic and participatory ethos and practice, their rejection of rigid hierarchies and bureaucratic procedures and their capacity for rapid initiative from below – in other words the things that precisely differentiate them from much of the existing revolutionary left.
  4. By contrast, the existing revolutionary left is dogmatic, wedded to routinist, uninspiring and non-participatory events, and above all cleaves to a form of ‘democratic centralism’ that is top heavy and (at the very least) outdated.

They say:

“The positive side of the current political conjuncture is that it exposes the limitations in the political practices and philosophy of the organised left and the libertarian activist milieu simultaneously. A growing number of activists, who might be labeled ‘libertarians’ or ‘Trots’, depending which side of the divide you are on, are starting to question the limitations of their preferred form of organisation. If activists from the libertarian left are starting to see the social power of organised working class action is crucial to the resistance to austerity, then new organisational forms can also start to overcome other differences. For the ‘old left’ far less dogmatism in their organisational and ideological assumptions coupled with genuine attempts to build organic unity among socialists would go a long way to reach a situation where we no longer  ‘old and ‘new’ as dichotomies.” (4)

The authors then temper this with an insistence that this does not mean an attempt at eclectically muddling irreconcilable positions and quite rightly they take aim at people who dodge the question of government and political power with the pipe dream “that we can create a prefigurative space within capital that has a liberating function somehow outside the power relations of the system”(5).

Zinoviev’s legacy

Now we come to the $64,000 question, or rather series of $64,000 questions for the existing far left. Is it really true that the style, practices and hierarchies of the existing ‘Leninist’ organisations repel young rebels and indeed militants in the workers and other movements? Of course not all these organisations are the same, but in Britain the major far left organisations (the SWP and SP) have a hierarchical conception of Leninism that has been pressurised by Stalinism and is at least ‘Zinovievist’ – having features of the top-down version of Leninism imposed on the Comintern by Zinoviev in the early 1920s. The trade union movement and campaign organisations are littered with ex-members of the different  far left organisations whose basic politics hasn’t changed but whose ability to cope with this version of ‘the party’ has. Typically these organisations express extreme factional hostility to members of other organisations, have a highly manipulative attitude to the movements in which they participate, severely limit rights of internal discussion not minutely led from above, operate a more-or-less complete ban on public discussion of differences and have leaderships that preserve enormous privileges of private discussion and self-renewal by proposing themselves on the leadership slate.

In the Zinovievist sects there is a tremendous pressure towards conformity and obedience, and a huge price to be paid for dissidence, even on quite secondary questions. For Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy this cuts against the spirit of the times, which is towards greater personal freedom.

I think there’s a good deal of truth in that and young people naturally bristle against artificially imposed authority. On the other hand the zeitgeist of the times is not just the desire for individual freedom but a spirit of individualism promoted by neoliberalism. Rejection of all forms of collectivism, majority votes and disciplined action will disable any form of politics. And of course there are still plenty of radical intellectuals who don’t want to be beholden to anyone or anything, least of all a political organisation.

One other caveat here is that all the organisations that referred to the tradition of Trotsky and the Left Opposition cannot be tarred with the same brush. In particular there are many sections of the Fourth International (FI) who wouldn’t recognise this picture at all and the FI’s tradition is generally one of valuing differences and debate  – and often expressing these in public. But it has to be said that some of the more restrictive ‘norms’ of ersatz Leninism have their origin in the US Socialist Workers Party, a long-time key component of the Fourth International,  under James P. Cannon, codified in a document published in 1965 but stretching way back before that (6).

Rebels, socialists, revolutionaries are bound to make plenty of enemies. It is not to the discredit of the existing far left organisations that right-wingers hate them; on the other hand the snarling factionalism of the ‘combat party’ automatically creates disabling and usually  pointless disunity. ‘Everybody hates us, we don’t care!’ may suffice for Millwall football fans, but should not be a guiding principle for a revolutionary organisation.

Now what?

So what is to be done? The authors have a wide-ranging discussion of the experience of the left, particularly in Europe, in the last decade which ranges over the question of politics and the movements, as well as the experience of trying to form new left parties – experiences that have been extremely diverse. In making proposals for the future inevitably there are as many questions as precise answers. The framework however is perhaps contained in their assessment of the experience of the ‘Social Forum’ movement, perhaps the main institutional expression of the global justice movement:

“The post-1999 social movements have shown that potentially millions can be thrown into struggle and resistance to capitalism and for a fundamental social change. But for all the ideological impetus that drove many of these movements, they also paradoxically gave expression to the post-political logic that engulfed the world after 1989, because the social forums were consciously limited to the task of aggregating together diverse campaigns in a manner that retained their social movement as opposed to political movement character. It was not that the forums weren’t highly political – they were. These events bore witness to a vast outpouring of discussion on an array of themes. But they ultimately lacked a strategic perspective for social transformation; a strategy to move from protest to a real challenge for power. And it is the latter that would have necessitated a discussion around new political formations as part of a process of attempting to cohere together what Marxists have traditionally referred to as an ‘international – ie a global political party that seeks to overcome national antagonisms and move towards the transcendence of capital. ” (7)

In the section ‘Drawing Conclusions’ the authors note that the situation is becoming more conducive to overcoming ‘capitalist realism’ – the idea that there is no alternative. While expressing caution towards Paul Mason’s idea that “the age of capitalist realism is over” (8) they argue that the common idea of a decade ago that the market, democracy and modernity go together is taking a severe battering. Rampant corruption and declining living standards are going hand in hand swingeing attacks on democracy. How can the left take advantage of this situation? Simply summed up, Luke and Simon suggest:

  • The crisis of the left is still the crisis of the sect
  • This fuels a drive towards new political formations
  • New programmatic definitions will gradually over time through practice
  • A pluralistic Marxism is needed
  • The left needs to reclaim the idea of democracy
  • Electoral and trade activity needs to be linked with grassroots activity ‘from below’ and community struggles.

This of course is a huge agenda to be worked out in detail and practice. Of course it is impossible for anyone to suck the solutions to the problems of the left out of their thumbs. These will only emerge over time through struggle. But it is essential to know “where to begin”. The authors identify key problems with eloquence and go a long way to establishing a practical agenda for a refounded Marxist left. I will just stress two final points.

  1. The book is evidently weak on the issues of feminism and the environment but these will be vital in establishing the parameters of a future left.
  2. The whole argument  about unity points in the direction of the creation of a new anti-capitalist party  – and this has to be out front and upfront. There will be those who will want to interpret the critique of sect functioning as being a rejection of the party form tout court, in favour of the endless circular networking of campaigns and initiatives, with no overall political coherence or direction. A long term war of position that can go ‘beyond capitalism’ requires the building of a party that can strike the political blows to the left of Labour that UKIP does to the right of the Tories. Simultaneously it is inevitable that there will be a pressure towards the co-ordination in a more coherent and structured way of a refounded centre of pluralistic Marxism.

It is through these processes that we can build a Future Left in the true spirit of the founder of Marxism:

“Hence, nothing prevents us from making criticism of politics, participation in politics, and therefore real struggles, the starting point of our criticism, and from identifying our criticism with them. In that case we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.” (Marx to Ruge, September 1843).

Notes:

  1. Beyond Capitalism p2
  2. Beyond Capitalism p3
  3. Ibid  p11, see also p99ff
  4. Ibid p96
  5. Ibid p97
  6. See for example  James P. Cannon,  The History of American Trotskyism and The Struggle for  a Proletarian Party.
  7. Op Cit pp140-141
  8. Op Cit p153

The Socialist Party leaves the United Left Alliance

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Socialist Party leaves the ULA

by Henry Silke

Last Saturday the Socialist Party (CWI) posted an article on their website announcing the end their membership of the United Left Alliance. This was one of the least surprising political events of the Irish left as the Socialist Party had been steadily moving away from the alliance for over a year.

The SP have given two reasons for leaving the alliance firstly it’s unhappiness with ex Socialist Party TD Clare Daly’s continued political relationship with Mick Wallace, a left leaning populist who became embroiled in a tax evasion scandal. Clare Daly had been closely allied to Wallace in the promotion of an abortion rights bill and most recently in the exposure of a practice where privileged members of society were being cleared of driving charges, something brought to the TDs, by whistle blowing members of the Irish police force. Clare Daly herself had resigned from the Socialist Party (and re-designated herself as a ULA TD) some months ago citing the Socialist Party’s lack of enthusiasm towards building the ULA. Read the rest of this entry »

SYRIZA or the magnificent breakthrough of a unique unifying and original experience

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SYRIZA or the magnificent breakthrough of a unique unifying and original experience

by Yorgos Mitralias
Translated by  John Catalinotto

 

A nightmare for “those on top,” a hope for “those on the bottom,” SYRIZA made a sensational debut on the political landscape of Europe in deep crisis. After quadrupling its electoral strength on May 6, SYRIZA now aims not only to become the largest party in Greece in the June 17 elections, but to be able to form a left-wing government which will repeal the austerity measures, repudiate the debt and chase the Troika out of the country. So it’s no surprise if SYRIZA fascinates many outside Greece, and if almost everyone is asking about its origin and true nature, its goals and ambitions.

SYRIZA, however, is not exactly a newcomer to the European left. Born in 2004, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) would have to attract the attention of political scientists and the international media, not least because from its beginning, it was a totally new and original type of political entity in the landscape of the Greek, European and even global left. Read the rest of this entry »

Debate on the United Left Alliance – Proposal for a Branch Delegate Council

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We continue the discussion on how to take forward the United Left Alliance (ULA) with this contribution from Henry Silke (Dublin Central ULA Branch)

Proposal for a Branch Delegate Council

by Henry Silke (Dublin Central ULA)

Introduction

There is some frustration in the ULA on a several fronts: one has been the lack of cohesion of the organisation, with the component parts continuing to act separately; a second has been the lack of representation of members who are not aligned to the founding groups; and finally a general lack of development of branches and structure. The steering committee of the ULA has proposed a number of policies to deal with these issues. Firstly it has proposed to give non-aligned members representation (on the steering committee) which is a very welcome step forward. It does remain problematic in that it only gives non-aligned members an annual vote on representation (at conference) with no detail on how the representatives may stay in contact (if at all) with their constituency. The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) opposes this and are instead calling for a one person one vote annual conference where a steering committee (and I presume policy and strategy) would be voted on. This too is problematic for reasons already attested by Conlon and Young (see below), the main problem being that it could lead to passive if not active divisions and an alienation of the non aligned membership. Moreover even if a simple one person one vote conference did work without leading to a fight for delegates between the SWP and the Socialist Party (SP); it remains again only an annual vote without recourse, something which does not move beyond passive concepts of democracy where members are given a voice once a year. On a more long-term structural development the steering committee has also established a sub-committee on the structural development of the alliance and it is with this in mind that I have formulated this proposal. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by tomasoflatharta

Mar 9, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Kubla heard from far: the problem with the ULA is everbody else

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There seems be more than one occasion (Waterloo, the Peninsular War) for the claim that the Duke of Wellington said the following as he inspected a section of his troops:

“I don’t know what they’ll do to the enemy; but, by God, they frighten me.”

Below is an internal bulletin of the Socialist Workers Party dated 6th February 2012. It is instructive in many ways. It is also very frightening. How is the ULA to survive this, or if the SWP acts on this?

*SWP Bulletin  06.02.12*  Read the rest of this entry »