Some dangerous ideas you won’t hear talked about at the Socialist Party conference this weekend

The Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI) is holding a public conference “Dangerous Ideas – A weekend of anti-capitalist debate” in Dublin on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th October.

Unfortunately I am not able to attend the event but here are a couple of key points I would have been trying to get across if I had been able to be present.

The SPI explicitly places itself in the political tradition of revolutionary Marxism and the ideas of the leaders of the Russian Revolution such as Lenin and Trotsky.

One of the best expressions of the core of those revolutionary Marxist ideas is contained in Lenin’s pamphlet “State and Revolution”. There are two key ideas developed in that pamphlet which make it a truly dangerous document – dangerous in the eyes of our capitalist rulers at least.

Firstly there is the need to overthrow, or “smash” as the most common translations of Lenin have it, the existing capitalist state power and replace it with a new state power of a special sort which will, as working class power is consolidated, the capitalists expropriated, and the alienation of bourgeois consciousness being transcended, begin to wither away and become less and less of a controlling influence over people’s lives and on its way to becoming merely a non-coercive administrative body. This new form of state power will be based on, and directly linked to, the manifestation of the second truly dangerous idea contained in Lenin’s pamphlet.

That is the self-organisation of working people in workers’ councils based on what would commonly be understood today as direct participatory democracy. Organisations that find their initial expression in the more militant forms of class struggle within capitalism – such as we have seen in embryo in Ireland with the network of community groups in the anti-household/water charges movements. Working class organisations that are separate from, and in political opposition to, the capitalist’s limited, passive, and ultimately fake, parliamentary democracy form of societal governance.

A new kind of societal governance where social ownership of the means of production means no longer will so many decisions affecting our lives be made behind the capitalist veil of “commercial secrecy”. Where immediate right of recall of delegates means no more election time “promises” that are really just lies to get candidates elected before they get on with the real job of governing in the interests of the capitalists for the next 4 or 5 years.

So why won’t these two key ideas of revolutionary Marxism be being talked about at the SPI’s conference?

Regarding the question of the state it is because the SPI have an openly reformist position. Instead of replacing (smashing) the capitalist state apparatus they propose simply bringing that existing capitalist state apparatus, such as the Gardai, under “community control” – presumably in the process the class nature of this apparatus being magically transformed from bourgeois to proletarian:

The Socialist Party believes that the Gardai, instead of being accountable to a Commissioner appointed by the Government, should be democratically controlled and held to account by working class communities through elected policing committees.  The police should play no role in policing peaceful, community and legitimate protest. Gardai who manhandle or abuse peaceful citizens should be removed from the force.

We need a police force that should be answerable to working class people and communities not the political masters acting on behalf of wealthy vested interests.

The Facebook event page for the SPI’s conference includes a video of a recent Channel 4 discussion involving Peter Taaffe (one of the headline speakers at the conference and central leader of the Committee for a Workers’ International which the SPI is part of) and Neale Colman (chief advisor to Owen Smith’s – the unsuccessful Blairite challenger to Jeremy Corbyn for leadership of the British Labour Party).

In this discussion Taaffe puts forward an explicitly reformist view of a parliamentary road to socialism:

Coleman: Peter, unlike me, doesn’t believe in a parliamentary road to socialism.

Taaffe: That’s not true.

Coleman: He believes in a Bolshevik type party that will take power for a revolution.

Interviewer: OK, do you [Taaffe] support taking power through the parliamentary..?

Taaffe: Of course. We stand for the election of a socialist and Labour government that would introduce measures in parliament to take hold of the 100 monopolies that control 80/85% of the economy.

This articulation of parliamentary socialism by Taaffe is merely the most recent example of the CWI’s consistent presentation of this non-revolutionary version of socialism. For instance in a 2006 interview with BBC Radio 4’s Shaun Ley:

Ley: You still think the revolution will come?

Taaffe: Well, what do you mean by revolution?

Ley: The overthrow of capitalism.

Taaffe: Well yes, a change in society, established through winning a majority in elections, backed up by a mass movement to prevent the capitalists from overthrowing a socialist government and fighting, not to take over every small shop, every betting shop or every street corner shop — in any case, they are disappearing because of the rise of the supermarkets — and so on, or every small factory, but to nationalise a handful of monopolies, transnationals now, that control 80 to 85% of the economy.

