Time for the Left to Act Together


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Popular desire for political change has become a feature of the current campaign against the water charge. This charge is the last straw in a litany of bank-bailout  impositions; and many want an entirely different set of socio-political priorities. Recent months have also shown the power of the mass movement to bring change. The movement now needs to drive home the advantage by making the charge unworkable through mass non-payment and continued mobilization. But this in itself is not enough to create the radical political alternative that would implement the significant change that many in the campaign, and across society, desire.

Such change would require a new left party – committed to a socialist alternative. The imperative for socialism has never been greater given the disastrous impact of the financial crash on working people and impending environmental meltdown due to the failure of the market system to curb fossil fuelled growth.

Is a new left party on the political horizon at present? Clearly not. The closest recent approximation to the start of such a party was the United Left Alliance. While we acknowledge its failure, we think there are some lessons from the ULA experience that can help us today.

At the time when ULA TDs were elected there was little mass challenge to the government: dissatisfaction was expressed through the election and there was no mass movement behind the new political formation. So there was no big growth in the ULA.

But other factors also influenced the difficulties in the ULA. There was insufficient trust between the leaderships of the two main political groups; there was unease at working together in a common organization, while having differences. There was also a failure to prioritise the ULA and build it as a functioning organisation.

But the political conditions for such a formation have changed for the better: there now exists a powerful mass movement against the water charge and other austerity measures – albeit quite fragmented. It has created the conditions for a political alternative to the Troika parties and to Sinn Fein, which is prepared to go into coalition with the Troika parties – with the inevitable political accommodations that preserve inequality such as we have seen Labour and the Greens implement.

Based on the experience of the ULA, we think that any new left formation cannot be based solely on an amalgamation of the current small parties but would have to draw in activists who have mobilised in recent months and who want real change. Relations between these parties are not great at present: witness the electoral competition in the European elections and Dublin South West. But a commitment to develop common work against the water charges and a common electoral project involving many new activists could generate positive working relations and create the momentum and trust required for the construction of a new, anti-austerity political formation after the election.

This however, requires all of the left to act constructively. It requires real priority be given to a process that could lead to a significant breakthrough. There is the potential for an anti-austerity slate, with candidates drawn from the water charge movement and not directly linked to the AAA, the PBPA or other organisations but including them and agreed through a process in which all are involved and based upon specific commitments. This could be presented as the beginnings of an anti-austerity political alternative that will mobilise to defend the interests or ordinary people. Ideally a common name would provide a way to avoid the political confusion created by the need for a ‘technical group’ if enough of such candidates were elected.

The political commitments would include (though not exclusively): explicit opposition to coalition with the parties of the right – FF and FG; a commitment to mass action and democratic accountability; a moratorium on debt repayment pending a public audit of the debt; abolition of the water charge and LPT; tax the rich and big corporations; public works for housing, hospitals, schools, water services, etc; repeal of the 8thAmendment to permit legal abortion; and prioritising the needs of the majority rather than further enriching the few.

We understand that intermittent discussions are taking place between the AAA and PBPA, and between PBPA and others. We understand these are focused on electoral agreements and may evolve to include other groups. But such an approach is too narrow to meet the need for a serious political alternative. The first step for a new process is to take the discussion on how to approach the coming general election out into the open, in front of and involving those active in the movement against the water charges. Non-aligned socialist / anti-austerity activists also need to consider how to engage in this process. This needs to happen over the coming months. An electoral agreement amongst the existing left is not enough: it’s time to think bigger and act accordingly.

Brendan Young was elected as a Community Solidarity Councillor to Kildare Co. Council in May 2014.

Eddie Conlon is a trade union and political activist and was a member of the ULA Steering Committee

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6 Responses

  1. Barry

    January 19, 2015 2:58 pm

    Yes, there is room/time for a new political group, to live on the ground swell of the water issue. The question is how?? IMO, anything that contains “left” starts with a handicap, it maybe the same with “socialist” but less so. Equally, anything that has anything of ‘single issue’ about it will not fly, enough, to be valid.

