Structure, Democracy and the Irish Left – A Call for Discussion


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Inside the Irish and indeed international left wing movement there is a difficult discussion that is beginning (or I should say re-beginning as this discussion has many predecessors). This is a discussion of organisational structure and democracy.  This discussion should neither fall into an anti-leftist ‘socialism is invariably anti-democratic’ and even less so into a condescending ‘socialism from below’ which has no practical meaning; or even worse act as simply an attack from one group upon another. These issues seem to be systematic across the dominant Irish and British left. In fact even within the more recent Occupy movement an informal bureaucratic clique seemed to have arisen quite quickly.  Some might argue that the existing types of structures have been necessary for survival at certain historical periods of severe oppression; or even in periods of downturn in class struggle and consciousness; however I can see no credible reasoning for keeping them now. Others might argue that these structures are necessary to create an effective force of class struggle; this I also disagree with, in the short term they may be effective for small groups but in the long term they lead to fragmentation, ‘group think’ and hamper both individual and collective political development.  These structural issues I believe are acting as a block on the development of the Irish left, both politically and practically, and I believe add to a sectarian mentality between existing groups. I do not wish to fetish structure I am aware as much as the next person that the material ‘objective factors’ are of key importance. However there is also a ‘subjective factor’ where the superstructure affects the base. Our own subjective structures are also something we can do something about. I am not saying it is a magic formula that will build a mass movement or party overnight however I believe this difficult discussion is a necessary step. While not fetishising structure we should also not ignore it altogether which has been the case for the last number of years. This article does not claim to have all the answers on the problem of organisation in the current period; however it hopes to be an opening to a frank and serious discussion.

Democratic Centralism, the Slate System and the Role of the Party Apparatus

There are three key issues to this debate that I think need to be discussed, the first is the adherence to a deformed notion of democratic centralism, the second is the ‘winner takes all’ slate system (practised by both the SWP and SP) and the third is the role of party staff and apparatus.  I will explain these notions briefly as they are widely used with an assumption that the meaning is understood or agreed upon when this is not often the case. I define democratic centralism as the key notion that a group or party will have a discussion on an issue and eventually make a decision whether by a vote, a delegate assembly or by the election of representatives.  If the vote is contentious the losers should agree to commit to the majority line externally while being free to push for their own line internally. Moreover every effort should be made to hold such debates publically in front of both the party membership and class, this may not be possible in all situations, but it is in most. This conception of democratic centralism is sensible notion of how to organise any serious collective group who are bound to have disagreements.

However the key point to democratic centralism that is not acted on in the Irish left is one of timing. The discussion needs to happen before the decision is made and members should have the option to express their view democratically whether through direct voting, delegation or representation. This does not happen, what tends to happen is a leadership executive body makes a decision and then passes that decision onto the membership. Democratic centralism then resembles the Stalinist notion of just doing what you are told. In some organisations you are perfectly free to discuss the issue and it will be ‘patiently explained’ to you by an executive member. But the key fact is the decision is made and the only option for the member who disagrees is to withdraw their labour, whether in a conscious mode or by dropping out.

Now some may argue that the leadership is the representative of the membership outside of annual congress therefore they do represent the democratic wishes of the membership. However I contend this is not sufficient for three reasons:  Firstly is because of the ‘winner takes all’ slate system (see below), secondly as the leaderships meetings are secret and the membership are not told of the individuals voting record on specific issues, and thirdly the relationship of party staff to executive bodies as well as the centralisation of party communications and decisions.

The slate system as practised by Irish and British Trotskyism and its off shoots is a system where there is one single vote for the entire leadership. You do not pick an area representative; you do not choose any individual members but the entire slate of the executive. In other words if there is a leadership body of 12 you see a slate of 12 people and vote on all of them at once.

You are usually free to put forward an alternative slate but this rarely, if ever, happens and by doing so you are inevitably opposing the entire leadership of your organisation. Most people resign or drop out rather than do so. Ironically the SWP even ban what they call political factions outside of conference. So while an existing leadership is free to organise themselves all year, any opposition is banned from doing so.  More importantly it means that an individual cannot put him or herself forward as they need a slate. It also means new members of the leadership are co-opted onto it by the existing leadership. The new people are usually welcomed for purely functional rather than political reason. Loyalty to the existing leadership goes without saying. It also means that nobody ever stands in front of the membership with a political programme.

Moreover while you are free to organise an alternative slate you are not only going up against the entire existing leadership slate (including people you probably believe should be there) but also the entire apparatus of the party. In a large multi-tendency party a slate system might be useful as at least there are various tendencies to choose from. However as the winner takes all positions from one vote the issue of splits would be a serious issue, or behind the scene (away from the membership) apolitical horse trading. However the notion that a slate system is necessary in a small single-tendency party of one or two hundred (as is the case in Ireland) makes absolutely no sense at all.

In terms of political representation and decision making you do not get to vote for a candidate because they put forward a particular program or on their voting record.  Therefore the argument that the centre represents the view of the membership doesn’t hold. Moreover the idea that all decisions are made by representatives without the direct involvement of the membership, either directly or by delegate is an entirely bourgeois notion of democracy and should be resisted.

The relationship of the party apparatus (offices, contact information, full time staff, funding etc), is also paramount. Even if you did manage to bring together an alternative slate you must go up against the leadership controlled apparatus. While the parties may not be particularly big or materially wealthy this is also an issue. The existing leadership have access to all contact information, they have (and often are) full time staffers with time to canvass opinion and access to the entire membership. This ‘iron law of oligarchy’ as the German sociologist Robert Michels put it is especially the case when all information and discussion passes through a centralised apparatus without any horizontal delegate structures. Of course an organisation needs to have full time staff, but full time staff should be entirely independent of a leadership and hired by a committee of rank and file members or better still elected. Where a full time staff and leadership are excessively overlapped we are in the realm of a bureaucracy plain and simple.

Political Education, Programme and Strategy

Invariably these issues mean that political discussion is something that is taught by an existing leadership to new membership. While there is nothing wrong with this in some sense there is the problem if the leadership is deaf to the membership. And more importantly the membership have little experience in developing policy or strategy. It also means that dialectical political discussion is removed from the party. It in some cases can lead to a situation of ‘group think’ where loyalty to the party and the existing line blinds the membership from challenging and developing the political ideology and strategy of the group. Finally and related to ‘group think’ I think it adds to the sense of sectarianism. As there is no decision making discussion (there is obviously political discussion and excellent political discussion within the parties) it doesn’t prepare their memberships for discussion outside the parties.  Moreover we are left with various leaderships who are not used to losing votes and an inevitable competition where faction members are more concerned with political point scoring than the issue at hand.

There is also the problem of programme and strategy, or I should say the epistemology of programme and strategy. We need to ask ourselves to we believe in working class self emancipation which effectively means a programme developed from debate and discussion within a party derived from the class, and that we are prepared to make mistakes and hopefully correct them. Or on the other hand do we believe programme is something to be derived by a few wise men (and it is usually men) and to be enacted by a loyal membership without question.

