Report on the Socialist Party’s “Dangerous Ideas” day school – Cork 26 November 2016

I think the Socialist Party would have been very pleased with the day. Based on the number of leaflets I gave out (to over 80% of the attendees) and my headcount of the individual sessions I would say there were easily over 100 who attended at least one of the sessions. Other than for my leaflet and contributions there was no alternative from the left to the Socialist Party’s timid version of revolutionary socialism.

The first session “Women Rising Around the World” saw a good crowd in attendance. I counted approximately 60 people present, mostly young (average age would have been under 30 even accounting for the couple of old folks like myself), fairly even in gender balance and a decent smattering of non-European ethnicity for an event in Cork city.

(That is my baldy head at the back nearest to the camera)

The presentations about the situation for women in Poland, South Korea and South America were informative though heavily tilted towards a feminist perspective with only SP member Fiona Ryan initially identifying herself as a “socialist feminist” on the 4-women panel. The discussion after the presentations was also mostly from a feminist perspective and this saw a reflection in Fiona’s summary where she twice described herself as a feminist without the socialist prefix.

I mentioned this slip to Fiona after the session and she was genuinely surprised that she had described herself that way. It is hard not to see this as an unconscious adaptation to the predominant political tone in the meeting and is perhaps instructive about some more serious political departures from Marxism that were to occur later in the day.

The second session, a debate between the Socialist Party and Sinn Fein “Does a Left Government Need to Break with Capitalism?” saw a significant change in the demographic of the audience – now primarily male and much older (I was now far from the oldest person in the room). It was also smaller at around 45.

Mick Barry spoke for the Socialist Party and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire for Sinn Féin.

Mick pointed to the SYRIZA government in Greece had initially implemented various radical reforms but when faced with pressure from European capitalism they backed down and took on the programme of austerity demanded of them. Mick assured the audience that unlike SYRIZA any left government the SP were involved in would not back down when faced with a similar fork in the road. They would go forward to nationalise the banks along with the wealth of the 1% and reach out to similar movements across Europe and around the world to spread the revolution.

Sinn Féin on the other-hand would capitulate at that fork in the road and will also moderate their demands in the here and now. Mick used the campaign against the water charges as evidence of SF doing exactly that with their refusal to call for a boycott of the charges and their central leaders initially saying they would pay the charge.

Despite Mick repeatedly using the SYRIZA government as a negative example he made no mention of the fact that this was a Popular Front government between SYRIZA and the right-wing capitalist Independent Greeks (ANEL). A strange omission for anyone claiming to be a Trotskyist as the struggle against Popular Frontism is one of the defining aspects of Trotsky’s political heritage.

This is also of importance in the context of a discussion between The Socialist Party and Sinn Féin and the various calls for “left unity” aimed at the two.

Mick stated that the SP would never enter a coalition government with any capitalist parties – listing who those capitalist parties were in the Irish context but of course leaving Sinn Féin out of that list. I referred to this in my contribution from the floor stating that Sinn Féin are an explicitly capitalist party who openly want to “foster business” (quote from their 2015 budget statement). Therefore if Mick was being consistent with his claim the SP would also rule out participation in a coalition with Sinn Féin as a matter of principle.

Mick tried to get around this in his summary when he responded to this aspect of my contribution by saying that effectively they had ruled out a coalition with Sinn Féin because the Right2Change platform Sinn Féin were part of held open the possibility of a coalition with capitalist Fianna Fáil.

This avoids dealing with the question of whether Sinn Féin are a capitalist party themselves. Mick finished his summary by rhetorically asking what would be the point of having this debate if a coalition with Sinn Féin was ruled out forever – though it would take a significant change in their policies for that to occur.

So it seems the Socialist Party believe Sinn Féin have a different class nature from Fianna Fáil. The “logic” of Mick’s position being that Sinn Féin are some kind of cross-class hybrid who currently have pro-capitalist policies but could at some time in the future change to having pro-working class policies.

From informal discussion with SP members my understanding is that this creative analysis is the result of the Socialist Party believing that there are illusions among a layer of working people that Sinn Féin really are a “left” party fighting for the interests of working people. It would therefore be a mistake to treat them the same as parties that “everyone knows are capitalist” like Fianna Fáil.

This fear of openly describing Sinn Féin as capitalist presumably, at least in part, comes from concern over getting as many preference votes from Sinn Féin voters as possible.

This position flies in the face of the political tradition the Socialist Party claim to stand in. Does anyone who has studied the writings and political life of Lenin and Trotsky seriously believe they would have come up with this kind of bizarre pseudo-Marxist analysis of Sinn Féin? Or would they have “stood against the stream” and told the “bitter truth” (Trotskyists or regular readers of my blog posts will get these references) to the working class? To even ask those questions are to answer them.