    The water issue is singular. At the grass roots level, most of the groupings are local/voluntary/housing estates, etc., and based on never having paid before, like bin charges. Not a sufficient groundswell and subject to the criticism that “the politicians” are trying to move in.

    It seems to me that there may be room to create a political grouping which lives in the “we don’t trust (any of) them” space, left leaning and concerned primarily with changing the admistration of decisions, properly.

  2. Alibaba

    January 20, 2015 10:50 pm

    I read with interest the proposal for a new left party. Ideally it should exist.
    Realistically, if there is to be an alternative left pole of attraction, people will thinking ‘What do you have on offer that is better than what went before?’.

    By my reckoning, this means avoiding any ULA organisational setup. It means holding a conference to establish any new formation as a national organisation. It means that such a conference could enable the non-aligned and members of local and left groups to begin the process of democratically deciding its priorities for campaigns, its actions against the austerity attacks, its core policies and its name. It means making provision for independent activity. It means abandoning the use of the veto at leadership level. It means combining resources together and agreeing accountability mechanisms. And, yes, agreed electoral slates would be a plus.

    I am unclear about a “new, anti-austerity political formation after the election.” It would be a bitter irony if the only new party or alliance which emerges before the election was right-wing one.

  3. Paddy Healy

    January 23, 2015 1:11 pm

    Posted By Paddy Healy on Blog Cedar Lounge Revolution

    What would the position of a “further left” alignment be on the Irish national question? Should it be included as one of the issues?

    The sovereignty of the Irish People has been severely diluted in recent years

    Huge debts are owed to international Banks

    8 billion per year is being paid annually by government in debt servicing

    But this is not all!

    Almost all Irish commercial property and residential loan books are being sold off to vulture capitalists

    Literally ,you cannot spend a penny in an Irish shopping centre without paying a “Cíos Dubh” to Texas Capital

    The amount of money pouring out of the country from public and private sources to international capitalists is probably proportionately greater than that going to British landlords before Michael Davitts Campaign on the land issue

    We are almost solely dependent on multi-nationals for job creation and maintenance and therefore entirely enslaved.

    ANd AIB and PTSB is now to be sold off in accordance with advice from a top American Finance Company

    hat is the difference between MlNoonan and Dermot McMurragh!

    Seamus Healy (WUA) is the only left TD who has raised these matters in the Dail in recent years! Come to think of it ,these matters have not been raised by Sinn Féin deputies either!

    Why not put “Restoration of the Sovereignty of the Irish People and committment to Connollys policy of Irish Unity Independence and Socialism” in the political programme of a new left alignment?

    Gewerkschaftler – January 23, 2015

    All good points about the illusion of sovereignty, Paddy.

    But my guess is that national sovereignty in economic matters will remain unattainable under globalised capitalism, and it’s no good pretending otherwise.

    Even under democratic socialism it would be a matter of nations/regions negotiating at various levels about who provides what and who use which services, what is best produced on the local level, what is bests produced elsewhere, and how we can work together to ensure whatever efficiencies of scale and coordination are to be had.

    So short answer – national/regional economic sovereignty is a concept left over from the nineteenth century and we do ourselves no favours by pretending it is attainable.

    Which is not to say we shouldn’t fight the existing order, but just not in the name of something which can’t exist.

    Paddy Healy – January 23, 2015

    I completely disagree with G

    It is of course true that national subordination of weaker countrie cannot be achieved under global capitalism. But it doe not follow that special demads for national freedom and sovereignty should not be raised by socialists.
    Irish people like those in the programme countries and the third world are suffering a double exploitation. These are objective realities felt by people and to fail to raise these matters would damage the cause of socialism.

    Unconditional support for Irish Sovereignty, Unity and independence become huge mobilisers for socialism in the modern era as socialism is the only framework in which they can be achieved.

    From Roger Cole, PANA


    I agree with you. PANA has focused on advocating the right of the Irish people throughout the whole of the 32 counties to have their own independent foreign policy, with positive neutrality as its key component because it was our view that the ruling cast intended to integrate the Irish Army into the EU/US/NATO military structures. This military integration only mirrors Ireland’s integration into the EU/US economic financial system.

