17
Feb
13

Why I’m not joining the proposed United Left

Yesterday I attended a (disappointingly small) meeting of the ULA non-aligned that was called to discuss the results of the initial meeting of the non-aligned with the TDs Joan Collins & Clare Daly and Councillor Declan Bree, along with their supporters, that had been held two weeks previously. And to decide how to approach the next such unity meeting on 2 March.

I presented 5 motions to the meeting:

It is time to face the reality that the ULA is no longer functioning as any kind of real organisation. It is time to move on.

1 – This meeting of the non-aligned members of the ULA believes that the ULA should be closed down.

Looking towards the possible United Left formation to replace the ULA it is clear that the two issues of the relationship with Wallace & Flanagan and TD accountability need to be clarified. I propose the following to help make that clear.

2 – This meeting of the non-aligned members of the ULA believe that any future “United Left” organisation must oppose any on-going political coalitions, not just governmental, with bourgeois forces.

3 – This meeting of the non-aligned members of the ULA understand Mick Wallace and Ming Flanagan to be examples of bourgeois populists who any future “United Left” organisation would not enter into any on-going political coalitions with.

4 – This meeting of the non-aligned members of the ULA consider the TDs of any future “United Left” organisation to have no more rights than any other member of that organisation.

5 – This meeting of the non-aligned members of the ULA believes that any political statements by any members of any future “United Left” organisation should be approved by the Branch Council of that “United Left”, or delegated sub-committee of the Branch Council (such as the steering committee or editorial board), before publication.

I was the only person to vote for my first motion as the rest of the meeting was of the opinion that they did not want to be seen as the ones that ended the ULA in the public eye – despite most, if not all of them, agreeing with me that the concrete reality is that the ULA is indeed dead. This would seem to be more concerned with “optics” and how the bourgeois media might report things than telling the working class the truth.

Motions 2 and 3 on working class political independence brought a strange combination with a clear majority supporting the first making the general point of opposing political alliances with bourgeois forces while a clear majority opposed the second when it came to actually naming the two concrete examples where the danger of such an alliance is perhaps most immediately posed, at least in the wider public’s mind.

In my mind this failure ranks as outright opportunism as the primary reason given for not voting for motion 3 was fear that it might alienate the Collins/Daly bloc who have been working closely with Wallace and Flanagan on a number of one-off issues and who may not be happy with having their allies described in this way.

Motion 4 was narrowly defeated.

Motion 5 was amended to replace “any political statements” with “any public political positions taken” but was still clearly defeated.

The bulk of the meeting was taken up with discussions about how to copper-fasten the elements of democracy and accountability (particularly of TDs) in the proposed unity document that would launch the United Left – possibly at the 2 March meeting.

Much of this discussion was of an organisational nature about size of steering committees, the branch council structure and other democratic forms but one issue of more general importance did come up – the nature of the new organisation and the party it was trying to build. It was argued that this would explicitly NOT be a revolutionary organisation and would consciously be “broad”, including activists with a wide range of perspectives. Revolutionaries would be tolerated as a tendency and hopefully sometime in the future the organisation would somehow become revolutionary – but that really is for the far-off future and what is needed now is something else.

I countered that surely this must mean something in terms of the programmatic framework being proposed – that this too must consciously not be revolutionary, that it therefore MUST be reformist. Surely what is needed is a party that fights for the interests of the working class as a class and the issue of the programme that can carry out that fight is one that will be decided in struggle rather than consciously starting out with a plan to limit the programmatic framework.

I am for a party that fights for the interests of the working class and has a programme capable of carrying out that fight, up to and including the establishment of socialism. For me that necessarily means a revolutionary programme. To have the possibility of such a programme explicitly ruled out from the very beginning is not something I can accept.

Despite the protestations of support for working class independence and theoretical opposition to political alliances with bourgeois forces the fact that the non-aligned are more concerned with not offending the sensibilities of others above taking a principled stand on this issue when it comes to the specific case of Wallace and Flanagan leads me to believe that the professed support for this basic principle of socialist politics is no more than skin deep.

There is also the significant issue of the electoralist focus of the Daly/Collins bloc. Although this was not discussed in much depth at yesterday’s meeting it is a problem in terms of what the political appetites of the new organisation will be. When combined with the other two issues outlined above this becomes a problem of major significance as electoralism will only feed into them in an even more negative way.

After giving it serious thought I have therefore decided not to join the proposed United Left organisation even if all the non-aligned’s proposals on democracy and accountability are taken on board by the new formation.