This social democratic fantasy about a parliamentary road to socialism only serves to politically disorientate working people. The SPI claim to be Trotskyists and yet have no explanation for why Trotsky explicitly warned against the perspective outlined by Taaffe:

‘[H]eroic promises to hurl thunderbolts of resistance if the Conservatives should “dare,” etc., are not worth a single bad penny. It is futile to lull the masses to sleep from day to day with prattling about peaceful, painless, parliamentary, democratic transitions to socialism and then, at the first serious punch delivered at one’s nose, to call upon the masses for armed resistance. This is the best method for facilitating the destruction of the proletariat by the powers of reaction. In order to be capable of offering revolutionary resistance, the masses must be prepared for such action mentally, materially and by organization. They must understand the inevitability of a more and more savage class struggle, and its transformation, at a certain stage, into civil war.’
(Where Is Britain Going?, 1925)

Any active participant in the anti-household/water charges movement in Ireland will know that despite the occasional rhetorical nod in the direction of working class self-organisation the SPI made no attempt to concretely build organisations that pointed in the direction of workers’ councils (I remember at one public meeting Paul Murphy bursting into laughter when I described the anti-household charges organisation in Cork as being the embryo of workers’ councils – clearly the basic revolutionary Marxist idea of wanting to build towards workers’ councils was absurd to him). Instead their intervention into this militant mass working class movement was to create an organisation (the Anti-Austerity Alliance) primarily designed to be an electoral machine in the capitalist shell game of parliamentary democracy.

So the reason I can confidently predict that the really dangerous ideas of revolutionary Marxism – on smashing the existing capitalist state and building workers’ councils as the basis for a new form of state power – won’t be talked about much, if at all, at the SPI conference is that they are an organisation with a political programme that is in direct contradiction to these key ideas of revolutionary Marxism that were a central component of the programme that led to the successful Russian Revolution.

I continually meet SPI youth who sincerely believe that they are revolutionary Marxists and are in an organisation with a programme capable of being an active part of the vanguard in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. I hope any of those youth who read this blog post are able to find the time to think carefully and seriously about why their organisation presents a political perspective to the Irish working class that diverges so far from the perspective outlined in Lenin’s “State and Revolution”.


Budget 2016 AAA – “anti-capitalism” or “fairer capitalism”?

I have ​just read the AAA 2016 budget statement.

As usual it makes bold  claims about what the statement represents:

“A fundamental socialist transformation of our society is needed.”

“The purpose of this Anti-Austerity Alliance budget statement is to give an illustration of how things could be organised differently… this statement illustrates how, with anti-capitalist and socialist measures which take on the power of the 1% a real recovery could be delivered for the 99%.”

Then of course all the concrete detail of the statement is the usual “tax the rich” proposals. This is necessarily premised on the continuation of capitalism and is therefore just about a redistribution of wealth within capitalism.

Not surprisingly my Sept 15th question on this blog has been answered in the positive:

Or will it be their usual advice to the existing capitalist government on how they could use greater taxation of corporations and the rich to more fairly redistribute wealth within capitalism?

It seems “anti-capitalism” really just means “fairer capitalism” to the oh so very tame so-called “revolutionary Marxists” of the Socialist Party of Ireland who politically dominate and control the AAA.

I can only repeat my ending words from that blog post of September 15th which so accurately predicted this latest missive for how capitalism could supposedly be run in the interests of the masses – with just a tweaking of taxation policy. 

It is of course possible to point out that pro-worker reforms of capitalism are possible in a statement on the budget process for the running of the capitalist government.

But for revolutionary Marxists worthy of the name that would only be to highlight why the capitalists will not do that and it is therefore necessary to overthrow their state, expropriate their wealth and create a new order based on collective ownership of the economy under the rule of workers councils.
I wonder if any SP comrade who might read this blog will even stop to think about just how little of the politics of Marx their organisation represents:

The irony that their usual “tax the rich” approach flies in the face of Marx’s own criticism (see https://revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/karl-marx-on-taxing-the-rich/) is no doubt completely lost on them.


Successful Cork Pro Choice stall

I helped staff the Cork Pro Choice stall on the evening of Friday 30 September.