Structures in the ULA

The ULA has proved an area of structural experimentation. Initially the alliance was organised by a steering committee made up of representatives of the organising parts. This steering committee was organised by a consensus system which included a de-facto veto. While this was an attempt to avoid splits it has recently proved ineffective, much like the veto system in the occupy movement it has meant that progress for the alliance has been effectively stalled. To the bizarre extent where the Socialist Party while refusing to take part in ULA branches, activities and even steering committee meetings, (and seem to believe the alliance is finished) still claim a veto preventing anybody else moving forward or even registering the alliance for basic electoral purposes. The veto has also failed in the prevention of splits as the constitute parts continue to follow their own narrow and short term interests irrespectively. Moreover even with the veto system the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Group did split last year citing the vetoing of a call for Mick Wallace’s resignation (ironically enough by the Socialist Party) alongside what they termed the factional activity of the SWP in prioritising own self recruitment over the development of the ULA.

On a more positive side when independent members of the ULA won two positions on the steering committee it led to a transparency that heretofore was not present. Independent members received details of every steering committee meeting and which way the various parts voted.  Independent members also had the ability through their representatives to push motions directly to the steering committee at any time. A privilege not enjoyed by rank and file members of the SP or SWP.

The ULA has never had a voting national conference; this was bitterly opposed by the SP leadership and their opposition was supported by many independents who feared an annual headcount and either the SP or SWP taking total control which would lead to an inevitable split.  What the ULA did succeed in establishing is a model which I believe is a model far superior to the annual conference and especially the slate system of electing leaderships.  The ULA established (unfortunately only as an advisory body to the steering committee) a quarterly delegate council where delegates are directly elected from branches. This delegate structure gives ordinary delegates permanent and direct access to decision making process and alliance representatives. Recent councils have begun to produce policy entirely independently from existing leaderships. Of course the delegate council is at an early stage and branches have only been able to develop (against all the odds) where there have been independents driving the process. Moreover the future of the ULA itself is uncertain; if the ULA is to survive we will have to move beyond the model of the steering committee, the permanent veto, and at least some power will have to rest with the delegate council. This is effectively a move towards a multi-tendency party. Even an enlarged steering committee with representatives from the SP and SWP (if they remain in the alliance), the TDs and at least half directly selected from the delegate council must be a minimum demand.

The heretofore dominant existing structural and leadership models of the Irish (mainly Trotskist) left are in my opinion not fit for purpose. I am convinced political and trade union activists will not join any party they have no say in, whether led by distant TDs or a secretive executive body.  The time to have an open an honest discussion on the structures and method of the Irish left is long overdue.


71 Responses

  1. Mick

    January 9, 2013 4:55 pm

    Thanks very much for this really interesting and useful, especially for someone (like me) who has not much involvement with the trotskyist left. However, there is one thing I found strange here – the discussion of organisation is divorced from an anlaysis of contemporary class conflict.

    Today the most politically active sections of the working class (if you want to call them that) are largely active in forms of non-party based politics expirimenting with non-representative forms of democracy, e.g. Occupy, 15M in Spain, the movements in Egypt and Tunisia, the indignados of Greece and Portugal.

    Is it not a bit inward-looking to evaluate forms of left organisation on the basis of the practices of the Irish Trotskyst parties, given that they have extremley limited links to actually existing class conflict?

    • Henry Silke

      January 9, 2013 5:14 pm

      Hi Mick, thanks for the reply, firstly I choose to concentrate on forms as I believe it is an area not discussed enough and secondly due to the crisis in the ULA, where there is some practical application. An analysis of the forms of the class conflict you speak of would be a wider project. Though it is necessary. However I would contend the trotskyist left is dominant in Irish class struggle compared to the forms you mention. The CAWHT is the largest new movement so far, which the Sp and SWP amongst others founded.


    • Jimmy

      January 10, 2013 7:38 pm

      “Today the most politically active sections of the working class (if you want to call them that) are largely active in forms of non-party based politics expirimenting with non-representative forms of democracy, e.g. Occupy, 15M in Spain, the movements in Egypt and Tunisia, the indignados of Greece and Portugal.”

      Is this a joke? Or do you seriously think those movements have contributed anything positive to the left or have established a base in the working class?

  2. rdlp715

    January 9, 2013 5:00 pm

    The following posts may make good reading for people wishing to join the discussion on the present failure of the Left that is emerging everywhere.. <- Ireland

    The SWP UK(ie as applicable to the Trotskyist/Leninist tradition here & everywhere):

    Which sparked/coincided with some excellent analysis elsewhere:

    Eurozone <- Spain <- Greece <- Greece

  3. pat

    January 9, 2013 5:43 pm

    It’s hard to take this seriously given that it’s based on not very good arguments, which are only reflective of what might happen if these organisational practices are implemented badly. There’s nothing inevitable about any of the faults you point to. It’s entirely abstract, since you don’t actually give any concrete examples.

    You’re assertions about what does and doesn’t happen can only be taken with a pinch of salt at best. Many of these assertions are simply wrong.

    Ask any Socialist Party member whether they feel the organisation is democratic, do they have a voice etc. and you’re analysis will most likely fall to pieces. You probably think that’s because most members cannot think for themselves or some other variant of that argument, which if that’s the case would say more about you than anything else.

    Why the internal operations of organisations which you are not a member of is a problem for you, is strange in itself, but that you think that the source of the problems of the left generally can be found in the organisational structures of essentially two groups is truly bizarre.

    The poverty of philosophy springs to mind…

    • rdlp715

      January 9, 2013 5:59 pm

      It’s not just about the ULA though, the Left internationally is floundering in the biggest crisis of capitalism in 80 years and we have to get to the bottom of it and fix it so we can push on. If either of say the SP or SWP got it right, then there wouldn’t be a need for a new unity project and we could all just join one of them or they could merge etc. So where we can start is with the plethora of existing examples internationally – which are concrete examples of what’s not quite working – to investigate what different things we need to try or correct.

      • pat

        January 9, 2013 11:43 pm

        Getting to the bottom of the Left’s problems by investigating different things in order to fix them is a reasonable idea. I of course don’t have all the answers, but I think I can help you by telling you that structures is not what’s holding back the Left, I’m more or less certain of that one thing.

        That’s not to say that any organisation on the Left in Ireland has the perfect democratic structures, in fact none of them do, another thing I’m certain of. Or that they all have good structures, I’m sure many of them have very bad ones. But actually, I don’t know exactly how most of the other groups organise internally and I’ve been on the Left, working fairly closely with many of them for a number of years.

        In fact, usually you can’t approve or disapprove of how an organisation operates until you join that organisation. For the most part, groups on the Left are not seen widely as being undemocratic and yet we still have a problem getting people to join those Left organisations.

