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 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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April addition of Socialist Voice is now out. It can be viewed online here
- Time for a radical departure [EMC]
- Cypriots paying the price [EMC]
- Growing threat of NATO membership
- The state of bourgeois political economy [NL]
- William Thompson: political economy and co-operative communism [NL]
- The new pope [MA]
- The question remains: when are we going to talk about class? [PD]
- Can we learn from Cuba? (or where to go from here?) [TMS]
- Financialisation, the euro, and the crisis [NC]
- A modest exposure
- The family, private property, and the state [SOD]
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Editorial: LookLeft Issue 15, March 2013
“I am, of course, aware that the ultimate solution is the ownership and control of the means of life by the whole of the people; but we are not at that stage of development as yet.”
– James Larkin
Across Europe, progressive political forces have yet to find an adequate response to the rightwing onslaught on the public good which has been unleashed since 2008.
The neo-liberal agenda, which the right uses to disguise the capitalist grab for more power and resources, has over 30 years permeated our political, media, academic and cultural worlds.
In Ireland this problem has been exacerbated still further by the historic success of deeply conservative forces in undermining the development of progressive and working class institutions.
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Is emigration state policy? – LookLeft magazine investigates
The new issue of LookLeft magazine, Ireland’s leading progressive media outlet available in newsagents country wide, includes articles on emigration and how it has benefited conservative forces in the Republic and an in-depth look at the events and impact of the 1913 Lockout.
In an article investigating the impact of emigration on the Republic, British and Irish civil service documents are quoted which back up the argument that successive Governments’ have tacitly supported the export of our youth.
These include one quoting civil servant Alexis Fitzgerald, an advisor to Taoiseach John Costello commenting that, “High emigration, granted a population excess, releases social tension which would otherwise explode, and makes possible a stability of manners and customs which would otherwise be the subject of radical change.”
In his in-depth look at the 1913 Lockout’s importance ‘then and now’ historian Brian Hanley asks is the establishment really interested in commemorating the ‘divine gospel of discontent’ as preached by James Larkin.
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Paul Murphy MEP and David Murphy of the Socialist Party provide a critical appraisal of the government’s Action Plan 2013 and argue that Ireland needs a radically different action plan.
Another year and another instalment in the Action Plan for Jobs from the government. After the self-proclaimed sensational success that was the 2012 action plan, with 92% of its targets being hit, unemployment still stands at over 14%. Self-congratulation is no congratulation.
With over 87,000 people having emigrated since the last Action Plan was launched, what does Action Plan for Jobs 2013 have to offer? Well, not a lot, despite containing 333 ‘actions’ to build on last year’s 270 ‘actions’. It continues to outline the next steps in the government’s plan to create 100,000 new jobs by 2016 and makes a big effort to be savvy by using the latest business jargon like “Disruptive Reforms”.
It contains some of the government’s favourite catchphrases like “governments don’t create jobs…but create the environment for jobs to be created” and Enda Kenny’s mantra of making Ireland “the best small country in which to do business”. It contains lots of lofty ambitions, but in effect doesn’t contain a lot of ideas to actually get people back to work. It is a plan firmly anchored within a neo-liberal framework, calling for less regulation and tax cuts for businesses together making Ireland more 'cost competitive', while hoping for a major increase in Foreign Direct Investment.
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LookLeft Forum: Realising a Left Alternative
2pm, Saturday March 2nd at the Teacher’s Club
LookLeft Magazine are pleased to invite you to the launch of our new issue, featuring a discussion on the topic of Realising a Left Alternative: Complementary Visions of Social Change. This discussion will be lead by Erik Olin Wright, the distinguished American Marxist scholar and author of books such as Envisioning Real Utopias, Gender Equality, Class Counts.
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February issue of Socialist Voice is out now.
It can also be view here to download, here to read online or below in the embedded widget.
Below is a list of contents.
- We must build on Connolly’s legacy
- CPI calls for support for the ICTU demonstration
- The ICTU’s “better, fairer debt” strategy [EMC]
- 2013: the continuing of the great scattering [EMC]
- James Stewart (1933–2013)
- “Social Europe” for the EU’S privileged [COM]
- The truth behind the myth of “social Europe”
- Rarefied Davos air fosters elite illusions [COM]
- More on monopolies globally [NL]
- Poverty and wealth in France
- Democracy and the crisis—Part 1 [FC]
- Is Ireland a tax haven? [EON]
- Another imperialist intervention in Africa [TMS]
- Slanted media attack Caribbean socialism [TMS]
- Red westerns [AF]
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The Counter-Summit Phenomenon – Forums for resistance and alternatives
Since the anti-globalisation movement of the late '90s and early 2000s, wherever the political representatives and economic thinkers of capital met, they encountered protest and opposition. From Seattle to Genoa, tens of thousands turned out to demonstrate against institutions like the WTO, G8 and EU. The anti-worker and environmentally unsustainable implications of their free trade and neo-liberal agenda were exposed.