Advertisements

3 Responses to “Why I’m not joining the proposed United Left”


  1. 1 D_D
    February 18, 2013 at 00:43

    Alan,

    Your decision is politically consistent and it would be politically dishonest of me not to say that I think you have made the right decision for yourself and your own politics. Nevertheless on a personal level I have nothing but respect for you, as an activist and a person. It gave me no comfort at all to see you in such a minority position on Saturday. In larger spheres everyone in that room is in a small, often a very small, minority (the latest ‘Irish Independent’ poll has the ULA at 1%!). As everyone there chooses to remain in a minority position somewhere or other for the sake of principle, it is easily appreciated in a small circle where we are momentarily in a majority that those with strong and genuine positions must maintain their opposition and sometimes finally go their separate way.

    I regret that you ascribe base motives of “outright opportunism” to our differing political positions and I regret your assertion that our support for a “basic principle of socialist politics is no more than skin deep”. I hope that within any new United Left platform political differences can be discussed without accusations of bad faith for holding contrary views.

    Your representation of the contrary position to yours, as argued on Saturday by me and others, on the nature of the United Left, and indeed the ULA before it, is inaccurate to the extent of inverting our often-stated position. It is hard to understand how you could have sat through and read our patient explanations, or perhaps boring elaborations, so many times, on the nonaligned mailing list and elsewhere, and still be under such a fundamental misapprehension.

    You wrote:

    “Much of this discussion was of an organisational nature about size of steering committees, the branch council structure and other democratic forms but one issue of more general importance did come up – the nature of the new organisation and the party it was trying to build. It was argued that this would explicitly NOT be a revolutionary organisation and would consciously be “broad”, including activists with a wide range of perspectives. Revolutionaries would be tolerated as a tendency and hopefully sometime in the future the organisation would somehow become revolutionary – but that really is for the far-off future and what is needed now is something else.

    I [AG] countered that surely this must mean something in terms of the programmatic framework being proposed – that this too must consciously not be revolutionary, that it therefore MUST be reformist. Surely what is needed is a party that fights for the interests of the working class as a class and the issue of the programme that can carry out that fight is one that will be decided in struggle rather than consciously starting out with a plan to limit the programmatic framework.

    I am for a party that fights for the interests of the working class and has a programme capable of carrying out that fight, up to and including the establishment of socialism. For me that necessarily means a revolutionary programme. To have the possibility of such a programme explicitly ruled out from the very beginning is not something I can accept.”

    [end quote from AG]

    This travesty places our position on its head, using our very arguments against early determinism of the programme.

    The discussion on Saturday touched on the nature of the United Left and the ULA. (The future party was not a subject and, in any case, I said my aim was that in the future that it would be a revolutionary party and perhaps even one corresponding to the Bolsheviks.) You say: “It was argued that this [the United Left] would explicitly NOT be a revolutionary organisation and would consciously be “broad”, including activists with a wide range of perspectives.” That is correct. You say: “Revolutionaries would be tolerated as a tendency…” I have no memory of anyone saying revolutionaries would be “tolerated” and that certainly is not my own position. The United Left, as the ULA before it was, is being established mostly, if not exclusively, by ‘revolutionaries’, who will remain in the leadership for some time, with the worked-out strategic aim, which experience will judge, of building an organisation that will ‘consciously be “broad”, including activists with a wide range of perspectives’, united around the founding platform of the ULA, a platform which can develop programmatically over time.

    You say: “Surely what is needed is a party that fights for the interests of the working class as a class and the issue of the programme that can carry out that fight is one that will be decided in struggle rather than consciously starting out with a plan to limit the programmatic framework.” That is precisely what those who support the ULA project say and what I have said many times, and in argument with your position.

    Despite this you then go on to say: “I am for a party that fights for the interests of the working class and has a programme capable of carrying out that fight, up to and including the establishment of socialism. For me that necessarily means a revolutionary programme. To have the possibility of such a programme explicitly ruled out from the very beginning is not something I can accept.” This shifting of the goalposts is making me dizzy! The advocacy of a broad, pluralist and fighting party, that brings together revolutionaries, left social democrats and anti-capitalist activists around an agreed programme that is evolving and subject to development and discussion as the common experience develops the whole organisation together, is to rule out nothing. It is to leave the way open to leftward organic development in step with the consciousness of a SIGNIFICANT number of people. Our differences with you are precisely over your ever-repeated plan to LIMIT the programme framework of the ULA (and now the UL) to an advanced revolutionary marxist programme, and your particular revolutionary programme to boot. Your insistence on a revolutionary programme now, today, rather than starting from a broadly agreed common but radical programme, one that attracts a range of militant political activists, “one that will be decided in struggle” (precisely!!) and can be refined and developed cooperatively and in discussion with marxists in the organisation.