    Any “left” alliance that does not focus on advocating the termination of our military integration into the axis or our virtual total economic integration into the EU/US and placing sovereignty, unity and independence at the centre of its political analysis in my opinion is not left wing at all.


    Roger Cole


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  4. Muirhevna

    February 1, 2015 7:47 pm

    Eddie Conlon and Brendan Young’s article (it is a bit unclear if both wrote this) is very welcome but doesn’t address the two elephants in the left’s room – namely the national question and revolutionary groups – both of which are stuck in a period 100 years ago and are equally dated.
    Gewerkschaftler is right to criticize Paddy Healy’s old style nationalism, even if he does call up ‘saint’ James Connolly. After 25 years of unabated globalization, there are no clear ‘nations’ left. Each state’s boundaries are sieves allowing multi-cultural ethnicities to get established, and they are welcome. Are we going to ask Nigerian and Polish workers to kindly leave our country while we beat the national unity drum – again?
    The article refers to the mutual dis-trust of the SP (aka AAA) and the SWP aka (PBPA) which stymied the development of the ULA. But doesn’t refer to their vision of a revolution around every protest corner. Again these groups are stuck in the past – 1917 Russia. Large scale water charge protests do no a revolution make.
    More particularly these groups rubbish liberal democratic elections. And while it is true that corporations and the professional class have a disproportionate influence on most parties, these elections are what the vast majority of people regard as ‘democracy’. But, joy of joy, Syriza has just shown what can be done even with liberal elections. And Syriza also give the lie to Barry’s dismal write off of any party with ‘Left’ or ‘Socialist’ in the title. No, socialism is back on the agenda. And regarding Barry’s ‘single issue will not fly’, he didn’t read Eddie and Brendan’s article closely which lists a variety of commitments which have the potential to attract a good wide range of activists, including feminists.
    The one missing element in these commitments is the environment. While this is given mention earlier, there is no serious effort to address red-greens and attract in disaffected former Green party types.
    I agree with Alibaba’s suggestion that there be no veto for fractions, indeed there should be no fractions in a new party. That might make the party smaller, but would give it a chance of a longer life. Members, wherever they come from, need to commit to one party and it should not be open to be abused as a stalking horse for small sectarian groups.
    After years of neo-liberal policies (not least from the Labour Party) and globalization, we need to see this project as one for the long-term, even a generation. And we need to develop new theory of what socialism means today. To this end the “Irish Left Review” and even “Look Left” magazine are good starts in that direction.
    Finally, to avoid a problem the ULA ran into, if a party long these lines is to have a presence in the next elections, it needs to be registered, and soon. Maybe the Germans do some things well. How about “The Left”?

  5. Alibaba

    February 2, 2015 8:26 pm

    Any membership of a new formation would consist of people from very different political orientations. If it is going to have a dynamic and inclusive internal political life, it needs a regime that has to tolerate difference. This doesn’t mean that it will be paralysed by division. On the contrary, Syriza shows us how well a coalition of different left groups can merge together with spectacular success.

    I agree ‘a stalking horse for small sectarian groups’ should be avoided. All participating groups should place the political reorganization and struggles of the workers above recruitment to their own sects.

    I am interested in a party that will be built on a principled political basis. Firstly, participants must rule out coalition government with capitalist parties. Secondly, the best regime is facilitated, in my view, by permitting tendencies in the ranks. I would support this right for any group, platform or individuals who seek this. Such bodies could act inside the party, as long as they build the party in a way that maximises unity around the issues we agree on.

    There should be no veto for any grouping and there should be a balanced approach when highly controversial issues come up which need to be discussed over time. This means everybody knuckling down to democracy. New members, especially those disillusioned with politics, want democratic control of anything they get involved with. And appropriately so. However, when decisions are taken on policy or specific actions, it requires disciplined unity in its implementation by all members.

    I applaud the initiative taken by Brendan and Eddie in calling for a new party, especially given the shift to the left that is taking place. People want an identifiable factor in power; not a hodge podge of oppositionists