    • Henry Silke

      January 9, 2013 7:09 pm

      Hi Pat

      I think the organisational structures have a role (even if small) to play in the lack of any serious progress. Moreover the sectarian competition between the two groups is a huge issue. I think the issue of democracy in our movement needs to be discussed.I was also member of the SP until relatively recently (for 14 years), and there has often been members who have had issues with structure and procedure. Complaints often didn’t get further than branches or individual discussion, which of course is part of the problem I am highlighting.


      • Micheal

        January 9, 2013 10:26 pm

        Henry, this is an important contribution and I think that it would be a great pity if a fruitful discussion does not follow. For now I just want to take up some points made in the section ‘Political Education, Programme and Strategy’.
        The neglect of political education is a fundamental problem on the left, and as far as I can see is bound up with every obstacle and problem that you raise.
        As you point out, political discussion is generally leadership-led; a good part of what new members learn is effectively handed down. I would agree with you that there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, provided that new members are, for the most part, taught how to think rather than what to think. Unfortunately there is little evidence of the former but plenty evidence of the latter.
        Where little thought is given to the long-term facilitation of self-education, bourgeois educational forms holds sway by default. As it stands there is little distinction between the propaganda that is necessarily channelled outward and the ‘education’ channelled downward, which is generally a ‘domesticating’ form approved by a leadership, or delivered from a rostrum by favoured speakers.
        The point is that any socialist organisation that hopes to be effective, that hopes to gain the respect of trade unionists and large numbers of workers, has to ensure that all members are developed to the full, that the self-education of all members is facilitated, not only, as you have suggested, to prepare members for discussion outside the parties, but also to facilitate the capacity of the memberships to hold their own leaderships and elected representatives to account.
        You also raised the issue of left sectarianism, the reproduction of which is conditioned by (and simultaneously reproduces) perverted educational forms, which are characterised by a widespread inability to accept and/or build upon good ideas from other groups on the left, that is to say, an inability to judge strategies, programmes, theories and analyses on the basis of merit rather than source.
        It seems to me that movements aimed at the self-emancipation of the working class have only ever progressed concurrently with enormous efforts in this regard. Efforts to educate members may be well intentioned, but they are unfit for purpose. There is no sense of any serious approach to the full development of members has been worked out anywhere on the organised left. This is evidenced by the unhealthy unanimity on theories and analyses that are clearly open to doubt.
        If there is to be progress in the on-going battle for consciousness, left parties will have to find a way of facilitating the self-education and fullest development of all activists.

        • pat

          January 9, 2013 11:21 pm

          All due respect Michael, but how could you possibly know what political education goes on in any organisation that you are not a member of?

          • Micheal

            January 10, 2013 12:37 am

            Partly from experience, partly from membership/s, attending educationals etc., but primarily from taking the time to find out what is being provided on the left right now. I noticed that when people raised this issue in the past they were quickly dismissed with the standard Lenin/Engels quote “an ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory”. Of course Lenin or Engels never said this. But more recently I have found the response to be far more positive – with assurances that far more is being (or will be) done to deal with the question. Almost no one now denies that this is a problem that has to be overcome.
            While I am here I have to take exception to a reply you made to someone else above. You find it strange that anyone should be concerned with the ‘internal operations of an organisation they are not members of’? Surely the leadership and all members of a party hope that large numbers of working people will come to view the organisation as ‘their party’. So are you seriously suggesting that people should identify with a party, support it, vote in its members, donate to it, occasionally do work for it, and have no concern about what happens in ‘their party’? Are you saying they should just mind their own business when it comes to leadership, structures, democracy, the provision of education etc. of a party that they consider theirs?

          • pat

            January 10, 2013 1:00 am

            No Michael, of course I’m not suggesting that.

            You see Henry is not a person who ‘identifies with my party, supports it, votes in it’s members, donates to it or occasionally does work for it’. He doesn’t consider it his party. In fact he’s quite hostile to my party, in a left context of course. The same clearly applies to Henry and the SWP. So I see no reason why he should concern himself with the internal operation of either organisation. They have nothing to do with him, save the imaginary destruction of the Left in Ireland…

            You should be more careful to differentiate between a left organisation and the broader Left. Experience of one organisation does not necessarily equate to an understanding of the Left as a whole. There’s a danger that a valid contribution can potentially become a meaningless one.

          • Alan G.

            January 10, 2013 9:38 am

            Except that the SP are SWP are intimately involved in the ULA project so the question of their internal political cultures is of direct interest to the rest of us also involved in the ULA.

          • pat

            January 10, 2013 10:50 am

            The Socialist Party has a very healthy internal political culture. What does that mean for you?

          • Alan G.

            January 10, 2013 11:31 am

            You just keep on telling yourself that. No doubt you hope that if you repeat it over and over enough times you will be able to quiet that little voice in the back of your head that keeps on raising those nagging doubts.

      • pat

        January 9, 2013 11:11 pm


        I don’t think the the competition between the Socialist Party and the SWP is a huge issue at all. I also don’t think that there is something inherently sectarian about either organisation simply because they are in competition some of the time. If the competition between two left groups was serving to hold back left-wing ideas in this country then we really are in trouble, but actually that’s not even an issue for most people.

        The narrative that you and some other frustrated soles on the Left outside of the aforementioned groups seek to promote; that there is a large consistency of people just waiting to join a Left organisation, but are concerned about the inner workings, structures, democracy of the various Left groups that exist and are hesitant to get involved as a result, is not a convincing narrative in my opinion. It may apply to some people, but not any significant number, certainly.

        That’s true in relation to the ULA, the Socialist Party, the SWP, the Workers’ Party, the WSM and any of the others. All of whom organise in different ways, but nobody actually cares how they organise. Generally people who are interested, are more concerned with what such groups are saying and doing. That’s the fact of the matter. And by the way, changing aspects of the democratic structures in any of those organisations will not change what it is that those organisations are saying and doing (not significantly anyway), I can assure you. Rather, politics is the key.

        Yes there have been and I’m sure still are members who have issues about structure in the Socialist Party. That’s perfectly normal in any organisation of a certain size. The issue of how far ‘complaints’ may go however, has less to do with structures than how much political support such complaints have in the organisation. If nobody agrees with your complaint then you have bigger problems than an absence of structures.

        • Alan G.

          January 9, 2013 11:53 pm

          It is true that there is nothing inherently sectarian about competition between the SP & SWP however that is how it manifests itself.

          I would agree that the organisational issue is secondary to programme and in that regard the main problem with the SP is of course the left-reformist programme presented to the working class.

          • pat

            January 10, 2013 11:01 am

            Says the supporter of the International Bolshevik Tendency.

            Are you still defending the ULA’s right to organise popular fronts with Wallace, Flanagan etc.? Or is it that you’re just silent on the matter altogether?

          • Alan G.

            January 10, 2013 11:28 am

            Unsure how the reference to my open political support for the programme of the IBT is relevant here.

            But to your substantive point.

            I have never defended the organisation of popular fronts, be that the ULA with Wallace, Flanagan or whoever. Please backup your unfounded “still” comment with evidence of where I have ever done this or retract it.