We were primarily collecting signatures for the Abortion Rights Campaign petition to repeal the 8th Amendment and had a great response. Hundreds of signatures collected over the 2 hours we were there and virtually no negative responses.

This was by far the most positive response we have had since I have been doing pro-choice stalls over the last (nearly) 10 years in Cork. It seems to indicate that there really is a ground swell of public opinion in favour of Repealing the 8th Amendment and for a significant liberalisation in access to abortion factilities here in Ireland.



Socialist Party – sentiment and practical politics

To commemorate the first publishing of Marx’s Capital the Socialist Party of Ireland posted the following on their Facebook page:


Words from Karl Marx’s “Capital”, published 149 years ago today.

The richest 1% of our planet now owns more wealth that the other 99%.

We need to fight to end the parasitic and exploitative system of capitalism and fight for a democratic, socialist society where the wealth is productively used for the benefit of all.

This is of course a nice sentiment from the Socialist Party but I wonder how this will translate itself into their day-to-day politics.

For instance what will their upcoming alternative budget look like?

Will it have the political courage to outline the need “to fight to end the parasitic and exploitative system of capitalism” and give the broad outline of what “a democratic, socialist society where the wealth is productively used for the benefit of all” would look like?

Or will it be their usual advice to the existing capitalist government on how they could use greater taxation of corporations and the rich to more fairly redistribute wealth within capitalism?

The irony that their usual “tax the rich” approach flies in the face of Marx’s own criticism (see https://revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/karl-marx-on-taxing-the-rich/) is no doubt completely lost on them.


Instructive exchange with a CYM youth

The Cork branch of the Connolly Youth Movement (CYM – youth group of the Communist Party of Ireland) briefly ran a series of open study groups in 2015, most of which I attended. After they decided to stop the meetings the closed Facebook group associated with the study group kept going with a small membership who occasionally post links to documents there.

A few days ago a member of the CYM posted a link to “The State: A Lecture Delivered at the Sverdlov University” by Lenin on July 11, 1919 (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/jul/11.htm)

I made a comment that it was a shame that none of the political groups in Ireland today calling themselves socialist or communist have a programme which approaches anything like Lenin’s view on this central question of revolutionary politics.

This led to a bizarre exchange over the last couple of days with the CYM member who made the original post where he completely avoided responding to the political point I had made. Instead he went on a rant about how I was supposedly completely inactive politically in the workers’ movement. I responded with some facts about my activist record in Ireland while trying to draw him back to the actual politics – to no avail.

I post that Facebook exchange as a cautionary warning for anyone expecting anything like a rational discussion with members of the CYM.


Alex Homits
31 August at 02:19

The State: A Lecture Delivered at the Sverdlov University
Delivered: 11 July,1919
First Published: Pravda No. 15, January 18, 1929
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 29, pages 470-488

Seen by 15

Alan Gibson

“Whatever guise a republic may assume, however democratic it may be, if it is a bourgeois republic, if it retains private ownership of the land and factories, and if private capital keeps the whole of society in wage-slavery, that is, if the republic does not carry out what is proclaimed in the Programme of our Party and in the Soviet Constitution, then this state is a machine for the suppression of some people by others. And we shall place this machine in the hands of the class that is to overthrow the power of capital. We shall reject all the old prejudices about the state meaning universal equality—for that is a fraud: as long as there is exploitation there cannot be equality. The landowner cannot be the equal of the worker, or the hungry man the equal of the full man. This machine called the state, before which people bowed in superstitious awe, believing the old tales that it means popular rule, tales which the proletariat declares to be a bourgeois lie—this machine the proletariat will smash.”

Such a shame that none of the political groups in Ireland today calling themselves socialist or communist have a programme which lays out a strategy for smashing the capitalist state, instead they all present plans for winning a parliamentary majority and at best reforming the capitalist state.

Alex Homits
Your political organization exists on Skype. You’re not a member of a Trade Union. The community group(s) you were involved with don’t even let you onto their Facebook organizing page…

What is the purpose of being a “real Bolshevik Leninist” (as you claim and ascribe to yourself) if your political activity whatever it may be does not a) shift the balance of power in any shape or form towards the working class, b) does not organize or educate the working class and c) is completely limited to a computer screen?

