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We’ll have any United Left, as long as it’s ours! August 1, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Greens, Ireland, Irish Politics, Marxism, The Left, Uncategorized.
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An interesting post on IrishElection by Cian [here] raises some very useful questions. Just what is happening on the further left at the moment and how are the various campaigns for a United Left going?

Well if we look at the last twelve months a neutral observer might think the answer to that question is quite a lot. But if we dig deeper…well hey, why spoil the fun? Here are some random reports from the frontline.

A little over a year ago there was the announcement by Independent TD Seamus Healy of the Workers’ and Unemployed Action Group and Dublin Anti-Bin Tax Cllr. Joan Collins of a campaign for a new left-wing party pre-empting Labour’s decision to enter an electoral alliance with Fine Gael. Other worthies in attendence were Dermot Connolly of the CWAG (Community & Workers Action Group) and Colm Breathnach of the ISN (Independent Socialist Network). For those of you unfamiliar with the terrain of the Further Left Joan Collins was once a figure of some significance within the Socialist Party, but sadly there was a parting of the ways and Joan went onto win a Council seat in Crumlin Kimmage as an Independent with a not-disreputable 13.78% of the vote.

A significant plank of the new campaign was an absolute aversion to coalition.

In November this was formalised at a meeting in the Teachers Club where there was agreement on various issues including the following:

1. That a joint campaign to build a new party of working people would be launched by all those involved.
2. That this campaign would be known as the Campaign for an Independent Left.
3. The campaign would be based on eleven points of political agreement (see below).
4. That a steering committee would organise this campaign with two representatives of each organisation involved and a number of independent representatives.
5. That a series of public meetings would be held to open out a public debate on the need for a new party of working people.
6. That this initiative was not about setting up yet another small left organisation or exclusive grouping to rival already existing bodies and that the CIL would engage in discussions with other left groups/parties/individuals to advance this project.

Meanwhile the SWP that September, never far behind on the issue of a United Left, declared in Socialist Worker that it was creating the Davitt League described as ‘an exciting development which could be the basis for the emergence of a new left movement in Ireland. Labour, the Greens and Sinn Fein refuse to rule out coalition with right-wing, privatising, pro-war parties. A new left movement of people-power can give a political voice to campaigns and help to build a movement to defeat neoliberalism and war’. The SWP, perhaps confusingly already had their People Before Profit, or more ‘youthful’ PB4P, alliance which worked for much the same as the Davitt League.

Perhaps coincidentally, at the same time, in England and Wales the Socialist Party declared itself in favour of a campaign for a ‘New Workers Party’. Note the declaration was in favour of a ‘campaign for’ rather than an actual party. There’s a reason for this, general opinion within the SP, following a rigorous analysis of the objective political circumstances within which they labour, believe that the conditions are not yet right for a mass party of the working class. Some elements outside tend to agree, but not necessarily for the same reason.

Not to be outdone Caoimhghin O Caolain of SF called for a ‘New Left Project’ between the more popular…I mean of course less principled elements of the left…Sinn Féin and Labour! Simultaneously Mick O’Reilly of the ATGWU called for Labour to ditch the Mullingar Accord and build a ‘new project’ of the left. His definition of the left was “Labour, Sinn Féin, the left independents, and a lot of the social groups outside that and the trade union movement”. Now while O Caolain’s intervention was almost certainly mischief-making that of O’Reilly was deadly serious.

Interestingly in March this year Joe Higgins at the Socialist Party conference in Maynooth himself called for a ‘new left’ party. The platform for such a party would be a socialist alternative to mainstream parties, or as he put it, “There is no real choice here for working-class people as all these parties share similar economic and political positions. All they fight over, in reality, is which cabal should have its hands on the loot”.

On a slightly different tangent Republicanism, perhaps influenced by this outbreak of fraternal cameraderie on the further left, held a meeting in the ATGWU hall on Abbey Street, “Where next for Republicans” which brought together most strands of Republican and Republican Socialist thinking.

Finally the ATGWU hosted a conference, the one Cian refers to, on June 17th 2006 which called for A New Left Alternative. Various groups including the SWP, Joan Collins and various socialist and Trade Union activists. No particular set of agreements came out of the meeting but the mood was said to be reasonably good, which is a little victory.

So as can be seen there’s a lot going on, but does it add up to anything?

The answer as usual is, yes and no.

As ever, the prospects for a mass left party, or even a new left party, seem poor. Simply put the differences of outlook between the players is too great. It’s not just ideology, although that is a part of it, it’s personality, history, development and context. Indeed the very fact there are so many players is one of the problems.

It’s almost inconceivable that organisations as disparate ideologically as the ISN (former WP/DL activists), the Workers Action Group (various independent and Republican socialists), the CWAG i.e. Joan Collins’ people, the WUAG, the SP, the SWP and so on and so forth could agree a single platform. A single slate might be more tenable with groups agreeing to support agreed candidates (somewhat along the lines of the Scottish Socialist Party). Even then the picture breaks down when we contemplate this latest bit of news from June 26th where it was agreed at a PB4P meeting that Brid Smith of the SWP would be nominated to contest the next general election in the same constituency as Joan Collins (should she decide to make a run). Not entirely inexplicable from a party political point of view, since Smith did reasonably well during the local elections, but hard to square with the new unity drive. Worse again there appears to be some concern that Joan Collins had the temerity to vote for the FF Mayor of Dublin. As might have been expected people are wondering where that fits in with the Campaign for an Independent Left.

Yet, there is the possibility on a certain level that (some of) these groups could, in concert, lock into a general disenchantment with mainstream politics. There are already TDs in the Dáil who in part reflect that view, most notably Finian McGrath, Seamus Healy and, of course, Joe Higgins. The first two will be fighting hard to protect their seats and perhaps linkages to nebulous broad further left campaigns will do them no good, and possibly some harm. Joe Higgins is representative of a party which to some degree appears to believe it has a favourable wind at it’s back and perhaps they too are unlikely to want their message diluted or distorted by the more vociferous class warriors (although to be fair they do class war rather well themselves). The other left-independents, such as Tony Gregory and Catherine Murphy, come from a somewhat different political background and less interested in such entanglements.

Will it work? Gut instinct knowing people involved in at least six of the organisations mentioned above (not in itself an achievement – trust me)? No it won’t.

But the fact that so many of these groups are talking about unity, and meeting about unity and planning unity seems to me to indicate that there is a genuine appetite for a structured organisation on the further left.

Perhaps it is because they feel there ‘should’ be a further left vote (arguably because they’ve never come to terms with the fact that Republicanism has mopped up much of the radical vote and also that Irish society is politically rather centrist), or perhaps it’s the example of Joe Higgins that makes them believe that ‘there but for the grace of God go we’. I don’t think so though, I think it’s both illusory, and delusory.

I certainly don’t see the votes there to support such an organisation of the left. Labour will sweep up mainstream centre left. The Green’s will take their niche vote with them. Sinn Féin as I’ve argued at the Cedar Lounge Revolution are doing quite well with the hard-edged non-further-left left vote (the old WP/republican left) vote, which leaves a couple of percentage points to be prised away from Independents.

But that hardly makes for much of a party of the independent left, or indeed a mass party of the left. Two TDs, perhaps three would be the best that could be expected and their future trajectory would probably follow that of previous Independent left TDs, kings of much they survey in their geographical fiefdoms but of marginal significance outside of them.
Anyhow, for those of us interested in such things further details and discussions can be found at [indymedia.ie]

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