            You might want to ask your comrades who were present at the last ULA branch council whether I was silent on this issue or not. In reality I was the one at the meeting who generalised the issue of political connections with Wallace to one of the need for working class independence and opposition to all political alliances with bourgeois populists like Mick Wallace.

          • pat

            January 10, 2013 12:16 pm

            Your support for the IBT’s programme is relevant, given that for you, all other programmes are judged by how well the compare to the IBT’s.

            In the past you have attacked the Socialist Party for criticising the political connection between the ULA and Wallace, which actually amounts to a defence of that political connection. And while vocal on many issues in the ULA that you don’t approve of, you have been noticeably silent on the political alliance between Joan, Clare, Ming and Mick.

          • Alan G.

            January 10, 2013 1:34 pm

            My view on the general outline of the programme I currently understand is necessary in Ireland today is a matter of public record and available on my blog – – as is my current understanding that the programme of the IBT is the closest aproximation currently available internationally of what is required. And yes I, like everyone else, do use my current programmatic understanding when I assess other programmes. It is unclear to me how else you would suggest I do this.

            My criticism of the SP in relation to Clare Daly was not in any way a defence of her political relationship with Mick Wallace but rather about the way that the SP had gone about their attacks on Clare. For instance I voted along with the majority of the ULA non-aligned for a harder position against Mick Wallace than that taken by the SP, at the time his tax irregularities became known.

            I also repeat that, before making these unfounded accusations, you might want to ask your own comrades whether I was silent on the issue of political alliances with bourgois populists, such as Mick Wallace, at the last ULA branch council where this issue was discussed.

            I can assure you that if the bloc between Clare, Joan, Mick & Ming over the single-issue case of gardai corruption (which is not a popular front) is the start of a deeper on-going political alliance then I will be to the fore-front of those opposing that.

          • pat

            January 10, 2013 3:40 pm

            Aan, the bloc is not the start of anything, rather its part of the deeper ongoing political alliance that began with the dispute in the CAHWT, led on to the X case bill and continues. Only those with their heads buried in the sand couldn’t/ can’t see it. Unfortunately that’s a majority in the ULA.

          • Alan G.

            January 10, 2013 4:42 pm

            If I understand this correctly your argument is that there is already in existence a secret undeclared popular frontist bloc between Clare Daly & Mick Wallace which Joan Collins and Ming Flanagan have now signed up to.

            I can accept that the new Daly/Collins bloc does have appetites towards accommodation with, or at least a weakness in recognising the danger of, bourgeois populism but having those political appetites is a different thing from actually having made them real in a concrete popular front.

            There is at this time no attempt by the Daly/Collins bloc to build an organisation with Mick Wallace and Ming Flanagan and until such time as there is concrete evidence of that then you should be careful about throwing around accusations of them being in a popular front.

            If you are really concerned about political blocs with bourgeois populists then you might start by looking closer to home as the history of the CWI is hardly spotless in this regard.

          • pat

            January 10, 2013 5:44 pm

            Ok, forget the term popular front and lets use your words; an ‘ongoing political alliance’. That’s what exists. That’s what I’m criticising and it’s what you are silent on. Either because you don’t see it or because you don’t want to criticise a bloc that you think could serve your own interests somehow.

          • Alan G.

            January 11, 2013 10:30 am

            I’m glad that you have withdrawn your reference to the existence of a popular front however I dispute your claim that there is an ‘ongoing political alliance’ between Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, at least not in the sense that term would be usually understood.

            To the extent such an alliance, perhaps also involving Joan Collins and Ming Flanagan, does actually come into existence then I will have no hesitation in condemning it.

            As I have reported, in the context of the last ULA branch council, opposition to alliances with bourgeois populists is an issue I have consistently opposed. It is also an issue I will be highlighting in the current discussions over whether it is possible to salvage anything from the collapse of the ULA.

            Certainly such a popular frontist bloc, if it actually came into existence, would in no way server my interests as someone who considers himself to be a revolutionary proletarian internationalist and is proud to stand on my political history as such.

            And I repeat that if you are really so worried about political blocs with bourgeois forces then you would do well to look at the history of the CWI in this respect as it is a little spotty in this regard.

        • Donagh

          January 10, 2013 12:14 pm

          Just a general note – while there is going to be much discussion of people’s involvement in different parties, groups, it’s still important to avoid what could amount to a series of personal attacks. There should be room to discuss the internal politics of organisations in a structural way, citing examples without it descending into a slagging match.

        • henry

          January 10, 2013 2:05 pm


          “I do not wish to fetish structure I am aware as much as the next person that the material ‘objective factors’ are of key importance. However there is also a ‘subjective factor’ where the superstructure affects the base. Our own subjective structures are also something we can do something about. I am not saying it is a magic formula that will build a mass movement or party overnight however I believe this difficult discussion is a necessary step. While not fetishising structure we should also not ignore it altogether which has been the case for the last number of years. This article does not claim to have all the answers on the problem of organisation in the current period; however it hopes to be an opening to a frank and serious discussion”.

          I believe like many others this discussion needs to happen. You may disagree but what might be more fruitful would be to actually engage with some of the issues raised rather than raising straw man arguments and projecting alleged intentions.

          On the issue of being a member of a group before one can discuss it: firstly if you were to follow this logic nobody could critique the trade unions, the Labour party etc unless they were members of the aforesaid group. Secondly as Alan points out members of the ULA have an interest in this as does the wider class. Moreover as a member of the socialist party you are disqualified from making public critique so its a bit of a catch 22 isn’t it? And frankly if fourteen years isn’t considered long to be a member of an organisation before you might be able to discuss some issues I might ask what is.

          The issue of political culture, dissent and structures are connected as if everything passes through the centre members of various branches don’t actually know issues of difference exist outside their own branch. To argue you didn’t get political support when structures do not exist (for example a member to propose a motion at a branch outside the conference period, or even basics such as minuted meetings) to gain such support is again a catch 22.

          This article is not an attack on the Socialist Party or the Socialist Worker Party, and I am certainly not ‘hostile’ to either. A political discussion is not automatically ‘hostile’ simply because there is disagreement. This in itself is a reflection of sectarian political culture I discuss. This is an issue of importance in and of itself, the trade unions also display many of these aspects as witnessed in the introduction of Croke Park one. In fact many of the issues I discuss are reflected in Socialist Party demands for the trade unions, such as the election of officials and curbs on the power of the full time apparatus.

          All the best


          • pat

            January 10, 2013 3:30 pm


            The fact that you think, despite 14 years of membership yourself, that members of the Socialist Party are “disqualified from making public critiques”(!) says all that needs to be said about your authority on the inner workings of the Socialist Party.

            You can discuss the internal structures of groups you’re not part of all you want, there’s nothing wrong with it necessarily. I just think it’s pointless, as only members of those groups are affected by them.