Like the reason you come to these ultra–leftist positions is because you’re detached from reality behind a keyboard. If you weren’t you’d actually take into consideration the material conditions which shape the analysis of other political parties.

Do you not understand that whatever strategy you seem to be employing here is failing miserably?

Ultra leftism and purism is fantastic when you stand on the sideline and comment without actually participating in anything Alan Gibson and I think your analysis would change if your conditions were different, but anyway I’m sure you’ll disregard what I say regardless.

Alan Gibson
Three statements to start which are all wrong/lies.

“Your political organization exists on Skype.”

The organisation I support is indeed small but at a good number of the major demonstrations that have happened in Ireland over the past few years have seen real life IBT members distributing actual leaflets along with me.

Of course if we are playing the “my org is bigger than your org” game then why isn’t Alex a member of the SP or other larger reformist socialist group than the CPI?

“You’re not a member of a Trade Union.”

I am in fact not only a member of IMPACT but am the workplace rep where I work.

“The community group(s) you were involved with don’t even let you onto their Facebook organizing page…”

I am not an active member of Cobh CommUNITY for Change who do have a closed group. When I was an active member of Cobh Says No to Austerity there were both open and closed FB groups (the closed for security reasons when our community was actively organised in fighting meter installations).

My main political activity since being in Ireland has actually been with Cork Womens Right to Choose, now Cork Pro-Choice, which has always had an open FB page.

Anyone familiar with my political activity, no matter what they may think of my political views, will know that a statement that my political activity “is completely limited to a computer screen” is absurd.

My major regional and prominent national roles in the United Left Alliance project, the Pro-Choice movement and the Anti-Household/Water charges movements are all matters of public record.

I actually do believe that my involvement in these movements (not the ULA so much I will accept given that the SP control-freakery limited its impact) did indeed help shift the balance of power towards the working class.

I accept that as an individual my ability to “organise or educate the working class” is somewhat limited but I am prepared to stack my record on that up against most other political activists in Ireland today. Certainly I played a key role in helping Cobh provide the best organised opposition to water meter installations of any community in Ireland representing practical examples of the two things you say I do not do.

In terms of what any self-describing socialist activist has done in Ireland over the last decade I can fairly confidently state that I have actually “failed” less “miserably” than most in terms of helping move the working class closer to its historic task of overthrowing capitalism and establishing the rule of the working class along the general lines outlined in such major works of the revolutionary Marxist tradition like Lenin’s State and Revolution.

I could compare my record of political activism to yours Alex (and despite your repeated assertions to the contrary we both really know who would come out as actually more integrated into working class political struggles in Ireland over the last decade) but in terms of the correctness or otherwise of our political arguments what would it prove? Not much really.

Activism around immediate campaigns of our class is important but by itself my better record as a working class activist than you doesn’t prove anything about the correctness or otherwise of my claims to represent the politics of revolutionary Marxism in a strategic sense.

There is a slight caveat to that in that sometimes this can express itself in different perspectives within campaigns around immediate demands around issues of working class organisation.

As an example of this I am happy to stand on the record of my fight for my “ultra-left” perspectives (just the application of the ideas of the famous “ultra-left” tract State and Revolution) against the reformist bureaucratism of the SP/SWP in the anti-household charges regional and national organisations. The CPI was not a political factor of any influence in that mass working class campaign so I do not know if I would have had to fight against them as well but given the similar reformist socialist politics the CPI share with the SP/SWP I suspect I would have had to do so as well.

I know you come from the Stalinist tradition but this very crude kind of rewriting of history, and current reality, will be fooling no-one but yourself and presumably your more gullible comrades.

Perhaps that is the real point here. If you can repeat over and over to yourself this bizarre alternative reality where I am the non-activist that you outline that will somehow allow you to ignore my political arguments that consistently expose your organisations fake claims to represent the politics of revolutionary Marxism when in fact it is just standard reformist socialism.

Alex Homits
I don’t come from any tradition lmao the people who brought up Stalin at the MSG were you and your partner Anne.

Glad you’re a member of IMPACT.

Describe yourself what you want lol there is no point in ascribing to Marxism if you are incapable of acting on it


Alan Gibson
Keep repeating your mantra despite the facts. That is just like how the giants of the socialist movement approached the science of Marxism wasn’t it….

