From Socialist Voice, February 2011


Thoughts on left unity

Thinking on left unity brought back a bit of nostalgia. There was a tremendous reception in the Mansion House in the early 1970s for the formation of the Left Alternative. Nearly a thousand people gathered to hear speakers from the Communist Party, Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party, and the Left Liaison Committee of the Labour Party.
     Unfortunately I am the only one of the six speakers who is still alive and kicking. Mick O’Riordan of the CPI has left us, as have Éamonn Smullen and Tomás Mac Giolla of SFWP and Noel Browne and Mattie Merrigan from the Labour Party.
     Fortunately, they all lasted longer than the Left Alternative. It did, however briefly, produce two good policy documents: a manifesto and an alternative economic policy, Go to Work, Ireland. The latter policy arose from workshops, involving active trade unionists from the three groups and inputs from progressive economists.
     Why was it not sustained? Mainly for two reasons, one simple, the other complex.
     The Labour Party establishment vetoed the Left group from appearing on public platforms with the other lefties. For SFWP there was a backsliding from the common analysis of imperialism and a reliance on apolitical economism, leading to the notorious Irish Industrial Revolution. Their secretive Industrial Department, identified with Smullen and Eoghan Harris, drove this process; but that is another story.
     A Socialist Forum followed later but was based on individual sponsorship among the broad left rather than on organisations. Other, more specialised broad fronts arose, for example Trade Unionists for Irish Unity and Independence. Only the United May Day Committee, convened by the CPI, lasted for a decade, until SFWP members persuaded the Dublin Trades Council to host it instead. Thus it was depoliticised, and remains so to this day. But in general inter-party unity was fractured for a generation.
     Today there are renewed attempts at unity as the crisis revealed itself as a crisis of the capitalist system itself. The debate is obviously intensified as the need for electoral choices forces an urgency on the issue, while the question of inter-party alliances has taken off with the formation of the United Left Alliance.
     The fact that for the first time in Southern politics the left and the left of centre, comprising the Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance, and progressive individuals, comprises more than 40 per cent voting strength has shifted the balance.
     For people on the left, how we vote on the 25th should be tempered not only by what we want as an immediate outcome but also how we would like that 40 per cent to become the driving force in politics. In many ways our minimum hopes would be for a centre-left Government, comprising Labour, Sinn Féin, the ULA , and progressive independents. Labour, as the “centre” in that equation, and as expressed in its present leadership, is no longer even traditional social-democratic. So our minimum hope is wishful thinking. The outcome will probably be a Fine Gael-Labour coalition but with an increased left opposition.
     Therefore we have to think in the long term of strategies that do not keep us in opposition for ever. It must be based on overcoming the passivity of many trade unionists and those in community work and encouraging the growth of a critical left mass in the Labour Party and Sinn Féin. The Marxist left should see itself as a unifying core.
     There may be a left breakaway in the Labour Party, as has happened in Germany; but the worst scenario is the drifting away from active politics, as has happened to hundreds of thousands in the Blairite British Labour Party.
     There are no quick fixes for cementing left unity in action and in formations: it involves long and persistent work in education and mobilising. It is a process involving honest discussions and patience. While there are no enemies on the left, only rivals, there are some who, judging by their past, are unable to overcome their in-built sectarianism.
     From my experience, the primary is the politics of such an alliance. It must be based on a principled understanding that imperialism is the main obstacle to breaking the chains, whether it is represented by the EU, the British state, or the global US empire. The local bourgeoisie is so intertwined with these as to be their loyal representatives.
     Let that politics guide you as you vote left and fashion how you give your PR preferences.
                                             Tom Redmond

Home page  >  Publications  >  Socialist Voice  >  February 2011  >  Thoughts on left unity
Baile  >  Foilseacháin  >  Socialist Voice  >  Feabhra 2011  >  Thoughts on left unity