            On some of your points then; If member of the Socialist Party have disagreements that they want to discuss with other members, or discussed in the party more generally there are many ways they can go about it. Internal members’ bulletins exist for that purpose, for one. If it’s blindingly obvious that there is no substance to a particular disagreement, then most likely it won’t go past the branch, but even that’s not definitive.

            You’re hostility is to the fact the Socialist Party has no desire to disolve itself into some sort of broader left organisation that you could be a part of, and for that you maintain that the Socialist Party is sectarian and is part of the problem for the left. You’re certainly not a supporter in the way Michael was talking about, far from it.

            Notwithstanding the fact that we’re not building a trade union, only in an apolitical and abstract sense can our demands on trade unions be applied to our own organisation. People who work for the Socialist Party are not doing it as simply a job and the only guaranteed advantage over other members is more time to devote to political work. Again, only you and maybe a handful of others in the 14 years of your membership have concluded that there is an issue with the power of “the full time apparatus”.

          • henry

            January 10, 2013 5:42 pm


            Your arguments seem to summarise as this:

            1: This is not an issue of importance
            2: This is not a political issue
            3: This issue should not be discussed by people outside the SP or SWP
            4: I am ‘hostile’ to the SP and am attacking it (which I refute, this is a serious call for discussion)
            5: I am hostile as the sp refused to disolve into the ULA (this a straw man position I have never held either inside or outside the party and is certainly not called for in the article).

            What you have not done is dealt with any of the issues I rose, for example the problem of the slate system or the system of decision making. You also have nothing to say on the positive suggestions I make towards the delegate council structure.

            I would appreciate a discussion on the issues without reference to positions I do not hold or accusations towards my motives.


          • pat

            January 10, 2013 6:01 pm

            No, they are not my arguments. I’ll clarify your summary then:

            1: This is not an issue of importance

            The internal structures are important issues for members of particular groups, not for people who are not members of those groups and most likely never will be.

            ?2: This is not a political issue

            Of course organisation flows from politics, so yes it’s a political issue. This is just not the political issue (in the way you have outlined it) that is holding back the left from advancing left / socialist ideas and building mass left parties.

            ?3: This issue should not be discussed by people outside the SP or SWP

            Not if they have better things to be doing as it’s not an issue that affects them. If they don’t have better things to be doing them they can discuss it till their heart’s content.

            ?4: I am ‘hostile’ to the SP and am attacking it (which I refute, this is a serious call for discussion)

            I didn’t say you were attacking it, in fact I said I didn’t think you were. My issue is that you are peddling untruths about the Socialist Party or at least distorting the truth.

            ?5: I am hostile as the sp refused to disolve into the ULA (this a straw man position I have never held either inside or outside the party and is certainly not called for in the article).

            On this I could be mistaken. Do you think the Socialist Party should continue to build itself, as a separate entity to the rest of the ULA?

          • henry

            January 10, 2013 6:16 pm


            Certainly I have never argued otherwise. I would have preferred to see more engagement by the party (both while I was a member and afterwards) and my preferred outcome would be a multi-tendency party, (including the cwi).. However with delegate structures as I discuss in the article.

            I disagree with you on structures, the crisis continuing in the SWP UK seems to underline that it is of serious political importance. As I say in the article I do not see it as a pancera but as a serious issue that needs to be discussed.and not an issue that current leaderships can wish away,


          • pat

            January 10, 2013 6:39 pm

            Beyond superficial similarities I don’t think the internal culture of the Socialist Party is anything like what exists in the SWP. I base this opinion primarily on the different political approaches we take on all issues, which are worlds apart. And I’m not talking about the different political positions we take, I mean how we go about the work we do.

            We don’t go expelling people for ridiculous reasons for example, in fact we rarely expel people at all. We don’t have any ridiculous restrictions on factions either, preferring thorough discussion and debate. It’s just unfortunate for us that we get tarred with the same brush as the SWP.

            The Socialist Party’s leadership won’t be wishing any discussion away, as until members of the Socialist Party raise problems about how we organise it’s not a discussion that we have to spend too much time on. It’s certainly not of too much concern to the leadership of the Socialist Party whether you and others on the Left or in the ULA want to discuss that topic.

  4. Richard

    January 10, 2013 9:27 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful and informative piece Henry. For some time, and in line with Mick’s comment, I’ve been wondering how, in Marx’s words, ‘the battle of democracy’ can be won unless the working class has been practicing. That is, unless it has its own institutions that operate democratically.

    One thing that distinguishes Ireland from the other places Mick mentions above is the absence of any force that takes democracy seriously as an explicit concern. Of course, any experienced left activist no doubt knows very well that the political institutions of the bourgeois parliamentary republic will never operate in the interests of the working class. But where are the democratic alternatives visible? With the advent of Troika-backed rule and the politics of the ongoing bailout, this ought to be becoming blatantly obvious to large sectors of the population who have previously accepted the legitimacy of ruling institutions. But I don’t think that it is. One can point to the total dominance of right-wing media, and that is certainly a factor. But we should also be asking whether the absence of any institutions that operate as examples of democratic participation -or even simply advocate it- is also a factor.

    • Alan G.

      January 10, 2013 9:52 am

      Those working class democratic alternatives have yet to be built. The CAHWT contained some seeds pointing in this direction but these are unfortunately an isolated minority and very far from fully formed.

      Part of the problem is the excessive emphasis the existing left groups give to particpation in the bourgois parliamentary process with the creation of organisations based on proletarian democracy getting very little, if any, emphasis.

      For instance I remember arguing at a public forum in Cork that the CAHWT’s local group – regional group – national steering committee pointed, at least in embryo, towards an alternative form of organising as a sort of proto workers council system.

      After the meeting in informal conversation Paul Murphy brought that up as he thought it was a great joke that anyone would be looking at the CAHWT in that way. As a revolutionary socialist I personally think that looking for opportunities to encourage developments in this direction should inform all my activity in united front campaigns. The SP it seems have different priorities as we are going to see in the coming year as they seek to encoruage the CAHWT to become an electoral front.

  5. Mick

    January 10, 2013 9:46 am

    Thanks for your response to my comment Henry – and I agree that your discussion of organisational form is really important and also very enlightening for those not directly involved with the revolutionary socialist left (like myself).

    Just to follow on from what Richard says above, I think it is important to take seriously the lack of public (or working class if you prefer) response to the collapse of liberal democracy in Ireland and the Troika’s ‘soft coup’. Although I don;t know, my sense is that there has been no political response because the institutions of representative democracy were already in crisis before the bailout. In other words, the Dail, elections etc had already entered into a crisis of legitimacy, although it was not tangible. In short, people couldn;t care less if the Dail and the other hollowed-out institutions of representative democracy are done away with.

    If this analysis is correct, then it helps to make sense of the fact that many of the novel organisational forms post-crash have involved a direct participative element. For instance claiming our future, real democracy now Ireland and of course Occupy (not to mention the elite driven thing that Chuck Feeny funded, can’t remember the name).