Anyway your rant was in response to a political comment that I made which by implication was criticising the CPI. If in fact I am wrong in saying “that none of the political groups in Ireland today calling themselves socialist or communist have a programme which lays out a strategy for smashing the capitalist state, instead they all present plans for winning a parliamentary majority and at best reforming the capitalist state.” it is quite a simple matter to prove me wrong without having to tell lies to yourself about my political activity.

Just point me to where any major CPI programmatic statement (like for instance your main current programmatic document “A Democratic Programme for the Twenty-First Century”) does in fact lay out a strategy for smashing the capitalist state.

Of course the real reason for your rant is that you are unable to do any such thing because my comment is completely accurate.

Just as the leader of your organisation was unable to respond to my political critique of the whole “Democratic Programme for the Twenty-First Century” (https://revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/republican-reformism-with-an-abstract-socialist-veneer-letter-to-the-cpi/) including a significant section on this very point.

Still why bother with substantive political discussion when you can make up lies about people and use that as an excuse not to engage instead.

Alex Homits
Delusions of grandeur are pretty funny tbh

Alan Gibson
Just facts as compared to your bald-faced lies.

But surprise, surprise, still no comment on the substantive political point.

Its simple – just point me to where in the Democratic programme for the Twenty-First Century (or similar major programmatic document by the CPI) the CPI lay out a strategy for smashing the capitalist state.

Lets not forget it is you who posted the piece by Lenin on the state.

Maybe your point was a subtle dig against Lenin for being so emphatic on this point which the CPI has nothing to say about?

Alex Homits
Lol man, you’re on a completely different planet altogether.

Alex Homits
Write all the long FB posts you want it’s not going to change anything for you

Alan Gibson
True enough.

Alan Gibson
I still have a decent enough record as an activist.

And I still keep exposing the programme of reformist socialists like the CPI in a way they can’t refute.

Alan Gibson
I was actually thinking about your point about education and it might make sense to post this thread more publicly (as this closed group has only a very small membership).

Letting a wider audience see what passes for political discussion between a member of the CYM and a revolutionary Marxist (or non-active “ultra-left” in your view) might have some educational value.

So I will be posting this thread on my blog (and thereby automatically to FB and Twitter).

As we have different audiences perhaps you can do likewise.

[At the time of this blog posting I do not know if Alex has chosen to also share this thread more widely]


Karl Marx on “taxing the rich”

This might be of interest to any members or supporters of the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party who think of themselves as Marxists while at the same time they support the programmes of their respective electoral fronts (Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit) which almost exclusively focus on a redistribution of wealth through increased taxation for the rich and corporations.

“it was in general a mistake to make a fuss about so-called distribution and put the principal stress on it. Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of nonworkers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, of labour power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?”
from ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’ by Karl Marx


Bernie Sanders – imperialist warmonger

As Bernie Sanders’ campaign to be the presidential candidate for the Democrats trundles on towards its inevitable end (when he then endorses Hillary Clinton) there still remain a surprising number of self-describing “socialists” and “revolutionary Marxists” who are politically supporting Sanders and even describing him as some kind of socialist himself.

The truth is that Sanders is a capitalist politician wedded to the Democratic Party and US imperialism. Anyone who doubts this assertion need only look at the following examples for proof:

  • Sanders voted for U.S. intervention in Somalia in 1993.
  • He supported Bill Clinton’s 1999 war on Serbia and when anti-war activists occupied his office because of that support of Clinton’s war policies, he had them arrested.
  • He voted for the 2001 Authorization Unilateral Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), which pretty much allowed Bush to wage war wherever he wanted.
  • In 2001, Sanders did not support the vote in Congress to oppose the war in Afghanistan. This was followed by his vote for appropriations to support both the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • He backed Obama’s Libyan debacle.
  • He supports an expanded US role in Syria alongside the Saudi Arabian regime.
  • He supports the building of the new F-35 stealth fighter as part of fairly consistently supporting spending on the vast US military machine.
  • He described Hugo Chavez as “a dead communist dictator”.

No genuine socialist, let alone revolutionary Marxist, would consider giving any political support to this kind of imperialist warmonger.