Posts By Henry Silke

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Left Surge in the Republic of Ireland’s 2014 Local and European Elections

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This article originally appeared in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal on May 27, 2014.

Over the past few days there has been a minor earthquake in Irish politics. Sinn Fein has made a breakthrough into mainstream southern Irish politics, almost doubling its vote to 17% nationally in municipal polls and achieving more than 20% in the European election, with MEP in each Euro electoral district in the South. This was alongside a surge of electoral success from those further to the left and independents.

Overall in the municipal elections in the South, Sinn Fein won 150 seats and the “further left” won around 40.

In the European election, Sinn Fein topped the Dublin poll with a first-time candidate; this was replicated in Ireland South with another first-time candidate winning a European seat for the party, as well as Matt Carthy winning the closely fought third seat in the Midlands Northwest constituency. The success of first-time candidates across Ireland has seen Sinn Fein arrive as a party, lessening its previous dependence on individual local candidates.

The bourgeois parties are attempting to console themselves with the belief that people vote differently on Euro and local elections compared to national elections. There is ample evidence, however, that Sinn Fein and the further left can convert much of their success into Dail (parliament) seats and wider political influence.

An interesting aspect to the Sinn Fein vote was that Gerry Adam’s recent arrest for the 1972 murder of Jean McConville seemed to have no effect on the outcome.

Nationally, the governing Fine Gael Party lost 8.4 per cent of its vote, leaving it at 24%, while the Labour Party, the junior coalition party, lost half its popular vote, to 7%. The Labour Party was decimated in the local councils across Ireland; the party has now no seats on Cork City Council (Ireland’s second-biggest city), and the party has been reduced to eight seats on Dublin City Council (a drop of 17% of the first preference votes). Nationally, Labour has been reduced to 50 seats, which compares poorly to Sinn Fein’s 157.

In Dublin, Sinn Fein won almost one quarter of first preference votes, an increase of 12%, making it the largest party on the council with 16 seats. This vote tallies with the 23% won by Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan in the European election, making the party by far the most popular in the city.

On the far left the Socialist Party and its electoral front, the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA), won a very impressive 14 council seats; what is particularly important here is that the block won three seats on the Limerick City Council and three seats on Cork City Council, making it a national rather than Dublin-centric alliance. The Socialist Party also won a parliamentary by-election in Dublin West, meaning that now two of the four seats in the constituency are Socialist Party. This also leaves the party well placed to keep a seat after party stalwart Joe Higgin’s retirement from parliamentary politics in 2016.

The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and its electoral form, the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA), also did very well, winning a total of 14 council seats. (The group also made a breakthrough in Northern Ireland winning a seat on Belfast City Council).

Outside of the main blocks, the United Left (a group made up of some independents from the now defunct United Left Alliance), won two council positions and the Workers’ Party won a seat on Cork City Council. The Tipperary Workers’ and Unemployed Group also won a seat. A number of independent left councillors were also elected across the country, some of whom will be key to the future development of left politics.

One sour note on the left was the loss of Paul Murphy’s (Socialist Party) Dublin European seat. In a particularly Machiavellian move, the SWP ran a candidate (Brid Smith) in the European election with the aim of building her profile for the 2016 national elections. This — as widely predicted — split the vote with Murphy taking 30,000 (around 8%) of the first preference vote and Smith taking 23,000. Smith argued that her standing made no difference to the final outcome, but this is a very dubious claim as the few percentage points that most likely would have gone to Murphy may have been enough to keep him ahead of the pack in the transfer race.

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What’s Left After the ULA?

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Originally posted on Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal on the 29th of April.

This brief report intends to outline the situation within the Irish left following the slow implosion of the United Left Alliance (ULA).

The ULA was an alliance made up of the Socialist Party (affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International, CWI), the Socialist Workers Party (the International Socialist Tendency, IST), the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG, a locally based group with public representation including a member of Ireland’s parliament [TD] and numerous municipal councillors). It also included smaller groups such as the Irish Socialist Network and Socialist Democracy.

The ULA was initially very successful by Irish left standards and won five TDs. Though, it should be understood most, if not all, of these victories did not come only from the unity project itself but from literally decades of work by the various groups.

However, seeing the left under a single banner with a serious electoral challenge did initially attract many activists to its banner.

The ULA unfortunately lasted less than two years and today exists in name only.

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The Left Forum – Who, What, When, Where and Why?

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The First Left Forum will be held in the Teacher’s Club, Parnell Square, on May 18th 2013. In the call out the Forum states:

“We have had five years of crisis, five years where no alternative has been able to win support despite the obvious failures of the current political and economic regime, with serious human and environmental consequences.

Can we do better? Can the Left win widespread support for our ideas and build an alternative society? Can we make socialism more than a nice idea? The Left Forum invites you to contribute your views on the state of progressive politics and to discuss how we can do better.

The forum will be participatory and exploratory, and will aim to ask and answer key questions about what levels of political agreement are possible, what forms of organisation are useful and what tactics and strategies will be effective. We hope that you will join us and help define the future of the Left in Ireland”

This has led to some questions, firstly who is the Left Forum? Is it another front? What ideas do you mean, what exactly is ‘participatory’ and ‘inclusive’ and haven’t we heard all of this before?

Who are we?

The Left forum is an initiative that has been launched by the old United Left Alliance reading group in DCU, (now renamed the Left Forum DCU). While small the membership is diverse representing many trends of the Irish left. The group includes ex members of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party, The Workers Solidarity Movement, The Workers Party, the Communist Party as well as the non-affiliated. Though the various group members very much recognise the different strengths of the various organisations we believe that for both objective and subjective reasons that these groups (certainly alone) do not offer all the answers. The group originally came together as the DCU branch of the United Left Alliance and this initiative has partly comes as a result of the implosion of the alliance and the gap left in the political spectrum by its demise, including the political space available independent left activists.

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

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Introduction

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.

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