    In my view, if we want to take seriously the question of revolutionary/radical organisation, we must at the very least take note of the fact that the working class if increasingly alienated from representative politics as such.

    This suggests that any political organisation (party) which is oriented around taking state power via a representative politics will have grave difficulties expressing, articulating or organising actually existing class conflict.

    • daramcq

      January 10, 2013 2:18 pm

      Mick, how would you ascertain that the country’s democratic structures are widely seen as illegitimate?

      The 2011 election had 70.0% turnout of the electorate, 2007 had 67.0%. I think the argument is overstated. This is not a dictatorship where institutional change is impossible.

      The development of non-party organisational forms as vehicles for expressing dissent probably indicates the weakness, narrowness and unparticipatory nature of left political formations, not the illegitimacy of the system as a whole. I believe that both a democratic and diverse left party and a wider diverse and democratic left movement are necessary, but the continuing relevance of political institutions makes the party vital for a process of transformation. Ulitmately, the crucial questions for left activists are about power and how to get it. What is a non-party left’s strategy for achieving power?

      • Ian

        January 11, 2013 12:42 am

        Agree entirely with the above comment. This notion that ”the working class arnt concerned with democracy” or are beyond a response to the crisis is grade a bullshit. Its a gross misunderstanding at best, a blatant excuse for the continuation of sectarian restrictions imposed on the rest of us by the wannabe vanguard at worst. The turnout in the last GE together with the ascent of SF on the basis of left slogans indicates the existence of a huge vacume. The ULA/Indos did really well in the last poll afaik. Anyway, the only obstruction i can see is an adherence to toy bolshevism on the part of the main parties, which causes them to place self expansion above all else and create a series of myths about ”the objective conditions” not being conducive to the development of a new left party.

  6. Richard

    January 11, 2013 7:42 am

    I don’t agree with Mick saying that ‘people couldn’t care less if the Dail and the other hollowed-out institutions of representative democracy are done away with’. However I think there is widespread acceptance that representative democracy is the alpha and omega of politics, politics is something done by politicians, and your participation in politics is simply the casting of a vote every now and again and getting ‘represented’. That conception of political activity is a barrier to the kind of mass movement that most people here want to see, and if what takes hold is an assumption that representative democracy really can deliver results, that all you have to do is select the right candidates to take power on your behalf -without any kind of systemic critique undertaken in public, without any kind of rupture with the existing representative order, without any kind of experimentation in democratic forms- then we are on a hiding to nothing.

  7. rdlp715

    January 11, 2013 9:26 am

    Would like to hear contributions from every group on this – in their experience what they feel have been healthy/productive organizational habits/methods and what they feel has been limiting and needs to change.

    In light of the collapse of the SWP in the UK, a contribution from female comrades would be essential(as I note all commenters here are male, through no fault of their own!)

    Being in Ireland as we are, I don’t think we can isolate ourselves from the radical tradition on the island, whether we agree with their politics or not, as they are the last examples we have of mass or semi-mass organizations. I would like to hear contributions from individuals that were involved in the classical Workers Party, pre-GFA Sinn Fein, the IRSP and even today’s eirigi. Are, say, eirigi multitendency/do they use a slate system etc?

    Another recent mass or semi-mass organization is CAHWT itself. People would do well to do a report on it(though maybe that might be better done at the end of the month).

  8. Mick

    January 11, 2013 10:42 am

    Daramcq – It is impossible to now at this point to what extent the structures of represntative democracy are legtimate vis-av-vis the working class or with the public in general. This would be the kind of thing that social movements imo should be researching.

    But I do think it is significant that if we look at the organisational forms that the most politically active sections of the working class are generating themselves, they tend not to be political party type structures organised around representative politics and oriented towards state power.

    I think Madrid is probably the most signficant labratory at the moment in terms of expiremntation of new forms of class power. One example would be the 15M movement. But possibly Irish left activists would be more interested in the ‘Marea’ movement, which is made up of several struggles against the privatisation of various public services (especially health and education).

    I suppose my point is that (a) we need to pay attention to the organisational forms being developed within class conflict (as opposed to sticking to ones handed down from previous phases of class conflict) and (b) forms of network, horizontal organisational power based on direct democracy seem to be proliferating.

    You ask also about how a movement/organisational form “achieves power”. This is very difficult question and a crucial one – I certainly don’t have the answer to that one – and I’d be disinclined to trust anyone who thinks she/he does 🙂

    • dara mq

      January 11, 2013 3:41 pm

      Mick, on Identifying legitimacy
      I think you really need to posit some methodology for checking this. We can’t base our strategy on an assumption that can’t be checked. Participation in elections is one metric, but others are needed. How many people write letters to TDs? How often do protests call for the Government to take or reverse certain actions?

      On Madrid
      I think you might be guilty of selection bias in singling out Madrid as the most significant laboratory. What about Greece? I’d be interested to read more about what is happening in Spain, but we can’t just say “this is what’s happening, so this is what we should do”. We also need to look at what works and what wins victories. So we could look over to the Quebec protests and see that they were very different from the Occupy-style mobilisations in their use of institutional forms, alliance-building, etc. And they won. What have the Spanish movements won thus far? What did Occupy achieve? (I don’t know the former, and would guess short-term but widespread consciousness change for the latter)

      On replicating old forms of organisation
      Sure, it would be silly to say “let’s just do what X group did Y years ago.” But it would be much sillier to say “let’s ignore the past and start over every time”. Just because something is new does not mean it will work.

      On Power
      No-one has ‘the truth’, but I’d distrust any socialist who doesn’t have a working hypothesis.

      I recently read the book discussed here and would highly recommend it for discussions of social movements and power:

    • LeftAtTheCross

      January 11, 2013 1:35 pm


      “a socialist society is one in which contradictions have been to a huge extent resolved”

      I would imagine that it’s far too simplistic if not utopian to argue that contradictions have been resolved, they will just have been replaced by new contradictions.

    • pat

      January 11, 2013 1:55 pm

      My reply that I posted on your blog:

      I think that’s a generally fair comment sapteuq, but I’m not brushing aside any questions at all.

      Nor do I think the issue has been ignored over the last couple of years, what is that claim based on?

      If Henry’s purpose was to outline proposals for the structures that a new formation, or the ULA should adopt, I don’t see what the Socialist Party’s or the SWP’s structures have to do with that necessarily. Nobody, as far as I’m aware, has advocated that the ULA should adopt those or similar structures.

      If Henry’s purpose was to argue the the Socialist Party, as an example that he’s familiar with, is an undemocratic party, then I think he’s very much mistaken. And if he’s arguing that that lack of democracy in the Socialist Party, or the SWP, is at the root of the lack of progress for the left, then I think he’s doubly mistaken.

      I don’t think Henry, in fairness to him, set out to lie about the Socialist Party, but what he says for the most part is just not true. So even given the imperfect nature of the Socialist Party as an organisation, the results that our current structures produce, that Henry outlines, are more figments of his imagination than a genuine assessment.