With the understanding of the limitations of the model of protests at summits across Europe, came the rise of counter-summits. Generally called Social Forums these were an opportunity for socialists, trade unionists, environmental activists and others to meet. They represented an attempt to go beyond simply protesting against these institutions and to formulate alternatives as well as to discuss strategies for resistance.
The World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in Brazil which 12,000 people attended opened the process of the WSFs. It was followed with successful events in Athens, Mumbai, Nairobi and elsewhere. After playing a vital role in mobilising for the demonstrations on 15 February 2003, where tens of millions marched against a war on Iraq, the summits suffered a general decline, becoming somewhat disconnected from the real struggles happening around the world.
The model was successful in opening an important discussion, but it also contained within it an important contradiction that was always present in the anti-globalisation movement. This was the tension between an approach that was fundamentally reformist, aiming to curb the worst excesses of globalisation and capitalism and a more consistent anti-capitalist position. The formal exclusion of political parties did not keep out the various NGOs connected to Social Democracy and the reformist ideas associated with them, while revolutionary socialists were not able to openly organise.
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Matthijs Krul in his Notes and Commentary blog has provided a very thorough and critical Marxist analysis of Seth Ackerman’s essay The Red and the Black published in the latest issue of Jacobin magazine. We’ve already posted the section of Doug Henwood’s show, Behind the News which features a long interview with Ackerman about his essay.
I believe it’s worth reading Krul’s response for those interested in thinking about what a socialist economy would look like, and the how objections to its potential are ill-founded. The post is positive about many of the points raised by Ackerman, but he highlights their limitations and does so in a much convincing way than others who have so far tackled The Red and the Black essay. I’d like to provide a large chunk which gets to the heart of his critique, but also indicates how ‘central planning’ which is seen to have failed in the Soviet Union, flourishes today within capitalist society. Krul’s argument is that this failure was a political one as the Soviet economy remained subject to the logic of accumulation.
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Irish Left Review Journal
Official Launch of First Issue
Saturday 2nd of February 2013 @ 2pm
Essex Street, Temple Bar
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Perspective of a ULA national steering committee member
The 2011 general election gave the Irish far left its highest profile in decades. Five TDs were elected under the electoral banner of the United Left Alliance (ULA), reflecting growing anger against the austerity imposed by the previous government’s agreement with the “Troika” of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank.
During the campaign, I was strongly critical of the ULA’s overtly reformist election platform, which did not even mention the word “socialism”. This omission was made explicit by Ann Foley, the ULA candidate for Cork North West and a well known participant in People Before Profit (PBPA), one of the ULA’s founding organisations:
“I feel the ULA has very common sense policies. When people think of socialists, they think of communism, which is not the case. There is nothing dramatic or revolutionary about our policies. A lot of countries have functioning social democracies, especially in Scandinavia. They have great health, transport and childcare systems. This is the direction we want to take, a direction this Government failed to follow.”
(Cork Independent, 6 January 2011)
The decision to move beyond a reformist electoral lash-up by opening up membership to individuals and initiating a process supposedly aimed at the creation of a new working-class party, however, encouraged me to join. I saw this as an important opportunity to discuss the revolutionary socialist programme that the working class so desperately needs. Since then, I have participated in that discussion in ULA meetings at all levels and on my blog (revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com), and have twice stood for election to the national steering committee (NSC). In October 2012 I was elected onto the NSC to represent non-aligned members, ie, those not in one of the ULA’s founding organisations.
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January issue of Socialist Voice is out now.
Download or view it online.
Alternatively read the embedded version below.
Articles in the January issue include
1. Make 2013 the year of resistance! [EMC]
2. To the working people of Ireland: New Year statement by the Communist Party of Ireland
3. Back to the future [EMC]
4. The Baltic Ireland? [COM]
5. What’s good for business . . . [NL]
6. Capitalist automation and social dislocation [NC]
7. Marching into a cul-de-sac [PW]
8. Gatherings of socialist republicans—a small beginning
9. The gambling business: “a statement of confidence in Ireland and its people”! [BG]
10. Seán Redmond (1936–2012) [PW]
11. Joe Deasy (1922–2013) [TR]
12. Frank Conroy Commemoration
13. The South African revolution betrayed [TMS]
14. Mind your language [RCN]
15. A worker reads and asks questions [Bertolt Brecht]
16. Letter: Symbolic hunger strike by Bangladeshi garment workers
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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.
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