    No one has proposed that marxists or revolutionaries be confined to tendencies. Here we have another shift (for the purposes of having a go?): a harder ‘Leninist’ line would be that in a broader formation the revolutionaries SHOULD maintain their independence in a distinct tendency. The view, shared by perhaps most of those “marxists” involved in setting up the UL, is that there is no need for a separate tendency of “marxists” or “revolutionaries” right now due to its size and the actual dominance of those who have called themselves “marxists” for many years now.

    You say, about our view: “this too [the programmatic framework] must consciously not be revolutionary, that it therefore MUST be reformist.” You said the same about the radical pre-budget submission of the ULA, it didn’t call for revolution so therefore it must belong to the other category, reform. It is wrong to get locked into an abstract opposition between reform and revolution. It is not as dialectical as it looks and undialectically discounts the movement of an initial struggle from below for reforms or for the defence of former reforms to a recognition of the need to overthrow the whole system.

    The actual differences between our respective positions are well flagged in an ever growing pile of literature and blog posts around the years-old international debate among marxists on the strategic organisational option at this time between ‘revolutionary organisations’ (a la the SWP and SP) and broad pluralistic parties and organisations (a la Syriza, the Red-Green Alliance [Denmark], the Left Bloc [Portugal], etc.). You must be familiar with it; I have put many links to it on the nonaligned list. There is no reason to misconstrue my side of it.

    This said I hope I will have the opportunity to work with you again in campaigns against austerity and other social issues, and perhaps in the further future also in a political project. I would be pleased to be able to claim the same level of commitment and energy there as yourself.

    With comradely regards,

    Des Derwin.

  2. February 18, 2013 at 14:37

    I stand by my use of the phrase “outright opportunism”. How else to describe a decision to vote for opposing any on-going political alliances with bourgeois forces as a matter of principle while in the next breath refusing to apply that in the concrete case of Mick Wallace?

    I actually think your response has nicely highlighted the real core of the difference between us.

    I completely stand by my critique of the ULA pre-budget submission as being a reformist document. The implication of your disagreement with that must be that somehow you think this document was indeed revolutionary. This would seem to be because of what you understand to be the “dialectics” of involvement in the struggle for reforms that leads to the development of revolutionary conclusions. I think this reduces the struggle for revolutionary consciousness to some objective process and a supposed natural result of participation in the class struggle. Unfortunately this is not the case – if it was we would have been born into a developed socialist society well on the way to communism. The reality is that the development for revolutionary consciousness requires not only participation in the class struggle but also exposure to the explicit and open intervention by advocates of revolutionary politics AGAINST the reformists who for their part seem only too willing to propogate their views on how to change society – particularly the limits on that change.

    You argue that the UL “is being established mostly, if not exclusively, by ‘revolutionaries’, who will remain in the leadership for some time” but at the same time you believe that the new United left organisation MUST have a “broad” (i.e. explicitly non-revolutionary) programme. That is that these ‘revolutionaries’ will advocate building an organisation on something other/less than a revolutionary programme – because of their trust in the “dialectics” of participation the class struggle.

    And furthermore that you will argue against those, like myself, who do advocate what they believe is the necessary programme to free the working class from the shackles of capitalism. Not because you think I have a programme that is wrong in some regard but rather that I am wrong to even be arguing for a revolutionary programme. Or perhaps better put, that you are happy for me to present my revolutionary programme in the abstract but I should not be so bold as to argue for that to be translated into the concrete programme of the United Left which MUST have a non-revolutionary programme according to your schema.

    The above is obviously not to discount the very necessary joint activity between reformists and revolutionaries (and those somewhere inbetween) where there is principled agreement around the immediate and limited aims of specific campaigns. But that is quite a different thing from the kind of unity required for any organisation that sets itself the the overall change of society – at that level the politics and programme of reform and revolution are incompatible. It is one of the primary tasks of anyone who considers themselves to be a revolutionary to convince those with illusions in a reformist road to socialism that this is a political deadend. I understand this to be done through non-sectarian participation in the campaigns of the wider workers’ movement while at the same time presenting an alternative revolutionary programme that exposes the lies and internal programmatic contradictions of the reformists.

    Despite whatever your subjective commitment to some form of revolutionary politics may be (and I have to phrase it that way as I have never seen you present anything approaching a revolutionary programme) all this means is that in the actual real life political struggle between reform and revolution you end up standing shoulder to shoulder with the reformists.

    As an aside I would also note that the SP & SWP’s international organisations have participated in exactly the kinds of formations that you refer to and indeed continue to advocate the creation of such formations so your examples are a bit misplaced in a discussion with me. I am just as critical of the SP/SWP version of how to build a “revolutionary organisation” which I actually think shares a great deal with your own views.

    I apologise if my original piece misconstrued your position in any way as that was not my intent and I hope that this reply has made things a bit clearer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Categories

Archive


%d bloggers like this: