henry silke on SP leaving the ula


Socialist Party leaves the ULA

by Henry Silke

Last Saturday the Socialist Party (CWI) posted an article on their website announcing the end their membership of the United Left Alliance. This was one of the least surprising political events of the Irish left as the Socialist Party had been steadily moving away from the alliance for over a year.

The SP have given two reasons for leaving the alliance firstly it’s unhappiness with ex Socialist Party TD Clare Daly’s continued political relationship with Mick Wallace, a left leaning populist who became embroiled in a tax evasion scandal. Clare Daly had been closely allied to Wallace in the promotion of an abortion rights bill and most recently in the exposure of a practice where privileged members of society were being cleared of driving charges, something brought to the TDs, by whistle blowing members of the Irish police force. Clare Daly herself had resigned from the Socialist Party (and re-designated herself as a ULA TD) some months ago citing the Socialist Party’s lack of enthusiasm towards building the ULA.

While both sides on Clare Daly’s resignation were technically correct the respective positions fall short of offering a clear picture as to Clare Daly’s dramatic move away from the Socialist Party leadership, something neither side has elaborated on. The highly personalised split was something the already weakened ULA was not ready for. The SP also cited a weakness on the part of the independents in the ULA and the Socialist Workers Party in tackling Clare Daly on the issue of alliances with Mick Wallace, quickly forgetting it was the Socialist Party (while Clare Daly was still a party member) who prevented the ULA taking a clear position when the scandal first broke the previous April. The Socialist Party representatives on the steering committee vetoed the motion for the ULA to call for Wallace’s resignation that had been proposed by the independents and supported by all other the other factions. Rightly or wrongly independents in the ULA found the SP’s sudden obsession towards Daly and Wallace’s relationship many months after the initial scandal to be more about politically attacking the ex SP TD than anything else. A particularly ham fisted ‘us or her’ attempt by the SP to ambush Daly at a delegate council meeting before Christmas failed to win any support, and probably finished the SP’s participation. The fact that Clare Daly’s profile rose immeasurably over her (and Wallace’s) earlier stance on abortion catapulting her into the headlines after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar  (a woman living in Galway who was refused a termination and later died) didn’t help matters leaving no time for things to settle between the parties.

The second reason given by the SP leadership to the failure of the alliance is that the ULA was unsuccessful due to the objective conditions of the political and social situation. Although Ireland is in the throes of a devastating recession political consciousness and struggle remains at relatively low ebb. Due to these factors, according to the SP, the ULA didn’t attract sufficient numbers to be a viable project. There may be some basis to this factor though there is an underlying assumption that uniting already existing left forces would not be a positive factor in itself.

For the independents in the ULA the objective conditions are not the only factor in this narrative, the subjective factor that is the leadership shown by the component parts is also of importance. While being applauded for the initial initiative the two major factions the alliance, the SWP and SP, have come under some criticism. It is felt by many that the Socialist Party was conservative when it came to developing the alliance. The Socialist Party rank and file membership never really engaged with the ULA as individuals, nor took part in its activities; the SP was represented in the steering committee by leadership members with little or no involvement in political discussion by the rank and file SP membership. From early on only full time party workers and party officers attended ULA related activities or meetings. Even this low level was pulled back on well over a year ago (and long before the SP-Daly split) when the SP pulled back from any ULA activity outside of parliamentary work.

Around that time (January 2012) the SP’s general secretary Kevin McLoughlin wrote an article proclaiming that the ULA is not a worker’s party, ‘nor is it likely to just become the new party at some future date’ (What next for the United Left Alliance 17/01/2012). dealing a severe political blow to the project and indeed begging the question to why anyone would join at all?

On the streets and in protests the ULA never had any profile as the two main components the SWP and SP continued to exclusively organise and recruit separately, on one occasion the two groups even managed to organise a meeting on Education cuts (following a teachers’ protest) in the same hotel and at the same time where a single ULA meeting would have made sense. In the Dail (the Irish parliament) the TD’s never gelled and acted more as a number of independent politicians sometimes collaborating but more often not. The lack of strategy by the TDs offices was apparent from early on especially between the SP and SWP. Of course the SP were not the only component who have come under criticism, the SWP the second major component launched a front organisation ‘Enough!’ within weeks of the 2011 election (Where the ULA had won five parliamentary seats). Early into 2012 the SWP then went on the re-launch the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) as a direct rival to the ULA .

Many cynics at the beginning of the process maintained that the SP and SWP would not be able to work together after decades of intense rivalry. Unfortunately as the SP rank and file didn’t engage with the ULA sectarian barriers were not broken down. A more nuanced view might be that the SWP viewed the alliance as a ‘popular front’ to recruit from while the SP viewed it as solely an electoral alliance, neither wanting the ULA as such to develop into a party as such. Another view is that while the components were serious about the initiative, ‘they were so at different times’, while another is that the Irish left ‘were not ready for the alliance’, and that the ULA ‘had won TD positions too early into the alliance and had no strategy of what to do with them.’ On the social media there are arguments between Socialist Party members who say they never wanted the ULA to develop into a party, and independents who feel that the SP at best were ambiguous in the early recruitment drive and around elections. Certainly Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins gave many speeches in the early days of the ULA which suggested very clearly the development towards a party.

The SP position may well be correct that the objective conditions were not correct. On the other hand there is the prospect of a self fulfilling prophecy of a leadership who were not quite ready to share political power.. On a more positive note the SP leadership believes that the current anti home and water tax campaign (CAWHT) has the potential to become a mass radical campaign and could form the basis for a new working class party. Critics have pointed to the obvious inconsistency in that while that the objective conditions seemingly are impossible for the ULA, the same objective conditions are favourable to a new formation on a much lower political level. The Party thus far has not dealt with this critique. There is also no guarantee that the kind of problems that beset the ULA will not reappear and that the SP and SWP will be able to overcome their decades of competition. Nor any guarantee that single issue election candidates or indeed membership will favour the building of a mass left workers’ party. The campaign is further complicated by new laws which allow the Irish revenue to collect the payment directly from wages (replacing the voluntary tax, which was successfully boycotted by the campaign). However certainly at the moment it is the only serious national resistance to austerity policies.

The future of the ULA is uncertain at best – the basic notion of even non-aggression has already collapsed as the SWP, in a highly sectarian manner, are targeting ULA TD Joan Collins seat, and the SP are also said to be planning to run a candidate against Clare Daly. While the SP challenge will probably have little affect on Daly, and they have made no formal decision, the SWP is running a serious candidate that could easily split the vote and lose the seat. The remaining independents are due to meet with Clare Daly and Joan Collins to discuss a way forward on the second of February, but it is unlikely that Collins and the SWP could remain in any form of alliance with the SWP threat hanging over her. Whether ULA independents are ready to continue in the husk of the ULA is an open question.

One of the positives of the ULA experiment has been the coming together of a wide layer of left independents and every effort must be made to keep this network together in some form or other. If it is the case that the SP and SWP lack either the drive or the innate ability to build a new workers party it may be time that attempts are made in that direction by the independents.


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