      So for example, to refute some of the claims he makes briefly. I’m not going spend time backing them up, as Henry didn’t bother to.

      Do the structures in the Socialist Party hamper political development? Not at all, in fact they are based on maximising it.

      Is the leadership deaf to the membership? Not in my experiance and I’m not aware of any examples that anyone else has highlighted to prove that.

      Is it the case that our programme should be ‘enacted without question’? No, of course not. Does that happen? Not really, especially given that our programme is a more or less constant theme of discussion in the party.

      Does Group Think feature in the party? No more than in any other organisation, political or otherwise.

      Are people only welcomed into the leadership for functional rather than political reasons? No, I can’t think of how he even came up with that.

      Do discussions only happen after decisions have been made? Only if it’s clear that there is no opposition, but most decisions are made after a series of discussions that are constently taking place. No major decisions are ever really made without consultation with the membership as a whole (through the branches or aggregate meetings), or at least the membership that are directly affected by the decision. So he’s also wrong to say that decisions are only made by representatives.

      His comments on the role played by full timers bear no reflection on the reality inside the Socialist Party, they are based on abstract paranoia, not actual experience. And no, slates systems are not prone to splits, as the lack of any splits in the Socialist Party’s history is testament to surely.

      As you say, there are weaknesses without doubt, but there are not dangerous pitfalls for democracy inherent in the organisational methods we use.

      • henry

        January 11, 2013 8:47 pm

        Hi Pat

        I choose not to give specific examples as I wish to keep this debate as fraternal as possible. However your contention that nobody has ever had issues on structures in the SP is untrue. Also while there has never been any major splits in the SP (before the Clare Daly split) the CWI has suffered numerous ones, the most recent in Sweden. To say nobody has ever complained is also untrue, we had an entire branch meeting in Dublin West dedicated to this issue after numerous complaints made by two comrades over hiring policy (I did not initiate this debate). KM spoke at length at he meeting and agreement was not reached. No minutes were taken. Myself and another comrade attempted to pass an extremely positive motion on unemployment at a branch meeting, full timers argued at length that the motion should not be voted on. It wasn’t. Again no minutes were taken. A full time comrades later denied this ever took place. Later a leading comrade informed me that ‘revolutionary parties don’t do motions’ and I was confusing it with ‘social democracy’. I will let the historians out there deal with that question. There was little or no discussion on the ULA before it’s initiation. I first heard of the talks (which were near fruition) from a leading People Before Profit member, we incidently had had a meeting on left unity recently before where the issue was never mentioned. A serious issue was the decision of filling a council position was not discussed by branch members or supporters, when two of us complained we were told that we ‘missed the meeting’ – a meeting -if it happened we were not informed would take place, nor was minuted. At the time the reason for all of these issues was one of ‘bad communications’. I am very reluctantly giving these examples as I wish this to be a serious theoretical debate. Again as meetings are not minuted (and have not been for years) I can only give you my word, though I think the lack of minuted meetings is another serious democratic issue.


        • pat

          January 11, 2013 10:45 pm

          I didn’t say that “nobody has ever had issues on structures in the SP”, or that “nobody has ever complained”, in fact I said already that this has happened, of course it has.

          Clare Daly was a member of the party, a high profile one absolutely, but her leaving wasn’t a split anymore than your leaving was a split. It was a member resigning. The consequences were more damaging because we lost a hard won Dail seat, but that’s a different issue.

          Not having been at that those two meetings you referenced, I obviously don’t know the full story, but from what you say, these are the problems you cite:

          A discussion took place a one meeting where you say agreement wasn’t reached. Is it actually the case that consensus wasn’t reached and that a majority clearly disagreed with a minority (representing non-agreement)? I don’t see anything undemocratic in that.

          At another meeting a motion was proposed but not voted on. It’s hard to comment on this not knowing what the motion was about, but there are a whole number of reasons why a motion wouldn’t be voted on; most likely the implications of the motion were not practically possible to implement at the time. But arguing that a motion shouldn’t be taken is not in itself undemocratic, hence the arguing. Is it the case that you simply lost the argument?

          I don’t agree that there was no discussion on the ULA before it was initiated. I remember a Dublin aggregate discussing the ongoing negotiations with the other forces, among other things, that Autumn and reports in my branch. I’m also sure it was discussed at conference that year. But it’s also the case the developments around the ULA happened very quickly, as the fall of the FF / Green government was rapidly approaching, the IMF were on their way and an election was just around the corner.

          The issue of filling elected positions is not an issue for the particular branches to decide, although they should be involved in the discussions absolutely, but ultimately those are national or regional decisions, not local ones. So I don’t agree that an injustice took place in that instance.

          It’s quite possible that communication was an issue, especially if some comrades are less active than others. I’m not sure that it’s necessary to keep minutes of every branch meeting, maybe that would be best, but I don’t think it’s a major democratic issue, and I think you’re overstating it.

          A scientific approach to theoretical discussions has to be based on a correct appraisal of the various factors involved and draw conclusions based on evidence. It would be frankly ridiculous for anybody to draw the conclusion that the Socialist Party is undemocratic based on the above article and examples from an unhappy camper.

    • henry

      January 11, 2013 10:39 pm

      sapteuq (I replied to your blog as follows)

      Thank you for your candid answer and taking the time to write it. I can agree certainly we have not always the luxury of ideal situations. However at the same time with a small party I am not convinced of the need for a slate system. I can see no reason why comrades could not be directly elected (individually) for positions at an annual conference. In a slate you do not get to directly elect (or unelect) your own area rep I think it is an issue. You could describe it as the leadership having a rep in your branch rather than your branch having a rep in the leadership! Some of the other issues I raise may be down to bad practice which have developed over time, such as the lack of minuted meetings (which were strictly adhered to a decade ago). I can see no reason why the party could not have some delegate structure outside of an annual conference. (I did suggest such a thing at conference a number of years ago but it was not supported by the membership). One of the positives of the ULA has been the opportunity to experiment somewhat with structural questions. I think the delegate council has generally positive and I think represents a way forward for the left as compared to the slate system which is the dominant system used today.


      • pat

        January 12, 2013 12:06 am


        I have to say your fixation on the slate system is wasted energy.

        Maybe it would be better if the leadership were elected individually, nobody in the Socialist Party is against the idea in principle. The slate system is not a must for us, we have used different methods of election in the past and we can change it in the future if it’s necessary.

        The point is that members of the Socialist Party find that the slate system works for us, in that the best leadership is usually elected, hence serving the purpose of a good electoral method. Until a time comes when any members feel that the best leadership hasn’t been elected, we’ll most likely continue to use that system.

        So to answer your point; the party could have a ‘delegate based structure outside of an annual conference’, but such a body simply isn’t needed (at this point in time anyway), and therefore not wanted.

        We don’t have random structures to give the pretense of democracy, we have the structures that serve the needs of the party and allow us to do our work as best we can.