That truth is that Sinn Féin are a capitalist party and if in power would carry out policies no different in substance from those of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. That is the “bitter truth” any revolutionary Marxist worthy of the name should be telling the working class.

In my contribution I also pointed out that socialism was not just about bringing the economy into collective ownership but also about new forms of societal governance, based on the workers’ council model, which would be directly linked to a new form of state power that would replace the existing capitalist state. I pointed out that the SP focussed almost exclusively on the parliamentary road as the vehicle for socialist change and had an openly reformist approach to the capitalist state (“community control”).

Mick of course had nothing to say on these issues.

But the “best” expression of this craven parliamentarian opportunist distortion of Marxism was yet to come.

The final session was a panel with no discussion from the floor – “Challenging the Rule of the 1%”. One of the speakers was Jess Spear from the Socialist Party’s sister party in the USA, Socialist Alternative. During her presentation on building a fightback after Trump’s election Spears placed the primary blame for the result on the Democrats who had chosen such an unpopular establishment war-monger as Hilary Clinton when millions had voted for Bernie Sanders – “a socialist who had fought for a political revolution”!!!!

The bitter truth is that Bernie Sanders’ consistent voting with the capitalist Democratic Party over many years and his open and long-standing support for US imperialism’s wars of aggression around the world make the idea that he is any kind of “socialist” completely laughable. And these jokers want us to believe they would not politically capitulate to pressure from capitalism if they were to ever achieve parliamentary power? I’m sorry but this working class militant for one isn’t drinking that kool-aid.


2 Responses to “Report on the Socialist Party’s “Dangerous Ideas” day school – Cork 26 November 2016”

  1. November 29, 2016 at 00:47

    Very salient points comrade. There appears to be a blur between SP and AAA thinking, although SP policy is to argue for SP ideas within whatever organisation it is part of. At present, the tactic appears to be, to give SF enough wriggle room, so as their “socialist cloak”, will slip off to reveal their Armani apparel to their “socialist supporters”. While the SP sister organisation, SA, in the US appears to be clutching at straws, it has no other option. I’m sure the election of Kshama Sawant, while a shock for the capitalist class in Seattle, can and will be plucked from the electoral bale sooner than most expect; what then? The capitalist class have out-manoeuvred and out fought us over the past 100 years, of course we have had victories but they were ground down by the relentlessness of our enemy. We are on the brink of destruction, even Trotsky would recognise the impotence of our class today, if he was around. That “fork in the road”, Wallerstein refers to as “a period of bifurcation” a period up for grabs, well from where I’m standing it appears Capitalism as we knew it, is over. What we have now is something akin to polished-up Fascism. It is owned and controlled by the old capitalist class who have learned more while defeating us than we have in those defeats. The SP/AAA offers a better option than the SWP/PbP, however, together in the Dail they are offering the only realistic alternative to our class, which must not be sacrificed on the Altar of Socialist Interpretation. Not until we are strong enough to withstand the reactionary forces who will drive a wedge into our programme, “from each according to their ability to each according to their need.”

    • November 29, 2016 at 11:19

      I guess that is the SP’s approach to SF. However given that SF have an openly pro-business programme the level of self-delusion involved for any Sf member or supporter to think they are “socialist” must be so great I think that it would require SF to hold governmental power completely in their own name for that self-delusion to even possibly be challenged.

      What is more likely is that the opportunity for a “left government” made up of SF, AAA-PBP and independents will become real.

      In such a situation what would the SP advise? Given their current position and opportunist methodology it is impossible to see how they would resist the huge social pressure to join such a government even though it would be a Popular Front and therefore a disaster in the making for our class.

      I must confess I am as pessimistic as I have ever been about prospects for fundamental social change. The world hovers on the brink of ecological collapse as the global warming “tipping point” gets ever closer while the internal contradictions of international capitalism offers nothing but more countries thrown into the horrors of war and/or increased state surveillance and repression.

      I am afraid that I do not share your opinion that the timid reformism of the SP/AAA and SWP/PbP in the Dail is any kind of “realistic alternative” for our class. It is true that given the low level of class consciousness that it is perhaps all that can realistically be expected but that is a different thing and ignores the feedback aspect of the SP/AAA/SWP/PbP reformism which helps keep class consciousness low. It is only by openly telling our class the “bitter truth”, as Trotsky put it, that there is any hope of a real socialist alternative. Instead they just channel dissent into the dead-end of parliamentary democracy and not only refuse to confront the issue of “smashing” the capitalist state but attack anyone, like myself, who attempts to raise it.

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