Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Archive for the ‘Bureaucratically Deformed Trotskyist Parties’ Category

Workers’ Solidarity Movement (Ireland) has come to an end

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I developed a lot of political respect for comrades of the WSM, who worked well with political rivals on political campaigns where common objectives were sought.

I think particularly of referendum campaigns opposing various pro-austerity European Union treaties, and referendums on the Irish abortion ban which was finally removed from the state constitution in 2017. Also, many WSM comrades worked in a collaborative way with other revolutionary left activists in trade union activities and the mass boycotts of water charges and the property tax. The political difference which could never be resolved was : participation in state elections. Once the Irish revolutionary Left made a small but significant electoral breakthrough – moving from margins to better connection with mass struggles – the political writing was on the wall for electoral boycott anarchism. In my opinion that trend began – we are still living through it – when Joe Higgins scored an extraordinary by election success in Dublin West in 1996, running as an anti Water Tax candidate, and as a member of the Socialist Party. Higgins lost that contest by a very small margin, but comfortably won a Dáil seat in the following 1997 General Election, unseating then Labour TD and coalition minister Joan Burton.

The political difference which could never be resolved was : participation in state elections.

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Pat O’Connor 1948-2015, Limerick Socialist, Supporter of the Fourth International

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cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2020/12/07/left-archive-pat-oconnor-limerick-based-socialist-1948-2015-published-2015/

Recently, following prompts by Pádraig Malone, I forwarded material celebrating the life and political activities of the late Pat O’Connor to the Irish Left Archive site.

A 21 year old Pat O’Connor is holding the placard saying “PD [People’s Democracy] Opposes Racism”. 1970 demonstrations against the touring South African 
All-White Rugby Team.

Readers can find links to to that material in two PDF’s below. The pamphlet link includes the text of a speech I delivered at a 2015 memorial meeting for Pat. A second link is a copy of an obituary submitted to the Limerick Leader newspaper written by myself and Cian Prendiville.

John Meehan December 7 2020

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Left Greens in Ireland Organising Internally – and Saoirse McHugh Leaves calling for “an actual eco-socialist party”

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This is a rapidly moving story. Saoirse McHugh’s departure from the Green Party in Ireland is no surprise to readers of this blog :

https://tomasoflatharta.wordpress.com/2020/07/11/saoirse-mchugh-is-leaving-the-irish-green-party/

McHugh signed a “Just Transition Greens” (JTG) statement which did not address a key question : rejection of coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – actively opposing the current FFFGGG government. Active Opposition to the Maradkar-Ryan coalition is the accelerating direction of travel. Saoirse McHugh signed the the JTG statement, and has left the Green party. She directly calls on the JTG to break off from the Ryan-Greens and form “an actual eco-Socialist party”.

Saoirse McHugh – “Form an actual eco-socialist party”
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The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born – call the midwife – Ireland needs a new left party

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cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2020/07/09/the-old-world-is-dying-and-the-new-world-struggles-to-be-born-call-the-midwife-ireland-needs-a-new-left-party/

This is an excellent post from the Cedar Lounge Revolution Blog.

The author is a former member of the Socialist Party, who highlights the need for an organisation which is internally democratic and is not ultimately controlled by privileged components which make all the decisive decisions – in other words a significant departure from the SWN controlled PBP and the SP controlled Solidarity.

Here is the introduction :

Thanks to Shane Faherty for allowing this to be reposted. Much appreciated. Originally posted on

Modern Distortions Culture, society and history, at the beginning of the month.

 

In keeping with the spirit of our times, on Tuesday I watched an online ‘meeting’ with Paul Murphy TD of RISE (formerly of the Socialist Party/ Solidarity) and Brid Smith TD of People Before Profit. It was a virtual version of the public meeting that most of us on the left know, but may not necessarily love.

Paul Murphy TD RISE – Leaflet, General Election, February 8 2020

Campaigners supporting Paul Murphy TD, February 8 2020 General Election

I wanted to know whether the new party being mooted was a runner and what form it would take. Paul’s organisation RISE have been making overtures to members of the Green Party who may be disillusioned with their party entering government with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. He argues that they should leave the party and, along with other groups on the left, launch a new party. Similarly, People Before Profit released a statement proposing the formation of a new left party. Another small group called Independent Left, many of whom are former PBP members, released a statement welcoming the move. The elephant in the room in all of this is that Rise and People Before Profit are part of a parliamentary grouping called Solidarity – People Before Profit. Solidarity have said nothing on all of this. Solidarity and People Before Profit operate a marriage of convenience for electoral and parliamentary purposes. Until last year, they were evenly matched electorally, with 3 TDS and just under 30 councillors each, based on significant gains made at the previous local and general elections. The local elections of 2019 reduced the numbers of councillors for each party. There were gains for Sinn Fein and the Greens, and this was an indication of things to come.

This analysis hits the nail on the head Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Lenin in the light of the collapse of the SWP and the ISO – Independent Left – Conor Kostick

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Conor Kostick, a supporter of the Irish Independent Left Organisation, offers an interesting analysis of the problems facing the radical left in Ireland and across the globe.

In 2013, not long after the British SWP went into dramatic convulsions over the way their party failed to support a young member in her allegation that a very much older and more senior member had raped her, I had reason to be in Chicago. While there I met up with the International Socialist Organisation (at the time a relatively successful example of a revolutionary party), gave a talk on Ireland’s revolutionary years and attended a dayschool of theirs on Lenin and the revolutionary party. The bookstall had copies of studies of Lenin by Lars Lih, Paul Le Blanc and Tony Cliff.

Anyone wanting to encourage the development of a revolutionary party has, of course, to form an opinion of Lenin. Before the ISO fell out with their British equivalents (i.e. the SWP), their approach to Lenin would have been profoundly if not exclusively shaped by the British SWP and in particular by the leading figure in that party, Tony Cliff. It interested me that the ISO had a wider outlook on the subject than was usual in the SWP and the enthusiasm of the bookstall organiser meant that I came away with a copy of Paul Le Blanc’s Lenin and the Revolutionary Party.

The cover of Paul Le Blanc’s Lenin and the Revolutionary Party
This book was first published in 1990 and I had never read it because having inhabited a rather closed-minded organization, I felt there was little that someone closely aligned to the politics of Ernest Mandel would have to say on the subject that would be useful. After all, as I was told and believed at the time, I had been guided in my understanding of Lenin by someone with vastly superior politics to those of Mandel: Tony Cliff. More than this, as an SWP organiser in the UK and then in Ireland I had always used Cliff’s Lenin: Building the Party as the essential text for explaining the theory behind SWP party-building methods to those members who I anticipated would go on to play leading roles in their branches and nationally.
— Read on independentleft.ie/reading-lenin/

I have not read the books Conor refers to. I have read (and re-read) a different book about Lenin, Marcel Liebman’s “Leninism Under Lenin” – which belongs to, broadly speaking, the Ernest Mandel tradition which Conor describes.

The opening paragraph of this review might persuade readers that time spent reading Liebman on Lenin would not be wasted : Read the rest of this entry »

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – New World After the CoronaVirus War

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Guest Post : John Meehan calls for an international revolutionary tendency!

Once, in the mid-1980’s while attending an extremely serious international political congress, I briefly attracted the attention of a Latin American comrade so Deep in Thought about the world revolution, he wasn’t saying hello to bit players like me.

A deluded speaker had seriously suggested that Lenin’s 1915 formula – “turn the imperialist war into a civil war” – could be adapted to the prospect of an imminent 20th Century Nuclear War. Workers’ and Capitalists’ bombs would reduce the globe to smithereens. Out of the Doomsday Ashes, human survivors would create the Communist Garden of Eden, a new Valhalla :

Valhalla, Old Norse Valhöll, in Norse mythology, the hall of slain warriors, who live there blissfully under the leadership of the god Odin. Valhalla is depicted as a splendid palace, roofed with shields, where the warriors feast on the flesh of a boar slaughtered daily and made whole again each evening. They drink liquor that flows from the udders of a goat, and their sport is to fight one another every day.

Thus they will live until the Ragnarök(Doomsday), when they will march out the 540 doors of the palace to fight at the side of Odin against the giants. When heroes fall in battle it is said that Odin needs them to strengthen his forces for the Ragnarök.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Valhalla-Norse-mythology

A mischievous comrade – promoting the despised “pacifist” and “reformist” policy of abolishing all nuclear weapons – advised us that success for the Valhalla Doomsday Policy would leave our planet inhabited only by termites – the only living creatures capable of surviving a nuclear holocaust. Civil War For Termites Comrades?

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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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Independent Left’s Useful Analysis of the February 2020 Irish General Election

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The author is Conor Kostick

independentleft.ie/dublin-bay-north-election-results/

In Dublin Bay North, as elsewhere, at first it seemed as though the socialist voice of the working class was going to also be swept away by the growth of the Sinn Féin vote. The Green vote too, might have been a challenge for socialists (although it was more of a challenge for Labour and other middle-ground and middle class parties). But as the counts went on, the transfers from Sinn Féin were strongly to the left, much more so than had been anticipated, although there were some losses to the presence of radical socialists in the Dáil and as activists with the advantages that being a TD brings to helping organise campaigns. We were sorry to see Ruth Coppinger and Séamus Healy lose their seats but delighted that after a difficult looking start, on the whole, the socialist left held their ground. In fact, we should have gained a seat in Dublin Bay North and at the expense of Seán Haughey of Fianna Fáil, who before the election had been a twenty-to-one favourite.

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