        • rdlp715

          January 12, 2013 12:23 am

          Sure why even have an annual conference? It’s not needed. All that’s needed is a supply of numbers to webtext to put up posters and sell the paper..!

          Democracy, that is to say participation, isn’t just some routine for the sake of it. It is there to build up the calibre of the rank&file, sharpen the politics of the organization and to root it in the working class. How on Earth is it possible for a bureaucracy to know what is going on in the world if it is not in contact with – nevermind under the control of – the rank&file/working class?

          The “people don’t want it” argument, if you read, was pointed out as a *result* of the slate system. In effect you position yourself against the entire bureaucracy’s apparatus when you make an alternative suggestion, therefore it’s unlikely to happen.

          Again, this isn’t about the SP specifically, it is systemic across the left and a root cause in what is happening in the SWP in England(who have more democratic structures than the SP). This needs to get fixed. Try. Harder.

          • pat

            January 12, 2013 12:53 am


            I’m genuinely taken aback at the absurdity of your comment. Your rhetorical questions are so ridiculous and unrelated to anything I’ve said, I’m not sure I should bother responding to them.

            You clearly know nothing about the Socialist Party.

            You say: “Democracy, that is to say participation, isn’t just some routine for the sake of it. It is there to build up the calibre of the rank&file, sharpen the politics of the organization and to root it in the working class. ”

            Which is basically a repetition of what I said above.

            Where is this bureaucracy? Outside of your wild imagination that is.

            It certainly doesn’t exist in the Socialist Party, as I’m sure any member will gladly tell you. Since you have no experience of being in the Socialist Party and participating in our conferences and discussion generally that’s all you can really go by. I’m sorry if that doesn’t fit in with your bizarre ideas of a tyrannical leadership in the Socialist Party, but I suggest look you elsewhere for such bogeymen.

            Where you got the idea that the SWP is a more democratic organisation than the Socialist Party I can only wonder…

          • pat

            January 12, 2013 12:57 am

            Again I have to ask, what is it to you whether something in the Socialist Party ‘needs to get fixed’ anyway?

            It has absolutely nothing to do with you. Which makes it all the more ludicrous that you would get frustrated by issues with democracy that don’t exist.

          • Alan G.

            January 12, 2013 10:58 am

            Clearly Pat is right that the SP are free to organise in whatever way they choose to, just as any other group of individuals are free to do so.

            However the SP claims to be the organisation best suited at this time to further the aims of revolutionary socialism and participates in the wider class struggle on that basis, therefore it becomes of interest, and a legitimate source of discussion, to those they come into contact with as part of that struggle, particularly those who also consider themselves to be revolutionary socialists. This is particularly the case when the SP have initiated a process like the ULA.

            “Elect Socialist Party/ULA TDs so we can launch a new party to organise working class people”

            I think Pat would certainly accept that the programmatic aspects of the SP’s political perspectives are a valid subject for political discussion and debate on the left so I am confused as to why s/he sees the organisational aspects of the SP’s political perspectives as being beyond the pale.

          • pat

            January 12, 2013 12:15 pm

            Again I haven’t said that any discussion is beyond the pale. All I’ve said is that I’m not sure its a purposeful discussion for people to lament a lack of structures, or minute taking, in organisations they are not members of, or interested in becoming members of. But by all means go ahead.

            However it is simply daft, to say the least, for someone like rdlp715 to attack a non-existent bureaucracy for an imagined lack of accountability, in a party that he is not a member of and to be demanding some sort of action be taken. Why he thinks that he’s more equipped than the members of the Socialist Party to decide what’s right for us, I don’t know.

            Again, as nobody I know of, certainly not the Socialist Party, has advocated that our organisational structures be used as a model for the ULA or any broader formation, I can’t really see the point – even for ULA members.

          • Alan G.

            January 12, 2013 12:44 pm

            Come on Pat, you recruit people to the SP don’t you, including out of the ULA. You clearly think the political perspectives of the SP, including its organisational structures, are the most appropriate for revolutionary socialists today. And yet you continue to argue that these organisational structures should not be of any interest to anyone currently outside the SP when they are discussing how the working class should be organised and you are unwilling to participate in that discussion in anything other than a completely obstructive way, if this comments thread is anything to go by.

          • pat

            January 12, 2013 1:13 pm

            My contribution to this thread has been to correct the misinformation about the Socialist Party put forward by Henry. If you have a problem with that; fine, but I haven’t ‘obstructed’ anything.

  9. Mick

    January 11, 2013 5:12 pm

    I think the best way to find out about the legitimacy of institutions would be to talk to people, taking into account that there are likely to be huge divergence. Obviosuly, a major section of lower-income workers in Dublin are migrants who can’t even vote and are in the main not in Unions, and these are likely to be very alienated from representative politics imo.

    Re me singling out Madrid – I’m just looking at that because it is interesting and talking about what it suggests, I’m certainly not sayin that is the end of teh story and we shouldn’t look at other instances – so long as these are instances of actually existing forms of organisation germinating within class conflict.

    I have no problem with keeping the stuff from the past that works. In my experience though, so much of the ‘old ways’ really doesnt work. I’ve mainly been involved in organising with young people, though, so they might be particularly allergic to things like ‘theoretical and tactical unity’ and so on.

    Sorry if the answer is a bit curt – I’m in a hurry. Thanks for your comments.

    • rdlp715

      January 12, 2013 12:34 am

      Interesting he notes a few things the SWP leadership could have done to handle this better which are basically to break up the bureaucracy and implement democracy/pluralism within the party. Almost as if it’s an obvious problem.

      The party is so deeply and evenly split, it’s hard to see how it moves on. I’ve read the Serbian section have resigned from the tendency over this. Is there anything that can be done to stop it all falling apart?

  10. Michael Gallagher

    January 13, 2013 3:04 pm

    I thought I’d repost my response that I put on Facebook. I can’t comment fully on the article, because I don’t understand all of it, though on first reading it’s seems like a honest critique. I’m not really clear on this part, you wrote: “….However the key point to democratic centralism that is not acted on in the Irish left is one of timing. *The discussion needs to happen before the decision is made and members should have the option to express their view democratically whether through direct voting, delegation or representation….”

    Do you mean discussion through the ‘central committee’ or with the membership?

    *This wasn’t apparent at any branch meeting I attended. ‘Central committee’ decisions having been taken before any discussion through branches was obvious, even at the first branch meeting I attended someone queried if the issue was discussed with the membership, that was 1997. I don’t have the best of long term memories, but that sunk in like an anchor.
    Subsequently also with the election of branch officers.

    If the SP and others on the left -and I’m only citing the SP because they have used this Dáil mechanism that I’m about to criticise a few times- if they were serious about real democracy and they were true democrats, instead of carrying on the undemocratic practice of passing on Dáil etc seats to unelected party members – a practice created by previous right wing self serving governments- they should have at least raised the issue and genuinely tried to have this undemocratic ritual -for want of a better word- taken out of Irish politics.

    Henry, will you copy and paste your Facebook reply here, cheers.